Thinking is Hard Work

Most of my life thinking was pretty easy for me. I loved thinking. Reading, writing, designing software and engaging in spirited debates.

When I learned that one of the symptoms of Dercum’s Disease is Dementia I was frightened. I wondered how it would happen and if I knew that it was happening. Part of me doesn’t want to share this with you because it would sound like a cheap way to make people feel sorry for me.

Aside from my daily catatonic episodes, I’ve found that any type of thinking feels like hard work. Even writing this feels like a struggle to find the words and put them down here.  I’ve never experienced the feeling that I would forgo day to day activities that I loved because the thinking was too difficult.

I first noticed that I could no longer play online multiplayer games because everything moved so fast. I used to love to play these games and now I have all the time in the world but I no longer enjoy them because it feels like such hard work to play them.  Yesterday I wanted to play but had to give up after a couple of games and found myself exhausted.

Even trying to watch a new TV show feels like hard work. Having to learn the characters and keeping my eyes open.  I tried switching to audio books but they are nearly as difficult to follow because I have such trouble concentrating.

Now I spend hours just listening to ambient mixes on Sound Cloud in a kind of haze. I spend my days running from severe pain any way I possibly can. I wanted to go to church Sunday but just couldn’t make myself do it.

I spend a good deal of time inside myself. The lights are on but no one is home. It’s peaceful there. If you see me like this don’t worry, I’m not afraid. One day, I will go inside and never come out. I don’t know when this will happen but when it does, I think it will be a good thing.

Writing this is very hard but I’ll try to keep writing` as long as I can.

What Happened to Pastor Ron

For a brief time, I was Teaching Pastor as Liberty Towers Church in Sacramento, CA.  I really enjoyed my time there.  Pastor Terry, the staff and the people were so wonderful to me. Easter Sunday 2104 was my last Sunday to preach there and many people are wondering what happened.

The morning of March 24 was a very bad day for me.  Besides being a very painful disease, I have other Neurological symptoms such as seizures, double vision, hearing loss and dystonia.  When I awoke that morning I had seizures for about 2 hours and went to the hospital. 

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Dercum’s Disease (Adiposis Dolorosa) works in cycles.  During an “Up” cycle I feel better, have less pain, few neurological symptoms and can be more active.  These “Up” cycles last typically 8-12 weeks.  The “Down” cycles well.. you can imagine what they must be. Lot’s of pain, lots of weakness, seizures etc. and they last much longer, typically six to nine months.

Each time I enter a down cycle I come out of it weaker than before. The disease is literally consuming my body.  I have so many tumors we quit counting them. Yes, they cause pain but they interfere with many things in my body and there is nothing that anybody can do to stop the progress of this disease.

This disease is so poorly understood that the doctors really don’t know what the future holds for me. Perhaps the scariest part is the dreaded “D” word… Dementia. It is one of the symptoms of this disease but nobody knows for sure if or when it will happen to me. I always assumed that if dementia was happening to you that you wouldn’t know it but that is far from the truth. You are the one most acutely aware of what is happening to your body and your mind. Long before it shows up on any brain scan, you are the one who knows about the times when you were confused by simple things that were never confusing before. Have you ever experienced walking into a grocery store and then paused in the frozen food isle only to realize that you don’t know how a grocery store works? This sounds so bizarre it’s hard to believe but it happened to me. Of course, the effect was temporary.

My decline is slow and sure, like the sand on a beach being slowly washed away by the waves, sometimes better, sometimes worse. How long will this go on? No one can really say. According to the medical literature “The effect on mortality is unknown”.

In this most recent decline I have once again had to face the facts.

  • I can no longer live alone
  • I can no longer drive a car
  • I am unable to care for my teenage daughter
  • I am almost to the point where I will require nearly constant supervision

For me to live in Sacramento, I have to pay rent and hire someone to drive me around and assist me with things I need help doing. By moving to Fresno I can live with my mother and she can help take care of me. It helps me, and it helps her because I have disability income to provide for her. It is a win-win for my mother and I but at the same time very sad that I had to leave Sacramento and Liberty Towers Church which I loved.

