Sunday, May 15, 2016

Words Matter

I was reminded, while teaching at our fellowship this morning, of how important it is in the way we structure our words. Used carefully, they can establish a foundation for going forward, and used casually, they can reveal the health of our faith and how we really feel at the core. I'll get to this morning in a bit, but first let me share a few examples that have been powerful in my life in the past . . .

Example 1: What we place before and after the word "but." I forgot where I first heard this, but it immediately resonated with me as very powerful and true. Look at the following two hypothetical examples, spoken by someone who has some real problems.

1. "God is good and powerful and loving, but I am dealing with x, and y, and z."
2. "I am dealing with x, and y, and z, but God is good and powerful and loving."

The first statement reminds me of times when someone is listing medical issue after issue and you ask if you can pray for them and you do, pouring your heart into it, asking for God to heal them, and you've barely ended with "amen" and they are already pouring out about everything wrong with them as if you never prayed. It is as if they held their breath waiting for you to finish so they could continue listing and focusing on their problems. You've just come before the throne of the most holy God, but in their mind clearly their issues outweigh the idea that He might actually have responded to the prayer and be working in them. This first example is like that. There is the ("obligatory" for Christians) recognition of the traits of God, but then the dwelling and focusing on and resting in all the problems.

The second statement is also aware of the problems (not an ostrich in the sand pretending all is Polyanna), but there is a greater awareness of who our God is. It is an honest assessment of both, and a recognition that God is ultimately God, He is active in our lives, He loves us, and He is Whom our hope lies in.

It is worth paying attention to—how the words come from our mouth and what they reveal about what place we are really in when it comes to our worship, faith, hope, etc. It is Joshua and Caleb returning from spying out the land, "Yes, the cities are fortified and the people huge, but if God is with us the land is ours!" (Numbers 14:6–9, my paraphrase). I guaranteed David was not unaware of Goliath's size and fury, but he knew, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37a).

Example 2: "Pro" and "anti." I remember as a young Christian the frustration of the media's refusal to change its language regarding the abortion issue. It insisted on labeling those in favor of abortion as "Pro Choice" (i.e. for something, positive, not negative) and those against abortion as "anti abortion" (instead of Pro Life, making them sound like negative, against things, etc.). The very word usage from the start painted one in a favorable and positive light and the other as against things and negative. The words mattered, and they revealed a lot about the media and its bias.

Well, this morning I realized that I'd fallen into a trap when I used some words in a certain order. I had showed the fellowship a chart of the milestones of the world's population and how it reached 1 billion in 1804, then, by the present, was increasing a billion every 12 years (see graphic). I was talking about exponential progression (i.e. take 8, the number of people on the ark, and double it only 30 times to get 8.6 billion; or give a person a penny one day and two the next and four the next and keep doubling and after 30 days the person has over 10 million dollars!). I made the point that if man was much older than a young earth Creation view we are missing billions of bodies! To the contrary, in fact, the world's population milestones completely agree with a young earth interpretation of Genesis.

But . . . the words I used were, "So, we see in the population milestones more reasons to believe in the most obvious reading of Genesis . . ." Suddenly I stopped. I realized in a moment (you know how so many thoughts can go through your mind in nothing flat) that I had by my words revealed a defensiveness—implied that we might actually need reasons to believe in a literal Genesis. I'd given huge ground to the other side simply in the way I worded it. Implicit in my words was the idea that there might actually BE any reasons to interpret Genesis differently, or that the weight of evidence favored interpreting it differently and we had to defend it. Suddenly I thought, and then said something like, "No, let me rephrase that. In the world's population milestones we find no reason to interpret Genesis any other way then the most obvious reading of it—and nor do we in any other field of science."

It may not seem like a big change, but it is huge. The first way I said it cries out, "Genesis is under attack and I need to defend why, and find reasons why, I can believe in the most literal reading of it." The seconds says, "Wait a minute. The most literal reading of Genesis is the most obvious, and there are no reasons to read and interpret it any differently."

Why am I the one defensive? My first words express having cracked with the pressure and feeling like I needed to explain why we could "come back" to Genesis when the reality is, with no internal reason in the Bible to interpret Genesis any differently, the burden is on those who would interpret it differently to show the evidence for it. And there isn't any. And in the population milestones we don't find any either.

And words matter. They establish:
1. A foundation for going forward
2. The starting point and assumptions of a conversation
and they reveal the nature and position of our heart.

Friday, May 13, 2016

What If God Didn't Show?

I know all the theology, so you don't need to correct it. I know God is with believers, etc., but the question the title asks is a challenge none-the-less. Let me explain . . .

