Are you counting on the right safety nets?

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The United States is what I would call a safety-net country. An abundance of government-led programs prevent the widespread devastation of economic crises and natural disasters. In fact, these programs have made many believe they are entitled to invulnerability of any kind.

“Everyone has the the right to eat!” So the government spends billions on WIC, EBT, SNAP and other welfare programs.

“Nobody should lose everything if they are laid off from a job!” So we’ve been given unemployment benefits.

“No elderly person should have to work until they die, or starve if they can no longer work…” So we have Social Security.

“No disabled person should have to beg for food!” So we have disability benefits.

“No person should get abandoned in a catastrophe!” So we send in FEMA

To many, these safety nets are like gods themselves… Continue reading

Lessons from a Humiliated Pharaoh

This is Part 2 of the Series “The Effects of Knowing God” For the previous post, click here.

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What effect does knowing God have on your life? What effect did it have on the Pharaoh of the Exodus account?

Picture in your mind Moses and Aaron in the court of Pharaoh…

A line of foreigners, servants and gifts winds between gleaming pillars of alabaster. Pharaoh reclines lazily on his throne, receiving tribute from conquered lands, Occasionally sparing a glance or a nod for these lesser mortals. As he waves two Ethiopians away, two plainly-clothed men approach the throne carrying no gift at all. One is clothed as a shepherd, the other a slave.

The man on the right squares his shoulders and speaks:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'”

Pharaoh jerks his head back in shock, one eyebrow arched menacingly.

Both feet press into the stone floor as he leans forward. The one on the left looks a little familiar, but it’s unlikely. The man to the right, the speaker, bears all the marks of servitude—the slight hunch of the shoulders, the leathery skin, and the eyes that flicker of fear.

Filthy Hebrews. 

Who is this God they’re talking about? If the Hebrews have a god, he’s certainly weaker than Ra…

Weaker than me, he thinks to himself.

Pharaoh’s mouth curves into a sardonic smile. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Ex 5:2)

Pharaoh is about to get the introduction of a lifetime… Continue reading

The Effects of Knowing God

 

ben-white-131241Do you know God?

In some form or fashion, everyone “knows” God… Continue reading

The truth in the music.

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Over the weekend as I was whirring around like a tornado cleaning the house, the kids asked to listen to Christmas music. I suppose it really is that time of the year…

I didn’t feel like fussing with CDs so I pulled up my Amazon Music app and selected the first Christmas station that looked promising. The crooning of Michael Buble, the tinny Feliz Navidad, the rocking Brian Setzer renditions, and the bouncy Christmas oldies rang through the house one jingle bell after another. I skipped “It’s the Most Wonderful time of the Year” because it’s one of The Most Hated Songs in My Ears (I have no idea why that song irritates me so much). While my arms were covered in soap, the song, “Mary, did you know?” came on, performed by the a cappella group Pentatonix. My little girl wanted to skip it because it sounded too slow and she wanted peppy songs. I asked her to pause and listen to this one, partly because I hadn’t heard this version and was curious.

If you are unfamiliar with this song, please take a moment to read and digest the lyrics:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM.

(Written by Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry)

Obviously, Mary couldn’t possibly have known all the amazing things Jesus would accomplish in His lifetime. We know that she was told He was the Son of God. Luke 1:35 records the angel’s words to Mary: “therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” She knew who Jesus was, but could she comprehend the magnitude? I don’t think so. Truth be told, none of us can wrap our heads around all the the Lord has done and continues to do for us.

Mary, we are told, treasured the wondrous acts she observed in her heart (Luke 2:19). There is a lesson in that for us. Do we treasure God’s wondrous deeds within our hearts? Do we marvel over each one as a precious gift or do we treat them as commonplace? Each time God answers our prayers, do we lift our souls in rapturous praise or do we shrug a thanks?

The striking lesson in this simple song is not, “what did Mary know?”. The lesson lies in this: Jesus will never cease to fill us with wonder. The Son of God, through whom the world was created, was willing to live on this earth in poverty, suffer disdain, and bear the torturous death on a cross so that we could be delivered from God’s much-deserved wrath.

These amazing realities in the gospels should stir our hearts with joy and conviction with each and every read.

