Saturday, December 31, 2011

Modern day Balaams

As I was preparing to teach on Numbers 22-24, the lesson plan and commentary talked a great deal about the prophet Balaam.

Most of the discussion centered around whether or not Balaam was a good prophet who fell, or a false prophet who God used despite his pursuit of money & fame.

There are many modern day men who seem to me to be modern day Balaams. Those men who know the truth & the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet are more interested in their financial gain and the accolades of man. Men who wear the title of Reverend but haven't spoken the name of Jesus to anyone in years. Men who wear the title of Pastor yet speak only of being happy and fulfilled instead of becoming more like Jesus.

For myself, I pray that I never fall prey to the temptation of Balaam. May God never have to use a talking donkey to get me to see Him and obey Him!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A heart that burns

As my pastor was preaching a Christmas message from John 1 last night, I saw a note I had written a few years ago about the story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-32.

After the resurrection, Jesus appears to some of His disciples as a stranger as they were walking. He begins talking to them and joins them in a discussion about His death. Then in verse 27, He explained what Scripture told about Himself.

He joins them for dinner and as He blessed the bread and gave it to them, their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Verse 32 says "They said to one another, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?' "

My note by that verse was a simple question: How can my heart burn if I don't listen to Him and read the Scriptures? All to often, I find that I am guilty of performing the Christian life instead of walking with my Master with a burning heart.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What now shall we call ourselves?

As I begin arranging my thoughts for this post, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook and many other sources are all abuzz about the prospect of a name change for the Southern Baptist Convention. Almost immediately, the battle lines over the name change were drawn. Discussions for the name change, against the name change, and even if the SBC President had the authority to even form a committee to THINK about changing the name.

My first observation was that the more enthusiastic supporters of changing the name were young, and those vocal for keeping the name were 40 and older. Sadly, the simple age of the respondant looked to be highly important. Both offered solid reasons for their position:

FOR changing the name - One young Tweeter in NYC made the comment that when he mentions that he's from the SBC, the typical response is "good, then go back there". The SBC certainly has a reputation. Others made the comment that we cannot have a regional identity and reach the world.

AGAINST changing the name - I saw comments about the storied history of the SBC. I saw comments about how "we didn't pick you to change the name, just steer the ship". I saw comments about how "you can't MAKE us change our name!" You could make the case that the Southern Baptist Convention is three offenses for the price of one. The SBC does have a storied (and checkered) past. Formed over the issue of slavery, but long past that issue. We now work aggressively to fight "human trafficking" as we call it in today's PC terms. We DO have a regional identity, and Southerners are not universally liked. We talk funny, eat grits, still wave the Stars & Bars occassionally, and even create words like y'all! The term Baptist is divisive as well. With hate-filled groups like Westboro running around, the old reputations are not likely to go away. We're known for thumping our Bibles, clucking our tongues, being against everything that the world considers fun, and we're typically mad at or about SOMETHING. Then there's that wonderful word Convention. Every year we get together and argue about this resolution or that resolution. And then we go back home and act just like we did BEFORE the Convention, except that now we're building our case for NEXT years resolution.

And that brings me to what the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the name change. Will it really CHANGE anything? If we do change the name, we'll still be known for years as the guys who USED to be the SBC. One witty post suggested the name "The Baptists Formerly Known as Southern". But will the name change ACCOMPLISH anything? Sadly, I believe not. I see us as an episode of those tv shows about the people fighting the issue of hoarding. We keep everything we have, nothing gets thrown out and we just get crowded with more and more STUFF. More programs. More "ministries". More initiatives. We can whitewash the outside of the tomb, but we all know what is really inside.

One of my favorite books is Joel, I'm one of those weirdos who just LOVE the OT. So when someone Tweeted yesterday that what the church NEEDED was for every Christian to read and live out the book of Joel, I read it again last night. And Joel told the Israelites in verse 2:13, "Rend your heart, and not your garment". What if the MEMBERS of the SBC were to return to God with weeping and fasting and mourning over OUR INDIVIDUAL sins and experience personal revival? What if we showed the world what GOD wanted the SBC to look like? What if we cast off every old stereotype and preconceived notion of who we are, where we came from and why we're here? What if were were more concerned about being known as disciples of Jesus Christ than Southern Baptists?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

He said WHAT!?!

