Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

The Signs of the Times

I don’t know for sure that I’m living in “the last days.” I suspect I am, in the biblical sense. For sure, I’m living in MY last days!

I was just telling someone today (oh, and when I did, I wasn’t thinking, “hmmm … this might make a nice post”):

“Let me tell you where I’m coming from … why I’m pastoring The Bridge. I think it’s information you’ll appreciate. When I was asked by my good friend to help out by speaking at Emmanuel Tabernacle from time to time, I saw doing so as temporary. Just for a few months. But it turned out that I really liked the people … and that “like” opened my heart to love them. The crew that was at the church at the time was beat up … bruised. The fights over petty things, and the power plays by some of the leaders, left people shellshocked. My protective instincts kicked in. I wanted to see, with my own eyes, a healing take place. It wasn’t long when they asked me to stay on. In October of last year I felt I had a green light from God to do so. I was on my face (literally on the floor of the former pastor’s office) asking Him, “What am I doing here?” and I felt I heard Him say, “Lowell, I love these people … and I WANT you hear.” It wasn’t a question of what I wanted to do – whether I felt sympathy for them or not. Didn’t matter. God was telling me, “THIS is something I want you to do for Me.”

“I’ve pastored/lead ministries since 1970, but I’ve never felt called to pastor. I have always felt called to do whatever He wanted me to do, where He wanted me to do it, and for how long. That, by no means, makes me an expert on followership. But all that time has allowed me to see and experience a lot. Also, being a preacher’s son, and seeing the ungodly underbelly of the Church from time to time from that perspective (how some in the family of God behave) has also been a part of my life experience, too.

“I haven’t always done so, but early on in my ministry life I decided/determined to be honest, and as transparent as I could be without being shameful or stupid. While I was experiencing the death of my first wife, that approach to ministry was dramatically reinforced. “Life’s too short to mess around” was the big message God gave me during her dying process.

“So … that candor that you heard last Sunday has been “purchased” – I’ve paid for it with the currency of my life. Forty years worth of life.”

I want to be candid without being harsh, and transparent for the sake of others … not because I feel this need to flush my junk out of my system.

I’m looking around me now … at my world … and I’m thinking, “How much longer can this insanity last? When will God say, ‘That’s quite enough!'” I’m watching TV like everyone else. I’m tuned into YouTube. I’m reading the blogs. It’s freaky. With all the reports of natural disasters, wars, the murder of innocents (and the killing of the ‘not innocent’), the economic uncertainty, the famines, etc., wouldn’t you think, “Yep, this is what Jesus, John (the saint/disciple), and the other prophets saw coming.”

Funny thing is, I’m not discouraged. I’m really surprised by that! I’m actually excited … and not because I’m some sicko hoping to see misery piled upon miseries, or like the rubber-neckers who slow down to see if anyone died in the accident. I’m excited because I feel I know what’s coming! And what’s coming will be tough, and will require sold-out determination, rock-solid faith, unwavering trust, and a depth of love I’ve never experienced or lived out but I’ve heard described in the stories of Jesus and His initial followers. But tough or not, it’s great! If … if you believe God’s in it all.

What are the signs of the times? Read Matthew 24, 25 and check out Luke 21. Then … you tell me. Comment. How do you interpret those biblical texts in light of what you’re reading and seeing and feeling right now. I’m interested in what you’re seeing.

A “Joseph” Generation

A “Joseph” Generation

August 9, 2009 – WEAG

INTRODUCTION:

There’s a broad spectrum of people that attend church, so I’m sure there are some here today who are checking out this church, wondering if God is real, taking in the atmosphere, wondering if there are business connections or networks to be joined, etc. You’re seeking something … You’re seeking Someone. That’s GOOD! You are welcome here!

If you aren’t a committed follower of Jesus, what you’re about to hear is typical of what we talk about … when you’re not around. The content of today’s message is not atypical, in other words. We, the church, know we’ve got some growing to do. We’ve got issues. We know we’re in process – moving from seekers of God to lovers of God. We come together every week, in a million locations around the world, 24/7 … not just on Sundays … and we LEARN. We study. And we grow.

We, the people who call WEAG our home base – our church – are no different.

I say “we” because Becky and I are members of West End. And while we’re not on the pastoral team, we’re on the ministry team!

I say, “we” … we are part of the WEAG Ministry Team because every person at WEAG is in ministry … of some kind or another. Ministry is just a church word that means – service. We are organized and energized to serve the interests of Jesus. What Jesus wants done, we want to do THAT!

We believe that God is real and that He forgives sin, don’t we, church? We love Him because – because He first loved us. Because He paid the penalty for our sin – which is spiritual death – eternal separation from a holy God. Because He willingly died in our place, for our sins. Because He’s alive – resurrected from the dead!

We want to learn more about Him, what’s important to Him, and how to please Him – which includes what He enjoys hearing when we worship and praise Him. We, the people of West End A/G, want to be the best Jesus-followers we can be … and we know that in order to be Christ-followers, we will change. WE MUST CHANGE! We haven’t arrived. We, the Church of Jesus Christ … we get it: we’re not perfect. We never will be … but that’s no excuse. We MUST grow.

