Listen for the Hiss

In Genesis the story of Satan’s lies to the first humans is laid out. I have no doubt that the lies were not hissed by the serpent. The voice was probably lovely, beautiful and musical, shimmering with promise and glory.

But beneath that voice was the hiss of the serpent – the fallen angel –  who hated God and who was bound and determined to take down God’s highest creation, humankind.

The same lies that were there in the Garden of Eden are still around today.  (Genesis 3:5) Satan has no new material. It is simply repackaged for each generation by false teachers, the ones warned about in Holy Scripture. (See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:4-5 for just one example.) This is where every distortion and denial of the Gospel comes from in each generation of supposedly Christian churches.  Man is always exalted and lifted up as God, and God is diminished and denied. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant.

This article here by Chad Bird  is an excellent repudiation of this teaching of man’s greatness that can be heard everywhere today, including in many supposedly Christian churches.  The state of our broken planet is not the result of our great fear of embracing our fantastic, all-powerful selves. The state of this shattered planet is the result of spiritual rebellion against God. Sin. And that’s why we needed Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on Calvary.

Any so-called teacher, celebrity or otherwise, who is spreading the glories of man as savior, is at war with the heart of the Gospel message.  They are at war with God himself.  Their Gospel is not “watered down.” It is the anti-Gospel.  Listen for the hiss underneath the smooth talk. And then, as Chad Bird says so well, look to God instead.

 

 

 

 

Lonely In a (Church) Crowd

If the world can be a lonely place, it can be at its loneliest in a church. Through the years I have had conversations more than once with those who, like me, have  experienced this first hand. With the advent of the evangelical ultra, super, gigachurch (that’s actually a term), the loneliness experienced only gets more pronounced. When church feels like an airport terminal, and everyone but you has somewhere to go, the feeling of being alone is intensified.

But big churches don’t have a corner on that. It can be that way in any church. Humans tend to flock to groups or cliques according to their pecking order in the social hierarchy. All sorts of unspoken social rubrics come into play, and for an outsider, for someone who doesn’t understand the rules, there isn’t much you can do to find a place to fit in. After a while, you become truly invisible, like the pews or the table with promotional brochures in the lobby.

I’ve written before about how the shiny people, as I call them, the “high capacity”, attractive and talented ones set the rules. As newcomers, they are actively pursued. Pastors love seeing this type come in the door. After giving up hope long ago about ever fitting in, I have watched these dynamics at work for years. At one church Tom and I visited several years ago, the Corvette-driving flashy man who was the pastor greeted us warmly at the door. I call these the “all teeth and hair types” who have enormous, attractive smiles and great hair (I laughed  out loud typing that, because there isn’t always the hair), but their eyes are roving around at the door after church, even as they shake your hand, looking for more exciting prospects to pursue. If you’re looking for exciting, Tom and I don’t cut it!

But it isn’t always the pastor’s fault. (Nothing wrong with Corvettes if your ministerial salary runs to that, I guess), because church is far more than the man in the pulpit. That’s what I wanted to write about today.

I found myself in a new church recently. It was a very small congregation, very small, as in about 30 people all told. After the service, I was about to leave when an older lady who had caught my eye during the handshake portion came up to me and invited me to come back to the fellowship hall for coffee. I was surprised. I’ll be honest, I was pleased at the invite.

I sat down at a table with about 7 others, all of them a good 20 years older than me. Quite frankly, I felt very much at home with them. I explained that I had hearing loss and might have to have something repeated (room noise makes it a lot worse), and they all laughed and said they did also. We sat and chatted for a while, the lady who invited me kindly included me in the conversation.

When I finally got up to leave, she asked me for my name and phone number which I gave her. It was something that is certainly a normal thing to do for any visitor, a formality  that usually happens when you fill out your name on a card. But it meant a great deal that she asked–that a human being asked.

“I hope we’ll see you again,” she said.

Why is this so difficult in churches? I have spent a lifetime in evangelical circles through the years, including my childhood, in churches of nearly every brand and description. The ones where the people themselves made an honest effort to be inclusive and interested in the stranger at their door can be counted on one hand. Everyone stays where it’s comfortable. Yes, they do.

