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Are you a DC or Marvel Christian?

Whose side are you on?
Whose side are you on?

I’m a big fan of comic books.  I grew up reading them, and to me, DC Comics was always my favorite.  For the unintiated, DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman – basically all the characters we think of when you think of iconic superheroes.  I occasionally picked up a few Marvel books, playing around for short times with X-Men and Spiderman, among a few others, but the characters and the stories never resonated with me much, so I stuck with DC by and large.

It wasn’t until adulthood, when a post by Jeremy Pierce got me thinking about it, that I realized what the fundamental difference in the two universes is, and perhaps what that says about people in terms of how they view themselves in the Kingdom of God. (It’s a stretch, I know . . . humor me)  There are tons of other differences, and tons of exceptions, but the basic fundamental difference is this: in DC Comics Superman is Superman, Clark Kent is a facade.  Superman is the core of who he really is.  In Marvel comics, the masks and tights is the facade.  Spiderman is really Peter Parker, at his core.  He’s just a kid trying to make it, and help some people out along the way.  A good kid, but Spiderman is a mask for him to do good works.  Ponder on that a minute, and let’s continue.

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A Look in the Mirror

I always know when God is trying to show me something about myself, that I’m uninterested in seeing.  My showers get much longer in the mornings, so I have to rush through Bible/Prayer time.  My prayers get very “surface” and short.  I decide I should read a book about how to live for God better, instead of seeking God for what he wants me to do each day.

This pretty much sums up the last few days.  Apparently I also get irritable, since I’ve been accused of being in a bad mood not a few times since the weekend.

I’m generally what I would call a “closed” person.  I like people… so long as they leave me alone.  I like them as long as they don’t interfere with my plans or encroach on my life in any kind of bothersome way.  I can see personally that this is obviously not the way to live, if I also intend to live my life in a way that shares the love of Jesus with people.  I certainly don’t recall Jesus ever saying, “What?  You want me to pray for what?  It’s 8:00 at night, I worked all day, and I’m tired.  Don’t bother me.”  Because that’s the way I view people: bothersome.  When all of this was working it’s way into my attention, my wife frustratedly exclaimed, “That’s why you don’t have any friends.  People are scared to talk to you.”  My quick and rather hateful response back was, “I have NEVER complained about not having friends.”  Upon saying it, I realized that I take a little perverse pleasure in every time someone says that people find me intimidating or unapproachable.  I found myself smiling when my wife told me that people are scared to talk to me, because they think they’re bothering me.  For some reason, I’ve developed an attitude that people are to be kept as far away as possible, at all costs.  And the more foreboding and intimidating I can be, the less I actually have to talk to any of them.

I recall, as a child, a particular incident where someone I considered a friend said, “Nobody likes you because you’re so smart.”  It was elementary school in the 80’s.  I was one of the few kids that had a computer, and my dad had found some silly program that let you make crossword puzzles.  I thought it would be neat to make one of some of our vocabulary words, and had him make it, so I could take it to class.  Teachers are typically very thankful for anything that helps pass the time in a class, so she copied it and passed it out.  A lot of kids thought it was neat that I (my dad) made it, and some didn’t.  Looking back, I can see that perhaps my little friend was jealous of the attention, or perhaps hated schoolwork, and didn’t want to do the crossword puzzle.  Maybe she just enjoyed being the “good” student in the class, and I had taken her out of the spotlight.  Either way, those words stuck with me.  Nobody likes me because I’m smart.

Now, I know many of your are reading this and thinking, “Really?  Get over it.  It was elementary school.  You’re an adult now!”  But in order to change the person we have become, I think we have to take a long look at what made us this way.

I’m not bragging about my intelligence here . . . I consider myself to be of relatively average intelligence, however sometimes people make me reconsider that idea. 😉  I did make straight A’s in school, and generally enjoyed (and still do enjoy) learning something new.  Anything new.  I rock at Trivial Pursuit.  But the perception was there, at least for that little girl, at that moment.  And at that moment, I embraced a very dangerous way of thinking, to ease the pain of the idea of nobody liking me.  I embraced superiority.  People didn’t like me?  That’s fine . . . it’s because I’m smarter than them.  She said as much.  It may be lonely at the top, but it just means I can look down on everyone else.  That began the wall building project in my heart.  And it didn’t stop for many years.

