Sunday, July 26, 2009

Empty Cell Faith

Earlier this week, I was reminded of John the Baptists last days. He was sitting alone in a cold, dank, probably empty cell. That corner over there was his toilet. This one was his bed. He had nothing. He probably knew he was going to die. He was looking at his life and wondering if he had done what he was supposed to or if he had missed the mark. He sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he was actually the Messiah.

Normally, Jesus didn't respond well to such things. “Oh ye of little faith!” “How long must I suffer this people?”. Yet, when John asked, “Are you my Messiah?” Jesus answered him without a word of reproach. Why didn't he rebuke John's lack of faith after proclaiming Jesus' coming? Because John had faith. That's all he had. He wasn't hoping for a new car, a better job or to make the house payment. Sitting in that cell with nothing left all he had was just enough faith to believe.

The last week or so has flatly been one of the worst weeks of my life; certainly my life since becoming a Christian. There were times when the idea of being dead sounded like a really good idea. If you have never had a time in your life when your prayers seemed to just hit the ceiling and fall back to the floor for the cat to bat around, I envy you. I have had that feeling for a long time. More than that, I believed God didn't WANT to answer my prayers. Blessings were for other people. Any real prayers getting answered was far beyond what I got.

Earlier this week I was done. Everything I have ever hoped for or dreamed of was securely out of my reach. My cell was empty except for the refuse of my own making. All I had was my faith, what was left of it. I prayed the most honest prayer I have ever prayed in my life. I told God things I felt about Him, what He has done with my life (with much help from me I might add), and the Universe in general. I said things that would probably get me kicked out of most churches if they found out about it. Shocked? Why? God already knew it was in my heart, even if I had never said it.

What John did was essentially the same as Peter's answer when Jesus asked the disciples if they were going to desert him too after a particularly tough sermon. Peter answered: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV) Sure, things could hardly get worse for John but what was he going to do? Turn his back on the Most High, the only source of eternal life?

That's where I was this week. My post from last week shows how lost and alone I was. I still am mostly. Even if God chose to hold me up for ridicule and leave me wasted and alone, where else could I go? But that was all the faith I had. I'm not proud to admit that I may have actually said out loud to the God of the Universe that if there were another option I'd take it. But there isn't.

This is not glorious strong faith. This rock bottom, got nothing left, hey God have you considered just killing me faith. It's an empty, cold faith. I can't claim it as my own. I am not writing this to brag about how much I'm like John the Baptist or how faithful I am. I'm not. I had no other choice and God gave me the grace to know that just like he did Peter and, I believe, John. It's not an automatic. Judas didn't get it. Judas tried to find another way right up and including hanging himself from a tree.

Just this morning I told God I needed to hear from Him. Not just a vague feeling or a verse that stood out. Something. Anything. I love you. I hate you. Who are you? I didn't really expect it. I NEEDED it but I've needed it for awhile and the cat was swatting that prayer under the couch.

Then, in church, it came out. The Pastor, who knows little or nothing of my struggles, gave the interpretation to a word spoken in tongues. I am a believer in the present Gifts of the Spirit but I am also jaded. I have seen the “gifts” move in ways that are less than inspired. Yet, Pastor recited a list of things God was saying. Each one was something I had prayed about in my “faithless” prayer. The phrases “I have heard you” and “Don't give up” were even mentioned. I don't really believe in coincidences. Sure, he didn't walk up to me and say “God told me to tell you..”. Sure, it would have made it crystal clear if I had been called out by name. But how dim do you have to be to not put a little stock in a person who had no idea what you prayed and would probably be offended by it if they did can tick off the complaints like they were standing next to you when you prayed it?

It's not my pastor who knew.

It was my God.

Maybe there really is hope for that road ahead.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Be Prepared

I was just thinking about “emergency preparedness”. You know, survivalist type stuff. We have been conditioned to think it's crazy or paranoid or both. Maybe it actually is. I do have some questions for Christians who do NOT believe in preparedness.

