Being A Christian In Babylon: A New Reality

I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American any more.”?

We have previously looked at three different ways in which being a Christian in Babylon may tempt us to respond: assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), isolation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation), and rebellion (Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion). I have argued that these were not the ways in which Peter counseled his original audience nor us to respond, and now comes the part where I tell you what I believe to be the “right” way. I’m supposed to share with you how I believe we are we to live as a people without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused? This has been burning in my heart for quite a while, and frankly, other than in conversations with close friends; I’ve never tried to articulate it before. It runs contrary to what most are saying these days, challenging our very concept (American/Western) of identity and reality. I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American anymore.”? How do you deal with the understanding that what culture says is right is wrong, that your idea of freedom is actually slavery, that you have actually been called to suffer as Jesus did, that you are not who “they” told you you were? See what I mean? But I do believe that our coming to terms with all of this is essential to being a Christian in Babylon. So, we’ll go slowly, a step at a time, asking Jesus to make his truth, his reality known to us.

For the Christians in Babylon during Peter’s day, in coming to terms with their reality, it had to be hard not to adopt a defeatist mentality. By all appearances, they were defeated, marginalized, and excluded from mainstream society. That was their reality, and their suffering would have made it very obvious. Babylon had declared them outcasts. But Peter wanted his early readers to remember that their reality was not defined by the way in which they were classified by Babylonian culture. Peter reminds them that they were personally chosen by God. Their “dispersion” across the Anatolian peninsula was not to be viewed as a scattering by the winds of fate, but rather an intentional sowing of seed by the hand of God. And as people of God’s choosing, people baptized into a new reality in Christ, the hardships endured within Babylon did not define them, but rather served to refine their faith as fire purifies gold.

I guess it’s a little different for us today, especially we American Christians. Really, it was probably easier for those 1st century Christians to see themselves as “other than,” being in, but not of so to speak. Their suffering at the hands of Babylonian culture would have made it obvious that they were not held in great affection by mainstream society. But we have, for the most part, been accepted by Babylonian culture, and to our detriment, defined by it as well. We have come to see ourselves as Babylonians who happen to be Christians instead of a holy nation, a new ethnicity, strangers and aliens who happen to reside in Babylon. Because we derive our identity from the culture in which we live, we react as “Americans,” not Christians, when suffering and trials come (or appear to be headed) our way. In order to mask our fear and the pain of separation from a culture we have mistakenly called our own, we protest and demand our rights, ignoring the reality to which we have been called, the reality in Jesus which defines suffering and trial as those things that result in glory and honor and praise. “By his stripes we have been healed.”

We are beginning to see that being a Christian in Babylon can make you feel like the world has crumbled to pieces around you. As the normal ebb and flow of life is replaced by the storm of opposing realities, the disciple of Jesus can be dismayed at the ruin of monuments he once held sacred. But our “security” is found in the understanding that our lives are built upon a Cornerstone that Babylon has discarded, and that the bricks with which they are constructing their ziggurat are lifeless stones, its glory like the flower of grass that withers and falls. We must see ourselves as living stones being built up as a spiritual house upon the Living Stone, rejected by Babylon, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. It is in this “house” that we serve as priests, proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us into his marvelous light. We are not called to serve in the Tower of Babel, to somehow prop it up and ensure its survival. On the contrary, we understand the reality that Babylon is doomed to fall, and as alien priests, we extend mercy, grace, and hope to any who would seek refuge in the temple not made with hands.

I’m tempted to go on, and maybe I will . But we’ll stop here for now. Being a Christian in Babylon is inextricably linked to our relationship with Jesus. It is in the context of his life, death, and resurrection that we receive clarity, definition and assign value to our stay in Babylon and the suffering we are bound to encounter, that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe are already enduring. By “assimilating” Jesus’ reality, we neither isolate from nor rebel against Babylon. But as we see ourselves as he has declared us to be, men and women called to follow in his steps; we count it all joy that we share in his sufferings, glad when his glory is revealed.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion

It is Submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being, at its very core, in opposition to God. How do you make sense of the inevitable suffering that comes with living in a culture that is the exact opposite of everything you believe in? When you are without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused; how do you make sense of it all? How ought Christians to respond to this type of environment? Is the answer to be found in some form of assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation )? Maybe isolation is the key (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation ). I think it’s safe to say that we decided against those two responses. But we still have a third to consider before we go on to what I believe is the answer to being a Christian in Babylon. So, let’s take a look at rebellion. Should we simply overthrow Babylon? Walk with me.

