Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Psalm 119:54-55 Remember to Stay Grounded

Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.
In the night, Lord, I remember your name, that I may keep your law.


Psalm 119:54-55
At the beginning of this zayin stanza, I framed its theme like this:
How does a person after God's own heart respond to wicked people who make a mockery of God's law and cause troubles and suffering for God's people? 
Verses 54 & 55 echo Psalm 37's answer to that question. The key to properly responding to the wickedness we see in the world (and sometimes in the church) is to always remain grounded in the Word. Only by putting down deep roots can the believer avoid being swept up in the 21st century tide of extreme division.

Much of what David wrote in Psalm 37 describes the spiritual disciplines that will keep us grounded.
  • 37:3 dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture: Spend so much time with God during your quiet times that, even when you're in the midst of the chaos of the world, you will be internally dwelling in His safe pasture
  • 37:4 take delight in the Lord: Get to know the Lord through quality time in the Word and in prayer, praising Him for who He is, so that your heart delights in his companionship, rather than delighting in wickedness or delighting in wicked responses to wickedness (such as hatred, mocking, and politics)
  • 37:5 commit your way to the Lord: Meditate on the Word and make concrete plans to live out what you're reading in your daily life, to avoid falling into habits driven by the world
  • 37:7 be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him: Spend time in stillness and solitude, learning to wait patiently for His guidance, rather than impatiently trying to control your world by other means
I could go on and on in Psalm 37 - and you should, too. David's response to wickedness is to put down roots in the Word, rather than giving in to your knee jerk responses.

David echoes that here in Psalm 119. Wherever he is, he worships God and praises His decrees. And every night he refreshes his mind with memories of God's name (who He is and what He stands for) so that he refreshes his commitment to keeping the law.

Keeping your focus when the world around you is getting crazy begins with intentionally and habitually renewing your focus on God and on incorporating His word into your life. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Psalm 119:53 Remember the Whole Law

Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.

Psalm 119:53
That Hebrew word translated as indignation also can refer to a burning fire.

It would seem David is so gripped by indignation it gives him heartburn. He's about to explode with blazing anger.

Have you ever felt that indignant about wicked people who have forsaken the law of God? I know I have.

Indignation grips me because of the hundreds of thousands of children whose lives have been terminated before they ever got a chance to walk the 1 road.

I'm often indignant at the callous use of the names of God and Jesus in everyday conversation. I'm even more indignant when those same words pop into my own mind.

My heart heats does a slow burn when I see people worshiping athletes, celebrities, politicians, and other human idols. I shake my head in disgust when my fellow Christians do the same.

My heart burns to see discord, dissension, factions, and vilification of opposing viewpoints become the norm in 21st century America. That heartburn bursts into a raging inferno when I see the 21st century American Church falling into the very same habits.

I'm indignant that so many Christians will get explosively worked up over the laws they see being ignored among the people of the world, while they remain comfortably selective in their follow-through on God's commandments to love your neighbor and love your your enemies.

I'm incensed when Christians ignore the laws against bearing false witness and gossiping, all in the pursuit of "spinning" the truth in favor of the "right" politician and against the "wrong" politician.

I'm also indignant when Christians choose to ignore clear biblical teachings about sins, under the pressure of modern culture and their personal experiences. I'm equally indignant when Christians choose to stand firm on those teachings about sin, but choose to ignore the clear scriptural teachings to lead with love, to win those people to Christ, to be reconcilers.

I also become indignant when people post lists of things about which they're indignant, as though the focus of the gospel is to build walls rather than breaking them down.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dennis and Linda Messimer: Writer's Notebook

Dennis and Linda Messimer and their grandkifs

For the February issue of Christian Standard, my editors wanted to share stories of couples who had spent a lifetime in partnership in both marriage and ministry. I was blessed to be assigned to write about the partnership of Dennis and Linda Messimer. You can read that article in the current issue or online.

As usual, not everything from my interview with the Messimers made it into the 1,100 word published version of the story. So here are some more bits and pieces from the interview:


Dennis and Linda met on Thanksgiving Day in 1966. Dennis had come to Ozark Bible College that fall to pursue a 5th-year graduate degree. Linda was a freshman that year.

