Thursday, April 27, 2017

Let's Talk Satan

I want to take some posts to talk about the realities of evil and it's manifestations. Specifically, Satan, demons, death and hell. There are so many misconceptions flying around out there. This is one topic that we have borrowed more from Pagans that we actually get from the Bible. We have taken from the Roman paganism and superimposed it on the devil, and it's not accurate. I want to tackle some quick issues about Satan, who he really is and how we can learn more about him. Let's not be fooled by our adversary.

First, we need to understand that much of what we think about Satan comes from Roman/Greek gods. Pluto or Hades is the lord of the underworld in Greco-Roman Mythology. He lives in Hades and rules in Hades. He is in control of the dead, he punishes the wicked. He is a god, brother of Zeus, part of the pantheon of gods. Much of what we think about Satan is really true of Pluto. For example, Pluto or Hades is an equal with Zeus or Jupiter. They are opposites and often in conflict but both gods. Satan is not God's opposite. Satan is a created being, the highest of the angels who was cast out of heaven. Satan is not comparable with God is anyway, shape or form. There is no comparison, it's like comparing the queen of an ant hill to the Secretary of Defense. Sure, an ant can bite a solder on the ankle, cause some pain to the troops in the field, but an ant hill can't destroy the pentagon. Satan has no power next to God.

Next, Satan does not rule hell. In fact, he is not even in hell. I am going to discuss hell in much greater detail in my next post, so stay tuned for that. Understand that hell was created as a place of punishment for the devil to be punished in for eternity. He isn't in control there. God is in control of hell. Matthew 25:41 says that the eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. That is not for him to rule over or control, it's a place for him to be tormented. Hell is the eternal maximum security prison, and Satan is the worst convict, not the warden.

The reality is the Satan is on the earth, and 1 Peter 5:8 says he is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He isn't sitting in hell, he is on the earth, waging war against the people of God. Spiritual war is active, the flaming darts of the devil that are spoken of in Ephesians are being used. Satan uses tricks and schemes against the people of God in an effort to destroy us, our families and our churches. Not only that, but a third of heaven fell with Satan, giving him a vast number of demons at his bidding. They are at work in the world. Satan is called the prince of the power of the air, and prince of this world. He is running the show on earth, man lost control when he sinned. Satan runs the show, but only as much as God allows. Remember, he is still just an ant.

Next time you hear someone talking about the devil and the powers of hell, know that isn't Biblical, it's pagan. The devil isn't in hell, he isn't waiting for you to die to try to take you to hell. He is on the earth, trying to destroy you right now, so be aware and be vigiant. Remember, the struggle is real.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Experiencing Brokenness

I need to start with a few disclaimers. This is not an attempt to get sympathy. I'm not writing about my problems and issues so you will feel sorry for me, but so I can talk through them and maybe we can reason about them together, or maybe to help you in our own struggles. I don't think Paul wrote his list of struggles in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 to get sympathy. That's not my goal either. Second, I am not looking for advice. I have talked to many wise individuals, please don't post your pop-psychology, self help, introspective counseling on my blog or Facebook or twitter. I get enough of it as it is, so let's fellowship together, pray, rejoice and struggle without trying to fix me.

I feel pretty broken, we will discuss in a minute if that is a good or bad thing, but I want to start with what got me to this point. I struggled a lot as a young man with depression, something that has continued. I lost my parents to cancer when I was in college, I made it through. I had a dream to work in church ministry, I dream that came true and then went away, and for now my dream is lost. I have had more losses than wins in most areas of my life, and now at the age of 40, I have gone through numerous surgeries for my GI system and back. I am currently experiencing some unexplained hypoglycemia and physical problems that can't seem to be explained.

Now not all of life is bad, I still have my wife and kids and I love my family. I have struggled to support them with the back surgeries and being down. My academic focus was always ministry, and with that gone, it's been a struggle to provide. I attempt to take hold of various opportunities, but I'm often rejected. Books and articles unpublished, the letter in the mail that says "we have gone with another candidate, you are just not what we are looking for right now".

I am willing to accept the possibility that the problem is me. The health issues may be I didn't take care of myself, the loss of dream and the inability to get back into a good position may be that I'm pretty horrible. I may lack the appropriate amounts of intelligence, grace, strength and ability to achieve anything close to what I'm attempting. I may stink as a writer, teacher, theologian, coach, pastor, and I may generally be a worthless individual. I am willing to accept that as a possibility.

