Thursday, December 22, 2011

Please Lord, No More Business as Usual

I've seen this picture making the rounds on Facebook.  Most everyone likes it.  Most everyone comments positively on it. I think most Facebooker's see it as a positive 'push back' against the forces that would remove 'Christ' from 'Christmas' - a return shot in the battle to win the Christmas Season back from the Holiday Hordes.

With my recent desire to see the world through Kingdom Eyes, though - through the lens of The Word and the lens of God's great love for his entire world shown to us through Jesus - I can't help but scratch my head.

Jesus might well miss hearing us say 'Merry Christmas', but if I had to guess, I'd think Jesus is missing us hear a great many other things too.  Things much more important than 'Merry Christmas'.

From where I stand, 'Merry Christmas' seems to be just a phrase - a combination of two words put together in such a fashion as to convey some sort of meaning. The meaning of the words change according to the context in which they are used.

To most people in America, 'Merry Christmas' is little more than a pleasant social greeting used especially during the months of November and December, often followed by the phrase 'and Happy New Year'. To most Americans, the phrase 'Merry Christmas' conveys little or no religious or Christian message at all.  For a vast segment of society, it is a social pleasantry, nothing more.

Hence the deafening silence from most people when society began the shift from 'Merry Christmas' to 'Happy Holidays'.  Most don't care either way, because the phrase, to them, is a simple greeting meant to convey nothing more than a 'happy hello' during the last part of the year.

I've also head 'Merry Christmas' used as sort of a curse-word substitute.  We've all heard someone who has received some bad news say in a sarcastic tone, 'Merry Christmas to me!', clearly meaning to convey their disappointment or perceived bad luck in a certain set of circumstances.

So when Social Christians - Christians more concerned with the social battle over the pleasantries and appearances of christian life than the true battle for the hearts of men and women - take solace and rejoice in a shot across the bow of the heathens and pagans in society who are trying to take 'Christ out of Christmas'....... it makes me sad.

Truly.  Sad.

Sad because I think they/we (Christians all) tend to miss the bigger picture here.

Sad because Jesus is not just the Christ of Christmas, but the Christ of all-year-long and all-things-everywhere-all-day-every-day! Forever and ever!

Sad because Jesus is not just the Christ of Christmas in America, but all over the world!

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas in starving villages driven to famine by religious war in Africa.

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas in cities and towns in China and North Korea, where individual liberty is trampled, human rights are denied, and Christians are killed for their faith.

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas in town and cities all across the Middle East, where women are oppressed under draconian governments and dictators and religions.

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas in the streets and alleys of cities across America, where homeless and drug-addled people struggle for survival among the teaming masses of the most prosperous nation the world has ever known.

Jesus is even the Christ of Christmas in the diamond cases of Macy's and De Beer's, on the floors of Toys R Us and Walmart, and in the cozy, smoke and gin filled country clubs of San Francisco and Seattle and New York.

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas on the beaches of Miami and San Diego, and atop the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the Rockies, and the towering Himalayas.  

Jesus is the Christ of Christmas everywhere - all the time.

Not just at Christmas.

Do you see?

I don't think Jesus cares all that much about whether or not American's say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays' during November and December.

Instead, I think Jesus cares a lot more about out hearts, and what we do for others during the holidays and throughout the year, than how we greet one another during the holidays.

We say 'Merry Christmas', but do we help someone in need, or pass them by?

We say 'Merry Christmas', but do we pray and talk with those who are spiritually hurting, or wonder why 'so and so never seems to be able to get their act together'?

We say 'Merry Christmas', but do we love those who wish us ill will, who offend us and hurt us, or do we look for ways to get even and punish people, putting them in their 'rightful place'?

We say 'Merry Christmas', but do we flip off and curse at the guy that just cut us off in traffic, or do we lovingly pray for them and forgive them, and consider that they might be having a very bad day?

We say 'Merry Christmas', but do we say hurtful and mean things to the waitress at the restaurant that got our order wrong, or do we extend patience and kindness in the same way we'd want to be treated if we were the waitress?

You see, Jesus does care about Christmas, but he cares because Christmas is a part of  everything that he cares about. He cares about December 25th the same as March 2nd or September 30th, or any day of the year.

I think the goodness and joy that people display to each other during the holiday season is a fine thing.  Any increase in goodness is good, ya know? I'll take whatever increase in goodness that comes.

But we need to be about more than that.

I am convinced that we -people of the Kingdom of God, the adopted Children of God and followers of Jesus Christ - owe it to our Lord and Savior to be about wishing the world a truly merry Christmas every day of the year.

We can't afford to save it up for the Christmas holidays.  We need to be about the work of the Kingdom every day - right now.

Why do we save up the giving of gifts until December 25th?  Are people not in need all year long?

Why do we feel led to bless people more in December? We look around in America and see the cold and hungry.... are not these same people hot and thirsty - and hungry - in the summer?

Do you realize Christmas in the southern hemisphere is in the middle of a blistering hot summer? Santa comes on water skis.

What I'm trying to say is what I heard preached last week from the pulpit - take a look at the world through the lens of scripture.  See with Kingdom Eyes, as I like to say.

Realize that the institutional traditions of this world have very little to do with serving Jesus and advancing his kingdom - and even some of the institutional traditions in our churches really have little to do with serving Jesus.  Most traditions are for the comfort and stability of a community, little more.

Gift giving is fun and brings great joy - and I'm not saying don't give gifts or celebrate Christmas in America.  It's a wonderful American tradition that brings many families together and does tend to focus our attention on more goodness in society, and I'm all for that. But celebrate it and understand it as a cultural tradition, not an attempt to honor Jesus' birth.

Christmas, as celebrated throughout most of America, has almost nothing to do with honoring Jesus, or being thankful for his birth. That should be done in our hearts and minds every day.

Remember, first century Christians did not celebrate anything even remotely like Christmas.  There was no celebration of Jesus' birth in the winter, but instead a daily celebration of his resurrection from the grave and victory over death!

Jesus said in Luke 9,
"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me."
Not just at Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Easter.


The world can't afford for Christians not to do this daily.  We are the light of the world, and the world needs to see this light every day.

Jesus said in Luke 17,

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day.  In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.
“And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building— until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  Yes, it will be ‘business as usual’ right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”
Business as usual.

Jesus told a parable in Luke 12 saying, 
"The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
I just can't do business as usual anymore. Time is short, both in my own life and in the admonitions of scripture. We need to be about telling a world that buys and sells, farms and builds, just like people did in Lot's day, that time is short! 

Paul says in Romans 13, 
“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.
"So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Time is short. The night is nearly over. It's time for Christians to awaken to the true reality of Jesus Christ in this world, and live in that truth!

Lord, teach us to realize that Jesus Christ permeates everything in our lives, in every way, whether we see it or not.  Teach us to see the truth of The Living Word in our world,  and to reorient our lives around Him.  Teach us to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ, and let the very real truth of his death and resurrection inform and direct every action we take.

Some are awakening, and lives are being transformed.

Please, no more business as usual, Lord.  Wake us up! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes - Or College Students

I was talking to my daughter's boyfriend last night about his family's Christmas traditions, and had an interesting conversation.