The next time I get on a “Up” cycle, perhaps I can ride a train up to Sacramento for a visit.

 

No Weapon Formed Against You Shall Prosper – really?

“No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 54:17 NASB

 As I took my walk this morning I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite bible teachers.  This podcast was a repeat that I heard several years ago before I got sick with Dercum’s Disease (Adiposis Dolorosa). Something the preacher, who will remain anonymous in this post, said caught my attention in a way that it didn’t the last time I heard him say it.  He said this.

“God has promised to protect us. [Quote Isa 54:17] God has promised to protect us, not in the moment, not just this day but throughout our lifetime a theme of protection.” – Anonymous radio preacher

This raises some questions for me.

  1. Is Isaiah 54:17 a blanket promise of protection for all believers for all time?
  2. What does God mean exactly by no weapon formed will prosper?

No Weapon Formed

The sword gleamed in the early morning sunlight as the executioner approached the prisoner.  The blade was exquisitely sharp, he’d made sure that it would take just one swift strike to remove his head.  The scuttlebutt around the barracks was that King Herod Agrippa I was trying to curry favor with the Jews so they would help him keep the radicals in check.  One more screw up and Rome would be taking Agrippa’s head. Just yesterday soldiers went down to the temple area and found him.  James was one of the leaders of “the way”, a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.  A very close one at that, whenever Jesus wanted his inner circle he would call on Peter, James and John.  Those sons of Zebedee were known as “Sons of Thunder” so the centurion thought it best to send a cohort to arrest him but when they found him there was no thunder.  Now the prisoner rested quietly in the courtyard on his knees his hands bound behind his back. The executioner had seen people do many strange things in their last moments.  Some screamed, some cried for their mothers, but this prisoner was unlike anything he had seen before.  A strange calm, a peacefulness was written across his face. As the executioner approached, his eyes met the prisoner’s eyes for just a moment. Without a word, the prisoner lowered his head exposing his neck and with one brief stroke it was all over.

“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.” Acts 12:1-2 NASB

 What?!? That sword was a weapon formed against one of the servants of the Lord and it certainly seemed to “prosper.”  What about the others?

They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 NASB

Even stones used as weapons are prospering here. Is this the protection of the Lord?

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:37-38 NASB

In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believers love to quote Isa 54:17.  The “No weapon formed” phrase appears in countless songs and Christian greeting cards as if to assure us that nothing bad will ever happen to Christians.

So what, you say… What’s the harm in that if it helps people to feel better?

Here is the harm. The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of suffering on this planet and much of it is caused by weapons that do prosper.  Bullets and bombs have destroyed Christians and non-Christians at pretty much the same rate throughout history.  Disease and starvation have ravaged Christians and non-Christians alike and the Bible does not promise to protect you from any of it.

If you believe in this myth of protection when you are attacked, when your love one is killed or when you get sick and are not healed you will question the very foundations of your faith. This so called “promise of protection” is nothing more than a straw man setup by the enemy. If he can convince you that God failed to keep his promise of protection, then what makes you think that God will fulfill his promise of salvation?

What is God talking about in Isaiah 54?

“For a brief moment I forsook you, But with great compassion I will gather you. “In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” Says the LORD your Redeemer. “For this is like the days of Noah to Me, When I swore that the waters of Noah Would not flood the earth again; So I have sworn that I will not be angry with you Nor will I rebuke you. Isaiah 54:7-9 NASB

Whenever I am trying to understand difficult passages of scripture I look to experts in the field and read what they had to say about the passage.  Here is just one example of what I found.

