Saturday, November 21, 2015

Selah--Worship--Psalm 42, 43

To be clear, the way I will be using the word Selah within this and coming posts is "to pause and consider". 

The regular usage of this word within the Psalms is what led to my curiosity about Selah, and you can google and Wikipedia it to delve into the many thoughts about its original meaning, but I believe the different things I see and the context in which it is used can be simplified into the above concept.  It is especially interesting that it is used specifically within the context of songs of praise.  As my insightful wife noticed within my last Selah post, it seems geared to push us to pause and consider within the flow of a song.

This brings me to the simple point of my Selah posts both past, present, and future.  In some ways, it seems to me that much like prophecy has two commonly wrong extreme reactions(either to get too caught up in it or to not be willing to engage thinking about it at all because of fears of obsession or divisiveness).  Worship also seems to gravitate towards one of two wrong extremes. 

Either we focus on making it about meaningful content and shun a willingness to tie in the ebb and flow of emotion that comes with music, or we long so much for the powerful emotional swells that we lose sight of the lyrical content that is meant to also play a crucial role.  People point to ridiculous extremes on the other side of these two swings of the pendulum to justify their own overreaction.  They either point to "dead and lifeless" worship and how there seems to be no passion in the people, or they point to the "mindless happy people" smiling but seemingly empty of any real connection with being built up with Biblical concepts beyond a few words repeated again and again. 

Once again, I believe Psalms comes to the rescue to help us with this conundrum with a truly foundational principle for worship and for us in life on the whole.  Did you know that the book of Psalms is actually a collection of five books?  Book one begins with Psalm 1 and ends with Psalm 41.  Book two begins with Psalm 42 and goes through Psalm 72.  I believe that much like Psalms 1 and 2 form a foundation for all following Psalms, Psalms 42 and 43 form a new opening thought that serves as foundational. 
Below is a copy of these Psalms.  Simply scroll past if you want to continue to read, but they are below for reference purposes.

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil[c] of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

The author speaks to his soul.  He instructs his soul, the part of himself that is so tied to, and I suppose is made up of his passions and emotions.  He, on the one hand, acknowledges the thoughts that his soul makes him aware of in both psalms.  In 42, he acknowledges that he longs for God to reveal himself.  He quotes those who would cause him to doubt, BUT then he says ..."I will remember you from the land of Jordan...."  This eventually leads him to chastise his soul...."why so downcast, O my soul?!...."

There is a similar track in 43.  He begins by acknowledging a very real and felt pain, but transitions wilfully to think of and point himself toward the God he has and must again trust in.  It ends the same way, and it serves to emphasize the exact same instruction...."Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

Please, please note that this is not as simple a process as to skip ahead.  There is a very powerful and natural flow here that is being observed and acknowledged.  David allows his emotions to find a very real and honest expression.  There is no encouragement to be fake.  We are to start with where we are genuinely at with honesty, but neither the soul, the mind, or the will acts alone within these psalms.  They are interwoven and they interact with each other because that is who we are.  That is how God made us.  The soul pushes us to cry out, the will responds with the mind to remind us of TRUTHS.  To bring truthful accounts of things we know about God and times God has delivered us and others in times past.  We are to spend time allowing these truths to seep into our souls and then we challenge our souls to acknowledge not JUST the current state of affairs, but the God in which we trust and the countless times we know He has shown Himself to be the God of love and power who delivers.

In short, passion and truth are not to be enemies, but they can work together when we follow examples like the ones above.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reasons to Believe--Constantine's Convictions

I know it has been awhile since we all heard the back and forth generated by the success of the Dan Brown novels, but The DaVinci Code sold roughly 80 million copies which makes it one of the MOST widely read books EVER written.  A book that successful by publishing standards will continue to have a life of its own influencing people's perceptions about the Bible and Christianity for decades to come.  The question Brown amazingly seems to have inserted into many people's subconscious is, "Did our sacred scriptures or any foundational truth about Christianity get created by some ancient Roman emperor named Constantine??"

I stumbled across some interesting information recently that I cannot help but share in regards to this discussion.

