Work And The Weekend

Adam_and_Eve019In many regards, western culture is hedonistic. It’s all about pleasure, whatever makes me happy. Consequently there’s a running joke, that isn’t really a joke, about how horrible Monday is, how Tuesday is snooze day because it’s, well, not as hateful as Monday but still too far away from the weekend. Then comes hump day, which means, the hard part is over and we’re on the home stretch to day four, then finally to Friday. And THE WEEKEND!!

Of course the weekend is special because for two days we don’t have to go to work! We get to do whatever we want. We get to be who we really are—hedonists.

Sadly, many Christians have adopted this same view of life—the week is to be tolerated so we can get to the weekend and do what we want. In other words, work is simply there to finance the weekend.

It’s a bleak way of looking at life!

For one thing, the weekend is short. It’s not even thirty percent of our week. So that means seventy percent of our time revolves around something we’re trying to endure rather than embrace.

But more importantly, this hedonistic way of looking at life is purposeless. After the parties or the drinking or the carousing, after the games, the dinners, the movies, what do we have? How have we made a difference in the world? What have we achieved? What have we improved?

This “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” approach to weekend living means that we will pass into eternity as if we have no significance other than to work so we can play. It’s a contradiction of God’s intention for us.

If all we can say about the weekend was, I had fun, then our approach is also selfish.

And I say “we” because this view of work and the weekend has largely been adopted by Christians as well as the secularists of our society. We don’t seem to be different in our approach to work than the atheist down the block.

But shouldn’t Christians have a different view of work? God created a perfect world and put humans, who He called “good,” into that world, then gave instructions. First up was to care for, to cultivate the garden which was their home.

Granted, from what God said after Adam and Eve fell into sin, the work involved in cultivating nature was much harder than it had been. Nevertheless, Adam had a specific, God-given responsibility that required his time, attention, and expertise. He had a job. And it seems it was a big job, involving the animals as well as the care of the plants.

Clearly, work was part of God’s perfect created order. The big picture is that God gave Adam the responsibility of representing Him to the rest of creation. So it was a lot more than trimming and harvesting and naming.

That job was God-centric, productive, purposeful, other-oriented.

All that to say, I think Christians need to recapture this view of work. For one thing, God has blessed us with jobs. I know in the past I lost sight of that fact. After all, I was the one with the qualifications, the one who interviewed, was hired, planned, prepared, got up every morning, and worked through the day to earn my pay check.

Yes. And no. God opened doors, prompted people to hire me, enabled me to get the education I got, gave me the ability to understand, to know what I needed to do, and the strength to do it. My pay check was God’s provision through the job God provided.

If we grasp the fact that God is the provider, then it frees us to look at our work differently—not as a profession that enslaves us (because how else will we pay for the mortgage and all the rest?), but as an opportunity to represent Christ to those toiling around us.

I can’t help but wonder how different our witness would be if we got up on Monday morning and said, Thank God I have a job? And, How can I serve You at work today?

Wouldn’t that attitude be noticeable, something radically different from how other people approach the work week?

And what about the weekend? I think rest and recreation have a place in our lives. God built us to enjoy—starting with enjoying Him. I think we may have forgotten that, what with all the angst so many have expressed over the demise of the Church in western society.

We’re so busy trying to make “church” relevant to Millennials and Gen Xers and Ys, that we may have forgotten the Church is God’s. It already is relevant. We simply have to remember that Christ is our head, Christ is the reason we come together, Christ is the center of what we do, Christ is the One we should focus our attention on.

The home is God’s too. So what happens on the weekend that causes dads and moms and kids to come together or to bless each other as they dive into some community (friends, school, what have you) activity, is something to celebrate. But not as if those times are more important than the time at work.

In reality, they are one and the same—different fields, but the same mission: to serve God, obey Him, love Him, represent Him to those around us.

Published in: on January 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Gift Of Thankfulness

veggie-still-life-332389-mOn Sunday our guest speaker at my church gave us homework. He told us to think each day this week of three things we’re thankful for. As I recall, he told us about a study in which one group started the day listing three things they were thankful for and another group started the day listing three things they wanted. At the end of the time period, the thankful group had all kinds of amazing benefits—better sleep, weight loss, a cheerful outlook, fewer divorces, and more.

Imagine if we took this a step further and made God our focal point. What has God given me or what about Him am I thankful for?

