The Worth of Debt

I have lost track of how often I have stated to people: Rule #1, God is sovereign; Rule #2, don’t forget Rule #1!

 

I believe the God I serve often allows humanity the opportunity to catch a brief sliver of insight into His mind and perhaps—to an incredibly infinitesimally small degree—also gain some understanding regarding His love and relationship with people.

 

Because I am a pastor, I have many friends who are in the funeral home business.  While it is a business, what they offer is service through a compassionate and loving relationship which will end up impacting every member of your family in one way or another.

 

Almost without exception, a good funeral home is built around a family who view the services they offer as both a calling and a responsibility they have to the community in which they live.  For the vast majority of the population, the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhole idea of caring for the dead and preparing bodies for burial is just, well, creepy.

 

Yet this is where I as a pastor, sees how God wonderfully gifts different people with distinct gifts and abilities which meet the needs of everyone.  Those who are in law enforcement, those who serve fire departments, doctors, lawyers, plumbers—these individuals are working in an area in which they have been given a unique set of skills and abilities, which enable them to meet the needs of society.

 

The men and women who serve in these funeral homes live, work and many times they may even know the people who have died.  They provide services for people they have just met, for friends, for neighbors and sometimes even for their own families.  Again, I believe it is a calling from God which enables them to serve their communities so faithfully.  Yet they also earn their living doing what they do.

 

The fact that their “services” are also a business often causes stress and difficulties to arise.  Those in this business that I have been granted the gift of a relationship find it extremely unpleasant in having to become “insistent” regarding their fee and their ability to be paid.

 

Because of the nature of the relationship they have with their clientele, and the fact their services are always needed in emotionally sensitive circumstances, there is always extra stress and effort when they must be much more straight-forward regarding the payment for their services.

 

I have watched the verbal hurdles they face as they attempt to find a way to express the need and necessity for payment while at the same time being sensitive to the raw emotional state these families are experiencing.

 

While they have a moral responsibility to make sure they receive payment for the services they have rendered (this is true of all businesses—the employees expect those who own their business operate ethically, with integrity and do not do anything which would endanger their livelihood), they also desire to be sensitive to the needs of their clients.  Yet as many of us know and understand, there are some people with whom we must become very terse regarding these things.

 

As I have observed these service providers endure these difficulties, when they finally secure payment, there is never a sense of “having won.”  They are never jubilant over avoiding the financial difficulty of providing a service in which they will have to take a financial loss.

 

Quite the contrary; they are almost bewildered by the necessity of the confrontation.  Given the choice, they would have preferred to avoid all confrontation regarding the matter.  This kind of encounter seems to take the joy out of their calling to serve.  It makes them uncomfortable because they actually know this is part-and-parcel to business, but it is an unpleasant necessity which they make every attempt to avoid.

 

The Lord God is the great Undertaker.  While there are some who desire to teach that everyone will go to Heaven—or no one will—the Bible is very clear: “It is appointed for people to die once—and after this judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).  For those of us who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Bible also says, “The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD’S sight” (Psalm 116:15).

 

Yet for those who are separate from the Lord, He says, “’For I take no pleasure in anyone’s death.’  This is a declaration of the Lord GOD. ‘So repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32).  God does not wish anyone to die apart from Him, this is why Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Three Crosses

Three Crosses one Christ

God must be true to Himself.  He is both holy and just.  If God looked at humanity, and chose instead to pat people on their proverbial heads and say in a grandfatherly way, “Oh that’s okay, if you don’t want to pay the price for rebellion, I’ll let it pass!”

 

One of the main reasons my friends who run funeral homes cannot allow people to simply “not pay” is because they have responsibilities to others; their families, their employees and even to their communities.  If they do not follow good business practices, who would then be able to serve their communities in these instances?

 

If God did not maintain His holiness, His just nature, what would this then mean regarding the sacrifice of His Son?  The death of God for mankind demands that the value of the gift—in this case, the gift of salvation—be upheld and be protected.

 

If God chose not to punish man’s rebellion, the gift of Christ’s death on the Cross would be rendered worthless.  No longer would it be the greatest act of love mankind has ever seen.  It would be nothing more than another senseless death at the hands of a cruel people.

 

If God had did not occasionally give humanity some insight into His nature, how would we then understand the necessity of collecting debts? How would we be able to understand grace and mercy?

 

If no debt were ever collected, would anything have any worth?

Keep Cold

Robert Frost is the quintessential American poet.  Because of Frost’s work, and the masterful way in which he found words to bring to life rural America, there is no shortage of commentary regarding his poetry.  I believe I was in Junior High (about seventh or eighth grade) when I first read Frost’s poem, Good Bye and Keep Cold.jb_modern_frost_2_e

 

Good Bye, Keep Cold seems to have as many meanings as there are commentators.  In the poem, Frost is telling an orchard which was planted “on a northerly slope” near a farm house good-bye for the winter season.  Frost laments as his imagination considers all the possible injuries which could occur to the orchard while he is away.

