Friday, August 5, 2016

I Was

"I was." No, that isn't a misquote of the famous God "I Am" words. I'm talking about me. I'll explain the train of thought that took me to this post . . .

In my reading through the Bible I just finished Jeremiah and began Lamentations. I see so strongly the effect on a nation of turning from God, and the effect when God turns from a nation. I found myself in an internal back and forth that is too familiar to me, "God, have mercy on our nation. But if He does, then everyone will continue in their arrogant and successful life just as they are and will never come to Him. They need to be woken up. But, even 9/11 didn't do that. It only lasted for a bit." On and on that dialogue goes in me, back and forth. If God blesses this nation then everyone continues on just as they are, arrogantly assuming they or a nation are the source of their blessing. But even a true disaster only seems to send people running to God for a short time, until their lives are "blessed" again. I know, in my heart, that what our nation needs is for individuals in it to encounter the Holy Spirit and turn to Jesus. We will only truly change as a nation when the individuals in us change.

As I was thinking about our nation and its current condition I felt the familiar anger rise up. And then, suddenly, it hit me in a very powerful way. I was everything I am angered about in our nation today! I was intellectually proud, and I felt I was the one who could plot my life and make it a success. I was pro people being able to do what they wanted and not having other people tell them what to do—I remember arguing round and round with Mary Ann that prostitution should be legal because it was "their choice." I was pro abortion—not seeing a baby in the womb, but seeing only a women's body and others trying to tell her what to do with it (my perception). I thought I was a moral relativist, believing what was right for some was right for them, but it didn't mean it was right for others—that there was no absolute right and wrong across cultures. (In fact, a professor at West Point confronted me on my stand and it was a wake up moment for me. I write a lot about moral relativism in this blog, but I specifically mention that incident with my professor here, here, and here.) I mocked the Bible, God, and Christians (I flung profanity at a God I claimed I didn't believe in), and I believed in evolution and an old earth. On and on I could go, but I think the point is made. Everything that angers me today . . . I was.

And, as I look back, I realize that no law in the world could have changed me. In fact it would have angered me even more to have someone "shove" their beliefs onto my life in law (I am not arguing that laws shouldn't exist that reflect God's heart, just saying how it wouldn't have changed my heart, even if it forced my compliance). While laws have value—they regulate a society, they protect unborn and other defenseless, they model a moral code to youth—ultimately I don't believe they change a heart, and that is the only thing that changed me. God having mercy on me, an arrogant and blasphemous atheist, put Mary Ann and others into my life and the Holy Spirit drew me to Him and He changed me, from the inside. And that is, I believe, the only hope for our nation in the end—a personal encounter with Jesus by the ones who make up this nation. And then allowing Him to change our hearts into alignment with His. (Even God's Law wasn't an end in itself, it was a tutor or schoolmaster to reveal sin and point us to Jesus.)

I recognize that even among Christians not all agree on everything, but without that at least as a starting point I don't think a change is possible for us. He makes us new creations. He writes His law on our hearts. He teaches us truth. And that brings up then the question, what is my role in drawing people in this nation to Jesus, the ultimate changer of hearts? Because until He came into my heart and changed me, everything that bothers and grieves me today in others in this nation . . . I was.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Expect the Unexpected

First day of home educating for the year. Teacher and books
and, of course, coffee and hot chocolate. It's tradition!


We have started our school year, and part of it includes trying to do family devotions each morning before "school" starts. This morning I shared something that struck me during my morning reading in Jeremiah 36. In a nutshell, here's a summary of the chapter then I'll share what spoke to me.
Summary: God told Jeremiah to write on a scroll everything He'd spoken to Jeremiah against Israel and Judah. Baruch took dictation from Jeremiah and wrote all of his words on a scroll (words of warning to the people, of the coming capture by Nebuchadnezzar, etc.). Since Jeremiah was banned from the Lord's house, Baruch went and read the scroll there. A man who heard it went to the secretary's chamber in the king's house and the officials were sitting there (the Bible lists their names). He told them what he'd heard and they called Baruch to share the words with them. They felt fear (they believed the words) and went and told the king about them. The king cut up the scroll and burned it, and he and his family paid a horrible price for that.
Teacher and students and Shofar. It's tradition!
 As I read this the words about the officials in the secretary's chamber of the king's house struck me: "and all the officials were sitting there." It didn't strike me that they should have been doing something else, or were lazy, etc. What struck me is that they were probably just sitting there, talking, hanging together, with no idea that in a moment God was going to do something in their midst, and they were going to respond in a way that would get their names recorded in the Bible for all earthly time.

