Category: LIFE Journal


I am tired.
I am tired of hearing people talk about politics on Sunday morning.
I am tired of Gospel pulpits being turned into bully pulpits.
I am tired of hearing and receiving disrespectful,
and, sometimes, mean-spirited comments.

So, let me tell you a story.
He was rebellious and disrespectful to his parents (who, in spite of all this, thought he was a gift from God). He slept with a prostitute. He got ticked off at his father-in-law and, because of that, burned the fields and crops of innocent people. And, he was a mass murderer.

This is a Bible story.

He had issues. He was deeply flawed. You wouldn’t want him around your daughter. None of us, I assume, would invite him to preach on Sun morning.
The descriptions of him are that he was a violent, immoral, rebellious, arrogant human being.

And the Bible says that the Spirit of God stirred in him.

With all of his flaws, God used Samson to lead the nation of Israel out of oppression.

I am NOT telling this to say who to vote for.
I AM telling this to put the election and candidates into perspective…what I believe to be a Biblical perspective.

1. God uses deeply flawed individuals to accomplish His will. Always has. He will ‘til the end of time.

Samson is only one example.

King David was an adulterer and committed conspiracy to commit murder.
King Saul was homicidal, paranoid, and perhaps psychotic.
Saul-who-became-the-Apostle-Paul was accessory to a murder (and a Fighting Fundie, if there ever was one).
Peter denied Jesus.
Judas betrayed Jesus.
And the Bible tells us that God used them all. It is a reminder that each and everyone of us is deeply flawed. I am deeply flawed. You are deeply flawed. To think or say otherwise is to ignore the clear teaching of scripture.

2. Sometimes God uses those deeply flawed people to judge the nation-its wickedness, rebellion, arrogance, backsliding. There are several foreign kings who God used to punish the children of Israel. Whoever gets elected, we, as a nation, will have received exactly what we deserve.

3. In my opinion, ALL candidates are deeply flawed human beings. I see good reasons for people on both ends of the political spectrum, as well as in the middle, to be suspicious of the motives and abilities of any of the candidates. They are ALL deeply flawed. The two most memorable definitions of politics are not complimentary.

4. If we put our trust in ANY human being, no matter their background or talents or promises, I believe that we are ignoring what scripture has to say. I would hope that each of us has spent time reading party platforms, not just listening to sound bites; reading the Bible AND the Constitution (including the Bill of Rights); researching voting records and business deals rather than only paying attention to rhetoric and talking points. With all of that, may we never forget that God is on the throne.

5. My prayer is that more of us would be as passionate about Jesus as we are about politics. For once, I would love to see bumper stickers that say “I am with Him,” while pointing to the One who was never inaugurated, never crowned (at least not in any earthly kingdom), Whose crowds turned into lynch mobs, and Whose triumphal procession ended in a funeral procession. For once, I would love to see hats that read, “Make the Church Great Again,” while reading the portion of Acts that talks about the church of Jesus Christ turning this sin-sick world upside down by the power of the Holy Spirit.

6. My second prayer is that the Church would be aware that God is watching us, and judging us, and, by and large, our witness to Jesus Christ is not going well. How we are acting in the run-up to this election is simply one more symptom of our unwillingness to focus on that which matters most. We are to seek first God’s kingdom.

7. My third prayer is for revival in the Church. We are comfortable, and asleep, and apathetic, and lukewarm while the world is going to Hell, and going through Hell. And, we mostly don’t care. Before God vomits us out of His mouth, I pray that we will repent of our passion-less Christianity. I pray for a revival of prayer among God’s people. I pray for a rebirth of a burden for souls. We are called to be part of an army God has drafted to change lives, to change the world…beginning with what He does in us.

