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I sought the Lord, and he answered me;  he delivered me from all my fears….This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles…The Lord is close to the brokenhearted  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:4,6,18).
  

E.F. “Sonny” Dewey stands in his room in the middle of the night yelling. Is he screaming at his wife, or his kids, or some other person inhabiting his mother’s house? No, he is yelling at God.

Sonny, a Pentecostal preacher portrayed by Robert Duvall in the film “The Apostle”, has been booted from his Texas church as a result of  a power play orchestrated by his wife Jessie (Farrah Fawcett). The lady has had enough of his womanizing and abuse, and she herself has taken up with the youth minister.

“If you won’t give me back my wife, give me peace,” screams Sonny.” I don’t know who’s been fooling with me, you or the Devil. I don’t know! I won’t even bring the human into this. He’s just a mutt, so I won’t bring him into this, but I’m confused, I’m mad. I love you Lord, but I am mad at you! I AM MAD AT YOU!” 

“I know I’m a sinner every once in a while, a womanizer, but I’m your servant. Since I was a little boy and you brought me back from the dead, I’m your servant. What should I do? Tell me. I’ve always called you Jesus, you’ve always called me Sonny, so what should I do. This is Sonny talking now!”

Apparently such communication between Sonny and the good Lord is not uncommon. A neighbor calls up and complains to his Momma, who tells them,”That’s Sonny. Sometimes he talks to the Lord, sometimes he yells at the Lord. Tonight he just happens to be yelling at him.” 

Sonny’s anger issues aren’t limited to the Lord, however. At his kid’s baseball game he takes a bat to the youth minister and kills him. Knowing he’s in a heap of trouble, Sonny runs.

Somehow, even in the midst of the horrible mess he has mostly brought on himself, Sonny does not stop communicating with the Lord.

Even as a fugitive murderer, the preacher asks God to lead him. Eventually he arrives  in a rural Louisiana community.

His charismatic personality attracts the locals and Sonny plants a church with an African American minister.  He looks for radio time, and when he find out he has to pay, Sonny is offered a place to stay by a mechanic he helped out earlier.

This act of kindness causes Sonny to tell God, “I’m not mad at you, and I’ll never be mad again.” 

In the bayou and on the radio, Sonny is known as  “The Apostle E.F.”.Although his ministry booms and the church grows, his new life is on a short leash. Jessie hears a fuzzy radio broadcast of his one day and calls the cops.

Sonny is escorted away right after he preaches his final sermon. In “The Apostles” final scene, he is preaching at a group of inmates.

Robert Duvall’s portrayal of Sonny in the 1997 movie, which won him an Academy Award nomination, is not one of a typical suburban evangelical Christian in modern America. In “The Apostle”, we do not experience the stereotypical mega-church family cruising in their minivan and sipping lattes at the sanctuary coffee bar.

What we see is a precursor  of what would hit the media in the coming new century: the reality show. Indeed, the lives of Sonny,  Jessie and other characters in “The Apostle” foreshadow the brokenness of  many people in  America in the second decade of the 21st century, folks who still desire, nay, yearn for, a touch from Jesus Christ.

And not just a pat on the back from His hand. They hunger for a deep experience with Him, and one with power that will rocket their lives into outer space.

But they are broken and exhausted and don’t know how to be fixed and the church isn’t helping. Jesus is all the hope they have.

The life of the real American believer today is more true to the story of the average person we meet in the Old and New Testament. Those people were broken too and they needed the touch of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

What they are getting instead from today’s American Christianity in many cases is church politics and hierarchy reminiscent of the Pharisees and Sadducees,  and expectations they do not have the strength or power to meet.

People whose lives are busted into a thousand pieces may  think it is  only the church which is to blame for their  condition. They should  think again and try to get rid of that mindset.

It is not right to think of  the church and pastors in our minds like we do the government and politicians.

It would be wiser to look in the mirror. Once we get past the fact that what we see there  looks like Humpty Dumpty post tumble, and overcome our despair that we shall never be put back together again by all the king’s horses and all the pastor’s men, we would do well to grasp that we are actually right where God would have us.

Although it certainly doesn’t seem that way, He knows exactly what he is doing.

It is only in our brokenness can we comprehend that we need grace and mercy from Jesus. I may currently be walking around my room after hours yelling at God like Sonny Dewey, but he isn’t screaming back.

