Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's the Point: Living hope in a violent world

Stories of horror at the hands of ISIS’ members continue to pour out of the Middle East. In fact, what began as a trickle of atrocities has grown into a raging river as incidents increase in frequency and barbarity. This week, they reportedly kidnapped approximately 150 Christians from a region in northeast Syria. Early reports put this number at about 90; subsequent reports have increased it to 150. I say with a prayerful sorrow the future is bleak for those followers of Jesus. News reports have also surfaced that ISIS funds their operation in part through harvesting organs, such as kidneys, from prisoners. An alternate source of their income is selling young girls and women into sex trafficking.

My older two daughters asked me the same question at different times last week. “Is this it? Is our world falling apart? Is this the end?”

My daughters were two and newborn when Al-Qaeda flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. I realized the world they grew up in would look very different than did my childhood environment. I realized that was their reality – better to help them deal with it than sugar coat their exposures. I answered, “We don’t know for sure. ISIS’ behavior is consistent with biblical prophecies of the end times. Many Christians are sensing that this will lead to that time soon.”

They both responded in similar ways; basically, “Then what’s the point?”

What is the point?

Our purpose doesn’t change
God gave us signs to watch for which indicate the end is drawing near. However, He chose to withhold exactly when those events would begin. I believe one reason why is because our job doesn’t change whether we know the exact time or not.
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
  • Love other people as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39).
  • Love faithfulness, act justly, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
It doesn’t matter if Jesus returns today, in a decade, or in a century, our call as Jesus’ followers is the same. We are to know, love, and serve God. We are to love and encourage a hurting world. We are to behave in a way that honors God and glorifies His name.

We have a message of hope
Current events in the Middle East may or may not lead to the fulfillment of biblical end-time prophecies. Either way, we have a message of hope for the world. I don’t know about you, but the number of hurting people in my life is increasing. Economic problems, family relationships, drugs, unemployment, and many others are all surface indicators of hard times. Below the surface, though, much bigger problems arise under names such as fear, depression, rejection, bitterness, insecurity, disbelief, and deception. Followers of Jesus, we have a message of unconditional love, strengthening joy, unsurpassable peace and gentleness, limitless patience, sacrificial kindness and goodness, unwavering faith, and supernatural self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We have everything we need to accomplish the task to which He calls us – the task of reaching the world with His gospel of grace (2 Peter 1:3, Philippians 1:6, Matthew 28:19-20).

We have hope even in midst of persecution
I can’t speak for the hundreds of Christians held captive in Syria right now. But I can speak for countless others throughout history who’ve faced persecution for following Jesus. I can speak the words of Paul who endured a lifetime of persecution, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In studying Paul’s testimony, along with others in the New Testament, I discovered seven aspects of persecution that seem contradictory to human thinking…
  • Serves to advance the Gospel
  • Encourages others and reduces fear
  • Causes rejoicing
  • Promotes patient endurance
  • Teaches us to trust God and about the power of prayer
  • Is a source of comfort
  • Brings us to maturity
You may read more in depth on this area in Everything We Need: God’s Path to Know Him Better.

The point is Jesus, the Messiah

I’d like to give you rose-colored glasses through which to view the world. I’d like to give solutions for defeating ISIS and promises that bloody religious persecution will never reach America’s shores. Just like I realized when my daughters were babies, that isn’t the world in which we live anymore. We can ignore it or deny it; reality doesn’t change.

But I can give you a point – a reason – to endure it. I can give you a message of hope. Our hope and reason are both in the name of Jesus. One day, after seven years of tribulation, He will return and reign peacefully over the entire earth. Until then, we have a purpose that doesn’t change. We are to love and serve God, love and encourage others to believe in Him, and live in a way that glorifies His name. In the midst of all the turmoil, only Jesus’ followers have a message of hope found in salvation through faith in Jesus. He alone has the power to bring comfort, encouragement, patience, rejoicing, and more out of barbaric persecution.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Religious Extremism: Why it's a good thing

Religious extremism.

This term has bounced around social media and news outlets a lot over the last couple of months.

Most people use it to refer to ISIS – a militant, radical Islamic group who established a caliphate in regions of what you and I call Syria and Iraq. The leaders of ISIS embrace a form of Sunni Islam called Salafism. From what I understand, this classification level would be comparable to a particular denomination in Christianity, such as Methodist or Presbyterian.

