Wednesday, December 31, 2008

They Became Friends

John Lennon wrote in his song Imagine,
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace"

What a vision! A world where everyone gets along. The end of war. The end of hostility. A world where everyone is supplied for. A world where nothing is worth dying for. A world where their is no god or cause that would divide us. We can be at peace. Just imagine it!

In Luke 23:1-12 Jesus is undergoing a mock trial. He is accused of all sorts of things. He even has to stand before Pilate, who doesn't understand why Jesus is such a problem. However, Pilate tries to be politically expedient. He thinks he can avoid a political fallout by sending Jesus to Herod. "Technically, Jesus does fall under Herod's jurisdiction," Pilate thought.

And they became friends.

Now Herod is at first delighted to see Jesus. He hoped to be entertained by him. But Jesus wasn't having it. This, in turn, changed Herod's attitude. He begins to mock Jesus instead, along with his soldiers, and then sends him back to Pilate. It was on this day that Herod and Pilate became friends.

What is significant about this development is that they were previously enemies. But on this day, after a long period of animosity, they became friends. What a wonderful development! Getting Jesus out of the way actually caused peace to be made between two former rivals. Imagine that!

What's the big deal?

Luke picks up the significance of this in Acts 4:23-31. It says that after Peter and John underwent persecution for their testimony about Jesus, Peter recognized the event as a continuation of what occurred between Herod and Pilate. That when Herod and Pilate became friends, it fulfilled prophecy in Psalms 2:1-2 that nations will come together to take their stand against the Messiah (or the Christ). In other words, peace would come between former enemies and rival powers in order to oppose the Christ of God.

This is no different today. It continues. As John says in 1 John 4:1-6, the spirit of the antichrist is in the world. This spirit denies that Jesus is the Christ — God in human flesh. Those who are of this spirit speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. For them the saying is true, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

On one level, we will never have peace as long as people oppose God and oppose his offer of salvation. On the other hand, peace will come between those whom oppose God. And the world is willing to accept this kind of peace — even some who claim the name of Jesus, if that were possible.

Global peace is achievable, sort of.

Our world wants peace. People want to feel safe and secure. We all want to just get along. Wouldn't it be wonderful if no one had to steal, kill, or fight for limited resources. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just shake hands and live and let live. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3)

Well, this peace will come, but not in the way most people expect. Only Jesus will bring true peace. But not the peace the world desires. For he didn't come to bring peace on the earth. He came to bring peace between mankind and God. And those who are at peace with God will be at peace with each other — but not always with the world. In fact, the world will hate those who are at peace with God. (Luke 12:49-53; John 14:27; John 15:18-16:4; John 16:33)

Therefore the real question is, which side are you on?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why Did Jesus Come?

Jesus always existed.

His existence isn't dependent on what we believe. His life isn't owned to anyone. He simply is. He is God. He is God's Son. He is the Word of God. He is the Light of men. There are many things Jesus did when he came. And all these things point to one reason why he was born into the human race.

When Jesus came, he healed people with diseases.
But he didn't come to heal people permanently.

When Jesus came, he set people free from the power of the devil.
But he didn't come to release people from oppression.

When Jesus came, he enlightened mankind.
But he didn't come to provide us with wise counsel.

When Jesus came, he gave sight to the blind.
But he didn't come to end blindness.

When Jesus came, he fed the hungry.
But he didn't come to keep people fed.

When Jesus came, he demonstrated love.
But he didn't come to bring peace to the world.

He came to save mankind from wrath.
He was born to save mankind from their sins, fulfilling his name.

When Jesus came, he came to die.

(Matthew 1:21; 1 Thessalonians 1:9b-10)

Monday, December 15, 2008

When Forgiveness Goes Bad

Many times forgiveness is described as a solution to bitterness. Or it can be seen as the thing to do whenever someone does something wrong or hurtful. It almost has a magic quality in some church circles in creating a pleasant environment for everyone to enjoy.

How is forgiveness usually explained in popular Christianity?

Forgiveness is often described as letting go of the right to punish someone who has wronged you. In some circles it is described as choosing not to force someone to be sorry for a wrong they've done. In either case, Christians are suppose to forgive the guilty party whether that guilty party repents or not.

How is it consistent with Scripture, and how does it differ?

There is some truth to the fact that letting go of an offense is good for oneself. It is also true that Scripture teaches that forgiveness is something a Christian is suppose to practice, regardless of the offending party's perceived sincerity. (Luke 17:1-4) However, it also seems from Scripture that repentance is the primary goal prior to forgiveness, rather than a happy consequence of forgiveness. In other words, the offended party must confront the offending party first to acknowledge the wrong and seek reconciliation. It is expected in Scripture that forgiveness is the natural response of a Christian to genuine repentance, not to self-centered psychological benefits. (Matthew 18:15-17)

But what about those times when the offender doesn't see a need to repent?

From Scripture the offended is suppose to confront the offender with greater pressure, until it is clear to the whole church community that the offender is either reprobate or hostile to their cohesion. The church community is to treat that person in this manner not to condemn them, but to cause them shame in the hope that they would later come to repent, and be reconciled to God, and reaffirm the offending party. (1 Corinthians 5:1-13)

As far as the offended party, she can let the offender go with the knowledge that she tried to reconcile, and that she was at least willing to express forgiveness to them in the event that it would have been possible (Romans 12:17-21). But I wouldn't call that forgiveness per se. It is more accurate to say that she is letting them go, without relieving their guilt. On the other hand, forgiveness relieves the offender of responsibility for their offense. They are relieved of their guilt, as well as let go.

In the case of an unrepentant person, the offended person can be cordial to the unrepentant, treat them with kindness, and even allow them to go free. But she does this knowing full well that they are not free to re-injure her at will, and that she will not ignore the offender's unrepentance. Why? Because it is reality. The offense did happen. The unrepentance did happen. And her love expressed to the unrepentant is happening. This brings shame on the offender and light on the situation.

Ignoring the wrong, or pretending it didn't happen, creates a false relationship and darkness on the situation. In some cases it can cause hidden resentment, which is sin. And in the worse scenario, harm to themselves or others. This takes place when the desire to appear like a forgiving person (or congregation) outweighs the work of reconciliation and transformation.

I am not going to get hung up on the word forgiveness, for many people believe that it is exactly what is happening when you let someone go and treat them with kindness afterward, as if they didn't sin against you. But, forgiveness means letting go of a debt (or forensic guilt), as if it never happened. This can only be effective when the one who owes the debt is aware of the debt, and accepts the offer of grace. Even though grace is offered, it can still be rejected, and that person will be held accountable. That is the gospel, is it not?

So, it is more accurate to say we are to always offer forgiveness to everyone. But we have an obligation to relieve the offender's debt when they repent, not when they don't repent. However, we can offer the gift of freedom and kindness as if we've forgiven them in hopes that they will accept our gift, and thus repent.

What are we to conclude?

There are a lot of opinions about this. And the majority of Christians believe that forgiveness is given no matter what happens. They will use the Scripture in Luke 23:34 as proof that Jesus gave us an example to follow when he forgave those crucifying him.

The only problem with this view (besides the fact some early manuscripts don't have this statement) is that Jesus doesn't address his forgiveness of them as absolute. He asks God to forgive them (since what they are doing is offensive to God). Are they still guilty? Yes. In fact, they are condemned unless they repent (Acts 3:17-20). They are not relieved of their offense because Jesus asked God to forgive them. Rather Jesus expressed kindness to them, and a willingness to forgive even when they do such a heinous thing —killing the Son of God. But they are not relieved of their responsibility.

We have clear teaching about what to do when a brother or sister offends us. We have clear teaching about what to do when someone claiming to be a brother or sister offends and refuses to repent. We even know what to do when offenses are minor or are simple misunderstandings, and we can even let so of them go —yes, there are cases when we can actually overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11); not all offenses are sin, not all require action right away. But, blanket forgiveness is harder to prove with Scripture, despite what psychology says we should believe.

You may disagree, and that's all right. Again, I am not hung up on the word forgiveness as much as practicing it without sound wisdom.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Religion: What's It All About?

I read an interesting definition of religion that I believe captures the true sense of the word. In a book I've been reading the author said that religion was whatever we value as most important.

