Eyes On The Prize

Peter014I don’t know how other Christians feel, but me, I get tired of living in a world that is so broken. When Jesus said, the poor you’ll always have with you, He wasn’t kidding.

The poor, the brokenhearted, the insecure, the lonely, the abused, the misused, the victim, the addict, the spiritually poor, the deluded. And then there are the wicked—the greedy, the covetous, the murderous, the takers, the users, the immoral, the bullies.

Honestly, it gets depressing. The news tells us all about the people who have been displace or injured or killed by the latest storm/earthquake/fire/flood/war/terrorist attack. It tells us about the spread of diseases we don’t know how to cure, about people who have been in horrific accidents, about people robbing or raping or brutalizing others.

The news is not fun!

And the longer I live, the more I realize I’m going to hear bad news from my friends and family too. Loved ones die or get sick or lose their jobs or face disappointment.

Without a doubt, life is also filled with many, many joys, but in the end, after the Super Bowl parade, comes free agency and the loss of well-loved teammates. In other words, our joys are temporary.

Except for one. The joy of the LORD is not fleeting. Instead, it is everlasting because its source is not circumstances or stuff or even people or my well-being. The joy of the LORD is based on the LORD, the King of Heaven, whose works are true and whose ways are just.

Because of who He is, we can have joy here and now. We can have joy because God is with us and will not leave us or forsake us. We can have joy because He is faithful to walk with us through the waters, through the fire, through the valley of the shadow of death.

We can also have joy because we don’t carry the weight of sin and guilt. We don’t have to look over our shoulders to see if we’re about to be caught in the midst of our sin. God’s Holy Spirit is in us and He will guide us and convict us and teach us. Further, God has forgiven us. That’s not a future thing for Christians: If we sin we have to come groveling back to Him and beg Him to let us return to the banquet table. NO! We are in right standing with God because of what Jesus did at the cross, and our sin doesn’t change that fact.

Granted, sin can disrupt our joy because it disrupts our fellowship with God. But that’s the key: the friendship we have with God is the source of joy. When we pray about the things that trouble us, God doesn’t snap His fingers (generally) and change the circumstances. But He does take us by the hand and tell us He’ll go with us wherever those troubles take us. We aren’t alone and we can trust Him to turn ashes into joy.

Job went through horrific loss, but God gave him a glimpse of Himself, then restored what he’d lost. Ruth suffered the loss of her husband, then gave up her homeland and her native culture, and God replaced her loss with a husband and a son in the Messianic line. Abraham “lost” his son Isaac who he’d waited for, for decades, only to have him restored and become the beginning of nations. Peter was a miserable failure, unable to stand up to the jeering crowd, but instead denying his Lord and Savior. Yet, the risen Christ restored him to his place as one tasked with feeding God’s sheep and proclaiming the truth about Jesus as Messiah. I could go on and one.

The point is simple: our circumstances don’t have to dictate our level of joy. God has given us His forgiveness. God is giving us His presence. And God will give us our future inheritance—the joy from the ashes. We have the hope of heaven and an eternity with God. That’s the greatest source of joy a person could ever want.

But there is a catch. It’s easy to take our eye off the ball. Ask any athlete. When you are anticipating what comes next or when you’re evaluating what you need to change, it’s easy to be distracted by past mistakes or at expected successes. Either one can cause you to drop the ball that’s right in front of you.

We need to keep our eye on the prize which is Jesus Christ Himself. He will not disappoint. He will not fail us. He will not forsake us.

I found a very, very cool verse in Zephaniah (the minor prophets are filled with little unexpected gems) which lets us know more about God:

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. (3:17)

A victorious warrior! How cool is that! But how amazing that He rejoices over us, that His emotional response to us is love and joy. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it hard to be in the presence of joyful people without some of their joy infecting me. How much more so God, who lives in my heart and who exults over me with joy.

Can I turn my back on Him and put on my grumpy face and say, Leave me alone! Well, apparently so, because Scripture tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit and not to quench the Holy Spirit. So when we take our eye off the prize, when we stop looking into the face of Jesus, we can fall into the tumult of our circumstances. Ah, dear Peter also gave us a great illustration of that when he bravely stepped out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus. But he took his eyes off the prize and started to sink. It’s easy to do, what with the wind and the waves swamping the boat. But it’s certainly not inevitable. We can keep our eyes on the prize instead.

