Held Fast

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Last week, I had the privilege of taking Jacob with me to the Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, KY.  Time nor space allows me to describe all that it meant to me, especially getting to share an experience like that with my son (and, hopefully, Andrew’s time is coming, too!). IMG_6001 I will say that one of the surreal moments I had as a father was following a tour group around as Jacob participated as a prospective student of Boyce College!  Obviously, no decisions have been made, but as a two-time graduate of Southern Seminary (which is also home to Boyce), it was an odd feeling to be there in that capacity.

At the beginning of each T4G session, we spent time in worship.  It’s something you just have to experience to get a grasp of the sense of awe: 10,000 voices singing simple, often very old hymns, to the accompaniment of an extraordinarily gifted worship leader/pianist.  I get excited and impatient when I think that’s just a little bitty foretaste of heaven!

One of the hymns we sang has come to mean a great deal to me.  It is a reminder of all God has done to secure me, both now and for eternity and I hope it can be a comfort and encouragement to you, regardless of the circumstances you face.  Maybe today you need to be reminded — He will hold me fast!

More Thoughts on Refugees

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some initial thoughts on the refugee crisis.  I mentioned that there is so much we cannot know in order to determine whether or not we should support taking in refugees.  After listening to endless officials and pundits over the last several weeks analyze and argue their views, I still don’t know if letting refugees in is safe or not.

What I do know is that the idea of absolute physical safety is an illusion.  I’m sitting in front of the TV now watching reports of a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California that is unfolding live before my eyes.  There are no details yet on who did it or why, but if follows closely on the heals of another shooting that took place in Colorado less than a week ago.

My point is simply that whether or not there are refugees, there will be danger.  Always.  Danger is already here.  The potential for and reality of mass killing is a domestic problem as much as a foreign one.  Terrorists can already get into our country and reports are they’re already here.  All of this is outside of my control.  What is not outside of my control is how I think about and what I do for people in need.  I can allow myself to become fearful, paranoid and cynical, or I can choose to live a life of fearless compassion in a dangerous world.

I have no control over who does or does not come into the Unites States.  So, with so many unknown variables, I fall back on who I am, who I’m called to be and what I believe about God and about people.  I am called to love and care for those God brings to me to love and care for.

Because of what I don’t know, I neither argue for nor against the acceptance of refugees.  As I stated in my last post, there are really good arguments on both sides.  Frankly, I don’t see a reason to pick a side.  I can look at it philosophically, theologically and ethically and argue a position, but last I checked, those who make the decision don’t ask what my views are.  That’s not to say that speaking up isn’t important, but on this issue, I can’t know what I don’t know; I can’t make a fully informed opinion (and there are enough uniformed opinions already out there).

What I CAN do is respond to what actually happens.  I can work towards helping those families who might enter the Country and do what I can to show them the love of Christ, if it is determined that they will be allowed to do so.  That’s what I’m called to already, even though I so often do an inadequate job as it is…but I can work on improving.  I can refuse to operate out of fear. I can trust in a sovereign God who will ultimately determine whether or not refugees from Syria or any other nation enter our borders.  Many times, God calls us out to the Nations…sometimes, God calls the Nations to us.

I can’t decide what will happen.  I can decide how I will respond.

Quick Thoughts on Refugees

As hard as it is, I am trying to look at the current refugee crisis carefully, thoughfully, morally and ethically.  As I think about this, I have to realize there are so many unknowns behind the scenes that make it impossible for me, with all certainty, to take a “right” position.  I find I have to remind myself to approach this very humbly.  

On the one hand, it is true that as a Christian, I am called to care for the poor.  I believe that something must be done for the refugees.  I’m not sure what that something is, because, at the same time, it seems incredibly unwise to open the door for what could allow terrorists to attempt a “trojan horse” operation as it has been reported that at least one did in Paris, and kill more.  God calls us to be compassionate, but He also calls us to be wise.

