Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Personal Update of Sorts

It has been quite some time since I have done a personal update post, and it is probably a little overdue.  There is not earth-shattering news to report, but things have been moving in my life as of late and I want to share.  At the beginning of this year, I wrote a list of New Years resolutions for this year.  While I am not going to update those issues specifically, I am happy to report that many of them have been accomplished, some are pending, and a few will hopefully come next year, perhaps even early next year.  God has certainly done many wonderful things and has always been faithful.  That is something I need to remind myself of constantly as I enter a time now and truly waiting on Him with no idea of how, when, or even where He is going to move.

I am in a situation that is historically difficult for me.  What I mean is that I am in a position where I can not see where I am going.  For example, I always beat back the post-vacation blues by planning my next vacation.  I have always gotten past the end of one thing by looking forward to the next and right now there is no "next."  I suppose I should explain what I mean!  In a terrible real estate market for a seller, especially in terms of condos, and after much waiting and prayer, God has sold our condo.  The closing is scheduled for being this Friday after originally being scheduled for last Friday.  To close on a home, about a million ducks need to be lined up in a row.  A couple of those ducks were a little slow getting into line last week so closing was pushed back a little.  Now everything appears to be in order.  Now that we sold the condo, we needed a place to live and so my wife and I have moved in with her parents for now.  They are great and welcoming, but I am a little homesick in not having an actual "home."  We did see a house that we liked, made an offer, waited ten days, and then found out the seller reconsidered selling as she lost her job.  This was a short sale already so I imagine she is just planning on riding it into foreclosure.  And so here we are, selling our home with no new home to look forward to.   It is kind of like being in a long, dark tunnel with no light anywhere to be found. 

I love that God challenges me in areas that I am weak and I hate that God challenges me in areas that I am weak.  Waiting in complete and blind faith is an area I am definitely weak in and so these times of testing, exercising, challenging, and strengthening are not easy at all for me.  I have no reason not to believe that God will come through, but when I can not see how God will come through that faith is stretched.  This, of course, is logically incoherent.  If I needed to see how or when something would happen, then can I really say that I have faith in that it will happen?  So I need to ask myself as Jesus asked His apostles in the midst of a storm "Where is your faith?"  Of course, my reply is much like the father of the demon-possessed boy "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!"  Where I am is that I have faith, but I often fear resting in that faith.  I guess I know that God can, but sometimes my struggle is with "God will."  or more specifically "Will God?"  The key word is "Will."  Ultimately, the problem is not in my faith, but my acceptance of God's will.  I know God can do what I desire but can I accept God not doing what I desire or do I continue to pray not for His will to be done but for His will to be my will to be done?  Ultimately that domes down to trust.  Do I trust God enough to just rest in His will for my life knowing it is way better than anything I could ever come up with on my own?  I know it in my head but in struggles like this I sometimes struggle with knowing that in my heart.  I trust Him with my eternal life, but I also need to wholly trust Him in this temporal life in the here and now. 

And I guess that is the message, at least for me.  Sometimes it is not that we do not have faith that God will act, but we pout around like babies thinking He may not act in the way we want Him to act.  Of course, He might, He might not, but it is His decision to make.  I have to trust, though, that wherever God leads me that it is the best for His purposes for my life, which are good purposes.  In other words, I need to deny my self and finally get the point that He knows best.  That is the deal when you give your life to Him.  I am not my own, I am purchased with a price.  I am a bondervant of Christ.  Saying it is easy. sometimes learning it is hard.  This, for me, is one of those hard parts, but I know there is something amazing ahead.  Even if I can not see it, I know that it is there.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 NKJV

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Slaughter of the Innocents

This Sunday at church we were studying the events around the birth of Jesus.  One of those events was when Herod tried to kill Jesus by killing all male children aged 2 years old and younger in all of Bethlehem.  The Bible I was using had a heading over that section entitled "The Slaughter of the Innocents."  I could not think of anything more appropriate than the events of last Friday. 

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.  Matthew 2:16 NKJV

Ever since Eve took that first bite of the forbidden fruit, evil entered the hearts of humans.  It only took until the second generation of humans before the first murder occurred when Cain killed Abel and we have not slowed down since.  Senseless killing has been part of the human story for almost as long as there have been humans.  Such is the reality in a world that rejects God and subjects itself to the rule of Satan and the flesh.  In fact, this world is so far gone into rebellion against God that the mere mention of our rebellion against God in the face of any tragedy He allows to occur is met with bitter and angry scorn.  This should be no surprise as this is often how Israel treated the prophets God sent to warn her. 

It is hard to think of those precious many coldly slaughtered without a chance.  Boys and girls cheated of the chance of ever growing up.  It makes me wonder just what precious gifts were stolen from this world.  How many would have grown up to become doctors and how many of those would have saved lives?  How many were to become scientists making our lives just a little bit easier in this cold hard world?  How many would have been missionaries bringing the Gospel to the unsaved and how many would have come would they have ever grown up to be sent?  How many would just be husbands and wives, mothers and  fathers, raising up a future generation we will never know?  What was killed was potential that will never be realized in lives that will never be lived.  What they were to be will now never be as each of us is a unique and precious creation of God.  What they were can never be replaced.

