Monday, September 24, 2012

Broken Pedestals

I was in store some time back when I happened to get in line several people behind a person that many in the local Christian community would recognize.  This individual started and heads a local ministry that has helped countless people and the ministry cross-networks with other ministries to truly perform the work of Christ in our area.  Though I do not personally know this individual, I've seen them at many of the charitable and Christian functions that I've attended, heard their ministry's work on the local Christian radio station, and even contributed to funding their ministry myself.  In fact, I would go so far to say that for many, this person's accomplishments in the name of Jesus and in love are something to not only be admired but are also inspirational.  After all, this person has laid their lives down for others and others' lives have been changed as a result.  People have come to know the love of God through this person's obedience in loving our neighbor as ourselves and taking up our cross. In a sense, this individual was a local "Christian Celebrity", whether they wanted to be or not. 

But here was the problem for me;  today this person was yelling at their kids.  And I'm not talking about the "NO-you-can't-have-that-now-put-it-back" kind of yelling.  This person's face was visibly twisted as eyes filled with anger bored into their children.  They hissed "I SAID STOP IT!" and their children shrank back, shoulders slumping in compliance as their crushed spirits withdrew.

Again, I was some distance away in our line so I know others heard this.  I continued to monitor the scene as inconspicuously as I could and this individual proceeded forward, paid for their goods, and marched out of the store, smoldering in the flame of anger with kids following in silence.  I was shocked.  This person was a community leader, a CHRISTIAN community leader.  This person headed a respected ministry.  Why would they display such open hostility towards their own family members?  Questions immediately began to flood my mind.  Perhaps they were having marital problems, perhaps the home life was bad, perhaps the kids were unknowingly rebellious.  Maybe the ministry was struggling and the stresses were too much.  Maybe they weren't balancing the home/ministry/personal-walk-with-God ratios well.  Even so, what would drive one to publicly snap in such an ugly manner towards their own children?  Suddenly the thought was interjected - "Maybe their ministry isn't such a good ministry."

Here's one:  Maybe this person, like me, is simply human.

How many of us have positioned others in a certain light of expectation in our minds?  Perhaps we wouldn't go so far as to call it "hero-worship" but all of us have individuals in our lives that we expect to walk a higher road; people we've positioned on pedestals of higher moral ground.  I don't think I would be alone to state that though I often wrestle with my own failures and stumblings, there are those I hold in a high regard - in part - because I don't necessarily perceive those individuals as struggling with my particular frailties or perhaps they "seem" to have this Christian journey figured out better than I do. 

How many of us, however, are quick to lose respect or quickly tempted to judge when that individual falls?  It could be as simple as yelling at the kids to marital infidelity.  Do we find ourselves trying to understand what that individual is struggling with or do we feel hurt and disappointed that these people somehow let us down by not succeeding every second of every day in their own Christian walk?  Do we get comfortable in our own failures holding others to a higher standard in our minds because "that's just who they are"? 

I'll admit - I've found myself doing this.  I've found myself comparing my life, my mis-steps, my sin to others and at times justifying my actions with the philosophy that because I'm not as holy, committed, or faithful as that individual, because I'm not as "far in my spiritual walk" as they, that I am somehow justified in my failure - though still in need of repentance.  If that person falls, however, how many of us have our cover blown - our excuses removed?  When will we stop living our lives comparing against each other and fully live them for Him - the only one who weighs the soul? 

This past week I was challenged by my favorite radio broadcaster with this:  What if we truly thought of others how we want them to think of us - all of the time?  I am quick to excuse myself with the thoughts of "You don't know what I'm dealing with today" or "I didn't mean to say it that way" and I often hope to find an understanding ear.  I always desire that others would know that I have the best of intentions and that, though the wrong action may have resulted or the wrong words may have come out, I tried my best.  How often am I willing to extend this grace to others?  How often do you? 

What if we all always assumed the best of intentions of everyone? Sure, I'm painting the sky with rainbows and lollipops are now growing in forests with marshmallows falling from the sky, but don't miss the question.  What if we truly did love others as Christ has loved us, as He continues to love us?  Wouldn't that include grace for wrongs both intentional and unintended?  Would "turning the other cheek" suddenly be so foreign?  Would forgiveness?

