Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The People vs God ~ Part One

Dear Friends,

When Barack Obama was sworn in last week as our 44th president, Mark Driscoll, the evangelical founder/pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, tweeted: “Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.”

Our president has publicly professed his faith in God so why do some see such a disconnect between Obama’s faith and orthodox doctrine? Why was there such a struggle for the president’s inaugural team to find “acceptable” clergy for the traditional invocation at the beginning of the ceremony and for the benediction at the end?

The invocation is a prayer at the beginning of a service or ceremony that calls or invokes God’s presence into that which follows. For the first time in the history of the American presidency, an invocation was not given. Instead of a prayer delivered by clergy, a secular “blessing” was given by a civil rights activist who did not invite God’s presence. The activist ignored God and instead lifted up “mankind” and “womankind” and the promise of America. In referring to the pledge of allegiance she even carefully eliminated the words: “under God.” In her “blessing” she used the word “God” only once – in a reference to who our grandmothers prayed to. She then asked that we would receive guidance from our grandmother’s spirits “as we claim the spirit of old.” Huh? The speaker ended the “blessing” – “in Jesus name and the name of all who are holy and right” thus inclusively embracing everyone’s favorite deity.

There is a battle today between Church and culture that is shaping the nature of everything from presidential inaugurations to mean-spirited fighting within some of our church denominations. Because this battle undergirds all of our debates over doctrine and culture, it’s worth having an understanding of the two worldviews that are at war with each other.

HUMANISM. Humanists tend to be atheists and  agnostics who believe that “man is the measure of all things” meaning there is no external standard by which we live. All standards, including our moral values, come from humans and thus are different and according to each person’s  individual beliefs. The humanist movement preaches acceptance and tolerance of all beliefs and they are amazingly intolerant of all who do not believe as they do. 

The liberal, modernist movement in Christianity has been influenced by the humanist movement to the degree that it is sometimes labeled “Christian Humanism.” When we see the “doctrine” of humanism blend-ing with the beliefs of liberal Christianity, we understand more clearly why the liberal church movement embraces modern culture and reacts so negatively to the conservative Evangelical church.

THEISM: Theists believe that God is the measure of all things and that God is the external standard by which we live. God is not a superstition or some vague spiritual “life-force.” God is present and involved in our life. He reveals Himself through scripture and holds us accountable to the standards He has set. While some in liberal Christianity would say, “yes and amen” to that belief, there is a growing chasm between the conservative Evangelical church and the liberal church movement. The conservative Evangelical church is “traditionalist” and bases doctrine on God’s revelation through scripture. The liberal Christian movement is “revisionist” meaning it rewrites and reinterprets the past and the scriptures to conform to changing cultural beliefs. When we see the orthodox theist beliefs which undergird the foundation of conservative  Christianity, we understand more clearly why it embraces orthodox doctrine and reacts so negatively to the liberal church and to our Nation’s increasing move toward a culture of humanism.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Big Deal.. It Was Only an Apple!

Dear Friends,

One of my best memories from elementary school is the “Red Delicious” apples. Every afternoon someone brought to each classroom a box of the deep red, sweet, chilled apples. When I was a kid I loved apples and I still do. From the sweetness of the Fuji and the Gala to the tartness of the Pink Lady and the Granny Smith. Offer me the choice of a candy bar or an apple and I’ll take the apple every time. My point is.. I know why Eve did it.

Go ahead. Put yourself in Eve’s place. Would you have yielded to the temptation in the Garden? “Of course not!” we emphatically state. “No way!” “Not me!”  Really? How can we be so sure when we so readily yield to the temptation of that second bowl of tortilla chips at the restaurant or to the super-sized piece of chocolate cake at the hospitality table? How can we say “No way” as we too quickly finish that bottle of wine or double the dosage of the little pill that relaxes us and brings freedom from the day’s worries? How can we so easily say “Not me!” when we speedily yield to the temptation to repeat that delicious bit of gossip or fire off that angry email?

Now of course we know something that Adam and Eve didn’t. We’ve read the Book and we know that the consequence of yielding to that tempting apple was the fall of mankind. They didn’t know that but they both knew what God had said about the forbidden fruit. Eve knew she was disobeying God. But after all this was not a major sin! It was just a little snack – it was only an apple...

In our human pride we can deny that we give in so  easily and quickly to harmful temptations. But the sad truth is, if that had been a ripe, properly chilled Red Delicious apple, I probably would have been pushing Eve out of the way so that I could snatch it off the tree for myself. I mean.. after all.. it was only an apple...

What are your “apples” – your temptations? Worrying or being anxious? Procrastinating or putting things off? Eating too much or eating foods that are not healthy for you? Spending too much time on the internet or watching television? Spending more money than you can afford or obsessively shopping for things you don’t need? Being lazy or not working as hard as you should? Gossiping or saying unkind things about others? Being jealous or envious of others? Lying or cheating? Expressing anger or going “off” on someone? Drinking too much or misusing prescription medication?

