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Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How Secure Is My Salvation?

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul effectively explains something that many Christians adamantly cling to as a truth.  They sometimes act is if it is more true than anything else in the Bible!  I'm talking about the security of one's salvation. 

Many preachers explain the act of receiving eternal life as a "transaction" that occurs when one says a simple prayer to acknowledge that Jesus Christ was born a virgin birth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again before ascending into heaven to prove that He is God.  They also confess that they are a sinner in need of His salvation, and announce that they freely accept it.

For some of us, this prayer was said in our teens, maybe at a church camp or in a youth group.  And then we go on to live our lives in no particular way - but doing whatever we think best.  After saying such prayer, we may do nothing to educate ourselves about the nature and character of God, or about what He has to say to us in the Bible (we don't read it, much less study it).  So our lives as Christians may look no different than the lives of others in the world.

I won't go into the Scripture references here, but I have studied the Bible - and there are many references which convince me that saying a simple prayer does NOT make one a Christian.  I understand from Bible study that belief must be backed up with action in order to be true.  It supports the old adage that people may not always do what they say - but they will always do what they believe.  So if someone truly is a Christ-follower, it should be evident in the way that they speak and the way that they live their lives. 

My thinking has evolved to the point that I don't see salvation as a transaction that occurs on any particular date - at least not for most of us.  Rather I believe that it occurs over time as I develop my beliefs and they shape my words and actions in life.  In the end, we all understand that God will judge our hearts.  He will know for sure who is a Christ-follower and who is not.  However, there are some clues - some evidence - that may suggest now how that judgment will turn out.  So I allow the Holy Spirit to convict me each time I sin against God or someone else.  And to be clear, I do sin.  Much to my dismay, I have NOT been able to live a perfect life - even after surrendering my life to Christ.

So why am I not adamantly declaring that my salvation is secure and that I can never lose it?  Is it because I doubt the Bible's promises of "once saved, always saved?"  Indeed not.  Those promises are definitely true.  But what is questionable in my mind is whether one is truly saved.  Jesus explained that those who love Him will obey Him.  So I look at my obedience - and wonder if the effort is truly sincere.  I look at how I've surrendered my life to Him - and wonder if there is anything else I can do to effectively surrender. 

I'm confident in my relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit.  I'm so in love with the Lord!  But I am not so cocky as to think that my sin doesn't matter.  I ask the Lord to examine my heart and show me what still displeases Him.  And then I try to make my efforts to align my words and actions with His as sincere as I possibly can.  But I understand that in the end, my fate rests on judgment day - and I trust Him with my life.  In fact, I trust Him so much that I don't need the Bible's promises to defend my salvation.

I know this is a very controversial topic among Christians.  But I also know that I can live with the apparent ambiguity of not knowing whether God sees my heart the way I see my heart.  How about you?  What are your thoughts on this subject?

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Voting for President

Well, the presidential elections in the U.S.A. are about a raucous as an election could get.  I really cannot imagine it getting any worse.  Neither of the leading candidates are well liked.  Most Americans feel as if we are forced to choose between two bad choices.  (I would be one of them.)

But I had lunch today with a couple from our church.  What ensued was a discussion about the election and the candidates that was revealing for me.  One of my lunch-mates announced that he would not vote for anyone for president.  He surmised that he would just leave the ballot for that election unchecked when he votes.  I found myself admonishing him to not squander his vote.  

Moreover, as we talked about it, I began to see that Christians have a duty to vote.  Living in a democracy is a privilege granted to us by none other than God Himself.  (Just ask those who don't live in a democracy.)  I'm not sure that many Christians in America would see it that way.  We may know it is a right - which women and those of African heritage have had to fight for.  But even I have sometimes felt like voting was more of a burden than anything.  

We often resign ourselves to the conclusion that our vote doesn't matter.  After all, I'm just one person among about 300 million people.  If I don't vote, my vote won't be missed.  Of course that argument makes common sense.  Things of this world can make common sense though - and still be wrong.  It just seems that my vote won't be missed.  But the truth is, if enough people took that attitude, it could change the outcome of the election.  Conversely, if enough people vote, that could change the outcome of the election.

Romans 13:1 tells us that "... there is no authority except that which God has established.  The (human) authorities that exist have been established by God."  

To our modern way of looking at things, this makes no sense whatsoever.  There are evil dictators.  There are lame leaders.  There is corruption and bureaucracy.  We reason that God does not establish them as authorities in our lives.  But alas, we reason ignorantly.  For God's Word is true.  Throughout the Old Testament, we see places where God did indeed use ungodly authorities to punish Israel for having turned from Him and His ways.

So is God punishing America today, by giving us two bad choices for president?  Maybe.  The truth is that I don't know.  God doesn't share such things with me.  But He has shared with me that it is possible.  He has shared with me the fact that He has acted in this way before.  And He has told me what to do about it.  I am to be obedient, submitted, and God-honoring in every way.  If the Lord has given me a vote, who am I to squander because I'm apathetic about the candidates?

So what should a good American Christ-follower do?  How should we respond to the unpleasant circumstances that we find ourselves in?  The first thing we should do is register to vote.  Make sure you have registered and are ready to exercise your legal right to vote.  Then educate yourself on the choices.  Maybe you don't like them.  But you owe it to God and to your fellow Americans to educate yourself on the merits of each choice.

 I'm on Facebook.  I watch TV.  I understand there are strong, passionate arguments for why Hillary Clinton can't be trusted or is "not a nice person."  I also understand those strong, passionate arguments that Donald Trump is a blowhard who believes his own lies.  Nevertheless, these are our choices.

