Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you all a joyous day of rejoicing and giving thanks to God our Savior.

Published in: on November 27, 2014 at 9:51 am  Comments (2)  

Why Thanksgiving Day

ThanksgivingFeastI love Thanksgiving. For a number of years I said it was my favorite holiday.

My church used to hold special Thanksgiving Day services—a kind of “come as you are” affair back in the days when everyone still dressed up for church. So there was a real casual feel.

I don’t remember what all we did. Sing, I’m sure. And pray. But this was the part I remember the most: in this church whose sanctuary held over 1000 people, they put up microphones in the side aisles and let whoever wanted to share come down and talk about why they were thankful.

No time limit. No slick presentation. We went for an hour and a half, give or take, and it was the best, hearing what God was doing in the lives of the people in our church. Often these were people saying how great God was although they’d experienced some pain or suffering or loss. Their witness was that God went through the trial with them. More than once I ended up in tears from hearing these experiences of God’s faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about. Those early colonists who set aside a day to express their thanks and to feast with their Indian friends who had made their survival possible, were proclaiming God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the trials they’d faced.

Danger, sickness, and death on the ocean. Dwindling provision, inadequate shelter, more sickness and death when they landed. But when they made it through the winter, when the Indians helped them plant, when harvest time came and they had provision for another winter, they gave God thanks.

When we slide past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas instead of plugging into the rich heritage this nation has enjoyed, we miss out. Think about those early celebrations. No racial or ethnic or cultural prejudice. No one advertising or trying to get rich quick. Everyone sharing from what they had. And everyone acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts.

Today if everyone in America spent Thanksgiving by setting aside any prejudices, by taking a pause in all the get-ahead schemes, by sharing instead of trying to get, by thanking God for giving us what we need for this day, how different our nation would look.

Christians so often like to say we need to put Christ back into Christmas, but I think we need to put thanks back into Thanksgiving Day.

Scripture puts a great emphasis on thanking God. For example, note the times thanks is mentioned in this passage in Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (3:15-17, emphasis added).

To our detriment, we Christians don’t make thanksgiving a big part of our worship service, or, I dare say, of our own personal prayers.

In describing the process of falling away from God, Romans 1 says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v 21, emphasis added).

Not giving thanks follows immediately after not honoring God. I don’t know if there’s anything that can keep us closer to God than thanking Him—not particularly for the stuff He gives but for God Himself.

I think it’s cool to take a passage of Scripture and identify what it shows us about God—either His work or plan or person—then use that to thank Him. But not just on Thanksgiving Day, though setting aside a day to feast and thank God and our family and friends is a cornerstone upon which we can build thankful hearts during the other 364 days.

In many ways, the more prosperous we are, the more we have to work at thankfulness. It’s so easy to start taking for granted the good things we have—and expect to have, day in and day out.

For example, I made a grocery store run this afternoon. I didn’t think until this minute to thank God for the grocery store. I’m not wondering if I’ll have access to a grocery store tomorrow. I expect to have it available to me whenever I need to buy more food.

It’s easy to move from that “take it for granted” position to an entitlement position, then a demanding one (see the people of Israel during the exodus). Giving thanks forestalls that downward spiral.

Thanksgiving feeds a relationship. Why wouldn’t it work the same way with God? In fact it does. The more we thank Him, the more we appreciate the many things about Him for which we can be thankful. As our awareness grows, our appreciation grows. As our appreciation grows, our thankfulness grows, and our thankfulness triggers a whole new awareness of God, starting the cycle over again.

So, no matter whether you live in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving, all year long.

Published in: on November 26, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments Off on Why Thanksgiving Day  
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And The Most Thankful Person Is . . .

First_Thanksgiving_in_AmericaJesus told a story once about two people who owed money. The first was in the hole for the equivalent of 500 days worth of wages and the second a tenth of that, but neither could pay what they owed.

The thing is, the moneylender forgave both their debts. Jesus then asked the key question: Which of the two will love him the most? The man Jesus was talking to answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

Bingo! Right answer.

A person who’s drowning and the person who’s arms are tired but who is still a mile from shore are both in need of rescue. However, the former will be overwhelmed with gratitude because he knows how truly great his need was. The second guy still had options. He could float on his back for a while, for instance, or ride a wave or rest his arms and simply kick. He wants to be rescued; his glad, relieved even, when he is. And thankful.

