Friday, December 5, 2014

You Did It To Me - Part 2



Seven billion people.  It’s a big number. I know that there are more than seven billion people living on this planet, but I can't comprehend what that really means.

God doesn't see the number, He sees faces; behind which are personal histories and heartaches, individual predicaments and potentials. He sees actual people with names. Each one lives in a particular place, wakes up each day, faces their issues and deals with the obstacles that confront them. God feels everything each one of them feels. He sees every detail of every experience that has gone into making each of them exactly who they are at this very moment.

He loves each one of these people so much that he gave his only Son as a sacrifice for them.  This is the time of year that we focus on the birth of Jesus.  What I am always amazed by when I think of the baby Jesus is His willingness to leave heaven and live the life of a human being.

As we enter the Christmas season, are you amazed by the baby Jesus and what he represents, or is the sacrifice of the baby lost in the shuffle?  Remember, God loves each one of the seven billion people who live on this planet so much that he gave his only son as a sacrifice for them.  Jesus loves each one of them so much that he was willing to come to this earth and sacrifice his life.

If we focus on how much God loves all human beings and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much all of humanity is worth to God. Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

One of those children is Nick.  Nick's family moved to our area and started attending the Mena Seventh-Day Adventist Church in 1999.  As the youth leader and the Pathfinder Club leader I got to know Nick and his sister Marci.  His parents had been missionaries in Africa and had adopted him there. When they retired, they moved back to the U.S.

Nick enjoyed being a member of the Mena Wildcats Pathfinder Club. Twice a year we would go on campouts, and Nick loved to go. He was a friendly boy and always made lots of friends.

On October first, he was shot to death in Oklahoma City.  He was just 23 years old. The news report read, Around 9 p.m. on Wednesday, police were called out to the apartment complex on NW 25th and Penn on a shots fired call with a man down.  On arrival Nick Scott was discovered in the courtyard of an apartment complex.

An apartment resident told police that they heard 5 or 6 shots. "I ran outside, everyone says Nick, it's Nick! He's dead, he's dead!"  The witness described Nick as a homeless man.

When I heard the news I was really shaken up.  I know that things like this are a daily occurrence, but it is different when you know the person.  I knew that Nick had made some bad choices as a teenager, but I didn't realize that he had ended up homeless on the streets of Oklahoma City.  When I attended his funeral, I found out more about his situation.  There was a problem with Nick's citizenship paperwork that his parents spent years trying to straighten out.  They were never able to get through the red tape, so Nick was actually living as an illegal immigrant.

At his funeral those who showed the most emotion where young street people who didn't look the best or smell the best.  Nick’s cousin gave the eulogy and it really made me think about my attitudes towards people.  The eulogy made such an impact on me that I asked Nick’s cousin if he would give me permission to publish it on my blog.  He graciously gave his permission.  I hope that it makes an impact on you like it did me.

Eulogy for Nicolas N. Scott
by Eric Scott
Ph.D student in Computer Science
George Mason University

"The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him:

So concerned for other folk, And nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope, So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness, and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally I told Nick that I forgave him, and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot, and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others, and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone."

I hope that this eulogy will help you see the dignity in every human being.  If we can do that - see the dignity in every person regardless of race, gender, religion, social standing, politics,or nationality - we become more like Jesus.  We become like the Jesus of John 3:16,17 -  "For God so loved the world (all seven billion of every possible race, religion, and nationality) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved".

In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was in reality helping Jesus.  I now realize that when I judge or criticize people I do it to Jesus Himself.  When I talk badly about people groups, I’m talking badly about Jesus.

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

Seven billion people.  It’s a big number. But God loves them all.  Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  Are they precious in your sight?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

You Did It To Me



In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to Me."  I have always understood that helping the "least of these" was in reality helping Jesus.  Recently I have come to realize that when I judge or criticize my brethren I do it to Jesus Himself.

When God looks at His children today, he sees billions of people selfishly divided and opinionated. He sees people who were created in His image to be like Him, to love mercy and do justly and walk humbly. He sees people who claim to follow Jesus and yet can't see when He, "the least of these", needs their help.

We as Christians have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time, because they are no good.

