Monday, October 13, 2014

Undefiled Religion: Orphans AND Holiness

"Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James 1:27 (NASB)

I read an article recently by a Christian writer that just didn't sit quite right with me.  The article made me consider her position, but her position and thoughts on this particular matter burrowed under my skin and wouldn't leave me alone.  Her words made me consider my thoughts on the matter and that is never wrong, however, she definitely put a burr under my saddle.  You can read the article by Jen Hatmaker here.  

I think the reason her article stuck with me, so to speak, was because I have recently become frustrated with the use of the verse from James that describes what God's sees as undefiled and true "religion."  In James 1:27 there is a two-part definition to the religion that warms God's heart.  Yes, TWO parts.  However, the only part ever mentioned is the first part..."to visit orphans and widows in their distress." (Quoting from the New American Standard Bible).  And I am afraid this is the part that so many young Christians and maybe even those that have become frustrated with the "church" are leaning so heavily upon while ignoring the other part of the definition.  And without the rest of the definition, people that are desperate for the freedom that only comes through Christ are left chasing after meaning and purpose that is once again defined by men, not God.  

Because let's face it, what is wrong with the church is it is made up of humans.  Fallible and fallen humans.  But what is so right with the church is that it is led (when we let it be) by He who is infallible and flawless.  We are to strive to be like God, but that is a pretty lofty goal, one that we all fall short of, so we implement our own standards, because those are so much easier to live up to...and change when we find them too difficult or inconvenient.  

The basis of the article is the exodus of young people from the church.  The author doesn't define "church" so I am going to assume (possibly incorrectly) that she is referring to the denominational groups that make up our religious landscape.  I did was not left with the impression that all of these young people were becoming atheists, but that they were leaving the church that they see as a rigid institution.  The Barna research group found that 70% of youth drop out of church between the ages of 18-22.  This doesn't surprise me.  I was in that age group at one time.  I attended church while in college but not regularly and I most certainly did not join a church.  I guess you could say I was part of the "unchurched" group between 18-26.  (18-29 if church membership is required to exit the "unchurched" crowd.) I did not have a church home.  I attended church throughout college and law school, but I was never involved with a church.  I did not volunteer or even tithe on a regular basis.  But my faith was growing deeper and stronger throughout those years, even without a church to call home.  But I was constantly trying to get to know God and who He was to me.  I did this through like-minded friends (and sometimes friends that challenged my status quo) and lots and lots of reading.  I read a ton of books about God, but I always came back to the Bible for the answers that I was desperate to know.  

We probably need to define "church" to give some parameters to this discussion.  There are two that apply.  First, the church of the Bible, the body of Christ, is not a building or even an evangelical tool.  It is a body of believers. That means one has to believe in Christ to be a part of the Church (I will use a big "C" for this church) that is constantly referred to in the New Testament.  The second of definition is the more obvious one, that of a denominational body that is ruled by a set of doctrines that are (hopefully) Scripturally-based, but are often controlled by manmade guidelines or doctrinal codes.  It is this second-type of church (little "c" for this one) where most of our discontent arises, whether we are in the demographic group mentioned above, or just a Christian longing for a church that reflects our Savior.

When Christ spoke of His bride or Paul wrote to the New Testament churches, neither was speaking of the second-type of church, they were speaking to those that had joined the body of Christ by accepting Christ's gift of salvation.  Apart from the Gospels, the New Testament is written to those who have decided to follow Christ not those still looking.  The church is suppose to build up the body of Christ, feed them spiritually, so that they can then go out into the world and spread the Gospel.  The church is where Christians are to go to be fed and grow in their relationship with God.  It is where we are reminded to whom we belong and that He fights for us.  This is the church that I love, or the one that I have come to love over the years and through good and bad experiences.  I have had a love/hate relationship with the church that is defined by man, the denominational church.    

I understand the frustration the younger generation has with church.  Of either variety.  They don't feel part of the big picture.  They are of an age where they are questioning everything that they have been taught and that is what they are suppose to do.  There is no other way to make their faith their own.  It cannot be their parents' faith.  Nor their friends' faith.  Or even their denominations' faith.  It has to be their faith.  And most churches have a difficult time catering to those that are trying to figure out who the heck they are and how God figures into solving that mystery.  

Honestly, how is a church suppose to meet the needs of a group of people that do not consistently show up for services, that don't volunteer for church activities, interact with church members, and do not feel any responsibility to provide for the financial needs of the church? I am not saying that to condemn this group, because the Lord knows I was very much part of that group in my younger days. The funny thing about a church is that it meets the needs of the members when those members meet the needs of the body of Christ.  It is literally a give and take situation.  I learned this through personal experience. 

