We don’t really want a God.

So, first a little background. I came to know Christ when I was six years old. Yes, I remember, and yes, it was very real to me. I grew up a Baptist, and I once sat in a chair next to my mom in a good ol’ fashioned Midwest revival tent until I watched the sun come up. I think I was maybe nine. Went to a Presbyterian church in Junior High. Back to Baptist in High School. Assembly of God in college and later on. When I wasn’t walking waaaayyy far away from the Lord in between. I’ve been to revivals and evangelical shindigs of all varieties. I even dabbled in a Vineyard church for a while. That was….interesting.

As an adult I’ve settled into a theology which isn’t neatly categorized, but falls somewhere between evangelical, fundamentalist and…libertarian.

I’ve read the Internet. Okay, not all of it. But, well, a LOT of it. I’ve been on chat boards and newsgroups since they were white text on a black screen. I built websites when you had to write the code by hand. I blogged before there were blogs. I’ve worked for a Christian web ministry and been a lay pastor in a Foursquare church. I’ve waded through a good deal of the emergent church movement and “progressive” Christianity. I’ve looked at Satanist sites, been steeped in apologetics, and run the gamut of cults, one-offs and also-rans in the religious world.

And through it all, I’ve come to the fairly decisive conclusion that as a group, humanity…well…we don’t really want a God.  Not really.

Sure, we talk a good game, but the fact of the matter is that our human pride is just too much in the way.

When I read the Bible, I read about a God that expects to be taken seriously.  I think it’s hard for us in the modern western world to really put God into the proper context because we’ve never lived under a true king. We’ve never lived in a time when one man, sitting on a throne, literally has the power of life and death in his hands. His word is law, and with a mere wave of his hand, he could pass a sentence of death or commute a sentence of torture or banishment. We simply have no concept of that kind of personal power.

And so we have built up this image of a squishy, malleable, approachable, gentle Sunday-school Jesus god who loves puppies and small children and pats us on the head and sends us on our way as his merry giggling children.

We don’t want a God.  We want a camp counselor, a bartender, a friend, who will listen to our problems and our woes. A confidant and confessor; a beer drinking, cigar smoking buddy who slap us on the back and tell us everything is going to be okay. And sure, God in the person of Jesus Christ can be all that and more. And yet. And yet…

In our pursuit of these Kumbaya moments, we quietly and conveniently set aside the aspects of God we find uncomfortable, challenging, even perhaps daunting and scary. We can’t square that with the ideal of the enabling cheerleader we’ve come to expect, and so we decide that that CAN’T be God! Not the god WE want!

Because what we really want is a god….not a God. A god who is just too much like us, who thinks and acts and reacts just a little too much like the way we think he or she or it should.

Instead of a God who called the very universe into being. Who spun together the elements to form galaxies and planets and stars; who brought life to this planet out of nothingness. A God who commands the very atoms of existence to obey His will. A God with the power of life and death in His hands, who can, with a mere wave of his hand, pass a sentence of eternal death or commute a sentence of torture and banishment. We simply have no concept of that kind of personal power.

We think to bargain, and negotiate, and to craft a theology that conforms to our will, crafting a god (or gods) with whom we are comfortable. A god who obeys us, who acts and behaves as WE want it to….and not the other way around.

That’s not a God. That’s an idol, formed by man in his own image.

The Bible shows us a God, not a god. Absolute power and authority, tempered by eternal love and amazing compassion. But…we cannot deny the one and hope to secure the other.

Jesus Christ is God, in every aspect. We have experienced his love, his mercy, his grace and compassion. Let us not forget, however, the very important question asked of Job – “Where were YOU when I laid the foundations of the earth?!”

The problem we have with a real God is that thorny and troublesome word, “obedience.” We balk and chafe at the idea that we must suborn our will, our desires, our plans, to an all-powerful King. In our American ideal of independence and individual autonomy, we have progressively (!) lost our ability…or at least or desire…to “bow” before a “king.” I just seems so antithetical to everything we’ve been taught to value and believe. And so we reimagine and reinvent a god more compatible with this concept of, well, basically….“You’re not the boss of ME!

Problem is…He is. He holds my life in His hands. He brought me into being, and shaped my life around me. I am his child, a son of God. Sadly…that doesn’t mean what it used to either. A child, a son, should obey his father. Trusting in him, believing that he knows and understands things that my childlike mind simply can’t comprehend. Trust. Obedience. Submission. Reverence. Even…unto…death. THAT is what our God calls us to do. And to be. And far too many of us in this modern world have decided that, if that’s what it takes, well then….