After the Flood, in which God executed His anger against the world’s depravity, He promised never again to devastate the earth in the same way (Gen 9:11). Similarly God promised that the day is coming when He will never… rebuke Israel again. Statements like this show that Isaiah was speaking of the millennial kingdom rather than the return from the Babylonian Captivity, for the nation has suffered God’s anger many times since the postexilic return. – the Bible Knowledge Commentary

There will come a day when no weapon formed will prosper but that day is not here yet.  That promise speaks of a future day in the millennial kingdom. If I run into a deranged killer today his knife, gun or bomb will most certainly prosper when he employs it to end my life. Sure it might make me feel better to believe that no weapon will prosper but believing a lie to feel better has never been a good idea.

 

Thankfullness and My Catatonic Life

Catatonia

An abnormal condition variously characterized by stupor, stereotypy, mania, and either rigidity or extreme flexibility of the limbs. It is most often associated with schizophrenia.


[New Latin, from German Katatonie, from Greek katatonos, ‌stretching tight‌, from katateinein, ‌to stretch tight‌ : kata-, ‌intensive pref.‌; see ‌ cata-‌ + teinein, ‌to stretch‌; see ten- in Indo-European roots.]


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

One of the more interesting effects of Adiposis Dolorosa on my body is that from time to time I become catatonic for short periods of time.

(It took me about 2 minutes to write that sentence because right after the word “I”, my body shut down for about a minute.)

Anyone who has used a computer knows that from time to time the computer becomes catatonic, unresponsive to keyboard or mouse commands. Sometimes, if you wait it recovers on its own, other times you reboot the computer.  My catatonia is similar to this. It can strike at any time whether I am standing, sitting or lying down. Sometimes I will close my eyes and my head will droop as if my neck muscles went limp.  Other times, my body will become rigid even flailing about as is common in seizures.  If I am off-balance when it occurs I have been known to fall to the floor. My autonomous nervous system is at least partially functional when it happens because mostly I do not fall as happens in people with Grand Mal seizures when they become unconscious.

According to Web M.D. my seizures may be best described as partial simple motor seizures, affecting only a small portion of the brain where awareness is retained. When they occur, it takes a few moments for me to realize what is happening. Inside my mind there is a dialogue going on but it is a dreamlike state.

 “What is happening… why am I? Oh it’s one of those seizures again… C’mon… wake up.  Just open your eyes and move.  I hope I don’t fall over. Wake up…”

(Then my mind drifts off into the twilight zone… as if I were in a dream.)

After a while (any where from a few seconds to as long as an hour) my eyes blink a few times and I’m back.

These catatonic states occur nearly every day. While writing this post I have had two of them. If you were with me when I had one of these you might not even notice it unless you tried to talk to me during the event. If I’m lying in my recliner watching TV you wouldn’t know, but I would come to wondering what happened during the last few minutes of the TV show.

There are other indications of brain injury from Adiposis Dolorosa. I developed double vision in January 2013 that has continued unabated to this day.  Later I discovered that I couldn’t follow TV shows without the closed captions on. When my hearing was checked they found that I had moderate to severe hearing loss. I get involuntary muscle movements, jerking or spasms, (known as Myoclonic seizures) and my hands often twist into claws.

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Some people have suggested that perhaps these symptoms are side-effects of the medications I take. This is certainly a possibility, but given the fact that these catatonic episodes and their frequency has remained constant over the last couple of years even though I have been on and off a number of different medications in that time, I suspect that medications are not the cause.

Once again, my current doctor has suggested that I be evaluated by a Neurologist, perhaps at Stanford University. I hesitate to do this because I have been evaluated a number of times and nothing has been discovered. This is not surprising because the effects of Adiposis Dolorosa on the brain and nervous system are so poorly understood.

In the meantime, I’ve learned to live with my condition. Nobody has demanded that I surrender my driver’s license but I suspect that it is only a matter of time. Presently, I have a caregiver who drives me most places and my daughter drives me as well. Losing my independence is a difficult thing, but there are good side-effects to it as I am rarely alone now which gives me time to enjoy the company of others.