I remember being part of the group that chose a church based on what the church could do for me, not what I could do for the church.  This would be called self-centeredness at its finest.  Not a great characteristic of a so-called Christian.  Once I had kids and realized that being part of a church family was more important than I ever realized, I also came to the realization that members of a family share the responsibility for making the family the best it can be.  I also came to understand what it truly meant to be a part of the Church-the body of Christ.  A group of 5 families met each week and through them I experienced something that had alluded me for understanding of the Church that Paul spoke to in his letters.  I saw first hand what the Church was suppose to look like and it was exhilarating.  But, I also learned that I had to take that knowledge and extend it out to the larger body in our church home.  That meant I needed to step up and make myself available to serve where needed, not just where I could use my strengths and talents or even be given credit for serving.

I also learned that a church must preach the Bible and if all it does is meet earthly needs while glossing over the spiritual needs, well, it is not living up to the second part of the definition in James.  Here is that second part that is so very vital to the life of any church..."and to keep oneself unstained by the world."  Oh shoot, that means we are to strive for holiness too.  Not just do holy-looking things like serving the poor and oppressed. We are to be holy, because He is holy. (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Well that is a game-changer isn't it? For the body of Christ and for all the churches that allegedly preach the Gospel.

We now have all these young people that are being told by the world that holiness doesn't matter.  That your choices are your's alone and no one can tell you that you are wrong.  What is even sadder is that we have churches that parrot what the world is saying.  They are being told that works is more important than faith.  Just serve the poor and the downtrodden.  That is what Jesus did.  Jesus came to help those that were poor and sick and oppressed, so if you help those types of people, you will be just like Jesus.  Sound familiar?  But are they right?

To some degree, but they kind of have it backwards.  Here is a quote from NT Wright that says it better than I could hope to on any given day.  He is speaking of the passage in Matthew 25 where Christ tells his followers that if they serve "the least of these" they are serving Him.  Here is what he has to say:
"We would miss the point entirely if we were to read it as a list of 'rules to be obeyed.'  To be sure, if you are starting out on the path of Christian discipleship, then these are guidelines that demand close attention.  But Jesus doesn't envisage us keeping a list of these actions and carefully ticking them off as we do them.  He wants us to be the sort of people who do these things, as we say, 'naturally'-though actually it will be a kind of 'second nature'-without stopping to think about them.  This, of course, demands effort , particularly in the early stages.  But it's an effort which springs, and has always sprung right through the course of Christian history, from people knowing Jesus, worshipping him, hearing his word and feasting at his table.  Though of course people of many traditions and beliefs are kind to outcasts, visit prisoners, feed the hungry, and so on, it is noticeable, especially in our increasingly selfish society, that those who sign up for these activities on a regular basis, and who do similar things automatically even when 'off duty', are people who day by day say their prayers and week by week worship the God we know in Jesus."  Lent for Everyone-Matthew, Year B (Week 5- Thursday) NT Wright.

When we are focused on getting to know our Lord better, reading His Holy Scriptures on a regular basis, striving to mold our wills to His, and doing our best to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, then our actions will "naturally" reflect who He is to those we serve.  When we try to be holy and righteous through our actions without first working on the inside of us, we are no better than the Pharisees whom Jesus called whitewashed tombs.  Beautiful and clean on the outside, but dead and decaying on the inside.  We have to become changed when we encounter Jesus.  We have to leave different from when we first entered His presence.  Yes, Jesus dined with prostitutes and drunks and other sinners, but they either left changed and forgiven or set in their ways and damned by their unbelief.  And that extended to everyone who entered His presence, from the lowliest slave to the wealthiest man.

I have attended churches that frowned upon drinking, dancing and movies.  I never bought into it mainly because I was not taught this at home.  I was taught that I was saved by grace alone and that nothing I did or didn't do would make me any more righteous before the throne of Christ.  I could jump through every hoop man came up with and I would still be unclean and unworthy of Christ's love.  But I was taught, praise the Lord, that I didn't have to jump through manmade hoops.  I just had to accept the gift that was given.  Then, after receiving eternal life and being forgiven, I would glorify God through my actions and my choices, but they didn't make me any better or any more saved than anyone else that had accepted Christ.  

