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?”

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.