Friday, December 28, 2007

Is a Good Example Good Enough?




There were three men. They were all caught in very deep mud. It was so thick that none of them could climb out, and it would take about a full day for them to sink. And it was so deep that they would sink for a about a mile after going under. To say the least, their predicament was severe. But they didn't all see the severity in the same way.

About an hour later another man who seemed to know the area pretty well walked up to the three men. This man had the ability to walk on the mud without sinking or getting soiled. The three men in the mud had different reactions.

The first man was amazed at this stranger's ability to stay above the surface of the mud. The second man thought it was a trick. The third man was amazed, and wondered who he was.

The walking man said to all three, "I have come to help you all get to safety. What do you say?"

The first man said, "Sure. Just show me how you do what you do." And so the walking man demonstrated his technique, and even gave the first man lessons. But the first man tried and tried, and only managed to sink even faster. He became angry and died.

The second man said, "I can use some rope." So the man got some rope and gave it to him. He struggled and struggled until he sank, with the rope sticking out and sinking behind him. But before he sunk, he said, "I knew this was a trick!"

The third man was wiser than the first two. He said, "Sir, I accept your offer. But, I don't know what I need. All I know is that I don't want to die. Please help me."

The man reached out his hand and pulled the third man up out of the mud and saved him.

What's the point?

Jesus did not come to merely be a good example to follow. Yet many people (I even know personally) believe that is exactly why he came. They often say, "Perhaps he was a good man, or even a prophet from God. But following the Ten Commandments and the example of Jesus is all that is really required."

That would be true if we were as good as Jesus. But the Commandments and Jesus example demonstrate that we are not, and we are condemned. Trying to do better is admirable. But, we have failed to live up to God's commandments whether we admit it or not. And for this we are guilty, no matter what we feel about ourselves or think about God.

Think about it. The most important commandments concern our relationship with God. The others concern our relationships with each other. We have demonstratively failed in either case from the day of our birth. Trying harder doesn't undo what has already been done. Trying harder doesn't change us. We need something more. We need something that is beyond our ability or understanding to attain—for even our understanding is corrupted. We need a Savior and we need to be changed.

Do you dare take Jesus up on his offer? (John 11:25-27) Or do you dare dictate your own terms? (Luke 14:15-35)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Really Accepting The Reality of What is Real



© P.Winberg

This is just a thought. But have you ever looked in the mirror to see yourself? Of course. But is what you see really you? The answer is not as simple as it may seem.

What I observe in the mirror is merely a reflection of myself, not me. The accuracy of the reflection is dependent on the state of the mirror. Distort the mirror, and my image is distorted. Throw some dirt and grime on it and my image is obscured. The truly real me can not be distorted or marred by the state of the mirror. Only my image can be.

In our world we are told to view life as it really is. What most people mean is that we need to be aware of the good and bad sides of life, feel something about it, and do something about it. But, I beg to differ. Reality isn't shaped by the state of the world—good or bad. The world is merely a reflection of what is real. The bad things in this world can distort or mar the image of the real, but it can not affect the truly real.

What I mean is that suffering, pain, and loss is not the true nature of things, but a condition or aspect of reality that affects what we see as real. That sounds sort of confusing, but think about it. If a mirror is distorted or dirty, the state of the mirror is an aspect of a true reality, but not the reality of the image it reflects.

How does understanding this affect our daily lives?

Like the mirror, the state of the world is a reality. We operate and function in this world like it really is. We don't have to pretend or ignore its ugliness nor its beauty. We can celebrate the good, mourn the bad, help those in need, be patient with all sorts of people, and recognize our own strengths and weaknesses while doing the will of God.

However, just like the mirror, we can make the mistake of believing that what we see is what is really real. The truth behind what we see is that there is something that can not be distorted or marred by the circumstances that arise in this world—whether good or bad. It is all too easy to derive what we believe about God, sin in the world, and the solution—namely Christ—from what we observe. This can lead us to distort the true message of the gospel into either a works-based religion or into magical thinking.

The right perspective can mean everything.

With the right perspective we can truly rejoice in our sufferings, because we are receiving the goal of our faith—which is eternity, glory, and honor when Christ is revealed. With the right perspective we can face opposition for our faith, because we know that God is not only glorified, but he will commend us personally when we have stood the test. With the right perspective we know the true solution for the world's problems will not come from man-centered effort—such as a religious system, being nice, simply lending a helping hand, human philosophy, a new social or governmental system, not even a new leader. It will only come through God's coming kingdom and each individual's conversion to Christ. With the right perspective we know that what someone has or doesn't have really doesn't matter. For everyone will enter eternity in either heaven or hell.
(See 1 Peter; Matthew 16:24-28)

Even though the world has no need of the "Christian" solution, it is the greatest gift God has given the world.

Merry Christmas!
.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christian Cliché




"Remember. Don't be so heavenly minded to be any earthly good."

This cliché is not necessarily the domain of Christian circles, but is popular in our post-Christian culture. I've heard Christians quote this mantra whenever we discuss heaven, or the church's role in social reform. It is as if, working in this world requires being earthly minded.

Actually, I've come to the conclusion that if we are earthly good it is precisely because we are heavenly minded. In other words, the more we understand heaven, and the One who dwells there, the more we will understand our role in this world. On the flip side, the more earthly minded we become, the more bogged down we are by worldly matters—even to the point of being no real good to God or to those in the world.

In Luke 12:13-34 the problem the rich man had was not that he was too focused on heaven to care about the concerns of earth. It was that he was too focused on this life (his concerns in this world) to care about the concerns of heaven.

Think about it. Do you agree with what Jesus said is true? "Life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions." If you do, what are you worried about? What are you living for? Or better yet, how do you see the person who has nothing in comparison to you? Can you tell them what Jesus said about possessions? If not, why not? Do you really believe it when you or someone else lives below the poverty line?

In Colossians 3, Paul blatantly tells Christians to be heavenly minded, because it leads to earthly behavior that is pleasing to God. Our perspective is shifted from selfish, worldly living, to living in harmony with God's will. We actually have a change of mindset when we consider heaven in all that we do.

What do you believe? (Consider Philippians 3:17-21, Hebrews 12:1-3, and Romans 12:1-2)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Observations of a Visitor

I and my family have been visiting different churches lately. What is interesting is what is consistent and different between different churches—whether restorationist or not.

Churches that are growing and welcoming have these in common:
  • They all think about a visitor's experience when they come through the door. What I mean is that when I walk in as a stranger, there is somebody there to welcome me and guide me. They even anticipate my needs as a family man, like showing me where my kids go, and what's offered for them.
  • They have a greeters station or desk, with more than one person and orientation literature, and ability to guide.
  • They have a plan for growth. They don't believe that growth just happens because they exist. They build, plan, structure, and communicate with the intention of growing.
  • They are clear about what they are about, and they communicate it clearly.
  • They have a process of growth from visitor to committed member. It isn't taken for granted, and members must agree with the non-negotiable doctrine the church affirms. Yet, there is room to sincerely disagree with negotiable doctrine. Either way it is clear what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable.
  • They respect leadership. They don't allow anyone to lead ministries without being a committed member, demonstrating a character of biblical wisdom, nor having the maturity and giftedness to lead a particular ministry. There is a process in place to nurture leaders.
  • Their small groups are strategic, rather than self-existing. They support the church's mission and strategic approach.


What do you think? Have you seen this too?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ashamed of the Gospel



Courtesy Mary R. Vogt at MorgueFile.com

More and more, I hear how we are to relate to culture. Some would say, "many in our culture believe we are irrelevant. And we need to be more relevant to attract a new generation." The problem I have with this is that often the motive is to get people to like us. Not necessarily to provide a call to repentance through faith in Christ.

