Monday, August 31, 2020

religion and politics

Religion and politics--the two things we're never supposed to talk about, right? Thankfully, I was blessed to grow up in a family where both were talked about with equal fervor. One is a given, seeing as how I've spent the majority of my life with a pastor for a dad and mom who has always led children's ministry. Faith was never something reserved for Sundays. Lessons in morality and God's way vs. my way were a never ending (and admittedly for a teenager, somewhat annoying at times) part of everyday life.

At the same time, I grew up in a family with a military background. That means politics were never a taboo subject, though the same thing applies to those discussions being annoying to a teenage girl at times. I can remember one conversation between Pop and Michael when they were talking politics that eventually turned into a discussion about what Michael would do if he were in charge. Pop has always had a bit of a habit of playing devil's advocate, and by the end of that conversation Michael had to concede that the only way to ensure what he wanted politically would be to become dictator with strict rules on who could enter his country.

So needless to say, I've never really been one for avoiding those conversations. I'm pretty sure both topics were covered during my first road trip with my boss, actually, and there were some things we agreed on and some on which we differed--and neither of us got mad. For the first time in my memory, the whole country is talking nothing else. The problem is, most people seem to have bought into the idea that the only way to discuss hard topics is to yell and scream and insist that anyone who doesn't agree with you is a horrible human being who can't possibly have any redeeming qualities.

And to be perfectly honest with you, I'm in the group that's being screamed at lately.

I was raised to believe that my faith could only be genuine if it impacted every aspect of my life. If you speak one way on Sunday, a different way in the office on Monday, and another way when you go out with friends on Saturday night, that's not faith. It's some sort of show, something you do because it's expected of you or is somehow the "right thing" in a specific circle. That kind of faith, though, really isn't worth much.

That's the kind of faith that people can comfortably separate from politics. It's a handy set of relativistic morals that can be changed with the times and trends--focus on the happy parts, like love and "acceptance" (whatever people mean by that), and leave out all the uncomfortable things like sin and repentance and accountability. If you do that, you can buy into the idea that everyone should just do whatever feels right and that no one should have to answer for their actions.

The faith that I've been raised in, though, doesn't allow for that. It tells me that Truth doesn't change according to my moods or whims, and that means that there are times I'm wrong. It tells me that I have to take responsibility for my actions and admit that I've fallen so far short of the goal--perfection--that I can't even see it. It tells me that there is only one way to reach that goal, and it is through the redeeming sacrifice of Yeshua, the one and only son of the Eternal God.

That faith tells me that every decision I make should be based on the teachings and laws found in the Scriptures, including decisions about politics.

I'm not typically outspoken about my political stance. Those who know me know where I stand on just about every issue, but I'm not one who usually gets loud about elections. I'm patriotic and know more than most the cost of the freedom so many take for granted, so I have always encouraged people to get out and vote. I'm quick to say that if you don't vote, you can't complain. Usually, I leave it at that.

This year, though, I don't feel like I can leave it. I fully believe that this election is the most important I have seen in my lifetime. I never would have dreamed that I would see our country so bitterly divided, with so many people so blatantly calling for its destruction. This country has defined freedom and liberty for people all around the world since it's inception, but there are people who are trying to take that away. They are telling us that if we don't support "democratic socialism," we don't support equality and we can't possibly love our neighbors. And after all, isn't that what Jesus told us to do?

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of my Savior's words being twisted to fit an agenda. Yes, I love my neighbors. I am called as a follower of Christ, though, to love as He did. That means leading people to the truth, not letting them wallow in darkness while I tell them I love them. As my Mom always told all of us growing up (and by "us" I mean any kid she has ever taught...or met), "I love you too much to let you act like that."

Love isn't letting people do whatever makes them happy. It is hard and honest and "rejoices in the truth," as we're told in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. Love is telling someone when what they are doing is harmful. It is showing them God's plan, even when they don't want to see it. Love is supporting one another, but it isn't letting someone have a free ride through life simply because they think they are entitled to it.

