Monday, July 25, 2016

Control

Is God in control or not?

That’s really the question.

Every time I read someone’s explanation of why I must choose between two immensely flawed candidates, there is an underlying assumption. If we vote wrong, God loses. God cannot possibly overcome the wrong person being elected to the White House.

New justices will be nominated to the Supreme Court, important laws about religious liberty may be passed. This is a crucial time in our nation’s history.*

Therefore, I must compromise. I must support a person who stands against almost everything I stand for.

Well, I think God is bigger than one election. I think His principles and standards are eternal, and not to be ignored in the name of pragmatism or expediency. My job is not to make sure the government of the United States moves in a certain direction. My calling is to help people see Jesus and move toward Him. And I don’t see how I can attract people to God while denying His nature.

Come January 2017, another new individual will be sworn in as temporary President of the United States. But the same God will still be on the throne of the universe, and His Kingdom will stand.

It seems to me that denying that reality when I step into the voting booth is just me proclaiming loudly that I don’t really believe God is in control.



* When was the last time we weren't being told "this election is crucial?"



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We’re Called to Stand

It’s a lousy time to teach through Jeremiah.

Often called the weeping prophet, in reality he was the losing prophet. When he started his ministry, God gave him an immense challenge. “You must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you.” (1)

That was followed by the least encouraging pep talk of all time:
“Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (2) 

In other words, God says, “I am calling you to stand against your people, your political power brokers, and even your religious leaders. And know ahead of time, they’re not going to listen. Just remember, you don’t answer to them, you answer to me.”

So, Jeremiah began his ministry. He went to the Temple and proclaimed the message. Over and over again for forty-some years. And just like God foretold, the people fought him. They beat him, imprisoned him, dropped him into an almost-empty cistern, and eventually kidnapped him and took him to Egypt, the place God was telling them not to go. 

They did almost everything to him imaginable, except for one thing: listen. In one instance the king even made a great show of cutting up and burning Jeremiah’s messages. 

Jeremiah was, by almost any rational analysis, a loser.

Except for one thing. He wasn’t called to win. 

He wasn’t called to convince everyone that he was right. He wasn’t called to form a coalition with Egypt and save the nation of Judah. (3)

He was called to stand. 

In the midst of a nation that was moving in the wrong direction, a nation that was ignoring God’s standards, Jeremiah wasn’t called to save them. His job was to stand for God’s principles and proclaim that the only hope the nation had was God, not coalitions. So he stood, and he was persecuted, and he died looking an awful lot like a loser.

Years later, another Prophet came to the Temple in the middle of chaotic times. He, too, could have formed a coalition. He could have compromised. He could have come up with a political strategy, and convinced His followers that to stand against both the Romans and the Jewish leadership was to choose to lose. 

Instead, He walked to the Temple and quoted Jeremiah. “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (4)

So, they killed Him.

And three days later, God won.

In this election cycle, we’re being told we need to choose a side. That not voting for one of the two establishment candidates is choosing to lose, and therefore not allowed. 

I’m told I must either support the candidate who doesn’t seem to have any personal convictions except gaining power and making abortion easier, or the one who brags about his serial adultery (and his penis size), and who firmly believes the best way to attain power is to take advantage of the weak.

Now I’m watching as good Christians begin to talk themselves into this dubious “truth.”

Well, I can’t. 

I can’t vote for someone who encourages the continued destruction of the unborn (5). And as a Christian who encourages his friends to choose a life path that encourages purity, selflessness, and care for the weaker members of society, I can’t drive around with a bumper sticker on my car supporting a candidate who stands against every one of those ideals.

I can’t, and I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to.

It’s not my job to see how many of my principles I can compromise in order to form a coalition that could save our country through some political process. It’s my job to hold tightly to and proclaim the principles that can lead God to rescue our nation.

Winning at all cost may be a pragmatic approach, but it’s not a Christian one. 

So, I’m choosing to let God be in charge of winning and losing.

Because I’m not called to win; I’m called to stand.

Notes:
(1) Jeremiah 1:7, NLT
(2) Jeremiah 1:17-19, NIV
(3) That was the number one suggestion from the nation’s leaders on how to solve the Babylonian problem.
(4) Matthew 21:13 NIV. The den of robbers line is from Jeremiah’s speech at the Temple. The quote about the house of prayer is from Isaiah 56:7. When God called Isaiah, God told him that he was to speak to people who would not hear what he said, and that it would all end with the people being taken into exile. (Isaiah 6:8-13)
(5) Interestingly, Jeremiah’s call contains one of the strongest Bible verses on the value of the unborn. (Jeremiah 1:5)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Faith: In Your Own Handwriting Available in Paperback, eBook.

Faith: In Your Own Handwriting is available just in time for Cyber Monday.
I think there are five groups of people who could find this book very helpful.
  • Young adults who want to transition from their parents' faith to one they can call their own,
  • People who are curious about Christianity and would like to know what it really means to be a Christian,
  • People who have been turned off by one form of Christianity or another, but are still interested in Jesus,
  • New believers who are wanting to get a good start in living their faith, and
  • Anyone who feels they are at a spiritual transition point. 
The paperback can be purchased here, while the Kindle ebook is available here. (The paperback will be available at Amazon in a few days.)
 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Faith has launched!

  
It's AVAILABLE!. Faith: In Your Own Handwriting is now available on Amazon.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Excerpt: Choosing a Church

The new book, Faith: In Your Own Handwriting is inching closer to publication. This is one of three appendices, and I thought I'd go ahead and share it. Might give you a little taste of the book as whole, and be useful as well. 