But don't we want people to be attracted to us, so that it becomes easier to communicate the message?

The reason people may not listen to us has little to do with liking us. It may have more to do with respecting us. Between the two, I would prefer respect rather than being liked. Being liked is fickle. When people like you, they may listen to you, but they don't take you very seriously. In fact, once you say something they don't like, they won't like you anymore.

However, even if someone doesn't like you, if they respect you they will have to grapple with what you say. True, it is better to be respected and liked. In that way, people will have to grapple with what you say from a perspective of a respected relationship. Another way to put it, is that they admire you and identify with you, so that your words have impact on them—even if they may initially disagree.

The message of Christ isn't just about making friends, but making peace. The goal of the Gospel is reconciliation between God and men (thus causing reconciliation between men). It is about transformational power. The gospel of Christ brings salvation to a doomed world. Therefore, friendly relations is a means to share the gospel message and a fruit of the gospel message believed. But it is not the goal of the gospel message. The goal is reconciliation.

In other words, when friendliness becomes the goal, the way to achieve this friendliness is being friendly. Avoid problems or situations that upset the status quo, or cause others to hate you. Be agreeable for the sake of avoiding conflict. (Go along to get along.) In this manner, the bulk of the work is on keeping the appearance of peace. The practice of tolerance is for the purpose of ignoring differences; not to use our differences to work towards a common goal nor to become right with God and each other. Rather, the motive is simply avoidance for pleasantness.

But when reconciliation is the goal, the process can seem messy at times—maybe even hostile. This is because reconciliation requires more than cordiality. It requires honesty, confrontation, self-sacrifice, endurance, patience, and great wisdom. Reconciliation requires real work, and an understanding of the role of differences—from non-consequential to outright dangerous. It requires the fruits of the Spirit and willingness not to be comfortable for a greater goal.

Jesus didn't want to suffer and die. But he wanted reconciliation bad enough to endure it. Christians are to do no less. That is our cross to bear. Avoiding the cross isn't an option.

Monday, October 15, 2007

When is it Hate? II

Previously, I discussed the incident at George Washington University. Turns out that the president of George Washington University has decided to do nothing about the racial incident because it was a liberal group that posted the "hate" messages. I guess that proves my point. It is only considered "hate" when it comes from certain people. It has little do with it's effects or damage caused. It has to do with marking certain individual's as undesirable or worthy of "hate." This is called discrimination.
 

Friday, October 12, 2007

Martyrdom in the Church of Christ

According to the Voice of the Martyrs organization—a group dedicated to helping the persecuted church and keeping the Christian community at large informed—two pastors were executed on July 5th in a Colombia village of El Dorado. They were killed by a group of guerrillas (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) for preaching about Jesus. It is considered "illegal" to do this in this area.

One of the brothers worked with the Presbyterian Church (Humberto Mendez Montoya), and was a missionary there for about three years. The other was a brother from the Church of Christ (Joel Cruz Garcia) who was working to start a church there.

Apparently, more than 300 pastors over the past five years have been martyred and many others were kidnapped. Let's keep the pastor's families in prayer, for these problems have largely been kept silent. According to an interview in the Colombian newspaper HOY, "These homicides of Christians…unfortunately have fallen on deaf ears."

The wives of the two brothers are currently in jeopardy. Please pray for them especially.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When is it Hate?

Recently in the Washington D.C. area there was a supposed "hate" crime. There were posters plastered all over campus extolling the virtues of hating Muslims. This act was reported as a "hate" crime, and university officals where intent on finding the culprits. The group that was identified on the posters was a conservative group, and many thought they were really responsible. They were prepared to prosecute them to the full extent of the law.

Well, it turns out that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by left-leaning group of young people, looking to smear the conservative organization. It is being looked at as a prank. These young people may be reprimanded. However, the smeared conservative group asked that these people be at least expelled from the campus community.

This brings up a troubling development. Why is this now considered simply a prank? The act was considered a hate crime prior to knowing who did it. Is this proof that hate crime legislation is indeed unfairly applied? It seems that "hate" is subjectively applied to selective groups of people who criticize other selective groups of people.

In other words, when is a crime worse than the crime itself? Is murdering a single mother worse, if the mother is black and the killer is white? Is it worse when the mother is a homosexual and the killer is a heterosexual? Is it not as bad when the victim and perpetrator are both of the same race? What makes the crime "hate" when all crime is hate of some sort?

I know the reasoning. A hate crime is a crime that not only harms the victim, but also victimizes a whole group of people. But how do we determine this—other than having the perpetrator tell you that was his or her intent? If we judge simply by the results it produces, how do we know when the results are intended? "Hey, we thought we were simply bringing awareness of hate. We didn't intend to cause the Muslim community to feel victimized. Oops. Sorry."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Losing to Win II

There is a prime time TV show I enjoy watching. It is NBC's The Biggest Loser. As I have written before, it is for a similar reason I liked Shaq's Big Challenge. It reveals the very real difficulties involved in the war against overweight lifestyles.

Several people are selected to be part of the show's boot camp, and they compete on who loses the most pounds by the end of the season. Personal trainers help these people learn how to eat, when to eat, how to exercise, and push these people to train beyond what they would be accustomed to.

What is fascinating is that some of the contestants are resistant to change, whether it is the exercise regime or eating differently. But the trainers use a mix of encouragement, challenge, education, hard truth, parable, and even outright anger to motivate these people to go beyond what they are comfortable doing. They are each given the sobering reality that what they were doing was killing them. And if they continue to live like that they will surely die. So, even though this hurts, and it is uncomfortable, they must keep their eyes on the goal—losing weight for a healthier, and more meaningful life.

Isn't this what Jesus offers? Not losing weight necessarily, but a transformed life for God's purposes. He himself serves as our example of perseverance (For the joy set before him he endured the cross), of setting ourselves apart (he died and is raised to live a new life), and of faithfulness. Yet, Jesus is the cause of our transformed life. For through is offered body, and the Spirit he sends, he also provides a way for us to be transformed.

But like in the Biggest Loser, it isn't going to be easy. We need encouragement from each other. We need people who can help us understand what we don't know. We need people to have the courage to tell us the truth, out of gentleness and love, and to put up with our whining. We need people around us who care about our transformation more than us liking them. We need people around us who are wise enough to know when to push and when not to push. We need people around us who want it for themselves.

But, again, this isn't easy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Losing to Win I

My wife and I enjoy not having cable TV. In that way, when we go to a hotel, it is a treat to watch instead of the same-old-same-old. We really enjoy the program, What Not to Wear, because it has some deep spiritual truths. In fact, most of the makeover shows have a spiritual truth attached to them. I believe that is why these types of shows are so appealing for so many. It points to an intangible divine yearning we all have.

We all want to be made over. We know that there is more for us than what we see now, but often don't know what that is, nor how to achieve it. The makeover shows promise help from sources we don't readily have available to us. And we can watch with amazement at their successful results, and the very real struggles to get there.

In one episode we watched a woman who previously dressed like a raggedy little girl, but also looked beyond her years. The makeover team of Stacy London and Clinton Kelly came to her rescue. They provided style guidelines, education, selection criteria, and an assertive push. They began by throwing out her terrible wardrobe, and introducing her to a new wardrobe and new ways of thinking.

