Friday, November 18, 2016

No Erasing

In youth group I've been teaching lately on how the youth define success for their life, how they would want their lives summed up, etc. Last night we looked at things like the parable of the houses built on sand or rock and the idea of Jesus as a cornerstone and foundation. Then I taught on the idea of our lives being like a house we build—how we have decisions like what foundation we will build on, what "materials" we will use to build it, and what our "house" will look like (our image, or His image), etc.

To start that off I gave each of the youth a stubby pencil and a blank piece of paper. I had them envision their dream house, to include location, what it is built out of, and what it looks like. Then I gave them about 10 minutes to sketch it. The requirements were that their sketch had to capture the location, the type of material used, and the general look of it.

There was also one rule, and it turned out to be the most powerful part. The pencils had no erasers and I told them that even if they brought an eraser they couldn't use it. If they made a mistake they had to incorporate it into the drawing—make it something beautiful.

I think this spoke to a lot of us. We can't erase our mistakes, or often the consequences of them. But, given over to God, they can become a part of something beautiful. They become our testimony, a testimony to His power and goodness, a place of learning and growing.

This was powerful to a lot of us, and I felt like God gave me that idea as I was planning, and I wanted to share it with you in case it might bless you, too. Thanks for sharing in my life. God bless you.

Monday, November 7, 2016

No Matter What Happens . . .

No matter what happens in the elections tomorrow, our basis of hope doesn't change. If the candidate you want to win in fact wins, you have no more hope than you did before. If the candidate you want to win loses, you have no less hope then you did before. Not if your hope is in God.

I was blessed to attend a meeting last Saturday with others who are looking at how abortion might be abolished. One video that was shown was from a lawyer in Texas and some of the things he shared were stunning, eye opening, and took me to a place of remembering the Israelites wanting a king like other nations. (Please know that in what I am about to share I am not attacking a political party, but giving Christians some much needed clarity on where our hope really lies.)

In the video (and according to web pages I researched since seeing it) this man showed how in the last 48 years the Supreme Court has, for over half of those years, been filled with a majority of Republican appointed justices. In both major decisions that have "legalized" (then upheld) the abortion holocaust in our nation (Roe v. Wade in 1973, then Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992) there were a majority Republican appointed justices—in Roe v. Wade there were seven Republican appointed and two Democrat appointed. Only two justices voted against it, and one of those two was a Democrat! Then, in PP v. Casey, a chance to undermine Roe v. Wade, eight of the nine justices were Republican appointed! And, of the five who voted basically in favor of keeping Roe v. Wade, all were Republican appointees. In fact, in many (if not most, I would guess) of the chances to "legally" undercut abortion that have reached the Supreme Court since Roe v. Wade, the majority of the court in each time that didn't grab that moment were Republican appointees. And, I would guess (without researching) that in many of the other "values" issues decisions that Christians abhor, the majority on the court has been Republican appointed as well . . . and we've seen that even during a Republican controlled Congress our nation has only shifted farther and farther from the values we believe are God-honoring.

Please believe me when I say that I share this not to bash the Republican Party. For the most part I believe the Democratic Party is far worse on the values issues Christians should value, though in my heart I don't think either truly honors God. The Democrats as a party (not talking about individuals in either party) might be stronger advocates for the needy, etc., but that depends, I guess, on how you feel the needy are best helped. More on that in a moment.

My point in this is that our hope doesn't lie in any man, woman, or party. It is in God alone. As Christians we have prostituted ourselves out to anyone who'd "pay" us with some lines and promises we want to hear, then used and discarded us once our vote is secure. Many of those justices were appointed by the "heroes" of the Republican Presidents list. Many from people who promised us to overthrow Roe v. Wade. We, the army of the living God, are pandered to, paid, used, and cast aside . . . and we are so desperate for some earthly hope we keep running back for more, letting ourselves be used and soiled and sold into false hope over and over.

We keep looking for our earthly "king" who will lead us, be it a man or a party. Israel did the same thing, they wanted an earthly king that they could put their hope in—and God gave them what they wanted and said, in so doing, they had rejected Him as their king.

We can chant all the right verses, and sing all the songs, and be so theologically correct as we say this earth is not our home, etc., etc., but then we put our hope in this earth. I am not saying we shouldn't vote, but I am saying that our hope is not in man, or in a court, or in a party. It is in God alone, and God alone can save our nation. And it won't happen through any election, but when the people of this land repent, confess their sin, and cry out to God.