Some people wonder, if I am so disabled, how can I write books, blog posts and work on a Masters program at the same time?  The answer is that I’ve learned to work in between the bouts of pain and catatonia. This gives me much time for reflection and study.

I’ve also learned that there is good in everything that happens to me if I am willing to find it. It is so easy to focus on the bad, the wrong, the painful, but scripture calls us to think about better things. To cultivate a life of thankfulness. Those who are not sick are busy and preoccupied with the mundane things of life so they may never learn to do this. Sickness has been my tutor, teaching me to reflect thoroughly and to search out the deep things of life and so I’ve learned that I can indeed be thankful in all things, even catatonia.

Corruption of the Soul

“You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!
Matthew 5:27-30 HCSB

This familiar passage came to mind this morning as I was reflecting on a quote from C.S. Lewis.

“You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body.” – C.S. Lewis

I think these two insights share a connection.  Just as an iceberg is mostly underwater, most (if not nearly all) of us is invisible. Jesus made a remarkable statement in his comments about adultery and I think that perhaps our tendency to focus on the body and not the soul is the reason for this statement.

You have heard that it was said, Do not commit adultery (with your body). But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her (with their soul) has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In other words, don’t comfort yourself by thinking that your private thoughts of adultery (or other sexual sins) don’t affect your soul just because they weren’t enacted by your body. The corruption wrought by sin has already taken place in your soul when your chooser (will) makes the choice to entertain adulterous thoughts. When your feeler (emotions) acts like a child and wants to feel (whatever that feeling is that adulterous thoughts provide) and your thinker decides that such feelings are harmless because of a technicality (they aren’t enacted), Jesus warns you that corruption is taking place in the soul.

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Gangrene 

Jesus then goes on to make dramatic statements about gouging your eye out or cutting off your hand. Most theologians understand these statements to be hyperbole (A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect). In other words, Jesus is not commending actual amputation of body parts to prevent sinning. Perhaps what Jesus is suggesting is that sin corrupts your soul the same way that gangrene corrupts your flesh.

Gangrene is caused primarily by a lack of circulation to the affected area. When the blood stops flowing cellular necrosis (death) of the tissue occurs. Once this happens, if the dead tissue is not removed bacterial infections will eventually lead to death of the body. During the US Civil War, death from cases of Gangrene were reported to be as high as 45%. This explains why they were so quick to amputate limbs when a soldier have a severe wound.

There is one curious treatment that shows remarkable promise for dealing Gangrene… maggots. More than 1000 years ago people figured out that if you put maggots into gangrenous tissue that the maggots would eat only the dead tissue and spare the living tissue thus saving the life of the patient. Middleton Goldsmith, a Union Army surgeon during the Civil War applied this treatment to over 300 cases with the mortality rate dropping to just 3%.

Do you suppose that sinful thoughts which corrupt the soul are the equivalent of Gangrene of the soul? Perhaps none of us will emerge from this life with an intact soul, even those who are saved and go to heaven will arrive with a soul shaped by the corruption of earth. Why do I think this? Because Jesus did not say “Go ahead and think your adulterous thoughts because you will be forgiven in the end and it won’t matter.” No, rather Jesus seems to be saying “Do whatever you have to do to fight your adulterous thoughts, don’t make peace with them at any price.”

There are disagreements among bible scholars as to whether or not a saved person can lose their salvation. Could Gangrene of the soul eventually lead to death of the soul? I’m not sure honestly but we should take Jesus warning seriously and take appropriate action. Even if Gangrene doesn’t lead to death of the soul, it will most certainly take a piece of it. Will God in his mercy restore the lost portions of our soul eventually? Perhaps… but if this process was easy and automatic I don’t think that Jesus would have given such a stern warning.

If adultery of the heart was a problem in Jesus’ day, it most certainly must be rampant today. Any one with an internet connection can access a mountain of pornography for free. This corrupting influence has begun to take its toll on a generation of children born since the creation of the internet. I believe it has also taken an extraordinary toll on the lives of believers no matter what generation.

