Just to Feel the Sun Again

This week much of the United States will be experiencing dangerously cold temperatures, with some forecasts of wind chills near 50 degrees below zero!  Most will not be able to see any sign of the sun, let alone bask in its heat.  Depending on which part of the country some reside, these Winters can last from one month to six months.  Some may wonder if the cold will ever end or if they will ever see the sun or feel its warmth on their skin.  I live in Las Vegas and it was sunny and warm enough here yesterday that I sat on my patio sans shirt and simply relished the heat as it hit my face after a few chilly months of being indoors.  Whether it’s the first day after a long Winter or those first steps onto your favorite beach, there is something very healing in being exposed to warmth after a prolonged period of being kept in the cold and the dark of a Winter season.

For many, life can seem like a bitter cold and extended Winter season void of sunlight, leaving them desperate and begging for some relief in the way of sunbeams and a warming heat.  It’s been so long since they basked in the glow of the sun that they may wonder if they will ever feel or see it again.  I know this all too well.  There is an agonizing cry out to God for any relief, any comfort, any sign that he is aware of your situation and is listening to prayers you feel are bouncing off the ceiling.  Many of the world’s most successful leaders endured seasons of cold and darkness that left them questioning everything, including their own faith.  As recent as yesterday I read the horrific stories of two prominent pastors of megachurches committing suicide because they were in such a dark place that even their faith in God was overwhelmed by the severity and chill of their circumstances.  A verse in Matthew chapter six says that if the light within you has turned to darkness, how great and massive that darkness can be.  If the cold temperatures and the dead of Life’s Winter months are so great that even studied church leaders can not escape its cold grip, we must all be on alert to protect the light and heat placed within each of us as God’s children.

One of my favorite places to be, my happy place, if you will, is on the beach.  Besides just being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and majesty of a mighty ocean being reduced to gentle waves kissing the sandy shore where I’m laying, there is also a physical relaxation of soaking up the sun and being warmed from the inside out by its heat.  In that small period of restoration there is such a healing peace and natural euphoria that is hard to put into words.  All life’s stress and issues seem to melt away, at least for the duration of my time in the sun, and the long Winter months become a distant memory.  Perhaps your Winter is one of a serious illness or a less than adequate employment situation.  Maybe its a strained relationship with certain family members or friends.  Or if like me, it is just the pain of being alone when your best life would be one shared with a special someone.  Whatever the source of your sunless days, they can and often do seem like an eternity as you beg God for his mercy in your situation while you seek any comfort or shelter from the elements, like being left out in the cold with no source of heat to warm your face.

But….there is good news!  God may take us places we would never choose to go on our own, but He will never leave us there too long.  When Job was exposed to the harshness of a cold Winter that left him with nothing but frostbite in the form of death, destruction and even physical disease, he begged God to take his life and put him out of his misery.  But God in his never-ending mercy and compassion restored Job to a level even higher than the one from which he was removed, and reimbursed him many times over for his losses.  I can share with you from recent experience that when God looks down and says “Ok child, I guess you’ve had enough.  Sit back and watch what I’m about to do for you!”, and you once again feel the warmth of the sun and the Son on your face as it warms your entire being, the healing restorative power is indescribable. In a very real sense, it is the bitter chill of sunless days that cause you to fully appreciate the restoration of the Son’s rays!  And you find in that warming heat love, joy, peace, fullness and rest from life’s challenging seasons.  There is simply nothing in all the world like being brought back to life by the warmth of God’s compassion and love. Malachi 4:2 read like this;

“For those of you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings”.  And Ecclesiastes says that it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So today I pray that my readers, whatever part of the world they may live in or however cold it may be there, can hold on until they can once again experience the heatwave they seek and can shake the chills of life’s bitter cold temps as they anticipate the end of their Winter season.  Blessings to each of you.

 

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My Fig Leaves

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Now that I have your attention…in publishing my blog my objective has always been to be transparent in confessing personal faults, failures, challenges, etc. so that maybe one or two readers might be spared the pain of learning lessons others have already benefited from. Some weeks are more difficult to post than others depending on the subject matter or the freshness of the wounds or hurt.  This may be one of those weeks.

