Friday, November 28, 2008

Insulting God: Organizing the Dead in His Name

Sixth in a Series

When the Lord lays something on my heart to write about, sometimes I have no idea where it's going to lead. Back in Part 1, when I wrote down the three points on which I planned to base the next three entries, I didn't dream that it would take four additional entries just to lay the foundation for addressing point one!

Believe it or not, we're finally ready. (If you haven't read any of the previous entries in the series, please do so least parts 2, 3, & 4.)

Here, once again, is Point 1:
We insult God when act as if we can and should expect unregenerate people in our society to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by c_francis)

The fact is, our "Christian" churches are full of people who are not born again by the Spirit of God. That's not just in the pews, either. Often it's behind the pulpit as well. The Bible calls this phenomenon "The blind leading the blind," and it gives them a grim prognosis (Luke 6:39).

Frustrated church leaders respond to frustrated church members who want something more, something new, something exciting, something relevant. God Himself is none of those things, and neither is His Word... or so it seems to these modern, enlightened folks. They look at their religious experiences (which are nothing more than what their own flesh, and their fleshly leaders, can drum up), and they're dissatisfied. But instead of realizing that the problem is within themselves and their truly unregenerate hearts, they blame God and His Word.

More and more, the "church" agrees with the world in its disdain for the God of the Bible, and rushes to show that it can be "just as good" as the world is. Instead of repenting in dust and ashes like Job (Job 42:6), the "church" repents of its foolish attachment to old-fashioned notions of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, along with any notions of absolute truth.

But the natural man does not receive
the things of the Spirit of God,
for they are foolishness to him;
nor can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned

(1Co 2:14).

Many pastors have given up shepherding the flock of God, and have lusted after bigger and bigger flocks of goats. It's the numbers in the pews that count, after all. And since it is beyond the pastors' power to change goats into sheep, and they don't believe that such miraculous transformations are possible anyway, they can only congratulate themselves on accomplishing the same works that the world does, with their own culled-out, bleating flock.
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
Matt 25:31-32
"See, our flock can do anything that the world does! Come see how well we do it!" And when the world's goats come into the church building, they feel right at home.

Because they are right at home.

If you were of the world,
the world would love its own.
Yet because you are not of the world,
but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you
(John 15:19)

And the goats' comfort, the goats' acceptance, the goats' approval makes the preachers feel that they've done their job.
Woe to you
when all men speak well of you,
for so did their fathers
to the false prophets.
Luke 6:26
Many church leaders know nothing of the Master Gardener's work in their own lives, and do not see Him at work in their congregations. So they busy themselves running around helping dead, disconnected branches tie plastic fruit onto themselves so they'll look like they're abiding in the Vine. Worse yet, they spit on the Vine, declare that they do not need Him, and devise endless new programs for marshaling their resources and waxing their fake grapes.
Therefore by their fruits you will know them (Matt 7:20).
Honestly believing that one hundred walking dead are better than ten Spirit-filled sons and daughters of the Living God, churches devote massive amounts of energy to organizing spiritual cadavers into a marching army of do-gooders, determined to make the Titanic's passengers as comfortable as possible. And whenever anyone tries to tell them that they're on a doomed ship, they cover their ears and cry, "Judgmental!"

And the band plays on. At least the music is new, and relevant, and catchy, and loud. The goats will approve!
How can you believe,
who receive honor from one another,
and do not seek the honor that comes
from the only God?

John 5:44
Woe to us all! Because if the True Church, the blood-bought sheep of God's flock, were truly walking in the Spirit, truly abiding in the Vine, then no phony religion could usurp its place and call itself Christianity.
He who says he abides in Him
ought himself also to walk
just as He walked.

1Jn 2:6

If all of the sheep were walking in the Spirit, if all of us looked more like sheep than like goats, we'd be obviously out of place in this world. The world would hate us as it hated Christ. Instead it hates us in an entirely different way.

It hates the self-righteous, religious thing that we've become. It prefers the proud goats to the backslidden sheep.

Oh people of God, we need to repent! If the world will not own Him, will we leave Him to gain their approval? Does their love and acceptance mean that much to us?

Brothers and sisters, if the world loves us, then we are not of Christ.
We are goats, not sheep.

If we truly are sheep,
and the world hates us because of our fleshly religion,
then we are not walking in the Spirit.

But if the world hates us because of Christ Himself,
and because of His Spirit empowering us,
then we are blessed indeed.

Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.
Heb 13:13

Let the dead bury their dead (Matt. 8:22), and let them march with their dead, and implement programs with their dead. But do not leave them unchallenged in their delusion that they do these things in the Holy Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The honor of His Name must be reclaimed by those who are willing to be hated for Him (Matt. 10:22), to be the offscourings of the earth for Him (1 Co. 4:13), to be persecuted for Him (1 Co. 4:11-12), to lose everything for Him (Php. 3:8), to love our enemies as He did (Rom. 5:8), to hate sin for His sake (Ps. 97:10), to love not our lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11). And most importantly, it must be reclaimed by those who will do these things in the Spirit, not in the flesh; who treasure Christ above all.

When the True Church takes up its cross, and Christ's reproach, and burns with holy passion for Him, He will bring many of those dead to life through our testimony. We won't need cleverly devised witnessing schemes, because we will speak with the very power of God (1 Co. 1:20-31, 2 Pet. 1:16).

If America had been blessed with such a church all these years, would we be in the dire situation we find ourselves in now?

Lord, please revive Your church! Please beautify Your bride! Grant us repentance, and teach us to walk humbly with our God. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Thing Called "Thanksgiving"

(This is something I wrote back in 2005, and originally posted on a different website. I thought I'd repost it over here today, and I hope you are blessed.)

This Thing called "Thanksgiving"

{{Potd/2005-11-24 (en)}}Image via Wikipedia

Lately I've been remembering an incident from when I was in middle school. A teacher had done something for a student, and the student didn't thank her. The teacher gently reminded her that a "Thank You" would be appropriate, and the student got huffy.

"People shouldn't do things for other people just to get thanked!” the student griped at me. “That's so selfish of her! I don't do things for people just so they will thank me, and I don't expect them to thank me! And I'm not going to thank her, either!"

I'm sure that's not an exact quote, but it certainly captures her meaning.

Was she right? What's the big deal with this thing called "Gratitude"? The world sure doesn't have much respect for it, except when they think that someone owes it to them! Just look at what has happened to Thanksgiving Day. How many people have you heard call it "Turkey Day"? How much sincere, heartfelt thanks do you suppose God really receives on that day?

In Michigan this year, at least one school district banned Thanksgiving altogether, replacing it with…get this… “Lucky Thursday.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, it turns my stomach.

Does giving thanks really matter? Who says so?

Of course, God says so, and He says it very clearly. And our own hearts know that something feels wrong inside when we do something for someone who greedily snatches it without a thought toward the giver. Is that selfish on our part, as the girl in my middle school thought?

Remember the story of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:12-19)? Jesus healed all ten of them, but only one returned to give Him thanks. Jesus' response was kind of surprising. First he marveled at the ingratitude of the others. That part isn't surprising. But then in verse 19 he says to the thankful man,
"Your faith has made you well."

What did He mean by that? The man was already healed, wasn't he? And why this reference to the man's "faith," as if his faith were tied in to his gratitude?

