What is worse? (1) Having a boy who likes to dress like a girl demanding for the right to change in the girl's locker room, or (2) texting on your iPhone while walking down the street?
Seems like a no brainier, no one wants a locker room experimental free-for-all in a school full of hormone charged teens. But not so fast...in our present nanny state with our new army of radical, foaming at the mouth progressive liberators, perversion is "in" and public responsibility and freedom is "out."
In the first case, some states are now being pressured by the ACLU to allow students to explore and live by their own chosen gender identity. As one article on MLive writes, "When it comes to bathroom access for transgender students, civil liberties groups say the law is clear: Students are entitled to use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity." It goes on to say, "The Michigan State Board of Education aims to make schools more welcoming to students who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or questioning. Among the recommendations: School staff address transgender students by their "chosen name," pronouns that "correspond to their gender identity," and allow students to use the restroom or locker room that's in accordance with their gender identity."
So if my daughter is showering after her soccer game in the locker room, Johnny is allowed to go in and dress in the same room if he feels like a girl for the day. Something is inherently wrong with that scenario. It is akin to having a gay Boy Scout leader sleeping in the same tent with your 10 year old son. It's not right, and you just know it!
In case two, the state of New Jersey is now discussing the very real possibility that "distracted walking" is to be considered a crime where you can either be fined or receive jail time. What is categorized as distracted walking? Texting, internet surfing or selfie-taking while walking down the street. God forbid if you were to walk into a telephone pole while texting your BFF. Bumping smack into a street sign or innocent homeless man while he is panhandling on the corner of the street is not to be tolerated!
I ask you, "What is going on?" How are we to understand this "Brave New World" of American civility? I have two suggestions on how to make sense of this:
(1) Traditional Standards of Morality are being systematically attacked and destroyed in America. God, guilt and shame are no longer allowed to hold sway over our desires and passions. In our world of fragile egos and over indulgence, the new sin is to make someone feel bad for their perversions, selfish inclinations and sinful lusts. God is the new villain; he wants to take away our fun and right to define our own identity. If I want to be a woman, I am going to be a woman, even if it is more than obvious God made me a man. So to "have it our way" we need to silence God and rip-up his repressive moral laws. Not only that, but our enlightened culture demands that "No one should ever regulate your right to end the life of a child in your womb, when to take your own life, or stop you from sleeping with whoever you want." We are the new masters of the Universe, regardless of whether it turns the Universe into an open sewer or not - - "stand-down God" - - we are in charge now!
(2) But we all know if anything goes, innocent bystanders are bound to get hurt. So the liberal "Nanny State" has taken over, they now get to set down the new laws and rules because they will protect us, they always knows better. Someone has to be in charge and progressive liberal politics and social re-engineering is now our new god. Progressives, like 2nd grade elementary school teachers, think they know what is best for everyone and they have taken over the micromanagement of society through arbitrary law and enforced tolerance. Not only that they love to control our personal freedoms as we behave publicly in community. They watch over our speech, our dress, our gestures and now our texting. Hey, they got doctorates at the elite Ivy League schools so they are definitely smarter than your average mom, dad, construction worker and truck driver. And above all, they can never allow you to feel guilty before a Holy God, it may hurt your psyche.
The Prairie View A & M case:
If you don't believe me that justice these days is topsy-turvy I have the perfect case-study to prove my point. The African American female basketball coach at Prairie View A & M was recently fired because she had the gall to suspend two of her players after they decided to break team rules and date each other. She had issued a clearly written policy that stated, "Players may not have nonprofessional relationships with other players, coaches, managers trainers or any other persons affiliated" with the team. She said she enacted the rule after an assistant coach had a relationship with a player.
But the two players had filed a complaint alleging that their dismissal discriminated against them because of sexual orientation, and violated Title IX. Title IX is the federal law that bans sexual discrimination in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Don't you see? The players felt discriminated against. Oh no, they might feel offended! We can't have that! But isn't the coach African American? And isn't she a woman? Yeah, but homosexuality trumps both of those. Personal sexual proclivities win these days. And plus the coach tried to enact "rules of conduct" which clearly are an archaic construct of our traditional authoritarian past, we no longer should be in slavery under such bondage.
The Book of Judges in the Bible is a story of chaos. It details the implosion of society and God's frustration with a wicked people. The way the book ends describes what was wrong with Israel, "In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 21:25) In other words, they no longer had a system of authority, and people could do whatever they darn well pleased. Sounds like America.
I just have one question: If God judged them, do you think he will judge us?
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
2 Timothy 1:5
I received a letter from my mom today.
I recognized her handwriting immediately because it is so unique...it always looked exactly like Santa Claus' writing on all of the Christmas presents that we got as kids. As I opened the letter there was a small little post-it note that read, "This is a copy of a talk I gave last Thursday...Gina (my very persistent sister) told me to send you a copy."
The letter contained five pages a message she gave at her church written in her beautiful curly print. As I began to read it I knew that this was one of those letters that I had to keep for years to come so my kids can read about the walk their grandma has with God. I thank God for the godly heritage she has exampled for me. I had to share it because it is an amazing story how God can redeem, restore and renew a broken heart. Here is what it says...
