Musing on Remembering Pentecost

Yesterday, Sunday May 27th, 2012, was Pentecost Sunday. Unfortunately, that is a fact that many people in the church were unaware of. In most churches during most years, Pentecost Sunday comes and goes without even a mention.  It seems that by a large, a good portion of the church has simply forgotten Pentecost.  It is a day that should never be forgotten and people need to wake up and remember.  The early church fathers I think would be appalled if they were to find that such an important day is rarely remembered.  We celebrate Jesus birth, we celebrate Jesus sacrifice and resurrection, but we fail to acknowledge God giving us the comforter, the one who empowers us.  The question is why do we forget?

The day of Pentecost falls on the Biblical feast day of Shavout also known as the Feast of Weeks or Feast of first fruits. It is a day very important to God, and it is one in which He has moved to give important gifts.  It is not only the day in which the Holy Spirit came to indwell those who have been redeemed, it is also the day he provided the Torah.  God has chosen on this day to give both His instruction and His empowerment. It is a day of sealing and cementing His promises and establishing connection with mankind. 

So the question is why do we forget something so important?  Why is the day not attended to?  One could post many theories but at some level the shift comes from a looking to God’s direction and moving in our own way.  God gave us guidance through Torah and the Holy Spirit, yet we all too often want to go our own way, do our own thing, and determine our relationship with God.  We may grow in knowledge of God and grasp varied orthodox understandings of God, but do we at heart, deep down have a God directed relationship. Others may embrace spiritual experience but the focus is on what feels good, feels powerful, or looks cool but lacks depth or growth.  Do we seek Him for guidance and empowerment or do we ask God to bless us as we go about doing our own thing?  Do we follow God, and surrender to Him or just do what we want to do?  I think in essence, it comes down to that question. Going the way of self or going the way of surrender.

So here is a challenge on this day of remembrance, take time to remember God.  Take time to examine where you have gone your own way versus walking in submission to Him. Let God bring to mind what He asks of you as you move ahead.  Each us will continue to have a choice. Follow God’s ways and surrender to Him. Grow in walking His path and let Him enable each step. The other choice is the way of self. Each of us need to wake up and remember.  For God and His ways have not changed, He has shown and provided a narrow way to walk in and given us the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us along the way. So wake up and remember for God is with us, every day.

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News Commentary: Mr. Frank Vennes Jr. Indicted- An Exposed Wolf in Sheeps Clothing

         Soon after this blog was started the Tom Petters ponzi scheme was exposed.  One of the individuals involved in the scheme was Frank Vennes Jr. a professed evangelical who had ties to Teen Challenge, a prison ministry called Charis, and Northwestern College in Minnesota.  The initial article[i] called Mr. Vennes Jr. to task for being a wolf in sheeps clothing and those who knew and supported Mr. Vennes confronted this writer for jumping to conclusions and passing judgment without facts on Mr. Vennes. I recognized that my initial response did come from some anger, but the anger was related to what appeared to be blatant deceit.  The anger was recognized leading to a published apology.[ii] In January of 2010, this writer wondered what did Mr. Vennes actually know and commented about how we all need to stand for truth[iii]. See Mr. Vennes friends and voraciously defended the man and his reputation that doubt was caught on the initial impressions and anger.  It turns out the impression and anger was righteous and justified.

            His friends pointed out the fact that Mr. Vennes was not indicted no did he seem the target of the investigation.  It was that one fact that led to questions. Well, now there are questions no more.  As. Mr. Vennes has now been indicted. Apparently his finances had long ago been seized in relation to the fraud.  Sure, an indictment is not “proof” but the points of the initial articles were relevant and on target. See the question was always whether Mr. Vennes was a man conned, or an integral part of the con.  The current allegations point to his being an integral part of the con.  The Star Tribune article[iv] states that Mr. Vennes is on tape stating the empty warehouses will cause the scheme to “implode” and that the whole thing is “a little paper manufacturing plant.”

            See this shows appearance can be deceiving.  It illustrates that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. If you think you know a person, even had his deep faults confessed, he still can be seeking after that which is crooked and deceiving.  And Mr. Vennes is not really any different that any of us.  Each of us are capable of deceit and betrayal.

            In retrospect, there are lessons to be learned. While caution is always in order, there is righteous judgment and discernment.  The truth can be known without evidence of all the facts. Mr. Vennes is alleged to have actively conned others, and this writer believes that to be true.  He put both Teen Challenge and Northwestern College in positions that impacted them and threatened their existence. The root of the actions and deception was all in order for a handful of people to make a lot of money.

            Another point is no matter how well hidden things seem to be, sooner or later all the deeds in darkness will be exposed. Some, like the Petters scheme will be exposed in this life time before all. But when Jesus returns, every little evil will be brought into open. Nothing hidden! 

