"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him in the midst of loss, not prosperity." --John Piper

Thursday, December 29, 2011

He would have been 49 today.

I stopped in my insurance agent today, and had to sign a paper. When I hesitated before putting the date, she said, "It's the 29th." I responded with a "sheesh." and she said, "Yes, the year has gone fast."

But my "sheesh" came for a different reason. My brother would have been 49 today. He died several years ago of an intentional overdose. He just couldn't take being an addict anymore. It was so bad that he chose to take his life over it. So much for drugs being an escape from one's problems.

I do not know his eternal destiny, although things don't look good. He was antagonistically agnostic. He had a Buddha in his house, but when questioned about Buddhism, he admitted he did not really know much about it. I think it was mostly there to antagonize any Christians who might enter, like me.

He tried 12 step programs, but they don't work so well when you refuse to have anything to do with a higher-power. And yet, he believed in something. He was, among other things, a mountain climber. He said once, "You can't stand on a mountain and look around and say this all happened by chance. There has to be a creator."

Yet, he didn't like the creator. He didn't want to have anything to do with a god who would let children starve, or any of the other seemingly unexplainable miseries that befall mankind.

Brother, you are still loved and missed. I wish we could have talked more, although I don't know if it would have changed anything. I wish you peace. I pray that in those last moments, you wrestled with God and lost, that you might win something greater.

Why don't I like what I see?

Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me?" and Peter replied, "Yeah, sure, Lord. I like ya."

This comes to mind because our church is encouraging a Bible reading plan for this year. Now, I am all for Bible reading, but it is their motivation for the plan that concerns me. Here are their "8 good reasons to listen to God daily through His Word:

  1. So my prayers will be answered. (Jn 15:7)
  2. So my decisions will be wise. (Ps 32:8)
  3. So I will not sin. (Ps 119:11)
  4. So I can find comfort. (Ps 119:52)
  5. So I can get the most out of life. (Josh 1:8)
  6. So I can know what is true. (Acts 17:11)
  7. So I can be close to God and learn from Him.(Heb 10:22)
  8. So I will have hope. (Rom 15:4)
 On the surface, these all sound like great things. But why is it I keep hearing, "Yeah, sure, Lord, we like ya." 

Like I stated already, I am all for the reading of God's word, and I think it is powerful and can transform lives. But I also know that the scribes and pharisees were very devout in their knowledge and reading of God's Word, and that didn't work out so well for them.

Jesus question holds the answer. "Do you love me?" What is our motivation for reading the Word? Is it for what I will get out of it? Or is it because I love God and desperately want to draw closer to Him? Mere obedience does not bring about change. I (try to) obey the speed limit, but that does not make me love the police. I do it to not exact the consequence.

I guess that is why I think of this passage when I heard about the reading plan. I have contacted the pastor about some of the statements I hear from the pulpit. He puts me off for months. When he finally does talk to me, he promises to pray about it and get back with me. What he does is then send me a letter saying that if I do not have full confidence in his preaching, perhaps I should find another church. He follows that up with a meeting with myself and a couple of elders. No mention is made of my questions, just a meeting to say that we need to get along and start over. I left for a few weeks, but decided that I should not allow this bullying to chase me away from a church. I now attend again, but listen to my i-pod during sermons. Although many have seen this, no one questions anything. (What elephant in the room?)

"If you love me, feed my sheep."

"Yeah, sure, Lord, we like ya."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Late night ramblings...why I won't give up

I am lucky to post 1 to 3 times a month these days. A far cry from what I am used to. Several reasons. The main being life is so busy right now. Work load is awful, father-in-law not doing well, mother-in-law driving everyone crazy. Wife struggling with her father's decline and mother's expectations (they live with us). Oldest son lives out of state, and we are not sure how he is really doing. The list goes on. And through it all, our church ignores us, treats us like outcasts or as non-existent, and just lives in a glory that isn't really there at all.

And yet, I believe in a sovereign God. So I can smile sometimes during the day. I can continue to praise Him, even though times are tougher than I would like. (Take that, Joel Osteen!) Like Job, I am sure that some would just advise me to curse God and die (or quit or leave or find another church). But my God allows me to stay, even in the midst of trials. Somehow, I should be glorifying Him through all of this, and I pray that I am. I do not seek to be a martyr, but I dare not run either.

Contrary to what I read in the Purpose Driven sequel called SHAPE, it is not my strengths and abilities that honor God, but it is my weaknesses and inabilities. It is the things that drop me to my knees that draw me to Him. Maybe I don't have the most read, coolest, most techno-savy blog. But maybe I touch a heart or two. Maybe I don't lead a platoon to Christ, but maybe I just fill the gaps that God desires I fill.

Just a little late night rambling from a man who is tired, but who clings to a faith that will not let me down, and a God who cannot fail.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I have really done this, and still do it!

We had been in limbo for a while, searching for a place to worship. We either had issues with doctrine or theology or both. So we tried worshipping a home, but felt something was missing.

We decided to go back where we had previously worshipped, even though we felt the preaching sucks. Really, I can't think of a politically correct word for what I hear. Like recently, two of points were that 1) We should trust the promiser and not his promises; and 2) We should focus on the relationship and not the results.

But why would I trust a promiser who does not keep his promises? Why does God make promises and swear by Himself? I need to trust His promises, not as I understand them, but as He gives them. God is completely faithful. And to tell me not to trust in His promises belittles Him.

And why have a relationship and not consider the results? Unless we go in with selfish motives and then of course we will be unhappy. One of the greatest things about a true relationship with God is the result of the changed life I have as a result. That is why I seek a relationship, because I know God is good and I trust in Him.

So what have I done to resolve my dilemma? I use my i-pod during services to listen to preachers that uplift God rather than try to sell some god to me that needs to have someone give excuses for his imperfections. Really. And the preacher has seen me with them in. And no one says a word about it. Now, I must have had them a little loud a couple of weeks ago, because the little old lady in the row in front of me looked back at me a few times, but no one has said a word in the 4 weeks we have been back. Because if you ignore the elephant in the room, it isn't there, is it?

Why go back if it is that bad? Because we have made some connections there that will likely fade if we leave, and we don't feel that we should have to give them up. Strong, gospel centered connections.

Maybe someday they will talk to me. Maybe someday I will have an opportunity to say something that will change them. I am going to leave that in God's hands. I am not seeking to create controversy, but you really can't have a controversy if one party refuses to participate. I just want to worship.

Maybe I do need to turn up the volume a bit more though.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

D is for Death

Jesus said to live for Him, we must die to self. That is so contrary to what we hear today in our churches.

When did Jesus have a hog roast, carnival, picnic, basketball team, or other event just to draw in new members. Yes, I know about the feeding of the 5,000, but read it, it was not a membership draw. In fact, after feeding them, he tells them they were only there for the food! Harsh!

But as I read through the gospels, I see a lot of harsh teachings. That is about the only place I see harsh teaching, in the church it is often non-existant or buried in a load of fluff.

Dying is not a pretty thought. But perhaps we need to get over that idea. Carrying a cross is not a pretty thought, but we are told to do that too. But the cross we carry too often has wheels on it, and padding where it touches our shoulder. Blisters and blood would turn people off, and that crown of thorns is over the top.

All that talk about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile...

D is for death, but I will have to blog more about that later...my carpal tunnel is kicking in and it hurts to type too much. (No, I don't have carpal tunnel, I am being sarcastic).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

C is for Christ

Matthew 16:16
16Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Matthew 16:22
22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you."

I am often intrigued by Peter. One moment calling Him the Christ, and the next, rebuking Him. How could Peter do that.

