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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Whose Side Are You On?

Whose side are you on?

Our country has become so completely partisan that it seems nothing positive will ever get accomplished.  The recent discussions about the fiscal cliff and the difficulty that our elected congress has had in getting it resolved is just one in a long line of examples of our divisiveness and separation one from another.  Whether it is Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal, black vs. white, haves vs. have nots, or simply “tom(aye)to” vs. “tom(ah)to” we tend to find more and more ridiculous ways of compartmentalizing and dividing ourselves.  And so we need to know: Whose side are you on?  Are you with me… or are you against me…

It reminds me so much of one of the neatest stories in the Old Testament.  It is found in Joshua chapter 5.  Joshua had just taken over leadership from the recently deceased Moses and crossed the Jordan River.  The nation of Israel was on the brink of war.  Every king in Canaan was on guard, fearful of this new nation whose God, Yahweh, had dried up the Jordan river while it was at flood stage so they could cross over and take possession of their land.  Tensions were obviously high.

One morning as Joshua was walking along the bank of the Jordan, he sees a man.  The man is standing in Joshua’s path and he is carrying a drawn sword.  What would you think?  I would probably think the same thing Joshua did and probably ask the same question: “Are you for us; or for our enemies?”  When things are on the brink, it is an understandable question.  Which side are you on?  Friend or Foe?  Ally or Enemy?

But the man responded with a very surprising answer.  When asked “Are you for us; or for our enemies,” his answer was “No”.   It wasn’t a yes-no question.  It was an either-or question.  Joshua wanted the man to pick sides.  Joshua had to be reminded, however, that sometimes it is not about “my side” or “your side” but about “God’s side”.  The man went on to say that he was the commander of the Yahweh’s army and that he had come.  In other words, it’s not whether or not I am on your side, Joshua, it is whether or not you are on my side.  I am the commander, not you.  Joshua immediately fell at his feet and worshipped him.

Most scholars agree that this man was a pre-incarnate Jesus and that, like Moses, Joshua was speaking directly to God.  Joshua may have been given the mantle of leadership over God’s people, but it was God who was in charge, not Joshua.  Joshua may have viewed the situation as Us vs. Them; but in reality the situation has always been about those who stood with God and those who stood against God.

This story is a great reminder to all of us that our petty differences and our partisan thinking is contrary to God’s design – especially for those who claim to be believers in God and followers of Jesus.  We are part of one body of Christ (Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 12:12).  In Christ, there is neither black nor white, slave nor free, male or female, republican, democrat, or any other division (Gal 3:28).  In fact, we are all supposed to be of the same spirit, having the same mind and striving for the same end-game – the advancement of the kingdom of God (Phil 1:27).

Why do we insist on such divisions?  Why must we create teams that separate us?  The answer lies at the very heart of the human condition... our sinfulness.   We all were created for the purpose of relationship to belong to and relate to God.  However, although our sin has separated us from God, we still have that longing within us to belong to something greater than ourselves.  And so we create great causes to belong to.  We use such grand-sounding terms as patriotism and the greater good.  We find something to rally behind so that we can be a part of something important and can relate to others who are like-minded to us.  All the while, though, the most important thing we could be a part of - the thing we were created to be a part of - escapes our attention altogether.

At the end of the day, it is not about your side or my side.  At the end of the day, it only matters whether we are on God’s side.  It only matters whether or not we are one with His Spirit, working to accomplish His purposes, and striving to advance His kingdom.  In Christ, we can relate to and be family with those who might otherwise be completely opposite to us.  In Christ, we can come together in unison with people all over the world and work side-by-side to accomplish one purpose - the purpose of spreading the gospel.  All we have to do is remember whose side we are on.

So here’s the question we all need to answer for ourselves…

Whose side are you on?

Comments are welcome and encouraged.
Blog copyright © 2012 Joel J. Dison

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tis the Season to be... Discontent?

Oh my goodness, it’s finally here.  It’s Christmas time; my absolute favorite time of the year.  The family is all together, sipping cider or hot chocolate or coffee.   I and the missus are snuggled together in our warm sweaters and stockings.  Garland and tinsel are on the tree and chestnuts are roasting on the open fire while the stockings hang from the mantle. As I look out the window, I see the snow drifting down softly. Then, as if on cue, I see my neighbor walking by with his dog leash in one hand and holding his young daughter’s hand with the other.  I raise my cup of chocolate as he passes by in a gesture of greeting.  He responds with a slight tip of his hat while his daughter waves eagerly… (Insert screeching tire followed by a crashing car wreck sound effects)  

Right, whose reality is that other than Norman Rockwell or Clement Clark Moore? Have you been to WalMart or Target lately?   Have you seen the horrific look on people’s faces in the ungodly traffic?  Have you even seen your neighbor walk his dog lately?  And around here if snow is falling outside, the world is probably coming to an end.  Is there a more hectic – or stressful - time of the year than Christmas?  Plus it seems like this year everyone is hell-bent on killing each other...literally.  What on earth is the point of all this absolute insanity?

It wasn’t always like that, you know.  Normal Rockwell was inspired by something real that actually existed in our culture at one point.  There was a time when Christmas was about spending time with family and creating lifelong memories. There was a time when Christmas was first and foremost about the birth of Christ and only secondarily about all the other stuff. That just does not exist anymore.  Now Christmas is about the lights, the parties, and the shopping.
I can’t help but think that the guy who really had it all figured out and saw this madness coming was Charlie Brown.  A Charlie Brown Christmas has always been one of my favorite Christmas shows, but not necessarily because Charlie Brown was lamenting the commercialization of Christmas.  It's just a good, wholesome Christmas story.  As a child, though, Charlie Brown was the odd one out.  As a child, I always related more to snoopy and the rest of the gang, wanting Christmas to be bigger and better.  Well, now it is.  The irony is that even while Charlie Brown longed for a simpler Christmas, the Peanuts Christmas is still far closer to the Normal Rockwell vision than the Christmas I see today.  Hey, even in A Charley Brown Christmas they were still doing Christmas plays and going Christmas caroling.  If only…

Christmas today is more like Jingle All the Way than it is A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been Arnold Schwarzenegger (not that I am built like he is or anything – only in my Christmas dreams - but I have been the guy going all over town looking for THE gift).  We all have at some point.  I just wonder what good old Charlie Brown would say about Christmas in 2012.  Have you watched the commercials this year?  I cannot even put into words the pressure being put on us by the commercial machine to spend more and more of our money.  Half the commercials are preying on our greed and materialism.  The other half are preying on the guilt that comes with the obligation of gift giving – cheerfully and happily (read that manipulatively) encouraging us to be the better gifter. And all of them are preying on that unexplainable instinct to get the best possible deal.  For pity’s sake, Black Friday started on Thanksgiving evening this year!  Now that is just plain WRONG.  A few places even had Black Friday specials before Thanksgiving!  The worst part to me is the trend this year for the big chain stores to hijack our Christmas Carols and rewrite them as their own personal commercial jingle.  Have you heard these (shake head back in forth demonstrating shameful disdain).  

