But you don’t understand, my problems are worse than a martyr’s – Said Nobody EVER!!!

I have not yet watched the video of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian brothers.  I am very conflicted as to whether I will on not.  Part of me wants to and part of me is loathe to watch it and I have no particular “spiritual” reason for either.  But I have read accounts of a father in Egypt having to stop watching it after seeing his son crying out the name of Jesus Christ just before his beheading.  Other reports are of many of them proclaiming Jesus as their only savior as the knives come out.

I have seen a picture of the sea turned BLOOD red and I can just imagine the chorus of their blood crying out from the sand and the sea.

Part of me cries uncontrollably, part of me wishes I could have been a sniper on a sand dune overlooking the event to take out the executioners before they could carry out their empty deed.  I say empty because I cannot imagine someone with any self esteem, worth or noble purpose in life being able to do this kind of thing.

Then there is the part of me which cries almost more intently because of my complaints to my wife, my kids (and worse yet) the Lord about my problems.  Until the last couple of days my problems loomed large and many would agree as to the severity of what I am facing.  But in light of the real life, captured on video and broadcast to the whole world, plight of these precious Coptic brothers in the Lord facing modern day martyrdom my issues are just that – temporal issues with no eternal implications.

I have seen postings of praying for the executioners.  I know I should be there, but not just yet Lord.  Please give me a few more hours of righteous indignation and desire for exacting retribution of similar fashion.  But even as I write that I hear scripture proclaiming the Father is so very patient in His return – not willing for any to perish, but that all would come to repentance.  But I don’t want them to repent!  I want them to pay and I want to be the one that makes them pay.

But then I hear the rebuking words of Jesus to James and John – “you don’t know what kind of spirit you have taken on” and all of a sudden I have become no better than those lost souls on the beach in Libya – having no knowledge of the risen Savior.  I know from how low I have been pull up and compassion begins to roll in like a flood – God, you take a pass on my problems if you can save but one.

PS – There but by the grace of God went Paul …. re-phrase – There went Paul before the grace of God!

I Get It – Because I also don’t Get It!

A friend recently posted a video of ISIS in several situations executing various groups of people who I guess were opposing combatants.  I was deeply disturbed by the video and was left asking myself “so barbaric, how could anybody do that?”  As I was contemplating this video it came to me that Israel, under the direct command of God Himself, was ordered to “kill every man, woman and child” (I Sam. 15) which I also find disturbing.

So for all of you who feel like you don’t get it and can’t serve a god who would “do things like that” or “allow thus and so tragedy” I want you to know that I understand where you are coming from because I don’t exactly get it either. 

And just for the record, I don’t understand how a loving God could allow such a dedicated servant as Bro. Bill to suffer so much at the end of his life.  Neither do I understand why so many prayers go unanswered – including my own.  And why does the church in America seem so impotent?  I, for the most part, simply don’t know and don’t understand.  But what I do understand is being able to focus on the testimony of the life Bro. Bill lived and the prayers I have witnessed answers to (including my own).  And I can garner hints from scripture (Mal. 2:13-17) that the prayers of the church may not be answered because of the high percentage of divorce amongst His people.  And for the most part, those reasons feel somewhat academic.

And in light of a recent video of Victoria Osteen which has garnered a lot of blow back, do I serve Him for Him or for me.  That’s perhaps an even tougher question.  I answered her comments with “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe – Creator, Savior, Master, Lord – I obey because He is, not because I am” and I believe that with all my heart because Jesus in the garden submitted in obedience to a very hard thing because He preferred the Father’s desires over His own.  But as my wife pointed out to me this morning from Heb. 12:2 the reason Jesus (also) obeyed and endured the path to the cross was because of the joy and happiness He knew it would bring Him.  I’m not sure I totally get that either.

So here is the end of the matter for me – do I serve Him because He is the all powerful Creator who has the power with half of a thought to destroy me and all mankind or do I serve Him because He knew me in my mother’s womb and knows how much hair I have?  Do I serve Him because of the sacrifice of His Son for our sins or do I serve Him because He as the Potter and I the clay He can make me a special plate for kings or just as easily a chamber pot for slaves?  Am I devoted to Him because I have known His loving embrace in time of trouble or because at times I feel as though He is not involved in my daily life?  Is he worthy because of what I perceive as harsh judgment on individuals or entire people groups or because He shows mercy to someone who I see as unworthy. 

I am left with nothing else but the answer being YES to all the above.

“I don’t want to do this”

Barbie and I were at a funeral yesterday.  It was one of those funerals that left you feeling uplifted and encouraged because of the clear testimony of the person’s life combined with the obvious amount of abundant grace exhibited by the family’s faith in God.  I’m only guessing here, but there must have been 2000+ people in attendance and the tributes to his godly life and testimony were strong and powerful. The highlight of the funeral was the wife’s account of the events surrounding his death beginning with her husband collapsing on the bathroom floor, the 911 call, the medics working tirelessly on him and the growing realization that her husband was dead.  She kept saying to herself “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to do this”!

The wife’s own testimony became all too apparent as she correlated this phrase to Jesus in the garden as He wept drops of blood telling His heavenly Father “I don’t want to do this – but not My will but Thine be done”.

I began to think about all the times I have said this phrase “I don’t want to do this” in the context of some task in front of me that was hard or painful to face.  There were times I pressed through the obvious deterrents to complete the task but there were all too many times I shrank back convincing myself it was not worth it or that it will be just too painful to endure.

I’m not talking about putting off going to the store or mowing the lawn on a particularly hot day.  I’m talking about those times I was confronted with some hard life challenge or life and death itself.  I remember when the doctors told us Brandi would most likely get sicker and sicker and die before she was 30, I didn’t want to do that.  Or after having packed up our family of 8 and going off to the mission field only to have it fall apart because of very painful betrayals and having to come back to Tulsa with “our tails between our legs”, I didn’t want to do that either.

How about those more self serving things like the Lord confronting me about dealing with lust and pornography, I sure didn’t want to do that.  Or learning to edit my angry reactions to people, I still don’t want to do that.

And then there is church leadership who is put in the hard place of watching congregants blatantly violate God’s laws whether it be in relationship to divorce, gossip, sexual sins or any of the other “trending” vices forbidden in scripture.  Understandably they don’t want to do that.  It’s uncomfortable to confront sin, hold people accountable and especially to take the oft commanded step of shunning unrepentant “repeat offenders” – we for sure don’t want to do that.

So I bring myself, my family, my friends and the church back to that place of Jesus in the garden who understood better than us all saying “I don’t want to do this” and yet His total commitment to pleasing the Father in His final choice “nevertheless not My will but Thine be done”!

In Memory – Eric Doy Raines – 1964 – 2014

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.