Sunday, August 27, 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflections on my 2 Years in the Salvation Army Ministry Discovery Program Internship: Serving in Escanaba, Michigan

The views on this blog do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Salvation Army organization or it's membership.  These are my personal views.  God be praised. 

I suppose it doesn't matter too much what has happened in my own personal life over the past two years, as I've stepped into Christian ministry, but I thought perhaps my experiences might encourage and find identification with those who are enduring struggles to carry the message of Jesus to the world.  I've been blessed to enter into ministry in the Salvation Army, the coolest church ever in my humble opinion.  So I thought I'd share with you about my internship with TSA.  Perhaps your considering such a vocation in full time ministry?  I hope this reflection will be constructive to you!  

Here is what God has done in my life; And listen, I'm not a missionary in a 3rd world country, I'm not an imprisoned saint in North Korea, I'm just a recovering junkie that Jesus found.  Later on, The Salvation Army decided to take a chance on me and see if I could handle the rigors of ministry.  So let's talk about that journey.  
"He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint."

-Isaiah 40:29-31

I remember when I first found out from the Salvation Army that I was heading to Escanaba.  I was quite surprised.  In fact I was hoping for somewhere warmer.  But God knew what He was doing.  I got on my knees after receiving the news and asked God: "Is this what you have for me?  Is this where I belong?"

And God seemed to direct me to look down at my shirt.  I didn't know why.  But then I realized as I looked down I was wearing a dark blue shirt with a red shield on it.  

Mom and I went to see if we could find an apartment in Escanaba.  It was difficult at first.  Nothing seemed to be working out quite right.  The harbor tower was full at the time, we couldn't find anything decent under $500.00.  

I remember I'd had a dream that I was in an apartment and I looked out the back window of the apartment and I saw a white house with a music note symbol on it.  So I joked to mom, watch for a place where you can see a music note from the back window.  And she said, yeah, maybe near a music store!

We found a place, and when I walked inside, I looked out the back window, and sure enough, there was a white house behind the apartment, and just above the line of bushes, there was a black music note on the house.  

I'd lived in Wausau all my life, so moving to another state was quite a shock to my mind.  Wausau's population plus the surrounding smaller towns is 100k.  Escanaba was about 10,000.  Visiting I wondered, what could be the need here?  I saw tons of churches, dozens of them.  But I also noticed many homeless, and while visiting I asked several waitresses at the local diners: "What is the most serious issue that faces Escanaba?"  The usual answer was drug addiction, either meth or heroin.  

I realized that God had work for me to do there.  But more so, he had a lot for me to learn.  So I obeyed the Lord.

After moving in I struggled a great deal with isolation, confusion, depression, and the most severe anxiety.  It was exceedingly difficult.  One of the hardest times I've ever faced.  My cats were similarly discombobulated.  But at least we were struggling together!

I went to the church services at the Salvation Army Escanaba corps.  There were about 60 in attendance.  I was introduced, and after the service I was heartened by the surge of support and encouragement I found in the people in attendance.  It was a blessing.  I felt very much welcomed as part of a new family.  That did much to help me to keep moving forward, even when afraid.

That is one of the essential truths I've learned in the past two years: Move forward even when your afraid.  It's hard, but it's true and it works.  

The first few months of my work at the corps was very strenuous.  I had a hard time emotionally and socially, beginning to deal with complex situations, coworkers, and after-work hours commitments.  It was very tough at first to go to work in the morning, run home for dinner, then head back to work in a few hours to do youth activities or Bible study.  

My advice to those in a similar situation is if your feeling overwhelmed, fatigued, exhausted everyday; don't give up and assume that you can't do it.  Keep trying to do it, even when it's really hard.  Don't give up, keep pushing even when your at the edge of your wits.  No one said this was going to be easy.  Be persistent, don't give up too easily.  It gets easier over time.

I had to lean on my support system. Thankfully I had some ladies in the corps who really had my back and were there to support me.  I had my recovery groups in the area, and I was seeing a counselor.  Even more important than that, and probably the only reason I made it through the tough schedule, work stress, difficult coworkers, and all the rest was because I diligently prayed.  I didn't just say I prayed, or talked about praying, I actually prayed, every morning, before every meal, and every night.  And I did my devotions and read my Bible.  The center of my support system was and is, God.  I'm not saying that to brag, but to encourage people to not neglect this.  Without continuous prayer, devotions, and daily Bible reading failure in ministry work is 100% certain.  It's neglected out of ego, pride, and lack of discipline.  That's my opinion. 

I had ongoing conflicts with coworkers, one in particular which made each day at work quite stressful.  I struggled with a great deal of anxiety day by day.  I struggled with a lot of fear and weakness early on.  Often I dreaded going to work in the morning.

I was green as green could be at the start.  I insisted early on that I only wanted to do one year in Escanaba, then go to training college.  Major Ralph knew better, and encouraged me to stay the full two years.  

Just two weeks later, a godly man named Major Meyer invited me to dinner with the leadership of the division.  This was a God-given appointment.  I had been asking God: "Do you want me to stay for 1 or 2 years?"  And these godly men, Major Meyer, Thom, Kevin, others, they encouraged me to stay the full two years.  And to this day I'm so thankful that they talked me about ministry, about the rigors of it, about how much I could learn over two years, about how it wouldn't set back my ministry path, because "in the internship you will be doing constant ministry."  God set that up, and it was good.  It was also encouraging for such important men in the division to sit down a green new intern and give him some time to talk.  That meant a lot.  So it was decided, I would stay 2 full years.  And I haven't regretted it. 