I know that for most people they see religion as a set of things we do to worship a supreme being or idea, or a system of cultural beliefs and practices. But, it leaves out an important emotional element. That element is devotion. And devotion is the central element that makes religion … well … religion.

For instance, cultural practices may not be a person's religion. In fact, many cultures have subcultures that reject the mainstream in all practicality. However, people who are devoted in following a cultural practice do so for reasons beyond the culture itself. They believe in pleasing their parents, fitting in, that it is true, or believe that it defines their identity. In any case, their religion is their belief that they need to maintain their cultural practices. That it is most important to do so for whatever reasons.

For others, their religion can be their self-reliance. They can't depend on any god for their well-being. Rather it is up to themselves. Their abilities are what's important in this life. Some folks believe that popularity as the ultimate concern. After all, you can't get anywhere in life if you are unpopular or nobody likes you. Still others may view experiences as most important. Our purpose for being alive is to experience all that life has to offer.

What is real?

But few understand that whatever they choose to devote themselves to they are making a statement about reality. They are saying by their choice of religion that what they believe is true and it has ultimate value. And fewer still consciously consider whether they've chosen wisely.

In John 6, Jesus challenged his disciples. And even though Jesus performed convincing proofs, many disciples left him. They couldn't see that Jesus was the ultimate concern. They couldn't conceive that Jesus knew what should be of ultimate concern for us. They couldn't see how Jesus was the ultimate solution.
"Maybe, perhaps, Jesus was part of the solution, or a means to an end. But the bottom-line issue of life? Nah."
But Peter understood something. When we look at all the religious options out there, which one truly promises eternal life? Which one really gives us the assurance that Jesus preaches about? Which one has the ring of truth, and demonstrated plausibility that the Gospel has? None really. I mean, "to whom shall we go?"

Friday, November 07, 2008

How to Compare Ideas With Reality

In the last post I stated that decisions needed to be made from a biblical perspective. We need to take statements and ideas and compare with what the Bible says. Here's my suggestion for how to do that with any ideas:

First, you must know what you believe through a biblical lens. What does the Bible say about the Past, the Present, and the Future?

The Past.

Answer these questions to form a biblical perspective on our origins and purpose. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What's our purpose for existence?

The Present.

You know, what we believe about our origins and purpose will influence what we believe about our present. What's wrong with the world? What's the solution? How do we know the solution is the right solutions? In other words, does the solution fulfill our purpose for being? And does the solution lead us to our ultimate destiny?

The Future.

Our ultimate destiny is intertwined with our purpose for being. If we have no purpose, our future has little meaning except for the desire to survive. So, what is our destiny? Is death the end, or just the beginning? Will this world go on forever, or is there an end? Are we to create our future, or is it out of our hands?

The Christian worldview.

These questions are not easy questions. And especially concerning our purpose and future, some Christians may even disagree a bit. But the overarching theme is clear. We are created with a purpose in mind. God created us for his good pleasure, and he plans to glorify himself through us. Mankind has rebelled against his Creator, and sought to establish his own purpose. This is called "sin." Since God is a holy God, he must judge sin. And the ultimate consequence is the ultimate death of eternal separation from God.

But, God truly loves mankind too much to allow this to happen. So, his plan, before the creation of the world even began, was to save some people for himself — to be with him for eternity. He decided to take on that punishment we are rightfully due, and allow those, who so desire, to come to him to be saved. He did this as God the Son in human flesh, sent from God the Father. His followers are granted eternal life, God the Holy Spirit to be with and in them, and are given a mission to make fellow followers.

Unfortunately, not everyone will choose life. There will be some who will continue to follow their own way. But, this world will not last long in its present form. God will renew all things, and those appointed for eternal life will be preserved forever. And, sadly, those who had rejected him will be cast into the lake of burning sulfur, or rather, suffer an excruciating separation from God forever. This will be accomplished when Jesus comes back to raise all the dead, and commence the final judgment upon all of mankind.

How do ideas stack up against the Christian worldview?

After sorting through your honest assessment of the biblical worldview, you must seriously believe it. This sounds like a redundant step, because, after all, you read the Bible because you believe it, right? Not necessarily. Does your life conform to what you say you believe. Do you make decisions — even if it doesn't seem advantageous — from a biblical perspective? Do you even consider the biblical perspective of reality, or do you live what you believe to be a more "practical" lifestyle? Only you can answer these questions.

If you decide to believe reality is adequately explained through the Bible, the last step is to compare ideas. All ideas fit in one or more of the three big worldview questions.
  1. Where do we come from? (Our Past)
  2. What's wrong with the world? And what's the solution? (Our Present)
  3. And where are we headed? (Our Future).
Compare the ideas to what the Bible says is true, and you can quickly discern whether the ideas have any merit, or if the ideas are true. Watch for the subtle slight of hand, where ideas sound true, but don't work in reality. For instance, it is true that we should care for the poor. But it isn't true that government should do the caring for us, or that money is the answer to sin. (Though government has a responsibility to protect the innocent, and to promote their care.)

This is only a guide, and it obviously takes more thought. But always seek wisdom. Fear God. Honor his Word. And it will go well with you.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Vote for Wisdom

The election is thankfully over. And in it's wake, we have witnessed an unprecedented event in our American history. Specifically, the election of a black man as U.S. president — arguably the most powerful man in the world. Also — and more important to me — the public display of a black man with a stable family and marriage. And, last, a black man and president who has captured the attention of the whole world. These are truly historic times.

But, what troubles me are the reasons people voted for him. I heard on the radio yesterday morning that in some exit polling it was revealed that people voted for him because they really wanted a black man to win, they wanted a change, they felt a sense of hope, and (I am not kidding) they felt he would help them not have to worry about paying off their mortgage or filling up their gas tank. Fascinating!

My wife asked me yesterday how I would arrive at a decision — whether for a U.S. president or for a state initiative. I responded that I would employ the same principles to voting that I would in comparing any statements about reality. I would ask the question, "How does this compare with what the Bible says is true?" In other words, come at it from a biblical worldview perspective.

Next time, I will explain how I go about doing that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

5 Facts About Life Every Christian Needs to Come to Grips With

It was June 12, 1994 and I watched with surreal interest the chase of O.J. Simpson in his white Bronco, fleeing the police after his wife was murdered. I could hardly believe it. O.J. was a celebrated former athlete and actor. He seemed to embody the decorum and stature of an honest, hardworking man. Now, he is accused of murder. And he is running away from the law. I didn't want to believe it. I thought surely this must be a misunderstanding.

But the incident was real. And O.J., well, he wasn't entirely innocent. In fact, he has gone from bad to worst in a lot of respects. But at that time, very many people felt as I did. He couldn't have done something so horrible.

Can't we all just get along?

But this illustrates the point that most of the world would disagree with. Everyone, from the nicest person we know to the street hustler, has the potential to do some horrible things. And this world is messed up because of this. Not messed up because of the government, nor the economy; not the lack of fairness, nor the weather. We are just plain evil. And the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can accept God's solution.

But, nowadays it is the followers of Jesus who need this wake-up call. Like Peter, we really don't believe what Jesus has to say about this. In fact, we live our lives like it just isn't true. And we are shocked when we experience what he said would happen.

Here are 5 bedrock truths believers can count on — and we, as disciples of Christ, need to be keenly aware of them in these dark times:

  • The righteous and the wicked will never get along. (John 15:18-25) The reason this is true is that they have opposing worldviews. The wicked generally don't think they are, unless they are purposefully self-destructive. They generally seek to redefine what is evil, or explain it away. The righteous desire righteousness. (What is right and just and within the will of God.) (Proverbs 21:15) The wicked have no such desire.

  • Everyone is evil. (Romans 3:9-20) Whether we accept it or not, God has declared us all his enemies, as evidenced by our evil behavior. (Colossians 1:21) Whether we like it or not, we are all held accountable to God. Whether we believe it or not, God will judge us all.

  • The natural tendency of everyone is towards evil. We have been declared by God to have a tendency and desire to do evil. (John 3:19-21) We love to sin. We love to rebel against God. Therefore, we are depraved, and the only real solution is to be saved and renewed by God.