We need to consider the fact that the powers that be - whether they be in the worldly realm or the spiritual realm - have given us these two choices.  A few short months from now, one of these two candidates will be installed as the most powerful leader in all of the free world.  One of them will lead the largest government in the history of the world.  

One of these two candidates will be in control of your future here on this earth.  And God says that it will have been His choice.  But He has nominated you to exercise your voice in the matter.  So consider the implications.  Get on-line.  Read comparison sights that compare and contrast the candidate's respective plans and points of view on the key issues of the day. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Shameful Realtor Scams

If you ever see this, perhaps on Facebook (that's where I saw it), be wary.  This one appears to have been sponsored by Keller Williams (a Realty company), but I imagine it could be sponsored by any local Realtor anywhere in the country. 

Being a homeowner, and somewhat curious about the market value of my home, I clicked on the headline to what appeared to be a news article.  The picture is of a local train museum that I recognized, so it appeared that the local paper was running a story on this new "tool" that allows you to see your home's market value.

Clicking on the headline takes you right into a registration site, where you input basic information, like the property address, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and square footage of the home.  Then you're asked for some basic contact information, including e-mail and phone number (allegedly "for verification purposes").  Finally you are finished, and looking forward to seeing the "tool" provide an indication of your home's value.  But that's not what happens.

Instead, you get yet another screen that looks like this.  An informal congratulations to you!  The value of your home is being calculated and is on it's way.  But alas, there is no "tool."  This is simply a phishing site, intended to siphon your property and personal information for marketing purposes.

What happened when I did this?  A couple of days later, a strange woman knocked on my front door on a Sunday afternoon.  The dog had just peed on the hardwood floor in the entryway, so I happened to be by the front door (cleaning up the mess).  She hands me a handwritten envelope, and says it's the market valuation I requested.  Inside is simply a print-out from the MLS, showing the sales price of recent home sales in my neighborhood. 

I did not ask anyone to come to my home.  At no point in the process was I advised that anyone would come to my home.  I simply saw the supposed news story on Facebook, clicked it, and thought I was accessing a "tool" to calculate my home's value.  To add insult to injury, now I'm receiving junk mail from the Realtor who took the listing.  I'm disgusted, turned off, and really quite offended.

To be honest, I thought better of the Keller Williams franchise than this.  I'm surprised they would stoop to such a low level of professionalism (or lack thereof).  The geographic market that I'm in is on fire.  Sales are hot.  There's a shortage of available homes for sale.  I get that.  But prices are also crazy, and Realtors get paid based on the prices.  I get that too.  (Realtors are making good money in a market that's on fire.)

I may be in the market to sell my home.  My curiosity was more than just passing.  But instead of seeing me as a lead, Keller Williams and the Realtor who phished me on this site, should see me as an anti-customer.  There is not a chance that I will do business with them.  And I will be telling everyone I know what they did to me.  This is shameful, disgusting, unprofessional, and offensive.  It's scams like this that give the Internet a bad name.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pastors & Evangelicals Supporting Trump?

In a September opinion piece for Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, said that, “no evangelical (Christian) … is expecting (Donald) Trump to lead our nation in a spiritual revival.  But on Saturday, the outspoken Senior Pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church stopped just short of endorsing Donald Trump at a rally at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Trump campaign appearances have become semi-regular gigs for Dr. Jeffress, who introduced the candidate at a September rally in Dallas.  That same month, Jeffress was among a group of pastors who traveled to Trump Tower (in New York City) to lay hands on and pray over Trump.  That group included Fort Worth televangelists Kenneth & Gloria Copeland.

Through an enthusiastic introduction for Trump this past Saturday, Dr. Jeffress stressed that he was unable to lend his full endorsement to the candidate because of his position as head of First Baptist Dallas.  The Federal Internal Revenue Service Code prohibits 501(c)(3) non-profit (tax exempt) organizations from working on behalf of political campaigns.  Pastors are also cautioned against lending their support as private citizens to political candidates.

Amongst other things that Jeffress said at Saturday’s rally, he explained that, “Most Americans know we are in a mess, and as they look at Donald Trump, they believe he is the one leader who can reverse the downward death spiral of this nation we love so dearly.”  He went on to say that evangelical (Christians) support Trump because “this nation will not survive another third term of Barack Obama in the form of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.”

When Trump took the stage, the two men shook hands and hugged each other.  Jeffress called Donald Trump “a great leader, a great visionary, and a great American.”  Trump told the roaring crowd that he had been introduced to Jeffress on television, where the pastor was talking about him.  In Trump’s words, Jeffress is reported to have said that, “He’s (Donald Trump) going to be the best leader, he’s going to be the best for the economy … He’s going to take care of ISIS and he’s gonna take care of the border …”

Donald Trump also related to the crowd that Dr. Jeffress has described him spiritually by saying, “He may not be as pure as we think, but he’s really good, and a great Christian.”  Trump acknowledged that that’s what he’d wanted to hear.  That was the reason, Trump said, that he’d invited Dr. Jeffress to Saturday’s rally in Iowa to introduce him.

In related news, Jerry Falwell, Jr. - who heads the Liberty College where candidate Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign – has officially endorsed Donald Trump.   With the endorsement of these prominent evangelicals, Fox News reports that as many as 47% of those professing to be evangelical (Christians) are now supporting Donald Trump for President of the U.S.

Folks, I’m really not sure who I support among the numerous presidential candidates campaigning right now.  But it seems disingenuous for people like Dr. Robert Jeffress to say things in support of Trump and go out of his way to support Trump – all the while saying that he is not endorsing Trump in any way.  (He most certainly is.)  Here are some points to consider:

1.     Jeffress may be one of the most prolific anti-gay crusaders in the country.  Trump, on the other hand, says he was taught that marriage is between one man and one woman – but that his views are evolving.  He’s said that he accepts homosexuality as “just the way things are.” 

