The Folly of Pre-dawn Christianity

29 May

Rising early, I slipped on my lounge clothes and sandals, sneaked out the bedroom door so as not to wake my wife, and made my way downstairs for a cup of coffee. I checked the temperature on my phone, grabbed a hoodie and retreated to our deck.

As I stepped outside, I heard a raccoon chortle somewhere nearby. That kept me watching the shadows for a while. The sky was holding the promise of a sunrise while the trees and grass were caught between shades of gray and hint of green. I wondered what was lying on the railing. Was it something I left from grilling supper or had one of my granddaughters put it there? Something unidentifiable sat next to the leg of the grill, too. It’s not moving, so it must not be that raccoon I heard.

I turned my attention to my Kindle and began reading from the book of Romans. I mulled over the implications and significance of some of the verses. Phrases demanded my attention. Phrases like: “…because that which is known about God is evident within them…” and “…His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  

I remembered times when I have been guilty of using these verses to point the finger, but suspended between dark of night and the dawning day, I sensed my fingers pointing at me. The book of Acts tells us about Christians—not just the Apostles—who walked through their communities with kingdom authority and power. They possessed a relationship with Jesus that enabled them to rejoice even in persecution—not only rejoice but also pray for their persecutors. I’ve witnessed in the Philippines men who display the same boldness, and I crave for that relationship with my Lord. How is it that I have the same or maybe more information about how to be a right representation of Jesus but less knowledge and wisdom to accomplish it?  

I looked over at the blob on the railing. As the sky had gotten lighter, the contrasts and shadows of things around me had become more distinct. I could see the dark object on the rail was a pair of shoes belonging to one of the girls. The object at the base of the grill wasn’t one item, but a stack—bits of charred wood left there by my engineering daughter-in-law after an experiment she had conducted.  

The sky brightened more. With it, the shoes displayed their colorful patterns and the grass and trees also cheered the morning with their greens. I saw and understood. I find it comfortable and easy to stand in the shadows. In that light I can know what’s around me. And, I reason that’s better than where those are who stay in the darkness—those I had pointed at in the past. Doing so, I brush aside what Jesus said in Matthew 6:23 (part of his Sermon on the Mount) “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (NASB). Staying in the shadows–as if suspended in pre-dawn mixture of light and dark–will block my chances of the oneness with Jesus experienced by the first century Christians. 

Jesus bids us to come to him. He is the light and the life. As I step closer to the light, less darkness (fears, jealousies, complaining, unbelief) will remain in me. His love and boldness will become deeper and brighter in me. James said it this way, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8 NASB).

 If you are touched in some way by what I share, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment, and if you don’t want it posted on my blogsite, just add a note to that preference. While you are at it, click on the right to leave your email address to receive a notice when I post again so you don’t miss any. That is the sole purpose for asking for your information. I don’t send out mailings or share your information with others. 

 

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Let’s Not Forget

22 May

This Memorial Day I honor a special group of people, many of whom never knew me but have made all the difference in my life. I know Memorial Day began after the Civil War to honor those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom and preserving the United States of America. Since then, the observance has expanded to honor all who have served and died and even those who served our country out of the boundaries of the military. Not all battles are fought with bullets and bombs.

As I researched my family tree, I found ministers on both sides—even circuit rider preachers. I mentioned my discovery to my grandmother when she was still alive. She told me she prays every morning before getting out of bed, thanking God for another day and asking Him to move in the hearts of her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

A battle rages for the souls in our nation. I know how fierce it can be through my own struggles. Even after putting my trust in Jesus, my soul’s enemy continues his efforts to take me out. If not on any other day of the year, on Memorial Day I remember those who fought in this battle and who prayed not only for their own needs, but also for those who would come after them. I acknowledge I am where I am in the Lord today because of those prayers. I told Grandma the prayer chain would remain unbroken as I promised to pick up the standard and pray for my aunts and uncles, cousins, and descendants.

