Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘belief’

HOPE for 2013

[This article is from a sermon I preached on 12/30/12.  Many thanks to A. Todd Coget, whose sermon “What If? and Why Not?” (December 29, 2002) inspired me to go deeper into the subject of HOPE.]

hopeHere’s my personal list of what I believe are the Top Ten news events of 2012.  See if these prompt your memory banks, and if you agree with me about their importance or their impact.

  1. The reelection of President Obama was, by far, the biggest news event of the year for the United States.
  2. The internet continues to be one of the “drivers” of our culture.  From FaceBook going public to the death of Whitney Houston (the number 1 story “googled” this year), the internet continues to exercise its muscle and influence.
  3. Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, and the storm’s aftermath, is a reminder that we don’t have control over nature … and that sometimes the storms of life are literally storms!
  4. The uncertainty of gas prices, and the rise and fall of prices at the pump, continues to get our attention daily.
  5. The mass murders … what some now are calling “Spree Killings” … in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Oikos University in Oakland, CA, the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut!  The thing is, guns are being blamed, but Hollywood and the computer game industry continues to outspend the NRA.
  6. The Middle East continues to capture our attention every day – with the ongoing tensions associated with Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Israel, the phony elections in Egypt, and the murder of the US Ambassador in Libya.
  7. The “Fiscal Cliff,” and the inability of our government to get a handle on spending; the national debt, and the world’s economy.
  8. The London Olympics was the biggest distraction and emotional lift for our country this past summer.
  9. President Obama’s Supreme Court health care ruling (in his favor) was huge news with huge implications for our nation.
  10. The new tensions arising in the world because of Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

These stories, circumstances, and influences have, and will continue to have, an impact on our times and our individual lives.  What happens in the Middle East and North Korea will impact your life, as will decisions that follow Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, and our government’s spending.

We are standing on the threshold of a New Year … 2013.  The world didn’t end on 12/21/12!  We have a future!  But do you have HOPE!

There is a reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to include HOPE as one of the “big 3” … one of the THREE THINGS THAT WILL LAST FOREVER!  

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.19.45 PM

Paul wrote, “And now these three remain: faith, HOPE and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)  Or, as the New Living Translation reads, “Three things will last forever — faith, HOPE, and love …”

Let me tell you something:  If you feel HOPEless, you won’t love or exercise faith.  HOPE is critically important to life, and life in God!

HOPE is “confident assurance.”

Look with me at Hebrews 11:1 and 6 –

“Now faith is confidence in what we HOPE for and assurance about what we do not see …And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (NIV)

“Faith is the confidence that what we HOPE for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see … And

it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him.”  (NLT)

  • We talk much about love, and we should, because it’s the greatest of the Big 3.
  • And we talk a lot about faith, and we should, because without faith it’s impossible to please God.
  • BUT what about HOPE?!  Do you have HOPE?

But not just ANY HOPE?  Do you have HEAVENLY HOPE??

LUKE 24

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus Himself suddenly came and began walking with them.  16 But God kept them from recognizing Him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.  18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said.  “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and He was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people.  20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed Him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified Him.  21 We had HOPED He was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.  This all happened three days ago.

There is nothing so devastating as having lost HOPE.  For these men, their HOPE was gone.  The one they had HOPED to be the redeemer of Israel, was, in their mind, dead.  Along with the death of Jesus, came the death of their HOPE.

If you’ve lived beyond childhood, you have lost HOPE in some sense, at some point in your life.  When we lose HOPE we are overcome with feelings of senselessness, purposelessness, and despair, discouragement, depression.  The energy is just sucked right out of our lives.  Lack of HOPE can actually destroy our very lives.

  • Maybe you have a memory of driving away from the only friends you’ve ever had to move to a new town, a new school, and a totally new life … one NOT of your choosing.
  • Maybe it was when your favorite sports team got so far behind in points that there was no HOPE of them winning.
  • Maybe it was a little more serious …. Maybe there was time when you were without a job, and you had no money.
  • Maybe it was a health issue … where you thought there was no HOPE for you or your loved one.

