Sunday, March 18, 2012

Praising The Lord For Pokemon!

My son is a fairly typical 10 year-old and one of his big obsessions is Pokemon. Some days it's all he talks about.  He has posters, books, figures, games, plushes, and just about anything else he can get his hands on.

A couple of days ago we went to a flea market that was set up to raise money for various animal shelters and rescue groups. We had been planning this, so the kids knew about it and had anticipated it.  Our family loves yard sales and flea markets because of the great treasures we can find for dirt-cheap prices.  So we went hope to find some good things.

In one of the areas we found boxes of kids' toys, four for a dollar.  All of a sudden my son stars to get excited because he found several Pokemon figures. In a rather loud voice he started talking about how he had prayed the night before to find something good and the Lord had answered his prayers.  He started going on and on about how he loved God and how good God was to help him find the Pokemon things.  He was genuinely excited about the toys, but equally excited about how wonderful God was to him.

Now this may seem like a rather trivial thing, and admittedly it didn't seem like much to me.  But there were two important lessons we learned and talked about as a family.  First, God cares about even the small things in our lives.  He wants us to be happy and doesn't mind letting us find trinkets and fun things to brighten our day.  There is nothing too big or too small in our lives that God doesn't care about and can't do something about.

The second thing was one of these "from the mouths of babes" moments.  How many times does something good happen and we say "Wow, that was a lucky break," "Hey, perfect timing," or "Look what I did"? My son could have easily thought how lucky he was.  But instead he gave God the praise.  Do we do that often enough, especially for the little things?  Are we getting excited and thanking God for what He has done for us?

The next time something good happens to you, remember to thank the Lord.  And never be afraid to ask Him for anything.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Most Important Piece Of Armor

I've been struggling with issues of faith recently, and in trying to handle it I've been spending more time with God and in reflection/study.  One of the books I've been reading is Beth Moore's Believing God.  In that book she points out something that I've never realized before.  Ephesians 6 talks very famously about the "armor of God".  But look closely at the King James Version of verse 16 (we don't see this wording in other translations).

above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

"Above all".  Most importantly.  Before anything else.

Thought I'm not a "King James only" person, and typically read the NIV translation, I think this particular version has it right.  As Moore states, the shield is "the armor's armor".  If we lift up our shield, then our enemy's weapons never make it to our helmet or breastplate.  Let's say that we didn't have a shield.  Then even though our other pieces of armor will give us some protection, it can still hurt and bruise.  Ask anyone who has done real historical combat and they'll tell you that they'd rather have the blow hit the shield than the other pieces of armor.  The rest of the armor is to handle blows that make it past the shield.  And even with that protection you can still take some damage.  Over time, those injuries can build up and the armor can be damaged.  This is especially true of arrows ("firey darts").  Watch any movie involving historical combat and what do the soldiers do when a rain of arrows comes down?  They raise their shields!  They don't trust their armor to handle it. In fact, English longbows were specifically designed to penetrate plate armor.  A shield keeps the arrows away from the body and the rest of the armor.  When the shield is down, the soldier is more vulnerable.

This is especially true in spiritual warfare.  Our faith is our first line of defense.  Yes, righeousness (breastplate) and salvation (helmet) will protect our souls.  But if we raise our faith high we can avoid most of the attacks of Satan.  Our faith provides us with protection against his "darts" and keeps them from hitting the rest of the armor and potentially hurting or bruising us.  Satan knows that if he can get us to lower our shield (faith), we won't stand for long against him.  So I believe that the shield of faith is the most important part of God's armor.  Without faith, we can't find salvation, we won't be pleasing to God, and our works won't be effective (go read Hebrews 11 to see more on this topic).

Unfortunately, Bibilcal faith is not easy for some people.  I'm pointing at myself right now.  I have been suffering lately because my shield has been down, and I can testify to the fact that the devil has been beating the rest of my armor pretty severely.  I'm working on raising my faith, but it's not always easy and is a work in progress.  At least now I know how important it is to do so.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

For Or Against Us?