God's grace towards us is literally "overcast" - as in cast far past our ability to violate it.  The image of this "overcast grace" is of a bed sheet being spread over a bed.  His grace, His love - they are infinite and they cover it all.  I am so very thankful for this in my own life - but this knowledge should challenge me to walk this out towards others as well in the areas of expectations, failures, and even forgiveness.  Certainly the enemy of our souls would desire us to look at the man rather than the God who holds up the man.  This angel of light would always draw our attention to the failures or successes of others in justifying or condemning ourselves - causing us to ignore the immutable truth that

"...there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death."
Romans 8:1-2

If Christ is not condemning, then why am I?  In entertaining the fleeting thoughts of failed ministry and personal imperfection of another, I had before me a path of thinking that would lead to condemnation, a lack of grace, and even division in the body and this is perfectly within the enemy's plans for keeping all of us from truly uniting as the loving Body of Christ - each and every imperfect one of us.  Some people are quick to anger, some people talk too much, some people don't talk at all, some smell bad, some are "take-charge" leaders and some are introverts.  Some wear slacks and dresses and some wear ripped out jeans and t-shirts.  Some occasionally swear and some are quick to judge those who do. 

Every one of us is human and imperfectly walking out this salvation that God has called us to.  From the stay-at-home mother, to the "Christian-celebrity" to your pastor;  we are all human beings who get tripped up with sin and depend daily upon the "overcast grace" of His infinite love - a love we are to imitate towards each other.  As for me; I will be less critical of the individual who falls, who disappoints my foolish expectations of near-perfection, who tumbles from a broken pedestal that I placed them on in the first place.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hate is not Holy

Enjoying the free-speech demonstrations and the myriad social viewpoints and opinions of working on a large, liberal university, I've recently been stirred by a series of quotes and pictures on a social media site, all of them under the statement "Hate is not Holy".  The entire series is anti-Christian/anti-conservative in most all of its material.  I am exposed to its images by a friend who continues to post them in agreement with their message and I don't blame my friend one bit.  They are in line with my friend's views and thinking.  In fact, I don't disagree with the statement at all:  "Hate is not Holy".  Many who favor this site's messages have probably been burned by the condemnation and hate of moralistic and judgemental Christians; professing love for Christ while persecuting or ostracizing those who don't fall in line with God's Word or at least their interpretation of it.  How many people have we damaged and pushed toward hell in this manner?

I'll state it again - I agree.   Hate is not Holy.  Hate is never acceptable.  Hate speech is never condoned.  Judging people, putting people down for their moral inferiority, and demeaning others is never a right.  The bizarre paradox is that those who profess this mantra often do not hold to these truths with regards to Christianity.  Tolerance for all but those who profess Christ.  It's not actually bizarre at all when we take Jesus at his word:

"And you will be hated ,despised, by everyone because you bear My name"
Luke 21:17 AMP

We need to recognize that there is a spiritual struggle and that there is a power within those who bear the name of Jesus that all of those in darkness will work to silence, even though they do not themselves understand why or what they work against.

But returning again to the statement - Hate is not Holy.  This mantra has been bouncing in my head for some time now and I ponder its significance.  Never, is there a cause for me to reach out to another human being with anything other than the love of Christ.  Never.  In fact, I'm emphatically warned against the dangers of judging others.  Hatred cannot be a part of my vocabulary, cannot be one of my motivations when acting, it has no place in my life.  This is further buttressed by simple but immutable statements from the Word where Jesus says "Love others as I have loved you".  He didn't say "Judge everybody because I judge everybody".  There is no room for condemnation of others here, only love.

But here is the flip side of this coin...

Hate is not Holy - but Holiness demands purity.  Why do we agree that we should love others publicly but live holy only privately?  Why do we treat these two concepts as oil and water? Have we become so comfortable with society's "tolerance" that we are willing to watch people slip into an eternity filled with the horror of absence of God's life and the presence of every demonic torment suddenly revealed as this mortal body is shed?   It is easy to be moved by the images of starving, dying children.  What of the images of the reality of dying people all around us daily?

