Monday, June 27, 2016

The Long And Winding Road...lead me to your door!

Have you ever chosen a path that you believed was God's will only to end up in a completely different place than what you expected?  Christians want to know God's will for our lives. But we have so many choices in life, so many paths that we can take. How do we know which is the right way, God's way? I believe one reason Christians have a difficult time making decisions and discerning the will of God is that we don't quite understand what it is that God most desires for us. 

God, why did you take me here and on such a painful journey? Didn't you promise to make my path straight? Did I take the wrong turn, make the wrong decision? Often when facing a difficult choice or one of several roads, it is natural for us to pray that God show us the way, preferably the shortcut. We often think that the straight path is the less painful and pray that God directs us to the path of least resistance to a wonderful place where I am successful and blessed beyond measure. 

Yet, the difficult winding journey is more likely the path God will lead you on and usually to a place you never thought you'd be. Why is that?  Is God hateful, mean spirited? Think about the path the Israelites traveled to get to the promised land. It was certainly the long (40 years) and painful way to go. King David certainly had a rough road to becoming King. The apostles all struggled with difficult times and ended with sacrificial deaths as they spread the Gospel. Why would a God who loved us send us on these wild goose chases? Why doesn't he just give us a sign and direct us on the shortest path to where we need to be?

Because where God wants us is not a certain place of prominence or position of great accomplishments. No, what God desires most is just us. He wants the road to lead us to Him. His desire is for each of us to love Him and to love others.  And usually it is the difficult journey that develops our relationship with God and our relationships with others. 

I've recently had two discussions with men who have gone through chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. One was for throat cancer and the other stomach cancer. Both are in remission now and seemed to have won the battle. And both said to me almost the same thing about their battles with cancer. 

Each told me that through their struggle their relationship with God has grown immensely. One is a very close friend who told me, "John I would have never made it through without God. My relationship grew significantly deeper with Christ as the treatment got more difficult."

The other one with cancer shared boldly that if he had to do it all over again he wouldn't hesitate.  "I wouldn't trade the experience for another because of the growth of my faith and the relationships that have grown deeper because of the cancer." That's a pretty strong statement which I'm not sure most would say. But each guy acknowledged that without cancer their life with God would be nowhere near where it is now.

Pain and loss transform us.  While they can test us, they can also push us to a deeper life with God than we ever thought possible. They make us rest in God alone. Not what we can do or achieve for him. And not what He can do or achieve for us.

I've certainly discovered that during my recovery from heart bypass surgery. I better understand that God's will is for me to be in a deep, loving relationship with him.  That is why He took the long and painful journey himself, coming to earth, sacrificing his life so that we might have that opportunity to live with him for eternity.  

Pray that God's will be done in your life and when the road gets steep and treacherous, accept what path He leads you on without complaining. Know that God is with you every step of the way. Lean in and learn to love God more, because you might never be the person God wants you to be taking the short and easy route. 

More about finding meaning in the midst of suffering I suggest reading Phillip Yancey's book, The Question That Never Goes Away: Why?


Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Real Problem With Political Correctness


Political correctness is the attempt by the power in control to influence a culture's values to fit their agenda, often one that benefits their cause or helps them stay in power. Values are critical to any society because they determine our actions. Our culture, traditions and actions are all shaped by what we value.  Our values are based on what we believe. Beliefs, values and actions form a pyramid. Beliefs are the base, core values rest upon them and actions on top.  

What is disturbing is how far and fast our society is burning away the values that have been the foundation of western society, in particular the United States, the Judeo-Christian values which shaped our culture for the past 300 years. 

In the late 60's and 70's our values, the things that meant the most, faith, family, honesty, hard work, freedom and individual rights, the core of our ethics and ideals established from the Bible, began to be challenged. Now we have an all out assault and have exchanged a code of ethics based on moral absolutes for one that is based on situational ethics. As a result:
  • Faith has been deemed unnecessary and even unwanted in the public sector.  Faith in God has been replaced with a faith in the government and self. 
  • Marrige has been redefined from the union between a man and woman to any two persons. 
  • Honesty is an old value that has been replaced by doing or saying whatever needs to be said in order to please those in power or get what we want. 
  • Our value of hard work, a belief that every adult needed to earn his provision, has been chipped away until many believe the government is obligated to provide our needs. A good percentage of our population is willing to give up their freedom and give the government more control as long as they get some extra benefits in return. 
What is even more disturbing is that the new political correctness is not just replacing our long honored values but is actually blaming those values for our society's problems. In reality, as our values have moved away from Biblical to situational ethics, people have increasingly begun to act in manners detrimental to others and more destructive to society in general. Immorality has its consequences. It breeds bad behavior. So it's no wonder that those in authority and those who have influence (media) have begun to realize a need to correct this bad behavior.  Their solution is to establish a new code of conduct, one that deals with the symptom rather than the cause.

