Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Fence of Truth, Another Lesson from the Ravi Zacharias Scandal, and Next Steps



(older vintage, circa 1920's playground)

Recently, Bay showed me an image of an old playground similar to the ones above...

That students survived these monstrosities is, well, miraculous, at best, and, amazing, at least.

I went digging into the archives for pics of playgrounds of the 1960's, during my very, very early school years. 

Can't say they improved much! 

However, here I sit, alive and, none too scarred to boast of (OK, maybe one big scar on my shin and a bum ankle that causes me fits from time to time)...

These photos aren't from my elementary school playground, but they could have been:




(Monkey bars, slides, swings, jungle gyms, and miniature "merry go rounds"...add in, jump ropes, softball, tether ball, dodge ball...and we looked forward to every recess with great glee...)


(Just for memory's sake, this is my elementary school, Ocean Crest in Bandon, OR...)

The playground equipment of my era may not fit the child-friendly-safe requirements of the 2020's, but, at some point between 3rd and 6th grade the powers-that-be surrounded our play-yard with a chain link fence. 

No one argued the fence.

I don't remember anyone complaining that it hindered our fun.

Without saying, we all knew why the fence was there:

> It kept us from running out in the streets if a ball happened to get away from us, which happened often, and A LOT (especially when non-athletes, uh-hem, me, threw them). We knew the fence protected us from the cars that zipped along the street beside the school.

> It kept stranger-danger out.

> It showed us our designated play space, and we utilized every square inch of it. 

 > It helped our guardian-playground-supervisors with a more defined space for corralling us all and keeping an ever-eagle-eye-on-us... 

There was NEVER whining from us when the fence went up.

As I look back, it seemed we accepted it as a protective measure, shrugged our shoulders, and declared ourselves SAFE.

XXXXX

Truth is the fence around the playground of our lives.

Daily, I sense more of an urgency to become more knowledgeable in Truth.

Not perceived truth.

Not truth as I see it.

But TRUTH as in Scripturally based teachings, principles, words of guidance. 

Within the pages of the written Words of our Lord is the boundary of God's will. 

Outside of that boundary, things get sketchy....and, frankly, frightening...for we set ourselves up for all manners of trouble, not to mention personal failure. 

Outside of the boundary of God's will there is no protection.

Outside the boundary of God's will, we experience sin with all its consequences. 

XXXXX

Outside the boundary of God's will is what happened to Ravi Zacharias (see last week's blog), and Carl Lentz (Hillsong), and a host of others. 

It doesn't start with one decision to disobey and walk away.

It begins as a slow fade.

One disobedient step outside the fence at a time...

Then, before we know it, we are AFAR OFF.

AFAR OFF is a terrible place to be!

AFAR OFF doesn't just hurt me, it hurts others.

Many, many others.

It not just devastates, it decimates victims caught in sin's wake!

And more...it maligns the name of Jesus; it nullifies His death as we so easily dismiss what He has done for us. Sadly, it even vilifies Jesus...

AFAR OFF keeps me from living in the shadow of the cross....and a daily reminder of all Jesus did, not just to give me eternity, but to give me victorious LIFE in the now!

Last of all, AFAR OFF normalizes my SIN and HARDENS MY HEART, and soon, I no longer feel the shame and remorse and the struggle of the sinful nature. 

Leaving the Truth of the inerrant, infallible Word of God begins the slow fade...first into error, then into sin, and from there, the unthinkable results in a total unrepentant spirit and hard-heartedness. 

That's why the Truth, as my personal mirror, is crucial...

Its conviction nips sin early, and sends me rushing back inside the protective fence.

Or, should!!!

This is why comments, like the following, make me extremely nervous, as they should you:


-Jory Micah, MA Christian Doctrine - Twitter Feed 2/22/2021


-Ara Praxis @AraPraxis in response to Jory Micah - Twitter Feed 2/22/21

Here's an actual quote from the article: "The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2000 years ago as their best defense (Rob Bell)."

