Reminder of God
September 29, 2006I had plans for a ROG formulating in my head based on the latest experiences Millie and I have had at conformation class but that will have to wait until later. As I prepared myself for writing this one, I prayed and went to Scripture. I am currently studying the book of Acts and just happened to be at Chapter 17, Paul’s great address to the Athenians, his Mars Hill address. Moved to tears by what love my God has for me, I simply offer to you a recitation of Paul’s inspired words. May they fill you with the hope and the love that never ever disappoints and always meets you right where you need it.
Acts 17: 22-31
Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious, for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you; God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with man’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
Do you sometimes feel as though you’re pleading for help from someone who is just not out there? Do you beseech a silent listener? Do you not know to whom you pray or even what you believe in? Do not base your conclusions on the harsh blows dealt you by human hands in the past. Regardless of how thoughtless people, Christian or otherwise, have treated you in the past, God is still God. He still loves you. In him you, live, and move and have your being. Sometimes silence is necessary to attune your ear to the still and quiet whisper of the God who loved you enough that He gave up his only Son to die on your behalf. He who loves you that much will not leave you to falter, He is the One who holds your hand.
Romans 8: 32-39
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
September 24, 2006You know, the older I get, the more it is true that it is not the portions of scripture that I do not understand which cause me great concern. Instead, it is the portions that I do understand, for in reflecting upon them, consistently I see that my life is not in alignment with God’s Word. And when faced with Truth that is antithetical to how I am living, I know my life must change, for Truth remains a constant. Consider along these lines the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, and brought before Christ. The narrative covers the first portion of John chapter 8, if you want to read it. A quick recap—A woman is caught in the very act of adultery and brought before Christ. Her accusers remind Christ that the law says she must be killed. They ask Christ what to do with her. He replies to them saying basically, ”Ok, guys, do it. But only the one among you with no sin can cast the first stone.” One by one the people leave. In that she was “caught in the act” I always have a mental picture of this poor girl as naked. Now everyone has gone, and she is there, in all of her guilt and nakedness before Christ. He, the only sinless one, the only one thus who could rightfully condemn her, remains. What does He do?
And straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” and she said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.”
Christ extends not condemnation, but mercy, grace, forgiveness. Although He had the right to condemn her, He did not. And then a huge reminder to her—the words “From now on sin no more.” An impossible task, for we all sin. To say we do not is to call God a liar. Why then this command? Having extended His Grace to her, Christ wanted to communicate to her that while He may have gotten her out of this predicament, her need for Him, for His forgiveness, His grace, would remain. Just like mine, for I, too, am a whore, a thief, a murderer, you name it. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you are too. I do not meet God’s standard. I need His grace, and not just to get me out of the occasional awkward spot, but every day. And my pride does not like to admit that. My friend Phil has often made the point that there really have only been two types of people in the world: the filthy, rotten sinners, and, Christ. To understand that is to understand that since I am not Christ, I have no business condemning others. My attention needs to be on aligning my life with Truth.
September 22, 2006World War Two was not a slam dunk. There was a significant chance that the Allies would not win, that the Axis would be victorious. The Pacific theater was one of the biggest question marks. And, do you know what was one of the most effective Axis strategies against the Allies? Do you have any idea of what the plan was to defeat the Allies? The easy answer is “shoot them, drop bombs on them, and torpedo them!” However, that wasn’t what almost turned the tide of the war. What did? A.G. Bayer, located in Germany, had the only factory in the world that converted the bark of a certain tree into Quinine, the only medicine available at the time used to combat malaria. The Axis powers simply closed the door to the needed medicine to inflict more fatalities than shooting, bombing, or torpedoes combined. And they almost won. Damn close, really. And the collective questions was “So What!?!”
1st Peter 4:10
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Friends, we all have good gifts, imbedded in who we are, who God made us, that can be used for the benefit of others. If you are cowed into not using your gifts, then the enemy, Satan, Evil, has won a huge victory. Sometimes in war the greatest damage can be inflicted not by causing harm, but instead by withholding a good. If you are not regularly putting into practice for the benefit of others the good gift(s) that God has give you, then in reality you are doing nothing more than fighting against good. God gave us all gifts for many reasons. Some of them have no effects upon ourselves, but instead bring healing to others. Without healing, how long can any army last? In life, the role of spectator is only an illusion. Are you willing to accept the responsibility that is yours, to own up to being a participant? Sympathy for the wounded, while you hold a clean bandage and keep it sterile, means nothing. Action. Forward. Charge! How are you actively serving one another?
