Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Prayer: Set My Mind




Heavenly Father,

I humbly confess that I allow the things of this world to distract me from the life You have called me to live. The distractions politics, entertainment, fun, and pleasure prevent me from truly setting my mind and my heart on those heavenly things which lead to life.

Renew my heart and mind so I will desire heavenly things. Strengthen my will so I can say no to the things of this world. Give me eyes to see from an eternal perspective. Empower me to live a life that glorifies you. This is the true desire of my heart. Help me Father to pursue You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Amen.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

America's True God

 


As a person reads through the Hebrew Scriptures it is easy to notice how Israel continually turned to idol worship. With all that God had done for them, Israel, time and time again, turned their back on God and worshiped the gods of the nations around them.

We think this is odd because we give no power to idols. We see them as nothing but objects of metal and wood that superstitious people worship. 

Idols are not false gods, rather they are the images of false gods. While we may not worship a "statue," the spiritual forces behind those idols are still at work. This video from BibleProject will help you understand what is going on.

 

 The United States of America is not immune to these spiritual forces. 

I think, because we don't acknowledge them, they are able to have far deeper hold on people than we realize.

Today is January 7, 2021 and yesterday I saw a surreal scene as people who supported President Trump were able to break through security and enter the Capital Building as Congress tried to certify the Electoral College vote. The whole country was shocked by the events.

It is easy to condemn the violence and talk about how this is not the American way. I think to go for this low hanging fruit is to miss what is really going on.

In addition to condemning violence, I think it is time to call out the false god that has its grip on many American Christians.

I know that when we see American flags, hear the Pledge of Allegiance, and witness other trampings of American patriotism that it is easy to point and say the idol is Nationalism.

I am not denying that is a part of it. 

People on the right certainly have the tendency to worship the United States as an idol (this is why I think it is dangerous to say the Pledge of Allegiance and celebrate State holidays during our Sunday worship times).

Yet, pointing to Nationalism misses at least half the problem. The other half of the problem is the Left's love of State Power. They want to use the power of the State to shape the country into their ideal nation.

While there are great differences between right and left, their hopes converge on one thing: democracy.

Democracy is the great god of the United States.

Jeff Deist, former chief of staff for Ron Paul, tweeted:


It is not hard to find this type of religious language used for the American system of government. 

In an article written about election integrity, Kay James wrote, "The right to vote is among the most sacred rights we have as Americans. It is fundamental to our democracy."

We love democracy.

Take this opening paragraph from an article from The Atlantic for example:
We have promoted democracy in our movies and books. We speak of democracy in our speeches and lectures. We even sing about democracy, from sea to shining sea, in our national songs. We have entire government bureaus devoted to thinking about how we can help other countries become and remain democratic. We fund institutions that do the same.

C. S. Lewis was right, we do venerate the word democracy. 

I know you are skeptical and that you think I am crazy, but stop and listen to what we are being told. Look at these headlines.


We are being told that our god is in trouble and needs to be defended. 

We are going to be told that to honor this great god we need to make some sacrifices. 

We are going to applaud as it happens.

We have done it before. 

We cheered as the government sent men and women to fight wars around the world to spread democracy.

The reality is that the demonic force behind democracy is not in trouble. What we are witnessing right now is what false gods always want: chaos and destruction. 

They don't care about you, all they want to do is corrupt and destroy God's good creation, and if they can deceive you and use you as a pawn they will do it.

So what is the solution?

I don't know if I have the answers, but let me offer a few suggestions.
  1. We need to commit ourselves to God and His Kingdom. I firmly believe that American Christians need to think through our relationship with the State. For far too long we have allowed an unhealthy relationship to exist between our loyalty to God and our loyalty to America. As a starting point I would recommend thinking through whether or not you should say the Pledge of Allegiance. If you are pledging your loyalty to America how loyal are you to God?
  2. We need think through our relationship with politics and political parties. This is another area where are loyalty to God and His Kingdom gets divided. A good place to start here is discovering the value you place on voting. Voting is the greatest way we can honor the god of democracy, and that is why I believe Not Voting is a Legitimate Option.
  3. Commit to treating other people with respect. One of the best ways we dehumanize people and rob them of God's image (at least in our eyes) is by name calling. Long ago, back when I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and calling President Clinton "Slick Willie," I was convicted of this point. Ever since then I have done my best to refer to people by their names and titles. It is what God expects me to do as His representative. This directly pushes back against the chaos and division the false god of democracy wants to plant in our families, churches, and communities.

