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Army

multiple personalities

I celebrate 15 years in ministry this month. I’ve been in various positions throughout those years. The Army and schooling necessitated a couple of those moves. One of my favorite jobs was as a Spirituality Group Leader at a recovery hospital. The hospital had a residency program for those recovering from drugs and alcohol, Soldiers with PTSD, and other patients with a host of mental disorders. It always kept me on my toes leading Bible studies. 

I learned to read the charts of the patients as I made my notes and signed off on their participation. Some of the stories were very sad because the patients struggled with years of abuse which they tried to cover up with drugs and alcohol. There were others who came from great families with great resources. Even though they had the world at their finger tips, they squandered it all away for a substance. It was so very sad. 

Then there were the Soldiers with PTSD. They were angry, struggling to cope with civilian life, and often heartbroken for those that never came back home. I loved these guys. I understood much of what they were going through, though in a lesser degree. 

My most challenging group of patients were those who had various mental disorders. Have you ever tried to lead a Bible study with someone who thinks they are Jesus? Really, there was a guy who thought he was Jesus. Walking on water? Yep he did that. Feeding 4,000 and 5,000? He did that too. Then his medicine changed and he thought he was Judas. Another week went by and he identified with his real self. It was crazy, literally. My heart went out for him as he was struggling to figure out what was real and what was not real. 

There were many like him. I wouldn’t know who was coming each week. Was it their actual self or someone they were pretending to be? It was always the most intense and interesting Bible study times. Typically Junior high boys are the most difficult to lead in a Bible study but they have nothing on mental patients! It was tons of fun as I would lead those Bible studies twice a week and share the gospel with them even. It was way outside my comfort zone but I find those times are when God grows us best. 

This all has me thinking about who we really are as people. We may not have “multiple personalities” but in a sense we do. If we act one way at church and another at home, we do. If we act one way at the ball field and another at work, we do. Even still, as a parent, does my daughter see me as having a loving and harsh side or am I just Dad that is both at the same time? I hope the latter. 

This problem is not new with modern psychology. There were people who were charged to not be double minded. Having two minds isn’t just an issue of not knowing who you are but is ultimately not knowing who God is. Jesus’ brother James instructs the Jews who live abroad to have faith in God with no doubting (James 1:6-8). They needed to have faith in who God really is not who they thought he was apart from true biblical knowledge. He frames this all with the command to ask God for wisdom if you need it. We are to ask without doubting because God is a good God who wants to bless his children with good gifts like wisdom. If we doubt we are like a ship that is tossed by the waves of the ocean. James doesn’t want us unstable with doubt. He wants us to be like a lighthouse, firmly fixed in the ocean withstanding the winds of doubt. We need to do this, not because we have great faith but because our faith is fixed to a sure hold.

Faith is like an anchor. The strongest of anchor, if not secure on something solid will be worthless. I’ve been in the ocean many times with an anchor far too big for the boat only to see us drifting because the anchor is just sliding on the sand. However, I was fishing with a good friend when we donated three anchors one morning because there were rocks and/or structure which were very solid so solid we never got the anchors back.

The strength of faith is not in our faith but in what/who we have our faith in. If we have faith in our ability, when we get tired our faith is useless. If we have faith in our bank accounts then when our money runs out, we are done for. However, if we have faith rooted in Jesus than we are as strong as Jesus is strong. When we are weak, we are actually strong when we are in Jesus (2 Cor 12). 

How can this be? We are like this because God doesn’t have multiple personalities. Depending on your upbringing and who have you have listened to, you may think God does. You may think the God of the Old Testament is about the Law, is angry, and often mad. The God of the New Testament is all about grace, mercy, and love. To be honest, I heard those things and thought them too, though it was a while ago. What really helped me understand who God is was a little book called The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I’m rereading it now and enjoying  it immensely. 