Are gratitude and faith related?

Thankfulness, by its very nature, acknowledges the giver. And when the giver is God, then thankfulness requires us to have enough faith to acknowledge Him. No wonder so many people talk about "Turkey Day!" The world does not want to acknowledge God (Rom. 1:28).

"Being thankful" sounds nice, but giving thanks is a whole different ball game. "Giving" is something you do to someone, and the world doesn't want to admit that there really is Someone to thank!

Well, I know you don't need me to tell YOU those things. You acknowledge Him and own Him as Savior and Lord, and so do I. So we have this Thanksgiving thing sewn up, right?

Do we? Do I?

Thanksgiving requires more than acknowledgement of the giver. Thanksgiving requires humility. It acknowledges that the gift was an act of kindness, given because of the giver's goodness, and not my own.

A king does not thank his subjects. Whatever they do for him is owed to him because he is the king. They are simply doing their duty. It is the same with masters and servants. (Luke 17:7-10). When we are ungrateful, we place ourselves in the position of a superior, like a king. We are saying that we deserved whatever good the other person did. We are implying that it was their duty to us, and not their kindness toward us, which prompted the gift. I think that sometimes we have a hard time truly feeling grateful because, down deep inside, we all feel that we are owed something. I know that I struggle with that. Life has given me lots of pain, pain that God has allowed. I'm sure you could say the same. And it's so easy to focus on our hurts and decide that God owes us! But true thankfulness springs from a heart that knows its own unworthiness. Only such a heart can understand the magnitude of God's goodness to us.

Lord, give me such a heart!

Gratitude isn’t merely something that requires a certain attitude. It also perpetuates a certain attitude. Take a look through Romans chapter 1, starting in verse 20. It paints a frightening picture of a person's (or a society's) descent into depravity. It talks about an alarming chain of events which lead to foolish ideas about what God is like, idolatry, perversion, envy, murder, deception, even hatred toward God. (Those are just a few of the things that are listed.) And what starts this awful chain of events? Look at verse 21. "Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give Him thanks." Ingratitude is listed right up there as one of the driving forces behind this dreadful downward spiral. The fact of the matter is, thankfulness to God is part of our Spiritual lifeblood. Satan knows it, and he loves to attack us there. He loves to make us ungrateful, just as he was ungrateful for all that God had done for him in making him the highest angel in Heaven. Ingratitude was part of the pride that threw Lucifer out of Heaven, and he wants to use it to rob us of our heavenly joy.

Lord, help us to be truly grateful for everything, every breath that we draw, every meal that we eat, every sunset, every friend, and even every trial that You allow for the purpose of refining us. Help us to be especially thankful for Your love, and for Jesus, and for Your precious Holy Spirit who is willing to live in sinful hearts like ours. Please forgive us for the many times we've "said Grace" without really meaning it. Please forgive us for feeling that You owe us, and give us the joy of truly grateful hearts. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Memorable Thanksgiving

I'm interrupting our series again, this time so I can participate in "At the Well." This week's writing prompt was one I simply couldn't resist.

Share with your readers a testimony of how God brought you thru a difficult time.
What is the most memorable Thanksgiving you have experienced?

That question could only bring one very remarkable Thanksgiving day to my mind.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by jvdberg)

I'd never done any Thanksgiving entertaining since the troubles began with my kids (two of them have special needs). But back on the Thanksgiving of 2004, we decided to have friends over to celebrate with us. We would have the big meal around noon, so I skipped breakfast in order to have a good appetite for the feast.

I also drank lots of my favorite caffeine source (Diet Dew, thank you very much). And, at that time I was taking a prescribed medication which, among other things, had a stimulant effect.

And I was under stress. Lots of stress.

The house was a mess. It always is, and at that point in their lives, my kids weren't able to be any real help. In fact, it was often quite the opposite.

I had just tackled the unenviable job of mopping the bathroom floor, the kids were acting up, and I was mad. Definitely not in the spirit of the day.

Worse yet, I was definitely not in The (Holy) Spirit. To be honest, back then I don't think The Spirit was in me. He was working on me, drawing me, but not in me yet. And a lot of His work could best be described as demolition. I had built lots of very thick walls, a veritable fortress of self protection around my heart, and every brick was held in place by the mortar of anger. Fear plastered every surface. Within my stronghold I stood fiercely, stubbornly alone, trusting no one, depending on no one, sharing my heart with no one. I put up a smiling front in public, but that's all it was. A charade that hid a multitude of self-destructive heart sins.

And on Thanksgiving Day, 2004, my heart said, "Enough is enough."

The pain struck as I simultaneously mopped the floor and yelled at one of my kids. And it was unlike any pain I had ever felt before.

Don't get me wrong; I'm very used to pain. I have some pretty serious back problems that have plagued me since I was a young child. And at first I thought this was my back...but it wasn't the same as any other back pain. And something in my inmost being knew that this was serious.

I tried adjusting my spine with a little technique that I use, but the pain only got worse. It sat heavy in between my shoulder blades, and it brought tears to my eyes...not because the pain was that severe (though it was pretty bad), but because my soul knew I was in a crisis, even if my mind hadn't come to grips with it yet.

"I have to go lie down. My back hurts." I made my way upstairs, but the pain made it a little hard to breathe.

My husband could sense that this was out of the ordinary, and he came up with me. Bless his heart, he just stayed there, never leaving me, while I worked through what was happening.

The pain isn't really in my spine. It's not that far back. It's in the center of my chest.

Don't be ridiculous, Betsy. You can't be having a heart attack. You don't have heart problems, and you aren't overweight, and you've never smoked, and you just turned 40 less than a month ago. There's no way this is a heart attack.

Lying down didn't lessen the pain. It should have, if it was merely back pain.

I finally took the risk of sounding like a fool. "John, it's not likely, really...but this could be my heart."

He hovered close while I told him all the reasons that it couldn't be my heart...and yet I think he knew I wasn't convinced.

The pain started traveling up toward my jaw.

"I hate to bother our doctor over his Thanksgiving dinner..." Our doctor was also a member of our church, and had been our Sunday School teacher for a while, but we weren't close friends or anything. I sure didn't want to make a fool out of myself and ruin his Thanksgiving in the process. But I did have his home phone number.

"Maybe we'd better call him just to see what he thinks."

John told the doctor what he knew, and I could tell the doctor wasn't thinking it was serious enough, so I took the phone and talked to him myself. He decided that, while it was likely to be nothing at all, I should get it checked out. He would call ahead to the hospital and tell them to expect me.

We called our would-be dinner guests and explained the situation, then bundled up three rowdy boys and drove toward the hospital.

My hands were white. Very, very white.

John checked me in at the emergency room. I just sat and worked on breathing. Actually, I was feeling a bit better now, and the color was returning to my hands.

My children ricocheted around the waiting area. Autism doesn't mix well with such settings. When the staff came to take me to triage, John decided he'd better take the kids home. I agreed.

So there I lay, in the little curtained-off triage section, alone. Sure, the staff came by sometimes, read the readouts from my monitors and talked to me. But much of the time I was all alone, except for the voices of the other sufferers beyond my curtain. One little child screamed and screamed and screamed. He had a gash on his jaw that would require stitches. I felt for him, and for his mom. I'd dealt with my share of screaming children in my life, and that sound wracked my nerves like nothing else.

