Everyone a Pastor

13 10 2010

Following a man has always been easier than following God.  Even so, he is still only a man.  If we closely emulate his strengths, then we may closely emulate his faults.  But, choose whom we will to follow, our leader never goes to Hell on our behalf.  He goes there for himself, and we go to our own fate.

Following a man has always been so much easier than taking responsibility for our own faith, that we have an innate tendency to venerate our spiritual leaders, as though they were anything better than just another lost soul.  He is but one man among peers.  We sent him off to get his education.  He returned to impart his wisdom to us.  If he taught us for an hour every Sunday, then we sat through fifty-two hours of sermons per year and five-hundred-twenty hours each decade.  By our early thirties, we would have listened to 15,600 solid hours of preaching.  If there were anything left for him to teach us that he had not already discussed, then we ought to dismiss him for his negligence.  We ought, by all rights, to have learned enough to be our own preachers.

Can you say “amen” to that?

To borrow the cliché, our man of the cloth is all too often more cloth than man.  He looks good in the pulpit, but his character tends to be shallow.  It is his fault for expecting to be the shepherd of his flock.  Only Christ is the shepherd.  It is our fault for putting him on a pedestal, as though the platform were raised for his honor, and not merely so that we could see him better.  We should call no man “father” except our Father in Heaven.  A pastor is a peer among equals.

When a layman commits adultery against his wife, we condemn him, but we are not shaken.  When a pastor does such a thing, our church splits, some leave that church, and some leave all church, entirely.  When a pastor falls, we are shaken.  Yet, a pastor is just a theologically educated member of the congregation.  But, so are we.

He distances himself from his people.  He needs that air of infallibility.  If he related to us as one of us, then we might see his faults.  We hold him in such a critical esteem, that his would be the first faults we found, even before our own.  Yet, he is only a man, and he is only human.  Considering the pressure, considering the lack of moral support, and considering the lack of mentoring, one might conclude that the pastor lives an act.  He must, even if he is sincere.  He lives the best that he can, and he hides the rest, or he loses his job.  Such is the fact of the matter.  In this, there grows a weakness.  Quite possibly the shakiest faith in the church is the one that stands behind the pulpit.  The weakest in the group stands to be the backbone.

The disparity between the pastor and the laity is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the pastor has no pastor.  The second problem is like the first, that the congregation has no congregation.  We do not work on Sunday, but the pastor might only work on Sunday.  We turn to him for guidance, but he has no one.  He does not sit in church every Sunday and listen to anyone’s sermon.  He is alone.  God is his only guidance.  Even so, God should be our guidance, also.  He is called to speak the truth, but so are we.  He is called to reach the lost, but we are, also.  We are pastors to a lost world, but we act like spectators.  Our message is as bad as our worship, being nothing but lip service, and only a lip service within the walls of the church building, at that.

We are the preachers who do not preach.  He is the laity that does not listen.  We have led him through his fear for our approval.  We have failed to follow, because we have not emulated him to the world.  We watch him like a television.  We sing a few songs.  We chat a little, and then we go home.

We are only peers among pastors.  No man is above us.  No one is beneath us.  We are all responsible for working out our own faith, with the fear and trembling of a man tottering above the flames of Hell.  Only one man has paid the price for us, and he isn’t the pastor.  Only I am responsible for finding my salvation.  We are in this together.  We are judged separately.

Every single one of us has some insight that you lack.  Every single one of us needs support that only you can give.  We are all pastors.  We are all laity.  We were all lost.  We are all found.

The Soapbox and the Train

16 05 2010

True story: a woman dropped her coat on the ground, just below a platform.  She climbed down to retrieve her coat, and some complete stranger jumped down and rudely shoved her, attempting to force her back onto the platform in a hurry.  Several bystanders stood there and watched.  In the next moment, he was dead, and she was critically injured, but alive.  All of this, because of a mere coat.  To save that material article, she climbed onto the subway tracks.  Then the man climbed onto the tracks to save her.  Most would say that the coat wasn’t worth it.  Some might even say that the woman wasn’t worth it.