            It is also worth noting how easily any of us can be if we operate based on experience.  We think we can know a person, view their actions and conclude they are seeking after pure motives. Yet, there are many like Mr. Vennes or Ananias and Sapphira, or Judas that more is going on then the initial experience. With the disciples, none but Jesus knew what was in his heart, even when he left the last supper, pointed out as a betrayer, the disciples see were unaware of the darkness in his heart. He followed Jesus.  It is due to revelation of the Holy Spirit that Ananias and Sapphira were exposed and brought to death.  Some think that God is cruel for such actions. But it is that deep deception, the deceitful appearance and heart that God knows impacts and corrupts many. Their death was an act of love and righteous wrath. Now, I hope and pray that Mr. Vennes is not like Judas or Annanias and Sapphira. It is not too late for true repentance. However, the man has conned many for a long time and the veracity of anything coming from the man will need to be questioned.  For it is not the appearance of good works that is the fruit of repentance, it is true surrender to Jesus. Mr. Vennes faked it fooling many, but He has been exposed. The story serves as an example for all.  And if there are friends who still seek to defend the man, take it up with the creator, for Mr. Vennes in my mind is a deceiver and wolf in sheeps clothing that fooled many.

Prayer Request Update: Janie Blake

Well, a couple weeks ago shared the difficult news of Janie Blake retaking up a battle with Cancer. Just wanted to give update of where things are at. After the initial report of the return of cancer cells Janie was giving difficult prognosis. She was informed that she was likely to have “months” to live versus years. It as a pronouncement that was difficult and painful. One filled with grief and despair. My first thoughts came to recalling dogs that my mother has had that have had “short lives” pronounced over them only to live a good long life. Yet, on the other hand there are dogs who did live short lives. The point though is that for each of us, animals or human, it is not up anyone to make “proclamations” over life, as that is in God’s control, ALWAYS.

It is noteworthy that whatever happens with Janie Blake at this point, it is whatever is God’s intent. Janie is not taking any further course of the human generated courses of treatment. Whether the cancers cells grow and consume her life, or turn back on self and implode is in God’s hand. It is one or other. Either Janie will live and serve God in this life or will reach a point of no further suffering and graduate on.

Today, she goes to the doctor, the one making these proclamations and will hear the pain and suffering she will endure of the cancer cells continue to grow and consume. It is a difficult thing to go and hear what suffering may come, what to expect. Yet, ultimately, we all know that whatever is ahead, God is in control. No one else. It is God’s will, not our own. God will make his will clear, in time. All I know that whether life or death is what is to come for Janie Blake, that He who promised is faithful. If ongoing time in this life of suffering is necessary for God to keep His promises, that is what will occur. If God is brought greater glory by His promises being met by her graduation from this life, then this is what will occur. But we can rest in He who promised is faithful. So I ask for prayer that for each person who cares for and knows Janie to be given open eyes and ears to see God’s faithfulness in whatever suffering they encounter. May each encounter be filled with a touch of God’s peace. For ultimately it is not our will, but God’s will that will rule the day. No one can make any proclamation otherwise.

Prayer request update: Janie Blake- Cancer battle continues

Yesterday received some sad news.  Previously reported that my step-mother Janie Blake was cancer free.  She had battled breast cancer that had metastasized to liver and the last remnant were spots on brain. So since June of 2009, the battle against Cancer appeared to be over. Yet, there was trouble unseen.  She had a recent scan with the expectation from all of us that the results would come back that she has remained cancer free. However, her last scan did not come back with those results.  Instead she was informed she has small spots returning in her liver and brain.  So the battle against Cancer renews.  This like all the suffering and battles in life is hard to understand.  God giving victory only to have the battle return anew.  What is even more confounding is that her energy had been returning and they were well on way to putting time into establishing and moving forward with a ministry Servants of Christ.  Yet, now the cancer cells have returned.  Here is a truth that remains, God is God and we are not. He is in control. His ways are not our ways.  The pain and suffering we encounter in this life are but temporary and help serve to shape us more into God’s image.  The battle continues.  There are real threats. Threats to health. Threats to truth. Threats to the Gospel. There is ongoing and enduring pain.  So the question is, in these battles where is the focus.  Do we bow under the tyranny of suffering and simply hold on to get by to another day ordo we enter into the fellowship of suffering and embrace the battle. The battles with the suffering in this life and in this case a raging pestilence that seeks to consume and destroy serve to give us deeper connection to Jesus and what he suffered.  There are two verses that have come to mind that highlight the fellowship of suffering that is a move beyond surviving under the tyranny of suffering to embracing the fellowship.

Romans 8:16-18 (ESV) The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. I consider that out present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

 

Phillipians 3:10 (KJV) That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

So, please keep Janie Blake in your prayers.  God still has the victory.  The prayers that come to my heart and mind are to pray for clarity, wisdom, and understanding particularly in reference to how God is calling them in this time.  Pray for God to give clarity of vision and strength for the battle.  Previously the word from God has been that this battle is not unto death. Janie’s time has not been yet called to the end, that she is to face and enter into the battle that comes in the fellowship of suffering not just for herself and in her own life but in the lives of others.  And this battle is one that serves to lead and establish further what that call and ministry is and will be.  Perhaps what Dad and Janie envisioned and thought what there call and ministry will look like is different.  Whatever the difference is between what they saw and what God will do through them, God difference is greater.  For he gives us out of his exceeding abundance so that He may be glorified and that me may grasp an inkling of the enormity of His love.   And part of moving from living under the tyranny of suffering into embracing the fellowship of suffering is accepting and knowing that what we face and endure in relation to suffering gives us an new opportunity to grow and experience God’s love.  And ultimately, whatever twists and turns unfold in the path ahead, the end result is God’s glory.

