Wednesday, May 31, 2017

When I pray



I'm learning more and more about prayer, simply because I have been desperate to pray.

Sometimes it can rub me the wrong way when people speak of "prayer" as though it is a mysterious phenomenon that must be studied and analyzed.  It seems to me there was a children's song once which simply expressed that prayer is talking to God.

Prayer is talking to God.

Obviously, the better we know Him, the more fluently we can talk to Him.  Yet, how do we get to know Him, except by talking to Him, and listening to Him, and reading His word in pursuit of hearing from Him?

In any relationship, you have to start somewhere.

***It's going to seem as though I am digressing for a minute here.***

I lean towards Amillennialism.  I'd say that I'm about 85% Amillennial.  There are a few points of the position that, for me, don't seem to stack up.  However, for the most part I operate as an Amillennialist, and in practical terms, that means I believe this:

1)   We should expect to suffer.  I believe that the Bible teaches that Christians will be present for the times of tribulation at the end of history (not mysteriously "raptured" away).  This calls for preparation to persevere through times of difficulty and persecution (John 16:33).  We should expect to suffer, and if we don't end up suffering, we can be exceedingly grateful, but in any case, we should be prepared.  We must not panic in times of suffering, but hold firm in our faith in God's sovereign power and perfect plan, which He will bring to pass for His glory and our blessed benefit.

2)   God's people are defined by their faith in Christ.  I believe that true believers are The Church, which is also the same as True Israel: those who walk by faith in God.  There are many who call themselves Israelites who are not people of God by faith.  There are also many who claim church affiliation who are not people of God by faith.  The people of God are people who believe that He exists (Hebrews 11:1, 6), that His promises are true (Psalm 145:13), and that the culmination of His promises is found in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).  Whether you have a drop of Jewish blood in your genetics, or you were baptised as a baby, confirmed in a church at age 12, or have your name on a genealogy or a membership roll somewhere, these things are basically immaterial in terms of whether you are counted as one of God's people.  God's people are defined by their faith (see Romans, especially chapters 2-4 and 9-11, or try Galatians 3:29).

3)   The Holy Spirit is God's manifestation of Himself to us in this age.  I believe that the age in which we are now living is very likely (although not definitely) the Millennium.  By that, I mean that we live in a special situation unlike any other past situation in history: we have access to God, fellowship with God, at all times, through the Holy Spirit who is among us and actually dwells inside the bodies and minds of those who have placed their faith in God through Jesus Christ.  Christ reigns in glory, having overcome the power of evil through His death and resurrection (Ephesians 1:19-23).  We are somehow, mysteriously, spiritually seated with Jesus in the heavenlies now (Ephesians 2:6).  We reign with Him right now, in a hard-to-perceive spiritual sense, through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit, who anoints our hearts and guarantees our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, Ephesians 1:13-14), while giving us a foretaste of the glory to come (Romans 8:23).  This may be hard to understand, particularly because it isn't the way many churches have taught it for the past 175-200 years (which is sort of a long time, but not really, when you consider that Jesus lived 2000 years ago).  However, I believe that the age of the church is the promised age of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27, John 16:5-15, Joel 2:28-32, Ezekiel 36:25-27), and quite possibly the Millennium as well.  It seems to me, that the reign of Christ in the Millennium could be the reign of the Holy Spirit of Christ in the world, through the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), after His victory has been won, but before He has drawn the curtain to close history and bring an end to opportunities for people to receive His great salvation (2 Peter 3:9).

Now, all this talk of eschatology may seem esoteric and impractical when I am really supposedly talking about prayer.  But hang with me, because it isn't impractical at all, and it absolutely should not be esoteric.

It's about the Holy Spirit.

We are so ignorant about the Holy Spirit.  Of course, this plays right into the enemy's hands; it's exactly the way he wants us to be: ignorant of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our key to victory!  The Holy Spirit provides access and communion and fellowship with God.  The Holy Spirit is our source of power, wisdom and strength.  The Holy Spirit enables us to understand what the Bible says.  The Holy Spirit is God, as He makes Himself manifest to us in the age in which we live.  Of course the enemy wants us not to understand the truth about the Holy Spirit!

