Sunday, December 13, 2009

Words of the Father

The Russian aviator and inventor of the helicopter, Igor Sikorsky, once reflected on a conversation he had had with one of his teachers, and noted its application to our spiritual lives. Recalling the conversation Sikorsky wrote:

“An elderly and well respected teacher in the naval academy where I was studying once asked me whether I had read the books written by my father, and he added with great emphasis that a son must be interested in the creative work of his father. This wise suggestion is, I believe, directly applicable to the case of a religious person who considers the Creator of the Universe to be his Heavenly Father.”

Sikorsky goes on to ask what we would think of the children of great artists, authors or inventors who totally disregarded the work of their famous parent. He concludes that we would likely not think very highly of them. Sikorsky implies that as sons of God we should take great interest in the work of our Father in Heaven. As God’s children, we should seek to discover to know as much about him as possible. We should avidly study the Bible. It is both his instruction manual for life here on earth as well as the place we learn most about him.

Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case in our world today. Several studies have shown that many Christians have minimal knowledge of the Bible. A study by the Barna research organization noted that only four percent of Christians are truly living a Christian worldview. Other studies point to the fact that many young adults, having spent their entire childhood attending Sunday School, have an extremely limited understanding of the Bible. Others have suggested that many Christians have a shallow faith which is a mile wide but only an inch deep. We live our lives as though the wisdom expressed by Sikorsky’s teacher has no value for us at all. We have a limited knowledge of God because we have never really sought to understand his character as described in his Word. We haven’t taken the time of made the effort to really get to know him.

Yet God greatly desires that we would have a deep, intimate relationship with him. He desires that we hide his word within our hearts. The Psalmist, deeply aware of God’s aversion to sin, says we should hide his word in our hearts in order to avoid sin. Just as an earthly father would be saddened that his children had no interest in his creative works, so also is God saddened by our lack of interest in really knowing him. Because of his great love for us, he sent his son to this earth to accomplish the purpose of bringing us back into relationship with him. Yet too many times we act as though this means little to us. We can live as though Sunday mornings at church is enough for us. We coast along, never putting forth the effort it might take to get to know God on a deeper level. We often appear to have little interest in his works.

To what extent do we seek to learn of the creative works of our Father in Heaven? How much do we seek to know and understand what he has said in his Word? How well do we know his thoughts and actions? Are we willing to put forth the effort to get to know him? The answer to these questions may tell us a lot about our relationship with God.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Second Hand Witnessing

In the nineteen sixties, Joseph Bayly wrote a book entitled The Gospel Blimp which was later turned into a Christian movie. The story focused upon two neighbors, members of the same church. One of the men was always seeking ways to witness about Christ. All of his attempts utilized second hand methods, culminating with renting a blimp to pass over the city and drop tracts. He never developed any relationships with his non Christian neighbors. His next door neighbor, on the other hand, developed relationships with the non Christian families in their neighborhood, occasionally even skipping church to be with them. When a crisis hit one of these families, it was only the latter neighbor who came to their aid and was instrumental in introducing them to Christ.

Holly Vicente Robaina in her blog “Walk with Life” describes a night when she and her husband had dinner at a local café. A man at a nearby table was a boisterous Christian. During their dinner, he was constantly praising Jesus for this and that, talking about God’s blessing him, all in a loud voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant. Later that evening her husband, who is not a Christian, remarked: "Acting that way, did he actually think that I'd be interested in what he said? That I'd want to be like him?” Obviously, his answer was “No!” While the man was most likely trying to witness, the content of his words in their setting, was found to be distasteful. Holly reflected: Does he blare out his faith so he doesn't have to engage in a real conversation? Or does he truly believe someone might approach him and want to talk about Jesus? If so, his technique isn't working.”

Keith Green takes a similar view regarding all of the Christian clothing and billboards, bumper stickers and other Christian paraphernalia, concluding that they may just immunize people from the real gospel. He says “It pains me to see the beautiful truths of Scripture being plastered about like beer advertisements. Many think it is wise to “get the word out” in this way but, I believe that we are really just inoculating the world with bits and pieces of truth - giving them their “gospel shots”. (And we’re making it hard for them to “catch” the real thing!). People become numb to the truth when we splash our gaudy sayings in their eyes at every opportunity.” He wonders if those who use these tactics are seeking more the approval of other Christians than to truly witness. Like the man in the restaurant, these are forms of blaring out our faith without having to engage in real interaction with non Christians. All three of these accounts can be considered forms of second hand witnessing. Both have the danger of turning people away from being receptive to the gospel.

If these forms of second hand witnessing don’t work, what does? How can we be most effective in witnessing to our faith? By living transformed lives as Christ’s disciples. This is the best way. Just as Jesus was a magnet to those who were caught up in sin, so by living as Christ lived, we also can be a magnet, drawing others to him. The second man in the Gospel Blimp story was effective because he demonstrated love to his neighbor. The early Christians were described as those who turned the world upside down. How often are we viewed in the same way? What kind of witnessing are we engaged in – first or second hand?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Immunized Against Faith

One of the techniques used to produce vaccines utilizes weakened viruses. The virus is partially killed off so that it can’t fully attack us. We are then inoculated with this weakened virus. Our immune system is thus able to combat this counterfeit, weakened form. This allows our immune system to build up a resistance against the real virus. We are thus immunized against the disease.

While this approach works well against infectious diseases, it becomes a disaster when it is applied to our life of faith. How easy is it for us to accept a weakened form of faith in our daily lives? Much easier than we might expect! Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. It is a form that has very little impact on our lives. It can be very easy to live our day to day lives without thinking much about God and how He would have us live. The faith we exhibit during our attendance at church on Sunday, for instance, may have little impact on us the other six days of the week. Our Monday through Saturday lives would be much the same, whether God is dead or alive. It allows us to be religious without having a deep desire to know God. It can become easy to have the attitude that we are doing as much as everyone else in the church. We can think that by teaching Sunday School, leading Bible studies, or being on church committees, etc. it is enough. Cheap grace has become the heresy that has infected the church in our times.

But when we look at the demands of Jesus we see something totally different. Jesus calls us to radical obedience, a complete transformation as we give Him our total allegiance. He asks for a total commitment of our lives. He desires us to be completely centered on Him. He wants us to experience authentic Christianity twenty-four seven.

But all too often we give him less. We hold back areas of our lives. We prefer a weakened form of faith that doesn’t demand too much of us. We don’t want to give him lordship over our lives. We want to maintain some control. We are content to live with less. Our prayers may be something like “God, I will follow you, except if you ask me to ….” When we do this we immunize ourselves against authentic Christianity. We don’t really want to catch the real thing.

But Jesus calls us to be infected by him. He seeks to change our spiritual cellular DNA. He wants us to live incarnational lives. As others observe how we live our lives they should see Jesus. We are to live such that even non Christians will praise God as they observe our lives. They should see Christ in us. But this requires a willingness to commit ourselves to living authentic Christian lives, sold out to Jesus Christ. It requires living a life of holiness, constantly growing closer and closer to our Lord. It demands that we care for and serve others with a Christ-like compassion and love. This we cannot do if we have a weakened form of faith. If we have been immunized against true faith we cannot have much of an impact upon others. We cannot easily infect others if we have not been infected ourselves. We will only immunize them against authentic Christianity. Upon reflection, it raises an interesting question. Have I been immunized against the authentic Christian faith or have I caught the real thing?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fear and Faith is a website containing a collection of demotivators. They are pithy statements which humorously look at many of the situations we face during our daily lives. On their website, fear is described in the following manner: “Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, you will not know the terror of being forever lost at sea.” It points out that fear is often related to risk. If we remain in safe territory we may not experience fear. When we branch out into the unknown we find ourselves facing uncertainty and apprehension. This can lead to fear, which can be very paralyzing. It keeps us “close to the shore” so to speak. It also keeps us from discovering new things. We can become afraid to try something new, or to make a mistake. Where would we be today if Columbus would have taken this attitude when he was sailing about the Mediterranean? He would have never headed out into the unknown and discovered America.

This description of fear could just as well be a description of faith. “Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, you will not know what faith is.” Walking in faith requires us to leave the shore. We have to be willing to face the terror of not knowing what is going to happen. Abraham left the shore when he departed from Ur for the land of Canaan. He had no idea where he was going. But he stepped out in faith, believing God. David left the shore as he picked up the five small stones before advancing to meet Goliath. He was willing to accept the risk that he could be killed. Peter stepped out of the boat, and for a brief moment walked on water until fear interrupted his journey. The book of Habakkuk has been described as a journey from fear to faith as Habakkuk wrestled with the perilous times in which he lived and God’s seeming inactivity. Each of these four men put fear behind them trusting that God was leading them in their journey of faith.

As these episodes illustrate, there is a close connection between fear and faith. Essentially they are the opposite sides of the same coin. Both involve stepping out into the unknown. They differ in regard to trust. Faith requires trust in God, trusting that he is leading. Fear, on the other hand, indicates the absence of trust. Whereas fear paralyzes, faith liberates. Fear closes in upon us. Faith opens up new possibilities.