A friend of mine recently posted this as his Facebook status: "I can't wait to get my family back!" I immediately responded with "Is there a ransom involved? Can I be the team sniper?" Another of his friends posted the comment "And with the help of Celebrate Recovery, you can!" A little joking went on, and I posted that I also could have taken it that he was going to exact some level of revenge on them, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.

So one single statement could be taken at least four different ways. Basically, there can be a HUGE difference between what is said, what is meant, and what is heard.

Scripture talks repeatedly about the tongue. It's referred to as a deadly poison, a fire and an unruly evil. Even words spoken carelessly can do harm, which is why we will be held accountable for every idle word.

As Christians, we have several responsibilities regarding speech, whether verbal, written or electronic. First, we must always speak the truth, but it should be said in love, not condemnation. Our words should point others to Jesus, not make ourselves look better than someone else. Second, we must be careful with our choices in how and what we speak. We must never condone sin, but that does not mean that we are called and charged to point out everyone else's specks. Listen to the Holy Spirit. HE knows the condition of the other person's heart and will guide you in what to say. As part of that, try to put yourself in their place. Imagine how you would want someone else to speak to you. Finally, eliminate any misunderstandings. If there are four ways that your sentence can be taken, confirm which way you meant it!

And lastly, if someone else has said something that hurt you, try to give THEM the benefit of the doubt! Love always thinks the best and hopes the best about someone else. Of you must assume anything, then assume that YOU heard incorrectly or misunderstood. Sure, there are people, and even Christians, who are slaves to their tongues and say things knowing that they will hurt. But I'm convinced that our own doubts, insecurities and fears cause much more damage than anything else.

Speak the truth, speak clearly, listen well!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What's your flavor?

Have you ever had someone ask if you are "religious", or heard it said that someone "found religion"? What about those that are called religious "nuts" or "fanatics" or "zealots"? Followers of Jesus often make the statement that "Christianity is a relationship, not a religion".

But do we even understand what a religion is? We use terms such as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc. We say that these people believe this, or those people believe that. But is it possible to define religion based on those beliefs?

All religions have teachings about where we came from. Christians and Jews believe that God created the world and man, Hindus believe that Brahma is their creator, Muslims attribute their existence to Allah, and so forth.

From the previous list, we can also see that religions have beliefs about the existence of God or gods. Not to mention angels, demons, demi-gods, genies and spirits.

Next, religions have beliefs about Man's interaction with these beings.

On top of that, they all have some belief about what happens to us when we die. Heaven, hell, or reincarnation.

Finally, each religion has commandments, rules or guidelines for how to live, and speak to what we use as the source of morality. The Bible, the Torah, or the Koran.

To sum up, consider this definition of religion: An individual's beliefs regarding the origin of Man, the existence and attributes of supernatural beings, Man's interaction with those beings, the state of Man's existence after death, and the manner in which the individual should live their life.

Now, does the definition fit all examples? Muslim? Yes. Jew? Yes. Hindu? Yes? Darwinist? Yes.

Did you just do a double-take? That's right, Darwinism/secular humanism/atheism is a religion.

Origin of Man-check. Beliefs about supernatural beings-don't believe in them. Therefore no interaction. Existence after death-none. Rules for living-leave the planet in better shape than you found it for the benefit of all of the other accidental organisms on the planet, since they have just as much right to their existence as you do. The source for morality is popular opinion...get enough people to claim that driving drunk is moral, it suddenly IS moral.

I submit that EVERYONE has a religion. Some act more in line with what they SAY that they believe than others. But to try to remove any reference to Jesus while indoctrinating school children to secular humanism isn't freedom of religion. It isn't even freedom FROM religion. It's the clear case of making it the state religion.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Redefining Victory

What sources do you see as trustworthy? Newspapers? If so, which ones? Television? If so, some networks more than others? The internet? Do you trust all blogs and sites equally? What about Wikipedia?