You see, this past Friday, in places of "health" all over this nation, 3700 babies were slaughtered.  This also happened Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday, and it is happening as we speak today.  There are no cute pictures of hair in braids or bright blue eyes, there are no memories, there is not even a grieving parent, there is only a dismembered bloody corpse killed out of selfishness and thrown away like common trash.  Many of those people who scoff and question how God can sit back and allow evil things to happen should be rather thankful that He does.  You see, God is not uncaring, inept, permissive, cruel, or cold.  God's anger at what we do and allow to happen each and every day in this nation burns hotter than our sun.  The only thing standing between His wrath and this world is His patience in desiring that those who perpetuate such wicked acts accept the free gift of salvation offered through Jesus Christ.  The true testament of God's strength is not in lashing out in anger but in holding back that anger in mercy.  God is eternal, His patience is not.  One day that white-hot wrath will be unleashed and this world will be plunged in a day worse than any Mayan calender can imagine.  The time to come to Jesus is now because by then it may be too late.  For those who choose to die in their sins, they will suffer the same eternal lake of fire as the man who shot and killed those students this past week.  God have mercy on those who commit such acts, God have mercy on those who allow it, and God help us who do not grieve just as much for the slaughter of the innocents that occurs every day in this world to children who never even had the chance to be born and the even greater tragedy of the many who die each day never knowing Jesus.

The Lord is not slack concerning [His] promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 2 Peter 3:9-10 NKJV

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Wars

It is December and like clockwork I hear all about some war on Christmas.  The battle cry of "Keep Christ in Christmas" can be heard all over.  This is a magical time of year of lawsuits against nativity scenes, Christmas trees being renamed holiday trees, and children being barred from singing about Christ in what were formerly known as Christmas programs.  It may sound like I am about to go on some rant about how each year the war on Christmas gets worse and worse etc and so on just like everyone else does.  That is not what I am saying at all.  For all of you who are shocked at the growing world hostility towards Christ and Christmas, I have one word for you: "Duh."

Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.  1 John 3:13 NKJV

I know, that was kind of harsh, but if you take your mind out of the popular idea being taught today about favor in the world and actually read your Bible, you would not be surprised by this at all.  The fact is that the world is supposed to hate us because the world hates Christ.  It is not the responsibility of atheists or other anti-Christian people to keep Christ in Christmas, it is our responsibility.  If we would spend as much time telling people about Jesus as we do complaining about people who don't, this so-called war may not even exist.  It frustrates me to no end that Christians sit around complaining about people who are not Christian not putting Christ in Christmas. 

My point is that if you want Christ in Christmas then put Him there!  Don't whine and grumble or give an angry "Merry Christmas" to a poor frazzled store clerk who wished you "Happy Holidays."  Do not get angry and rant on about atheists putting up billboards demeaning Christ and Christmas.  Do not write letters, hire a lawyer, make a public relations campaign, have a protests, boycott a store, or anything else in anger in response to the world who rejects Jesus.  Doing any of those things strips away any semblance of the true meaning of Christmas.  Just in case you forgot that meaning, let me refresh your memory.

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. "  Luke 2:10-11 NKJV

Christmas is not about forcing an unsaved world to acknowledge Jesus to us but for us to share the love of Jesus with the unsaved world.  It is about good tidings of great joy for all people.  Again, it is for all people, whether or not they wished us a "Merry Christmas."   How do we respond then to a world that rejects Christ, even at Christmas?  How do we respond when our children are told not to sing about their savior in their secular school (of course the real question is why your child is in a secular school to begin with), some atheist group gets the town nativity scene discontinued, or when some store refuses to acknowledge Christ at Christmas?  The Bible answers that question for us.

"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the [one] cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold [your] tunic either." Luke 6:27-29 NKJV

First of all, love them.  We must understand that Jesus died even for those who come against us.  If you do not believe me, then please read Acts and the story of Paul.  We should love them and in that love we should want them to be saved.  If we want them to be saved, even if they do terrible things to us (or even just rude) we are to do good things for them.  We need to forget the idea that its the responsibility of everyone else to put Christ in Christmas and start putting Him in Christmas ourselves.  We put Him in Christmas not by putting up a nativity scene, but by sharing the Gospel and the love of Jesus with everyone we meet, no matter how they treat us.  As for those who use us (like those "evil" stores that take our Christmas money but do not say Merry Christmas), we are not called to boycott them but to pray for them. If someone attacks, we do not attack back.  If someone takes, we offer even more. 