Today we live in a world that is particularly susceptible to fear. We are facing many things which can give us cause to fear. The financial and economic crises have affected us all. Many people have lost their homes over the past few years. The threat of global terrorism is always on the horizon. Drug wars along our southern borders have escalated. Unemployment is reaching new levels. Cities and states are facing bankruptcy. It is uncertain whether or not the stimulus package will be able to bring us out of the economic doldrums. Life is becoming very unpredictable. We don’t know what is going to happen. There is much we can fear. Yet it is precisely at this point that God asks us to trust him. He asks us to trust that he is bigger than all of the problems that face our world today. He asks us to put out from the shore, trusting that he will provide. Are you still hovering about the shore, or have you put out into the deep?

Monday, August 17, 2009

What is Important?

The story is told of a Native American and a friend who were visiting New York City. During lunch hour they were walking down Broadway, with its cacophony of noise from people talking, the tread of their footsteps as they rapidly walked down the street, the roar of traffic whizzing by and the horns honking. Suddenly the Native American said “Listen. I hear a cricket”. His friend replied, “How can you hear a cricket above all this noise?” Insisting that he had heard a cricket chirping, he crossed the street to a planter, looked inside and found a cricket. His friend queried him again. “How on earth could you have heard a cricket? You couldn’t have heard anything as small and insignificant as that with all this noise!” Whereupon the Native American reached into his pocket, pulled out several coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately everyone within twenty feet stopped, turned and looked. Turning to his friend he said, “It all depends on what you consider to be important.”

It all depends on what we consider to be important! As we go through life we are faced with many demands on our time, our priorities, our faith and our money. Many times we often say what we consider to be important. It is easy to say that our church, our faith or our family is of utmost importance to us, yet we may often ignore them. We may say that the Bible is important to us, but never find time to read it. We may say that our family is important to us, while spending all of our time at work and never attending our children’s events. To what extent do we live up to what we say? Many of the passersby in the story above, rushing on their way to important meetings, luncheon engagements, etc. showed what was really important when they heard the coins clinking on the sidewalk. How often do we do the same? Our actions may belie our words. We may say one thing and do another.

When we do so we become hypocrites. We are no better than the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ day. Their actual practices confirmed a much different picture than did their stated beliefs. While declaring their great faith, they sought as many loopholes as possible to avoid actually practicing it. Unfortunately, we can easily find ourselves living our lives much as they did.

But the story of hearing the cricket has another point as well. It is only when we are tuned to hear that we can actually hear. A group of mothers can be talking on a playground while their children play. Suddenly one of the mothers will state “My child is crying”. None of the other mothers heard the crying. But if it was their own child, they would have heard the cry. Their ear was tuned to the voice of their child. The ear of the Native American was tuned to hear the still small voice of the cricket over the noise, while the ear of his friend was not. We live in a world which has as much spiritual cacophony as the physical cacophony experienced on the streets of New York. The roar can be quite deafening. There are constant demands to pull us away from God. The secular culture in which we live is not tuned to hear spiritual things. We will hear the things that are truly important to us. Are our ears tuned to hear the still small voice of God above the din of life? Are you listening to his voice?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


In his fanciful book Flatland, Edwin Abbott describes a two dimensional world inhabited by triangles, squares and pentagons, etc. For flatlanders, there is no such concept as “up”. They live in and only know two dimensions. The sphere invades their two dimensional world, attempting to convince them of the gospel of the third dimension. Of course, being in their flat plane, all they see is the appearance of a point which expands into ever larger concentric circles until it recedes again to a point and disappears. Unable to convince the pentagon of the third dimension, the sphere finally shows him Lineland which has no width. The inhabitants of Lineland merely travel back and forth on their narrow line. The pentagon futilely attempts to convince the Linelander that there is width, to no avail. He is then shown Pointland, whose inhabitants bask in their pointdom, unable to comprehend either length or width. After finally being convinced of the existence of the third dimension, the pentagon is imprisoned for his heretical views. The sphere visits him in prison to comfort him. The pentagon says to him, “You showed me Pointland and Lineland. Although I knew there was both length and breadth, I couldn’t make them understand. Through this you convinced me of the third dimension. But what about the fourth and fifth dimensions?” To which the sphere replies “Nonsense!”

As humorous as this story is, it has a point. We have great difficulty comprehending things outside of our experience. In the rational world in which we live, we have difficulty understanding that we also live in a world which also has a spiritual dimension. The story of Elisha and his servant at Dothan (II Kings 6:15-17) illustrates the difficulty we face. When his servant fears for his life, Elisha prays for his eyes to be opened. He then sees horses and chariots surrounding Elisha, protecting them. It is easy for us to rationalize this story, saying that things like this occurred in Bible times, but don’t today. But they still do. A priest with whom I am acquainted was telling of an experience which happened to him. He was working among gangs. He was cornered by a gang of young men who were going to force him to take drugs. Suddenly the gang surrounding him melted away. At a later time he caught up with them and asked them why they left so suddenly. One of the gang members told him that there was a big guy up in the air above them, and he definitely was not happy. God had sent an angel to protect him from harm.

Like the pentagon in Flatland, we live in a world that contains more dimensions than we think. As St. Paul says, we are surrounded by heavenly principalities and powers. Just as Flatland was invaded by the sphere, preaching the gospel of the third dimension to the Flatlanders, so also our world was once invaded by one preaching the gospel of the spiritual dimension. Jesus came down to this world to show us who God is and bring us back into relationship with him. Just as the pentagon was persecuted for his views on the third dimension, so also are the followers of Jesus persecuted for their view of spiritual matters. Just as the majority of flatlanders had no concept of up, so most of the inhabitants of our world have little or no concept of the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. Are you content to live in our three dimensional world, or do you see yourself living in the midst of a spiritual world?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jeremiah Then And Now

Jeremiah Then And Now

In the younger years of king Josiah,
The Lord first spoke to Jeremiah.
Before he saw the light of day,
The Lord had formed him out of clay,
And called to him, set him apart
Commanding him, “Speak from the heart.”
The youthful bride has turned away,
When other gods lured her astray.
“The nation turned away from me
To follow other gods, you see.
Unfaithfulness do I abhor,
You’ve turned away again, and more.
To follow after false god Baal.
For this offense I now will rail.”
“You steal and kill and also lie.
There is no sin you will not try.
Forsaken are the Ten Commands
On which your moral precept stands.
E’en though you sin you have no shame,
On someone else you place the blame.
The prophets, leaders, priests, and kings
Have placed their trust in worthless things.
They all are seeking unjust gain,
And on their victims cause much pain.”
“Beware of friend, don’t trust your brother,
For each will now deceive the other.
Prophet and priest practice deceit,
In every house, on every street.
Widows and orphans they have robbed,
‘Gainst righteous men they too have mobbed.
False gods are worshipped in temple spaces.
For the Lord of Hosts there are no places.”
“Peace… Peace...” they always say,
E’en though true peace is far away.
“Peace… Peace…” a hollow echo,
When king Josiah was killed by Necho.
Some vied for Asshur, some for the Nile,
To follow God, futile denial.
Still others looked to Babylon’s aid,
Their independence thus did trade.
Independence at any cost
Resulted in their freedom lost.
As each party would vie for power,
The rest would stand aside and glower.
Bringing their wrath ‘gainst Jeremiah,
Imprisoned under Zedekiah.
Placed in pillory and stock,
While people came to jeer and mock.
He spoke against their evil ways,
He prophesied for all his days.
Jehoiakim his words did spurn,
He cast them in the fire to burn.
And so he grabbed his mighty pen,
And wrote them all back down again.
He called to them, “You must repent,
That God fierce anger might relent.”
And spoke of grand and glorious day,
When new cov’nant would come our way.
Yet they refused to change their way,
Causing the Lord in grief to say,
“An army comes from distant land,
As vast it is as grains of sand.
To capture ev’ry city and town –
Jerusalem to be knocked down.”
At sound of them the Jews take flight,
In fear and awe they fled at night.
The watchfire signals all die down,
They’ve captured ev’ry other town.
Jerusalem is all that’s left,
The city that the Lord has left.
Their army scattered on the plain,
Some were captured, some were slain.
The people then were led away,
Jer’miah’s words came true that day.
Though that was then, and this is now,
Before the Lord we still must bow.
The Ten Commands removed from walls,
God’s Word is gone from barren halls.
We go on sinning without shame,
And seek on others to place the blame.
Abortion protesters thrown in jail,
On whom pro-choicers spit and rail.
Pro life, pro choice and in between,
Oft to each other are very mean.
“Peace…” we cry across the land,
While gruesome terror is at hand.
Our culture turns away from God,
To follow where the cults have trod.
Moral precepts have flown away,
As on the poor we often prey.
Presidential lies and exec’s sly trick,
They feel that they are being slick.
Reps and Dems still vie for power,
Against each other they fume and glower.
In Senate halls and House divided,
Interest groups have often chided.
Hemlock, PETA, and groups absurd,
All seek to have their agendas heard.
Pro choice, gay rights, and eco-green,
Such motley crews we’ve never seen.
New Agers with their eastern rite,
Still seek converts both day and night.
The clergy waters down the Word,
It has become a blunted sword.
We’ve not come far from Jer’miah’s day,
We need again to hear him say:
“The Lord is judging all your ways,
For he is meas’ring all your days.
But if from sin you will repent,
Then from his wrath he will relent.
With Cov’nant written on the heart,
Then from the Lord no more to part.”

