Friday, December 25, 2015

Our Coming King!

I have always enjoyed the season of Advent; those four weeks set apart to meditate on the first coming of Jesus. Advent means 'a coming into place, view or being,' so it is the perfect time to remember Jesus' arrival into human history as a tiny infant. Everyone loves babies; they are cute and cuddly. They are also non-threatening; they write no manifestos and make no speeches. They don't march or have causes. Examine any manger scene, the baby Jesus just lies there limply, without so much as a Pampers on—pretty harmless stuff. It is easy to reflect on and sing the praises of baby Jesus, asleep on the hay. Even the worldexcept those allergic to even the most innocuous religious expressions of Christmas—mostly tolerates baby Jesus. But Jesus hasn't been a baby for a long, long time. 

The man Jesus makes conclusive, polarizing statements about His identity. He directs how we should live—meddles even. He tips our sacred cows. His statements about Himself demand a response. He's politically incorrect and intolerant, with His claim of being 'the only way'. His promise that He will return, destroy all that hinders love and rule this planet as absolute, undisputed King places Him squarely at odds with the world and its systems. It's much less controversial to focus on His humble birth. Can't we just all get along? 

Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending Advent reflecting on Jesus' first advent—we should express love and gratitude that He came to save us. But Jesus our Messiah is also our coming King. He asks His disciples to remember that He is coming back and that they be ready. Like a watchmen vigilantly guarding his house against burglars. Like a pregnant woman, excitedly waiting for the day her baby arrives. Like a Jewish bride in ancient times, eagerly waiting for the day her bridegroom completes his preparations and comes to take her from her father's house, into his own.

So it's good that I remind myself that He's coming again, especially at this time of the year when everything around me insists that celebrating Christmas is okay, as long as I keep it about gifts and parties and baby Jesus. Baby Jesus only. But King Jesus is the One returning, with fiery eyes and an implacable determination to return the world to what God intended from the beginning. A place where God may walk among us; where we may see Him face to face. A place of unhindered love and intimacy, where we creatures may finally and forever live with our Creator. A place of eternal glory. 

As 2015 draws to a close, I want every manger scene be a reminder, not just that Jesus humbled Himself by coming as a weak, human infant, but that He's coming again as all-powerful King. As I remember and honor Jesus' appearing, I am asking God to refresh my desire to watch for His reappearing. This beautiful, terrible, broken world is passing and will pass away. Soon and very soon we will see our King, our glorious Jesus, high and lifted up. His train will fill all the earth. Every eye will see Him, recognizing Him as King and God. What a privilege it is to see and know Him now. 

May this Advent reaffirm your trust that what He has promised He will do; renew your resistance to the pull of this world; and refocus your life on Jesus. May He shorten the time and strengthen the saints to walk out His love to others.  Merry Christmas. Maranatha! (Oh Lord, Come!) 



“[Jesus] who testifies to these things says,
‘Yes, I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Revelation 21:20-21


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sudden Change of Perspective

I have to confess that, with regard to the Syrian refugee crisis, I’ve been pretty much marching lock-step with the band of popular opinion. The idea of importing large numbers of anonymous Muslims of unknown intent into my country, let alone my state or neighborhood makes me a little anxious. It also makes me angry for a variety of reasons, which are too many to get into and have mostly to do with carnal irritation at our delusional government and potential inconvenience to my lifestyle (which is even more carnal).

But recently I experienced one of those sudden perspective shifts in which you instantly know something that you didn’t before. During a Sunday sermon a large animated map was projected on the wall, showing the movement of refugees into Europe (a still shot is below. See the animation at www.lucify.com/the-flow-towards-europe/). I recognized that the refugees were fleeing, not just Syria but the entire 10/40 window. And it was like God adjusted a tuning knob in my brain—suddenly the picture was crystal-clear and the sound distortion-free. Into my mind popped Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

For two thousand years the Church has worked industriously to take the gospel all over the world, as we were commissioned to do. But some places have remained out of reach. A large percent of the remaining unreached nations are in the 10/40 window. Those governments where Islam holds sway are closed to missionaries; preaching is forbidden; and conversion is often a death sentence. Fortunately, when Jesus spoke of 'all nations' He didn’t mean real estate, He meant people groups. That map shone a spotlight on our commission…since we can’t get to them, God’s sending them to us. It was a goose bump moment, as I instantly "knew in my knower" that God is using this massive migration as part of His plan that all nations hear the gospel. This means my response to the refugee crisis is not just my personal preference, it is also my response to God’s call on my life. I may not be called to leave my home and culture to risk my life in Muslim lands, but I am called to help people in my circle of influence…people who come to my land.

If the purpose of salvation is to give me a happy life and then get me into Heaven, then I am right to protect my life and my stuff from all comers, both foreign and domestic. But if I'm here to play my part in God's bigger plan—that changes things. I can get so caught up in my comfortable, safe American life that I can forget that the goal all history is moving toward is the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. The last part of Matthew 24:14 is “…and then the end will come.” History will culminate in a glorious unveiling of God as God. All we now know will be swallowed up by the new and perfect and eternal. So my natural desire for peace and safety must not, cannot be of highest importance. Jesus said, “…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:25.

Don't get me wrong. This does not mean that we shouldn’t screen those those entering our country--there are terror groups actively attempting to exploit America’s weaknesses in order to destroy us. But whether or not refugees pose me any particular threat is God's business, and I’m pretty sure that Christians are called to have a different response than the hysterics currently on display in the world.