At the time of the rather large brouhaha, one of the primary points being made or insinuated by Brown and others, who wanted to claim other gospels as legitimate, was that the books of the New Testament as we know them today were simply picked out by those in power during the Council of Nicea in 325 during Constantine’s reign. Christian scholars who were aware of the process by which the New Testament had been reached quickly pointed out that this was filled with factual inaccuracies and half truths so as to lead astray large numbers of people who were generally not educated about the subject. Back and forth this went.

"Constantine picked out the stuff in your Bible!" said Brown.

"Nuh, uh!" said the scholars.

"Yuh, huh!" said Brown……and so on and so forth. (The aforementioned conversation never happened as such but is an attempt at humor.)

Anyhoo. The serious point that scholars often made was that the point of contention at the Council had nothing to do with what would be included within AS scripture since this was almost universally agreed upon. The hot button issue at the Council of Nicea was the trinity and how to deal with the deity of Jesus. Why am I bringing this "hot button issue" up?

What is often referred to as the orthodox view about this question has long been to affirm the members of the trinity, especially regarding the deity of Christ, and the departure from this orthodox view is called Arianism. AGAIN, the Council of Nicea AFFIRMED the Trinity and denounced Arianism. This, however, did NOT resolve internal disagreements by many in power, including many bishops in power, and this is where I came across the new information I had previously been unaware of until recently.

Athanasius has long been considered one of the great church fathers (a term reserved for those who are seen as having helped to shepherd the early church by their servant leadership and insights). He played a crucial role in the ongoing debates about Trinity and the deity of Christ. In spite of obviously ending up venerated on the "winning side", initially, Athanasius was run out of the city of Alexandria by none other than Constantine himself because of this Arianism vs. Nicean issue. As a matter of fact, Athanasius, the champion of what became the church doctrine was exiled by no less than four different emperors. Constantine, Constantius II, Julian, AND Valens are the four emperors that exiled Athanasius for various lengths of time.

I think some of you are Bible geeks like me and are genuinely interested, BUT for rest of you who are not so nerdily inclined toward Bible trivia, listen UP! The point that is relevant to my initial connection to the Dan Brown controversy is simple. You can compare the current orthodox view regarding Trinity and the Deity of Christ and understand that the convictions of Constantine had NOTHING to do with ANY thing decided in the momentous Council of Nicea. Constantine’s convictions and the convictions of three other emperors as well as highly influential and politically connected bishops ran completely counter to what became the long standing doctrine of the church. The truth and truths found within the Bible actually are often fought for BY God AGAINST the powers that exist in any given generation. They are eternal. This is just one tiny example of the evidence of HIS ability to guard the integrity of His Word and His words. I hope you will dig into the many, MANY reasons we should have such incredible confidence in the integrity of the Bible and how supernaturally it was established and has been preserved.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Talk Amongst Yourselves--What is the Gospel?

Just a quick recap on the idea behind my "Talk Amongst Yourselves" posts.  These are posts that are intended to stir conversation and interaction within and among those within my sphere of interaction WITH EACH OTHER primarily.  I will jump into the fray as well, but my hope is that I will only come into the discussion once it has gotten well under way.  I am deliberately seeking to slowly cultivate a community of people who build each other up not just with encouraging words but also by graciously speaking their minds with integrity and clarity and in love.  This may cause us to disagree to some degree, but the church was NOT meant to exist as an echo chamber without any REAL and SUBSTANTIVE discussion in which we challenge and are challenged by each other. 

There is one difference this time in how I am going about trying to accomplish this.  I will post this question on my facebook page also where comments added to the discussion automatically makes those tagged and commenting aware of others new comments.  I will eventually copy and paste these comments made by various people on the comments section of this blog for longer term reference.  I am hoping this will encourage greater interaction.  I encourage you to make your comments on the facebook post if possible. 

Again....Rule #1 Please speak your mind without the use of profanity or vulgarity, and do so with respect.  

              Rule #2 I am the one who determines whether rule #1 has been followed.

What is the gospel?
I am looking for a two to three sentence response for how you would summarize the gospel.
We'll go from there...

