Radicalized Christians

We hear a lot about the difference between radical, fundamentalist, Muslims and the more moderate followers of Islam. We are assured the moderates are no danger to us.  I believe that may be true, if these moderates are simply cultural Muslims, similar to the cultural Christians of the world.  Cultural or social adherents to a particular faith have little relation to the radical followers of a religion’s fundamental principles.

The word radical as an adjective speaks to something, in this case a belief, relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough change. Cultural, social, or in biblical terms, lukewarm followers, have not experienced a far-reaching or thorough change in their fundamental nature as a result of their beliefs. You won’t find them changing, risking, or sacrificing their lives to follow their faith.

The radicalized factions of the Islamic faith are thoroughly following the fundamental tenets of the faith, as set down in their holy writings. A search of these documents will show that ISIS and its ilk are following these writings to the letter.

Some commentators like to equate the excesses of radical Islam to those of the historic Christian church or to modern acts of violence perpetrated by individuals or groups claiming to be Christian.

Christianity has one holy book, the Bible. The Old Testament chronicles our history and the New Testament tells us how to live as followers of Christ. You can search this book for years and never find Christ advocating violence toward non-believers. In facbiblet, He tells us to pray for them, turn the other cheek, etc. Any violent, hateful acts are contrary to authentic Christian fundamentalism.

Far from being suicide bombers in the name of wiping out those who will not convert to our faith, a radical Christian’s style is more likely to resemble the service and self-sacrifice of Mother Teresa, or any of the 100,000 Christians martyred each year in Christ’s name.

While we Christians would love to see all radical terrorists disappear from the face of the earth, our main weapon is prayer for their salvation.

What would this world look like, if all Christians were to be radicalized, having our fundamental natures changed by the study and adherence to our holy book? What a wonderful world that would be, indeed.

If God is for us, who can be against us? – Romans 8:31

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Open letter to congregational worship leaders

Having been on both sides, serving as a worship leader for many years and also sitting in a variety of pews, I feel at least moderately qualified to address what I see as a common issue in today’s churches: Worship leaders who don’t understand their role.

A worship leader has one primary function: to lead a congregation in the act of worship. The performers in a church worship service are meant to be the worshipers, not the leaders. While the pastor’s leadership role is one of preaching, teaching and admonition; the praise team, song leaders, choir, musicians and scripture readers are meant to bring attention to God, not to themselves. They exist to help the congregants connect to the Lord in worship.

worship-leader

If you are on a praise team leading your church in a chorus and you notice very few of the people are able to sing along, you should ask yourself if you are leading them or performing for them.  No matter how spiritually you present the song, with upturned hands, closed eyes, and soulful expression, if the congregation can’t even follow the tune enough to sing along, you are performing, not leading. There is a place for inspirational performances in a worship service, but they should be presented as such, not disguised as congregational singing. No matter what style of music is used in worship, it should fulfill its purpose of turning the peoples’ hearts toward God.

It is tempting to select repetitive choruses meant to play on the emotions, rather like primitive war chants, but remember, we (the congregation) are to worship in spirit and in truth, with our hearts, minds and strength, not simply our emotions. You have a responsibility to help us keep that in mind.

As a worship leader, if I pull the focus onto myself, or onto the difficulty of following the words or the tune I’m leading, I have failed. The position of worship leader is sacred and a great joy when we help the people we lead to declare this to God:

I have seen your power and your glory in the place of worship.

– Psalm 63:2

 

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What good is a wall?

All the controversy about walls has me thinking.

  • Walls support the roof of a home, preventing it from collapse. That’s a good thing, right?
  • Walls also protect us from harsh weather and wild animals, another plus.
  • Walls can keep us separated from other people or places we might like to visit. In that case we need the owner’s permission to enter. That’s what doors and locks are for.

The properties of physical walls have their counterparts in the spiritual realm, as well. Walls made up of fear, prejudice, and pride can separate us from other people and keep us from stepping in43902-quotes-about-building-wallsto new experiences or understanding other cultures and attitudes.

I think the worst thing an emotional wall can keep us from is intimacy with God. A wall of pride, or selfishness, or rebellion keeps the Holy Spirit at arm’s length where He is unable to be a true comforter and guide. While we may need to throw up walls from time to time to protect ourselves from those who wish to do us harm, no good can come from erecting a wall against our Lord. If you have one in place today, I would like to quote Ronald Reagan’s famous Berlin speech, “Tear down this wall!”