Interestingly, our thanks is something God desires. Jesus, for example, healed ten lepers in an interesting way. He told them to go to the priest who determined who was leprous and who was clean. On the way, they were healed. One, a Samaritan, turned back, glorifying God on the way, fell on his face at Jesus’s feet, and thanked Him. And Jesus’s response?

Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 7:17-18)

In Romans, Paul added a lack of thanks as part of the darkened human heart:

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. (1:21; emphasis mine)

I’m pretty sure I’ve mostly focused on the knowing and honoring. I’m guilty of paying little attention to the third of the triumvirate, giving thanks.

Paul particularly emphasized thanksgiving in one section of his letter to the church in Colossae:

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 mine)

In Ephesians Paul tells us what ought not be a part of our speech: filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting. But he also tells us what ought to be in place instead of those things: giving of thanks. (Eph. 5:4).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, he goes so far as to say that giving things in everything is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” So when we’re not thanking God, we’re actually out of His will.

One more fact that’s stuck with me about thanks: the writer of the book of Hebrews marries thanks with praise which he says is a sacrifice to God: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).

Our thanks is a sacrifice of praise to God. Sacrifice was the centerpiece of worship in Israel’s relationship with God. The centerpiece of our relationship with God is Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. And yet, as redeemed people we are not to go merrily on our way as those nine healed lepers did. God desires more. He would have us be thankful.

That’s His will for His people. From the study our speaker shared, thanks actually benefits us. What a wonder! God continually surprises me, though you’d think I’d start anticipating this. I’m referring to the amazing fact that what He asks of us is what is best for us.

I tend to be like the five-year-old, only happy when I get candy and wishing I could have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. God gives carrots and broccoli and green beans and sometimes lima beans. He gives potatoes, but not always mashed with gravy. He gives steak sometimes, but liver other times, or fish—really fishy fish.

Why would He do that when He knows I want candy—mostly chocolate, M&Ms or Reeses or, best of all, Sees candy (a 2 pound box all for me would be nice!)

Well, God knows what I need.

And as it turns out, what He wants and what I need includes my giving Him thanks.

The other really cool thing is that I’m discovering I grow to like the things God wants for me, in the same way that I grew to like foods other than chocolate! 😉

Inclusivism Exposed

Bible-candle-light-reading-1439638-mLast year I addressed a false teaching that seems to have gained some traction among Evangelical Christians—inclusivism. As a reminder, that view rethinks salvation, so “while no one is saved apart from the redemptive work of Jesus, it is not necessary either to know about the gospel or to believe in Jesus for salvation.” (See “The Way Of Salvation” and “The Way Of Salvation: An Addendum”).

Since then I’ve been mindful of the numerous places in Scripture that refute the concept that someone could love God and seek to know Him but remain ignorant of the gospel. In those earlier posts, I stated that such an idea was inconsistent with God’s character, and I cited in discussion comments, at least, that James lays out God’s promise to draw near to those who draw near to Him.

In other words, God is not going to let someone who wants to know Him floundering in the dark. Believing this, I have still been surprised at the host of passages that make clear God’s promise to rush to those who choose Him.

I started with Proverbs 2:

For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will discern the fear of the LORD
And discover the knowledge of God. (vv 3-5)

If you look, then you’ll discover. In reality, then, there are no hosts of pagans or Muslims or any other religion loving God and wanting to know Him but remaining ignorant of Jesus. How could there be? Each of those would put the lie to this passage.

Or how about this in Jeremiah:

‘I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.’ (24:7)

Some people might quibble that this verse is addressing Jews returning to Israel after the exile. That’s true, certainly, but all Scripture is for our profit, and the passage refers to “My people.” God’s promise would seem to be for His people regardless of place and time—He will give us a heart to know Him.

Here’s another one. Jesus said this, recorded both in Matthew and Luke:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matt. 11:27)

I don’t know how much clearer Christ could be: The Son reveals God the Father; He’s the only One who knows the Father and it would stay like that unless He disclosed Him to us.

There’s more:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Eternal life is conditioned on knowing: knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ.

John repeats this truth in his first letter:

And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

Understanding from the Son lets us know that He is true, that were are in Jesus and that being in Jesus is what eternal life means. In fact, “This is the true God.” Any concept of God apart from Jesus is false.

Sincere Buddhists or pagans or Hindus are not saved. We might as well say sincere atheists are saved.

It’s actually cruel to suggest that someone who is separated from God by his sin is doing just fine by sacrificing his chicken on a high place outside his village in the sincerity of his heart, desiring to know God; or that by sincerely working toward enlightenment, he’ll actually be saved.