As men, we are charged with being the head of the household like Christ is the head of the Church. We are instructed that it is our responsibility to feed and clothe our families. Paul even writes to Timothy “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Tim 5:8 KJV) Remember, both Peter and the writer of Hebrews tell us that if one denies the faith it is impossible “to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Heb 6:6 ESV) That seems to mean that if one CAN provide for his family and yet chooses not to that he is in real danger of going to hell. Paul takes this as a VERY serious matter.

What happens to your family if you lose your job? Do you simply go on unemployment until you can find another job? What if this recession we have blossoms into a full blown depression? You can't create $2 TRILLION out of thin air and not have some watering down of the value of a dollar. We call that inflation. Two trillion dollars worth could send us into hyperinflation. Ever wonder what it would be like to have to use a wheel barrel to carry the cash needed to buy one loaf of bread? Or what it would be like to be a trillionaire with only one bill in you wallet? What happens to your family if you can not get another job because everybody is out of work? Will you hit the soup lines and beg?

How about using a little of that back yard to try your hand at gardening? Get some corn, some tomatoes, some lettuce, some green beans and plant a few rows right there. Learn what it takes to grow your own food while actually growing your own food. You will almost certainly encounter some problems. You may even loose entire parts of your garden. If you do, go to the grocery and buy more; you can still do that. It's better to learn now when there's no real downside then to wait and have to feed you children with what you grow. Most people in the 1930's lived on family farms and were able to grow their own food through out the Great Depression.

How important is this? Our Congress is considering a bill that will allow the Federal Government to regulate all places that produce is grown or processed. This includes a backyard farm!! Why would Washington ever want such power? That brings us to the next point for Christians to consider. What if the government turns on us?

Let's be honest, we're not all that popular right now; and not without cause. That is for a different article however. The sense of anger or at least ambivalence towards Christians in this country is rising. We have been raised to believe that persecution only happens in OTHER countries. Many of us have been taught that before things get bad we will be Raptures away, spared from any unpleasantness. The unspoken implication of that teaching is that God doesn't really care about the Christians being tortured or martyred in China, North Korea, choose an Islamic country but as soon as things are about to get uncomfortable here in the US the eastern sky will split open and Jesus will come rescue his favorites. Arrogance doesn't even come close to describing that theology.

Revelation talks about the Beast being “given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (Rev 13:7-8 KJV) So, the Beast, part of the unholy trinity is given the ability to make war with the body of Christ and to WIN. That's not all. He also controls the ability to even buy the food or other things you need. “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”
Rev 13:16-17 (ESV)

It doesn't have to be the Anti Christ but just some anti-christian government. What happens if a government comes to power here in the US that controls who gets food and when, just like the USSR did? What if there are food lines and you have to swear an oath, either directly or indirectly deny Jesus to receive the handout? You can get food if you stop going to a non state approved church or if you quit talking about Jesus. If it comes down to denying Jesus or watching your kids STARVE TO DEATH what will you choose?

Jews in Germany were banned from shopping at regular stores. They were put into walled in “neighborhoods” called ghettos and isolated from the rest of society. They were banned from all government service and certainly from being in the military (mostly). From the time they entered the ghettos until the Endoslung was stopped by Allied troops, they were completely dependant on the Nazi government for everything, even simply not being attacked. With this brutal leverage the Nazi's caused Jews to sell out other Jews for food, for safety, for a little human decency, for the promise to kill their families last.

What if you have food stored away? And toilet tissue. What if you know how to make or repair your clothes? What if you don't have any need for the “gifts” of the government? How free are you really if you have to rely on someone else, even a grocery store, to provide food for your kids? How free are you to serve God if you have to obey the government's rules to keep your family alive?

As our government here takes control of more and more things, intrudes into areas no one ever believed they would get involved in, isn't it time to start considering what to do? Certainly, Jesus said not to worry about what to eat etc. God also told Pharaoh to store up food during the good years for the bad years. He also felt in necessary to tell His people that feeding their family was important. Do we really think that it could never happen here, even though the Bible is pretty clear it will happen EVERYWHERE at some point? Do we believe that God likes American Christians better than our brothers and sisters around the world? Do we really want to explain why we said “I'm not a Christian.” in order to be given food or safety for our children?

