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)  
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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.

Traditions Of Men


One of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote was to the church in Colossae in which he said those believers should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8).

There are a lot of parallels with that church and with Christians today in the west. As such we can look at Paul’s instruction and admonition to them about how to conduct themselves in the world and learn what we should be doing today.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a knowledgeable PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference a number of years ago, explained that she anchored her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, those of us who work in the public arena need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, who are decidedly different from regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men.

I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes.

He did that with Abraham; then with Jacob when he worked for Laban; in Joseph’s day, He again did so in Egypt; and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites, God again had them make use of the culture they were dispossessing.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense—the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king—their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement—“See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

This post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in September 2011.

Published in: on January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Opportunities Of Christmas


mary_and_baby_jesus017On Sunday, our fill-in speaker at church, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, delivered an unusual Christmas sermon. His key points were anchored by John 12:31-32.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Jesus was speaking about His own death. He declared that two things would occur: 1) judgment upon this world and the ruler of this world would be cast out, and 2) He, Jesus, would be lifted up.

First, “this world” refers to the world system that opposes God, His will, and His way. It’s one of the three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The one who is the mastermind of all the world systems that oppose God is Satan, but it is the system or systems he’s behind that entice us to sin.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis was masterful in showing that what particular system the tempter used was not the issue. Whatever pulls a person’s eyes off God, works just fine. So someone with the wealth of the world, like Solomon, is vulnerable, as is the poorest of the poor such as the beggar Lazarus.

So Jesus’s coming initiated judgment upon the world system that tries to squeeze God from our consciousness.

Christmas affords the believer the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are siding with Jesus when it comes to casting out the ruler of the world, when it comes to standing against the world system. Oh, someone may say, you’re talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, about refusing to replace Him with Santa.

Well, no, I’m not. The world system isn’t about Santa.

It’s actually about ME.

It’s about looking at the world with the idea of seeing what I can get out of every situation, every circumstance. What’s in it for me? Am I getting what I deserve?

Trying to discern our own motives is hard. Do I want to postpone the meeting because I have something else I want to do that day or because I think it will fit everyone else’s needs more? Do I want to sign up for the prayer team instead of serving in the homeless shelter because it means less travel for me or because I think I’m more fitted for that ministry? You see, even in doing “good things” we can have our eyes firmly fixed on ourselves because the world system tells us it’s all about us.

It’s all about us, and it’s all up to us. We simply have to look within. We have to find our inner strength, because whatever we put our minds to, we can do. Whatever we want to make of ourselves, we can make it happen.

Not really.

But that’s what our world system says over and over and over.

It also says that a person is more valuable if they have all the right bells and whistles. Do you have the newest car, the latest technology, the most up-to-date software? Are your clothes in style? Did you get a really cool gift for Christmas? Dr. Muehlhoff touched a nerve when he mentioned that one.

When I was growing up, we were very middle class. Perhaps low middle class, but I never felt poor. Still, my parents were frugal, because we had been poor. So I generally wore hand-me-downs, and our parents never gave us extravagant gifts for Christmas. We often got practical things—socks, pajamas, that sort of thing.

So going back to school after Christmas vacation was always a challenge because kids would always ask, What did you get for Christmas? I wanted to be able to answer without making my Christmas sound lame.

The thing is, I really didn’t feel deprived for not getting some hot new fad item. I generally didn’t ask for things that I knew were beyond the price my parents usually spent on us at Christmas. But I dreaded telling my classmates what I thought they would look down on.

That’s the world system—gifts have to be of a certain caliber to be considered worth. Really?

That’s the world system that attacks our contentment, that judges according to monetary value, not according to heart intention or thoughtfulness or sacrifice.

Of course all these years later, our culture has become exponentially more hedonistic. Is it fun, is it entertaining—these questions override, can we afford it. Because we can afford anything simply by putting “it” on the credit card. One statistic Dr. Muehlhoff gave was that what the average person spends for Christmas this year via credit card, will take four years to pay off. Of course, they’re still paying off last year’s Christmas, and the one before that, and the one before that, so it is an ever increasing problem.