And then there is all of the going and doing.  I was so busy the first weekend in December that I literally had difficulty going to work on Monday morning because I was too exhausted and worn out.  There are parties, and band concerts, and church functions, and family gatherings, and work gatherings.  Plus, in our new found culture of altruistic thinking (because, after all, it is not about us), we all have to try and squeeze in some volunteer time at the non-profit flavor of the day.  It’s no wonder we are all so discontent.   I can’t wait for New Years, so I can get some rest and life can get back to normal!  Am I the only one that is exhausted already?  Like the gang in A Charlie Brown Christmas, we have lost sight of what Christmas is really about.

Here’s where I could be the legalistic, fundamental, self-righteous Christian.  Here’s where I could say “Jesus is the reason for the season.”  Or the latest mantra – It’s “Merry CHRISTmas, not Happy Holidays!”  Let’s all just put Christ back in Christmas, right?  The question is – who would care?  Who would listen?  I can’t brow beat you into my expectation for a Jesus-oriented Merry Christmas mood. At best it would make you feel guilty.  At worst, it would turn you off.  Of course, Jesus is the reason for the season, but that is not going to fix our discontentment or make our Christmas any less hectic.

I don’t want to make you feel guilty.  Instead, I think I would like to remind you of something a bit more basic. I would just like to take a moment and tell you a little bit about the JOY that is this thing we call Christmas.  I want to try and offer some JOY for your life – to encourage you to seek that JOY - and hope you find enough  of that JOY to help you through this insanity that we have created called the Holiday Season.

“Behold, I bring you good of great JOY that will be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

JOY to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.”

“When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great JOY.”

Lest we forget, Christmas is all about JOY.  Yes it is about the birth of Christ; and no, Jesus was not really born on December 25.  However, this is the day we have set aside to especially remember his advent and it is supposed to bring us JOY.  Why?  Aren’t we supposed to remember his advent every other day?  Absolutely.  But on the day Jesus was born, angels declared JOY TO THE WORLD.  The coming of Jesus was to bring us gladness.  The coming of Jesus was to bring us JOY.  Jesus himself said that his teachings were so that “my JOY may be in you, and that your JOY may be complete.”  I look around my house and I see at least 3 sets of JOY figurines.  Christmas is all about the JOY of the Lord.

Listen… nothing I can say can make you have JOY this Christmas.  In fact, if you do not know this Jesus and have not placed your faith in him, there is a good chance you cannot have JOY this Christmas.  Even for the rest of us, celebrating his birth will not bring JOY because the JOY is not in the birth itself, but in what he did after he was born.  It was his life and, yes, it was his death.  More importantly, it was his resurrection from the dead and what that means for us – none of which would have been possible without his birth, of course.  So we celebrate his birth with gladness and JOY - or at least that was the idea.

All I am asking is that you take a moment to STOP.  Somewhere in this busy, hectic, discontented season, let’s all just STOP - if for a moment.  Don’t get me wrong.  The Commercial Christmas is here to stay.  We are still going to be bombarded with a department-store redefinition of the holidays.  We are still going to have more to do than we can handle.  I get that.  I’m no different… I’m even trying to sell my book as a last-minute Christmas present (enter shameless plug:  All I am saying is that we take a step back, take a deep breath, and then take a moment of silence and peace to just think about the JOY of our salvation.  As it says in Habakkuk 3:18 (not your normal Christmas passage):

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take JOY in the God of my salvation.”

And another, Psalm 46:10 (also not your normal Christmas passage):

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  Stillness would be nice right about now...

Merry Christmas.

Comments are welcome.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tin Can Man

A couple of Saturday’s ago, Patty and I were headed to the church to take care of a few things before Sunday services.  As we were coming down Ruffner Road, we saw a very disheveled-looking, upper-middle-aged man pushing an old bike that looked like it was made in the 50s and which had a number of small garbage bags hanging from it in various places.  Admittedly, Patty and I both looked at him as we passed by, looked at each other, and said “pedophile”.   I know, I know.  Don’t judge by the exteriors.  However, we all do it from time to time – and you know you do too.

We went on to the church and took care of business and then locked up the church to head back home.  As we came outside, what did we see but that same man, sitting out on the edge of the brick flowerbed under the church sign.  Feeling somewhat ashamed of my previous snap judgment, I mentioned to Patty that I needed to go talk to him – to which she replied that she was thinking the same thing.  So with Patty waiting in the car, I strolled out to the street to talk to the stranger.

As I approached the guy, his bike fell over.  I immediately ran over and, to the man’s surprise, picked up his bike for him. “You didn’t have to do that,” he said as he sat back down on the edge of the flowerbed.  Good ice breaker.  I introduced myself and sat down beside him.

Wayne – that was his name – was a tin can collector (or more accurately in 2012 – aluminum can collector).  He was a former truck driver who, due to a back injury, could no longer maintain a commercial license to drive a truck.  He was a felon (I didn’t ask why), so he could not get a job anywhere.  He wasn’t homeless – thanks to a bit of financial help from family members – but his only income came from selling cans that he picked up on the side of the road.  He lived a good distance away and had a series of routes that he took every day, picking up cans that other people had thoughtlessly tossed out on the side of the road.   Based on his route rotation, he apparently came down Ruffner Road about twice a month.

Wayne and I talked a bit about a number of things, ranging from the economy to faith.  I shared the gospel with him and he claimed to be a Christian – even as he smoked his home made cigarettes.  At first I thought it was a doobie, but he assured me it was just a good ole’ fashion home-made cigarette. It turns out that with pipe tobacco and rolling paper you can make enough cigarettes to last about a month for only about $10.  Who knew?  Only God knows whether his faith was real, but he seemed genuine enough and he was extremely grateful that I was allowing him to rest in the church parking lot.

From the look of him, I don’t know how he managed physically to ride bikes and collect cans all day, every day.  He wasn’t exactly the picture of health.  He said that finding a good place to rest was more difficult than you might think.  Most churches and businesses, he said, refused to let him rest in their parking lots.  In fact, he said that a lot of people get upset with him just for picking up cans out of their yard.  They come outside, yell at him, and tell him to leave; some even throw things at him.  So let me get this straight… he picks the trash up out of your yard and you throw things at him for it?!?   I don’t get the audacity of some people… then again, my own first impression of Wayne was “pedophile” so who am I to judge their reactions.