Finally the cardiologist himself came in. "Your cardiac enzymes are elevated. That can only mean one thing. You've had a heart attack. And you keep having arrhythmias. We'll have to admit you to find out what's going on."

I called my husband and filled him in. Then I lay on my back and watched the lights on the ceiling go past as my gurney was wheeled along the hallway. It's a strange, vulnerable position to be in.


Aloneness suited me just fine. It was simply the external match for my internal reality. If anyone else had been there, I would still have been alone. I wouldn't have known how to let anyone into my fortress if I'd wanted to. And why would I want to?

Later that day...or maybe the next, I can't remember...anyway, I was soon wheeled into the cardiac cath lab. A huge-bore needle went into a blood vessel in my thigh, and a camera-fitted catheter weaved its way into my heart. It found a blockage...not caused by plaque, but by a spasm of a coronary artery.

Stress-related, they told me. Go figure. The caffeine and the prescription medication and the empty stomach hadn't helped, either. They put in a stent, and I had to lie completely still, not moving at all, for 4 hours afterwards so the big hole they'd made in my blood vessel could be fully sealed.

That should have taken care of everything, but it didn't. My heart raced uncontrollably. Just to get up and walk to the bathroom sent it shooting up to 130 beats per minute. Nobody knew why.

I stayed in the hospital for 4 days while a new regimen of medication stabilized my heart. I'll have to take those for the rest of my life, most likely.

Four days is a long time to lie in a hospital, mostly alone, and think about your own mortality. And perhaps one of the most important realizations to come out of that time was this rather startling one:

I don't really want to die.

As if that weren't startling enough for someone who used to call God a "cosmic sadist" for refusing to strike me dead with lightning, the following realization followed close on its heels:

I want to live not for my own sake,
but for my family's.

I'm ashamed to say it, but that was probably the first truly unselfish thought I'd had in years and years.

It's hard to be unselfish when life is one endless stream of vicious attacks, and you think you're in it alone.

Fast-forward four years. Every Thanksgiving has been a reminder that I'm blessed to be alive. But writing this down has started some new thoughts for me.

How much of the change in my soul began with that incredible day when He first gave me back my desire to live?

I have more to be thankful for than just surviving. I'm thankful that God is teaching me to love Him, and to trust Him, and to love others, and to let others into my fortress. Better yet, he's teaching me to take a chisel and work with Him on pulling walls down altogether.

That's an awful lot to be thankful for!


This week's "At the Well" is being hosted by Laurie over at Women Taking a Stand. Be sure to drop by there to read her thoughts on this topic, and to find links to other participants' postings as well. Remember to leave comments if you were blessed!

"At the Well" - Guest Blogger

I am thrilled to have my sister, Mary Waterloo, adding her own story in poetic form to this week's "At the Well" meme. I told her what the given topic was...

How do you give thanks during difficult times?
Share with your readers a testimony of how God brought you thru a difficult time.
What is the most memorable Thanksgiving you have experienced?

...and I casually mentioned that she might want to write something down. (I happen to know that she had had a rather unforgettable Thanksgiving back in 1995, just a few days before my oldest son was born.) She doesn't have her own blog, so I said I'd post anything she wrote to mine. I kid you not, she wrote this poem in about 7 minutes and emailed it to me. It's my pleasure to share it with you all.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by Brunatka)

The next day was Thanksgiving
And I was still at work
My pager started buzzing and
I grabbed it with a jerk.

The message, a little garbled
The words not sinking in,
"Surely they are kidding?"
I pondered, with a grin.

It said my house was burning,
Could I please come on home
The firemen were waiting
Covered in that funny foam.

Fast, I drove through traffic,
Still trying to explain
"Surely just a burning pan!"
Begged my frantic brain.

Oh such devastation,
Twas near a total loss.
Still I cried in great relief
There was no human cost.

So much went up in smoke
But thanks I still was giving
Every life that meant so much
Was still among the living.

The Father gives and takes
His plans beyond our ken
His praises kept my soul alive
Here, and now, and then.

(Note: This experience of "Guest Blogging" was so much fun for my sister that she has decided to start her own blog. It's called "Eye on Creation," and you can find it here.)

This week's "At the Well" is being hosted by Laurie over at Women Taking a Stand. Be sure to drop by there to read her thoughts on this topic, and to find links to other participants' postings as well. Remember to leave comments if you were blessed!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The God-Honoring Gospel

Part 5 in a Series
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

In Part 4 I told you about my son, and the dilemma I faced with wanting so badly to see him saved, but being unwilling to lead him in yet another "Prayer of salvation." If you haven't read that yet, or any other entries in the series, please do so. But I'm still going to copy the last little bit here, for the sake of continuity and clarity.

Like every misguided but well-intentioned Christian parent, I longed for something I could do to save my son. Something I could put my faith in for his salvation besides a miraculous work of Christ.

If salvation depends on the Holy Spirit awakening a dead soul, then what happens if He doesn't do that for my son? What is "Plan B?"

There isn't one. And finally coming to terms with that has helped me witness to my son more effectively than ever before, in a way that glorifies God instead of insulting Him.

At first it felt cruel, saying anything or reading any Scripture that might cause my son to doubt his salvation. But when the opportunities arose, I felt the Spirit nudging me to do it anyway. Not sitting my son down and bludgeoning him with my doubts, but rather giving brief, timely warnings as Scripture teaches us to (1 Co. 4:14, Col. 1:28, 1 Th. 5:14), and doing it in love. (I can't claim to have always had an exemplary attitude, but it's definitely something I'm striving for.)
  • Son, you just lied to me again. You do that a lot. I hate to say it, but I don't see any love for Christ in you, or any love for truth or righteousness. I see a great love for lying, and God's word says that Satan is the father of lies.
  • Son, you are very full of hatred for your brothers. Let's look at what the Bible says about those who hate their brothers (1 John 3:15).
  • Do you hear the incredible disrespect that you just showed me? That's something you need to be talking to God about, and asking Him to help you with.
Do you think that sort of thing came out of my mouth easily at first? But after those brief warnings would sometimes come times of prayer. My son would hear me praying for him, that God would give him a holy hatred for sin, and a love for Himself, and a new heart. And I also began explaining to my son, in simple terms, the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting of sin, righteousness, and judgment. And the more I did this, the more confident I felt that I was doing what God wanted me to do.

Then one day my son said to me, "I know I don't have the Holy Spirit."

My heart rejoiced to hear that! This precious boy was realizing that he truly needed to be saved!

Did I lead him in a sinner's prayer then? No way. Why quench the Spirit's work by pouring false assurance over it? Instead I told my son that this was a wonderful thing for him to realize, and that only the Holy Spirit could have revealed this truth to him. I encouraged him to pray for hatred for sin, for love for God, for a new heart.

"I've prayed that lots of times," he has whined more than once, "and it's never worked."

It would have been so simple to put my arm around him and say, "Oh honey, if you prayed that prayer, then don't worry about it! You're saved!" But that would have been the worst thing I could have done. Because, for one thing, my son's statement reveals where his faith truly was. It was in a prayer that would either "work," or "not work." It was not faith in the Living God, through Jesus Christ's atoning death on the cross (no matter whether or not those concepts were mentioned in this prayer on which he'd pinned his hopes).