I remember hearing a question once that asked, "How many ministries [in a given church] would continue to operate without a hitch if the Holy Spirit departed?" This question comes back to me now and then as a challenge. How much of my life? How many of our ministries at True Life Christian Fellowship? How much of what we do and try? How much depends on the Holy Spirit . . . and how much is simply our good intentions and our resources and would continue without a hitch if God simply didn't show up? How much is just "church" . . . and how much is actually the living God, poured out Spirit, at work in and through us?

How much of my life, and how much of our fellowship, operate dependent on God? I know ultimately we are, of course, but the point being made is one to ponder for each of us, and for each fellowship of believers. I think it is very easy to simply do things because we've always done them, or to convince ourselves it isn't God talking to us when the thought comes to do something radical or that stretches us. How much of what we are doing, saying, etc., requires God to bring it to completion?

For example, ultimately salvation is something that must happen between a believer and God. But I wonder how many people have been pressured or emotionally hyped into saying some "magic" prayer. I know, as a fire department chaplain, that many, many times when I've asked about someone's faith who has died, the answer from loved ones has been something like, "Well, they prayed a prayer when they were eight" . . . and now in their middle ages there has not been any fruit of any true interaction between them and God. (I know it isn't our place to judge the salvation of someone, but we are given discernment, and I do believe it fair to comment on what I've observed, not drawing any ultimate conclusions about a person.)

I know when I am in a place where I am really following Jesus—submitted, allowing myself to be the sail that rather than tacking against the wind of the Holy Spirit is running with it steering me at full strength—it is actually unusual for Him to not lead me into very uncomfortable places or discussions or attempts at something . . . things that take me way out of my comfort zone and absolutely require Him to bring them to completion. I also know that when I am struggling, or in a rut, or hurt and withdrawing, I find it too easy to "turn off" the dial to His still, quiet whisper and to remain in my "safe" shell.

One of the first acts of Jesus recorded in Mark 1:21–28 is His casting out of a demon in a synagogue. I have a penciled in note next to that account that causes me to pause each time I read it. It says, basically, "The demon was comfortable in church until Jesus showed up!" Wow. May my life, and my fellowship, never be so devoid of the Spirit's anointing and power that a demon is quite OK around me. May I never quench the Holy Spirit.

A passage that is a strong warning to me is in Acts 19:11–20. Paul is casting out demons, healing the sick, etc. Then the seven sons of Sceva try the same thing, using Jesus' name like some magic word, and they get jumped on and beaten up and driven out of the house naked by one demonized man. What a strong reminder that Jesus isn't just some magic "open sesame"—He is the living God and when I am submitted to His authority I then walk in the authority He has delegated to me. Demons aren't afraid of me . . . they obey the authority and name of Jesus when Jesus has given it to me to use, and I am under His authority.

May my life, and the fellowship I pastor, live in a place where we are operating completely dependent on the Holy Spirit's anointing. If we aren't, if we only stay in the realm of what we are comfortable doing on our own (comfortable, because we know WE can do it so we don't have to live in a place of faith, knowing that if He doesn't finish it then it won't happen), then we will not experience the edge of what He is doing. Of course "church" will be really comfortable then . . . but is that what any of us really want?

I know for me, I have to repeatedly ask about different ministries, events, youth group activities, etc., if God still wants us doing something. It is very comfortable to do something you've done over and over, and if we aren't careful we can assume God wants us to do something just because He has in the past. I don't think it is a mistake, however, that the Old Testament records God delivering His people in almost every instance in a different way—each time they had to hear from Him His plan for that specific moment. In the New Testament we see Jesus healing people, and in instance after instance He does it one way one time, then another way another time.

If we get to that place where we just kind of do what we've always done, we stop listening for the whisper that says, "This time, spit in the mud and wipe it in the eyes . . ." This doesn't mean He won't guide us to do something the same way we have before, but how affirming and faith building to have heard His fresh voice on that and to know we are living/acting in the freshness of His life and power and leading, and not simply in some comfortable religious tradition. He is life, He is breath, He is living water. The Holy Spirit is living water, fire, a wind. These are words of life, of movement, of dynamic relationship. And asking and living in dependence keeps us in relationship and not just in some religious "mode."

It is not comfortable to live in complete dependence on God, but the alternative . . . to live so comfortable in doing it like you've always done it, because you've always done it, runs the risk of living within your self and your means . . . and I don't ever want to do it. I do it too many times. It is safe . . . but I don't want safe—not really—I want to see miracles, I want to see His power poured out, I want to see addictions broken, marriages restored, fathers and prodigals returned, bodies healed, depression crushed, demons fleeing in terror, the lost saved . . . and I can't do any of those things. Only He can.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On a lighter note . . .

