Insecurity

I spent a little time last night watching the NFL draft. The best of college football players waiting around to be picked by an NFL team. It reminded me of my youth when teams were picked and I just hoped not to be the last one picked. I usually was. Last night the big men on each of their college campuses suffered insecurity based on how long it might take for their name to be called. These guys were supermen on their college teams, but they were moving to a higher level of competition.  It isn’t just about whose the best, but the needs of the various teams. It was critical for these guys to keep perspective. Even if they weren’t picked early; they were still way ahead of those who wouldn’t be picked at all or who never had a chance to play college football.

Insecurity just seems to be a fact of life. There are plenty of reasons to be unsure of our value. It’s easy to seem insignificant and unimportant. The world doesn’t seem to place much value on the attributes we believe we have. Those attributes seem small in comparison to the “giants” of the faith. We feel good about saying the name of Jesus in public, but in the back of our minds we consider those who risk death for acknowledging him. We take some pride at being involved in our church, but have to remember those whose lives are dedicated to making disciples in dangerous places far from the safety of home.

It’s easy to forget that our worth is in our status as God’s chosen. What we do should flow from that. God sees enough in us to sacrifice His son. He invests in us through the provisions and opportunities he places in our paths. His love remains even when we don’t recognize him as provider or take advantage of opportunities.

We’ve been selected, drafted, for a purpose. God is invested in us that should be all the security or motivation we need.

Reverting to the Law

Yesterday was elevated by a Louisiana State Trooper who pulled me over for “no seat belt.” Really? This highly  trained professional was spending his day on seat belts. There aren’t enough speeding or reckless or drunk driving violations going on? I hope he slept well last night knowing how he had spent his day. I wonder if he’s spending as much time on his motorcycle on this rainy day as he was in yesterday’s nice weather. I realize that I should wear my seat belt. It’s safer. I just don’t think it’s the job of the law to make sure I do.

You would think that as a lawyer I would be a big admirer of “the law.” I’m not. The problem with the law is that it involves itself in areas where it has no business. It reminds me of “Christians” who keep wanting to revert to the law. I guess Jesus isn’t enough.  They don’t want to re-establish the entire Levitical law; just some of their favorite parts. The don’t want to re-establish the temple or do blood sacrifices or give up some of their favorite foods. They just want to stone a few folks or get to be a Pharisee every once in a while.

My lovely wife shared with me yesterday a teaching which points out that this reversion to the law is the great apostacy. It rejects all that Jesus did and replaces it with what some of us are more comfortable with: rules. It says things like: Salvation is free, but keeping it requires keeping rules. Jesus paid it all, but inflation is eating it up. It worships the tithe which supported the priestly tribe. There are no Levites to support any more. Under Jesus we are supposed to all be priests. It just feels more comfortable to write checks than to make disciples.  It’s easier to have full-time disciple makers than doing it ourselves. We love to pull out old testament rules that condemn things we aren’t comfortable with like homosexuals or women who speak in church or rebellious kids or pork.

We can’t live with a renewed mind that sees God doesn’t make arbitrary rules to test us, but sets forth boundaries to protect us and others. A better life includes faithfulness to one spouse, loving others more than ourselves, acting responsibly and lovingly toward others and, yes, even wearing our seat belts.  We do these things out of our relationship with Jesus and not because it’s the law.

We are followers not because we follow rules, but because we follow Jesus.

Passover

Years ago we used to celebrate Passover Jesus style. It’s amazing how the many traditions of the Passover meal are types of Jesus.  Even in the basics of the event, there are things for us to consider.

The Lord told His people to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood on their door posts. When the angel of death passed, he spared the blood marked homes. There is so much going on these days that I am tempted to spread some blood on my door post and pray that the darkness will pass my family by. There is persecution of Christians, not those that just use the name, but those who really follow Jesus.  In fact, I have been intentionally trying to avoid identifying myself as Christian. It’s not to avoid persecution. It’s just that the term has become meaningless. It is often associated with hateful behavior that’s nothing like Christ called his followers to.

Andy Stanley recently discussed Anne Rice, a famous author from New Orleans. She is known for her series of vampire books and less known for some pretty racy stuff she wrote under a pen name. Several years ago she became interested in Jewish history and decided to read the gospels looking for references to the wars against the Jews waged by the Romans. She believed like many that the gospels were written years after Jesus’ death. When she discovered that there was no mention of the wars, she realized that the gospels really were eye-witness accounts written soon after the resurrection  and that began her journey to Jesus. She turned to writing Christian novels and associating with the “church.”  After a few years she reached a decision. she wrote:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

I guess I’m where Anne Rice is. Jesus didn’t call us to be “Christians.” He wasn’t forming a religion. He didn’t instruct us to form exclusive clubs, to meet once a week, and to block out the world. He wanted followers, disciples. He wanted those followers and disciples to be identified by how they loved each other. Many of those who call themselves Christians just don’t qualify.

What’s that have to do with Passover? I believe a judgment is coming. There will be a judgment on an unbelieving world. There will, I believe, also be a judgment on those who call themselves believers. They rely on what they believe. Yet they don’t follow. They are not disciples. They don’t show love. They don’t burn for the lost. Following and discipleship is hard. It’s not a once a week activity or matter of membership. It’s about loving and loving is hard.

