Wednesday, February 5, 2020

DISCERNING DOCTRINAL TRUTH IN A MULTI-DOCTRINAL CHURCH CULTURE

      Within evangelical Christianity, we have a myriad of different and often opposing doctrines.  We all agree, I believe, on the fundamental tenets of the Gospel. After that, however, it seems as if everything is up for grabs!  We cannot agree on who can be baptized or even how to baptize for that matter. We cannot agree what is happening to the bread and wine during the Lord's supper. We cannot agree on the proper clothing for church and sometimes, a church may split over the color of the carpet!  

           The funny thing (funny weird, not funny haha) is this was not always the case.   Did you know, once upon a time, believers were all, actually, on the same page? Albeit, it was on the day the church was born, but it did actually happen. Acts 2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

        The Bible says when two or more are gathered together in Jesus' name, there He is in the midst of them.  You know what else happens when two or more gather in Christ's name? Theological disagreement.

     One very divisive topic among Christians is the exercising of the gifts of the Spirit.  One believer claims the gifts are no longer in use and the other believer teaches if you do not speak in tongues, you are not really saved.  Obviously, two opposing views cannot both be true.  Both can be false, and in this instance, I believe both statements are false (oh look, now we have 3 views that cannot be reconciled, what joy!!)  

     The easy answer is, "What does the Bible say?" Well, one would think this is the easy answer, however, the fun thing about scripture, when taken out of context, we can make it say pretty much anything we want.  Now, imagine what would happen if we came to scripture asking God to show us what it really says rather than trying to make it say what we already think is true?  

      We all have the same scripture, as believers.  We all have the same Spirit of God indwelling us. So how can we all be so mixed up in our theology? The biggest obstacle we face is our sources of information.  If we are honest, most of what we believe, or think we know, has come from a source outside the Bible.  

      We all have a favorite theologian, a favorite person to learn from, whom we trust.  The average believer gets more theology form a preacher, whether from the pulpit or in a book, than from the Bible itself.  This is a big problem.

       Sadly, we cannot even agree if the Bible is to be taken literally or allegorically.  This, also, is a big problem.  If we choose to go the path of allegory, how do we even know where the path actually lies or where the edges of the path begin?  Some may argue, "yeah, Jesus spoke in parables." Yes, Jesus did speak in parables but He told His disciples this: “When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.' 

        I find it ironic the two major parts of scripture most readily relegated to allegory are our origins and our end.  Admittedly, these are also the most difficult to wrap our minds around because we have no experience to which we can relate our beginning or end. The creation account was a one time event and we have no empirical evidence to support nor debunk. The Revelation account is described to us by a man who is seeing our future, with all of it's technology, a man whose greatest technology was an ox cart. The danger is to discredit or discount what we do not easily understand.

 HOW DO WE RECONCILE DOCTRINAL DIFFERENCES?      
      The first thing we must do, no matter what, is remember the command to love one another.  Nothing creates anger and animosity among believers faster than arguing over points of doctrine.  Can we not learn to disagree in love?  Are you willing to allow someone the grace to be wrong?  Are you willing to entertain the idea you may, possibly, be wrong? 

       The best way to reconcile doctrinal differences is to follow Paul's command in 2 Timothy 2:15 - Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needs not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.       It appears to me, God is telling us here we can understand scripture and rightly divide truth.  What is hindering us?

       As stated earlier, we all have the same scripture and we all have the same Spirit of God, so shouldn't we all agree?  Here are some reasons why we do not:

     1. We don't read our Bibles for ourselves, we let others tell us           what it says

     2. Many who set doctrines had an agenda

     3. Antisemitism and ignorance of Hebrew scripture led some           early church fathers to mishandle New Testament writing

    4. Using scripture to defend rather than shape beliefs

     Unless you read the Bible with the attitude of a seeker of truth, you will fall into one or more of the traps above.  We live in an age when spiritual illiteracy is inexcusable. We can literally carry a Bible in our pockets through the miracle of technology and phone apps!

     Are you willing to read the Word of God for yourself and allow God's Spirit to teach you rather than a fallible, albeit well meaning, man?  Are you willing to challenge things you have been taught, using the clear teachings and influence of the Holy Spirit, as your guide?  Are you willing to follow truth, where ever it may lead?

    Grab a Bible and a hot cup of coffee, sit at the feet of the Master, and allow God to show you His truth.  I promise you, it will change your life!

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!




Wednesday, January 15, 2020

I DON'T WANT TO BE FLY FOR A WHITE GUY - ONE RACE, THE HUMAN RACE

       
One Race
 I Don't want to be fly for a white guy... I just want to be fly, or square, as the case may be, based on me, apart from my heritage.       
     We have entered a new decade and society is still trying to figure out, so called, race relations.  Is this not disturbing to anyone, besides me?  Have we not figured out, after 5000 years of recorded history, the human race is one, we are all genetically and intellectually equal?  

