Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Sense Of It All

I was glued to the television screen when the news started pouring out of Connecticut last week. My emotions were like a roller-coaster swinging back and forth between grief, anger, sorrow, and outrage.  In the middle of it all there were also moments when I just felt completely numb.  Like  many others, I've been left with so many questions.  Why?  Why would anyone do this?  How could anyone be this evil?  How could anyone murder little innocent children? Who's to blame?  What's to blame?  Can we make any sense of it all?

Almost instantly, some individuals felt it necessary to use this tragic event to make a political statement regarding their views on gun control.  I thought to myself, really?  Twenty-seven people are dead, and before their identities are even certain, some felt it necessary to jump on a soap box.  I don't care where you stand in regards to gun control, it is complete and utter disrespect and a grave dishonor, to those who lost their lives and the loved one's left behind, to use this tragedy for political leverage.  Perhaps, before we jump on a political soapbox, we should step back a bit and remember that parents will be burying their children this week.  They'll be burying their elementary aged children!  Siblings will grow up without their brothers and sisters.  Grandparents will have one less grandchild to hug.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins will have to navigate through the heartbreak as well.  Husbands will bury their wives. Students will bury their teachers and principal.  Students and parents alike will be faced with the horror of being separated once school reopens.  Some children will return to school without their best friends.  Some children will never be able to forget the sounds, images, and horror of that tragic day.  I'll save my views on gun control for another time and another place as I refuse to dishonor all of those affected by this tragic event by adding to the political banter that in the end does nothing for those families in Newtown Connecticut.

I will, however, try to bring some perspective to all of this madness. Some struggle with the idea that God would ever allow something like this to happen.  Especially, to little innocent children. I'm sure the same questions arose in the days of Moses when Pharaoh set out to kill all the little Hebrew babies.  Again, when Jesus was born and the King sought to kill all the babies 2 years and under.  I'm sure the Jewish moms and dads struggled with the same question as they watched their children suffer and die in the extermination camps during Hitler's time.  Every attempt at genocide, murder, kidnapping, or terror involving little ones, is faced with this very question.  How could a loving God ever allow something like this to happen to little children?

My journey with God is a never ending journey of discovery, therefore I would never pretend to know and understand everything about Him.  That being said, there are definitely some things I do know about God.  For instance, I know we do not have to wonder where God stands regarding the horror that took place in Newtown.  God hates hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, and feet that are swift in running to evil (Proverbs 6:17-18).  As disgusted as we are, rest assured God is even more so.  In the same way, as precious as little children are to us, they are even more precious to our Heavenly Father.  Also, in that moment of horror, when evil walked into that school, God was there with those innocent little ones.  No legislation or school policy can force God to fall short of fulfilling His promise to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5).

I know what you're thinking.  So, if God was there with those children, then why didn't He stop that man?  I wish I had a definite answer to that, but I don't.  Again, there are some things I do know that I think can help us navigate through this.  God loves humanity.  His perfect love for us grants us a free will.  That freedom is a wonderful thing but it does come with some huge risks.  Man, whom God loves so very much, has complete freedom to not love Him back.  Each and every one of us has the freedom to follow hard after God or to completely reject Him.  That same freedom grants man the freedom to do good or to do evil. We have the freedom to love others or to think of nobody but ourselves.  From what I understand of the tragedy in CT, there were some teachers and staff of Sandy Hook elementary that gave their lives to protect those children.  They chose to think of others.  As a matter of fact, every teacher in that school, who hid children, got them out of the building, and sheltered them from harm, were individuals who used their freedom to do good.  As a result, more children were saved than were lost.  In saying that, I in no way want to diminish the tragic loss of little innocent children.  If one child was lost, that's too many.  I just want to make the point, that although one individual insists on choosing evil, he/she is no match for those who choose good.  Love wins!  Love always wins!!!  That shooter chose to do evil and in doing so, took the lives of 26 other people.  Those teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School chose to risk their lives to protect the innocent little children and as a result hundreds were saved. 

While many will sit around and debate issues that are irrelevant, the real issue is that evil exists on this planet.  As long as fallen man is on this planet, evil will exist here.  We will never be able to control the decisions that others choose to make with their lives.  There will always be those who choose evil.  That has always been the case and will always be the case.  At the same time, there will always be those who determine to choose good.  Yes, there will always be those who choose to take the lives of others, but at the same time, there will always be those who are willing to lay down their lives for others. Evil is a powerful force, but it is no match for those who choose what is good and right.  Thank God for teachers, principals, policemen, firemen, military, moms, dads, grandparents, and everyone else who chooses good. Let's also be thankful for a God who is the ultimate Good!  A God who comforts those who mourn.  A God who hurts when we hurt.  A God who heals our wounds and puts our broken hearts back together.  A God who embraces each of those little ones in His arms. A God who is perfectly just and is in charge of upholding eternal justice.  A God who set the standard for love by laying down His life for all of humanity.  Love wins! Love always wins!!!    

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guilty As Charged!

Recently, I was on a trip and I was going over the speed limit.  I know, I shouldn't have been, but I was.  I was tired, it was late, one of my boys was not feeling well and I just wanted to get to the hotel.  In the median, there he was, hidden in the dark of night.  I didn't see him until I was just a few feet away.  Immediately, I saw his lights come on and I knew he had me.  There was no getting out of it.  I was guilty.  So, before he even got out of the median, I pulled over to the side of the road.  I wasn't angry or upset with him, as I knew I was speeding and he was only doing his job. When he told me how fast I was going, it was the absolute truth and I knew it was.  No sense in trying to dodge the truth.  The truth is the truth.

