Archive for the ‘Commentaries’ Category

The scripture plainly states that we both know, and prophesy in part (1Cor.13:9), that we see as through a glass dimly (1Cor.13:12), and that the wisdom of men is foolishness to God (1Cor.3:19).  It also warns that we should not lean on our own understanding (Prov.3:5-6), and encourages us to be slow to speak, and quick to listen (James1:19).  Despite these admonishments, Christendom is filled with a host of confident voices, weighing in on every imaginable topic, and/or current event.

Sadly, much of this commentary centers on critiques, and criticisms of other believers, with countless “ministries” devoted to little more than discrediting and disparaging other doctrines, practices, ministers, and ministries.  While we may rationalize that we’re simply trying to champion some sort of orthodox theology, to the naked eye it appears to be the anti-thesis of Jesus’ description of His body (i.e. they will know you by the way you love one another – John 13:35).  Indeed, we “Christians” seem far more adept at expressing what we’re against, than manifesting what we claim to believe in.

Recent events at Asbury Theological Seminary are a great example of how this works.  On one side, we have a chorus of voices attacking the authenticity of what’s happening there, based on a wide range of objections (e.g. it’s just emotionalism, no one is getting saved, there’s no legitimate authority, United Methodists are heretics…).  On the other side, there are people declaring it, “The Third Great Awakening”. 

Is it a revival, is it an outpouring, or is it hype?  What actually constitutes revival?  Do we really need revival?  How does this compare with other revivals?  Would God really manifest to a denomination who believes what they do?  And on, and on, and on.  Has there ever been a “Revival” that the religious establishment didn’t’ find a way to quench?

My question is, who really knows what’s happening at Asbury, and why is it so important to assume a position one way or another.  Many of the loudest voices belong to those who haven’t actually been there.  Even those who have attended can only speak to their own experience. 

Does it really matter if we call it revival, or an outpouring, or an awakening, or simply a really good prayer meeting?  Why are we so threatened by the idea that God might manifest Himself in a special way to a small group of young people?  Could it be rooted in the fear that God may be doing something in someone else’s building that He’s not doing in ours.

Conversely, what is the value of declaring this to be the beginning of the next great move of God?  After years of so called “Prophets” predicting an endless array of events that never actually happened, it seems prudent to simply watch and pray, lest we fall into the temptation to make something happen in our own strength.  Haven’t we already cast enough doubt with regard to the prophetic? 

When we process information through the lens of our own experience, what we’ve been taught, and how it makes us feel, we formulate opinions, which could rightfully be characterized as, “The way that seems right to us”.  From a scriptural standpoint (Prov.14:12) that leads to death. Indeed, it is often our insatiable need to express our opinion that leads to the death of relationship; as we gleefully brag about blocking and/or unfriending anyone who might disagree with our perspective.  Considering that relationship is the conduit through which the Lord works, this is no small matter. 

As the extremes of any particular topic continue to provoke us into an endless loop of contentious verbal jousting, there is one issue that gains clarity.  And that would be why our efforts toward discipleship aren’t more fruitful.  Indeed, who would want to become a part of a community where neighbors treated each other with such apparent contempt?  Who would want to marry into such a dysfunctional family?

If darkness is simply the absence of light, the only way for the dark to get darker is for the light to abdicate its position.

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Imagine a people

Who prioritized the needs of others above their own

Who seek to serve above being served

Who’d willingly sacrifice their comfort to be a source of comfort to others

Who could literally be defined by their love for one another




Imagine a people

Who are so focused on eternal things that they are unmoved by temporal circumstance

Who are so secure in their identity as sons and daughters

that they lose their ability to be offended

Who are more interested in exalting their heavenly King,

than in returning their earthly king to the throne

Who are more engaged in the pursuit of holiness than in their pursuit of happiness




Imagine a people

Who are willing to humble themselves, and turn from their wicked ways,

before trying to pray for their nation

Who seek God’s face (i.e. relationship)

more than His hand (i.e. provision, protection, deliverance…)

Who’d gladly sacrifice their earthly riches in favor of storing up treasures in heaven

Who are more interested in manifesting God’s grace

than in winning a war of words and ideas




Imagine a bride

Whose passion for the betrothed fueled her lamp and kept it perfectly trimmed

Whose devotion could not be swayed by other suitors

Who enthusiastically surrendered her given name

to forever be known by her oneness with the bridegroom

Who’s excitement isn’t rooted in the hope of being unburdened,

but in the anticipation of the consummation of their union






I can only imagine.

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In many ways ESPN has been the death of sports for me.  At first, I loved Sports Center, as I could catch all the highlights without spending hours watching the games, but over the years it has become an endless stream of mind-numbing dialogue, staged arguments, and tired narratives.  Filling up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week raises sports talk to the ad nauseam level, and with the success of each channel comes the advent of a new one (e.g. ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded…). 