David A. Hasey
© 2005

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Governmental Salvation

We have all heard the phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” We have probably laughed at it, knowing that the person quoting it is often being sarcastic. But the phrase today has been modified, in dead earnestness, to be rephrased “I’m from the government and I’m here to save you.” There appear to be many in government who view government as the salvation of mankind. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi once responded to a question asked her with the retort “I’m trying to save the planet!”. Her statement illustrates how easily this viewpoint is affirmed among Washington politicians. There are also many in our country who look first to government to solve their problems. Unfortunately, our leaders don’t attempt to dissuade people from believing this. There is a belief in Washington as well as in state governments across the country that whether its healthcare, the financial crisis, the mortgage crises, corporate failures, climate change, or whatever new crisis that rises up, government will save us. In each case, government is portrayed as our savior. Government seeks to provide our security and take care of all our problems. As religion is pushed more and more out of the public square, government is poised to become the new god whom we are all expected to worship. Many citizens hold the same view. The journalist, Evan Thomas, recently stated on Hardball "In a way Obama’s standing above the country, above – above the world, he’s sort of God."

But God will never play second fiddle to anyone. He will never allow any government or individual to usurp his place as creator and sustainer of the universe. King Nebuchadnezzer found this out while walking in his garden, and he become insane. Throughout history men and women have found out, to their chagrin, that God is bigger than they are. God is not one to be trifled with.

Today, we find ourselves living in a world very similar to that of the ancient Israelites who lived in Jeremiah’s time. Like we do, they lived in a tumultuous world. Facing the global and military economies of their day, they sought the favor of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian gods in their futile attempts to find security. They courted governmental alliances in order to have economic protection. Ultimately their attempts failed. They didn’t work for them anymore than they will for us. Ultimate security can never be found in men or government. They will always fail. We are already seeing this in the automotive bailouts that failed, ending in bankruptcy. Ultimate security can only be found in God. As Philip Yancy recently wrote in an essay in Christianity Today, “Christ exposed as false gods the very powers in which men and women take most pride and invest most hope.” Yet even with all of the lessons to the contrary throughout history, we still have a tendency to look to government to save us. But we will always find that governmental salvation is illusory.

The attempts of government to save us will always fail because societal ills come from the heart. Governments cannot deal with the heart, only God can. Governments can pass laws that we are expected to follow, but they will not change our inner motivation. Only God can change the heart. Only God can lead us to repent and truly change.

Our attempts to find security through governmental programs will fail because they are misplaced. We will eventually find that the governmental emperor has no clothes. We will eventually realize that it really has nothing to offer us. In the meantime, who are you looking at to save you, God or government?

Friday, June 26, 2009


We all desire happiness. Yet we find that many people today are unhappy. Depression among baby boomers is ten times greater than among previous generations. More and more people are identifying with Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eyeore whose gloomy outlook is expressed in the words “If it is a good day, which I doubt”. Why is our society so unhappy? Experts suggest that it is due to our having lost a sense of purpose. We have become a narcissistic society. We seek personal satisfaction and pleasure. We live in a world where pleasure has replaced purpose. We no longer believe that our lives have an ultimate purpose.

The advertising we hear and see day in and day out constantly bombards us with a message of self gratification. We are told to seek all the gusto in life and to look out for number one. And so we go through life seeking personal pleasure. Yet we are restless. When we look deep into our souls, we find there is a hollow spot inside. Something is missing. There is an uncomfortable void waiting to be filled. It is no wonder that our society is in such a depressed state! Seeking only for self gratification will lead to the unfulfilled desire for more pleasure and happiness. We will always want something better than we have. We strive to keep up with the Jones. In our discontent we seek new spouses, new jobs, new toys, etc. But these new things never bring happiness. We find ourselves more and more unhappy because the hollowness we feel inside is never filled.

Living in a meaningless world devoid of purpose leads to despair. We have nothing to live for. As the philosopher J. P. Moreland has noted “In such a world the difference between Mother Teresa and Saddam Hussein reduces to the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper.“ In such a world neither can be considered to be better than the other. Everything is without meaning and is purposeless. Without purpose, living for self becomes our only lifestyle choice. When this proves to be illusionary, we will find ourselves asking the questions “Is that all there is?” and “Why bother?” This will always lead us to despair.

Where do we find ultimate purpose in life? It is found in loving God and serving others. It begins with having an intimate relationship with God. It continues with developing relationships with others and serving them. In the midst of these relationships our purpose is often found. In loving God we find the motivation to serve others. In serving others we find true happiness and joy. It is in the giving of oneself that true happiness is found. I am reminded of a friend whose family had escaped the Armenian genocide at the beginning of the twentieth century. He has found real joy in going back and serving the people of that country – people he once hated.

Too often today we seek to serve ourselves, not realizing that self is a cruel taskmaster. It always demands more and more. We never have enough. It leads to perpetual dissatisfaction. But when we serve God and others we find true joy, happiness and contentment. We find that we can have a meaningful purpose to our lives. And that makes all the difference! In the midst of our hustle bustle self orienting world, it is worth from time to time stopping and asking ourselves the questions: “Who am I serving, myself or others?” “What purpose has God given me to live for?”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Mission

As a youth St. Patrick had been captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave. After several years he escaped and returned home to England. Eventually he felt God calling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. While preparing for his return to Ireland, he faced considerable opposition. He writes in his confessions: “For there were many who hindered this mission. They even talked among themselves behind my back, saying: ‘Who is this fellow going into danger among enemies who do not know God?’" T. M. Moore, in an essay reflecting on St. Patrick’s statement, notes that there are many today who have a similar attitude to those who opposed St. Patrick. There are many in Christendom who question whether we should go out among those who don’t like God and tell them of his love. They suggest that people know where we meet, so if they are interested they will come, especially as we have made adaptations to make them feel comfortable.

St. Patrick knew that Jesus didn’t command the world to come to the church, but for the church to go out to the world. The Great Commission was given to the disciples to go, nor for the world to come. He also knew that his journey ahead would be difficult – that he would likely face danger, difficulties and even persecution. Knowing that at such times he could depend on God, he went forward to convert Ireland.

The world we live in today is similar to that in which Patrick lived. Many enemies of Christendom hate God. Christians are often despised by the media and secular society. Under the guise of political correctness we are even persecuted. The Christian faith is relegated to something that is only done in church. This makes it easier to criticize those whom are attempting to reach out to others. Admittedly, it is much easier staying inside the closed doors of the church, waiting for them to come in than to reach out. But, as Moore says, “The world is not beating a path to the door of our churches.” All of the changes – the seeker services, contemporary music, and focus on positive things have not brought in masses of people. We must reach out to them. How do we best reach out to help people know Jesus? First, we must be sure that we know him ourselves. Jesus Christ should be the most meaningful person in our lives. Second, we must pray for others and for ourselves. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will move their hearts and aid us in living incarnational lives. Third, we must go out, getting to know people, and demonstrating Christ’s love to them. Fourth, we must build relationships that allow for conversations that will naturally share the Good News of God’s kingdom. As we relate to and share with others what is most meaningful in our lives it should be natural to bring Christ into the conversation, provided that he is the most meaningful person in our lives. It is only through this process that we will see the church grow in our day. Its urgency is seen in Moore’s final comment of his essay: ”There's no way around it - if we want our grandchildren to still have a church after we're gone, that is.”

St. Patrick’s opponents were too complacent and comfortable. They were unwilling to reach outside. Thus they criticized St. Patrick and others who were mission minded. We can either be like St. Patrick, going forward into the unknown, or like his Christian opponents who were more comfortable sitting in their pews waiting for non-Christians to join them. Whom do you more identify with?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Trouble with Mrs. Zebedee

The account of Mrs. Zebedee’s request that her sons, James and John, be given positions of authority in Jesus’ kingdom is an interesting story on several levels. It shows a good Jewish mother wanting to see her boys succeed. But it also illustrates the attraction that power and influence have upon us all. It shows how much we allow the desire to manipulate the outcomes of life to affect us. Mrs. Zebedee is not content to let her sons succeed on their own! She attempts to manipulate their success. The story also shows the extent that covetousness can gain a hold upon us. The rest of the disciples were upset with her request, feeling that they should have the positions and kicking themselves that they hadn’t asked first. Mrs. Zebedee’s request tells us a lot about human nature. Throughout history, people have faced the temptation of Zebedeeism – the desire for power, status and control.

We find ourselves reacting much as Mrs. Zebedee and the disciples did. We seek to have positions of power and authority, both within the church and within society. We want to have control over the events of our lives. We attempt to manipulate them so that things will turn out the way we want them to. We desire to see our children living successful lives. And who does not want to see their children succeed? But at times we may try to define success for them. We can push them into sports or a particular career path even though they may have no interest in them at all. We can try to live vicariously through our children’s success. When we do so, we allow Zebedeeism to infect our lives.

We can also personally become so enamored with power and status that we seek them at all cost. We may become bitter when others get ahead, coveting their positions. Stories are told of executives who are bent out of shape because when they measured one of their peer’s offices they found it to be a few square inches larger than theirs. This example illustrates the power that coveting can have on us. It illustrates how Zebedeeism can dominate our lives.