Read 1 Corinthians 13.  Yes, the infamous "love" chapter.  The love of which Paul speaks is not something we can truly grasp.  It is agape...unconditional love.  We can only have this love through God.  It is not something we are capable of on our own.  Paul is simply saying we can ACT like the most incredible Christian on the planet.  We can serve the underprivileged and the oppressed until the cows come home, BUT if we do not have a love that drives us to be more like God, to be HOLY, we might as well stay home and watch TV.  Our actions, no matter how compassionate or kind, do not impress God if they are not done simply as a way to bring Him glory.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but God doesn't need us.  He is God Almighty.  He allows us to serve Him through others.  But He doesn't need us per se.  And we most certainly cannot earn our way to heaven. And that is what I am hearing from all of these folks that are pushing a gospel based on serving others.  Yes, we are called to serve others.  Christ modeled that throughout his ministry.  But not just to the poor.  He served the rich and powerful that came to him in their need.  He dined with sinners.  But lest we forget, that defined every soul He came into contact with while he walked the dirt roads of Palestine. Every last person he laid eyes on was a sinner, whether they were rich or poor.  They were all sinners in need of a savior.  Just like every one of us. 

I am concerned that a new group of Christian teachers is emerging that is teaching a gospel that appears to preach Jesus, but they are really just creating new hoops to jump through to earn salvation.  Hatmaker says at one point in her article, "Jesus is still the easiest sell on earth, because if you don't love a guy who healed lepers and pulled children onto His lap and silenced the religious elite and ate and drank with sinners, then you just don't know Him."

The Jesus I know from reading the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, does heal and save.  He loves and he forgives.  He also demands holiness.  He knows we cannot achieve this on our own, but He promises to give us what we need to glorify Him in all we do and say.  I am no where near holiness on any given day.  The closest I come to holiness is when I am face down begging Him to save me from my own wretched mess.  There is so much more to Jesus than just being "an easy sell" and if you don't grasp this truth than I would have to agree with Hatmaker, "you just don't know Him."

If Christ is such "an easy sell" why does He tell us Himself that the world will hate Him and those that follow Him?  (John 15:18)  Could it be that many are fleeing the church and all that it stands for because it is convicting them and their choices?  This article by Barna about the reasons young people are leaving the church seems to suggest that young people don't want the church dictating how to live their lives or what they should believe.  It appears from the reasons given that what the world believes and promotes is more important to these young people than what the Bible states.  Granted not many churches seem to be preaching a Gospel that makes us squirm in our seats anymore, but shouldn't they be?  Shouldn't our churches be driving us to be holy?  To be like God?  

I serve others in my daily life.  I do it because it is who I am.  Some days I do it with joy, other days just out of obligation and to earn a paycheck.  But I worship, pray, study the Bible, attend church services, and be still in His presence to try to be like Him.  To be holy.  Many days I 'm not very good about serving others, and my holiness record is even sketchier, but I have learned that my serving others works much better when I'm serving Christ first and striving to be like Him.  

I am glad that Hatmaker wants to reach out to the 80% (not entirely sure who this includes) that are in the margins (which get redrawn my men and their agendas all the time), but I pray that she is telling them about the Jesus that saves those that come to Him because He wants to, not because of the latest cause they are supporting, or the number of hungry people they are feeding, or the children they are clothing.  Please tell them of the Christ that prayed for them hours before He bled for them on the cross. Tell them of the Lord that conquered death by suffering separation from His Father so that we could spend eternity with Him.  Tell them of the Savior that rose from the dead and forever marked those that believe in Him as His alone and nothing, NOTHING, can wrench them from His hand.  (Romans 8:31-39). Tell them how to live for Him through the power of His Holy Spirit.

But we have to look different from the world.  We have to look like Christ.  The HOLY One of Israel.  Christ's invitation extends to everyone, but not everyone will accept.  This 80%-whoever they maybe-are hungry and thirsty for the TRUTH.  Please don't water it down so they feel better about themselves or feel comfortable in their sin.  NO sinner in the presence of Christ should feel comfortable.  The world has NOTHING to quench our thirst or satisfy our hunger.  Only Christ will meet our needs.  The Church cannot lower its standards to keep people within the fold that have chosen the world over Christ.

Christians and non-Christians alike can serve orphans and widows, but what sets the Christian apart is that they are UNSTAINED by the world.  We cannot focus on one part of pure and undefiled religion while ignoring the other.  If young people are leaving our churches, it may not be because they are in search of a pure and undefiled religion, but an accommodating one.  Christianity, or our churches, can never be guided by the standards of this world, no matter how inclusive and inviting and tolerant those standards may seem.