…we don’t want a God. Not really.

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Reclaiming Lost Ground

In my last post, I talked about surrendering to God. Surrendering can mean many things; sometimes it means letting go of something, but sometimes it can mean NOT letting go!

In surrendering ourselves to God, we agree, we resolve, we commit to opposing everything in our life that is un-Godly. Or at least to try. To work at it. To make it a priority. BUT! If I stop resisting something, if I allow myself to become complacent, to just give up and accept it as part of my daily definition of “normal,” then I will have surrendered to it and not to God.

It can be as something as simple as a hardness of the heart that I’ve learned to accept, an area of unforgiveness, resentment, or anger – however justified in my mind – that I have ceased to oppose or worked to resolve. I just accept it as “the way things are.”

In doing so, I accept defeat. In effect, saying, in THIS area, God is not sovereign. In this, I “cannot win”…or don’t want to. In holding on to that anger, in nursing that grudge, in accepting that addictive behavior, I show where have I given ground over to the Enemy.

But the more you give him, the more he will try to take. Each step backward is a foothold for the enemy to advance further into your life.

Victory in Christ means not accepting defeat in your life. Find every piece of ground where the enemy has gained a foothold, and renew the offensive to reclaim it! Turn to God, acknowledge it to Him, then seek and accept his equipping to oppose and defeat it.

Challenge: Lord, show me daily, minute by minute, which battles I’m not fighting that I should be.  What footholds has the Enemy gained, what areas of my life do I need to reclaim? Teach me to live daily in the victory you have secured for me on the Cross.

 

Thoughts From My Quiet Time: The Power of Letting Go

I surrender all. I surrender all. All to thee, my blessed savior, I surrender aaaaalllll.”

So the song goes. But…am I really doing it? Am I really giving everything over to Him? Or, am I still holding on to a few things I plan to handle for myself?

Why do we sometimes cling sooo tightly to a favorite fear, or chose to continually re-live the same past trauma, or dwell forever on that one special mistake we made way back when? It’s like some ragged stuffed animal that’s been with us for so long that we just can’t quite seem to let it go.

MINE!” we yell.

So, inevitably, that’s precisely where God is going to focus his attention; because it’s the very things that we hold on to the most tightly that are the most important for us to let go of.

It’s those learned responses, those conditioned reflexes, those programmed behaviors, those things where we stubbornly insist, “It’s just the way things are!” Even if they aren’t pleasant, they are comfortable, they are familiar; they are what we know.  And they may even be true…for now.

But…just because that’s the way things are, doesn’t mean that’s really how they have to stay, is it? God is all about taking what is…and changing it into what can be.  HOWEVER…

…we have to let go of it first.

It’s those very things that we “know” with such certainty that too often get in the way of discovering the real truth of things.  It’s only when we stop trying to tell God how things are, that we become open to the possibilities of what they can be!

Problem is, that means letting go of our illusions of control, of our carefully nurtured victim-hood, or of any of 101 other things that we tend to put in place of a complete reliance on God and an unwavering trust in His sovereignty over our life. And that’s hard. Real hard. Because we really like our little teddy bear.

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  1st Cor. 13:11-12

If I hold on too tightly to those artifacts of the past, if I cling too tightly to that ragged old teddy bear, I can never really grow up the way I am supposed to, the way God wants me to. I stagnate, I get stuck, and I don’t grow. So, before I can move forward, I have to stop looking back. Instead of focusing on what was, I can start seeing what new things God is ready to lead me into instead!

Challenge:  Lord, what are those things in my life that I haven’t let go of yet? What are things I need to put into your hands? What are the fears I most need to trust you with, and the places in which I most need to be the most open to change?

Judgement Is Not Your Job.

I have a question. One sort of spawned from reading this article by Beth Woolsey entitled, “3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin.

And that question is: why do we think we can stop other people from sinning, when we can’t even stop OURSELVES from sinning??

Ms. Woolsey takes us back to the story of the woman about to be stoned to death by the Pharisees, where Jesus says by way of condemnation of their methods,”… let any of you who is without sin, cast the first stone.

Thing is, Jesus WAS without sin. Sinless. And so by his own definition he was completely qualified to stone the woman; to throw the first stone.  And yet he didn’t. He showed her grace, and forgiveness and an acceptance the likes of which she had probably never experienced from anyone else. I think it’s pretty safe to say he had an impact on her life. And probably made a friend that day as well.