When  that angel passes over I want to be able to put more on my door post that religious symbols, denominational affiliations, or holier-than-thou-I-don’t-sin-like-you proclamations. I want to put only the blood of the savior on my door post. I want to focus on loving the unloveable who more than ever aren’t the non-believers or the infidels, but those who call themselves Christians.

Prayer Begins with “P”

Do you sometimes wonder if prayer is a gimmick? We will get whatever we ask for, as long as it is God’s will. Doesn’t it seem that if it’s God’s will we shouldn’t have to ask for it? Won’t He do it anyway? Sometimes we forget that God’s love for us is perfect. He only wants and provides what’s best for us. We often have no idea what’s in our best interest. Maybe the purpose of prayer isn’t a request line to God. Maybe it’s time with Him designed to allow us to get to know Him and to learn from him what’s best for us. Maybe it’s all about will alignment. Consider the Lord’s Prayer.

Paternity “Our Father, who art in heaven” We were created for relationship with Him. His first desire is to be our Father. We sometimes think that He is father to all. That’s not so. He offers inheritance to all; not all accept it. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12. All prayer should begin with the acknowledgment and thanksgiving for the blessing of His paternity. All else flows from that.
Proclamation “Hollowed be your name” We should be proud of our Dad. We should proclaim his fatherhood and Lordship and insist on reverence for who He is and all He has done. Prayer is grounded in the recognition of who He is and the worship that flows from that.
Power “Thy Kingdom Come.” We are capable of great things as His children. Goodness comes from our recognition of his Kingship now and perfectly when that Kingship is established universally in the future. His great purpose and our great commission is to promote His kingdom now.
Perspective “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What we really need and what He wants for us is a Kingdom perspective. If we can see things as they are seen from heaven, trials and obstacles shrink. We stop majoring in the minors, stop worrying about what is insignificant and start to gain a Holy Anguish for what’s really important.
Provision “Give us this day our daily bread” God wants us to be able to separate want from need. He wants to be our daily provider. Focusing on today eliminates our regrets from the past and our worries for the future. This is why wealth is such a stumbling block to relationship with the Lord. We feel secure in ourselves and our own ability to provide. Christianity is flourishing in those places where survival really is a daily struggle. There provision can be seen as truly from Him and actually a daily miracle.
Purification “Forgive us our trespasses …” Our salvation is based on what Jesus has done. God still desires our purification, a process of recognition of sin, seeking forgiveness, turning away and moving on to the next imperfection.
Peace “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” God wants the best in our horizontal relationships as well as our relationship with him. The biggest block to that is our perception that others have wounded us, are hurting us now and have evil intentions against us.The soothing balm for that illness is forgiveness. A forgiveness that becomes possible when we realize the grace that has been granted to us.
Plan “Lead us not into temptation.” We often try to lure others into relationship with Christ based on our assurance that He has a wonderful plan for us. He truly does but it comes after all the other “Ps.” It involves a close following of Him that follows paternity,  proclamation, power, perspective, provision, purification, and peace. It’s a plan that requires obedience.
Protection “But deliver us from evil.” In his relationship is the only real safety, purpose and joy.
Prayer really begins with “P.”

Elusive Anguish

I suspect most of us have experienced anguish, excruciating or acute distress, suffering, or pain. It’s when “ordinary” distress, suffering or pain gets kicked up to the next level. It so horrible that we are willing to do anything just to make it stop. We witness it in dying cancer patients and those who have lost loved ones, It’s suffered by those who are hopeless, widows, orphans and the imprisoned. It would certainly seem like something to be avoided.

Yet Francis Chan speaks of a Holy Anguish, that anguish we should feel about the lost, especially those close to us. Yet many of us Christians, even some who have long walked with Christ and who seem devoted, even fanatical, don’t feel that anguish. Shouldn’t that anguish be part of it? Should it not motivate us to be compulsive about the great commission?

There may be many reasons for the Holy Anguish to be elusive. Perhaps we are so flooded with images of horror that we are dulled to their impact. The recent earthquakes with huge death tolls made me shake my head, but no real sorrow and certainly no anguish was felt. The persecutions of Christians, including murder, even crucifixion and beheadings cause me to pray but again my emotional response is blunted. We know that we can take on all the suffering in the world, but shouldn’t we suffer to some degree with others?

Maybe our world has become so sinful and so dark, that we just filter it all out and try to forget the just judgment that has to be coming.

When it comes to the lost, maybe we just don’t really believe in hell. Maybe we’ve bought in to the idea that God is so loving that surely he wouldn’t condemn anyone. There are so many portions of scripture we choose to skip over or blot out. Perhaps C. S. Lewis said it best: “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason.”

Perhaps the biggest block to Holy Anguish is that it challenges our own salvation. If we don’t burn with a desire to witness, maybe we aren’t really followers. After all, isn’t what we do a function of what we believe? If we’ve never felt the anguish of our own eternal damnation, how can we really deeply rejoice in our rescue from it? Those who play the numbers game in evangelism by urging the saying of a prayer and focusing on a “wonderful plan for your life” keep the Holy Anguish at bay.

