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

Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

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.

Part 4 – Trust and Disappointment

Can we really trust God?

C. S. Lewis wrote, “If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were mighty He would be able to do what He wished.  But the creatures are not happy.  Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”[1]

Lewis was an agnostic professor at Oxford University when he began to ponder the possibility that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic (on par with a man who imagined himself to be a poached egg), or He was the Lord He claimed to be – the Son of God Himself.  Those possibilities served to jump-start his quest for truth … truth that mattered, not just “in the long run,” but in the eternal run.  Maybe you’ve read some of Lewis’ findings.

I found the quote above, “If God were good, etc.,” in one of his books, The Problem of Pain.  In that book Lewis tackles one of the big “whys.”  (You know what the Big Whys are, don’t you?  Why am I here?  Why do bad things happen to good people? etc.)  In The Problem of Pain he’s trying to wrap his mind around this question: “Why is there pain?”  He asks it in the context of three  theories –  that God is good and all powerful, that God is bad, or that God may be good but not all powerful.

Eventually Lewis arrives at a place where he can say that God is both good and all powerful, and because He is, and because there is structure and stability in the Universe, and because He gave Mankind the gifts of choice and freedom … there is pain.

One of the observations Lewis makes along the way is that we live in a material world in which “nature is fixed.”  

I understand that to mean that fire is fire, a tree is a tree, etc.  That is, the nature of fixed material things doesn’t change from culture to culture, language group to language group.  If we were living a world which varied according to our every whim, we would be unable to act in it.  There would be no stability.  No structure.  No predictability.  Think of a world where one day, for no reason, the law of gravity takes a holiday and then returns the next – but with no warning, ever.

Lewis makes this point, and I add my comments in parentheses:  “The permanent nature of wood which enables us to use it as a beam (say, for construction of a house) also enables us to use it for hitting our neighbor on the head.  The permanent nature of matter in general means that when human beings fight, the victory ordinarily goes to those who have superior weapons, skill, and numbers, even if their cause is unjust.” (my emphasis) (page 24)

I’ve observed, as I’ve lived my life and watched others live theirs, that almost every high has its corresponding low, almost every yes its no.  There is black, and there is white, yin and yang, earth and heaven.  There is order in the Universe.  Tao.  There is a balance to and in almost all things that gives our world its stability.

I write and believe “almost” because if life was totally predictable, there would be no mystery, only the unknown.  There are some things that defy explanation.

C. S. Lewis goes on:  “We can, perhaps, conceive of a world (only in our imaginations) in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became as soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves (radio, or television broadcasts) that carry lies or insults.  But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter in which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted 

to frame them.  All matter in the neighborhood of a wicked man would be liable to undergo unpredictable alterations.  That God can, and does, on occasions, modify the behavior of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare … Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”  (pages 24-25)

For my friend’s, Ellie’s, sake, I wish there was never again the possibility of suffering.

Until the moment time, as we know it, ends, there will be suffering.

We live on a fallen planet, in a world where evil men can fly airliners into buildings in the name of Allah, where people who call themselves “Christians” can demonstrate at the funerals of murdered gay young men and disrupt the funerals of fallen soldiers, where politicians can lie, where policemen can choose to be corrupt, and where people who advocate abortion “choice” stifle free speech of conservatives on liberal college campuses.

I believe, one day, when time as we know it ends, Jesus will set up a Kingdom that will never end … and suffering will end.  He will “wipe away all tears.”

That’s a day worth living for.

Think about it.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem Of Pain; (New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, © 1940; copyright restored in 1996), page 16

 

Part 3 – Trust and Disappointment

Again, if you’re reading this article without reading parts one and two, you won’t understand the context of this exchange.  Please take time to read the previous postings.

After I wrote the long letter empathizing with Ellie, she sent me this sweet response.

hey Lowell…

     i wanted to thank you for your words of real empathy and encouragement… it helps to know that you have experienced the depth of despair that drives one to long for (and seriously consider or attempt) what seems like the only escape in death, and not only survived, but are stronger… and it seems, have gained a closer relationship with god as a result. that is honestly what my heart desires, what i trying to accomplish, and on a good day, what i seem to have a tiny taste of.