My real struggle comes, if this is who I am, if I am just not good enough for my dreams, why can't I give them up? Ministry has been my life goal since I had a life goal. It wasn't my plan B, it wasn't something I would do after I did these other things. I don't have another goal or hope or plan or dream or calling. I didn't decide later in life to pursue this path, I started on this path and it's gone. It's more than I just am not in vocational ministry either, I can't even give my service away. Maybe my views are too archaic or radically. Maybe my theology is too out there, or maybe I'm so bad and worth so little, people don't want me messing up their stuff. I do admit I have some strong opinions. I believe a church should be reaching people, planting churches and doing ministry. I believe a church should be connected and people should value and invest in one another. Maybe I am too opinionated.

Here are my questions, feel free to share your thoughts. What am I doing wrong? What are my blind spots that are causing me to be so undesired and unusable? I know I shouldn't seek happiness, that I need to seek God, but I'm really tired of being unhappy. I want to be happy. I have expressed that before and been condemned, that I just need to be happy with where I am and what I have. How can I do that? How can I make the dreams and desires of my heart go away so I don't long for them anymore and can just be happy with where I am and what I'm doing? With all the tensions pulling, making sure I do what is right, what is best for my wife and kids, making an income so we can afford to live, doing the things I have to do, need to do and I'm suppose to do, how can I just let go of everything that I long for and just live with what I've got?

I'm starting in Matthew 5:3-11. Specifically 3 and 4. Blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn. I'm looking at Psalms 51:17, a broken spirit and broken and contrite heart. I am guessing that since I cannot seem to be unbroken, that maybe I need to be broken. Maybe I am in this season for a purpose. I will admit, I don't like it. I feel rejected, I feel empty and I hurt in lots of ways. I struggle with anger and discouragement and sometimes I feel hopeless. I ask my soul "why are you cast down (Psalms 43:5) and I tell myself to Hope in God. It's a struggle, I don't like being broken, I want to be happy and feel like I am serving. I pray it's just a season. If you are in the same season, I'd love to hear from you. If you would like to give me an honest answer to my questions, I would love to hear from you. If you want to fix me and tell me how to be better, well you can share it. Know I probably won't give it much thought, I believe that you have to walk with someone to be able to speak truth in their lives. If we don't want together, you probably won't be much help. Thanks everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

When They Need Help

Let's be honest for a second, the world stinks at helping. It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing when you need someone to come alongside you and help you out, you get crickets. People don't line up to help, especially when it's not something interesting.  I'm not explaining this well, so let's back up. If you suffer from depression, from anxiety, from a physical disability or have pain, it's hard to get people to really understand where you are and how you feel. We live in such a performance-driven world, driven by the bottom line that often we get too busy, we don't have time or energy to help out those who need a leg up. It's a sad state of affairs, and I'm writing today so maybe we can all get a better perspective.

Has someone ever disappointed you by not getting things done? Something fell through, they missed the boat, dropped the ball? Did you ask if they needed help? Did you ask if everything is alright? I know, if they needed help, they should have asked for it, but how easy is it in this culture and this environment to ask for help? How often do you ask for help when you need it? It can be hard and we are expected to perform at our highest levels all the time.

Now I'm not advocating that we let people get lazy and slide by, I'm not saying we don't expect greatness from people. What I am saying is, maybe it's time we put the person before the task. Maybe it's time we take care of each other. We ask if we can help, we come along side of people, we stop getting angry and offended and upset and we start getting personal. We become helpful. We live in a society, in a world where everyone is damaged, everyone has been hurt. You have been hurt and you have felt like you weren't important at some point. Take that memory and use it to help others, not abuse your own authority.

The only thing in this world that will last for eternity are the souls of each person. If we cast aside the eternal for the things that fade away, we are acting foolishly.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Get Out Of the Past, You Don't Live There!

I remember years ago I was listening to a speaker, who kept repeating that he spent 25 years doing something. About the third time he said it, I turned to my friend and said "If I ever say 'after 25 years of....' anything, you punch me in the face". We live in a day and age that we are all about the experiences and what we have done. We love to tell stories of how things use to be. I worked in a warehouse that had slowed down business wise considerable over the years. Every day one of the older guys would tell us how is use to be. They would tell us about the days is was busy and the lines stretched out the door.