Perhaps the lamest of all dialogues are the ones surrounding the “Greatest of All Time (GOAT)”.  Inevitably, people pick their favorite player, and simply trot out the stats that support their narrative, while ignoring anything that might challenge it. 

If you’re a Michael Jordan fan, you’ll point out that he was 6 for 6 in NBA finals, and act as though he simply willed the Bulls to those championships, but you’ll leave out all the seasons that they didn’t make the finals, and most especially the two seasons spent in Washington.  Indeed, the “Last Dance” wasn’t really the last dance, it’s just the last one MJ wanted you to remember. 

You’ll argue that championships are the measuring stick, and taunt that 6 is better than 5 (Kobe) or 4 (Lebron, Tim Duncan…), but you won’t mention Robert Horry’s 7 rings, or Bill Russell’s 11 (in just 13 seasons).  If it doesn’t support your conclusion, you’ll just leave it out.

It’s not that any of these counterpoints prove that MJ isn’t the greatest of all-time, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves into believing that this is anything more than our opinion.  Attempting to gauge players from different eras, playing different roles, and with different team dynamics is for the most part, impossible.  Moreover, there is really no point in trying to make such an argument, other than the need to fill up space on a slow sports day. 

Perhaps the most damaging element of trying to elevate someone to the GOAT status is that it inevitably leads to tearing down all other potential challengers for the title.  This ultimately steals the joy of watching some of sports greatest figures, and celebrating their unique accomplishments.  You can rant that Lebron is no MJ, or that Elway was no Brady, or that Steffi Graf was no Serena Williams, or that Carl Lewis was no Usain Bolt, but that doesn’t really prove anything.  Each of these individuals were spectacular in ways that their counterparts were not.  Why not just celebrate all of them for what they were.

In a similar vein, talent competitions have created this same sort of dialogue within the artistic realm.  Whether it is singing, or dancing, or cake decorating, we endeavor to judge one person’s artful expression to be superior to another’s.  Does the greatness of Fred Astaire’s dancing somehow diminish that of Michael Jackson’s?  Does Katherine Hepburn’s body of work really need to compete with Meryl Streep’s career?  Can’t we be blown away by the extraordinary talent of both Whitney Houston and Adele?  Do we really need to declare one as the “greatest of all time”?

Finally, there is the comparable issue of BFF’s.  This is a seemingly harmless acronym used to express our deep affection for those who are closest to us, but in order to have a “best friend”, I would have to rate my friends against each other, which seems like a foolish, and destructive thing to do.  The “forever” element of the acronym can also be troublesome, as friendships are often just for a season of our lives.  I certainly have had wonderful friends, who walked with me through incredibly difficult chapters in my life, but who eventually moved on.  That doesn’t diminish the value of what their friendship has meant to me, or their impact on my life.

Ultimately, I find it ironic that a culture that supposedly places great value on the ideas of diversity and inclusion, would be so obsessed with elevating one person above all the rest.  I would rather just celebrate them all for the unique thing that they brought to the table.

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19th century poet, William Blake observed that, “we become what we behold”, and while that is not a direct quote from scripture, I would argue that the biblical text certainly supports that conclusion.  Throughout the scriptures there are numerous references to our “eyes”, both what we behold (i.e. fix them on), and the lens through which we view things.  New Testament believers are exhorted to fix their eyes on Jesus (Heb.12:2), to stay focused on the eternal (i.e. unseen) things (2Cor.4:18), and to meditate on what is true, and noble, and lovely, and …(Phil.4:8). 

As Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus, he links the condition of their eyes and their hearts, praying that the Lord would open the eyes of their heart (i.e. understanding) to the riches of God’s Kingdom, calling, glory… (Eph.1:18).  The Psalmist prayed similarly, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!  Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways (Psa.119:36-37)”, and in Proverbs we hear the Father’s exhortation, “Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways (Pro.23:26).”

The converse of these exhortations are warnings like, bad company corrupts good character (1Cor.15:33), and that if your eye causes you to fall, it is better that you gouge it out (Matt.18:9, Mark 9:47).  To some degree, the sin of covetous is rooted in fixing our gaze on things that God hasn’t ordained for us, and allowing them to penetrate our hearts.  In such instances, our vision becomes tainted, and our ability to discern truth becomes impaired.  The Psalmist repeatedly mentions “haughty eyes” (Ps.18, 101, 131), while Peter speaks of “eyes full of adultery (2Pet.2:14)”.

