Know That You Don’t Know

I’m still trying to figure out the faith application of something that happened to me today. As some of you may know, I speak a little Spanish. I wouldn’t call myself “Bi-lingual” just yet, but I can manage a conversation with a (very patient) native speaker. So, I’m also on Twitter, and I use that to follow some Twitter feeds en Espanol so I can brush up a little. One of them had a link to a little quiz to test Spanish vocabulary.

I thought that was neat. I clicked on it, and was able to follow the directions- filling out data, basic instructions, things like that. Actually, that part wasn’t even totally easy, and the fact that immigrants to our country have huge language barriers didn’t escape me. What I could surmise was that they wanted me to click “yes” for words that I knew/thought I knew. On the flip side was that I was to click “no” for words I didn’t know OR thought were made up.

My results were that I was 29% proficient. Not bad, since most of the words were way above my head. Now, I admit that I clicked “no” on a lot of words… but I didn’t click affirmatively on any words that weren’t, well, actual words. Then I saw that there was an English version. I took it. Same rules, less difficulty in navigating through the directions (I’d already done it, but more importantly- it was en Ingles!)

These weren’t “gimme’s”, y’all- even so, my stats were higher. (One word was “eschatology”- I took advantage of the theological word!) But there *was* a category that was higher than in the Spanish version. I had clicked on 5 words that weren’t actually words! English fail! So this left me thinking about these results. I also did a Google search for one of them. Mumpish actually IS a word… just a very old, out-dated, no longer used word. (The spell checker underlined it just now. It makes me feel mumpish!)

OK, so where’s this all going? I realized that I’ve been preaching from Ephesians lately, and last week’s message was in Ephesians 2. What’s the most quoted passage from Ephesians 2? Verses 8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works so that no one can boast.” (NIV)

I hope this isn’t too much of a stretch- but the way I see these events is that for me to take this little test in Spanish was sort of like relying on grace. I was in over my head, and my efforts didn’t provide all that much. Even getting started on it took me some time! The fact that I made no wrong answers in a foreign language is like God guiding His children in a land that isn’t supposed to be their own anymore. We at one time were a part of this world, but now we’re His. How does that come about? Grace.

In the English quiz, I felt like I knew enough on my own. Though I’m still protesting “mumpish” (there’s that red squiggly line again!), I see this as relying on my efforts and coming up short on the results. I led myself astray. And in our spiritual lives, if we feel like we can save ourselves apart from Christ, or if we want to wander away from His grace that sustains us, we’re in trouble.

How do you see this play out in your own life?

(just for fun- here’s the link to the Spanish version)  http://vocabulario.bcbl.eu/vocabulario/start

(and here’s the link to the English version)  http://vocabulary.ugent.be/

Until next time!

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How y’all doin’, eh?

It’s funny what bits and pieces of different languages and cultures we can pick up. From 1999-2001 I was in graduate school at the University of South Florida. One of my fellow grad students, and one that I hung out with a lot, was a Canadian. The furthest north I’d lived was Roanoke, VA. Since he was a stranger in our land, which being Florida was strange itself, he had no license and, maybe as important, no car. His apartment was, at least for the first year of school, on the way to mine so I would give him a ride home quite often. I wasn’t going to let my poor Canadian trumpet-playing brother walk in the treacherous 75 degree Tampa weather in winter!

We decided that we would place a bet- a friendly wager, if you will. Although I no longer drink, I surely did then, so the bet was for a Guinness. I thought I could influence him to say “y’all” before he could get me to say “eh?” at the end of a sentence. Seriously, the trumpet practicing and grad school was destroying our brains. And the excessive amounts of the subject of our wager probably didn’t help, either! Well, it turns out that Canadian-ese is more infectious than Southern American. We were at a stoplight one day, and a car with hydraulics pulled up next to us. I said, “You don’t see that everyday, eh?” I lost.  I have to inform you, my readership, that I continued to use the “eh?” several more times.  It’s part of a linguistic takeover.  Mark those words.

So what’s the spiritual lesson here?  Canadians are evil?  No.  Hockey is of the devil?  Well, only if you’re in New Jersey.  (I heard the crickets chirping on that one… you’ll get it.)  No, that’s not it, either.  Here’s the thing- when we surround ourselves with godly influences, that will attract our thinking.  When we surround ourselves with ungodly influences, that will start to have a pull on us.  And again, I am not calling Canadians evil!  Look at James 4:4 and consider what he is saying to us:

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (ESV)

I think the breakdown is pretty clear here.  If you want to have both feet, or really even one foot in ungodly behavior, you’re a friend of the world.  This is directly opposite of what God wants, though.  Think of it as calling yourself a true, die-hard fan of one team and saying you’re a true, die-hard fan of that team’s rival.  Doesn’t work, eh?

