Musings on Personally Perceived Strangeness of this Christmas Season

Many things are on my heart and mind and it is all in general very connected. We are at the time designated to celebrate God’s birth, His incarnation. The focus is on family and sharing love through gifts and fellowship. For me this time, this season is strange. Currently am moving in and out of feeling my own pain and connecting with the pain of those around me. Currently my brother and his family is in town. It is uplifting to spend time with them, knowing that they have come through a tough time with the death of my sister-in-laws mother from breast cancer and their issues with dealing with her father. They also are caring for their son, Anant, who embodies a joyful creativity even at four going on five years old. All this is rather normal. Here are the things that have gone to make this season strange.

If you are a follower of this blog you know that the central portion of the strangeness is the health of Janie Blake. When Cancer returned a few years ago, she reported having a word from God, “you shall live and not die.” Then she went on to engage the battle and appeared clear of cancer cells, only to have them reform to the point where her very life is in jeopardy. It was a shock hearing the news back in mid-October and even more shocking the rapid degradation of her health. Today is first I have seen her since stopping by to help the clean in preparation for her brother’s visit. The sight was heart breaking. For I really appreciate how God has used Janie in my life and the life of those I love. Yet, what God’s sees is even beyond what I see. He knows His will and His plan. He is always faithful to what He promises our job is to surrender no matter how things look. It means letting go of our will for His. He can heal. He can restore. He is the one that makes all things new. We submit to Him alone. I really want Janie around, but that is up to God alone. There is life here and greater life in His presence.

Janie’s health is not the only aspect of the strangeness of this year. There is my mother’s ongoing vision loss and going through a process of learning. She deals each day with great pain and loss while focusing on learning how to function without depending on vision. My mother has endured and survived through a lot of suffering in her lifetime. Now she faces this challenge. Yet, I know God is using this to strengthen her and use her in the lives of others. He has given her special moments one of which will eventually share on this blog, as it likely connects to all that has been going on. Now, my mom’s vision loss is nothing new. It has been ongoing. But it is one more dynamic to the strangeness of this year.

Now not all that is going on is dealing with health and illness. For my wife has been going through and interview process for a potential promotion to service manager. My wife really does posses natural talents that would make her a great manager. Her prayer has been for those interviewing her to see what God wants them to see in her. Her heart she simply wants whomever they promote to be someone that will build and strengthen the team. We know it is in God’s hands and the promotion would be a great blessing to us. As I am writing this, in my mind the elevation of Daniel standing out over all others in Babylon would fit, if that is God’s will for Liz. We simply await the answer, hoping one thing but surrendering to whatever the outcome.

In my own life, still am working through matters of reluctance and holding self back. Yet, my workload is increasing and there are things on the horizon, yet many obstacles still stand with my-self being one of the obstacles. There is the ongoing question as get busier whether I can take on more or how can I find ways to improve all together. There are lessons learned as always in this process. The key principle to all here is coming back to surrender. There is much we cannot see in terms of what is ahead. Some like my mother have to learn to operate without sight. My stepmother appears quickly headed to death. My brother and his family already faced loss, may face more, are loving and building up their adopted child who is God has made as one who is joyfully creative in the midst.

So it is a strange season, this year. There is hope of seeing God give blessings and doing amazing things. There is the need to move beyond the visible. Ultimately, it is surrender to God regardless of the outcomes, walking not by our sight, but depending on Him alone. For He alone is the Rock. He alone is our safety. By Him alone to we stay or go. By Him alone do we rise or fall. He is the one who gives life or takes it. Yes, our choices and actions play a role we can walk His path and walk his way or go our own. One leads to life, one to death. God allows us our choices and then simply calls for surrender and walk the way He leads even if it seems impossible. There will be barriers from inside and outside. We want to make everything about us, but it is always about God and His glory and purpose which ultimately is to show and reflect His love in pain, in sorrow, in struggle, in fear, in reluctance, in anger, in pain, in joy, in blessing, in hope and so on which is all in His life in us.

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.

Do you test your own understanding?

This to me is an important question to consider: Do you test your own understanding?  As a Christian and follower of Jesus I believe it is important to constantly examine what I think I understand about God and the Bible.  Now this questioning of ones own understanding is not about the essential matters of doctrine and faith, but rather the thoughts, ideas, practices, and systematic thinking about God and church.  There is a problem that can easily occur in that we can reach a point on a matter where we think “we grasp it.”  In other words being certain that we know fully what God was saying and have made an assessment on the matter and have full confidence in understanding.  Personally it is a temptation for me that once I come to an understanding to consider the matter settled.  Yet, I find God often moves to teach me new aspects or areas of a matter I had not previously grasped.  One example of this for me is the matter of unity as a church.  I have long advocated the need to understand one another and be aware of the fact that we all “got something” wrong in understanding God.  The picture to me has been that of the body of Christ often separating into the different cells of the body rather than working together.  Another picture is that of staying around those that play the same notes and instrument and missing the bigger symphony.  Then God showed me otherwise and awakened my eyes and ears to the depth and level of deception that has infiltrated the church.  There are things that previously passed off as petty and judgmental that truly is identifying significant danger that is serious.  So I find this principle at work, God often will show and lead us in one direction and then when we have engaged in the change and direction he desires, he can show us what we missed or failed to understand.  The thing is our understanding is limited and we inject ourselves and our own thoughts all too often. We also can easily rely on ‘teachers’ who we have respected and can fail to fully examine those who have taught us and impacted us to deeper understanding of God or freedom from something we did not quite understand before.  It is really important to be constantly testing everything, even our own understanding.   The motivation of that examination really needs to come from a desire to understand God and love Him better which in turn also leads to truly loving others.  Anything that comes from any other motive falls short of what God desires regarding our testing everything.  And yes, testing everything even comes down to “testing to see if in the faith. “  In other words, have I truly surrendered myself to Jesus?  Do I accept the words I have received and believe them? There are many other related questions.  So how does one test your own understanding? Start with asking God for wisdom and to reveal that which you think you understand but miss. Also ask for the Holy Spirit to reveal and open your eyes to the ways you have been deceived.  God is faithful and I can verify that He will do just that if willing to surrender you own wisdom and let God show you through His word and even through what others say.  Never be confident or settled that you “got it.”  The disciples did not get it when Jesus was with them.  He had to stay on earth forty days explaining and showing things to the disciples so they did “get it.” And even then, we needed to constant presence of the Holy Spirit to continually show us when we are off on the wrong path.  But we have to surrender and set aside self and be teachable and humble enough to turn and admit error. Remember the Bible does tells us that at our best we can only “know in part.”  So if you feel you have arrived, think you grasped it all and have no inclination to put self-understanding of God to test, you are settling for the incomplete and imperfect.

