Monday, December 17, 2012

Listen and Shut Up

I know that's getting it backwards since it is more commonly expressed as "Shut up and listen!" However, the greater need is to listen. If I will do that, the need for keeping quiet more will take care of itself.

Why should I listen more? Simple: People want to know they have value and they express that need by expressing themselves. When others listen, their value is confirmed.

Evidence? How about the seemingly limitless blogs (such as this one), verbal posts on social media (such as Facebook), audio and video posts (such as on youtube and vimeo), and constant text messaging or emails? I have rarely (I can remember it happening only once in my lifetime) witnessed a person responding to another person's pontification with anything like, "Wow! I've never thought of it that way before. My total outlook and opinion have just been reversed. I am so glad you shared your superior point of view so my life could be changed."

In truth, we wish that would happen every time we express ourselves but we know it doesn't. But that doesn't stop the flow. Why? After all, the political and social climate remains the same despite our clear, logical, and divine revelations that contain enough wisdom to straighten up most problems. Again, we want to be valued and it is enough affirmation just to have someone listen to or read what we say even if it is someone who already agrees with us or someone who reacts strongly against what we express.

Therefore, I need to resolve to let people know they have value by listening to them more and expressing myself less.

Wow! I am so glad I shared this. My life has been changed!

Repost on your blog or page within twenty minutes if you agree and angels will bring you an unexpected blessing. Scientific research shows that 97.4502% of the people who read this will ignore it without recognizing the earth-shaking truth in it. My true friends will repost it and you know who you are. I've proven that I love God by posting this. Who will show their love for Him by copying it and posting it with my name at the bottom and by sending $25 to me to show you care more about truth than material possessions? All who do so will be entered in a drawing. The winner will have all his/her debts paid for life. Due to local laws, this offer is not available where you live or on the planet Earth.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't Curse the Waves

While reading the words of the gospel song, Count Your Blessings—"When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed"—I was reminded of a common misperception: The big waves that hit us in life are the problem. In truth, they are not. The analogy of waves representing difficult circumstances is appropriate but the idea that the waves are somehow at fault is erroneous.

Waves do not create themselves, nor do circumstances. Waves are water set in motion by a variety of external forces—wind, earthquakes, storms, the moon, landslides, passing boats, underwater detonations, etc. Circumstances also occur naturally and by the efforts of man. Both can be regular in size, happening all the time as part of the ongoing rhythm of life, or they can be much larger, even catastrophic in nature.

Instead of cursing the waves (our circumstances) we need to recognize that they are there and be as prepared as possible. When the catastrophic happens, we need to have an emergency plan in place so we will know where to go and what to do.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
Count Your Blessings,  Johnson Oatman Jr.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. –James 1:5-8 (ESV)

P.S. Ever notice how "regular" varies from one individual to the next? One person may barely notice a particular challenge while another is devastated by the same trial. It is commonly because the one has survived this type of incident before, witnessing God's provision and is confident that God will continue to carry him while the other may be experiencing it for the first time. It may also be because the first is indeed being carried along by God rather than by the waves and the second is attempting to make it on his own resources alone. That is such a bad idea!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Addressing Pro-Choice and Pro-Life

WARNING: What follows is not a tightly edited and concise commercial scripted with key words and imagery for the purpose of manipulating the reader. It is a lengthy—"get it off my chest"—unedited discourse overflowing from my emotional, mental, and spiritual reaction to what I have observed and read regarding the topic.

Most of my friends and acquaintances are Pro-Life but a good number are Pro-Choice. The arguments on the Pro-Choice side revolve around a woman's right to choose what to do with her own body, thus "pro choice." The traditional argument on the Pro-Life side has revolved around the right of the baby, in whatever stage of development, to live, thus "pro life." Let us be honest: Abortion is at the heart of the issue, not family "planning" or any other facade.

Recent political campaigns have revealed, once again, that too many politicians will say anything in the hope of persuading people to vote for them and that has included the issue of abortion. With what has been said by candidates, their supporters, and represented political parties on all sides, we should all be ashamed and embarrassed to align ourselves with a political party if for no other reason than the revealed ignorance or lack of morality.

Even though I am a man, I have fathered three children. They were nurtured and issued forth from my wife's body. I did not experience any of the extreme pain and discomfort that accompanies pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum recovery. Neither did I experience first-hand the thrill, wonder, and joy of feeling the babies' first noticeable movements or the pride in knowing that my offspring where safely developing in my womb. I involved myself as much as possible in their feeding and care and know the benefits of such intimate involvement in their lives.