I know you are probably thinking, "All this pondering stuff has made Paul a little nutty."

I am not denying that that is a possibility, so let me add one last thought. 

This is not a plea to scrap the whole system or to say that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. Rather, it is a word of caution. Democracy is more than just a political system and there is a spiritual reality behind it. We need to be careful in our interactions with it. 

God's people are commanded to only worship Him. So once again I will stand with Joshua and say:

“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone. But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15; NLT)

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Formulas Aren’t Bad

I like Kyle Idleman. I have used his stuff and will probably use it again in the future.

With that being said, I do have an issue with this tweet.

I understand the sentiment. It comes from that same line of thinking that says “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” 

The reality is that Christianity is both religion and relationship. Those two ideas are not opposites. We can have a relationship with God while believing the truths of the religion and observing its disciplines. 

In fact, I am not sure how you have a relationship with God apart from the religious practices discovered in Scripture.

The same is true with leaning on God and having a formula for prayer. Doing one does not negate the other.

In fact, they can, and should be, complimentary.

Here is the reason this is important to me.

This year I went through a time of depression, maybe the most severe depression that I have dealt with, and prayer was key in my struggle to overcome it. The prayers that I used (and still are using), the guided prayer of the One Minute Pause App and written prayers from the Wild at Heart App, helped my to “lean on” God. They provided me with the structure, words, and even purpose for my prayers when I was struggling to pray.

While it is essential to emphasis that we prayer to a God who is alive and desires to have a relationship with us, I think it is also important to provide people with resources and guidance in how to pray. There are activities, words, and themes that help us in our prayers.

I don’t want people to miss out potential life giving help because they want to avoid using “formulas” in their spiritual lives. What matters in prayer is our intention and faith, and if reciting the Lord’s Prayer or using a written prayer helps you vocalize that faith, then we should use it. 

God’s people have always recited prayers. The book of Psalms is basically a prayer book for Israel which helped guide them in their prayers and their worship. 

What matters is not whether or not we pray prayers “from the heart” or recite a prayer written by someone else, what matters is the faith and intention of your heart.

We can lean on God while using a formula to pray.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Real Issue

This tweet popped up in my timeline. I have no idea who John Harwood is and I don't follow him on Twitter.

When I read this tweet it brought to mind three thoughts:
  1. The President of the United States should not be "the most powerful human being on earth." Having a powerful chief executive was one of the fears our founders had when they created the Constitution. What Alexis De Tocqueville witnessed of the president during the early part of the 1800s was that the president  "has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends; and his influence in the state is too small for the success or ruin of a faction to upon his elevation to power." How times have changed. At one time the citizens of the various states would have viewed a powerful executive with suspicion, but now a president who is able to make things happen, both at home and abroad, is expected. Maybe it is time to question whether or not the executive branch should have as much power as it has.
  2. Since we accept the president as the most powerful person in the world, isn’t logical to assume that fraud and corruption a good possibility during an election? I am not saying that this election was "stolen" from President Trump, but I am saying, "I don't trust elections in general." There is nothing about what I know about corrupt human nature or a corrupt government that gives me confidence in our elections. There is too much at stake for too many people for them to truly let "the people" decide.
  3. Why is it okay to call President Trump obese when you would have an absolute hissy-fit if he said that (and he has and they did) about another person? This is one of the things I dislike about politics in general, the complete double standard people have. They are fine with giving their side a pass on bad things, but will go absolutely crazy when the other side does it. While both sides do this, from my observation, the left is much worse about it.
The real issue at stake isn't why President Trump is continuing to fight for the election, rather, it is why does one office hold so much power? 

Not only for the United States, but for the world. 

N. T. Wright talked about that reality on the Ask N. T. Wright Anything podcast when he took questions about the election. He acknowledged that the U. S. Presidential election has ramifications for the entire world. This should not be the case.