Now, I didn’t go around acting and claiming to be smarter than anyone.  It was the window through which I viewed the world.  Who needs friends and other people?  Not me.  Why would I?  I don’t need their help.  I was, and still am, for a large part, an island unto myself.  The foundation was laid for the walls around my heart.  And we know that our enemy took every opportunity to continue building them.

I never made friends easily.  I was pretty shy.  But probably as a result of this self-righteous and arrogant view of the world, many of them parted ways with me.  Each time adding another brick to my wall.  I remember when I was 15 having a friend that was one of the few I had personally gone out the way to make throughout my life.  On a school trip, his entire attitude changed towards me.  To this day, I’m not sure if or what I could’ve done to illicit that type of response from him, but we never spoke again.  We sat next to each other in a few classes.  The next day at school I turned around to try and see what was wrong, and he told me to never speak to him again.  Ever.  Ouch.

I did finally find some good friends, that I’m still friends with today.  So this isn’t a total pity party.  More of a “bringing you up to speed” explanation.  By the time I was an adult, however, I typically preferred being alone, and enjoying whatever things I found to pass my time.  My walls were complete.  Few came in.  The gates were way too guarded for that.  Too afraid to be hurt, too proud to open the gates, and walled in from all other sides.

Which brings us to today.  I’m a know-it-all.  But I’m seldom hurt, because few people get that close.  I can even admit to holding my wife at arm’s length occasionally.  The situation, at this point, requires more than my decision to go out and be nice to people.  I need God’s help to tear down the walls that I’ve built up.  It’s ugly to see myself as an arrogant, self-righteous smart-alec who believes he is never wrong.  I’m ashamed of my attitudes towards other people.  But I’m thankful that God showed me this in prayer, and is giving me the opportunity to change rather than causing circumstances to come about in my life that would force me into it.

I’ve let the cares of the world choke out the love of God in my heart.  It’s still alive in there, just small.  But luckily, if I let it, there’s nothing that can keep something that powerful walled up.  Now . . . I think I have a few relationships to mend, and perceptions to change.

christianity, Online Living

Blogging for Jesus Me

My wife nonchalantly posed a serious question to me recently, as she looked at some notes for future blog posts, “You have so many good things to say…why do you sit in front of a computer and blog them, instead of going out and sharing them with people who need Jesus?”

I’m always up for some harsh self-examination, so I really pondered how I could answer this, and justify my relatively reclusive lifestyle.  I’m not reclusive because I blog, let me get that straight.  I don’t sit at home wishing I was elsewhere, but I just have to get this post written.  I blog because I find it enjoyable, and I like the web development aspect of it (I’m a geek, what can I say?).  And I just happen to be rather introverted.  But this got me thinking on how blogging fits in with God’s great commission to go out and win the world.

I believe if harnessed properly, the internet could be a tremendous tool in reaching the world with the Gospel.  I have yet to see anyone actually accomplish this, however.  Surely our blogs, much of which debate the finer points of religious doctrine, are not effective conduits for the Gospel of Salvation to reach a lost person.  On the contrary, I would submit that should a spiritually-curious non-Christian stumble into our blogosphere, they may find so many contradicting statements, arguments, and debates, that they would be turned off to the Gospel.  I’m not criticizing any one person here, as I’ve engaged in a few debates myself on the internet, for better or worse.  But do these benefit the Kingdom of God?  I don’t believe so.  At best, it seems like the proverbial “peeing contest,” and at worse is actually a divisive force in the church.

