Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Crutch of Religion, and What We Really Want

Anyone landing on this blog can surmise that I’m a Christian. Well, I hope they can. I don't try to hide it. But if you’re not of that persuasion, truth is, my faith is no more real than yours. Even if religion is not for you, we are no different. I believe in something. You believe in something. God. Prophets. Positivity. Energy. Nature. Money. Power. Politics. Science. Culture. Entertainment. Relationships. Self. My faith drives me, moves me onward. It sustains me. So does yours.

I’ve embraced something worth living for, worth dying for. And maybe you've made the same commitment. Maybe not. When it all proves too much of a task, you might want to let it go. At times, I feel the same tug. We really aren’t any different. We’re human beings foundering in chaos, clinging to something we hope will save us, or else, denying we need saving. Either way, you and I are the same.

The Christian holds to the promise of eternal life through the forgiveness of sins and the grace offered by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Muslim accepts one God, creator and sustainer, and wholly surrenders to God’s will. The Jew believes in the one true God of the Universe, giver of the law. Other world religions build their faith on the natural inclination of mankind to offer worship, to find purpose. Even the non-believer desires something that lasts, views life with longing eyes, seeks the meaning of it all, even if it ends in discovering there is no meaning at all.

So, my faith isn't any different than your faith, or lack thereof. We all search for  something. In my case, I took up Christianity and stuck with it. It’s a faith group, a belief system. One anybody can join. Just find yourself a good church and plug in. But if you prefer, find a good mosque, or synagogue. Or get yourself a little Buddha statue. Or something. Or worship the moon. Or join in a social movement and see if that does it for you. Plenty of those to choose from right now.



Sarcasm? Little bit. I don't mean to poke fun at religion. Here’s the thing: Clutching the crutch of religion, in the end, makes little difference. It might offer peace of mind, a better life. And moral boundaries are good for the individual and for society. But any belief system can get you there. As it is, my ideas of good and bad and right and wrong might pit against yours at start a disagreement. Or a war. It’s been known to happen.

However, while my religiosity is no better or worse than yours, the One who called me to faith is different. The power of the gospel saves a soul from hell, redeems a generation, rescues a planet, and provides a way for all people everywhere to realize true freedom, to live unburdened in the presence of their Creator. No cost. No sacrifice. The cost has been paid, the sacrifice made. The calling? I’m no different than you, except that I answered when He called me. Think He isn’t calling you?  If you’re reading this, maybe He is.

What we all want, whether we admit it or not, is love. We want to feel it and express it. But it’s always an unfulfilled dream away. It doesn’t live up to our expectations. It’s fleeting. It does not satisfy.

Only one love doesn’t disappoint, no matter who you are. Regardless of your religion, your dislike of religion, the object of your affection, or the surety of your well managed plans, this is it. As the saying goes, we’re all in this together. And this is all that matters:

 

 In this way the love of God was revealed to us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 I John 4: 9,10

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

John 3:16,17


Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Moment in History for the Church

Everybody has their idea about what it means to live the new normal. Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for most of us to adapt to a new way of getting through the day. For most Christians, the compulsory changes to our society have become more urgent than our traditional customs. In a way, that’s okay. Potentially causing harm to our neighbors certainly wouldn’t promote the cause of Christ. And so, we wear our masks and keep our distance. No harm, and it might save a life.

While our world has been at war with a virus, other battles have flared. Social tension and racial division demand a reaction from Christ’s followers. But have we allowed these challenges to sweep us into the world’s frenzied response? Or are we stayed on the gospel, remembering our calling? 

Perhaps within the church, the old normal wasn’t what it should have been. We’ve been caught up in the concerns of this world for a long time. Maybe our new normal should be to avoid the political rant and point to the coming King. To rest from the fear and proclaim the victory. To resist the fantastical schemes and rely on the truth of the scriptures. So many reports are clouded with misinformation and cloaked by trepidation. It’s too much to process and if allowed, it will consume our thoughts and impede our mission.

While we’re social distancing, we need to remind ourselves and others of the spiritual distance. The truth is, we remain far from God without the freeing power of the gospel. While we’re fixated on washing our hands, we must remember to wash our hearts with God’s Word, with prayer, and with a right mindset.

