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!

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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!

Is God Fair? Should We Be?

Is God fair?  Should we be?

Blind Justice

Blind Justice

Most cultures are familiar with the statue of Lady Justice holding the scales by which a judgment is determined.  In the Latin, she was referred to as lustitia, the Hellenists called her Themis.  While there are depictions of her not wearing a blindfold, many depictions show her wearing a blindfold in order to emphasize her impartiality.

Seeing Themis

Seeing Themis

Generally people claim to want “fairness,” yet what they truly desire is “justice.”  Fairness is a concept unknown to the ancients and really didn’t begin to come into our modern vernacular until fairly recently in human history.

I really know of no one who wants everything to be “fair”—an imbalanced impartiality which fails to take into account the specifics of each and every event.  Fairness, as a concept, is dependent of the subjective nature of the one rendering the decision.  There is no consistent measure against which something is measured; regardless of the competency of a person, the circumstances in which an event occurred or the degree of an act, every decision must be equal and every instance and person treated alike.

Yet we are not all alike.  We do not discipline a child who throws a toy in the same way we would judge an adult who throws a bomb.  Regarding the child, we weigh whether this is a repetitive action, his age, how he was provoked and of course whether any real harm was done.  In the case of an adult, we hold them to a much higher degree of condemnation and their judgment is based on whether life and material was lost.

We also consider a person’s educational level, their capabilities and their intellect.  Did they truly understand what they were doing?  Are they able to comprehend the value of life and the consequences of its loss?

I am also unaware of anyone who desires to only qualify for a “fair” wage.  If someone has taken the time to do well in school, achieve the ability to attend a university and incurred the debt of both time and money to do so, they will want to be paid for what they know.

There is an old story about a Nuclear Power Plant that was experiencing a potentially dire problem and they had to call in an “expert” to remedy the situation.  On presenting his bill to the plant owner for $1 million dollars, the plant owner asked, “Why am I paying this amount of money?”  The expert calmly replied, “The switch I turned on only cost one dollar; the remainder of the bill is payment for me knowing which switch to turn.”

As a pastor, I have met many people who believe God is most certainly not fair.  We as a people have no issues with a “good” God who acts like the proverbial “Fairy God Mother” who gently touches our heads with her wand bequeathing gifts of joy on us.

Our problems come from the realization there exists an all-powerful God, who is good (and we understand this from His Word) yet evil and suffering still exist.  We have no problems receiving good things, but we are decidedly unhappy receiving what we deem as evil……….and unfair.

Our problem is we simply do not understand either what we want or what we need.  In many of the problems we encounter, we don’t really want fairness; what we need is justice.

God is not fair.  Your neighbor who won the lottery may not have really “won” anything; in fact, statistically, the vast majority of lottery winners are bankrupt in less than five years!  Your neighbor may have, in reality, been given exactly what he wanted to have; unfortunately, many of the things we “want” God gives to us knowing we will reap judgment by our own desire and hand!

No one wants fairness, because I know of no one who wants to be treated like everyone else.  When we experience difficulty as believers in Jesus Christ, we do not want God to be fair (especially since everyone deserves to go to an eternal Hell), but we want God to be just—to exercise His judgment righteously according to His person and Word!

Should we then seek to be fair?  As a parent, do you treat all of your children the same?  The Proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (ESV).  The writer had in mind every child must be taught according to how he was made.  I learn especially well through reading and seeing; yet others learn better by doing and others still by hearing.

Being “fair” is too easy.  It requires very little thought or effort when rendering a decision.  Yet to make a “just” judgment, this means we must understand the person, the problem and what we are using as the rule which guides our judgment.  Both the judge and the lawyer must know the law; for a believer in Jesus Christ—if you desire success before the Lord—we must know His Word!

Besides, if God were not “just” in His judgment, we would have never been able to experience His grace!

Three Crosses one Christ

Three Crosses one Christ

Just sayin…………

Well . . . . . . .