The same holds true when God speaks the truth to you. There's no getting around it. He speaks a truth to you regarding an issue in your life and immediately you know He is spot on.  After all, He's God, right?  When He speaks there is no real reason to try and run from it.  You're caught and you know it.  I wish I could say that these "truth encounters" with God are growing fewer as I grow and mature, but to be honest I think they are getting more frequent.

Recently, in my quiet time one morning, I was struggling to stay focused. My mind was racing with all the things on my to-do list.  And, He spoke to me clearly and said, "You're here but you're not really here. You're here in body, but your heart and mind are elsewhere."  Ouch!  I had no defense for that.  I couldn't deny it because I knew He was right.  He's God so, He's always right!  Much like the officer that stopped me that night, I was blindsided by what I knew was truth.  I couldn't run and hide.  I was caught and I knew it.

I felt much like the disciples who fell asleep the night Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While I didn't fall asleep, it really is not much different.  They were distracted by sleep, I was distracted by all the things I have to do.  What's the point of setting an appointment with the Creator of the Universe if I'm not going to really be engaged?  I'm certainly not going to fool Him.  Sure, on paper it'll look like I'm being faithful with this spiritual discipline as I put a check mark beside prayer and devotion time on my to-do list.  But in the end, how shallow is that?  I wonder if the disciples that night felt good about just being with Him?  Although, they were clueless as to what He was truly dealing with, I wonder did they pat themselves on the back that they were willing to go just a little further with Him that night than all the rest?

How often do we diminish our relationship with God to a set of spiritual disciplines?  How often do we pat ourselves on the back because we managed to get our gluteus maximus out of bed in order to make it to church on a Sunday morning?  Is that all there is to this?  If so, then what's the point?  What an absolutely pathetic attempt at relationship.  It's no different than playing with our kids but not being fully engaged.  We may be throwing the football with them or having a tea party with them but all the while we are watching the clock and thinking about all the things we have to do.  It's like being out on a date with our spouse, but having our hearts and minds on other things.  It's not real! While we try to convince ourselves that we are fulfilling our duty, it's a complete facade.  True relationships are not duties.  They aren't produced as a result of meeting a list of obligations.  When it comes to our approach to God, religion so desperately wants to reduce it to just that.  Read your Bible, pray, fast, and go to church.  All the while, the Creator of the Universe is longing for us to truly know Him. He wants us to be engaged in an ongoing relationship with Him not simply going through the motions.

Maybe you're there.  Perhaps you have this thing down.  As for me, I get off track sometimes.  I find myself on occasion going through the motions.  I'm thankful for a God who so desperately wants relationship with me that He'll pull me over when I'm doing this thing wrong.  And, I am extremely thankful that when God pulls me over it doesn't come with a fine!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why I'm Voting For A Mormon

Our upcoming election is a big one.  Probably the most important one of my lifetime.  Its either Romney or Obama. That's our two choices. I know there will be others who are on the ballot, but they have no chance to win so they are completely irrelevant.  So, out of the two that are running, I have to make a choice. As a follower of Christ, there are many people who approach me and want to know how I'm going to vote in this election.  My mind is made up and I'll show up on election day to cast my vote for Mitt Romney.   I know there are many believers who struggle with the idea of voting for a Mormon.  So, here's my logic as to why he gets my vote.

First, in November, we are voting for a president not a Savior.  I already have a Savior and I don't need an imperfect politician to replace Him.  If Jesus was running for president, He'd get my vote but He isn't. While I think choosing the person that is to lead this country is extremely important, in the end, He'll only be a speck on the footstool of the One ruling the Universe.  My hope and confidence is not in a political system that is the construct of human intellect or in those men and women who are leading in that system.  So, while I think this election is very important, I rest at night knowing that my King is the Supreme Ruler over all, regardless of who occupies the White House.

So, while I strive to keep a correct perspective on life, I am faced with the awesome challenge of being in this world but not of it.  That ideology compels me to maintain an allegiance to a kingdom not a political party.  That being said, as a representative of that kingdom, as an ambassador who has been sent here with the charge of extending the principles, character, and nature of that kingdom on this temporal world, abstaining from a political process where I can affect a nation would seem to be a dereliction of my responsibility. While my vote is not the most important responsibility I have as a believer, God's principle of stewardship makes it clear that the freedom I've been given demands my engagement in the process.  For too long the church has debated whether or not it should even be involved in politics.  History clearly shows that when the church becomes absent from anything, it turns dark in a hurry.  One only needs to look at the current political climate to prove that point.  Let me go a bit further.  While we sit around and complain about the "liberal" media, our absence from that medium for many years has created that monster.  I could go on concerning this topic, but I'll stop there.

So, its a given as a believer, I'll be engaged in the political process.  But, how can I, as a believer, vote for a Mormon?  After all, spiritually there are major differences in how we believe.  The same holds true with our current sitting President.  As a matter of fact, I have no idea what he believes.  I know he claims to be a believer, but his actions are not consistent with that statement.  Some may say, that I shouldn't judge his heart to which I would say, I'm not, I'm judging his fruit.  Jesus didn't tell us that we would know His followers by what they say.  He said we would know them by their fruit.  So, using that principle that Jesus clearly told us to use, it would seem that out of the two candidates that we have to vote for, we have a Mormon and an unbeliever.