It is hard for me to outright support an influx of refugees, whatever their religious orientation, if it cannot be guaranteed that the people who are already here will not be safe.  We have a responsibility for them, too.  To be perfectly candid, there is no way I would welcome someone who looked potentially dangerous into my house with my family present, yet that is what we are doing if we are not careful and get this right.  At this point, I don’t have that confidence.  

So, what do we do?  Honestly, this is a tough one for me.  I am not at all comfortable with the extremes I’m reading about on Facebook.  I’m not comfortable hearing Christians speaking coldly about those who are running for their lives, thinking only about ourselves, and speaking poorly about the refugees, in general.  It doesn’t sound like Jesus talking.  On the other hand, I’m not comfortable with people saying that we are not acting like Jesus or aren’t being Christian unless we blindly welcome in whoever says they are a part of those legitimately escaping persecution.  I think it’s a bit more complex than that.  

Personally,  before I make a statement about how we need to take in and care for refugees, I need to answer the question, “What am I, personally, willing to do to help these refugees?”  It’s easy to take a position if I’m not directly affected; if it’s going to cost me nothing but a few more tax dollars.  So, am I willing and ready to personally get my hands dirty and provide for refugees?  If not and yet I say that it is un-Christlike not to take them in, I have to question if I, myself, am actually being Christlike.

It’s so easy to post a picture, share someone else’s profound-sounding post, or like comments made who share my position.  It’s harder to step back, think soberly and honestly about what really is Christ’s position; to consider Christ’s call…I’m talking about the one that says that, like the apostles sent out among wolves, we are to be both wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).  I’m not sure how much of either of those are being put on display at this point.

So, maybe we can ease up on the rhetoric, the chest-bumping, the guilt trips and the finger-wagging and spend a little more time sincerely praying for the mind of Christ and asking how we, as Christ-followers, can be part of the solution and live, first, as citizens of Heaven rather than citizens of the world.  

I’m not there yet.  I don’t have an answer.  In this very emotionally charged time, mine are all over the place and I vascillate between the different options with almost every news report of victims being killed in Paris and Beirut or displaced families running from ISIS.  I don’t see an easy answer.  That shows me that I’ve yet to find the mind of Christ here.  So, until I do, I will be quiet.

God, have mercy. 

The Sky Isn’t Falling

There has been a great deal of chatter, as well as no small measure of fear and trepidation among the Christian community following the release of a Pew Research Poll that Christianity in America is in decline.  This cartoon pretty well sums up the reality of what is happening. 2015-05-27-dying1

2015-05-27-dying22015-05-27-dying32015-05-27-dying4Credit: http://adam4d.com/death-of-christianity/

TGC Article: 8 Lies Christians Believe About Success

Man, this is such a great article on the lies Christians believe about being successful in life.  If you are serious about being a faithful disciple of Jesus, I would highly recommend you read and re-read this from The Gospel Coalition blog.  Here is an excerpt of a few of the lies we easily fall for:

lightstock_12509_small_seth_magnuson__350_233_903. God helps those who help themselves.

When God tells us to become like a child, he doesn’t mean “become like a child emotionally but make sure you have life insurance and pension and a stocked pantry.” No, he means seek first the kingdom of heaven and all of these things—the food, the clothing, the future—will be added unto you. He wants to take care of us while we devote ourselves to him. And it will probably mean appearing foolish to the rest of the world.

4. You are what you make of yourself.

There’s a lot of pressure to speak up, to be assertive, and to make your name known lest you get lost in a sea of pixels. But Jesus says the last shall be first. Despite being God, he made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to death—even a cursed death on a cross (Phil. 2:5–11). He trusted God to glorify him, even as he emptied himself of glory. We’re called to do the same.

5. Suffering is a sign of failure.

When did North American culture become adverse to pain? If we begin to feel uncomfortable, we pop a pill. If we struggle with depression or discouragement, or if we encounter a terrible diagnosis, we rush to therapy or the doctor instead of first going to the Father and asking him what he wants us to learn through this suffering. God uses suffering for our good, even if it should end in death. We carry around within us the death of Christ, and we will never know the power of Christ’s resurrection if we don’t enter first into suffering.

You can read the full article here.