It is always fascinating to watch what happens. The person invariably is saddened to lose the old ways, even though they know it wasn't working for them. In this particular case, the woman knew she would never find a husband if she continued to operate the way she did. But she couldn't let go. And when the makeover team introduced her to new ways of thinking (and shopping) the woman became literally sick. She was way out of her element.

The episode concludes with her going ahead despite her angst (and maybe because cameras were rolling), and she subjects herself to the final indignity of getting her hair cut and restyled. She struggled greatly with the whole process. But at the end these superficial changes produced great results. She looked more attractive and more her age, and surprisingly, her attitudes begin to shift—especially when she received support from her closest friends and family.

As it turns out, she also discovered that what she wore reflected a deep truth inside her. She perceived herself as unworthy, and there also resided deep pain. She reflected her insecurity in what she wore, and how she acted. The forced outward changes, forced her to confront some of these inward issues. Later, she revealed a confidence in herself and future she didn't have before. What happened? Do clothes really make the (wo)man?

In some ways I would say "yes." The Scriptures implore Christians to consider their old way of life like an old wardrobe, and their new way of life like a new fashionable way of thinking. (Romans 13:13-14; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 4:17-5:21; Colossians 3:5-12; 1 Peter 5:5-7) The old way of life had no real connection with God. But in Christ, we have a connection with God that is so close that we are family and intimate friends.

So, how now shall we live? That is the real question, and the real challenge. For it is hard to let go of the familiar to grasp the unfamiliar—even if it is the right thing to do. So, we need each other (in the church) for encouragement—to let go of the old, and put on the new. We need each other to demonstrate for each other how it's done. We need each other to embody what it looks like to live like the King of kings' family member. We need to push each other toward what is good, because it isn't about not doing our old life anymore as much as it is embracing our brand-new, blood-bought, life. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11; Hebrews 10:19-25)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Church's Reason for Being

The Church has a reason for being in existence. I am pulling mainly from Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and 1 & 2 Peter.

Existence

The Church exists to exists. It is a testimony to the world and heavenly beings that God is fulfilling his plan on earth as it is in heaven.

Witness

The Church has been appointed to suffer for the sake of the gospel. This will be proof that God's judgment is right, when he is revealed. It is also an example of God's message about his Son. The lifestyles and unity of this universal entity on earth is to reveal that God is real and he is right.

Good News

The Church is the fulfillment of Christ's message, the message, and proclaimers of the message.

The Vehicle

The Church is the very vehicle that God will use to save the world, like Noah's Ark. Through Christ, we are members of his body (the Church) and we are saved by faith in Christ. Christ plans to come back for his Church and be united with his Church forever.

God's

The Church belongs to God. Jesus is the Head of the Church. God's plan was that Jesus would enter the world to build the Church—God's kingdom on earth.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Most Important Question

It was one of those discussions. Sam, my co-worker at McDonald's in 1985, was talking to me about Christianity. He talked to me about his experiences. And I was half-way listening. I was a little embarrassed because I really was an agnostic. I also believed that religion was a private matter.

I was an agnostic because I didn't have enough faith and arrogance to be an atheist. But I also wasn't convinced that any particular religion answered many questions either.

He asked me if I was a Christian. I said an obligatory, "yes." But I knew that I really wasn't a believer. I was more of a social believer. I said "yes" as a social kindness. I wanted him not to try to evangelize me. He said he was glad that he could share his joy in our shared faith. (If only he knew.) He talked about his faith like it was the most precious thing he came across. I couldn't relate.

After that summer had passed, I had moved into a small apartment with my buddy, and I had graduated from college. I had to come to terms with the rest of my life. I've talked about this pivotal moment before. But it was that one question that began the journey, sustains me during difficult times, and is the question I use with those who don't believe that Jesus is who he said he is.

This question led me to become a believer. Believe me, it wasn't because I found that God was good. It wasn't because I found that Christians were really loving. It wasn't because it made me feel good. It wasn't because it made my life better. It was the possibility that the coming of Jesus as the Son of God could be true.

The question that changed my perspective and started me on my journey to find the answer was, "What if it's true? What if this stuff I hear about Jesus is true?" The next question is the natural consideration: "If I find that this is true, then what?" The only other question I had to consider—but only briefly, since the answer was obvious—was, "Is it worth my effort finding out?"

As long as I wasn't open to the possibility, I couldn't be convinced. But, logically, that would be foolish; to not believe something because I didn't want to, rather than because it isn't true. I'd better find out for myself.

Is it worth it? The answer is, "yes."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Discipleship and Corn

 


What does a typical farmer need to do to raise a crop of corn?

First of all, he would need the right environment before considering doing anything. The climate, soil, and spacial conditions will determine what can or can not be grown in a particular area. These factors also determine what work needs to be done to prepare the land for planting.

Next, the farmer needs to have the right seed. Without kernels of corn, or some other seeds, he's not getting corn for sure.

Then, he needs to plant the seeds in the right season. Sweet corn, for instance, needs to be planted in warm soil (above 55°). Of course, in different locations the optimal time to plant will vary. However, he would also factor in the expected time for harvest, and for possible crop rotations (the planting of different crops on the same land for the control of certain insects and diseases, and soil health).

After this, he has to wait and put his trust in God, who controls the weather. Perhaps he would labor to keep the growing plants healthy, by cultivating them with water and fertilizer. He also may need to fight weeds and insects that threaten these tender plants.

In due time, there should be a harvest of some sort. Not all seeds will germinate properly. But if he does a good job, many should be ready and healthy by harvest time, if God so sovereignly chooses.

This process also applies to disciple-making and nurturing. As the apostle Paul had stated,

"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow."
(1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

Here's what we know:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Christian Leadership and Certainty


Photo from Morguefile.com

She happily walks to her car and gets in. She starts to drive. She turns down a road that looks inviting, and turns down another, then another. Eventually, she ends up in a remote area.

So she gets out her road map to figure out where she has ended up, and where she needs to go to get to her destination. But she is unable to determine where she is in relation to the map because she had been totally oblivious to the road signs. She had simply taken roads that pleased her. And besides, she really had no specific destination.

She sighs momentarily and proceeds to drive some more. It is now dark, and it even harder for her to find her way around. Then the car begins to sputter to a halt. She is out of gas. She hadn't pay any attention to the gas gauge.

It is only now that she really begins to panic, because she has no cell phone, no money, and no identification. She had left the house without thinking about anything but the car keys. She is thinking, "Now, what do I do?"

Whew! You are probably either feeling sorry for this woman, or you are wondering why she put herself in such a predicament. And what does this have to do with Christian leadership?

In our current Christian culture we are experiencing some paradigm shifts that are not good. In one respect, in every generation, it is legitimate to question commonly held beliefs about the Christian faith that are not foundational. Like the manner worship is conducted, the role of the church within the prevailing culture, or church government. There is always room to debate without dividing on these in-house issues.

But what happens when you question the very basis of faith and understanding? Such as the meaning of truth, the Bible's authority and truth-claims, or Jesus' divinity. These things under gird the true faith. (1 Timothy 1:8-20;; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 4:1-3) To do so gives legitimacy to unbelief, as if unbelief and faith can coexist. They can not. In fact, unbelief is displeasing to God. (Hebrews 11:6)

Or what happens when every disagreement is seen as antithetical to the faith? Many say that doctrine isn't worth fighting over. It is better to "love" than to hate. Toleration is seen as the acceptance of someones' point of view as true for that person and leaving them be. But it is clear in Scripture that toleration is a means to an end, not the end. Rather than putting up with ideas that are false, we are to patiently and actively bring everyone to the knowledge of the truth as a supreme act of love. (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:22-26; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Leviticus 19:17-18)

However, in recent days, even leaders in the church espouse the virtues of unbelief . (Though they would never call it that. Rather, they refer to this as being humble, by rejecting the attitude of certainty. They see themselves as being above judging other people. They also say each of us can only possess partial truth, or truth that we can relate to from our various perspectives. They deny that anybody can actually possess an overarching truth—which judges all other truth or cultural claims—including the apostles themselves.) They call into question whether anyone can know anything for sure. "Who really has the truth with a capital "T." And some have even said that they don't trust anyone who is sure about anything concerning the Christian faith.