 

The hill which obscures the view of those in the house, could possibly allow the buds on the trees and the tender limbs to be eaten by rabbit, mouse, deer and grouse.  He wishes the orchard would call out for his help when he writes, “If certain it wouldn’t be idle to call I’d summon the grouse, rabbit and deer to the wall and warn them away with a stick for a gun.”  Frost’s desire to protect his orchard is evident in his desire to see its protection from the coming hungry wildlife.

368px-robert_frost_nywtsFrost ends his poem by giving anthropological voice to his beloved orchard when he says, “I wish I could promise to lie in the night and think of an orchards arboreal plight when slowly (and nobody comes with a light) its heart sinks lower in the sod.”  In this, Frost is exhibiting a fatherly empathy for the feelings he envisions his orchard may have in the dark of winter’s night.  Yet in the equivalent of an audible sigh, Frost pens, “But something has to be left to God.”

 

As a pastor, I cannot find anything which would allow me to assume Robert Frost knew God intimately and personally; yet I cannot ascertain that he did not.  Yet Frost’s life is filled with a gentility and sensitivity which allowed him to exhibit great empathy.  In the case of Good Bye Keep Cold, Frost could expand this rapport to even nature itself.

 

Yet the crux of this poem, its main warning, to an unsuspecting and vulnerable orchard facing wildlife and oncoming winter, is this: “No orchard’s the worse for the wintriest storm; but one thing about it, it mustn’t get warm.”  The very thing most would associate with vitality and growth and all that makes springtime and harvest possible, our poet warns against.  But why?

 

The greatest danger to an orchard is an early spring followed by a late freeze.  The buds, dormant on the limb, are waiting, indeed anticipating the coming warmth of spring.  For temperature to advance too quickly could end up killing the potential of the harvest and perhaps even kill the trees themselves.  This is why Frost advises, “How often already you’ve had to be told, keep cold, young orchard.  Good bye, keep cold.  Dread fifty above more than fifty below.”

 

While some paint Frost’s work with a brush depicting the sadness of his words as a reaction to the bleakness of the world around him, this is not what I see.  Frost understood that while in its dormant state, no sub-zero temperature could cause any damage to his orchard; it was asleep and safe until it was awoken.  Yet he was not providing mere “arboreal” insight in this poem; there is also great truth regarding the human condition.

 

Our society seems to desire great acceleration in many areas while at the same time it consistently retards and hinders natural growth in others.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Western proclivity to stimulate sexual and physical maturation of its children while simultaneously discouraging mental maturity.

 

While many reject God as Creator and designer of humanity, I embrace this as an absolute truth.  Humanity is separate from all other creation due to the fact we are created imago dei, in the very image of God.  God, in His wisdom, chose a timeline for humanity to follow spiritually, physically and mentally.  Humanity has uniformly rejected its spiritual heritage, but it cannot seem to overcome the physical changes which are inevitable in healthy people.

 

Parents today, while protecting their children from maturing and even discouraging responsibility, seem to quicken the physical appearance of their children—especially girls—through either proactive choice or willingly being held captive to the latest cultural style.  Now for those without a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ, this is to be expected.

 

Yet for those who profess to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, this is nothing less than willful rebellion and the offering up of their children (permanent, enduring people with souls) on the altar of the immediate and passé.

 

This brings us back to Frost’s Good Bye Keep Cold.  Humans are beings with appetites.  These appetites are God-given and for them to work appropriately, they must be exercised according to God’s principles.  For children especially, to awaken the appetites God has reserved for those who are mature in body and spirit is the equivalent to exposing them to the dangers of which Frost warned; the “fifty above” rather than keeping them in the proverbial “winter of their content” and prematurely exposing them to discontent.

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes informs humanity, “There is an occasion for everything, and a time for every activity under heaven….and a wise heart knows the right time and procedure” (3:1; 8:5).  The rights and autonomy of humanity has not been infringed on by taking away our rights and freedom to choose.  The problem with humanity is we have lost both the discipline and patience to wait for the right time.

 

And the wisdom to keep cold.

Imagining Imagination

Are All Imaginations Created Equal?

 

Why is it some people are so much more “imaginative” than others?  Why do we value people with imagination?  Is imagination a learned behavior or a developed one?  Can “concrete” thinkers have great imaginations or does this belong only to those who are more “abstract” in their thinking?iceberg_imagination-e1337491928514

 

 

Maybe the question should be, “Does God give imagination as a gift?”