Since, it would appear that neither man holds my religious convictions, then next on my list would have to be character.  Now, I admit that looking for character in the political arena is much like looking for cell phone service in the deep jungles of the Amazon.  It seems that our culture has become very good at churning out politicians rather than statesmen, and that is truly sad.  However, character is still important when it comes to the person who will be leading our nation.  Being a good speaker, having charisma, making promises, and being a good debater are all secondary to being a man of character.  The truth is that I don't personally know either candidate, so I have to rely on what I've seen and heard.  The sitting President always has either an advantage or disadvantage here because he has been in the spotlight for four years.  His character has been on display much more than his challenger.  If his character is strong, then it becomes very difficult for his opponent to challenge in this area.  If his character is weak, however, the cracks in his character are well known which affords his challenger a huge advantage.  Throughout his presidency, President Obama has struggled with one of the major responsibilities of a leader and that is to take responsibility for his actions.  He often defaults to blame shifting which speaks volumes about his character.  His constant "blaming" of the the former administration for all the problems in America today, is a major crack in his character.  Four years ago, he asked America for the job.  He did not have to take on that responsibility, but he did.  With that job came the huge responsibility of taking on some huge challenges.  When someone does that, then from the moment they take on those challenges they take ownership of them.  The blame game is over, and from that moment on a leader becomes responsible for everything he has inherited.  The economy, unemployment, and an out of control national debt are areas that a man of strong character would take ownership of, but he refuses to do so.  Instead, he elects to blame someone else.  He also has proven to be divisive in the past and in his tenure as President. He has made statements over and over again that demonize groups of people, social classes, Congress, and the Supreme Court.  Causing division through divisive rhetoric for the purpose of political gain and control, speaks clearly of cracks in one's character.
It's true that we don't know a great deal about Mitt Romney because he has not been under the microscope that the current President has been for the last four years.  However, we do know a few things about him.  It would seem that one of the biggest attacks against his character is that he makes a lot of money and takes advantage of every opportunity to legally increase his wealth. Now, if that road to wealth was riddled with shady deals, dishonest practices, and illegal actions then it would most definitely put his character in question.  I've done a bit of research in this myself, and if there was any of that going on, I can't find evidence of it anywhere.  Demonizing a wealthy man for simply being wise in his business practices speaks more to the character of the one demonizing than the one being demonized.  Being wealthy does not make one evil. I actually think a successful business man would be a major positive for a nation trillions of dollars in debt.  I heard a story recently of a family that was visited by the Romneys one Christmas Eve.  They had learned of a family hit with a tragedy and just wanted to help make their Christmas a little better.  They didn't bring cameras and use it as a photo-op.  They just loved on that family without any agenda.  I heard another story of a man living in California at a time when wild-fires had devastated his community.  One of Romney's sons found out this man needed some help taking down a tree that had burned in his yard.  Mitt was in town doing some campaigning and heard his son was going to help this man.  Since he had a break between events, he volunteered to go along and help.  Again, no cameras or news crews came along.  Just a man and his son helping a neighbor.  I've heard other stories about him that are consistent with these, and it is never him tooting his own horn.

I'm a follower of Christ and as such, the Bible is the foundation of who I am and what I believe.  Among other things, I see good relations with Israel as a must.  I feel that Romney as President makes that more of a possibility than our current President.  While I have to take Romney at his word on this, Obama's previous four years clearly shows where he stands in regards to Israel.  Let's face it I'm also a conservative.  That's not just a title I wear.  It encompasses my whole value system.  That value system is characterized by a sense of personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, individual liberty, limited government, and a priority on national sovereignty.  My value system includes a strong pro-life stance and religious freedom.  I'm also a Constitutionalist.  I believe our constitution is the supreme law of the land and as such governs those who govern us.  It provides for an executive branch that executes the law, a legislative branch that makes the laws, and a judicial branch that interprets the law.  In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act which was sent to him after being passed by both houses of Congress.  President Obama disagreed with this law that defined marriage as a union between one woman and one man.  I disagree with Obama on this issue but he has a right to his opinion as do I and I am completely ok with that.  However, President Obama went further than simply disagreeing with it.  He made the statement that he and his administration would no longer support the constitutionality of that law.  In doing so, he circumvented the authority given to him by our constitution and in essence violated the law.  His responsibility as President is to execute the law not interpret it.  This action communicates one of two things about our President.  Either he has a complete disregard of the Constitution or a complete lack of understanding it.  Either way, from where I stand each one disqualifies him from holding that office. With Romney I can only base his view of the Constitution on statements he's made concerning it.  Those statements are consistent with one who understands the role of president under the guidelines set forth in the Constitution.

I could go on, but I'll conclude here.  I would rather the man I vote for agree with me on every issue.  I wish he loved what I love and hated what I hate.  I wish he held the same theology, ideology, and philosophy that I do.  I wish he had the same worldview as me and was passionate about the things I'm passionate about.  I wish he rooted for the Cowboys, couldn't stand the Yankees, and loved burnt orange. Unfortunately, that would require me to run for the presidency.  Romney doesn't exactly fit into that box but he's a much closer fit than the other candidate running. That's why he'll get my vote.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More Than A Facebook Friend

If you are like me you have some really close friends on your Facebook friends list.  On the other hand we also have many on that list that we wouldn’t really characterize as close friends.  It’s just the nature of social networking.  These not so close friends comment on our posts from time to time and vice-versa, but we really don’t know them all that well.  In order to truly know someone, there has to be conversation and face time.  No, not Facebook time, face time.  Close intimate relationships require one on one time, where masks come off and hearts are revealed. 