Regardless of whether or not you think Donald Trump was a good president, the thing that we should be the most concerned with is how we can limit the power the president has in this world. 


 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Thoughts about the Future Post 2020

 I shared this earlier on Facebook and thought I might expand on it here.

Just a few thoughts I have had about the future as we approach the end of 2020:

1.  Historians will use 2020 to make the beginning of the end for the United States. I think in the next 15 years we will see at least one successful secession movement, which will change the make up of the country. The United States will continue to be a major player in the world, but things like debt and division will cause things to start to fall apart.

2. A viable 3rd party will emerge. Not from the place you expect. The Republican Party will become more conservative as it looses the Neocon wing of the party. The Neocons will join the Democrat party which will be viewed on the centrist party (and dominate elections). The progressive wing of the Democrat party (Bernie Sanders, AOC, and company) will break away and form a truly progressive/socialist party.

3. The average church size will continue to decline. There will be a time of transition for many local churches as they try to discover how to do ministry in a post-COVID reality. This isn’t a negative, because it will force churches become more creative in how to make disciples, but it will be difficult to say good bye to programs and ministries that we have come to believe are essential for church.

4. Denominational lines for churches will become increasingly irrelevant. There will be a greater emphasis and on “what the Bible says” and “Mere Christianity” with a diminishing emphasis on systematic theologies, Calvinism, etc.

5. Bivocational pastors will become the norm. Because of smaller church sizes most pastors will have to look for multiple streams of income to sustain their ministry. This can be a benefit as pastors get creative in how they leverage their “day job” for ministry.

6. The Church will have to be prepared to deal with ever evolving questions concerning sexuality, gender, race, and even things like transhumanism.

We are going to look back on 2020 as the year that everything changed. Some of those changes were already happening, they were accelerated because of what happened. Other things will change as a direct result of what happened this year. 

Whatever the case, it is time to accept whatever change the future has for us and remain faithful to the calling God has given to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Way of Jesus



We are told that we are living in a divided nation.

The corporate press tells us about the extreme differences of the right and the left and how it is impossible for them to see eye to eye.We hear about one group of Americans is telling another group that they are racist and sexist because of the way they voted. We hear the other group of Americans respond by saying the new president elect is corrupt and will further destroy the foundations of the country.

The deep divisions that make up the very soul of American political life are on full display. There is no getting around the reality that there are two vastly different visions for the United States.

On the one hand you have people on the left who declare that equality is the value that must guide us into the future.

On the other hand you have people on the right who declare that we must remain true to the principles and traditions that the United States was founded on.

Each side views the other with skepticism, derision, and intolerance.

If you have spent any time on social media you know the names and the accusations that are being flung back and forth: “You are ignorant!” one side screams and the other side fires back, “You are a bigot!”

It it is a fruitless exchange as nothing gets resolved and blood pressures rise.


All you want is unity, but you are told that unity is impossible because those people on the other side are terrible people.

What are followers of Jesus Christ to do?

As simplistic as it might sound we are to follow Jesus.

It may sound simple, but it is not simple to do.

There are going to be people on both sides of the aisle declaring that this or that is the most important thing and that is what deserves our attention. Many of these people will invoke the name of Jesus to try to convince us that their side is the one we must choose.

When we pick a side in this political war we simple give into the hate and the division that continues to tear apart relationships, families, churches, communities, and countries.

There is a better way, and that way is the way of Jesus.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29; NLT)

Unity is possible. It is the product of people who are rallied around a common idea, purpose, or person. Unity is achieved in football stadiums and concerts. People brought together because of their shared love for a team or a band.

This type of unity is flimsy and cannot survive the constant threat of division. This threat comes from the powers that constantly look to divide people into different groups.

There is only one power that is great enough to overcome these wall building powers, and that is the power of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus is to be the rallying point that brings true unity.

Jesus came to tear down walls. That can only be accomplished when we have our faith in him.

Within his small group of 12 disciples Jesus had at least two men who were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was Simon the Zealot who wanted nothing more than to fight against the Romans and restore Israel's independence. There was Matthew the Tax Collector who believed that compromise with the Romans was the best policy.

