Friday, March 25, 2011


I have watched as many of my friends have gone through some serious faith struggles lately. And, sadly, yes I do mean I watched. I have also had plenty of times in my life where I have dealt with faith struggles. For me though, I have always had the fortune/blessing at those difficult times that I was able to go on a church retreat to refocus. Unfortunately, now that I am in my middle-age years (defined as older than 20's and younger than 60 in my dictionary, sorry if I offended you), those types of retreats are much too rare for me. And, from what I can see in my friends' lives the same need for retreat exists in a big way.

Another sad reality is that I believe my friends and I that face these times of doubt, or times of waning faith find our own version of retreat today. The bad part here is that we are retreating away from God instead of into God. We get so comfortable in the surroundings of our culture that when we feel discomfort in our spiritual life, we seek comfort by diving further into culture leading us to retreat from God. Maybe this is a way of avoiding the struggles or facing our doubts. Maybe it is even worse than that, and our retreat from God is truly that: a choice to leave God, even if just for a short time. The worst news there is while we say "for a short time," this often gets out of control and becomes our new way of life. We find ourselves in a lifetime retreat from God.

Instead of retreat AWAY FROM God, away from friends who support us, and away from the very faith with which we are struggling, we actually should recognize that these are the times when MORE is needed, not less. More God, more Bible reading, more prayer, more communications with friends (Christian friends), and MORE GODLY ACTIONS. These are not the times for retreat, at least not retreat from God. It is time for retreat from self, from distraction. Those doubt-filled moments are the very times when God can make Himself most present in your faithful actions. Take those weak moments and trust God to fill you as you simply walk in faith by serving someone else.

This is one of the hardest things for me to do. It's so hard to talk to God when I am wondering if He even makes a difference anymore. But, when I do, He ALWAYS answers in a strong way. These are the times when I get new ideas on how to serve a hurting world. These are the times when compassion wells up in me (a rare thing for me). These are the times when I see and feel the Holy Spirit in and around me. When I am weak, He is STRONG! Take Jesus' lead in this and follow His example in the Garden. Jesus had a rather big faith struggle wondering if the Cross really was the right thing, but He talked to God and faithfully served others, all of humanity in the single, most critical event in history. What kind of impact can God make with you and me in our weak moments if we just hold to faithful obedience?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Different Rules for Me and You

So you and I (assuming we are both Christians) are supposed to follow a different set of rules than the rest of the world. I think I have covered that general thought in several previous posts. I have to bring up one specific rule that Christians should follow based on current things going on in my sphere of influence. It appears that living in our current US-based legal system has caused a lot of people to become dependent upon human judges and the legal system to settle all matters of disputes. Paul, and Jesus too actually, rather flatly show that should just not be the case with Christians. Look at Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. In these verses Paul actually says that a Christian who sues another Christian in a "civil" court is already a moral failure. That is the wrap up of his reprimand of this action, which he in the earlier verses shows his astonishment (negatively of course) that believers cannot find even one wise person they can trust to arbitrate disputes.

Paul also makes another point in this text that is actually what I take as the crux of it. Shouldn't we, as Christians (if we truly are), simply accept an injustice done to us and forgive the person? After all, I am pretty sure EVERYONE has cheated God, has done an injustice to God. If we are to be judged according to how we judge, then those of us who rush to court against each other might want to be a little concerned.

Jesus takes on the other side of the matter though in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:25-26. He puts the burden on the person being taken before the judge to settle matters prior to issues getting that far. So, take what Paul and Jesus say and you have BOTH side of the dispute covered in the Bible. No matter which side you find yourself on, we have the Biblical answer of how to deal with it. And in BOTH cases, Christians are supposed to be above the human courts and deal with disputes within a Christian context.

Why the big points from Paul and Jesus on this? Well, I think it is simple. God forgives us for the worst of the worst, we should likewise forgive others, especially other Christians. Also, whenever Christians obligate other Christians to a legal system, we enslave Christ's church (each Christian has a part to play in the church) to worldly judgements that are often at odds with Christian views. We force Christians to be judged by non-Christian standards. None of that comes to a good conclusion, whereas a Christian/Biblical approach in love and forgiving spirit leads to the building up of the church.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Setting the Faders

I have run sound at a couple of churches. I really enjoy the technical aspects of manipulating the sound board and the feeling of accomplishment when everything sounds perfect. It takes a good ear, a bit of knowledge, and a strong back-bone to do this though. You will NEVER please everyone in a church congregation with the sound of the band. Still, there is an art more than a science to setting the faders (volume controls) to get that mix just right. And when you get that perfect mix it doesn't matter what ANYBODY says to you, you KNOW it was right.

I think this might be the approach I need to be taking with regards to the Holy Spirit. For most of my life I have really thought of the Holy Spirit more of something external to me. My churchy friends always talked about having "Jesus in your heart" and "being led by the Holy Spirit." So, I think I just interpreted that as the Spirit being "out there somewhere." Even then, I don't think I can truly say I have had too many moments that were even Spirit led moments, much less Spirit Filled moments in my life.

