Posts tagged ‘God’

It’s Going To Be A Beautiful Tent

Five years ago, when I left full-time ministry and began working again in the secular world, I don’t really know that I anticipated what I was in for. I’ve worked a number of jobs since then, some of which I hated every moment of, others of which were bearable, and others of which I truly felt sad when my season of work there was over. My heart has never stopped yearning to be back in full-time ministry, but on most days I feel like I’m living out Acts 18:1-3.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together–by trade they were tentmakers.

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On my worst days, when I would come home from a job that was paying the bills but felt like it was crushing my soul, my wonderful wife would take one look at me and see how much I was hurting. Sweetly she would say to me, “It’s going to be a beautiful tent.” While I’ve always appreciated her  efforts to try and cheer me up and put things in perspective, I don’t always believe that “the tent” is going to be anything resembling beautiful. I believe   it will be large — because I’ve spent so long on it. But on most days, it seems  to me that it’s going to be more functional than beautiful, and likely to be stained with dirt and blood and sweat.

I do what I must for us as a couple, and I must provide housing and food and other essentials. I am grateful daily that God has provided these things. Yet I have to admit that I struggle mightily with spiritual dryness and discouragement. I am called to be a pastor, I am in the process of my studies for ordination, and yet … and yet it sometimes seems as if the goalposts never get closer. I want to be faithful, I want to bear into the words of the prophet Isaiah:

those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Have you ever struggled, caught between the knowledge of what God wants for you, and the reality of your present location on the journey towards that place?

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The Post I Didn’t Want to Write

Here is the truth: I didn’t want to write this post. Yet when we truly strive to follow God and be guided by the Holy Spirit, sometimes we don’t really have a choice about certain things.

I know I am not the only person who is still struggling to make some sense of the events of December 14 in Newtown, CT. Until the last few days, I have been unable to look at the photos of 20 young boys and girls and 6 brave adults whose lives were taken from them by a sick, evil person. 20 children who might have done anything in life, stripped of dreams and possibilities. Six adults who will stand in my memory always as living examples of Jesus’ words in John 10: 11,  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

I didn’t want to write this post because I have struggled so mightily with my emotions over the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary. At times I have felt like my whole inside has been nothing but a fountain of tears about to well forth. There have been voices out there whose words have helped. My friend Michael Perkins perhaps put it best here, saying,

My heart was wrecked. And if I can be completely honest, I think it should wreck all of our hearts.”

I cannot say exactly why this shooting has affected me more powerfully than others in recent memory, such as the Aurora, Colorado massacre this past summer. I only know that I continue to be heartsick, and keep mentally coming back to words that come from the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional piece of liturgy from the Judaism of my childhood.

“Let He who makes peace in the heavens, grant peace to all of us and to all Israel. Let us say, Amen.”

For me — as I suspect for many other — that peace is difficult to grab hold of. As a nation, it seems we may have begun to have a much-needed conversation regarding not just guns, but the violent nature of our culture in general. It’s a violence set in numerous contexts, some of which Scot McKnight identifies thusly:

1. Movies and TV
2. Video games
3. Western movies, Comic books, Cartoon figures
4. Toys
5. Use of the hand as a gun
6. Sports, especially football (of the American kind) and ice hockey
7. Mixed martial arts
8. NASCAR
9. Paintball games
10. Hunting for Bambi

I have struggled for some time, as I’ve discussed previously, with the question of whether Jesus in fact calls Christians to lay down the sword and in the wake of Newtown, I’m forced to confess my own shame over participation in a culture which doesn’t just condone guns, but glorifies and deifies them. McKnight specifically addresses this topic of Christianity and Guns here and here, and a cursory reading of the comments attached to any of these posts will show how heated this discussion quickly becomes.

Here’s why I didn’t want to write this post: I grew up in a household full of guns, and I spent most of my childhood and early teen years hunting with my dad, who has been a freelance outdoor writer for most of my life. To his credit, my dad made certain that both of his sons understood that guns were not toys and that we understood the responsibility of using them carefully. The worst whipping I ever received came when he caught me playing with a neighbor child’s toy gun (something I was expressly forbidden from doing). When I went off to college and life on my own, when I got home on occasion, I still tried to spend time out hunting with my dad. I say all this so it will be understood that I grew up in an atmosphere that made me as ardent a defender of Second Amendment rights as you can imagine.

I’m not sure I can do that anymore. I’m still not sure of whether I can build the argument that Jesus calls us to lay down the sword completely, but I am fairly sure that when Christians show more zeal for defending their right to guns than they do to follow and disseminate the teachings of Jesus, there’s a word to describe it: idolatry. I can agree with Scot McKnight on this:

“The church should lead the way in exhibiting peaceful approaches to life and conflict, and Christians should lead the way in seeking — at the least — serious examination of gun laws and gun safety and access to guns. How many have to die before this is an issue? How many times to do we have to say America has a gun violence problem?”