-https://townhall.com/news/around-the-web/2015/02/19/christian-pastor-rob-bell-suggests-ignoring-the-bible-to-help-the-church-stay-relevant-n1959471-

-Richard Rohr, author, Falling Upward, p. 62-63-


(See below in response to this Scripture and the Word): “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. …John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'” (John 1:6-9, 15) 

-Brian Zahnd, Pastor, Author, "Of God and Genocide" (https://brianzahnd.com/2021/01/of-god-and-genocide/#more-7159)

XXXXX

What are our next steps, Jesus-Followers? We need to:

1) BE AWARE of what's floating around the internet world, as well as, the educational world from which our students are gleaning, and, having been misled, naming as "truth."

2) KNOW TRUTH: how to study, how to apply, how to dig, find answers & respond KINDLY with WISDOM. There's a knack to learning how to discern and look for error...and, this principle needs taught to the next gen. I am sadly lacking in discernment, and on a mission to grow in it.

3) EXAMINE our heart in light of TRUTH, listen to the convicting, warning voice of the Sweet Spirit of God, and get back inside the playground fence, AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!


Only the GENUINE WORD Transforms and Conforms us to the image of our Lord, and protects us from the prison of sin!

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

First Day of Lent & Lessons from the Ravi Zacharias Scandal

An open letter to Christians impacted by the Ravi Zacharias scandal; 

Once RZIM released their statement last week, regarding the now confirmed allegations of Ravi Zacharias, I've felt a need to process... 

Writing always helps.

Bay and I got to know Ravi, having served at the same family camp, over several different summers. He was kind, gracious, brilliant, and humble. The man we met, and, with whom we shared meals, in no way matched the predator the investigation unraveled. 

My first response was anger; but, anger born of grief:

✔ Grief for his victims (plural) and, not once, but ongoing, over many years, in many countries. 

✔ Grief for his family. Not only had they lost a beloved husband and father to cancer, but they continue to lose him as the scandal and social-media-buzz drops daily devastating bombshells...

✔ ...for RZIM, the ministry he founded. While I applaud the way they handled the process, the vulnerability and the bravery to be upfront and forthwith, this uncovering ravages their credibility.

I pray for all. 

✔ More than all of this, the grief I'm experiencing comes as I read, and hear, others weigh in (from inside the sheepfold and those out) saying, "Well, so there goes that Jesus, again..."

Jesus!

As if He's the one to blame and at whom we point the finger...

And, because (sadly) this kind of scandal is far too common, the witness of Jesus is destroyed by His ambassadors, and the glory of God is tarnished, unable to shine as brightly in this dark world.

Already, many, more profound and proficient, have weighed in on this disgrace; so, why me?

What do I have to add?

Probably not much...again, I'm simply finding a way to file away in my mental cabinet drawers a way to put closure to my wandering thoughts. 

In the midst of my mental meandering over this dilemma, I turned to Galatians, where I've begun a dig-deep-study to mine the Apostle Paul's spiritual treasures. 

This morning I picked up in Chapter 2. 

Background: Paul is sharing his story with the Galatians, and like any good attorney, he's laying out his credibility and setting up his case before this church body. He's told them that following his radical salvation, he went up to Arabia, instead of going to Jerusalem, where he could meet in person with the very apostles who walked and lived with Jesus. Who better to disciple Paul? But, no, instead he went into the desert for several years, where he met with the RISEN LORD, who accomplished that job. Then, he went to Jerusalem to discuss the mission set before him (to take the gospel to the Gentiles)...

Four times in 9 verses, Paul tells the Galatians that he met with those who "seemed to be" influential (meaning Jesus' disciples).

I thought it odd that Paul used those three little words "seemed to be" in reference to these men. Of course, they were the influential ones - "they had been with Jesus."

It becomes clear why he's vague beginning in verse 10.

Peter comes to visit Paul, to see his work first hand. 

Peter, one who "seemed to be" influential in the early church; but a different Peter. Here sits a hypocritical Peter, a man who should be "walking in step with the truth of the gospel." A man leading other sheep astray by his play-acting. A man who sought the pat-on-the-back of people more than pleasing Christ. 

And, Paul opposes him to his face.  

Here's the point: 

Not all of us are "who we seem to be" on the surface. 