Undoubtedly, the most substantial scriptural tie to the idea that what we behold, we become, is found in 2Cor.3:18, which says, “But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

In light of these truths, an honest evaluation of what we have fixed our eyes upon would seem to be a prudent step.  Jesus warned, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt.6:22-23)”

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Dear Young Marketing Strategist – I wanted to drop you a quick note about the best way to approach “Baby Boomers”.  Now, let me begin by acknowledging that we are probably not your top priority.  As the last of us reach our 60s, we are most certainly a diminishing share of the market.  That said, we also have a pretty good track record when it comes to paying our bills, and doing that on time (i.e. we’re generally good customers to have). 

Like most human beings, we are susceptible to a smiling face, a friendly voice, and things that will save us money.  So when you offer me roughly equivalent services for a fraction of the price I’m currently paying, I’m probably going to jump all over that.  But three months later, when I find out that was only an “Introductory Rate” and my bill triples, I will feel betrayed.  And before you even ask, “No, I did not read the fine print”.  The font was too small, and this little detail was buried on about the third page of legalese. Of course, I suspect that you already knew that.

For us old folks, dealing with someone we trust is kind of a big deal, and once we lose that trust, it’s probably over.  Which brings me to another point, when you extend special offers to new customers, that aren’t available to existing customers, you are actually discouraging loyalty to your product.  Loyalty is another one of those core values for us “Boomers”. 

Once things get bad enough for me to sever ties with your company, please don’t try to offer me all sorts of incentives to come back.  Not doing business with you has become a matter of principle, and I will pay double to your competitor just to protect my sense of integrity.

You can call me stubborn.  You can call me old fashioned.  You can call me a dinosaur.  Just don’t call me on the phone (or text me, or e-mail, or …). 

I hope this helps.  Sincerely – The Guy (born) at the end of the Boom

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Some would describe love as a powerful emotion, while others might claim that, “love is a choice” and to some degree, there is truth in both of those statements.  There are indeed strong emotions that accompany love, though I would submit that the feelings themselves do not constitute its substance.  Likewise, there is a conscious decision involved in entrusting our hearts to someone else’s care.  Though both of those elements are integral to the overall process, neither fully encapsulate the nature of love itself.  Ultimately, love is a relational dynamic that exists between two entities.

In western culture, we tend to gravitate toward the emotional end of the scale.  Often times, our concept of love is little more than a volume knob for our affection.  If it stirs up positive feelings, we say that we “like” it, but if it stirs up intensely positive emotions, we claim to “love” it.  But again, love amounts to more than just the magnitude of our feelings.

Often times the intense desire to be with someone is rooted in something other than love for them.  One can certainly be strongly attracted to another, but that would more rightly be characterized as lust.  Loneliness, or the fear of being alone can produce extreme emotions, just as hurt and insecurity can, but they rarely produce healthy, loving relationships.  More often, they result in unbalanced, emotionally manipulative, or co-dependent dynamics that are ultimately destructive. 

One of the byproducts of the sexual revolution is a quid-pro-quo aesthetic, where relationships are largely viewed as vehicles to get what we want out of life.  Instead of finding the value in a partner, we look for ways to leverage each other, both emotionally and practically.

We can love what someone brings to our life (e.g. stability, support, security, the feeling of being wanted…), without ever really loving them.  In such cases, that person becomes a tool for our pursuit of happiness.  Their job is to fulfill whatever role we assign them in our lives, but their value is in the results they produce.  If that diminishes, they can be replaced by someone who produces better results.  It’s like trading your phone in for a newer model.

Aside from the strong emotions involved, there are the mechanics of the relationship itself.  People can have genuine affection for one another, but divergent perspectives, value systems, and/or goals, which can create an almost constant discord.  It is said that opposites attract, but that doesn’t mean that they live happily ever after.  It is a rare relationship that can sustain that type of relentless conflict, and just because we possess strong feelings for someone doesn’t mean that the relationship can overcome it. 

I believe that this is why the scripture admonishes that spouses should be equally yoked.  In biblical times, a yoke was a rigid piece of wood.  If the oxen weren’t moving at the same pace, the faster one was carrying the entire load.  If they were moving in even slightly different directions, they were literally pulling against each other.  I would suggest that this passage is saying something more than simply Christians should only marry other Christians.

The Bible gives a very clear definition of what love is, “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.(1Cor.13:4-7)” 

If you read those words slowly, and thoughtfully, they can be pretty intimidating.  Is this how the people we claim to love would describe our demeanor toward them?  For that matter, would any of us claim that these are characteristic of the “love” we profess to have? 

To that end, we like to rationalize that the love described in the scripture is really just God’s (agape) love, and that we simply possess some lower form of (Eros or Philo) love.  We further like to dissect it into categories like brotherly/sisterly love, and romantic love; and then blur the lines even further with statements like, “I love them, but I’m not in love with them…”. 