    “it was the hardest thing to do – because of the guilt and the pride and the fear of disappointment …. again. I had to trust God. I had to let go”…  yes, this seems to one of my biggest sticking points as well. especially the trust issue. when i am completely honest, at my core, i do not trust god. i do not trust him to protect me, not to hurt me, to love me… and i know much of this distrust is a result of the abuse in my past. and in acknowledging, and seeking to overcome that lack of trust, you would think that eventually, it would be a barrier i would have conquered. no such luck as of yet… still working on that one. but i do know that this is the key to true freedom in my life.

    it seems, for me, such a difficult task to cry out to god with anything more than a desperate “please lord, just make it stop… quiet my head, my heart, my past” in those moments, and while i know this is simply what i am feeling on a heart level, and what i yearn for… i do so wish that he would answer. at least in some way that “didn’t come from my “self-talk.” It was other-world.”

    i do not want to waste my life (as John Piper so eloquently warns against)… in suicide, or in simply existing, chained to my pain and my past, allowing my fetters to prevent me from having that promised abundant life, and bringing glory to god in living that life. i just want torment to end… and sadly, cashing in my chips so often seems to be the best and only option.

    Lowell… i believe in your sincerity and honesty, and i deeply appreciate your transparency and willingness to share some of your story with me. i am going to keep listening for his voice…

thanks for your prayers,

ellie

Then, just a few hours later, she sent this post script:

here is my P.S. note … how would you suggest that i pursue conquering the “trust in god” issue?

Ellie

I felt like a fire was lit under me!  I did my best to explain how I’ve approached trust issues in my life, and some conclusions I have arrived at.

Dear Ellie,

I’ve tried to wrap my mind around the question you asked, “how would you suggest that i pursue conquering the “trust in god” issue?”   I’ve been trying to do that for years now, and I’ve got some opinions.  Here are a few:

I believe to understand “trust” one must understand “disappointment.”  (I’m speaking of trusting people, God, etc., versus being disappointed in or by people, God, etc.)  That is, in your case and mine, because we’ve been so hurt, to understand the positive (trust) one must try to understand the negative first (disappointment).  In my search for answers I went to “disappointment” first because I believed, and still believe, that trust is destroyed/damaged/weakened when we are disappointed, so … how can I ever trust if I don’t know how trust was broken in the first place.

Let me explain disappointment this way, and I think you’ll get where I’m coming from.  To me, disappointment comes from unmet expectations.  If I have an expectation of God, or any other person for that matter, and He/they do not meet my expectation(s), I will be disappointed.  And to guard my heart from the pain of repeated disappointments I will not trust.  I won’t be vulnerable again to that person.

I’m trying to do these word gymnastics  (God, people), so for my sake and yours I’ll just go with the “trusting God” thing.

In our minds (young and old) we have a picture of how God should behave.  When we’re children we have a finite understanding of just how big God is, but we get the part that says, “He can do anything because He’s super-powerful … and He is the most loving Person in the Universe … etc.”  When we’re older, we tend to limit God.  We’re more successful putting Him in a much smaller box, i.e., “He might not be able to do everything, and He may not be the most loving Person in the Universe.”  That “adult” point of view comes from repeated disappointments in our life experiences:  that is, we were not protected when we thought He (God) would protect us; He did not “love” me by giving me what I wanted, when I wanted it.  You know what I mean.

So … when a young girl such as yourself experiences abuse, you would naturally think, “If God is all-powerful, and the most loving Person in the Universe, how could He have let this awful thing happen to me.”  Right?  We are disappointed.  Our disappointment comes from our understanding of how God works, or how we think He should work/behave.  And He did not meet our expectations.

The fascinating thing is – Yes, God is all powerful … and He is the most loving Person in the Universe … and because He is both of those things, He’s a gift giver.  If He can’t give His enormous love away, He can’t be a Lover!  Some people think – “UNFORTUNATELY, God gave the gift of choice to mankind … and because He stupidly gave that gift to us, selfish people use that gift to satisfy their lust(s) for money, aberrant sex, etc., and because God gave away CONTROL when He gave mankind choice, I have been hurt, injured, damaged.  Stupid God!  How could He have been so unloving, as to give people the power to inflict pain upon me????”

Hang with me.  I’m going somewhere with this … I’m just getting real wordy.

God’s dilemma?  How does the consummate Lover give and receive love?  God gives love when He gives us the “power” to make a choice to return love to Him.  The risk?  That the loved one (that’s you and me and the whole world) might choose to love our selves more than Him, and do our own thing, and in turn do our own thing to innocent little girls like you.  God could have created mankind as little playthings.  He could have created a perfect world (He did) and then controlled every aspect of life in that world (He did NOT).  Instead of creating a cosmic doll house, and spending His time moving furniture from one room to the next, and move little puppet people around, God breathed LIFE into man, and said, “I love you, and I want you to love Me.  I won’t make you love Me.  I want you to choose to do it of your own free will.  You are not puppets or robots.  You are like the angels.  You can worship me or not.  Your choice.”

