26 February, 2015

My Journey Through Depression and Infertility


In June of 2013, my wife and I received a diagnosis of sterility - we were unable to have children without medical intervention.  To make matters worse, the doctors told us that the condition causing infertility is with me, not with my wife.  The previous post details some of those things as they were encountered.

I wrapped up my notes with a comment about choosing to be 'thankful' and to be 'content'.  I have to admit, I gave up on that not long after.  Over the months that followed, from June through August, I lost sight of some critical truths that I needed through that time in my life.  I became self-absorbed, intent only on trying to 'understand' why God would allow those things to happen to me.  I forgot what contentment was, what thankfulness was for.  In my frustration, I let slip from my mind that which was most important - teaching my heart to be thankful by building good habits.

By September, those musings and frustrated murmurings became anger and resentment.  Depression started to set in.  Much of that time was also spent feeling guilty; how could I be depressed and still claim to have the faith in Christ that I did?  I'd go to church with my wife, and find excuses to not be around people.  I would go sit in the car after the service and wait until Sarah was ready to leave.  I would avoid people at work, too.  If I couldn't understand what was going on, how could the other people around me be expected to understand?  Plus, wasn't the fact that I had all these emotions an indication that I was somehow weak?  The lies were thick, infuriating, and confusing.  Each emotion and lie was made worse by my attempts to blame it on myself, or keep it from my wife - the very person God put in my life for better or for worse, in sickness or health.

By the first week of October, the frenetic emotion and negativity reached its height.  I ended up late one evening wandering the streets of my neighborhood, pondering the value of life itself, and whether it'd be worth it to just walk out into the middle of the multi-lane highway near our home.  Through all of these times, one thing stuck out to me.  I'd promised my mother years ago I'd never commit suicide, and reaffirmed that promise to my father-in-law prior to my wedding.  I can't claim to have been in complete control of my thoughts at that time, so I know that God had other plans for me.  My feet ended up heading back to the house.

To cut a wordy story short, I ended up getting checked into a psychological evaluation ward at the local hospital.  I was there for five days.  During that time, the doctors spent countless hours trying to evaluate my sleep patterns, my thought processes, and my reasons for living.  At some point they made a diagnosis - major depressive disorder, likely brought on by a single event (go figure?).  There was one session where they even suggested I'd been depressed for my whole life without even realizing it.  The psychologists made a few recommendations for medication, and sent me to two weeks of counseling and therapy.  Those two weeks were some of the most pivotal I've ever had.

It was there that some of the biggest lies I'd been telling myself (some of them for years) were identified and met head on by a man who not only embraced clinical psychology but ardently espoused Scripture and the crucified yet risen Christ.  I'll list some of the things I learned from this man below.

He pointed out that emotions are not the enemy.  I'd been telling myself that for years.  My emotions had been the cause of some pretty embarrassing moments, broken friendships, and foolish decisions over the years, and I'd finally come to the point where I was trying to eliminate any trace of that kind of 'weakness' from my life.  Emotions are no more the enemy than one's own right hand.  Emotions are only the thermometer of the soul, which one can use to tell if the heart is well or ill.  Teaching one's self to understand those emotions can be crucial.  Part of these discussions also showed me that some people (apparently myself included) process emotions before logical thought.  Who knew?  That gives an advantage to the person who knows which they process first - by allowing them to adjust their approach to decision making, responses, reactions, etc.

The counselor also showed my wife and I there were things that we weren't doing well at communicating.  Despite the amazing groundwork Sarah and I had done before even committing to marry one another, we were failing to communicate on an emotional level - which was straining and potentially damaging our marriage.  By not communicating a need on the emotional level, understanding of each other was truly limited.

Additionally, both my wife and I learned much about introverts and extraverts.  While there isn't room here to describe much of that, I am happy to discuss those things personally with you should you so desire.

One other thing that came of this was the revelation that depression of itself sinful.  Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane as He prayed showed signs of depression.  Elijah was depressed as he prayed for God to replace him as the prophet in Israel.  Nehemiah showed not only depression but grief as he pondered the destruction of Jerusalem's wall and its society.  Jeremiah is an even better example.  Looking at Lamentations, the grief and despondency associated with depression are apparent.  The sin comes in when depression is allowed to fester and become bitterness.

I'm nowhere close to being done with this journey.  I may not be depressed anymore, but the adventure of understanding the person that God created me to be is in its infancy.  Again.  With the knowledge I'm continuing to gain from counseling and from the Bible, with the support of the amazing wife God has given me, things look different.

After leaving the mental rehabilitation clinic, I continued seeing a counselor and have through the present.  God has been good, though sometimes I still struggle with how He leads.  I don't have to understand it all though.  It's good enough that He leads.  For those reading this hoping to know how this journey ended up, I have to say that it isn't over yet.  You'll just have to stick around and find out or continue waiting for occasional notes.

23 June, 2013

Pursuing Contentment

My wife and I, we've had a rough month or two.  It seems like everything that can go wrong will.  It started when we replaced our dying sedan with an SUV.  The sedan had transmission and exhaust issues, so we traded it in and bought a GMC that fit our needs, planning ahead for a dog we wanted to buy and leave ourselves room to put children should God bless us with any.  Not a month later, the SUV lost its transmission in a blaze of glory disaster that left us driving a loaner car for over two weeks. 

Next, Sarah's job ended at the beginning of June.  While the change wasn't abrupt, it is difficult to conceive of an easy way to deal with things financially at times when factoring in a single income for a military family.  Not impossible, but definitely a challenge.

Our new house is wonderful, and the Home Owner's Association (HOA) loves to send us hate mail certified letters because the yard is not up to par.  We don't mind yard work, or being together doing projects that need to be taken care of.  But the guy who sold us the house didn't take care of the yard and we're paying the consequences.  He left us equipment that doesn't work.  And to top it all off, my wife and I are both incredibly allergic to pretty much everything outside, making it very difficult to do yard work in anything longer than 15-30 minute increments.  The after-effects are just awful, the allergy attacks often lasting two or three days. 

I found out toward the end of last week that a relative of mine just died.  She'd been going through some very difficult medical issues.  I live over 2000 miles from home and cannot be there at the moment with my family. 

And then comes the kicker.  Sarah and I have been trying to have children for a year now, with zero success.  Over that year, we've prayed for children, pleaded with God to allow us the opportunity to be parents and try to raise children that love and serve Jesus.  We both started working with the doctors to see if there were issues we needed to be aware of, or things we could do to improve our chances.  On Friday last week, I found out that the issue was with me, not my wife (who we thought was predisposed to have issues based on some hereditary stuff).  The doctor told me that I'm being referred to an infertility clinic.  This news completely floored me, since my family has not had any cause for concern in that regard, and there are few (if any) instances where infertility has been a problem - my dad is the youngest of six children, and is the father of five.  My uncles and aunts on Dad's side have children as well.  There aren't any known issues on my mother's side of the family, either. 

