Challenge: 1 Peter 3:15

I was raised in a Christian home with both my parents being born-again, washed in the blood, saved by grace through faith Christians.

Those parents took us (themselves, my sister, and I as my brother was not yet born or even considered by them. See I Close My Eyes for background on that.) from a church where the pastor was more concerned about elevating and justifying himself than he was about helping the church body to grow in their knowledge of and faith in God to a church that taught hard-core theology. The accounts in the Bible – Old and New Testaments – were taught as early as in the nursery. By the time you got to high school youth group or the adult classes, you were onto in-depth learning about not only how the lessons and teachings in the Bible apply to our daily lives but also information to supplement those lessons and teachings such as the history behind the book of John, what was happening in the world at the time the book of Romans was being written, what is the difference in the original Greek words that translates to the same word in English, etc.

Soon, it was time to start school. Due to….loose morals at the local public school, my parents felt led to put me into a Christian school ran as a business ministry of our church. (That’s a whole other post – one which does not necessarily need to be published…) At that school, our teachers emphasized they were supplementing what our parents taught us at home, not taking their place. In order to graduate or pass each grade, you had to take a semester of Bible for every semester you attended. Elementary, it was looking at the lives of missionaries – recorded in the Bible and those of our time – in addition to the teachings of the Bible. Salvation was always taught as was creation and the accounts of the lives of people in the Bible. Rather than simply reciting those accounts, they were built upon every year. Example: in kindergarten, we learned the days of creation. We had plates that we glued/colored pictures of the different created subjects and learned a rhyme. By the time we got to senior year, we were talking about how God was able to create something out of nothing; what does it mean that God is omnipotent? How is He self-sufficient? Looking more at Who the Creator Is – not just what He created when (that was in science as we looked at how the order of creation was perfect for the sustainability of life.).

We had chapel once a week. In elementary, it was usually the teachers rotating through with the occasional special speaker (local pastor or a missionary home on furlough). In high school though, it was either our Bible teacher or a pastor/missionary – including the presidents and vice-presidents of local mission agencies – who taught chapel. It was always frustrating to myself and fellow students who went to the same church when we had youth pastors from other churches speak. Some of us may have referred to their lessons at the character lessons we had back in elementary school. On the flip side, our peers who went to those other churches hated when our youth pastor taught because they were not used to so much hard-core, in-depth theology being thrown at them in such a short amount of time.

Flash forward a few years. Our pastor was called to his heavenly home. That amazing youth pastor was called to be a senior pastor at a different church a forever long drive away. Due to other events, again, that would be a whole different post, I found myself without a church to call home.

My parents moved back to their home church now that there was a new pastor in place. I began attending that church with them. Where to start???

It is a church where you will hear the Biblical gospel preached. It is a church where the members love God. When my grandpa died, the message preached was so passionate and Biblically sound that I actually forgot I was sitting 5 feet away from the body of my grandpa. The people are sincere.

That being said, it’s not my home church. I believe I have already posted about the worship there – if not I will another time.

The sermons are similar to those chapel sessions when we had pastors from other churches speak. They apply lessons to your person without any additional information such as what the Greek or Hebrew word is and how that ties into the context of other words used. It’s essentially taking what the passage says and saying, “ok, this is how this verse applies to your life in this situation.”

It is teaching of the word of God which is a powerful tool used in conviction. I have learned through these sermons, but I am almost always left wanting more, not feeling satisfied or full. I often go home and pull-up a podcast of a sermon of my former youth pastor in his new church to get that in-depth lesson.

I have tried explaining this to my parents, that I feel as though I went from milk (like an infant) to steak and now I’m back down to a hamburger. There’s nothing wrong with a hamburger. I like hamburgers, but they’re not as satisfying or filling as a 16oz steak. That did not go over well. I probably could have worded it a bit better especially as they are both satisfied there. I’ve also pointed out that my learning style is different than both of theirs…but I think that was mentioned at the same time as the hamburger thing, and the subject was needing to be changed before all our blood pressures sky-rocketed.