Dennis' father was a professor at OBC.

"Mother called to the dorms to see if anyone was around and needed a place to eat Thanksgiving dinner," says Dennis.

"We hardly knew each other when we got married," Linda says. "We met that Thanksgiving Day because I was heading home for the holiday and the car broke down, so I was stuck in Joplin."

Getting married was not in Linda's plans at the time. "I wasn’t getting married for another ten years, and I certainly wasn’t going to marry a preacher. But I fell in love. When we decided to get married, I decided I was going to be a preacher’s wife."

Belgium

In 1970,  at the urging of Harold Fowler, the Messimers went to Belgium to help begin a Bible College, a plan which never actually came to fruition.

"In Belgium we helped start two churches that are still going," says Dennis. "At least, last we knew they still were. It was a group effort with others. Belgium has very few non-Roman Catholic churches. It was a blessing to be a part of starting these churches.

"When troubles come, you just work through it," Linda says. "God sends his little angels, like Guy and Thelma Mayfield. He was a chaplain during WWII in Italy. He took those soldiers and evangelized Italy and started a Bible College in Italy. He ended up with his wife teaching school in Germany when he retired. They would just show up on our doorstep when we were ready to give up. Literally unannounced, we would open the door and there was Guy and Thelma. That happened, I know, at least three times in Belgium. God just took care of us. Once we got to South Africa, we had been in Belgium seventeen years, and we didn’t need that kind of encouragement as much. We didn’t get so discouraged to where we were ready to go home."

South Africa

"In South Africa," says Dennis, "we worked with some churches. I felt like our work with the preachers of The Church of Christ Mission was a real privilege. Most of them were under-educated but extremely dedicated individuals. Some of them would start a church a year and some of them had as many as 15 churches that, like a circuit riding preacher, they would keep going and feeding the elders of those churches so the elders would have something to say on Sundays."

"One of the things that give us both a lot of joy is leadership training," agrees Linda. "One of my greatest joys is to see people that I’ve taught teach others. To encourage them to stretch, to encourage them to do it, gives me a lot of joy."

"She got involved with the Christian Women's club in South Africa, "says Dennis.

"If anyone made a decision to follow the Lord, I did a Bible study with them." says Linda. "It was a way to meet people in the community, and it was a way to meet non-Christians and other Christians. It was good fellowship and a great way to evangelize."

Dennis adds, "According to their rules you couldn’t talk about baptism."

"...but you could read scripture!" Linda adds, "I read lots of scripture. Extra scripture! And that led to some baptisms."

Raising Children on the Mission Field

"I would put all three children down to sleep somewhere and then go back into the room and help with the home Bible studies," says Linda. "I did that until Brent came along, and then it was too much. For the rest of those years, I did one bible study per week, and someone else taught the kids. That was my time to be in fellowship with the church people and have our kids be with other Christian kids."

"One thing we did," Linda says, "was not create a subculture for our kids. They grew up in Belgium, they went to Belgian schools, they had Belgian friends. They felt part of the culture. OK, they were different, but they didn’t feel that different. I think that is very helpful. The kids who have the most trouble seem to be the ones who weren’t as much a part of the culture. We were very blessed that the schools were good in both countries. Our kids went to Catholic schools in Belgium, and obviously there were some teachings that were not biblical, and we just dealt with those at home. In South Africa, all the schools our kids went to were advertised as Christian-biased”.

"In South Africa, the president of the PTA was from Scotland, one of our good friends was German," Dennis says. "There were some Chinese, a few of Dutch background, and more that were British background."

"It was a little melting pot of all nationalities," Linda adds.

The Messimer family
"Brent was only 11 or 12," Dennis says, "when Brent and one of his friends went for a walk with me to see someone. The people weren’t there, so we headed back. On the way back there was a man lying on the ground. He had some bullet holes in him, with blood. Someone asked me if I thought he was going to die. Just in the five minutes since we had passed that point and gotten back, there had been this shooting."

"It was a crazy place to grow up in," says Linda. "I think one of the worst times was when Brent’s friend, who lived across the street, called and said, they just shot my dad."