The new code of conduct against the "rape culture" on college campuses is an example. For hundreds of years our moral code set guidelines against sex outside of marriage. Along came the sexual revolution and our values were changed so that sex before marriage was condoned. Experts proclaimed it to be physically improbable for a young person to have the discipline to resist sex. So our schools taught that it was acceptable as long as one protected themselves. The consequences have been a huge increase in unwanted pregnancies, sexual diseases, and an increase in rape and abuse. Once again, immorality has its consequences. Is it any wonder that we have a problem with rape on college campuses?

So it's terribly frustrating to watch society try to fix the problem by dealing with the symptom instead of the cause.  Investigations, blame and shame on institutions and programs especially through social media has replaced simply teaching the values of purity, fidelity, respect and marriage.  Political correctness muzzles honesty, silences debate and diverts us away from the real root cause.  

Maybe it's time to put political correctness aside, deal with our problems once again at the root and re-establish the values from the Bible that have served society well for hundreds of years. 
“So then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world's wisdom is foolishness!”
1 Corinthians 1:20 GNT
Here is a great video of another example of political correctness masking the true problem. 


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

God's Flea Market Flip

One of the cable shows I enjoy is Flea Market Flip where two teams go head to head to see who can make the most money transforming unexpected diamonds in the rough they find in flea markets into higher dollar gems. 

What fascinates me is the creativity of the teams, turning what is often old worn out or broken furniture into unique, useful pieces of art, all in one day.  As I was watching the show, it dawned on me that this is a great picture of how God works in our lives.

Think about how God searches for us, undervalued, hidden treasures, wanting to redeem and transform us into masterpieces for His Kingdom! Yes, he purchases each person with his blood, restores us and re-purposes us in such a way that we become much more valuable for His Kingdom! 

In my case, I was living for myself, my objective just to be happy.  When God redeemed me, He gave me a whole new purpose and reason to live. I began to serve God by ministering to others, using my unique gifts and talents. It took much longer than a day, but over time, God sanded off much of my pride and selfishness and gave me a whole new life in the ministry.

I've heard personal story after story of how God has taken a person off the scrap pile of life and restored them into a whole new life.  Drug addicts, ex cons, broken marriages,  people who were basically thrown away, being restored and "flipped" to new life and purpose for Christ. 

Comedian and game show host, Steve Harvey is an example.  He recently shared his story to a college audience about being homeless and living out of his car for three years before God re-purposed his life.  Read his story here.

Even more so than the teams on Flea Market Flip, God's creativity is incredible. But different than Flea Market Flip, God wishes to re-purpose every life, not to sell to someone else but so that He can use and cherish us for His great purposes!  2 Cor. 5:17 

How has God re-purposed your life?  


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Empowered By The Holy Spirit!

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.com
I've had a great amount of time to reflect on my bypass surgery while trying to recover. You do a lot of talking to God in the process. And one of the blessings from this difficult time is being able to experience God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Bible states that the Holy Spirit is one of the main ways we experience God today, and the fruit of the Spirit is what is manifested in and through me from the Holy Spirit's power. Galatians 5:22 tells us the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These attributes should be what you experience. 

So I realized early on through the surgery and recovery process, that I was relying on the Holy Spirit and there were numerous times that I felt an overwhelming sense of the various fruits of the Spirit being manifested in me. Right from the beginning when I was told I needed surgery and rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, then waiting two days in the hospital before the surgery, I experienced a peace beyond comprehension. I was not anxious or worried, but confident that I was receiving a blessing, to be able to fix my heart before I had a major stroke or heart attack that led to death. I remember telling someone that I had felt a lot more anxious about organizing a church event than bypass surgery. I don't think I could stay so calm without the Spirit's power.

During this process I also seemed to come alive. I had a lot of visitors and I felt energized and had a quicker wit and sense of humor than normal. I was experiencing the joy of the Spirit in a time when I should have been very sad.  

