Our relationship with Christ determines “…how we experience the world, and how the world experiences us…” (page 8). What could be more important than that? Every “seeker” needs to explore the answer to two pivotal questions: “Who is Jesus?” and “What difference does Jesus make in our lives?” (page 89). In his book Caught Up in Christ, Rick Merfeld simplifies and clarifies issues of faith that may have been clouded by society’s changing climates, life’s disappointments, and strict dogma. He also gives the reader prompts for application and reflection. Rick’s broad but biblically accountable brush strokes appeal to any denomination. It is a guidebook to take on one’s life-journey.
By Robert Gomoll, former assistant-minister of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Dubuque, IA, and former member of an ecumenical jail-ministry for twelve years. He is currently an adjunct professor of composition and literature at the University of Dubuque.
Three word catch phrases and 5-minute videos, skewed news accounts, and social media traffic inundate us with perspectives from differing worldviews.
Some of the views are easy to assess and we quickly discard or add to our mental toolbox. Others can be more challenging to evaluate. Three-word phrases and 5-minute videos stir up our emotions, tug on our thoughts, challenge preconceived notions, and can even spawn doubts in long-held beliefs. In our fast-paced, data-driven world, these short bursts can be helpful as we merge from one thought to another. But, there are dangers in merging traffic where people don’t stop to think things through.
I love music. I remember learning about the Pandora music service with great excitement. There are other similar music services available in the market now, but I understand they all work about the same. You enter a song, musician, or type of music that you want to listen to, and you are immediately served up a selection. You sit back and enjoy your favorite tunes as Pandora becomes your own personal jukebox! (Younger readers may need to Google that!)
Over the first few months, I created “stations” dedicated to 80’s rock and roll, show tunes, John Denver, Christian music, and instrumental movie themes. I thought I had my love of music by the tail! But then I learned a disturbing feature of the service. I would start off listening to powerful movie themes by John Williams and before I knew it, I was listening to country music! I found out the hard way that I had to use the buttons on the screen to like or dislike a certain song. If I didn’t stay in charge of what I was listening to, I would be carried off on a musical train that was going in a totally different direction than I had intended.
We need to guard against this Pandora effect as we encounter different perspectives on critical issues. It might be a timeless issue like creation, purpose, morality, or destiny; or an emergent issue such as critical race theory, identity, or human sexuality. If we are not careful, we’ll start off with sincere open mindedness only to find out later that we are tied into beliefs, views, and even behaviors that conflict with truth and lie outside our value net.
Diligent discernment is key. The graphic shows us the four dimensions of discernment.
Length Is the idea good for just today or will it be good tomorrow? How far into the future will the idea be relevant, true, and have positive outcomes?
Depth What are the roots of the idea? Where does it come from? What are the foundational beliefs and values that hold up the idea?
Height Does the idea rely on the wisdom of man or does it extend higher and include the wisdom of God?
Circumference Is the idea good for only me or a small group of people? To what extent is the idea also good for your neighborhood and larger community?
I think St. Paul understood that discernment takes time and effort, but he still encouraged us to “Not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12: 2)
Let’s be diligent about discernment as we continue to care for ourselves, families, and neighbors, both near and far.
Comments Off on Is there a place where things still make sense?
At work the other day, I was setting a project plan with an employee. I asked if the plan made sense. The employee said, “Yep, that makes sense.” A nearby customer, reacting to the exchange, raised up his arms in celebration and proclaimed, “Thank God, there is a place where things still make sense!”
The three of us had a good laugh. The gentleman may not have intended any deeper meaning, but his remark made an impact only because we had found common ground. Like all good comedy, things are funny when they, on some level, correspond to reality. With so much having been turned around, flipped over, or simply cancelled out, many are feeling our world no longer makes sense. Can you identify with that feeling?
If things don’t make sense right now in our country, there must have been something, at other times, that did make sense. What are the conditions, characteristics, and attributes that make a situation or an entire culture-make sense?
To answer the question, let’s breakdown a football game. A football game makes sense because both teams share the same identity as football players, and they have the same purpose-score more points than the other team to win the game. The game also makes sense because both teams get the same opportunities, and everyone agrees to play by the same rules established by the league office. The integrity of the game is protected by officials who apply the rules equally to both teams and assess penalties justly. There is even a system in place to resolve issues that arise, and it works for both teams. We may not always agree with the officiating, and our team may not win, but the game, at a basic level, makes sense.
