Reminder of God
August 30, 2006Last night I took Millie, our Gordon Setter, to conformation class. The other dogs and their owners had it together. They worked as partners and the dogs seemed so happy with the praise of their owners. Millie and I were the tornado that blew through their lesson leaving devastation in our wake. It was quite clear who was in charge and it wasn’t me. As a result neither of us were happy campers. After class, the instructor placed a training collar on Millie and I led her around giving her lots of praise. Peace and happiness were restored to us both. As I read Acts 5 today, the story of Ananias and Sapphira and later the apostle’s imprisonment, I was convicted. When we read this passage don’t we all think, “Wow, isn’t that punishment just a bit harsh?” I mean all they did was hold back a few of the proceeds of a land sale for themselves instead of giving it to the community. And yet, it was more. They wanted to be seen as generous as Barnabas who sold all of his possessions and gave the money away. Still seem severe? When confronted, they denied it. Perhaps we feel the weight of the severity because, guilt-ridden, we all recognize how close we stand to, even revel in, disobedience everyday of our lives and plead for God’s mercy.
Psalm 32:3-5, 9
When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.
Juxtaposed to this couple are the apostles in Acts 5. They are teaching the risen Christ when they are arrested and thrown in prison. An angel of the Lord appears to them and releases them commanding them to go back to the temple to teach. They do and are arrested once again. This time they are beaten, threatened and told not to teach any more before being released. What do they do? They go back to the temple and teach. What marvelous obedience! Millie’s happiest moments last night were when she had that training collar on, obeying my commands, and receiving lots of praise. When am I at my best? When are you at your best? Yes this is training ground for us and bit, bridle and training collar will at times be necessary, as well as pleading for God’s forgiveness; but let us all long to be like these apostles who needed no bit and bridle, they simply obeyed.
August 27, 2006There was a problem at the University this past week with my account. It was a five-figure problem, if you combine my tuition waiver and stipend. Being the somewhat cynical person I am, I showed up to deal with the problem expecting a fight, in that experience has taught me that the more $$ are involved in a dispute, the more reluctant most people are to actually want to seek the truth. So I went to the office of the Director of Graduate studies. She invited me in, asked what the problem was, and listened to the detailed, fifteen-minute explanation. She then took another five minutes in phone calls to verify that everything I told her was correct, made another phone call, and voila! Problem solved! Tuition waiver given, stipend intact, hey, she even arranged for me to get a 10% discount on my textbooks for my trouble! If only most problems could be resolved that easily…well, actually, most can—If, and this is a big IF, individuals are actually willing to listen and seek the truth, instead of seeking to make their own points, or justify their own points above all. Margaret Miller once noted “Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” Within the Church, disputes are too important for that to be how things are handled. That has not, however, been my experience. An issue may seem unimportant to one, but very important to another. I am convinced that is what James had in mind when he penned this verse:
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
In the management of any conflict, the priority should be being quick to listen to, attempting to understand, the point of the other person. This must take precedence over the desire to make our own perspective rapidly known. “Winning” should never be the issue. Truth should. True victory is only won when the emotional and physical needs of all parties are given credence, and then measured as respects the promises, inferences made. Simple concept, yet rarely practiced. Are you in conflict now? If so, are you convinced of your own position to the point that you are not listening to your adversary? If that is the case, Satan is the victor through you, even if you “win” the argument, for your “rightness” has been put in front of God’s righteousness. Swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath… These are grammatical imperatives. There is no qualifier stated as to how convinced one might be of his or her own position nullifying this command. I saw this lived out last week in a huge secular university. How’s the Church doing on this one? What grade would you give it? And what grade would you receive?