          In the late 70's, a PSA, I will never forget, ran on television.  A man and his grandson were fishing in a boat when the little boy asked his grandpa, "what's prejudice?"   The grandpa asked the little boy, "who is Jimmy?"  The little boy responded, "He's one of my Jewish friends."  The grandpa then informs the little boy, "you are prejudice because you think of Jimmy as your Jewish friend and not your friend."




              What  a lesson we need today, in our world of Social Justice Warriors making a point of labeling everyone and, consequently, demanding rights and privileges based on color, religious practice or gender orientation (real or manufactured).  

         Martin Luther King Jr understood, once we label someone, once we designate a person according to a color or creed, we open the door to dehumanization.  Dr. King's dream of equality, his dream of judgment based on character alone should be our only standard. This is not a conservative vs liberals problem, this is a humanity problem. 

         What happens when I refer to someone as a black guy or a white gal?  I have now designated. I have now made a distinction and, depending on my perspective, I may have, inadvertently, elevated or devalued someone based on skin pigmentation.  

             In probably the most cringe worthy moment of the political season, I listened as commentators addressed race in the December Democratic Debate.  The debate stage, it was noted in the press, was disproportionately white.  Talking heads and pundits scrambled to wrap their heads around how this could have happened within the Democratic Party, asking who was to blame and how the rules must have been, somehow, unfair.  

             Even more cringe worthy was President Donald Trump's statement, "You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides." in response to an attack by white supremacist protesters against counter protesters in Charlottesvillle, a couple of years ago.

When can we just see people as people and not a color?

           What does God say about all this? The obvious place to start is Galatians 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

             Actions, however, speak much louder than words.  A poignant, yet oft overlooked, account from the life of Moses demonstrates God's view in a most interesting way.

        In Numbers 19, we see Moses has married a Cushite woman.  
 Today, Cush would be considered the land of Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia are unmistakably dark skinned.  Moses, hailing from a Semitic family would have been considerably lighter skinned, though not white, as he is often depicted in modern art.

Moses' sister, Miriam, was not pleased with Moses' choice for a wife and made trouble for Moses because of his darker skinned spouse.  God intervened and turned Miriam, scripture says, leprous like snow.  I cannot help but ascertain God demonstrated His disdain for Miriam's prejudice by making her even whiter.  

God seems to be telling Miriam, "you like white better?  Here is some white for you, let's see how you like white now" 

Of course, Miriam repented and God healed her, but the point is, God did not abide by Miriam's prejudice based on skin color and neither should we.

        Sadly, there are still some in the Christian community who believe we are to remain separated by race, based solely on physical attributes.  This is a foolish and dangerous lie buying into a false evolutionary construct. 
I addressed Racism in the Pews a while back, and I believe the key to healing America of racism must start in the church.

 Certainly, within America, there are cultural divides, to ignore this is folly.  People, naturally tend to associate with those whom they readily identify. This is not the same as race. Culture, in and of itself, does not signify superiority of one group over another. 

The bigoted among us will say, "stick with your kind,"  "the Bible says we should not be unequally yoked,"  "God told the Jews not to mix with the other nations."  Much like all of Satan's ploys to create mischief among God's people, statements like these are twisted to mean something God never intended.  

Let's look at the passage about being unequally yoked, 
2 Corinthians 6:14  Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 

Clearly, God's intent here is Christ followers are prohibited from entering into any kind of contract with an unbeliever as there will, undoubtedly, be conflict. Different values and worldviews will foment different agendas and different approaches to solving problems.  Many apply this passage exclusively to marriage contracts, yet God's intent was a much larger scope, encompassing business contracts as well.

What the passage does not say, nor does it even infer, is believers of different ethnic backgrounds should not marry.  

Yes, throughout the Old Testament, God commanded the Hebrews to only marry withing their heritage.  This was to preserve the spiritual integrity of the nation.  Two very notable exceptions to the command are Rahab the Prostitute and Ruth the Moabite, both of whom embraced the religious practices of Israel and both of whom are found in the lineage of Christ.

God's intent was never designed to preserve so called racial purity, or genetic integrity, God's intent was to preserve the spiritual purity of the nation.  The same intent is found in the above command, "do not be unequally yoked with a non believer."  

So, if someone tells me to "stick with my kind" my response is, "what exactly is my kind?"  If he means humans, then, yes, I wholeheartedly agree.  Even if he means other believers, I would concur.  If the inference was anything, even remotely close to suggesting ethnicity or national origin, I would have a real problem, especially if the person claimed to be a believer.  

     Scripture expressly dispels any idea of ethnic separation among believers: Galatians 3:28-29  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. 

            My lineage goes back to Noah.  So does yours. Guess what, if you are reading this, you are one of my kind. We are kin, we are genetically connected, the same race.  The only prohibition to our relationship is a matter of faith.  If we are both followers of Christ, we are free to worship together, enter into business together, our children are free to marry one another. Life should be good.  