In my observation, it seems there are two ways that churches approach the idea of the Holy Spirit--

The first is a sensationalized approach.  Some groups seek all kinds of exciting and dramatic events where the Holy Spirit supposedly comes into a fellowship and makes people shake, fall down, holler out strange sounding articulations, jump up and down after miraculous healings, click, beep and faint.  Now, I am not going to say (as some folks do) that all supernatural activity has ceased in our time, and the Holy Spirit never does anything sensational.  I am convinced that the Holy Spirit heals people, even today, and I figure He can do anything else He cares to do, sensational or otherwise.  However, I believe God is most pleased with orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14:26-40).  I don't think God's purposes are generally best served by seeking drama and sensation rather than truth and love.  It is good to recognize the power of the Holy Spirit, but He should be appreciated for the truth He reveals about Christ (John 16:14-15), not for circus tricks.

This leads us to the second way that churches approach the Holy Spirit, which is to say: they don't.  They see the odd behavior of the people who are always trying to conjure up a healing, or speak in tongues, or be slain in the Spirit, and they say, "Nope.  We don't do that.  No Holy Spirit here.  We just stick with Jesus."

The travesty, then, is how they discount Jesus' own teaching before He died, that it was best for Him to leave, so that the Holy Spirit could come (John 16:7).  Jesus died to cleanse us by His blood so that the Holy Spirit could be loose and at large in the world, whereas before the Great Sacrifice, God's presence had to remain hidden in the deepest recesses of the temple.  Jesus died to atone for sin, so the temple veil could tear and the Holy Spirit could come out.  This was better because Jesus, clothed in the flesh of a human body, was limited by time and space, but the Holy Spirit has no such limits.  He is omnipresent.  He is with and in and around every believer, and He will never leave nor forsake any one of us.

The Holy Spirit is God with us, our Immanuel in our age.  He is unfathomably important!  He is our Comforter, our Advocate, our Guide.  He is the Spirit of Christ in us, the light that shows us the way, the bread that nourishes us, the power and the hope that sustain us.

Jesus promised that the Lord would give the Holy Spirit to those who ask for Him (Luke 11:13).  That is a specific promise from the mouth of God.  You can take that one to the bank.  If you pray and ask the Lord to give you the Holy Spirit, to fill you with His Holy Spirit, He will.  He flat out, straight up, absolutely will.  He may or may not give you a job, or a good grade, or a spouse, or a child, or a vacation, but He will give you the Holy Spirit if you ask Him to.

(Are you starting to see what this has to do with prayer?)

I wrote, not so long ago, about all Jesus' promises to give us whatever we ask in His name.  I pondered on these verses, these promises.

My meditations led me to a breakthrough in my prayer life.  This is it:  I can pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me, pour into me and help me and lead me.  When I am at my wits' end, I can get alone with God and simply pray Romans 15:13, and wait for His presence to envelop and comfort me.  And then, then when I am surrendered to Him, breathing His words, focused and waiting, then I can ask Him to lead me by His Spirit to pray for what it is that He wants to give me.  When I do this, I know that He will give me what He leads me to ask for, just as He has promised.

And pray in the Spirit 
on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  
With this in mind, be alert 
and always keep on praying for all the saints.
~Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

I am learning to pray in the Spirit, but only because He Himself is my Teacher.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Unoffendable?



Near the tail end of last year, a friend of mine moved away.  One of the last things she shared in Bible study was the idea of being unoffendable.

That's been a sticking point for me.  On the one hand, it is a very noble objective.  On the other hand, what can it possibly mean?

Is it feasible to think that a person could go through life without ever taking offense at anything, without ever being hurt, or even bothered?

Was Jesus really unoffendable?  That's a rhetorical question.  I'm not going to try to answer it.  I'm going to ask another question:

Is God unoffendable?