That’s like telling someone he isn’t going to die. Well, no actually he will die because we all face death, unless we’re caught up with Christ when He returns. Meanwhile, the person thinking he isn’t going to die, is living as if he isn’t going to die. He’s not taking care of his health or making a will or doing anything to prepare spiritually for life after death. By believing a lie, he’s neglecting what he needs.

Anyone without Christ needs to get that message—Christ shows us who God is; Christ is the door to eternal life. Inclusivism is nothing more than a human invention at best, and a demonic one at worst. It’s a lie, and telling dying people lies is cruel when what they need is saving truth.

Published in: on January 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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The Biblical Answer To The Question Of Evil

dawn-457770-mWhere did evil come from? This is the question atheists either don’t try to answer or can not answer. It’s part of the weakness of that belief system—there are too many things that can’t be explained.

Biblical Christianity, on the other hand, has a clear, concise answer (so this post might turn out to be rather short).

Solomon spelled out the answer in the book of Proverbs. In the first chapter, he personified Wisdom, and it is Wisdom that gives the answers to the question of evil.

“Because I called and you refused,
I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;
And you neglected all my counsel
And did not want my reproof;
I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me,
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.

“They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof.

“So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way
And be satiated with their own devices.

“For the waywardness of the naive will kill them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them.

“But he who listens to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil.” (Prov. 1:24-33)

In a nutshell, humankind hated God’s way, so He gave us over to our own way.

This is the point that atheists who say evil proves there is no good and loving God don’t get. Our good and loving God delegated to us the care of the rest of creation, and He told us what we needed to know to be successful.

Instead of embracing God’s way, we hated His way, thought we could figure out a way around it, and decided we knew better than He.

Simply put, that’s evil. There is no better way than the perfect way. Our embracing something less than perfect drags us further and further from God and from His plan for us. If it weren’t for His intervention, we would have no hope.

But thanks be to our loving, good God who knows exactly what we need, we have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who has brought us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

Later in the book, Solomon says

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)

God is entwined in it all—the beginning of wisdom, our response to wisdom, the reproof when we ignore wisdom, the consequences for hating wisdom. And the point of wisdom is to lead us to the fear of the Lord.

It’s self-fulfilling. The more we fear the Lord, the more we fear the Lord.

But “fear” doesn’t mean get all terrified, though that’s a part of it. The Hebrew word is yir’ah, and it’s various meanings are these:

I. fear, terror, fearing
A. fear, terror
B. awesome or terrifying thing (object causing fear)
C. fear (of God), respect, reverence, piety
D. revered

It is use C that applies here—fear, respect, reverence, and devotion. These are the heart attitudes, applied to our relationship with God, that yield wisdom.

Today there are a lot of ideas about God—he’s our buddy, he’s our Sugar Daddy, he’s an it or a she or an unknown, he’s nonexistent. All these are ways of neglecting wisdom’s counsel. We think we can ignore God or deny Him or treat Him with disrespect and still reap the benefits of His kindness and mercy. We don’t realize how much we pay for the existence of evil.

All the sin and sickness and death that plagues the world and all that’s in it is a direct result of turning our back on God instead of fearing Him.

Evil is here because of how humankind treats God. If we don’t love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (the first commandment), then how can we think we’ll be able to love our neighbors as ourselves (the second commandment)?

That we ever even try is a recognition of God’s law serving as a moral compass inside us. But that’s another matter for discussion another day. Suffice it to say, evil is not something rightly dropped at God’s doorstep. He created a perfect world, and it is we who let Him down, not He who bungled the oversight of what He made.

My guess is, the same pride that said we could bypass the regs God laid down, also is the reason we don’t want to admit evil exists in us and on earth because of us. But that’s the truth—the Biblical answer to the question of evil.

Published in: on January 27, 2015 at 6:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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What Kind Of Meditation Are We Talking About?

prayer-159064-mI’m disturbed by the tendency in Christian circles to mimic the ways of other religions, as if we can learn something fresh and vibrant to spice up our flagging “religious experience.” In reality, mimicking other religions puts us in the same place Israel was when they started drawing on the nations around them to inform them of how they should worship Yahweh.

God didn’t want Israel to build altars on every high hill or sacrifice their children or neglect the Sabbath or the feast days He had set aside.

