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American Christians and the Government

There is no doubt that we are watching textbook tyranny unfold before us. The rights and liberties of American Christians, Americans without a voice, and now American conservatives in general, have been slowly and steadily stripped over the last two decades. Laws reflecting moral decline are in place largely because Christians and God-believing conservatives have done nothing, or at least not enough.

Perhaps some feel that a Christian’s business is about the Church and not the government. Politics are dirty business and we don’t want to go there. Some stick their head in the sand hoping it will all go away and God will wave His hand and make it all right some day. (He certainly will, but how terrible will be that wave!)

The country was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing men. Our constitution is not outdated and is meant to protect our freedom from tyranny, but there are those in power today who would like to label it antiquated and wipe it away.

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We are called to be salt and light, yet where are we in this season, in these debates? We are told to be gentle as doves yet wise as serpents. Are we obeying? Do we know what is at stake? It seems clear to me that satan is behind the sinister goings on in our government and administrative pawns are playing in his hands. The battle is not with men and women, but with spiritual principalities and powers of darkness. We must pray. Pray for revival. Only a heart-change in the leaders of this country and its citizens will right this listing ship.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  ~1 Timothy 2:1-6

But prayer is key but it is not the only thing we should do. We must not be silent. Our examples in God’s word show Jesus and His disciples speaking loudly and clearly to religious leaders and government officials. We speak by voting, we speak by writing and calling our elected representatives, we speak by sharing truth with others. We speak by refusing to go along with laws or mandates that are contrary to God’s word. We speak by defending the defenseless. We speak by our actions: Caring for the sick, poor, homeless, imprisoned as if each of them were Christ Himself.

This world is not our home. Let’s not be comfortable with it. May we not be found sleeping on the job!

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Ch-ch-ch-changes

With God, there is neither turning nor shifting of shadow. He does not change. With us humans, however, there is change galore. Some of us crave it (and in its absence will rearrange the livingroom furniture) and some of us hate it (resisting with every fiber of our being the slightest change to the routine we have come to cherish). But there is something to be said about balance when it comes to change.

God calls us to change in many ways. When He calls us to repent He calls us to change our mind and walk the other way. When He calls us to be transformed into the image of His Son, He calls us to change the way we think and act. We don’t do these things on our own, of course, but by the power of His Spirit. Christ followers don’t disagree with these changes — they are required processes for every believer. Yet we do seem to get quite agitated when faced with external change initiated by others or even circumstances. We bristle if we do not understand the reason for the change and fold our arms in defiance if we disagree with it.

This happens in American churches every day. I’ve seen it often since I became a Christian in 1968. Looking back, some of the changes are laughable: When the traditional church in which I grew up had the wooden pews padded, and when the first electric guitar was played in a Sunday service.(OH! the talk…!) Some changes were concerning, like the man-made rules introduced left and right at a church I attended for a few years in my early 20’s. And some were necessary, like hard decisions required to deal with suffering finances or striving to be a relevant voice to a spiritually dying community.

My church is going through a pretty big change right now. Friends are dealing with it in very different ways. My small group of women has been discussing the thoughtfulness and balance required to properly approach and navigate change that isn’t easily understood. Since we’re in the midst of the journey these aren’t complete answers, but rather steps to consider when dealing with change that may introduce discomfort. Here are some things we’ve been discussing:

  1. Pray. This counsel can be applied in any situation and should be the first any of us do when we don’t understand something or seek to understand something. If we haven’t spent a good amount of time talking to God about the situation, we don’t have the right to speak much about it to others.
  2. Ask. Avoid hypotheses and speculation and conversation that may stir up strife. Go straight to someone who has the answer (after step one above, of course!) and ask, with humility and sincerity. Then listen well. Continue the dialog if necessary.
  3. Wait. Recognize that sometimes the answers aren’t complete or fully known, especially when change is fresh. Be patient, leaders are often still working through how to respond and manage the change themselves. Give them time to seek God and make decisions.
  4. Watch (Your Mouth). Avoid whining, complaining, jumping to conclusions, gossiping, or bad-mouthing God’s elect. This produces a bitterness in your own heart while causing dissention and division. We are called to be one as God is One. Loving each other is a sign we are His. Not loving is a sign we are the Devil’s. Hating a brother or sister is a serious sin.
  5. Help. Find out how you can support the change, be involved in a ministry, meet a need, make new friends. Being active members of the body enables us to be more patient, see more clearly, love more deeply, and mature more rapidly.
  6. Pray (Some More!). Perhaps it is time for you to move on to another ministry or church family. Let God be the One to direct you in that decision, not your current discomfort. Is there a clear word to go or stay? Listen. Until there is a clear conviction in your heart, see #3 and continue to pray.