We like to live in the past, we like to set our identities on what we have done or accomplished. The problem is one of two things usually happens. Either we get so caught up thinking about the good ol days that we become despondent thinking about it, or we begin to remember all the negative things that happen and get discouraged. The glory days and the dark times that are both behind us share one thing in common. They are behind us and past us.

Philippians 3:12-15, Paul writes: Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. 15 Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. (CSB)

Paul remembered his past, he was a super Hebrew, a religious elite. When Christ saved him, he became someone different, and forgot about his past. Paul may have spent 20 to 30 years becoming that person, but in an instant, he became a different person. He became a follower of Christ, a new creation.

The person you are becoming is more than the person you have been. Who you have been, what you spent your life doing isn't important because it's not about you. It's about Christ. It doesn't matter what school you went too, what sport you played, what your career was but it matters what Christ is doing in you. All the things you have done and have achieved are nothing compared to what Christ has done, is doing and will do in you. Let's keep our eyes on where we are going, not where we have been.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why You Should Never Disagree with a Millennial on Facebook

The title is a little bit of a tease because it was inspired by a conversation I had with a young "evangelist". He posted that men should never wear hats based on Paul's teaching. I challenged him that is goes beyond not wearing a hat and he needed to do some study and dig in and find the deeper meaning. He freaked out at me, told me I was non Biblical to say it's ok to pray/be in church with a hat. I never said anything of the sort, I just said there is more too it that simply wearing a hat. I remove my hat when I pray, but the scripture is talking about so much more than just if there is something on my head.

The deeper issue is not if we are a millennial or if we win arguments on Facebook. It's about teachability. Are we open to correction of others, or do we insist we are always right? I will be the first to admit that I don't like to be wrong. I don't like to be corrected or rebuked, but I do everything I can to be totally open about the correction. No one really wants to find out they are wrong, but I would rather be corrected and learn the truth than live believing something incorrect.

I do need to book end this idea, just because you point out something you think I am wrong about doesn't mean I'm going to agree with you. I'm still a Calvinist, even though plenty of people have disagreed with me. What they have done is made me really examine what I believe and look deep in the scriptures. I have examined "whosoever" and looked at "for the sins of the whole world" and it's really helped me to hone my beliefs. Still a Calvinist.

In my faith journey, I am constantly listening, studying and growing. I may learn something tomorrow that changes who I am today. I am striving to be open and teachable and to really get to the depths of what the Bible teaches, knowing I'll never get to the bottom. Let's continue to study and learn and grow, and be open to rebuke and instruction. Don't be a Facebook Millennial, even if you are. I'm kidding. . . .sort of. I do love you guy.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Why God Doesn't Always Heal Us

I wrote a post about my depression, and received some great feedback. Thanks to everyone who posted on my various pages, you are all awesome. Thanks so much for the prayers, I need them. During the comments and conversation (and a few after) I have been asked and/or told that God can heal, does heal and even that He always heals. Some have told me that it's always God's will to heal us and if we are not healed, it's because we haven't asked in sufficient faith. The question is asked by many who are not healed or have loved ones that are not healed, why weren't they healed?  Why does God let His children suffer?

It's a hard question and one we have probably all wrestled with, after all if I saw one of my children suffering, I would make sure it stopped and they were healed, wouldn't it? Maybe not. WAIT, before you called Child Protective Services, let's discuss it. Why would any parents who loves their kids allow them to suffer. If I love my kids, then I will never let them suffer, right? If they are suffering and I do nothing, then I either lack the ability to stop it, or I don't really love them. That is the assumption, but it's wrong. Any of you who have been a parent know this is wrong. Sometimes our kids need to suffer, because it's what is best for them.

The risk of starting a conversation that has nothing to do with my point, vaccines are given to kids to help them. Needles suck and sometimes it makes their arms or legs sore for a while. I don't for a single second think it gives kids autism, please save those comments for another page. Getting a shot it not enjoyable for my kids, but they all get them. Partially because it's required to go to school, but partially because I know what polio, smallpoxs and measles does to people. Growing up, my next door neighbor had issues with his legs and hips because of polio as a child. People die from diseases that we prevent. A small child doesn't understand the risk, they just know that shots are bad and they don't want them.

I admit that immunizations are an incomplete example, since they are intended to prevent illness and ultimately death, and we are talking about God allowing those things. I understand, I watched my parents get cancer, suffer greatly and die. I have asked the questions about healing. My own physical issues have been a problem, but not life threatening, but I still ask why I'm not healed. Why do my legs and back and knee hurt every day? Why hasn't God just fixed it, people are praying for me. My depression isn't healed, and there are lots of people praying. Why doesn't He just heal me?