But that was just a subway, and he tried by physical means.  It was only a matter of life and death, nothing more.  In another time and another place, a man stood on a soapbox and preached at a passing crowd.  This is also a true story.  He told the world that they were sinners and needed to repent.  He said that they needed Jesus.  He warned them that they were going to Hell.  A man with good intentions stopped to argue with him.  In fact, the man who wished to take him to task was no less than a pastor.  He asked the man on the soapbox why he was being so mean-spirited, why he didn’t just show people the love of God.  Fortunately, the man on the soapbox ignored him.

Let’s take the two true stories and merge them for the sake of analogy.  A woman drops her coat on the train tracks, and in a moment of carelessness, she places exceedingly high priority on a temporary piece of property at the expense of something far greater.  A coat is until the next paycheck, but death is forever.  A man on the platform yells and screams at her to abandon the coat and move to safety.  He warns her of impending doom.  The other people around him mostly do nothing, same as before.  One man stops and accuses him of being unloving, harsh and overly critical.  According to the detractor, all of this yelling and screaming is only bound to chase her farther onto the tracks.  “She’ll never come to safety if you keep on like that,” he says.  At some later time, we might even make the suggestion that the police come and arrest the shouter for “hate speech.”  The liberal says that a loving God would surely not let a train come and crush a person flat, simply because she followed her own tendencies.  What harm did she do anyone?  How did her actions justify the punishment?

Yet, God’s moral laws are no more flexible than his physical laws.  She stood on the tracks when the train came, and she was to be crushed by it.  We don’t fault the train.  We don’t fault God.  We place the blame squarely on the woman.  She should have known better.

There’s a popular little lie that makes its rounds among believers that we should, “preach the gospel to the world, using words, if necessary.”  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by people speaking the message (Romans 10:17).  If no one speaks it, then no one is going to hear it.  Somehow, we are expected to simply be nice people, without ever really getting to the marrow of what we believe to be not only the truth, but a dire truth, at that.  In any other dire situation, we would be expected to go out of our way to convey the danger of the matter to the potential victims as quickly and as loudly as we possibly could.  Yet, somehow, when it comes to the only thing more important than life or death, being Heaven and Hell, we are expected to simply show people the love of God, without ever broaching the subject of the other person’s future of burning in Hell for all of eternity.

Focus on Heaven, they say.  Don’t scare them with the stuff about Hell.  So our victim is bending over to pick up her coat, and the man on the platform is calling to her seductively, telling her how wonderful it would be if she could stand up there on the platform with him, instead of being down there on the dirty old tracks, like that.  Her response?  Yes, of course it would be nice to stand on the platform, instead, but she’s going to get her coat first.  Yes, it would be nice to get into Heaven, but I’ve got time, and I’m going to enjoy life first.  In the end, the woman still gets crushed, but at least the man didn’t get hurt in the process.

That’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it?  We try to win people to Christ in the way that is least likely to get us hurt.  The train comes.  We don’t mention it.  We act like there’s no hurry.  We behave as though there were no threat.  We even pass laws against telling people that they are going to be utterly destroyed if they don’t get out of harm’s way.  That’s hate speech.  But, love is not always polite.

Jesus was often rude.  He spent much time railing against the teachers who led people astray.  In his case, he was so determined to save a person, that, like the good fellow who tried to rescue the woman, he died trying.  As in that case, more often than not, Christ’s own attempts to save people are for naught.  In the end the train comes, and there is Hell to pay.  Even so, he still hopped down from his high place and died in the attempt.  Futile effort is better than the nightmare of having done nothing.