My story: I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I am called specifically to the church I now attend — it wasn’t my own decision. This was several years ago. Since that time there have been a couple rough patches. Very close friends have left. At one point a friend encouraged me to join her in an exodus. I listen to my close friends and take their admonishment seriously, but God has the final word. He did not then, nor has He yet, prompted me to leave this family. Many things are changing. Some things I don’t yet understand. Many faces are different, I am missing familiar brothers and sisters and meeting new ones, but this is my family. And as long as it is called “today” I will be encouraged and encourage my friends.

Young Woman Facing the Sky

So, turn and face the change.

What works best for you when you are dealing with change?

 

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2012 in The Church, The Journey

 

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Reading the Word

Like newborn babies, thirst for the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in your salvation. (1 Peter 2:2)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

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There are many, many believers throughout the world who wished they had even a page of the Bibles we so take for granted in the West. I can’t count the number of Bibles I have, let alone the access to online versions, commentaries, concordances, libraries and more. Do we take for granted the very word of God or do we crave it like food — understanding that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from God’s mouth? (Matthew and Luke 4:4) Do we long for the word of God like a thirsty soul in the desert?

In America, with all our technology, it is easier than ever to read the Bible daily and the whole Bible once or twice a year. It’s a good habit to have because God’s word does not return void — it accomplishes what He pleases (Isaiah 55:11). We’re nearing the first of a new year. May I encourage you to select a reading plan that will take you through the entire Bible (maybe twice) in this coming year? There are SO many to choose from!

This year I read the Bible chronologically. It was very cool to read it roughly in the order it was written — to read Psalms that David wrote next to the actual events he was living, and to read the book of Acts interspersed with the letters to the various churches visited. This year I have selected The Four Streams Bible Reading Plan which will go through the New Testament four times, the Old Testament once, Psalms twice, and Proverbs four times by the end of the year.

I love YouVersion and YouVersion for Mobile which has hundreds of versions in 100+ different languages.You can be reminded of your daily reading, share with friends, post to Twitter or Facebook, read your plan in the translation of your choice (I am going to read my 2013 plan using The Message this time). There are also Christmas and Advent plans that range from three days to one month to prepare your heart for our annual celebration of the greatest Gift ever.

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in God's Word, Priorities, The Journey

 

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Tragedy. Angst. Evil. Justice. Love.

I have no wisdom in response to today’s senseless violence and loss of life at the little elementary schools in Connecticut and central China (nor the daily violence in the middle east, nor the hideous and silent suffering of millions of women and children enslaved this very moment across the world and in our own neighborhoods…) but I’ve been reading a lot, and here are some words from much wiser individuals…

An Insufficient Answer to the Shooting in Connecticut

Three Ways Christians Should Respond to the Horror of a Broken World

Responding to the Problem of Evil

A Day for Hatred

Where Was God?

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

A Lesson for All from Newton

Implosion update: The demons of violence are on the loose in America. But why? And where do we go from here?

I wish I could hug a mom whose arms are empty tonight. I wish I could hug a mom whose child is safe in bed and she wonders why hers was spared. I wish I could hug the child whose mom’s arms will no longer hold them in this world and I wish I could save every single woman and child who are being held against their will, in slavery for someone else’s sick “pleasure.” Yet I know that the angst I feel is but a drop in the bucket to what my Father feels — and His justice will prevail because He is a God of love — He IS love. And tonight He is surely grieved about our fallen state yet loving on those little Kindergartners who are in His wonderful arms forever.