During those times perhaps you were tempted to take the advice of Job’s wife, who told Job to “Curse God and die.”

But let me interrupt that thought process with this truth:  for the Christian, life is essentially a life of HOPE.  And that is what I want to talk about today.  The HOPE we have as children of God.

Ephesians 2:12 and 13 says, “Once you lived in this world without God and without HOPE.  But now you have been united with Christ.  Once you were far away from God, but NOW you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no HOPE.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – “That is why we never give up.  Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we 

cannot see will last forever.”

HOPE is to the human spirit what oxygen is to the physical body.  

The word HOPE occurs some 52 times in the New Testament alone. And if you take the time to look up those 52 passages you will find that it ALWAYS is connected in some way to God.

God is the author of HOPE, Romans 15:13 tells us, “I pray that God, the source of HOPE, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him.  Then you will overflow with confident HOPE through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

FOUR things to observe:

  1. God is the source of HOPE
  2. When you have God’s HOPE, you will be filled with joy and peace
  3. That joy and peace will be a result of TRUSTING in Him.
  4. If you learn to trust Him, confident HOPE will overflow in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

HOPE connects us with the future just as memories connect us with the past.

We reflect on our past through our memories … we think back on what happened.  Through our memories we en-vision our past.

HOPE helps us envision our future.   How do we know what will happen in the future?  We have HOPE, which is placed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sure there might be valleys in our future, just as there were valleys in our past.  But the HOPE we have in Christ Jesus should make us realize that some day we will stand on the Holy Mountain of God, reigning with Christ, beautifully adorned as bride for the bridegroom.  Worshiping God, praising God, dwelling with God.  That is what HOPE does for us.

One of the definitions I read for HOPE stated, “HOPE is desire, with the expectation of getting what is desired.  One cannot HOPE for that which he neither desires or expects to receive.”

Sometimes HOPE can be misplaced.  David wrote:  “Some nations boast in their chariots and horses, but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.  Those nations will fall down and collapse, but we will rise up and stand firm.”  (Psalm 20:7-8)

  • There are those who HOPE to receive eternal life in heaven without acknowledging Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
  • There are those who HOPE to grow in Christ without reading His word or going to God in prayer on a regular basis.
  • There are those who HOPE to live happy lives even though they are in rebellion to God.
  • All these are misplaced HOPEs, false HOPEs, HOPEs that our not founded and based in God.
  • Life can be difficult and harsh, and there are times we may think that it will not get better.  But there is HOPE, true HOPE in Christ, and there is true HOPE no where else.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 4.16.05 PMNo matter what our situation, HOPE is there, that HOPE that is Jesus Christ.  The angel Gabriel gave this HOPEful assurance to Mary in Luke 1:37:

  • “For no word from God will ever fail.”  (NIV)
  • “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”  (KJV)
  • “For God can do all things.”  (New Life Version)
  • “For nothing is impossible with God.”  (NLT)
  • “ … every word shall not be impossible with God.”  (Wycliffe)
  • “But God can do anything.”  (Worldwide English NT)
  • “For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.” (Phillips Translation)
  • “God can do anything!”  (Easy-To-Read Bible)
  • “For with God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” (Amplified Version)

A “Joseph” Generation

A “Joseph” Generation

August 9, 2009 – WEAG

INTRODUCTION:

There’s a broad spectrum of people that attend church, so I’m sure there are some here today who are checking out this church, wondering if God is real, taking in the atmosphere, wondering if there are business connections or networks to be joined, etc. You’re seeking something … You’re seeking Someone. That’s GOOD! You are welcome here!

If you aren’t a committed follower of Jesus, what you’re about to hear is typical of what we talk about … when you’re not around. The content of today’s message is not atypical, in other words. We, the church, know we’ve got some growing to do. We’ve got issues. We know we’re in process – moving from seekers of God to lovers of God. We come together every week, in a million locations around the world, 24/7 … not just on Sundays … and we LEARN. We study. And we grow.