While we rest in the holy presence of our Lord, while we are thankful for His provision and His peace, it would be wise and helpful occasionally to glance into our rear view windows with fresh realization of the anguish and torment we’ve been saved from. Only that will infuse us with Holy Anguish for a world filled with those who don’t know Him.

Called to Heal the Brokenhearted

A good friend and fellow Kairos volunteer has written a book about Kairos, focused on Kairos at Angola. It’s a great read He interviewed volunteers (including me) and residents as well. There is much background info. You can order it from Amazon and there’s even a Kindle edition. Highly Recommended. I would love to hear your comments.

Here is a brief excerpt:

In earlier years, I never thought I would have such close conservative friends as John Musser. But the secret to Kairos is that it beckons people of all beliefs and backgrounds to come together to work together. Nick Sigur, one of the key statewide leaders of Kairos and part of the Kairos #53 team that I was part of, put it nicely when I interviewed him later:

The volunteers from the outside get more out of Kairos than the prisoners do— I’m convinced. What they get out of it is what they don’t get back home in their church: being united, with a common goal, and watching the Spirit work where denominational or theological differences don’t matter. I don’t think we could take all the volunteers from Kairos #53, for example, and sit on an island and form a church. The differences would show themselves pretty quickly. But you could go into an area where light and darkness are meeting and focus on bringing the love of God, and all that other stuff melts away. I think that’s the way it’s going to be in heaven. That’s the vision I think the volunteers take away with them.

I love what Nick Sigur was saying. We, the volunteers couldn’t be more different. People call me a “flaming liberal”;

Barnwell, William H. (2016-03-21). Called to Heal the Brokenhearted: Stories from Kairos Prison Ministry International (p. 57). University Press of Mississippi. Kindle Edition.

Okay so I picked an excerpt that mentions me. I’ve never been mentioned positively in a book and by a “flaming liberal” no less. So sue me. Hope you enjoy the book.

God’s Still Not Dead

Last night I saw God’s Not Dead 2. It was great because it was my grand daughter’s first outing only 10 days after her back surgery. It was great because we attended for free with a group from her church. It was great because… it was great. “Christian” movies have really improved. I think Hollywood is finally realizing that there is a market for this genre. As a result studios are willing to invest more in quality cast and production. We are no longer stuck with “B” movies produced on shoestring budgets and often offering questionable theology.

I will avoid anything that would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it. The subject is very current dealing with modern interpretation of “separation” of church and state as played out in a high school class room. The movie ends with a teaser that a God’s Not Dead 3 will likely deal with censorship of the pulpit like what recently happened in Houston. As long as these movies are “torn from today’s headlines” and done with the same quality production, they should continue to entertain and bless.

There were several lessons to be learned from this production.

  1. There are some who truly hate Christians and Christianity.
  2. Things will get worse before they get better.
  3. Not even all pastors appreciate the threat.
  4. The battle will involve ordinary folks more than politicians or the those who represent the public face of faith.
  5. It’s a battle not against flesh and blood.
  6. Prayer still works.
  7. There is hope in many of our youth.

I am not so much hopeful that the next generation will be able to turn things around as I am hopeful they will be strong and grounded enough to stand up in face of what’s likely to come. Check out the movie and if your motivated by it, follow through.

Speed His Coming

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation,  2 Peter 3

In times like these I can’t help but pray for the return of Jesus. I don’t know if these are the darkest times in history. I haven’t lived through all of history. In my sixty-seven years there have been dark times, wars and famine, disasters natural and man-made. Somehow these days seem the darkest of all. If the measure is righteousness, I can’t imagine a darker time.

At some point, the patience of God will end and a new heaven and a new earth will emerge. It’s singular characteristic is that these will be places where righteousness dwells. That will occur by the complete unrestrained presence of God and His people, and the removal of Satan and his folks. What a glorious day.

It’s clear however that we aren’t to just sit and wait. As Peter says we look forward to the day of God but also “speed its coming.” How in the world do we do that? When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, it seemed simultaneously, here, at hand, and coming. It will certainly not exist perfectly until the earth and heavens are new. However, since Jesus it exists in a foretelling, glorious glimpse. What will be so great about the new heaven and earth will be the prevalence of righteousness. We experience a taste of that when righteousness prevails. It doesn’t do so universally, but it can prevail in his body the church.

It isn’t created by our doing of good, but by our resting in Him.  We experience it in moments we describe as a taste or touch or glimpse of heaven. I get these when I stop struggling, working and straining and do some abiding.

I have a recliner that I love. I spend lots of time in it. It’s where I write these blogs and do my legal work. From it I can look out and see the beauty and constant change of nature. I see family as it grows and time as it passes. I think that’s how we should be with God. We should eagerly await his full coming, but rest in His real presence. Resting in Christ doesn’t mean that nothing gets done. It means things get done more perfectly. The things we do are according to His plan and follow his direction.

We can speed the coming of the Day of the Lord by resting more in his righteousness at peace with Him.