For Me . . . What’s My Focus?



We live in such a “me” era, which started with the “Me Generation” back in the 1970s and has only escalated with the Generation Me of the following decade. So I hesitated to feature the words “For Me” in the title of this post. On one hand the phrase seems quite contemporary, but does it fit with what God’s word has to say?

Actually “For me” is the beginning of one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known statements recorded in the Bible: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 – Most translations say, “For to me . . .” but the difference doesn’t seem to affect the meaning). In other words, the concept of focusing on the individual has a place in Scripture. Essentially Paul was making a declaration about his life—what he valued, what was of utmost importance to him, and the short version that encapsulated the focus and direction of who he was, could be summarized in one word: Christ.

Recently I heard a sermon that turned that question back onto the hearer, or onto those reading Paul’s statement. If I were writing the line, when I came to, “For me, to live is ___,” how would I fill in the blank?

Would a truthful answer be something like, For me, to live is being a writer? Or since I’m such a sports fan and am so excited for the beginning of the new NFL season, would the truthful statement be, For me, to live is football. There are lots of options. For me, to live is my family. For me, to live is fiction. For me, to live is reading.

Obviously there are many good things that can fit into the blank, but none more significant than Paul’s original statement. Nothing is better than Christ. Not good story telling. Not art. Not speculative fiction. Not any of the things we so often make our focus, the things we write about and value.

Paul’s statement, instead of encouraging us to fit Christ in with our passion (I can fit Christ into my passion for football by praying for the players, for example), challenges us to live in such a way that Christ becomes our main focus.

Narrowing our focus in that way can be hard. We love our family. We love our pet. We love our job. We love our community of people who think as we do and have a passion similar to our own. In short we love our speculative world.

I love storytelling. I love competition. I love to discuss and debate. I love pizza. I love fantasy. I love the Dodgers. I love the Denver Broncos. I love my friends and family.

The question is, do any of the things I love become the thing I live for? For me, to live is ___. Where does my love for my favorite things fit into the eternal scheme of things? Would I rather have Christ than football? Than fantasy?

I don’t believe for one minute that imagination is evil or that speculative stories, by nature of their inventiveness, are evil. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that Adam and Eve, who were part of the world that God called “very good” had no imagination, and there’s nothing in Scripture to tie the fall of humankind to acquiring an imagination. So I have to conclude that our imagination is God-given.

On the other hand, we know from any number of passages, that sin changed the color of our life. We don’t simply have a dirty spot that needs to be erased. Instead we are scarlet, and it colors our will and our intentions and our preferences and, yes, our imagination. But ditching our imagination does not deal with the problem. Only Christ’s blood shed on the cross can wash us so that what was scarlet becomes white as snow (Is 1:18).

He didn’t wash only our will. Or only our preferences. He washed even our imagination. But just as our will must be brought under subjection to Him, so our imagination must be brought under subjection to Him.

In fact, if we can say with Paul, For me, to live is Christ, than there’s nothing that we ought not bring under His rule and sway. In other words, for me, I’d rather obey Christ than read fantasy, than watch football, than spend time with friends. Or at least that’s where I should be.

This article is a revised version of my post this week at Speculative Faith.

Advertisements
Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

What’s Been Happening Since



Last October, a friend of mine died of cancer. In early December, another friend’s husband died from a rather rare lung disease. Just this month, the wife of a former colleague and of two former students passed away as a result of brain cancer.

The reality of life is that we die.

Except I didn’t. Not yet.

I could have died and many people do die as a result of a stroke and/or a heart attack.

Nothing I did separated me from my friends that have gone on ahead of me into heaven. I’m alive today by God’s mercy and grace. My time is in His hands, and the end of my days in the here and now simply hasn’t arrived yet.

I say all this because I want it to be clear that I didn’t survive because I have some magic bullet or pipeline to God. I survived because He wanted me to. I could have just as easily succumbed to my physical ailments as survive. But in response to my call for help, in response to the prayers of His children, and in the perfect working of His sovereign will, I survived.

But I didn’t just survive. I’m recovering from the stroke. It’s not like getting over the flu, but there’s no doubt I’m stronger every day.