The same holds true with our relationship with God. God is not content with us simply knowing about Him.  He longs for us to know Him.  The sad fact is that many of us are content with treating God as little more than a Facebook friend.  We connect with Him on a superficial level, memorizing a few scriptures, going to church, and praying when we need something, if we do that much.  What an absolute tragedy!  The Creator of the universe paid a hefty price for the purpose of having a relationship with us.  He longs to share His heart with us and reveal Himself to us.  He longs to hear the deepest cries of our heart.  Yet, we often relegate this relationship to a set of mechanical rituals and an impersonal theology.  God wants so much more. 
Abraham and God were friends.  God shows up one day on his way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  When Abraham sees the Lord and his angels, he insists they sit down and relax.  Abraham then races to fix them a meal.  This isn’t a fast food meal.  He has his wife prepare bread and his servants kill a calf.  I’m not sure how long this process took, but from the context it’s a given that this was a lengthy ordeal.  Abraham prepares an atmosphere that is welcoming to the Lord.  He actually wants Him to stay a while and that’s exactly what the Lord does.  He sits down and stays a while.  Immediately following the meal the Lord starts to leave but pauses.  Here, we find a very interesting passage of Scripture where we are given insight into God’s reasoning with Himself. 
17 And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, 18 since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Genesis 18:17-19 NKJV)
God is about to go to Sodom and Gomorrah and deal with the sin there.  As He’s leaving He reasons to Himself that He should not keep this from Abraham because of their relationship.  Wow!  God wants to share with His friend Abraham what’s on His heart.  So, God goes on to do just that.  He tells Abraham that He is headed to Sodom and Gomorrah to deal with that city.  Abraham is a little taken back by this revelation and responds by asking God if He would destroy the righteous along with the wicked.  Abraham is reasoning in His mind that this is not right and asks God this question, “25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Abraham is convinced that this is not consistent with what He knows about God. Abraham is convinced that this God he knows would never destroy this city if there were at least 50 righteous there.  The following scriptures are a continuing conversation with God and Abraham in which Abraham presses God and each time He does, God’s character becomes a bit clearer to Him.  By the time this conversation is over, Abraham has come to the realization that not only would God preserve a city if there were 50 righteous in it, He would do it if He found as little as 10 there. 
God wants the same when it comes to our relationship with Him.  He wants us to know Him.  He wants our conversation with Him to be more than prayers of petitions and meaningless religious rituals.  He’s a living breathing being that wants relationship with us.  He wants to show us what He sees.  He wants to share His heart with us.  He longs for our undivided, undistracted time.  While He wants us to share all that is on our heart with Him, He also wants us to be quiet and learn to listen to what He is saying.  I believe that just like He did with Abraham, He’ll show up anywhere He is welcome and He’ll stay as long as we have the time for Him.  Think about it.  The Creator of the world wants to share His heart with you.  I don’t know what you’re gonna do with that truth, but as far as I’m concerned I refuse to treat Him like a Facebook friend. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Daddy, Why Is It Such A Dark Time In America Right Now?

Daddy, why is it such a dark time in America right now?  I was sitting on the sofa watching the news when my 9 year old son uttered those words.  I paused for a moment as I thought, how un-9 year old that question sounded.  I looked over at him with a puzzled look and asked, “What did you just say?” To which he repeated, “Why is it such a dark time in America right now?” I proceeded to ask him why he thought it was a dark time right now. His answer revealed to me, that he really pays attention to what’s going on in the world and he was extremely concerned.  He said, “Everybody hates our country. They’re burning our flag and killing our people.”  His biggest concern was fear of them doing that here in our country.  This wasn’t a conversation I could dance around.  While he needed to be assured that he was safe, he needed to know the truth.  
While this came from the mind of a 9 year old, there are millions of adults throughout our country that share his concerns.  They watch the events being played out around the world, and they too struggle to make sense of it all.  Is it really simply the result of a pathetic attempt at a video on YouTube?  Can I shoot straight here?  I wasn’t about to sugar coat this for my 9 year old and I am quite outraged by the leadership in our country that insists on doing that with the American people.  The truth is there are people who hate us.  They hate the very core of who we are and what we stand for.  They hate our concepts of freedom and liberty.  They hate the fact that we champion those causes throughout the world.  No, we aren’t perfect and we don’t handle all of our foreign affairs the right way.  And perhaps our behavior at times adds fuel to the fire, but trust me that fire is a fire that has been burning long before the U.S. was even a thought.  

This hatred is nothing new.  It goes back generations.  A quick history lesson… Many people know that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.  What many people do not know though is that Scripture records that Abraham had six more sons with his second wife after Sarah had died.  Let me paint the picture for you.  When Isaac was born, there was strife between Ishmael and Isaac, so Abraham sent Ishmael away along with his mother Hagar.  Do you see any potential for some conflict as a result of that?  Now, prior to his death, Abraham blessed Isaac with everything he had.  So, Isaac inherits all of his father’s wealth.  But what about the remaining 6 sons?  He gave them gifts and then sent them away to the east.  Sound like the foundation for some serious conflict?  Throw into the mix the next generation where Isaac’s son Jacob had to run for his life for swindling his brother Esau and the stage is set for generations of turmoil.  So, Jacob, Isaac’s son becomes Israel and there he sits surrounded by cousins who can’t exactly be characterized as kissin’ cousins. These are relationships tainted with jealousy, envy, selfishness, anger, and hatred.   Then, a man named Muhammad shows up generations later and knowing the backdrop of the culture in which he grew up in, is it any wonder why he could pen instructions like this in his book:

“O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.” (Sura 5:51).

