Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The fast we didn't ask for.

The other day someone told me that they hoped the quarantine would be over before Palm Sunday so that it wouldn't ruin Easter. Understandable, but then again, maybe this pandemic is more serendipitous than we realize. It is the season of Lent after all, which is a time of giving things up. Where we attempt to let go of the physical world so that we may be in a better position to take hold of the spiritual one. Yet because of circumstances, we all find ourselves in where we must go without. Maybe we should not let this moment go to waste, maybe this happened now of all times because God is telling the church that we've gotten far too attached to this world and its comforts. That it is an invitation to seek him in a more intimate way.

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14

Why do you think some people are panic buying? Is it not because they do not want to endure going without basic comforts and convenience. If you honestly believed that this world is all there was, why wouldn’t you respond in a self-centered way that could be detrimental to others. Yet, since they are all fixated on what they must go without right now, they are condemning themselves to misery, even with their stockpile.

Yet for the believer, I would encourage you to seize the moment and seek what you might have been neglecting within your faith. It is always a good time to grow after all. Even when we don't know our next move, or all else seems to be at a standstill, we can always seek spiritual maturity through prayer and study. So often when we are waiting on God, he is actually waiting on us to seek him.

May I suggest, instead of asking for a quick end to all this. Ask what good can come from it all.


a man so entangled by the world he can not seek higher things.
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Saturday, December 7, 2019

Prosperity?

Within the church universal, there is a rather predominant conflict between those who preach a prosperity gospel, and those who call that teaching absolute heresy. The thing is they both make compelling arguments. Still, I think they are both missing the mark with this issue. What we really need to look at is what scripture reveals about prosperity. If we don’t do that, our definition runs the risk of being worldly, instead of spiritual. Let’s face it, if one simply follows their longings and emotions, our perception of prosperity will likely revolve around things like comfort, ease, convenience, fame, or fortune. How does that compare to spiritual prosperity though? One could write a whole book on this subject, but let me highlight but a few key points.

Let's start with the concept of ease. Name a single person in the Bible who had an easy time of it? You can't do it, because not even Jesus himself had it easy. So why do believers assume that they are entitled to an easy life. For example, I once saw a video online of a dramatic car crash. It was posted by the driver, and the description said God must have been with him to have survived such a horror. Yet, a commenter posed the question, if God were really there, why didn't he just prevent the crash entirely. A common perception of those who look only at the surface. Yet, how would you have even known God had done anything that way? God isn't as visible during calm waters, yet the hand of God is often most visible as we overcome the storm that dwarfs us. (Exodus 7:1-6)

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

An often quoted verse that seemingly points to a warm and fuzzy prosperity that people want. Yet if we consider the broader context, that idea falls apart. This one verse is referring to a future glory, yet the entire passage reveals that we will have to suffer through labor pains to obtain that good. I challenge you to look it up for yourself, so you can stop taking it out of context.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. -James 1:2-4

This builds upon the last verse, which reveals that God wants his children to grow and mature. Which happens in times of trial, not comfort.

Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. -1 Kings 19:3-8

We see God comforting Elijah in this verse, but notice it comes in the midst of the trial, not as a replacement for the trial.

Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the Lord?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God. -Proverbs 30:7-9

People often have extremist notions about wealth. That it has to either be a defining characteristic of prosperity, or an absolute evil. This passage puts things into a balanced perspective. Money is indeed needed to survive in this world, so no need to take a vow of poverty. Yet, if we put all our hope in it, we can alienate ourselves from God.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:11-13

Verse 11 is often quoted by itself, and not in context. One thing we often forget is that Paul wrote this from prison. 

There is indeed a prosperity gospel, but I hope you realize now that spiritual prosperity is about strength, faith, endurance, and contentment. Not a life inside a glass bubble free from trials and storms, as the world defines it.



a man deflecting lightning in a storm
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Friday, November 15, 2019

The blame game

People often compare life to a fight or a battle, in a spiritual sense that’s true. However, maybe the real reason they say that is that they want their targets well-defined, with no ambiguity at all. They want to know precisely who their enemy is. So our human nature is often on the lookout for something to blame, or someone to direct our anger and frustration at when our environment is not as we would want it to be. Since we like things very black and white in such instances. However, in every day life our conflicts are seldom that cut and dry. We are often at a loss on what our battle is really with, and we frequently feel as we are swinging at nothing but air in our efforts to deal with them.

