Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Love Trumps.... Everything

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain
nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13

So if I don't have love, it doesn't matter if I have a testimony of Christ and can preach like an angel. It doesn't matter if I can tell the future, or read a person's heart. I can move mountains with my
faith but none.... not even faith...not even sola fide matters if I don't have love. Love is the greatest... even greater that faith. 

So, what keeps us from loving? 

Fear. 
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4: 18

Pride. 
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.... Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4: 6, 10

🙏

The moment is seared into my soul like few others. The New Bern, NC Catholic Church had assigned to me a RCIA sponsor because I didn't know any Catholics locally. In fact, I didn't personally know any Catholics, only the ones I had met online. 


My husband and I had been encouraged by online Catholic apologists to join the local Rite of
Christian Initiation classes in order to understand Catholicism. And we were not there to convert, just to learn about what Catholics believed. 

Eventually, each person who intending to actually join the Catholic Church was asked to find a sponsor. It used to be a "godmother" or "godfather" but for adults, the name was changed to sponsor. They gave me Sister Katherine, a very petite elderly nun who sat beside me each class with her head down and eyes closed. 

Once I asked her if she were sleeping and the nun answered back gently, "No, I am praying for you because you are full of pride." 
That wiped the smile off my face and I stuttered back some incoherent words. After class I fled with indignation and anger. "What a judgmental jerk! What? Can she read my heart and know I am full of pride? Why--if she were wanting me to become Catholic--would she say such a rude, condescending horribly hurtful thing to me?" I cried and screamed and threw a major old-fashioned southern-belle hissy-fit! All the way home and once there I continued to yell in my mind at the imaginary crowd of Catholics that I was certainly not prideful! I was a nice person. I was a kind person. What was the nun talking about?

Then all of a sudden my brain went quiet. And the Holy Spirit spoke as gently as the nun. "Are you full of pride?" Then as I looked deeper, scanning not my actions but much deeper down into very motivations for why I was kind...Oops... then, uh-oh... I knew I was full of pride. The nun was right. I knelt down horrified by the brutal self-realization that beneath all the niceness I was indeed a prideful person. Ouch. I prayed for forgiveness. 

And that is just the beginning. Daily, I need to pray that same prayer asking God to forgive my pride and grant me the grace to be humble so that I can more fully love Him and others. It's all about love! That is why I want to be humble.

Christ is now teaching me how to love and it is not an easy lesson. You can't learn to truly love with fear and pride in one's heart. 

We learn to love, not by working up a feeling of compassion and sympathy for others. We don't love by shedding tears of empathy. 

We learn to love through prayer and humble obedience to God. He gives us His love through His grace. We can't work it up on our own. It is His unmerited gift. 

We learn to love when we turn from our own pride and selfishness and sacrificially give to others. Love often it is in the harsh words of a little nun who smacks you with your own reflection in the mirror. 

Love Trumps Hate, yes. But love also trumps rights and self and fear and pride and faith and hope. 




Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Thoughts on Fearless Christian Living



One of the things I don't want to do is to die with regrets. From the time I was a child I have been thinking about this. I don't want to be lying on my deathbed looking back at my life regretting all the people I have hurt and all the things I did to hurt myself. I don't want to be ashamed of my life. But even more, I want to have lived.

Life is so precious. It is such a gift that I spend a lot of time contemplating it. And I wonder why so many of us blindly live without ever even noticing our own existence? Is it that we have been raised in a mental white noise that doesn't' allow us to think? Very few people contemplate the meaning of existence. 

Why? Because it is hard.

Thinking about human existence and watching the lives around us, it seems like everyone is in misery, or living a futile life of seeking comfort and pleasure—even Christians! It looks as if no one really has a direction or plan for their life
except to work hard for the fun we can eke out on the weekends, live for sports and entertainment-- keep plodding along until the yearly vacations and soon enough we will retire and move to Florida and play golf. 

Voila! Then we will sit alone in our little apartment wondering what happened to our lives, pet our dog and hope there is a God so we can have a do-over in the next life.  

How horrible to think back on life and realized we had wasted such a precious gift of life on television, cable, movies…. entertainment--that we have spent our whole lives living through someone else's fictional life.

That is not living! I want to be the heroine of my own story. 

How pathetic if, instead of even reflecting upon life, that at our lives' end we just go from this life watching television never even having known we lived! We had become an automaton being consumed by Hollywood's moving pictures. We ended up being nothing but a pair of eyes. 

For Christians, we know the meaning is to live eternally with God. However, if we aren't learning to understand the meaning of this existence we have now, as Christians, if we are not doing anything meaningful or special now, why would we want a never-ending meaningless existence?