I’ve had such tremendous support, not the least of which are the prayers of many. Some of the people who have given me help, I know either in person, or on-line, or from some time in the past. Some, I’ve never met! Imagine that! I tend to think that’s a work of the family of Christ, caring for a sister in need.

So this past month, I’ve been surrounded by people who have prayed faithfully, and have done the work of providing for what I need.

I live on my own in an upstairs apartment. So right after I was discharged from the hospital, friends invited me to stay with them over the weekend to re-hab a bit as a transition. When I came home, they sent me with enough food for that first week. Then a group of former students who had organized to take care of my grocery needs, stepped forward. They have taken turns to bring me what I’ve needed each week.

A writer friend headed up a Go Fund Me page to help provide for my needs while I’m not working. Another couple friends have given me rides to the doctor or pharmacy. A neighbor has taken out my trash, done my laundry, vacuumed my living room. Another friend changed light bulbs. And people have called, sent cards, texted, offered help. Others have provided monetarily through other means.

Friends have stepped up and covered for commitments I couldn’t keep. And above all, people have prayed. I can’t emphasize this enough. God wants to involve His people in His work, whether through our prayers, giving, or doing. He uses those who are available to Him.

I am blessed. And also mindful that God has more He wants me to do.

So I’m in the process of recovery, adding daily to my endurance and to what I can do on my own. It’s not easy. My head says I’m ready to do it all, but my body isn’t quite there yet. Close. And progressing. But the things I can do still take longer than I want, and I’m not able to do all I think I should be doing.

But a number of good counselors have reminded me to take my recovery one day at a time, and not try to get everything back all at once. My head says, “Go for it,” my heart says, “You can do it,” my body says, “Hold on, that’s enough.” So my physical therapist said, I need to listen to my body.

Knowing how much to push and how much to “listen to my body” is now the trick. But by God’s grace, I’m better today than I was yesterday. May His name be praised.

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Comments (16)  
Tags: , , ,

You Reap What You Sow


My church is doing this cool thing—have been for more than a year now. We as a congregation are invited to read a passage of Scripture together. One person from our body has been asked to write a meditation on the passage, so we read that too.

Why I think it’s so cool is that so many in the church are reading the same verses or chapter every day. We can also leave comments so if we want to pass along what impacted us the most, we can.

I had the April 2 mediation. Currently we are reading a Psalm Monday through Friday, and a portion of a chapter in Proverbs on Saturday and Sunday. So the section of Scripture I had was Proverbs 11:20-31.

I have to say, I find the Proverbs difficult to write about because the topic from verse to verse can change. It’s not easy to write in a cohesive way about verses that don’t necessarily hang together.

All that to say, I put more prayer into this meditation than just about anything else I’ve written. Praise God that He hears and answers prayer.

First the verses I was writing about (in the NASB), followed by my meditation.

20 The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD,
But the blameless in their walk are His delight.
21 Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,
But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.
22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout
So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.
23 The desire of the righteous is only good,
But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24 There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more,
And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.
25 The generous man will be prosperous,
And he who waters will himself be watered.
26 He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,
But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.
27 He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,
But he who seeks evil, evil will come to him.
28 He who trusts in his riches will fall,
But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.
29 He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,
And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls.
31 If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth,
How much more the wicked and the sinner! (Proverbs 11:20-31)

Much of Proverbs 11:20-31 could be summed up with the adage, “You reap what you sow.” When I was young, I wanted to reap good things, so I thought the natural course of action was to sow good things.

Consequently, when I was in fifth grade, I decided I should befriend a new student who other kids treated badly. Except, I hadn’t counted on the scorn and derision that would be heaped on me as a result.

That experience was my introduction to the idea that Biblical principles didn’t always “work.”

Of course, I was thinking short term, for the here and now. And I was trying to work the system. I was trying to make good things happen in my life by being “a good Christian.” When the outcome wasn’t what I expected, I bailed. To my shame, I turned from friend to one of the tormentors of that poor, lonely boy.

In reality, I was ignorant of the first verse of this passage—the part that tells us “the LORD abhors those who are perverse in heart.” In the original, “perverse” has the idea of “twisted,” the way I twisted the “reap what you sow” idea into “sow to get what you want.”

We are not to sow in order to get what we want. That’s manipulation. We are not to be generous, as a number of these verses say, because we want to get back more in return.