The danger of stereotypes

          Sadly, there are believers in Christ who will disagree, based on tradition and rearing.  There will be those who just feel in their gut it is wrong to mingle ethnically,  yet have no scripture to defend their position. Gut feelings are not truth, contrary to conventional wisdom.  If you cannot back up your convictions with scripture, your convictions are wrong.  

     Throughout American history, cultures, based on ethnicity, have been elevated or debased, depending on the views of the majority.  This has been and continues to be a dangerous precedent.  Arguably, the three prominent cultures vying for prominence in America today are White, Black and Hispanic. Each is rife with stereotypes, some acceptable and celebrated, some erroneous and despicable and all divisive to one degree or another. 

        We cannot ignore culture, and we should not seek to eradicate cultural identity. What we must never do, however, is allow cultural identity to divide us and, even more tantamount, we must never allow cultural identity to hinder our spiritual growth or identity as children of God.  

           To elevate one culture over another is foolish and divisive yet to ignore culture is equally foolish.  Seeking unity necessitates focusing on what makes us similar, before looking at what makes us unique.  Harmonizing our goals and building a foundation of cooperation on common ground should be our beginning point, not a place we work towards.   

           Please don't tell me I'm pretty fly for a white guy.  Why can't I just be fly or square, for that matter, based on who I am without reference to my ethnicity.  Please never say "for a(insert ethnic designation here) guy, he's pretty cool."  Why can't someone be cool or even a loser, solely based on character, without reference to  national origin?  

      God does not prohibit us from mixing, mingling and living life together among different ethnicities so to do so from a human standpoint is, inevitably, working against God.  

       One race - the human race. Are you going to love as Jesus commands or continue to follow Satan's agenda, judging others based on the color of their skin rather the content of their character?

      "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight" and we all ought to be precious in one another's sight as well.

                   Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!






     

Thursday, November 7, 2019

IF I'M FORGIVEN, WHY DO I NEED TO REPENT?

                

      The Bible speaks quite a bit about forgiving and being forgiven.  In one passage, we see  Luke 5:20  And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 
But in another passage we see this: Matthew 6:14-15  For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,  but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

          In the first passage we see Jesus responding to a man's faith and granting forgiveness and in the second passage Jesus says our forgiveness is contingent upon our granting forgiveness to others.  

         To further confuse things, we read this from the Apostle John:     1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

              No caveat, no fine print, just plain simple language -if you confess your sin, God forgives your sin. So how do we reconcile Jesus' words with Jesus' words and with the Apostle John also?

             Understanding the difference between positional forgiveness and relational forgiveness is the key. 

Positional Forgiveness:
             Positional Forgiveness is when we are born again and adopted as children of God through the blood of Jesus. We are positionaly forgiven.  Positional forgiveness means we take on the righteousness of Christ and all our sins, past and future, will not be held against us. This happens at salvation and does not change. 

Relational Forgiveness:
             Relational forgiveness is what we need each day to remain in fellowship with the Father.  Though we are declared righteous, we continue to sin and sin hinders our relationship with God.  Sin restricts our blessings, sin restricts our usefulness, sin restricts our answers to prayer.  

         So in the above passages, when Jesus says, "man, your sins are forgiven," based solely on the man's faith, this is positional forgiveness.  When Jesus said, "if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you," this is relational forgiveness.  Relational forgiveness does not affect our salvation but it does affect our lives and relationship with God.  Positional forgiveness declares you not guilty while relational forgiveness protects your relationship.

           OJ Simpson had a very famous trial, charged with killing his wife and a man named Ron Goldman.  When the gloves didn't fit, the jury had to acquit and OJ was declared not guilty.

           What many may not remember is there was also a civil trial where OJ was sued by the family of Ron Goldman for wrongful death.  In the civil trial, OJ was found liable and ordered to pay a hefty sum to the Goldman family.

            Positionally, OJ was not guilty and would not be punished for double murder.  Relationally, to the Goldman family, OJ is guilty.  Because OJ is relationally guilty, his reputation is forever tarnished, his acting career is over and he is not very well liked by most people.  

            Another example is, my daughter adopted a child.  That child, positionally is my grandson.  He will always be my grandson and nothing he can do can change his place in the family.  What happens if he comes over and spits in my face? Is he no longer my grandson?  No of course not, but our relationship is damaged because he has done a terrible thing.  Maybe the fishing trip I was planning with him gets canceled or the gift I bought for him is put to the side.  Now what happens when he comes over and apologizes and asks for forgiveness?  The fishing trip is back on, the gift is given and everything returns to normal.

              Positionally, my grandson never stopped being my grandson, but relationally, we were not so good until he sought forgiveness.  