I didn’t want to write this post because I know what I am opening myself up to by doing so. I’m opening myself to an onslaught from angry Christians and non-Christians alike ready to tear me to pieces. I accept that may be a consequence of following my conscience in this. I don’t pretend that I have any answers yet. But how can any of us come to any answers — or make a safer world for children in other Newtowns — if we can’t stop being so convinced we’re right and just start talking to each other?

Fridays Are for John Wesley

From John Wesley’s journal on December 7, 1779:

I preached in Rotherhithe Chapel, a cold, uncomfortable place, to an handful of people, who appeared to be just as much affected as the benches they sat upon.

Wesley has never struck me as someone with any great amount of brevity, but there is some humorous irony in the comparison of an unresponsive congregation to the pews upon which they sat. I would venture to say that few preachers have not at least once in their career been confronted with unyielding faces and arms crossed across chests (whether in reality or metaphorically). It can be very daunting, yet Wesley never let this shake him. In fact, it’s interesting as one reads his journals to note the places that he went back to and the reactions on different visits. John Wesley had an abiding faith in the grace of God to change hearts — and certainly that faith was rewarded on many occasions!

During my time as a missionary, it was often difficult to proclaim the Gospel to an unresponsive or hostile audience, much as it was for Wesley. If there’s a lesson to be learned from him, it’s that our responsibility is in declaring the Gospel — God does not hold us responsible for the reaction of those who hear. We must be faithful in the declaration of the Word.

Question: Have you ever dealt with an audience that seemed unresponsive to the Word, and if so how did you handle it?

Fridays are for John Wesley

Welcome to what I hope to make a regular weekly feature here on A Heart That Burns. Each Friday will be devoted to a brief look at some of Wesley’s journals, sermons, or other writings. Enjoy! 

As one reads through the journals of John Wesley, one is struck by the unflinching manner in which Wesley enforced standards among the early Methodist societies. Consider this entry from January 27, 1742:

After diligent inquiry made, I removed all those from the congregation of the faithful, whose behavior or spirit was not agreeable to the Gospel of Christ: Openly declaring the objections I had to each, that others might fear, and cry to God for them.

It’s notable that the standard used by Wesley was the Gospel. This entry is not untypical, and it’s also notable that throughout his journals, Wesley never dwells at length on such incidents.

I found, after the exclusion of some, who did not walk according to the Gospel, about eleven hundred, who are, I trust, of a more excellent spirit, remained in the society. — Monday, February 1, 1742.

I read over in the society, the Rules which all our members are to observe; and desired everyone seriously to consider, whether he was willing to conform thereto or no. That this would shake many of them, I knew well; and therefore, on Monday, 7, I began visiting the classes again, lest “that which is lame should be turned out of the way.” — Sunday, March 6, 1743

… The number of those who were expelled the society was sixty-four: — Two for cursing and swearing. Two for habitual Sabbath-breaking. Seventeen for drunkenness. Two for retailing spirituous liquors. Three for quarreling and brawling. One for beating his wife. Three for habitual, willful lying. Four for railing and evil-speaking. One for idleness and laziness.  And, Nine-and-twenty for lightness and carelessness.  — Saturday, March 12, 1743

Clearly, Wesley was not a man who saw any accomodation with sin. It causes me to think about whether this is true of our churches today, be it the Church of the Nazarene or other Wesleyan denominations. In fact I jokingly mentioned this to a United Methodist pastor friend, whose response was, “Try that in a church and tell me how it works out for you.”

Sadly, I think that we are far from the standards that Wesley held to, and that the Church suffers much for it. We have lost the concept of reproval — gentle criticism or correction — and we seem to have lost the ability to draw a line in the sand beyond which sinful behavior among the Church will be tolerated.

What do you think? Are our standards too low?

The King’s Corn: A Tale About Integrity

An aging king woke up one day to the realization that should he drop dead, there would be no male in the royal family to take his place. He was the last male in the royal family in a culture where only a male could succeed to the throne – and he was aging. He decided that if he could not give birth to a male, he would adopt a son who then could take his place but he insisted that such an adopted son must be extraordinary in every sense of the word. So he launched a competition in his kingdom, open to all boys, no matter what their background. Ten boys made it to the very top.

There was little to separate these boys in terms of intelligence and physical attributes and capabilities. The king said to them, ‘I have one last test and whoever comes top will become my adopted son and heir to my throne.’

Then he said, ‘This kingdom depends solely on agriculture. So the king must know how to cultivate plants. So here is a seed of corn for each of you.Take it home and plant and nurture it for three weeks. At the end of three weeks, we shall see who has done the best job of cultivating the seed. That person will be my heir-apparent.’ The boys took their seeds and hurried home. They each got a flower pot and planted the seed as soon as they got home. There was much excitement in the kingdom as the people waited with bated breath to see who was destined to be their next king.