On a lighter note . . . if you've known or followed me any length of time you know that I am passionate about fossil hunting. I love to uncover evidence of Noah's flood and Genesis' trustworthiness, and to find things that no human eye has ever seen. I love doing it with my family because the only cost is getting to a place to look, and you have the thrill of the hunt and the exultation of discovering a treasure.

Well, being the hopeless romantic I am, for our anniversary last weekend Mary Ann and I did some poking around for fossils (no, that wasn't all we did, we had other great adventures, so no comments chewing me out).

Look what we found some 31-plus miles from the nearest coastline of the Pacific Ocean, and over 1,300 feet above sea level . . .

Today I Dropped My Party Affiliation

It has been a long time since I’ve posted. There has been a lot going on in our lives, and God has had other things for me. I’ve never wanted to post just to “post” or keep up a following. That isn’t what this blog is about. It is a place for me to share things God has shown me, slices of my life, neat moments, etc. I’d hoped my first post “back” would be an upbeat one, and in a sense it is. I feel freer—like I’ve cut one more string with the world. Today I dropped my political party affiliation.

Not that my changing will change anything in the big picture, or that it will change anyone else’s mind, but it was something I needed to do. I changed from Republican, which I have been since I first registered in the 1980s when Reagan was President, to no political party affiliation. It has been a decision long in coming, but which came to a head today. My reasons, for anyone interested (and don't worry about reading if you aren't), are below. This is not a judgment or anything against anyone who feels differently. God speaks to all who will listen and it is not for me to say if another Christian has heard from Him to follow a different path. I have friends I dearly love who believe very differently from what I am about to right and who I know love Jesus. But, here is my path to this point—my path—this is about me, not a condemnation of anyone who feels differently if God has led them to that place . . .

The longer I've been a Christian the more I have been bothered by affiliating with any political party. God tells me my citizenship is in Heaven, and He is my King, and to He alone I have allegiance. But, I am also in this world and part of a country where I’ve served in protecting our right to vote, and the Republican party has, for the most part, seemed to best match my views as a values voter (placing abortion, Christian values, authority of God as the source of right and wrong, etc. over things like the economy or environment). Since I was a Republican since before I was a Christian, I never really thought to change. But, increasingly I have seen the Republican party either cater to Evangelicals, trying to win our votes (at least until the General Election); or evangelicals being the assumed and taken for granted right wing of the Republican party (because even at worst they knew we’d seem them as better than Democrats). It became more about party than Jesus.

But over the last 10-plus years I’ve come to realize that the Republican party no longer represents me (though they still do better than the Democrats, and I can still vote for them if led to in a General Election). For awhile I could say it was “politicians” who didn't represent me, but this most recent election, in which the people of the party are again (and again . . . how many Presidential nominees now?) nominating someone who is not a strong Christian, I have realized it is not just politicians, but the people of the Republican party themselves who as a majority no longer are in a place in which I agree. When I see candidates like Santorum, Huckabee, and other strong Constitutional, Christian, Conservatives losing to others—in the Republican’s own nomination, NOT a General Election—I have to realize the party no longer believes in what I do.

I, personally, believe a candidate’s faith is the most important element in voting for them. I believe it is impossible for a leader to effectively know—and to stand for without compromising—true right and wrong, or to understand things like foreign policy, etc., without a supreme revelation on, and giving primacy to, the authority of God, the inspiration of Scripture, and an understanding of Spiritual warfare and the working of the unseen in places like the Middle East, etc.

I, for one, can not come to support Donald Trump, who is the republican nominee as of today. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll only summarize it here, but as a Christian I can’t justify it. He is proud and God opposes the proud. I can not support a candidate whom God will oppose. That is very scary to me. Mr. Trump is a lover of money. He shows no repentance of his marital “flightyness.” I’ve not read his book, but I understand he boasts of his sexual exploits. Much of his huge revenues comes from gambling—and I’ve been to Atlantic City and Vegas and Reno and seen the brokenness and seediness that comes with that. There is so much more that causes me to ask how any Christian could support him (especially in the Primaries when we had other choices), but probably the one that looms over all is his unashamed financial support of a list of people (Democrats) he has given money to because it benefits him—people who have championed abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc. To him the end justifies the means, and I can not see how that represents in any way, shape, or form a man who is after God’s heart. It is a yoking with darkness for personal gain, a "selling of one’s soul" if you will. To support that and call Himself a Christian is, to me, to clearly say he is the kind of Sunday Christian that thinks God is for spiritual things, but the rest is “real life.”