Now, those of you who call WEAG “home,” if you agree with what I just said, would you say, “Yep … that’s us.” (Ha!)

Pastor John asked me to speak on Tuesday of this week. I was in Orlando, at General Council, and immediately I knew what the topic would be. I just didn’t know the biblical text. But I found it!

Nowadays, all I seem to see, all I want to read about, all I want to talk about is leadership, leadership, leadership. I live and breathe the subject. I consume all I can on the subject. I’m constantly studying it. I have been for years! And because leadership development has captured my heart, my passions, my imagination, my life … because leadership development is now my calling and vocation … I AM A HAPPY MAN!

And in the course of my studies I’ve taken note: Leadership is either on display … for all to see … or it’s missing!

You can feel it … sense it … when leadership is present. And you can feel the hollowness, the emptiness, the void when it is absent. Leadership is either present or absent. There is no middle ground – no grey area. And I think you instinctively know what I’m saying is true.

When John asked me to speak, the Holy Spirit took me to Psalm 105.

Throughout the Bible, you will find potential leaders in various stages of development. And then, once they become recognized leaders, you’ll read how they brought necessary change … because that is one thing ALL leaders do. When leaders lead, changes follow … either for the good or for the bad.

Throughout the Bible you will see examples of leaders and observe their leadership. The Bible gives us an honest report of the good, the bad, the inept, the humble, the hesitant … military leaders, governmental leaders, religious leaders, early church leaders. From the dominating leader to the servant-leader – you’ll find them all in the Bible.

Look at Psalm 105:16-22

16 [God] called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.
   17 Then He sent someone to Egypt ahead of them —
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
   18 They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
   19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
   20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
   21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
   22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers.


1. Coming Conditions Will Call For Josephs

In Joseph’s day, God created circumstances that required a Leader to emerge that would change the course of history. God cut off Canaan’s food supply.

Take note: God … who is always GOOD … did something that appeared to be BAD at the time He was doing it.

Could God be doing the same thing, right now, in the world? Not just in America, but the world? Could God be creating the environment that will require godly leaders to arise, and step into the spotlight? Are there people – men and women in the church – THIS CHURCH – that will hold in their hearts the answer to the wearied and worried cry of humanity?

There’s famine in the land. People are crying out for bread, but not just any bread. They want … they need … the Bread of Heaven. There’s a spiritual drought in the land, and the only thing that will satisfy the thirst of disillusioned humanity is the Living Water. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and the Water that would satisfy the souls of men.

If Jesus satisfies your hunger and thirst, will you say, “That’s me!”?

Before you go rushing out of this building with slogans and t-shirts, bumper stickers and spiritual clichés, let me tell you – YOU’RE NOT PREPARED.

You’re not prepared for what God wants to do … what He’s going to do in our generation.

I know that! ( … and statistical studies will back me up) We can’t lead our world anywhere before we look, sound and live differently than our unbelieving friends. The divorce rate in the church is 30% … the world is 37%. We cheat on our taxes, we surf internet porn sites, we lie when we do business … and we’re the Church??? Did Jesus say, “I will build My Church,” and intend for it to look so … so … worldly?

If you believe that God is the Sovereign King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the all-powerful, all wise and knowing, everywhere-present God … and you don’t think He’s got a hand in what is going on in our world right now, there’s a disconnect between what you say you believe and what you really believe.

I’m not trying to mess with your mind, or lay a guilt trip on you. That would never bring about needed change in your lifestyle anyway, right? And I’m not manipulating facts. I’m calling it the way I see it. I have a strong opinion about the current state of the Church … in America. If you don’t see it my way … okay.

But you can’t just disagree with me and not have another theory on why things are happening the way they are, and why they might be happening this way at this time. I’d love for you to send me an email. Give me your opinion. You’ve heard mine.

Back to my point I’m making from verse 16: Like the famine in Joseph’s day, God is doing something. He called for a famine then. He can do the same thing today … but I suspect He’s going to do something on a much bigger scale. He’s not just going to mess around with Canaan. He’s going to shake the world.

BEFORE He sent famine to Canaan, He sent Joseph to Egypt.

2. Coming Conditions Require the Character of Joseph.

God began a process of preparing a leader to provide His solutions for Joseph’s generation. I believe God is in the process of doing the same thing – right now. Today. And He’s doing it in the lives of people IN THIS ROOM.

God took Joseph to school! Joseph thought, as most teenagers do, that he was ready to lead … AT 17!!!

He lacked wisdom. He totally offended his brothers because he had no filter in his brain or on his mouth. From the original story, told in Genesis 37 to 50, we can gather than he was a spoiled kid. That wasn’t his fault. His dad showed favoritism to such an extreme that it was inevitable – a family feud would be ignited by Joseph’s big mouth. The family would be thrown the into chaos.

What I’m about to tell you is surreal. God was in it. God had given Joseph his personality and his parentage. From his mother’s womb, God had everything in mind that we read about in Joseph’s story.