Then I look at me. Haven't I accepted Him as Lord of my life? Don't I confess Him as Christ. So why is it that I often want to rebuke Him? Isn't that what I do every time I take matters into my own hands? If He is Lord, He should be in control. If I confess He is Christ, don't I also confess that I am not?

Aren't I just like Peter, walking on the water, looking around and seeing all the turmoil, and starting to sink. I need to see Him as more than just my Savior, I need Christ.

Monday, October 10, 2011

B is for Beautiful

God is beautiful. How can He not be? He is perfect in all ways. I cannot imagine what it will be like to someday behold Him, although the thought puts both joy and fear in me. I know that some would disagree with me here. What about evil? What about disease and starvation and poverty and death? Are these not a reflection of our creator, if indeed we are created? And I could argue about the birth of a child, the sunset, the blooming of a rose, a cool, starry evening. But it is not a competition of which is greater. I don't understand all of creation, but I know that I am not at its center. He is beautiful in my eyes because I see Him. Looking at anything else is just a distraction.

I sometimes wonder what kind of parents these people are, who fault God for the calamities that befall man. Are they the kind of parents who only give their children good, even if they do not deserve it? Do they pat the child on the back after he has just taken a knife and carved their name in the walls of the house or the dining table and say, "Look how cute? I wonder what he could do if we gave him a chainsaw?" Or do they come home and ask their child how to spend their paycheck? Surely, if there is a God, He has the right to make creation as He sees fit. And it does not take away from His beauty any more than my deciding how to spend my paycheck takes away from my love for my children.

Kids have such a funny concept of money. I remember when my oldest son was much younger. We drove by a house and he thought we should buy it. Trying to deter him, I said that house must cost $100,000! He said, no problem, had $100, if I had the $1,000. I wish it worked that way, I'd own more real estate. But I explained to him it would take 100-thousand dollar bills, and that was a lot. We drove on, him understanding a bit more about finances, me amused at his understanding.

God is beautiful. Perfect in ways I cannot understand. He does things I sometimes wish were done in other ways. But He is infinite in knowledge, I am finite. But if you have a house you want to sell for about $100,000.00, I have $100...and I am sure I can get a loan for the $1,000. Do we have a deal?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A is for Almighty

God is God. There is nothing that I can do to change that. Even unbelief does not change that. God knows this. He is not threatened by me or any other individual for that matter. That is one thing that makes Him such an awesome God.

He is the Almighty, the creator of Heaven and Earth. He alone is worthy of all worship and praise.

And this Almighty God loves me. Now, I shouldn't let that go to my head. His love gives me a reason to live, but it does not make me more important than anyone else.

I say this because I need to be reminded of it. I look at all of the philosophies and thrologies that are out there, and I make a conscious effort to choose what I believe is right. I hear a lot about how God is love. But I have to wonder how His love is different from my idea of love. His love is not just a gushy feeling, but it encompasses things like justice and judgment. It has to, or it would not be love.

He is Almighty, and I am not. He wants my praise, but He will not compromise who He is to get it. Nor will He be changed if He does not. God does not change. He is not like the fickle people we are, who alter our behavior if something or someone does not cater to Him. He is God.

I guess that is why reformed theology appeals to me. I used to think so much less of God. I used to think that my importance to Him could change Him. But that is unscriptural. I used to think that He was content with whatever I had to offer. Imagine, an Almighty God who was impressed by my returning his sixpence. How much more beautiful to think of Him as a Father who looks and the sixpence and smiles, lovingly, knowing it is a gift from the heart. How much more damning that He is also the Almighty God who knows when it is not. I cannot fool Him, even if I fool myself.

A is for Almighty.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pat Robertson and Love

I read a few days ago a few posts about Pat Robertson's comment regarding a man who wanted to divorce his wife because she had Alzheimer's. In case you did not hear, Pat Robertson (supposedly, I did not hear the comments myself) said that the man should go ahead and divorce her.

When his co-anchor asked if this broke his wedding vows, Pat responded that vows were "until death do us part, and this is a kind of death."

Does this bother anyone? While I am sure Pat took some heat for this, is this just a non-issue for most folks. Isn't Pat just stating what our itching ears want to hear? Isn't he just stating what most of us practice in some form or another? Isn't he just stating our truth. When the going gets tough, the tough find a loophole or a justification for their actions.

  • We live in time of economic crisis. Will borrowing more money really get us out of this mess?
  • We see the poor and afflicted. What do we do to help them in Jesus' name? Not even a cup of cold water?
  • We make vows to our spouses. We tell them we love them. But when that beauty fades or they are no longer of service to us, we cast them aside. Was not the person we loved really ourselves? As long as we get what we want, we love and stay together. Was that the vow we took?
It is no wonder that non-Christians are not affected by us. We don't clothe ourselves in Christ, we just put on a t-shirt that says, "I love Jesus because saying so gets me into heaven." Problem is, we have never read the back of the shirt. It says, "I wanted to go to heaven, but all I got was this lousy t-shirt!"

Saturday, September 17, 2011

That's been my experience...

I was listening to a Matt Chandler sermon. If you are not familiar with Matt, he has a less that positive view of most of what is done in the name of evangelicalism.

In this particular sermon, he mentions how many churches are about confirmation. We confirm that what the minister says is good and right, and he confirms us through his distortion of the word. Has Matt been to my church?

I did not confirm the minister, but I questioned what he said or at least how he said it. Did he really say that good deeds plus the gospel = Jesus follower? Yup, and I have the outline to prove it. Now I am not opposed to good deeds. But they are not in needed in addition to the gospel, are they? Are they not rather a response to the gospel. I guess what bothers me most is the fine line that is walked. I cannot say that he is wrong. In some ways he is right. Faith without works is dead. But taken in context, that is not how I see him meaning it. Not when you take all of the other statements and see a bigger picture.

I can't confirm that message. But he won't either. I find it sad.

I still haven't found...

Things continue to be busy at work. It seems that shortening our day by 30 minutes actualy makes for more work, as I try to figure out how to get everything done  that needs done. Add to the the new "fixes" they have incorporated into our teaching, and it is amazing I have time to sleep at all. Hence, the blog has taken a back seat lately. But sometimes I just need a break from grading papers, like now.

Tomorrow will be the 4th Sunday away from UCC (which I pronounce phonetically as Uck!) We have had an elder stop by to encourage us to return, but not another sound. I am sure that many do not even realize we are gone.

We went to a Presbyterian church last weekend. Not the place for us, although I had such hopes. So much of their service was consumed by their upcoming building project. It made me uncomfortable. They asked when we signed in if they could contact us...(silence)

So we will worship at home tomorrow. Sing a bit, listen to a sermon (tomorrow will most likely be a Tim Keller sermon), share communion and pray. We will talk about how we can give back to God some of what he has given us.

I want a church home, but I don't want to play church. I can't pretend all is well and paint a smile on my face. I pray God will lead us somewhere soon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mother Fletcher

Life has been crazy! School is back in session, and I have been going non-stop trying to keep up. They have initiated so many changes this year, it is like starting over.

Church is crazy too. I applied to teach Sunday School. I was told that if I am going to teach SS, I must attend worship. I politely refused, which drove the SS Chairman bonkers. So I had to explain how I have had questions about the minister's sermons and he refuses to speak to me. Yet he tells the SS Chairman how much he respects me and the manner in which I approached him.

So I am reading this week's story for my class. It is about a woman in Harlem who invites a friendly police officer to Christmas dinner. She says this, "'Cause the more you expect the more you get your heart broke up. But you got to be ready whey they do act right because that's what makes the surviving worth surviving. That make any sense to you, honey?'"