The problem is that this is a false assertion. It is true that we do not possess all truth, but we can indeed possess truth, especially when it is revealed to us. And we also have the ability to understand reality and make judgments about it. The Bible makes it clear that we are given reasoning ability by God as well as adequate information (especially for the Christian; 1 Corinthians 2:11-16). Therefore, we are made responsible for choosing unbelief. (Romans 1:18-23; Acts 17:29-31)

The Bible itself even uses reason to convince us about the facts of reality. All you need to do is look at Jesus. He is constantly using logic to demonstrate aspects about God, His Kingdom, and expose our duplicity.(Matthew 12:1-14; 2 Timothy 3:16) We can ignore it and revel in our "mysteries," but God will still call us all to account.

But now certain leaders in the church want to appear as humble followers. So they espouse uncertainty as a greater achievement than defending the faith they say they believe in. This isn't faith, it is unbelief. (Hebrews 11:1-3) And many are following their ways. Like the woman in our example, who followed her own instinct, these men do not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not know where they are going, and they do not care. But what will they or their followers do when they reach their destination? Oh, that's right. They don't have a destination.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Remembering One Reason I Became a Christian


It was the summer of 1986 and I was sitting on my bed. I was contemplating my life. I remember almost everything about that day, from the weather—it was unseasonably pleasant and sunny—the time of day, the sights and the smells, and my roommate had just left to make it to some classes he was finishing up. I had just graduated and was contemplating my next moves.

I remember this time because it was so pivotal in my life. It served as a marker for when my thinking became more sober. It was at that moment when I was contemplating the utter meaninglessness of life that I had an epiphany.

It was around this time that Flo Hyman died. She was a phenomenal U.S. Volleyball champion and I was a big fan of hers. During a game in January 24, 1986 she suddenly collapsed and died on the spot during a volleyball game in Japan. I had already spent much of the previous year discussing the death of exercise maverick, Jim Fixx with my buddy and roomate—even laughing about the irony. And then this happened. It hit me in a strange way that year.

It intensified during that summer as I was seeking employment in my field. I suddenly realized the absurdity of life. Here I am working hard to get through school. And now I am out. I will now work hard to get a good-paying job, a home, and a car. Then I will have to pay taxes, and then die. What is the point of it all?

That is when I wondered about God. What if he is real? What if all that I heard about Jesus is true? Then what? If not, then what?

I was in despair at the prospects. Either way meant my death. The death of my dreams, greatest hopes, and what I thought were my possibilities. I knew I could never see life the same way again, whether there was a God or if there was no God. I discovered that life was meaningless without settling the matter. There is no direction, point, or conclusion. I am, and then I am not. Everything I ever done will be forgotten. Who pays attention and who knows my inner thoughts? Who really understands me? No one, unless there is a God.

If there is a God, I can't live like I used to anymore. I have to deal with the knowledge that not only life has an incredible purpose, but I am accountable to live for that purpose. I knew I must find out the truth. I could not sleep anymore.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Interesting History Lesson


I remember these Schoolhouse Rock musical cartoons. This one is does a decent job at explaining a little history about how our country came to be.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Shaq Attack

There's this new reality show on TV called Shaq's Big Challenge. I thought it would be pretty boring, but it really caught my attention. And I have to say that I really like it. It depicts six teenagers with serious weight problems. Shaquille O'Neal is helping them overcome their weight problems and taking it upon himself to deal with the national issue of childhood obesity throughout the series. It is quite an ambitious plan—aware that these are taped shows and Shaq has been doing this through the basketball season, which is now over.

What is so fascinating about this show is that it reveals some of the underlining issues that each of these kids have; like poor eating and exercise habits, bad self-perceptions, and a lack of vision by their parents. They now have to struggle to reverse these impediments. And what is also interesting is that almost all the kids (and parents) but one didn't take their need for change very seriously. Most played around while some parents coddled them. (I purposely don't mention the problem of public schools who do not make physical education mandatory, because that can't be controlled as much as one's self.)

I wonder if we take our spiritual lives in the same manner as these kids take their own health. We have grown too spiritually flabby in our country. We desire theology that doesn't get in the way of a good time and good friends. We often prefer the easy way to spiritual growth. It may be shallow, but everyone gets along. And myself included. I don't want to suffer. Suffering, denying myself, and doing hard work is no fun most of the time, even if the benefit is maturity, courage, and deeper understanding. Yes, I want to grow. But I want a pill, encouragement, a good book, or a spiritual experience. I don't want the cross.

But that may be what is required.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are You Ready?

There was a public service TV commercial that came on in Baltimore many years ago. It warned against sexual activity among teenagers. The commercial was meant to be serious, but it was sort of funny. It pictured a mom standing at the doorway of her teen son's room. Her son was sitting on his bed in his messy room, looking dejected, while his mom chastised him.

She chastised him about his choice to engage in sexual activity. She argued that he was just not responsible enough to understand what he was doing, let alone deal with any of the possible consequences of his decisions. Then she said a line that was very funny, as well as poignant. She said,

"You want to run around out there having sex! Boy, you can't even keep your room clean!" (LOL)

Lately, I've been seriously thinking about how this is parallel to the Christian experience. Do you know that we will not be effective in this life if we "can't keep our rooms clean?" If we do not tend to the little things in life, God will not give us greater things. If we do not study our Bibles or grow in faith and love, we are essentially useless in our Christian walk. In fact, we may end up being more useful to the devil.

What does it mean to become mature?

It is essential that we mature, because if we do not grow, we will die. I want to explore that for a while, because I am concerned that in our society many who profess the name of Christ are at best arrested in their development, and at worst unbelievers. (See recent Barna study.) I also want to take my own growth more seriously, and to do whatever it takes to ensure that I, and those I help, am on the right path to get there.

So, what does it mean to become mature? I will begin to answer that by sharing an observation I made during a recent family vacation. My two girls are an excellent example of immaturity. They lack patience, are easily annoyed, and sometimes whine when they don't get their way. Although their boldness is admirable, it is always focused on what they want, not on other people's needs. (So, they can be lovable but rude very often.) And they are unable to even differentiate their needs from their wants, nor do they care to. All they know is what they do not want.

I also noticed that they aren't aware of their surroundings very much, and cannot discern what is dangerous or untrue. I wonder how many times I've said, "Don't put that in your mouth! Don't run into the street! Pay attention! It's not okay to whine; use your words."

So, based on what I observe about immaturity, I can safely say that maturity encompasses these characteristics:
  • patience (long-suffering)
  • humility
  • healthy concern for others (honoring)
  • needs and wants are in proper perspective
  • discerning (ability to judge right from wrong; good from evil; danger from safety; healthy from unhealthy)
  • long view of life, rather than immediacy

This is not an inclusive list, but it gives me an idea of what it means to be grown up. As a child, I needed to be taken care of, because I was unable to become these things on my own. But as an adult, not only can I take care of myself, but I realize what it means to be responsible. In fact, that is what I believe the definition of adulthood is: being able to take responsibility for oneself, and those in one's charge.

