Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ready Or Not?

(Acts 16:22) And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat them with rods.  (16:23) And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:  (16:24) who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.  (16:25) But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns unto God, and the prisoners were listening to them;  (16:26) and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison-house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.  

Lately I’ve noticed a recurring Word out in the blogosphere being spoken specifically to those who can/will hear. It began as a gentle appeal from the true faithful to the Body to abandon apostate teaching, refuting the false doctrine that declares if one believes in the doctrine then one gets to be spared tribulation. But now that the call to come out is growing with a new urgency, louder and stronger than ever before, the question is begged, for those of us who have long ago left the feel good false doctrine behind, are we really ready? Do we  honestly understand what is imminent? Is the concept of tribulation just a vague discomforting idea of general mayhem?

The first century Christians knew what to expect. First Jesus and then the Apostles told them they would suffer for His sake. And, in fact, Christians have been suffering because of their faith for two thousand years. The recent brutal murders of Christians in Pakistan and Kenya is a stark reminder for Christians everywhere that satan is not yet done.  But, however bad it is now, what must come promises to get decidedly worse before it gets better.

I readily admit that I struggle with being able to define this and how it will impact me and mine probably because by the world’s standards I have lived a soft life in America. Sure, I’ve had my occasional share of character building strife. I’ve had to roll pennies so I could buy a box of mac ‘n cheese and a can of green beans to feed my kids dinner. I’ve laid awake at night stiff with anxiety wondering how I would pay my bills or just get through the next day. I’ve done without, I’ve made do and I’ve made bad choices that came around to bite me. But I have never feared that I would be attacked by masked men with machetes and military weapons. I’ve never been tortured and jailed for not recanting my faith. I’ve never had my children taken from me because I wanted to homeschool them. I’ve never been shopping in a mall one minute and hiding from terrorists the next. 

I’ve never been in shackles riding in a railroad car to an unknown destination and fate because of my religion.

If current event reports seem far away and not relevant to our daily lives we ought to know that, in this advancing evil age, anything is possible now. Anything. We can shore ourselves up with our examples Paul and Silas who knew all manner of tribulation, pain and sorrow and yet chose to preach to the other prisoners and sing hymns of praise after being beaten and chained in a dank prison cell. But saying we would do the same is a tad bit easier said than done. 

So, for those of you who believe you are ready for tribulation just because you have rejected the left behind fiction, do you understand all the ways we can be tried? Do you know that sometimes tribulation begins within your own household or workplace? Sometimes we are tested and sifted to see if we can stand in ways we aren’t prepared for. 

I have been saying over and over again that we are in the ‘get it or don’t’ era but now I believe we have progressed into the ‘be prepared’ phase. Dearhearts, there is only one way to be prepared for what is about to unfold before us–we must be ever at the ready to listen, trust and obey. Sometimes we are called to action sometimes we are told to endure with grace. Whatever our faith requires of us often seems more than we can bear, but we hold on anyway because faith is not just a good sounding word, it’s a lifeline. 

We are given opportunities to practice unwavering faith in the small troubles, so that we can not only stand but be shining examples, like Paul and Silas, in the big Trouble.

For Christ,

Jeremiah 33:3 - Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great things, and difficult, which thou knowest not.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Parable of the Pin Oak and the Pines

At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me…Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. (II Timothy 4:16, 17) 

When you live in a rural setting you cannot escape existing in a symbiotic relationship with God’s natural creation. Sometimes, in this state of being, you can visualize through an artist’s eye. Rerouted brainwaves shimmer across the invisible borderline between what is real and what is only perceived in the brief transition from the tangible to the imagined. 

In this condition of altered frame of mind I considered the analogy of the pin oak and the pines. 

Although she stands tall she is still dwarfed by the leggy pines surrounding her, clearly out of place in her spot, regardless she endures with stoic grace adeptly concealing the discomfort of her circumstances. If she feels odd she refuses to show it. Clinging tenaciously to her dry coppery leaves until new buds push them and warm spring winds sweep them away, the pin oak is so unlike the other trees around her she is an easy target for criticism and rebuke for no other reason than she doesn’t look like or do as the majority does. 