As Moody Bible Church pastor Erwin Lutzer notes, God has promises for us he intends to keep.

An old friend told me this weekend to think about the term ‘covenant’. In biblical terms, a ‘covenant’ is a set of commitments that God has made with his people.

Lutzer says that God’s promises to us aren’t based on our brokenness, but on his faithfulness and power. If Abraham had gone to God, he says, and posed a set of “what if” questions to Him, God’s answer in each case would be that He would keep his promises to him.

For example, if Abraham had asked ‘what if I lie again” or “what if my people have a king named David who commits adultery” or “what if my descendants crucify your Son”, God’s answer would still be the same.

“How can God talk like that”?, asks Pastor Lutzer. “Because God is not a man like you or I.”

God will not change and he remains faithful because he cannot deny himself. It is upon that that we stand today.”

In the words of an old hymn:

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.”

Like t E.F. “Sonny” Dewey, a man who was purportedly a man of God, many of us are messed up and torn apart and our pieces are spread out all over the landscape.  We would do well to follow his example and hang with Jesus regardless.

The final stanza of the aforementioned hymn says it all:

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

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“Think of ways to encourage on another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of His coming back is drawing near (Hebrews 1o:24,25).”

I don’t know what prompted me to do it: seek advice that is. I am a typical male. I hate to stop and ask for directions.

It could have been the Corp of Cadets at the university in my town. With school back in session, the campus is full of these young men and women.

The other day I passed some of them at an exercise station, the kind with balance beams and wooden bars. As I walked by these students,  about 10 of them were in a circle. They had their arms around each other and were yelling some kind of chant, moving their bodies up and down in unison.

I got the point of the cheer. It was designed to develop and show their comaraderie and unity.

I chose to see some counsel because of a family matter that couldn’t get resolved. It concerned a path one of my kids wanted to take.

So about three days ago I got the idea to send some Emails around to some men I trust. One was a mentor of mine. Another was a high school principal.  The other Emails went to my pastor and an elder at my church in charge of the high school group my child is a part of.

Within a couple of hours these fellows had all responded. What impressed me also was the consistency of their advice.  Although their suggestions differed somewhat, their comments were more like shades of the same color.

Their counsel tended to agree with my wife’s view of things, even though I had not brought her ideas up specifically in my request for advice. While I agreed with my spouse generally, these men gave me some specifics that helped sway my view toward hers.

As we met with child and discussed the pertinent issue, I spoke out the written suggestions of my counselors. With input from my wife and kid, I made a decision.

All seem settled, that is until I heard my wife and child heatedly discussing the issue again in another room a few minute after our discussion. So much for my effective leadership!

I was quite flustered and basically just delegated the whole thing to my wife to solve. (Men: I wouldn’t recommend this as a conflict resolution strategy.)

During the last three days since there has been an edge of contention in my household.  The argument finally came to a head this morning as I was trying to sleep in. (It’s Saturday.)

Again my wife and child were having a loud discussion. Forget trying to sleep.

I came upstairs and got involved in the battle. I wasn’t much help. Indeed, in my pre-coffee state I just added fuel to the fire.

Finally, some thing occurred to me.  It became clear as day that my wife’s spirit was just flat out against the whole approach I was taking. Even though I was trying to be conciliatory and my wife was willing to compromise, it was clear that no matter how I framed the issue, she was not comfortable with how things were going.

It was after comprehending how she was feeling, I made a decision that from my perspective was completely in line with with what was in her heart. What was interesting to me was how, within the next hour or so, I had this complete sense of peace about me. In addition, my wife had the same spirit.

We were both in unity. We both were positive we were making the right decision regarding our child.

None of this would have happened if I had not chosen to ask advice from some other guys. Their thoughts acted as a catalyst to bring my thinking around to that of my wife. It took three days, but at least I finally was open minded and made the decision that seemed to be the best one.

The wise man of Proverbs tells us that healthy counsel is very valuable:

Timely advice is lovely,  like golden apples in a silver basket. To one who listens, valid criticism  is like a gold earring or other gold jewelry.  Trustworthy messengers refresh like snow in summer.  They revive the spirit of their employer. (Proverbs 25:11-13).

This same wise man writes that involving my wife in the decision making was a smart thing to do to:

 Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)

This sage closes this  thought by reiterating how effective it is in a conflict to not be a loner.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

My adult son and I have been watching the Little League World Series. I am intrigued by how, whenever there is a home run, the entire  team of the boy who hit it greets him at home place and enthusiastically celebrates.