                Now, just for a moment, suppose my other grandson spit in grandson number one's face.  Suppose grandson number 2 then went to grandson number 1 and apologized and asked for forgiveness but grandson number one told him to get lost.  I love them both and I want them to love one another so what happens when grandson number 1 comes to me for forgiveness for something he is not willing to forgive his brother?  I might direct him to go forgive his brother first and then come back.  I want his and my relationship restored but I also want his relationship with his brother restored.

                 Why is this important?  Well, many of us who are believers in Christ are estranged from the Father because of our unforgiveness toward others. Though positionally, you are a child of God, and going to heaven, relationally  you feel as if your prayers are not answered, you feel distance between you and God and you may not understand why.  

                When we do not forgive others, it harms us far more than it harms them.  Some of us have quite a bit to forgive , some of us have been treated horribly by someone, maybe even someone who was entrusted with our care, like a parent.  

                 Forgiveness does not mean placing yourself in danger or allowing yourself to be in a position to be harmed again. The Bible says we need to forgive, the Bible does not say we have to forget.  I may forgive you for punching me but I probably won't give you another opportunity to punch me.  

                When we fail to forgive, it does us far more harm than the person who wronged us. Often, the person who wronged us has gone off on their merry and we are not even a thought to them. But for us, we spend time hating and growing bitter and maybe even harming ourselves over it.  Forgiveness not only sets the person who wronged us free, it sets us free.  

                 So I ask  you today, are you harboring hatred or animosity toward someone?  Have you harmed yourself or others because of something someone has done to you?  Set yourself free, forgive.  Think of all the terrible things you have done and know God forgives you.  
    
                 Maybe the person or people you are struggling with forgiving do not deserve forgiveness.  That may be true. Do you deserve forgiveness from God?  Did Jesus deserve to die on the cross for you? 

            This is a tough thing, but a necessary thing.  If you are harboring unforgiveness in your heart, you have imprisoned yourself.  God wants to bless you and speak to you and restore your life but He will not if you cannot forgive. Do not let the actions of someone else cause you to harm your relationship with God.

            Pray, even now, ask God to grant you the grace to forgive.  If you are a believer in Christ, you are positionally righteous in the eyes of God, yet, you may need to find relational peace through forgiveness of others.

            Romans 12:17-18  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 

          Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!



             

Thursday, October 31, 2019

WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW CAN HURT YOU


               When it comes to spiritual matters, what you don't know can hurt you. Hosea 4:6  My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;

 Knowing what you believe and why you believe it is the greatest protection from attacks on your faith. The difference between Knowing God vs knowing about God can be the difference in questioning your faith or standing firm when skeptics cast doubt on the character of God. If you only know what others have told you about God, you may run into trouble.

         Many years ago, when I pastored a church in Florida, I had a home office and in my home office was a very ornate bong.  Someone coming for counseling could have easily left and told people, "hey, that pastor has a bong in his office."  This would have been true, but the reaction to this news would certainly have varied based on the level of intimacy I had with the person who heard about it.

          For instance, my wife, or someone who knew me and the actual reason the bong was in my office might have responded, "yeah, isn't that cool."  Someone who knew me well but didn't know why the bong was in my office would hopefully have given me the benefit of the doubt and assumed there was a perfectly good reason or even thought the person reporting this was somehow mistaken. Hopefully, my character would speak for itself.  

            But, what if someone did not really know me well at all?  What if someone had only a passing acquaintance with me and heard I had a bong in my office?  Naturally, this person would assume the worst.  I would be tainted and untrustworthy to the person, whose only knowledge of me is what they had heard.  

             As it turns out, the bong was actually a hookah pipe from Yemen and was used as a ministry tool by American missionaries sharing the Gospel with Muslims. It was given to me as a gift by a missionary to Yemen.  Very innocent, yet what someone believed about me owning a bong would be determined greatly by how well they knew me.

              The same thing goes for God, obviously, on a much grander scale.  If your knowledge of God and the Bible comes from a weekly regurgitation on Sunday morning, you are in great danger of falling into error.  If you are a believer in Christ, why would you be satisfied with merely knowing about God when you can actually know God?


                 If you have any kind of social media presence and you post or tweet about your faith, chances are you have been challenged, trolled or otherwise engaged by atheists or skeptics.  Many atheists claim go be former believers who have been enlightened to truth.  It does not take long for skeptics to discover if you have actually studied the Bible for yourself or if you only know what you have been told about the Bible, and once they  smell blood in the water, they go for the big attack.

             Our spiritual lives cannot be sustained by an hour or two of church each week.  What if you only ate physical food for an hour each week? What kind of shape do you think you would be in?  Imagine the health issues brought on by malnourishment, imagine the lack of energy and strength.  Our spiritual lives are no different. If you only supply spiritual needs for one hour each week you are spiritually starved. 