Our culture works the same way. At a basic level, things make sense when there is a shared sense of identity and purpose, everyone plays by the rules, there are just penalties for wrong-doing, and the system to address issues works fairly for everyone. The basics of our culture are important. They provide the foundation on which everything else is built.
Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi knew this great truth. He started every season with the same basic lesson. “Gentleman, this is a football.” You can’t get much more basic than that!
One of the reasons we are in the cultural situation we are today is that we’ve forgotten our basics, our foundation. There is a reason why the United States, over time, developed into the most productive, revered, and giving nation in the history of the world. I understand there are people who will take issue with me for simply making this statement. Stay with me, please. Your future depends on it.
Our country is hurting. Between the civil and racial unrest, the pandemic, all that surrounded the federal elections, and all the personal and family situations and events in our lives, we’ve experienced 25 years of pain in the last 12 months.
In any situation where a person-or a country-is hurting, the healing process starts with essential first-aid. In medical situations, first-responders provide first-aid to maintain healthy essential functions before moving on to advanced care. If the heart stops, it won’t matter if the left arm is broken. Remember, “Gentleman, this is a football.”
For over 200 years, there was a widely accepted and celebrated foundation on which our country stood.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
(Declaration of Independence)
The Pledge of Allegiance was recited in schools and everyone stood for the National Anthem. I know, I hear all the media stories, too. Some things have changed and there are those who are working to cancel elements of our history. (I’ll help you understand how even these efforts make sense in a forthcoming blog.) Yes, it is critical that we recognize and work to heal the terrible parts of our history, but life-giving first-aid does not include ripping out the heart of our unique national body. A short story will help.
In 2001, my family had the honor of meeting Lt. Robert Martin, and three other Tuskeegee airmen. Lt. Martin agreed to partner with me. We published an article about his life as a young black man growing up in predominantly white Dubuque, Iowa, in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Against the odds, Lt. Martin graduated from high school, earned his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Iowa State University, and joined the Army. He became a member of the first African American fighter squadron that trained at Tuskeegee, Alabama. The Black Birdmen, as they were called by German pilots in World War II, trained on separate airfields, ate in separate dining halls, and slept in separate quarters.
We enjoyed a number of wonderful phone conversations as we developed the article. I’ll never forget the day I finally braved enough courage to ask Lt. Martin a question that had been on my heart from the beginning. I was becoming aware of my white privilege and I wasn’t sure I had the right to even ask the question. Yes, white privilege is a thing, but it’s not everything you hear about in the media. Lt. Martin was gracious and moved quickly to the answer that testified to a heart-felt and deeply held conviction.
“Bob,” I asked. He had invited me to address him so. “With all the bad things happening to African Americans, why were you willing to die for our country?”
“Rick,” he replied. “We knew what was happening in Germany.” Lt. Martin was referring to the holocaust of the Jewish people and other identity groups at the hands of Hitler’s army. “We knew things could get worse, but we all believed the United States had the right foundation and things were getting better.” Lt. Martin passed away in 2018 at the age of 99. His story testifies to the unifying power of a shared ideal that helps things make sense, even in times of war.
Providing effective medical first-aid requires an understanding of essential organs and systems of the human body. Providing effective first-aid for a hurting nation requires an understanding of the essential foundation and the basic elements of our nation. There is so much included in the words and ideas of the Declaration. Today, we’ll focus on only four words: truth, equality, creator, and liberty.
We hold these truths not only points to the specific truths that follow in the Declaration, but even more important today, truths points to the foundational belief in the existence of truths-those things that are essentially accurate, correspond to natural reality and are not open to debate; they transcend movements in time, and are not relative to individual situations or opinions. We are becoming a relativistic society where people feel they can have their own truth depending on how they feel about something or what they think is true about a situation at a given moment in time.
St. Augustine said, “We love the truth when it enlightens us, but we hate it when it convicts us.” Our foundation calls us to be diligent about discernment, to put in the time to pursue and hold fast to what is true about our nation, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We could start at the word and idea of equality and go a million different directions. But remember, “Gentleman, this is a football.” Our foundation includes a basic belief in the equality and value of every person. And it’s not coincidental that the Declaration includes a recognition of and reverence for our Creator. God, the God of the Bible, and the ideas, laws, and processes taken directly from the Bible were the nutrients in the soil of our foundation that nurtured the roots of liberty. Freedoms are granted by human institutions and can be revoked by the same; but liberty, those inalienable rights, come from God and cannot be revoked by human institutions. They can be stifled, but not revoked.