To me. the peace my wife and I gained, a rlesult of a decision borne from our teamwork, was to me a home run. And it was a sign to me that our success was a sign  of God’s pleasure.

He was at home plate jumping up and down with us. If those counselor friends of mine had been here, they would have been patting us on the back, too.

It’s this kind of fellowship I ought to be engaging in every day.  In addition, in the times we live in, and with the difficult contests of life sure to be ahead, it’s essential to be a part of  a community of saints like this.

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“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).”

As I sat in the coffee shop a few days ago, I had an epiphany. I didn’t just have a problem; I WAS the problem.

I came to this conclusion after examining my current situation. I am unemployed and have some major marital issues.

The lack of a job and my problems with my spouse stem from my anger. Shoot, let’s call it what it is: my rage.

While I have acknowledged that I have a problem with anger, I also have thought that others have overreacted to it. “After all, they provoked it by their own behavior”, I have said to myself.

However, while there may be some truth to my thinking, it became clear in that coffee shop one does not have major problems like I do without culpability. I admitted then and there I needed help.

I went online right in the cofffee shop and started reading material from a Christian website I am familiar with. I read an article called “Hiding Behind Blame” by Dr. David Hawkins, a relationship expert. I read another about longing for comfort that doesn’t come.

Then I went back to an article by Dr. Hawkins called “The Narcissistic Husband”. All  I could think of after I read it was, ‘”Ouch!”

Dr. Hawkins lays out several steps men must do to heal from their wounds (the source of rage). The first one was to acknowledge them. Check.

I read steps two and three without much thought. However, I became curious when when he wrote the following:

Fourth, men must make healing a way of life. Instead of reluctantly conceding to go to counseling for six sessions, men must be willing to do whatever it takes to name their wounds, talk about them, be involved in a community of healing such as Celebrate Recovery and then commit to a life of healing. Men need to experience the safety of being vulnerable, sharing their deep pain, and learn how to deal effectively with anger, hurt and sadness.

I asked myself,”What is Celebrate Recovery?” I had never heard of it.

So I did what I often do when I want to know more about something. I went to Google.

I learned that it was a ministry founded by Pastor John Baker of Saddleback Church in California. From what I could gather from the Internet, it is an organization similar to Alchoholics Anonymous, but with a more direct link to Christian belief.

I then went searching for a local group I could attend. I was in a hurry because in a few days I will be leaving for an overseas job assignment for almost a year.

Due to a family emergency, I didn’t go to the group I planned to attend, so I went last night to another one. My county doesn’t have any groups, so I went to a church located in the next county over.

The day of the meeting I sent an Email to the man listed as the contact for the group, a fellow named Tony. He responded promptly and gave me directions. 

I arrived over there in plenty of time, but still managed to be late because I got lost. I arrived 20 minutes after the meeting had begun.

When I entered the sanctuary, I thought perhaps it was a church service because there was music and lyrics on some large screens. However, a man sitting next to the door confirmed I was indeed at Celebrate Recovery.

Men and women sat scattered around the room. Over to the far right were some men running the audiovisuals.

Not long after I arrived, the songs stopped. Then a video testimony was shown.

This fellow discussed his addictions, failed marriages and other issues. It was his third wife who got him involved in a group she was attending: Celebrate Recovery.

Of course, the man discussed how it had helped him. This man was no bum, but an otherwise highly successful businessman.

After the video, the men and women broke into separate groups in different rooms. I went to a room with Tony and a gathering of some 15 other men.

These men shared briefly some of their past and current stories. I shared with them how and why I had found them.

I got a blue chip keyring as a newcomer. I also told them I would be leaving for Europe in a few days and hoped to find some “likeminded sufferers” to begin a group with.

During the refreshement time, Tony walked up to me with a Celebrate Recovery Bible, hardback edition. It didn’t look cheap. I asked him to Email me and ask how I was doing.

This whole experience has given me a gratefulness for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  Some motivated individuals around the country, and even in some places overseas, are reaching out to others who need a place to go to share their hurts, temptatations and  sins-people like me.

The Israelites in the Old Testament for the most part seemed to be a rebellious, wicked brood. However, there were times they could truly be a band of brothers.