  • If you or I determine to do what is right, we will have resistance. For those of us who have been saved, we are now on a different path. A path of faith which hungers for righteousness, desires the will of God, and focuses effort on pleasing God. But, because of this, we are out of step with the world. And the world hates us for it. (2 Timothy 3:10-13; John 15:18-25; Matthew 5:10-12) We shouldn't be surprised. Also, we are out of step with what we have habitually done all our lives previous to our salvation. (Galatians 5:16-18) Therefore, we must resist our evil tendencies.

  • The devil is real. We must resist the devil. (Ephesians 6:10-18) For he is real and our ultimate battle is with him and his forces. Forget this, and we become fodder. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

We can't afford to be asleep in this world. We can't afford to be drunk with pleasure, entertainment, or materialism. We can't afford to accept whatever the world feeds us as truth. We can't afford to sit idly by with the mockers and skeptics. We can't afford to fear whatever they fear. We must be alert, unafraid, and watchful. Not only for Jesus return, but for opportunities to influence our world for the cause of Christ.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Only One Question Really Matters

Susan is a busy mom. She has three kids all under the age of 10. She tries to manage her home, but without a husband she often falls behind on the bills and basic home maintenance. She lives very far from any relatives, and has considered moving because of this. But it is just too expensive to move right now. She attends church, but she often misses what's going on while she is so busy with her kids. Her evenings are exhausting, and she has less than an hour to herself after the kids are in bed.

Then the phone rings, and it's the test results from the doctor. She has cancer.

In our daily lives we can name several priorities that capture our attention. A scientific study found that we become more fatigued and less productive when faced with a number of choices or priorities. How do we make sense of our lives when there is so much to be concerned about?

The solution is simple, but hard to implement when faced with so many decisions everyday. The solution is that we need to ask the right questions to know what's important. In fact, few people really do this. Usually, with the world's help, people either ask the wrong questions or don't ask anything at all. But this is critical. How are we to know what is priority if we don't? And only one question really matters.

The only question that really matters is this: What does God want me to do? This is the most important question. The question helps us make the right choices, prioritize what is truly important, and leads us to transformation that counts. After all, God created us for a reason. And what is more important than fulfilling that reason?

Why is this the most important question?

This question is the most important because we will all die some day. We will have to all settle the matter of God's existence, God's character, and God's desire for us sooner or later. We must deal with our ultimate destiny. Where is this all headed? Is death the end or the beginning of something? And last, if we accept God's existence and character, we must deal with our destiny with a final judgment, where we stand before God without pretense or protection and give account to him who made us.

Another reason this is the most important question is that we can't control everything. Life happens. Sometimes we can be on top of the world, and suddenly it crashes all around us. How do we prepare? There is One who knows ahead of time what is going to happen, and how we can be prepared to withstand difficult times. God made us, and knows what we need. And he wants us to make it through, as well as to be transformed into something wonderful. We need to know what he would have us do in tough times, because he not only knows what's best for us, but he is determined to mold us into what he designed us to be. After all, it's God who matters.

This question is also important because we have limits. We can't do everything. We have limited time. We have limited resources. We have limited abilities, skills, talents, and gifts. We must use what we have wisely. But who determines what is wise? God. Again, he made us and he has a plan for us and for this whole world. Doesn't it make sense to live our lives to please him?

The last reason this question is the most important is that we all have pressures. We have competing priorities, family obligations, societal expectations, expectations from our friends and acquaintances, and even our own expectations. We have dreams that are yet fulfilled and obligations we need to keep. We have failures we wish we never had. We have opportunities we wish we never missed. How do we put all these in their proper perspective? Let God set the priorities. Then focus our lives to please him. Then whatever doesn't get done, doesn't get done. Whoever doesn't get pleased, doesn't get pleased. But on that day, when you or I see him for who he is, he will say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" What God thinks matters the most.

For Susan, this meant giving her worries and concerns to God in prayer. She joined a group of godly women who could help her with her kids. She needed to prioritize her time to allow for space for herself and her God. And even if the kids wanted her, she determined to maintain her commitment to the Lord, and it paid off in becoming a better mom for her kids. She has peace, because the maker of her soul is Lord in her life.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Obama the Messiah?

Not much Farrakhan says surprises me. It doesn't necessarily impugn Obama. But—like any cult—it is worth watching out for developments.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Which is Easier?

"Which is easier? To tell this man that his sins are forgiven, or to tell him to pick up his mat and walk?"—Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus was making a point. It is obviously easier to say, "You are forgiven," than it is to command a paraplegic to get up and walk. But to demonstrate his authority to do the first, he proved it by accomplishing the second. He commanded a paraplegic man to get up. And he did. He was healed by the command of Jesus. Only God can do something like that. And only God can forgive sins. Jesus was making clear what type of authority he really had. It was the same authority that God has.

But there is something interesting here. A principle, if you will. It is easier to fake who you are, than it is to prove who you. In fact, most people would rather do the easier thing for risk of being exposed as a fraud. What I mean is, it is easier for me to say that I will stick by you no matter what, than it is to actually do so when my reputation is on the line. It is easier to say that I am an honest person, than it is to remain so when it may cost me more than lying.

  • I can appear like a very loving person. I can be patient, helpful, and accommodating. But am I consistently like that with those who are nasty to me, or even with my spouse?

  • I may appear as a politically astute person. But am I really going along to get along? Simply following the party lines and sound bites of my immediate culture?

  • I may appear as a rebel, or as a maverick. But am I that way when no one is looking?

  • I can come across as gregarious and out-going. But if it requires genuine intimacy, do I retreat or do I rise to the occasion?

  • I may appear patient. But how long have I prayed for that non-Christian friend or relative?

  • I may be bold on Sunday. But I also keep my faith "private" on Monday.

This article is not designed to make you feel guilty about not living up to what you desire to be like. It's about being honest, and becoming real. If you care about God's Word, and you believe the Bible is God's Word, how is that demonstrated in 3D (real life)? This should challenge us, not make us feel guilty—unless you are guilty of something. Instead, lets use these tests to get a more accurate picture of ourselves, and what we want to become. Then we can begin to pray with intention and to go on to maturity.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Why I Don't Like the Government Bail-Out Plan

Economics 101.

Don't issue loans to people who can't afford to pay them back. Eventually, you will run out of he ability to issue loans at all.

The problem was that since 1992 the mortgage industry under government mandate, and to pump up numbers of the less-advantaged, artificially accepted people with bad credit or no credit using various lending schemes. This has produced a number of badly backed mortgage loans, that are not going to produce any income.

If you want to help people who can't afford a home. Teach them how to SAVE. Teach them a skill, in order to produce wealth. Support programs that build homes for underprivileged or handicapped people (rather than preserving animal habitats). Support more qualified organizations, like the church or humanitarian organizations, to do what they do best: helping people who can't help themselves. And support families along with medical and community organizations in order to help the mentally incapable. (They shouldn't be given loans anyway without a proper co-signer.)

The government should support these efforts, not run them. The government is only good at punishing evil, and protecting and encouraging the right behavior in society. It is good that the government says that housing-discrimination is wrong. And it is good for the government to enforce laws that protect credit-worthy individuals from being either priced out of the market or being denied loans for reasons other than credit-worthiness.

However, the government is lousy at enforcing wealth and prosperity.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Not Quite Carpe Diem

"As a believer in the Lord, I get to do what I really want to do."

On the surface that statement doesn't really sound true. At a deeper level, it is very true. But at an even deeper level, it isn't entirely true.

It doesn't sound right.

I remember having a discussion with someone who was not a believer. He just didn't understand why anyone would want to be a Christian, because there are so many things you have to do. And you don't get to do what you really know you want to do. (He meant sexual exploits to be specific.)

I said that he was mistaken. As a Christian you get to do what you really want to do. He responded that that couldn't be possible. "I know you can't drink, dance, smoke, have sex with anybody you wanted to! I know that for a fact! Your god would condemn you to hell for that!"

Below the surface.

My response, "Your picture of what Christian's can and cannot do is incorrect. Actually, I desire to respect my body, and honor the Lord with it. I also desire genuine intimacy, not sex with a woman who doesn't honor me enough to commit her whole life to me. (I woman who couldn't do that isn't worthy of me.) I refuse to settle for so much less for my life. I want more than what those things offer.