What prompted this post tonight? I just finished reading and am already planning on re-reading an incredibly book titled Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by (recently called home to heaven much to my dismay) Nabeel Qureshi. I plan on buying the rest of his books (I actually planned on begging local pastors to invite him to come speak, but that won’t happen now!) as this one was so, so well written!

He begins by recollecting and telling the story of his Muslim upbringing. The reader can appreciate his love for his family and his culture while beginning to see the questionable aspects of the Islamic belief system. He transitions smoothly into when he began to realize that what he had been taught literally since moments after his birth may not be correct.

God truly did send him the right person to befriend him and guide him along the journey to salvation. As I was reading, I was in awe of how knowledgeable his friend was. I thought being raised by godly parents in addition to 13 years in a Christian school in addition to a solid, Bible-preaching church would have prepared me to answer some of the questions resulting from comparison of the Quran and the Bible. Nope. I recognized the conflict and the responding verses, but I could not put them together. At one point, I wondered if his friend, David, got home from those discussions sometimes and just sank to the floor thanking God for putting the thoughts in his head and the words in his mouth. I’ve had those moments myself after in-depth conversations with friends and co-workers when I was half asleep and usually not able to process light conversation let alone theology.

All the while I was reading this book, I was thinking about the Muslims with whom I am acquainted. Would these topics come up? I began praying that God would open the door for me to witness to those acquaintances, and that He would put the appropriate responses on my brain, heart, and tongue. At that point, I realized that while yes, I have been completing Bible studies, I have been neglectful in studying the Bible. I have fallen into the habit of thinking, “what does this passage mean for me” without adding, “what does this passage teach me about God? How does strengthen my faith? How would I explain this passage to an unbeliever?”

As I told one of my mentors, reading through this book showed me where in my Biblical studies I need to spend more time to strengthen.

I have always been awful with remembering the references for verses. I can remember math equations and formulas, random and important dates throughout history, but those chapters and verses get confused in my head. When my youth group was preparing for what was my first missions trip, we were given “random” verses as well as Galations 6 to memorize. Myself and one of my friends were the only two to memorize Galations 6 in addition to those other select verses. To this day, if I hear someone quote a verse out of Galations 6, I may not be able to say which verse it is, but I know that it comes from that book and chapter!

There are not a lot of verses that I can point to and recall when I memorized it or first felt its importance. 1 Peter 3:15 was one of those seemingly random verses we memorized for that first missions  trip. I remember it. I actually recognize the reference for that verse. I remember reading through it several times, just because of the strength of the challenge, maybe command, maybe advice of that that verse. 1 Peter 3:15 was referenced in Qureshi’s book. I immediately had to close the book, pause, and then slowly grin as I again resolved to up the intensity of my Bible studies and not be ok with what, to me, are sometimeshamburger sermons. (Note: those sermons may be steak to other believes; we are all at different points in our relationship with God. It may be that those sermons are buffalo burgers to someone and just what they need in their life in their present situation. As I said, I have still been convicted and/or taught during most of those sermons!)

As I flipped to that verse to include it in this post, I got another chuckle. It is surrounded by notes in my Bible including a reminder to not be a know-it-all and our faith is not a blind faith, accepting of what is being taught from the pulpit purely because it is taught from the pulpit. We are to know the reasons or the logic of what we believe.

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. . . ”      1 Peter 3:15

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And Let It Begin with Me

I was planning on writing a post about breed bans (I am 100% against them), but this morning at church, as usual, my mind was changed.

Apparently, pastors and churches are of the opinion that America will not see another big revival because they feel we’re too close to the second coming for it to happen.

How DARE they limit God?!

How DARE they decide that people no longer need to hear the gospel or have another opportunity to be saved?!

How DARE they ignore the part about only God knows when the rapture will be?!

Last time I checked, the job of Christians is to bring glory to God and to tell the world of the good news of the hope of salvation.