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They will know us by our Love

The Scriptures tell us to love one another. As we approach Valentine’s Day, it seems fitting to consider what this commandment means.  “Love” is not only a noun, but a verb, as well. More than a feeling, it requires action on our part.

What does this action look like?

  • When we feel love for another person, we are concerned with that person’s well-being and happiness. We put the loved one’s feelings ahead of our own.
  • We want to spend time with the loved one, learning everything we can about them.
  • We want to give them things they want or need.

As Christians, we are to extend our love to include our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is put to the test in our congregations and neighborhoods, where many of us have a hard time genuinely acting in love.

Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commands.” He also said the greatest commandment was to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (action, again), and to love our neighbor.

Think about how we show love to one another and how our obedience translates to showing love to God:

  • When we feel the emotion of love for another person, we become concerned with that person’s well-being and happiness. We put the loved one’s feelings ahead of our own. – Is pleasing God your main concern?
  • We want to spend time with the loved one, learning everything we can about them.- Do you spend time in prayer and reading Scripture to learn more about God?
  • We want to give them gifts. What gifts do you offer Him? (God doesn’t need anything, but He wants our devotion.)

Homemade Valentine cards created from construction paper Valentineand lace doilies may have fallen out of fashion, but the weeks leading up to this Valentine’s Day celebration of love is a perfect time to create a heart-made gift of loving acts for our Lord…

…then the world may truly know we are Christians by our love.

[Updated from original post from January 2014]

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American Idols

The Lord Condemns Idolatry

You people are unfaithful!
You go to fortunetellers,
    and you worship idols.
Now pay close attention!
Who are you making fun of?
    Who are you sneering at?
Look how your sins
    have made fools of you.-Isaiah 57:3-4 (CEV)

These words from the Old Testament of the Bible are considered foolish and irrelevant by a wide swath of Americans. Indeed, the Bible is often the focus of open mockery and sneering. We are no longer even a nominally Christian country. However, it is mankind’s nature to worship; if not God, then something else will fill the emptiness within; perhaps self-love, superstition or idolatry.

In our culture, we have elevated our celebrities, entertainers, actors, and athletes to such heights with our money, praise, and adulation that they easily fit the definition of idols. Is it any wonder when they begin to act like gods?

It is natural to admire beauty, strength and skill, but admiration should never grow into worship.

celebrity_culture_350_234_90There is great power in celebrity and great temptation to abuse that power and influence. This is especially true in the world of the actor. Acting is a false portrayal by its very nature; people in fictional settings are pretending to be what they are not. We all know it isn’t real, but something happens during a performance, both to the audience and the actor. A skilled actor makes us, at least temporarily, believe they are their role. When the curtain comes down, at least a bit of that portrayal becomes identified with the actor in our mind. There is an even stronger effect on the actor.

I was involved in drama in school and portrayed several leading roles. The response of  my classmates to the person I became on stage was surprising and, at least in the short-term, this reaction influenced my self-image. Imagine how much stronger the impact can be on renowned professional actors. It is no wonder they begin to believe they have the characteristics they portray on stage or screen. Coupled with a fawning media and the praise of fans, and it is easy to see why modern celebrities believe they should tell the rest of the country how to vote, behave or feel. They are our idols and we have convinced them we are eager to follow their godlike pronouncements.

Even devout believers in the one true God are swept up in this charade. It’s time for us to withdraw from the cult of celebrity worship before our sins in this area make fools of us.


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Time for a Restful Arbor?

[Updated from original post of January 20, 2013]

In the Christian classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan talks about the restful arbor which awaits Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.

In times of struggle in my life I have clung to this illustration and looked forward to the R&R God will provide in order to prepare me for the next leg of my walk with him. When I am discouraged and spiritually footsore, the image of a fragrant arbor, with a comfy bench where I may sit in the blessed shade and be cooled by heavenly breezes strengthens me to carry on.

To the weary, the concept of rest is irresistible. But rest is one of those words, like hot and cold or light and dark, which only has meaning when contrasted with its opposite.  If there were no work or struggle there could be no rest.The restful arbor is not  meant to be a retirement home. The Christian life on this earth is one of constantly striving for greater obedience, greater faith and a closer walk with our Savior. Only when we see him face to face will our journey to perfect peace be complete.