Until next time!

Juice Box Christian

I’ll have to be perfectly honest, and say that the premise for my blog this morning wasn’t original.  I came across an absolutely hilarious video, that speaks an absolutely scary truth about our church culture.  (I’m even going to try to link it, but since I’ll probably botch that the video title is the same as my blog post, and it is done by Shift Worship… it can be Googled, like everything else in the known universe).

Here’s my attempt at the video link:

 

We’ll see what happens.  Now, the whole point of the juice box deal is not to comment on wine vs. grape juice for Communion, or to try to run Hi-C out of business.  It is about spiritual growth.  The whole premise of a 20-something staying in his 1st grade Sunday School class is absurd!  But don’t we do that when we resist things that will push us to grow?  This is true of any aspect of life, but Paul talks about it as he is discouraged by believers (that have been believers for a while) content on baby milk instead of progressing.  Although it’s not quite the same as milk, I drank an ounce of formula on a dare once and it was nasty… like liquid chalk.  Yet these believers were OK with that.  Yuck!

Check out 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and see if it hits home.  If it does, then try to tear down whatever wall is keeping you from growing in your walk with the Lord.  It could be a Bible-reading thing where you don’t read because of ___________ or that you can’t be a part of worship because the music is too ______________.  Or it could be some other excuse that is totally silly.  Change it and grow!

Until next time!

The Yellow Jacket of Distraction

I was at a stoplight today and a yellow jacket landed on the driver’s side mirror.  Before you panic, I had the window rolled up… and I’m not allergic, although I don’t like to be stung by those little things.  He wouldn’t fly away, and right as the light changed, he crawled from the top of the mirror to the back- shielded from the wind that would knock him off.

I thought nasty thoughts about him.  I used my Jedi mind control powers on him saying, “This is not the car you’re looking for.”  I thought about rigging a MacGuyver-esque contraption to crack the window and shoo him off.  I looked over every 1.3 seconds to see if he’d lost interest or gotten motion sickness and fallen off.  In essence, I did just about everything except pay attention to driving my car.

I know my life is like this sometimes almost all the time.  I have one little thing that gets me sidetracked and I take my eyes off the things that are really important.  Is this how God wants us to live our lives?  I don’t think so.  I think He wants us to be clearheaded and not prone to worrying about little things.  Jesus uses these kinds of words about worrying- “These things (worries) dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you what you need.” (Matthew 6:32-33 NLT)

Ouch.  I was so worried about that little yellow jacket that I’m not even allergic to…with my window rolled up, that I forgot to focus on a pretty major thing.  Like driving.  I became one of the crazies that I always fuss about on US 220.  Another topic for another time.

But really, we worry all the time and get so distracted by things that don’t matter.  As the writer of Hebrews states it in 12:1-2, we can run the race (a Christian life and walk with the Lord) not because of unneeded things, but because we keep our eyes on Christ.  We let Him matter more than the distractions.

So, to finish things up.  I got into the church parking lot, yellow jacket still hanging on for dear life.  I focused on parking the car and, you probably guessed it: the yellow jacket flew away.

Until next time!

Yardwork and Spiritual Battles

OK, I admit.  I don’t have much time to do a lot of work in my yard.  I have about 8 blades of actual grass, and the rest of the .75 acres that I mow are weeds.  When it is really short it can give an illusion of looking nice, but maybe that’s another devotional thought altogether!  I am actually thinking of my backyard which part of my property is forest.  It’s not a large portion, .05 acres, but it is dense and takes a lot of time to control.  I’ve found that if I don’t actively control it and try to push it back some, it will creep into my yard and take it over.  If I had some awesome power tools, it would be one thing.  Alas, I have a machete.  One little blade against a rainforest.  Well, maybe a little hyperbole, but you get my drift.

Where’s the spiritual analogy?  I was reading today in Acts 6 and the part after the beginning of the deacons caught my attention.  The Apostle Stephen was proclaiming God’s Word and the gospel.  Obviously, there was some opposition.  It came from a group called the “Synagogue of the Freedmen”.  I found out that this group was comprised of former slaves (good) from areas heavily influenced by Hellenism (bad).