So please take time to seek God and pray over this situation.  Then take time to reflect and pray in relation to your own life. What stress and suffering are you under?  Is your stress and pain in your life something to be endured as a tyrant or is there an embracing the fellowship of the pain that can open eyes to recognize more profoundly the awesomeness of God?  Please feel free to share any ongoing requests in your own life or thoughts related to suffering in your own life.

Musings on Repentance 1: Glen Beck’s Call for Awakening versus Biblical Repentance

Glen Beck has made the news because of a speech he gave on the Washington Mall on 8/28/2010 which was an Anniversary date of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream speech.  The speech was part of a rally hosted by Glen Beck that when by the title of Restoring Honor.  The speech made the news because Glen called for the nation to return to God.  The speech garnered varied reactions ranging from unqualified support, skepticism, or criticism. Many Christians were alarmed that such a call came from a person known to be a member of a Latter Day Saints (Mormon) congregation.  Some have spoken with Glen Beck and have come away convinced he understands and embraces the idea of atonement.  Well, given all the reactions this writer decided to listen to the speech and having done so have found it to be quite disturbing.  Yes, Glen Beck calls for an Awakening and a turning to God by acts of faith, hope, and Charity. He spent time pointing at the need for firm reliance on divine providence as written in founding father documents. However, his call for Awakening does not match the Biblical view of awakening or repentance. Let’s examine a bit closer what he stands for as indicated in his speech. You may want to take the time to view the speech for your self before you read the further commentary in this article. The speech can be found at: http://www.glennbeck.com/content/articles/article/198/45013/.

In listening the speech there were four concepts espoused by Glen Beck that do not correspond to Biblical principles or Biblical repentance.  Glen Beck did use some words that have an element of truth, but the truth he spoke simply served as a means of accepting the other content of his message as true.  There are four key message elements of his speech that are in direct contrast to Biblical repentance and awakening. 

The first element that is in contrast to Biblical repentance is that Glen Beck emphasized the importance of self-determination. He opened the speech with a comment “One man can change the world.” “It is you.”  He made frequent references to Moses and his staff.  He encouraged people over and over to “pick up the stick.” Meaning get involved in the efforts to alter the course of the nation. He used the metaphor even of Egypt and slavery to make his point. However, the slavery he refers to is not being involved in political action and having restrains to self-determination.  True, he does reference seeking God and acting in faith, hope, and charity. Yet, it is all for the building up of self.  He even alluded to his being a broken man and having made changes. Yet, he points to political actions to “set people free.” 

The second element that is in contrast to Biblical repentance is that while he hearkens to engaging in prayer and engaging in firm reliance on divine providence, he emphasizes the importance of “America.”  He clearly espouses the concept of America as a “special nation.”  He referred to the documents from the founding fathers of the country as being “American Scripture.”  He indicated that if “America” does not change the course it is on, then there will be no one to step in when the “world” is in trouble. In essence, he elevates “America” to a savior of the world status.  This is elevating the country of the United States to an unhealthy level and looking for human element to saving the world.  The perspective of the Christian faith is that nothing will be made right until Jesus returns and everything will continue to get worse.

Another disturbing element of Glen Beck’s speech was the frequent references to “looking within.” He made comments such as we need to “strengthen our spirits” and we need to explore “inner space.”  The need for such “inner exploration” is not part and parcel to the Christian concept of awakening and repentance but rather calls to finding what you are sure of and finding some form of spiritual guidance for inner strengthening.  And while it was not directly said, it suggests pointing to some inner element of “the divine.” For Glen Beck made constant references of to humility. He even declared God as King, yet he frequently focused on self effort.  Even his push for “faith, hope, and charity” really seem inclined to being found in looking within in and choices made.  Yes,  Glen Beck did proclaim that we need to look to God and look to love, yet the direction he pointed folks to look was within.

The last disturbing element of Glen Beck’s speech  is that  what he pointed to is everyone needs to know what they believe. He indicated that belief is important, he stated truth was important but only as elements of self.  In terms of truth, a person needs to be truthful and have no lies in your life.  He proclaimed  “truth shall set you free” but the determiner of truth is self and what you believe. He emphasized that what was important were the “universal principles” of the varied faiths, not absolute truth.  His embracing nebulous universal truths was highlighted even by his action as he called for a “Black Robe Brigade” of people of varied “faiths” that were standing for advocating political answers with a human moral base centered on universal principles.  This is not by any shape turning to submission to a Holy God and Jesus who is “THE WAY,” rather it is being actively involved and engaged in solutions of this world to change moral behavior and political focus. It is quite different that biblical awakening and repentance.