Instead of judging others, we need to look into the mirror of God’s law of love and recognize how bad we really are.  James 1;23,24 says, "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

We need to look into the mirror of God’s law and see ourselves as we really are instead of spending our energy judging others.  When we judge or criticize our brethren we do it to Jesus Himself.  The good news it that our God is patient with us.  2 Peter 3:15 says, "Remember that we are saved because our Lord is patient".

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Golden Rule


One of the best known sayings of Christianity is the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Matthew 7:12, Jesus actually said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Most Christians really believe this. They would not only agree that it’s correct to treat others right, but also believe in showing deference or respect or kindness.

But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians forget the Golden Rule, and that’s politics.  I’m amazed by how many Christians become completely uncivil when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else they are polite but once they start talking about politics or politicians they become vicious.  It seems that they forget that the Bible says in Romans 12:10, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

Many devout Christians become mean, critical, and bitter when they talk about politics. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, and slander are the order of the day.  They don’t seem to remember that the Jesus they claim to worship said to “love your enemies”.

I think that social media is partly to blame.  People post things on the internet they might never say.  I don’t believe that Christians shouldn't have opinions on politics or that they shouldn't express them.   I’m very grateful that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right.  I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country, and that some involve themselves in the political process.

But does it have to be so full of hate?  It is all right for a Christian to express an opinion on politics such as, “I think X is a poor President, Senator, Congresswoman, Candidate.”  A Christian has a right to feel that way. But we have all seen some Christians cross the line from opinion to attack, insult, and slander.  Much of it is hateful and malicious.

Look at the Facebook posts of some Christians. When they talk or re-post, ask yourself if it’s possible they've ever read Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace.”

In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” We as Christians can’t escape the reality that our words (or Facebook and Twitter posts) reveal our true character.   “For by your words,” Jesus said, “you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) I have never read in the Bible where Jesus said, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to be as mean, vile and ugly as you want.”

When Christians say/post/share ugly words, thoughts or pictures about people on the other side to support their political position they are talking about people that Jesus loves, people that Jesus died for.  There is a real person behind those words.  When someone says that all of any group is/says/does/thinks/behaves/believes/hates/loves/etc., they are saying that about real people, not just ideologies, not just platforms, not just issues, not just politicians.

I’m sure that there is a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while still manifesting the Spirit of Jesus.  If Christians consistently showed the Spirit of Jesus in their political discussions instead of being mean or harsh it would be a powerful witness.

Nicolas N. Scott Eulogy


Eric Scott delivered this Eulogy at Nick Scott's memorial service. He graciously gave me permission to post it to my blog. Whether you knew Nick or not, Eric's eulogy is powerful and really made me think about the way I view people. Please take a few moments and read his words.

Eulogy for Nicolas N. Scott
by Eric Scott
Ph.D student in Computer Science
George Mason University

The last few years of Nick’s life were hard. Certainly harder than anything I've been through. There is no way to sugar coat it: as a homeless man in Oklahoma City, Nick suffered a lot. At Nick’s age, he should have been looking forward to an open-ended vista of possibilities. The American Dream, with all its hopes and promises, should have been tantalizing him with its optimism. And on his good days, Nick did dream of future success the way a young person should. He dreamt of getting his G.E.D. and going back to school, of making enough money to pay back everyone he had ever hurt, and of becoming a lawyer and helping people in situations like his.

But most days, Nicolas was trapped in a sense of futility. Robert Frost described an old man in a similar position in one of his poems, “The Death of the Hired Man.” Young as he was, it could easily have been Nick, Nick who lived as an illegal immigrant in his own country, barely eking out a living as a hired hand. Frost writes of him:

So concerned for other folk,
And nothing to look backward to with pride,
And nothing to look forward to with hope,
So now and never any different.

If there’s one thing that I've consistently heard from Nick’s friends and acquaintances over the years, it was that he was truly concerned for other folk. Nick did many things that he regretted, some things as innocent as stealing food to survive, and some things less easy to forgive. I don’t know what it’s like to be locked in the cycle of hopelessness that so many people living in poverty experience from day to day. I’m told that money loses value when there is never enough of it. There is a certain logic to irresponsibility in situations where human flourishing is rare and precious.

