To give a fish or teach to fish – a lesson in gratitude

I am going to have to be a little vague and change some of the details of this blog.  Recently Barbie and I felt led of the Lord to join with others to assist a young new family financially as they could not afford a place to stay while they were finishing some academic studies.  By all initial appearances they were Christians and devoted to the Lord.  The groups’ help came in the form of housing assistance totaling well over $12,000 during that season.

As an integral part of the agreement, and in order to hopefully encourage a sense of this not being a handout, the couple was asked to assist with some things that would indirectly defray a portion of the cost.

Right out of the gate they refused to keep their part of the agreement.  When asked as to why, they gave reasons which were later found out to be out-and-out lies.  Once it was found out they were lying, they were confronted and it was communicated that they were going to have to start paying a larger portion of their housing cost in order to make up for their not honoring their word.  A 3rd party Christian was invited to help mediate this conversation.  Not only did they refuse any compromise, they in fact started threatening all of us with legal action and restraining orders going so far as to make harassing threats and phone calls even to the extent of affecting Barbie’s and my new shelter business causing us significant stress and expense.

Over this season the group also assisted with babysitting, running them on errands, paying some utilities and taking care of many housing related issues that would have normally fallen under their role as being responsible tenants.  Attempts were made to help them understand about things like the cost of utilities and how cleaning fees work.  Advice was rejected at almost every corner even when offered by the 3rd party mediator or others in the group who had been owning or renting their places for longer than this couple had been alive.  In the end our efforts were met with what can only be described as demonic attacks on the group as well as others who “just happened to be in their way”.

The above story might seem exaggerated, but I can assure you the people who were brought in as 3rd party mediator and others in the group who were directly affected by their actions can attest that I have only scratched the surface in describing the trying ordeal this was for all of us.

One cannot look up chapter and verse which says “being grateful is a key to health and happiness”.  But there are stories of reward and punishment throughout scripture making a strong case for gratitude being vital for physical and spiritual health.  In Romans 1:21 the end result of those who did not express thanks to God was that their “misguided minds were plunged into darkness”.  Philippians 4:6 indicates that everything we do should be accompanied with gratitude.

First of all I want to say that Barbie and I were able, for the most part, to lean on the Lord for encouragement.  This was an extreme test which we did not always pass with flying colors.  We got mad, we wanted to retaliate and we wanted retribution.  But as best as we knew, we had joined in on this effort out of obedience to the Lord and this fact enabled us to fight through and (somewhat reluctantly) leave them in the Lord’s hands.

I believe we all learned an important lesson on gratitude as we watched the degradation of attitude in this couple.  I have only experiential data for this conclusion, but I believe it to be TRUTH.  When we as individuals or a people are offered an unmerited gift or act of kindness we have 2 options in response.  The first, and of course most desirable, is to respond with verbal, attitudinal and physical expressions of thankfulness.  The other pathway is the one described in Romans 1:21 where a lack of thankfulness plunges hearts and minds into darkness.  The later is an unfortunately, but accurately, a description of what we witnessed from this couple.  Their lack of showing appreciation for our “giving them a fish” followed by their vehemence after trying to “teach them to fish” (attempts to hold them accountable to their part of the deal) I believe were glaring examples of what accompanies a spirit of ingratitude.  I suspect the rational goes something like this.  Someone needs help (as we all do from time to time) and someone is there to offer the assistance and you are initially glad.  But if kindness is not followed by acts or attitudes of gratefulness then guilt starts to set in.  There are only 2 things that will assuage the guilt.  One is to become grateful.  The only other way to “help you feel good about yourself” is to paint the other parties out to be the villains or guilty party.  This in no way helps lift the spirit of the ungrateful person, but rather is an ultimately empty attempt to be able to point at others who are “more evil” than yourself.  Sort of like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.  This pathway will always end in darkness and depression.

Interestingly enough, this is the same chain of thoughts which occurs in those who reject Christ and His unmerited offer of the gift of life.  In rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice, they become bitter against God and the church.  Bottom line, I encourage myself (who needs it more than most) and everyone else reading this to become a grateful people.  I believe it will play a most important role in your spiritual and physical health.

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Vladimir Putin may be on to something!

I was reading an article in the World magazine this morning which was discussing Putin’s warming up to the Orthodox Church in Russia.  Even the influential managing director of the World Congress of Families (WCF) spoke in support of Putin saying he wasn’t all that concerned by the attempts to annex Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  His reasoning seems sound enough as he cites Putin’s recent sponsoring of bills to criminalize homosexuality as well as a big push back against abortion.  Putin is even seen in many circles in Russia as the “protector of the traditional family”.