Well, it makes a lot of sense to me. We have stopped attending our church, but have left the door open if they want to talk to us. I really don't have a high expectation. The SS Chairman did stop by, but only to convince me to come back. He knows my background and has seen me teach, and has told me I have a lot to offer. I reiterated my position. I would love to return, but not if it means showing up and listening without being able to question. He told me that the minster knew he was coming to see me, but did not offer to join him. That spoke volumes to me.

It hurts. Even though we have only a little over a year invested there. I am sad for them. One of the elders, who I have known for a long time, came from a similar background. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church, training to become a minster. He was asked to leave because he wanted to do what he believed the Bible wanted him to do. Now he is on the other side of the table. How ironic.

Well, back to school work. I hope to be caught up and back to more frequent blogging within a few weeks.

Monday, August 1, 2011

That's always been my experience...

I had lunch about a week ago with a man from our church. During the course of lunch, we discussed some theology. I am Reformed and Calvinist. He leans toward a prosperity theology. He quoted a verse in Corinthians to support his thoughts (I wish I had written it down) and also stated, "That's always been my experience, when I am closer to God He blesses me more and more." The context of our conversation made it plain that this was in regard to material things.

But what about the Bible? Taken as a whole, we cannot find this theology to be supported. The Apostles died horrible deaths, and suffered along the way. I think of Stephen, John the Baptist, Jesus' mother just as a few other examples. I just finished reading Trevin Wax's Blog and see all that he had endured this month. Either this theology is wrong, or Trevin has been a very bad boy. I don't know him personally, but I am going to go with the former.

God is a God of comfort. To know comfort, we must know pain. There have been times in this life He has been all I have had to cling to. While I do not like pain, those times have brought a bond that gets stronger every time.

Has God blessed me materially? Yes. But that is not the only kind of comfort He intends for me to have. Because God loves me, he will allow me to walk through the valley of death too. The place where His rod of correction and his staff of leadership will give me what I need. At least, that's always been my experience.

Here is a video Trevin had posted at the end of his post. I have always loved Bebo Normen, and this is powerful.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

He said it on our way home from the county fair

From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love...

-Jonathan Edwards

That one is found on page 13 of Religious Affections.

Edwards is looking at the question, "What is true religion?" And a large part of that answer is affection. Loving God, the greatest command of all. But what does it mean to love God?

I love my family. If you want to get on my bad side, do something that harms my family. What kind of husband would I be if I said I loved my wife, but watched as someone abused or berated her and did nothing? What kind of father would I be if I observed my children being bullied and just watched and laughed. No, my love and affection for them would cause me to react in a different way.

So what about God? Do we love Him? Do we come to His defense when He is attacked?

My 9 year old son and I were driving to the county fair, listening to the radio. A man was on who had witnessed many atheists and those who had given up their faith. He said that in his experience, people who rejected God on a rational basis always had a painful past that led to this attitude. As he spoke, he mentioned one who had rejected God because his fiance had gotten ill, and even after much intense prayer, she died. I was not aware how intently my son was listening, but suddenly he burst out, "That's ridiculous! You shouldn't hate God just because your fiance dies! God can't do everything! Well, He can, but He does not have to. You shouldn't hate God just because you don't get what you want!"

And I pray that that child-like affection and devotion, that love and instinct to protect a God that he loves, will never, ever die. No wonder Jesus loved the little children, and stated that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wish I woulda said that...

In nothing is vigor in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious.  -Jonathan Edwards

It is on page 6 of "Religious Affections." My progress in this book is slow. So much to drink in. Why does it always sound more obvious when someone else says it? Shouldn't I understand that without passion, without love, my works are hollow?

So many Scriptures come to mind that validate this idea, yet I continue to fall short. I need to put these Scriptures more before me.

Isaiah 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

What Scripture comes to your mind?

Monday, July 18, 2011

What is your answer to this question?

I just started reading through Jonathan Edwards "The Religious Affections." It's going to take a while. It seems to be the kind of book that you can't just read through, you have to think it through.

You don't normally expect to get hung up in the introduction, but even the intro has a lot of thought in it. He begins with this question as a premise. "What is the nature of true religion?" Seems like a simple enough question to answer, but look around at the various religions and even at the variety of answers within a single religion, and you will see much diversity, if not in response, at least in practice.

So does this make God the author of confusion, or do we not get it?

It seems to me that there is no one subject where God ought to lead more than in the answer to this question, yet there is no one subject where we bring our preconceptions and baggage in than this.

I look forward to reading this book. It's gonna take a while. But these nagging questions haunt me...Does Jonathan get it? Will I?

If you dare and have the time, what is your answer to the question of the true nature of religion?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I wanna be like Leslie

You have to believe it, and you hate it. I don't have to believe it, and I think it is beautiful.

The above quote is one that I wrote down in my journal from "Bridge to Teribithia. The scene is the boy in the movie has invited the new girl, Leslie, who moved into the house next door to church. They are riding home and Maybell, the younger sister is sounding off. Maybell apparently is not to fond of church. Perhaps she is too young to understand, or maybe she has just fallen into the trap of participating without belonging. She has found religion, but not a love for the God of that religion.

I wonder how these words apply to many in the church today. We see people leaving churches and organized religion in droves. Is it because God has failed or has religion gotten in the way? Do we feel the pressure of having to be perfect on the outside, while inwardly we know the truth? Does our enthusiasm wane when we just can't play the part anymore? Is that really what God has in mind for us?

Maybell had to believe it. Her parents made her go to church, and she resented it and all of the trappings that went along with it. Leslie saw something different. Instead of condemnation, she saw forgiveness. Instead of rules to obey, she saw freedom. Instead of outer obedience, she felt the inner response to the tug of God on her heart.

Which does your church sell? Which do you buy?

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Can't Get No Satisfaction...

"As soon as the Christian life becomes attainable, it ceases to require faith and loses its seasoning of humility and grace."  (John Fischer, Real Christians Don't Dance, pg. 16.)

We like things to be attainable. We preach the disciplines of the New Testament so that people will attain what God desires. We do stuff. Stuff like going to church, tithing, etc. so we can attain a measure of satisfaction in what we have done.

I am not saying doing stuff is bad. But doing stuff is not enough. Doing stuff is never enough.

I like what David Platt says, although I cannot recall his exact words. The idea is that we don't do stuff expecting God to be pleased with us, are doing is in response to seeing who He is. It is not an obligation, it is an act of love. Like when I come home. Usually my children will shout, "Daddy!" and come up and hug me. A response. But sometimes, they are preoccupied with a TV show or a video game. Then I have to announce myself, and I get a "daddy" out of obligation. It just is not the same.

I want to always stand in amazement of God, but truth is, sometimes I do not. But these times lead me to seeing His grace and my humanity. They show me the beauty of who He is and what He has done for me. I don't want to intentionally fall, just so I can see Him as greater. But when I do fall short, seeing His continuing grace is amazing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Worth viewing

Saw this here. Bet you know you I want to send it to.

Of course, to speak with conviction, you first ought to be convicted. So in a sense, I think the level of your speech at least gives a hint to your conviction.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Thought for the Day

"If your understanding of the Christian faith can be summed up on a bumper sticker, printed on a tee shirt, or could make its way on to a Hallmark greeting card, you could be in a very dangerous place." (Nathan W. Bingham, found here.)

Sometimes simple is good. And when it comes to faith, I think we all start out simple. So the above quote does not apply as much to those new to the faith. But we are told not to be eternal milk drinkers. There is an expectation that we will mature in that faith. I would even go so far as to say it is something that we should strive for.