Due to human nature we have all been infected with Zebedeeism to some extent. We all face the danger of allowing it to dominate our lives. How do we avoid succumbing to it? Jesus gives the antidote in the story of Mrs. Zebedee. He states “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26b). Servanthood is the cure for the disease of Zebedeeism. Serving others removes our having a self-oriented focus. Jesus calls us to voluntarily become his servants – ones who are willing to give up claims to power and status. He wants us to be enamored with him, not with achieving great positions in the world. Service, given out of love, is a powerful deterrent to Zebedeeism. Mother Theresa is perhaps the one modern person who has done this more than most. With the strength of her character, she could have easily achieved positions of influence and power in the world. But she willingly gave up everything to serve the poor. She was willing to be a servant of Christ, reaching out to the downtrodden in society. God calls us to do the same. He calls us to reach out to those in need. But this requires that we let go. It requires a willingness to serve others. It begins with an examination of our lives, asking “How much does Zebedeeism affect my life?”

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Importance of Truth

Blaise Pascal observed in his book Pensees “When everything is moving at once, nothing appears to be moving, as on board ship. When everyone is moving towards depravity, no one seems to be moving, but if someone stops, he shows up the others who are rushing on by acting as a fixed point.” As long as everyone is fitting in with the crowd, no one stands out. We all appear normal. Anyone who stands out appears to be abnormal. The modern equivalent of the first part of Pascal’s thought might be the phrase “everyone is doing it”, as though mass involvement legitimizes whatever “it” is. The modern equivalent of the second part of Pascal’s sentence might be “dare to be different”.

In a day before our modern navigational tools, lighthouses served as a fixed point for ships seeking the entry point of a safe harbor. Without the lighthouse beacon, sailing ships were in great danger of capsizing on the shoals near the coast. They needed that fixed point to steer by. Many shipwrecks occurred when they couldn’t see the light that would guide them safely into the harbor.

Like a ship’s captain, we also need fixed points in our lives to guide us. They provide us with a moral compass. In former times the Ten Commandments along with the commands of Jesus and of the Apostle Paul provided that function. The Bible was thought of as containing absolutes that governed how we were to live our lives. Even if we didn’t always follow them, we still believed in them.

But today we live in a world that no longer believes in absolutes. “Truth” for one person may well be “falsehood” for another. We no longer have absolute standards to focus upon to guide our lives. Anything that purports to come from a higher standard, such as the Ten Commandments or the Bible, is often rejected. We have seen this in the treatment given to Miss California 2009, Carrie Prejean whose views on marriage were in sharp contrast to those of one of the judges. But without such standards, we merely drift along. Without absolutes we are like a ship without a rudder. We have lost a fixed reference point in the relativistic culture in which we live. We have nothing with which to steer the course of our lives. As Pascal says, when society is all moving together in a downward trend, we don’t even realize we have moved. Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described this process as “driving deviancy down”. He used this phrase to describe the process whereby over time the things that used to be unacceptable in society become acceptable, and even the norm.

The loss of absolute truth leads to a loss of moral and ethical standards. Their loss leads further to a breakdown of society. Over this past year we have seen fraud and greed in the financial market. Many of the individuals being tapped for high level positions in the Obama administration have had tax problems. Nancy Pelosi is having difficulties with the truthfulness of her knowledge of the use of torture. These all indicate a lack of moral character. It is becoming more and more difficult to have trust.

But before becoming too judgmental, we need to examine our own lives. What compass is guiding us in our day to day lives? What standards and absolutes do we hold to? What are the fixed points we steer our lives by? As we intersect with the relativistic culture in which we live we must each ask ourselves “Do I stand out or do I fit in with the crowd?”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Value of Hypocrisy

A hypocrite is defined as “a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings”. While it is sometimes applied to successful, respected individuals in the secular community, it is most often applied to those of a religious persuasion and of the church. In most cases, a hypocrite puts on a false appearance of pious virtue. Many people point to hypocrites as the reason for their objection of Christianity. Unfortunately, there is truth to their assertions, for we are all sinners who do not live up to the standards and virtues that we proclaim.

Yet in one sense hypocrites have an important role in society. They point to certain things that are good and proper. Under the definition above, hypocrisy applies equally to holy men and women as well as sexual perverts, child pornographers, gangsters and terrorists. If they are not consistently acting in accord with their stated beliefs, they are hypocrites. Thus the avowed child pornographer, the avowed hit man, and the avowed terrorist who are refraining from acting in accord with their beliefs are hypocrites. The gangster who puts on a façade of being a respectable citizen is also a hypocrite.

But why is it that the majority of people who are labeled as hypocrites come from a Christian perspective? Why doesn’t society label non-practicing child pornographers, gangsters, terrorists and gluttons as hypocrites? Why does it only seem to apply to religious and virtuous people who fail? John Mark Reynolds, in an essay on notes that “Hypocrites are drawn to the great things, because they use them for their own ends.” He adds: “Perversely the very success of moral men tempts the immoral to try to gain the benefits of virtue without the work.” It’s interesting that it doesn’t work the other way around. We never refer to those who have fallen away from their immoral lifestyle as hypocrites. We don’t try to put on a façade of immorality while actually living moral lives. It is only those who have fallen from a higher moral plain whom are called hypocrites.

Since the time of Jesus, the church has always spoken out against hypocrisy, even in its own midst (although sometimes not as quick as it should). Yet hypocrisy has its place. It points beyond itself to something better. It gives us nostalgia for a higher moral plain. It points to a wistful desire for something beyond us that is good and right and moral and proper. It causes us to compare our own lives with God’s standard so that we can see where we ourselves are lacking. When looking at the lives of individuals whose hypocrisy has been exposed, have you ever asked yourself “How close am I to doing that same thing?” It’s a worthwhile question to ask.

This is not to say that society needs more hypocrites. We would be better off is there were none. But hypocrisy does show us more of God’s standards for society and helps us to be accountable to them. It allows society to affirm what is good. It also provides a check and balance for those of us who embrace the Christian faith, allowing us to see more of how God desires us to live our lives. It points to a standard, outside of ourselves, to which we are accountable. So the next time someone calls you a hypocrite, be thankful. Their condemnation of your behavior just might just be the voice of God, calling you to repentance and a renewed relationship with him.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Freedom of Conscience

We live in interesting times. More and more we are being told what we can or cannot believe and practice. Much of this is being done through legislation. In Great Britain, Christian adoption agencies can no longer refuse to place children with gay couples. Some agencies have closed their doors rather than comply with the new law. Others have conformed, feeling that it is better to help some children than none at all. The archbishop of York stated that "The freedom of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation however well-meaning." The Freedom of Choice Act and the Hate Crimes Act, if they are passed in our country, could have similar effects upon us. Those in the medical field might be required to perform or assist in abortions in both their training and practices, no matter what their conscience dictates. Unless they acquiesce, they might lose their license to practice medicine. Pastors and priests might be arrested and charged with violating the Hate Crimes Act if they preach a sermon against homosexuality. The question has been raised, in semi seriousness, how long before they have to run their sermons by their church’s legal team before delivering them to their congregation? In addition, faith based ministries that accept federal funds may be prohibited from evangelizing or refusing to hire people who have differing religious beliefs.

The Freedom of Choice Act is, by its very nature, hypocritical. It implies that some people have the freedom to choose while others do not. Thus it makes a mockery of both “freedom” and “choice”. The Hate Crimes Act is full of political correctness. It only protects those individuals and organizations that are considered politically correct. Those not politically correct bear the brunt of the law, but are not protected if someone speaks against them. The Act is really not needed since there are already laws on the books that protect all citizens and institutions against personal attacks.

These potential laws open up Pandora’s Box. In many ways they are only the beginning. How long before other controversial things come under attack? How long before doctors are required to assist in suicides? How long before religious adoption agencies are required to place children for adoption with unmarried or gay couples? Will ministers and priests be forced to marry same sex couples even though it offends their conscience? Will parents be forced to put their children in state run schools even though they prefer other alternatives? Where will it all stop? How long before we find that we have lost the freedom of conscience?

If and when these things happen, we will find ourselves facing intense pressure to conform. Careers will be at stake, loss of licenses a reality, incarceration and huge fines a likely possibility, and the continuation of good work done by numerous organizations threatened. Our economic livelihood will be jeopardized – all in the name of “choice”. We need to always remember that without freedom of conscience there is no freedom. Without freedom of conscience we are all slaves to whoever is in control. We are bound to his or her whim, required to obey his commands. We become merely a puppet on a string, only doing exactly as the puppeteer wishes. Without freedom of conscience we will find ourselves again and again in the position of Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. When commanded to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, they responded “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” (Acts 4:19). Will we, at that time, also resist the pressure to conform? Or will we accept the security of servitude?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Core of Being

Sister Ann Shields spoke about a time when she was living in Steubenville, OH. One of the streets of the city was lined on both sides by rows of beautiful trees. When a tornado came through, both rows of trees were uprooted. Upon analysis, these particular trees were very shallow rooted. Their support system below ground was not strong enough to stand up against the force of the wind. She likened this picture to the difficulties we sometimes face in our spiritual lives. She concludes that if our faith is not deep rooted, we may face the same situation when difficulties hit us. We will be unable to stand firm in our faith.

