2008 in Review

At the end of the year I like to take a look at the posts I have written.. I see some common themes and a few new ones. Here are some excerpts from my favorite posts by month:
  • January: The Knowing Heart
    It was like Jesus was saying, yes I know that you are not sinning with your flesh but don't you understand that the real issue is not your flesh but your heart. Your heart is the place where sin is conceived.. it is the place where you know that it is wrong.. it is not simply because the law says it is wrong.. it is because the deepest part of you knows it is wrong.

  • February: Wholeness
    Sometimes it takes external pain, disability and brokeness to bring us to a place of wholeness. I know that physical and emotional pain have led me in paths where I have been confronted with Proverbs 3:5-6.. confronted with the idea that trust is all about inner wholeness.. and leaning on my own understanding has been an obstacle in that path of wholeness.

  • March: Strength in Weakness
    My one and only video sermon where I speak to the idea of what it means to be strong when we are weak.

  • April: Hope and Expectations
    In contrast to hope expectations cause us to never rest.. they torment us with questions about why things are the way that they are. Expectations generally focus on what we do not have.. what could be if God would answer our prayers according to our expectations.

  • May: Healing Friends
    I have grown so tired of people giving me advice that costs them nothing.. it has become more than an annoyance. It is like someone coming up to an overweight person and telling them of a great Christian weight-loss program.. or speaking to someone who is really hurting and giving them a bunch of Christian cliches about overcoming trials.. it is insensitive and annoying.

  • June: When God Laughed
    It was as if God was lovingly telling me to not hide myself behind my rules. Looking back I think that it was an invitation to come out of my legalistic closet.. it was also a message of hope for a future marriage.. which came much quicker than I ever dreamed of when I remarried a year later. After that experience with my ring I began processing those feelings deep in my heart and worked on getting emotionally healthy.. and I began the active process of grieving.

  • July: The Miracle Lottery
    So what is wrong with wanting a miracle? Probably nothing - unless it short circuits your life and hinders the forward progress of it. Often a desire for a miracle can be likened to a state of denial.. a way that the body copes with trauma or loss.. and it is okay for a season.. but when it is prolonged it becomes problematic because it prevents us from accepting our state of being and makes contentment very difficult.

  • August: My Chinese Adventure
    Each time we crossed over the border we had to go through a random checkpoint where our bags would be examined. Both times that I crossed carrying two bags and I got through without being checked – guess the Lord was watching over me.. I just acted lost and dazed.. not a hard act for me.. and the guards let me pass. Only one of us got checked and they just had their bibles confiscated.

  • September: Christian Karma
    From my perspective these karma-like concepts negate the idea of grace and cause actions to be the products of faith instead of the byproducts of faith. The scripture in Galations is a simple one that simply says that when we respond to the Holy Spirit we sow eternal seeds and when we respond to our flesh we sow temporal seeds. That scripture has nothing to do with Christian karma.

  • October: Waiting on the Lord
    I heard it said a number of years ago that waiting on the Lord is not like waiting on a bus.. it is not a passive activity. Waiting on the Lord is an active process where we continue to minister.. continue to love.. and continue to trust the Lord as we pray.

  • November: The Wild Man of the Universe
    Many of us don't like the idea that the scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (and other hearts for that matter) because it goes against our idea of what God looks like. We want God on our own terms.. we want to define Him as a tame God that always acts in loving ways.. of course we reserve the right to determine what love looks like :)

  • December: Grace Comes by Prayer
    Very often we are oblivious to the presence of the grace that comes when we pray because we do not understand that a primary reason that grace is given is to help us to endure - we need grace to endure.. and grace comes by way of prayer. I know that in my own life I feel that I am caused to endure because of prayer.. my prayers and the prayers of others.
If you are so inclined.. please let me know if any of these were particularly helpful to you.. today or yesterday when you first read them.

Humble Entrance, Humble Life, Humble Death

I am in awe of the way that God entered the world. I would have thought that He would have come:
  • To a wealthy and powerful family;
  • As the son of a member of the religious hierarchy;
  • To us in physical power and not infant weakness;
  • Wanting to be served not serve;
  • As a conqueror and not as a savior.
It reminds me that the scriptures tells us:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
The link between the cradle and the cross in inextricable. Jesus came to us as a Sacrificial Lamb.. He lived a life of suffering.. infinite divine existence willfully constrained to a temporal human life.. I am in awe of Jesus.

This week I heard a new definition of pride. A local pastor said that pride is thinking that you are better than another.. he said that when we are impatient with a waitress or a person at the grocery checkout we reveal our pride.. we think that we could and would do the job better even though we believe that those jobs are "beneath us".

Aren't you glad that Jesus is not proud! He came in humility.. lived a humble life.. and died a humble death. The scripture says that because of His humility He bears a name that is matchless in all of heaven and earth.

Would you consider honoring Him today by dedicating yourself to living a life of humility?

Day by Day

Every time I hear this song from the rock musical Godspell I flash back to a time in the early 1970s when my first wife Ellen was blind and I was hurting. Each time this song would come on the radio I would cry.. I was beside myself.. I hurt and didn't know what to do with my pain. Years later I would take my pain to the cross of Christ.

Little did I know that the heart of this song came from this prayer:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.

St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)

I prayed those words again today.

The Voice

This "translation" of the New Testament is billed as "A scripture project to rediscover the story of the Bible" "As retold, edited, and illustrated by a gifted team of writers, scholars, poets, and storytellers". Words like "holistic", "beautiful" and "sensitive" are used in the preface to describe it. The Voice is the culmination of Chris Seay's vision for a different kind of biblical translation that puts the bible into everyday language and uses common English words that can be understood by the average Joe on the street.

On face value this seems to be a noble endeavor and one that may work for many Christ followers that flow in the Emergent stream of Christianity. I say that because prominent among the contributors is emergent sensei Brian McLaren. So I guess before I looked too much into the book I was already on my guard about how The Voice would be "translated".

Before you throw any emergent stones at me you need to know that I generally like much of emergent theology and my critique is not about that stream of Christianity. Mostly my thoughts are around the idea that a "translation" of the bible should be precise.. if it is not then it should be called a paraphrase. So with that backdrop I will give you a few of my impressions of The Voice.
  • It is an annotated presentation. I don't like these types of bibles because, unlike study bibles, they offer embedded commentary rather than factual information. To me this skews the reader to a specific, dare I say emergent, point of view.

  • It changes the way that the text is presented. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit's leading of the original authors it reformats the stories a bit in more of a novel format. I am generally okay with this in a paraphrase format but I am a bit uncomfortable calling it a "translation".

