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Thursday, September 18, 2008

angels and God speaking to us

I find it interesting that the secular media is confounded by Sarah Palin's comment that "God speaks to her" as she is making major decisions and that she prays about situations in her life.

We as followers of Christ understand that - to us it is second nature. Almost like breathing. We hold conversations with God throughout the day; all in an attempt to keep connected with the divine.

Someone once said, "we consider talking to God prayer; when God speaks to us we call it schizophrenia."

Yet God does speak to us, maybe not in an audible voice but with inner promptings and leadings that direct, guide and comfort us.

I believe people in our country are now, more than ever, concerned about supernatural things.

In the USA Today, Cathy Lynn Grossman writes, "A new survey of the USA's religious beliefs and practices finds 55% of all adults — including one in five of those who say they have no religion — believe they have been protected from harm by a guardian angel.

"I would never have expected these numbers. It was the biggest surprise to me in our findings," says sociologist Christopher Bader of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Baylor today will release results of its second national survey on religion.

The survey, based on interviews with nearly 1,700 adults in fall 2007, updates Baylor's 2006 findings on religious affiliation and views of God by adding new questions on topics such as gender and politics, the environment and beliefs about evil.

Members of almost every major religious group sensed angels running heavenly interference: evangelical Protestant, 66%; black Protestant, 81%; mainline Protestant, 55%; Catholic, 57%; Jewish, 10%; other religions, 49%; no religion, 20%.

"People's sense of the divine is remarkably widespread and tangible, even if they don't call it God. Clearly, there's a sense of the sacred prevalent throughout society," says Matthew Gilbert of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif., which studies subjective experiences using scientific techniques.

Just as people have many different images of God, so they have different ways of interpreting "guardian angels" or God's voice, says Kenneth Pargament, a psychology professor at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University who has written on spirituality and the psyche. When people think of being protected, "they may not be envisioning an angel with wings so much as a loved one who has gone before them and is looking after their well-being," Pargament says.

Many respondents said they have "heard the voice of God" or "felt God speaking to me." That too can be an internal spiritual sense, not literally words in their ear, says Pargament."

We who read and follow the teachings of the Bible have known that for a long time. The question is not "does God speak to us," the question is "are we listening."

And yes, I believe that there are angels surrounding us (Psalms 91), protecting us as ask God for their protection.

John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands. One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them.

Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ.

Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?"

Paton knew no men were present--but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station.

Have you ever sensed a time when angels were watching over you?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manifestation Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Tonight in our Bible Study we begin a discussion on the 9 gifts given to us from the Holy Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.

Paul writes: "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues."

My suggestion is that we have forgotten about these gifts in our churches. I don't think we have done so intentionally, but unintentionally from neglect or a lack or use or even a lack of emphasis.

Why are the "Manifestation Gifts" so important?

One reason might be the other alternatives that we use in the world today:

We refer alcoholics to AA.
We ask families to settle their disputes with a therapist.
We take our uncontrollable teenager to juvenile court.
We take those who are mentally challenged to psychiatrists.

That is all well and good. Please don't misunderstand me. Sometimes a psychiatrist is need. Sometimes the best thing a family can do is to see a Christian therapist.

But let's not forget what the Holy Spirit can do as well!

The Manifestation gifts are the power tools that are available to us.

They are OUR Weapons of Warfare. That's important to understand because our ultimate enemy is the devil.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:4, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;" (and then in verse 5) "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."

Here's what I know: the Gifts of the Spirit to the believer are what the stone was to David when he slew Goliath. They are what the jawbone of an ass was to Samson when he slew 1,000 men.

The church seeking to win the world from slavery and bondage of the devil without these instruments of God’s power is like trying to defeat a modern army barehanded, without weapons.

Jesus said in Matthew 12:29, "Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house."

Zechariah 4:6 tells us that it is "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts."

Let's take advantage of what God has given to us as Spirit-filled believers!

Gifts are broken down in 3 categories:

A. Power to Know: (to reveal, or information)
Word of Wisdom, Word of Knowledge, Discerning of Spirits

B. Power to Act: (to do, action)
Faith, Healings, Miracles

C. Power to Speak: (to utter or vocal)
Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues, Prophecy

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Word and Prayer

I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for Billy Graham. I can remember connecting with Christ after reading his book, "Peace With God."