Will you join me in this prayer? That our citizenship in God’s kingdom become more real in our lives so it becomes obvious to those around us. That others see it as it truly is: God’s grace, mercy, love, and His righteousness. That less of us is seen and more of Him. That any who may come against us are doing so because they hate Jesus, not our imperfect representation of Him. That others will hunger and thirst for the same grace for themselves—starting first in our family and reaching out to all we contact and pray for. That this and every Memorial Day would fill our hearts with gratitude for the battles fought and won for us, especially the one 2000 plus years ago on a hill called Golgotha or Calvary.

Faith and Trust Examined

15 May

I remember reading the story of a missionary who struggled with his explaining Jesus as God’s sacrificial lamb. The Lamb of God. The remote villagers could not relate to the imagery in any way. He then borrowed from their culture and told them Jesus was their sacrificial pig. The Pig of God. I know what some of you are thinking. Your mind is going the same place mine did when I first read it. God names swine among the unclean animals. Jesus used pigs in his story of the prodigal son to express the depths to which this son had gone in his depravity. How could a pig suggest the spotless life of Jesus being sacrificed for the sin of man? The thought of it sounds grossly sacrilegious, almost blasphemous. But in the culture the missionary was trying to reach, the substitution worked; he won their hearts to the Lord. I don’t know if over the decades they have changed their wording to conform with western civilization or not, but does it matter?

 I shared that story with you because recently I was challenged to look at a couple of other key Christian words/concepts in a new way: faith and trust. If you follow my blog, you may remember a blog on trust I posted two or three weeks ago. Since then, I have been watching a video series I recommend to you. The nine-part series called Christ Revealed was created by Dr. Patrick Gentempo. Each part is 1.5 to 2 hours long and consists of interviews and tours of primary sites where Jesus ministered. In the interviews we hear exciting testimonies and deep-thinker apologetics. It’s the latter that brought new ways for me to look at faith and trust.

 I have long stood on the side of the opinion that no one wins someone to the Lord by winning an argument. The series introduced me to several men who, on the contrary, eventually became ministers for Jesus after looking at all the evidence and deciding the Bible’s explanation best answered every objection. Now they also clarified that even with every argument resolved, they still could not align themselves with the Bible until they faced their biases, calling them what they are. When they accepted the possibility that a man was raised from the dead, then they could put their confidence in the Bible as God’s Word.

 One man changed his vocabulary. He said the meaning of faith has been weakened by phrases like “blind faith” and “leap of faith.” He speaks instead of the conviction of these things. And instead of trust, he speaks of confidence for the same reason: our culture has weakened the meaning. Confidence was defined as knowing that you know. It’s a phrase he uses with his students. They struggle and balk on a test—not because they don’t know the material—but because they don’t know that they know. When they reach that realization that they know and know that they know, the test—or their approach to it—becomes easy.

The conclusion for me is: the way to participate in God’s kingdom is simple enough for a child to understand and embrace and deep enough to convince the greatest critic.

I may follow the reasoning and shift my vocabulary a bit, but I won’t be trying to win arguments. That’s not me. But, I guess I would say the series strengthened my confidence. I think stopping the whispers of doubt will be easier knowing with confidence (knowing that I know) that God’s Word is true. I admit it’s quite a commitment to sit through approximately 18 hours of video, but you will surely find something that will make you glad you did. Watch it. Be encouraged by it. Share.

 

 

Back-breaking Work of Living

8 May

I shared this as a word of encouragement at our recent writers retreat. It was well received so I thought I would share it with a broader audience. While its focus is on writers, I know it can apply to all.

He was alone. He had felt alone before, but this time he was really alone. He had to get away from the tasks and noise of his job. Alone with his thoughts. Alone with his God. He needed to sort out his life—its meaning, its purpose. The one thing he had done that he felt was so right, by circumstances appears to have been so wrong.

In the storm of that confusion, God called to him by name. God spoke vision and purpose to him. Had the man really heard, the confusion would have evaporated when clear direction was spoken to him. Instead, the man refused. He began to argue.

