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Me, Myself & I against God!

Forgiveness.  Easy to say yet more difficult to actually achieve. Why is forgiveness so hard?

 

I’m into my third decade as a pastor now.  Over the years I have met people—good people who know the Lord—yet they have no problem telling me there is someone they know, someone with whom they have had a relationship in the past and now, because of something they did, they said, or they caused and now they cannot forgive them, ever.

 

There is a huge difference between what we know and how we feel, our responses to circumstances. What we know is what is reality. Does reality change?  It certainly does.  Yet the changes to reality are much slower and more deliberate. Interestingly, the root of “reality” is “real.”

 

So, does this mean that what we “feel” should be automatically discounted and disparaged? Not at all.  Feelings are always a response; a response to people, to circumstances and even to thoughts—ours mostly.  Unfortunately, feelings are ephemeral, they change, have no solidity (or reality) and how we “feel” often soon changes as soon as the pizza we have eaten is digested.

 

I am not surprised when those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ do not forgive.  People who are lost or pagan have not been “recreated” as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17. They are acting according to their created order; they are not less than believers because believers were once just like them.

 

Yet believers in Christ are to look like Christ and act like Him!  Paul makes it very clear that “those whom He [God] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29, ESV).  What God foreknows and predestined is reality; it is what is real.

 

Of course, those who are more attentive and observant immediately realize there are many people who profess Christ as their Lord and yet they do not either “look” or “act” like Christ. How can this be if the reality is that God has made us to look like Christ?

 

The same God who made us to look like His Son also gave those He made this way true freedom and will. Those who do not forgive have made the choice to purposely disobey and to not forgive!

 

Paul in Colossians 3:13 commands, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.”  Paul informs the Ephesians in Ephesians 4:32 that forgiveness is a mark, is actually evidence that we are actually saved.  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

 

In Luke 6:37-38 is perhaps one of the most often misunderstood, misapplied and misquoted verses in all of the New Testament.  There Jesus lays out three parallel concepts which make it crystal clear how God applies justice in this world: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

 

People who are judgmental will themselves face judgment.  People who are constantly condemning, will themselves face condemnation. People who forgive will find forgiveness.  The way we act and live will be the “measure,” the means by which our lives will be measured and judged by God.

 

Oh, and try not to oh-so-quickly state, “Hey, this has nothing to do with salvation!”  You are correct; it does not.  Yet this does apply to our eternal reward as believers!  I know some people who tell me how much they love Jesus, how long they have been in church and all they do for people, yet they are often cranky, mean-spirited, angry and demonstrate very little of Jesus in their life.  God will make sure they are rewarded accordingly.

 

There are people who have literally lost brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and other family because of the actions of an individual.  I’ve heard them tell me they “will never forgive that person.”  The longer I know the Lord, the more I understand they are destroying their rewards and robbing themselves of blessings in the here and now.

 

Who do we think we are as believers when we make such statements?  God’s One and Only Son paid for our sin, and then the Father because of that payment has forgiven us.  Do we actually think we are “bigger” or more important than God?  I’ve actually had people say, “God has blessed me the way I am.”  Okay, but how much more could he have blessed you if you were obedient to Him?

 

In my life, Me, Myself and I are the most self-centered, often evil and selfish persons I know; I know them because I am them!  As I age, and as I mature in my relationship with Christ, I am more and more amazed that God the Father has forgiven me and especially Jesus Christ has also forgiven me. Especially Jesus; as my Advocate, He knows all of my Issues whereas the Father only sees Jesus!

 

Praise God!  Because I am forgiven, I can now forgive!

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Want and Will

Wanting is an interesting concept.  First, it’s emotionally driven; what I want today may be completely different from what I want tomorrow—or even in ten minutes.  Out of control “wanting” is incredibly destructive.  I remember back in the seventies, a company called Household Finance used to have a commercial that had a tag-line in it saying, “When you want something long enough, it can become a need.”

 

Uncontrolled “wants” can weaken our will.  Yet a mature person has the ability to live a life which constantly strengthens their will. This means we must deny our wants: no piece of cake, no new car, not purchasing something which cannot be paid for this month, and on.  It is the denial of our wants which strengthens our will.

 

Christ in Gethsemane

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, the most striking example of the “want vs. will” battle is found in theGospel of Luke 22:39-46.  In this passage, we see Jesus Christ, the Son of God—who is God—struggling in the Garden of Gethsemane with His approaching death as He prayed to the Father.

 

Almost everyone who has ever attended church, Sunday School or even Vacation Bible School as a child are familiar with the events of this story.  Jesus, who was fully man and yet also fully God, experienced the human condition to its fullest extent.  “Sure, He experienced everything every human experiences!”  No, that’s inaccurate.

 

Far too often, we are tempted with something (think a “want” here) and we fail and give in to the “want.” Jesus Christ, coming as the second Adam and being Virgin Born so He would be able to demonstrate what perfection really is (Adam and Eve were created perfect, yet because they sinned, we do not know what perfection is through the human condition), experiences every temptation just as every human does, yet He—Jesus—experiences temptation to the full and He defeats and overcomes it!

 

Who do you want to tell you what it’s like to run a marathon?  The guy who starts and then quits half-way through the race (“You cannot believe how brutal a marathon is!”), or the guy who starts, finishes and wins the race (“Yeah, it was brutal, but the winning is incredible!”)?

 

So, Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, struggled with what He wanted and the will of God. No one who is sane would want to die the death of crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.  There in the garden His prayers were so intense that Luke records, “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

 

Now here, I must point out a not-so-minor peeve of mine.  Jesus did not sweat drops of blood!  I cannot count the number of teachers and pastors who claim He did.  I have even heard long medical lectures about how if anyone ever does sweat drops of blood, then their death is immanent.  First, Luke clearly stated “His sweat became likegreat drops of blood.”  This is a simile, an extremely useful literary tool which enables the reader to have greater sensory appreciation for the event they are reading.