2.     Jeffress, like most other evangelical Christians, takes a firm stand against abortion.  Trump, on the other hand, is clearly pro-choice.

It would seem that just on these two points alone – homosexuality and abortion – Dr. Jeffress, Pastors Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, and Christian-college leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. would have to compromise their own beliefs in order to voluntarily want to submit themselves to such a man as their government leader.  Can they really endorse or support someone whose views and values are so fundamentally different from what they themselves claim the Bible teaches? 

3.     The Federal Code for the Internal Revenue Service is clear.  Organizations that maintain a tax-exempt status for religious reasons (i.e., churches) are prohibited from engaging in any political activity whatsoever.  They - and by reason of association – their leaders, are not to endorse or campaign for any particular political candidate.  Then too, Romans 13:1 says that Christ-followers are to obey the laws and statutes enacted by the government that rules over us.  (So it would seem that endorsing Trump and campaigning for Trump is not only breaking the law, but is a moral sin.)

Come to think of it, there are a number of Bible verses which come to mind, that would make speaking at political rallies for Donald Trump – or any other particular candidate, supporting any other political candidate that doesn't follow Christian values, as well as speaking ill of incumbent leaders and other candidates, is just all kinds of wrong.  Here are some that come to mind:

1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people … who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  (Have the campaigners really prayed for and given thanks for the incumbent leaders of whom they are so critical?)

Titus 3:9 ESV
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  (Can any Christ-follower really allow himself or herself to get wrapped up in divisive political issues of any sort?)

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV
And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (Can any Christ-follower really allow himself or herself to get wrapped up in divisive political issues of any sort?)

1 Peter 2:17 ESV
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor(Can we speak ill of any incumbent leader or opposing candidate and still be in obedience to this command from God?)

Deuteronomy 17:14-15 ESV
“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it … You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.  (Can we really, in good conscience endorse a non-Christian?  Isn't that worse than just voting for "the lesser of the evils?")

Proverbs 3:5 ESV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding(Can we really endorse - or even vote for - the candidate that we think is best?  Isn't that leaning on our own understanding?  Shouldn't we be praying for God's discernment, wisdom, and guidance in regards to whom we should vote for?)

2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  (Isn't it God who will restore America to greatness?)

Leviticus 19:18 ESV
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.  (Is this what we're doing when we speak ill of incumbent leaders and other candidates?)

2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV
And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth …  (Shouldn’t we look for and vote for a political leader who meets such criteria?)

1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, ... but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor(Doesn't this mean obeying the law, honoring everyone, and honoring the current president?)

1 Samuel 2:3 ESV
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.  (How many of our political candidates can meet this criteria?)

Titus 1:6-9 ESV
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.  (How many of our political leaders can meet this criteria?  Shouldn't we try to hold them to these standards?)

1 Timothy 3:1-13 ESV
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? ...  (Can any of our candidates meet this criteria?)

Deuteronomy 1:13 ESV
Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads.   (Isn’t this who we should be voting for?)

Exodus 18:20-26 ESV
 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. If you do this, God will direct you, …  (Isn't this who we should be voting for?)

Psalm 146.3 ESV
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.  (Dare we think that Trump - or anyone else for that matter - can really make our country great again?  Isn't it God who makes a country great?)

2 Timothy 2:4 ESV
No soldier (of God) gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.  (Isn't it a distraction of a pastor's duties to leave his church and fly across the country to introduce Trump at a political rally?)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Christianity in China

Every year for Father's Day, one of my daughters has a habit of going to a Half Priced Books outlet and picking up a half dozen or so used books for me.  She knows I like non-fiction and am partial to biographies.  Some years I score better than others, as some of the books are discounted for a reason!  But this year, a couple of the books she got me were especially good.  Let me tell you about one of them - or rather let me tell you about my reaction to one of them.

I just finished reading God's Double Agent, by Bob Fu.   It's a true story of Mr. Fu's personal fight with the Chinese government over his calling from God to be a Christian evangelist.  It's a good story and well written.  Quite frankly, the level of detail that Mr. Fu is able to recall is remarkable.  It makes his story all the more believable too.  But the context of the book is disturbing to me.  It paints a picture of Christianity in China that is quite disturbing.  It leaves me in a quandary, not knowing what to conclude. 

I like to think of myself as a Christian contemporary, always staying abreast of the issues.  Moreover, I tend to dig into the issues in a search for the truth.  When radial Muslims bombed America ten years ago, I went and got myself a Qu'ran (the Islamic equivalent of a Bible).  I wanted to see what exactly Islam's position is.  (It's disturbing - but that's for another blog entry.)  When it comes to China, I thought I was fairly aware of the issues of both religion and business.  I pay attention to how our respective governments relate to each other, follow the daily business news, and have done more than a little reading about religion.

The official Christian church in China is known as the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).  It's sanctioned by the Chinese government, runs over a dozen seminaries, prints Bibles, etc.  (  If you're a Christian in China, it's the legal approach to worship.  But then of course we have the "house church" movement in China - where people worship informally in the homes of individuals.  (

Through the years there's been an ongoing struggle between the TSPM and the house church movement.  That struggle has been fueled by Christians in America (and the west in general), as they smuggled Bibles, held secret meetings, etc.  When you read Christian literature from places like Voice of the Martyrs (, the struggle with the Chinese government is justified.  Western Christianity doesn't view the TSPM as a legitimate church, asserting that the government in China (versus Jesus Christ) is the head of that church. 