But people never lost value for Nick. Nick was a passionate believer in compassion and empathy. Nick stood in judgment over himself for his failures to do justice to people and their experiences. And he stood in judgment over me, over society and criminal justice, and over the church. The one person I never heard him criticize was his late mother, Tilly Scott, who for Nick embodied a complete and unconditional regard for the well-being of her son.

Nick went back and forth on his religious beliefs. Life on the street doesn't afford much luxury for debating academic arguments about God and theology. He didn't know what he believed, but he read his Bible regularly, and Nick seemed to genuinely feel that Christ was often more present in the homeless shelters and jail cells of Oklahoma City than in its churches. He tried many times to explain to me his belief that there is good in everyone, a source of dignity even in what most of us would consider broken and violent souls. Nick knew convicted murderers that he believed were among the most profound representatives of Christ-like compassion that you could find.

A few weeks ago the minister at my church in Virginia delivered a message on forgiveness, and challenged everyone in our congregation to forgive one person that week, and to ask forgiveness from someone. Things were tense between Nick and I at the time. He’d told some fibs while trying to get my family to help him with rent money, and I was feeling pretty stern. It was a busy week for me, and I procrastinated on my homework, but finally I told Nick that I forgave him, and that supporting him was what was most important to us. He died that evening.

Because of my minister’s challenge, I have the comfort of knowing that Nick’s last words to me were of gratitude. That week, his family had chosen to love him unconditionally. He told me that it meant a lot, and that he would try to do better toward us.

But what I failed to do, and what I wish I could do now, is ask Nick’s forgiveness. Not just for the times I wasn't there to help him. I want Nick’s forgiveness for being slow to learn how to see the dignity in every human being. It is always far easier to judge the homeless than to help them, even with family. On Nick’s behalf, I challenge all of us, myself included, to see the Christ in those in need. We have to go beyond feeling sorry for others, and build relationships that allow us to truly understand them. Nick is no longer here for us to learn to love, but his belief in love is something we can carry on now that he is gone.


Grace Happens All Around Us

Popcorn and Candy

Grace seems to often pop up in places that I never expect it. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that simply stated "Grace Happens". It is true. Grace happens. It happens all around us. Often we are too busy to notice.

A few years ago grace happened to me on Halloween. My wife had bought lots of candy in preparation for the kids she was expecting to come to our door. She was prepared to give candy, and lots of it, to anyone who rang her doorbell. She waited with anticipation, because she loves to see the kids in their costumes. The doorbell rang for the first time. She went to the door and opened it with a bowl of candy in her hand. There stood two kids, but they didn't have anything to put candy in. They didn't say trick or treat. They stood there with a long stemmed rose in their hand. "We are not asking for candy", they said. "We want to give you a rose".

Unexpected grace. Out of the blue. I never thought that on Halloween someone would come to my door and give me something. I think that is a key to understanding grace. We Christians often focus on the fact that grace is undeserved. That is true, it is undeserved. If you deserved it, it wouldn't be grace. But not only is it undeserved, it is unexpected.

I think that is what Paul is trying to get us to see when he wrote in Ephesians 3:8, "to me, who am less than the least deserving of all the saints, this grace was given". He seems to be almost unable to believe that grace was offered to him. It was unexpected. Maybe that is why he talks about grace more than any other Bible writer.

Look for the unexpected today. Look for grace in unexpected places. I know that you will find it. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 1:14, "the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant".

Overflowing Grace


No one likes to be stopped by a patrolman and I am no exception.  A while back I was stopped in the town of Point Barre, Louisiana.  As I neared the town the speed limit dropped from 65 mph to 45 mph. I tapped the cruise control and traveled along with several other cars as we slowed down. The next thing I knew, there were blue lights in my rear view mirror. The patrolman must have been shooting his radar right at the 45 mph sign, and he had to pick me out of 4 or 5 cars to stop, as we were all traveling the same speed. The ticket cost me 160 dollars. To say the least, I was not happy. I felt that the ticket was unfair. I had been trying to obey the law and yet I got a ticket.