Writing a blog is a labor of love; though going through and dealing with the spam is more often just like labor!

It is humbling when I read the comments many have taken the time to make on this site.  The vast majority are exceptionally encouraging, the ones not in the “vast majority” fall under the headings of either “spam” or they are just annoying . . . .

First, let me get the “business” part of this post out of the way!

Writing is a difficult task!

Writing is a difficult task!

I am writing using WordPress as my blogging platform.  I have received nothing less than excellent support and help from the WordPress staff.  They have sent me not just the answers to my immediate questions, but they have also included helpful hints on site management and dealing with the dreaded scourge called “spam!”  I have yet to figure out a way to minimize the amount of spam which accumulates in my spam filter.  Unfortunately, there are far too many legitimate and good comments which may often get thrown out with the spam.

I pay a very nominal fee for a custom URL (“jimgrieme.com”).  If my web traffic continues to increase, I may invest in their “Premium” services which add to the cost, but the value is worth the expense.  There are other blogging platforms available, yet since I am very pleased with the service and flexibility I receive from WordPress, I am not motivated to look for another service.

Second, to those of you who take the time to read my posts: I have been getting a significant number of Polish readers and allow me to say (using Google translate here; I’m good but not that good!)

Poland

Poland

 

Jestem bardzo wdzięczny za tych z Państwa w Polska, którzy czytają mojego bloga. Moim pragnieniem jest, aby jasno komunikować swoje pomysły i fakt, czytasz to pozwala mi wiedzieć, to jest realizowane! Pokornie dziękuję za czytanie! Jestem Pastor i modlę się Pan nadal będzie chronić Ciebie i Twój kraj w tych czasach niepokojów politycznych na kontynencie. Bożego błogosławieństwa na was!

 

 

To my Italian readers:

Italy

Italy

Grazie per aver letto il mio blog! Ho amato il suo paese da quando ero bambino e il mio desiderio è quello di presentare le idee chiare, Dio onorare in un modo che farà la gente a pensare con la mente e il loro cuore. Sono molto grato per il vostro tempo e attenzione! Molte grazie! Benedizioni di Dio!

 

 

 

 

 

And of course there have been a few Russian visitors as well!

Russia

Russia

Добрый день! Пусть наш Господь продолжать покрывать вас Своей благодатью! Спасибо вам большое за прочитав мои мысли я написал здесь! Я возжелал посетить вашу землю с моих дней в колледже – Я изучал Россию, ее земля и ее народ и лелеяли все это! Время, которое вы потратили читаете этот блог отрадно и унизительно. Спасибо вам большое! Джеймс melvinovich.

 

In my world, I must struggle to find time to write.  Many times I will begin with an idea, write as many as two or three pages then end up deleting all I have written!  Yet even when I follow this process, I may end up enunciating an idea which will eventually become the main idea of what I finally write.  The very act of putting “words on paper” often allows me to solidify my “final” idea!

Now remember, I am a pastor (No, no, I really am a pastor!  I realize very well I do not “act” like most pastors act and I’m good with that!)  When someone says to me, “You’re not like most pastors!” I interpret this as a compliment!  My desire is not to be either crude or rude or even to act like some “unholy teenager with an attitude problem!”  My desire is to be real!  I struggle with the same things every other person struggles with: money, politics, thoughts and ideas.  I sin, I do not break into a Christian hymn when I hit my finger with a hammer and I get frustrated at the number of proverbial “morons” I encounter while driving!

I really am a pastor!

I really am a pastor!

So what’s the difference?  Years ago I encountered a person who has demonstrated He truly loves me.  He knows all of my weaknesses and my issues.  He has given me the ability to be better than who I am.  He has forgiven me, changed me, and if there is anything good in me at all, it is because of the person Jesus Christ!

My desire is to write in a manner which is real and fully human.  I would like those who take the time to read to actually enjoy yourself and understand the ideas I am communicating.  It is my prayer the Lord will use who I am and what I’ve written in such a way as to draw people to Him.