When Jerry Jenkins was working with Billy Graham in the writing of Graham's autobiography Just As I Am, Jenkins asked Graham about his spiritual disciplines. He said, "'re seen as almost the Protestant Pope. Surely there are secrets, hints you can offer laypeople on how to maintain their walk with God."

Jenkins writes, "Graham demurred, insisting that he is no authority. Jenkins asked Graham to explain, at least, how he maintains his own spiritual disciplines.

Graham answered, "There's no secret to that. God doesn't hide the key from us. The Bible says to pray without ceasing and to search the Scriptures. And I do that."

Graham went on to say that he has a habit of leaving his Bible open somewhere where he will notice it during the day. He said, "I pick it up at odd moments and read a verse or two or a chapter or two or for an hour or two. And this is not for study or sermon preparation. This is just for my own spiritual nourishment."

Bible reading and prayer: these are the habits that have sustained one of the greatest Christian leaders of history.

Sometimes we make the Christian experience and walk more complicated than it really is.

I would suggest that we will never outgrow or "out-succeed" the need for these basic disciplines. This is why Peter said, "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." (1 Peter 2:2)

Just a thought for a Tuesday afternoon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Evangelicals and Sarah Palin as Vice President

I find it interesting that the Christian community is embracing Sarah Palin as a leader in national politics while at the same time (in many cases - not all) not allowing women to serve in leadership in the local church.

While I am not giving an opinion here on whether or not women should serve in leadership in the local church (that is a question for another time), or giving an opinion on who to vote for (either McCain or Obama) the question becomes, "if a conservative, evangelical Christian believes that women are to be submissive to their husbands and not hold positions of leadership in the local or national church, can they viably vote for a woman to be vice-president?"

I read an opinion article by David Gushee, in the USA Today, that expresses this dilemma. Please read the article and if you get a chance, tell me what you think.

David Gushee writes, "The pick of Sarah Palin as Republican vice presidential nominee is both a political event and a cultural one. Politically, it energized the Republican convention, solidified the Christian right's support for John McCain and introduced a forceful new personality into American politics. Culturally, it triggered discussions of issues ranging from special-needs children to mothers' roles to teen pregnancy.

I want to focus on the cultural rather than the political here, and turn attention to the potential impact of the Palin pick on the internal life of the conservative Christian community that seems to support her so ardently. I write as a moderate evangelical Christian.

It is an uncomfortable fact that many of the theologically conservative Christians who have endorsed Palin's nomination would not be willing to endorse her or any other woman for service as pastor of their church. Women cannot serve as pastors in groups such as the Churches of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, most non-denominational Bible churches, and an influential advocacy group called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).

At the church level …

Actually, at the local church level many congregations would not accept Palin or any other woman even as associate pastor, or deacon, or youth minister or Sunday school teacher in a gender-mixed classroom. The most conservative would not consider it appropriate for her to stand behind a pulpit and preach a sermon, or teach from the Bible, or lead a praise chorus, or offer a prayer, unless her audience consisted entirely of women or children.

These same conservative Christians who agree with Palin's political views and are thrilled by the idea of her serving just one heartbeat away from the presidency would argue that it would be inappropriate for her to exercise leadership in her marital relationship at home. Instead, as the CBMW says, she should "grow in willing, joyful submission to (her husband's) leadership." Many of the conservative Christian leaders who have so warmly endorsed the nomination of Palin, mother of five with a grandchild on the way, have spent most of their careers arguing that the primary responsibility of women is to tend to their homes and families.

The CBMW, which includes many of the Christian right's notable figures among its supporters, has for 20 years expressed concern about "widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood (and) vocational homemaking" and about the "increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism."

The groundbreaking nomination presents exceptionally significant opportunities for a rethinking of the role of women in the large conservative evangelical community of which she is a member. The woman who in her acceptance speech said, "This is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity," implicitly challenges the closed doors to church leadership that women encounter in thousands of American churches.

