Why Thankfulness?

If you’re not familiar with west Louisiana, it is beautiful country of rolling hills, streams, rivers, and forests.  In earlier times it was part of the vast pine forests that covered the deep south region of North America from the Atlantic into what is now East Texas.  Much of that area still has remnants of that great forest, though much of it now has hardwood forests, and most of the pines are grown by and for the lumber industry. In early October, I attended a family gathering near Florien, LA.  There is a family “farm,” about 6 miles east of town.  No one farms the family farm any more.  It is a gathering place for the cousins from my Mom’s side of the family.  The heirs collectively own quite a bit of acreage there.  Most of it is forested, some still cleared from when some of our ancestors did farm it.  There among the trees and fields are an old house and a family cemetery.  The cemetery has graves dating back to before the Civil War.

Papa’s House

My great grandfather, John C. Sibley, Jr., lived in the old house.  My mom and her family lived there with him for several years during late 1920’s.  I mentioned him in an earlier post.  He would put my Aunt Jean on his shoulder and take her for walks.  She was blind, and he would describe to her the beauty of God’s creation.  So, when I was there in October, one of the things I really wanted to do, was go sit on the porch of that old house, get out my guitar and music, and just worship the Lord in that place that embodies a significant part of my family’s legacy.  That Saturday morning, at day break, I did just that.  It was all I hoped it would be and more.  The Father met me there on that porch with the lush green grass in the fields, the rich browns and deep greens of the surrounding woods, the peacefulness of the country road, a rich blue sky and a glorious sunrise of reds and golds streaking through the trees.  I felt His presence and His love, and I sang and loved Him back for over an hour.  And I knew this was where Papa Sibley had held his little, blind granddaughter and taught her about a loving God through the beauty of His creation.

Papa Sibley was only 5 when his dad died, and just 9 when his Mama passed away.  His Mama had kept the letters her husband wrote to her during the Civil War.  At the time, they had one daughter, Belle; John Jr was born after the war.  Here’s his advice to her on child-rearing:
“Lizzie dear, have you ever learned her yet that there is a God who rules over her destiny. I fear this is a subject that you avoid.  But dear, beware that you do so while she is yet young.  Show her the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, the stately tree, the fragrant flower, the falling rain and such things, and teach her that they are made by a great and good God who loves her and who will save her in life and after death.  Teach her to love the name of God and worship him while she is young and she will not forget to do so when she is old.  Learn her to love everything that is good and beautiful.”And, Lizzie did.  And I think her mother, Matilda, carried it on after Lizzie died and she adopted Belle and John, Jr.  And Papa did, particularly for Aunt Jean, but I’m guessing for others, too.

Pretty cool, huh?  But, here’s the real deal.  In Romans 1:18-21, Paul says that none of us has an excuse for ungodly or unrighteous actions, or for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, because God has made known His “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.”  He made these attributes “clearly seen,” evident to even those who seek to suppress the truth.  Where?  How?  In His creation.  In the things He made – the rising sun, the bright moon, the growing plant, stately tree, fragrant flower, and falling rain.

The problem is, according to Romans 1:21, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks….”  It was because they refused to honor Him, and could not find it in their hearts to be thankful to Him, that their hearts became dark and hard, and they turned to sin and then tried to alleviate their guilt by suppressing the truth.  And people still do that today.

They could not find it in their hearts to be thankful, and their hearts became dark and hard. Give thanks, and let Him soften your heart Click To Tweet

Just look around you.  If you have to drive a few miles out of town to see anything besides bricks, steel and glass, then do it.  But look at the world around you – that God made.  Be awed by it.  Recognize where it came from.  It really wasn’t by chance.  Honor God as God.  And be thankful.

Revolution, Revival, and Extremism

We need a revolution in America. Not an armed conflict, but a real upheaval of our thinking and how we approach things. What things? Just about everything – from common everyday life events to social interaction, race relations, social justice, welfare, immigration, national security, foreign policy, etc, to how we do church and live, or don’t live, the Christian life. In the “old days” we called it “revival.” But even back then, our concept of revival fell far short. A series of meetings to get people fired up is not going to cut it. What we need is Christian Extremism.

Why do we need it? In part because we as Christians have lost sight of what it means to be a Christian. We are caught up in the tangible, temporal, visible world and its cultures and life-styles and its “solutions” to problems. We have lost sight of the true impact we can have on the world around us if we will focus on Christ instead of focusing on the world around us.