Boy holding onto his mother

Post Script: A friend just posted this on Facebook — a good resource for comforting those grieving the loss of a child:

Dealing With Grief: Five Things NOT to Say and Five Things to Say In a Trauma Involving Children

And here is a very good book on losing on a child written by parents who lived it:

Written in Tears: A Grieving Father’s Journey Through Psalm 103

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Current Events, Sin, Suffering

 

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

“Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep…”

Israel is the name God gave to Jacob: “And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you’.” — Genesis 35

For those who are ready for some Christmas music (and for those who are not, but have a passion for Israel) may I offer this beautiful arrangement of “O Come Emmanuel”?

This is my sister…

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(Note: If the above link does not play well, please visit www.lisareiff.com, click on Music, then O Come Emmanuel.)

And while you are listening to her beautiful voice, think of Israel, and think of her Savior:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

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How Much Do You Have to Hate Somebody to Keep the Truth to Yourself?

In the news this week is the atheist group, American Humanist Association, and their campaign to get teens and pre-teens to reject God via their new outreach site, KidsWithoutGod.com. Now that’s bad. And parents should be ever-the-more vigilant to help their children guard their hearts and minds and they teach them to how to love Christ with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. We should not ignore the schemes of the enemy or be silent about the very wrong messages bombarding us and our children a thousand times a day. Silence can be complicity.

Here are some words from a famous atheist, Penn Jillette:

“The only people I don’t understand are people that say they don’t care about the whole issue. I love evangelicals. One of the things I learned doing Penn and Teller: Bull—-! on Showtime for all those years is that Christians are really good. They’re really good people. You notice there wasn’t an anti-Muslim show that we ever did. We did a bunch of anti-Christian shows. That is the biggest compliment I can give. The fact that Christians will really believe…American Christians…will really, really believe in the marketplace of ideas. And I love the fact that there are people that talk to me after the show and pray for me and give me Bibles. I never understand the atheists that say it’s OK as long as they shut up. They believe that there is eternal life. They believe you can be saved. What could be more hateful than shutting up?”

But we should be doing more than not shutting up about God and the Way, the Truth and the Life, we should also be actively living it. Actions speak louder than words: Everyone knows it. Here is more from Mr. Jillette:

“I don’t respect [people who do not share their faith] at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, and atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize — ‘Just leave me alone, keep your religion to yourself.’

“How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?” Jillette asked. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

How much DO you have to hate someone to put your light under a basket? To hide the salt? To withhold the life preserver from the drowning and the truth from the crowd shuffling its way toward the gates of hell? How much do you have to hate somebody to play church, to plant your butt in a seat on Sunday and forget for the rest of the week why you are actually left here on earth?

Mr. Jillette’s words sobered me. Do you know what else is sobering? 96.3% of the greater San Francisco Bay Area is un-churched. Over 96 out of 100 people I pass on the freeway, or in the grocery store, or at the mall don’t know what it means to live a life of freedom because of Christ’s saving grace. Let me never again see a fellow human being with my own eyes only, but with God’s eyes, and feel with God’s heart, which is to seek and save that which is lost.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Belief, God's Word, Missions, Obedience, Salvation

 

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Do Not Be Deceived, Even in Church

A few months ago I posted a piece, Shunned: When Church Goes Terribly Wrong which received an incredible number of responses to my personal email. This actually surprised me but apparently (and very unfortunately) this is not as rare as I’d thought or imagined.

Today I read this blog post and felt it was an important add for anyone to read who commented or related to the above:

CONSIDERING (AND SURVIVING) UNHEALTHY CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS, PART 1

The author of this piece intends to add a couple of additional posts and I will add them here. I think it’s very important to recognize and deal with this if you find yourself in situations of a similar nature. If you do, LEAVE — sooner rather than later, to avoid developing unhealthy habits and piled up regrets. BUT don’t leave the Church, just leave the unhealthy group. Messed-up Pastors and church leaders are NOT Jesus Christ! Find a vibrant, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, people-loving church where the Pastor is a friend not a fixture, a shepherd and not a sheriff, and where you can use your gifts to serve and be real with people who encourage and do not quash your growing walk with and love for Jesus Christ.

Blessings,
Amy

UPDATE: Here are Parts 2 and 3:

CONSIDERING (AND SURVIVING) UNHEALTHY CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS, PART 2

CONSIDERING (AND SURVIVING) UNHEALTHY CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATIONS, PART 3

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Relationships, The Church

 

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