At the core, Biblical repentance is not turning to self or elevating self with the aim of some political world changing purpose. Biblical repentance is turning away from self-effort and following God’s ways. Yes, that involves loving God and others. Yes, it involves turning to Jesus as King.  But it is something that is not about elevation of self or society but simply doing what is right before God and turning away from that which is self.  The Bible is filled with evidence of what repentance looks like.  The story of the Prodigal son is one example.  It is a coming to an end of self and turning to God.  True repentance will result in a turning to Jesus.  The attitude seen in Biblical repentance is shown in James 4:6-9 (ESV) “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”   There really is stark contrast.  Look at Zacchaeus for a Biblical example of repentance. He was crooked, greedy man. He met Jesus and he changed his life to the point of even returning more than he stole.  He was called and he followed. Biblical repentance involves two actions, a turning from self and turning to God.  It is leaving the old way for a new.

Glen Beck offers ways to arrange the world and life to best accommodate desires. It is holding on own life in a way, it is far different from the self-surrender of scripture.  There is a verse passage in Ephesians that really sums up the difference between what Glen Beck is promoting and the Biblical view.

Ephesians 5:6-17 (ESV) Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  

 This passage  exposes those  appear  to proclaim a turning to God yet really are elevating self.  The passage also commands to have nothing to do with those who are deceptive.   For there is always really two ways, the way of God and the way of the world.  There is Godly sorrow and repentance that leads to salvation as those who lose their life will gain it. Then there is the way of the world, the works of flesh, the elevation of self that has no life and leads to death and destruction.  One is real, one is but illusion.  Glen Beck’s call is to that of illusion leading to death. There is no life there.

Musings on the Clash between homosexuality and Christianity

This article will quickly be the most controversial article published on the blog. It will be controversial because what this article is reflecting on is highly controversial, that being the ongoing clash between the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) community and Christianity. The reason for this article is because the clash has been in the news recently, particularly in the Twin Cities. This month of June is now nationally recognized as GLBT pride month.  This weekend the Twin Cities holds an annual Pride Festival.  So the topic is a central one to what is currently transpiring culturally.

The impetus of this article comes from two recent local news items.  One is about evangelist Brian Johnson being allowed by court to give away Bibles at the Twin Cities Pride Festival.  Brian Johnson had run a booth and passed out Bibles and discussed with individuals matters of faith. He had been a vendor at the festival for ten years but last year they no longer let him have a booth because he talked about folks repenting from Homosexuality. He distributed literature instead; an action that they tried to block via court but court indicated was allowed.  Now Brian Johnson did attend the festival and talked to others in a non-disruptive manner. The Star Tribune quoted him as saying “We’re not interested in preaching, and we never were,” Johnson said. “We’re not here for all that stuff in the news. We’re the ones that meet and have honest conversations with people, and we have our own rules that we go by as far as conduct is concerned.” Now there was a person at the Pride Festival that was more disruptive and typical of the kind of actions that can occur in the clash between homosexuality and Christianity.

Another news story is about Pastor Tom Brock of Hope Lutheran Church being outed in the magazine LAVENDER as having same-sex attraction and reporting to a twelve step group that he “fell into temptation in Solvakia.” This again highlights the clash as the Pastor has repeatedly spoken against homosexuality and the ELCA recent decision to allow active homosexual clergy. In order to obtain the information, the magazine reporter joined the twelve step group Pastor Brock was a part of and then wrote about what was said in the confines of the group in a very un-flattering article. Varied articles say that the action was justified because Pastor Brock teaches against homosexuality yet is someone who has same-sex attraction. The response seems to be that the reason Pastor Brock preached about homosexuality as being sinful was because of his own issues as a reaction of his own same sex attraction.  This again highlights the severity of the clash and the divergent views to the point where unethical behavior is justified because of one mans teaching from a Biblical perspective.

In the past couple months Jennifer Knapp made the news as outing herself as a lesbian.  Ray Boltz did the same a few years ago. Recently http://www.downthelinezine.com/  printed a periodical interviewing dUg Pinnock, Sean Doty, and Rick Alba related to matters of homosexuality, God, and the Church.  The articles (note:article is a download) are an interesting read and demonstrate how the clash exists within the church.

Now there are several issues that can be examined here but the point of this article is to really examine essential elements of the clash and how it applies as a whole.  This article is not going to really focus on the development of same-sex attraction nor will it focus on similar controversial issues.  However, before examining the clash it is important to note that this author believes homosexuality to be a sin and immoral.  However, the sin is not rated more sinful then other areas humans fall short of God’s standards. The sin in particular is one of a sexual nature of which there is many other types of sexual immorality that Christians battle daily. In understanding how to love and be salt and light to others, it is important to get an idea of what are the layers of the clash. What really is in conflict?  Why is the issue of homosexuality such a hot issue? The answers to these questions really come down to understanding the heart of the clash.

In examining the issue, the clash between Christianity and homosexuality really has four key components: will, desire, love, and identity. These issues of this clash are not just about this one issue but really are reflective to all clashes of the world and God’s kingdom. So when read the examination of the four components, please recognize that it also reflects other conflicts and areas of immorality. Homosexuality is used to highlight the essential elements of the conflicts in the four key component areas because the clash and conflicts are clearly observable.

