Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
When this happened I was reminded that there will be a future award ceremony for Christians. I don't know if it will be in public or private, but there awaits a crown of righteousness for the faithful. And, since you can't take little statues of football players into eternity I think God's award ceremony is a superior prize.
Paul wrote about the subject of eternal rewards using a sporting analogy. He said, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown (or Heisman Trophy) that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (italics mine)
Clearly we who are true Christians need not fear losing our salvation.* But we can certainly lose rewards. How about you? Do you take seriously the possibility of disqualification? If not, then take the apostle's advice and sign up for the strict training he referred to. Pursue your relationship with Christ as a matter of discipline. Keep the goal in mind. If you fall, the Lord will pick you up. Pursue the prize!
*Romans 8:38, Ephesians 1:13-14
Picture found at: http://allsports.blogsome.com/2006/12/10/troy-smith-brings-home-the-heisman-trophy
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
In an offbeat random sort of way I was thinking about the summer today. I wondered almost aloud if I would be trying to make this summer count if I were still a student. I remember the summers of my high school days--they were filled with work and dates. I would spend my working hours at a poor wage rate making money to go out and spend it on things and people that are not a part of my life any more. The cycle would repeat itself ad nauseum and it's a miracle I had anything to show for it when school started in the fall.
I wondered if I would have gone on a Youth Group trip if the opportunity presented itself. Our youth group didn't really do much in the summer and I generally took spiritual nosedives. The current irony is that I spend my days trying to plan summer experiences for students and then convince them they would benefit from going.
I think that if my high school group had gone places I would have stayed home and worked for two reasons. Firstly, I thought I needed the money, which is quite funny really. Yes, I thought all those movies and dinners and clothes were needs. Secondly (and most significantly), I did not have the perspective I have now. I would have failed to see a very important truth about life that is all too real for me now. Life is a series of open windows of opportunity. We fool ourselves into thinking they'll never shut, but oh how quickly and suddenly this can happen!
I think people don't really think about this seriously until their first really difficult window closes. When I say difficult I mean those windows we didn't want to let close, but they closed anyway. When a child gives up his tricycle for a bicycle a window has closed, but there was no great desire to stay in the tricycle stage anyway so there is no felt loss. The same is not true of a man who picks up a scrapbook of his son and realizes his wife took all the pictures at baseball games because he wasn't there. Or, what about the student who wakes up the morning after her graduation and realizes that she never did try out for the softball team? Slam goes the window.
Maybe you are in high school still, or maybe those days are a distant memory. Either way, we all have windows of opportunity. What are you doing with yours? Are you passing up opportunities thinking they will be there forever? Let us wake up from any silly illusions of permanent openings and seize the adventures we still have the ability to choose!
Friday, June 18, 2010
Monday, June 07, 2010
My dad encouraged me with the words of this psalm in a birthday card yesterday.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.
But, I see things differently. I like the argument of Blaise Pascal, the great philosopher, who wagered his life for the Lord and thought it worth the risk. Here is my paraphrase of his argument.
Every person must decide to take a risk. We must decide to live for eternity or the present. Either God exists or he does not. There is an afterlife or there is not. Which will you choose? For those (like Pascal) who risk all on the belief in Christ, eternal life and judgment, must choose to allow their steps to be "ordered by the Lord." If right, then eternal wonder and joy await. If wrong, they will never know it. If nothing follows death, then what regret will they suffer? None.
However, the risk is much different for the non-believer. Whoever wagers that this life is all there is chooses to live by two creeds. The first is the famous, "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The second is articulated by Dostoevsky's atheistic character, Ivan, in The Brothers Karamazov, "Everything is lawful for me." If right, they have done their best to bring as much happiness to themselves as possible in this life for there is no other. If wrong, the wager goes bad on a scale that is unimaginable, for hell awaits all those who reject their Maker.
Pascal's view of the Christian life caused him to call the choice an easy one. For him, no amount of selfish living could deliver the happiness that living for the Lord could bring IN THIS LIFE. He was convinced that on his deathbed that it would never enter his mind that his choice to follow Christ would only be worth it if there was a huge payoff after death. He believed living for the Lord here and now is a great reward in itself. It reminds me of Jesus words, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."* The life he was speaking of was this temporal one.
So, in the end, those who risk their lives for God have nothing to fear. What risk are you taking?
Note: Picture found on Wikipedia (Blaise Pascal)
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
It stands to reason that if we believe that God is real and all of life is colored by the light he shines in our lives, then the things of God would be on our lips with a little more regularity. I was reminded of this while reading from the final chapter of the book of Luke this morning. Two men were conversing about the wonderful things God was doing in the preceding weeks and months. I think it is worth pointing out that they were not sitting in pews or walking the grounds of a Christian camp, or in any other "Christian" setting for that matter. We expect those things. But, these men were merely walking down the road together (I am a big fan of walking conversations but that is a rabbit trail I'll have to avoid at present). I love how the story tells us that Jesus showed up right in the middle of their "Jesus" conversation. Coincidence? I cannot say for absolute certainty but doesn't it make sense to expect Jesus to show up when we're talking about something that relates to the faith? Also, should we fault him for seeming aloof when we have no sense of heavenly mindedness? I love the Boston Redsox but I've yet to get into an eternally significant dialogue with someone over who is pitching or hitting well at present.