Grace to all of you!

Noah: “People are the Disease. Judgment is the Cure!”

[Spoiler Alert: Some {not all} key plot facts are discussed in this blog!]

 

In May 1986 the movie Cobra starring Sylvester Stallone premiered in the US market. While this movie made a respectable showing over the course of its release, it has managed to get on the website www.imdb.com’s list of “Movies So Bad They’re Good.”

"Crime is the Disease.  Meet the Cure."

“Crime is the Disease. Meet the Cure.”

In many ways, Stallone may be underrated as a talent; in other ways, quantity does not always equal quality . . . .

The most compelling aspect of the movie Cobra was its tag-line: “Crime is a disease. Meet the Cure.” This short seven word phrase communicated the entirety of the movie’s plot; Stallone is a tough cop who will clean up the mean streets filled with crime.

It would have been better, however, to simply add as a reprise from Rocky III the Survivor ballad, “Eye of the Tiger” to mitigate some extremely sad screenplay . . . .

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the movie Noah with some longtime friends of ours. After spending enough money to secure a very nice steak dinner and tip at the steakhouse, we settled in for the 138 minute long interpretation of the biblical story of Noah and the Ark. While Stallone fought crime, Russell Crowe fought the ecological equivalent of ignorance: people!

Darren Aronofsky who is both a writer and the director of the film Noah stated in an interview with the Washington Post he didn’t have much detail to work with from the four chapters in the book of Genesis (where the story of Noah is contained). Aronofsky observed in the book of Genesis not one word of Noah is recorded; he also points out the name of Noah’s wife, nor the names of any of the wives Noah’s three sons, were recorded. He made this point in the context he had taken liberties with the biblical story. He did take liberties, but eight minutes of spoken word cannot equal 138 minutes of film; he had to add “something” to the story!

For the moment, let’s examine some of the additions and the messages inherent in the film. The biblical story mentions nothing regarding the environmental impact of the pre-flood humanity on the earth. The film makes it clear everywhere man was prior to the flood he also destroyed the environment. Animals were hunted to extinction, lands were deforested and there was a clearly implied element of cannibalism in one of the scenes near the end of the film.

Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

The biblical account makes it clear there were eight people on the ark: Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives. The biblical account also gives us a means to understand Noah’s sons were around 100 years old when they entered the ark.

Tubal-Cain, the name of a genuine biblical character listed in the Genesis genealogies, managed to become a stow-away on the ark only to be killed when discovered by Noah with Hem’s assistance. What is noteworthy about Tubal-Cain is his position as the antagonist in the movie and what he is given to say. It was Tubal-Cain who told Hem, “We are made in the Creator’s image” and man had a will to be exercised; the irony of this statement was accentuated with him stating these things while eating raw an “innocent animal!”

One of the greatest mysteries of Scripture is the awesome fact man was created in the “image of God” (imago dei); it is this fact which places the true value of man and human life into perspective. Man has value because he was created by God, made in God’s image and because of Christ’s death on the Cross, we belong to Him. To place this statement in the mouth (no pun intended here) of Tubal-Cain undermines the integrity of this fact and its importance; it also prejudices the viewing audience against the statement we were made in the image of God.

One of the most gratifying things of this movie was Aronofsky’s depiction of the ark. This was the most realistic and biblically accurate representations of the true size of the ark I have ever seen. I read several interviews of Mr. Aronofsky and his Jewish heritage and upbringing surely influenced his desire to show deference to the biblical story. I did not go to this movie expecting either biblical or orthodox accuracy, but the movie was majestic in its sweep.

For all it had, it was what it did not have which misrepresented this story of judgment, salvation and mercy! Gone was the concept of grace—a loving God choosing one man and his family from the midst of a fallen, depraved and incredibly sinful humanity. God chose Noah not because Noah was good, but because God was good and chose Noah to demonstrate His goodness to him and his family!