True generosity isn’t about getting. That’s twisted thinking. Perverse. The thing the LORD abhors.

Published in: on April 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , , ,

God’s Indictment Of His People


Old_Testament sacrificesThe books of prophecy are filled with warnings–some against the nations surrounding Israel and Judah, but most directed at God’s chosen people themselves. Micah is no exception, but the things he points up seem a little different.

Others, like Isaiah and Hosea and Jeremiah seem to focus most on God’s people forsaking Him by worshiping idols or by not keeping His Sabbath or by mistreating the orphans and widows and strangers.

Micah, on the other hand, focuses more on the restoration. Israel, God’s chosen people, will face a day of reckoning, but redemption will follow. Nevertheless, God indicts them for some pointed things: cheating in business, bribery, lying to one another, and violence.

Here’s a sample:

Now hear this, heads of the house of Jacob
And rulers of the house of Israel,
Who abhor justice
And twist everything that is straight,
Who build Zion with bloodshed
And Jerusalem with violent injustice.
Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe,
Her priests instruct for a price
And her prophets divine for money.
Yet they lean on the Lord saying,
“Is not the Lord in our midst?
Calamity will not come upon us.”
Therefore, on account of you
Zion will be plowed as a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest. (3:9-12 – emphasis mine)

A few chapters later Micah points out to the people that they can’t bring enough offering to make right what they’ve done.

With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (6:6-7)

Rather God has made plain what He expects:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

We can’t earn a place with God by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with Him, but we can live up to our relationship with Him by practicing those things.

The relationship, interestingly enough, comes because God did what was needed—He paid that insurmountable price which thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil couldn’t satisfy. He presented His Son for my rebellious acts, for the sin of my soul.

With my certificate of debt canceled, nailed to the cross, I can “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:10).

What does that look like? Well, Micah said it, didn’t he. God has told us what is good, what He requires of us: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in May 2013. The YouTube music video below is a new addition.

Abiding In Christ


My church has a candidate for senior pastor, Darin McWatters, and it turns out he was a guest speaker at our church last July. I even wrote a blog article based on one of the three sermons he preached that month.

In his first message Pastor McWatters spoke from John 15, particularly these verses:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me (vv 1-4).

I’m not going to go into everything he said (I just watched the video last week, so it’s fresh in my mind), but he gave one illustration that I think will stay with me for a long time. He came to the point where Jesus said we are to “abide” in Christ, which he said means essentially to stay. But the original carries the idea of actively staying. It’s not a passive, do-nothing role.

In other words, we aren’t to stay in the “hands off the wheel” sense of the word. But what does actively staying look like?

Pastor McWatters said it can be likened to aerial refueling of fighter planes which both the US Navy and the US Air Force use. I did a little checking and learned that there are two types of aerial refueling processes: the probe-and-drogue system used by the Navy, and the flying-boom system used by the Air Force.

It is the latter that our speaker referenced, and it certainly seems like an apropos illustration of actively staying.

With the flying-boom system, the fuel tanker goes on autopilot at the appropriate speed and altitude, but the plane receiving the fuel remains hand-flown. In other words, it’s the job of the pilot of the plane receiving fuel to match the speed and altitude of the tanker, and to stay in the proper alignment while the boom is attached and the fuel dispensed.

An article describing the process said it’s essentially the same skill needed when pilots fly their planes in formation.

In either case, the job is anything but kicking back and letting come what may. There has to be a great deal of work involved to stay at the proper distance and to maintain proper air speed and control, especially if unexpected turbulence should buffet the aircraft.

In the same way, believers are to abide in Christ. He is the constant. We are the ones tasked to “stand firm” as Paul phrased it. We are to be in proper alignment, which certainly is the work of Jesus at the cross. He spilled His blood for the forgiveness of sins. He made it possible for us to be born again, to have new life, to be adopted as children of God.

But fruit-bearing, which is what Jesus was talking to His disciples about the night before He went to the cross, requires us to abide. To actively stay.

I think about the Jewish Christians the book of Hebrews was written to. They had certain expectations about this Messiah they had put their faith in—one being that He would return soon. When that didn’t happen, some considered turning back, leaving their new faith, and returning to their old way of working to fulfill the Law.