Some of us have simply decided to accept adultery of the heart as a normal part of living in the modern world. Things that were once considered shameful are now joked about with uncomfortable laughter. I believe the Spirit of God wants to warn us about soul gangrene

The Voice of Worship – Part 2

The Voice of Worship 2

 

In my last post I said that worship is a spectrum ranging from light to heat.  Just as Jesus said true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth, some people tend to worship more on the side of truth.  I call them “Light Worshipers” not because they worship light, but because that is their style to worship with their thinker..  Others are “Heat Worshipers” because their style involves worship with their feeler.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
– When I Survey – Isaac Watts

Light Worshipers love songs like “When I survey.”  Look at the great thinker stuff in that song.  It says I look at the cross and then I make two choices based on my thinking. I count gains as loss and pour contempt on my pride.  Of course, heat worshipers can love this song too.  There is great emotion in these words but sadly most heat worshipers will never get a chance to sing this song because either their church will probably never sing it, or they will simply refuse to worship because it is a hymn.

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
– Oceans (When Feet May Fail)  Joel Houston, Matt Crocker, Salomon Ligthelm

Heat worshipers like songs like Oceans.  The key thoughts in this song are great feeler stuff. I rest in your embrace. I am yours and you are mine.  The language is romantic. You can imagine those thoughts in a song about your girlfriend or boyfriend. Of course, light worshipers can love this song too. There are chooser declarations in it such as “I will call upon your name” and “keep my eyes above the waves.”  Sadly most light worshipers will not worship to this song because either their church would never sing it or if they do many older light worshipers will simply refuse to worship to it because of the contemporary style and instrumentation.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:18-20 NIV

True worshipers… will worship.  They will find a way to get past their preferences.  Heat worshipers will have to find a way to be obedient to this command of scripture to speak to one another with “with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.”  Speaking to one another is one way  we worship with our thinker.

Light worshipers will have to find a way to be obedient to this command as well.  They will have to learn to worship from the heart (feeler) “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
1 Corinthians 14:15 NIV

Immature heat worshipers need to learn to sing with understanding even when the song involves Organs and Orchestras.  Keep in mind that one day the style of worship will move on from rock and roll bands to something else and if you are going to be mature you need to learn this.

In the 90’s people used to talk about “Worship Wars” to describe the painful struggle taking place in their churches.  I grew up in The Church of the Nazarene which was was born in 1908.  Back then the Nazarene church in Los Angeles where they met was called “The Glory Barn.”  Their pastor Phineas F. Breese said about their building, “We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest.”

I think the early Nazarenes were mostly Heat worshipers. But then over time something happened.  As generations came and went the Nazarenes became more Light oriented.  My parents and many of you were raised in a time when the culture of worship for Nazarenes was mostly on the side of light.

In the late 80’s my church, Liberty Towers Church, began shifting rapidly to Heat worship and I can recall vividly the transformation as it took place.  As a young man I was definitely more of a Heat worshiper (this is generally true of most people).  I loved the changes but my parents did not and there was a war about worship.

It was called a war because there were casualties.  When the church is at war people get hurt. People get angry and people leave.  Some people decided that the answer was to divide.  Let the Heat worshipers start new churches and let the light worshipers keep the old ones.

Maybe this was the best that we could do at the time but I found it very sad. My parents were a part of the older folks at Liberty Towers that left to go somewhere else.  They went to a church that was just for light worshipers. Because light worshipers are mostly older their church had only old people.  They loved their church because it was like the church they remembered from the early 80’s.

I went to a church in Washington that was one of a wave of new churches born in that era.  These new churches were built to cater to Heat worshipers. Because Heat worshipers are mostly young there were very few old people at my church.

What is so very sad about this situation is that we need each other and instead of holding together we allowed this war to tear us apart.  We need each other.

  • Old needs young and Young needs Old.
  • Light needs Heat and Heat needs Light.