Jesus united these men with a common purpose.

How did he do that?

Jesus rejected the politics of the world.

Satan offered Jesus the keys to all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus held fast to God's way to bring redemption to creation (Luke 4:5-8). After his miracles of healing and feeding the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, but Jesus withdrew to the wilderness (John 6:15). The crowd shouted hosanna and proclaimed Jesus king as he rode into Jerusalem, but Jesus stopped and wept over the city because they missed his true identity (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus came to establish God's Kingdom, but he rejected politics as the way to accomplish this task. He called his followers to make disciples of the nations, not by the power of the sword (the true power behind politics), but the power of sacrificial love.

The way for the Church to be the starting point for unity is for Christians to follow the way of the Lion, who became a lamb, who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6).

We are saddened by the deep divide that exists in our country.

Healing can only happen if we reject politics and follow Jesus.

Will you join me?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Missing the Forest for the Trees


 I don’t understand this type of thinking at all.

Listen, I am not a supporter of President Trump. As I have said before, policy wise he has been a pretty typical president. He has done some good things and he has done many bad things.

To see President Trump and his supporters as uniquely evil seems bizarre to me. What makes President Trump and the support he has received different?

Rather than being something new, I think what Donald Trump and his presidency revealed is the divided loyalty many American Christians have. The loyalty that we have is often split between Jesus (and his church) and Nation (and political party). 

I believe one of the big questions the American Church, in all of its different flavors, needs to wrestle with coming out of COVID and the 2020 election cycle is: "Where does your loyalty reside?"

“Trumpism” isn’t any more dangerous than all the other ways our loyalty gets divided, and to act like it is means we downplay the more seductive and subtle ways Christians loose their first love.

I know for me, as a libertarian, one of the things I need to be on guard against is the idol of personal liberty and individual rights. It is easy for me twist those ideas with what it looks like to follow Jesus. 

We need to heed the warning of Revelation, to come out of Babylon, and remain loyal to Jesus.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees. 

American Christians have a loyalty problem, and those of us who serve in leadership in various ways in different Christian communities need to continually call people back to their first love as we continue to resist the urge give our loyalty away to lesser causes.

Monday, December 14, 2020

War for Truth

 I recently saw the following on Facebook:

"We're losing the war for truth. There's no bigger crisis for media, politics and society than the growing number of people who don't believe facts and verifiable figures. If we don't collectively solve this, we are all screwed."

Truth is important. 

People, and I think Christians especially, should strive to be on the side of truth.

Yet, that goal is not always as easy as we make it out to be. I believe we need to think about how we come to know truth. 

Ask yourself the question: “How do I know my beliefs are true?”

For most of us, what we believe to be true we have received second hand, from a source that we trust. The problem really isn’t a “war for truth,” but a disagreement on what sources can be trusted. 

Let me also say I dislike the use of the word “war.” We tend to use this word to show there are two distinct sides that are at conflict with one another. So we have things like the drug war, the war on poverty, the war on Christmas, and the war on Terror. On the one side you have the “good guys” and on the other side you have the “bad guys.” 

Do you see the problem with this belief?

Consider this tweet:

No seriously, when you think you need to “deprogram” friends and neighbors because they don’t think like you, you have lost the chance to have a civil conversation. 

You can’t take the moral high ground if you want to cast other people (people who are often friends and family) as your enemy. No meaningful conversation is going to come from that.

After all, who gets to decide what is true and what is not true? Why should I accept your version of truth?

Everyone believes they know what the truth is, but their versions of truth differ because they have chosen to trust different sources for the information that makes up that truth.

Again, this is the key issue: “What sources can I trust to provide me with true information?”

While you may trust what is printed in the newspaper or is on the evening news, not everyone does.There is a significant percentage of people in the United States who believe they cannot trust what comes out of the corporate press. 

Last month Michael Malice tweeted:


If you don’t understand that the corporate press, the source of information many Americans trust, has lost the trust of many other Americans, then you are going to see this as a “war for truth.” 

It is not. 

Therefore, rather than treating it like a war, we need to have a discussion about why we trust the sources of information that we do.

