I read this new article and found it quite hilarious. This family decided they want to leave the “ole” USA and live on an undeveloped tiny island where they might escape religious interference from their government. Unfortunately, en route to that island of religious isolation (I mean refuge) they were lost at sea. And who rescued them? Yeap, that’s right the “ole” American government came to their rescue, saved them from terrifying peril and possible death-the same government which they apparently detest and were trying to vacate! This story is replete with spiritual metaphors. For one, this family was not only “lost” in a physical sense at sea, but seemingly lost spiritually in a sea of self righteousness and misunderstanding about what God really and truly wills for their lives. Since when does the bible call for us as Christians to be isolationists? It should be noted, I don’t know what religion this family adheres to; the article doesn’t specify. But let’s just use this story wildly applicable to us as Christ followers to glean a few lessons. Okay, maybe you aren’t doing something so drastic as putting yourself and your family on a boat and setting sail for a deserted island (what the heck was their plan for survival upon arrival? Okay that’s beside the point. Let’s stay on task here.)-but we often isolate our Christian selves in other ways. We hand pick our churches to suit our demographic needs. We hand pick our schools, social circles, social activities, maybe even our jobs using criteria that puts a perceived wall of “protection” around us and our children; I believe we orchestrate our lives sometimes in a way that God never intended. I am not suggesting that you move across town and live next door to thugs or become a missionary in Africa (unless of course you feel called to do so), but I am suggesting that sometimes we create a padded world for ourselves (and our kids) that keeps us from having to be well-uncomfortable on so many levels. Confession: I live in a gated neighborhood. Well, I do. I have noticed that many of the folks who live in my neighborhood moved here for reasons similar to this family who thought living on a deserted island would give them religious utopia. People in my neighborhood sometimes believe the gate is a mighty fortress between them and the “undesirables.” But really it’s not. It’s all a facade. In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commands us to take the gospel to ALL the world. We can’t do that on our manufactured spiritual islands. We can’t do it tucked away in my gated neighborhood. We can’t. Jesus wants us to serve others (Galatians 5:13) and to love others ((Luke 10:27) We have to place ourselves intentionally and without apology in the path that leads us and our families to loving and serving others And I don’t mean only those who are “easy” to serve; I mean the ones who we may perceive as “undesirables.” We should be serving people in our closest circles yes-but also people who look and think completely different from us. Like this wayward family, we set our sails and chart our course for a place that WE decide is where we need to be without first asking God, “What do You want for me God and where do You want me to be?”
I told my husband nearly 19 years ago, that I would follow him to the ends of the earth. I never thought that involved Texas. You know how you say things when you are young and in love and all that? Okay, okay…I said it. So that’s that! Short story: We just returned from a 4 year tour overseas. We lived in a beautiful area of rural Germany (not much of Germany isn’t rural) surrounded by wonderful neighbors, bike riding paths and running trails, cafes, and well-just a short 4 hour drive to Paris-(France, not Texas) Not to mention, we lived on the borders of Holland and Belgium. The Rhine and Mosel River valleys, Brussels, Amsterdam, and many other beautiful places were simply, a day outing. Cobblestone and castles were icons in a place where-incredibly-history, in all its glory seemed eerily and beautifully frozen in time. Then my husband retired from the Air Force. He took another job based in Houston, and here we are. I was devastated to leave Europe.
When we lived in Germany, I used to get so put out with some of my American counterparts who complained constantly about cultural differences between the states and Europe. “No 24 hour shops, the roads are too narrow, the people here are so different, they don’t speak English” (most of them do actually), and the list went on and on. It was so very frustrating to hear such rhetoric when it was plain to see that one was enveloped by such incredible surroundings, diverse cultures, historical sites, and just plain jaw dropping beauty. My response was “This is not America. So it is not going to look like or act like America. These people are not Americans. They have different styles, demeanor, and YES, a different language. You are not trading in your American citizenship if you stop for a minute and enjoy your time here. Embrace it and open up your heart to the people here. Quit complaining! Enjoy the rare privilege of living and learning in diverse and fascinating cultures.” Sometimes you could get through to the “complainer.” Other times, the wall of resistance was too tough. What was their problem? Well, simply put, they were filtering their experiences through the wrong lenses. They compared everything to what they knew-in this case, their own country and its culture. They had no adventure lens, no curiosity meter, no ability or desire to stretch themselves outside of their emotional and material comfort zone. The result: their time was not as exciting as it could have been; their sense of adventure was null because they were always wishing they were back in the states; and their joy meter was pegged at an all new low!
