CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Christ”

Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.

I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible.  I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word.  I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation.  Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few.  I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both.  That is:

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia.  It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

  • The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
  • A high regard for biblical authority;
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

And;

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief.   The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:

  • The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
  • The virgin birth of Christ.
  • The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,

both from Wikipedia.  Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.

What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy.  I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive.  I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered.  I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right.  And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do.  God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way.  I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that.  My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.

This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012.  Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him.  One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it.  Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal.  He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish.  And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting.  He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality.  Very refreshing.

Ok, back to his message.  It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?”  Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer:  the original is much better than this paraphrase.  Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me.  Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking.  I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302.  Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).

Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.

He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on.   It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction.  But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license.  True, we are forgiven.  But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want.  Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal.  We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2).  How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)?  How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”

The answer is two-fold.  First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.

The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive.  Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions.  Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man.  Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death.  Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven).  Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life.  There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless.  It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live.  If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow.  But I believe it is true.  Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation?  Not really.  I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed.  I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole.  And I rely on my faith.

The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker.  “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.

Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?”  is not in the explanation, but in the application.  And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive.  With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism.  All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice.  And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy.  In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write.  This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?”  This is where I often personally stumble.  I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be.  I need (no, I must) change that attitude.  And that is a work in progress.  In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on.  The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made.  I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along.  My friend was rather relentless, and  when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized.  I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo.  She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting.  And you know what?  She was right.  I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now.  The presentation is as important as is the message.  Like I said, “a work in progress.”

As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive.  That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area.  That we embrace both with equal certainty.  And that we live both with equal passion.

May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.

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Cross Reflections

The last couple of weeks have been such that, pretty much every day, I wanted to pull the covers over my head and hope the world just goes away.  I figuratively just curled up in a corner and waited for life to stop kicking me.  *Sigh*  The old saying goes, “Momma told me there’d be days like this, she just didn’t tell me there’d be this many in a row…”  I didn’t even really check in on the blog for a while. Woof, what a couple of weeks!

Bad couple of weeks not withstanding, Easter presents a good time of year for reflection.  And this is what I have done for about the past week.

It started with me reading Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” April 6th entry.  I quote it here:

Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree. — 1 Peter 2:24

The Cross of Jesus is the revelation of God’s judgment on sin. Never tolerate the idea of martyrdom about the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Cross was a superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken. There is nothing more certain in Time or Eternity than what Jesus Christ did on the Cross: He switched the whole of the human race back into a right relationship with God. He made Redemption the basis of human life, that is, He made a way for every son of man to get into communion with God.

The Cross did not happen to Jesus: He came on purpose for it. He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The whole meaning of the Incarnation is the Cross. Beware of separating God manifest in the flesh from the Son becoming sin. The Incarnation was for the purpose of Redemption. God became incarnate for the purpose of putting away sin; not for the purpose of Self-realization. The Cross is the centre of Time and of Eternity, the answer to the enigmas of both.

The Cross is not the cross of a man but the Cross of God, and the Cross of God can never be realized in human experience. The Cross is the exhibition of the nature of God, the gateway whereby any individual of the human race can enter into union with God. When we get to the Cross, we do not go through it; we abide in the life to which the Cross is the gateway.

The centre of salvation is the Cross of Jesus, and the reason it is so easy to obtain salvation is because it cost God so much. The Cross is the point where God and sinful man merge with a crash and the way to life is opened – but the crash is on the heart of God.

I had never before entertained the notion that Christ on the Cross was not just a dreadful experience that should horrify.  It is God’s “superb triumph in which the foundations of hell were shaken.”  I have always looked at the cross in sorrow, which I think is appropriate, since I understand that it is my sin which necessitated Jesus’ sacrifice.  However, I never viewed it as the triumph that it is.  Sin and death crushed forever in one action!  I have for a long while prayed from time to time something like, “Father, I am so sorry that Jesus had to suffer for my actions, my sins, but thank you so much that He did.”  And again, I think that appropriate.  But I never before considered what a thunderous victory this was!  This was the cosmic equivalent of the climactic moments of the biggest event one can think of: one that I should be jumping in the air with my fists pumping screaming, “YEAH!!!!!” at the top of my lungs.  My team wins the Super Bowl (or the Steelers lose)?  That’s nothing.  You should see me hopping around the room, screaming with pure, unadulterated joy, whooping and dancing around with a savage ecstasy.  A Super Bowl?  That’s nothing compared to what Christ accomplished in one day on Calvary.  I should forever be celebrating at the top of my lungs at the victory accomplished by Jesus.  And that is an unbelievably cool thought to me.