Ultimately, God takes these caveats away with the command to, “love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)”.  The God who is love, specifically tells us what love is to Him, and then lets us know that He expects us to love one another that way.  He makes no provision for some lower form of affection or fascination, which is too often characterized by traits like selfishness, vanity, envy, manipulation, scorekeeping and destructiveness; all of which are so directly counter to His definition that they could not be considered a watered-down version of the same.

Considering that the Lord Himself boiled down the whole of the law to the quality of our love (for Him and for each other), and that He said that the way people will be able to distinguish His children was by the love they have for one another, our concept of what “love” is makes a huge difference.  Perhaps, our understanding of what love is can be enhanced by considering what it is not:

It’s Not Really Love

It’s not really love

just because I was stirred at the first sight of you



It’s not really love

simply because I like the way you make me feel



It’s not really love

just because you fill a void in my existence



It’s not really love

simply because I appreciate all that you’ve done for me



It’s not really love

just because I feel drawn to you



It’s not really love

simply because I like to think of you as mine



It’s not really love

just because I want what you bring to my life



It’s not really love

until it stops being about what I think I want or need



It starts being about who You are

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I’m not much of a fisherman, but I’ve recently been thinking about fishing lures.  While many fishermen prefer live bait, certain situations call for the use of lures, which can consist of any number of different elements (e.g. rubber, plastic, feathers…) used to attract the fish.  For those who know what they’re doing, there is a whole science to deciding what elements to use for a particular application. 

The specific lure that I remember using as a kid was called a “spinner”.  It had shiny metallic pieces on it, and as it moved through the water it created a spinning motion, which resulted in little flashes of light meant to attract the fish. 

In a time of prayer, I saw a picture of a spinner, moving just below the surface of the water, with little flashes of light coming from it, and pronged hooks protruding from the end.  I felt like this picture was symbolic of the spiritual battle that we face each day.  Though we know that the enemy often comes disguised as an angel of light, we often don’t recognize the deception until after his hooks are into us.

An enemy that doesn’t have the power to overwhelm you with a direct assault must resort to special tactics to achieve the desired result.  Normally, deception and distraction are an integral part of such a strategy. 

Our enemy is a master of deception, and in Western culture we have made distraction almost an art form.  Of course, we don’t refer to it as distraction, we call it entertainment, amusement, recreation, chilling out, a sport, a pastime, a hobby, a special interest…, but regardless of what we call it, our attention is easily snatched away from the more substantial issues of life. 

I would submit that our enemy loves these pre-occupations, and that they’ve been amongst his most effective tools in facilitating moral decay within our culture.  He doesn’t have to convince someone to embrace evil, he simply needs to keep them too pre-occupied with the temporal to even ponder the eternal. 

The truth is that most people within our culture still believe in the idea of God (or a “higher power”), and of being a “good” person.  But most are too busy pursuing their own interests to commit to any sort of relationship with God, or a church community, or anyone else for that matter.  In theory, those of us who count ourselves as followers of Christ ought to be a little harder to deceive, but our predisposition towards being distracted is much the same as the cultures. 

We can spend our whole Christian walk pursuing knowledge, titles, positions, spiritual gifts, experiences, credentials, recognition…  We can champion causes we’re passionate about, and fill our calendar with church activities.  Yet we may never really come to know the person of Christ, or be used by Him in a substantial way to touch the lives of others. 

While all of these pursuits may seem virtuous and worthwhile, unless God is calling us to them, they are simply a distraction from what He is calling us to.  Given the ineffectiveness of the church in touching the world, it is likely that this is more prevalent than any of us would like to admit.

In Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, he suggests that a person (or organization…) create what he calls a “Mission Statement”.  This statement should encompass what that person’s (or organization’s…) ultimate goal (i.e. mission) is.  

As conflicts arise, Covey suggests that they must be evaluated as to their bearing on achieving this ultimate goal.  His premise is that we spend a lot of time and energy on things that really don’t make any significant difference in achieving our over-arching mission. 

He suggests that if it isn’t going to move us toward our ultimate destination, that we shouldn’t spend a significant amount of resources on it.  For the church, it would seem as though the “Great Commission” might be a good mission statement, or maybe Jesus’ statements as to the “greatest commandment”.  Considering those examples, it is difficult to reconcile many of the things “the church” involves itself with. 

From global warming, to student loan forgiveness, to who resides in the White House, the church seems to immerse itself in conflicts, that at the very least seem useless, and in many cases are counterproductive, in achieving our eternal purposes.  If we are investing the resources of the church in areas that it’s not been commissioned for, we are depleting those resources for doing the work it has been commissioned for.