 

If you take the time to do a search of “Where does imagination come from/originate?” you will find a plethora of information ranging from opinion to scientific study.  Though, admittedly, even many in the science community communicate the elusive nature of the origin of one’s imagination.

 

Regarding the well-being and progress of humanity, we owe much to men and women over the years who have shared their “imaginings” with the rest of us.  Steve Jobs gave us the iPhone, Isaac Newton the Laws of Gravity, and The Eagles gave us one of the most recognizable guitar riffs at the beginning of their hit song, Life in the Fast Lane!

 

Well, there was the guy who gave us the Pet Rock of the late 1970’s.gty_pet_rock_150401_4x3_992

 

I used to wonder what kind of mind thought of putting a rock in a wooden cage, selling it for seven bucks and calling it a pet.

 

Oh!  Wait!  Maybe he was related to the guy who shared “Gopher Eggs” with the people of the world!

white-golf-ball-1024x819

The elusive “Gopher Egg.”

 

People without imagination only saw a golf ball sitting in green, Easter-basket grass; some guy figured out non-imaginative people would actually buy them—even if for a prank joke!

 

 

Yet I believe God encourages believers to exercise their imaginations as well.  The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches in the city of Rome, asks his readers to imagine what it will be like when those God has chosen recognize the Messiah Jesus for who He truly is!

 

Paul, referencing his fellow Israelites God chose through their founder Abraham, makes this statement about the Jews: “Now if their stumbling brings riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full number bring” (Romans 11:12 HCSB)!

 

Here is Paul’s point: The Jews rejected Jesus during His earthly ministry 2000 years ago and the vast majority of them have rejected Him since—yet all of humanity has also rejected Messiah Jesus!  Yet Rabbi Paul was reminding his readers about the prophecy of the Old Testament—The Torah—that prophesied the Gentiles (everyone not a Jew) and the Israelites as a group will eventually accept who Messiah Jesus is!

 

So, Paul is telling his readers, “The rejection of Messiah Jesus by the Jewish people has caused me to tell those who are not Jews about Messiah Jesus!”  The result means Gentiles, non-Jews, can now enjoy a relationship with God because of the rejection by the Jews.

 

Paul could have been bitter.  He could have even been vindictive.  Instead Paul pointed out the obvious.  Gentiles are now being saved, being brought into a relationship with Messiah Jesus!  But wait!  Can you imagine this?  If people are now being brought into a relationship with God because the Jewish people rejected Messiah Jesus, can you even imagine what will happen to humanity when the Jews accept Messiah Jesus as the Old Testament prophets affirm?

 

Paul continues in this passage it will mean “life from the dead” and blessings beyond imagination on all of those who recognize Messiah Jesus!  There will come a day where the Middle East will not be a source and central location of human strife.  There is coming a day when government corruption will be unknown, justice and integrity will reign supreme and the earth will be healed ecologically!

 

If God, through His grace given to humanity, can allow our dysfunctional selves to light homes and cool them, to have cars, phones, and anti-biotics, can we ever imagine a day when war is no more, when death is not proud and where justice and righteousness is du jour and de facto?

 

Imagination is indeed a “good” thing.  Yet the right kind of imagination requires a mind made new by God.

The Fixation Problem

As I mature (I opted for this rather than “grow older”), I am discovering very few decisions I make must be made at a specific moment.  When we can conclude we are not really “hostages of the moment,” we grant ourselves the opportunity to place our impending decision in its true context.  We can look around at what else is occurring in our life, we can talk to trusted friends, and we have the ability as believers in Jesus Christ to spend some time actually praying about our situation.

 

Fighter pilots are some of the most talented multi-taskers in the world.  They are flying a multi-million-dollar machine, capable of doling out unimaginable destruction on whatever target they choose.  Today, pilots have access to a mind-boggling amount of data presented to them through screens, auditory signals, and HUD’s.  All the while, they can be hurtling through the air at speeds far exceeding the sound barrier.USAF F-16

 

One of the most dangerous problems a fighter pilot of today’s modern aircraft can face is something called target fixation.  Target fixation occurs when the pilot becomes fixated on an approaching target—whether another airplane or a ground target—and their concentration causes them to lose the ability to comprehend where they are in time and space.

 

When this occurs, the pilot doesn’t realize how quickly they are closing on their target.  They have forgotten to pay attention to where they are, and more importantly, how close they are getting to their target!  Because of this fixation, the distance between them and their target goes unnoticed and ultimately they can fly into the very target they are trying to destroy—a bad day all around!

 

Few of us are pilots; so, it is unlikely we would ever be subjected to the circumstances producing this kind of target fixation.  Yet all of us are guilty of being far too close to our problems and losing any sense of importance and context.