Peter resides inside of each us from time-to-time.

We are all sinners, everyone, missing the mark of a life that imitates our Savior and Lord, Jesus.

There, as a Peter, as a Ravi, as the multitude of leaders who've gone before and fallen prey to temptation, go I, but for the grace of God. 

You, too!

We can not, must not, should not point fingers... 

There is NO PLACE for self-righteousness (check the attitude)...

Daily, there must be a look into our own hearts. 

We are all created to bring glory to the ONE who died to save us, and frequently fall short. 

All saved-souls are to live by faith and walk in step with the Spirit of the Lord who dwells within us; surrender moment-by-moment of every(!) single(!) day(!); take up our cross and follow Jesus. 

As Paul tells the Galatians,

"You were called to freedom...Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. And I say, walk by the Spirit who dwells inside of you, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit..."

(Gal. 5:13, 16, 17a)

We, you and I, are not FORCED TO LIVE IN BONDAGE TO OUR SIN NATURE!

Yet, again, as surely as morning follows the night, I'll surrender to the bondage of my sin that "so easily besets..."

The battle is not easy; it's an all-out-war! 

No amount of knowledge (think Ravi) makes that war easier.

Knowledge, we know, puffs up; and instead of saying, "I can't" and surrendering to the one who can-in-me, I'll yield to my sin instead.

This is important for the sheep-gone-missing to see in me; and, to see in you...

It is important for them to see it in their earthly shepherds! 

We need to declare this from the rooftops for all to understand: 

MY SIN IS NOT JESUS!

Ravi's sin was not Jesus!

Peter's sin was not Jesus!

In those times, we may belong to Jesus, but Jesus (His sweet Spirit) is not dwelling in fulness in us!

Here's where the GREATEST TWO WORDS OF SCRIPTURE come into play:

BUT JESUS.

He died to take away our sin...

To bury it in the deepest waters...

And, not just take it away, give us victory over it...

To replace it with Resurrection POWER.

Power to help us walk away from sin!

We've got to stop scuba diving to pick it back up again, and let the Spirit of Jesus live through these earthly bodies. 

Then Jesus will be Jesus in us.

AND, His glory will not be tarnished!

SO....

Today is the first day of Lent.

It's a perfect season, over the next 40 days, to take an internal investigation.

In this season, may we commit to seek the Lord, to ask Him to reveal the ugly in our hearts, then, mourn our sin that led to His death, and celebrate the difference He died to make. 

It's a season to expel Peter from our hearts (even Ravi!)...and open ourselves up to abiding in Jesus once more...

It will make Easter Sunday more meaningful; more precious; more influential in changing us from the inside out.

We've got 40 days to look deep.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Contrary to Thought: Sometimes It Must Be About "Me" FIRST...

We've all heard that joy is found following this prescription:


HOWEVER, today it became about "me-first." 

XXXXX

I had already written another blog for this morning. 

But, in the middle of my quiet time, I felt a NEED; no, more like a conviction, to make an explanation.

From even before 2020 ended, I sensed the Lord prompting me to study, research, learn, grow, listen, and seek to understand the problem with sheep-gone-missing.

I'm giving attention to what those voices address, and then to prayerfully, KINDLY, lovingly speak TRUTH where it applies, and to dismiss the rest (not as in cancel-culture-dismissal, but as in not allowing the lies to live, raging, inside of me). 

As I've started blogging some of this journey, I re-read a few of my posts.

Adding them all together and sitting on them all at one time, left me wondering if what I wrote could be misconstrued as pride...as if I've got my spiritual-life-all-together, and others not-so-much.

Believe me, this isn't the case.

Each morning, I wake up with a prayer on my lips, that as I dig a little deeper, and learn a little more, the Lord will, first of all, show me where I am WRONG. 

I ask Him to guide my learning, because I know my interpretation of Scripture isn't always on target.

I truly want to know where I am missing the boat, so that my insights, and my responses to those insights (through speaking or writing), aren't just my opinion, but God's TRUTH, as closely as He meant it to be understood. 

There is a blog I have enjoyed reading, and the author of the site has titled it "SLOW TO WRITE."

I love that title.

