Category Archives: discipleship

Politics, anger and evangelical Christians

Politics for me is like driving by an automobile accident.  I really don’t want to look, but fighting the urge to do so is difficult.  Last century, I minored in political science while earning a journalism degree. I had looked forward to a career doing political coverage as a writer.  Blessedly, the direction of my life changed and as the years have gone by, I have developed a distaste for much of what passes itself off as politics these days. Politics is more about winning elections than creating policy.  Election coverage reminds of a halftime report during a college football game.

Still, because of the past connection, something catches my eye and I will look.  There was article recently online about some supposed coverup by the Obama administration. The article had a slant, but what news coverage doesn’t these days.  To read news well these days, you have to find a variety of sources, slide down the slant and see where you land.  That might be somewhere near the truth because journalism is more about advocacy than truth.  Take out the slant, read critically and look for the truth.

A discipline that I am trying to develop in reading news online is not to read the comments posted by readers, because that is where trolls come out to play. At the end of that particular article, there was one of the worse comments I have ever seen.  A reader mentioned the President and a noose in the same sentence.  It was tasteless and offensive. For one, you shouldn’t even joke about threatening the President, and I came away only hoping that it was a joke.  Also, the racist connotations of that statement are over the top.  And finally, the only person likely to take a comment like that seriously works for the Secret Service.

I hope that the person who made that comment would not claim to be a born again Christian.  I can only hope, because honestly, when it comes to politics, evangelicals are often guided too much by anger and not enough by a desire to glorify God and bring honor to Jesus Christ. I heard a believer once say that Christians need to get angrier and stand up for themselves.  I don’t think that the book of James encourages that teaching.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20, HCSB)

If we really want to bring about God’s righteousness is the world, we won’t do so by being angry.

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

What Prayer Does

This morning, I read Psalm 13.  Written by David, it reflected a painfully trying time in his life.  Some scholars believe that he wrote while fleeing from Saul. Others put it at the time of his flight from Absalom.  No matter when he wrote, his words probably convey the way many believers have reacted to their circumstance.

“How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Psalm 13:2 HCSB)

It seems that David was imagining every conceivable worse outcome to his situation. He felt that God had forgotten him and that God was hiding from him.  His prayer request was simple in such circumstances.  “Consider me and answer me, Lord.”

That does not sound life much of a prayer.  One can’t even get half a blog out that. No one, except those most extravagant with words, could write a book about it.  It doesn’t seem like a power prayer, or something that will result in mountains being cast into the sea.  But, it moved David’s heart, and that was what mattered, because when you ask God to think about you and believe that he does, all the reasons you have to fear and to worry seem smaller.

No longer feeling abandoned, David trusted in God to deliver him.  He heart rejoiced because he had hope of deliverance. David sang because God had been generous to him.

What changed between verse one and the end of the short Psalm?  Nothing changed in David’s outward circumstances.  The only change came in his perspective.  He saw God for who God was. Prayer does that.

When Under Pressure

This year I have been reading the Bible chronologically.  This is the first time that I have done that. It has proven especially enlightening as I have read the Psalms closer to the historical context in which they were written.  In my journal one morning, I wrote, “The Psalms were written in real life situations.  They were not arbitrary poetic thoughts.  They flowed from trials and triumphs, despair and deliverance, doubt and hope.”

David wrote Psalm 141 during a time of intense pressure.  Those who want to do him harm and evil surround him.  For context, you can read 1 Samuel 21-24.  It is interesting that though David wanted justice and deliverance, this Psalm is more about his concern for his own conduct during that time.  He is trusting God with justice, and he is depending on God to help him to do the right thing.

“Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips.” (v.3) He was concerned about His words.  He wanted God to control His speech.

“Do not let my heart turn to any evil thing or perform wicked acts with men who commit sin. Do not let me feast on their delicacies.” (v. 4) David’ concern was that his heart might turn to evil and that he might resort to evil.  From 1 Samuel, we know that several rough, disgruntled people who joined with him during these trials. On different occasions, they encouraged him to avenge himself on King Saul. He prayed to be able to stay righteous in wicked company.