“The last I knew, the one you want me to go to would rather see me dead than look at me. You expect him to listen to me?”

“Look at me. No one will listen to me. I’m a nobody.”

“You probably know 10,000 better qualified people to use.”

“I am not eloquent. I bore people when I talk. They get tired of listening to me and walk away. I can’t do it.”

“I don’t know what to say or how to say it. What if I really mess up?”

Well, that’s my paraphrase of the story, but I don’t know a writer that hasn’t been in the same dark place as Moses was in his mind. We all have doubts. We all fear rejection. And as a result of all our years having teachers hand back assignments with a lot of red on the paper, we are timid about letting others critique our work.

But writing is just that: work. It’s like a garden. Nothing tastes better than produce fresh from the garden. That may be because of the investment made getting it there. Unfortunately, we can’t throw magic beans out the window and have our sweet rewards the next day. The real-world process involves soil preparation, planting according to the specific need of the seed or plant, breaking up packed ground after rains, weeding, protecting against pests, and even the harvesting is back-breaking work.

The soil preparation is our life experiences. The seed, a thought of a story line. All the hoeing, chopping weeds, and pulling cutworms off the plants relate to the cultivating, which is analogous to our edits, critiques, and rewrites. Only then can we enjoy sweet rewards: touching the hearts and lives of readers and making a difference.

The greatest giant we face in the process is that little word why. Why try? Why make ourselves miserable over this? Why think you can even do this? Why go through it and maybe no one will want it? Why add one more rejection? And it’s so much easier to quit.

Let me give you some verses from the New International Version of the Bible to encourage you.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6:9).

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 1:6).

And lastly, consider Peter. Many times he speaks up when others remain silent. Being wrong didn’t seem to faze him. But when the real test came, he buckled. He said he didn’t even know Jesus. Not once, but three times, and the last time he added coarse language, hoping that would convince others of his lie. But in Acts chapters 3 and 4, after he gets arrested and threatened never to preach in Jesus name again, we see a very different man. Instead of praying for protection. Instead of rebuking Satan. Instead of claiming promises of abundant life, he prayed this: “ Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

We’ve come together in this place with a common bond. We have a story to tell. We may have fears. We may hope to find help in specific areas. We may be confused. Wherever we find ourselves in our garden, know that there is a harvest. The bounty of that harvest depends on how much you cultivate, just like with a vegetable garden. But if God has put you on this path, know he will bring it to completion as long as you put your trust in him and press on with him. What’s left for us is to pray like Peter, Lord give us boldness.

What is trust?

3 May

How is it that after many years of having put my trust in God, I still find myself needing to learn to trust him? In scripture, the answer is very simple: “whatever is not from faith is sin,” (Romans 14:23b NKJV). In daily life, many arguments and what-ifs fog the clear path set before us. Each difficult situation we face has its own battery of objections, fears, and save-face actions to deal with. The simplest response to tough situations (trust in the Lord) becomes the hardest in the face of how our peers and family interpret our action or inaction.

Things trust is not or at least not intended to be:

1. Fatalistic. Trusting is not as passive as it may appear to be to others. My resume must be one of the top ones for bizarre. In fact, I remember telling the Lord that very thing once. I was amazed at the job I had. It seemed like a perfect fit for me, but I looked back and wondered how I got there. The day I gave Jesus the say over where I worked (that meant sometimes prayerfully waiting things out with no effort to find work on my part), my employment record showed no natural progression. Contacts simply littered the page. During those years, I was called lazy, unrealistic, among other things. People gave me the “duh” look when they asked if I expected God to just drop a job in my lap. At one point, I was ready to give up and give in to flight. Thankfully God stopped me (and did drop a job in my lap). Oh, in answer to my question to God, he showed me how a little bit of each job I had filled in the past taught me something that caused me to excel in the one I had when I asked.

Sometimes it may feel or look like waiting for God’s answer is waiting for fate to show up. It’s not. In fact, such an attitude can delay God’s hand. Trust is being active in knowing who it is you are leaning on.