I look at the cities being burned and looted, at livelihoods being destroyed, and am sickened by the idea that people claim to be tearing down so much in the twisted name of "loving" people. It isn't love to take jobs. It isn't love to force people into hiding in their homes--whether they are hiding for fear of a virus that has been blown out of proportion or fear of the angry mob threatening them if they don't give in to senseless demands. It isn't love to scream at people that they are racist for not joining a Marxist group called "Black Lives Matter." It isn't love to tell people that not wearing a mask means they want people to die. It isn't love to say that a woman should be able to choose to take the life of an innocent baby simply because that baby hasn't been born. It isn't love to say that kids should be given hormone therapy and sex changes.

Love is God, and God is righteous and pure and holy. His truth isn't relative, and it doesn't change with the tides. It doesn't matter if biblical principles are "current" or "trendy" of if people say they are outdated and meant for a different time and a different culture. The fact that we have moved away from God and His ideals doesn't mean that those ideals are any less right than they were.

It just means that we have gotten so far from the truth that we can't see it clearly any more.

So I'm not going to say, "If you're a Christian, you can't vote for X." To be honest, those dumb facebook posts that say "If you keep scrolling, it means you don't love God" are the ones I scroll by the fastest. What I will say, though, is that as an American, you have a right and a responsibility to vote. Examine the issues that make the United States a country of freedom and equality, the issues that affect the Bill of Rights: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, bear arms, fair and speedy trial by a jury of your peers...just to name a few. Look at the mandates that are being made by governors while our representatives--those we have elected to speak for us in making decisions--are not getting a say. Consider the fact that we have been forcibly told where we can and can't go (riots are all well and good, but church services aren't...) and what businesses are required to enforce...all in the name of a virus that on its own has a lower mortality rate than the seasonal flu (the CDC only attributes 6% of reported deaths to Sars-CoV-2, which right now puts the number somewhere around 10,000).

And as a Christian, you have a responsibility to weigh all the issues against God's truth. Voting is not about a single person. It's not about picking a perfect candidate--and I can say without a doubt that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have put forth a perfect candidate. Voting, for the Christian, is about figuring out which candidate represents a platform most in line with God's ideals and laws. It is about who values the life of the unborn more than the politically correct stance on "choice." It is about who values the family structure that God has instituted. It is about who supports God's laws: God first, don't steal, don't murder, don't lie, honor your parents...just to name a few.

For me, the choice is clear. I will vote for those who will uphold the Constitution, because I believe the founders of this great country were truly following God's direction when they wrote it. I would ask you to pray, then vote as God directs.




Monday, August 24, 2020

hopeless?

I got an email the other day that opened with these words:

"Eighty percent of college students reported the COVID-19 crisis has had a negative effect on their mental health and one-fifth say it has significantly worsened, according to a survey conducted by Active Minds in April." (Higher Ed Hot Topics newsletter)

My first reaction was surprise. 80%? That sounds absolutely crazy. How can that possibly be true? The surprise changed to sadness pretty quickly, though, because I spent a lot of years in college. I understand the stress of classes, and I understand the added stress of all the other stuff in life that looms over you, a massive dark cloud at times that makes it nearly impossible to focus on studying. In the midst of all that, it would be incredibly easy to give in to despair and overwhelming anxiety.

But God.

When I was in college, there were many times when the pressure got to me. It was easy to start spiraling down into that sea of dark hopelessness...but God. He was my source of strength when all my own strength was gone. He was the One who pulled me back to the surface over and over again-- through family, friends, and even some of my professors.