As with assimilation and isolation, you have to agree that rebellion had to possibly be one of the things that crossed the minds of the Christian communities to whom Peter had written back in the mid-60s AD. The suffering we are just now beginning to suspect may come our way was their everyday reality. Surely the thought of rebellion had to enter some of their minds. After all: “Peter, we are Christians. We know the truth and walk in the light. We could take over, infiltrate every facet of Babylonian culture, and use their own system to bring about righteousness and justice. How could we go wrong with Jesus as our King?” I’ll be that line of reasoning sounds eerily familiar to a lot of you. Hey, it doesn’t sound that far fetched, really. And it definitely would put an end to suffering. But Peter advised them and us against rebellion, and even counsels for a totally opposite response- submission.

Now, I realize that I just lost half of my American readers, but it is a disposition of submission (not rebellion) that Peter, that the Holy Spirit desires for Christians living in Babylon. Remember, Peter was writing to people living under the tyranny of Rome (Babylon). They had no say so whatsoever as to how things worked. Also, the culture in which these Christians lived had religiocultural activities in which they as disciples of Jesus could not participate. This made them outcasts of mainstream society. And in the midst of such tension, Peter says, “Submit.” Say it aint so. Peter, you can’t possibly mean that we are just supposed to take this abuse. Submit? You have to be out of your mind. Maybe they/we need to know what true submission is, and what it accomplishes.

Though Peter uses governments, slaves, wives, husbands, and the Church itself as examples of submission, it is Jesus he portrays as the ultimate example of submission:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Do you see it? I know it goes contrary to everything we (especially we Americans) have had ingrained in us, but this is the holiness of true submission, with all of its glorious consequences. If anyone has ever been “railroaded,” lied about, and falsely accused, it was Jesus. If anyone ever deserved to rebel, get a good lawyer, and stand up for himself, it was Jesus. If anyone ever had the right to organize protests, and bring to light the injustice that was being perpetuated against him, it was Jesus. But it was his submission that resulted in our very salvation. And this is how we are to respond to the injustice and suffering that we encounter being Christians in Babylon. We must view our suffering as reconciliatory, just like Jesus’ suffering. Like Jesus, wholly submitted to the Father, we stand for righteousness, truth and justice. And like him, we must also know that living such lives may cost us greatly. It cost Jesus his life. To the government that tells us that we can’t do such and such or that we must do such and such, and we know these actions to be contrary to what Jesus tells us, we say, “I must obey God rather than man, and I submit to whatever it is you feel that you must do.” It is submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord. And just as by his beautiful stripes we have been healed, our own suffering can be that which God uses to bring salvation to those around us.

Being a Christian in Babylon is not about assimilation, isolation, or rebellion; there’s another way. We’ve touched on it today, and next time we’ll see that it challenges our very concept of reality and identity.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation

Holiness is not a call to isolation from Babylon, but rather the “mode” in which we are to engage it.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being, at its very core, in opposition to God. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to some 1st century Christians who found themselves scattered throughout Babylon (a.k.a. the Roman Empire), and they were suffering in ways we 21st century “Babylonian Christians” are only now beginning to perhaps identify with. They were without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused. How were they to understand and react? And how are we to be Christians in “Babylon” today?

I’ve suggested that there are three basic ways in which people respond to such conditions as those mentioned above: assimilation, isolation, and rebellion. I believe Peter offers another way, a way for us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him. But before we get to that other way, we decided that we would explore our three other options. We’ve been through the first one (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), so let’s move on to the second. Isolation.

If as we previously discussed, assimilation is not the answer for being a Christian in Babylon, then isolation is just the other side of the same wooden nickel. (You younger readers will have to google that reference.) But for those Christians dispersed on the Anatolian peninsula in 1st century AD, it did have  to be tempting to withdraw.  It would ease the suffering, provide a buffer-zone against assimilation, and besides, “Hey, the world hates us; they won’t miss us if we’re gone. And anyway, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket; let’s just close our eyes, and hold on ‘til Jesus comes back.” Makes sense, right? Even sounds like some of our thinking today doesn’t it?  But that’s not what Peter encouraged them or us to do.
Peter took interaction with Babylon for granted, even necessary. But today, many Christians have withdrawn into their own little worlds. We hide in our churches, take our cars to “Christian mechanics,” use only “Christian plumbers,” and sequester our kids in “Christian schools” (I’ll get in trouble for that one.). We have taken Peter’s admonition to be holy as an incentive for separating ourselves from the world and have nothing to do with those around us who are not followers of Jesus. But a closer look at what Peter had to say will reveal that holiness is not a call to isolation, but rather the mode in which we are to engage Babylon.

