Thursday, September 9, 2021

war

 War is raging all around us, and for far too long many of us have been too blind to see. Sure, we know the verses that talk about how our war isn't against flesh and blood... but when our flesh is comfortable it is so easy to think those verses apply to another time or another place.

What we don't realize, though, is that comfort often leads to complacency, and complacency is a tactic of the enemy. If we're complacent, we aren't on guard. We aren't the watchmen we're called to be, working with one hand and carrying a sword in the other. When we are complacent, we start thinking that this physical world is the only thing that matters--we focus on making sure our flesh is comfortable and content and push down the urging of our spirit to stand up, to fight back, to do something.

 



 We aren't called to comfort. We aren't called to a life of ease and quiet. In fact, Jesus warned multiple times that a life following Him would be a life of trials.

'16 Listen: I am sending you out to be sheep among wolves. You must be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. 17 You must be careful. You must be discerning. You must be on your guard. There will be men who try to hand you over to their town councils and have you flogged in their synagogues. 18 Because of Me, naysayers and doubters will try to make an example out of you by trying you before rulers and kings. 19 When this happens—when you are arrested, dragged to court—don’t worry about what to say or how to say it. The words you should speak will be given to you. For at that moment, 20 it will not be you speaking; it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 Your task will be fraught with betrayal: brother will betray brother, even to the point of death; fathers will betray their children, and children will rebel against their fathers, even to the point of death. 22-23 When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next town. This is the truth: you will not be able to witness to every town in Israel before the Son of Man comes. Everyone will hate you because of Me. But remember: the one who stays on the narrow path until the end will be saved.

24 A student is no greater than his teacher, and a servant is never greater than his master. 25 It is sufficient if the student is like his teacher and the servant like his master. If people call the head of a house “Beelzebul,” which means “devil,” just imagine what they’re calling the members of his household.

26 Do not be afraid of those who may taunt or persecute you. Everything they do—even if they think they are hiding behind closed doors—will come to light. All their secrets will eventually be made known. 27 And you should proclaim in the bright light of day everything that I have whispered to you in the dark. Whatever whispers you hear—shout them from the rooftops of houses.

28 Don’t fear those who aim to kill just the body but are unable to touch the soul. The One to fear is He who can destroy you, soul and body, in the fires of hell. 29 Look, if you sold a few sparrows, how much money would you get? A copper coin apiece, perhaps? And yet your Father in heaven knows when those small sparrows fall to the ground. 30-31 You, beloved, are worth so much more than a whole flock of sparrows. God knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head. So do not fear.'
Matthew 10:16-31

We need to stop being so afraid of what the world thinks of us and start purposefully following Christ. It's so easy to just sit back and be quiet, to stay just under the radar and convince ourselves that we aren't supposed to cause a stir. The problem is, that's not the truth. We are supposed to be lights in the darkness, showing Christ when the world around us is trying to hide Him.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Justice, Mercy, & Grace

 Adrian Rogers once gave the following set of definitions in a sermon:

Justice--getting what you deserve
Mercy--not getting what you deserve
Grace--getting what you don't deserve

It presents a very clear picture of our relationship with God and how it changes.

Right now, there's a huge focus on the idea of "justice" in society. People are demanding it at every turn, though when I listen to what they say they want, it sure doesn't sound like justice. When you look back into the Old Testament, the law was God's way of offering justice to His people. As a righteous Judge, God must deal in justice. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, justice essentially boils down to dealing with truth and fact with impartiality. Justice means that each person is dealt with exactly how they should be. I get what I deserve--no more, no less. If God's people lived faithfully under the Law, they got what they deserved.

So justice isn't such a bad thing, right? I mean, I've upheld the 10 commandments, right?

I haven't ever murdered anyone. But then there's that pesky verse where Jesus said that anyone who is angry with their brother without reason is just as guilty. According to His words, I'm deserving of judgment.

What about adultery? I'm good there, right? Under the letter of the law, yes. But it's another place where Jesus says that the letter of the law isn't what matters. If you look at someone other than your spouse with lust, that's adultery in your heart.

Uh oh--this whole "justice" thing isn't looking so good. But what about the one about idols? I haven't put up any carved idols in my house that I pray to or offer sacrifices to... but I have trusted money above God's providence. I've relied on my own judgment instead of following God's direction. I've put the good above the best time and time again. Oh wait. Now I think we're running over into the first commandment not to put anything above God.

And that's just with the biggies--the ones that should be "easy" to follow.

Thankfully, we're reminded time and time again that God understands us. In Psalm 103 we're told, "For He knows what we are made of; He knows our frame is frail, and He remembers we came from dust." He knew we couldn't stand under the weight of the justice of the law, so that's where mercy comes in.