The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to stay the course, to keep going in the Way. One way they were to accomplish this was to take heed to God’s word:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (2:1)

Another way that we believers can “hold fast” is by encouraging each other. The writer of Hebrews says we are to do so day after day so that we won’t be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I take this kind of encouragement to be more than sideline cheerleading. I think it’s a constant, continual reminder of why Jesus Christ is trustworthy. The fact that we are to counter the “deceitfulness” of sin implies that we are to offer the truth of righteousness: we have it because of Jesus Christ and would have none of it apart from Him.

In terms of the aerial refueling illustration, if we don’t abide, don’t stay aligned with the tanker, we might be able to keep going on our own for a little while, but eventually we’ll run out of fuel. Our brothers and sisters in the faith can help us by reminding us that we need fuel, that the source of fuel is within reach, that it’s worth staying where we’ll get the fuel we need.

Third, we are to “hold fast our confession.” I take this to mean we are to refuse to go back on our word. Our confession of faith is our decision to trust Jesus to forgive us our sins and to put us in right relationship with God.

For years I questioned my confession of faith. Did I really mean it when I repented of my sins? I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t sense the Holy Spirit in my life. Nothing seemed all that different. So did my confession of faith “take”? Just to be sure, I made several more confessions of faith. I was where a lot of those Jews were that the the writer of Hebrews was talking to:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

That brings me to the final point for today: discerning good and evil. We can abide in Christ when we discern which way we need to go when turbulence buffets us. Do we need to correct to the right so we won’t be carried off line? Do we need more speed because we’re headed into the wind? We need discernment. What is evil and what is good.

That could be a blog post all on its own, and maybe it will be someday. At any rate, the concept of abiding in Christ has a lot more to it than “just staying.” For starters it means to pay attention to God’s word, to encourage (and be encouraged by) other believers, to keep to the confession of my faith, and to discern evil and good.

Published in: on March 29, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments Off on Abiding In Christ  
Tags: , , , ,

Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt my church we take communion every fourth Sunday of the month. Communion is one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So I’ve been thinking about Psalm 103 ever since one of our guests preached from the first three verses. The key verse is, “Bless the Lord, O my soul / And forget none of His benefits” (v 2; emphasis mine, here and below).

That verse is the flip side of Psalm 77 in which the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Don’t forget, do remember.

In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel, but also features their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking some time ago that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling—specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

Decision Making


Whether we like it or not, we all need to make decisions of one kind or another. Some choices, like when to get up in the morning or whether to shower before heading out the door, don’t seem like decisions any more because we’ve done them so long they’ve become a habit.

Mixed in with those automatic decisions are hundreds of smaller ones we make without realizing we are. Do I stop three feet behind the car in front of me or seven? Do I wear the blue or the black? Do I have a piece of toast with my cereal or not? Do I stop at the post office on my way to work or after? Do I take a jacket? And on and on.

Besides these daily, almost trivial decisions, are the Big Decisions of Life—who to marry, what school to attend, what job to apply for. Then there are the life changing decisions—will I read God’s Word today? Who should I pray for? How should I pray?

Interestingly, the Old Testament gives us three kings of Israel who model different decision-making styles. First was King David. He repeatedly went to God and asked for specific leading. Should he go up against this army, should he stay in that city? In return, God answered him quite specifically, at one point even giving instructions about setting up an ambush.

David wasn’t perfect. He didn’t ask God about how he should bring the ark into the place he prepared for it, for example, and a man died as a result. But on the whole, as God indicated, David was a man after God’s own heart. Despite his sin with Bathsheba and the resulting death of her husband, God said David’s heart was “wholly devoted to the Lord his God” and that he followed the Lord fully.

1 Samuel 17 tells us “the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day [of his anointing] forward.” David, then, had the Spirit of God and he inquired of God. He remained faithful to God, loving and serving Him to the end.

His son Solomon who took the throne next, encountered God and when given the opportunity to ask for anything he desired, asked for wisdom. God granted that request, but nowhere does Scripture say His Spirit came upon Solomon. He, too, made mistakes, marrying foreign women and setting up places of worship for their gods. When he was confronted, he did not repent as David had, but remained resistant. In summary, he had God’s wisdom, but he relied on himself. As a result of his decisions, he brought God’s displeasure.