Really, it’s ironic. The definition of “holy” is being separate and/or apartness. Taken at face value, that in itself would seem to promote isolation. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. After all, was it not the Holy One himself who came and lived among us- who became as we are? So it is that Peter makes Jesus and our inclusion in him the center of our understanding regarding our lives in Babylon. The holiness in which God has invited us to partake of in Jesus is to be the defining characteristic in the lives of Christians in Babylon. This holiness is not one that isolates in some pharisaical fear of contamination, but rather one that engages the culture with a desire to be contagious. Holy lives, separated to God, demonstrating the excellence of the One who called them from the darkness of Babylon into his light. We are a people who have received mercy, and therefore in mercy, we offer Jesus to those who dwell in Babylon, in gentleness and respect.

(WARNING: FUTURE POST SPOILER ALERT!)

We don’t fear the wounds which may be inflicted upon us by a godless culture, but like Jesus whose wounds were the means of our salvation; we offer our own lives as a sacrifice through which others may be reconciled to God. Instead of fear, we offer hope; because in our hearts, Jesus is Lord. We resist the lusts of the flesh and the enticements of Babylon in which we once participated, not to be holy, but because we are holy in Jesus. And all of this is done out in plain sight, in full view of Babylon, so that they may see our lives and “glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Next, we’ll look at the “rebellion option.” Because hey, if assimilation and isolation aren’t the keys to being a Christian in Babylon, perhaps we should just rebel, and take over the whole shebang!

Abide in Jesus. Watch & Pray.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”

Now, while I am not a sociologist, I did sleep in a Holiday Inn, so let me say that I believe that there are basically three ways in which people respond to living in a hostile environment: assimilation, isolation and rebellion. In the introduction  to this series (Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction), I mentioned that I think 21st century Christians living in “Babylon” are tempted to respond to the culture in which they find themselves in much the same way. I believe that Peter offers a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and our relationship with him. But before we get to that, I want us to look at the three alternatives I mentioned above. So today, let’s begin with assimilation.

For a moment, let’s go back in time. We arrive on the Anatolian peninsula, in the mid-60s AD. There are various communities of believers who have found themselves scattered throughout this area, and they are experiencing what Peter calls  “a fiery trial.” They have no political influence what so ever. Their relationship with Jesus has caused them to be ostracized by mainstream society. They are misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled and assaulted. They are suffering. We don’t know whether or not they are enduring officially sanctioned persecution by the Roman Empire or more of a localized form or a combination of the two, but we can infer from Peter’s comments to them and the underlying theme of suffering in his letter that they are indeed suffering. One writer describes their circumstances in this way:

“[They] would have distinguished themselves from the general populace by their nonparticipation in public festivals (cultural affairs imbued with religious, political and social consequence). Failing to associate themselves with these religiocultural activities, their behaviors would have been perceived by the general populace as atheistic, perhaps even bordering on unlawful.” (Joel B. Green)

I don’t want to spend any more time with historical background, but I think you can see from our brief look back how assimilation might have appeared attractive? Being the “assimilator” or the “assimilatee” could have eased some of the pressure. Incorporating a bit of Babylon into their communities or allowing Babylon to assimilate them back into the mainstream populace would have relieved some of the suffering. Perhaps some even felt that a little Babylonian assimilation would have made them more relevant, more effective in spreading the gospel. Perhaps some even commented, “Hey, didn’t we hear of this guy named Paul going around saying that he becomes all things to all men so he can win them to Jesus? What good are we going to do if we wind up dead?” Assimilation had to have been an attractive idea. Can you blame ‘em?

It’s in this climate that Peter urges the believers to stand firm. He tells them that they shouldn’t go back to the way they lived before. He reminds them that they have become obedient to the truth, and are no longer to be shaped by their “former ignorance.” Peter describes them as sojourners and exiles who have been called out of darkness into light. Their very lives are to be lived in such a way that “silences the agnosticism of foolish people.” They are not the “assimilators” nor “assimilatees,” but rather priests who, with mercy and humility, mediate God to those around them.