Dallas Willard, in his book "Renovation of the Heart" says much the same thing. He states: “Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being – in our spirit, will and heart.” He observes that what is really important in our lives is the reservoir deep inside the core of our being. When we face crises in our lives, it is the well spring deep in our souls that carries us through and sustains us. It has a huge impact on our faith in God.

Both authors, from slightly different perspectives, come to the same conclusion that Jesus does in his comparison of the wise man who built his house on the rock with the foolish man who built his house on the sand. What is, (or is not), in the depths of our soul will determine how we respond when the storms of life buffet us. Without deep spiritual roots, we can easily feel hopelessness and despair in the times of crisis. Like the trees facing the gales, or the house built on the sand, our faith can be easily toppled and destroyed.

Unfortunately, today’s culture does not focus on depth. We are surrounded by shallow sound bites. We go from one to the next. This has infected the church as well as society. Many have described church members as being a mile wide and an inch deep. Others describe us as desiring Christianity lite. Our spiritual roots are very shallow. We often don’t want to take the time and effort to grow deeper. We spend minimal time in studying God’s word and in prayer. We end up with an inferior, inadequate understanding of God. As Willard says, this affects our worldview. It becomes easy to lose confidence and trust in God.

The solution, according to Willard, is to be spiritually transformed so that all of our thoughts, feelings, choices, interactions, and relationships are all in tune with God. This requires us to seriously examine our lives and our priorities. It requires both dedication and discipline. We must spend quality time in God’s word and in prayer. We need to seek to live holy, God pleasing lives. God and his word must be central in the core of our being. The voice of the Holy Spirit must be active in our hearts. Only then will we find ourselves able to withstand the onslaughts that will surely come from time to time. Only then will we have a reservoir when the dry times come upon our souls.

The transformation begins with conviction and desire. We must first become convicted that it is important for God to dwell in the depths of our soul. Then we must desire for this to occur in our lives. The process begins with a self examination. What is in the core of my being?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Science God

We have a new God! Science! President Obama has implicitly said so. In his statement reversing the administration’s policy on embryonic stem cell research he said “that we should make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology." Because Science has been given the role of deciding what is right or wrong, it has become, de facto, our God.

Throughout the history of our world, whether looking at the pagan religions of Greece and Rome, or at today’s major religions (Buddhism, Islam, Judaism or Christianity, etc.) one of the roles of their gods is to dictate what is morally acceptable and what is not. In all religions, ethics and morality are seen to have come from the outside. They are not democratically decided upon. They have religious dimensions. We are expected to conform to them, not them to us.

But in President Obama’s statement, Science has now become the aim of and the key to everything. It has been given the role of deciding what is morally acceptable. It will now make the decisions. Therefore it has become our new god whom we must all worship. Science has replaced God. But unfortunately, it is a false god. It cannot fulfill this lofty goal. It will never tell us what is right or wrong. As we shall see, it is incapable of making such decisions. Science, in itself, is morally neutral. While there may be good science or bad science, science in its essence deals with empirical data and facts.

But scientists who do the science are not morally neutral. As Family Research Council President Tony Perkins remarked on the decision, "The action by the president today will, in effect, allow scientists to create their own guidelines without proper moral restraints," Scientists make moral, or immoral, decisions all the time. We only need look at the scientific atrocities designed by Josef Mengele and practiced at the death camps of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Dachau, or at the Tuskegee studies here in the US to observe this. C. S. Lewis speaks poignantly of the dangers of glorifying science in the third book of his trilogy, "That Hideous Strength". It’s a book well worth reading (or rereading). Both history and Lewis’s prophetic voice declare that scientists are not God. Whenever they attempt to play God they fail. We have found ourselves, again and again, having to live with the consequences. Ethics and morality, which greatly impact our moral choices and decisions, are not inherent within us. They must come from the outside.

This is why science can never play the role of God. It can never act as a moral agent because it has no conscience. It also has no criteria to use to decide what is either right or wrong. Anything that can be done is permissible. As Charles Colson noted twenty years ago, “The path from the unmentionable to the commonplace is being traveled with increasing speed in medical ethics.” Science can, and will be acted upon by others. The scientists who do science will make moral (or amoral) choices. As Jacques Ellul noted in one of his seminal essays, for those who reject the truth of God there are no brakes. There are no limits upon what is possible to them. They are the master of everything. This is why it is important for Christians to be involved in the sciences. This is why Christians should actively be involved in all disciplines. We need to be thinking and acting Christianly in all that we do. We need to look to God’s guidelines to set the boundaries beyond which we will not go. It is a matter of being just and pure in our lives.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Non Christian Worldview

T. S. Eliot, in an essay entitled Religion and Literature notes that “the author of a work of imagination is trying to affect us wholly, as human beings…. and we are affected by it, whether we intend to be or not.” He continues to say that most of the reading material written by contemporary authors that we come in contact with today is written by people who have no belief in the supernatural. He states that benefit can be found in reading such literature as long as we recognize the vast gulf that exists between our Christian frame of reference and that of the contemporary authors.

But how conscious are we of this gulf as we live in our post modernist, post Christian culture? Through the mass media and the printed word we are constantly bombarded, as Eliot says, by writers who “are really all working together in the same direction.” And for the most part, this direction is not towards God. Unless we are acutely aware of the tension between the Christian and the non-Christian worldviews, we are in danger of being sucked in by the prevailing culture that surrounds us.

How do we solve this dilemma? Totally avoiding the culture is not the answer. Eliot suggests that as Christians we must know both how we really feel about things and understand our own shortcomings. He says we have “the duty of maintaining consciously certain standards and criteria of criticism over and above those applied by the rest of the world; and that by these criteria and standards everything that we read must be tested.” We can’t take a passive approach to this, or we will be negatively affected. We must actively engage our minds, reflecting upon and evaluating all that our culture brings to us with our core beliefs. Too often we take a lackadaisical attitude towards our faith. We don’t see it as something that we should work at to make it sharper. We don’t, as Eliot states, maintain higher standards than the rest of the world. Therefore we fall under the same indictment as ancient Israel, for as God says “For lack of knowledge the people perish” (Hosea 4:6). Without the ability to test the things we read and see and hear we will be adversely affected by them.

Eliot’s comments also touch on the question of worldviews. Are the standards by which we evaluate things based upon a Christian worldview? Our worldview dramatically impacts how we view everything with which we come into contact. For instance, a Christian worldview makes room for the supernatural, while a materialistic worldview totally rejects even the possibility of the supernatural. Throughout our lives we are constantly developing and refining our worldview. It becomes so ingrained in the core of our being that we don’t even realize how much it is affecting everything in our lives. It affects how we view the world, our relationships with others and our relationship with God.

There is no question but what we are immersed in the world in which we live. We are constantly bombarded by the media, entertainment, the global economy, politics etc. All of these industries are attempting to grab our attention and gain our allegiance. The extent to which they succeed depends largely on how we interact with the beliefs behind their statements. This leads to two questions. What standards and criteria have I developed in my life? How effectively am I using them to evaluate everything I see and hear and read as I intersect with the culture in which I am immersed?

Monday, March 23, 2009


Charles Williams, in his novel The Place of the Lion noted that “some things were possible only to a man in companionship, and of these the most important was balance. No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly. Only in such balance could humility be found…” Williams’ statement makes several key points. He notes that we can’t be successful by going it alone. We were designed to be in relationship with others. We also aren’t perfect. We need someone to assist us by being a foil to counter our errors and point out our sins. In the everyday course of life, it is very easy to become unbalanced. We can easily either go off on tangents or become consumed with our vocations, our drives or our passions. At times we can even become so devoted to doing good things that we neglect other things, such as our families or our health. We have then become unbalanced and have lost true perspective. We need someone to point us back in the right direction.

A tangent has one point in common with the true path. But then it veers off ever so slightly, but bit by bit, until it is far away. But because the initial wandering away from the path is so minute we don’t even know we have gone off course. Even when we have gone far afield we don’t realize we have drifted away, for the changes have been so gradual.

When we reach this point it usually is impossible for us to return to a balanced position on our own. We desperately need someone who can provide a counterweight, who can question and encourage us, give us perspective and gently lead us back to the balance we truly need in our lives. We need someone who will be honest with us, who loves us enough to care about our destiny, and who will help us find balance and perspective. We need someone who will point us back to God and his word, for God is the only one who can truly bring balance into our lives. After all, it was God who sent his Son into our unbalanced world to restore us to a balanced relationship with him. We also need someone who is not afraid to point out our sin. As Williams says, without this we will never achieve humility. It is only when we recognize our own sin that we can become humble before God. Without that corrective, we easily fall into pride and conceit. Our minister or priest can fulfill that role. But we also can do it for each other.