God has a special place in His heart for the stranger, the poor and the dispossessed. I’m called to help the less fortunate and love the stranger and pray for my enemies. I don’t think I get to qualify that help by adding when it’s convenient; when it doesn’t cost me anything; or when it’s safe for me. Of course there is a line to discern here, for I am also called to protect and provide for my family. But I cannot base my refugee response on a desire to avoid danger. History shows that Christians who attempt to live their lives so as to avoid danger, fall into a different, more terrible danger. Read about Christians in 1930's Germany. The ones who saved their lives and their stuff by saying 'yes' to the Nazis by their silence. Both the Bible and church history confirm that from the early disciples all the way to the Christians being martyred around the world today, normative Christianity includes trouble. 

So I’m prayerfully examining my thoughts about the refugee situation. Though I remain a little nervous, I no longer see it as trouble heading my way, but my unconventional God at work. I'm asking Him to help me make room in my heart for what He's doing. I am reminding myself that my wonderful, glorious Father loves all people and wants them to hear the good news of His coming kingdom. If they need to come to America to hear it, then God's will be done. I confess I am still fighting to be happy about it. But then again, my cramped, Grinchy heart rebels at most of the Scripture that demands I die to self and serve others, so this is no surprise. 

It’s not as if we don’t know what Jesus thinks of all this. That pesky Sermon on the Mount makes it pretty clear that He expects us to love our enemies and pray for them; to give to those to ask us; to have a different, higher response than the world—though it pains my worldly little heart to admit it.

Maranatha!



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

This time of year, when Christmas commercials start shouting for my attention, I feel a little like I’m teetering on a precipice. Ahead is the whirlwind that is the Christmas season, threatening to suck me into non-stop cooking, shopping, wrapping, decorating, serving, baking, cleaning, hosting, traveling and sometimes difficult family interactions. All while schooling, discipling and at least maintaining the appearance I’m an adequate, effective homeschool Mom. It is almost a matter of routine for me to reach January first exhausted and depressed. But holidays aren’t supposed to be that way.

God filled the calendar year with regular opportunities to pause and celebrate; remembering all we’ve received and offer thanks to God. A heart of joy and contentment grows best in the soil of gratitude and thankfulness. It’s the enemy’s plan and the world’s expectation that we fall into holiday busyness and worry and spending too much. So before Thanksgiving, which should be a time of thanks-giving, I’m pressing pause (just for a minute!) to meditate on grace. God owes us nothing, yet has given us everything. All we have, from salvation to the bread on our tables, has come from the generous hand of God. Grace wiped away our sin; adopted us into the family of God; granted us relationship with our Creator and assured our eternal future—every bit of it an undeserved gift. If that doesn’t make me thankful, what would?

This year I’m throwing a barricade across the road that leads to post-holiday depression by reflecting on the tremendous blessings I already have. Since God has already given me everything that truly matters, perhaps it isn’t quite as important that my holiday look like a Hallmark special. Perhaps I can delete some of the ‘must do,’ ‘must have’ items on my list.  If you look at the biblical feasts, God intended that holidays refresh us by reminding us what is truly important. I recently heard the feasts distilled down to “They tried to kill us; God rescued us; let’s eat!” What else do we need?


Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise. 
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.

Psalm 100:4



Saturday, October 10, 2015

I am a Christian

The horror which unfolded in Roseburg, Oregon is still painfully fresh. The faces of the martyrs in Umpqua are becoming familiar as their stories are being told. Christians dying in the Middle East at the hands of Muslim extremists is something we've seen. It’s horrible but remote—clear on the other side of the world. But Christians dying in their classroom in Oregon is up close and personal—and forces me to think.

The word martyr means “witness.” And there is no more powerful Christian testimony than those who would die rather than renounce their commitment to Jesus. It’s become standard to elevate martyrs to a kind of 'super Christian' status. We think, they must be made of sterner stuff than me. I just don’t think I could measure up to what they did. And each time the enemy helps our uncertainty by whispering, “You couldn’t do that. You’re not that kind of Christian. You’re too weak, too lazy, too immature.” Each whisper is designed to weaken faith and camouflage the real issue—that our loving, generous God can be trusted to give us exactly what we need in every situation.

As a child, Corrie ten Boom had an encounter with death that left her shaken and afraid. Her father comforted her with this, "When you and I go to Amsterdam...when do I give you your ticket?” She responded, "Why, just before we get on the train". Her father then went on, "Exactly. And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we're going to need things too. Don't run ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need--just in time". Just so. The enemy wants stories of martyrdom to make us afraid and uncertain. God wants such stories to fill us with faith—not in our own strength or ability, but in Him. I can trust that my wise Father in Heaven has the necessary ticket for where I’m going.

I’m grateful that the courage the Roseburg martyrs exhibited isn’t something they learned in a book or gritted their teeth to produce. Those brave souls who overcame the enemy and went to glory last Monday couldn’t do what they did either…without the indwelling, super-abundant power of God. That’s not to downgrade what they did; it’s to encourage us. I don’t have to worry that my Christianity won’t pass the test, because there is no test. The same God I trust for my daily bread can be trusted to provide the power to face the unfaceable. Every.Single.Time.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a tragedy or that we shouldn’t grieve. I can only imagine the pain and anguish of those affected. I am praying for the friends and family of those who’ve lost loved ones and for the others healing from their wounds. My heart hurts for them, but I am also praying for us. The enemy would have us conclude that God was powerless to stop evil in Oregon. But we know something he’d rather we didn’t. When we trust our wise Father with everything…even the well-being of our physical lives, we overcome satan. In this world we will have trouble, but our Jesus is faithful. He has overcome and promises that we will as well.



And they overcame and conquered [the Adversary] 
because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony,
for they did not love their life and renounce their faith
even when faced with death. Rev. 12:11



Friday, October 2, 2015

Sukkot, 2015

I recently saw something on the internet that has captured my imagination. A video filmed in Jerusalem of a giant wedding dress flying like a flag over the Tower of David in the Old City. I did a little research and discovered that it is part of an art installation for a show at the Tower of David Museum which began the day after Yom Kippur. It is by artist Motti Mizrachi and entitled "Engagement."