Each new day seems to bring news that bridges the gap between the communities to which Peter wrote so long ago, and 21st century Christians living in Babylon today. We are only beginning to experience some of the pressures of living as strangers in Babylon. We are only beginning to suspect the cost of being a disciple of Jesus in this hour. Our “fiery trial” has just begun. And though the motivations may vary (fear, desire for relevancy, etc…), the temptation to assimilate or be assimilated is so very alluring. Sadly, I believe that for a very large portion of those who call themselves Christians, the assimilation has already begun.

We have for the most part ignored Peter’s admonition to “not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance.” We have seen it as easier to assimilate Babylonian culture than to live our lives in such a way that would influence it. “The passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls” have been redefined, and dismissed as archaic, draconian, pharisaical moral paradigms that no longer have relevance. We have assimilated the Babylonian definition of spirituality and love, and hidden our deception behind words like tolerance and inclusion. The grace and mercy in which we are to be mediators of God have instead become a cloaking device behind which we conceal our desire for acceptance and our fear of exclusion. Many of our ministers more closely resemble Babylonian celebrities than willing, servant- shepherds who humbly lead the flock by example. We have ignored Peter’s admonition, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Our assimilation only obscures the revelation of Jesus, and points those who need him back to themselves.

I don’t think assimilation is the key for being a Christian in Babylon. In fact, the reality is that it actually does more harm than good, and undermines the very things we say we desire. So, what is the answer? We’ll get to that. But before we do, we’ll next consider whether or not the appropriate response for being a Christian in Babylon is isolation.

Abide in Jesus. Watch & pray.

Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction

“By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…” (1 Peter 5:13)

Babylon. Peter’s code-word for Rome. All through the Hebrew scriptures, from the plains of Shinar, to the deportation of the Jews, Babylon is depicted as a world system whose opposition to God was manifested in every facet of its culture. At its very core, Babylon was anti-God, and for Peter, anti-Christ. Writing from the “belly of the beast” to believers scattered across Asia Minor who were also living under Babylon’s domain, Peter wanted to tell them how to be Christians during their “exile.” How were they to exist in an environment in which they possessed no political influence? How were they to understand the suffering they endured in a culture that was diametrically opposed to everything they believed in? I think, as we “continue to live out the biblical story” (thanks Michael Andrus) in our day, we 21st century American Christians need to understand that he was writing to us as well. For the Christians inhabiting Peter’s Roman Babylon, and for us who are living in Babylon today, I think there are basically three major “knee-jerk” ways in which we can and do respond: assimilation, isolation and rebellion. Fortunately, I believe that Peter offered them and us a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him.

There’s absolutely no way I can include everything I’d like to say in one article, so, I’ll break it up into a series of articles: “Being A Christian in Babylon.” We’ll first look at the three “knee-jerk responses” I mentioned earlier, and then conclude with what I believe to be Peter’s fourth way. I’ll publish part one shortly, but in the interim, I encourage you to read the book of 1 Peter, not as a stale historical letter to some obscure community of believers, but as a fresh word from the Spirit to you.

Lord, as we look at 1 Peter, by your Spirit, speak to our hearts and let us hear what you would say to us right here and now. Be glorified Jesus, and strengthen the hearts of your people.

Judges, Ruth And The American Church: In The Midst Of The Madness

(I know this is a long article, but I honestly feel that to divide it would not be best. I think it needs to be read as one article. Please, endeavor to persevere!)

I think it’s safe to say that we find ourselves in a time in which America could be characterized by the title of an old movie: “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world!” People are crying, “It’s the end of the world.” while others lament, “The end of the church!” Politically, American citizens are divided, and the church fairs no better: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, hybrids, traditional churches, home churches, prophetic, signs & wonders, fire& brimstone, love & grace, hybrids. Each group speaks of tolerance and inclusion, but only if you see it their way. Who are enemies? Who are allies? It seems to change from one day to the next. For every ten who see it one way, there are twenty who see it another, and fifty who see it differently still. So, most have resigned themselves to doing what seems right to them and hoping for the best. I’ve got good news; God is at work in the midst of the madness. Allow me to present a “prophetic allegory” (if you will) from the books of Judges & Ruth which I believe will provide insight into our own mad, mad, mad, mad world.