Jeff is 21-years old, and he is Chinese-American.  He was born and raised here in the USA by parents who immigrated from Taiwan.  His parents, from what I gathered in our conversations, are still culturally very Chinese.  Prior to college, Jeff and his siblings attended Chinese school each Saturday in addition to regular public school in the San Francisco bay area, where he grew up.

I enjoy talking with Jeff, because he sees life here in the USA differently from me.  Even though he grew up here in the same country, many of the cultural touchstones and icons that are familiar to me and most of my demographic are unfamiliar to Jeff.  Movies and sports that I take for granted as a part of my cultural background have very little significance to Jeff.  They just haven't been part of his life growing up.

Last night my wife and I celebrated Elizabeth's 22nd birthday.  We met Jeff and Elizabeth for dinner at Black Angus and had an excellent meal together.  Afterwards, back at the house for a few minutes before the kids went to a movie, Jeff and I got to talking about Christmas traditions.

I asked him if he was going home for Christmas break, and he is.  I asked him if his family celebrated Christmas.  He thought for a moment, then said "no, not really."

Jeff went on to say that his family does recognize Christmas, its just not a big deal in his household.  Much the same as Thanksgiving, Labor Day, etc.  The dates are on the calendar, and they recognize the dates when they roll around, but not the way most American's do. There's no Christmas tree, and no avalanche of presents, but there is a sense of good will and joy they celebrate with the rest of society.

I asked what he knew about holiday traditions in China, and if Christmas was celebrated there.  Again, he said not the way we do here in the USA, but yes, it is a celebrated thing.  We talked for a while longer, about different cultures (what little we actually knew, but it was fun), and then Jeff said something I found very interesting.

He said his parents taught him while growing up, that it was more important to give thanks every day than it was to give thanks at the holidays.  He said that was why the holidays weren't so prominent growing up, because he was taught to give thanks for food, clothing, shelter, etc..... every day.  The Thanksgiving holiday was nice and all, but his parents impressed on him the importance of being thankful all the time for all that he has.

I thought that was a wonderful thing, and I told Jeff I completely agreed with his parents.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my holiday traditions, because they are a part of my American heritage. I like turkey and pie and eggnog and Christmas trees. They are part of my American-cultural experience.

But they are only that: American-cultural experiences.

Let's be honest.  The American celebration of Christmas really has very little to do with Christ.

Decorated trees in our homes have little to do with the celebration of Jesus' birth.

Overspending and stressing on what gifts we should give to people who already have way too much stuff is not a celebration of Jesus' love.

Eating ourselves sick at Christmas parties has nothing to do with following Jesus.

Santa Clause, reindeer, elves, talking snowmen, Grinches, or Who's in Whoville  do not innately point to the birth of Jesus, The True King, or to anything having to do with Jesus at all.

Christmas in America - as most Americans celebrate it or envision it- is a cultural feast of over-indulgence, over-spending, unnecessary extravagance, and attempts to buy the love of friends and relatives, giving them gifts at the holidays in hopes of obfuscating the fact that we've ignored them most of the rest of the year.

It's a season of mostly fake smiles, feigned joy, and false hope, wrapped up in too much food, too much spending, and too much stress.

All the while those who have little to nothing to spend or eat, watch the charade and parade pass by, not even getting to join in on the facade of American Christmas Joy.

(OK, I admit that was a somewhat harsh and sarcastic critique of the American Christmas experience, but truthfully, if you think I'm really that far off base, tell me.  I'm betting more of you would agree with than disagree.)

Mind you, there is nothing inherently wrong with Christmas trees, gifts, food, and celebrating with family.  Those are all good things.  They can be lots of fun.

We must realize and remember, though, that if we don't make a conscious effort to infuse Christ into these cultural proceedings, and if we don't celebrate in ways that honor God in all things, and if we forget that Jesus is not just 'The Reason for the Season', but that he is the reason for everything.....

.....then all of the trappings of Christmas are just that - trappings without meaning.  They become meaningless noise and shadows drowning out the love of Christ during a season in which that love should be sung with the clearest of notes, and shown with the brightest of lights.

1st Corinthians 13:3 says,

"If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing."

I agree with Jeff and his parents: we should be celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, in our hearts, every day of the year.

I say this especially to my brothers and sisters in Christ - this should be our heart's cry every day! Giving thanks to God for His blessings, each and every day, should be a top priority!

Ephesians 5:15-20 reads,
"So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.  Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.  Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.  Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,  singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts.  And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Philippians 4:4-7 reads,
"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."
Are we thankful and rejoicing in God's wonderful grace and mercy all year long? Or do we save our best for the Holidays, and then allow it to get lost in the cacophony of culture?

If so, why? Doesn't God give His best everyday?

God teaches me lessons everyday, in many ways, and not always just from The Bible.  Keep your eyes open and see what God is teaching you today.  You might be surprised where the next lesson comes from!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Fighting the wrong War Against the War on Christmas

I'm having a hard time with Christmas this year.

It sort of has to do with the 'War on Christmas' that goes on every year, but not directly.  I'm not so much tired of the 'War on Christmas' as I am tired of the 'War Against the War on Christmas'.

I hear from my Christian friends that we need to remember 'the reason for the season' and 'the true meaning of Christmas'.  We need to push back against the forces of evil and worldly people that want to kick 'Christ' out of Christmas. 

I've actually heard Christian friends say things like, "No one is gonna tell me not to say 'Merry Christmas'.  I don't care what they think, I'm gonna stick up for Christ!" 

Or, "Too bad if 'Merry Christmas' offends some people. Their 'Happy Holidays' offends me."

Or even "If we don't fight for 'Christ' in Christmas, then what's next?"

And yet, even with all the 'push back for Christ' we tend to talk about every Christmas season, everywhere I look I see advertisements for the 'Holidays'.  'Happy Holidays' is the phrase of the day.  The phrase 'Merry Christmas' actually seems to stick on our tongues sometimes as it tries to slip past our lips. Many people in the popular culture actually find the phrase abrasive as it scrapes their ears and for some reason turns their stomachs.  

No longer is the Christmas season called 'the Christmas Season' in our popular media, or anywhere in the general American public scene.  

We've lost the battle for now.  The War is not over, certainly, but the battle has been engaged and The Church has suffered humiliating loss, at our own hands, no less.

The sad part is, it's not for lack of authority or ammunition that the battle has been lost.  I think The Church has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory because of how we've fought the fight.  

Namely...... The Church shouldn't be fighting this battle at all.  

The Church is ill-equipped to fight battles in the world's realm, because that's not where The Church's power and authority lies. Ephesians 6:11-13 says:

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. (emphasis added)

The Church is ill-equipped to be Guardians of Public Morality when our own morality if often suspect and questionable. Jesus said in Luke 6:42:

How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.   

The Church is ill-equipped to demand the world respect Christ during the Christmas season when most Church members don't respect Christ in their own lives the rest of year. Revelation 3:5-17 says of the church at Laodecia, which was not all that different from many American churches today:

I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

How can the world respect the Christ in Christmas if Christ's church has a hard time doing it themselves?

Friends, brothers and sisters in the family of God - put down the sword of this world and your attempts to coerce others to respect the Christ in Christmas.  No law, no amount of pressure, no amount of advertisement or shame or ridicule or arguing will convince anyone to 'put Christ back in Christmas'.