We consider those trips to the store essential, and delight in the treat of eating at a restaurant. But church? For a great many of our brothers and sisters, online church has become the new normal. It’s safe and acceptable, but this new habit of some might mean a rare return to the gathering of saints in the house of prayer.        

Right now, distance churching is necessary for a lot of people. Of course, we can’t judge. It’s a personal decision made under unprecedented circumstances. But if we’re able to join others in worship, perhaps we should, even if we have to wear a mask, sit six feet apart, and greet each other with a wave instead of a handshake. While the fearful people of our communities are counting positive test results, we can
let them know by filling our church parking lots that we are still counting our blessings. We can assure them the church isn’t closed, that they’re welcome to join our modified assemblage.

Our gathering together offers a witness of peace and stability. But what about the rest of the week? The reset of the world, if that’s what this is, might mean a reset for the church. For whatever time is left for us here in the place, we must remain, or perhaps we must become, a highly devoted church. To that end, it might be better to resist the fight that is not ours, to avoid making an enemy out of a neighbor, a friend, or a fellow believer. And it might be prudent to curb the endless flow of information that may or may not be true. It’s all so distracting.

Of course, we have to know what’s going on. Some awful things are happening, and we should do what we can to protect those around us from sickness and to calm the unrest in our towns and neighborhoods. As believers, we need to hold each other up as we face mounting adversity. No denying it, evil has us surrounded. While we don’t have to accept it as normal, we do have to endure it, at least, for a while. Good thing we’re not in this alone. God is for us, not against us. The enemy is Satan and he’s destined for defeat. As believers, we must stand together. If possible, in person. If not, then in our hearts and in our prayers. We can’t allow this pivotal moment in history to tear us apart.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

I'd Like to Tell You Jesus is Coming Soon, but...


Perhaps within every generation of Christians, at least some are imbued with an expectancy that the return of Christ could be imminent. The hope did not die with the earliest believers, but was passed down through the teaching of scriptures, and the pondering of anxious saints. 

Today, some understand the future event one way, while others find the comfort expressed in certain Bible passages to mean something else. But most, if not all, within the denominations and dogmatic currents of Christianity still believe that the Son of God who said He would return, will indeed, return.

Many of us have found recent events rousing the anticipation to a level not experienced for a while. But we have felt it before. Then things settle down and we find ourselves in wait mode once again, considering our Redeemer must be tarrying a little longer. 

Earlier this year, I stated in a blog post entitled The Art of Crying Holy, that I feel like my Deliver is coming. I made that proclamation pre-COVID-19, pre-protests and riots (no, they are not the same thing) and I stand by it. But maybe I’ve always felt it. Maybe I’m simply one of those who carry that burden of imminency. So, no, I don’t know when. Nobody does.

Surely, past disasters left many hoping and praying for the Rescue. In ancient times an earthquake, like the one in Ephesus in 262AD, might have left the early Christians considering the end was near. They were cut off from the rest of the world and didn’t know, at least for a while, that it wasn’t the entire planet that was shaken. 

In modern times, disasters, and social atrocities committed by one group against another, have been broadcast to the entire world. I can only imagine how observers in the Christian community must have watched and waited expectantly for their Messiah during WWI and WWII, during pandemics much more deadly than this present one, or during times of social upheaval that left so many homeless and hungry.

But a world at war is not the end. It may happen again. In fact, it may have already begun. A plague is not the end. Nor is an economic downturn. Nor is widespread social unrest. People have always found a reason to believe it was time for Christ to return. Our current confounding predicament has caused some of us to consider the lateness of the hour. In a series of blog posts from the latter part of 2019, I wrote about the potential of another civil war in America, including a post entitled Racism: The Church, the Media, and the New Definition of Racist. Some of what I wrote about has ramped up. I didn’t think the devolution would come on this quickly. It’s almost like it was orchestrated.

I’ve read so many conspiracy theories that I believe I’m now suffering from what’s been tagged Crisis Fatigue. I don’t know if the coronavirus was engineered. I don’t know if there are people in high places who want us to hate each other and fight in the streets. I don’t know what the future of the U.S.A. looks like. I don’t know if people like me might be loaded onto a train and delivered to a camp set up to retrain deplorables. I don’t know what Jesus meant when He said, “I am coming soon.”