If we are honest, any book, article, sermon or even this blogpost must be evaluated to determine what is fact and what is opinion. As a Christian, I know that the only exception to this is the Bible. The sixty-six books of the Bible have been proven to be historically accurate and without contradiction or error in the original languages. These words were not penned by the thought of man, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to recount the history of man's relationship with God and to share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Recently, a book has been released that caused a considerable amount of controversy and discourse: "Love Wins", written by Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Before the book was released, word spread that Bell's book espoused his belief that everyone goes to Heaven when they die. I was intrigued by panel discussions and interviews that talked about the book and its teachings. The doctrine described in the book was labeled as both "Universalism" and "Inclusivism". Universalism is the belief that "all roads lead to God", where Inclusivism is the belief that it is possible to experience salvation through Jesus without actually knowing who Jesus is or that you even needed salvation.

Since I'd previously watched two of Bell's Nooma videos and actually liked them, I didn't want to completely discount his book without investigation. So I bought the book and read it. In some ways, I was slightly relieved by what I read. In a nutshell, Bell is neither a Universalist nor an Inclusivist. While he affirms that salvation only comes through personal intentional acceptance of Jesus as Savior, he claims that we still have that opportunity even if we die without Christ and go to Hell. At any point, a lost sinner in punishment can bow his knee and claim Jesus as Lord, which removes him from Hell and delivers him into Heaven. He makes the point several times that we can have as much of Hell as we want, so his belief is that a lost person could choose to spend eternity in torment. If any label is applied to Bell, either “Extensionist” or “Infinitist” might be worthy attempts. While not as far from Biblical truth as Universalism or Inclusionism, his views are not founded or backed by Scripture, so they are still heresy.

That being said, I was just as troubled by the background of the book as its primary thesis. While described as “a book about heaven, hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived”, it revealed more about Bell’s view of God than anything else. Bell repeatedly makes the inference that if God sends the lost to Hell who never heard of Jesus or who didn’t like “the Jesus” that was shared with them, then He is mean, cruel or vindictive. What the Bible SAYS about God is that He is our Creator, and He is righteous and holy. We were made for the purpose of knowing God and to have fellowship with Him. Adam and Eve lived in such a state until he chose sin over obedience. At that point, sin and death entered the world and became the nature of all men. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord”.  He is (as Bell over-emphasizes) love. He sent His Son to serve as a perfect, blameless sacrifice so that we could either choose to be restored to our intended relationship, or choose to follow our nature of sin and death. While no Christian should take pleasure or satisfaction in the eternal destination of the unrepentant, shirking away from Biblical truth does not honor God, nor does it help those who have not repented. It is, in fact, heresy. Bell’s claim of post-mortem salvation cannot stand under the light of Biblical examination. In short, we must see God as the Bible reveals Him, not remake Him into a portrayal that we can “accept” or “tolerate”.

Throughout “Love Wins”, Bell seems to read into the Scriptural text his own ideas, views and biases. This practice of eisegesis is apparent in several places in “Love Wins”.  

Bell uses cultural and/or historical arguments to suggest that first century Jews had an understanding of heaven as being more about a better life than about post-mortem existence. The argument that this was the motive of the mother of James and John when she asked for them to sit at the right and left hand of Christ doesn’t seem to be viable, since the other ten apostles clearly saw it as we have traditionally read the passage.

Another example of Bell reading into a story is the Luke 16 account of the rich man and Lazarus. According to his understanding of the story, the only reason that the rich man remains in torment is that he’s asking Abraham to allow Lazarus to bring him water, which means that he still hasn’t gotten rid of his prideful attitude. He wants Lazarus to serve him, so he hasn’t learned humility. Now, to be fair, taken in context with his view of possible infinite salvation opportunities, I can understand how he might see that. However, since Jesus tells this as a STORY and not a parable, it would be a perfect opportunity to make it clear that the rich man could repent and go to Heaven.

Bell repeatedly makes the observation that Christians either seem to be concerned about Heaven later, or suffering on Earth now, but rarely both. I’m honestly not sure if he was speaking against both extremes, but it felt like it was geared more towards those of us focused on evangelization. Again, given his views of salvation, you might be able to say that it’s more important to make sure kids have clean water than tell them about the Living Water. But his views are not Biblically accurate, and therefore both heretical and dangerous.  Indeed, a perfect situation would be to have clean water now and to enjoy the crystal sea later. But if I have to choose, I’d take a lifetime of dirty water now and live with the great promise of the crystal sea later.