"We protected the kids as much as we could," she says, "but we felt like God wanted us there and we never really. In spite of all those experiences, we never really though about coming back. We were where God wanted us to be and we did a lot of praying with the kids. We did a lot of talking through those things with the kids. Everybody else’s kids were going through the same thing."

"The Lord got us there," Linda says. "When you’re so sure that you’re where the Lord wants you to be, we never thought about leaving. We thought about being smart and being as safe as we could make ourselves. Do we get a gun or not? We said, no we’re not going to get a gun. In South Africa when you use a gun you have to shoot to kill, and we weren’t going to do that."

Hospitality

"The easiest things to cook for a crowd of people, "Linda says, "is spaghetti, and if it’s wintertime, soup."

"She learned in Belgium how to make soup," Dennis days, and Linda adds, "Belgians make good soup."

"There for a while," Dennis says, "it would be oven roasted chicken with rice."

"At first, all I could cook was spaghetti," Linda says, "and then I finally learned to cook chicken, so I was confident about my baked chicken. Now we’re back to spaghetti because the crowds are so big."

"I've hit a stage in my life now where I just can’t do it anymore," she says. "For a while we had international students in for a meal every Sunday, put this past year I just haven’t been able to do it. They come – often – but not every Sunday."


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Psalm 119:52 Remember the Old Ways

I remember, Lord, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them.
Psalm 119:52

My college-age mind was blown in 1975 by the publication of The Problem of Wineskins: Church Structure in Technological Age, by Howard Snyder. This book provided a theological framework for the tensions I'd been struggling with.

I was leaving behind many of the ways the church of my youth had conducted themselves in the world. At the same time I was too firmly rooted in my devotion to the Word of God to discard the "ancient laws" out of hand.

Many young Christians since that time have faced a similar tug-of-war when they step away from the religious strictures of their home and their home church. Many abandon their faith entirely, in ever increasing numbers. One study, by Summit Ministries, found that between 59% of students who described themselves as "born again" during high school no longer described themselves that way four years later. Other studies put that percentage at 70% or higher.

Other studies have found an overwhelming percentage of young people still describe themselves as Christian or as "born again", but hold to opinions on several culture-sensitive topics that are far from the doctrines espoused by the average evangelical church or denomination.

The most commonly talked about difference is in the arena of sexual relationships. Many millennial believers have shifted toward acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyles, across the range from premarital sex, divorce, remarriage, and LGBTQ. They find the weight of societal pressure and personal experience difficult to resist.

Is there a way we can provide young people with a framework to retain their faith and their devotion to the authority of scripture? I think the same principles many in my generation learned from Howard Snyder's book could provide such a path.

Snyder's book is somewhat dated in it's addressing of "current" issues. I didn't agree with all of his ideas back then, so I wouldn't be surprised if there are still things I could pick at. But his premise is a good one, based on the parable of the New Wine and Old Wineskins, in Matthew 9:14-16.

The key concept is found int his quote from Snyder's book:
Every age knows the temptation to forget that the gospel is ever new. We try to contain the new wine of the gospel in old wineskins — outmoded traditions, obsolete philosophies, creaking institutions, old habits. But with time the old wineskins begin to bind the gospel. Then they must burst, and the power of the gospel pour forth once more. Many times this has happened in the history of the church. Human nature wants to conserve, but the divine nature is to renew. it seems almost a law that things initially created to aid the gospel eventually become obstacles — old wineskins. Then God has to destroy or abandon them so that the gospel wine can renew man’s world once again.
We should be teaching young people the difference between the continually new wine of the gospel and the need to continually change the wineskins of our practice as the church.

There's no need to toss out the wine with the wineskins.

There's no need to toss out the "ancient laws" that reflect God's righteous intent for human relationships. But we do need to find new ways to lead with love rather than condemnation as we deal with the LGBTQ community.

I've watched many of my fellow Christians retreat into what they think is "old time religion," but actually just goes back a few generations to old ways of talking and interacting with the world with an us vs. them approach. I've watched other believers lay their allegiance to the "ancient laws" aside. It's not because they've concluded the Bible somehow wasn't really saying those things. They simply find it too hard to stand firm with the Word in the face of the all-invasive culture of the world.