Thanks again! 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Unique Voices--Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas is an author and radio show host.  He also established a series of events called "Socrates in the City" that he began 15 years ago.  He has been the key note speaker at the Presidential Prayer breakfast in 2012.  He is a gifted writer of biographies.  The two perhaps most well known are Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Early in his career, he had a strong connection to Chuck Colson and his ministry called Break Point. 

He is an insightful and intelligent voice about our faith.  I think if I had to try to pinpoint the reason that I have chosen to provide Eric Metaxas to you as the next in line of "Unique Voices", it would be that, although he has great passion for Christ, his greater contribution to us lies in providing a platform for the many, many voices out there that he is increasingly becoming aware of long before they make it to the attention of the majority of the masses such as myself.  He serves as a bridge bringing people to the forefront that can speak concisely and insightfully to specific angles and issues such as religious persecution, Christians in the scientific community, homosexuality, archaeology, public policy and its relation to Christians and their relation to it, and on and on.  I have chosen him as my next unique voice because he is a window into learning about many of the people I will be referring to in the future as "unique".  I highly recommend the two biographies I mentioned above.  I also recommend you check out the other ways to gain access to this amazing gateway that I will give links to below.

Future voices will include such names as Rosaria Butterfield, Os Guiness, Ard Louis, Stephen Meyer, Jennifer Roback Morse, Mosab Hassan Yousef, and others.....interestingly you will most likely see their names also listed on one or both of the two web sites above.  Feel free to familiarize yourself with them ahead of time. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Extremely Prominent? (Repent 3)

It is represented many, many times in God's cry to his people, but it specifically shows up regarding the coming new covenant in Isaiah.

"The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight, every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God' ". Isaiah 40:3-5

It shows up immediately in the New Testament as God introduces his new covenant.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, pronounces these words over his infant son as he was "....filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying..."

"...And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." 
Luke 1:76-79

When this child became a man and made his public appearance to Israel, this was his message,

"And he went into all the region around Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  Luke 3:3

When large crowds appeared, he did not exactly seek to make them feel warm and cozy. 

"He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, 'You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.  And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father.  For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."  Luke 3:7-9

But...he did not leave them with a curse, but WHEN THE PEOPLE ASKED, he gave them hope and instruction...

"And the crowds asked him, 'What then shall we do?' And he answered them, 'Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.'  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, 'Teacher, what shall we do?'  And he said to them, 'Collect no more than you are authorized to do.'  Soldiers also asked him, 'And we, what shall we do?'  And he said to them, 'Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.' " Luke 3:10-14

People were thinking this dude might be THE dude, so to speak.

John made it clear that he was not and pointed them, instead, to Jesus.  What was Jesus's message?  Upon emerging from his time of testing in the wilderness after being baptized by John, Matthew 4:17 says, "From that time Jesus began to preach saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

After Jesus's ascension into heaven in the clouds, he told his disciples to wait for the power that was to come from on high.
When that power came in the person of the Holy Spirit, there was a very first sermon preached by Peter.  What did he say?  "...'Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you have crucified.'  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'  And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.' " Acts 2:36-39

Finally, Paul makes it clear in a couple of places in Acts.  "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."  Acts 17:30-31  

He also gave what he viewed was a summary of the various times and places he had presented the gospel in his farewell to the Ephesian elders.  "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." Acts 20:18-21

If repentance plays such a crucial, central, and foundational role in every phase of the gospel's presentation in scripture by John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul, how can we feel ANY sense of peace if it is not an extremely prominent role in our thoughts and presentations of the gospel?  Is it extremely prominent in your mind?  Do you understand that turning from a self centered existence to a Christ centered existence is THE chief fruit that we should all expect to see in our lives if we claim to be born again?  I am not telling you this to condemn.  This is a sobering reality for me as well.  All I ask is that if you cannot honestly say yes to sensing and pursuing a life that is Christ centered, ASK HIM to make that a reality for you.  It flows mostly from a genuine appreciation and awareness of his gift of forgiveness and how that genuinely redefines our lives.  Again, if you struggle to appreciate that fully (as I do many times), JUST ASK and cry out to Him for the kind of awareness of this that He truly longs for you to have.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Selah--Psalm 32

The following insights about Psalm 32 were largely due to a Bible study I heard by Paul Mowery for whom I will eventually devote an entire blog post.  I just wanted to give a nod.

