Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paul would have been a NASCAR fan.

This past Sunday evening, May 29th, I was able to witness something that I've always wanted to see in person...a NASCAR race. That's right, my wife, her two brothers and I went to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I've always been sort of a mild fan of NASCAR. I grew up being a Richard Petty fan because, well, he's "the King" and who can't appreciate a guy that sports a feathered cowboy hat. Then there's the whole premise behind NASCAR. Take a "stock" car and fill its engine compartment with a massive V-8 engine, install only as much exhaust hardware as is absolutely necessary and drive it around a track as fast as you can. Aside from the obvious environmental impact, I can't find anything wrong with this sport. As soon as the green flag was waved and forty-some cars roared to life and passed our seats in one huge pack I knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience. One cannot truly appreciate how loud these cars are unless you have been to a race in person. During one of the cautions during the race we went to try and rustle up some grub and made the rookie mistake of removing our earplugs. The sound can only be described as earsplitting.

During this race I found myself with a new appreciation for the sport of NASCAR. Yes, I did call it a sport and if you disagree with that label I'm sorry but I think it fits. The best way I can think to describe it would be like a game of chess. The drivers, in conjunction with their crew chiefs, must strategically plan their pit-stops so that at the end of the race (this part is pretty obvious) they will be at the front. Yes, they could just make three or four laps and just see who's car is the fastest but that would not be the point. Strategy and endurance play key roles in the race. This is compounded by the fact that the Coca-Cola 600 (that is 600 miles) is the longest race in the NASCAR season. I would submit that the mathematical know-how of the crew chiefs and the endurance of the drivers, who have to pilot a car at nearly 200 miles and hour for four hours, make a NASCAR race one of the more mentally challenging sporting events.

The most interesting part of this race, no it wasn't the wrecks, was the very end. After a caution with only five laps to go Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in the lead. Two laps remained and it looked like he was going to be the clear winner of the race, something he has not been for over three years. The fans were ecstatic. Then on the final turn of the final lap "Junior" ran out of gas. He wasn't the only one though, Denny Hamlin, for whom I was cheering, also coasted to a stop only a few hundred yards short of the finish line. The emotional let-down that ensued was as if someone had popped the Goodyear blimp that was circling above. Victory had been snatched out of Dale Junior's hands because he ran out of gas.

Now, I am not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan but I certainly have no beef with him. He seems like a standup kind of guy and a darn good race car driver. However, when I saw him coast to a stop and have to push his car into the pits I couldn't help but be reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:24;

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 

There is no doubt in my mind that Dale Junior ran the Coca-Cola 600 in such a way that he should have won but in the end he simply ran out of gas. What I think Paul is getting at here is that we, as Christians, are running a race for eternity and there are going to be times when we think we are running on fumes and find ourselves wondering whether or not we are going to cross the finish line. He shares this same sentiment with the church in Philippi when he says in 3:12-14;

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself has having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

What we must realize is that the fuel we are running on is the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit and no matter the situation it will not run out. The prize that Paul is speaking of is not millions of dollars or a trophy on this earth, but eternal life with God. James describes the prize like this;

for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

The reason that the drivers in NASCAR put their minds and bodies through such abuse is because they have their eyes on the prize that is given to the winner. This can be seen in any sport. The athletes endure all kinds of punishment because they want to win. The question for us is, will we endure so much because we have our eyes on the eternal prize that Christ offers us? I don't mean that we should go around seeking abuse or persecution but when it does come will we endure it with peace in our hearts because we want, more than anything else, to finish the race well?

You see, I believe it is all about perspective. If we are focused on the things of this earth and this time it will be exceedingly hard to press on as Paul urges us to. However, if our eyes are fixed on eternity and Christ the most horrible circumstances become just a passing hardship on the way to eternal joy and rest. Hebrews 12:1-3 gives us the same encouragement;

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right had of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Three things immediately jump out at at me from this passage:

1) We are not running alone. Not only do we have the fuel of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised us but we also have a "great cloud of witnesses" who are cheering us on. It is hard to imagine with our earthly eyes but I can almost see the scene when a saint of God is coming across the finish line called death. There in the heavenly stands are all those who have gone before cheering for them to get that checkered flag and enter into the prize that Christ is giving them.

2) Christ did all of this first. He set the example through perseverance in His most tremendous struggles. Christ did whatever it took, even death on the cross, because He understood what gain it would bring for the people that He loves so dearly.

3) We keep our eyes on Christ so that in our trials and struggles we don't lose heart. The easiest thing to do in a struggle is to admit defeat. I know there have been many times in my life when it just seemed easier to give up than keep going. The Bible tells us that these times will come but if we keep our focus on Christ we will get through, we will not run out of gas.

Christ has given us what we need to finish this race called life. Not only that but He has promised to run along side of us to keep us going when we don't think we can make it. God, through the apostle Paul, has given us words of encouragement so that we will keep our focus on the eternal, what is truly important and what the prize really is in this race.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Letter to Christian Girls.

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Proverbs 31:30

Tonight my wife has been asked to speak to a group of Christian girls on the issues of dating, purity, relationships, etc. As part of that, the youth pastor of this church asked if I would write a letter to the group of young women from a guy's point of view. Now, I can't say as I remember ever having written a letter to a group of teenage girls but I do have some pretty strong feelings about the way our culture has portrayed love, marriage and particularly women. So, what I would like to do in this post is reproduce for you some of this letter. I may add some here and subtract some there but I want this to be my letter to all the Christian, young ladies out there.

What I want to do, through this letter, is share some things from a “guys” point of view because it’s no secret that we see things a little differently than you ladies do. You may think that all we think about is short shorts and tank tops and for some guys that’s true. However, there are some out there, in my opinion the good ones, who actually care about who you are more than what you are, or what you look like. Please don’t let movies, TV, Facebook and all the rest fool you into believing the lies that they try to feed you. In God’s eyes you are valuable treasures. Just look at what His word says about women in Proverbs 31. This is not a description of low-hanging fruit or a slab of meat displayed in a storefront.

I suspect that most of you dream of meeting “Mr. Right” someday and that’s great. The best advice I can give you to help you find him is to seek God first and foremost. If you place God at the top of your priority list He promises that all the other pieces of your life will fall into place and guess what…who you will marry is a huge piece of your life! Here’s the kicker, and what I think many teenagers (both guys and girls) overlook, seeking the Lord is the most attractive thing you can ever do. You may think I’m crazy or disconnected from reality but it’s the truth. If a guy is truly seeking God’s will for his life then the number one thing on his mind, when it comes to dating or marriage, is “Does this woman love Jesus?” Now, don’t get me wrong here, you don’t follow Christ just so He will give you a hunk of a man who makes your heart go “pitter-patter” and makes all the other girls drool. That would be using God and that is bad news. We are all to follow Christ because He deserves our love, respect, and devotion…period.

Let me shift gears for just a moment because one of the things I was asked to write about were some ways that you, as young ladies, can actually help the guys in their quest to be pure. Well, I’m not going to give you a list of specifications for skirt length or tell you that you should wear turtle-necks that are four sizes too big and baggy sweatpants. That would help but I don’t think it gets at the real issue. The Christian life isn't about a list of rules that we shouldn't break, it's about a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. Yeah, we should make an effort to follow the commandments but that effort should be born out of our love relationship with God. 

Here is my advice in one sentence. It comes from Philippians 1:27, and it would be the same thing I would tell the guys;  

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

 No matter what situation you find yourself in, whether you are getting up and deciding what to wear, or you’re hanging out with your friends, or you’re going to prom, ask yourself, “How can I act in a way that brings honor to God.” If you’re honoring God with the way you dress, the way you speak, and the way you act you are not going to be doing something that will cause a brother to stumble. Now, sometimes guys stumble anyway but I guess we can’t put the blame on you for that.