As I was talking to Wayne, I was convicted about my own partiality towards him and had to remember that James specifically taught against such partiality.  In fact, in my book, Faith Beyond Belief – Understanding True Faith from the Book of James (, I spend an entire chapter talking about “Faith that is Impartial” (Chapter 4) – but clearly I still need much improvement in this area myself.  James teaches us how hypocritical and foolish it is to show partiality.  We show favoritism to the rich and powerful thinking they will help us while we ignore the poor and needy.  In reality, it is the rich and powerful who do us the most harm.  God alone is the judger of hearts. Instead we are to live by the Royal Law found in scripture – that is, to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I thought about how I would feel if I my only source of income was collecting tin cans.  I recall how as a kid I used to walk the neighborhood streets looking for returnable glass bottles so that I could turn them in for candy money.  Basically that is how Wayne was earning money for food.  Can you imagine living on candy money?  I thought about how I would feel if I was cursed at daily and had random objects thrown at me because I was picking up trash out of their front yards so that I could eat.  What a horrible life. 

As I was finishing up my conversation with Wayne, I pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to him.  “I didn’t ask for this” he said, looking longingly at the money. “I know,” I replied, “which is exactly why I want to give it to you.”   He took the money and commented how that $5 would feed him for two or three days – and to think $5 doesn’t even buy me lunch most days.  Different worlds, people, different worlds.

I have no idea what kind of person Wayne really is.  He might very well be a pedophile.  He did not mention why he was a felon and I didn’t ask.  However, every indication is that whatever he may have been in the past, he was now a hard-working man doing whatever it takes to get by in a world that is set against him in every way possible.  Admittedly his conditions may be partially due to his own mistakes – but who among us can say we have lived a mistake free life?  How can we say we love our neighbors if we turn our backs on them, judge them, ignore them, or even curse them?  Caution?  Sure, prudence dictates that regardless of who Wayne may really be, we have to be cautious around people we don’t know… but not partiality.  Partiality is a sin, making us judgers with evil motives (according to James).

Maybe you are a better person than I am.  Maybe you would not have come to a snap judgment if you saw him pushing his bike down your road.  Maybe you would welcome him with open arms into your church.  I certainly hope that is the case, and at the end of the day I did invite Wayne to church and assure him that he would be welcome.  However, I am thinking that Wayne is the kind of guy that would cause you to cross over to the other side of the street when he approached.  I am thinking that Wayne is the kind of guy that would cause you to look at the ground when you passed so that you didn’t have to look him in the eye.  I am thinking most of us would be guilty of partiality.  I was.

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” James 2:1 (ESV)

Comments are welcome.
Blog copyright (c) 2012 Joel J. Dison

Friday, December 7, 2012

Does Progress Trump Faith?

On December 5, 2012, there was a symposium in New York City where the issue of God and science was debated… again.  The theme of this debate was whether or not progress trumps faith.  I find that ironic.  It seems like over and over again we see this same battle brewing between those who say there is NO god, and those who KNOW God.  Those who say there is NO god indicate that science has eliminated the need for religion altogether.  In this particular debate, it was stated that “we can do it without God.”  Despite the fact that this statement itself is both an admission to the existence of God and a declaration of independence from that God, the statement itself demonstrates just how feeble mankind is in his quest for being like God himself.  We don’t need you, God.  We can do it ourselves.   The statements sound more like a three year old talking to his mom than it does an educated, philosophically minded scientist.  “I’m a big boy now.”

One thing I did like about this particular debate was that it did seem to move beyond the errors that religion has made in the past about science and focused instead on the concept of religion and the existence of God.  I’m no scientist, but I am not completely uneducated in the sciences either.  As a believer in God, I am fully convinced that God and science are not incompatible.  As one of the participants in this debate pointed out, the questions that science is trying to answer are not the same as the questions that religion is trying to answer.  I would take that a step further and say that even when we know all there is to know in this lifetime, we still will never be able to bring these things together.  However, the fundamental message of Christianity and the true message presented in God’s Word are in no way incompatible with anything that science has discovered since the beginning of time.  It is when the church makes declarations about science that are not supported by scripture that we get in trouble.  That has been the problem throughout history.   Ultimately, science and the Bible will be proven compatible.  I believe that.  Call it faith.

Every time these debates come around, though, I am always astounded at the fact that the naysayers in the world just don’t get the hypocrisy of their position.  Consider this statement: “…I want to emphasize that 500 years of science have demonstrated that God, that vague notion, is not likely.”   Beyond the obvious arrogance of the statement is its inherent hypocrisy.   The scientist who made this statement has admitted that he cannot prove or disprove the existence of God.  Rather, his interpretation of the science indicates that it is not likely that God exists.  Ironically, another scientist can look at the same data and draw the exact opposite conclusion – and many of them do - “Three out of five scientists do not believe in God, but two out of five do.”  The whole point is that the very statement that God does not exist is itself a declaration of faith.  No one can emphatically say “There is no God” unless he is either (a) a fool or (b) holds all the knowledge in the universe (which, ironically would make him God).  Since we do not hold all the knowledge in the universe, that just leaves us as fools.  The more adamant the atheist, the greater the fool. These scientists say the empirical evidence does not prove the existence of God, but they fail to acknowledge the truth that it does not disprove him either.  Darwin’s theories may have caused some scientists to doubt the existence of God, but since then “science has made a whole bunch of discoveries, but they point in the opposite direction.”  In other words, the more science we discover, the more evidence we find for the existence of God. Therefore, the intellectually honest scientist can only say “Based on the evidence I have, I do not believe there is a God” – a statement of faith.

Worse than that, those who deny the existence of God simply don’t understand the very nature of our faith in God and its purpose.  According to Hebrews 11:1, faith is the “assurance” of things hoped for and the “conviction” of things not seen.   I hope in the salvation of Jesus Christ and the resurrection to eternal life.  I am so “assured” of this hope that I act on those assurances.  It changes my life.  I live this life based on my hope in the existence of the next life.  Can I prove it will happen? Well I can come up with all kinds of rational, philosophical arguments for it, but at the end of the day it is still “not seen” and so I must have “conviction” in my mind that even though it remains unseen, it is nevertheless true. Ultimately all faith requires us to believe in something that cannot be proved. There is no such thing as "blind faith."