Choosing a Church



Among the most important decisions you’ll make is which church you’ll connect with. If you’re still making your initial faith decision, the wrong church can push you to a wrong decision. If you’re a new believer or seeking to re-write your childhood faith in your own handwriting, the church you choose will be a major force in shaping (or re-shaping) your faith. And even for more experienced Christians, a church can stunt your growth or help you move to a greater faith than you’d dreamed possible. 

And remember, this decision is personal. God has made you unique, and your church choice should enhance that uniqueness, not conform you to some human pattern. Your focus should be on pleasing God and finding His will for you. 

In my immediate family, one of my sisters is comfortable in the same style church she grew up in, while the other worships and serves in a totally different environment. The church I pastor is radically different from both, and I think my baby brother is still working out his fit. Your job is still to find your own God-designed path, not focus on the approval of anyone else. 

When it comes to your church decision, I think there are five things to consider: worship focus, worship style, church calling, church doctrine, and your connection.

We discussed worship focus earlier in the book. You may remember the concepts of God’s Immanence (God is near.) and His Transcendence (God is other.). As we mentioned, these strongly influence worship. Do you most easily worship in surroundings that point to God’s majesty or His proximity? Do incense and stained glass draw you to worship, or do less formal settings make you feel closer to God?

Worship style is different from focus. Do you worship best with upbeat, contemporary music or with pipe organs and traditional hymns? Acoustic or electric guitars? Dresses and suits, or jeans and t-shirts? I believe people can worship God in all these diverse styles, but that doesn’t mean you personally can. Some styles will help you worship, some won’t. Some could even discourage you from worship. While I think this is probably the least important of the five considerations, it is real. 

The one consideration that I think most people don’t even recognize is church calling, but I think it might be the most important. 

In his book Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church, Collin Hansen defines three types of churches based on their calling. Courageous churches take stands. Whether it’s a cultural issue or a doctrinal dispute, courageous churches relish speaking truth into a situation.
Compassionate churches seek out the downtrodden. They feed the poor, love the unlovable, and try their best to be the healing hands of Jesus toward anyone who is hurting.

Commissioned churches focus on the Great Commission. They are all about helping unbelievers find their way to Jesus, and are always on the lookout for the best methods of communicating the Good News. 

Obviously, Jesus calls every church to do all three, but churches tend to migrate toward their strength. While I doubt any church member would say their church ignores one of these, it doesn’t take long to tell which of these three each church considers its calling. Our church has a real heart for compassion, and does its best to stand for truth, but if you cut us we bleed the Great Commission. 

Here’s the thing. As you develop your faith, you will probably find yourself drawn more toward one of these callings than the other. For you to fully live into what God wants to do in your life, your church has to support your calling. Our church makes a concerted effort to wed Commission and Compassion. We think advancing the Gospel includes transforming cultures to better reflect God’s values. We have plenty of members who have a primary calling toward compassion and they fit in well with our church’s mission and vision.

The same can’t be said about people who are called to the Courageous church. Our almost-overwhelming passion to reach people and advance God’s Kingdom means we don’t take public stands on as many issues as the purely courageous like. People with this calling tend to leave our church eventually. Hopefully, they can find a Courageous church where they can more fully write their faith.

One key thing to remember about calling is that the only wrong answer is the one that doesn’t match you. The world needs Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned churches. And all three need each other. Without the Courageous churches watching our doctrinal backsides, the Compassionate and Commissioned churches can wander into serious error. Without the prodding of the Compassionate churches, the other two can become cold and uncaring. And without the passionate pushing of the Commissioned churches, the other churches can become inwardly focused. 

The key isn’t which one is right. The key is which one (or which combination) is right for you. 

A fourth consideration, and one that is directly tied to how far along you are in your spiritual development process is church doctrine. If you’re just getting started, you probably don’t have strongly developed beliefs on any of the secondary (or tertiary) doctrinal issues. While you hopefully understand the importance of the Deity of Christ, you may have no opinion whatsoever on, for instance, the “proper” method of baptism. Rest assured, the church you connect with will have an opinion. Before you connect, make sure you have at least some peace about the church’s doctrinal stands. If you feel misgivings here, that could be God nudging you in a different direction.

If you have been a Christian for a while, you may well have strong opinions on certain theological issues. Make sure your views are compatible (not necessarily identical, but compatible) with the church you’re considering. You can write this down. You’re not going to change their mind, and they’re going to try to change yours, intentionally or not. Joining a church with the idea of changing them is just as bad an idea as getting married with a plan to change your prospective spouse.

The final consideration is Your Connection. Can you see yourself belonging here? While the church’s job isn’t to make you comfortable, a certain level of comfort with the people of a church and its culture is vital. If you are considering a church but can’t see yourself working in and with the people of that church, if you don’t see yourself confidently giving your money or your time, or if you can’t imagine inviting people to that church, keep looking. 

Of course, there is one more thing to consider. Churches come in lots of flavors. Perfect is not one of them. Churches are composed of screwed up people (like you), so they are all imperfect. Usually massively so (again, like you). Perfection and connection are not the same thing. 

What if you can’t find a good church fit in your area? Pick the one that comes closest and try to make it work. You need other believers to truly thrive, even if the match is far from perfect, and quite often that imperfect fit works out better than you’d expect. 


You can also look online for a church that broadcasts its services. An online church service might make up for what’s lacking in a local church. And if you just can’t connect, pray that God sends someone to your area to start a brand new church where you can serve and grow.