We, the people who call WEAG our home base – our church – are no different.

I say “we” because Becky and I are members of West End. And while we’re not on the pastoral team, we’re on the ministry team!

I say, “we” … we are part of the WEAG Ministry Team because every person at WEAG is in ministry … of some kind or another. Ministry is just a church word that means – service. We are organized and energized to serve the interests of Jesus. What Jesus wants done, we want to do THAT!

We believe that God is real and that He forgives sin, don’t we, church? We love Him because – because He first loved us. Because He paid the penalty for our sin – which is spiritual death – eternal separation from a holy God. Because He willingly died in our place, for our sins. Because He’s alive – resurrected from the dead!

We want to learn more about Him, what’s important to Him, and how to please Him – which includes what He enjoys hearing when we worship and praise Him. We, the people of West End A/G, want to be the best Jesus-followers we can be … and we know that in order to be Christ-followers, we will change. WE MUST CHANGE! We haven’t arrived. We, the Church of Jesus Christ … we get it: we’re not perfect. We never will be … but that’s no excuse. We MUST grow.

Now, those of you who call WEAG “home,” if you agree with what I just said, would you say, “Yep … that’s us.” (Ha!)

Pastor John asked me to speak on Tuesday of this week. I was in Orlando, at General Council, and immediately I knew what the topic would be. I just didn’t know the biblical text. But I found it!

Nowadays, all I seem to see, all I want to read about, all I want to talk about is leadership, leadership, leadership. I live and breathe the subject. I consume all I can on the subject. I’m constantly studying it. I have been for years! And because leadership development has captured my heart, my passions, my imagination, my life … because leadership development is now my calling and vocation … I AM A HAPPY MAN!

And in the course of my studies I’ve taken note: Leadership is either on display … for all to see … or it’s missing!

You can feel it … sense it … when leadership is present. And you can feel the hollowness, the emptiness, the void when it is absent. Leadership is either present or absent. There is no middle ground – no grey area. And I think you instinctively know what I’m saying is true.

When John asked me to speak, the Holy Spirit took me to Psalm 105.

Throughout the Bible, you will find potential leaders in various stages of development. And then, once they become recognized leaders, you’ll read how they brought necessary change … because that is one thing ALL leaders do. When leaders lead, changes follow … either for the good or for the bad.

Throughout the Bible you will see examples of leaders and observe their leadership. The Bible gives us an honest report of the good, the bad, the inept, the humble, the hesitant … military leaders, governmental leaders, religious leaders, early church leaders. From the dominating leader to the servant-leader – you’ll find them all in the Bible.

Look at Psalm 105:16-22

16 [God] called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.
   17 Then He sent someone to Egypt ahead of them —
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
   18 They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
   19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
   20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
   21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
   22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers.


1. Coming Conditions Will Call For Josephs

In Joseph’s day, God created circumstances that required a Leader to emerge that would change the course of history. God cut off Canaan’s food supply.

Take note: God … who is always GOOD … did something that appeared to be BAD at the time He was doing it.

Could God be doing the same thing, right now, in the world? Not just in America, but the world? Could God be creating the environment that will require godly leaders to arise, and step into the spotlight? Are there people – men and women in the church – THIS CHURCH – that will hold in their hearts the answer to the wearied and worried cry of humanity?

There’s famine in the land. People are crying out for bread, but not just any bread. They want … they need … the Bread of Heaven. There’s a spiritual drought in the land, and the only thing that will satisfy the thirst of disillusioned humanity is the Living Water. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and the Water that would satisfy the souls of men.

If Jesus satisfies your hunger and thirst, will you say, “That’s me!”?

Before you go rushing out of this building with slogans and t-shirts, bumper stickers and spiritual clichés, let me tell you – YOU’RE NOT PREPARED.

You’re not prepared for what God wants to do … what He’s going to do in our generation.

