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July 21st, 2010 | Author:

The other day I heard Alone Again, Naturally on the car radio.  It was a song made popular by Gilbert O’Sullivan in 1972, the year I graduated from high school.   It was one of those songs that I had claimed as my own, one that resonated inside me, expressing the feelings of my heart.  Have a listen.

Shattered … cut into little pieces … broken-hearted … alone again, naturally.

Until I heard this song again, I’d forgotten what it was like to feel so alone.  I’m sure part of it was teenage angst, but I felt that way more than once as an adult, too, convinced that there was not one person on this planet that understood me or truly loved me.

The sad fact is that it’s usually true.  As much as we may be loved by someone else, they never really know our deepest heart, that place inside that we can’t express, even to ourselves.  And that’s a very lonely thing to realize.

I’m sure the human condition has not changed substantially since 1972.  And I’m sure there are more modern songs that express these same feelings.

And I’m equally sure why this is no longer an issue for me.  Oh, I still have days where I feel isolated from other people by bridges that somehow just can’t be crossed. I still have days where it feels like the world is crumbling down on my head.

But I’m equally certain that I am no longer alone to face the trials that come my way.  Should every person I know abandon me, I will still not be alone.

And this is why.  In 1994 I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  I clearly remember the moment when the Holy Spirit came to live in me.  It felt like a gossamer-thin shawl was laid gently over my shoulders by a loving hand.

When I became His, I learned through experience that He would always be with me.  And then I learned that Jesus promised the same.  I encourage you to take the same step.  Turn to Jesus, and never be alone again, naturally.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
(Matthew 28:18-20)

July 14th, 2010 | Author:

With the myriad of churches around the world divided by denominational and doctrinal lines, there’s one thing that almost all have in common.  You’d think (and hope) the commonality of Christianity would be Christ, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are many Christian churches today that deny the atonement of the cross, among other things.  No, the one thing churches have in common is “the pastor.”

Walk into most any church, and you will find rows of chairs or pews facing a pulpit (or a platform or a stage).  That’s probably the most conclusive method of determining that you are in a church.

While others may make an appearance, the position behind the pulpit belongs to “the pastor.”  This is where he/she stands to conduct a worship service.  It’s the place where “The Word” is delivered to the people each Sunday morning.

And when the pastor is not behind the pulpit, he’s doing all the other things that make a church a church.  He’s visiting the sick, mediating disputes, baptizing infants or adults, preparing sermons, consoling the bereaved, setting a vision for the church, teaching Bible studies, making decisions, and generally running him/herself ragged.

In most cases, without the pastor there is no church.  Given this emphasis on the position, I think we should see what the Bible has to say about it.  Ready?

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

That’s it.  The word pastor appears in the Bible just this once, translated from the Greek poimen, and even then it’s part of a list.

So why is a position that has so little biblical emphasis the one that most clearly defines the church?  I’m sure there are many reasons, but here are a few possibilities that occurred to me.

  • Following a flesh-and-blood person that you can see behind the pulpit each Sunday is a lot easier than following the Holy Spirit, whom you never see.
  • It’s far easier for pastors to adopt some form of the Old Testament priesthood than to follow the Holy Spirit, too.  A scripted worship service is much more predictable.
  • Before the printing press, when most people were illiterate, it may have made some sense for one person to read from the limited number of biblical scrolls that were available. That can only apply now to those in repressed countries where the Bible is forbidden, especially in light of the internet.
  • Like the hypocrites Jesus refers to in Matthew 6, some pastors like having a title and a position that brings honor to them from other men.
  • Some pastors, like some CEO’s, like the power of their position.  They like being in charge and making the decisions.
  • People often prefer having their ears tickled from the back of the church once a week than being accountable to one another, day in and day out.
  • Tradition.  For most of church history, there’s been a priest (or a pastor) behind a pulpit.  Why question something that is so well established?

Why?  Because I don’t think God ever intended that the church be arbitrarily divided into clergy and laity.  I don’t think He ever intended that worshipping Him be reduced to a Sunday morning formula.  I don’t think our mindless rituals bring Him honor or pleasure.

And I don’t think church as we know it draws people to Christ.  As this is our main purpose for being on this earth, I think we would be wise to give some prayer and thought to just what God did intend that His church look like.  I don’t have all the answers to this, but here are some scriptures that I think give us clues.