One such instance was when they reached out to one of their tribes which had been destroyed in a civil war. Even though they refused to even let their daughters marry up with the men of Benjamin, the Israelites wept bitterly over the loss of their brethren (Judges 21:1-4).

They eventually found a way around their oath to refuse marriageable women to the Benjamites. The whole story, including a rather peculiar dance party, is a bit odd.

However, the episode shows the heart of the people of Israel for their own. Having disciplined them, they went out of their way to heal them (Judges 21:5-23).

John Baker, in his own testimony, describes how he began Celebrate Recovery. Having been mocked at AA for his open belief in Jesus Christ, and yet lacking men in his church small group with whom he could confide his recovery from alcoholism, he wrote his pastor and suggested Celebrate Recovery.

Over 10,ooo people have gone through the program at his own church. Over 10,ooo churches and 500,ooo people have completed in the U.S. and around the world.

I am about at the place John Baker was when he proposed Celebrate Recovery to his pastor. God willing, I can find some men overseas with whom I can meet and heal with together.

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“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (Ecclesiastes 9:17,18).”

One of my lifelong friends invited me to view one of his loves last weekend. He’s a big fan of stock car racing, so we headed down to one of his favorite tracks to see a Saturday night competition.

On the way he showed me an article he had written on the track in a magazine called “Speedway”. At the end, the editor had left in his dedication to his father, who had raced cars briefly in the 1950s and gave my buddy his love for the sport.

As something of a neophyte to auto racing, I focused on the leaders in the race. However, a lot of the more experienced fans at the track were watching the “races within the race”.

One of the more competitive of these was a contest between two cars in the 100 lap event, the track’s longest race of the night. While I watched the leaders, the yellow flag came out, signalling a “caution” in the competition and thus a pause.

As I looked to my left, at the corner of the track a car lay sprawled. My friend told me this driver had been smacked by a competitor, purportedly on purpose.

A little bit later, the driver of the car that had been hit got his revenge. He caused his earlier attacker to spin out.

This activity was a big hit with the crowd. They went wild.

My buddy had told me earlier before the race began that I was supposed to pick a winner, so I did. However, when it was clear my choice was back in the pack and would stay there, I picked another.

Amidst all the noise (we wore earplugs) and with the earlier confrontations still lodged in my brain, my friend informed me,”He’s…., even a dirty driver.” This man with a reputation of a cheater won the race, though.

Reading an account of the results later, I learned his main competitior wasn’t enthralled by how the victor had accomplished his victory. The second place finisher  was passed by the winner, but claimed that this would not have been possible if the alleged “dirty driver” had not illegally altered his car.

My impression of the night was that auto racing at this level is kind of a controlled chaos. Most of the drivers appear to he keeping the rules, but a few derelicts stretch and even break them, creating a certain amount of nuttiness.

When you watch some of these drivers, the auto insurance commercials starring Mr. Mayhem come to mind. He’s the man play-acting as, for example, an out-of-control GPS device, or an even more out of control teenage girl driver. The end result with Mr. Mayhem at the controls is disaster.

Israelites living at the time of the Judges must have felt like the equivalent of Mr. Mayhem was steering their ship.  It was a time of needless and willful violence.

Individually and corporately, actions were taken that hurt people and destroyed lives. As the Scriptures say, everyone did what was right in their own eyes because there was no real leadership (Judges 21:25 ).

One story, told in Judges Chapter 19,  involving a religious leader and his wife exemplified this period. The insanity began with the woman’s infidelity.

Now, the idea that a marriage between two people who claim to be leaders in bringing people to God would have trouble. In fact, my friend who took me to the races, who also happens to be a licensed therapist, told me that he would like to think so, but his experience in counseling shows that ministers and their spouses have  a lot of marital trouble.

At least this Israelite minister did the right thing when his wife split and went home to Daddy. He went after her.

Apparently they reconciled because they eventually left to go home. During their travels, though, mayhem struck.

Choosing to avoid an ungodly city, he moved on to an Israelite city in which to spend the night.  His assumption was that he would not be subject to the kind of violence he could expect in the city he passed by, since Israelites were supposedly believers in the true God.

The minister turned out to be dead wrong. The man he was staying with experienced a home invasion by perverted men, and his wife was raped and murdered.

In an action that would rival any reality show on TV today, the minister cut his wife into pieces and sent the parts all over the nation of Israel. He must have thought this was the only way he could get a hearing amidst the governmental chaos of his day.