You see, though, this points us back to the idea of seeking God first. How are you supposed to know if your conduct is worthy of the Gospel? The answer is simple but it takes some time and effort. You have to spend time getting to know God, falling in love with Him by reading His Word and praying and seeking godly council from godly women. It’s all about God and when He thinks you’re a treasure then He is going to give you a treasure of a husband.

Let me wrap this up by saying this. The most beautiful thing in the world to a godly man, is a godly woman. My best friends, who are passionate about Christ, would tell you the same thing. In fact, I can’t think of any of my good, married friends who wouldn’t tell you that the most attractive thing about their wife, the thing that makes their heart bubble over with joy, is that their wife loves the Lord more than she loves her husband. There are a million guys in this world who want nothing more than a trophy to carry around on their arm and a girl who will go to bed with them, and it breaks my heart to see young ladies, who are treasures in God’s eyes, settle for those guys. DO NOT SETTLE FOR TRASH! If you spend your time being attractive in God’s eyes then there is going to be a man, a real man, who you will blow away.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

That’s my two-cent’s worth from a guy’s perspective.

Husband to a Treasure 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What my Radio Taught me About Prayer Last Night.

Photo courtesy of idono
One of my hobbies that I have recently come to enjoy more and more is amateur radio. I've been licensed since 1997 when I was a junior in high school but haven't really made use of it until just now. A few weeks ago I passed the test to upgrade my license so that I can operate on the frequencies that allow me to talk to people all over the world from right here in my home. Now, you may be thinking, "Christian, what does that have to do with spiritual matters?" Well, honestly, radio has very little to do with spiritual matters. That is, until it teaches us a lesson that is far more convicting than my comfort-minded heart likes. You see, hearing and talking to people around the world via "ham" radio is not as simple as picking up the phone, dialing their number and talking away. You have to tune into the correct frequency, hope that you can hear them, hope that they can hear you and hope with all your heart that the signal doesn't fade away. What I have found myself doing is looking at the internet logs of who is talking to who on what frequency and then tuning my radio there and listening intently for even a smidgeon of a signal (Yes, I am a geek). Herein lies the lesson.

The question that the Lord asked my heart last night was, "Do you listen for me with the same intensity that you listen for those signals?" Isn't it interesting how God uses the things we enjoy, our hobbies and our passions, to teach us deep, spiritual lessons. I don't think God was condemning my practice of amateur radio, just as I don't think He condemns your hobbies by asking probing questions about them. But this is what is so amazing about the Lord, He uses what is right in front of us to teach us and speak to us. Last night as I sat there with my headphones on listening for some guy in New Zealand through the static God saw a teachable moment.

God's questions are always rhetorical because He knows the answers and if we are honest with ourselves, we know the answers too. The answer to that question was, "No, I don't." The truth is, I want to hear from God but I don't listen for Him very much. Of course, I have time set aside in my prayer time to "listen" for God but that is usually the extent of it. Most of the time I am willing to listen for God if it fits within certain parameters, e.g. my schedule. I'm like the busy executive who tells the salesman, "I'll listen to what you have to say but you better say it quick because I'm a busy man." The problem is, I'm not saying this to a salesman. I'm saying it to the God who, just a minute earlier in my prayer, I asked to guide my every step...WOW!

The Bible tells us that we should be in a constant state of prayer (see 1 Thess. 5:17) and we know that prayer is a two-way street. We are to talk to God and we are to listen to God. It is alot like breathing. We inhale and exhale and it is something we do all the time. If we don't breath, we die. Spiritually, if we don't pray, we die, or at the very least grow stale in our relationship with Christ. It is no coincidence that the lesson from my radio can apply here as well. If I transmit all the time I cannot hear anyone who may be trying to talk to me. The funny part is, most hams (amateur radio operators) will tell you that operating on the worldwide frequencies is 90% listening and 10% talking. Oh that I would apply that to my prayer life!

Listen to the words of Psalm 130:6;

My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed more than the watchmen for the morning.

There is the sense here that we should eagerly anticipate a word from the Lord. When I was in Iraq we had to pull guard duty occasionally at our base and our shift was always through the night. It is no secret that bad things can happen when it is dark. Even with the help of amazing pieces of equipment like night vision goggles, nighttime can be a scary time. Whether we were pulling guard duty or we were driving in an overnight convoy, we couldn't wait for daybreak and the light of the sun. There was an eagerness to see the dawn. This verse is telling us that we should be looking for God with the same anticipation. The problem is, all too often, we don't. It is more like we want to get the memo out to Him as fast as we can because we've got other things to do besides sit around and wait on a response.

Listening for God is absolutely critical to our existence as believers. As of yet I don't know exactly how that is going to become a reality in my own life. What I do know is that I haven't been doing it right and something has got to change. I know that I've exhaled long enough and I've got to inhale. I've got to take time and listen intently for God.

Here is the final analogy from the radio. Sometimes, and I think my step-father (a world class amateur radio operator) would confirm this, after listening to static for a while a signal does come through. We may sit and listen and listen and listen for God and hear nothing but static. But, if we stubbornly refuse to stop listening His word will come through to us. I wrote just a few days ago about waiting on the Lord and God does honor us when we wait for Him. I am reminded of the scene from the movie Apollo 13 when the capsule was re-entering Earth's atmosphere. There was a great deal of concern that because of the damage incurred during the mission that it would be destroyed during reentry. During that time there was a period of radio blackout when the astronauts would not be in contact with mission control. Everyone was holding their breath for the blackout to end and receive word that they were okay. The expected time passed and there was still no response from the team. Suddenly, after what must have seemed like an eternity, they came over the radio and notified mission control that they were safely floating down with the parachutes deployed. Mission accomplished. Everyone was safe.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who has waited and waited and waited to hear God through the static and then finally, just when I thought I wasn't going to hear anything a signal broke through. Take time to listen for God. Stubbornly listen for God because He will not let us down.


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Praying for Boldness...GULP.

Photo courtesy of rforkel
This past Sunday Andrea and I planned to go to the 10:00am service at our church rather than the 8:30am service that we normally attend. This allowed us the opportunity to watch Andy Stanley preach during the "In Touch Ministries" broadcast on TV. On this particular day he was preaching out of the book of Acts, specifically 4:29 where the disciples pray;

And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak Your word with all boldness.

If you want to watch the entire sermon, and I highly recommend it, you can find it here. What really stood out to me hit me between the eyes was Stanley's point that these early followers of Christ prayed for "boldness," and they got it. This has nothing to do with how God answers prayer. It has everything to do with what the disciples prayed for. Things only got worse for me when he began to explain how we typically pray in our culture. He says it often sounds like this, "Lord, I just want to lift up all the sick people and please keep us safe." Guilty.

The point he was making is that our prayers are all too often a far cry from asking God to make us bold so that we can go out and preach the Gospel. I don't want to spend too much time re-delivering Stanley's sermon because that is not the end game here but I do want to say that asking for boldness is a dangerous prayer. It got all twelve of the disciples beaten to within an inch of their lives (see Acts 5:40) and we know from history that most of them died cruel deaths because they were bold for Christ.

What I believe Andy Stanley was calling for is a shift in our prayer lives. There is no doubt that the Bible tells us that we should take our own petitions before the Lord and that we should offer intercession for the sick and ailing. However, there is much more to it than that and the fact of the matter is that people's souls are hanging in the balance. The bottom line is that I/we don't pray for boldness because it will lead to discomfort in our lives. I was reading just yesterday, and forgive me because I don't remember where, about a woman who was a missionary with her husband. He was killed in a bombing along with several other missionaries and she was severely wounded. When interviewed about the matter she explained that carrying scars and injuries in her body was the least she could do for the Savior who suffered so much on her behalf. She and the other missionaries were bold for Christ and now she will live with a degree of discomfort, both physically and emotionally, that most of us can scarcely imagine. Understand this; if we are bold for Christ we will not be popular and we may lose some friends but we have to decide which is more important.