In one home, the boy and his parents were almost heartbroken when after days of intense care, the seed failed to sprout. He did not know what had gone wrong with his. He had selected the soil carefully, he had applied the right quantity and type of fertilizer, he had been very dutiful in watering it at the right intervals, he had even prayed over it day and night and yet his seed had turned out to be unproductive.

Some of his friends advised him to go and buy a seed from the market and plant that. ‘After all,’ they said, ‘how can anyone tell one seed of corn from another?’ But his parents who had always taught him the value of integrity reminded him that if the king wanted them to plant any corn, he would have asked them to go for their own seed. ‘If you take anything different from what the king gave you that would be dishonesty.’

‘Maybe we are not destined for the throne. If so, let it be, but don’t be found to have deceived the king,’ they told him. The d-day came and the boys returned to the palace each of them proudly exhibiting a very fine corn seedling. It was obvious that the other nine boys had had great success with their seeds. The king began making his way down the line of eager boys and asked each of them, ‘Is this what came out of the seed I gave you?’

And each boy responded, ‘Yes, your majesty.’ And the king would nod and move down the line.

The king finally got to the last boy in the line-up. The boy was shaking with fear. He knew that the king was going to have him thrown into prison for wasting his seed. ‘What did you do with the seed I gave you?’ the king asked. ‘I planted it and cared for it diligently, your majesty, but alas it failed to sprout.’ the boy said tearfully as the crowd booed him.

But the king raised his hands and signaled for silence. Then he said, ‘My people behold your next king.’ The people were confused. ‘Why that one?’ many asked. ‘How can he be the right choice?’ The king took his place on his throne with the boy by his side and said, ‘I gave these boys boiled seeds. This test was not for cultivating corn. It was the test of character; a test of integrity. It was the ultimate test.’

If a king must have one quality, it must be that he should be above dishonesty. Only this boy passed the test. A boiled seed cannot sprout.’ Never!!

When the subject of how the Christian life can be perceived by others, my wife sometimes likes to tell about an unchurched friend whom she went through high school with. He once remarked to her that what he respected most about her was that she was the same girl on Friday as she was on Sunday. What she believed and lived didn’t waver, and that made quite an impact on someone who didn’t have a very positive view of “church folks.”

To live a life of holiness requires no small degree of integrity, a characteristic that is not necessarily viewed as much of a virtue these days.  Yet anyone who even begins to claim that the Bible is the benchmark by which their life is lived must see integrity as a non-negotiable. To the ancient Israelites, the Chosen Ones, to be people of integrity was a command that came directly from the Lord.

“You shall have only a full and honest weight; you shall have only a full and honest measure, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are abhorrent to the LORD your God.”  (Deuteronomy 25:15-16)

It’s clear that the biblical perspective is that integrity flows from the heart, aptly illustrated by Proverbs 4:23-27.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”

What are some ways that integrity plays out in your Christian walk?

Book Review: A Shot of Faith (To the Head)

Let me make a couple of confessions right away about Mitch Stokes’ A Shot of Faith (To the Head):

Confession #1:  I get the giggles from the book’s subtitle, “Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists.” Cranky is just a funny word.

Confession #2:  Some of the arguments Stokes presents make my head hurt. A lot. I felt better when Stokes noted that David Hume — one of the Enlightenment philosophers whose work Stokes dissects — also apparently recognized how headache-inducing some of his logic was, as Stokes says,

“After thinking such thoughts, Hume was known to clear his head with a game of billiards amongst his friends. My guess is that he was also amongst beer.”

This being a Nazarene blog, I am endorsing neither billiards nor beer, but this statement simultaneously makes me feel less of a moron and makes me laugh.

All humor aside, A Shot of Faith is an interesting and useful book. Stokes addresses the arguments of the new atheists, those who are not merely disbelievers but are militantly anti-religion and anti-Church — names such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Stenger, and Harris. The purpose of the book is to provide Christians with the intellectual tools to address the common arguments of atheists. This is done in three sections, each of which tackles a prime atheistic argument.

Section One addresses the chief objection to belief in God, an objection which Stokes identifies as the notion that religious belief is irrational because of the utter lack of evidence for God’s existence.

Section Two addresses the atheist claim that science has shown that God doesn’t exist. Stokes reviews the numerous ways that this claim is supported, and addresses the most significant ones. This section is well-done and if nothing else, Stokes demonstrates that science actually gives us some very compelling reasons to believe in a divine Designer.