 

Up close, all problems look huge because we cannot have any sense of perspective.  How can we, since all we can see is the problem?  A crisis this large demands an immediate response!  This person at work could ruin our career!  My wife doesn’t understand how necessary this motorcycle is to how I define myself!  The salesman will sell it to someone else if I don’t buy it now!

 

The writer of Hebrews 12:2 in the New Testament of the Bible writes this: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

 

Many people would understand and even acknowledge that Jesus Christ is our example in how to live our lives.  These same people would, however, never believe their situation deserves to be included under the example of the life Jesus lived.  Yet in this verse, there are two very important points.

 

First, the writer opens with a command to those who have a relationship with Jesus: we are to keep our eyes on Him!  Why?  Because He is the source of our faith (Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else”) and His life completed or finished a life of perfection and obedience to the Father (“perfecter of our faith”).

 

Second, what motivated Jesus Christ to be able to be our example?  Because Jesus saw the problem which was before Him on the cross but He also could see the “joy that lay before Him” because He looked past the suffering of the cross (unimaginably horrible yet brief in comparison to eternity) to the eternal glory of being at the Father’s right hand on His throne!

 

The next time a decision “just has to be made this moment,” let us remind ourselves to keep our eyes on Jesus!  None of us are facing a cross or even death.  Yet if we make the choice to discipline ourselves to keep our eyes focused on Jesus Christ, we will never again fixate and obsess on a problem and crash into it!

 

No problem is ever longer than eternity; our bigger than Jesus Christ!

Getting to Give

A friend of mine who was an amateur astronomer used to mention something to which he referred to as “seasonal creep.”  He told me that the local astronomy club had studied about a twenty-year cycle and found that the seasons were “shifting” to later and later in the calendar year.

ar-150229867

Winter in Springfield, Illinois

Even I could remember that as a child we would often get snow before Halloween.  As I grew older the snows often did not come until the middle of December, with the strongest storms in January; over the past five-to-ten years I have also noticed that cool weather would also continue until early June.

Of course, anyone who ever enters our malls and shopping centers can attest to this seasonal creep as well!  Halloween decorations appear near the first of September.  Christmas arrives (at least in the stores) even before the end of October.  I believe the main reason for this is a hope by retailers that people will begin to “get into the holiday mood” when they see the seasonal decorations.

The amazing thing is the amount of stuff that can be gotten during this time of year!  When I was a child, our family did not have much “disposable” income: we always had plenty of food, clothes and basic necessities, but the things that my brothers and sisters just “wanted” were reserved for Christmas—and even then, we did not get everything we wanted!

In Acts 20:35, the Apostle Paul in his farewell address to the Ephesians, reminded them of his desire to serve the Ephesian believers and demonstrate his obedience to the words of Christ: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  While Paul desired to live out who Jesus was in his life, Paul never taught that getting was wrong or evil; yet Jesus merely pointed out to him that giving provided a greater blessing.Christmas presents piled underneath a christmas tree.

Thankfully, those of us who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, serve a God who freely gives us all the things of which we have need!  From the beginning of the Bible in Genesis, we witness a God who created this world and then chose to give it to Adam and Eve to enjoy.

God later in Exodus gave his people the Ten Commandments so they would be able to have a relationship with a holy God.  Later, God gave David’s son Solomon the intelligence and imagination to build the Temple—thus giving His people a most holy place to maintain their relationship with Him.  More importantly, John records the words of Christ in John 3:16 where we read that God loved the people of this world so much He gave His Son to be our sacrifice—and He also gave us His Spirit to prove we belong to Him!

“So should we deprive ourselves of material goods to be ‘better’ people?”  No, that thought misses the point.  Yet during this holiday season allow me to propose this: Jesus in Matthew 5-7, which is the Sermon on the Mount, stated those who truly “are” His would be both salt and light to those in this dark world.  Those who are truly changed by God’s Spirit will also in turn demonstrate that change to those in this world.

We should remember the mantra that says, “A difference that makes no difference is not then different.”  If we have been changed by God, that change must be evident in our lives.

So, what about giving being better than receiving?  We serve a God who gives!  While God gives, not everyone receives; the gift is there, it is offered but few take it.  Yet as God gives, and we in turn receive.  Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that we are a new creation; our old lives, our old desires have been removed.  True, we struggle with this, but we also must realize before accepting God’s gifts, we sinned because it was the natural thing to do.  When we sin as a believer, it is an unnatural thing and we do it willfully and in rebellion to our Creator—unnaturally!

It all boils down to this: God gives, we get—but in this “getting” we in turn can give!  This giving can be concrete (by imparting gifts to another), or it can be more abstract (by demonstrating how Christ has changed us through our actions).  We are commanded to give through demonstrating our love for Christ through our obedience to Him and through our missional actions of going, doing and telling others about Jesus Christ.

