Something Greater than 9/11

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc
photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

photo credit: faungg's photo via photopin cc
photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

Is Change Really Possible

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

Change, my friends is inevitable. Nothing is static in this transient world. Nothing! This is especially true in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Today’s new thing will probably be obsolete by the end of the week!

But when we ask if change is possible, we aren’t referring to change in the general sense—our real emphasis is on positive change. Faced with a steady barrage of negative news, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if things will ever turn in a healthy direction. Violence is prevalent. The economy sits on shaky ground. Our government finds itself immersed in gridlock. The church takes only faltering steps, most of which are in the wrong direction.

There is, however, an underlying question that seems to plague the common person. “Is change really possible in my life?” is the question that most of us ask. Sure, there are the narcissists who stand convinced that they have no need to change. In addition, we find the confident few who believe that, with a bit of hard work, they can become whatever they want. Still, I suspect that most of us have run up against powerful roadblocks in our efforts to become better people. We’ve tried moving forward, but always find ourselves being drawn back into our fears, our compulsions, and our dark thoughts. As a result, deeply-rooted doubts cloud any sense of hope that we once had for a better tomorrow.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc
photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

The essence of the Christian gospel is about change. God was not content with the status quo of sin and death so He sent His much-loved Son to do something about the problem. And do something He did! Forgiveness of sin and guilt is a change we can’t live without.

Still, much more remains. God provided His Word as a roadmap to change and sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts as an agent of change. I’m not saying that transformation is easy by any means, but it certainly is possible—for every one of us.

photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap
photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap

Through my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I’ve researched, studied, and watched. My desire has been to find a Christianity that really works—not simply another humanistic or ineffective twist to an old religion. In that time, I’ve come to understand that the power of human sin runs deeper than any of us realize. But I’ve also come to grasp that the power of God’s grace is far greater than even the bonds of sin. The key, more than any other thing, is learning to continually draw upon the fullness of that life-changing grace.

Yes, change is possible for any of us as individuals. And if change is possible for the individual, societal change is certainly within our reach.  This confidence in God’s grace as realized through the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates me to press on in my Christian service, knowing full well that ours is a future founded upon real hope.

Speaking of change, we are still in the process of transitioning over to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. If you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc
photo credit: ky_olsen via photopin cc

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always like Bob Dylan’s singing voice. Although I was born a little late to join the protests of the sixties, I must have somehow absorbed the feel of the era. Dillon’s title track from his third album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, became an anthem of sorts for those wearied of the uncaring, repressive ways of the old order.

I don’t know if Bob Dylan ever truly gave his life to Christ, but there is no question that he was drawn toward Biblical themes. I suspect he inherently understood that humankind can never provide the answers for all that it needs.

Almost forty years later, a similar sense of weariness has settled into our bones. We live in an era of global upheaval—there’s no question about that. Old methods, old mindsets, old structures, and old technologies are just that—old. The “new”, however, continues to lack the moral substance missing through much of the turmoil of the ’60s.

The Western church saw a powerful move of God in the 1970s, filling faithful believers with a sense of confidence that she (the church) would fix the ills of society in a way that hippie protests never could. Today, it seems, we don’t see the expected fruit from either movement.

photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc
photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc

Born during the upheaval of the ’60s and born again at the tail end of the ’70s’ renewal, I have spent much of my life looking for answers. I’ve never been satisfied with the status quo—especially the institutional ineffectiveness of the Western church. But now, in an era when we seem to have fewer answers for the pain of the human condition, I finally feel as though I am beginning to see and understand the transformational power that the gospel professes to possess.

In spite of the onslaught of criticism that’s been directed toward the church in recent years, I don’t think that we have it all wrong—a large number of devoted and sincere followers of Christ continue to make a significant impact on broken lives. At the same time, I believe that our version of Christianity is lacking in several key areas. We emphasize repeating the sinner’s prayer over counting the cost to become disciples of Christ. We preach and teach a form of grace that breeds passivity. We fail to grasp the importance of identity in the battle we wage against sin.

photo credit: Sean McGaughran
photo credit: Sean McGaughran

I could elaborate further, but time and space do not permit. My point is that we have much right, but that significant adjustments still need to be made if we are to see the church become the fullness of Christ she was meant to be. The upheaval of our times serves as a mysterious blessing in that it simply will not allow us to be content with the status quo.

Personally, I have been changing as I’ve sought to become more usable for God’s purposes. As a ministry, we are changing to prepare ourselves for a greater measure of influence in the coming days. A major part of that change will involve our web presence. Our new SfMe Ministries web/blog site (searchforme.info) is now live. Our new SfMe Media website (sfme.org) will be unveiled in the coming weeks. As a result, we will soon begin phasing out the use of https://searchforme.wordpress.com/.

Rather than automatically switch all of our subscribers to the new site, we’d prefer to give you the option of continuing to follow my weekly posts. Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the great new website that Sean, our faithful employee, has put together. It’s easy to subscribe to my weekly “blogotional” by providing your email in the top right section of the home page. (You may also want to unsubscribe from my Hidden Trails blog.)