President Obama and many others have referred to ISIS as not representative of true Islam. Perhaps the problem is that ISIS doesn’t ascribe to the same branch of moderate Islam that many in western culture would prefer.

Our western culture prefers to keep religion moderate. It’s OK to believe in God as long as you don’t actually talk to Him or think He speaks to you as well. Then you’re a fanatic. Helping the poor and less fortunate is a good thing… unless you give them too much of your time and resources. Then you’re obsessive. Reading a Bible is valuable literary understanding, but don’t let it affect how you live or view the world. Then you might be an extremist. You may believe whatever you want – just keep it to yourself and don’t try to impose it on anyone else.

Members of ISIS, however, are doing those things. They are studying the Koran and other ancient writings. They are letting it transform how they think, view others, and live their lives. They are praying to Allah daily – several times a day. They are sharing their message with others on a massive global scale as thousands of young people from all over the world pour into the region to join ISIS. They’re religious extremists; whether you like their form of Islam or not doesn’t change that.

When Islam is taken to extreme measures, ISIS is what it looks like. And it is massively changing our world.

But any religion may contain extremists. Christianity does… and should.

Balance is critical to so many areas of our lives. Wise financial sense balances income with expenses. It spends an appropriate amount on charity, bills, savings, and a little entertainment. A balanced diet includes mainly fruits and vegetables, some dairy, meat, and grains but also knows a little chocolate now and then is a good thing. Peaceful time management utilizes available blocks of time to accomplish tasks but also realizes we need a little rest every now and then. Moderation and balance is good in life.

Except in one area… Religious extremism is a good thing.

Shocked to hear me say that as the blood of 21 Christian martyrs soaks into the sands of Tripoli? Or, as the ashes of 45 Iraqis blow through the streets of al-Baghdadi, Iraq?

Religious extremism shows us the true nature of the religion.

What does Christian extremism look like?

As I walked through my journey to learn balance in most areas of life, I found two areas where balance isn’t acceptable. They are all or nothing kind of deals.

First the “All”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

We can’t love God moderately. No balanced approach exists for loving God. You are a three-part being. You have a heart or mind that relates to others. You have a soul or spirit that links with God. You have a body (“strength”) that connects to the physical world. We love God with all three parts. We love others unconditionally and sacrificially. We tenderly love our world – His creation. We love Him unashamedly.

Then the “Nothing”
“Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle – is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).

We can’t avoid sin moderately. No balanced approach exists for dabbling in sin. The world likes to pull us away from God physically, mentally, and spiritually. It does so through desires that feel good to our body and our mind. It does so through the prideful self-exaltation of our own spirit over God’s.

But we mess up
I get it. I’m right there with you. We can’t love as unconditionally, sacrificially, tenderly, and unashamedly as God loves. We can’t avoid sin’s pull on our mind, body, and spirit completely on our own.

They aren’t going to happen.

That’s the beauty of God’s grace and forgiveness – two concepts unique to Christianity among religions. I’ve written about them before and I’ll write about them again. Today, they’re not my point though.

Christian Extremism

ISIS takes the practices of Islam to extremes; the world is rapidly becoming a different place because of it.

As Christians, now is not the time for moderation. Now is the time for our own version of religious extremism. Now is the time to take the teachings of Christianity to extremes and show the world what it looks like.

Extreme Christianity loves sacrificially. We follow Jesus’ example of love that gives until the last breath and extends to every soul on the face of His creation. We love even when it means we deny our prideful rights. We love even when loved one’s actions tear our hearts into pieces. We love because He loves us.

When Christianity is taken to extreme measures, it looks like Jesus. And it can massively change our world.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love and Serve God: Learning to pray for our children

I guess I’m a bad mom. I don’t know but it seems that’s what the world would have me believe.

I’ve encountered a few situations lately where people have expressed surprise verging on disapproval with my parenting style. I need to make more of my daughters’ decisions for them. I need to control every aspect of each situation they enter. I need to manipulate outcomes to guarantee my girls’ success. I need to map out every moment of their time and their future so they’ll have an amazingly successful career.

I think this is the problem – when Jimmy and I left the hospital after the birth of our first child, I forgot to pick up my pair of hovering helicopter wings on the way out.