Here’s what I do know: God is more powerful than any plague. It’s the devil who spawns hatred. The action of my faith will not be swayed by politics or public opinion. My destiny is in God’s hands. And the end times began when Jesus made the statement that He’s coming soon. What’s two thousand years to God? It’s a breath, that’s all. But the Day is closer today than yesterday. My Deliverer is coming, and so I wait expectantly, joyfully, and with certainty. I won’t rely on my own understanding. Or my own strength. Or my own righteous indignation. The battle is the Lord’s.

The end is predetermined. The enemy is not my neighbor, or any of my diverse brothers and sisters in Christ, or the angry citizens of my country who peacefully stand against injustice. Please know, justice is coming, and His name is Jesus.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12

Thursday, May 14, 2020

THE LOCKDOWN AND THE FREEDOM GOSPEL




Stay at home. If you have to go out, follow social distancing guidelines. Don’t visit your extended family or friends. Don’t go to a restaurant. Don’t get your hair cut. Don’t walk in the park. Don't go to the bar. Don’t go to church? That one matters to some of us. No matter how COVID-19 has changed your life, you know what to say. I’m not sure why a pandemic needs branding, but here it is: We’re all in this together. Right?

With our movement restricted and our economy crippled, we’re not as free as we were two months ago. Our survival instinct has ramped up to the point that we’re willing to submit to an altered societal structure without question. Safety has become our priority as fear eclipses freedom. That short punch of encouragement—we’re all in this together—is pushed on us by the media, governing authorities, even grocery stores and car dealers. It does serve a purpose, I suppose. It reminds us that our actions affect everyone around us. But even that realization drives the fear because we might be infected and not know it, so we can’t go around breathing on people, or touching stuff, or, God forbid, shaking hands.

A customer (we own an essential business) reached out to shake my husband’s hand. I said, “Don’t shake hands.” The man responded, “Eh, that’s *%$#&&@!.” And then he latched on for a handshake. So, maybe not everyone is willing to accept the “new normal.” I’m okay with forever removing the handshake from of our cultural habits, but some people are not going to change.

Some of us, two months ago, presumed we were free, and now we will defend our right to remain free. The current bombardment of information overload, conspiracy theories, and threats to our indulgent, consumer-driven, comfortable way of life has us yanking on proverbial chains. We don’t know how we got trapped so quickly. We don’t know when the powers that be will allow us to return to our former freestyle selves. We’re feeling the reality of a loss of freedom, albeit trivial and temporary. We sense we’re walking in the shadow of something that might become permanent.

But not all of us are wasting so much time on the headlines and the news briefs. We're not ringing our unshakable hands over how we might phase back into the old normal. Some of us have known all along that the freedom posed by this world isn’t true. We’re not wondering if there’s anyone who can set the world right again. We know we’re free, and we know the One who sets all things right.

The world is messed up because it’s always been messed up, ever since we collectively walked away from God. The whole world suffers the overwhelming, inescapable consequence of our rebellion. The only way out of this mess is the Good News, that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the only true freedom available to humankind. The only remedy to the corruption swallowing our planet. The only thing that will save us.

If you’re feeling trapped by the new normal, if you’re not sure exactly what this is that we’re all in together, ask God to set you free. This world filled with lies and crooked landscapes lorded over by the rulers of evil is passing away. It’s inevitably becoming unreal. The freedom offered by the gospel is the solitary passage into the real world. And the real world starts right here, right now.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:16-19

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36




Thursday, April 2, 2020

Teach Me How to Pray


Years ago, a ten-year-old girl, a schoolmate of my daughter, stood on our front porch. I don’t remember the conversation entirely, only a moment. The setting sun. A warm breeze. The little girl’s long brown hair. She reached up to touch the white wooden post. And she said, “I don’t pray. I believe in letting God do what he wants.”

No doubt, her statement was in response to something I said about God, but I don’t know what it was that I said. Was she only repeating what she’d heard about prayer from her parents? Most likely. I didn’t know them. It would have been right for me to make an effort with them, I suppose. But I didn’t. And now, I’m left with a regret-filled memory of a little girl who didn’t know how to pray.