"On the other hand, you are saying to me that you are willing to settle for less; that you are not worth having the best; that you are willing to trade that which is valuable for the meaningless. Is that truly wise?"

I don't know if he understood everything I said. Deep down, I knew real understanding often comes by testing to see if what I said is true. That would involve risk. The risk of being wrong about your worldview, and having to make an about-face.

Deeper problem.

However, I know from experience, and by applying the Scriptures, that I must continually renew my mind and actively choose to follow the Spirit. There are times when my flesh is in conflict with what the Spirit desires. And I don't always do what I want. (Galatians 5:16-17)

Why? Isn't doing what I really want to do, what God really wants me to do? Yes, as long as I am walking in step with the Spirit. And that, my friends, is what I really desire to do at a deeper level.

Here's an example. Suppose I really enjoy chocolate cake. I enjoy it so much I decide to eat it as my primary source of nourishment. But of course, that leads to all sorts of problems which I would rather avoid. But trying not to eat it isn't the solution. Because what I really want—to eat chocolate cake all the time—will win out over trying to avoid bad outcomes.

The solution: Something must enter that I desire more than the chocolate cake. And that something will bring about a conversion.

We experience this all the time in our lives. We may be interested in a particular TV program, until we have to visit the restroom. We can be into our favorite hobby, until we get hungry. We will actively put off or end the satisfying of a current desire to satisfy a greater desire. It is not much different than trading something of value for something of greater value.

In God's kingdom there is something about it that causes all other desires to pale in comparison. (Matthew 13:44-46) I don't mean the pursuit of desiring to desire God as our goal. I mean that something clicks within us where we actually "get it." We are actually converted. That God is so wonderful, so powerful, so great, so good, so beautiful, so all-encompassing, that we find our greatest joy in him. And we will sell everything we have to be with him, and have him in our lives.

When we get to this place. We will live lives that please him, because we really want to.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are We Better Now?

I was driving to work on the beltway going south. I was running slightly late, and the traffic wasn't helping. I remember the day was sunny around 70 degrees; blue sky, no clouds.

I turned the radio on to listen to music. But on every station the news was on. I figured something must be up, so I listened. Apparently there was a fire near the top of one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.

My mind was swirling. "Hmmm. That can't be good. It's high up there. I wonder how firefighters will try to deal with this? I wonder if my cousin is okay? He works there, I think. They said something about a plane hitting it by accident or something. Was it a Cessna or small jet?"

I finally arrived at work. The office I share was open and nobody was around. I noticed my co-worker's computer had a web page up about the World Trade Center incident. I remember thinking, "This is bigger than how I was thinking it was." I walked down the hall, and almost all my co-workers where gathered in one office watching the news on television.

Then came the report that another plane just hit the Pentagon. "What's going on?," we were all thinking. It wasn't until another plane hit the other World Trade Center tower that we knew for sure that we were under attack.

I went from bewilderment to anger. "What are we going to do about this? Someone has raged war against us by killing civilians on purpose!" Then I saw people falling from the towers to their death. Then the grim collapse of both World Trade Center buildings. There was a collective gasp from all my co-workers when this happened.

We knew we witnessed the end. The end of what, we weren't sure at that moment. But it was the end of life as usual. Our world had changed. Our nation had changed. Our perspective had changed. However, I am not sure we've changed for the better. I am not sure we picked up the right lessons from this. I am not sure we have the will to remember the way we should.

Today is the 7th anniversary of an unprecedented direct attack on the United States of America. We survived. But are we better for it?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tough Life Lesson About the Sexes

Well I've entered an interesting phase for my oldest daughter. She is experiencing typical boy behavior. What I mean is that I've observed an interaction with her and some boys when I was dropping her off at Sunday school class. It quickly became apparent that she had never really encountered typical boy's behavior before. One boy came up and put a puppet in her face several times, while another boy took her bible away, while she was reading it.

They were having fun at her expense. What I expected, was for her to either get mad, or set some limits with them. She politely asked for her bible back, and didn't even say anything when the other young boy was playing in her face. I didn't interfere, because I wanted to see if she would assert herself. Well, she just didn't.

So, I pulled her aside, and asked her if she didn't mind being poked in the face. She said she did. Then I asked her if she really wanted her bible back. She said she did. Then I told her to stop asking, and demand it back, and demand the other boy stop playing in her face. She went back and asked politely for her bible—by this time the puppet boy went on to something else. Again, the boy with her bible thought she was playing along, and she chased him all over the room. Although she was smiling, I knew she really didn't know what to do.

How do I help her understand?

Being a grown-up boy myself, I knew what was going on. The boy was testing the limits, and my daughter didn't know what to do. The boy needed to know in no uncertain terms that she was off-limits and not an easy mark. So, I had a a very uncomfortable conversation with her.

I tried to explain the difference between the lack of self-respect and humbleness. She needed to understand that being kind to someone does not exclude being direct with them and keeping off-limits with some things—having appropriate boundaries. She didn't understand. So I had to give her a rule.

"When something doesn't belong to you, and you want it, you must ask for it nicely. But if something belongs to you, or is a part of your body, no one has the right to touch you or take what is yours without asking. Therefore you should demand it back rather than ask for it back. Make sure you give a command. And look directly at them without smiling. If they touch you or put their hands in your face, you can physically remove their hands while you directly tell them to stop."

Boys and girls are just not the same.

As I was talking to her I realized that I was taking some things for granted. Girls just don't think like boys. Boys understand honor and respect very differently than girls do. Girls generally have to learn this. They seem to understand honor and respect more relationally than boys—whether they are liked or loved. Boys understand directness and actions more than relational cues. My wife confirmed this with me as we discussed my daughter's dilemma.

However, I also realize that my boyhood tendency hasn't changed much over the years. I still react very differently than my wife when it comes to honor and respect. My wife wants to know the relational temperature. I want to set the gauge. In other words, she feels secure in knowing the relationships are doing well, and feelings about her are appreciative and loving. While I want to accomplish something or test something to see where I am. I generally don't perceive actions as loving or not, but as honoring or not. But my wife sees actions as a gauge of whether the relationship is where it should be, and if the feelings for her have altered in anyway.

I know this may sound stereotypical, but a lot of grief can be avoided if we all approached male/female relationships with the assumption that this principle is true. And to do so even if it isn't admitted, or if it doesn't seem to work out that way.

Think about it. What dig is the worse a woman can give to a man?
"You're not a man!"
And what dig hurts the most for a woman?
"I don't think I love you anymore."
Reverse those lines with the other sex. They can hurt either way, but it just seems to be less powerful. There's something about it that just doesn't carry the same kind of sting the other way around. Perhaps that should tell us something.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Spiritual Discipline of Everyday Encounters

I had an interesting encounter this morning. I was driving out from my neighborhood as usual, and came up to a traffic light, which was red. I was attempting to make a right turn on red, when a car drove up behind me. So far, this isn't anything unusual. There were cars driving past, so I waited for an opening. This too isn't unusual.

What made this time unusual, was that the car behind me started beeping their horn at me as I waited. I wondered why, because I couldn't go out into ongoing traffic. There was no gap either. I eventually rolled out, intent on ignoring the folks behind me. And as we drove down, they rolled up next to me on my drivers side as we came to another red light. They were in the left turn lane, while I was waiting to continue on. They stared at me. I actually looked back at them, since I felt no shame, and I was a little angry.

I noticed an old black woman in the passenger's seat, and a black man (couldn't see how old he was) in the driver's seat trying to look at me. I caught myself when the light turned green, and I proceeded through. I began wondering, "What was I trying to achieve?"

For one thing, by staring back I wasn't treating my enemies with kindness instead of retaliation. Usually in these types of situations I just ignore people like this, especially since they act without understanding. And I could've exacerbated the situation by looking back at them. On the other hand, I could've responded with a smile and a wave of friendliness. But I was too angry to think of this. (Who knows, maybe it would have made things worst, instead of cooled things down.)