But the guy overwhelmed by the waves and on his way down for the last time, with no more strength to fight—well, there’s no end to his gratitude when he’s rescued. He loves much.

Here in the US we’re approaching Thanksgiving Day, but you’d hardly know it. On Twitter and Facebook the topics that are trending are Black Friday and Ferguson. The latter refers to the center of unrest generated in response to the grand jury deciding not indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last August. Black Friday refers to the day-after-Thanksgiving sales that will help retail stores finish the year in the black.

Happy Thanksgiving, but first let’s loot and burn stores that had nothing to do with the events last August.

Happy Thanksgiving, now excuse me while I rush to the story to push and shove my way to the best sales I can find.

I’d say off hand, Americans as a group don’t love much. We’ve been given so much, but we’re blind to the freedom and opportunity we enjoy. We think we’re oppressed and disadvantaged, but few of us are. Our thanksgiving is cursory, more like lip service than genuine, heart-felt gratitude.

Those who love much are likely those who have lived in want or in fear. When someone gives them a job or gives blood to help them survive Ebola or gives their son a soccer ball and a note when they can’t do so themselves because they’re in prison—these people love much. They know what thanksgiving means.

Thanksgiving is a mindset. We can choose to be thankful or we can choose to take what we have for granted and focus on what we want instead of what we have.

Much of this choice depends on our view of God and His goodness and sovereignty. If God is good, then the gifts He gives are good, though we may not always realize in what way they can be so classified.

As it happens, I don’t believe all things are good. They aren’t. When a surgeon working in Sierra Leone contracted Ebola and died, I wouldn’t categorize that as good. When Jim Elliott and the missionaries with him were killed, that act was murder and evil, not good.

But God is bigger than the circumstances and He can make from the evil that which is a good beyond our comprehension. Consequentially we can always be thankful—not for stuff but for God who is faithful, who loves righteousness and justice and lovingkindness.

So who is the most thankful person? I think the person who sees and understands who God is and what we have when we have Jesus Christ who came to save us. When you’re rescued, eternally rescued and safe, you have a lot to be thankful for.

Published in: on November 25, 2014 at 7:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Giving Thanks For The Fleas

pumpkins-912529-mIn a comment to my post decrying President Obama’s decision to create law through an executive order, my nephew reminded me to give thanks for the fleas. The line alludes to a true story Corrie ten Boom told in her book The Hiding Place.

She and her sister Betsy had been moved in the concentration camp to a room that was crawling with fleas. Their circumstances were bad enough, but the fleas made life almost unbearable.

Because of a passage they studied in the Bible, Betsy had been saying they needed to thank God for everything. Corrie could hardly believe her ears, but then she thought about it and thanked God that she and Betsy were together, that they had a Bible, that they had a sweater and a bottle of vitamins. Maybe a few other things.

After she prayed, Betsy said, You must also thank Him for the fleas. This seemed like too much, but Corrie wanted to be obedient to God, so she prayed again, this time thanking Him for the fleas.

Soon Corrie and Betsy began to share passages of Scripture with the other prisoners in their room after they came in from their work assignments. At first they were cautious, not wanting a guard to walk in and confiscate their Bible. But as days wore on, no guards came in the evening.

The number of women drinking in God’s word increased. Because they did not all speak the same language, Corrie would read the passage from her Dutch Bible, then someone would translate into Germany, Polish, or whatever other language was needed. This went on for weeks.

At some point Corrie had a chance to find out why the guards never came into the room to check on them. The fleas! she was told. None of the guards wanted to go into that room because of the fleas!

So, yes, God works even in circumstances we think are all wrong, when stuff happens and it makes life hard. In ways we don’t see immediately, or perhaps ever in this life, God works.

He sends a storm to stop a prophet from going the wrong way and a big fish to bring him to his knees and send him in the right way.

He takes a boy in prison because his brother betrayed him and his master’s wife lied about him, and uses him to save the lives of his entire family—God’s chosen people.

God uses an eight-year-old king to bring revival to Israel.

He takes an exiled Israelite boy and uses him to proclaim His name before Babylonian and Persian kings.

He assigns a virgin to birth the Messiah. He uses a carpenter to save the newborn child’s life from a power-hungry, paranoid king.

God sends an earthquake that opens prison doors.