That is a problem for some, who get stuck in a denominational or other type of mindset, thinking they have it all figured out and in essence, getting stuck in the mud. As my mother-in-law would say, doing the same old six and seven. But God's word is living and active.

I say this as much for me as for anyone who might read this. I like to be right. Problem is, that I am only sometimes right. Hard to say how much. So I need to be aware of over-simplifying, and holding on to what I believe instead of holding on to truth.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Thought of the Day

...when you hide certain things about Jesus to attract people to him, it's not Jesus you're attracting them to. (Jarod Wilson, here)

I like reading Jarod's blog. He is no-nonsense and gospel focused. To many times we feel that we must be people pleasers. That Jesus needs some make-up to cover his flaws. Yeah, we will mention some of his hard teachings, like his encounter with the Rich Young Ruler where Jesus tells him to sell all that he owns. But then we will soften the blow with phrases like, "that does not apply to everyone," or "you just have to have a loose grip on your stuff." While I agree that it does not apply in the same way to everyone, that does not mean that it does not apply in the same way to you or me. But we like to let people off the hook so they will join the "Christian Club." The Christian Club is a lot like the church, only it has all the benefits with 99% fewer commitments.

Now go out there and have your best life now!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That can't be what that means...

I was listening to the sermon from Sunday. The preacher said that "doing the right things for the right reasons requires purity." He went on to connect Jesus telling the Rich Young Ruler that he must "follow the commandments" to Jesus calling us to be pure, and that Jesus was saying "if (we) want to be good, then (we must) live a life free of disobedience and sin."

Dang, I was really hoping for a shot at going to heaven, but I know that I am not pure.

But maybe Jesus telling him to follow the commandments was not a call to purity, but to show him his impurity. Jesus had previously stated that "No one is good except God alone." And this man was no exception. But the man thought he was.

He responded to Jesus by saying that he had kept all these commandments since his youth. But he also knew that this was not enough. In Luke's version of this encounter, the man wants to know what he still lacks.

Jesus then tells him to sell all he has and follow him. Wow. So what is Jesus saying here? Is he replacing the legalism of the OT law with monastic poverty? Or is he saying take all that you depended on in the past, your purity, your wealth, your ways of thinking of these things, and throw them out and put yourself in my care. Follow me. Love me. See the Father through me. I am the way, truth and life.

I think that would be how Paul would interpret this encounter.

Philippians 3:7-9

7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Okay, I feel better now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Radical...or minimal???

Last Monday our church had its monthly men's meeting. They were going over Chapters 6-9 of the book "Radical" by David Platt.

Overall, they did a decent job of discussing the book. I wonder if they understood that David in a Calvinist, and that they spend most of their time tearing down the very theology that they were heartily embracing this night. It reminds me of Fiber One commercial where the dad puts his hands over the F-I in Fiber and tells his son it's a new cereal, Number One, to get him to eat it.

Needless to say, I was enjoying hte evening. Until the end. That was when the preacher spoke up. He had to say something, he had to grab some glory for himself. Seeing that things had gone well, he stated that this was why he had chosen this book, because of its challenging message. Yet this is the same preacher who 4 months earlier had admitted to me that he had not yet read the book, but merely "perused"it. (The book was chosen well prior to this time, as the reading list was given last year.) But that was not bad enough. He went on to talk about the challenge that Platt issued at the end of the book. And he issued his own challenge. "If you don't do anything else, if you don't accept all of David Platt's challenge, at least pray about it." Now I have nothing against prayer, in fact, I am all for it. It just that James 1:22 and 2:14-17 are ringing loudly in my ears.

Way to water it down, brother! Drown that seed.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Purposefulness...which rock are we building on?

For some reason, this is what's on my mind today...

A few months ago, I went to one of our church's small group meetings. It was stated at the outset that the purpose of this meeting was fellowship. (This seems to be the purpose of most of what our church does.) It was stated that even if we did not get to a bit of discussion of the Bible, or prayer, or anything else, if all we did was get together and fellowship, that was okay, because that is the primary purpose of our small groups.

So I wonder...

Did the early church ever meet just for fellowship? Peter is in prison, Paul is at sea, Jesus died for your sins, persecution is rampant. Let's have a cookout!

I think it is good to have purposefulness, but it must be the right purpose! Fellowship is a great thing, but our church was not built on the rock of fellowship!

I feel a volcano brewing. It is just a matter of time until it spews. I think this blog is a sort of pressure release that has kept it from blowing already. When and where it will happen I do not know. But when it does, I will blog about it here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

From the backyard

We are hosting a bar-b-que on Friday, and I was doing some cleaning up in the backyard. I really didn't intend to spend much time on it. First, I hosed off the patio and then saw some of the chairs looked awful. So I started powerwashing the chairs. They looked nice, but then I saw that in the process, there were some "clean" spots on the patio. Now I would have to powerwash the patio. While I was at it, the picnic table looked a little green, so it would have to be done too. But now the privacy fence looks dingy next to the clean picnic table, so now the fence needs powerwashed. Which means that the decking is gonna need done too, or it won't look right. So a 20 minute job turns into a 3 hour job.

So why am I writing about this? Because it reminds me of my spiritual life. Just when I think I have everything almost in place, getting those last few things in place reveals that there is more to be done. I finally feel like I have forgiven someone for wronging me, and I see hidden behind those feelings other things that need work too. A small project turns into a larger one.

Living the Christian life is a never ending task. Thankfully, it is not one that needs to be accomplished in one moment, one day, or even a year. It is a journey and a process. Left alone, my backyard will revert to its former self. Dirty, messy, etc. But even while that is true, I cannot spend my all of my time on my backyard, because I have a front yard, family, job, etc. It is a balancing act, a matter of choices. Just like my relationship with God. I cannot spend all of my time on any one portion of it. Prayer, worship, service, etc. need to flow and each part needs attention. But right now, it is my bed that calls me to it. Rest is also a needed part of life, I hope you are getting your share of it too.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Do I have to?

3And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (I John 2:3)

There is a constant struggle between legalism and grace. So what is John saying here? Are we bound to keep the commands of Christ? Is it a part of our salvation to do so? And the answer is apparently, YES!

But before someone yells, "legalist!" at me, that is not my answer, it is John's. So here are some thoughts about this verse that might clarify things a bit.
  • John is not talking about keeping his commandments as a means of salvation. He does not say that if we keep his commandments we are saved.
  • He does state that this is evidence of our salvation. That if we want to know if someone knows Jesus, we should look at them and be able to see a difference.
  • Verse 6 states, "whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked."
Salvation is not a matter of works, it is a matter of faith. And by that faith, we pursue the object of that faith, God as revealed by His Son. We cannot pursue that by works of righteousness.

My son is at the age where he is a constant shadow to me. If I am going somewhere, he wants to know where and if he can go along. If I am doing something, he wants to help. Not because I ask him too, but because he wants to. In a sense he is pursuing me, and in some ways he will become like me. He would not become like me by merely doing what he was told. He would not become like me by cleaning his room and mowing the yard. To become like me he must spend time with me. Watch me. Talk with me.

I don't become Christlike by merely attending church, giving, serving. These are good things, but take out the love for God (see 1 Cor 13!) and it all means nothing.

God, help me to love you today. Help me to pursue You, to spend time with You, to see You. What more is needed?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

True Story ('cause I can't make this stuff up)

After yesterday's post, I checked the mail. We got a post-card from our church because they have missed us in worship service. Let me share the text with you...

"Just a note to let you know that you were missed in our worship service this past Sunday. You are a loved and valued member of our church family, and we look forward to seeing you next week. If your absence was due to a problem we can help you with or pray about, please let us know. Also, if you have been ill and would like communion brought to your home, please call the church (555-5555) prior to Sunday so we can notify the deacon.