When the leaders of Israel demanded that the tribe involved, Benjamin, surrender the perpretators of the crime, they did the unexpected. They refused.

In a fit of misplaced patriotism, they took offense at the encroachment on their states’ rights. Civil war ensued.

After much bloodshed, the Benjamites were subdued and the criminal city destroyed. Some people claim there was a woman to blame, but they knew in their heart of hearts that  it was  their own fault.

When God’s way is thrown out the window, even in a nation claiming to be religious, the only thing that can expected is a visit from Mr. Mayhem.  The collateral damage in such situations is enormous.

Even as I write this, a supposedly “Christian” nation is recovering from the mass murder of many of its citizens, many of them children. The media has claimed that the man is a “right-wing fundamentalist Christian” distressed over the move of his people toward ideologies he cannot abide with.

In reality, the man is nothing of the sort. He is nothing short of mad. He is Mr. Mayhem embodied in a true-to-life human being.

In his attack against his country and its leadership, he is right in one respect, however. His crazinness has been aided and abetted by a lack of leadership in the things of God.

As a result, people today are like the race car drivers I saw Saturday night who fell back in the pack. As they drove lap after lap toward the finish line, they slipped farther away from success.

Paul Simon wrote and sang these lyrics which describe the experience of the modern man in the human rat race:

Slip  slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

I know a man
He came from my home town
He wore his passion for his woman
Like a thorny crown
He said Dolores
I live in fear
My love for you’s so overpowering
I’m afraid that I will disappear

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain’t got no rain
She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

And I know a fa-ther
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again

Slip slidin’ away
Slip slidin’ away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away

When we try to be spouses and parents without God at the helm of our personal lives and the life of our families, we are lost. Mr. Mayhem is at the wheel instead.

Simon adds:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We’re working our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Simon is right in one respect.  Not following God’s plan in our job or in any other aspect of life for that matter is a recipe for mayhem.

Hower, Mr. Simon is incorrect in saying that information from God regarding His plan for us is not available to us mortals. It’s right smack dab in the Bible.

Our national leaders just choose to ignore it. So do we husbands, parents and other leaders responsible for the welfare of other people.

Occasionally, you can run into some people whose lives seem to be under control. They are at peace and leading others in healthful ways.

The elders of my church come to mind. Individually and corporately, they are some of the godliest men I have ever run across.

The wisest man to have lived claimed observed that the “race is not to the swift”, but that humans are subject to the mayhem of their times and the luck of the draw (Ecclesiastes 9:11) I am glad, however, that there are men like my elders around, manning the pits as I circle life’s raceway.

They are worthy of following and emulating. One day, before I finish my race, I hope to be like them and kick Mr. Mayhem out of the driver’s seat.

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“I rejoiced with those who said to me,’Let us go to the house of the LORD.’  Our feet are standing in your gates, O Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together. That is where the tribes go up,  the tribes of the LORD,  to praise the name of the LORD…(Psalm 122:1-4).”

I collect baseball caps.  I don’t add just any cap to my collection.

The caps I gather have to have some special meaning for me. For example they must represent a place I have worked or lived, or a sports team I support.

One  hat I have in my collection bears the coat of arms of the province of Karelia.  This area strides the Finnish-Russian border.

I studied this area in graduate school because it is the heart and soul of Finnish culture.  This decade I had the privelege of living there for a few years.

Here is the coat of arms:

The area has been fought over for centuries. The sword bearing arm on the left represents the West. The one on the right symbolizes the East.

These day, especially the last month or so, I feel as if my family and I have been put square between those two swords.  Life has been slashing and cutting at us.

My response has been typical of someone who feels they are on the receiving end of a swipe from Zorro. I have been jumping, moving, dodging, and hopping.

I’ve gone to God, too. Yet, I feel like the Psalmist who wrote the following:

  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
       Why are you so far from saving me,
       so far from the words of my groaning?

 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
       by night, and am not silent (Psalm 22:1,2).”

I have been so busy and overwhelmed by my trials, that when it came time to get going to church activities, I have demurred. I have slept in.

I got a friendly nudge from my pastor with whom I had cancelled an appointment the other day. He encouraged me to attend a men’s meeting I had committed to that meets at 6 am every week.

I went this week, but even so, the overwhelming pressure of my life still haunts me in daily life.  Last night, a conversation  I had pushed me over the edge and I did something I rarely do: I wept.