Matthew Henry states it this way in his commentary on James, "holy life and a charitable heart show a true religion...The world is apt to spot and blemish the soul, and it is hard to live in it, and have to do with it, and not be defiled; but this must be our constant endeavour."  Peter states it this way:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1Peter 2:9-12

Why Don't Christians Know What the Bible Says?

As I read about the reign of King Josiah and his incredible spiritual reforms in Judah, I was stunned by the simply discovery that led to a great revival in the land.

The priests, while cleaning out the temple, found the Book of the Law of the Lord AND they read it.  Then they read it to King Josiah.  What was interesting is the official that read it to Josiah prefaced the reading with "the priest has given me a book.  He did not say the Book of the Law of the Lord.  Was it possible that this official did not understand what he held in his hands?  Reading further into 2 Chronicles 34, it appears no one in Judah had any idea what was in this book.

And therein was their problem.

For centuries, their forefathers had ignored and forgotten the Word of Almighty God. This treasure of all treasures was literally collecting dust amongst all of the idols that had overtaken the temple of the Lord.

The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the Lord all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests appointed by the kings of Judah to burn incense on the high places of the towns of Judah and on those around Jerusalem—those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and moon, to the constellations and to all the starry hosts. He took the Asherah pole from the temple of the Lord to the Kidron Valley outside Jerusalem and burned it there. He ground it to powder and scattered the dust over the graves of the common people. He also tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes that were in the temple of the Lord, the quarters where women did weaving for Asherah. 2 Kings 23:4-7
The amount of idolatrous objects in the temple is astounding and disturbing.  They knew it was God's temple but they filled it with things to worship false gods.  What in the world were they thinking?  Surely, they had to have known better.  Right? 
 But how would they have known what God expected of them?  
Their parents and grandparents were not abiding by God's laws.  Their leaders were constantly forsaking God for the gods of the people that lived around them.  The priests themselves were allowing the worship of other gods in the very temple of the Lord of Israel.  No one had read or even seen the Book of the Law of the Lord for who knows how long.  They were illiterate when it came to the Word of the Lord. 
Sound familiar?
This article by Albert Mohler in 2005 sadly explains why our country and our churches are in the predicament they are currently in when it comes to Christians not knowing what is right and what is wrong.  But it is this quote by Dr. Mohler that convicted me deeply about the lack of Bible teaching that goes on in my home, even though we attend church weekly and my kids attend a Christian school.  

Parents are to be the first and most important educators of their own children, diligently teaching them the Word of God. [See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.] Parents cannot franchise their responsibility to the congregation, no matter how faithful and biblical it may be. God assigned parents this non-negotiable responsibility, and children must see their Christian parents as teachers and fellow students of God’s Word.

I have no doubt that Israel and Judah had forgotten this admonition of the Lord given to them by Moses.  Not only were they not loving the Lord with all their hearts, souls and minds, they were not passing on to their children the Law of the Lord.  AND many of our self-proclaimed Christians today are just as illiterate when it comes to the Bible as those living in Judah during Josiah's reign.  You know...those that don't study history are doomed to repeat it. 

King Josiah was humbled by the simple reading of God's Word.  He was brought to his knees with his kingdom's lack of obedience and reverence for the Lord.  He called together everyone, from the least to the greatest in Judah, and had them hear the Words of the Lord.  Then he and everyone in Jerusalem pledged themselves "to follow the Lord and keep his commands, statutes and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book." (2 Chronicles 34:29-32)

What if we as Christians, in our homes and our churches, renewed our covenant with the Lord to know His Word and to teach it to our children?  What changes would come about in our lives, homes and communities? What would our relationship with the Lord look like?  

With Josiah's reforms came major spiritual revival in Judah.  But they still had to pay the piper, so to speak.  There would be consequences for their centuries of neglect and ignorance of the Law.  They had forsaken the Lord their God for idols made of wood and stone. BUT their timely spiritual revival and knowledge of the Law would go with those that would later be taken into captivity.  God was not going to withhold His punishment forever, but He was not forsaking them like they had forsaken Him.  They would have a strong foundation on which to build upon in a land where they would not have the freedom to worship their God as they had in Jerusalem.  We see this later in the depth of knowledge and conviction in the lives of Daniel and his friends. (Daniel 1-3) As it is said in Isaiah, God's word never returns to Him empty. (Isaiah 55:10-11)  

 Western Christians are struggling with the knowledge of God's Word the same way the Israelites struggled in Josiah's time.  We have taken for granted that God will always bless us and our churches.  But we have forsaken Him for the gods of tolerance, convenience and happiness.  Our desires come before His will.  We choose happiness over holiness.  We choose the wisdom of this world over His wisdom.  We have to be about His business not ours and we must know His word to know Him.  