In any event. I was weak right then. I wanted to tell them off. But I want to please God more. So, I flinched. I did go on, and I know I must leave most of this into God's hands. But, boy, the test shows I have some growing to do.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How to Measure Christian Success

I was pondering this question when posting on another blog, contemplating a church's purpose in light of making changes. As I wrote I realized that our individual purposes are tied very closely to our church community's purpose. Whether we use our skills, spiritual gifts, and abilities in a particular church community, or in the general community doesn't matter. It is only when they come in contact with our culture, our mission, and our times that we implement the purpose God has for us as individuals and as a church.

(For the sake of argument I define purpose as the reason for our existence. And I am defining mission as our unique way of fulfilling our purpose.)

Paul made these points when he was preaching in Athens to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
  1. God made everything.
  2. God doesn't need anything.
  3. God made every nation of people (from one man).
  4. God intended that the whole earth be inhabited.
  5. God predetermined where each person would live, their lifespan, and when they will come into existence.
  6. And because of this, God expects everyone to desire to know him personally.
  7. Therefore, our primary purpose is to know him (who is close) and to make him known.

It seems to me that our purpose isn't contained in a need God has. In other words, God facilitates different missions for each of us, that contribute to God's overall plans. But none of us is needed by him for his plans to be fulfilled. He invites us to closeness with him by working along side of us in our unique gifting, location, and culture. We are successful as long as we are being who he planned for us to be, and doing what he planned for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

This is why each Christian's mission is different (in approach and ability), yet our purpose is the same (in message and for whom). It makes sense, then, that success is determined by how well we use our unique gifts, abilities, and time in fulfilling our purpose and mission for God's glory. It is God who is looking for a return on his investment.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Atlanta Trip Addition

Oh, I almost forgot the wonderful place where we had lunch. It is called J. Christopher's. The Turners took us to a great family restaurant before we went to the Martin Luther King Jr. historic site, that specializes in breakfast foods and lunch. What makes it really great is the play area for kids, the artistic decor, and the large table we sat at. It was truly a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Thoughts on Atlanta, Georgia

My family and I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Atlanta, Georgia. We visited the Martin Luther King Jr. historic site, went to the High Museum of Art (including the Louvre-Atlanta exhibit) which had a civil rights exhibition going on, and spent time at a National Black Arts Festival (celebrating their 20th anniversary) that was outside next door to the High Museum. We visited friends and enjoyed great food and entertainment, along with our dear friends. My kids also loved Atlanta.

Going on a trip like this was refreshing. But it taught me something. We really need to do this more often. It really helps with perspective. And I just need it. I get charged when I go to museums of art, or visit awe-inspiring natural environments, or get challenged by history up close. I sense the presence of God at these places and I naturally worship.

Upon getting back, we were thankful for the trip and getting back safely. We prayed as a family in thankfulness to God, and we prayed for our friends. Meeting with the church is its own glory. But doing this also has a glory to it.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What is Faith in Christ?

Biblical faith is not:
  • wishful thinking
  • hope
  • a blind leap
  • trying to be good
  • doing good things
  • believing despite the evidence otherwise
  • courage to take a risk
However, biblical faith is:
  • a reasonable trust and confidence
This trust and confidence is manifest in actions. If I believe my car can get me to work safely, I will get in it, turn it on, and drive to work expecting to get there. In fact, I would rarely think about it, because I have good reasons to believe it will get me there safely.

But, when the car has not been performing well, and I have good reason to believe it would be dangerous to drive, I will develop a reasonable doubt. And the reasonable doubt may cause me not to trust my car to get me to work safely. So, if I refuse to drive it, that will be a wise decision. However, if I drive it anyway, it will be a foolish decision. No amount of hoping will change the car's condition.

Faith in Christ

When we say we have faith in Christ, what do we really mean? Are we hoping he can save us? Are we expecting him to fix our lives? Are we believing the biblical information about him? Are we doing good works as an act of faith? What are we doing when we have faith in Christ?

I will submit to you that it is possible to do good works, believe the information, and have some expectations of him without really having faith in him. Faith means we trust the information is true, and thus we have full confidence and trust in Christ to do what he says, the way he says.

We are confident in who he is and what he is capable of. We obey him, because we know who he is, and what he wants. We've vetted other people's opinions about him, because we know that pleasing him is what really matters. We do good works because we know what pleases him, and we want to do so—not to simply appear righteous. We also try to persuade men, because we know why Jesus came and what the goal really is. Our love is tempered by serious self-examination and comparison to the Word of God, not by worldly expectations. We have settled the matter of the Bible's role in our lives.

Our love must be sincere, because God sees our hearts. Our service must be pure, because he who searches all things knows why we do what we do. Our love for God must be genuine, because there is no gain for hollow people-pleasing. Are we to be perfect? No, because the sacrifice of Christ makes us perfect. But we care enough to seek excellence because he is trustworthy, he is worthy, and we confidently trust him.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Salvation Lite: Less Filling, But Tastes Great

There was an interesting blog post in John Alan Turner's blog. In the post he examined the role salvation plays in the world, in the church, and in God's ultimate plan for mankind and His kingdom. Then he asked the question, "Why in the world do you think we so often reduce (salvation) to being let off the hook for our sins?" I thought about it briefly and responded:
Maybe because we really don’t understand salvation.

In 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter makes the case that the salvation we have is glorious, and worthy of our allegiance and effort. And if we are not growing in Christlike character, we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from our past sins. We just don’t get it.

It’s easier to talk about salvation as fire insurance, because most in pop-Christianity don’t want to bother with true discipleship.

I really believe that the salvation message is often reduced to "once saved, always saved." And what I mean is that people just want to know the minimum entrance requirements, then they go on to live their lives. Maybe they do "Christian" things, but they have little interest in true growth.

Seems that way to me. What do you think?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Growth Versus Growth

In an article by Peter Drucker (Managing Oneself, Harvard Business Review, January 2005) Peter makes an interesting point about personal values. He uses the example of two "successful" churches
and how they have differing values concerning what constitutes "success":

"Value conflicts are not limited to business organizations. One of the fastest growing pastoral churches in the United States measures success by the number of new parishioners. Its leadership believes that what matters is how many newcomers join the congregation. The Good Lord will then minister to their spiritual needs or at least to the needs of a sufficient percentage. Another pastoral, evangelical church believes that what matters is people's spiritual growth. The church eases out newcomers who join but do not enter into its spiritual life."

He goes on to evaluate each stance:

"…this is not a matter of numbers. At first glance, it appears that the second church grows more slowly. But it retains a far larger proportion of newcomers than the first one does. Its growth, in other words, is more solid. This is also not a theological problem, or only secondarily so. It is a problem about values. In a public debate, one pastor argued, 'Unless you first come to church, you will never find the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven.' 'No,' answered the other. 'Until you first look for the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven, you don't belong in church.'"

Peter goes on to explain that neither values are particularly wrong, but that they fit with each organization's value system in how they operate. The church that just wants to reach the lost, will tend to focus on that more than the spiritual needs of it's members, while the church that really wants maturing disciples of Christ will focus their efforts on that more than trying to bring in people who will be indifferent to spiritual growth.

What's interesting is that the church that focused more on spiritual health and growth had a more long-term approach to soul-winning than the former church. Yet was growing in more new members than the other church. Following, the church that spent time soul-winning actually did mature members who really wanted it. They both were effective. They just had a different value system.

Why some churches fail when valuing either position.

The problem with some churches isn't an either/or issue. I've seen churches who focus squarely on growth, even to the detriment of sound doctrine. They grow fast sometimes, but die just as fast. They seem to just run out of gas. Then I've been around churches that focus on the spiritual growth of its members to the detriment of clear purpose. Instead of creating an atmosphere of discerning, serving, disciples of Christ, they invent a club atmosphere. And these churches don't really grow. They just stagnate. Doctrines and decisions become a matter of taste and comfort for the existing members, rather than become the challenging soil of deep transformation.

Do who you are well, in the will of Christ, and you will have an attractive church. In fact, you will probably attract the right people to your church. Remember, Jesus not only bid people to follow him, but he dared people to follow him and he prequalified people to follow him. Churches can do all these things at differing degrees, depending on the personality of each church. But, to do any of them without understanding is sin.

Where am I in all this?