The gal who shot the video was very excited, because to her and the many Christians in the city to celebrate Sukkot it spoke of the Body of Christ waiting for the arrival of Jesus our Bridegroom, ala Revelation 19. On the Plaza near the tower, she found a Messianic Jew (a Jewish person who has received Jesus as the promised Messiah) and asked her what it would mean to Jewish people in Israel. The lady talked about Jewish wedding traditions, and how weddings are like Sukkot in that you are commanded to rejoice and celebrate for seven days. She said it's like the city of Jerusalem is waiting for her bridegroom, the Messiah. Wow, what a wonderful picture!

All I could think is how the natural speaks of the spiritual and how God is using a secular Jewish artist to speak a prophetic word over the city of Jerusalem. All day my thoughts kept returning to the image of the historic Tower of David and that dress (eighteen feet tall!) floating from the roof like an icon of yearning for the coming millenial reality. The King is coming for His Bride and one mark of His nearness is His covenant people beginning to recognize and ask for Him.

When the show is over, the artist intends to loose the dress from its moorings atop the Tower, allowing it to float freely over the city. I pray that that image sparks a desire for God; a heart cry from the City of David for relationship with Him; a new, deeper yearning for the coming Messiah, their King. As I meditated on that image, my heart was stirred anew that this is what Sukkot is ultimately about. Thankfulness for all that God has provided--not just food and shelter, but the gift of salvation, a plan to restore the Earth, a way to be forever with Him. So the booth doubles as an annual wedding chuppah (canopy) to remind us that the end of days is not a Hollywood disaster movie, but the conclusion to a love story. God became a man in order to woo and win a people to Himself. He is returning to put our great enemy under His feet and take us to Himself. 

So as Sukkot winds to a close this weekend, consider your heart. This is the season for gratitude and rejoicing. But also the season to ask the Lord to refresh and renew hope and expectation deep within us for what God has promised yet to do. Our bridegroom is coming back. He is looking for those who are yearning for Him. Waiting for Him. Expecting Him. Like wise virgins, let us get oil for our lamps so that when the shout is heard, "Look! The Bridegroom is coming. Go out to meet him. (Matthew 25). We will arise, trim our lamps and go with our great King to the wedding feast.


The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!”
He who testifies and affirms these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.



Sunday, September 27, 2015

Blood Moons, again

This was originally posted in the spring, when the third blood moon of the tetrad appeared. The fourth blood moon, a supermoon (yes, that's a thing) is tonight.


Wherein I try to avoid lunacy (pun alert!), while pointing out some things...

Most of us are aware that we are in the middle of a relatively rare phenomenon called a lunar tetrad. Tetrad refers to four and lunar...well, you know.  A complete lunar eclipse is sometimes called a blood moon, because the light reflected through the Earth's shadow is red. Most are also aware of the alarming blogs, reports, articles, Facebook pages, tweets, ad nauseam screaming all sorts of stuff about what it all means. The sheer volume (both in number and in noise) is enough to make us cover our ears and eyes, until the fire hose is shut off. Because there is so much information to sift through, the tendency is to think about something else until the entire thing is over and we can return to hoping that Kim Kardashian has tired of posting nude pictures of herself on the internet (please God).

Because of instant, world-wide information access, our ADD culture chatters excessively about a topic for about five minutes, before jumping to the next trending story. That's a shame, because that doesn’t mean the story is actually over...or that we actually got the message of the story. Way, way back, before we had all our technology and scientific information, God told us He set the lights in the sky, "...to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years (Genesis 1:14 ESV). We take this for granted. Of course that's what they're for. Most versions say seasons, some say sacred events, less say religious festivals. But the Hebrew word translated seasons is mo'adim which means 'appointed time.' The religious festivals God ordained and scheduled according to the moon's cycle are special appointments at which He promises to meet with His people. He used the cycles of moon and sun to help pre-modern folks—who couldn't exactly check their watches or iPhones—keep track of time.

And yes, we don't need to use the moon to keep track of our calendar days any more. And yes, Paul tells us that feast days and new moon festivals are only shadows...our salvation is in Christ alone (Col 2:16-17). But we don't want to find ourselves thinking we've grown too sophisticated to hear from God, any way He chooses. Just because we now have clocks and printed calendars and internet doesn't mean that God has thrown up His hands with a, "Well they're ahead of Me now! I guess I'd better stop using such antiquated methods to signal my tribe." God uses many means to speak to us including signs in the heavens, the ancient method He invented.

So what does the tetrad have to say to us? That covers a wide spectrum from "nothing" to "The world is ending, like right now! Please go immediately to my website where I just happen to have for sale everything you need in order to survive the impending apocalypse!" We have to find the line of sanity which runs between these two extremes. We also have to be careful not to dismiss or accept the message because of how we feel about the messenger. Just because the folks shouting the loudest may come across as a bit loony doesn't mean God isn't trying to speak to us (If you're unsure, read about the OT prophets' lives). Neither should we uncritically accept reassurance that it all means nothing, because the messenger is logical, low key and credentialed. There are respected teachers and scholars on all sides holding forth on this topic.

I'm not saying which way folks should jump. What I am (I hope) gently and humbly urging is, please ask God. Do not simply rely on what others are saying, no matter who they are. Look up these phenomena in the Bible and read what it says about them. Pray. Find out for yourself what you believe God is saying through these signs, which no one can deny are biblical signs, i.e. found in the Bible. What you then do is between you and God.

Signs in the heavens are just that...signs. Signs exist to inform, or warn, or point to other things. The fact that these eclipses are falling on important feast days cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. The first one was Passover 2014; the second Sukkot (Tabernacles) 2014. The third is Passover 2015, next Saturday morning (full eclipse at 6:58 am, Central time) and the final will fall on Sukkot 2015. God set up the feast calendar as a giant prophetic marker. The spring feasts were fulfilled with Jesus's first coming. Any guesses on what fulfills the fall feasts? Could God be saying to us—First Coming! Second Coming! Pay attention!