It doesn’t have to be futile, though.  There was always some slim chance that the person might be saved.  In fact, sometimes the hero is rewarded with another soul rescued, a life saved from imminent doom.  We are not that hero.  We are only asked to speak the warning from our place of relative safety.  Our job will not always be this easy.  For now, the bystanders only ridicule us for speaking of the train and the danger.  For now, we are only made to endure a little scorn.  The time is coming when the masses will drag us away and put us in prison, that the woman may remain on the tracks until her execution.  That is, they will do so if we continue to warn.  As it is, we mostly stand and stare, like an audience at a horror film.

And we think we are virtuous for our gentleness.

A Mirror Among the Ugly

16 01 2010

How do you tell someone that he’s ugly?  You do it very, very gently.  If you’re his friend, then you’ll probably never tell him.  If you’re his mother, then you’ll lie.

They live in a house without mirrors.  Over the bathroom sink hangs a picture of the Mona Lisa.  On the bedroom door hangs a full-length picture of Audrey Hepburn.  They brush their teeth and shave in front of these images, making believe that they are really seeing themselves in a mirror.  They eat breakfast with tarnished silverware, and they drive to work with the rearview mirror adjusted away to avoid accidentally seeing themselves.  Unfortunately for them, their workplace is an uncontrolled environment.  They can’t help but occasionally glimpse themselves, reflected in the bathroom mirror or a shiny surface.  They are the ugly.  They are everyone.

 Within everyone grows an innate evil, an ugliness that we try not to look at.  We do not, cannot, see ourselves for whom we really are, because we live our lives from the inside out.  A thing seems right because we want it.  A thing seems wrong until we do it.  Our house has no mirrors.  At work, people see us, and they react to what they see.  It shows us some reflection of ourselves.  But they only see us on the outside.  They are the reflection of our fully clothed selves, and we look away from that image, even.  We are as beautiful as we like to think we are.  So long as we never see ourselves, we can live in that fantasy.  All who know us may see us as arrogant jerks, but we remain unaffected.  We avert our eyes.  We break the mirror.  We try to buff the ugliness out of the shine.  We blame the lighting.

 God has sent to us a full-length mirror, and we stand naked before it.  It is the Holy Spirit, and it shows us what we are.  The fools among us shudder and walk away, trying desperately to forget what they saw.  Some of us stand and stare in shock for a while, only to convince ourselves that what we see isn’t so bad.  Others accept the image, realizing that they do not rise above the ugliness of the world around them.  Your Mom was ugly.  Your Dad was ugly.  You followed the trend.  Your friends are ugly.  Your dog is ugly.  At least the whole world is ugly, too. 

 But God has not sent this mirror simply to make us feel bad about ourselves.  We need that mirror in order to change what we can.  We use it so that we might not walk out the door with toothpaste in the corners of our mouths.  We use it to improve ourselves.

 Cooper’s Looking Glass Self is the principle that even when we look in a mirror, we do not see ourselves for what we are.  All we see is some person staring blankly at a mirror.  We use other people’s reactions to us to shape our self-image.  They see us in a natural setting, smiling naturally, reacting naturally.  Unfortunately, our friends usually don’t tell us everything we need to know about ourselves.  They’re often not brave enough to tell us when we’re behaving badly.  Worse yet, our ugliness gets filtered through theirs.  All we see is any extra ugliness that exceeds theirs.  Anyone who shows us the wickedness of our ways we malign and ignore.  We refuse the image they show us of ourselves, because we do not like it.  It does not fit what we’d like to imagine.

 Christians are often accused of being judgmental.  This, more often than not, is a complete lie.  We have been through that fire, are still going through it, being shown our flaws in painful high-definition by the mirror of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have the luxury of living our fantasy.  Those of us who haven’t gone through it are those who do not have the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, have not really accepted Christ.  If you want to play that role and be that Christian, then you’re going to look in that mirror, and you’re going to go through that fire.  You get to peer into that image and see that wart, that pimple and that crooked nose.  You get to see your arrogance, your selfishness and your shallowness.  On the plus side, you get to work on fixing it.  You don’t have to stay that way.  On the minus side, you can’t pretend you’re beautiful, when you’re not.  It’s no wonder the world calls us judgmental.  In us they see a reflection of themselves, shining off of the sheen cast by the work of God in our lives.  They will look upon us, and they will hate what they see.