I know that! ( … and statistical studies will back me up) We can’t lead our world anywhere before we look, sound and live differently than our unbelieving friends. The divorce rate in the church is 30% … the world is 37%. We cheat on our taxes, we surf internet porn sites, we lie when we do business … and we’re the Church??? Did Jesus say, “I will build My Church,” and intend for it to look so … so … worldly?

If you believe that God is the Sovereign King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the all-powerful, all wise and knowing, everywhere-present God … and you don’t think He’s got a hand in what is going on in our world right now, there’s a disconnect between what you say you believe and what you really believe.

I’m not trying to mess with your mind, or lay a guilt trip on you. That would never bring about needed change in your lifestyle anyway, right? And I’m not manipulating facts. I’m calling it the way I see it. I have a strong opinion about the current state of the Church … in America. If you don’t see it my way … okay.

But you can’t just disagree with me and not have another theory on why things are happening the way they are, and why they might be happening this way at this time. I’d love for you to send me an email. Give me your opinion. You’ve heard mine.

Back to my point I’m making from verse 16: Like the famine in Joseph’s day, God is doing something. He called for a famine then. He can do the same thing today … but I suspect He’s going to do something on a much bigger scale. He’s not just going to mess around with Canaan. He’s going to shake the world.

BEFORE He sent famine to Canaan, He sent Joseph to Egypt.

2. Coming Conditions Require the Character of Joseph.

God began a process of preparing a leader to provide His solutions for Joseph’s generation. I believe God is in the process of doing the same thing – right now. Today. And He’s doing it in the lives of people IN THIS ROOM.

God took Joseph to school! Joseph thought, as most teenagers do, that he was ready to lead … AT 17!!!

He lacked wisdom. He totally offended his brothers because he had no filter in his brain or on his mouth. From the original story, told in Genesis 37 to 50, we can gather than he was a spoiled kid. That wasn’t his fault. His dad showed favoritism to such an extreme that it was inevitable – a family feud would be ignited by Joseph’s big mouth. The family would be thrown the into chaos.

What I’m about to tell you is surreal. God was in it. God had given Joseph his personality and his parentage. From his mother’s womb, God had everything in mind that we read about in Joseph’s story.

God knew that Joseph would require a certain confidence to stand before Egypt’s king and make the declarations he did! God knew that Joseph would be willing to do and speak anything! But first God had to work on his raw gifts. He had to sharpen his mind, temper his ways, and develop his character.

Now … how would you go about raising up and training a Joseph?? If you knew there were days ahead – days that would require spiritual leaders using God’s wisdom, speaking God’s words and knowing God’s WORD, how would you begin? And when?

WEAG has been intentional when it comes to investing in kids and young people.

The Assemblies of God has over 330,000 churches, in 214 countries, with 60 million members. The A/G has grown from 300 people meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1912 to 60 million strong! We haven’t had our 100th birthday yet! And it is estimated by church demographers that by 2020 – if Jesus doesn’t come back first – the A/G will have over 500,000 churches and number 100 million strong.

Now … this is not an A/G pep rally, and I’m not selling the A/G, but I sure am glad I’m a part of it.

And … in the US … where it began, the A/G has 2.9 million members. And in that number … 2.9 million … there is a sub-group, numbering 1 million. That sub-group is made up a kids and young people under the age of 25!!

Do you get what I’m saying??

Why does West End pour so many resources into its kids and youth and college ministries??

Because God will, out of that population, raise up a generation of Josephs! Raw, edgy, hip, passionate, determined, mighty, fearless Josephs. They are in this building … and in this room.

You don’t have to be under 25 to be a Joseph. You can be 85, like Caleb. He was one of two spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land that reported, “We can take this land, in spite of the giants, the walled cities and the armies of idol worshippers!”

It’s a shame those two were in the minority … 10 spies said, “It can’t be done. We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We’ll lose. We’ll die. We can’t win.”