I think the answer must be no.  Sin is a grave offense to God, a serious offense.  In fact, it is a fatal offense.  Sin against God leads to death, and we would have no hope, except for the saving grace of Christ, through His blood shed on our behalf.

God loves mercy and justice (Micah 6:8).  The opposites of mercy and justice are cruelty and unfairness.  I think it is safe to say that cruelty and unfairness offend God.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus reiterates again and again that He is one with the Father.  Therefore, if God is offendable, so is Jesus.

John 11:35 keeps coming back to my mind.  Jesus wept.  Jesus wept.  He wept outside the tomb of Lazarus because the catastrophic ripple effects of sin had brought the devastating pain of death into the lives of His own dear friends.  Jesus is offended by sin, by pain, by death, by the destruction wreaked by the powers of evil that invaded His glorious creation.

Jesus was so offended by the powers of evil, that He took them on and triumphed over them through a surprising strategy--the willing surrender of His own perfect flesh and blood to gain forgiveness for the sins of all humanity.

We will be hurt.  Sin still lurks all around us, and people fall into it, both well-meaning people and people of evil intent.  All people fall into sin, and hurt each other.

Incidentally, this is one of the greatest miracles we have to look forward to in heaven: no more sin!  There will be no more offenses.  I will not offend you, and you will not offend me.  Ever.  No more sorrow, no more tears.  Praise the Lord!

In the meantime, we have to grapple with sin, even though Jesus conquered it.  He has left us here to complete His work of salvation, bringing news of hope and forgiveness to those who do not yet understand.  Since they don't know hope, forgiveness, or Jesus, they are captive to sin.  Even the redeemed, who theoretically know how to have freedom from sin, can rarely figure out how to adequately apply their benefits.  Offenses abound.

In what sense, then, can we be unoffendable?

1.  We can be safe people.  By this I mean that others should feel safe when they are with us.  We should be kind, training ourselves not to register shock--or horror--when someone confesses his struggles in our presence.  We can strive to minister kindness to those who are shackled in unhealthy lifestyles.  When sinners sin (as they will, as we all will), we must never respond with hatred and anger, but with compassion, praying for our offenders to find the truth, encouraging them to find hope, speaking words of comfort, life and love.  We should be safe, kind and encouraging.  We should never enable sin, but we should always demonstrate compassion for sinners.

2.  We can be gracious, forgiving people.  Giving grace always comes at a cost to the giver.  In an earlier post, I wrote, "To walk humbly is to walk in grace, and grace is a synonym for forgiveness."  So, we can be forgiving, like God is to us, through Christ.  In this sense, it isn't about being perfectly unoffendable.  Rather, it's about not holding onto an offense.  It's learning to say, "I choose not to cling to this offense, but to release it to the Lord and trust Him to make all things right."  It's reminding ourselves how much God has forgiven us, humbly receiving His forgiveness with thankful hearts, and graciously passing forgiveness along to the next offender.  We can be links in a chain of grace extended.

3.  We can lose ourselves in Christ.  This is very hard, but if we practice (and eventually learn) how to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and not on ourselves or the difficulties surrounding us, we will become much less selfish.  When we escape our own selfishness, we will be much less prone to taking offense.  Gross injustices may still offend us, but as we focus on Christ--His complete provision, His sovereign power, His unfailing love, His perfect plan--we can rest in the confidence that He is in control, and His will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Surrendering confidently to Christ, and finding all our needs met in Him--this is the best way to live an unoffendable life.

The fact is, all sin is an offense against God, but Jesus offered Himself up to conquer that which was offensive, so all creation could find freedom, in Him, from sin.  God's wrath against sin and death was poured out on Christ, and thus, the power of evil crumbled.  Evil still lurks, in this age of forbearing grace, but it will never again prevail in any real power, and it will be utterly abolished in the age to come.

I am free to love and worship God.  I am free to receive and give grace, forgiving as I have been forgiven.  I am free to be kind, compassionate and safe in my interactions with others, although I will certainly sometimes fall short--but when I do, I am also free to repent, receive forgiveness for myself, and continue growing in Christlikeness.