Published in: on May 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on Eyes On The Prize  
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The Christian And The News

Obama_wins_headlineFor the majority of my life time, the news has been filled with wars and rumors of wars, the latter similar to what we hear now about Ukraine with Russia poised on the border waiting to swoop into the eastern portion of the country and carve out a slice for themselves.

All too often this kind of news, and that about famine and pandemic diseases, strikes fear in the hearts of Christians. Not just Christians, to be fair, but Christians because so many read the news with one eye on Biblical prophecy. Hence, Russia isn’t just threatening Ukraine, they are Magog preparing to sweep down on Israel and initiate Armageddon.

I think it’s important for believers who embrace the Bible as true, historically, spiritually, and prophetically, to keep a number of things in mind.

First, we ought not go about interpreting prophecy on our own. Look what happened when the Jews tried interpreting the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah–they ended up crucifying the very One they were waiting for. Why? Because they didn’t take time to let Scripture interpret Scripture. They didn’t wait on the Holy Spirit to illumine the truth (which He did at Jesus’s baptism and through Peter’s pronouncement and John’s witness).

Second, we ought not try to countermand Scripture. When the Bible says we can’t know the day or hour when Christ will return, it’s foolish to think that passage is talking about everyone else, just not me. In the same way, we ought not declare a universal salvation when Jesus so clearly taught otherwise. In other words, we need to let the Bible say what it actually says, not what we wish it says nor what we assume it says given the present world circumstances.

It’s easy to think that the morality of society is spiraling downward, leading to the final day of judgment, and that might be the case. But seventy-five years ago, some people were certain Hitler was the Anti-Christ. Why, in the first century, many thought Nero was the Anti-Christ, and morality then in Rome and some of the Greek cities was as debase as anything we can imagine.

Besides the not‘s, Christians should pray. First, we should pray for other Christians, especially those who are suffering for their faith. Recently we’ve been reminded to pray for this pastor or that one who has been imprisoned for his faith. The general plea is to pray for his release, and that certainly isn’t wrong.

But perhaps more importantly, we should pray for believers to be light in the darkness surrounding them. We should pray that they’ll have courage to speak the truth in love, that they’ll be content despite their circumstances, that the joy of the Lord will fill them even when they suffer.

Along with praying for believers, we should pray for God’s will to be accomplished. So often we pray for what we think is best–peace, a pro-western government coming to power, democracy taking root; or here at home, an end to terrorist cells, Supreme Court rulings that support marriage and end abortion, a certain political candidate winning an election. But all too often we have no idea if those things actually are aligned with God’s will.

In the book of Jeremiah, for instance, God told His prophet to stop praying for Judah because He wasn’t going to hear and answer those prayers. Sobering. God had declared the coming judgment–defeat by and exile to Babylon–and He determined He would not relent. Other times and places, such as in Nineveh, when Jonah preached, God was moved by their repentance. Not that time.

So today, I think we Christians would be wise to use Scripture and God’s revealed will as a guide for our prayers. We know, for example, that believers are called to make disciples. We can then pray for believers in the places of the world that are in the news to make disciples.

We know that it is not God’s will for any to perish, so we can pray for revival. We know that Jesus will one day be recognized by all the world as Lord, so we can pray that His name will be lifted up because of the circumstances we’ve heard about in the news. We know that Jesus said the greatest command is to love God with our all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. So we can pray for Christians in troubled areas to fearlessly love God and winsomely love their neighbors.

I could go on. The Bible is filled with revelation of God’s will. How important for us to prayer for what God wants and not just for what we want.

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 3:56 pm  Comments Off on The Christian And The News  
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Anything For A Story

Sea_Cliff_Bridge_During_Rain_StormWestern society lives for pleasure–an adrenaline high or sexual titillation or culinary delights–if it feels good, then that’s what we want. The sad thing is that the parts of our day that don’t feed into these wants are often considered boring or second rate or something to be endured, to be gotten through.

Any wonder, then, that TV ads tell stories or make people laugh? The motto seems to be, whatever it takes to keep people entertained. Horrors if a product is described in boring terms. Why, even the dire warnings about possible side effects to prescription drugs are communicated in soothing tones while pictures of active, healthy seniors playing golf or basketball or swimming speed past our eyes.