As believers, we lose sight of the fact that so many things in our life would be completely different if it weren't for those two little words: but God. The sad truth of the matter is, a majority of today's college students don't know the importance of those two words. Our kids are being raised in a society that has decided to push God aside, not understanding all the consequences of such a decision. As a result, they are dealing with the stress and anxiety and pain that comes with living in this fallen world without the comfort and peace that comes with knowing the Creator of the universe.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not making light of mental health and mental illness. I am, however, saying that the only source of healing is God. Without Him at the center of it, no amount of medication or counseling or therapy is going to heal a broken life. In Him, we are promised a "peace that passes understanding" (Philippians 4:7), a peace that endures through the hardest of times solely because "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23). He promises to be with us through the struggles of life, so close to us even when we're in the depths of despair that He can whisper in our ear.

"Saying Your name, Eternal One, I called to You
    from the darkness of this pit.

Surely You’ve heard me say,
    'Don’t be deaf to my call; bring me relief!'

So close when I’ve called out in my distress,
    You’ve whispered in my ear, 'Do not be afraid.'"

Lamentations 3:55-57

As believers, we've fallen short. We watch people being swallowed up by hopelessness but we don't tell them about the source of the hope we have. We need to listen to the instructions Peter gave: "Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

How exquisitely important is it right now, in a time when people are admitting they feel hopeless, to point others to hope?

Hope is Christ--the Son who humbled Himself and submitted to the excruciating death of the cross, simply because of His devotion to the Father and love for us.

Hope is wisdom--promised to us by the source of all wisdom, the Creator of the universe.

Hope is a promise--a future, no matter what today holds. A promise that even when this world is spinning out of control, God isn't knocked off balance by any of it.

Hope is strength--not our own, but His strength.

Hope is waiting--quietly, patiently waiting on God's plan instead of rushing forward into your own, knowing His plans for you are like nothing you could ever imagine.

Hope is boldness--being able to step forward even when it means walking into the fire, knowing that God is powerful enough to rescue you from the flames, yet still taking that step if He decides not to pull you out.

Hope is salvation--from fear and despair, but more importantly from ourselves and all the ways we have fallen short of God's glory. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

What about the end times? (part 2)

We're going to pick up right where we left off last time--the seventh seal was opened, and silence filled heaven for half an hour. Although we're not told exactly why all of heaven was silent, I think it was probably a moment of grief for what is to follow: the seven trumpets.

What are the 7 trumpets of Revelation? – Part 1 (Rev 8 ...

Thunder, rumblings, lightning, and an earthquake start things off, then the first angel sounds his trumpet. We're told that hail and fire mixed with blood is cast down to earth, and 1/3 of the land is set on fire. It burs up 1/3 of the trees and scorches all the green grass. If all the horrors that came before weren't enough, you would think that this would get people's attention.

The second trumpet sounds, and a burning mountain is cast into the sea. It kills 1/3 of everything in the ocean, including wiping out 1/3 of the ships, and turns 1/3 of the water to blood. Taken with the first, it leads me to wonder about the possibility of an asteroid striking the earth.

The third trumpet sounds much the same as the second--the star "Wormwood" falls from heaven, turning 1/3 of all the rivers and springs bitter and poisonous. This disaster results in the death of many.

The fourth trumpet wipes out 1/3 of the lights in the sky, leaving us without sunlight for a third of the day and without lights in the sky for a third of the night.

And then here's something that really makes me pause for a second. It's at this point that we are told about a being, described as an eagle, flying around declaring "woe to the earth dwellers" because of what is about to happen. Think about that for a second. All this horror and disaster that has just been described, combined with the events that happened when the seals were opened, and we're getting a warning about how bad things are about to get.

The fifth trumpet starts it off with the abyss being opened. Black smoke rises from it that is thick enough to cover the sun. And from that smoke we see something unbelievable--something John first describes as locust, but goes on to say that they look like horses covered in war armor. He says they have what look like human faces and teeth like a lion, with iron plated armor and wings that sound like chariots rushing to battle. He also says their tails can sting like scorpions and cause torment to people.