“..then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war)”…” (Sura 9:5)

“O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).” (Sura 9:123)

“When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.” (Sura 8:12)

Muhammad’s writings contain over 100 verses consistent with these.  And while I know that many Muslims never bother to read this man’s written text, there are those who live by every word of it. That’s a quick summary to give you a bit of historic context to this thing.  No, I’m not writing this to incite anger against a group of people.  On the contrary, I’m simply showing the political, religious, and cultural dynamics that are often avoided in our world of political correctness.   Do you want the truth or would you rather hide your head in the sand and hope it all goes away? While there are those who insist on blaming an anti-Islamic video for the outbreak of violence we see in the world, the truth is they are either disillusioned or simply lying.  Long before there was a video, hatred for who we are was alive and well.  

I looked at my son the other night, and that’s what I told him.  I told him that people hate us.  They are burning our flag because they are making a statement to the world that they hate everything that flag stands for.  But, I didn’t leave it at that.  I told him that these are people who have been blinded by a religious spirit and that they can’t see the truth.  I explained to him when he sees images like this in the news he has to be very careful to guard his heart.  That same anger and hatred is lying at the door of his heart longing to get a foothold.  We have to determine to set our eyes on the real enemy here.  We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the evil spirits and forces that control them.  No, I’m not raising a passive young man, but I am desperately trying to raise a young man who can look at the world with a healthy biblical worldview.  I believe that violence and evil in the world needs a deterrent.  Sometimes that requires the kind of action that costs lives and I completely support that.  

Like most Americans, I see what’s happening and I’m outraged.  I’m angered by every bit of it.  I feel as if I’ve been violated every time I see my flag burning in the streets.  I’m ticked off by the leadership in Washington that I feel has a foreign policy that shows absolutely no resolve and can be called nothing but weak. Having said all of that, I’m trying hard to do exactly what I told my son about guarding his heart.  The tragedy would be me becoming like them.  Somehow, someway as we navigate through all of this, we have to take care that our heart does not become so contaminated with hatred for mankind.  In Christian circles I think there are many who are completely ok with wiping this planet clean of all those who are of the Islamic faith.  Really?  Isn’t this what Jesus addressed with the disciples when they wanted to call down fire from heaven and wipe out the Samaritans? His reply was a rebuke in which He told them they did not know what spirit was behind the motives of their hearts. That type of mindset is inconsistent with that of Christ.  Yes, there needs to be justice. Yes, this violence needs to be met with strength and resolve.  But, in the middle of it all, our hearts need to be clean.  

It’s not an easy balancing act, that’s for sure.  Yet, when we know the truth then we can clearly see things for what they are.  God has an enemy.  One that hates him.  One that hates everything about Him.  He hates the very image of who God is and he’s determined to oppose God to the very end. He’ll use religion as a tool to accomplish his agenda.  He’ll blind mankind and pit them against each other for the sole purpose of destroying the very thing that God loves most, humanity.  The message I was trying to get across to my son the other night was that God loves mankind.  God has fought through man’s rejection of Him, his hatred for Him, and all of his mountains of sin in order to love him.  God’s heart has not become calloused and His love has never been altered by man’s often pathetic behavior.  When Jesus approached Jerusalem one day he wept.  He wept because he loved them.  They had rejected Him and would soon crucify Him, yet He loved them.  When we see the world through His eyes, we’ll be able to see something much deeper than a protest against who we are.  We’ll be able to see humanity in desperate need of a Savior.  I’m not saying we all need to hit the mission field and go into closed Muslim countries to win the lost.  Maybe, all we can do is pray for them but then again isn’t that better than hating them?  Sure, it’s ok to be angry with them and what that are doing, but I long to have the heart and mind of Christ.  I don’t just want to be angry.  I long for my heart to break for the same thing that breaks His heart.  I want His heart for humanity.

Times are tough here in America and all around the world.  I think it’s because the end is near.  Maybe, I’m wrong, but nevertheless, that’s how I see it.  I sleep well at night because my confidence is in my Creator who I am convinced loves me dearly.  I assured my son during our conversation that as a child of God he can be confident that God will be His protector and there was no reason for him to fear.  Is it a dark time in our country?  I’ve thought about that for a couple days now, and I have determined that in order for it to be dark, then someone will have to turn of the light.  14“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16 NKJV)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Encounter With A German Atheist

I met him while ministering in Berlin. He was only 17 years old, but looked much older.  His story, I will never forget. When asked if he believed in God, he said no.  From his response, you could tell there was a bit of anger and bitterness behind his reasoning.  He wasn't ugly or mean, just firm in what he believed.  He went on to explain why he was certain there wasn't a God.  He hadn't been indoctrinated, or convinced of his atheistic beliefs by another, but had come to that conclusion through his own human reasoning and attempt at explaining his life's journey.  A journey full of hurt, heartache, and abandonment.  When he was younger he, and his siblings, were abandoned by his parents.  They just left one day.  He had an older brother that died in an accident somewhat recently, leaving him pretty much on his own.  I think he mentioned that he had a younger brother or sister, but other than that he has absolutely no family.  He's 17 years old, all alone and has no home.