We've been barraged over the last year with questions about when we'd have children, we've seen countless friends get married, and announce soon after that they were expecting a child (or two).  Still others just tell us, "It will happen when y'all are least expecting it, don't stress about it!"  Even others tell us their success stories as if this will somehow improve our "chances" of having children. 

I am emotionally devastated.  My wife is crushed.  We feel beaten, defeated, and incapable of doing anything but assume hope is gone.  How am I personally supposed to have a "man-card" if I cannot do the one thing men are supposed to be able to do right out of the box?  Where has my masculinity gone?

There are a select few who have been told about some of these struggles, and most of them just nod and say "God is in control.  He'll take care of you.  God knows what He's doing.  Is there something He's trying to teach you?"  Do the words "too soon" mean anything?  Only one person has offered an "I'm so sorry."  We don't want people to try and fix us - we just want people to understand and to weep with us... that weeping we know will only endure for a "night".  It's a season - not the continual state of affairs.

The biggest struggle I'm facing in all of this is not letting these negative emotions and struggles reflect in my attitude toward the people around me, starting with my wife.  I read my Bible.  I know the Bible says not to worry - tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.  I have seen the passage that says I'm supposed to give thanks in all things. 

I've personally made a choice to verbalize my thanks to God, but truth be told, my heart isn't in it.  My emotions, my spirit, they aren't happy.  I've made a choice not to allow my grief and sadness reflect in how I approach the people I work with, the people I interact with on a daily basis.  I've made a choice to trust that God DOES know what He is doing.

Here's why I can make those choices, despite all of these things: I've seen what God does.  I know, deeply and personally, that He is bigger than any situation we have.  Despite how beaten and crushed we may feel, I've seen enough of His actions in the dark hours of our lives to know He can still hold His own in the face of all I tell him is wrong with my life.  When our car was broken, we had no way to fix it.  We begged our Heavenly Father to find a way to fix it, because the car was new, and obviously His, so if He wanted to break it, He would need to either show us the next steps or fix it Himself.  Miraculously, and in answer to prayer (we believe), the repair bill was somehow shrunk from close to $6000 to $0.00.  We can't explain how Jesus works things out for us.  We just know He watches out for those who are His.  When our yard was out of control, several people helped us out - some by loaning equipment, others by volunteering time to come out and do heavy labor in 90º+ temperatures.  These are things we don't take for granted - nobody owes Paul or Sarah anything..  We owe far more to the people around us who have been so gracious than it is even possible to fathom.  Looking at the "bright side" (as so many of told us we should do), the doctor referring me to an infertility specialist may mean that there are other options to explore that will still allow Sarah and me to have children.  The referral doesn't mean that this is the end. 

I'm not bitter.  I'm not angry.  I haven't quit or given up.  I'm only grieving and emotionally hurt.  And I'm desperately trying to hang onto what I know of Scriptural teaching on contentment.  This is beyond my power to control or resolve, but I know that God can, if He chooses to. 

There are two questions I have. 
  1. I'm making a choice to be "content" and "thankful" but my heart and spirit still grieve.  Am I missing the point, and somehow being ungrateful if my heart isn't in the words?  Is saying the words to help convince myself that things are going to be "OK" actually any help at all?
  2. Do you think about the questions or casual statements you make to a couple?  Are you aware of the effect your words can have?  Did you know that something intended in a very benign way can send someone into tears when they recall what you said - regardless of what was meant?
I'm chasing this attitude of contentment.  I know it starts with making the choice.  If I somehow arrive there before you, I'll tell you how that works.  If you are already in that state and waiting for us to catch up, be patient with us, please - we're on our way. 

UPDATE:

I've been reading the Psalms in my daily Bible reading, and Psalm 30:10-12 was really comforting this morning (29 June).  It's hard to understand sometimes why these things must be faced, and why, of all people, this had to happen to us.  We never would wish this on anyone, but we hate that this has happened.  But my God has not abandoned me, nor left me without hope.  I write, not trying to bemoan my fate, but to express the emotional anguish of the days we are in and to make clear that we're looking to none other than God for our help.  Do not think of this as a complaint.  Think of this as just a small peek into the heart of one whom God isn't finished with yet.  I've posted the verses referenced below.
 
10.  Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!  O LORD, be my helper! 
11.  You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12.  that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

01 March, 2013

Time Flies

Wow, time has truly flown.  I remember my last post and intending to write a new post shortly thereafter.  As I look, I realize that a more than a year has come and gone, yet I have not written a new post.  Fortunately, and somewhat tragically late, I have a post for you. 

To bring you up to speed, I should probably tell you that I got married.  When I joined the military over four years ago, I went from Basic Military Training in San Antonio to a tech school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.  During my three-and-a-half month stay there, I was blessed to go to a tiny church off base in an even tinier community called "Success".  In that church, I met some incredibly amazing people, and among that group of people was my wife's family.  I was in a relationship at the time and had no interest in anyone, much less Sarah, who was not even at a marriageable age at the time.  The church, Grace Fellowship of Gulfport, sent someone every Sunday to pick me and several friends up and bring us to church.  Tom Holliday and Pastor Tolin, I owe you more than you know! 

After tech school, I was sent to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, where I spent two years learning computer networking fundamentals and how to stay alive when the temperature gets below -20ºF.  It was a good experience to be there, as I had a lot of learning opportunities and chances to see some fun things.  18 months after my arrival to Ellsworth AFB, my section sent me to Keesler again for two-and-a-half weeks of training in server applications.  Having been to Keesler before, I immediately called up the pastor, and let him know I was going to be there.  Since tech school is a pretty controlled environment, I had not had much opportunity to get off base and visit with the people in the church and get to know them outside of the church service setting.  In my phone conversation with Pastor Tolin, I brought that up, and his response was that he'd see what the church wanted to do.  When I actually arrived in Mississippi for that two week period, I was able to visit with pretty much the whole church, one evening at a time, one family at a time.  So much home-cooked food and great fellowship was refreshing to the soul - especially after the drought of such things in South Dakota!  When I left Mississippi to return to Ellsworth, I took more phone numbers with me and gained a few friends on Facebook, amongst whom were Sarah and her family.

Thus began a fairly sporadic communication with Sarah, her family, and some of the church members from Grace Fellowship.  I should probably mention that due to some unforeseen difficulties, the relationship I had been in while in Mississippi that first time had collapsed, and I was quite single the majority of the time I was in South Dakota.  Anyway, after a two-year period in South Dakota, God saw fit to give me an opportunity to return to San Antonio (the site of my basic training) and take another assignment with a unique unit that offered some new potential for growth in my career.  So in February of 2011, I packed everything up, flew my father from Seattle to Rapid City, SD, and we drove together across the United States to San Antonio.  We stopped to visit some friends in Oklahoma, and had a wonderfully refreshing time there. 