After September 11, 2001, many people in this country bent their knees and put their faith in God. Just because it may take something horrendous such as the deaths of over three thousand people in the first attack on US soil since December 7, 1941, to bring about a revival does not mean that revivals can or will not happen in this country again.

The excuse that surely we must be close to the rapture and second coming is just that: an excuse for laziness in the church. It’s an excuse for people to stay in their comfort zone or their bubble where they don’t risk being mocked or persecuted in some form for their beliefs and willingness to share those beliefs.

Here’s the thing: God is watching. If you have put your faith in Him and the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus but are not doing your job and in fact are living according to what the world wants you to do (usually, that’s the opposite of God), then you will be in trouble when you get to heaven regardless of it is following your death or the rapture.

I personally would rather see and hear of another revival in America because Christians are doing their job as Christians than because we suffered another massive tragedy. Have you considered that maybe we have so many shootings and hurricanes and fires because that is how people are coming to God?

President Trump this past week said that the attack on Christian-Judeo morals and values has come to an end. I cheered when I read that. I know many Christians working in the secular workplace who have kept their mouths shut as their co-workers actually asked how to get to heaven or what does salvation mean because they (the Christians) were worried about getting made fun of or losing their jobs because they knew the answer. I know of Christians who got tired of being mocked and left the narrow path to blend in with the world. I know of Christians who have wandered so incredibly far from God that I shudder thinking of what it will take to bring them back to Him…because they saw the world profiting and appearing to have more fun than their Christian circle. All of them will have to answer for those choices. Maybe now that we have a president who has said that our morals and beliefs are not to be attacked, now that we can legally fight back, Christians will finally come out from under the rock they’ve been hiding and do their job. Maybe now, they will end this nonsense about “oh, America will never see another revival” and instead say, as the old song goes, “Lord, send a revival, and let it begin with me.”

Children of Fire

Children of Fire

*high pitch beeping*
“____________ Fire and Rescue, request for your department. (address) for a structure fire.”
“____________ Rescue, request for your squad. (address) for male not breathing. CPR in progress.” 

The sounds of my childhood. Actually, I’ve been hearing those sounds – the beeping, the voice – since before I was born since both my parents were on our fire department.

Those calls or something similar would come over the pager, and my daddy would jump to answer. Before he left, every time, he would hear my mum; my sister; my brother; and I say, “Be careful. Have fun. I love you.”

His response, depending on how far out the door he was, usually was “yup” or “love you too” or “oh always.”

My mama is an old ER nurse from the days when nurses were actually allowed to put patient care first in their work. Supper conversation usually started with the question, “so did anyone come in for something stupid?” or “did anybody lose a finger?”

Let’s add to that. I wasn’t just raised by a firefighter/EMT and an RN/EMT; I was raised by two strong, Bible-believing Christians. My brother, sister, and I have all claimed Christ Jesus as our Saviour. We do not fear death. Process of dying? No, not looking forward to that part, but death itself is gaining an eternity in heaven.

Death. Trauma. Accidents. All were common discussion in my family. All of us have known that every time that pager goes off, especially for a fire, something could go wrong. Anytime you have a bonfire or get in a car, the rest of the family might hear those tones drop about the same time they get that sinking feeling that something in the family is wrong.

I have never in my entire life told either of my parents or my siblings that I hate them. To my knowledge, neither of my siblings have ever said such a thing. Because, God forbid, that could have been the last thing we ever said to that loved one.

Sure, we might hate the actions of that person. We might hate the feelings we experience that person has invoked in us, but we don’t hate that person.

I know many of our classmates in school and church have told their parents they hate them. They didn’t truly hate them, but the powerful words of “hate” and “love” are thrown around so carelessly in this world, that they didn’t even think about the consequences of that phrase. This morning, the preacher said something along the lines that it was pretty common for him to hear any of daughters say, “I hate you.” I could not stop thinking about that the rest of the message. All I could think about was every time I’ve stayed up listening to the pager to make sure my daddy and the other men got back to the station and signed off the air. Or every time they switched to a fireground channel, leaving me pacing around my bedroom waiting to hear them switch back to the county channel I could hear.

