Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Purpose of Suffering - Part 1 Revelation

Yesterday I explained how Sam Harris could not in a Biblical sense come to grips with a moral ground founded in God. During that post I pointed out some of the issues he raised in the article on by John D. Sutter called, "Philosopher: Why we should ditch religion." In this article he draws comments from Sam Harris trying to make the case on why we should ditch religion. Sam makes some comments related to suffering. These are recaps from his 20+ minute video presentation on the TED web site. (There is a link to it in the link above if you want to see it.) Sam's case is an emotionally charged one. He is passionate about the need to combat repression and pain wherever it exist. In many ways Sam seems to see repression and pain as the highest moral tragedy. This is what guides much of his discussion on science determining what is morally right and wrong without the need for religion. Sam uses pain to point out problems with different religions around the world. His opening religion shot is the repression of women by Islam. He takes shots at religious groups that call themselves Christian but cause pain for others. He sees these things as either wrong and a distraction from bigger issues (also potentially painful) like, "nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education," For the most part I would agree with Sam that many of these issues cause pain. But that is where we part. Sam would blame Christians and in effect God for promoting or allowing so much pain. The reality is quite different. God created the world very good (Genesis 1:28) and when the new heaven and earth are made God promises in Revelation 21:4 that there will be no more pain. What happened in between these verses? Man fell and in Genesis 3:16-17 we see them both cursed with pain. Because they have eaten of the tree Adam and Eve are spiritually dead. God gives them physical pain to help them realize that something is wrong. Since they are separated from God this pain points to a need for something more. Often it is pain that is the tool God uses to strip away the blinders and help us to see that we are not self-sufficient. Some people argue that this is self-serving of God. But if God made us for Him then the best possible thing for us is God. Since God is the best thing for us if it takes pain to bring us to Him then that pain becomes the kindest and most gracious thing that He could give to us. Pain in the hands of God becomes a great revealer of our need for Him. Pain is God's to give not mine. My calling is to live a life focused on Him and help others to do the same.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Understanding the TRUE and morally grounded God of Christianity

CNN has an article by John D. Sutter called, "Philosopher: Why we should ditch religion." In the article he draws comments from Sam Harris trying to make the case on why we should ditch religion. I will be examining some of the comments by Harris over the next couple of days. I watched the entire 20+ minute video presentation by Sam Harris on the TED web site. (There is a link to it in the link above if you want to see it.) Sam makes a passionate argument that we need to combat repression and pain wherever it exist and that we can determine what is morally right and wrong without the need for religion. Sam then goes on to point out problems with different religions around the world. The repression of women, the amount of energy being spent to combat gay marriage, the problem of the exploitation of women in a purely secular way. He sees these things as either wrong or a distraction from bigger issues like, "nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education," For the most part I would agree with Sam on many of these issues. Where Sam fails however is to point out a reasonable solution and moral basis on which we can make these kinds of decisions. Sam will always fail at this very point. The reason is that his decision making mechanism is driven largely by suffering and repression. Sam lumps all religion together and yet I would argue that the only answer to rationally deal with the issues of morality are found in the Christian God as revealed in the Bible. I would join Sam in arguing against repression of women in Islam. Why because women were created in the image of God just like men. I would also be able to argue against the exploitation of women in western society for the same reason. Unfortunately all too often people in the church are so busy defending their, "rights" and trying to shore up the, "Christian ghetto" that the world has given to them that they have failed to be salt and light to a world that is spiritually dead. Sam Harris along with many other atheist have taken their position largely on the outcomes that they see manifest in the lives of those who claim to follow God. We as a Christian community have failed terribly. When the divorce rate among the Christian community exceeds the rate in the world it is a sign of major failure. The failure is really a failure of our faith and teaching to really bring us to the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 12:1-2 calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is a call to seek the Scriptures and to seek God to understand what is good and acceptable and perfect. I fear that most churches are so busy trying to help shape scripture to meet the felt needs of the people that we fail to teach people how to study to show themselves approved unto God. Pastors/Elders should be intent on getting people to a place where they are coming to know and pursue a personal relationship with the God of the universe. This is transformative. This is the kind of thing that Sam Harris cannot begin to understand. I pray that some day God will have mercy on Sam and save his soul. Without God's revelation Sam will never understand. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." Yet when we look around at the proliferation of problems within the church it appears that many within the church who would call themselves Christians are in the same category as Sam. They do not accept the things of the spirit of God. Therefore they are not changed by that God to be discerning moral agents in the world. If people developed a God focused life centered on the true God of Christianity, the Lord Jesus, several things would happen. We would have more people compassionately being salt and light. We would have more lives changed by Jesus. We would naturally be addressing issues like genocide, poverty and education. (Nuclear proliferation is an issue of the state. However, the state would be influenced by a greater number of God focused Christians.) Christians living a God focused life would have an answer for the Sam Harris's of the world. The answer is God and His power to transform.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Sam Harris religion better than others?