"Were sitting there." Think back over the most significant moments in your life when God worked either in it, on you, or through you, on another. My guess is that many, many of those times weren't in some big, anticipated, ministry event or activity. My guess is that many of them were in an unexpected meeting with someone, or phone call, or external event, that started a chain of events that was life changing. And God works that way so many times . . . Moses, just out in the desert tending sheep. Gideon just beating out wheat in the winepress. David out tending sheep. David just taking food to his brothers.

Principal and coffee. It's tradition.
On and on we could find those moments, totally unexpected, when God suddenly moves and everything changes. (Often we don't even realize the significance of the moment at the time.) Think of the calling of the different disciples—just out mending nets, fishing, another day on the job at the tax booth. And suddenly, without warning, a moment of decision or opportunity arises that could change the world—and don't take that too lightly, because one person's life being changed could easily ripple into lives changed across the globe, especially in this day and age of interconnected people through technology.

These men sitting in the secretary's chamber heard about God's word and responded. They believed and acted. The king heard the same words and responded. He burned it. Two groups, both heard the same words, both had it brought "out of the blue" to them, both reacted differently. And I doubt either group of men got up that morning anticipating a huge "God moment." It just suddenly happened in their midst. Suddenly brought before them.

In June 2010 I wrote a blog post called "My Pad of Paper . . ." In it I write about why I carry a pad of paper and a mechanical pencil everywhere with me. It is because, for me, to not do so say I don't expect to hear anything worth recording from God. And why would I not expect to? God loves me. God lives in me. God is at work in me, through me, and around me. God has plans for me. God desires to lead me in truth.

For that matter, why would we ever not expect the unexpected moment? There is a real, unseen spiritual world, good and bad, that interacts with ours. There is God in us, and a devil pacing about. There are people all around us whom God loves. There is the natural cause and effect of living in a sin-cursed world. It is always the perfect storm, the ripe conditions for the unexpected to happen. And we must ask ourselves, "Am I ready for it? Or, like Bilbo, am I content in my Hobbit hole, stunned by, and totally unprepared for, any adventure that is suddenly thrust on me?"

We have a speaker coming in this Sunday I am really excited about. He is a friend who is a Ph.D. scientist who tells us why we can trust the literal Genesis Creation account. I am anticipating Sunday morning. I am ready .  . . But what if the big moment God is planning this weekend is that neighbor I'll bump into at the mailbox, and whether or not I follow a nudge from God and just wave, or stop and talk, could change lives and the world forever . . .

Friday, July 22, 2016

Anger Without Sin

Note: I will still post more of my thoughts, reflections, and struggles regarding abortion (See "A 'Floating' Controversy: Parts 1, 2, and 3") in days ahead, but I wanted to share this today. Thanks so much to those of you who have taken the time to talk with me, or email me, or comment with your prayerful thoughts about abortion and how we are to address it. You have blessed me. I am truly shaped, by God, through Godly friends, in so many ways.

Well, I did it. In my anger and frustration I posted something sarcastic on Facebook, and later took it down . . . though at the time I posted it I even felt in my spirit a caution (which I ignored). Basically it was a meme (or whatever they are called) that was a reference to Ted Cruz's convention speech the night before, and the boos and hate that came when he didn't endorse Trump. It said, "Dear Trump Voters . . . Here is the most critical question of all for those who didn't like Ted's speech. When he asked people to vote for a candidate who shares your values and would defend the Constitution, why didn't you think he was talking about your candidate?"

I know about "the pledge" Ted took. I know he refused to endorse Trump. I know all that. This isn't about Ted. This is about my frustration and the biting sarcasm God has really helped me come free of all coming together in a perfect storm and causing me to sin and have to relearn a lesson.

