Monday, November 9, 2009

Catching Up...

It has been quite a while since I've posted! There has been a lot going on with school and writing curriculum (which I'm making very s..l..o..w progress on) and trips to Ohio...I just haven't felt like I've had much to write about.

My brother Sam spent the summer with me in Missouri. His twin sister Sarah was supposed to come for the last part, but Sam and I decided to postpone returning to Ohio for the trade. Two weeks after we were supposed to go back and I was supposed to bring her to Missouri, on july 24, Sarah was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer...without treatment she would have had 2 to 4 weeks to live. However, she has the only kind of cancer that is treatable with chemotherapy at such a late stage, so praise the Lord, she is still alive and fighting! So I took Sam home in August and spent three weeks with them before I had to return for the start of the semester at AGTS.

On September 6, my uncle ended his own life, and I returned to Ohio for another three weeks for his funeral and to spend a little more time with my family. I feel almost guilty, but I have grieved only minimally for him...mostly I am just angry about that whole situation, and concerned for his children and my grandmother.

A third happening since my last post, and a much more positive one, has been that I have decided to visit China for a few weeks next summer! I'm working on getting my passport and visa and booking flights, etc....and I've also begun to study the language. (Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to progress very far in those studies because of the prevailing immediacy of my other studies.)

A couple of theological subjects I've been thinking about lately are from Deuteronomy 1:32 and 1 john 4:eighteen (my capital j and eight buttons are not working right now...).

The first, in Deuteronomy 1, is where Moses recounts to Israel how God delivered them from Egypt and kept them through the wilderness and brought them to the land He had promised to give them. He had delivered them with great miracles from 400 years of slavery, and He had led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a column of fire by night as they traversed the desert on their way to Canaan. He had provided food and protection for them on their journey. But when they got to the promised land and could SEE it right there, and God said "I've given it into your hand - just go possess it," they sent in spies to decide the best way to do just that. And when they saw that there were already people living there - giants, no less - they began to murmur and say, "Because the LORD hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us" (Deuteronomy 1:27).

After all the Lord had done for them, they doubted both Him and His motives. Essentially, they were comparing Him to humanity, and to the pagan gods of other nations. They did not believe that He had good plans for them and that He would keep His word to deliver the land to them.

This hit me hard - how often do I disobey (or hesitate to obey) God when I know He wants me to do something, because of fear? "In this thing I do not believe the LORD my God" (Deuteronomy 1:32). In this one thing I doubt that He is in control...I doubt that He really has my best interests at heart, and that He will be faithful to carry me through. How dare I compare Him to the untrustworthy people and gods that I've known? He is God. And He is good. And after all, I serve Him because I love Him, right? Then why not go all the way?!

My second thought is from 1 john 4:eighteen...and I did not realize until just now that these thoughts are related.... "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." I always assumed this verse meant that, because His love for me is perfect, I have no reason to fear. But I think it goes farther than that. His love for me is always perfect...yet I sometimes fear. The fact that I fear does not mean His love is not perfect...so it must mean that my love is not perfect. This encapsulates both my love for God and my love for others, because if I perfectly love God, then I also will love others - the two are inseparable.

There was a story of a little boy in the Florida Everglades who fell into the water and was grabbed by an alligator. His mother heard him screaming and came running and caught his arms just before he was taken under. She stayed right there and wrestled an alligator to save her son. He survived. When reporters visited him in the hospital, they inquired about the terrible scars the animal had left on his legs. The little boy replied that his favorite scars were the ones on his arms - left there because his mother wouldn't let go. Love had overcome any fear she might have had for that alligator.

Our love for God is evidenced through our obedience to Him (john 14:15). It thus goes to show that when fear keeps us from obeying God, our love for Him is not perfect.

God, help me to love You more perfectly, so that I will obey You more perfectly!

Friday, August 28, 2009

On Speaking in Tongues: A Response

This post is a response to a blog by a well-known author whom I greatly respect, and whose blog I very much like to follow. The post I am responding to does not change that. Karen Hancock is, in my opinion, a very insightful blogger and a tremendously talented Christian fiction author. The post to which I am responding can be found at this link: http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/2009/08/24/opposition/. In this posting, Ms. Hancock opposes the idea that speaking in tongues is a gift of the Spirit for the Church today.