Ironically, the anti-God contingent lives by faith as well, and they do not even realize it.  They have a hope also, but it is such a meaningless hope.  Their hope is that their interpretation and understanding of the empirical facts that they have observed is correct.  They have no hope for the future, just hope for this life.  They are living for this life alone and they are hoping that there will be no accountability for their actions in the afterlife, so they posit that no such afterlife exists.  As is our hope, their hope remains “not seen,” but yet they hold fast to their convictions.  So “assured” are they in their hope and so “convicted” are they in what they cannot see that they long to proselytize the rest of us to their way of thinking – to their faith.  As one of the scientists in this debate said when he pointed out that as a Christian, the opposition had already rejected all gods but one, “What I am asking you to do is go one god further with us.”  Join us. Believe as we believe.  Live as we live.  Become one of us. Sometimes atheists are better proselytizers than we are.  They may not want to admit it, but they live by faith, too.

Is this really progress?  Are we to replace one faith with another faith?  When nothing can be absolutely proven, then only faith remains.  That is the difference between science and religion.  The purpose of science is to set out to find and discover that which can be discovered.  The purpose of religion is to put meaning on those discoveries.  Even if the faith of some determine, like it was stated in the debate, that perhaps there is no purpose at all.  What a pitiful meaning their religion has given them!

We all choose our faiths for a reason.  Some choose their faith because it is the only thing they know.  Others choose their faith because they need to justify their life choices.  Still others choose their faith because they have come to the conclusion that their specific faith holds the key to the meaning of life.  Of all the religions in the world, including atheism, I only know of one religion in which God himself chose to come to earth as a man, suffered and died to pay the penalty of the wickedness that I have done in life, and rose from the grave to defeat death.  Science cannot grant eternal life, only study it (although admittedly they are trying in good religious fashion).  Of all other religions, Jesus is the only one to actually defeat death; and yes, there is enough evidence for me to choose to believe that is true. Jesus is the only one who claimed to be God and performed miraculous acts to prove his case.  Jesus said he was the ONLY way to have eternal life.  If he is telling the truth, then there is ONLY one way to God; only one true religion; only one means of salvation; and only one path to eternal life.  Exclusivity is not in vogue these days, but when someone makes these assertions, you must assume that they are either (a) a lunatic or (b) telling the truth.  Vogue or not, I believe he was telling the truth.  That is the whole point of faith.

Note: the information about the debate in New York City used in this blog was obtained from an article at

Blog copyright (c) 2012 Joel J Dison

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Making the Grade

I’ve been thinking a lot about discipleship lately.  More importantly, I’ve been thinking about being a disciple.  In general, like most Americans who call themselves Christian, I like to think of myself as a pretty good disciple.  It’s not very often, however, that we actually grade ourselves on whether or not we really are good disciples.

Recently, I was having a one-on-one discipleship session with a young man at church and the idea came up to give ourselves a grade on how good or bad a disciple we are. Of course this requires knowing the discipleship qualities against which we are to be graded.  So we dug into the word to find out what Jesus said about those who call themselves disciples.  How might you grade yourself against these discipleship qualities?

Cross Bearing (Matthew 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14:27).  Jesus says that anyone who wants to follow Christ must take up their cross.  It’s kind of hard to grade oneself against bearing your cross unless you know what your cross is.  Jesus’ cross came as a result of his contemporaries rejecting him and his message of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus also said on numerous occasions that the world would hate us because of him.  I don’t like that.  I don’t want the world to hate me. And honestly, I can't say that my boldness for Christ (or lack thereof) has caused enough ripples that I would say I have been persecuted for Christ.  How about you?  Are you being persecuted for your faith?

Hate Your Father and Mother (Luke 14:26). Yikes!  Jesus said that we can not be his disciples unless we hate our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and children.  I definitely do not hate my dad, or my mom.  I don’t have any brothers, but I don’t hate my sisters, and I definitely do not hate my kids.  Fail.  Of course when Jesus said “hate” it was more or less a figure of speech implying that our love and devotion for Jesus must be so far above all other loves in our lives that is seems like hate by comparison.  I’m not sure that clarification helps me in any way.  I’ve really been convicted by this one over the last few months.  Sure, I can say that I love Jesus, but that is just words.  Do I really love Jesus?  Do I love him so much that my considerable love for my family seems like hatred in comparison?  I just don’t know.  How about you?

Renounce all you have (Luke 14:33).  Come on now, are you kidding me? Jesus actually said we have to renounce everything we own in order to be a disciple. Admittedly, there was a time when I “worshipped” my truck, my big house, my pool, etc.  Fortunately, I got over that.  My truck got old and I no longer have the big house or the pool.  However, I still have a very nice house and lots of “stuff” to go with it.  How willing am I to give any or all of it up?   Certainly, Jesus will not ask everyone to actually give up all that they own, but he certainly will ask some of us to do it.  Am I willing to be one of those he does ask to give it all up?  I think I would… and you?

I’m not doing so well thus far…

Continue in God’s Word (John 8:31).  This is one we can be more objective about.  Jesus said that his true disciples would continue in his word.  I can get a better grade on this one.  I love God’s word and I love to spend time in God’s word.    I imagine I would get an A or at worse a B+ on this one.  God’s word is living and active and has the power to transform our lives.  Even if you didn’t do so well on the first couple of attributes, and even if you haven’t done so well on this one in the past, then this is one that we can all do better on.  Just do it.  Read the word. More importantly, doing better on this one makes us better at the others.

Love one another (John 13:35).  Now we are getting somewhere.  Love one another.  We can do that, right?  Love, love, love.  It’s all about the love.  But like our love for Jesus that’s just words unless we can back it up somehow.  Saying we love one another is one thing, but loving one another the way Jesus said to love one another is something totally different.  Jesus said that if we loved one another, we would serve one another.  Jesus said that the greatest love we could have for one another is to lay down our lives for one another.  Maybe we can all give ourselves a good grade on this one and pat ourselves on the back because more than likely not many of us have had to actually lay down our lives for another.   I just wonder how will we respond when that particular opportunity arises?  When my nephew’s wife decided to give one of her kidneys to a neighbor, there were more than a few people – many of them God-loving Christians who would grade themselves as an “A” on the whole love one another thing – who couldn’t understand why she did it.  I can.  She understood this quality.  Her decision reflected “love one another” in action – the way that Jesus really meant it. 

Bearing fruit (John 15:8).  Jesus said a true believer bears fruit, but what fruit?  There is the Fruit of the Spirit for certain. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faith, and self-control.  How would we grade ourselves on each of these individually and collectively?  Truthfully, there was a time – even when I claimed to be a Christian – when I wasn’t very good at any of these.  I have gotten better.  More recently, I would have been content that I was doing better at some of these but less better at others.  However, as a disciple, we are to bear all of the Fruit of the Spirit, not just bits and pieces of it.  How could I say that I was a good disciple but was not bearing all of this fruit?  We all need to do better in this.  Additionally, bearing fruit is more than just the Fruit of the Spirit.  Jesus’ very last command to us was to go and make disciples of all peoples.  We are to bear fruit by making more disciples.  Are you bearing fruit?  Am I?