I started wondering how we impart that caution or thoughtfulness that, as far as I know, every Child of a Firefighter (EMT) has with their words. I’m not saying we say the right thing all the time. I regret a lot of what I’ve said. I’ve left my parents house angry at one or both of my parents. I’ve hung up on my sister and my brother because all we were doing was angering each other. Every time though, I’ve sent a text or called them to say that I love them. Every. Single. Time. They write back they love me too.

Johnny Cash has that famous song I Walk the Line. I’ve seen wives and mothers of firefighters and cops have adopted parts of that song to put on shirts and cars and even coffee mugs. It’s a shame that not everyone has that sense of cherish every moment, never let them leave without knowing they are loved obligation that families of emergency workers and military families have.

It doesn’t matter that I’m on the department right there with them. My daddy and my men are mine, so I walk that line. Because I’ve walked that line my entire life, I will never tell someone that I hate them.

 

Probably Not as Intended

At the end of devotional reading today, the author of the book through which I’m currently reading and using as a study-guide wrote:

 Now, one last question. How has God spoken to you today?

My response? Probably not in the way the author intended….

I did something new today. I did the usual pour a nice hot cup of freshly made coffee and shut my computer to avoid that as a distraction. Today, I also turned down the volume on my phone to mute and flipped it over so I would not see the flashing green light alerting me to a new message. Normally, I just leave it on the counter behind me, but the beeps of the new messages still serve as a distraction from focusing on the Word of God.

I began reading about Jehovah-raah, the Lord my Shepherd.

The author had some solid insights that caused me to pause and reflect on how what she said applies or is observed in my own life. “New” verses to look up and post around my house and on facebook as a reminder throughout the week. So far so good.

Then we get to the main Scripture passage for this morning – John 10:1-17, 26-33.

The author wanted us to make some observations about the different characters in the passage, compare and contrast different actions, etc. I began reading.

The first thing I noticed or that struck me was verse two:

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

The power of this verse, the confidence of the shepherd in this statement caused me to pause. The first verse had a thief and robber climbing up the back way trying to avoid being seen in a cowardly, underhanded way. The shepherd just walked right in to the fold of his sheep. Picture it.

Then we get to the part where Jesus very clearly and patiently spells it out for His audience who were not quite comprehending what He was saying.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. (vs 11-12).

This is the part where my train of thought left the path the author probably intended for it to follow.

A lot of pastors refer to their congregation as their flock that they need to shepherd, to guide. As of today, I think that is something they probably should not be saying.

John is part of the New Testament. These words are coming straight from the mouth of Christ Jesus – He is the Shepherd! Go back to the Old Testament, and we have David saying, “The LORD (Jehovah-raah) is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). If we follow the chain of command, that means pastors are the hirelings – the help.

It makes sense. How often do we hear of pastors who left a church during a split of congregation or who back down from preaching the Word of God because it’s not the popular opinion of the world? They’re fleeing when the wolf comes for the flock of the Shepherd. Good help is hard to find….but it’s not impossible. There are many good pastors who stay to fight the wolves who enter the church with a mission to scatter and devour the flock. I am certain not every hireling in biblical times abandoned their post when a wolf came near the flock of which they were charged with protecting.

Look at the TV preachers and churches or religions with their thousands of followers…of what man is saying. They are not preaching salvation. They are not preaching that yes, God is loving, but He is also holy and just. They have just enough bits and pieces of the Bible – usually/always out of context – that they sound like they are working for the Shepherd. In reality, they are leading a group of sheep closer to the side of a cliff to fall.

 

A Lesson From 2 Timothy 4:2-5

In the Baptist, Evangelical, and really any Bible-believing church these days, there is an alarm being raised about different well-known leaders in Bible study materials. My Facebook feed has been flooded with articles and pictures and thoughts and the spiritual battle-cry about ban these authors from the materials used in church in for Sunday school, Bible studies, and recommendations from personal studies.