CNN has an article by John D. Sutter called, "Philosopher: Why we should ditch religion." In the article he draws comments from Sam Harris trying to make the case on why we should ditch religion. I will be examining some of the comments by Harris over the next couple of days. Tonight I want to look at the opening comment in the article. Sam Harris says, "For the world to tackle truly important problems, people have to stop looking to religion to guide their moral compasses." This is a fascinating statement. Essentially, Sam wants us to get rid of the only foundation for morality that man can reference that is unwavering. And he wants us to ditch this moral compass for what??? Sam Harris is one of the outspoken athiest of our day. So we know that his ditching of spiritual forms of religion is to be replaced by a dependence on science and evolutionary thought. It fascinates me because I grew up being taught that the goal of good science is that it is testable, observable and repeatable. Most scientist would call this a good definition of science. Evolution one of the main things Sam wants us to rely on by this definition is a total failure. The macro evolution that Sam is talking about happens over millions of years. It is not observable. We take our best guess based on what we see. Now your preconceived notion will have a great deal of influence on how you interpret the data you discover. This is where Sam and many other scientist begin to rely on faith in their opinions about the data. But macro evolution fails the testable part of good science as well. Once again we look at the data and based on what our notion is about the outcome we come up with what must have happened. For committed evolutionist like Sam it is a forgone conclusion what the data must mean. Finally evolution fails on the repeatable side as well. But that really does not matter to the evolutionist because it all adds up based on what their assumptions are about the data we find. So you see what Sam has is a lot of faith in man's ability to peer into the past with absolute accuracy and determine that there is no God. Sam's faith ultimately is not in hard empirical data. His faith is in man's understanding of the data. Very highly educated Christian scientist looking at the same data will come away affirming that the data points to God and disproves evolution. Once again the person's predicate notions influence the way they see the data. What strikes me here about the statement is that Sam wants to replace the Christian religion with a religion that roots its faith in man. Romans 1:20-23 tells us how men who reject God even though they perceive the invisible things of God, like morality, become futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts are darkened. Where will morality come from without Christian religion? Who will be the arbiter of what is right and wrong? Will there even be such a thing as right and wrong in a world like that? The answer is yes there will be right and wrong. The right and wrong will be determined by God's law which is written on the hearts of men. Sam Harris will borrow the capital of morality from the Christian religion and use it with impunity while at the same time decrying that religion. Sam there is no moral compass for anyone without a righteous and Holy God to whom we can look for that direction. Sam can have his religion of man, I will continue to pursue a God focused life.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What meaning does Palm Sunday hold for you?

Rev. Bill Shuler wrote an article on the FOX news site titled, "10 Things We Must Not Forget At Easter." It is an interesting piece to find on a major news outlet site. He makes some interesting points and I would say its worth the read. What strikes me though about all the headlines is I did not find a single feature article on Palm Sunday. That would be this Sunday. In two days we will be remembering the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The Prince of Peace had come and was being hailed as the one who had come in the name of the Lord. Palm Sunday invokes for me the reality that God in the person of Jesus entered into that final week as the one who had conquered sin in His own living and existence. He had been tempted in every way that we are and yet for 33 or so years he had resisted that temptation and was without sin. He was the spotless lamb of God. His entry into Jerusalem was cause for celebration. Jesus had come to the final steps of His lifelong journey to redeem for Himself a people that would serve him freely and joyfully for all eternity (Psalm 110:3). Creation was about to be changed. The final sacrifice for sins was entering into Jerusalem. The means of repentance and reconciliation to God was right around the corner. The creator was going to make fallen condemned mortals, immortal. God had become the Son of Man so that man might become a son of God. It is a breathtaking journey that we witness. May Palm Sunday stir within your soul the wonder of the glorious Lord Jesus, and join me as I resolve to live a life in passionate pursuit of the blessed one that came in the name of the Lord.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On cleaning cups

