Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trusting a preacher just because he's on the podium is like trusting either a liberal or conservative politics teacher in college. Don't be blind; question man, and test the words of men with the Word of God.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

If It's God's Will . . .

"If it is God's will, it will happen . . ."
Perhaps the most cliché, tiresome, and downright annoying eight words for someone to hear after things don't go according to their plan/hopes. I get it, God has a plan, He has a will, and it will come to fruition. Not only that, it's greater than anything we can imagine, right?
No offense, but stop right there. I've been told this more times than i can count lately, and it's time for rebuttal.

Firstly, why did Jesus say that, when we pray, we should pray like the example He set with The Lord's Prayer, one of the foremost pleas in that prayer being "Thy will be done in Earth as it is in Heaven"?
He wouldn't have instructed us to pray for God's will if it were to come to pass anyways.

God has a plan. He has a will. People do, too, and rarely do the two parties' ideas coincide.
People are wrenches to God's plan. Wrenches are tools used to tighten, fasten, and secure.

Do you think it was God's will that, statistically, there were over 550 instances of rape or sexual assault committed yesterday alone? The obvious answer is no. God is love, and love does not delight in wrongdoing.
But if it's God's will, it will happen.
So was it or was it not God's will that these women (and a very small number of men) be able to fight off their attacker(s)? Wouldn't it be His will that they be able to escape? Or how about this; wouldn't it be His will that the assailants do good instead of wrong? In that case, it would be His will that they be decent people that don't commit such atrocities. But that didn't happen, did it?
God has a plan and a will . . . But again, people do, too.

Let's go a little farther; in the late-30's through the mid-40's, the Nazi regime tortured and killed 6,000,000 Jews. Many of them remained faithful to God and trusted Him to rescue them. Every day, they trusted Him as they went about tortuous labor, got beaten, spit on, burned, starved, and saw their friends and family die from neglect or abuse. Some remained faithful even as they stepped into a gas chamber or were tortured beyond the point of physical limitation . . . And Hitler even proclaimed Christianity . . .
Wouldn't it be God's will that someone as influential as Hitler would have ideals that would save people instead of have them slaughtered? Wouldn't it be His will that the Jews would've escaped? Or do you believe He had no plans for any of those 6,000,000 after 1945?

I once talked to a young girl who was beaten by her father and her brother every single day. At one point, she was locked in her room, without water and fearing broke bones, for nearing forty hours before she managed to get the law involved.
Wasn't it God's will that her own family be nice to her and love her and cherish her? Wasn't it specifically God's will that she honor her father? Wasn't too honoring of her to call the law on him . . .

Got my point now? I don't want to hear "If it's God's will, it will happen" anymore.
People are wrenches, and can be tools in God's plan. To have a plan, it's often said "the gears are turning." When something is obstructive, it's said to be a "wrench in the gears."
People are wrenches.
They either secure God's plan (gears), or they're an obstruction (a wrench in the gears).

All this being said, i'm not trying to sound glum, hopeless or abandoned. I know that will never be the case. As long as i submit myself to what i feel is God's will and trust Him to have His way in my life, be it for what i want or not, my heart does not condemn me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Where Our Growth Comes From

A lot of us get preoccupied with finding a perfect church, reading all the highest-rated books on spirituality/Christianity, listening to the most critically-acclaimed worship music, etc.

There is no perfect church. Churches are made up of people -sinners- who are at odds with their physical being. All of us will stumble (yes, even you), and make that once-perfect church come to a painfully realistic light; we're all people. It happens.
But here's something that's kind of hard to imagine: you may very well be the one driving another away. If you're not being pushed around and made uncomfortable by the actions of others, it's probably time you re-examined your own actions.
Above all, find a church where you feel 'home'. Don't just go to a church and decide to agree with the pastor. That's blindness. Instead, listen to the pastor, and test him according to the Word of God.
In fact, here's what Jesus said about preachers:  “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.
Don't be the one to punish them. But be the one to watch, to make sure their fruit represents the vine they're attached to.

Nearly all devotionals are "unlike any other", and will "help you grow" or "get you thinking" or "encourage you" or whatever else it is you want from a devotional. Apparently. I mean . . . All of the ones i've picked up have started off talking about how they're new, fresh, challenging, hopeful, etc.
But basically, they all tell us 5 essentials that we already know.