2. Pollyanna. For those too old to remember the Disney movie or the story it was based on, Pollyanna is a term for an attitude or person who always sees good no matter the circumstances. It would be the bride who fell into stagnant water and announces her bouquet still smells fresh and sweet…who wants to catch it? Trust in God maintains a quiet confidence in the face of tragedy that he is still in control. A conviction that he still has you in the palm of his hand. It is what enabled David to turn from travail to praise in Psalm 6:6-10 “I am weary with my groaning. All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity; for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my supplication; The LORD will receive my prayer. 10 Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly,” (NKJV). David was not afraid nor ashamed to be honest with God. His servants and family observed his struggles. But his trust in God kept him. He knew the deepest pits with God was better than the highest peaks without him.

3. Karma. The literal definition is: “the force generated by a person’s actions held in Hinduism and Buddhism to perpetuate transmigration and in its ethical consequences to determine the nature of the person’s next existence.” Its more common use refers to a force that retributes a person’s action or their attitudes, as in they have bad karma. I hear people state that they will let karma (or hope karma will) give back to someone the bad they dump on someone else. It’s funny, but usually those who trust in karma are the same ones to doubt God’s existence or at least his involvement in individual lives and circumstances. Some may even say they’ve tried God and it didn’t work. But trust in God includes good things happening to bad perpetrators. Oh, did you think praying for your enemies meant praying that God would humble them with destruction? His perfect knowledge can accomplish far greater results than our limited view. It’s time to trust him…again.

The hard part about trusting is that we don’t get to determine the outcome. That is one of the things we surrender when we put our lives in his hands. Rather, it’s supposed to be, but it’s difficult. Our minds are always thinking of possible alternative actions and outcomes. Always wanting to lend God a hand. To that God says, “Be still and know I am God,” (Psalm 46:10). On my best days, I’ve got it. Unfortunately, my best days are too far and few between. But I thank God that he hasn’t given up on me. He continues to set before me opportunities to be broken (poor in spirit) and to die daily as Paul wrote. He reminds me that only when I am weak can he be made strong in me. And I have his promise he will complete in me what he has started. So, for right now, I will trust him for that.

If at first you don’t succeed, read the instructions.

27 Apr

“Who reads the rules anymore?” My wife and I were not sure what to do with that question at first. She had just commented on how our grandchildren spend more time watching other people play a game on YouTube than actually playing the game themselves. Instead of more head shaking and tongue clucking, the young parents around us laughed and asked that question.

 Defending our position, my wife threw me under the ridicule bus. “Charley does.”

 All eyes turned to me. “Really? You read every rule?”

 I admit. I am a read-and-follow-the-rules kind of guy. The first thing I look for when opening a box labeled “Some assembly required” is the sheet of instructions. And the furniture in the box? Find and follow the instructions. However, I confess I have used videos from the internet when I’ve encountered a repair project I clueless on how to proceed. For much of life’s challenges, reading the rules works.

 Does not apply to every situation.

A problem arises when we approach Christianity the same way. I know. I’ve struggled between by-the-Spirit and by-the-book Christianity most of my life. For me, life can be so much easier when rules and precedents are clearly spelled out. It’s easier to meet expectations at the workplace when goals and objectives are clear. But life and, more specifically, living the Christian life doesn’t work that way.

The call to obedience makes it sound like it should. The Old Testament laws set the stage for that misunderstanding. But I see that mistaken tendency at work, taking us down the wrong path all the time. Simple age-old examples in the church include: sprinkling or immersion for valid baptism, drums and guitars versus piano or organs (or any instruments at all) for worship, and grape juice or real wine in communion. The established pattern for dealing with handling differing opinions in church matters is to assemble verses and arguments why one way is the right way (happens on both sides of the issue), followed by dogmatism, finger-pointing, and division. It gets passed on to others through discipleship training and raising a family.