Unfortunately it is common for people of different denominations and Christian sects to argue with each other.  History is sadly filled with examples of the body of Christ dividing and being made ineffective because of disagreements between believers.  Families and even nations have broken up because Christians couldn't overdome their differences and focus on their similarities.

This is NOT what Jesus wanted.

Yes, it is important that we stand firm on the core beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Christ as presented in the Bible.  Many of Paul's letters dealt with incorrect beliefs and actions of the church.  However, he didn't automatically turn his back on those churches or say that they should be rejected.

Because of our sinful human nature, Christianity is often a clique of sorts, where we gather together with like-minded individuals, pushing away any who don't subscribe to our particular "flavor" of belief and worship.  If someone isn't a part of that group, we don't want them around.  Does that sound hard to believe?  It even happened to the Apostles.

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
   “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.”  Luke 9:46-50

Jesus' own followers, his core 12, were arguing over which of them was the best.  Remember when the mother of James and John tried to get them at the Lord's side over the other Apostles?  Some of the disciples had a problem with thinking that they were the greatest, and the others were less.  Some felt that the others who walked with Christ were somehow less important, less effective, or had differing beliefs.  Rather than remembering that ALL of them were personally chosen by the Messiah, they bickered over who was the best or favorite.

Christianity would be far more effective if we would get past our differences and work together to further God's Kingdom.  Can you imagine what would happen to the world if Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, nondenominationals, and other Christians banded together in unity?  How would all nations in the world be moved if we started fellowshiping with those who might have different traditions and views on Scripture, and concentrated in sharing the Good News of Jesus as the Messiah?  Unfortunately this doesn't happen nearly often enough.  These pet beliefs are so precious to some that anyone who doesn't share them must be an outsider to be shunned.

That's what happened when John and the others saw someone chasing demons in the name of Christ.  Because this man was not one of the Twelve, they tried to stop him.  He was doing the right thing in the name of the right person, but because he wasn't part of the "elite", he was to be condemned.  And how did Jesus respond?  He chided his disciples, and basically told them that it didn't matter that he wasn't part of their little group.  Since he was trying to do the same thing that they were, and in the name of Christ, they should accept him.

Keep this story in mind the next time you come across someone who is a Christian, but maybe sees things a bit differently than you.  Perhaps you are a political conservative and they are a liberal.  Maybe you believe in infant baptism but they don't.  Or you think that having alcohol is fine but they say it will lead to sin.  Some may differ on how the Bible says we should treat homosexuals.  In these situations and many, many more, remember that despite such differences, we all follow Christ and want others to find a place with Him.  We need to work together, not push each other apart.  In Jesus' own words, whoever is not against us is for us!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Talking To God

Lately I've been having a bit of a crisis of faith.  Yes, it happens to most people.  I do preach and teach, but I'm not immune to human doubts and fears.  I certainly haven't doubted my salvation or God's existence, but with certain stresses and crises in my life I've wondered where He is and what His plan is for me.  I know in my mind that I need to trust Him because His plan is perfect.  But when problems hit hard, I tend to worry and fret about things that I really can't control.  I pray daily but it hasn't seemed to help much.  So what's wrong with me?

I realized one of my problems when I talked to a pastor friend of the family.  He said that I need to talk to God out loud.  Really?  For the last couple of weeks I've turned off the radio in my car so I can spend time praying and speaking with God, but I've done it in my head.  Of course, God can hear my thoughts, but the pastor was saying that I need to verbally speak the words.

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim:  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.  Romans 10:8-10

I think this passage applies to more than just salvation.  The last few days I've actually been speaking my prayers and discussion with God instead of thinking about them.  And it seems like it's been helping!  I feel like I'm more in touch with God and finding him more of a personal companion.  It makes sense, as we talk to our friends and family rather than thinking to them.  That audible, verbal communication allows us to be connected to other people.  Speaking out loud to God does the same thing.

My worry hasn't gone away, but it's lessened.  And more importantly, I feel God's presence closer than I did before.  If you are having problems connecting with the Lord, speak to him.  REALLY speak to him!