Here’s what did happen in my life around that time, though. In early 1998, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. At that time, I read the Bible and prayed at our kitchen table each morning. From the time of that first positive pregnancy test, my prayer life added a new dimension.

I began to pray for each of my children to love and serve God. That was it. I wanted God to be real in their lives and I wanted help for Jimmy and me to raise them that way. God was real to each of us; the only way we could fail as parents was if we neglected to pass that along to them.

I’ve learned some things about what it means to love and serve God in the past 17 years since that first prayer. If we’re all still around 17 years from now, I’ll have some more things to share because I’m still learning. Also, I think these things apply to all of our relationships – not just how we relate to our children.

To love and serve God

God made you special and He loves you very much

This line actually came from Veggietales, a children’s video series who enjoyed their highest popularity in my daughters’ younger years.

The point for us, however, wasn’t only to teach the girls that God feels this way about them. Even more, we wanted them to learn God feels this way about everyone. Every person has a unique, inherent value because God made them. We don’t classify by race, age, gender, or any of the other categorizations where people like to set one group apart as superior to another group.

Some of the stories I remember that weren’t an issue because of the way my girls’ thought… A fourth grader can play with a third grader even though they aren’t the same age. It’s ok if you’re white but you want to pick out a black baby doll or if you think a black boy is cute. A new kid on the softball team needs help learning how to play – why would someone make fun of them?

We can’t love and serve God – as adults or children – if we don’t recognize this. We put people down because of how much money they have, how hard they work, where they live, how their family behaves, and other nonsense. As long as we do this, we’ll fail to see that God loves and serves each and every human on the planet and calls us to do the same.

Learn to learn

This is my primary goal in choosing to homeschool our daughters but it applies in all aspects of life.

God created an amazing environment for us to live in – it abounds in artistic creation and scientific discovery. It’s full of ideas, truth, art, and logic that all weave together to make the human experience. If our life’s goal is to learn information to pass a test to make a grade to get into a school to get a certain job, then I can almost guarantee we’ll miss out on the beauty of the artistry and the wonder of the science.

At some point we decide we can stop learning; for some, it’s after high school or college graduation. Others wait until they have a graduate or doctoral degree before they stop learning.

Loving and serving God, however, is to realize that we can never stop learning. As children, we can learn to learn so our life may become a pursuit of God’s truth, a discussion of ideas to implement it into the world, an ability to create as He created, and a capacity to research and discover all of it.

Grown up in a grown up body

Children are born with three parts – a body that interacts with its environment, a mind that interacts with other people, and a soul that interacts with God. As parents, we need to raise all three parts to adulthood.

Decent nutrition and shelter will help the physical body grow to adulthood all on its own. The mental functions of the mind aren’t so easy though. The spiritual soul is even more difficult but for now, I’m going to focus on the mind.

We had a 9 year old friend of my daughters over recently. We were going to buy Subway sandwiches for lunch so I asked her what she liked. She didn’t know; she said her mom always orders for her. I asked, “What kinds of meat do you like – ham, turkey, beef, or salami?” She didn’t know what any of the meats were because she’d never had to make a decision for her own sandwich.

Many adults are children in grown up bodies. It’s important for children to make their own decisions. They start young in deciding which clothes to wear or which lunchbox to buy. They learn skills that help them as they grow and their decisions become more complicated… Should I cheat on this test? Should I go out with this guy? Which car should I buy? What classes should I take? Where should I go to college? Should I marry this girl? Should I serve God on the mission field?

This isn’t only about decision making though.

My daughter wanted banana cut up on her Rice Krispies this morning. I’ve been teaching her how to use the knife and cut it herself but she told me she doesn’t like to get her hands slimy from cutting it. My answer was simple, “Yes, but when you’re 35, I’m not going to come over every morning to cut up your banana so your hands don’t get slimy.” She smiled and proceeded to cut her own banana.

We can’t make all their decisions for them; likewise, we can’t do everything for them. We often do because we do it better, faster, or safer. From cutting bananas to balancing their own checking account, they’ll never learn if we don’t allow them to try. Yes, they’ll mess up along the way. Sometimes we learn more from our failures and mistakes than we do our successes!