NOTE:  You and I can relate to God’s desire for love returned from a person with a free will because that’s what we long for.  We don’t want anyone to love us because they have to, but because they want to.

As I delved deeper into why God made the world the way He did, and then gave us human beings the gift of choice, it dawned on me, “God risked not being loved.”  Wow!  The most powerful being in the Universe exercised His awesome power to choose by LIMITING His power over us.  He decided not to make us love Him, but to let us love Him if we wanted to.  He limited His control.

And I love Him for it most of the time.  But from time to time I have hated Him for giving mankind that gift.  We are so selfish, we choose to go to war rather than go to the peace conference.  We are so selfish, we choose to abuse little girls rather than value them by saying NO to our immoral desires.  Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a man because so many men use their power to choose to do what’s been done to you.  I hope you will forgive me for being “one of those!”  One of those monsters – those evil, selfish, sexually deviant types.  And sometimes I’m ashamed to be a human being – because we humans are so … so … inhumane.  Ellie, please forgive me.  Please forgive us.

When I look at the Cross where Jesus died, what I see there is the epitome of wicked, inhumane behavior, and I pray, “Oh, God … we chose to KILL You rather than embrace You.  And we didn’t just choose to put a gun to Your head and pull the trigger so You would instantly die.  We chose to torture You to death … to make Your dying last as long as possible so that our hatred for You could be more fully expressed.  At the Cross we chose ‘freedom’ from Your Lordship over our lives so that we could do whatever we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it.  God, forgive us.  God … forgive me.”

Dear Ellie, in order for me to trust God, I had to go where I just took you.  It was a painful process … and it took a while.  I had to address my disappointment in God.  I had to identify my expectations, and decide if they were based on truth or fiction, God’s word or my best guess.  It was a humiliating process, but I finally came to the following conclusions, and if my pain-filled life experiences can help you, then I have a greater appreciation for all the shit I’ve been through.  Oh, and let me say, right now I’m living a wonderful life.  It’s based on truth, not fantasy.  I’ve come to grips with my childish thoughts, and rather than keep God in a small box, I’ve let Him out to be GOD!

Conclusions for Lowell:

1.  God so loved the world … you and me and the billions … that He wanted to give gifts (a lover wants to love and be loved, and a giver wants to give), and God’s gifts included the gift of life, the gift of this planet, the gift of others (so we wouldnt’ be alone), the gift of sex, the gift of choice, and the gift of His Son, Jesus.

2.  We selfish human beings have taken all of His gifts, and for the most part we have used them to satisfy our desires.  (There are notable exceptions – Mother Teresa comes to mind immediately!)

3.  FACT:  It was NEVER God’s intention for mankind to abuse His gifts, His love, or each other.  He said so many times and in many ways.  One way was to give us the Ten Commandments.  They were limitations God put on selfish behavior.  His desire was always that we would choose Him, and that we would choose to love others like He loves us … to not hurt other people.  Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God, and the second would follow … we would love our neighbors.

4.  So … while it may be hard to trust people (and it has been) because “they” are self centered, I can trust God because He is actually “ME centered” – that is, He has decided that I’m worth ALL He’s ever given.  And He never wanted me hurt.  He always wanted me to enjoy all He has to offer.  (I put “they” in quotes because “I” am never selfish.  Ha!)

5.  And so … to trust Him requires that I changed my view of God.  That’s hard.  That’s the hardest part.  You may have a view of God so entrenched in your mind that you may have to have a transplant.  (Paul said in Romans 12 that we needed a transformation.)  We’ve got to deal with ideas like “God doesn’t care that I’ve been hurt”  and other real disappointments based on unrealistic expectations that we might have.  We need to understand that we live on a fallen planet.)

Just how do you view God?  And what is that view based upon?  Is your view The Truth?  Have you believed any lies about God?

Sorry!  I got a little preachy there.  I’ve shared a lot of my “journey,” and I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you.  Personally, I think you probably “know” everything I’ve told you at an intellectual level … but for me anyway, until all this stuff went from my head to my heart (the core of my being), I didn’t experience any change that brought freedom from my past and my pain.

Just after I press the “send” button I’m going to get down on my knees and thank God again for His wonderful gifts.  I’m going to worship Him for who He really is, and for all that He has done for me.  And I’m going to lift your name up to Him, and ask Him to smother you with kisses, and warm your heart with His presence.  My wife and I will continue to pray for you.  Live, Ellie!  You have a story to tell and a life to live that will have meaning beyond your imagination.  And don’t take my word for it.  Take His.  In Jeremiah 29, I think it’s verses 11-14 … “I know the plans I have for you (Ellie) … plans to give you a hope and a future.”  Amen!

