Are You Ready?

 

Are-You-Ready-To-Be-A-Millionaire-07-07-2014I like to teach.  I have had the opportunity over the years to do q lot of informal teaching, and occasionally some teaching that is much more structured.  Both are fun, even though they ask for drastically different teaching styles.  Currently I am teaching a college and career age class at my church in our Adult Bible Fellowship hour.  It’s fun.  A lot of fun.  I might be old enough to be their Dad, but that might be part of why I like it!  They make it fun for me, and I hope I make it a good time for them as well.

After class yesterday I had the opportunity to be interviewed by one of the young ladies in the class.  She is doing a paper on religions and wanted to ask my why I believe what I believe.  We spent a good 30 minutes talking about religion, works, faith, and relationship with God.  It was a fantastic way to spend 30 minutes!

On the way home from church I was telling my kids about the conversation.  It was a great opportunity to tell them about the beliefs of other denominations and to let them know why I believe what I believe, and where they could find the proof of it in the Bible for themselves.  I was having a VERY good day!  I was getting to teach at church in a class situation, in a one-on-one setting, and then pulling a Deuteronomy 6:7 moment with the kids on the way home!

Then my son said something that pulled me back. I know he meant it well, but it made me think.

“Dad, it’s kinda weird to hear you talk about God like you do.”

Now, he meant that I was excited, and I am so thankful that he recognized that, but it made me think, “Why is that weird?” Well, probably because sometimes things are weird until you get used to them.  The more recent the moment of change, the more alien it feels.  This is still fairly new for me.

I have been teaching for about 7 years now in church, but that is something he doesn’t get a chance to see, and Dad teaching in church when he talks about God is understandable, but talking about God outside of church?  That is still a fairly recent development.  I have never been one to really talk about my faith with others unless I am in a “church” setting, but that is changing.

I think this blog has something to do with it. I realize that most of the people who read it are probably “churched”, but I also know that I put this out there in some areas where people who don’t attend church can see it, or maybe they go to different church and don’t believe some of the same things that I do.  Since I use this blog to talk about my journey in growing close to Christ, I am getting more experience in sharing my faith, and it is becoming more natural.  As it becomes more natural, it is showing in “real life” too!

Peter gives us a charge as believers:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”

– 1 Peter 3:15 (emphasis mine)

This is what I am relentlessly pursuing.  Being prepared to make a defense.  Other translations use the phrase “give an account”.  Either phrase is intended to give the picture of standing in a courtroom and giving your testimony of the facts.  Why God means to you what you say He means to you.  A few things we can take from this verse:

1. Remember who you are talking about

This is about God.  The holy, pure, one and only God!  We honor Him by knowing not only WHAT we believe, but WHY we believe it!  That is how we honor Him and what He has done for us.  It is not just a matter of knowing about something, but becoming intimately acquainted with the Savior.

2. Be ready to speak

Not ready to run your mouth.  Be ready to explain, in detail, why you believe what you say you believe.  This is not something that should be taken lightly.  As believers, we should be taking the time to get to know God every day!  The better we know Him and His Word, the more accurately we will be able to present our case.  We need to have our facts straight, and be capable of stating it in a way that can be understood.

3. Be gentle in your speech

We can tell somebody the amazing story of God’s love for each and every individual person on this planet in a way that will make them want nothing to do with Him.  Pretty sad, but very true.  How we present our faith should be done in obedience to God, but with respect to the other person whose views may differ from our own.  Christ did not shake people into belief.  He spoke truth in a calm and loving way, letting the Truth do the shaking for Him.  That’s what He wants from us as well.

I have known my Savior for about 37 years.  I didn’t put a lot of effort into getting to know Him until about 8 years ago.  It’s only been in the last 2 years that I have started telling people about Him outside of church.  That’s not a good account.  That account says I spent too much time focused on how I felt about what people thought of me.

The good thing is that I have been doing it now for 2 years.  I started.  A desire for Relentless Growth in Christ will lead to a desire to share what He has done with people that you care about.  As you learn more and share more, you will see more and more opportunities to do it.  God’s pretty cool about stuff like that.

So, ask yourself.  “Are you ready?”

If this has been an encouragement to you, please share it with someone who might benefit from it as well.  More importantly, if you have benefitted from knowing Christ – share that!  I’d love to hear from you with your stories and comments!

Relentless Growth -> Grow Deep -> Grow Strong

 

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I’ve Got My Angry Eyes!

Toy Mr_ Potato Head Deluxe 8“And don’t sin by letting anger take control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the devil.”

Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT

One of my favorite scenes in Toy Story is when Mr. Potato Head is going out help rescue Woody. As he prepares for the trip, his wife lets him know that she packed his “angry eyes”. I personally thought the spud’s voice was considerably more threatening than his optical grimace, but he didn’t want to leave home without it.