Part of loving and serving God is to function as responsible members of society. We make decisions and accept the responsibility for the outcome of those decisions as we also seek God’s guidance in the process. We accept our failures as learning opportunities for greater success in the future.

So what’s my point?

I don’t know; goodness knows I don’t have all the answers when it comes to parenting. I guess I’m only wanting to explain my lack of hovering helicopter wings. I want to raise children who recognize the value in all people. I want my children to try and serve those people rather than expect to be served. I want them to learn how to learn about what fascinates them and praise the God who created whatever interests them most. I want them to be responsible adults who can help society rather than drain it. I want them to love and serve God.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Reason to Laugh: Sometimes the biggest service is small

Grow Barefoot had the privilege of helping a young woman take her first short-term mission trip recently. Elizabeth’s parents wanted to give her a special gift for her college graduation gift, as most parents do. For this family, a special gift meant a trip to serve in an orphanage in rural Haiti. It may be tropical but it’s a far cry from Cancun, Nassau, or even South Padre Island, Texas.

I caught up with Elizabeth after her trip and asked her to share some thoughts about her trip, life in Haiti, and how the trip impacted her.

The following is her response…

Haiti was my first mission trip. I’d had a desire to go serve at Haiti Home of Hope for several years but the timing never worked out until this year. I was excited to find a wonderful group of people at the last minute. Though I’d never met any of them before this trip, I felt very welcomed into their group. I loved talking and getting to know them over our time together.

I’m a very hands-on person and like to work on projects when I’m with a group. It can be anything ranging from building something to organizing stuff in a room. When we left for Haiti, we had no idea what we were going to be doing and that made me a little bit apprehensive. I like to have a plan and know what is going to happen. When we arrived, Bill and Jennifer told us there weren’t any big projects that needed done at the moment so our main job was to entertain the kids while they were on break from school. We had Bible lessons and craft projects for the kids which they used as decorations for their Christmas party and in their rooms. While to some this may not seem as important as providing people with filtered water or a roof over their heads, it was the need that needed met at this time. I hear parents at home talk about having their kids home on break – usually only 2-3 kids per house. Imagine having 40 kids hanging around, all wanting attention. The real needs may not be the most newsworthy or glorious but we were there to serve others, not ourselves. What good is planning to do all kinds of monstrous projects if that is not where the need lies?

Many people come back from a mission trip with some new insight or this awesome lesson that they’ve learned. I didn’t come back with either of these. What I did come home with was the joy of having served Bill and Jennifer, the kids, and some of the local people. I experienced a different culture and saw the happiness the people receive from a simpler lifestyle. The kids at the orphanage were smiling, laughing, and so excited we were there. The girls asked all day long if we were going to sing and dance with them in the evenings. They loved to do so and no other group had done that with them.

People in America get so caught up that we lose sight of the importance of little things. I loved my trip to Haiti and definitely would like to go back or do something similar in the future.

Elizabeth’s words remind me of the verse, “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me’” (Matthew 25:40). We so often think our service has to be big…and amazing…and professional…and beautiful.

Sometimes service in God’s kingdom is helping a friend take care of her kids. Sometimes it’s singing a song with a lonely child. If we do what God calls us to do, then it’s all big, amazing, and beautiful.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Sniper: What would Jesus do?

If a man burst into our home or approached me on the street with a loaded weapon intent on killing me, I would be ok with Jimmy shooting him. In fact, I would expect him to do everything within his power to protect me. It’s his job.

It was Chris Kyle’s job to do so as well.

Chris is the hero of the blockbuster movie “American Sniper,” a true story based on his military career as a Navy SEAL. Chris’s accuracy with a sniper rifle saved the lives of countless Americans throughout four tours of duty in Iraq. His accomplishments earned him the nickname “Legend” among his military brothers. The movie isn’t only Chris’s struggle on the battlefield, however, just as Chris Kyle’s life wasn’t only as a military hero. Chris was also a husband and dad; balancing the aggression of the battlefield with the compassion of the home may have been his greatest battle just as it is for many who return home from war.