So, here's the thought I want to leave with you today. It comes in the form of a question: How often does Jesus show up in your casual conversation? Remember, we talk about the things that matter to us. Let's redeem the time together.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Some stay busy because of fear. They fear thinking about either their past sins, their present sorrows, or their future death. Some stay busy because the want things. They want riches or toys and those things come with hard work. I've seen teens work themselves to the bone on top of school all so they can afford a shiny car. Many of them, when questioned, cannot come up with a good reason why they need a car at all. They say something like, "How would I get to work if I didn't have a car?" Seriously. Still others stay busy for status or power. We look up to our workaholics in America. We pride ourselves on our frenzy of activities. We even one-up each other in conversations with friends and acquaintances: "You think you're busy? You should see my schedule!!!"
Ultimately, busy people want happiness. But busyness never delivers. Socrates is famously quoted as saying, "Beware the barrenness of a busy life." As he observed the people around him he noticed that busy people make the world go round, but the world did not go round well. The problem with the fact that the world is run by people burning candles from the north and south is that they seldom slow down enough to really process whether or not things are moving in the right direction.
Here is the point. If, in our busyness, we cannot be still to just be with God, we miss the point of being in a relationship at all. It is barrenness.
So what can we do? My suggestions may not sound exciting, but they'll work.
1. Schedule time in your planner to be with God. Treat these times as nonnegotiable appointments. You don't have to say, "Sorry, I can't do that 'cuz I have to spend time with God then." Say, "I have an appointment with someone very important to me," instead.
2. Learn to say, "no." If your plate is too full you'll never eat all of it. Even if you can you'll be miserable afterward.
3. Take walks. At WBC we are planning to carve a prayer walk through the woods behind the church. Walking is a great way to get perspective.
4. Start a Bible reading plan. If you don't, the conversation will always be one sided with God.
Let's fight barrenness together.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I cringe when I think how many Sunday School children have been told, "Wanna go to heaven--then, pray this prayer." Afterward parents are told, "Jimmy gave his heart to Jesus." Or something to that effect. I believe that in many such cases we reinforce the likelihood of their damnation, not cure it. How so? By telling someone that salvation is merely a matter of "trusting Jesus" we give them a false sense of security that can insulate them against true conversion.**
Who then is a true convert? Who is it that is truly "born again?" Let me illustrate through the life of one of the past century's most interesting figures. Chuck Colson (pictured) was a brilliant lawyer who became Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon. Colson was often referred to as Nixon's "hatchet man" for his willingness to do whatever needed to be done--ethically or not--to advance the standing of his boss. During Nixon's campaign Colson was reported to have said he would run over his own grandmother to get Nixon elected. But it all came crashing down when the Watergate scandal broke into public consciousness in 1973.
During the investigation Colson visited a friend's house and was confronted with the Gospel. His response to that conversation is both honest and profoundly important, for it shows us what must happen for a man to be born again. Colson said, "that night when I left my friend and sat alone in my car, my own sin-not just Watergate, but the evil deep within-was thrust before me by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, forcefully and painfully. For the first time in my life I felt unclean. Yet I could not turn away. I was as helpless as the thief on that cross, and what I saw within me was so ugly I could do nothing but cry out to God for help."***
It was the conviction of sin that caused Colson to cry out to God for help. What has happened to this understanding today? We must recover the doctrine of sin and depravity from the clutches of relativism and self-help psychology if men are to be saved. Unless a man be convinced of his sinfulness he will never cry out for the help of God.
*1 John 2:19
**Some may argue after reading this that conversion for children, who have had little experience "sinning" must be converted by a different emphasis than the man who has spent a lifetime in gross immorality. After all, aren't kids mostly innocent? Wouldn't it damage them psychologically to tell them they are sinners and that they should feel remorse for their wrongdoings? I contend that if a child is not old enough to understand depravity they are not old enough to understand redemption. I think it worthy of note that, "Repent" was one of the first recorded public words of Jesus. If repentance is not a part of our Gospel message then it is no gospel at all.
**Colson, Chuck. Loving God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) p.121 Chuck Colson was convicted of obstruction of justice and served 7 months of a 3 year prison sentence for his role in the Watergate Cover-up. His conversion was viewed with much scepticism by many in the media. Even after his prison term was served he was watched. Many wondered when he would recant and prove that he had used Christianity as means to elicit public sympathy.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
What are you thinking? What are you thinking about?
Here is Screwtape instructing Wormwood:
How goes the spark of thought or the twinkle in your eye? Do you see possibilities and strongholds falling? Do you find it hard to sit still? Are you on hell's most wanted list?
Or, are you listing here or there, dabbling a bit but never really digging in. Nothing is worse than the nothing we can do while thinking we are up to something.
Friday, April 30, 2010
While tending flocks in Midian, Moses saw a peculiar site. A bush was burning nearby and being quite bored with the usual bland desert scenery he let his curiosity get the better of him. God had a message for Moses that day and you can read about it in Exodus chapters three and four. Moses believed that God was calling him to a special task, but he did not WANT to do it. He tried everything he could think of to get out of it, and I wonder if I would have done differently had I been wearing his sandals.