When someone reaches out to us in this way, we must be willing to listen and take their advice. If we refuse to do this we have reached the point of no return. We will then never find the place of balance that our souls desperately seek. We will remain adrift, unable to satisfy the void that exists in our lives. And that void will continue to spiral us downward, farther and farther into an unbalanced life that will take us further and further from the God who loves us. Before we find ourselves reaching that end, it is important for us to ask ourselves two important questions. First, am I willing to listen, take advice and change? And second, who can I turn to who will help me find balance and perspective in my daily life?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

God's Camera

Have you ever wished that there were instant cameras, cam recorders and cell phones back in the days of Jesus? We could have seen pictures of the angel choir and the baby Jesus lying in the manger. We could have had pictures of him taken throughout his life. Can you imagine the disciples taking pictures of him? They could have taken pictures of Jesus so that we could see him in action. We could have seen Him feeding the 5000, walking on the water and raising Lazarus from the dead. We could have seen what He looked like. We could have seen the compassion on his face as he healed people. We could have seen him chasing the money changers out of the temple. We could have discovered how closely Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Last Supper was to the actual event. Unfortunately the disciples did not have cameras. Alas, photography came 1800 plus years too late. But we do have two pictures of Jesus in the Bible. The first is found in the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah 52-53. The second picture is seen in the transfiguration accounts found in the Gospels. Although they show contrasting images, they have one element in common. In both accounts, Jesus cannot be looked upon.

In the Isaiah passages, Jesus is depicted as being so hideous that people can not stand to look at Him. A mere glance is enough to cause them to turn away and hide their faces. His visage is so marred that he hardly even looks human. The suffering he experienced was so horrible that it greatly affected his human features. Isaiah says that he was “like one from whom men hide their faces” (Isa. 53:3). Read Isa. 52:14 – 53:12 to see this entire picture.

In the accounts of the transfiguration, Jesus is pictured as being dazzlingly brilliant. Matthew says “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matt. 17:2). Luke adds that his clothes were as bright as a flash of lightning. The beauty and brilliance of the Lord of glory was more than the disciples could bear and they had to hide their faces. It was impossible to gaze upon his glorified radiance. He was just too brilliant.

In both the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah and in the three accounts of the transfiguration found in the gospels the result is the same – it is impossible to look upon him. In the former it is because of his hideousness. One’s natural reaction is to turn away. He is just too hideous. In the transfiguration it is because of his immense beauty. He is pictured as being brilliant. Just like we have to turn away from the brilliance of the sun or a flash of lightning, the disciples had to turn away from gazing at the transfigured Jesus. In his transfigured state, he was too much for them to gaze upon.

Two very contrasting pictures, with such strikingly similar results! In them we see the extent of God’s great love for us. Jesus was willing to exchange his position as the Lord of glory for that of a human being. He willingly gave up his position in heaven to come to earth, to suffer and die a cruel death on the cross. He exchanged the glory of heaven for the brokenness of earth. In the contrast of these two pictures with such similar results we see how much Jesus’ love for us cost Him. Have you seen this picture of God’s great love for you yet?

Words and Actions

Jacques Ellul, in The Betrayal of the West states “The inconsistency between the West’s words and actions only made men take the words more seriously.” He goes on to say that their actions betrayed what they were advocating in their words. Although Ellul is speaking of the ideals of freedom and the value of the individual, we can apply his words much more broadly. The same dynamic occurs in all areas of life. When faced with similar situations we tend to either reject the words or the actions. Witness the smoker who tells his children not to smoke. They will often either become anti tobacco or avid smokers themselves. In one case they reject the words, in the other they reject the actions.

The same tension between words and actions occurs in our spiritual lives as well. Many times children will reject the faith of their parents because their words and actions are not in harmony with each other. If we are to avoid extreme responses, there must be a congruency between word and action. Both must support, not oppose, each other. Otherwise the same process of rejection will occur. One may become extremely law oriented while another will abandon the faith. One may become pietistic while another may extol a secular lifestyle.

When words and actions are inconsistent we run the danger of becoming hypocritical and losing any chance to be a true witness to the Christian faith. A minister was telling of one of his parishioners, a businessman, who had a high profile in the church. He had a sterling testimony within the church community. Everyone in the church thought highly of him. But one day another member of the church told the minister that he should talk to the businessman’s employees. They had a totally different impression than the church members had of the businessman. He constantly belittled, shouted at and berated his employees. He was rude to them and took their ideas as his own. He took advantage of his customers. His relationship with them was far from ethical. When he spoke of anything related to Christianity to his employees, they snickered and turned away. His words and his actions were totally inconsistent. Basically, he was living for God on Sunday and the Devil the rest of the week. Based upon the example of his life, his employees wanted nothing to do with his religion. His life was an example of the statement “actions speak louder than words”.

It is only when our words and actions support each other that people become attracted to the faith we represent. If they are not in agreement, we send a mixed message. On one hand, with our words, we are telling them that our faith is important to us. On the other, with our actions, we are telling them that our relationship with God is not important enough to us for it to actually affect our lives. This raises the question “Is it really important?” Our actions will always speak louder than our words. Therefore anyone looking on, will most likely conclude that it really isn’t very important.

I wonder, how many times in the course of our lives do our words and actions disagree with each other? When they do, what are we really saying to those who come in contact with us? By the inconsistency of our words and actions are we telling them that a relationship with God really doesn’t matter very much? Ask yourself the question: “What do my words and actions really say about my relationship with God?”

Whom Do You Fear

Joseph Stalin, as a youth, attended a Russian Orthodox seminary, preparing for the priesthood. Abandoning that vocation, he became perhaps the greatest mass murderer of all time, signing papers authorizing 3000 executions per day. He had no use for religion, killing many Christians and destroying churches. One day he saw in the paper that a particular Russian Orthodox bishop was going to be traveling through Moscow. This bishop had been a fellow student and friend during his seminary days. Stalin sent a letter to the bishop commanding him to appear before Stalin while in Moscow. The bishop, in great fear for his life, deliberated on how to dress for the occasion. Finally he decided to dispense with his clerical robes and wear a business suit to the meeting. When Stalin saw him, he convulsed in laughter for several minutes. He then said to the bishop, “I see you fear me more than you fear God.” Stalin had only wanted to see his former friend and find out how he was.

How many times do we act like the bishop as we interact with the secular culture in which we live? The majority of persons in the media and academia discount and belittle religion. They have no use for Christianity. How often do we attempt to disguise our faith in God for fear that we will be ostracized and laughed at for the worldview we hold? We may find this particularly true in our work and educational environments where Christianity is often scorned at and considered to be of no value. This attitude is particularly evident in our universities, as the movie “Expelled” so vividly illustrates. Therefore, to appear to fit in, we become part time Christians who believe Christianity is true only on Sundays. The rest of the week we may ignore the same morality, principles and faith we espouse on Sundays. When we do this we become hypocrites. In reality we have compromised our faith in God.

We don’t run the risk of losing our lives for our faith here in America. We live in a different world than that of Christians living in Muslim countries today, or those who lived under Communism in the last century, or of the early Christians in the Roman Empire. Whereas they courageously faced death because of their faith, we only fear being belittled or ostracized. We fear the negative impact a public declaration of our faith may have upon our career advancement or social status in the community. But either objectively or unconsciously, we all face the question “How much am I willing to risk for my faith?” How we answer that question may tell us how much we are willing to compromise our faith as we go about our daily lives.

Unfortunately, it is a question that cannot be easily answered. It is easy to say that God is the most important person in our lives. But is he still when our faith in him might cost us our job or career? The question requires us to inspect our own lives. We have to take a hard look at ourselves. When we do, the answer will tell us a lot about what we really believe in. We will then learn what we value most in life. Is it God or something else? But ultimately, like the Russian bishop, in the midst of living our lives we must all face the simple question “What do I fear more than God?” It’s a question worth asking ourselves once in awhile.

Using the Mind

Many people today are critical of the educational establishment, feeling that our children are not receiving the best education that they should be receiving. This dissatisfaction with the perceived lowered quality of education has led to both the charter school movement as well as the home school movement. Most parents are concerned that their children receive a good education. They are willing to do something about it, even if it requires sacrifice and cost.

But I wonder if this desire for a quality education extends to the church. William Lane Craig, in his book Reasonable Faith states: ”Churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith…. The Church is perishing today through a lack of thinking, not an excess of it.” University professor, Dr. Jefrey Breshears, in giving his students a pre-class quiz on biblical literacy and religious awareness discovered that most of them were clueless, including those who had attended Sunday School and church during their youth. Breshears concludes that over 15 years they had logged in approximately 800 hours in Sunday School and church. Were students to begin college with 800 hours of math instruction but unable to add, subtract, multiply and divide we would be up in arms with indignation about the quality of education they received. The biblical and religious awareness among adults isn’t any better. A recent survey showed that 85% of adult church attendees knew only a few random facts about Christian history, and 80% knew little about the history of their own denomination.

I wonder, are we operating on a double standard when it comes to Christian education? Are we content to merely drift along with our minds disengaged? Are we less concerned about our children’s Christian education than we are about their secular education? I am afraid so.

When we turn to the Bible we get a clear picture that we are expected to use our minds and seek knowledge. When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37). We are to seek out the knowledge of God, searching diligently for it. We are also to combat the false knowledge of God that is expressed in the world around us. God expects us to engage our minds as we seek to know Him.