"You're being judgemental!"

The very definition of holiness is to be "set apart", "sacred", "pure", "untainted".  Hate is not Holy, but true holiness cannot abide the continuance of that which tarnishes and lessens or else it ceases to be sacred and becomes common - and God, the God who resides within the believer is truly Holy. 

"Who are you to define sin or immoral behavior?  Who are you to define what's 'holy' ?" 

I am no one - I don't have to be - it's not my Word; it's His and God's Word does not change to fit society's whims, passions, or popular agendas.  That is why it has withstood millenia and will withstand until the end of time far beyond this sphere or the heavens.  It is immutable and unchangeable, regardless of how men try to bend it to their use or justification. 

"You're preaching intolerance!" 

If I saw my daughter regularly pushing a needle into her arm, would you fault me for being "intolerant" of the drugs and doing everything within my power to remove her from them for my love of her?  Yet the very things that God's Word has spelled out as trespasses against not only Him, but against our own well-being, things that damage and destroy us, we scream out "INTOLERANT" when someone dares approach with words of life or truth revealing scripture. 

God is intolerant of sin, He is intolerant of death and that which destroys His beloved.  He went to lengths that are unimaginable to keep everyone one of us from said destruction because there is no one, not a single human being who was not headed to the same damnable end.  His work to rescue us from a fate of horror and destruction culminated when He sacrificed the one person that He loved most.  This statement has become so cliche to us in the salvation message that we gloss over when we hear it, but we each need to focus intently on this from time to time.  Picture the person you love the most and amplify that love infinitely then YOU, willingly choose to lose that person by allowing them to be sacrificed to horrors and agonies and then further condemn that person for a race of people who reject you again, and again, and again...all to exchange your beloved's life for theirs'. 

Does this trading of lives agree with you?  He would do it AGAIN.  For you.  For your neighbor next door.  For that belligerent, unpleasant co-worker.  For that obnoxious and overly pious person in authority - the one who's heart you're sure is rotten.  He'd do it again for the murderer, the rapist, the child molester.  He would do it for the man selling little bags of powder on the street corner and the broken woman selling her body to interested men.  His love has no limits and we are commanded to love like He loves.

His love, however, was not free - every drop of blood that spattered from the cat of nine digging into muscle to veins bursting from driven iron spikes was eternally priceless.  Can one now understand that this Holy, Holy, Holy Father and Son who have already reached across eternity and once for all over-provided the sacrifice necessary to remove mankind from a hell-damning sin - can one now see that there is no "compromise" with regards to that which only leads to death and an eternity of separation from Him for His most beloved lost children?

No there is no tolerance for the very thing that killed His son, but because of the sacrifice, He is now able to look upon a new race of adopted Sons and Daughters - each of them holy, sacred, set apart - as He is holy.  Our part;  we have to leave the garbage behind, our rights, our flesh, our "I WANT IT MY WAY" attitudes.  We have to abandon our demand that He lessen who He is so we can remain a little bit of who we were.  When we ask this of Him, we ask the impossible.  There is no holiness in this only contempt -contempt for His sacrifice, contempt for His love, hatred for Him.

Hate is not holy, but Holiness cannot claim to love and sit silent, for silence in the presence of a world slipping towards hell is a far more hateful action.

Monday, September 10, 2012


 "ENOUGH!  I can't take anymore!"  These are the words I heard proceeding from my mouth as I muttered to myself in frustration this past weekend.  For those who follow these posts, last weekend's activities and stresses were simply a warm up.  Round two, was far worse.  Though I am not in favor of these writings becoming a theater for complaint or a stage upon which to proclaim to the world "look how difficult my life can be...",  at times, I cannot help but spill over some of the more, shall we say, septic details.  You'll see what I mean.

This past weekend, my family was revisited by our old nemesis the flu....again.  And again...and again.  A family of seven and four of us were crippled under the intestinal churnings of a viral and microbial gut twister that necessitated frequent trips to the restroom.  With seven people in the house, I've pondered if we shouldn't install revolving doors anyway.  This past weekend was confirmation.  It's amazing how long a six year old can take....