If you think getting that hoped-for-gift would bring joy to your life, have you ever considered what it would feel like to give something of eternal value and everlasting consequences?

joyeux Noël!

Feliz Navidad!

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

счастливого Рождества

Wesołych Świąt

Merry Christmas!

A World without Love

 Is there such a thing as Post-Christian?

Back in 1964 (yes, we must enter the WABAC Machine from Sherman and Mr. Peabody), there was a musical duo Peter and Gordon who were a part of the British Invasiowaybackmachine3n of the early 1960’s.  Their fame came after their song, A World Without Love rocketed to the number one chart position in both England and the United States.

It wasn’t necessarily the message of the song A World Without Love that “struck a chord” (this is where the “Unrepentant Pun Alert” should go) with the musical populace, but the gently flowing music and pleasant harmonies of Peter and Gordon.  The song lame800px-peter_and_gordonnted a complete rejection of any desire to live in a world where love doesn’t exist.

Now as quickly as I just referenced 1964 and a song over fifty years old, I will now reverse course and take us screaming into the proverbial future!  I read a tremendous amount of Science Fiction.  Very few of these stories contain any reference to the Judeo-Christian God, yet they all find within their plot arcs the concept of love.

Of course, this doesn’t surprise me.  I’m not really expecting them to mention God but I have been conditioned to expect some kind of mention or obsession with love.  I enter the story understanding I am entering a humanistic, naturalistic and even atheistic worldview, so I am prepared for the onslaught of a philosophy which runs counter to my worldview.

Whether I am watching Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Jean Luc Picard or James Tiberius Kirk in the various iterations of Star Trek or merely being wildly amused by Guardians of theleonard_nimoy_william_shatner_star_trek_1968

Galaxy, I find it interesting that all references to “God” or any supreme being has been scrubbed from these stories, yet the concept of love, its pursuit and sometimes its attainment is included and even celebrated.  Why is that?

A book I initially read many years ago but have reviewed recently, is Meaning by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch.  One of the most striking statements these authors make in this book is “That freedom of thought is rendered pointless and must disappear wherever reason and morality are deprived of their status as a force in their own right.”  They continue:

When a judge in a court of law can no longer appeal to law and justice; when neither a witness, nor the newspapers, nor even a scientist reporting on his experiments can speak the truth as he knows it; when in public life there is no moral principle commanding respect; when revelations of religion and of art are denied any substance; then there are no grounds left on which any individual may justly make a stand against the rules of the day.  Such is the simple logic of totalitarianism.  A nihilistic regime will have to undertake the day-to-day direction of all activities which are otherwise guided by the intellectual and moral principles that nihilism declares empty and void.  Principles must be replaced by the decrees of an all-embracing party line.

Polanyi and Prosch have made an incredible observation: science, culture and government do not have the ability to provide meaning and fulfillment to the human existence!  One of the reasons I leave many movies thoroughly entertained but completely unfulfilled has more to do with life’s meaning and purpose than whether or not the movie’s star happened to win and live to see another sequel.  Even more stark is the concepts of love found in Hollywood productions are often an odd mix of humanistic desires (“What’s in it for me?”) and compassionate empathy (“What can I do for you?”).

Even when we find ourselves experiencing all the emotions and angst of the characters on the screen, our brains are making moment-by-moment judgments regarding what is right and wrong, what is just and fair and what is real and true.  This is why we cheer when the “bad guy” gets atomized because he was thrown into a particle accelerator by the movie’s protagonist!

This is also why we recognize physical attraction between the characters, why we connect and become invested in the relationships we see building within the plot.  Even though we are entering a world, or a universe, in which there is obviously no God and even fewer moral compunctions, we still expect there to be a “right” and a “wrong.”

Yet if the movie producers want to sell the movie, the “bad guy” must lose and the “good guy” must win; unless, of course, you’re John Wayne in The Cowboys—yet John’s entourage won on his behalf!

Here’s the opening “bottom line” to this series of discussions: if there is truly no God, if absolutes do not really “morally” exist, if “love” is something which can be defined moment-by-moment pragmatically, then why is there a winner and a loser?  Why doesn’t everyone just kill a bunch of people and then everyone just go home and enjoy themselves?  Why do people place so much importance on the concept of love?

Why do we insist on reflecting the characteristics—and love—of a non-existent God?

It’s Big Boy Pants Time!

Almost everyone has experienced this at one time or another!

You know that “inside voice” and “outside voice” most of us struggle with at times (ok, sure, I struggle with this, but I’m applying this broadly—work with me!)?  I remember a meeting I was in a few years ago and there was a spirited discussion on a topic I am reasonably passionate about.  One of the other “participants” made a statement which I considered logically weak and immature (I was among my peers; I wasn’t berating a six-year-old!), I said in a sotto voce “Someone needs to put on their big boy pants.”