Remember, we serve the God of the Universe.  The Creator.  He Who Is Above All Things.  The Great I Am.  The Alpha and the Omega.  He Who Is the Beginning and the End.  Of All Things.

We say we follow Jesus.  He who showed us that the God of the Universe is pure love.  He who  laid down all his rights to the Godly nature.  He who became the least among us.  He who served all.  He who loved all.  He who gave all.

Do we follow Jesus as he told us to follow him? Serving like he did? Laying aside his rights to demand respect as he did? Loving even sinners as he did?

The only way The Church can win The War Against the War on Christmas is not to fight.

The only way to win is to serve those who fight The War on Christmas. Minister to them.  Love them.  Bless them.

The only way to put Christ back into Christmas is to put Christ into our lives the entire rest of the year. Every day.  Following Christ with all our hearts.  Letting him be the Lord of every part of our lives.

The only way for people to see that Jesus could be real in their lives, is to prove to people by how we live that Jesus is real in our lives.  It's that simple.  It's that direct.

And that's the only way.   

Christ won the war by dying.  God raised him back to life, and now he lives forever victorious over death.  The Real War is already over.  The enemy's gun has no bullets.  Christ has taken them all away.

Church: we should be following that Jesus.

Let the world see That Jesus in all of our Churches, and Christ will find his way back into Christmas, I guarantee.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trying to Look Through Kingdom Eyes

I just watched a commercial for "Scope" mouthwash, and realized that this simple commercial perfectly highlighted just how upside-down and twisted our world is.

  • In the commercial, a guy is doing dishes and working in the kitchen when he breaks out all the fixin's for a great sandwich.  He slathers mayo and mustard on the bread, piles up succulent meat and lettuce and juicy tomatoes, then tops it off with a healthy serving of savory red onions.  
  • Good lookin' sandwich! He munches it down, clearly enjoying every bite.  
  • But suddenly, he remembers his wife or girlfriend is on her way, so he hurries to put all the fixin's away, obliterating any evidence of his sandwich.  He quickly wipes the counter and puts away the dishes, erasing any evidence of his afternoon dalliance. 
  • As she turns the locks on the door, he runs to the bathroom, grabs a bottle of "new and improved Scope" and swishes away the last vestiges of onion and mustard left on his palate, thereby completely destroying all evidence of what now appears to have been an inappropriate relationship with an afternoon snack. 
  • His lovely female partner walks in, oblivious to any of her man's afternoon shenanigans, kisses him sweetly, then gives him a curious look. The man clearly thinks the jig is up. 
  • Gazing lovingly into his eyes, she says "You didn't have to clean the kitchen!"
  • Relief washes over the guys face as a momentary crack develops in his facade of innocence.  Just as quickly the facade repairs itself, and the guy, feigning humility, gives his lady an 'ah shucks' shrug of the shoulders.  
  • "Scott free, and she loves me."  
  • Life is good! 
  • Scope is good. 

Do you see the broken world in this simple, innocent little commercial? It's kind of like seeing the air we breath - you have to look carefully and focus on it, but it's there.

A guy does something completely innocent and acceptable - makes a sandwich.  The guy enjoys it, because the sandwich is good!  Yum!

Then, for whatever reason, the guy suddenly feels guilty about eating the sandwich. Why? The commercial doesn't say.

Maybe he and his lady have dinner plans, and his lady would feel like he's spoiling his appetite.  Maybe he's been putting on some weight, and he told his lady he'd work on it.  Maybe onions cause acid-reflux for the guy, and he knows that she knows he shouldn't eat them. Maybe onions give him gas, and his lady has asked him to avoid onions because he's killin' her! Who knows? It could be any one of a dozen reasons, and the reason really doesn't matter.

What does matter is, for whatever reason, he's done something that he doesn't want her to know about, and he now needs to hide it. He scrambles to hide all the evidence of his dalliance, wiping down the counters, and covers the scent of his waywardness with new and improved Scope!

Do you see how broken that is?  Do you see how dysfunctional that is?

We pass it off and accept this sort of behavior as normal and harmless in relationships - we even chuckle because of the truth the commercial portrays -  but come on people, its not good!

Lying? Deception? How can these things ever be good in a relationship? Especially in a marriage? This is a recipe for disaster.

Ask yourself this: if you are going to lie about the very little things - like the guy in this commercial did - what are you going to say when the big things come along that require honesty and integrity?

And if you do lie about little things, why in the world would anyone believe you about the big things anyway?

Men, I direct this especially toward us because we are often the first to hide things.

In my first marriage, I'll openly admit, this was my motus operendi.

I did all sorts of essentially innocent and innocuous things - things like buying a hamburger or candy bar on the way home, or blowing off some stress by going to a movie when I should have been in a class- and then I'd feel like I needed to hide all the evidence simply because I didn't want to deal with the potential argument I thought I might have with my wife over the hamburger or candy bar or the movie.

"Why did you spend money we don't have?"

"Didn't you stop to think I might have wanted to go to a movie, too?"

"Don't you want to do things with me? You don't love me?"

These are the sorts of things that went through my mind, the things I imagined my wife would say had I been honest and told her what I'd done. They were, for the most part, fabrications of my own mind, and had no real basis in reality.

I know now, had I simply been honest there'd have been no argument - or at least not like the one I imagined we'd have! My dishonesty in little things was one (of many) factor that led to the demise of my first marriage.  My wife, when she found out about the small lies, began to feel like she couldn't trust me.

What worse, it was true.  She couldn't trust me.  Much as I might have protested (and believe me, I did), the evidence she saw told her she couldn't trust me.

I knew in my heart that I was not going to cheat or do anything horrible like that, but the bottom line was this: If I lie in the little things, why should I be trusted in the big things?

And we wink at the Scope commercial and say, "how cute!".  Meanwhile, he's harboring a lie, and there's a ticking time-bomb simmering in their relationship.  It may be a small lie, but, as the old adage goes, "what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive".

I encourage you, my brothers especially who might read this - look around your world and your life and see the brokenness and dysfunctionality of this world for what it is - it's not cute, it's not funny, and it's not good.

Honesty and integrity are important.  They are Godly attributes we need to hold onto and cherish.  Honesty in our relationships, especially with our spouses, is tantamount and must be a centerpiece of our lives.

Trust is built over a long period by small steps, as we prove our trustworthiness to one another.  Trust can be destroyed by one small misstep along the way.

I'm not saying we can be nor should we be expected to be perfect people, but we do need to look around our lives and see how we let the kingdom of the world define how we behave, and instead do our best to lives defined by the Kingdom of God.

Romans 13:11-14 says,
"This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here
"So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires."

Begin to see the world through Kingdom eyes. Only then can we begin to change our world for God.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saddle Up! (Might be Politically Incorrect but Here I Go.....)

I'm reading a book called "Why Men Hate Going to Church".  It's an eye-opening look at what the author contends is the 'feminizing' of the American protestant church, and why he thinks many men find themselves uncomfortable and out of place in most churches today.

The book is not so much critical of churches as it is a simple and honest look at how churches are today.  It's also not a book about how men should be, but how they are, and how men think and relate to the world around them, and the message they receive in churches today.