 We did, too, at one time.  Some of us still do.  No one is perfect.

 So, how do you tell a man that he’s ugly?  If you want to be his friend, then you don’t.  He won’t brush his hair if he doesn’t know it’s a mess.  He won’t pluck the dangling booger from his nose if he doesn’t know that it’s there.  In fact, anything true is potentially useful.  People don’t use truth to hurt themselves.  We reflect upon people by hinting at them what they really are.  The Holy Spirit reflects like a mirror, abruptly and plainly, holding nothing back and sugarcoating nothing, but neither does he mean any of it for harm or insult.  Likewise, we should speak the truth in love, gently, not to insult but only to help.

 In return, we can expect to be thrown to the floor and stomped on.  Such is the life of a mirror among the ugly.

God Gave Rock and Roll to You

11 01 2010

Warning: Do you have a problem with photosensitive seizures?  If you do, then please navigate away from this page.

It was a rather informal gathering with John Schlitt and Bob Hartman, just two guys from Petra on vacation, doing some performances along the way.  Between songs, Schlitt told about an incident where some staunch Christian told Hartman that rock and roll is of the Devil.  During the telling, Hartman visibly wilted.  The thing happened years ago, and yet it still lingers painfully.  He didn’t have to say that it hurt him, because there was no hiding it.

“What’s wrong with getting excited about praising Jesus?” Hartman said, plaintively.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  Rock music may not be of the Devil, but discouragement certainly is.  Criticism comes easily.  Traveling the world to sing about God sounds glamorous, but it’s really just a lot of hard work and a huge inconvenience.  It means being away from home for months at a time, and only being at home just long enough to produce a new album and hit the road again.  The kind members of Petra gave so much to bring us encouragement through music.  In return, they were told that their contribution, their way of praising God, was of the Devil.  This was surely an undeserved cut.

I can imagine singing worship music in church and being told to stop because my worship was of the Devil.  What I might say in response could easily be of the Devil.  What right does any Christian have for blaspheming God in that way?

“As the Ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window.  And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16)

Now, not all music in the Christian rock genre is genuinely religious.  Some of it lacks anything even remotely related to the faith.  However, if that claim could be made against anyone, it certainly would not be Petra.  They were the forerunners of contemporary Christian music, revolutionizing the way we looked at worship, and their purpose was at once deeply reverent and thoroughly syncopated.  If this accusation could be leveled against them, then it could be leveled against anyone.  Clearly, the statement is a broad generalization not based in an objective assessment.  Either that, or the slander against God was intentional.

Is rock music worldly?

“…I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.  But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” (2 Samuel 6:22)

That Christian rock bands are held in high esteem by lowly teenagers or us ordinary folk is no reason that the typically religious among us should despise them.  They are not worldly for their choice in style.  Hymns were once the popular music style.  They were converted from old beer-drinking songs.  The tunes were the same, but the words were different.  Gregorian chants and even the music of the Old Testament were of the popular style of the time.  Style is nothing.  Some people figured out a new way to do music, and some people deemed it to be more advanced and more enjoyable.  Our elders heard it and plugged their ears.  Okay, so it isn’t for everyone.  That doesn’t make it evil.

The sense of evil is often a gut reaction rooted in nothing more than fear.  When has this fear ever been from God?  People fear change.  They fear the unfamiliar.  They even fear new technology.  When music changed, many Christians refused to change with it, and they even made their stubbornness a facet of their own doctrine.  It wasn’t enough to say that they were unaccustomed to it.  They had to make the outrageous claim that it was evil.  When technology marched onward, the Amish held to their old ways, fearful of the new.  They rejected mechanized agriculture.  They rejected the use of electricity.  It wasn’t enough that they were paralyzed by their fear of new ways, but they incorporated this fear into their faith, as though that fear were a tangible real problem and not just a matter of their own maladaptation.  We who saw the value in the new way of doing things are condemned as being worldly.