              Are you prepared to answer skeptics when they accuse your Father of genocide?  Are you prepared to stand firm when pseudo science is presented as "evidence" against a literal 6 day creation?  Are you prepared to explain the difference between living by the Law or living in grace when challenged?  How do you handle the question, "doesn't the Bible say it is a sin to get tattoos?"

              These are all arguments skeptics will use to derail your faith.  How you stand up to attack will be determined by how well you know God and His Word.  
  
                 2 Timothy 3:16  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 

               Do you have a high enough view of scripture?  Is the Bible really your final authority on matters of faith and practice?  What happens when your lifestyle conflicts with the clear teaching of scripture, do you repent, do you ignore the truth or do you somehow attempt to justify your behavior through rationalization? 

                There is only one way to know God: spending time with Him.  The amount of time you intentionally dedicate to prayer, Bible study and worship will determine how well you know the Father.  "But I don't have time" is a lame excuse.  Let me ask you this, when was the last time you were so busy you missed dinner?  When was the last time you missed your favorite TV show because you were too busy?

                Chances are, you do not miss many dinners for lack of time.  Why, because dinner is important to you, because it is something you deem necessary.  When you claim to not have time to invest in your spiritual life, you are really saying, "my spiritual life is not really that important." We schedule what is important.

              If you are not where you need to be spiritually, allow me to encourage you to develop a healthy daily, time of prayer, Bible study and worship.  Allow me to encourage you to get to know the Savior you claim to follow.  It is very difficult to follow someone whom you cannot recognize.  

                  If your spiritual life is vibrant, allow me to encourage you to encourage others. Be an example and a mentor to those who are newer to the faith and spiritually immature. 1 Thessalonians 5:14  And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 

                 Scripture tells us we will reap what we sow.  Are you sowing to the Spirit, if not, you cannot reap the Fruit of the Spirit. Scripture also says those who sow to the wind will reap the whirlwind.  Do not allow the enemy to wreck your faith because you failed to spend time with the Father.  Do not allow your lack of knowledge, readily available and very accessible knowledge, lead to your destruction.

                 When you read, pray, worship and fellowship with other believers, you will grow spiritually and be equipped to stand up to attacks on your faith.  By knowing God and His word you will recognize error when it is presented. There is no reason for any of us to be destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE FOUND ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

       
     "What is truth?"  this question was famously asked by Pontius Pilate as he questioned Jesus.  Today, we are told each of us has our own truth, validating perception, no matter how flawed.  It has been said, "there is no absolute truth," to which I ask, "absolutely?"  

       Have you ever known someone who responded negatively to you based on what they expected of you, rather than anything you actually said or did?  This can be very frustrating.  How we perceive a situation may not be reality and often our perceptions are formed before we have an adequate amount of information.  

           Did you know, scientific misperception led to some pretty bizarre and comical conclusions?  Up until the 19th century, the scientific community believed, and taught, living things spontaneously generated from inanimate matter.  For instance, it was believed maggots spontaneously grew in rotten meat.  Even Aristotle, as brilliant as he was thought to be, declared some animals were the product of spontaneous generation. It was not until 1859 the idea of spontaneous generation was debunked once and for all.

     While the idea of science getting it so wrong for lack of understanding may be comical, what is not so funny is misperceiving spiritual things.  Misperceiving the spiritual can have eternal consequences.  

      Many present when Jesus was arrested and put to death did not understand the purpose behind all they had just witnessed.  Christ's followers felt abandoned, afraid and probably a little foolish for following after one who promised so much and delivered, as they perceived, nothing.  Even after the resurrection, some were dejected, discouraged and confused. Two such men decided to leave Jerusalem and head to the town of Emmaus, probably to reassess their lives and figure out what to do next.

            The account of these two men is found in Luke 24:13-35.  What follows demonstrates how perception of events outside the context of God is often flawed and bad decisions often follow misperceptions.  

              Luke 24:13-16  That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 

             Theses two men decided to leave Jerusalem and head to a neighboring town.  Most likely, they were very discouraged, confused and afraid. Little did they know, Jesus was with them. It appears, these men did not seek God on their decision to leave Jerusalem, as we will see, they were not meant to flee.

               Many times, life happens and takes us by surprise or we become discouraged by a turn of events we were not quite expecting. These are times we may feel alienated or even abandoned by God.  The lesson in this passage:  God is right there beside us, every step of the way, whether we sense His presence or not. When God promises to never leave us nor forsake us, He means it.  When the Psalmist wrote, "yea I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me," he is not saying this because he feels overwhelmed by the presence of God, but, rather, because he trusts God to be there as promised. The very nature of the valley of the shadow of death is a place of darkness and impending doom. 

         Luke 24:17-24  And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 

                I wonder if Jesus was just a little amused as he listened to Cleopas explain why he and his friend were so dejected. As these men walked with Jesus, they explained why they were upset.  Even though they did not realize it, they were speaking to the One who had the answers, the One who understood the big picture.