Now, along with the missionaries that I just mentioned there are millions of Christians throughout the world that are living in nations that are hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you want to find out more about the persecuted Church in the world I would encourage you to visit www.persecution.com , the website of The Voice of the Martyrs. You can read stories there of bold believers throughout the world who risk everything to share Christ with others. Being involved with VOM through receiving their newsletters and yearly reports has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life and it also gives us points to focus on in our prayers of intercession.

What I have found as I reflect on my prayers for persecuted believers is that almost everyday I pray that God would make them bold witnesses for Christ. After watching Stanley's sermon I have had to shift that prayer significantly. I would submit that our brothers and sisters throughout the world are bold in their witness and it is we who need to pray the prayer of the disciples from Acts 4:29 for ourselves. I believe we need to take our own prayers about safety and protection and offer them to God on behalf of those facing persecution. Generally speaking we don't need safety. We already live in one of, if not THE, safest countries in the world and yet many of my own neighbors have no idea that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Shame on me. I should be praying, "Lord, please give your bold followers in __________ protection and safety as they proclaim your Gospel to the people around them and give me boldness to share it with the people around me." Heck, we should send them a newsletter and ask them to pray that we would unashamedly share Christ the way they do and tell them that we will be praying that God would build a hedge of protection around them.

Now, I certainly do not want to put any group of believers up on a pedestal and insinuate that they are somehow "perfect Christians." We know that none of us are perfect and all Christians should be more aware of that than anyone. However, they have got something right that I think we miss, their priorities. We have been lulled into complacency and comfort because of our privilege of freedom and we've bought into the idea that talking about religion and politics is taboo in polite society. Well guess what. With eternity on the horizon of every person on earth being polite should not be our overriding priority. I'm not suggesting that we be rude or verbally abuse people but if we share the love of God with others it won't be. Jesus was bold in His presentation of the truth while at the same time being the most loving and compassionate person to ever walk the face of the earth, and He is our ultimate example!

So where do we go from here? I hope that it is fairly evident. We should take seriously the suffering of our brothers and sisters who live in persecution. We should take our prayers for safety and well-being and offer them to God on their behalf. We should also make the prayer of the disciples our own.

And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that I may speak Your word with all confidence. 

Listen to the result of their prayer in verse 31;

And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

That, dear friends, could be us.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

We Broke 1,000!

According to the stats for "Lovin' Tellin' The Story" we have broken 1,000 views! It may not be much in the grand scheme of blogging but it is a milestone for me. Thank you all so much for reading this blog. I truly hope that our love of telling about Christ will help people along the journey of life towards His Kingdom. Please continue to read, comment and share the blog with others because my goal is to reach people with the Gospel, build up the body of Christ and bring glory and honor to the Father.


Wait? I Wanna Go!

If you say go we will go
If you say wait we will wait
If you say step out on the water and they say it can’t be done
We’ll fix our eyes on you and we will come

Your ways (Your ways, Your ways) are higher than our ways
And the plans that You have laid are good and true
If You call us to the fire You will not withdraw Your hand
We’ll gaze into the flames and look for You

This is one of my favorite songs and I just love the imagery that this particular video gives it with the scenes from The End of the Spear. There are so many sermons and blog posts that could come from the lyrics of this song and it may be that I draw on it again some other time. However, today I just want to focus on the second line because it may be the most difficult; 

If you say wait, we will wait. 

I have found, in my life, that I am more than willing to have God say "go." Every year when we prepare to go on our annual mission trip to Jamaica I am filled with anticipation about what God will do during our time there. I feel like it is a standing order from the Commander to "go" and all it takes for me to act on it is the opportunity. What I don't like, and I have a suspicion that I'm not the only one, is when God says, "wait," or when I'm in the midst of those times when God is waiting to say "go." Yet if we are to be completely obedient to God there will be times when we find ourselves waiting on Him. It is during those times that I become vividly aware of why they call patience a virtue. It is something that requires trust in the God who has called us, the God who has saved us and the God whose plan and timing is perfect. 

I can't help but think about the disciples and how they were required to wait after the crucifixion. Jesus had shared with them that He would die and that He would rise again. However, during those three days it must have been excruciating to wonder if He was telling the truth. In a very real sense their faith was being tested to the uttermost. Would they believe in the words of the man that they had been following for the past three years or would they turn, run and give up hope? We see this again when the disciples are made to wait, yet again, after the ascension. Jesus promised them a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Acts 1:4 tells us this.

Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, "Which," He said, "you heard from Me.

Several days later Pentecost came and after being filled with the Holy Spirit, they went and the world has never been the same. In God's perfect will He knew that there must be a time of waiting. I don't know why Jesus just didn't bestow the Holy Spirit on them before He left...but He does. Somewhere in His plan He knew that they needed to wait for just a little while longer before they went out and proclaimed the Gospel to the world. 

If we go back to the Old Testament we find out that the Israelites were forced to wait, not three or ten days on God, but forty years to see the promise fulfilled. We get the idea that this period of wandering in the wilderness was for the purpose of preparing the nation to enter and possess the Promised Land. The thing that I often have to remind myself of is that whatever period of waiting I may find myself in is preparation for what God has in store for the future. This is painfully difficult because I am, by nature, an impatient person and I find myself, at the very least, demanding a hint. However, because God is God He is under no compulsion to give us hints. In the end, if I am truly honest, this must bring comfort because of 2 Timothy 1:12;

I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day (KJV). 

The Israelites had to wait. The disciples had to wait. Now we demand instant gratification. You know, instead of offering my own opinion...man's opinion, I want to let the Word speak for itself.

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:31

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait on the Lord. Psalm 27:14

For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land. Psalm 37:9

I wait for the Lord; my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. Psalm 130:5 

As hard as it may be we are commanded and directed to wait on God. He builds these waiting periods in our lives so that He may teach us, so that we may grow, so that our faith may become strong. So, even though it goes against every grain in my body and soul, I have to humble myself and say, "If you say wait, I will wait." 


Monday, May 23, 2011

Jesus and Oswald Chambers Deliever a Knock-out Blow!

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Matthew 6:30

Jesus has a way of really hitting us where it hurts. Of course, being omniscient helps when it comes to delivering verbal sucker punches but it still amazes me that His words from 2000 years ago are still applicable to my life today. It is truly as if He were saying them to me. In this particular passage from Matthew Jesus is addressing the issue of anxiety and He begins very bluntly, For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life. "Do not be worried about my life? Have you seen what I'm going through? Do you know what kind of pressure I'm under? Have you see our bank account balance? Do not be worried? Yeah, right!" The simple answer to all of these questions is "yes." Jesus, ergo God, knows all of those things. He knows exactly what your situation is and yet He still says, do not be worried about your life. He even goes as far as to say that when we worry about these things we have "little faith."

Now, for years I thought, "Well, God knows I will worry and He will let it slide because He understands." During me reading this morning of My Utmost of His Highest Oswald Chambers shed some interesting, and potentially painful, light on this idea (you can read the entire text here). His opening line is, Jesus sums up common-sense carefulness in a disciple as infidelity. As if Jesus' jabs to gut were not enough now Oswald is getting in on the action! Let me explain. The "common-sense" thing to do is for us to prepare for the future and take care to make sure our basic needs are met. Jesus tells us, however, that if we believe He is who He says He is then we should not be concerned about these things because we know He will take good care of us. In fact, He will not just take good care of us by our standards, He will take care of us by His standards. If we allow God to provide we get a glimpse of all that really matters because He is providing the most important and eternal things. He expresses this in Matthew 6:25b;

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Chambers goes on to draw from the parable of the sower and point out that the thorns that choke out the seed are not the devil but rather the worries and riches and pleasures of this life. By concerning ourselves with the things of this world we are prioritizing them over and above God Himself. What God seems to be saying is, "Your relationship with me is top priority. It is your reason for being. Now, focus on that and let all the rest fall into place via my hand." We see this vividly in Matthew 6:33;

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

In beautiful and divine fashion Jesus gives all this parable and all this metaphor and then boils it down for us into one, simple, easily digestible nugget of truth: seek God first and He'll take care of the rest. Why? Because that is His priority for our lives. Charles Stanley, in his Life Principles Bible, says that "Our intimacy with God-His highest priority for our lives- determines the impact of our lives." It is telling that this is Life Principle #1!