Wait! I think I just described myself. Since arriving in Texas on August 1, I have constantly compared my new place to the old place: noise level, restaurants, schools, people, dance studios, men, women, drivers, sticker prices, dogs, cats-you get the picture-just about everything… I am no longer the antithesis of that close minded American that frustrated the daylights out of me in Europe. I have effectively become that person. Even my husband, whose patience has been stellar, finally spit out the proverbial statement, “Judy you aren’t in Europe.”
There are so many horrible situations that so many people are suffering daily: serious illnesses, lost loved ones, unemployment, estranged family members, betrayal, all things that make my recent transition pale in comparison. I wholeheartedly embrace this truth. But we all know, when our attitude is poor and our hearts are broken, we cannot expect that we are doing all the work that our Creator has for us to do. We can’t be loving our families, serving others, and making positive impacts on our communities when we are immersed in the pit of self pity and whining about circumstances that cannot be changed.
Answer: Change out those lenses. I have to put on my adventure specs, get out there and get off my tuff, act like a grown up, and be who God created me to be-Right here. Right now. In Houston. And when I do, I am pretty sure everything’s going to be all right.
2 Timothy 1:7 Says we were not given a spirit of fear, but one of love, power and self discipline. What concerns me the most about political posts (FB and otherwise) I have seen lately, authored by Christians, is that they reek of fear, and yet-not “Yirah,” the Hebrew word for fear-the healthy fear of reverence and awe-found in Psalm 19:9, but rather this fear, Deilia, which in the Greek, comes from the word deilos which means timid and cowardly. God has been working in a sinful world for literaly 1000s, perhaps millions of years. Look at Roman history. Remember Constantine, Roman emporor in the 4th century? Before his reign, it was dangerous to be a Christian. After his reign, it was dangerous NOT to be Christian. Evil can come in many packages my dear friend. My point is this kind of fear-Delia, the sky is falling kind of fear, (and hear me when I say this) renders God (in our minds and in our actions and in our impact) absolutely helpless and hopeless. Yet, I believe with all my heart, that “the local church is the hope of the world,” Bill Hybels. There is not, nor has there EVER been a politician who can make such a claim. Study scripture. It was NOT via politics that Jesus did His ministry, touched, healed, transformed lives. Nor was it through the politics of the day that enabled his disicples to do so. IN fact, politics were against them. Yet they indeed were the hope of the world. We are too. Demonizing entire groups of people is done so out of Deilia, not Yirah. Does this mean to ignore your civic responsibilities? That would be absurd. Why can the two co-exist? Me being responsible politically, standing on my convictions, being strong, and yet not tearing others down in the process? Because my God is the Alpha and the Omega. He is able to do far more than I could ever dream possible. And why? Because: Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Rev 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. And because I submit to Him, not this world, and not to the Father of lies (John 8:44)
An Old Friend Revisited
If someone said to you “who is your favorite author in the whole world,” what would you say? Would you say Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or maybe CS Lewis? There are truly some great authors out there, and some equally great books. Reading is assuredly one of my greatest pastimes. So many classics, so little time is how I feel. Whenever I pick up a good book, I always feel like I am basking in the company of a dear old friend. So how do we feel about the bible? What allure does it have for us? Does it have any? Is it too complicated or overwhelming for you? Are you too busy to delve into it with the fervor that you think you should? There are many reasons why we don’t read our bible with the same intensity we might another book. But did you know that the authorship of the bible is God himself? Yes, it is true there were many who wrote and recorded the truths we find there, but according to 2 Timothy 3:16, these men were all chosen and inspired by God himself. This passage tells us “all scripture is God breathed.” There are other places in Scripture where we see the breath of our Lord giving life. Genesis 2 tells us that the “LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The same breath that gave us life also gave us the Word of the Living God. In John 20 Jesus is anointing the disciples with the Holy Spirit. We read there “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Wow, so when we see that our lives were borne out of the breath of God, and the Holy Spirit was given by the breath of Christ, does this give us new insight about the bible which is “God breathed?” The same breath that has given us life has given us the words to live that life. This is indeed “life with God.” According to Richard Foster in his book, “Life with God, Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation,” we often read the bible for two main reasons, (1) to gain knowledge and information, even information to affirm what we believe and used to admonish others or (2) to address a specific issue in our life in an attempt to “solve whatever the pressing problem” in front of us. These two reasons are not inherently wrong. But Foster goes on to say, “But what we must face up to with these two objectives is that they always leave us or others in charge.” Foster goes on to say that if we truly read the bible for spiritual transformation then we must be prepared to “call into question our dearest and most fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our associations.” In other words, start reading the bible with a clean slate. Many of us have had churches, parents, grandparents, and pastors who have taught us for years from scripture, and Praise God for them. But when was the last time you read the bible without any pre-conceived notions or prior associations? (Acts 17:11) Just read; listen with your heart, and soak in God’s teaching, his comfort, his peace, and the love of his Son. Only when we approach the Word with this attitude of humble submission, can personal transformation truly happen. It is the inside out approach that God uses to change us with his Son-the Word of God. (John 1:1) Not the outside in approach with which we often employ in our bible reading. So the next time you have a moment, revisit an old friend-your bible. In the words of Richard Foster, “It is the loving heart of God made visible and plain. And receiving this message of exquisite love is the great privilege of all who long for life with God.”