Gideon also received a message from the Lord. You can read this fascinating story in Judges chapters six and seven. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and somewhat ironically said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." Mighty warrior? Gideon didn't think so, but as he was patient with Moses, the Lord was patient with Gideon. After putting forth some of the usual objections, he devised a rather unique test for God--a fleece test. It went like this, Gideon would put out a sheep skin on the ground and examine it in the morning. If the fleece was wet and the ground was dry then he would have his proof. God acquiesced. The next night however, Gideon was not satisfied, so he asked God to reverse the results for the next night. I think he was looking for a false positive much like a teenage girl taking her third pregnancy test. But, again God played along. Finally, Gideon went to battle.
Now we turn to Mary. She was by far the youngest of the three, and for that reason could be thought somewhat nieve. Regardless, she had a particular faith that is astonishing. She trusted God, plain and simple. I believe one of the most remarkable verses in the Bible is in Luke chapter one: "'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.'" To be honest, this is a shocker. But, I am no longer as young as she was then.
Theologians differ slightly on the supposed age of Mary when she received this message, but it seems she was not older than sixteen and could have easily been as young as twelve. I have a theory that God chose such a young person to bear such a huge responsibility because anyone older might have responded like Moses or Gideon. I think this is something all adults should find sobering. Did not Jesus say that those who wanted to see the kingdom needed "faith like a child?" (see Matthew 18:3)
Simple trust in God can easily erode over time. Subtly we replace it with rationality and personal experience, and lose our ability to simply do what we know God says to do. Do you object to this? In First Corinthians chapter thirteen and verse eleven Paul said that when he was a child, he thought like a child, but when he grew older he put childish ways behind him. But, he was not talking about faith, he was talking about love.
I am not advocating checking our brains at the door whenever we sense the Lord's leading. Far from it. What I am saying is that we need to guard ourselves against unconscious faith atrophy. The best cure I know for this kind of malady is simply spending time with kids. Try it and see what happens.
Monday, April 19, 2010
"And can it be a dream, that in the end man will find his joy only in deeds of light and mercy, and not in cruel pleasures as now, in gluttony, fornication, ostentation, boasting and envious rivalry of one with another? I firmly believe that it is not and that the time is at hand People laugh and ask: 'When will that time come and does it look like coming?; I believe that with Christ's help we shall accomplish this great thing. And how many ideas there have been on earth in the history of man which were unthinkable ten years before they appeared? Yet when their destined hour had come, they came forth and spread over the whole earth. So it will be with us, and our people will shine forth in the world, and all men will say: 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner-stone of the building.'"
So said Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov. It was published in 1879. The quote is from page 292 in the Barnes and Nobel Classics edition.
There will be a day when this dream becomes reality, but the Scriptures tell us that it will not be ushered in by any human efforts. The world is a ship adrift and sinking at sea with no land in sight. So it will remain until the return of Jesus Christ. His appearing alone will right the ship and guide it safe to shore. Our charge to keep is faithful service until then. He as commissioned us as salt to preserve and as points of light piercing the darkness (Matt. 5:13-14).
How then shall we respond to this? For myself I will pray thus, "Lord, make me as bright as possible. Let the light of truth, love and mercy radiate through me (2 Corinthians 4-5). Let me pursue the joy that can only be found by relinquishing my position at the helm of my life. I want you to be the captain of my soul."
See Isaiah 11, Matthew 24 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 and Revelation 19-20
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I know you, you know me, but what does that make us? Facebook has changed the meaning of the word friend and we are all victims. Some people I know have more than five hundred friends of this sort and it makes me wonder what happened to the word acquaintance? You are probably aware that to combat this problem Facebook invented "Top Friends," an application I refused to accept. What does that mean anyway?
There is hope. Within the past week I've had some great conversations (and by that I mean that my thinking has been challenged on subjects that interest me). One was with my mom. She knows me so well. She asked, "Jason, what five books are you reading right now?" My heart leaped, and I could have fallen over. It wasn't surprising because she asked me, it was because anyone asked me at all. The only people who have asked me similar questions are dead and gone. But, I know they were not the only ones of their kind.
Come now, let us reason together.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
God made work before the fall and he did work himself in the act of creation (Gen. 1-2). Adam's job was to tend the Garden of Eden. He was both a laborer and manager. But, after the fall (Gen. 3) work became bent like everything else. Work was never intended to be what it has become for so many of us. Work is good in and of itself. One of the greatest human pursuits is to find satisfaction in some labor of love.
The perspective that helps me most is found in Colossians 3:23. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." This applies to work of all kinds. If I love the Lord--especially as a response to the love he has shown me--and I work for him, my work becomes a labor of love. There is therefore no work that cannot be redeemed and turned to joy as long as the work itself is ethical. For example, I don't think working in an adult bookstore qualifies as a labor of love for the Lord!
In his book, "Why America Doesn't Work," Chuck Colson claims we have lost what has been known as "the Protestant work ethic." It basically is the principle I just laid out in the preceding paragraph. Only by recovering a sense of Christian purpose and duty will we again find joy in our work as God intended. And, since we spend so much time working it might not be a bad idea to find a way to enjoy it!
Do you work? If so, why do you do it?