First, let me say what Christian Extremism is not. It is not fundamentalism. It is not, and never was, going off on crusades to save the Holy Land from the Muslim hordes. It is not churches like the one from Kansas that goes around decrying immorality in America by protesting at soldiers funerals. It is not arguing with atheists, or agnostics, or reacting to narrow-minded non-Christian bigots who make fun of Christians. Extreme Christianity is not having big buildings, or big congregations, or big worship. It isn’t huge choirs singing majestic anthems. It isn’t praise bands rocking out and performing the latest worship songs. It isn’t stained glass windows, high ceilings, and steeples (thank-you-very-much Plato). It isn’t multiple satellite warehouse locations joined by the latest satellite technology. It isn’t a small group of believers meeting in a house.

Let’s see if I can capture some of what Christian Extremism is.

It is faith. Pure and simple, total dependence on God and His faithfulness. It is loving Him because He first loved us. It is loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is turning away from sin and self-will (repenting) because we see and receive His kindness toward us. It is knowing Him. It is knowing by faith that He exists. And, because He exists, we know that He truly is willing to be known by us, and will reward our search for Him. He will make Himself known. Extreme Christianity is being so confident in His love and faithfulness that we can give thanks, always, for all things. It is knowing that He will use everything that happens in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, and to bring glory to Himself. Knowing that, we can not only accept whatever comes, we can embrace it with a passion – a passionate faith – a confidence in His faithfulness and love.

Extreme Christianity is a faith that began at the cross of Christ and His resurrection, and it goes on daily carrying the dying of Jesus and the victory of His resurrection. It began with trusting in His finished work to save us, and it goes on daily trusting in His finished work to live through us. It began with resting in Him and His efforts and it goes on by resting in Him and His efforts. It began with being called to good works, and goes on by knowing it is actually Christ Himself who is at work in us both to will and to work out His good pleasure.

It has been called “mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis. Watchman Nee called it “the normal Christian life.” Both were using irony to make a point that it is simply the way the Christian life is supposed to be.  However, it is not by any means “mere” in the sense that it might be considered easy. It is not complicated, but it is not easy. If it were, we would all be doing it already. It is “normal” in the sense that it is what is set forth in the New Testament for us, and it is the way Christianity really should look just because that’s what it really is. However, it is not at all normal in the sense that it is the way every, or even most, Christians live.

Jesus referred to it as righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees (supposedly the most righteous people of the day) (Matthew 5:20). He also said He came to give us life “more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
He took don’t kill to the level of don’t even devalue another person by being angry, considering them worthless or calling them a moron or fool.
He took don’t commit adultery to the level of don’t lust.
He took don’t make false vows to don’t make any vows, just be honest.
He took an eye for an eye to don’t get revenge; turn the other person’s wrong into an opportunity to bless.
He took love your neighbor and hate your enemy to love your enemy, too, and pray for him.
He took prayer, almsgiving, and fasting out of the public eye and made them personal interactions with the Father.
He took the Sabbath from resting on the 7th day to a life of abiding in and resting in God. Sabbath is no longer a day of the week. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle.
He took going to the temple as the dwelling place of God, and sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us God’s house (Hebrews 3:6).
He took the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, and became the mercy seat (propitiation) for us (Romans 3:25).
He took the priest in the temple and became our High Priest, and instituted the priesthood of the believer – making us a kingdom of priests.
He took the sacrifice lamb, offered repeatedly and ineffectually, and became the sacrifice lamb once for all.
He took the law, commandments, prophets, rites, and rituals, and made it all very simple (but not easy):

  • the “first and greatest commandment” – love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;
  • the second commandment (James calls it the Royal Law) – Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself;
  • pure and undefiled religion – visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself unstained by the world

We do not need the government providing welfare, health care, mandating fairness and defining hate crimes, hate speech, mandating integration, defining marriage (or even regulating marriage), or even regulating education, or much of anything else. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the system we have and we are stuck with it. However, what we need is for the church to quit investing in brick and mortar and stained glass and corporate management (in the name of “church staff”) and begin investing in the lives of people – financially and spiritually. The church needs to quit playing church and effectively equip the saints – individual Christians – to be the church, to be Christians, and to do the work of the ministry. We as individual believers need to get passionate about living in the presence of the Living God. You are His dwelling place. That is extreme. If we truly believe that, our lifestyles we reflect it.