The book of Judges finds God’s people living in the midst of political turmoil and oppression. And spiritually, they were schizophrenic at best. At various times, the people would “repent,” God would send “judges” to deliver them, and there would be seasons of renewal. But inevitably, the people would slide back into doing their own thing. For the most part, it was a tumultuous cycle in which “each man did what was right in his own eyes. And it came complete with levels of craziness that would make Jerry Springer scratch his head.

Gideon was just an ordinary guy that God used to deliver the people from the Midianites. Subsequently, the people of Israel asked Gideon and his family to rule over them. Gideon took gold from the people, made an ephod (a religious garment), and the people actually began to worship it. Don’t we see this today? We see the high profile preachers, worship leaders, the big name evangelist, and we make them into idols. We worship gifts and not the Giver. We fall in love with the “anointing” and not the Anointed. Instead of lifting up Jesus we concentrate on signs & wonders or the prophetic or our traditions or our doctrines or our education. We make idols out of what God does and gives, and cease to worship the God who is. We worship a move of God instead of the God who moves. Signs & wonders will not save us. The prophetic will not keep us. Our traditions and education will betray us. This is idolatry, and it leads us into that same tumultuous cycle that Israel experienced in the book of Judges.

What about Samson? What a perfect picture of anointing gone wild. There was great giftedness, but no holiness. We see it in the church today, gifted people who can preach, sing, administrate, raise money, etc…. They denounce the evils of same-sex marriage as they sit by their computers, watching porn, planning their next adulterous rendezvous. Like Samson (a Nazarite) who defiled himself and his parents by eating honey scooped from the carcass of a dead lion, the people of God are often times eating contaminated honey provided to them by ministers who have defiled themselves. It still tastes good, folks may “get saved,” there may even be instances of the miraculous, but it is not pure and the stench of the flesh permeates it. The flesh can only give birth to flesh, and we, like Samson, reach a point that we don’t even know that the Spirit of the Lord has left the building. Like Samson, so many of us have been called and gifted, but insist on following our own lusts to the point where we end up spiritually blind, bound between two columns, and begging God to please move just one last time.

What of Micah? Micah stole some money from his mom, and upon returning it,  she (now get this) dedicated the money to the Lord so that a carved and metal image could be made. Micah then made an ephod, set up his household gods, made a shrine, and ordained one of his sons to function as a priest. He completely ignored the parameters of worship God had instituted through Moses, and sought to syncretize the worship of God with the god(s) he had created. He didn’t stop there. He found a Levite (Remember, they were to be the priests of God.), bribed him, and got him to participate in his idolatry. Micah said to himself, “Now I know the Lord will bless me because I have a Levite priest.” Micah and his mom were so far gone that they dedicated their idolatry to God. Today, we’re doing the same thing that Micah did. We redefine that which God calls profane, and pronounce it holy. We’re snycretizing pagan practices, new-age philosophies, and the god we’ve created in our own image with the worship of the one true God. All the while praying, “God, bless us.” We have even incorporated our own brand of sorcery into the mix. Who among us has not received the magic christian email that promises blessing if you’ll forward it to at least ten people? Who among us has not been told that if we “click like” on a certain Face Book post, God will send us a miracle? To our shame, we have created an idol that looks and behaves as we do, accepts our definition of righteousness and called it God.

We come to the book of Ruth. This story takes place “in the days when the judges ruled.” We don’t know exactly when, but we do know that it was in the days of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). (It would take up a lot of space to summarize the entire book of Ruth, and I do need to bring this to a close, so I’ll trust you to read it.) For our purposes we’ll skip to the part where Ruth and Boaz finally get together.

“So she went down to the threshing floor that night…After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she replied. ‘Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.’”

Right in the midst of the madness that engulfed Israel during the time of the Judges, when both the political landscape and the people of God were , there was a marriage taking place. A marriage of eternal consequence that would lead to the birth of King David, and eventually Jesus himself! And in our day, right in the midst of our own madness, God is calling forth a remnant, a bride who, like Ruth, has gone to the threshing floor, that place of separation, to meet their husband and Redeemer. She has come softly to lie at the feet of her Lord. She has eyes only for him, and will not love another. Her only glory and hope are in the One she calls Lord. She has endured suffering and loss; she is of no reputation, and even looked upon with scorn by many of  those around her. But in the midst of the mayhem and the madness, she will be wed to the Son of the living God!

Abide in him beloved. Watch and pray.