At our church’s Good Friday service, our pastor, Bob Klecan, quoted Dwight L. Moody as saying, “Someday you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now…”  Now that’s a very cool thought!  Again, I have for years believed in the afterlife, but I’m not sure I thought of it as it actually is.  At that final heartbeat when I leave this existence, at the split second that I “die,” at that exact moment I will be who I was meant to be from the beginning of time.  My entire life thus far has been in the shadow world.  It is only as I step into eternity that I will, for the first time, see reality.

We also at the same service reflected on the Cross of Christ, and what it meant to each of us; what did it mean to me on a  personal level, what did I see as the most significant gift that I received from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (at least that is my interpretation of Pastor Bob’s challenge).  We then had the opportunity to write down out thoughts and leave them at the foot of the cross.  I, however, wrote down my thoughts but did not leave them there.  I thought they would fit well into this post and brought them home.  Addressing my thoughts to God I wrote: “Thank you for giving me the ability, the possibility of living above my human-ness.  I can live outside of myself, through the grace of God.  I can be more than I could otherwise be.  I don’t have to live focused on my needs, but can live focused on God.”  And it is only through my dependence on God and his work in my life that I have any hope at all of living a life that is different from hedonism.  Apart from God’s love, I doubt that one person in a million (I’m being generous here)  can truly change their life to be a life that is sacrificial, others oriented, “good.”  I know that I have not come close to arriving at my goal, but I am so far from where I was.  My goal is to be like Christ.  And boy, does God have a lot of work to do…

I know that many would say to me that it’s good that I have this belief in God, since I need it.  However, they would likely say that they have no such need and/or doubt that God exists.  I would answer that by saying that this is not driven by a need of mine.  I could honestly live a self-focused life quite nicely, thank you very much.  I could live for pleasure now, and expect the oblivion of death when that time comes.  But I choose to not live that life.  I choose to believe the promises of God as presented in the Bible, giving myself freely to Him, and to seek to live a life based solely on the completed work of Jesus.  I live in gratitude to Him for accomplishing what I could not: my reconciliation to God, and a life that can change.  What a Gift!  What potential for my life here and now, and not just a potential for gain at the end of this life!  With all of this that God has done, how can I not be grateful?

So these have been the things upon which I have reflected the past week or so.  Huh!  I guess it wasn’t such a bad week after all…

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Is honor a bad thing?

John, a friend of mine, texts me Bible verses fairly frequently, and occasionally a quote or thought.  He sent me a quote a couple of days ago.  Here it is.

The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville writes, “An ethical system based on honor is a self-regarding ethic, while one based in charity is an other-regarding ethic… With honor goes a concentration on pride rather than humility, dominance rather than service, courage rather than peaceableness, glory rather than modesty, loyalty rather than respect for all, generosity to one’s friends rather than equality.”  John then asked if I agree or disagree.  Here are my thoughts.

In the above quote, clearly Sommerville is not talking about honor, as it is defined.  Honor defined is usually something similar to, “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor,” (Dictionary.com).  What Sommerville is referring to is a life based on honor.  That is, I think, a life in which honor is the central tenet of one’s existence.  Kind of, to borrow a Star Trek reference, a Klingon approach to life.

My first thought about the quote is that I see what Sommerville is driving at.  But I don’t entirely agree with him.  The opposite of honor is dishonor, and no one would prefer a life that is based on that.  So, right away we can disregard honor’s opposite as an appropriate lifestyle.  However, Sommerville is not advocating a life based on the opposite of honor.

Broken down, Sommerville seems to be defining honor as “Concentration on pride, dominance, courage, glory, loyalty, and generosity to one’s friends.”  I think Sommerville’s point is that he is advocating a life that is based on something superior to honor, a life based on “humility, service, peaceableness, modesty, respect for all, and equality.”

Ok, now look at each word individually.  Pride.  Dominance.  Courage.  Glory.  Loyalty.  Generosity to friends.  Humility.  Service.  Peaceableness.  Modesty.  Respect for all.  Equality.  I realize that a couple of those words or concepts have negative connotations, such as pride and dominance.  But in a proper context, each word or concept is a positive, and I think, a Godly concept.  I know I’m going to catch some flak for that, especially for pride and dominance.  However, on these two words, let’s look at a couple of thoughts.

If I am an architect and I design a truly beautiful building, is it a “Godly” thing to denigrate it, to say it is nothing?  That is what many Christian sources would espouse.  Of course we should give God the glory, but is it “ungodly” or “un-Christian” to be pleased with a work well done?  Think of a Christian singing artist.  Should they not be pleased with the beautiful songs they write, produce, sing?

And dominance.  How many times did God command the Israelites to completely dominate their enemies?  Think of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians.  Clearly he was asserting his dominance over the false teachers that had crept in.  So, in certain circumstances, dominance is a good thing.