Since I am opposed to abortion, I will first address the impression I have received from very sincere Pro-Choice advocates and then address the impression I have received from too many Pro-Lifers.

An unwanted pregnancy is, by definition, unwanted. Rape and incest are horrific and they stir up a very primal reaction in me that, in all honesty, calls for the death penalty or a life of labor in which every penny earned goes to the victim and, when a pregnancy occurs, her baby. The rapist has, in my mind, forever forfeited any supposed rights with regards to the victims. To the extent that any would be granted should be completely at the discretion of the victims and even be revocable later by those victims. As already alluded to, my Pro-Choice friends principally voice their conviction that others should not have control over a person's body, particularly a woman's. A rapist or instigator of incest is forcing control over that woman or girl but that is, oddly, not something I ever hear my Pro-Choice friends addressing. Perhaps it is just so blatant that it is an assumed truth that does not need to be stated.

Again, it is really a matter of the right to have an abortion more than just the right to choose. Otherwise, it is logical to expect the Pro-Choice advocates to speak just as loudly, frequently, and passionately about the need for women to choose to not have sex—or unprotected sex—and run the risk of getting pregnant in the first place. (Does "Just say no!" only apply do drug use?) No matter what side is presenting the statistics, I have never seen one that suggests the vast majority of pregnancies are from rape and incest but from consensual sexual intercourse. That choice would only have two possible negative consequences—denial of momentary sensual pleasure and possible rejection or disdain by the partner—as opposed to the multitude of negative consequences we have heard about with an unwanted pregnancy, including emotional, financial, social, physical, and even spiritual problems.

I believe it is primarily about extending our "throw-away" society to the realm of human life. And, yes, I also believe with all my being that a baby is a human being at conception. It is a Bible thing and I do not use the Bible to support or distort my beliefs but to form them. Many of my Pro-Choice friends and acquaintances do not have the same beliefs and that helps explain our differences in this arena. Understand, however, that for me the baby, whether desired or unwanted, is a human and has a right to live. To choose to terminate its life is making a choice for it or forcing your desire on it and is totally and abhorrently contrary to "Pro Choice", having taken the choice away from the baby. I have friends—including adolescents to whom I have had the privilege of ministering—relatives, and acquaintances who have assured me that the indescribable pain from being raped, including incest, is not alleviated by an abortion. In other words, abortion is not a solution and it denies a human of its own right to choose to make something of his or her own life.

To us on the Pro-Life agenda, particularly those of us who claim to follow Christ: Are we nuts?! How in the world can we claim to embrace and fight for the sacred cause of life itself and carry on with such dispassionate regard for those who have been so victimized by others. Yes, we know abortion is wrong. Yes, we know every life is sacred. Yet, in our rush to point out, condemn, and even, hopefully, cast out those institutions and agencies responsible for promoting and performing infanticide, we are rejecting older versions of the very lives we claim to be protecting. (I am speaking of the majority of what I see. I am aware that there are those who work tirelessly as advocates for these mothers but their efforts are, shamefully, in the minority.)

It is fairly easy to understand that rape and incest victims need help and compassion, understanding, support, love, and defense. But we have focused our attention on the "unwanted" babies still unborn that must have our protection. In our passion to protect the babies, we too often ignore their mothers or the demand for justice and healing so these women can have meaningful lives again.

Furthermore, regarding those mothers who seek abortions simply because the baby they carry is unwanted or inconvenient: We cast them off in our minds and hearts in the same way we believe they desire to cast off their babies. Those women and girls have distorted values and desire to do something we believe is an abomination. What kind of mind and heart would do such a thing? The answer is simple: A sinful heart and a sinful mind. Do you know what that makes them? Go back to what you were before you accepted God's gift of forgiveness or a time since then when you took control over your life away from God and got off track. That is where we will find them. That is where we will find God meeting them where they are and inviting us to join Him. They are living beings, too. Our pro life stance must include them, too. 

Food for thought: We who are Pro-Life usually regard abortionists and those having abortions—when not considered victims of the former—as murderers, placing them among the lowest forms of human life. In such a state of mind, we can easily view them as truly among the neediest people on earth. How do we treat such needy people? Do we dare humble ourselves and heed Matthew 25:31-46?