There's a third way. Remember the ancient laws, and find comfort and community in them.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Psalm 119:51 Remember the Root of Integrity

The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law.

Psalm 119:51
It's tempting to read this Psalm and come away feeling quite self-satisfied.
Those arrogant people are mocking Christians unmercifully, but me, I'm good, because I don't turn from your law.
The definition of arrogance is projecting an exaggerated sense of your own importance, abilities, and superiority. According to the 2012 book unChristian: What a New Generation REally Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters, by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, that definition of arrogance is exactly how a large majority of non-Christians see us.
"The primary reason outsiders feel outside toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What they react negatively to is our ‘swagger,’ how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project."
"We are not known for the depth of our transparency, for digging in and solving deep-seated problems, but for trying to project an unChristian picture of having it all together."
In my experience, Christian arrogance comes from a lie we've been taught to believe, many of us since childhood. It's the lie that our knowledge and belief of the "right" doctrines makes us better than everyone else. Throughout the twenty centuries of the Church, her biggest flaw has been her continual return to an Us vs. Them mentality, born of our arrogance.

It's rooted in the many scriptures that contrast the favored position of the people of faith vs. the wickedness of the world. There is no way to get around that clear teaching of scriptures.

But, like the nation of Israel, we've been all too quick to grasp onto the notion that we somehow earned the moniker of God's Chosen People.

The truth is, we're all on the same 1 road, both believers and unbelievers. We're all imperfect travelers, prone to stumbling, in desperate need of the mercy of God.

When arrogant unbelievers mercilessly mock our faith in God, is it because they're blind and don't understand their true situation, in need of the mercy of God? Sometimes.

Too often, though, they mock us because we've acted too much like them. We've been acting as though we don't understand our true situation, our complete and total dependence on His mercy.

We strut our status as children of the King, while not at all displaying the character of the King.

The Kingdom of God is about humility, not arrogance. The Kingdom is about loving, not mocking. The Kingdom is about mercy, not judgment.

When arrogant people mock you unmercifully, do you respond with arrogance? Do you project a purely judgmental attitude toward them?

Or do you respond with the humility of Christ? Do you reach out to them and admit your common ground, the imperfection and foolishness we all share?

When you're mocked by arrogant and unmerciful people, do you respond by mocking their unbelief? Do you mock their lifestyle choices that cause God to weep? Do you traffic in Facebook and Twitter memes that make fun of them?

Or do you respond the way Christ responded when He was mocked by the ones who were crucifying Him? Does your heart go out to them, eager for them to be forgiven? Do you turn the other cheek, allowing them to persist in their mockery, while you persist in your loving-kindness and patience?

When mercy is withheld by those who mock you arrogantly, do you refuse to extend mercy to them? Are you the type to look for every little flaw, every misstep by the people you see as dirty rotten sinners? Do you rejoice when calamity strikes, declaring it to be the judgment of God upon them?

Or do you welcome them with mercy, the same mercy with which Christ welcomes you?

The Law of the Lord is not just about good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. It's also brimming over with humility, loving-kindness, and mercy.

The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I respond by not turning from your law, the law of love.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Psalm 119:50 Remember the Source of Comfort

Compared to Christians in countries like China, Laos, North Korea, or Pakistan, American Christians face little discrimination.

Christians in the Soviet Union during the Iron Curtain era were certainly persecuted to a greater extreme than believers in 21st century America.

And yet, discrimination against Christians in America is real.

Social media and popular entertainment love to insult Christians. Some of those insults are earned. Certainly any Christian who betrays greater allegiance to a political stance than to a godly stance has earned the world's disdain. Many other insults are the equivalent of playground taunts from the skeptical masses.

Christianity was once respected as a pervasive influence on American culture, but no more. Many of the loudest voices now tend to treat Christianity as a bad - even dangerous - influence on society.

Some Christians think the government discriminates against them. From their point of view, religious freedoms in America are being gradually whittled away by lawmakers and judges, in favor of granting freedom to citizens who choose a different lifestyle.

