Asking the Hard Questions

A week ago, a teen girl came in a minute late to our Bible study and asked if I would answer her questions. She wanted me to answer them quickly so she could go. She didn’t want to stay and endure a Bible discussion. I looked at her questions which were very personal and full of struggle. Questions written as a letter to God in her diary. She asked why she was the size she is; why some people are successful at suicide but she hasn’t been; if God would let her die; and more like those.

I suggested that the Bible study hour was not the best to deal with these personal questions, and she asked if I would talk to her afterwards. I told her that I would.

I found her upstairs and we sat down and I looked at her questions again and told her that I might not be able to answer some of her questions. She was hurting deeply and wondering about whether she really believed in God and his goodness and justice.

I told her that maybe the best way to answer her concerns was to set the base for understanding God and what happened with creation. God created us with the capacity to make moral choices, choosing to receive God’s love or rejecting his love which also gives the capability to return God’s love or withhold it. God didn’t create beings that would love him without choice because forced love is not genuine love.

Understanding this truth settled some of the questions she had.

The 90 minutes I spent with this young lady was one fo the most important moments in my life. Not because I answered hard questions, but because I was given an opportunity to share God’s love and glory with someone who is searching for his love. Right now, I am certain that a seed has been planted and pray that she will come to faith in God and ultimately in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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He’s Important to Me

I volunteer at a teen residential facility, leading spiritual initiatives as a sort of a chaplain. Earlier this week I visited the thisismyprayerforyouedited-640x360students hoping to encourage them and inspire a walk with Christ in them. A father of one of the young ladies was visiting that day. She brought him to me and introduced us and told her dad that I was the spiritual guy. I explained to him what that meant so her father would understand the role of our Sunday Spiritual times. Then the young lady told her father that I was important to her and explained why. She self-harms and I encourage her not too. I basically told her I don’t like it when she it hurt, even if she is the one hurting herself and asked about how long she had gone since the last time without harming herself. She told me and added it had been four days this time. I encouraged her to go for the goal of one more day than the last time and then we set the goal of one more day each after.

I am important to her because I don’t want her to hurt herself. honestly, it hurts my heart to know that she would purposely  hurt herself. She wants to have a relationship that builds and holds her up. One that she can trust and rely on for support and help. Knowing her background, she has the love and support she needs, but a couple of things have blocked her understanding (besides the confusing messages our world, media and her friends give). One is her understanding about herself which got sidetracked at some point and another is her parents, though they love her, haven’t learned how best to make that understood in her life.

I am not casting blame here, I am citing reality.

One of the things that provided an open dialog between this young lady and myself is that I told here I have prayed for her. She had been struggling one day when I was visiting about 6 months ago and it took her back. She asked in surprise, “You pray prayfor me?” She was shocked. I told her that I do. I told her I prayed for every one of the students there and especially when I know she is struggling, I pray for her more. Apparently, that touched her. She responded, “No one ever prayed for except my mom.”

What she doesn’t realize is that there are others who pray for her besides her mother (and father) and me. There are coaches, who are saints (i.e. Christians) who pray for her as well. I’ll bet there is other family and maybe family friends praying for her.

What she is realizing and God seems to be using me to help bring this realization into her life, is that she is important, even extraordinary (thank you Aaron Chambers*). God loves her and cares for her. People love her and care about her. She is learning that when she feels safe, it is with people who are people of God. She understands that this God-thing is real and it is reaching deep into her life and bringing here hope and even joy, when she remains in her understanding of God’s love. She is realizing, “For God so loved the world,” that God loves her.

Due to confidentiality, I cannot tell you anymore, but I ask that you pray for her. God will know who you are praying for even if you do not know her name or where she is. He knows because he cares, because he loves her too.

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*Remember Who You Are, Unleashing the Power of an Identity Driven Life, by Aaron Chambers, Standard Publishing, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2007, citing chapter 9; http://www.standardpub.com/Products/24324/remember-who-you-are.aspx

All the Saints in the World

My small group has been working through Aaron Chamber’s book, Remember Who You Are.* During a recent small group get together, as we examined the chapter about being a saint, ideas about Christians in our culture ran through my mind.