We all have heard the story countless times.  God tells Adam to stay away from just one tree but instead he yields to a tempting Eve and disobeys a directive meant for his benefit.  Genesis 3 reads that Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and sewed together fig leaves to cover their exposure.  But then something deeper happens that we often overlook.  When God is calling Adam out of the garden Adam’s reply is that they were afraid and hid so that God would not see that they were naked.  However, Adam and Eve had already created and were in fact wearing their fig garments when they heard God’s voice.  So we must ask if Adam was afraid of exposing his genitalia or was he hiding something much deeper?

The fig leaf has always been used figuratively as symbolic of covering something up that may be distasteful or embarrassing. In more recent times the fig leaf is used metaphorically as an attempt to cover up something that is only a token gesture as the object being covered is still obvious and for the most part exposed. Fig leaves can be as long as ten inches and as wide as six inches.  However when they are cut from the tree they exude a sticky gel like substance that can be quite uncomfortable when coming in direct contact with skin.  To go to the lengths of covering up one’s “nakedness” with something so uncomfortable must somehow relay the desperation of attempting to hide something really ugly or shameful.

I am a shirt guy.  I buy shirts like women buy shoes. I have easily 200 shirts in various closets.  I’m a shirt whore. But I also have some fig leaves that I wear in certain situations so that my faults and failures are not overly exposed.  Allow me to explain. The mother of my sons and I divorced in 1996.  Say what you may about the reasons that led up to that painful decision, the divorce for me represented a failure-something I lost control of and did not cultivate enough to save.  It was perhaps my first fig leaf.

I have been blessed with three young men as sons who are unique and individual whom I love dearly.  But I was not a great father. I worked too much, I was absent for certain events, I didn’t spend nearly enough quality time with them, and I could go on.

Three fig leaves.

I was blessed with an opportunity to own my own business but in less than two years was forced to give it back to the creditors because of fierce industry competition and mismanagement on my part.  I am still paying the price for that failure and increasing my fig leaf wardrobe. Through obstacles and life challenges I have not handled well I have developed or rather allowed to surface a deep resentment, a sometimes bitter attitude, an unexplainable anger and deep feelings of frustration and doubt even when trying to rely on my faith in God’s grace and strength as my only recourse. Yet another fig leaf.  I could relay many similar stories of past mistakes, miscues and missteps that have added to my hidden fig leaf closet. I have much to hide, much that I fear admitting to the world and much I am ashamed of for fear of being exposed. My loins, my legs and most of my torso are covered in unseen fig leaves.

When God called out to Adam He knew exactly where he was hiding and why.  And as Adam had tasted of the tree of he Knowledge of Good and Evil, he most likely knew God was on to him.  Any attempt to cover his nakedness before God was futile.  It was just a token gesture of modesty before a God who sees everything beneath.

Jeremiah 23:24; “Can a man hide himself in hiding places so I don’t see him?  Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?”

Hebrews 4:13: “There is no creature hidden from His sight but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”

God knows us inside and out, our fears, our lusts, our hurts, our doubts-nothing remains hidden from Him.  Any attempt to cover ourselves is futile.  But perhaps what is more significant is the thought process or reasoning behind our fear of being exposed to Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son and the dispensation of unending grace through our belief in the same we are set free from the chains of guilt and shame of our shortcomings.  While our approach should be one of humble reverence and confession, our lifestyle should not resemble sackcloth and ashes, or sticky fig leaves.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God”…Romans 5:1

“My grace is sufficient for you and my power made perfect in your weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly (and not hide behind fig leaves) about my weakness so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Some of us may be in a season where we are not only covered in fig leaves but are hiding in the belly of a dark cave.  We may be facing questions with no answers, situations with no solutions and a future where we can’t see any ray of light because of present darkness. The tears may be uncontrollable, or you may have few left. The intangible faith in an unseen God may be a real struggle for some, but the hope and the promises of a loving and merciful God can not be withheld from us even when we hide.  Clothing  trends may come and go but fig leaves have never been fashionable.  Be clothed instead in grace and mercy, an ensemble that all believers share and is never out of style.