On an individual level, the distractions are even more abundant.  We can easily get caught up in the day to day struggle to raise our families, and lose sight of our higher calling.  Like Covey, the Apostle Paul encourages us to keep pressing toward the goal; he also reminds us that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in “civilian” affairs.  These words speak of avoiding things that will distract us from our greater purpose. 

If we don’t keep focused, something as little as the way someone looks at us, or their tone of voice, can pull us off track.  One unkind word, or interpersonal struggle is often all that it takes to make us forfeit the joy of our salvation.  A situation on the job, or an unpaid bill may be all that it takes for us to forget the hope we have in Christ.  We must understand that within these situations there is a hook that our enemy means to get into us, and we must learn not to grab hold of it. 

We’re often so quick to respond to these issues without guidance from the Lord, and then get overwhelmed by the consequences of acting under our own power.  A fish is simply driven by their instinct, and if it survives, it can be hooked over and over again with the same bait.  As believers, filled with God’s Spirit, we need to be wiser than that, and learn to take every thought captive. 

We need to recognize that our enemy is always using people, and situations in an effort to snag us, and choose not to take that bait.  We need to understand that apart from God we can do nothing, and that if He isn’t calling us to the battle, He isn’t under any obligation to equip us for it. 

As Paul said, we must press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.  Adding that, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  We too must push every hindrance aside, and throw off the things which mean to entangle us, so that we might run the race that’s been marked out for us.

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During times of prayer I’ve often been reminded of the scripture, “watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation”.  As I re-read that passage, I got a renewed sense of what Jesus was saying.  It seems that He was trying to warn the Apostles that something was about to come against them, but they couldn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of it.  Despite all that Jesus had told them about what must happen to Him, they remained remarkably unaware. 

He didn’t just ask them to pray with Him, He asked them to watch as well.  What was it that He was encouraging them to see?  One might guess that it was to look for those who Jesus understood would be coming for Him, but in judging Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s response, it seems unlikely that He was asking them to stand guard. 

This wasn’t the first time Jesus had spoken of watching and praying.  In the parable of the fig tree He had told them of a snare that had been set for all who dwell on the earth, and exhorted them to always watch and pray, so that they may be counted worthy to escape the things to come.  He later singled out Peter and let him know that Satan had asked for him, that he might be sifted as wheat. 

I sense that Jesus picked those Apostles who were closest to Him, and the leaders amongst the twelve, because they were the ones most likely to understand.  He had previously expressed His exasperation at the lack of understanding amongst His disciples, but in preparation for this time He had painstakingly explained that He must be given over to death.  He wanted them to pray, so that their eyes would be opened to the significance of the events that were about to unfold.  But as the scripture says, they fell asleep. 

I believe that this is not only their story, but a representation of the church as a whole.  The Lord has been trying to warn us of things to come, but we’ve largely been asleep.  Like the Apostles on that night, our stomachs are full, it seems pretty quiet, and we’re largely unaware of the spiritual implications of what is going on around us.  Just as Jesus told them, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

So what is the temptation that Jesus was speaking of?  Was it a specific issue, or was it just temptation in general?  As we look at the scripture, we can get some sense of what was behind the spectrum of actions, and reactions that were occurring around Jesus in this time. 

It seems that Judas had fallen into the temptation to manipulate the circumstances for gain, while by drawing the sword, Peter took it upon himself to try to power his way through the situation in his own strength.  The other disciples fell to their fear, as they scattered, and abandoned this man that they had claimed to love.  Ultimately, Judas succumbed to despair and shame. 

The Temple Guard fell to the temptation to use the enemies’ tactics, as they came in the dark of night, and without just cause.  The High Priest, and the Sanhedrin were taken by their religious pride, their confidence in their own understanding, and their lust for power. 

Pilate succumbed to his fear of men, while the Israelites who gathered outside were caught up in the arrogance of the mob, as they shouted, “let His blood be on us and on our children”.  Finally, the Roman guards gave themselves over to the brutality that comes with unchecked power. 

As this scene unfolded, there was all variety of temptation to fall to, and we see just about everyone, other than Jesus, succumbing to it.  It is the same today as it was then.  We are falling into the same kinds of temptations.  Our tendencies to react, and respond are the same as theirs, and Jesus’ words still echo loudly.    

Of course Jesus didn’t give in to temptation, as He walked through the horrible reality of the cross.  The scripture says that Jesus despised the shame of the cross, that He agonized to the point that His sweat became like droplets of blood, and that He was sorrowful unto the point of death.  Yet while praying in the garden, He resolved not my will, but thine be done. 

We rationalize that He was the Son of God, and that this means it was somehow different for Him, but the scripture says that He was a man, who was tempted in all the same ways we are.  I would submit that through His times of prayer, He was fortified for the things to come. 

