Is Allah a Bad Word?

Scripture is abundantly clear, with multiple other passages supporting the command Jesus gave. I was specifically hit recently by what Paul said to the church in Rome, right after the discourse on the lostness and depravity of humanity in Romans 1. Starting in chapter 2:1; “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” And he said that to the church!

I would like to pose 3 questions that can help us turn around our natural attitudes towards quick judgment and cold attitudes towards other people, which will give us better sight in which to see the awesome ways God is working in the world. I would like to pose those questions by sharing how God spoke to me during my recent trip to Jordan. First, though, let me give you some background information on the country.

  • Jordan is 97% Muslim believers.
  • Christianity, however is legal and respected (it is, though, illegal to convert).
  • Arab culture puts a huge priority on hospitality. It would bring shame on a family not to welcome you in and treat you well.
  • Jordan is in a unique situation in that they really have no natural resources and must rely on tourism for their main financial impact.
  • Because of that, Jordan has become the centrally located open door in the region, because they allow most everyone in.
  • Jordan has a big history of hospitality, being the first to take in Palestinians in the 60s to Syrians today. Though they try to give immigrants/refugees opportunities to thrive, with the job market the way it is, it is nearly impossible for outsiders to get a work permit, if it means taking a job from a true Jordanian.

I will honestly admit to being a bit nervous about travelling to the Middle East. There were definitely prayers on my behalf (and from me) and counsel on being careful – with some people not wanting me to go! It is a conflicted area, and obviously we hear a lot of scary news from that region of the world. Basically, my guard was up. And it had to be torn down before I would be able to see what God is doing in Jordan.

  1. What is the antidote to being judgmental?

I believe the answer to that is education. It is so easy for us to judge others, especially when we only know part of the story. Almost always, once the rest of the story is heard, our judgments change. Consider a few examples where I learned what Muslims were actually like as people; and that Muslim does NOT equal Isis.

  1. What is our motivation to practice a better way?

Jesus says that in the same way we judge, we will be judged. And he taught us to pray in Matthew 6 to ask God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Those can be dangerous words to pray if you tend to be judgmental. Practicing non-judgmentalism can lead to opportunities for God to be glorified.

  1. How do we practice discernment without being judgmental?

There are still going to be things that you have to make decisions about. Making judgments in life is not something a person can avoid. The denomination has to determine, on a 5 year basis, whether or not a mission field is worth the cost of investment. Every site is reconsidered every 5 years to see if God is bearing fruit in that location. We have to make decisions – but can where does judgmentalism end and discernment start?

So What?

When you find yourself being judgmental, here are 3 things you can do to overcome the temptation.

  1. Seek education. If you find yourself judging a particular group of people or culture (or anything), seek to learn more about it. Look for opportunities to talk with people and learn from them. That can give you a better understand and the ability to see real faces instead of ideologies.
  2. Practice forgiveness. We all tend to hold grudges and turn them onto other peoples or groups. Even if it is just between you and God, practice forgiveness over those who impacted you negatively.
  3. The difference between judgment and discernment is wisdom. Seek wisdom over anything else. I encourage you to incorporate Proverbs into your daily Bible reading plan. There are 31 chapters and usually 31 days in each month. Read the chapter that corresponds with that day.
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Refilling an Empty Spiritual Tank

bird flying

Lately, I’ve been feeling a lot like Peter Gibbons. Living in the rat race is a continual track of non-stop motion, distraction and usually frustration. Every so often I feel like asking myself why I keep running along, or what’s the point of all this? When I start asking myself questions like this, it becomes obvious that tank is on empty. As much fun as it would be to destroy an office machine, I’m not talking about dealing with a problem or fixing a negative. I’m talking about what happens when the positive-ness runs low.

This isn’t about being hungry, or depressed, sad or even upset; but just like our bodies can only go so long without nourishment and a car can only go so many miles without a stop for gas, our souls have a tank as well. What I am talking about here is exactly with Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:18 when he says to be filled with the Spirit. When a person accepts the offer of eternal salvation from God through Jesus, we join His family and God Himself (through the Holy Spirit) takes residence inside our souls, as Jeremiah 31:33 suggests. While God does “move in”, that does not mean we give up ourselves, our free will or our mind. It does mean God becomes the Lord of all we are, but He does not reprogram us; He frees us.