Why would some Americans not trust the information offered by the government and the corporate press?

Thaddeus Russell tweeted this:


This is just one example of why many people don’t trust the same sources of information that you do.

The problem isn’t that there are Americans who are ignoring “facts and verifiable figures,” rather the issue is that they don’t think those facts and figures can be trusted. In other words, it is less about the information, and more about the source of that information.

So Michael Malice’s question is a good one: “What can the corporate press do to regain the trust of the public?”

Rather than starting a war, maybe you should ask that simple question first.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas Devotional: One Night in Bethlehem

Several years ago I wrote a short devotional for Christmas. 14 devotions leading up to Christmas Day.

Here is a link to download a PDF of it: One Night in Bethlehem.

 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Our Responsibility



Followers of Jesus are called to be be ambassadors and missionaries to the world. We are to represent God in this world.

As much as we would like to, we cannot escape from that responsibility. It is woven into the fabric of what it means to be a Christian. 

It is a huge and important calling to be sure and most of the time, if we are honest with ourselves, we feel inadequate for the task. We lack the resources, the talents, and the opportunities we think are necessary to bring God's message of hope and love to the world.

We feel inadequate, not only for the things we lack, but also for what we have: sin. 

Sin makes it impossible for me to properly represent God. That is one of the things the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 2:23; ESV). 

The presence of sin my life makes me inadequate because sin distorts the image of God in my life. 

This is compounded by our lack of knowledge about the world, the Bible, and the circumstances of other people's lives. 

So let us pause at this point and confess that we are inadequate for the task for making disciples.

To this reality of being inadequate, let me add two important truths.

The first truth is that citizenship into God's Kingdom begins with being "poor in Spirit." Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with this line; "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3; ESV). 

 To be a follower of Jesus requires the realization that we don't have what it takes to truly represent God and demonstrate His character in this world. We need to depend on God to provide us with everything that we need; from our daily bread, to patience for helping difficult people, to the words to say to those who are searching for truth.


The second truth is to be true to who God created us to be. The Apostle Paul wrote:
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8, ESV)
We need to come to terms with how God created us, to be grateful for the talents and abilities that we have, and then use those skills in building for God's kingdom. It is by using our unique set of talents for God's Kingdom empowers us to make a difference in this world.

Remembering these things is important because the only person we have control over is ourselves.

While God has given us the responsibility to take His message of love and hope into the world and make disciples; He has not given us responsibility to change the hearts of other people. 

That responsibility lies with God Himself.

Therefore we do not need to worry about how people will respond to our message and service, we just need to focus on the best and most effective ways to use our talents to make disciples. 

This reality should give us a sense of relief. It isn't about the number of disciple we made, but it is about our faithfulness to God's calling.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Take Time to Rest




We love to talk about how busy we are. 

In fact, for many Americans, being busy is how we convince ourselves that we have worth. It means that we are needed and that we are valuable.

Yet, not only does being busy add to our stress levels, busyness also robs us of the time we have to do things that we enjoy and that truly matter. We put off time with our families, volunteering, and celebrating because we have that deadline to make or that meeting to attend.

In God’s economy busyness is not worth all that much. 

God desires that His people take time to rest and to celebrate. 

One of the 10 terms of the covenant God made with Israel was the command to observe the Sabbath, to rest. 

When we intentionally take time to rest, even when work is piling up and things need to be done, we are admitting that God is the one control. He is the one that makes the world go around, not us. Sabbath rest is an act of faith in God.

Not only did God give Israel the Sabbath, but He also provided them with different times of celebrations throughout the year. Ceasing from work and taking time to celebrate, to be with friends and family as we thank God for what He has done, reorients our lives to God. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to us and calls us back to a life of faith.

Work is an essential part of life. Our work is how we join God in renewing and restoring His creation. It is important.

Without periods of rest and celebration we will lose sight of what our work is about and why we are doing it. Our rest reminds us that our work is important and provides us with motivation to keep fighting the good fight.

Live as an Exile

A follower of Jesus Christ is a person in exile.  I know that it doesn't feel that way.  We were born in this world.  We are comfortable...