So I began explaining to him that God might not give him a noticeable answer right away, but that that didn't mean He wasn't working to bring about changes. I explained that drawing someone is a process. Sometimes spiritual blindness takes time to heal (like what happened to the blind man in Mark 8:23-25.) "Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking. If God is making you wait for answer, it's because the waiting, and the seeking, and the knocking are good for you. It's part of the process that He's using to bring you to Himself. If you're coming to Him in your desire to be saved, instead of looking to yourself or some other god, I believe that means God is drawing you to Himself (John 6:44). And Jesus has promised not to cast out anyone who comes to Him through the Father's drawing (John 6:37)."

Weeks and months pass. No major changes happen in his behavior, but conversation about the things of God becomes more real. He feels less and less need to be hypocritical, since Mom already believes he's not yet born again. Especially since Mom is encouraging him to keep seeking the Lord because the Lord is drawing him. Our talks fill with truth, and with hope. Real hope based on what God is doing, not the false kind built on religiosity.

Then new insights begin to come out of his mouth...not pompous pronouncements with spiritual emptiness, but sudden realizations of truth. We keep praying, thanking God for showing him these things, asking again for hatred for sin, for love for God, for a new heart.

He begins sometimes catching himself.
  • "I feel like I need to tell you that I just gave you a big dumb excuse that wasn't true."
  • "You know what my problem is? I always want to be in charge. That's why I was being so ugly with my brother."
This from a boy who never used to be wrong, never used to admit to anything! We praise God together for this evidence that He is at work. I don't tell my son that he's saved, because I don't know it yet. But I can tell him that God is at work in Him. He finds hope in that, and he seeks more and more because of that hope.

A little while ago we read from the Scriptures about godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Co. 7:10). My son pipes up, "Mom, would you pray for me that God would give me more godly sorrow?" He tells me he has begun praying for that as well. And we have begun to see some evidence of that work of the Spirit beginning in his life. Ironically, he's developing more joy and peace right along with it. (Though that's really not surprising at all, if you understand the truth of 2 Co. 7:10.)

Do you see how God is being honored here? My son is turning more and more away from himself, away from religious trappings, and toward God as the author and finisher of his faith (Heb. 12:2)! He and I are both finding our hope in God for his salvation, and what a beautiful place to find it! My son seeks God more, in joyful expectation. I've seen the joy on his face!

Do we still see plenty of rough edges? Of course! I've got plenty of those myself, and always will until the Lord takes me home. But the Gospel that honors God is the true Gospel, and this wonderful God is drawing my son to Himself through it. I believe the day will come when my son will tell me that he knows that the Holy Spirit has given him a new heart.

I'll see the truth of that in his eyes, and we will rejoice together, along with the hosts of Heaven.

(P.S. If you know any of my children, please don't mention this to them. I'm not sure the publicity/attention would be good for them...)

(Photo from Stock.xchng by jescobosa)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Insulting God: Paved With Good Intentions

Part 4 of a Series

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

In this series we've been looking at the way we "do church" these days, and how that has contributed to the mess our nation has become. One premise that I've wanted us to consider is this one:

We insult God when we expect unregenerate people to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.

But in order to tackle that subject, I've had to lay some important foundations.
  • God deserves the glory for what He does.
  • The salvation of a soul is a miraculous work that only God can do, and He deserves the glory for that, too.
  • The true Gospel requires humility on the part of sinners who are helpless to save themselves.
  • The modern, distorted "gospel" appeals to man's pride, implies that he can save himself by a decision he makes, and declares men "saved" based on a religious exercise (and this is being done by the majority of evangelicals!)
  • This godless, non-miraculous, manmade "salvation" is an insult to God.
Those points were fleshed out in parts 1-3 of this series. Now, after all of that, are we ready to tackle the original premise quoted above?

Not quite. Because there's one more reason why we evangelicals tend to fall for this false gospel, and unless it's addressed, it may still seduce us.

The seduction lies in the fact that we not only hate feeling helpless about our own salvation, but we also hate feeling helpless about saving others, especially those we love most.

We so want to help! And that's good. We should ache to see souls saved. It feels wonderful to believe that others will be in Heaven. It's a great joy to know we've helped someone come to Christ. Praise God that He allows us to be used in this way, and to enjoy such assurance for our loved ones!

The problem arises when we become so eager to feel that assurance, so eager to feel that flush of evangelistic success, that those feelings matter more to us than the reality of what happens to others' souls. Sometimes, quite unconsciously, we'd rather feel the thrill of leading someone in a prayer, we'd rather perform a ritual to assure our hearts as to our loved ones' fates, than actually lead them to Christ who alone can save them.

I used to use a well-known witnessing scheme, and I was good at it. I could almost always talk people into repeating "The Prayer" after me, once I had gone through my well-practiced spiel. I was pretty proud of it, to be honest with you. Lots of little notches on my evangelical belt, and exciting "praise reports" to give when all the evangelical teams returned to the church for wrap-up. The problem was, nobody that I "led to the Lord" was ever willing to participate in any kind of follow-up that we attempted. They always made sure they weren't home when we were scheduled to drop by. They often didn't return to church, either. I had assured them that they were saved, based on what they repeated after me, but I was left wondering whether or not they had really been saved, or even if they had just humored me to hurry me out of their home. I hate to think of how much baseless assurance I handed out in those days.

"But wait," some have told me. "You just have to trust that God will save them, because they prayed The Prayer. You did the best you could." And that, indeed, seems to be the new faith of the modern gospel. You initiate a salvation transaction, and "by faith" convince yourself that God has responded, even if you know nothing has changed inside of you. "Faith doesn't need evidence. Just believe that you're saved, based on the prayer you prayed, whether there's evidence of salvation or not." Evangelical programs abound, each one promising new and better ways to convince people to repeat The Prayer after you, and how to convince unchanged people that they've been changed. Feelings become our focus as we grope for assurance, whether its the feelings of the evangelist who wants to believe she has led someone to Christ, or the feelings of the new convert who wants to believe she is saved. We offer platitudes and promises to those who, instead of believing in Christ, seek only to believe that they've truly believed!

We do it all with such good intentions! Oh, and how carefully we steer clear of verses that might make our fragile new believers uncomfortable, like 1 Co. 15:2 ,or 2 Co. 13:5.

God have mercy on us, and on our poor "converts!"

The true Gospel knows nothing of human initiation and divine response. It is the exact opposite! God initiates, and the human responds!

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44

Faith is no mere matter of convincing ourselves to believe that we're saved! Faith is nothing less than an awakened spirit coming alive to Christ Himself, being able to see and desire Him in ways that no sin-deadened soul ever could, and being divinely enabled to trust in the Lamb who was slain for us. It is a complete paradigm shift, not a one-time act of deciding to jump through a religious "faith hoop."

So what is to be done with all of our good intentions? Should we muzzle our evangelistic urges, sit on our backsides, and wait for God to do all the work? God forbid! (See Eze. 3:18-21.)

Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! (1Co 9:16)
I have a son who went to a Christian school for kindergarten through 2nd grade. He's extremely bright, and he learned to talk the talk with the best of them. You could almost see his eyes glazing over, his soul hiding behind his religious mask whenever the subject of God would come up. He could spout religious jargon until he terrified me, because his little soul was rock-hard and as far from God as could be. Of course he attended Sunday School and VBS as well, and in each of those places someone led him in a "prayer to receive Christ." He got little certificates to tell him he was going to Heaven, and thrilled announcements to everyone that he was saved because he'd repeated a prayer. The religious shellac got painted on thicker, and his little soul walked away more lost than it had already been.

I so yearned to truly lead this child to Christ, and yet I didn't know how! I only knew how to lead him in a prayer, and I knew he didn't need to do that again. I had finally experienced true salvation as a miraculous work of the Spirit in my own life, after years of believing myself saved based on a prayer. How could I want him to have the same false assurance that I once had?

Like every misguided but well-intentioned Christian parent, I longed for something I could do to save my son. Something I could put my faith in for his salvation besides a miraculous work of Christ.

If salvation depends on the Holy Spirit awakening a dead soul, then what happens if He doesn't do that for my son? What is "Plan B?"

There isn't one.

And finally coming to terms with that has helped me witness to my son more effectively than ever before, in a way that glorifies God instead of insulting Him.

In the next entry I'll tell you how.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by forwardcom)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reasonable Sacrifice - Monday Manna

Today I am interrupting our current series so I can participate in

Monday Manna

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Rom 12:1 (NKJV)

Does being a "living sacrifice" sound reasonable to you?

The fact is, everyone is a living sacrifice. Athletes sacrifice years of hard work and pain to earn ribbons and medals. Businessmen sacrifice a lifetime to gain financial security. Children sacrifice years to learn in school, countless hours to get higher scores on electronic games, and nearly anything to establish their place in the world. Even the most selfish, lazy people on earth make endless sacrifices, because they are draining the lifeblood out of irretrievable years and opportunities on the altar of self-indulgence.

Parents sacrifice. Friends sacrifice. Soldiers sacrifice.

Why is being a living sacrifice to God, "reasonable service?" What makes Him worth it?

I have a sister who absolutely loves dogs. All dogs, but French Bulldogs most of all. It amazes me the sacrifices that she makes for those animals, whether they're her own, or whether they're foster dogs she's taken in for a rescue organization. She deals with a lot of paralyzed dogs, and thinks nothing of changing their diapers day in and day out for years on end, expressing their bladders if need be, going to great lengths to provide a custom homemade diet and the best medical care. She spends hours in online French Bulldog forums, drives long distances to rescue dogs from bad situations, and works in fundraising events. Honestly, there's no way I'd do it. It seems like "unreasonable sacrifice," because it wouldn't be worth it to me.

It's worth it to her, because the dogs themselves are worth it to her.

It's a love thing.

We sacrifice for what we love. And the more we love something or someone, the more reasonable that sacrifice seems.

So who decides what is reasonable service? We do, when we decide how much something is worth, and how much we love it. The problem is, we're not always very good judges of worth, nor are we always aware of just how much we sacrifice. Time slips away in front of televisions and computer screens, or is traded for any number of unimportant things, and we barely even notice. The hours turn into days, and weeks, and years, and before we know it, a lifetime.


In my 44 years on this earth, how many hours have I truly lived? How many hours have I spent in ways that matter? In the end, what will I have to show for the life that I've spent? How much of what I've accomplished will survive the fires of judgment? (2 Pe. 3:10-11 , 1 Co. 3:11-15)

Who decides what is "reasonable" sacrifice? Ultimately, God does. He tells us He's worth it. In fact, He's more than worth it (Rom. 8:18).

We're wise if we listen to Him. In fact, our souls may depend on it. Because saving faith has to be far more than simply assenting to facts about God, or about Christ. The demons know all about God. Far more than we will ever know on this earth. They believe all of these facts. They saw Jesus on the cross. They saw Him buried, and they saw His resurrection. If believing these things about Jesus is your definition of "saving faith," then you have to believe the demons are saved.

God forbid!

The problem is, the demons hate everything that they know about God. They hate His goodness, His power, His sovereignty, His holiness, His authority, His works, His ways, His expectations, His plans...everything. They have the facts right, but they do not have saving faith, because they do not trust in this God that they know. They do not believe He should have the right to rule, nor do they love Him or count Him as their treasure. Their goal is to depose Him, or at least to live as if He were not on the throne, and to lead humans to do the same.

By contrast, saving faith not only believes the facts about God and about Christ, but also rejoices in those facts! It not only assents to the fact that God is on the throne, but it wouldn't want it any other way!

Saving faith makes sacrifices, and counts them "reasonable," because it believes that Christ is worth it all.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)

Worth it all.

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Php 3:8)

Reasonable sacrifice.

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. (Mat 19:29)

Do I love the Lord enough, trust Him enough, have faith enough to sacrifice everything, and call it "reasonable?"


Today's "Monday Manna" is being hosted by Joanne over at "An Open Book." Please drop by there for links to other thoughts on this verse, and be sure to leave comments if you were blessed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Insulting God: The Pride Behind the Modern Gospel

(Part 3 of a Series)
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

For the past few entries this blog has been working toward considering the following premise:

We insult God when we expect unregenerate people to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.
This idea was simply mentioned in Part 1, and a little bit of groundwork for it was added in Part 2, where I made the case that we cannot, by any religious exercise, gain salvation for anyone, or confirm that salvation has occurred. I also argued that many evangelicals have fallen for a non-miraculous, works-based salvation without even realizing it.

I'd like to go on to address more directly the premise in the quote above, but before I do that it seems necessary to delve a little further into the dangerous heresy of Evangelical Sacramentalism. That's because we cannot comprehend the difference that salvation makes in a soul, and why we can't expect the unregenerate to live like the regenerate, until we understand what salvation is.

And what it isn't.

Why has the modern, watered-down gospel flourished?

How have we come so far from the faith of our fathers, without even being aware that we've strayed? Spurgeon would not recognize our modern "gospel presentations," nor would any of the Puritan Martin Luther's 1534 Bible.Luther's 1534 Bible
Image via Wikipedia
fathers, or Luther, or the apostles for that matter.

Neither does Christ.

How is it that we have come to put our faith in a prayer, or in anything we can dredge up in our own souls in order to be saved? How have we convinced ourselves that the dead can choose to raise themselves to life?

It's simple, really. We hate feeling helpless, especially about vitally important things like salvation.

We hate believing that our own salvation doesn't rest in our own hands. Oh, if we're evangelical, we say we believe that we're saved by grace through faith, apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9). But lurking in many an evangelical soul is the belief that we saved ourselves through our faith. It reveals itself in a subtle (or not so subtle) pride, a feeling of superiority over those who don't believe, a wondering "what's wrong with them, why can't they simply believe like I do?"

If the faith that we have is the kind of faith that anyone should be able to "just do," then our faith is merely human.

Nothing human can save us.

The fact is, we are saved by something (it is done to us), and this "something" is grace (God's favor, which He gives to us apart from any merit of our own) through faith (the ability to believe, which is in itself a gift from God). Any other view distorts faith into a "work" and fosters spiritual pride.