The first key component to examine is that of will which really becomes a conflict between self and surrender.  It is about doing what self wants or surrendering to God and His ways.  Jesus stated in Luke 17:33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. In reading articles and trying to understand the clash, it is clear that there is an element of seeking after what is good for self and holding on to it. This stands in contrast to surrendering every part of life to God.  It is a choice to seek after what makes self feel better or being able to give all to God no matter what the apparent cost to self.  In dealing with temptation, including all forms of sexual immorality, Hebrews 12:4 states In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. This suggests that no only is there a battle of the will but that battle is tough and can even be painful. It is often far easier to choose that which feels good or is beneficial to self verses walking in faith and trust and enduring the battle at all costs.  Ultimately it is a matter of looking out for own good or trusting God and following His ways. This clash is very evident with homosexuality for ultimately there is an act of the will to embrace the same-sex attraction or reject it and then choices to act on the attraction or reject it. Now many point to the fact that the attraction is not voluntary or asked for as a reason to minimize the elements of the dynamic of will, but yet ultimately there comes many points of choice, there comes acts of the will. 

 Now the second key component is that of desire which results in a clash between following the heart or following truth. In this day and age there is an increasing focus on that which restrains passion or desire is immoral. The desires of the heart are primary and anyone that would hold back any pleasure from another is evil.  Society is fixated on suffering being the greatest evil and our desires for pleasure are the greatest good.  It is becoming the way of the world but is not the way of truth. When it comes to the things we are attracted to and attach ourselves, this is the function of the heart. The problem with the heart is that it is twisted and not interested in what is true, only in satisfaction. Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) states The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  This verses shows that the core each of us is twisted and polluted and that we can desire things that are not for our benefit. This clearly is the case within homosexuality but is seen in other facets of life including an abused spouse. It is a difficult to break from that which is harmful and is often connected to issues of the heart. So this clash becomes a matter of people who say they did not ask for the desire but it is there and there is pleasure in seeking the desire and pain in resisting. The heart often wins out over the truth.  When the heart does not want what is in line with truth, there is a significant clash.  Going against the desires of the heart is painful. Why the heart desires what it desires is complicated because there are several factors that go into developing attachment and varied desires. The fact is our desires are not truth but sometimes are treated as such.  Now with regards to homosexuality that desire is a loving relationship and attraction to same sex or pleasure obtain from same-sex relationships but that very desire is a twist and leads to distorted views and a clash in perspectives on love.

The third key component of the clash between homosexuality and Christianity is that between perspectives of love.  On one hand is the view of “romantic love” and that everyone should be able to experience love as they see fit. Those teaching the immorality of homosexuality are seen as folks who present an unreasonable barrier to people who simply want to love someone else. Some might even argue that part of the definition of God is that God is love than opposing expressions of love is going contrary to God. Yet, the Bible is quite clear regarding same sex relations as being immoral and against his design, such that He refers to it is called an abomination. However, society today elevates the romantic relational love. It is the be all and end all of society. It serves two purposes that of facilitating pleasure and that of establishing a legacy through children, or in other words pleasing self and creating extensions of self.  The love of the Bible is of a different sort. It is love that gives of self even at great cost. It is a love that would die in the place of another.  It is love that touches the lives of others to build them up and point them to walking in truth. The love of God in fact is not about love without limits and just doing what feels good. The love of God is a perfect balance of caring for others to build them up and pointing them to the path of truth. It is a love that is able to set and point toward limits to keep others from danger. What happens if a parent does not set limits with a child?  The clash here then becomes focus on the Christian perspective one of depriving others do to pointing out behavior that is harmful. And yes, there are indeed harmful consequences in bodily, relational, and spiritual ways yet, even pointing out those consequences becomes a matter of restraining from desire to love.

The last component is that of identity. The clash escalates to the point where it is more than just about will, desire, and love. The clash escalates because the matter has become one of identity. Being gay has become an identity and being all about who you are as a person. It has a complete culture even to go along with the identity. The thing is once it take on a matter of identity, once it become who you are rather than a matter of sexual attraction and behavior it takes on a tone that it is something that is unchangeable.  Now undoing twisted attachment and attraction is not easy and takes deep healing, it is possible. However, if it becomes a matter of identity then it becomes important to not resist, for you are resisting who you are, or some would say who you were created to be. This is part of the negative comments directed at Pastor Tom Brock. He is tempted with same sex attraction, yet he does not accept this as his identity. He works to stand against his temptation, and yes sometimes falters. However, folks comment and engaging in outing him to say a “ha ha you are speaking against who you are and therefore a hypocrite.” It really points to a focus on believing there is an unchangeable matter of identity and rejecting it is rejecting self and you cannot change who you are. Yet, the bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:6-11(ESV) Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  In Jesus, through sanctification it is possible to change. Christianity does teach that change is possible even for the hardest, most vile of people if one dies to self and surrenders to Jesus completely.  It is then that we become a 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  Once we are surrender to Jesus, we have a new identity and we become a new creation. And yes, in the process all of us still walk with day by day choices and have an ongoing process of cleansing and sanctification. It is a completely different mindset than surrendering to an identity because identity cannot change. In Jesus, identity does change.