My boss Major Ralph took the CSM (Corps Sergeant Major- the chief lay leader of the church) and I through preaching classes early on.  I shadowed Major Ralph in all he did, went with him to his service club, food drives, out to the dump, out to the storage unit, United Way meetings, donation pickups, conferences, canathons, fundraisers, and other activities.  

I started doing home visits with church members, which was awesome.  And I started visiting a nearby nursing home 4 days a week.  I did visits with members of the nursing home, and began to share scripture and devotions with them.  It was one of my favorite things to do, and a welcome distraction from the stress of the work environment at the corps.  

I put my expertise in social media to work at the corps, taking over the Facebook page of our Salvation Army corps and building it up with pictures, videos, updates, and new followers in the community.  I asked to set up a Twitter page for the corps and this was approved, and I began tweeting about our corps, and about the scriptures and Jesus.  This was a rewarding pursuit.

Early on the social worker was away for a while, so I had the chance to do social services work.  I really had a hard time with it.  I tried to say no, but there were people that really did a good job of manipulating me.  And pretty soon word got out that the Salvation Army would pay your bills and I was having visits with several people each day asking for money.  I was so relieved to get out of that position once the social worker returned.  It was an ugly realization when I understood that people had been using me and telling me stories that probably weren't true.  But you live and you learn.

I recall one day it was pouring rain, and I saw a homeless man standing in the rain.  He was holding a sign asking for help.  I parked my van and walked over to him, and held up my umbrella so it was covering us both.  I said, "Hey, we have a homeless shelter here that you can go to and get out of the rain."  

He said,"No thanks, I'll wait for someone to buy me a hotel room."

So I told him about our daily meal program and then walked back to the van.  This incident helped me to realize that for some, they don't want help, they're just leaching off the good will of others.  In fact for the rest of my time there I saw the same guy at the same intersection, holding a sign that said "traveling."  Apparently he didn't make it very far. 

The first pasty week was hard for me, all those people everywhere.  It really stressed me out.  But I fought through it as best I could, and actually began to enjoy myself.  More and more I was realizing that everything good in life was on the other side of the giant mountain of fear in my life.

I had surgery that winter to remove several lumps from my arms and torso, to see if they were cancerous.  My friend Beverly at the corps helped me get through that difficult time.  They gave me vicodin after the surgery, which was a serious danger to my sobriety. Thankfully the prescription ran out, and that was that.  

I was interviewed on the TV news for one of our programs, and later did a radio interview as well while my boss was away.  God was really giving me an all out introduction to life in officership. 

As we approached kettle season I heard stories of how previous interns had given up and quit during kettle season because it was so hard.  I determined in my mind early on that I was going to do my best to persevere and not be a quitter.  So we did the canathon in front of the grocery store.  It was cold and long, but also surprisingly rewarding. Shortly after kettle season took off. I was at the corps constantly it seemed, from 10 am to 10 pm sometimes.  I split kettle counting with Major Ralph, he did 3 times a week, I did 3 times a week.  Actually some of my fondest memories were in kettle season.  I felt a joy and strength, that God was raising me up in strength as I went through that month and a half of heavy work.  It was quite rewarding.

I began to pray for my coworkers, and pray for those in my life who were driving me nuts.  This helped me to love them.  And it seemed like God honored those prayers, and would heap burning coals on the heads of those I prayed for.  As odd as it sounds, it's true.  If I love my enemies, God goes to work on my behalf. 

One of the hardest things for me was learning youth ministry.  This was a central focus for Major Ralph, building up the youth ministries at the corps.  Which is certainly a wise thing to do.  Sadly I had no experience in working with kids or teens.  I mean 0.  I had never, ever done anything like it before.  Every job and ministry position I'd held prior was working with adults.  That's what I knew, working with young adults, adults, homeless, and elderly.  So I struggled badly early on in working with the boys club.  I remember early on I threw a basketball to one of the kids and it knocked the kid over.  Apparently I hadn't realized the force of my throw, or the 7 year old's ability to catch a ball flying at that speed.  Oh boy!  

The struggles for the first year continued, but slowly but surely I realized my spiritual muscles were beginning to grow.  Like early on in any rough workout schedule you feel so weak, like your unable to continue.  But if you keep after it day in and day out, eventually you realize you've got new muscles and found new strength.  

Meanwhile my work at the Bishop Noa nursing home was developing into something new.  I was visiting an old lady named Marget, and her roommate joined us for the devotional several times.  From this spawned an interdenominational Bible study on Fridays.  More and more were attending and eventually we had about twelve elderly ladies and men sitting in the chapel as I led Bible study.  It was great.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was at the end of my first year in August when I was asked to lead Vacation Bible School.  It was a source of a huge amount of stress for me.  But I was putting too much pressure on myself.  The Majors were there to help me through all of it, and guide me in what I ought to do. 

I became the host on stage, and managed to lead and answer questions quite well.  During the five day week I got to do five devotional messages with the kids and host trivia questions, prize giveaways, and give out candy to people who answered questions correctly.  On the last day I invited children to come on stage and stand with me to declare that they had received Jesus Christ as their savior.  The stage was filled, truly a glowing moment in my short life in ministry.

I discovered a joy in working with the day camp kids during VBS week.  I really did.  This was exceedingly surprising to me because I had always said that I had no interest in working with kids. But sure enough, I'd found a real interest in ministering to children.  Praise the Lord.  

The week came together beautifully and many of the kids turned their lives over to Jesus.  My goal through VBS was to win them to Christ, and give them the word.  I hope it worked.  And I pray that work continues.  Only God knows.  

Let me say that the first year was very, very hard.  I was new to nearly every area of ministry.  But I didn't give up.  Don't give up, don't ever give up!  Keep marching forward, even if it hurts.  God will make you able to do what your called to do over time.  Don't assume your present inability is permanent, God transforms us into able people, but He calls us to it while we are still totally unable.  That's faith, believing that God will make us able in the future.  