That's why, when Paul spoke to Titus about how to relate to the lost, he pointed out that we should "show all humility to all men." Why should we show this humility? "Because we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another." (Titus 3:2-3)

Why should we feel humbled when we look at unbelievers and know that we were once like them? Shouldn't we feel proud that we were smart and savvy enough to believe? Absolutely, if salvation is a work of the flesh or of the mind, and not a miraculous work of the Spirit. Paul's command to "show humility" can only be fulfilled by those who know, not just in their heads, but down to the depths of their being, that they were saved by grace, and that they can take no credit for it. I bless the Lord for the night that He miraculously opened my eyes my utter helplessness to save myself, my total lostness, and my need to depend completely on Him for my eternal soul's salvation. I have no doubt my salvation was a miracle of God. Do you know the same about yours?

Or are you counting on something purely human...some words repeated after someone else, perhaps? A decision to accept a "plan," or an "outline" that someone presented?

Of course there's nothing wrong with praying a prayer, or listening to an outline. But is it the prayer that you look to for confirmation and assurance? Were you saved by a plan, or even by a personal decision?

Or have you come "face to face" with the Living God?

Did He save you?

For many people, this kind of introspection is painful, even terrifying, because of what they don't find when they look within. I know. I used to be one of them.

Fear can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you do with it.

Pride jumps in at this point. In its more subtle form, it starts searching around for an inventory list, a proof of salvation based on things it has achieved. When it finds enough good works to satisfy itself, it uses its own perceived goodness to shove all potentially lifesaving doubts back down.

Humility, on the other hand, looks for the work of the Spirit and the changes He has brought about, and rests all of its confidence on what He has done as evidence for salvation.

In a less-subtle form, pride asks, "What do you mean, I can't make a certain decision or pray a certain prayer to be saved? You're saying it all depends on God, on a miraculous work of His Spirit? What gives Him the right to have my salvation depend on Him?"

At an even more Hellish level pride can hiss, "I want nothing to do with a God who could ever send me to Hell under any circumstances! That other guy, maybe, but not me!" If such a heart ever prayed a prayer of faith, it was faith in itself to perform the right actions which would put God in its debt, guaranteeing that God would give it the salvation it believes it deserves.

Humility, when it recognizes its need for salvation, bows in holy fear with an attitude of, "Lord, You would be perfectly just to send me to Hell. I deserve no less. If You were to do so, I would not curse You for it. You are holy and right and just. I cast myself utterly on Your mercy, trusting You to save me not because I could ever deserve it, but because You are a God of your Word, and You have promised to save those who put their trust in You. Thank You for putting the weight of my sins on Christ, and offering me His righteousness. Please save even me, Lord." (Now, be careful here...I'm not prescribing a specific prayer that saves anyone. It is the Spirit-wrought change in a heart, bringing it to this point of faith, that saves. No one is saved by saying such words with an unchanged, sin-deadened heart.) A truly humble, Spirit-led heart comes trembling, aware of its own guilt, aware that even its own coming gives it no merit. It comes with humble amazement that such a salvation could be given to one so undeserving. It knows that if God were to say "No," there would be no "Plan B." It's all up to God. Period.

That's not a saving act. That's saving faith, and it's a work of the Spirit.

The good news is, to such a heart God will not say "No," because such a heart has the thumbprint of the Holy Spirit pressed deeply into it.

God creates this humble faith, and God perfects it.

Is this the salvation you know? Is this the gospel you share?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Insulting God: A Non-Miraculous Salvation

(Part 2 of a Series)

In Part 1 I made the following (perhaps unexpected) observation.

We insult God when we expect unregenerate people to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.
The salvation of a human soul is the Creator's masterpiece. It is nothing less than the miraculous raising of the spiritually dead to a state of spiritual life. It gives sight to the spiritually blind, and it transforms a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. It is a miracle as awesome in scope as the creation of the universe itself. Only God can do such a mighty work. What's more, only God's miraculous transformation will please Him. Human self-effort does not impress Him in the slightest.

We seem to have lost sight of that fact, and it has impacted our evangelism.

Much of modern Christendom preaches that salvation is merely a decision that one can make, with no dependence upon a work of God at all. We seem to believe the flesh can replicate the work of the Spirit; as if wind and rain can create a sculpture of David. Ironically, we who would scoff at the idea of being saved through any Sacrament still manage to rely on what has been aptly called "Evangelical Sacramentalism."

  • You assent to certain facts (or at least nod your head when they're presented to you)
  • You feel the appeal or the pressure of a well-practiced pitch
  • You repeat a certain prayer
  • Congratulations, if you meant it, you're saved (based on what you just did)
Where's the Holy Spirit in all of that? Where's the miraculous work?

Shame on us. We insult the true Creator of spiritual life. We look at what man has done and esteem it as if it were the same as God's miracle of regeneration. We do not even do God the honor of noticing His absence or missing Him. Someone has said a prayer, and isn't that enough? Who needs more?

We all do. We need so much more.

Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. (Rom. 8:9)
Can we really presume to tell anyone that they are saved because they repeated a prayer? Perhaps God really did do a miraculous work of regeneration in that person. But I can't be the judge of that based on a religious act.

I know from personal experience that there is a world of difference between praying with a dead heart, and praying with one that He has touched to life.

"Then how can you give them the assurance of salvation?" you ask. I must reply that that is not my privilege, especially not on the "evidence" of a simple religious exercise. I can, however, point them to the only One who can give the assurance of salvation, and tell them the truth about what the Scriptures say.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16)

Without His witness, my "assurance" is meaningless, and perhaps even deadly. For no one is in more danger on a sinking ship than the man who has been told his ship is fine.

Search the scriptures. Find the verses that talk about assurance of salvation. There are several. Now look for one that gives assurance by saying, "Did you pray a certain prayer? Then you're saved." You won't find one. Assurance of salvation is always linked to the reality of the Spirit's transforming work in a person's life, and to His witness with our own spirit. (Yes, even 1John 5:13 points back to the "witness" in 1John 5:10.)

Have you felt the Spirit's presence in yourself? Is His presence proving itself by the difference He makes?

By their fruits you shall know them. (Matt. 7:20)

We're uncomfortable with that fact. We feel queasy when we read 1 Co. 15:2 ,or 2 Co. 13:5 , or any similar verses. We fear that they hint at salvation by our good works. But our works cannot save us because they cannot erase our sins or please God.

What pleases God? His works in us.

LORD, You will establish peace for us, for You have also done all our works in us. (Isa 26:12)
We are never urged to search our own performance record to see how we're doing with our good works. The Bible condemns such Pharisaism. But we are urged to look at our lives and see if the Holy Spirit of God is in us, working repentant changes in our hearts, in our appetites, in our priorities, in our desires; changes which show themselves inevitably in the things we do.

Yes, I know I belong to Christ. But let me tell you why. It's because of what the Spirit did, and what He is still doing, not because of anything I did or do. I'm not talking about any signs like speaking in tongues or miraculous physical healing or other such things that Satan can counterfeit. I have experienced none of those things. I am talking about something far more miraculous.

What could be more miraculous than the changes which the Spirit has made, and continues to make, in my heart and life...His conviction of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment? What could be more assuring than His work of weaning my heart away from an idolatrous love for sin, and toward an ever-growing love for Christ? What could be more impossible for Satan to counterfeit?

I know what He has done, and what He is doing. And it's different from anything my flesh can do.