One of my favorite illustrations that Jesus used with the Pharisees is the cleaning of the cup. The story I am thinking about takes place in Luke 11:37-39. A Pharisee invites Jesus to come and eat with him. Then the Pharisee is surprised to see that Jesus did not wash his hands before he ate. (My kids would like that.) Apparently the Pharisee is being judgmental of Jesus. It seems like this is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Jesus tells the Pharisee that they are so careful about these ceremonial things and doing all the things that are right on the outside but inside they are full of greed and wickedness. How does this happen? Someone does all these good things but they are corrupt. Jesus' metaphor of cleaning the outside of the cup is great. You can hold a cup upside down under a stream of water and clean the outside without touching the inside. The cup might look good but it is as filthy in the end as it was before it got the outside shine. If you take that cup and try to clean the inside first you will find it quite difficult to have a filthy outside. Why? Because your hands get wet and the outside starts coming clean while you clean the inside. This is like us. You see if we have a horizontal focus (i.e. our eyes are on men). We will have a tendency to begin to measure our own righteousness by comparison to others. There is nothing driving us to rightness on the inside. Everything becomes about appearances. Judgmentalism begins to set in. We work harder at the look and things get worse on the inside. The best thing we can do if we struggle in this area is to really begin to focus on Jesus. If we look to Him our heart's wickedness will be revealed in the light of His mercy and grace. It is in His light of acceptance that we will find cleansing. As Jesus brings about cleansing on the inside the outside will naturally follow. Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” If we focus on living a God focused life our hearts will have an abundance of good treasure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Christian consumers

Last week I talked briefly about Christian businesses. Let's discuss the issue of Christian consumers. Forget the fact that some people are just simply never satisfied with anything. That is a different issue for a different topic. Today I would like us to consider how we represent Jesus when we go out into the world. For instance if you have a fish logo or other Christian items affixed to the rear of your vehicle that's great. My question for you is does your driving show a respect and high regard for the authority that God has placed over you. Do you normally speed down the road and cut people off? Those items on the back of your car are telling the world your allegiance. What about when you go out to eat. If your waiter or waitress see you pray before you eat do they get a good tip for a job well done? Or do they walk away grumbling because you give them a skimpy tip? You see when we go out into the world we might be the only representation of Jesus that these people ever see. It is becoming more and more common for me to find people who do not even know why Jesus came when I go out and street witness. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is just a gentle reminder that we are ambassadors of the King of kings. Do people see our lives reflecting a focus on God?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Having family devotions that matter

Over the years I have always been struck by the well meaning people that set out to give us some tips or ideas on having family devotions. They end up talking about how to engage your kids or encourage you to get them involved in acting out the story or whatever it is that they do. There are two things that it seems to me are critically important about family devotions.

  1. Have them!
  2. Use the time to point your children to God
Often the reason that most people do not have them is because it seems so complicated and takes time to do it right. What happens is the well meaning folks who try to encourage us to engage our kids end up discouraging us from doing it because it seems to take too much time. There also seems to be a great deal of inertia to overcome. This is usually imposed by our favorite TV program. I am not going to sit here and tell you TV is evil. (It is a box with electrical components in it. It can't be good or evil.) The content you choose to watch may be good or bad but that is a different subject. The big issue I see with TV is that it consumes our time. I can promise you when you enter eternity if you never watched TV you will not be standing before the King of kings thinking I wish I wouldn't have missed that episode of (insert show here).  But I can guarantee you that if there are any regrets (I don't know if there will be) they will be about time not spent advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of others including our children. So turn off the TV and keep it simple.
For our very young children we read them a story out of a Bible story book. Then after putting them in bed we look up the equivalent passage from the Bible story book in our Bibles. We read this together with our older children and teens and then I ask them what they see here about God or what are they reminded of about God. I want my children to know God and so I try to constantly put before them a picture of God in one form or another. We usually follow our scripture reading with a story of a great Christian from the past or a book written by a Christian pointing to the greatness of God in some way. I want to stress that I do NO preparation for this. We sit down together and read and end in prayer. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It seems to me that the way we want our children to go is to God and eternity in heaven. It then follows that I need to train them to orient their lives around God. We simply seek to help them to develop a God focused life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Responding to health care legislation