Friday, April 02, 2010
So, how are those resolutions coming? You know, the ones you made back in December for 2010. I know, I know, it's painful to think about them. That's why so many of us aren't brave enough to even set any. Oscar Wilde said that, "Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account." Ouch! I guess it's hard to expect any different from a total hedonist. But, what is he saying here?
The sad philosopher here seems to say that men are bad and any attempts at goodness will turn out bad. Do you agree? Many do, and the result is a lack of resolutions. It's as if to say, "Why try when I know I'll fail?" You may be nodding as you look at your current resolution list. I can almost hear you thinking, nope, I didn't do that; nope, failed at that one too; why did I ever think that I could do this in the first place?"
Wilde is right to say that we have no goodness in and of ourselves. Any goodness within us is grown there by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16). His problem was that he kept trying to overcome his wickedness by toil and sweat. Incidentally, he finally gave up trying and succumbed to all kinds of temptations.
I have a Wii fit. Whenever I turn it on it comments on my faithfulness to my workout routine. If I've neglected exercising it may mock me playfully by pretending to forget my name, or it will show my "mii" (a character you create to represent you) sleeping. What I love about the Wii fit is that it never yells at me and tells me that I'm a loser for forgetting to turn it on lately. In an upbeat voice it encourages me to adjust my goals and get going again. Why can't people be like this?
Whether you have fallen flat on your face with your eating resolution, or failed to gain victory over an area of sin in your life, it's important to remember the grace and forgiveness of God (1 John 1:9). Also, take encouragement from this reminder Paul gave the Romans:
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.So, dust yourself off. Failure is a stepping stone to victory for those who overcome that self-pity look we wear sometimes. Take this moment to get back on track. Pray. Adjust your expectations and get that determined face on. The masses of humanity may be powerless over sin, but not the Christian!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Have you completed your taxes yet? Some of us will be able to deduct charitable giving to churches or humanitarian organizations. How wonderful it is to know that you can contribute to something larger than yourself. But, what has your gift cost you?
Jesus famously commented to his disciples that a widow who gave two coins surpassed the man with the bag of money because she gave all while he gave out of his surplus. The same thing goes on today, though checkbooks make it harder to detect. Many wait to give to God till the end of the month when everything else they've had to or wanted to spend is gone. If there's some left over then they will give. This attitude goes something like this, "I'll give, as long as giving doesn't keep me from affording anything I've had my eye on."
I believe giving to God is a gift he has given to us. There is a subtle human understanding that a mere "thank you" is an insufficient response to a generous giver. And who has been more generous than God? Compounding the problem is the fact that God needs nothing from us. All this makes me grateful to know a God who accepts gifts from those he has saved. When I give it becomes an act of worship insofar as it costs me something. Without giving I would feel like the man who has words to say but cannot say them.
In 1 Chronicles a poignant account is given of a great sin on the part of King David. God told him through the prophet that he must choose between three punishments. All affected more than just him. What a horrible choice! David chose what he thought was the least of the three evils and had to throw himself at the mercy of the death angel. David was ordered to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah (vs18) which was privately owned. When the owner heard David's request to buy his property for a sacrifice to end the plague he begged David to take it for free and to allow him to provide all the supplies to make a sacrifice. David's reply is relevant,
No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Of all the events of Jesus' life the "Triumphal Entry" has been one of the most perplexing to me. I wonder how it is that a very large crowd (Jn. 21:8) could hail him with great fanfare as he came into the city and then--we can only assume--it was those same people transformed into rabble, shouting "crucify him!" before the end of that same week. What was the matter with those people?!?
How many welcome Jesus with palms and hosannas because they have heard he can save them and make their lives wonderful, yet turn on him when soon thereafter they find him too meek, or too forgiving or too willing to allow suffering. They then "crucify" him out of their lives like the rocky soil in Jesus parable in Luke 8. Our fickleness should give us pause.
Have you cut a palm branch for him? Beware the cry of crucifixion!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
How do you feel when you see the wicked prosper? Does it anger you to see oppression go unpunished, or the evil get away with murder? In Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The Brothers Karamazov there are three brothers. The eldest of the three is Ivan, an intellectual socialist who views God as a monster (if he exists at all). The lines that caught my attention last night were from a dinner conversation he had alone with his younger brother Alyosha. In a passionate monologue he says,
I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair.In Psalm 73 Asaph contemplated the same thing. In verse two he indicates that it was this very consideration--the idea of unmet justice--that almost ended his faith. He laments his own purity (vs 13) as a waste of time since prosperity seems to have nothing to do with righteousness. But then there is a shift in his understanding.
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (vs 16-17)It takes faith and patience to be satisfied with final justice. There are many people who will pass through this life without receiving the retribution they so rightfully deserve. But we must be cautious. It is easy for us to seek justice with great self-righteousness.When we ask God to dish out justice in this life we sometimes forget that if we want justice for others we must have it for ourselves too.
Ultimately, the perfect justice of a perfect God will be satisfied. Let us remember the final destiny of the wicked and persevere in faith. All wrongs will be made right in the end!
Friday, March 12, 2010
Let me call "time out" for a minute and lighten the mood. Can we be real for a moment? I think there's a certain irony to the fact that as Christians we are flawed human beings trying to be like our perfect God. Come on. R U serious? Notice my texting is rubbing off on my prose. Please allow me to shed some light on a little known fact among the faithful: we CAN'T be holy, at least not in the sense of perfection that we normally (wrongly) think.