I think that you will find my weekly posts to be both insightful and beneficial. The Times They Are a-Changin’. Let’s collectively seek to position ourselves for the further advance of God’s awesome kingdom!

Addicted to Doubt?

Original Photo by earl53 - morgueFile

Faith! Faith! Faith! Why so much about faith? I know I’ve focused quite a bit on the topic through my last several posts, but not because I feel I am highly advanced in my ability to trust God. In many ways faith has never come easily for me and I continue to have my struggles in various forms. Don’t get me wrong—I have no trouble believing in the existence of God and resting in many of His promises. It’s just those certain few areas that I continue to find most challenging. Perhaps you can relate.

There was a time years ago when I suspected a high level of unbelief in my heart, but couldn’t bring myself to admit my addiction to doubt. Anything less than perfect faith would have been equivalent to weakness—the dreaded enemy of any red-blooded western Pennsylvania male.

It’s been said that most people embrace change only when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change. Such was unquestionably the case with me. When I could no longer stand myself, I finally approached God’s throne of grace and confessed that I was a bag of unbelief.

Photo by bamagirl - morgueFile

Gazing into the rearview mirror of my life, I can’t see any dramatic fireworks at that given moment, but I can say that it was one of the most significant milestones I have ever experienced. Since that time I’ve discovered two very important truths: faith is integral to every aspect of Christianity; most people, especially those in the Western church, are Addicted to Doubt. Regardless of how much we profess to trust God, our innumerable struggles with fear and anxiety (and a whole host of sins) tell a different story.

From the outside looking in, it may appear to some folks that I’ve tried to convince myself that God can be trusted. Actually that approach never worked well for me. Instead I found honesty and a willingness to face my struggles to be a much more powerful vehicle for change. In other words, I simply put myself in a position where God could do the painstaking work of transformation in me. Honesty, transformation and trust—they all go hand in hand when it comes to breaking free from the chains that bind us.

Photo by Tedehur - morgueFile

Similar to trees, our branches go up and our roots go down, but the unseen growth of the roots is what seems to take so long. For me the pattern has been fairly consistent. A difficult situation arises in my life. I try to stand on God’s word and trust His promises, but struggle in the process. I present my shortcomings to Him, while still seeking to stand on His promises. In the end, my heavenly Father works out the details and bestows almost mystical blessings. I say “mystical” because I’m often at a loss for words when it comes to the depth of His work and the measure of His favor—all in spite of my weakness.

Armed with a deeper measure of trust, I lift my gaze and see a somewhat larger challenge appearing on the horizon . . . . The end result of this cycle is continued growth, but the process is rarely fast and never resembles a neatly wrapped fruit basket adorned with ribbons and bows. Growing in faith can be messy!

Congruent with the growth of my faith in God has been the development of both my practical and theological understanding of the importance of faith. Over the next few posts I plan to highlight what faith is and what it isn’t, and to share an understanding of several very real reasons why living by faith is non-negotiable when it comes to Christian living. It really is that important! In these tumultuous times we can no longer afford to be Addicted to Doubt!

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NASB)

Position Yourself for Change

My son was a wrestler in high school. Wrestling is a grueling individual sport. When you’re out on the mat, there’s absolutely nobody to hide behind! If you’re skilled and well prepared, everybody knows it. If you are not, well, you know how that goes.

From day one wrestlers are taught about stance and positioning. Not only is it painful to have your head continually shoved into the mat, but there aren’t any moves a person can execute when he’s lying flat on his belly. In such circumstances the coach will continually yell, “Get to your base!” Only when he gets to all fours, will the wrestler be in a position for positive change.

I’ve made it clear that self-sufficiency is not the answer to our ills and that we cannot make ourselves to be better Christians. That doesn’t mean, however, that there is nothing we can do to help facilitate personal growth. The key is to learn to position ourselves for change.

Romans 5:17 is a passage that both inspires and challenges me:

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (NASB)

What does Paul say is the requirement for reigning over sin’s power in this life? Receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness! It’s all very simple—and very powerful. So why don’t we see more fruit in the lives of professing Christians? We aren’t positioned to receive.

When the pride of self-sufficiency serves as our underlying motivation, we block the flow of God’s life-giving grace. When we constantly work to earn God’s favor, the gift of righteousness lies unclaimed. When we focus on our guilt and shortcomings, we allow the powers of darkness to shove our faces into the mat. When we fail to trust the promises of God, we lie powerless on our bellies.

If you want to see God move in your life, you’ve got to get to your base to position yourself to receive from God. How is this accomplished? It’s not complicated.

We begin by admitting our need. We don’t have what it takes to defeat our adversary, but surely our God is The Champion! Turning to God, we confess what we’ve just admitted.

But there is another essential factor that we simply cannot ignore—the Word of God. Without the Word we’re toast! This is one of the keys of daily Bible reading. It’s not about trying to be a good Christian or somehow trying to please God. A daily devotional life serves to help position us to receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. And as we read, we begin to learn the promises of God—especially those which apply to our circumstances.