You are the dwelling place of the Living God. That is extreme. Believe it, and it will change your life. Click To Tweet

Legacy

In an earlier post I mentioned my great-grandfather, Papa Sibley, and the influence he had on my Aunt Jean. She wrote of him: “My grandfather, John Coleman Sibley, whom we lovingly called Papa, died when I was only 11 years of age, but he has had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known. He was a devoted Christian, and was loved and respected by all those who knew him.” What a legacy.

I don’t know a lot about Papa Sibley. He was a “junior.” His father, John Coleman senior, kept a diary during the Civil War, which I first read when I was about 11 years old. John senior was married to Lizzie. They had 2 little girls when John went off to war. Ella was about 4 or 5, and Mattie was newborn in 1861. Ella died in 1864 while John was away from home. John junior was born in 1865. Five years later, in 1870, John senior died. In, 1874, Lizzie died, leaving 13 year old Mattie and 9 year old John orphaned. I was thinking about this recently and wondered who raised them? Who had a godly influence on them that could have attributed to Papa Sibley being the godly man Aunt Jean described?

According to the 1880 census they were then living with Matilda Sibley. It took a little digging to figure out who Matilda was. My ancestry research didn’t show a Matilda Sibley. I finally found her. It was Lizzie’s mother. Lizzie’s maiden name was Stoker. Matilda Dendy’s first husband was Matthew Stoker. He died sometime prior to 1849, and in 1849, she married William Sibley, uncle to John Coleman senior. So, she and her daughter both wound up married to Sibleys and sharing the same last name. So, what about Matilda?

This was a time when it was not uncommon for someone to be widowed, to remarry, sometimes more than once. It was very common to have several children, particularly if a second, or third spouse was younger. Families of 5 to even 12 or 15 children were not altogether unusual.

Matilda and Matthew Stoker just had the one daughter, Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie), before Matthew died.  Matilda’s marriage to William was his third. He had several children from his previous marriages. William and Matilda just had one daughter, Amanda, born in 1850. I know little of the intervening years. William was a preacher and one of the founders of Toro Baptist Church outside of Florien, LA.  Their daughter Amanda died in 1860. William died in 1861, a few months after the war began. A couple of his children from his second marriage were in their mid-teens, and likely lived with Matilda until they grew up. Then when her daughter Lizzie died, she took in her grandchildren.

I know from his diary and some other preserved writings that John and Lizzie were both Christians. For me, it speaks to the legacy of Matilda, in particular, who took these youngsters, and raised them, and apparently gave them the foundation that turned 9 year old orphaned John into a devoted Christian whom Aunt Jean said “had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.”

Now for someone to say this about someone other than his or her parents is no insult to them. She also talked about how her daddy sang hymns, and about how her parents, and other grandparents, her sister (my mom), and others influenced her spiritual growth and development. There was just something special there between her and Papa, and he was there sharing the right things at the right time. He took the time to talk to this small, frail, blind and crippled child, that most adults didn’t have or take the time to spend.

And, when I was a little boy, early elementary age, Aunt Jean came to live with us after my grandmother died. Aunt Jean often took the time to talk with me, to tell me stories about her childhood, to read to me from her Braille Bible, and teach me about prayer and faith in God. And you know what, Aunt Jean had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.

So, Thank You, Lord, for Matilda (1818-1892) and the legacy she passed on to her grandson, John (1865-1936). Thank You that he grew up to love You, and passed that on to Jean Ellzey (1924-1994), and to me. You really love me, Lord. And, I love You, too. Grant that I may pass that on in the same way in just one life.

However many I may touch, God grant that I may pass on a legacy of Your love to one willing heart. Click To Tweet

 

What’s in Your Life Wallet?

What do you have going for you? What things are in your favor? What can you lay claim to that give you a sense of status or importance?

I was born and raised in a Baptist, church-going family. I was a “good kid” – a leader in the church youth group, class chaplain through most of high school. I helped found a Christian service club at the school. I was “called to the ministry,” attended a Baptist college – majoring in Religion and minoring in Greek. I married a Baptist girl who said she was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” Great fit since I was going to be a pastor. In addition, she played piano, I played guitar and we sang and harmonized well together.

Paul described the things he had going for him in Philippians 3:1-11. He concluded: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ….”

 Wenera

My good name was gain to me.  So was the respect of my peers and loved ones. Serving the Lord “in the ministry” was gain to me. Knowing what I was going to do with my life was gain to me. Having a wife who shared that ministry was gain to me. So was going to seminary.

