Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hope for the Unemployed

I've been there before, just another number among the ranks of the unemployed.

Even without children depending on me for their daily bread, it was a frightening place to be, a valley of indecision where I questioned every decision I had made thus far in my life.

How did I get here?  Had I missed God's calling on my life?  Did I make a wrong turn somewhere?

But no matter how many times I replayed a lifetime of videos in my head, I always came to the same conclusion--I knew I had followed God's will to this place.  So why was I here?

Years later, I asked the same question when husband lost not merely his job but his career.  I continue to ask the same question when I see friends and family without a job not for just a few months, but for years.

Why, Lord?

The pages of Ezekiel give a glimpse of one man who lost much more than one job.  He lost it all.

Scripture reads, "Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God....the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and there the hand of the LORD came upon him" (Ez. 1:1-3).

In this short passage, we learn Ezekiel was a "priest" from the tribe of Levi, which had been set aside by God to serve Him forever in His holy place.

To serve in the temple was Ezekiel's career, something he would have been trained to do since birth.  This was also Ezekiel's birthright, since a Levite was not given a portion of the promised land.  God was His portion.

But there was no temple to serve in.  It had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Even if there had been a temple to serve in, Ezekiel was a prisoner living in exile.

In what must have seemed like an instant, Ezekiel was left with no lands, no inheritance, no temple, no career, no avenue of service.  

The earlier Scripture also references the "thirtieth year," which many scholars believe to have been Ezekiel's age.  Such an interpretation would coincide with the Old Testament rules about Levites starting to serve in the temple "from thirty years and upward, even to fifty years old" (Num. 4:3).

One can just imagine how Ezekiel felt.  He had finally achieved the age he dreamed about his entire life--the age when he could stop learning about being a priest and start being a priest, when he could  stop watching others from the sidelines and start serving in his own right.

Now, though, he was displaced, jobless, career-less, a prisoner, homeless, and all with a wife to support in a foreign land.   But although Ezekiel may have thought he could no longer serve God, none of these human factors stopped God from using Ezekiel.

When all seemed lost, Jesus came to Ezekiel: "on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man....there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance.  Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face" (Ez. 1:26-28).

God had a job for Ezekiel to do, an avenue of service--not the career Ezekiel expected for himself, but one God set before him anyway.

Had Ezekiel been serving comfortably in Jerusalem, he may not have been as open to God's career-change from respected priest to hated prophet.

These words should bring hope to the many who have lost their jobs, who have lost their careers.

You are not forgotten to God.  He still has a plan for your future.

It may not be in the job field you trained in.  It may not even be in a field you've ever considered.  Yet, sometimes, it takes losing it all for Jesus to show Himself to us in His glory like He did with Ezekiel.

A drastic, less-than-desired change, yes, but oh the glory He reveals to those of us who keep looking up through the trial.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Who Picks Up the Slack When Christians Avoid Muslims?

Muslim wasn't a word in my childhood vocabulary.  I rarely heard it at home and if I did, it was some passing reference on the evening news.  Even by high school, Islam was a vague concept from World History class.

Somewhere in college, I picked up the very basic differences in belief systems between Christians and Muslims, enough to know about its chief prophet Muhammad and Jesus being demoted from Son of God to "just another prophet."

Still, in my mind, Muslims were a world away, ever-tanned people who lived in the deserts of Africa, who believed women to be worth less than the dust of the earth, who hit their knees to bow turbaned head in prayer three regimented times a day, and who lived to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Muslims were other-worldly.  They were the strange burka-clad women I saw every now and then at the mall. I always looked away, embarrassed, never sure how to get past the strangeness of their garb to even smile a greeting.

Then came September 11, 2001.  Suddenly, Islam and all Muslims were yanked up on center stage.  They weren't a people group "over there."  Muslims were now the neighbor next door.  And worse, some Muslims were extremists to be feared for their hatred of America.

But how could you tell which Muslim was waiting to go on a kamikaze mission in the name of Allah?

For awhile, it looked like the McCarthyism of the 50s would return with a vengeance, although this time, we were searching for Muslim terrorists instead of Communists under every rock. 

The result of this fear was separation, an "us" versus "them" mentality.

And when that happened, Christians stepped away from their duty to share the gospel.

Such is the argument Pastor Tom Doyle makes in the newest book, Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?

He writes, "I believe Islamic terrorism is Satan's attempt to keep the gospel message away from Muslims.  The enemy thinks that if he can make the rest of us afraid of Muslims or make us hate them, then he can short-circuit Jesus' church from reaching Muslims."