The second year seemed to fly by. I really began to enjoy certain aspects of ministry.  My favorite part was preaching the word.  I really enjoyed putting together a powerful sermon, inviting God to minister and guide my words, and to give it on Sunday with passion and zeal.  And I loved sharing the word in Bible study at the nursing home.

I became very close with the congregation at the Salvation Army church.  I went to dinner regularly with Art and Grace, and regularly spent time with Beverly and Tom.  I became good friends with Stanley and Carla, Rick, and many others.  They were my support network in many ways.

I was preaching half-time, twice a month, and I began a 12 part series based on what I'd learned from the Truth Project, the book "I don't have enough Faith to be an Atheist" by Norm Geisler, additionally influenced by RZIM, Reasonable Faith, and Cross Examined ministries.  If you'd like to read or listen to any of those sermons go to "Christian Worldview" on the menu bar of this website.  

Victory after victory came about in the second year.  Hard fought victories came about.  I had the difficult experience of helping let go a fellow employee. That Christmas season I was placed in charge of scheduling bell ringers and experienced dealing with some bell ringers who weren't serving up to expectations.  There were many difficult experiences, and I made some mistakes along the way as well.  I struggled in certain areas, usually related to dealing with people, and triumphed in other areas, usually related to pastoral care and platform ministry.

I took a test administered by staff from DHQ and it helped me to understand my leadership style.  Unsurprisingly my results were in the category of "the imaginative leader" in that I find new ways to translate the timeless truths of scripture. This style was compared with past leaders like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. 

The year seemed to fly by.  Pasty week happened twice in there.  Unlike the first year, the anxiety and fatigue began to melt away.  It melted away more and more.  And I realized that my spiritual muscles had grown a great deal.  And I realized that God had stretched my tank, so it could be filled with more responsibilities and more weighty spiritual concerns.  I was becoming more and more "myself" than I'd ever been in the past.  God was stripping away the damaged, crusty burnt pieces of my soul and renewing me in the water and Spirit of his love, all in the crucible of ministry. 

Honestly over that whole time I was constantly obsessively thinking about huge world issues.  I naturally do that.  I pay a lot of attention to world issues, political issues, economic philosophy, social issues, and Christianity in the context of a world movement.  Mainly my mind would constantly focus in on the United States. I would sit there in my little office in Upper Michigan and think about the decline of church attendance in Europe and America.  I'd think about the debates in the church about gay marriage, abortion, and scriptural authority.  I'd watch the political battles between conservatism and liberalism.  I'd weigh the pros and cons and consider how Christianity could better reach people in 3rd world countries and scattered parts of the world.  I can't turn my mind off sometimes, and I constantly "get lost in my thoughts" as my campion-psych evaluation aptly noted.  

I would burn with angst about the state of our country.  I would burn with fear and sorrow and angst at the immorality, and often for the souls of children who are so led astray of a secular ideology pushed in public schools and universities.  And I'd think about the unborn babies being cut from the bellies of their mothers by the tens of thousands month by month.  I'd think about the people in 3rd world countries starving to death.  My mind constantly grappled with world issues.  

I was very active in the 2016 primaries and the presidential election.  I felt like the fate of the country was at stake, so I fought very hard and raised my voice constantly.  But I didn't bring that into my Salvation Army work.  I tried to keep those separate.  But I am a citizen of my country, and I have a right as a private citizen to advocate for those political beliefs which I believe best represent the Christian underpinnings of our society.  There's nothing wrong with that.  If your in ministry, there is nothing wrong with being active in politics.  In fact I would argue it's your duty as a Christian to be involved, privately.  But in the pulpit and in the uniform, it was my job to set aside partisan-politics and carry the gospel, serving those in need. 

The election ended and everyone was shocked, myself included.  I began preaching my last thirteen sermons.  It was a time of great joy in the ministry work.  I had a lot of child-like hopes about revival and awakening.  I had hoped to double the size of the church, but that didn't happen.  And I don't suppose it always happens like that.  In some assignments we might gather many, in others we may simply hold the line.  In and out of season we must serve, right?

God is good.  He put some very wonderful people around me.  Major Evelyn and Leonard were a constant encouragement to me. They had been retired nearly 25 years when I got there.  Talk about a sweet, wonderful, caring couple that could always put a smile on your face.  They were wonderful.

Still another support was Stanley and Carla.  On my birthday in April they invited me over and had a party for me.  They made us brisket and pie, with ice cream.  It was wonderful.  No one had ever done that for me before, never, aside from my parents.  That was really a blessing, to be surrounded by such a family.

I still say to this day that I was surrounded by a family I had never known before.  I arrived and it was like coming home to a home I'd never known.  It was amazing.  

I had to fight hard early on.  But once I got through that rough patch, it became more and more wonderful.  Taking kids to camp and serving at camp was really a surprise blessing.  I loved being at camp and sharing devotionals and have conversations with young people.  It was awesome.  I really love the camp ministries of the Salvation Army.  And I always loved Youth Councils, and Regeneration and other awesome conferences.  The youth ministries of the Salvation Army are truly special and blessed.  There is nothing quite like it.  It's astonishing.  

So things were going great and I was preaching my sermons.  Then my grandma Monica died suddenly.  She was in a nursing home, suffering, age 93, and she passed away that morning.  She had a wind chime that I gave her years and years ago.  And she kept it outside on her back deck.  It reminded her of me.  And every time the wind would blow and the wind chime would be going crazy out there she was amazed that it wouldn't break off and fly away.  But it never did.  She knew that when it was blowing all over that I was in danger in my life.  She equated it to me.  And she prayed for me, endlessly, endlessly and constantly.  And Jennifer a close friend of my grandma shared with me at her funeral that they were talking and she was thinking of stopping praying for me because it was just too late.  And it was then that she got the phone call saying that I had gotten clean, sober, and I'd come to know Jesus.  