  • I don't like the way that understandable words are "translated" into convoluted ones: baptism becomes "ritual cleansing", repentance becomes "rethink their lives and turn to God" and salvation becomes "rescue us". John the Baptist is called John the Immerser. I don't think that these changes were warranted or needed.
So, given this, you might ask if I would recommend The Voice to others.. well.. maybe if I had more time to thoroughly study it along side of other translations? I'll leave that for other smarter folks :)

I think that there is a place for works like this one. I often enjoy reading from The Message.. interesting how these types of works use "The" to preface the title.. and I think that this work falls into a Message category. What I am a bit concerned about is the people that did the translating. I am uncomfortable with non-scholarly folks "translating" the scriptures.. especially those with a distinct and overt theological bent. In closing I thought that I would simply quote a few familiar passages from John 3 and let you decide if you like it or not.

"I tell you the truth, if someone does not experience water and Spirit birth, there's no chance he will make it into God's kingdom." (John 3:5 The Voice)

"For God expressed His love for the world in this way: He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not face everlasting destruction, but will have everlasting life." (John 3:16, The Voice)

Worst-Case Scenarios

Kim Allen offers this observation about the nature of worry:
Worry starts when we project into the future. The mind searches for and examines all the angles it can find related to worst-case scenarios. We rehearse how to respond to what might happen—I'll do this, then she’ll say that, then I'll say this. Before we know it, it's 3:00 in the morning. All this self talk is not only unproductive; it's exhausting!
I resonate with that.. I often engage in this unproductive and exhausting kind of thinking. Can you relate?

It reminds me of how the scripture enjoins us to take thoughts captive. That said, I think that it is not a matter of one thought defeating another.. it is not simply thinking positive thoughts and hoping for the best.. it is not denying the painful realities of our life. It is simply trusting the Lord with all of our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding.

Worry captivates and imprisons us when we lean on our own understanding.. how can it not? When the doctor gives us a "terminal" diagnosis it is difficult to not engage our own understanding and entertain a worst-case death scenario.. in these times it is difficult to engage heart faith.

In difficult times it is good to remember that the scripture calls us to:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Isn't it interesting that the apostle begins with anxiety and ends with peace.. begins with the head and ends with the heart. When we pray we take those things that worry us and trouble our heads to the Lord.. through prayer we cast them on the Lord. In return, the Lord may not fix things.. He may not heal that "terminal" diagnosis.. but He will give of peace of heart and mind.

Today if you are struggling.. if worry has overcome you.. if you often entertain worst-case scenarios.. try going to the Lord and engage Him with your heart. Yes, pray with your heart and not your head.. try to not allow your head to dominate your prayers.. so often prayer can just be another way that we worry. Pour your heart out to the Lord.. tell Him what is going on.. entrust Him with your cares and worries.. and let Him fill you with His peace. Cast your cares because He cares.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1Peter 5:6-7)

Humility is not an Option

I recently opined this at Barbara's place:
Most of life is designed to humble you.. humility is the secret to life.. it will cause you to listen to good advice.. it will help you in all of your relationships.. it will help you to interpret adversity in a healthy way.
Do you find this to be true? When I think about humility I think of men like the Apostle Paul. He was a tough religious man before Jesus appeared to him and asked this question:
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Have you ever been humbled like this? Before Jesus appeared to him Paul (aka Saul) zealously persecuted Christians. The scriptures say that he "was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison." (Acts 8:3). I wonder what it was like for Paul when Jesus showed up and confronted his misplaced zealotry? It had to be humbling and maybe even humiliating to know that he and his "ministry" was fighting God.

Do you find comfort in Paul's story? It helps me to know that God humbled Paul in this way. Sometimes humility really looks like humiliation - can you relate.. I can. So often in my life I have felt like an absolute failure.. so often my pride (especially the religious variety) and my judgmental words have returned to me with humiliating results. It reminds me of this verse:
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1Peter 5:5b)
Pride is not an option for a believer.. and neither is humility. We can either clothe ourselves with humility or find God humbling us.. and the latter often resembles humiliation. So what does humility look like? Maybe it looks like love? How about this definition?
Humility is patient, humility is kind and is not jealous; humility does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Humility never fails.
In truth humility is an expression of love - for God and each other. When we have pride we do not love.. when we love we are humble. Consider the love of Jesus:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
For Jesus, humility resulted in "death on a cross".. why would we expect it to look any different for us?

Spiritual Food and Exercise

..what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:3-9)

The 8th chapter of Romans is one of my favorites. In this passage the Apostle Paul says some insightful things about the relationship of the heart and the head. Here is what I get from it:
  1. A contrast is drawn between walking in the flesh and in the Spirit.
  2. The ability to walk in the Spirit is not dependent upon one's mental understanding of the law (i.e. the bible).
  3. The mind seems to be something that gets direction from the innermost being (i.e. the heart).
  4. When one walks in the Spirit the mind is not in control.
  5. Having the Spirit is the definition of being a Christian.
What this passage doesn't speak to specifically is how a person can be a Christian (i.e have the Spirit) and not walk in the Spirit. I have written on this topic a few times so I will not belabor it but simply say that it is a matter of which is stronger.. your innermost or outermost being. I think that to be strong on the inside requires two things: feeding and exercise.
Feeding: Growth of any kind requires food.. this is the intake side of life. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food.. I will simply call this food "truth". This truth food comes to us in many forms - personal study, teaching, counseling and prayer.. just to name but a few. For this food to be effectively digested it must be received in humility.. without humility the food will not accomplish what is is meant to do - provide the means for growth.

Exercise: Jesus said (in John 4:34) that His nourishment came from doing Gods will. In this I think that we see a link from just eating and getting spiritually fat to being spiritually fit. Without exercising our heart through faith we simply get fat on the inside and become ineffective in the kingdom of God. Spiritual exercise can come in many forms but is always exercise that is directed from within.. exercise directed from without has little spiritual value. If one is directed from within to do something and then acts on that direction they take part in exercising their innermost being.. bringing spiritual strength.
Apart from spiritual food and exercise we will simply be unable to walk in the Spirit. We will continue to wrestle with the flesh and sinful desires.. but through a consistent program of spiritual diet and exercise we will eventually see our lives change and spiritual fruit grow.

The Wild Man of the Universe

In his book, "The Sacred Romance", John Eldredge presents an image of God as "The Wild Man of the Universe".. untameable and unpredictable. I love that picture. Do you?

I suspect that you may not like this picture if you have bought into an absolutist image of the Almighty. If you find yourself saying things like "God always" or "God would never" then you may have bought into a fundamentalist, absolutist, black and white view of God.

Consider this scripture that I think paints God as a wild man:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."
Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' " (Romans 9:14-20)
I love this picture of God because it puts man in his place. To those who would say that "God always" or "God would never" He says I will do whatever I want to do even if you don't understand what I am doing or why I am doing it.

This may make you mad.. I find God to be like that.. He often makes us mad when He acts in a way that is contrary to what we want.