So many qualities… it seems so hard.  Well, I guess being a disciple wouldn’t require discipline if it was easy.  And unlike grade school, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a life-long process.  We never stop learning, studying, or growing.  Besides, it is not by our own strength that we do these things, but through the power and strength of the Holy Spirit living in us. 

So how did you do?  What is your grade?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

21 Days is NOT ENOUGH!

I finished my 21 days of thanksgiving today, but I am not finished with expressing my thanks.  It was a great exercise, but honestly 21 days is not enough to show how much God has blessed me.  

More importantly, I have a confession to make. In sharing my 21 daily statements of thanks (and honestly it was less than 21 days because I got a late start), I wanted to be sure that what I shared was profound and meaningful.  Quite frankly, I have to admit a bit of arrogance and pride in that regard.  What can I say that everyone will say – “Oh that was great”? There were many things that I wanted to say I was thankful for, but I didn’t want to sound petty or silly or ridiculous.  I wanted to be all spiritual about the whole thing.  For that I beg your forgiveness… and God’s, because somehow I think I stole from Him.

How can that really be thankful when, deep down, it was all about what others would think about what I said?  Rather than being about God’s blessings; rather than being a praise to God; it was about me.  But that is always the case with us isn’t it?  Even when we are trying to do the best we can to honor God, somehow it is always about us.

I need to fix this.  First of all, I need to always remember to humble myself before my God so that I am not prideful.  But in addition, I need to give praise to my Heaven Father for all that he has done for me, with no expectation of accolade, or praise, in return.  So here is what I would like to do.  I want to mention some things that I am thankful for.  Some are profound. Some are petty.  Some are selfish. Some are just ridiculous.  I don’t want anyone to “like” this.  I don’t want anyone to tell me how much they liked what I said here.  I don’t want any accolades. In fact, the best way you can respond to this blog is simply to reply or comment about all the silly, ridiculous, selfish things that you are thankful for as well.  Let’s all give God the glory for what he has done in our lives.  Thanksgiving should be about him. Not us.

In no particular order…
  • I am thankful for this computer I am writing on.
  • I am thankful that I have lost 55 pounds.
  • I am thankful that my wife loves me enough to spoil me.
  • I am thankful for my job – even when I hate it.
  • I am thankful for my Santa Clause collection.
  • I am thankful for that stupid, ragged out, car I drive to work (it beats walking).
  • I am thankful for Milo’s hamburgers – and fries.
  • I am thankful for the colors of fall.
  • I am thankful for my flat screen TV.
  • I am thankful for my Ipad.
  • I am thankful for Sasha, my dog.
  • I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about what I will eat today.
  • I am thankful that my friend had breast reconstruction surgery yesterday and everything went well.
  • I am thankful for a great church to serve in and can’t wait to see what God will do there.
  • I am thankful for my health and the health of my family.
  • I am thankful that even though I have no idea how it gets done, my kids college tuition always gets paid.
  • I am thankful for my kids girlfriends.
  • I am thankful for Alabama football (let’s not worship Nick, people – but we can be thankful for him).
  • I am thankful for this cat that I absolutely hate.
  • I am thankful for a Christian boss who understands the importance of my bi-vocational ministries.
  • I am thankful for Splenda, which allows me to have “sweet tea” without the calories (if you are not from the deep south, you just cannot possibly understand).
  • I am thankful for the technology of electricity (working with Designs for Hope has reminded me of that).
  • I am thankful that my wife loves the Lord.
  • I am thankful for Cross Point Publishing.
  • I am thankful that Jesus Christ loved me enough to humble himself and come to this earth in the form of a servant and be obedient to death.
  • I am thankful that I was raised in Christian home.
  • I am thankful that I came to a point in my life that I understood the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I am thankful that despite my pride, arrogance, stubbornness, and rebellion, I somehow managed to surrender my life and accept the free gift of salvation.
  • I am thankful that God has never given up on me – and never will.

I could go on ad infinitum

Praise be to our God and Father who gives to us so willingly.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An Assault on True Faith

I am really having trouble writing this particular blog, because I am feeling the full force of evil assaulting my work and ministry – or rather the work and ministry of Jesus Christ which he has graciously given to me. And when I say "trouble" I mean that I am upset.  Hopefully, it is a righteous indignation.  At the same time, I am wondering what it means to have your ministry so attacked, but I am hopeful it means that God is at work and will bless my feeble but willing efforts to serve him and advance the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Allow me to explain.

Most of you are aware that I have a new book being released this week on November 20, 2012.  Actually, it is available on Amazon a few days early even as I write this… and actually, it is not really a new book.  I first self-published the book in e-book format on Nook and Kindle back in April, 2012, and had quite a few people purchase the book in that format.  At that time, I went through a fairly rigorous and thought-provoking process of trying to determine what my book should be called.   When I settled on “Faith Beyond Belief,” I did my research to see if there were other books out there by the same name to make sure my book would not get lost in the noise.  In April of this year, there was only one other book by that title – a book published in 2002 about a Gulf War pilot who was shot down and imprisoned by Saddam Hussein.   The only other “book noise” were a few books with “Beyond Belief” in the title, but all seemed well with the full title I had chosen – Faith Beyond Belief: Understanding True Faith from the Book of James.

That was in April.  Since then, my book has been picked up and is being published in paperback form – officially on November 20, but in actuality it is available right now.  Somewhat accidentally, I found out today that another book has just been published this past month (October 2012) with the name “Faith Beyond Belief,” so I decided to go to and check it out.  To my surprise, I found that since April of this year, not one, but TWO books have been released with that same name.  To make matters worse, if you go to and do a search on “Faith Beyond Belief,” my book is the 11th book down the list.  In just a few short months, with the release of my book in paperback form imminent, my book has gone from standing out in the crowd to 11th in a long list of similarly titled books.

Is this a coincidence or is it something else? Most of the books that show up are not titled “Faith Beyond Belief,” and they were mostly out there in April, but they have similar enough names to muddy up the water such that with the addition of the two new books by the same name, mine may be getting lost in the crowd.

What makes me believe this is not a coincidence, however, is the nature of the two books that have the same name as mine.  I will not go so far as to call out their authors or make any pronouncements concerning them individually because I do not know either of them. If you really want, you can go search them out. However, I have read enough about both of them from what is available at to know that contents contained inside the covers of these two books are a direct spiritual attack on the message inside the covers of my book.