It is hard to set aside time to read the Bible.  I love reading my Bible, but still struggle with carving out time every day to read it.  Other things compete for my family, TV, the Internet, writing, books, etc.  I have to make it a priority and some days, or weeks, I just don't.  That has to change.  I cannot allow His Word to collect dust in my life as other things become idols.  None of what is happening in our society should come as a surprise to us.  We have forsaken God and His Word for too long and our "christian"society is worse for the wear.  

There has been no time in history where the Bible has been more accessible to more people.  Never. We have no excuses for not knowing what our Bible says. None.  

I recommend a good chronological Bible that is laid out to be read in a year.  Or any read-through-the Bible program. There is something about seeing all 66 books come together as one story that is incomparable to any other Bible study.  No book about the Bible does the Bible justice.  Those books are great after you read the Bible, but are less helpful if you have not actually read the Bible. 

God's word is hard and challenging. His words will convict you and make you wonder what God sees in you, but then He lets you know how deeply and inconceivably He loves you. If you seek Him in the pages of His word, you will find Him.  

And you will wonder how you ever survived without Him.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

HIS Words, My Comfort

I know there will be sorrows. I know life will be hard.  I know that death has lost its sting and Satan his victory.  But my heart still breaks and tears still stream down my face for those that are suffering in the here and now. My prayers are jumbled and disjointed.  I am trying to distract myself with work but my heart keeps interrupting my thoughts and the prayers begin again.

There are no words of healing that I can give. No gestures of comfort that will make anything better. I can just be there and pray.  That is all I have to give. The peace that passes all understanding will descend where Christ is present.  There is comfort in that knowledge.  I have no idea how those that don't know Christ make it through the tragedies of this world.  He is my only lifeline and hope in the midst of the heartbreaking news that bombards us day in and day out.

His words of comfort and peace and promise are what keep me going.  Today my eyes continue to fill with tears as I pray for my friends that are saying goodbyes, for those facing giants that won't be slain this side of eternity, and for the saints that are suffering in His name around the world as I type these words. His words are what I need to read, write on my heart and fill my mind.  His words that remind me that I mourn and weep and feel out of sorts because this is not my home.  This sorrow and grief is not what we are meant to know. 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me; YOUR rod and YOUR staff , they comfort me." Psalm 23: 4 (NIV84)
"YOU are my hiding place; YOU will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." Psalm 32:7 (NIV84)
"But I call to GOD and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and HE hears my voice." Psalm 55:16-17 (NIV84)
"Because YOU are my help I sing in the shadow of YOUR wings.  My soul clings to YOU; YOUR right hand upholds me." Psalm 63:7-8 (NIV84)
"Though YOU have made me see troubles, many and bitter, YOU will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth YOU will again bring me up. YOU will increase my honor and comfort me once again." Psalm 71:20-21 (NIV84)
"Know that the LORD is GOD. It is HE who made us, and we are HIS; we are HIS people, the sheep of HIS pasture." Psalm 100:3 (NIV84)
"I wait for the LORD, my soul waits and in HIS word I put my hope." Psalm 130:5 (NIV84)
"Praise be to the GOD and FATHER of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, the FATHER of compassion and GOD of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from GOD. For just as the sufferings of CHRIST flow over into our lives, so also through CHRIST our comfort overflows."
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV84)
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those that fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that JESUS died and rose again and so we believe that GOD will bring with JESUS those who have fallen asleep in HIM." 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NIV84) 
"I have told you these things, so that in ME you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33 (NIV84)
"I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of GOD is with men, and HE will live with them.  They will be HIS people, and GOD himself will be with them and be their GOD.  HE will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV84)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Choice Is Required

