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' personality...no, 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