This morning I had another trial. I lost my car keys. This too caused panic, frustration and a close-to weeping episode. Sometimes life just stinks. Sometimes it stinks for a long time.

Jesus told a parable where a king instructed some attendants at a wedding to throw a man out of his celebration. The reason: the fellow had come dressed with no wedding clothes. He wasn’t prepared to celebrate.

The place where the man was tossed was “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 22:13).”

The king was already agitated. He had invited some guests to celebrate the wedding of his son.  There was a great, satisfying party ahead. His son was to be honored and feted, and everyone else would benefit in the process. 

However, the invited guests refused to come. In fact, when the king sent some servants to plead with them to be present at the banquet, they ignored them, too.  They went about the business of life instead, thinking it more of a priority. Obviously, they didn’t much value what they would be getting from the banquet, otherwise they would have showed up.

These invited guests not only brushed off these servants that gave them the invitation, they even abused and killed some of them (Matthew 22:1-6)!  What a bunch of party poopers.

When I reflect on this story, I see myself as one of these invited guests who has rejected my King’s invitation. Like the people in this story, my attitude has been “What’s in it for me?” When I do show up to church, I have arrived with the wrong spiritual attire. I am only there out of duty, not to really worship and celebrate my Lord.

The truth is, my question should be “What’s in it for God?”.  What is “in it” for Him is that He receives my praise, that my “tribe” gives it to Him also, and that I seek the prosperity of His people and His church (Psalm 122:1-8).

But I know I will also get a lot out of going to church, too. For example, I will get wisdom about how to deal with all my anguishing problems that cause me to weep and gnash my teeth. The wise man of Proverbs wrote:

” Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise;
       apply your heart to what I teach,

  for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
       and have all of them ready on your lips.

  So that your trust may be in the LORD,
       I teach you today, even you (Proverbs 22:17-19).”

Indeed, this was brought home to me when  I kept an appointment I had with my pastor today and was blessed with his insight. He confirmed to me what I had been thinking about praise and going to church.

We were talking about the means of resting in Christ. We discussed the ways of experiencing His grace.

In addition to the usual things, like Bible reading and prayer, he mentioned one more: worship.

To fight off those swords I am living in between, I need the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-17). So do my wife and kids.  However, even combat soldiers get to take of the combat gear and get off the front line once in a while.

This is where this Christian soldier and his family need to be in order to get some rest, i.e, out of the combat zone for a while. Church provides that place to rest and worship the Lord, even if it is only for a couple hours.

It’s in church where my family and I can experience the light of Christ in the midst of our day-to-day darkness, as we commune with and worship Him. The apostle Paul expresses this thought from the Scriptures.  He wrote, ” For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’]made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.the light (II Corinthians 4:6).

Worshipping with other believers who also have Christ in their hearts will give us some R and R. We don’t always have to be doing a sword dance.

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 “I rejoiced with those who said to me,’Let us go to the house of the LORD’ (Psalm 122:1).”

Baseball is one of my favorite spectator sports, so this spring I bought a ticket plan for the games of the local minor league baseball team.   Many of the games are late on Sunday afternoon.

My son also has a kid’s pass that allows him to go any time, including “Kids Eat Free Sundays”.  Therefore, we have hit many of those Sunday games so the boy can enjoy his hot dog, chips and soda pop.

Sunday there was a game coming, and as usualy I had planned to go. However, something gave me pause.

The issue that had come to roost in my consciousness is the fact that our church home group meets during game time on Sundays.  In an unusual move for me, I decided to ditch the ball game this weekend in favor of church.

This is because I see the benefit of going. My wife, kids and I really need a church family.

The particular church we are going to do now has been wonderful to us thus far.  The pastors have taken great interest in our well being, for example.

Football season is coming, too. I know that all over the nation some pastors are gearing up for men being gone from their congregations so they can view the gridiron games on Sundays.

This is not a new issue, but it has become one for me for the first time. I used to not really care if one of my favorite sports events interfered with church. I opted for the sports. I figured I could go any old Sunday.

However, in my current life, I basically need to be at the church door every time it opens, especially when it has activities which will improve my marriage and family life. Thus, church over sports it is.

Perhaps it is no accident budget issues keep me from going to and viewing my favorite sports. Gas isn’t cheap these days and the ballpark isn’t that close. 