After reading Mr. Fu's book, it's clear that his view is the commonly held view - that the TSPM is not a legitimate Christian church.  His story regales us of the experiences he had trying to answer God's call to evangelism first under the auspices of the TSPM, and later under the house church movement.  It is in the latter that Mr. Fu experienced his worst persecution.  He was arrested, spied on, tortured, threatened, and treated badly in other ways.  The stories he tells are really awful.  On the surface it makes you want to pick up your own cross against the Chinese government and demand reform.

The U.S. government hasn't necessarily declared that the TSPM is not a legitimate church.  Instead, the U.S. government's position has settled on the issue of human rights when it comes to how the Chinese government deals with what it would have to call religious dissidents.  The U.S. simply alleges that the Chinese government should be more tolerant of self-professed Christians who rebel against the TSPM.  Stories like Mr. Fu's provide plenty of fodder for the American assertion that it's a human rights issues. 

I don't doubt that the Chinese government is treating people badly.  Bob Fu's book is believable.  It's true.  Clearly when someone tries to spread the gospel in China outside of the auspices of the TSPM, they are likely to suffer incredible consequences doled out by the Chinese government.  So that's disturbing.  But that's the obvious. 

In Romans 13:1-5, the Apostle Paul explained to us that, "Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.   So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.   For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you.   The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.   So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience."

I know.  You're thinking to yourself, "He's crazy.  The Chinese government is evil."  You'd be right on the latter part.  But I'm not going to give you crazy just yet.  Hear me out.  The Bible also tells us that evil can be the servant of God.  Satan is serving God right now, for example.  Anyone who knows God knows that He is a purposeful God.  He allows evil to run its course for a reason.  We may not understand that reason, but we can have confidence that the (good) reason is there.  Satan is a servant of God, whether he knows it or not.  So are evil regimes and countries.  (

So that takes me to the conclusion that the Chinese government - as evil as it can be - is a servant of God.  This is true whether it wants to be or not.  This is true whether it knows it or not.  In its own perverse way, that government allows worship of the one true God.  In its way, that government allows adults - who are capable of making that choice - to turn to the one true God.  In its way, that government allows parents to pray with their children and teach them the ways of the one true God. 

It may be a communist government.  But if I lived in China, I believe I would try to see how much I could accomplish for the Lord within the Three Self Patriotic Movement church structure.  (Can you believe I just said that?)  It seems to me that more of China's citizens might be impacted if they could see more of Jesus in their daily lives.  But when Christians openly rebel against the government (and flee to America), I wonder how much Jesus the rest of China gets to see.

Like I said, I enjoyed Bob Fu's book.  It's a good read.  But the context disturbs me.  I wonder if open rebellion is the most effective way to honor God when confronted with evil.  I once heard a pastor here in the U.S. say that the best thing that could happen to Christianity in America would be for the government to outlaw it. 

History shows us that persecution has actually been good for the heart of Christ's church.  So in that context, I would have to ask Mr. Fu how many of China's people he is reaching for Christ - now that he has fled the persecution of the Chinese government and lives safely and comfortably in Texas, supported by Americans.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

True Worshippers ... Aren't Late

I'm sure I'm going to get a backlash for writing this.  Let me just acknowledge that up front.  I'm going to call out something so central to Christianity in our culture that someone will have to berate me for it.  "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."  Or, "Who are you to judge?"  "Judge not, lest you be judged."  Yes, I will get those emails for today's blog.  I fully expect to get some that will remind me that it's better to get there late than not at all.  But I am not persuaded.  After all, it is my blog.

Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know ... Yet a time is coming ... when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'  (John 4:22-23)

Maybe I'm taking it a bit out of context here, but what kind of worshipers do you suppose Jesus had in mind here?  What does it mean to worship "in spirit and in truth?"  Does our heavenly Father really seek worshipers at all?  And if He does, what is it about worship that particularly pleases Him? 

Psalm 99 (1-9) sets the tone for me.  "The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble ... let the earth shake.  Great is the Lord ... He is holy.  The King is mighty ... Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool; He is holy.  Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy."  And that tone is set in the beginning of the Bible and it continues to the end of the Bible.  Just about every single book of the Bible seems to give me clear direction on how I'm supposed to regard the Lord, my God. 

But it's not a tone that we seem to embrace in our regular weekly worship of the Lord.  It happens in my church.  It happens in many churches.  The music starts, the worship begins --- and people stroll in.  They saunter in, quite casually.  In many American churches they have their coffee in hand, or maybe a cold drink. 

Others around them are worshiping the Lord, but they interrupt their worship to greet their friends and give them a hug.  Or they interrupt the worship to get the seat that they want.  I'm truly not judging them.  But for me, there is something going on. 

I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH THE KING!  How could I consider being late?  It's an ordained time, when people whom God has called to lead me are prepared and ready to take me to a fresh encounter with my Savior.  Honestly, it feels disrespectful not to be early. 

If I have concert tickets or tickets to a sports game or a play, I always get there early.  If we're going to a movie, we always make sure we're there in plenty of time to get our popcorn and get seated during the previews.  Is not the Lord as important as the latest movie or sports game? 

I said that the tone is set in the Bible.  Listen to how it ends.  Look at those worshipers Jesus said the Father is looking for.  "Day and night they never stop saying, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty.'  Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne ... the twenty-four elders fall down before Him ... They lay their crowns before the throne and say, 'You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor ...'"  (Revelation 4:8-11)

Are these the kind of worshipers that you sit beside in your church?  My wife and I, we make it a habit to get to the church on time.  We're usually seated before the music starts playing.  Our church even starts with a song before the worship - and displays a stop watch, counting down the time until the worship will begin.  Usually this is to empty seats.  We often remark how empty the church is.  But then it fills up.  Somehow, between the time that the worship begins and the time that the sermon begins, the 'big house' fills up. 