I am actually, partially disgusted by this.

To a point, I agree. If there is questionable theological content in their books, then that should not be included in study material given to new or young believers who need a solid foundation before they start sifting through the work of false preachers. However. To completely ban an author eliminates what could be a good learning experience for older believers, a chance to go from eating hamburger to eating steak. Allow me to explain.

For starters, just because an author has recently published questionable material does not mean their earlier writings were not spiritually, biblically sound writing. They may have only recently been taking in by a false preacher and been led astray as Satan decided they were becoming to great a threat to his plans. To ban and disregard what has already been taught after being studied and deemed appropriate in the church could have damaging effects such as believers who took comfort in those writings might be questioning decisions made based on that comfort and study. A believer who came to Christ through a message in a study written by that author might now be questioning their salvation.

It also gives more mature Christians the chance to sift through tactics of the devil. Recognize the truth in the false writings to see how it has been warped so they may be better prepared in the future in an instance when they have to determine for and by themselves whether or not something is true per the Bible. They can use it as a study tool. For example, this morning during my devotions, I came across a paragraph with which I took issue. Instead of throwing away the whole book, I instead wrote in a note at the top of the page reminding myself when I read through the book again later that there is something on that page that is not necessarily biblically sound. That paragraph did not contradict Scripture per se, but the idea behind the paragraph was on shifting sand. I noted it and moved on to the rest of the chapter.

I read a book which I highly recommend (Cold Case Christianity, a Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace) and loved with the exception of a single concept near the end of the book regarding celibacy. It was not even that the author was promoting or stating that concept was absolute per the Bible; it was more that he was simply stating a viewpoint of another person to contribute to that section of the book. Again, I just wrote a note on the side of the page and kept reading.

Banning books or teachings of someone previously accepted just because you disagree with their theology is taking things to the extreme. This is what the Catholic, Muslim, and other churches do to control their members. It’s also not trusting of the teachers to discern the difference between the truth and false teaching nor is it giving them the opportunity to take a concept or topic provided by the banned author and turn it into a biblically sound lesson.

Part of the growth of each believer should include learning how to study the Bible on their own looking at context (verses and chapters before and after the section being studied), word origins, what scholars of old have written on that passage, etc. If that is being done correctly, and the believer is growing in their relationship with their God, they should be able to discern false teaching on their own.

Again, using evil for good, using the change of writing of a well-known author from truth to false teaching as a teaching opportunity is much better than simply banning that author and becoming like false religions attempting to eliminate free will and control the actions and beliefs of their members.

Time of my Life…

I’ve been reading through a book about the names of God in the Bible for a couple months now. The book should have been done in one month, but, for possibly the first time in my life, I’m not just reading through this devotional book to complete it. I’m actually reading through it to learn about my God.

Last week, I was attempting to understand – and, please note, I’m chuckling to myself as I write that – Adonai. As I was reading through the chapter on that description of God, I was growling to myself about how it was poorly written. Why on earth would the writer throw Adon into the chapter without explaining the difference between Adon and Adonai? I don’t really understand what this verse has to do with this name…and so on.

Then I quit growling with one more thought: Maybe I’m having trouble understanding the qualities and nature of God we can know through this name because I have not yet had to call on God using this name.

When I first originally started this study several years ago before getting distracted and feeling the need to begin it anew, El Roi – the God Who Sees – was the name that jumped out at me. That is the name that I have used quite often in my personal conversations with God when I don’t understand what’s happening in my life, in the world, in my family, etc. I’ve called on the God Who Sees, a quality first made known in the life and account of Hagar.

Most everyone who has grown up in church or attended a Christian school for any number of years has likely heard of the Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson reportedly butchered his Bible, cutting out verses or passages that he did not like or with which he did not agree. I am by NO means advocating such actions. When you choose to place your faith and hope in the Holy God, you don’t get to pick and choose which words of God apply to you. They all do; every word has a truth, a lesson, a challenge, a command by which you must live.