We need not fear anything but God.

We ought not condemn the ministry of others, unless it genuinely contradicts the law of our Lord.  I thank God for Christian rock.  I thank God for Petra.  I take joy in the day that such enthusiastic, energetic music entered my life and gave me encouragement when I was trapped between the head-splitting mundane church music and the nearly Satanic roar of secular rock.  When Christianity splits through the Iron Curtain, do we insist that the Chinese believers not worship in a pentatonic scale?  When Christianity breaks out in a revival in Africa, do we tell them to do away with their drums and dances, to stand still and sing the strophic verses written by people half a world away, long since dead and gone?  No, we should not.  Neither should we expect our own culture to worship according to someone else’s style.  Music is a language.  When we insist that the older style is more sacred, we force our church services to be held in an old, out-dated language.  We held our masses in Latin, a language that no one understands.  We rejected that dead practice long ago and for good reason.  If the faith is to grow and thrive, then it must be alive within us.  We must not be afraid to worship God in the purest, sincerest, rawest way.

We must worship God in our own language.  We must sing his praises like we mean it.  We must rebuke anyone who dares condemn us for honestly praising God.

Purpose-Driven Nothing

11 11 2009

motherAh, mother…she worked so hard to keep the house straight, to take care of her children, to take care of the children at church, to take care of the homeless, to take care of foster children, to take care of abandoned animals….  Everything she did has been evidence of a driven life.  Much as I appreciated the clean house and the food on the table, I found myself wondering what it was all for, when at the end of the day she dozed off on a recliner, “playing a board game” with me, where I was expected to play the game for the both of us.  Once a week, or so, she took it upon herself to spend time with me.  There wasn’t much she enjoyed, beyond bored board games, so I learned to decline.  “What do you do for fun?” I asked her one day.

“Work is my fun,” she replied with dignity.

I can appreciate someone who enjoys her work, but there’s a difference between work and play.  Work is not something that you’re supposed to do on the Sabbath.  All my parents ever did on Sunday was lie around the house.  They had no means of frivolous entertainment.  I asked my mom, persistently, what she did that was not work, something done for no other reason than because it was fun to do.  She replied that she was proud of the fact that she did not waste her time on useless things.  Consequently, she did not have much time for me.  This is not to say that she didn’t love me.  It’s just that she wanted to stand before God on the last day and hold her head high, knowing that she had made good use of her time here on Earth.

My father was a hard worker, too.  At the end of his day job, he had dinner and left for his side jobs.  Sometimes he brought me along to sit around and fidget with screwdrivers and wires and stuff.  Sometimes he found things for me to do.  Most of the time, though, I just didn’t see much of him.  I thought he was hard pressed for cash, but he kept us supplied in electronic entertainment and piles of toys at Christmas.  I later asked him why he worked so much, and he replied, essentially, by saying that he was driven.

They were ambitious people, and they took great care of me.  Now, at the end of their lives, they look back on it and worry that they didn’t accomplish enough.  I worry that they accomplished too much.

I have known scores of Christians who strive to please God with their lives.  They struggle to work witnessing into every conversation.  They always keep an eye open for ways to help the needy.  They pray and read their Bibles daily.  I can hardly criticize them, especially in light of those who do no such thing.  Yet, I cannot help but wonder if all of this effort misses the point, not only of faith, but of life, in general.  If I ask them what their purpose in life is, they confidently tell me that they were put on this terrestrial globe to serve God and humanity.  A hammer was made to pound nails, and a Christian was made to feed the hungry.

Adam and Eve must have been the most depressed people in all of history.  In all of creation, nothing was wrong, and there was no one to serve.  Heaven must be the most listless place, with nothing wrong and nothing to fix.