Shortly after my arrival in San Antonio, I was invited to Sarah's high school graduation.  Most people question my reasoning for accepting this invitation, but I did accept the invitation for the simple reason that it gave me an excuse to visit with the church in Gulfport again.  By this point, that church had grown in numbers and moved to a different building a few miles away.  I arrived in Gulfport in May of 2011 just in time to escape the Memorial Day travel rush, and was able to help set up the graduation.  I spent the weekend in Mississippi, and visited the church there as I had wanted to do.  Funny thing, though.  When I got onto the airplane back to San Antonio, I wasn't prepared for the fact that my mind wasn't on returning to work, it was on Sarah (who by this point was not only graduated, but of a much more "eligible" age). 

After multiple people telling me I should think about pursuing a relationship with her, and a large amount of personal wrangling, and even more prayer, I finally realized I should probably do something about this nagging problem - and the only solution was clearly to speak with Sarah's father.  Upon that conclusion, the next thing was to figure out how to get out to Mississippi again to talk to her dad without tipping anyone off as to my interest.  No sooner did I start praying about it, than I received a call the next day as I was preparing for work telling me that I'd been selected for some additional training from a unit in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  They also informed me that I should take my car, as I'd be gone for three months.  As I looked at the map, I realized that this trip would take me right through Gulfport, MS.  God worked everything out so that I had several days in MS on my way to Florida, and some vacation time on the way back to Texas.  I asked Sarah's dad over dinner one evening while on that trip if he'd consider allowing me to pursue his daughter - and he commenced a rather interesting, thought-provoking, and lengthy cross examination that ended up taking a month.  We emailed back and forth, with him asking questions, and me answering them as best as I could.  Finally, he gave me permission to pursue Sarah, and things got pretty interesting.

Sarah and I visited pretty much every weekend during my stay in Florida - I would drive three hours to visit her family and the church, and drive back the next morning.  Eventually, when I got back to San Antonio, those visits were less frequent, but we still found enough time to Skype.  As God continued to work, we become more attached to the relationship and to each other, and it was clear that we needed to get married.  I ended up asking Sarah's father to give us permission to get married, which he eventually gave (thanks, Mr. Livingston!).  We got married almost a year ago on 24 March. 

Things have been awesome, too.  There have been so many lessons, fun experiences, and challenges to face.  One thing I was mentally "preparing" for that kind of took me by surprise was the amount of time it takes to actually effectively communicate and be a contributing partner in marriage.  I knew it was work, and I am here to tell you it is worth it.  In September and October last year, I was in a five-week management and leadership class in preparation for becoming a Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) this April.  The homework and study required left me with very little time to invest in housework, conversation, or relaxation.  As a result, there was an immediate build in tension - not necessarily between Sarah and me, but just in the atmosphere of our home.  Because of the lessons we learned during that time, we consciously choose now to make time for each other even when there seemingly is none.  It's been a good thing for us.  This is just an example of the many different exciting things God has taught us during our first year of marriage. 

For those of you who read my posts over the years about what young men should be doing to prepare for marriage, none of those things have changed.  Those things are all worth doing.  All I can do is to encourage each and every one of you to make sure your relationship with God is at such a point that you can hear His direction when you need to move from one thing to another. 

28 August, 2011

Placed on the Brink?

The book of Joshua contains a series of chapters describing the borders and boundaries of the inherited lands of Israel. When they overthrew the nations living there and moved in, God gave them territories by lot. What I'm about to mention may in part be trivial, but the point I'm going to be making is still worth considering.

I'd like first of all before going into this discussion to point you to Psalm 78:67-68. It says there:
"67He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
68but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves."
Now look at Joshua 15 - paying close attention to verse 8:
"Then the boundary goes up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the southern shoulder of the Jebusite ( that is, Jerusalem). And the boundary goes up to the top of the mountain that lies over against the Valley of Hinnom, on the west, at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim."
Notice the references to the "Valley of Hinnom?" What do we know about that valley? Historically, that valley was outside the city of Jerusalem and was used as the 'dump site' for all the refuse and filth of the city. We also know that that valley was where the children of Israel completed their abominable child sacrifices to Moloch, and traditionally this valley was the place that trash and waste were burned so as not to pollute the city. Some have speculated that Hinnom (also known as Gehenna) had constant fires there that never went out. There is not conclusive evidence to support this, but it is safe to guess that trash and waste were burned there regularly. The place is indeed something one might consider "hellish." Why am I talking about this?

God gave this putrid and abominable place as a boundary to a tribe of Israel that He chose - not only as the tribe from which He would fulfill His promise to redeem mankind, but as the place He loved. Why would a loving God place His chosen people on the brink of a place that was so despicable? Some may argue necessity - Jerusalem had a need to keep its streets clean, and thus the valley was a natural solution to the problem. That may be true, but what if God put this in Scripture as an example of how we as Christians are placed in our world today?

Think about it. Are we not called to be in the world and not of the world? (John 17:13-19, Romans 12:1-2) Is not the world we live in a place that is full of vileness and evil, a place we should strive to not emulate? (Romans 1:18-32) Isn't our inheritance in heaven? Aren't we the people Jesus has chosen to call by His name? Maybe if we consider this for a moment, we will realize that our 'border' is on the brink of 'hell' and our responsibility is to shine the light of Christ there without being a part of the hideousness of it. We have to walk in and amongst those who are not holy, without being like them. To them, we are Christ. Yes, we're called out from among the people of the world and told to be separate - but not separate as in distant. Rather, our separate-ness is in our calling - we're Christ's, not belonging to the world. In, not of. By extension, you could also consider our proximity to the stench of sin and wrongdoing as a constant reminder to us of who we used to be, and a reminder to remain holy.

This may be a stretch, but perhaps it is a stretch worth remembering now and again as we continue throughout the course of our lives as Christians. Don't forget who you are, or that God has indeed placed us on the brink. Our borders are in full view of hellish evil, our calling is to be holy and separate, and our ministry to those wallowing in despair in a modern 'Valley of Hinnom.' What we remember, what we choose to do will define how the rest of the world sees Christ - we may be the only Bible they ever read!

25 July, 2011

Manhood, Part 2: The Rehoboam Complex

This post is part of my Manhood 'series' but really is applicable to more than just those who are aspiring to be men. What I want to show you is the devastating impact the Rehoboam Complex (as I like to call it) has on society and the church.

We need to first of all establish what the trend is that I'm referring to when I talk about devastating the church. I'm going to be talking about youth ministry - and no, I'm not trying to judge those who are in youth ministry, but merely to point out some significant flaws in the concepts of youth ministry.

The typical church model in America these days is one that includes a segregated Sunday school hour where children of various ages meet with a teacher and other children their own age. The youth meet with other youth, the adults gather and have Bible study with other adults. Often, the subject matter covered is similar in each class, regardless of the age group. This isn't always the case, but remember, I'm painting this picture with a fairly broad brush. The structure I've described extends to more than just Sunday mornings. It happens on any given day of the week. Often, the youth will meet even more frequently than other people in the church. The youth minister (without intending to, often) becomes the role model, the one the teenagers look up to and go to for advice.