However. Just like my daddy has different ways of communicating, disciplining, teaching myself and my siblings, I can’t help but think that God started that method. Make no mistake: when God says via inspiration of the writers that something is wrong, He means it’s wrong for everybody. There should not be any debate or question about that. But most people have a verse they may call their “life verse” or just their favorite, a verse that challenges or encourages them, a verse that seems to speak to them more than others. Mine is Proverbs 24:10 followed by Ephesians 4:1. My favorite book of the Bible is the book of Proverbs.

Listening to a podcast of my favorite pastor to whom I listen, he mentions that growing up, he would much rather read through the book of Revelation than the book of Proverbs. I was the exact opposite. I still dislike reading through Revelation. Love the book of Proverbs. I read through that book and am challenged with how I should be living, behaving.

Going back to the study on the names of God. For whatever reason, El Roi and El Shaddai (essentially, the Provider or the God Who Provides) are two of the names of God which I use when I call upon Him for anything, even just regular conversation. I have no problem or struggle recognizing Him as Adonai, Lord or Master. I have not had any problem standing strong when more or less telling a former employer, “no, I serve and obey God; I’m not doing this” when they wanted me to follow their (unwritten) policies that clearly compromised what we as Christians have been instructed to do regardless of how major or minor it might appear. I just struggle with need or occasion to call on Him with that name.

I call my dad “daddy” whereas my brother and sister use “dad.” My brother occasionally calls him “pops” just like he called his dad at different times. Maybe, just as everyone is challenged differently or is taught differently by different passages of Scripture, everyone goes to their heavenly Father with a different name based on where they are in their spiritual life. It makes sense, to me at least.

Sunday School

This morning, while getting ready for church, I wrote a – in my opinion – brilliant post in my head about slavery. I was super pumped to type it out here.

At church, while watching a video about the sanctity of life, I started writing a post, again in my head, about individual world-views. I was excited about.

After church, ran into my parents in town for lunch where we started discussing Sunday school.

Background: I grew up in a church that was quite sizable. Children’s Sunday school was divided by school grade and age. Youth group was youth group, 7th-12th grade. College and Career was essentially everyone out of high school into their late 20s/early 30s. After that, I’m not entirely sure on all the different classes. I know there was a class titled “Homebuilders.” You picked which class you wanted to attend. (You could pick right out of high school, maybe in senior high too, but most chose to go with age we transitioned from kid to adult.)

Back to today: The question was brought up: do churches need or should have a college and career aged Sunday school class? Why can’t the young adults join the older adults in a group Sunday school?

My thoughts: Yes. Here’s why.

  1. If all the adults are sitting in the same area being taught the same lesson, how is that any different than the main church service? Especially in smaller churches?
  2. Sunday school classes typically have more interaction when smaller. A quieter person might be able to work up the courage to give their thoughts on a topic or passage of Scripture when there are only their peers in the room but remain silent when faced with talking in front of “older” Christians are adults they’ve grown up listening to in church.
  3. Graduating high school can be overwhelming to a teenager; why have that stress or overwhelming feeling at church too? A college and/or career class allows that teenager to transition from high school to adulthood a bit easier. They can learn with their peers facing the same struggles or those who have recently gone through the same struggles – budgeting, relationships, new co-workers – how to handle those specific challenges Biblically in comparison to sitting through a lesson on how to handle disciplining young children according to the Bible and trying to focus on that instead of their new trials.
  4. Sunday school does not take the place of morning worship service, evening worship service, or Wednesday night prayer meeting. Those are all still combined – all ages – when the younger adults fellowship with other believers across the range of ages.
  5. New members or those visiting a church for the first time might feel more at ease with their own age group, be less concerned about what that senior saint is thinking about them, and actually focus on the lesson.

I realize the college group could hold Bible studies apart from church, but, in my experience, those studies are sporadically attended by this age group due to work and school schedules.

These are just the reasons I could think of today for why churches shouldn’t dismiss the idea of a college/career group. I’m sure I will think of more over the next few days. Feel free to comment your thoughts on the subject!