What happens that keeps the Spirit from filling me? I now believe it's all of the other things around me (outside of me) that I turn up way too much. I push the faders up on the fun stuff, the cool stuff, as well as the selfish things. I don't think I fade the Spirit out really; I just leave that Spirit volume right where it is – static. No more, no less, just fine where you are Mr. Spirit. I also don't acknowledge that He is INSIDE me. If I would at least acknowledge that for real, I would realize that the slightest adjustment to the Spirit's volume would make a HUGE difference in the mix of my life.

The great thing about mixing a band with vocals, guitars, drums, bass, keys, etc. is that I get to decide what is most important at whatever point in the songs. I can bring up the lead guitar for the rockin' riff, or soften the background voices with a little reverb/delay to make the beautiful harmonies sing with perfection. I have realized now that I have that same control with how the Spirit works in my life for me. I can turn Him completely down; I can crank Him up to the max. I can drown Him out with career, movies, books, computers, even family and think all is good since I didn't change the Spirit's level (just all the other stuff). But, as it does with a sound mix, bringing everything up to the same level just makes it REALLY bad. Some things just need more volume than others. And I know the Spirit needs the focus.

Only with the Spirit turned up am I able to keep myself from abusing the beautiful gifts God gives me. Only then, filled with AND led by the Spirit will I overcome my selfish nature that always, always puts the gifts of God ahead of God Himself. It's time to crank up some Spirit volume and fade out some of the other junk on my board.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ignoring the Humanity of the Bible

In the Bible, the book of Esther is all about human choices. If you read this story outside of a Biblical context, ignoring the common "God working in all things" motif Esther clearly shows, I think you would experience an endearing story of a protagonist struggling to overcome her fears to save her people from an overbearing, jerk of a king. You would fall in love with, and desire the same attentions from the mentor and encourager, Mordecai. He would show you what faith, love and support really can inspire in your life just as he did for Esther.

But let me look at some of the humanity in this book of Esther. A king, as many in positions of power do, flaunts his power and wealth in a huge party. The king demands of his wife, the Queen to share her beauty with his good buddies as they drink way too much. The queen, in a righteous stand against the king's wrongs, refuses to indulge him even though she knows it could mean her own life. The king banishes her for her disobedience. So, in short, a selfish man thinking much too highly of himself treats a woman as if she is of no value beyond her body. When she proves her real value and morality, he sends her to the streets without a thought. I take it he probably did this in a hefty rage of anger. I think if this story was real life today, it would just be another Hollywood fan-fare plastered in the media. And, like that Hollywood life, God is likely not to be easily seen.

In Esther though, we find an alternate side of humanity. We find a woman who against her instincts makes a tough choice. She makes perhaps the toughest of choices. In full view of the recent events of the queen being banished, she too goes to the king outside of the normal, approved ways. She basically tells the king he did something really stupid. Esther has to know this could mean she will be killed or banished to a life of nothingness, but still she chooses to stand up to the king. She risks her safety, her palace life, her position of power, and puts it all on the line for what she believes is the right course of action for the people she loves. Isn't that a beautiful picture of some of the greatest human traits? Love, self-sacrifice (or at least the willingness to do so), BOLDNESS. And you have to know that all of that was at odds with Esther's fear, desire for the good life, security, and comfort. How would I fair in that situation I wonder? I don't think I would have had the boldness to stand up as she did knowing all I had to give up.

Of course, the book of Esther IS in the Bible, and we DO have the Biblical backdrop for the story. So, Esther is all about humanity making good and bad choices, but it is also about God's working for us even when we make choices against what He wills. Esther found herself in the position she was in at least in part because of the bad decisions of a king, good decisions of a queen, and good decisions of Mordecai. Had it not been for those human choices, I don't think this story exists. Had the king chosen to hold his temper and not even ask his queen to entertain his drunk buddies, perhaps the book of Esther is not even in the Bible today. But, he did, and it is. We have a perfect example of our bad choices being managed by God to bring His ultimate good. We also have great examples of just how horrible and wonderful humanity really is.

Last thought on this little Hollywood Bible story: Why do I think (actually I know) I would make the same stand as the queen or Esther? Maybe it's because I don't have that Mordecai type character to encourage me to stand strong. Maybe it's because I just don't have as much desire for the righteous over the desirable. Whatever the human reason though, I truly believe it is really about the lack of acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit in my life. I mentally know He is in there trying to work on me, through me, for me, but in my heart I don't really give credence to His presence. I pretend He isn't there. So, even if I don't have Mordecai physically there to warn me, remind me, encourage me, I have the Spirit of God INSIDE me! I just have to listen and pay attention. I also need to make sure I don't let other voices squelch that Spirit when He moves and directs me (more on that next time). I know Esther acknowledged Mordecai, and she listened to his direction and guidance. It's high time I started doing the same.