Conversely, under the proper circumstance, each and every one of the words Sommerville used can be a negative.  I will show what I mean with just a couple of the words above.

Peaceableness is a good thing, right?  But what happens when a madman breaks into your home at 3:00 in the morning and charges you with a butcher knife held high.  Is it a morally superior, or a more Christian position to be at that moment and whatever the cost, peaceable?  I think that argument silly, at best.  Further, look at the New Testament.  There are several instances of soldiers being saved, or Christians, or whatever.  How sensible is it to expect a soldier to be peaceable, no matter the situation?  Or a policeman.  Perhaps someone would argue that yes, no matter what, the soldier or policeman would be taking a morally superior, or more Christian, approach to shun violence no matter what the situation may be.  Until it is someone dear to that person that a terrorist is about to behead.  Or their loved one that a maniac is about to mutilate.  I think that any sane person would want a soldier or policeman, even if a Christian, to use whatever force necessary to save their loved one.

What about service, that’s a good thing, right?  Sure is, but should we always be in attitude of service, no matter what?  We provide service to our children when they are born.  They are helpless and cannot survive without a caregiver providing for all intents and purposes, unlimited service.  We do this because it is what they need, and because we love them.  But at some point it becomes our task to train them as well as care for them.  And as time goes on, if we have done our jobs as parents, we serve them less and train them more, until the day that they “leave the nest” and strike out on their own.  But what if we “served” them their entire lives?  What if we never told them “no,” but provided them their every whim, their every desire?  Service would cease to be a good thing, and at some point, a bad thing.

Finally, go to any Bible concordance and look at “honor.”  There are probably dozens of references using that word.

My point here has been that each thing is neither always good nor always bad.  What is important, I think, is the attitude of our hearts.  Do I have a heart centered on Christ?  Or do I have a heart that is centered on (fill in the blank, using any of the words in the Sommerville quote).  I think that anytime my heart is not focused on Christ, I have missed the mark.  I cannot focus on pride or humility.  I cannot focus on dominance or service.  I must focus on Christ, and Christ alone.  I do not think that the Christian life and a life of honor are mutually exclusive.  But anything that takes our focus off Christ has become an idol, and therefore, evil.

I’m going to go out on a limb, here.  I am asking for comment on this.  My arguments make sense to me, but that isn’t the end of the matter.  I am asking for you to comment on this and give arguments, with or against me.  I look forward to reading your thoughts.

The enemy is alive and well on planet earth…

I am of the persuasion that once “saved,” always “saved.”  That is, once one comes to a real understanding and acceptance of God‘s plan for salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ, one can not lose that salvation.  I believe that even if someone saved falls into a worldly lifestyle, when they die they will enter heaven, even if their clothes “smell like smoke.”  They have attained salvation, but just barely.

I am not looking for debate on this subject, nor will I entertain debate on this right now.  I am offering that as a backdrop to say the following.  I believe that Satan recognizes that he cannot claim someone saved by God’s grace.  So his efforts in our lives aren’t, I think,  intended to re-claim a soul; he cannot do that.  His desire is to make the Christian ineffective.  If I, as a Christian, am living a life that is not vibrant and Christ-centered, I am nearly useless for furthering God’s designs on those around me in my life.  And that is pleasing to Satan.

On Saturday, February 4, we came back from the Dominican Republic from a short-term missions trip.  The trip was unbelievably fantastic, and God reached me in several wonderful and unexpected ways.  We had been warned that Satan would attack when we returned to the ‘States, and I kind of already figured that out myself.  But it was good to be reminded.  Because Satan didn’t waste any time, he got right to it with me.

Beth and I live in a small town outside Erie, Pennsylvania.  To get to the D.R., we drove to Buffalo, NY, and flew to JFK in New York City, then to the D.R., and the reverse to get home.  The road to Buffalo from Erie is nearly a straight shot.  You just get on Interstate 90 and head east for a while.  Easy.  As is the reverse.  But not, apparently, for me.

I have been to Buffalo, NY, multiple times in the past few years, travelling into Canada, travelling to the Niagara River for a drift dive, whatever.  The route home is the same each time, and I know the route fairly well.  However, on Saturday we got back from the D.R., I got the truck, got back to the airport, and loaded up.  Beth and I were satisfied, content.  I was looking forward to the ride home, just being easy with Beth and talking about the past week.  And as we started for home, I somehow (I have no idea how) missed the turn to get on I90, and wound up in downtown Buffalo.  Anger!  Frustration!  Bad words!  And I hadn’t been back on American soil for more than, what, half an hour?  We quickly got back on track and things settled down, but thus it started (clarification: the route error was maybe Satan’s, the reaction mine).