Think of Rehoboam. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-19). Solomon had, prior to his death, levied huge taxes on the people of Israel in order to support the building of the Temple. When Solomon died and Rehoboam took his place, the people came to him and asked that the taxes be eased up because they were such a burden. Rehoboam gave a token head-nod to his father's advisors, and chose instead to listen to his peers - to his shame. His actions split the nation of Israel and caused an incessant war that never was resolved. You know what is really sad? Rehoboam was likely in his 40s when this occurred.

What does this have to do with the current model of the church? Churches today are destroying the structure of family. Children who are growing up into adults don't have the wisdom and experience in life to answer the questions of life that present themselves as they mature. Teenagers really don't know as much as they like to think they know. Trust me, I used to be one. Youth really don't see the big picture. By splitting the family up, and allowing children to look to someone other than the parents as the source of advice, wisdom, guidance, and authority, the purpose of the family is defeated. It isn't a battle, it's a rout. The children who grow up in that environment more often than not will look to their peers instead of their parents when the big struggles of life arise. Two people who don't know what they're doing are no better than one who doesn't. We all know that the blind should not spend time leading other blind people. It doesn't make sense, and yet we allow ourselves to do it without even asking why!

My point is that churches are encouraging a multi-generational epidemic of Rehoboams - people who look to their friends, not the older and wiser people who are natural sources of sound advice and judgment. This is the same thing society does when splitting up families in the educational system; it tears apart that God-given structure.

This doesn't mean that youth ministers are evil people, or that churches are abominable places. It means that youth ministers who see the danger I've described should take the time to approach the leaders of the church and ask how they can help. The thing is, children DO need guidance. The point of Scripture is turning the hearts of children to their parents, and parents to the children. A youth minister desiring to stand up to the challenge should ask how he can help his church turn the eyes of children to their parents and vice versa. The leaders in churches should see the teaching in Scripture and provide direction to youth ministers. Families need to break the cycle and do what doesn't make sense - quit the 'program' and get on board with God's design - fathers raising their children.

That's why I added this to my Manhood series. Fathers need to take a huge leadership role in this. Men need to see the danger and steer their families away from it. Dads need to take the time to know their children and guide them through those times that are so crucial as they mature into adulthood. Men, STAND UP! Don't contribute to the endless stream of statistics where the numbers show only small percentages of teenagers staying in church after they grow up. Lead your families! If you are in youth ministry, think twice about what you're doing. Don't give up and watch Rehoboams continue to take over society!

08 June, 2011

Manhood: Part 1

I'd like for this next series of posts to be more interactive. That said, I've been looking at the Bible trying to pinpoint the various areas of Scripture that are the source of the principles of true manhood. For the sake of this discussion, I'm assuming there's a difference between being a man, and manhood. A man is a person who is male and has grown into adulthood, whereas manhood is the state of being that allows that man to hold up his head with dignity and earn the respect of those around him.

Contrary to 'public' opinion, it isn't clothes, money, girls, cars, brains, strength, or personality that 'make the man.' The Bible seems to spend a significant amount of time discussing manhood. Take 1 Timothy 3, for example. Or Exodus 18. Both passages of describe what godly leaders should look like. Wait a second, before you interrupt, I know that I just equated leadership and manhood. I hope to show that manhood and leadership are inseparable and interdependent. How, you say? Give me a moment, and then I hope you'll tell me what you think after I share my ideas.

See, Genesis 4 describes Cain and Abel and their offerings to the Lord. Note that Abel's offering was pleasing to God, and that the first thing he did upon raising his flock is offer the firstborn of the lambs as a sacrifice. While perhaps an incomplete thought, I think it is safe to say that the first mark of manhood is not a desire to put God first, but the actual act of putting Jesus Christ first and foremost in every aspect of life.

A wise man once told me that one can boil down manhood into the concept of walking with God. What? Where does that idea come from? Oh, simple. "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him." (Genesis 5:24) What does that have to do with manhood? Well, the idea is that if you walk with God, the various facets of one's life will fall into place, because if one is truly a Christian, those areas of life are as much subject to Christ's control as anything else. If that submission to Jesus' direction and guidance is present, the person gradually takes on the character God intends for His people to have. No, I'm not saying God can't work in the life of an unsubmitted person. I'm merely saying that God's work is evident in the hearts of those who surrender their own wills to His. And all of that is seen in the life of someone who puts God first.

I said I'd try and correlate leadership and manhood. I will make that attempt here. What is leadership, exactly? In theory, a leader is someone who stands up and takes action where it is needed, and in such a way that people follow them. Leaders are, conceptually, just as much 'made' as they are 'born that way.' But the only way any of that happens is if the leader takes steps personally to develop character that is unshakeable by the winds of society, peer pressure, or catastrophe. What kind of person in Scripture develops the character that can do that but someone that is called a man? Look at David, who was refined by the persecution of Saul until he was capable of leading a nation! Consider Moses, Aaron, Hezekiah, Josiah, Peter, John, and Stephen! All men who were leaders in their time. They all followed the will and works of Christ, setting Him as preeminent in their lives. Thus, in my estimation, manhood and leadership cannot be separated. Now hold on, there were other people in Scripture too, I know. I think you'll find though, as you read the Bible, that the people God uses as leaders are those who seek Him, and those who bear His name are worthy of being called men.

Note, if you're of the female persuasion, I don't think you're excluded from being a leader either. But this post isn't about that. Just don't take it personally - I'm not ignoring you per se so much as talking to a different group entirely.

So, those of you who have been patient enough to stick with me throughout this rambling post, I welcome your thoughts and wonder what you'd consider as the top mark of manhood or what are the other marks of manhood.

30 May, 2011

On Waiting

The Christian culture in America is swamped with extremes when it comes to addressing the aspects of male/female relationships and marriage. I'm not here to necessarily call out a particular extreme as being right or wrong. I personally have made certain choices with my approach to relationships, and while I am convinced that those choices were right, they aren't right for everyone. However, my purpose in writing this post is to point out something that I've come to think is not talked about often enough. Young men, this is for you.

We are often told, depending on who we talk to, that we should 'wait' for the right woman; to 'wait' for God to reveal to us His choice for a helpmeet. This is all well and good; I would encourage such behavior. However, what does it really mean to 'wait?' I have heard ever since I can remember that young people should save themselves for marriage. I recall hearing the young ladies being told countless times that they should guard their hearts, look to their fathers for guidance, refer suitors to their dads, and learn how to be submissive and godly women from their mothers. The young men were counseled in a similar vein, but I honestly (and this could just be me) cannot recall it being harped on so much as the material presented to the girls. Young men should be just as committed to abstinence, guarding their hearts, and more. But I do believe that young men carry an even greater responsibility.