8. Finally, I doubt that any of this will change anyone’s mind as to who they are voting for. I deeply hope that it will change our hearts. I pray we long for a King whose kingdom is not of this world. I pray that we will remember that human hearts are desperately wicked. I pray that we would follow Jesus, Whose ways are not our ways, and Whose thoughts are not our thoughts. And, I pray that we will focus on the mission the Church was given nearly 2,000 years ago – making Disicples of Jesus for the transformation of lives, communities, and the world.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIV
[1] I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— [2] for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [3] This is good, and pleases God our Savior, [4] who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

O and O

Luke 9:59-62 NIV
[59] He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” [60] Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” [61] Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” [62] Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Observation: Jesus says to each one who would be his disciple, Follow me. Jesus claims our loyalty above everything and everyone else. Custom in our society, even in the Church, says family comes first. Jesus says you shall have NO other gods before me. Note, it never says that the guy takes his hand off the plow. But, he looks back…back home; back to his former life; back to the good old days, perhaps? He doesn’t quit. His hand is still on the plow. But, his heart is elsewhere.
Application: What gods do I have in place that are more important to me than Jesus (even though I look like Jesus comes first)? Family? Food? Money? House? Reputation? Like this unnamed man, I am called to follow Jesus wherever He goes. Not to follow the money, or chase skirts, or hunt for food or vie for recognition. I am to follow Jesus. And, nothing, and no one else is to get in the way. By most standards, I look good. But, would I give up this house-for Jesus? Would I give up my bank account-for Jesus? My pension? My wife? My children and grandchildren (Abraham was called to choose between God and the son of his old age, Isaac)?
How am I doing? If I am honest, I prefer ease over discipleship. I would rather be comfortable than committed. Being a Methodist beats being a martyr. I follow Jesus when it is convenient. I am not O and O for Christ.* I am not sold out. I am not all in. I would rather sleep than pray. I would rather eat than study. I would rather spend than give.
Prayer: Lord, I look good on the outside. But, I know that I could easily be a white-washed tomb full of dead men’s bones. I look like I would follow you to death. But, would I lose my life to save it? Compared to the standards of this world, I am committed. But, You are my standard.
You know my heart. I would be sold out for You. I want to be O and O for You! “Set a fire down in my bones that I can’t contain and I can’t control.” May I love and follow You-no matter what! In the awesome and loving name of Jesus, I pray.
*O and O stands for “out and out.”
Matthew 6:21-23 NIV
[21] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [22] “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. [23] But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

Observation:  Jesus points out that what one treasures, one thinks about, focuses on, concentrates one’s energies on, puts the bulk of one’s time into. What one focuses on, what one sees as important, or sees at all, matters…deeply. Lost (invisible) people matter to God. Lost (invisible) sheep are sought and found. Lost (invisible) people are to be warmed and fed.
Application:  I think about church – a lot. I focus on Jesus in prayer and Bible reading – first thing in the morning – sometimes. I put the bulk of my time into committees, teams, leaders. But, I worry about family; am concerned about finances; cry over the lack of a house. Jesus and His Kingom are A priority for me. But, can I honestly say they are THE priority? No, I can’t. Yet, the call is to seek FIRST the Kingdom.  I see found people far more than i see lost people. I see church people far more than un-churched people. What God sees, I often miss (overlook-purposely?). Just like Abraham saw 3 strangers and God knew/saw that it was YHWH and 2 others (angels?), I see things far differently from how God sees them. His ways and thoughts are much different from my ways and thoughts. And, I am not right. The Lord of the Universe is.
Prayer:  Lord, my eyes are still too full of darkness. They are better than they once were because You have given me Your eyes. But, far too often I keep them shut against the need and pain of the world lost without You. I turn my eyes to what I want to see, and turn my eyes away from what You want me to see. Help me have Your eyes, Your heart, Your hands. When I am unfocused, when I see what I want to see, when I overlook what You see, change me. I pray in the strong and loving name of Jesus.
Galatians 4:19 NIV
[19] My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,

Observation: Paul wants Christians who think like Christ, love like Christ, look like Christ, act like Christ, live like Christ. Instead, what they have become is people who obey all the rules, hoping that will allay God’s wrath against them. Paul wants life-transformation, family transformation, business-transformation, community-transformation. Paul deeply desires that they would be changed, and so he anguishes over where they are heading, what they have become.
Application: So do I. I want to be conformed to Christ. I want my church filled with people conformed to Christ. I want a community conformed to Christ. I want a nation conformed to Christ. I want a world conformed to Christ. And I anguish over a church that has strayed far from our beginnings, strayed far from a life-transforming gospel of grace.
Prayer: Lord, break my heart for what breaks Yours. Make me long for a church that truly reflects a trust in you, not our own righteousness. Make me hunger and thirst after righteousness. Make me labor for the gospel in the hearts, minds, lives of the people of Charlotte Harbor, I ask in the strong and loving name of Jesus.
Mark 3:13,33-35 NIV
[13] Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.