Now, I've wondered a lot about these locust. I can't tell you for sure what they are. What I can say, though, is that John did his best to describe what he saw using the things with which he was familiar. Personally, there are two ideas that I go back and forth between when I'm trying to think about what these might be. My first thought, which is probably the more mainstream and logical, is to think that John was describing some sort of machine. Maybe a personal vehicle of war, something that will be used as a weapon by an army that tortures the people of the earth for the 5 months John describes. My other thought, arguably the more "out there" idea, is that these creatures from the abyss are demons given a physical form, much like the insectoid, mechanical-looking aliens we've dreamed up in so many movies.

Whatever the case, though, that's not really what's important. The important part of this section is the power they are given. Revelation 9:4-5 says, "However, they were instructed not to damage any grasses, plants, or trees that grow from the earth. Instead, they were given power for five months to torture, but not to kill, the people without the seal of Go upon their foreheads. The torment they inflicted was like the sting of a scorpion when it strikes."

If you'll remember, back in Revelation 7 we heard about the 144,000 who would receive the seal of God, a mark that they were His people. This was one of those places where I tend to have a different view--as I said, I fully believe the 144,000 sealed are from the literal tribes of Israel (as verses 4-9 say). I have no doubt that there are people from every group in the world who will be in heaven as God's children (we're told that very thing in verse 9), but I don't think we are included in those who are sealed. That means, as much as I don't like the idea of it, that I fall into the group that the "locust" of chapter 9 are allowed to torture. Even in the midst of that five months of torture, though, we have a promise. Despite the power given to them, they don't have the power to kill. It may not seem like much of a promise, knowing it means we will be tortured. I think it's a pretty important one, though, and it reminds me of this verse: "Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—slow is how some people want to characterize it—no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path and to turn toward God’s." (2 Peter 3:9) By allowing the torture but not death, God is giving all of us the opportunity to be witnesses in the midst of suffering so others can turn to Him.

The sixth trumpet is next, and it brings a cavalry of 200,000,000 bringing with them plagues that wipe out 1/3 of humanity. It may sound like a metaphor, but think about it this way: these "horses" are described as being armored, with heads like lions, and breathing fire. To me, that could easily be John trying to wrap his mind around some sort of armored vehicle and describe what he saw in terms his readers could understand. If that were the case, it's not so far-fetched to think of the plagues being spewed from their "mouths" as biological warfare.

What follows is a very sad, very familiar statement on humanity: despite all they've seen, the people refuse to turn away from the evil things they're chasing and choose to turn their backs on God. They decide instead to continue to worship powerless gods created by men.

We have a bit of an interruption here, a warning from one of the powerful messengers of Heaven: when the seventh trumpet is heard, the day of God will come. That will mean His judgment, and that isn't a cozy thought.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

sparrows and dryers

We've got a lot going on in our life right now (things I'll go into in more detail later), big changes that are setting our path for the future. And as always seems to be the case, we've got stuff piling up. The last few days have been trying for our family--capped by my niece getting injured in a freak accident with a barn door. I went to bed last night quite simply worn down. My mind was racing with a hundred different things and I really can't tell you how many times I woke up through the night.

But then came the morning.


One of the things that had gotten piled on was minor, especially in the face of everything else, but it definitely felt like a big deal. Our dryer simply stopped working yesterday. No light inside, no attempt to start when I pushed the button (no matter the setting), no breaker tripped--just nothing. Not a huge thing in the grand scheme of things, but a sizable frustration and inconvenience when it was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." I got up to have coffee with Nathan before he left for work and it occurred to me that I needed to open the dryer door to try to keep the load of clothes from getting mold and mildew. Low and behold, the light came on....so I pushed the button, and things started tumbling.

I know it may not seem like much of a "God thing" to some people, but I have to tell you that this morning, it couldn't bee anything else. It brought to mind these verses:


"Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body. Living is about more than merely eating, and the body is about more than dressing up. Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after youWorrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?


Nor should you worry about clothes. Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunningEven King Solomon, dressed in his most regal garb, was not as lovely as these lilies. And think about grassy fields—the grasses are here now, but they will be dead by winter. And yet God adorns them so radiantly. How much more will He clothe you, you of little faith, you who have no trust?