"You know how on a TV show when there's an AA meeting, a guy will stand up and say "Hi! I'm Joe and I'm an alcoholic?" Well...I'm not Joe and I 'm not an alcoholic, but I am - - "A latecomer!"
At age 56 - 1994 to be exact (In case you are wondering, I'm now 78) - I finally came to know and accept the Lord personally! It amazes me the way the Lord has worked in my life! Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for . . .plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." What a plan he had for me!
My husband, Don and I were both born, baptized and raised by religious parents. We both attended religious schools and abided by all the rules of our religion. We married in 1958 and raised our children the same way - 2 boys and 4 girls. Our second oldest daughter, Laura, was born with Rett Syndrome, which is basically a missing enzyme. As a result, she is wheel-chair bound and is mentally at the level of a 3 month old. The doctors said she wouldn't live beyond 21 - She's now 55! Praise the Lord! - But that's a whole different story!
So...we taught CCD, worked with Teen Challenge, became involved in the Charismatic Movement. Marriage Encounter. Cursillo - "A Short Course in Christianity" - we were lay ministers and members of our church council. These experiences encompass about 40 years of religious living - but we never really studied the Bible - we were too busy working our way to heaven, and were always wondering if it was enough.
But as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through the gift of God - not by works, less any man should boast." Well, in the early 90's we were asked to join a group studying the Bible. We did and then started questioning our life long beliefs. Finally - after a long search, we joined a Bible believing church and accepted the Lord. Then the testing began...my husband's job was dissolved at age 60, our savings disappeared, our health insurance was lost, we took a huge financial loss on our big home - down-sizing to a more affordable home. We lost a lot materially, but at the same time our family was given all the spiritual wealth that God has to offer! All of our children came to the Lord!!
Once I accepted the Lord - I developed an unquenchable thirst to know and study God's word - Joel 2:25 says: "I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten!" And God did! I immersed myself in listening to tapes and Christian radio - Anyone ever hear of J. Vernon McGee?...an old but solid country preacher...I loved him! - but I knew I needed structure, So...Don and I both became involved in many Bible Studies, but especially Bible Study Fellowship - which was very similar to this community Bible Study. For 12 years Don would get up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays to go to his leader's meetings. Then lead his group on Monday nights from 9-11 p.m. He would stay home each Monday and Tuesday mornings long enough to get our Laura on the bus to her Special Needs Program so I could do the same - Mondays leader's meeting and Tuesdays, lead my group.
Well...God was definitely preparing me for the year 2006 - 10 years ago ... in January of that year, my oldest daughter's husband lost his battle with cancer - he was 48 and they had 6 young children. A month later, my oldest son, Don, his wife and 6 children - who lived just 5 minutes away - left to be missionaries in Bolivia. Our world was changing...then five months later on September 26, my wonderful husband of 48 years died of a sudden massive heart attack. I was devastated...and the only thing that got me through was my faith and trust in God's promise that one day we will be reunited - because of his Son!
2 weeks after Don's funeral, I had such a need to get back to my Bible Study group and be in God's Word - and with the help of my precious daughter Stephanie, who is with the children's group upstairs, coming every Monday and Tuesday to get Laura out to the bus - I was able to do so! Jeremiah 31:13 says: "I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them and make them rejoice rather than sorrow." That's what being in God's word did for me.
To this day I am amazed at the peace beyond understanding God has given - Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I thank God for this and the great gift of good memories!
Hebrews 13:5 tells me that He will never leave me nor forsake me! So I am content! Finally...my mind is like a sieve and for the life of me, I can't seem to memorize and retain scripture, but this one verse I can always remember - Philippians 4:4 - "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say rejoice"!
Well, that is my mom's amazing story. . . And let me tell you, having a mom like that, I am blessed beyond belief!
"If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
1 Corinthians 15:22
Have you ever heard of Bill Maher? If you haven't, you are not missing anything: He is one of the many snickering, mocking, arrogant cynics that spew his own brand of bitterness on cable TV. He believes that all Christians are idiots for believing the bible and it's made up lies. He especially drips contempt for anyone who holds to the idea that there is life beyond the grave.
I warn you, if you let him, he can really get under your skin. And he doesn't care - - that is precisely what makes him so maddening. But we Christians need to get use to it because there are a lot of people out there like him.
What if they are right? What if the after-life is all a lie?
Take some time and think through this. It is one thing to mock God and decry those who believe, but what if? Really...what if your years of living, striving, sacrificing ended in death and nothing more? Think through this a second. Psalm 49 is a great guide on this hopeless tour:
(1) Psalm 49:10 "Even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish." This news is terrible! Think about this logical end-road: Those who argue the loudest that life has no meaning are going to be silenced in the same way as those who don't give a rip. The worst part in my mind is that the wise atheist will never get the chance to say, "I told you so." Dirt has no voice. So go ahead and make your argument now, because death will lay you down next to the man who was a complete ignoramus. Your desire to be right is just as empty as the person who has been wrong his whole life and doesn't care.