It has been a week since I read this passage.  I still feel convicted.

Scripture commands Christians to share the gospel with all peoples.  The Great Commission doesn't exclude potential terrorists or extremists, doesn't give Christians an "out" for choosing fear over obedience.

Christ clearly said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”" (Matt. 28:19-20).

These aren't confusing words that can have a double interpretation.   All means all.

Yet, Pastor Doyle's book doesn't stop with this biting critique of modern Christianity.  Instead, he continues, saying Satan's attempt to short-circuit the path of the gospel "isn't working.  Jesus has stepped in and is opening Muslim hearts Himself."

The book proceeds to present narrative accounts of Jesus taking up the gauntlet and introducing Himself to Muslims, one at a time, in dreams.  These dreams then lead Muslims to a Christian--either in person or in an Internet chat room--who disciples them in the Word.

Slow down and think about this for just a minute.  

Christians have allowed fear, difference, not knowing what to say, embarrassment--whatever--to stop them from sharing the gospel with Muslims.  

So, Jesus has bypassed His ineffective disciples to do the job, Himself.

The Jesus who told you and me to go and tell, who gave His own life for us.....He is out there on the front lines sharing Himself.  He is issuing the call.  And even in the dangerous countries so steeped in Islam that they routinely kill family members who swear allegiance to Christ, He is winning souls daily.

Maybe you're like me and feel ashamed at having dropped your gaze when a Muslim walks your way.  More than that, though, I feel a call to arms, to push past the cultural differences, the fear, and try to win these Muslims to Christ.

There is a time for everything, and the real-life accounts in Doyle's book convince me that the time for the Muslim to come to know Christ is now.

With the Jesus film reaching 6.5 billion already, with the Internet penetrating formerly-closed countries, with Christian radio reaching 93%* of the world, with 60 million* in the Middle East able to watch a Christian apologist on television--the time is now.

If you avoid a particular establishment because it's owned by a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist...

If you avoid interaction with someone who dresses differently because of their religion...

I challenge you to overcome your prejudices, your fear, your embarrassment and see them as God sees them--as lost souls waiting for someone to share with them the truth of Jesus Christ's sacrifice at Calvary.

Otherwise, it will be said of our generation that the fields were ripe unto harvest but the willing laborers were so few that Jesus had to go, Himself, in our place.  

That's not what I want my Savior to say to me when I meet Him in the clouds.

Read a sample of Doyle's book here.  You'll be hooked.

*Doyle.  p. 264

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Darkness of Assimilation

When Wyatt was about a year old, I would attempt to silence his fussing by bursting forth with all the childhood songs I remembered, making up the words when I forgot a phrase or two.

One song in particular that Wyatt liked was “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” In fact, he would dissolve into adorable chuckles when I would sing the verse “Hide it under a bushel?” and loudly say, “No! I’m gonna let it shine.” I never got past the “Won’t let Satan blow it out” verse because when I stopped blowing into his face to “foof out” the candle, he would begin saying, “Sing!” meaning I needed to repeat those two verses again.

While this may be a mere childhood song, it holds a very adult truth.

Jesus told Christians in Matthew 5: 14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (NASB).

It’s rather obvious when I walk into a room or a building where there are no lights burning; therefore, if I am a child of Christ and obeying His commands, it should be very obvious to those around me that I am a Christian.

 A true Christian should not be able to casually, anonymously blend in with the masses but should seem as a blinding light in the very dark America we live in today. True Christians should dress differently; act differently; have an overall positive, hopeful attitude; frequent only those establishments which, if someone else sees them there, will not cause that person to stumble; speak differently; use their money differently; and spend their extracurricular time differently than non-Christians.

As a general rule, though, Christians’ lights are burning pretty dimly. Our daily actions aren’t setting us apart from the rest of the world. conducted a study of 1,402 adults who had not attended a religious service at a church, synagogue or mosque in the previous six months. The results:

A full 72 percent of the people interviewed said they think the church ‘is full of hypocrites....At the same time, however, 71 percent of the respondents said they believe Jesus ‘makes a positive difference in a person’s life’ and 78 percent said they would ‘be willing to listen’ to someone who wanted to share what they believed about Christianity.

For almost ¾ of unchurched people to believe Jesus makes a difference in a person’s life but to also believe church-going Christians are hypocrites tells me Christians are not fulfilling their calling to be sanctified in Christ, to be set apart, to be a light in the world.