I am free to choose not to be offended.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Thankful for things I often take for granted



This morning I was rinsing some blueberries to put into my oatmeal, and it occurred to me: What a miracle that God has created so many beautiful, delicious things for us to eat!

Blueberries, walnuts, maple syrup, oats and milk.  That was my breakfast bowl.

Who would have imagined that God would create such a delightful variety of tasty things for us to feast upon?

Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries.  Watermelon!  Avocados and asparagus.  Pecans and pistachios.  Olives, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes and capers.  Sweet, tender young peas.  Mangos, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and parsnips.  Tomatoes, green beans, corn on the cob.  Apples and bananas!  Walnuts, cinnamon, honey and grapes.  Even coffee and tea!

Have you ever considered this?

Why should there be so many lovely kinds of food to nourish us?  Except that God created them for us?  Because He loves us and pours out grace on us.

This is why we should give thanks before we eat.  Because it is a miracle that God has provided all that He has and does.

This morning I was reminded of the importance of being thankful for each sweet moment of life, each glance out the window at leaves dappled with sunlight, each time my small furry dog climbs surreptitiously into my lap for a snuggle, each time my husband and I instinctively reach out to hold hands as we walk up the path in the park, surrounded by trees, fields and blue sky.  Each sweet moment.

I must be thankful for the now, for today, for this good hour when there is food in the refrigerator, the appliances work, the roof doesn't leak, jobs seem relatively secure, and there has been no new diagnosis of disease.

Thankful for a kiss, a berry, a sunrise and a beating heart.



Monday, May 22, 2017

Things we hear



Such a spring.

It began, it seems, with the tumult of our roof being replaced.  Now they are resurfacing the roads in our neighborhood.



Noise.  Deep, pulsing, grinding noises go on and on, shaking the tiny, trembling bones in the depths of my ears until the nausea rises to gag me in my throat.

Did I tell you about how seasick I got in the Florida Keys this past February, when we went on a glass-bottomed boat tour of a coral reef?  Did I tell you about how I threw up seven times, filling not one, but two airsick bags in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon?

Those were elective experiences.  In a way, the roofing job was also elective, but it didn't seem so.  The roadwork is certainly not elective, and I wish to goodness there were somewhere I could escape.  Alas, I don't think I could even drive out of my driveway, had I anywhere to go.

Life is so funny that way.  I don't mean the kind of funny that makes you laugh.  I mean the kind of funny that makes you stop and look sideways at something.

Life is made up of all these different experiences.  Happy times: new babies, weddings, simple days when you pack a ripe peach and eat it under a tree somewhere while the sun shines and the squirrels scamper hither and yon.  Actually, weddings are not always happy.  They can be stressful, depending on whose they are, and how much responsibility you have for them, and whether you know anybody, and who you are seated with, and how it all goes, whether it is a nice day or a stormy day, and whether most of the other people are happy.

Sometimes it is the simple days that are the best.  Not Christmas, but the day after Christmas, when the house is a little bit untidy, and nobody new is coming over, and you can start to dig into your gifts, reading the book, wearing the sweater, munching on the nuts.  There are times when you share food and laughter at a table with people you love dearly, and times when a small child falls trustingly asleep in your arms.  I love to hold a sleeping baby.

There are times when you feel sad, when you have lost something or someone very important to you.  It can be permanent loss, as by death, or temporary loss, or permanent loss that you keep hoping might only be temporary, but only time will tell.

You may be sick, miserable, in pain.  It could be flu, migraine or recovery after a surgery.  Sometimes there is a haze of pain medication that doesn't seem to work until you notice that it has worn off.  These points in life seem to drag interminably, like the noise outside my home, the overwhelming, vibrating, crunching, beeping noises of heavy equipment, on and on and on.  Perhaps this is what puts me in mind of the subject.  There is a siren now; I wonder if an accident has precipitated.