Despite his heroic actions, the movie has met with strong criticism in social media. One tweet has caught my attention more than others. I saw the movie Saturday night; the movie was still fresh in my pondering mind when I read this tweet,

I admit it – the expression “What would Jesus do?” is kind of worn out. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone wearing a WWJD bracelet. Besides, the question of what Jesus would do is pointless as He doesn’t need a sniper’s rifle to strike down his enemy. The power of His spoken word will be adequate when the time comes. Don’t believe me? Read Revelation 19:11-21. But that’s another battle for another day and time.

All joking aside, I think we understand the point of the tweeter’s question, “What would Jesus do?” The question really asks “How should I – as a follower of Jesus – respond to this situation?” Or, sometimes people use the question to indicate, “What is Jesus’ teaching on this issue?” To that end, I’ve come up with six areas where Chris Kyle is a good example for us as followers of Christ as we engage in the battle.

He enlisted.

It seems basic but we all have to start somewhere, don’t we? Yet, some of us never enlist in the battle. We assume life can be all happy thoughts, peaceful moments, and kumbaya campfires. That’s not reality, though. We may find personal peace in Christ but neither the spiritual nor physical worlds will experience complete peace until eternity begins. Only then will God “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). Until then, we better come to grips with reality; wars and rumors of wars will continue until the end (Matthew 24:6) and “we will have suffering in this world” (John 16:33).

He developed his skill.

Chris Kyle appears to have had some natural talent with a rifle. Natural talent doesn’t make you the most successful sniper in American history, however. The movie doesn’t go in to much detail in this area but common sense tells me that Chris spent hours practicing and developing his skill so he would be ready when deployment came.

As followers of Christ, we have a gift as well – a special area where God has given us the capacity to serve Him. The capacity to serve is only as effective as natural talent, however. It will get some work done but serving at a higher level requires the development of that capacity. Then we can step into the battle ready to do some damage against the enemy.

He knew his purpose.

Chris Kyle’s job was to protect his fellow soldiers. Period. He didn’t spend time cooking in the mess hall or analyzing intelligence in the offices. His duty – his purpose – was to spend hours staring down the scope of a rifle watching for those who might harm his brothers. That’s what he did and it made him a legend.

We have a purpose as well; we have to know what it is. We can waste a lot of hours doing good things that keep us from the best thing, however. In fact, I believe this is one of Satan’s primary methods of attack for those who follow Christ. He can keep us so busy doing good things that we aren’t effective in our true area of purpose, whatever that might be. The more our relationship with Jesus grows, the more we will know our true purpose. Then, we will be the one striking down the enemy on the battlefield.

He did his job.

He developed his skill. He knew his purpose. All of that is worthless if we don’t step up and do the job. Hours of practice and tons of head knowledge didn’t make Chris a legend. He was a legend because he put it into practice on the battlefield.

When the enemy entered his view on the cross hairs of his rifle scope, Chris pulled the trigger. He didn’t enjoy it but he didn’t regret it either. It was his job to protect the lives of his fellow servicemen. Pulling the trigger accomplished that mission.

Chris also recognized the ripple effects of his job performance. Yes, he took the lives of Iraqis, but doing so saved the lives of countless others. In the immediate sense, it saved the lives of those at the other end of the Iraqi’s gun. It also rippled out into the future as each Iraqi he killed couldn’t kill American soldiers in the weeks, months, and years ahead. The ripples didn’t even stop there. Each time Chris successfully fired his rifle, he took one more step toward keeping the battle off American soil and away from his wife and kids.

Chris served faithfully.

His service was hard. His family suffered as did his health. Sometimes he was unable to save his military brothers. He lived in humble conditions while deployed. No one ever said it was easy to be a Navy SEAL. Likewise, no one ever said it will be easy to follow Christ. If it was, God could have called bunnies and kittens to fight the forces of evil. Instead, He called us – those He created in His image and in whom His Spirit dwells – because through Him He knew we could win the battle.

His service was met with criticism. Obviously, not everyone agrees with what Chris Kyle did. Yet Chris knew his purpose, did his job, and would do so again if he could as he knew it was the right thing to do. Similarly, not everyone is going to agree with or understand when we step up to the spiritual battle. That doesn’t matter; we do it because God called us to do it and it’s the right thing to do.