It's interesting that the morning grandma died it was super windy in Escanaba, and it was so windy that morning as I was writing my sermon the storm window blew off the old house and smashed on top of the garage below.  I took that as a sign that her wind chime, her life had finally broken off, to be with the Lord.  I had the honor and privilege to give the eulogy at grandma Monica's funeral, and I used the opportunity to preach the gospel to my family, a gospel that they'd probably never heard before.  Praise the Lord.  

Two weeks later, I kid you not, my Grandpa Bernie Check died of a heart attack.  My prayer warrior died, and Bernie the man who had given me my first Bible and shared the gospel with me died two weeks later.  I felt like I'd lost my two arch-angels.  But it was God's will.  I had the chance to speak at his funeral and share what grandpa had done in my life.  

The time flew by.  I worked with a friend in town who was trying to stay clean, Kristy.  We met together, went to meetings, support groups, and church services for about my entire second year. And right before I left Escanaba I had the chance to baptize Kristy in lake Michigan.  It was amazing.  Praise the Lord. 

One of the regrets I have from my two years there is that I didn't make more close friends, that I didn't connect with more people outside church and develop relationships.  I think if I were to start over today and do it again, that would happen much more naturally.  But I was fighting hard just to keep my head above water in the stresses of the move, the new job, and the new responsibilities.  So I think I did the best I could.  

If you can be a bit of a perfectionist like me, remember to give yourself grace, because God does, so who are you not to?  He gives you grace, and He knows you aren't perfect.  That's the whole point after all, that's why we need Jesus Christ as full and total savior over us.  We can't do it perfectly.  Only He can provide that righteousness that is beyond us.  

During my second year, throughout I felt the spiritual warfare ramp up to a new level.  If your experiencing the same thing in ministry, let me tell you now: You aren't imagining it.  It's real.  I would have nightmares almost every night, very dark, disturbing images would be placed before me.  When that happens and you wake up in the morning relieved to be awake your first reaction should be a big smile across your face.  Why?  Because the enemy is attacking you.  Which means that you are standing for Christ, and Christ is being glorified.  What a wonderful reminder that we are on the right track; When we're attacked by the enemy!  

I did not get a lot of thank yous or atta-boys from my commanding officers.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  It's simply their way.  They expect you to do your duty.  Words of encouragement aren't necessary.  And it helped to strip away some of my entitlements, my attitudes of deserving certain things in life.  

As a minister of the gospel, which is critical to understand, I have no conditions before God, there are no negotiations on where I go or don't go, God is in charge, I'm His servant.  I don't have certain rights, I don't get a say in what I do, I follow His leading, and rightly so, He is God, and I'm just a man.  There is no point in arguing with God, His plan is always right.  I didn't know that early on, which made it hard, but I found that when I follow His lead everything does work out in the end, for His glory.  

Additionally I would say to all those in ministry: We have no right to any sort of pride, pride is cancer to ministry.  It festers within and destroys the godly man's ability to do anything good at all, ever.  Pride should be feared and shunned.  But it's insidious, it sneaks up on us.  And when I got a harsh talking to from my commanding officer, my pride was damaged, and rightly so.  Pride should be damaged if it's there, it has no place in ministry.  I'm a servant of the flock, and yes, I'm a leader of the flock, but no duty is below me, no rebuke is below me, and if I'm wrong, then I ought to thank the person who let me know.  

There were innumerable dynamic duties as a ministry intern, I was called upon to carry boxes, stock shelves, do interviews with media, write letters, develop curriculum, lead Bible study, lead corps cadets (teen group), lead adventure corps boys club (5-8 years old), lead songs in worship, write and preach sermons, do home visits, visit nursing homes, visit the jail, pray with people at the hospital, stand outside in the cold taking can donations, schedule bell ringers, make pasties, take tickets at the entrance of the fair grounds, attend United Way meetings, unload donations at the post office, drop cardboard at the dump, canvass small businesses for donations, lead vacation bible school, take kids to camp, and a dozen other assorted tasks.  To be a minister I learned is to do a bit of everything, and learn to be dynamic, responding at a moments notice to diverse situations.  

If your considering officership (pastoring) in the Salvation Army I'd encourage you to look into the Ministry Discovery Program Internship.  It was an incredible blessing to my life.  It showed me so much about officership and I've learned that I can, God willing, become an officer.  

Right now I'm a new cadet at the Salvation Army college for officer's training in Chicago.  I'm incredibly blessed, humbled, and honored to be here.  It's a whole new experience to be here, and I feel somewhat like I felt when I first got to Escanaba.  But fundamentally it's good.  There are wonderful people here, and the staff and leaders are incredibly encouraging, kind, and approachable.  I can tell they really want us to succeed.  Even more though, God is here with me.  Just as God was with me in Escanaba, God is here, now.  He leads me wherever I go.  It's amazing, it's grace and love.  I'm so blessed, and I know the future is bright.  Thanks for reading. 