There is a reason for all of this too. God wants our relationship with Him to come first because He knows that if it isn't we will fall prey to idolatry of one sort or another. Soon, if we find ourselves able to provide in some areas of our lives, we will only see God as the escape hatch when the submarine of our lives begins to go down. We begin to worship God only when times get tough so that we might extract some tangible blessing to help us survive. God says it doesn't work that way because then He becomes a mere "blessing bank" when our earthly one runs dry. The crazy part is that this isn't because God has a subconscious need to be useful, it is because...wait for it...He wants to have a relationship with us. Even the most secular lists of ingredients for a healthy relationship will place trust at or near the top. The same goes for our divine relationship, it must be founded on trust, trust that God will take good care of us in ALL situations.

When we begin to lose trust in God's provision we begin to lose faith in His promises. This is why, as Chambers put it, our common-sense carefulness becomes infidelity. This is why Jesus tells us that if we don't trust that He will take care of us we have little faith. It goes further, and I made mention of this in the last post I believe, because we are more than willing to trust God with our eternal life but we have a harder time trusting Him with our earthly one. This defies reason and I am the first to admit that I am guilty of it.

Understand this, this is not some remade version of the prosperity Gospel that says if we just believe in God He will bless our pants off with all kinds of money and health. You see, He is the One who determines what our most pressing needs are. If He does give us access blessing it is only so that we may turn around and bless someone else with it. All I am saying is that if we align our priorities with God's He will take care of us. This is a promise, not from man, but from God Himself.

The most faithful thing we can do is to trust. Trust that God will save us because we have believed on His Son, Jesus Christ. Trust that God will provide for our needs. Trust that God has a plan for our lives that has implications for the Kingdom. Trust that God's Word is filled with promises that we can bank on daily. You see our trust in God is evidence of our faith in Him and it is also something that we use to exercise our faith on a daily basis to make it stronger. The funny thing is, this almost works in reverse of our bodily exercise. When we lift weights we work our way up from light to heavy, the small to the great. In our faith we trust first for our eternal salvation (by far the more important thing) and work our way down to trusting God in the little things that we face from day to day. I believe that God will bless us when we make an effort, not when we make excuses for our lack of faith.


Friday, May 20, 2011

False Prophets and Litmus Paper

It could be that this is the last blog post I'm ever able to make, and I'll tell you why. According to some, tomorrow, May 21st, will be Judgement Day. Now I don't want to get into all the details about how Harold Camping and the good folks over at WeCanKnow.com are deceiving thousands, or perhaps millions of people. If you would like to read a very good piece about it follow this link to the blog of Paul Jenkins and see his comments. What I want to focus on today is the idea of false prophets, something that Paul brings to light in his post as well. While Camping and his crowd certainly represent the most bold and visible version of a false prophet, he is but one among many in this world and we need to be discerning enough to identify them.

First of all let me back up and discuss what a prophet is, and then we can move into discerning what a prophet isn't. I mean, if we know what the genuine article looks like it will be far easier to pick out the phony. A prophet, in the most basic form, was an "authorized spokesman" for God. They were people who were given a special message by God with the mission of giving it to the nation of Israel, God's people. One of the first references to "prophet" in the Bible that I can find is in Exodus 7:1 where God tells Moses;

See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.

At this point God is telling Moses that Aaron will be his "authorized spokesman." If you look back in Exodus 4:14ff, we find the place where Moses is trying to find an excuse so that he wouldn't have to lead Israel. After telling God that he is not a good public speaker God tells him that he can use Aaron for that- Aaron will be Moses' mouthpiece. It is important to note that, by far, the most common Hebrew word for prophet is nabi. The root of the meaning of this word is to bubble forth, as from a fountain (Easton's Bible Dictionary). This indicates that the prophet was pouring forth a message that had another source, a divine source.

Perhaps the next most common word used to describe a prophet is seer. I hope the meaning of that one is clear, they see things that other people don't. Think about Ezekiel and his vision on the banks of the river, or John and his vision of Heaven on the island of Patmos. Though this term is less commonly used to describe a prophet in the Bible, it is certainly the most popular usage in our culture. This is where I think the first part of our misunderstanding of prophets and prophecy comes into play. For most of my life I thought a prophet was just someone who told the future, or told us about the End Times. The truth of the matter, biblically speaking, is that the prophet's job description was to be God's megaphone to His people. This, more often than not, meant telling them when they had strayed from God.

If you look at the Bible there are seventeen books of prophecy in the Old Testament and those are just the ones written by, or specifically about, the prophets. You can also see that in almost every book of the OT there is prophecy or accounts of prophet's lives. Think about Elijah and Elisha. Neither of them has a book named after them. However, a large part of the narrative of 1&2 Kings recounts the lives of these two great prophets of Israel. We understand that Moses (and Aaron as we have seen) acted as prophets along with Samuel, and to a degree, King David ( I mention David because of some of the great Messianic Psalms that he wrote, see Psalm 22 in particular). The reason I say this is because a much smaller portion of "prophecy" in the OT is devoted to foretelling than is devoted to exhortation and correction. In the past I have described the role of the prophet as the "spiritual litmus paper" of God's people. If Israel began to stray from His plan and His path, the prophets were the first to know and God commissioned them to tell the people.

Now for the more interesting part in most people's opinion. The prophet was also given visions or an understanding of what God was going to do in the future. Much of the foretelling prophecy in the OT was geared towards when the Messiah would come and what He would do once He was here, etc., etc. I would say that the bulk of the futuristic, prophetic utterings were designed to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. This was, remember, to be the climactic event in the life of God's people so it makes sense that there would be much talk of it from the spokesmen of God. There are also plenty of examples of prophecy relating to the End Times and I don't want to minimize that at all because it is vitally important for us as believers. Prophetic words of this type give us signs to watch out for and hope for our ultimate victory.

The problem that we run into with foretelling prophecy is that people have often used it to claim they can know exactly when the end will come. One example of this would be William Miller who, after studying the Bible, determined that the end would come in 1843, March 21st to be exact. I shouldn't have to tell you that this was not the case. Those who agreed with Miller, the Millerites, were also known as Adventists from which we get our modern day, Seventh Day Adventists. This "misprophecy," soon became known as the "Great Disappointment." Indeed the disappointment must have been great but it hasn't stopped countless others from claiming to know when Judgement Day will occur, most recently of course is our very own Harold Camping. Camping, as you well know if you read the post I recommended at the beginning, has made more than one claim as to when the Rapture will take place and according to the Bible, one mistake is enough to label someone as a false prophet.

When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:22 NASB

Earlier in Deuteronomy (13) Israel is told to put to death any false prophets that try to divert their attention from God, something that Miller, Camping and all the others seem to have conveniently overlooked. The larger point that I believe God is trying to make here, and that is particularly applicable to us, is that false
prophets always end up drawing attention to themselves and away from God. They don't have a special word from the Lord, they have erroneously interpreted Scripture to suit their own needs and, as is the case many times today, bring money into their own bank accounts. The most basic mission of the prophet, and the Bible for that matter, is to point people to God.
There is a reason why God has played the time and date of the end so close to the chest and Paul points it out in his post. If we know the exact time and date of the rapture that means we can freely do as we please up until the very moment of judgment. Our lives turn into "one last hoorah" before we "get right with God" at the last possible moment. This is not the image of the Christian life that we see in the New Testament. You can make all the claims to the contrary you want but the fact of the matter is, if we know that tomorrow IS NOT the last day...we sure ain't going to live like it is. The message that we get from Scripture is that we should wake up every morning believing that it could be the last morning not so that we can get in all the "fun" we can but so that we can honor God with every last breath we take.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 13:22-23;

for false Christ's and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.