The word Selah is actually in some dispute. The three meanings I have found seem to point:   "to value", "to praise", or "to pause."

Most of my life I have heard it referred to as an instruction to pause and consider so I will be using it in this sense in this and future posts.  This actually seems to loosely tie in with the other two possible meanings also as you will see. 

Three times within Psalm 32, we are instructed to selah.  It appears after verse 4, verse 5, and verse 7.  I will include the text of Psalm 32 for reference below and then continue my points. It is only 11 verses long. (NIV)

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.                     selah  
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.                         selah
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.               selah
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!
David seems to start the psalm by exclaiming the truth that will be illustrated within the psalm (verses 1&2).
Next, he points to a period of time (verses 3&4) when he has sinned, but he has not acknowledged it (see verse 5 if you are unclear on this).  The key to these verses is that although the psalm begins by singing of how blessed a man is when his "transgressions are forgiven and his sins are covered....and the Lord does not count against him."  It also speaks of ..."whose spirit is no deceit."  God does not begin by covering sins and transgressions.  He takes away joy and saps strength.  He allows misery and groaning.  This is the initial blessing brought by God because God's forgiveness is not the forgiveness of a parent who simply does not teach their child awareness of wrong behaviour and does not deal with the reality of their sin.  This would corrupt the child and not build them up.  This is not a redeeming kind of forgiveness.  The first selah appears after verse 4.  We ARE to stop and consider the truths implied in verses 3 and 4.
In verse 5, there is a profound transition from misery to complete forgiveness.  There are no works offered here by David.  There is simply and....finally... a willingness to..."acknowledge my sin and did not cover up my iniquity."  There is a bam quality to the latter part of verse 5.  "I will confess my transgression to the Lord"--and BAM--(bam is not in the text) "you forgave the guilt of my sin."  We ARE to stop and consider the truths implied in verse 5.
Finally, in verses 6 and 7, there is praise and a profound truth dawning on David that he longs to send upward to God and outward to all who will hear him.  Here lies the third and final selah to stop and consider.
The psalm concludes by pointing to God's desire for us to be responsive to his lessons and truths as a child and not only directed by external guidance like an animal.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Reasons to Believe--Time Stamps

I am a trucker as most of you know. I was once pulled over by one of Alabama’s finest. He decided to do me the great favor of engaging in a roadside inspection on the shoulder of Interstate I-65 in Prattville. He was asking me questions from my open passenger door because it was opposite of the side of mini-vans and corvettes of death. He asked if I would mind him just climbing on into the seat to make it go faster. I, always wanting to score brownie points with state troopers, replied, "Well, sure! Hop on in, officer." I was repaid with this act of kindness with him rummaging through a wal-mart bag filled with paper trash that was dangling between my seats. Turns out inviting an officer into your vehicle is sort of like inviting a vampire into your house, it gives them some newer level of access to suck the blood from you. (metaphorically speaking, of course)

He found three time stamped receipts and proceeded to match them against the entries I had put into my logbooks. After getting over the weirdness of seeing him rummage through my trash spontaneously, I danced a jig as I realized his ruse had not paid off. All the time stamps matched up perfectly with my logbook entries where and when I had claimed to be. I said, "BAM! How bout dem apples, Mister Officerrrrr!" (Not really---only in my imagination.) I went on my merry way.

The reason I share this with you other than the obvious educational and entertainment value is to make a quick analogy.

The Bible is CHOCK FULL of time stamps. It discusses events that supposedly took place when a certain empire was ruling and certain military campaign took place. It gives the names of specific rulers in extremely high positions of power and gives details about happenings that 99.9% of people living would never have had access to until recent historical and archeological discoveries. It gives cultural information as often unnoticed back drops that can verify the likelihood of when it was first written. The linguistics (specific use of language that is unique to only certain geographic locations for a very specific time period) can point us to ways to check the veracity of the writings. There are amazingly detailed and specific prophecies that, if given when the scriptures portray them to have been made, give profound reasons to view the Bible as divine in nature. The Bible is only truly going to penetrate your heart as you are supernaturally converted by the Holy Spirit, and God uses it to speak to you as your most intimate Father/child relationship. However, Jesus invites us in John 14:11, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves."(I added the italics.)