Helpful Articles: A Godly response to criticism by Ben Pierce of Steiger International

 

Recently ran across this article by Ben Pierce, a member of No Longer Music and part of the Stieger International team.  It really points to need for humility and trusting in God for defense.  These are words that are worth sharing and reading. Hope you are challenged and blessed. 

A Godly Response to Criticism

Written by Ben Pierce   
Friday, March 05 2010 02:09
Being a human being is a strange thing. If we dare to be different, stand out from the crowd, try something new, or take a risk we will inevitably face criticism. No one is immune to criticism, deserved or otherwise. In ministry the intensity and the frequency of the criticism can be even greater. The bible is full of examples of this. Noah was ridiculed for trusting God and building the ark, Moses was mocked by his own people for attempting to lead them out of captivity, and of course Jesus was constantly criticized by the religious leaders of his day. Criticism is to be expected. 

The bible is very clear about how we are to handle criticism. Our response to deserved or undeserved criticism is crucial. In Romans Paul writes  “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19). It is clear throughout scripture that God will speak for us, defend us, and stand up for us, so we should not.Wrath is often a misunderstand term. Literally it means righteousness anger. God’s wrath is His rightful anger towards things that aren’t right. We are going to encounter all kinds of situations in life in which the world’s way of operating would entitle us to retaliation. It is in these situations we need a major paradigm shift from a human response to God’s response. What Paul posits in this part of his letter to the Romans is that we need to leave making things right to God. Ultimately, it’s an issue of faith and surrender. Do we trust that God is ultimately in control of justice or do we feel that if left to Him nothing will be made right? 

The highly influential theologian A.W. Tozer strongly urges us never to defend ourselves. He writes: 

“What do we defend? Well, we defend our service, and particularly we defend our reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are, and if a story gets out about you, the big temptation is to try to run it down. But you know, running down the source of a story is a hopeless task. Absolutely hopeless! It’s like trying to find the bird after you’ve found the feather on your lawn. You can’t do it. But if you’ll turn yourself wholly over to the Lord, He will defend you completely and see to it that no one will harm you. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” He says, and “every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaish 54:17). 

So when confronted with criticism, how do we respond? First, it’s important to realize that in any situation we are rarely completely guilty or innocent. When approaching any situation in which you have been criticized it is important to be humble and realize that you most certainly have something to learn.  

It is obvious that we are not to defend our reputation or our image. So what do we do? Turn to the bible. Jesus gave us a model for dealing with criticism. When the religious leaders of his day criticized Him, He turned to scripture. 

2nd Timothy 3:16 says, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for training in righteousness”. Paul encourages Timothy to see the Bible as a tool for character shaping and reproof. I believe when faced with criticism we need to take it to God and ask Him to reveal what truth, if any, can be extracted from the experience. We need to humbly search the scriptures for any “training in righteousness” that needs to occur in the process. If we choose not to defend ourselves when criticized, but rather see it as a chance to grow, I believe God will shape us into people who He can use for any noble purpose, we truly would be vessels of Gold. 

No one can avoid criticism, but we can all choose our response. Sometime criticism is warranted and other times it can come out of nowhere. In either case we need to respond as God would have us respond. Let us choose humility. Let us leave our defense up to God. The alternative will stop what God wants to do in your heart and will limit what he will be able to do through you. 

Tozer put it frankly when he said, “if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you” 

That certainly seems like an obvious choice to me. 


Ben Pierce has been a member of No Longer Music since 2007, co-leads a local Minneapolis outreach ministry, and works as the assistant development directory for Steiger. The views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the complete views of Steiger. See Steiger’s Statement of Faith and Values in the ‘About Us’ section of the website.   

Poetry: Recessional by Rudyard Kipling’s

Recessional

Rudyard Kipling

God of our fathers, known of old– 
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
   Dominion over palm and pine–
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
   The captains and the kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
   An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
   On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
   Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
   Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe–
Such boasting as the Gentiles use
   Or lesser breeds without the law–
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget – lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
   In reeking tube and iron shard–
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
   And guarding, calls not Thee to guard–
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!

Blog author’s note:  It is worth noting that Rudyard Kipling is a noted freemason. Yet, this particular poem fits truth and some things God is pointing me toward, so felt worth republishing this poem. Do not take the publication of this poem on the blog to point to his other poems and writing as being inspired by God. This poem is worth further study and contemplation.