It's my heart's desire to not speak, or write, in a reactionary fashion, but thoughtfully, after prayer and study.

This morning, I read a prayer in Valley of Vision (a collection of old Puritan Prayers). 

I read a few now and then as I begin my quiet time...

During the middle of this week, this was my prayer...and, I have referred to it daily, sometimes more than a few...


This morning, in reference to sheep who wander off, I read this prayer:

"Oh, Lord, 
Oh, how free is Thy grace
that reminds them of the danger that confronts them
and urges them to persevere in adherence to Thyself...

I bless Thee that those who turn aside may
return to Thee immediately,
& be welcomed without 
ANYTHING to commend them..."  Amen.

BUT, instead of focusing on "them" (as in someone else), I am reminded, that I am often them! 

And, through the Puritans of long ago, it fills my soul, again, to KNOW that EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE comes back to GRACE!

I, too, am frequently outside the sheep-fold, not following the blessed way of the Sheep-Path, led by a Good Shepherd.

I may not be in danger on the cliffs, or, afar off, being stalked by wolves, but outside is outside!

For me that may look like "laboring too much for my spiritual life," instead of abiding in Jesus (John 15).

Or, not coming regularly to the fountain that purges my sin (AKA: spiritual pride).




Or, becoming distressed of soul, rather than sitting in the PRESENCE of the one whose JOY is free for the receiving.

"In His presence is fulness of Joy..."
Ps. 16:11b

Or, relying on my own strength, instead of the Resurrection-Power of the Lord Jesus.

Or, forgetting the long arm of God's Salvation, fearing that some are "too far lost."

Or, worst of all, reducing the Majesty of My God in size, so that I become a God-Amnesiac and forget to live in AWE...



AGAIN: Outside the sheep-fold is outside the sheep-fold, and we all need the Shepherd to lift us up over His sweet shoulders and nuzzle us close to His dear voice, reminding us WHOSE WE ARE (!), so we will no longer hear, OR LISTEN TO,  the voices that distract us away from keeping the main thing the main thing!

What's the main thing?

The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The of His earthly to-do-list.

How freely He offers His grace as we return to Him!

How insane is His welcome!

How undeserving is His forgiveness!



And, it is for all of us, ANYWHERE we might be outside the sheep-fold, or not following along the Path THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN TRAVELED before us by the Shepherd! 

As I move forward, please know it is with an acute awareness, I am there (outside), far too frequently myself...drifting...

So, it is with compassion and joy in GRACE abundant, that I share my heart as I am on this road to understanding and knowledge.

And, my intent is that we all do the same:  examine ourselves first, seek TRUTH, and be open minded to where our own path needs to be tweaked because we've transgressed, whether a wee bit, or way too far off. 

Then, and only then, can we address other sheep who are in danger outside the fold...



Thursday, February 4, 2021

Why Many Sheep Seem to Be Wandering...

This morning, as I curled up in my normal spot on the couch with my Bible on my lap and a cup of coffee in hand, my mind traveled back over our past years of ministry. 

We've been "at this" for some time! 

For the better part of 30 years, our major ministry involved junior high, high school, and/or college age students...and, we loved every! single! minute! 

And, we loved them...every! single! one! These were "OUR KIDS!" 

While it was fun to think up new, and somewhat crazy activities, nothing filled us up more than worshipping together and challenging one another from the Word.

Were we perfect shepherds?

Definitely not!

As we grew, and matured more in our faith, there are things we'd no doubt go back and change.

But, were our hearts in the right spot?

Definitely, yes!

God met us with these kids, in the midst of journeying through some of their messiest years, and, often, in pretty miraculous ways! Oh, the stories we have tucked away in our hearts!

They were our JOY...and, an added blessing is that for a lot of those years, our kiddos were involved right along with us. 

So, as I sat reflecting, a multitude of faces marched across the television screen of my mind...

I paused to smile at some of the good memories. 

But, before long, the smile turned down as I looked closer at those faces. 

Not down, as in a frown; not down, as in mad; but, down as in sad...disheartened...yes, even broken-hearted. 💔

So many have walked away from the Jesus we taught, and longed for them to meet, build relationship with, and follow intimately.

