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Roses Have Thorns, But Not Always

Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief.

(Proverbs 14:13)

In the lobby of my church a sudden outburst of laughing will pound through my office walls. At times I will look out just to see what is so funny. And it is funny, what I see. There may be two or maybe ten who are all enjoying a good story or the end of some tease. But I know these people. There is the one who is still recovering from surgery and has burdens for her family and their faith. There is the one whose spouse is a broken person who brings so many burdens into the home and lives of the family. There is that person whose job is currently up in the air and the reality of the unknown is upon him. I see the parents laughing who have a wayward child and they are very concerned.

If I wanted to stop any of that laughter all I would need to do is pull one of them aside and inquire as to how is the situation, the burden. Laughing eyes will reflect the burden and pain that is just below the surface. Tears or anguished faces will appear and a softer, heavier voice will speak.

For all of us there are times of great laughter that hide the pain we suffer within. It is the reality of living in this broken, sinful age. We will hold in our arms a small baby and be filled with joy never knowing that the end will be grief. We will walk down an aisle to marry only for the end to be grief. We will start out our life in college and in the end is grief.

We must never forget that many things in this life bring joy. And we can enjoy them as such. But like the thorns of the rose so too do all things bringing joy. So we hold things that belong to this age lightly. Rejoicing in the times of joy and weeping with those who weep in grief. We gather together on Sunday to hold up fists of rebellion to the gods of this age as we declare by faith that God the Father “. . . raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:20-21)

Jesus tells us that we will never taste the fullness of death, called the second death, if our hope is in Him alone. Peter tells us we are kept safe by God’s power so that even if we have grief and sorrow we shall never be lost. Paul tells us that by the great love of our heavenly Father we were forgiven and raised up with Jesus Christ in the heavenly places all because we are in union with His Son.

I need to remember this more each day.

And so do you.

Keeping It in Perspective 12/30/2014

Just read a powerfully written post by a young woman listening to her husband call hospice for her.  We end this year in various life situations and if we are not careful we begin to think that ours is the greatest or most difficult.  These little posts are to keep everything in perspective.  Here is a bit of what she wrote:

So, there it is. My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives. I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus- and He will provide it. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love will cover us all. And it will carry us- carry us in ways we cannot comprehend. It will be a new living and trusting for many in my community. Loving with a great big open hand to my story being the good story- even when it feels so broken.

Read the rest here . . . .

Keeping It in Perspective 7/26/2014

We must pray for the Ukrainian Church:

Churchmen were tortured and murdered the day after they were captured.

Four members of the Transfiguration Evangelical church murdered by pro-Russian terrorists for ‘sectarianism and treason’ against the Russian people were buried in Sloviansk.

Read the rest here . . . .

Perspective 05/15/2014

Here is yet another chilling account of persecution against Christians.  Keeps things in perspective.

A Christian woman in Sudan reportedly has until Thursday to either recant her faith or face a possible sentence of death.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was convicted by a Khartoum court this week of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith, Amnesty International said Wednesday, a day before the expected ruling. The court considers her to be Muslim.

According to the rights group, she was also convicted of adultery because her marriage to a Christian man was considered void under Sharia law.

You can read the rest here . . . .

Keeping It All in Perspective 02/23/14

New part of my little blog that I think is worth your time.  Simply put, it is to help many of us to get things into perspective.  We can have many things nip at the heels of our lives and distract us from those who love Jesus Christ and truly suffer in so many ways.  This is not designed to take anything away from one person’s suffering but merely to remind us all that many suffer and may we pray for them in that suffering.


Meet Rob Decker.  A Greek associate professor and a pastor.  I don’t know him but I am praying for him.  I became aware of his condition through a Facebook group in which I lurk.  He is in hospice.  I need not say more.

How to Do Bad Practical Theology

Practical theology is basically the application of biblical and systematic theology into every day life.  How does one honor God as a husband or wife?  How do you function in a society?  What is the proper perspective with employment?  In many ways practical theology is simply the art of interpreting life with a biblical, Godward perspective.  But, like most things, it can be done badly.  In some instances the results can be relatively minor but in other situations it can lead to devastating decisions.  An example would be that the Old Testament practice of killing a murderer authorizes an individual to kill an abortionist.  Wrong on many levels yet there are those who would not think twice about that concept.

So how does bad practical theology come about?  I want to give a few quick points that are not designed to be exhaustive but rather are designed to stimulate thought in your lives.