My Gratitude by Halle McCarver
All the people who risked their lives
Gave their most, gave their all,
It’s an honor that such brave men
Did it for my family,
My counrty and my friends
How courageous, through those times,
When the world’s at war,
their every moment at risk,
I only hope I show my gratitude,
as well as they show their love for the ones
they don’t know;
we forever show
Our gratitutde and our sorrow.
Over Christmas break 2011, we traveled to Prague, and then on the way home, through Nuremberg, Germany. The Nuremberg exhibit was absolutely incredible. Apparently the exhibit just opened (unbeknownst to us when we traveled there) on Nov. 22nd of this year. The girls were really moved by it. It is a very lengthy audio guide exhibit. But even so, they remained engaged through the majority of it. Every entry in the audio guide is intriguing. Even Halle and Katie listened far longer than I would have imagined them capable. Plus, there was video on hand also that was used as exhibits in the trial, and I think they knew their limits. It was sobering and troubling. I had a great discussion with the girls that night about their impressions of the trials, and unwittingly that led to the history of the church, and that led to us discussing how 75% of Czech republic (according to Helena our tour guide the first day in Prague) is agnostic. She said it is “a practical matter.” They have seen the church only as abusive and they want nothing to do with it. (The remaining 25% of the population is split-mostly catholic of course, some Protestant. Typically, those too are not evangelistic in nature. Traditionally in Catholic and Lutheran Protestant churches in Europe, faith is defined by a religion that is very legalistic in nature. It is a routine matter.) The girls and I talked about how this approach by the church has continued on many levels for 100s of years. The Catholic church literally ruled with an iron fist for centuries. They were indeed the law and the church in one. In the 16th century, william Tyndale was the first to translate considerable parts of the Bible into English, for a public, lay leadership. In 1535 he was tried by the church for heresy and was strangled and burned at the stake for taking the word of God to the populace. For centuries Catholic Leadership imprisoned the Jewish population in ghettos all over Europe, exposing them to horrible living conditions, disease and isolation. Now, there’s an argument for separation of church and state. (we shan’t open that can of worms in this post).
The girls and I discussed how we are guilty of that today-burning people at the stake, not literally but emotionally and spiritually. How often do we ignore those in need, that kid in your class who is hard to get along with, the next door neighbor who needs a helping hand, someone in our life who needs something we have plenty of? And then we ended by dissecting 1 Peter 3:15. The first part (“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord,”) was the starting point. This is the foundational premise of this verse. Then I reminded the girls of different instances for each of them wherein they were distraught over some sin they had committed or something they had done wrong, and how their joy was restored after they had confessed that sin and asked for forgiveness. It is amazing to me how faithful God is with our experiences. Nothing is wasted on God. The girls had immediate recall to those vivid memories. And that connected to the middle part of that verse (“be prepared to give everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have”) I reminded them it is never enough for this hard hearted world we live in to tell them only part of the gospel, that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins and gave us eternal life as a gift. We live in a pretentious and
Self-centered world who believe they have no need for a Savior. The key to breaking through that wall lies in our sharing our own personal experience, how that truth has impacted you personally; this is paramount in our message. We all have a story. We must be prepared to share it. Otherwise, it is the same rhetoric that the unbeliever has been listening to for 100’s of years just as the hammer fell. Finally, the last part of the verse, (“But do so with gentleness and respect.”) We may set apart Christ in our hearts as Lord, we may have a story to tell, but try delivering that information to someone in a spirit of anger, abuse, self-righteousness, or disrespect, and she will not hear a word you say.
The girls were intrigued and engaged. Yes, it is true, the very next morning I was refereeing a ridiculous disagreement between them, but that night in that moment, God gave us a relevant conversation that everyone was engaged in. And he provided the material effortlessly. It was something I will never forget. I hope they don’t either.