First off, it seems from her description that (hopefully) well-meaning individuals attempted to "force" Ms. Hancock to accept speaking in tongues as legitimate and to seek this gift for herself. The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman; therefore, if tongues are of God, then they should not and cannot be forced on anyone. I believe these people's efforts were out of line and did not represent a rational view of those who believe speaking in tongues to be valid. I would like to attempt to do so here, without trying to persuade Ms. Hancock that she is wrong - I simply wish to demonstrate that 1) not all who believe in speaking in tongues are snake-handlers and/or irrational and uneducated lunatics, and 2) those who believe in speaking in tongues today do have a biblical basis for their belief. It all depends on one's interpretation of certain Scriptures.

If I had to guess which Scriptures Ms. Hancock referred to when she spoke of "extensive scriptural evidence" that tongues are not for today, I would say the key verse would be found in 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says, "Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away" (NASB). According to this verse, if tongues have ceased, then so has knowledge.

We should also note that this chapter is located between two chapters (1 Corinthians 12 and 14) that give instruction on operating in spiritual gifts, and chapter 12 closes with "...earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." Then the author, Paul, goes into an exhortation on love, and how everything is vain and meaningless without it. One might argue that Paul was saying the gifts of chapter 12 are not really necessary if one has love; but I would ask why he picked back up with his spiritual gifts instruction in chapter 14? Also, in chapter 14 verse 18 he said, "I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all." He obviously believed the gifts to be effectual and needed. He also believed they should be exercised in an orderly manner so that they could be effectual.

Ms. Hancock also made a comment about the orderly manner in which tongues and interpretation were to be exercised. She said one lady "offered to give the interpretation [of a message that same lady had just given in tongues] (in violation of protocol set up in the NT - it was supposed to be someone else who did that...." However, this is a mistaken understanding of the protocol. Paul in fact said, "Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret" (1 Corinthians 14:13). Not everyone who gives a message in tongues interprets that message - sometimes it is done by someone else; but it can be done (scripturally) by the person who gave the message in tongues.

One more thing in Ms. Hancock's post that I would like to respond to is that another lady told her that what tongues "did for her" was make her certain that she was saved. This is not the purpose of tongues. Neither should a person seek what Pentecostals and charismatics refer to as "the baptism in the Holy Spirit" just so they can speak in tongues. Tongues is the initial physical evidence that one has received that baptism. It is, of course, also more than that; and there are at least two different types of speaking in tongues (public and private), which both serve other purposes. I may post a separate blog on these purposes. But the purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is not to speak in other tongues; that is just a gift. The purpose of the baptism (which is comparable to an "overflowing" baptism in water) is power and boldness for witness, as declared in Acts 1:8 and demonstrated throughout the Book of Acts whenever anyone received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

[I would recommend a book to anyone who wants to know more, from an academic view about why Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues to always be the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is an examination of the five instances in Acts where the Spirit is poured out on people, and - bonus - it is only 65 pages long! It is Baptism in the Holy Spirit by Anthony D. Palma, and published by Gospel Publishing House.]

1 Corinthians 14:33 says, "for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." Oftentimes confusion comes in when people do not understand the workings of the Holy Spirit - by this I mean those who operate in the gifts of the Spirit (which is why they should always seek to grow in understanding, and why others should afford them grace while they learn); and also by those who are not familiar with the working of these gifts. But any true working of the Holy Spirit should be welcome by Christians who wish to receive all He wishes to give. My final statement is that a person is no less a Christian because he or she does or does not speak in tongues.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pain and Suffering and God

On July 24th I found out my 17-year-old sister, Sarah, has cancer. Shocking, horrible news. But I did not lose faith. My God is Healer; He is Faithful and Good. He remains these things whether or not He heals my sister. (However, we did get a little bit of good news after that - the kind of cancer she has is treatable with chemo even at this stage, and there is a good chance that the chemo will take care of everything.)

No, I did not lose my faith and confidence in God. But I did let myself get a somewhat grim outlook on life.

I began to think back on some things from earlier in my life. I have already lost a sibling to death, 11 years ago. A year before that, another little brother got his foot run over with a lawnmower while I was babysitting. Two years before that, the same brother burned our house down while I was babysitting.

Destruction. Divorce. Disease. Death.

I too often contemplate the meaning (or seeming lack thereof) of life; so all this dwelling on the hard things caused me to be even more negative - I couldn't understand why everyone wants to bring children into such a horrible world where they will suffer and hurt and then, eventually, die.