No matter what position you take on this issue one thing is certain. It will cost us more money not less. There is no possible way to add a layer of government oversight to this big of a sector of our economy and not have the total cost be higher at the end of the day. This can only drive us ultimately to a more dire financial position as a country. What does this have to do with living a God focused life? In Jeremiah 25:9 God calls Nebuchadnezzar His servant. He served as God's hand of judgement. If you know the story you remember that Nebuchadnezzar took the kingdom of Judah into captivity. This was not a positive thing. Why did God bring all of this destruction on His people? Jeremiah 23:13-19 give us a pretty good clue if we will only listen. In the beginning of this passage God says that the prophets of Baal in Samaria did an unsavory thing by leading the people astray. This is easy to identify. Any cult or thing that man puts his faith in other than God is an unsavory thing in the mind of God. This would include government. Our trust should be in God not the government. The second part of this passage is the toughest and most important. The prophets in Jerusalem are condemned by God not for doing an unsavory thing but for doing a horrible thing. They claimed to speak for God and yet they did not. They told the people the things that they wanted to hear, not the things God was telling the true prophets like Jeremiah. If healthcare legislation drives us to financial ruin and plunges us into a depression or worse it would be the hand of God. We must realize that the reason God brought calamity on Judah was to turn her heart back to Him. For far too long now in America many of the churches have been preaching to people what they want to hear. That message will wither under the wrath of almighty God. He judges harshly those who claim to speak for Him but say what they perceive people want to hear. He judges harshly those who want to hear from people like this. It should be our goal to turn our hearts toward God not legislation for our help. We need to guide our families to look to God, and yes we need to encourage our pastors and elders to point us toward God. We need to say with the Psalmist, “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”(Psalm 121) Our only and best hope is to focus on our marvelous Lord Jesus in every situation.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Christian business?

I had what has come to be an uncomfortably common experience today. A business that shall remain nameless, called to answer some questions I had about an item I was receiving from them. Previous conversations had led me to believe that they were making every effort to correct the problem. However the phone call I received was to tell me that the problem could not be corrected because it was caused by their software automatically. This is where I have a huge disconnect. I do video work on a professional level for high end corporate clients. I could never get away with telling a client that the problem can't be fixed because the software did it automatically. Somehow since I am a Christian and they are a Christian business I am supposed to just take their comment in stride as if they have done their do diligence and oh well that’s just the way it is. In the secular marketplace where I work, my vendors would have told me to get new software or get lost. Far too often Christian businesses get away with doing poor work. We should be the reference standard for excellent work. People should want us over everyone else because of our integrity and excellence. When Christians work they ultimately work for an audience of one. If the widget you make or the service you provide is not done for the King of kings then who are you doing it for? A God focused life will drive us to work as to the Lord Jesus and not men. Os Guiness in his book "The Call" talks about Justin Martyr recording that over 100 years after Jesus' death, plows he had made were still in use. Plows made by Jesus and Joseph were the best. They are the ones that people wanted. They were so well made that they were still in use after all those years. What kind of work do we do? Is our work done with the goal of pleasing our Lord Jesus?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Demystifying devotions

This is one of those things that has been so subtly under-minded by our culture that it is both shocking and eye-opening when Christians see it in the light of scripture. Why? Most all of the devotional materials you will find in the Christian marketplace are formed around a basic pattern. It goes something like this:

  • Look at a passage
  • Summarize it or restate it in an interesting or engaging manner 
  • Talk about or write about a really great way that you can apply that passage to your life
This is the basic pattern found in 95% to 98% of the devotional materials out there. No one questions it and so it continues. In Matthew 22:35-40 Jesus answers a lawyer's question about the greatest commandment. Jesus' answer is instructive for us when we think about approaching scripture. But first let's think about people that we love and letters that we get from them. When you read a letter from someone you love you don't try and come up with some great way that you can apply that letter to your life. You read the letter to know the person that you love better. The person you love may express hurt or concern about something and you will immediately apply that to your life without even making any effort to do so. You see if you love someone you don't want to hurt them. You want to please them because it makes you happy to bring pleasure to the person you love. Back to Jesus' comments. He said in this passage that to love the Lord your God was the greatest commandment. Applying scripture to my life is not so much about loving God as it is loving myself. Granted we are seeking to grow and may even achieve a certain level of growth using this method, but the ultimate growth pattern we long for will elude us. We will develop far more quickly and far more richly in our relationship with God through devotions if our focus is on Him. In the previous example God becomes a means to an end and the end is us. Devotions that are God focused will look something like this.