It pains me to watch so many of God's children trying to either pay God back for sending Jesus to die for them (impossible), or make him happy in order to get him in their corner. After all, isn't it good to have a little Jesus in your pocket for a rainy day? There are also those who think that after salvation we have to feverishly strive to keep God from thinking he made a mistake when he reached down to us with his grace. All of these things are terrible perspectives that we should fall down and beg forgiveness for. Why?
Let me read a little bit of the context and see if you get the picture. Here again is Hebrews 12:14 (in its entirety) with verse 15 thrown in to increase the fun.
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."
Why would the author feel the need to include the second sentence with the first? Is he talking about saving grace? I think not. The reason, from my flawed perspective, is that too many of us forget that grace not only saves us but sustains us as well. Do you know how profound this is? Let me put this verse in my own words. Ready? Here goes: "If you are a true Christian you'll do everything you can to set yourself apart without being obnoxious. But, beware the bitterness that comes from trying to do so without remembering the day to day grace that sustains you."
Here's a thought. In our efforts to be like God we might mess up. Horrors! I know what you're thinking, I'm being flippant about it. Well maybe I am poking a little fun. But I just can't help myself. One of my favorite things to do when one of my kids is in a sullen mood is to tickle them. First, I'll just poke them in the side cautiously and retreat. Then I come back and do it a bit more and then really go for it. I love this because they try to keep from smiling at first. They hold onto that frown with all their might (you know, like the people that know happiness and holiness can't possibly be related to each other)! Then it happens, the corner of their mouth turns up and before you know it they can't help but forget their mood and join in the mirth.
So, by all means, let's be holy. But come now, let's give up all of that human effort perfection nonsense. Taste the irony!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I love to write, but something has happened lately that I never thought would happen. I have grown to dread the "new post" button on Blogger. When something wonderful becomes a chore there is a certain sense of loss that occurs and there seems no way around it.
This fact is universal. Everyone experiences that rush of excitement when they try something new. But as with anything that has to be done with some regularity, it can descend into drudgery before you know it. Why is this so?
One of the things I know separates those of us who persevere from those of us who quit is the ability to recall the original reason(s) we started in the first place. Another characteristic of those who stick with it is a determination to not let feelings rule their lives. Feelings come and go but we have to learn that doing the best thing rarely feels fun or exciting.
Wow, Jason, you're a real bummer today! I don't mean to be. I'm going to hit the "publish" button on this post because I've got an inkling that I'm not the only one that's ever felt this way. You may not have struggled with writing, but what about reading the Bible? What about dragging yourself out of bed on Sunday morning? I've wondered if my writing makes a difference; you wonder if your prayers make a difference.
Here are a couple of things that keep me going:
1. Writing for the Lord and not for Facebookers (Colossians 3:23).
2. Knowing that tomorrow's entry may bring me great joy.
3. Reminding myself that a whole lot of people need more grace in their lives.
So, when the novelty wears off just remember that there's a small town blogger out there who understands. It's worth it, especially if you do it for the Lord.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
It's true that there are certain situations and certain people we would rather drop dead in front of than to show a crack in our defenses. That may be due to fear of being trampled on and I don't want to minimize this. I've felt this way before and it can be very legitimate. But generally speaking, we just plain old don't want to show any kind of softness. Pride makes us tough and tough is cool--especially for men (but increasingly true for women as well). The problem with "toughness" is that sooner or later we wake up with a heart of stone.
Let's think about it. Who was more macho than Peter? He was the outspoken leader of the disciples. He was the sword wielding ear chopper in the garden. He was the brave one who stepped out of the boat. He was the one who refused the foot washing. He stood up before thousands of people and courageously preached the gospel. But, though we could call him a "man's man," Peter's heart remained soft. I have come to believe that remorse is one of the most reliable indicators of two things: 1. humility, and 2. a soft, fleshy heart. A heart of flesh is a heart that can feel empathy, remorse, and compassion. It is also true that hearts of stone cannot really love.
One of the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament is found in the book of Ezekiel. He tells them there will come a day when, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Have you a heart of flesh? Your ability to show remorse is a telltale sign.
Friday, March 05, 2010
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Then he smiled at me with sparkling eyes and clapped. He enthusiastically yelled, "DA DA!" And then proceeded to pick them up off his tray and eat them all by himself. I sighed, shrugged and started forking the eggs onto his tray instead. He devoured them by the fistful. It seems Peter loves to feed himself, thank you very much.
How about you? Are you a self-feeder when it comes to the Word of God? Howard Hendricks wrote Living by the Book, a very good guide to learning how to study the Bible for yourself. In it he says that the first hurdle anyone has to overcome in self feeding is learning how to read. Really. He asserts we don't read well enough and we should practice as much as we can. Reading, like so many things may come more naturally to some than to others, but nowhere do we read in Scripture that only the "readers" are to read. So how's your self-feeding going?
Note: Those of you with keen eyes will notice that eggs aren't blue. Yes, this pic is of blueberry pancakes, but I think you get the idea.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad..." vs 5:11-12a
"Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven," vs19
"Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." vs 20
"Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement." vs22
"Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery..." vs28
"If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away..." vs30
"If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." vs39
This is just a sampling. Yikes!