These ideals and attributes help our nation make sense. If not God’s law, then whose? History records the stories of nations who adopt God’s law and those who follow after man-made laws. The Bible tells the story of the nation of Israel and the blessings and curses that befell God’s chosen people as they worshipped God, and when they worshipped other gods.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian philosopher once said, “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’”
There is a great lesson here about our nation’s woes. We, too, have forgotten God. This makes our most essential wound, a spiritual wound. In the great lesson is also a prescription for spiritual first-aid. We need to remember God and return to Him for His guidance and blessings. Our nation’s history includes our great hero’s calling on the providential care of the Almighty in times of trouble. Will we do so, in our current times of trouble?
Things make sense when we recognize who God is and remember we are on stage but for a single scene in the great epic drama of time. The prescription for spiritual first-aid also includes getting caught up in the main character in the great drama-Jesus, the Christ of the one true and Living God. You may need to step back from your wall to see this great truth. Each of has a wall and when we stand too close to it, we lose sight of what is around us. The answers we seek are often behind us, above us, or beside us, just out of our field of view.
We wake each day to a world that is more and more anti-God and anti-Christ. If you are like me, you have questions, and doubts. It can be hard to hold on to faith in Christ, much less start a new relationship with Him. When providing spiritual first-aid, it’s important to recognize that doubts lead to questions, and questions, if left unanswered, can plummet into total disbelief.
Christ heard some of our very same questions and doubts from his very own disciples. Believe me, He hears ours, too. In my next blog, we’ll look at how Jesus answered his disciples. His response is just as comforting and validating for us today! We’ll also apply the same lessons of spiritual first-aid to our individual lives. Things makes sense personally when we understand our situation, space, identity, and purpose. We’ll also look at who our enemy is and learn how to be engaged against his attacks.
Prescription for spiritual first-aid
Reading the Word of God is essential spiritual first-aid. If you are not currently reading the bible, I encourage you to start with the Gospel of John, a chapter a day. Join us as we get caught up in Christ!
In today’s world, it is no surprise that many people doubt that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God. But if it is anything less than this, could there be any accuracy in its details or power in its content? You may have other questions or perhaps you’ve heard doubts expressed by those around you. Does God really exist? Is there any way to know if Jesus really died on a cross at Calvary and rose from the dead? We wake each morning to a world that is increasingly hostile to God and the Christian worldview. Unanswered questions lead to doubts; doubts, if unchecked, can mature into total disbelief.
Today, seekers and believers as well, hunger for evidence that makes it easier to hold fast to the truth about Christ as revealed in the natural world and in the Holy Bible. The world may mock those who are caught up in Christ. Yet, evidence answers questions, dissolves doubt, and empowers faith.
But let’s get real. Even when convinced of biblical authority, why bother with it? What practical value could it serve? Caught Up in Christ illuminates five outcomes you can expect from getting caught up in Christ and the Holy Word of God. We’re not talking about superficial tips and tricks but measurable results that you can see and touch, quantifiable outcomes that will change the way you experience the world and how the world experiences you.
The five outcomes are an enhanced sense of peace, a powerful partnership, a godly perspective, pure thoughts, and lastly, the life-changing impact of being persuaded by the truth about God and becoming persuasive for His kingdom.
Do you long for peace of mind? Are there fears that you want to overcome and problems that you would like to solve? Are you searching for a way to make sense of the world and to find your place in it? Can you imagine how your life might be better if you could change the way you impact those around you? Do you long for a way to help those around you to achieve peace and the changes they desire? Can you imagine a deeper, more meaningful worship experience?
If you are like me, you answered yes to one or more of these questions. Look around. People everywhere are searching for answers, and many are finding out the world has overpromised and under-delivered. It’s important to start our search by imagining the difference Christ would make in our life and in the lives of our family and friends.
I invite you to read the book and join in our conversation about the Bible as we get caught up in Christ.
Seekers and believers answer this question differently. There is great power in prayer and God’s power to answer prayers is unmatched and unchanging. A key difference between seekers and believers is the level of confidence that we bring forward with our prayer. We confidently ask for help when we believe help is available. There are times of desperation when we cry out for help whether we believe it’s available or not. There are also moments when we step out of our hiding place and expose ourselves to the Almighty moved by a glimmer of hope that perhaps, somehow, someway, it might be true. Can you remember a time when you wondered if there really was a great, awesome, and loving God who exists and answers prayer?
Even if our doubt about the existence of God is satisfied, our self-image and shame may stand in the way and demand we answer a second question: Could this all-knowing and all-powerful God love me? Put another way, what are the chances that God would even notice me and find me the least bit worthy of care?