Just something to think about.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

In the final week of his life, Jesus, itinerant preacher and miracle worker comes to Jerusalem to celebrate what would be his last Passover. The people, knowing of his arrival, greet him in the streets. They lay palm branches before him as the donkey he is riding trods slowly up the street.

“Hosanna!”, they cry.

“Hosanna to the Son of David”, their cries acknowledging him as their rightful King and Messiah echo off the walls and cobblestones.

“Hosanna in the highest!” exalt the people of the Holy City.

We call it the Triumphal Entry. It is the start of Holy Week. We see it as full of rejoicing. I think it was more like coming home to be kissed by a cheating wife.

Imagine your a man. You work hard, pursue the woman of your dreams. You catch her. Every day, when you get up to go to work; it's for her. Every day you can't wait to get home; for her. Every day you work to make things the absolute best they can be for your beloved. Then, you discover she's cheating. Not once, not twice, but she's made a lifestyle out of cheating on you with whatever guy will have her.

You come home to her, knowing that she has probably been with some other guy that very day. She has broken every promise she has ever made to you. You're certain that the neighbors know, possibly even people at church. You are being humiliated in front of people daily. As you enter the house, she sweeps down the hallway towards you. She smiles that smile that still melts your heart. She rushes into your arms and pulls you close. Her lovely hair brushes past your face. You can smell the sweet smell of her perfume. Your heart races as she gently nuzzles you and her lips brush over your lips. It's all for her...

But you know that she cheats. As much as she adores you right now and as much as you have and would do simply to be with her she will, sooner or later, return to seeking pleasure with another man. Possibly even someone you know.

This is what the entry into Jerusalem was like for Jesus. Jerusalem, the city that God had chosen to make his dwelling place on Earth. It was home for the Almighty. The people of Jerusalem, of Israel, were his beloved; his betrothed. He had covenanted with them. They would be His people and He, the Creator of all that is or was or will ever be, would be their God. Yet God says of his beloved:

“Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. She lusted after the Assyrians, governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men. And I saw that she was defiled; they both took the same way. But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom and pressed your young breasts.”
Ezek 23:11-21 (ESV)

Within days, Jerusalem who had greeted Jesus like the love of a young bride's life would be screaming for the Romans to crucify him. Instead, they wanted their other lover; Barabbas. He would give them what they wanted...

Jesus knew this as he rode into town. He knew what was coming. He knew that no matter how enthusiastic her love was now, that soon she would grow bored and seek another lover.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matt 23:37-39 (ESV))

Notice the sarcasm in the last line, where he mocks her pleasing words: "39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’"

There is some call for rejoicing. He leaves his betrothed and wins a new one, a Bride that He will share eternity with. The Wedding Feast is yet to come, but we are called. “The Bride has made herself ready...”

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Humana is the Worst Insurance Company Ever!!

I need to vent, so here's the place to do it. I am so sick of people who can not think for themselves but simply go by the matter what. This isn't entirely about that but...

A week and a half ago my Mom had her second stroke in 6 months. It wasn't catastrophic but she has some impairment. The doctors decided to put her in rehab before sending her home. That's great. I want Mom to be able to live the liestyle she's used to. If it takes a couple weeks in a rehab facility to achieve that so be it.

Then, on Monday, Mom's best friend died. When I say "best friend" I mean had dinner with her every night (or nearly) for three to five years and they have known each other for 30ish years. Obviously, Mom wants to go to the funeral or at least the visitation. Medicare would allow it, on a special pass with permission from her doctor.

Humana won't. If she leaves for any reason that there is a record of, their stance is she doesn't need to be there at all and won't pay for her time there after that. This is a "Medicare Replacement" policy. The facility says there's nothing they can do and blames it all on Humana. Humana's Customer Service and the Medical division say she can go and blames it all on the facility. Apparently, they say that then later deny the claim using the pass as the excuse. Her case manager for Humana is actively dodging my calls to get an official word. Of course, the nurses who are so deeply touched by the situation won't do a thing to help. It's easy to "care" when it has no price.