God Bless,

Your Church Family"

God has a wicked sense of humor. In case you have not read here before, we struggle with the church we attend. The speaker (I hesitate to use the word preacher) tells stories and jokes, and sprinkles in a few verses now and then, often out of context. I have expressed my concerns to him very gently, only to be told that if we do not like his preaching, perhaps we should find another church. We have communicated our concerns to him and 2 elders, and have let them know that for now we are attending Sunday School and until we know what God wants us to do, we are refraining from attending worship services. I have expressed my desire to discuss the situation, but they have no interest in doing so.

So I thought I would take the time to rewrite their letter, adding a few comments along the way, that perhaps better expresses their actions.

"Just an impersonal, form letter note to let you know that you were missed in our worship service this past Sunday and this really kinda ticks us off. You are a loved and valued member of our church family, and we look forward to seeing you next week provided you don't make any waves. If you do, you can become a loved and valued member one of our neighboring churches. If your absence was due to a problem we can help you with or pray about, please let us know. If you do not have a good excuse for not being here, please be motivated by the intended guilt of this card. Also, if you have been ill and would like communion brought to your home, please call the church (555-5555) prior to Sunday so we can notify the deacon. That way we can better keep tabs on you.

God Bless Us and All Who Agree With Us,

Your Extremely Dysfunctional Church Family"

Legal Disclaimer: This card is all that God requires of us as a follow-up to those who miss worship services and releases us from all obligation. No legal or moral rights are granted or implied to the recipient of this card because those who forsake assembling together are in danger of heathenism and the fires of hell.

Have a nice day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

About church growth...

1 John 1:1-4

 1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

They (John and whoever else "we" refers to in verse 1, probably leaders of the church) had seen Jesus with their own eyes. They had witnessed more than just the miracles, they had seen them in context. They had heard Him speak of the Father and proclaim the gospel. So now what did they want? They wanted to share that with others, they wanted others to be a part of this great fellowship. But not to fellowship with them, but to fellowship with God.

Church growth is a great thing, provided it is growing into fellowship with God and Christ. Just having a large or a small gathering without it being completely centered on God is irrelevant. As Matt Chandler says about church, it is a lame hobby.

But there is something else in these verses. At the end, he states a motivation for proclamation, "so that our joy may be complete." They found joy in sharing God with others. Failure to find joy in serving God is a problem. And failure to serve God gives us a joy that is incomplete. So, God is not in need of our begrudging submission. I don't think He even wants it. He wants our hearts to be turned to Him. He wants us to find our joy completely in Him regardless of circumstance. He wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. So it naturally follows, that if we do love Him in such a way, that our joy will not be complete unless we serve Him wholeheartedly.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Journey (Part 23) This Resume Stinks (Part 2)

Out of the blue we found out about a youth ministry position open in Indiana. We applied and I got the job. That was where the real roller-coaster begins. 4 years there. 2 Senior Minsters, and then my wife decides to file for divorce. That was when I went through driver training school and learned to drive an 18-wheeler. To pay for the school, I had to make a 6-month commitment to drive for an over-the-road company.

As soon as my commitment was up, I found a job with a company in Indiana that I could be home on a more regular basis. I spent 5 years there, starting as a driver, moving up to a supervisor, and eventually running the transportation department for the last 2 years. A change of GM's brought about a change in jobs for me. I found a job down the road at an asphalt materials company. What a great job that was. No stress, just had to weigh and dispatch trucks for an early morning shift. Problem was, by the end of the year, the company I subcontracted for lost the contract. They offered me a job behind the wheel of a truck, but I felt I could do better. So I took a job working for Next Day Freight driving as a casual driver while I relaxed a bit, took some time off when I wanted, and looked for a permanent position.

I found that job through a friend at church. But it was not what I thought it was. The guy who hired me, and we became good friends, wanted me to take over his job while he worked sales to build up a larger client base. I ended up doing more of the sales, which involved making a lot of cold-calls, which is something I despise. I hung on for a while, but it just was not my cup of tea.

From there I went to Alliant Food Service, doing daily routes. Not a bad job, and I had done this type of work before. However, about 6 months into the job, I started to develop tendonitis. I spent some time in therapy, but when I started working again it came right back. It was then that my wife suggested that I go back to school to get my teaching certificate. I ended up going to Ball State and getting a Master's in Elementary Education. It was actually cheaper and shorter to do that than to add elementary education to my current degree.

After graduation I took a job teaching in our local system. This marks the end of 9 years in education. I wish I could say I will end up retiring from here, but there are 2 problems with that idea. One being the current economy and educational climate. Indiana is tough on public education. There is a lot of job uncertainty in this field right now. And the second is, you never know what God has in store. I really would love to preach and teach again in a church, and I have discussed this with God. But His current answer seems to be to stay and wait. In either case, I understand where my mission field is, and I love going out there.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 22) This Resume Stinks!

One of the things I have not mentioned a lot is my work history. I guess that is because I don't believe that I am defined by my job. Or maybe it is because my work history is such a bizarre carreer path. Let's take a quick journey...

First real job was working at a bank. I was 17 and had my drivers license. They needed someone to take some information each night to another location, so they paid me to come in and vaccuum a bit and take the paperwork a few miles down the road. A sweet gig for a kid with a license!

Next was Burger King. Is there anyone who has not spent some time in fast food in onr form or another?

Graduating from High School, I worked for an engineering company doing soils and concrete tests. While that sounds impressive, I did some simple science experiments for minimum wage and reported the results.

After a summer of that, I took a job as an apprentice mechanic where my did work. That was the best thing I ever did. I got to know my dad in a way I would have never known him. I also got to see what he had to put up with to provide for his family. He truly was an amazing man. But after a year of that, I decided to go to college. Partly because my being there made Dad's life more difficult. Although I know he never would have had me leave over that. But I was young and had so much life ahead of me.

I attended a small Christian College, where I did work study, helping the school's electrician, and had a weekend ministry for a part of that time.

Upon graduation I found a youth ministry where I spent a year before being asked to leave because they wanted to start fresh (they had been through 2 ministers in that time period). Upon leaving there, I sold vaccuum cleaners for a short time, and also worked as a salesman in a mobile home lot. I was offered the managerial position for a new lot they had just begun, but I chose to go to work for Pepsi when a friend told me he could get me a job there.

At Pepsi, I loaded trucks, worked as the day-checker (checking product out to drivers, doing inventory, etc., and drove a delivery truck. Then came the phone call...

Yeah, I am gonna continue this in another post!

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 21) Small Group Heaven

Life never seems to slow down for long...at least not my life.

I was attending the singles group which met on Sunday nights, and then began attending Sunday morning as well. It was a large church, so connecting there was not really happening. However, I was connecting through the smaller singles group. I started attending a small group that met not to far from my home. It was kind of a strange situation at first. Apparently, there were 2 small groups that had combined for a study. The people from the small group that actually met in this home thought I was coming from the other group, so when I showed up after the study was over, they were puzzled at first, but soon we all figured out what was going on. I continued to meet with this small group for a while, but then the 2 girls who were leading the group decided it should be disbanded. Several of the group wanted to stay together. I was asked if I would be willing to lead, and I said I would if they would wait for me to go through the approval process. I did, and soon after we began meeting in one of the homes not far from the original group.

I love small groups if they are done right. Not micro-managed by the church so that they can form their own personality, and not just a place for fellowship, but an honest study of the word and connecting with people. A place where you are encouraged and sometimes tested as well. We had a good core of people and a good group as well.