Related Posts: 
  1. Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
  2. What is the matrix?
  3. Living in the Suburban Sprawl (Mountains beyond Mountains)
  4. Ancient Doorways in the Brickhouse: Fields of Green in your Dreams
  5. Depression & Meaninglessness: Where is God in the depths of sorrow?
  6. The Awe of Dreams & the Surreal
  7. Big Picture: The Solution to all the Problems of Earth
  8. What is the meaning of Life?
  9. You Oh Lord are my Strength: The Manifold Provision of God
  10. Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain

Monday, August 14, 2017

After Jesus, What's Next: 10 Guide Posts for Christian Living

So I've come to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior.  I've come to understand his atoning sacrifice on the cross. I've come to believe that Jesus resurrected and is alive in heaven right now.  I'm beginning to study my Bible and pray twice a day.  I'm attending a good church weekly and I've even gotten plugged in with a small group.  I'm volunteering for ministries at my church, and serving my community through volunteering at other non-profit organizations.  What more do I need to understand about the scriptures?  What should my practice be in life?  What do I need to understand in the long term about being a Christian?  How should I live my life?

I'm glad you asked my friend!  But I suppose I asked myself, though hypothetically I'm asking on behalf of someone else who may or may not exist.  But that's alright.  I'm sure it's a common question.  So let's dig into it. 

We can get into a habit of so over-emphasizing the conversion experience of coming to know Christ, and preaching the gospel, and trying to get people saved that we forget that there an entire life to be lived after that moment of belief.  After that day of my salvation, I had to learn how to live as a Christian.  I was saved at age 27, meaning I've got a lot of life left to live!  I'm 32 today, and just beginning to understand what it means to live for Christ. 

Let's look at ten areas of concern, when considering how we ought to live, after Christ.

1. My Will vs. God's Will - This is a fundamental truth of the new testament, in that coming to know Christ is to turn our whole lives, plans, goals, and desires over to God.  We turn our will and life over to God.  But what does that mean in practice?  Essentially it means that we no longer live according to our will, and what we want, but we begin to live seeking through prayer and scriptural meditation to seek God's will for our lives and then carry out that will.  

Romans 12:2 (ESV) says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (emphasis, me)

So take an example in my life, I wanted to be a novelist and a journalist in the worst way.  But when I came to know God, I needed to reconsider my plans.  And as I prayed, went to church, listened to sermons on Youtube, read books, read the Bible and such, I realized God's will for me was to go into ministry.  Knowing that I could either argue with God and go my own way, or submit to God and do it His way.  So I did it His way, even though I was uncertain about how it would all come together.  That's faith, striking out when we don't even know how we're going to get there.

2. Sexual Practice - You'd be amazed how many times in the NT letters it talks about sexual immorality.  It's obviously a huge concern for us as we struggle in the flesh.  God tells us to get married, to not be out carousing with random people, God's word tells us not to engage in orgies or sexual relations with family members, and to abstain from sexual relations with those of our same gender.  There are numerous sexual teachings in the New Testament, mainly in the letters.  So we're called to be very cautious about our sexual relationships.  

God knows us all too well, doesn't He?  He knows exactly what areas we struggle in and exactly what our weak points our.  This is an issue we like to sneak by with sub-par conduct.  Yet it says so clearly in the scriptures: "Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." - Ephesians 5:3 (NIV) Not even a hint. 

3. Wait on the Lord - Learn to be exceedingly patient.  I'm not kidding, and I'm not being flippant.  Get used to being very patient, and waiting for things long term.  We think in terms of days and weeks.  God responds in months, years, decades and beyond.  

There have been times in my short walk as a believer that I've felt like God had forgotten me, left me behind, or that He wasn't responding.  I've noticed that there are times that God is silent, and it isn't because something has gone amiss.  God is intentionally silent.  

Don't give up, and don't be easily swayed to abandon your walk.  Be faithful even when it seems like your alone.  

Don't become overly upset when God doesn't answer a prayer, or when you don't understand what is happening.  Be utterly faithful.  And submit yourself humbly before God, responding as Job did when he said, "God gives and God takes away, never the less, blessed be the name of the Lord."  

In times of struggle please the Lord utterly by saying, "I don't understand Lord, but I love you and I know you are holy."

4. Get Wisdom - Even if it costs you everything, gain wisdom.  Read books, watch documentaries, watch Youtube videos by great minds, diligently study the scriptures, make use of study Bibles, learn and grow in your own understanding.  Put the Bible into real practice.  Get together with an inner-circle of diligent followers of Christ and really try to practice the faith.  Study the various parts of the philosophy of Christian life and figure out to put it into practice.  Discover what it means to hold a Christian worldview and then see the world through those eyes.  

"The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." -Proverb 4:7 (NIV)

5. Center your mind on His Grace - There is a fear that I struggled with in my faith, a fear that I would lose Jesus, a fear that I'm just too sinful for Jesus to save, or that I've secretly committed sins today that God doesn't know about or won't forgive.  Center your mind on His amazing grace.  

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." -Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

If your just amazed, just baffled by God's extensive, scandalous grace for all your sins, and even your present struggles against sin, that's exactly how you should feel.  That's why it's called amazing grace, because we can't deserve it.  We can't even understand how God could absolve us and welcome us into His family, yet He does all this in the victory of Christ Jesus at the cross.  It's amazing grace.  So have faith, continue walking with Jesus, and remember, He won't lose you.  Be diligent and repent from sin, trust in Christ alone, and you will be well within the arms of God forever.  Fear not. 

6. Give Thanks in all Circumstances - The secret to a happy life is having an attitude of gratitude.  We're so blessed in so many ways, yet we focus on what is wrong.  We indulge in self-pity and feel sorry for ourselves.  Yet we are so blessed.  When I thank God in prayer for how I am blessed in my life, I can't possibly feel gratitude and joy for all the Lord has done.  Cultivate that attitude of gratitude.  