Two things immediately jump out at me from this passage. 1) In the end times false prophets will come and 2) Christ has told us everything in advance. That is, He has given us all the information we need. Not too little or too much but, as Goldie Locks would say, "just right." The cold hard fact is this, we don't need to know when the last day will be and we have no right to. What we need to know is that it could be today, it could be Sunday, it could be a thousand years from now. God wants us to come to Him NOW and to live for Him NOW...today and tomorrow. What we have to get our minds around is that following Christ is far more than just salvation for eternity, or God honoring us by allowing us into Heaven. It is about us honoring God on earth too.

The bottom line is this. If we really want to be prophetic in our message we must stop trying to figure out when Jesus is going to return. The prophets of old have already given us the clues to when that will be and it is a waste of our time to try and do so. The prophetic message that we should be announcing is "Thus says the Lord" and "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near." How near? Nearer than it was yesterday. God's purpose for prophets has never been to make sure people get their "get out of jail free" card in time. His purpose was to draw people close to Himself. Why? Because that has been His redemptive plan throughout human history. Draw them close in this life so that they will have all the more reason to glorify Him in the next.

Let me close by offering a practical test for the authenticity of a prophet. First, if what they say in going to have doesn't then they are not of God. This should be a no-brainer. God doesn't lie so if someone says they have a word from the Lord and it doesn't happen, they lied...God didn't. Secondly, if an alleged prophet's message draws people away from God or the truth He has revealed to us in His Word...they're a false prophet. The prophet's job was always to point people to the Lord, not themselves. The third thing I would add is related to the second. If a prophet is pin-pointing the time of the Lord's return we can be pretty sure they are a...you guessed it...FALSE PROPHET. First of all this is contrary to the Scripture. Also, it allows people to put off following Christ which I can find nowhere in God's Word. There is no reason for us to delay in coming to Christ and I don't think He would give us one by telling us exactly when He's coming back.

We are assured that false prophets will come. I can say this with 100% assurance, well, because "the Bible tells me so." It is our duty, as followers of Christ, to discern the false from the true and we can act as the "spiritual litmus paper" for our world today. In the end, what these false prophets are most guilty of is spiritual abuse because when what they doesn't come true their followers have one of two choices;

1) "The prophet was wrong and has deceived me." This is unpleasant but far better than the other option.
2) "God doesn't exist." or "God has lied to me."

For the sake of believers and non-believers we must be on our guard for false prophets to ensure that, as Mark 13 says, they do not lead astray the elect.

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. Mark 13:33


Thursday, May 19, 2011

With Us in the Midst, Immanuel.

God does not keep a man immune from trouble; He says - "I will be with him in trouble. " Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest (May 19).

"God does not keep a man immune from trouble." Those are some bold words and hard words to swallow by Mr. Chambers. Not only that, but when placed on the backdrop of the "Prosperity Gospel" it sounds downright blasphemous. If the foundation of your belief is that when you accept Christ God will bless you financially, physically, in real estate, and with the car of your dreams, hearing that He does not keep us from our trials is more than a small fly in the ointment. Sadly, far too many people in America, and perhaps around the world, believe that coming to Christ means salvation, not just from eternity in torment, but from the trials and struggles of this life. The witness of the Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament could not paint a more different picture than that. In fact, I would say that the entire Bible gives us evidence that God does not save us from our trials but, as Chambers says, He is with us through them.

This may sound awfully basic but I think it is terribly important that we, as Christians, understand that God is with us no matter what we face, or where we find ourselves. If you look in Mark 4:35-41 you will find the account of Jesus and the disciples in a boat, on the sea, facing a storm. It tells us that a "fierce gale of wind" blew up and the waves were crashing over the boat. In fact, the boat, we are told, was beginning to fill up with water. Let me pause here for a moment in case there are those who are reading that are "nautically challenged." The soul purpose of a boat is to keep you out of the water. In order to do that, it must keep the water out. At this point it would be safe to say that the disciples were in a crisis. In short, they were  afraid they were going to die. In the midst of all of this where was Jesus? Did He not care? Check out verse 38;

Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? "

Asleep on the cushion? Wh...wh...asleep on the cushion?! I can understand why the disciples were a little bit miffed about what Jesus was doing here. For years when I read this passage I agreed with the disciples because it very much looks like Jesus doesn't care that they are dying. Here is what I believe the Lord revealed to me, just recently, about this episode. Jesus wasn't asleep in the back of the boat because He didn't care. Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat because He knew who He was and what kind of power He has. Jesus knew that in a moment He could stand up and calm the storm with just a few words and that is exactly what He did. It is easy for me to look around in the trials and crisis' in my life and wonder if Jesus is in the back of the boat asleep and I have a sneaky suspicion many of you could say the same. Here's the kicker for me, Jesus not only knows who He is and what kind of power He has, but He also knows that we are in His hands. Christ can see the big picture and He knows how it is all going to work out and He knows that we are safe in His care. As a result of what He knows He can remain cool, calm and collected in a crisis. That doesn't mean we aren't going to get wet in the process or that we will be saved from our unpleasant circumstances, but it does mean we're going to make it through.

There is another great example of the truth that God will be with us in our trials in the Old Testament...well, there are many examples of this in the Old Testament, but I'm just going to pick this one for now. If my estimation is correct there are a fair number of you who have heard this story so let me summarize.

There were three young, Israelite men who were among those selected to serve King Nebuchadnezzer; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They so impressed the king  that they were given appointments in his administration. After having a dream, which these three men and their other friend Daniel interpreted, the king built a massive statue which all the people of the nation were to bow down to when the royal band began to play. Knowing that worshiping idols and false gods was prohibited by Yahweh, these three were committed to NOT bowing down. This infuriated Nebuchadnezzer and he proceeded to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into a fiery furnace. Listen to what happened after that;

Then Nebuchadnezzer the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly, O King." He said, "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!  " Daniel 3:24-25 NASB.

Some scholars believe that the fourth man in the fire was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. That is, it was Christ with them before He was born of a virgin and lived among us, etc., etc. Here is the take home point; God did not just deliver Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the furnace, He was in the furnace with them. God, through His Word, promises us that He will be with us no matter what the world throws our way and no matter what trials and struggles we may find ourselves in the midst of. It may seem like He's in the back of the boat asleep but He is there standing with us in our darkest and most trying times. This should give us an amazing amount of comfort. This, I believe, is part of that "peace that passes all understanding."

Yes, God is transcendent and stands over and above all that He has created, but He is also involved in our lives and the history of the world. This is not the god of deism who set things into motion and then let go, never to act again in the affairs of humanity. This is not the god of ancient civilizations that was manifest only in the natural phenomena. This is not the god that atheists accuse of being a spoiled brat burning ants with a magnifying glass. This IS the God of all creation who cares for His people and cared enough, not only to send His only Son to redeem mankind, but also cares enough to be in the furnace, and on the stormy sea WITH us!

My question for you today is this, "Where do you find yourself in these examples?" Are you in the furnace or are you on the sea? You may be living in one of the best times of God's blessing that you can remember but I'm certain that you will find yourself in a time of trial at some point in your life. When you do, understand that God is WITH you. He is not looking on hoping for the best or wondering if you're going to survive. He is with you. Furthermore, just because you find yourself in tough circumstances don't let anyone try to convince you it is because your faith isn't strong enough. The strength of our faith is born out of adversity. It is in those trials that our faith in God is tempered and made resolute.