But was God really honored?  Did He feel the love, while the worship leaders sang to empty seats and the worshipers getting their coffee, dropping their kids a their Sunday school classes, and greeting their friends? 

I want to stop people and ask them, "Do you know who God is?"  I'm teaching a class at my church right now and we recently talked about people whose God is too small.  I suspect that may be the God that most of us are worshiping.  For if we realized His true magnitude, could we dare not be in our seats and ready to give Him praise at the appointed hour?

I love my church and I love its people.  I love my fellow Christians in other churches.  But seriously folks, we are getting this wrong.  Is it possible that we are not the worshipers that our Father wants, but rather that He's being relegated to the worship we want? 

If you're a pastor or worship leader, please consider this an exhortation to confront the bad behavior that you see in your people.  (And I know that you see it!)  Don't be afraid to offend them.  They will be truly offended if God discards them because they never really knew Him.  Don't be afraid to offend them, when they are offensive to Him. 

I'm not saying you have to stop the service and rebuke the late comers.  But maybe you could preach on the subject, and then announce that "from now on," the doors will be closed when worship begins and people can only be seated late during the transitions (from worship to teaching, etc.). 

I remember attending Kensington Community Church in Troy, Michigan many years ago.  That's exactly what they did.  There were television monitors in the lobby and late comers could watch the worship on the monitors, waiting for a chance to join them.  You were only late once, and you realized you were missing out on something important.

I also remember worshipping at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago.  I was amazed to see people lining up at the locked doors to the worship center.  When the doors opened, it was like a contact sport to see who could claim the seats down front.  (It was very exciting to imagine people that interested in declaring God's greatness!)

But alas, I don't attend those churches.  I attend my church and your church, and the one around the corner.  I attend that church that wants to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable, like they matter.  But I worry that in the process, we make God feel the opposite.

Can we as true worshipers, knowing the one true God, ever afford to be late?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

That Moment ... Where Unbelief Is Overtaken

So I'm teaching a class at my church on Saturday mornings.  It's a curriculum about developing the character of Christ within you.  I actually wrote the curriculum - or rather the Lord wrote it through me.  At any rate, this past Saturday's lesson was about examining your ways. 

"Let us examine our ways, and test them.  And let us return to the Lord."  (Lamentations 3:40)

It's a simple enough Bible verse.  But even this teacher recognizes how abstract it seems.  How does one examine his ways?  How does she test her ways?  And when we return to the Lord ... what then?  Why do we return to the Lord?  What do we expect from the Lord?  What does He expect from us?

As it happens, I have considerable experience examining my ways.  You see, I've had some ways, some terrible ways.  I have had some dishonest ways, some sarcastic ways.  Many of my ways were devious and not honorable at all.  They were selfish ways.  They were conceited ways.  Quite honestly, my ways were painful.  They left me with an overall sense - for much of my life - that life wasn't really worth living. 

So anyway, I'm explaining to my class the significance of examining and testing one's ways.  I began to walk them through some examples, using some tools I'd included in the curriculum.  And then it happened.  As I was explaining head knowledge, the Holy Spirit showed up to impart heart knowledge.

Among the many ways that I have had to examine in my life, chief among them was what I believed about myself.  For much of my life, I didn't think I was worthy.  I didn't consider myself to be lovable.  My starting position with everyone was one of victimhood, distrust, cynicism, and pain. 

The Bible tells us that God loves us.  I believed that about you.  I just didn't believe that about me.  My mind could not fathom that fact that God does indeed love me.  I didn't imagine that my wife loved me or anyone else really loved me.  I assumed that my friends were either using me or they didn't really know me.  For if they knew me like I knew me - they surely could not love me. 

To make a long story short, God eventually changed my heart.  He healed my wounded, hurting heart.  But in the process, He had to convince me that I was first loved.  In working through that, I learned an important lesson about belief and unbelief. 

You see, when we believe something or don't believe something, it seems that is not really a choice.  We tend to think of it as a choice.  But consider something that you believe.  Could you imagine not believing it?  Or think of something (or someone) that you just don't believe.  Maybe you'd like to believe them.  You wish you could.  Maybe you want for all you're worth to believe them or believe in them.  But the circumstances just overwhelm you - and you can't. 

This is how it works.  Your belief or your unbelief goes along, firm in its conviction.  But then the truth swamps it.  The evidence becomes overwhelming and that thing or person that you didn't believe?  Well now you can't not believe it!  Or that thing or person that you believed in with the depths of your heart?  Well they've laid open the core of your understanding such that there's nothing you can do to believe now.  You can hope and wish.  You can pray and cry and try with all your might.  But you can't change your beliefs or unbeliefs. 

So it is with our beliefs.  We go along believing them - whether they're true or not.  And it is the same with unbeliefs - where we go along not believing them, whether they're true or not.  Of course we always like to think of ourselves as being in control of our beliefs. 

But my life experience has shown me that this is the core of my concept.  I really don't control my beliefs or my unbelief.  They are victims of truth as it gets revealed to me.  And when truth convinces me, it overtakes my belief - or my unbelief ... and they are forever changed.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Strike Me Hard ... and Often, Lord

In just a few years it seemed that I poured my heart and soul into writing this blog.  And then it was over, almost as suddenly as it had started.  It seemed as if I woke up one day and there was nothing left to say.  Is that true?  Is there nothing left in me to say?  I very much doubt it.  So from time to time I find myself examining my own journey with the Lord - seeking to understand it.

Today I had what I'd have to call a huge revelation.  It was followed by a most surprising prayer.  Let me explain.

A a few years ago I was faced with a very precarious employment situation.  Unexpectedly I found myself without a job.  But the Lord was faithful and He provided for my family even better than He had before.  However, His provision was temporary in nature.  And it came to an abrupt and unexpected ending over Christmas that year.