I could go on and on. The Bible is replete with examples of “fleas” which looked so bad, no one if left to himself would be thankful. Thank God because you’re in prison? Exiled to a foreign land? Pregnant and not married? On the run to a far away place with the king trying to kill your family? On your knees in rubble after an earthquake broke apart your prison? In the belly of a big fish?

You have got to be kidding me!

These are not the things we trot out at Thanksgiving time to put on the list we write into our journals or hang on the refrigerator or pray over during our quiet time. These are generally the things we ask God to change, not the things we thank Him for giving.

The truth is, we’re short sighted and don’t realize what God is doing because of those fleas—not in spite of. Because of!

Our measure of what’s good is off. We’re using the wrong gauge. We think all is right when we’re comfortable, at ease, upwardly mobile, winning at work, and free to do whatever we want during our off hours.

Of course life is not centered on us and our wants, so we are at many, if not most, times aware that we have “fleas.” We want them gone. We rail at God for not removing them, for allowing them into our lives in the first place, and we dig our heels in and refuse to thank Him for sending us things that make our lives so much harder.

Such a perspective means we’re not trusting God. Do we think the “fleas” surprised Him, that He didn’t realize that particular room was crawling with them? Do we think He forgot about us or doesn’t care? Do we think He doesn’t hear or answer our prayers or that He’s not strong enough to do so even if he wanted to?

None of those things is true about God. But our lack of thankful hearts when the fleas are raising itchy welts all over our bodies, is a passive aggressive way of questioning God’s sovereignty, love, omniscience, compassion, faithfulness, and omnipotence.

Pretty much we’re saying with our complaints that we’d do it better than God. We’d get those fleas out. In fact, we’d never have let the guards put us in that room in the first place. Or better yet, if we were God, we’d never have been captured and sent to a concentration camp.

And then, thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people in many lands, down through the generations, would not have heard about God’s love and forgiveness and power to save. They would not have learned that Jesus is the Victor, and that there is no pit so deep that God is deeper still.

Thankfully God is God, and people have heard the powerful message Corrie delivered after her release.

All because of fleas. Thank God for the fleas!

Immigration Reform And President Obama

President_Obama2I’ve long been an advocate of immigration reform in the US. The situation we’re in is unconscionable. Reportedly 11.7 million illegal immigrants reside within our borders. I don’t know another nation that has had such a situation with which to deal.

President Reagan’s unfortunate approach to the problem back in the 1980s was to proclaim amnesty and start fresh. Except that policy only gave those wishing to bypass the legal routes to immigration a higher incentive to carry out their plans.

Here’s what we need to fix:

    * A porous border
    * A ponderous law that makes people applying for legal immigration wait, sometimes for decades
    * The means by which criminals in our country illegally can be cull from our population
    * The means by which those who entered our country illegally and who are productive members of society may earn legal status

Apparently the Republican controlled House of Representatives has taken a “piecemeal” approach to these issues rather than aiming at a comprehensive approach. I see some wisdom in that. There ought to be solutions for some of the problems on this list with which we can all agree.

Nevertheless, the Senate hammered out a bipartisan comprehensive bill that offers viable solutions. The House of Representatives would be wise to bring the bill up for debate and offer whatever amendments they deem necessary.

The fact is, immigration reform ought not wait! Will it take another influx of unaccompanied minors for us to realize that what we’re doing now simply does not work?

But here’s the problem. President Obama has poisoned the water by acting unilaterally, and in my view, illegally. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so:

President Obama ’s decision to legalize millions of undocumented immigrants by his own decree is a sorry day for America’s republic. We say that even though we agree with the cause of immigration reform. But process matters to self-government—sometimes it is the only barrier to tyranny—and Mr. Obama’s policy by executive order is tearing at the fabric of national consent. (Wall Street Journal | Editors | I, Barack as quoted in “Obama’s unilateral action on immigration“)

As I see it, Congress is unlikely to roll over and let the President act like a dictator. But what will be the issue the two sides will fight over? Some media people, despite the assurances of GOP leaders that this is not so, say the House will once again shut down the government when the vote to fund government operations and agencies comes up. I have to think past experience will show Congress this is not what the American people want.

But all indicators seem to point to the American people wanting sensible, humane immigration reform, too. I’m afraid that will be the policy about which Congress decides to fight. I don’t see this being a better choice than shutting down the government!

What I’d like to see the GOP controlled Congress do instead is to craft some strong language repudiating this broadening of “executive order” that circumnavigates the Constitution which gave Congress the responsibility to make law. Not the President. Congress!