Hellenism could easily correspond to our secularization of society today.  In a nutshell, the two cultures are very “go with the flow” and “do what you want” in nature.  This mentality and worldview encroaches on the Christian worldview in much the same way as my backyard forest does to the rest of my lawn.  It tries to take over.  We read in Acts 6 that the Freedmen couldn’t out-do Stephen in his arguments, so they took the low road.  They started to spread lies, twisted truths, get the officials involved, and make a mess of the whole thing.

Isn’t that what those who are opposed to the faith do today?  Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t Christians who add fuel to the fire… but the secular worldview is that Christianity is just plain wrong, just because.  They can’t provide real evidence against it, so they try to twist it to their advantage.  The truth of God’s Word and the message of the cross is worth standing firm against the trickery of the world.  Even if you’re just armed with a little machete, you can help keep the forest at bay.

Until next time!

John Deere and the Power of Prayer

This actually sounds like a movie or something.  Like an archaeologist with a cool hat who goes looking for stuff only to get into trouble.  Too bad it’s not quite on that level.  On the other hand, it’s on a much higher level.  And there are no Nazis that I know of related to my blog post, which, if I made 3 original posts undoubtedly the best would be the 3rd and I’d have to go and ruin the legacy with a fourth post years later.  OK…enough of the silliness.

Last week, I had an interesting experience that showed (a teeny bit) my lawn-mowing machinery prowess and (much more so) the fact that prayers are answered…even the ones we sort of just throw out there.  Behold, my John Deere miracle:

After last year’s grass cutting season my riding lawnmower was shot.  I parked it in its spot a little weird, tried to restart it to get it in correctly, and it was dead.  I left it.  My initial thoughts were, “Oh well, I guess this gets me off the hook for the rest of 2011,” and “I’ll have plenty of time to look at it!”  Yeah, before I knew it this year, the grass was calf high.  I mean, upper calf, too… not just right above the ankle!

I tried to start my late 80s, Hydrostatic 185 green and yellow fellow (with rust!) and I got zip.  Nothing happened when I turned the key.  Dead.  I remember talking to the benefactor who gave me the mower about a loose battery connection possibility.  I knew where the battery was, since I’d replaced it in April of 2011.  No joke!  I lifted the hood and saw that nothing was loose as far as my trained eye could tell.  I’m trained in plenty of things- lawnmower repair not being one of them.  I slammed the hood down.  I tried it again and got a little click!

I then did what just about anyone with no knowledge of what they are doing would do… I did the exact same thing!  I got two clicks.  I then sent up a prayer that went something like this, “Lord, you know I don’t have any more time this week to get this done, and I don’t have the money to go replacing batteries on this thing.  Please, let this start for me so I can get this done and not be the failure living in between two retired guys that have nothing better to do than cut their grass and have manicured lawns.”  OK, I added the last bit just now.  The first part was true, because I literally had no time other than right then.  By the time I could get to it again it would be calf-high as in a baby cow would get lost in it!!  Also our funds were low- AAA batteries would be an expense for us, so a lawnmower battery was out of the question.

I then did what I can only assume was God leading me to lawnmower repair.  I lifted the hood and gave the battery a little shake.  No clicks this time, but whirring as if it was getting ready to start.  I then proceeded to shake the battery like a dirty dog, or like it owed me money… maybe like a dirty dog that owed me money!  After a few seconds of holding the ignition it was the sweet smell of success.  And of old gas and combustion, smoke, exhaust, and all that stuff.

I’m certainly not advocating the “get out of jail free card” approach to prayer.  I also don’t want to excuse my laziness in not looking at the problem earlier.  As is the case with God, there are things we just don’t understand about Him.  On the one hand, He certainly is not a Santa/Easter Bunny/Tooth Fairy who just gives us stuff on a whim.  On the other hand, if we are to be in constant communication with Him like 1 Thessalonians 5:17 advocates, then we should be ashamed if we don’t take something like that to Him.  James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Prayer isn’t a means of only getting what we want.  Imagine if you had a friend that only called you when he needed something.  By the same token, I think that there are times when we are upholding a constant and daily prayer life , that this kind of scenario happens.  One this is for sure:  I feel quite certain that I had absolutely nothing to do with this incident other than deciding to cut the grass and not be a slacker, and more importantly pray- even a short one in desperation.

Until next time!