I don’t know what I’ll do in the General Election. I’ve heard all the throw away vote arguments, and how a vote for someone other than Trump is a vote for the Democrat, and I understand their reasoning. I also know I’ve lost the right to be a part of future Republican nomination processes. But I had to do what I felt is right. I will not be the assumed supporter of a Republican just because I am a fundamentalist (oh, what a nasty word today) Christian. Last year Franklin Graham did the same thing and it was a reopening for me of the question I’ve wrestled with now and then for over a decade. But, I thought, "Let’s just see what happens in this nomination period. We’ve got strong Christians running (not just those pandering to our vote). Let’s see what our party is made of . . ."

Well, I’ve seen. And I’m walking away. I’ll pray and ask God to guide me. I certainly WON’T vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. But I don’t know what I’ll do otherwise. But I’d rather stand for God and trust Him with my worldly condition then give my support to a man who I believe stands against all that I do. A man that funded, albeit indirectly, the murder of babies and the eroding of Christian values because it furthered his business interests and who, to this day, calls that okay because “he’s a businessman.” Well, the love of money is the root of all evil, and he has said he loves money. I know many wealthy people who love God and aren’t corrupted by money, but he’s not one I can see able to handle the two. God says you can’t serve Him and mammon both.

I'll be praying. God will lead me. Right now I don't know what God will ask of me in the General Election, but I will certainly be asking Him. I am confused, to be honest. I don't want Hilary or Bernie, and I do guess Trump would be better than them if he actually sticks to his claims of beliefs on issues, but I have to ask God what He wants me to do in the ballot box. May He lead me. But, I do feel more free. If anything, the Republican party will know that they can't assume they've got my vote just because I am registered to them or because I'm a conservative Christian. It is time for some soul searching at every level.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Asking Questions and Struggling

I just put the following words on Facebook, then decided to throw them out here. They aren't the best edited, but rather a free flow of thoughts. Maybe someone can help me out here. They are:

Since when did it become OK for Christians to compromise who they are, and what it means to be God's children, today, in order to hopefully "avoid" some consequence in the future? Since when is it OK for Christians to say that the end justifies the means? Since when is it OK for Christians to yoke themselves with those who stand against the core heart and intent of God's Words, saying, "Well, God uses anybody"?

I am really struggling with this. I am not wanting to start any arguments, and if the comments get nasty I'll just erase them or this post, but I'd really like to hear some thoughts as it is hard for me to see the support that Christians are giving Donald Trump who, to my eyes (and I could be wrong), seems to be:
1. A lover of money
2. Proud
3. Unrepentant
4. Rude
5. Disrespectful
6. A lobbyist for his own self interest who will donate his resources and influence to anyone who benefits him, regardless of their stands on core issues like abortion, religious freedom, etc.
7. Arrogant
8. Without a core baseline of values that are Biblically linked about which he won't compromise or lend support to


I get the anger. I get the refreshing sense he brings in a world of political correctness and Washington garbage, but I can't bring myself to yoke myself with him when it seems to me he is the living opposition of so many things the Bible says to avoid and separate ourselves from. Maybe I'm totally wrong. Again, I'd love to hear respectful, thought out responses. If he is elected I believe God can use him, but I just am struggling to see how Christians can see him as a man representing the values, humility, servanthood, truth, and light that God calls His men to be---and then yoke themselves to him with their support. I would rather choose to stand for that which is uncompromisingly Christ, and trust God with my future, than to---as I perceive it---compromise myself today trying to secure my own future.


These are just my thoughts and things I'm trying to work through. I know I struggle with a lot of things and fall very short of Christ's standards, and I am not being judgmental in a haughty or superior sense. But God does call His children to be discerning, and when error is noted in our walk and heart, to be repentant and have a Godly grief over it. I just don't see that.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What Have We Become?

I can't tell you how sad, and how angry, I was to watch multiple candidates in the New Hampshire Republican debate endorse making women sign up for Selective Service. What have we become? What are we that we, as a nation (even many of the leaders who most tout their Christian stands), are considering drafting women into the brutality and horror of war?

It strikes me that much of the crumbling in our society we see is in part stemming from a collapse of Godly men in the homes. Men who protect their wives and children. Men who train their children up in the Scriptures and God's ways. Men who open doors for ladies. Men who provide. Men who teach their daughters what a Godly man looks like, what appropriate touch is, and give them a model of the man they should look for. Men who teach their sons to love and cherish and honor and protect women. And now, it seems, that men can't even defend and protect this nation.

And before someone calls me sexist, let me just say that to do so is to level the same claim at God. He ordained the structure of the home. He ordained the roles of the Home. He told men to love and cherish their brides and to lift them as ones without spot or blemish. He died for His bride.