How much more then are we — as full and complete sinners who are living our lives an eternity away from the perfection of Christ — uniquely UNQUALIFIED to throw that first stone?!  How DARE we stand in judgement of others? That is a role reserved exclusively for the person of God!

Our ministries should not be focused on stopping people from sinning. We can’t do it. We aren’t qualified!  You know who is? God. The Holy Spirit. The changer of hearts and redeemer of lives. Not us. Not the pastors, not the deacons, not the lay preachers or Bible study leaders.

We. Can’t. Do. It.

What can we do? We can work to bring people into relationship with Christ. And then let Him take it from there.

Can I cure an alcoholic? Nope. Can I get a drug user to stop using? Nope.  Can I get a compulsive, self-destructive gambler to push back from the blackjack table? I can try. I can exhort, beg, whine, condemn, yell, plead.  But you know what? Until he wants to stop, until God works that miracle in his heart…it isn’t going to happen. I can’t shame him, I can’t bully him, and I can’t guilt him into changing.

What I can do is tell him that there’s a way. A way out. A way up. I can SHOW him that way, by the way I live my life, by the manifest witness of what God has done in my own life. AND THAT’S IT.

A great deal of what we know today as “church,” we got from Paul, not from Jesus.  Paul and the disciples were the Tiger Team, the Hellfighters.  They were sent out to make disciples of all nations, and Paul as the designated honcho oversaw the process. He was the project manager.

The thing is, his letters to the churches?  They are, without exception, exhortations to hold fast and to hold true to the path they have chosen – to people WHO ARE ALREADY BELIEVERS!

To the people who aren’t?  To the gambler or the housewife, to the alcoholic or the bus driver, to the thief or the school teacher? It’s a different story.

The unsaved are NOT BOUND BY DOCTRINE! It. Does. Not. Apply. To. Them.

And therefore, we cannot hold them accountable to it!! It is utterly meaningless for me to shake a Bible in the face of “a sinner,” spout a bunch of religious rhetoric and hope to have any impact. Other than perhaps inspiring hostility and resentment.  That’s not the way we reach the lost.

As a matter of fact, the very act of attempting to put myself in a separate camp than ”those sinners” is in itself an act of sin!

“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   Romans 2:1-6

The law (the scriptures) is there to bring an awareness of sin. It’s there to help you understand how and why we need a savior. To get a glimpse of the eternal consequences for breaking the rules.  If I know that the speed limit is 55, and I go 70, when I get a ticket I can’t say, “well I didn’t KNOW!

But you know what else? It’s not my job to write tickets. It’s not my job to enforce the law. I can’t make that guy in the lane next to me drive any slower by shaking a fist or showing a finger. As a matter of fact, I may very well push the person to drive faster just to show me I’m not the boss of him or her, leading him into further violation of the law! And you know what else? I’ve sinned by even trying.

Matthew 5:22 says, “22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Not very kind and gentle words, are they?  I can’t stop that guy from speeding, but I can guard my own heart. Instead of getting angry and cussing, I can step back, say a prayer for him or her, and let God do the work on that other person in His way and in His timing.

Because it IS His job…..not mine.  Not my job. Not my role.

My job is to love, to try and understand, and more importantly to live every day with the understanding that if God took the same attitude towards me that I am taking towards those over whom I am so quick to stand in judgement, I’d be in some deep doo-doo for sure!

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

Challenging words. Especially during rush hour.

When God Calls…Do You Let It Go To Voicemail?

Are you screening your calls?

answering-machines1---message-screen_s600x600As I fast approach my 47th year in this world, I find myself taking a hard look back over my life, and evaluating a lot of the decisions I’ve made, sifting and sorting through the many milestones and events and turns-left-instead-of-right that have led me to my current station in life.  Several of those junctions, several key “forks in the road” really begin stand out to me.  Invariably, they are the points where I had to make a decision whether to follow where God was leading…or to pursue my own path chasing after my own desires.  Sadly, more often than I care to admit I’ve made the wrong choice.

It makes me wonder why we struggle so hard against what we see as the “demands” of Christ’s Kingdom? I think sometimes we tend to think only about all the things we’ll have to give up, of all the sacrifices we’ll have to make.  Maybe we picture a life of monastic austerity, kind of like a kid trapped inside on a summer day while he watches through the window as the other kids get to go out and play.  A life spent serving God is seen as something all those “saintly” people do, but really, isn’t that a bit much to ask of the average joe?

