The Hate Squad Walks Again

My father went to Virginia Tech.

The first boy I ever liked, back when I was four years old, goes to Virginia Tech right now. His name is Todd and he lived up the street from me.

I thought about going there myself.

And now it is the sight of the largest gun-massacre in the history of the United States. Thirty-three people died on Monday; that is thirty-three souls and thirty-three families, thirty-three funerals and thirty-three mothers whose children will never come home for dinner again.

That is an exponential amount of pain.

And now, Fred Phelps, of let’s-build-a-statue-stating-that-this-poor-murdered-boy-is-in-hell fame, of God-hates-fags fame, and of a “Church” that claims “Christianity,” is going to rub his foul-smelling politics in the faces of those victims’ families.

The ideas this man propagates are lies. He is not a Christian; this is not what we believe. God does not rain down wrath on innocent human beings because the world is in sin. A man, a deluded and mentally ill man, took thirty-two lives on Monday – not as a judgment for anything they had done, but because he was sick.

This is not to say that God does not judge, or that God does not have the right to judge, but to imply that thirty-three people’s lives were the payment for the world’s sin is to completely deny the fundamental Christian value that Christ – and only Christ – paid for our sins on the cross.

I just feel it’s important to say to all of you, whether you are Christian or not, that this man represents a fringe-group whose theology we do not recognize as Truth. As far as Christians are concerned, the God of wrath became antiquated when Christ died on the cross. Forgiveness is the center of our religion now, and love for each other, not condemnation, is the only way to practice it.


Tips for Counting Your Blessings: Where did you glean today?

The pastor at my church is currently taking the congregation through the book of Ruth, and we recently covered the section that contains the verse, “Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blesssed be the man who took notice of you!” (Ruth 2:19) Those of you familiar with the book of Ruth probably remember this verse as the moment when Ruth brings home an abundance of barley after a day of gleaning from the what the harvesters left behind in Boaz’s field.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ruth, it’s valuable to note the context of the situation here. Ruth was the Moabite daughter-in-law of a woman named Naomi (whose name meant “Pleasant,” but who had begun to call herself Mara, meaning “bitter” because her husband and sons died and she felt that God dealt bitterly with her). (Ruth 1:3-5; 1:20-22) One of Naomi’s sons was married to Ruth in Moab. Instead of staying with her people in Moab and finding another husband after she became a widow, Ruth followed Naomi back to her home in Bethlehem where she could be devoted to Jehovah God.

The heart of the matter is this: Naomi followed the God of the Israelites from the time she was born; Ruth converted to the Israelite tradition when she married Naomi’s son. But while hardship and bitterness led Naomi to blame God for her problems, saying “The Almighty has made my life very bitter” and “The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me”, Ruth only asked that she be allowed to return with Naomi to Bethlehem in service to God. (Ruth 1:20-21; 1:16) Even in a time of hardship, Ruth did not turn her back on the Lord. Instead, she followed His commandments and worked patiently to care for herself and her mother-in-law.

When Ruth returned home from gleaning in Boaz’s field and had, literally, gallons of extra food, and Naomi asked “Where did you glean today?” there was only one acceptable answer. Ruth gleaned in the Field of Faith, where “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” (Matthew 13:12)

I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase “You reap what you sow.” It comes from the book of Galatians: “7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) It is shocking to me, though, how many people use these verses only as ominous forebodings and never as encouragement; yes, the verse does say that some will reap destruction, but that does not mean we should ignore the second half of the verse: “the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Our heavenly Father made a promise to us the day that His son died on the cross. It is an unbreakable covenant that guarantees us eternal salvation and freedom from sin. But we cannot find joy in these things if we are looking in the wrong places.

For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9)

Christ died to bring us forgiveness, certainly, but also so that He would have the authority to be master of the living and the dead (and that’s everyone)! For “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Are you acknowledging Christ as the Lord of your life? Are you a slave to Him, submissive to the One who saved you? Are you reaping joy, blessings, and abundance from the faith you have sown into your relationship with Jesus Christ?

. . .Or are you wanting?

If you are unhappy, angry with the Lord, or suffering feelings of bitterness and resentment toward Him, I challenge you: ask yourself, “Where did I glean today?” If you gleaned from a field into which you have sown self-serving ideas about what you want for your life instead of trust in the One who made you, is it any wonder you are not harvesting that which He promised you?