The common cultural mantra goes something like this, “I like Jesus but I hate the church.” That hurts! The church, Christians, people of God are the excuses people have for not completely checking out Jesus or the church. To be honest, there are Christians in the church who are hypocrites, and there are those who are inconsistent in their faith walk, and there are some who don’t get it at all and don’t know how to live as a Christian. Then in the public’s eye you have extremists churches who are fundamentalists and judgmental to all people, and of course your celebrity Christians who have fallen because of sin. I suppose we could make a long list of excuses people have for ignoring Jesus and the church.

The thought occurred to me that evening, the world hates “Christians,” but what about “Saints?”

To qualify, saints are not those 3000 or so people over the 16-1700 year history of the Catholic Church that have been canonized by the Catholic Church. “Saints” are what the Bible calls Christians the most; People who have through faith become followers of Jesus Christ and have been saved by God’s grace.

The Bible calls people in the Bible who are saved, saints, Christians, disciples of Christ, followers of Christ, the family of God, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ,the Church of Christ, etc. We are called Christians a couple of times and Saints a lot in the New Testament. Even the Old Testament refers to saints. For instance, Psalm 16:3, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” Daniel 7:18, “But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come” (NASB).

Saints belong to God. Why? Because of what has happened to them when they came to Christ for salvation. They have been “sanctified.” Cleansed from sin, freed from the slavery of sin, freed to live a holy life in God, made to be like Christ free of the guilt of sin, pure, no longer defiled in their character, they are saints.

Now, if we Christians were more aware of our sainthood, how would the world view the church, how would they look at Christians?

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*Remember Who You Are, Unleashing the Power of an Identity-Driven Life, Aaron Chambers, Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, http://www.standardpub.com/Products/24324/remember-who-you-are.aspx

Questions on Tragedy

We never expect it to happen but always dread that it will. When the tragedy of Columbine happened our nation was appalled and we searched for a handle on the situation. When the tragedy of 9/11 happened, our nation was even more surprised and questions about God flooded our consciousness. Now we have another tragedy which still surprises us and resurrects the questions . . . again.

The senseless killing of people inflamess the heart of our society. The tragic murder of almost 30 people on Friday has us reeling. I feel horrible about the circumstance and as a minister I am asked the questions. Why does God allow evil to prevail? What did those little six and seven-year old children do to deserve this? How could God let this happen?

And those kind of questions lead to deeper analysis. If God is “all-powerful,” than he would do something about bad things.  So, he is either uncaring toward humanity and our troubles and unwilling to help, or he is enjoying our suffering. That seems to be where it stops. Two options only: (1) God is uncaring or, (2) God is unwilling to help. These are not the only questions about the issue.

There are several facets to answering the problem of evil. And most ministers know the “pat” answers; and they’re correct, but they don’t usually affect the heart and don’t often satisfy the mind, but unless a person has the Spirit of God, we shouldn’t expect others to necessarily get it when given an explanation. Things like: Without pain we wouldn’t know there was something wrong and God allows pain and evil for us to learn discipline and so we will have faith in God and it gives God and his people the opportunity to share his love and compassion and God did do something about evil when Jesus died on the cross and defeated sin, evil, death, and the devil, and more.

The reasons are all true, but it is still sad when the lives of children’s are taken from them at such young ages. I can’t fathom the depth of grief family and friends experience in such circumstances. I have yet to preach or officiate at a baby’s or a child’s funeral. but I have preached many for teens and young adults and the emotions are similar. It is horrible, whether it is an accident, a sickness, a murder, or something else that took the young person’s life. I hate it but am privileged that God has gifted me and I am able to serve in tragic circumstances.

The thing is, when people begin to wonder where God is in tragic and troubling circumstances, they assume that this life is either all there is or this life is the best there is. If those things are true, than the senseless murder of 20 school children, a mother and a father, the other victims and the suicide of the killer are even more tragic.

This life isn’t “it.”  There is more. Jesus did come to defeat sin, evil, and Satan, and he did so by dying and paying for our sins on the cross. When we put our faith in Christ, we are putting our lives in the hands of a living and eternal God who has something incredible in store for us. There is more. Eternity with God where he is, where he dwells where there is no tragic circumstance, where Satan has no power, where all is good and safe.