I’d like to see a Constitutional Amendment to this effect, though we ought not need a law that says the President must obey the law. But apparently we do. Past Presidents have used this “out” to get things Congress wouldn’t vote for, but this method of ruling turned a dangerous corner this week. It’s use is on the increase, and this latest order clearly circumvented the Constitutional process.

In many respects, I see President Obama’s speech which pointed the finger at “Congress,” rather than at the House of Representatives, as a first salvo at the new Congress coming into office in 2015 with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. If the President can turn the tide now so that the American people will blame Congress for perceived “wrong directions” instead of him, then the Democrats will have a leg up in the next election.

In other words, this President seems to be playing politics even as he is undermining our system of government.

I don’t think the immigration issue should suffer, and with it all the people who will be affected by inactivity regarding the vital issues connected with immigration policy. I also don’t think revenge is the right approach because these representatives need to be thinking about the people, not their own bruised egos.

The President was wrong to take matters into his own hands. The House leadership asked him not to do so. I understand that they would rightly be upset that he ignored them. But they’re not alone.

That’s been a problem of this presidency—Mr. Obama has not listened or led. He bullied “Health Care” (really, Mandatory Health Insurance) into existence, he ignored the advice of the military people who said we shouldn’t set dates for withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan, he didn’t formulate a policy on Syria for over a year, he’s had six years to work with Congress to pass immigration reform, and more.

Nevertheless, the Republican-led Congress must not lower themselves to school-yard brawl status. They need to act like statesmen. They need to pick their battles with the President carefully—something that the Newt Gingrich-led Congress failed to do with President Clinton several decades ago.

In short, the American people should not have to suffer while the executive and legislative branches play tug-of-war for power. We have three branches of government for a reason, and it’s time to get the judicial branch into this mess. Unless, of course, we like the idea of a dictatorship.

Published in: on November 21, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (5)  
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Why Atheists Think Christians Are Arrogant

Preaching God's wordMy post today is actually in response to a comment from an atheist on another site. We had a brief exchange of ideas, and in his last comment, he said I shouldn’t bother responding because he wouldn’t be reading on that thread any more. Then he repeated his charge that I, like other Christians, am arrogant.

This individual isn’t saying anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s not a charge I’m willing to accept in the context he’s delivering it.

As it happens, I am arrogant—it’s a part of my sin nature which causes me to be deceived into thinking I’m better than I am, more truthful, more intelligent, more kind-hearted, more . . . you name it, and I’ve probably thought it if it puts me in a good light.

But that’s not the arrogance I, and other Christians, am being accused of. Rather, the idea is that because I believe there’s a right and true view of the world and am unwilling to say, “If it works for you, then it’s all good,” I’m arrogant.

By that definition, everyone is arrogant (which is actually right on the money) because clearly this commenter thinks I’m wrong, so words of tolerance (“as long as it works for you”) only mask a smug attitude (stupid Christians).

The truth is, not all worldviews can be right. Consequently, Christianity can’t “work for me” and Buddhism “work for you” because the two systems aren’t different flavors of ice cream. They’re not even languages. They are more like differing addition facts.

But in reality there is only one of those.

To say, in my system one plus one equals three, may be “true for you,” but it isn’t true. You may believe it, but in so doing you aren’t going to increase the number of apples if two people each give you an apple. Believing that one apple and one apple equals three apples still only leaves you with two apples.

So too when it comes to the philosophical understanding of the world. There aren’t multiple truths and each person gets to pick and choose the one that fits there personality best. The world doesn’t work one way for Christians and a different way for atheists. If God is real, then, like the sun, He shines on us all—the just and the unjust. Believing in Him does not increases His reality, and disbelieving in Him does not detract from His existence.

Anyone taking a “whatever works for you” view, simply doesn’t believe that there is Truth; consequently, according to this outlook, it really doesn’t matter what you believe in—as long as you don’t believe that there is an absolute Truth.

The fact is, believing that there is no Truth is the truth in which this person believes. The idea that anyone who says “whatever works for you” is not arrogant, but whoever says, only one thing works, is arrogant, simply demonstrates how deceived people are who take this “whatever works for you” position.

But atheists also believe Christians are arrogant because we “send people to hell.”

This, of course, is inaccurate. No human sends anyone to hell. I dare say, God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell in the way the atheists mean it.