The other reason this is tragic is that it took something so great, something we need so badly and turned it into a war zone so our worship was blocked by the sounds of war.

Who was right? Light or Heat? Neither.  There is no right answer here.  There is war or worship, true worship or false worship.  So let’s stop fighting wars over worship and learn to say Amen even when the song isn’t our style.

The Voice of Worship

“… the Father is seeking …”

John 4:23 ESV

Did you know the Father is seeking? What is he seeking? He knows everything… why would he need to seek unless he was seeking someone.  Who is he seeking?

“… the Father is seeking …people to worship him.”

John 4:23 ESV

Why would he seek people to worship him? Is this something he needs?  No, God doesn’t need anything from anyone. He is seeking worshipers because it is the most loving thing he can do for people. We were created to worship Him and the Father is seeking people who are fulfilling the very purpose for which they were created.

“… true worshipers will worship …”
John 4:23 ESV

True worshipers will worship.  You don’t have to twist their arm or cajole them into worshiping. True worshipers worship and not just on Sunday they find reasons to worship day in and day out. They see the sunrise and worship.  They see the stars and worship. They feel breath in their lungs and worship.

If there are true worshipers, then there are also false worshipers. What does false worship look like?

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Matthew 15:8 NIV

False worship is pretense. When we pretend to worship on the outside. We open our mouths to honor God with our lips but our hearts are dark and distant.  How do our hearts get this way?  When we cultivate a lifestyle of hypocrisy.  John Piper says “Hypocrisy is behavior that tells a lie.” It isn’t sin that makes you a hypocrite. It is your pretending that you don’t sin that makes you that way. If we were honest each of us would have to admit that before we lift our hands in praise we need to beat our chest and cry out “Have mercy on me God for I am a sinner.”

Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah.
Psalms 24:3-6 HCSB

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart is simply the one who has brought his sin to the Lord and repented. The one who cries out for cleansing by the blood of the lamb. The false worshiper is the one who sets his mind on what is false.

“… true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth …”  John 4:23 ESV

When we truly worship, we worship in spirit and in truth. We worship the Father with all that we are, all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Worship a Spectrum

We all worship differently.  How we worship is a product of our personality, our age and our preferences.  Jesus is the Light of the world.  There are two things that a lamp gives off, light and heat.  Some lights are more heat (like the old incandescent bulb) and some or mostly light (like a newer LED bulb).

Some of us are very open, expressive people.  Our bulb gives off a lot of heat when we worship.  We raise our hands, we clap, we shout and everyone can see the heat of our worship.  Remember our soul consists of a Thinker (mind), Chooser (will) and Feeler (emotions). And when Heat worshipers worship, we worship with mostly with our feeler.  Jesus said we are to worship in spirit and in truth… both of them.  But if you ask a heat worshiper “spirit or truth?”,  they will typically choose spirit.

Others are less expressive outwardly.  For them worship is a personal, intimate experience and though they feel their worship, they prefer to worship with their thinker.  If you ask a Light worshiper “spirit or truth?”, they will typically chose truth.

So much more to say about this but I’ll save it for next time.

Test – Temptation or Opportunity

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When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.
1 Samuel 11:6 NIV

This morning at Fight Club we talked about Saul.  In 1 Samuel 10 we see Saul the reluctant young man a head taller than anyone else and God chose him to be king.  He was so reluctant he hid among the luggage but the people found him and proclaimed him King.  After this great triumphal moment we see Saul returning to Gibeah along with some valiant men whose hearts God had touched.

Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.” But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that Iu gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.” The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”
1 Samuel 11:1-3 NIV

What a deal eh? Surrender or die.  Oh yeah, and if you surrender I’m going to gouge out the right eye of every one of you. Why did Nahash say this? Because in the Bronze age world your reputation as a people meant something. If he did this, the surrounding people would hear about it and be afraid of the Ammonites. Nahash was a terrorist.  He brought an army but that was just a back up plan.  His real goal was to scare the Israelis into surrendering without a fight.