Spiritual maturity is no different. In Christ we realize something bigger than ourselves, and we seek to please him. This leads us to discern, and make choices that we are fully aware of as believers, and free to exercise as our responsibility. But we desire to grow in this faith and knowledge.

Mature people realize they need to grow, and yearn for it. Mature people yearn for those around them to do so as well. Mature people are not satisfied with rituals. Mature people are not satisfied with a shallow understanding. Mature people are not interested in joining movements and following trends. Mature people are not seeking after experiences per se, but want realities.

Mature people want genuine maturity, not a quick fix; to know the God who is real and loves us; and to enjoy His Presence.

Do we play at Christianity without cleaning our room? Are we willing to dive deep without pretense? Do we dare to fan into flame the gift of faith we have received?


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Death of Common Sense

I have to explain this graphic a bit. Recently my wife discovered a snake in our front yard. Needless to say, she wasn't pleased by this development. So, she called Animal Control. And would you know it, they told her they couldn't come out unless it came into our house, because snake is in his natural habitat and is a protected species. What? It is a 4 foot snake in our front yard! Maybe if I could deliver it to their yard they may feel a little different.

The graphic above is tongue-in-cheek. But it illustrates the current problem we are having in our society. It used to be that common sense was the idea that we all experience life with a set of presuppositions that are in conformity with reality. Not so today, especially in western societies. Common sense has become very uncommon. And the reason this is so is that we reject God in our discussions. And when we do this, we reject reality. The end result of rejecting reality is insanity (or a depraved mind).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Elders By Any Other Name

What does it take to be an acceptable elder before the Lord? The Scriptures give us an idea of what God is wanting. And it isn't to create job descriptions within the church. Although there are different roles that God has assigned, the main goal is always for the strengthening and growth of the church.

Before looking at qualifications and what elders are to do it first takes an understanding of why we need elders in the first place. After all, leadership seems to be a matter of appointment in our world. However, in God's church, it is not about performing a duty or office. It is about being the example of spiritual maturity, and using that influence to help other believers become mature. A potential elder can't help the church mature and grow if he doesn't know what that looks like. But the one who is spiritually mature has understanding, and is an example for those looking to grow in their faith.

Their character should reflect their maturity, and competence. The Scripture details some of the character traits a potential elder is to have, and the type of lifestyle they should exhibit. Sometimes people make the mistake of seeing these as a list of qualifications that need to be checked off. However, even though this isn't true, these guidelines are important. The issue is maturity exhibited in a serious relationship with God. This is beyond just being good guys. It is a person who has shaped his life around God's principles and lives his life that way. It requires a genuine faith expressed in love for God and His people. This person knows where he is going, and why he is here. And Jesus is his life, not his hobby.

When I read the Scriptures I see that God's elder:

  • wants to serve as an elder (1 Peter 5:2)
  • desires continued personal growth and the growth of those he leads (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • accepts accountability from other elders and members of his church community (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:17-20)
  • is an example of spiritual maturity to the flock in his lifestyle, demeanor, and passion (Titus 1:5-8; 1 Peter 5:2-3)
  • able to distinguish right from wrong, wheat from chaff, and heat from light, and can help others do the same (Ephesians 4:11-16 ; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 5:13-14)
  • prays as a matter of necessity, not special occasions
  • understands that leading means being a faithful follower (1 Peter 5:4)
  • will give his life protecting the flock
  • is concerned with the approval of Christ more than of men
These items should be easy to spot. And the fruit of which will be evident among the congregation they serve within. Their influence (plus their congregation's willingness) will produce growth that is measurable by these same criteria.

To evaluate this, we need to start with ourselves. We must ask ourselves, what deeds or attitudes demonstrate our maturity level? Can I concretely delineate them for myself? As a church, how are we doing? Are we growing in these traits as a body? In what ways are our elders and other leaders concretely demonstrating these traits, or at all, and in what measure? Do we have the courage to make a concrete assessment?

It is easy to agree with the concepts, but another thing to examine the genuine fruit. Let's get serious and grow up.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The New World Religion

(2 Thessalonians 1:3-2:12)

Times have changed.

People have always seen religion as a cause for division, problems, and unrest. Some have seen it as a source of great good too. But it seems like more and more people don't have any tolerance for the mention of religion as a truth claim. Religion is only tolerated as a preference like a particular flavor of ice cream or candy. One religion is just as good as another, as long as it sees itself in that way—a preference.

The world response has become a call for a new type of religion that embraces all other religions. If I remember correctly, the ancient Romans had a similar issue. To have peace throughout the empire, different religious views had to come under a rubric of acceptance and accommodation. They were all tolerated and all enjoyed peace as long as they remain an acceptable choice to enter and exit from, and caused no disruption upon Roman life, culture, and economy.

Of course the Jewish faith did not allow this very easily, and it became a source of great consternation for the Romans. Then add in the Christian sect of Judaism, and the Romans were apoplectic. Although there were periods of peace among these groups, there were also periods of great turmoil. Even the Christian faith itself had periods of turmoil within—which were heretical attempts at altering the faith. Someone is always trying to accommodate to the culture to bring peace and acceptance, even today.

Which brings me to the rising of a new predominate religion. This religion has an orthodoxy, eschatology, and salvation message. In some ways it resembles the Christian message, but it is laced with deceit. This religion sets itself above all other religions, faiths, cultures, and gods. This religion is being accepted by more and more people, regardless of their faith claim. This religion is the religion of this world, made by man. Some people call this new world religion, Postmodernism. Some call it Humanism. Some call it Socialism. Some call it Universalism. Either way, it is the religion that is called The Great Error.

The Orthodoxy


  • Truth is relative. Those that disagree are heretics. Those that embrace this are celebrated.

  • The virtue that holds this together is worldly love. This love is not concerned with seeking the highest good of the beloved. It seeks to feel good about itself in the act of demonstrating non-judgmental tolerance, and sexual exploitation and perversion.

  • Anything that upsets peace is considered evil. This type of peace is defined by the absence of conflict, whether war or arguing. Living together, but separated from each other, is considered optimal living conditions. If we group together in tribes of like-minded individuals we are doing well. Now, technology like the internet allow us to just that. Gathering a large amount of teachers to say whatever our itching ears want to hear.

Eschatology


  • Global warming. Destruction of mankind is imminent because of mans lack of care for this earth. Gaia will retaliate against man's carelessness, because his very existence threatens this earth's delicate system.

  • Lack of peace, and the presence of war. The reason we have war and unrest throughout the world is because of a lack of justice, lack of love, and lack of economic fairness. Man is basically a survivor, and cares little about the weak among us. Everyone in the world is interested in self-preservation, and the lack of vision is destroying us. If mankind can only grasp that our existence is dependent on us getting along, we would see the need to make peace with each other, even out of selfish reasons.

Salvation Message


  • Love. Like the Beatles' song says, "All we need is love." If we decide to put down our hostilities and live our (selfish) lives and keep to our own business, we will have peace and safety in this world.

  • Sharing. If we share resources with one another, regardless of what people believe or practice, no one will be in need. And it will eliminate the reasons we make war with each other.

  • Global allegiance. There is this strong belief emerging that says that unity throughout the world is the key to our survival. Issues like global warming, AIDS, and economic prosperity can pull the world together into peace and harmony, if we all work together for their solutions. It doesn't matter what religion you are, or what you believe or don't believe. Come together, and we can make this world a better (Utopia) place.

The Great Error. It just isn't true.