Getting caught up in Christ impacts how we experience the world and how the world experiences us. It changes our relationship with people, ideas, God, and Jesus Christ, Himself. It also impacts the level of confidence with which we approach the throne of God in prayer. Getting caught up in Christ not only increases our confidence but also clarifies our understanding about how God answers prayer. When we pray, God gives us one of three answers: yes, no, or hold on for something better.
It’s important to understand these different outcomes. Without this understanding, we’re at risk of bad thinking. “If God really loved me, He would give me everything I ask for.” “God could never love me after everything I’ve done.” Without a truth-grounded understanding of how God answers prayer, we are likely to get frustrated, discouraged, angry, resentful, full of doubts, and maybe even give up to total disbelief. If this happens, we will most likely drift away from God and prayer will be uttered no more.
Getting caught up in Christ helps us develop a more accurate understanding of who we are and who God is, who Jesus is, why He came, and how He continues His ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit. Here is a metaphor I hope will help us capture a fuller understanding of prayer as part of a personal relationship with Christ.
In the skies over head, airline pilots are in communication with air-traffic controllers. Pilots count on them to know the final destination of the aircraft but also to know about any obstacles that lie in its path. There are times when dangers are such that pilots are directed to change flight paths. How much sense would it make for pilots to second-guess these directions or even turn off the radio all together? The input controllers provide to pilots is not criticism but points of correction. They have a perspective the pilots do not have access to. God loves us and has a perspective that we do not have access to. Reading Holy Scripture, studying God’s word, and listening for inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit provides us God’s perspective by which we can adjust our flight plan and make in-flight corrections, when needed.
My book, Caught Up in Christ, provides spiritual first aid and helps you think critically about what lies at the heart of your spirituality, your current relationship with Christ and the role that active prayer plays in the life of a believer. I invite you to join us as we get caught up in Christ!
Comments Off on Hold on! Please, just a few minutes longer!
I know you can feel it—the heartbeat of a country out of rhythm…your own heart aching with unceasing pain… the heart of churches throbbing in crisis…a friend or family member who can feel their heart pounding at the sight of a spiritual wound. Perhaps you have been searching your heart for any feeling at all and are ready to give up and surrender to the numbness of a flat-lined faith life.
Confusion and fear run rampant in our emotionally charged, hyper sexualized, me-driven society. Unanswered questions lead to doubt and, if left unchecked, mature into total disbelief. People hear about the latest mass shooting and stand by utterly dismayed and perplexed by the increasing presence of evil in our world. We fight to stand strong in the wake of pandemic viruses and wonder if the world is falling apart. We wake each morning to a world that is more and more anti-God and anti-Christian. With everything going on in our world, country, in our homes, and in our hearts, should we be surprised that many of us are in need of spiritual first aid?
Each of us can identify ourselves somewhere on the following continuum.
Where are you? Perhaps your concern is for someone in your circle of friends or your family who “is done.” Waiting to hear if a loved one made it through the night is a heart-wrenching experience. It gets worse when you are the one people are waiting to hear about. I could give you testimonies of my own experiences at each stage.
Your story is important because you matter. Getting caught up in Christ moves us closer to a fuller understanding of our situation. Most importantly, getting caught up in Christ moves us closer to the source of hope, healing, forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Only in Christ do we find a coherent understanding of what’s going on that corresponds to the specific details of our story and the way out of our desperation.
This spiritual first-aid also provides us a critical awareness of how things will get better. I wish I could promise you a fast and complete recovery. I’ll never sugar-coat the work that lies ahead. I’ll help you lay out a path forward based on my own experiences and those whom I’ve had the honor of walking with through their struggles.
We can’t jump from desperation and parachute into peace. It’s a process that starts by carefully backing away from the edge of “I’m done” and working our way through the continuum to “peace.” As we get caught up in Christ, we learn that this process also comes with a promise. Christ will never leave us nor abandon us. He loves you. He loves me. Praise God!
My book, Caught Up in Christ, invites you into a conversation that will impart spiritual first aid, uncover evidence, answer questions, and help you set or reset your faith firmly on the foundation of Christ. Don’t settle for the world’s version of peace or even what you think you can achieve on your own. Get caught up in Christ. Don’t count on your own abilities or power to achieve goals or make changes in your life. Get caught up in Christ.
Don’t buy into the world’s perspective on who you are, what your purpose is, or who your enemy is. Get caught up in Christ. Don’t subscribe to your own way of thinking or the contaminated thinking of the world. Get caught up in Christ. Don’t put limits on what God can do in you, for you, and through you. Get caught up in Christ!