A lone pin oak in a stand of pines knows well what it’s like to be, at the same time, both invisible and yet excruciatingly visible. One could lecture the pines on the futility of mistaking the will of the majority as the will of God if it were possible that they could be open to input. But pines, for all their majestic height, are somewhat shallow rooted and can only see from their lofty vantage point where everything is just a sea of green. Anything other than the sharp verdant needles they share and are familiar with is considered irrelevant and inconsequential, and possibly heretical.

Nevertheless, the pin oak continues in her resolve and in her own way and standing her ground she doesn’t seem to mind being the short deciduous tramp amongst the evergreens, the odd one out, the one who does things differently in spite of disdainful looks and rushing whispers above her. Perhaps she has learned what the pines can never grasp in their staid comfort and blind acceptance of their established standards. A pity actually–the pines are completely unaware they are handicapped by their own self-righteous myopathy. How can they see from their remote heights that profundity was never born in status quo, never realized without risk of rejection and resistance? In their determination to disregard anything that challenges tradition and sameness as the paradigm, the pines seal themselves off from original thought, citing anomaly as being anathema to convention. 

All things considered, I’d rather be a pin oak completely out of sync with the crowd, ignored and/or dismissed, than a pine stagnant in the conviction of its own superiority. 

Refuse to fall down.
If you cannot refuse to fall down, refuse to stay down.
If you cannot refuse to stay down, 
     lift your heart toward heaven, and 
      like a hungry beggar, ask that it be filled.
You may be pushed down.
You may be kept from rising.
But no one can keep you from lifting your heart toward heaven---
only you. 
It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear. 
The one who says nothing good came of this,
is not yet listening.

C.P. Estes

We can easily grow wretched over the failure of men, even the best of them. There is so much fickleness and so many Christians fail us. We had better resolve early to expect little of men, much of God. Major on His faithfulness! We have His promise and we may be sure of His presence, for the one assures the other. ~ Vance Havner

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Is Church God?

"The only supernatural life is the life the Lord Jesus lived, and He was at home with God anywhere. Is there someplace where you are not at home with God?" ~ Oswald Chambers

Clever new derogatory terms like 'churchianity' and 'religiousity' are frequently used to describe the rising modern megachurch. I have a long view that includes much of traditional religion as well.  

Raised a Baptist, I attended church with my family and did all the requisite traditional church things, Sunday School, ice cream socials, annual tent revivals, et al. My mother was a dynamic independent Christian who believed wholeheartedly in the precepts given to us by Christ and His disciples. Occasionally she disagreed with some doctrine presented by our church laws, and so she spoke out and made her voice heard. Needless to say, she wasn't very popular. She wasn’t consciously determined to be a trouble maker, but because she read and studied the Bible daily and actively looked for God to guide her and help her grow spiritually, she often found that man's doctrines no longer made sense to her. 

In fact, it seemed the stronger she grew spiritually, the less she understood why the church would dwell on rituals, rules and legalistic regulations clearly designed to keep people in bondage to a written law. To her it seemed analogous to the Jews who were bound to a written law before Christ came to fulfill it. Mother often pointed out that Paul was heart-broken over the way the Corinthians debated, argued and filled the newly formed church with strife when all they were mandated to do was love God, and be disciples of Christ's sweet message of spiritual freedom. 

It would seem things haven't changed much in two thousand years. (2 Cor. 12:20)
I’ve been a Christian for better than half a century, having accepted Christ and baptized by age nine and never once, even during my worst tribulations, ever believed otherwise than in a perfect God who knows better than I what is best for me. As a child I would swing for hours, praying in my own childish understanding and language simply talking to God, who was completely accessible to me–no priest or minister or doctrine necessary.