The third king is Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. He was confronted with a decision right away–should he lighten the load of servitude on the people as they asked? He had the elders who counseled his father and he asked them what he should do. Yes, lighten the burden, they advised. Apparently Rehoboam didn’t like that answer because he turned around and asked a group of counselors his own age. Be tougher than your father, they said. And that’s the path Rehoboam decided to follow. The result of that decision was civil war.

Three kings. Three methods of decision making:

  • David, filled with God’s Spirit, inquired of God.
  • Solomon, gifted with God’s wisdom, followed the influence of his wives
  • Rehoboam, provided with the counsel of elders, listened to the counselors who told him what he wanted to hear

The most apparent thing in the decision-making process of these kings seems to me to be whether or not they were filled with God’s Spirit.

It’s instructive to look at a fourth king at this point—King Saul. Scripture tells us the Spirit of God also came upon him, though He did not stay. Why? Saul inquired of God, heard what He had to say, then did as he pleased. In practice he behaved more like Rehoboam than like David.

Decision making? I’d say David should be the model. Though he was far from perfect, he had a right relationship with God, and more often than not he asked God what he was to do. When he sinned, he repented and turned from his wicked ways. As a result, his life is marked largely by trust and obedience.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in November 2012.

Truth And Love


Instead of starting with Love or even with Truth, I want to start with a discussion of post-truth.

Post-truth: adjective

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’ (English Oxford Living Dictionaries)

As it happens, the Oxford Dictionary picked post-truth as their Word of the Year for 2016. Fitting, some might say. Truth is having a hard time because so many politicians and media people and Washington insiders lie regularly.

But there’s more to that definition: in place of facts we’re apparently forming our opinions based on our beliefs. Which implies that our beliefs are already divorced from facts. So we’re believing something because . . . ? What’s the basis for our beliefs if not something we can label as True?

Are we believing what makes us feel good? I believe I’ll win the lottery. I believe it will not rain this weekend. I believe the Dodgers will win the World Series this year. I believe I’ll sell my fantasy series for a six figure advance. Silly stuff, that. Those aren’t beliefs, though they’ve been framed as belief statements. They would more accurately be called wishful thinking or pipe dreams—unattainable, unlikely, or fanciful desires.

Truth is not part of that kind of wishful thinking.

But clearly our society has moved belief out of the camp of truth and into the camp of post-truth.

Yet Jesus, standing with his disciples turned to Thomas, the doubter, and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6; emphasis mine) He went on to say that if they’d seen Him, they’d seen the Father. So Jesus is Truth, ergo, God is Truth. Essentially He said, You’re looking at God, who happens to be Truth.

But God is also Love. As it happens, Jesus is the proof, the evidence, the tipping point that demonstrates God’s attribute of Love:

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10; emphasis mine).

In other words, when God sent Jesus, He demonstrated to the world that He is Love.

How so? Because He stood in the gap for the world, according to John 3:16. “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.” We on our part must do nothing but believe. God, manifesting His Person as Love, sent His Son to do what we could not do for ourselves.

We could not deal with the sin in our lives and in the world. We could not bridge the gap between us and God. We could only suffer the consequences for sin: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

So why the big deal that God is Truth and that God is Love?

In our post-truth culture, we live as if the truth and love are mutually exclusive. If I have the truth and you disagree with me, then you are engaging in hate! Of course, my truth might not be your truth unless you say that your truth is absolute and unshakeable and eternal. Such a statement marks you as a hater because the only truth we can know for sure is that there is no absolute truth. How we know this has never been explained, but our post-truth society embraces it.

But what if we Christians step out and do the ministry of reconciliation in our communities and families—what if we Love in Truth and what if we speak Truth in Love? What if we show by our lives that God is Truth and God is Love; what if we, His children who house His Spirit, reflect His qualities by what we say and do?

Too often people look at Christians and see us at war with our culture. Or they see us withdrawing from our culture. We either embrace Truth and seek to stand by it or die trying. Or we embrace Love and shy away from anything that could offend or stir up ill will or that could be misunderstood. We want above all to clasp hands with our neighbors in hopes that they realize we love them because of God’s love (which we never talk about because *gasp* we might offend someone) in us.