The author contends, and makes a compelling argument, that American churches are largely doing exactly what they have been designed to do:  produce a comforting place of support and love, devoid of controversy, alleviating as much pain and suffering in the lives of parishioners as they can. Unintentionally, the author concludes, churches have created an environment where women thrive, but men feel inherently uncomfortable.

As I read the book, I found it to have a distinct ring of truth in my male brain.

One of the things the author noted is how we present the Gospel is not manly.  Don't take this wrong, but I think he has a point.

One point the author made that spoke to me was this: most churches present the pivotal point of receiving God's grace as when someone 'accepts Jesus as my Savior and Lord.'

The doctrine of salvation, of grace being a gift from God, and of my need for a Messiah is absolutely correct and clear in scripture. But consider this, and think with an open mind and heart here: most men don't like the idea of needing to be saved.

It speaks weakness. It speak inadequacy. It speaks a lack of independence. It doesn't speak to men where they are before they know God and Jesus.

The correctness of the doctrine doesn't matter. Men don't follow teaching or doctrine.  They follow other men.

Which is probably why, when Jesus picked his disciples He didn't call them to "be saved", even though each man probably understood from their education and from synagogue that Israel was looking for a Savior.

He approached men - fishermen, tax-collectors, other 'regular' guys, and at least two guys that came to be called 'the sons of thunder' - and said "follow me'.  The amazing thing is, they did!

And Jesus led them - not into a life of behaving well, of being good and obeying rules so as not to upset anyone - He led them into a life of danger, of risk and challenge and obstacles and injury.  He made them into fugitives, hunted by a world that didn't understand them and hated them.

Once they understood what was at stake - that life or death for many literally hung in the balance for what they did for the Gospel - and once the Holy Spirit stoked the fire in their bellies so that they understood what Jesus meant when he sent them out to "make disciples of all nations", not to save people - those men lit the world on fire.

Twelve men changed the world, because they chose to follow Jesus and emulate Him, loving God and others as Jesus did - with conviction and purpose.

Just writing about this stuff touches a place in my soul and stirs the embers there.  I'm a pretty gentle guy by nature, but thinking about serving God like this - following Jesus this way - gives all new meaning to the phrases we throw around in church like transformed, renewed, or set free.

No man wants to be saved and transformed by God, if all it means is being transformed into a man who's new purpose is to sit quietly through sermons, sing love songs to Jesus, and study the Bible so he can learn the correct teaching on this or that doctrine. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with these things, but they are not enough for the vast majority of men if that winds up being the sum total of their experience in following Jesus.

Men need to see a purpose for what they follow.  Men need a challenge in what they follow.  They need to see the purpose for the mission, and feel like they have a part in fulfilling the mission, or they'll find some other mission themselves. We need our churches to show men that vision, and let them be men to follow it!

My heart, of late, has been for the men of my church.  I know I've come to this party a bit late, and others in my church have had a heart for men and been trying diligently to stoke that fire in their bellies. To those men, I say a hearty thanks, and I promise to do what I can to support your efforts and join in.

My prayer is that my church can re-embrace men and encourage men to not just be saved, but to stand up, and follow Jesus and make waves! Men like to build things, fix things, make things, and tinker with things. Its what we do.  Its how God made us.

What if God unleashed a bunch of men in our church to shake things up and challenge one another to not just come to church, but to live the Gospel, truly giving, loving, and sacrificing for one another like Jesus did? Men follow men, not ideas. That's why Jesus discipled his followers on the go, not in classrooms. They lived the lessons, and learned by hard knocks.

Jesus rebuked his best friend Peter once, calling him Satan.  That's a hard knock. Iron sharpens iron.

I mean, Jesus is the model, is He not? Isn't that the bar we should be looking at?

I also pray that our women can let the men be men - which means accepting and loving men how they are as men.

Too often I think women expect men to be transformed into the image of the Gentle Jesus we often portray at church - holding children, petting lambs, smiling, sitting in a clean white robe, not upsetting anyone.

Men hear that and run.  Fast.

The real Jesus called out the pharisees on their fake righteousness, calling them snakes and vipers.  He cleared out the sellers on the temple grounds by force. He confronted his friends and followers, rebuking them when they ran off the rails, challenging them when they were slow to understand.  He got angry now and then, and seemed frustrated with the hard-headedness of his disciples.

He ran contrary to popular opinion. He forgave a woman caught in adultery.  He showed compassion and respect for a woman married many times who was even then living 'in sin' with a man. He turned the concept of success on its head, saying he who is first in the world will be last in the Kingdom of God, and vice-versa.  He ate with sinners.  He drank wine and went to parties, and confronted the popular ideas of the day. He was a revolutionary who claimed to be God, and was killed for it.

But He rose from the dead!

He was not Mr. Rogers.

I pray that God would continue the work He's begun in my church.  I am excited and encouraged at what I see God doing.  I pray that men who follow Jesus would be awakened to the mission God has provided in the church right now - today - to be leaders and develop disciples of Jesus.

God is moving me more and more to stand up and say, as Isaiah did, "here am I Lord! Send me!"  I hope and pray others will join me.

Steven Curtis Chapman wrote many years ago in his song The Great Adventure:

Started out this morning in the usual way
Chasing thoughts inside my head of all I had to do today
Another time around the circle try to make it better than the last

I opened up the Bible and I read about me
Said I'd been a prisoner and God's grace had set me free
And somewhere between the pages it hit me like a lightning bolt
I saw a big frontier in front of me and I heard somebody say "let's go"!

Saddle up your horses we've got a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God's amazing grace
Let's follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is a life like no other - this is The Great Adventure

Come on get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion in a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for

We'll travel over, over mountains so high
We'll go through valleys below
Still through it all we'll find that
This is the greatest journey that the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams

Yeah... oh saddle up your horses... come on get ready to ride

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ramblings - Motivated by Reading "Waking the Dead"

I'm reading a book called "Waking the Dead" by John Eldredge, about reawakening the soul to the real story God has for us, the real life God intends for his people to live.  

In one passage, where the author is talking about the importance of the heart, and how it is the heart where we really do our deep thinking about what what's important to us, and how the heart is the connecting point, the meeting place between any two people, he writes, starting with a quote,  

'By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest level of efficiency is history, but how much have we grown in love?'  We've done the same to our relationship with God. Christians have spent their whole lives mastering all sorts of principals, done their duty, carried on the programs of their church....and never knew God intimately, heart to heart. 

In the heart is where we cherish the things we love.  The things we feel and hold to be true in our heart override the cold logic of reason. Its in our hearts where we fine the things that truly motivate our lives.  Our hearts need to be alive, not cold and dark.  

This past week I spent with Alene in Mendocino has been very motivating for me. The Christian men and women we met, and the way the Holy Spirit moved in our hearts, all served to reignite in me a love for God and a love for my fellow travellers in a real, deep, heartfelt way.

I'm weary of programs, techniques, regimines, and rules designed to help me "experience God".  I'm weary of the performance we often put on for each other, the game faces, worrying about whether I'm good enough or doing enough or reading enough or staying out of trouble enough.  I'm tired of the barriers and borders we place on ourselves as we seek God.  