Jesus said clearly in John 3 that our rejection of God and His Son condemn us:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It’s this “not believing” that sends people to hell.

The patrolman waving people away from a downed bridge is not thought of as responsible for sending someone who ignores him into the icy river. And generally speaking no one thinks he’s arrogant for doing his job.

Christians have more incentive than the patrolman does, in many instances, because we know the people we’re warning—or we’ve had some level of interaction with them. They are rarely anonymous faces whizzing past our “Bridge Down, Take Alternate Route” signs.

We aren’t shouting warnings because we want to rub it in the faces of others that we’re right and they’re wrong. We also aren’t sticking our tongues out and Naa-naa-naa-ing them because we’re in and they aren’t, or that they will never get in since we have the secret and aren’t telling them what it is.

Paul lined up with this position when he said, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Those ultimate wages belong to each of us, and the free gift is offered to us all:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:23-27a, emphasis added)

In short, the charge of arrogance is true of all people, but doesn’t apply to Christians as a group. 😉

We all have deceitfully wicked hearts, but Christians have been washed by the only cleansing agent that can deal with the stain on our souls. Jesus Himself took our guilt and shame and put it on His own shoulders, then went to the cross and died in our place. Here’s how Jesus Himself put it:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

It’s an open invitation, one that Christians feel compelled to pass along.

Is it arrogant to invite people to believe? On the contrary, I think it’s a humbling thing to stand exposed before the world, saying, I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, we’re all sinners. It’s a lot more comfortable to think I’m good enough on my own. It’s a lot easier to say, “Whatever works for you.”

But the truth is, there’s a day of judgment awaiting and only one thing will work for you—faith in Jesus Christ. Any other notion is a lie.

It’s not arrogance that drives Christians to speak the truth. It’s obedience to God’s command and love for those who still need to hear.

Why I Told My Story

First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments Off on Why I Told My Story  
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My Story

I'm the one in the front with the "what's going on" expression.

I’m the one in the front with the “what’s going on” expression.

I love hearing how other people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though our backgrounds are different and the events in our lives are miles apart, we still have a common experience when it comes to giving our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So it’s exciting to hear other people tell the details that brought them to that place.

My story always feels ordinary and unexciting, but I guess that’s part of the beauty of God’s amazing love. While He can pull out a last-minute rescue such as the one the thief who died next to Jesus experienced, and He can dramatically turn around a Christian-hater like Paul, He can also open His arms to the little children whose parents brought them to receive His blessing.

My story is like the ones those little children might have told years later.

I came to Jesus when I was three—as near as I can tell. I don’t actually remember the moment in time when I turned my life over to God. At least not that first time.

Yes, there were multiple times. I’ve written elsewhere (in “Believe in Jesus” and “My Deceitful Heart“) about my early doubts and the process of coming to realize I had, in fact, entered into a relationship with God despite my sins of action and attitude which continued to plague me. You see, I’d thought the evidence of my relationship with God would be a life of perfect obedience, and I just wasn’t seeing that.

Eventually I came to the point where I realized if I was to get off the roller-coaster of doubt, I had to trust that God meant what He said: if I confessed with my mouth (and I had) and believed in my heart that Jesus was who He said He was (and I did), I was saved.

The issue wasn’t what I had to do because I couldn’t do anything big enough or great enough to earn a right relationship with God. If I was to be saved, it was because of what Christ did for me, and I simply had to put my trust in Him.

Here’s the thing that I think is so cool about my story of coming to Christ—He saved me from myself.

I used to hear testimonies of people who came from hard lives—drugs and promiscuous lifestyles and gang involvement. Now they had a testimony, I thought. God saved them from stuff that was killing them.

Me? Well, I lied to my first grade teacher and didn’t come to the dinner table right away when my mother called.

See? As I was measuring stories, mine wasn’t so great. It was easy for me to believe in Jesus because I didn’t have all the garbage others had to wade through.

But, oh, how wrong that perspective is. I had my own pride and self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes from which God had to save me.

Which is harder, to save someone who is a drunk or a prostitute, or someone who thinks she might actually be good enough she doesn’t have to have the “sinner” label attached to her?

Well, as it turns out, neither is easier. Both require the exact same thing—the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. Not one kind of sin is more or less easy to forgive than another. Both are forgiven because of His work at the cross, period. I don’t bring a thing to the table and neither does the person who comes from a lifestyle mired in hard living.