God knew that Joseph would require a certain confidence to stand before Egypt’s king and make the declarations he did! God knew that Joseph would be willing to do and speak anything! But first God had to work on his raw gifts. He had to sharpen his mind, temper his ways, and develop his character.

Now … how would you go about raising up and training a Joseph?? If you knew there were days ahead – days that would require spiritual leaders using God’s wisdom, speaking God’s words and knowing God’s WORD, how would you begin? And when?

WEAG has been intentional when it comes to investing in kids and young people.

The Assemblies of God has over 330,000 churches, in 214 countries, with 60 million members. The A/G has grown from 300 people meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1912 to 60 million strong! We haven’t had our 100th birthday yet! And it is estimated by church demographers that by 2020 – if Jesus doesn’t come back first – the A/G will have over 500,000 churches and number 100 million strong.

Now … this is not an A/G pep rally, and I’m not selling the A/G, but I sure am glad I’m a part of it.

And … in the US … where it began, the A/G has 2.9 million members. And in that number … 2.9 million … there is a sub-group, numbering 1 million. That sub-group is made up a kids and young people under the age of 25!!

Do you get what I’m saying??

Why does West End pour so many resources into its kids and youth and college ministries??

Because God will, out of that population, raise up a generation of Josephs! Raw, edgy, hip, passionate, determined, mighty, fearless Josephs. They are in this building … and in this room.

You don’t have to be under 25 to be a Joseph. You can be 85, like Caleb. He was one of two spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land that reported, “We can take this land, in spite of the giants, the walled cities and the armies of idol worshippers!”

It’s a shame those two were in the minority … 10 spies said, “It can’t be done. We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We’ll lose. We’ll die. We can’t win.”

Forty-five years later, after all the smart people, the financial experts, the nay-sayers and negative report people … a whole generation … had died off, Caleb, at age 85, said, “I’m as strong as I was when I was a 45 year old. God has given me strength to do battle.” And he looked over the land of Promise and he said, “Give me THAT MOUNTAIN!” And he went and got it!

Now … to have

3. The Character of Joseph Requires a Challenge

It won’t take me long to make this point.

When God taps a Joseph … and He may be tapping YOU this morning … and this is tough … you’ll go to God’s version of Leadership School.

There are seekers in this room … I know that. People who are considering making the leap, believing the Gospel, giving their lives to Christ … and when some will hear this, they’ll stop seeking the God we serve. They’ll stop dead in their tracks. And they might say something like this: “Are YOU CRAZY???”

And the answer to that question is, “No.”

We’re grateful, not crazy. We’re forgiven. We’ve not lost our minds. God threw our sinful record into the sea of His forgetfulness. He’s won our hearts. He’s loved us into His kingdom. We have gladly accepted His rule in our lives … because we’ve lived without Him … AND THERE’S NO FUTURE IN THAT! We were once far from God, but now we want to be as close to Him as we can possibly be!

And if it requires that we lay down our lives for Him, we’ve considered the cost. We’re not stupid. We’re not uninformed. AND we don’t have messianic or martyr complexes.

We know that being a Joseph in the future requires God’s version of Boot Camp now. But we don’t run from that reality. We embrace it. Because there are lost and dying people out there who will never hear that Jesus loved them so much He died for them. They will never hear that God raised Him from the dead! They will never know that there’s a heaven and a hell. They’ll never hear a clear presentation of His story, in their language, unless we willingly go.

Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his brothers, fettered and sold into slavery, bruised, falsely accused of rape by a desperate Egyptian housewife, put into prison for years – with no hope of release, and forgotten by his cellmates.

But the whole time … from 17 to 30+ years old … he maintained an A average in God’s school for Emerging Leaders. He aced his character-development classes. He passed the tests each time they came.

And when he was ready, and not a day before … when he was ready to lead …

4. God Literally “Set Him Free!!!” to Lead

He blew Pharaoh’s mind with his wisdom and spiritual depth. And not only did his dysfunctional family benefit from his rise to power in the throne-room of the king … not only did he literally save the lives of the people who trekked from famine-torn Canaan … but his strategy for battling the famine that eventually made its way to the breadbasket of the world – the fertile valley of the Nile – saved another nation, too. Egypt. God gave him the strategy.

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Joseph of ancient history had been prepared in God’s school of Leadership to make decisions … some decisions that would literally mean LIFE or DEATH.

CONCLUSION:

Are the days we’re living any less critical than the days of Joseph’s emergence?

Actually, they’re much more critical. What’s at stake? The eternal future of our generation. The eternal future of our family and friends. Is that reality on your radar?

At some point in time – in the not-too-distant future – God will keep a promise. He will usher in the literal Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He – Jesus, the Son of God – will reign forever and ever. There is coming a day when time as we know it will be no more. Before then, you must decide!

Some people, on their spiritual journeys, aren’t looking to Jesus as Savior and Lord. They not convinced they have a sin problem, and that there’s a holy God out there somewhere that can not co-habitate with sinners. Instead, they’re looking for something else … fulfillment, satisfaction, meaningful purpose … something to plug the hole in their soul.