Forty-five years later, after all the smart people, the financial experts, the nay-sayers and negative report people … a whole generation … had died off, Caleb, at age 85, said, “I’m as strong as I was when I was a 45 year old. God has given me strength to do battle.” And he looked over the land of Promise and he said, “Give me THAT MOUNTAIN!” And he went and got it!

Now … to have

3. The Character of Joseph Requires a Challenge

It won’t take me long to make this point.

When God taps a Joseph … and He may be tapping YOU this morning … and this is tough … you’ll go to God’s version of Leadership School.

There are seekers in this room … I know that. People who are considering making the leap, believing the Gospel, giving their lives to Christ … and when some will hear this, they’ll stop seeking the God we serve. They’ll stop dead in their tracks. And they might say something like this: “Are YOU CRAZY???”

And the answer to that question is, “No.”

We’re grateful, not crazy. We’re forgiven. We’ve not lost our minds. God threw our sinful record into the sea of His forgetfulness. He’s won our hearts. He’s loved us into His kingdom. We have gladly accepted His rule in our lives … because we’ve lived without Him … AND THERE’S NO FUTURE IN THAT! We were once far from God, but now we want to be as close to Him as we can possibly be!

And if it requires that we lay down our lives for Him, we’ve considered the cost. We’re not stupid. We’re not uninformed. AND we don’t have messianic or martyr complexes.

We know that being a Joseph in the future requires God’s version of Boot Camp now. But we don’t run from that reality. We embrace it. Because there are lost and dying people out there who will never hear that Jesus loved them so much He died for them. They will never hear that God raised Him from the dead! They will never know that there’s a heaven and a hell. They’ll never hear a clear presentation of His story, in their language, unless we willingly go.

Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his brothers, fettered and sold into slavery, bruised, falsely accused of rape by a desperate Egyptian housewife, put into prison for years – with no hope of release, and forgotten by his cellmates.

But the whole time … from 17 to 30+ years old … he maintained an A average in God’s school for Emerging Leaders. He aced his character-development classes. He passed the tests each time they came.

And when he was ready, and not a day before … when he was ready to lead …

4. God Literally “Set Him Free!!!” to Lead

He blew Pharaoh’s mind with his wisdom and spiritual depth. And not only did his dysfunctional family benefit from his rise to power in the throne-room of the king … not only did he literally save the lives of the people who trekked from famine-torn Canaan … but his strategy for battling the famine that eventually made its way to the breadbasket of the world – the fertile valley of the Nile – saved another nation, too. Egypt. God gave him the strategy.

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Joseph of ancient history had been prepared in God’s school of Leadership to make decisions … some decisions that would literally mean LIFE or DEATH.

CONCLUSION:

Are the days we’re living any less critical than the days of Joseph’s emergence?

Actually, they’re much more critical. What’s at stake? The eternal future of our generation. The eternal future of our family and friends. Is that reality on your radar?

At some point in time – in the not-too-distant future – God will keep a promise. He will usher in the literal Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He – Jesus, the Son of God – will reign forever and ever. There is coming a day when time as we know it will be no more. Before then, you must decide!

Some people, on their spiritual journeys, aren’t looking to Jesus as Savior and Lord. They not convinced they have a sin problem, and that there’s a holy God out there somewhere that can not co-habitate with sinners. Instead, they’re looking for something else … fulfillment, satisfaction, meaningful purpose … something to plug the hole in their soul.

Our mortality cries out for immortality! We want more! We have eternity in our hearts. This is why people go on spiritual journeys in the first place. We all want something to believe in that is bigger, better and beyond our selves. We’re so desperate for something to believe in, we’ll eventually find something … to worship.