Humana is simply billing for her expenses as a Medicare replacement but adds extra rules on TOP of Federal Law to make more money. If Medicare will allow it, how is it legal for them to deny it?

So, Mom can't see her best friend buried. Mom cries. This makes me want to hit people in the mouth. Repeatedly. I may make an adult cry yet.

I'm against Obama on every subject (except maybe funding new school buildings) but I hope he nationalizes the insurance companies. Right now, I want Humana crushed. They won't even give an old lady three hours for her best friend's funeral.

Of course, this would be moot if the nurses could just let me take her for "a walk". No one would ever know. But again, it's safer to break her heart and tell yourself you're still a good person because the manual said you had to do it.

I feel like the worst son ever.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Everytime I get this thing rolling, something comes up to distract me from it. This time, it's a return to college after 8 years. Hopefully, this time my degree will oh, I don't know, help me get a JOB!!! I hope to start posting two to three times a week once I get into the groove of my new schedule. We'll see.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Revival Tarries

1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
James 4:1-4 (ESV)

These four verses offer a plethora of topics to discuss. I think I'm going to focus on just a line or two. “You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Some of you just about stopped reading because you thought “Oh no, another Vending Machine Jesus message.” Keep reading though. This one's about revival.

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine updated his status at Facebook. My friend “is grieved in my spirit...we need revival.” I can't agree more. A Southern Baptist evangelist recently wrote an article that suggested that the lack of revival in America is attributable to churches not bringing in traveling evangelists. Leonard Ravenhill wrote books like “Why Revival Tarries” to explain why we are not seeing a sweeping move of God across this country...and this was written 40 or 50 years ago. To a man, the entirety of American Christianity will tell you that we need revival. If we all agree that we need it, why don't we see it?

There's several reasons, I believe. First, I don't think most Christians are actually praying for revival. That's Mr. Ravenhill's stance. I don't watch much of the TV preachers or the ones on radio but I can't think of the last time I heard one of them preach on either evangelism or revival, let alone tell people to pray for it. I hear requests to give more because the ministry is facing hard times. I hear about praying for the election. I hear about praying to receive that car, house, job, functional savior that will make you life perfect and show God's favor to you.

I also think that the average American Christian has no idea what revival is. I'm not talking about my friend here, just the average church goer in this country. When I do hear someone talking about revival from the pulpit, it almost always seems to involve politics. We need revival so folks will vote the right way next time. We need revival so that gay marriage doesn't get legalized. We need revival so that young girls quit wearing short skirts. We need revival so our taxes will get lowered. We need revival so that God will be pleased and the stock market will go back up and gas will come down to stay.

When we do ask God to pour out His Spirit and bring revival, if we aren't seeking political change, we're looking for a personal renewing. Many people's idea of revival is their church getting excited about Jesus again. It usually involves a traveling preacher stopping in for a few days, preaching some really well delivered and exciting sermons, collecting the offering and leaving. Sometimes it involves someone reading a new book and getting excited. Maybe it's stumbling across an Emerging leader or someone offering different ideas from what their church has been doing for 50 years. Sometimes it is a new “outpouring” of the Spirit. We abandon all Biblical discernment and chase after signs, wonders and miracles. Sure, more often than not that involves manifestations of things long considered to be demonic possession or of men pretending to pee on the church walls, but feels good. It is also ALWAYS temporary. Take the Lakeland circus this summer or the Airport Vineyard thing a decade ago.

The last dramatic revival on this continent took place over a hundred years ago during the Third Great Awakening. Maybe not since the Second. Not even the Jesus people movement of the 60's and 70's or the Charismatic Renewal of the 80's came close. In fact, I would argue that the Charismatic Renewal is exactly the type of revival we want from God; one that blesses us. We seek revival not to spread the word of God and warn the lost to flee from the wrath to come into the arms of Jesus. No, we seek revival so we can feel better, consuming it for our own pleasure. We have sought material gain and labeled it as Godly while trying to criminalize the lost while calling it “family values”.