I frequently want to ask "why not both"? Why can't everyone have the freedoms promised int he constitution? But there does seem to be a definite tug from one end of the spectrum toward the other. Religious freedom scholars and litigators warn of the legal creep toward not only confiscation of religious freedoms but toward anti-religious laws.

So how do we respond? Where do we go for comfort?

We could look for comfort in the next election (and the one after that, and then another). The political pendulum, as it always does, swings back the other way and that comfort level disappears. And so we put our hope in Facebook and Twitter to provide a comfortable forum to spin the facts in support of the political people and ideas we think will fix the problems.

Other Christians seek comfort by isolating themselves into their own Christian bubble. They interact as little as possible with people of the world. Of course, there's a big gap between being separate and holy vs. being isolationist and fearful of the world. One encourages selfless evangelism. The other encourages selfish survivalism.

Others seek comfort by belittling the genuine suffering of of people who are walking the same 1 road alongside them.
White evangelicals are more likely to say Christians face a lot of discrimination than they are to say Muslims face a lot of discrimination (57% vs. 44%, respectively). (Public Religion Research Institute, February 2017)
Again I ask, why not both? It doesn't help our situation as believers to ignore the genuine needs of our fellow travelers. It diminishes us.

There is another path toward comfort, the way of confidence and boldness.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And, But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.


Hebrews 10:32-39
Can you joyfully accept the loss of an election, in the shifting of political fortunes? Can you show biblical respect for political leaders whose politics are different than yours? Can you do that, knowing you have better and lasting priorities?

Can you find the courage to step out of your isolation and walk side by side with people who are needy, troubled, and searching for comfort? Can you do that, knowing your greatest comfort will be found walking in the footsteps of the Son of Man?

Can you ask God for the strength to bear the burdens of the oppressed and downtrodden, even if they don't worship the one true God? Can you do that, focusing on your mission rather than on yourself?

Don't throw away your confidence in the God who is in control.
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.

Psalm 119:50
Living in full confidence of His promise will preserve and vitalize your life. It can give you a comfort only found living the adventure of faith. It's deeper and more enduring than all the false comforts the world offers.

We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Psalm 119:49 Remember the Source of Hope

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope.

Psalm 119:49
David asks the Lord to remember - or remind, as we would say it - him of the Word.

He's not just asking God to help him memorize scriptures, although that's certainly a good thing to ask for.

Some people, by nature, are excellent at memorizing. God helped them blessing them with the genetic markers that produced the sort of brain biology that stores and organizes and maintains information more efficiently and effectively.

Others are good at memorizing by nurture. God blessed them with the the sort of home environment and educational opportunities to train their brains for efficient and effective remembering.

For the rest of us, we need His help to make up for the deficiencies of our neurological make-up or our educational shortcomings. Ask God to not only help you remember, but for Him to help you discover the methods and tools that can help you.

But I don't think David is asking only for the Lord to help him with the neuro-mechanics of storage and recall. What he needs is help sorting through the multitude of memories and thoughts and ideas, so that he can remember what is most important.

Not everything bouncing around in David's mind gave him hope.

The dismissive comments and treatment from his older brothers did not give him hope as he contemplated facing Goliath. But his stored memories of the scriptures offered great hope, especially when those were intertwined with his memories of how God had come through and helped him when he acted on the promises of God to protect his flock from predators.

The memory of his rapidly deteriorating relationship with a jealous King Saul did not offer David much hope when he was fleeing for his life from the king and his army. But his mental storehouse of God's word, combined with his memories of all the times God had proved trustworthy, offered a hope that had to seem unreasonable to some of those around him. They especially must have wondered about David's "super hope" when he chose to pass on the opportunity to end Saul's life, because of his faith in the promises of God.

When there seems to be no hope, remember God's promises. when the world around you seems to be careening toward insanity and depravity, ask God to help you remember His Word.

American culture in the 21st century has become combative and dismissive and downright rude. When your gut reaction is respond by going into "righteous" combat mode, dismissive arrogance toward enemies, and returning rudeness for rudeness, stop.

Remember God's Word. Remember you are His servant. Remember there is hope in approaching tough times His way.