The question is, "Why would Jesus preach this way?" Did he not know he was asking the impossible? The people already held the pharisees in high regard for their extreme dedication to following every conceivable law and religious regulation. Now they are being told that the pharisees have missed the mark too? Who then can be saved? Despair!
In Fyodor Dostoevsky's classic novel The Brothers Karamazov the description is given of a reclusive ascetic monk named Father Farapont. All the monks at the monastery and all in the town lived in awe of him. He ate nothing but crusty bread and drank nothing but water. He fasted for days and always wore a belt of extremely heavy weights to keep himself "humble" through self-mortification. None was more perfect in holiness, yet he harbored a secret hatred for Father Zosima who lived joyfully by the simple principles of grace from God and mercy to others. The contrast between these two friars is striking and we must not miss the point: We are saved only by grace.
Jesus did know he was preaching the impossible and he did it on purpose. The reason is that he knew that unless people sense their utter lostness and inability to meet God's standards they will not really understand grace. The point of the Sermon on the Mount, in my mind, and Dostoevsky's point as well, is to knock out of us any ridiculous pharisaical notion that we can somehow earn God's favor by being good or righteous. If we miss this point we are likely to turn into holy monsters.
Jesus came to die on a cross so I might come and die there too. He died physically so that my death might be of a different kind. All who seek salvation and the favor of God must die to the lie that Father Farapont believed, namely, that God will love me most if I suffer most. The crushing weight of the law, works, good deeds and holiness cannot save any soul. Remember, Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
So, the next time you read the "Sermon on the Mount" remember grace and be glad! Amen.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
My brother Jeremy has recently entered the fascinating world of pottery making. Not having much money to start his venture he has basically built his wheel from scratch and also plans to build his own kiln. He is soaking up as much information as he can from our uncle Geoff who has been a professional potter for years. I am incredibly excited for him. There is something wonderful about seeing a person find "it." Perhaps this is it for Jeremy. Have you found your "it"? The "it" is that one thing you were made to do. I honestly don't know if more than half of us ever come close to discovering "it." There are people that don't believe in "it," but we'll avoid that rabbit trail today.
Question: If a prophet came into your life like Jeremiah did in Israel how would you receive him? When the truth of God is spoken into our lives we have two choices. We can either "follow the stubbornness of [our] evil hearts," (vs 12) or "reform [our] ways and [our] actions" (vs 11). Sadly, the prophets were seldom heeded in the scriptures. How much heartache they could have avoided none can tell, but we each should be careful to avoid stubbornness. Unyielding clay never reaches the art gallery.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
The Bible is full of stories of the miraculous from Creation to the Second Coming, From Noah's flood to Daniel in the Lion's Den to the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. Jesus turned water to wine and of course we remember the story of Jonah and the big fish. To believers they are wonderful confirmation of the power of God, but to unbelievers they are labeled superstitious and silly.
What is a miracle?
The thinking Christian will be careful to avoid this God of the Gaps trap by not jumping to conclusions about unexplained phenomena. The Christian definition of a miracle is any God-ordained interruption or intervention in the laws of nature. Thus when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in John 11 or traveled the Judean countryside healing the lame, the blind and the leprous people that crowded around him we can say with conviction "It's a miracle"! But, please, let us not have anyone throwing around the label "miracle" for winning the lottery or surviving an appendicitis.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
There is something humorous about a thirty-two year old man learning how to skateboard (my adventure last year) and snowboard. Flexibility is no longer an accurate description of my movements and neither is graceful for that matter. But, I want to learn new things and shuffleboard is not exactly on my radar yet. So, off we went crashing, sliding, and tumbling our way down the slope while five and six year olds went whizzing by at embarrassing speeds.
What struck me afterward-other than the pain of crashing-was a thought that translates to the rest of life. The best way to learn is by trying. Yes, classroom instruction and telephone advice are good, but nothing teaches like the slopes. What strikes me is how true this is in relationship to the life of a Christian--especially the ones who stand at the top of ministry hills and wonder if they have the proper knowledge of the Bible or the proper grasp of communication to talk to people about the faith. But, the truth is that you have to strap on and start going down at some point. And not surprisingly, that's when the real education begins.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland on the 29th of November, 1898. He had a very active imagination and a love for literature. He was sent to a prep school in England because of respiratory problems in 1911 and stayed till 1913. It was during his stay at Malvern College that Lewis abandoned any faith in God.
After serving as an officer in WWI, he returned to studying and joined Oxford and having earned degrees he lectured in literature and philosophy. It was through the influence of his friends at a tight knit group called the Inklings (including JRR Tolkin - author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) in 1929 that he "gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed..." He became a Christian two years later.
Jack (the name he was called by his closest friends) wrote many books worth reading on many subjects having a profound influence on all who would call themselves apologists today. His works include Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, and The Great Divorce to name a few.
Time does not allow me to tell of his touching marriage to Joy Gresham who died of cancer at the age of 45 in 1960. His book A Grief Observed was written afterward and remains a powerful perspective on suffering.