 

Jesus astounded all who came in contact with Him. It wasn’t his dashing good looks or his phenomenal charisma, for as Isaiah tells us, “he had no form or comeliness that we might desire Him.” It was not pomp and circumstance for He was an impoverished itinerant. What drew people to Jesus was the depth of His compassion, His quiet authority, His defiance of natural laws, and above all, seeing the very nature and essence God dwelling among man. Most men would allow their fame to go to their head, but Jesus made it clear time after time after time that He was no “mere man.”

I wish I could have followed Jesus on those dusty Judean roads—to see the deep love in His eyes, to gaze in wonder at His mercy, to hear His calm voice over the roar of the storm. And yet Jesus says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Through Jesus, God has done more than our finite minds can grasp. Through Jesus, we will be granted “scenes of bliss forever new” as the old hymn says. Through Jesus, we will never cease to be filled with wonder at the glorious greatness of the I AM.

Who knows what Mary knew? It doesn’t really matter.

What this song should convey to us is the awe we should feel in the presence of God and bring to our remembrance the hopeful expectation of the joy—forever new and forever wondrous—awaiting us in eternity.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him…”

~ 1 Corinthians 2:9, ESV

Why Study the Bible?

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Last week, I shared with you why I ditched my Bible reading plan, and relayed my current plan for trekking through the book of Romans.

In the past week and a half, I have read through Romans three times. I’ve read and reread various chapters, trying to grasp the bigger picture of the letter. I thought, perhaps, that if I focused solely on Romans, I would draw more from the text.

Sadly, I STILL found myself continuing to tune out, fighting to keep my mind on the task at hand.

Continue reading

Do people see Jesus in your life?

(This article is part of the series “Building GenNext.” You can read the previous post by clicking here.)

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The next three posts in this series are going to address the second in ‘E’ in Raising Gen-Next Christians: Exemplify: Demonstrating how a Christian ought to live. Before launching into the mechanics of how to be an example to our children, new Christians and other believers, we need to address who our example ought to be.

Several years ago, there was a commercial on TV in which a young boy was following his father everywhere and attempting to imitate him in every way. Continue reading

GenNext: Raising up Christians who know the Lord

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STOP! Don’t skip this post—it isn’t just about raising kids!

For the next several weeks, we will be focusing on the importance of equipping children, new Christians, and current Christians to be pivotal members of the body of Christ.

The church is in crisis. The number of people identifying as Christians is dwindling. Pew-warmers seek entertainment, and feel-good messages rather than biblical literacy. Young people are leaving the faith in droves despite targeted “programs.” Church leaders are baffled.  Continue reading

Do you really know your captain?

Saving Private Ryan, Photo by Amblin Entertainment - © 1998
Saving Private Ryan, Photo by Amblin Entertainment – © 1998

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6.10-13

Many of you may remember seeing the movie Saving Private Ryan. The movie is not for the faint of heart, particularly the opening scene. All the ugliness and brutality of war is graphically portrayed so that the viewers would understand the depth of sacrifice the dead and the survivors made for freedom. (There is also a TON of foul language in the movie, so if you should decided to watch it, keep that in mind. It’s a bit hard to listen to.)

I come from a long line of veterans. Both of my grandfathers served in World War 2. My mother’s dad didn’t give his proper age and joined up at 17. My father’s dad was a Navy chief who also served in Korea and Vietnam. My own father joined the Army Rangers (voluntarily) to serve in Vietnam because he believed that if America was at war, it was his duty to serve. They all survived, for which I am truly thankful. They each carried the scars of war—friends lost, horrors witnessed and nightmares to live with.

The survivors of combat possess a view of man, life and death that the rest of us cannot grasp with the same intensity. They have learned, first-hand, the cost of obedience. They have learned what makes a good leader and a rotten one. They know what it is to face death, and what they owe to those who gave up life.

I don’t know much about what my forbears did in the war. It wasn’t something they talked about much. It was a very private facet of their lives. I know my Father was a medic, that he ate some pretty nasty food in Vietnam, that he helped an amputee survive, and that he has earned several medals including the Silver Star. I don’t ask him for details because I know that the memories stir up nightmares and deeply painful memories, but I know and appreciate that his time as a soldier is part of who he is, and I am thankful for the sacrifices he made for us. I know only a part, but I respect him. I respected him when I lived under his roof and the more I get to know him, the deeper the respect.