In the crunch of a discomfort, it is hard to focus on the positive.  We must have patience for one another in this.  We must remember our own discomfort when we are tempted to judge someone else in his.

Did I ever tell you about the times God spoke to me?

He often "speaks" to me in the sense that He puts His words in my mind and I recognize them as true and as having come from outside of me.  "Often" may be a bit of a stretch, but this does happen now and then.  It is always a thrill, and a feeling of warmth and electricity comes over me as I rub my arms to wipe down the goosebumps as I realize what has happened.

However, twice He spoke to me audibly.  It was over twenty-two years ago.

The first time it happened, I was in the living room in our little cape cod house in North Syracuse.  I was sitting on the sofa, which ran along the south wall of the room, in front of a tall, narrow window dressed in natural linen curtains trimmed with a ball fringe.  It was the sofa we still use, except this was before we had it reupholstered; it was scratchy and rather lumpy, olive tweed.  I don't remember what I was doing, or what time of year it was, or really anything, except that the sun was streaming in the window, and I was warm.  I was alone.  The children were asleep.  It was very quiet, uncharacteristically quiet, because the children were asleep.  I sat there on the sofa, with the wall and the bright window behind me, and I'm sure I was thinking, but I have no memory of what I was thinking, because right in the middle of a thought, I heard a voice behind me, clear and present and absolutely as audible as a voice could possibly be, which was particularly strange, because there was no space behind me, only the wall and the window, which was not open.

In moments like these, the order of events gets all mixed up, and I can't say in what sequence I perceived the particular details.  It is difficult to write about it.  I jumped in fear, startled and frightened to hear a voice, when I knew that I was all alone.  As I was jumping, and the fear coursed through me, I perceived things about the voice.  It was a man's voice, which was terrifying--not only an unexpected person, but a man, a large man, was present in the room with me.  Yet, the deep, kind, perfect richness of the voice simultaneously calmed me with a peace that washed over me, dissipating my fear as it caressed my hearing.  Even before I made sense of the words, I knew it was Him.

"Trust me," He said.

There I was, startled and soothed by one earth-shaking phrase, my attention completely riveted.  I knew who He was.  "It's You!  It's okay.  I'm safe," flashed through my consciousness.  My immediate second thought was, "Say it again!  Please speak to me again!" but even as I begged, the palpability of His presence faded, although the echo of His voice lingered, and I strained to grasp as much of it as I could, holding completely still, barely breathing.  "Again," I begged, my mind reaching, listening so hard, but knowing that it would not be.



The second time it happened, I was in our white Ford Taurus, driving near the intersection of Bear and Buckley Roads, still in North Syracuse.  This time it was dark.  I do not remember whether I had children in the car with me or not.  It is likely that I did.  They must have been asleep.  I don't know why I was out driving.

He spoke to me from the backseat of the car.  Again it startled me.  A young mother does not expect to hear a strange adult male voice from the backseat of her car.  However, this time I was not afraid, and I recognized the voice more quickly, having heard it before.  I immediately tried to slow down my brain and listen as hard as I could, remembering how quickly the beauty of the voice had dissipated before.

"Trust me," He said.

"Couldn't you please keep talking?" I prayed.  "Your voice is so beautiful.  I want to hear more.  I love you."  I drove home in silent euphoria.

Those are the two times I heard the Lord's voice speak to me audibly.  "Trust me," is what He said.  As far as I can remember, it did not come in direct response to anything I was happening to think about at the time.  In both instances, it seemed to be more of an interruption in whatever I'd been thinking about, a totally unexpected breakthrough from eternity.

I don't often speak of this (I didn't even tell Shawn about it until after years had passed).  For one thing, I don't want people to think I'm crazy.  For another thing, I believe that God primarily reveals Himself to us through His word, the Bible, through the story of Christ, and through the creation that surrounds us.  I don't put much emphasis on seeking signs and wonders.  Sure He can do them, but we must never demand that He prove Himself through them.  If He chooses to do so, it is only by grace, an undeserved and unexpected gift.