A Dream and A Word

I want to share with you two things that happened to me back in 2010. One is a dream, the other, something the Lord spoke to my heart. Both the dream and the word have stuck in my heart, always somewhere in the back of my mind. Although I’ve shared bits and pieces, sneaking them in various articles, conversations and what not, I’ve only told a few people of the actual experiences. I don’t know, I guess maybe I didn’t want people to think I’m any crazier than they already do, and I’m honestly not one who’s all into dreams. Could be it was just pride and fear. But I talked with a brother today, a brother who I respect and trust, who has walked with Jesus a lot longer than I have, and he suggested that I share. So, without even knowing what it will accomplish or anything, I felt like I should.

The dream:
I was sitting in a room with sliding glass doors, adjacent to a swimming pool. I was seated at the end or head  of the table. (I don’t know which, the other end was vacant.) To my right was President Obama, to my left, a woman I didn’t recognize. I heard a voice say, “Is she trying to make me think I’m the false prophet or something?”
I next found myself standing outside by the pool. There were military men all around, high ranking if the medals on their chests were any indication, and we were all looking into the evening sky that was filled with war planes.
That’s it.

The word:
My dog woke me up about 3:00a.m. When I woke up, I felt the presence of the Lord in a very intense way. Being the spiritual man I am, I said, “Lord, I’ve got to get up in a couple of hours, so I’ll get with you then.” I figured I’d just ignore my dog (and the Lord I suppose), but neither the dog nor the Spirit would relent. I KNEW I needed to go before the Lord. I went back to my little prayer room, and got on my knees.
The Lord led me to Genesis 11, on the plains of Shinar. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’”
He impressed upon my heart that mankind is “back there,” at Shinar again. And this time, they will “succeed” for a “moment.” Then I heard in my spirit, “The beginnings of the rumblings of the beast.”

That’s it. I welcome any feedback.

Stay sober and alert. Watch and pray.

Worship: A Cosmic Boomerang?

I’ve spent a lot of time talking with folks about worship, and I’ve heard it described and defined in just about every way imaginable. But something that seems to be common in my conversations and observations is the idea that worship is something we do “down here,” apart from God. He’s up there and we’re down here. We kind of throw it up to him, and then it comes back in the form of his presence, anointing, power, miracles….whatever. A cosmic boomerang. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Worship is relationship, namely, the perichoretical relationship of the Trinity. And our worship can only be “understood” within the context of this relationship, and our participation in it. It is not something we do apart from God, but rather in Him. Although worship may/will be expressed through our actions, it is not merely things that we do: singing, preaching, praying, Bible-study, service, etc… It is who we are, men and women living their lives in Jesus, participating in the very life of the Triune God. That which the Father, Son and Spirit has (Why has instead of have, hmm…?  ) known from all of eternity has been given to us. Before there were angels, planets or people, there was worship. Worship is that which has been expressed in the Trinity always. The Father says of the Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever.” The Son says to the Father, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” The Spirit glorifies the Son as God’s love is poured out in our hearts, and we cry, “Abba!” Only when we begin to see worship as our lives lived (and laid down) in participation of the Triune life of God, in Jesus, can we even start to fathom the glory of that into which we have been called.

Jesus prayed in John 17:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the apostles] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Can you see the adoration, the desire, the love- the worship?

No, worship is not a cosmic boomerang that we throw up to God, hoping to receive a piece of heaven as it comes back around. It is us, in Jesus, living and loving God, in the way God has always lived and loved.

Caught In The Rain

I got up this morning and headed out the door for my morning……. I don’t know what you call it- I run some and I walk some. Any how, I knew by looking at the sky that it would probably rain at some point during the day, but it seemed all clear. So, I proceeded. As I made my way across Lake Murray Dam, looking across the lake, I could see heat lightning off in the horizon. Well, I made it across, but about a quarter of the way back the bottom fell out, and I walked/ran the last mile or so in the pouring rain. The Spirit whispered, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6: 1,2)

It is possible that as you walk with Jesus, you can find yourself caught in sin, caught in a place you know you shouldn’t be. It wasn’t planned, you didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “You know what, I don’t care anymore. I think I’m gonna ______ .” No, what we’re talking about here, what Paul was talking about, is more of being “caught by surprise.” Now, we could get into reasons for this “being caught,” but that’s another conversation. The fact of the matter is for whatever reason, you’ve been trapped. You’re still a disciple of Jesus, but somehow you’ve got yourself caught. Maybe even groups of believers are caught in this dilemma. You may be thinking, “Man, the whole church is caught!” What are we to do?