P.S. I once was a bit softer or at least undecided/hesitant on the topic when it came to rape and incest. My position was solidified after two influences: 1. The story of my dad's parents and their own legacy of having children (Dad will have to tell that story to do it justice); 2. My wife, Cathy, who has never wavered from believing and firmly stating that all abortion is wrong.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

To Date, I Have a Problem

2012 Presidential front runners: 1. A cult member who also is pro-life and pro one-man, one-woman marriage; 2. a person who calls himself a Christian but is pro-choice and has stated his support for gay marriage.

So, why is this a problem for me?
1. The teachings of the cult (The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints) include that Jesus became a god, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God was once a man like me and became a god, that we can become gods, that Jesus and God are not One, that there are three different "heavens" and God is only in one of them, that there is not a literal hell and that all will be saved except for the few "sons of perdition" who will be punished for a time and them be annihilated, and a host of other teachings that are in direct contradiction to God's Word (the Bible) and stem from the other scriptures used by the Mormon church—specifically Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price—as well as teachings of the church leaders—"prophets"—throughout the history of the cult.
2. Nowhere in God's Word is abortion condoned under any circumstance while life is the creation of God and the very reason Jesus came (John 10:10). Nowhere in the Bible is any kind of marriage acknowledged except between a man and a woman and the sinful practice of homosexuality is recognized in the Bible, even specifically identified such as in Sodom. Additionally, gay and lesbian behavior is clearly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17; Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Jude 7).

On the one hand, a person who calls himself "Christian" but stands against the teachings of the Bible…well, if Jesus really is "Lord" (kurios: supreme in authority) of his life, then his life would reflect God's values and not those in opposition to the Bible.

On the other hand, a person who calls himself "Christian" but his Christ is a man-made, altered version the Christ of the Bible…well, he is following a false god and his election will only serve to confuse those weak and immature believers who do not perceive the difference between man's doctrines and God's.

I can not and will not vote for someone who supports the notion that murdering a baby is okay and places perversion on the same pedestal as holy matrimony. I can not and will not vote for a polygamist who worships a false god and diminishes my Savior, Jesus Christ. I will not even appear to validate a pagan religion.

God called me to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that gospel impacts souls for all eternity. That has, does, and will always take precedence over the privilege and responsibility of being a patriot citizen. I am to regard the eternal as infinitely more important than the temporal.

It would be better for the United States of America—with all the freedoms, privileges, wealth, and other advantages—to cease to exist than for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be diminished, weakened, confused, changed, or otherwise denigrated. Countries/nations are of the earth and, therefore, are ultimately worldly, carnal, and temporary. The kingdom of God is eternal. Placing more importance on the physical world (and our elections do that very thing) than the spiritual is not of God but a "scheme of the devil" (see Ephesians 6:10) and we must stand firm against it (not just try to survive it). Murdering innocent unborn babies and endorsing or engaging in homosexuality are disgusting and sickening sins to me, personally. Yet, murderers and sexual deviants who turn to and believe in God will be given eternal life. Good, honest, decent, and moral people who never believe in the one true God will enter into eternal condemnation because they have not believed in the only Son of God (John 3:18).

Please, note that I am not insisting on a perfect candidate. They do not exist. That is not because they are politicians but because they are people and "all have sinned." But I seek a candidate who is "a man after God's own heart" rather than after the heart of people.

So, what will I do this election? I will seek to find a write-in who really does seek to follow the one true God. If that search fails, I may not cast a vote at all. LIke others, I am not voting for a pastor, but, apart from a clear word from God to the contrary, I will not vote for either of the two leading candidates.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is There a Divine Personality?

(This was an article written for our church newsletter.)

Quick, write down everything you know about Jesus', not the things He did, how He responded to situations, the things He said, etc., but His personality. Was He an extrovert, ISTJ, ESFJ, Type A, or intuitive?

The truth is, although we know a lot about Jesus—who He was, what He said and did—we seem to know very little about His personality. We know how He chose to spend His time but we know very little, if anything, about His "likes" and "dislikes."
Jesus, being fully human, must have had a personality, natural preferences, and a "comfort zone." Why would God's word not include information of such interest and importance? After all, it contains a great deal about what he said and did.
In God's kingdom the important things are what we say and do, not how we feel or what we like.