What this means is that those who have accepted Christ as their Savior can still get frustrated, can still go through hard times and can still fall into times of sin. Even though sin’s hold on us is broken, we can still pick it up. God intends for us to continue living in this world; it is our calling, our mission – we are His workmanship, created in advance to do His good works on earth (Ephesians 2:10). Since we are here and have a job to do, we must still deal with and live in the world around us. And this world can get very annoying at times.

So, in league with all my other “empty tank” friends, here is a (short) list of things really annoying about this world.

  1. The Bill Lumbergh factorbill lumbergh office space
  2. The sounds my dogs make when they are scratching or licking themselves
  3. Lack of objectivity in the media
  4. Anything that has to do with Glee or High School Musical
  5. Florida drivers
  6. Reality TV
  7. Uneducated opinions
  8. And so on…

Life is an Endurance Race

I list these out to commiserate with everyone else on the planet. No human is immune to pet peeves, getting frustrated or having an empty tank at times. The Bible knows and understand this, which is why there are numerous references to life being an endurance race; one that takes training, refreshment, rest and strenuous effort. Take Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Hebrews 12:1-3 shares similar advice:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Both of these passages are written to Christians; people who have already placed their faith in God! It is clear and natural to accept that sometimes Christians get run down, haggard, worn out and burned up. I believe those serving in churches (both professional and lay) are even more susceptible to empty tanks, though they can be the most difficult to help. Just like Martha in Luke 10, it is normal that people allow themselves to get overworked without recharging, and many Biblical passages exist to help us through such times.

I have no complaints about my life at all, but despite how enjoyable the individual aspects of it can be, adding them all together makes for quite a full existence. Think about it: I am a husband, father, son and brother. I am a friend, a teacher, a leader and a servant. Nita and I both work full time, are foster parents (currently to two gorgeous little girls), have two dogs, serve in multiple capacities at church, work hard to exercise and stay healthy and do what we can to spend time with each other. These are all great things! However, it can be quite overwhelming when everything happens at the same time. I certainly have been feeling lately a bit strung out and tired. The truth is, I am writing about this because this is exactly how I currently feel! Thus, as a lesson to myself and hopefully some good advice for any readers, I am here to discuss Biblical ways to refill.

Get in the Game

A full gas tank sitting in a car that never gets used is a waste. Sitting on the bench and not getting involved is not healthy, it is not God’s intention and does not do anything to fill us with His Spirit. Only if we are actively using the gifts and opportunities that God gives will we experience opportunities to be filled. If we are watching from the seats and being armchair quarterbacks, God has no need to fill us with anything; we’ll just get bloated.

The first step to getting filled by God is to get your feet moving. Start serving – start pouring out what you may or may not currently have and let God turn on the faucet. As someone who spent some extended time on the sidelines, I can say with confidence that you won’t get a refill until you are using what you have.

Nourish the Spirit like we Nourish the Body

It is perfectly natural to eat when we are hungry, right? But what about making sure we get spiritually filled? I know people right now who are constantly serving across this country in nurseries and Sunday schools that completely block their opportunities to join with others in the main worship service. How is that possible? How can we, as Christians, let other people serve non-stop and not even notice that it’s been years since they’ve joined together with the church body on a Sunday morning?

We need to grow; to learn. Congregating together to offer praise to God and learn from His Word is a vital piece of nourishment that is so easily set aside (much like eating fruits and vegetables). Whether you are a volunteer or a leader of volunteers, make sure that opportunities to learn, grow and “take in” happen often and consistently.

Other than sitting in a church service, make sure that you are also regularly spending time in the Word and in prayer. Jesus many times compared Himself to food – for a good reason! He is our spiritual food and the more time we spend with Him in communion, prayer, service, singing, study and corporate worship (there are many other options as well), the healthier we will be. How can anyone ever go thirsty if they are always connected to a source of clean water? Though we may forget to drink every now and then, we’ll never die of thirst.