Can you even imagine a mainstream preacher preaching a sermon like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” now days? Less than 2% of believers have shared their faith with someone in the last year. Of that 2% how many offered God's Plan for a better life instead of warning them that apart from Jesus they are headed to Hell? Is it any wonder we don't see people coming to Christ in the thousands? Does it surprise you that the gifts of the spirit seem to be manifesting less and less? Ask your self when was the last time you saw a true, immediate healing? Mine was in 1994 or 1995 on my knee. Sure, prophesy is still around but it all seems to be political or “encouraging” words. When was the last time you or someone else “read someone's mail”? The gifts of the Spirit are there to give credence to the claims of the Gospel. The power shows that Christianity is not just another man made religion. If we aren't seeing the gifts, is it because we aren't preaching the Gospel.

We have not revival because we ask not. When we do ask, we don't want to share we just want a bless-me club and call it revival. We have to go OUTSIDE of the Church walls if we ever hope to see revival.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Legalsim or Antinominism?

Recently over at the Internet Monk, there was a discussion on how to live as a Christian in the midst of legalistic churches. That's a sticky question on all sorts of levels. First, we have to define what "legalism" is. I would say that any church or person who puts more faith in works, or what your deeds are, to get you into heaven than in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is legalistic. This is doubly true if the deeds that are emphasized are not deeds mentioned in the Bible as being problem areas. If there is any sort of a Checklist of Salvation the chances are pretty good it's legalism. And we are not under the law but under grace.

Shall we sin so that grace may abound? Ahhh, yeah. That part. The most common response to legalism is to go hard the other way and essentially state that there are no rules. Jesus loves you even when you're banging the neighbor's wife and anybody that says otherwise is being judgmental. The war cry for these folks is two fold. The aforementioned "under grace" line and the ever popular "Judge not lest ye be judged." In my experience everyone who has said "Judge not" while discussing sin and the repentance from sin, is currently doing some thing that violates their conscious but would rather ignore it than repent.

Jesus talks about how to properly, and lovingly, correct someone and, if they refuse it, to kick them out of the church. Paul, who stresses unity above almost everything, still says there are times when a person needs to be asked to leave. He even cites a couple of cases. What's this got to do with legalism? Simply, there ARE some "rules" that one needs to follow if he/she expects to remain in the fellowship. Jesus didn't just say "give me your burdens". He also said to take his up. Carry your cross daily. James said faith without works is dead. It's impossible to read the NT and not come away with the idea that if you do indeed believe in Jesus, there will be things you do, and don't do, because of it.

The big danger here for churches and church leaders is knowing what to expect from the congregation. Quite simply, if the Bible doesn't forbid it expressly, I think it's best to leave that up to Christian Conscious. Drinking alcohol is nowhere forbidden in the Bible. Therefore to preach that it is sin to EVERYONE is wrong. Are there those in your church to whom drinking is a sin because God and their conscious has deemed it so? Yes. And your job as a brother or sister is not to drink around them, not to tell stories involving a good drink etc. around them and to encourage them in their own walk. If it's too big of a sacrifice to go out to eat at Perkin's instead of Applebee's when they're with you, maybe you need to examine your own heart. The same is true if they insist that nobody, EVER has a drink.

There are any number of things clearly spelled out in the Bible as "sin". Lying, gossiping, sex outside of marriage, unforgiveness, irrational anger at somebody are among them. If somebody in your church is doing these things, it is our responsibility to bring them up. Not in a finger pointing, AH-HA!!, sort of way but in love, like the way you would tell your children not to play touch football on the four lane street. On the flip side, these things can not be allowed to fester and grow in the church. If the person continues to resist the correction both Jesus and Paul say to kick them out of the body. Like a cancer needs to be cut out before it kills you, people sinning unrepentantly need to be removed from the church body before it catches on.

It's a fine line. Separating the two takes a lot of prayer and a lot of time in the Bible. I was once told "Stupid rules get made because people do stupid things." This is true. It is also how legalism gets started, with the best of intentions to help someone you love. Soon, what started out as a temporary request becomes doctrine that must not be violated.

Pray hard.