BUT.  If we truly believe that we are created by God, if we truly believe that He has gifted and equipped and will call each of us to serve Him in a way uniquely suited to who and what we are, why do we still hesitate to answer this call?

For far too many of us, it’s not enough to just be what God has created us to be.   We want and demand that we become more, or maybe something just more to our liking, something that fits a little better into what and who we think we ought to be; you know, something more! We treat a life lived in service to God as “Plan B.”  Maybe something to get around to once we’ve finished doing all the other stuff WE want to do.  In other words, we put ourselves first.  We put our desires and our goals ahead of what God has laid out for us.

This is THE VERY SAME SIN that doomed mankind from the start. The first sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden was not the sin of disobedience. The disobedience was a RESULT of an earlier sin; the first sin of Man was the sin of pride.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,  she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Gen. 3:3-6

Seduced by the smooth and persuasive words of the Serpent, Adam and Eve felt the first stirrings of the desire to be MORE. They were created in God’s own image. They were quite possibly either immortal, or incredibly long-lived. They knew no shame, hurt, fear or want. They were given a position of unique and important responsibility in caring for God’s creation. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t enough. God’s given call on their lives, his intended purpose, no longer sufficed. They wanted more. They wanted to be “as God.” They wanted to “know,” to have their eyes opened, to take on an aspect other than that for which they were created. And this desire led them into death. It led them into separation from God. It shattered a bond, a faith, a unique trust between them and their Creator. In effect, they chose the words of the Serpent over the words of God. They said, in their hearts, “Father, what you have given us is not enough. We see what you are apparently denying us, and now we want MORE!

Be careful what you ask for. Especially when you ask in ignorance, without faith, in disobedience.

In how many ways do we see this same sin, this same legacy born out day after day in our own lives? God calls and equips us for a certain work, and in our pride we decide that it’s not “good enough.” We see all the things we think God could provide us, and isn’t, and we decide that God can’t possibly be calling me to teach third graders. I’m meant to be a church planter! How come I’m stuck cleaning up after the youth group, when I should be leading the worship team up on stage?! God must be punishing me for something; otherwise I’d have a much more (glamorous, visible, better-paying, more influential, etc) position.

Even the early Disciples struggle with this same pride, this same desire to be something MORE.  In Mark Chapt. 9:33-35, we here them jostling for position amongst one another:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The mission, the purpose for which God has called each of us as Believers, and equipped us (if even for just a season) is too often considered “beneath” us. Not important enough. Not worth “our” time. And so we refuse to fulfill that calling, that role. We disobey. We let ourselves be seduced by the allure of all those bright, shiny things seemingly held just beyond our reach, instead of focusing on the anointing God has already placed on our lives. We become discontented, impatient and selfish, not content to merely serve in humility.  We become so focused on our position, on our status, even among other Christians, that we lose site of what “servanthood” really means.

And too often, what happens next? Well, from hard-won personal experience, let me tell you.

We decide that if that’s all God has for us, if that’s all the more famous we’re going to get, well then, no thanks. We turn away. We stop serving the Kingdom altogether. It’s too hard, too embarrassing, too boring, too this, too that.  We find 101 reasons why this really just isn’t working out for us.  Maybe we storm off in a huff, or maybe we just step away from the plow. Maybe we storm up the stairs and slam our bedroom door, or just quietly unplug the phone and turn out the lights.  Whatever it looks like, we turn away from the words of God and trust in our own wisdom as to what is best. And so the Serpent wins. Again.

The Enemy wants nothing more than to keep us so distracted by shiny things, things that are a “delight to the eyes,” so focused on our “felt needs” and our earthly desires and the praise of man that when the phone rings and we realize that it’s God calling, we’ll just let it go to voicemail.

Whether through fear, or pride, inattention, laziness, or just plain unbelief, we can sometimes let ourselves miss a calling that promises so much more for our life than anything we can scrounge up ourselves.  So the next time you think you might be hearing God’s call on your life, hearing Him call you out of where you are to where He wants you to be…

PICK UP THE PHONE!

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

It’s that time of the year again. Peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Two-for-one, and an extra 15% off if you buy before Saturday. The more you buy, the more you save.

I honestly wonder why we haven’t yet seen an advertisement for a Christmas sale with swarthy-looking bearded gentlemen, a big smile on his face, holding up his arms as if he was on a cross, but in each hand he has shopping bags with a store’s name on them, with the caption underneath, “When Jesus shops here, JESUS SAVES!!