So in the end

War will continue on this planet. Even more, war will continue in the spiritual realm. Our enemy isn’t a person lined up in our crosshairs; our battle is against forces of evil and powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Some of us would like to sit in our pews, following a Christianity that denies hell and demonic forces where everyone lives pretty, peaceful lives. Recognition of Jesus’ teaching realizes, however, that following Christ sometimes means war. We have to enlist in the battle, develop our skill, study to know our purpose, do our job, and serve faithfully until the end.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hebrews: A study where I toss the rules out the window

Sometimes we got to do what we got to do.

Sometimes we have to be who we have to be.

Sometimes we have to figure out what's most important and focus on that.

I started a new study this week about which I'm bouncing off the walls excited. I admit it - I'm a Bible geek. The thought of a new study - with new truths, new applications, and new insight into the heart of God Himself - is enough to get me going. I completed the first lesson and taught it a few days ago. I came away thinking, though, that can't be it. I want to do more with this.

A lot of publishers, editors, agents, and other experts have given me a lot of insight into what makes a good Bible study. Here is some of the advice I've received over the years...
  • Keep it short. No one cares after a few weeks of a particular study.
  • Have lots of personal stories. People find those more interesting than scriptural insights.
  • Make it all about the reader. People are only interested in how you can help them.
  • Put a well-known author's name on the front, whether he or she wrote it or not.
  • Make sure it's sexy. Yes, sexy. I actually had an agent tell me that one time.
Those five keys probably do help to sell books. After all, we've all heard "Sex sells."

When I began the journey of personal Bible study almost twenty years ago, my primary goal was never to sell books. My goal was to know the Creator of the universe; I instinctually knew He couldn't be as boring as many Bible studies try to make Him.

When I began teaching my personal studies and writing them into books and articles, my goal still wasn't to sell books. My goal was to not only know Him but to make Him known.

So, if my goal isn't money, then I'm going to toss those five tips out the window.

What's the new study?

I'm starting a new interactive study of the book of Hebrews. Not only that, but I'll be approaching it from an Old Testament perspective. You could say that the Old Testament will be the lens through which we'll try to understand the message of Hebrews. After all, the Hebrew author wrote the book to Hebrew believers who based their understanding on their only Scripture at the time - the Old Testament (aka, the Tanakh or the Law and the Prophets).

It's something I've wanted to do for years; God has brought me to the point where I see that now is the time. I'm doing it myself so I can better know Christ. I'm sharing it with you so I can make Him known. Plus, I can tell this is the direction in which He is leading Grow Barefoot right now.

Why Hebrews?

David Guzik, one of my favorite commentators, writes, "Hebrews is basically a book that exhorts discouraged Christians to continue on strong with Jesus in light of the complete superiority of who He is and what He has done for us." Let's break that down a little.

I know a lot of "discouraged Christians" right now. Persecution, disease, sickness, and violence are becoming rampant - domestically and internationally. We all see suffering in the lives of our loved ones and even in our own lives.

God calls us "to continue on strong." Over and over the New Testament tells followers of Christ to persevere - to push through until the end. For example, "For you need endurance, so that after you have done God's will, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and obtain life" (Hebrews10:36-39).

Life isn't about us. It's about Jesus - "who He is and what He has done for us." Much Christian Bible study has become little more than self-help groups. People attend to be encouraged and find a little nugget of truth that might help them feel better. Like much of our lives, we make it about us. We miss the point though if this is the extent of our reason for Bible study. Yes, Scripture encourages. It does give us little snippets of truth to make us feel better. I like to call them Bible Band-aids. Sometimes, however, we need to stop focusing on what makes us feel good and start focusing on Jesus. After all, He alone is the Word made flesh who left the glories of heaven, lived as a common man, humbled Himself unto death, and resurrected back to eternal life. He alone is the One who suffered so He might have an intimate relationship with you and me.

What's this mean for our weekly time together?

The blog will continue as it always has. I'll post a new article every Wednesday about various topics from world news, my personal life, and how God's Word helps me understand both of those things.