It might be Michael Jackson; it might be a crystal good luck charm; it might be a politician or a political cause. Some might worship Mother Earth, and live to save a sick environment. Some will join the church of Tiger Woods; their communion will take place at the 19th hole, and their small group might be a radically committed foursome. Some might choose to worship at the Altar of Intellect, worshipping at the great university libraries of the world. Others might choose to put their best time into “World of Warcraft,” or wear out an X-Box 360. Some here might be tempted to put their trust in Oprah; they might religiously attend her televised meetings – never missing a broadcast … less they be “left behind” and considered un-cool or uninformed.

Many here … many here … may choose to worship The Golden Dow – whose temple sits in the middle of Wall Street, and whose priests ring a golden bell at the beginning and end of five, 8-hour services a week.

I could go on and on with idol possibilities. But none of those gods satisfy completely.

We know they don’t love us. We know they’re powerless to change our hearts, lighten our load, or heal our emotional and psychological wounds. And they certainly can’t forgive our sins.

But friends … Jesus can. And does, 24/7, 365! He saves us! He heals us! He loves us unconditionally.

And He’s coming soon.

God is setting the stage for the single-most important spiritual awakening the world has ever seen. This spiritual awakening will not be geographically confined – like The Great Awakening that occurred from 1730 to 1751. The next GREAT AWAKENING won’t look anything like ANYTHING that has happened since the resurrection of Jesus!

What will you do with this information … this sermon … this challenge?

First, I’m praying for A Joseph Generation to arise here at West End! I’m praying for young and old, male and female Josephs to pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ, and take His story to neighbors and nations.

If you believe in the eternity described in the Bible … if you believe the sermons preached by the Son of God, Jesus … you know …

You do not want anyone to miss heaven!

Second, I’ve been praying for persons attending today who have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Even after hearing the description of Joseph’s life today, they are … right now … saying to themselves, “This is the something I’ve been looking for. This is worth investing my life in. Jesus is the SOMEONE I can put my trust in. I know, full well, I am a sinful person. I know I need a Savior if I ever hope to live in the presence of a God so holy, as much as He loves me, Who can’t allow me into His presence unless my sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, His only Son.”

The first invitation is for those who wish to take the Good News about Jesus to neighbors and nations, to the end of the block or the ends of the Earth; who are willing to trust God; lay down their lives, put aside their plans, for a greater and more important plan.

If you fully understand what it means to say, “God, I’m willing to be a Joseph to my generation,” come.

The second invitation is for those who aren’t ready to take the message to friends and neighbors, but for those who are ready to believe the message. You’ve been thinking about it. Today is your day of decision, and you have decided … I’m going to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

To those who are reading this message on my website, if you would like to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, take this prayer as a guide and pray it. Put as much of it as you can in your own words. And if you can think of anything – if anything comes to mind while you’re praying – that you want to specifically acknowledge as sin in your life, take some time to articulate what you want from God. (It may sound something like this: “Lord, I can remember when I was immoral [describe it to Him in your own words] … and it has haunted me/made me feel unforgiveable/made me feel guilty for so long. Please forgive me for that sin. [And if you think, after you’ve finished praying, that you should forgive someone, or ask for forgiveness of someone, make plans to do so.].”)

PRAYER: Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins, in my place, and I believe that God raised You from the dead. I give You my life for Yours, and I intentionally choose You as my Lord and Master. I invite You into my life with thanksgiving and deep gratitude. Amen.

Calling All Atheists and Theists … AGAIN (#2)

Dear friends … Please write and explain … in just a few paragraphs please … why you are an atheist, or a theist.

I am NOT asking why you are NOT an atheist, or a theist, but ONLY why you are what you are.  Here is your opportunity to explain your rationale for believing what you believe (and not why you DON’T believe something).  

Nothing personal, but I’m tired of being told why someone is opposed to a certain belief.  Aren’t you?

You can also add what attracted you to your belief (remember this when responding, that atheism is a belief, too), and who may have influenced you to positively pursue your belief system.

Thanks everyone, in advance.

(Oh, yes … please do not use my inquiry to body slam, subtly or not, someone else’s belief.  Don’t tell me you’re exercising your right of free speech when I’m not asking you to engage in a conversation, but to answer a question – one among many I hope to use as “research” in order to draw some conclusions.  Is that cool?)