I spent about 2 years in that singles group. It changed my life. I am thankful that I found them. But life never stands still for long, does it?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 20) Slowing Down

So I was keeping myself busy. I think I learned an important lesson through that relationship, actually several, but one that stands out to me is that I can't fix things very well. I thought that by getting married again I could get my son the mother he deserved and just pick up where I had left off in pursuit of the American Dream. Oops!

So now I was not in a hurry to fix things, other than myself. I got involved in a church. It happened because I went to hear Tommy Oakes speak. There were several people from a singles group at that meeting, and one of them invited me to attend a meeting. I was very reluctant, but after a few weeks I went. It was amazing. I expected it to be a big "meet market," but it was anything but. Not that there probably weren't people there for that reason, but there was a lot of meat to what was going on. Over 200 people were there, lots of opportunities to get involved in ministries, study groups, etc. It would be through this group that I would make many friendships and grow as a Christian.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 19) Can someone answer the phone?

So I was getting divorced. I was trying to get things in place, find a permanent (?) place to live, and figure out what was next. I stayed with a friend a few weeks while I looked for an apartment close to work. I saw my son as often as I could. I had not had any contact with my wife. Through the lawyers I was told when I could go to the house and pick-up the rest of my stuff. I did, no one else was home.

She seemed eager to cooperate, as long as it was through the lawyers, and as long as I did not pursue any of her retirement money or equity in the house. I was fine with that, because I believed it was the right thing to do. About a couple of months after we separated, I got a call from the phone company. They said if I did not pay my bill, they would shut off my service. I explained the situation. They stated that since my name was still on the bill, I was responsible. I asked what my options were. They said pay the bill (about $200) and continue service or it would be cut off. I told them I would get back with them after I talked to her.

When I tried to call, service had been cut off. I tried again a few days later, and it was back on, so she must have paid the bill. When she answered, she was friendly at first, but when I asked about the phone bill, she just hung up. So I called the phone company back to get my name off the bill. They told me that if I did, they would have to cut off service again, and any reinstatement would require a deposit equal to the amount that was overdue in addition to new service fees. Yikes! But since she would not talk to me, I felt I had no choice. I cancelled the service that was in my name.

It is a sad thing when people cannot communicate, for any reason. It is even sadder when it is because emotions get charged up and we cannot be reasonable.

I think we tend to do this to God a lot. Things go south, maybe because of something that we did to distance ourselves from Him, or maybe just because of some difficult circumstances we encounter. Sometimes it is a slow drift, sometimes a sudden shift. But it is always our decision to cut communication. God never stops listening. Even when we don't pay the bill.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Long Journey (Part 18) A message from God?

One of the struggles that I faced as we divorced was what to do about finalizing everything. Even though we had only been married 3 years, we had bought a home and because her retirement was better than mine, we had put a fair amount of money in her retirement. Altogether, depending on what the house was valued at, we were talking between 20-35K, just for my half. But I also know that she was angry and would not let go of anything easily.

That was when I kept getting this continued message. It was not an audilble one, but non-the-less, it was very clear. The message was "walk away." I struggled with that. How could I walk away with nothing? How could I start all over with nothing but half the credit card debt? I contacted a lawyer, but I pretty much knew my options. Walk away and be done with it, or spend years and probably a good portion of any money I might get fighting. Yet still, it was not an easy decision. But I followed the voice inside me, and I do believe it was what God wanted me to do. Its not that God was saying "get divorced," but I believe he was saying, "If you are going to do this, this is how I want you to do it."

So I did it. And I am thankful that I did. 20K is a small price to pay for 2-3 years of freedom, and that is what I had by not consuming myself with chasing the money. I lived frugally for the next few years, paid off my debts and even managed to save some. I have not seen my second wife since I left that night. I tried to call once because of a bill we needed to discuss, and I got hung up on. Maybe that was a bit of confirmation for me, that I had done hte best thing under the circumstances. Life in a fallen world is not easy.

A Long Journey (Part 17) Deciding What to Do...

I had previously started blogging about my journey (my life). I stopped doing that about a year ago. I left off where I was struggling in a second marriage. So much to consider. As I read a couple of the posts I had written, it struck me how far God has moved me in the past year. I think about some of the decisions I have made, and wonder if I should have made different ones. But I have to dismiss those thoughts, because this is where I am. Not that I can't learn from them, but I cannot let myself second guess the past and let it slow down my present.

My second marriage ended when my wife refused to return to any more counseling sessions. It was a tough decision, but one that was made easier by my son from my first marriage. I felt that he should not be subjected to abuse by a person who had no desire to face their issues. If I had to choose between a child and an adult who would not face their problems, I would choose the child.

Prior to attending counseling at all, I had made an ultimatum, we continue in counseling or I would have to leave. When she stated that she would no longer attend counseling, joint or otherwise, I had a tough choice to make. But I left that night.

I was in a different place then. I was attending church, but not really involved, being too busy with work and family issues. I wonder if it would have been different if I had been in a better place. Perhaps if I had, I never would have entered into a second marriage. I think now that what I really wanted was to give my son a sense of normalcy, and, well, that did not work out quite the way I had thought it would.

Only God knows how my mistakes echo inside of me. But they have also shaped me. They have taught me. They have drawn me closer to Him, for who else could I cling to?

I recall taking to a friend once. We were discussing our lives, and after I had shared quite a bit of mine, she remarked, "It's a wonder you have any faith left, after all you have been through." But I recall responding, "No. Without a faith in God, I don't know how else I could have gotten through all of it." I view faith not as something to hold on to because God is treating me good, but rather something that binds me to God that takes me through all things good and bad. How do you view faith?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tanks and bombs and mortars and torpedoes

Ephesians 6:10-20

 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore 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. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

There is a lot of stuff in these verses, but I want to focus on one major thought. That thought is that the battles that we fight in this world are Spiritual ones. I think Paul is using these words here because of all that he has said prior. It would be so easy to take Paul's words and then just try to go out and do it on our own. Try to be that good Christian. Try to live up to being a good wife or mother or husband or father or child or slave or master. But that is not enough!

When we go to war, whether it be with another, our own sin, or whatever, we must do it in the Lord and in His strength (vs. 10). Look at the weapons we use. Most are defensive, the only offensive one being the sword of the Spirit.

Wouldn't we rather that God had told us to use tanks and bombs and mortars and torpedoes and flame-throwers and so on? Don't we want God to tell us to attack! But what I see mostly here is this, protect yourself. Guard your heart. Make sure that you stand firm.

Perhaps a part of the picture here is God saying, stay close to me. When you go out, make sure I am in the lead. We are only the foot-soldiers, not the general. So when Paul says that he is an ambassador in chains, perhaps he is speaking of the prison chains that bind him. Perhaps he is also speaking of the chains that bind him in service to the Lord.

Keep me close Lord, and help me to follow you always, and never take the lead.

Friday, May 27, 2011

To slave or not to slave?

Ephesians 6:5-9

 5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. 9Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

I had a preacher recently tell me that he thought the best way to honor God in his preaching was by preaching the disciplines of the New Testament. So how does that work itself out on a passage like this? How do we discipline ourselves to be mistreated without first understanding the Gospel and loving the Lord who is represents?

Maybe it is a non-issue, since we don’t have any slavery problems in our town. At least not that I am aware of. But look at this passage. It was written for people who were really dealing with this. And look at Paul’s advice, “obey your earthly masters.” Wouldn’t that be a hard message to hear? Doesn’t the concept of slavery go against the principles of Jesus? Shouldn't Paul tell them to seek their freedom?