Waiting for the right woman doesn't mean sitting on one's hands trying to figure out what is next. It has been said that 'idle hands are the devil's workshop' and rightly so. A young man who has too much time on his hands has time to fantasize about the girls he sees, and the 'freedom' to 'explore' - which leads to the behavior of a flirt. Think about that for a moment - a young man who is flirtatious and fantasizes about interaction with a girl opens the door wide to ensnare his own heart, but just as much the heart of the girls he interacts with. Women are just as flattered by attention as any man. The flirt becomes a stumbling block to a person who is trying to guard their heart. So what does this mean the young man should be doing? I think there are several things a young man should consider.

There is no magic age at which one is supposed to 'fall in love' and get married. The key is what has been done to prepare for marriage. Waiting for God's timing is a very active pursuit. I want to mention four areas of focus that a young man would be wise to consider while preparing for God's calling to marriage.

First, personal relationship with God is of paramount importance. The epistles of Paul are well seasoned with pointed remarks towards young men. Titus 2:6 encourages older men to exhort the upcoming generation to be sober minded. 2 Timothy 2:14-26 contains a list of things that any young man should aspire towards accomplishing. Notable in that list is the command to 'flee youthful lusts.' A wise man considers the lusts that weigh him down and casts them aside. Lust is a devastating piece of luggage to carry into the prime of one's life. It is easily described in a lack of contentment and reliance on God, and is seen in men (and women) whose focus is on themselves instead of their Maker. The man who would be married should have a clear conscience and be able to hold his head high among his fellow man, knowing that there is nothing he has to be ashamed of. He is aware that his accountability is primarily with his God and has a track record of striving to become like Christ.

Second, a firm emphasis on ministry is vital. A young man interested in marriage should realize that he is giving up his rights to what he wants to serve others. It is crucial that this be something that has been practiced and implemented over and over again. A godly young man is aware that his life is not his own, and invests his God-given talents, skills, and energy into serving his fellow man. Ministry is a rather broad term, I know. But the investment in others that I'm talking about here is a building up of fellow believers. Evangelism is a form of ministry, but I am convinced that evangelism is also very much caught up in the concept of service to fellow believers, for Christ's comments in John 13:35 were clear: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." The unsaved of the world are acutely aware of who we are, and much more so as we truly love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and that is ministry.

Third, an ability to provide for physical needs is important. There's not going to be a perfect amount of provision that is required in order to become a husband and father. The important thing is the ability to provide, and the knowledge that steps have been taken to prepare for the eventuality of marriage. This means that a young man interested in marriage should not be wildly frivolous with his money. This is not to say that one can not spend money on fun things now and again, but responsibility is also very much a part of the equation. A man should be able to provide for the physical needs of a family - housing, clothing, food, and medical needs are all things that will be constant. Not everyone will have it all. Some will have to live hand-to-mouth to make it work. But again, a young man should indeed be able to provide. This requires self-sacrifice and commitment. After all, what father would allow a young man to pursue his daughter if he wasn't comfortable with the man's ability to ensure that her needs would be met? A good father will always be looking out for the well-being of his daughter, and that carries on into his evaluation of potential suitors for her hand. He won't want to house a son-in-law who leeches off of him. He won't respect a man like that, and his daughter will not care much for it either.

Finally, wisdom and caution in relationships should be carefully observed. Wait, you thought that all of the three items I mentioned up to this point were what lead up to being qualified for marriage? Not quite. A young man needs to take heed who he hangs out with, who he talks to, and who he listens to. A man who is interested in being wise should consider that a young lady is not an object, and that the woman is always under the authority of someone else. A smart young man cultivates a relationship with the father before starting to develop a relationship with the daughter - it gives the dad a chance to evaluate him and really gives the young man an advantage. The father can always provide pointers, advice, and share wisdom, and I'm not just talking about advice in how to approach the daughter. Remember, 1 Timothy and Titus talk about leaders being teachable. The key is that the father/parents of a young lady (as well as the young man's own parents) can really share some perspective with the man that really can help him grow and mature. Guarding one's self from foolish friendships is also important. Having a prolific number of friends is all well and good, but who are they, really? A man must be capable of standing alone for what he believes if he needs to. And when those times come, he should take them without whining. They will come, it is not a question of 'if.'

Now I realize that I've said a lot of this with the assumption that a young man would be interested in pursuing a young lady thru her father. I've made the choice to do so, but what you do is between you and God. I can encourage you to consider what happens when you circumvent God-given family structure, but I cannot tell you how to think. I am sure that there are exceptions, situations where the father is not present, or other circumstances could change how it is approached I'm sure. But the key is, are you going to give God control of how you approach waiting, or are you going to keep matters in your own control? Because I guarantee your own control is completely useless against God's will and sovereignty. Just sayin'. This waiting business is keeping me pretty busy, so I wish y'all the best, and pray that God works in you to do His good pleasure.

05 February, 2011

Refocusing

I had started writing a post about the subject of baptism to put up, but instead, I'll simply remind y'all that the study of Scripture is important. God's truth is there. Regardless of the subject matter. God reconciles man to Himself, and you can trace that thread from Genesis to Revelation. Our Heavenly Father's perfect plan is that mankind would see the truth and that the truth would set them free. I could get into all sorts of discussions about the doctrines of election, or the covenant, or about Baptism - and those are good things to think about! It is good to know what you believe! But those things are secondary to the fact that Christ is King, and has chosen to be the ultimate Ransom for our transgressions. Studying Biblical doctrine is critical for growth in our spiritual lives - and knowing where we stand with doctrine helps us know where God wants us, helps us gain spiritual nourishment, and helps us have fellowship in a Christ-like manner.

I realized though, as I started writing the blog post about baptism that while I know what I believe, my purpose in having this site is not to convince you, the reader, of my beliefs. Instead, my goal is to point you to Scripture. My aim is to encourage you to fight the good fight, to study Scripture for yourself, and to know what you believe. No amount of eloquent or profound arguments in favor of one thing or another will change your life so dramatically as that personal interaction with God through reading His Word and through prayer. It is only through that that you will grasp His purposes, His plans, His desires for your life.

This is not to say that doctrine is secondary. This is not to say that I am unwilling to discuss what I believe. On the contrary, I'm happy to talk about where God has me in my spiritual walk, and delighted to dig into the meaty doctrines - with the proviso that if I do not know or understand a topic that is being discussed, I will defer discussion until I have had an opportunity to dig into Scripture about it before conversing about it. And doctrine and theology are foundational in their role - without doctrine or theology, one would not have the basis of having churches, fellowship, discipleship, or even evangelism.

I guess my point is this: 1 Peter 3:15 says to have an answer ready for the hope that is in you. Do you have that answer ready? Pray, study the Word of God, and wrestle with the hard things, because in doing so, you will grow.