In addition, my satellite TV subscription isn’t exactly a price buster either. We just moved, they want more money to install the needed stuff, and I am balking. So our TV is not operational at the moment. Woe is me, because the National Football League  season is upon us.

It may be God is engineering things so my family and I are in church. After all, the Scriptures credit Jesus with the statement ” “Zeal for your house will consume me (John 2:17).” 

God is passionate about fellowship with His people. I should be, too.

Where else can get the wisdom I need to live life as God wants me to.  It surely will not come from my own brain or those without God (Proverbs 2:1-15).

I will know I am on the right track when I get more joy about being at my new church home with God’s folks than at the park or in front of the tube watching my favorite teams and athletes. I’m not there yet, but I am ready to take the steps  I need to end up there.

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“Those who sow in tears  will reap with songs of joy.  He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5,6).”

I like  other cultures and traveling, which is why I have enjoyed living in several different places the last decade or so. My family and I have been like bees, flitting from place to place.

Now, though, we are living in a beautiful area surrounded by mountains in southwest Virginia. This was the home of my pre-teen years, and I hope never to leave it. Right now I couldn’t if I wanted to; I can’t afford the air fare.

Despite all the moving the last few years, there have been times that I felt as if the sky had a ceiling, as I do now. I just couln’t afford to leave town.

The last stop before returning to America I felt this way.  I hardly left town in three years. While I liked the foreign city I lived in, it was a little too much of a good thing. I wanted to do a little traveling, too, but couldn’t.

There were very few people who could or would come to my aid in this regard, but there was one couple who helped my family and I resettle back in America.  Their aid was invaluable. It would never have happened without them.

I hope to travel more in my life, but I am so grateful to live in this new zip code that I don’t really care if I ever leave. There is a lot of exploring to do around here anyway, including a lot of hiking.

While I am happy to be living here, the initial fervor of returning  wore off quickly. We have had a lot of adjustment problems.

I think the people of Israel who came back from Babylon after having been in captivity for a long time must have felt like us. They were initially excited when they got back and looked forward to the future.  The Psalmist recorded their happiness:

“When the LORD brought back the captives to  Zion, 
      we were like men who dreamed.

  Our mouths were filled with laughter,
       our tongues with songs of joy.
       Then it was said among the nations,
       ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’

  The LORD has done great things for us,
       and we are filled with joy (Psalm 125:1-3).”

Then times got hard, and the pleading with God began: “Restore our fortunes,  O LORD,  like streams in the Negev (Psalm 125:4).”

God has the answers to our new problems, and the old bugaboos, too. Not only does God have the answers, He has given Christian leaders gifts to help us, also. The wise man of Proverbs wrote:   

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
       to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

  As the heavens are high and the earth is deep,
       so the hearts of kings are unsearchable (Proverbs 25:2,3).”

Because God hides Himself and the plethora of Christian counseling makes one want to know whom to believe and follow,  it would be easy to just wear out and give up.

God warns against giving up, however. Jesus told the following story:

 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!'”But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour (Matthew 25:1-13)”.

The first problem of the foolish virgins was that were unprepared for the big event. The second issue was that they became apathetic and impatient,  and fell asleep waiting for it.

On the other hand, the wise virgins ad gotten the fuel they needed. When the anticipated celebration it occurred, they enjoyed it’s benefits.

God has the fuel we need in our new circumstances. He has given it to  people out there, at our church for example, willing to give it away.  We just need to go and get it.

This isn’t always easy. We become discouraged, afraid of the future and just plain exhausted.  We just don’ think we have the resources.

God doesn’t reward donothingness, however. In fact, He despises it. In one story, Jesus chastized a “lazy, wicked servant” for being fearful and not using what he did have to be successful (Matthew 25:24-28).

In our case, He has provided a unique opportunity in a great fellowship in our town for help and healing. We’d  be foolish not to avail ourselves of it. It may not last and it may not come again.   

The Beatles sang a song to with this theme:

“If you want it, here it is come and get it
Mm, make your mind up fast
If you want it, anytime, I can give it
But you better hurry because it may not last.”

Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?
Will you walk away from a fool and his money?
If you want it, here it is, come and get it
But you better hurry because it’s going fast.”

Our church has a bonanza waiting for us. They’ve got the resources we need. To walk away from their offerings now would be perhaps the biggest mistake of our lives. If we want it,  there it is. We have to go and get it.

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