Our mortality cries out for immortality! We want more! We have eternity in our hearts. This is why people go on spiritual journeys in the first place. We all want something to believe in that is bigger, better and beyond our selves. We’re so desperate for something to believe in, we’ll eventually find something … to worship.

It might be Michael Jackson; it might be a crystal good luck charm; it might be a politician or a political cause. Some might worship Mother Earth, and live to save a sick environment. Some will join the church of Tiger Woods; their communion will take place at the 19th hole, and their small group might be a radically committed foursome. Some might choose to worship at the Altar of Intellect, worshipping at the great university libraries of the world. Others might choose to put their best time into “World of Warcraft,” or wear out an X-Box 360. Some here might be tempted to put their trust in Oprah; they might religiously attend her televised meetings – never missing a broadcast … less they be “left behind” and considered un-cool or uninformed.

Many here … many here … may choose to worship The Golden Dow – whose temple sits in the middle of Wall Street, and whose priests ring a golden bell at the beginning and end of five, 8-hour services a week.

I could go on and on with idol possibilities. But none of those gods satisfy completely.

We know they don’t love us. We know they’re powerless to change our hearts, lighten our load, or heal our emotional and psychological wounds. And they certainly can’t forgive our sins.

But friends … Jesus can. And does, 24/7, 365! He saves us! He heals us! He loves us unconditionally.

And He’s coming soon.

God is setting the stage for the single-most important spiritual awakening the world has ever seen. This spiritual awakening will not be geographically confined – like The Great Awakening that occurred from 1730 to 1751. The next GREAT AWAKENING won’t look anything like ANYTHING that has happened since the resurrection of Jesus!

What will you do with this information … this sermon … this challenge?

First, I’m praying for A Joseph Generation to arise here at West End! I’m praying for young and old, male and female Josephs to pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ, and take His story to neighbors and nations.

If you believe in the eternity described in the Bible … if you believe the sermons preached by the Son of God, Jesus … you know …

You do not want anyone to miss heaven!

Second, I’ve been praying for persons attending today who have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Even after hearing the description of Joseph’s life today, they are … right now … saying to themselves, “This is the something I’ve been looking for. This is worth investing my life in. Jesus is the SOMEONE I can put my trust in. I know, full well, I am a sinful person. I know I need a Savior if I ever hope to live in the presence of a God so holy, as much as He loves me, Who can’t allow me into His presence unless my sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, His only Son.”

The first invitation is for those who wish to take the Good News about Jesus to neighbors and nations, to the end of the block or the ends of the Earth; who are willing to trust God; lay down their lives, put aside their plans, for a greater and more important plan.

If you fully understand what it means to say, “God, I’m willing to be a Joseph to my generation,” come.

The second invitation is for those who aren’t ready to take the message to friends and neighbors, but for those who are ready to believe the message. You’ve been thinking about it. Today is your day of decision, and you have decided … I’m going to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

To those who are reading this message on my website, if you would like to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, take this prayer as a guide and pray it. Put as much of it as you can in your own words. And if you can think of anything – if anything comes to mind while you’re praying – that you want to specifically acknowledge as sin in your life, take some time to articulate what you want from God. (It may sound something like this: “Lord, I can remember when I was immoral [describe it to Him in your own words] … and it has haunted me/made me feel unforgiveable/made me feel guilty for so long. Please forgive me for that sin. [And if you think, after you’ve finished praying, that you should forgive someone, or ask for forgiveness of someone, make plans to do so.].”)

PRAYER: Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins, in my place, and I believe that God raised You from the dead. I give You my life for Yours, and I intentionally choose You as my Lord and Master. I invite You into my life with thanksgiving and deep gratitude. Amen.

What I Believe About God

I attended a meeting not long ago and heard a speaker say, as the general premise of the talk, that she had figured out how to get God to heal anyone, anytime.  She wasn’t talking about coercing God or artfully manipulating Him to do whatever we would want Him to do, especially in the area of healing.  She wasn’t that dumb.  Rather, her main point was that everything we need to know about healing, and getting people healed, is in God’s Word – the Bible.  All we needed to do was pray a certain way, believe a certain way, and He’d come through.  He would have to, you see, because He “had promised us He would heal anyone who believed, and would respond favorably to anyone who prayed in faith.”

But she doesn’t know what to do, think or say when “God” doesn’t heal someone, other than to just keep praying.  (That is, until death ends the process, of course.)  Others who believe in healing today, and have the formulas that “work,” will explain that when a person isn’t healed someone is at fault – either the person praying or the person that is sick.  What they are unintentionally or intentionally saying, depending on the person, is that they’ve got God figured out.  They know how He operates.  He’s totally predictable … that He responds a certain way in a certain situation every time that situation occurs.

Well … that’s what people say who have either (a) never read the Bible, (b) have read only the “interesting” parts of the Bible, (c) [ the most likely option] have approached reading the Bible with a certain pre-judgment (or prejudice, if you will).  Oh, and there is an option (d) and it is:  people have heard and then bought into teaching from teachers who live option “c” – teachers who themselves bought into the teaching of someone … who bought into the teaching of someone … etc., etc.