Last week I got to attend family camp in Ohio. Our morning speaker, Rev. Pat Wilson of Madisonville, Kentucky, spoke the first morning on how God created the universe, and how Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8)...he spoke on a lot of very profound things, but those things were a reminder to me and helped me to redirect my thoughts to a more balanced viewpoint.

God IS Good. God created everything and every human. He has good plans for and goodwill toward us (Jeremiah 29:11). Pain is not what God wants for us.

But He knew we would experience it. He knew we would fall from grace and choose our own way over His. He prepared for it and planned for Jesus to shed His blood for our redemption. He knew that sin and evil bring pain and suffering, and that we all would be afflicted because of the collective bad choices of humankind.

And He created us anyway.

Romans 8:28 tells us that God works all things together for good for those who love and obey Him. Pain and suffering are definitely present, and everyone experiences it. God blesses both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45); likewise, both "good" and "bad" people experience heartache and trouble, too. But pain and suffering do not change the fact that God's plans for us are good; and they do not affect His ability to work all things for our good.

God knew we would suffer. But He put us here anyway. And God is good, and so is His plan for us. This tells me that, even though I will hurt and I will suffer...it's going to be okay. God will redeem my pain and sorrow and use them for my good - somehow - and, whether things go the way I expect or not, everything is going to be okay. My good God is still in control.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Prepare the Way for the Lord

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite groups:

"Prepare Ye the Way" by Caedmon's Call

The Word of the Lord came one evening
Concerning His bride's great sin
He'd send down His Word to renew her
To prepare for the Bridegroom again

The Word said repent
From seeking vain glories
While the gifts in the Lord's name you give
Repent of all the first stones cast to kill
While your own self-righteousness lives

Prepare ye the way for the Lord
Prepare ye the way for the Kingdom
Prepare ye the way
Prepare ye the way for the Lord

The Word said repent
And turn from your strivings
Repent and turn from your hatred
Repent from the doctrines of men that divide
And fear like the wedding gown ripped

Walk in His love like newborn children
Walk in His love, let the wedding gown mend
Walk in His love, with humility come with pure hearts
And cast all your cares to the wind

The Word of the Lord came one evening
Concerning His bride's great sin
He assured me we will be forgiven
And then let the marriage begin

------------------------------------------------------------------------
I would define the word "repent" as follows: to set one's mind to change.

Matthew 3:1-3 says, "In those days [at the time when Jesus was entering the world scene] came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

If we want God to move in a place, we must first prepare the way for Him to do so, and the Bible says that the way we prepare the way for God is through repentance! We must repent of our sins and of our disobedience; we must repent for doing things our own way instead of His. We must set our mind to change, to be conformed to His will and His vision.

Furthermore, John the Baptist preached, "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). Don't just set your mind; act on it! Begin to do things God's way. Begin to move toward whatever it is that God has revealed to be His will, His direction. When we do so, He will be inclined to MOVE, because the way will be prepared for Him!

I want God to move. I HAVE to have Him do something through my life that will bring Him glory - it is the only reason I live!

God, I repent! I choose to change - I choose to pursue Your pathway passionately! Help me to do it!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Some Deep, Theological Thoughts on the Trinity...

While the rest of the U.S. is asleep, I am thinking about the Holy Trinity. So, I decided to blog about my thoughts.

It is my nature to try to understand things. While I know I will never fully comprehend God, it does not stop me from trying!

So first, I was contemplating the Trinity in this way (keep in mind there are flaws to this thinking, which I will explain afterward):

Because we as Christians claim that our Trinitarian God is One (and we are monotheistic)...we begin all our thoughts on the Godhead with the person of the Father - the God who first revealed Himself to the Jews and their patriarchs. We know that this God revealed Himself more personally to the world through the man, Jesus Christ. In fact, we believe that Jesus was (and is) God, incarnate (in human flesh). Hebrews tells us that He (Jesus), having lived a human life, among humans, within the constraints of human time and the natural laws of physicality, can identify with the human situation in all of its details.

So I was thinking about the Person of Jesus, the Son, as a "measure" of God (that He took from Himself without detracting from Himself, as a representative measure of the whole of Himself), that He made to become human; then, after this measure of the immortal Person who is Life willingly lived a mortal life and then laid it down and experienced human death, (He) returned to the "rest" of God and the experience became incorporated into who the one God (whom we call the Father) is.

I was thinking about the Person of the Holy Spirit as the life-force - the personality, the will, the character, the power - of God. He gives us of this Holy Spirit, so that we then become "infused", if you will, with His character, power, etc. In this way, the Holy Spirit could be imagined as, not a separate "God", but as the substance of the One God.