  1. Difficult situations are not the best place to formulate your practical theology.  When you are in the midst of great suffering, misery, danger or pressure you should not try to come to conclusions about what God expects of you.  Rather, you should be establishing a strong foundation of theology prior to these events so that you can have something to draw from as you begin to apply sound theology in a practical manner.
  2. Seldom is there a simple formula that answers all situations.  A person can have their twenty-five verses for all of life and make an utter mess of it as a result.  The commands to speak truth does not mean you must tell everything that is on your mind in any situation for they are not the same thing.
  3. The complexity of God’s workings in the world go beyond any simple answer.  So to interpret an earthquake as God’s judgment on the homosexuals, or the porn industry, or the corrupt politicians, etc.  I am always amazed at how God never “seems” to judge the covetous or the gossip.
  4. God is not compelled to explain why something happened and you are not commanded nor expected to even understand the why.  Think about Job, we have no indication that God ever explained to him the cosmic conversation God had with Satan.  In fact, Job was roundly rebuked by God for even thinking that it was not fair.  Yet how often do we hear a person telling another what they think God is doing in some sickness or disaster?
  5. Don’t confuse sovereignty of God with fatalism.  The latter is too often expressed.  I had one man ask me why we should turn a rapist over to the authorities since obviously God wanted the woman raped or it would not have happened.  Another man knew he was sinning but argued that since God was sovereign that it was not his fault; rather he was waiting for God to change his desires because anything on “his own” was destined to fail.  This is folly upon folly and fails to make a distinction between the sovereign (and unknown) will of God and what He has revealed for us in His Word.  We are accountable for the revealed and not the unknown.
  6. Just because the Bible teaches that a Christian is an alien and stranger to this world does not exempt him from the responsibilities in the society in which he is found.  Taxes, the laws of the land, and cultural standards do not just go out the window.
  7. Do not be foolish and believe that if you do what is right that everything will go well with you in your life.  This is one of the many lies of the prosperity movement and it has its claws in the American Evangelical church far more that many like to admit.  You can honor the Lord and get cancer.  You can be a faithful evangelist and have a child of yours murdered.  You can faithfully give to the Lord and lose your job.  Cherry-picking blessing passages will only lead to disappointment in the long run.
  8. Do not assume that you are in sin if bad things happen to you.  Suffering is a good place to do self-examination.  But you can become easily tempted to be so introspective that you lose sight of the promises attached to the gospel in which you believe.  Never forget that Daniel was a righteous man and yet he was taken into captivity into Babylon along with countless godless men and women.

I am sure there is more to write on this subject but these eight should be sufficient for many to begin to pull back from strong, black and white answers and expectations and take a softer view.  I continue to learn to slow down on my conclusions and watch carefully as things unfold.  I assume I am missing something in what is going on around me and mostly likely I am missing most of it.

The Reality of Suffering for The Faith

I am teaching through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy at my church and one point is constantly being made–the Christian life involves persecution and suffering.  There is no way around it and there is no way to truly avoid it and stay faithful to the faith.  I have told my congregation over the last few weeks that they must understand that now is the time to store up for themselves the wisdom of the Lord so that when that time comes to suffer they are prepared in heart and soul to do so.

I am not convinced that everyone in my church believes this, but I am convinced that it is true nonetheless.  Well, an important article was written that shows how close the time of persecution is for American Christians.  It starts with the military, here is a key snippet:

The statement, released to Fox News, follows a Breitbart News report on Obama administration Pentagon appointees meeting with anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein to develop court-martial procedures to punish Christians in the military who express or share their faith.

(From our earlier report: Weinstein is the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and says Christians–including chaplains–sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in the military are guilty of “treason,” and of committing an act of “spiritual rape” as serious a crime as “sexual assault.” He also asserted that Christians sharing their faith in the military are “enemies of the Constitution.”)

Being convicted in a court martial means that a soldier has committed a crime under federal military law. Punishment for a court martial can include imprisonment and being dishonorably discharged from the military.

Read the rest here.

I leave you with the words of Paul to Timothy which we have been considering for several weeks (emphasis mine):

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel,
for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal;
but the word of God is not imprisoned. 
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen,
so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 
If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us
(2Timothy 2:8-12 NASB)

Painful Blessings

I am reading a fascinating book entitled, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, where a woman who was a leader in the feminist lesbian community converted to Jesus Christ.  I won’t give you the details, you can buy it and read it yourself.  But prepare yourself for a book that opens your eyes to a community that has been harshly treated by the Christian Community and what it means to be missional.  This is a woman who straddles those communities and has felt the judgment on both sides and comes out strong for a deep, vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.  Oh, and she is now the wife of a conservative Presbyterian pastor.  Good read.