So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you tooSo do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today." (Matthew 6:25-34)

Sometimes, it's the little reminders that mean the most. It's the times that God makes it a point to say, "I'm still here, and I still care about you." No, not everything our family is facing is going to clear up right away. Yes, we still have big decisions and big challenges we have to figure out how to work through--God didn't take that away. He did, however, remind me that He's still here with me in the middle of the mess.

All because of a dryer.
 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

To my brother...after 16 years

Michael,

This isn't a letter I ever imagined I would need to write. One of the SEALS who took part in the mission that killed Bin Laden summed up what's going on in our country right now when he said this:
"I cannot believe I fought to defend you."

I never thought I would see what I'm seeing right now in the country so many in our family have fought to defend--the country you died to defend. There is so much division right now, and it's promoted and encouraged by those who claim to be serving the people. Everything has been turned into some sort of "us versus them" situation, no matter what.

But the crazy thing? People don't seem to realize that the "us" in this picture should be the American people, and the "them" should be all those who are determined to see this country fall.

Those who have been elected to office across this nation have somehow managed to convince people that the values which have always defined our country aren't worth defending. They are encouraging rioting in the streets and calling that "peaceful protesting" while demanding that church doors be locked. Elementary teachers are saying they are worried about parents being in on conversations with children, some even going so far as to say "parents are dangerous" because they could throw a kink into plans to brainwash them into thinking Christian principles are bad. They are teaching children that everything wrong is right and everything "conservative" is extremism and bad. There are shows and magazines aimed at kids that are promoting Marxism, "transgenderism", and the destruction of the family. We are being silenced when we try to stand up for what is right.

Maybe that's not the right way to put that. Maybe we aren't being silenced--we are just being silent.

Too many of us are letting your sacrifice go to waste. We are taking a step back from the battle that's raging around us, claiming that this isn't our fight. The thing we're forgetting, though, is that this fight we're seeing raging around us isn't "just political." Too often we try to separate the physical world from the spiritual and pretend like our fight should be confined to one or the other.

But this battle that's flaring up all around us? It's the result of the greater battle going on in the spiritual world around us. What better way for Satan to malign the name of Christ than to get the US--a country that is synonymous with "Christianity" to so many around the world--to fall into such an ugly mess? After all, if what people are seeing in the US represents Christianity, they definitely aren't going to want to have anything to do with it. He has played an ugly game for so long that people don't see it for what it is. He is turning people against each other at a rate I can hardly believe, let alone describe. And the horrible thing is, we are letting him.

People are spewing hate-filled words at each other, and all too often both sides are arguing that you can't call yourself a Christian if you don't think like they do. We are hiding behind masks and computer screens and doing Satan's work for him. All he has to do right now is sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

I owe you an apology. I've been too quiet for too long. I've been watching as the country you fought and died to defend burns itself to the ground. I've been silent as this country made it okay to steal, abandon, abuse, and kill the youngest and most defenseless. I've kept my mouth shut as people claim that everything the US has stood against in the past is now what we should be running toward--socialism, communism, atheism, Marxism...call it what you want, but it's all the same in the long run.

Michael, my heart hurts to tell you that you wouldn't recognize this country today. I know you would be in the thick of the fight, standing up for what you know is right and standing against all those trying to tear down everything that is good--no matter the cost. I think you're probably still in the thick of the fight, right in the middle of the spiritual battle that is raging between the armies of heaven and those that have fallen.

Your poem comes to mind more and more lately, but I haven't been a very good example of doing what it says. Instead of standing against the fiery arrows, I've spent too much time hiding. When my spirit has been crushed and I've felt weak, I've let myself wallow in the dirt lamenting all the ways nobody is doing anything.

I want to stand. I want to make you proud. I want to stand against those tearing down this country--but most of all, I want to stand beside you in that spiritual battle.

Love you always.







 

wild faith

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