Those criticisms out of the way, I will also admit that there have been several times that I have read a blog and felt personally challenged to better my walk with God.  I have been convicted, encouraged, and enlightened on many different kinds of topics in regards to my faith, and living it out in this world.  More than once, I can probably even say that my prayer and bible study times have profited from some things I’ve read.  And many of us just write to share our thoughts, and experiences, in our Christian walk.  If we find something interesting while studying the Bible, we share it with other Christians through our blog . . . and I would even say that is very Biblical.  It’s the 21st century version of Acts 2:46.

For some people, I imagine, this online community is the only place they feel like that have that fellowship.  But is this a healthy situation for the Christian and the Kingdom of God?  I think not.  Our highest calling is to fulfill our Great Commission, to go out and win the world.  While theoretically possible, I find it highly doubtful that blogging will do that.  A Christian, full of love, caring and helping someone in need, and sharing the Gospel with them, will do that, though.  I’m not saying don’t blog, but I encourage you to keep it in its place.  Instead of debating, let’s all encourage each other to go out and win souls for Jesus!  Let’s keep sharing our experiences, encouraging each other, and growing together, but let the fruit of that be evident in our profitability for the Kingdom of God.

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this, as I don’t believe myself to be the authority on the effectiveness of blogging as a witnessing tool.  But I also want to issue a challenge to every blogger reading this post, which I intend to participiate in with you:  Witness to, or share the gospel with 1 person for each blog post you write this week.

I, personally, get very excited when I think about the great things that we can all accomplish together for the Kingdom of God.  Let’s make the Christian blogging movement responsible for souls being brought into the Kingdom of God, and not just a lot of interesting articles for other Christians.

If you’re taking the challenge, leave a comment, or trackback here with a story of how it went!

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We Love Jesus . . . but not You

As a followup to yesterday’s ranting and raving on churches, I’ve stumbled across a great article on Beliefnet called, “Why Christians Suck.” Basically, we’re all a bunch of arrogant, self-absorbed, uncaring dweebs.  Great stuff…and it follows right along with what I’ve been going on about. Christians suck…the non sucky Christians (apparently less than 5% of Church-goers, who I personally differentiate from “Christians”) need to help the sucky Christians be less-sucky. If this fails…we should run them from our churches with pitchforks and torches…just like an old-fashioned lynching.
Or we could pray for them…either way.

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Churches: Havens for Weary Souls or Spiritual Dr. Kevorkians?

