Friday, August 31, 2012

Wanting to be Like the World

I’m reading through 1 Samuel and found the passage in chapter 8, where the people ask Samuel to give them a king, fascinating. After a time of appointed judges, and after losing patience with the current judges Joel and Abijah--who “turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice,”--the people tell Samuel, the previous judge, “Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

Samuel did not appreciate this idea, so he turned to the Lord for consult. Listen to what God says to Samuel, and see if it doesn’t sound familiar in our day: God said to Samuel: 

“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”

God then told Samuel to warn the people exactly what having a worldly human king would mean--that they would have to give up their sons and daughters to serve the king, along with the best of their land--ending with a final summation by saying, “He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people, who obviously idolized the lifestyle of their neighbors, replied, 

“No!...We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 

A classic case of “the grass is always greener!”

And God calmly responds to Samuel, 

“Listen to them and give them a king.”

There are so many elements to this passage I don’t know where to begin. First we have lusting after the lifestyle of others. Then, there's not being happy with their current judges but not turning to God in prayer for what to do about those judges. What if they had just decided as a nation to not have judges anymore, and to put God back in charge, as was the original plan? And then there's the whopper of having someone to “fight our battles.” They got to a place where they didn’t want to take responsibility or be accountable to God as a people to make their nation a place of integrity. They figured their “government,” the king, would take care of everything. And finally, Samuel's warning that they would become slaves to the worldly king.

I’ve heard leaders in the Christian youth movement lament that “we’re losing our youth when they get to college.” But we’ve already lost many of them before they even get to college, along with the rest of the congregation, when they desire to be under their king the world instead of under their LORD God. If we’re losing many of the kids to the world, it’s because we’ve often lost the parents to the world. Sometimes even the church has been lost to the world. I once sat in on a meeting of a church where the entire discussion was about spending money on rearranging the pews into theater-in-the-round position because “the church down the street has it.” 

Be it music, marketing techniques, book studies, Christian authors, etc. sometimes the church, too, undermines the LORDship of God in order to be more like the world. It can give in to the temptation to place the world’s or other Christian’s ideas and applications of Biblical truth before God Himself.

Tony Evans (a Christian author we must check against Scripture just like any other author) of the Urban Alternative said the LORDship of God was undermined from the get-go in the Garden of Eden. The following is a long quote, but essential reading for a clear picture of how the loss of the LORDShip of God comes about:

     “Before we read about Satan approaching Eve in the garden, every Scripture reference to God in relation to Adam is made as LORD God. Anytime you read the word LORD (in all caps), it refers to the name Yahweh used for God. The special title Yahweh means master and absolute ruler and is the name God used to reveal himself in His relationship with man. Prior to the name Yahweh, God had revealed himself as Creator, which is the name Elohim.
     However, when Satan spoke to Eve about eating that which she should not, he did not refer to God as LORD God. Satan essentially stripped off the name LORD—removing master and absolute ruler—and instead said, ‘Indeed has God said…’ Thus Satan sought to reduce God’s rulership over humankind by beginning with the subtle but effective twist of His name. In doing so, Satan kept the concept of religion while eliminating divine authority.
     By removing LORD from the authoritative nature of the relationship between God and Adam and Eve and in bypassing Adam, Satan not only caused humankind to rebel, but he also took over the dominion that man was supposed to be exercising under God’s authority. By eating the fruit in disobedience, Adam and Eve chose to change how they viewed their Creator from LORD God to God, resulting in the loss of their intimate fellowship with Him and each other, as well as the power of the dominion that flows from the ultimate Ruler.” Tony Evans, Kingdom Man, p. 12

This is the picture of what was taking place in 1 Samuel 8, and it is the picture of what still takes place today. It is what 2 Timothy 3:5 refers to when it says people will have “a form of godliness but denying its power.”

And God soberly says today, as then, “Listen to them and give them a king.” And what He is saying is, give them that worldly king they so lust after. And so we seal our hearts and minds around worldly "kings," be they leaders, the physical church, professors, material things, drugs and alcohol or emotions, and when these "kings" don’t do what we naively expected, we either turn to new and different “kings” or finally, to LORD God Himself.

“So you will be my people, and I will be your God.” Jeremiah 30:22

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” 
John 14:15-17

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No Longer Alone in a Crowd

Social situations have always been my nemesis. When I was a young girl and my family and I visited my cousins, I would sit on the couch next to my mom and be perfectly content to not play with the other children. One day my cousin asked me why I always just sat on the couch when I visited. I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing, but inwardly I answered, “Because I find it terrifying and exceedingly awkward to be here, and I’d rather be anywhere else than here.” The “anywhere else” usually meant at home in my bedroom with a book, or riding my bike alone along the country roads or playing in the stream near my house. Alone, I never felt alone. I was completely comfortable in my own skin. With other people, it was as if I didn’t know how to act or to speak or to be. I felt very alone

Which is what I attribute my alcohol addiction to, which began with my very first drink at 17 and ended, at age 38, by the Grace and Mercy of the Lord Jesus.