And, I pretty much lost it all. The marriage was a little stormy, mainly because she married me to get away from her alcoholic parents and “hoped the love part would come later.” After a few years, she decided she wanted out and left. (That’s the short version. Relationships are always more complicated than that.) At any rate, all those dreams, all those things I counted as “gain,” slipped through my fingers.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…. and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Over time, because He never let go of me, I realized that I had been clinging to all the trappings the world could offer a young man entering the ministry more than I was clinging to Him. Because He never let go, I learned that all those things I had been clinging to were temporal – including “the ministry.” (One hopes “ministry” will have eternal results, but the ministry career itself is temporal.)

Whatever you are clinging to: a job, a ministry, “the” ministry, your parents, your spouse, or children, or siblings, a house, a car, a pet, a possession, lots of possessions, money, or even your own life – let go. Fall into the Father’s arms. Nothing can snatch you from there. Cling to Him. Seek Him first and His righteousness, and everything else you need in life will be added back to you. Quit trying to get your needs met. Meet Him. Love Him. Seek Him. Know Him. Count all those things you have considered to be gain, or a benefit to yourself to possess, as loss.

Most of my life I have sought opportunities to minister. I have wondered how I “fit in” in church. I’m learning to let go of even that. I’m learning to just seek Him.

Have you had an experience that caused you to lose something you once thought was essential to success or meaning in your life? How are you dealing with that loss?

Extreme Church?

If our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees, how does that affect the way we “do church?” Or does it? What about ministry and evangelism and discipleship?

A friend of mine, J. Guy Muse, wrote an interesting blog recently that got me thinking. Guy’s recent post dealt with whether house churches, and to a degree churches in general, were meant to be permanent. Here’s a link to his post: http://bit.ly/1cJSEGY. I tried to respond in the comments on his blog, and for some reason, probably because I’m not really good at posting things through my cell phone, it didn’t go through. It gave me a few more days to mull it over, and here are the results.

In the American church culture, most believers are involved in missions by going to church and giving their money to support the professional Christians – the church staff and missionaries, either sent by that church or by their denomination – to do ministry. Their own involvement is generally limited to teaching a class at church, participating in a church sponsored “visitation” program, and maybe a mission trip to another country.

preaching in Malawi

preaching in Malawi

Guy is a missionary in Ecuador. His ministry took an unexpected turn about 15 years ago when the mission board encouraged missionaries to look at alternative methods of church planting. Guy and some other missionaries in Guayaquil found themselves facilitating a burgeoning house church ministry. Someone is led to the Lord, is excited about it, and wants their friends and family to hear the gospel. Rather than invite them to church, the new believers invite their friends and family to their home and share their new-found joy. Others come to the Lord, and the process is repeated. After an explosive beginning, from a couple of house churches to 60 to nearly 300 in a matter of months, the number of churches began to level out. The ministry continues, but the number of “churches” is not increasing. New house churches start. Some older ones cease. In his blog, Guy referenced a 2009 article by Felicity Dale that suggested that maybe house churches should be debriefing and sending centers. Guy suggested that maybe it’s okay if a church is not permanent.

House church in the United States is different from what missionaries have seen in many “Third World” countries. Here, people drive 30 miles and more to participate in a house church. They may meet in different members’ homes each week, or in the same home every week. They sing some songs, pray together, and have a teaching/Bible study/devotional. The worship may be much more free and open, the praying more personal and intense, and the devotional more of a mutual sharing than a one person lecture than what they ever knew in the institutional church. But, it’s still pretty much church meeting on a smaller scale. It’s having church in a home – kind of mini-church, or “church lite.” There is rarely any evangelistic outreach. People still tend to shop around and find a house church that fits their idea of what it should be or which ministers more to their family’s needs or fits their personality and/or understanding of the Bible….

The increasing numbers of people “doing home church” is more because of dissatisfaction with the institutional church and not a result of reaching the lost or unchurched. The numbers of people leaving the institutional church for home church and the popularity of “cell” churches in the 1980’s-90’s, has caused many churches to modify their traditional programs and at least rename them as “small group ministry.” Usually, it’s still just Sunday School, or children’s ministry, or youth ministry under another name. Sometimes they add a few cell groups – maybe specific to particular occupations or other shared interests or a local community. The emphasis is still on meeting and teaching through the traditional methods.