So today, Christians have “figured out” what God wants from us by peeking at what the Eastern mystics do. I suppose it seems so religious. Plus, what they’re doing, in part at least, is actually in the Bible. Or is it?

I’m referring to meditation, more popularly referred to today as contemplation. Of course contemplate means think deeply and meditate means think deeply, so the language ought not change the actual practice.

But that’s presupposing that Christians actually did meditate before this new wave of Eastern influence. Some did, I’m sure. But when anyone discussed the spiritual disciplines, meditation got the short shrift, I fear.

Now meditation—or contemplation—is leading the way. I don’t hear much talk about Scripture memory today, and actual prayer meetings where Christians get together for the purpose of praying seem to be on the endangered species list.

No big deal. Meditation is awesome . . . Except, contemplation seems to be muddying the water. You see, contemplation has another meaning, one that seems more suited to the Eastern mystic approach to meditation: “look thoughtfully for a long time at.”

Look thoughtfully at? For a long time? For what purpose?

The president of the Christian college where I graduated mentioned spiritual disciplines in one of his recent articles: “Richard also suggested I meditate for 24 hours. That worked for about two hours . . .”

So “long time” means, twenty-four hours, and two was a dismal failure.

But what is it he was supposed to be meditating about? I mean, the definition says, “think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time,” so focus on what?

Apparently there are people going around now holding seminars and retreats to teach people how to mediate this contemplative way (including, apparently, special classes for children). In fact in a different article in my alumni paper, one former student wrote about his meditative experience. I may not have the details right, but it was something like spending two hours looking at an apple and contemplating its appleness.

I don’t think that’s what God had in mind.

I don’t think He had “centering prayer” in mind either. This activity takes meditation a step farther. Again there are those who teach this technique—which of course suggests Jesus didn’t do a good enough job teaching us how to pray when His disciples asked.

Be that as it may, there’s also a web site that lays out centering prayer in four easy steps. It all starts like this: “Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.” Further along the steps are “unpacked.” Now examples of the “sacred word” are offered: “Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen.” With other possibilities: “Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.” The minimum time for this is twenty minutes.

There are so many problems with this, but the bottom line is that God states quite clearly in Scripture what meditation is supposed to be. Through the psalmists, He said frequently we are to meditate. One Hebrew word used to communicate the idea is siyach translated like this:

I. to put forth, mediate, muse, commune, speak, complain, ponder, sing
A. (Qal)
i. to complain
ii. to muse, meditate upon, study, ponder
iii. to talk, sing, speak
B. (Polel) to meditate, consider, put forth thoughts

Everything about the word seems to be about engaging the mind, and much of it has to do with putting thoughts into words.

But there’s more. Besides the different action, there’s also a different object. Meditation as Scripture discusses has God and His glory as the focal point:

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts,
And I will tell of Your greatness.
They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness (Ps. 145:5-7)

Meditation doesn’t seem at all like an activity that is designed to produce spiritual goosebumps—experiencing God’s presence or deepening our faith in his presence. It’s designed to help us know Him better by thinking about all He’s done.

Things like sparing Noah and his family from God’s judgment on wickedness. And leading Abram away from the security and familiarity of Ur to the land He intended to give his descendents. Or how about speaking to Moses from a burning bush. And then speaking to the people of Israel from a burning mountain.

Scripture is all about those “wonderful works” and “awesome acts.” How different this kind of focus is than the kind that mulls one word over and over in the “centering prayer” way. From the tips section of how to do centering prayer:

* The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention and consent.

* Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period because that would be to start thinking again.

Horrors that we should start thinking again!

But, in fact, the very goal of this kind of “prayer” is letting go: “During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear.”

So you’re not to think about anything but the sacred word, and it may disappear . . . leaving . . .? Emptiness.

Which is, in fact, the goal of the meditation of Eastern mysticism.

Clearly there are Christians who are taking the concept of centering prayer and using it in conjunction with Scripture. For instance, the guest speaker we had at church Sunday mentioned his centering prayer (to which I at first reacted with some horror) in regard to a phrase of Scripture (“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” – Eph. 1:7-8a, emphasis mine).

Actually he said he thought about the word “lavish” for twenty minutes, I believe. But it was clear he wasn’t doing it to empty his thoughts or give a symbol of his “consent to God’s presence and action within.”

He maybe called it “centering prayer” but I think it was really old fashioned meditation. He was thinking about God’s wondrous work.

I think it’s important to keep things straight: when the Bible talks about meditation and prayer it is so very different from the mystic meditation and the “centering prayer” that is a Christianized version of a mantra.