Still, it happened.  This is as true a story as I can hope to tell you, and for whatever reason, I've recently been feeling the impression that I need to record it for posterity.

"Don't let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me."
~Jesus (John 14:1, NLT)

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me."
~Jesus (John 10:27, NLT)


The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to Him in song.
~Psalm 28:7 (NIV)



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Limited energy

I'm not at the top of my game.

Mind you, I have a ton to be thankful for.  My son-in-law completed his Doctor of Physical Therapy this spring,



and my daughter-in-law completed her Doctor of Jurisprudence.



Shawn and I were able to attend both celebrations, and even work in a trip north through Minnesota and Wisconsin, to see many family members, in-between.  God sustained me miraculously, and I felt almost as though I didn't have lupus.

Until I got home.

Now my body is going down, and when this happens, the mind often goes with it, to depression, despair, worry, what-have-you.

Have you ever felt too tired to breathe?

Augh.  I want so badly to do something that matters, for my life to count for something, for God to be able someday to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."  But I can barely get myself a drink of water.

Tomorrow maybe I will feel better.

I think I may miss my goal of 6 blog posts this month.

Two scriptures God gave me today:

Isaiah 44:20-22

Acts 2:38-39

I am thankful for my home.
I am thankful for my bed.
I am thankful for the delight my flowers bring me when they bloom in the garden.
I am thankful for my husband who works and encourages me to rest.
I am thankful that I have seen every one of my children, in person, over the past month.
I am thankful for safe travel.
I am thankful for the audiobook we listened to on our last trip: Miracles by Eric Metaxas.
I am thankful for a sovereign, loving God who gave His life to redeem me for all eternity.
I am thankful that it doesn't depend on me, or my energy level, but on God and His perfect power.
I am thankful for hope, which comes from God, who never fails to accomplish His purposes.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Millennials, pride, and hope in the Lord


Today I saw another online rant about everything the church is doing wrong.  This time it was "millennials," accusing the church of failing them and driving them away.

Bah.

Yes, the church is flawed.  It's made up of humans.  Humans are flawed.  That's the story of the Bible.  Humans are flawed.  The world is flawed.  Life is flawed.  Hence: we need a Savior.

Guess what?  We all need a Savior.  Your mom needs a Savior, and your dad, your Sunday school teacher from 2nd grade, and your pastor, and the guy who strums the guitar.  If there's a lady who plays the organ, she needs a Savior too, and the school janitor, the gas station attendant, the brain surgeon and the investment strategist.  We all need Jesus.  Every last one of us.  We don't need Jesus to give us happiness, or to provide us purpose for living, or to help us attain a sense of personal significance, although some of those things might be byproducts of a healthy relationship with Him.  But the reason why we need Him is because without Him we are hopelessly lost in sin and destined for hell.  This whole world is on a crash course towards destruction.  Nothing is going to stop it.  Our only hope is to throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ, accepting the forgiveness He offers us through His blood sacrifice, His own flesh that He offered up for us on the cross to pay our sin debt.

When we do this, when we run to Him for mercy and cast ourselves at His feet in recognition of our desperate need for Him, He lifts us up out of the slime of our brokenness, into His arms, and gives us clean clothes (allegorically speaking) and clean hearts.  He fills us with His own Holy Spirit who lives in us and changes us, teaches us and bears fruit of righteousness through us, preparing us for an eternity of peace and joy in His presence.  This is Salvation.  This is what it's all about.  It's about where we stand with God (Romans 5:1-8).

It is not about whether a particular church served enough soup to the homeless.  Or whether they sang the particular songs you like instead of the particular songs that they like.  Or whether they listened to your ideas or preached to your personal "felt need."   It is good to be kind to the less fortunate.  It is nice to sing songs that bless your heart.  But that's not what it's all about.  It's about God.  It's not about your voice being heard.  It's about hearing His voice.  And nobody needs to cater to your felt need.  You need Jesus, and the sooner you figure it out, the sooner you can start to heal.