The book is about the attributes of God in other words, it is a book about who God is. There isn’t a better subject for a book in my opinion. It is short enough that it serves as a good introduction for anyone. In the book he shows how God is not segmented like we are. He is not separate in his personality. He is perfectly loving while also showing hatred for sin. His mercy is equal to his wrath. This is helpful to understand. God is not different in the Old and New Testaments. He is always himself and for us, this is for our good. For you today, in your circumstances, it is for our good that God is always himself. Our circumstances need to be informed by good theology that God does not change like a ship tossed by the wind.

He loves us, hates sin, is merciful, and wrathful. If we have Jesus the wrath has been paid, we get the mercy, love, and by God’s grace learn to hate sin like Jesus. Let me finish with a quote from Tozer, “

The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures. Love, for instance, is not something God has and which may grow or diminish or cease to be. His love is the way God is, and when He loves He is simply being Himself.”

God doesn’t change. He is not wrathful without being loving. You can’t get his discipline without also getting his grace and mercy. THIS IS GOOD NEWS! He is always our loving Father. He is always loving and he doesn’t get tired and his love doesn’t run out. So know that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, he is working in your life right now, he is working out of love. He does not change. 

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don’t be a cheapskate

I have a friend who is the most generous person I know. He is a guy who would gladly give you the shirt off his back. He is also skinny, with a six-pack, and perpetually tan so taking his shirt off isn’t exactly offensive. He’s not just generous in offering his shirt. He offers time, money, and his things. But let’s be clear, he’s very generous with money. He’s not rich but what he has, if you need it, you can have it. He doesn’t just give a little, he gives much. 

It has me thinking about missions. I live overseas because of him and many others who give generously. I live here to continue gospel ministry. When we think about the gospel ministry, we need to give the gospel generously. The opposite of a generous person is a cheapskate, I don’t want to be a gospel cheapskate. How can someone be a gospel cheapskate? We cheapen the gospel when we do not share the gospel robustly. 

We cheapen the gospel by minimizing it to just a couple of verses or a memorized presentation. Furthermore, we cheapen the gospel when we make the goal of our ministry getting someone to “pray the prayer.” I remember hearing someone share how they shared the gospel. We shared a hamburger at a restaurant as he told us about his gospel exploits that day. He had little booklets which shared the gospel message. He was in a van with several others evangelizing the city. Rightly, the group started out with prayer and asked God to bless their day. Then they drove to a rough neighborhood. They wanted to win the baddest dudes in the city so they set off looking for people who looked tough.

He told us story after story how he would jump out of the vehicle standing on street corners and share the gospel with them. He would scare them initially but then lead them to Christ. His gospel presentation went something like this: How sure are you if you were to die today that you would go to heaven? After the person expressed some doubt, he would ask, “Would you like to pray this prayer to make sure you go to heaven?” After the person prayed, he’d give them the booklet and jump back in the van. He had an amazing success rate. I’m just not sure we can really call it a success. He did consider it a success because he was able to lead someone to Jesus in less than a minute. His best that day was 47 seconds. I was devastated by this gospel cheapskate. 

The gospel is not about getting someone to say a prayer to get them out of hell. The gospel is the good news of God. The good news of God means we have to understand him, our offense against him, and his provision for restoration. In other words, we need to know about God, sin, Jesus, and our response. We can’t do that in 47 seconds. I’m hesitant to put a time limit on this process but it takes longer than a minute. If a person comes up to you and asks you what they have to do to be saved chances are it will still take more than 47 seconds but rest assured there have been previous encounters. We don’t need to see how little of the gospel we can share because the message is a message about God. We don’t need to try to minimize God. Instead, we need to see how much we are able to communicate about God. 

The gospel is the gospel because it is about God. It is rich and wonderful because it is his story. It is breathtaking and captivating because only he could make the way. It is marvelous and miraculous because we get to be involved in sharing this great news! If your heart resonates with some of this, then why try to share as little as possible? 

When we think about a gospel cheapskate, we need to remember Jesus. He didn’t give us part of himself. He gave us all of himself. He died so we can live. He paid for our sin so we can have a relationship with God. He came to earth so we can go with him and so much more. God is the God of so much more. He can do more than we can ask or think. He gives his grace and mercy more than we can imagine. These attributes of God will be discussed in the next post so stay tuned.