My biggest concern about Bell’s “infinity” interpretation of salvation is its impact on evangelization! Just as Hyper-Calvinism leads to the discouragement of evangelization since God will save everyone who He has elected to save, will not the “infinite opportunity” interpretation lead to discourage evangelization and emphasize social activism? If you are convinced that everyone can repent their way out of Hell, doesn’t it make more sense to focus on making life better now?  “They’ll find out about Jesus when they die, and we’ll have clean water and no nukes today.” Intended or not, the logical and catastrophic end to Bell’s infinitism is the death knell of evangelism. He is attempting to re-write the “story” of Christ’s redemptive work into one that “feels” and “seems” better. The truth, however, is that God speaks of very serious consequences to those who spread a different Gospel than the one that the Bible reveals.

So where does this leave us? Scripture does not allow the latitude taken by Bell for such a view of infinite salvation opportunities.  While I do not doubt that he is a Christian, I do see an obvious departure from the Word of God in his theology.  And therein lays the dilemma: We MUST hold to the Biblical standard. Every teaching must be measured and tested, and then either accepted or rejected according to its agreement with God’s Word. Like the men of Berea in Acts 17, we cannot be lead astray by fanciful arguments. We must know and search the Scriptures. We must cast off every vain imagination and well packaged lie as the heresy it truly is.

I’ve never met Rob Bell. I think that I’d probably enjoy sharing a meal with him and discussing our views. I know I’d enjoy the opportunity to share with him..and with  you, that love DID win. Not in a pretty image or story, but in a bloody cross and an empty tomb! The ultimate victory over death, hell and the grave has been won, and you can share in the spoils of that triumph!

But despite Bell’s idea, your choice to join Christ in victory does not extend past your last breath. As Hebrews 4:7 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart”.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Peace That Passes Understanding

As I mentioned in Tales from the Tummy, my secular career has been in shambles for the past few years. I've had several jobs that did not end the way that I had envisioned. While I would not lie and say that my performances at these positions were perfect, in each case, the companies and departments were in better shape when I walked out the door than when I walked in the door. But in each case, I found myself without employment.

I'm not sure that any woman reading this can fully understand, but those of the male persuasion derive a significant portion of our self-confidence/worth/image/respect/are you getting the point/esteem from our jobs and careers. Add to that the pressure and responsibility of providing for a wife and children, and you can easily see how important a man's job is to him. In my opinion, there are very few things more humiliating to a man than having to inform his family that he has lost his job.

However, at each time that I've been let go, I've been able to respond with a quiet acceptance. No begging or pleading, no crying or hysterics, and without any anger or malice towards the person firing me. I've simply packed up my belongings, said my goodbyes, and left.

And that is where I currently find myself yet again. "Under" employed, working as a temp laborer at a local manufacturing plant, being paid approximately 1/3 of my typical pay. This job was offered to me soon enough after becoming unemployed that I have not filed for unemployment benefits this time. I probably make about the same, but I'd rather work than just sponge off of the system. During a similar time two years ago, I worked for a friend from church who is a builder and hay farmer. Picking up bricks on house sites one day, running a bobcat and delivering hay bales the next day. But it was work, and let me at least keep food on the table.

However, I would be lying if I didn't admit that there are times where I just want to scream. From an intelligence standpoint, there are only a handful of jobs on the planet that I'm not capable of performing. From a dedication standpoint, I've worked ten to twelve hour days as my norm, and have pulled numerous shifts of 18+ hours when some type of emergency happened at the plant. Every time I've left a plant, a majority of my mechanics have told me "when you get to your new job, CALL me, I want to come work for you again". When I walk into any plant, I immediately start spotting the flaws, noticing the safety hazards, and overall seeing all of the ways that I could make improvements. But here I am cleaning up construction sites and performing manual labor. Juggling bills like crazy, trying to keep the lights and water and phone working.