Rest

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

couch nap rest time

Despite the Pharisees trying their hardest to turn every breath into a list of complicated rules, not every aspect of life is about giving or doing. Receiving is ok. The Sabbath is a gift from God to turn away from the rat race of life and catch your breath. There are times when we need things, whether it be a day off, a particular tool to do the job better, or an opportunity to blow off steam and enjoy a few moments. All of these are acceptable and things that God wants to give you! There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a break. Stopping to rest, stopping to remember. These are the reason that God instituted the Sabbath as well as holidays. As humans, we need to STOP sometimes. We are not the Energizer bunny.

Ask for Help

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11)! God knows what we need and when we need it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask. He wants us to come to Him. In Philippians, Paul tells us “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). Jabez asked God and received (1 Chronicles 4), there is no reason that, if you truly need something from God that He won’t supply it.

God’s sole purpose for our existence is to lavish His love and affection on us. Jesus’ existence was the ultimate proof of that love. While He often times gives it without being asked; for Him, to have us come to His feet and ask Him for what we need, it is pure joy to be asked. What do you need?

Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

I’m Done Wasting My Life; Time to Lose It

Yesterday I finished reading John Piper’s Risk is Right. It’s not a huge book, but I took my time with it, as due to the circumstances in which I received it, I felt it worth savoring slowly. I received it about a week prior, the afternoon after I quit my job. It was sent in the mail to me as a gift from two very close friends back in Omaha. For the three weeks leading up to leaving my job I battled constantly the idea of risk vs. wisdom. I have been feeling the call of God to start inching my way towards ministry again (He may or may not want me to be inching along, but currently that is my pace).

I left full time ministry 10 years ago and until last January never looked back. Based on prodding from my mentor in Seattle, the thought and opportunity to come back into church service has begun to bud. Even though I came very close to a job offer at our church in Seattle, it was not to be, and God led Nita and I down to south Florida. It was there he brought me to Cape Alliance. On our first day of visiting, they announced that was the last day of their Associate Pastor whom would not be replaced by paid staff. One of his main duties was the youth group. God spoke and here we are leading an entire youth group.

Upon our arrival to Fort Myers, both Nita and I graciously landed jobs quickly so that we could get our feet set. It is now seven months later and I am back in the job hunting mode again. At least this time we have no intention of moving. This is not a story about what happened at the job, and though it had a lot to do with circumstances surrounding working there, my battles over the last month have been about taking the next step in my faith. Maybe that meant moving a few inches at once, maybe just one, but it has certainly been a battle.

Conventional wisdom taught me to never quit a job without another one lined up. That has only been magnified under the current economic stress. But I felt a continuing nod to end my career in sales and open myself back to the world of giving, whether in church or at least non-profit service. With building pressure on every side, I became forced to make a decision: either stay where I am and close my heart to God’s pull or step out in faith. I have always desired control, even more so over myself. God kept tugging on me to let Him supply our needs and live on faith. One easy way to try that would be to give up an income…

Thus, last week I either did the stupidest thing ever or made one of my biggest leaps of faith. That said, I am being responsible and job hunting with fervor, but I have noticed that my faith and desire to trust in God’s leading for the next step is growing. There is where the book comes in. Arriving at the perfect time from friends that I trust with my life and who know on infinite levels more than me what it means to live on faith, I opened the pages and was impacted with the nature and power of risk immediately. The story of Joab and Abishai in 2 Samuel 10 was particularly convicting.