Throughout His ministry, we repeatedly see Jesus separating Himself from the crowd, and finding that quiet place to be with His Father.  He said He didn’t do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first, and I believe that it was in these times of prayer that He received the insight, and direction necessary for Him to fulfill His purpose. 

It was these private moments that allowed Jesus to maintain an eternal perspective on what was happening around Him, and so it is with us.  If we are to be fortified for the things to come, and not fall to the buffet of temptations that await us; if we hope to maintain an eternal perspective, and fulfill our purpose, we too must find the quiet place, where we can receive direction from God. 

It seems that the Western church has fallen into the cultural trend of having a very short attention span, and that the concept of prayer has largely given way to engaging speakers, drama teams, dancers, and power point presentations.  While none of those things is wrong necessarily, it seems like we’ve tried to make ourselves relevant to the world by imitating them.  We can pack the house for conferences, or plays, or concerts, but struggle to get anyone to get excited about a prayer meeting.  If there is too much of a lull in the action, we’re afraid that we will lose the crowd. 

As I consider the state of prayer within the church, I am reminded of the story of Jesus coming into the temple area, and overturning the tables of the money changers, and merchants.  I’ve heard it said that it was the corrupt practices of the merchants in the temple that angered Jesus, but Mark’s gospel account seems to indicate that it was the mere presence of commerce within the temple.  He not only confronted the money-changers, and vendors, but began to drive out those who were buying and selling, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 

I sense that Jesus saw this as a defilement of a sacred place, and that he abhorred that the focus had been taken off the Father.  This makes me wonder how Jesus views the blatant merchandizing, and enterprise that takes place within the church today.  His objection to those extra-curricular activities was that His Father’s house was to be a “house of prayer”. 

The question that looms is whether we are any closer to this today.  How many local churches can accurately claim to be a house of prayer?  If a church isn’t a house of prayer, what is it a house of?  If we are not a praying church, then what are we placing our hope in?  Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to focus on the seen realm (2 Cor. 4:18)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to hollow and deceptive philosophies which depend on human tradition (Col. 2:8)

Watch and pray, lest you fall to the temptation to do what is right in our own eyes (Matt 16:22-23)

Watch and pray, lest you give in to the impulse to take matters into your own hands (Luke 22:50-51)

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I was raised in a Christian home with two loving parents, two brothers and a sister.  We were taught (via word and deed) very traditional ideas about God, family, and life in general.  While these were my earliest influences, there came a time in my life that I began to challenge just about every one of those ideas.  I was not consciously trying to rebel, but I definitely wanted to see things for myself.  I didn’t have to go out, and seek the things of the world, all I had to do was live in the world with an “open mind”, and those things worked their way into me. 

I just listened to some music, watched some television, went to some movies, and read some magazines.  Nothing drastic, I lived a fairly typical life, and very subtly “evolved” in my thinking.  I remember thinking how the people who talked about things like “sex and violence in popular culture” sounded like alarmists; after all I was around all that stuff, and it wasn’t affecting me. 

It wasn’t until years later, when I came to an awareness of the emptiness within me that I considered something might need to change.  Shortly after that realization, the life that I had carved out collapsed, leaving me scrambling for a new reference point.  That is the period in which God became “real” to me. 

I went through a season where I found myself frequently alone, and cutoff from the routine of my former life.  As I read the Bible, I encountered many of the ideas that I’d been raised with, and I had to wonder when, and how I’d gotten so far away from that.  It was then that I began to recognize how wrong I had been about the affect that soaking in the popular culture was having on me.

The Bible warns that bad company corrupts good character, and that is largely viewed as a warning against hanging out with the wrong people.  While that is undoubtedly the main thrust of that passage, I’d submit that keeping company with the wrong ideas, and images is just as damaging; maybe even more so. 

In the Old Testament we see God tell the men of Israel not to marry foreign women, because their hearts will undoubtedly be turned to their foreign gods.  It was not the women themselves that were the issue, it was their ideas, and belief systems that God was trying to keep His people from. 

This was played out in dramatic fashion in the life of Solomon, whom God gave wisdom that was “as measureless as the sand of the seashore” and “greater riches… than all the other kings of the earth”.  Despite all of Gods favor, Solomon’s appetite for foreign women (700 wives, 300 concubines) caused his loyalty to become divided, as he built altars, and made sacrifices to the gods of his wives. 

To understand what a serious issue this was to God, consider the fact that despite King David’s adultery and murder, God assessed him to be a “man after God’s own heart”, while despite Solomon’s wisdom, and the splendor of the Temple he built, God angrily promised to tear the kingdom from his children. 

Solomon obviously thought that he could have it both ways, but God knew that ultimately it would cause him to become double minded.  While many of his actions had exalted God, his heart became separated from Him, and in the end the heart is all that counts.