In addition, a new tab at the top titled "A Study of Hebrews" will offer the possibility for you to engage in this online, interactive study. The first section will be up in a day or two. I'll warn you now, though, that I'll be tossing those five rules I mentioned earlier out the window.
  • This will last more than a few weeks; it will probably go through most of 2015. Bible study, to be honest, requires more than a few weeks here and there. We get to know Jesus when it becomes a regular part of our lives.
  • I may throw in an occasional personal story but if you're coming to this site, it's because you want to interact with a community who's getting to know Jesus a little better. Remember, the goal isn't to know Christ and make me known.
  • If it's not about me, then it's not going to be about you, either. The goal also isn't to know Christ and make you known.
  • The importance of the author's name - well, the author of Hebrews didn't feel it was important to identify himself so maybe we don't need to value that quite so much either.
  • Let's be clear from the start on this one. This study isn't going to be sexy. I'm really not even sure why I have to clarify that one but apparently I do in our modern day culture.

If it's not any of those things, then what is it?

It's a place for followers of Christ and people considering Christ to come together and study His Word. No charge. No ego. No time-limit. No sex.

I'll post a new section each week. I'll be waiting for you to leave your thoughts, opinions, and questions in the comments section. We'll interact together on the passage and then move on to the next section. It's that simple. I'll also be trusting you to spread the word to others you might know who are tired of all the marketing and big names.

Remember, it's not about us. It's about Him - knowing Him and making Him known because people are hurting, society is crumbling, and we need to continue on strong.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Christian Hijab: Two signs that show you follow Jesus

I ran several errands in my local community the other day. While out and about, I noticed several women wearing a hijab (Muslim head scarf). My Christian friend wears a hijab since she lives in a Muslim country and works among Muslim people. She wears it as a sign of respect to their culture.
However, a woman only wears a hijab in the heart of Midwest America if she’s Muslim. She may wear the hijab out of a sense of obligation or the force of habit but – rather intentional or not – if she wears a hijab in my local culture, she is proclaiming her religious beliefs.

I stood in line at Target, considering one such woman in line behind me. I wondered to myself, “If I had to consistently wear something that so publicly declared my religious beliefs, would I do so? What would I wear?”
Would I wear my Christian hoodie with the clever tagline? Would I wear a cross necklace?

Would I wear it if my religious system made it a requirement? After all, I'm not very good at following the rules. Tell me I have to do something; it’s a sure fire way to keep me from doing it.

Here’s the reality, though. Following Christ doesn’t require any outer sign on my part. I don’t have to wear a head covering, fix my hair in a certain style, make any marks on my skin, or perform any other outer religious modifications to who I am.

I can be me.

You could place me in a line up with several other women and you’d see no distinguishing marks of my decision to follow Christ.

During the times of the Old Testament, God did require an outer mark – circumcision. “This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10).

Even during that time, however, God said that sign would eventually change. He later wrote of a then future time when “The Lord God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). We’re living in the midst of that fulfillment now, but that’s another article.

This verse from Deuteronomy sums up a lot about signs of our relationship with Jesus. We base our relationship on two signs – an inner circumcision of the heart and a little thing called love.

Inner Circumcision of the Heart

Paul recalled Moses’ words from Deuteronomy when he wrote, “circumcision is of the heart – by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29). A cross around our neck isn’t a sign of our salvation; the sign is the presence of the Spirit of God within us. “When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).

He marks us as a follower of Christ in a way that’s more impacting and permanent than any tattoo could ever be.

Going back to the idea of placing me in a line up to pick out the Christian… The presence of the Spirit of God within us isn’t very visible to the world is it? That’s where love comes in.

It’s all about love

God left us with another kind of sign. This one also comes from inside us – love for God and for each other.

Jesus emphasized this transition from outer signs to inner transformation when a Jewish rabbi asked Him which command from the Old Testament is the greatest. He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Christianity doesn’t require me to wear a certain headscarf or any other outer modification or adornment. It asks that I love God. People aren’t able to see that one quite so easily, though, so it doesn’t end there. Jesus made it really clear when He said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When you look at love in the Bible, you quickly realize that God’s kind of love looks a lot like service and sacrifice.

It flows with generosity.

It aches with compassion.

It's exhausted by perseverance.

It dares with kindness.

What’s my sign?

Wear a cross necklace if you want. Enjoy your Christian t-shirts with clever taglines on them. But those things aren’t going to reach the world. Your waitress or store clerk might give you a little, “Hey, I like your shirt” quietly indicating that they are a believer as well. That’s probably all your outer sign is going to accomplish.

The world is changed and lives are transformed when people see us serving and sacrificing – in short, loving – in a way that’s only possible by the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. The sacrificial love of God will mark us as different.