Because of the academic nature of this setting, the individual complained to the professor about my “uncalled for” comment.

The professor told him the same thing!pullups

This is also the current state of the American Evangelical reaction to the 2016 Election season.  For far too long—well, at least since the 1980 Election—American Evangelicals have rested in the fact they can choose to impact the American electoral process by merely exercising their collective wills.  We (I am an evangelical Christian) have come to assume it is our right and privilege to have a candidate, and even a political party, which will minimally parrot our values back to us on demand.

Unfortunately, we have allowed ourselves to develop a sense of appreciation and even entitlement to being lied to in the process.  We have become so infatuated with who we are and what we think “should be,” we are shocked, demeaned, offended, dismayed, taken aback, demoralized (do I really need to continue here?) that the two front running candidates are acting like people who do not represent who we are and our values!

No need to fear my fellow American Evangelical!  Trust me, they do not represent our values!

As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to remember the Bible teaches quite clearly things will become much worse before Jesus Christ returns to this earth.  We do not, and never have, lived in a Christian nation.  God, through His grace and mercy, has rewarded in the past the faithfulness of His people in the United States by granting them a peaceful and friendly society in which to exercise their beliefs.  Yet because God loves us and will never enable us to either harm ourselves or others, He is withdrawing this protection so that the Church in America will grow stronger and even “grow up.”

The first century Church during the days of the Apostles never under any delusion that their government loved them, represented their beliefs and values and always sought to insure their freedom to worship.  Christians in the early church were hunted like proverbial wild dogs and persecution was rampant and indeed expected.

Yet the Church grew.  It flourished in the face of hatred and intolerance.  If American believers would force themselves off their religious couch, this almost herculean mental effort would allow them to see God is doing a similar work of His greatness in China, North Korea and many of the predominantly Muslim nations today.  Not because God has provided “a peaceful environment,” but because believers in other parts of our world today actually must live their faith and know what they believe.

In 2016, American believers must come to the realization they have made a political party their idol.  No political party can ever take the place of the Spirit of God or the sovereign power only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ!

It’s time American Christianity puts on their “big boy” pants……!

Making Jesus Real in an Unreal World, Part 2

We live in interesting times.

 

Christians in the United States are becoming somewhat frustrated at the erosion of their religious liberties. Unlike believers in other parts of this world, there has developed within the United States an attitude of entitlement based on legislated freedoms found in the founding documents of the United States.

"Sign" of the times!

                               “Sign” of the times!

 

It seems the very blessings for which we as believers in Jesus Christ enjoy have made us complacent. I find it interesting the number of parallels between our situation in 21st century America and the Israelites under the Law in the Old Testament.

 

Yahweh-God gave the Ten Commandments (more accurately, the ten words) to the Israelites not as a means for them to perfect themselves, but rather as a stark reminder they were imperfect and could never approach the perfection God demanded. Apart from their relationship with Yahweh-God—demonstrated through the shedding of sacrificial blood through sacrifice (which only covered but did not remove sin)—the Israelites should have realized their innate imperfection and sinfulness the more they attempted to keep the Law!

 

Unfortunately, this never occurred. The aphorism, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” seems to have come into play in their minds. They had the Law. They were a people chosen by God through Abraham. They measured themselves by a comparison to others who may or may not have the Law. Those without the Law (and a relationship by blood to Abraham) were “dogs” and Gentiles. Those “under” the Law were subjected to a hierarchy of means measuring those who did have Abraham: “I keep seven commands and you keep only four therefore I’m better than you.”

 

The gift of the Law by Yahweh-God—allowing the Israelites to see their need of God’s grace and their inability to keep the Law—should have caused both humility and a greater dependence on God’s grace.  Instead, their response was not an acknowledgement of their need of God; their response was to elevate the importance of the keeping of the “rules” of the Law. They forgot the biblical principle James enunciated in James 2:10: “Whoever keeps the entire Law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.”

 

Now keep in mind, this was no easy task. Every aspect of their worship spoke of the holiness and majesty of the Lord. From the delineation of the sacrificial system, to the preparation of the sacrifices to the clothing and methodology necessary for the priest to enter into the Holy of Holies—the presence of God—all of their worship emphasized the person of God, His majesty and His holiness!

 

Yet they ignored it all and focused on themselves, their performance and how they could create a hierarchy in their society and relationships.

 

Here is the parallel I mentioned earlier: American Christianity has over the course of the years of freedom has forgotten the difference between freedom and grace, between the person of God and the mechanism He provides for blessing.

 

Yahweh-God in His wisdom has allowed Christianity in America to flourish for almost two full centuries virtually unopposed. God did this by providing founders of this country who were both believers in Jesus Christ and who were deeply influenced by a Judeo-Christian philosophy.