And not only this, but we exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:3-5

One of the most powerful names of Christ is "Immanuel" which means "God with us." And just in case you're curious, Christ still is Immanuel because on the third day He rose from the grave and lives to this day to be our High Priest and Intercessor. Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven He gave us the Great Commission but when you read it, don't overlook the last line;

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b NASB.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New format...again and again

Well, I've changed the layout of the blog yet again. Something about the last update just wasn't working for me so I've reworked the design. I can't promise that this will be the last time. In fact, I would be willing to bet it WILL NOT be the last time I change around the ol' blog. Hopefully this latest evolution is more appealing. I think it gives it a slightly "cleaner" look. Comments and feedback are welcome but I can't promise I'll heed any of it :-). Thanks for looking and I hope you enjoy the posts!


ACLU = facepalm.

The Great Auditorium in Ocean Grove from Wikipedia
Sometimes I just have to wonder if there will come a time when the American people have had enough of the American Civil Liberties Union, better known as the ACLU. Of course, that would mean that the American people would have to have had enough of suing each other for anything under the sun. You know, that may have become the new "American Dream"; live long enough to sue someone for something completely absurd and live off the settlement for the rest of your life. "Why your honor, of course seeing my neighbor run over fluffy caused $3 million worth of mental trauma to my family and I." I want to say at the outset that if this post sounds like a rant that is because it is, but who knows, I may calm down by the end of it.

What sparked this post was an article on Fox News about the ACLU threatening legal action against a New Jersey high school  that holds its graduation ceremony in a large, Christian owned, auditorium (read it here). In case you don't go and read the entire article let me fill in some important facts for you.

1) This public high school has been having graduation in this auditorium for 70 years. This is a deep tradition for this community, not some two-bit tradition like the senior class "rolling" the principles car on the last day of exams. This one reaches back to a time when America's "greatest generation" was graduating from high school.

2) The Great Auditorium is rich with history, not just Christian either, but American. Here is a link to information provided by the Ocean Grove Historical Society. It is mentioned in the article, but it is worth reiterating, Mark Twain was on the board of Directors at the turn of the 20th century. Some 27 of NJ's governors have attended events there as well as 6 US presidents. Evidently it is okay for heads of state to go there but not graduating seniors.

3) The auditorium has always been open for events both secular and religious. The Fox News article points out that even the Beach Boys have played there. While they do represent, what I believe to be, a much purer time in American pop music they were by no means "Christian." 

The laundry list of problems I have with this is almost overwhelming. First of all, it seems to me that tradition is becoming the victim of, so-called, First Amendment rights. At this point I think it would be helpful to see what the actual First Amendment states rather than the ACLU's interpretation thereof.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.

Ummmm, I'm not seeing this situation anywhere in this amendment. Congress isn't having anything to do with this graduation ceremony. They certainly haven't made any laws in regards to it. From what I understand, no one in foisting Christianity on the students. The school was even compliant enough to remove the two Christian hymns that were to be sung at the ceremony. The rest of the amendment doesn't apply at all and, to their credit, I don't think the ACLU is claiming that it does. 

Now, please don't misunderstand me. Just because something is tradition does not make it right. Lynching was a tradition in the "old south" and it has no place in any society, much less American society. However, I don't think having a graduation ceremony in a Christian building falls in the same category. 

My next thought is this, what is the ACLU for anyhow? Luckily, in this techno-saturated age we have the internet to answer such questions. According to their website the ACLU is...wait for it;

The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.

Finally, I've always wondered who it was that was protecting my rights. All this time I thought that is what the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were for. Silly me. I guess the brave members of our military don't have a role in it either. That mission statement sounds very noble and on the surface it would be hard to disagree with such a sentiment and desire. The problem is that the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. This most recent example of the ACLU's action is absurd enough, not to mention the fact that if it goes to court it will be a massive waste of time and money. But there are other examples of the "good" work that this organization does. Did you know that in 1977 the National Socialist Party of America (read, Nazi) planned to hold a rally in Skokie, Illinois. That may sound somewhat ridiculous but still tame enough. Well, if you add to the equation that Skokie, Illinois has one of the highest concentrations of Jewish American's of any city in the country it becomes...what's the word I'm looking for...ABSOLUTELY NUTS! This city, of course, opposed allowing this rally to take place. Who do you think the Nazis ran to? You got it, the ACLU. The good folks of the union argued that not allowing the ralliers to display symbols of Nazism was a violation of their First Amendment rights. I don't listen to much talk radio but one day I did hear Laura Ingram offer this little nugget of wisdom. She said that my right to express myself ended when my fist encountered another person's face. That is, our rights only extend as far as they don't violate someone else's. The bottom line is that the ACLU was openly advocating the persecution of an entire demographic, the Jews. Therefore, the "rights" of some wacko group of anti-American's comes before the rights of law-abiding members of society. Well alright. My feelings about the ACLU are similar to those I have about the UN, they are both a worthless waste of time and money. At least one of those things we can print more of though.

Let me attempt to get back on track here. Kudos are due to the school officials in New Jersey who have decided not to acquiesce to the ACLU's threats. Someone must stand up to this organization because if no one does we will drown in a sea of ludicrous lawsuits and some demented form of political correctness. Make no mistake about it, Christians are a target for this organization. They will fight to make sure that our First Amendment rights to freedom of religion are squashed in favor of other worldviews. Does that mean that I think other worldviews should be squashed in favor of Christianity? By no means. There must be a balance though and the ACLU is not striking it. What I am about to share should be the end of the ACLU because, as well all know, no one survives a Chuck Norris attack;

The ACLU is not anti-religion, just anti-Christian. By definition, it's the American Civil Liberties Union. By action, it has become the Abolishing Christian Legacy Union.
The ACLU will assure Muslim clerics and imams the right to pray on planes, fight for an atheist's rights to remove a cross, stand beside pro-abortionists, help illegal aliens cross our borders, and establish rights for the sexual deviant by forming the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, but what is it doing for Christians and Christmas censorship?
While allegedly fighting against the tyranny of the majority, the ACLU itself rules religiously by litigation, lobbying, and supporting counter-culture Christian movements. So who died and appointed the ACLU as America's religious constitutional watchdog? Membership for the ACLU is only 500,000. America's population is 300 million. I think it's time that we helped them feel their size!
I suggest the rest of us follow the passion of Thomas Jefferson, who spoke these words that are etched on the very wall of his memorial in Washington, D.C.: 'I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.'   Chuck Norris, Published on WorldNetDaily.com on Dec. 11, 2006.

I will say this and try to bring this rant to a close. The Great Auditorium of Ocean Grove is located in an area that, thanks to MTV, we know as "The Jersey Shore." I admit that I have only seen approximately 3 minutes of that show. Those three minutes told me everything I ever needed to know about it though. The Great Auditorium, and the Camp Meeting Association that owns it, stand as a shining light for an area that has been marred by the hormonal antics of a depraved television show. If the ACLU wants to get involved in New Jersey maybe it should be against the anti-Italian, anti-brain foolishness of "The Jersey Shore" not a high school trying to uphold a deep and lasting tradition for its students, one that will give them an appreciation for the past and hope for the future of our nation. 

Rant off.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stephen Hawking, Heaven and Wisdom.

Photo from foxnews.com
So I pulled up foxnews.com this morning and this article was there staring me down. It seems that Stephen Hawking, who is arguably the smartest man in the world, has determined that there is no Heaven.

After relating the human brain to a supercomputer he says this,  

There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.

I will admit that the article was short and did not go into any detail as to how Mr. Hawking came to the conclusion that there is no Heaven so it is impossible for me to address his actual argument. Now that I think about it though, even if the article did give his reasoning I'm not sure I would be able to respond to it because of the simple fact that...I'm not a theoretical physicist! At any rate it did bring a thought to mind that I think applies here.That thought is about wisdom and how a persons degree of wisdom is not directly related to the amount of information they can process, the level of their IQ, or the number and types of degrees that are hanging on their wall. You might say that today we are going on a quest for wisdom. "Hold on Christian," you may be thinking, "wisdom is something that comes with age and time spent living life." Rightly so...to a degree. You see I believe that the quest for wisdom has a very definite starting point, a very clear goal and purpose and even if you are old and grey, it is possible to miss wisdom all together.