August 26, 2006I’ve been talking to some friends lately about myths within the Church. My buddy Jim threw out one that has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. He stated that what frustrated him is the sense that “you can have spiritual growth without personal mission.-What this means is that we can do bible studies and accountability groups that are all ‘internal’ to the church. And that this could go on endlessly, without ever reaching out with the gospel. I believe this stunts spiritual growth rather than causes it…” Well said Jim! I used to put it a bit differently, namely that the Church in North America has a weight problem. Many believers will feast and feast every Sunday and Wednesday on God’s Word, watch “Christian” TV (whatever the heck that is), read “Christian” novels, and yet never take the time to walk next door to check on the well-being of their neighbor. The result is a bunch of bloated believers with elastic-waisted bible covers that are needed because they never exercise their faith. Couch potato Christians looking for the next “spiritual fast food” fix. Christ’s command to those who would claim to be his disciples was, however, not so passive:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Ministry, evangelism, discipleship, are the responsibilities of every single believer, not just of the “professional” Christians. What good is it to learn great truth, if you never then teach it, never then live it? Can you really “know” doctrine if you are not serving your neighbor? The fact is that most ministry opportunities present themselves OUTSIDE of the walls of the Church. There is shoe leather to the Gospel. That assumes walking with purpose to those around us, like the verse above implies. Bloated believer? Start taking steps of faith…
August 21, 2006Some more thoughts on Patricius, or Patrick, the person who first brought the Gospel to Ireland. Please, think on this from a heart perspective, that is, how you would feel if it were you. Here’s a fellow who was kidnapped from an affluent Roman family in England by a band of roving slave traders. He was sold into slavery in Ireland. Unable to speak Gaelic, yet tasked with the slave duty of tending sheep, Patricius was given no clothing—he tended sheep naked in the Irish cold and damp. For about a decade, the man toiled naked, cold, virtually alone except for the few he met who spoke a language foreign to him. He could no longer speak proper Latin when he returned to his family, and knew only the basest of the “savage language” of the Irish. While others his age had careers established, Patricius could only speak like a child or a savage. Sound like a good series of events? Something you think you’d choose to endure on you own volition? Yet if these things hadn’t happened, Patricius would probably have been a nameless person to history. A person who made a living, instead of a difference. Yes, because of these hardships, Europe’s great libraries were copied and distributed, bringing about the end of the Dark Ages, and Patricius lives on in not only history but also more importantly in God’s presence. This brings to my mind an often tritely quoted verse:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Not a trite verse at all in its true meaning, however it is often simplistically mis-applied. It is important to note here what is NOT being said: it is not stated here that only good things are going to happen to the believer. Nor is this a guarantee of the success of our plans. So what is the meaning here? First, that all things will ultimately work together, that is, in harmony, for the greater good of the individual who loves God, and is working according to God’s purposes. My friends, bad things, very bad things, can and will happen in your life. Anyone saying otherwise is only trying to sell you something. How then can this verse be true? Simply this—God is in the business of resurrection, bringing life from death, giving in exchange for ashes, beauty. This then is His promise that He will do that with the hurts, agonies of our lives. There is also a condition however in this verse. It is written to those who are called according to God’s purpose. That is, this promise extends to those who are actively working to God’s glory. Individuals pursuing God’s purposes over their own. In our lives, many hopes and dreams are put to death, a painful experience. Yet if we are truly following God, we can count on the fact that God will retool, rework those dreams, fashioning them anew, and bringing resurrection (yet remember that even in His resurrected state, Christ retained the scars of His wounds). The funny thing about resurrection is that it has this habit of being eternal in nature. Lives lived in ease seldom change the world. Yet individuals who are willing to risk their lives in the service of God, they are promised, in an ultimate sense, that all wounds will be turned to their good. Why then is it so tempting to be content with making a living, while few thoughts turn to making a difference? Look at the difference a boy kidnapped into slavery made to the continent of Europe.
August 18, 2006They screwed up, went the wrong way. So common sense said. Thomas was a man who had issue believing the apparent. Yet when he realized the Truth, he changed radically. While the known world was to the west, he strode across the desert to the eastern shore, where he built a boat, covered it with leather skins, and sailed, without directions, to the east, because he believed that there were those that direction who needed to know about his Master. The disciple, “doubting Thomas” arrived in southern India, where the dominant faith to this day is Christian, and the surname “Thomas” is among the most common. Patricius was a child of an affluent Roman family in Britain in the 4th century. He was kidnapped by Irish slave traders while he was in his early teens. Forced for over ten years to tend sheep, while he was naked and without shelter, Patricius meditated upon a new word he had heard shortly before his abduction. It was the story of a loving God who paid the price for our iniquities, offering forgiveness to all who placed their faith in him. A decade of solitary reflection led Patricius to a deep faith in Christ. When he gained his freedom, he chose to leave the affluence of his family, study theology, and return to Ireland. His desire was to turn former slave traders into those who were themselves liberated, and would become themselves thus liberators. Patricius, or as we know him, Patrick, brought his faith back to Ireland, leaving behind the fringe of the Roman Empire for the land of the barbarians. Ireland within that century became the first land in history to eradicate human slavery. Resultant from Patrick’s (or Saint Patrick as most of us have heard him called), ministry, the philosophical and theological texts of the Roman and Greek empires were transcribed, and then later redistributed to a Europe which had become illiterate in the dark ages. These folks, they went the wrong way, directions that were counter intuitive. Why?
“Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!.”
This passage gives us insights to the thoughts of God; namely that they are deeper than ours—so much so that they are unfathomable. If a person is choosing to walk, therefore as God leads, will they be walking by what we call “common sense”? Thomas sailed into oblivion—and transformed the subcontinent of Asia. Who among us has accomplishments that compete with that? Patricius gave up a secure life for an existence among “barbarians”, yet his ministry saved the western world from the onslaught of the Vandals and Visigoths. To follow God is to live a life “unfathomable”, translated to today’s parlance as one that does not make sense. Here’s the kicker—would your friends, neighbors, co-workers say that your life makes sense, is predictable, fits the mold? If so, doesn’t that bring to bear significant question marks as to whether you are living by faith, or by sight? Frankly, the only people I’ve ever seen change the world have headed the “wrong way”. Which way are you headed?