How Satan likes to beguile. He would love to see people emptying their minds and NOT thinking about God’s wondrous works and awesome acts. The Christian discipline will take our active minds to God in contemplation of how great He is. We’ll meditate on His wonders, His precepts, His words, His statutes, His doings—all found in the Psalms.

I’m pretty sure we complicate our relationship with God with all our ideas about how to make it better—but that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say today, that we don’t need to be conflating Scriptural meditation and Biblical prayer with the practices of the false religions around us.

We may use some of the same words, but the meaning is very different.

Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 6:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pittsburgh_sign_(2981919088)The day after Championship Sunday, football fans were talking about “Deflategate.” By Thursday night the story was the lead on our local news and we don’t even have an NFL team.

If nothing else, the US takes our sports seriously. Football, which had so recently ascended to the top of the heap, replacing baseball as America’s game, has been struggling. 2014 was the year of disaster for the NFL, but the problems went back further.

What was it, 2007 when Spygate dominated the talk shows? New England (yes, the same team involved in this year’s debacle) broke NFL rules by filming an opposing team’s sideline during a game as their coaches sent signals to their players. A big deal? Most people didn’t think so, but it was against league rules.

Then in 2012 the New Orleans Saints were caught in the bounty scandal. Reportedly as many as 24 defensive players were paid for hard hits on opposing quarterbacks. The head coach, Sean Payton, received the stiffest penalty—a year’s suspension—because he knew about the program and did nothing to stop it.

A number of pundits, however, claimed that most teams had some similar program in place, but the Saints were the ones caught, and the League wanted to send a message to the others by the harsh sanctions.

Need I mention the Ray Rice mess that took place this past summer—domestic violence caught on camera, and the League suspended him for two weeks. When cries of protest arose, then Commissioner Roger Godell backtracked and handed down a tougher penalty. But when another video came out, the longer suspension was turned into an indefinite suspension, which Ray Rice contested, and won.

Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson came under fire because he took a switch to his young son. He received the full wrath of the commissioner’s office—they weren’t going to pull another Ray Rice.

Once the season got started, things seemed to quiet down—only a few drug suspensions, the $70,000 Ndamukong Suh fine for stepping on Aaron Rogers, purposefully—just average stuff.

But now, with deflategate, we’re back to the issue of cheating, specifically the charge that someone on New England’s sideline deflated the game footballs in the AFC Championship, reducing the pressure by two pounds in 11 of the 12 game balls. Under inflated footballs. The way Tom Brady likes it.

Is this really such a horrible crime, fans ask, especially those hoping for a Patriot Super Bowl victory. I mean, no one got clocked on camera, no pictures exist of bruising on a child’s body. No money exchanged hands at the expense of purposeful bodily harm. And no one was intentionally stepped on. What’s the big deal?

Add in the fact that no one thinks the Colts would have own the game if those balls had been properly inflated. In other words, the Pats cheated, but they would have won anyway.

So does that make cheating, not cheating?

And is cheating a big deal?

Well, in some schools, if you cheat you get kicked out. What if the NFL adopted that policy? If you cheat—take performance enhancing drugs, spy on the opponent, put a bounty on another player’s head, deflate footballs—you get kicked out of the League.

Which would elevate cheating to a level higher than domestic violence.

It’s not really an easy thing to determine. On one hand, we have a tendency to say, It’s just a game. Lighten up. But the reality is, pro football is big business. Not only are the players contracted for huge sums of money, the teams are raking in the green with their ticket prices and all that goes with attending games. Then there’s the league with all the merchandising and TV deals. And then we come to the real money connected to the sport: gambling. As my brother reminded me, millions of dollars are tied to NFL games, sometimes on the over-under of game scores. What have deflated balls (because who knows if the Pat’s quarterback would cheat in the Championship game, he hasn’t been cheating all season?) done to the scores and to the win/loss of millions of bettors?

But let’s pretend for a second that cheating didn’t cost anybody anything. It just gave one team a slight edge which they didn’t need anyway.

Is there really nothing wrong with them sending the message to every kid out there, Do anything, even break the rules, in order to win.

We’ve been sending that message for some time. Al Davis, when he coached the Oakland Raiders, used to say, Just win, baby. His teams did all they could, including things that weren’t legal, to win games. In fact, some of the rules the NFL has now were put in to stop some of the shenanigans the Raiders pulled (like fumble the ball forward or bat it forward to get the necessary yards for a first down, or to score a touchdown).