So let’s imagine (for some this might not be too hard) that you’re at a bad place in life. Your circumstances stink. It seems as though the people around you either don’t understand or don’t care. Hope is fading as you’re nagged by the sinking feeling that even God has abandoned you. Or perhaps you’re facing a mountain that you simply can’t overcome. What do you do? Get to your base!

Go to God in prayer, surrender your will and confess your need. Then turn to the Scriptures and to His promises (Romans 8:26-39 might be a good place to begin). No matter what your circumstances seem to say, stand on His promises, believing that God is absolutely and totally faithful to His Word. Position yourself for change and then watch Him move on your behalf!

I Hate Hype!

By Daveynin - CC Attribution 2.0 Generic

Were you one of the 111,000,000 viewers who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday? I was. Not a bad game. Of course, it would have been better had the Steelers won, but overall we were entertained.

Professional football is now a multi-billion dollar business. Gone are the days of leather helmets and crumbling stadiums!  Let’s take a minute to peer into the reality of this football phenomenon.

As you read, please note that football is my favorite of all professional sports. I really do enjoy the games. My problem is that so many of us invest so much for such a small return.

How many hours of national media coverage do you suppose were devoted to Super Bowl XLV? How about local news time? How much money was spent on hats, jerseys and other paraphernalia? What did it cost the tens of thousands of fans who journeyed to Texas to watch the game? How many tons of shrimp, wings and nachos did those 111,000,000 million viewers consume? (I think I was personally responsible for eating about 50 pounds of shrimp!) Without question there was a massive amount of attention given to this GAME!

So what’s my gripe? All of the pregame glitter and hype promise the universe, but what’s left when the smoke clears?

From start to finish, a football game consumes about 3 hours of our time, but there’s an awful lot of filler involved. Did you know that the actual playing time amounts to only 11-12 minutes? Think about it! All of that time, money and effort for 12 minutes of Super Bowl action!

Hype promises us the world, but delivers little of substance. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

By theilr - CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

How does all of this relate to my current Harassed at the Border blog series? Opposition isn’t the only enemy to change. Deception and distraction are equally effective at hindering our journey toward transformation.

But hype isn’t limited to just the world of sports. Plenty takes place within Christian circles. Each next great fad promises to provide the answer that will fix our ills and restore the luster of American Christianity. Too often smoke and mirrors with no real or lasting substance!

Now, I didn’t write all of this simply to air my gripes, or to condemn football fans or to bad mouth the American church. My point is that hype distracts us from the real power of transformation—God’s grace.

Grace lacks so many attributes of hype, but delivers the substance of change and fulfillment like nothing else can. We can’t boast in the unmerited favor of grace, but we can be transformed. Grace carries with it the ability to do all that God has called us to do.

Our problem isn’t that the Gospel is flawed or somehow lacking. We have simply allowed the hyped-up fads of our day to divert and distract us from God’s everlasting power of transformation—grace.

Looking for real and lasting change? You’ll never find it in a game. Learn to abide in God’s amazing grace!

Watch my clip on Vimeo to learn more about grace.

Believe in Yourself! Seriously?

Photo by Sam Mugraby - Photos8.com

It is the mantra of our day. From the earliest of ages our children are showered with the believe in yourself message. “You can go anywhere, accomplish anything. The ability lies deep within you. All you need to do is draw it out. Believe in yourself.” This, according to our world, is the foundation of change.

Too often we think that negative circumstances, other people, even the devil, are at the cause of our ills. If only these will go away, our lives will be better. The believe in yourself message rises higher, telling us to focus on what we are able to do, as opposed to what’s been done to us.

The message sounds good. The message feels good. One BIG problem. Self-sufficiency is an enemy of the human soul, and most certainly the arch enemy of God. In a self-sufficient world, God is unnecessary. Not a favorable state!

Adam & Eve were painfully deceived by the Great Lie, which essentially proclaimed, “You will be like God apart from God.” Its subtle hiss continues to tickle the ears of humanity even to this day.

Are we better to wallow in a victim mentality? No. Doesn’t work. Should we live in a world of self-condemnation, constantly focused on our shortcomings and inabilities? Not a good idea either. But there is an element to all of this that far outweighs all others. The very presence of God in the life of a Christian!

To enter into a New Covenant relationship with our Creator is to enter a union of oneness through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The very life of God dwells within us! Park on this thought for a while and see if it doesn’t spark something deep within your soul. And He promises to never leave or forsake us!

The message of the Gospel is far greater, far more powerful, far more life-changing than “believe in yourself.” Within the heart of every Christian dwells His ability to do far more than we could ever ask or think, but one of the keys to tapping into this potential is to come to an end of ourselves. It’s not until we know that we can’t, that can becomes a reality.

At the core of our human dysfunction is the boast. It flows freely from prideful hearts intent on dethroning and supplanting our benevolent Creator. Such pride has produced immeasurable pain and destruction in our world.

You may indeed be able to accomplish a significant task by believing in yourself. But the celebration of your success will focus on what you, from within yourself, have been able to do—and the long-term fruit will be rotten to the core.

Do you find yourself standing at the border of change, longing for potential to become reality? Then surrender your self—your self-will and your self-sufficiency in particular. Believe in God–and He will provide you with sufficient grace to overcome any obstacle!