              How often do we struggle on our own, never seeking answers from God, who knows all.  Instead, we are often content with discontent, trying to figure things out on our own.  God actually wants to hear from us as any loving parent would.     

                   Luke 24:25-27  And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.                          

                Jesus, perhaps a wee bit frustrated, patiently explains to these two men how everything they just related was tied to scripture and happened according to God's plan.  Jesus revealed prophecies concerning Himself, undoubtedly starting with Genesis 3:15 and teaching through the writing of the prophets.  The entire Bible is the story of God's redeeming love for a creation which rebelled against Him.  Jesus showed these men, He was always plan A and there never was a plan B.

              Often, we attempt to reason situations and circumstances according to human logic, forgetting there is a spiritual component to everything we experience. Discouragement, disillusionment and dejection are all by products of viewing our circumstances from a purely human perspective.  Like Cleopas and his companion on the road, until we realize a sovereign God is, and always has been, at work behind the scenes, we are in danger of giving in to hopelessness.  Romans 8:28 has almost become cliched in Christian circles, however, we cannot forget the truth found in it: All things work together for good, for them that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.  

               Mick Jagger told us, "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."  Mick Jagger did not understand the sovereignty of a loving God who always gives us what we need, even when we perceive the bottom has fallen out.             
              
            The wisdom of man cannot fathom the depth of the sovereignty of God.  God allows us to exercise unlimited free will and still manages to tie all things together in order to accomplish His will. The two men perceived Jesus had failed and fled Jerusalem.  It was revealed to them the necessity of the Messiah's death for the salvation of mankind. Once they had a heavenly perspective everything suddenly made sense.

            Luke 24:28-33  So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther,  but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem.

                 Once these two men realized they were acting on faulty perception, they immediately reversed course and headed back to Jerusalem.  If we operate on faulty assumptions, our behavior will be counterproductive.  Once we see things from a heavenly perspective, our behavior should follow our faith.  Behavior based on bad perception is often counterproductive and, sometimes, self destructive.  When all hope is lost, what matters anymore?  

                 It is paramount to our survival, spiritual and even physical, to understand God is intricately involved in every aspect of our lives, whether we are aware of His presence or not.  Cling to His promises, remember His past faithfulness and stay rooted in scripture.  Ask God to reveal His perspective in seemingly hopeless situations and most importantly, keep your eyes on Him and not your circumstances.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell! 

Monday, September 2, 2019

HAUNTED NO MORE VOLUME 1 - CD REVIEW

      So, what do you get when you take the beautifully dark musical composition of Myles Barfield and mix it with the multi-ranged talents of legendary vocalist Dale Thompson?  You get an amazing  audio experience called Haunted No More.  Brought to you by the same musical genius as Dabster Gentlemen , Haunted No More presents a musical experience of depth, meaning and contemplation.  

            Unlike the upbeat, genre defying, work of Dabster, HNM leads the listener down a quieter path of reflection touching on themes of the heart and focusing on the redemption and freedom which can only be found in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.  

             The theme of HNM's debut, Volume 1, is recognizing the sufficiency of Christ and no longer being haunted by circumstances or the folly of others.  This is not only reflected in Thompson's powerful lyrics, but also captured in the piano laden compositions of Barfield, who somehow manages to evoke raw emotion through the music itself.  The listener cannot help but feel moved by the power of the marriage of heartfelt music and vocals.  Barfield and Thompson seem to have a Page and Plant chemistry as each artist's contribution to this album has a natural symbiosis where the listener experiences the themes of God's sufficiency even in the midst of trial and the chaos of a world opposed to God.  

             Psalm 73 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 lay the groundwork for HNM Vol 1. Though all may seem hopeless, in Christ hope abounds.  

       Neo-classical in style, HNM's music and message is very relevant and and fresh, and never veers off or distracts the listener from the idea of rediscovering hope and joy, even when all hope seems lost.  

     The first track, Midnight in the Middle of the Day, opens with light piano and rhythm leading into Thompson's contemplative and soulful vocals. From the first song, the listener will realize this album goes beyond merely entertaining into a realm of thoughtful reflection.  The musical composition soothes the spirit while the lyrics will draw introspection and a sense of God's awesome magnitude.  

       I Sleep (Internal Journey I) is up next, drawing the listener to the very edge of darkness.  With  light piano, some cymbals, and Thompson's layered vocals, demonstrating his amazing range, the recipe leaves hints of Moody Blues on the listener's palate.  

     Track number 3, The Miracle in You reminds us the sacrifice of Christ was a voluntary act of love.  This song sets the tone for the hope in the midst of hopelessness.  Very similar in musical composition to the previous tracks, one gets the sense of   a trilogy of songs where, first we are asked to contemplate the vastness of the universe, then contemplation turns inward to our spiritual need, while Miracle in You leads us to the one event in all of human history bringing hope to mankind.  