God’s word tells us not to be conformed to the things of this world, and that in fact friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God.  I believe that many of us who call ourselves Christians have fallen into the same trap as Solomon did.  We believe that we can say and do some good things for God, and yet still be on good terms with the world around us. 

We can spend a couple of hours a week involved in “church stuff”, and maybe even pray or read our bible some; but then live just like our lost neighbors for the rest of the time.  We listen to the world’s philosophies, fill our ears with the world’s music, fill our heads with the images of the world, and think that somehow that isn’t coloring our perception of truth. 

It is like saturating a sponge with red fruit punch, and then trying to carry that sponge across a white carpeted room.  There is no way that it isn’t going to stain you, and get on everything that’s around you.  As we sit and watch seemingly harmless “entertainment”, our perceptions of the roles of men and women, of relationships, and of what is acceptable are being affected.  As we sit and watch infomercials, or the shopping channel, we’re encouraged to covet all the things we don’t have.  As we watch the news, our perception of reality is being affected, whether we believe it or not. 

An example of this is a group, which purportedly represented over 10,000 Christians, who came out with a document supporting the Theory of Evolution.  Their stated motivation was that “Creationism” (i.e. the literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation) just isn’t “good science”.  Their misconception was that the “Theory” of Evolution equated to “good science”.  If that were true, it wouldn’t still be a theory all these years after Darwin first developed it. 

In a laboratory a theory is put to the test, and if a consistent result cannot be derived, that theory is assumed to be at least incomplete, if not completely false.  Because of gapping holes within it, the theory of Evolution has not been proven, and as such should probably be classified as questionable science, if not “bad science”.  But we’ve been taught it as though it were fact for so long that many just assume that it must be. 

This is the same dynamic the Church succumbs to on other issues as well.  Gods’ word clearly says one thing, but what we see and hear going on around us is what we treat as reality.  God meant for His church to be an influence on the world, but in the western hemisphere the church seems to be taking its cues from the culture.  Whether it is the model for the family, marriage, divorce, sexuality…, the church appears to be trying to make itself more relevant to the world by adapting itself to the world’s beliefs. 

If our mission was to get people into the church building this approach might be helpful, but our mission is to “make disciples” of Jesus Christ, and this approach only serves to distort His image.

The Bible teaches that how a man thinks in his heart will dictate how he lives.  If our conception of manhood comes from things like John Wayne movies, or our conception of what a family is comes from shows like “Everybody Loves Raymond”, or our conception of men and women come from books like “Women are From Venus and Men Are From Mars”, or our conception of what success is comes from people like “The Kardashians”, or our conception of what charity is comes from people like “Oprah”, or our conception of what love is comes from things like “Romeo and Juliet”…, then we’ve been conformed to this world, and not transformed into the image of our God. 

Only our Creator can truly show us who we were made to be, only He knows what will fulfill us.  Only a God who yearns to have relationship with us can teach us about what He intended for relationships.  Only the God who “is love” can show us what real love is.  We need to quit looking to the world for reality and truth, because one day we will pass from the unreality of this life into the reality of eternity.

When that happens, only Gods point of view will matter, and the rest will have been nothing more than “chasing the wind”.  Like someone who’s had too much to drink, we can argue that we’re good enough to get ourselves home, but a simple blood test will reveal whether we are “under the influence”. 

At the end of this road there will be a traffic stop, and the results of that blood test will definitely be brought before the court.  On that day the man who has tried to make the best of both worlds will likely find that he’s made nothing of either of them.

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I come from a decidedly military background, and it has been a significant part of my personal history.  My father spent 26 years on active duty in the Air Force, and I was raised primarily living on military reservations.  While I grew up with a healthy respect for the military, I truthfully didn’t find myself drawn to that way of life.  I wasn’t one to play with GI Joes, or toy guns.  When I left home, joining the military was nowhere in my plans; but of course neither was squandering the opportunity to get a college education, or getting involved in a totally destructive lifestyle. 

When I felt out of options, I too joined the military and spent twelve years in the Navy.  While that turned out to be one of the best choices I made in my young life, I was pleased to return to civilian life when it was over.  I think people who’ve never really lived that life can have romantic notions about it, but if you’ve walked that path you understand that there is a cost that comes with it. 

I emerged from the military with an unwavering admiration for anyone who chooses to wear the uniform, and make the sacrifice; but also with a much deeper reverence for times of peace.  Years later, when I decided to try to live my life for the Lord, I didn’t realize that I was in effect re-enlisting.

The United States is a very proud country, and many of its citizens would likely count themselves as patriots, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those folks would all be willing to enlist in the military.  There is a level of commitment that comes with that choice that most folks are not willing to make. 