Helping each other be 'better Christians" does no good.  Obeying rules of "Christian living" is useless.  Clearing our lives of "wordly things" is a waste of time. We can never be 'better Christians" by doing any of these things.  We may have a clean house, but that's about it.  These rules and regulations do no good, because they wrap us up in exactly what Jesus was trying to get us out of . 


Instead, Jesus came to set the captives free! He came to bring living water to those who thirst! He came to bring full and abundant life, not just in the next life, but in the life that NOW is, here, on earth. Mind you, not an easy life, not a simple life, not a perfect life, but an abundant, meaningful, adventerous life!!

That life is found not in "being better" or "avoiding temptation", or "reading my bible every day, and having quiet time with Jesus".  These are all things that have a place in our lives, but they are NOT OUR LIVES!

That life is found in loving God, and allowing what it means to let Jesus be "Lord of my life" to get down deep, into our hearts, and then letting that heartfelt passion change our lives!  Paul said, if you believe "in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead" you will be saved.  Not an intellectual belief, which is actually only an acknowledgement of the information we've been given, but a heartfelt passion which changes your life.

The rules and regualtions we pile on ourselves keep us in Christian bondage. Freedom in Jesus means leaving those chains behind, and living in the full-on freedom Jesus gives us.  Freedom to do good instead of evil (if you fill your days going good, evil will be left behind).  Freedom to love instead of hate (if we all loved each other, who would there be left to do any hating?) Freedom to live fearlessly, instead of living in fear (perfect love casts our fear after all, right?).  

What we think about God in our hearts - not intellectual thoughts but those gut wrenching, real, deep down in our hearts where we don't talk about it much thoughts - how we imagine God really is, affects everything about how we act, how we think, and how we live.  

If we really believe in our hearts that God is a loving God, then we will be free to love.  If we really think in our hearts that God has given us eternal life, we'll be free to live unafraid of dying. If we really think in our hearts that God will give us "our daily bread" then we will be free from worrying about tomorrow. If we really believe in our hearts that Jesus died for our sins to make us right with God, and was actually, really ressurected from the dead, and is now with God preparing a place for us, how can we ever live with fear, doubt, or uncertainty about our life again?

If we really think in our hearts that God is distant, not really interested in me, and I don't think I'm good enough to do anything for God, we will live our lives feeling discontent, unmotivated, and unloved.

Freedom! Can you see it?   

That's what I want, and what I want for every person!


Freedom not just to be kind and gentle, though those are good qualities.  Freedom not just to be patient and faithfull, though I should strive for those. Freedom not just to have peace and self-control, though these are the wonderful fruit of a life lived in freedom.  No, the "fruits of the spirit" are not things to strive after, things to grasp, because in trying to exhibit those qualities in our lives, we remain in bondage to the effort, one which we can never accomplish! All of the things we're told to avoid, and all of the good we're told to do are unobtainable on our own!

The fruit of the spirit, and the absence of those things we're encouraged to avoid,  are all evidence of a life lived freely in Christ! I don't want to be better, I want to be "good", the way Jesus is "good", looking like God and living in freedom from sin, but a slave to "goodness". I want to live a life unable to do anything but what is good, because that's what God created us all for. All my efforts to "do good" count for nothing, but living with passion for God, loving Jesus from my heart, will change and reorient my life so that "goodness" is all I can do! That goodness comes only from God, not from my own self, so its nothing for me to boast about.  But it IS something for me to take great joy in, joy in the gift of freedom from my very loving, powerful, wild, untamed, uncontainable, but very GOOD God!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Antioch Ranch - Post #3

Men’s Bible Study, the Beach, and Dinner with Friends – October 2011

Thursday morning, I awoke around 8am to find my wife, Alene, already having been awake since sometime around 5am.  She had made coffee, started a fire, and already done a few hours of bible study, happy to be almost done with her study in Genesis.

Mind you she’s been studying in Genesis for months now, so that’s an exciting thing!  She’s doing a Kay Arther Inductive study which is pretty intensive.  I enjoy listening to her tell of the stories she’s learning, of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  These area stories that I’ve taken for granted because I learned many of them in childhood but are new to her, and to see her learn and grow in her own understanding is very gratifying.

So, as I wander out of the bedroom, eyes barely open, I notice it’s raining outside.  This is disappointing because Alene really wanted to go sit at the beach today.  However, she says since the weather has been alternately raining then sunny this morning, she was hopeful the rain might blow over later in the day. 

She was right, big time, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

My loving wife, realizing that I’m not super great at the whole “quiet, unplugged, no TV/radio/internet thing” because I get a feeling of disconnectedness, if that makes sense, Alene asked if I’d like to go to the men’s Bible study at the church this morning, for at least something to do while it rains.  

I love my wife.  

Seeing as the study started at 9am, I said sure, sounds good, and we hurried to get ready to go.

We arrived at the Presbyterian Church at 9am, and I went inside.  Alene walked down to the store to get a few things we needed, and hung out reading and studying on her own and enjoying the morning.  

By this time, amazingly, the weather was already beginning to clear, and it was a lovely morning at the coast.

I was greeted inside the Presbyterian Church classroom by about 8 mostly elderly men.  I say mostly because I think the youngest was about 65 years old; however I mean no disrespect by that! They were wonderful, kind, and generous men who welcomed me with coffee and cookies, which was just right by me! We all chatted for a few minutes, which is how I found out the man sitting next to me, who was named Ron and happened to be the youngest of the group, was born again and accepted Jesus as his Savior at Jerry and Pat’s Antioch Ranch back in the late 1970’s.

Go hippie ministry!!

It seems just about everyone at this church knows or has some story about Jerry and Pat, which says a lot about them. 50 years in the community has to leave a mark.  Their mark has been remarkably positive.

We studied Luke 6:27-49 by going around the table and each man reading a few verses.  After reading the passage, we simply discussed what we’d read. 

I was very excited because in this passage Jesus is teaching about loving your enemies, doing good to all, and not judging one another, which is right in my theological breadbasket lately! 

We had a good, lively discussion, and I enjoyed the input from the older men, drawing on their experiences through life. Some of the men had interesting views, having drawn their own conclusions about faith from their own lives, but don’t we all do that to some degree? 
It was a refreshing, fun study of a passage that is very meaningful to me.

Afterward Alene and I drove down to Caspar Beach, planted our chairs, and sat for a few hours to enjoy the ocean.  The surf was high, and waves were crashing against the rocks with a vengeance. The wind was blowing pretty steady, and although the sun was shining brightly, we both got pretty chilly after a bit.  Even with the chill, there were 2 surfers wearing wetsuits trying to catch a few waves. We pulled up stakes after about 2 hours of ogling God’s beauty, and headed back to base.
Caspar Beach

Waves shooting up after crashing on the rocks.

Waves crashing on the rocks off Caspar Beach.

Back at the house, Alene got to work cutting up vegetables and making a beef stew for dinner, which turned out just fantastic!  Lance and Susan and their friend Katarina came over for dinner a few hours later.  

What a wonderful couple Lance and Susan are.

Did I mention Alene’s stew turned out to be incredibly good?   

