Friday, September 21, 2012

Us and Him

The other day on the way into town Mary Ann was reading from one of our homeschool books to our girls. She shared a story out of Egypt some years back where a Muslim Egyptian postal employee, seeing that a large bag of mail was from the "rich" U.S.A., took the bag to his desk and went through it. He found a thicker package, stuck it in his coat pocket, and took it home. That night he opened it, envisioning money, only to find a New Testament that was being sent to a teacher. Thinking something to the effect of, "So this is the holy book of those Christians" he started to read. By the time he got through the gospels he knew Jesus was real and by the time he got to the question cried out in Acts, "What must I do to be saved?" he eagerly read the answer and believed on the name Jesus Christ. He bought a new Bible to replace the one he'd stolen and now his name is protected as he distributes all the Bibles he can get from America to people and places in his homeland.

To contrast, I once, before being a Christian, worked with a kind man who was, simply, brilliant. He may have had one of the highest SAT scores ever. He studied New Testament studies at a university because he was deeply interested in it. He poured over Biblical archeology magazines. He could quote and talk about the Bible and archeology and word origins and original manuscripts "better" (in an intellectual sense) than I ever can hope to and yet . . . to him the Bible was a good story, had some historical relevance, but was certainly not the revelation of God coming to earth. He was involved in a lifestyle contrary to the Bible, and seemed to feel that while it was intellectually fascinating, the Bible (and the God it reveals) had no bearing on his life.

As I reflected on the man I knew, and the man Mary Ann read about, I thought, "What an amazing difference in responses!" One man spent years in the New Testament and it has meant nothing to his life. The other read four books of it and by the fifth knew Jesus was real and God and gave the rest of his life to Him at great risk to himself. What it reminds me is:

1. The true work of conversion will be a transaction between an individual and the Holy Spirit, and we never know when it may happen. We are called to be God's witnesses, not His attorneys. We aren't going to "win the case" for Him. We share what we know, as God leads us, and realize the results are up to Him and between Him and the person involved.

2. Be ready in season and out of season. I shared some time back the story of Daniel (you can click here to read it), a man I met on the street in Los Angeles while I was walking to get a toilet part, who approached me and who, within 10–15 minutes I was leading to Christ. On the other hand I have shared Christ, and defended Christ, and argued Christ, for sometimes years with other people and seen no conversion. We never know when it is "the moment" that God has prepared and when the person will make their decision.

There is great freedom and responsibility in these realizations or reminders. Freedom—it is not our job to convert someone. We just are faithful to share as we are led. Responsibility—we need to be available to be led and position ourselves to be receptive to God's nudges. With Daniel, a simple decision to walk on the other side of the road and the contact wouldn't have happened. With Paul, resisting the Holy Spirit would have sent him to a region the Holy Spirit didn't want Him (even though he would have been doing "God's work"). We never know the time or season or moment, nor what seeds we are planting even when something seems futile. We must let the Spirit guide us—let Christ in us live through us—and then trust Him with the rest.

I close with a similar example. One of my earliest youth camps almost caused me to quit youth work. I had taught on multiple different evidences for our faith, including the evidence in Creation. I felt like no one had heard a thing. Mary Ann and I were so discouraged and went to a pastor's home, ready to quit. He asked one question, "Did you do what God asked you to do?" That question has changed my life. As I realized I had he said, "Then that's all He's asked you to do. Trust the results to Him." About a month later God gave me a glimpse of the fruit of that time I thought had done nothing (we don't always get those glimpses, and that is why we must trust!). One of our high school girls in the youth group came up to me and told me that in science class that day the teacher had told the class that if they didn't believe they'd come from fish to get out of the class . . . and she had gotten up, in front of the whole class, and walked to the door. The stunned teacher asked what she was doing and she replied, "I don't believe I came from fish. I believe God made me." The teacher sputtered and told her to stay in, just not to say anything.

We never know. We simply do what He asks, and trust. All we are responsible for is what He asks of us. By the way . . . the parents of that girl gave us a homemade plaque that still hangs in the center of our living room which ways, "I know I'm somebody, 'cause God don't make no junk."