What is even more interesting is the fact that significant growth in the Orthodox Church in Russia has paralleled this raising of traditional biblical standards by the clearly secular leadership of the country.  Putin has gone so far as to state in a recent keynote speech that the West has moved away from its Christian roots, carving out a “path to degradation”.  Many Protestant Christians in Russia are not so quick to jump on the Putin train rather recognizing that Putin knew the country needed a BIG IDEA in order to be unified in much the same way Prince Vladimir did in 988 when he orchestrated a semblance of unity through forced mass baptisms.

But there is a point here that the church could perhaps learn from.  The world is sick and tired of milquetoast religion that changes its standards every time there is a shift in the moral compass in society.  As much as there is a lot of talk against rigidness or old fashion ways, there is a respect that accompanies a people, any people, who actually stand by their convictions and hold firm against the fickleness of moral or political movements in the world.  If you need examples, just look at the tremendously disproportionate influence the LGBT or atheist crowds have had on our society.  Although they represent fractional or single digit numbers percentage wise, they have been able to overturn laws and traditions held for centuries and even millenniums.  Why, because they are passionate, consistent, unmovable and evangelical in their beliefs.

Of course any attempt to legislate morality will be met with failure and I am not a big proponent of the church trying to press moral values outside the church, but what could be the fallout if the church endeavored to regain lost ground on some moral frontlines within the church?  Sure a few would be offended if we actually confronted gossip, immodesty or easy “no fault” divorce.  But I believe that in the long run it will hold the attention of those truly serious about belonging to a group of people who don’t just talk a good talk but seek out and walk that narrow way in honor of the sacrifice of Christ.

There might be some who will say that I tend to focus too much on the justice side of the mercy/justice coin (Ps. 85:10) and I would have to agree, but only because there seems to be an imbalance in the church’s message out there.  Seriously, there are no lack of the feel good, “I’m ok your ok” Joel Osteen type preachers out there who seem to avoid at all cost any semblance of accountability, confrontation or correction.

I believe in the strongest terms possible that a Gospel which combines a message with both the teeth and roar of Aslan coupled with the grace and love of Abba Father will be the one that endures to the end – and I get the feeling the end may be fast approaching.  This makes it all the more important to know which side you are on because it really is an issue of taking sides and making a stand.  Perhaps never before is the scripture more poignant than today in Joshua 24:15 – ….. Choose today whom you will serve ….. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

A funny thing happened on the way to worship this past Sunday

Those of you former PKers, early TCFers and Bread of Lifers will appreciate this post more than most.  I mention those groups because it was in those settings where exceptional times of deep intimate worship were experienced on a regular basis.  Many of us have spoken of those seasons with fond memories when the touch of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the Lord were especially palpable as there was almost full participation in worship.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the church we now attend, but we go there for the preaching – not the worship.  I still enter easily into the presence of the Lord whether in my personal quiet times or while surrounded in church by people standing in reverent compliance during worship but looking more like a crowd of unenthusiastic lip syncers.  But something very interesting happened this past Sunday.

The worship time was led by a group of mostly graduating seniors in honor of the end of High School.  The music was well prepared and overly loud as usual (79 – 86 dB, yes there is an app for that) and because of the volume combined with the well prepared songs, the congregation was playing their status quo role of more spectator than participant.  Then on one particular song the young girl who started it was obviously nervous and unsure of herself as she led out weak, quiet and somewhat off-key.  All of a sudden, there was a resounding chorus from the congregation of voices joining with hers as if to say both to the young girl and hopefully to the Lord “we’re joining here with you”.

In my memory, that level of corporate chorus has only happened two other times in the several years we have been at this church (from my perspective).  One time there was a Sunday when the worship leader “cleared the stage” and led a minimalist acoustic worship time and then there was the Sunday that the power went out and the above scenario was repeated, albeit unintentionally.  Those are the only two occasions I recall being able to actually hear the congregational voices over the well prepared music coming from the stage.

Don’t get me wrong, I love good music as much as the next person, but I’m not in the camp that believes ever louder and better rehearsed music is necessarily a good thing when it comes to humbly falling on our knees and casting our crowns in worship.  Less can be more.

There’s a whole lot of moving going on!

My new avatar is a picture of an ancient boundary stone.  Boundary stones were placed to show ownership borders or the limits of property one had authority over.  God instructs us in Proverbs 22 & 23 not to move ancient boundary stones.  Our current secular, liberal and godless society is knocking down and pushing boundaries on countless fronts.  This pushing back or ignoring of boundaries by the world is actually to be expected, is nothing new and has been a repeating occurrence in societies throughout history.  And although many societies have traveled far down the pathways leading away from scriptural principals and boundaries I believe there is a significant difference in 2014.  The difference is not among the un-churched and secular society but is instead right in the midst of the intended guardian of those ancient boundaries – the church.

What’s the difference?  By that I mean what is the difference between the community of Christ and the community of Satan and the world.  I say it that way because there really is, from a Biblical perspective, only two realms and there is supposed to be clear boundaries between the two.  We are called out to be dedicated for the work of the kingdom.  We are not called to be different for difference sake but rather for the purpose partnering with the Father in the redemption of the world.