  • Summarize the passage (This is something I do to boost my attention while I am reading)
  • Write down what you are reminded of about God or see about God
Try it! Even the begats start to hold real meaning when our goal is to see how they reveal God to us and not how they apply to our lives.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sin nature vs. Pride

The immediate reaction to this title will be to say, aren't they the same? And in the respect that they are both sin you are correct. But as a Christian the fact that I am a sinful man helps me to have more grace with others. The biggest problem that the Pharisees faced was pride. Their faith had degenerated into one of externalism. All that mattered was what they looked like. This problem continues today. It's manifestation is different but it still exists. In the Christian community it might be performance pressure at church meetings. We may put the pressure on ourselves but it's often there. This can be a form of pride. Perhaps we want life to appear to be better than what it is. Are we fooling ourselves by thinking that we need to look a certain way? What about the tendency we have to try and please God through external actions? Remember Isaiah 6:1-7, here this prophet who would have been considered a great man in any of our churches calls himself a man of unclean lips. He sees the sin in his life and it humbles him. You see our sin when seen for what it is does humble us. It brings us up short and helps us to realize that not only do we not measure up we can never measure up. That is a good thing. Because when we really come to understand that WE truly cannot measure up we are closer to depending on God than at any other time. When we depend on God that is really when His glory can shine through us. Our pride must be put to death. When we realize that we only deserve God's wrath for everything then we will more desperately look to our Savior. Not that we go out and seek to sin, but the reality of our sin nature can become a catalyst that drives us more passionately into pursuing a God focused life.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Making the gospel relevant?

As I reflected on yesterday's post it seems to me that there are two engines that drive the vehicle of relevancy. The first engine is a misrepresentation of what the gospel is. Often the gospel message is presented in a context that is far from Biblical. (What I mean by Biblical is that it is not the way that Jesus or the apostles presented it.) It is often presented to people as if they are part of a group that needs some help getting to heaven and the cross gets us there. While the description is true in its essence there is never any need for the individuals that we share this with to feel sorry for offending a Holy God. There is no strong call to repent because there is no discussion of sin outside of the context of being part of a group of sinners. This rarely produces repentance and thus does not produce a personal need for a Savior. The second confusing way the gospel is presented is that God has a wonderful plan for your life. God does have a wonderful plan for the life of anyone who repents of his or her sin and follows Jesus as their Lord. The problem is that the idea of repentance and taking Jesus as Lord is usually not mentioned at all. It ends up being about asking Jesus into your heart. No repentance, no following required and usually none is committed to outside of a canned prayer. The gospel is all about recognizing that we are sinners and hopelessly lost without God's intervention in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If this were the gospel message that was presented there would be no need to make it relevant. The second engine that drives the vehicle of relevancy is the engine of unbelief. People simply do not believe that the work of the Holy Spirit combined with a clear Biblical gospel message is sufficient. This is simply a tragic misunderstanding of the power, purpose and work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus acted as if the message of repenting of sin and following Him was all that was needed. Take for example His interaction with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22. The best way I know to combat both of these problems is to focus primarily on our Lord as we engage with Him in His word.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Extreme fighting for Jesus???

A headline caught my eye today that I just could not resist weighing in on. The video report was titled Jesus was the ultimate fighter. I looked up the guy's web site and was struck by the main thrust of the rationalization. Are you ready? The goal is to make the gospel relevant or attractive to a certain segment of people. What amazes me about this approach is that you could use the relevancy card for anything. Let's start gangsters for the gospel, because even gangsters need Jesus. How about prostitutes for pentecost. They use their business to bring guys in and then when they are finished they give them the gospel. Come on when we go down this road we essentially are saying that the gospel is not relevant enough by itself. Apparently the Holy Spirit cannot change a heart without us hanging something relevant around the gospel. It is so completely ridiculous that I find it amazing. First of all you and I do not change people's hearts. The Holy Spirit does the work. I don't have a problem with someone being a Christian and playing at a sport like extreme fighting. The problem comes into play when we change it into something that goes beyond a Christian that plays a sport. Somehow now it needs to be a Christianized sport? I don't get it. People can be Christians. Sports cannot be Christian. They are a thing and have no soul. We don't need a sport or a certain style of music or a network marketing business or a political platform to carry the gospel. We need people to get their eyes off of all of these temporal things and fix them on Jesus. The creator of the universe came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the most magnificent being that has ever existed. He offers to rebels that are completely corrupt, the potential of reconciliation to God through repentance of sin and commitment to Him. I don't know how you can make that more relevant. Really anything that would be added by us only distracts from that message. We must keep our eyes on the Savior. Our only hope is found in Him.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happiness: SELF focused vs. God focused - Part 4