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9)

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:4-21)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers but to those who believe. Therefore if the whole church assembles together and all speak in tongues, and ungifted men or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you. What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. (1 Corinthians 14:20-26)

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:19-26)

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.  (Revelation 12:10-11)

In light of these verses, I think the real question then becomes, “Why don’t we do these things?”

July 07th, 2010 | Author:

Since I was born, I’ve not fit into any neat molds.  First having three boys, my mother dressed me in ruffles and bows and tried to turn me into a girly-girl.  Fifty-six years later she’s still trying, God bless her.

In high school, I was on the perimeter of social groups, always a step ahead or behind.  I never really fit.

When I got saved, for a while I thought I had found my home in the church I first attended.  But it turns out that was a temporary plan, and I was not to put my faith in a particular church or pastor, so God called me out of there before I got too comfortable.

Nor I have ever fit neatly into a political category.  Neither conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, left or right, can be defined in an apolitical Bible.

More recently, I’ve come to realize that I have far more in common with Christians on the other side of the world than I do with Americans, which seems apropos given that God is not limited by geographical boundaries.

In short, I’ve always been an alien and a stranger in this world.  And as a Christian who looks to a future home, I think that’s as it should be.

For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19)

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. (1 Peter 2:11)

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; (Revelation 3:12)

June 30th, 2010 | Author:

The Word for Wednesday is a meme for Christian bloggers to share what is on their hearts. If you’d like to join us, just click the WFW tab above for details.

At Bible study last night, we spent some time in that often overlooked little book of Amos.  As is our custom, we then spent some time in prayer.

What follows is a (hopefully) more coherent version of what I was stirred to pray, this verse still in my heart:

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the LORD,
For what purpose will the day of the LORD be to you?
It will be darkness and not light;  (Amos 5:18)

Father, like your people in Zimbabwe who thank you for their dictator, Robert Mugabe, I thank you.

I thank you for 9/11 and the chaos it created in our country.

I thank you for Hurricane Katrina and the frailty of man’s plans that it revealed.

I thank you for the financial crisis and the meaninglessness of money that it exposed.

I thank you for the BP oil spill that has shown us how weak we are.

I thank you that our government has become corrupt from top to bottom.

I thank you that the apostate church in America has been left bereft of your Holy Spirit.

I thank you that the evil in our society is growing more blatant by the day.

I thank you for these, and all the other trials and testings that are befalling our nation, and I pray that they will make us humble.  I pray that many people will turn to You in their hour of need.  I pray that Christians will be prepared – and have the boldness – to speak the truth to all who seek You.

And I pray especially, Lord, for those who have been deceived by a false gospel; for those who believe they know You, but don’t; for those who think that political action leads to heaven; for those who think they will enter Your kingdom because of the good things they have done; for those who long for the day of the Lord, but will find darkness instead of light; and for those who call You ‘Lord’ – that You have never known.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’  (Matthew 7:21-23)

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out.  (Luke 13:23-28)

June 23rd, 2010 | Author:

You are all welcome to read this Word for Wednesday, but I’m actually writing it for me so I won’t forget what the Lord has shown me.  Some lessons we need to learn in a new way.

I go through stages when I whine and complain and I can barely stand to hear myself.  These days it’s often about my physical aches and pains.  If it’s not that, you all know I am a master-complainer when it comes to our government.  Just five minutes of  headlines can send me into a tailspin.  Another favorite target is the American church.  I read some things that supposedly are Christian and I want to pull my hair out.

The first time the Lord called me on this complaining attitude was within the first year after I was saved.  Just months before, forgiven for 39 years of sin, I was the most grateful woman on the planet.  I don’t recall what I started whining about, which tells you how important it was, but this is the passage He sent my way:

Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins? Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:37-40)

I committed that one to memory, repented, and returned to being a grateful woman.  Over the years, as I’ve dealt with my share of trails and tribulations, this passage would come to mind and close my mouth pretty quickly – but for some reason, that hasn’t been the case of late.   This week the Lord has called me on it, using one little verse:

How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. (Numbers 14:27)

What finally broke through this thick skull of mine is that every time I complain – about anything - I’m complaining about God.  I’m rebelling against the circumstances of my life, which He has ordained.  I’m disagreeing with the things He’s trying to change in me.  I’m saying, “Not Your will, Lord, but mine!”  Ouch.

Just to make sure I wouldn’t forget, He sent me to this passage that Paul was writing about Israel in the wilderness:

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:7-12)

Just to make sure I don’t fall, I think I’ll spend some time on my knees.