This consumerism, this hedonism, this ME-ism are reflective of the world system—Satan’s schemes to keep us away from what God wants, and Jesus came, in part, to bring the world and the ruler of this world, under judgment.

As Christmas, ought we who follow Jesus not stand against the world, at least a little?

The second thing Jesus said was that He would be lifted up, with the end result that He would draw all men to Himself.

The next question seems obvious: we who follow Christ are lifting up Jesus in what way?

To be honest, I didn’t like Dr. Muehlhoff’s ideas on this one. Everything he mentioned, someone who was an atheist or a Buddhist could do. On the other hand, at the Atheist/theist Facebook group, someone posted a video of an obnoxious pastor (self-identified) who went into a mall where kids and their parents were waiting to get their pictures taken with Santa, and became shouting that Santa was a lie, that the parents were lying to their children, that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa.

Is that what lifting up Jesus looks like?

I don’t think so.

I keep thinking of the disciples who confronted the beggar by saying, I don’t have any gold or silver, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.

I wish I could lift up Jesus’s name like that!! I mean, I can’t imagine someone who just received the ability to walk not wanting to know about this person named Jesus whose name made his healing possible.

So I can’t heal. Does that mean I can’t lift up Jesus’s name?

I think the key is the first part of the answer those disciples gave: I don’t have what you’re asking for, but I’ll give you what I can. I’ve always looked at it like, you want this thing you think you need, but I’ll give you something better. But why not accept it at face value. What if they had silver and gold, would they have given that instead of the healing?

I don’t think the key is in trying to give people the greatest thing they need. I think it’s in putting them before God and asking Him how I can lift up Christ before them.

So no one answer. But an awareness that lifting up Christ is the goal, and the greatest gift possible for Christmas.

The Election From Hell


electoralcollege2000-large-bushred-goreblueI thought it was bad when Florida was re-counting their votes for President back in 2000. For days we saw video on the news of election officials holding up ballots and trying to determine if an indentation or a puncture with a hanging chad was sufficient to indicate a vote. The networks all inappropriately called Florida for Vice President Gore while their polls were still open. There were accusations of voting rights violations and of biased state supreme court action, of “butterfly ballots” that caused confused voters to mark their ballots incorrectly, and assertions that attempts had been made to suppress military mail in ballots.

That’s the tip of the iceberg, but all of it pales in comparison to this year’s election. Not because the voting was so close but because the results were so unpalatable to many on the losing side. As time passes, things have become worse, not better. Yes, the protest marches seem to have died away, but the legal wrangling may have just begun. First the Green Party candidate demanded a recount in Wisconsin, then in two other states. Next Sec. Clinton joined in—just to make sure the process was up and up.

Mr. Trump responded—which he seems sure to do whenever he feels attacked—by accusing three states of wide voter fraud that denied him “millions” of votes. He has given no details. But others have—suggesting illegal immigrants may have voted and that people who have died also (miraculously) voted.

Some have once again taken up the call to do away with the Electoral College and go with a straight popular vote. Others say that some states voting electronically were hacked.

Above—or more accurately, below—it all are supporters of Hillary Clinton who have unfriended people on Facebook, and worse, broken relationship with actual friends and even family members. This after thousands of students (including high schoolers too young to vote) took to the streets, blocking traffic and vandalizing businesses. Sandwiched in between marches were attacks on individuals and on mosques by those using racial or religious slurs.

The point is, people don’t seem to be calming down. They seem to be intent on making the transition from President Obama’s administration to the Trump-Pence administration as rocky as it can be.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure breaking relationship isn’t a solution.

Christians above all should work toward reconciliation, not division. Christians should openly and loudly decry verbal or physical attacks on others—which this election has seemed to unleash. We should be at the mosques and synagogues helping to paint over the slurs. We should be telling those involved in racist behavior that there is no place in America for that kind of treatment of anyone.

When I grew up, we were taught that America, imperfect though it was, was a melting pot, benefiting from the people all over the world who came here at great risk because they wanted freedom and a chance to work hard and become more.

That “American Dream” is really the reality of the Christian Church. We are believers from all over the world who are part of a family. We have freedom in Christ, and all we want is to work for His kingdom. We are rich and poor, persecuted and free, of African descent and Asian.