August 6, 2006As many of you know, Osa, our beloved dog (friend) of fifteen years, passed away on Friday. Man, she had spunk. She absolutely defined the word “faithful” as well. Osa did not have an easy life. In Wisconsin, she contracted lyme’s disease, not manifesting symptoms, but she was a carrier. Six years ago, she broke her back. Doggy neurosurgery restored her ability to walk, and gave us some more good years together. Two years ago she came down with Cushing’s disease. All of those hardships, yet she never lost her sense of verve, her sense of mission. She guarded the home with diligence, and although walking was so very difficult for her, she always greeted us at the front door whenever we came home, bringing us one of her toys in celebration. Osa modeled perseverance, she finished strong.
Life does deal blows that can feel as if they are breaking your back. It does bring many forms of disease that can debilitate. Yet one has a choice whether or not to give up on what is important, or whether to press on. Many start strong, yet when difficulties come, they stop, spending the rest of their lives licking their wounds, or showing them to others, hoping to garner sympathy. All are wounded, I have no doubt. Some finish with their ideals and values intact. Some finish strong. Others wither. Paul was a man who received many wounds in life, yet he finished strong. Facing his beheading, this is what he wrote,
2nd Timothy 4:7-8
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteouseness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only me, but to all who have loved His appearing.”
Yes, all are wounded, and some glory in that, forgetting the greater calling of faith. Others throw pity parties over their wounds, inviting all to come and see. Still others press on. Folks, Osa finished strong. If a dog can make the choice to keep on, to remain faithful, to serve instead of seeking to be served, can’t you and I?
August 1, 2006Good morning! First, sorry to have missed Monday’s edition. Our 23rd anniversary was Sunday evening, and I chose (without regret) to take Glenda out to dinner instead of writing. I Still can’t believe she puts up with me. Even seems to enjoy my company. She’s a hottie, and I’m a middle aged bald guy. No accounting for her taste, yet I’m grateful.
Hey! Did you hear? Mel Gibson screwed up! I mean big time! That’s making all the news these days. Yup, he screwed up. Got drunk, got behind the wheel, was caught, and made a series of offensive remarks to the arresting officers about Jews. Bad deal. But did you hear this? The guy apologized. Not once, but twice. Not just apologized, but offered an olive branch to the Jewish community, asking their forgiveness, and asking them to take an active role in his recovery. If you haven’t read his apologies, you should. It can be read in full at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-2295020,00.html Give it a shot, I did. And in reading it, I found myself looking at a courageous act. I am 45 years old. I don’t know how many times I’ve wounded people, people I care for, with stupid words. And, I don’t know of an individual over the age of three who has not done the same. Here’s the deal: we all screw up in ways that deeply, deeply, often irreparably hurt others. Right, irreparably as respects our ability to make it right. If you’re not willing to admit it, then there’s a problem with your perception or integrity. If you are willing to admit it, then shouldn’t forgiveness be extended to Gibson? I mean, has he done anything that you haven’t? It’s easy after all for words to pour out, like toothpaste from a tube, yet once out, how do you get the toothpaste back in? My issue isn’t about Gibson, or what you or anyone else thinks of him. It’s about all of us, as individuals. None of us is righteous…well, One is
“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.”
“…to all men”--that bespeaks of the individual responsibility of all to accept that justification on a personal level in order to gain its advantage. To put things simply, whatever righteousness I have (as well as Gibson…or you) is seated at the right hand of God right now in the person of His Son. Do you know Him?
It’s Glenda’s and my 23rd anniversary. I remember the magic the first time Glenda and I kissed. It was outside of her dorm room, which was in the basement of the dorm, S.M.U., summer of ’82. I thought about that the rest of the night, on my drive home, and going to sleep. Tonight, when we kiss goodnight, that same magic will, as always, resonate, for our love is always renewed (except I won’t have to drive home…). So is God’s love and forgiveness to us, no matter what stupid things we do or say, every day. That does not mean the consequences of our stupidity go away, but God’s love and forgiveness is renewed…every morning. Gibson at least had the sense to accept the responsibility of fault, to apologize, and not presume upon others. That opens the door for healing for the people he offended, hurt, maybe even irreparably (no, he cannot “fix” the mistake, as we can’t ours). That’s something to learn from. Do you have the courage to face those many things in life that are your fault, hurt you or others, accept responsibility, seek forgiveness, and turn to Christ? Toothpaste is out of the tube…