Lance is my age.  He and Susan have been married for 24 years.  Lance was saved right out of high school, after which he got involved in street ministry in Sacramento, bringing thugs and gangsters and druggies to church and telling them about Jesus.  He is a contractor/construction guy by trade, but a minister by heart, something he and Susan seem to share.  They’ve known Jerry and Pat Westfall for about 20 years, and were asked about 8 months ago to come stay at the ranch and help Pat and Jerry run the place.  Since then, Lance and Susan have plugged into the little Baptist church in Mendocino as their home, but they participate in ministries with the Presbyterian church as well.

Even having met Lance for only a short time, and having only a few short conversations, he and I both acknowledged that there’s a brotherly connection there that we want to keep up with.  Iron sharpens iron, ya know? Susan and Alene hit it off pretty well, too.  We look forward to continuing our relationship and deepening our friendships!

God has been so gracious this week!

Antioch Ranch - Post #2

Mendocino Presbyterian Church – October 2011

When we arrived at Antioch Ranch, one of the things we asked Jerry and Pat about is, where can we attend church while we’re here? They made a few suggestions, there being several small churches in the area, and we decided to attend the church they attend, Mendocino Presbyterian Church.

Located on Main Street in Mendocino village, the church is a beautiful, old building that sits facing Mendocino Bay.  One of the oldest buildings in town, it is one of the oldest continuously meeting Protestant churches in all California.  Built in the late 1860’s, it has housed an active church congregation ever since.

Upon arriving at church, Alene and I, along with everyone else entering the doors, were greeted by the “International Greeting Committee”, which consisted of two nice ladies who greeted everyone as they came in.  Clearly, the church gets visitors from all over. 

We stepped inside and found a lovely old fashioned, high ceilinged church with beautiful stained glass facing the bay. 

As we found some seats in a pew, I was impressed by how friendly everyone was.  Most of the parishioners were older folks, probably 6o and over, but there were a few younger scattered about.  Alene and I were greeted by several who quickly noticed we were visitors.  Our hosts, Jerry and Pat, both made a point to come over and greet us, happy that we’d made it to church. Jerry made a comment that he suspected he might actually like Alene and I.  

As the service began, I’m not sure how to explain it, but I began to feel the Holy Spirit move in my heart.  We sang a few traditional hymns, accompanied by an organ and pianist and a small choir in the tiny choir loft garbed in traditional maroon colored satin choir robes.  There was a reading of scripture, and a sharing of a missionary moment (a rather moving tale of working in Japan to help rebuild homes after the tsunami earlier this year), and then a time of prayer. 

This is where the Holy Spirit began to move in my heart is a stirring way.  As the preacher prayed the Morning Prayer, there came a point where he asked if anyone in the congregation had specific people on their hearts to pray for, to lift that person up by name.  Throughout the sanctuary I could hear the whispered names of loved ones being prayed for.

Mary.  Jim.  Betty.  Paul.  Susan.  Ralph.  Frank.  Bill.  John.

Dozens of names were quietly lifted up to the Lord, names with real people attached to them, and real needs and concerns being voiced.  Real people. Real love.

After this the pastor, a kind, dignified looking white-haired orator named Don McCullough, preached a simple but passionate sermon.  He recounted a trip he and his wife had just returned from.  They had been on vacation, and traveled to Glacier National Park, where he was intent to photographing wild mountain goats. As he spoke, telling both a delightful tale of their vacation, he also weaved in a tale of God’s love for us. 

During his attempts at photographing goats, Don and his wife came across a grizzly bear on a trail.  The bear was pretty far away and posed no direct threat, but being in the presence of the bear, actually seeing it and knowing it saw them, and having nothing between themselves and the bear, made Don realize just how powerful that bear was, and how truly wild it was. It had the capability to tear them apart, literally, with just its claws. It was a powerful creature, and just being in its presence was both invigorating and frightening, and they realized they were not really in a ‘safe’ place.  There was innate danger just being near this grizzly bear. There was a new respect for the power and majesty of the bear that Don had never experienced through videos or photographs.

After making his point about the wilderness and wild creatures and just how majestic it all is and how it all reveals God’s power and amazing character, he recounted a short passage in C.S. Lewis’s  “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”. 

After being told by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about the great lion Aslan, ruler of Narnia, Lucy asks Mr. Beaver, “Is Aslan safe?” to which Mr. Beaver replied, somewhat incredulously, “Is Aslan safe? Of course he’s not safe! But he is good!”

I was reminded then and there just how mighty, how awesome, how amazing, how everything God is.  Then the pastor reminded us, God is wild. He is untamed and untamable. He is uncontainable and uncontrollable.   God is able to do anything at any time that he pleases.  But even considering the power of God, and as much reverence and fear and trembling I should have before Him, the ultimate image of God is found in Jesus, who calls us to us.  The untamed, untamable, unstoppable God calls to us to come to Him, and find safety, security, and peace in His arms.

God is wild, untamable, uncontainable, and uncontrollable, but he is also uniquely and wholly good!   

This sermon moved me to the core, and I found myself quietly weeping tears of joy and determination to hold onto that view of God, to let it motivate me.

After, we took Communion with the congregation, as they observe the sacrament each first Sunday of the month.  This consisted of each person walking forward and tearing a small piece of bread from the communion loaf, and dipping it in a small chalice of wine and sharing this breaking of bread and the wine together.  It was a moving, different experience from what I’m accustomed to.

I have to admit; I wept through most of the service, moved by the Holy Spirit, and in awe of the closeness, the community that seemed to exist in this church.  Afterwards we were invited to a soup lunch served in their little fellowship hall, where, again, we were made to feel so welcomed and a part of the Body of Christ.  I got to see and experience how the Body of Christ, of which all Christians are a part, is a real and vibrant and dynamic thing, and is alive all over the world. 

Tuesday morning, Alene and I decided to step a little deeper into this coastal community, and attended the Presbyterian Church’s Tuesday morning breakfast bible study.  We met with about 7 others, who welcomed us gladly.  We drank coffee, ate a wonderful apple cake/strudel dish, and read Romans 5 and 6, and then discussed it as a round table.

It’s here that God would arrange a chance meeting with a new friend, Lance.  Lance is my age, and usually attends the breakfast bible study, then stays for the homeless outreach the church does each Tuesday morning.  As it turns out, Lance and his wife Susan stay in the “Victorian” house at – you guessed it – Antioch Ranch, where Alene and I are staying.  Lance and Susan have been living full time at the ranch. Longtime friends of Jerry and Pat, they came earlier this year to help Jerry and Pat keep up with chores and such around the ranch.  Their house is about 40 yards from where Alene and I are staying. 

What a “God thing”, huh?

Anyway, Lance and I hit it off pretty well.  Turns out he and his wife are from Sacramento, and we got to talking about home and his experiences.  He’s an on-fire Christian of the likes I’ve rarely met.  I felt an instant ease while talking to him, listening to his experiences with the church in Mendocino and back home in Sacramento.

Today, Wednesday, I asked Lance if there was anything I could help him with while he’s working, and he thought for moment, saying “You sure? Be careful what you ask for.” I wound up helping him replace a log used as a parking barrier in front of one of the houses, after which we talked about 30 minutes about our lives and our walk with Christ.


Tomorrow, Alene and I will host Lance and his wife at ‘our place’ for some dinner and fellowship.