During the Psalm 119 study, one of the questions was to define the word "peace". I spent a lot of time pondering that question and here is the definition that the Holy Spirit gave to me: Fully accepting every aspect of where God has you, while resting in the knowledge that if you trust in Him, and abide in His Word, He will comfort you as He uses you to accomplish His will and bring glory to His name. Note that peace is more about God than it is about you. During the Genesis study, we spent a lot of time studying the life of Joseph. Of all the characters in the Bible, Joseph and Job have to be the ones who demonstrated the most peace in their attitudes and responses to life's difficulties.

No matter how wronged that I feel by being fired, at least I haven't been sold into slavery like Joseph. No matter how bad I feel that I cannot give my children everything that they want, at least I haven't had my children killed like Job. I have yet to find a situation in which I cannot find someone else who has gone through more than I have. And when I read God's Word, I see how He carried them through the tough times of their lives. I've seen Him move in my life, and seen Him carry me through the toughest times of my life. If He's done it before more times than I can count, why would I be so forgetful as to not trust that He'd do it again?

Phillipians 4:4-9 speaks directly to this: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."

Note that it verse 7 it's "the peace of God", and in verse 9 He's called "the God of peace". True peace can only come from resting in Him, and only He can give peace, since He is THE God of peace.

Fully accepting every aspect of where God has you, while resting in the knowledge that if you trust in Him, and abide in His Word, He will comfort you as He uses you to accomplish His will and bring glory to His name. Definitely tougher to do than it sounds. When I can't sleep because I'm worrying about the bills. When I get frustrated at work because my pride is acting up. When I get depressed because I open the pantry and feel like Old Mother Hubbard. But He always hears me when I call to Him, and He always comforts me when I rest in Him. I have yet to find a mountain too high or an ocean too great for God to deal with for me. He's my God, and give me peace. How do you get through your days? When the storms come, He's the only One who can say "peace, be still" to the waves and wind.

Ezra 7:10
Prepare, Study, Practice, Teach

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tales from the Tummy

 As I mentioned in "Why I Call Myself ModernEzra", I've been wrestling with a call to vocational ministry for almost a decade. And a wrestling match it has been. I might as well have changed my name to Israel. But I have one prelude: If during the course of reading this post, you find yourself getting angry or offended at myself or any other entity mentioned, you're MISSING the POINT. Let it go and keep on reading, please.

The first person to ever suggest that I would be in the ministry was my maternal grandmother. I lived with my grandparents during college, and we were talking in the kitchen one night. I had just decided to give up pharmacy as a major, and told her that I didn't know what I was supposed to do with my life. She almost immediately replied, "I know what you're supposed to do, you're going to be a preacher." At that point in my life, I had hair 6" past my shoulders, spent most of my time either playing or listening to rock & heavy metal. In my mind, she might as well have suggested that I was going to be elected president.

The second person to mention it hardly knew me. During the time that my bride and I were separated, I lived with my mother and step-father for a few months. Mom was talking to her best friend on the phone about the situation and they prayed before ending the call. Mom's friend prayed, and before saying "amen", she basically said "and Lord, if you call Mike into the ministry..." After finishing the prayer, she told Mom that she had no idea where that thought came from, or why she said it. Again, God was not even on my radar at that time. She might as well have prayed "and Lord, if you make Mike the president of Guatemala..."

After going through the twenty-two week study of Psalm 119 with my pastor and two friends, the men of my church went through a twenty-eight week study of the book of Genesis. As I spent day after day and week after week studying the Bible, I fell in love with God's Word. Then as we began our men's ministry and had our first prayer breakfast, I stood still while the other men in my study group took a silent step backwards! And since I was in charge, I was told that I had to speak too. God put a message on my heart, and I stumbled through my first sermon. If studying as a student was great, studying to teach a class was phenomenal. And if studying to teach was phenomenal, then studying to preach was extacy.

During this time, I was spending time on a fairly frequent basis with our associate pastor. While I do not recall either of us specifically referring to our time as mentoring, I've always viewed it through that lens. His standard question to me was "What is God doing in your life?" He pushed me, encouraged me, explained background and cross-references in Scripture and basically just loved on me. As far as I remember, he was the first person with whom I ever shared the possibility of a call. He asked his question, and I replied "I think He might be calling me into the ministry", and inquired what would be required for me to enroll at the seminary in the area. His response was not said in anything other than compassion, but he told me that they would not even accept my invitation. You see, my bride had been previously married and divorced before we met. And this seminary takes the strictest interpretation of the qualifications for being a pastor. Which means that they do not accept students if either husband or wife have a divorce in their past, regardless of circumstances. (This is the first possible time to remember the prelude.)