The Spiritual Journey 3 – Humility

Sheldon Vanauken wrote (in A Severe Mercy):  

“To believe with certainty, somebody said, one has to begin by doubting.” (p. 83)

“… there is nothing in Christianity which is so repugnant to me as humility – the bent knee.” (p. 91)

“… if we were a species that didn’t normally eat, weren’t designed to eat, would we feel hungry? … Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? … [and] Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time.  (‘How time flies!  Fancy John being grown up and married!  I can hardly believe it!’)  In heaven’s name, why?  Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” (in a letter from C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, p. 93)

Based on these quotes, I’d like to make a few observations.  First, if you’re going to believe that Christ is the Son of God, and therefore the Savior He claims to be, it is no fault to begin by doubting such a phenomenal claim.  

Doubting allows a person to begin with a clean sheet, so to speak.  A person that has been raised in the Church, had positive experiences in the Church, and is therefore open to indoctrination from early on, doesn’t wrestle with doubt on the same level as someone who (a) has been raised in the Church and had negative experiences or (b) not been exposed to either positive or negative Church experiences during their childhood and adolescence.  In speaking to those who doubt, I suggest:  that is a good place to start one’s spiritual journey, as did Vanauken.  Why?  Because of the “clean sheet.”  But to be truly clean, one’s “sheet” must have a valuable and necessary ingredient in its makeup or constitution, and that ingredient is HONESTY.  Not openness but honesty.  If it is discovered during one’s investigation of Christianity that there is a prejudice (a pre-judgement) based on anything – peer pressure, education or one’s educators, or the bias of unbelieving parents – and that prejudice is not addressed or challenged in one’s heart and mind, that person is not being honest.

Second, being honest comes from or springs from a general HUMILITY, and that humility is based upon an appreciation that NO ONE knows everything, and that there may be someone or something outside the existential confines of one’s reality and intellect that knows and understands more about the universe of ordered things.  Therefore, true humility must be allowed to and may result in “a bended knee” – acknowledgement that something is true when it would appear to the honest seeker, based upon the life-education-experience limitations mentioned above, that it “should” be false.  Humility requires the honest seeker of truth to allow for things to be true outside “the box” of one’s current thinking.  Again, this basic, this fundamental humility must be allowed to move toward a greater humility – a humility that would require a bended knee.

Third, it seems that if there is a hunger for something (say a belly for food, a fish for water, or the temporal for the metaphysical or, in this case, the sacred or mystical), that longed-for something may exist.  REPEAT:  The humble man will allow that something may be true that was, up ’til now, thought to be improbable, false, or impossible.

I would suggest, humbly, that mankind hungers for God because there is a God.  If one honestly doubts that supposition, help me understand the immaterial part of me – thought, love, joy, sadness, etc. – and why there is this debate about all things spiritual (and in this case, the idea that there is a God)?  How is it that the idea or possibility of God cannot be easily dismissed as some have dismissed the existence of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or flying saucers?

Think about it.

Resurrection On Maui

maui-sunset-small.jpg Joy!

This morning I was in the ohana (a Hawaiian name for “family room”) getting a cup of coffee, this cozy and welcoming little room being located close to our condominium.   Every morning Rick – our host – makes Kona.  The smell of the coffee was wonderful, deep and rich.

A minute or two later I was returning to our place, walking past the pool, and just luxuriating in the warm, fragrant air, listening to the Mina birds chirping and turtle doves cooing.  The sun was just peeking over the West Maui mountains, causing the clouds to glow light yellows and oranges.  Almost heaven.

A man I had never met came up the path leading to the ohana, heading for the coffee pot I had just left, and he greeted me.  “Happy Easter.”  I replied, “He is risen!”

I’m back in our place, sitting on our lanai, and my son just pointed toward the ocean.  “Rainbow,” was all he said.