He might. He could and He may choose to do so. I may write these posts and people pray and God moves in a mighty way, I'm healed and I give Him the glory and people glorify God and believe. We see that in the Bible, people God healed and people praised God and believed in Jesus. We also see people get healed and the leaders decide to put Jesus to death because He healed on the Sabbath. We see Jesus do miracles and people either want Him to do more, or they hate Him for it. Maybe the reason that God doesn't do all the things we ask Him is because we begin to think of Him as just the providers of Miracles. We begin to think about the Disney version of Jesus, who sings a song, birds fly around and all our dreams come true. That is a problem, and it's a reality, but I don't think it's the primary reason we aren't healed. I don't think it's our attitude or lack of faith, I don't think it's because God is punishing us or because He doesn't care.  I think it's because He loves us enough to do what is best.

To really explain this, we need to take a trip back to my childhood. When I was a kid, there was these books that I loved. They were called "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Remember those? In the books, you made a choice and based on your choice, you got to choose which page to turn too. Depending on what you choose, it changed the outcome of the book. Some of the choices ended in glorious victory, and some in painful and agonizing defeat. If you were like me, you read the book through once, then checked out all the outcomes and then made the choice that led to the glorious victory. Yes, that's cheating, but no one likes to fail. The tricky part about these books is often the choice that seems best will lead to disaster. I'm not sure what they were trying to teach us, but the risky moves often paid off. They always kept us guessing.

What if you could live your life like a choose your own adventure book. The reality is that God sort of does that. God sees all your life, beginning, middle and end so He can make the choice that is best. The choice that is going to be what is the best for your life. The problem comes when we assume that we know what is best for our lives. For example, I could say it would be much better for me if my parents lived, grew old and died at an old age, getting to see my graduate college and seminary, get married and they could meet my kids. That makes sense, that seems like the best plan. God saw the outcome of that plan, He knew what I would be like and the choices I would make if that were my future. It was a better outcome for everyone for them to have cancer and die. The road that I took because of that event shaped my life in a way that it was best for everyone.

That is a hard pill to swallow when faced with despair and tragedy, I understand. I have lost family members and friends, I have seen horrible suffering and pain. How can it benefit a family when they lose a child, when a baby dies, when pain won't stop and when people lose everything? I don't know, but God does. In this sinful, evil, and dark world, sometimes the path that gets us where we need to be is dark and horrible. It can be painful. We also self inflict a lot of pain on ourselves. If you smoke for 30 years, you probably shouldn't shake your fists at the heavens when you get lung cancer. If you get into relationships with people who make bad choices, you can't blame God when those bad choices come back to cause you pain. Sometimes bad things happen because we make bad choices. The glorious part is God still uses those to bring us to a good place. Even our bad choices can be used by God to bring blessing.

To bring it back full circle, God hasn't healed my depression yet because I need it to get where it's best for me to be. The best thing for me right now is to suffer and trust that God has a purpose for my suffering. I don't know what it is, and I don't know what He is doing, and I may never know. I will never know what lies down the other road, but it doesn't matter, because this is the road I'm on. I have to trust the destination, knowing the end will be the best of all available ends.

By the way, this is a theological doctrine called the Best of All Possible Worlds, and I like it. Props to John Piper.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Perfect Relationship and Other Arm Chair Grandeur

I was a romantic growing up. I longed to be in love, and I started having crushes that went way to deep, way too early. Combine that with the fact I was a bit of a loser when it came to love, and it makes for some really, really bad poetry. I remember my first crush. I swore I was so in love with her. I'm not going to tell you who it is, but I will tell you that I could drive you to her house and I can still tell you her phone number. I'm hopeless I tell you. I had a crush on this girl for most of elementary and middle school. Never even asked her out. Like I said, I was a loser when it came to love. In High School, I had a new love and no, I'm still not going to tell you who it is. I did actually have the guts to call and ask her out. She very sweetly shot me down after telling me to hold on for like 5 minutes.