So, should we begin setting dates and counting days? Quit our jobs, postpone college or having children? Not at all! (Stop cleaning the house, maybe.) But neither should we give mental assent to the second coming as part of our orthodoxy, but live as though it were never going to happen. That's what scoffers do (II Peter 3:3-4). Re-examine those Scriptures we've been told say we can't know anything at all about when Jesus returns. In context, those verses seem to indicate that not everyone will be caught flat-footed. People who like to quote I Thess. 5:2 as if that concludes the matter, seem to be unaware of I Thess. 5:4-6. Since God both put the lights in the sky and arranged His calendar—before there were people, let alone calendars—it makes perfect sense to me that He is trying to tell us something. Only you can decide what that something is. I just can't picture Him in Heaven, smacking his head and saying, "Wow, Blood Moons! Look at that! What a coincidence! How did that happen?" And we shouldn't either.
 


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Sound of the Trumpet Blast

The ram's horn was heard in ancient Israel to sound the alarm; to gather the tribes for battle; to tell the people when the New Moon was sighted; and to signal times of feast and worship. God also commands that the trumpet blast be heard during the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah), which is the biblical name for the Jewish civil New Year (Rosh Hashanah). It is the sound we will hear when Jesus returns.

We’ve entered the days which conclude the year-long cycle of feasts, traditionally called the High Holy Days. This period of time contains the New Year, The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). It is a time to reflect, repent, and recommit to following the Lord more closely. The Fall feasts rehearse what we know will happen at Jesus' return; the blast of a trumpet; the books opened; final judgment rendered; followed by a magnificent, long-awaited bridal feast.

This season is all about refocusing on God. Retelling the accounts of His great deeds; remembering His goodness; thanking Him for forgiving our sins and calling us into relationship with Him. Our wise and wonderful Father scheduled the feasts so we have regular opportunities for gratitude and worship in order to re-direct and re-focus and re-center our lives on God.

The Feast of Trumpets begins the High Holy Days with the sound of the shofar. The trumpet blast is a proclamation that the Lord God is King of the universe; an announcement of doom to powers and principalities; a call to arms for God’s people; a broadcast that we stand with God in His victory.

Yom Kippur reminds us that our sins are forgiven; our future assured; our names inscribed in the Book of Life; we are permanently adopted into the family of God.

Sukkot is a feast of thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God has done. It is a picture of the bridal feast which culminates human history and inaugurates the fullness of the kingdom of God on Earth. It foretells the day when Jesus comes and ‘tabernacles’ permanently with us. The days when no sun or moon are necessary, because the Light of the World will be with us. An eternity with no tears or pain. Sukkot is an annual reminder that our forever home is with Jesus; it reminds us to look for, anticipate, yearn toward and prepare for that day.

We are approaching the season in which all the events long prophesied will begin to unfold. When the days of faith will become sight. When what we’ve believed will be confirmed as Truth. The exciting days of lifting our heads to see our redemption drawing near. The internet is full of uncertainty and fear about current events, but we can rest. Our peace does not depend on smooth seas, but on Jesus who calms every storm. He is the faithful One who has never disappointed or failed. The One who came for us, died for us and will return for us. Before the foundations of the world He set out the events which will close out human history. He knows exactly where we are on the prophetic time table. He knows how to protect us in the midst of difficult times. He knows how to strengthen us to pass through the storm, while remaining completely His.

Sukkot begins the evening of September 27. I encourage you to watch the final blood moon that night. Let awe fill you as you marvel at all that God has done, and anticipate what He has yet to do. Let this season lead you to watch, pray and resolve anew to give yourself completely into the hands of our good Father. Maranatha!



"I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable
and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world 
you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart!
I’ve conquered the world.”  Jesus

John 16:33 The Message


Thursday, September 17, 2015

How not to Defend the Faith; Facebook Edition


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control...  Galatians 5:22-23


I went a few rounds on Facebook. Again. And then repented for my tone. Again. I'm beginning to think that social media may not the best arena for me. I get too riled up. My posts tend toward sarcasm, bordering on snark. Ignoring a challenge is not in my DNA. Sigh. I am way too eager to explain; to be understood; to demonstrate that I am not a nutjob. Which of course sometimes makes me look like a nutjob. Most of all I can see that my inability to humbly and graciously allow others to express their opinions, 'uncorrected', demonstrates an immature need to be right…and accepted. Double sigh. And after every, single, internet brouhaha, not only have I not persuaded anyone to my viewpoint, I end up snappish and irritated. Not a model of the gentleness that Jesus displayed when He was attacked.

Gentleness is an undervalued trait in our culture—words come to mind like weak, docile, soft, mousy or defenseless. That cannot be right for Jesus is gentle. And I don't mean 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild,' for when folks use that cliché they are describing a Jesus who surely never existed—a nice Sunday School Jesus who'd never hurt a fly. Jesus is gentle, but He is also the Jesus who threw the moneychangers out of the Temple; who boldly laid down His life then took it up again. The One who will return in kingly splendor, thrash the enemy, restore the world and set it running the way originally intended. So gentleness is not weak, it is strong, decisive and brave. It takes courage and strength to determine ahead of time to treat people like God would, no matter how we are treated in return. My Facebook forays reveal that I have a long way to go.

Gentleness does not wait to be treated well before treating others with kindness and respect. In a moment of potential conflict, it is a voluntary abdication of rights, choosing instead to rely on the vindication of God. It is neither the result of low self-esteem, nor a passive mindset. To me it feels like cowardice not to answer every challenge I'm presented, but Jesus was silent before His accusers. Was He a coward? Did He have nothing intelligent to say? Of course not; He was simply more concerned with God’s glory and reputation than His own. Jesus' love for God caused Him to trust in God rather than defend Himself. 