This past weekend, however, we seemed to have garnered the special attention of the enemy of our souls as he sought to pull us completely out of our Christianity.  I imagine his thoughts went something like this:

"Now that we have them sick, what can we do to two parents under the weather, with two sick children that will overwhelm them and have them pulling their hair out and praying for world's end?  Yes, the other three acting out is a decent answer.  Certainly, interject a little tension on the 'fosterparent-agency' relationship side of things, that's not bad.  OH!  I'VE GOT IT!  Since they're sick with the flu, why not have their entire sewer system fail and all of their toilets, sinks, and shower back-up into their house?  It will be like hell on earth!"

It was.

Toilets bubbling over.  Water coming UP the bathtub drain.  One very desperate germ-a-phobic bride staring at me in OMG-open mouthed amazement as aqueduct-Armageddon unleashed before our very eyes.  And then a small, high-pitched voice, vocalizing our nightmare; "mommy, I have to go to the bathroom..."

Six hours later, after procuring tools, purchasing home-owner plumbing repair items, tearing apart and re-assembling my bathroom and toilets (and a whole lot of nasty), I successfully stood up, sore, smelly, and victorious.  A plumber I am not, but today, I was enough of a handyman to save my family!  To them, I was a superhero with a capital "P" on my chest (I'll let you figure that one out).  My bride promised to kiss me as soon as I showered and thoroughly decontaminated myself and though the day went in the absolute opposite direction I had ever imagined it could, I went to bed feeling good about my ability to take care of my family...

...until it happened again the next day.  We were already going to have to miss church for the sheer number of people under the weather under our roof when my sweet daughter nearly overflowed the toilet again.  I was in bed, not feeling well when the shriek went up "IT'S DOING IT AGAIN!"  Again, I had to take apart a toilet, open up sewer lines, work in filth and all of the things we just don't want to think about here, do we?  But this time, I was failing.  Nothing was working.  I was getting desperate.  I called a friend for tools and he did not have what I was needing.  There were no answers on the phone with the rental facilities.  I began to panic.  Kids had to go to the restroom.  My bride had to resort to taking them to the local gas station (which is always clean).  Standing over an open sewer hole in my bathroom, feeling the nagging cramping sensations of the flu-bug gnawing at my own body, I finally cracked.  "ENOUGH!!!  I can't take this anymore!"

Ever have one of those Elijah moments (1 Kings 19:3-5)? You know, those times where you seriously ponder if God shouldn't just take you because your life seems so miserable at that moment that you'd just rather not fret with this temporal any longer?

To shorten an already long story, thanks to additional tools procurement, continued work, and most importantly, prayers by my bride and children, repairs were made, a sewer line cleared, a toilet was rebuilt and a family was returned to sanity. 

What stuck with me throughout all of this was the word "enough".  I began to ponder and roll it around in my thinking.  I had come to what I deemed my stress breaking point and exclaimed this word, in negative connotation.   Like Elijah, I had had my fill and was fed up with what was happening to me.  I won't go so far to say I was ready to hop a flaming chariot out of here, but I certainly would have welcomed Ed McMahon at the door with a cash-able check.  My "enough" was that I was tired of the assault and I wanted it to cease.  It was my white flag.  "Enough already - I surrender -I'm defeated."

But there are other uses for this word.  In Isaiah we read that God has had His fill as He conveys that He seeks relationship, not rote obedience to regulations.

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats."
Isaiah 1:11

We all try to make sure there is enough in the checkbook to pay the bills, buy the groceries.  Some have turned this into an obsession to gather more and more unto themselves.  To those, God has said:

"Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless."
Ecclesiastes 5:10

We are blessed in this nation because most of us will not leave the dinner table tonight until we've had enough food to satisfy; whether they be the rounded healthy meals consisting of the proper breads-to-meats-to-vegetable ratios or junk food like pizza and pop.  We tend overwhelmingly to have enough than not. 