In this way, the Scripture at Jesus' baptism (where the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of God is heard to declare, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased") could be understood as God telling us that His human...subidentity?...is our perfect example for living in obedience to Him, the image of a son being what He wants for all His creation - to receive of His Spirit (the Spirit of adoption - Romans 8) and live in familiar relationship with Him.

It could explain other Scripture references to the Three Persons as well, without harming them...but it could NOT explain the Scripture in Genesis where God says, "Let US make man in OUR image."

So then, all my deep theological thoughts were shattered and I was back to square one.

I could have lived with the idea that the contemporary emphasis on divine community was wrong - after all, it could be just a nice, fuzzy-feeling "charismatic" hype.... But alas, it holds its own before my critical scrutiny. The divine Trinity does indeed seem to live in perfect community and actual relationship with each other. And this being so, though there are three Persons to this Godhead worshiped by Christians, these Persons are so united in purpose, in will, in love, in...everything...that They cannot but be described as "One".

And so, the idea is that, in order to reflect the God in whose image we are made, we as humans are to live in such oneness with each other.

But because of sin, this is impossible.

So, what are we left with? Is there no hope for godly community amongst us?

I believe there is hope. But the hope is not in us being "one" with each other. It is in us being "one" with God. When I become one in will, purpose, love, etc., with God...and so do you...then we will live in community with each other that reflects God rightly.

I guess my whole point is, rather than try to right everything that is wrong with everyone else, we as Christians need to focus on our own individual relationships with God. When they are perfect, then our relationships with each other are more likely to veer more near to perfection.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nothing Shall Separate Us From the Love of God in Christ

Psalm 68:6 says that "God setteth the solitary in families...."

Just a few brief thoughts on that...

It has been a joy and a comfort to experience this promise in my own life. When I lived in Ohio, I moved in with my pastors when I was 18, two years after my brother had committed suicide - I was a depressed, grieving, lonely teenager who needed love from people who were not dealing with the same intense loss I was dealing with (i.e., my family). God gave me that in these pastors and their children. I had only known them for a brief time; I don't even remember exactly how the transition was made; I just know that that living situation was an influential shaping experience in my life. God set the solitary in a family.

Then I moved to Missouri where I knew no one; and again, I have experienced people who owe me nothing, taking me in and making me part of them. I spend holidays with these people, I keep their children overnight, I vacation with them - I live life with them. And also again, these people are my Christian brothers and sisters.

I just found out through Facebook that a couple I knew in Ohio (who are pastors at another church) just recently decided mutually with a young man and his family to accept him in a covenant relationship as their son. They agreed that "nobody can back out- we are family now- not by law or blood but by love- just like our blood families and just like our friendships." I RESPECT AND APPRECIATE THAT SO MUCH!! Because I have experienced the wonderful restoration, healing and growth such a relationship can bring.

I am simply amazed at the love of God, and at how His love flows and functions through His people, so that we really, truly become FAMILY. I believe Jesus' blood makes for stronger ties between people than the blood that actually flows through our very veins. What an inheritance! What a great gift that we have received the "Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). Indeed, we are loved!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Twitter and Torture

A few weeks ago I had a discussion with someone on Twitter about whether or not President Bush should be prosecuted for his role in Guantanamo. My stance was "no" and my friend's stance was "yes". I have been rethinking my general opinion of it ever since.

The fact that terrorists were tortured with the intent of gaining information from them does not trouble me. I "get it" that people who are willing to absolutely sacrifice themselves - go down with the ship and take as many people (often Americans) with them as possible - are not going to willingly offer up helpful information in an American court. There seems to me to be no other way of getting any information from these people who obviously could give us a little.

However, that said, it does bother me that those who administered torture to the prisoners at Gitmo in many cases seem to have actually enjoyed doing it! Even if a person "deserves" it (in one's opinion), it is NEVER justifiable that any human being could delight in the destruction and torment of another. It is inhuman - it goes against what it means to be human and share the other person's experience of being human.

I do also believe there is a time and place for the death penalty, and many (if not all) of those who were detained at Guantanamo deserve it (in my opinion). And for the sentencing, yes, I believe they should be tried in an American court of law with due process.

Finally, my opinion has not changed regarding President Bush: I do not believe he should be prosecuted for his role in the proceedings at Guantanamo. Like I said at the beginning - there just seems to be no other way to get needed and potentially (definitely) available information from people who are willing to die not to give it. It is the meanness and general vindictiveness of the guards and administrators of the torture that I think needs to be examined/prosecuted.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living by the Word of God

Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."