Beth and I missed church on Sunday, and spent the day trying to catch up on rest.  I also took Monday off work for the same purpose.  Through much of Sunday and into Monday, I just felt useless; ineffective; a failure.  In short, I felt just as I had before we left.  And what really depressed me was that it all happened so quickly.  We just got back, for crying out loud!  Geez!  Couldn’t I even have one stinkin’ week feeling ok?

And then it hit me.  Oh, yeah, Satan is going to attack!  And he has.  If he can just get me to slide into the way I used to be, I will be as ineffective as I was.  Focused on the wrong things, depressed, and not living the abundant life that God promises.  Oh yeah, I forgot!  Well, we don’t want that to happen, do we?  No, we do not.

So what do I do?  I remembered the promises God had reminded me of the past week.  I spent time in God’s Word.  Prayed.  Reflected.  And I remembered, God doesn’t want my accomplishments, He wants me.  He wants me to have relationship with Him, not for me to be focused on success, even success as a Christian.  And how freeing that is.  I am basking in His love, resting in His grace.  I am learning this, and for me it is a huge paradigm shift, an entirely new mindset.  I figure I will have setbacks, and times that I forget.  But I’m working on it.  Working on letting go of me, and letting God do as He will in me.

Gal 2.20: I am crucified with Christ and I no longer life, but Christ lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Really? Come on, Really?

I remember a number of years ago that I had examined my life, and found many aspects lacking.  Whether due to a sermon, a book I was reading, I’m not sure, but I remember fervently praying, “God, make me like Christ.  Make my life like Christ’s, my thoughts, my attitudes.  Mould me, shape me, make me like Christ.”  In retrospect, perhaps I should have prayed for God to leave me alone.  I’m being facetious, but my main point is that when one prays a prayer like that, God takes you at your word.  I swear the answer I heard to that prayer was a chuckle, and then, “Ok son, hang on.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

And so it has been.  Clearly I am not even close to that goal, but believe it or not, I am light years closer than I was when I first prayed that prayer.

So I guess this weekend shouldn’t have been a surprise, but wow!  It has been a few weeks since I have had what I call a “decompression weekend.”  I was really looking forward to a relaxing couple days, reading a bit, watching a couple movies, hanging out with friends.  Believe me, that is not what I got.

On Friday, Beth and I were scheduled to meet with another couple for dinner.  However, I had gotten a two shots on Thursday (Hepatitis A and tetanus, specifically, t-dap) for the upcoming Dominican Republic trip.  Friday afternoon, I reacted to the shot(s).  I had a low grade fever and chills so bad that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an arm or leg get shaken right off my body.  Needless to say, we cancelled the dinner plans (picked them up on Saturday evening).

Saturday morning, I learned that a potential business opportunity had in all likelihood fallen through.  Being a “planner,” I had been playing with all the possibilities in my head, and having a ball.  Seeing that the opportunity might not be there was extremely disappointing.  Actually, it rocked me pretty badly.  Stunned, disappointed, frustrated, sad.  It pretty much affected the whole day (and it did indeed fall through.  Not sure why, but there it is).

Sunday?  Well, I posted on Facebook, a rather mild post regarding a really controversial topic.  It was intended by me as basically a throwaway, just a two liner to blow off a bit of steam about the topic.  But what a firestorm it started.  My Christianity was called into question, my integrity insulted, and I was absolutely pounded from multiple directions.  For any of you familiar with the game Civilization V (I am a self-confessed addict, by the way), I felt like what it must be like to play the game as Gandhi, and find out your civilization is sandwiched between Russia and Germany.  You just know it isn’t going to turn out well.  It got to the point that an aquaintence of mine from high school insulted me and immediately unfriended me.  I’m still puzzled at that one.  I have my suspicions, but whatever.  I was surprised by the vehemence of others’ opinions, and the venom in some of the responses to me.  Because I was surprised, and because I am struggling with other stuff (including the D.R. trip), it really hit hard.  Sleep came fitfully Sunday night, and in total there was precious little actual sleep by the time I needed to get up on Monday morning.

In any event, each day of the weekend was worse than the day before, and continued into Monday at work.  It was one of those days…

Which brings me back to my original point.   I have little doubt this is all due in some cosmic way, at least in part, to the D.R. trip.  I have little doubt that this is all designed to assist in knocking off my rough edges, and to mould me into a more Christ-like man.  But really?  All this does little to dispell the notion of me lying curled up on the ground, battered and beaten.  “How long, Oh, Lord?”  Wow.  This is really difficult, and I have no idea how long it’ll last.  Don’t know how to get past it, don’t know how to let it go.  It’s like a marathon, and I’ve been training for a five mile race.  2 Chron 20.12, “…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

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