Christianity Today recently had an article about the flourishing of Christianity in India, for example:

Christianity Today circled India from north to south and back again for two weeks in order to witness the innovative and successful mission efforts of Indian evangelicals—this, despite rising persecution from Hindu nationalists. In fact, evangelical leaders across India agree that their biggest challenge is not restrictions on religious freedom, but training enough pastors to disciple the surge of new believers from non-Christian backgrounds. (“Incredible Indian Christianity”)

Christians here in the US most certainly can play a part in breaking the divide between the two political extremes here in our country. Ideas might be harder to overcome than ethnicity, but if we are to live as Christ did, I don’t think we have any choice but to love your “enemies”—those who persecute or abuse or disagree with us. It’s the Jesus way.

Published in: on November 29, 2016 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving


Sunset on Fields near CityThanksgiving Eve, someone called it. And here we are: the guest list is complete, the house clean, the laundry out of the dryer and neatly folded. The grocery shopping is finally complete and the menu finalized. Everything’s ready for The Dinner. Now on to plans for Black Friday!!

So it seems to go in many households. Of course for those visiting, they have travel plans to take care of—last minute packing if it’s an overnight stay, food to prepare if it’s local. And then there’s calculating the drive time and the best route. Aren’t smart phones great for this kind of thing!?!

Amid the hustle and hurry, Thanksgiving waits.

A time set aside for us to . . . do what? Thank who?

Millions of people this week will be thanks-givers, without slowing to ponder the identity of the Thanks-Receiver. We are temporarily thankful for the turkey on Thursday that will fuel our shopping sprees on Friday. We will buy more things at the suggestion of a consumer culture that tells us we actually do not have enough. We have thus commercialized the antithesis of the meaning of the holiday and distracted ourselves from asking the big questions of life that derive from being thankful. (“A Prelude to Joy: A Thanksgiving Meditation”)

The big questions like, Who do we thank?

A number of years ago, my friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about atheists and Thanksgiving” “Can Atheists Really Give Thanks?” He concluded by saying, “Perhaps it’s an advantage we believers have: Not only can we praise the hands that made the meal, we can praise the Hands that made the chef.”

Mike has a point. Thanksgiving is rooted in the idea that Someone has provided us with something we cannot provide for ourselves. As a child, I had no problem with Thanksgiving. I didn’t work for the food I enjoyed, so giving thanks seemed natural. But as an adult, do I still understand that I have been provided good things that I myself have not and cannot provide?

Like the air I breathe? Or the sun that warms me. My family heritage. My race.

It seems to me so much of our angst, even our racial angst, would disappear if we saw all that we have as gifts from the hand of a good and loving Father. Yes, even an inherited disease or a birth defect or learning disability.

God has the big picture in mind for each of us, not the short term. We can trust Him to do good, even if our school of hard knocks seems harder than what others are going through. David addressed our tendency to look at what others are getting, particularly others who do not love God and do not live in a way that aligns with God’s desires for us. Here’s one passage he wrote:

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath;
Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. [Psa 37:1-8 NASB]

Envy, fretting, anger—these seem to be the antithesis of Thanksgiving whereas trusting, delighting in the Lord, committing our way to Him seem to be action points that stem from a heart of thanksgiving.

I mean, is it realistic to wait for someone who has failed you in the past, who let you down repeatedly? No! We wait for He Who has proved Himself faithful, Who provides what we need, Who deserves our praise for what He’s done and for what He has promised to do.

If we grumble and complain about what we have now and where we are in life at this moment, how can we stop on the fourth Thursday of November and say we are giving God thanks? Unless, of course, Thanksgiving Day turns us right-side around and reminds us that God has given us good things to enjoy. He is the Creator and Sustainer of our world, of our lives.

Perhaps the best thing we can do, on the night before Thanksgiving, is to prepare our hearts to give thanks to the One who truly deserves our thanks.