My book is about faith in a Jesus Christ who was the one and only Son of God.  Faith in a Jesus Christ who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on a cross for crimes he did not commit, and was raised from the dead on the 3rd day so that my sins may be forgiven.  My book is about REAL faith.  It is about faith that is alive and active and working in the life of the believer, working to make that believer more like Jesus Christ.  It is about faith that begins with repentance and ends with obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ.  It is about a faith that goes beyond “belief” to action and obedience.

One of the two books that has the same name as mine is about abandoning the faith of your church and moving to a higher level of spirituality into being spiritual but not religious.  It is about moving beyond “belief” into mysticism and is openly pluralistic in its message.  That means while the author does not condemn Christianity, she condemns Christianity’s claim of exclusivity and encourages Christians to move beyond their exclusive doctrines.  Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Either Jesus meant that… or he was a liar – or worse – delusional.

The other book (and to be honest, it is called “Faith Beyond Mere Belief” rather than just “Faith Beyond Belief”) is far more subtle and therefore – in my opinion – far more dangerous.  It likewise does not condemn Christianity itself, but rather it considers Christianity to be “parochial” and in need of an overhaul to be relevant for today’s post-modern world.  The book openly denies the virgin birth and the Trinity as being secondary, mystical additions to the true message of the gospel that were added for the primitive minds of the past.  Oh, and the true message of the gospel that the book puts forth?  That is the most dangerous part.  The author says the true and primary message of the gospel is the Greatest Commandment – love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…  wait, that doesn’t sound bad.  Exactly. That’s what makes it so dangerous.

The true message of the gospel is not the Greatest Commandment of Jesus Christ.  The true message of the gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15:

15 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (ESV)

The Greatest Commandment of Jesus Christ is about how we live our lives, but it is not the message of the gospel.  The word, gospel, means “good news.” A command on how to live your life is not good news.  Jesus did not give us that command as a message of hope, he gave us that command as instruction on how to live our lives. What makes the gospel good news is its message of hope for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Once you have that, then you can start living your life in accordance to the Great Commandment. This man’s book makes no mention of this gospel of hope.  People who follow this man’s gospel will find themselves amongst those in Matthew 7 who cry “Lord, Lord” (I will let you go look up their fate).  The point is: what good is it to love God and love others if we do not repent of our sinfulness, place our faith in Jesus Christ, and submit ourselves in obedience to the creator of the universe?  None.

“Faith Beyond Belief” is not about discovering a faith that goes beyond believing in the traditional, religious views of God.  “Faith Beyond Belief” is not about redefining what we believe such that we have a gospel that is relevant for a post-modern world.  By contrast, I would contend the true gospel is perfectly relevant for our post-modern world.  “Faith Beyond Belief” is about ensuring that our faith is more than just an empty belief in a God, but is a saving faith that results in surrender, submission, and service to God - a God who loves us enough to make a way of salvation, but is just and righteous enough to punish those who reject that offer of salvation.
Is it a coincidence that these two books that have the same name as mine, but have messages that are meant to confuse the message of God’s Holy Word, are coming out at exactly the same time as my book?  If it is a coincidence, it is a really, really, really big coincidence.

People listen very carefully.  Our adversary the devil is crafty and he wants nothing more than for you to be dragged away and enticed by half-truths and lies.  He has been at this game much longer than we have.  Without Jesus as my conqueror, I couldn’t possibly stand up to his ways, but greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world.

My purpose in this post is not to get you to buy my book (although it would be awesome if you all did).  It is certainly not to get you to go buy these other books.  My purpose in this post is to point out to you that there is an all out assault on our faith, and sometimes – if we are not careful and watching out for it – the assault comes from the inside… hitting us in our blind spot.  We are not to be moving beyond our faith to a whole new, different kind of faith… That would be a faith that leads us over the precipice into an eternity in hell and punishment.  Rather, we are to be moving beyond mere intellectual assent to TRUE FAITH.  Know what it means to have Faith Beyond Belief.

Your comments are encouraged and welcome.
Blog copyright © 2012 Joel J. Dison

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Build a Throne of Praise

OK, everybody’s doing it.  If you are not doing it, get with the program – that is… 21 Days of Thanks.  You know, where you post something you are thankful for every day for 21 days between November 1 and Thanksgiving?  I’m doing it on Twitter/Facebook.  Others may be doing it in blogs or wherever, but if you are not doing it – shame on you for not following along with the crowd.

Seriously, though, we really should take this whole Thanksgiving thing more seriously, and I was reminded of that this morning listening to a podcast of Louie Giglio of Passion City Church in Atlanta. Not to break my arm patting myself on the back or anything, but I understand the importance of giving thanks in the life of a Christian and I try to make it a point for thanks to be a regular part of my Christian routine.  The problem is this: if you interpret “routine” to mean “ritual” then you would probably not be too far off.  Allow me to explain.

I understand that praise and thanksgiving are important in prayer.  I have studied and taught about prayer from the Model Prayer (or the Lord’s Prayer if you prefer), so I understand that “hallowed be thy name” is a phrase of worship and reverence.  So… a number of years ago I made a point to take extra care and effort to begin (almost) every prayer with some form of statement of thanks or reverence or worship.  It has become second nature in my prayer life.  Second nature, however, can be a mask for ritual.  Remember that childhood prayer we used to pray?

God is Great, God is Good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed,
Thank You, Lord for Daily Bread
As I child I can remember saying that at every meal.  It became a ritual even before I understood what it meant.  So much so that I can remember at one point quietly asking myself why the lettuce should be thanking God for our food! …Think about it… you’ll get it.  Sometimes my adult prayers are no less ritual than my childhood prayers – especially when I am ritualistically giving thanks at meal times.  I know you will think this makes me a heathen, but it can be such a problem for me that sometimes I intentionally do not say grace at dinner, just to remind myself that giving thanks at dinner is not supposed to be ritual.  There, I admit it.

I also understand the importance of ongoing thanksgiving in the normal course of the Christian life.  I have studied and taught through a number of Paul’s epistles and he speaks of giving thanks more than any other epistle writer.  Actually, in the ESV version of the New Testament, Paul mentions “thanks” or “thanksgiving” 49 times in his epistles compared to ZERO (0) – yes – ZERO – times by the other epistle writers.  Don’t believe it?  Go look it up.  As such, studying Paul’s epistles have taught me how incredibly important it is to give thanks.  Despite all that Paul went through, he was thankful for everything and everybody that the Lord brought into his life.  Because of statements that Paul makes like “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2), which he makes in almost all of his epistles (except for Galatians, but that is a special case… bad bad bad)… anyway, because of such statements, I too try to remember and give thanks in my prayers.  But after a while, I start thinking “did I remember to give thanks for _______” and so I have to ask myself the question:  Am I really thankful, or am I just going through the motions… ritual.