"How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God , follow him." 1 Kings 18:21
Elijah posed this question to the people of Israel prior to his showdown with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel.  The last part of this verse says it all as to where the hearts of the people of Israel were camped.
"But the people said nothing."
I think this is one of those times when silence says it all.  More like screams it.  No one jumped up to declare their loyalty to God Almighty.  Nope.  They were holding out for Baal to win the day. Then they could go about their lives and not have to straighten up and fly right.  And when Elijah declared that the god who answers with fire is God...well the silence erupted into a chorus of voices declaring this decision-making process "good."  A good fire show always makes choosing the right god easier. Problem is the people of Israel already knew who God was and is.  He had been declaring Himself to them for centuries.  They had chosen not to listen.  They had made their choice.
I wonder how we would choose today if the church had to choose a side.  Choose God's way or the world's way.  Choose the Word of God over the word of man.  Choose surrender to Christ rather than happiness in this life. 
Would we choose wisely?  Are we choosing correctly? Or is our silence condemning us?
Once again, silence speaks volumes. This is what the people of Israel heard after the priests of Baal had shouted and pleaded all day.  Nothing.  They heard absolutely nothing.
"But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention."  1 Kings 18:29
Imagine that...false gods not listening, responding or answering. Why do we, meaning those of us that allegedly know the Holy One of Israel, why do we continually expect the gods of our own creation to listen to us, care about us, or rescue us?  They do not exist anywhere but in our minds.  We can try to recreate God into a god that does our bidding, follows our rules, and bows to our demands, but we will fail every time.  God does not change.  Who He was in the Old Testament is who He is in the New Testament, and who He is today is who He will be tomorrow.  (Hebrews 13:8)
Isn't that what we should desire in the God we worship?  A God that is consistent and doesn't change according to popularity votes or demands of an evil and fallen world.  Why do we want a God that excuses sin and changes His mind and gives our awful behavior a rubber stamp of approval?  Where is the justice in that?  If He excuses one sin and "declares" it okay via the words of those that are "progressive" (i.e. those smarter than every Bible scholar in the history of the world, Moses, Paul and Jesus), why not excuse all that He has labeled as sin in the Bible?  What's wrong with lying, cheating, and murdering?  Where are we willing to draw our proverbial line in the sand?  
"Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "the Lord-he is God! The Lord-he is God!"  1 Kings 18: 38-39
Are we waiting on fireballs from heaven before we are willing to choose a side?  Or is His Word, His Son's life for our sins, sufficient enough for our knees to bow and our tongues to confess?  There is no middle area.  You either believe His Word or you don't.  You either except God on His terms or you create a god of your own making. 
You are free to choose either, but a choice will be made. If you believe the God of the Bible is the one true God then your only option is to follow Him.  Not the world. Not your desires. Him
Any choice other than Christ Jesus puts you on the same side as the priests of Baal, which is on the wrong side of eternity. 
How long will you waver between the two?  How long?   
Today's reading: 1 Kings 18:16-39
Further readings:  Psalm 77:13; Jeremiah 16:20; Exodus 34:14; Psalm 24: 4-5; Psalm 4:2-3; John 14:6; Joshua 24:15

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Wisest Prayer

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."  Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV)

I pray many things over my three sons.  The usual stuff.  Keep them safe on the football field. Let them do well on tests.  Give them good friends.  Preserve their life and my sanity.  You know..."mom" prayers.  Moms have a whole arsenal of prayers at the ready.  At a moments notice we can hit our knees (figuratively if driving), and bombard the throne room of heaven with our heart felt pleas.  

I have a friend that says she prays for her sons to get caught if they are doing something wrong.  And she tells them that she prays this prayer.  Not sure why they would want to test that particular prayer, but teenage boys seem to believe they are invincible.  Moms pray for healing, health, safety, intelligence, and the salvation of their sons.  We pray they will grow into fine young men that will work hard, love well, and make us proud. We pray they will be a force for good in this world and that they will serve the Lord in all they do and say.  

We pray all the promises of heaven over them.  But today I realized there is one prayer that I don't pray enough over them.  

A prayer for wisdom.

As I read through the wisdom sections of Proverbs today, I realized the one thing I should request for my children, after they have given their hearts to the Lord, is that they have wisdom.  Not worldly wisdom, though that can come in handy, but the wisdom that God grants to those that seek Him.  If they have the wisdom of the Holy One, everything else falls into place.  

Solomon says in Proverbs 2:9-1, once you have wisdom granted by God,

"Then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.  For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you." (NIV)

If they have wisdom, they know what they should do, how they should behave, how they should treat others, and what their priorities should be.  If they build on a foundation of seeking after God and what He desires, they will be wise in all they say and do.  Wisdom does not guarantee an easy life or a successful one by worldly standards.  However, wisdom from the Lord does promise blessings and abundant life in Christ for those that seek Him.  Wisdom from the Lord provides them with standards to live by and a confidence that they are living a life pleasing to the God they serve.  