Why worry about those seemingly insignificant  temptations in our life? Because, as it was with the first family, there will always be consequences when we yield to even the most minor sin. 

We too easily blame God for our temptations but He tempts no one. The source of all our temptation lies within. (Read James 1:12-15). The place in which all temptation originates is our own evil desires. And, then the Enemy beckons to us and says: “Hey don’t worry about it – it’s only an apple.”

In the Garden, Satan manifested himself to Eve as a snake. When the enemy of this world dangles temptations and desires before us, the only thing that has changed is his disguise and he is hunting for us. A commentator wrote: When we reach out to satisfy our (temptations and) desires, we have become the prey. We have crossed a dreadful line into the gun sight of an expert hunter (the Devil) and are in danger. We are about to be shot, captured and imprisoned.

Lord, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil desires within us.  Deliver us from all excessive, unhealthy and sinful afflictions and from all the temptations and deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil. We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Black Ooze

Dear Friends,

It was early one Monday morning. I was writing an Amen Corner when I heard a muffled explosion come from somewhere within my house. Odd. Not like anything I'd heard before. I don't have a cat which ruled out feline terrorist activity. My canine security guard was still sleeping peacefully at my feet and if human intruders had caused the strange sound, she would have been instantly awake and responding Code-3. A cursory security check of the interior of my house revealed nothing. But later on when I went into my pantry, it looked like a scene from the old Ghostbusters movie. Ugly black and brown slime dripped from the ceiling. The sticky, gooey, ectoplasm-like substance had splattered on canned goods and was running off shelves. But before I could call an exorcist, I discovered what happened.

I found this can on a back shelf with its pull-tab lid blown open. The label said Dole Pineapple Chunks and what remained inside were gooey black globs of what had once been pineapple. During the forensic investigation with a magnifying glass, pinholes were found in the bottom of the can. Apparently, the highly acidic fruit dissolved the lining of the can and created tiny holes that allowed airborne bacteria to enter. This caused the fruit to decompose which increased the internal pressure and Bam! The date on the bottom of the can was October 2006. It was time to clean out my pantry.

As I cleaned up the ooze, I remembered a book I'd read years ago. Author Frank Peretti, who has been described as a Christian “Stephen King” wrote an award-winning novel called The Oath. The story focuses on a small mining town where many of the townspeople are suffering gruesome deaths. Their bodies are found partially decomposed and covered with a black oozing slime. The reader discovers the black ooze is their sin. It starts with a minor blemish – a darkened area of skin over the heart. If ignored it becomes a black oozing sore. If the sins remain unconfessed, the black slime begins to grow and takes over their soul. Their once happy lives turn dark and evil and eventually their body decomposes from the inside out. Sometimes the pressure of the sin builds up until the person explodes. It's not a book you want to read during dinner.

That morning as I was scrubbing black ooze and cleaning out my pantry while thinking about the Peretti book, I had the impression that God was telling me I need to clean out my own life. Did I still have unconfessed sins that were well beyond their “freshness dates”? I don't want to be strolling through Costco someday and... Bam!  “Attention Costco maintenance. Clean up a customer on aisle twenty three.”

Scripture tells us that God’s grace covers all our sin through the atonement of Jesus on the cross. So why do we need to continue to confess? Because we continue to sin. Once saved we are now in the process of sanctification where we are growing spiritually and are learning how to live and love like Jesus. Our sin clogs that process. Numerous scripture passages tell us that God doesn’t respond to us when we are not right with Him. It’s not that He stops listening to our prayers. But we have clogged up our lines of communication with Him whenever we have unconfessed and unrepentant sin in our lives. We unclog those lines when we say, “Lord, I messed up again, here’s what I did...” And, God’s immediate response is, “You are forgiven.”

Do you have some unconfessed sins that are well beyond their freshness dates? If so, consider taking some time this week to do some spiritual housecleaning!  Amen?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Life Happens. Expect It.

Dear Friends,

When I was much younger, stronger and far more reckless than I am today, my yearly vacation from my stress-filled job was to go backpacking in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in Oregon. Kalmiopsis was the most rugged and remote wilderness area I could find. It had rushing rivers to cross, deep canyons, extreme elevation changes, rock ridges you had to climb and it was known for its rattlesnakes. I would go in alone for a week and never met another backpacker. Backpacker Magazine had deemed the southern portion of Kalmiopsis too rugged and dangerous for backpackers. That made it the perfect place for me because I wanted to be alone. 

In the Kalmiopsis Wilderness every day was a victory of survival. Where I pushed myself to the breaking point to discover my limitations. Where I was able to do some deep soul searching. Where I always met God.