I was actually having this thought this morning during my prayer time.  This whole “21 Days of Thanks” thing has got me thinking about whether I really am – or am not – a thankful person.  Truthfully, over the last week or so, even in the midst of posting my daily thanks, I have felt unthankful and, honestly, a bit distanced from God.  Yes, that is a confession, but you know that you have been there too, right?  I regularly pray for my own relationship with God because I never want to drift away from him.  However, we all do it from time to time and lately, I have felt distant.  I hate that feeling.

Enter Louie’s podcast.  I have a number of preachers that I listen to on my morning and (usually) afternoon commutes (OK, I must confess that sometimes – especially during football season - I listen to Finebaum in the afternoon on the radio – if you don’t know, don’t worry about it).  But most of the time, I am listening to various preachers. It is my way of redeeming my commute and warding off road rage. In this particular podcast, Louie was discussing anxiety and specifically his past struggles with anxiety; but a significant part of his discussion centered around Psalm 22 where the psalmist said in verse 3 that “You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (ESV).  Of course the old KJV of this verse says “thou inhabitest the praises of Israel.”  I don’t know much about the ancient English word “inhabitest” but I think in modern English we would say “inhabits” instead.   Personally, I like the ESV version better because “enthroned on” has a much clearer meaning to me than does “inhabits.”   To say that God is enthroned on my praises means to me that he has built his royal throne on the foundation of those praises.  In other words, where our praises are is where God sets his royal throne. As Louie Giglio put it in his message, if we want to feel the presence of God in our lives, then we need to build a throne of praise.

For this to take place, those praises – thanksgiving, worship, and reverence, if you will – must be more than just routine and ritual.  They must be real and from the heart.  To paraphrase the song by Matt Redman (and others), I need a heart of worship, not a routine of worship-like activities. To be sure, there are times when I have a true heart of worship, but there are far more times when I don’t have a heart of worship at all.  If God is enthroned on my praise, is it any wonder then that most of the time I do not feel the presence of God in my life? 

  • I don’t want my thanksgiving to be like a child’s prayer.
  • I don’t want my praise to be nothing more than a ritual.
  • I don’t want a routine that is no more than a checklist of things to remember to be thankful for.   
  • I don’t want to be a hypocrite when it comes to my worship.  

I realize that as a born-again, baptized by the Holy Spirit, follower of Jesus that I am indwelt at all times by the Holy Spirit. I also realize that as a result I should feel the presence of God in my life at all times – but I don’t – and you don’t either, do you? What I really want is the fully enthroned, majestic, glorious presence of Almighty God in my life all the time. 

  • When I am sitting in that hostile meeting, I want the majesty of Jesus that Isaiah saw to be with me.
  • When I am doing the bills and there appear to be more expenses than income, I want the full-on comfort of the Father to be there telling me “trust in me, not in the dollar”. 
  • When I see no way in which I could possibly minister with any level of success given the circumstances and available resources, I want the presence of Holy Spirit reminding me that success depends upon the ability of the one who fed the 5000, not my ability. 

To have this constant presence of God requires a throne of praise.   Paul had this pegged.  His letters were filled with specific and real thanksgiving and praise… and his doxologies reflected that his worship was truly from the heart. David had this pegged, which is why we can attribute so many psalms to him.  His praise and thanksgiving came from the heart.  Job had this pegged.  Though he lost everything he owned, he could look at his wife and say “Blessed be the name of the LORD” – and mean it!

I want that!  At a minimum, I think I need to incorporate some praise and worship into my commute as well as bible teaching.  But in general, I want more praise in my life so as to build the foundation for the throne of God in my life.  God is enthroned on the praises of his people!  So I (we) need to praise him.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph 3:20-21 ESV)

Comments welcome and encouraged…

The Louie Giglio message referenced in this blog can be viewed from the video link below:

This blog is Copyright (c) 2012 Joel J Dison.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Faith and Voting

In the days leading up to one of the most historic presidential elections, I found myself hating to see anything come across either the news, commercials, even Facebook and Twitter because everything was so politically charged. Seeing people childishly “unfriend” people because of their political beliefs would have made me laugh if it was not so sad. Even on the day of the election and the morning after, I cannot help but be completely amazed at the Facebook and Twitter chatter.  Both sides of the political debate spewing out vile and judgmental comments about what did or what should have or what might happen as a result.  Some of this can be expected.  I never would expect a people who no longer live by the moral code of Scripture to behave in accordance with that moral code.  But I am not talking about that people.  I am talking about supposed people of God who are speaking just as many vile and judgmental things as those who claim no association with God.  Christians who rant and rave about how they cannot believe another Christian would be so ignorant and backwards as to vote for a Republican.  Christians who rant and rave about how they cannot believe another Christian would ignore their Christian duty and vote for a Democrat.  What has gotten into us?  We are one people and we are God’s chosen.

As it says in James 3:9-10 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Now let me be very clear about something.  I have very firm beliefs.  Those beliefs strongly influence my position on a number of moral, social, and economic issues.  In fact, my beliefs on certain issues make it such that I have a very difficult time even considering certain political candidates because they associate themselves with a political party that is known to take an opposing position on those issues that I hold to so strongly. When I voted on November 6, I did not actually vote for any particular candidate.  Rather I voted against certain principles that I felt strongly about as a Christian.  In fact, I will even tell you that I was not completely comfortable voting for the candidate I voted for, but rather was choosing him because of his party’s platform on those issues rather than him as an individual.  I hear the negative rhetoric from the other side about what I believe and I think “That’s just not true, you have it all wrong.”  On the other hand, one of the godliest men I know – a man I look up to spiritually in many respects – sees the world through a completely different political lens than I do.  We hold to all the same moral and biblical values.  Our theology is almost identical.  And yet, when it comes to politics, he makes almost completely opposite choices than I make – and he does so holding firmly to his Christian beliefs.  We have had minor conversations about this, but nothing too deep.  Honestly, I did not want to go too deep with him on those issues.  But at the end of the day, I frankly do not see it from his perspective nor do I think I ever will see it from his perspective.  Despite that, NEVER would I EVER speak harshly about this man or his convictions.  I could not imagine calling him names, judging him, or speaking badly about him.  I completely respect him - even in our disagreement.

Right now some of us are happy and some of us are very unhappy.  Many of us see hope for the future and just as many of us see darkness and decay.  This is no excuse to begin attacking one another.  What is wrong with us as the Body of Christ that we can be so harsh and unloving with each other?  I believe James also has the answer to this question as well.