So it’s not a surprise that TV news has joined the entertainment business. That happened some time ago. The sensational gets a hearing, especially if it comes with pictures.

What seems to be a new twist to this scenario, however, is the interpretation of facts to make them entertaining, one way or the other!

This tendency seems particularly noticeable here in SoCal concerning our weather. Maybe the meteorologists are simply tired of having nothing much to talk about, but I think it has more to do with creating a sensation. That, it seems, is now the role of TV news.

As most people have heard, all of California has been experiencing a drought. But at long last, news poured in this week that we had rain in the forecast. But not just any rain. We were looking at the BIGGEST STORM in YEARS! In fact, the “in years” turns out to be the biggest to hit the southland in three years.

Well, yes, since we’ve been having a drought during that time, there haven’t been any big storms. So this storm that has triggered mandatory evacuations and sandbagging and the construction of berms and barricades–to keep runoff out of homes and high surf out of neighborhoods–isn’t actually a particularly large one if you were comparing it to the storms in a non-drought year.

But the news media can’t pass up an opportunity to sensationalize even the weather. We can’t simply celebrate the fact that we’re getting rain, that farmers who have dealt with the lack of water, and ranchers who have had to truck in feed for their cattle, and small towns that have seen their wells dry up, are getting a little help.

Rain can’t be good. It can’t be an answer to prayer, most assuredly. Instead it has to be sensational. The irony of it all is that the one mention I heard of the rain and its affect on the drought was that it would help very little.

Sure, I get that this one storm isn’t going to replenish the lakes and rivers that have steadily shrunk over the last several years. But no help?

Must the story always be woe and beware? Well, yes, apparently the extreme and the dire fit the entertainment model, so that’s the kind of news we get. Even for the weather.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 5:49 pm  Comments Off on Anything For A Story  
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The Life And Times Of Manti Te’o

Tmz_headquarters_and_officesIt took President Obama’s inauguration to move Manti Te’o off the lead-story slot on most news programs. Now he’s back. I’ve been amazed—not so much about the dead-girlfriend hoax but about so many people’s fascination with it. Did Manti know that “his girlfriend” wasn’t a real person? Was he a victim or the mastermind?

Who cares!

Well, obviously millions must because radio talk shows discuss it, nightly news anchors discuss it, national TV news personalities discuss it, Facebook friends discuss it.

But why?

Apparently we have become a vampire society, living off the lives of other people–movie actors and sports figures, singers and celebrity dancers, bachelors and survivors.

Once people ridiculed the tabloids; now the tabloids are us. We care more about whether or not Manti Te’o was part of the dead-girlfriend plot than we do France’s involvement in Mali or what the rebels in the Congo are doing.

We’ve been TMZed, some say. But before TMZ, the TV show that prides itself in passing along celebrity gossip, there was Inside Edition and before Inside Edition was People Magazine. In reality, there’s been a steady climb toward the frivolous and vapid in our news.

The bottom line is, we have become a society that lives to be entertained. We want our news to be sensational, our commercials to be either amusing or easily bypassed, our entertainment to be constant. We live for the weekend and only endure the time in between that isn’t lived in front of a screen.

Manti Te’o is only the latest and certainly not the last person marked out by the media for constant, overwhelming attention–his fifteen minutes of fame. He’s a high profile athlete from a high profile school coming off a high profile season, and his story seemed too sad to be real.

Lost in all this is the fact that Manti’s grandmother really did die, though the pretend girlfriend did not. But real grief doesn’t quite live up to sensationalized deception, and the story has become, who lied? Who commandeered the “girlfriend’s pictures,” and set up the fraudulent scenario?

Why should anyone care?

But already there’s been talk about lawsuits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a book deal is in the works. I mean, strike while the iron is hot!

All this simply makes me think, How the mighty have fallen.

Published in: on January 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm  Comments (2)  
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Processing The Horrific Through Fiction

Scripture refers to itself as a mirror that shows a person his or her “natural face” (James 1:22-24). Today in my post at Spec Faith I wrote that a novel not showing characters as sinners would be suspect of deviating from God’s revealed truth because man sins against man.

That fact was brought home yet again this weekend as the details trickled in about the attack on Norwegian citizens by someone wishing to keep alive the fear and anger generated by terrorists. First a bomb exploded in Oslo killing at least seven people. Then an hour and a half later a gunman attacked a political youth camp, and nearly ninety more people lost their lives.