Come on. You gotta admit, it’d be catchy!

I propose that perhaps one of the reasons that Christmas has become so completely secularized with the all Santa Clauses and reindeer and trees and gluttonous commercialism we see today, is that it was never really a Christian holiday to begin with. It is not a day of the Lord; at least, not OUR Lord.

The use of the evergreen tree as a central element likely harkens back to the pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice. The “Christmas” tree became a part of the modern observance after the Catholic church designated December 25th as the date of Christ’s birth in order to better co-opt the pagan converts into their new religion.

The presence of mistletoe, stockings by the chimney, and the tradition of Santa Claus or “St. Nicholas” are also elements co-opted from early pagan, druid or secular/cultural traditions having absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ. The laurel wreath we hang, the ornaments and candles on the tree are likely a holdover from the Roman celebration of the feast of Saturnalia, part of the worship of their Sun god.

Even the act of placing our gifts beneath the tree, while the manager scene sits of to the side, is a strange custom if you think about it. Whereas the Magi of the Biblical account came an placed their gifts at the feet of Christ, we place out gifts at the feet of a…tree. Again, mirroring the pagan act of worshipping the creation, rather than the creator.

If you actually look to the Biblical timeline, the birth of Christ is much more likely to have occurred somewhere in the September/October timeframe. Not December.  So, there’s very little reason or historic justification for holding “Christ’s Mass” on December 25th.

So, SHOULD Christians celebrate Christmas?

Sure!  Yeah! Go for it!  I have a lot of warm and fond memories of Christmas growing up, and plan to build more of the same in years to come.  Christmas is a great time in so many ways, and I plan to make it a part of my December, as always.  However.

I propose that Christians celebrating modern Christmas is much like Christian parents taking their kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. If you can successfully turn a blind eye to what is really at the roots of All Hallows Eve, and just treat it as a fun, cultural event with no religious or “spiritual” meaning, then that’s your decision. We took our kids out this year, not because we were trying to appease the lost and angry spirits, but because it’s just a fun time for them and for us.

But they didn’t dress up as demons, devils, ghosts or vampires, either.

I, for one, have decided that I am not going to get the least bit bent out of shape if some cashier or bagger wishes me a “Happy Holiday,” because that’s all it really is any more. A holiday. An excuse for a party. It’s two extra days off of work if I’m lucky, and overtime pay if I’m not. It’s a chance to give and get some nifty presents, and have another big feast just as I’ve shaken off the last vestiges of the food hangover from Thanksgiving.  To make nice with family and friends I haven’t seen, and for a couple of days at least, pretend that there’s still hope for this crazy, mixed up world.

I’m also going to consider our religious forefathers’ attempts to overlay a thin veneer of Christianity onto what was clearly a pagan ritual a complete failure, and move on.

So yes, I’d say, go ahead and have a Merry Christmas; I certainly plan to!  Just as long as you realize that it’s really become more of a cultural event than anything of Christian significance. 

And don’t go getting in someone’s face because they wish you a “Happy Holiday,” or threaten to boycott a store because they won’t print “Merry Christmas” on their flyers and banners promising you 25% off all the STUFF you are going to go BUY BUY BUY, mostly out of obligation, to fulfill all the expectations our culture has placed on you. 

Should we really be all that upset that Christ’s name ISN’T being put on that stuff?

We should be picketing outside demanding that it’s NOT, not demanding that it IS. I don’t want these stores cheapening the name of my Savior in the interests of making a quick buck!! Talk about WWJD!?! Christians should have a major problem with having the words “Christ” and “One Day Sale” in the same sentence — not getting their feathers all in a fluff because the Lord’s name ISN’T being taken in vain as a marketing ploy.

I would love to see more Christians do the homework to get into and really understand the Messianic roots of so many of the Jewish feasts and festivals, to find a time and way to celebrate the true birth of Christ in a way which honors God, and denies the “form of this world.” So much of what “Christmas” has become cannot be pleasing to God, even when we toss in a manger scene and a few religious Christmas carols.

We need to return to our Biblical foundations, and honor the birth of our Savior in a way that is honoring to HIM, not profitable for Wal-Mart and Pottery Barn.

Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances, given gifts by people he had no way of knowing, gifts the significance of which he (at the time) couldn’t have known. These gifts were given because they had a prophetic significance, given to honor him, to proclaim him as the Messiah, and ultimately foretelling his death…not because he was the only left on the Magis’ shopping list. “Frankincense? Myrrh? AND they’re on sale? Woot! Shopping DONE!”