Now all that being said, there are sincere and true followers of Jesus lost in this clash and fully embracing homosexuality. There are a multiple reasons and really getting down to the heart of the matter is difficult. Yet, there is clear pointing out in scripture that embracing homosexuality is equivalent of exchanging the truth of God for a lie. (Romans 1:25) It is an example of what is to come, people setting aside truth for deception. Now by saying this, not all who are lost in the sin have fully crossed the line of complete exchange but only God knows the heart and whether an exchange of truth for a lie has occurred. Ultimately it will come down to who and what you surrender to and what you honor and uphold: God’s truth or the way of self.  This is true in all battles of sin and self.  Now for people who find themselves like Tom Brock and others, and seeking to grow in truth and overcome sexual sin of any sort, there is a good resource to pursue at www.harvestusa.org.  But know well for each of us there exists a fight and a battle to stand firm and not cross over to the flames of hell.  Recently a good brother stated the enemy is patient and will look for an opportune time. This is a good picture of a roaring lion seeking to devour. A roaring line is one protecting territory, so in order to be devoured you have to enter the place of danger. This fits with proverbs and directions to not even go down the street of one that will seek to seduce you. Homosexuality is no different than any other trap of the devil. Change is possible but above all whoever and wherever you are surrender to the King of Kings, true, deep change is possible to be altered from any identity.

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Seven Spiritual Principles for Transcending Suffering

Suffering is pervasive.  No one goes without facing suffering.  The whole of creation came under the tyranny of suffering as a consequence of sin. In this world there are many sources of suffering.  Stress in fact has become a less threatening word to describe facing varied forms of suffering.  There are many degrees and shapes of suffering. There is the suffering of trauma and disaster, there is abuse inflicted on others, disease, poverty, and so on.  Most of what is offered in the world related to stress and suffering is all about coping.  Yet, there are spiritual principles that can lead beyond just coping with suffering and actually transcend whatever the experience is.  There can be peace in suffering.  In examining the Bible, there are seven principles that God has given us that can help us transcend suffering and stress.

Before getting into the examination of principles there is a need to acknowledge that this discussion is a basic overview of these principles.  A lot more time can be spent expanding on each principle in far greater detail; the objective here is to lay a foundation of understanding. While reading, take some time to pray and think over each principle.  God may emphasize a particular point for you.  Please take the thoughts outlined here as a starting point for further study and pursuit of understanding.  Wherever you are at and however stress and suffering are currently affecting your life, may you find words of peace and encouragement that lighten the load and burden. So let us now take a look at the seven spiritual principles for transcending suffering.

Recognize: The starting point is really recognizing that God is sovereign. He is, was, and will always be in control.  The climax of the book of Job is that God is in control.  Now recognizing this fact is key to making it through the suffering.  It is not just about God being in control, it is about what God allows in his sovereignty he allows to bring himself Glory.  The fact is it is easy to lose sight of God’s sovereignty and control. It is really easy to focus on the pain and difficulty and wonder where God is in the midst. All things happen for God’s glory.  Not only does it happen for God’s glory but also that we may grow in maturity.  Here are some verses that emphasize this needed recognition:

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Peter 4: 11, 12 (ESV) Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 So we need to recognize that God is in control, that what he allows he allows for his glory, and what he allows works to refine us and build us up further in him.  These are important facts to recognize when in the midst of suffering.

Remember: This step is related to recognize for the things we need to recognize are also important things for us to remember.  But the principle of remembrance does not stop with bringing to mind the truths of what God has said but also what God has done.  The Old Testament is filled with examples of people engaging in establishing ways to remember what God has done.  Two ways reported over and over were setting up altars and naming places and children related to what God has done. God also created for Israel feasts such as Passover to be continual reminders of His faithfulness and ability to deliver.  Remembering what God has done, his love, his faithfulness, and even his discipline is important because it directs us to God’s love, dependability, and faithfulness.  If we remember how God has provided and delivered in the past, when under a current trial or form of suffering it gives encouragement that He who proved faithful before, will do so again. God is always true. Yet sometimes we forget that fact.  We most often forget that God is faithful and capable of accomplishing all that He promises and says.  When we forget, we struggle more.  So take time and remember what God has done in your life, the ways He has proved faithful. Remember the ways God has shown and revealed Himself in your life.  A key Bible verse for this spiritual principle is Hebrews 10:23 (ESV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  So take time to remember what God has done and review God’s faithfulness, for that which He promises, He will make certain. 

Faith: Any form of suffering brings with it a challenge to faith. Suffering ultimately reveals our depths and limits of faith. The Bible gives us some clear understanding of what faith is in Hebrews 11:1 (ESV): Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is acting on that which is not visible, that which is beyond our comprehension.  It is during suffering when what is seen is the pain and hurt that faith is most critical; for it is during suffering the faithfulness and love of God comes into question, for what is seen is pain.  Peter when he got out of the boat showed great faith in the unseen. The great waves did not bother him, as He had faith in God to uphold him.  The disciple’s faith was shown to be limited when they were overwhelmed with fears while in the boat in a storm while Jesus slept.  Yet, faith is not just the certainty of what is unseen regarding God’s faithfulness.  Faith is our response to what God directs.  Romans 10:17 (ESV) states: So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.  Faith is founded upon what we hear of God and his word. It is founded on our relationship to God’s authority and our position in the Kingdom of God.  Faith is following God’s direction and resting in His authority.  When we walk in fear rather than faith, we doubt God’s goodness, faithfulness, and love.  Take a look at Hebrews 10:23 again.  We are able to stand firm in faith when we believe that He is faithful.  