Jesus didn't come to help us get along or to make our current lives better and smoother. He came to take over—thus the Kingdom has come. He didn't come to see that people cared more about each other for selfish reasons. He came to unite the world under himself, bringing everyone back to the true God. The fruit of this is that his people will care about others in truth, not pretense.

He didn't come to initiate a program of revolution throughout the world. He is the revolution. He didn't come to bring unity and peace. He came with a sword to divide the world and to bring turmoil over his name. (Oh, blessed are those who do not fall on account of his name!) In so doing, the resulting unity will be a genuine unity. All peoples, great and small, old and young, east or west will come together under his name, worshiping the One true God together.

He didn't even come to make this world a better place. For the day will come will all this will be destroyed by God by the ultimate global warming on that day he visits us again. In fact, those who are his are not even looking for a kingdom built by the hands of men (Utopia). They can't be fooled by the counterfeit promise because they seek a heavenly kingdom, built by the hands of God Himself. In it they will be kept safe, and they will never thirst or hunger again.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Three in One

How is it possible that God is one entity, yet three persons? I don't know. But I know that some people would rather reject that idea than grapple with it. It is too hard, and doesn't make human sense. So some people, who believe in God, say it isn't true. Unfortunately, that is not a good reason to reject this idea about God, because we can't possibly understand God on our own. The way we get to know God is when He chooses to reveal Himself to us. And that has happened through Scripture (testimony and His messages), Jesus (the exact representation of His being, and the testimony of his apostles and other witnesses), and the Holy Spirit.

Why do I believe this? Jesus.

For people who reject ideas about God, and reject the Bible (Scripture) because they require proof that their rejection is wrong, they will be disappointed that I believe the reverse is actually required. The person of Jesus is historically verifiable. What he did and taught is verifiable and attested to. The issue is not proving it, the issue is accepting it.

Concerning Jesus, he settles the matter about who God is, and what He wants. First, Jesus did what no other man or woman has ever done. He taught with verifiable proof—miracles. Not even his enemies contested that. Second, what he taught about himself was either revolutionary, or heretical. He taught that he had the same authority as God (Matthew 28:18-20), the same nature as God (John 5:16-23, Philippians 2:5-6), and that he and God are One (John 10:28-30, 14:9-14). Since his miracles and resurrection are attested to, he was right. Therefore, we have confirmation that the Scriptures are not only authentic and reliable, but divine, because Jesus confirms Scripture.

This is a stumbling block for some people. Consequently, it is impossible to accept God's triune nature without accepting the nature of Jesus. When we say we have faith in Jesus, this is at the crux of the matter: accepting him as Lord and Christ (God in the flesh). And in so doing, we accept the Holy Spirit into our lives (John 14:15-17) and we accept the Scriptures as God's authoritative Word about reality.

This is another stumbling block, because the world cannot accept the Holy Spirit, because they have neither seen Him nor known Him. But a believer must be saved by the Holy Spirit. For without the Holy Spirit there is no salvation (Romans 8:5-11).

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fishing and Breakfast

Our minister, Charlie Robinson, gave a thoughtful sermon yesterday. He does so pretty often, but I thought it would be a good idea to expound on this particular sermon today, since I've been thinking about it. He talked about John 21:1-14 (last week he had discussed verses 15-19) where Jesus, after his resurrection, calls the disciples to throw their empty nets to the other side of the boat.

The interesting thing that Charlie brought up was how ordinary this situation was. The disciples are fishing—as was their trade—and Jesus was on the shore preparing breakfast for the disciples. He calls them to a miraculous catch, and asks them to bring some of their catch for a breakfast meal. How ordinary this scene is, considering the fact that he was just raised from the dead a week or so ago. Talk about a divine encounter in the mundane activities of life!

But Charlie made a point about this that deserves consideration. Jesus, the one who rose and demonstrated that he was God in the flesh, and the Son of God, serves the disciples breakfast! He cooks for them. And as a result, he is an example for them and us for what it means to be a witness of reality (the gospel message).

If we are to learn anything from this it should be that our witness in this world is our service to others coupled with boldness and honesty. We make better witnesses of Jesus if we do as he did. Not as a superior expositor, but in the ordinary way we go about our lives as ourselves. This is not a master plan of evangelism, but rather an intentional approach to being a fisher of men.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Mission Confusion

I've been reading the latest post on John Turner's blog about whether our churches are more inclined towards ministry or mission. John makes a very important observation in that churches that tend to be more ministry-focused, tend to get bogged down in placing more of its resources and time into their ministries and inward focus. While more mission-focused churches use ministry to make their mission more effective. Thus their resources are allocated towards achieving the mission, with ministry as the means.

The commentary is interesting. Some interpret his statement as creating a false dichotomy between ministry and mission. Granted, the title of his post gives this impression (Ministry vs Mission), but he simply is questioning whether we are confusing our ends with our means.

Some interpret his post as a polemic against too much ministry. They say that if anything is needed, the church isn't loving enough. We need to do more service, not less. And filling our churches should never be our goal. We need to serve people. And people come to Christ that way anyway. But again, that is not what John is getting at. He believes that the emphasis isn't in our ministry efforts, but our goals for ministry. Are we paying attention to why we do what we do? Did Jesus really want us to focus on ministry, or to minister with our focus on what he wants?

This brings up my concern for the modern body of Christ. It is amazing to me to witness in my lifetime a confusion about mission. Yes, loving people through ministry is important, but it has become more important than why Jesus came.

If we do not get beyond helping to save lives, we are no different than any other non-profit organization. We meet needs and love people, with the hope that they will "accept" Jesus. But what we believe about the implication of this is shallow. We either want to fill the pews with unrepentant, well-fed souls, or seek acceptance by worldly standards. Many ungodly people are concerned about people's lives. But what about their souls? Who cares about that?

When Jesus was discussing his impending death, Peter decided to rebuke Jesus for such negative talk. But Jesus rebuked Peter in response. He gave him this to think about:
"Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'

Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'"
Matthew 16:23-26
What can man give in exchange for his soul? Does that give us any idea of what is important to Jesus? Our lives, or the souls of men and women? Does a seed produce more seeds by comfortably remaining a seed? No, it must die first.

The faith of our current Christian culture is becoming decaffeinated. Just enough to get the taste, but not enough to keep us awake at night.

In the night of our times, we need to stay awake. Wake up!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More Clichés

I've been paying more attention to a few clichés I've been hearing in Christian circles. They consist of things like, "All sin is the same." "It doesn't matter how you come to Christ. Just come." "Everyone can be saved. Just accept Jesus." "It's faith that saves you. Not works." And on and on.

Now each of these clichés have a ring of truth to them—that's why they have become clichés. But too often these things are repeated without the original meanings intact or completely understood.

For instance, most Christian's would agree that sin is all the same to God. We may separate sins into categories, but God doesn't do that. People tend to say these things because they want to make the point that judging others is wrong. In either case, the cliché stands on a set of assumptions: "We are not to judge others, therefore segmenting sin is wrong," or, "No one is righteous before God, therefore it doesn't matter what sins people are guilty of before God."

The truth that the cliché points to is that our standing before God is the same for everybody, concerning our separation from him. However, our salvation is secured regardless of our past sins, when we place our faith in Jesus. We are all unrighteous before God, yet we can all be made righteous—in the same way—by God. Our sins, in that sense, do not keep us any farther away from God than other person's sins.