We who are adults must set the example for our children. We must foster an environment of learning in our homes and in our churches. We must demonstrate the importance of using our minds to the glory of God. We need to promote the concept of “No Christian Left Behind” – in biblical literacy, theological literacy, historical literacy and cultural literacy. We must have our minds engaged. If our children observe that this is not important for us, it will not be important for them either. The alternative is intellectual starvation. Like the starving person who can no longer eat when offered food, we become desensitized to Christian learning. We can become so numbed that we don’t even want to make the effort to use our minds Christianly. We drift along in our faith, expressing superficial platitudes. We have no way to address the current hot issues of the day. And so we become marginalized in society.

God has given us intelligence, expecting us to use our intelligence to discover him and to reach out to others with his good news. But that means we must be engaged. We must be continuously learning. How is your learning switch? Has it been turned on or off?

The Tempter's Snare

In C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Proposes a Toast the senior devil Screwtape speaks to the junior devils regarding the tempter’s relationship with his prey: Screwtape describes the task of the junior devils in influencing their assigned humans. He says “The job of their Tempters was first, of course, to harden these choices of Hell-ward roads into a habit by steady repetition. But then (and this was all-important) to burn the habit into a principle – a principle the creature is prepared to defend. After that all will do well. Conformity to the social environment, at first merely instinctive or even mechanical – how should a jelly not conform? – now becomes an unacknowledged creed…”.

Lewis’s fanciful account contains some insightful observations. As Screwtape suggests, succumbing to the first temptation makes it easier to succumb to the second, and so on until we become hardened in our choices. At that point we are caught in the tempter’s snare. It will impact all of our relationships. We see this principle at work all around us. The embezzler doesn’t usually begin with a large embezzlement. Most news accounts refer to a series of embezzlements over several months or years. The initial ones are likely small and insignificant. But over time and repetition they become larger and larger. Likewise, most people who become caught up in extra-marital affairs don’t wake up one morning and state “I am going to have an affair today.” The process begins with an attraction between two people which grows over time, finally resulting in the affair. Along the way there are many little things that contribute to it. The continual thoughts and actions become a habit. These habits in turn become a principle that we are willing to defend. We then rationalize our decisions and conduct.

Screwtape also suggests that conformity plays an instrumental role in these temptations. We only need to look at history to see that most societies have gone through periods of moral decay. Their lack of morality becomes habitual. We face this problem in our society today as well. When we take the attitude “Everyone is doing it” we start down Screwtape’s Hell-ward road. Joining in only hastens the downward slide. Ultimately it will negatively affect all of our relationships – with each other and with our God.

How do we avoid succumbing to this process? Just as habits are created by continual repetition, so also is their avoidance. We have to consciously say “No”. Successfully rejecting the first temptation makes it easier to resist the next one. We must remember that temptations often come upon us in areas where we are the weakest. For this reason it is important for us to understand where we are most likely to be caught off guard. We need to examine our lives to avoid being caught in the tempter’s snare. We need to understand what are the insignificant little areas where temptations can start that will build up into habits. We need to understand that we can choose to accept or reject these temptations. We need to acknowledge our weaknesses and ask God for help to avoid the temptations that will come. As we examine our lives, three questions come to mind. What are the small areas Satan is trying to drive a wedge in our relationship with God? What detrimental habits is he trying to build in our lives? How can we successfully resist them? As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

The Growing Christian

A speaker at Inter Varsity’s Urbana student missionary convention once said to the students attending the convention: “A growing Christian is a reading Christian, but a reading Christian is not necessarily a growing Christian.” He went on to explain that the mere fact of reading Christian literature doesn’t guarantee that we will be growing Christians unless we reflect upon and incorporate what we are reading into our lives and thought. But he also stated strongly that in his experience, people whose faith was growing were all reading Christians. He challenged us to read and reflect upon what we read.

We might well ask why this statement is true. I believe it has to do with our attitudes and motivation. Are we reading because we are desperate to know more of God or merely for intellectual stimulation? Are we content with the way things are with no desire to grow further in our faith and therefore don’t read at all? When we do read, are we reflecting upon what we know of God and allowing him to change us?

God, through his Spirit, often uses the written word to speak to our hearts, minds and souls. This is true whether we are reading Scripture, the words penned by Christian authors, or even those written by secular authors. But if we are to grow, it is very important to think about and integrate what we read with our previous understanding and knowledge. We are bombarded every day by a combination of the written word, the spoken word and the visual image. Various forms of the media are constantly in front of us. It is very easy to just accept what we see and hear at face value, without thought. To what extent do we run what we see and hear through the filter of our faith? Or do we let these images and words infiltrate our thoughts and minds without reflection?

If we are to grow in our faith, we need to reflect upon the events of each day. Sometimes we will need to ask the question, “What does God think about this?” Other times we will need to ask “How would Jesus have reacted to this?” And at still other times we will find ourselves asking “As a Christian, how do I react to this?” Just as our physical muscles become stronger through disciplined exercise, so our spiritual and mental muscles also become stronger through disciplined exercise. After all, we are to love the Lord our God with the totality of our heart, soul and mind. It may be time to open up the Bible along with a good book, and with pen and paper in hand, jot down what God is telling us. As we confront our world and the culture in which we live it is time to develop our spiritual muscles to a higher degree. It is time to actively reflect upon what is going on around us in light of our faith. It is time to stretch our thoughts and minds through serious study of the Bible and various types of literature. In them we can learn much about God and how He desires for us to live.

Just as the athlete must commit himself to active exercise and practice, so must we, as Christians, commit ourselves to the active study and reflection upon God’s word and all that the media brings to us. It is only be doing this that we can grow and develop our faith. But we are forced to ask ourselves two important questions. Am I a growing Christian? Are my spiritual muscles developing or atrophying?

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Effects of Anger

Stephen Hower, in his book Contrary to Popular Belief tells of the tragic death of Adeana Dickison. While she and her husband were on their honeymoon, she was caught in glacial silt on the Alaskan coastline. The efforts of an experienced rescue team to free her were unsuccessful, and she drowned when the tides came in. The estimated 500 pounds of suction supplied by the silt that had locked around her leg could not be dislodged. Hower goes on to compare the powerful sucking action of the glacial silt to sin. He states: “Like glacial silt, certain sins are listed in the Bible as especially deadly. Like quicksand, these sins hold their victims in an unrelenting grasp, slowly pulling them under.”

One of these deadly sins is hatred. It often begins as anger over a situation. It may start as anger over being jilted by a lover, being abused as a child, having an unwanted divorce, being a victim of injustice, losing a job, etc. But as the anger festers it builds up over time into either bitterness or hatred or both and it eventually consumes us. Hower, speaking of hatred, concludes “Its strong grasp holds great power to destroy the faith of its victims. Friends and family often stand hopelessly near, unable to pry the victims from hatred’s grasp. Horrified, they watch while their loved ones self destruct.”

I remember one woman in her late sixties who attended the church where I was once a member. She had no friends. She always dressed in black and always had a dour expression on her face. All attempts to befriend her failed, for she immediately cut them off. Any compliment given her was reacted to negatively. She was extremely bitter about life. She was constantly miserable. It was uncomfortable even being around her. Eventually most everyone stopped trying to reach out to her. A few years later I found out that she had been jilted at the altar on her wedding day. She never forgave her fiancé for backing out of the wedding. She was mired in her anger, bitterness, and hatred which had continued to fester for forty some years. They destroyed her so that she became the bitter, miserable person whom everyone tried to avoid. Hatred had so consumed her soul that she had no room for anything else. Her inability to forgive destroyed her.

We often hear slogans like “don’t get angry, get even” and “give as good as you get.” But these slogans link the solution to injustice with obtaining revenge. Revenge really is a form of hatred. Many of the animosities we see between people groups around the world are based on revenge. The hatred upon which it feeds leads to an escalation of evil. This often results in death and destruction.

The Christian answer to the problem of hatred is forgiveness. We are counseled to forgive our enemies and those who persecute us. It is only by forgiving that we are able to escape the clutching tendencies of anger. It is only through forgiveness and love that we can escape the powerful force of hatred. True forgiveness allows us to avoid lashing out at others in anger. It keeps us from destroying our own souls.

Life happens. We all have experiences where the natural tendency is to seek revenge. In each of these situations we are presented with a choice. We can hate or we can forgive. The choice we make will have a profound effect upon the rest of our lives. Choosing hatred will lead to self destruction. Choosing love and forgiveness will break the bonds of hatred and give us freedom. From time to time it is worth asking ourselves, “Is there anyone whom I am angry with that I need to forgive?”

The Ten Great Freedoms

In a recent sermon on the Ten Commandments our pastor stated that “Rules without relationship equals rebellion.” Without a relationship with God, we lose sight of the reasons why the Commandments are important. We fight against them and find ourselves in revolt. When we are out of relationship with God and our fellow man, the Ten Commandments appear to be very strict and confining. This is part of the reason why there has been so much flack over the Ten Commandments being displayed in courtrooms and other places. But when we are in relationship with God and with each other, it is a different story. We find them freeing and helpful. They describe how we are to live with each other within a community.

A look at the life and times in which God gave the Ten Commandments is instructive. The ancient world was in chaos. Civilization after civilization was collapsing, never to rise again. This collapse occurred over a large portion of the eastern Mediterranean world. The civilizations of modern day Cyprus and Crete were destroyed. So also were those in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Along the coast, the civilizations of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt fell, as did those of Jordan and Iraq. Society after society was swept away. Life for the inhabitants of the region had become totally unpredictable.