(2) Psalm 49:12 "Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish." The rich man living in Trump Tower and the dog licking vomit on the sidewalk both will rot. So why take pride in your current position, you're fish food soon.
(3) Psalm 49:17-19 "When a person dies, he will carry nothing away; no more glory, even though you were praised while alive, when dead all that is left is dark silence." You may be famous today, but will not be remembered tomorrow.
So who cares what you have to say? Even if you win your argument you lose in the end.
Have a nice day, or not, go drink, get drunk, kill someone, work out, or die young, the only hope you have is dirt. But boy are you cool now, you have your own TV show. So pointless. Look at Robin Williams, he was funny for a time, but he is dead now. Oh, but you can find him on Youtube. No one really cares. Only fake sentimentalists who cry so they sound like they care...but you can only care for so long until you forget.
But there is another what if? What if hell is real?
"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye."
The world has gone mad, and there are only a few adults left to run the asylum - - and you my dear, misguided, blind friend, are definitely not one of them. So take your pills, sit there in your straight-jacket, and shut-up. Nurse Ratched is in charge.
Who is Nurse Ratched? Those in this world who like to diagnose other people's problems and then tell them what to do and how to behave. People like the writer of a recent article in the Huffington Post I was asked to read last week; the title is "When You're Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression."
The author believes that there are those in our country that are like a guy at his work that will always take the right-of-way expecting people to move to the side when he walks by. When someone dares to bump into him he cries "foul." This, says the author, is how the privileged class in America behaves. If they don't always get their way, they whine and moan. So who is this whining privileged class according to this author? Listen to what he says:
All this anger we see from people screaming "All Lives Matter" in response to black protesters at rallies. All this anger we see from people insisting that their “religious freedom” is being infringed because a gay couple wants to get married. All these people angry about immigrants, angry about Muslims, angry about “Happy Holidays,” angry about not being able to say bigoted things without being called a bigot...
The whining privileged class seems to be those who are simply trying to stand on traditional values and the rule of law. In many ways, I understand what he saying, and agree that we need to be accepting other people's opinions and not be "racist bigots." Yes, we live in a country that is democratic, so we need to listen and respect other people's ideas. But what if I disagree and really believe some things to be true and right? What if I am standing on real convictions and disagree with you on principle; does that make me a privileged jerk?
It seems like anyone who has any sort of standards, or believes that living morally is good for a community is the real villain; by creating guidelines for what we think promotes a civilized society, we are actually standing in the way of other's freedom. Not only are we not allowed to have a voice, but when we do express our position, those who disagree are given "carte' blanche" to attack and judge us. They are Nurse Ratched, we have become the inmate in the asylum:
"You are homophobic if you disagree with gay marriage, promoting trans-gendered bathrooms, and don't like the idea of a gay boy scouts."
"You are racist if you don't let a group of black protesters interrupt the political rally or demand for a waiting period for Muslims to have access into our country."
"You are a misogynist if you believe abortion is wrong, and want to stop funding an organization that may be trafficking human body parts."
"You are a selfish imperialist if you don't want to provide free heath care, free education, free meals, free housing to the disadvantaged. You are a cold-hearted creep."
And Nurse Ratched is never wrong, she never has to clear the log out of her eye. Don't you see, what we once thought was "good" (teaching hard work, saving, sacrificing, encouraging marriage and family, rewarding a person because of character and not color) is now "bad." So we must now enforce Nurse Ratched's "new good": Which is to encourage everyone to "be and do" whatever they want to "be and do" while demanding others to pay for it. Those who complain about the "new good" need to take their pills, sit down and shut-up...and of course open their wallets.
I agree with Nurse Ratched that this world is messed up. But it is messed up on both sides. There are bigots on both sides, there are rich misers who hide under the establishment and tax codes written for their benefit on both sides, there are many who know how to play the system on both sides, and there are sexual perverts on both sides.
My problem with Nurse Ratched is that you are not allowed to argue with her, because she alone knows what is good for you!
Do you know when and where the first Christian concert took place? And let me tell you, it was unhinged.
It is a tricky question because Matt Redman wasn’t there. Hillsong United wasn’t there. Michael W. Smith wasn't even there. But all the elements that make our contemporary Christian rock concerts & worship services such grand events were all there -- and just think, it took place over 2,000 years ago.
Leaders in pop-culture trends call this event “The Great Jerusalem Lollapalooza," you and I know it as the “Triumphal Entry and Arrival of the King.” And let me assure you, it was just as loud, wild and exciting as a Newsboy's concert. You can read all about it in Luke 19:28-44. If you don’t believe me, I have three proofs to offer:
1. The “Object of Worship” is the same.
We are all looking for a hero, someone to follow, admire and worship. In our "fame culture" there are many choices to pick from: Sports heroes from Tom Brady to Michael Jordan, celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Brad Pitt, and of course the top pop-musicians of the day including Beyoncé and Beiber. But comparatively speaking, there is one person who is just a little bit more worthy of worship than the elite list of heroes previously mentioned. His name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth. While the others may be very talented people, Jesus has just a few more impressive qualities to put on his resume. True, he doesn’t shoot a ball, act in movies, or sing smooth songs; but Jesus does rule the universe. For that reason alone a lot of people have chosen to give him the singular recognition of being the supreme hero.