             I Wanna Have Church switches gears slightly, a mournful ode to local church lost to demolition when Dale Thompson was a youth. I Wanna Have Church is clearly the flagship song on this album.  The pairing of Barfield's composition and Thompson's vocal intonations is pure melodic magic. Somehow, a never heard before song manages to evoke a nostalgia for a place previously unknown to the listener.  Thompson sings in a lower register but layers in his signature sound behind the main vocal track, reminding the listener Thompson's range surpasses even Axel Rose.  

         Never Turned My Back on You remains true to the overall sound of HNM while giving fans of classic Bride ballads a taste of Thompson's signature rasp, only teased at in the previous track.  

        No End But God reminds us there is life beyond what we currently experience and reveals a purpose in suffering.

        From the Lord's Cup picks up the tempo slightly and starts off as a jaunty tune dealing with the theme of suffering as Jesus suffered for the Gospel.  The tempo, slows in the middle and picks back up in the third part. The tempo change ups seem to be revelatory of the Christian life, on which many embark with joy, yet may begin to question when persecution or resistance comes, only to see joy spring forth as understanding the purpose of suffering for the sake of the Gospel manifests.         
                  I Will Praise You reminds us of God's goodness, even in the midst of the storms of life. God is worthy of praise, not necessarily for the storm, but because of God's goodness beyond whatever circumstance in which we may find ourselves. 

      The Sky of Nothingness, a powerful piano ballad with a slight Floydian flavor, dealing with the topic of the meaning of life. The musical composition grabs the listener deep within.  Barfield's arrangement and presentation produces an emotional draw at the heartstrings that cannot be ignored.

         Filter (Internal Journey II) a warning to not filter our expression of God's image imprinted on us, nor the message of God's word.

         Not Every Story  reminds us not every story has a happy ending yet every thing from our past can serve as a lesson for our present.  Not Every Story could easily be a second single release. Musically, Barfield presents a powerful sound and Thompson reminds the listener he is a rock singer at heart.  Not Every Story finds both artists in the zone leaving no doubt each is doing what he was gifted by God to do.

         Into the Hole is a mournful recognition of the power of fear and depression in the frailty of the human heart. Our own power is insufficient to pull us out of the well of despair we often flee to as a respite from the trials of life. God's power and light is the only thing able to rescue us from pits of hopelessness.

       Haunted No More brings forth an album which seems important. The listener will find relevance and purpose in each song.  Hauntingly beautiful and pregnant with purpose, Haunted No More has created an album for it's time, presenting the hope of God in an often dark and joyless world. 

      It has been my pleasure to listen to and review this album.  Highly recommended!

        Available to listen on Spotify, or, better yet, order your own copy here!


              

               

Friday, August 9, 2019

FINDING HOPE IN HOPELESSNESS

 
What is hope? The dictionary defines hope as "a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen." Expecting what we desire to happen is a great motivation to continue moving forward, to continue trying, but what happens when you have exhausted all possibilities and there no longer exists a way for desire to be met? Hopelessness happens. What happens when we give up hope? We may do dangerous and self destructive things.

Maybe, today, you have given up hope or are on the brink of giving up hope. Maybe you have decided hope is for suckers and just don't care any more. You would not be the first person to feel this way. What follows is two true stories of people who gave up hope only to have an encounter with God which changed everything. One very old story and one in modern times.


 1 Kings 17:9  “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 
   At the time of the above passage, there was a severe famine in Israel.  Elijah the prophet was serving God faithfully, when he received the above command.  The only problem with the plan was, no one told the widow.  

1 Kings 17:10-12  So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.”  And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 

And she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

         God told Elijah the plan, but the widow, apparently, had no idea. By the time Elijah showed up, the woman had come to the conclusion all hope was gone. The water dried up, no crops could grow and the widow was down to her last handful of flour and oil, enough to make a small biscuit, maybe.  

          The widow had given up hope, she saw no way out of her situation.  Her husband was dead, the land was in drought and even if it started raining that very day, by the time new food grew, she and her son would have died of starvation long before any food came available

     There was no way, humanly possible, for this lady to get out of this situation. Undoubtedly she exhausted every effort and thought through every scenario possible to save her son's life and concluded there was no hope.  

      Perhaps today, you are looking at a situation and see no possible way to avoid disaster.  You have exhausted all resources, you have examined the problem from every possible angle and have concluded there is no possible way to undo the mess.  Maybe you are right, maybe there is nothing humanly possible which can change your situation.  I can tell you this: even though there is not a humanly possible way out for you, there is still hope. 

       You see, the widows story does not end with the prophet walking away and the widow going home to die. God has purpose for this lady and when God is involved, the impossible becomes possible.  God has purpose for you, just like He had for this unnamed widow.

1 Kings 17:13-16  And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.’”  And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. 
             