As Christians, we all agree (I hope) on the saving power and inerrant words of the bible and the gospel message. As Christians, we should also agree on the spiritual truth that we should allow God to use us where and when He chooses. (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Matthew 4:19-22; Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:23-24; 1 Peter 2:20-22; Jude 1:18-20; Psalm 40:7-8; Psalm 48:14; Proverbs 16:3;) Then why is it, when it comes to church attendance, we don’t trust in the will of God? Rather, we consider only those churches that meet a certain set of criteria. Left to our own devices, we search for a church without fully considering God’s plan for our lives. Considering the passage found in Romans 9:20-21, how does the story about the Potter (God) and the clay (us) fit into this formula for church selection? I know some who refuse to consider churches outside their preferred denomination. How can you be so sure that God isn’t calling you somewhere else? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Say you are an affiliated Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Non-Denom, Assembly of God, just to name a few. And as life would have it, you have found yourself in the position of having to find a new or different church to attend. But you automatically rule out any church that is different from the same denomination or affiliation you have been attending. I have a few questions. Is that because you know without reservation that this is where God wants you to serve? Or are you only comfortable in that religious persuasion? Or do you believe that God could not possibly use you anywhere else? Or is it because you think this church you have attended is more scripturally correct (the “right” one) and the others have it wrong? I don’t know. I am just asking.
Is it just me, or do we limit God and His power this way? What if we did this?
“Where does God want me to serve? Where can my gifts be used? Where can my family best serve? God, where do YOU want me to commit my time, my tithe, my spiritual gifts…?” Maybe we are afraid of the answer. I knew one family who did this, and God sent them to Africa as missionaries. No doubt about it, this takes the control away from us and gives it back to God.
I am not saying that Adult ministries, youth groups, and music programs, are not fantastic. But what I am saying is we have it backwards. Rather than asking ourselves what can this church do for me or for my kids, we should ask what could my family bring here? Yes, what could my kids bring to the youth program? What could we bring to small groups ministries? After all if our first ministry is our family (and I think it is) then I will trust God to stand in the gap for my family, as we navigate through the challenges and the differences in the place He has called us. For instance, if our children are getting truth and training in righteousness at home, first and foremost, then great youth groups should be considered a bonus, not a necessity. It is over and above what God has called us to do as parents.
Obviously, this devo isn’t really speaking to the non-believer or someone who has never walked inside the doors of a church, so much as it is Christians and those of us who, well, are very “churched.” I just don’t believe that the caliber of adult or youth ministries, instruments or no instruments, the dress code, or denominational preferences should guide our decision as to where we worship and serve. And isn’t that what being the church is all about? Worshiping God and serving others?
I know I am not going to make a lot of new friends with this devo. (I am hoping I don’t lose any.) But I can’t help but wonder what have we allowed to happen by judging churches based on a set of criteria that simply is not scriptural.
My husband and I and our children left a church where we had attended lovingly and faithfully for about 7 years, the denomination to which we were connected for 14 years. Had we only considered churches within that denomination, when we departed, well, that would have limited the options severely, and it would have been disobedient to God. It just so happens, He had an entirely different plan in mind for us. But to find that, we had to be open and willing to walk away from all that was familiar to us. It wasn’t without repercussions. There are people who no longer speak to us since making this decision. But that’s another story another day.
Lessons from that experience: (1) I am not indispensable to either my denomination or the church I attend. (2) God is so faithful and will go ahead of you. (Deuteronomy 31:8) And He will stand in the gap for you and your children. (3) God is transforming lives in many many grace filled churches with many different names on their front lawns. (4) My faith is not dependent upon the place I call my church home. It is totally and irrefutably dependent upon the cross and the mercy of God.
Go back and study the 1st century church of Acts 2. Not through your denominational lenses, or even the lenses of your pastor, or through the lenses of your church traditions. All of these, though they are all good things, can act as a filter for scripture. We simply have to look at scripture with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17); and examine the truths for ourselves (Acts 17:11); in a way that pleases God and reveals his good and perfect will (Romans 12:1-3).
When we do this, we can only concede that denominational segregation among Christians was never the intent of God, but rather over the course of centuries became the intent of man. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)
If our faith is inextricably tied to the denomination or non-denominational church with whom we are affiliated, rather than to the One whose life was sacrificed that I might live, what does that say about our walk with Christ or the power of the cross? Is that really faith at all? And if we truly believe in our hearts that God cannot use us outside of this group or that God cannot exponentially transform your life, your marriage, your family, anywhere else, but “there,” then what does that say about the power of our God? How could God, the creator of the universe and author of our faith, be so small? We must not put God inside a little box along with the great plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
I know it is a scary prospect to change religious gears (so to speak) and to suddenly start looking outside your familiar circle as you listen for God’s voice in the journey. I know because we did it. And then just as we were rocking along in our new church serving and feeling like God brought us here for a clear purpose, well, He moved us to Germany. Here we found that we were “stripped” not only of the convenience of denominational choices, but also every “comfort” that goes along with that: buildings, leaders, staff, youth groups, and the list goes on and on. We joined up with another family hosting church in our homes (thanks LC Online resources). It has been so different for our children and us, but once emptied of all that is familiar, you only have God on whom to depend. And the One you serve is faithful.
(1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:11-13)