I think we should do everything we can to GET the name of Christ out of modern Christmas, and maybe claim another day as our own. Get it on the calendar as “Birth Of Christ (Observed).” Let them have their X-Mas. Let’s write it off as a lost cause, and get back to worshipping God, not mammon.

UPDATE:

Here’s a very detailed article going into the various dates and histories behind the birth and death of Christ.  Good reading!

How December 25 Became Christmas

And He Will Heal Their Land. Maybe.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this one.  The time-worn favorite of the armchair evangelical who exhorts us to pray for our nation in that email you are supposed to forward to 25 friends.

2 Chron. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. “

We see this verse again and again when it’s time for the National Day of Prayer, “See You At The Pole,” or a variety of other times and events when people need to feel like they are DOING something.

However, like so many other things in modern day eschatology, I think we tend to skip over a lot in this verse and focus on the “easy” stuff.

Keep in mind that praying is only ONE of the things that the verse exhorts us to do.

Another is to humble ourselves, a third is to turn from our wicked ways.  Understanding that “wicked” simply means “un-Godly.”  We tend to think of wickedness as those “evil” things like adultery and murder and stealing.  But in God’s eyes, “wickedness” is anything we do outside of His will.  Anger, strife, jealousy…delusions of self-sufficiency.  Even “good” things done with the best of intentions, if they are done based on our human (and thus flawed) intentions might ultimately be considered “wickedness.”

Isaiah 46:6 – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

It is hard to truly understand “humbling” ourselves when we’ve never really lived under a King.  We’ve never had to physically kneel before a throne, before a man who has the power of life and death in his hands, and whose very words become law the moment they are spoken.  Humbling ourselves means giving up everything that isn’t of God; giving up the demands that we get to live life like WE think it should be lived.  It means giving up being mad at God when I don’t get my way or don’t understand my circumstance, and committing myself absolutely to accepting His sovereign authority over my life. “Seeking His face” involves a lot more than invoking his name like a spell from Harry Potter that will magically fix things.  It means daily, moment by moment, wanting to know more about WHO God is and what than means to my life.

It’s easy to say we will pray every day.  It’s easy to say that if the rest of the country would just straighten out and clean up their act…

However, is it as easy to say that we will pray…AND seek His face AND humble ourselves AND turn from our wicked ways? It’s about more than praying for our leaders, it’s about changing the way we live our lives in a very real and personal way.  ONLY THEN does this scripture promise that God will heal our land.  Prayer is certainly a great place to start, but I think it’s a lot taller of an order and a lot more work than most people want to think.  Myself included!!

I think it’s important to remember that the context of this verse is God speaking to Solomon just after the completion of the Temple.  God is actually speaking in the past-tense here.  Because the people, after they had already endured droughts, plagues and disease, humbled themselves, turned from their wicked ways and turned their face towards God, He heard their cry and restored them as a nation, complete with a fantastic new temple.

However.  Comma.

God IMMEDIATELY goes on to warn Solomon that (based on Israel’s history I’m sure) their new-found providence is still very conditional (I paraphrase slightly here):

IF, and I repeat IF you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  then AND ONLY THEN I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.’ (vs 17-18)

And then he drops the other shoe….

“BUT!  If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

“As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’

“And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’ (vs. 19-22)

And you know what’s sad?  We see in Isaiah 64:10-11  that that’s exactly what happened:

Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned {by} fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin.

So what we have is a pretty clear “Either/Or” proposition. God says that either you humble yourself, acknowledge HIM and ONLY HIM as your God, or your land will be made desolate and your people scattered.

No middle ground.  Not a lot of ecumenicalism or mutli-culturalism there.  Doesn’t seem to support the whole, “we all worship the same god, just with different names” thing.  Kind of “intolerant” and “divisive” isn’t it?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Heb 4:12 NASB)

It’s almost like God KNOWS the wickedness of our heart, the darkness of human nature, and our nearly inevitable tendency to follow our own hearts rather than His will.  Almost like a theme, running throughout the Scriptures, as if some things never change.

Something to think about.  And tell 25 of your friends.

A Mildewy God?