Regardless if you were to live in the year 30 or 2016, people love to sing about Jesus. They just can't get enough. He is the only God-man to touch this earth and it is right and proper to give him his just due. So when he came riding into the city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey there just was no holding his fanatical followers back. He was praised as healer, miracle worker, and King. That is what the chorus of Hosannas meant, “Praise to the King.” And in the same way, today's worship services around the world continue to crown Jesus as King with song, sermon and sometimes even high priced rock concerts. Complete with smoke, light shows, pimped out drum solos and beautiful people. After all, Jesus deserves our very best!
2. The Atmosphere of Excitement and the Mob Mentality are the same.
How can you not get carried away with praising Jesus? The triumphal entry of Christ must have been something to see: there was a giant crowd lining the way into the beautiful city of David while palm leaves were being waved. The noise had to be epic, the excitement contagious. Even the stuffy ole' Pharisees told Jesus' disciples to quiet down. Stoking the passion, Jesus replied, “if they don’t praise me the rocks will cry out.” Boy, I would love to see that!
You gotta love being part of a raucous party! However, there is a subtle danger of merely being caught up in the orchestrated energy and hype of it all. It is easy to let yourself be swept away by a moment; and if you are not careful, you could be just going through the motions by doing what other people are doing without really believing what your are saying. Insincere worship has a terrible tendency to self-deceive; just because you sing loud and cry a few tears does not make your worship true.
There has been an interesting study done on why people hand raise, speak in tongues, get slain in the spirit, or violently shake in some worship contexts? The answer is really not that surprising: each of those manifestations are learned behaviors. True spontaneity and free expression is rarely unique. For example, children who speak in tongues at a young age in most cases have watched their parents speak in tongues. "But I thought tongues is the spontaneous work of Holy Spirit?" Well...the truth is...to get a certain response you condition it. People learn to do what they see other people doing. It is even possible to elicit the exact emotion through manipulation and the pressure of the crowd. People don't like to be left out, so they are more apt to join in when a large group is doing the same thing. A person may believe they have been uniquely touched by God's Spirit when in many cases they have been subtly swayed by the emotions of the crowd. If you have ever been to a secular rock concert you know exactly what I am talking about.
Why would anyone in their right mind faint when they see Michael Jackson? The mesmerizing power of the stage with the lights, music and hypnotizing moon-walk add to the effect where many teen-age girls swoon in the emotion of the moment. This isn't a spiritual experience, it is nothing but crowd manipulation.
Even the music you like is usually learned from watching others enjoy it. It just is. Most people who like the song “I Come to the Garden Alone” either grew up with it or were taught it by someone who loved it first. Same with the song “Great is thy Faithfulness," Handel's "Messiah," and even the cool new song "Ocean.” Each of those songs are acquired tastes. Just ask Jared Doty how he feels about “Days of Elijah?”
3. The Long Term Results are the same.
Often after the concert is over, worship turns out to be nothing more than lip service from fickle people. Jesus knew the crowd outside of Jerusalem were going to change their tune. Sure they can wave palms and shout "Hosanna," but how many of those same people cried "Crucify" a week later? My guess is more than a few.
Here is the ultimate danger of highly emotive concerts and worship services: What a person first comes for, they continue to stay for. And if they don’t get what they came for on a fairly regular basis, they are quick to leave. People who love altar calls, healing services, and highly emotive spectacles of song & show get hooked on the feelings they bring. Actual heart transformation may genuinely be hoped for; but let's face it, it is the show that brings the crowd. People want to taste wonder - it is flattering to think you are participating in the direct work of God (see Colossians 2:18). Rarely does anyone ask, "is this genuine or conjured?" In fact you really aren't allowed to question people's experience because experience is king; it takes precedence over doctrine. This is also true with being filled-up on a diet of high octane worship. People mistake the manufactured feelings with having a real walk with God.
So when God asks you to follow him without the pomp and circumstance, it is easy to become bored. And too often people mistake boredom for the absence of God. The truth is, boredom and silence is often exactly where God wants you to be so you will learn to listen. His voice hasn't changed, it is still still & small.
Real Religious Affections
So, should we just not sing? No, that is not the answer, but we do need to question and teach what is meant by genuine spirituality. Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, wrote a book on this back in the 1700's titled, "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections." He wanted to know, "How can you really tell if something is the genuine work of God?" To take it a step further he wondered, "How can I tell when Satan is deceiving us?" At the time of this writing there was a controversial revival sweeping the New England Colonies where people were manifesting all kind of outward expressions claiming it was the work of God.