Looking at the hand that's been dealt him, he has reasoned that there is no way God could exist, because if He did, He would never let this kind of stuff happen to him or anyone else.  As I stood looking into his eyes, I realized my theology couldn't reach this kid.  I couldn't convince him through argument or debate.  I couldn't pull out a 5 point sermon on why bad things happen.  While I know his anger and bitterness is misplaced, I couldn't convince him of that in the few minutes we were able to talk.  There were huge walls of hurt that couldn't be broken down with a simple "Jesus loves you."  I felt in that moment that anything I said would be much like trying to put a Band-Aid on a severed artery. I knew that this young man would never be reached by only hearing about Jesus; he had to see Jesus with skin on.  He had to see the love of God in a tangible way.

What I wanted to do was take this kid into my arms and hug him.  I wanted to fix everything in his life for him.  I wanted to convince Him that God hurts when he hurts.  I wanted to take him home and attempt to be a father to this fatherless boy, and to show him the love of God.  I wanted to make things right.  Instead I stood there with no real answers.  I couldn't bring him home.  I couldn't fix his life for him. I couldn't convince him that God hurts when he hurts.  I felt inept.  I felt powerless.  Here, was a kid, hurting and I couldn't stop the hurt.  Here, was a kid with a broken heart and I couldn't put the pieces back together.  If I had a few months, or a few years, perhaps I could help him, but I only had a few minutes.  The ministry we work with in Germany, European Initiative, strives to reach people and connect them with local churches and ministries that can follow up on them.  However, as is the case here in America, many churches struggle to engage in reaching the lost and discipling them. Ministries like EI, need the church. What am I saying?  God needs the church.  He needs believers who aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty.  He needs believers who are willing to engage in meaningful relationships with people who are hurting. I'm not taking a prideful position here and I don't want to imply that I'm out there doing my part while the rest of the church sleeps.  I'm part of the problem to be completely honest.  I get so busy living life for myself that I lose sight of those around me who are hurting and are in desperate need. God needs the church, me included, to wake up and to determine to be who He created us to be.  This young man needs the church.  He's not going to simply walk into the doors of the church.  I knew when I was talking to him he wasn't going to open up to the Gospel over the course of a 15 or 20 minute conversation.  It was going to require much more than that. His heart was hard and the walls that surrounded him where thick.  He wasn't going to come to church because someone handed him an invite card.  He needed to be pursued.  Pursued by someone who sincerely loved him.      

When I walked away from the conversation, I broke.  I had to get away for a moment and just compose myself. I wish I could have found a place where I could be alone for a moment, but everywhere I turned there were crowds of people. I quickly wiped the tears and tried not to get too emotional. I think maybe I got a glimpse of what caused Jesus to weep for Jerusalem. He wanted so desperately to reach them,  heal them, free them, and save them, yet He couldn't.  Jesus, the Son of God, couldn't help them because they rejected Him, so He just sat there weeping for them.  Like Jesus, I wept for this boy.  I connected with his pain and my heart was broken.

It’s been several days since then and I can't get this boy off my mind.  He's there constantly, haunting me in a sense.  Maybe, that's the wrong word, as I don't mean to imply that it’s a bad thing. Yet, it’s like an old LP that is stuck and replaying over and over in my mind.  It's as if the Holy Spirit is pricking my heart, and doing a bit of surgery on me. It's a little painful, yet it’s good.  I keep asking the question, why did this guy's story send me over the edge?  What is it about him that stirred up such emotions in me?  I've heard stories like this before and some even worse, yet there I was literally about to lose it.

The truth is that I've been asking God to help me see others through His eyes.  I've been determined to get out of the judgment seat and leave that to Him.  I want so desperately to see others through the eyes of love and compassion rather than the self-righteous glasses that are often my default lenses.  I'm convinced that's exactly what happened that day in Berlin.  I didn't see a dirty, homeless boy that day.  I saw a hurt, wounded, young man who needed so desperately to have his eyes opened to the reality of who God is.  The hurt and the brokenness I felt, was God allowing me to capture a glimpse of His heart for people.  And to be honest, I never want to forget what my eyes saw and what my heart felt that day.  I didn't simply feel sorry for this young man, I hurt for him.  And although, I admit I can be brought to tears by a simple Hallmark commercial, this was different.  This stirred up something much deeper than some superficial surface emotions. I have truly been moved with compassion concerning this young man.  

This boy's story isn't unique.  And one doesn't need to travel halfway around the world to find people like him.  They are everywhere.  They are our neighbors.  They're our co-workers, classmates, and fellow church members.  They are those who wait on us at restaurants and check us out at the grocery store.  They're our doctors, hair stylists, and bank tellers.  They're our friends, family, and loved ones. They are the people who we love to be around as well as the ones we can't stand.  They are all around us, but if we choose to look through our tainted lenses of self-righteousness and judgment we'll never truly see them.  We'll encounter them but we'll never truly see them. However, I believe if we'll ask God to show us what He sees, He'll do just that.  But, I warn you, don't ask that if you don't want to be challenged to take on the responsibility of doing something to meet the needs, and heal the hurts.  When God begins to show you the depths of hurt and pain that people are dealing with, you'll be compelled to engage. 

That's exactly where I find myself today.  I'm desperate to engage like never before. Not because I feel a sense of obligation but because there's a world of hurting people.  I'm part of the church, and as such I'm the light of the world.  I have the answer for the world and if I, along with my fellow members of the Body of Christ, fail to engage, then those who are hurting will never meet their Healer. What an absolute tragedy that would be.  While I have to trust God to reach this young man in Berlin, there are people here in my community that need me to be God's hands and feet.  They don't need to simply hear my Christian jargon.  They need to see in me a reflection of God's unconditional, unlimited love. I can't reach them all, but perhaps I can reach one or maybe a few.  I really don't think God is expecting us as individuals to reach the masses.  He just wants us to reach our neighbor.

