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)

 

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