I have a good friend, who, if you have read his blog, doesn’t exactly hold modern churches in high regard. I’ve criticized him, perhaps wrongly, because he chooses to have a service with his family, instead of going to a real church. I’ve defended churches of all types, under the premise that it’s better to go and be a part of a community of believers, to help others, and to occasionally be supported when you go through your own hard times. I, myself, belong to an amazing non-denominational church. While no church is perfect, I feel that mine gets it right on all the major points, and if they’re wrong in an area, they try their hardest to be right. I’ve always made the assumption that most churches were similar…that in their own way, they all just wanted to be right. They may go about it in wrong, or different ways, but that mostly they were trying to help people. Boy, was I wrong.
Recently, a good friend of mine, a youth pastor, discovered his wife was in adultery. They had recently had their first child, and as you can imagine, he was devastated. They separated, and my friend was intent on working things out (a good deal more than I would’ve done, personally). When he told his senior pastor, he was FIRED! Can you imagine? He has a baby, has just lost his wife, now his job, and his church! Apparently his church was concerned that it would make them look bad.
First of all, my friend did nothing wrong… at least to my knowledge. This would’ve been a time for the church, and the ministers of the church, to surround him with support and prayer. Take some time off…sure. This could’ve even been an example to the members of how a Godly person works through horrible situations with help from God. But instead, in his time of greatest need, the people that he had worked for, given his life to, and prayed over brushed him to the side when he was no longer immediately useful for praying for headaches, warts, or meaningless relationship problems. When it came to to repay all that he had given, they threw him out and brought in someone new to use and abuse until there was nothing left in him also.
Is this biblical? I think not. But it happens everyday throughout the country…when self-righteous, arrogant, Pharisaical, self-glorifying, religious dingbats run churches like medieval extremist witch hunters, on the prowl for the weakest Christians to crucify in their times of need. I see it constantly in my wife’s family (her grandmother pastors our church). The church has used up every bit of life in her until her health has failed…and is trying to do the same to her daughter while she fills in for her in the pulpit. I am sick and tired of willfully and woefully idiotic church-goers expecting their pastors to be nothing more than religious slaves, waiting on their beckon call, for whatever ridiculous thing they need that day… “Pastor…my son is running with a bad crowd…can you come witness to him?” How about living saved in front of your son, and not allowing him to participate in things you don’t agree with…cracktard?
We are all called to be ministers. Making our churches the healing centers that God means them to be is a responsibility we share in equal parts with our pastors. It’s our responsibility to go out and bring in sinners…it’s our responsibility to see about other Christians who need help, or who are sick, as much, if not more, than our pastors. STOP USING PASTORS TO BE SPIRITUALLY LAZY! STOP KILLING OFF THE LIFE IN OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN NEED! TAKE CARE OF YOUR PASTORS, INSTEAD OF USING THEM!!!!
How long were my friends in need of someone to turn to, to talk about their problems in their relationship? But no…as youth pastors, they weren’t able to say they needed help…they had to be Superman to their church’s Metropolis. Pastors and Ministers are people too…they go through things, feel the same hurt and heartache we all do. Their families are just like our families…they miss their husbands and fathers when they come out to see about your broken arm at 2am, because you just had to have your pastor there. After he spends all day praying over and tending to the needs of his flock, he is seldom able to devote that same care and concern to his family, because members call all night long. Of course in a true emergency, a pastor would want to come. But I’m not talking about rare occasions, I’m talking about a habitual systemic abuse of clergy, that is not the exception, but the norm, through our country.
Christians…I encourage you to grow up. Take on your biblical responsibility of caring for your brothers and sisters, and set your pastors free to seek God and pray for you and your family, as well as your church and town. Organize hospitality groups in your church for members to visit the sick, elderly, and back-slidden. Build your pastor up with prayer and encouraging words…because he prays and encourages you. Even if you don’t like or agree with your pastor…it is who God has given you today…and that makes them worthy of your respect, prayer, and help, in every way you can give it. Make your church a safe haven for weary souls…not a executioner’s table for the down-trodden.
*Update 8/1/2008:  Messy Christian has some very interesting  posts on a similar topic (Pastor Worship, which equates to Pastor Abuse, in many cases…besides those self-adulating types who like it) that you may also want to check out.
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Is Sickness the Result of Sin?