        Though the widow had no idea God had a plan for her, He certainly did.  She could have told Elijah he was crazy, gone home and followed her original plan, yet she did not.  Something caused the widow to trust God in her impossible situation and, supernaturally, God provided.  Supernaturally, the situation changed.  

     Though you may feel completely abandoned and hopeless, the truth is, God has a way out for you.  God has a purpose for you and He wants to transform you and your life.  The key is trusting God can lead you in a way where there is no way.  The widow saw no way out, had no way out, until she encountered God.  

       Life throws some pretty terrible things our way. Sometimes, the unthinkable happens, yet, in the midst of disaster, there is still hope as God is bigger than any situation in which we may find ourselves.  

        The second story of hope takes place in modern times.  It is also a true story:

           Susie Edwards found herself divorced with 2 small children, at the age of 23. (If you want to read Susie's full story, Click Here) Susie remarried and raised her children, however, by the time the children were grown, she found herself divorced and alone.  This is when Susie began drinking.    

          Susie's drinking increased and eventually she moved to another town for a job, where she met Bob. Bod didn't drink much, but Bob introduced Susie to drugs and both developed an addiction which cost them everything they owned.  Susie and Bob knew if they continued on the path they were on, it would lead to death or prison.  

        In an attempt to get clean, Susie and Bob left town to make a new start but due to bad behavior found themselves homeless. Through the obedience of a woman whom God directed to pick them up, Susie and Bob learned about a local ministry. Attending the local ministry, Susie and Bob were able to meet God in a real way and experience the transformation only He can bring.

  What was available to Susie is available to all.  No matter how dark or bleak your situation may seem, God can lead you to a better place.  God wants to lead you to a better place.  

     God is the restorer of broken lives .  There is nothing God will ask of you or require of you for which He has not equipped you.  If you are broken, if your life seems shattered, if you see no way possible, God makes a way when there is no way.

       Faith in Christ is the first step in restoring hope. The doorway to God is Jesus. The Father waits for you with open arms and desires a relationship with you.  God brings hope to the hopeless by creating opportunities where none exist. Psalm 34:8  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! The man or woman who seeks refuge in God will not be forsaken. 

          Please do not miss out on what God has in store for you because everything seems hopeless. When life is hopeless you can still find hope in God.

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!

           























Thursday, August 1, 2019

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

                           
fringe
noun
  1. 1.
    an ornamental border of threads left loose or formed into tassels or twists, used to edge clothing or material.
adjective
  1. 1.
    not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral, or extreme.


         


Mark 5:25-29  And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years,  and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.   She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 

               Have you ever felt out of place or that you just don't fit in with what society has decided is normal?  Maybe you are a little edgy or maybe you have been let down by those who should have had your back.  For whatever reason, you feel withdrawn from the mainstream, God desires a relationship with you.

               Culture determines, many times based on arbitrary ideas, who fits in and who does not.  Feeling misplaced is not something exclusive to one segment of society.  You can feel misplaced in luxury or living on the streets, you can feel misplaced in suburbia or in a city with millions around you.  Often, society defines fringey  people by appearance, however, there are many who put on a suit and tie everyday who feel just as out of step with mainstream society as a gal with a purple mohawk.  

             Many hide or deny their feelings of isolation from "normal" while others embrace who they are and don't care who likes it.  The truth is, there are many more people on the fringe of society than most people realize.  Jesus is Lord of the Fringe.  

             If you look at the people with whom Jesus associated, you will realize, He was not calling the mainstream people who had no sense of need in their lives.  Jesus went to those who were hurting, left out and isolated.  Even John the Baptist, before Jesus, was in the wilderness ministering, not in the town square or in the synagogues.  Mark 2:17  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

             God also demonstrated this truth in the account of the woman with the issue of blood, mentioned above.  This woman knew if she could just touch the fringe of Christ's garment, she would be healed. You can read more about on this here: Grabbing the Fringe of Jesus' Garment   Being on the Fringe of society herself, due to health issues, this lady reached out to Jesus and was healed.

            Being Fringey does not mean excusing or ignoring sin, it means being who God has allowed you to be for His glory, using the personality and style God has allowed you to develop through all your life's experiences.  The call to holiness is still one of most important pursuits of any believer.  Being fringey does not redefine sin either, in fact, our goal is to help the individual pursue God's best and seek inward change, which will manifest in changed behavior. 

           In other words, you may not trade the black t-shirt for a suit, but you might change the design or message on the shirt.  You may not trade your sweater vest in for a leather jacket, but you will feel comfortable with who God has you to be and minister to others within your gifting and calling.

           If you consider yourself on the outside looking in, for whatever reason, Jesus has a seat for you at His table.  God loves you as you are but loves you too much to leave you that way.  

           Know you are loved, know you can find forgiveness and community in Christ.  Know you have been designed with purpose and God has adventure for you.  Join those of us who have joined Jesus on the Fringe and watch God rock your world

Now, go live as Christ... and give the devil hell!