In other words, we do for others what Jesus has done for us. Let's face it, none us were born Christians.  Some of us were born into Christian families, but we all had to make a decision for Jesus at some point in our lives.  Without that decision, even those born into a church family would be destined for judgement as we are not saved because our family is saved.  We were all at one time an enemy of God living in rejection of the free gift of salvation offered through Jesus.  Even now, we still rely on the blood of Jesus as none of us lives without any sin.  Despite our failures and rejection and despite any nasty things we may have said about Jesus (or even those things we might say now out of anger), Jesus loved us enough to die for us.  The Bible says that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.  Just as Jesus reached out to us in our sin, so much we reach out to an unsaved and hostile world in its sin. 

We really need to get over the "keep Christ in Christmas" thing and just keep Christ in Christmas and not care what the rest of the world does.  Keeping Christ in Christmas is not about a clerk using the word Christ or a light-up plastic Jesus in some nativity scene, but it is in how we live our lives and reach out to the world.  One night, many years ago, that scene from Luke played out in real life.  Jesus did not come with a list of demands to force upon us under threats of death, but He came to die for us because we could not keep that list of demands known as the Law.  He came with a message of grace and forgiveness for all who would hear and accept.  We need to do the same.  We need to stop expecting the world to put Christ in Christmas and just bring Christ to them.  If we do not let the love and grace of Jesus shine through our lives then who are the ones really keeping Christ out of Christmas? 

[Let] your speech always [be] with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.  Colossians 4:6 NKJV

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A God of Order

There is this practice in some churches where worship becomes a frenzied free-for-all with all sorts of things going on.  I know the arguments that when I write about such things, I am putting God in a box or that I am denying that the Spirit can move any way that He wants.  Technically, those things are true, but Scripture does not speak of a God who enjoys random chaotic kind of things.  In fact, one passage in Scripture puts things in perspective.

For God is not [the author] of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.  1 Corinthians 14:33 NKJV

I want to follow this with a passage about worship.

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  John 4:23 NKJV

Many have plenty of spirit but very little truth behind their worship.  The words of our Lord make it clear that both are essential for true worship.  This does not merely mean that we sing Scripture verses in our worship but that our worship is consistent with Scripture.  If what we do is not consistent with scripture, we are not truly worshiping.  For those who think that obedience is not important, just ask Uzzah who only reached out his hand to steady the ark and was struck dead by God because he was not supposed to touch the ark (2 Samuel 6).  The fact is that my comments regarding the practice of some worship services is not keeping God in a box or trying to limit the Spirit, but it is an acknowledgement that the Spirit will never depart from the truth contained in the Word of God.  In order words, it is not about limiting God but about trusting God to not act outside of His word. 

Church services should be orderly.  If you do not believe God likes order, then please refer back to the Old Testament.  Read about the arrangement of the camps as the children of Israel wandered the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  I also ask you to read the rules to handling (or not handling) the Ark of the Covenant.  Read about the specific assignments to specific families within the Levite tribe as to who is supposed to do what in their ministry.  Read the instructions for the Temple.  You can even go back further and read the instruction God gave Noah on building his ark.  If God is not so exacting then why did He create such a specific system of sacrifice for the covering of sins.  If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then we have no choice but to believe that God is just as exacting today. 

The order of things should be obvious by creation around us.  We know that a child takes about 9 months to be born because of a very ordered and specific development process in the womb.  Much of science tries to deny the existence of God, but the very fact that science even exists is a testament to the order God put forth in Creation. Everything from mathematics to chemistry to physics to biology is premised on predictability.  If the universe was random, science would be impossible.  In fact, if the universe was random, life itself would be impossible.  Speaking of life, life itself is an order of the likes we can barely understand.  Getting back to church, let us even take a look at music.  Music is highly structured.  Songs are played in keys, music is played in notes and chords, and even rhythm is, well, rhythmic.  Can you imagine a band all playing in different keys or if their idea of chords were just random notes played together?  Or what if the band was out of time with one another or even playing entirely different songs.  It would sound horrible if we could even decipher what we were listening at all.  It would not be music, it would just be noise.  

Finally, there is the fruit of the Spirit. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV

The idea that we can listen to music and react with no self control, in complete and confusing chaos, or even as some youth do and thrash around and into each other in response to Christian music are not spirit-filled acts.  I know that may offend some people but if you are acting in the exact opposite of the fruit of spirit, the fruit you are expressing is not of the spirit.  The idea of being slain in the Spirit, or convulsing in the Spirit, or being drunk in the Spirit, or thrashing around like a violent fool in the Spirit are inconsistent with what the Bible tells us are are fruits of the Spirit. 

I am not saying that the Bible is against dancing or even vigorously worshiping our Lord.  The Bible also gives examples of those.  What I am saying is that whatever we do should have order and structure to it.  Worship is not a concert for our entertainment and I see too many cases where people start to see it like that. I suppose that much of the blame lies in the many churches that turn worship into a rock concert complete with manipulative tempo changes, lighting effects, stage gimmicks, and the like.  I think it is a wonderful thing that so many want to worship in Spirit, all I am saying is that you have to consider Truth as true worship is an incorporation of both. I will leave you with a truth that I hope we all consider.

Let all things be done decently and in order.  1 Corinthians 14:40 NKJV