Some verses to guide us:
"Faith without works is dead." (James 2:17, 20, 26)
"Do what is right." (Genesis 4:7; 15:26; Deuteronomy 6:18; 12:25; 21:9; 1 Kings 11:38; Psalm 106:3; 21:3; Isaiah 56:1; Amos 10:35; Romans 12:17; 13:3; 2 Corinthians 8:21; 13:7; 1 Peter 2:20; 3:6; and 1 John 3:10)

In Him Pastor Jim 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Rooms Are Not Ready… Yet

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." —Jesus as recorded in John 14:1-3 (ESV)

It was December 4, 2004 and we had suddenly become as giddy as little children rather than four adults hovering around the half-century mark. Today, watching and listening to a video of the event, it is a wonder that we were not all buckled in to children's safety seats in the back while another, calmer, and more mature adult did the driving. "Can you just slow down when you get on a hill? Gosh!" "Ours is the one on the left!" "Ours is the pretty one!" "We have Mickey stacks!"

We had just had our first glimpse in the distance of the Disney Cruise Line ship, Magic, and we would soon be arriving for check-in and boarding as Danny & Cathy Herron and Cathy & I wrapped up the celebration of our 30th wedding anniversaries with a "once in a lifetime" seven night Western Caribbean cruise. The paperwork was filled out, the passports and cameras were in hand, and we were as excited as could be. Once aboard, we ate some lunch and toured the ship while waiting for our cabins to be ready.

Half-way through the cruise we knew we had to replace "once in a lifetime" with "at least once every five years." So, on December 5, 2009, the Magic was boarded by a calmer, more sophisticated foursome (Yeah, right. Like that's ever going to happen). Having enjoyed our cabins on our first cruise so much, we reserved the same ones and went right to them because we were informed upon check-in that they were all ready for us and we would not have to wait.

        Danny & Cathy Herron             Cathy & Jim Gantenbein
Believe it or not (maybe "like it or not"), that is just the prequel for this post.

On Mom's side of the family (the Poppino clan), it has been a rough couple of months. Her baby brother passed away around the end of April. This past Sunday, June 3, I received a message that another brother passed away. The next evening my sister called to say that Mom's last brother passed away. Add these to my oldest sister's passing a couple of years ago and you can see why it has been rough.

Although we are all grieving at this time, my sister, Cheryl, and Mom's siblings are/were all Christians and are undoubtedly in no mood to return to this side of heaven. Together with my grandparents and all the other saints, they are experiencing worship, praise, love, life, fulfillment, and joy with such perfection we can not even imagine it. But we can look forward to it.

Jesus said He was going to prepare/provide/make ready a place/room for us and that He would come again and receive us to Himself so that we could be with Him. Why are they there with Jesus and we are still here? I guess their rooms were ready and our rooms are not. Plus, their work was done and our work is not finished. So, I had best close this and get back to it!

P.S. As of this writing, there are 903 days until we leave for our 40th Anniversary Celebration Trip and our kids are all invited but I have no idea when my departure for heaven will be.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Stones Don’t Sink, Don’t Blame the Water

Intent: To write a piece on why most sermons and Bible studies never reach the core of the individual listeners or participants. It would use the analogy of stones skipping across the surface of water rather than sinking in.
Initially, I suspected that the reason a stone skips when thrown across the surface of water had a great deal to do with surface tension. So I did a little research about surface tension. That would make a great point: People are the problem! They simply resist those wonderful nuggets of truth that we sacrificially and faithfully attempt to feed them.
Before setting fingertips to keyboard I figured a little research into skipping stones might also be in order. Bummer. What I found never mentioned surface tension as a factor. Apparently, it all has to do with the throw itself. Sure, the size and shape of the stone get honorable mention but the key factors are the angle and sufficient speed of the throw combined with the spin of the stone.
Not wanting to abandon the analogy, the message is important (you have to have stones to throw) but the key is delivery. Too often we start by choosing a topic from scripture that lends itself to easy deflection and then we deliver it in such a way to insure it hits the surface but goes no deeper.
However, our goal is not to skip small stones and make small ripples. Our goal is to hoist rocks so big we can barely handle them ourselves and plunge them into the depths, regardless of how great a disturbance it creates. We do not want the stones to skip on by. We want them to go deep and stay there. This invariably causes waves. We do not make the waves, the stones do and their size determines how big the waves are.
When we teach and preach, we should not fear to go after the big biblical issues and throw them into the middle of the people. Yes, it will disturb the status quo but that is exactly what needs to happen. That is why we go down to the water in the first place.
P.S. When looking for an appropriate picture of skipping stones, I discovered that there are people who collect, package, and sell skipping stones. All you have to do is buy them and use them. You don't have to buy the ones that sink straight down. They are all over the place. God has not made His truth hard to get. The best stuff is all over the place.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Ultimate In Communication

Email, tweeting, texting, blogging, letters, notes, signing, singing, videos, mp3, m4p, m4a, flv, mov, wmv, wav, semaphore, loudspeaker, megaphone, facetime, Skype, ipa, cell phone, land line, walkie talkie, telegraph, television, radio, telex, fax, paging, newspaper, magazine, yellow pages, smoke signals, banner… These are some of the ways people communicate — deliver a message.