I invite you to read the book and join in our conversation as we get caught up in Christ.
It was one of those moments. I had seen others living out such moments on TV and read about them in magazines. Yet, I was unprepared. We glided across the clear, calm water, on a cool morning, Cedar Lake, Ontario, Canada. The north wood pines stood at attention. Their ranks dotted only with the early spring green-yellow leaves of the birch trees. The clay-red and multi-shaded brown boulders framed the lake. We motored into the narrows and were greeted by tall rock formations standing like granite guardians both to the port and starboard sides. I could see the final set of guardians in the distance. The final sets were shorter and seemingly bent over, kneeling in reverence to what lay ahead.
The river banked left and ushered us into the sanctuary. The bay to the east was bordered by tall grass, glistening in the first rays of the morning sun. Beyond the bay, the lake widened out in a full circle that filled my field of view. Three small islands sat on the water, cedars raising their boughs in praise. Paradise.
I felt welcomed but unnoticed. The worship service had already begun! I had been praying as we made our run to paradise but now, inside the sanctuary, all I could do was join the choir of nature in praise of our Master Creator. I was caught up in praise of the one, true, living God, bathing in His radiant glory. Any doubts about where this natural beauty came from disappeared and I was full of wonder, joy, and a deep sense of peace.
Have you had such a moment?
There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about stones (Luke 19:37-40). As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds and His disciples praised Jesus, shouting, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd asked Jesus to rebuke his disciples. “I tell you,” Jesus responded, “if they keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.” I believe this. I’ve heard stones cry out in praise of the Lord!
I’ve been blessed by other moments when I was caught up in praise: holding my newborn grandson, surrounded by brothers at Christian retreats, at one particular concert listening to voices raised to God in four-part harmony.
But there are other times when praise does not come so easily nor so positively uplifting. Praising God after losing a job is tough. Lifting our eyes to the Lord with praise can be the last thing on our mind after an argument with our partner or the loss of a loved one.
As we get caught up in Christ, we learn praise is both intellectual and emotional. By the grace of God, believers, at some point, are moved by the reality of God and persuaded by the truth of who Jesus Christ was, is and always will be. From this mindset it is possible to praise God in all situations. Even during desperate times, fearful times, and painful times, we can lift up our eyes to the Lord and praise God. Granted, this intellectual praise might be shared well after we’ve raised our voice to God pouring out our anger, resentment, confusion and pain, but, praise prevails. Our questions, doubts, and heavy emotions do not change the nature of God, how much He cares for his creation and how much Christ longs to help us.
Psalm 46:10 calls us to “Be still and know that I am God.” Notice that the psalmist encourages us to be still and “know” that I am God, not “feel” that I am God. Why focus on the mind, rather than emotions? Would you agree with me that emotions can be fickle, ever-changing, untrustworthy, and even disloyal? Pick a day this next week and track your emotions. Watch how they come and go. Assess the situations and how emotions drive you to make one decision while your mind pulls you in a different direction. Our emotions are real and valid and have great purpose. However, they can also lead us astray if we are not careful. Greg Koukl says it well, “Emotions make life delicious, but reason makes life safe.”
Situations where we are moved to offer intellectual and uplifting emotional praise are unforgettable! But, over the course of our life, we are likely to experience more situations when we know that God remains present and worthy of praise, but we may not feel like praising God. I’ve noticed that in good times, I generally address my praise to Christ Jesus. I feel a certain closeness, fondness, child-like trust, and peace. In challenging times, however, I find it hard to call out the name of Jesus. Instead, I address the Almighty, simply, as God. In these times, the intimacy is replaced by a feeling of distance and unworthiness, and perhaps even anger at an oppressive authority. I think it’s much like how I addressed my parents in different situations: Daddy, Pop, or Dad; Mommy, Mom, or Mother. My emotional reaction to situations did not change who my Mom and Dad were, nor diminish how much they loved me and wanted the best for me.
The psalms showcase moments when King David praised God both intellectually and full of joyful and peaceful emotion. There are also examples when he was stuck in challenging times. In these circumstances, David, like us, struggled with his emotions toward God but he offered intellectual praise to the Lord.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul encourages us, “In everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Please notice, Paul says “In everything, give thanks,” not “For everything, give thanks.” As we grow in faith, we learn the power and priority of praising God.
In my book, we uncover the awe and intimacy of a personal relationship with Jesus. I invite you to read the book and join me as we get caught up in Christ.