We’ve all run into our fair share of loony-tune type wackos out there, when it comes to the prosperity / health / happy-go-lucky doctrines. One thing I’ve been working through here is finding the truth in their teachings, without the obvious erroneous extremes to which they’ve flown. I met a man one time who told me that if Christians were sick, it was because of 2 reasons: 1. They were in sin, and therefore out of God’s protection; or 2. They didn’t have enough faith to be well.
This sent my head reeling, as I’m sure yours is after having read that. (Coincidentally, if your head is not reeling, you may, in fact, be a loony-tune wacko) My retort was instant, “What about Paul? He suffered from a physical problem throughout his ministry, despite praying God take it away, and even had to travel with a physician to care for him.”
“Paul obviously didn’t have enough faith to be well.” (He also informed me that Peter, and others who were martyred didn’t have enough faith to live)
I watched his face silently to see if he was having a laugh at my expense, but I saw no such indication. I excused myself shortly thereafter, and saw this same man walking home the next day because he had run out of gas, while driving to town on an empty tank, believing that God would keep it full, like the widow’s jar of oil. It was difficult not to mock him, but instead I just pretended like I didn’t see him and kept driving
Obviously we bring sickness on ourselves many, if not most, of the time. Our lifestyles, even years earlier in life, lead to health problems. Lack of exercise, junk food, etc wreak havoc on our bodies, and this doesn’t even take into account worse things. So…does sin cause sickness? Of course it does, many times. Who can look at an alcoholic and not realize that his sin caused his liver disease? We reap what we sow…even after being saved, however I believe God often alleviates much of this burden for his children. If you lead a wild and promiscuous life as a young person, it’s not unthinkable to believe that you may have physical problems as a result of that later on in life. We also live in a world under the curse of sin, and that is why we have sickness to begin with. So, in some way, we can say all sickness did originate because of sin.
This is, however, a far cry from saying that personal sin makes people sick, as a rule. We are a part of this world, and subject to its curse. I believe in healing, I’ve seen many people healed of all manner of diseases. But why isn’t everyone healed? I don’t know. God has a plan in all things. Perhaps it is because of lack of faith, although I typically don’t believe that is the main reason. Job suffered from sickness and tragedy like no other that I know of. Yet he was a righteous man in every way, and still put all his trust in God. From his (and his friends) Point of View, there was no reason at all for him to go through all of that. He easily could’ve gotten mad at God, saying, “Haven’t I served you? Haven’t I lived righteously for you? And what has it gotten me?!” But while he did ultimately trust God for restoration, and to work his will, he didn’t have the haughtiness of my acquaintance with the empty gas tank. He quietly accepted what God had for him, and stayed true to his faith in God through it all.
Ultimately, this life is a journey…a trying ground. How we respond and react to adversity of any sort shows God who we are, and how devoted to him we are…it also shows Satan and the lost around us the same thing. So…why do the righteous suffer? Why do Christians get sick? Lack of faith? I think not. To prove faith, is what I think.

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Extreme Measures

I was reading Jesus’ sermon on the Mount recently, in Matthew 5, and noticed something I had never seen before. We use his words on adultery and lust as an example of why you can’t live by the letter of the law, but by the spirit of it. It also shows us what the Law was originally intended to do: show us our sinful hearts. We can see that if we keep the commandments of God, and live a seemingly holy life, that’s all the matters, but our heart must be changed.
I found it very interesting, then, that as Jesus makes this point, he segues into this:

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
— Matthew 5:29-30

I don’t think it is a coincidence he says this directly after telling us that lust in your heart is the same as committing adultery through God’s eyes. I actually think the allusion here is as purposeful as it is blunt. Before you get all hot and bothered, I don’t think we’re being instructed by Jesus to actually borrow our neighbor’s hatchet and start whacking away at body parts. I think what we’re being instructed to do here, is to take whatever measures are necessary, no matter how extreme, to prevent ourselves from falling into sin.

This is a bit of a foreign concept, I think, in today’s age. We tend to be told by our friends and churches that many sins are okay, or are understandable, God understands, and as long as you’re giving it your best shot, he’ll save you a spot in heaven. Clearly, Jesus sees sin differently. Not only is it not good enough for you not to sin outwardly, but evil, carnal thoughts in your heart are also enough to condemn you.

Jesus is telling us here that sin is so foul, so destructive, that you must do whatever you can to make sure you don’t sin. I know someone who found it incredibly difficult to keep themselves from looking at pornography on the internet. It was their last resort to maintain their relationship with God, to sign up for XXXChurch.com’s accountability software that emails an accountability partner of your choosing if you go to sexually themed websites. That way he knew he couldn’t sin in secret anymore. As far as I know, this has worked for him.

But each of us have an area in life where we are most easily tempted, and our instructions are equally as clear as Jesus’ teachings on lust: get away from sin in any way possible. Perhaps friends, acquaintances, people we have lunch at work with, TV shows, movies, etc are problems drawing us back into sins we want desperately to be out of. Maybe you can’t stop yourself from drinking when you’re with a certain crowd of people. Maybe you have uncontrollable habits or thoughts because of what you fill your mind with on the internet or TV. No matter the cause, the solution is the same. It may take extreme measures to ensure you stay away from sin. People may think you’re silly, and that it doesn’t take all that to be Christian. I’ve even known Pastors who got on to church members for being too extreme in trying to avoid a sin. I know of a man who came out of gangs, drugs, and prostitution, who, when he found himself tempted to look at a woman lustfully, would actually make himself leave wherever he was at to get away. He was in a mall with some friends, and actually excused himself and left the mall! I know that some of you are chuckling self-righteously right now, and saying things like, “Well, obviously he has a problem he needs help with if he can’t even be in public without lusting.” Obviously he does, Pharisee. Obviously we all do, we just don’t take our sin seriously enough to do something equally as extreme about it. Or maybe we enjoy it too much?