I think the best place to begin would be with a definition of wisdom. The English Word Dictionary defines wisdom as follows:

the ability or result of an ability to think and act utilizing knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight .

Webster defines it nearly the same;

The ability to understand what is right, true, or enduring; good judgment, knowledge.

In addition to that, listen to what The New Bible Dictionary has to say on the matter;

Like all Heb. intellectual virtues, wisdom (generally ḥoḵmâ, though other words are used; e.g.: bînâ, ‘understanding’, Jb. 39:26; Pr. 23:4; teḇûnâ, ‘insight’, Ps. 136:5; śeḵel or śēḵel, ‘prudence’, Pr. 12:8; 23:9) is intensely practical, not theoretical. Basically, wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the heart, the centre of moral and intellectual decision (Emphasis mine).

You see, in the Biblical sense, wisdom means applying all the knowledge we have gained to reality. Even outside of Christian, or even theistic, worldviews we intuitively know that if we have all kinds of knowledge but can't apply it to our lives or the world we live in, then we are just "smart" and not necessarily "wise." So it seems to me that the formula for wisdom is knowledge + practical application = wisdom. 

For the Jew and the Christian, perhaps the most well known exposition of wisdom comes from the book of Proverbs. The first eight chapters of the book are devoted to an explanation of true wisdom. While it would be impossible to give a full description of what Proverbs has to say I would like to point out a few highlights. Most of us are familiar with Proverbs 1:7, which says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction. This is reiterated in 2:6, For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. What this tells me is that apart from God we cannot hope to find true wisdom and even the knowledge that we think we've achieved is false. This stands in stark contrast to the ideas of Stephen Hawking when he says, 

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works"  

My argument, from what we have seen so far from the Bible, is that science cannot give us knowledge if it is contrary to God. Let me explain this a little bit further. If science tells us that there is no God and religion tells us that there is, then one or the other is wrong. That means that if there is a God then science has given us false information. Likewise, if we find that there is no God then religion has been giving us false information. Now, I also believe that Hawking is creating an unnecessary dichotomy. It is my belief that science and religion, or science and faith, can work hand in hand and they don't necessarily preclude one another. For the bulk of human history faith has informed science rather than stand in opposition to it. It is only since the theories of Darwin have gained such popularity that this division has become common practice. My question to Hawking would be, "Where has science worked and faith failed?" Perhaps in Nazi Germany, or in the abortion clinics of the world? If science tells us that the universe came into existence without the action of a divine being and that turns out to be wrong then science has failed and we are no closer to gaining wisdom. Another question I would ask is, "How is religion NOT based on observation and reason?" Romans 1:19-20 tells us that the existence of God can be seen and observed in the world around us and that His presence is clear if we will but take a look around. If we read further in verse 21-22 we are brought right back to the issue of wisdom;

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools (emphasis mine).

You see, if we take God out of the equation we are doomed to futility and foolishness because all of the knowledge that we think we've gained is falsehood and our wisdom becomes foolishness. I Corinthians 1:30 tells us that Jesus Christ became to us wisdom from God. It is through the lens of Christ that we begin to gain real wisdom, wisdom which allows us to apply our knowledge to reality. "What is that reality?" you may ask. The reality is this; the human soul is eternal and when our bodies die we will have an eternity to deal with, despite what Stephen Hawking may say. With that reality in mind, only a fool would choose to spend it in torment or apart from God. Therefore, the only wise thing to do is put our faith, trust and hope in Jesus Christ. If Jesus was who He said He was (the evidence for this is overwhelming but I haven't the time to address it now) then any other alternative is false and putting our trust in it is unwise. The ultimate reality is Heaven or Hell and the only knowledge that is going to matter at the point when we reach eternity is Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, true wisdom is not quantified by the number of degrees on our wall. The time we spend in school trying to learn all there is to know is time wasted if it is not guided by God. Wisdom is not a product of years of life either. There are many people who have spent a long time on this earth but have missed wisdom by a mile. Wisdom is a product of God because He is the very essence of wisdom and, according to James 1:5, if we lack it we should ask God for it because He gives it to us generously. What does He give us? God does not give us pointless information. He give us true knowledge that can be applied to the reality of eternity.

There are so many "rabbit trails" that I could follow in this post and, if the Lord leads, I may take them up in future ones. There is much in this post that I have presupposed but the goal today is to address wisdom rather than origins or theistic proofs so please forgive me for not being thorough in those areas. I would like to leave you with this challenge though. If you find yourself searching for wisdom in the lecture halls of academia or the labs of science I would encourage you to stop where you are and seek it from the One who contains all wisdom. Please understand I am not saying that we should reject school and learning because it is very valuable. We can find useful wisdom in the traditional areas but only if it comes from God and applies to the reality of eternity. God is the source and beginning of all wisdom and one day we will find that all the other stuff was simply wasted time.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

God Forgives but We Don't

 Depth of mercy! Can there be 
 mercy still reserved for me? 
 Can my God his wrath forbear, 
 me, the chief of sinners, spare? 
Charles Wesley 

I want to begin this post with a simple question, "How deep is God's grace and mercy?" Perhaps another way of stating it is, "Are there some sins beyond the redeeming reach of Christ?" The verse that immediately comes to everyone's mind is Mark 3:29 which says, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. Now there is much speculation and debate about what this verse means and questions about how exactly one blasphemes the Holy Spirit. I don't want to get into all those details here 1) because that is not the point of this post and 2) I don't have clear answers to give myself. What I will say is this, I believe that if you are worried about having blasphemed the Holy Spirit...you probably haven't. Why do I say that? Simply because the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the Word of God brings conviction of sin. If the Holy Spirit has stopped working on you then you aren't going to feel any sort of conviction over having committed this sin. Once again I have digressed from the topic at hand.

What I think often gets overlooked regarding Mark 3:29 is Mark 3:28;

Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter;

Many times in the Gospels Jesus will use a literary devise called hyperbole. In essence this is an exaggeration. For instance, He tells us that if our right eye sins we should pluck it out rather than suffer eternity in Hell with both eyes. He says the same thing about our hands. Does that mean that Jesus is condoning self-mutilation? Heavens no! What He is doing is trying to illustrate the gravity of sin. I do not believe that He is exaggerating the facts in Mark 3:28. What I think He means is that ALL sins will be FORGIVEN, bottom line, period, end of story. Now, here is the rub and the larger point that I want to make. Too often we, as Christians, define our own unforgivable sins. Usually murder is not on the list. If someone is found guilty of this crime and they repent and trust in Christ we praise God for the amazing testimony that they have. Drug addiction is the same along with a myriad of other vices. However, there are some sins that we refuse to rejoice over when a person turns from them.

From here on out I am going to be rather blunt, not because I want to seem radical or edgy but because I believe the situation calls for transparency. In many Christian's minds divorce has become the unforgivable sin. It stands above the rest and has a unique place apart from other downfalls. Most would be unwilling to say that divorce will disqualify a person from entrance into Heaven if they trust in Christ. However, it does seem to disqualify people from being used by God for ministry. The question I have heard is, "Would God call a divorced person to _______ (fill in a ministerial capacity)?" I can't help but wonder if there were similar questions floating around when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector. We see in Matthew 9:11 how people felt about tax collectors and sinners so I have to believe that the ill feelings were translated onto the disciple who was of that profession. What about Paul? We know the Christians were skeptical of his usefulness to God after all he had done to persecute the Church. Then there is Moses who was a murderer and yet was used by God to be the greatest leader Israel ever had. I would be remiss if I didn't mention King David as well who fell into temptation with Bathsheba while he was king! However, David saw the error of his ways and repented and it was that humility before God that defined his character. Jesus' own genealogy is replete with harlots, sinners, and criminals but they were all still used by God to increase His Kingdom because they were willing to admit their flaws and turn to Him. The one time I can think that a something disqualified someone from part of God's plan was David not being allowed to build the Temple. The reason was not his impropriety with Bathsheba though, it was because he was a man of bloodshed.