You see, God is real.  He's real.  And so are sin, destruction, and pain.  We see the sin, destruction and pain; we experience them, or observe others experiencing them, every day.  We know that the governments are messed up, people are messed up, the economic systems across the world are all messed up, education and commerce and medical care are all messed up.  The more we try to fix these things, the worse they get--wars, diseases, exploitation, violence.  This is so obvious, I want to hit myself in the face.  Someone pointed out the other day, "I consider it a miracle that I can actually go to the store and buy a bag of apples, when I see how messed up this world is, and then I think about all the steps that were required to get that bag of apples to a shelf in a store where I could buy them, and they weren't even spoiled."

It truly is a miracle, when you think about it, and it would do the lot of us a world of good if we would acknowledge and thank God for such miracles--recognizing the grace He pours out daily on this poor condemned earth--rather than assuming that the store automatically ought to be full of lovely apples, all the time, and they ought to be on sale, too.

We are so prideful.  We assume we deserve all the good things.  We should be healthy and well fed, and live in a beautiful home, and wear only the latest designer styles that came out last week.  These things should just be automatic, we think.  Everybody, whether they choose to work hard and be productive or not, ought to make enough money to afford rent, restaurants, internet and a very new iPhone.  These are inalienable rights, we assume, and healthcare should be free, too.

Ain't gonna happen.  I'm just saying.

It's an unsustainable fantasy.

Yet, when this unsustainable fantasy doesn't come to pass, we're all so prideful that we just look around and blame the other people.  It certainly isn't my fault, we believe (yes, we really believe that).  We blame ISIS, or the Democrats, or the Republicans, or the Church, or the Muslims, or the Christians, or the Jews, or the atheists, or our parents, or the schools or the UN or the unions or the airlines, or drug cartels or policemen or the NAACP or Wall Street.  Gracious, somebody is probably out there blaming the Amish.  And all the time we are blaming all the other people and all the other organizations, we remain staunchly convinced that if everyone else were as smart as we are, and did things the way we think they ought to be done, everything would be okay.

We are so stupid and prideful.  Of course this is not true at all.  The problem is not confined to any of those organizations.  The problem is that humanity is steeped in sin, with a core of pride, selfishness and greed.  The problem is the way every single one of us, the proverbial "me," sees only "my" own perspective and then demands the right to dictate what all the others should do, based--ultimately--on what makes "me" feel good (even if it is feeding soup to the homeless--it is good for me to do this, but wrong for me to force charity work on others).

The problem is sin, and the problem is each one of us.

The only way to escape the cycle is to stop blaming everything outside of ourselves, and to surrender humbly before the Lord.  We need to steep ourselves in scripture, through prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to teach us, reveal truth to us, expose the lies in our hearts and replace them with His Truth.

We need to do this daily, at least, perhaps multiple times per day.  We live in a temporal and fallen world, and thus we need spiritual replenishment on a constant and steady basis ("give us this day our daily bread").  We will never "arrive" and know everything we need to know.  We need to humbly go back to the feeding trough of the Word of God and be nourished, day after day.  Would you only eat once a day?  You could survive, but I warrant you'd be hungry.  Here's the truth: you need God's Word more than you need food.  So if you eat three times a day, you should consider taking time to meditate on God's Word three times a day--read something and sincerely ponder what God is saying to you; ask Him what He is saying to you as you read.  If you snack constantly all day long, try translating that into your hunger for scripture.  Think about it.  We need this.  If we think we don't, we are simply blinded by pride.

You say the church has failed you?  Bah.  "The church" has failed everyone.  Earthly institutions are made up of people, and people are fallible.  Maybe you got caught up in a particularly heretical church, full of particularly petty and unkind people.  If you did, get out of it and find a better group.   Sometimes you have to do that.  Other times, you simply have to stop being critical and do what you can to "be the change you want to see," but not really, because that would be prideful.  Just walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), and seek justice and love mercy, and live according to the truth He reveals to you, in the power by which His Spirit directs you, and let Him do whatever work He desires, through you.  To walk humbly is to walk in grace, and grace is a synonym for forgiveness.  To be humble is to accept that other people mess up, just the same as you do, and to forgive them and try to find ways to encourage them to do better, exactly as you wish someone would encourage you to do better, graciously, not lording it over anybody, but compassionately sharing our common failings and what we have learned from the Lord about how to overcome our sin in the power of His Spirit (1 John 1:8-10).