Their God is only as big as their understanding of Him … and that tends to be SMALL.

Let me tell you about my God.

He’s smarter than me.  I’m limited in my understanding of Him.  I can’t figure Him out … BUT … it doesn’t bother me.  In fact, I like it.  (If I could figure Him out I might think He is weak, or lacking intelligence … way too small to be worshipped as the great “I AM.”)

God tells me a lot about Himself … but again, more than I can fully understand … and He keeps me curious.  I want to know more about Him.

Put another way, His BIGNESS makes Him God … and for me, I like that.  I want a BIG God.  I want a God that can do infinitely more than I can, so much so that I wouldn’t want His job because I couldn’t do His job.  (I certainly don’t think I’m up for it.  I believe the position of GOD is filled.)

God’s Word, while totally true, is complex because it’s from Him – the One who is infinite in wisdom and knowledge.  It’s written to me and for me – the one who is finite and not all-knowing.  That means that there are parts of the Bible I won’t “get” … and there are parts that no one will get.  (If I could get it all, or if anyone else could understand it all … well, we’d have to be God’s equal, right?)  That said, there are times when children will get Him better than we do.

I believe God is the consummate, perfect LOVER.  He never holds grudges, never lies, alway understands, and is totally accepting … but … He’s not stupid.  He loves with His eyes wide open.  We can’t fool Him.  There’s not a place dark enough that we can hide our true feelings toward Him from Him.

Because God loves me He wants me to know Him better and better, and because He loves me He will reveal more and more about Himself to me in language I can understand.  (But that still means I won’t ever FULLY understand Him, or His ways.)

I believe God is beyond generous.  Because He’s so giving He always wills and wants to give me what is good for me; He said so.  He will not withhold good things from me.  At the same time, He WILL withhold what is NOT good for me.  He said so – He said don’t even ask for those things because He’s not listening.  Therefore,I should never try to lay a guilt trip on Him.  As hard as we might try, we can’t make Him feel guilty for not answering our every prayer in the way we dictate it to Him.  I also believe you and I can’t come up with formulas that make Him do anything He doesn’t want to do … even if we beg … or fast … or cut ourselves … or make promises concerning what we will do for Him in the future.  I can never force Him to do anything.  He is the greater, I am the lesser.  So if I think or believe something … ANYTHING … that doesn’t mean He has to believe it, too.

I believe God is HOLY.  That means He can never sin, just as light and darkness can’t mix.  He can’t sin against me, or against anyone in the whole world.  So … if anything bad happens to me – my stocks tank, I’m shipwreck, I am stoned (and I’m not talking about “pot” here), all my goods confiscated, I get really sick, or even die … it’s not His “fault.”  He is perfect.  Pure.  Right every time.  Good every time.  Kind every time.  Because He knows everything and I don’t, He knows when it’s time to pull the plug – my days are numbered … BY HIM.  You can’t sing, “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” and believe otherwise.

I believe God is more concerned about me – the real, down-deep-inside-me me – than my comfort.  That means things I may not like could be good.  Just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is wrong, or bad.  God can’t be bad.  My circumstances could be, but He is never or could ever be bad.  That also means that something bad happening in my life might ultimately bring about something good … something unanticipated.

God is tough.  He is the same God – in the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He didn’t come to His senses in the New Testament.  Jesus doesn’t represent “His good side” while Jehovah represents “His bad side.”  He does not have a split personality.  He is not a child killer in the Old Testament and a child resurrector in the New.  He is Job’s God.  He’s is Peter and John’s, too.  He hasn’t changed.  Everything He did in the Old and New Testament, whether we understand it or agree with it, was good because He is good.  In other words, He had His reasons for whatever He did … and He was HOLY while He did what He did.  Got it?

I believe God healed people in the Old and New Testaments … and He DIDN’T heal people in the Old and New Testaments – for His own reasons.  Again, some of those reasons He has never explained.  Some He has.  That said … even if I’m not healed, not protected, not always safe, not wealthy, not comfortable, not IN on His plan or plans … I try not to care.   It’s hard, but I’m better at it today than yesterday.  Because I trust Him.  I trust His judgment.

I trust Him.  And I love Him.  I can’t wrap my arms or my mind around Him, but I love Him – passionately.  During some tender moments He and I share it’s all I can do not to cry – I’m so filled with emotion.  I go ahead and cry eventually.  And He likes it, and thinks it’s masculine.  

So … that’s my God – my best attempt today to put what I believe about him down on paper, or in a blog post.  I don’t want to live without Him just because I don’t understand all of His ways.  I want Him, even if He keeps me wondering.  He is wonder-filled and wonderful.

Oh, and I do pray!  I do ask.  I ask BIG.  I have great faith.  I’ve seen miracles.  Real, honest to goodness miracles.   And when He doesn’t answer in the way I pray I just keep praying – with an open mind and an open heart.

He is God.  I am not.  And that is a good thing.