"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." -1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

7. Trust the Word - There are so many efforts today to rewrite God's word, to change God's word, to alter doctrines and theology to fit the culture of our day and what they desire.  There is so much temptation to yield to emotion and fear, and selfish desire.  Don't be one of those people. Trust every single word of the Bible.  If and when you don't understand something, pause, and consider: Maybe I'm not understanding a deeper context.  Or maybe I'm wrong.  It's OK to be wrong, I do it all the time!  Trust God's word. He has preserved it.  And it is eternal, it doesn't change with the times.  It is timeless. 

"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." -2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)

8. Love and Show Mercy - This one should be obvious enough to most of us, though we're all quick to jump to judgment in many situations of life.  Can you forgive people who have seriously harmed you?  What about family members and friends?  What about drug addicts, alcoholics, and the real bad sinners?  What about pedophiles, drug dealers, rapists, murderers, and the very worst of the worst?  Jesus Christ came for them too.  The cross can absorb the worst sins.  The very worst.  Be scandalous in how you love and show mercy.  

In fact the word of God says that we will each stand before God to give an account for our lives.  And it says if we were harsh and judged others, condemned, and refused to show mercy, then God will use that standard to judge us.  

As it says in James 2:13 (ESV) "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

9. Don't Run Your Mouth about Others - Easy enough to say, harder to do.  In fact it's very difficult to avoid gossip.  It's so fun to indulge in, it seems.  Can we shut it off, when it's hard?  Can we resist it?  Our temptation is to scold others when they gossip, but give ourselves special permission to do so, perhaps about friends, or family or church members?  

What if your in a conflict of sorts with someone else?  Do you talk to them directly, or about them to others?  

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." -Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

I know, this is a tough one.  I've been guilty of this in the past many a time.  But we must learn, and I must to grow and do better in the future.  Thankfully His grace goes with us. 

10. Live a lifestyle of Repentance - It's not so bad.  In fact I find it enjoyable, in the results.  After I repent, and Jesus helps me repent, then I feel joy, peace, and grace as I find freedom from sin, obsession, and addiction.  It's so nice, so great to have those chains broken.  What seems impossible to be free of in your life?  It's exactly that, that Jesus will set you free from.  Jesus will break those chains that seem utterly unbreakable.  Essentially, I'm saying constantly keep growing.  This is something many Christians simply don't do.  Be one of those rare Christians who is always growing and changing to become more like Christ.  

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." -2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

A Final Word - I encourage you in one additional matter: Love what you do, and labor for what is eternal.  Too many of us focus on the physical world around us, our marriages, our families, work lives, vacations, entertainment, home life, car repairs, friendships, political affairs, cultural affairs, but none of these things are eternal matters.  Realize this friends: The ultimate reality is beyond the material affairs of this world.  The eternal city of God, the New Jerusalem is a reality.  It's real.  And we'll all be there.  You'll walk on your feet, your soul, your body and mind will be there, renewed, set free from sin, and guilt and fear.  Focus on this reality, and labor for this reality.  Don't become muddled down in the affairs of this world.  Only consider how you can explain the eternal truths of the kingdom of God and translate them into the culture of this world.  That is our concern, the propagating of the living gospel.  The souls of humanity hang in the balance.  We must focus with a constant unblinking eye on the eternal affairs of God, which is of Christ Jesus, to gather all those He has predestined in election for citizenship in the eternal new city of God, in the new universe, and on the new Earth.  That is of paramount concern.  The affairs of this life will pass away, God's kingdom will be our soon coming constant reality.  Don't lose focus on this kingdom, and keep your eyes centered on Jesus Christ.  Focus on Jesus and all the wonders of His glory and you will never falter on this journey, year by year, to the eternal country, a better country. Home.  

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Biblical Christianity vs. Progressive Ideology: A Threat to Western Christianity

There are several dangers to biblical Christianity that have come about through progressive ideology. Progressive ideology essentially stems from non-biblical positions about the nature of truth (that it is relative), the nature of people (that people are basically good) and the nature of scripture (that it should change with the times.) It's rooted in enlightenment thinking, modernism, and post-modernist thinking especially, which has surged across Europe and the United States in the last 30 years. Progressive ideology stems from the culture and politics of western civilization, slipping into the churches across the west and affecting the core teachings of many important movements.

The direct dangers are in the lowering of the truth of scripture into the realm of philosophical relativism (there is no truth) and the general ideology of progressivism (a series of political and social causes guided by a regressive utopianism that seeks to constantly reinvent society.) They tend to change how we view scripture; Instead of every word of the Bible being the inspired word of God that we regard as the authority over us, the progressive stands over the scripture and thinks of the scriptures as stories, that may or may not be factually true, and interprets and re-interprets the scriptures to fit with their own beliefs and ideas about how the world is. So instead of the Bible guiding us and being the authority over us, the roles are swapped and the person is guide and judge over the Bible, changing and reshaping the Bible as they see fit, generally to make it fit in with modern cultural views on issues like marriage, abortion, gender, sexual practice, and general philosophy of life.

Essentially the Bible can be reinterpreted to mean anything, on any issue, in the progressive worldview.  Of course not all under this ideological umbrella are the same, some will have a slightly higher view of scripture or a lower view of scripture. But we're speaking in general terms.  

That is what we need to stand against in the west today, because once the Bible is lowered and removed from a position of authority in our lives, anything goes. Everything suddenly becomes up for revision, creation, moral teachings, life and liberty, even the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Everything goes on the chopping block, maybe not all at once, but the door is opened to that possibility.

Progressive ideology tends to affect many areas of the churches of the United States and Europe. The teachings of Freud, Marx, Hagel, Kant, and other atheist thinkers tend to be the roots from which progressive ideology grows and spreads.  In the United States, people like Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Croly, FDR, and Saul Alinsky have pushed forward progressive ideology on the political front.  