After considering all the arguments and evaluating all the crazy practices of that time he came up with two major conclusions:
(1) "Persons being disposed to abound and to be zealously engaged in the external exercises of religion, and to spend much time in them, is no sure evidence of grace; because such a disposition is found in many who have no grace." In common jargon, the U2 concert where I screamed my lungs out was just raw emotion, it had nothing to do with God because I didn't know God. So when I scream my lungs out at church it doesn't necessarily mean it is the Holy Spirit working through me.
(2) "True sincerity of affection causes a man to love the Lord and hate evil." Hating evil, that is the real test of a love for God. If you go to church or a Christian concert, sing your lungs out but end up living like the world once it is over, something is not right. More than likely it may be a clear indication worship for you is a game. Nothing more and nothing less.
Has anyone ever worshiped Jesus right? Well there is another triumphal entry found in Luke 2:21-39. It includes the child Jesus coming to Jerusalem and he is met by two old fogies named Simeon and Anna. They waited their whole life just to see him. That was enough, and that is all it really says.
Waiting to see Jesus, that was enough. No show, no lights, no smoke machines, no palms, no songs, no crowd, no crying, and no free coffee. They were satisfied simply with Jesus, that is true worship. Is that enough for you?
Two days ago, one of my biggest fears became reality. My daughter looked at me right in the eyes wearing a very serious, almost desperate expression on her face; and in fear and trepidation she asked me, "Dad, have you ever heard of Joel Osteen?"
My heart stopped. I thought to myself, "Nooooooooo, not him?" I have done everything I could to shelter my sweet innocent daughter from the terrors of this harsh world, and now she has run smack into one of the most vile enemies to a God pleasing life: Sappy, Plastic, Delusionally-Positive, Name it - Claim it Christianity.
After gathering my wits, I replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Because a lady at work found out I was a Christian and she said, 'Oh I love Joel Osteen, I have all his books, and I watch all his sermons. Do you like him?"' My daughter replied to her, "I never heard of him, but I am sure my dad has, he is a pastor."
The lady's eyes drooped and then she said, "Oh...he probably won't like him...Joel doesn't really use the bible too much, he is not that deep, but his teaching works for me . . . it makes me feel good. And I love his suits."
Hmmm..."Makes me feel good...His teaching works for me." What does that mean? And is this the goal of Christianity, having it work for you? And what if it doesn't work for me, should I just quit and go do something else, believe something else? Should I even stop trusting in Jesus?
American culture runs on pragmatism. This is the belief that if something works for me, helps me get what I want, brings me success it must be right and true. Progress in my personal life is all that matters, and pragmatism is the philosophy that gets me there. Progress for Joel Osteen is being the "Best You" you can be. Including being happy, healthy, successful, having a great smile and being everyone's best friend. And for many Christian pragmatists, this is the reason Jesus came to earth. To get you what you want.
Just open your bible, pray the right positive words, do the right things and everything will go your way. Jesus promises.
But what if it doesn't? There are two heretical (bad and dangerous teaching) schools of thought on how to make sense of the world when things don't go your way:
(1) It is a sign you don't have enough faith. Some churches actually teach that most of people's troubles are their own fault. If they only would trust God without doubting, life would "work." Meaning riches would fall from the sky, miraculous healing would occur and that house you always wanted would be yours. And if those things are not taking place you aren't really speaking positivity into the world and then believing. That is what some people even told my parents after they met my sister who has a debilitating disease called "Rhetts Syndrome." They blamed my mom and dad for her sad state; my parents were not exercising enough faith. I have never seen my dad so hot!
(2) It is a sign those rotten demons are at it again. We are told they sneak, hide in the shadows and are the primary cause of your miserable life. All you need to do is get some expert to "deliver" you or teach you how to say the right words to bind them in chains of spiritual steel, and "wah-lah" they will leave and your life will become wonderful again. Boy, it sure is a shame how the Holy Spirit in you can't stop those pesky demons. But once they are gone, you can once again look forward to your rainbow in the sky.
But what if the bible has never promised you a rose garden? What if the bible actually says, "in this life you will have trouble?" (See John 16:33) What if some of your prayers never come true and success doesn't fall in your lap - - has God failed you? Is he no longer to be believed or worshiped?
Right after my daughter asked me about Joel Osteen I was reading my Psalm for the day, it was Psalm 44. Listen to verses 8-17, I am not sure they are in the pragmatist's bible:
In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
But you have rejected us and disgraced us
and have not gone out with our armies.
You have made us turn back from the foe,
and those who hate us have gotten spoil.
You have made us like sheep for slaughter
and have scattered us among the nations.
You have sold your people for a trifle,
demanding no high price for them.
You have made us the taunt of our neighbors,
the derision and scorn of those around us.
You have made us a byword among the nations,
a laughingstock among the peoples.
All day long my disgrace is before me,
and shame has covered my face
at the sound of the taunter and reviler,
at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
All this has come upon us,
though we have not forgotten you,
and we have not been false to your covenant.
I have found that true worship is believing even when things are not working. In the same way, I have also found that even though it may be raining the sun is still shining behind the clouds.