September 21, 2006Here’s an interesting fact: the train tracks between Tuscany and Venice, which cross the Alps, were built before there was a train engine capable of making that climb. They were built by visionaries who anticipated the coming of a day when an engine powerful enough to make that climb would exist. What a grand example of faith on so many levels, because here was not only faith in an idea, a belief something would happen, but also faith that had shoe leather to it, in that action was taken on that faith—action that required traversing a mountain range. Action that required detailed planning. Additionally, this was faith that brought others into its circle, as these individuals had to convince bankers and venture capitalists to fund the project. Here’s the question of the day—Do you have that kind of faith in Christ? Is Christ a nice idea for you, or do you really act upon that faith, order your life after it? Do you make your plans on what you see, or on the future He has promised you? And, is your faith contagious enough for others to be pulled into its orbit? Paul had a faith that looked to the future, but acted today. Here’s what he said about it:
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”
Does that verse describe the reality of how you are going about your day-to-day life? Do you choose to place the spiritual as the directing factor of your physical life, or instead do you try to find some time at best to fit a spiritual component into your life? A challenge today. Print this up, and during your breaks, memorize this verse. Internalized Truth has a tendency to change our actions!
September 19, 2006Ten days ago I got what I thought was a nasty spider bite. It made a painful welt on my stomach, and I felt sick for a couple of days. I treated the area with cortisone cream, to no avail. Over the week, the welt didn’t show signs of dissipating, and the pain grew, so I switched to Neosporin with pain reliever. No change. This weekend the welt began to reach around my back, and the pain really intensified, so I tried benadryl ointment. Nothing. This morning the pain was so intense that I had to go to the hospital, convinced that I had a brown recluse bite. When I finally saw the doctor, the diagnoses? Shingles. Shingles is a type of adult onset Chicken Pox, and is known to be excruciatingly painful. Now here’s the frustrating part. I’m already two thirds of the way through the most intense part of the disease. However, if I hadn’t been stubborn and convinced that I knew what was wrong, I could have received medication that would have cut the duration of the pain in half. My point? Often in life, we think we know the answers without pausing for verification. Therefore, we pursue these “answers” with great passion, only to have pain intensify. This is especially true in trying to discern the meaning of life, as we jump from one thing to the next to try to develop a sense of purpose, of meaning. We try to find meaning in relationships, only to realize that everyone else is human and will let you down. We try to find meaning in careers, but then are faced inevitably with the reality of retirement, and what happens to meaning and purpose then? We try to find meaning in material consumption, only to find that the more you have, the more you need to fix, in that things break. Power, sexual conquest, knowledge, the list goes on, yet none of them give in a lasting way that much needed sense of purpose. Any of these pursuits, however successful, are merely trophies. And trophies do nothing more than point back to us, and really, we all know that when others take a deep look at us, they will see our flaws. Fortunately, God has let us know what our purpose is. Even from the abstract of the creation narrative, it is clear to discern that our purpose, one that will give true meaning, is to glorify, to point to, God.
1st Corinthians 6:20
“For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
The wrong pursuit of purpose will cause pain. It will show our failures more than our triumphs. Fortunately, when we point to God, instead of pointing to ourselves, we are introducing others to perfection. The question then becomes not what is our purpose in life, but instead how we are going to go about realizing that purpose. And that, really, is the fun part.
September 14, 2006We had an interesting discussion in class today as to the difference between faith and superstition. Many of the students in class viewed Christianity as a superstition at the beginning of the seminar. They had good reason. Much of what is presented as “Christian” is in fact superstition. Point in fact?
“And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.”