We have no idea who is around us. Sometimes there is someone we cross paths with who is living in deep depression. They make a last trip to the surface, to use that analogy, before going under the final time.  (I could write a great deal on that topic having lost a friend to suicide.) That darkness can be so all encompassing that only a sudden encounter with the bright light of kindness can break in. Why would we not want that kindness to be extended in the house of God? Why should anyone leave a church feeling lonely?

I don’t care about how many theological symposiums, conferences, work-shops, missionary banquets, women’s retreats, men’s prayer breakfasts,  etc. etc. you want to hold in a given year. Who is lonely? Who cares that you came in the door? Who is actually coming to your church and why? If the pastor is too busy doing pastor things, surely someone in your church could be on the lookout. Right? It can sometimes be just one person who makes the difference.

That small church followed through with a phone call. The pastor wanted to know if he could do anything to help and just wanted to make contact. They have the treatment of a visitor right there. Whatever else the church might lack, it has that right.

I have a growing intolerance for churches, regardless of their doctrinal rectitude, who do not get this. I remember posting the sermon clip from Richard Owen Roberts a while back. “No man cares for my soul.” He tells of the loveless churches we have today, and how in Wheaton, Illinois, a simple invitation from his wife to an international student there at Wheaton College saved him from a planned suicide. A simple invitation to lunch and conversation.

If you don’t care for the humans you encounter in your church, why would you care about anybody outside of your church? And if you don’t care about them physically, why would you care about their souls? Answer: Most Christians don’t care about either. I know, because I have experienced it myself.

Nothing I’ve said here is unique or original, but it’s what’s on my heart and mind today. Don’t talk about the love of God in your church if you have no intention of showing it.

Resurrection!

Willgesuorgan1Our 19-year-old son, Will,  is preparing some large pieces for a concert in June. The recorded clip is the tail end of his concert “ender.” He explained what he was playing.

“It’s the last movement of a symphony improvisation by Marcel Dupre on Christ’s passion….Movement no. 4 Resurrection. The melody is a chant. Here is the text,” he wrote.

Prostrate I adore Thee, Deity unseen, Who Thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean;

Lo, to Thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, Tranced as it beholds Thee, shrined within the cloud.

Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern Thee fail;

Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil. I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told; What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

On the Cross lay hidden but thy Deity, Here is hidden also Thy Humanity: But in both believing and confessing, Lord, Ask I what the dying thief of Thee implored.

Thy dread wounds, like Thomas, though I cannot see, His be my confession, Lord and God, of Thee, Make my faith unfeigned ever-more increase, Give me hope unfading, love that cannot cease.

O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death; Living Bread, that giveth all Thy creatures breath, Grant my spirit ever by Thy life may live, To my taste Thy sweetness never-failing give.

Pelican of mercy, Jesus, Lord and God, Cleanse me, wretched sinner, in Thy Precious Blood: Blood where one drop for human-kind outpoured Might from all transgression have the world restored.

Jesus, whom now veiled, I by faith descry, What my soul doth thirst for, do not, Lord, deny, That thy face unveiled, I at last may see, With the blissful vision blest, my God, of Thee.

The finale of this movement conveys the power of the Resurrected Christ. Not a weak, simpering, impotent false Jesus, but the risen LORD Jesus Christ, who vanquished death, ascended to heaven and sits at God’s right hand in all power and authority.

Music carries a message of some kind, with or without words. The power of the pipe organ carries the message that the chant confesses. To this message, I say Amen and Amen!

(Will is recording the whole piece tomorrow. But I thought I would share this little clip.)

Dancing Shoes

ballet shoesAs a child I read Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, a lovely story about three little orphan girls. It also made me want to dance. I couldn’t take ballet lessons, so I got a library book home on the various basic steps for ballet dancers and in my room, I practiced the positions in the book, pretending my dresser was my barre. Not having a leotard, I used my bathing suit and pretended.

Dance was not something that the evangelical and fundamentalist world accepted. It was considered fleshly/sinful and dangerous. Classical ballet was included in that definition. Rumors swirled about a female member of a local fundamentalist church who had the audacity to want to open a dance studio. It was a sort of dark blot on her name, a possible sign of fleshly leanings.  “A dancing foot and a praying knee don’t grow on the same limb,” was a favorite quote, darkly intoned, from Billy Sunday, the itinerant evangelist of years ago. But what about that anyway?