And now it’s the Patriots. If they go on to win the Super Bowl, no matter what happens afterward, the message will be clear—cheaters do prosper.

But we’ve been sending that message through other avenues than sports—corporate greed, for example, and government corruption. CEOs can lead their companies into bankruptcy and still collect million dollar bonuses. Lobbyists can bribe, uh grease the palms, no give payola, how about, gift legislators who they wish to influence, and the process is “legal.”

Maybe it’s time we say enough with the cheating. People need to play fair. Hard work, not hard cash or who you know or how much you can get by with, should enable someone to get ahead.

So I say, throw the book at the Patriots. They have a history of cheating and of walking as close to the line as they can get when it comes to playing by the rules. Just ask Baltimore about the six eligible receivers stunt the Patriots pulled the week before deflategate.

Cheaters ought not prosper, and if the NFL commissioner’s office doesn’t see that and doesn’t take action, more than “the integrity of the game” will be lost.

Published in: on January 23, 2015 at 6:28 pm  Comments Off on Deflategate  
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Quarrels And Conflict

yelling-932983-mI know I don’t always see things the way others do—it’s a quirk, I guess, which I’m pretty sure I got from my dad. If there was a well-traveled road, that’s the one he wanted to avoid. I don’t think I go that far, but there’s a part of me that is just ornery enough, I’ll avoid band wagons and take a hard, hard look at what “everyone else is doing” and in the end, I’ll probably do something else.

I say all this so that you can be forewarned: you may wish to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt. Just chalk it up to Becky being quirky again.

Here’s the thing. There are some passages of the Bible that seem to me to be ripped out of context and forced into places they weren’t intended to go.

One of my favorite verses is like that:

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Great verse, but in context it’s clearly addressing the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Still, all Scripture is profitable, and so there is something for us today. However, the verse clearly is not a blanket promise for all people. Who can take this verse as a promise and as a promise of what, needs to be thought through.

But that’s not the one I want to look at today. Rather, it’s Philippians 4:8. To a greater degree than the Jeremiah verse, this one has been made to say things I don’t think God ever intended.

First, as a reminder, here’s the verse:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Next we need to realize that “dwelling on these things” 24/7 is certainly not possible (because we’re asleep a part of that time, if nothing else). If all our thoughts were only to dwell on the things Paul listed, we could never comfort the grieving, speak encouragement to the depressed or hope to the lost. We’d have to confine our conversation to only the lovely, and there are a lot of unlovely things that a Christian should speak to: racism, abortion, homosexuality, gossip, complaining, lying, to name only a few.

The Bible itself clearly shines light on subjects that would not make the cut if Paul’s list was exhaustive for the believer.

So what does Philippians 4:8 refer to?

Remember, I’m in a minority of one, as far as I know, but I believe it is connected to the theme of the book—unity, and particularly the situation Paul addressed in verses 2 and 3:

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Many people assume Paul dropped this admonition in and then did a little Proverbs-style skipping around from point to point in the next six verses. I don’t think so. It doesn’t fit the style of this letter.

Rather, I think what follows are the points Paul wants his true companion to help Euodia and Syntyche with:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(Phil. 4:4-8)

Rejoicing, showing a gentle spirit, being anxious for nothing which will yield inner peace. And then the things upon which to put our minds. All for the sake of helping these women to get along.

Think about it. How much easier would it be for them to live in harmony if they are rejoicing in the Lord? How much easier if they showed gentle spirits? How much easier if they weren’t worried about what others say or whether they’ll get the work done or if she’s doing her share, or any of the other things people worry about when they work together.

And then the key verse: how could Euodia and Syntyche fight with each other if they were thinking only about what was true of the other woman, or honorable, or right, or pure, or lovely, or—now get this—of good repute! That is, what good things the other was known for.

Then the capper:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:9)

“The God of peace will get you past the quarrels and conflict, Euodia and Syntyche, so that you can live in harmony. This is what I want my true companion to help you figure out.”

So there’s my quirky understanding of Philippians 4:8. It’s not a catch-all command. Rather, it’s part of the recipe for unity, the way we as brothers and sisters in Christ can have harmony as we work side by side.

Published in: on January 22, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_MarshalI like the idea that mercy triumphs over judgment. It seems like something most people in western society embrace. We admire people who forgive, especially in the face of unjust hatred or abuse or mistreatment.