The third chapter of Proverbs may be one of the best parenting guides in the Bible.  We should be passing all of this wisdom on to our children.  Here are some of the jewels from this chapter:

"Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart..." verse 3

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." verses 5-6

"Fear the Lord and depart from evil." verse 7

"Honor the Lord with your possessions..." verse 9

"Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so." verse 27

As I read through this chapter, I was drawn to verses 21-24.  It is a plea of a parent to a child, specifically a son.  These verses will soon be plastered to the mirror in my sons' bathroom, to their bedroom doors, to the refrigerator, to the pantry, and any other eye-level spot I can conceive.  I want them to know that with the Lord's wisdom within them, there is nothing this world can throw at them that will leave them floundering or uncertain.  If they gird themselves with the knowledge of the Lord, and revere Him above all else, the wisdom they seek will be granted to them in full measure.  His desires will become their desires.  What breaks His heart will break their hearts.  What He loves, they will love.  What He despises, they will despise.  

They will live for Him.  Wisely.  

"My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck.  Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.  When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." Proverbs 3:21-24 (NIV)

All the prayers in my arsenal can be summed up in one prayer.  Give them your wisdom, Lord.  Let them seek you with all their heart.  May your wisdom and understanding be more precious to them than gold or silver.  Let them choose your ways over the ways of the world.  Make them wise, Lord, make them wise.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Messes aren't Beautiful

It has become an epidemic.  But short of the Internet imploding, I'm not sure there is a cure.  Brave, brave souls are baring all on their blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.  The battle cry has been sounded and one and all have jumped on the proverbial bandwagon of being "authentic."

God help us.

I'm all for honesty.  I vote for being "real."  I believe in telling it like it is.  But having access to the whole world via social media has added a whole knew spin to "sharing your story."  Boundaries no longer exist.  The more gore the better.  The more "beautiful the mess" the more shares and likes you get on Facebook.  The more screwed up your life appears to be (of course, whether it really is or isn't is left to speculation), the braver you are and the more followers you get on Twitter.


Contrary to the cute commercial with the cute little girl, more is not always better.  Sometimes, oftentimes, okay MOST times, LESS is most definitely more.  And right now, just for the record, we need LESS "honest" sharing about the beautiful mess that is your life.  Yes, we all have messes.  Some are hidden in our coat closets and some are piled up at our feet and causing a right foul stench in our lives.  Let's clear one thing up. Messes are not good things, people.

Stop celebrating them.

I don't see anything brave about dealing with the messes in your life.  It's actually just called "being a grown up."  For thousands of years folks have done it without fanfare or awards.  No pats on the backs, but often a kick in the pants has been used to get the process started.  And the fact that you are "addicted to praise on your website"  or dealing with any number of "issues" does not elevate you to newsworthy or praiseworthy status.  It makes you human.

Get over yourself.  Write about something or someone other than yourself.  You know, just to spice things up a little.

And for those Christian bloggers out there that feel the need to entertain rather than preach the Gospel while they are being "authentic," please state this clearly in your "mission/purpose/calling-in-life" statement.  I love a great blog about parenting as much as the next person.  Trials and tribulations and all that.  Great writing about life with teenagers or a husband or hitting Walmart on Saturday night is always appreciated, enjoyed and shared.  But please, for all that is good and holy, don't confuse your ability to write catchy articles about motherhood with the ability to preach the Word of God effectively.  Just because you can turn a tale of the last day of school into a hilarious essay, don't assume that you are capable of theologically explaining God's grace and redemption to other women who need to hear the whole story, not just your version that includes a lot of rainbows and unicorns.

Life is messy, but God came into our world to change that.  He came to fix our messes.  He did not die on the cross so we could literally brag about the dysfunctional aspects of our lives.  We all screw up and we all sin. Every. Single. Day.  But that is not something to be proud of or to celebrate.  People act like we should erase the word "shame" from the dictionary.  But personally, there are things I should be ashamed of that I do.  I should not proudly share them hoping to "encourage" others, when in reality I just want to be called brave and expect fist bumps from my legions of "friends."

Lately, women wear their messes as badges of honor.  Often it's sinful behavior.  Plain and simple.  The last thing we need to be doing is parading it around like it glorifies God.  There is a big difference between sharing that you are hopeless when it comes to reading your Bible regularly and telling the worldwide web that your marriage is on the brink of dissolving because you have the hots for your pastor.  Writing about how you can't remember where your Bible is at any given time much less remember to read it everyday and asking your readers to share ways to improve in this area is a perfect blog or Facebook post.  Your marriage issues should be between you and your spouse and a trusted counselor.  Not you and your spouse and North America.

Boundaries, people.  We need boundaries.

And a huge dose of discretion mixed with a shot of common sense.

Share your messes and intimate battles with a close friend.  Ask for prayer.  Try to change and fix the messes through the power you are given through the Holy Spirit.  But quit airing your dirty laundry with every status update or Tweet.