We should not be surprised when the world challenges the boundaries of gossip, marriage, modesty, sexual orientation and integrity.  They either don’t care or more likely are simply unaware of the placement of God’s boundary stones.  But we in the church do not have the luxury of using that excuse.  When clearly indicated moral boundaries are challenged in the church it is the church’s responsibility to hold fast and defend those borders.  Some may ask why.  It’s really very simple and I will use physical borders as an illustration.  Imagine if one morning we woke up and Canada had pushed its southern border down to encompass several northern states.  And then the next morning Mexico pushed its northern border up to capture Texas and New Mexico.  If the US did not push back and regain that property then we have conceded defeat in that area and have lost ground from what was previously American property.

When that happens in the spiritual realm, it means areas that were once holy ground have become Satan’s property.  In short, Satan is gaining ground in the church without firing a shot by the simple means of placing social and political pressure on the church to give up ground for peace.  Let me use another metaphor.  Israel has been pressured over the past ½ century to give up land with the promise that they would have peace.  How’s that working for Israel?  The church is giving ground on many fronts with the presumed result that secular society will then like us and appreciate how ”understanding and companionate” we have been.  But all we have really accomplished is to give Satan more ownership and authority within the very walls and people of the church.

Please understand, the world is going to hate us no matter what we do.  It’s one of those promises in scripture that we don’t like and would prefer to ignore in hopes that maybe God wasn’t telling the truth.  But alas, God is no liar; the world still hates us and will only continue to hate us more until we have become indistinguishable from them so I ask again, if there is no difference between the church and the world then what’s the difference?

Lessons from the Ark (not Noah’s)

In my devotionals this week I’ve been reading the account of Israel’s use of the Ark of the Covenant as a battle tool against the Philistines.  You will remember that it was captured and caused problems to the Philistines (tumors).  So the people of Philistia decided to send the Ark back to Israel.  Here is where the story gets interesting.  The Philistines devised a whole new method of transporting this holy object which was contrary to the prescribed method of carrying it by hand with poles through rings mounted on the sides of the Ark.  It just made so much sense and was so much easier and practical to place the presumably heavy Ark (lots of gold and stone tablets) on a new cart and have it pulled by beast of burden.

When the people of Bet Shemesh saw the returning Ark on a cart they had the Levites remove the Ark from this “worldly” means of transportation, chopped up the cart, set it on fire and even sacrificed the oxen on the fire.  It’s at this point I will interject a personal opinion that upon seeing the holy things of the Father (the Ark and its contents) being conveyed by worldly means they reacted with proper indignation in rejecting that conveyance, chopping it up and destroying it.

The Ark is then placed in the home of Abinidab and his eldest son Eleazar is charged with keeping guard over the Ark where it remained for some 20 years.  After those 20 years David decides to return the Ark to Jerusalem and what does he do?  He chooses to convey the “holy things of the Lord” by a method he learned nowhere else than from the world – a fancy new cart.  Never mind that just 20 short years earlier this worldly means was categorically rejected as a vehicle for carrying the commandments of our holy God.

And then to top it off, who do we find leading this new means of conveyance?  None other than Eleazar’s 2 younger brothers Uzzah and Ahio.  This doesn’t work out so well for Uzzah who, with all good intentions, reaches out in support of this new conveyance when the oxen stumble.  After 3 months of what I can only presume was some deep soul searching by King David, he realized his mistake and has the Ark carried the “old fashion way” back up to Jerusalem.

Lessons 1) – The weapons of our warfare are not physical (such as the Ark, the cart, a lawsuit, another person, etc.) but rather spiritual weapons which are mighty through God such as discernment and prayer.

Lesson 2) – We must be very careful to discern proper methods of conveying the Gospel and not to quickly embrace some modern method just because it is new, easier or quicker.  If the ark is a metaphor for the Gospel/Word of God (as most scholars suggest) then there must be a reason it was commanded to be born on the shoulders of men instead of on some modern conveyance of mans making.

Lesson 3) – We should be quick to reject and/or destroy the ways of the world when there are attempts to introduce those wrong methods into the church.  (note: I will leave it to the Holy Spirit to identify what those methods are)

Lesson 4) – Watch yourself and be sure to keep close guard on the things of the Lord.  Remember it wasn’t Eleazar who put himself out front for all to see when they started leading the cart up to Jerusalem.  I suggest he was humbled and blessed for his role in guarding the Ark.  His brothers on the other hand had evidently come to see the holy things of the Lord as common place while the Ark sat in their living room those 20 years.  It was this which caused Uzzah to feel entitled to handle the Ark wrongly and disrespect the Lord and His ways.

Lesson 5) – Old fashion doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or ineffective.

Lesson 6) – when we embrace the Lord’s ways there is joy and good success.