Of course tragedy doesn’t require multiple deaths. It might be the lose of one person we’re close to. It might be injury or hunger, slavery, abuse, or exploitation. There are all sorts of ways that man sins against man.

Fiction is one way we can process the horror of real life. Some people turn to it as an escape — the escape from prison J. R. R. Tolkien so famously talked about (see related thoughts in “Hope Or Truth”). Others turn to it for an explanation: why do people act in such horrific ways? Still others look to fiction to find a measure of justice they wish they found in the real world.

Of course writers often use fiction to work out the issues in their own lives with which they’re struggling. Anne Rice claimed her vampire novels were expressions of her search for spiritual truth. J. K. Rowling whose mother had recently died explored the theme of death in her Harry Potter novels.

Readers, I suspect, gravitate to the novels that speak to the issues of their lives, whether coming of age or coming of old age.

We often talk about characters we relate to. One commenter to Sally Apokedak’s article, “Harry Potter The Orphan” had this to say about Harry Potter:

He is particularly relatable to the generation that grew up with him (most are in their 20s now). He is the “everyman” for our generation. The story is one of choice and self-discovery. If you remember, the sorting hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin, the house infamous for its output of dark wizards, but due to his protests the hat opted for Gryffindor, the house of heroes. It is that duality that allows us to relate to Harry. Everyone has their darker and lighter sides, and as we grow we choose who we will become. Ultimately, I think Harry’s popularity is a result of his relatability to what is currently a younger audience.

Clearly this commenter’s remarks show the propensity for readers to work out their own struggles through the struggles of the character to which they relate.

Hence, if a reader feels powerless, he gravitates to a character who starts out powerless only to discover he has more power than he imagined possible.

Which brings me to one final way in which readers process life through fiction: they see hope. A reader understands he won’t wake up one morning to learn that he has magical power. But he sees overcoming played out in actions, often actions that stem from nothing magical, but rather from qualities like courage and hard work, loyalty and faithfulness.

Seeing characters behave heroically helps a reader to believe that heroism is still something to be desired. The world may be filled with man sinning against man, but the inevitability of it is brought into question. And that generates hope and longing and pushes us to find real world examples of heroism, or more importantly, the Source of heroism.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Times Like These, It’s Good To Know

I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately. Lots of them were written by David. Some draw on images that only a shepherd would think of. Some seem to be straight from the heart of a man being persecuted unfairly. Others are cries for forgiveness.

The amazing thing is that they seem so relevant.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, and it seemed every topic led to uncertainty. What’s happening in Egypt? Will the unrest lead to democracy or a radical Islamic dictatorship? Will the changes taking place ultimately stabilize the Middle East or upset the tenuous peace that’s existed for the last forty years?

Or how about the economy? The state of the state address California’s recycled governor delivered this week? How about family? My friend’s mom requires more and more help and is dealing with serious medical issues. Her son? Not in church. Church? This issue or that, and my own church is in the beginning stages of looking for a new pastor. Let’s see, how about the weather — the near record snowstorm back in the Midwest or perhaps the gale winds pummeling the Southland?

On and on it goes. Because, let’s face it, life is hard. And some parts of life are harder than others.

In times like these, it’s good to know what God says in His Word. Take these verses in Psalm 27, one of David’s:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD. (vv 13-14)

That’s the way I feel. “I would have despaired …” But I’m not despairing because God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living. He is still God and as such I can count on Him just as David did, or Abraham or Moses.

Look at what Moses said to the people of Israel as he was preparing to die. Yes, he knew he was going to climb a mountain, look into the promised land, and die. Yet he passed on these words to the people of Israel. They faced battle and he faced death. I think they all could have been scared. I know the parents of those Israelites about to cross the Jordan had been scared, so much so that they decided to stop following God.

Now it was the children’s turn … and the end of Moses’s leadership. So he told them

Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf. (Deut. 1:29b-30a)

And later He said

You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deut. 7:21)

My favorite words of comfort from Moses to the people might be these:

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)

In times like these, it’s good to know that God is with me. It’s good to be reminded that He will not fail me or forsake me. It’s good to be admonished to be courageous not fearful, to be strong and not tremble at the next thing on the nightly news.

Thank God He is sovereign, in control, still going ahead of His people to fight on our behalf. What a great God we have!

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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