It always seemed to me then and it still seems to me now  that if we really believe what we claim to believe as Christians, we have good reason for a physical expression of joy and freedom. What appealed to me about the ballet as a child was that feeling of a fresh wind lifting my spirit watching the grace and beauty of dancers. I studied the photographs of the great ballerinas in my library books. They looked like they were floating on air at times. I wished I could do that.

The performing arts are a gift to us as humans. I remember watching Swan Lake in the audience years later (with my Tom playing in the orchestra pit) and seeing the corps of dancers all in a lovely line in their bright costumes. I felt tears come to my eyes. The stamp of God was so clear to me in the order and beauty, the grace, and the gorgeous music.  What a talented creation He made!

I think the same thing every time I see various cultural dance displays. I love watching Irish dancers in their beautiful outfits. I watched a display of Asian dancers in their bright costumes the other night in a video. It is fascinating to watch African dance and hear the various rhythms and sounds of all parts of the world. Each culture’s dance unique and interesting in its own way. Humans were made with this desire. It’s hard-wired into us.

One of my all time favorite memories is from an evening with Tom’s aunt and her husband who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with loved ones and friends. There was a little polka band there in the church hall that night. I watched this delightful couple, still so in love after all that time, dancing together. It was a happy scene full or God-given joy with family surrounding them.

Life can be full of sorrow and discouragement and grief. There’s a time for mourning. But there is also a time for joy. If we don’t try to find a few moments for joy, if we don’t teach our children to shut off the news for a moment and turn on some joyful music, we’re pathetic examples to them them. Life is hard. Very hard. But even at dark moments you have to stop and say, “Thanks, Lord. I am still alive and I’m still alive inside! I’m grateful for every day I have.”

Emmy likes to twirl and whirl to music. I love it when she does that. I always think, Be joyful, little girl, and let the wings in your spirit lift you high in the air. Don’t let anybody ever take those wings away.  No matter what.

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Quotes on Faith – Seeing What is Unseen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADistinguish between the fact of God’s presence, and the emotion of the fact. It is a happy thing when the soul seems desolate and deserted, if our faith can say, “I see Thee not. I feel Thee not, but Thou art certainly and graciously here, where I am as I am.” Say it again and again: “Thou art here: though the bush does not seem to burn with fire, it does burn. I will take the shoes from off my feet, for the place on which I stand is holy ground.” —London Christian

Believe God’s word and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your Rock is Christ, and it is not the Rock which ebbs and flows, but your sea.
—Samuel Rutherford

Keep your eye steadily fixed on the infinite grandeur of Christ’s finished work and righteousness. Look to Jesus and believe, look to Jesus and live! Nay, more; as you look to him, hoist your sails and buffet manfully the sea of life. Do not remain in the haven of distrust, or sleeping on your shadows in inactive repose, or suffering your frames and feelings to pitch and toss on one another like vessels idly moored in a harbor. The religious life is not a brooding over emotions, grazing the keel of faith in the shallows, or dragging the anchor of hope through the oozy tide mud as if afraid of encountering the healthy breeze. Away! With your canvas spread to the gale, trusting in Him, who rules the raging of the waters. The safety of the tinted bird is to be on the wing. If its haunt be near the ground—if it fly low—it exposes itself to the fowler’s net or snare. If we remain grovelling on the low ground of feeling and emotion, we shall find ourselves entangled in a thousand meshes of doubt and despondency, temptation and unbelief. “But surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of THAT WHICH HATH A WING” (marginal reading Prov. 1:17). Hope thou in God.
—J. R. Macduff

When I cannot enjoy the faith of assurance, I live by the faith of adherence.
—Matthew Henry

THINK ON THIS THING

“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust.” Psalm 31:1a

My brother-in-law, Russ, sings this song written by my sister. They recorded it several years ago. I hope it is an encouragement to you, as it was to me today. The words speak for themselves. “Lord, fix my eyes on things eternal.”