My pride and self-righteousness was as great a barrier to reconciliation with God as drug addiction or having an abortion was for other people. Sin, in any and all its shapes, is what blocks our path to God, and sin is built into our DNA.

It’s even built into the DNA of “the good kid.” So my story is really the same as every other Christian’s—God rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. He pulled me up from the miry clay because I couldn’t pull myself up.

In the end, my story is really God’s story. He’s the hero, the rest of us, me included, are proof of His love, His power, His forgiveness, grace, and unrelenting faithfulness.

The Consumer Mentality

David_Livingstone_Preaching_from_his_Wagon,_Africa,_ca.1845-ca.1865_(imp-cswc-GB-237-CSWC47-LS16-019)It’s frightening to see what the consumer mentality does to everyday people. First, I’m defining “consumer mentality” as the desire for something new, greater, and more exciting than what we already have.

Consequently, we have a perfectly good, well-functioning tablet, but the Tech World releases the new version, the bigger version, the tripped out version, and now we are bored with the one we have. We see all its faults and short-comings.

Sadly, the consumer mentality goes beyond things to activities. That’s how skirts so long they only bared a woman’s ankle have morphed into bikinis that bare . . . well, most everything. That’s why a present in a stocking at Christmas became mounds of presents under a tree.

This “we want newer, we want better, we want bigger” makes us quickly bored with the same old thing. Consequently, any company that wants us to buy must keep churning out fresh material. Which is hard on the news business because there are only so many things happening in the world.

Something that hasn’t happened for a while gets the news machine humming. Katrina was a bonanza, but the next couple hurricanes had a sort of “been there, done that” feel and they couldn’t live up to the horror of the Superdome or the political wrangling connected with “the big one.” Consequently hurricanes in the Philippines or Mexico get barely a mention.

Japan’s earthquake/tsunami disaster was a two-fer, so it got big news attention. But there was Haiti and quakes in far away South American countries, and pretty soon quake fatigue set in.

Now ISIS and beheading—that was new, and big. Until Ebola came along as the New, Big Story.

But yesterday in the local news, the lead story was our weather. And not even “our” weather, because it was a fairly localized condition—high winds that snapped a few trees and caused damage to some cars and the roof of one building.

Buried in the news somewhere was the story about another North American who had been beheaded—along with a host of Syrians. I couldn’t believe my ears. As it turned out, there was also an Ebola story—a doctor who had contracted the disease in Sierra Leon, who was gravely ill (and has since died). But this too did not lead the news hour.

So apparently strong winds are the new, fresh, more interesting story. Until tomorrow.

But here’s the capper. Following the promo for the beheading story was one for the news feature about the record-setting tallest nutcracker ever made.

So that’s where the consumer mentality has placed a horrific deed—bloody mass executions. A minute on people dying. A minute on a new Guinness Book record for the tallest nutcracker—one that could clomp the teeth of its totem-pole-like face together and crack the shell of a coconut.

People die—awwww. People set records—yea! Anything to get the consumer to keep coming back.

Interestingly, Jesus showed that He doesn’t play that game. The Pharisees wanted Him to fast and follow their rules, but He partied instead.

Eventually the crowds wanted to make Him a king who would defeat Rome and free them from their oppression. They wanted the Exodus only in reverse. They wanted God to set His people free. Jesus said, My kingdom isn’t of this world. He showed how He intended to free people—through forgiveness of their sins.

That was sooooo not the way the consumer mentality works. You don’t reject the limelight. You embrace it. You don’t say no to the demand of the public, you promise to give them that and more. You don’t satisfy people’s needs—you create them.

On top of this, Jesus said offensive things—you have to take up your cross and follow me; you must lose your life to find it; the first will be last, the last first; you must hate your father and mother for Jesus’s sake—seemingly with the intention of driving the crowds away.

This is not the way the consumer mentality works!

No wonder. Jesus is not a flash in the pan. He isn’t a fad, a superstar to be quickly bypassed by the next American idol. He’s not playing the consumer game, vying for popularity. Simply put, popularity passes away, but Jesus—the exact image of the invisible God—is lasting. He is the great I AM, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

He was before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

He is the most sure, the lasting, truest, unwavering permanence imaginable. And then some.

No wonder people filled with the consumer mentality here in western societies have a hard time embracing Jesus.

