Thursday, August 26, 2010

Giving Truth Wings

On August 24, 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was printed. Johannes Gutenberg wrote of this momentous feat, "Let us break the seal which seals up holy things and give wings to Truth in order that she may win every soul that comes into the world."

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Okay to be Sad

It’s amazing to think that one year ago today I watched my son enter into a new chapter of his life: a student on a university campus. As I hugged him, said goodbye and drove away, I remembered the words of John Mellencamp who, singing about death said, “I always knew this would happen, but I was hoping not today.”

Now, a year later, I am thanking God almost hourly that I am not the mother holding back tears at Freshman orientations taking place across the nation this weekend. I am thanking God that I am not coming home to a more-empty house for the first time. I am thanking God that I am a year past the pain. And even though, as I drove my son back to college on Tuesday and at one point reached over and tousled his hair and got choked up, I swallowed hard, kept driving, and the lump in my throat subsided as the highway miles sped by. It still hurts in short bursts, but not as much and not nearly as all-encompassing as before, because I have come through the other side. And the only way I got here was to go directly through the experience of being sad.

There’s a children’s book I used to read to my sons called “Going on a Bear Hunt.” It tells the story of an imaginary bear hunt and the obstacles along the way. Be it “long, wavy grass,” “a deep, cold river,” or “thick, oozy mud,” the mantra of the story is “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh, no! We’ve got to go through it!” There are no shortcuts through the pain of life events, nor should there be.

Next week, a close friend will go through the same thing I went through a year ago. Just as she was there for me, I am there for her now, reading her tear-filled emails and ready to meet with her for coffee after she drops her son off at college. I’ll meet with her, not to make her feel better, as I know I can’t. But to sit smack dab in the middle of her pain with her, listen, commiserate and support her in our mutual belief that the only way out of this feeling is through it.

The world never wants us to be sad, and pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money telling us we don’t ever have to be sad. But sadness is just as much a part of life today as it was for David. And David lived in and got through the pain (I don’t want to say “embrace” because that makes it sound as if our sadness should be glorified and that we can somehow gracefully waltz through our pain in a Zen-like obliviousness. I did not embrace my pain a year ago and wearing sunglasses around the clock to hide blood shot, puffy eyes and sniveling over dirty socks was not graceful.)

Crying out to God, in silence or in real words, is where Grace comes in: His grace. At the feet of His Grace is where we fall disheartened. That’s where we scratch out an existence in the wee hours of our pain. In His Son, Spirit, Word, power, strength and perseverance we come out on the other side.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Monday, August 16, 2010

Church According to a 19-Year-Old

In my August 14th blog, I wrote that I would post an email my 19-year-old son wrote to me from New Mexico this summer about the church he attended while working near Santa Fe. Here's his email (printed with his permission) in which he conveys his thoughts about this new church he found:

"When I got there, I first thought it was going to be like one of those emergent new agey kind of churches just because its built in an old warehouse and its really modern looking and such. They have a really nice cafe next door also. However, I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I heard the sermon. Basically, the guy would just take a passage of scripture and explain it really in depth. It was SO biblically based and both weeks I went, the pastor pretty much preached the gospel about Christ as salvation but used different topics to do it. The other thing that was impressive is that he didn't water anything down and he blatantly told it like it is. What really stood out to me the first week is what he said about "seeker sensitive" churches (i think you will like this :D ) He said that a lot of churches teach that everyone is seeking after God and they have a hole in their heart shaped like a cross and people just try to fill that hole with money or sex or material possessions or whatever, but thats a lie. The truth is that, quoting Paul (I think it was Romans) "no one is good, NO NOT ONE." Which means that NOBODY seeks after God. So basically, churches that cater to "seekers" are basically catering to humanity's fallen desire for sin. Which is not good. The only way we can get to God is if God somehow leads us to him, whether it be by a friend or something. He also said there are only two kinds of religions in the world: the human accomplishment religions and the God accomplishment religion. Christianity is a God accomplishment and all the others are based on the accomplishments of humans. There were a lot of other great things he said (which were just taken from the Bible and somehow made more obvious than before) so if you have time I would really recommend listening to the sermon from July 4th and 11th. Those are the only two I have heard, but both were fantastic and really rich. So yeah, thats all :D I'm excited to be home! I'll see you soon."

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." Luke 10:22

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:23-24

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." John 6:44-45

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Response to Comment on Previous Blog

I decided to post my response here to a comment a reader posted on yesterday's blog (because my response had too many words for the posting space):

Thanks for stopping by and writing your thoughts. I do have the book "unChristian," which I received at Moody Bible Founder's Week two years ago. So many books, so little time, and Bible reading comes first!

I know what you're saying--about young people leaving the church. But as the name of my blog implies, sometimes that's because they want to stop going to church for reasons other than the ones you mention. Some stop attending because they are too lazy to get up in the morning. Others stop going because it was never important to them in the first place, and they only went because their parents went. Others get jobs, claim they have too much homework, participate in recreational or professional sports and say they are "too busy" to go to church. Many intend to "get back to it" when they're married with kids.

At the same time, I have a 19-year old son who is attending a small Christian college and he, of his own volition, attends church every Sunday. Sometimes he goes to one church and sometimes to another church, which I think is fine. He goes with different groups of people, or by himself. His favorite church, by the way, is a Baptist church where he says "they preach the message hard." I'm going to post an email in the next day or two that my son wrote to me while he was working in New Mexico this summer about a church he attended there so people can see what he finds appealing about church.