  1. Focus on God.
  2. Live every day as a Christian, not just Sundays.
  3. Express love.
  4. Meet obstacles with joy and patience.
  5. Let our faith be evident by the way we live.
Do we have to have a book tell us this? If so, maybe it's time you put down devotionals and picked up your Bible.
I've nothing against devotionals, not in the slightest. In fact, i encourage people to read them, and am in the middle of "Tin Soldiers" by Andrew Schwab (the singer/lyricist of Project 86). It's been interesting so far . . . Hopeful. Challenging. Fresh. Typical.
But again, it's but new analogies to impress upon readers what they should already know.
Long story short, no book is going to change you from within. That's something only you can do. It may give you ideas on how to, but the only change of heart that can come about is from within your soul, from a need for God. If a devotional helps establish that need (plants a seed, much like Paul said he had done regarding the Church in Corinth, Apollos having watered it, and God having made it grow), then by all means, read a devotional. But know the planter and the one who waters are nothing, but only God, who makes things grow.

Musically, whatever gets you into a heart of worship is good for you. That doesn't mean it has to be a song that everyone knows, or one on the bestseller list of contemporary Christian music. It's whatever speaks to your heart.
Bestsellers are most often generic lyrics meant to somewhat affect the hearts of many, as opposed to lyrics focused on connecting profoundly with the hearts a select group or type of people.
"For You" by Cool Hand Luke isn't a song that would be very easily related to by people in high positions. For me, however, this song is quite touching. Because i so often feel like a fool, but it's okay so long as i'm a fool for God.
"After The World" by Disciple wouldn't affect people who have a high self-esteem, who've never looked in a mirror and thought "Who could love someone like me?"
"Hands of Grace" by HB could bring to tears anyone who thinks that they'd be better off as someone else, but would be just another bland song to someone happy with who they are.
"Hear Our Prayers" by The Glorious Unseen would reach the heart of someone who feels their prayers have gone without acknowledgement, not someone who feels tremendously blessed in life.
I'm asking you to find out where your heart is, and find music that helps your heart find its place of worship.
Music is far from the only form of worship; anything can be, and should be. We should do everything we do for the glory of God, from the food we eat to the way we drive to the lighting in our homes. Yes, everything can be done for the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria.

We should find our growth in Christ alone.
13-13-13 (Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potash) fertilizer is good for any kind of plant. But a flowering/fruit-bearing plant will do better with 12-24-12 because phosphate helps a plant produce flowers. 18-10-5 will do better for fruiting trees. 21-0-0 will make a lawn lush and green.
If you're wanting to help a plant bear fruit, 21-0-0 will make it big, green and pretty, but you'll have no fruit (we had 8ft tall tomato plants without a bloom to speak of because of this). If you use 12-24-12 on a lawn, it'll help some, but you'd be almost as well off having put none down.
These are just generalized fertilizers. There are plant-specific fertilizers that will be substantially better for one type of plant, but will have virtually no effect on another.
Find out what your specific 'fertilizer' (form of worship) is so you can most efficiently grow in Christ.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Peace or Sword?

Church was never meant to be fun or entertaining. Not on Holidays, not on special occasions . . . Church should be almost painfully poignant. Paul didn't write to the churches saying "Everything's hunkydory;" he wrote in brutal honesty. The truth is rarely inoffensive, and it weeds out the phonies. If it's offensive, let it be offensive. We should invite unbelievers lovingly, but we shouldn't water down the Word of God so as to appease them. 

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."
Matthew 10:34-39

"Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
2 Timothy 4:2-6

Depart From Me . . .

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’"
Matthew 7:21-23

Many will ask, essentially, "Haven't we done this?" or "Haven't we done that?" or "Didn't we lead so many to You?" and "Didn't we do this and that for You?"

But this has me thinking . . . Who do we do it for?
Do we spread the gospel of Christ crucified so that they may be saved or maybe to further the kingdom of God? Or is our reason self-serving?
We can't ever earn our way into Heaven. It's impossible. Even if we help lead souls to Christ, we still don't deserve eternal life. But nevertheless, there will be some who ask "Didn't we do this?" and "Didn't we do that?"
In other words, "Didn't we deserve it?"
Basically, "I did this for You so i could get in to Heaven."
Many see the great commission as a ticket into Heaven, like a way to compensate for a worldly/sinful life. But such is not the case.

"Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him."
1 John 3:6

 Sin is sin. Sin keeps us from God. We can't proclaim His name enough to make up for even one simple slip. Only by His grace can we not face judgement.
We can't compensate for our sin. We can't have a perverse sense of humor and make up for it in another area of our life and say "Oh, it's fine, i'm a good Christian because i don't cuss."
We can't have uncontrollable anger, yet say "It's alright because i'm not sexually immoral."
We can't have a mouth like the world (cussing/vulgarities) and say "It's okay, i led someone to Christ yesterday."
Paul had a "thorn" that he asked Jesus to remove, but He didn't. It emphasized Paul's weakness and Jesus' strength. We will always have a struggle to overcome, but that's just it; we have to fight it and not let it get the best of us. We have to realize that this struggle, this vice, this burden emphasizes our need for Christ.

In essence, we can't earn our way into Heaven, and we can't be righteous because we're not as bad in some area(s) of our lives as other might be.

I have my own vice. I get annoyed. Very annoyed. Specifically annoyed. But it's my struggle. It might never go away. It emphasizes the fact that i need a Savior.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Are You A Child Of God?

I'm going to start off rather bluntly.
I am a sinner. I can't call myself a child of God. As hard as i try, i just can't.

I won't put the verses here, because i want to encourage you to open your own Bible and read it for yourself, not to have me spoon-feed you a select few verses and give you my interpretation of them. Read them, read them in context, and come to your own conclusions. Meditate on them.

Firstly, i do ask you to turn to 1 John chapter 3. I'm not going to give specific verses; please at least skim the chapter for yourself before continuing. Draw your own conclusions, your own convictions, your own personal revelations. Whatever you get from it, go ahead and get. What i'm putting is merely how it affects my life. I beg you to find out how it affects yours.

In fact, to make it even easier for you, here's a link to the ESV translation of that chapter on BibleGateway. You don't even have to grab your Bible. You don't even have to search for the chapter. There it is. Just click it.

Matthew 7 says that many who proclaim His name will be turned away for He never knew them.
What i get from 1 John 3 is this: if a person knows God, they follow Him. If they don't follow Him, if they keep sinning, they have not seen or known God.
It gets pretty harsh. It goes on to say that we're either children of God, or we're children of the devil. It says that whoever doesn't practice righteousness is not born of God . . . They're a child of the devil.

Here's why i said i can't call myself a child of God: i have issues with anger, resentment, unforgiveness, bitterness, impatience, and . . . Well, the list goes on. At the pinnacle of this pile of manure within me is hate.
There. I said it. I harbor hate within me. I don't want to, but it's made a home. It's like that friend who lives on your couch; you really want them to leave, but you can't quite kick 'em out, right? That's me and hate. I don't want it staying here, but i don't have the heart to sever it.
Now, you may be saying to yourself that i'm not that bad of a guy, and that i'm being too critical of myself. But no. Let me explain (despite what i said, i am quoting a verse, and will again by the end of this entry; if you want to know which verse, you'll have to read through the chapter yourself in order to find it--that way you'll read it in context, i hope).
"By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."
So here i am, admitting there are those whom i don't love (Christians, even) yet . . . Yet the Bible clearly says that if i don't love my brother, i am not of God . . . I'm a child of the devil.
I think this proves i'm not afraid to admit my failures and faults, and apply Biblical standards to myself, even ones that may crush me.

We're not to just say that we love, but to actually show it. We're supposed to act on our love for others, we're supposed to show compassion, even if none is shown to us. We're supposed to build up those who would tear us down. We're supposed to actually love, and to love in honesty. In truth.
We're supposed to take action based on love. In a moment, without hesitation, we could make a witty and hurtful comment to someone who's said something hurtful to us. That's precisely when we're supposed to, without hesitation, show them kindness and patience.