For nearly 40 years, conservative Protestants have displayed considerable hostility to the women's movement. Their leaders have sought to preserve a pre-1960s vision of the relationship between men and women and their respective roles. Citing a range of biblical texts, such as 1 Timothy 2:11-12, which appears to forbid women from teaching or having authority over men in church, and Ephesians 5:22-33, which calls on women to be subject to their husbands, conservative evangelical pastors and scholars have argued for a God-given hierarchy in the roles of men and women.

One standard articulation of this view says God's plan is for men to serve as godly leaders in home and church, and for women to accept a complementary role in voluntary submission to male authority. The man is the head of the household and family, though the woman plays the key role in providing primary care to their children.

As a corollary, only men are supposed to serve as pastors of churches or in other offices of religious authority, though the specifics of prohibitions on women's roles have varied by church and denomination. Some denominations, theologians and pastors have argued that women can serve in certain leadership positions in the church as long as they are under the ultimate authority of a male pastor-leader, while others are more restrictive. Learned theologians debate the details of these limits in books by well-known evangelical leaders such as John Piper and Wayne Grudem. More moderate and progressive evangelicals tend to reject such limits on the role of women, as I do, but this discussion of what women can and cannot be permitted to do in church is an ongoing feature of the internal life of conservative evangelicalism.

Questions of faith

Never have conservative evangelicals positioned themselves as staunch advocates for women's leadership in political life — until Sarah Palin.

It seems only fair to ask these evangelical leaders to think a bit about the implications of their support for Palin. And so I ask them these questions:

Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States? Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God's plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life? Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?

Would Palin be acceptable as vice president because she would still be under the ultimate authority of McCain as president, like the structure of authority that occurs in some of your churches? Have you fully come to grips with the fact that if after his election McCain were to die, Palin would be in authority over every male in the USA as president?

If you agree that God can call a woman to serve as president, does this have any implications for your views on women's leadership in church life? Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?

Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family? If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?

Do you believe that women carry primary responsibility for the care of children in the home? If so, does this affect your support for Palin? If not, are you willing to change your position and instead argue for flexibility in the distribution of child care responsibilities according to the needs of the family?

The nomination of Palin offers conservative Christian leaders the chance to rethink an archaic theological vision that wounds millions of devout Christian women and restricts the full exercise of their gifts. This is an unexpected gift from presidential candidate John McCain to evangelical Christianity. May Sarah Palin flourish in her new role, and may she open many new doors for evangelical women in America."

Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Still sin

"You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

Where have we heard that recently?

The slang phrase means that you can dress something up but it doesn't change what it is.

What are some of the things in life that we dress up, but it doesn't change what it is?

We see that in our culture all the time.

If someones problem is laziness, we don't call it lazy any longer, they are now, "motivationally disposed."

If someones problem is addiction to drugs or alcohol, no problem, they aren't called an addict any longer; they are now a "substance abuser" or "chemically inconvenienced."

If someones problem is dishonesty, they won't be called dishonest any longer, they are "ethically disoriented," or "morally different," or "differently honest."

If someones problem is promiscuity, they aren't called promiscuous any longer, they are "sexually active."

If someones problem is serial killing, they aren't called a serial killer any longer, they are "socially misaligned," or one who has "difficult to meet needs."

If someones problem is shoplifting, they are called a shoplifter any longer, they are someone who engages in "non-traditional shopping."

If someones problem is sexual perversion, they aren't called a pervert any longer; they are termed "sexually dysfunctional."

If someones problem is that they lean toward sado-masochism, they aren't called a sado-masochist any longer, they are now, "differently pleasured."

I read recently of a man who lost his job because he never got to work on time. The man sued, arguing that he was handicapped by "chronic lateness syndrome" - and he won!

According to God's word, sin is still sin. You can "put lipstick on a pig and it's still a pig," and you can call sin by all kinds of different names, but it is still sin.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One step backward - two steps forward

In anything in life, there are times of success and failure, victory and defeat.

We take one step forward and two steps backward.

Listen to this story:

"One winter morning, an employee explained why he had shown up for work 45 minutes late. "It was so slippery out that for every step I took ahead, I slipped back two."