Aronofsky’s Noah is following a Creator who neither prepares His chosen spokesman nor provides clear evidence of His existence through revealing His plan to Noah. Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Noah, while believable and empathetic, is more akin to a wild-eyed jihadist rather than the man of God who served his Lord for 120 years—one who served his Lord while building the ark and testifying of God’s coming judgment.

The movie neglects to mention how God shared with Noah not only His intentions (judgment of all who have the breath of life in them and detailed instructions for building the ark), but also the reason why God was judging the earth; the Genesis story relates it was because of the wickedness of man which spread throughout creation. The movie would have its viewers believe it was the aggression against nature, its animals and the eco-system man had destroyed which caused the Creator to destroy the earth with a flood.

The message of the movie is just as man is destroying and has destroyed the ecology of this planet today, humanity prior to the flood did the same. In the biblical story God sent the rainbow as a testimony He would never use water to destroy the earth again (the next judgment from God will be fire according to 2 Peter and Revelation), yet it is almost ironic environmentalist today are using global warming to herald a new era of coming floods with rising sea levels which will again destroy our world.

The denouement of the movie occurs in the final few minutes of the film. Noah, in an act clearly running counter to the stated goals given to him by the Creator, refuses to following the thus-far revealed “will” he is to accomplish. Rather than choosing to end the lives of the two infants, Crowe’s character states, “As I looked I them I was filled with love” and he chose to allow them to live!

The dramatic license taken with the facts of the biblical account and even to the point of changing the motives, attitudes and milieu of the characters was understandable and I even accepted all up to this point. Face it, I did not come to this movie to receive a brush-up lesson in biblical theology! Yet the implications which resonated from Crowe’s utterance was unmistakable; when it comes to a choice between following God (in the movie, “the Creator”) or listening to what is in the heart of man, man far too often has a superior morality based on love rather than retribution from a judgmental Creator.

I am not angry about the message the writers and director are sending. The message being communicated is this: while man has destroyed the Creation (and in this movie, the creation is treated with an almost god-like worship) and the Creator has judged and destroyed man and all life for doing so, only man is capable of overriding the will of the Creator (judgment) through a perceived superior moral claim, love.

This is unfortunate in the extreme. Whether through a purposely motivated decision or through an unfortunate experience of circumstances, this movie portrays God as a capricious hateful being who forces those who would serve Him to guess and surmise His will through inference. Even though in Scripture God never expects nor asks man to act on or be judged by that which man does not know, in the movie Noah, it is Crowe’s Noah who rises above the circumstances and provides the true rescue and salvation.

Crowe’s character believed God chose him and his family to be the last of humanity for the purpose to provide a means to reseed the animal kingdom on the newly cleansed earth. It was only through a change of heart in Crowe’s Noah which allows man the opportunity to repopulate and multiply on the earth once more. After his family saw the protection of the animals and their release after the subsiding of the waters, humanity would have ended with them; in some ways this would have been but a slight change in the motivation behind some of today’s suicide bombers. They will surely die, and others with them, but it is a necessary death needed to accomplish the will of their god and guarantee them paradise.

Noah is a fast moving film with plenty of drama and action. The PG-13 rating is due to the scenes of violence and implied animal violence. The acting is superb—which is what motivated me to see this film—but the film leaves one feeling there has to be something more; a better reason, a better explanation or even a better plan for such an event to occur.

God’s intention for the believer, non-believer or even someone who is merely searching, is for them to see the need of a Savior through the events of the Genesis account and the events of our world today! Christ is our ark and our salvation who bore us through the judgment of God. Yet it was God who initially chose Noah and his family to be saved. It was God who provided an ark, the plans, the guidance and the animals to allow life to begin again on a cleansed earth. Of course in the Noah epic, man was still flawed and capable of sin and poor decisions, yet God had a plan to eventually bring His Son to this world so all people who accepted His gift of salvation could come to Him!