Suddenly I was thrust back into the ranks of the unemployment.  This time it didn't even come with a severance package to help cushion the blow.  I dutifully surrendered my predicament to the Lord.  With (sometimes forced) resignation, I went about the plodding effort of looking for a job.  As always, the Lord provided.  He was faithful indeed.  This time His provision was a very tentative contract role though, for about a third less than I'd been making.  Still it was enough. 

I was in a lowly, humbling role, and I knew it could end any day.  Honestly, I felt like the Israelites must have felt when they wandered for 40 years, picking up manna from the ground each morning to eat.  They hadn't known whether they would have food the next day or not.  They just had to trust God for that.  I was in exactly the same boat!  In fact, I felt as if the Lord had me on a very short leash - just to keep me humbled.

Being in a dilemma like the Israelites were helps do something.  It helps you maintain a laser-sharp focus on the Lord and His will for you.  Every day.  Every minute.  As I read and reflect on the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert, I see clearly that (at least) one of God's purposes for having them on such a short leash was that He wanted them to develop and keep a laser-sharp focus on Him.  Would our Lord want anything less from me?

So for months I drove to work each day, praying in earnest that God would keep me safe.  I sincerely prayed and poured my heart out to Him each day, it seemed.  Often times as I drove into the parking lot tears were streaming down my face.  I'd park the car, dry my tears, and walk into the building literally praying as I walked.

Oddly enough, I never prayed for a better job.  I didn't pray for more money.  I prayed that the Lord would give me grace to honor Him in my circumstances.  I asked Him to show me how to honor those whom I worked for.  I asked Him to help me honor Him - with my words, my thoughts, and all of my actions throughout that day.  I prayed for those who would mistreat me (because they did).  I prayed for those around me, and I asked Him to use me to bless them (and He did).  Even in my painful circumstances, I guess I had enough wisdom to know that the reason(s) I was there might not be all about me.

As I look back, I remember it being a stressful time - almost terrifying in nature.  If not for my laser sharp focus on the Lord, I would have no doubt been terrified.  But we made it through, and my testimony for the Lord was even stronger.  He has been so very faithful, and never failed me.  Out of the blue I received a most unlikely job offer, making more money than before.  It seemed like a dream come true, and I rejoiced in the Lord.

Stricken By the Lord

To make a long story short, I walked out of the those circumstances.  My God blessed me and my family with a wonderful job that most of us could only dream about.  It pays well and provides us with more financial security than we've ever had in our entire lives.  But it's been about eighteen (18) months now since I made that transition - from desperate need to bountiful provision.  I'm ashamed to say that my walk with the Lord has suffered during that time.  I've found it sometimes hard to seek Him first each day.  I've found myself bitter, angry, and unloving at times (at least in my head and heart).  At times I've asked the Lord to help me come back to Him. 

So today He did.  Today the Lord allowed me to be blasted by the enemy.  I was, as they say, thrown under the bus by someone I would have thought I could have trusted.  I was blamed, accused, and deeply wounded.  It was very unsettling.  My own brokenness was raging.  I prayed in the moment, of course, asking the Lord to give me the words to respond.  He did and I got through the meeting.  But if ever there were a picture of the "walking wounded" it was me after that meeting.

Later in the day I had to go to the airport.  My first instinct was to head for the bar and load up on liquor to change the way I felt.  Instead, I found a carpeted hallway where terminal golf carts are parked for recharging.  I arranged my suitcase to give some privacy and lay down on the floor among them.  As I laid there and talked to God about what happened, the tears just started to pour out of my eyes.  My hair ended up being soaked by my own tears. 

But as I laid there on the floor of the airport, praying amidst my own tears, I had a moment of clarity.  I was suddenly laser-focused on the Lord ... like I hadn't been in months!  I talked to Him about that.  As He and I examined my heart we saw that I want nothing more than to please Him.  I don't want to be or have anything.  In fact, if it would please my Lord, I would be happy to cease to be altogether.  Really!

As I prayed and reflected, it occurred to me that perhaps the Lord had stricken me (or allowed me to be stricken) in order to get me focused back on Him.  If He did, I would be eternally grateful.  And so I prayed.  "Lord, if You need to strike me and wound me to get me focused on you and keep me focused on you, then please strike me hard.  Wound me deeply.  And do it often.  For there is no greater joy in my life than to run to You - even if it's in my pain and fear."

I have to confess that this was a prayer which surprised even me.  But I am pleased to say that it is definitely a prayer that I mean.  "Lord strike me.  Wound me.  Do whatever it takes to help me keep the sharpest focus on you, Father.  In Jesus' name I pray this. Amen."

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

God-Honoring Divorce?

I've made comments on my Facebook wall and in other places that give way to the fact that I believe we can honor God with things like sin.  Typically my Christian friends and acquaintances will grimace when I do that.  After all, the traditional Christian view is that divorce is unacceptable.  One will often hear born-again believers espousing the Biblical wisdom that "God hates divorce."  It's true, God does hate divorce.  But He allowed Moses to implement provisions for the Israelites to practice it because God knew that sometimes hardened hearts make marriage rather ungodly.

Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 allowed a man to divorce his wife and for her to be married to another. When Jesus was questioned about this in Mark 10:1-9, He made it clear that divorce was not in God’s order in the beginning, but was allowed because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.  Knowing the nature and character of God, it isn't a stretch to conclude that divorce isn't God's plan for His children.  One can readily imagine that divorce saddens our Lord.  Nevertheless, our human experience ... applied against Scripture and prayer ... sometimes reveals that divorce is inevitable.