Check Out Glorious Christmas Nights

homepage-new1Go online – to www.gloriouschristmasnights.com – and discover for yourself the fascinating annual Christmas productions put on by a church in Richmond, Virginia.  Every year West End Assembly of God sells 25,000 tickets for “Glorious Christmas Nights.”  Each year is a different story.  This year’s production is an exception; it is a repeat of a previous work done in 2003, brought back by popular demand.

Four-hundred actors, stage hands, musicians and dancers combine their talents to pull off a holiday show that gets you “in the mood” for Christmas.  Take a look at the clip below (from 2005 – this happens to be my favorite show) to get a feel for the quality and scope of the production.

Bob Laughlin is the producer (the Music & Fine Arts pastor), Ron Klipp is the show’s musical composer, and Kathy Craddock is the director and primary writer.  When you combine Laughlin’s genius, Craddock’s imagination and Klipp’s original scores … well, let me put it to you this way:  if you’re lucky enough to get tickets … you will have a blast, and your heart will be touched.  It’s a Broadway quality show with a message that will stir you.  Taking children just adds to the experience.

This year’s story is about two bumbling angels – Ted and Randall – who are given an assignment:  to make sure the Wise Men make it to the stable so they can bring their gifts to Jesus.  They’re told by their boss – the archangel Michael – that they can locate the Wise Men at Herod’s palace during the reign of Caesar Augustus.  When they type the coordinates and data into their heavenly GPS (“HALO”) they get it all wrong.  Instead of Herod’s palace they wind up at Harrod’s Department Store in 1903 London.  There they pick up two kids – Patch and Runt – and the screwy angels take them to Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas before finally winding up in Bethlehem.

While the script isn’t biblically accurate (the Wise Men didn’t show up at the stable on the night Jesus was born, but about two years later), it reflects what has become “the Christmas story” told in most churches at this time of year.

Like I mentioned before, the clip below comes from another great Craddock/Laughlin story.  Santa decides to forego delivering packages on Christmas Eve one year because he’s had it with selfish, demanding kids and their materialistic parents.  That all changes when he receives a letter from a young boy who “gets it.”  (Complicating matters … Mrs. Claus believes Santa’s in a funk because she’s not as young and beautiful as she once was.)  There are villains and drama and comedy galore … and the awesome Youth choir brings the house down during their number at every show.

Tickets for the shows (there’s 16 of them over two weeks) are usually hard to come by not long after the box office opens on-line and at the church.  However … if you try really hard, and you don’t mind if your entire family can’t sit together, tickets can be had.  (All proceeds go to the Mission Fund at WEAG … www.weag.org.)

Bankrupt? You Don’t Have To Be

Today our President and the Congress debate solutions to the Wall Street crisis of 2008; US politicians are on the TV and the radio, posturing.  All this has become front page news and the lead story of media broadcasts because of the current state of the American economy.  

You know it and I know it:  any fix they come up with will be temporary, just like all the previous fixes.  We can hope for some semblance of financial balance (i.e., restrained government spending, moral investment, honest and honorable leadership, wise and unselfish stewardship of accounts, etc), but given the track record of Washington and Wall Street, would you agree that our hope for long term financial solutions is on thin ice?  

What makes matters worse is the financial track record of most Americans, period.  I think most folks would agree with me again:  we – ourselves – are not reliable when it comes to reigning in personal spending and making wise investment choices.  Most Americans find it a daily challenge to restrain greed – our constant, enduring and ongoing lust for MORE.  We want more of everything – more food, more X-Box games, more skin, more credit, more house, more … more … more!

We have a sin problem at the root of our financial problems.  Actually, every human being has sin as the root of every problem.

Rather than talking about the sin problem, God came up with THE long-term (actually, an eternal) fix.  He came up with THE cure.  He provided THE answer.  He has THE solution.

I love the language God and His servants used in the Bible to describe what He was prepared to do, and did, for mankind.  

Jesus said, “… the Son of Man (talking about Himself) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a RANSOM for many.”  The apostle Peter wrote, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were REDEEMED from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect … Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (selections from 1 Peter 1:18-21)

Do you get it?  God didn’t provide a temporary fix.  He ransomed us.  He redeemed us.

A ransom is a sum of money (or other kind of payment) demanded or paid for the release of a prisoner or a hostage.  We humans are prisoners to sin.  We are held hostage by sin.   In Galatians 3:22 you can read it yourself.  “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”  Jesus Himself said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed …”

The word “redeem” is interesting, too.  To redeem means to gain, or regain, possession of something in exchange for payment.  It also means to pay the necessary money to clear a debt.

God paid a huge price … a priceless price, if you will … to buy us out of our slavery to sin.  God paid for our sin.  He paid blood-money.  He paid in blood.  His own blood.  He paid, even though HE didn’t owe anyone anything.  God, the Father, GAVE His Son … and the Son – Jesus – willingly, lovingly came to die for every sin-prisoner, everywhere, in every era.

If you’re up to your eyeballs in financial debt, hope and PRAY your government leaders do the right thing(s).