Take the story of Louie Zamperini depicted in the movie Unbroken. Why would that man’s life have such an impact on people today? I think in part because of the mercy and forgiveness he extended to his torturers. Yes, his strength and will to survive were admirable, but if his story had ended with the post traumatic stress he experienced and the drug and alcohol abuse he resorted to as a way to cope, I don’t think Unbroken would have been made.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. That phrase is actually a portion of a verse from the book of James. It’s the first part that gives it context:

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (2:13)

The discussion has been partiality—favoring the rich over the poor. James then builds the case that those engaged in favoritism are sinners. In contrast to that practice, Christians are to speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. Then verse 13.

So what is this law of liberty? I think it is the first part of verse 13: “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.”

Liberty? Well, yes. We liberate others from our judgment and we are liberated from bearing the responsibility of judging. The point James is making in this section is that we’re not to judge others based on things like how they dress or the gold they flash around for others to see. We’re not to judge the rich as more worthy of our time and attention, of our best service and favored place.

On the flip side, we are not to consider a poor person as unimportant, not worth our time, someone to be dismissed or kicked to the curb.

Verse 13 basically spells out the consequences for treating others that way: we will be judged without mercy if we show no mercy. If we show no mercy to the poor, we’ll receive no mercy in return. This thinking echoes what Jesus said as part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2)

In other words, the one judging others by what they wear and the gold they possess, will himself be judged by what he wears and what he owns.

If on the other hand, he refrains from judging others and accepts the poor as well as the rich, he himself well be judged by the standard of mercy he’s shown the poor.

This is a practical matter, I think. Too often in our pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualistic, entrepreneurial society we are quick to look at someone who is struggling and reach the conclusion they are drug addicts or lazy or shiftless or takers. I know people who don’t want to give to the homeless because “they’ll spend it on booze.”

I’m not saying we should start giving money to every beggar who asks for “bus fare to get home” or whatever the pitch might be. I am suggesting we should extend mercy instead of judgment—which to me means I should not assume the worst in people, especially in people less fortunate than me. It means I should consider taking Peter’s tact when he was faced with the beggar at the temple gate:

And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple.

When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!”

And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” (Acts 3:2-6)

OK, I’m not suggesting we can fix all the external problems of those with whom we come into contact—not our friends or co-workers or family, let alone strangers we encounter on the street. But we can give them what we do have—the love of Jesus.

How to demonstrate that love is something God needs to show us, but He never will if we’re mentally filing through our list of judgments against the person.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. If we wish mercy to be extended to us, why would we hold onto judgment of others?

Life Is Too Big

fortress-of-stone-5-979165-mI have a little life. By that I mean, my life is pretty uncomplicated. I work from home, don’t have a mortgage, live a fairly simple life with no ex’s or in-laws or extended family putting demands on me. And yet, at times I feel life is too big.

And that too needs explanation. For one, there’s so much to do. I’m certainly not saying I have more to do than other people, but the fact is, I’ve gotten myself into a variety of roles—administrator for the CSFF blog tour, regular contributor at Spec Faith, judge of an ACFW contest, organizer of the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction, freelance editor. and now workshop instructor at the Oregon Christian Writers conference.

Each of those roles—and I didn’t even include writing, either my fiction or non-fiction, or blogging—has various “stuff to do” attached to it. Sometimes, it all feels too big.

But more than that, I have a friend whose father just passed away, a couple I know who are both in the hospital—she with cancer and he with serious respiratory issues—another friend who’s husband is looking at a lung transplant, a neighbor whose daughter has an undiagnosed illness. Sometimes just the physical needs of people make life seem too big. Who can visit or write notes of consolation or even pray for everyone in need?

I haven’t even gotten to the spiritual needs or the emotional needs of people I’m privileged to have in my life.

How about the notes or emails or phone calls to those I care about—some friends I don’t want to lose, some relatives I dearly love.

All this in my little life.

Add in concerns, and even responsibilities as a good citizen, for my state and my nation and yes, the world. To be honest, my involvement at this level is small, mostly concentrated in prayer, though I try to stay informed, make every effort to vote, and do pay my taxes.

The sum total of it all makes it clear to me—life is too big.

I think it’s gotten bigger in the last two decades, what with the Internet and social media, which also carry wonderful advantages even as they increase the bigness of life.

I spent three years as a short term missionary in Guatemala and went for months not reading a newspaper (they were in Spanish and I’m not fluent) or watching TV. I didn’t know who was in the Super Bowl, what the President said in his State of the Union speech, or what movie had just been released.