Friday, September 14, 2012

We'll Never Understand With Just a Surface View

Our stand on the Bible and what it says about the physical and spiritual world, and Satan and evil, will dictate whether or not we truly understand world events. This is critical for everyone to understand, not just a President . . .

In response (I assume) to all the rioting against, and attacks on, America in the Middle East and Africa these last few days the Obama administration has apparently asked YouTube to review the Islam bashing video that is supposed to have started this whole thing. You can read the FOX article by clicking here. In the article it says, "The White House has asked YouTube to review the online video that has been cited as the spark for demonstrations raging across the Middle East and North Africa. The Obama administration is not explicitly asking YouTube to remove the film, but to check if it meets their standards."

They don't get it, and anybody who thinks this is about a video doesn't get it. It's not about a video! Millions of people around the world have seen and read and heard things offensive to their beliefs, faith, etc. and not rioted, murdered, burned down buildings, etc. You probably have—certainly you have if you are a Christian in America. I have heard hateful things about Jesus, and I have heard hateful things from the mouths of professing Christians toward others as well. And yet, we don't do what they are doing around the world right now (and, in reality, it is so far a tiny minority in these countries, not necessarily reflective of the whole country).

But for a U.S. President's administration to get involved asking YouTube to check the video out is naive at best, and at worst a huge mistake in even giving these people an inch. It is as if someone in the world can decide they don't like something America does, riot, and we say, "Sorry. We'll try and change that." and dance to the tune they select as they manipulate our marionette strings. Does anybody really think that even getting the video pulled is going to change the type of people who do these things? It only makes America look weak and afraid—and as every Christian should know, evil doesn't honor weakness and fear, if feeds on it and is empowered by it.

Foreign policy wisdom aside—that isn't really what this post is about—this focus on the video demonstrates a huge ignorance of the reality of world events and of the battle between good and evil. Christians, above all, should know that. The Bible makes it clear that our real enemies are not flesh and blood, but the principalities and powers that drive them. Satan hates God. He hates Christians in whom God dwells and who are adopted by God. He will use any and all means to incite rage and evil against anything that is good or dear to God's heart.

Recently a young adult asked me, in light of talking about 9/11, "Why do people hate us?" I told them that there is no way they will truly understand what is happening and the "why" of their question unless they understand the reality of God and Satan, good and evil, Satan driving evil, and of the fallen nature of man and our choices unconstrained by God. It goes far beyond 9/11, or even Bush, or Reagan, or . . . it goes back to a cross and an empty tomb, and before that Abraham and two sons, and before that a garden and a couple made in God's image and a serpent, and before that . . . well, you know what I mean.

We can never truly understand this world, evil, the hatred directed toward America and Christians, etc. until we understand the spiritual reality that overrides it all—and trying to understand or deal with these issues outside of that framework and reality is ignorant and will never truly work or lead to an understanding of the true enemy. It is like painting over dry rot or termite damage and thinking you've addressed the problem. This is one reason I think it is so important to understand a politician's worldview—we can never truly hope to understand them or hope that they will understand the world unless we know if they understand the truth of what is really going on.

It is not about a video. Just like it is foolish to think everything that happened in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict was all truly about people enraged by injustice. Or all the looting and stuff after Katrina—what, were the people who did that mad at the hurricane? Man, apart from Christ, is a breath away from darkness—and darkness needs but little fuel to enpower it and bring it to light.

Just the other day I went on a call to a barn fire that also burnt up a bunch of grass and debris. We spent hours mopping up, making sure every bit was out. Over and over there would be a wisp of smoke as the only evidence of the ember smoldering and waiting below, and then you'd flip a board and the oxygen would rush in and the ember would ignite into flame. Evil, darkness, is like that. It is always just below the surface, smoldering, waiting for whatever it can use to get its "oxygen." In the end it isn't really about the fuel or the oxygen . . . it is about the one putting the match to it or blowing on it. This stuff in the Middle East and Africa isn't about a video! And, to even address the video or think that it is displays a deep lack of understanding of reality.