We're not alone!

Conversations like this occur often with former youth pastors, current pastors, and others in ministry.

We see many drift away, wandering off, for a variety of reasons.

As I've re-connected with a few, here are some responses for the "why:"

❐  They've been wounded by the Church.  Sometimes, plain and simple, it's been nothing less than spiritual abuse of a wide variety. There is no excuse for it...this kind of abuse is often much like any other: a means to control, manipulate, and maintain power. 

Legalism plays a huge role in this area, as well. Law over love always leads to a less-than-desirable picture of Jesus. Who'd want to follow Him if He's only about perfected performance? But, I love this quote from Martin Luther: 

Sometimes, the church just gets this backwards. I don't point fingers. I don't blame. Sometimes in our longing for Jesus-Followers to know the better-way-of-the-gospel, it's easy to confuse the two. We want more for those coming behind. It's not an excuse; but maybe a way of understanding how easy it is to fall into the trap of legalism...

❐  Many who have wandered off know what to believe, but never really grasped why they believe it. As a result, there are no safe places to bring questions, no room is given for doubt (which is a far cry from unbelief, yet often judged as such), and, honestly, not many are really skilled in answering questions and doubts, so they stay silent. We need to give safe space and room to breathe out the questions, while engaging together for the best Biblical response; and, we all need a better education in apologetics. 

❐  Along with the above, a similar problem reared its ugly head, as those who've drifted away, tried to match the character of the God-of-the Bible with some of the stories they now read through a different lens (God's character isn't seen as matching His behavior). As I listen to their struggles, I realize that the church has done a poor job of teaching how to study the Bible, how to dig deep for accuracy, apply culture, good hermeneutics... We've relied too much on the pastors, the teachers, the elders, the missionary to do all the teaching... We're drinking milk, and the meat is far from our dinner plates!

❐ I would also add this: Many who have walked away have done so because they do not have a good theology of suffering. For some reason, the perceived notion is that followers of Jesus do not suffer. There is a notion that the Lord protects His own, and those who "trust enough" will be spared difficulty. So, it's no wonder that when the going gets tough, those in the midst of trials and pain get going, as well...but in the wrong direction! 

❐  Some have wrestled with the "hard-core moral discipline" of the Bible; and, plain and simple, the ways of the world offered a much more attractive option. The world's ways have always competed with the values, beliefs, and moral codes of Christianity. To live differently (according to Christian principles) makes us "social outcasts"...."fanatics." Frankly, this kind of living is exhausting, especially when you get to college, and come up against a definite agenda being taught (yes, even in Christian universities) against core beliefs taught by the mainstream evangelical church. I've seen this in several areas...it's there, and, again, how to fight the battles of this current age is lacking!

By no means is this an exhaustive list.

Does the church need reforming? 

Definitely, yes!

It's made up of sinners, who are in the work of TRANSFORMING to be more like Jesus.

Reform will come as we are all transformed in Him through the Word of Truth.

But wandering away from the gospel Jesus brought us through His death and resurrection (✅) to another gospel is NOT THE ANSWER.

Those who leave Biblical/Historical Christianity, do so because they think they see a better way.

They hear louder voices (believe me THEY ARE LOUD...and MANY).

They like what they hear. 

And, so, they deconstruct their faith to grab ahold of something shinier, prettier, more user-friendly, all wrapped in beautiful paper and topped with a palatable bow. 

The problem I see is that there isn't a Biblically sound reconstruction. 

It's OK to deconstruct as long as the reconstruction truly rests on the Word of the Lord and not the voice of men and women alone. 

BUT...

It is time for Jesus-followers to know what we believe, why we believe it, walk in love, and speak truth often with compassion. 

These are my words to live by in 2021. 

So, this morning, I closed my couch-time thankful that God is still writing the stories for those who are deconstructing and drifting...I have HOPE for their tomorrow...and that there will one day be a smile back on my face!



Thursday, January 28, 2021

I Sense the Lord Asking Me a Hard-to-Answer Question. Maybe YOU, TOO?