Revelation 21:1-7; Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children, NRSV.

First, the heaven and earth that we know will be done away with. Why? To make way for that which is perfect and compete. Sin has been here on earth since shortly after creation (cf, Genesis 1-3), and the devil was with God in heaven when he rebelled and was cast out, so evil and impurity has been where heaven is. And when God creates the new heaven and new earth, they will always be without sin and what sin does. It brings death. Death won’t happen again. It brings crying. there won’t be any reason for tears any longer. It brings pain. Pain will not be a part of anything again. Therefore, nothing that brings hurt or difficulty or trouble will ever occur.

There is more to this life, there is the eternal life to come for those who are in Christ. Those who lose their lives, from old age, tragic circumstances, horrible situations that bring pain and death, actually have a better circumstance than we who are still living. They are safe with God.

I feel for and pray for the family and friends of the victims in the Connecticut tragedy and will for a while. I pray for their comfort and relief. And God will provide it according to each person’s willingness to receive. As bad and as sad as it is, things are not without hope, with God, in Christ.

Father above, of heaven and earth, please give the help that comforts, whatever the source, give strength as these events weaken hearts and souls, and please give the families unexpected grace this Christmas, Amen.

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Which Thief (on the cross) Are You?

There’s a cross for you. I mean, the three crosses raised that day in A.D. 29 were our crosses. Our sin, our affront to God with our sin shows we are guilty and deserved death.

Three people died that day; Jesus in the middle, and two criminals on the left and right side of Jesus. When Jesus said “it is finished,” the fate of the two thieves was set. One would suffer in hell, the other, would join Jesus in “paradise.”

Sin destroys! Think about it. Sin doesn’t do good at all. The ultimate purpose of sin is to destroy the sinner. Lying destroys trust. Hate and murder destroys lives. Adultery destroys relationships and families. Sin destroys.

The reason for sin’s destruction is to hurt God. The devil, in the Garden of Eden, in the form of a serpent wanted to convince Adam and Eve to sin. He worked his deceit through Eve and Adam fell in with her in the sin.

The devil wants to hurt God, and what hurts the most, a severely broken relationship. Sin is the break-point and separation and punishment is the consequence, because, we have not obeyed the Father.

The thieves had separate attitudes about Jesus. One taunted Jesus to save himself. The crowds watching the spectacle were taunting Jesus in the same way. The other thief, realized that Jesus was without sin and that he did not deserve punishment. He even scolded the other thief. We deserve this punishment, but this man has done no wrong.

“For all have sinned” Romans3.23; and “the wages of sin is death” @Romans6.23. We are sinners, we deserved the death that Jesus died. But Jesus death was for sin. He was on the cross receiving the penalty for our sin, therefore he became sin for us.

Because the one thief was repentant, when he asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom, Jesus told him that he would be in paradise with him that very day. He was forgiven. He was given freedom from the spiritual penalty of his sin.

Have you repented of your sin against God? Have you asked forgiveness for your sinfulness? Have you confessed Jesus as the risen Son of God because you believe in him? Have you been immersed for your salvation?

Which thief are you?

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The Gospel for Everyone

It would be foolish to say that American Christians live in a vacuum, separated from the realities of the world. America, the melting pot of the world, where people come to settle and make their fortune is now a hugely religiously diverse country, maybe more than any other. As much as our country has been a melting pot of people and cultures, religions are not melting together. Each religion remains separate, holding to their own beliefs and practices, taking little notice of other religions unless there is conflict between them somehow, or they have a common enemy and join forces to fight a common enemy, yet still maintaining their diverse separateness.

This blog has lightly addressed religious pluralism before. Though there is no one definition accepted by all authorities of what religious pluralism is, I will address it from this perspective; that all, or most religions contain some element that is similar in some ways to Christianity and may appear to have come from the God of the Bible, in the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) addressed primarily as Yahweh, and the New Testament as God the Father, whether these religions recognize the God of Bible or not, or correctly. For instance, a religion may recognize love and mercy as a high calling and practice for its followers.  That is an important element in Christianity, an important part of Biblical faith.