Immediately following this is what we often refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. These words are repeated time and time again in churches every Sunday. Time and time again. As if the repetition of them meant something. Score a big one, Satan. The Devil reigns in many churches. Time here does not permit a full exposition of the meaning of the passage, but suffice to say that the “Lord’s Prayer” was given only as a model, an outline, a framework. It was clearly never intended to repeated again, and again, and again, and again,…. As the verse immediately preceding, it makes clear. And any Church service in which this happens is missing a huge portion of the intention of the Gospel. Prayer is a conversation with God. Pure (which means honestly—i.e. being open with our failings…), and simple (which means we know we will never impress God with our words). The “Lord’s prayer” is a model, only, of how to begin this. Yet church after church relies on this meaningless repetition as a core portion of their worship time. Superstition. How do you worship? What do you present as the essence of “Christianity”? If it is ritual and repetition, please, rethink your stance. Ritual can have its place, if it serves only as a reminder. If one depends on ritual to accomplish something, then that is no longer Christianity, for the essence of Christianity is a relationship, not ritual. We can never reach up to God. We can only acknowledge and accept that God has reached down to us. That is the essence of understanding the sacrifice of Christ. Few Churches teach this. Few elder boards will let their pastors teach this. What are you depending on as respects your salvation? Knowing the right formula, and covering all of your bases with superstition? Or instead, a relationship with Christ, which demands reality, not repetition? This is the most important question a person can ask. Have you asked it of yourself?
September 13, 2006What’s your time worth? Really, stop and think about it for a moment. If your lucky, you’ll transcend thoughts of wage. I received an e-mail from a good friend the other week that helped put this question into perspective. Here are some excerpts: The value of four years? Ask a recent graduate. The value of nine months? Ask the mother of a stillborn. The value of one month? Ask the mother of a premature baby. The value of an hour? Ask a person’s who’s lover’s flight is late. The value of a minute? Ask the person who just missed their flight. The value of a millisecond? Ask the person who won bronze instead of gold. Now, What’s your time worth? Every single person I know fully believes they work hard. Every one. One can work hard, and accomplish very little in life.
“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of you time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Years of pastoral work left me with more examples of men complaining about their relationships with their wives, while the same guys spent all of their spare time with model airplanes and watching sports on TV, and women complaining about their husbands while they had not even taken the time to know in detail what their husbands actually did (job title is very different from job description!)for a living. As College and Young Singles pastor, most of the parents I talked to complained about how ornery their children were, while when asked they couldn’t tell me with any detail what their children’s hobbies were. Trouble with your spouse? Have you spent more time playing computer solitaire than writing love letters or ordering flowers? Trouble with your kids? Do you spend more time on the phone gossiping complaining to friends than learning what is important to your children? Distant from God? Is the radio on during your commute to work? What is your time worth? Can you afford to waste it?
September 11, 2006There are some things that are not obvious at first thought. For instance, do male kangaroos have pouches as the females do? And if so, what do they carry in them? (Six pack, leatherman tool, car keys…) Why, for that matter, do I, a male, have nipples? Moreover, since a great many snakes are livebearers, does this mean that live bearing snakes have belly buttons? If not, why, and how do they get their nutrition in the uterus? All this to say, truth is where you find it! For a long period of time mankind thought that truth could only be perceived as overtly revealed in scripture. To think that man could reason to truth was considered a heresy, the height of arrogance. Then came the enlightenment and modernity, and reason was crowned king over all. Man placed his reason as being over revealed truth. A great deal of scientific progress was made, and people grew smarter, yet not wiser, not more skillful at living. God gave us brains so that we can reason. He also however gave us His Word, His revealed truth, so that we could know Him, and grow in that knowledge. My friend Phil shared with me one of his pet peeves in ministry. His frustration is when people take a low view of scripture. He pointed this out though in how individuals phrase things to make it sound as if they are taking a high view, with terms like “The Bible is my road map for life,” as if the Bible was going to tell you what to have for dinner, or who to marry. The problem with this mindset is that it makes scripture about us, when in fact it is about Christ. It is He who is on center stage, not us. And God is much more concerned about us knowing Him to the fullest than he is concerned about our dinner plans.
Colossians 1: 18-20
“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him I say, whether things on earth or in heaven..”
Some truths may be reasoned out. Some must be accepted as they are, other truths we need revealed. God’s revealed Truth is about God, that we might know Him, and in so doing become conformed more to His image. If you’re looking in scripture to find a road map, your looking for a gift. If you looking in scripture to find Christ, you’re looking to know the gift giver. Authors of books with clever titles and great merchandising plans have made a fortune selling books and study aids to help people find “God’s will for their lives.” I’ll put an end to the suspense and save you a bundle of cash. His will is for you to know Him in His fullness, and in so doing be conformed to His likeness. Anything that complicates that is simply a diversion.