Or we retreat into our own. We trust Team Jesus, and we’d just as soon keep all our dealings with the home team. No offense. We’d just rather not have to deal with, you know, The World. That’s one of the enemies, right up there with The Flesh, which we pretend has disappeared when we became Christians, and The Devil, which we must guard against. So, to avoid fighting battles on two fronts, we’ll separate ourselves from The World.

It’s not quite that simple.

The World doesn’t refer to the latest movies or songs on iTunes. It doesn’t refer to today’s fads and fashions in clothes or piercings or tattoos. It refers to the system by which the world operates. The system that opposes God, that denies The Truth about God, that lies about who we are and how we got here and why we exist.

We can only counter The World by submerging ourselves in The Truth and engaging those who need to hear it with the same love Christ had for us while we were yet sinners. In other words, we must be proactive, not reactive.

We must not play favorites with God’s nature. His Truth can’t be ignored. His Love can’t be ignored. Otherwise we’re representing a God who doesn’t actually exist. He’s not a kindly grandfather trying to give every boy and girl a lollipop and a pat on the head. His Love is radical and dangerous and transformative.

As is His Truth. But His Truth does not make God hard-nosed, unkind, or insensitive. He isn’t a drill sergeant waiting for recruits to mess up so he can send them on a night run as punishment. He isn’t playing some game of “gotcha.”

No. His Truth is fueled by His Love. And Jesus exemplifies both.

Now it’s our turn—those who believe in Jesus—to go out into the world and preach Jesus as The Turth which the post-truth generation needs, and to do so in The Love that will enable them to hear what we’re saying.

– – – – – –

For more on Truth and Love see this RZIM article, “Truth Or Love: What’s Your Choice?”

Published in: on March 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm  Comments Off on Truth And Love  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Purpose Of Prayer


I don’t understand much about prayer and its purpose. In fact, for years my prayer life was … sad.

For the longest time, I prayed pretty much for no other reason than that Scripture tells us to pray. From my experience, it seemed mostly like a crap shoot as to whether or not God would give me what I asked for.

When I was a kid, I prayed for things like a bike—didn’t get one until I was in junior high and then we lived where there was no place to ride.

As a young adult, I prayed for things like our friend who mysteriously disappeared one Sunday morning, never to be found again.

Later I prayed for a spouse. I’m still single. I prayed for people to get well who died, and for others, who lived. I prayed for families to stay together that split up.

As a teacher I prayed for my classes and my lesson prep and my work load, and I was never sure when God answered. When things went well, was it because of His provision or the natural course of things? When they went badly, was He telling me I’d neglected something I was supposed to be doing?

At some point, I pretty much stopped trying to figure prayer out. I knew what it wasn’t. It was not God’s vending machine—insert faith, push the desired prayer button, wait for answer to automatically spit out.

Prayer as vending machine had been my philosophy when our friend went missing. I knew God was powerful enough to bring her back, whole and healthy, even. I believed He wanted to protect her and to return her to her role as a pastor’s wife. I asked, believing she would be found. I fully expected it. But days turned into weeks, then years, and eventually it was clear God had not answered my prayer—at least not by giving me what I requested. Now I understand that’s not the way prayer works.

In fact, prayer doesn’t “work” as if it’s a tool to fix what’s broken. Rather, prayer is our “spiritual media” (in contrast to our ever demanding social media)—our means of communicating with God.

So I guess that defines at least part of prayer’s purpose. God wants us first and foremost to talk to Him. I mean, we’re in a relationship. Healthy relationships need healthy communication. Clearly, communication involves a lot more than simply asking for things.

I find it interesting that there were times in Scripture God said He wouldn’t hear His people’s prayers. In other places, however, He seemed to promise answers. If two or three are gathered in His name, if we have the faith of a mustard seed, if we pray without any doubt, if we pray according to His will.

That last point is a stickler. How are we to know His will? Does He want my friend to be healed of cancer or does He want to glorify Himself by how she approaches death? How am I to pray? Or is my every prayer to be, This is what I want God, nevertheless not my will be done, but Yours.

If so, aren’t we back to the crap shoot idea since I really don’t know how to pray or what God plans?