I could not have expected to go on vacation and wind up fellowshipping with new friends and believers as we have on this trip.  Alene and I both are just amazed at how God works in our lives and the lives of others we’ve met.  The fellowship and community that we have experienced in the life of this little tiny Presbyterian Church has been eye-opening to me. 
Alene and I have had some long conversations this week, in the short time we’ve been here, about where God is leading us, and what He wants us to do for Him.  We still have a few days left here, where I am looking forward to seeing more of God’s work on the Mendocino Coast. 

I also look forward to returning home, recharged and looking forward to what God has in store at home!  

Antioch Ranch - Post#1

Antioch Ranch – October  2011
Earlier this year, Alene and I were considering where to go for our vacation.  Our ‘usual’ getaway up on the Fort Bragg/Mendocino coast we’ve used for the past 2 years was booked, so Alene began a search online for places to stay in the Fort Bragg/Mendocino coast area of California.

On a whim, Alene searched on the Mendocino Chamber of Commerce, to see if there were any recommendations there.  One of the first hits she got was Antioch Ranch, a Christian retreat run by Jerry and Pat Westfall, tucked into the coastal mountains about 6 miles off the Pacific ocean near Mendocino.  After looking at their website,, and a phone conversation with the owner’s daughter when I called, we decided to book our 9-day getaway with them.

The ranch, we’ve discovered, is about 20 acres of mountainous land on which Jerry and Pat have, over the course of about 50 years, built 5 homes, a cottage, and various sheds, workshops, and pump houses. To call it a ‘ranch’ is a little bit of a misnomer, but whatever you call it, it’s lovely.

After driving from Sacramento to Fort Bragg, we made our way south on Highway 1 to Mendocino, then turned inland on Comptche-Ukiah Road for about 5.5 miles, finally pulling into Antioch Ranch’s long dirt driveway.   We found our way to the main house, knocked on the door, and met Jerry Westfall. 

Jerry is a slight man of about 80 years, with bright eyes and a ready smile.  He certainly doesn’t act or look 80, but has the energy and drive of a much younger man.  He walked us across the small clearing around which three of the homes on their land sit, to the house we’d be staying in, the “Southwest” house.

Alene and I with Jerry and Pat Westfall

There, we met Jerry’s wife, Pat, who was busy putting the finishing touches on house cleaning prior to our arrival.  We made better time than we’d anticipated, and were about three hours earlier then Jerry and Pat had expected, but they were gracious nonetheless. 

The home itself is adorable, and very much exceeded our expectations, but that wasn’t the nicest surprise.  Jerry and Pat themselves were the most gracious, accommodating, and kind hosts I’ve ever met.  They made Alene and I feel right at home immediately, and their love for God and Jesus shone through their conversation from the very start. 

It seems Jerry and Pat had the dream of this ranch, this Christian retreat, since the mid 1960’s, and have worked since to make it happen.  They bought the land sometime in the 60’s and throughout the 70’s hosted hundreds of hippies and travelers at various times. They had what they called a “hippie ministry”, a time when many, many hippies of the 70’s came to know Jesus as their savior. (Over the course of our stay we actually met a few former hippies who had nothing but wonderful things to say about Jerry and Pat). With the labor and love of many they ministered to, they built the homes that are on the grounds now. They have variously renovated and improved the homes to the quaint, quiet, and very cute homes they are today. 

Today is Wednesday as I write this, and already we feel almost at home here.  Jerry and Pat have stopped by a few times, Jerry to bring a couple of games he thought Alene and I would like, and Pat to check on our stay, and each time they wound up staying for some time, chatting about their life, about God and their ministry here, and their history, and listening to our story, too.  They’ve made us feel very much like family, and that is no small thing in our busy, bustling world. 

There are three homes for rent at the ranch right now, ours being the “Southwest”, a 2 bedroom house with a full kitchen, bathroom, and living room with a wood stove.  The others are the “Americana”, with 2 bedrooms, a full bath, kitchen, and a huge living room/great room with a piano, wood stove, foosball table, and seating for over a dozen people.  The third house is the “Hammer House”, which is a 3 bedroom (they are small, but there are three of them), 1 ½ bath, 2 story house with a full kitchen, washer and 
dryer, and a lovely living room with a wood stove. 

All of the homes are just adorable inside, and make one feel comfortable from the moment you step inside.  They are not lavishly appointed, but simply, functionally, and tastefully.  They have all the comforts of home, and all the quaint charm of the country. 

I want to thank Jerry and Pat for making us feel so welcome, for making Alene and I feel like family, and encourage anyone who wants a quiet getaway, and to meet a wonderful Christian couple, to look into Antioch Ranch.  

I’m certain Alene and I will come again. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trying to Keep Love Alive in Everything We Do

About a week ago I read a blog post by a young pastor explaining his understanding of the characteristics of God, including the Trinity, or Triune God.  I completely agreed with the points of faith he put forth, but as I read the post, I found myself troubled over the tone of the article.

In his defense of the Trinity, which admittedly is a difficult concept to try to understand, he made a couple of statements that put me on edge, as a believer whose purpose is to show Jesus’ love to everyone possible.

In acknowledging the mystery that is God, and how someone might come to disagree, he said,

Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought. Don’t you think it’s possible that there might be some things that are true about the infinite, sovereign Creator of the universe that are just a little difficult to wrap your much smaller, finite mind around?    Do you really think you’re so smart that you should be able to fully wrap up everything about the nature of God in a nice little intellectual package that is easy to understand and explain? Don’t think more highly of your logic than you ought.”

In the next paragraph he tries to encourage or perhaps challenge those who don’t or can’t accept the Trinity by saying,

Don’t be a hypocrite. The fact is that every skeptic who scoffs at the doctrine of the Trinity based on its incomparableness is a hypocrite.”
Is it really a fact? Every skeptic that can’t get their head around the Trinity is a hypocrite?

Although I agreed with the author’s doctrine, I disagreed with his presentation, and offered the following in encouragement.  Hopefully I was encouraging, and if not, I apologize and will work harder to be as loving as possible when offering reproof or correction in the future.

Or God just might tell me to keep my mouth shut.  Who knows.

I wrote:

I’ve always liked the analogy comparing the Trinity to the family relationship where a man can be a father, son, brother, uncle, grandfather, and husband, all at the same time. A man transitions between roles seamlessly, and if a big family group is together, often fulfills several roles at the same time. The essence of the man does not change – they are the individual they are at all times – but their role and relationship to each person in the family varies depending on the relationship with the person they are interacting with.

Admittedly, any analogy of the Trinity is by nature lacking, but I find the father analogy the most helpful for me. One person, one identity, but that one person looks different and interacts differently with the people in their 

I have a thought on the tone of the presentation of the truths here, though: It sounded accusatory and lacking in love as you labeled people who could be genuine believers and seekers as skeptics, hypocrites, and arrogant in their logic. It sounded exclusive and judgmental.

I encourage all brothers and sisters in Christ to be careful when labeling other brothers and sisters with words just as scoffers, skeptics, hypocrites, or labeling them somehow arrogant because they search the scriptures differently than you/us/I do. Be slow to assume and assert that those who think critically about scripture, who pray and search the depths of God’s word for meaning and guidance and are trying to reconcile what they read with how they perceive the world, are somehow errant and hypocritical in their search.