The boss eyed him with suspicion, and asked, "Oh yeah? Then how did you get here?"

The employee said, "I finally gave up and started home."

One step forward, two steps back. Ever felt like that was you?

Bruce Springsteen sang about it:

"When I look at myself at myself I don't see
The man I wanted to be.
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
One step up, two steps back."

The Bible has a word for those backward steps: sin. It also has a solution: repentance. When we find ourselves moving in the wrong direction, we need to repent.

We need to do what the above mentioned employee did—head back home. That will get us where we need to be.

Isaiah said, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21)

Let's all listen to that voice...and keep moving forward.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Passion and God's call

If there is anything that gets me going is being around people of passion. People who love what they are doing. People who love life. People who love God.

Life is short. Life is fleeting. We only have one life to live. Why not live it with the passion that God intended?

Mark Batterson writes:

"I want to die the same way Wilson Bentley died.

Wilson grew up on a farm in Jericho, Vermont, and as a young boy he developed a fascination with snowflakes. Obsession might be a better word for it. Most people go indoors during snowstorms. Not Wilson. He would run outside when the flakes started falling, catch them on black velvet, look at them under a microscope, and take photographs of them before they melted. His first photomicrograph of a snowflake was taken on January 15, 1885.

Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.

The first known photographer of snowflakes, Wilson pursued his passion for more than fifty years. He amassed a collection of 5,381 photographs that was published in his magnum opus, titled Snow Crystals. And then he died a fitting death—a death that symbolized and epitomized his life. Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley contracted pneumonia while walking six miles through a severe snowstorm and died on December 23, 1931.

And that is how I figured out how I want to die. No, I don't want to die from pneumonia. But I do want to die doing what I love. I am determined to pursue God-ordained passions until the day I die. Life is too precious to settle for anything less."

Great words.

I completely concur. He writes, "Life is too precious to settle for anything less."

Here's what I know: True happiness comes from finding out what you love to do and doing it - and doing it well.

May you be blessed today with a passion for what God is calling you to do.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Running the race

Last Saturday, Debbie and I drove over to Michigan International Speedway near Jackson Michigan, and met Art and Joan Minisky, Andrew and Christie and Fred and Sue. Our goal - to drive on the two mile oval track they have there.

Art, Andrew, Fred and I had a great time driving.

We showed up at 7:00 A.M. and registered. At 8:00 A.M., we had about an hour of instruction (the Mach 1 driving school) and then, "bam", we were driving the cars.

One of the hardest parts was climbing in and out of the car itself being that there are no doors (you have to climb through the window).

Once in, they buckle you in (you have a helmet on as well), put the steering wheel in (it always comes out when you shut down the car) and cinch the window - then away you go.

I drove a Rusty Wallace car.....first, second, third, fourth an average speed of between 140 and 150 miles an hour.

The six laps went quickly, I think they gave me one more because I got trapped behind a slow driver who wouldn't move over.

I was amazed at how tight the car held to the track, especially on the curves.

And yes, I survived.

Skydiving, and now driving a racing stock car. What's next on my bucket list? I will be revealing it later on...however, it might be dealing with the words "rapids" and "river".

Here's what I know: our Christian experience can be compared to a race. However, it's not a 100 meter dash and with a burst of speed we make heaven.

It's more like a marathon. A marathon that entails ups and downs, victories and defeats and times of extreme joy and sorrow.

The writer to the Hebrews writes, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE THAT IS MARKED OUT FOR US."

Sometimes the best thing that we can do is to persevere.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Things I like and don't like

Things I like (not in any order):

A delicious meal with friends at a great restaurant
Dark Chocolate
A great steak
Red Lobster's baked potatoes
Baseball games
Football on T.V.
Spending time with my kids
Being with Debbie
A worship service where we spend time in the presence of God
Seeing people change
Seeing a church change for the better
Seeing people in a church grow spiritually
People "on fire" for God
Watching leaders being raised up
Talking to someone about Christ
Being a part of connecting someone to Christ
James Taylor
Anything written by John Grisham
A Broadway musical
Taking a nap on my day off
Knowing my kids are doing well

Things I don't like (not in any order):

Sloppy Joes (although I'll eat 4 or 5 of them at a church dinner)
Hidden agenda questions
Pittsburgh Steelers
Washington Redskins
Complacency and apathy in the church
Those who say one thing and do another
Roller Coasters

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Sometimes the answer is so simple we overlook it.