“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. Joab said, ‘If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.'” (2 Samuel 10:9-12)

We are called to do our absolute best with the talents, knowledge and strength given to us, but the lesson here is that God controls the outcome. The LORD will do what is good in His sight. I do not know what will happen, but I know that Nita and I have placed our lives in the center of His hands and am confident He has a good plan for us…granted, that plan may not be on this side of heaven. We’ll just have to travel on this journey and see where it goes.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In case anyone is curious, though I am fully confident in God, do not be misled. The only times my knees are not shaking is when I am on them praying. Which, at this point, is often. Lastly, let me send a shout out to my friends Lee and Chelsea, the ones who sent me this book. They live on risk daily as they are paid by faith support through their college ministry, Cru. Follow the link to learn more about them and consider supporting them. Their first child is only a few months old and they are adopting 3 more children this summer. I’m afraid Nita and I still have a lot to learn…

riskisright

The Incredible Dork-i-ness of Being

I admit to being a dork, and truthfully, I don’t exactly mind it. There is a lot of fun allowed in this world to the dorks, nerds (smarter versions of dorks) and generally unappreciated members of society. Bart Simpson himself is a dork – he gets bullied at school, hangs out with Milhouse (and, at times, Martin) and is a failure at being a rebel because he cares too much. Coincidentally, that would be the first piece of evidence of my dorkiness; my ability and desire to discuss deeper philosophical issues from the Simpsons. But part of what makes life so much fun is relating most everything to the krazy karacters headlining Fox’s Sunday night animation domination (Peter Griffin, is still second to Homer).

The topics of deep discussion move forward from there, but not necessarily upward. One of my favorite debates is the swallow’s ability to transport coconuts. Before you ask me whether I am talking about African or European swallows, let’s make sure we stay on track. And was it really that hard for Lois Lane to not catch Superman hiding behind Clark Kent’s glasses? I will always side with Aragorn’s story over Frodo’s and am honestly glad that the movies did not include the 27 more endings for Return of the King that the book did. I enjoy having my opinions and arguing their basis for insight on human nature; after all, how would we know not to skip immediately to ludicrous speed if not for Dark Helmet’s mistake?

As I’ve aged, the naysayers that laughed at me during puberty have all fallen into silence. It’s incredible to note that more people seem to discuss Glee in public circles today than the Philadelphia Eagles’ plummet from the ranks of the NFL elite. By the way, I do not in any way endorse Glee – I have never seen an episode and do not intend to – I would still rather watch an Eagles’ game (despite me NOT being a fan and their dismal play of late). Being a dork isn’t really made fun of anymore – it’s glorified, respected; even admired. This is unlike one of the other labels I have been living under.

In media, culture and even some individual chatter, being a Christian is becoming more and more a joke. Not a Peter vs. the Giant Chicken kind of joke, but a serious offense against the rest of the world. As humans, we are all in this together, and though we each have our own opinions and beliefs on what is best and how to move forward, we still occupy the same space with each other. Whether or not there is room enough on this planet for all the differing opinions does not matter; we are all stuck here on this planet and all life (thus all opinions) have a right to exist.

As a Christian, I hold to certain opinions (the content of those opinions is not important here). This is where most people get angry, as they see those opinions as intolerant and aggressive towards other worldviews. Why? Look at this first part of the sentence: “As a Christian…” This means that I have chosen to live under a certain set of principles. My opinions are held for those who choose to live under the same set of standards. If I were to say, “As an American, I believe in taxation with representation”, that would be a belief held by those who choose to live under America’s standard; regardless of how they became a citizen. That may not be the opinion in another country, but I have no right, rhyme or reason to judge the citizen of another country that does not espouse that belief.

People who have chosen to live under another faith, or no faith at all, have ultimately chosen a different set of standards and principles to live under. That is their choice. Do I believe that my faith has something to offer other people? Absolutely, and I’m not afraid to share that. But it is still their choice to follow. If they choose not to, then they are free to live with whatever opinions they see most desirable. Tolerance is allowing them that decision. There are those inside my same faith who believe it is their duty to push their rules onto other people. Those people also exist in every faith, nationality and world view. In the end, each individual is accountable for only themselves.

I cannot nor will not answer for the inquisition, Holy wars, or even Jimmy Swaggert. What other people have done in the name of their country, their faith, or even themselves is a problem for every race and creed. What I can answer for is myself. Are my acts friendly, loving, and full of grace? After all, if you sum up everything in the Bible it comes down to one thing: love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

It’s incredible being a dork.