I am frustrated that our culture has become so shallow that knee-jerk outrage over stupid stuff counts as noble character these days. And I am ashamed that we Christians are partly to blame for that. We are just as prone to micro-aggression and misinformation as anyone else. I expend way too much energy fighting paper dragons with clever come-backs. Every day real injustice and catastrophe arise, perhaps my outrage should be reserved for them. Jesus has entrusted us with the words of life, yet I throw out one-liners like a kid in the locker room snapping towels at everyone.  

There is no question that we are on a learning curve here. The world is finally figuring out that our faith makes us different. It's a new reality to find that a great number of people think we are no better than terrorists—that Christianity is unintelligent, bigoted and hateful. It is natural to be shocked, angry and defensive at the level of ignorance and vitriol. But I have to discern the real issue here. Am I supposed to prove that I am right, or live and speak in such a way that Jesus' character is illuminated? Our world grows increasingly dark, but I can't help with that unless I'm holding a light folks will be drawn to. Ultimately I need to decide who's in charge of my reputation, me or God. When I must engage—and I'm still learning that I don't always need to—it should be in a gentle, winsome manner. I can scream all day long, "Daggone it, treat me with respect!" But arguments aren't won by shouting down the opposition. If my first inclination is to go on the attack, what am I winning? No one for Christ, that's for sure!  

When He walked the earth, everything Jesus said and did was a choice made to please and obey His Father (John 5:19, 30). Jesus' example shows me how far short of that standard I am, but also makes me want to more completely yield to God. I want my hard, selfish heart softened to make room for more of Jesus—and those He loves—in my life. This is a painful journey, though I suspect a necessary one. 

Father help me to stand for what is right, but in a manner that is also right. Help me to take a breath and check my motives before I run my mouth. 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Deafening Silence

“[The wicked man’s] victims are crushed, they collapse;
    they fall under his strength.
He says to himself, “God will never notice;
    he covers his face and never sees.” Psalm 10:10-11


If you want evidence of how far America has fallen, look no further than the stories on the local and national news about the Planned Parenthood video scandal. You’ll have to look very, very hard, because there are hardly any. I live in the Bible Belt and even our local news isn’t carrying the story. The media would rather give us stories about an unfortunate wildlife preserve lion. Or Donald Trump's hair. When asked about the scandal, our President—who recently admitted that he hasn't seen the videos—complained about “extremists from the right,” “fraudulently edited video,” and promised to investigate the whistleblowers. The recent Senate vote seems to indicate that even its conservative members can’t all agree that Planned Parenthood should be defunded.

Have we grown so dull that we think God does not see and count each and every one of these precious lives, brutally torn apart before they see the light of day? Do we really think that the God who said “vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” will not bring a day of recompense, not just on the abortion industry, but on a society that callously looked away rather than stop it? And what about the Church at large, which complains but mostly doesn’t do a whole lot more than that?

The videos are disturbing, and the last two are stomach turning. Tiny arms and legs—identifiable as arms and legs—lying randomly in dishes as technicians tweeze about for the ‘valuable’ parts. No amount of editing created those images. Are we outraged enough? Grieved enough? I confess that the evidence of my own life suggests that I am not. I am ashamed to say that, while I oppose abortion, it has been easier to look away from the unpleasantness, to focus on my own busy life, rather than stand and object. But now that I've seen, I know I'm accountable.

We know from history that when we redefine humanity to exclude another group, we become capable of doing unspeakable things to them. Look at the Jews in WWII and the African and Native Americans in our own country. This is what the pro-abortion lobby has done with the unborn—refusing the smallest concession that they are even human. These little ones have no vote, no voice, no power to stop what happens to them. They have no focus group, poll or PAC representing them. They can’t even rely on their own mothers, the one person they should be able to count on to protect them.*

I hate these videos; I hate that they had to be made. They are graphic and ugly; they show me things I'd rather not see. But I needed to see those videos. America needs to see those videos, so she can stop pretending that abortion is the sanitized, simple medical procedure Planned Parenthood claims it is. If our government is going to permit them to continue, then we need to know what it is we are permitting. If PPFA wants to continue collecting their blood money, let them continue with everyone knowing in graphic detail exactly how they are making it. We dare not look away. 

These videos expose as lies the vague terms the abortion industry uses to describe what they do. "Products of conception" and "just a clump of cells,” and “fetal tissue” are invalid terms when you can see with your own eyes a tiny arm, the hand cupped upward, as if reaching for help, lying on a tray. I remember being four months pregnant, feeling how big the baby was as he moved and kicked. It's horrifying to imagine that child being probed and prodded, then finally sliced apart—without even the small kindness of a painkiller. We are kinder when we execute murderers than we are to the unborn. (Painkillers, if given, would be an admission that the “product of conception” is pain-capable. They can’t risk the general public beginning to think sympathetically of the “clump of cells;" they might then think of the “tissue” as a pre-born human, and then where would we be?)

This controversy has shaken and convicted me. I am perhaps too busy with my own life. There are many worthy causes to which I can and should give my money and time. But after seeing these videos, my busyness is beginning to feel like an excuse to avoid being uncomfortable--or accountable. As Christians can we be a people willing to be uncomfortable; to hear and see unpleasant things in order to speak out against this Holocaust of tiny infants? 

While protecting and helping women with the life and death decisions regarding crisis pregnancy, we must also speak out against the taking of innocent life. And we must be willing to provide solutions...simply being anti-abortion isn't enough. How can we criticize those who kill their children, if we don't speak up, vote, give, serve or even inconvenience ourselves by adopting and raising unwanted babies? There may be a deafening silence from the news outlets and the more liberal-minded, but there should not, there cannot be silence from Christians. And I confess, up to now I have been far too silent.