I have begun reading one of my son’s college textbooks, Neighboring Faiths, A Christian Introduction to World Religions by Winfried Corduan (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998). One line in the introduction speaks my very heart. “The discussion in this book proceeds from an evangelical Christian perspective, which sees interreligious encounters as opportunities for sharing the gospel of redemption,” emphasis mine (page 15).

There may be certain things in other religions, non-Christian religions, and those things, such as love and mercy described above, certainly come from God, but, how they got there is the question. There is no religion as old as the worship of God. He created the world and the first humans worshipped him(Genesis 1&2), and other beliefs and religions didn’t come in until some point later, after sin entered the world (Gen. 3), and Adam and Eve’s children began to populate the earth with sin in their hearts.

Just because pluralistic religions possess certain Godly elements, does not make them true religions. A conscious faith is necessary for a person’s salvation (borrowing Corduan’s and Donald Nash’s words here).  Or as the apostles spoke “Salvation is found through him alone ; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us” @Acts4.12, TEV.*

Jesus, the stone the builders have rejected, the Jewish leaders, is the only one, the only way.  As Jesus said, “Jesus answered him, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me’” @John14.6, TEV.

All these other religions, even though they contain some elements that we find in Christianity, that are taught in the Bible, that are recognizable as being associated with God in some way, are not the way to God. They don’t have Jesus. Salvation is in Jesus for all the world, obviously meaning, every person, everywhere, regardless of gender, nationality, financial status, social status, or anything else. Jesus’ salvation is meant for them.

Since Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost (@Luke19.10) and all the world is lost (@Romans3:12&23), that salvation in Jesus which brings people to God is for everyone.

What we find as common ground, belief about abortion, helping others, peaceful living, justice, etc, are the things that through the Christian’s faith, Biblical understanding and truth make opportunities for Christian believers to share the gospel of redemption that is in Jesus Christ alone.

*Today’s English Version of the Bible (aka Good News for Modern Man)

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Gut Wrenching Prayer (Jesus Praying in the Garden)

When Jesus was praying in the Garden, “My Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me,” (@Mt. 26:39, NASB) he was asking the Father for another way. Jesus knew the extent of the horror he was going to experience. He knew how he would die and what it would cost him to go through that experience.

I’ve heard it said that Jesus wasn’t afraid of the physical pain. I can’t believe that to be true. But I do believe the physical pain was minor compared to the pain of feeling forsaken and separated from God when he would become sin for us.

Jesus comes to the Father, alone, with his friends a short distance away and he pleads with God, with his sweat becoming like drops of blood. He knows what is about to happen. He knows the terror his soul and his flesh will feel. He does not want to be separated in his loving, unified fellowship with God the Father. That separation will tear at his heart and soul. It will be the worst thing that can happen.

Jesus will know what it is like for people to be far away from God. What kind of hell their souls are in and will be in if they continue in sin with the consequence of punishment in hell.

Is there another way? Can we accomplish this in a different way some way where we will not be separated by sin?

Jesus never once wanted to abandon humanity to sin. He wasn’t betraying our faith and trust. He knew what was coming and what it meant and asked for something different.

But, because his relationship with the Father was one of love and unity and obedience, Jesus willingly submitted himself to the will and vision of God the Father. His words, “Yet not as I will, but as you will,” (Mt. 26:39, NASB) tell of his love for the Father and his love for humanity which bears the image of God.

This was a huge sacrifice for Jesus. He would be beaten and ripped to pieces and then crucified until he died, but his sacrifice was his fellowship with God is so pure and holy, he cannot associate with sin.  And if Jesus was experiencing pain from separation anxiety, consider what God the Father would experience.

Because Jesus willingly died for our sin, through our faith in him, our sins are forgiven. When Jesus died with our sins placed on him, the eternal power of sin was put to death. When Jesus rose from the dead, he came to life without sin because sin was defeated. Sin, the power of sin, and sin’s leader the devil were all done in.

To deal with sin, it gut wrenching. It is for us now, it was for Jesus then. But that is what he came to do, deal with sin by putting sin to death. And the Father’s will was accomplished when Jesus died on the cross for me and for you.

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