In Saving Private Ryan, the men under Captain Miller’s command had a running bet on what Miller did prior to being in the military. They trusted their commander, they knew his bravery, they had confidence in his decision-making and they knew that he would obey orders—even the orders that seemed crazy. In spite of all they did know, they were completely in the dark about his pre-war life.

There is a critical moment in the movie, when Captain Miller decides not to shoot a captured German soldier after taking a machine-gun bunker. One of the soldiers loses his head. They had lost two soldiers and the captain had decided not to execute one of the enemy soldiers responsible. He rants and screams at the captain about his poor decisions.

He gets in the Captain’s face and shouts, “I’m done with this mission!”

One of the sergeants runs after him and growls, “Don’t you dare walk away from your captain,” and points his pistol at the man. All the men begin to shout. Some try to talk the captain out of the mission.

Miller calmly looks up and says, “Sarge, what’s the pool up to on me right now?”

Everyone looks at him like he’s crazy.

He says, “I’m a school teacher. I teach English Composition… at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach on the baseball team in springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they say, ‘well, that figures,’ but over here… it’s a big mystery.”

All the men are stunned into silence.

They realize that he is a man with a wide range of intelligence, character and bravery. He only revealed more of himself when it was necessary. This knowledge brought the men back to themselves and what they were fighting for. He wanted the war to be over as much as anyone of them, but he was willing to see the mission through to the end.

He says, “If this mission means I get to go home, then I’m going to do it.”

They continue their mission and follow him…to the very end.

Knowing their commander deepened their trust and respect. They had a greater willingness to follow him.

They were willing to die with him.

Side note: I know some of you are saying, ” what about the coward?” Well, he was just that—a coward. Knowing what he knew about his commander had no lasting effect on him. He cared more about self-preservation than the lives of his comrades. He was afraid to carry out justice. He was afraid to step into the fray to protect others. I am confident that all the men were afraid, but they did not allow their fear to control them. They trusted their commander. They pressed forward in spite of their fears. The coward did not.

I’d like to ask you: Who is your captain and how well do you know him?

We live in a battlefield. It may not be strewn with visibly dead bodies or battered by explosions and machine-gun fire; yet we have a spiritual battle waging all around us. This is the battle of right and wrong, of—dare I say it—good versus evil, of truth versus lies. God wants our hearts and minds. So does Satan.

We belong to one unit or the other.

There is no Switzerland.

No neutral ground.

So whose army are you in?

If you are a Christian, then God is your commander-in-chief and Jesus is the Captain. When we sign up to serve, we are supposed to obey orders and follow wherever He leads us.

Consider the following questions:

Do you think He is trustworthy?

Why would you follow Him into the fray?

If He calls you to Him, would you brave the flying bullets (i.e. personal attacks, loss of business/property/wealth, alienation, hate speech) to reach His position or would you cower in fear?

Are you certain that He has your best interest at heart?

Do you have confidence that he will get you home (i.e. heaven)?

Are you prepared to follow him on whatever mission, even if it means losing your life or property?

If you do not know God and do not know the expectations He has, how can you follow orders? How can you decide what to do when the commander isn’t shouting commands?

The Lord, He is God [Prayer part 2]

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Good afternoon!

How was your week? Were you able to fall into a consistent praying pattern this week? Keep it up! If not, keep working on praying at meal times or setting aside time morning or evening for prayer. Start with a ten-minute, uninterrupted window of time in a quiet place and spend time in prayer with God.

You can read about the importance of regular communication with God here.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus is in the middle of what we refer to as “The Sermon on the Mount.” He is teaching the people how to establish their lives in such a way as to be pleasing to God. At the end of the sermon on the mount, he concludes “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” In the midst of his lesson [chapter 6.5-15], he instructs the people how to pray. This would imply that prayer is part of what Jesus expects us to do in order to build our lives on the rock.