Manipulative people know this and are all too eager to provide a new target for you to blame your failures on. All for the benefit of their agenda, not you. This has only gotten worse in the Information Age. Allowing people to apply these tactics on a far more epic scale, your proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing.

The question is, how should the believer respond to such situations.

James 1:20 says.
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Why should a disciple even look for something to blame and direct our anger at, if such volatile emotions inevitably only lead us astray? Your inability to control your anger often becomes your immediate problem.

Ephesians 4:26 says.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

The implication being, we should resolve our anger quickly, not indulge it so that it lingers, giving our negative emotions more opportunity to lead us astray.

Matthew 7:3-5 says.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

This reminds us to focus on ourselves first when it comes to righteousness, because we have the most control over self. Instead of base our peace upon the actions of others, of which we have minimal control. Despite the logic of this, our feelings still hate to blame self. Even when we are clearly in the wrong, we want to make it everyone else's fault.

Galatians 6:1-5 says.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.

People will do you wrong on occasion, but we shouldn't let someone else's imperfection become our spiritual problem. There can be a very fine line between a proper rebuke, and just blaming, a line many cross; hence, Paul's warning. A proper rebuke seeks to help people succeed by guiding people through their burdens until they are strong enough to bear them themselves. Blaming only seeks to put people in their place, to 'stick it to them' if you will. Which isn't very Christ like or loving.

Matthew 6:14-15 says.
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

Blaming is not forgiving, and by not forgiving we condemn only ourselves.

There is also an old joke that says, everyone complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about. Funny because it's true. People love to complain, but they don't love getting involved, nor do they like adjusting their attitudes about things they have no control over. I've said it before, but it deserves repeating. Are you master of your emotions or do your emotions master you? If you follow your feelings blindly, it's likely the sinful nature rules you. That is just what the one who blames is doing, recklessly reacting, instead of acting deliberately as a good disciple should. Consider that the next time you feel the urge to point a finger of blame at someone.

The visual PARABLEist

a broken person accusing another broken person.
click to enlarge





Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Owning our mistakes

You have probably heard of the concept of confession in the church. However, Biblical confession goes deeper than just admitting a mistake made. It's about acknowledging what God says about said action is true; that sin dishonors God, is bad for your soul, and sometimes harmful to others. True confession is the first step to repentance. Yet, true repentance is more than just a change of action, but a change of heart. Without a change a heart we can't experience true spiritual transformation, and are not truly walking the path of a genuine disciple. These are central truths of the Christian creed that the church universal needs to reexamine and embrace again.

Why do I say that? Scripturally speaking, God often uses sinful people to discipline His people. We historically see this playing out with the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Romans, and others.

Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” The Lord had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua. -Judges 2:20-23

Let's face it, unrighteous people are attacking the church and the faith from every side right now. The great irony of it is that nonbelievers are using many of the same unloving and Pharisee like tactics that the church has mistakenly used far too often. Things like critical correction, mockery, forcing ideas down people's throats, hating those who believe differently, and shaming people into submission. So one must consider the possibility that God is allowing this to test and disciple his church for our lack of Christ likeness.

The question is, how are we as the church going to respond to this possibility? Will we play the victim as the world does, forsaking Christian confession and repentance. Or will we take a long hard look at ourselves and hold ourselves accountable by addressing these proverbial planks in our eyes. If we don’t, we do not have the right to point fingers, or even have the wisdom to know how to correct properly as a true disciple should. (Matt 7:1-5)

Example speaks louder than lecture. So let us set a good example by examining our hearts and transforming accordingly.


a man cracking after been hit by his own boomerang
click to enlarge
because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. -Proverbs 3:12

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” -Luke 19:10


But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. -Matthew 5:22 

The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.  -Isaiah 29:13

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? -Romans 2:1-4

Friday, August 16, 2019

Spirit, Truth & Emotions?

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. -John 4:23

Have you ever considered what Jesus meant by worshiping in spirit and truth? Weather people consciously put it this way or not, I dare say many equate this with emotion. We see this most predominantly, but not exclusively, in the contemporary worship movement. It’s all designed to provoke a positive feeling, and those who go are often motivated by the emotional boost that they offer. However, if catering to our feelings is our primary goal, are we not worshiping self, instead of God? That is definitely not worshiping in anything resembling truth. I also contend that if truth is a qualifier for worship, emotion cannot be, for the simple fact that emotion is not necessarily truth. This is why I say that.