Progressives tend to support politically: Bigger government, large administrative bureaucracies, democratic socialism, redistribution of wealth, unlimited welfare, abortion on demand paid for by others, free healthcare, free college, and unlimited unbridled immigration irrespective of national laws.

The fact that churches have been affected by progressive ideology is simply a logical consequence due to the affect that western civilization itself has been thoroughly transformed and reshaped by progressive political and cultural ideology.  That is the simple fact.  Far from starting off in the church, it's simply a growth from culture into the church.  

Key issues today that progressives advocate for are things like switching the church's position on gay marriage to support and affirm gay marriage. This would mean pastors would marry gay couples, gay/lesbian/transgender individuals could become pastors, and pastors would probably be required to ignore the scriptures in the Bible that forbid homosexual practice. Another key issue would be legalizing and supporting abortion. Imagine church abortion clinics, or churches arm in arm with Planned Parenthood, helping to abort unborn children by the tens of thousands. There are dozens of other issues pertinent, climate change, gun control, redistribution of wealth, increased taxation, and swiping for church's tax exempt status.  Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends are the persistent attacks on religious liberty by progressives in the political sphere.  Ironically progressives attack conservative Christians for advocating for religious liberty, a right which they exercise on a daily basis, which is currently on the chopping block, at the altar of political correctness, gender ideology, and LGBT ideology.

The dangers are great from the progressive ideology, but very often the issue seems to take care of itself.  Progressive churches collapse in on themselves, and people stop attending, because people are looking for the truth, not a truth, not a relative opinion, or a viewpoint or a universalist one of many ways to the summit, but people are looking for solid truth, a rock to stand on, and progressivism offers a wishy-washy "love above all else" which jettisons truth, ethics, and revelation for the sake of not offending anyone.  

Love is indeed a key, core value of the biblical Christian worldview.  But biblical Christianity is more than simply "love is love" in isolation, it's a spectrum of core ethical concepts including grace, mercy, judgment, obedience, moral precepts, faith, sacrifice, self-denial, and biblical love.  So when love is elevated above truth, above grace, above obedience, above the Bible, and even above Jesus Christ himself, it becomes an idol, a false teaching, a worldly love, that is in fact, not love at all.  

So what is biblical love? Biblical loves involves a great deal of truth. While worldly love would insist on accepting any behavior, endorsing any practice that pleases the culture, and never offending anyone no matter what, biblical love is deeper than that. Biblical love is that Jesus Christ was slaughtered for our transgressions on the cross. Biblical love is that Jesus spoke truth to power, and yet gave grace to the weakest. Biblical love is warning someone when they are in danger of hell. As biblical Christians we must be proponents of biblical love, which is in the context of grace and truth.  Sometimes love is hard. Sometimes love means speaking a difficult truth.  Sometimes love means telling someone something they don't necessarily want to hear.  The trouble with progressive Christianity is that they take worldly love, set it above all else, and use it as a bludgeon to attack the truth statements of scripture.  This is not love, but something else.  

In conclusion, to me it seems obvious that the word of God is objective, timeless, and inspired entirely of God, and has been preserved by God, as our guide book to knowing the living Jesus Christ, and understanding how Jesus wants us to live.  This means even the most difficult scriptures that we struggle with are also the word of God.  There are many scriptures that I don't like, that I struggle with and wrestle with God to understand what they mean, but I keep holding out that fundamental trust that the Bible is in fact right, and if I don't understand something, maybe it's me who is wrong, not God's word.  That's a faith we have to hold up, and it's reasonable, because as finite limited humans we can't see every angle.  We don't see the whole picture, there will be things we don't understand.  And that's OK.  Because we're not God.  And essentially what the progressive does, is the sin from all the way back in the garden, they reject God's authority, and play god for themselves, reshaping and changing what is right and what is wrong to suit themselves.  Let us never make that mistake.  It was the mistake that ruined the garden, and sent Adam and Eve into the wilderness.  They rejected God, embraced a sweet tantalizing lie handed to them by Satan, and as a result all of reality became fallen, and paradise was lost.  So let us humble ourselves, hazard all on God's word, the Bible, and trust it above ourselves and our own limited judgments.  

Friday, August 11, 2017

Ten Amazing Apologetics Presentations

1. Kalam Cosmological Argument - Reasonable Faith

2. What's your worldview - Impact

3. Does Science argue for or against God? - Eric Metaxas

4. The Moral Argument - Reasonable Faith

5. Did Jesus rise from the dead - Impact

6. Signature in the Cell: Debate - Stephen Meyer 

7. Is God good - Impact

8. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe - Reasonable Faith

9. Cosmology: A Religion for Atheists - William Lane Craig

10. Does God Exist: The Design Argument - RZIM

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If You Deny Me Before Men: A Rebuttal to Martin Scorsese's Silence (2016)

Silence (2016) screenshot.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37–39).

Have you had a chance to see Martin Scorsese's "Silence" rated R?  I had a chance to view it recently, while on a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta.  The screens in front of each seat offered free entertainment.  And I asked the Lord if there was something I ought to watch that might be instructive to me.  And so I began watching Silence, not even knowing what it was about.

Silence is the story of two Jesuit missionaries who head to Japan to look for a missing missionary; their mentor who had supposedly given up the faith.  Warning, spoilers in this post.  

Now I don't have a lot to say about this movie.  It's by Martin Scorsese who put together "The Last Temptation of Christ" which depicted a Jesus who is not God and who is only a sinful man; Which is factually inaccurate and historically false.  It's no surprise then that "Silence" turned out to be a film with some mixed messages.