I am a bit disturbed by what I see as a growing trend.  Time and again in the news I am seeing stories of people flocking to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary in a water stain under an overpass, or the face of Mother Theresa in a cinammon roll, the face of Jesus in a piece of toast or a grilled cheese sandwich, or some other saintly figure in a mud puddle or a paint spill or a rust stain on the back of ’78 Impala.

You know what that is, right?  Idolatry.  Plain and simple.  Flocking to an image of a water stain on a concrete wall, stacking candles, incense and flowers all around, and then PRAYING TO THE IMAGE is idolatry.  I happen to think that praying to anyone but God is idolatry.  Praying to the Virgin Mary, praying to "the saints", praying to your dear departed Uncle Chuck, all of these are putting someONE or someTHING before God.

God’s word clearly states: 

Exodus 20:3-4, "You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. "

Judges 10:13,  Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you.

2 Kings 17:12, "They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing."

our-lady-of-grace1Praying to the Mother of Jesus and asking for her help or intercession is making her as God ("Mediatrix").  Praying to Saint Peter or Saint Theresa or Saint Bob is putting a PERSON in the place where JESUS belongs.  And it is therefore idolatry.

And the question I have is….why?  Why pray to anyone but God?  The way has been opened for you, "the veil of the Tabernacle was torn in two" so that ALL might approach the throne of God! 

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a {mere} copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; …Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer {any} offering for sin.  Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,  (Heb 9-10)

Jesus tells us quite clearly in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. "  Not through Mary.  Not through Peter.  Only through CHRIST.

The again in John 14:13-14, Jesus tells us, ""Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do {it.}  "

Jesus quite clearly not only gives us permission to go directly to Him, but requires us to go to Him and ONLY Him.  If you are praying to anyone, or anything else, you are praying to a false god.  An idol.  A substitution of the real thing.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hbr 4:13-16 NASB)

And here’s there other thing.  Our God is an AWESOME God.  Our God is the one who spun together the entire universe.  Psalm 104 talks about his kind of God: 

"Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a {tent} curtain.  He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind;  He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. "

Does this sound like the kind of God who would be content to manifest himself as a mildew stain an a basement wall, some calcification under a runoff spout, or an odd shape of woodgrain on a toilet door?!  Come ON. Seriously.  I think it’s safe to say that an image seen in some dusty, shadowy dampness in a culvert is NOT OF GOD.  Which really leaves only two other options, doesn’t it?  Either you are trying waaaay too hard to see something that’s not there, or, the image comes from somewhere else.  Somewhere, or someone.  Someone who would love nothing better than for you to be distracted, entranced, and preoccupied with all manner of flashy, showy spiritualistic other things than focusing exclusively on the one, true God.

I remember hearing a story once of some missionaries in, I believe it was Ethiopia, who were shown what was believed to be one of the original stones used in the ephod of Aaron as commanded by God, described in Exodus Chapt. 28:

And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, [like] the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

 I had always pictured some kind of art class project with a name etched into the top like a pet rock or a paperweight.  However, the stone the pastor described was transparent, a deep blue color, and the stone had an image of a lion, for the tribe of Judah.  They were able to x-ray the stone, and came to discover that the image of the lion itself had a three-dimensional quality and was actually made up of Hebrew words, almost like a hologram!  This seems to jibe with the description given in Exodus.  The stones were made by "Aholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver, and a cunning workman."  Cunning indeed!

Now, I admit I heard the story second or third hand, and I can’t find anything on the ol’ Internets to back it up, but that story has always really resonated with me.  If this is the kind of amazing detail that God’s people put into carving individual stones,  I can only imagine what God did when he "carved" out the 10 Commandments: 

But if the ministration of death, written [and] engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which [glory] was to be done away:  (2 Cor. 3:7)

I can’t imagine they were really just a couple of rough-hewn stone slabs with chisel marks.   They were so magnificent that they imbued power to the very countenance of Moses!  I suspect that these may very well have been what gave the ark of the Covenant its power once they were placed inside.  What I wouldn’t give to see those tablets, maybe get them in front of an MRI or mass-spectomoter!  When I look at Revelation 2:17 in light of the above story, it takes on a much greater level of significance:

and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

Imagine God creating a stone which only you can read.  Each stone unique, different, magnificent, and waaaaay high-tech.