The real issue here is where I, as an individual, fit it? Does the church I belong to not only teach sound doctrine, but do my values fit with theirs. Otherwise, I will find myself frustrated and constantly working against the grain. This doesn't mean that either of us are working against God's will (though that can be possible too), but that God may want me elsewhere where my talents, experiences, and values will be a better fit. This may sound sort of individualistic, but this is a very real issue sometimes. Even in the early church, not everyone worked well together all the time, and sometimes unpleasant adjustments had to be made. But, God grew the church anyway and His work was getting done.

What do you think?

Monday, June 02, 2008

The New Gospel

We can be good enough to be saved.

This isn't a new idea. More and more people believe that love is what God requires of us. If we just loved each other, God would be satisfied and mankind can be saved. Again, this isn't anything new. But what is new is that more and more American Christians are buying it. The message of salvation has become more works-oriented than ever. Why?

Shouldering the blame.

I can lay the blame on postmodern reaction to modernist ideals. The idea that human thought and ingenuity can save mankind has led to skepticism. This is because it is a false worldview. As a result, modernist thought has led to utilitarian ideals of man's existence. Human experience, love, culture, art, and feelings had been relegated to roadblocks to the Great Utopian Ideals of convenience, uniformity, and control.

Postmodernist thought rightly judges such hubris. But it also holds to a Great Utopian Ideal. The difference being that it relegates thought and reason as roadblocks to a society of harmony, beauty, pleasure, and celebration. This thinking leads to absurd notions, contradictory language, and inherit skepticism of everything asserted as true.

In the postmodernist worldview the way to "Eden" is not much different than the modernist. We must work at it. Whether it is to build the Great Society, or it is to deify the poor and the unfortunate. In postmodern thought, we demonstrate "love" by doing good acts—no matter how society or culture would define it. This is in opposition to the modernist construction of right societies, by eliminating the nonconformist, the poor, and the less civilized.

So, what's the problem?

I honestly cannot say that these worldview philosophies are the whole problem. The problem is more ancient than we care to admit. We just don't trust God. Yes, we may believe in God. But we just don't trust Him. We say—like the demons—that we believe God exists, and shudder. (James 2:19) But, we just don't trust that he is the answer to the world's problem, our problem, or that we really have a problem. So, our deeds don't reflect trust in God. They reflect distrust in God.

How many times have you heard that Jesus came to show us how to love? This is a cop-out response. It is designed to substitute utter devotion to Christ with being a good person.

How many times have you heard someone talk about redeeming this present earth—which is marked for destruction (2 Peter 3:3-7)—for God? People who say such things often don't believe in seeking the city God will build. (Hebrews 11:13-16) They are determined to help him build a new city, right here on this old earth, by calling men to build it for ourselves—even with the help of the unsaved.

How many times have you heard that we must eliminate poverty? People who say such things don't believe the words of Christ, who said that we can help the poor, but we will not eradicate them—unless, as the unbelievers say, by force a few can control the earth's resources and determine its distribution, or we can just practice eugenics. (Mark 14:7) And Christ also said that the human soul is of more worth and concern than food to God. (Matthew 4:3-4; Matthew 6:25; John 6:25-29) After all, what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his very soul? (Matthew 16:26) If we believe, we must trust that Christ is the ultimate solution, not our ingenuity—modernist or postmodernist.

I'm okay, you're okay, sometimes.

No one does good. No not one. (Romans 3:9-20) Yeah people do good things, but the motives are often not right. When the motive is right, and the deeds are good, then they do them in the wrong order or priority. Everyone thinks that he is good in his own eyes. But everyone must also come under God's judgment. For everyone must give an account to God, whether they do good or bad.

Unfortunately, whole churches believe the false gospel that our works earn us salvation. They believe that their actions prove their love for God and their love for fellow man. Therefore, God is please with their deeds. To some degree God is pleased with good deeds. But what doesn't please Him is when deeds are done to appease Him, or to simply avoid His rebuke for our dirty hearts. Adherence to deeds is not an acknowledgment of our need for God or of our own depravity. It would be better to not do good and acknowledge our sin to God, than to use good deeds to pretend that we are really good, like a whitewashed tomb (Matthew 23:27; Luke 18:9-14).

Who can stand?

Christ alone. We need God's solution very badly. We have a sin problem that good deeds cannot solve. What we think about ourselves is irrelevant.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Emergent Mess

There is a current movement in many churches that I find rather disturbing. In some circles, I have to admit, it is rather benign. But at its core are some disturbing problems. Their idea that orthodoxy or truth is really in need of a overhaul is not the main problem—though a dangerous stance. The reason for the overhaul is a big philosophical conundrum. As stated by some of its main proponents, those who hold orthodox views tend to be nasty people who get it wrong themselves. (Here is a blog post that gives a very good analysis of the problem.)

Nasty and untrue

Well, who wants to be a nasty person? Certainty not I. So what's the alternative? Live in doubt with a touch of agnosticism. That seems rather harsh, but have you really listened to the rhetoric of the emergent movement? They say that deconstructing orthodox (truth) belief and marrying it with a correct orthopraxy (practices) we can have a true orthodoxy where we can question everything, and are sure about nothing. This is suppose to be good.

The problem is that what is true is not dependent on our behavior. It is not even dependent on our own right beliefs. We can be wrong about something, but that doesn't mean we are wrong about everything. For instance, let's say we get directions to a church from one of its members. We may find out that the directions were wrong, but the meeting times were correct. We may even look up the directions on a map, and eventually find our way to the church. So it doesn't follow that because that member was wrong about the directions, that she is wrong about everything pertaining to her church (i.e. the schedules). It also doesn't mean that I cannot know the truth about the directions either—I consulted a map.

Raise your hand if you're sure

But doesn't surety cause division? Yes and no. When the apostles were sure about something, it often caused schisms with those who disagreed. The issue is not the division, the issue is who is right. Ultimately, Satan holds a point of view. Does this mean that God is wrong because He doesn't respect that, and tells us not to respect that? Obviously not, because God is the end of the matter and the ultimate cause of the matter (Beginning and End).

Remember, Satan likes to masquerade as an angel of light or as a wolf in sheep's clothing. In other words, he masks himself to infiltrate our ranks with error. And this error is disguised as truth. If Jesus is the embodiment of truth, then we better listen to him, to his apostles, and to those prophets he sent (Matthew 7:13-27; Ephesians 2:19-20), and stop paying so much attention to the teachings of men. And at worst, the teaching of hypocritical liars. (1 Timothy 4)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Christians Don't Reject the Truth

Christians do not have a lock on truth. But to be a Christian, a person has to believe that the Christian worldview is true (at the very least). Every decision, every thought, every assumption, every approach, every judgment, and every lifestyle must conform to this worldview to be inline with this truth.

In believing Christianity is true, a Christian must reject all other worldview truth claims. That is because the nature of truth is that it automatically excludes that which isn't true. Therefore claims about how the world really functions, why it exists, and where it's going is a view of reality that can not be contradictory. To make the claim that it is so is a claim that is self-refuting. And a self-refuting claim can not be asserted.

Why bring all this up?

Well, modern day western Christians, often to accommodate worldly thinking because of the fear of man, often attempt to make their claims about truth, Jesus, the Bible, God, and sin a matter of personal opinion. Some even go as far as to say that these issues really don't matter, as long as you are sincere or a good person. Although this is clearly a works salvation, which doesn't save anyone, some Christians find solace with unbelievers when they make these claims.

The Bible must be believed, if you are to be saved. (I hear some moaning on that one.) Yes, I said it. You cannot be a true Christian, if you do not believe the Bible. Jesus, himself, said that there will be many who believe they are Christians, but are not disciples of Christ. This shouldn't be! (Matthew 7:21-27; Acts 11:25-26)

Objections from my own brothers

But you may say, "I believe parts of the Bible. Just not the miracles." My question would be, "On what basis do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?" You also may say, "Well, I believe the words of Jesus, and that's all." My question would be, "Why is that? Much of what Jesus said maintained the veracity of the Old Testament passages. How can you assert the words of Jesus, yet reject what he claims to be true?" And for those who reject certain New Testament passages—because they are not colored red by modern-day printers—"Why do you accept passages that attest to the words of Jesus by those who attest the other New Testament passages that you reject?"