Aye, they are the Marthas of the world, running to and fro, preparing a meal for their unexpected guests, Jesus and company.  They live to serve.  They are efficient, driven people, for whom no such thing as a game or hobby exists.  But we do not have children to be our tireless servants, and we are the children of God, no less.  He did not make us for the work that we do.  Sure, all of these things are well and good, but no good deed constitutes life’s purpose, not a single one.  Continue to care for your brother, but keep your priorities straight.

Your highest priority is communion with your maker.  The greatest commandment is to love the lord your God with everything you’ve got.  The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.  While service can be an act of love, no service is a substitute for love.

Get out.  Enjoy the birds and the trees.  God made them, and they’re yours to enjoy.  Love the creation and the mind that created it.  Let God be your friend, rather than a demanding task master.  Don’t live to serve.  Live to love.  Many people miss the opportunity to get in touch with God, being too busy with doing good things.  Love the homeless first; help them if necessary.

We’re not earning points, here.  This is not our purgatory.  We could do a great many things, but if we miss the point of it all, if we forget to take the time to love God and our fellow people, then we accomplish nothing.

Frivolous things have their purpose, too.  They give us a chance to relax, play and enjoy each other’s company.  Sometimes it’s nice just to be silly.


Losing Face

26 10 2009

facesIt was the springtime of hope, when the curtain of despair was promising to lift.  A near decade of depression was on its last leg.  I found myself sitting on a short wall, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun on my back as the sparrows chattered wildly in a nearby hedge.  It was a great day to be alive, and I thought nothing could spoil it.  As fate would have it, along came one of those people I call by the title of Hostage Taker (but never to the person’s face), for whom conversation is a performance art, requiring nothing more than herself and an inanimate telephone pole.  Such people never seem to notice or care whether the person with whom they are speaking is actually engaging in the conversation.  If one wanted to be left alone, such people would continue prattling heedlessly.

On this day, my self-appointed hostage taker was otherwise known as Anna.  She was a rather energetic individual with an overzealous enthusiasm for all things positive.  On her first day at college, she was probably the most noticeable person in the chapel service, bouncing and singing with more force than anyone else.  Being the cynical, negative person that I was, I looked upon this as odd, at best, or downright silly, at worst.  See, for the previous nine years, I had developed this theory that, deep down inside, all people in the world were really just miserable unhappy wretches.  I wondered if more people might be apt to kill themselves if the process weren’t so horrible.  Now, of course there were people who seemed happy.  To the people who were only occasionally happy, I attributed a temporary case of serendipity.  The others, I figured, were complete frauds.  Deep inside the heart of every person I imagined a gnawing hungry angst.  It didn’t help that a friend had scolded me for being unhappy and insisted that I act happy to make other people feel good.  She was the daughter of a rather important political figure, so I chalk it up to her warped upbringing.

This Anna, though, was a different case, altogether.  Her perspective was that God wanted all Christians to be ecstatically happy, mostly to the point of apoplexy.  Non-Christians were supposed to look at us and see our joy and want to be just like us.  I didn’t say a word for the entire conversation, hoping that she would leave me to my sun and sparrows.  Okay, so I have a stoic disposition, even when I’m happy.  I’ve been in a state of bliss, only to have someone ask me what’s wrong.  So, I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve.  Even so, I felt rather insulted that she would imply that I looked downcast, or that I should fake it and act happy.

“…so even when I’m sad, I put on a happy face, because God rewards a cheerful person, and pretty soon he’ll make me happy inside, too.”

And in the meantime, you tell a lie to the world with your face.  See, there are more ways to lie than with direct verbal contradictions of truth.  In fact, there are more ways to lie than with words.  I don’t know anyplace in the Bible that says that God will make us insanely happy all of the time, or that we should trick the world into thinking we’re happy.  The Bible does, however, tell us not to lie.  Jesus didn’t dance for joy on the mount of olives as he waited for his execution.  He wept and wailed, and he probably gave himself a degree of  heart failure while he was at it.  He was a man of sorrows, visiting a fallen world.