The point is God invites us to recognize the miraculous nature of everything about what He does and how He does it. He is not offended if this is what initially kick starts, so to speak, a pursuit of Him. I believe He is challenging people to have the courage to take it upon themselves to investigate and see if the Word really is from Him by way of historical, philosophical, prophetic, scientific, etc. There is NO other Holy Book (the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the teachings of the Buddha or Confucious) in any other religion that will blow your mind like the Bible IF, IF, IF you will give Him the opportunity. Start digging in and see what you find….and feel free to include me in on the process if you begin to have questions or just want to talk about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wretch (Repent Part 2)

The first instalment of these posts regarding repent...

I recommend reading the repent posts in order if you have not had a previous opportunity to do so.  I mentioned Deuteronomy 9:5 in passing. I want to circle back around to this verse and the verses that come directly after this to begin this post.

"It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you provoked the Lord your God to anger in the desert.   From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the Lord.  At Horeb you aroused the Lord's wrath so that he was angry enough to destroy you."   Deuteronomy 9:5-8

I was raised in a loving, Christian home.  My parents are currently both alive and kicking and love Jesus just as much now as they ever have.  I am deeply grateful for them.  Growing up in this household, it was a little tricky for me to grasp what it meant that I was a sinner.  On the one hand, our denomination was very strong about talking about sin and the reality of evil and sin.  If anything, I would say it may have even been a bit heavy handed.  However, the focus seems to me to be on sinful actions and guarding against the dangers of "slipping into dangerously sinful activities".  This is NOT going to be a post that slams my previous churches, however.  Their willingness to clearly acknowledge the reality of sin will reappear later in this post as a major positive.  My point is that teaching people about their true nature of sinfulness outside of Christ is a tricky business to say the least.  

A helpful thing to look at are two wrong extremes to get us started.  One is some version of the monks who use the whips to beat themselves into "submission to God" or to punish themselves when they sin.  The other is the pastor and church who refuse to even mention the word sin within their messages.  "It is too negative of a term and has been mentioned enough in the past."  The fascinating thing is that BOTH of these exist.  How can we look at the same scriptures and have wrong extremes that are this widely apart?  One answer is that neither of these practices are based on any scriptural teaching.  Instead, they are reactions against some experiences and practices they have seen.  They are pendulum swings that are motivated by their OWN WISDOM to either deal with their own sinfulness and a lack of others to acknowledge it or to deal with others who have mishandled the reality of sinfulness and caused great hurt. 

This is where this gets very personal.  Growing up, I reached an age where one very specific category of sin(if I should even use that term) began to make me very aware of the reality of sin within my life.  It was sex.  In my early teen years, I began to realize that sex had a major hold in my life.  This was something I wrestled with and even reached out to important adults within my life for help.  In spite of this, it derailed my attempts to live a life devoted to God again and again.  As I got older, it got darker.  I rode a roller coaster of sin and repentance for many, many years.  At many points, I walked away from even trying to break free from this part of myself and tried to blaze some sort of a new trail that was not centered around Christ.  It was misery.   I want to camp out there for just a few minutes.....misery.  Words cannot describe roughly a decade that I put God, those closest to me, and myself through.  Even now as I write this, it is hard to revisit it.  I don't revisit it very often.  Misery is too small a word.  All the words in the thesaurus that mean the same thing as misery could NOT capture the essence of the level of shame, disgust, frustration, and hurt I felt for falling from walking with Him and having good relationships with Him and my family and friends to what I had become.....MISERY.  I cannot bring myself to wish this on anyone else.....BUT, consider this.

"Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.  When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is --that she is a sinner.'  Jesus answered him, 'Simon, I have something to tell you.' 
'Tell me, teacher,' he said.
'Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?'
Simon replied, 'I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.'
'You have judged correctly,' Jesus said.  Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little."   Luke 7:36-47

This period of my life and the years immediately after it where I began again to seek to break free from the power of sin and give my whole heart to Christ was used by Him to push me towards becoming a little more like this woman.  This is THE KEY!  It is strange to say, but God WANTS us to understand our sinfulness.  I do not believe He intends for us to become aware of it the way that I did.  I believe only He is able to simultaneously open our eyes to the true nature of our own bottomless pit of self centeredness in what ever form it takes WHILE simultaneously using that to drive us to worshipping him for freeing us from the crushing burden of sin.  We CANNOT go the route of denying sin, and I would even pray the strange prayer that we genuinely become more aware of our real nature in and of ourselves and how miserable it is.  I don't want this to crush us, but I do believe we must be broken by it.  You do not wash Jesus's feet with your tears if you do not truly recognize from what it is that you have been freed from.  I pray that we would all find ourselves weeping at His feet.  Thank you, Jesus!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


The first time I spoke with him was to inform him that I had asked his daughter to be my wife.  He was kind and gracious to me then.  

The first time I met him was as we left to attend his younger daughter's high school graduation.  I had come directly from work and had tried to speedily clean up and change clothes from work clothes into "church" clothes.  Unfortunately, it came to my attention on the way to the ceremony that there was a large streak of axle grease I had missed in my rush to get clean on the underside of my forearm.  I was very embarrassed, but he was a mechanic and had gojo to get me clean.  He was kind and gracious to me then.

Each time we visited for special occasions and holidays, I was greeted with a hug and never left without a hug.  He always said, "We love you, son." as I left.  He told me stories about his life, Myndall's life, his family, work.  We played games and joked.  He was a wonderful father-in-law, and beyond being thankful for bringing my wife into this world, I will miss him and am thankful for his family.  They continue to grow closer and closer to the center of my heart.  

I want to share a quick thing that my friend Jason and I recently discovered.  We were both wondering why God chose to give specific instructions to John the Baptist's father to be sure to name his son John.  I then noticed that John the Baptist was the one sent to herald the coming of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament, and the disciple John is given the honor of announcing the final revelation in the New Testament.  Jason discovered that the name John means "God is gracious."  God chose to announce the coming of his son the first and second time and to make it clear that the ENTIRE message proclaimed in between was surrounded by and built upon this one singular truth....God IS GRACIOUS!

I cannot wait to hear the story of how God welcomed you into your new heavenly home.  Much like you, I know He will be kind and gracious.  

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Purpose of Prophecy

I know that many dismiss the idea of prophecy altogether, and some others are altogether too consumed with it. However, neither of these wrong responses to prophecy determine whether or how we, as believers, should handle prophecy. Unfortunately, I think we get caught up in the back and forth between these two wrong extremes and either pick a side to fight for and defend or simply stay away from prophecy completely because it is seen as either too mystical or too divisive.

I will confess to you that I have occasionally been interested in it in the past, but I have largely stayed away from it because it seemed to cause more grief and rarely seemed to be a source of help in actually living the life of a follower of Christ. Well…… I was wrong.

That is what this post is about. The purpose of prophecy.

I’m going to start this discussion in a strange place. There is an undeniable cultural swerve in the last thirty years that has sent mainstream movies and books to regularly explore the idea of an "end of the world", "apocalyptic", or "post-apocalyptic" theme. Mad Max movies, the Hunger Games movies, the Terminator movies, and all those wonderful zombie movies and tv shows are just a handful of examples of the relative fascination of the world at large with THE END!

I will come back to THE END! in a moment or two, but the main reason I bring it up now is to point out the primary focus of these movies, books, and tv shows. They are cautionary about our current character flaws as a society and, most of all, they are almost exclusively man centered.

Prophecy in the Bible has one central purpose…. TO TURN US BACK TO REVOLVING OUR LIVES AROUND GOD. I don’t just mean it cries out, "straighten up and fly right!" I mean it reminds us, OR is supposed to remind us, that He knew the hugely important plot twist in this movie we call life was going to happen before it happened. He is in control. Always. We can choose to rest in Him. God chose to mention King Josiah by name and specifics he would carry out in a prophecy to King Jeroboam ….300 years before he was even born. God mentions the ruler Cyrus of Persia by name (Isaiah 44 & 45) and the fact that he would free the people of Judah from captivity 200 years before he did it. Jewish tradition holds that Daniel greeted Cyrus with a scroll that contained these words in Isaiah.   Daniel is given specific info regarding Alexander the Great that is incredibly detailed 200 years before Alexander lived. Are we seeing a pattern here? Did God give this info to these people so that people living in the times of these prophesied rulers could figure out some cosmic jigsaw puzzle and get a gold star from God when they reached heaven? NO, no, no! One more example, and then I’ll wrap this puppy up.