I don’t know if you have looked around lately, but there seem to be an awful lot of angry people out there. I don’t think most of them realize just how angry they are, but it is pretty apparent to people who aren’t angry that there seems to be a growing epidemic of rage here in America. From the political hill to the school yard, from the boardroom to the PTA, people are angry. Why?

  • Injustice – There are things that are going on that are just plain wrong. Murder of infants, rights being taken away, taxes being used for things that we might have strong moral and religious convictions about.
  • Opinion – I have an opinion, and I bet you do too! It doesn’t matter what your opinion is or what mine is, because someone is not going to agree with it. That means they actually might think you are wrong!
  • Pain – We have things that have happened to us that have brought us pain, and that often brings out anger. Sometimes it is against the person that wronged us, and sometimes it is against people who remind us of the person who wronged us.

You see, I am by nature an angry person. I have touched on that in this blog before. I rage against injustice. I fight to defend my position and I seethe when I am wronged. I am a man who has strong emotions, and anger is one of the strongest. It is a very powerful emotion, and that is why we get such strong warnings about it in God’s Word.

Proverbs is full of words of wisdom regarding holding our temper and our tongues when we are angry. We have the verses at the beginning of this post telling us of the need to not let sin control us or to let the sun go down while we are angry. One of the first sins in the Bible was the anger of Cain against his brother, and we know how that turned out! If God tells us to be careful with our anger, don’t you think we should be paying attention?

You might say, “Well, Jesus got angry! He flipped tables and chased people out of the temple for cryin’ out loud!” You’d be right. He also got angry with the Pharisees on more than one occasion. The thing is, He did it without sinning.

When I pull out my angry eyes, I might start with a righteous anger, but before long, I am looking for one thing and one thing only – my right to be heard, vindicated, proven, and ultimately for my position to be elevated above someone else’s, because If I am going to be right then the other person must be…_______________. (I’ll let you fill in the blank like it’s a quiz, but I’ll tell you the answer is “wrong.”)

So, if my goal is to be right at the expense of another person, then I am wrong. If my goal is to be right to make someone agree with me, then I am wrong. If my goal is to right an injustice, that can be a little more tricky, but I can tell you that it often leads to me being wrong. At the end of the day, I keep being wrong when I try to be right.

So, let’s talk about the big one – Injustice. Is it wrong to stand up for a wrong that was done. No, but the attitude that comes with it can be dangerous. Jesus showed anger when people were trying to use a position of religious authority to hurt people. Jesus flipped tables when people were robbing worshippers. He spoke harshly at the Pharisees when they were trying to twist God’s Word to suit their purposes by shaming others. The injustice that outraged Jesus was an injustice against others, not Himself.

When a wrong was done to Christ, He simply asked God to forgive the person. Wow. He was whipped, spit on, had his beard yanked out, and spikes driven through his wrists and ankles, and as the sinless Son of God, His response was to ask God to forgive them.

A completely sinless man. Innocent yet found guilty. The very definition of the word injustice took place on the cross of Christ. It was done for more than our salvation, and that reason was more than enough. It was done as an example for living.

My mentor/friend/”rabbi” often told me when I would be ranting about the injustices I was facing, “You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.” I am a follower of Christ. I look to Him as my example for living. How can I stand here and rail against the injustices of things to the point of anger when I have a Savior who forgave the most heinous injustice in history?

I can’t. Not if I am going to do right. I want to do right.

Doing right in spite of injustice requires a couple of things:

  1. Prayer – Pray that God will ultimately hand out the justice that is necessary in the situation, and the He will correct it according to His will. Pray that He will give you the wisdom to know when you have pushed too hard and you are crossing the line between righteous indignation and sinful anger. Pray that the people involved will see their error and make it right.
  2. Let it go – It’s more than an annoying song on the radio. “Let it go” should be our response to anger that is lingering. Very clearly Paul tells us not to let anger control us. In simple terms he says not to let the sun go down while you are angry. Let it go.

The reason we need to do these things is because the anger allowed to run free will give Satan a foothold in our hearts. There is no more dangerous thing in the world than a truth with a lie wrapped up inside, and Satan loves to tell the lie to us that it is okay to hang on to anger when it is directed against a bad thing. Holding anger leads to a bitter life that will be lived out alone with a lot of pain.

You need to give up the right to be right, and focus on your calling to do right.”

I’d like to say that I have mastered this. Ask my wife, my kids, my staff at work, and they will all tell you that I have not, and they would be right. But it’s better than it was. I have gained ground in this, and while my first reaction is not going to be to forgive, pray, or let it go, I get to them a lot faster than I used to, and very rarely is an overnight required.

It’s part of growing in Christ, and having that relentless desire to be more like Him so I can give Him more praise for the work He is doing in me. This isn’t me, it is Christ at work in me. He gets the glory for what I do well, and I claim the fault of the things I do wrong.

So, I still have my angry eyes packed, and I take them with me wherever I go. There might be times that they are needed. Sometimes I use them the right way, but I also find I am using them a lot less.