The search of the scriptures, the drive to seek truth, the questioning of what we consider established truth and the desire to understand God better, is never, of itself, a bad thing. The truth of God and the Bible, if it is a true teaching or revelation we hold to, will always prove itself out. It will always stand up to honest examination.

We need to remember that the wonderful confessions and foundations that we are able to stand on as pillars of our faith were worked out, in fear and trembling, by the church fathers exactly as THEY questioned scripture, questioned the teachers of their day, and searched the Bible for meaning and truth. Through logical thought, devotion, and long years of debate and discussion, often weathering the accusations and persecutions of the established church of their day, they established the foundations of thought and theology that underpin the churches today. They used their God given logic to struggle with the Biblical truths. The writings of Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Augustine and many others are all tributes to the logical and scholarly treatment of scripture.

And still the Body doesn’t agree on everything. There are great chasms separating doctrinal thought among Christian denominations, and in the midst of it all, Jesus’ work still goes on.

I find THAT amazing!

I encourage ever believer to be slow and careful about labeling someone a hypocrite.

Each of the examples in your 3rd paragraph is easily explainable by rudimentary science, and as you state, someone can explain it to you scientifically. Your lack of understanding or perhaps limited knowledge of the science, and your amazement over the phenomenon, does not negate the truth that there are others for whom the scientific explanation makes complete sense, and for them there is no mystery. The phenomenon is 
demonstrable scientific truth.

The Trinity, though, is unfathomable and indemonstrable (empirically) in its truth, and our understanding is based on faith. The fact that something is unfathomable and, in your words wont “fully make sense”, in turn makes an assertion of absolute correctness or incorrectness meaningless. There is no way to be absolutely “correct” with something that “doesn’t make sense”. The honest skeptic, then, would scoff at the person who asserts that their understanding of the unfathomable MUST be the correct understanding.

I submit then that Christians who assert that scripture unquestionably affirms the Trinity, which is empirically untenable but is an item of faith, and THEN accuse those who don’t agree with our untenable item of faith of being hypocrites, should be pointing the finger of accusation directly at themselves/ourselves. We simply cannot condemn anyone for disagreeing on something when, by nature, it is impossible to prove the correctness of what we ourselves assert.

I’m not questioning the faith or the truth of the Trinity. I wholeheartedly agree with your position on the truth of the Trinity. What I disagree with is the accusations you place against others, and the labels you attach.

We must be like Christ; acting in love in EVERY WAY we do life, including our disagreements with others. God allows people to disagree with Him all the time, and does not belittle or degrade anyone. He doesn’t label anyone as anything other than a beloved that Jesus died for. The words we say and write have meaning, and we must, as followers of Christ, do all we can to live in harmony and peace with everyone, including those we disagree with, because God wants us to be beacons of light and His love to His world.

Labels and accusations cause pain and division where, indeed, most of the time there should be none.

I urge us all, Christian brothers and sisters, to be Christ-minded, as much as possible, when we deal with others regarding what we believe. We believe by faith that what God has revealed in His Word is truth. On this most all believers agree. WHAT God says about that truth is clearly open to interpretation, and Christ loving brothers and sisters the world over have disagreements on certain issues. Asserting that the scriptural truth I/you/we hold to is THE scriptural truth and exact revelation of God’s nature is arrogant and unloving at the most basic level. We must deal with each other who have different ideas and with those who God hasn’t yet called to Him, with all the patience, gentleness, and firm loving kindness that Jesus expresses towards us.

There is nothing wrong with the Matrix. God is running it just the way He wants, and yes, much of it is a glorious mystery, but a seeker should never be discouraged from investigating and learning about God in the Bible for fear of being labeled a hypocrite or skeptic or even a heretic. God can deal with the truth of his Word just fine, and when God uses US to help someone see His truth, we must, must, must do it in loving kindness, just as the Holy Spirit does with each believer God has called.

Submitted in love.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Love in the First Degree

I have a bad habit of writing very long posts.  I'm going to try to keep this one shorter.

I can imagine that many gentle readers have had their eyes glaze over, perhaps even begin to cross and twitch, as they read on and on and on, then embark on a frantic search for the back-button in an effort to escape my byzantine rantings with their sanity intact.

If anyone has actually reached the final sentence on one of my posts, I can only assume you are a mighty warrior of the blogdom, and I salute your stamina and intelligence.

That being said, on to today's thoughts.

Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  And to followers of Jesus, love one another as Jesus loved us, so that the world will know that we are His disciples.

That pretty much sums up the entirety of Jesus commands to us.  Every other command that Jesus gave when he said "If you love me, you will obey my commandments" have their roots in, and flow from, the simple command to love God, love people (your neighbor), and love one another so that the world will see Jesus in us.

I've read that the apostle John, when he was very old, used to go about the place where his church met saying, "little children, love one another", over and over.

One day someone asked John, "why do you continue saying this over and over?"

John is purported to have said, "because our beloved Lord commanded us to love one another as  He loved us, and if we really do that, it is enough".

That really is a simple truth, but its also an astoundingly deep, weighty, and purposeful truth.

If we really do love one another as Jesus loved us, serving, sacrificing, submitting and giving to each other, how could that not be enough?

Take a moment and really think of how a community of believers, living lives of sacrificial love, in loving submission and service to each other flowing out of love for and obedience to Christ, would change the fabric of not only their own churches but their communities as well.

I was talking to my brother last week about this "love one another" concept, and he said something simple, and yet very profound.

He said, and I paraphrase but you'll get the gist,

.... if I am loving you, and you are loving me, and you are loving that guy over there too, and he is loving the guy next to him, and he's loving that lady over there who is also loving me and you, and I'm also loving those folks over there, and  those folks are loving these folks over here, and we go on and on like this..... who's left to do any hating?

Simple, but profound.  And, I submit, correct. Think how that would change our lives?

All the discussions over doctrine and theology are meaningless if they are not infused with the love of Jesus as their base.  Jesus is the most perfect revelation of Himself that God has given to us.  In Jesus is the fullness of God.  In Jesus is revealed the love of God.

As we believers go about our lives we must, must, must remember that love is tantamount. Yes, God's judgment is real, Jesus' atoning sacrifice was because man is sinful and in need of reconciliation with God, and Jesus' triumphant resurrection provided proof of God's power in life and death and life.

But none of this is evident unless, as Jesus commanded, we love one another and show the world that we are His disciples.  We must make the truths of God real in our lives, or how will others see it?

No one lights a candle, then hides it under a basket.  This little light of mine, I need to let it shine.  All believers in Jesus, of all stripes and shades, need to let it shine.

Don't hide your light, friends.  Trust God, and remember that no one can blow your candle out.  It is lit by the very fire of God's Holy Spirit, which is unquenchable.

Love one another, truly, really, honestly, and sacrificially, as Jesus loved us.  I think we'll find, if we want to have an impact on this world for Jesus, "it is enough".

Certainly, even if John was incorrect about "loving one another" being enough, that love is indispensable and the gospel of Jesus cannot be taught, lived, or learned without it.  Love is the necessary first ingredient without which nothing else can be done.

Love one another, as Christ loved us.  Really love.  Let's see how it changes our lives.