Throughout his life, C.S. Lewis remained a wonderful paradox between the imaginative wonder we attribute to children and the grown-up professor. He wrote about this quality in Mere Christianity saying, "God wants a child's heart and a grown-up's head." Perhaps this man, known by some as "the Narnian," knew something we need to learn. He was a man of profound intellect and learning, yet was down to earth and engaging. It reminds me of Psalm 16:11 "You (God) have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
* The best biography I've run across (and there are many) is Jack by George Sayer
Note: The picture source is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
As a pastor of two German churches in England he felt it his duty to return to Germany and support the Christians there. In a Memoir by G. Leibholz, Bonhoeffer is quoted as saying, "I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share in the trials of this time with my people...Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security."
Shortly after making these comments he returned to Germany and joined the underground resistance teaching theology and encouraging the downtrodden. He was arrested on April 5th, 1943 and soon won the friendship of many guards at the prison. They helped smuggle many of his writings to people on the outside. His book "Letters and Papers from Prison" is regarded a Christian classic.
One of the last messages ever received from him before his death was written at the Gestapo prison in Berlin during very heavy air raids. It was entitled "New Year 1945," and was composed of seven verses. Here is verse five:
To-day, let candles shed their radiant greeting;
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light,
leading us haply to our longed-for meeting?
Thou canst illuminate e'en our darkest night.
Words like this are powerful reminders that doing the right thing can come with a seemingly heavy price tag. But there are some like Deitrich Bonhoeffer who understood that dying is the only way to life. He said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." For most of us here in the freedom of the USA this means something different than it did in 1945. Peter explained it as "dying to self" and it is the true cost of discipleship.
"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when suffered he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the
tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."
(1 Peter 2:23-24)
Monday, February 15, 2010
This particular road has a 50 mph speed limit for a stretch that drops to 40 mph without a very noticeable difference. I happened to be following traffic and was in the 40 mph zone...going 50. What should I say? Should I tell him that the police don't really travel this road much and therefore we would not get caught? Should I slow down and pretend he didn't ask me till I was going 40? Should I tell him that I'm daddy and he has no right to ask me such questions? Or what about this one, "You'll understand when you're older."
Andrew is seven and quite perceptive. He watches me every day. He knows when I'm sincere and when I'm not. Instantly visions of the future flashed in my mind. I could see Andrew coming home with his first speeding ticket and connecting the dots all the way back to route 571. So, I swallowed and said, "Andrew, I was speeding and I shouldn't have been. I need to be more careful. Thanks for asking."
It occurs to me that the oft repeated biblical phrase, "speak the truth in love," refers not just to confronting people because I love. Sometimes it means admitting the truth because I love them. I'm not comfortable saying this, but if I want my son to become a good man I had better show him how a good man acts.
Friday, February 12, 2010
In Matthew 9 it tells us that, "Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news...[and] when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (vs 35-36). If we see with Jesus' eyes we will be known for compassion. Our focus will be outward; aiming on meeting needs like soul care and the basics of life. But, how shall we know where to apply this compassion? We don't have God's ability to see into the soul of those we've never met, or to lay our hands on the eyes of the blind and heal. But, through prayer for others God opens our eyes to see from his perspective.
Nate Saint*, the great missionary martyr (pictured right) had a powerful set of eyes. He longed that more of us could see better. He said, "When we weigh the future and seek the will of God, may we be as moved with compassion as our Lord."
Lord, please give me your eyes to see! I want to see the crowds like Jesus did. I want to see their faces and the souls behind their eyes. I want to "desire mercy, not sacrifice," like you do (Mt. 9:13). I want to be an agent of compassion (vs 38).
*Note: the book "Jungle Pilot" is a very worthwhile read from the WBC library. It tells Nate's story.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I see that some people realize how hard the balance is and decide to err on the side of caution--much caution. Church statisticians tell us that most believers have no meaningful relationships with nonbelievers after five years in the Church. It is quite possible for Christians these days to spend the rest of their lives in a subculture of Christian everything--from t-shirts to rap music. How do they justify this in light of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19ff)? Perhaps we think our checks to missionaries and a "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker is all our part need be. Jesus wouldn't have used the metaphor of salt if that was all he meant. Salt has to make contact with food to serve its intended purpose. It is no accident that the gospel is best communicated through relationships.
On the other extreme, there are those who think we need to blend in like chameleons. I used to go to church with a lady who was trying to have a ministry to inner city kids. She felt the need to "help" me understand youth ministry one day by explaining how she went about her mission. She would go downtown and attract these kids by talking their talk. Indeed, she said they listened to her because she swore worse than they did. Can any of us picture Jesus doing this?
Jesus knew how hard it would be for his followers and prayed that the Father would "protect them from the evil one" (Jn. 17:15). He didn't want them removed from the world, but he didn't want them becoming like the world either. Fascinating to me is what he prayed for after he made this request. He asked that He "set them apart by the truth." What is the truth? "Your word is truth," he clarified. (vs. 17).
We ought to take from this interaction a profound commitment to the Bible. What sets us apart is the truth and claiming to know the truth is not popular today. The truth for all mankind is in the Word of God. Only when we are set apart through washing and renewing and saturating our minds can we be in the world and not of the world. Remember that powerful verse from Psalm 119 "Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you."