We know we're to love one another. In 1 Corinthians 13, it says several examples of what love is (the antonym of many of the things i just said i have issues with), and says, out of faith, hope, and love, that love is the greatest of the three. As long as the three abide, love is the greatest to possess.
But how serious is it to not only be without hate, but to actually love? Well . . . There is the whole "children of the devil" thing. But also, if you don't love, what is left? Nothing? If we don't love, we feel nothing. It's apathy. It's lukewarm. We make our home with death if we do not love. In fact, we're to love to the point of laying down our lives for our brethren in Christ.
Would you put yourself in front of a moving vehicle in order to get someone else out of the way of it? Are you willing to climb onto train tracks to lift another off while knowing you couldn't escape calamity yourself, only spare them?
If the answer is a complacent one, you've taken too long. They've already been hit by the car/bus/train.
If someone knows to do good and doesn't do it, they've sinned, right? You know that saving them is the right thing to do. Anything less than right is wrong.
Again i ask, would you put yourself in the way of danger for someone else, knowing that there's no way for you to escape death yourself?
Now i inquire, are you still a child of God?

I'm not saying this to hurt anyone, but to encourage.
Be filled with love, and be filled with God. I adjure you to love! Love so that you may know God! Love so that you may see God! Love so that you may not walk in the path of sinners, so that you may be a child of God!
Whatever the circumstances, show love, care, concern, compassion, patience . . . Always love.

(here's the other quote i said would be put in):
"By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us."
After reading this chapter a few times and pressuring myself by it, the closing verses are a much needed sigh of relief. It doesn't excuse my wrongs, but i am trying.
I might not be getting better about it, but i am trying, and i know that God is greater than my heart; i know God knows what is in my heart. I know God knows i don't want this to be a part of me. I know God is helping me along. I know God believes in me, and will help me to love wholly if i ask Him to.
God knows i can love. I know i can love.
And i thank Him that He's not given up on me.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Same Words, Different Orator

So, i flew to South Carolina a few weeks ago (rather, flew to Georgia to go to South Carolina). It was a fun trip. It was a blessing. I'm thankful for it.
But something happened on my return flight that i've been reflecting on quite a bit since then. The words of the woman seated beside me. As a conservative who measures somewhere in the farthest three points on every political analysis survey, and as a conservative Christian, this is going to sound almost like some sort of heresy for you to hear from me.
I make no small talk with fellow passengers. I sit quietly and appreciate when others do the same--i'm sitting for three hours, might as well sleep, right?
"Are you in school?" she asked me.
I responded with "Not yet," making excuses as to why i've not started. She asked what i was planning on taking, and i answered. Then she said she had taken history and religion. This sparked a conversation that would last the majority of the flight.
"Are you religious?" i asked, seeing this as a chance to hopefully spread the gospel with someone.
"I am a Muslim."
"Oh crap . . ." was what immediately went through my head. What came from my mouth was far more eloquent: "Oh really? I'm a Christian."

And yes, i've been reflecting on the words of a Muslim woman who i was talking to on a plane.
We talked about the differences in our religions (though i'm not 'religious'), and the ideas we're supposed to have of one another, according to society. We're supposed to hate each other, judging by what i've been told. But we had a more civilized discussion about faith than i do with many fellow Christians.

She asked how i felt about Joel Osteen. I said i didn't like his sermons because he doesn't preach on salvation, and because he preaches on material gain and earthly blessings/riches.
And i started "Jesus told the disciples that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of--"
I was cut off.
"--a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven?"
"Exactly . . ."

And here's what stuck out to me . . .
"I believe that worldly gain and favor isn't so much a blessing as the trials God puts us through."
That's what she said. She described a friend of her's situation that was just downright unpleasant, and concluded with "Because of that, i feel in my heart that God will bless her with things we can't see, like hope and faith."
I was immediately reminded of Paul speaking to the Church in Rome in the fifth chapter of Romans.
She went on, "We can't know the reasons for tragedies like that, and we may never know, but we have to believe that God has a purpose for everything. Otherwise, these trials are just depressing. But if we have faith, then God will bless us for our faith through times like that."