No! This life was meant to have incredible meaning. Our lives are to be heroic and epic.  

Whatever you are doing today, stop and think about this for a few minutes. Do you live every moment as if it has meaning or do you just drone along filling your time with entertainment and thinking about the next fun thing you are doing? 

If your life seems enslaved with the mundane, if you do not have a meaning and purpose for your day besides making going to work to money and texting on your iPhone what you are going to watch or do that evening for fun, you need to really rethink your life.

So what keeps people from living? Really living. I am not talking about having that extra ice
cream cone or living dangerously by going sky diving or being crazy and getting another tattoo.
My husband is a nurse and over the years has been with many dozens of elderly people as they take their last breath and I assure you they are not thinking of the money they didn't have, nor the food they didn't taste or the rain they should have danced in. They are thinking about what their life meant and the people they loved--no matter what the meme's say.

Real living is not doing the things that make one feel exhilarated. That is just more empty days at adult Disneyland. I am referring to living life with meaning--with a purpose so clear and so heroic that you are willing to put everything you have—your heart, your mind, your soul, your strength, your time, your money into it…. sold out—all out living.

(And for a Christian that meaning should never be based in money.)

As Christians, with an informed proper Christian worldview, there would only be two things that keep us from really living our God-given epic life. And that is that we don't know our purpose and we have a fear of suffering. 

************

I would like to give my opinion on the second half of that—the suffering. I think it is far more that Christians fear suffering than they don't know what they are supposed to be doing to make their lives meaningful. The Bible spells it out that we are to quit sinning and take care of others. That is what gives life meaning

However, most of us Christians would rather make a bunch of money and throw money at the poor, the weird, the uncool, the suffering than actually be a part of their lives. That is how we envision doing our part in the gospel mission. Because doing anything else would be hard... or uncomfortable.

The number one thing I think Christians need to get past is the fear of suffering. I am not criticizing anyone with that. I know everyone is calling everyone a snowflake and telling them to buck up and deal with life. That is not what I am writing. I am promising you that the moment you give your fear of suffering to God and follow Him, that your life will begin to be epic--epic in pain, epic in love, epic in hope, epic in meaning. And to live such a life of fullness, greatness that will end in joy, you have to give up this need to protect yourself from embarrassment and pain. 

Our early Christian leaders all told us that it is okay; do not fear suffering:
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. II Tim. 2:3

Most of today's suffering is in direct consequences of our stupid, wrongful actions and God brings upon us shame and suffering in order to bring us to repentance. (Rev. 22:2) But that is not the kind of suffering Christians are called to.

When I was a kid, I most sincerely promised the Lord I would be so incredibly good that He would never have to make me suffer to learn a lesson. I have lived that. God alone knows how hard I have tried to be perfect so that I don't have to be punished for my sins and suffer.

And even with that, I have had great suffering in my life. I  have spent over twenty years in physical pain as a consequence of other people's sins. (A young man on meth plowed into my car stopped at a red light one evening in 1997 and messed up my back and jaw.) God brought great joy to my life because of that, even with the pain.


We need to realize that suffering happens and as a Christian we must stop fearing pain. No matter how righteous your life is, you are going to suffer. While you may avoid the deep regret of knowing you have caused others to suffer for your stupidity and selfishness, all Christians who follow the command of Christ to daily take up their Cross and follow Him, will inevitably find themselves doubled over in pain because of something. 

Life hurts. And once we no longer fear suffering, we will find that a freedom that Americans with all their claims to freedom have no concept of. Christian redemptive suffering sets you free. That, of course, is not contradicting Christ, who said the truth will make you free, because I am telling you the truth! 

Suffering doesn't mean God has abandon you. If you look at your life and you sincerely know that you have done nothing, no choice your made any time in your life has the consequences that you are experiencing; if you find yourself randomly in pain for something, do not feel ashamed or afraid. 

Lift it up to the Lord.

Why are we in need of suffering? The Apostles give us some thoughts on this: 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom. 5: 3

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Col. 1: 24

You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. I Thess. 1: 6

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 2. Thess. 1: 5

So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. 

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. 2 Tim. 1:8, 12

[F]or which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 2 Tim. 2: 9

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. James 5: 10

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. I Peter 2: 19

John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. Rev. 1: 9


We are going to suffer and it will be our joy, because as Christians our suffering is to produce fruits that will help fill the kingdom of God with other souls. Our suffering has great meaning.

And I have discovered that suffering destroys pride and pride is another great impediment to a life of freedom. Humility is the very context of true freedom. 


