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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.

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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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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…………

The Ugly Christian Part 3

Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?

 

 

The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970.  The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.”  From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.

 

A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not.  Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack.  Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.

 

Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action.  Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.

 

Christianity is also involved in warfare.  Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies.  What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.

 

One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling.  I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives.  As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.Abortion Protest signs

People are a complex mechanism.  By God’s design no two of us are alike.  We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature.  If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.

 

One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.”  I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well).  Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

 

Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else.  The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions.  One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”

 

It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions.  Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!”  Abortion is murder—I agree completely!  Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions?  Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.

 

Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.”  We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water!  We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin.  Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!

 

Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby.  The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us.  He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family.  He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.

 

His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him.  The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”

 

If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!