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Digging In The Past – Part 1

image“Be careful digging in the past. You’ll find yourself face to face with things that will force you to make a choice. You will either have to cover it up again or deal with what you find.”

I would like to say that the quote above was from some wise, well-known, smart guy who has been afforded the respect of many who heed his words and wait expectantly for his next nugget of wisdom to help them guide their lives. Alas, the words are my own, and they are not said with the encouragement that they should being to my life, but as a warning to myself that the past is a place where it is not always sunny. As the old saying goes, “Here, there be monsters.”

This post is going to be the first of a couple that will take us on a journey through my spiritual journey from a small, country church to where I find myself today. I am not sure how detailed it will get as I have some boundaries in writing it that will put some constraints on what I share. The goal is to speak truth in love by sharing a journey. It is not about slinging mud.

Let me start by saying that one of the fundamental issues I will be discussing in this series of posts is the topic of spiritual abuse. I had never heard of the concept until a couple of years ago, and it really made me think about years gone by, and I had to deal with some stuff that it brought up. Spiritual abuse is basically defined as using religion to force people to do things by pouring out guilt and shame and creating a performance-based value of a person through the twisting of Scripture to meet the desires of the abuser.

Many people would call that a cult, and they would be right. The problem is that in many churches it is something that happens behind the scenes every day. It is covered up with words that are good and necessary in the life of a believer, but the meanings have been twisted subtly. It might not be a big deal if you look at the little individual differences, but it can be like radiation poisoning. It builds up in the body until you finally get sick. Once you get sick, it is hard to get better. Very hard.

So, here we go. My testimony. A testimony is just my story. Warts and all. This is not about other people, but about where I was and where I am now. If I offend someone, I apologize in advance, but please know that I am not trying to hurt, just hoping that in telling my story someone else might be able to helped or encouraged to know they were not alone.

I was born into a Christian family and from the start I was in church. Most of my earliest memories of church are of doing a task or saying some words and then I would get a treat. I liked treats, and was smart enough to realize that the more good things I did and said, the more treats I got. I liked it! I heard a lot of Bible stories and since I like stories I thought church was great.

When I was four years old I got a burn on my arm. It wasn’t anything significant, but I remember that it hurt a lot. (I was four!) That following Sunday our lesson was about Hell. As the teacher talked about eternal fire and suffering, you can bet she had my attention! By the end of the class when she asked if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their hearts to save them from an eternal fire, I jumped at the opportunity. I remember a lot of people being very happy for me, but not much else.

Over the next five years I grew up in church and attended a church school. We were there every time the doors were open, and I continued to learn a lot about the Bible – especially the parts that focused on obedience. We had a pastor at that time that I remember very fondly for his smile, his love of laughter and fun, and for his booming voice when he sang or preached. I was very sad when he moved on to a new church.

Up to this time in my life I do not believe that I had experienced any real spiritual abuse. My obedience to God was stressed heavily in church and school, but I have no memories of guilt, shame, or manipulation coming from my church, school, or spiritual leaders in my life. I have a lot of respect for the people that had been at work in my life up to that point, and I appreciate the groundwork they did of putting a healthy even if a little heavy focus on obedience to God while still telling me about the love that God has for us. That would soon change.

I have been praying about it, and I have decided not to go into a lot of detail regarding the next 7 years. There are stories that are not mine to tell.
Over the next seven years church and school changed for me and a lot of other people too. I am not going to say that it was no fun at all, but it became intense, and by the end of that time, the times of fun were fewer and farther apart.
Here are a few things that I remember:

1. The law was still alive and well. – While I was a Christian and secure in my Salvation, there was an unhealthy focus on works. I heard so often how my best was worthless in God’s eyes. I heard that in order to please God I had to always do what was right,and that every time something went wrong in my life it was because God was punishing me for a sin that I had not confessed.

2. Grace was a gift given at salvation. – God’s grace was a wonderful gift, and it allowed us to have eternal life.

3. The pastor’s words were equal to Scripture. – you were never allowed to question what he said, even for clarification. There were times I asked questions about how he had presented things from a passage of Scripture, and I was told that I should just trust him. After all, he was the pastor. Obedience to him was the same as obedience to God.

4. I was as good as what they could see. – This was what led to some serious struggles in my personal character. It created a culture of deception in the youth in our church and school. We knew we could never be as good as we were told we needed to be, so we gave up trying! Instead a second life was born. A chameleon ability was brought out that allowed me to fit in with who I needed to fit in with when it was needed. If they liked what they saw then I was not given my portion of shame.

By the time I was 16 I still knew I was a Christian, but I didn’t know why anymore. I knew what I believed, and I didn’t get involved with any of the “really bad stuff”, but I was not living the way God wanted me to, nor was I sure that it would do any good anyway. I said I knew Him, but we were pretty much strangers to each other.

(To be continued…)
In HIS Grip,
Tom