I have met my son's friends at college and they all go to church on Sunday mornings voluntarily. Their college has weekly chapels but hosts no Sunday services because the college wants the students to get out in the community and worship on their own initiative. So what I'm seeing is that, although some of the students I've met do find some churches too-this or too-that, they still attend church. They haven't thrown the baby out with the bath water, which I believe is very mature.

I've heard the mantra that church is judgmental and anti-this or anti-that and my response is that that complaint is often just an excuse to stop going to church or living the Christian life (sometimes a feeling of being superior to church is going on. Sometimes it's spiritual rebelliousness or not wanting to live a Christian life while in college). I also hear people say it's time the church stop preaching hell and damnation. I say that I haven't heard a hell and damnation sermon since I read Jonathan Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God," which Edwards delivered in Massachusetts on July 8, 1741. Seriously, I just don't think the hell and damnation argument holds water. I wish more pastors did preach--lovingly and humbly--on sin and hell.

When I first heard Biblical teaching on sin and hell from a very kind but firm pastor preaching on the radio, I was led to Salvation at age 38. Finally I had found someone who respected me enough to level with me about how I was sabotaging my life and had no one to blame but myself. It was like the cloud over why my life was so empty moved away and I finally got some real answers that changed my life. I had never heard the FULL Gospel preached in my life until I began listening to this radio preacher from the "church" of my kitchen table on a daily basis for 30 minutes a day. That led me to seek a Bible-based church in my community, which proved very difficult. After years of searching, my family and I found one.

What I discovered in the search for a Biblical church is that there are many liberal theology churches out there along with emergent-type churches, but very few that rightly handle and preach the Gospel. The sheer lack of sound Biblical teaching is what turns those who are serious about growing in their faith, young and old alike, off. It's so condescending to go to a church that has the attitude "our people aren't ready for it" when it comes to the Gospel. All people are looking for, and I base this on my own, my husband's, many friend's and my 19 and 16-year old son's desires, is a church that preaches the FULL Gospel on Sundays and expects the congregation members to go live it out the rest of the week. It's time to stop expecting the pastor to do it all (that's where you start getting into circus atmospheres and jumping through hoops to make sure nobody's offended or uncomfortable.)

My question is, where's the accountability for the individuals in the pew to take responsibility for their own prayer life, Bible reading and outreach seven days a week?

Thanks again for your thoughts and for stopping by. God Bless~

I asked my 16-year-old son for a good Bible verse to go with this post, and he suggested something from 1 or 2 Corinthians. I chose the following words of Paul, writing to the Corinthians, which I believe help to establish not only what a Jesus-founded ministry (church) looks like but also our individual role of modeling discipleship, in the church and out.

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." 2 Corinthians 2:14-17

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. " 2 Corinthians 3:2-12

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways, we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 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." 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:1-6

I stopped here but really all of 2 Corinthians is a great read on the ministry of preaching and being a disciple of Christ.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Deceptive Beauty of Sin

You may have noticed a plant, Queen Anne’s Lace, in bloom along roadways. It’s a “flower” I initially allowed grow in my yard because it was pretty. I even thought it to be a native Wisconsin prairie plant. Now, nine years later, this once beguiling plant is cropping up everywhere; seedlings are spreading throughout the lawn and encroach the perennial beds where they quickly dominate, choking out other plants. I realize--too late—that I’ve created a monster.

Queen Anne’s Lace is like sin. I’m not talking about the sin that we see as sin right off the bat, like abusing alcohol and drugs, cheating, lying and murder. If Queen Anne’s Lace looked like those things, I would never have allowed it in my yard. I’m talking about sin that initially looks innocent enough (of course no sin is ever innocent) but which, over time and completely unbeknownst to us, becomes progressively ingrained.

I’m talking specifically about the sin of the tongue. We all know that any sentence beginning with “Did you hear about the Smiths…?” is one we should quickly put a stop to (even though we often don’t). But there’s more to sinning with the tongue than over-the-fence gossip. I’m talking about a subtler but equally damaging kind of talk.

For example, there’s the gossip we initiate when we go to five different people with a problem we’re having with another person, but we never go to the actual person we’re having the problem with! Or the gossip that performs character assassination on someone or an institution we disagree with: our justification being that they are immoral, unfair, wrong, our boss, Democrats, Tea Party Members—you fill in the blank.

Then there is exaggeration, where we make ourselves, an experience or another person to be worse or better than we, it, or they actually are. For instance, we downplay our habit of always being late, attribute our proverbial workplace struggles to inept co-workers, and blow every comment of Aunt Emma’s completely out of proportion. The causes of exaggeration are many: a critical spirit, a desire to believe what we want to believe, a too-thin or too-thick skin, an animosity or perceived wrong with Aunt Emma, jealousy, sour grapes, and a penchant for drama.

Many of us never see these forms of speech as gossip, much less sin, because they are so easily disguised as self-righteousness. We feel justified in our attitudes and thoughts and the words that rise out them. They feel right because they make us feel better without our having to change anything on our end.

Queen Anne’s Lace, the Native Wisconsin Prairie Guide tells me, is a weed. And my Guide, the Holy Spirit, tells me that there are things I was justifying as righteousness which are actually sin. So while I’m taking the shovel to my yard and digging out the plant invaders, I’m taking the Bible to my sin and memorizing Scripture that directly addresses the temptations that plague me (Jesus fought the Devil in the wilderness with Scripture. Luke 4:1-13). I’m asking God in prayer to rid me of destructive tendencies. And I repent when I allow revealed sin to re-seed and grow again, and I submit to God once more for strength. In short, I am asking God for His righteousness to replace my self-righteousness.

“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.” Psalm 34:13

“For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good.” Psalm 36:2-3

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person…” James 3:6

“He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.’” Luke 16:15

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:7-9