We have options

The problem is that there are mainly two alternatives opposed to careful acceptance of the Word of God. One is following what we think is right, and the other is following what we feel is right. The problem with the first is that what we think is right, may destroy us. (Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 3:5-6) And the problem with the latter is that what we feel is right can deceive us. (Jeremiah 17:9)

The only real alternative is to follow Jesus and the apostles he gave for the task of showing us the Way.

Please. Don't be a fool.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

People-Pleasing Addiction

I was listening to the radio this morning. I heard a great discussion on the Family Life Today program. They were discussing the problem, and sin, of being a people-pleaser. The author, Lou Priolo, of the book, Pleasing People, said that people-pleasing is akin to idolatry. He made some excellent points in how to differentiate a people-pleaser from a God-pleaser. It's worth a listen.

Also, while you're at it, take the people-pleasing inventory questionnaire. I found it all very fascinating. I think I might have to get his book. It will be an excellent follow-up to Hugh Hewitt's 1999 book, The Embarrassed Believer—which I found it prophetic, since it was written before 9/11 and it discussed the erosion of faith in the public square.

If you feel like sharing, how did you score? I scored a 71, which surprised me. According to his scale, I am a people-pleaser. I never thought of myself that way.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Opposite of Love

I've believed over the years, and heard preached, that hate should be hated. I understood that hate was a total departure from love—the exact opposite of what love is all about. I have to admit, the cliché sounded right. The world even agrees with it. But I am no longer so sure that this is accurate. I've seen too much. I've notice that those who express hate are expressing a passion. Often those who hate hate the one's they swore they loved. What do I mean?

Time will tell

Jesus told his disciples to expect trouble. He said that trouble will even come from within his church. He said,

"At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
—Matthew 24:10-14

Jesus is saying that their will be a time when we may be betrayed by our own brothers or sisters. We will be disappointed by one-another. Some may not even be believers, but they will look like believers.


What's common between love and hate is that they are passionate. Even if they have opposite ends—love seeks the good of a particular person, while hate seeks the harm of a particular person—they share a common passionate awareness about the other.

However, there is nothing in common between love and cold love. Cold love is without passion. It doesn't hate, it just doesn't care. This is worse than hate, because there is no engagement, no passion, no care, no concern, no affect. When a person is cold, she isn't changed for the good or the bad. She's just lukewarm. She just doesn't care enough to struggle with the other person.

As the proverb says,

Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
—Proverbs 27:5

A loving church is not necessarily a peaceful church

What's my point? A functioning church isn't one without conflict or struggle. A functioning church will have internal peace as it's goal, but not at the expense of truth, or dealing with very real issues. If a church is peaceful, but isn't growing or maturing, I would question whether it desires to do so. In fact, the very act of attaining maturity involves struggle.

The act of love isn't theoretical. It is an act of the will. Think about it. What will someone do if they just don't care? Nothing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bio-Fuel and Global Famine

I've read a lot recently about the soaring prices of grains (and food in general) that is caused by farmers diverting large portions of their crops to biofuel production. There is more money involved in this type of production than in food production. What's funny is that it also takes more oil or coal energy to produce biofuels than most people understand.

And what's interesting is that many of these global-warming prognosticators are revealing that they really want a reduction in population. Again, it comes down to worldview. If there is no God, our existence is purely accidental, and our continued existence is precarious. So, some people need to be eliminated (like Ted Turner suggested) so that global resources can be preserved for the select few, and the earth will thank us for it. But, if there is a God, then the earth exists for our benefit. And He has expectations for us in how we use it. He said for us to multiply (increase in population) and subdue (bring order and control to animals and our environment). (Genesis 1:26-28; Isaiah 45:18)

In other words, we are not to be subject to the environment nor to animals. We are not to reduce our population, but to increase it. We are to care more for the needs of mankind than to the needs of the earth. We are to see man as the crowning jewel of God's creation, not the enemy of it. We are not to be like the Evil One. (John 8:43-45)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Global Warming and Environmental Scare Tactics

It seems to me that environmental concerns can fall into basically two worldviews. If God created everything, and us as His crowning achievement, then it makes sense that He would create an environment that can sustain us and support our existence. It also makes sense that He is smart enough to anticipate needs as well. It was His idea that we multiply and subdue, not reduce and submit.

On the other hand, if God doesn't exist, our existence is purely random and purposeless. (So, why should we care anyway? But I suppose for the reason of just feeling like we want to preserve the environment we care about it.)

If that is the case, then resources are basically limited, and our existence is precarious. Therefore, we want certain people to survive, and certain people to prosper—since everyone can't do so, because of limited resources. We all think it is ourselves—but no one is really saying. As history has shown us, the further down the rode we go, it will get defined pretty quickly. And it will probably not be who want it to be.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Heaven May Be More Important Than We Think

I was in a Bible study, when the discussion turned toward the question of what would we share with someone who has nothing. Someone brought up situations in African areas, like in the Sudan, where people are suffering. They made the statement that she couldn't image what to share with them. It seemed to her that discussing the Gospel with them would be fruitless. It would sound so "pie-in-the-sky" that it wouldn't be relevant to them.

It ain't so simple.

I said that I felt the opposite would be more accurate. In the Scriptures it says that the poor are blessed with a rich faith. (James 2:5) And Jesus even said that it was hard for the rich to enter into the Kingdom. (Matthew 19:23) Not because it is barred for those with plenty, but that the rich find it so hard not to be divided. In fact, our culture tends to believe that faith is the result of being well-satisfied and materially blessed. We believe it is easier to believe if we have all that we need and want. But that just isn't true.

Jesus said that we need to be on our "guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) Do we believe that this is true? I wonder if we are too affluent to believe it. In fact, most people I know say they don't have enough.

How much we have doesn't matter.

My point isn't about the deceitfulness of wealth. Although it is. My point isn't about the virtues of poverty, because Scripture doesn't honor poverty, but calls for others to help the poor. My point isn't about staying away from becoming rich. God doesn't care unless our hope is in our wealth.

My point is that those who suffer in this life, value heaven more than those who are comfortable in this life. Think about it. We don't talk very much about being aliens and strangers in the world very much anymore. We don't talk much about eternal matters like the warning of hell and the promise of heaven. We don't encourage each other with the hope of heaven. It sounds so trite. We aren't encouraged by talk of heaven when we go through hard times or witness evil. We want something more substantial.

Blessed are the poor.

But people who live in areas where poverty and suffering is the norm, all these things are embraced. These people will travel for miles, sell all they have, and risk their lives just to read a Bible—which holds to key to hope. I can't tell you the last time I've had a conversation where heaven was used to encourage one another except from my wife and best friend.

My prayer and my hope is that we, as American Christians, will reclaim the true hope and not be so divided anymore. Lord, help us.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Loving Love Isn't Love

There are two types of love that are often confused in our American Christian culture. There is Biblical love, or the love of God. Then there is western sentimental love. Yes, there are other types of love that get confused with each other like sexual love and marital committed love. But, the Christian community seems to discern between them better than the aforementioned kinds.

Last time I was concerned about the seemingly shallow approach to the gospel message, as if it is generally a declaration of God's love. The call to repentance is often absent in our discourse, although it was one of the primary requirements of the gospel message. It is preached to be believed and responded to, not intellectually accented to. I believe this is a problem in our western culture. We are interested in reducing the message to our tastes rather than understanding it for our good.

Baptism confusion.

Take the discussions around baptism. There are those who believe that baptism is simply a work. They go on to reduce anyone who believes that baptism is a part of the salvation experience to works-salvation advocates. They dismiss any real discussions about baptism by using ad hominem arguments.

In fact, they will even use prayer as the alternative to baptism. But what then is praying for salvation, if not also a work? It seems to be more of a work than baptism, since baptism is passive (it being done to you publicly, and something that has been practiced Biblically) while praying is an individualistic act (something you do on your own privately, and not practiced Biblically). But, what does it matter? They accomplish the same ends, to call on the Lord in faith in some physical way.

But we reduce the issue to our liking, rather than appreciate what God has given us. A physical way to experience what we believe. Instead, we would rather pin-point the exact legal time of conversion than be filled with joy over experiencing the putting away of the old and of putting on the brand new.