Jesus tells his disciples again(Matthew 16:21), and again(Matthew 17:22), and again(Matthew 20:17-19), and AGAIN(Matthew 26:1) that he would be crucified.  My favorite retelling of one of these times Jesus tried so hard to get them to hear him comes just after the transfiguration and the casting out of a demon.  In Luke 9:44, Jesus actually uses these words, "Let these words sink into your ears:  The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men."  WHY? Why would he tell them of such a horrible thing that was coming? It wasn’t to scare them. He was trying to help them so that WHEN it did come they could see that He KNEW this was going to happen, and He was not caught off guard by it. This could have also allowed them to have confidence that the other stuff He said would also come true… like that little thing we call the resurrection, but because they didn’t take the first one to heart, they were unable to be comforted and look forward to the miraculous plot twist God had engineered for the whole world.

Finally, back to THE END!

We are often freaked out by the thought of all these horrific things that are promised to be coming our way, especially when we see developments that seem to point to a possible fulfillment of "end times" in our lifetime. These prophecies are primarily there to help us to see past THE END! Because…….

(emphasis on if)

we are born again, the other stuff is true too, and THE END! Is not the end. To be precise, there is no end!

Are you born again?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Unique Voices--Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson was a Planned Parenthood director who is now pro-life. For obvious reasons, she is a unique voice in this ongoing battle regarding abortion.  She worked with Planned Parenthood for eight years and became a clinic director.  She became increasingly disturbed by what she witnessed.  Increasingly, she saw abortion was a product that Planned Parenthood was selling.  As unrest grew within her, she continued in the employ of Planned Parenthood.

On September 26, 2009, Abby was asked to assist with an ultrasound- guided abortion.  She watched in horror as a 13 week baby fought and lost its life at the hand of an abortionist.  It was at that moment the full realization of WHAT abortion was and what she had dedicated her life to washed over Abby and a dramatic transformation began.

Abby contacted a local pro-life group.  She swore that she would begin to advocate for life in the womb and expose abortion for what it truly is.  However…Planned Parenthood didn’t take her exodus sitting down.  They are fully aware that workers who leave are their greatest threat.  They immediately took action to silence her with a gag order and took Abby to court.  Thankfully, it was quickly thrown out of court, and the media was, and continues to be, intensely interested in Abby’s story as well as her continued efforts to advocate for the unborn and to help clinic workers escape the abortion industry.  She has written a book titled Unplanned.  She travels around the world sharing her story and educating the public on pro-life issues.  She has also founded an organization that is aimed at reaching out to abortion clinic staff who still work in the industry called And Then There Were None.  It seeks to help them leave the industry and find healing.

The above is a paraphrase of her bio on her facebook account.  I have been following her for quite some time.  Although there are a few things I disagree with her about (pretty much like every other human being on the planet), I have great appreciation for how I believe God is using her.  I hope you will seek out her voice and give it a listen.
More voices to come…….        

Friday, June 19, 2015

Talk Amongst Ya Selves--Matthew 10:1-23

This is where we get interactive with this here blog thang. Comments are always welcome on any of my posts as long as they are vulgarity free and respectful to other commenters. However this is one of a handful of categories of posts that not only allow for comment but I AM BEGGING for your INPUT peoples. Let's talk about the Bible. We need to develop this habit more. Why not start here? You will find I have thoughts of my own but will purposefully keep them to myself until AFTER others have shared their thoughts first.

These are the ground rules.

I am the moderator. I know this sounds a bit power trippy, but I am pointing out something that is obvious in order to underscore that I will ultimately determine if I think the back and forth is still progressing in a way that is beneficial overall.