This is a continuation of a post I started 4 days ago. The other day Lucy Danziger published an article called, "4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Happier Every Day." Lucy is the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine. This is the final point she made about happiness from a secular perspective. It is titled, "Conflict can be OK!" WOW! She deals with conflict management in a very simplistic manner in 3 very short paragraphs. There are many passages in the Bible that treat this subject in detail. A brief list would include Matthew 18:15-17Luke 17:3-41 Corinthians 6:1-81 Corinthians 9:19-21. These passages cover a variety of different situations. They deal with everything from confronting a brother to forgiveness and not being able to forgive and seeking to identify with others. The scriptural perspective on conflict and managing it is dramatically different from Lucy's point of view. Lucy's conclusion is that, "Connecting, especially with friends is important to your happiness." The Holy Spirit declares to us through the word that conflict management is not about us but is for the glory of the kingdom of God. 
Let's take for example a brother or sister in our fellowship who is in sin. If we ignore the sin or gloss over it in order to be reconciled we are embracing a worldly answer. Do we condemn them? Not readily and not immediately. Our goal is their reconciliation to God. First we go to them privately and express concern as a fellow believer. We need to make sure they understand that we are coming because we too are sinners and have experienced things that separate us from God (Matthew 7:3-5). It should be our earnest desire to help them understand that what they are doing is building a wall of sin between us that we cannot overlook because we care about their relationship with God. Matthew 18 above gives additional steps to follow but the point is that conflict resolution is focused on bringing them back into fellowship and relationship with God. In the Christians case this will not always be comfortable. Sometimes we will have to forgive people that we do not feel like forgiving. We may have to separate from someone that we really like for the sake of helping them to understand the seriousness of sin. We have to remember that it is vital to stay open to embracing them and bringing them back into fellowship should they desire that. But at the end of the day the most important thing for anyone is that there is nothing standing between them and God. Remember if someone hangs onto a sin when confronted then that sin is potentially a god to them. If it is something they are holding onto and yet claiming to be a Christian then we must for their sake show them that sin separates. That is the point of separating from an unrepentant brother or sister. We are pointing out to them that if they persist in this that they may indeed be separating themselves from God. Some would say that this is judgmentalism. Unfortunately people who say this fail to understand that if this is done correctly and in love that we may truly be winning someone to true repentance. If we succeed in bringing them back into fellowship we would have literally saved them from hell with the working of the Holy Spirit bringing them to repentance. What do I want to do? Shall I accept someone, have personal peace now and watch them slip into a Christless eternity? Certainly not! We must risk all for surpassing greatness of knowing and having others know Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Happiness: SELF focused vs. God focused - Part 3

This is a continuation of a post I started 2 days ago. The other day Lucy Danziger published an article called, "4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Happier Every Day." Lucy is the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine. I will continue addressing the points of her article until they are covered. Point 3 in her article is, "Find your 'mouse hole!'" Basically the gist of it is to get away and recharge. There is a basic seed of good advice here. But being a Christian we can take it to a whole new level. Jesus in the sermon on the mount said, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) We could say that Jesus is saying sure go ahead get alone somewhere. Since your Father is there and you are not really alone pray. Embrace Him. Talk to Him. Commune with your God. Jesus promises that God will reward us. Sometimes we get some preconceived idea of what we want for a reward. Perhaps we want an answer to our prayer. Perhaps we want God to do things the way we think is best. But if we are really seeking God and not asking Him for things then what is the best reward we could get? The greatest possible reward we could be given in all the universe would be God. Learn to seek God. Learn to want God, and you will find God as your reward when you consistently pursue a God focused life.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Happiness: SELF focused vs. God focused - Part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's post. Yesterday Lucy Danziger published an article called, "4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Happier Every Day." Lucy is the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine. I plan on addressing the points of her article over several days. Point two in the article is, "Now is the moment! Enjoy it!" Her main point here is slow down. Once again a point that needs to be considered by all of us. But the reason we slow down as Christians is so important. For most of us I think we slow down, when we slow down for the same reasons that Lucy states. It seems to me that a focus on God at the heart of our slowing down will not only give us good memories but will rejuvenate our souls. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Let's take her example of the playground. There are so many things there that can draw our hearts to God and to thanking Him for His great works. We can thank Him for providing us with health to be there. We can thank Him for transportation to get there. We can thank Him for senses to be aware of where we are. We can thank Him for the resources that were used to create the playground. We can thank Him for the plants, animals and bugs that might capture our attention there. The list could go on and on. This heart of thanksgiving will rejuvenate our spirits. Not only will it rejuvenate us, it provides an opportunity for us to direct our children's attention to God as well. It is in waiting on God in the midst of life that our hearts are filled.  Isaiah 40:31 says, “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Our hearts will rejoice in God as we seek to focus on our Lord Jesus in the midst of the day to day activities of life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happiness: SELF focused vs. God focused - Part 1