Let's face it, some of the marriages that Christians find themselves in are just plain ungodly.  The respective spouses loathe each other.  They don't like each other.  They don't respect each other.  They don't enjoy spending time with each other.  Even being civil to each other can be quite stressful. 

I've counseled couples where the wife would sheepishly admit that she'd told her daughters things like, "I hope you don't grow up and marry someone like your father."  Or the husband would admit that he felt guilty for sometimes wishing his wife would just disappear --- so his life wouldn't have to be so complicated. 

Mind you, I don't advocate divorce.  But if the two have made every possible effort to salvage the relationship ... it may be time to face the inevitable.  Instead of staying together "for the sake of the children," might it be time to divorce for the sake of everyone involved.  If you can't give your kids two healthy parents, can you give them one?  There may come a time when you must submit yourself and your marriage to the Lord, and seek His counsel.  And when you do, you might not be the first person I've ever heard say that the Lord released you from this marriage.  (I think He actually can do that!)

So what happens when you come to the conclusion that the marriage is without a future.  You've prayed and waited on the Lord's leading.  You're now confident that the Lord is giving you permission to exit this marriage.  What then?  Enter my concept of a "God-honoring divorce."  To be clear, I still think divorce is the very last resort.  One should never take it lightly.  It breaks God's hear to see two people get to this regrettable place in their relationship.  But when one or more hearts is so hardened, it's time to talk about how we might go about honoring God with our divorce.

An acquaintance of mine recently sought my counsel on his own divorce.  Experiencing much pain, he asked for my opinion about how he should respond to the hurtful things he was experiencing.  It seemed from the circumstances that his wife wasn't pursuing a very Christ-like response to the situation (despite the fact that she agreed the divorce was the appropriate course of action).  What should he do?  How should he respond to his divorce and his wife's unfair attacks?  Let me share what I told him:
  1. Examine your ways and test them (Lamentations 3:40).  Make sure that you've owned your part in the conflict.  Be sure that you've taken responsibility for what is your responsibility.
  2. Your pain can speak louder than your true beliefs.  Take every thought and word captive to God's truth (Proverbs 4:23 & Proverbs 13:3).
  3. If you think your spouse isn't being fair with you, look no further than Jesus' own example.  He was accused unfairly: 
           - He made no statements on His own behalf.
           - He made no accusations against His accusers.
           - He kept no account of the wrongs of His accusers.
           - He answered questions with as few words as possible.
           - He went into the conflict trusting in the Lord.
           - He went into the conflict planning to forgive His accusers.
While Jesus clearly had no sin, had done no wrong, and knew how right He really was, it's clear from His example and His teaching that if He had done any wrong, He would have readily owned up to it, made whatever amends for it He could possibly make, and accepted the consequences of His own poor choices with humility and graciousness ... and not anger, frustration, fear, or retaliation.
If you are going to walk through your divorce in any way that honors God, you must start now to forgive your spouse for everything that he did and didn't do.  You must expect and plan to forgive or for everything that he will and won't do. 
For men, you committed to love her as Christ loved the church.  That would be the church that accused Him unfairly, spit on Him, beat Him, tortured Him, mocked Him, lied about Him, unfairly and wrongly accused Him, cheated Him, crucified Him, and continued to reject Him even after His human life ended.  Yes, that would be the church that He died for.  And that's the same commitment you've made to your ex-wife or soon-to-be ex-wife.  Now that the marriage is ending, your commitment to God continues.  You will still have to love her like Christ loved His church --- even after your marriage ends.
You will never be allowed to list for anyone, even for yourself, all the things she's done wrong.  You will never be allowed to explain to anyone, or even think to yourself, how right you are or how unjust the situation has been to you.  You will have to hang on the proverbial cross, forgiving her and asking God to forgive her --- even as she drives away with your kids, your money, your reputation, your heart, your sacrifice, your antiques, your family keepsakes, and maybe even your lawnmower.  (I know the lawnmower is a stretch ... but I'm trying to make a point here.)
For women, it's the same.  You love your husband as you love Christ.  You made that same commitment before God.  And divorce doesn't let you off the hook.  You promised to love and honor him - sacrificially.  If you have to sue him to get him to pay his child support, you do so without bad-mouthing him.  If he remarries a 25 year old blond, you sit with them at your daughter's graduation with love and forgiveness in your heart and eyes.  You have anything bad to say about him, you say it to the Lord in prayer.
It's a tall order.  If you're about to divorce, examine your heart and make sure you're up for this.  If the Lord gave you permission to exit this marriage, He gave it with these conditions.  Make sure that you're ready and willing to call on Jesus to help you pull this off.  My guess is you're going to need His supernatural power to do this.
If you're already divorced, even if it's ugly, it's not too late.  Get on your knees and commit your divorce to the Lord.  Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in your responses to your ex-spouse.  Plan to forgive.  Plan to obey.  And plan to walk in the confidence that the Lord has given you everything you need to honor Him with your divorce, the pain of your divorce, the losses of your divorce, and even the scars of your divorce. 
I can't say it too much, divorce is NOT the Lord's plan for His people.  But when it is inevitable, His people can still walk through it in ways that give honor and glory to their Lord and Savior.  The only question is whether you really want to.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hypocrisy on Facebook