Prayer is strongly encouraged before offering a thought about the scripture or someone else’s thoughts about that scripture or about the many, many thoughts that these discussions sometimes lead to.

That’s all the rules about this….. for now.

Here’s the first scripture to discuss.

Matthew 10:1-23

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Saturday, June 06, 2015


In Deuteronomy 4:15-28, Moses makes it clear to the Israelites that they are to STAY away from idols and corrupting the clear teachings of how they were to worship and live with God in the promised land.  He also makes it clear, in this section, what the repercussions will be if they OR their children’s children disobey and disregard this warning.

In Deuteronomy 7:1-11, he further stresses the importance of the people to do this, AND he even makes it clear to them they are in no way to intermingle with the people or culture of those with whom they are dispossessing.

Is this relevant to us today and if so, how?

I will quote these next two verses in my posts again and again because I believe they are two of the most important but overlooked scriptures in the New Testament.

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life.  These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Jesus speaking about the OLD TESTAMENT)
John 5:39-40

“Now these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (Paul speaking regarding several examples from the Israelites in the wilderness.)
I Corinthians 10:11

The point I am making with these two passages is that the Old Testament has a purpose for us that is primarily to give us profound insights into our pursuit of Christ and how we as Christians are to live.  It is often relegated to the status of second class scripture by many of us, and this is tragic.  OK, back to the Deuteronomy point… is this relevant to us?

This relates to the role of repentance and obedience in the life of the believer. The Israelites did not get the promised land BECAUSE of their obedience. Moses makes this clear in Deuteronomy 9:5. It is also made abundantly clear in numerous New Testament passages that we are never to believe that we somehow gained our salvation due to our own obedience.  However, what is made equally clear in the previously mentioned passages and many, many others is the CRUCIAL role that their (and our) initial repentance and obedience plays as each generation lives in the land given to them.

I heard a great analogy about this from a pastor I respect named Paul Mowery.  He gives the analogy of an owner of a strip mall who has leased out the various stores to a certain group.  Over time, this group has taken these individual stores in the strip mall and made them into adult bookstores, liquor stores, strip clubs, businesses that are a front for meth and heroine dealing, and other activities that are increasingly not only counter to the agreed upon terms when the lease was signed but types of business that are patently illegal.  The owner of the strip mall has repeatedly tried to get these tenants to return to the agreed upon usage of this space.  It is located directly in the center of preschools, elementary schools, and high schools, as well as residential neighborhoods.  Finally, after much attempt on his part to get them to simply return to the terms of the lease, their lease is revoked, and the people are removed from the premises by force.  He has adopted some kids.  These kids are not saints by any stretch of the imagination.  They have a history of immoral behavior, violence, and all sorts of crime themselves, but he is seeking to teach them the next step in living a life that is both beneficial to the community that they live among as well as a bright future for them and their families in the future.  He allows them to take over the now vacant shops.  There is one CRUCIAL catch.  They must, must, MUST go in and empty out ALL the corrupting contents and COMPLETELY destroy all remnants of what these stores have been allowed to become. WHY? This question wouldn’t even be asked because the answer is so obvious, BUT I want to take a minute and consider it. The obvious part of the answer is that if they don’t remove these things, they themselves will quickly become tempted by and almost surely begin engaging in the same kinds of immoral activities.  This is especially true given their background.  However, perhaps a more thoughtful reason to ask WHY might be, “Why wouldn’t the owner/adopted father just go himself or send someone else in to clear it out instead of getting them to do it given their existing predisposition for criminal activity?”  My answer to this is that this is a crucial turning point for them.  Consider this.  If they were not willing to do this simple and straightforward task in the face of such an amazing gift when the benefits and reasons to do this are
SO obvious, why would we think that they would have stayed away from the criminal path over the long run?? 

I believe this is a great analogy to help us understand the mandate given to the nation of Israel by God by way of Moses.  It also sheds great light on how we can recognize the crucial role that initial repentance and ongoing obedience plays in our lives as believers.

Just as Moses warned the Israelites, John finishes his book 1st John with the warning to “…keep yourselves from idols.”  I fear we have largely removed the word repent from its inextricable link with the gospel.