No wonder Christians in places like Laos and Nigeria and Indonesia cling to Him in the face of persecution. The consumer mentality hasn’t blinded them to the genuine article. They know what they’ve found and they intend to hold on.

Published in: on November 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Congregational Singing

Photo shared on FB by Susan Gentry DeMaggioOnce upon a time, when churches had bulletins in which the order of service was printed, occasional lines read, “Congregational Singing,” followed by a number in a hymnal.

Times have changed, bringing changes to church services. Certainly some of those are fine and appropriate and not in the least contrary to Scripture since the Bible doesn’t mention bulletins or orders of service or hymnals.

In fact, how we conduct “church” is more a reflection of our culture than any Biblical mandate. There’s simply not much laid out concerning what our “assembling ourselves together” is supposed to look like.

I was raised in a church that didn’t use instruments to accompany our congregational singing, and I don’t remember a choir. Instead the congregation sang hymns in four-part harmony at the direction of a music minister or song leader—I’m not sure what his title was.

But in my teen years someone introduced contemporary Christian music, and before long praise songs made their way into church.

Since then, there seems to be a running controversy about how we are to “do worship” because with more and more frequency, congregational singing has come to be known as “worship.” Prayer, offering, sermons, even communion are something else, apparently, and corporate singing alone is worship.

Along with these changes, much of this “worship” has taken on the trappings of secular concerts. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this ostensibly since the Bible doesn’t lay down any direction about our singing except to say that we are to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God (see Colossians 3:16).

So in some churches, the tech people flash words on a screen, lower the house lights, turn on spotlights to illumine the worship band, and crank up the mics. The leader will sometimes verbally cue people to the next line of a song—though it’s in front of them—or riff some line that’s not there. Sometimes, with no warning, all but one member of the “worship team” will stop singing and the rest of us are left to wonder if we are also to be silent or to be led by the single singer.

In short, there’s more of a concert feel to these times of singing than there is of congregational singing. Good? Or bad? Young people should feel right at home with the concert atmosphere, and tradition isn’t supposed to become Law.

But maybe there are a couple bigger issues. I wonder if we’ve lost the purpose of our singing.

When we meet together we can make a joyful noise to the Lord as the people of Israel did and we can sing to instruct one another as Paul said in Colossians 3. However, I think we might be losing both those purposes in our concert environment.

First, people go to concerts to be entertained. I think too many people are going to church for the same reason. Was the pastor funny? Did he repeat the stories he’s already told? Was he boring? That mindset is replicated during the singing. Rather than thinking about the instruction of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, or singing with thankfulness in our hearts to God, or making a joyful noise to the Lord, we’re thinking about whether or not we liked the music. Is it too old fashioned, too shallow, too repetitive, too loud, too archaic, too jazzy, too uni-voice, too whatever I don’t like as much as I like something else?

People who love hymns and people who love contemporary music can error in the exact same way—judging the music based on how entertained they are by it.

In addition, in a recent Facebook discussion about worship, several people mentioned euphoria as part of the experience in the “concert mode” style. I have to wonder how many people are gauging “worship” based on how euphoric it makes them feel.

I do think when we enter into a closeness with God, we can experience a “spiritual high,” but if we go about trying to recapture that surprising joy, as C. S. Lewis referred to it, we’re worshiping for the wrong reason. We ought not think about what we can get from the experience. Instead, we ought to be focused on other believers or on God as we sing truths or praise. And yes, when we sing truths for others, we will hear them too. When we sing praise to God, we may enter into a closer experience with Him.

But those are gifts God gives us as effects of our singing. Our purpose ought not to be to receive an emotional boost, and it ought not to be to be entertained.

Secondly, singing is only one aspect of worship, but our concert mode and our “worship team,” “worship band,” “worship leader” phraseology encourages us to think of music as worship and the rest of our service as something else.

I suppose these two are tied together because we don’t often get a euphoric bump when we put an offering into the plate or even when we listen to a sermon (unless our preacher is one who milks the crowd and has everyone weeping by the time he’s finished). Nevertheless, the teaching of the word of God, giving to His work in our church, community, and the world, petitioning Him to change our hearts and draw us closer to Him, are all parts of worship, whether we feel it to be so or not.

Worship ought not to be about how we feel. Worship is about us giving. We ought to worship God, not because we to get something from it, but because He deserves it.

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