September 6, 2006Last Saturday I was making homemade spaetzle to go with dinner. As I was pulling an egg from the fridge, SPLAT! It slipped from my hand, falling to the floor. With a mess to clean up, I called for my trusty assistant, Millie (one of our dogs) who is always ready to help in such emergencies. While Millie was licking up the evidence of my clumsiness, Blossom (our other dog) entered the kitchen, looked at Millie, and then looked back at me with an expression that screamed “Hey! Not fair!” So, I grabbed another raw egg, and threw it ten or so feet across the kitchen to her. She caught the egg. Being a retriever, she then ran up to me and dutifully put the egg on my foot—it was unbroken. Amazed, I did what any other stupid pet owner would do—I repeated the gesture. Again, she caught it and brought it back to me, still unbroken. I finally had to break the egg for her in order for her to eat it instead of continuing to bring it to me to throw for her. I told this to Glenda, who did not believe me. I gave her an egg. She threw it to Blossom, who caught it, and brought it back to her, unbroken. Now Millie felt left out. I threw her an egg. SPLAT! Caught, crushed and swallowed before you could blink. Millie clearly didn’t share Blossom’s giftedness. You see, Blossom has what’s called a “soft mouth,” which is a trait highly sought after in retrievers. It means that the dog will not damage the bird, egg, or whatever else they are tasked with retrieving. We just had never known of this giftedness in Blossom because we had never provided her with an opportunity before to see how she could do. What a surprise (I was able to repeat this with Blossom to about twenty feet in distance).
This got me thinking about the Church. Over the years, the model of Church service has become perverted. Its perversion lies in the overabundance of professionalization that has taken place. What I mean is this—The Church used to function as a body, with each person utilizing their giftedness for the benefit of others. In this way the community of believers ministered to one another, without a radical sense of hierarchy. Those gifted in teaching taught. Those gifted in encouragement counseled. Those gifted in service served. And so on. Each area of giftedness was acknowledged as needed, but none were lorded over others as “better,” or “more important,” for all are needed. Yet nowadays individuals are rarely ever encouraged to practice their gifts. Even more seldom do Churches seek to provide encouragement, in a safe environment where failure is tolerated, for the body to experiment to find out what their gifts really are. The “professional Christians” do the work of the ministry, while the laity, marginalized, sits by and critiques what could have been done better, or how a sermon was “good” because it made them feel “encouraged.” That however is not the biblical model for Church ministry.
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried away with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things in Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the deifying of itself in love.”
Man, can Paul write a long sentence or what? Yet what is clear here is that all parts are necessary. And Christ is the head. One of the great failures of the Church today is in its marginalizing of the laity, instead of infusing them with a sense of mission, and providing them with multiple opportunities to try various tasks, and succeed or fail, that all might then come to know where they are gifted by God. Blossom can catch an egg, unbroken, from twenty feet, and return it to me. Millie failed at the task, but has many other talents. And I love each dog just as much. I hope you’re lucky enough to be a part of a Church that encourages participation in ministry—I am. It is interesting to think that the vast majority of all major resurgences in the faith were the result of laity in action. What is the point of equipping after all, if no opportunity for service or sense of personal mission is encouraged?
September 1, 2006When we dine at a restaurant, someone tends to our palatable needs. When the meal is over and we leave, less than an hour later can we even remember the face of that person who served us? But, we attend a conference, listen to an incredible speaker and that face will linger in our minds for a long time. Their words will echo in our heads even months down the road.
Acts 6: 8, 15
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.
Stephen waited tables. Stephen was a servant. While the apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave themselves totally to the teaching of the Word and to prayer, Stephen served tables. And yet, Luke describes Stephen with these words in Acts. He also has the bittersweet reward of being the first martyred for his faith. Not an apostle, but a waiter. And when false accusations were brought against him and he was seized and brought to court, those lies ringing in his ears, people saw the face of an angel in his visage. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. Do you feel less important than others, like you have nothing to offer?
I Cor. 1:27-31
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption-that, as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.
Whatever your job, you may be right where God wants you and wants to use you. Among Stephen’s last words were these: “Look I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” In his last moments, he glorified the Lord. Whether we are babysitting the photocopier, washing dishes, or delivering memorable speeches let us first be about glorifying the Lord. It is He, not us, who brings the results. Some of them we see, some are only apparent after we’re long gone from the scene.