09 January, 2011

The Ready Christian

The Ready Christian

A certain country was once anxious to open trade negotiations with a land close on their border. The king of the land listened to his advisers and sent a promising young man to go to the neighboring kingdom and open discussions of trade and commerce. The young man arrived in the neighboring capitol and had an audience with the foreign king and his high council. The council plied the youngster with questions regarding trade. To their surprise, the young man knew nothing of the trade of his country, nor of the customs required by either land, nor of the terrors of the journey that the trade caravans would have to make. The council threw up their hands in disgust and sent the young man home embarrassed with the following message: ‘Do not think to send us treaties of peace and mutual benefit when you cannot send them in the hands of a wise man. Or where are your counselors? Are they as daft as the child you sent to do the work of a statesman?’

What country in their right minds would send someone as ambassador who was not capable of answering questions of policy and government on behalf of his or her country? An ambassador by nature must be well versed in all areas of the structure and governance of the country he represents. Scripture calls us ambassadors. If we’re ambassadors, we have to know how to represent Christ. If so, what does being ‘ready’ really mean?

2 Corinthians 5:14-21 & 1 Peter 3: 13-16

The ‘ready’ Christian is:

Zealous for good (v. 13)

- Zeal consumes the zealot

- Zeal is passionate

- Zeal is infectious

Understands that suffering is a given (v. 14, Ch. 4:12-13)

-> Suffering is:

  • Intimidation (verse 14)
  • Slander and reviling (verse 16)
  • Painful (1 Peter 4:12, fiery ordeal)
  • It is a test (1 Peter 4:12)
  • Shared experience with Christ (1 Peter 4:13)

Knows that suffering is cause for rejoicing (1 Peter 4:12-19)

Sanctifies Christ as Lord (1 Peter 3:15)

- Requires devotion to God and His word

- Requires humility

- Requires grace

- Acknowledges when there is room to change

- By nature requires change

Have answer for questions ready (2 Corinthians 5:14-21, 1 Peter 3:15)

Speak answers in love, gentleness, reverence (1 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Peter 3:15)

- Love, because all mankind is made in God’s image

- Gentleness, because our answers are never going to be easy

- Reverence, because of the awe and wonder of what God has done for us and will do in the lives of those we meet

Maintain clear conscience (Nehemiah 9, 1 Peter 3:15-16, 1 Peter 4:17-18)

05 September, 2010

Worship: A Different Perspective

We in our Christian society are bombarded by different ways to promote a spirit of 'worship' in our lives. We are told how our church services should look in order to bring an atmosphere of 'worship.' We are told how to worship God in our hearts at home also. One thing that seems to be missing, though, is a warning not to worship the wrong things. I know the warning is there, and we see it in Scripture, but it is rarely repeated. I'd like to show you what I mean.

I'll start with a definition of worship that sets a baseline for the train of thought I'm on. Worship, in this context, is maintaining focus on Jesus Christ. It is that fixation on who He is, the response we have to His work in our lives - that reverence and devotion we give Him. Anything less is wrongful worship. When we pray, we are worshiping our Heavenly Father. When we sing, we worship. When we study God's word, we worship. When we fellowship with our fellow believers, we worship. (Notice that I said 'when' and not 'if!')

In our society, we treat life as a set of circumstances. Perspective has little to do with it, since few people dig into it. This mindset bleeds over into our Christian walk, and we tend to focus on our situations rather than on God and His word. We tend to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of Christ. We see the things that happen in our lives, and often that is all we see. We see trials, we see joy, we see grief, and we see good things. Because of the society we have grown up in, we often see life as a progression from circumstance to circumstance, and we are conditioned to react only to the here and now.

I've noticed that I sometimes have a tendency to focus on the negative things that I see going on around me, and that seem to directly include me. If I have a bad day at work because of difficult people, I rarely think about how God is using that in my life, but I focus on the difficulty at hand and, unfortunately, can begin to gripe and complain and murmur. This is of course not what God wants from me, or from any of us. You see, when we elevate our trials and our difficulties, and focus on them rather than on Christ, we are, in effect, worshiping those circumstances. This is because we are concentrated on our situation rather than on the One who brings us through those times in our life. Granted, it is not sinful to cry out to God and make known to Him our trouble. The problem I have, and that many of us may have, is that we don't turn to God. We simply ignore the fact that He is in control. Thus, if we are lifting up our situations and dwelling on them to the exclusion of God, we are worshiping the Potter's wheel, and not the Potter. We are elevating the crucible the Lord has us in to refine us, instead of worshiping the Refiner.

Who are we, that we have that attitude in us? Why do we forget so quickly? And who are we to question God's plan for our lives, or the work He has begun in us? Romans 9 has a very valid reminder of this very thing in verses 21 - 24:

Or does not the Potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.

This has been a challenge for me, and I hope for you as well. Don't lose sight of Christ, don't get so caught up in the events of life that you forget the One who put you there in the first place! Remember, wrongful worship is when we leave God out! Have a God-centered perspective!

22 May, 2010

Slavery: Birthright and Choice

The concept of slavery is repugnant to most people in our society. Talking about it makes people uncomfortable, laws have been made to prevent it from occurring, and wars of both political and violent natures have been fought over it. A casual reader of Romans might find Paul's reference to slavery offensive. After all, common conception is that we are NOT slaves. After all, God gave us free will, right?


A slave is bound to the will of his or her master. 100%. Though the slave has a choice as to whether or not to obey an instruction, failure results in punishment. Life for a slave consists of trying to avoid discipline. Obedience becomes second nature, because of the fear that is instilled in the heart of the slave. And like any shackled person, the slave looks on the world of 'freedom' and wishes to experience that freedom. Fortunately, because of free will, we have a choice as to who we become slaves of. Let's look at the differences between slaves.


The Slave of Sin

Sin is king – Romans 6:12

Suppresses truth – Romans 1:18

The slave to sin is a lustful, self-centered one – Romans 6:12

The slave to sin is a willing one – Romans 6:13a

The slave to sin seeks to justify and prove their own righteousness – Romans 10:3

The slave to sin is on death row – Romans 6:16, 23; James 1:13-15


The Slave of Righteousness

Righteousness is knowing the right thing to do, and choosing to do it, with the right attitude

– Colossians 3:23-25

Makes a choice to serve God in righteousness – Romans 6:13b

Lives in the presence of God – Luke 1:72-75

Is justified through trust in Christ – Romans 4:2-5

Cries out for mercy when faced with their wrongdoing – Psalm 51, Romans 7:14-25

Is promised eternal life – Romans 5:17


Summary

We know innately that there is a difference between right and wrong – Romans 1:18-32. We are given a choice as to whom we will serve. We know what the rewards for serving sin are, and the rewards for serving righteousness are. Why do we choose sin? James 1:13-15 makes it clear that it is our own lusts that draw us into sin. So does the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25 – it is what we were born into. (See also John 3:19.)


Who are you going to serve with your life? It is a choice that you must make! You will be held accountable for your decision, regardless of which one you make.