Let us not hide the world in our hearts. Let us hide the Word in our hearts. Let us shine the light, pray for each other and encourage each other as we interact with those outside the subculture.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
"There is value in intercession. It is an indispensable part of prayer. It strengthens our love and faith in what God can do, and it brings blessing and salvation to others. Prayer should be mainly for others, not for ourselves alone. Begin by praying for those near and dear to us, those with whom we live, that we may be of help to them and not a hindrance.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Do you ever spend time trying to convince yourself that you believe? You alternate between doubt and faith, doubt and faith, back and forth ad nauseum and getting nowhere. If faith is a boat in a sea of doubt I've had my share of motion sickness. Thankfully there have been men like C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller who have helped me find the intellectual justification for my faith. However, there are often times when I cannot seem to feel what my mind accepts as true.
Asking questions is good. In fact, those that live by the principle "ignorance is bliss" must be very careful to walk around with their eyes closed, humming with their fingers in their ears. This ultimately spells faith disaster in my experience. However, for those on the outside of Christianity looking in things are different. Questioning seems to be the religion of a large segment of society. For these people claiming to know something is a form of snobbery that ought not be tolerated. Funny, they know you can't know. There's some thick irony there!
But, in my day to day existence, I pray. And, I must come to grips with the balance between faith and doubt because doubt is a prayer killer. James says,
"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."Are there not people who reject the notion of a loving God because he has not "answered" their prayers? To make belief contingent upon a positive answer will never work. Why? because faith must precede the positive answer.For those are waiting to believe until God answers their request, whatever it may be, they will eventually give up. The problem is not God. The problem is with their understanding of prayer.
Do you believe when you pray?
Monday, February 08, 2010
Once there was a boy who lived on the same street as a kind and generous man. The boy, whose name was Timmy, loved to ride his bicycle up and down the street under the shade of leafy maples in summer. Timmy had an unusual ability for his age-he could focus his attention on a goal he had for the future. He aspired to be number one in his class upon graduation and he bent all his thoughts toward this goal which, in fact, was really just a means to a greater end--a career in politics!
Timmy knew that if he wanted to catch the eye of the scholarship writers he had to not only have a robust academic record, he would also have to show a long list of charitable deeds done for the betterment of his community and the world. It was about this time that word came across the sea of an orphanage in need, and Timmy, having his radar up for all such news, formulated his plan to raise money for these destitute children.
The first person Timmy thought to approach was the kind and generous man that lived down the street. He peddled down the bumpy sidewalk and practiced his speech till he arrived. Mr. Lewis was home and Timmy was invited in. Timmy sat down opposite his neighbor and poured out his plea for the orphanage. Mr. Lewis was moved enough to make a $1000 donation to Timmy's cause, but knowing the boy and his plans, he provided one condition: Timmy was not to write down his involvement with the orphanage on any application.
The boy was offended. "How dare Mr. Lewis judge my motives!" he said. "This is a worthy cause. Why does it matter why I want to do it? He has the money and the children need it. It is his duty to give to projects such as this. Mr. Lewis must not be the generous, loving and kind man that I took him for. Either that or he really is poor and powerless to answer the way he aught. And what of my career? Is it not a noble one? Yes, I want to be noticed. Yes, I want my name in the papers. But, if I'm accomplishing good in the process everyone wins, don't they?"
Timmy left in a huff without the money and told all his acquaintances that Mr. Lewis was really a crotchety old man who didn't really care about less fortunate people.
Friday, February 05, 2010
When I got home at 4:30 yesterday afternoon I took Andrew outside to gather sticks and logs for the fire. The orange sun setting across Bowker Field cast a glow on the bare trees and leaf strewn yard. After rotating the older wood to the left side of the pile we filled two aluminum wash tubs with cherry and maple. During this process we uncovered an old tennis ball. Andrew exclaimed, "Daddy, let's play catch!" I woke up in that moment.
Occasionally, we Americans have moments of sense where time slows down just enough for us to catch something real. In my case a longing for simplicity rushed into my soul. The cares and plans, the strategies and problems, all seemed to be chased away in the elemental activity we then began. In those few moments life was reduced from all its complexity down to a man, his boy and a ball we found by chance.
But, my theology and my experience prevent me from believing in randomness. It stands to reason that God, who knows how many hairs are on my head and senses when any bird falls to the earth (Mt. 10:29-31) is not just involved in the big newsworthy events. No, even the finding of a tennis ball is woven into the fabric of my life by the Grand Weaver (to borrow a term from Ravi Zacharaias). Have you ever stopped to wonder about things like this?
Trace this with me for a moment. By God's design, a tennis ball was ordained to give a mind weary man an opportunity to find simplicity. Therefore, the means by which the ball came to rest under the leaves was also the design of God. If we trace it back to the beginning and then work our way to the present it might go something like this: The tennis ball, molded in some country across the ocean, came to the U.S. by boat. The boat was most likely unloaded in Baltimore or New York. The ball, packaged with two others like it, was driven by truck to some store like Modell's, purchased by either a tennis player or a dog lover, taken to the park by my house, picked up by one of my children sometime last summer and misplaced. It was then forgotten until February fourth at 4:45pm in the year 2010. And to think the ball may have been made years ago and recently pulled out from under a couch!
Truly, the power to bring about this kind of intricate detail is awe inspiring. Who but God could do this? My response is like that of Job who said, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (v. 42:3)