I’d like to focus specifically on the beginning of His prayer:

“Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” [verse 9]

Hallowed? That’s not a term that is often used in our vernacular. It means “to honor as holy” or “venerated, sacred.” So when Jesus says, “hallowed be your name” He is reminding us that God, and His very name, are to be held in honor and treated as sacred.

Each portion of this prayer in Matthew 6 shows us an important aspect of prayer. God wants us to acknowledge that He is God and to honor Him as such. He isn’t just another man; he doesn’t want to be treated in a casual, common way. He wants us to honor and adore Him.

I have found that many people are not comfortable with this idea of reverence and honor. There is a tendency to think that if we get too formal, it will diminish our relationship with God the Father. One way of looking at this is through a parent-child relationship. A parent typically expects their child to call them “mother/mom/mommy/ma” or “father/dad/daddy/papa.” Most parents do not want their children to call them by their first names. The title of mother or father (and its variations) is an acknowledgement of authority. The child is in essence saying, “You are the father/mother. You are in charge of me.” In some places, children are expected to respond with “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” to their parents. Does that mean that they love their parents less because they use formality? Does it mean that their parents are domineering, overbearing, unapproachable people? On occasion, perhaps. More often than not, there is a lot of love in families where the parents and children perform their roles appropriately. There is comfort and certainty in having a solid authority. God is a solid authority and deserves respect; he concurrently wants us to love Him.

Take some time before you pray this week and write down attributes of God.

For example:

  • holy
  • creator
  • loving father
  • omniscient (all-knowing)
  • omnipresent (always everywhere)
  • omnipotent (all-powerful)
  • just
  • wise

When you pray, praise God for being one or two of those attributes; tell Him in your prayer how much you love Him and respect Him. This isn’t about getting verbose in your prayers–God doesn’t want us to pile on the words–it is about honoring God with the praise He is due. It will enhance our relationship with Him and increase the effectiveness of our prayers. People appreciate genuine praise from their friends; how much more does God appreciate the honor we show Him?

In our next post, we will look at praying according God’s will.

Be diligent in prayer and God be with you!

Prayer: Our Communication to God

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Communication is an essential factor in any relationship.

In our modern society we communicate with people via text message, phone, face time, Skype, Facebook posts, Twitter and even the old-fashioned form of face-to-face. It is impossible to have a solid relationship without some form of communication from time to time.

Imagine having a friend that you don’t see regularly. They don’t live next door, they don’t work with you ,and day-to-day encounters are infrequent. You make a regular effort to stay in touch with a call/text/email and invite them to your house or out to coffee or dinner so you can spend time with them. How long would that relationship last if they never returned a text or call, never came over and basically never said a word back?

Consider also the value of a friendship or relationship in which the only time you contacted your friend or loved one was when you had a need? Do you think that friend would feel valued? Respected? Or would they simply feel used?

God communicates with us through His Word. We communicate with God through prayer. It’s a two way street. If you cut off either line of communication, you won’t have much to work with in your relationship with God. How many movies show people about die or lose a loved one and the first words are, “I know I haven’t prayed in a while…” Followed by, “do this for me…” How do you think God looks on such requests?

The Bible records that Jesus would go off alone and pray for hours at a time (Mark 1:35). There were even times recorded when He would pray all night (Luke 6:12). I have prayed intermittently through a difficult night when sleep has been elusive or troubled, but I don’t think I have ever spent an entire night praying. Can you think of the last time you spent an hour praying? I never keep track of time, but I can’t think of too many times I’ve spent more than one dedicated hour in prayer at a time.

[Now, before I go further, I want to emphasize that the things I write here are for your consideration. These are things I am working to improve in my own relationship with God. In other words, I am not pointing fingers in criticism or condescension; these are things I observe in the Word that I need to consider in my walk and I hope that they will help you on your journey with the Lord.]

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells the Christians to “pray without ceasing,” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). What does that mean? How can one pray ceaselessly? We should pray as often as we have opportunity and with regularity. We eat 3 times a day. I would say that’s eating regularly, wouldn’t you? I see prayer as having a similar regularity and then some. It should be daily and not just when a desperate need arises. Pray at any moment you are sorrowful, joyful, thankful, thoughtful, frightened. When I am facing conflict throughout the day, I fire off short prayers throughout the day for help with attitude, self-control and thankfulness when things go smoothly. Prayer does not always have to be a prostrate affair; indeed, there are many times when it is not possible. If you are flat on your back in a hospital bed connected to a bunch of tubes and needles, you’ll have an interesting time getting out of bed and kneeling without causing yourself and your nurses significant troubles. So pray–whenever you can and wherever you are.

Each week, I will be encouraging you to pray for specific things or to work on a specific aspect of praying. This will grow our relationship with God, and in some cases, hopefully, strengthen our interpersonal relationships.

Making a new habit often requires a target or goal. Prayer should be as habitual to us as eating or even breathing. James 5.17 says, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much,” so why don’t we start praying with focus and consistency to enhance the effectiveness of our prayers?

Here are our three goals:

1) to learn how to pray ceaselessly and do it

2) to have “effective, fervent prayers”

3) most importantly–to grow our relationship with God.

This week, let us draw attention to making time to pray. If you are only praying on rare occasion, I want to encourage you start with one simple goal: pray before each meal. Most people eat regularly (or else they would die of starvation), so it’s safe to say everybody eats! Use this regular activity to build regular communication with the Lord. Give thanks for your food and ask that it will nourish you and strengthen you for the day. Then, consider one acquaintance and ask the Lord to bless them; if they are not a follower of Christ, ask God to lead them to the truth. You may find your prayers growing longer as you have more to bring to God. At that point, it’s time to find another point in the day to have focused time in prayer in addition to praying before you eat.

If you are already praying at meal times, I would encourage you to pray before going about the activities of your day. Set the alarm 10 minutes earlier, climb out of bed so you don’t fall back asleep, and pray.

Are you unsure of what to pray for or how to pray? We’ll dive into more specifics in future posts, but for the present, consider a few points:

1) Reverence. Keep in mind that you are talking to Almighty, All-Powerful God. He isn’t your buddy from down the street. We are so informal with everybody these days. While informality isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has caused us treat serious things more lightly than we ought to at times. God is a loving Father and He wants us to have a close relationship with Him, but we need to remember to treat Him with respect for who and what He is.

2) Thanksgiving. It’s very easy to fall into the habit of complaining about all the things going wrong. In your prayers, take time to thank Him for what is good. Do you have a home of some kind–an apartment, trailer, or house? Be thankful to have some protection from extreme heat or cold, hail, rain, snow, or blistering sunshine. Do you have a Bible? Offer thanks that God has revealed so much to us. Many of the righteous longed to have what we have now. Do you have a job that allows you to provide for yourself or others? It might be a lousy job, but if it helps provide for your needs, it’s a blessing. The Bible encourages thanksgiving:

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

“Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

Besides the Biblical references to thanksgiving, it’s plain common horse sense. How would you feel if you gave somebody a gift and they looked at it, rolled their eyes and said, “Ugh! I never have anything nice! Can’t you do something for me?” You’d be thinking, “Are you blind?! I just gave you a gift and you didn’t even thank me for it!” Gratitude goes a long way. It’s a show of respect and appreciation. (More on this to come!!)

3) Remember ACTS. This acronym has been floating around for years. It’s not my own invention, but if you are struggling about what to pray for, try keeping this in mind:

A – Adoration (praise God)

C – Confession (confess your faults and sins)

T – Thanksgiving (see above)

S – Supplication (asking for your needs or the needs of others).

4) Chart Your Progress. A year and a half ago, I started walking for exercise. I had a pedometer and I checked my weight and inches once a week. Slowly, I stared seeing the changes. It was great to see how many hundreds of miles I had walked after just a few months. The positive side effects were great too. If it helps, put a little “P” on your calendar for everyday you pray. When teaching children new habits, it can be helpful to chart their progress so they “see” that they’ve accomplished something. We as adults aren’t all that different. The results of regular prayer can take years to become readily apparent to us, and, like a growing child, the changes are subtle and difficult to recognize. Another idea for tracking progress is to start a prayer journal. Write your requests in a prayer journal so they can go back and see at a later time how many of their prayers were answered.

In my next post, I will address a critical aspect of prayer—reverence for the Lord.

May the Lord bless you this week as you endeavor to grow closer to Him!