I know, not something you really wanted to read this morning. But I can tell you that if you want true freedom, if you want your life to have meaning and a joy that you could never reach any other way.... pray that God will not let your fear of suffering keep you from living a life a great meaning. 

God is calling you to be great--to have an epic life. To live with your eyes and ears open and your
days full. Pray for that kind of courage. And it will happen. And when your days on this earth are ended, you will die with a smile on your lips. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?

What hath God wrought? Numbers 23:23

It was God's will that Obama was our president for the last eight years, just as it is His will that we now have President Trump.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13: 3- 7 

 

Congratulations to our new president and his beautiful wife and family. I pray this administration will bring back law and order. I pray this administration helps the poor. I especially pray, in fact I beg God, that this administration will stop the violence against the unborn. I pray this administration will protect the Judeo-Christian enculturation that has long civilized this nation. 



Conservatives tend to live peaceably, keep silent, and avoid confrontations. With a Trump victory, it will be tempting for Christians to relax, believing progressivism will now begin to be crushed and fade away. However, if one listens to President Trump's inaugural speech, we rather need to awaken and realize our President's vision may not be the same one Christians have. 

However, with the first part of Trump's inaugural address, below, I wholeheartedly agree:
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
I shouted in solidarity with the president. Indeed, the statement should be broadened to the United States' priests and pastors because most Christians see them with the same skepticism as politicians. America's clergy have enclosed themselves in the politically-correct bubble, insulating themselves from the hardships of the gospel. Many have gauged their spiritual victories by politics, rather than courageously speaking the hard truths for the individual who is struggling with sin. 

Time for our nation's clergy to gear their words towards the forgotten man who is enslaved in his addictions to pornography or drugs, his struggle to marry and then keep his marriage together and then to be faithful to his wife. 

Clergy: time to invest your resources in the humble family who is being torn apart by the Father of Lies. Your sermons should be to the deceived feminists who believe they will gain their dignity and respect through reproductive freedom and civil rights rather than casting their liberty and rights at the foot of the Cross. The time is now to protect our innocent young children's souls from the devastating and corrupting effects of the media. For this will be your true victory.




Let us look closely at President Trump's carefully crafted verbiage. It was a laudable and intrinsically good patriotic appeal, yet some ideas should be wisely processed through Biblical filters. 
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
Notice the president's use of religious language.  
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. 
While Trump is correct about the nation's problems, he appeals to patriotic unity as the solution: 
We are one nation -- and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny....

I will fight for you with every breath in my body -- and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams....
Using religious overtones, Trump makes no reference to our nation's spiritual derailment--no appeals to morally right ourselves. Because we are a religiously diverse system, the president cannot contextualized the problems as spiritual. He must speak of our dreams and ambitions solely through capitalistic lenses.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.

Unity

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity." 
The solution is patriotism. Then, Trump invokes God, conflating patriotism with Christianity. 
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear -- we are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.
God does not promise that He will protect America unless we repent, turn from our wicked ways and live in obedience to him. These are empty words meant to evoke emotion rather than truth. 

America's Greatness

Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.

A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.
 I believe Trump authentically believes what he is saying, but it is wrong to invoke God's protection when God specifically said that it is, "not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord Almighty." Zechariah 4:6 Our national pride cannot and will not heal our divisions. The shed blood of our soldiers cannot unite us. Only the blood of Christ will do that.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same Almighty Creator.
Yet being in the image of God, being infused by His breath makes little difference. We must live in obedience to God's spirit for our nation to heal of its divisions and poverty. 
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words:You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
 I urge you not to misunderstand me, I am not criticizing President Trump; he spoke as the president must. I am writing rather to warn Christians that it is not our financial prosperity, nor even our freedom that will satisfy our hopes and dreams and give us courage and goodness and love. It is our humble repentance and turning from our sins that will make us great.

God has given us President Trump in order to challenge Christians that we may clearly see that we cannot have faith and loyalty to both money and Him. We must choose whom we will serve. We must choose which side of the spiritual battle we will be on.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7.
 

President Trump finished: 
Together, We will make America strong again.
We will make America wealthy again.
We will make America proud again.
We will make America safe again.
And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.
That is my hope, too, Mr. President.

However, patriotic feelings, hopeful words, high ambitions, will not make America great again. We now need to fall on our knees and repent. We must pray harder than ever that our own eyes and ears to be opened to see where we can personally change. We need to pray for the courage to speak truth, and live in radical obedience to Christ Jesus. 


Our lives of holiness will make America great.