Published in: on November 23, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Thankfulness In The Argument Culture


Broncos linebackerI’m a dye-in-the-wool Denver Broncos fan, a political conservative, a Christian. Occasionally I visit some Broncos fan blogs and interact with others who are passionate about the Broncos. Inevitably, though, someone will say something that reminds me, not all these people who love the Broncos like I do, love God the way I do or even like Him. And probably a lot aren’t political conservatives.

Yet if we were in the stands at a Broncos game, we’d be cheering them on as loud as we could. Together. And when the opposing quarterback fails to complete a pass, we’d yell in unison with the rest of the fans, In-com-plete. That’s what you do when your team has the No Fly Zone as your secondary.

The point here is this: football fans lay aside their differences when they come together to cheer for their favorite team. The only differences that count at that moment are between those in orange and anyone wearing the opponent’s jersey.

My guess is, football fans don’t let religion or politics divide them because they don’t discuss the topics. But in the argument culture, our opinions have begun to divide us.

Things are becoming extreme in a land built on the right of free speech and freedom of religious expression. Now when people speak publicly, someone is bound to be offended and to call for a free zone.

The common approach is for someone to express their view. A commenter then tells them how stupid their ideas are. Then a third party will call the commenter a name and the commenter will cuss out both the original writer and the third party. It could go on from there, but it likely will end up with someone unfriending someone else.

Because in all likelihood, people who read blog posts or Facebook updates are doing so at sites they mostly agree with. When someone of a different viewpoint projects a new idea, it rarely sparks meaningful dialogue. Rather, the ensuing discussion is apt to be filled with vitriol and a repetition of talking points which originated somewhere else. Things like, Donald Trump is not my president. Or Hillary (her critics hardly ever use her last name and certainly not her appropriate title) is a liar. And, Black lives matter. Or, All lives matter.

Welcome to the argument culture we have created. What is substantive in the slogans we throw at each other?

Even “reputable” news outlets seem more interested in headlines that will get readers to click over to their site than they are in fairly representing the story or the people in it. Click bait. We’ve apparently proven we’re vulnerable to certain emotive words that will prompt us to action, so the “news” sites use those words with gusto.

First_Thanksgiving_in_AmericaThen along comes Thanksgiving Day.

Suddenly we’re suppose to pause, to relax, to hang out with family, to think about the things we’re thankful for.

In truth Thanksgiving calls Christians to do what we should be doing all year long. Even in an argument culture, we are called to be different. This is what Paul told the Roman Christians:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. [Rom 12:14-21 NASB]

These were believers who weren’t simply at odds with others because of how they voted. No, they were living in fear for their lives. They weren’t simply being unfriended on Facebook. They were being hauled off to be part of Caesar’s massacre.

Yet Paul says, weep with those who weep. Don’t celebrate the downfall of your enemy. If he’s hungry, thirsty, serve him. Don’t take justice into your own hands. Make a difference by doing all you can to be at peace with the very people who hate you. Don’t stoop to their tactics, but conquer their vitriol with God’s gentleness.

Are these the features that mark the Church? Is this what the world knows about us?

It should be. We are new creatures in Christ, so we ought not live like everyone else.

One of the ways I want to put this passage into practice is by being thankful. You see, despite the fractured nature of our culture, we still have a great deal to thank God for.

I lost a friend this year—a woman nearly ten years my junior, so her death seems especially wrong. But I am genuinely thankful that I will see her again. It might seem cliché to some, but I can look each of my Christian friends in the eye and say, See you later, knowing that I will, either here or in life after this life in the presence of our Lord and Savior. I am so grateful for that assurance. So thankful that Jesus Christ made it possible.

Politics and hurt feelings and misunderstanding might make relationships hard at times. But death is the ultimate divider. If we think our culture is fractured, that’s nothing compared to the last line, when people stand for or against God. Now that’s a division.

The fact that I can shake hands with the man at church who has terminal cancer and say, see you later, indicates that God through Christ has conquered the divide. He is the great uniter.

An Attitude Shift


Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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Who’s In Charge?


Psalm 103:19
“The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.”

It’s a great truth about God. The last line basically says, God’s sovereignty is sovereign. I think we need that reminder. At least, I know I do. So I’m re-posting this article from three years ago that addresses the subject.