When I was older, I had to learn how to pray man's more formal prayers and I'm still not comfortable at open prayer, because I have always felt that prayer was a private conversation between God and me; I am better at ‘praying in a closet’, as Scripture suggests. As I grew up, I continued to reach for a personal relationship with Christ that transcended any other relationship. No matter what, no matter who else failed me, He has always been there for me. I've never needed more proof beyond this so I have learned to walk in daily experience more by faith than sight. I didn’t understand until I was much older that what I have been striving for is not for Him to be here for me, but rather for me to be here for Him. Is that not the purpose of redemption–to live for and represent Him?
When my mother died, I felt such relief for her. She was free from the lifelong struggle of challenging and bucking the system. She wasn't skilled at being a hypocrite so this left her basically friendless and alone, except for her relationship with God and her family. She found out that people don't want to hear that they have muddled things up. People don't want to let go of their rituals and habits. Not unlike the Corinthians centuries ago, people don't want to hear that Christ's yoke is light. They choose to strain at gnats and swallow camels. Apparently the simple path isn't complicated enough for religionists. Furthermore, they need something visible to worship and unfortunately the Church as a fine tuned organization and physical building can and has easily become that idol. This is the danger my mother tried for so long to make people recognize–in the subtlest of ways, today's church has become a god in its own right.
Who can argue that church/religion isn’t big business nowadays? Does it not follow that an organization must admonish its membership to attend regularly to sustain the cash flow? But has this not become the substitutional reason for attending church? If church is necessary for a relationship with God, how does one explain the many fine Christians who have been brought to Christ all alone with only the Bible in their laps? If you can be converted by the power of the Holy Spirit without benefit of clergy, then can you not be sustained by that same Holy Spirit? Do we not worship a living God–One whose will can penetrate and change us individually and eternally?
If you seek a deeply personal ‘everywhere’ relationship with God, you find you have less need for manmade doctrine. You may long for human fellowship, you may need to be needed, but God is available 24/7, outside the building, not just on Sundays and Wednesday nights. Isn’t this the only religion we really need? Further, is it possible we have forgotten that Christ came to establish a way of life, not a religion? Of late I have met many more who are beginning to understand this so I know it’s not just my own skewed point of view.
Since I do not affiliate myself with a particular doctrine, I am not therefore definable as a Baptist or a Lutheran or a Methodist or a Catholic. I'm not conservative or radical or Pentecostal. I reject any theology that doesn't place Christ’s needs in its center, and that includes the so called ‘New Age’ and humanist religions that hide behind a Christian mask and aren't really all that new. Does that mean that I am not a Christian? I have often wondered what category Christ would fit into? What label would He wear? He chose none, and thus He was dismissed. It has occurred to me that if He walked into my house and I asked, "Lord, what church do you belong to?" He would likely respond, "If ye can ask this, ye have not known me."
I admit that, when I was younger, it did distress me to know that in order to be recognized as a Christian, one must be affiliated with a church. But the real point here is not about belonging to a church; it is about holding yourself responsible for your relationship with God and your own personal spiritual growth instead of leaving it up to an institution, a doctrine or a tradition. In the end, when you stand before God, you won't be able to fall back on your doctrine, or your religious label, or how devoted a church-goer you were, but only on the answer to the question, “Did you seek Him, did you serve Him?”
Our vision has become so blurred by the ever morphing powers and needs of the physical church, we are unable to see the basic needs of Christ's real church–the one that is made up of faithful believers who are comfortable with God anywhere. The one that has no walls, nor boundaries and reaches all the way to Heaven.

For Christ,

For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  (2 Cor. 5:1)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


When a man's ways please Jehovah, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. (Proverbs 16:7)
My eight year old grandson asked me about 911. He had been taught the history in school but he wanted to know if it could happen again. I had to be honest and tell him, yes, but that we shouldn’t worry about it. He asked about the atomic bomb and how deep one had to be underground to be safe. How do you answer that kind of question from a young child who has yet to live his life? Do you tell him the truth or protect him with a lie? I opted for the lie. Why give him nightmares? 

For some reason there is a tension in the air that is soul-stifling. Strangers talk about current events as though there is no way to avoid another 911 or worse. This year, it seems that the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks has heightened meaning not only for those who remember but also those who have only heard about it in history class. But I have to admit that I feel about it now in the exact same way I felt then. I wrote about it and published it in my I Was Just Thinking column. Until now I have not desired to relive it but I think I ought to given the ever mounting despair. 