It all goes back to a heart issue. The changed life because of the gospel issue. Not “do this discipline because by doing this discipline you glorify God and will enter into His kingdom.” But treating your master as if he were Christ himself, so that by the shining of your changed heart, you bring glory to God. Maybe your master will see that change and be changed himself, and maybe he won’t. But you did not do it for that reason, you did if for the Lord and for Him alone. You are not concerned about results or praise from men or winning a soul, you desire is to worship God thorugh your life and shine His light in all that you do.

They were told to do it “as to the Lord and not to man.” Any obedience that we perform must be birthed out of an understanding that mere obedience is meaningless. Without tying our heart into that obedience, it is nothing, a mere filthy rag before God. Without seeing Christ as Lord and Master of our lives, it is nothing.

And there are words for masters too. Not words that tell them to set their slaves free, but words that tell them to “stop threatening.” (No, I do not see this as making any type of slavery acceptable.) Again, it is a heart matter, because now as a master, your desire should be to see that your slaves are won to Christ. Setting them free won't do that, they will probably just end up as someone else's slave.

I don’t think you discipline yourself to submit to a master, nor do you discipline yourself to treat your slaves better. I think that is why Paul did not command them to set the slaves free. Perhaps as a result of a changed life, the Holy Spirit would lead them to that decision if it were appropriate, but it doesn't have to be.

Look back at Deuteronomy 15. There was a choice a slave could make to remain a slave forever. I doubt that the slaves who made this choice were treated badly. Slavery is not a bad thing if the master is good. And God is good.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


My son lives about a half-mile from where the tornado touched down in Joplin. I am thankful that he is safe. He volunteered with the clean-up the next day. I cannot imagine the devastation he saw. He said they passed a car that had been in the twister. It had a body in it.

I just listened to Brian Williams report on the tragedy. He stated that "it was not fair." I find that an interesting statement, and wonder what that is based on. Is it not fair that these people suffered, as opposed to others? Or is suffering like this not fair for anyone? If so, what is that based on? Is there a limit to the suffering we should have to endure? If so, what are those limits?

I think this intrigues me because I do not know where he stands in his belief system. If he does not believe in God, this statement makes no sense to me. If there is no God, there is no fairness, everything is random. If there is no God, there is no deserving, because there is no sin or lack of sin. In order to deserve something, don't you have to be able to earn it from someone or something? So no matter how good a person might be, he can't deserve a particular kind of death just based on his morality, especially since without a supreme being, morality at best is subjective.

If he does believe in God, the statement still does not make sense. For the truth of it is that some people do deserve a horrible death. Some people will even get a much more horrible eternity. But we don't like to think about that, unless you are Rob Bell, and then you just make it disappear. So maybe you can tell me, Mr. Bell, if God is so loving that He would not send anyone to hell, why make people suffer like this?

My thoughts go to my son. If he were 4 blocks closer, I would be suffering right now. But that would not change my view of God. God is not my God only when He does not give me pain. Whatever I have to endure in this life, surely I deserve it. And then some. What I don't deserve is His grace and mercy.

I pray for you, Joplin. And even as I write this, there is news of more killer tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma. That is a part of the broken world that we live in. Along with war, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, etc. And through it all, God is God. He is sovereign, and worthy of our praise and worship. But you won't hear that on the news tonight.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why is it?

Ephesians 6:1-4

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." Fathers' do not provoke your children to ander, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Why is it that my parents only quoted the first part of this to me, and never the last? I find that exasperating.

So Paul has first laid out a gospel message, and is now getting into what that looks like. We have already discussed husbands and wives, so now to the kids. Obey your parents. I wonder what age group Paul was targeting with this. Was it pre-teens? Teens? Twenty-somethings? Any age that has parents? Because in Jewish culture, you were always to show respect to your parents.

But I love that he adds the piece about Fathers. Because how easy would it be, once someone has achieved Fatherhood, to glory in that role. And Paul basically says, don't do it! Don't let it go to your head. Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Thanks, Dad, I think you got it right. I miss you.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In hindsight

The last post hurt to write.

The reason is simple, it is written in hindsight. When I grew up, Mom was Catholic and Dad was Lutheran. Church was a non-issue, although we did attend Mass until I was in 4th grade. That was the year of my confirmation. It was also the year my grandmother died. She was planning to come from Germany for the confirmation in May. She had a stroke in January of that year, so neither happened.

In 7th grade I got involved in a typical evangelical church. I was baptized probably as a sophomore. I went to youth group and on youth trips. A year out of high school, I attended Bible College. My intention was to go for a year and then get a real job. I ended up going 4 years, getting married, and going into youth ministry.

Church life was tough. Bible College does little to prepare you for the realities of ministry. A strong personal faith is assumed. I poured myself into what I thought I should be doing. Everyone always had different opinions. So I worked harder. We both were going with the flow of life. I was doing what I was taught. I was using the right techniques. Our group was growing. Life was good.

Things started to change. My wife was unhappy. She started pulling away. I was too busy to deal with it. Too many God things to do. She was a preacher's kid, so I figured she knew what she got herself into. I think she did, but in our evangelical, God wants me to be happy way of thinking, she had had enough. She filed for divorce. I was stunned. Not much you can do about it these days. No fault divorce doesn't mean no one is at fault. It just means the state doesn't care and will let the divorce go through as long as one party wants out.

In hindsight, I now see that I didn't really know that much at all. I knew facts and programs and methods. And perhaps God used that as I went along the way. But I thank HIm that He also cared for me as a person, and was willing to take all of that away from me so I could see Him.

I wish I could say that was the turning point in my life. I was, I just didn't make a 180 degree turn all at once.

So I look at passages like Ephesians 5:22-33 differently now. It is not a formula or a plan. It is a way of doing things for those who are sold out to God. My current wife and I have been married over 10 years now. It is not always smooth sailing because we are both human. But we both know where we stand in Christ. Our commitment to Him is what enables us to go to bed each night with a kiss and "I love you" because nothing is stronger than our bond of 3 cords.

So it hurts to write things like the last post, because in it I see my failures. But in it I also see the grace of God. Giving me a change to experience His love in new ways. Seeing His forgiveness. Growing.

It is all part of my journey. One I would never have imagined, but one that I am more thankful for each day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mirror, mirror

Ephesians 5:22-33

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

What is this picture all about? Is it about being the submissive wife, or is it about modeling God's grace? I have to go with the latter.

I know that people like to pick this verse apart, and then add, "What if the husband is abusive?" To which I think Paul would say, "Use your heads here, folks!" Or perhaps he would pull out the line, "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

Setting aside the extreme situations, lets just look at "the norm." By the norm, I just mean where one side is unhappy with the other. The marriage has grown lackluster. If you are in Christ, it is not about your happiness, it is about your joy. Not the joy you get from your mate, but the joy you get from honoring and serving God. If you don't have that joy, perhaps that is a problem surfacing in your lack of joy in your marriage.

 25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31 "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Notice how many more verses we get, men? But the message is still the same. Love your wives as a mirror of your love for Christ. Perhaps that is a problem in our society today. We all want to be saved and so we wear the name Christian, but do we really love God and His Son?

Paul is not saying this is what you must do, he is saying, this is what real Christianity looks like. Real Christians, who love the Lord, honor one another even when there are differences. Real Christians live up to their covenants, even when their partner is not a believer.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ephesians 5:15

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,

Paul has just finished telling us to not partner with those who walk in darkness. We are to walk in the light, for the light exposes the darkness.

But we live in a world of darkness. Sometimes the darkness is think all around us, even in our churches. So this verse becomes important, because it reminds us to beware of how we walk. Don't get caught up in the games of those around you, but stay grounded in the light of God's word. Verse 16 goes on to say,

making the best use of time, because the days are evil.