But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.” Psalm 10:14-15


____________
*This is in no way a condemnation of women who have had abortions, just a focus on the needs of the more helpless person in the crisis. We are sinners, all of us, and there is forgiveness and healing in Jesus. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Disciples of Rabbi Jesus


"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me.
Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how
to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy
or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and
you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

 
 
We've all been to school and are familiar with learning. But how much of our school experience was simply filled with factoids learned for a test and forgotten soon after? That's not the kind of learning God wants us to have. At the time of Jesus, a Rabbi would select disciples from among the best students at the local synagogue. These young men gave up their former lives to serve their teacher. They made sure he ate and had a place to sleep each night. They walked with him, listening to everything he had to say about life as well as the Scriptures. They observed how he treated people and dealt with the unexpected. They would closely follow their teacher all day long as he taught through the countryside; their garments covered by the dust he stirred as he walked the unpaved streets. The wise even developed a saying, "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi," to indicate the closeness of relationship required to be successful disciples. It was not enough to know what their teacher knew; true disciples were meant to become like him; to think as he thought, speak as he spoke and do what he did.  

So when Jesus invites us to learn of him, he is calling us to be with Him. As soon as we said, "yes," to salvation, Jesus began calling us to discipleship. He calls us to walk with Him and enjoy His company; to know his heart; know what’s important to him; how he thinks and what he wants. God's design is that we would learn all we need to know through intimate friendship with Jesus. A first century disciple would leave his family and his profession, laying down his regular life in order to gain the privilege of becoming like his rabbi. And we are called to do the same. May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi, Jesus.


 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rejoice!

“This is the day which the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

 
Now that the Supreme Court has created a constitutional right for same sex marriage, what should be our response? Shock? Fear? Anger? How about rejoicing? Yes, rejoicing! God is not surprised. He knew what the Supreme Court was going to do. And we did too, if we’ve been paying even a little attention over the past few years. So this too, is a day which the Lord has made.

But that's not the end of the story! We have promises to hold onto. We aren’t promised a Christian nation to feel comfortable in, we are promised we will finish as overcomers. God is with us—an indwelling, strengthening, joyous, soul-keeping presence guiding us through this time. We are being presented an opportunity to choose which we value more, belonging to God or being left alone in our little subculture. If our faith only ‘works’ when it is unopposed by those around us— including our government—then we are deceived if we think we have overcoming faith. It’s easy to stand in church, singing that we belong to Him, that He has all of us, that He is enough. This is an opportunity to put actions to our words. To walk out our faith in a world more opposed to God than before.

We could pull back behind the barricades and lob grenades at the other side, but what would we gain? Do we demonstrate the love of God that way? Do we exist to demand our rights and maintain our first world entitlements, or to glorify God and tell everyone about the mercy and love of our Messiah? Rather than fight, we need to pray for the gay community, because once the euphoria dissipates, there is bound to be some disappointment. They will discover that this victory will not make them happy. Because identity is so much more than sexual orientation. Pray that disillusionment drives them to search for deeper truth. Because God tenderly loves and is calling all men and women. He stands ready to fill the empty spot that gender identity cannot fill, because it is too small. He is the love, acceptance and satisfaction the gay community is seeking. They just need eyes to see it. And church communities ready to help them when they do.

Times like this shake and sift us. Steadfastly choosing God now, when it is easy, helps us down the road when it may become more difficult. Some Christian leaders and pastors have already decided they know better than the Bible; they've somehow concluded they are kinder or more relevant than God. I am very sorry for them. They may win allies now, but will find in the end that there is no Christ in their Christianity. So this new reality is already winnowing us. We must decide—do we compromise our faith in order to gain converts? Or do we cling to Jesus and take the consequences when the world hates us? This is how we overcome, by refusing to let go of Jesus no matter what tempts us to do so.

So what do we do? Be more politically active if you're so inclined, though it seems rather less important to vote, now that unelected, unaccountable officials can invalidate the will of the people, if they don't like it (but I digress). But more importantly...live out your faith with joy! Be so filled with God that there is something appealingly different about you. Continue to offer the saving gospel of love to everyone. Love God first and foremost and love your neighbor as yourself—everything else will fall into place. Remember that we’ve been promised that the gates of Hell shall not prevail. That means the Kingdom overcomes the darkness! When asked for the reason for the hope within you, refuse to remain silent, while practicing the discipline of framing your speech with humility and love. Receive rejection and even abuse with patience, remembering that Jesus was silent before His accusers. I know I can't do it...not even a little. So I need much more of God; more of His power and presence and love in my life.

We’ve got to stop thinking that if we stay out of the argument, keep our heads down and be nice, that unbelievers will let us be. We're really past that point. Be reconciled to the fact that the world is opposed to the ways of God; it is not going to like us. And that’s okay, we’re not members of that club. We are citizens of the Heavenly city, whose founder loves us with a fiery resolve. We will stay steady if we keep our focus on the end point, where Jesus stands waiting to welcome us home.

Rejoice, because God is worthy. He is worthy whether my rights are protected by the government, or not. He is worthy whether my beliefs are applauded, or not. He is wonderful, glorious, beautiful, and amazing. He remains worthy of my love, my devotion, my worship, my loyalty and my obedience. He is worthy whether I am permitted free expression of my faith, or have to join the underground church—as so many of our brothers and sisters around the world have done.


God is asking us to rejoice in Him and continue to choose Him in the midst of this shaking. This is His work of sifting and purifying the church…making us a Bride worthy of her Groom. If we cling to Him, He will keep us steady, and that is definitely something we can rejoice about!
 