This isn’t a new struggle. In the book of Esther, we’re told the story of a young Jewish girl, Esther, a descendent of the exiled Jews who were held captive in Babylon and then who chose not to return to Jerusalem with 40,000 other Jews after King Cyrus of Persia overthrew Babylon.

The story’s suspense hinges on Esther keeping her heritage unknown even after she is crowned Queen of all Persia (Esther 2:10) and all the Jews in Persia’s provinces are sentenced to death by King Xerxes’ new law. Throughout the story, she successfully keeps the secret that she was a Jewess, that she is of the chosen people of God, and her heritage is only revealed when she, herself, spills the beans.

The law of Moses in the Old Testament is full of restrictions for a Jew’s diet, speech, dress, and customs. Thus, Esther’s ability to blend in anonymously tells us how well the Jews had assimilated into the Persian, pagan culture.

I believe the Jews didn’t mean to become so assimilated into a pagan culture—it just happened. One small “it’s no big deal” concession here; one small, “why not” change there; one compromise for the sake of friendship the next day; one change in an attempt to be politically correct the next—and before they knew it, the pagans and God’s chosen people could both look in the same mirror and not be able to tell one from the other.

How well assimilated are you into the world? Do you stick out like a sore thumb? Does everyone you meet see Jesus in you? Can everyone see the difference?

It is difficult to live daily as a “light” in a world that is constantly trying to suck us into participating in the darkness. But, we should strive each day to shine the light of Christ within us.

Assimilation is easy. Being different is hard.

May you and I make a covenant with God this week to be different, to be set apart for His glory.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What If You Can't Work Miracles?

It's the modern-day miracles that stick in our memory.  They're the ones we repeat to friends and family, the kind that only the word miracle can properly describe.     

This word is whispered around the boy who walks away from the pile of crumpled metal that once looked like a car.

It is the only way to explain the couple who survives in a small four-walled bathroom that withstands a tornado's strength while every other wall is blown down for miles around.

Yes, only miracle can describe the woman whose first MRI shows cancerous tumors throughout her body only to have the doctors go in for surgery and find every last trace of illness has vanished. 

We see the power of God in the miracles--big and small--around us.  It is good to give Him thanks for what He does in these kinds of blessings.

The problem comes if we think the power of God will only manifest itself in the miraculous, the unexplainable, the Hollywood-style events.

Yet, if the power of God was never again demonstrated in something Webster's would deem a miracle, still, God's power would be at work.

With all the show-stoppers, we tend to forget the power of the Word of God.

Consider John the Baptist.  

Before his birth, the angel appeared to his father, Zacharias, and prophesied John's coming, saying he would be "'filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord'" (Lk. 1:15-17).

Describing John as having the "power of Elijah" likely caused his parents to think their little boy would be working miracles left and right.  In the Old Testament, Elijah worked sixteen recorded miracles; this was the man of God who prayed that the heavens be shut up and there was no rain for three years, who restored a child's life, who multiplied the oil so a widow did not starve, who divided the waters of the Jordan River.

Yet, even with this promise of power,  John the Baptist performed not one miracle  recorded in Scripture.  

Not. One. 

The power of the Holy Spirit that dwelt within him wasn't inactive.  No.  The power merely manifested itself differently (and no less miraculously). 

Scripture describes this eccentric man wearing camel's hair and noshing on locusts and honey as a magnet for swarms of people traveling great distances to catch a glimpse at this voice in the wilderness: "Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins" (Matt. 3:5-6).

The throngs of people didn't come to see John work great miracles.  Instead, they came to hear him preach the Word of God:

"Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ' Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’” (Matt. 3:1-3).

John's power was The Word. 

He drew men to the desert by preaching nothing but The Word of God.

It was a power that not only drew them to him but that also led them to repent, confess their sins, and be baptized, paving the way for salvation with Christ's coming.

Sometimes, I wish I had catchier stories to draw people to my blog.  Or maybe if I just had a more powerful testimony of being saved out of the worst life possible...  Then, maybe people would listen to what I have to say.  Then, perhaps I would be more instrumental in drawing others to repent and find saving faith.

But I must realize--we must realize--the power of God's Word is enough to draw men and women to Christ.

Those who later met Jesus said of John the Baptist, "While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true" (Jn. 10:41).

This is what we must strive to do.  
We need not perform any sign or miracle.  We must simply be faithful, like John, and speak the Word of God.  

It is as powerful as any miracle to point others to the truth of Christ and His offer of salvation.

Image: First glimpse of my twins in early 2008. These are truly my miracles.