It never occurred to me that I might one day find myself praying to God about Facebook.  But that day has come.  Actually it arrived last year some time, in the midst of the political campaigns for the presidency of the U.S.A.  I’ve long been a registered Republican, and had strongly disapproved of Barack Obama when he was elected the first time.  (In fact, I wrote several blogs here about him back then.)  As he was running for re-election, I didn’t see a suitable opponent.  I had initially thought Hillary Clinton would take his place, but then it became clear that the only real choice would be between Obama and Mitt Romney.
Of course there was no shortage of positive or negative rhetoric about either of the candidates running for President.  But I found myself with reservations about Mitt Romney.  No, it wasn’t his Mormon faith.  I actually have a lot of respect for many of the ideals and values espoused (and held to) by the Mormons.  Rather it was a sense that Mitt Romney might not be as sincere in his caring for all of the people.  Much as I hate to admit it, some of his remarks about people who are poor, handicapped, or even unemployed seemed strangely reminiscent of now-deceased billionaire Leona Helmsley who was quoted as having once said that, “Only the little people pay taxes.”
So I turned to Facebook to try and find worthwhile understanding other than my own.  From time to time, I would pose a question, usually about Mitt Romney.  Several times I tried to start a dialogue about the issues.  Does Mitt Romney really have a plan to bring our country’s deficit spending under control?  Do we really believe that reducing tax rates will result in increased tax revenue with which to pay for our government’s spending?  But time and time again, questions like this on Facebook would result in the exact same outcome.  The Obama-bashers would in outrage ask some stupid question like, “Would you like four more years of Obama destroying our country?”  Never once did they answer my question, mind you.  They would just try to “disarm” me with a condemning question --- resting on the assumption that I was an Obama supporter (which I am not).
It’s of course no secret that I’m a born-again Christian.  I spend my life with great concentration on the teachings of Jesus Christ.  I work hard to reconcile my sinful nature and selfish desires to the godly standards of the Old and New Testament.  And as you might imagine, a great percentage of my friends and even my acquaintances are also Christians.  At least that’s what they would have you believe.  Frankly, the bullying and hateful disrespect that some of them displayed (on Facebook) had me wondering if they could really be following the same Christ that I do. 
At times I would try to point out the hypocrisy that seemed apparent to me.  I would try to re-engage them back on the original topic at hand.  After all, I really did want to discuss the issues.  But I had no interest in demonizing either candidate.  Ultimately, I failed in those endeavors.  My so-called Christian “friends” prevailed in their desire to hold on to their hatred and disrespect, demonizing Obama and trying to bully me for not joining them.  Eventually, I began to “unfriend” them on Facebook.  That didn’t stop some of them, so I had to go back and actually block them from even seeing my wall or communicating with me.  This was quite sad for me.  I’ve known some of them for nearly 20 years.  I also had thought of them as godly men.  (I don’t any more.)
There is plenty of Scripture in the Bible that tells Christians how we are to regard our government and its leaders.  Romans 13:1-7 says that, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. …. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the (governmental) authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Did you catch that last part?  If you owe respect … then give respect.  If you owe honor … then give honor.  They are no less important than paying the taxes that you owe.  This passage makes it abundantly clear that we are to obey the government God places over us. We are to obey the government in everything—paying taxes, obeying rules and laws, and showing respect. If we do not, we are ultimately showing disrespect towards God, for He is the One who placed that government over us.
When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, he was under the authority of the Roman government during the reign of Nero, who is notorious for – among other things – being quite possibly the most evil of all the Roman emperors. Nevertheless Paul still recognized the Roman government’s rule over him. Do we dare do any less today? 
Recently I had to “unfriend” an old classmate from high school.  I had reconnected with her not long ago, and thought it would be fun to catch up.  That didn’t turn out to be the case.  While professing to be a Christ follower, and quoting Scripture regularly, she also refers to our (now re-elected) President Obama as “the antichrist” (sic).  When I tried to point out the error of her thinking, she reacted the same way those other Facebook friends had reacted last fall.  I got a severe tongue lashing for refusing to join or support her demonizing of Obama.  I cautiously tried to discuss the issue with her, but was quickly attacked by her adult children as well.  Finally I retreated, apologized for offending her, encouraged her to review her position with her pastor, and, of course, “unfriended” and blocked her. 
Sadly, my self-proclaimed Christian Facebook friends don’t appear to be familiar with the context of what Paul said to the Romans.  Even if Obama were the “antichrist,” the command for Christians would not change.  Obama may have been elected by the American people, but he got his position and his authority from God.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to him not only because of the law, but also, as Romans 13 tells us, because of conscience.  You see, we honor God when we give respect to those in authority over us – whether that is at work, at church, in government or anywhere else. 
One of the things we mistakenly conclude is that if we don’t agree with someone then we don’t have to submit to them.  We may think that they “don’t deserve” our respect (as if anyone could).  I’ve heard people say that the politician whom they think is vile “hasn’t earned” our respect.  But who has earned our respect?  After all, each of us is so terribly flawed and bent toward sin and evil that we required the salvation of a Messiah.  It’s good to remember that when looking at those in authority over us (and others) whom we don’t agree with. 

You see, I don’t have to agree with you, support your policies, or even like you in order to submit to you, show respect for you, obey you, and even love you.  Love is patient and kind, it always forgives, it never gives up, it is never harsh, and all those other things that 1 Corinthians 13 teaches us. 

So, here’s the question:  Have you loved your politician (insert name here) today?  I started out saying that I never imagined I'd be praying to God about Facebook.  But as I've encountered this conflict and nasty business on Facebook, I've found myself bewildered by so-called Christians who were behaving so heinously that I didn't know how to react.  So I've found myself praying, asking God to show me how to respond to someone.  Fortunately, He's been willing to guide me.  In some cases, I've been able to re-focus the conversation in a more righteous direction.  In other cases, I've been led to "shake the dust off my feet" and move on. 

I have to say that in those cases, it gives me no pleasure to "unfriend" someone on Facebook.  For I realize that they are lost in their hypocrisy and have a reckoning day coming that will surely be ugly.  Because I love them, I don't want to see that in their future.  I wonder if anyone ever sees my hypocrisy so clearly.  And I wonder if they do, would they love me enough to try to call me out on it.