Back at the office I would be asked, “Did you ever get lost?” Of course I did! When you are finding your way through a wilderness area using unmarked trails, animal trails and sometimes your own “shortcuts” you get lost. You don't know where you are. There is disorientation and confusion but never fear. There is no fear because an experienced backpacker expects to get lost!

You have tools like a compass and topographical maps but when your survival is at stake you don't rely on what can be lost or broken. So you study the sun – always knowing its position in the sky at every time of the day. If you are lost, the position of the sun will help you to become reoriented. You know that well-traveled animal trails often lead to water. You know that the North Star points north. You have faith that no matter how lost you find yourself at the moment, you have the ability to reorient yourself. And, even when I wasn't certain where I was going, I was always going somewhere and God always knew where I needed to be!

In life transitions we can sometimes feel lost and disoriented. We don't know where we are at the moment and may not even know where we need to be. We may feel lost and uncertain about which direction to go. We may even feel frightened and fearful as we look toward our future. Both big and little upsets in life are all so.. er.. unexpected!

In the wilderness, when you expect to be lost, you won't panic when you are. When you have pre-pared to be lost and have equipped yourself with tools for survival, you are never lost for long.  When you are prepared, you have the confidence that you’ll never be so lost that you'll step off a cliff into a canyon or wander in the wilderness forever. You fully trust that no matter how lost you get, you'll always find your way again.

In 2013, expect to be lost!  Expect you will feel lost and disoriented. Expect a life transition. Expect a serious situation you’ve not planned for. Expect the Enemy of this world to throw you a curve. Expect a crisis of faith: Is God really here with me now?  Life happens. Expect it. Prepare for it.

Prepare yourself now with the tools at hand. Your Bible is the compass and map that shows you where you are and how to get to where you need to be. Look for and follow in the tracks of the saints that lead to the Living Water. And study the Son. Know where He is at all times in your life. Know what His voice sounds like. Know what the leading of the Holy Spirit feels like. No matter how lost you become, when you have studied the Son, you'll always know the direction in which to go.

Life is rugged. Expect to be lost. Expect to find your way again. Expect victory for He is with you when you're lost in the valley and He's there when you're dancing again on the top of the mountain.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Don't Bubble-wrap Your Jesus

Dear Friends,

I miss Christmas already. I loved going into the most secular retail stores and hearing on their music system, the words to Hark The Harold Angels Sing: “Christ by highest heav’n adored, Christ the everlasting Lord. Late in time behold Him come, offspring of a Virgin’s womb. Veiled in flesh the God-head see, hail the Incarnate Deity...”

We all join hands and celebrate that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and then we end the season and put Him back in the box. We take the lights off the dried-out tree and  carefully remove the fragile porcelain nativity figurines from the stable. We bubble-wrap the baby Jesus and pack him away.

A family was driving by their church the week after Christmas. Their son had noticed that the Nativity Scene in front of the church had been already taken down. The little boy said, “Look they've put Jesus away for another year.”

That's what the world does with Jesus. If Jesus was even a part of their Christmas celebration, He's now packed away with the lights, ornaments and tree stand. But does the celebration of Jesus really end when there’s nothing left under the tree but dried pine needles scattered on the tree skirt and the trash cans are filled with crumpled wrapping paper?

By the end of the 19th Century, the start of the Christmas season was no longer being determined by the church. The major department stores had hijacked the holy days and reinvented Christmas to be a time of giving gifts. Today the Christmas season is driven by the National Retail Federation and officially begins when the plastic Santas are on the shelf next to the Halloween skeletons.
Let's do something revolutionary and take back the Christmas season. Let’s make it Christ-centered and have it start on the first Advent Sunday.  But then let's do something even more radical. Let's have this “Christ Season” never end! What if our celebration and worship of Jesus started every year on the first Sunday of Advent but never ended? What if the "Season that Jesus is the Reason of" never ended but that season just continued all year long?  And then, on every first Advent Sunday, the season just started all over again?

And what if every day of that season, we longed to live our lives in the presence of the One who was the Child in the manger? What if every day of that season, we dropped to our knees to confess our sins of the day and prayed that God would bring us into the image – the very likeness – of His Son Jesus Christ? What if every opportunity we had during our new extended Christ Season, we spoke with others about Jesus. What if instead of inviting our family and friends to church with us on Christmas and Easter, what if we invited them to come to church on February 10th or how about May 5th. Or even August 25th? Or even next Sunday?

Christmas Day is over. Vacuum up the dried pine needles. Pack up the Nativity set. But don’t bubble-wrap the real Son of God and pack Him away. Let's keep the real Jesus right here in our day-to-day life.  Yes, Jesus is the Reason for the Season but let’s be subversive and make His season a season that never ends.  Amen?