Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Few Good Examples

In my last post, Words Matter, I shared some thoughts on what it says/reveals depending on where we place the word "but" in our sentences. I used the following hypothetical sentences, both about the same thing, as an example:

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 two are dramatically different in where we are putting our final emphasis, hope, and view. In the first, our big picture is our problems and we've kind of inserted God like a slice into it. In the second sentence, our problems are a slice, but the big picture and backdrop is God.

Over the last many months I've been trying to read (admittedly, not too successfully) one section of Psalm 119 a day. When I finish, I go back to the start. It is a powerful Psalm, easily broken down into short daily readings. There is a tremendous theme of hope in it based on God and His words to us. We can't have that hope in His words/promises to us unless we ultimately have hope in Him (a promise given from a liar or someone with no means to fulfill it means little, but one given from a person with the ability and history and character to fulfill it means a lot). Faith always, ultimately, has an object. We never simply "don't have enough faith"—we must always finish it with, "I don't have enough faith in ______."

The other day, reading through Psalm 119, I was suddenly struck with the use of "but" in exactly the way I'd shared in my last post. I thought I would share a few of the many examples in that Psalm alone with you. Notice the power in the passages as they share about problems and then say, "but . . ." Notice what comes after the "but" and how that leaves you feeling (in some cases it is an reminder statement about God, putting it all into perspective—in other cases it is an affirming of a choice they will make in spite of the problems they face). I especially like verses 150–151. In the ones that are affirming statements about God (perspective) try reversing them in your mind and see the amazing difference.

Psalms 119:51 The insolent utterly deride me, but I do not turn away from your law.

Psalms 119:87 They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts.

Psalms 119:110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.

Psalms 119:143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.

Psalms 119:150–151 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose; they are far from your law. But you are near, O LORD, and all your commandments are true.

Psalms 119:161 Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words.

There are many other examples in the Psalms, and another interesting reversal of this as well. Doing a search for the word "but" in the Psalms I found many, many that talk about the love and grace and protection of God and then say, "but . . ." and talk about the fate of those separated from God. It is a powerful reminder that while God is love and as Christians we treasure the grace He shows us, He is still holy and He still hates sin and there is still judgment coming for those outside of Christ. It is a powerful reminder and prompting to urgency for us.

And here's a couple wonderful and affirming examples of the use of "but" from other Psalms to leave you with.

Psalms 3:1–3 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. — Selah. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalms 4:2–3 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? — Selah. But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

God bless you, and may He and His promises and eternity always be the big picture in which you view everything else.

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.


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