Prayer has been a part of my life since I was that child's age or younger. I’ve faced seasons when I didn’t pray as I should, but I’ve never stopped, never considered, like the little girl, that prayer might be nothing but a vehicle to getting God to do something for me. Though the Bible teaches us to make our requests known, the aim is not to bend God to our will, but rather to discern His will. And so, that is my practice. As well, I offer praise. I confess. I pray for others. I walk in perpetual gratitude. I’ve long considered myself someone who knows how to pray.

But last fall, I prayed for God to teach me how to pray. I’m not sure why. I just sensed there was a deeper conversation waiting to take place. God wanted me to learn something new.

Weeks went by with little thought given to the matter. Sometimes prayer is like that—you pray and you forget. And then our pastor introduced an upcoming sermon series for the new year: The King’s Prayer. This was a verse-by-verse study of the Lord’s prayer as found in the book of Matthew. I smiled when I heard the announcement and whispered a thank you.

In seeming opposition of my request to God to teach me how to pray, the sermons left me, at first, feeling completely inadequate. I became aware of my inept ability to approach God. I’m a creature marred by sin, struggling to reach my Creator but pulled down into the mire of my existence. Frustrated, feeling unheard and invisible, I wondered why I should pray at all.

But the lessons of those weeks, and the faithful presence of God, brought me to the edge of that deeper understanding for which I had longed. As acute as the inadequacy had been at first, a realization settled in my soul that I was not expected to offer perfect prayer, but rather offer prayer to my perfect Father. I had always known Him as such. But without rehearsal, I began to address Him as Father more and more. I began to take my place as a child expecting my Father to hear me. Too see me. To understand my incompetence with words and thoughts and purpose. Through the sermon series on the Lord’s prayer, my prayer life did transform. I did rise to a nearer communion with my Father. Just in time for the world to change.

Now, desperation affects the prayers of so many people around the world. Uncertainty rules. Security has been stripped away. Sickness and death have issued their threat. Those of us who follow Christ are separated from fellow believers. Everyone is kept apart from extended family. We must remain distanced from our loved ones. While out on one of those essential missions we not only veer from strangers, we turn our eyes from each other. We rush by in hope of grabbing up what we need. It will likely get worse before it gets better. But God is not lost to our fearful mood. I rejoice that He taught and is teaching me still how to pray, for prayer is my certainty, my security, my comfort in the valley of the shadow of death. 

Life has changed, at least for a time, but because of technology all this distancing is manageable. And the stores are not yet empty. I know, certain aisles are bare, and some people are running out of funds. Walmart is a stress-filled place. I try to make eye contact and smile at hurried, nervous shoppers and I pray they find what they’re looking for, as well as what they might not know they need, that is, peace and assurance from God. I imagine the little girl on my porch, her thoughtful expression as she determined that she ought not pray. How sad it must be to live in this troubled world without prayer, when we have a loving Father awaiting our approach...

                                        Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…

Here’s a link to the first sermon in the Lord’s prayer series:The King’s Prayer – A Prayer Revolution

All of the sermons can be found at centralsanford.net 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Art of Crying Holy





I’m not an emotional Christian. While there are a few songs that might bring me to tears in a worship service, I’d rather experience such intimacy in a private moment. When I observe a friend—in the terminology of modern Christianese—getting her worship on, I consider she must be more spiritual than me, more attuned to God. An all-around better Christian. Then I chuckle under my breath. She’s not that good of a Christian. Of course, neither am I, or my eyes wouldn’t wander during worship and I wouldn’t judge my extroverted friend.

A while back, I quit worrying that I’d ever be able to change from introvert to extrovert. I decided I was okay reading in the far corner of the room while others engaged in conversation. God knew when He made me how I’d turn out. Then he married me off to an extrovert and provided a good balance.

My propensity for quiet retreat gives me insight perhaps unknown to the overt worshiper. But still, I wonder sometimes if I’m missing out. The closer we get to the return of Christ, the more I sense my natural disposition bubbling near the edge of the supernatural.


In the past, when I considered the return of our Lord to gather His Church, I would often gaze upward to the clear blue sky. I’d breathe in God’s wonder. And I’d think, no, not yet. And God would ease my mind into a holding pattern. Not so any longer.