Accepting Corn Chowder By Faith

I’m not usually one to be tied down by food squeamishness.  I’m just at 6 feet tall, and I reside in the upper 230s to lower 240s.  I like me some food.  When Jenn and I were getting to know each other, it didn’t take her long to figure out that I would pretty much eat a food–granted it was not still moving.  That being said, I raised my eyebrows to a recent food purchase she made: corn chowder.   Now, I’m a big supporter of the clam chowder hailing from the place where they paahhk the caahh by the haahbaah.  Corn chowder?  Well, it may be an area of expertise to some but I’d never ventured into that “field”… until today.

My hesitation was rooted in some pre-conceived notions I had regarding some less-than-stellar corn puddings I’ve partaken of in the past.  It was an unfair comparison, but one that had me thinking that I was taking a big step of faith.  Then I saw it.  It was like a beacon to me.  A lighthouse shining its light, showing me the way to safety.  “Flavored with bacon”.  I abandoned any faith-stepping, and went out on sight there.  If it’s flavored with bacon, then I’ve just been armed with all the info I need pertaining to its eligibility for edibility.

In our daily walks with the Lord, isn’t that what we do a lot of the time?  Don’t we abandon our faith and trust in God and give in to making sure we “see” what we’re doing?  It requires a great deal of faith to accept Christ as your Savior.  The world at large doesn’t understand this commitment we make to Him, which is unfortunate, but true.  We have to go out on a limb, spiritually speaking, when we ask Him to save us from our sins.  That’s just where the faith journey begins, though!

Go back to the eating analogy (which I’m entitled to do as a Baptist!)  we don’t just eat once in our lives, and then abandon it do we?  I hope not!  We keep on eating… and eating… and- you get the point.  In our Christian lives, we don’t just accept Him in a bold move of faith and leave it at that.  We keep on practicing (or should) that same boldness and that same faith day in and day out.  If we have to test out our spiritual faith food by giving it the visual OK first, we’re missing the point.  2 Corinthians 5:7 tell us that we are to “live by faith, not by sight.”  In those things that God is trying to get us to do, we shouldn’t wait to see the label and see that it’s “flavored in bacon”.  It could be, and it could not be– but if it’s God’s will for us, then we’re a lot better off accepting it!

Oh, by the way- the corn chowder was delicious (and I could hardly taste the bacon–see where that got me?!)

Until next time.

We’ve Got It Good, And That Ain’t Bad… Or Is It?

If nothing else,it seems like my aim is just to confound people with my off-center blog post titles.  This is going to be a tough one to write, though.  I don’t think that much of my topic fits into my humorous nature.  I’m talking about the subject of the global persecution of Christians.  Some of you probably started guffawing as you read that.  That’s fine.  As 1 Corinthians 1:18 states, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (NIV)  So, as opposers of the one, true God tend to do- let me have what you think are the “facts”.  Here’s what I know…

As I started doing some research, finding some videos, etc. for our youth group lesson I was more astonished than I had ever been.  The physical, brutal torture of professing Christians in much of the world today is of epic proportions.  I saw one video that showed three Christians being beaten, kicked, spat upon, and otherwise left for dead in India by Hindus.  In another, Iraqi Christians had to meet in an armed compound for fear of open violence against them.  In another account, a boy was forced by Muslims to gather the firewood that would fuel the fire he was to be thrown into.  I knew things were bad, I just didn’t realize how bad it was.  The one verse that got me was in 1 Corinthians 12:26 where it says, “If one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it…” (NIV)  This was a huge reality check for me in that I never have truly been aware of the atrocities which are being perpetrated on Christians.  I had, I suppose, a “head” knowledge of them, but they sank down to my heart this time.

Ladies and gentlemen, America is not like these places.  In many parts of the world, there is no religious freedom.  You are either a Muslim, Hindu, or whatever the case may be- or you are, at best, ostracized.  That’s the best case scenario.  In the United States, and other countries with religious freedom, it is different.  There are no, or very few, physical atrocities such as these.  We have it good in that sense.  All we have to encounter may be some snickering and jeering now and then.  We may have to endure the occasional belligerent non- Christian attitude once in a while.  Someone may even talk about us behind our backs!  The bad thing, and I want to be careful here, is that we have no clue what true faith under fire is.  Of course, we all have trials and problems- each person’s are unique to them.  They need to be seen in light of James 1 and Romans 5:3-4.  These things need to be undergone so that perseverance and spiritual maturity can abound.  My only concern is: are we in danger of losing sight of what’s really going on in our world?  Has American Christianity become too lax in its approach to understanding the suffering of the global body of Christ?