“Let the righteous one strike me— it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me— it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it. Even now my prayer is against the evil acts of the wicked.” (v. 5) David prayed for accountability. He valued those who would correct him when necessary. One of the glaring differences between Saul and David was how they handled correction. When Samuel corrected Saul, he clung to power and went mad. When Nathan corrected David, he repented and endured the Lord’s discipline. Correction is an act of love, and it should be given and received as such.

What I learn from David’s life is that when the pressure is on, I need to lean on God even more than before.  It is too easy to crack under the pressure and try to excuse it. It is when the pressure is on that I need to be most disciplined in my words and actions and seek out even more accountability to others.

And about that son of hers…

Samson was both a man’s man and the stereotypical dumb male.  He had the strength of Captain America, the libido of Captain Kirk and the brain of Captain Caveman.  Dedicated to God since before birth, he seemed determined to work against God’s will.  He was not content with good Jewish girls.  No, he chased after Philistine women, much to the pain of his parents.  And he did not show common sense.  Delilah could tie him up, put his hair in loom, and do just about anything, and it seemed to never occur to him that she might be out to get him.  In the end, he broke every part of the Nazarite vow, lost his strength and got his eyes put out.

Yet, God used him.  He took all that rebellion, worked it into His plan and accomplished what had been his purpose in setting Samson apart.  He liberated the people of Israel from the Philistines.  The life and death of Samson shows God’s sovereignty despite the best efforts of humans to work against Him.

The story of Samson is found in The Book of Judges, chapters 13-16.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure:

(My writing has been sparse lately. With work and other projects, I will probably be very hit and miss, but when I have the time, I will try to write something.)

Mother of Samson

Recently, I read through the book of Judges, which a very interesting book of the Bible, depicting when everyone does what is right in their own eyes.  One of the common criticisms of the Bible is its depiction of women.  According to some views, the Bible depicts women in two extremes, Jezebel or the Virgin Mary.  There is not room for the “real woman.” Jezebel and Mary were both real, and there are many other depictions of real women facing life’s challenges as well.

I found one such depiction in the story of Samson.    The story of Samson begins in Judges 13.  Samson’s mother was not named.  She was Manoah’s wife.  They lived in a time when the people of Israel had sinned again and God had handed them over to be ruled by the Philistines.  They had no children.  Scripture says that she was barren.  An angel appears to her, not to her husband, and tells her that she will have a child who will be a Nazirite.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
(Judges 13:3-5 ESV)

She tells her husband, Manoah, who asked the “man of the Lord” come back and explain what they are to do again.  Apparently, he has to hear it for himself.  The angel does so, but once again, he appeared to the wife, not the husband.  She went to get him and when he returned, he asked the angel once again, what they are to do?  The angel basically tells Manoah the same thing he said before, but twice, he emphasizes ‘let her.’  The bearing of the child is the wife’s mission, not Manoah’s, and he is to support her in it.  The rest of the story is interesting, and it is where the wife stands our strongly as a woman of faith, and a faith based logically on whom God has revealed Himself to be.

Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” And the angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.) And Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the LORD, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the LORD went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.

The angel of the LORD appeared no more to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. And Manoah said to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering at our hands, or shown us all these things, or now announced to us such things as these.” And the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the LORD blessed him.
(Judges 13:15-24 ESV)

Notice Manoah’s reaction compared to her reaction.  He was the one who overreacted.  She was the one who spoke with the calm assurance of faith.  It was because her faith was strong that God could use her for the task.  Being Samson’s mother would be no small task.

Sometimes being the husband means being man enough to admit at any given moment that my faith or understanding of God’s will is weak, and that I need to listen to my wife.  It also means that I should be supportive of her as she seeks to fulfill God’s purposes for her life, just as she is supportive of me in my endeavors.  I don’t see this view as opposed to complementarianism, which I think is the most Biblical understanding of the roles of men and women in the Bible.  I see it as a realistic application of what the Bible demonstrates about those roles in different situations.

Self-Love and Loving Others

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Recently, I got into an online forum discussion (a dangerous place to be sometimes) about the question of if it is necessary to love ourselves to be able to love others?  Related to that was a discussion of self-esteem.