Many of us don't like the idea that the scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart (and other hearts for that matter) because it goes against our idea of what God looks like. We want God on our own terms.. we want to define Him as a tame God that always acts in loving ways.. of course we reserve the right to determine what love looks like :)

Does it challenge you to think of God this way?

Living from Our Innermost Being

"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38)

Over the past few years this verse has been a transforming one for me. In it Jesus speaks to us of our "innermost being".. other translations of this verse use the word "heart". I have written much here about the heart and sometimes have created a bit of confusion because many have a different perspective about the word heart and it's theological interpretations.. so today I want to focus on this idea of living from our innermost being.

I'd like to first reflect on two companion passages of scripture.. one in the Old Testament and one in the New.. one written by a king (Solomon) and one by an apostle (Paul):
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)
It has always perplexed me how one can "ask in faith without any doubting".. until I began to better understand the inner life and how trusting God is all about living from my innermost being. When we live from this place.. this place within us where the Holy Spirit lives.. we live in a place of trust. I think that it is a good indication that we are leaning on and living from our own understanding when begin to doubt.. when fear captures our lives.

I think that we "acknowledge Him" when we live from our innermost being and not from our own understanding. Really.. when we following our own understanding we sadly only acknowledge ourselves. In a sense, this idea of acknowledging Him is best exemplified by Jesus when He says "From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water." When life flows from within we begin to acknowledge God.

I am reminded of that time almost six years ago, when I was faced with the trauma of dealing with a crisis on the high seas, when my wife became paralyzed from the waist down after we boarded a cruise ship. I vividly remember the crisis and how God spoke to me about letting go.. He whispered these words to me:
"You cannot project manage your way out of this. You need to flow with Me in this and give up control".
Interesting how the Holy spirit spoke to me of flowing.. it was like He was speaking of my need to stop leaning on my own understanding and trust Him to flow from deep within me.

I guess control is the real issue.. isn't it? Several times the writers of the New Testament speak to the idea of quenching the Spirit. Does it amaze you that the Holy Spirit.. the third person of the Godhead.. can be stifled or quenched in our lives? I think that this idea is best exemplified in this passage:
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14)
This passage captures the heart of of what it means to live from our innermost being. It speaks to the idea of receiving the Holy Spirit, being taught by Him, letting Him flow out of us in speech and discernment. It also speaks to how this stuff seems foolish when we live out of our own "natural" understanding.

I guess I need to end by saying that I am really a learner in all of this. I feel that I am only a few steps into this journey of living from my innermost being. My wife's illness and disability stretches me a little more each day.. it causes me to let go of my own limited understanding of life a bit more each day.. and I am enveloped in a peace and contentment that I didn't believe possible.. but not all of the time :)

Faith and Prosperity

The prosperity gospel is a subject that often surfaces in the blogosphere and often is accompanied by a lot of vitriol and controversy.. thought that these economic times might be a good time to discuss it here.

Christianity today recently highlighted two preachers who pastor two of the largest churches in America and their views on the subject:
For [Joel] Osteen, Prosperity Gospel isn't a pejorative term:

"Does God want us to be rich?" he asks. "When I hear that word rich, I think people say, 'Well, he's preaching that everybody's going to be a millionaire.' I don't think that's it." Rather, he explains, "I preach that anybody can improve their lives. I think God wants us to be prosperous. I think he wants us to be happy. To me, you need to have money to pay your bills. I think God wants us to send our kids to college. I think he wants us to be a blessing to other people. But I don't think I'd say God wants us to be rich. It's all relative, isn't it?"

On the other side is the guy whose church rounds out the "largest four" list:
"This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?", [Rick] Warren snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"
Two interesting perspectives.. my thinking is somewhere in between.

I agree that God wants us to pay our bills.. also think that He doesn't want us to live above our means.. don't believe that God wants us to be slaves to our credit cards.. this is where many prosperity folks go wrong.

I think that God does want us to be happy.. if that happiness is accompanied by contentment.. really.. money and things can't make you happy.. again the prosperity folks mistakenly define "blessings" narrowly and create an illusion of a "right" to be blessed with things.

I also agree that God wants us to be a blessing to others.. but often money is not what people need most.. many times they need our compassion.. mostly they need us.. they need our presence.. they need the blessing of our time.

I do wonder who Warren is speaking of when he says:
"I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty."
He is probably not speaking about folks that attend his church in Southern California. He might be speaking about folks who have had troubles.. health issues.. family tragedies.. folks in third world countries.. mostly he speaks the obvious.. the world is full of folks who are poor due to no fault of their own.. but I doubt that he would say "God wants you to be poor" to His church.

So what should a pastor say to the folks who they regularly speak to? Should they say "God wants you to be poor"?.. or "God wants you to be rich"?.. or should they simply offer scriptures that will cause folks to consider how they can best live a contented and responsible life?

Prayer Blog

I felt a bit inspired this morning watching my wife Ann receiving chemotherapy and decided to create a new blog dedicated to prayer. I am calling it Daily Prayer.. you can find it at http://praying.kansasbob.com. I will be keeping a prayer request list there as well as a list of answered prayers. Feel free to stop by, pray and leave a prayer request.

God and the Election

I received an email message this morning from Chip, my old friend, one-time church history teacher and missionary to Kenya that has some good thoughts about tomorrow's election. Here is the note in part:
Tomorrow is Election Day in the US. Scriptures indicate that God appoints kings, rulers and those in positions of authority in governments. I believe that in a democracy that means that God has appointed the citizens to rule and have authority. I don’t believe that God will get even one vote to cast on Tuesday. He has already made his choice – the citizens of the United States.

Although God does not vote in the election, please do so yourself if you are a US citizen. Chari, Amanda, and I have all voted already via absentee ballot. If we do not exercise our responsibility to vote, we are, in effect, abdicating the authority that God has bestowed upon us. I hope you can join us in praying that:

• God will grant the people of the US, wisdom, insight, and understanding to make good decisions

• The citizens of the USA will take their responsibility seriously to vote for the candidate of their choice

• Both those who are happy and those who are disappointed in the results, will reach out to each other and purposively engage in the process of dialog and collaboration to create policies, programmes, priorities, and procedures that will facilitate the wellbeing of people, both in the USA and around the world.
Please join me in saying an amen to Chip's prayer and making that trip to the voting booth if you have not already.

Heart Sin

This cartoon presents a common misinterpretation of Jesus words in the sermon on the mount where he says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
Someone might read these words and wonder.. if they are already committing adultery in their heart.. why not go through with the physical act? It is a good question - I think.. I mean really.. does anyone not recognize the difference between contemplating sin and actually committing it? Consider this passage from James:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. (James 1:13-16)
This passage paints a progression of sin that starts with the conception of sin and ends with it's birth. I think that it is important to understand that the heart sin that Jesus speaks about actually does end in a physical act of some sort. When he speaks of murder in our heart Jesus says:
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:22)
Notice that the inner feeling of anger is manifested in the person's speech. It is the same thing with all heart sin.. it will eventually manifest itself in outward sin.. and so often that sin is one done in secret.. such is the progression of lust.