This joy that is welling up within me is so pleasurable, so intense.  And I wonder, “Why do we concentrate so much on the problem of pain, and never wrestle with the problem of pleasure?” 

Philip Yancey asks, “If atheists insist there is no God because of all the pain and suffering in this world, why aren’t they held accountable for the ‘problem of pleasure?’” 

“Should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?” he writes, meaning that if Christians must defend the existence of God because there are so many painful experiences in life, shouldn’t atheists have to defend their beliefs because there are so many pleasurable experiences, too?

Why is sex fun?  “Reproduction surely doesn’t require pleasure,” Yancey goes on.  “Some animals simply split in half to reproduce … and … why is eating enjoyable?  Plants and animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds.  Why are there colors?”  All good questions.

Back to Easter morning on Maui.  As I look around, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth itself puts God’s creative genius on display,” says David, the song writer of ancient Israel. (Psalm 19)  I get to enjoy all that I see and taste and feel because there is a God in heaven who created me to enjoy creation.

I’m a happy camper, and a joy-filled human being today!

Jesus is risen indeed.

Think about it.

(By the way, I took the picture above last night … looking out of the Pacific, toward Lanai.  Wow!)

The Spiritual Journey – Belief

Sheldon Vanauken wrote that when he and his wife were studying at Oxford they were rubbing shoulders with “nuclear physicists, historians, and able scholars in other fields.”  What struck them was that these fellow scholars “believed” in Christ, and for that reason “… we must, at least, weigh it (Christianity) very seriously.”  Both he and his wife had assumed that anyone who took Christianity as true must be ignorant, but these brilliant souls who had put their faith in Jesus were anything but ignorant.

Soon the Vanaukens arrived at this conclusion:  “Christianity was a faith.”

“By now,” Sheldon wrote,” we knew that it was important.  If true – and we admitted to each other the possibility that it was – it was, very simply, the only really important truth in the world.  And if untrue, it was false.  No halfway house.  First or nothing.  I wrote (to C. S. Lewis), ‘It is not possible to be “incidentally a Christian.”  The fact of Christianity must be overwhelmingly first or nothing.  This suggests a reason for the dislike of Christians by nominal or non-Christians:  their lives contain no overwhelming firsts but many balances.’”

Once someone believes that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God, that belief must translate into a living faith – faith being the expression of belief in hard, practical terms.  The Bible says, “Faith without action is meaningless, or dead.”

True.  Faith is belief becoming actionable, and expressed through a changed life.

Think about it.

The Spiritual Journey – Rationale

One of my favorite books is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1977).  This former atheist wrote:

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians:  their joy, their certainty, their completeness.  But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians – when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.  But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them.  Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity – and possibly nowhere else.  If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order.” (page 85)

I will put it another way.  The reason many people do not believe that Christianity is true is because so many Christians are false.  There are people in this world who claim to be Christians, and call themselves Christians because they attend church … or because they might pastor a church. 

I am in no position to say who is and who isn’t a Christian … that is, a true follower of Jesus Christ.  I don’t know what is in anyone’s heart … not even my own, at times.

But I would like to offer up for discussion what I believe a true Christ-follower looks and sounds like, hoping my thoughts will lend something positive to the current debate about the impact of religion in the marketplace of human ideas and human institutions.

At this time I will not offer up a defense for the existence of God.  And at this time I will pose that Jesus Christ was not a liar or a lunatic; that He was who He claimed to be.  That is my starting point.

For one thing, I think a Christ-follower is rational.  To follow anyone, even Jesus Christ, the Son of God, blindly or carelessly or ignorantly is nothing short of ludicrous.  It is also dangerous.  That kind of followership invites cultist results.  God, the most supreme and extreme Intellect in the Universe, would not expect, much less demand, such a followership.  Committing intellectual suicide in order to “believe” in Him was never part of the deal.  In fact, Jesus Himself invited honest inquiry.  He entered into conversation with the intellectuals of His day, and challenged them with His claims.

Think about that.