The problem with not understanding this is that many people misapply this in making evaluations about conduct, acceptance, and sound doctrine. When this cliché is quoted, especially in churches, it is in reference to being unable to decide what are worse sins. It is good that we are afraid to make snappy evaluations of other people, or to believe that other people are not worthy of love because of a particular sin they are involved in. But it is quite another thing to be unable to help people caught in different kinds of sins, because we are too afraid to name the problem, or see the problem (even in ourselves).

The truth is that one sin cannot be forgiven. Some sins lead to death. The Old Testament is full of examples of different punishments for different sins. And even Jesus claimed that the those who know what they need to do, but fail to to do it, are subject to worse punishment than those who don't know, yet sin. Even the cities he condemned, will be judged more harshly than the cities that were destroyed in the past for their sins, because they had the opportunity to repent.

Why is this important? We need to be in line with the truth, not our feelings. Our feelings shift depending on the sides we take, our age, our experiences, and our likes and dislikes. But truth stands firm forever. How can we judge our own actions, if we believe falsely about them? How can we really help someone, if we lie to them about their lifestyle? How can we please Jesus, if we encourage sinfulness? How can we teach, rebuke, correct, or train in righteousness, if we don't know how to evaluate our beliefs and actions?

A misunderstood cliché is a travesty.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Are Deeds Always More Valuable Than Words?

 

I was listening to a Christian music station this morning. The song from Casting Crowns was just finishing. It was their hit, "If We Are The Body." I really like their music, and was sorry I missed the song. But it made me think when the DJ talked about the song a bit. The DJ said that the song is a wakeup call to the church to pay more attention to people who are hurting in this world, and that we need to reach out to them with deeds more than words. On the surface I would agree with them. But, as is often the case, I pondered whether it was truly an accurate assessment of our role in this world.

There is much that is right about reaching people with the Gospel, and doing so by demonstrating love. But I wonder sometimes if the expectation of Christianity has become oriented around performance rather than the message. I realize in our current day and age, many are looking less at doctrine and more towards experiential aspects of God. But by doing so, it seems our culture is accepting half-baked ideas about God, and outright lies in the name of performing loving actions.

For instance, some people believe that loving someone means never hurting their feelings. Therefore to claim that something may be wrong in their lives is paramount to disobeying God's command to love. This thinking doesn't lead to Christ, but rather mutual feelings of acceptance.

Another problem is that some people liken the Great Commission to arrogance. "How can you go around converting people! That's wrong! What makes you think you have a better truth than anyone else?" This attitude leads to a diminished urgency about the predicament of those who are lost. And those who feel this way may end up seeing the physical needs and lack of comforts as their greatest mission field—yet souls are lost and destroyed without their noticing.

I wonder sometimes if we in the Church have bought into the idea that our being loving is saving people. We often describe it as being Jesus with skin on. But I wonder (out-loud) if we really believe we are that good enough.

In my perspective, I am just not that good. My goodness can not win many people to the Lord. Some may be attracted to Christ because they witness changes in me and the courage that comes by trusting the resurrection of Christ. But in my experience, people who have come to Christ because of me, did so because they see Jesus' work in my messed up soul—not my goodness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Christianity for the Poor

 
I was disturbed by the recent hubbub concerning Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Since shock-jocks are not entertaining to me anyway, I am not surprised by those types of comments. If anybody remembers, shock-jock Howard Stern was fired from a D.C. station for similar comments. Yet, he got a promotion and his own show out of the deal.

No, I am not disturbed about him. I am disturbed about Christians who don't seem to get it. I hear so much about helping the helpless, justice for the oppressed, and eliminating poverty around the world. Yet, the solutions are simply un-Christian or unworkable. Yes, there are grand plans, and efforts. But some Christians seem to be satisfied in self-absorbed comfort. There is a practice now of exercising feelings of care and concern with popular advocacy, organizational efforts, and worldly solutions. And in some cases, working with the ungodly to solve these issues.

What does this have to do with Don Imus? Simply that he exposes the hypocrisy of many who claim to care about the poor and the downtrodden. (Actually, "follow the money" is a good rule to remember in this case.)

Christians may not be the endorsers of racism or bad music lyrics, and many sincerely want to help the needy, but is that enough. The problem is that communities in the U.S. are being decimated by harmful thinking. Places throughout the world are being destroyed by real oppression, civil wars, and despots. We try to ship food and supplies all over the place, hoping that it will relieve the suffering, but do nothing about the real issues causing the suffering. And Christians even try to join in with the unbelievers to solve these issues, because "we all want to get along to solve common problems." Yet God does not call us to unite with the world. Rather we are called to be united as Christians.

We may believe that helping others can be divorced from moral teaching, sound doctrine, and the hope of Christ, but we are dead wrong. We may center our help around physical needs — which is really only a gateway to be heard — but miss the point entirely. The reality is in Christ, not our efforts. But we feel so good doing it, and it wins the approval of men.

Imus is not the real problem. Not even the nation's morality. The real problem is that sin in the human heart damns us all. We really have no hope, if all we have are our efforts. The solution is not physical, not in our own strength, nor contained in popular advocacy. (Psalm 147:10-11) It is in Christ alone with our faith in him alone that we can do anything. (John 15:1-8)

Do we believe this?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Implications of Jesus' Resurrection


The crucifixion of ChristToday is Good Friday. Many around the world are celebrating the anniversary of Jesus' death. This Sunday we remember his resurrection. But I wonder just how many people around the world, and especially the United States, understand the implications of these past events. I am often surprised by the conversations in the media and among Christians concerning the death of Christ.

I remember a conversation I had with a Catholic priest. He seemed to think that Jesus was simply a founder of a new way of thinking about God. That if he died, it was as a revolutionary—a person who was murdered because he loved people. I also read an article by a Protestant minister, who was writing in opposition to the Passion of the Christ movie. He said that some Christians are too focused on blood and the violence Christ endured rather than his teachings about love. He also stated that the gospel has little to do with the death of Christ.

Another troublesome development is the deemphasizing of the resurrection. It is discussed a lot during this time. But there seems to be a shying away from its implications. What I mean is that more and more people seem to think that the resurrection is primarily a lesson about second-chances, spirituality, or about hope. These are true statements in one sense, but there is more to the resurrection.

First of all, it really happened. From all the eyewitness accounts, documentation, and even testimony of Christian opponents the facts are undeniable. Even today, there are many who try to disprove the resurrection by proposing theories instead of grappling with reliable documented proof. This is because the implication of such an incredible event are life-altering. How we think about life, death, world events, history, and ourselves will have to shift in a monumental way. And people don't want to be wrong, and they hate change. The familiar is more comforting.

Second, the resurrection presupposes a belief in God, and a specific faith. If the resurrection really happened then it is true that there is a God, and Jesus spoke the truth about His nature. In fact, Jesus is God. God actually visited us in history. The implications are clear. If God visited us, and Jesus spoke the truth, and he is God then the Christian faith is the truth, and other truth claims that are contrary are false. This goes against our earthly desire for peace and safety because it is a source of conflict. (Matthew 16:21-28)

Last, the resurrection means that Jesus is not only alive, but is actively involved in the church. Since the resurrection also proves that Jesus was telling the truth, it is therefore true that he not only has the ability, but he is doing what he said he will do. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be among us (the believers) and in us (John 16:5-16), he himself is with us as we go throughout the world (Matthew 28:16-20), and he will accomplish all things through us. Therefore the church is the chief vehicle of God's plan for the world. (Ephesians 1; 3:10-12)

The implication from this is undeniable. Whether I want to get along with people of other faiths or not, or don't want to appear arrogant, the fact is that Jesus is the way to God, the plan of God, and the truth of God. All other options are plain false. Please forgive me for being so blunt, but what else am I to conclude from such an event as the resurrection from the dead of the Christ.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

The news is constant. The news reports on all that is bad, out-of-control, gruesome, and disheartening. The world is in turmoil and perplexity. They seek answers to vexing problems of our times. Although issues arise in every culture throughout history, somehow ours is always worse. Even Christians get concerned. We join with the world to solve some of these problems, or we speak out, wring our hands, point fingers, and even hate each other because of them.