One position, and one that I once believed strongly, is that, yes, it is.  We must love ourselves and take care of ourselves to be able to love others.  Here is my problem with that.  When Jesus said, “love others as you love yourself,” I believe that he was assuming self-love, not commanding it.  Most of us have some sense of self-preservation and take care of our own needs.  What Jesus was saying was to put the needs of others on that same level.  As Paul, would later say, we are to love others by considering their needs above our own.

Regarding self-esteem, most Scripture is interested that we do not esteem ourselves too highly.  We shouldn’t be bugs pretending to be gods.  I could be wrong, but I do not see much in Scripture that warns us against low self-esteem.  If anything, scripture teaches us to lose ourselves and to sacrifice ourselves.  In a rare moment of online lucidity, here is what I wrote:

Only a person struggling with suicidal thoughts would probably see themselves as completely worthless. Most people have a good sense of self-preservation that flows from some sense of self-worth. Taking care of ourselves physically and mentally is one thing. I have no problem with this or else I wouldn’t be watching my weight and jogging three times a week.

My problem is the order that things are put. “I love myself, then I can love others” does not ring true when put beside Scripture. It is a cultural understanding of where love comes from, not a Biblical one. The type of love that Scripture teaches in not the natural love that our culture describes. It is supernatural. It is unconditional. It begins with the self-sacrificing love of God that fills me and loves through me. Jesus did not say, “Love yourselves and then you can love others.” When He talked about self, He said ‘crucify yourself’, ‘take up your cross’ and ‘deny yourself’. All those things imply that to truly follow Christ and to love as He loved, I have to get self out of the way, and as Paul said, ‘put on the new self, created to be like God’.

My worth comes not from me, but from Christ in me. My ability to love does not come from loving me but from loving God supremely. It comes from an absolute surrender of self to God and walking in His spirit. God calls on us to love others with His love, not our self-love. Jesus said, “No man has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” In other words, even self-preservation is laid aside for the sake of loving others. That is how Jesus loved, and that is how we are recognized as His disciples. I don’t give love because I have worth. I give love because He is supremely worthy and made me His own. Love does not spring from within us. If it did, it would be tainted by sin and selfishness. It begins with God and as we grown in likeness to Christ, it flows out from us to others.

Panic on the Journey

Our family is in the midst of packing and getting ready to move back overseas.  We have done this several times, and my wife has become an expert at packing.  If I fold a sheet, it takes up a large box.  If she folds a sheet, it fits inside my wallet.  Needless to say, I stay out-of-the-way until something heavy has to be moved or until it is down to those things that don’t fit.  Then, I try to find the space.  But up until those points, I usually just get in the way.

What I do is trying to take care of the other things such as calling airlines about baggage allowances  and the business details of making a move.  I should have an easy life during this time.  It shouldn’t be so difficult, but there is something about my character that makes this stressful.  I am a worrier.  If I don’t have something to worry about, I panic, because I must have forgotten something.  And if something happens to cause me to think that plans won’t work out, I almost go into a panic.  No one around me may realize it, but inside I foresee scenarios which have end results similar to a massive meteor striking the earth.

That is what happened to me this past week.  An e-mail came that made me wonder if the plan for travel was going to work out.  I panicked.  I worried.  I stayed up late at night so I could worry longer.  Within a couple of days, another e-mail came that indicated that I had misunderstood the other one.  All was well.  I had no reason to worry years off my life.

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had just crossed the Red Sea and had seen God deliver them from Egyptian slavery.  Things seemed to be going well until they got to Marah.  There, they found water that they could not drink.  They complained and griped.  They began to have nostalgia about the good old days of Egyptian slavery.  God showed Moses a tree which Moses threw into the water to make it drinkable.  They all drank water and moved on to a wonderful place called Elim where they found 12 springs of water and 70 date palms. (This story is found in Exodus 15.)

They were on the path that God put them on, faced a set back and panicked.  That patterns sound familiar to me.  It sounds like me.  We often read these passages and think, “Silly Israelites.  They never learn.  If they had just waited on God, they would have water.”  But, they did not know that.  They had to learn to trust.  They had to learn to see set backs as a time to wait on God and not a time to panic.

And I have to learn that lesson also.