• Facts and truth are constant, but emotions are inconsistent. Feelings often swing back and forth with the seasons of our lives. So how can emotions be an absolute truth?

• Emotions are easily manipulated. When a manipulative person strikes, they always attack your emotions. Unless you believe manipulative people are always right; emotions can't always be truth.

• Fear is an emotion, so if emotions were always true, all our fears would always materialize. That is clearly not the case, so emotions are not necessarily truth.

 We can just as easily have an emotional reaction to a lie as we can a fact. How can we call emotions truth, when they are sometimes based on inaccurate information. 
 
Consider this also. Most of the people who have betrayed you, which you took so personally, were probably just following their emotions blindly. It works the other way to, when people accuse you of betrayal.

Don't think that I'm promoting the opposite extreme of emotions are inherently false. Or that I'm telling you to suppress your emotions as stoicism teaches. I'm saying our feelings need to be tempered in spirit and truth, not replace spirit, and truth. That worship needs to be about honoring God, and not our own feelings.


A woman attacking a man with words, so he attacks back with his fists.
click to enlarge

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Losing Hope?

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. -Romans 5:1-5

I have been pondering this Bible passage a lot lately. Since the truth in it seems more evident than ever. Specifically verse three, which states "suffering produces endurance." I say this because our current culture sees no value in suffering, and will go out of its way to avoid suffering, especially when it comes to our children. The result of this is quite evident; we have a generation of people who have little endurance. So they lack the ability to tolerate anything outside their tiny zone of comfort, or accomplish anything significant.

It gets even more interesting in verse four where it says "perseverance produces character." Public schools used to be in the business of instilling character in our children. Now, they have shifted the focus to social justice. While that may seem like an insignificant detail, and these kids may say they want equality for everyone. However, without character, they lack the desire to get directly involved in creating social justice. They will protest and complain, but no further. So all they are doing is pushing that responsibility onto others. They expect everyone else to fix things for them.

The notion closes with “character produces hope.” There is no denying that hope is on a rapid decline. But that shouldn’t be a surprise since we have sabotaged everything that leads to genuine hope. An internal hope that stems from being a strong and righteous person, instead of forcing the outside world to revolve around our fragile feelings.

Let me elaborate. A Christian college in my area still operates on the mantra of “character begins with denying self.” Which flies in the face of our self-indulgent society. A culture that seems more dissatisfied than ever, ironically enough. But that begs the question, is a self-indulgent culture really interested in social justice, as in everyone. Or only as far as it effects them and their tiny comfort zone.

Here is another example; this social justice generation is supposed to be all about volunteering. While they may say that in these polls we keep hearing about, I have a hard time finding real world evidence of it. I know someone who works in a nursing home, and according to them, all these new nurses lack empathy. They are in a job where they are paid help people in need. Yet, they don't even treat the residents as people. They are too self-absorbed to even notice the need, let alone address it without being specifically told. I said this to someone who was in a different nursing home at the time, he affirmed he had experience that first hand.

While the Bible tells us that suffering produces endurance, we are called to help people through it, not be the cause of it. Meaning it’s fruitless to criticize the weak for being weak. The damage that has been inflicted upon the world because of this avoidance runs deep. We will have to do a lot more than complain and protest ourselves to counteract this harm. We will have to set a good example and get involved. We will have to get at the heart of and address the issue, and not just ridicule the symptoms as we have been.

The Visual PARABLEist

a battle hardened individual
click to enlarge


“In this religious world, those who refuse to take burdens upon them are comparatively little use. Their chief anxiety is to be fed; and they become in time so fastidious that they reject both the milk and meat of the gospel, and demand sweetmeats that spoil the appetite and ruin the health. They are vacillating and unsteady. They seldom hold out. They are driven to and fro by every wind of doctrine and cunning craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. They will try church after church in its turn, but no church benefits them, and they do harm wherever they go. They genuinely end by turning away from the truth, and turning to fables.
Then do not be afraid of burdens that God in his providence would lay upon you. It will, in the long run, be much easier to bear them than shirk them. By taking them cheerfully for Jesus’ sake, and doing the best you can, you will benefit yourself as much as you do others. Strength is gathered by action. “ 

-B.T. Roberts, founder of the Free-Methodist church

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Diversity versus Equality

Diversity and equality are buzz words that are being lifted up as virtue by “the world.” However, the way they apply them seem to put them at odds with one another. Yet, nobody seems to notice this inconsistency.