I love how Jesus challenges us all in the sermon on the mount.. He speaks to the very real issue of heart sin.. He leaves us all without excuse.. but He doesn't actually equate inner sin with outer sin. Sin that has been conceived in the heart does not have to be birthed our flesh. Consider this passage:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
This speaks to our need to prevent the inner sin that has been conceived from being born.. it is a spiritual issue.. one in which spiritual weapons are needed.

Short Term Missions

The Barna Group has an article on their website titled Despite Benefits, Few Americans Have Experienced Short-Term Mission Trips. Here is an few excerpt from the article:
The label "life-changing" is pasted on many things, but the description fits most short-term service trips. Only one-quarter of those who have participated on such a trip said it was "just an experience," while a majority said it changed their life in some way. The most common areas of personal growth that people recall - even years later - include becoming more aware of other people’s struggles (25%), learning more about poverty, justice, or the world (16%), increasing compassion (11%), deepening or enriching their faith (9%), broadening their spiritual understanding (9%), and boosting their financial generosity (5%). Others mentioned the experience helped them feel more fulfilled, become more grateful, develop new friends, and pray more.
A few months ago I posted about my short-term mission to China. Thinking back on that trip I would have to say that the main result of that trip for me was that it helped me to gain a more global perspective of the kingdom of God. It caused me to develop a bit of compassion and empathy for people who struggle living out their faith in ungodly countries.

What about you? Have you ever gone on a short or long term mission trip? If so, how did the experience impact you? Would you do it again?

Waiting on the Lord

My blog friend Stephanie recently posted and quoted Psalm 40. I think that the first verse of that psalm speaks to the heart of trusting in the Lord when David writes:
"I waited patiently for the Lord"
If I have learned anything in difficult seasons it is that waiting on the Lord develops patience.. and that patience may not change my situation but eventually will change my attitude. Consider this passage of scripture:
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)
I love how it says that God's promises are obtained through patience. This scripture also speaks to God being just and not forgetting the work of His children as they faithfully minister as they wait. I think that this idea of loving and ministering while we wait gets to the heart of what it means to wait on the Lord.

I heard it said a number of years ago that waiting on the Lord is not like waiting on a bus.. it is not a passive activity. Waiting on the Lord is an active process where we continue to minister.. continue to love.. and continue to trust the Lord as we pray. I love how patience is included as part of the Holy Spirit's influence in our lives:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
This passage speaks volumes about waiting on the Lord. As we wait the Spirit works in us.. in a sense this kind of fruit can only be developed during a period of actively waiting on the Lord. I think that any other form of waiting will bear a different kind of fruit.. bitter fruit.. angry fruit.. fruit that leads one away from the Lord.

If you find yourself in a difficult season of your life.. and I am currently in one.. my encouragement to you is to keep praying.. keep loving.. keep ministering to others.. and keep trusting in the Lord. You may not get what you want but you may get what you need.

Financial Slavery

I thought that, in these times of financial crisis, this post from July 2007 might be a good refresher on the things that can bring crisis to our homes and how we can escape the grip of the enemy in this area.

Dear friend, if you've gone into hock with your neighbor or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger, If you've impulsively promised the shirt off your back and now find yourself shivering out in the cold, Friend, don't waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess. You're in that man's clutches! Go, put on a long face; act desperate. Don't procrastinate-- there's no time to lose. Run like a deer from the hunter, fly like a bird from the trapper! (Proverbs 6:1-5 MSG)

If this wasn't written so clearly about in the bible I would be hesitant to write about it. The topic of money is something that is written about extensively in the scriptures and debt/credit specifically is addressed in this scripture as well as others. Credit and debt continues to devastate families all over the world.

My first real exposure to borrowing money came when I was in the Army. The day after payday and seemingly every day after until the next payday was filled with guys asking for a few bucks to get them by until payday. I never could understand it then and still have difficulty understanding it now why people can't live within their means.

I think that most people (at least the ones above the poverty line) do not have a problem of income but of outgo ... they do not restrain their spending - they buy things that they cannot afford. Why do you think that this is so? Here are a few reasons:
  1. Hedonism: We live in a society demonstrative of the Nike Just Do It! motto. Unfortunately most of us just can't do what it is that we want to do and have difficulty making the hard choices of denying ourselves the things that make us feel so good but are so bad for us. Shopping, eating, drugging and gambling addictions are often hedonistic in nature.

  2. Materialism: A bit like hedonism this one is a little different because the lust involved is not so much carnal as it is visual - we see something and we just have to have it. To that end we buy a new car instead of an older one. Our love of things enslaves us and takes over our finances.

  3. Humanism: At the root of many of our problems is the idea that we are the center of the universe and money and resources belong to us. This is contrasted by stewardship - the idea that these are things that we are given to be used at His leading and for His purposes. Many religious people relegate ten percent of their resources to God but feel free to use the remaining ninety percent any way they choose.
These three 'ISMs' are the heart of this passage found in the bible:
Don't love the world's ways. Don't love the world's goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world--wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important--has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out--but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (1 John 2:15-17 MSG)
I adjure you my friends to heed the scripture in this area. Don't fall in love with things. Live within your means. Don't fall into the enemies trap and go into debt over cars, electronics and the many other lusts of life. Do all you can do to get yourselves free from the bondage of debt and keep yourselves free.

Guilt by Association

This week's Washington Post / Newsweek question to religious columnists is:

Obama and Wright. McCain and Keating. Palin and Muthee. To what extent is it right or wrong to judge candidates by the company they keep?
Here are a few excerpts from the responses:

If association with someone establishes guilt or similar condition, doctors who associate with sick people must be sick. Lawyers spending time with suspected criminals must be suspected of crime. Jesus was said to be a friend of sinners, then he must be suspected of being a sinner. -Gardner Calvin Taylor

Associations with persons and causes can be relevant when we size up a candidate, but only if the accuser makes or traces a valid pattern of behavior, attitude of mind or current position. We all change our minds, sometimes for the better, thank God. It's blindingly obvious to me at least that if there was ever a time to stay on the issues and try to deal with the awful mess we're in, it's now. Judgment works both ways, and I think a lot of us are going to judge candidates who lean heavily on guilt by association, a discredited American political idea if there ever was one. -William McD. Tully

It is also easy to condemn people unfairly for their acquaintances. "He keeps company with tax collectors and sinners," said the Pharisees about Jesus. Both McCain and Obama have repudiated the actions of these acquaintances, who have nothing to do with their campaigns and would have nothing to do with their administrations. Enough of this guilt by association campaign tactic. It is time to return to the issues that matter to the American people and the world. -Thomas J. Reese
I chose all three of these because they reference how the Pharisees judged Jesus according to the people that He hung around with. I also chose them because I tend to agree with the way that they answered the question.