 

 

Introverts in the Church

Recently, I read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, who has a related blog.  As an introvert, I had wanted to read it for some time.  All in all, I am glad that I did.  I have had several “personality” tests and the one area that I consistently nearly max out in is introversion.  Being an introvert carries several challenges but also several advantages.  That seems to be the point of McHugh’s book, but it is a point that can be easily lost if we take a “woe is me, I’m another victim” approach.  Clearly, McHugh did not want to go there; however, at times, his book could fuel the fire for someone who did.  It is worth the read, but as with all things, one should read with discernment.   The reader should approach it with an openness to grow instead of seeking of validation.

I was able to relate to many things in the book.  Nothing intimidates me as much about visiting a church or small group as the fear that they might say, “I see we have a visitor. Stand up and tell us about yourself.”  They may as well say, “Stand up and try to hide that you’re trembling while we all stare at you.”  It isn’t because I am afraid to speak to a crowd.  I can stand up and teach and enjoy that experience.  However, when I enter a new group I want some time to observe and figure things out.  I want to process what is happening and think about it.  I definitely don’t want to open my heart to strangers and I probably don’t even want to speak at all.  However, I have learned that saying hello will not kill me, though I might feel like it will at the moment.

I found some points of the book helpful.  Some suggestions on spiritual disciplines and being in leadership were helpful.  However, I had trouble relating to some things that he said about corporate worship and church.  I am much more comfortable in a “traditional” evangelical church than he is.  And it was at the point of being involved in church that I thought he missed an opportunity to make a stronger point than he did.

If an introvert approaches church life totally turned inward with a “let me stay anonymous” attitude, he has missed God’s purpose for being a part of church.  In an extrovert approaches church life with an attitude of “be quiet while I talk and get my kicks from being here with you people,” he has missed the point as well.  Church is a place where we are to give ourselves for others for the sake others.  It is the place where we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should and to put the good of others above our own. (Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:24) The church is the body of Christ, and each part is dependent upon the other.  Most of our problems are not issues of introversion or extraversion but of self-centeredness or selflessness.  Introverts and extroverts can both struggle with self-centeredness.  As we walk with Christ, take up our crosses and crucify self, we are better able to serve others with both the gifts and the personality that God has given us.

Victory Over Sin Is Like College Football

College football season is over.  This means two things.  Many people, such as me, have more free time for more constructive endeavors in life.  It also means that many of us have regained some of the higher thinking skills that we had before the season began.  Skills that help us know that an offensive line with no depth and consisting of mostly first year players really has no chance to carry a team to a national title.  Skills that say it is irrational to pin my happiness to the performance of an 18-year-old running back.  Skills that say yielding to the temptation to call a national sports radio program and berate said 18-year-old for not having the maturity of a 30-year-old is not the most rational conduct for grown men and women.  Skills that say believing that there is a national conspiracy to keep my team down is, well, one the most moronic ideas hatched thus far in the 21st century.

College football is all about victory, and the meaning that we pin to the word victory.  We believe that what they do on the field somehow makes us better.  Somehow it means that our school, our state or our region of the country is better than the other school, state or region of the country.  We take the actions and performance of people we probably don’t even know personally and make it all about “me.”

In the spiritual life, we do much the same thing with the idea of “victory over sin.”  Among evangelicals, this is a common theme, although in some less orthodox circles it may now be called victory over bad thoughts and not so nice things.  If we are going to call it anything, let’s call in “victory of sin”, but let’s get the right perspective about it.

Along with my Bible reading each day, I have been reading Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges, who has been one of my favorite Christian authors for many years. Earlier this week, I read in that book about the problem with emphasizing victory over sin and why it is usually not productive.  Victory is all about us.  It is self-centered and success-oriented.  Our concern is not to be personally defeated.  I might add that it can be legalistic, emphasizing victory over just this one sin as opposed to another.  Bridges wrote that rather than victory over sin we should seek a life of obedience to God.  In such an emphasis, the central figures are not me and this sin.  The central figure is God alone.  We understand sin is horrible not because it defeats me personally but because it is an affront to the glory of God.  Victory over sin will come as a by-product of obedience.  It cannot serve as a worthy motive of obedience.