The movie Silence is actually based on a novel, and the novel is actually inspired by real events that took place in Japan in the 1700s.  Japan's leaders at first embraced Catholic missionaries, with hundreds of thousands being converted, but later persecutions broke out.  Read more about the history of these events here

Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, two young padres go in search for their old mentor Father Ferreira in Japan.  They come to Japan, led by a drunken Japanese man named Kichijiro and discover churches in hiding hungry for the word, salvation, and hope.  They serve bravely in several towns, then split up while under persecution from the dreaded Japanese inquisitor.  The inquisitor sees the natural religion of japan as Buddhism, and sees Christianity as a threat.  

Father Garupe is martyred for his faith and Rodrigues is put through a series of persecutions and eventually comes face to face with Ferreira who he discovers has in fact renounced his faith.  

My flight arrived at Atlanta at this time and I had to miss the ending of the 3 hour+ movie.  I was enthralled at this point, and amazed.  I thought what a wonderful witness this movie is to the suffering and victories of Christians during persecution.  I was very excited. I determined to purchase the movie as soon as I possibly could.

I purchased the movie used from a redbox and brought it home and watched it.  The ending was quite disturbing.  Rodrigues is forced to watch five persecuted believers hanging upside down, the blood dripping from incisions in their necks.  Rodrigues, with Ferreira next to him is told he must renounce his faith to save these believers from death.  

A portrait of Christ is put before Him, and he is told to stomp on it. Oddly enough, Christ then speaks through the portrait to Rodrigues telling him to renounce his faith.  Rodrigues renounces his faith, the people are set free and Rodrigues serves the Japanese alongside Ferreira for the rest of his life, takes a Japanese wife and children.  He continuously signs declarations of renunciation of his faith.  Again and again he steps upon the picture of Christ to please the inquisitor.  He dies and is given a Buddhist burial.  But then the camera zooms in to his dead body in the Buddhist basket, and it shows a little cross clutched between his folded hands.  

The implication is that despite Rodrigues renouncing Christ publicly, constantly, and helping the Japanese prevent other Christians from getting into the country, that somehow Rodrigues was still a Christian in his heart and thus somehow still saved.  

I found this a confusing and misleading conclusion to the story. The message is a harmful one to our present generation, in my view.  The message seems to be that under persecution it's OK to renounce Christ, and that you can just pretend and be a Christian in your heart to the end.  That is not true, according to God's word.  The word of God says quite clearly:

Matthew 10:32-33 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. "

These are the word of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus is the last one who would whisper to us and ask us to deny our faith.  In fact, all the great martyrs across Christian history all died refusing to deny their faith, including all the disciples of Christ aside from John who died of old age.  

Just to name a few who were killed for their faith and refused to renounce Christ: The first martyr Stephen, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, St. Agnes, Perpetua, Joan of Arc, St. Thomas Becket, William Tyndale, Jim Elliot, Arthur Bell, and of course the twenty-six martyrs of Japan who died in Nagasaki. 

What did all these saints have in common?  When pressured, when threatened with death, when threatened with the death of friends and family and fellow believers, they all refused to renounce Jesus Christ because they understood an eternal perspective: that suffering today is nothing compared to the glory that awaits in the next life.  To live is Christ and to die is gain.  That is the truth about martyrdom.  And any fool who renounces Christ under persecution has lost a great deal indeed.  They've traded worldly relief, for eternal glory when it would've been much wiser to embrace the most severe suffering for the sake of upholding Christ and suffering for Him.  

Christ gives us the strength in those moments to endure. Scorsese's "Silence" portrays an earthly perspective when showing Rodrigues forsaking Christ to prevent the death of would-be martyrs for Christ.  I would hope and I do believe at that moment that any true follower of Christ would be filled with Holy Spirit strength to understand that those dying would receive a great reward in heaven and that they ought to offer up their lives.  My hope would be that the strength of the Lord in the Spirit would give me the strength to say: "I will never renounce Christ.  What you do, do quickly."  

The title of the film "Silence" seems to refer to the fact that Rodrigues wanted an audible message from God, and more so, reflects the struggle about the problem of evil in the film: Why does God allow such terrible things to happen to His children?  Rodrigues struggles with the silence of God throughout the film, but seems to come to understand that Jesus was not silent, but was with him through all of it, suffering alongside him.  That is a true message, certainly, the master is always silent during the pupil's test.  

Yet the message of renouncing Christ and working for your enemies is quite disturbing. So I'd encourage you in this: If and when you face persecution and death at the hands of evil men, remember: You must never renounce Christ.  Hold to Christ, if you confess Christ before men, Christ will confess you as His friend before the Heavenly Father.  Never forget that.  We must have the witness in us.  

The writer of Hebrews recounts the examples of powerful biblical faith in chapter 11 of that book when he concludes his descriptions of the great saints of faith saying: 

"How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground." -Hebrews 11:32-38. (emphasis added by me)

In conclusion, stand for your faith. Don't deny Christ, it does have consequences. Does that mean that Christ can't forgive that? No, Christ can forgive all sin.  We need only come to Him, ask His forgiveness and repent.  Recall that Peter denied Jesus three times when Jesus was being persecuted and falsely accused. But Peter repented, and he was later crucified upside-down. He professed Jesus to the end, despite denying Him earlier in his life. We can repent even of denying Christ, but that repentance must include action that shows we've become faithful once again. Like Kichijiro in the film, we can repent and ask God's forgiveness many times, but if our repentance isn't accompanied by a change of actions, it means nothing.

So finally I'd like to encourage you to pray for Japan. Japan has gone through terrible persecutions. Even today Japan is one of the most unchurched countries in the world, being 98% non-Christian. Please pray for the people of this country, that they would come to know Christ. And always confess Christ before men, because then Christ will confess us before the Father.

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