Is He at work in you? (Gal. 5:22-25)

Yes, our low view of what it means to be saved has impacted our evangelism. Has it impacted how you were evangelized? Are you resting your assurance on some act that you performed, or on something that the Spirit has performed, and is still performing, and on the Spirit bearing witness with your spirit?

To whom do you give the glory?

(Photo from Flickr by iamPatrick)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Hard Words for Hard Times

First in a Series

Normally I would be participating in "Friday Fiction" today, but I'm not doing that this week. For one thing, I ran out of pre-written fiction articles, and I didn't write a new one. But that's minor.

Mostly I'm just not in a fictional frame of mind.

This isn't a political blog, and I won't let it become one. Even yesterday's post wasn't primarily political. It was mostly about sin, righteousness, and judgment. Already it has become by far my most read article - in the past few days it has been accessed over 4 times more than the 2nd most read article, and readers have been emailing links to it to various points around globe. That tells me that a lot of people aren't in a fictional mood either. And I hope it means that a lot of people want to look at this presidential election in a way that brings us closer to God.

God-centeredness. That's what it's all about.

Now, this may sound like an unrelated topic, but hear me out. Last night I was with my Small Group, watching The Truth Project. The episode (if you want to call it that) was "Science, Part 2."

It was glorious.

I sat entranced as I watched the inner workings of a cell, and the only word that kept coming to mind was, "GLORY!" I wanted to burst out in praise of the Creator right there. It is inconceivable to me that anyone can see this level of complexity at a microscopic level and deny God. Not only that, but it makes me a little bit angry.

He deserves the glory for what He has done!

Imagine if you had been a close personal friend of the great Michelangelo. Think how you would Michelangelo's DavidImage by Robert Scarth via Flickrfeel at the unveiling of his masterpiece, "David." Now imagine standing there, bursting with joy for your friend and exulting in what he had accomplished, when two strangers walk up beside you. One points to the statue and says to the other, "Look, isn't it amazing what years of wind and rain did to that giant slab of marble? It looks like a person!" First of all, you wouldn't be able to believe their stupidity, and secondly, you'd be angry on behalf of your friend (especially if you told the strangers that the statue had been sculpted by someone, and that you personally knew the creator, and they refused to believe you).

The greatest human minds cannot create even a minuscule approximation of God's handiwork, and yet they have the gall to say that His work could be made by nothing at all. What an insult!

And yet there is another way to insult God, and perhaps it's even worse.

It is a greater insult to acknowledge Him with the mouth, but deny Him with the life.

Those who deny His existence do not cast His character in a negative light by their own actions. But when people (or when nations) name the name of Christ and live like the Devil, they throw mud on His reputation.

America has thrown enough mud on Him to cover the continent a thousand miles deep. Have you heard what the president of Iran has said about Christ because he believes that America is a Christian nation? He said (I paraphrase), "The followers of Jesus walk around half naked, but Allah's followers are modest."

The nations blaspheme because of us (Rom. 2:24).

We American Christians need to get our thinking straight on this subject. Because the way we "do Christianity" in this country has helped to bring us to the grave situation we find ourselves in today.

- We insult God when act as if we can and should expect unregenerate people in our society to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.

-We insult God when we insist that our nation must officially talk the Christian talk even though it doesn't walk the Christian walk.

-We insult God when we cheapen His grace into an excuse for sinning, pampering our own favorite iniquities while yelling at our society for committing sins that are on our lists of pet peeves.

(There will be more on each of those points in future entries.)

We speak of God judging America, and I believe that is happening. But let's remember where God's judgment always begins.

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1Pe 4:17)

And what does Paul tell us we can do when we realize we are undergoing judgment?

For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1Co 11:31-32)

May God in His mercy show us our sin and grant us repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) as we seek His face in humility. And then let us heed the wise counsel of the prophet Hosea:

Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. (Hos 6:1)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grief and Disillusionment Bring New Hope

US flag flying at half-staff at sunsetImage via WikipediaOk, I'll admit it. I'm grieving.

I know that no human being is our savior. A different election outcome would not have brought Heaven on Earth. My hope is not in politicians. My hope is in the Lord.

But I'm grieving.

Grief is appropriate for a devastating loss, for the death of a loved one. And for me, that's what this election represents.

But let me be very clear about this. I don't think America is in mortal danger because of the candidate who won. I believe the opposite.

I believe that the candidate won because America is in mortal danger. That's why I said that I grieve over what this election represents, not over what it did.

And frankly, if the other candidate had won, I would not feel much better.

If America had truly been a vital nation "Under God," not only would the outcome have been different, but we wouldn't even have been presented with the same candidates or the same issues. This election didn't so much change the country as it revealed it.

And so I grieve the death of a dream.

I know that the America I love is really an ideal, a dream, a hope. For many years, the America I love has not been the America that I live in. And more and more I'm having to admit that the ideal, the dream, the hope could never really be achieved by human beings. Democracy is the best human form of government, but it is still human, and so will still be brought down by the weight of its own sin. It can only work as the Founding Fathers dreamed IF it is a godly nation seeking to be led by godly leaders.

America hasn't been that for a long, long time. So November 4th, 2008 was inevitable. If it hadn't happened this year, it would have happened in 2012, or 2016. In fact, I suspect that in God's eyes, Election Day was a minor blip. He's been watching our moral and spiritual decay and our blatant rebellion growing worse and worse throughout our history.

If a gardener knows that the root system of a vine runs under his whole property, he won't be surprised to see any particular shoot pop out of the ground. Besides, our Gardener can't be surprised by anything. He removes kings and raises up kings (Dan. 2:21).

We are the ones who feel the shock, because we had hoped the roots wouldn't send up this particular sprout. We feel the threat of the power that this shoot wields. And we see the danger that it poses to America.

But if we look at any one individual as the greatest threat facing our nation, then we misunderstand the danger.

The danger is never in the sprouts. It's in the root.

Our nation made this choice, and made all of the previous choices which led up to this choice, because our nation desperately needs God and has rejected Him. And that, my friends, is what we need to grieve. Not the outcome of the election, or the man it will put in office, though there is a great deal of heartache that will no doubt follow those two things.

Let me say it again.

We are headed for a great deal of grief now that we've chosen this president. But the heartache will not be primarily the result of the election or of the new president. It will be the result of national apostasy, of which November 4th was only a symptom.

We should not be grieving as if yesterday marked a horrible defeat for a great nation. We should be grieving as those who recognize that our nation ceased to be great decades ago, and has been self-destructing for a long time. Let our prayers focus around our lost nation, pleading with God to grant us repentance from sin, and grant us true Spirit-led revival.

And by all means, let's be disillusioned.

"Disillusionment - noun - a freeing or a being freed from illusion." (

We, as God's people, are called to walk in truth, not in illusion. And faith in human government is faith in an illusion (Ps. 118:9, Ps. 146:3, Jer. 17:5-8.)

When God strips away illusions, He is doing us a great kindness. The process may be painful, because we tend to love the little dreams we've clung to. But the end result is something far better than any illusion could ever give.

The result is real hope. Not a false hope based on the supposed virtues of any politician or nation, but a true hope in our Heavenly King and our eternal home.

Php. 3:20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

How often have we Americans read that, and said that? How often have we actually meant it? I fear that, for many of us, those have just been words, nothing more.