Now you have to understand the era in which I grew up. My kids would never understand the complication that was calling a girl up. We didn't have smart phones and social media and all that fun stuff. We had a phone that was attached to the wall by a cord. There was no caller id, and no way to know who would actually answer the phone. You would dial the number, it would ring and you would be required to keep up your nerve until someone answered. Most of the time, you chickened out and hung up. There was no *69 back then, no caller id so you were safe. Why do you think I still know that girls phone number! I probably dialed it thousands of times, often to hang up before I even finished dialing. Ya, I know, loser.

I was always convinced I was going to be the worlds greatest boyfriend/fiancĂ©/husband. The greatest. Ever. I was going to be thoughtful and romantic and caring and take care of everything and my girlfriend/fiancĂ©/wife would be the happiest ever. I was going to be the greatest in the world. I care now safely say that I am the greatest husband my wife has ever had. I'm also the worst, so there's that. You see, when I thought I would be the best, it was when I didn't have a girlfriend. I thought I would be the best in the world before I was in a relationship. It's easy to think you are the best at something that you can idealize, but have never done. It's like that in a lot of areas. Take Superbowl XLIX, Seahawk have the ball on the 5, they need a touchdown to win. They just need to give it to Marshawn Lynch to go into beast mode, he runs for the TD, they win. Instead, they pass and in unbelievable fashion that only the Patriots can manage, Wilson is intercepted on the goal line and the Pats win. Everyone says "they should have run the ball with Lynch". They probably wish they had, but we had nothing on the line. Maybe the coaching staff knew something we didn't. Maybe Lynch was hurting, maybe the line was too warn down. Maybe it's just the fact that everyone in the world knew that was the best option and they were trying to catch the Patriots off guard and it simply blew up in their face. My point is, everyone seems to know the right answer until it's you on the 5 yard line.

It's easy to be perfect at something you've never done. I can tell you that almost 20 years of marriage and I'm not the perfect guy I thought I would be. I try and I do ok most of the time. I work harder at making my wife happy than I do at almost anything else, but it's never as easy as you think it's going to be. There is always downs to go with the ups, and for every win, there is the interception on the goal line. Sometimes it's even more like a 2nd half Atlanta Falcons game. Ya, I said it. You know you where already thinking in. For those of you who don't want football. . . you probably still know what I'm talking about.

The question is, if it's not as easy as we think and we aren't perfect, what do we do? Should we give up? The answer of course is no way. You can the Tom Brady of your marriage. Ok, I'll stop with the football stuff. The reality is, no one can be better at your marriage than you are. No one can be a better parent to your kids than you are. No one can be a better you than you are. So let's focus on being you in a way that is successful. Don't worry about being perfect, you already aren't. So let's just move forward.

What to improve your relationship, your job, your life at home? First, just establish that this is it. This is it, I'm here. Now, things like your job can change but, but until they do, here you are. You may be looking for a new job or changing careers or moving, but for now, this is it. As far as your marriage goes, erase the word divorce unless there is something unsafe, threatening to your life and safety. If things are just rocky, time to suck it up butter cup. Change that perspective, this is it. The one you married, they are the one and that's it. Your kids? No getting rid of them now, they are yours. Your life is the one you have. So, let's look at it as being it. No getting out now, time to fix what we got.

Next step is realize the problem is everyone's problem. A problem in the marriage hurts the whole family. Problems between a child and parent or between children causes problems through out. We are connected and when something causes a problem, it causes a problem or everyone. I am a firm believer the best thing I can do for my kids is love their mother well. I need to demonstrate what a good husband looks like to my kids. They need to see love and compassion and selflessness. When there is issues and problems, it often is multiplied through the generations. Kids usually pick up the bad habits from their parents. It may be a lot of pressure, but that's called adulthood. We need to get it right to give those who come behind us a chance.

Lastly, you gotta have some grace for everybody. You need to forgive them, you need to forgive yourself. Things are going to go bad sometimes. You'll fight, you'll drive each other crazy, mistakes will be made. Money will get tight and nights will get long and the baby will cry every time you get in the car. Things will be hard and stressful and there will be problems. You need to have grace. Sometimes little things will turn into big things. Those big things will become huge and major things and the majority of our American culture will tell you to call it quits and walk away. You don't have too, you can have grace and you can forgive. If Jesus forgives us, then we can forgive others. He told us too, since we gotta do it anyway, make the best of it and make your relationship better. Make it great.

I hope today you have been encouraged, at least you should feel better about your love life. I prayer for you is that you give grace, receive grace, and share grace. It's the most freeing thing in the world, an it can make your relationships much better. Not perfect, but a lot better.