At this time Israel was a loose confederation of tribes.  Over the previous centuries that had time and time again been dominated by their enemies.  Once a generation or so a Judge would rise up to deliver the people but by and large their reputation was one of weakness.

If you were there in Jabesh Gilead you knew that your options were very limited. Your small town had some fortifications but if the Ammonites attack you know that you are all going to be killed.  If you surrender you will lose an eye and become a slave but at least you will live.

Perhaps you feel like that today. Stuck between a rock and a hard place. No matter which way you turn the outcome seems grim. For the people of Jabesh Gilead this was a trial but the real focus on the trial was Saul.

But there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts. But Saul ignored them.
1 Samuel 10:27 NLT

These scoundrels were a test for Saul.  They represented both a temptation and an opportunity.

The temptation was to make a deal.  Try to win over these critics who felt Saul wasn’t qualified or ready to be their king.  The problem is if Saul pays attention to these critics now, he just gives them power. How long will it be before they try to manipulate him in other ways?

The opportunity for Saul is to ignore them.  Yes, ignore them.  That is exactly what he did. He trusted God to deal with these critics and the way God would deal with them is by sending Nahash the Ammonite to attack.

The critics didn’t believe that this tall young man had the grit to lead them into battle against their enemies. How does God show them that he does have what it takes? He brings an enemy to defeat.

I’m sure that Saul had doubts as well.  After all, when they tried to make him king he was hiding among the baggage. Do you suppose that when God wants to teach us something about ourselves he brings a Nahash into our lives?

Saul had been plowing a field with his oxen, and when he returned to town, he asked, “What’s the matter? Why is everyone crying?” So they told him about the message from Jabesh.
1 Samuel 11:5 NLT

Wait a minute… after he is crowned king he goes back to plowing a field with his oxen?  I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like a king to me. Where is the throne? Why isn’t Saul raising an army? Why isn’t he doing king stuff? Maybe because he doesn’t really see himself as king.

Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul, and he became very angry.
1 Samuel 11:6 NLT

The Spirit of God came… and Saul became very angry. Not exactly the reaction you expect from the Spirit of God is it. Maybe it is about time you and I became angry about some things. Maybe the Spirit of God want’s us to get mad enough to do something about that persistent sin in our lives. Maybe the anger is just the thing we need to move us to action.

He took two oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the messengers to carry them throughout Israel with this message: “This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” And the LORD made the people afraid of Saul’s anger, and all of them came out together as one.
1 Samuel 11:7 NLT

Saul’s Holy Spirit inspired anger gave him what he needed to take action and start acting like a king. Then look what the Lord did. He made the people afraid! Wow, didn’t see that one coming. Those critics of Saul… where are they now?  They are afraid.  Imagine that… fear and anger used by God for a good purpose. And now, all of them came out together as one.

God’s ways are so high above our ways. When we face a Nahash in our lives we cry out to the Lord and hang our head in despair.  I have a Nahash in my life.  A very rare and very painful disease that drives me to my knees every day. Do I get angry sometimes?  You bet I do.  I have learned that this disease, even this awful thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, even this pain is a tool in the hand of the Lord.

May you find your strength in whatever God allows in your life.
May a holy anger rise up and move you to action.
And may you find the heart of a warrior when you do.

Dog-At-The-Front-Door Worship

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Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before Him, singing with joy.
Psalms 100:2 NLT

I’ve never written a post about worship.  I’m one of those musical and expressive people that finds it very easy to join in the worship of God.  I listen to worship music constantly and often you will find me singing as I walk my dog or as I’m riding around in my car.  

But there are some of you who find worship difficult. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps someone told you that you can’t sing. Maybe it is just your personality. You are horrified at the thought that the person next to you in church might secretly be cringing at the sound of your voice. When you see others raising their hands or even weeping for joy you cannot imagine becoming so vulnerable in a public place.