Regardless, it was something I read in the book that shook the cobwebs out of my brain and woke me to the idea for a blog post.  She writes of a relationship she developed as a Christian with a man who was a full-time drag queen (you really need to buy the book) and how they thought they should marry and even how he was thinking of becoming a pastor.  It opened her eyes to a whole new aspect of life and vulnerability since for years her identity was defined by lesbianism and now was being defined by what she assumed would be Jesus Christ as a single woman.  The engagement didn’t work and there was a deluge of mixed emotions that came upon her, mostly dealing with betrayal, pain and confusion.

This is where she used a term I had never heard before, “binary oppositions.”  My eyebrows arched a bit when I read that (in fact they just did again) but I continued to read.  The term simply means that you can have in events and people contradictory realities.  Here is what she meant, A) you open your heart to a person who becomes a true blessing and joy to you in a difficult time in your life.  B) that person later betrays you and abandons you.  Sound familiar?  It should, it happens all the time.  As she worked through her betrayal event she came to see that God was still in the whole thing; He had not abandoned her, for Jesus is ever faithful.  And this led to seeing that in these hurtful moments much good and blessing arises.

Beloved, if you endeavor to live out the actual commands of the Lord toward this dying world and toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, you will be betrayed.  But usually you will first be kissed.  Those you thought were there to the end will discard you like a dirty sock and give no thought to it.  I think of one person who was instrumental to the faith of another, who is now rejecting everything holy and right and hurting that same person in the deepest of ways.  I could give many examples but they are unimportant.

What is important is how do you view these moments of betrayal?  You look to Jesus and you consider His word:  The passage I go back to over and over is 1 Peter 2:20-25:

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.  For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Beloved, we will never walk down a path of righteous suffering that is new.  We walk with the confidence that Jesus led the way, blazing that path.  We are not called to be heroes and heroines, just faithful to the example set before us.  We look to the day when God shall judge all things righteously and we remember that we, too, were the causes of much hurt to others.  That is one of the reasons for the gospel.

We Believe in The Prosperity Gospel, But Just A Tad

A question was raised in a class I teach each Tuesday.  There is a portion of every class where those attending can ask anything they want on any subject that is on their mind.  It is my favorite time of the study because I never know what is coming next and many of the questions are huge and allow for much focused instruction.  The question on this particular evening was about the “rightness” of saying that God was very merciful to me if something good happened.

I appreciated the question and essentially said that it depends on what is the intent behind the statement.  For many, they are simply expressing a thankful heart regarding something that they hold dear.  Or it may be an answer to prayer that fits their personal desires.  The problem, however, is when they don’t get what they asked or bad things, even terrible things occur.

I have pastored long enough to know that tragedy and injustice strike the homes and lives of Christians just as often and atheists.  But what does disturb me is how many can inadvertently express more of a prosperity gospel hope than a biblically mature and proper hope.  When bad things happen God is still merciful to the believer.  Their sins are forgiven, they are adopted as children of God, and their salvation is certain in Christ Jesus.  All of that is mercy overflowing.  But if we are not careful we can begin to think that it is unfair that bad things have happened, especially if we have been unusually holy recently.  Or, we become bitter that God would allow us to suffer.

I know myself fairly well and I know that this is something that I must battle.  It is subtle and it is far more prevalent that I like to admit at times.  How about you?  Do you declare the glories and mercies of God regardless of your lot in life?  Or is God’s goodness only based upon the pleasant things you enjoy at any given moment?

Biblical Separation Biblically Done, Pt 2

So, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are going to appear tomorrow on Oprah’s Lifeclass.  Earlier I introduced this situation and today I want to give the “so what” of it.

To start it off here is one person’s comment regarding Joel and Rick’s appearance:

Lifeclass has had a ribbon of ‘healing’ ideas running through it from the beginning. It’s good to see a move toward Christ-consciousness amist all the New Thought talk Iyanla has been doing this season. I think viewers unfamiliar with Joel and Rick will be surprised at how well the ideas will all blend together.