Extreme righteousness, that which exceeds, demands that we take another look. I can speculate and come up with a number of reasons why we are willing to drive so far to go to church, why both institutional and house churches are growing or shrinking because of members moving from one church to another rather than because we are being evangelistic. Over the years I have become convinced that the biggest failing of the church is in failing to truly equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. We are still engineering some version of the Christian life primarily expressed in and through the institution, rather than equipping the saints to live and be the church and do ministry.

If the church is going to have an impact in an increasingly secular world, we may have to let go of the idea of being permanent. Jesus said to find your life, you have to lose it. We understand this in regards to salvation. To some degree, we apply it to discipleship. Maybe what’s true of the individual is true of Church as a whole. I’m not suggesting we need to shut down our local churches, abandon our buildings, etc. Even if that were the ideal solution, it isn’t going to happen. We do, however, have an opportunity to become more effective at what we do if we will equip individual Christians to be the church. We should send them forth to minister in every way possible in their day-to-day lives. Release them to miss a few “services” at the church building in order to serve their family, friends, and neighbors. On their jobs, in their neighborhoods – as they go, make disciples. Then they can come back together with other believers – the church, whether it’s in a traditional building or a home – to debrief, to enjoy corporate worship, to be encouraged, nurtured and nourished, and to be sent forth again.

It fits with the Great Commission. The word “go” is not an imperative. Jesus didn’t command His disciples to “go!” in Matthew 28:19-20. It’s a participle, an “ing” word that suggests an assumed action. He says, “Therefore, going…” or “As you go….” He didn’t have to tell them to go. He knew they would be going. The command is “make disciples.” It should be a part of our daily going and doing.

What do you think? Are big buildings, technology, and stage show worship services the way to reach the lost? Is this “making disciples?” Where is the responsibility and opportunity of the individual Christian in fulfilling the Great Commission? What can the church do to better equip the saints?

But You Don’t Know What I’ve Been Through!

Sometimes life can really knock you around. It might have been physical bullying by someone, but not necessarily. Have you ever been through situations that left you feeling like you were just beaten up by life itself? I have. There was a season when I even took “dip” signs personally.

dip

While I was in seminary, I took a full-time job as a counselor for narcotics addicts. That was an eye-opening experience for this naive, church kid from suburbia. I saw a whole new subculture. There was a depth of hurt and despair I had never seen before. Well, maybe I had, but just never really comprehended it. At the same time my eyes were being opened, I was able to show my clients a level of care and compassion they had not experienced before. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t comprehend it.

Like most people, they thought, if you haven’t been where I am, experienced what I have, you can’t help me. I’ve learned that’s just an excuse for not being helped. If someone gets too close to helping us it means change is coming. As much as we may detest our current situation, most of us are afraid of change. So, we will even narrow the definition of experience. “If you haven’t experienced exactly what I have, then you can’t understand or help me.”

A few of them got it, though. Very few ever moved to the point of really being willing to change. But some understood enough to be willing to open up, become vulnerable, share at a deeper level, listen, and be helped.

Dave, one of my clients, saw me downtown one day. I was coming out of the courthouse. He asked what I was doing down there. He thought I was visiting someone in jail, or maybe dealing with a ticket. I told him I was coming from the divorce court where my divorce had just become final. He was shocked. “I had no idea you were going through something like that. You’ve been hurting all this time you’ve been trying to help us? And you’ve been dealing with that without it showing, and without using drugs?”

It was kind of an epiphany for both of us. He realized people could actually go through a crisis in their lives, something very painful, and deal with it without drugs. And, I found the common ground I had with my clients. There really are a limited number of emotions available to any of us. We all have the same set of emotions with which to respond. That’s not what makes us different. That’s where we can relate. The difference is the outside stimulus. It could be divorce, an abusive parent or spouse, death of a loved one, bullying, failure, a rebellious child, a miscarriage, cancer or some other illness. Whatever it is, we only have that limited set of emotions with which to respond. The difference is how we choose to respond. Or, maybe more accurately, how we have learned to respond.

Through it all, I’ve learned God is faithful. He never leaves us or forsakes us. I’ve learned I’m not a dip. I’m His child. His heir. He really loves me. And even if I’m a nobody, I’m no less than anyone else. And, I’ve learned to be thankful – and that’s what this blog is mostly about.

join the conversation:

How about you? Have you ever had a time when life seemed to just trample right over you? How did you feel? How did you deal with it? What did you learn? What do you have to be thankful for?