He immediately told me that while THAT seminary wouldn't accept my application, there were at least four other good conservative seminaries that accepted students with divorce in their background on a case by case basis. This is when the wrestling began. Why would God call me to do something that I couldn't do right where I was at the moment? Why did it matter that I'd married a woman that was divorced? Why this? Why that? I'm not much of a traveler, so the idea of moving to another city didn't set well. I couldn't imagine living in any of the four cities, but one in particular was out of the question. It's a city known for being corrupt in a state known for being corrupt. It's a city where voodoo is openly practiced and celebrated. It's a city where they have a massive party every year, at which women are encouraged to expose themselves in return for cheap plastic beads. It's a city known for sin and decadence. You know the city that I'm talking about. (If you like this city, this might be the second possible time to remember the prelude.)

As days and weeks went by, I got to the point where I told God "No. I'm not answering this call if I can't do it here, and especially not if I have to go to a city of sinners and reprobates." And so the matter was closed, or so I thought. Of course, my relationship with God and love for His Word diminished.

During the past two years, I've had two spiritual experiences that brought revival into my heart. The first was a weekend spent at an event called a Discipleship Walk. It's three days of being exposed to and/or reminded of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. A year later, our church hosted a Life Action Summit, a two week focus on personal revival. Both cracked and breached the walls that I'd carefully built to silence the full voice of the call that God had placed on my heart. Finally, a few months after the Summit, I made a public profession of a call to vocational ministry.

My secular career has been a fiasco for many years. Every time I got a job that seemed to be one that would last, it would blow up or fall apart within a year. While I'm a capable engineer and manager, I keep having "bad luck". Almost like my plans for worldly success were being thwarted.

So now I was back to looking at where to pursue my seminary education. Of course, online schools are much more common than a decade ago, but actual classroom education is still viewed as preferable to online degrees. But of course, that seminary in that city was my absolute last choice.

All that to backstop what happened to me this morning. We held our monthly men's breakfast, and instead of me preaching, our new education minister shared the message that God had placed on his heart. He spoke from Acts 9, where God called Ananias to go to see Saul after he met Jesus on the Damascus road. About how Ananias was obedient to go where his LORD told him to go. Great message. Passionate preaching.

Before I took prayer requests, I reminded the men to pray for our nation and our leaders. I voiced my position that I don't ask God to replace our current president, but I do ask Him to CHANGE our current president. About how that individual is no less deserving of salvation and repentance than I am. We shared other requests, prayed and went our separate ways.

As I went through the next few hours, the Holy Spirit kept bringing the sermon back to my mind. That and my comment about how this individual wasn't less deserving of salvation. Oh yeah, me and my big mouth. Then I started remembering a story from the Bible about another guy that told God "no".... Even tried to go in the opposite direction from the reprobates and sinners that HE was supposed to go preach to. THAT didn't work out so well for him, now did it?

Am I positive that I've been "in the belly" for the past few years? Not enough to stake my life on it, but there's a definite fishy smell in the air. I have one verse from the book of Jonah memorized, verse 2:8, which says "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs." My pride is an idol. My sense of entitlement is an idol. So if God tells me to go to "Nineveh" when I start seminary, load up the camels. I'm taking the land route, I think I've spent enough time on and under the water!

Again, if you're offended, you missed it. If you're convicted, then the Holy Spirit did it, not me. If nothing else, I hope that you make sure to not imitate my disobedience.

Ezra 7:10
Prepare, Study, Practice, Teach

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why I call myself "ModernEzra"

I was raised in an active Christian family. I accepted Jesus at the age of 7 as my Savior. My parents divorced soon after and I was intermittently attending for the next few years. Around eleven, church became an active part of my life again. As I entered the youth department of my church, I was first pushed to embrace the concept of being a disciple of Jesus. During my teen years, I grew in my knowledge about Christ and of the Bible.