Section Three deals with one of the most difficult-to-handle objections to belief in God: the claim that the existence of evil and suffering show that He doesn’t exist. Stokes answers to this are some of the parts that make my brain work very hard to keep up, but here is the gist of it:

  • “There are two versions of the problem of evil, the logical problem and the probabilistic problem.
  • In the case of the logical problem of evil, the existence of God and the existence of evil allegedly result in a full-blown logical contradiction. This problem was solved by showing that there is a logically possible situation in which God and evil exist simultaneously. In particular, it is possible that God couldn’t make free creatures who refrain from evil.
  • In the case of the probabilistic problem of evil, the existence of evil makes it highly unlikely (but not impossible) that God exists. After all, we can’t think of any good reason that he would allow evil. But even though we can’t think of a reason, for all we know, God has very good ones.”

As you might be able to tell from the preceding quote, some of what Stokes has to say is going to be beyond the casual reader. Stokes has a doctorate in philosophy and it shows; much of the book concerns itself with the root philosophical basis of modern atheistic thought and its origins in the Enlightenment period. Yet he has done an excellent job in demonstrating the fallacies that are part and parcel of modern atheist claims. In his conclusion, Stokes is careful to note,

“… the notions of design, rationality, and absolute standards cannot exist in a naturalistic world, the world of the atheists. Without absolute standards — of which there must be many — their worldview would entirely collapse.

And this poses a serious problem for any atheist who claims that belief in God is irrational. In fact, it takes the legs right out from under such a claim. If there is no designer, then there is no proper function, and therefore there is no such thing as irrationality. But then there’s no such thing as rationality either. There’s only a sterile, impersonal “desert landscape. Beliefs are neither rational nor irrational. They just are.

But if the Christian story is true, then there is such a thing as irrationality. And as we saw, those who don’t believe in God are suffering from it. After all, unbelief is caused, in part, by the malfunctioning of the sensus divinitatis.”

This last bit, the mention of the sensus divinitatis, is a significant theme for Stokes. Sensus divinitatis means “sense of the divine,” the term that Calvin used for the inborn tendency to believe in God; Stokes explains that Thomas Aquinas set this in terms of a proclivity to believe in God that was “implanted in us by nature.” While Stokes touches on the reason this innate sense doesn’t function as it ought to in humans — the ravages of sin — he unfortunately doesn’t explore what re-awakens the sensus divinitatis in humans. From a Wesleyan perspective, such an explanation might lead to discussion of prevenient grace, and one of my few real criticisms of the book would be that while Stokes does make clear that restoration of the sensus divinitatis only comes by embracing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he fails to so much as mention the prevenient work of the Holy Spirit.

Lest one might think that A Shot of Faith is nothing more than an attack on atheists disguised as apologetics, be assured that Stokes reveals his heart in the final words of the book:

” … all of us are damaged goods. Sin has caused some degree of irrationality in us all. And given the extent of the damage, it’s no wonder atheists don’t believe. The real wonder is why anyone believes. The explanation of course, is that God has begun to repair humanity, at an unimaginable cost to himself. And this is really good news.”

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sowing Seeds, Sowing Hope

There’s been some exciting things happening in my life, ministry-wise, recently. The chief among these is that I took a position as an associate pastor at Madison Church of the Nazarene in Madison, TN. The church is located in a community with a lot of brokenness and a lot of needs, and both I and my wife are very excited about helping to grow the Kingdom and the church.

Other exciting things happening outside of ministry include a project I started. Anyone in my family can tell you that I am fairly vegetable crazy, especially when it comes to cucumbers and tomatoes. This year I decided I was going to have a good supply of both by growing my own. I turned for advice to my dad, Brook, who is an expert on gardening, especially when it comes to heirloom varieties. In fact, if you are traveling near or live close to Lexington, Kentucky, I encourage you stop at Fort Boonesborough State Park and say hello to him. He maintains the garden at the Fort — make sure you tell him I sent you!

Recently, as I was asking Dad some questions about the seeds I planted, he stunned me with something he said. Dad is not a person of great faith of any sort, so I took particular note when he said,

“Watching a seed sprout and grow is an affirmation of faith, because to plant a seed is to believe that tomorrow will come.”

There’s a whole world to be mined there, from the perspective of this pastor. Naturally, when we’re talking seeds, I think of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9.

“And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The application of the parable is pretty obvious when it comes to planting seeds of the Gospel into people’s lives. That is the job of every Christian to do, regardless of whether they are “in ministry” or not. And just as the parable says, when we plant seeds they will sometime take deep root in peoples’ lives and other times those seeds will wither away without the Gospel taking root. But when I consider Dad’s statement about believing that tomorrow will come, it leads to think about Hope, which gives me cause to remember one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

“I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Planting a seed is indeed the affirmation of faith my dad labels it as. To believe tomorrow will come is certainly to hope. But to believe that your future Hope lies in Jesus is to trust in the promises of God.

Question: Who has planted seeds in your life?

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