The "Word of God" is living, powerful, eternal and invisible. God saw fit to provide us with a readable version of His Word in the Bible, but the Word of God is not contained within the binding of any book. All the Bibles in the world could be destroyed, and God's Word would not be affected in the least - it would still stand, still exist and still be true.

We call the Bible "God's Word," and it is. But God's Word is not limited to just what is printed in the Bible. Sometimes God speaks into our current situation in life. Throughout the Bible we can read of individuals who besought God on their own behalf or on the behalf of someone else, to change His mind about something He had decided, or else to otherwise intervene to keep things from happening as they seemed decided to happen. For instance, Abraham intervened for Sodom and Gomorrah, that God would not destroy them for the sake of the righteous individuals who lived there. And God relented to Abraham - He said if He found even 10 righteous people there, He would not destroy the cities (Genesis 18:32).

Moses intervened for Israel when God was angry, that God would not destroy them. God did not destroy them. And in the New Testament, various people came to Jesus to ask Him to intervene for their loved ones - to heal them of their diseases or raise them from the dead. And He did.

God still speaks to our situations today. Hebrews 4:15 says, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." This passage in Hebrews chapter 4 tells us that Jesus became human and can identify with our human situation. Verse 16 encourages us to approach Him when we have needs - it specifically talks about temptations, and says He will help us in our times of need. But James 1:2, 3 also talks about temptations - daily situations in which we have a decision to make: whether to act or react according to God's will or according to our own will. These are "temptations" that come our way every moment of every day, and some of these trials are more difficult than others. When this kind of trial/temptation comes our way, Hebrews 4 tells us to call on the Lord and trust Him to speak His Word into our situation!

We as Christians need to live in relationship with the Lord so that we know what is on His heart and mind - we have to know what His Word is for our situation or we cannot declare or profess it in our lives. I'm not saying "name it and claim it" - I'm saying that we have to know God's Word - written and otherwise - so that we can actively establish His Word in our lives as we live from day to day and from situation to situation.

Let us live as confident citizens of His Kingdom!

"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (We will declare it on earth to be so as You have spoken it to be in heaven!)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just A Brief Thought

I find it interesting how, no matter where you go or with whom you talk, God always seems to speak the same message until you "get it". I was in Ohio for the last 3 weeks, and attended church there several times, plus a couple of Bible studies, and even preached myself a couple of times. Then I got back to Joplin and my pastor preached on the same things Sunday, and today we spent the day at the same little Memorial Day get-together, and talked about the SAME THINGS some more. It's like several different aspects of a single subject come to light over a period of time. God must have a message for this time that He wants His people to know. I've recognized this pattern in the past, too - God will speak something to me while I'm studying or praying, and pretty soon I'll hear other people start preaching on the same thing. I love it how God's Spirit is a unifying force in His Church, leading people to the same truth at the same time, even though they seem to be disconnected by space. I just find it fascinating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Do I Believe?

My 17-year-old sister (who doesn't know I have a blog, and no one who reads my blog knows her) has told me recently that church "isn't her thing". This saddens me, and causes me to wonder if I have been the best example to her of real Christianity that I can be.

No, I haven't.

I had a small chance to redeem that tonight on the phone with her. I forget exactly how we got on the topic, but I shared with her why I serve God. Basically, I described to her how life without Christ is meaningless - I don't see the point of living and dying if there is not more to come. Why get up every morning and work my whole life...collect things...and then die and it all goes to someone else, and that's the end of me? What's the point?

The point is, I find purpose in Jesus Christ.

That is not the only reason I serve Him or believe in Him, but it is a major one.

I also told my sister that in recent months I have done some stupid things (that she knows about), riding the fence and not seeming to take my faith seriously. I was wrong for that. I know there is more to this Christian life than just reading theological books and learning more about God. It is possible to know Him!!

I believe God still heals. He still raises the dead. He still makes everyday life worth living. It's time I get my priorities straight and put forth an effort to draw near to Him again.

This life can be powerful, and I will not be happy until I experience that.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Why the Name?

Refractions are reflections of light (though usually imperfect); reflections are thoughts. In these posts I will share my thoughts, always keeping in mind that what I post is a reflection of Jesus Christ, the One who has completely and utterly redeemed my life from meaningless existence. Thanks for checking out my blog!