Many of us struggle with insecurities.  We're not smart enough, young enough, old enough, thin enough, liked enough, talented enough, capable enough.  Just as was asked in Job, God would ask you:

"Are God’s consolations not enough for you, words spoken gently to you?"
Job 15:11

You see, to God - you are enough.  You were enough 2,000 years ago when he gave up His only Son.  If you were the only human being to trample the grass of this earth, you would be enough for Him.  Enough is more than just satisfying.  Enough is abundance, it's ample, it's sufficient, it's plentiful.  Look it up, see what it means. You are all of these things to God. You aren't some deficiency in His plans that He has to make allowance for.  To Him, you were enough to set this whole world in motion.  To Him, you were enough to scatter the stars across the heavens for, you were enough to balance the tides and call forth the mountains.  You are important enough to Him that in Jeremiah He states;

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;"
Jeremiah 1:5

In fact, Jesus tells us in Luke 12:7 that we are important enough to the Father that He has even numbered the hairs on our head.  Who counts head hair?  Apparently One who is so profoundly in love with you to desire to know exactly how many you have left.

You were important enough for Him to place you exactly where you are, right in the middle of your own life.  Whether it be raising your kids, or working your job, or engaging that difficult individual; It could be as taxing as fixing the sewer or, more importantly, navigating that monstrous storm that has blown upon your family - you are enough because He is enough and He is in love with you!  Find your security in Him and His Word.  By yourself and in your own strength, you'll always come up short.  But in Him, you'll always have more than enough!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Broken View

Back at work, day after Labor Day. I am enjoying the fruit of my long weekend by having already left my keys to my office at home, having my computer crash, and spilling my coffee on myself.  I guess this is the karma of having taken an extra day off to celebrate labor.  Ironic.  A holiday weekend is a great time to relax, wind down, take that afternoon nap, enjoy a family cookout, head to the park with the kids.  Long weekends are a family's paradise..........NOT!  I'd be lying if I said my weekend was anything but tense.  My home repair projects kept going sideways, mounting exhaustion nagged at my bride's and mine's heels, we had a child throwing up, and for some reason a few of my little ones decided this weekend would be a great time to band together in communal rebellion.  The highpoint of my weekend was church and the sharing of our Ludlati trip where I was blessed to share a video and PowerPoint presentation that my bride had labored over.

Yesterday I was particularly tense as I went to go pay for hardware in what was my third trip to the stores for the necessary parts to put my daughter's bunk bed together.  To say I was having a difficult afternoon/evening would be an understatement.  The previous two trips I permitted my "good" children (those who weren't acting up) to accompany me as a sort-of reward for their good behavior.  This trip I needed solitude.  My bride graciously did not raise objection when I informed her I was leaving once more to get the right hardware even though, in reality, my project - at this point- could probably have waited until further in the week.  But now I was angry and I was committed.  This bunk bed was not going to beat me, despite the fact that I had purchased the wrong hardware twice before, despite the fact that the original "t-bolts" for it were no longer manufactured.  I was going to beat this thing into submission and by the heavens my daughter was going to sleep on the top bunk!  Grrrrrrr.

At first, when I found the hardware aisle, my blood pressure rose just a bit more, in my highly spiritual state, as I failed to find what I was looking for.  I began to flip through all of the hanging bolt packets and none of them were right.  "Who needs a bolt this short?", I thought in frustration.  Then, by God's grace, I found the last two packages of the ones  I needed.  "1/4-20 x 2 inches.  YES!  Thank you Lord!"  With my mid-aisle micro-worship service, I now felt slightly more spiritual and a little less guilty for my poor attitude.  Knowing my bride was preparing dinner, which would be waiting, I hurried to the front, my pace quickening with each step. 

As I approached the front of the store, my heart skipped a beat.  Four lines with over a dozen groupings of carts and individuals in each snaked from four individual registers across the front of the store.  Nearly twenty registers and only four very haggard looking and busy cashiers quickly processing goods and payment.  What kind of sick joke was this?  From each register, the lines twisted and turned until they hit the clothing departments, at which point the occupants were forced into a southerly 90 degree turn with which to continue forming an "L" shape to each of these snaking apparitions. And the faces of those individuals comprising these lines; anger, frustration, anxiety, boredom - emotions to match what was quickly rising within me.  Who was running this circus?  Didn't they know people have places to go and things to do?  This was ridiculous!  With resignation, I found the closest line and waded in.