God is going to change that. When "Hate Crimes" laws are passed which get your pastor (and mine) thrown in prison for preaching the truth of God; when Obama fulfills his promise to sign our nation on with the Alliance of Civilizations, which among other things defines all who believe in absolute truth as "terrorists" and says parents who teach their children exclusive dogmas are guilty of child abuse, then we're all going to begin to long for our Heavenly home much more fervently.

But that's where our main allegiance should have been all along.

So I, for one, will grieve in my own way, but I will also have hope, for the truth of Php. 3:20 is becoming more real to me already. No one, NO ONE can corrupt that Heavenly city, and its King will never be deposed!

Praise God!

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

2 Cor. 3:17 - True Freedom "In Other Words"

"In Other Words"

"I'm free!" said he, and off he ran
Away from that oppressive man
Who weighed him down with rules and such
Restrictions which were far too much
To bear, and so like wind he flew
"Bye Mom and Dad, I don't need you!"

Yes, free he was to break all rules
And limits set for mindless fools --
"A fool I'm not, why can't you see,
Your warnings don't apply to me!
Who cares if others lost their way?
I'm my own god, how can I stray?"

Who was this lad, and what his fate?
He's millions who have passed the gate
Which leads into a way so wide
That everyone can fit inside
And play whatever foolish games
Will blind them to approaching flames.

Freed to fiddle while life burns,
Oblivious to downward turns.
Singing to drown out the screams
Of all who've reached the end of dreams.
At liberty to take a chance
And on Titanic's decks to dance.

"What, jump this ship?" the blind fools scoff.
"We've no desire to get off.
How can you say that we could sink?
You lack a zest for life, we think."
How free are they, who blinders wear
And doom themselves, without a care?

A view of the Grand Staircase with the crystal...Titanic Image via Wikipedia

"I'm free!" said she, "I will not work.
Some slaves may serve; I'm free to shirk.
Submit? You cannot force me to!
My soul would die if I served you."
Her home, her kids, her husband, all
Ignored in favor of self's call.

And yet, within her heart she wept
For love unshown, and vows unkept.
Her kids grew tall, and years were lost
She had her way, but at what cost?
If truth be told, she longed to give
But feared "to serve is not to live."

But then the Spirit touched and warmed
Her heart, and tenderly He formed
A love that cast out all her fear,
Freed her to serve the ones most dear.
"No one can force, but you can choose:
Life lost to save, or saved to lose?" *

Safe in His love, she's free at last
Not doomed to imitate the past.
Loosed from the cycle of regret
To sin's demands no more in debt
What joy it is to see how she
is redefining liberty!

Each soul, when given choice, pursues
exactly what Love says to choose.
A bitter trap, the love of sin
A gilded net to drown souls in.
But precious gift the Spirit gives...
A heart that loves the Lord, and lives!

*Matt. 16:25

This week's "In Other Words" is being hosted by Karen at her blog, "In Love W.I.T.H Jesus." Be sure to drop by her blog for links to other insights on this verse, and please leave comments if you are blessed.

And please matter what happens with the elections, a heart centered on God, through Christ, by the Spirit will find peace, joy, and yes, LIBERTY in Him!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recipe for Birthday Blues

Actually my birthday turned out rather nicely, but if I had let it continue the way it started...well, things would have been different. So I thought I ought to share the story, because one of the ways we fight against the enemy of our souls is to make sure that we are not ignorant of his schemes (2 Co. 2:11).

So, without further ado, here was Satan's "Perfect Storm" plan for my 44th birthday, October 31, 2008.This image shows Hurricane Betsy in the Gulf o...Image of Hurricane Betsy via Wikipedia

1. Get the kids to behave horribly. This will be especially powerful because they're home from school today. Betsy will have no escape. Make them short-fused, make them scream and yell at Betsy and tell her terrible things about herself. There won't be a thing she can do about it. She'll be helpless!
(Betsy's comment: This plan worked. The kids obliged...especially one who shall remain nameless to protect the forgiven.)

2. Convince Betsy that today is supposed to be all about pampering her. Sure, she's written plenty about the dangers of self-focus, but it's still a weak spot for her. And what better day to encourage her to focus on herself than her birthday?
(Betsy's comment: This worked as well. More than once I uttered a sarcastic, "Happy birthday to me" comment in response to the children's behavior. More than once I resisted the Spirit by reminding Him how wrong it was for my kids to treat me badly on my birthday, etc, etc.)

3. Convince Betsy that being miserable is a cherished privilege, that she has a right to feel this way, that she deserves it because she's being victimized. Encourage her to coddle her bad mood, pamper it, feed it whatever it wants. Oh, and remind her that her hormones give her the right to be crabby now anyway.
(Betsy's comment: Do I have to tell you that this worked?)

4. Convince her that she has the right to lash out at her kids in return, to say mean and hateful things because they deserve it. That will complete the vicious cycle, because the worse she reacts to the kids, they worse they'll behave in return! It'll swirl into a perfect hurricane of evil!
(Betsy's comment: As you've probably guessed by now, that one worked too. Let's just say my reactions were less than godly, and leave it at that...)

5. Convince her that this is all the kids' fault, even though there's really only one part of this scenario that is out of her control (the kids' behavior.) The rest is within her power to choose, but don't let her admit that to herself! (Betsy's comment: Yep. This one worked too. Sometimes I realized that I could choose otherwise, but thanks to the success of point #3, I didn't WANT to!)
Betsy's Storm Total RainfallImage via Wikipedia
Needless to say, "Hurricane Betsy" cut a wide swath through our house that day. Damage was widespread and severe.

Thank the Lord, He intervened. I'm so glad he didn't get nasty with me, like I got with the kids!

Yes, it was my birthday, but no date on a calendar will change the fact that self-focus is a sure path to misery. I would have been so much better off accepting that the world was not supposed to revolve around me any more on that day than on any other. If I had only kept myself God-centered, determined to be loving to others, so much ugliness could have been avoided!

And oh, if only I had remembered from the very beginning to find strength in joy (Neh. 8:10), rather than thinking I could find it in rage! If only I had remembered earlier that a soft answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger! (Pr. 15:1)

Lord, please help me to do better next time.

But now for the happy stuff. Things did calm down and improve, even before I repented of my sinful attitudes. How gracious of God to make THAT happen!

John took me to Romano's Macaroni Grill for dinner, and since most of the town was out Romano's Macaroni GrillImage via Wikipediatrick-or-treating, there was no waiting. Hey, having a birthday on Halloween isn't all bad! The food was yummy, I had enough leftover for another dinner the next day, and I got a free slab of lemon cake to boot!

To make matters better, John and I had time to sit and have some very good conversation. (A huge thank-you to my sister, Mary, for babysitting the kids so John and I could have this time ALONE!)

And then came the best part of the evening. From 10:00 until midnight John and I sat in a movie theater with about two other couples and watched "Fireproof." What an amazing experience, hearing the Gospel in a secular movie theater, and seeing love portrayed as selfless and beautiful in ways that Hollywood cannot understand! If you haven't seen this movie, SEE IT! It's well-made despite being a low-budget film, its message is wonderful, and if people turn out to see good Christian movies like this, more of them might be made!

So, it turned out to be a good birthday, and a good reminder that God's ways are always best!
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