Christ as Lord 2When I was a kid, someone explained how God wanted to be Lord of my life, but I had Self sitting on the throne. I like that picture, but in this day of democracy, we don’t get the king thing like we once did.

Perhaps today the real question is whether God is the CEO of my life. I’m not up on the way business works, but as I understand it, the CEO is in total control of the management of a corporation. This still may not be the best picture of our relationship with God, but one thing I know. He is not a silent partner.

He hasn’t simply put up salvation so that we can then go about living our lives as we please. Nor are we equal partners. I’m tempted to say our relationship is more like that of an employer-employee, except that’s not right either. God clearly states we aren’t any longer servants but sons.

katang_father_and_son_dig_for_cricketsSo children it is. The Father in charge, but lovingly so. And the child imitating the father, involved in family affairs, asking questions, learning, representing the father when away from home.

Except, in our confused western society, fathers aren’t always in charge and they don’t always know best. In fact, until recently, most sitcoms showed dads to be the dimmest bulb on the Christmas tree.

But maybe that picture, and even the one about the Lord or King on the throne is a more accurate depiction of Humankind’s relationship with God than I’d like to admit. They once were respected, they once ruled, but given time and circumstances, kings became titular heads and fathers became figureheads.

Have we done that to God? We say He’s on the throne of our lives, but have we started ignoring Him? Or treating Him as if He just doesn’t quite get how the world works these days. He’s not up to speed with the latest and coolest.

Take the idea of wives submitting to their husbands, for example. What a backward idea in the age of Feminism.

So, is God wrong in such matters? Or did people for centuries misinterpret the Bible when it says, “In the same way, you wives be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).

512px-fire_01Or could it be that we have purposefully climbed back on the throne of our lives and are doing what we want regardless of what God says.

It’s possible for Christians to do that. Scripture calls it quenching the Holy Spirit who was given to us to lead us into all truth. It’s a good metaphor since God is referred to often as a consuming fire. We’d need to quench a consuming fire to get to the point where we could go our own way instead of His.

Published in: on November 16, 2016 at 5:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Christians And Voting For Donald Trump


anti-trump_protest_san_franciscoHere in California there have been protests up and down the state against President-elect Trump. Worse, on Facebook there’s been blame cast by Christians on Christians for electing a man who has exhibited behavior most like a racist, misogynist, and xenophobic. One particular post, which I found offensive on several levels, said that Christians have “some explaining to do.”

OK, I’ll explain.

First, if I haven’t made it clear yet, I did not vote for Mr. Trump and have serious reservations about his taking the office of President. I hope I am wrong, but I fear for our democracy.

Nevertheless, I understand why some Christians decided to vote for him. I DON’T understand why certain ones supported him early in the primary process when there were good options and candidates who would have turned this election into a Republican landslide in the face of all the scandal Secretary Clinton has faced. That aside, here are the reasons some (including Christians) have given for voting for Mr. Trump.

1, His stated pro-life position. For many, myself included, this is the single most important issue in American politics. How can we stand for justice, for freedom, for rights of the most vulnerable in our nation and then turn around and slaughter millions of unborn persons. I liken it to the people of Israel in the Old Testament choosing to worship a false god that required child sacrifice. Here in America, our false god is ourselves. We promote sex at every turn and treat celibacy and abstinence as aberrations. We do not exercise self-control because we believe we deserve to be self-indulgent—it’s Me-ism on steroids. We want what we want when we want it, and we’re willing to sacrifice the lives of our unborn children in the process.

2. The opportunity to nominate at least one and possibly as many as three Supreme Court justices. This point is actually a corollary of the first issue. In order to meaningfully reverse the cultural changes of the last eight years and of decades of the Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, and which continues to prevent states from passing meaningful curbs on abortion, the makeup of the Supreme Court needs to be more conservative. In other words, it needs conservative justices who will honor the Constitution instead of creating law from the Bench. Mr. Trump has pledged to nominate such justices. It remains to be seen whether or not he will do what he said, but believing that his promise was better than a certainty that Secretary Clinton would nominate activist judges, some opted to vote for Mr. Trump.