Standing there, I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be late and my bride would, inevitably, have to start the kids' dinner without me.  As my thoughts began to drift, I began to listen to the conversations around me.  "....and then I saw him say 'If you can't man your store better than this, then you can keep your stinking groceries' and he stormed out leaving the whole cart for the manager to put away", one lady relayed to another behind me with a perceived amount of approval.  "That's a little extreme" I thought to myself.  After all, if you're going to take the time to fill your cart, can't you wait an extra ten to pay for it? 

My thoughts were interrupted by a woman giving her "two-cents worth" to one of the cashiers.  I noted the woman behind the register, she took the verbal onslaught in silence, but not without effect.  The patron's frustration added weight to the recipient.  I began to study the people around me in the other lines, listening intently for any conversations I could make out.  A father telling a daughter how stupid the managers must be to place so few cashiers at so many registers.  Two more ladies laughing about the ineptitude of the cashiers in the speed with which they were processing items and payments.  A grouping of college kids complaining about the fact that the whole store should be emptied of its employees to serve their short term need to quickly exit the store.  I realized I was surrounded by a sea of discontent and discord.  Anger was present in many eyes, glaring eyes bore into employees as they labored.  Sneering laughter could be heard repeatedly as ridicule sought to relieve frustration. 

Then God brought an image to my mind, one I witnessed multiple times; I recalled small African children in long lines, waiting quietly, patiently, without complaint for their one bowl of rice.

My heart hurt as I was saddened by my attitudes throughout the day.  I was sickened by the selfishness around me, not necessarily the individual people, but of the arrogant, self-serving, self-centered, hatred I was surrounded by.  It was nauseating and I had been a part of it.  Perhaps not verbally, but my mind and attitudes had drifted there.  For the second time in recent months, I had the distinct impression that filthy glasses had been removed from my eyes and I could actually see the situation in front of me for what it was.  I saw people needlessly concerned and fretting about the temporal and inconsequential.  I saw recipients of that fret and worry quietly and patiently enduring as they labored for their meager salaries without thanks, without kindness shown, I saw a young assistant manager doing his best to deal with a situation that had, literally, mushroomed in a very brief time frame.  Where those around me were seeing only themselves and what this scenario was doing to them, I saw "others", something I hadn't done all day long.

I am reminded here of the verse in Corinthians which states:

"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely."

1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

I find it interesting that once I took my eyes off of myself, my view and my perception sharpened - not to perfection, but sharpened none-the-less.  Like this verse says, we walk through this world with a skewed view.  It is even more out of focus when it is self focused or drawn to what is affecting only our own small lives.  When we learn to focus outwardly, learn to lay down ourselves for others, learn to love others as Christ loved, we will find our vision sharpened, our horizons expanded, and our perceptions of reality much more clear.  The enemy of our souls plays heavily upon our unwillingness to do so and would blind us, confuse us, and keep us imprisoned with the mis-perceptions of our limited vision.  But God is calling us to heightened vision, a heightened perspective; His perspective, which is the only true perspective.  To live and walk on this level is to walk above that which the enemy seeks to entangle and trip us up with. 

At Ludlati my vision was keenly sharp, my purpose and focus clear.  That was the mountain-top.  But in the day-to-day with its continual challenges that permit my flesh to regularly get in the way, I often find my vision distorted when I fail to adhere to Jesus' mandate written in John:

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other."

John 13:34  NLT

The ongoing challenge is to stay rooted in Him, in His Word, and to live selflessly, love others, and refuse the enemy entry into our minds and attitudes with self-serving focus.  Loving others above ourselves and loving God above all brings clarity.  Though we still will never fully know or understand everything in our lives this side of eternity, we'll know the fullness of an increased vantage point and a world filled with colors more rich, people more real, and a depth of soul more recognized as our lives touch others' lives in imitation of our Savior.  When we catch Jesus' vision of what it is to love others, we'll realize His vision doesn't include a broken view.