28 January, 2010

In Passing

To those who would say that a someone who loves work can't have fun, I give you Ecclesiastes 2:24:

"There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God."

26 January, 2010

Random Question

So I was recently attending a funeral for a suicide victim, and there were easily over 300 people there. For me, even though I never knew the individual, it was difficult because of the fact that this man and I were both military. We both had a common vision, to support and defend the Constitution. And yet he was dead, and I was not. He gave up a lot when he took his own life. And the question I had leaving that place was this: "How could a man think he was so alone and incapable of dealing with life, and yet have 300 people mourning his loss?"

31 August, 2009

What Struck Me

I was recently reading through the book of 1 Timothy, going over the concepts of leadership that are covered there. 1st and 2nd Timothy, as well as Titus, convey a large quantity of characteristics that define not only leadership, but manhood. And I realized something, as I was pondering the concepts found there.

The majority of the "qualifications" presented for a leader to meet have little to do with the man himself. They have much to do with the relationship the man has with the people around him. His family, his church, his workplace, his acquaintances, and the man off the street. In Scripture, we see that the chief responsibility a man has is to his Maker. Reconciliation with the Almighty, and following Him in every aspect of his life is the primary duty a man has - to himself. 1 Corinthians 11 delineates a responsibility for self-examination, in order to not misrepresent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Beyond that, the majority of the tasks true men have are to their fellow man. Think about it.

A man must rule his household well. That's a relationship with other human beings, involving them, as well as the man. A man must not be a brawler. This is also a relationship issue involving multiple people. The list goes on. Almost all of the requirements deal with how a real man deals with the people around him. How he interacts with, ministers to, serves, leads, and protects the people around him.

God has designed life to be beautiful in it's simplicity - despite the inherent complexity. If we do what He says, it's supposed to be so easy. If a man focuses on himself only to the extent that he is striving for the close relationship with Jesus Christ that all men must have, that's all he has to worry about - for himself. That's it. One thing. Everything else will come as a natural byproduct of his walk with God. The man is then free to serve his brothers and sisters in Christ, and minister the Gospel to a lost and dying world. I think Christianity as a whole overthinks the walk of the believer sometimes, and this is one of them. I believe that if a man confesses Christ, follows Christ, and serves the family of God, the Gospel is inexorably furthered in a way that leaves no doubt but that God was at work in the life of that man. This defines true masculine maturity and manhood.

It isn't about the man, as much as about the Christ. Follow the Savior, love the saints, breathe the Gospel.

21 August, 2009

Random Rant

Do any of you find it irritating that what was common courtesy, nay, chivalry merely a generation or two ago is now frowned upon? That those values that defined "gentleman" and "lady" are now considered devaluing and demeaning?

I have become so frustrated by the shock that is expressed when I try and hold the door for someone. Women seem so... surprised that someone would do that for them. Men, well, they can manage for themselves, and nobody thinks of them anyway, and thus they also seem bewildered. Women use language that would make their grandmothers turn over in their graves - no wonder they're not treated like ladies. Or what gets me is when a woman is trying to carry something she obviously can't manage that well, and I offer to carry it and she says no. Why? If you can't manage, what is there to prove? I'm merely offering to assist you! Good grief! Is all this just to prove equality or individuality?

Men are no better. They don't look out for the needs of others, don't treat the younger, the weaker as worthy of protection. Instead, they assume that to protect them is to coddle them and to prevent them from experiencing the real world and learning that it's a rough place out there. Uh, hello? That's why they need protecting? Men in today's society seem to find nothing better to do than to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to tear down the reputation of other people. What's the point? To prove that you're somehow better than the other person?

When I inquire about any of this, I get "well, you just have to let people be themselves." Yeah? I am! I am merely trying to be courteous and as much of a gentleman as I can! Is that so wrong? This has nothing to do with "letting people be themselves" or not. I'm not trying to change their character or impose on them.

Does anyone else find this to be disturbing? Do I just have the wrong expectations? Guys - what makes a gentleman a gentleman and a lady a lady? Girls - what do you expect out of a gentleman? Are you devalued by a man (or person) offering assistance of any sort?

Gah! This is so irritating!

20 March, 2009

The State of the Church

I thought I'd post some thoughts about Christianity and it's state from the perspective of someone in the military. The following are some of the observations I've made.

1.) Military members have a very high respect for religion, and Christianity is not frowned upon. As a general rule that is. Some do make light of faith and tend to mock those who follow Christ, but they are not the majority.

2.) Biblical doctrine is hard to come by. All of the chaplains I've encountered since joining the military have been so focused on being ecumenical and avoiding stepping on the toes of other denominations and even religions, that there is no Biblical teaching of any significance. Granted, this is only a random sampling of the military, and it's only one branch of the service, but the theme is consistent. In addition, this spirit of being politically correct is not limited to just other denominations and religions, but is also targeted at not offending the people listening. The people in the pews/chairs/benches are the meter of whether or not the message is acceptable. Since when is that Biblical?

3.) Despite the acceptance of religion/Christianity by the military, few actually attend churches on or off base. Contemporary worship services are the fullest, because they create the largest emotional high. Traditional services are also geared, unfortunately, at making the service member feel good about themselves. Churches are empty. And the leadership is willing to try anything to bring people in, often at the expense of the very things that define a church.

Those are just a few of my observations, but the most obvious ones.

06 March, 2009

Leadership

What does leadership look like? What is the purpose of leadership? I've seen some examples since joining the military of both good and bad leadership. I could tell stories, I could talk about the things that have happened, but more importantly, the question to ask would be what God says about leadership.

God designed leadership with balance. Look at what God did through Moses. He broke down the leadership of the nation of Israel into the control of 70 elders. See what the book of Acts says about leadership. The apostles were led to share the leadership of the church with others who could interface with the people at their point of need, since they couldn't always be there.

A leader will be humble too. Even Ahab, one of the most wicked kings to rule the nation of Israel, was blessed for humility, and the punishment God had in store for him was saved for later instead of being meted out in the measure it was due. King Manesseh, the grandson of Hezekiah, when he humbled himself, was released from prison and his punishment was held for a future generation. The Apostle Paul acknowledged his own mistake when he was corrected for the way he talked to the high priest.

People in leadership have to be willing to do the things that are less than popular, even if they are hard to do. Others may dislike the leader, but a leader with God's approval has far more going for him than a leader with the approval of a thousand nations. People's opinions have no weight in God's scheme of things. I look at Moses again as a prime example of this. Moses ended up making the nation of Israel drink from a river that had had brass ground to powder thrown into it. He had to correct the nation on multiple occasions for idolatry, immorality, murmuring, and a myriad of other sins. He was disliked, the subject of plots, and yet Moses took the hard path and followed the instructions God gave him despite the horrendous odds.

These are just small things I've noticed in Scripture about leadership, but volumes have been written on the subject. The best source to go to for true leadership is Scripture. The Bible has the best instructions, the best examples, and the most complete roadmap for leaders. Follow it. Learn from it. And keep humble.