Interestingly, just because someone is willing to enlist doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re willing to fight.  Many join the military to get training, or money for later education.  Some join because they want to wear the uniform, and be identified with something that they see as virtuous (or at least worthwhile). 

At the time that the Persian Gulf War broke out (i.e. autumn of 1990) I was assigned to a nuclear attack submarine, and I worked with a fellow, who like me, had been in the military about eight years (which means that like me he had re-enlisted).  When the word came down that our boat would be heading to the Red Sea, he talked to me about filing for “Conscientious Objector” status. 

I thought he was joking at first, but he was serious.  I reminded him that he had volunteered (at least twice) to be a part of the nation’s fighting force, that he’d been trained for war, and that he was assigned to a warship.  All he could say was that his Recruiter said that he’d never have to fight, and that he now wanted out. 

I wish I could say that he was the only one, but in that period the military experienced a rash of people who had these types of issues, some even went AWOL (absent without leave) to avoid deployment.  I was shocked at that kind of mindset.  Even though I never saw myself as much of a warrior, I knew that if our nation was going to be engaged in battle, it was my duty to be a part of it, and that I needed to be ready to fight.

From the time you first enlist, you’re reminded that the mission of the military is to fight against the enemies of our nation, and our national interests.  But if you enlist during a time that the nation doesn’t have troops in battle you may not take those warnings very seriously. 

A new recruit is normally consumed with things like how to wear their uniform, how to march in a straight line, and when their hair will grow back.  Though they are considered a soldier at this point, they pose little threat to the enemy.  It is not until they complete their training, and actually become part of a unit that the reality of the mission becomes apparent.  

While in most military units you’re assigned a non-combat role (e.g. in the Seabees I was a Drafter/Surveyor/Project Administrator), everyone has a combat role as well (e.g. in the Seabees I was assigned to the Mortar Canon Crew).  Though you spent most of your time in your non combat role, you always had to be ready to step into combat mode.  Though being good at your non combat assignment was good for your career, how you performed in combat could mean life or death, not only for you, but also for those around you.

Unlike the military, when you decide to become a Christian folks aren’t nearly as forthright about the mission.  Like a good Recruiter they speak a lot about the benefits, and the retirement plan, but very little about what is in between.  They don’t necessarily mention that putting on the uniform makes you a target for the enemy, and that you may want to take your training very seriously, since a combat assignment is a guarantee. 

You may hear that you’re “in the Lords army”, but it often comes across more like a parade tune than a battle cry.  We inevitably learn that “God is Love” and that He so loved the world that He sent His Son Jesus to pay our price; but we may not hear that Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and that the violent take it by force.  We may hear that the Holy Spirit has come to live inside of us, but we may not hear that this sets off a battle for our souls, between our flesh and spirit, that will not end until the day we die.  We may hear about David dancing before the Lord, or playing music to calm King Saul, but we may not hear his words about the Lord training his hands to war. 

If we bother to read the training manual it ought to jump out at us that being friends with the world makes us an enemy of God, which means that we’ll always be swimming against the current of what is popular, and convenient.  We might also notice how Jesus was treated by the very people He came to save, and to note that God destines us to be transformed into His image.  We might also find the little training tip which tells us that Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered, and understand that maybe we ought to prepare ourselves for some of that too. 

While this may seem to be a fairly dire portrait of the Christian life, it does line up with the scripture, and these battles rage on whether we acknowledge them or not.   Unlike soldiers in the natural, we have the distinct advantage of knowing how the war will end.

It strikes me that as the warfare is becoming more apparent in these days, we’re finding a lot of troops amongst us who don’t really know how to use their weapons, or in some cases even understand that there is a battle going on.  Like my friend back in the Navy, they didn’t really think that this is what they signed up for. 

They are “believers”, who like the patriot believe in the virtue of the kingdom.  They may even be “followers”, who like the recruit have enlisted, and have put on the uniform; but because they’ve not been prepared, they don’t pose a legitimate threat to the enemy. 

In many cases they don’t feel connected to a unit (i.e. the Body of Christ), and they still cling to the hope that somehow they can avoid this conflict.  With that mindset, they will be nothing more than target practice for the enemy. 

The great commission didn’t mandate that we make believers of all men, or even followers; it says to make “disciples” of all men.  While that certainly encompasses seeing souls reached for the Lord, it also means preparing them for battle, and seeing them take up their post within the body.  Paul said that a good soldier doesn’t involve themselves in civilian matters, and it seems that too many soldiers in the Lords Army aren’t following that guidance. 

We have been supplied with weapons of mass destruction, but we don’t seem to know how to deploy them.  Indeed the kingdom of heaven is suffering violence, and it is time for the Body of Christ to become engaged in this battle.  Like the United States in World War II, we’ve waited so long that the battle has come to us.  All of creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

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