 

 

 

Casting Sanctimonious Stones

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Last week many of us were somewhat shocked to read that Israel Houghton and his wife Meleasa have divorced after nearly twenty years of marriage.  Together they formed New Breed and have won numerous awards including several Grammys.  Israel is also the Worship Leader for Joel Osteen’s church.  The author of Friend of God and other Worship standards heard in many churches today implied through his confession on social media that he had stepped out on his marriage a few years back and had broken the trust and the covenant he made to his wife and to God. His confession was to serve as an apology to his fans, a request for mercy from the church and a warning to believers everywhere that those of us involved in ministry are vulnerable to vicious attacks by the enemy, and subsequent attacks by unsympathetic siblings in Christ.

As you might imagine the social media outlets were lit up in response to the news.  Most I’ve read showed mercy and love to the Houghtons, careful not to judge lest they become victims of their own indiscretions. But others were quick to condemn their marital failure citing scriptures and offering Monday morning quarterback type feedback to a situation they have never faced, the ugliness of divorce in the church. It’s simply amazing to me how we can be so merciless and judgmental when it comes to publicized failures within the church body. We place God on our lap like a ventriloquist puppet and utter “Thus sayeth the Lord” quotes just as damaging as the practice of stoning in Biblical times. We hide behind a scripture all the while holding the heaviest stone we can loft. What we fail to realize is that the Houghtons and others like them have already been stoned by the unrelenting attacks of  spiritual warfare.

Do not misinterpret my sentiments-I strongly believe that vows made to each other and before God to love in good times and bad, better or worse until parted by death are sacred and should be entered into solemnly and broken only with great angst.  The fact that divorce within the church is nearly the same as outside it is another issue for another day. But it’s highly hypocritical to stand in judgment over things one has not personally encountered, especially when each of us have our own skeletons hidden away.  Jesus was very clear about this in John when He uttered the famous quote about “he being without sin casting the first stone”. Israel made it clear that he and his wife had attempted for several years to overcome the demons of his indiscretions-there had been some attempt at restoration.  Only those closest to them know why it wasn’t successful enough to save the marriage. We have no idea the lengths they went through, the prayer, the counseling, etc. It is disappointing indeed but there are some insights I’d like to offer with all humility.

When I played ball back in the day we would scout the opposing team.  We knew who their best defenders were and we knew who their leading scorer was and how he was going to get his points. So we would key our defense to that player to limit his effectiveness on the court and enable us to overcome the opposing team by rendering their offense ineffective. Pastors, clergy and worship team members are leading scorers.  That is in no way to imply we are more important as each member of the body plays a role, but simply more visible. Our job is to encourage, exhort and lead others into the courts of praise through music and through the spoken Word. When one of us fails it has a ripple effect through those who look to us as spiritual leaders.  Consequently we ae always in the cross hairs of the enemy who is just waiting for the right moment, the right compromising decision, that area in our armor that is most exposed to damage if attacked.  With most of us that would be our marriage or our families. What better victory for our adversary than a pastor having an affair of a musician addicted to substance abuse or, fill in the blanks. It can be a crushing defeat for many.

This should also serve as a warning that we may not be as strong as we believe.  An alcoholic who has been sober for ten years is fooling himself to think he can walk into a bar and still not feel the tug of the addiction and the temptation for just a sip. I’m convinced that some in ministry feel they are so “spiritual” that they are beyond temptation and they drop their defenses. Do we need to mention Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker or King David?  The lust of the eyes is a powerful narcotic that can fool the strongest to think they can have just a taste without doing any damage. We need not look any further than the Apostle Paul, the inspired author of most of our New Testament as he lamented that even he was vulnerable to temptation. Our own unrighteous nature should always be a sobering reminder to be on alert against the one who knows how to attract us most.

If anything of comments I read is true it’s that God indeed hates divorce.  He hates anything that results in the destruction of our relationship to Him and He hates anything that causes His children unnecessary pain. There’s nothing more hurtful than broken trust between a husband and wife and nothing that takes more time to heal from than the injury of rejection.  And as someone engaged in visible church ministry, I can assure you there is certainly nothing more distracting. The only thing worse than battling your own demons of failure is trying to dodge the stones being cast by those you have blessed previously.  The Houghtons and those like them deserve our compassion and our prayerful support as they enter their season of restoration. If you’ve never been there, you would not want to walk a mile in the same shoes-trust me on this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Healthy Fear of a Sovereign God