And we, the church, are lying in the soiled bed we have made, and we have ourselves to blame.
  1. Don't like abortion? Great. Are we willing to take in the pregnant young woman we are telling abortion is wrong to and let her, and then her and her baby, live in our home for a year or two? 
  2. Don't like the welfare system? Great. Are we feeding the poor, reaching out to the homeless? 
  3. Don't like New Age movement? Great. Are we showing people the power of God that our spiritual DNA knows is real so people don't have to look elsewhere for it? Are we healing the sick, confronting demons and seeing them flee? Are the gates of Hell collapsing against the onslaught of the church as Jesus promised they would? 
  4. Don't like the direction our youth are going? Great. Are we mentoring into the lives of the fatherless, the teens on the street, taking them in, giving them rides, hanging out with them and all their ways that are so "offensive" to us?
  5. Don't like the condition of marriage, etc., in our nation? Great. What example are we showing them when our divorce rates match theirs?
  6. Don't like their disrespect for God's written word? Great. What do we expect when we have compromised on it, said it isn't true, selectively picked the verses we believe in, etc.?
  7. Don't like how people are constantly on their cell phones, etc.? Great. What have we shown them in our homes about family meals, keeping the TV off and just being a family, etc.?

Who is it God says is the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the ones who are to serve others, take care of the least, feed the poor, clothe the naked, reach out to the rejected, protect the defenseless, etc.? The church! And if we aren't then we have nobody to blame but ourselves when the government steps into that void we were created to fill. Is that kind of ministry messy, costly, sacrificial, inconvenient? Yes. But if we simply read one of the Gospels we will rapidly see God hasn't called us to walk in any path He didn't walk in Himself . . . and if we are truly following Him, then our life will look the same.

It is time for the church to decide, are we the army of the Living God, or the prostitute of politicians? If the first, we need to start living and hoping like it. If the second, then it is no wonder the nation uses us like a prostitute. But it doesn't start with Washington, it starts with us. And praise God that His mercies are new every morning because no matter what we've been (or not been) before, God draws close to the broken and humble and promises His cooperating presence and power to those that are following Him.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Are We Upside Down?

And if we aren't, then why not?

As a follower of Jesus—and I use that word "follower" intentionally . . . not just someone whose thrown out some profession of faith, but someone who is truly following Jesus, and allowing Jesus to lead—are we a people totally foreign to, and upside down from, the world? And if not, then why not? He was.

My last post talked about the messiness of ministry. How those comfortable with the world will be uncomfortable with ministry (either their doing it, or with us if we are doing it). This morning, as I am reading through Matthew, a few more things popped out. In Matthew 10:24–25 Jesus tells (warns!) His followers, "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household." He then goes on to tell them He didn't come to bring peace, but basically to even turn members of a household against one another.

Jesus came into this comfortable world and totally rocked it, ripped it up, and turned it upside down. He talked about turning families against each other, but then talked about the new family of believers and how their love for one another would be so strong it would be sacrificial, and a defining mark of our identity as ones who love Him. He tore apart the physical "laws" of our world—multiplying fish and bread, calming stormy seas. He tore down the biological barriers we believed "solid"—raising the dead, and reversing irreversible diseases. He shattered the hold of darkness over the world, casting out demons who had held men in bondage and agony, and causing them to beg Him for mercy. He tossed about the values and "wisdom" of the world—telling us it is better to give then receive, to love our enemies, that the blessed are the servants and least, that the last would be first, and to not store up treasures on earth but to store them up in Heaven. He offended the "righteous" and gave hope to the "scum"—calling religious leaders broods of vipers and whitewashed tombs, and telling a thief on a cross they'd be together in paradise that night.

When Jesus came He blew into pieces all expectations about Himself—leaving an earthly kingdom in captivity and a few decades away from destruction, but declaring a Kingdom of God that was eternal. He declared Himself a King, but said nothing in His defense and submitted Himself to whips and spit and jeers and a crown of thorns and death. He made an instrument of execution for criminals a sign of adoration for God. He was born from a no account town, laid as a babe in a feed trough for animals, and welcomed by shepherds. 

We could go on and on with examples, but it is safe to say that Jesus came into this world and blew apart everything about it that was normal, safe, and considered "solid." He turned it upside down . . . and He now lives in believers, desiring to live through believers. He has given us His name, He has given us His presence, He has given us His authority and His power. He turned this world upside down and that leaves me with a haunting question: Am I upside down from this world?

It is a legitimate question. If He is in me, living His life through me, then why am I so much like this world when I should be completely upside down from it? Why am I so comfortable with this world, and maybe even a better question, why is it so comfortable with me? There was nothing comfortable that the world had with Jesus. He made it very uncomfortable. He made it squirm. Those comfortable found themselves wanting to get rid of Him. And those least and broken and lost and rejected found in Him love and acceptance and hope.