I see you every Sunday and my heart breaks for you. For those of us to whom worship comes naturally you are somewhat of a mystery. As a Pastor I want you to worship with all your heart. The first thing I want to say to you is that you don’t need to worship like I do. At my church we try not to tell people how to worship. We don’t tell you to raise your hands, close your eyes or dance. We don’t do this because that might not be your style.

When I got sick with Adiposis Dolorosa I found it increasingly difficult to stand during the worship time.  We have about 20 minutes of worship music in our services and I can’t stand comfortably for more than about 5 minutes.  Being an expressive person I wanted to stand but I had to sit. Then a strange thing happened. I started to worry that other people would be judging me for sitting.

“Look, the Worship leader just asked everybody to stand and the Pastor is still sitting down.”

Now I know that there is probably nobody in the service that is really thinking that but nearly every Sunday that thought runs through my mind. Here’s a tip for all you worship leaders. Not everybody can stand that long. I know you like it when the crowd is on their feet but give people permission to stand if they want or stay seated if they want. The most important thing is that people are comfortable to worship the Lord as they are best able to.

Perhaps you feel a little uncomfortable in worship too? Maybe it’s not standing but perhaps you look at a very expressive person and wonder if they are putting on a show. Yes, you know you have thought that, I have too. I think for some of you the worship time is very difficult because you focus on everything but the Lord.

  • You think about that crazy outfit the guitar player is wearing.
  • You wonder why the sound guy can’t get the mix right.
  • You question the theology of that song
  • You miss singing your old favorites
  • You think worship has become nothing but a show

But the time is coming–indeed it’s here now–when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way.
John 4:23 NLT

If this is you can I tell you something? The Father is looking for worshipers. I know you’ve heard about John 4:23 before, but don’t let that first thought pass you by. The Father is looking for worshipers. My question is, will he find you among them? I’m not asking you to become someone that you are not. Worship is not only for the expressive people among us. The Father can be pleased by the faintest smile on your face as your heart exalts in Him. You don’t have to raise your hands but don’t be afraid to let a tear run down your cheek when you marvel at the love of Christ.

proskuneō
pros-koo-neh’-o
From G4314 and probably a derivative of G2965 (meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand); to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.

When I come home my dog comes rushing to the front door and enthusiastically greets me. Often he will rise up on his back legs, put his front paws on my chest and try to lick my face. If you can imagine that scene then you know what worship is.  The Greek word for worship proskuneō is thought to come from two roots:

  • pros – forward or toward
  • kuōn – dog

Imagine that! You come towards God the same way that your dog greets you at the front door. If you have ever had a dog, or maybe a cat that does this, just close your eyes for a moment and picture that greeting. Can you feel the joy literally pouring out of your pet? Can you feel the love rising in your heart for your animal? You bend down to greet them. You hold them close and smile over them… 

Why do we worship God? Besides the fact that we are commanded to, the truth is we need to. We were made to worship God and we need  to worship Him.

Can I tell you that if we can learn to approach the Father with that dog-at-the-door type of worship we will find a joy that will carry us through the hardest places of life? 

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”
James 4:8

Just as you bend down to greet your pet, when we worship the Lord he bends down to come close to you. Want to know why I sometimes weep as we worship? Because my Lord has come very close to me and in that moment he is touching my heart. For some of you it has been a very long time since you felt the Lord touch your heart.  Others might say, if you were honest, that you have never felt that touch in your heart. Still others might at this very moment be on the defensive saying that worship is just about feelings. 

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek.
Psalms 27:8 NIV

The Father seeks worshipers. Dog-at-the-front-door worshipers who will draw near at the front door. They won’t wait for others to get there first… they want to lick His face so that he will be so close to their heart that he can’t help but touch it. There is nothing greater than to be a part of that pack of animals waiting at the door when the Father comes in.

I pray for you.

  • I pray that the Lord will help you to learn how to worship.
  • I pray that he will help you to lay aside the fear that keeps you from true worship.
  • I pray that he will help you to learn how to wag your tail and worship