Justice requires payment, and the payment sin requires is death. In order to spare us from paying that cost, Jesus stepped down into creation and paid the price for us with His death. His sacrifice meant that we don't have to pay the price for our sins--we don't have to get what we deserve.

That on its own would have been enough. The sacrifice would have been enough to save us from the penalty of our sins (not the consequences of our actions... but that's a topic for another day). That in itself--that mercy, the Son sent to pay the penalty for our sins--would have been so much better than we deserve.

But God.

As is so often the case, God didn't leave things at mercy. Instead, He chose to show us grace. He didn't just leave us at a place where our sins were paid for--He chose to give us gifts better than anything we could ever imagine. He chose to reward us as His children, heirs to His kingdom.

I'm so incredibly thankful that God chooses grace over justice.



Wednesday, September 1, 2021

13

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20

Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23

Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin Taylor Hoover, 31

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23

Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20

Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23

Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25

Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22

Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20

Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22

 

Never forget.




Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Truth won't be silenced

Cancelled.

Banned.

Censored.

Deleted.

Silenced.

It's something I never imagined I would see in the United States, but it seems to have happened in an instant. Instead of promoting discussion and civil discourse, our government is working to silence anyone who dares speak against the accepted narrative.No matter your stance on anything else facing our nation, the fact that opposing views are being completely suppressed should infuriate you.

Lies don't have to be silenced. The truth is much stronger than the lies, and even if truth is whispered while lies are shouted from the rooftops the truth will always win out in the end. I can't remember a time in history when those in power tried to silence lies. Instead, corrupt governments work hard to suppress the inconvenient truth that calls out their hypocrisy, their ineptitude, or their evil intentions.

 “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
George Orwell, 1984

While the situation in which we find ourselves seems so unthinkable, it isn't without precedent. In fact, you could probably point to it somewhere in the world at in time in history that you chose. Any time the power of man is put above the power of God you see exactly what is happening now. Our Founding Fathers saw it--and it led to the founding of a nation built on reliance on Divine Providence and submission to God's power, God's will, and God's judgment.

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
~Declaration of Independence

Though I hope I'm wrong, I'm afraid the United States has moved squarely into the center of God's judgment. In the midst of judgment, though, God has always promised His protection for His people. That protection seldom looks like we want it to look. All too often (for our tastes, anyway), that protection looks like peace and joy in the face of persecution. Look to our Christian brothers and sisters in Afghanistan right now, who are praising God as the Taliban goes door to door executing them. We need to follow their example and be willing to stand. We need to look to the instructions given to the church in Ephesus:

"10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." (Ephesians 6:10-18)

And though God has never promised a life of ease, a life free of trials (the opposite, in fact), He has always promised comfort for His people in the midst of trouble.

Isaiah 40
'
“Comfort, comfort My people,” says your God.

    “With gentle words, tender and kind,
Assure Jerusalem, this chosen city from long ago,
    that her battles are over.
    The terror, the bloodshed, the horror of My punishing work is done.
This place has paid for its guilt; iniquity is pardoned;
    its term of incarceration is complete.
It has endured double the punishment it was due.”

A voice is wailing, “In the wilderness, get it ready! Prepare the way;
    make it a straight shot. The Eternal would have it so.
Straighten the way in the wandering desert
    to make the crooked road wide and straight for our God.
Where there are steep valleys, treacherous descents,
    raise the highway; lift it up;
    bring down the dizzying heights.
Fill in the potholes and gullies, the rough places.
    Iron out the shoulders flat and wide.
The Lord will be, really be, among us.
    The radiant glory of the Lord will be revealed.
All flesh together will take it in. Believe it.
    None other than God, the Eternal, has spoken.”

A voice says, “Declare!”
    But what shall I declare?
    All life is like the grass.
All of its grace and beauty fades like the wild flowers in a field.

The grass withers, the flower fades
    as the breath of the Eternal One blows away.
People are no different from grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    nothing lasts except the word of our God.
It will stand forever.

Ascend a high mountain,
    you herald of good tidings, O Zion;
With a clear, strong voice make known to everyone
    the joy that belongs to God’s chosen place,
O, Jerusalem, You herald of good tidings!
    Make the news ring out! Don’t be afraid!
Say to these cities, this Judah: “Behold your God!”
10 The Lord, the Eternal, comes with power, with unstoppable might;
    He will take control without question or delay.
He will see to it that wages are paid,
    repairs are made, and all is set right again.
11 He will feed His fold like a shepherd;
    He will gather together His lambs—the weak and the wobbly ones—into His arms.
He will carry them close to His bosom,
    and tenderly lead like a shepherd the mother of her lambs.