How would you have answered he question?

Suicide and the Bible

Following is an excerpt from my blog friend Janna's excellent post titled The Bible and Suicide:

As Christians, it is important to know what the Bible says about suicide so we can offer some measure of comfort to those who mourn. The bottom line is this: Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a person goes to hell as a result of suicide. Any person who is in right standing with God (i.e. they have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior) is exempt from hell, whether or not they died with unconfessed sins. Most of us probably will die with unconfessed sin in our lives because oftentimes we don’t know we have sinned when it comes to matters of faith and adherence to every tidbit of God’s instruction for our lives.

I have turned off comments here but feel free to read the whole post and comment at Janna's place.

Christian Karma

A few years ago the My Name is Earl TV show resurfaced the old Eastern religion concept of karma. The basic idea of karma is embodied by the phrase "what goes around comes around". According to the wiki:
Through the law of karma, the effects of all deeds actively create past, present, and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy it brings to him/her and others.
The bible deals with this idea of cause and effect a bit different in the sixth chapter of Galatians when it says:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Now some take this scripture and skew it into a Christian-like karma taking the idea of sowing and reaping to formula-like proportions. I know many sincere believers who buy into it lock, stock and barrel. Oral Roberts made a lot of money 30 years ago or so when he sold this idea and called it "Seed Faith". The fallacy I see in this karma like concept of faith is three fold:
  1. It embodies the notion that God always responds in formulaic fashion to our actions and giving.
  2. It creates a carnality in giving and causes people who embrace it to feel that they earned blessings.
  3. It causes people who experience hardship to blame themselves.. much like the thinking that Job and his friends embraced.
From my perspective these karma-like concepts negate the idea of grace and cause actions to be the products of faith instead of the byproducts of faith. The scripture in Galations is a simple one that simply says that when we respond to the Holy Spirit we sow eternal seeds and when we respond to our flesh we sow temporal seeds. That scripture has nothing to do with Christian karma.

The good news of the Christian gospel is that we do not get what we deserve. We have escaped from judgment by the blood of Christ. It is not karma that causes us to prosper.. it is the Holy Spirit.. and sometimes "prospering" has little to do with the temporal aspects of life :)

Emerging Church

At a friend's request I posted my perpsective on the emerging church last November. I am still interested in this Christian movement and recently viewed this 10 minute video (above) at Alex's place. I recommend it to you. It will give you a brief overview of what the emerging church movement is all about and how the different streams of it don't alays agree with each other. If you watch it please let me know what you think of it.

For a Reason

Ever heard someone repeat this old cliché?
"Everything happens for a reason."
I am sure that you have. Last month I kicked this old cliché around with a few guys at Barnes and Noble over a latte. Thought about it today when I saw this cartoon and I remembered this passage of scripture:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:26-29)

There are a few things that I see about God's will in this passage:
  • In our weakness and struggles the Holy Spirit intercedes for us so that God's will is acomplished in our lives.
  • While He does not cause all things to happen, God causes all things to work together for our good so that His will is accomplished in our lives.
  • His will for our lives is to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
I guess what I am seeing in this passage is that the reason that things happen is to make us like Jesus. That image of Jesus is encapsulated in these verses:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)
When difficult times and events come we can be sure that God is causing those things to make us loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. In reality, pain and struggle.. either our own or that of others.. are often the only things that will cause spiritual fruit to manifest in us.. maybe that is part the reason that things happen.

The Letter Kills

My Charismatic journey took me through years of living a life built around scriptural precepts and principles. Often I would say that the Holy Spirit was leading me when, in fact, I was being led by religious rules. It is a dangerous way to lead your life because it leans heavily on your head to instruct you. The apostle Paul identifies this danger when he writes:
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:5-6]
Paul speaks of a sufficiency that cannot be discerned with your head. This sufficiency is one of the heart or spirit. He tells us that when we are led by the Spirit we are competent New Testament ministers. It is a simple idea but such a challenging one.

Paul also says in this passage that the letter kills.. did you catch that word - "kills". He could have said hurts, hinders or wounds but he chose the word kills. It strikes me how, when we live by the letter of the scripture, we live a sort of death.

Jesus, as He shared the sermon on the mount, spoke to this kind of death-living when He challenged the religious people of His day often saying:

You have heard that it was said” … “But I say to you”

Jesus took on the letter of murder, the letter of adultery, the letter of divorce, the letter of making an oath, the letter of vengeance, the letter of loving, the letter of judging others - and He spoke to them about the Spirit of those issues. He spoke to them of heart anger, heart lust, heart revenge and heart love. It was like He was telling them about how a healthy and whole heart would be life-giving.. and how a life lived by the letter of the law would be death-giving.. on a heart level.

I guess that is what I am trying to say. Those years that I lived by the letter of the scripture were years that I spent shutting down my heart.. my "spiritual life" was axiomatic.. I relied on my brain to lead me. I masqueraded my pseudo-spirituality with all sorts of Christian cliches and mumbo-jumbo.. and all the while the letter of my religion was slowly killing me on the inside.

I think that, in a sense, this kind of letter-driven behavior is encouraged by weak religious leaders who want to keep the flock under control. The sad part is that when we are under the control of the letter the influence and work of the Holy Spirit is quenched in our lives and in the church.. and the result is death and not life. I think that this is why so many leave traditional churches tired of heart-killing religion and looking for something that will ignite their hearts to real life.

No More Sorrow

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Revelation 21:1-5 ESV)

Sometimes when life becomes so unbearable it is good to remember that this life is.. as the scripture says.. but a vapor.. it is short-lived whether it is 43 years (as in the case of my first wife Ellen) or 143 years. It is a good thought to have as we reflect on the events in New York City seven years ago today. Yesterday morning as I prayed I was reminded of this verse from Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3 ESV)
The thought that jumped out to me was that Jesus looked forward to joy after death. It is a comforting thought that there will one day be a manifestation of the inexpressible joy that Peter speaks of.

Not of this World

This morning I was reminded of these words that the Lord Jesus Christ spoke to Pontius Pilate:
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
These words are ones that we (read that 'I') need to remember in this season of nationalistic politics and campaigning. In this election season we can all join together and pray the prayer Jesus taught us as we declare together:
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This prayer is a great reminder that His kingdom has not yet come in full. We often pray this generic kind of prayer for God's will to come because we really don't not know what it is specifically. The apostle Paul says it this way in 1Corinthians:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I look back on my life and can see how many times I was wrong even though I was convinced that I knew God's will. I think that we often show our spiritual immaturity when we say that we know God's will. As Paul says, we know in part.. even prophetic words are often veiled in mystery. Many times God surprises us - just think about the incarnation of Jesus. Really, I think that it would be fair to say that almost all of Jesus' contemporaries didn't see Him in the messianic prophesies.. they certainly were seeing in a mirror dimly.