[33] “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. [34] Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! [35] Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Observation: Jesus calls into relationship, not based on anything they have done, but based on who He is – King Jesus, Son of God, Savior of the world. But, He asks us to join Him in His revolution to transform leaders, communities, and the world.
Application:  Something in how we are wired means that we need significance; we need meaningful work; toil (work that makes a Kingdom difference in the world) is not a four-letter word; drudgery (mind-numbing, soul-killing work which makes no difference) is perhaps the dirtiest of all expletives. We need not only to be loved, but to be creative as God is creative…redeeming, transforming, making all things new. Jesus calls me into THAT. Not busywork; not stuff that doesn’t transform; but living, loving, relationship with Him and His team, the Body of Christ.
Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I want to be your brother. King Jesus, I want to do your will. I want to join You in Your mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing revolution. I am thankful that You want me (tho’ sometimes I get tired and wounded); I am grateful that You have entrusted to me the work of Your Kingdom in this place. Make me more loving, more burdened for souls, more bloodhound-focused on Kingdom matters.
Luke 15:4,8,20 NIV
[4] “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

[8] “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
[20] So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Observation:  Jesus’ triple stories of lost things being actively sought for and found reminds me not just that things/people get lost, but that God is the searching God who cannot let the lost stay lost. Like a text message from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, God is actively searching for those who are Missing and Endangered.
Application:  Am I actively searching for those who are Missing and Endangered? Do I care about lost sheep/coins/children? As much as the stories point to things once in the sheepfold/purse/family home that have been lost, I think this reminds me/us of those outside the church. The church is neither a home for saints, nor just a hospital for sinners, but a M.A.S.H. unit to fix us up and get us back out into the fray.
Prayer:  Lord, I forget about those who are doing life without You. For whatever reason, they are lost and endangered-sometimes by personal choice, sometimes by the circumstances of life which they have faced. For whatever reason, they are lost, and I act as if I don’t care. Often, I don’t. I am far too consumed with me-my wants, wishes, desires, problems-to care all that much about messy, dirty, stubborn, stupid sheep.
Sheep You died for. Sheep You gave up everything for. You are the God who is sheep-ish. And I am not. Not enough. And Your church is not. Not sheep-ish enough. Help me, Lord, be a true shepherd. Help me, Lord, be sheep-ish, just like Jesus. Break my heart for what and who breaks Yours. Help us, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray.

I am sitting in the duck blind I call an office, watching the feathers fly over the recent comments (and reactions to the comments) of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. For those of you who are not savvy to this show, the Robertson clan (from Louisiana) are rednecks who believe in Jesus (no, that’s not redundant, at least not totally so) and who have made a fortune selling calls for duck hunting. They wear camo and hunt and fish and have Southern accents and look almost as uneducated and unrefined as it is possible to be.

 musician-phil_robertson

Phil, the patriarch, worships at a very conservative Christian church, and recently expressed in an interview with GQ that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. His language was somewhat graphic (somewhat, since I have heard worse in some restaurants and most construction sites and every middle school playground I have ever been around), and it was offensive to a wide range of people in our society, and applauded (more or less) by a somewhat less wide range of people.

 

Pro-gay supporters are apparently out in force to advocate for lynching Phil Robertson for (what they see as) his tasteless intolerance. Some conservative Christians are advocating for sainthood. And a gaggle of folks in-between are “ducking:” and running for cover as the latest barrage is fired in the culture wars.

 

All of this brings me to ask a question of the Church, what I believe is the deeper question that underlies this whole controversy.

 

But, first, the back story to my question: John Wesley summarized Methodism’s purpose as “To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land.”