The world does not need to see another smiling face.  It needs to see the truth.  The truth is that, while I haven’t met an unbeliever who could adequately differentiate between joy and happiness, I haven’t met a Christian who couldn’t.  I have been sad, yet felt the abiding joy of the Lord.  There’s a distinct difference.  The joy goes deeper.  Yet, we are all occasionally sad.  To be otherwise is to be insensitive and uncaring.  It is to be a pretentious fraud.  Once people get wind of the idea that the smile is just a façade, then there is nothing stopping the imaginations of the despairing from believing, as I did, that all people are really miserable, if the truth be told.  Prove yourself a liar, and everything you do will be suspect.

But, why lie?  Do we have this notion that God instills an overflowing happiness in everyone who puts their faith in Christ?  If this is true, then we don’t need to lie with our faces.  If this is false, then we need to change our doctrine.  But the individual doubts himself.  An individual woman looks at her mundane state of existence and thinks that she has fallen short, having failed to achieve that bliss.  The smile is the bandage that covers the gaping wound of which she is so ashamed.  In that respect, Anna was trying to help me, like telling a man that the zipper on his fly is down, or that he has toothpaste stuck in the corner of his mouth.  My unenthusiastic demeanor was showing.  I was letting slip my failure as a Christian.

Now, the most ironic thing happened just a few days later.  Anna awoke one morning with a palsy in her face.  The entire left side of her face went limp as a wet rag.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I would be in a state of uncontrolled panic if that ever happened to me.  Without a doubt, this would be a test of her resolve to put on a happy face, even in times of trouble.  She declared with half a smile that God would heal her.  She was determined to stay happy and trust God.  While half of her face lied, the other half, the one that no longer worked, told the truth.  One side had a foolish grin, and the other side was the picture of despair.  We were sitting at a table in the college cafeteria, and everyone at that table froze in the middle of eating to stare at the half-happy half-sad face.  It was very disturbing.  Anna let loose with a sigh, like the truth was bottled up inside her and the pressure had to be released.

In the days that followed, she slowly lost her resolve.  As time marched on, the two sides of her face began to match each other.  She had lost face.  I can only imagine what it must have been like, waking up each morning to that discouraging image in the mirror.  She couldn’t even fool herself with a forced smile.  The one trying event had come that she could not smile her way through.  Slowly, she was learning to express an honest emotion.  God had not decreed that all Christians be happy all of the time, but he had stated that we must be honest.

I was told at an early age that God uses adversity to teach us his ways.  Consequently, I tried, or thought I tried, to learn and understand these things so as to avoid the impending trouble.  I know that he has used hardship to teach me, and I can see clearly how he used it to teach Anna.  We science students, especially those of the pre-med disposition, looked upon her as a case study.  Though I was not around to see her recover from her ailment, I do believe that she probably recovered fully in a month or two.

From then on, I decided that I would never, unless posing for a picture, and maybe not even then, fake a smile.  I want the world to see me happy, but, more importantly, I want to be honest, and I want to actually be happy.  Incidentally, I consider my life to be a very pleasant experience, over-all.

At the moment, I am happy.  I could use an apple fritter and a cup of coffee, but otherwise, I’m doing just fine.


Signs and Wonders to the Muslim Heart

1 07 2009

The way into the Muslim heart is through signs and wonders.

My brother, a chaplain in the United States Air Force recently returned from Iraq with some interesting news.  Firstly, I must say that military clergy are very much restricted in how they share the gospel, so much so that they hardly seem representative of a free country.  Great pains are taken in policy to assure that they do not force their religion on anyone, to the point that they cannot share their beliefs with the people of that nation unless specifically asked to do so.