It was in the midst of this calamity and chaos that God stepped in and gave his covenant, including the Ten Commandments. The Commandments talk first of all about what should characterize one’s relationship with God. He is the only one to whom we are to give allegiance. They go on to describe what things should characterize our lives in the midst of community. They describe how our relationship with God should be carried out in everyday life. We are to honor our parents, and avoid things like murder, stealing, lying, adultery and covetousness. For a society that followed these commandments life became more predictable again. In the midst of the chaos that was going on all around them they knew what to expect from their neighbor. If Sally had a relationship with God that told her how to live her life, and Joe had a similar relationship with the same God, both Joe and Sally had a pretty good idea of what to expect from each other. Therefore the Ten Commandments became a rallying point for a community experiencing a world of uncertainty, violence and chaos.

Ernst Lange, in his book Ten Great Freedoms says concerning the Ten Commandments, “But all begin “I, God, and you man, now we belong together. And if we are to remain together, then your life will look like this: You will have no other gods. You will honor my name. You will not run yourself to death. And you will live as a person in your family.” He goes on to speak of how following the commandments frees us from becoming enslaved to passions, vices and consuming desires. He notes that when we seek power, money, sex or status we become enslaved to them. When we constantly seek uninterrupted work or pleasure we lose the joy of life. Constant revolt against authority can be as enslaving as is slavish obedience. Continually treating others as competitors, seeking self gratification, practicing deception and envying others also destroys the joy of life and enslaves us to these passions.

Today we live in a world which has again become very unpredictable. Terrorism, corporate greed, and the breakdown of family and community are all around us. Perhaps we need the Ten Commandments again to teach us how to live. But it begins with each one of us. We must ask, “Am I enslaved by my passions and vices or have I been freed by the Commandments to truly live in community again”?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Success in the Little Things

We all find ourselves having to handle difficult situations from time to time. There may be stressful problems at work, or a tough family situation. They may involve interpersonal relationships or temptations. It may come as a crisis of faith. Rest assured, they will hit us sometime in our lives. How do we prepare ourselves to handle these big critical issues of life? I believe it is by successfully handling the small insignificant areas of life. Having a pattern of successfully handling many small tasks at work makes it easier to handle the large ones. Day after day faithfully taking care of the minutia at home makes it easier to deal with large issues that require more effort. In our life of faith, faithfully following God in the little areas, makes following Him in the larger areas becomes easier. I believe God tests us in the little things of life to measure our potential to handle the large things. By being faithful in the little things, we increase the likelihood that we will be faithful when the big tests come.

The life of Daniel and his friends illustrate this principle. While still in their youth, they were uprooted from their family, friends and country and taken to Babylon. They were chosen to receive elite training at the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. How were Daniel and his friends able to stand firm as they faced the lion’s den and the fiery furnace? They did so by first refusing to compromise their convictions in the little things. They began by refused to eat the food fit for a king. Instead of rationalizing “It’s only a little food, what will it hurt”, they said “No”! When asked if he could interpret dreams, Daniel replied “No, I can’t, but God can.” He refused to take the credit. By passing these little tests, Daniel and his friends were prepared to handle the next larger test, and the next, up to the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. God first tested their potential for greatness in his kingdom with a few morsels of food

We all face the same issues. We are constantly being tested to see how faithful we are. Some of the tests are quite mundane, like faithfully taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes or vacuuming the carpet. Others may involve successfully avoiding temptations. They may involve faithfully reading the Bible. We all have different tests for we all are different people. But they all have one thing in common: They build our spiritual character.

Unfortunately we all fail. We are far from perfect. We yield to temptation and succumb to sin. But we have a forgiving God who, when we acknowledge our failures, forgives us and gives us a new test. We can observe this fact in the lives of two familiar biblical characters. King David was a murderer, an adulterer and an absent father. Yet he is described as a “man after God’s own heart” because he was contrite. The apostle Peter, denied Jesus three times, but became the leader of the early church. Each learned from their mistakes. This helped them when the next test came.

As we think about this, two questions come to mind. In what small insignificant area is God testing me? How can I be faithful to him in this area? It is often helpful to keep a record of our progress in moving from one test to the next. Then when the big tests come, we will have a lifetime of faithfulness in little things backing us up.

Strangers and Aliens

In the book of 1st Peter, Peter speaks of our being strangers and aliens upon the earth. He speaks of our being merely sojourners here for a time as we pass through on our way to heaven. He states: “Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (I Peter 1:17 NIV). Yet many times we become very comfortable with our lives here on earth. We can become too identified with the culture and times in which we live. How much do we identify today with the old gospel chorus? “This world is not my home. I’m just a passing through. If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do? The angels’ beckon me from Heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”
It is very easy to become comfortable and blend in with the culture in which we
live. Because American Christianity tends to focus on right living, it identifies itself with what is good and proper in the secular culture around us. But as one writer has noted, when our secular culture expresses a new thought, American Christians are following it within 20 years. We become exactly like the world around us.

Examples of this trend surround us. Despite the biblical prohibitions, the divorce rate among Christians is not that much different from that of the non-Christians community around us. Christians and non-Christians both have abortions. Many Christians, along with non-Christians believe in evolution. We both tend to get caught up in materialism and “looking out for number one”. There is little difference between the lifestyle of Christians and morally upright non-Christians. The early Christian community of the first century was known as turning the world upside down. Is our current Christian community looked upon today in the same way?
We have forgotten that we are to be counter cultural. A speaker was asked if the role of the church was to support the political party in opposition to the one in power. He replied, “No, the role of the church is to hold both parties accountable to standards of righteousness and justice.” Many times we forget that we are people with a relationship with God that is to affect all of our relationships here on earth. God expects us to be different. We are expected to personally live and hold our culture to a higher standard. This is why we are to be strangers and aliens in the world.

One of the difficulties that our military faced during the Viet Nam war was the fact that the enemy perfectly blended in with the local populace. There was no easy way to tell who was who. But the enemy always knew they were the enemy! Today the Christian church has to a large extent blended in with the culture around us. We have become very comfortable. We accept many of the same tenets held by our secular society. We have forgotten that we are to be counter cultural. The lives we live are not that much different than those of the community at large around us. We have forgotten that we are to critique the culture in which we live. The one major difference between us and our culture may be that we spend one hour per week in church. Unfortunately that often doesn’t make much of a difference the rest of the week. If this is true, one haunting question remains: “If I was arrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me?” May the jury find us guilty!

Spiritual Bulimia

Bulimia and anorexia are terrible diseases. People with bulimia tend to be binge eaters. They often eat large quantities of high calorie foods. But the bulimic person will purge the food from their system prior to its being digested. Therefore they are constantly malnourished. In its early stages, the illness is very difficult to diagnose. There are no outward signs. But if left untreated, the illness will eventually raise havoc to the body, negatively affecting the various systems and organs. The ironic fact is that although they ingest an excess of calories, it is possible for people with bulimia to starve to death. People with anorexia tend to eat very little, fearing they are grossly overweight. When they do eat, they often purge themselves similar to people with bulimia. Eventually the body shuts down and leads to death. The singer Karen Carpenter died from anorexia.

I wonder how often we find ourselves battling the same illnesses in our spiritual lives. Spiritually anorexic people do not receive spiritual food. They infrequently read and study the Bible. When they do, it has little impact on their lives. These people are fairly easy to identify. Their attendance at church is minimal. Their non-involvement is a key to be able to diagnose spiritual anorexia. But spiritually bulimic people are hard to identify because they seem to be receiving large amounts of spiritual food. These are the people who will be at church every Sunday. They often are involved in Bible studies. They usually are some of the most active church members. But they have one problem. Very little of what they hear, read, and learn is ever digested. It never becomes incorporated into their lives. God’s word has little impact upon their day to day behavior. They are, in effect, spiritually bulimic. We all deal with this problem to some degree. As a test, ask yourself the following question this coming Sunday afternoon: “What was today’s sermon about?” If you can’t answer the question, you are in danger of being spiritually bulimic.

In today’s world, we have ample sources of spiritual food. There are many Bible translations available. Christian radio stations feature Christian music, talk shows, sermons, Bible studies etc. The religious bookstores have a wealth of materials that can be read. There are a large number of churches in the area that we can attend where we can be exposed to sermons, Christian education, and Bible studies. Too often we take in all of the information that is being presented to us from the pulpit and the media. What impact does all of this spiritual nourishment have on our lives? Sadly, it may have very little. It easily can go in one ear and out the other. It can have little or no impact upon our day to day existence.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were spiritually bulimic. In Luke 11:52 he speaks of their being experts in the law who have taken away the key to knowledge. They do not have true knowledge themselves, despite all their learning. Although they knew so much about the law, they had never personally incorporated it into their lives. They were spiritually bulimic. I wonder how much we are just like them. We have so many opportunities to learn about God. But does what I am learning have an impact on my life? How am I changing due to the spiritual food I am partaking? We must each ask ourselves this important question: Am I being spiritually nourished or am I spiritually bulimic?