24 December, 2008

Where I Was

There has been a rather large gap in time since I posted. [Editor's note: The author of this post does not believe in the "gap theory" of evolution.] Needless to say, my existence on this earth is still confirmed, but has been hard to broadcast.

To bring y'all up to speed, it needs to be mentioned that as of October 14, 2008, I enlisted in the United States Air Force for a period of 6 years. I shipped off to Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas at Lackland Air Force Base; Basic was completed on November 28, 2008. I am grateful for the opportunity God gave my family to come see my graduation - it was such a blessing. I departed Lackland at 0100 hours December 1 for Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. I am in training there for Communications Operations (just call me a CyberWarrior.) I am scheduled to be assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota (close to Rapid City) in March. I'll be promoted to Airman First Class on March 5, and begin advanced on-the-job training that will include Microsoft and Cisco certification.

God has blessed me in so many ways I can hardly count them. He is so good. I've had several opportunities to talk about my faith, and countless chances to encourage fellow Airmen to do what is right, despite the apparent difficulty.

Please pray I am able to maintain a spirit of humility, and be able to learn the technical material presented in class.

17 June, 2008

What About Church?

Has church ditched the idea of sanctity in favor of "society?" What do I mean by that?

What causes people who claim to believe in God and to be born-again Christians to not attend church? More often than not, it's because they claim that they were doing something else, that they were busy, that something came up. Is this OK? What happened to taking the seventh day as a day of rest? What happened to attending church in order to be obedient to Scripture? Being with the body of believers in order to be of mutual encouragement?

I think there are a couple of problems that are influencing this trend. Oh, did I say this was a trend? People are not just not going to church, they are also leaving church and not coming back. Or they are leaving and starting their own home-church or Bible study. The first problem I see is that the philosophy of the world has seeped into the doctrines of the church. Common advice to a churchgoer is "if the church you are attending isn't meeting your needs, find another that will." Or, "if you are not in agreement with the teachings of your pastor, start your own study, or find another church." Whoa... time out! What's wrong here? The center of attention is ME! I get to decide what makes church acceptable. I am the one who determines if teaching and doctrine are in line with what I want to believe (emphasis on *want to believe*.) There is a clear direction in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 to love. Chapter 12 gives us an understanding of what others-centered ministry should look like, and chapter 13 tells us why. Meeting the needs of others and encouraging one another to look to Christ as our example is the whole purpose of church. It is about edification, not the meeting of my own needs. My needs will be met as I look to Christ and meeting the needs of others, not by me seeking the fulfillment of my own desires.

There's also a significant lack of the fear of God in churches today. Many people teach a gospel that makes Jesus our "buddy" and Christ a "pal." I agree that Christ is our Friend, but He is far more than that, and we cannot as Christians seek to make Him our Friend to the point that we lose sight of His holiness. If we lose our awe of His power, His majesty, and His Deity, we lose who He is by nature, and this is another major failing in our churches. We need to bring back the fear and reverence of God. By fear, I don't mean abject terror or a debilitating fearfulness. I mean a respect and awe of the holiness of the One who is so pure that Isaiah, Daniel, Moses, the Apostle John, Paul the Apostle, and so many others fell down speechless. The kind of obeisance of the soul to the overwhelming magnificence of Almighty God. This needs to penetrate more than just our churches, it needs to be a settled part of our own individual lives so that it will filter *back* into the church and spill out into the lives of those around us. This needs to start at the heart level. It needs to start with me. And it needs to start with you.

11 May, 2008

How Far?

I read some excerpts recently from Foxe's Book of Martyrs. There were some amazing quotes and stories in that book that made me realize that I am not as committed as I should be. I asked myself how far I would go for Jesus if He brought suffering into my life. I read about Blandina, who was beaten and left for the vultures to eat, but survived. When she was found alive after her tortures, she was thrown to the wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum, where she died singing. After reading this story, I was only able to come up with three natural responses to my question.

First, as a natural human being, I would only go to the point of pain, at which point I would resist. Is this response Scriptural? No. The Bible says in Matthew 5:38-39 that we are not to resist an evil person, but rather to turn the other cheek. We are also to pray for those who persecute us (v. 44-45). The response I had naturally was nothing but self-centered. Who am I serving when I "defend" myself in a situation of suffering? Myself! Who am I focused on? Myself!

The second reaction I had is that I would give in and deny my faith out of fear. I have a natural fear of pain. I hate it. Pain hurts me and I don't like it. So if pain is part of the equation, why not just avoid it? What did Peter do when challenged about his trust in Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75)? He denied any association with Him, claimed to have no knowledge of Him, and finally cursed. Why? Because he was afraid of the pain and suffering that would result if he acknowledged his relationship to Jesus as His disciple. Peter was focused on himself. What was the result? He was as guilty of crucifying Jesus as those who put the nails in His hands and feet. He openly rejected the One who came to reveal sin and open the way to reconciliation. [Praise God that He restored Peter to fellowship with Him and used him in such a powerful way later!] Thus, my second reaction is also not the correct response.

My third reflex when thinking of the intense suffering and persecution that is promised (see 2 Timothy 3:12) was that I would accept it, but with grumbling. My attitude would be one of a whiner, dragging down everyone around me in my attempt to either "feel better" or "understand" the situation. "Why me?" or "why would people do this?" I would question the reasons behind my faith, but wouldn't ditch it for fear of not entering heaven. I am a fearful person. This response is also wrong. It is a response of fear, which is nothing more than pride in saying that I don't trust God to take care of me even when I am not able to take care of myself. Fear is a choice to take the load of my wellbeing on my own shoulders instead of leaving it in the arms of Him who numbers my hairs in the first place. Fear is pride. Fear is focused on self. It's definitely not respect or reverence to God.

So, what is the right response? It's easy to say "sure, I'll be OK when the time comes. I can handle it because God will be with me." But what will really happen? Maybe it's time to think about what our reaction will be. I can tell you right now it will be difficult for me because I have spent my entire life thinking in terms of self. 1 Peter 4:12-19 makes it clear that suffering is to be expected. We know based on this passage that we are to rejoice. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 states that we are to pray always and give thanks. Give thanks for what? Maybe it's time to think about that and come up with a list of things to be grateful for. Maybe we need to think of things beyond "my house," or "my car," though they may be valid things. Perhaps we need think of everyday situations as an opportunity for us to show gratefulness. Are we grateful for the opportunities God gives us to grow our character in challenges? Are we thankful for the driver that the Lord uses to teach us long-suffering when they cut us off? Are we able to tell God how glad we are that He is using our own failures to teach us why we need Him? This is the right response... maybe if we work on it now, it will be second-nature when times of trial and suffering are REALLY on us. I am not perfect. I know my response wouldn't be right without Divine intervention and I have been working on ways to resolve this unpreparedness. What would your response be? Why? What do you think are things that we can be grateful for?