So, my brief admonition for all of us in this election season, and all other seasons, is to remember that our kingdom is not of this world.. we are citizens of heaven. Good to remember that though we vote for a president every four years a King was crowned from eternity past.

We Walk by Faith

This song so moved me this morning as I watched it on TV.. I am still crying.. I have been down for a long time. It is such a good thing to be reminded that our walk is not one of sight.. when our natural eyes only seem to see life's difficulties we need to remember that our life is a walk of faith in things unseen by natural eyes.

I Don’t Need A Boyfriend

I found a post at Challies blog that really resonated with me. My post title is copied from it. Here is an excerpt that captures the heart of my thinkings on this:
I don't want God to romance me. I don't want God to be my lover. I don't need a boyfriend. I want God to be a Father--to be my Father. And after all, isn't this exactly how He reveals Himself in the Bible? ... I see God as a Father or as a shepherd. I see God as one who loves gently and patiently, but not romantically. God loves me as my father loves me (though certainly more completely and more perfectly), but I don't expect either one of them to send me little love notes. If either one did, I don't quite know how I'd react, but I can only imagine that I'd be distinctly uncomfortable.
As I learn more about God from studying the Scripture, I see in greater clarity the paternal qualities of God. And I love to find these. I love to learn more about God as Father, about God as one who loves and who loves completely. And I see little to convince me that God wants to woo me, to romance me, or to act the part of a lover. And I like it this way.
I think that Challie says it better than I did when I posted about feminine worship. I think that guys are generally uncomfortable with much of the romance language used in some religious circles. The imagery of romance just doesn't seem to fit when speaking about our heavenly Father or heavenly Brother.. but maybe I am missing something.. maybe someone can help me see this from a different perspective?

OliveTree Mobile Bibles

Are you tired of toting those heavy bibles? Ever wish that you had the bible with you when you really need it? Have I got deal for you :)

For the past few years I have been using bible software from Olive Tree. I have used it on a Palm device and since March of 2007 on my Motorola Q (pictured right). I love this software and find it easy to use and very reasonable - many of their bibles, Christian literature and tools are free.

They are currently looking for some of you iPhone folks to help them check out their new software.

So, here are a few reasons to give Olive Tree a try:
  • free and easy to install and use.. I love how intuitive it is.
  • customizable for us geeks.. don't get me started on colors :)
  • great search capabilities.. use this all the time.
  • easy to look up passages.. by transalation, book and verse.
  • always carry the word with you.. great for waiting rooms.
  • study with commentaries.. helpful for the studious.
  • read books on your phone.. lots of free ones.
  • available on all mobile platforms.. even iPhone.
  • they have a blog - check them out!
Please let me know if you do try it and if you like it or not.. and specifically what you like about it.

Mystery: Hidden and Revealed

I love this picture. I think that an iceberg is a great picture of mystery.. ten percent above the water.. the rest hidden below it. Do you like the idea of mystery or are you uncomfortable with it. I am a bit of each.. my head wants to understand everything.. my heart seems to be a bit willing to live without that understanding. It reminds me of this passage:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:24-27)
Paul speaks about a mystery that was hidden for millenniums.. a secret that even the most discerning intellectuals could not uncover.. a truth that only came (and comes) by divine revelation. Paul tells us that this revealed mystery is Christ in us.. and it is glorious. Isn't it interesting how, when we look back, this truth doesn't seem to be mysterious at all. I guess that is just the nature of the timeline of the kingdom.. mystery is relevant.. once revealed the mystery is no longer a mystery.

Paul often speaks of mystery in his writings.. he again speaks about this mystery in this passage:

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"-- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1Corinthians 2:7-11)

I love that it says that we cannot even imagine what God has prepared for us - our minds are unable to see it. We read that the Holy Spirit is the agent of this revelation.. He can unfold the mystery to us.. as with Peter only He can reveal Jesus to us as the Christ.

I guess my hope for us today is that our hearts will, in a small way, give room for mystery.. living our lives embracing the mysteries of suffering.. indeed, embracing the mysteries of His kingdom ways. There is so much that we do not know yet.. so much of that divine iceberg to discover.

An Angelic Warning

Lee Grady wrote an interesting article titled Angels, Deception and a Cry for Biblical Truth. It is a good article and a warning to us all about how we can become fixated on the supernatural aspects of faith.. I recommend it to you. Following are a few excerpts from Lee's article:

Weird teachings about angels have become the norm in some charismatic circles today. It’s time to demand sanity on the subject.
When I look at what the New Testament teaches us about angels, and specifically what the book of Acts shows us about them, here’s what I find:
  • Angels who looked like men told the early disciples that Jesus would return one day (see Acts 1:11)
  • Angels are actively working behind the scenes to minister to the saints, especially to offer protection (see Acts 12:7-11)
  • In one case an angel directed Philip where to preach (see Acts 8:26)
  • Angels sometimes appeared in visions to give instructions, as one did for Cornelius (see Acts 10:3,7,22)
  • An angel came to Paul to strengthen him and to assure him that he would preach to Caesar (see Acts 27:23-24).
If we look at Paul’s epistles, we find only a few references to angels—and most are actually warnings to the early church about a wrong emphasis on angels:
  • Paul warned the Galatians that false angels can bring deception (see Gal. 1:8)
  • Paul warned the Corinthians about "angels of light" that are messengers of Satan (see 2 Cor. 11:14)
  • Paul warned the Colossians about misguided people who worship angels and deceive people with their emphasis on mystical experiences that are rooted in their hyperinflated egos (see Col. 2:18).
...There are many flaky, weird and foolish concepts being circulated in our movement today that must be corrected. If we don't hold tightly to Scripture, we might unknowingly give birth to a cult that could bring great damage and division to churches worldwide. It’s time to get back to the Bible!

Never Having to Say You're Sorry?

I was 21 years old and in the Army when I read Eric Segal's book and later watched the film Love Story. The book and movie popularized the schmaltzy "Love means never having to say you're sorry" line. I thought of that line recently when I read a fellow blogger's posting. The essence of the post was that God forgave his enemies and we should forgive ours as well.. whether they ask for forgiveness or not.

So, I wonder, does God's love for us mean that we never have to ask for forgiveness? Will He always forgive whether we ask for it or not? The answer is not as simple as one might think.

The question of asking for forgiveness was one that haunted Martin Luther. As a Roman Catholic monk he was obsessed with confessing his sins and frustrated by his inability to remember all of his sins when he confessed them to his priest. Of course this journey, laced with frustration, ultimately led him to the revelation that one is justified before God by faith.