Here’s the shocking thing I’ve learned in the last few years. When it comes to asking for things, God has told us in Scripture what things He wills. Over and over He’s told us.

But silly me, I persist in asking for things without having a clue what God wants instead of asking for the enduring provisions God wants to give me.

Look at this one passage in the book of James, and think how life-changing it could be if I were to pray for these things that I know are God’s will:

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded.

Or how about this from Philippians:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intend on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others.

And later in the same chapter:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.

Prayer changes things, I’m convinced. Until recently, though, I don’t think I understood what things God wants to change most of all.

Sure, in answer to prayer He could have changed Jesus’s status as the Suffering Servant who would die to redeem mankind. He didn’t because He knew the stakes. And Jesus knew to pray, “Not My will but Yours” because He knew the stakes, too.

He also knew His Father to be good, to be loving and merciful. So He put His trust in the Father’s will.

The purpose of prayer? First as communication between us and the Father. I think God wants us to pour our our heart to Him, to unload our burdens, to plead with Him for comfort or strength or even for change. We know God hears, but like a kind Father, He will only give us what is good for us.

But of equal importance, a key purpose of prayer is as a means for us to be involved with God to accomplish His will—things we know He wants because He has stated them in Scripture. These things we can pray knowing God hears and answers, though we may never see the outcome. God’s time is not ours, just as His ways are not ours. But praying with perseverance means we wait eagerly for God’s perfect answer.

This post is a an updated and revised edition of one that first appeared here in May 2011—because I still need to re-read thoughts on prayer.

Published in: on January 23, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Holy Habits


prayer handsWhen I was growing up, rebellion was the in thing. Teen angst, questioning the establishment, finding fault in every “meaningless” adult action–these were the norm.

A good number of us Christians didn’t buy into all these challenges to society, but culture seeped into my thinking regardless. One way this became apparent was in questioning the value of doing things by rote. Rather, everything was to be authentic, transparent, significant. And what was the worth of doing things over and over simply because we’ve always done them?

Significance, of course, is important, as opposed to doing something for show. Yet some things don’t reveal their value immediately. Unfortunately, my generation expected instantaneous results. If something didn’t have apparent worth right then, it was shuttled off to the side.

Note the word “apparent” in that statement. Unfortunately, if something is not perceived to have immediate value, then the conclusion is, it doesn’t have any.

When it comes to being a Christian, here are some of the things I grew up with: church, Sunday school, evening Sunday service, youth group, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Youth for Christ or Young Life, family devotions, prayer before meals twice a day (three times during the summers when we were home at noon), vacation Bible school.

Mind you, nothing is sacred about any of those things, except assembling with believers in worship, which Scripture tells us not to stop doing. Yet, there is an advantage in developing holy habits. Each of those activities I remember from my growing up years served to reinforce what I knew and was learning about God. That these activities were important to my parents said something too.

Sadly, for too many of the adults, they were simply going through the motions, or they could have answered the questions about purpose and significance their teens were asking. They could have demonstrated authenticity, had their holy habits carried real meaning.

Instead, those holy habits started to fade. First to go was prayer meeting, then evening church. Pretty soon, showing up for a church service once in a while seemed to become the norm. Happily Bible studies and fellowship groups have risen more recently to take the place of some of the other activities.

Through it all, I’ve learned that nothing substitutes for personal holy habits.

I wondered and questioned, more than I care to relive, the value of reading the Bible when “I wasn’t getting anything out of it.” My mind would drift when I prayed, and I felt frustrated when I found myself faced with the same requests week after week.

Yet here I am years later, with such a different attitude toward spending time in God’s word and in prayer. When did this change happen? Somewhere in the midst of the routine of pulling out my Bible first thing every morning. The change didn’t happen because of something I did, and there was no switch God flipped inside me.

Rather, the holy habit of spending time with God, even when I didn’t feel like it, had a transforming effect. Or more accurately, God’s presence in His Word and by His Spirit made the time with Him increasingly more significant.

Yes, holy habits can be routine and seem mundane, but like any other habit, the value comes with time. Establishing the habit may be hard, but enjoying it once it’s in place—that’s priceless.

This post is a re-print of one that first appeared here in December 2012—because I needed to re-read it.