For those that following me weekly, you would have noticed there was no post last week. Last week I attended our annual Home School camp getaway. Our particular group that gets together is a relatively small group (we were around 50 this year and our largest group was the upper 70s). But, what makes this group special is not the fact that we all home school. (There are home schoolers that we are friends with here in town). No, what makes this group special is that we are part of the same family of God. These people are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Faith is at the core of who each of us are. Each night there was bound to be some spiritual discussion going on around the table. I know on Tuesday night I was up way past my bed time (about 3:30 in the morning) talking about spiritual things. These subjects included what we have been studying, the spiritual development of our children, struggles being a Christian father, and many more subjects. This year there were several families that I didn’t know. But, by the end of the week I not only knew their names but felt like I had bonded with them. When spending time with those of a like and precious faith, it doesn’t take long to realize how truly large your family really is.
“He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matt. 12:48-50).” It doesn’t get any plainer than this. Jesus proclaimed that his family is not one of flesh and blood but of spirit. He said this as his earthly family was looking for him. In doing so, he showed that God’s family, God’s children, those obedient to the will of God should be who our real family is. Now, I love my parents. I love my brother and my sister. I always will. But, each time I go to camp I am reminded of something. It is a really amazing opportunity I have. I get to spend every day, all day with God’s people. We don’t have cellphone service. We don’t have the internet. We don’t have TVs. We just have each other and God’s word. It really is fascinating how much you can grow when the distractions of living in this modern world are stripped away.
Of course, when I come home, I find myself longing to see my family here. I hate the fact that I have to wait until Wednesday night to see many of them and until Sunday to see most of them. I cannot begin to explain the joy I felt when I just ran into a couple of them at the ball fields last night. I had spent 13 of the previous 15 days with my fellow Christians (we had a week long series on I Peter at our local church the week before we left). The latter have of those 13 days was spent all day with Christians. On Monday night I was feeling the withdrawal. Even as I type this I long to spend some more time with my fellow Christians and am plotting up opportunities to do so.
Spending my days with fellow Christians is what gets me through this world. It reminds me that I am not alone. Being a part of a God-fearing, bible-believing, service minded church is something every Christian needs. Forget the fact that I believe it is commanded (Heb. 10:25). I think it is necessary to keeping our selves growing, faithful, and strong.
Several years ago I remember a song that was making its rounds on the airwaves about having one of those days when things just aren’t going your way. A day when you didn’t want to wake up. A day when everything just started off on the wrong foot. It happens to everyone. We have found different ways of describing those types of days. “We woke up on the wrong side of the bed.” “We are having a case of the Mondays (if it is a Monday).”
This morning has been one of those mornings. This is why I am thankful for God’s reset button. While it is not a button I want to take advantage of or abuse the privileges thereof I am truly thankful that exists. When things get out of hand, when things feel like they are spiraling out of control and you feel like Satan has his grip firmly upon your heart, you can bow your hearts in prayer and ask God to help you start all over.
Prayer might be the most valuable resource available to mankind and it is also the most neglected resource we have. Sadly many people have convinced themselves that prayer is a sign of weakness. They think that asking for help from someone means that you are incapable of doing anything right and therefore unworthy, undeserving, and useless. Such couldn’t be further from the truth.
Prayer gives us access to the divine Father in heaven. He is all powerful, all knowing and is the only being in the universe that actually “gets you.” and more importantly, prayer gives us access to a God that can do something helpful. He has the power and wisdom to answer prayers in the most useful and most helpful and most encouraging of ways (even if in the moment it might not feel that way).
For instance, as I said, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I tried to put a smile on. I tried to fake it till I make it. I failed. Miserably. So, I decided to hit my reset button. I went to God asking for forgiveness. He has promised us that he will indeed forgive us of our sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).” Again, this doesn’t mean that I keep sinning and let God clean up my mess all day. It means that I get to start with a clean slate. God cleaned up the mess and now I can go about the rest of my day not faking it, but living it.
Prayer is not an easy button, but it is a way to restart your day. If things aren’t going well, ask God to intervene. He is faithful and will not fail you (I Cor. 10:13).
This morning I heard on the radio about a quote made by Martin Castro, the chairman of the US Civil Rights Commission recently wrote in his latest report, “the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” will stand for nothing except hypocrisy so long as they remain code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” As I contemplated these thoughts it quickly occurred to me the grave situation that is now facing Christians in America today. 10 years ago, civil rights activist Chai Feldblum, who now serves as the commissioner of the Obama’s administration’s Equal Employment Opportunity, said that when religious liberty and sexual liberty conflict that she has a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win. Let that sink in for just a moment. When dealing with issues that are defined as LBGT issues one’s faith is irrelevant. This means that if a local church does not have the right to choose what doctrines can be preached in the pulpit (or what life style) the new preacher lives. A church cannot refuse to hire a practicing homosexual even if they believe that homosexuality is defined as sin in the bible (which it is according to I Cor. 6:9-11). Churches cannot deny the use of a bathroom to a transgender person, (something that we are already seeing being fought in the courtrooms here in Iowa). The foundations of our religious liberties are eroding away. For the first time in America’s history the future of Christianity appears murky. If things don’t change, the freedoms the church has had to operate as they deemed right in holy in the eyes of God will no longer exist. So what does that mean for me as a Christian?
We need to stop being overly worried about it. Yes, I am concerned. Yes, as a preacher I do get nervous about how someone, namely those that strongly disagree with me might react to a sermon I am preaching (or article I am writing). However, we need to stop thinking that if our religious freedoms are removed that we are entering foreign territory. Christianity was not a protected or “recognized” religion until the 4th century under the protection of Constantine. The last persecution against Christianity by the Romans happened as late as February 23, 303 under the order of Diocletian. Christianity was born in the midst of persecution. It was not long after it was founded that the Jews began persecuting Christians. (A man by the name of Saul from Tarsus was one of the chiefest of these persecutors.) Nero became the first emperor to order the persecution of Christians (although his seems to be limited to the city of Rome). During the days of Domitian Christians were persecuted for not worshipping the emperor. The point is, Christianity found a way to grow during this persecution. It didn’t just survive, it prospered.
So, what as Christians are we supposed to do? A reading of I Peter is a great place to start. Years ago I heard I Peter could be likened to the Job of the New Testament. It was written to Christians who would be living through the early days of the persecution against the Lord’s Church. In it, Peter encouraged the saints to suffer as a Christian (I Peter 4:16). Suffering as Christian is not shameful, but it is a badge of honor. When Peter first suffered as a Christian, he went home rejoicing because he was found worthy to suffer for Christ (Acts 5:41). I know that doesn’t sound easy. Thankfully, Peter spends much of that first letter explaining how it is we can indeed suffer for Christ with joy in our heart. If you are finding it difficult to see all of this, I highly encourage you to attend our upcoming meeting. Starting Sunday and running through Friday night we are having a special series of lessons on I Peter. Check out www.grinnellcoc.com for more information.