Alcohol made me comfortable in my own skin around others. I suddenly did not have to worry about how to act or to speak or to be. The alcohol did all of that for me. So I never learned how to do those things on my own. When the Lord took drinking away at 38, technically I was still at the level of a 17- year-old emotionally. I had to learn to be comfortable in my own skin in any situation, without alcohol.

By growing up in Christ since age 38, I have come a long way. God first blessed me with a newspaper job shortly after becoming a Christian. That forced me to go out into the world--be it crowds or stranger's homes--and talk with people. My pen, paper and tape recorder were my safety net, allowing me to have a hook on which to practice my social skills. At first the awkwardness was incredible. But with each journalistic assignment, the angst eased, and I began to relax. God was with me, and I was reliant on Him, and together we began the journey out of debilitating shyness and social anxiety into the beginning of confidence.

Social situations still unnerve me at times. I‘ve gotten comfortable finding a quiet spot on the fringe, or pinpointing other souls who look terrified and awkward that I can strike up a conversation with to help put them at ease. Funny, I actually find it easier to talk to total strangers than many of the folks I already know. There’s a certain freedom in anonymity.

The best thing, though, that God has done regarding social situations, even those with extended family, is to just be with me. I no longer feel alone in a crowd. Wherever I go God is at my side. I can talk to Him, and often do, throughout a family reunion, picnic, small-group, get-together, reception; anywhere. I draw the confidence to make it through the event from Jesus, and the ability to speak or not to speak from His Holy Spirit. But the minute I take my focus off Him, I usually say something stupid or get pulled into a worldly conversation and then the awkwardness and anxiety return. That's when I need to heed the Holy Spirit’s nudge to step back and recede into silent prayer so God can realign my heart and mind with Him. Only then can I be at peace in the world, and in my self, once again.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Monday, August 20, 2012

Marriage as Idol

Today I have been married 29 years to my husband and best friend--11 of those years in the Lord. When we both became Christians 10 and 11 years ago, our marriage was re-born as well. During the last 11 years, God has “trained us up in the way we should go” (Proverbs 22:6) in our marriage. I can’t have regrets that we didn't consecrate ourselves and our marriage to the Lord sooner, because God redeems, in His time, every aspect of our lives we would be tempted to regret. And yet, if asked, my first piece of advice for couples about to be married would be that both the prospective bride and groom become born again Christians before the marriage ever takes place. And for those who are already married to become born again in Christ if they are not.

Today, I have the distinct pleasure of not only celebrating 29 years with my husband, but also realizing how God is using the pre-Christian marriage my husband and I had and the Christian marriage we now have to mentor other couples. When our two sons left home, my husband and I investigated ministries we could do together as a couple. Marriage mentoring is what God has led us to, and it is, as I said, redeeming to see God use every phase and experience of our 29 years of marriage to guide others.

It is no secret that marriage has always been and is perhaps becoming an even more difficult enterprise. I believe that this is because marriage, like many other things, is an idol. 

From the moment we are able to read and comprehend what we are watching on television and movies, we are fed fairy tales: not bad in themselves for their often moral quality, but certainly misleading in the way of “happily ever after” and how one falls into a marriage. The delusion only grows as people look to adult media and the un-challenged worldview around them that says dating at a very young age, going to prom, being sexy and finding a heart-throb spouse who will sweep you off your feet for the next 70 years is what “love” and a “romantic” relationship is. As one actress said after her second divorce: "I'm looking for someone to rock my world." Good luck with that. 

Secular marriage, in essence, is the attempt to live out a fantasy played over and over in our heads. In fact, it becomes an idol. We idolize marriage when we rely on it to transcend reality. We idolize marriage when we think it means a steady income. We idolize marriage when we delude ourselves that our partner is faultless in character before marriage, and by making him or her the scapegoat after, when the marriage hits a snag. 

We then continue to idolize the marriage—an agreement ordained by God and made between and carried out by two people—by being wrongly sure of ourselves that it is the other person, and not the marriage, that is the problem. In reality, if and when a marriage struggles, it is indeed the operating of two people within that marriage that is the problem, not a single person. But we continue to hold up the marriage as being faultless, as if it would be working perfectly if it just weren’t for the other person. Which explains the remarkable phenomenon of divorced people remarrying, often within months or a year of divorce. That, I believe, can only be explained by the fact that many divorced people don’t see the problems in their previous marriage, they only see the problems in their previous spouse. And then they are surprised when their second marriage also can’t seem to transcend reality and they have wound up yet again with another spouse to find fault with.