I also recognized a supernatural ability to be kind in a time where everything seemed magnified. Almost everything and everyone seemed to get on my nerves. I sized up every nurse and attendant and could easily identify their idiosyncrasies, many of which seemed to irritate me.  There was the overly talkative, extra perky nurse with the fake southern accent who proclaimed, "you're in good hands now" when introducing the new nurse. Followed by, "Isn't there a commercial or something about being in good hands on tv?" Yes, she was blond! Then there was the male nurse who couldn't seem to understand how any of the machines worked.

Through it all, Barbara can attest to this, I was kind and gentle to all of those who poked me every half hour. I sensed a self-control beyond my power to hold my tongue during some tormenting times. I was not going to be the grumpy patient! Even when my heart went into a-fribilation, feeling as if my heart was going to explode and the nurses couldn't get the EKG machine to work, I was able to stay calm when I wanted to exclaim, "what are you ignorant fools doing? I'm fixing to die!" God continued to give me patience, peace and self-control through two agonizing hours of a heart going crazy in my chest.

I pray that I remained faithful to God through the experience. I certainly felt God's love and the love and support of so many who were praying for me, visiting, bringing food and keeping up with how I was progressing by phone and on social media.  One of the most consistent and faithful who called me almost every day was a friend who had recently gone through a major battle with throat cancer. I think because of his experience, he could so easily identify with what I was going through, that he was aware of my needs.
So this experience has brought me closer to God and closer to my friends and those with whom I have a chance to minister to as a chaplain and coach. Until this time, I could not point to a very difficult period in my life. I think I'll have a lot more empathy for others who are going through a painful period. I pray that God's power through the Holy Spirit continues to be manifested in and through me.  Thank you, Jesus!

By the way, I recommend a couple of books I've had a chance to read during my recovery. The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg and Cast of Characters by Max Lucado.  The Auschwitz Escape is a great historical fiction novel about the famous Nazi death prison. I read this while in the hospital and was reminded that I had it very good compared to those in the death camps. Cast of Characters is a good devotional book (chapter a day)  that could also be used in a small group discussion.

Also, here is a link to a great sermon about living by God's grace from Jeff Harris at Grace Point.  Watch it here. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Change of Heart

Technology is a wonderful thing these days. A machine can look into your heart and determine just what problems you might have that could end your life or severely disable you. As the cardiologist looked at my heart through the echo-cardio gram I could see my heart beating away. He said look right here.  Your chamber should be closing symmetrically, but instead it is wobbling. You've had some heart damage. You've had some sort of heart attack. We need to go in and see how much your arteries are blocked. Two days later I was having quadruple bypass surgery. 
 
I can't live without a functioning heart but I'm thankful that we have the technology to change and fix my heart. My wife, Barbara mentioned how similar our spiritual heart is to our physical heart.  The Bible often refers to our heart as the center of our character, emotions, and will.  It is the chief organ of our physical lives but also the center of our spiritual lives. And yet it says we all have a damaged heart spiritually and all of us are in need of a heart transformation. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Jeremiah 17:9 NIV.  Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matthew 15:19 NIV

And the God who created the universe, the great physician, is the only one who can perform the operation to give us a new heart. 

For most all of us, our arteries are filled with pride and hatred choking out the true life blood of the spirit. Others may have a damaged heart because of the hurt and pain suffered over the years. And the Bible says we are all genetically predisposed to a damaged heart. So every person at some time in their life needs to come to the realization that their heart is not right spiritually. 

But like me, living physically without realizing I had a damaged heart, many go through life without being aware of the need for a new spiritual heart. I was lucky enough to have a warning, (heart burn) to have someone examine my heart and the ability to discern what was wrong. Sometimes it takes a catalyst spiritually also for you to come to the realization that something isn't right with your heart spiritually either. 

It could be a broken relationship or going through a especially difficult time that has given you the opportunity to examine your life.  Hopefully you have had someone speak truth to you and you have signed off on the spiritual heart operation. I'm thankful for the spiritual doctors and mentors who also opened my eyes to my need for a new heart spiritually.
 
Allow God to cut away, reroute, bypass the mess you've created in your heart.  It may be painful. But the rewards on earth and for eternity are worth it. No health insurance is needed, just an open heart to what God wants to do in and through you. 
Next: the benefits of a new heart!  

A new low on violating religious freedom in the USA

I read in dismay this past week about a powerful senator indicating he would vote no for Russell Vought, President Donald Trump’s nominee ...