What in the world is going on?

what-in-the-world-is-going-onOn the morning of September 11, 2001 I was en route to a monthly pastors’ prayer gathering at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs when the first tower was hit. Those events of 9/11 plunged our country into unimaginable pain and disbelief, and immediately took their place alongside other unforgettable historical tragedies such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and others.

This week, in the wake of yet another tragic shooting and its resultant escalation of fear, hatred, and racism, those familiar feelings from 9/11 are resurfacing.

Bombings…shootings…racism…fury…terror…maddening presidential campaigns…the deaths of police officers…the deaths of young black men…what in the world is going on? AND what in the world can we do?

1 Chronicles 12:32 identifies a subset of King David’s mighty men, men from the tribe of Issachar, who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” How can we be those kinds of men and women? How should we process the signs of our times, and what are the courses of action that we should be taking?

Is our country falling apart? Is there only gloom on our horizon? Should we hunker down under fear? Should we assume that our glory days are over before they ever even really began, and that things will only be grim from here on out? What should we be doing as a general cloak of fear, anger, and despair settles more fully over our country’s soul?

Perhaps we should cling to and manifest some things that are promised to remain. The Apostle Paul told us that when everything else is passing away there are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love.

The Christian worldview gives us FAITH that the God of history is still deeply at work in the universe. It gives us confidence that there is HOPE for both today as well as tomorrow. And ultimately it give us a mission: to LOVE our God, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our world.

I don’t presume to have great wisdom or prophetic insight about this…I just wonder what might change in our world if we were people of courageous and prayer-filled faith, generous and compassionate hope, and reconciling, hate-abolishing love?

Note to Self

note to selfDear Self, I’m not sure what you are thinking or how you are feeling right now, but in case you’re not doing too well, I wanted to remind you of some things. Emotions come and go; truth remains. Unfortunately, emotions often feel more powerful than truth, and sometimes we can judge the entire external universe based on minor, internal mood swings. I’d like to save you from that, and remind you of some truth.

As I write to you (to me) I am in a good place. My thinking is clear and I can sense God’s life and presence around me and in me. I would qualify for Pastor Wayne Cordeiro’s description, “clear-headed and close to God” (remember, he always urges people to only make their biggest decisions when they are clear-headed and close to God). So I think I’m in a good spot to pep talk you and prop you up. Granted, someone could accuse me of doing the very thing I am warning you against, namely attributing a positive mood to ultimate reality. However, that’s not the case.

It is true that shallow emotional upswings do not necessarily correspond to God’s truth anymore than negative, gloomy ones do. We humans are so easily swayed by circumstantial highs and lows, but God’s life is very different from that. Some of King David’s mightiest psalms—where he boasts of an ability to “run through a troop” or “leap over a wall”—were written at the bottom of some very nasty life seasons.

There is a hope and peace and presence that can transcend whatever we are experiencing, and when we touch that presence everything changes even if nothing changes. Please remember that last phrase. Things don’t need to change for YOU to change. Circumstances don’t need to improve for you to step more fully into the life and strength of God’s Spirit.

So, dear self, man up. Don’t quit. Don’t pout. Hold steady. Lean into God. Like David said, you too will live to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

I want a rule; God wants obedience

breaking rulesHow many drinks can I have? One? Two? More? Or none at all?

Can I watch certain kinds of R-rated movies? Like the ones that are only rated R for violence? Or maybe just language? Or other stuff too as long as it isn’t too bad?

What are my rules for what is and is not acceptable?

Some people don’t care about these kinds of questions—they aren’t “rule people” and they are happy to make these decisions on the fly. Others, however, feel more comfortable with clearly defined boundaries, and they appreciate the comfort and security of always knowing exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.

Personally, I am a rule person and I prefer to know exactly what my boundaries are. I like the security of knowing precisely when I am and am not on the right path, and sometimes the Bible caters to personalities like mine. Sometimes the Scriptures clearly highlight the paths that God wants us to walk, and there’s nothing left for us to do but start walking. There are other times though when the Bible isn’t quite as clear. It doesn’t give us rules to follow; it gives us principles to apply.

Sometimes I want a law to govern me, but God wants something very different. He wants my mature obedience. Sometimes simple rule keeping can be a lesser path than actually following the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Remember, being led by the Spirit is a key mark of mature sonship and daughterhood (Romans 8:14), and often that leading occurs in settings where the rules aren’t perfectly clear. Paul devoted entire chapters of his writings to matters of conscience, coaching us for those times when singular rules can’t fully dictate correct behavior.

We live in a time in history when we must know God’s laws, understand the principles that drive them, and be sensitized to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When Scripture is clear we follow it clearly. When it is unclear–or open to multiple interpretations–we follow its principles. And when multiple paths are legitimate options, we trust the Spirit’s leading in our conscience.

Where your headquarters should be

fortressAt Grace Church we support a ministry called AIM (Agape International Missions), an organization devoted to abolishing sex trafficking in our generation. A number of years ago AIM shut down a horrifying brothel in Svay Pak, Cambodia where young, elementary age girls were employed as sex slaves. In the center of the brothel—the place where virgin girls were kept—there was a brightly painted room called The Pink Room. Through a series of powerful events AIM was able to shut down the brothel and tear apart The Pink Room, and today the former Pink Room is now a part of their ministerial headquarters!

Before King David could set up his headquarters in the city of Jerusalem he too had to drive out some enemy occupants. The Jebusites, entrenched in their Jerusalem stronghold, had defied Israel for many decades until David came along and dispossessed them (2 Samuel 5:7).

Often, strategic centers for mercy, truth, and justice have to be taken before they can be occupied.

I wonder where your headquarters needs to be established?

You might not need to convert a brothel or evict an army from a mountaintop, but you still need a place to set up shop. You need a command center, from which you will conduct your ministry to the world. Perhaps that place is a former stronghold in your life. Perhaps your ministry will flow from an area of former weakness.

  • If your marriage has suffered, perhaps it’s marriage ministry.
  • If you’ve struggled with dishonesty, perhaps it’s a new life of integrity.
  • If you’ve been addicted, perhaps you will bring freedom to others.
  • If you’ve floundered as a parent, maybe you’ll turn a fresh page.

Regardless of its nature, we all have areas in our character and our story that need to be renovated and re-purposed, and sometimes our internal strongholds are harder to defeat than external ones. The proverbs writer said, “He who rules his spirit (is better than) he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32 NASB).

Let’s add our story to that of AIM’s and King David’s…let’s be men and women who rule our spirits, capture our strongholds, and use those places as beachheads for the glory of God.