 

Our Founders even produced something called a “Bill of Rights,” which is a singular example of a clear enunciation of not merely human rights, but the source of those rights. While over the course of the first 200 years there have certainly been times when a complete lack of wisdom has been demonstrated by those we would refer to as “Evangelical Christians,” the United States has been an incredibly effective and fruitful source for worldwide missionary activity.

 

Yet even acknowledging all of the good American believers have accomplished, now we are seeing a huge swing of the pendulum away from the biblical moorings which traditionally anchored this country to what is nothing more than an emphasis on erotic liberty (which is driving almost all of the changes now).

 

We in the United States are now seeing the beginnings of the erosion of religious liberty. Should we use all legislative means at our disposal to fight these losses? Yes we should because God has given us all of these; the freedoms, the means and the methods for us to protect laws and to even pass new ones.

 

Sometimes we as believers act as if we think God is in Heaven looking down and thinking, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming!” God is sovereign and He is the One who gave us a country rules through the democratic process.

 

When Jesus Christ was on this earth He stated often, “You have heard,” referring to what the Law stated and then He went on to radically apply the Law in a way emphasizing our relationship with God through Him! There was no “keeping the rules,” people would no more be able to measure themselves against others. Jesus wanted people to see our thoughts and motives is what drive our actions!

 

I am thankful for the rights we as believers in Jesus Christ have been granted through the Constitution of the United States. Yet I do not worship the Constitution. Through God’s grace and His choice of me, I worship the God who gave us this document and allowed it to exist for this time. There will come a time when God will no longer need this document to aid the furtherance of His kingdom. When that occurs, the Constitution, and perhaps even America, might well be gone.

 

Yet just as God was active in the first century Church, He will continue to be active in the lives of believers in America—just as He is active in the rest of the World today.

 

Yet is this what God must allow to happen before we really make Jesus real in this world?

 

Making Jesus Real in an Unreal World, Part 1

Ok, sure, I’m a pastor……

While some of you make think that’s great, far fewer may think it’s cool and perhaps many of you may think I only work one day a week, I can boil the most visible part of my job (the teaching part) down to a very simple parallel: I’m a mailman.

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Me, the Pastor-dude!

Now unlike the guy who drops off your mail at your home or business, I read your mail; I read it for my information and I in turn read it to you.  I have even gone to school to learn how to read your mail properly and accurately!  I have become an expert in reading your mail because the mail of yours which God has sent to you was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek!  I guess I am an expert at reading God’s mail addressed to people!

Now since it is the Bible which identifies what sin is (at the behest and will of God) I am bound by my relationship with God through Jesus Christ the Son to deliver His Word (His mail, if you will) truthfully.  For me to not tell you what His Word identifies as sin would lack integrity and love.  It lacks integrity because I am purposely and willfully hiding the Truth of God from those who want and need to hear what God says.  It lacks love because I do not really love you if I won’t tell you what God says.

The Bible says divorce, lying, cheating, murder and overeating (among others) are all sin.  It also says homosexuality, abortion and same-sex sexual relationships of all kinds are also sin.  All of these actions (and I have not listed them all) are all sin and God views them all equally as rebellion against Him.

Remember, I’m the mailman!

Do I believe these things are sin?  Yes I do.  I also believe the Bible when it says, “All have sinned and missed God’s intended target of perfection (sinlessness).”  Even in the Jewish Old Testament (the first part of the Holy Bible) a prophet many hundreds of years before Jesus stated, “There aren’t any righteous people anywhere; everyone has sinned.”  This means every single person is guilty and there isn’t a single human anywhere who isn’t guilty of sin—we are all equally guilty!

This means when I identify a particular act as sin, I must do so knowing there isn’t any sin the Bible identifies which would be beyond my ability to do.  I am capable, under the right circumstances and the right temptations to engage in overeating, divorce, homosexuality and lying.  True, some things are fairly easy to do while others may take much more motivation, but I am capable of any and all sin.

So this is where I am: I’m a full-blooded human with all of the capabilities and predilection to commit sin.  I am also a pastor; I am fulfilling God’s design and plan for me through ministering to people and teaching them about God’s Word and the good news of His Son.  My role often means I put on my “Captain Obvious” cape and identify as I teach the Bible what the Bible calls sin.

Yet this is the important part: I must do so without personally judging anyone in the process.  If it wasn’t for God’s grace and His power in my life (it’s all God and Jesus!) I could be caught up in the same things the Bible states is sin.  If I am who I claim (a pastor and a believer in Jesus Christ) then there should be evidence of my claim.  If I live like there is no evidence of who I claim to be, at best I am a liar and at worst I am severely deluded!