I don't believe in God because it works, I believe in God because he is God. Asking if Christianity works may be the most simplistic, narcissistic and silliest question you could ever ask. But that is America for you, everything is always about us, and truth is only found on the other side of success.
Somehow, we have bought the lie that Jesus may have suffered on the cross, but it is so I could sit on my big, fat comfy couch for all eternity asking him to keep serving me while I watch my favorite Netflix series on my heavenly TV. He gets utter humiliation, I get abundance. It's only fair, right?
And I know that the TV I watch in heaven will never break down because God is a pragmatist. He works.
Our church believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, is the “Power of God” for salvation and life. Because of this singular belief, we have an 148 year old tradition of sending missionaries all over the face of this globe to share this “Good News.”
One of our missionaries, who is currently serving in the country of Brazil, is named Trevor Miller. Not only did he grow up in our church and was in our youth group for a number of years, but he is as white-bread as they come. His parents dressed him in practical button down shirts, khaki pants, he played a lot of pickup basketball and ate vast quantities of our local town’s famous “Papa P’s” pizza. This once normal American kid is now wrestling with python’s and fighting giant ants in the faraway wilds of Brazil.
This past Christmas break he and his wife were home on a short furlough. That means they came back to the States to visit with family, update the churches on the gospel’s progress in their region, and tried to rest. On two occasions Trevor joined our pastoral staff for breakfast and gave us each a book so we could learn about the type of people he daily works with, South American jungle natives. The name of the book is called, “Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo shaman’s story.”
I wasn’t so sure about it, so I put it in my stack of books to read at a later date. Two weeks ago I decided to put it in my man purse (I am not ashamed to admit fashion when I see it), figuring if I had some down-time I may pick it up and read a little. Well last week, while waiting for my daughter to get out of volleyball practice, I opened up to page one… now I am hooked.
The book is about a culture I knew absolutely nothing about: the animistic world of a shaman named Jungleman. The author defines a shaman as a “person whose life is given to finding and communicating with beings of the spirit world; usually becomes more interested in the spirit world than the real world and often cannot distinguish between the two.” All the stories are told from Jungleman’s point of view, and I must say, I never read anything like it.
Being a product of white-bread America myself, and from the influence of our schools of higher learning there is this general naive belief that living in the jungle without technology, no televisions blaring nor cars screaming down the road, would be a wonderful, pure form of living. Sleeping in hammocks under the cover of verdant green jungles would be paradise; and the natives would be a free and happy people unspoiled by civilization and it’s lust for money and possessions.
How could anything be better than living the life of a “Noble Savage”? After reading this book - - I began to realize nothing could be further from the truth. Fear, hatred, violence, sexual slavery, unceasing vengeance and death rule in Jungleman’s world.
A person in the jungle becomes a shaman at an early age: they begin to hear voices in the trees, under rocks and spurting up from bubbling brooks. If a boy is discovered with this talent for connecting with the spirit world, they are encouraged to go further by inviting the spirits into “their chest”. This will give them a new power to lead, heal and protect their tribe. The spirits own the shaman and promise never to leave them nor deceive them:
“‘Do we have any ebene?’ A warrior asked. Deemeoma knew that they did. She had seen her brother grinding the plants into powder. He was learning the many ways of the spirits and would soon be a shaman himself.
“Deemeoma never liked it when people blew that black powder into her father’s nose. Her father always looked so strange when he danced with his spirits. It scared her. He wasn’t like himself.
“It was almost dark when Deemeoma’s big brother squatted on his heels and blew eben powder through the long tube into Wyteli’s nose. He rolled back onto his back and grabbed his head as he felt all the pain. But he sat back up on his heels and took another blow. By then the effect of the powder was ready to take him to his spirits. The ebene dripped out of his nose and down his chin and he went into a trance, dancing and chanting. By the time the cooking fires died, he came back from his spirits. Then the village gathered around as they always did to hear what Wyteli’s spirits had said.”
Throughout the many stories of Jungleman, the spirits always led the people to do the same things: “fighting, drinking bones of the dead to gather information for vengeance, raids, stealing the daughters of the other tribes, making war to slaughter whole tribes who pose a threat and then raping their women to show the victorious tribe’s dominance.” Doesn’t sound as idyllic as you might first have thought.
Story after story is laced with fear, hatred and death. Story after story the reliance on the spirits is what unknowingly bring the shaman and their people into more slavery of passion and lust for sick desires.
Then the Nabas came, the white people with funny clothes from another world: some were good, some were evil, but then there were some who had a spirit in their chest that was different, superior, and much more dangerous than the shaman’s spirits. The spirits in the shaman hated those Nabas with the superior spirit. Often after meeting with the Nabas in their village, the spirits would beg their shaman, “Don’t go back there, you will throw us away - - don’t leave us, we love you.”
Not all the Nabas were good, and not all the Nabas had any type of spirit in their chest. The evil Nabas came to take pictures, write scratchings on white paper, and often traded radios and machetes for young girls. One large Naba without a spirit in his chest traded for young boys. A shaman father of one of the boys who was used by the Naba got mad, his neck bulged when he yelled, “How long will we let someone turn our boys into women? How will our people ever reproduce if they start that habit? I say we kill him!”