 

Second, and perhaps even more important, if He had sweat bloodthen His sacrificial death would have been unacceptable.  The sacrifice had to be perfect in order to offer it to the Lord.  Under the Levitical code, all sacrifices must be of the “firstfruits”—the best of the best and without any blemish.

 

If you’ve ever been Savannah, Georgia in the summer—or any other location where the heat and humidity are above ninety degrees and ninety percentile, our sweat is like we are sweating bloodbecause of the increased salinity of our perspiration which in turn, increases the viscosity of our sweat. But I digress….

 

What we are witnessing in Christ’s struggle in the Garden is His struggle between His want and His will—and who alive has not struggled like this?  There are times when even in our fallen selves we have, by God’s grace, overcome our desires and our wants and have exercised our will to not give in to the temptation we are facing.

 

Yet allow me to point something out for our further consideration: as God, Jesus could have exercised His will—yet he chose not to! Jesus Christ while asking for this “cup” of torment to be removed by the Heavenly Father, this suffering Jesus as God submitted Himself as a manto the Father’s will even though as God, He could have exercised His will as well and avoided the Cross.

 

The love God demonstrated on the Cross—the Father’s giving of His Son to die and the Son’s giving of His own life—was not a choice made at the last moment; this was a willful choice made in eternity past for Jesus to die in my place and in yours.  Jesus did not want to die.  Jesus, because of the love of the Father, Son and Spirit, made the choice in eternity past to demonstrate how much God loves us so we have the opportunity to live with Him forever.

 

If we desire the ability to exercise more “will” and less want, we too must make our choices now. Not in the moment of “want.”

In re de somnium (The dream of Reality)

We’ve all said something like this: “They are their own worst enemy.”

What motivates us to make this kind of observation?  Usually it’s due to individuals who seem to be captive of their own weaknesses which they either cannot see or cannot overcome.

Yet even while we may shake our heads as we walk away from someone who should have known when to stop talking, we must always keep this in mind: we are no different than they are.  There are times in everyone’s life when we are simply unable to determine where we are or what we’re doing.

No matter how aware we believe ourselves to be, no matter how we may even pride ourselves on our ability to understand the consequences of our actions, time and again we demonstrate our inability to often see what is proverbially directly in front of us.  It is almost as if our brains seem to work against our efforts to interpret our circumstances.

There is an old Chinese proverb which says, “If you want to understand water, do not ask a fish.”

Here’s the scenario: your wife has sent you upstairs to get a particular cleaner out of the closet (usually due to the fact you had the audacity to appear to be “un-busy” while she is busily “doing something”).  You are familiar with this cleaner; you know what colors the bottle has on it, you even are familiar with the size and shape of the bottle, so off you go to check another victory off your list!

Unfortunately, the cleaner isn’t in the closet.  You looked.  It wasn’t there.  So, you inform your wife that it isn’t in the closet (usually by increasing the volume of your voice so it will reach your wife who is still downstairs).  After mere moments have passed, your wife comes to you.  Of course, you are prepared for your vindication.  You are confident of your situational assessment.  You are prepared to receive your prize (trust me, this is a guy thing).

Reality, in these moments, becomes simultaneously displeasing and disappointing.  Your wife reaches into the closet and turns to you and places the cleaner into your disbelieving hands.  She then goes back downstairs while muttering an esteem-destroying narrative which further weakens one’s grip on one’s man-card….

So, you are standing there with the bottle of cleaner, attempting to process the reality of your ignominy, and you cannot fathom how you could be so wrong!  And judging by the continued muttering of your wife downstairs, neither can she.

If your inability to have seen the cleaning bottle was a physical issue, this would have been referred to as a scotoma, a physical blind spot in one’s vision which makes one unable to see anything in the center of one’s vision.  Yet very few people have a true diagnosed scotoma; while everyone has a blind-spot in their field of vision, few have the debilitative sort.

The reason our “man” example could not see the cleaner was a kind of scotoma, a mental one.  I’ve done this very thing.  The reason we do not see the very object for which we are searching is our minds have given us an image for which we were looking!  If what our “eyes” see does not match our mental image, our brain immediately dismisses what is before us.

We are seeking.  We desire to find a particular object.  Yet because of what we are thinking our brain says it isn’t there!

It happened.  We’re in the water but we don’t know it.

We have become our own worst enemy.

For the believer in Jesus Christ, this should cause us great chagrin and even alarm.  If our minds so readily dismiss the reality in which we live simply because we have the wrong image of reality, how can we know we know?  How can we avoid being our own worst enemy?

In Romans 8:26, the Apostle Paul informs us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (ESV).

Because God created us and because He knows us completely, He has placed His Spirit within everyone who has a relationship with Him through the Son Christ.  One of the most overlooked benefits of the presence of the Spirit in the life of a believer is the Spirit, who is God, knows what we need—and what we should know—better than we do.

Perhaps we should remember the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the 1990 movie Total Recall: “How do we know this isn’t a dream?”

There is great power and strength in our relationship with Christ!  No, this doesn’t mean we must all live in fear of spoiling our relationship with Him because of what we could do.  A few verses after the above reference, Paul adds that nothing in the list he gives “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39 ESV).

So the next time you are looking for something you know you should be able to find, remember the gift God has given us so we can always find Him, we can always know His will and we will never be able to make any decision which will separate us from the love He has given to us in Christ through His sacrifice.

We will have defeated the enemy within us: ourselves.

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.

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?

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!

 

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…………

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.