Be right (in heart), not do right (in performance)

If you have been following my blogs (especially the grouping on God’s blueprint for the Church), you know I believe obedience doesn’t mean we are to do the right things. At least, not in the follow-the-rules determination we slip into. Obedience that God wants is something we subject ourselves to—in and by faith. It’s an act of worship. We are not to press others into the mold we’ve created.

With each social battle announced in headlines, I have the opportunity to learn this lesson and practice obedience to the Spirit. As much as these skirmishes have major impact on lives and the laws governing us, I remember we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. Our weapons are much greater. I struggle against my first impulses to push the rules. In its place, I turn to fight God’s way by the Spirit. I ask him to help me see the real enemy and to teach me how to pray against lies, bitterness, and revenge. I ask him to show me how I can display his love—the same conquering love that drew my heart away from the destructive path I was on. And I pray for more of his people to catch this same vision.

What needs to be seen

No other generation in America has had a greater need to see a genuine image of Jesus and not our own painted version of him. We can’t rest any longer on the comforting word that when God looks on a believer, he sees Jesus, while the world sees only people following a set of rules. They need to see Jesus. Can we not dig deeper into, move closer to, become more like Jesus?

I am purposing to press more toward that mark of the prize in Christ Jesus. Who is with me?

The Message of Hope in America’s Fall

17 Apr

I’m convinced America’s fall is soon, but I have no idea when. Some Biblical prophesies seem to indicate it could happen very soon. Other Biblical prophesies state certain things must happen first. The collapse could be generations away.

In today’s post I want to share my understanding of a verse people cling to for hope. It’s is a verse of hope. A great verse. But at some point in time that the Father has set, even it will not prevent God from fulfilling his final will. A day will come when he will bring an end to sin’s temptation, an end to his creation trying to rule itself without him, an end to even one more soul being lost forever.

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (NKJV)

What this verse isn’t:
1. This verse will not delay the completed salvation of God’s creation. He has a timetable set that only he knows. All things will come to that climax.
2. Geographic and political entities don’t have souls. They can’t be saved. The verse is often used to hint, if not actually intend, that a nation can be the subject of the challenge and salvation. God seeks souls of individuals.
3. The verse cannot be used to finger point at the sins of others around us.

What this verse is:
It’s addressed to those—individually and corporately—who claim to be his, who are called by his name. Christians must turn away from a watered-down gospel. Stop seeking to be liked by or to please the world. We are sent to change it. We need to repent from presenting a wrong image of Jesus. Of course, that means we must hotly pursue him and his righteousness in us and expressed through us.

Think how different the Church will appear when we walk in Christ’s meekness and authority. The verse speaks to me that we (his people called by his name) must first become broken. In the church’s present state, we acknowledge with our lips that there is nothing in us warranting his mercy and grace to us, but yet we try to do his work in our own strength. We go about our daily lives as if we by ourselves can handle our own trials and destinies. Instead, we must submit to him in everything. Second, we must mourn. Again, God’s heart is than none should die an eternal death, forever separated from him in torment. Know his heart for the lost because we were once numbered among them. Feel his desire to be known and loved by them.

What must happen before the end:
Think about the first Church. Remember its burning passion for others to believe on the name of Jesus. Consider their immovable convictions in the face of persecution and their complete commitment to make it happen. I believe the last Church will see all these things restored. Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:18-22 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (NASB)

In Ephesians 4:13 he wrote, “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” (NKJV). It will happen sometime. The Church will minister on earth with the full authority of Jesus. It will walk in kingdom life, be a clear and accurate expression of him on earth, and be prepared as a bride for the wedding feast to come.

If we are truly in the last days, this must happen. It’s been stated prophetically by Jesus and the early apostles. The process begins with “If my people…”

Therefore, if we are in the last days, and if the Church reaching that full stature of Christ must happen first, then we must conclude the full restoration could happen with the current generations on earth. Our prayers, our focus, must not be on saving America, but on the condition of individual hearts and souls of the people in America. What eternity lies before them?

For additional reading, click on the categories button and find Baptism of Fire and Blueprint for the Church. The blogs are listed most recent first so to catch the flow, start at the bottom of each group.

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