 

For many Christians, even if they might not use that exact wording, the concept would be both familiar and acceptable. And, it makes me wonder (here comes my question), what does scriptural holiness look like in 21st-Century, pluralistic America?

 

Once upon a time (probably back when Middle Earth was still around) drinking was unholy, but smoking was not. (Today, it is the other way around…well, depending on what you are smoking, of course.) There was a time when divorce was out and homosexuals were not. It used to be that blue laws were in, and “going green” was not yet even heard of. 

 

What is the standard of holiness today? Can we find it in scripture? Or, is it determined by our society? Are we called to be people-pleasers or God-chasers? Would most Christians even recognize the phrase “holy unto the Lord?” How many would even care? Would the phrase even make it onto the plate on the turban of a priest today (Exodus 28:36), or would the marching orders be something like “grace for all – regardless?”

 

Let me ask this another way: is anything wrong anymore? Or, differently yet: does sin still exist? Who decides?

 

If the call on what is, and is not, sin is not mine to make, but God’s, how do I love my neighbor, while at the same time upholding the holiness of God? How do those who choose to follow Jesus embody both grace and truth? How can I care deeply about family and friends while standing firm in the muck that is the moral swamp of the 21st-Century? If we are a culture which has forgotten how to blush, would we know holiness from sin, right from wrong?

 

Angry people on both sides of the culture wars will take aim at those whose opinions they oppose, and whose guts they hate. But, the Church of Jesus Christ must grapple with issues we have long ago set aside, issues like holiness and righteousness.

 

I hope this question keeps you up at night: If God were to actually call the Church to reform, would we know scriptural holiness if we somehow, somewhere, were to actually stumble upon it?

 

Matthew 6:33

I have had those moments when I have viewed an incredible rainbow

or a stunning sunset; I have been overwhelmed by music or in awe of the

fantastic colors of a damselfish.

 

And you know what I DID NOT ask? “Who did this?”

 

“Who’s responsible?”

 

I’m guessing you never have either.

 

I am sure you never said that we have this Enemy who is working overtime to paint the rainbow; you never once thought that it was the Devil who composed that piece which moved you to tears. Have you ever seen a healthy, happy person, and blamed Satan?

 

Such actions are absurd. And we know it. Yet…

 

We have already talked about the damage done by the INCORRECT use of the phrase “the will of God.”

When there is an earthquake, tornado, or hurricane, insurance may call it an  “Act of God.” But it is not.

 

When a child dies, someone may say, “It is the will of God.” But it is not.

 

War, famine, illness, and evil may strike, and some will lay the responsibility at God’s feet with the words “Thy will be done.”

 

But, those are not, never have been, and never will be God’s will.

 

So, what IS the will of God?

 

How do we make sense of the confusing, painful reality we so often see?

 

Let’s turn to the oldest story of all, in the most ancient of times, about the One who is the Ancient of Days…

 

 

Gen 1: 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was VERY (my emphasis) good. And there was evening, and there was morning —the sixth day. 

 

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 

 

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. 

 

Chapter 1 describes the work of God creating the world with the same evaluation, over and over again until it gets to verse 31: Good…good…good…VERY good.

In other words, it is completely perfect.

Perfect in purpose & beauty.

There is no evil in God’s creation.

On top of all that, the Sabbath is given as a gift so we do not experience exhaustion, toil, drudgery.

God wants to ensure that we have times of refreshing for body and soul.

We need time with God as well as time away from work.

 

 

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

 

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 

 

 

God builds a park (In ancient times, great Kings created great parks).

This one was pleasing to eye; and it was good for food.

God waters his park with a river (Rivers were the basis for all life in the ancient mid-East).

Here is a gift to Humanity from caring, providing God.

 

 

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of EDEN (which can mean BLISS in Hebrew) to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 BUT (CUE ominous music) you must not eat from the tree (music grows LOUDER) of the knowledge of good and evil (and louder), for when you eat from it (almost deafening) you will certainly die.” 

 

BLISS is a synonym for Paradise.

God gives meaningful work (and, no, that is not a 4-letter word.

If so, either you are doing it wrong; or you are doing the wrong thing;

Or, you still live in a fallen world.)