Again, not my normal blog post… and at 520+ words, not the normal length for me either.  I hope this has given us some things to think about.  I hope, more importantly, this has given us some things to pray about.

Until next time!

Had It All Figured Out(?)

Just when I thought it was safe to assume that I knew some of my future plans, God throws a change-up.  He’s a good pitcher, and, looking back at my Little League career with a .047 batting average, well…  I guess that speaks for itself.  The line from the song that goes: “If you want to make God laugh, make a plan” seems appropriate!

What am I talking about?  Well, I had it all figured out in regards to my seminary degree and time left, etc.  I was going to go the easy road and finish in the Spring with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies.  Whoo-Hoo!  This is my second Masters degree, by the way, so I had talked myself into changing from the 90 hour Master of Divinity-industry standard-most people go for an M.Div, to this.  Well, I started looking at (since I had to go into Spring 2012 anyway) another degree just three teeny classes longer.  Hey, Spring 2012/Fall 2012- what’s the difference?

This is the point where I called Liberty University to make it official, wasn’t caller #45 for a change, and was told that if I was 100% sure that changing to my “new” plan with a Master of Arts in Religion was going to be it (as in final/kaput/finito/done) then they could do that.  If there’s any chance I might want to go further- do the M.Div.  Ohhhhhh, the agony!  The horror!  I started to realize that maybe I shouldn’t put God in a box… maybe I should leave this thing open.  Hmm.

I started thinking of some things at this point.  No, persecution of the saints wasn’t where I was going… I thought of the many biblical characters that tried to get out of doing things that God had commanded.  Moses tried to second guess, and talk God out of the idea of leading the Israelites out of Egypt.  Elijah went on the run- even after the victory at Mt. Carmel!  Thomas, well, he was a doubter.  Ananias got squeamish at the thought of going to anoint Saul, who had killed Christians to that point.  Now, I know that my going to seminary isn’t some kind of Scriptural mandate from God.  What I’ve had to realize as it hit me squarely in the face, is that we are supposed to keep God first and honor Him, even in the little things we do.

So I blog before you today, a student enrolled in the M.Div. program.  Instead of being 1 class or even 4 classes away from a seminary degree, now it’s 21.  (whimper)  But I can really feel God saying that I’ve been a little bit childish on this one.  Now, I have no clue if my future will have me putting a “Dr.” in front of my name.  I know for right now that all I’m supposed to do is be obedient and go through the next several years of classes.  I’ll let God throw the pitches, and will practice trying to hit a little better from now on!

Until next time.

Camp Neck

There’s a condition that I’ve become aware of this summer.  It is called “Camp Neck”.  It is the direct result of wearing a lanyard with a name tag attached to it for about 17 hours per day, and doing that for 5 days.  Ironically, it is not for the duration of the camp that this becomes a problem- it is actually after the camp is over that one experiences the condition.  What are the symptoms of Camp Neck?  Are they serious?  Life threatening? 

Camp Neck (hereafter CN) is a phenomenon wherein, the affected person(s) will actually feel the lanyard even though it’s not there.  (I italicized that for extra dramatic effect… did it give you the heebie-jeebies?)  I was saved from CN in our children’s camp because I got one of the little clippy-type name tags, but after our youth camp… I was feeling the effects of CN for a week!  It should serve as a warning to us all.

And why is that, you might ask?  Well, I’m sure that any camp has some kind of message/information/skill that is intended for the campers to retain- to keep with them for more than just the camp itself.  As this is pertaining to ministry stuff, I place a great deal of importance on the aspect of keeping the messages, devotionals, and time spent with God with me afterwards.  In other words, CN should get into our spiritual lives (and for more than a week, too!)  It is my prayer for the children and youth at my church and all the other churches represented at our camps this year to keep what they learned and apply it. 

I want to have CN all year and all my life, as a matter of fact.  I don’t want it to happen just at a camp, or a conference, either.  I want it to extend to messages I hear throughout the year, to my daily quiet time, and to my all-around worship of Jesus.  I really am hoping that I feel, not a lanyard’s presence, but God’s presence with me wherever I am.  This isn’t just for the under 18 crowd either, folks.  We can all acquire CN… we should all acquire CN!  Think about what these two Psalms talk about in regards to the presence of the Lord:

Psalm 16:11 says, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  Wow!  The path of life, and an abundant one at that.  Eternal pleasures.  Those are some good side effects.

Psalm 89:15 says, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.”  We are blessed when we walk with Him.  When we are remembering, serving, following, worshiping, and glorifying God we are blessed.

Until next time!