Reflecting on a Purpose-filled Life

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

bowThere is something incredibly profound in the relationship Paul has with Timothy that speaks of Paul’s integrity as a follower of Christ. After warning Timothy about those who are not true followers of Jesus, he reminds him of what is true, encouraging him to remain steadfast because of what Timothy has seen in Paul. I find this incredibly challenging and convicting in my own life, desiring to be able to say this to my children and those I disciple. Paul seems to have gotten it all right:

Teaching – Paul is confident that all he has taught is right and completely in sync with all that Scripture reveals.

Conduct – This takes the teaching to the next level, because he’s confident to say that his conduct has matched up with his teaching. One never points this out unless it’s demonstrable.

Aim in life – Timothy can see what Paul sees as his purpose and what is valuable based on his priorities and goals. Again, this must match up with both teaching and conduct. If the teaching is not right, the conduct not in line with the teaching, then the priorities will be skewed.

My faith – Paul clearly believes what he says based on his actions. He truly trusts the Lord in all things as demonstrated by the way He lives His life. This is obviously more than lip-service.

My patience – Now he’s getting personal. If he believes and trusts Christ, he is content to wait on the Lord which includes showing patience for God’s work in others. Rather than trying to “fix” someone or manipulate a situation, Paul will speak the Truth, live the Truth, encourage growth, but leave the results to God.

My steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings – In the face of great suffering and challenges, Paul stays the course. His faith and belief in Christ and the Word of God motivates Him to persist regardless of the circumstances.In spite of the fact that evil will continue and even increase, Timothy is to continue to become more Christlike through what he has learned and seen and what he has read through Scripture, the very words of God. Because of his life and discipline, Paul has “street cred” and can encourage Timothy, with confidence, to persist. Paul need not depend on the “do as I say, not as I do” cop-out. Rather, he can simply say to Timothy, “Follow me.” What power that carries and what a difference it makes in a life!

Admittedly, it is so hard to live this kind of life.  Frankly, though, if Paul can do it, anyone can. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that changed Saul, an enemy of Christ, into Paul, arguably the most influential of all of the apostles of Christ, and it is that same power of that same Holy Spirit that can do that in me!

Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship

Started reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer today.  I didn’t get through the introduction before I came across a great quote:

IMG_4309-1When the Bible speaks of following Jesus, it is proclaiming a discipleship which will liberate mankind from all man-made dogmas, from every burden and oppression, from every anxiety and torture which afflicts the conscience.  If they follow Jesus, men escape from the hard yoke of their own laws, and submit to the kindly yoke of Jesus Christ.  But does this mean that we ignore the seriousness of his commands?  Far from it.  We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when his command, his call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety.  Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets his yoke rest upon him, find his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way.  The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it.  But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.”

Looking forward to the rest!

Conversational Scripture Reading

Have you ever tried praying Scripture back to God? I’m talking about actually speaking the text back to Him using conversational pronouns (I may have just made that term up, but you get the point), for example, changing “He” and “the Lord” to “You”.  It makes for an amazing prayer and worship time.  Give it a shot.  Here’s a good one to start with: Psalm 18:1-3

Ummmm…just one word of warning: be careful to know the context.  Every passage in Scripture is not suitable for this kind of reading.  There are sometimes specific prophecies, instructions, etc. that were for a particular people at a particular time.  Pick the ones that are obviously more universal, in nature.  If you have questions about whether a specific passage fits the bill, shoot it to me and I’d be happy to try and help you figure it out.

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Martyrdom Lives

martyrJust read an excerpt from a Relevant Magazine article in On Mission:

More than 2,000 Christians died for their faith last year, according to Open Doors.  The conflict in Syria accounted for the largest group of Christian deaths, some 1,200 casualties.  The total number of confirmed martyr deaths reported 2,123 for 2013, includes no numbers for North Korea, where no official Christian deaths were recorded, but most certainly took place.

If we think people aren’t dying for their faith in Christ all around the world even today, we are ignorant of the truth.  If we believe that it can’t happen in America, we are naive.

“…and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13b)

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