I know full well that there are many who want nothing to do with God and there is not much I can do about that but pray and trust God to somehow, someway reach them.  It's imperative though that I never allow the fear of rejection to keep me from reaching those who are desperate to be reached.  When I begin to see others the way God sees them, I'll see the value in them that He sees.  I'll understand the truth that they are worth it. They are worth my time, energy, and sacrifice.  They are worth reaching.  They are worth me stepping out of the comfort zone formed by the four walls of the church building. They are worth loving.

I don't know how well this BLOG is communicating what I so desperately want to communicate.  Perhaps, you just had to be there that day I encountered this 17 year old German atheist.  Maybe, you needed to see the look on his face when he boldly declared his disbelief in God.  Maybe, you needed to look into his eyes as he shared all the hurt and pain his life has endured.  I was there though, and what I witnessed broke my heart.  God used that 17 year old German atheist to get access to my heart and speak clearly to me.  Why did this young man's story break my heart the way it did?  I've figured it out.  It's because this young man's story breaks the heart of God.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Life On Mars

Space exploration excites me.  I remember as a child thinking how awesome it would be to be an astronaut.  Unfortunately for me the training required to become an astronaut included machines that go around and around and I don't do things that go around and around.  Merry go-rounds and any type of  carnival ride that goes around in circles makes me sick to the point of puking.  I've always been like that, so from early I knew the astronaut thing was out of the question.  Of course, I guess I could have aspired to be one of those guys who stayed on the ground and answered the call when the astronauts said something like, "Houston, we have a problem!"  Somehow when you're a kid though, that job doesn't seem quite as exciting.  However, even though merry go-rounds ruined my hopes of space travel, nothing could squash my interest in space exploration.

This week I've been really excited about NASA's latest adventure, the Curiosity rover.  This rover, that is said to be the size of a small compact car, landed earlier this week on the surface of Mars.  After traveling over 300 million miles through space, this rover is now ready to begin exploring the planet of Mars.  While some may not get all that excited about the first fuzzy picture sent back, I was blown away by the picture that clearly showed the wall of the crater the rover now sits in.

I'm not sure what all this rover will eventually tell us about the planet Mars, but I'm certain we are going to learn some really interesting things about a planet that we've all had questions about.  One of the main questions that scientists want desperately to answer is whether or not there has ever been any form of life on the red planet.  Curiosity is equipped with the tools not only to take pictures and videos but also to dig into the surface of the planet and take soil samples.  Instead of thinking of it like a rover, think more in terms of a scientific laboratory on wheels.  Trust me, at a cost of over $2.5 billion this rover is more than just a high end Kodak camera.       

Scientists really would love to find some proof of life as they maneuver Curiosity all over the planet's surface.  Proof of some one-celled organism is all they need to validate their hopes.  Personally, I think that would be absolutely incredible.  Of course, a discovery like that would probably lead to more questions than answers.  But, then again that's what keeps the wheels of science turning...questions that need answers.

While scientists are so pumped about the possibility of closing the book on the question of whether there has ever been life on Mars or not, for me that question has already been answered.  Of course, there's been life on Mars.  The very existence of Mars, points to the truth of a Creator.  Although, Mars may or may not have been home to some one or multi-celled organisms in the past, it's very origin and existence testifies of the life giving power of God.  NASA, scientists will be blown away should they find some proof of life, but believers should not think it abnormal to find some life form on any planet created by the Originator of all life forms.  I guess that what I'm trying to say is that proof of life on Mars is not simply found on or under its surface, but in the fact that its origin is found in the Giver of all life.  In other words, because Mars came from the Life Giver, evidence of this Life Giver is found in its very existence.    

Only time will tell all that we will discover from this newest technology from NASA, but I can't help but think that in the process of our discovery, how limited it shows we humans truly are.  Think about it, while we are on the cutting edge of something pretty remarkable here, Mars holds no secrets from our Creator.  Its surface, its craters, its core and everything about this planet is not only known by Him but its birth and its history has been written by Him.  While we get set to discover some interesting things about the planet, God doesn't need to explore this planet in order to know more about it, He only needs to remember.  He's been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt.  Mars is not a mystery to God, its the product of His handiwork.  If He knows the number of hairs on our heads, I don't think it's a stretch to say He knows every square inch of that planet.

Some may think, life forms on Mars may serve to invalidate what we know and believe about God.  I think it'll only reaffirm and strengthen the truths we know.  With every picture Curiosity sends back, I  discover a little more about my Creator.  I'm reminded about how awesome He is, and how small I am.  I'm reminded about how my knowledge of who He is, is always increasing.  I'm reminded of how all of creation carries with it the nature and very signature of God.  I'm reminded that if I'll stop long enough to take a long hard look, I'll see glimpses of Him everywhere.  


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jesus Is An Equal Opportunity Offender

Will the real Jesus please stand up?  Many have a view of Jesus that is inconsistent with the real Jesus.  Some see Him as a weak, humble, lowly individual who was tolerant of all.  Artistic images of a wimpy man with the look of hopelessness in His eyes, holding a sheep, help reaffirm that view.  But is that really what He's like?  Some see Him as a man who was angry with the religious crowd, and loved stirring them up.  Some view Him as a good person who because He loved everyone, would never offend anyone.  Others see Him as a man who was a rebel and revolutionist.