But if you’re aware that you’re up to your eyeballs in debt to God for your sin … your personal sin … PRAY.  When you do, ask Him to apply the blood-payment Christ gave for everyone’s sin to your PERSONAL account.  When you do that in faith and by faith, God wipes out your debt.  He balances the books.  He sets you FREE from the debtors’ prison of sin.  He pays the ransom so that you can go free.  He redeems you.

Today, the United States reels and staggers under the weight of huge debt brought on by stupid and/or greedy investments, unsecured debt, faulty lending practices, and selfish corporate and banking leadership.  Contrast that with the weight of sin mankind has been crushed by since history began.  You and I may not be in a place where we can remain unaffected by the state of the world’s sick economy, but we can do something about the weight of sin in our lives.  Thank God (literally), your personal spiritual bankruptcy can be expunged – deleted, erased, and completely removed – by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  All you have to do is ASK.  Just ask.  Ask God to forgive your debt … and He will.  Every time, for everyone.

Think about it.

Disingenuous?

I recently received a comment from “Maggie” to my “Expelled” page – the page I created to encourage my readers to consider seeing Ben Stein’s movie, Expelled.  I thought I should share my response to her comment with you, my audience.
Maggie wrote:  
Disingenuous. What you don’t say by running this Ben Stein video is your intention: the mindless, word for word acceptance of the Old Testament (or, as interpreted when necessary). Freedom of speech? Churches have been against freedom of speech and thought for as long as they’ve existed. Don’t blame science for trying to keep religion out of its business. 

Your congregations believe because you have told them that the earth was created 6,000 years ago.  If you don’t happen to believe this silly idea because you’re more progressive than that, you should be attacking churches who DO teach it, not scientists that have proven that idea wrong.  Religion needs to clean up its own act. Start with the Old Testament. But you won’t, will you? Because an informed congregation won’t tithe 10 percent.
Here is my response:
 

Dear Maggie,

1.  I already published your comment below, and I will publish my response, too.

2.  Please explain how you know what my intentions were when I published my comments.

3.  How did you arrive at your conclusion(s) about the Old Testament?  I’ll paraphrase Josh McDowell:  An intelligent person who is seeking the truth will certainly read up on the historical qualifications of the Bible, and a truth seeker will consider the uniqueness of the Old Testament/Bible.  There’s no other book like it.

The Bible has been confirmed and affirmed by comparing historical records of ancient texts not associated with the Jews, as well as archeological finds throughout the Middle East.  Usually those who criticize the Bible have never read it.  Are you one of the millions who blindly accept the rants of atheists while never checking their credentials, biases, and blunders of logic?  The Bible has come under attack throughout history.  It has been thoroughly examined by thoughtful men and women for centuries.  Some of the world’s most brilliant people, however, after doing their Biblical due diligence, have come to the conclusion that the Bible is true.

4.  As to the belief that the earth was created 6,000 years ago – the Bible makes no such claim!  Certain people in the past concluded such from their dating of Egyptian historical events (the reign of Rameses II, and the best dating of the “Exodus” of the Iburu [Hebrews], etc.), but their dating inaccuracies should not be considered equal in weight to the Bible’s own words.  “In the beginning” is the way God inspired Moses to record the Creation.  Give me a date for “the beginning.”  And while we’re on the subject of the Creation, there are more and more people in the scientific community who are considering the possibility of a Creator creating the Universe than ever before.  Why?  Because they’ve bought into some vague religious possibilities?  Because they’re less intelligent than Darwin?  Because they willfully ignore the best data available on the subject?  No.  The evidence for the Creation is starting to crowd out the “evidence” of, and mathematical possibilities for big bangs, spontaneous life (complex life developing from simple cells – wherever the simple or single cells came from), and the discovery of a missing link.  Brilliant people are coming to the conclusion – not based on religious theory, but scientific fact – that it is more likely a Creator created than a big bang created.

5.  And as for churches being against freedom of speech … yes, I have to admit that that is sadly true.  Certain churches, led by certain men, have stifled free expression, killed dissenters, and held back progress in certain arenas of human endeavor.  But the Bible doesn’t stifle investigation, invention, or progress.  Over history the Church, when it is functioning properly, has elevated the value of human life, fed the hungry, clothed the naked, educated the masses (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford, etc.), led to the discovery of new worlds, contributed to civil liberties, held for equality in justice systems, initiated scientific discovery (if Aristotle had been left unchallenged, the world would still be dark and empty – men like Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, Pasteur, Lister, etc., challenged his notions), protected marriage and family, inspired music, inspired all the arts, and led the way in the medical field (the first hospitals were initiated by Bible believers, nursing care [see Florence Nightingale’s story], the Red Cross, as well as formulating the idea of preventative care).  The Christian Bible can’t be blamed for Marxism, Communism, Apartheid, and the genocides in Russia, Cambodia, Dafur, China, Rwanda, etc.

6.  Sure … religion needs to clean up its act.  What religion(s) are you suggesting?  Humanism?  Communism?  Socialism?  Islam?  Taoism?  Hinduism?  Buddhism?  Judaism?  Christianity?  New Age-ism?  Religion is a man-made thing.  God never promoted religion.  He was constantly talking about relationship … friendship, love, marriage, children, kindness, etc.