Those of us who know Christ are also chosen by the Father! Those who know the Son as Lord are rescued even though our bodies are corrupted by sin.  We will live again in Heaven with God when we have accepted the salvation the Father freely offers to us. One day Christ will return for us; there will no longer be crime, or disease or flaw or flood or death, for all will be perfect.

And perfection needs no cure.

Assuming America

All of us make a number of assumptions every moment of our lives.

We tend to assume what we order at McDonalds will be what we get.  We assume the person coming from the opposite direction on a highway or motorway will stay on their side of the road.  We assume the lights will come on when we flip the wall switch.

Aside from the adage claiming “When we assume, you dare make an ‘ass out of u and me,’ our assumptions far too often prove to be wrong!  The chances your McDonalds order is correct is proportionate to how far away from the restaurant you are when you check it; the person driving toward you often crosses the dividing line while answer their phone and we are always surprised when the lights do not come on as we “flip the switch.”  It’s always risky making assumptions!

One of the tacit assumptions made in history for over two-hundred years is the continued existence of America and its influence—this is especially true of its citizenry.

Please keep in mind the underlying assumption I am making here (one I make by faith—and one in which there has never been a disappointment) is the validity and truth of Scripture (remember, I am a pastor-dude).  Regardless of the pundits and the critics, Scripture and biblical prophecy has never been proved as wrong.

I remember being interviewed by a German independent documentarian when I was living in Illinois.  The question came up regarding the history of the world and Scripture; basically, what the Bible says about the future.  As I explained the Bible’s declaration of the future coming anti-Christ and the re-subjection of Europe, the Middle East and much of Asia by his government, she stated many people in Europe would be highly offended by this interpretation.

Artist's rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Artist’s rendition of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I asked her if she understood the prophecy as a statement of further American hegemony; in other words, was she assuming Christianity and its belief system were synonymous with America and its culture?  Being from Germany and being thoroughly secular in her ideology, she saw no difference between “America” and “Christianity.”

What I then told her almost left her speechless.  I informed her there are no symbols nor is there any mention of “America” in any biblical prophecies; for whatever reason, the sovereign entity of the United States plays no role in the affairs of the world in the prophecies contained in the Bible regarding humanity’s future.

Does this mean America is no more?  Has it been marginalized politically by world events or the rise of new and more powerful world powers?  God in His wisdom does not inform us.  All we can know with surety is there is no mention of the United States in end-times descriptions.  While there are many who will try to insert an American presence into the events of the last days, it simply is not there if one follows the normal rules of interpretation.

I believe what we see playing out in the newspapers, RSS feeds and televisions news coverage certainly grants us insight into the beginning of the demise of America.  America has lost much of its influence internationally.  Because we have failed to discipline ourselves financially (especially personally), our government sees no reason to do so and our private, personal actions has granted them the permission to do likewise.

We have lost all semblance of a “moral high ground” due to our own hypocritical stances domestically—it is difficult to chide other countries for their mistreatment and slaughter of their own peoples when we have systematically killed over 50 million babies through legalized abortion.  When other countries choose to kill a group of people like this, we refer to it as genocide!

The Bible states “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  It isn’t a particular sin—it’s not homosexuality or divorce or overeating or overspending—it’s sin!  There is a reason why so many in other parts of the world assume there is a direct link between Christianity and America; for many decades this was a legitimate fact.  Yet when those who have identified themselves with Christ so blatantly ignore the very commands of God, God judges those who know Him more harshly!  The Apostle Peter reminded his readers judgment begins first with “God’s household.”

Here is something to keep in mind as those of us who seek comfort from God’s Word study it: the prophecies of Scripture never demand a particular method or means, they merely tell us what “will be” and sometimes they give us insight into the results which follow.  God has given us prophecy for the same reason He gives us all things: to increase our faith in Him.

Trusting in God’s control of our future and eternity is not an assumption—it’s a surety!