I thank God for His written Word which helps us understand the true world, spiritual and physical, and for the reality we know as Christians that He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and that whatever happens in this life is but for a moment in the light of the eternity He has reserved for those who have placed their faith in His Son's work. May His Spirit give us all understanding and open our eyes to truth as we seek to live in this world, but be transformed that we are not like this world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just for Fun . . .

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

You might be "country" if . . .

. . . driving into town for your once a week town day you realize that the envelopes you used to mail your bills in aren’t sealing so you use the roll of gray duct tape you happen to have rolling around on the mini van floor to seal them with before you drop them in the mailbox.

. . . your wife drops you off in front of WalMart so you can quickly run in and when you come out you immediately spot your van in the full parking lot because it is the only one you can’t see through the back window of because of all the dirt road dust on it.

. . . someone in a car knocks over a tree in front of the church you pastor and one of the parties involved says, “I’ve got a loader, I’ll just pick it up and haul it off.”

. . . you get your soundboard working again with tin foil after a fuse blows.

. . . a mouse joins you on the floor for youth group.

. . . you go to repair your church’s septic tank and find out it is a buried 55 gallon drum.

. . . you walk across 40 acres of grass and mud in your funeral clothes because the road is too slick to get home on.

. . . one of the fundraisers for your youth group has been a cow drop contest in which people buy tickets to get a square in a field and you then let a cow loose in the field and see which square it poops first in to see who wins the prize.

. . . the guys on the volunteer fire department with you are better armed than the police.

. . . you have a bumper sticker that says, “Fairy tales say a frog became a prince. Scientist call it evolution.” . . . on your tractor.

. . . you preach on the heavens declaring the glory of God and every person you are preaching to knows what you are talking about because they see a beautiful display of stars at their homes every night.

. . . you take your youth group to a winter camp and as counselors you are taking the pastor and his wife, an elder and his wife, the worship leader and his wife, the church secretary and her husband, the Children’s Church director and her husband, the youth pastor and his wife, the treasurer, and the missions head . . . and you’ve only taken five counselors.

Not that I know anyone these might describe, of course.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Churches . . .

Thanks to everyone who has been commenting or emailing me with thoughts about how they are processing the warm embrace of Romney evangelicals are giving him that I posted my concerns about in my last two posts. I appreciate your thoughts and value your opinions as I work through it all.

Yesterday at our service I introduced a series I will be teaching through in which we will be examining different foundations/beliefs of our faith from the perspective of not trying to be too deeply theological but rather from the angle of, "So What?" I don't mean that in the sarcastic, bored, disinterested stereotype teenage response, but in the deeply interested way of, "Okay, so you believe [fill in the blank], so what? How does that belief make you different in the world you are called into as light and salt and the image bearer of Christ? How are you different and how do you become different and take thoughts and feelings captive to that truth, because of that truth you believe? How can we formulate questions for our life that will help us take our thoughts, feelings, priorities, choices captive to that truth and make us different for that truth?" Believe the right thing is the basic first step, but it is not a guarantee of any eternally valuable walk. We must not only believe something, but let that belief alter our walk and our attitudes and our feelings.

After the service a man came up to me and shared why that question, "So what?" had affected him so much. With his permission I share what he shared with me . . .

Last week he'd been in a city in Southern California. He works in making companies more energy efficient. Dressed to include a button down shirt and tie he went into the facility of a large, non-denominational evangelical church in a nice neighborhood to try and get contact information for the facility manager so he could set up an appointment with him to discuss the facilities energy use and how he might help them scale it back.

There was a large coffee shop book area with a sign that, though the offices were on the other side of it, you can't pass through it to get to them, but have to go outside. He asked someone who curtly told him, "You have to go outside." Doing so he encountered a locked door with a buzzer. After ringing it a voice asked his business and after he explained it he was buzzed in without any words being spoken. He was met by a security guard with the words "SECURITY" across his chest who escorted him to the receptionist. She, in a very business-like way without much fluff or seeming caring of him as a person, asked his business. He told her. She, without warmth, said, "Do you have an appointment? He doesn't see people without an appointment." My friend repeated he was trying to simply get contact information so he could set up an appointment, to which she repeated that he didn't see people without an appointment. Finally, after going back and forth, she handed him the manager's card and the security guard escorted him to the door. Asking the guard if they'd have problems (the neighborhood looked nice) the guard got apologetic and said it was just their policy. They then talked and shared a bit.