3. Illegal immigration is illegal. Many people want our federal government to uphold the rule of law. We don’t. Hence, federally it is illegal to use marijuana, but more and more states are declaring its use, medicinally or recreationally, as legal while the federal government does nothing. In the same way, here in California certain cities have taken the status as “sanctuary cities” where illegal immigrants can safely reside without fear of deportation, and the federal government does nothing. In fact, no comprehensive immigration reform has come from the White House in a very long time. Consequently, thousands of unaccompanied minors have poured over the southern border, and no measures have been taken to stem the tide. From the November 22, 2115 Washington Times:

Nearly 5,000 unaccompanied children were caught in October, and nearly 3,000 more had been caught in the first half of November — a record pace for those months — and it signals just how closely smuggling cartels and would-be illegal immigrants themselves are paying attention to lax enforcement in the U.S.

Two years ago the numbers were even more staggering:

The vast majority of 50,000 unaccompanied youths and children who have illegally crossed the Texas border during the last few months have been successfully delivered by federal agencies to their relatives living in the United States, according to a New York Times article.

A second New York Times article report revealed that officials have caught an additional 240,000 Central American migrants since April, and are transporting many of them to their destinations throughout the United States. (From The Daily Caller, as quoted in the Independent Journal Review)

The issue isn’t racism or a fear of immigrants. It’s a desire to return our nation to one that believes in the rule of law. Congress passes laws and the Executive Branch is to enforce them. What happens, then, when the Executive Branch decides simply to ignore what Congress has passed? That’s what’s happened with the “open boarder” policy of these last few years.

4. Economic concerns. Some people have witnessed the sole industry of their town close down, leaving unemployed workers with no hope. Others have seen their jobs discontinued as businesses outsource work to other countries. Then there are the environmental snags that have stopped production of clean coal and the like. A number of people say they voted for Mr. Trump because they want his economic expertise to work for the country.

5. Media influence and the elite. Another group mention that they voted for Mr. Trump as a protest against insider government. They want a President who is not beholden to big money or the “good ole boys” in Washington. They also want to stop the media from telling the everyday person what they should think and how they should vote.

6. A vote against Secretary Clinton. Some people think that the scandals in which Secretary Clinton has been embroiled are indicative of her corruption, deceit, greed, and abuse of power. They do not believe she is qualified to be President.

7. A vote for a worldview, not for a man. Pastor John McArthur took this stand, basically saying that Mr. Trump’s ideas about our culture are more in line with Scripture than are Secretary Clinton’s.

There well could be other reasons, too, but these are the ones I’ve heard most often.

I’ve not heard, “I’m voting for Donald Trump because I share his racist positions.” Are some Trump supporters racist? I am pretty sure they are since the head of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, endorsed Mr. Trump during the primary elections. Do some of those belonging to white supremacist groups self-identify as Christians? I suppose they might. It doesn’t mean they actually believe the Bible, however. In fact, it’s hard to see how they could align their racial beliefs with Scripture’s clear teaching about God’s love for the world!

Nevertheless, the point remains, Mr. Trump was a flawed candidate who by practice and by word took a stand that isn’t consistent with the Bible. But news flash: Secretary Clinton was a flawed candidate who by practice and by word took a stand that isn’t consistent with the Bible.

How, then, can a Clinton supporter turn to a Trump supporter and accuse him of not heeding the Bible by voting for a flawed candidate?

The Church does not have to apologize for Donald Trump becoming president. Last I checked, we the Church do not vote in lock step. We don’t vote with the same reasons in mind. That a flawed candidate won is no surprise. Had Hillary Clinton won, Christians could have been blamed for not opposing her more vocally or for voting for third party candidates or for not working to get out the vote or . . . there’s a myriad of reasons people could have turned on Christians in that scenario too.

In other words, the election is just one more reason some are using to bash the Church. It’s time we say, enough. Christians are not perfect, but we are not the cause of all ills in society as some atheists (looking at you, disciples of deceased Christopher Hitchens) would have us believe.

In fact Christians want very much to proclaim the cure for society’s ills. And that cure is not Donald Trump. Nor is it Hillary Clinton.