As a background I am so tired of the biggest reason anyone can give me to vote for Trump being that it is a vote against Hillary and to save our Supreme Court. These are powerful reasons, I get it, but what does it say when the strongest arguments "for" a person are the arguments against their opponent? I am sick of a nation more concerned about allegiance and blind loyalty to a political party—even one that no longer reflects them—then to God (one of the reasons I went from the Republican party to no party affiliation toward the end of the primaries). I am tired of being made to feel like if I don't vote for a man like Trump I am voting to destroy a nation I put my life on the line to defend. I am so tired of people who I know love God (even some candidates I used to respect) singing Trump's praises simply to beat Hillary, knowing that, despite a few token "God" references thrown out, he is proud, a self-proclaimed lover of money, rude, arrogant, seemingly unrepentant, if what I have heard about his book is true then a boaster in sexual exploits, and his financial success is in part tied into an industry that preys on people at their most desperate and lost place (gambling and the associated lives, entertainment, and industries around it) . . . to mention a few things.

God opposes the proud! God! God does! I am supposed to vote for a candidate who God is going to oppose? My doing that is going to "save" America and make it great again? Really? If we ever thought our greatness came from anything other than God's blessing and favor then we are more ignorant than I thought.

More and more I am seeing how this world is not my home. It doesn't reflect me or my values. I am an alien and stranger in it. My citizenship is in Heaven. I am seeing things called "okay" that I never thought I'd have to prepare my daughters to deal with in a mainstream society. But, I shouldn't have been surprised. I guess that is what verses like this are talking about:

2 Timothy 3:1-5   But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 4:3-4   For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Isaiah 5:20-21   Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
I guess, if I'm honest, I want to be able to "win" in this world and I should have never expected to be able to. I want to be able to vote for a candidate I believe in and who I feel like God will bless, and not feel like I am betraying my country (and even my daughters' future, if Hillary gets to pick the Supreme Court). I can't win. And so I guess I have to choose—trust (and fear) God more than man and vote for who I believe He will bless, or vote my "wisdom" and hope God comes behind my choice.

But here is the crux of this post, and the real reason for it. I have many friends, who I love, who are probably voting for Trump—and my falling to sarcasm in my anger and hurt and frustration was not love toward them, or toward anyone who feels they are doing the right thing. These are people who I do believe love God and treasure this nation, and I let my hurt cause me to be sarcastic and biting toward them.

Cutting sarcasm is something I struggled with in my early Christian days. Before Christianity I loved to debate. I loved a chance to verbally dissect someone without having to use profanity or things like that (an ignorant way out, I felt). Oratory was something I studied for fun. A hero was Winston Churchill who supposedly told the lady who said that if he was her husband she'd poison his tea, that if he were her wife he would drink it. I took pride in that zinger that left somebody floored. And I was good at it. After I came to Christ I really had to reign that in. To be OK not getting in the last word. To let someone get me with a zinger and to hold back the one I had for a reply—one I knew would knock out their verbal knees from under them.

At first I reigned it in with sheer will, but gradually God has helped me to where it isn't even a first thought anymore. I don't want to "zap" people. I want to love them and show them Christ. I don't have to get in the last word or line. It is OK to just love and take it. Just like Jesus did.

But yesterday, seeing all the hate coming towards Ted for failing to endorse Trump, and the blind party loyalty we are "demanded" of just to "stop Hilary," and feeling trapped in a no win situation, I saw someone's meme and thought it biting and, lashing out, I shared it. And in doing so I let my anger cause me to sin. To be unloving to people I care about. To go the way of the world and not love. Scary, isn't it, how close that "old stuff" still often is in our new creations?

I don't believe loving means compromising on truth. But God says in Ephesians 4:26, "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." I have found—unfortunately too many times—that I can be as well-intentioned and even scripturally "right" as can be, but if I am not acting in love it is worthless because God is love, and He won't bless or be a part of that which isn't.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A “Floating” Controversy: Part 3

Note: The background for this series of posts is found in Part 1. I would deeply value you reading this series, as well as your prayerful thoughts and input. These posts reflect something I’ve been processing for a while now, and am still trying to work through.