Why is any of this important?  Because as I live my life, I am to make Jesus real in an unreal world!  This world is unfair, unjust, cruel, brutal, out-of-control and often incredibly stressful.  Believers (those with a relationship to God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son) must hold their faith and their testimony to others carefully and gently.  We must desire to have every part of our lives testify and proclaim who Jesus is in our life.

This also means we must understand even in our obedience to God’s Word and His Son we must allow those who do not believe as we do see the love of God in our life.  Will this remove all of the misunderstanding and hatred we may face because of our desire to be obedient?

christian-cross-christ-field-18619705  Unfortunately it will not; just as there will be those who will absolutely hate my        identification of what some people are doing as sin even in this blog, I have to    remember it really isn’t about me.  I am to obey and sometimes in the process of  obedience, I will become a target of opportunity by those who dislike what the  Bible (and me in this context) says.

Yet they better see God’s love in everything I do.  Otherwise, I am in danger of being judged by the same God I claim to be serving!

 

Who?

 

Those familiar with American television most likely are also familiar with the television series CSI which appears on the CBS television network.  The show premiered in October 2000 and has enjoyed incredible ratings success ever since.

CSI: The Main Show!

CSI: The Main Show!

One of the most recognizable aspects of the show is its theme song Who Are You performed by The Who, a powerful rock band which formed in London, England in 1964.

The Who circa 1975

The Who circa 1975

The Who, by any measurable standard, is considered one of the quintessential rock bands of the 20th century.  Even using the term quintessential adds to the already loaded measurement of this group.  The Greeks acknowledged there were four essences in their observation of humanity: earth, fire, air and water.  Yet to describe something as possessing a quintessence acknowledges an experience which is beyond our observable senses.  This is a great description of the music of The Who.

The song Who Are You begs the question of comparative meaning of one woman compared to any other.  The singer bemoans his inability to ever again find satisfaction in any other love after such an existential experience.  The song as a whole depicts the devastation left behind in the wake of such immeasurable love.

I realize there are real people (not that Roger Daltrey isn’t real, but we must recognize the song is a performance for an audience) who longingly wish for an experience of love like Daltrey describes.  While the song is directed outwardly (who are you?), it accurately communicates the raw despair we feel as people when we have lost something we did not know we had; when we have not realized the value of the relationship we have been given.

In our culture, our society, living in the world in 2015, the question isn’t really “Who are you?” nearly as much as it is “Who are we?”

Some of you who are perhaps much more introspective may think, “I do not really struggle with this question in my life.”  Yet if we really examine our lives and our lifestyle, we do struggle with who we are!

For the vast majority, we define ourselves through comparison with others things or people.  While we may be suave enough to not directly reference another person, our self-definition is shaped through our desires and interaction with others.  There are many people who define themselves by external things—clothes, cars, houses, jobs and jewelry!  Yet do we really grasp the fact we are defining ourselves by the temporary and the transient rather than the eternal and the permanent?

At no moment in time do we as a people gain an immediate, visceral understanding of our situation than when we are sitting at a funeral.  At that moment we find ourselves struggling with a deep longing for the eternal; we crave, hunger and long for another moment or a touch from the person who has died.  We find ourselves wishing we could have told them again (to reassure ourselves more than the one who has passed) how much we loved them and enjoyed their presence.  All of the “things” in this world become meaningless and worthless because we would trade everything for another brief moment or touch.

It is then we wonder who we really are.  We are sobered by the fact life is so short.  We long for the relationship which at that moment we may have felt we have squandered foolishly.  What is it that gives us value and meaning?  Is it the material goods of this world?  Is it a designer’s name written on our clothes and jewelry?

At that moment when the world has seemingly stopped and we struggle to breathe again, we come to the shocking conclusion it is not reality which gives us meaning but rather relationships!  A person who knew us, who understood our idiosyncrasies and our obsessions, they were familiar with our pettiness and shallowness, yet they extended friendship and love to us anyway.

In that same moment, we struggle with the longing for eternity, for a time without time, where what is begun will never end.  It is in times exactly like these the philosopher and theologian C. S. Lewis observed, “God often whispers during the times of enjoyment, but He shouts through the times of difficulty.”

I realize there may be some who read this and have no concept of the experiences I am describing; yet there are others who have experienced these very same feelings and they continue to resonate in your life.

What gives humanity value is not what we do (pragmatism) nor what we wear or own (mercantilism, commercialism) and it’s not even what we think (philosophy); what gives us value is who we are.

The Bible says we are “made in the image of God.”  Because God has shared some of His characteristics with us, we have value.  God then chose to demonstrate His care for us and our intrinsic value by sending His very Son to give each of us the opportunity to live with Him forever, eternally.

The very thing we long for—eternity and unbroken relationships—is available to us because “God loved this world so very much.”  And for us to realize our true value we merely have to accept the gift He freely gives!