For what it's worth.


Words would not come. Stunned and muddled, like the rest of the world, for several days following September 11, 2001, I found it difficult to even think in complete sentences. A friend suggested I write. But I could not find the words to write. For a devoted wordsmith, such as I, this was not unlike taping my mouth shut and tying my hands behind my back. Another friend suggested we all back off watching the 24-hour news coverage and try to occupy ourselves with other things so as not to allow the jaws of despair to swallow us up. But I couldn't stop watching; committed to keeping a vigil in case something worse might be about to befall us. And I believe I watched also because it allowed me to help shoulder, at least spiritually, the anguish of those caught in the middle of the nightmare. I could send up specific prayers if I monitored every thing that was happening minute by minute. 

By Wednesday, much of the reporting was repetitious, but I watched anyway, hoping perhaps I'd be viewing when a miracle occurred like a living soul removed from the rubble. And then late Thursday evening, by way of filling in the long hours, there was a report of a group of architectural engineers who had begun testing the makeup of the thick powder that once was the World Trade Center. They were not surprised to find it was made of fine particles of glass, concrete, steel, gypsum, marble and granite. Two and one half million tons of strong, rigid material reduced to a fine powder in a matter of minutes.
But that was not the end of the report. What was most phenomenal was that, in spite of the bomb like force that pulverized the dense, solid materials that just hours before had formed two tall buildings, tons of paper floated out and had landed gently on the ground, unburned and intact.

Paper. Fragile, easy to tear, combustible, paper. That spoke to me, and gave me back my words with a whispered message.
We need to be like paper. Not steel. Not granite. Not concrete. If we are to survive against the fury of unspeakable evil, we need to be light enough to float. When unexpected forces blow against us, we need to be able to use the blast to propel us instead of being consumed by it. Unfortunately, this means we need to off load some weight. We need to rid ourselves of those especially heavy things like vengeance, selfishness, and hatred. We also need to shed pridefulness, meanness and lack of humility. To put it bluntly, we all just weigh too much and this extra, unnecessary tonnage makes us vulnerable to being crushed. It is when we are weighted down with sin and rebellion that God is more likely to break us.

This is a subtle lesson, for sure. But it isn't a stretch, by any means. It is no secret that the less we carry around inside, the lighter we are. The lighter we are, the easier it is for God to use us. When He can use us, the closer we are to Him and thus the more He carries for us. The more He carries, the lighter we are.
Nevertheless, there are those who are simply determined to carry large loads around with them. They see themselves as steel or granite. Invincible. They think they can only depend on their own ability to reason and their own might to defend themselves. It should be noted that today, in New York City, there is a lot of undamaged, simple paper resting lightly on the ruins of desecrated strength.

Frankly, I'd rather be paper. God can fold me and put me in His pocket.
For Him,

Sunday, September 8, 2013


(2 Thessalonians 2:6-11) (2:6) And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season.  (2:7) For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only [there is] one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way.  (2:8) And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming;  (2:9) [even he], whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,  (2:10) and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.  (2:11) And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie:  

Nothing is ever what it seems to be especially for those who refuse to see the parts that make up the whole. It’s easier, less time consuming, to accept the finished illusion rather than strain to discern the hidden construction underneath it. Afterall, people are so busy living, eating, drinking and being merry. What difference does it make, anyway? So what if the good words are lies? Hasn’t it always been thus? Who doesn’t lie nowadays? It’s the new normal. We expect to be lied to. What we don’t expect is that the dying gasps of an era are silenced by the good sounding lies. 

For the few who care to understand what is hidden in plain sight you have to ‘follow the money’. Look to the power-thirst that seeks control of the money. This is the unchallengeable calculus–the formula that determines the sum of the illusion. 