I started watching Joel weekly since his Next Chapter interview, and it is a very uplifting half hour. Rick’s PDL book sits right next to my Myss, Williamson, Tolle, Dyer, Gita, Emerson, and mythology/astrology, history of religion books. We just kicked off his “40 Days in the Word” series at church this week. Gooood stuff. Different kind of Book Club ; )

When your book that is supposedly a Christian book sits comfortably beside astrology and mythology books as if they are one and the same that is baaaaaaad stuff.  To have your teachings be seen as so similar to the teachings of the New Thought and Eastern mysticism is not something about which to be pleased or proud.  It is something to weep over and spend a long time alone before God searching your heart.

Let’s be clear, a Christian can write a book or speak at a conference and yet not be Christian about it.  It is easy.  One can do the same things and include bible passages and yet not be biblical.  Even easier!  All you have to do is not have the foundation of your words and message be on Christ.  Talk all day long about God, but never draw in that critical point that Jesus is God in the flesh.  That He alone is able to reveal the Father to us.  And when I say “Christ” I mean the gospel, the good news that defines what Christianity is.  If your book on parenting is heavy on how-tos but never gets around to grounding parenting in the gospel then it might be handy but it is not Christian.  To quote bible verses and yet the words of your message are not as a result of those passages, rather the verses are merely appended afterward, don’t call that biblical.  Or, to use a passage but not use it rightly also means it is not biblical.  Just because you preach a sermon on David and Goliath and use that passage to talking about slaying the ‘giants’ in your life doesn’t mean you or your audience understands that passage.

This is where the rub is.  The bible clearly teaches that we are to avoid those who actively hold to false, differing doctrines. The most blunt is Paul in Galatians where he writes:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!  As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!  For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men?If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:8-10)

Paul links the proclamation of the true gospel with trying to please man.  In other words, the gospel (though it is truly good news) is something that has the habit of not pleasing mankind.  Frankly it annoys them to the point of violence at worse and mocking at best.  It is not broad, it is very narrow.  There is but one way that man can be reconciled to God, and that is through Jesus, God in human flesh.  We are dead in our sins.  We are unable to please God. We are a people who have made it our life to not acknowledge God as God nor give thanks.  The result is that the judicial wrath of God rests upon us.

Where then is the hope?  How can we be right with God.  In Ephesians 2 we have in verse 4 two of the greatest words ever put together, “But God . . . .”  He goes on to say that it is through God’s love and grace we are saved through Jesus Christ.  Not out of our efforts but the pure grace of God.  How?  Because in Jesus salvation rests.  He died a unique death that was as our substitute.  As sinless man He took our sin and suffered our death.  As promised He was raised from the dead thus securing our salvation.  Sin’s power was death and he utterly demolished it.

This is the gospel in a basic form.  The call to mankind is to turn from their ways, their gods, their goodness and turn to God through Jesus by faith.  To reject a hope that is not utterly bound up in the person of Jesus, who is both the author and the finisher of our faith.  If you read a book on parenting and it is not founded on the sinful condition of you and your child and the need of the grace of God in both of you then you are not reading a Christian book on parenting.  In the same way, if you hear a message on how to have joy now and it is not thoroughly on the need to turn from sin and to God, to lay down your life and follow Jesus, and to embrace the promise of eternal life that God has given even in the midst of sorrows and suffering, then it is not a Christian message.  And that, my friends, is what you don’t hear from a person like Osteen and certainly not from Oprah.

Warren seems to know the gospel.  The problem is that it gets all tangled up in his vagaries of theology where he constantly shifts and moves rather than taking a clear, solid stand.  Get him among Arminians and he sounds Arminian, move him across the hall to a Reformed group and like magic he sounds more Reformed.  Did feminists just walk in?  No problem he has a gear for that change.  Trying to get him pinned down to what he constantly believes is as hard as trying to get him to just use one bible translation in his books.

But what makes this so bad is that he also chooses to snuggle up to people like Osteen and Oprah.  I have not heard him in the Lifeclass yet.  I am scheduling myself to watch the show and my hope is that Warren will aggressively put forth a clear declaration of the gospel.  Not a vague one that emphasizes man, but a Christ-exalting, blood-bought, sin-destroying, truth-magnifying gospel.  The kind that separates.  The kind that got the Apostle Paul kicked out of cities.  The kind Paul tells Timothy to not be ashamed of, but to embrace it and the suffering that it brings.

Too long on this second post already so I will continue this later…

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