Heading down the street he saw a Catholic church which had classrooms and a decent-sized facility and he stopped there. The doors were wide open. Going into the sanctuary he saw people in it praying and he paused a moment to pray as well (not to the Catholic symbols, but to Jesus). He'd been there but a bit and he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked into the eyes of a man who kindly and gently said, "I'm Father ___. Would you like to confess your sins or is there something you'd like to talk about?" The difference between the two receptions (and my friend is not Catholic), was like night and day.

The point in sharing it was that my friend had just had that experience and then he heard me asking, "So what? So you have that belief, how are you different?" His heart had been wounded that day. He'd thought maybe he'd have even bump into the pastor of the church and have a moment to pray or gotten a word of encouragement. He'd had a hard week. Here they have this huge facility and a nice coffee shop and tons of resources . . . but, "So what?" He was greeted by uncaring voices, people who treated him like an object to be gotten rid of or dealt with, security guards, and locked doors. Down the street he met open doors and kindness and caring.

"So What?" So what difference does having Jesus and our beliefs make to us. What do people meet when they meet us? Which church best represents us, our fellowships, our homes? Which one best shows Jesus to the world? How do people feel when they come in contact with you or your fellowship or your home? These are questions to ask. Americans may have more access to knowledge about God than any other nation, and yet statistics about American Christians are shamingly close to statistics about unbelievers in marriage statistics and other areas. "So What?" So you and I have all these correct beliefs about God that we can spout out easily. "So What?" How are we different because of those beliefs. It is a question I ask myself regularly as I seek to take my thoughts and feelings and priorities captive to what I believe about God and His promises and His character and His Word. My flesh still wants to rule. I don't want it to. I must let my beliefs make a difference in my life, even if my first impulses don't come forth from them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Thanks & Comment Note

Thanks to the couple people who emailed me thoughts on the question/dilemma I shared in Thursday's post, A Good Read & A Troubled Heart. I would really, really like to hear from more committed Christ followers about how they are looking at this issue. It is not, to me, so much the quiet vote for Romney that bothers me as much as the shoulder to shoulder publicity and enthusiasm and showcasing the Mormon faith is getting by Christians suddenly all jumping on the bandwagon in our fear of another Obama term. It is an issue I really don't have an answer to . . . the obvious horrible consequences of another Obama term, laid alongside the possible eternal consequences of evangelicals dropping their guard toward Mormonism or in any way contributing to an appearance that the faith doesn't bother us any more. Again, this is nothing at all to do with Mr. Romney or his family or the dedication and kindness of so many Mormons (might more Christians be like them!). Anyway, no need to repeat that post. If you are interested or would like to share your thoughts with me on it, it is linked to above.

Along the line of sharing thoughts, I am so frustrated trying to comment on other blogs and not being able to read those crazy words we are supposed to enter to prove we aren't a computer (and based on how many of you email me instead of commenting my guess is you are too!) that I have, I believe, disabled that part of commenting. Now when you post a comment you should, if I understand it right, be done. It will go to me for moderation. I would love for one or two of you to try it and let me know if that is correct and how the process works for you. I would also love for more people to share through commenting their thoughts, insights, God moments, etc. and to make this blog place a place where like-minded believers can encourage and build up one another. The body of Christ was never intended to be a separated collection of John Wayne Christians, but a living and interacting body that, together, fully expresses Christ's image and strengthens one another.

God bless. Have a wonderful weekend!   —Erick

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Good Read & A Troubled Heart

If you've read this blog any length of time you know that I firmly believe it is impossible to separate a person from their worldview (assuming they live faithfully to what they believe). While I do not believe there should be a religious test for office (as in someone has to believe certain things to run in America), I do believe that the flip side of that—to try and ignore a person's worldview—is ignorance. How can we possibly understand or predict how a person will decide major issues like values, the battle between good and evil, Israel, Islam, etc., if we don't understand the framework or lens through which they view the world? We don't have to agree with a person's worldview, or even vote for them, but to ignore it and think we understand the person is foolish.