Rejecting “Sticker Jesus”

stickerjesusI once saw a Sunday School chart on a wall where attendance was kept. For each Sunday that kids showed up, a sticker was placed on the chart with a cartoon drawing depicting Jesus on it. It is helpful for each of us to ponder whether that is the “Jesus” we as professing Christian believers have or not.

The world of  Sticker Jesus is a confusing one. It seems to be a “Christian” place, if by “Christian” we mean adhering to a specific set of external standards. Certain things are shunned in a knee-jerk fashion, like rock music, smokes, booze, certain words, even playing cards (because somebody might think you are gambling.) I once heard someone rail against “sipping saints” while the indignant tee-totaling person was a nasty, lying gossip. (Sticker Jesus is not OK with a glass of wine with dinner, but gossip and slander and lies, not a problem.) So external rightness is the norm in Sticker Jesus Land, but upon closer scrutiny, other things don’t look Christian at all.

In Sticker Jesus Land, your behavior doesn’t have to look anything like the Jesus of the Bible. Here, you can invent false narratives to explain any relational  irregularities in your life caused by your own corruption. (Please pray for Brother or Sister X, they have gone prodigal. Pray that something dramatic happens to bring them back to the Lord.) Worse still, Sticker Jesus followers actually come to believe those lying narratives. Blindness is the norm. Who cares if I am ignoring whole swaths of Scriptural teaching? My “Jesus” is the one I serve, and he tells me that it’s everyone else’s fault if things are bad behind the scenes. Let’s pray for those with a root of bitterness!

Sticker Jesus is OK with a lot of things the real Jesus is not OK with. That is, if you actually read what the real Jesus said in the Bible.  Sadly, Sticker Jesus followers do incredible damage, because they wear deceptive masks. When the masks eventually come down, and they always do, those they have misled are left to wonder whether any real Jesus actually exists, because Sticker Jesus followers often give their family and followers a foretaste of hell, not heaven, and those burned and deceived want no more of that. Those affected by Sticker Jesus followers can be effectively inoculated against the real Jesus Christ because of the hurt they carry.

Sticker Jesus followers are legion. Real Jesus followers are rare—too rare. Better to have no pretense of a Jesus at all than to be a walking billboard for a counterfeit Christ.

“No Man Cares for my Soul”

Since posting on the subject of the love missing among Christians, I have heard from several people who are really hurting. One woman in our area has health problems that now keep her from her large, bustling Baptist church that she had been a part of for years. In the several months that have passed since she has had to stop attending church, not one on the large pastoral “team” has bothered to call on her. There is every program you can create at church, but no shepherd has visited and inquired how she is doing physically, let alone spiritually. This is the reality of institutional churches that have everything, but they lack the most important thing of all, the real Jesus.

This clip from Richard Owen Roberts (sent by my UK friend, Teeky,) really gripped me. We have to be the love or there won’t be any. We can’t look to spiritual leadership today, much of which is bankrupt and obsessed with programs and growth and image. We have to each be the love to each other. That’s all of our job in the body of Christ.

 

Meet a Man Who Has Helped Save 1,000 Babies from Abortion in 3 Years

baby1Need to see what Christian love looks like? This wonderful story from Lifesitenews.com should bring a smile and praise to the Lord!

“Between cancer that required four surgeries, two brain aneurisms that required two more surgeries, and an accident when someone ran into his back with a vehicle, leading to yet more surgeries, it’s a marvel that Barros is standing, let alone maintaining the grueling schedule that he does.

Nine hours a day, six days a week, Barros holds vigil outside one of the country’s most notorious late-term abortion mills – the Orlando Women’s Clinic – where he preaches the Gospel and reaches out to abortion-bound women.

But for him, it’s beyond worth it. After all, in the past three years of sidewalk counseling, Barros has helped over 1,000 women change their minds, and keep their babies. But, for all of the hours that he has spent in prayer and outreach outside the clinic, Barros insists that he deserves none of the credit.

The story of every girl who comes to the clinic is different, “but the answer is the same,” he says. “The answer is always found in Jesus Christ. That’s what we’re here for, to lead them, point them to Jesus Christ.” Read full story here.