7.  Are you suggesting that Ben Stein/Churches/Religion/Me promote ignorance so the world will contribute to certain institutional coffers (the 10% – tithe – thing you’re referring to)?  Do you mean that voluntary giving thing – where the basket is passed on Sundays?  Maggie … the politicians DEMAND giving.  The Bible didn’t come up with the IRS.  Churches don’t hand out jail time if you and I decide we won’t comply with tax laws.  Isn’t it an accepted truth today that politicians (with 20% positive ratings) redistribute wealth to get votes and stay in power?  Isn’t Obama, for example, running on a platform that REQUIRES more “giving”?  (Taxes!!)  Sure, there are some scoundrels in churches and cults who fleece their minions.  But when the Church is functioning rightly, more people are blessed and helped in world-wide humanitarian ways than through any government programs!

8.  I am not defending “mindless, word-for-word” acceptance of anything.  I am for the careful examination of any idea that purports to be the answer for whatever ails humanity.  I question our government.  I question the scientific community.  And I question “the Church.”

I’m challenged by your comments.  Initially I got a little mad.  I don’t like it when people presume to know my motives.  But once I started writing about what I believe in… as opposed to what I DON’T believe in … I enjoyed it.

Why So Complicated?

I’m just back from a phenomenal trip to the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe.  For three weeks my family absorbed as much as we could of eight cultures (in Spain, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, Sicily, Greece, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany).  We visited sites that were meaningful – not only to the local population, but to Mankind in general; sites such as Monserrat, the Casino in Monte Carlo, the Duomo of Florence, the leaning bell tower in Pisa, the Vatican, ancient Corinth and Olympia, the walls of Dobrovnik, the canals of Venice, the museums of Vienna, Prague’s palaces and parks, and Germany’s rural beauty.

And, in every city – from Barcelona to Rome to Messina to Navpalon to Venice to Vienna to Prague to Wiesbaden – we toured Cathedrals.  Cathedrals are ginormous Christian houses of worship where a bishop has his “seat” of authority, and where he exercises the duties of his office.

While in Austria my eldest asked me, “So, what do you think about when you enter one of these huge Cathedrals?”

Whenever a person enters one of these Christian monuments the sheer size is the first thing one notices.  Then, you might begin to pick up on the opulence – there’s gold, silver and precious works of art everywhere.  You’ll see depictions of Christ being crucified.  You’ll see a lot more of Mary – she seems to be the beloved hostess of the place.  Finally you can’t help but notice the statuary – there are many, many, many statues … I dare to say all of them priceless examples of medieval sculptors’ skill.

Back to the question my son asked me.  What I think about most is complicated, made more complex by the environment created in these European churches.  So, that’s what I told him.  “I think religion makes simple things too complicated.  The word that comes to my mind when I enter one of these beautiful buildings is ‘complicated.'”

COMPLICATED.  If you didn’t have a clue what “Church” was all about, and you walked into one of these massive buildings, it would be very hard to figure out who was “the star.”  You’d have a hard time, if you knew that the building was erected for worship, just who was being worshipped (or celebrated, or recognized).  Is it the woman holding the baby?  (Again, Mary’s everywhere – and there are more candles flickering in front of her altars than any other.)  It must be her, right?  Or maybe it is one of the many men or women cut out of or into stone?  I bet a Christianity-ignorant person would never pick the man with the crown of thorns, the nail-pierced hands and feet, and the sour look of one resigned to an undeserved death.

I don’t think “Church” becomes less complicated in American store-front churches or suburban church campuses.  The star is the one in the spotlight, right?  The man or woman who is singing and leading the band – they seem to be the object of adoration, right?  Or the man (usually this is the case) whose picture is on the church sign and who stands behind the podium – he’s the focus, right?

Religious people of the Christian persuasion have – since the original eleven disciples of Jesus died – made finding God really hard.  Jesus has been marginalized.  Mortals who sit on thrones in the Vatican have been elevated.  Charismatic preachers and teachers, be they male or female, have been lionized.  

Is Christianity meant to be so complicated?  Is understanding “the Gospel” intended to be complicated?  Are the truths of the Bible meant to be discovered only after an eight year undergrad/seminary/M-Div or D-Min education?

If Jesus, the cornerstone of The Church, said a child could get what IT is all about, was He talking about the church I attend or did He have something else in mind – something much simpler?

So no one reading this gets the wrong idea, I love Cathedrals because I can wade through the mess Man has created and find Him.  Jesus comes to Cathedrals.

The building is not the problem!  WE are.  Religious Man.  We love complicated.  We love secret handshakes and secret codes and complex doctrine.

I wonder … is my life like one of those Cathedrals?  When someone comes into my oikos – my sphere of influence – can they figure out that I worship God, and why?  Do they see Him anywhere in me?  And what about His Son, Jesus?  Is He so present in my life that it is crystal clear to whoever that He is the One I worship?

I’m pretty concerned about me.  What about you?  Are you simple or too complicated when it comes to God?

Think about it.