 

 

 

If we are not careful, it is so easy to miss the point.

It is subtle. But, here it is:

 

God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.

It was “completely perfect” (in purpose and form)

The whole of creation was beautiful and fruitful.

The Garden is a park.

It is lush, verdant, laden with fruit.

The grass is manicured, the trees are trimmed and nourished.

 

Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, in his book The Will of God calls it the INTENTIONAL or ideal will of God.

 

One more time: “God saw ALL that he had made, and it was VERY GOOD.”

 

Show me anywhere here where God creates anything less than good!

(Go ahead, I’m waiting. I’m even looking at my watch.)

 

That is, I believe, the point.

 

Reserve the phrase ‘willof God’ for 2 young people declaring their intent to marry.

 

Let’s talk about the will of God when people are in good health, or have significant work.

 

The Will of God is laughter and song, poem and music, art, and beauty and color.

 

But, to talk about ‘the will of God’ as anything other is to take God’s name in vain.

 

(In the King James Version, it reads “to take 0’s name in vain.”

The New International Version translates it as “misuse.”)

We misuse God’s name when we blame God for evil, suffering, the  brokenness of our world.

 

When we look at the story, we know that something goes terribly wrong.

We will talk about that in the next post.

 

But, not now. Not here in the original moments in the story.

 

Here: God saw ALL that he had made and it was VERY GOOD.

The Creator-God of the Bible: creates beauty, wonder, and variety.

God is the author not of death, but life;

Not of brokenness, but wholeness;

Not of evil, but good.

 

I hope that we would never again blame God for evil, suffering, brokenness.

 

Could we, instead, think right about the God of Creation?

Could we understand correctly what God does?

Could we be clear about exactly who God is?

If so, we would not misunderstand as has so often been the case….

 

One Sunday, the Reverend Luke Wiseman, 86, preached twice, then went home. He sat down by the fireplace, fell asleep, and woke up in Heaven.

I would argue that that’s the will of God.

That’s the way it is designed to be.

That is God’s intention, ideal, plan.

Beauty in this life, glory in Heaven, peace on Earth.

Poem and song, art and music, humble service and lovely lives.

Happy homes, and healthy bodies, and meaningful work.

 

Maybe Paul put it best when he wrote:

 

Philippians 4:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Next post: The ominous music in the background builds…

October 15, 2012

 

Acts 4:29-31 (NLT)
And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. [30] Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” [31] After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Observation:  There is something clearly different in the church then versus the church now. There was an incredible fruitfulness and power. What they did had impact, bore fruit, changed lives and circumstances. Today we can too seldom say the same. Our praying, our preaching, our Healing have little, if any, impact.
Application: I don’t pray, or preach, or heal like them. I feel like the comment: “the form of godliness with none of the power.” (2 Tim 3:5) I don’t want that anymore. I want mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing impact on my family, neighbors, church, community, state, nation, and world. But it isn’t happening. I can’t live with that. I want to see more David C——–s healed, more Ruth S—–s restored to Christ, more people coming from New Age gatherings to Jesus, more Professions of Faith, more disciples.
Prayer:  Lord, I feel like we look godly but are missing out on the mind-blowing, heart-warming, life-changing power of your Spirit at work in us, your church. Give us power. Make us different. Increase our fruitfulness. Help us change the world for you. Begin with me. In the powerful and loving name of Jesus.

October 4, 2012

 

Luke 17:15-16 (NLT)
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” [16] He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Observation:  10 were healed. 10 received their lives back. 10 were certainly excited. Were 9 of them Jews, with one lone Samaritan? Was he the lowest of the low? Among the dregs of society, was he the least of the caste members? Hard to know. But, only this man was truly grateful. Only this man recognized the source of his blessing, and acknowledged and thanked that One.
Application:  Am I one of them? Or, am I the one? 10 are blessed, but only one gives back thanks. Which one am I?
Prayer:  Lord, thank you. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for blessing me.  Thank you for calling and using me in your service.  May my thanks be more than lip service. May my life and actions and heart and attitude be the fruit of a grateful heart, deeply blessed and profoundly changed. Help me honor you with loyal friendship and faithful service, Lord, I pray.