Blessings, and Aloha!

Lowell

The Times … they are a changing.

There’s such a vacuum of leadership in this country, and in our world.

Jesus had something to say about our times.  His disciples asked Him questions about the future, any “signs” they would recognize that would signal His return to earth, and “signs” that would portend (warn, foreshadow) the “end of the world.”

Jesus gave them the following information (all taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 24):

1.  False “messiahs” would come, and would lead people astray.

2.  Wars would break out.  “Nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other.”

3.  There would be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.

4.  Christ-followers would be hated all over the world, and would be “arrested, persecuted, and killed.”

5.  “False prophets” would lead many people astray.

6.  Something “sacrilegious” would desecrate “the Holy Place.”

7.  A time of “great horror” – so terrible that if that time of calamity is not supernaturally shortened (by God Himself), the entire human race would be destroyed.

In other places in the Old and New Testament (Daniel in the OT and The Revelation in the NT) “end time” events are described.  It’s all interesting reading.

One of the striking things that Jesus and God’s prophets also spoke about was the longing for leadership the entire population of the Earth would have in the “end times.”  Right now in America this desire for leadership is very much present.  America is looking to her politicians for strong, intelligent leadership that will prevent economic ruin, and produce military victory.  America is longing for a “messiah.”

Every major religion is looking for a messiah.  What a perfect time for a false one to appear.

Think about it.

Rape and Abuse

The long term effects of rape and abuse confound and frustrate me.

I’m a former pastor who, from time to time, tried to help victims of abuse and rape overcome the affects those crimes had upon their lives.  Because I was a community leader (pastors still are), I was thrust into the netherworld of the human psyche – both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s. 

My training in pastoral counseling was broad and useful.  It was meant to be beneficial to my “clients,” both my congregants and the Man on the Street who might come by my office for conversation and prayer.  I felt my role was to provide first aid … to stop the bleeding long enough to get these poor, psychologically and emotionally wrecked people to better equipped individuals – “professionals” (if there is any such thing when it comes to dealing with human brokenness and pain).  

Nothing – no amount of education or training – could have prepared me for my conversations with rape and abuse victims.

That said, the reason I’m writing today is because I’ve been reminded of the continuing effects this kind of violence has on men and women.  Once again I’ve been painfully exposed to the long-term influence and power of abuse upon its victims.  Once again I heard (and most of the time I’ve heard), “If I had been smarter, this would not have happened.”  Or its variant:  “How could have I let (this or that) happen to me?” 

It’s been my experience on many occasions that rape’s victims seem to think they are at fault in the matter and that they brought the violence upon themselves.  The abused many times take responsibility for the actions of the abuser, saying, in effect, “I let this happen to me” (emphasis on I).

That may or may not be the experience of other pastors, counselors, or mental health professionals.  I’m saying, authoritatively, that this has been my experience … and it has and continues to sicken me.

In my thirty-three years of being a pastor my joy has been to preach about Jesus.  I’ve had the privilege of sharing the love of God.  The most loving thing I’ve done is lead people to an understanding that God has a solution for the sin they, themselves, are responsible and accountable for.  The Word of God says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It also says, “The wages of sin is death” (eternal separation from a holy God who cannot look upon sin, or have it in His presence).  But that same Word says, “But …”  (I love it!)  “ … the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The good news (Gospel) in a nutshell is, “Jesus took my sin upon Himself, dying in my place, so that I might have eternal life … and if I believe that, and ask God for Christ’s death to cover my debt to Him (‘the wages of [my] sin’), I can be forgiven of ALL my sin and sins.  As a result I can be made (by God’s work, not mine) clean (holy), and be assured that I am ‘saved’.” 

I’ve watched people accept this Idea, this His-story (sic), this Truth, and I’ve watched God’s LIFE permeate their entire beings – bringing freedom from addictions, guilty pasts, and the lies of our enemy – Satan.  I’ve then watched as freed people joyfully live out their days!

Many times I’ve led rape and abuse victims to this loving Father God, the One who commissioned His Son Jesus to provide salvation, and watched as He changed MUCH of their lives while giving them assurance of eternal life.

But (and here’s a frustration of mine) many of these same folks continue to struggle with the memory of their physical and emotional rape.  [NOTE:  I’m not suggesting that God, when He saves a person, takes away bad memories.  In fact, 99.9% of the time He does not, I believe because He wishes those bad memories to become the springboard for empathetic ministry to other victims.]