Christian sleeps in the arbourChristians are currently enduring a time of struggle and difficulty and our Lord is certain to provide restful arbors along our path. We must heed the lesson in The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian lingered too long, sleeping in the arbor and losing track of his roll containing God’s word.

God provides the restful arbors of life for rest, reflection and rejuvenation. If you have been taking up residence in one, perhaps it is time to get a new attitude and use it to sweep away unproductive anger, hurt, regrets and grief.

If we want to reach the Celestial City it is necessary to leave the shady arbor and step out again into the sunshine.

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Pillars of support

I’ve recently begun attending a church whose members are predominantly older Christians.  About one third of the church membership attends the adult Sunday school class.

When the time came for prayers in last Sunday’s class, I was impressed with the prayers of these mature saints for their friends, children and grandchildren scattered across the country and the world. I imagined this same scenario playing out in churches all across America, as senior citizens, many of them struggling with health and financial problems of their own, devoted themselves to praying for loved ones, many of whom never attended a church or prayed for themselves.

A firm believer, from personal experience, in the power of intercessory prayer, I began to wonder how many of the objects of these faithful prayers had been blessed without recognizing the source of their good fortune.

4pillarsborderLongtime active members of a congregation are often referred to, sometimes sarcastically, as the pillars of the church. Perhaps it is time to recognize the truth in that label; many people, well beyond the confines of church walls, are being supported by the prayers of faithful elders such as the ones in my church.

It is my earnest prayer that another generation of devout intercessors is coming along to carry on this good work. If not, God alone knows where we will be.

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Think on these things

This wencisek on the popular TV show, NCIS, the Gibbs character advises one of his agents to, “close your eyes and think of all the good things,” whenever he is feeling lost and alone. Although he didn’t cite chapter and verse, Gibbs was giving this sound biblical advice:

4:8 Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you. Philippians (CEV)

Those of us in the real world of today would do well to take this to heart, memorizing each word, and calling it to mind as we are assaulted by the evil in our culture.

If we dwell overmuch on the horrors of each day’s news, we may succumb to despair and feel truly lost and alone. Keeping in mind those things which are true, pure, right, holy, friendly and proper helps us to strengthen our faith and hopes for tomorrow.

While the Leroy Jethro Gibbs character doesn’t quote the following, the character seems to believe it:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7

The days ahead may be filled with turmoil. Let’s set our hearts and minds on truth, so we may overcome.

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After the shake-up, it’s time to wake up

The recent surprising election results have given Christians a wonderful opportunity to impact our nation’s culture. Many of us prayed without ceasing in the months leading to the vote, and now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

I would like to share this opinion piece by Michael Brown, because he says it all so much better than I can. Read it here:

5 Ways to Move from a Great Shaking in 2016 to a Great Awakening in 2017

 

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

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The Reason for the Season

Luke 2 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The Birth of Jesus

About that time Emperor Augustus gave orders for the names of all the people to be listed in record books.[a] These first records were made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.[b]

Everyone had to go to their own hometown to be listed. So Joseph had to leave Nazareth in Galilee and go to Bethlehem in Judea. Long ago Bethlehem had been King David’s hometown, and Joseph went there because he was from David’s family.

Mary was engaged to Joseph and traveled with him to Bethlehem. She was soon going to have a baby, and while they were there, she gave birth to her first-born[c] son. She dressed him in baby clothes[d] and laid him on a bed of hay, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds

That night in the fields near Bethlehem some shepherds were guarding their sheep. All at once an angel came down to them from the Lord, and the brightness of the Lord’s glory flashed around them. The shepherds were frightened. 10 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy. 11 This very day in King David’s hometown a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. 12 You will know who he is, because you will find him dressed in baby clothes and lying on a bed of hay.”

13 Suddenly many other angels came down from heaven and joined in praising God. They said:

14 “Praise God in heaven!
Peace on earth to everyone
    who pleases God.”

15 After the angels had left and gone back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby lying on a bed of hay.

17 When the shepherds saw Jesus, they told his parents what the angel had said about him. 18 Everyone listened and was surprised. 19 But Mary kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant.

20 As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and saying wonderful things about him. Everything they had seen and heard was just as the angel had said.

nativity

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