 
 
 
"the Lord gave these things to me, and He has taken them away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21b


 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why I Cannot Agree

The Supreme Court has created a “right” out of whole cloth, proving that the men and women of the court are people as influenced by popular culture as anyone else. And now the process of change begins. You’d think that the extreme gay rights lobby, having what it said it wanted, might take its victory and let us all get back to simply living. But it won’t. The fight to have the right to marry was never the point, the point has always been to force everyone to agree that gay marriage is morally equivalent to heterosexual marriage…and to silence anyone who disagrees. We know that this is true because of the selective law suits filed against Christian businessmen and women, while carefully avoiding Muslims. The inevitable conclusion is that Christians must be punished, not because they are hateful, violent people, but because they will not jump on this bandwagon.  

I have both gay and straight family, friends, and acquaintances, fine people all. I firmly believe that everyone has a right to believe what they want and to live the way they want (excepting criminal activities, of course). No one should be called names (not even Christians), denied the basics of life or live in fear of violence against their person. But marriage is a special case. I cannot agree with the Supreme Court, because government did not create marriage—God did.

God created marriage as a sacrament, a sacred blessing for people and protection for children. It is a vital foundation stone in a stable society. God defined marriage the way He did as a picture of Christ and the church. He says so in Genesis 2:24, Ephesians 5:22-33, Matthew 19:3-12 and others. One of the concluding events of history will be a wedding (Revelation 19:7-9). Therefore any change in the definition of marriage will, of necessity, dilute or confuse the picture God intended. Government got involved in the marriage business, not because it invented it, but because it likes to regulate things while making money doing so. But marriage far, far predates government.

Telling me that this is simply a matter of civil rights doesn’t help. I cannot agree, for marriage is a deeply religious matter to me. I cannot set aside my faith in God for the sake of keeping peace, like my political party or liking apples. It is an integral part of who I am. It is founded on a relationship with a living being; One who gave me life and love and everything in this world and the next. My life belongs to Him, to do with whatever He chooses. His words to me are found in the Bible. It tells me who He is, what He’s done and will do, what He thinks of me and how I am to live. I do not get to pick out the parts of the book I like and disregard the rest. I do not get to act as though I am nicer than God. I do not get to dictate to God what is acceptable in the 21st century and what must be retired. And it would be beyond presumptuous to point out to God what’s trending on Twitter or gone viral on Facebook. God has His reasons for putting boundaries around our behavior (sexual and otherwise), and because He is the Creator and we simply creatures, He has the right to do so.

I love my family and my friends. God loves my family and my friends; it doesn’t matter whether they are gay or straight. All people are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable and deserving of respect. We used to live in a country which allowed differing opinions, welcomed debate and valued diversity. This really hasn’t been true for some time. The courts will rule as they will; they can do whatever they like, but they cannot change the definition of marriage, because they didn’t invent it in the first place. Neither can they change my belief in the biblical definition of marriage.

I saw a picture of the White House, so giddy over the ruling that it bathed itself in rainbow lights, clearly demonstrating what the ‘correct’ view should be. America is becoming a nation ruled by popular opinion, informed by soundbites, reduced to the lowest common denominator, and demanding silence from any who dissent. If being a good American means I cannot remain an orthodox Christian, then I pledge my allegiance to Jesus.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Revive us Again!

Historically, revival tends to break out when Christians become desperate for God and seek His face. Revival comes when we reach the end of our good ideas, our programs, and our strength. When we lean into prayer, seeking Him as an absolute necessity. When we set our faces toward Him, humbling ourselves with fasting and ask, and ask, and keep asking until He answers. 

One individual on his knees, intensely longing for more of God, can strike a match that sets fire to the dry kindling of the status quo. Whole movements have begun that way. Jeremiah Lanphier prayed fervently and revival came to New York and grew into the Second Great Awakening. Evan Roberts prayed fervently and revival came to Wales. Frank Bartleman and William Seymour prayed fervently, and revival came to Azusa Street, birthing Pentecostalism. God alone knows how many other nameless individuals have prayed and refused to stop until they were rewarded with the 'more' they so desperately wanted.

I still vividly remember the ladies’ meeting I attended more than twenty years ago, at which a letter from a friend of a friend was read aloud. This was at the very, very beginning of the Renewal, before much had been heard of it, before we even had a name for it. The letter recounted a church service which had happened on the other side of the country—not a meeting where someone needed to say, “The Spirit is really moving.” In that meeting such astonishing things were happening that there was no confusion about whether God was present. As the account of the service was read aloud, there was a growing expectancy among the ladies; longing filled the air in that room. All I knew was, I wanted God; wanted His presence; wanted to experience His love; wanted more of Him in a way that I could not articulate. Sounds melodramatic, but my heart ached for Him. At the conclusion of the letter, it seemed natural to pray, pouring out our desire for more of God…and the Holy Spirit arrived in power, moving and ministering among us. It was the beginning of a season of revival in our church.  

In Bartleman’s book, Azusa Street, one man who was there said, “I would rather have lived six months at that time than fifty years of ordinary life. I have stopped more than once within two blocks of the place and prayed for strength before I dared go on. The presence of the Lord was so real.” I know what he was talking about. Meetings where the presence of the Lord was so real and so strong that the worship team didn’t play and the pastor didn’t speak. Meetings where people lost concern about their dignity, in their delight that God was present with them. We became childlike in our expectation that God would meet us, when we met together. It was a season in which I could not get enough of Scripture or prayer or worship. When friends called one another, the first topic was nearly always what the Spirit was doing. Social gatherings often turned into spontaneous prayer meetings. We were delighted with God, and He was delighted with our delight.

Whether the Renewal was a "real" revival or whether there were excesses are a discussion for another time. My point is, during that season God changed the way I related to Him in a fundamental way. I experienced revival. My faith expanded to encompass all of my life, setting adoration for Jesus square in the center. I was refreshed and strengthened. Of course that didn't make me perfect or solve all my issues (far from it!), but it put fuel in my tank to get me on down the road. To persist. To carry on carrying on. To this day that season stands tall as a major landmark in my journey of faith.

I need revival, and so do you. Not because we're looking for novelty and excitement, but because of what revival does. True revival is all about Jesus. It magnifies Jesus, which shrinks our problems, our issues, and our disappointments. Coming into contact with the power of God refreshes and strengthens us. Revival reminds us that this world is not our home and increases longing for our heavenly home. Our faith is all about our Messiah, but the wear and tear of daily living makes us dull and forgetful—revival sharpens our focus and holds our gaze…on Jesus! We are revived when we see Him in a fresh way and are reminded that this world (and its troubles) is the shadow; He is the true light and reality.

It’s easy to look at America today and despair. But that's not God's perspective...to gain that, we need to seek Him on our knees. We are promised a great harvest before Jesus comes again—a revival such as we have never seen before. Wouldn't it be great to see it in our day?

Great Father, we need Your help. We need revival. We need You. We admit we are poor, blind, wretched and naked. Won’t you come and rescue us? Won't you send your Spirit in power and strengthen us to be the church? Won’t you show us your glory once again? Remind us who You are, and who we are because we belong to You. Oh how I long to once again experience Your presence…in which every mouth is closed and we gladly bow down under the kavod, the glorious weight of Your manifest presence. Help us see that we truly cannot do without You. Make us desperate for more of You. Revive us again!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mountaintop

"A message from the high and towering God, who lives in Eternity, whose name is Holy: I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed and what I do is put new spirit in them, get them up and on their feet again." Isaiah 57:15 The Message


There is nothing like being in the mountains. It is refreshing to get away from the daily grind to a place where the streams run crystal clear, the air is cool and smells of pine, and the only sound is the shush of wind through the trees. The mountaintop is a beautiful and restful place. It's a good metaphor for an exciting spiritual season. We love our mountaintop experiences—they leave us excited about God and spiritual life. Who would not prefer to live on a perpetual spiritual high?

But consider that the bottom land of the valley is where the soil is rich and deep, full of the nutrients needed to grow good things. We enjoy our heady mountaintop times more, but it's in the valley times we grow and produce fruit. When trouble overtakes us, we're accessible to God in ways we just aren't when everything's going great. There, we most recognize our need and cry out to the only One who can help us. Those valley times provide evidence of God's faithfulness and provision, which are mile markers on our journey. They become pillars which buttress our faith, making it strong. In the low places of darkness and humility, God confronts our rebellion, illuminates our fears and gently presses us to yield more deeply to Him. While not pleasant, the low times are also God's loving hand, directing, strengthening even carrying us safely to the end.

Then when each valley season ends—and they always do end—Jesus lifts us to the high place once again for refreshment and vision. There we glimpse Him waiting in the beauty of our far-country destination. There we receive strength and courage for the next leg of our journey with Him. Father, help me recognize that I am not abandoned in my valley times. You are there; tilling the soil, weeding and applying the fertilizer necessary to harvest an abundant crop in my life.


Monday, June 1, 2015

When God says "no"

“Three different times I begged God to make me well again.
Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need.
My power shows up best in weak people.”
II Corinthians 12:8-9

 

Have you ever considered the amazing "no" of God? While I much prefer His "yes;" think about His "no." When we say, "no" to others—even those nearest and dearest to us—it can be from selfishness, irritation or fatigue. But when God says "no" it is always, every single time, without fail, because of love. His "no" comes from seeing the end from the beginning. His absolute wisdom and love correctly orders every single event for every single individual, all at the same time to produce the highest and best for each and every one of us. That’s mind boggling!

Of course that does not mean that only good things happen to me. But it does mean that God's decisions about me are always based on my ultimate good. So God's “no,” as much as His “yes” is His way of keeping my life on track in such a way that I finish my race, not falling short so much as a micron (that's very tiny). And that's amazing!

But knowing this doesn't make me automatically appreciate God’s “no” at the time. Often I'm not pleased because my request is selfish or immature. I am a real American, after all—well-trained in wanting what I want when I want it. But other times, His "no" feels unbearable, because my circumstance is tragic, painful or dangerous. When praying for a loved one or seeking relief from an overwhelming situation, getting the answer I want seems the only right thing. Then God's "no" or even His "wait" seems almost unjust. That is when looking up from my pain and relying on the faithful love of our good Father is imperative. Though it isn't always easy, I have to remember that only He is big enough to see the whole picture. That helps me trust that His commitment to me is unbreakable... even when my situation is painful.

God knows what I so often forget—my life here is momentary, eternity is forever. So my life span, littered with obstacles both small and great, is getting me ready for the rigors of living on the new Earth with Him. I'm just not big enough or wise enough to understand all the ins and outs God knows are necessary for that conditioning program. He is less interested in my momentary happiness or comfort and more with my eternal joy. Even my justifiable pain and grief are tools He lovingly wields to pry my hands off my life so He can have more of me. He is sublimely disinclined to remember my rights as an American, or my first-world expectations. He is working steadily to remold me into an actual, real disciple of Jesus—one who loves and trusts His boundaries, rather than my own.

Jesus, our elder brother and greatest example, heard God's "no," when He asked that the cup of death presented to Him be taken away. Jesus trusted His life to the "no" of the Father and made a way for me to be with Him forever. His example shows me that God's "no" can be trusted, absolutely. Yet I am painfully aware of how small and weak my trust can be. I hope to eventually hear God’s “no” with immediate gratitude, trusting that He knows what is best. By the grace of God, I will get there! 

 

"The father at once cried out, 'I do have faith, but not enough.
Help me have more!'”  Mark 9:24 (Good News Translation)

 

Lessons from a Possum

In which I panic upon discovering a mother possum has made a den beneath my screen porch. After which I decide it is a good idea to catch ...