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As a young boy much bigger for may age than average, there was little I was afraid of, at least from my peers. I got into very little trouble growing up. It might have been that I was in church so much there was little down time to get into any mischief. Or it may have been the one thing I did fear-those six words that evoked the fire of God whenever I heard them-“just wait until your dad gets home”. You see, at 6’8″ and 300 lbs my dad too was bigger than average! For greater impact I would hear my mom relaying the details of my latest waywardness to my dad when he called while on break, so I knew he would be planning my punishment for several hours before ha came home and played the role of disciplinarian. In every single case the wait was more dreaded and effective than the punishment.

As a believer I am grateful for a God who we can approach as Abba Father-one who is often described as loving, gracious, merciful kind, forgiving, patient-all attributes which are scriptural and true. We are told and can bet our life on the scriptures that tell us nothing can separate us from the unconditional love of God.  But, I wonder if the church, both the institutional church and the body of believers that make up the church, have so embraced the message of grace that we have completely disregarded the unchallenged sovereignty of God. We don’t want to consider the Old Testament God of jealousy , vengeance and wrath because it doesn’t fit into our 2015 definition of a more tolerant, sociable, politically correct, changing with the times God that we have created to better fit our conscious-one that allows us to fit in and be more widely accepted and considered for office, for promotion and for more likes on our social media outlets.

It’s ironic that those who oppose or deny the concept of God are first to point out accurately that God killed people in the Old testament simply because they did not follow His commands. The Mega-churches have apparently lost that section of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong-I believe that those who are looking for the truth and for eternal hope should not be scared into salvation at the thought of an angry God just for eternal insurance purposes alone. The message of the cross is one of forgiveness, of hope, of reconciliation and restoration of a sinful people to a loving, caring God whose desire is that none should perish needlessly. But to properly appreciate the loving and merciful side of God one must balance it against the judging, jealous and total rule of the same God who created a race of people to worship Him and Him alone and to fear Him who has no equals.

The stories of God’s wrath against an unruly people are too numerous to list. There were complete cities destroyed for their shameless disobedience. The armies of Israel were often decimated when they turned their backs on God.  Even Moses was prohibited from entering the Promised land because of a procedural error.  God was and is a stern God who demands fear, allegiance and obedience-nothing has changed in His expectations.  The difference today is God’s gift of His Son who took our sin punishment on the cross and acts as our advocate by covering us who accept Him with His righteousness so that the wrath of God is thwarted before being administered.

We are living in a time of great arrogance and brazen boldness as a church in general and as a nation as it relates to the issues and spiritual challenges of the day.  In order to boost attendance and keep our nonprofit status we have put forth a God who more resembles a Disney character than a God who is described in Revelation having hair white as wool and eyes blazing like fire-with feet like burning bronze and a tongue like a double edged sword. When I was younger and in church I hated always hearing sermons about hell-about how you could leave the church building and be struck by a car and enter into eternity.  The message left me uncomfortable and uneasy about the true motive for following in the path of Christ.  But the message was and is that God can’t be ignored forever just because His ways and laws are inconvenient to us or socially irrelative to the current culture.

In Him there is a life of abundance. But outside of Him, there is danger-there is peril-there is judgment. Some might ask “why would God do that” or how does a loving God allow this or that”. And my answer would be simply, I don’t always know.  He is God, I’m not. He’s in charge-I’m under His loving rule. I don’t try to argue with God.  I have many questions, but who Am I to demand answers or justification from God. I accept my role and love the promise of what is waiting.  And yes, I fear God.  Not in a panic fear but in the realization that apart from Christ, I am worthy of no less than the punishment I read about in the Old Testament.

We are living in perilous times. The Word of God is being dissected and voided of all hateful appearing verbiage. The Government is trying to tell us how we can interpret and practice our faith in complete defiance of the first Amendment to practice without interference. The entertainment, educational and political systems are lining up against the church in what will eventually play itself out as a major war for the saints that may change the face of the church as we know it now.  It is time like never before to have or develop a healthy fear of God, His word, His commands and His judgment.  The popular t-shirt is so right on-“Only God Can Judge Me”. What a horrible notion for those living in opposition to His nature and His sovereignty.