Some churches today refuse to ordain a divorced man in the capacity of deacon or pastor. Why? The perception is that divorce disqualifies a person from that office. It follows that God may forgive that sin but man is unwilling to. This may not be the explicit sentiment but it sure is implicit. Why not judge a person's ability to hold office on their character and calling rather than their past failures? We proclaim from the rooftops that God's grace is sufficient and that it covers all sins. We say with great confidence that when a person is born again the old passes away and the new takes over, that Christ has actually created something new, but...

"Well Christian, we are not judging that person's character or calling. It is really nothing personal." Oh but it is. Whenever someone goes through a traumatic event like a divorce it becomes part of who they are and, more importantly, it makes them who they are today. It is part of what has created and refined that character that they have and maybe, just maybe, it gives them abilities for ministry that others don't have. What if God is going to use that painful part of their past in a way that increases His Kingdom? What if that person is uniquely situated to show the love and grace of God to others who are dealing with the same trial?

I do not want to be misunderstood on this important matter. God hates divorce and if we have any sense we will too. It tears a family apart at the seams. Lives and hearts are damaged in ways that are sometimes irreparable. God disapproves of divorce just like He disapproves of lying, stealing, idolatry, murder and all the other sins. We should not simply overlook divorce or any other sin. However, the Bible tells us that once forgiven our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west and that they are cast into a sea of forgetfulness. It seems to me that the state of a persons heart and life NOW is far more important than mistakes they have made in the past. None of us are perfect, no not one, even after we are saved. Please find for me one pastor, deacon, missionary or evangelist who has been perfect from the moment of their salvation. Look all you want but you will find none. I am not suggesting that we make excuses for our sins or that they don't matter. They do and sin is a very serious subject to God. What I am suggesting is that grace is greater than sin and that is the message of the Gospel and we, as Christians, MUST STOP qualifying sin and disqualifying people because of their failures.

For any of you who have struggled with how your past effects your present or future ministry I want to leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul;

The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. Romans 5:20

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tornadoes, hail, floods..OH MY!

Photo courtesy of cdw0107
It should be no surprise to anyone in the United States that there has been an extraordinary amount of severe weather over the past month or so. Here in North Carolina we had a tornado outbreak last month that set a new record. The last that I heard there were 26 confirmed tornadoes on ONE day. A number of these storms rated an F3 on the Fujita scale, which qualifies as a "severe tornado" with wind speed between 158-206 mph. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of people are still dealing with the damage these storms have caused. There was a similar, and perhaps more severe, outbreak in Alabama and now people are dealing with massive flooding along the Mississippi River. In addition to these natural disasters we can add to the list the earthquake in Japan and even look back to hurricane Katrina in 2005. No matter when or where these disasters take place there are always haunting and painful questions about God's role in them. Usually the questions begin with the word, "Why."

Responses from Christians vary and they range from the helpful to the downright hurtful. Now, I'm not one to deny the truth in the interest of someone's feelings but there must be a way to both offer comfort and point to the truth of the matter. In the end, though, I don't really know with 100% certainty why God allows (or sends) disasters our way. For that matter, I don't know why disaster strikes certain people and not others. I can only think about the soldier who, in battle, survives while his comrades die. The phrase that is oft repeated in films and books is "Why did I live and they die.?" Recently I found myself asking the same question after the tornadoes in my home state. Why did our area see little, if any damage, and those in other areas face death and total destruction of their property?

Among the tragedy there is always some good that arises. For instance, I believe it is good for us to ponder our own mortality and get a grip on the fact that we are so very small. Despite our amazing advances in technology we are still at the mercy of God and His creation. Furthermore, with those questions of "Why" comes an understanding that there is something far greater at work than humanity. In a perfect world this should serve to point us to the Creator and controller of all things, God. Of course, we do not live in a perfect world. Romans 1 paints a bold picture of how we have ceased to see the God that is behind the natural events of the world because we have become corrupted and blinded by our sin. However, even through the tainted lenses through which we see the world God sometimes shows Himself. In the aftermath of a disaster there are helping and loving hands like those of Samaritan's Purse or the Baptist Men Disaster Relief organization. Those are people who come in and acts as God's healing hands in times of immense pain and suffering.

Even with that the questions still linger..."Why?...Why?" With those questions come a variety of answers. Some would say that God had nothing to do with a disaster. It is not His will that those things should happen but they occur as a result of the corruption of what was once a perfect creation. This sounds valid at first and it is a valiant attempt to remove any guilt from God. However, I think it also removes some of His omnipotence. The entire Biblical narrative proclaims that God has been active in His creation from day one. Amos 4:7 says this;

Furthermore, I withheld rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another I would not send rain; One part would be rained on, while the part not rained on would dry up.  

Also, in the book of Joshua we see God holding the sun in its place so that the battle can continue and the Israelites can achieve victory. Even at the Cross we see God causing the earth to respond to the death of its Savior. As hard as it is to say, I do not believe that God is absent or out of control when natural disasters strike.

The flip-side of the discussion says that events such as Katrina and the earthquake in Japan are divine judgements on the sins of the people in that area. This view certainly has more of a Biblical basis but it still runs headlong into some problems. First and foremost is the fact that no part of the earth is without blame in the eyes of God. Sin abounds across the globe and if Katrina was judgement on New Orleans where is the natural judgement on North Korea or Iran? I admit that I do not have insight into the divine Mind and it could be that God foresaw a greater chance of repentance in New Orleans than in North Korea or Iran. However, I don't think this response offers the balance between truth and love that we should be aiming for. I do not believe that God delights in sending tragedy among His creation. It seems to me, after reading some of the prophets, that these are last resort actions on His part. When the people fail to heed the words of His prophets then the tragedy must come. Why though? Amos offers further guidance here as well;

Yet you have not returned to Me.

God's plan is to draw us close to Him and see people come to believe in Him and accept Christ as their Savior. To get us to that point He often times works from the least severe to the most severe. In Israel God would send a prophet to warn the people that they were straying and that His judgement would come should they not turn to Him. "Well, we don't have prophets anymore so what are we supposed to do?" you may say. I disagree and part of the problem is that we don't have a clear understanding of what the prophet's role was in Israel. Normally, we see prophets as being the guys who told about the future and the end times. This is true enough but it is also an incomplete view of what a prophet was sent to do. A large part of their job was to be watchmen to Israel. In essence they were the spiritual "litmus paper" of the nation. Once we received the Great Commission and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit WE became the watchmen of the world. The question is, have we fulfilled this role? I would have to say the answer is, "no."

God doesn't want to send disaster and tragedy among His people. However, we believers have not proclaimed the fact that people need to turn to Him. When a tornado destroys a family's home and they ask us why God would allow that to happen our answer should be, "I don't know why God allowed this to happen but I do know that the reason you have that question is because I haven't done my job as a follower of Christ." As believers, when our life is turned upside down in a tornado or a flood or an earthquake we may not understand it but we have peace knowing that God is in control and that we are in His hands. Our responsibility is not to avert the disaster but to prepare people for when it does come...because trial and tragedy will come. You see we should not have to address the disaster itself, that is God's business alone, but we should be addressing the reason for the question. That reason is that they have not turned to God who, even in the midst of crisis, offers peace and the ultimate answer of His love and perfect will. The challenge then is this; when we hear these questions leveled towards God we should not feel bad that our God did this. No, we should feel bad that we did not prepare the people to answer the questions on their own by sharing the Gospel with them.

Finally, I will say this. Faith in God is not the magic bullet that alleviates all questions and makes us impervious to struggles and doubt. We all can point to times in our lives when, though we believed, we still found ourselves wondering "why?" However, even then we had the immovable rock of our Lord to stand on and look to.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... 2 Corinthians 4:8-9