Most, if not all, of these methods have been used to tell people about Jesus. Some have been used more effectively than others and a key is making sure the method used will reach the intended audience and be received by them. (It doesn't do much good to send a text message to someone's land line. I know. I've tried.)

Determining the method in most situations does not need to be difficult. Most people we want to reach are people within reach. John showed us the way: "Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete" (2 John 12). Jesus did not say, "Send a text." He said, "Go" (Matthew 28:19).

Some folks spend way too much time talking about ways to reach people when all they need to do is go to them and talk "face to face."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Preaching to the Preacher

I used to think that I learned from the sermon while I was preparing it and that was it. Now I know it is not the only time God speaks to me through my preaching. At least twice in the past couple of weeks I have had content from sermons brought back to mind and applied.

Instance #1: After experience inner turmoil for about ten days without being able to identify the cause, I was reminded of a suggested application at the end of a sermon. That application (to be concerned with living up to God's expectations rather than people's expectations) immediately shed light on what was causing my angst, followed by joy and peace. Now, I just have to live up to God's expectations. How hard can that be?!

Instance #2: Following a sermon (and Church Council retreat Bible study) that identified fasting as temporarily giving up a regular part of life—normally thought of as food—in order to gain more time for something else—normally thought of as prayer, I found myself needing to accomplish four weeks worth of work in just two weeks. I decided to forfeit an activity I enjoy doing as a distraction and focus on getting the work done. Lo and behold, by temporarily giving up something that probably consumed a total of ten minutes a day, I was able to accomplish many more hours of prayer, Bible study, and sermon preparation. I know the math regarding time does not work out but it happened anyway and I thank God!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Last To Know?

When our time with God does something to us that becomes evident to others, are we the last to know? I truly agonized over yesterday’s sermon from John 6:60-69 (22-69) while preparing it, spending more hours on my knees seeking shelter and relief from God than for any other sermon I can remember. Yet, when it came time to preach it, the anxiety and even fear of not communicating clearly was mostly absent. What had been prepared and even rehearsed was preached.
I did not “feel” any different from the hundreds of other times I have preached yet comments received by individuals in each service convinced me that God had spoken powerfully to those who were listening for His voice. The ones making the comments gave glory to God while commenting about what had been preached. I was very relieved and glad when they told me because I had no idea, only the hope that God had answered my prayers with His undeniable and powerful presence.
You might think that the person God uses would always know how powerfully (or weakly) His presence is evident in that person’s life. But God reminded me this is often not the case as He called to mind Moses in Exodus 34:29 as well as Peter and John in Acts 4:13. Apparently, even though everyone else took notice, it was enough for Moses and the two disciples that they were following God.
May that be enough for me!

Exodus 34:29-35 (ESV)
The Shining Face of Moses
 29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
Acts 4:13 (ESV)
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Getting Personal: A Raw Expression

I don't know of a church doing great things for God without its members doing great things for God.
I don't know of a church fulfilling The Great Commission without members fulfilling The Great Commission.
I don't know of a church being on fire without its members being on fire.
I don't know of a church being luke warm without its members being luke warm.

My desire, my aim, my goal has always included making the gospel personal to individuals in the church. I have believed, hoped, prayed that individual Christians would surrender to God and pursue a lifetime of growth/discipleship in Him and the result would be the Holy Spirit's clear leadership through the unified body of Christ. I don't know what to tell people who say they don't see the church advancing. How can the church advance when they won't/don't/aren't? Is it the Pastor's fault? That's a black and white question. It is or it isn't. Is the Pastor responsible for how the individual members respond to God's Word? The Pastor is absolutely responsible for preaching and teaching the Word and he's responsible for presenting it with as little interference/distraction/confusion as possible. This pastor does not feel this way theoretically. I have lived it and continue to live it—the bottom line truth that "Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done" begins and ends with me or it will never go any further in my ministry. God will not release me from it and I do not believe He releases any one of His children from it.