Albert Mohler posted an excellent blog entry today titled, "The Great American Worldview Test—The 2012 Election." I highly recommend you read it. It is a very equipping understanding that while we may frame individual issues as if they stand alone, they are, in fact, truly inseparably tied into our worldview. He makes a great case that this coming election—and he seems to frame it as Democrat vs. Republican—is a test between two worldviews that are a vast distance apart . . . and that both party's platforms are deeply tied into the worldview they subscribe to.

As he says at the end of the post, "Americans will elect a president in November, but our vote will reveal far more than our political preference. The 2012 election is a worldview exercise of unprecedented contrasts — an unavoidable test of our most basic convictions. The electoral map will reveal more than an election winner. It will reveal who Americans really are and what we really believe."

I couldn't agree more with what he is saying in terms of our revealing what we truly believe by what we make our priorities in the upcoming election. With that said, however, I find myself in a deep dilemna. Please don't let what I am about to write take anything away from what I wrote above. Mr. Mohler's article is right on and a must read. However, it leads me to a point I am deeply bothered by and don't have an answer to. I would really love to hear from conservative, Bible-believing Christians on how they are dealing with what I am about to say. So, here goes.

I will never vote for President Obama. While I am sure he has a heart for the poor and some other things Christians should care about and do more about, I do not know how he can profess to be a Christian and show such utter disregard for the Bible and what it says. I don't have a clue what his basis for determining right and wrong is, but it clearly can't be God's written Word. In fact, not only does he just not embrace it as his source of truth, he actively works against what it stands for in many, many areas. I would choose to not vote before I would ever cast my vote for him. He has done more in four years to undermine America's stand for God's values than anyone I can ever remember. The scary thing to me (and, I am sure, exciting thing to some others) is that it appears a vast number of Americans embrace him and his policies and reject God's written Word as their standard of right and wrong and life.

That said, Mr. Romney is a Mormon. It wasn't that long ago, when Mr. Santorum and Gingrich and Perry and Ms. Bachmann were still in it, Evangelicals were freaking out about a Mormon and making sure everyone knew it was a cult and that people falling into it were not going to be saved. What has changed? Is our dislike for President Obama so strong that we will vote for anyone but him? Now it seems like everywhere I turn Evangelicals are singing Romney's praises and encouraging a vote for him.

Please don't read into this something that is not there. I have only deep respect for Mr. Romney and would love to sit and visit with him and his family. And, I can only wish more Christians showed the kindness and family values and commitment to, and sacrifice for, their faith Mormons do. But . . . if we truly believe that Mormonism is a path away from salvation, and a faith filled with many false foundations, then aren't we legitimatizing it by being so cozy with Mr. Romney and giving him so much of our support and such a vast platform to showcase the Mormon faith's strengths? Aren't we, in fact, separating ourselves from our worldview and letting issues and not a worldview of eternal life (or Hell) frame us? Or do we not really believe Mormonism is not a path to salvation?

My fear is that, in fighting against Obama and abortion and gay marriage and such we are, as Christians, in some way causing millions of people to soften their resistance to a faith we claim is dangerous and not a true saving faith. If so, for the sake of a few years (in light of eternity) are we not playing a part in maybe millions being separated from God for all of eternity?

I don't know the answer to this. The thought of Obama for another four years as a President not worried about re-election is very scary to me. But the thought of playing a part in maybe millions coming to a faith I have been told, all my Christian years, by Christian leaders, is not a true saving faith, is also very scary. I don't want to lose sight of eternity because I am looking at a few years, or even decades. I know that Mr. Romney far better reflects our values than President Obama or the Democrat's platform does, and that we aren't electing a pastor, but a President . . . but I can't help but believe that, as Mormons are more and more seen favorably through this, more and more people will find their resistance to it dropping and their defense against it faltering. And if that mattered to us so dogmatically just a few months ago, has any of its threat to people's eternity changed? Or, are we putting this life and this nation ahead of the Kingdom of God, maybe not remembering this is not our home and there is a bigger issue at work?

I truly am in a deep dilemma I keep thinking about but can't find answers to. Again, I would really value hearing from committed, Bible believing Christians who have wrestled through this as to what your thoughts are.


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