This was nothing i'd never heard before. I've heard it many times. From Christians. But the reason it made me think is because of the person saying it. It was put in a new light because it wasn't being heard from the same 'fountain', as it were.
I may overlook the words of a Christian, not because they're a Christian, but because i'm used to hearing things like that from a Christian. However, when i heard it from someone of a different faith than my own, i studied it a little harder.
Like reading an article about something you care deeply about, but having read a dozen other similar articles, you get to where you're skimming over it. You ignore most of what's being said, catching few sentences here and there. But when it's an article about the same thing, but written from a completely different perspective and/or style, you're more attentive; you read each line. You actually pay mind to what is being said. That's what happened there.
We need to stop being bored with what we hear, despite having heard it a thousand times before. Someone quotes a Bible verse you know and love, talk to them about it. It means one thing to you, but find out why it means what it does to them. Maybe listen to the words they accentuate or add emphasis to. Be intrigued. Listen to what they say about it, and find out why they're not bored with those same words you might get nothing from.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trees Must Be Pruned . . .

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Church* as a tree/plant on several occasions. I believe Paul does in Galatians, and it's likely done through the rest of the epistles as well, i just can't think of where at the moment (i'm feeling groggy today; sue me).

I think it's interesting that the Church should be referred to as a tree or a plant.
Firstly, because we're grafted into Christ (that's a link to a post on my other blog). Grafting is what you do with a weak plant/tree or one not native to the area, so that it can produce fruit and grow and be sustained through the rootstock.

There's another reason i think this is interesting. People think about Christianity as always happy, do-no-wrong, holier-than-thou people who meet on Sundays . . . We put this idea of a Christian in sitcoms as comedic relief, mocking real Christians. I've never met a real Christian that was like any of those fictionalized representations. It's gotten to the point that a lot of people, upon finding out i'm a Christian, automatically think i say "diddly" instead of a curse word, and that i'm boring and ignorant to pain in life. I do use cheesy phrases to replace cuss words (haven't cussed since i was, like, six, and only did then because i'd heard it on TV--not saying that makes me a better person, just that i don't think there's a need for them), and i may be boring. But don't think for a minute that, just because i put on a smile, that i don't feel misery or get upset. My closest friends and family can tell you that i get very upset, and that i have issues with anger. Life isn't fun. It's not supposed to be. I'm not supposed to have smile on my face at all times--Jesus got mad, Jesus got upset, Jesus got sad. In fact, the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, says simply "Jesus wept." I'm not supposed to be void of negative emotions. I am, however, supposed to find some sort of relief in the fact that trials lead to glory (as Romans 5 lines out).
This is getting rather off-topic, but people have this skewed idea of Christianity that is so far from the genuine thing it's become a joke. Even Christians have this idea of it.
Christians have this image in their head of going to church on Sunday and being saved through attendance alone. Attendance does nothing for the soul. Attendance is a facade, a false hope. Until we stop treating worship as a ritual, we're never going to mature or grow. As said in Matthew 7:22-23, we'll approach Him and try to build ourselves up in His eyes, boasting of things we've done, yet He'll tell us to depart from Him for He never knew us. Never. We will be cut off from Him, severed, turned away, culled . . .
Like a branch on a tree that has a worm, it must be cut off before infecting the rest of the plant.
He is the vine. He is the root, the heart, the mind, the being of the Church. We're merely the branches. Branches that don't produce must be cut off so that others can grow.
I find it quite interesting that the Church is like a tree or a plant in such ways. A lot of us are going to be in for a shock when the time comes . . .
In a flock, if an animal comes down with TB, it is culled. The infected animal is removed from the flock, often disposed of. After that, the entire herd must be tested for the disease, and each infected animal quarantined . . . Destroyed. For the good of the whole. We are His flock, He our Shepherd.
I often find myself looking around, wondering how many will be culled when the day comes. I often look in the mirror and wonder if i will be. I pray that such is not the case -i have faith such is not the case- but if it serves to sustain the health of the whole then that is what must be done. Until the day i'm called Home, i'm going to be striving for my place, trying my best to not fail Him, doing all i can to earn the title "child of God" (i know the title is impossible for me to earn and that He granted it to me through His sacrifice, i will nevertheless do everything in my power to try to earn it--just because i can't doesn't mean i can't try to be worth).
If you've read all of this, i appreciate your time.
Watch out for sugared-water.

*not the building or the Sunday meeting--i feel the need to clarify this every time i mention the real "Church". When i capitalize the word, i'm referring to the Body of Christ; when i don't, i'm referring to a building.