Our messes, and no, they aren't beautiful, don't always encourage others to avoid them.  Quite the opposite.   Often, when I hear of someone that struggles with something I struggle with it makes me think it is normal and okay.  No matter how not normal or how wrong it may be.  We are creatures that like to compare ourselves to others.  So we either end up thinking we are better than you because you have so many more messes than we do, or we think our messes are okay because they are the same messes you have.  One only has to read the vapid comments after one of these articles to confirm that people are only being validated in their own messes and not convicted to actually clean up their messes.

I have read articles lately that want to paint our lives in such a way that no matter what we do or say, its all okay because God loves us.  The main problem with this is that it is NOT biblical.  God does love us.  So much so, He died for us while we were still sinners.  BUT He calls us to be holy once we have been redeemed by His Son's blood.  We are new creations and our old sinful selves are dead.  Why then do we continue to celebrate a part of us that should be dead?  All of these brave declarations I have read lately were not filled with words of repentance or even a desire to change.  Just the declaration of the writer that she was proudly in the possession of a "beautiful mess."

Christ has redeemed us at great cost.  When we come to Him with our messes and sins in tow, He takes us and cuts the ties that bind us to these hindrances.  We can then run the race He will set before us.  We are to leave the messes behind.  Not wallow in them and hang them out for the world to see.  Yes, they are part of our story, but more importantly, they are part of our history.  Yes, God can and will use our messes to bring us to Him and turn us into the women He wants us to be.  But He has made us brand new.  Why do we, for the sake of acceptance by others, insist on celebrating our past and present failures? 

Before you post about your glorious and beautiful messes, ask yourself a few questions.  First, would I spill the beans about this mess face-to-face to a roomful of people I don't know?  Or do know?  Second, would the friends/family/exes/currents that are involved in the mess be okay with me sharing it with the known world?  Third, is my motive to bring glory to God?  Lastly, will anyone be truly encouraged or edified by the sharing of this mess?  If the answer is "no" to any of these questions, then please rethink going public with you mess-no matter how beautiful you may believe it to be.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Something to Ponder...

"So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth."  I Corinthians 3:7 (NASB)

In today's world of instant access and unlimited web resources, I have noticed an increase in the number of "celebrity" preachers/teachers.  They write books, speak at conferences and write blogs and articles at what seems like a never-ending pace.  Some are truly preaching the Word of God and seem to be all about what the Bible has to say and not just what they can add to the conversation.  These men and women of God aren't preaching words that tickle our ears.  Rather, their words convict and move us toward our Bibles in search of the healing balm of the Holy Spirit.

Then there is a whole other group.  They are popular, sought after for weekend conferences, and have thousands upon thousands of "followers" on social media sites.  They also write numerous, though not as theologically sound, books and blog articles.  What worries me about this group of Christian speakers is they are almost worshipped by those that attend their conferences or read their written works.  Comments are in the realm of "oh my gosh, I love you!" to "you're speaking the words my heart needed to hear" to "you have changed my life-your talk wrecked me."  Really?  Isn't this stuff we should be speaking to our Savior, not just the person who is allegedly speaking about HIS words?  It seems there is the danger of placing these speakers above Christ or His Word.  When you start wondering what so-n-so would do or say, as opposed to Christ, you might have a problem.  

Don't get me wrong.  I have heard many Christians speak in the last four decades and many of them have been used by God to speak to my heart.  And I have read even more books.  But they preached/wrote on the Word and they were very careful not to stray from the Scriptures.  Many of these new speakers are all about being relevant and "authentic." Making sure their words are soundly founded on the Bible is not of the greatest importance to them.  Their talks are often about loving/accepting others or ten easy ways to be who you are meant to be.  These speakers tend to forget that we first have to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths before we can really love others well.  They also shy away from pointing out that being who we are meant to be is done by being more like Christ.  By being holy like God is holy.  Working on our holiness can't happen in ten easy steps and discussing it surely doesn't sell lots of tickets.

So all this made me wonder, if Jesus came and spoke to us today, would we be moved to tears? Would we be moved to change our lives? Would we want to leave it all behind and follow Him?  Would we want to read all the books He had ever written? All 66 of them? Would we want Him to sign our Bible, our t-shirt, or our arm? Would we deluge His social media with encouraging words of how great He was and how He really spoke to us and how He completely undid us? Would we worship Him and be blessed by His ability to speak His word to us? Would we show up and pay good money to hear someone just read the words of God Almighty? No commentary, no fluff, no great insights...just His words.

Would we?