The real church, the true church, is the body of true believers.  In any earthly organization called a church, there are both believers and unbelievers, side-by-side.  This is true, regardless of denomination.  The true believers are the ones who love Jesus and respond to His call.  They resiliently keep on repenting when they fail Him (i.e. sin), and hold fast to Him, and doggedly trust Him to forgive them, cleanse them, and help them do better next time.  That is the best anybody can do here on this earth.  It's all you can hope for in another person, and it's what you should strive for yourself.  It's called the perseverance of the saints, in old-fashioned language, but it's true, and this is a modern way of explaining it.  All Christ-followers are somewhere in the process of learning the skill of this resiliency, which depends utterly on faith in the mercy of God and the sufficiency of Christ.  We need to seek one another out, wherever we may be found, and form communities where we encourage and challenge one another to learn what it means to walk in the Spirit (Romans 8:5-11, Galatians 5:16).

Stop blaming "the church" for the mass exodus of the "Millennial."  Millennials are just people, like anybody else, and they are sinners, blinded by selfishness, self-centeredness and pride, just like anybody else.  This isn't really about "Millennials."  It's about categories and labels, and demanding special treatment based on categories and labels.  I guess I just really recoil from the idea that, "The church needs to do X to appeal to people from category X."  I especially recoil when people say, "I am a representative of category X, and the church needs to do X to appeal to me."

I am a little bit angry.  I'll own that.  It probably means I'm struggling with some pride, and I'll own that, too (help me, Lord).  But sometimes--when there is a God in heaven who made us, against whom humanity rebelled, who demonstrated His love for us anyway by dying for us while we were still desperately sinful and destined for destruction--sometimes when people still insist on approaching Him with prideful demands, and an eye to critiquing His instructions, and complaints about "spending too much time in Bible study groups," then maybe there's just an impasse, and these people need to be turned loose to go whence they will go and learn their own lessons in their own ways.  God is still sovereign.

It could be that Millennials are disenchanted by money-grubbing mega pastors who want to build empires stamped with their own names, measured in square feet of designer worship space, censuses, astronomical budgets, and lollapalooza events with rock bands, fog machines, bounce houses and free espressos.  Maybe.  These certainly do exist, and they are arguably not a very cost-effective way to forward the ministry of Christ, especially when you figure all the good the same dollars could do in a third world country.  But nonetheless, real groups of authentic believers also exist.  If that's what you really want, believe Jesus when He says, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find," (Matthew 7:7).  Seriously.  God is real, the Bible is true, and authentic-yet-fallible believers do exist.

Seriously.  I'm so weary of people complaining that they won't follow Jesus because they don't like something about somebody in a church somewhere.  This is an excuse if I've ever heard an excuse, and a paltry one at that.  People will let you down.  People will abuse their authority, exploit intimacy, lie and offend.  Even the authentic ones stumble.  And there are people who are not authentic, who have no real relationship with God, who quote His words and claim His name anyway (". . . these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,"--Matthew 15:8).  You must not judge Jesus by them.

If you are using the failings of others to justify your walking away from the Truth, you need to own it and get on with your life.  If you don't like the idea of a God who has authority over you, or a Savior towards whom you should be grateful and reverent, then you don't like it.  That's on you, not "the church."  You don't want a god except if you can design and define him.  Therefore, you don't want God.  You want an idol out of your own imagination.

Idols have never gotten anyone very far.

There is hope for everyone, forgiveness for all, and it is never too late, as long as there is life.

Seek the Lord while He may be found;
call on Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for He will freely pardon.
~Isaiah 55:6-7 (NIV)