How can we become a church that is alive?

A few months ago I felt led to ask the deacons to meet for prayer before our meetings - 15 minutes before. I also asked our pastors to meet for prayer before our staff meetings on Tuesday - 15 minutes before.

We meet for prayer on Saturdays at 8:00 A.M. for one hour. Recently, we have begun walking through the rows of chairs, asking God to move during our Sunday services.

I have also asked our ushers to meet at 8:30 A.M. for prayer on Sunday mornings. I further challenged the choir to spent time before each service, asking God to fill our worship times with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Tonight, I am changing the order of our Bible Study a little bit. I am going to teach for an hour with discussion - and then we are going to pray.

God always does great things in answer to our prayers.

Pray, pray, pray. God calls us to pray. We don't do great things for God and then pray, we pray and then expect God to act. We don't plan and then pray, we pray and then plan. We don't become a leader in the church and then participate in prayer times, we participate in prayer times and then become a leader in the church.

I deeply appreciate people who pray. Not for my sake, but for our church family's sake, and for their sake.

Robert Benson writes,

"I am increasingly convinced that if the Church is to live, and actually be alive, one of the reasons, maybe the most important and maybe the only reason, will be because we have taken up our place in the line of the generations of the faithful who came before us. It will be because we pray the prayer that Christ himself prayed when he walked among us and now longs to pray through us.

It will be because we choose to no longer be among the ones who silence the prayer that Christ, through his body, prays to the Father.

It will be because we make sure that the wave of prayer that sustained the Church for all time does not stop when it is our turn to say it each day. It will be because we answer the ancient call to pray without ceasing."

May you join our increasing burden and challenge to pray.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sarah Palin and her pregnant daughter

I got this off Wikipedia today concerning Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential republican nominee:

"Palin was originally baptized as a Roman Catholic, but her parents switched to the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church, where she was rebaptized at age 12 or 13.[130][131] When she is in the capital, she attends Juneau Christian Center,[132] another Assemblies of God church. Her current home church in Wasilla is The Wasilla Bible Church,[133] an independent congregation.[134] Although initial reports described her as the first Pentecostal ever named to a major party's presidential ticket, Palin describes herself as a non-denominational Christian.[135] The National Catholic Reporter described her as a "post-denominational" Christian.[136]"

One of our Assemblies of God district superintendents was her youth pastor years ago.

She has shared that she has conservative family values. She has a pentecostal background. A believer in Jesus Christ.

The past few days, it has come out that her unwed daughter is pregnant.

I agree with James Carville (a political analysis on the Larry King show last night) and Barak Obama on this: Families are not fair game when it comes to politics. That's the political side.

In spiritual terms, we know that the Bible states in 1 Timothy 3:4,5, that "an overseer (elder, leader in the church) must mange his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect." As Paul writes, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (verse 5).

Throughout the years, this verse has been misapplied by many to say that if a leader's children are not serving God or mess up, they shouldn't be allowed to lead. That is incorrect.

The verse is saying that as long as parents are trying their human level best (with the help of the Holy Spirit) to lead their children in the ways of God, that when their children choose to go another way or do something "stupid", the parent can continue to lead.

If the parents have been slothful or non-caring, apathetic or sinful in the way they raised their children, and their children do not follow the ways of God, they are unfit to lead.

Remember, we are responsible to our children, we are not responsible for them, to the extent that they are responsible for the decisions that they make.

I'm not arguing for Sarah Palin from a political point of view, only from a parent's point of view and one who is in leadership.

From the outside looking in, she has done her spiritual best to raise her daughter in the things of God.

Kudo's to James Carville for recognizing this. Now whether she is experienced enough to be Vice President or not, one could debate with Mr. Carville all day long, but on this one point - he is right.