I am a firm believer that it is our outlook, not our circumstances, that determines what joy we take from life. If I am dissatisfied, it is because I am not fully trusting God to provide all that I need, and am questioning whether or not His grace is truly sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9) If I am blessed, it is not due to the absence of sorrow or pain in my life, but because I devote myself to my God, and know that if He sacrificed His son for me, He would not ask me to endure unnecessary pain. I know from my daily communion with Him that He loves me, and teaches me obedience through my sufferings. (Hebrews 5:8)

But I know it can be difficult to see God’s mercy and grace through troubled times. And sometimes, scripture verses and uplifting comments from friends make you feel more jealous than encouraged. That is why, I present:

Five Practical Ways to Count Your Blessings

  1. Actually do it. Count them. The best way, in my opinion, to accomplish this is to keep a daily journal. Add a few extra minutes to your quiet time or just make a list before you go to sleep of all the ways in which the Lord blessed you that day. Read it when you’re feeling depressed or sorry for yourself.
  2. Write a letter to the person, place, thing, or idea that is causing you pain. Tell him/her/it why you are angry. Be as hurtful as you feel like being. Burn it.
  3. Pray honestly. Tell the Lord that you are angry, hurt, and that you don’t understand why you are afflicted with your circumstances. Then pray that He will help you to see the path He has laid out for you, and that He will soften your heart toward those who are trying to help you.
  4. Become a servant to others around you who are hurting. If you look for them, you will find other people suffering around you who you may not have noticed because your eyes were focused on yourself.
  5. Read Matthew 27:27-66. Compare your sufferings to those of Christ. Remember that they were for you.

Christian Friendship

I am currently in the midst of a devotional book called Who I Am In Christ by Dr. Neil T. Anderson. It’s really helping me out a lot. I feel like I never really got “Relationships with God 101” until I picked up this book. But I should mention that there are some sites out there online that take great exception to Dr. Anderson’s work, and I’ve noticed a few odd trends in what I’ve read so far as well. What I can say so far is that I don’t think you should completely discredit him based on the inclusion in his books of some of the more occult areas of faith, but I think you should (as always) read critically.

Plugging aside, I’ve recently covered the chapter in the above-mentioned book entitled “I Am Christ’s Friend.” This chapter really touched my heart, due simply to some personal things going on in my own life right now (God truly does provide exactly what we need for us, by the way), and it also got me thinking a lot about what true friendship really is.

I don’t mean to discuss only friendship between a person and her God, or the fellowship to be found among Christians, but the friendship that predominates most of our lives: friendship between a believer and another person – anyone – regardless of faith. But like all aspects of our lives, we can learn more about how to handle relationships here in the world by understanding our heavenly relationship with the Father. The more we practice these principles of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives, the more success we will have in finding joy and peace here during our earthly days.

The following verses not only illustrate that we can receive joy through submission to the will of God, but they also provide the perfect lesson on friendship.

29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

The context of John 3:29-30 is that John the Baptist’s followers have just approached him in a frenzy because they have heard that Jesus of Nazareth is baptizing. They are loyal to John and his ministry, and do not appreciate this newcomer’s encroaching on what they feel is John’s territory. John responds that he is unconcerned, even joyful, because he knows that now, the one in whose name he has been baptizing has arrived.

Out of context, and in our Christian lives, the verse is only a tad bit different.
Keep in mind that we are trying to learn about earthly friendship from spiritual, heavenly friendship, what is our “friendship” relationship with God? Let’s examine the verses.

Again, the verses are: 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:29-30

As Christians, we are called to be both “the bride” who belongs to the bridegroom (as the Church), and “the friend who attends the bridegroom.” Because so many allusions are made to the community of God as “the Church,” and because this is a study of Christian Friendship, I’m going to ignore the responsibilities of “the bride” for now, and focus more on the responsibility of the “bridegroom’s friend.”

What makes John the Baptist Jesus’s “friend” in terms of the verses above? The two do not seem to be engaging in any type of “friendship” as we know it today; they are not sharing hobbies, or discussing ideas they have in common, or even doing the things Christian men and women tend to do in the lightest of moments – engaging in fellowship over tea or going fishing. Instead, the essence of John’s friendship to Jesus lies in the joy he finds in Jesus’s success.

Remember that John’s followers are scandalized that someone else is baptizing in the name of the Messiah. John could easily have become jealous of Jesus, or chosen to receive him as an adversary instead of a leader. But he humbled himself, and graciously made a path for Jesus’s ministry to overtake his own.

8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

John gave Jesus the most important gift of friendship anyone can give another: precedence.

Of course, Jesus is the Lord. It was only right for Jesus to be superior to John, and for John to acknowledge His authority. And obviously, all Christians should follow that example.

But shouldn’t we also grant our friends precedence?

14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13:14-15)

It is our responsibility to love one another un-selfishly, to exalt others over ourselves, and to do so humbly, without bitterness or resentment. The world will tell us that we are number one, that we should look out for ourselves; that is not Biblical. We are directed to serve each other, “28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

Therefore, go and take joy in each others’ successes. Pray for graciousness and humility, and that the Lord will soften your hearts toward others. Pray for a servant heart modelled after Christ’s own.

The best way for us as believers to learn to serve our King is to first learn to serve each other.