Maybe it’s because I’m older. Or because the world is getting nuttier. Or because, while I’m not always demonstrative, I do feel things, and I feel that my Deliverer is coming. I no longer view the pleasant sky as a sign. I sometimes hold my breath to listen for His call. But I’m not afraid. It might seem to others that I’m unenthusiastic. But that’s just me. Without spectacle, void of anxiety, I await the soon-coming King.

I’m glad for the whooping from my brothers and sisters. I’m happy for their raucous verbal acknowledgement of King Jesus. Their cries echo in the hushed well of my soul.

           Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.
                      You are holy, Lord. Holy.

There’s an art to crying holy. Like the painter’s stroke, the poet’s verse, the singer’s refrain, or the musician’s skill, the cry erupts from deep inside. Like the builder’s monument or the engineer’s design, it carries great benefit for the whole community. The art of one is unlike the art of all the rest, and yet it arises in the same Spirit. It’s original. It’s true. It’s beautiful. And God delights in it.

When I'm standing before the Throne, I might join the celebration with a loud voice. If it happens that way, I won’t fret. How could I resist in the presence of my Savior? Or perhaps there will be an introvert section in the choir, where I can blend in. But I doubt we’ll remain quiet for long. Our cry of holy, holy, holy will surely resonate in glorious tribute to fill Heaven.

After such personal revelation, can I remain still and subdued in the here and now? Sure I can, and I won’t fret over that either. But the day is closer, the art more devoted, and maybe I’m crying holy just a little bit louder. 


Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Promises of Democracy


I ran this piece four years ago as the last election came to view. It’s just as relevant today. The strategies of the current candidates are just as twisted. The words of MLK are just as promising. The coming of our Lord is that much closer.



A true leader brings great hope to a nation.


Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. Isaiah 40: 3

The world changed when John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy by preparing the way of the Messiah. More recently, another man spoke the words during a time of cultural upheaval in one of the most important speeches ever delivered. During that speech, before Martin Luther King, Jr. began his eloquent revelation of a dream, he referenced the valley.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

Then came the heart of the speech and the sharing of the dream, and this man of God included Isaiah’s prophecy. He knew of its fulfillment. And yet, he believed the words held a future hope. For Americans? For peace among the races calling themselves Americans? Most certainly. But Dr. King realized the words were written to proclaim the coming of Christ. To mark the day when the glory of the Lord would be revealed, and all flesh would see it together.

Evil shut the mouth of John the Baptist, but the prophecy rang true and the message did not end. The voice of Dr. King met evil as well. But his dream didn’t end. Great loss was suffered, and great progress made in exalting that dark and desolate valley. A servant of God, one with a vision and a voice, can bring great change, exalt valleys, flatten mountains, straighten what is crooked and smooth the rough places.

But not completely. Evil still lurks. Some claim the media is responsible for stirring the racial tension rising up in America today. In reality, Satan is behind it. And he’s got his claw in politics too. Absurd comments from this unusual crop of presidential candidates seem to result in a tangled, ridiculous waste of time. No potential leader possesses the vision and voice to lift us from the sinking wasteland, or flatten any mountain blocking a secure and united future. 

I long for the vision of a man who was murdered when I was a child. As a white Southern girl, perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate his legacy. But now, as Christian woman, I can see the greatness of his message and his leadership. But I have a dream that One even greater will come to rule the world with truth and justice. Thank God, prophecy will soon be fulfilled again. He is coming.

I have a dream that I can gather with all races to worship in freedom. But it’s not a dream—not anymore. It’s reality every time we gather in my Southern Baptist Church. It would have never been this way in the past. But now, it’s nothing to even note. We’re just family.

I have a dream that come November I can step into the voting booth and mark a reasonable choice. But not all dreams are meant to be. I know this much: God appoints leaders. Some to lead with greatness. Some, by their ungodliness, to bring a nation to turn from their rebellion against God or else meet their end. I wonder what Dr. King’s prayer for our nation would be today. He might still hold firm to the promises of democracy. Hope is not yet lost. Or perhaps he would simply pray: Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Click here to read Dr. King's  "I Have a Dream..." speech.