Here’s the crux of my frustration:  On an intellectual and psychological level, these victims have never quite gotten to a place where they could say, “I didn’t do this to me!  I don’t have to take responsibility for anything but my sin, and in this case I didn’t sin … I was sinned against!”

I realize now that I am way over my head, and that much of what I’m writing will be fodder for critics of God’s amazing grace.  Still, I must write, “Oh, how I wish I could somehow magically transform the mindset of these wounded people by saying something, or by waving a magic wand over their head and heart.  I wish the truth of what has happened to them would come into clearer focus.”

Today, my purpose in writing on this subject is not to suggest a quick fix or religious version of “Abracadabra.”  That would be insulting, and insensitive.  I’m writing to express my ongoing disturbance – that victims of past violence continue to live with a kind of self-imposed “responsibility” for the crimeand that’s a LIE.  I’m also writing to suggest a way to break the power of the LIE.  I believe the only antidote for a lie is truth. 

Further, I’m saying that one dose of the truth may be adequate for one person but not for ninety-nine.  I’m saying that for most victims, repeated doses of TRUTH will break the power of any lie.

Jesus said, “The TRUTH will set you free,” and I believe that.  And the five-fold Truth I’ve gleaned from my experience with rape and abuse victims is this:  At some point, if a victim is to experience real freedom from the violence of their past they must BELIEVE (1) that they didn’t do to, or bring this violence upon, themselves!  And they must believe (2) that God didn’t WILL that terrible experience for their life, but (3) because people are selfish, and because selfish people have a mind and will of their own (“freedom to choose” being one of the first gifts God gave mankind in the Garden), God is NOT the One they should be angry at or distant from.  They must accept as fact that (4) Satan puts the thought into the rapist’s head (tempts him or her) that being violent against someone else will lessen their own pain.  Satan puts the thought into the abuser’s head that hitting someone will undo the damage done to them.  And victims of rape and abuse must believe that (5) when a person is deceived by such lies, and acts out, the perpetrator is responsible for making that choice and the resulting action … and by extension, Satan is a coconspirator in the crime.  (NOTE:  I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry at Satan.  Just keep this in mind:  he’s a powerful adversary.  Refrain from taking him on in your own strength!)

When I hear abusers say, “She MADE me do it,” I know the abuser bought a lie of Satan.  (And for those of you who don’t believe in a real Satan, just a few thoughts to ponder:  One, Satanists believe.  Two, God knows there is a real Satan … he visited Jesus in the desert, and Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven.  Three, wishing or thinking he does not exist is not very bright – you’d be denying empirical evidence found in the world’s daily newspapers.  There’s more, but I just include these three.)

I’m inviting comment, of course.  This is a very emotional topic.  If I’ve written anything that has offended any reader, my intent was not to stir up pain and anger but to bring my experience, my thoughts, and the love in my heart to the public square for consideration.

THINK ABOUT IT.

Mysticism

The search for understanding and truth winds through the “Land of Mystery.”  To find wisdom we must begin with unknowns – things we do not understand today but we may tomorrow.  Moving from infancy to adulthood, experience should tell us that we begin not knowing anything and discover that we can know some things.  (Interestingly, along life’s way, if we have the good fortune to become elderly we return an infancy of sorts – this time KNOWING that we don’t know much of anything still.)  Part of life’s journey, if it to be LIFE at all, must wander through the extraordinary, the beautiful, and the complex.  Otherwise, life remains two dimensional – flat and statistical … numbers and letters, having no color, no joy, and no love.

The agnostic may know what they logically don’t know, but such an approach to living remains a mystery to me.  Why would any man be content to eat tasteless food or walk the path of self-imposed blandness?  Instead of saying, “If there is a God, prove it to me,” why not approach the question of God this way:  “If there is NO God, prove it to me.”  Why not accept that we know only in part … we do not know the whole, or everything.  Ah, but that is a fool talking.  No self-respecting agnostic would ever dare start there.

Only when a man can look into the heavens and say, “It’s too wonderful for me,” or smell a rose and say, “The fragrance is marvelous,” can that man begin an honest search for truth.  If, however, that man can brush aside the wondrous and marvelous, is there any hope that he can grasp any truth at all?

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them.  He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.  If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths AND the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight:  he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.  Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth.  He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man.  The whole secret of mysticism is this:  that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.”

Think about it.

 

The Love of God for Muslims

Friends, please watch this video.