Am I upside down? And if not, why not?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ministry is Messy

And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him,
they begged him to leave their region.
(Matthew 8:34)
This verse is stunning to me, and a little scary, because it reveals the heart of man . . . including my own. Jesus has just set free two demonized me—men so fierce no one could pass by them. Men who, we gather from other Gospel accounts of this event, broke their chains, bruised themselves with stones, and ran naked. These men were slaves of Satan, cast out of their town, their lives destroyed, terrors to all. And Jesus set them free. But . . . in doing so, in setting these men free, the demons went into a herd of pigs and the pigs plunged off a cliff and died. The herdsmen went running back to town, told everyone what happened, and then comes the verse I quoted above.

Mark records it this way: Mark 5:15–17 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. . . . And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. Of that man, verse 20 tells us, And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.

Ministry is messy. And we may not be ready for the price it exacts. We shouldn't be surprised, as Jesus told us in following Him that the world would hate us, and warned that even fox and birds have homes, but He has none. Ministry is messy, and it forces us to really evaluate what it is we want. Not just the proper "Christian" response we all know we should give, but what we really want down deep.

These people saw men who had been terrorized by the devil, lives chained by Satan, and they saw them set free and in their right mind . . . and the Son of God in their midst. And they begged Jesus to leave. They were afraid. For some of them, these men being set free had cost them their livelihood.

It isn't a neat little story of men being set free that makes everyone stand up and cheer. Some begged Jesus to leave as a result of it. It cost. It made them afraid.

Years ago I heard a teaching on Proverbs 14:4 which says, Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Basically, if we want a clean stall, don't have oxen. But if we want fruit, expect a messy stall. The people had a choice—rejoice in these men being set free by the Son of God in their midst, or give in to fear and personal cost and ask God to leave. I am reminded of Moses, when God was angry with the people and said He'd have an angel deliver the Promised Land to them but He wouldn't go with them. Moses basically said, "If you won't go with us, don't give us the land." Moses is awesome! Oh that I might be like him. Offered all the worldly blessings and comfort He said, "I'd rather have You, God, than all of that. And if I don't have You, I don't want it."

Ministry is messy. Jesus turned over tables, fashioned a whip, got everyone angry at Him, suffered, missed out on a lot of comforts, had His own family reject Him, was lonely. And He saw people healed and set free. He saw lives restored, and people turned back to their Father.

Many years ago Mary Ann and I were so excited. We'd designed this awesome flyer we mailed to all the mailboxes in our community. We live in a very rural area, and it was a Western them—basically a WANTED poster and where the picture of the outlaw would be we listed things like jealousy, addictions, lust, broken marriages, etc. (I'll put a picture of it in this post.) We were like, "Wow! This is awesome!" It had text that talked about how all these horrible things seem innocent at first but are so dangerous as they roam, and invited people to the service and to see how Jesus could help. Instead of praise, we had people—Christians—concerned about who we were inviting into the community.

I get it. I get the fear. Everyone wants the poor and homeless and addicted taken care of, but nobody wants the shelter next to their house. I know I wouldn't. I like my privacy. I like the quiet. I like not worrying about my girls or possessions. But . . . I won't see the fruit, either, because ministry is messy.

Last night we, the elders of our fellowship, met to talk over some things and I was sharing with them my growing burden for the unborn. I truly don't believe that God will bless a nation that has a legalized holocaust in its midst. And I would hope that as believers, especially men of God, if we knew of a concentration camp down the street we'd do more than just say, "Well, it's the law of the land . . ."

But, if we really want to address the issue, it isn't enough to hold up signs and even get the law changed. What about the single teenager who is pregnant, whose family will cut her off if she doesn't get an abortion? Our we ready to open our home to her? And we can't even just stand with her until the baby is born. It's going to be a long road. Are we ready for that?

I know that on multiple occasions we've opened our home to people in a really rough place, or people who the community rejected. It has often been really hard, it has certainly destroyed the tranquility in our house, and I've more than once wondered if it would be OK or if we'd even have all our stuff when it was over. I've had people at our local Farmer's Market turn their back on me, and others hate me, because we've reached out to "those people." But, ministry is messy.

It is a question we as Christians must ask ourselves—as individuals and as local fellowships. What do we really want to see? And what is the cost we are really willing to pay? Because if we really want a clean stall, then don't go looking for oxen. But if we really want to see fruit, then be ready to shovel poop.


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