However, most of the impact of those years was in my head, and not in my heart. Like many, I fell away from my commitment to Jesus during my college years. When my bride and I got married, I knew that my family needed to be in church, so we began attending again. But still, what was in my head never truly conquered my heart.

After about 7 years, our marriage was in shambles. We got to the point that we were separated, had divorce attorney's, and were steeling ourselves for life apart. But God had other plans. Our youngest was born during this time, and it was her that God used to reconcile our marriage. We almost lost her at six weeks old. Her medical emergencies all seemed to happen at the times when we could have parted. But we kept being thrown together in waiting rooms and kept falling into each other's arms to get through.

During this time, my bride had thrown herself completely at the foot of the cross. It seemed that she had her nose in the Word or had her knees bent every time I saw her. She had a peace that I didn't.

Frustrated that nothing seemed to be satisfying me, I turned back to church. I called a friend from our Sunday School class that had been inviting me to a evening Bible study and inquired if they were still meeting. He told me that they were not, but a new group was in the works. He asked me if I could meet in the mornings, and told me that another friend, the class teacher, was going to be in the group as well. The study was going to be in Psalm 119, and would last 22 weeks. I had no idea how you could study ANY book of the Bible for 22 weeks, much less a Psalm! But I knew the other men to be Godly men that were happy in their lives and marriages, so I was willing to give it a try.

The first day that we met, I walked into the church offices at the appropriate time to find my two friends...and the pastor. I certainly didn't dislike him, but for a moment I felt like I'd been tricked...and almost walked back out. But I overcame that urge and remained. Each week, we took a stanza of 8 verses and tore it apart. The writer of the study ran us through every book of the Bible as we studied that Psalm. As the weeks went on, I found myself with at least 3 different translations spread out as I picked through the verses and the questions. And before long, I was completely and totally in love with God's Word. My bride got me a parallel Bible to help me study easier. I discovered Strong's Concordance, Bible software, and many other aids to my study. Instead of being a drudgery, I became impassioned to study the Word and found that it was indeed "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." A flame was lit in my spirit as the Holy Spirit began remaking me into the image of Jesus. I began focusing on MY failures instead of my bride's. I began trying to love her, instead of responding only as I saw her moving towards me. Our marriage began to be happy as we sought to honor God together for the first time.

The pastor wanted us to grow the impact that the four of us had experienced, so we called the men of the church together and my friends and I shared our testimonies of small group study of the Bible. At the end of our sharing, we gave the opportunity for the men to join us in our next study, the book of Genesis. We had 55 men sign up to meet at various times throughout the week. And even though I felt myself completely inadequate, I found myself teaching a class. During the 28 weeks of the study, the men in my group lamented that most of the other men in the church were inactive. There was an active women's ministry, but absolutely nothing for the men. They wanted to begin a men's ministry, and I wound up as the leader of our little foray.

During this time, I was trying to memorize Scripture like never before. I read the Bible front to back and wrote down the verses that spoke to me. I kept hearing men talk about their "life verse": the verse that the Holy Spirit gave to them as the definition of their life, the passion of their calling, or the hope of the Gospel. I was reading through Ezra and when I got to the tenth verse of the seventh chapter, I KNEW that I had found MY life verse. Ezra 7:10 reads "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." I realized that Ezra did four things: he prepared, he studied, he practiced, and THEN he taught. That's the Biblical basis for discipleship.

As God continued to work in my life, I gained a burning passion to reach the other men in our church, our neighborhood and our town with the Gospel of Jesus. To get them past the Milquetoast conceptions of Jesus as a pansy. To get them to see that He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. King Arthur, Robin Hood,  George Washington, Paul Revere, and every other hero of the world all balled up into One. And that's what Ezra did as Nehemiah restored Jerusalem.

So I became passionate about discipleship. Not Biblical knowledge, not knowledge ABOUT God, but imitating Jesus in every aspect of our lives as men: prophets, priests and kings of our families. I believe that my spiritual gifts are prophecy and teaching. So as a modern day Ezra, I try to proclaim the Truth as a prophet, and to teach men to accurately imitate Jesus.

Ezra 7:10
Prepare, Study, Practice, Teach