One day, one of the Nabas with the superior spirit invited some sick Yanomamo’s into their village to stay. The Naba with the spirit was kind, never asked for young girls or boys, and began to teach out of his book on spirits. One shaman was curious about the Naba’s spirit, but to be able to invite him into his chest he had to get rid of all his other spirits. At night they pleaded with him, and when he didn’t comply they got angry. He saw them for who they were and eventually he threw them out of his chest.
The superior spirit was invited in. He learned his name, “Yai Pada”. He learned Yai Pada was the creator of everything, including the other spirits, but they hated him because they wanted to rule. One of the strangest stories of Yai Pada was that he once became a Yanomamo himself:
“He came as a baby, grew up, and showed us a completely different way to live. Even though he knew he would be killed in the end, he did it all anyway. His death was a death for all Yanomamo.”
Many shaman wanted this to be true because they were tired of seeing their people make war, and die. They wanted the peace that Yai Pada brought when he came to live in your chest. However, many of the untrusting Yanomamo shaman got angry at the stories because their spirits would wake them at night telling them to “kill the Nabas, we are enemies of Yai Pada.”
I am still reading the book, taking my time with it, because I am learning something from these interesting yet strange people called the Yanomamo - - they readily accept an unseen world as normal. They understand that more wonder and danger is lurking in the shadows of everyday life. They know spirits are real, and even vital to survival. And they know that the Superior Spirit, is not to be trifled with.
I have never really looked at it like this even though I have dedicated my life to teaching the book of spirits. Too often I read it as a mere textbook to get information than a window into the shadow-world that lies just under all of our noses. I fail to run to the Great Spirit as often as I should, I fail to invite him daily to fill my chest, to lead me in decisions and insights. As a man raised under the teaching of logic, reason and believing that science is king, I have failed to see the bigger picture of the world beyond the thin veil of sight.
Angels, demons, promises of reward and judgment, and life everlasting is real. More real than watching my tv show, hoping my team wins in the NCAA tournament and making sure I vacuum my carpets. We may be civilized, but in our effort to control the minutia of the moment, most of us have lost touch with the unseen world. The one where the Great Spirit lives.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)
Maybe it is my line of work?
Or maybe it is the season of life I am in - - having four teenagers on the move?
I am not sure, but I know this, I miss Saturdays. Real Saturdays, long Saturdays, boring Saturdays. Saturdays where the only task of the day was to fry up bacon on the stove and brew a pot of coffee.
Saturdays where I would take a walk in the woods with my dog, throw him sticks, watch cardinals and blue-jays circle high up above singing lazy songs.
I was talking to a friend this past Sunday and he looked exhausted, eyes sunk under dark circles of toil and ware. "How are you doing friend?"
"I'm tired. Really busy. Feeling guilty."
"Guilty for what?"
"Not getting done what I planned to do. I was only able to attend two events instead of the four that I was scheduled to attend. I failed my friends, my church, my family again."
You see, we all feel this way. No more Saturdays of leisure, sitting on the couch with your kids and eating peanuts while talking about what you want to eat for dinner. Gone are the long afternoons of putting together a puzzle or watching rain drops splashing up against the kitchen window. I miss those Saturdays when my dad would put some old records on the stereo and we would lay down in our living room singing together Jose Felliciano's "Come on baby light my fire."
Did you know God intended for us to have Sabbaths, often? Days of rest, afternoons of laughter, moments where we look at each other in the eyes and smile. Why are we always running? Who are we competing against? Why do we have to win?
Here is a story from Luke, let it sink in...
"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her,“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
People actually hate this story. Some even have the nerve to get mad at Jesus' comments. Is Jesus ever wrong?
"Yeah, but, who will do all the work? There is so much to be done? Places to go...people to see...meetings to attend...sports to watch....projects to accomplish....bible studies to attend....pictures to be edited on Instagram....movies to go see."
There is only one problem - - because we don't stop, we haven't learned how to listen. Listening takes time. Listening is more than words, it's moments. I miss Saturday. I miss the discussions with my dad, mom, sisters, friends, neighbors. I miss watching a hummingbird feed just outside the screen door.
I know, I only have myself to blame. But I blame our culture too for making me feel guilty all the time for taking a time-out.
Maybe it is my job, maybe it is my season of life, maybe it is just me?
"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." (James 1:19)
Name calling, venting, sound-biting, and Bulverizism (Bulverism is a name for a logical fallacy that "assumes that your opponent is wrong, and explain his error"). Today in politics and regular discussion, silly dialogue is the name of the game. Do you really want your President talking about the size of his hands (and other parts) in a national debate? It is cesspool time in American politics.
Even our preaching in church has fallen prey to consumer driven dialogue. It seems Christian audiences around our country rarely listen to whole arguments in order to try to gain insight and understand the speaker’s real intent; but rather people are looking to feel something good, and even worst than that, we want to be offended. Who cares about the point of the discussion, it is the journey that matters.