An Iraqi man and his son came in to the military hospital with burn injuries.  Apparently, the Iraqi hospital was next to useless in terms of receiving real care.  The son was seriously burned over his body because he had fallen into the open cooking fire in their house.  The father had burned his own hands pulling his son out of the fire.  The father was worried that he would lose his job because he hadn’t been able to tell his workplace that he was in the hospital.  He was also worried that he wouldn’t be able to do his job anyway, because of the injuries to his hands.  My brother prayed for him and also had his workplace notified that the reason he wasn’t showing up to work was that he was in the hospital.  The father also asked him to pray for his son, who was in a different section of the hospital.  The son had blood poisoning  (septicemia), and was bloated, lying there hooked up to tubes.  My brother had seen a lot of people at the burn unit he had worked at for a while, and many died even though he prayed for them.  Since the father had asked him to pray for the boy, and there was no one around except a Catholic nurse, he anointed the boy with oil and prayed the Scriptures in Jesus’ name.  During or after the prayer, he felt the power of God surge through his body and out through his hand to the boy.  This told him that something significant was happening.  It was some time later that he encountered the two again.  They were really excited to see him.  The man’s hand was totally healed.  The boy was totally healthy and the only remnant of his injuries was the appearance of new skin.

In another case, a young Muslim man had serious wounds and was continually in a lot of pain.  He asked my brother to pray for him, and he did.  The next day was his day off (he got one day off per week).  When he returned the second day after the prayer, he found that the Muslims had been excitedly asking where he was all during his day off.  He found the man that he had prayed for, who had been in continual pain, and the pain had completely cleared after the prayer and stayed away permanently.   One Muslim man made the sign of the cross after my brother spoke and prayed with him, and the interpreter was flabbergasted and told him later that it was basically a statement of conversion.  By the time his tour was up and he had to return home, the Iraqis were bringing their friends to come and see this “Christian imam,” to whose prayers God listened.

The way into the heart of the Muslim is through signs and wonders.  Consequently, any effective witness in their world must be full of the Spirit and ready to pray for miracles.  The result of their faith, the sort of faith that germinates from a seed to a fully grown mustard plant with the water of the Holy Spirit, is that more miracles are likely to take place among them in testimony of Christ than would otherwise be seen in the western world.  Americans have been infected with a bad case of Hollywood.  Miracles are for entertainment purposes, not for conviction, in the eye of the American unbeliever.  Consequently, miracles are less likely to happen on this continent in the testimony of our Lord.

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, I’ve heard it said that his opponents roused the native population against him using magic tricks of the illusionist sort.  His response was to send in his own magicians to counter the spiritualist claims of his enemies.  This brings us to the dark flip side of the coin.  The way into the Muslim heart, even for Satan, is through signs and wonders.  In the last days, the Antichrist will use sorcery to bring the Muslims into his kingdom.  I feel entirely convinced that, while he himself will be a westerner, he will be proclaimed the Twelfth Imam, returned, by the Shiite clergy of Iran.  I’ve been saying this since before Iran began asserting itself  to become the blemish that it is today.  The false prophet of the Antichrist will be an Iranian leader, for certain.  In those days, it will be much like the battles between Moses and the Pharaoh’s magicians, for God will send two witnesses to wage war against the Antichrist through miracles of the Heavenly kind.  After all, the way into the Muslim, Arabic, and Persian heart is through signs and wonders.

We have before us both a great opportunity and a tremendous nightmare.  Either we will face this challenge with missionaries with the courage to pray for the impossible, or we will bypass this battleground and cede it directly to the enemy.  We could have the advantage of arriving first, before the enemy comes, but this moment will fade.  I’ve tried to avoid getting into End Times prophecy, because I’ve literally been writing about it since I was four years old, and I’m rather burned-out with the whole thing, but I felt this much needed to be said.  Tomorrow’s Napoleon, tomorrow’s Hitler and tomorrow’s Stalin will wage a war of sorcery, unlike anything the world has yet seen.  Will Christians rise to the battle, armed with faith and power?

Or will they watch television all night?

I know it’s frustrating, because it’s something that goes beyond us.  All we can do is pray, and there’s no guarantee that anything will come of it.  Even so, I tend to think that it must be worth the effort.