I usually scan the headline on my yahoo front page and see if anything strikes a nerve. Today Lucy Danziger published an article called, "4 Simple Secrets to Feeling Happier Every Day." Lucy is the Editor-in-Chief of SELF magazine. I plan on addressing the points of her article over several days. It is an interesting exercise to think through the man made solutions to happiness in the light of scripture. According to their research 40% of our happiness potential is entirely up to us. Her first key point is, "Too much of a good thing is a bad thing." Basically she is saying that people are too busy and have too many things in their lives. She may indeed be correct in pointing out a problem. But the solution is one that is centered on taking care of the inner self. I do not personally know how I could truly take good care of my own inner self with out Jesus Christ. In Matthew 19:13-14 Jesus rebukes the disciples for hindering children and then goes on to say that to such belong the kingdom of God. What does this have to do with taking care of your inner self? I'll answer that in a minute, but first lets look at Jesus comments in Matthew 11:27-30. In this passage Jesus talks about coming to Him all those who labor and are heavy laden and He will give you rest. This is out of verse 28 and is often taken out of the context of verse 27. The background of verse 27 is instructive here. Jesus says that all things have been given to Him by the Father. Then Jesus talks about knowing the Father and the Son and seems to put a premium on it ending with Him revealing the Father to those whom He chooses to reveal Him. If we look at verse 28 in light of verse 27 it would appear that coming to him is with the idea of knowing Him and the Father. Think about it, children come to their parents for comfort and to get aid or help with what they are trying to do. The younger they are the more dependent and needy they are. When we come to God are we dependent and needy? Do we have a desperate need to know Him? You see a Christian should be ordering their day around seeking God in multiple ways. We should be seeking Him to know Him not just to have Him meet our needs. Martin Luther once said, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." That is the heart cry of a person who needs God. Are you too busy to spend time with God? When it comes to Jesus too much of a good thing is the best thing for us. Ordering your life around God will help to push out some of those extra and unimportant things that weigh us down.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Eliminate the competition

Last post I talked about the message of Abel. In a discussion with my wife another application to living the God focused life became apparent. When we analyze the story we see that Cain wanted God's acceptance. He wanted it so bad he was willing to kill for it. Now we might not kill for it but how often are we guilty of seeking positions as means of validating God's approval and acceptance or lack thereof. The church becomes a place where people often end up jockeying for position. We end up with a spiritual hierarchy or pecking order which is really far from spiritual. How does living a God focused life come to bear in this situation? It may not be a popular way or a way that is high profile but we do have an example in Jesus. Jesus ran into this problem with the disciples in Luke 22:24-27. In this situation Jesus told them that they needed to pursue becoming the servant of all. He said that pursuing positions was what the gentiles do. Jesus life also gives us a clue. Our objective should be to serve where God places us. Talk to the God about our desire and simply look for how we can serve. Wouldn't it be really cool if we knew that everyone who is in leadership in our church is there because they were identified as real servants. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:3, “...If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” (ESV) How do you handle that scenario? Serve. Tell the elders of your church what you desire, and continue to serve others. The greatest way for an elder board to have a pulse on the congregation is to serve it. By modeling service to one another we create a heart of service in our churches. When this happens we avoid fostering an atmosphere of spiritual competition. We teach people how to follow the second commandment which flows from the first. By depending on God's guidance, on His leadership to advance us, we model a God focused servant oriented life.

Friday, March 5, 2010

...through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

I was talking to my wife this morning about the relevance of Abel's message for the church today. I thought I would share it with you. Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” What is the message of Abel? The message can only be understood in the context of the contrast in the story of his death. Abel offered to God a sacrifice that was more acceptable than Cain. So what you say. How does Abel speak through that? We often get the picture of Cain wrong. When we talk of Cain we think of a guy that is closer to Lamech the 5th generation from Cain. Lamech lives his life as he pleases and expects God to take care of things. After all God is a good God right? Lamech is like the typical pagan. Cain is not and this is why Abel still speaks. Cain wants God. Cain brings God a sacrifice. In one sense we could say that Cain goes to church. God talks to Cain. (We see no conversations between Lamech and God.) So what's the deal? Cain was not willing to come to God on God's terms. God does not condemn his sacrifice outright but it appears that God appeals to his heart's motive saying, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Gen. 4:7). The truth is that Cain wanted God so bad he was willing to kill to eliminate the competition for God's acceptance. After all the reason he killed Abel is that Abel's sacrifice was acceptable. When Cain is judged by God he says to God, “...“My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden.” (Gen. 4:14b-15a). Cain laments being driven from the face of God. But there is a clue in his lament. He also laments being driven away from the ground. Cain loved the ground and the work of his hands as much if not more than he loved God. In the end Cain wanted God's approval and acceptance on his own terms. He was not willing to come to God on God's terms. Abel came wanting God so much that he was willing to do what God asked and it ended up costing his life yet by it he still speaks. Abel calls us to come to God yielded to whatever God asks of us. I fear that most in the church are like Cain. They want God, perhaps even desperately, but they want Him on their own terms. A life lived like Cain is a life under condemnation by God. We must seek to live like Abel. To live a God focused life we must want God more than anything else, not just God's sanction of what we want.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Economic desperation...