Ultimately our actions during suffering reveal our level of faith. We can claim to have faith, but unless we act on that faith the faith is meaningless. We can say we trust God to see us through our darkest suffering, but it our actions that really reveal the sincerity of that faith. How we manage day to day.  And guess what, each of us do have limits to our faith.  At any time God can turn to us and respond “Oh ye of little faith.”  For when you compare the depth and limits of our faith with the goodness and faithfulness of God, it will always come up short.  We all like Peter can show moments of great face soon followed by great weakness.  So in the midst of suffering we will learn our limits to faith and be challenged to continue. And ultimately, it is the times of suffering that draw us into deeper awareness of God’s love and faithfulness and result in growth and maturity of faith.  So what to do when your faith is at the limits? Confess your unbelief and lack of faith to God and ask Him to grow your faith and help you in your unbelief.  Also do not be surprised by your own limits to faith, for we all have them.

Focus:  The word focus really entails an essential spiritual principle.  Focus has to do with where our attention is centered.  Suffering of any sort will test our focus.  An amazing thing is that we can start out with strong faith, we can step out of the boat and walk toward Jesus, yet like Peter we also quickly can lose focus.  Jesus is to be our central focus, but the difficulties of life, the stressors and sufferings can often divert our attention.  Actually the bible directs us to maintain two types of focus: on Jesus and eternity.  There are two key verses that point to keeping focus on Jesus:

Isaiah 26:3 (ESV) You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Hebrews 12:2 (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Focus on Jesus in a key to peace in suffering. When we are thinking about Jesus and serving him, we look beyond our pain, troubles, and  difficulties.  Part of focusing on Jesus is that when we look at what God did at the cross and Jesus suffering greatly, suffered so that we may be redeemed and set free, we can see that God does truly work things out for His glory. 

The second area we need to place our focus is away from this world to matters of eternity. In other worlds it is looking past the Kingdom of this world to God’s Kingdom.  Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV):  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

That verse really captures the differences between focus on the eternal or the things of this world. Everything of this world is temporary, lasting but a moment.  This is true of suffering as well. And yes, a person can endure suffering the rest of their life, but it is still always but temporary in comparison with eternity.  This is spelled out even more clearly in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV): So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

It is truly difficult to focus on the eternal and that which is not temporary. For we know what we see, we know what we feel. We are easily drawn to give our full attention to these temporary things.  In order to transcend the suffering, it requires looking beyond self and this world to that which is eternal.  The need for eternal focus is also outlined in Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV): If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

If one cannot readjust focus to that of Jesus and eternal matters then any suffering will be insurmountable and all-consuming.  When we take focus off of this world and self, we are uplifted. There is no burden that can weigh us down or cause us to sink, rather we are buoyed through any storm and uplifted when we have our focus centered in the right direction.

Love: This principle really grows out of taking eyes off of the focus of our own pain and looking toward God and others.  When engage in loving others we engage in actions that build them up.  When we love others we touch the hurt and pains that they experience are touched.  It just takes a simple act.  It is also a fact that a good portion of suffering is related to choices other people made that have hurt others. In other words, actions of self have resulted in hurting others.  Actions of love have an impact that far outweigh the actions of harm as seen in Deuteronomy 5:7-10. The effects of sins of fathers have impact to three or four generations but that actions of love lasts thousands. Love is far more powerful and long lasting.  Sins bring pain, love brings blessing and healing. It is not just the actual suffering we experience that cause us difficulty but also the perception of a threat of suffering. The perceived threat elicits the emotion of fear.  I John 4:18(ESV) states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  The bible goes at great length to encourage us to love others, in particular those that are poor or in unfortunate circumstances.  Now here is an amazing thing. When you are engaged in focusing on helping and loving others, the perception of pain or your level of stress or suffering reduces. It does not change the source or cause of the pain, but when you take your mind off of self, the felt pain reduces. It even helps to be around others going through similar struggles and to mutually support one another through the suffering.  As you do so and focus on the concerns of others, there is a reduced perception of pain.  Test this principle out, focus on loving others and then check on your perception of pain. Ultimately remember, that what we learn from and the change and growth that occurs during struggles can in turn be used to reach and impact others.  In such away not only do we gain from our struggles but others gain and are touched as well. 