So with all that in mind, how is it that so many people allow themselves to be mystified by a patch of frost, a discoloration of some concrete, or a scuff mark on a linoleum floor?  Folks, when God wants you to know that He’s there, trust me, you’ll know.  There’ll be no squinting, and turning your head this way and that, and if you shine the light just so, it sort of maybe kinda might look like Jesus when he’s asleep underwater…

"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  (Matt. 24:30-31)

Doesn’t say anything about toast or mildew.  God does not do things halfway.  He is not a tame lion.   He’s got a flair for the dramatic.   He’s a God of burning pillars and parted seas, not potato chips and grilled cheese.

More even that the aspects of idolatry, and of diminishing the majesty of God, chasing after images and totems can lead you down a dangerous path, one which is based on deception.  If you are so quick to find solace in every "religious" icon you stumble across, if you are so ready and willing to believe that spirits are speaking to you through these manifestations, you set yourself up to be easily deceived by those claiming to speak for God, or AS God, but who are really agents of deception and betrayal.

"For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many…Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many." (Matt. 24)

Putting your faith in anyone, or anything except the Lord Jesus Christ denies the sovereignty of God and results in you serving and worshipping a creation, not the Creator.  Do not be misled!  Trust that God wants you to talk to HIM, revere and worship HIM, not a grease spot or a paint smear.

WWJD or WWYHMDL?

A while back the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets were all the rage.  They still pop up now an then.  Like tying a piece of string to your finger, I believe the the WWJD bracelets were supposed to be reminders to live your life in a more Christ-centric way, to evaluate your actions in the context of what you think Jesus would do in a similar situation.  It is certainly an appealing and catchy sentiment that appeals to our desires to “do the right thing.”  There’s just one problem.

It’s asking the wrong question.

Asking WWJD means that you are guessing.  You’re taking your best estimate as to what YOU think is the right answer in this situation.  You are trying to live your life like Jesus lived his.  So, does that mean that are you wondering if you should go overturn the tables in the temple courtyard?  Should you go live in the wilderness for 40 days, or get in the Pharisees’ face about their legalism?  Should you go hang out in the lunch room at IRS headquarters so you can fulfill your mandate to consort with tax collectors?

Uh….probably not.  See, the thing is, you CAN’T LIVE YOUR LIFE LIKE JESUS, because he was the Son of God.  He set an unachievable goal.  He didn’t set us an example to follow…He gave us a path to follow!  He didn’t come to give us a list of do’s and don’ts…He came to show us the way to the Father.  Jesus only gave us two commandments…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)

I propose that you can’t really do the second one until you start doing the first one!

So, instead of wondering WWJD, what we should be asking is, “What Would You Have Me Do, Lord?”

See, the thing is, we don’t have to wonder.  We don’t have to guess.   As believers in Christ we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we have a hot line straight to God, such that when difficult situations arise, we don’t need to look to our bracelet…we can go right to The Source.

While, granted, WWJD fits better on a bracelet or a T-Shirt or a bumpersticker than “WWYHMDL,” we need to understand that relying on our best guess estimates makes us the arbiters of truth.  It becomes too easy to live life according to a series of handy, and often changeable “Jesusisms” that reduce His Word to little more than philosophical precepts.  We might as well ask what would Gahndi do, or Buddha, or Oprah.  Jesus was not just another philosopher exhorting us to live better lives.

He called us to live our lives in service to Him, and the only way we are ever really going to know what that is supposed to look like is to ask…HIM.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Prov. 14:12

The key word in this passage is the word “seems.”  There is an answer which “seems” right to us, a way that “ought” to be correct, or a solution that “feels” good.  Except that, if it is OUR way, then it is wrong. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord , and turn away from evil.  Prov 3:5-7

Lean not on your own understanding.  Rather than do what “feels right,” study the scriptures, pray, come before the Lord and ask Him to tell you what to do.

We are too easily swayed by the ways of the world to trust our own judgement when it comes to spiritual matters.  So, instead of settling for What Would Jesus Do, let’s keep asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

You may not always like the right answer, but it’s always better than feeling good about the wrong one.

Thought for the Day

If you’ve decided that the Bible isn’t enough for you, that perhaps it is merely one piece of a bigger spiritual puzzle, then you are stating that you no longer believe that God and God alone is the source of your salvation.

Just be aware of the decision you are making when you set aside God’s word in favor of the teachings of another prophet, philosopher or sophist.

You deny the finished work of Christ, you deny the sufficiency and authority of God, and you make yourself the arbiter of “truth.” And, while that’s certainly a great job for anyone to have, I’m sorry to say that the position has already been filled.

It’s a simple reality, really:  You create the Universe, you get to make the rules.  So, until you can manage the former, don’t presume to attempt the latter.