I didn’t know what was happening in France or Israel or Cuba. Life was considerably smaller, and I suspect that’s the way life in the US used to be, too.

But now we are global and instant and connected.

It all feels too big to me.

It’s times like this that I am so thankful I have a big God. It’s sort of silly to call God “big” because He has no limit. Can Someone unlimited be measured and compared so He can be described as “big”? It doesn’t quite feel right, but the point, I guess, is that God is over, above, beyond, outside of all the other bigness of life.

He’s bigger than my concerns for my sick or grieving friends. He’s bigger than all the activities I’ve got on my to do list. He’s bigger than my concerns for the spiritual well-being of our nation, for the spiritual well-being of my neighbors and family and friends.

In many respects, I’m glad I’m aware that life is too big for me to handle because it presses me into the cleft of the Rock Who is higher than I.

I am so much more aware of my need for God when I am aware of how life is too big for me to take on by myself. Honestly, I can’t imagine how anyone manages without God. I mean, friends and loved ones can support and encourage and help, but life is too big for them too, so in the end we’re doing little more than shuffling the furniture around and hoping that makes life easier to manage. It doesn’t.

Only God, with His strength and understanding and plan and purpose, can make it all come out right. I don’t even know what “right” looks like. He does. He’s got the whole thing in His hand.

Published in: on January 20, 2015 at 6:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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Martin Luther King And Racial Divide

Martin_Luther_King,_Jr_.svgIn my community dominated by Hispanic Americans, I’m an ethnic minority. Perhaps that’s made me sensitive to the plight of Hispanics in America, especially with immigration reform having become such a hotbed issue.

Young Hispanic males are just as apt to be stopped by police and viewed with suspicion as African-Americans. The Oscar nominations that everyone complained about being so white, didn’t seem to have any Hispanic actors to consider!

The point is, while so much of the focus in the press here in the US has been about confrontations between police in Ferguson and New York with African Americans, the racial divide is much more complicated. Then too, it’s probably more accurate to call it splintered than divided.

Yesterday, my pastor pointed out as part of his sermon, passages in the New Testament that had radical overtones in first century Judea. When instructing the Church, the apostle Paul undercut the splinters and the divides separating people along racial, ethnic, gender, or economic lines. There is no Jew or Greek, he said, no slave or freeman, no male or female.

Obviously the Church had a wide variety of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, husbands and wives, rich and poor, so what was Paul going on about? He explains in his letter to the churches in the region of Galatia that believers in Jesus Christ experience a oneness, no matter what our outer circumstances might be:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

Christians are family. There isn’t going to be the Japanese church and the Irish church and the Russian church and the Brazilian church in heaven. We won’t congregate around the throne of God, situated according to our skin color. In fact, we won’t be ostracized by our language either.

Revelation tells us that no language or people group will be excluded:

“You [Jesus Christ] were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev. 5:9b-10)

Peter reinforced this Christian identity:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10).

I don’t see a racial divide there. Or a fractured family. Not in the hereafter, certainly, but not in the now either. John wrote emphatically that no one could say he loves God but hates his “brother”—another person belonging to Christ.

James called out those who were treating the rich in special ways and ignoring the poor or pushing them off to the side. His words were very much intended for instruction to Christians in the here and now.

All this to say, the Reverend Martin Luther King spoke of his hopes for America, and he led peaceful protest intending to draw attention to the changes that needed to be made. Today we commemorate him for the courageous steps he took—ones that cost him his life.

But in reality, the Church should already have been blind to the color of our skin, the differences in our ethnicity and our finances and our education. And whatever changes still need to be made should be made in the Church. Now.

How can we expect to spend eternity with people we don’t even want to sit next to in church?

Prejudice in the Church should be the greatest oxymoron imagined.

The watching world should look at the Church and see how we love one another.

How can those Jews and Arabs get along like that, they should be asking. How can those African-American and those Asian believers help each other and go to those Bible studies together? How can rich people and poor people find so much in common?

The answer ought to be this: we are simply mirroring the actions of our Savior who loved indiscriminately, who made provision to win the nations, who declared His work at the cross to be all-encompassing—in fact, for the world.

God’s plans were always for His people to represent Him on earth: Adam, Israel, Christ, the Church. As cliche as it has become, today we are His hands and feet.

Which leaves no place for racial fractures or divides.

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