12 Who has taken count and measured out all earth’s waters in a single, cupped palm
    and determined heaven’s expanse with an outstretched hand?
Who has counted out exactly how many grains of dirt are here on earth,
    and weighed the mountains and hills on scales?

13 Who has directed the Spirit of the Eternal One?
    Can anyone claim to be His advisor?
14 To whom did God turn for advice or instruction?
    Whom did He consult about right and wrong?
Who directed Him down the path of justice or imparted to Him knowledge
    or taught Him the way of understanding?

15 Face it; the nations are nothing but a drop in the bucket,
    only a smidgen on the scales by the reckoning of God.
He can pick up entire islands as if they are grains of dirt.
16 Even if we had all the resources of Lebanon—
    all of its trees to burn for fuel, all of its animals for burnt offerings—
How could we think that we’ve got enough to give to God?
17 All the countries of the world don’t add up to anything. In the eyes of God
    they are less than nothing;
    they are empty wastelands.

18 So would you try to find someone to compare to Him?
    Can you think of anything that has a likeness to God?
19 An idol? Hardly. They are made by human hands.
    Even if they are overlaid with gold, decorated with silver,
And shaped by the world’s best artisans,
    they are subject to tarnish, tearing, and breaking.
20 Those who cannot afford such an extravagant offering
    select a choice hardwood that will not rot,
And seek a skilled artisan to fashion an image
    that will not totter and fall.

21 Don’t you know, haven’t you heard or even been told
    from your earliest memories how the earth came to be?
22 Who else could have done it except God, enthroned high above the earth?
    From such a vantage people seem like grasshoppers to Him.
Who else but God could stretch out the skies as if they were a curtain,
    draw them tight, suspend them over our heads like the roof of a tent?
23 God reduces the rulers and judges,
    the rich and powerful of the earth, to nothing;

24 They scarcely are planted, take root and start growing,
    before God blows a withering breath,
And storm winds carry them away like chaff.

25 The Holy One asks, “Do you really think you can find
    someone or something to compare to Me? My equal?”
26 Look at the myriad of stars and constellations above you.
    Who set them to burning, each in its place?
    Who knows those countless lights each by name?
They obediently shine, each in its place,
    because God has the great strength and strong power to make it so.

27 Why, then, do you, Jacob, inheritors of God’s promise,
    you, Israel, chosen of God—
Why do you say, “My troubled path is hidden from the Eternal;
    God has lost all interest in My cause”?
28 Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
    The Eternal, the Everlasting God,
The Creator of the whole world, never gets tired or weary.
    His wisdom is beyond understanding.
29 God strengthens the weary
    and gives vitality to those worn down by age and care.
30 Young people will get tired;
    strapping young men will stumble and fall.
31 But those who trust in the Eternal One will regain their strength.
    They will soar on wings as eagles.
They will run—never winded, never weary.
    They will walk—never tired, never faint.'

 



Thursday, August 26, 2021

Dear God...

 I know I should trust You. I know Your promises are true. I know You are ultimately in control of everything happening in this world. Sometimes, though, it's just so hard. Even though I know it never works out when I do, there's still a part of me that wants to try to control all the things. I look at the world around me and see it spinning out of control in a way I never would have imagined seeing just a few years ago. My nature is to try to reach out and stabilize everything I can, to attempt to keep "me and mine" from being thrown off-kilter. I start thinking that if I can just do enough, plan enough, and prepare enough, I'll be able to hold things in place for the people I love.

It's not like I don't know better. I've watched some of my best laid plans go up in smoke. I've tried desperately to cling to things and had them slip through my fingers. I've begged and pleaded for You to just do things the way I expect only to sit back in disbelief when I see the way they turn out--very seldom the way I thought they would.

But when I'm honest, the best things that have happened in my life have been the things that didn't go the way I planned. My life looks so much different right now than anything I ever planned--because Your plans are always so much more. More everything, really: more scary, more intense, more beautiful, more risky, more fitting, more challenging, more perfect.

God, in the midst of all the spinning help me to let go of all the things I'm trying to hold in place. Instead, I want to hold onto You. Because no matter how much this world is thrown off balance or how much the earthly foundations are shaken, You never move. You never change. You aren't surprised by the things that catch me off guard. You are faithful.

"Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."


 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

faith of the martyrs

 The whole world is watching what is unfolding in Afghanistan right now--the chaos and heartbreak has caught so many of us off guard. With the Taliban taking complete control, the people are facing an unimaginable future. The reports coming out of the country are almost surreal, and definitely impossible for most of us in the United States to understand.