Either way, our calling is clear. Just not murdering someone, or hopping into bed and committing adultery, is not enough. Our hearts must be pure. And if we can’t find a way to keep them pure, and still go to the same places, be with the same friends, or watch the same things, we must take extreme measures.

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Losing God

I’ve lived and been a Christian long enough to notice a disturbing pattern. And while I see it in my own life, I can see that it’s a pattern that is widespread, and not confined to my own…idiosyncrasies. I’ve noticed that every time I have a significant experience with God, overcoming some area that I’ve struggled with, a breakthrough, some would call it, I get extremely lazy in my prayer and bible study. This, after I’ve devoted prayer and time to seeking God for some period of time, and I practically run back to a self-centered lifestyle, and lose what God has done in and for me.

It’s a curious occurrence. Jesus said that when a spirit leaves a man, it wanders about, then returns, finding the house clean, and bring seven other spirits with it to reoccupy the house. I’m paraphrasing of course, but it seems to me this is a very strong warning against just such activity, and maybe an explanation of why it is so difficult to keep ourselves deeply committed shortly after God has done a work in our life.

My question, really, is why? I should be (and generally am) ecstatic about having an experience with THE God. It’s an honor above all others. So why do I want to just “rest” from prayer, and indulge my flesh afterwards? Should my flesh not be much more subjected to the Spirit after such an experience than before? Thankfully, recently, as God helped me see his will in a very trying situation, I noticed myself the very next day being drawn into this temptation, and was able to observe my reactions to the seduction of lethargy, and to seek God to contain its effects in my life. I believe I also realized how, and why this is an issue for us who are earnestly seeking God in our…most of the time, at least.

sowerJesus said, in the parable of the sower, (Mark 4, I suggest you read the whole thing, as I will only quote two verses) that some seed falls on thorny ground, some on stony, and some on the road. I think that this probably falls under the “thorny” category.

“And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” Mark 4:19

It would seem that, if we receive our word, whether it be the initial revelation of saving knowledge of Jesus, or perhaps any word, deliverance, or instruction we receive from God for our lives, if we allow thorns to stay in the same ground, it will choke out God’s work, and make it unfruitful. This certainly differentiates from the seed on stony ground, or on the road, which died, leaving the person in the original desolate sinful state they began in. This is a condition of receiving what you want or need from God, and then keeping the other cares of the world, fleshly appetites, worries, the scheming for money, etc, which take up so much room in our lives that it makes that work of God unfruitful. Seeing this makes me truly understand the words of Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) But the death in this body, that renders the miraculous delivering power of God unfruitful, is present because of my obstinacy in wholly surrendering my life to God. The fact is, I enjoy many things in life that offer zero spiritual benefits. There are shows on TV that I enjoy so much, that I overlook sometimes overtly anti-christian, even occultic themes to watch them. On top of that, who can totally ignore the deceitfulness of riches? Money makes this world go round, so the world says, and without it, we can’t survive. It’s very difficult to not seek it as the deer seeks after water. However, it’s with that fervency that we’re instructed to seek God. The desires of decadence, entertainment, and fleshly pleasure are contrary to God.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that many times when God blesses us, it is temporally as well as spiritually . . . but if that is what we are seeking after, even that blessing will end up unfruitful. Let us then all take the warning to seek after God’s holiness, to seek to purify our lives of all that is worldly and unGodly, and therefore not allow our experiences, blessings, and gifts from God to be made unfruitful and useless.