At West Point and in the Army I had the privilege of serving alongside many amazing women who volunteered to be there. Volunteered. But the inevitable result that anyone looking could see coming is now here. The push to be equal, equal, equal has now "drafted" in those who were not pushing. Daughters who don't want to kill, be killed, be captured (and everything that goes with it), see the horror of death thrust in their face won't have a choice. What have we become? Can we no longer even protect our women from that?

Based on some responses I got when I posted about this on Facebook, there is almost a smug "hey, women, you wanted to be equal so now lie in the bed you made" attitude. My response is this—not all women wanted this, but all women will be subject to this. And before you think in some perverse way you are "getting back" at feminists through this let me say that that line of thinking is akin to firebombing a city to get back at a few criminals in it.

I believe that how we view this goes directly to how we view Scripture and God. Do we believe He has ordained roles and different strengths for the different sexes? This isn't to say a women shouldn't (or can't defend herself). This isn't to say anything against women. But to make law a variance to God's structure is to say something different. It is to fly in the face of God and the truths and order He has given us.

I guess, though, what do we expect?!? We undermine the Scriptures. We rewrite God and our theology to fit what we approve of. We remove the idea that we are handcrafted, each uniquely, in God's image and we teach instead that we are all evolved animals. In that light, what does it matter? But to have men who claim to believe in God and the authority of Scripture believe this is good is grievous to me, and it scares me.

I can't—and won't—describe to you some of the things I've seen on the volunteer fire department. Images flash through my mind I'll probably never be able to forget this side of the grave. And I can't tell you how grateful I am that my wife and daughters don't have those images in their minds. That I could stand in a place so others don't have to. The thought of my daughters being drafted into an environment where that could be their exposure sickens me, and angers me. But, in light of the rejection of God and the Scriptures we are avalanching into in this nation, I guess it shouldn't surprise me . . .

Friday, February 5, 2016

Lenses

I love the word "lens" in a Christian context. It always reminds me that I need to see through the proper lens when I am processing things in life. I need to see things through God's lens and not mine or the worlds. His "lens" (His way of seeing things) is the only one that matters in the end, and the only one that is truly correct, and the only one through which I can see things in the true perspective and light.

For example, last night I was teaching the youth group about Paul and how his encounter with God instantly changed his life* (as a follow up to Isaiah's similar moment in Isaiah 6). As I taught we reached Jesus' words to Paul (then Saul):
And falling to the ground he [Saul] heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. (Acts 9:4–5)
As a side note to the main teaching I drew their attention to the fact that Jesus sees persecution against the church (believers, His body) as persecution against Himself. We don't stand alone. When we are persecuted it is to God as if He Himself is persecuted. I referred back to Jesus' words to the disciples before He sent out the 72, "The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16). We are the body of Christ, and Christ is in us and completely identified with us. Even in solitary confinement we do not suffer alone, and we are not alone.

This morning our family was watching a documentary on the Bible and it was talking about the early church and the horrible persecution it suffered for over 200 years. Torture, burned alive, lions, etc. A horrible litany of the tremendous evil of man unto man. The narrator gave religious, political, social and economic reasons for the Roman persecution of the church . . . but stopped at that. I had the girls pause the DVD and told them that no matter the "topic" or hot point the devil uses to stir up people against believers, at the core of it all it is that darkness hates light. The light has come into the world and men love darkness and hate the light. At its core all persecution and hatred of God's people is a spiritual war, driven by Satan and his hosts. I told them that this is why it is imperative to me to know a political candidate's deep and true religious beliefs and worldview lens. There is no way they can truly understand the nature of world events and issues if they do not have (and apply) God's spiritual lenses through which to see it.

I ended by sharing with them that while it is easy to direct our hate at Nero (who burned Christians alive as his torches, etc.), the Bible makes it clear to us:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)
No matter the person leading the persecution. No matter the person being persecuted as a Christian. The reality of it all is that ultimately it is Satan warring against Jesus. It is darkness against Light. It is Satan and his hosts driving the persecution, and it is Jesus receiving the persecution as if unto Himself. This is the only lens through which we can truly understand it, through which we can truly direct our anger and defense against it . . . and the only lens through which we can find the only true comfort in it—what is done unto us for the sake of Christ is received by God in us as if done unto Himself.

We are not alone. We are the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Darkness hates light. But we are eternally alive in Christ, God's own children and special possession, forgiven, in truth, in light. And nothing can take that away!

* Luke records this encounter as a narrator in Acts 9, and then Paul tells about it in Acts 22.
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