James 4:1-3 says “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

I believe the reason that we are so angry with each other over the outcome of this political cycle is that we have not been voting by faith.  Am I saying that the belief system many of us have used to shape our voting is wrong?  Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.  However, the very fact that there is so much quarreling and negativity surrounding the election results indicates to me that perhaps we have been far more selfish than we want to admit and have not placed our faith in God when it comes to the political process.   Rather, at least based on the evidence I see, it appears that many of us still place our faith in our government rather than in our God.  Our convictions are firm.  We feel quite strongly about our moral compass, our social mindset, and our economic point of view.  However, when it comes to how those views should be propagated, we place our faith in the government rather than in God.  If the government goes our way, we are happy.  If the government goes the other way, we are unhappy.  Since the government will go one way or another, someone will be happy and someone will be unhappy.  That is life, but as Christians we cannot let it divide us.  We shouldn’t let it divide us as a country, but we must not let it divide us as Christians.

At the end of the day, our responsibility as Christians is not to ensure that the government looks or does not look a certain way.  Yes, we are to perform our civic duty and we are to use all means necessary to promote the moral and social values we hold fast to as Christians.  However, it is ultimately not through government that those values will propagate.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called us to be “salt and light” in the world around us.  That means we are to light the path so that we show the world the way to Jesus.  That means we are to be a social influence and a moral preservative in our communities.  Jesus did not overturn Caesar and force the Kingdom of Heaven from the top down.  Rather, he began at the bottom and began winning the Kingdom of Heaven one soul at a time.  Eventually, that fire caught on and spread throughout the entire world.  I hope that everyone exercised their civic duty and privilege and did everything they could to influence their world through the political process.  Likewise I hope everyone did do so using whatever convictions they believed were appropriate for a Christian.  At the end of the day, though, we cannot tear each other apart because of the outcome. 

If you are disappointed about the elections, that is OK.  If you are elated about the elections, that is OK too.  At the end of the day, though, it will be God that either blesses or condemns our country. It will be God that will determine whether we prosper or fail.  We must NOT fall into the trap of placing our faith in our government rather than placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  Regardless of the outcome of the election, I truly believe that God knows what he is doing.  Maybe it is good for our country.  Maybe it is bad for our country.  Either way, God is working out his plan.  Romans 13:1 says “…there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  I believe that… and am reminded of these words of Jesus in John 13:34…

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

I hope this puts a slightly different perspective on the election and perhaps influences how you will interact with your world over the next few weeks and months as the outcome of this election plays out.  I would like to know your thoughts on this or on any of my posts.  If you like, please leave me a comment.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Change Your Filter

The other day I was driving down the road, drinking Diet Coke from my extra large, hot pink, Breast Cancer Foundation tumbler.  The drink had sat in my car long enough that the ice began to melt and mix with the soda.  It is bad enough to drink watered down Diet Coke, but when I took a drink, it had a very poor, almost plastic-like taste that was considerably less than desirable.  It was at that point that I remembered I had been meaning to change out the water filter in our refrigerator for over a month now.

Let’s be clear.  I think we have really good water in our neck of the woods.  It is clean and tastes well.  You can hold up a glass straight out of the faucet and it looks clear.  I have no problem drinking water from any faucet in the house.  On the other hand, there is nothing better than ice-cold, filtered water, so if the refrigerator has a built in filter for the ice and water dispenser (which it does), then I will choose that over the faucet every time.  The problem with filtered water is, well, that you have to keep the filter clean.  It has an expiration date.  The filter in my fridge was long past its expiration.

When I pulled the filter from the refrigerator, I was pretty much disgusted.  The filter was as black as night (see pic).  No wonder the melted ice tasted so nasty.  Although the faucet water seems to be clean and tastes pretty well unfiltered, there are still a number of impurities in it.  Perhaps they don’t seem apparent when drinking one glass of water; but over time, having been passed through the filter, these impurities had built up to the point that they could be seen for what they truly are – a collection of deep, black, nasty sludge.  The filter could no longer remove these impurities from the water used to make ice and, in fact, the sludge collected in the filter was actually contaminating the water such that it was dirtier coming out of the filter than it was going into the filter.  Absolutely gross, man.

Our lives are a lot like the water in my town.  We often seem to be very clean in the way we act, and for the most part we behave ourselves, and we may even be a pleasant sort of folk.  In fact, there are times when there is much “good” that is done by us.  Why should anyone complain about us?  Clearly any impurities that may exist are small, irrelevant, and shouldn’t too negatively impact us.  Unfortunately, the problem is that those impurities do exist.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:19-20 that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”  The impurities inside that we hide and keep secret from those around us still defile us – we just don’t notice it so much.  We are not as pure a people as we may think and ultimately what is on the inside must eventually come to the outside.  And just like my filter when it has past its expiration date, those impurities can collect and become a much bigger problem.  That is when we see the dark sludge of our humanity all to clearly.  We might try to hide the impurities, but they are there and they are polluting us even when we don’t realize it.

Fortunately, there is filter within us – the Holy Spirit.  In John 4, Jesus told the woman at the well that he would give her water that would be a well springing up within her, leading to eternal life.  John goes on to say that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit.  Later, at the Feast of Tabernacles in John 7, Jesus said this river of water springing up from their heart would be “living” water.  The fact that it would be living water was significant to the Jews.  Many of their religious rituals required cleansing with water from a living, flowing source such as a river or stream – not a stagnant source such as a pond.  Living water cleansed and purified because it was alive and flowing and clean.  It was symbolic of the fact that the process of purifying ourselves was continual and required constant renewal.  In addition, the Jews understood from the practice of Judaism what “living water” meant as it related to the Feast of Tabernacles.   This feast was a time in which they celebrated living water.  The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the time when Israel wandered in the desert, being protected by and provided for miraculously by God.  This included the miraculous provision of life-giving water.  To celebrate this, every day during this 7 day feast, the priests would march from the temple down to the Pool of Siloam, collect “living water” from that pool, carry it back up to the temple, and pour it out as a “libation” offering. 

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, he gives us the Holy Spirit to live within us.  The Holy Spirit becomes our living water, flowing from our heart, keeping us clean and filtered like a fresh water filter that never goes bad.  We still have these impurities within us all the time and need a constant renewing, but the Holy Spirit continually filters and cleanses us so that we remain clean and fresh as water straight from the refrigerator. 

And to beat it all, we don’t have to worry about the Holy Spirit getting all yucky because he is clogged up from filtering out our impurities.  Best. Filter. Ever.