How do we engage the public and expose/place the reality of what abortion is in a position that it can’t be pushed under the table . . . and still engage, and be welcoming to, and offer love and hope to, those (female and male) on the other side of an abortion? This is something I’ve thought a lot about, but not gotten a clear answer to. Each time I’ve addressed abortion in a group environment I’ve been aware of, and deeply sensitive to, the pain in the eyes of some in the group that my guess harkens back to an abortion they had, or maybe a part they played in one, or something they didn’t do to stop one. And these are people, often, who have sat and heard of God's love and forgiveness for years.

I’ve struggled with the idea of signs showing photos of aborted babies in public places. I know for me those images were a graphic wake up call that this is real, those are babies, and that the murder of babies is happening daily, all around me. There is no way to avoid the issue when you see one of those. But I've also had that same effect from Ultrasound photos (though, if I'm honest, not as powerfully). But . . . what about the small child that walks by and sees it, who isn't in a place for that subject yet? What about a parent's right to raise that issue with their child when they are ready? And, of course, on the other side, what about the rights of the baby inside the womb that needs people to defend him or her?

Too often I feel like myself and the church at large are too
much like this cow we saw on our anniversary—trying
to stand with feet on both sides of the fence.
And, what about the person who walks by a sign like that and feels waves of shame and guilt for an abortion they took part in, and maybe because of the bluntness of the signs and message feels too ashamed or intimidated or condemned to talk about it? What about when they go home filled with shame and guilt and isolation—or turn to sex or drugs or alcohol or even worse to try to escape or numb the pain? God loves those people as much as He loves the babies being aborted. And, while I believe that those babies will be in Heaven, many of those people might not be.

I don’t know how to handle the issue of abortion—and I mean by this the rubber meets the road nuts and bolts of walking out a stand against it, and the love of God for those who've already participated in it. I know the ideal "theology" of it that works so well sitting around a cup of coffee and talking, that it must be a mix of truth and grace. That is what Jesus modeled for us. But, I am talking about what does this mix of both look like on the street, in real life? Because, honestly, what is happening in this nation today isn't working—babies are still being legally killed and handling the issue "softly" and "non-offensively" isn't changing it.

So, for those who love babies, and who also love God and His work on the cross dying for the lost and for our sin, how do those two messages (truth and grace) mix, in a practical way? I remember talking with my friend about the float when it was in the "thought" stage and asking about the Gospel/forgiveness message. He made a good point. If there are too many messages on one float they all get diluted and all get lost. It reminds me of Mary Ann and my early days doing desktop publishing. The first instinct was to cram as many messages as you could on a sign or flyer, but the end result was a crowded mess that said nothing. We ended up fighting to preserve the "white space" (blank parts of a page) so that what was written would stand out. [Note: Danny intended to have people with Liberty Bell bags with gospel literature walking behind the float looking for people who seemed bothered so they could stop and talk to them, but it didn't happen with all the hassle they were given.]

It is easy to “pick on” abolitionists who stand there with "those" photos. The internet is full of people hating or attacking them (even many “Pro Life” people). And, if we are honest, they make us uncomfortable. But is the warm fuzzy approach working? Is this nation turning from abortion? Are churches having those hard discussions and being active in the issue beyond a few dollars to a C.P.C.? Will people confront this issue if they aren’t forced out of their comfort zones and ostrich holes?

Ultimately I know that the Holy Spirit needs to lead and direct every encounter, street moment, etc. Jesus rarely did the same thing twice the same way. Each encounter was different and unique to each person He faced. But if we aren't careful, "letting the Holy Spirit lead" can become a way to avoid the whole thing. How many of us are, really (be honest now), listening for Him to say, "Go and take your sign and stand at that intersection"?

And so I return to the original question that I am still trying to work through: How do we—how do I—confront this issue in a way that the nation can no longer let it exist in the background (and that Christians uncomfortable with the issue will still face the elephant in the room) and, at the same time, make sure that every person who is on the other side of an abortion (or participation in some way with one) knows the love and forgiveness and freedom from shame and guilt that God offers (and feels safe talking to us about it)? How do we do both?

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