 

"I AM...the Good Shepherd...(John 10:11-18)"

-Jesus-

A Good Shepherd:

✅ Seeks the sheep who have wandered off from the flock...those who've "transgressed" the Shepherd-Path as they wander off (Luke 15:1-7)...

✅ Goes anywhere necessary to return the sheep to His care, lovingly placing the sheep around His neck (close enough to hear the sweet, tender voice of the Shepherd)**...

And, oh the JOY that follows, because every! single! sheep! matters! to the shepherd!

Good shepherds don't want to lose even one from the flock.

And why so great a JOY? Well, there's this -

Repentance: a turning back, a complete change in direction. 

The sheep is HOME!

XXXXX

I first saw the picture above in late 2020, and, simply could not dismiss it from mind.

 I kept going back to look at it over and over again.

Something about it seemed to beckon me, to draw me into the picture.

Finally, it dawned on me why.

It happened about the time I sat reflecting on it AGAIN, and asked myself one simple question: Where do I see myself in this picture? 

The answer: I reckon I'm the one taking the picture.

Then came another question: Why am I taking the picture? 

Answer: I'm in awe of where the Shepherd had to climb; how far away from the rest of the sheep He trudged (BAREFOOT, no less, UP, DOWN, OVER ROCKS!); how intensely He looked for His lost sheep; how willingly He carried the sheep; and, how lovingly the sheep looked at the face of the Shepherd. I guess, in my imagination, I wanted to capture all of that in one photograph.

But, the more I looked at the picture, the more I realized how profoundly and fervently the Shepherd looks at me, the photographer. 

In fact, here's the adverb I finally settled on: QUESTIONINGLY...

With His eyes Jesus is asking me:

Am I just going to be a benign picture taker? An on-looker? 

Am I simply intrigued by the sacrificial work of the Shepherd, or am I willing to climb, trudge, look, love and chase after sheep with Him? 

These are convicting questions.

They need pondering, for sure, but more: they beg to be answered. 

Jesus waits for my response!

What will I do?

Will I be a silent onlooker, documenting the sheep going astray, and the few that are being rescued by the few willing to be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus in this world? 

More and more, my heart is heavily burdened.

What I'm seeing is an out-flux of sheep leaving the fold of historic Christianity for what seems to be the "greener pastures" of progressivism. 

What I know is I'm troubled...

Troubled, as in soul-discomfited...

My spirit is BURDENED.

I'm aware there's a new "gospel" contrary to the one Jesus died to give us; a "contrary" gospel; a "different" gospel...and like the apostle, Paul, in Galatians 1, I'm "astonished" by it. 

AND YET, even having been a Jesus-follower for as long as I have (50 years, last Nov 24th), I don't feel adequately prepared to be a Good Shepherd. 

My bare feet aren't hardened enough to climb up the mountain to go after the sheep that have wandered astray, reminding them of the REAL Good News. 

My knowledge is lacking enough apologetics to be a solid voice of sound, compassionate reasoning. 

And, to be honest, the fact that Jesus is looking at me with such questioning eyes, longing for a positive response to His call to be hands, feet, and voice is FRIGHTENING. 

It's much more comfortable to stay silent, keep my feet in familiar territory, stay with the sheep who are in the "fold" (the ones who think like me, talk like me, believe as I do)...

Truth is I rather like "preaching to the choir..."

But...He's waiting.

He's looking.

He's asking with His eyes.

And, I...I am only at the same place I once saw myself years back when I told that same Shepherd, who once asked me to leave my comfortable pasture to go to Kenya, "I'm willing to be willing to be willing...." 

"Lord, make me more than willing..." 

AND...

"Change my feet..."

XXXXX

Now then, might He be looking at you with the same question in His eyes? 

The Lord needs more Good Shepherds...

Shepherds to do the HARD and HOLY work of going after the sheep gone-missing. 

XXXXX

PS. ** In response to those who might have heard that the Shepherds in Jesus day would break the leg of a sheep to keep him close to his heart for a lengthy period in order to restore the sheep...this is a myth...to break a leg of a sheep would be to cripple the sheep permanently (I checked several sheep web-sites and looked at past history...not true).