For Christ,

A sinister breeze blows across the world today. It is deceptive and demonic; many well-meaning souls are lulled to sleep thereby. What some call the birth pangs of a new era are but the dying gasps of this age. Strange new currents are moving everywhere, even in evangelical Christianity. It will take a double portion of wisdom from above to distinguish the true from the false, the sheep from the wolves. It is no time for us to be fitted with rose-colored glasses. We need a second touch from the Master, like the blind man of old, lest we see men as trees walking. ~Vance Havner

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Be Grateful For The Glass

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” - Maria Robinson
Years ago, embedded in the middle of my hectic child-rearing days, I sought relief from the daily tedium by expressing myself in a journal, stealing a few minutes on occasional nights, after the kids were safely tucked in bed. While cleaning out a bookshelf, I found this forgotten volume and another, titled Shadows Speaking, that I had begun while still a teenager. The latter is mostly poetic prose but the journal is more a revelation about attitude and expectations.

In an entry to my journal dated April 13, 1975, I wrote:
“Attitude is at least fifty percent of circumstances. If you live in a small house but you call the light fixture in the kitchen THE CHANDELIER and you call the alcove in the living room that holds the table and chairs, THE DINING ROOM, you have a positive attitude. Something is bound to become of you. I’m waiting.”
We know the old adage about choosing to see the glass half full or half empty but, in fact, there is a third option, i.e., being grateful for the glass and anything in the glass at all. Gratitude brings with it peace beyond all understanding and gets us through the roughest of times because no matter how stressful life can be, if we choose to be grateful for what we have, regardless how little, we are better equipped to survive chaos and adversity. 
In this pass-the-buck era, self-accountability is nearly stamped out and the self defeating no-win attitude of entitlement has taken its place. When everything is always someone else’s fault there can be no true solace. How we see ourselves, what we expect from others, and from life in general, determines whether we are stagnant or growing.
On July 8, 1977, reflecting on a life crisis after the fact I entered:
“I’ve never really experienced such frustration as last summer. I can look back now and be so thankful for so many things. We aren’t straightened out completely yet but at least I’m not sick worrying about how I’ll buy groceries or school supplies or pay the house payment. I can see light ahead whereas last year there was nothing but darkness. I enter this to remind myself that no matter how bad things can get, if you hang onto faith, and believe, time will relieve your pain. I hope I gather a great deal of understanding and patience with all the good and bad experiences that I encounter in my life.”
I couldn’t foresee in July 1977 all the trials ahead for me to overcome in the next ten years but at that moment I exhaled and paused in relief that I had survived a storm. I was just so grateful for the respite that I looked for what I might have learned from the experience. For one thing I learned that peace of mind is founded in spiritual health. And, more importantly, spiritual health is only acquired from conscious effort. We have to look for it.
Ultimately it is our attitude that shapes the moment we are in and thus how the next moment unfolds for us. If we are basically satisfied with whatever we have, we are, at the very least, at peace. If we are never quite satisfied, we are never at peace, not with ourselves, not with those around us and certainly not with God. It is a fact that a grateful heart can recognize good disguised as tribulation, but dissatisfaction is self-focused and begets nothing but more dissatisfaction and thus self-inflicted misery. We can choose either but then when we blame others for our own discontent we make it even worse. 
Life is a daily challenge. Sometimes it is life-threatening, but more often than not it is nothing more than dealing with tedium, monotony and thwarted hopes. It is our attitude of gratitude and perseverance by faith that sees us through each test to the next challenge. My life trials of 1976 provided my first real sobering lesson about gratitude and faith as lifelines to inspiration. I also learned that God provides the seeds of inspiration but if we are not fertile ground within, can we ever bloom or bear good fruit? 
In 1968, age 21, I entered this in Shadows Speaking:
“When sleep is near and the depth of night’s shadows cover me, they speak in whispering tones, tormenting me with past unchangeable deeds, and challenging me with impossible adventures.”
The only thing we can claim to own in this life is our attitude which can hold us down in regret and anguish or inspire us upward to do the most with the least. One choice leads us to distress the other to peace. We cannot go back and change what we chose yesterday but we can certainly consider how yesterday ended and if we want it to be different we can decide how we want today to end. 
For Christ,

(John 14:27) Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled . . .