Not Strange

I learned a long time ago there is no plot without conflict. Stress makes muscles grow, and as unsettling as the reality may be in our obsessive bent toward least resistance, it isn’t easy living the Christ life and according to all available evidence it was never intended to be. “Think it not strange …” Quite honestly, I prefer things that come easily, and if not careful I make that my criteria for judging something to be God’s will, as if friction and strain somehow invalidate God’s purposes. That would be American hermeneutics, not biblical interpretation. Rigorous discipline, challenge, struggle, hardship—I may not gravitate naturally toward these, but such harsh descriptors are not incompatible with divine guidance. 

Although I have invoked it from time to time, I remain leery of the familiar Christian vocabulary of the “open door.” I find many more examples in Scripture of hardship to be overcome than I do of walking through open doors like the opening segment of the old Get Smart TV show with Don Adams walking down a corridor as various secure doors open before him in rapid succession. The story of Joseph in Genesis disquiets me more than all others put together. His tale is replete with mistakes, misunderstanding, false accusation, imprisonment, abandonment, servitude—and all for a preferred son. The kicker is the commentary that comes at the end of the narrative: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20 KJV). Seriously? Or take Paul’s unwelcome thorn in the flesh. God was obviously not unaware as he responds to Paul’s petition that divine grace is sufficient to carry him through the pain. Sounds good if you are not the one with the thorn, likely malarial induced headaches that stabbed like a red hot poker running through Paul’s skull.

The point to all this rambling is simply a compassionate caution against falling prey to the fallacy of open door theology. Judge God’s will against His kingdom purposes, His Word, and His call on your life, rather than in relief of the path of least resistance.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter. 4:12-19, KJV )

Heaven on Earth

A legend from India tells of a mouse who was terrified of cats until a magician agreed to cast a spell and transform him into a cat. That resolved his fear until he met a dog, so the magician turned him into a dog. The mouse-turned cat-turned dog was content until he met a tiger, so once again the magician turned him into what he feared. But when the mouse-turned cat-turned dog-turned tiger came to the magician complaining that he had met a hunter, the magician refused to help. “I will make you into a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse.” Attitude is everything. 

Once Winston Churchill was sitting on a platform waiting to speak to a large crowd that had gathered to hear him. The chairman of the event leaned over and said, “Isn’t it exciting, Mr. Churchill, that all these people came to hear you speak?” Churchill responded, “It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that if, instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.” While poverty of character is never encouraged, Jesus himself raises the right estimation of one’s self to the highest possible priority. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, KJV). Only when I see myself in light of Christ and evaluate myself according to service to humanity, am I able to embrace the heart of God rather than that of a mouse.

Encompassed by angry faces, and bombarded by dissonant voices, how will we ever steer the right course? Only by staying fixed on true north. For the believer that means struggling against all odds to retain Christ as Center. Dallas Willard writes: “A vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for what we are. This makes us bold, for we see clearly what great good and evil are at issue, and we see that it is not up to us to accomplish it, but up to God–who is more than able. We are delivered from pretending, from being presumptuous about ourselves, and from pushing as if the outcome depended on us. We persist without frustration, and we practice calm and joyful noncompliance with evil of every kind.”

When I reclaim focus on Christ, the things of earth still matter very much, yet they do so only in reference to eternity. This eternal/ temporal dialogue was voiced by Jesus himself when he prayed: “on earth as it is in heaven.” Do not lose sight of Christ’s necessary order—heaven forms the pattern for earth, not vice versa. Pray and seek to know Jesus Christ to a degree and measure you have never before attempted, and you will gain a deeper and more authentic understanding of yourself. When that happens, you will begin to recognize your God-given role in advocating for and pursuing God’s will as a reflection of what it is in Heaven.

Memory

Sitting in front of a crackling fire while enjoying a rare window framed glimpse of wintry mix in Bosqueville, I recall cold mornings in southeast Texas huddled before my Grandma Richey’s Dearborn, toasting bread over gas flames and imagining wilderness camping on a great hunt for grizzlies. Memory can be fickle, but though elusive at times, it protects us from losing teachable treasures. I remember where I was the first time I heard Billy Graham preach. It was the 1968 Houston crusade held in the brand new Astrodome, and I was proudly carrying the Bible my grandmother had given me for Christmas. I can’t remember what was said or who was with Dr. Graham, but I do recall that the air smelled like plastic and cotton candy, an odd but unforgettable olfactory combination. I remember where I was the moment we learned that John F. Kennedy had been shot. I was about to enter the J. C. Penny store in old downtown Port Arthur with my mother and Grandma Richey, when a woman burst through the doors, arms waving frantically in the air, screaming “The President’s been shot! The President’s been shot!” I was three years old, but I can still see the scene and feel the emotion attached to it. 

A memory is deepened when formed from exposure to multiple senses. If you think about it, it’s what makes possible, in fact, impossible not to remember experiences in your grandmother’s kitchen, a childhood classroom, or Christmases past. You need only be exposed to a similar scent or situation and the result is instant recall. Others are remembered only briefly: an outline for an exam, a verse that you need to recall for a specific occasion, someone’s name that’s important at that moment. Hearing or seeing does not necessarily forge a memory. Remembering comes from hearing and seeing and tasting and touching and smelling. “Touch has a memory” (John Keats).

There’s a reason for remembering; memory is as much about today as it is yesterday. “‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice” (Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass”). God created memory so that I may learn from my past, for the purpose of either repeating or avoiding it. “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real” (Cormac McCarthy,  “All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1”). 

Jesus answered and said unto him, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:23-26, KJV)

I Forget I Remember

Funny how often I forget that I remember something. It happened again this morning when I happened back upon a hymn that elicited emotions so powerful that I was physically affected (I discreetly wept). By the way, hymns are those archaic forms of teaching theology and establishing core values embedded in mnemonic tunes that once graced the worship of God’s people, more recently displaced by trendy lyrics repeated ad infinitum set to pop melodies. But I digress….

I had forgotten that I remember the moving text of, “My lord is near me all the time.” From the first line, this hymn composed by Barbara Fowler Gaultney awakened deeply embedded childhood memories. One moment I was standing on aching knees downing cup number two of my morning wake up call; the next I was transported back to Trinity Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, sitting as a boy on curved plywood theater seats that were fastened to an asbestos tile floor. Men wore polyester suits with wide ties, women were in knit dresses and panty hose, and choir members wrapped in blue lustrous robes with gold satin stoles belted out:

“When the thunder shakes the mighty hills
And trembles ev’ry tree,
Then I know a God so great and strong
Can surely harbor me.”

More than anything else I remember God’s closeness. Years later, I read the works of Francis Schaefer who liked to speak of the “God who is there.” I do not disagree with his theology, but more than ever I cling to the memory that God is near, and am increasingly reliant upon the present reality of a God who is here. I had forgotten that I remember just how much I need a loving Father to embrace and harbor me.

In the lightning flash across the sky
His mighty pow’r I see,
And I know if He can reign on high,
His light can shine on me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

When the thunder shakes the mighty hills
And trembles ev’ry tree,
Then I know a God so great and strong
Can surely harbor me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

When refreshing showers cool the earth
And sweep across the sea,
Then His rainbow shines within my heart,
His nearness comforts me.

I’ve seen it in the lightning, heard it in the thunder,
And felt it in the rain;
My Lord is near me all the time,
My Lord is near me all the time.

(“My Lord Is Near Me All the Time”, words and music by Barbara Fowler Gaultney)

Paying Attention

Eugene Peterson loved Denise Levertov’s poem, “Overland to the Islands,” in which the poet depicts a dog meandering “intently haphazard,” sniffing and leaping rocks, taking note of everything it smells and dances across. Through it all, the dog:

keeps moving, changing pace and approach but not direction—every step an arrival.

Events, encounters, and adversity may seem random to us, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear will recognize the Father’s heart on display. Only God knows what is in store for each of us this year, but the intrepid disciple keeps advancing, discerning every heartbreak and heart song along the path as an arrival on our journey of re-creation. Eternity hangs in the balance of how intently we pay attention.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 | ESV)

Gender Matters

In the current hubbub and uproar over gender identity and gender related roles, allow me to make something perfectly clear—gender matters. I do not place myself above or beneath any other person on account of my God-given gender, economic status, or ethnicity. Having stated that, allow me to say that I thank God He created me as a man, and I am neither confused nor ashamed as to what that means. As a man, I am certainly no better than a woman. Truth be told, I will never be my wife’s equal. But I do not want to trade places with her, or my mother, or my sister, or my daughter, or any other female. It is a full-time job just trying not to screw up being the man, husband, son, father, brother, and friend God created me to be.

There is far more at stake here than cultural preference or generational differences. Make no mistake about it, whether you like it or not, the simple unavoidable truth is that if you refuse to acknowledge and accept that God created you either male or female and seek to honor Him according to His sovereign choice, you will never acknowledge him as Lord, never yield to him as King, never relinquish control of your life and take up a towel as slave before your Master. You cannot deny yourself if unwilling to acknowledge the true self God created. Semantics will not change how God sees you. Surgery will not alter who you are before Him. Argue the point until you are blue in the face, but a genderless society is a godless society.

“Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.” Genesis 5:2 | ESV

Precipice of Socialism

I shared with my church in Waco last night that now more than ever we will need to be vigilant about maintaining congruence between what we profess and what we practice. The cultural tide in this country is swelling, and is not headed in a godward direction. It threatens to take out to sea all those who have built their spiritual houses on shifting sand of popular opinion and personal convenience. I am convinced that courageous disciples of Jesus in the United States will face unexpected and unfathomable persecution in the near future as this country runs hellbent pellmell down the precipice of socialism.

Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver from Missouri opened the 117th Congress in prayer, but he closed his prayer by saying, “Amen and a-woman.” Actions and words like those in the so called “prayer” before congress are not funny and cute. They are an offense to Almighty God, whose name by the way is not Brahma, Mohammed, Shiva, Krishna or Buddha. Get ready to stand Church at all costs. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

God Save America

The news media (including Fox News) and some well meaning people want us to believe that this election is about mere differences of opinion, and that once it is over we can simply put them behind us, join hands, and skip glibly forward into a future where biblical morality is distant memory relegated to the arena of impotent nostalgia. Make no mistake about it, this country has become a battlefield upon which critical issues of sanctity of life, biblical marriage, religious freedom, and democracy versus socialism are at stake. These moral issues are far too important for believers to relinquish to the secularists and all those on the left, regardless of the outcome (positive or negative) of any election.

Regardless of what results from delayed and hazy election results and who eventually prevails in the U.S. presidential election, one thing is crystal clear—a startling percentage (perhaps majority) of persons in this country now favor legalized murder of yet-to-be born children, redefining marriage and gender to be anything-goes, removing God from the pledge of allegiance and all other facets of public life, and a socialist form of government in which the State supersedes individual and state rights. Tragically, this could not have happened without vast numbers of Christians choosing to be complicit in the moral demise. For those reasons, I can no longer pray or sing “God bless America”; instead, my constant plea will be: “God save America.” The divine hand may already be in motion writing “Ichabod” (“my glory has departed”) across the portals of this country that once revered God Almighty, but surely it is not too late for God’s people to confess our sins, repent in sackcloth and ashes, and desperately turn to God as our only hope. In reality, He has always been our only hope. God save America.

(Personal photo taken during Prayer March 2020, Washington D.C.)

Platform Versus Personality

We hear shouts from every direction that the November election is about ousting certain persons and installing others in their place. Do not be deceived. This election or any election has nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with platforms. It is not about persons, but principles. Read the official platform of the party you place your stamp of approval on with your vote, and realize that you are morally responsible for the principles you choose to support. Like it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate supports an official platform that upholds in clear and unmistakable language the right to kill unborn children, calling it “reproductive freedom.” The Bible calls it reprehensible. The Democratic platform portrays this as the majority opinion—“Like the majority of Americans, Democrats believe every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment and protecting and codifying the right to reproductive freedom” (I reference page 42 of the official platform of the Democratic Party). And, admit it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate takes a stand with an official platform that grants sexual preference the same status as gender by birth, and applies the ambiguous designation “conversion therapy” to damn any attempt to address sexual preference from a corrective stance.

But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself. The platforms of political parties are easily accessible at no cost online. Then look beyond certain faces and focus on what values you embrace for this country and want upheld for your children and grandchildren.

Click to access 2020-07-31-Democratic-Party-Platform-For-Distribution.pdf

Click to access platform.pdf

Prophetic or Popular?

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” John 17:13-18 | ESV

Sanctification is what allows the believer in Christ to experience the quality of life Jesus describes as “eternal life.” The word “sanctify” means “to set apart, consecrate, make sacred.” In ascribing this holy state of being, Jesus makes what on the surface appears to be a major contradiction in verses 17-18: “Sanctify them by the truth…. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one…. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” One would logically think that if eternal life is a certain quality of life, the goal of which is to make me sacred to Christ, that I should look for every possibility to escape the world. Instead, Jesus says his purpose for us is to remain sacred to him while living smack dab in the middle of a culture characterized by deepest darkness. In other words, you and are to live sanctified lifestyles while remaining in the world. That is far more difficult and necessary than retreating from the world.

There has likely never been a more critical moment for the church to stand out and speak out in this country than right now. My wife and I once enjoyed Hallmark holiday movies, but the Hallmark company is now joining those in this country attempting to redefine marriage and family with non-biblical language. According to an article by Lawrence Richards, Hallmark will now prioritize and reflect “diversity.” According to a company spokesperson, that will include “projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors.” “Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us,” the statement said via Good Morning America. “We are committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.” Dr. Jim Denison reports that a recent episode of HGTV’s House Hunters show featured a “throuple” (a three-person “couple”) seeking a new home in Colorado. He goes on to say that the American Psychological Association has created a “Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force” to promote “awareness and inclusivity” about polyamorous (“many loves”) relationships.

“Without revelation people run wild, but one who keeps the law will be happy.” Proverbs 29:18 | Holman Christian Standard Bible

American culture is running wild, casting off restraint right and left. Every pulpit in America should sound forth prophetic cries calling culture to be weighed in the balance of biblical truth. The problem is that taking a moral stand always offends. What are we willing to sacrifice for popularity? If you bow before the altar of public opinion you forfeit the privilege to be prophetic. Prophetic voice rubs the wrong way because it goes against the grain of public intent and popular culture. Prophets are rarely hailed until long after they are gone. During their active ministry prophets are misunderstood, maligned, and frequently martyred. But this, evidently, has been Christ’s plan all along. When the sanctified live sacred lives among those who are thoroughly sacrilegious, the Truth stands out in stark contrast to popular lies masquerading as morality.