Uplift: The action that we can take that is the most in opposition to suffering is praising and uplifting God in the midst of stress and suffering.  It is something we are commanded to do.  Philippians  4:4 (ESV) states Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say Rejoice! James 1:2 (NIV) states: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  We have a biblical example of being joyful in the time of trial.  In Acts 16 Paul and Silas sang and worshiped God while in prison after being beaten. Yet they surrendered and focused on God and uplifted God. They did not complain about their circumstances or pain.  They knew God was worthy of praise regardless of circumstance.  They chose to uplift him.  Now, it is a hard thing to do in difficult times.  It involves a surrender of self.  When we hurt and are in pain it is difficult to praise God. We know the hurt we endure. We may even doubt the love of God.  The Bible gives us multiple directions to stand firm for a reason.   It is not just the New Testament that directs us to thank and uplift God no matter what the circumstance; the Old Testament makes frequent references to offering the sacrifice of Thanksgiving.   The sacrifice of Thanksgiving is closely associated with the peace offering, which points to Jesus as our salvation. The reason we can uplift God is what He has done for us at the cross.  Remember, all suffering ultimately is a result of sin.  All sin was addressed at the cross, and while we still face the ongoing twists and pain that sin caused, Jesus dealt with it at the cross.  He suffered all, died, and rose again that suffering comes to an end. This is why we can praise.  It is worth noting that the sacrifice of Thanksgiving involved both things that are pleasing, and those that are unpleasing, and even that which is impure.  They all are uplifted to God, thanking Him for all: good, bad, unpleasant, impure, or joyous.   Now, if you understand that God wants us to lift all before Him and understand that it is because of Jesus and what is yet to come that we can praise, the need and value of uplifting God is more clear.  As Hebrew 13:15(ESV) directs: Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Uplifting God with praise and worship is an ongoing, continual process. It is a setting aside of self and giving Honor where it is do, to God alone.  It is continually surrendering of self.  In pain and suffering of any type this requires an act of will. It is not an easy task to look beyond the pain and circumstances and praise God. In fact, it requires a willful, sacrificial act of turning from self to God.  And when we are obedient and able to follow God’s command in such a manner, He shows up and is present.  He showed up in a might way for Paul and Silas. He can in each of our lives as well.  If the circumstances do not change, God will change you and fill you with His Joy and Peace.  But it starts with surrender such as setting aside the self in pain and uplifting the Most Holy One.  There is power in uplifting the Father who loves us beyond measure; power in uplifting Jesus who is the Lamb worthy to be Slain who has redeemed us and set us free: and there is power in uplifting the Holy Spirit who empowers us when we are weak and draws us unto repentance. So continually uplift and praise God. Continually surrender in worship.  Give your all to Him no matter what the circumstances.

Rest: This principle is powerful but we often fail to recognize the importance of rest. Transcending suffering only really occurs when you are able to be at a place of rest.  People really do have a hard time entering rest or even understanding it.  Resting is all about coming to a settled state where there is no striving to obtain.  Hebrews 4:9-11(ESV) states:   So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  True surrender to God involves being at a state of rest, which is a ceasing focus on self and looking to God.  It is being at a state that no matter what situation you are in, whatever you endure, that looking to God comes first.  Paul’s reported secret of contentment really points to this rest principle: Philippians 4:13 (ESV) I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In good times, in pain, in suffering God gives us the strength and peace to endure and stand firm.  Resting in suffering is ceasing the focus on what is not right and turning to God regardless of any change.  Those following God and rest in Him are able to move beyond whatever happens in this world.  It is in such rest and turning to God that He provides the strength to stand.  We cannot do it of our own accord, we truly need to know the meaning of when I am weak He is strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10b)   His power is strong when we are weak, when we cease the striving, then God’s strength can move in our lives regardless of any change in sources of suffering.

The deep rest that transcends suffering is a level of even letting go of our own protection and depending on God letting His peace guard are heart and soul.  The Psalms are full of references to finding refuge in God.  Psalms 94:22(ESV) is one such example:  But the LORD has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.  Striving for our own defense is natural.  The more stress and suffering we face, the more prone we are to find ways to defend ourselves from threats.  God wants us to set aside our own defense and rest in His defense of us.  He wants total trust and dependence on him.  This is the essence and nature of rest.   There is a well used verse that really sums up the nature of rest God asks of us.  Psalms 46: 10a (ESV) “Be still and know that I am God” The verse is really nothing about our communicating with God, it is all about resting in Him.  The Psalms really describes God’s coming wrath with the whole of Earth in travail.   It really points out to rest in God, for while his wrath is coming, you can depend on Him and must, for ultimately all will be exalted before Him.  Is that not a glorious thought? God will be exalted about all.  There need be no fear of any suffering or bad things to come, as God is our strength and defense. He is in control, so rest in Him. 

My hope is that you have taken time to slowly read over this article and come back at it a piece at a time.  Each principle really builds upon each other.  The more each of these principles are evident in your life, the more you grow and the less power the sources of suffering have in your life.  Now if you read these principles and feel overwhelmed and small, know that in our lives these principles are ongoing and that once you think you got one principle understood and evident in your life, God will reveal how shallow the depth of understanding really is.  We are all a work in process. Personally, in writing this article and taking time to sort through what God has stirred up to share with others to help, it really does become clear the need for growth. Nevertheless, it is also apparent how God has made each principle real and taught lesson through the varied stress and sufferings of life.  In closing, taking time to pray over each principle and asking God to make them more real in your life.   

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