Social media has become nothing more than an emotional blabber-fest, we are not wanting to get anywhere, we just want to have our voice heard. We have become a society of Proverbs 18:2 kinds of people, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion.”
Today I want my point to be simple, it is a Saturday after all and people don’t like to think too deeply on the weekend. Three pieces of advice:
Let a listening revolution start with you. Try it out today, listen before you leap!
A man died last week. His name was Todd.
He had a regular name, he was a regular guy. He just happened to be living in Togo, West Africa, and working as a physician’s assistant helping the African poor in a hospital called Hope. His death was shocking: his body shut down after battling with both malaria and typhoid fever. He left behind a wife and four boys. He was 46.
His wife made this statement concerning his passing:
“My heart is overwhelmed with unspeakable grief – for myself, our boys, our extended family, our spiritual family and the Hospital of Hope team. I cling only to the gospel and the certain hope of our salvation through Jesus Christ. I long for the men, women and children of Togo to know the Savior that Todd served so faithfully. Even in my pain, I am confident that our sacrifice – that Todd’s sacrifice – was worth it. I believe that the great commission is a cause worth dying for. And in the midst of my grief, I fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith.”
She believes her husband’s willingness to risk his life and his family's well-being was worth it.
I was listening to the radio this morning and the broadcasters were discussing the life of another man. I won’t mention his name, but he also is young. But unlike Todd, he is very famous. He owns his own jet, owns a multi-million dollar house and is admired by many. If he wants to meet his friends who live across the country for a day, he hops on his jet, and he is able to hang out with them sipping drinks on a yacht.
This man is “living the life.” And no one is questioning if it is worth it - - in fact most people I know would sell all they have to be where this man is. This is probably not the case when people look at Todd’s life. I find people have more pity and offer a lot of patronizing sentiment, “Wow, he gave his life for such a just cause, he clearly was sold out for Jesus...but what will become of his kids?”
Was Todd’s life really worth it? Is sacrifice for Christ really necessary when I can have drinks on a yacht? I know that it is possible to have both, but the probability of having your cake and eating it too is very minimal. As Jesus says in Matthew 6, “Either you serve God or money.”
When I heard about Todd’s death I couldn’t help but evaluate my own choices. Am I living a life that is “worth it?” This isn’t the first time I ever asked this. I can remember when my dad, after 40 years of working his tail off for his family, lost it all after he was fired. It was then my dad started asking the question, “Was all that hard work worth it?”
I can remember how my family, right before that earth-shaking moment in my dad's life, was caught up in a very entertaining and leisurely lifestyle: Every weekend we would have big family get togethers, watch two or three movies. play cards, make family movies on our video tape recorder, and laugh late into the night. But when my dad lost his job, we all did reassessments of worth, “Is life simply for hanging our with your family laughing, watching movies, eating large meals or were we made for more than this?” My dad decided to start reading the bible. So did my mom, so did my brother and after a while, so did I. During this time of questioning meaning, I ran across this verse in Revelation 3:16,
“Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
I wasn’t much of a bible scholar at the time, but I knew this verse was calling me out of complacency. It chilled me to my bone. I was a man of leisure, living for comfort, with few if any convictions about anything of substance. This verse described my soul acutely, I was lukewarm; even worse, I was aimless. Meaning, worth, purpose and even the answers to ‘life after death’ started haunting me and most of the rest of my family.
We began to hammer God with questions, we started to placing more weight on our daily decisions - - we knew we were responsible before an Eternal God.
Overtime we became members to a local church, we started loving our neighbor, and as a result we each felt called to serve people in a very unique way. For the next 12 years both my mom and dad led bible studies with BSF (Bible Studies Fellowship), my brother became a missionary to the Indians in Bolivia, my sister Gina began working with prisoners in Los Angeles jails, my sisters Stephanie and Tam began giving and contributing in major ways to the local church, and God called me to a life of pastoring. We didn't do it to earn points, or even impress God, we just wanted our lives to count. The only problem with these choices is that we no longer could make family movies or spend Saturday nights together watching old re-runs like we use to.
Was it worth it? I think so, but I still am not sure until I see my God face to face.
And in a way, I don't care because I really hated the feeling of being lukewarm - - I like being hot. It helps me sleep better at night, and it is actually rewarding to see people completely change because I was able to introduce them to a man named Jesus.
While writing this blog in a nearby coffee shop, a song came over the speakers and the words were rather simple, “I’m singing in the shower.” Just think, a person has become wealthy and famous because they wrote a song about singing in a shower? If that is all I had to take with me into eternity I would feel pretty silly before God. For that matter, if I was only famous for shooting a round ball and sipping drinks on a yacht I think I would still feel rather naked before Holiness.
I know this, even though Todd died in relative obscurity, I don't think he is embarrassed before God at all. Nor do I think God is embarrassed by him. Listen to what Hebrews 11:13-18 says,
"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."
That to me is how worth is measured...is God ashamed of me? If the answer is no, life has been good, really, really good!