So what about this need to say that you are sorry.. and say it to God? Is the journey all about faith.. is it just living a positive journey of believing in God.. does God require us to say we are sorry.. and what about people who don't believe and don't pray? If we Christians don't need to ask for forgiveness then why should anyone be required to ask for forgiveness?

Of course I could say that asking for forgiveness is a part of the Lord's prayer.. depending on your denominational persuasion, we are instructed to ask forgiveness for our trespasses (sins) or debts.. as we forgive others of like offenses. So is forgiveness just an issue of living at peace with God and each other?

Some often paint the picture the way that Jonathan Edwards once did as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". These often present repentance and forgiveness as something God requires because He is mad at humanity. In this picture asking for forgiveness is an act of appeasement and is done if fear.

I think that the heart of asking for forgiveness is humility. I think that it might be an evidence of pride if one does not feel the need to ask for forgiveness. When I think about this I think of what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11)
I think that this is the essence of asking for forgiveness - responding to the convicting voice of the Spirit.. a voice that leaves us without excuse.. one that speaks to us in a firm and quiet voice of our need to be forgiven.. a voice heard by Christians and others as well.

I think that it is an arrogant person who quenches that voice and refuses to acknowledge their need to ask for forgiveness. Truly, in a sense, love means wanting to say that you are sorry.

Psalm 3 Sung

This video reminded me of the days in the late 70s when we sang the scriptures in church.. this was always one of my favorites.

Ticket to Heaven

I saw this Ticket to Heaven card used by Robert Schuller (the younger) on the weekly broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral and thought that I would briefly post about it. The scripture on the ticket comes from John 6:37 and reads this way in the New Century Version:
The Father gives me the people who are mine. Every one of them will come to me, and I will always accept them.
This is a straighforward verse.. I love the simplicty of it. I have had many conversations with folks who don't believe that it is even necessary to pray or come to Jesus in any way.. at least in this side of the grave. I have also been exposed to a lot of rules about what coming to Jesus looks like.. everything from baptism to church attendance. So, for me anyway, I will go with simplicity and say that all one needs to do is to simply come to Jesus.. and He will do the rest.

My Chinese Adventure

This picture is of an underground church that I visited in China in January 1987.. I selected this one because it doesn't show the faces of these brothers and sisters who had to worship in secret. I guess all of the hubbub of the Beijing Olympics brought back memories of my trip to China so many years ago. So I thought that I might share a few memories about my trip.. not that I remember everything.

Our church was invited to participate in a Bibles for China outreach. The trek began on a Saturday when we headed out for a two day journey to Hong Kong (via Dallas, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Manila) – that was one long trip. When we arrived in Hong Kong our hosts met us and explained the nature of the Bibles for China outreach. Our group of 23 would carry the scriptures into the mainland – but first we would eat. Walking downtown Hong Kong was very strange experience for us – raw skinned chickens, ducks and snakes all over the place. Besides all of that we were just not used to all of the people.. it did remind me of my home city of New York in some respects :)

For a few days we lived in a suburb of Hong Kong with a missionary couple. In the mornings we would pick up gym bags full of bibles and shuttle them via van, bus or train to a staging area in a Chinese border city. The gals would often wear long skirts that had inside pockets for small new testaments - they said that they were very heavy.. I know those gym bags had me wishing that I trained with weights when I was stateside.

Each time we crossed over the border we had to go through a random checkpoint where our bags would be examined. Both times that I crossed carrying two bags and I got through without being checked – guess the Lord was watching over me.. I just acted lost and dazed.. not a hard act for me.. and the guards let me pass. Only one of us got checked and they just had their bibles confiscated.

Our journey to mainland China had an amazing start. We were transporting our bags from the storage facility and it seemed that we had a few too many bags (we estimated the combined weight to be about 1,000 pounds) for the journey and was keeping the train from leaving on time. A few Communist Chinese guards came over and we thought that the ‘jig was up’! To our amazement these guards began to help us load our bags on the train. That made for great conversation on the train - all of the way to our destination city we sat in amazement at God's provision. When we arrived we brought our bags with us as we checked into a hotel.. from there the bags were transported by others to places further into the mainland.

I remember how we were taken by our hosts to the underground church. I am humbled by the simple, sincere and courageous faith of these newfound brothers and sisters. An older man spoke in Mandarin for about an hour (with no English translation) as he taught the scriptures to his flock. I found out later that I was listening to a true hero who was jailed for his faith for 20 years under the Mao regime. Thinking back on this group I must say that I feel humbled to have had a chance to spend some time with them.

After that visit our group spent the next few days traveling the countryside on a bus.. sharing stories.. singing songs.. and worshipping Jesus together. Our journey ended with a hydroplane boatride from Macau to Hong Kong. By the time we returned to Hong Kong most of us were experiencing a sense of both exhilaration and exhaustion. Our plane would leave the next day for Manila where our adventure continued.. maybe I'll tell that story another time.

Healing and Chronic Sickness

I recently received an email message from a friend titled: Why God Doesn't Always Heal. They used the passage about Paul's thorn in the flesh from 2Corinthians 12:8-10 as the basis for the exposition of the topic. The email involved a list of seven reasons why people are not healed. The first 5 involved the usual unbelief, sin and neglect reasons, the sixth invloved "the mystery of divine providence", and the last reason said:
Often times there are dimensions of spiritual growth and moral development and increase in the knowledge of God in us that he desires MORE than our physical health, experiences that in his wisdom God has determined can only be attained by means or in the midst of or in response to less than perfect physical health. In other words, healing the sick is a good thing (and we should never cease to pray for it), but often there is a better thing that can only be attained by means of physical weakness.
Generally speaking, I thought that the treatment of this topic was fairly rote as I have heard it espoused for many times over the past 30+ years. Here are a few excerpts from my email message back to my friend:
I was glad to see that you eventually got to the heart of the thorn in the flesh in #7.. I was wondering if you were ever going to take the burden off the chronically ill believer.. most charismatic Christians who suffer with chronic illness are part of the suffering crowd that wrongly blames themselves for their pain wondering if they could just believe enough or find out that hidden sin.. it is a blight on the church how these are made to feel sub-Christian.

I wonder why the many who try to discern why people are not healed do not include “the church” and its leaders (the focus of James 5:15-16) in #1-5 of your list. Why do we always feel a need to, like Pharisees, add burdens to the sick? Why not say that the unbelief and/or sin of the elders are preventing healing from coming?