Jesus said that these times will be like this. But he gives us our marching orders—which we often ignore. He said in Luke 21:25-26 that:
There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

He told them this parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Yet we fret about global warming. Christians. Fretting about the weather. This is no different than the early apostles when they were tossed around in the boat, while Jesus slept. Their response to Jesus was that maybe he didn't care.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
With a word, he controlled the weather. But we seek to control the weather with our technology and know-how. We join with the world to battle an enemy that neither speaks nor knows anything. And we do so with weapons of the world (controlling the lives of people). We neither trust God nor ask God for wisdom. (James 4:1-12) We assume both the problem and the solution, and we fret, fuss, and fight over what? Weather.

But we also worry about wars and rumors of war. We ignore what Jesus said about these things. (Matthew 24:6)
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.
And also, what about poverty, starvation, and death? He continues (Matthew 24:7-8):
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
No doubt, someone will make the complaint that we should be concerned about such things, and not being so would be callous and un-Christian. In fact, this is often quoted, "We shouldn't be so heavenly-minded that we are no longer any earthly good." This is a false saying, because to be earthly-minded is no good to God. (Colossians 3:1-4; Philippians 3:18-21)

But what about loving people? Now that is a command of God. But not the love of the world. It is rather the love of God that we are to demonstrate. It is a love that seeks the good, as God sees it, of another person. And working towards that end, even if it means that the world hates us for it. We may get praise for being kind and compassionate to people. But we may not get praise for doing so with the goal of bringing all people under Christ for life, and being a witness to this world of its evil and need for a Savior—rather than self-improvement or making the world a better place while we continue to sin.

This is a hard message for me to write. But I am concerned about my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are looking at the wind and the waves instead of Christ.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Silicone World

We exist in a world that is getting more and more dependent on the computer chip. Almost every part of the globe is wired for the Internet. We work with computers for everything from work to play. We depend on them for communication, travel, and information retrieval.

It is so ubiquitous in our world that we don't think in terms of chips, because they are a given. Believe it or not, it wasn't that long ago when a computer chip in a car was an anomaly. Now it is standard issue. No more shade-tree mechanics now.

We have them in everyday things such as clocks, DVD players, televisions, and so on. We depend on them (and love them), whether we know it or not. And they depend on power. We can not even get our work done without computers, telephones, cell phones, or power. I dare say, even our stock market is dependent on their use (as well as people's feelings).

It seems like such flimsy things to depend our lives upon. Yet we do it, without understanding the risks. I don't think we even want to, because the risks are so scary. Think about it. The whole world is not only becoming dependent, but desires the dependency, believing that it brings salvation. "Mankind can solve the world's problems with technology, if only…"

Jesus said we should build our lives on his words. In fact, the one who does so is like a man who builds his house on rock. But the one who doesn't do so is like the man who builds his house on sand—or rather, silicone.

Around the world, as well as in our nation, the words of Jesus are ignored or shunned for various reasons. Yet, this faith in technology persists, even when it proves hollow. For instance, with all the technology we have now, are we really any better? Has war, hunger, disease, murder, and death ceased or increased? The answers are obvious, but we still build our hope on silicone.

We pour our money and human resources into silicone. We build
silicone into everything. We are betting our futures and careers on silicone. We are selling ourselves out for silicone. Yet, sand doesn't last during a storm when real life hits. Only the word of Jesus' has proven it can stand the test of time, the scrutiny of skeptics, and the ignorance of the worldly wise.

Isn't that enough to consider? Isn't it obvious which holds the weightier case? But if it still doesn't appeal to you, it's your choice. Just keep building your hopes, your dreams, your relationships, your future, your lives on the foundation of your choosing. Continue going to church and doing good things, hoping that it will cover up your real love. Yell and cry out in the marketplace for justice in the world to free yourself from guilt. Live life like a party, and drown your shame in iniquity. Please everyone around you, so you won't have to feel insignificant. Be somebody, and win the whole world, because you don't have much of a soul left to save. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

But if you dare build your whole life on the words of Jesus be prepared to see everything differently. You will begin to go to church because that is where you will find your real family, and share a real hope. You will desire righteousness from God, not your own righteousness, because you will see yourself as you truly are. You will visit the house of mourning to be reminded where your true joy lies. You can no longer spend your time pleasing people and wearing a mask because you have a Master in heaven to please. You have no need for celebrity because you are significant enough for the God of the universe to die. And your life is spent from now on for the salvation of others.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Faith Today

Yes, I know. It has been a month since I last updated my blog. I have been insanely busy. I hope to keep providing content more frequently. (Said that before.)

Anyway, I've been thinking about my faith recently. Having experienced a succession of life-changing experiences in a short amount of time, dealing with turmoil in my work life, and working on a series of lessons for the adult Sunday school class in my church has led me to examine what I believe about my role in this life concerning my faith.

I can see areas where I hold to the things of this life as if my life depended on it. I see areas where I don't appreciate what I do have. I see areas where I can easily sin in my heart, and really care—until I think about it.

But I also see areas where I've grown. I see my sin more clearly and I care more deeply about how that affects my relationship with Jesus, my God and Savior. I realize I stand by the grace of God—whether I am weak or strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Psalm 147:10-11) I am more fearless in expressing my faith and convictions to others. And, I care about other people perhaps even more sincerely than ever before.

So what can I say about my faith today? It is deeper and stronger, yet I walk with a limp.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Long Road Ahead

After the deaths of my mother, mother-in-law, and uncle, I realize the start of this year has set a course beyond what I was preparing for. This will be a year of great changes and adjustments. We've been so busy lately with some estate issues that we really haven't grieved our losses totally. It is a struggle to just keep the everyday things intact.

I know one thing for sure. I will never be the same, and God is closer to me than I deserve. Yes, it hurts, but my hope is in the Lord.

It's ironic. I had quite different plans for this year. Up until New Year's Eve I had in mind what I would be doing and studying. I had even prepared a series of lessons for Sunday morning Bible class on the interaction of Jesus with our everyday struggles in life. Little did I know, God was preparing me for my own struggle.

Now, I have been leaning on Jesus in a way I haven't done before. I've had times of great struggle, but these struggles are different for so many reasons. Yet, though I am sad, I am not in total despair. Though I am weak, I am not crushed. Though I ache constantly, I have a real hope.

I am not saying that I am doing so well because of my godly perspective. I have plenty of proof that I struggle the same as anybody else. But during these times, God is so real. He is more real now than when times are good. This is where the rubber meets the road, isn't it?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Latest News

Last time I wanted to let those who read this blog know that I have been delayed in writing because of the death of my mom (71 years old). Well, a week after my mother's funeral, my mother-in-law (64 years old) suddenly died, as well as my uncle (my father's brother).

We are very saddened at this time, but coping. We probably won't feel the full weight of the losses until we finish with all the funeral and estate planning. The start of this year has definitely set the tone for the rest of it. It will be the year of adjustments. Everything is new and will be a growth experience.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Current Events

I've been negligent about updating my blog. Recently, my mother has gotten very sick, and she passed away. Please be patient with me. I'll get back to blogging very soon.