Whether or not we’re dealing with an individual or larger groups of people, the emphasis is to be on restoration. So often, in our self-righteousness, we want to lash out, tell them the reason why they’re so messed up and make them feel good and guilty about their present state. (I’ve had this disposition, and I repent of it.) We think to ourselves, “If this person truly loved Jesus, he wouldn’t be all jacked up like this.” But notice, Paul says that we are to treat the ones caught in an offense with gentleness. In fact, this gentleness is a mark of true spirituality. It is not a condoning of sin, but  compassion for a brother or sister (or the church) who is caught in an offense. It is a fruit of the Spirit (ironic that Paul lists these fruits in the preceding verses) in the lives of “the spiritual” that desires restoration and freedom more than proving how spiritual they feel themselves to be. It’s one thing to point out sin and problems, but the truly spiritual man or woman has a heart of gentleness, a compassion and desire for those who are  trapped to be restored. They are humble of heart for they know that they too, except for the grace of God, could be tempted and caught.

When we see people who have been caught in the rain it’s so easy to think, “What an idiot!” Some folks (like the ones riding across the dam this morning) even ride by, and try to splash more water on you-to further emphasize your idiocy.  But we should note that the truly spiritual desire to help bear the burden of those “caught in the rain.” The ones who are living by the Spirit are not content to sit back and pompously point out the obvious, they are willing to get a little wet themselves if that’s what it takes to help. They’re response is, “Do you need a ride?” or “Here’s an umbrella.” Instead of, “Man, you’re an idiot.” In this way the law of Jesus is fulfilled. They behave like the One who not only saw the sin, but totally assumed the dilemma, bearing it within Himself and providing the solution.

I made it back across the dam this morning. You could say I got soaked to the bone, but I’ll say that I was “baptized” in the cleansing rain. Lover of Jesus, are you caught out in the rain today? Can I tell you that you will make it back? You’ve come too far to give up, and God’s grace is enough to see you through. I pray you learn from the downpour you find yourself in, that cleansing and renewed zeal towards God be yours on the other side. I pray the “rain” reminds you of your first love, and the One who first loved you. I pray that you reconsider the kind intentions God has for you in Jesus. The clouds will break, and you will walk in the Son.

 

Faithful Not Fearful

It seems like everyday there’s something in the news or on social-media that Christians are supposed to be afraid of. “By 2017, every American will be forced to have a chip implant…” Oh no, it’s the Mark of the Beast! “The economy is on the verge of collapse.” Start burying your money. “The radical Muslims are going to take over America.” Annie, get your gun! The list goes on, you see it all the time. But I hear the Spirit reminding us of what he told the church in Smyrna so long ago, “Stop being afraid.”

In the midst of everything the church in Smyrna was facing and would later endure, Jesus tells them (commands them) to stop being afraid. They would face prison, they would face death, but he tells them to be faithful- not fearful. Jesus assures the church in Smyrna that their faithfulness would earn them a crown of eternal value.

Although we don’t face trials that could even remotely be compared to what the church in Smyrna faced, it seems like so many Christians in America today are afraid. We look at the direction our country is heading, we see conspiracies under every bush (or Obama), and many are afraid. However, in contrast to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna by which he exhorted them to respond to fear with faithfulness, the response to our fear is to buy guns, get lawyers, and stand up for our rights. I wonder just what it is we’re afraid of.

Have we fallen so in love with the American dream that we have forgotten who we are? I know we don’t like to hear it, but sometimes being a good American and being a genuine Christian are not the same thing. We run from trials and suffering, after all, God doesn’t want his children to suffer does he? But is the bottom line simply that we’re afraid someone is going to come along and take all of our stuff? Remember the words of the Lord, “Wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be. Your life is hidden in Christ. Jesus is your treasure and reward. Could it be that we have more “invested” in the the world than we do in him? Have we become so attached to our way of life that the thought of losing it fills us with fear?  Jesus says to us, “Stop being afraid! You are mine and I am yours. Be faithful.”

The trials and suffering that may be heading our way will not take the Lord by surprise. He may not spare us having to go through tribulation like the church in Smyrna endured, like many of our brothers and sisters around the world are enduring RIGHT NOW! But he assures us that he is in control and that we can be faithful- even to our death. I believe we American Christians need to get a new outlook on suffering, an outlook that has nothing to do with being American, but everything to do with following Jesus. Brothers and sisters, let us not be fearful, but faithful.