How can a Christian respond to the economic desperation that plagues so many of us? (I speak from the position of a laid off person who is looking for work.) I use the term can respond rather than how we should respond intentionally. We all at a base level have heard how we should respond but that does not seem to always help when rubber of real life meets the road of no job. I could quote verses like Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” or Jesus words in  Matthew 6:31-32 “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Anyone who has been a Christian for any amount of time is aware of these passages. While they provide comfort the bigger issue that we often face at times of economic turmoil is an issue that is deeper in our hearts. The core of the problem lies in where we are looking for our security. Are the securities of this world drawing my attention away from my God? Am I stressed by the things that promise to supply my needs but are temporal? God has made the world, the universe and everything in it. He knows my going out and my coming in (Psalm 121:8). If we really are His children and we live in that reality then we should depend on Him like a child does its father. The earlier verses become a potent and powerful comfort in the context of realizing that the battle of desperation is only won in the context of finding our security in God. A God focused life will seek Jesus in the middle of the desperation calling on Him to help us to find our security in Him. It is really an all out desperate grab for the hem of His garment. We need Him to be not just the end of our faith but truly the author of our faith as well. Ask Him to grant you a desire for security in Him that will eclipse the desire for the securities that this world offers. Continue to pursue the opportunities and jobs that God places before you but at the end of the day rest in Him knowing that all the outcomes are in His hands. For further reading on this topic get the free download or buy John Piper's A Hunger for God. It is an excellent resource in any situation that assaults our dependence on God.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Is the goal of parenting our happiness??

There was an article on my news feed today called, "Two Simple Ways to be a Happier Parent".  While the fundamental premise of having a more peaceful home is laudable it ignores a more important issue that should present itself to each of us as followers of Jesus Christ. The reality is that as we deal with the children that God has blessed us with we are faced with the fact that they are fallen and in rebellion by nature against God. Because of that fallen nature all parents have conflict. Dealing with fallen children with the goal of raising them to develop their own God focused life will result in conflict. The conflict for the Christian parent will result when God's call comes into conflict with our fallen natures. As parents our correction should be focused on directing them toward God. Ultimately one of our key goals should be to help our children develop self-discipline.  Self-discipline is necessary to pursue God on their own should they come to be His followers. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I seek to instill in my children one primary thing. If they learn nothing else from me I want them to remember, that the most important person they must come to know and pursue with all of their hearts is our Lord Jesus Christ. If they enter into eternity without Him they are bound for eternal death. If they come to repent of their sins and know and pursue Jesus eternal life is theirs. Then they too can end up living a God focused life. For us as christian parents our greatest happiness will be realized not in having a peaceful home but being at peace with God and having children that are at peace with God. Our happiness will be found in Jesus and having a life focused on Him.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Considering Calvin and Servetus

A friend of mine asked me last week about Servetus and John Calvin. This is by far the most infamous event in John Calvin's life. Servetus was a man who denied the trinity and had been condemned by Rome as a heretic. He fled to Geneva hoping to spare his life. However the people of Geneva were not too happy about the denial of the trinity as well. What to do?? By Rome's judgment Servetus is a heretic. By the judgment of scripture Servetus is a heretic. The leadership of Geneva after a trial condemned Servetus to death as a heretic by burning at the stake. John Calvin petitioned for a lesser form of death but Calvin was still in favor of Servetus death. If you know anything about Calvin you know that he was anything but a loose canon or a rebel. It was not in his nature. So why did he side with the majority for death in this instance? We could ask this about a hundred different people and events. Why did good Lutheran pastors side with Hitler? In almost every case the problem arises from what is acceptable within the culture. In Calvin's day heretics were dealt with by burning at the stake. There are two lessons here for us to consider. All men are human and prone to the limitations of human judgment that has been corrupted by our fallen state. Thus we should be careful about how we venerate men. Secondly what exists within our culture that influences our thinking? What will people look back at us from the perspective of their culture and see as a major faux pas? What will cause them to doubt our integrity and fidelity to the Gospel? What will they point to in order to ridicule us?
This seemed like an appropriate topic to consider as I seek to think about how we bring life into focusing on God.