I think it is easy to get caught up in the ways of those around us. Their avoidance, paranoia, fear, etc. We live in an evil age. No, not just the 21st century, but the age of mankind since the fall.

The Bible's message is clear, I am a sinner in need of a Savior. There are those who do not like this, don't think it will sell well, and who will water it down or even change it. Sometimes they do it out of fear, other times out of selfish motives. Either way, it is a part of the evil days we live in. Verse 17 continues,

Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Stay grounded. Stay in the word. Live the gospel. God's will is not that I save anyone, and that is a good thing, because I can't save anyone, only God can do that. Understand what God's will is. Understand that His will is for me to love Him, and to serve Him out of that love. If I can focus on that, I will be doing well.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

I am going to suggest that you leave now...

Ephesians 5:6-10

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as chidren of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

I listen to so many sermons, and hear so many empty words. Words that depend on me and my works, words that make God sound desperate for my soul. Why would God want my dark and dirty soul? Only because He loves me, not because He is desperate. God is not interested in numbers. And because of these words, the wrath of God will come.

I struggle even at the church I attend. God is so dishonored through some of the things that are taught and said, and yet I cannot exist apart from the church. Truly there are weeds among us. And their fruit exposes them to the discerning, but not to their own blind eyes. They run, they hide, they shiver in their insecurity. They do not address or discuss.

So I must struggle with the phrase that says, "do not become partners with them." And my answer is to not partner with their hypocrisy, but to stand firm in what I believe.

They haven't thrown me out yet! (Although it has been suggested that I might be more comfortable somewhere else.) Since when did Jesus promise us comfort? If he wanted us to be comfortable, he would not let the weeds among us, would he?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who Said This?

"We think that by living gracious lives (instead of grace-filled lives) it makes us attractive to God. In reality, it only makes us more attractive to one another."


I did, after reading Michael Spenser's book, "Mere Churchianity"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Aw, Dad, do I have to?

Ephesians 5:3-5

 3But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking,which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Why is Paul saying this? He has just stated that we must walk in imitation of God, so why the specifics?

I think it has something to do with the fact that new converts (and old too) come from all walks of life. They need to be shown what it means to walk like Jesus walked. It might be easy for some to justify such behavior, either in ignorance, or in stubbornness of heart. Either way, Paul is making it clear that these behaviors are out of bounds for the lover of God.

Those last words are strong! What about grace? Grace is all over Paul's writings. But so is the idea that walking in Christ is not merely "accepting Him into your heart" one time, nor is it the idea of get baptized and walk however you wish. Those kinds of responses are idolotrous, and are not for those of God's kingdom.

Ouch! (But if taken to heart, that is a very good ouch.)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Like Father, Like Son

Ephesians 5:1-2

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul has just finished giving a list of behaviors that we should follow. Now he is talking about imitating God. While some might see this as a bouncing between legalism and faith, this actually makes sense if you view Paul's list of behaviors as a vision of what being a Christian is all about. Here is what it looks like to imitate God, as His beloved children. And when we look at a picture of something, we know that we are only seeing in 2 dimensions what actually exists in 3 dimensions.

I have a 9 year old son. I love to joke around, and so does he. I like the Chicago Bears, and so does he (even though we live near Indy, and the Colts train in our town). The Colts are our second favorite team. At this age, he is not ashamed to imitate me, and I don't mind it either.

Is he a perfect imitation of me? No. Sometimes he carries things too far. Other times he just takes off on his own. But he loves me and I love him. I see that as a picture of our relationship with God. If we love Him, are in awe of Him, and want to be like Him, we will strive to imitate Him. Paul has spent some time trying to help those in the faith develop what that should look like. Then he goes into these verses to make sure we are not getting the wrong idea and trying to work our way to salvation.

He calls our redemption through Christ an offering, a sacrifice. It is not an obligation. God did not force Christ to suffer wrath for our sin. Our response, if an imitation of the original, should be the same: not forced obedience, but sincere imitation from the heart of a child who truly desires to be like his Father.

Jesus said it simpler, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vote for your favorite!

Ephesians 4:28-32

28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

For a guy who preached a lot against legalistic Jews, Paul sure seems to have a lot of rules. Then again, so did Jesus. So how does one understand all of this?

I see it this way, Paul (and Jesus for that matter) was not telling us what to do as much as he was showing us what it should look like. How many times did Jesus say, "The kingdom of God is like..." Showing us, not telling us. Saying, in the kingdom of God, you don't steal, you share with those in need. In the kingdom of God, bitterness and anger do not rule. In the kingdom of God, tenderness and forgiveness reign.

I think of the parable of the servant, who was forgiven a large debt by the king, and then had a man who owed him money put in jail. So some people went and told the king, and the king was angered and had the man whose debt he had forgiven thrown in jail. Why? I see two possible answers.

Number one: We make this an exact model of the kingdom of God. Therefore, when the king says that because I forgave you, you should have forgiven others. File this under legalism. The king is being petty, because there was no tit-for-tat response. If we base our interpretation of this passage only on the facts presented here, couldn't we carry it farther? Couldn't we also say that those who are not forgiven are those who have others tattle-tale on them? For the man who owed the king would not have been called back before the king unless someone had told the king. So God needs tattle-tales.

Number two: Jesus is sharing a kingdom principle here. And that principal is not that we forgive just because we have been forgiven. It is because we serve a gracious king. I don't think the king was angry because the man did not forgive his fellow man as much as it is because the man insulted the king by not responding to the king's grace. It was not the legalistic lack of forgiveness that bothered the king, but the fact that having been forgiven such a large debt, the man's life was unchanged. How could you come into the presence of the king, your very life in his hands, be set free when you deserve imprisonment or even death, and not be changed? Is that not the wickedness that angered the king?

And so it is with Paul. Either one, he is giving us a bunch of requirements that if we meet them, God will give us grace. Or two, he is showing us, all of us, who live in sin and have sinful hearts that tend to focus on ourselves that this is what the grace you are now living in should look like.

In light of what I have already read through in the book of Ephesians, I vote for number two. I vote for the grace that I can only attain as I continue to walk in Christ, and not the grace that God gives me as a result of what I do.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yeah I'm angry, so what?

Ephesians 4:25-27

25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil.

Therefore, refers to previous verses that talk about no longer thinking in our old, futile ways. We have been renewed, so keep growoing in it! As a result of being renewed, we do not lie to one another, but we speak the truth!

Here is a bell-ringer: Sometimes when you speak the truth, people get angry! The truth can be a hard, bitter pill to swallow. And it is okay to get angry, just don't let your emotion of anger get the best of you and lead you into sin! Resolve your issues of anger, do not dwell on them, do not ignore them, do not let them fester. To dwell on it, to live in it, to not resolve it is to give the devil a foothold in your life.

I don't think anyone who truly walks in Christ wants that, do they?

Grow up!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Now Hear This!

Ephesians 4:17-24

 17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self,[ which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

There is a lot of weighty stuff in these verses. But the one theme that seems to permeate them is the idea of change. When one becomes a Christian, it involves a change. So we are no longer walking in darkness, no longer alienated from God because our our hard hearts. When we come to Christ, we put off the old self, and are renewed in hte spirit of our minds.

I just wonder, how does that match up with what Christianity looks like today? We hear that we can go to heaven, but do we even understand that a change must take place? Do we understand that without Christ, we are corrupt and have hard hearts? Or do we just believe that we can say a prayer or come forward to be baptized and all is well? Do we even encourage people to read their Bibles and seek these things out?

Yeah, this is kind of a rant today. But I believe it is an important rant, one that people need to hear. One that, unfortunately, many won't.