We do this because we want to avoid the appearance of work. This is no different than the persecution Jesus endured from the Pharisees over the Sabbath regulations. When Jesus did good, and people were filled with joy over their physical healing, the Pharisees were upset because they violated God's law of no work on the Sabbath. We do the same things they did. We have reduced the salvation of Christ into a set of legal requirements. In this case, "Thou shall do no work for thy salvation!"

Sentimental love.

This is what has happened in our western Christian culture. We have reduced the love of God to a sentimental gesture. We may have a tear in our eye when we hear about God's love for mankind. We may even talk about how wonderful it is that God loves us. We contemplate the pain of Jesus on the cross, or side with Jesus when he protects the weak. But are we transformed by that love. Are we moved like Zacchaeus to make amends for the wrongs we've done, making the effort because we desire Jesus (not to just look good in front of others)? Or are we more like the rich young ruler who thinks of Jesus as a means to an end?

Jesus loved them both, but the responses were different. One was held in slavery to his comfortable lifestyle. The other wanted the company of Jesus, and his lifestyle got in the way. It seems to me that we are more in love with the idea of love than honestly being affected by the love of God like Zacchaeus was. We are a nation of rich young rulers. "Just tell us how to get eternal life. Just tell us you love us. Just comfort us, for we desire comfort." We should be saying, "I want the Comforter. I want the One who loves me so. I want the One who secured eternal life for me. I'd rather have nothing and have Jesus by my side than have everything and be without him!"

Jesus does love us, even when we are not like this. (I am comforted that Jesus loved the rich young ruler too.) He loves us more than we realize. But Jesus loves us enough to take action. Action we may not all agree with, or think is worth it. But we must respond to his love with genuine love.

I know I am not where He wants me to be. But I am going and not giving up. Now is the time to live a life of repentance. Now is the time to live a life of real hope. Now is the time to live a life of sincerity. Now is the time to tell the whole truth. Now is the time to love for real!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Where's the Love?

I was walking one day and a man, who was out of his mind, said that he loved me. I got away from him as quickly as I could, because he didn't seem to have all the oars in the water, and I didn't trust what he might do. I also didn't think much of his love since he wasn't dealing with reality.

What's the point?

I recently came across a statement made by a minister. He said he was troubled by the idea of preaching hell and damnation as the gospel message. In fact, that is not what Jesus and his apostles concentrated on in their teachings as opposed to love, grace, and mercy. I agreed, but wondered how accurate that statement was.

Hell and damnation is not the central message of the gospel (good news). I agree with the importance of communicating God's grace and love. Love is the motive behind the gospel. But then I was perplexed by the statement that Jesus and his apostles kept the message positive, and didn't call people to "repent or else!" The idea that this is not the primary message of Christianity is true. But I am not sure what he means by the message of God's grace and love being central without the call to repentance.

The whole truth

When I did a cursory look through the gospel of Matthew, Acts, the letters of Paul, and Hebrews I get the sense that what was primarily taught was the true nature of reality and Jesus came as the solution. This includes the reality of the coming judgment, eternal life and punishment, the living expression of God's love and the call to the proper response—which is repentance. It didn't seem focused on any one area, except the testimony on who Jesus really is, and what our response should be.

The reality is God's wrath is coming, the reason is our sin, the response of God is Jesus, the motive is God's love, our response to God is repentance. God loved us. He reached out to us. But our response is critical. But we often emphasize more than we should or get things out of order when we speak. For instance, Jesus didn't come to bring wrath. Wrath is the problem Jesus came to solve. (This is good news!) Nor did Jesus come to simply show us love. Our need for transformation is critical for our experiencing of His love. In other words, we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need to be made alive. Being alive is central to experiencing the love God already has for us. (Ephesians 2:1-5) The message about our condition and God's solution must be believed in order for us to be changed by his love. (1 John, Jude)

Most of Jesus' discourse included these things—especially his messages to the people and his disciples. Paul reminds Christians of these things so that they will fulfill their role in this world in the light of these realities. Also, in Hebrews the author is warning believers against falling away from believing these overarching realities.

Bringing it all together

The emphasis on hell and damnation is a distortion. The emphasis on love and grace can also be a distortion. Hell and grace exist in duel compatibility with the gospel message—that there is a way out of the dilemma. What I am concerned about is the lack of will in our churches to call ourselves and others to repentance—not the preaching of hell, or of love per se. Love is cheap and meaningless in the context of low value and no understanding. In the context of great need and understanding, it will have greater meaning. And with greater meaning, the turn of one's life dedicated towards the lover is the logical reply. (Luke 7:36-50)

If the man on the street is not living in reality, his love doesn't mean very much. In fact, his statements can be taken as random thought processes rather than statements of true sentiment. Even a sophist can wax eloquent about love. But it often means nothing without proper context or personal meaning. However, if that statement comes from a meaningful person in your life it can have a profound transformative effect. But we must believe that the person is significant, and we must believe that person's message about reality. Then when the person demonstrates their love toward us, we can properly respond. Otherwise, we are just faking it.

I know too many people who believe that God loves them, and have little problem with Jesus' love. They just choose not to believe his message about the problem and his solution. So they go on in this life believing they are okay. But is that responsible for us to allow? We must teach the whole counsel of the Lord. (Matthew 28:18-20) We must do what Paul says he did. (Acts 26:20-21) And we must do so whether people agree or believe it. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

How to Play Well

Last time I talked about the worldview presented in a cartoon my daughters were watching. I decided to touch on these issues again in our Bible study the next day. I did so from a different perspective.

We looked at Matthew 24:32-51. I shared that the issue here was that Jesus wanted us to understand that he was coming back unexpectedly. And when he comes back it doesn't matter what anyone else does. It only matters what we have the responsibility in doing. In order to be ready for his return, we must be found doing what he expects when he returns. In fact, this is what he teaches over and over till verse 46 of chapter 25.

He isn't talking about establishing a homeless ministry, or a campaign to end worldwide hunger. He isn't referring to financial management or goal-setting. He is warning us to be ready for his return by living a life of faith. Not faith in the potential of humanity. But faith in Jesus as the Messiah and as the God who is clothed in human flesh.

If this is what Jesus expects of us, how should we then live? (2 Peter 3:11-13)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Winners and Losers

I watched a Saturday morning cartoon with my daughter this past weekend. It was an episode of Dragon, where Dragon and his friend Alligator were playing games together (the episode called "Dragon's New Game"). They were trying to figure out how to play games where there would be no winners or losers.

In this episode, the reason this became a problem was that whenever Dragon would win a game, Alligator would have to lose. This made Dragon's friend, Alligator, sad. And Dragon didn't like to make his friend sad. Also the reverse would be the same result too. Whenever Alligator won, Dragon would feel sad.

They sought together how to play without that happening. So they went about creating a game that had no winners or losers. The whole thing ended up where they had a rule-bound game that was just fun to play. I think a saw a bumper sticker somewhere that said that the more laws you have the more totalitarian the government. I am not sure I totally agree with that, but there is a central truth. When we try to legislate outcomes, we become a more totalitarian society.

But that is not why I am mentioning the cartoon episode. I actually enjoy the show, Dragon. And it is entertaining for my girls. But like anything we watch on TV, I always check out what they are watching and contrast the worldviews presented with Scripture. And believe me, no matter how entertaining something is, it always has a worldview, because someone created it, and there is always a presumption behind it.

In this case the subtle (or not so subtle) message was that competition is bad, because there are winners and losers.

I asked my girls, "So. Why is having a winner and loser bad?"

"Well, because there are winners and losers, someone has to be sad," they tried to postulate.

"Really? Why does someone have to be sad because they lost a game to their friend. Why aren't they happy for their friend? Or rather glad that they can learn from their mistakes?"

My girls are too young to go any deeper than this, so I pointed out the problem. "The Bible says that it is wrong to envy. We are responsible for how we handle our wins and our losses. The issue with God is our character. He isn't concerned with making sure our circumstances in life make us happy, or someone else happy. He doesn't want us to deny what we have because someone else envies us. He also doesn't want us to deny responsibility for our own attitudes and behaviors because someone else has what we want.

My daughters understood immediately. "So, dad, we should be happy whether we lose or win. Right daddy?"

"Right. But I would add we shouldn't gloat when we win either. We should act graciously and with respect either way. God doesn't like prideful winners nor sore losers."

I only wish adults would believe this too.