I also wonder why it is so hard for us to say that Paul’s thorn was God’s will.. and maybe a sickness falls with the confines of His will for contemporary Christians? I think that when we do this or something similar we help people to be content with their physical limitations instead of causing them discontentment. In case you are wondering – even people who have learned to be content with their physical limitations continue to pray for miraculous healing :)

Being in and pastoring in a charismatic church, I always find it interesting how people respond to my wife’s wheelchair.. there is often a superiority projected in these interactions that embody your points 1-5.. people listening to the faith teachers look at people who are sick as subpar Christians.. it is very sad.. both for the way it makes my wife feel and more importantly the delusion that upright (read that standing upright) people suffer under.

Hope I didn’t come across as upset or angry. I just wanted to give you an alternate view and perhaps a peek into the life of a guy who prays every day for his wife to arise out of her wheelchair.. and of guy who has had to pastor people who pray and are not healed.
I received a response from my friend thanking me for sharing my insights and saying that I should think of writing on it some day.. yeah, he is not a reader of this blog :)

Tasting the Love of God

Just an inspirational excerpt from the postings of my blog friend Shaun:
I, never felt so convicted in my life about casting judgment on anyone as I did that morning. It changed me. God changed me that moment and opened my eyes to how real those people were. I never saw anything so beautiful in a church service before or since.

I guess I was wrong. I thought they were just going through the motions, I saw this as religion and as just an act that most of them were putting on, I didn't think it had anything to do with God; not really.

Then as I kept going they showed me how, in an unsophisticated way that some might discount as small meaningless gestures, to love people where they are.
We were drug dealers, and thieves and violent criminals and they treated us like men. Not just men, family. We ate home made fried chicken and cakes and every bite tasted like the love of God for us. I never had it so good. I never saw Jesus in another person until my misconceptions were shattered by grace. And, even in the process of showing me how wrong I was about His people, God gently told me over and over that I am His, and He loves me right where I am , right now.
I encourage you to read Shaun's entire post here. You will be glad that you did! Comments off here but please leave an encouraging one at Shaun's place.

Evolution of the Church

Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the United States Senate once suggested that:
“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”
I sometimes hear someone say that the 1st century church is a model for how church oughta be.. hmmm.. I wonder if that statement is reflective more of a dislike of the modern day church than a real identity with the early church. Halverson's comment got me to thinking.. is it possible to have a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ in the 21st century that looks different than that of the 1st century? I think that it is.. even if it is within the context of an enterprise.

I think that if the focus is on fellowshipping around Jesus and His mission the church could be a dynamic setting for changing the world. The issue is one one of focus. The word missional is batted round much these days and everything espoused from a certain sect of the faith seems to include that word - I like the word. It speaks to me of the need we have to live our lives with a mission. For me the mission is a simple and overused one - love God and love people.

This love does not come without cost though. I am always amazed at.. like the early church.. how much I am called to follow Jesus in a way that challenges me every day. What I really want is to live my faith out of a cerebral context.. but it just doesn't work because to live a life of faith means to live it with my innermost being fully engaged. Engaging our innermost being is the essence of loving God and loving people. It doesn't make sense to our head and I hope it never does. When Jesus says:
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." -Matthew 16:24
He speaks to us at a inner and outer being level.. for to deny yourself your inner being must be stronger than your outer being. The taking up of your cross and the following of Jesus are matters of the inner being. I guess in that respect the church has not evolved. Though physical and organizational structures may have changes the essence of faith has not. The church is still all about loving with our innermost being.

The 23rd Psalm

Tonight, at one of our local jails, I will teach from the 23rd Psalm for the third time in the past 10 days. If you have a half an hour to spare you can listen to it here and view the slides here. Here are the words:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

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.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

-A psalm of David-

In this message I announced to our church that I would be leaving our pastoral staff to re-enter the world of retirement. This new transition is a bittersweet one but should be very helpful to our family. I am hoping to be able to spend more time writing and being with my beautiful wife Ann.

Highlighted Bible Words

Over at the Kansas Bob blog I played with wordle summarizing all of my June posts. I thought it was interesting to see which words from June came to the forefront. So when I saw these wordles at the ESV blog site I just had to post them.

The first wordle is one of the English Standard Version New Testament:

Tag cloud of the ESV New Testament created by Wordle. The most prominent words are “God,” Jesus,” Christ,” and “Lord.”

The second is a wordle of the complete ESV bible:

Tag cloud of the ESV Bible created by Wordle. The most prominent words are “Lord,” “God,” “said,” and “people.”

I thought that it was fascinating to see which words were highlighted in the bible. Of course words like Lord, God and common words like said, land and people were highlighted. Interesting to see how words like Heaven, disciples, Spirit and kingdom come to light in the New Testament.. of course Jesus and Christ are the main words of the NT.

Any word(s) jump out at you? Don't look too hard though.. don't want to give anyone a headache :)

Unexpected Blessings

Tony Snow passed away today at the age of 53. I am re-posting this piece that I published last December as a remembrance of Tony. Please join me in praying for God's peace and comfort for his family.

Back in March US Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow, 51, a husband and father of three, announced that cancer had returned, with tumors found in his abdomen.. this led to surgery in April, followed by chemotherapy. Today a friend sent me an email pointing me to an article that Tony wrote in July for Christianity Today titled Cancer's Unexpected Blessings. Here are a few excerpts from the article with my comments interspersed:
Blessings arrive in unexpected packages—in my case, cancer.

Those of us with potentially fatal diseases—and there are millions in America today—find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is—a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.
To begin, I have to say that I was humbled by Tony's writing.. he is eloquent and communicates with sensitivity and with a deep spirituality. I love how he says don't spend a lot of time asking the why questions.. it is often really difficult to get past 'why'.
The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere. To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life—and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth.
Wow, what a description of the fear of dying. These days the idea of hope seems to just inhabit every part of me. I love how Tony says that we were born unto life.
God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don't. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.
I so wish that this wasn't true.. unfortunately it is. I truly began to mature spiritually when I was forced to deal with my first wife's illness and death. Hardship, pain and suffering takes us to spiritual places that nothing else can take us to.
Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side. "It's cancer," the healer announces.

The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. "Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler." But another voice whispers: "You have been called." Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter—and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our "normal time."
"You have been called." This statement caught me off guard.. it is a statement that my flesh cries out against.. I do not want to be called to hardship.. but something deep in my soul understands the truth of this calling.
The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies.
I identify more with fearful caution.. I don't like the thrills, dangers and shocks.. but I also identify with boldness, triumphs and epiphanies.
Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.

We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us—that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us partway there.

I would have bristled at these words if spoken by someone else. We all know.. to some degree.. that it is not all about us.. but it is so hard to hear when we hurt so much. In a sense this is the main truth of life.. love is not meant to be kept.. it is meant to be shared.
The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place—in the hollow of God's hand.
Tony leads up to this ending by telling a story about a friend that had cancer and died from it. He shared about how this man lifted him up and encouraged him. I guess that is what Tony did for me today when I read his article (read it in total here). I hope this encouraged you and lifted you up.. I hope that it was an unexpected blessing.