What do I mean? In our current PC culture, it is somehow wrong to point out any difference. It doesn't matter if the intent is good, bad, or indifferent; you are automatically deemed racist, sexist, elitist, or some other inflammatory term that applies to the issue by doing so. But, if diversity is supposed to be a good and positive thing, why is it bad to highlight details of it? Granted, our world may only be applying diversity in a very narrow and fixed way, but I think it goes deeper than that. It likely comes from the belief that the only way to make everyone equal, is to make everybody the same. So pointing out how we are in reality diverse, is somehow promoting inequality in some people's eyes.

One must realize this incongruence fits right into a rather strong element of human nature that is very easy to follow blindly. If equality and diversity are ever to live in harmony in a Biblical way, we must be aware of and seek to overcome this tendency, not give into it.

Let me put it this way, they say kids are cruel, and why is this? Children naturally notice differences and make judgments on them. It starts as soon as they can talk, nobody has to teach them this. It only progresses as middle and high school comes rolling around. Where they break off into cliques; mini sub-cultures that grants them the acceptance we desire, but requires us to fit into a pre-determined mold, as well as expect us to declare yourselves superior to the people outside it. Yet, we wonder why diversity is often seen as a bad thing, when our introduction to it involves being picked on and bullied.

While we may learn some tact when we get out of college. The scars of the past remain, and we often end up looking at the world through the eyes of the broken children we once were. Leading us to live out a one size fits all path. To afraid to rock the proverbial boat, and never honoring the unique creation God made us to be. A built in diversity we are often tragically unaware of because we wasted our youth seeking approval of the masses that are just as lost as we are.

When you get down to it, God chose to make us diverse so that we would need each other, with the hope we would help one another with our gifts. So that, we would be stronger as a community than as individuals. Not an excuse to exalt self, dismiss others, or imitate one another. In the unlikely event that people manage to recreate ourselves as uniform drones, you wouldn't need anybody since you would be no more able than anyone else; and nobody would need you either. There would be nothing special about you, and average would be the new perfect.

Saying this, I'm sure there are those who think an absolute equality that leaves no room for diversity sounds great. But, I am sure that is their emotional scars and insecurity talking. I will be the first to admit that Pharisee like church people can be perpetrators of this abuse as well. But let me point out, they are likely projecting their emotional wounds and inadequacy as well. They are just wrongly using the pretense of God to rationalize it.

Yet, I am here to tell you there is healing for all this. But, it has no chance of happening if you do not embrace God's true will and model for community, which is unity in diversity AKA "the body of Christ." (1 Corinthians 12) It will not happen if you insist that everyone around you think, feel, and value what you do. It won't happen if you seek the approval and acceptance of the world above self discovery. Let's face it, all the people you are at odds with over your mere comfort and preferences are likely doing the exact same thing as you are. They just feel different from you, and their definition of comfort is quite diverse of yours.

Biblical diversity goes deeper than skin, and even emotions, it goes to the core of whom we are. So the church must learn to uplift and celebrate all our God given talents, and not just the few we currently made sacred cows of. If we don't, It just makes it easier for the world to sell this shallow brand of diversity that's all about self and not community. 


an individual ripping off the thin veneer that make him like all the other drones.
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It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions. -Jude 1:19


“Coming together is a beginning, working together is a process, staying together is a success.” - Henry Ford

"Cultural differences in the body of Christ enable different types of people to draw near to the heart of Jesus. . . . Jesus did a fantastic job of knowing His audience and speaking directly to their hearts. For example, Jesus talked sheep to shepherds, fish to fishermen, and bookish theology to bookish theologians. He was all things to all people. I think that our differences enable us to speak richly and directly to the hearts of all types of people. . . .
   Culturally homogeneous churches are adept at targeting and attracting a certain type of person and creating a strong group identity. However, attendees at such churches are at a higher risk for creating the overly simplistic and divisive . . . labels that dangerously lead to inaccurate perceptions . . . as well as hostility and conflict. What often begins as an effective and culturally specific way to reach people for Christ ends up stifling their growth as disciples. Perhaps this is because we often fail to make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross.
   Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. . .
   For this reason, I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity. Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of age, gender, economic status, education level, political orientation and so on. Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ [which is everyone] and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom. And churches situated in multi-ethnic communities—I’m not letting you off the hook—you should absolutely be ethnically diverse . . . seeing culturally different others as God’s gift to us." -Christena Cleveland, social psychologist, theologian, and professor at Duke Divinity School