Scripture gives us a very clear picture of who He is, but in order to see the truth of who He is, one can not approach Scripture with presuppositions.  Jesus was indeed a loving person.  As a matter of fact, as God, Scripture declares that He is love.  Love is at the core who He is.  It's not simply something He possesses, its the very essence of who He is.  So, those who see Him as a loving individual, are spot on, but we have to be careful that our understanding of love is not a perverted one.  Does, love dare offend someone? Reading the accounts of Jesus as He walked the earth, one cannot ignore the fact that who He was and what He said offended many people from many different walks of life.  Both the religious and non-religious alike were taken back by Him and the message He shared.  Those who followed Him and those who did not were all ticked off by Him.  So much so that on more than one occasion, they wanted to kill Him.  So, someone who is perfect in love, offends. Interesting!

Some followed Him one day expecting to be fed by Him and were upset when He told them He wasn't going to.  Perhaps, there's a lesson in that account to be learned about simply feeding people who have a much deeper issue that needs addressed than an empty stomach, but that's another topic.  He referred to an outsider as a dog.  He refused to allow the man delivered of demons to follow Him.  He stirred up his hometown, ticked off the religious leaders, and had His own family thinking He had lost His mind.  We all know well his refusal to cast the first stone at the lady caught in adultery, but do we remember the instructions that he gave her after doing so?  His love, which did not condemn her, also instructed her to stop her behavior.  How dare Him, right?  In the middle of this emotionally charged moment for her, He spoke truth to her. He didn't say, it's all ok, you just need a big hug.  He risked hurting her feelings by telling her to stop that behavior.

The truth always carries with it the potential for offense.  None of us are perfect or possess pure heart motives continually.  Sometimes when we are faced with the truth about who we are and what we are doing, we struggle with that truth.  The key is always how we respond to that truth.  When we reject it, then that truth becomes a stumbling block for us.  When we receive it, that truth becomes liberating.  "You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free," Scripture tells us.  For us individually, it is important to always be open to allowing the truth of God to penetrate our hearts.  Whenever, we do not allow that, we find ourselves slaves to something we were never designed to be slaves to.

But, what do we do regarding speaking the truth to others.  Loving others demands it.  The spirit of tolerance is not love.  Tolerance is a spirit shrouded in fear, and is more concerned with pleasing others rather than helping to set them free.  Having said that, speaking the truth can do more damage than good, when it is not motivated by love.  Jesus did not offend people for the sake of offending them.  He wasn't grandstanding or simply making a point.  He spoke the truth because He loved them.  He didn't condemn them, but He didn't coddle them either.  There is a balancing act that we must perform, and the key is to always be motivated by love for others.
A couple of weeks ago, Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-a, said something that offended people.  He wasn't mean spirited, he wasn't angry, and he wasn't hateful.  He spoke the truth about what He believes and people were offended.  Some see Cathy, as a villain and a proponent of hate speech.  Some are outraged, and incensed by someone who simply shared the truth.  I don't know Cathy's heart, but his life's journey seems to be consistent with a man who genuinely cares for others.  One must ask themselves what is it about what he said that caused such an offense.  Found in that answer is the truth that has the ability to set one free. In the same way that some were offended by Cathy's statement, some have been offended by the response to Cathy's statement.  All would do good to ask themselves, "why am I offended and what does that reveal about my heart?"  Is there malice in my heart?  Is it righteous indignation or am I simply angry at my fellow man?  Trust me when I say there are spiritual dynamics at work here, and it's important that we see and understand the real enemy we're fighting against.

The fact is that many, both believers and non-believers, really want nothing to do with the truth.  John's Gospel tells us that the light came into the world and man rejected it because they were doing evil things.  Truth always sheds light on things we would rather keep shrouded in darkness.  Because of that, there will always be opposition to the truth.  Even the truth spoken in a non-confrontational way.

God so desperately wants all of mankind set free. Jesus came to the earth to do that.  In order for that to happen though, He could not remain silent for fear of confrontation.  I think its interesting to note that He didn't spend time debating issues.  He spoke the truth and left the hearers with the responsibility of accepting it or rejecting it.  Their path to true freedom was rooted deeply in their freedom to make the choice.  While I'm certain His heart was grieved by those who rejected Him, He never allowed that to affect the way He loved them or how approached others.  

The real Jesus was tough.  While he was compassionate and loving, He was also confrontational.  He was more concerned with individuals becoming free than pacifying them.  John, one of His closest friends here on earth, who knew Him well, recorded in Revelation how he fell down like a dead man when he encountered this same Jesus years later in a different setting.  There was no, "What's up G?" or   "Long time no see, bro."  He fell down flat on his face in awe of someone who was one of his best friends.  Doesn't quite fit the image of some of the artist's renditions I've seen of Him.  Jesus isn't interested in coddling us, He's determined to speak the truth to us at the risk of offending us.  The church should be no different.  We carry with us the answer for the world.  When we bow our knees to the spirit of tolerance, whether its in the church or outside the church, we've ceased to be the liberating force we were created to be. In speaking the truth though, our purpose should always be to set the captives free and love should be at the core of all we do.  Without love, we're simply making noise and eating more chicken.  It's much, much bigger than that.  Jesus isn't nearly as interesting in what we say or do as He is in why we say it and why we do it.  Let's hold to the truth.  Let's live the truth.  Let's speak the truth.  And most of all, let's make sure we do it all with love.

If any part of this BLOG offends, then I guess that's good.  The key is how are you going to react to it?