What has hit me as the most spectacular, though, are the reports we are hearing from the followers of Christ who are in Afghanistan. They are fleeing their homes and trying to protect their families, but at the same time they are saying they plan to meet Jesus face to face within the next couple of weeks.

Planning to meet Jesus.

God, give them strength. Give them peace. Give them mercy.

And give us a small fraction of their faith.


When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw under the heavenly altar the souls of those murdered for holding fast to the word of God and their testimony. 10 They cried out in a great, singular voice.
Martyrs:
How much longer, O Lord, the holy One, the true One, until You pronounce judgment on the inhabitants of the earth? Until You avenge our blood?
11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest for a little while longer—soon their number would be complete. In a little while, more of their fellow servants, brothers, and sisters would be murdered as they had been."

Revelation 6:9-11

Saturday, August 14, 2021

17 years... almost a lifetime

 Michael,

 17 years. It seems like such a long time, and it means I'm getting way too close to the point where I've lived more of my life without you than with you. In some ways, it seems like that will mark 2 different lifetimes--the one I lived with you and the one I've lived since you. I still miss you all the time. Sometimes, the missing you part is normal. It's just a little thought that I would love to be able to tell you something or ask your advice. Other times, it's painful enough that it takes my breath away.

I wish you were here to know all your nieces and nephews--there are a lot of them now. I would love to see that crooked grin of yours while you pestered them like you always did me. I imagine you would make sure they all knew how to throw a punch, too. I would love to hear your take on all the chaotic stories that come out of my life on the farm. I have a feeling you would laugh as much as Pop does. The two of you have always been good at making me see disasters in a different light.

I really wish I could talk with you about all the craziness in the world right now. I have to be honest, there are times when I'm glad you aren't here to face it. I never imagined I would live in an America where rights and freedoms were taken away. I especially never thought I would see the day when the freedom you died to defend was given away freely by so many people. You were carried in a coffin that was draped with a flag that millions of people are now saying is a disgrace, and it breaks my heart. The people who are giving away their freedoms so quickly seem to have forgotten the high price that was paid for those freedoms.

 

"Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"

That question is one I'm asking myself a lot lately. Instead of bravery, the government and media are pushing fear. Instead of freedom, we're being told to give up our rights in the name of safety. Never mind the fact that we aren't in nearly as much danger as they are saying... but then again, they aren't too concerned with facts any more. Actual data is suppressed as "disinformation" and we're told to just believe what we're told. We're living in a society where any voice of opposition is instantly silenced. We're expected to fall in line with the "groupthink" that is being pushed on us and ignore the hypocrisy of those doing the pushing. Division is all that matters. After all, you can only have a ruling elite in power if you create an "us versus them" mentality. That's the strategy that has been used pretty much since the dawn of time.

"The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power."
~George Orwell's 1984

 Sometimes, I'm glad you aren't here to see what's happening. Other times, I wish you were here so I could get strength from standing beside you. Because despite all the unanswered questions about what your life would have been like these past 17 years, I have no doubts about where you would stand now. You would stand on the side of freedom. You would stand, like you always did, beside those whose freedoms were being taken away. You would stand for truth and the rights of the individual. You would stand against the oppressor, because that is what you always did. You would stand to defend our God-given rights because you died trying to ensure those rights for the people of Iraq.

I miss you. I hope I make you proud.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

imperfect church

 I saw a post the other day that repeated something I've seen a lot. Basically, it was along the lines of, "I don't go to church because the people there are hypocrites." So many people use the excuse that the pews are filled with imperfect people as the reason they don't gather together on Sunday morning. They talk about people who share verses and say they are praying for people but then mess up in some way, and somehow the fact that those people are at church is used as the reason they don't go themselves.

I go to church with a bunch of imperfect people.  They mess up--most of them daily in some way, if I'm being honest. They get cranky and have days when they are just plain grumpy. They skip the Sunday morning service sometimes. They get mad. They say things they shouldn't. They get impatient. They make mistakes, and sometimes they even make conscious choices to do something they shouldn't.

I'm incredibly thankful for that, because it means they understand when I do the exact same thing. They can help me figure out how to do better because they've been through it.

Because those same imperfect people? They are loving. They are generous.  They are people who have been through unimaginably hard times and came out on the other side more reliant on God. They search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions. They reach out to the broken and the hurting because they know what it is like to be in those dark places. They apologize when they are wrong and they ask forgiveness when they mess up. In their weaknesses, they point others to the strength of God. All the broken places in their lives let God's light shine out.