Here’s the reality: No marriage can stand up to the task of doing what only God can. Marriage as idol tries to do exactly that.

After 29 years of marriage, 11 of them in the Lord, I can establish that the best thing God ever did in our marriage was change me and my husband both. Only in that transformation, through His grace, Holy Spirit, Word and Salvation, were we, and our marriage, re-born.

And it’s no fairy tale. I don’t want a fairy tale. I want the full range of life with God that tells me “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In marriage, we will have trials. But we can be of good cheer, because Jesus is the over-comer in us and in our marriage. He is the joy in all circumstances. He is the Joy of our marriage! Jesus is the rock of marriage. When we truly understand that truth, although life will still take us through personal and marriage valleys, we at the same time experience the blessings of God through the living of life with a spouse who is on the same path.

Today, my husband and I walk together closer in heart, mind, body and soul each day, looking to the Lord, not each other, to be our peace and our victor. We worship the God of our marriagenot the marriage. As we grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we grow in the knowledge of ourselves and what we need to work on. We also experience tremendous and immeasurable joy and satisfaction in experiencing God together. Our marriage has become a “cord of three strands” (Ecclesiastes 4:12): a husband and wife held together in love and marriage by God.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:1-4

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Politics as Idol

It’s been interesting of late to hear Christians’ perspective on how to engage in politics, or whether to do so at all. Naturally, this is a topic of interest with November only 3 months away. All I can say is that if politics replaces or takes up an inordinate amount of time away from God, then you’ve got yourselves an idol. And if how you behave when discussing politics does not pass muster with Scripture, you’ve got yourself rebellion from God. And if the words of your mouth and the motivations of your heart are not pleasing to God then the flesh is the aim of pleasure, not God.

All of these tests can be applied to any activity, thought-pattern or pastime. 2 Peter 2:19 says “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” Another translation uses the word overcome. Whatever we allow to overcome us and lead us away from God and Christ-likeness is an idol.

Politics isn’t bad in and of itself. Many people are called to serve in the United States government as public officials. The Bible tells us to give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to pray for those in leadership over us. But is incessant watching of Fox News or MSNBC politics? Is bringing up YOUR point of view and forcing everyone to discuss it at family gatherings and at work politics? Or is that just feeding the fleshly need for drama and dissension and lifting one’s self up over those we perceive to be our opposition? 

Do “news” programs welcome, promote and celebrate working together? Not usually, but I currently wouldn’t know as I stopped watching news and television altogether a year ago (except the Green Bay Packers, or course). But when I was watching the news and justifying it as “staying informed,” what really happened was that the media talking heads fired me up to a ludicrous obsession with how right I was and how wrong others were. I wasn’t getting both sides of any story, and the purpose of all of it, it seems, was to be right, not “informed.” 

God convicted me that my attitude and behavior wasn’t Biblical, not to mention that I didn’t even like who I was becoming. “Politics” had definitely set roots as an idol and its tentacles were choking me off from God’s path.

To discern one’s spiritual health regarding politics, we can ask ourselves a couple of questions: 
1). How much time do I spend watching, listening to and discussing news programs on TV and radio vs. reading the Bible, praying and investing in a ministry?
2). Do I hear, listen to and consider other points of view, or do I presumptively lambast those who identify with an opposing party?
3.) Do I become more--or less--Christ-like when I discuss politics? Is my motivation to glorify God as I “engage” in politics, or to promote me and my point of view? We ought be careful about justifying politics as a wholesome duty of staying informed if, in actuality, our engagement is feeding an inner lust for antagonism.

As Christians, we have put on the new person that we are in Christ. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16). We are not to live as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” by focusing our minds on earthly things in an earthly manner (Philippians 3:18, 19). In John 15:19 Jesus tells us that we do not belong to the world; He has chosen us out of the world. We belong to Christ, and our true citizenship is in Heaven. So let us run--in this world--the race before us as citizens of Heaven, and find victorious Christian living there.

“Avoid Godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” 2 Timothy 2:16

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2:23-24

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ,…” Ephesians 1:3, 5

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own…” Philippians 3:7-9

“But our citizenship is in heaven.” Philippians 3:20

Friday, August 10, 2012

As the Family Goes, So Goes the Nation

As the election gets into full mud-sling mode, I think it bears repeating that leadership begins at home. If we expect a safer and better world to materialize out of government leadership, but drop that ball in the realm of our own homes and lives, then a safer, better world will be a long time in coming. Tony Evans of The Urban Alternative puts it this way: 

"We are struggling as a nation because we are struggling as individuals and as families. Personal responsibility has become a term from bygone days. If we want to get things right as a country, we need to focus on getting things right as individuals and in our homes. The saga of a nation is the saga of its families written large." 

"Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."Joshua 24:14-15