My situation reminded me of an illustration that I have heard explaining God's grace. Imagine yourself driving down the road, doing 100 mph in a 55 mph zone. A police officer stops you. If he gives you a ticket--that is justice--for you got what you deserve. If he lets you off with just a warning--that is grace--for though you deserved a ticket, he did not give you one.  But what about my situation where I received a ticket for going 5 miles over the speed limit?

There are many Christians who like me in Point Barre feel that they aren't really doing anything all that bad. They are trying to obey the speed limit, which should count for something. They don't see grace being all that great. They are trying to live right. God should realize that.

But many Christians realize that the law has been broken whether they were going 5 miles over the limit or 50. They realize that they deserve a ticket, and are overwhelmed by the unexpected grace. They know that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life" (Romans 6:23).

Romans 5:17 tells us that "if, through one man, death ruled because of that man’s offense, how much more will those who receive such overflowing grace and the gift of righteousness rule in life because of one man, Jesus Christ!

I wish for you overflowing grace!

Passion


A few weeks ago my wife and I along with friends attended the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs.  It was a crisp cold evening as we sat there and watched the final scenes of the life of Jesus being played out before us.  As we watched my mind began wondering why it is called a passion play.  When I got back to the motel room I studied the subject.

I found out that in approximately 1175 the word passion was adopted from Old French to Old English to mean the, ‘sufferings of Christ on the Cross’.  By Middle English the word ‘passion’ described a strong barely controllable emotion.  The original meaning of ‘passion’, as the sufferings of Jesus, fell out of common usage in the 1600’s.

I studied the word passion in my Bible concordance.  In King James the word passion, meaning the sufferings of Jesus, is found in only one verse, Acts 1:3   “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

The most common meanings of the word ‘passion’ today is extreme compelling emotion, great anger or rage, enthusiasm or fondness, strong love or affection, and  lust.

Do you know anyone who has a passion for something?  We have just had an election in this country and I found that many people were very passionate about their candidate or political party.

I have met many Christians who are passionate about their beliefs; but do we as Christians have a passion for Jesus?  What is at the top of the list of our life’s priorities?  In Matthew 22:36-39 we read, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We as Christians should keep the Ten Commandments, but if we are not passionate about Jesus and our neighbors it does us no good to keep them.  Our relationship with Jesus is all about priorities.

Matthew 23:23,24 record Jesus as saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Jesus didn't say not to follow the fine points of the law; But He wants us to focus on the weightier matters.  In John 15:12 He said, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. And to make sure that we understand he repeats in verse 17, “These things I command you, that you love one another”.

How do you think Jesus feels when we lose our passion for him and our love for each other, and replace it with a mechanical form of religion where instead of loving each other we fight with each other?  In Revelation 2:4 He said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love”.  Does Jesus have something against you, have you lost your first love?  Are you passionate about Jesus?

When you have a passion, others know.  Passion is more than mere formality and habit.  It’s enthusiasm, its strong love and affection.  To have a passionate church full of love for one another we must each one personally become passionate about Jesus.

Do you have passion today; A passion for Jesus who died for you?  1 John 4:10-12 states, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us”.

Jesus endured passion: He suffered for you.  He is still passionate in his love for you.  Are you passionate about Jesus or are your passions in other areas?  Let’s decide today to be passionate about Jesus.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bears


We recently purchased the movie, "Bears".  My grand daughters really enjoyed the movie, and so did I.  In the movie a grizzly bear mother named Sky gives birth to two cubs named Amber and Scout in her den on a mountain slope. When April comes the bears leave the den. When they reach the lush valley below, the cubs meet the other bears, some of which pose a threat to the cubs.

When summer comes, so does the yearly salmon run. Dozens of bears gather along salmon streams on the coast to get the best of the run before it ends. After the bear family fills themselves on the salmon, they head back to into the mountains as winter approaches to their den to sleep through the harsh cold winter.

The bear cubs are very cute and the scenery is spectacular.  When I learned that the movie was filmed in Katmai National Park in Alaska, I started reading about the park which spans over four million acres of remote, wild, and spectacular country in southern Alaska.  As I was reading I came across the story of Pemby.

Early last July, rangers in the park observed that a yearling bear cub appeared to have been abandoned by his mother.  They named the cub Pemby.  Without his mother, the cub’s chances of survival were slim, but the rangers could only watch as nature took its course.

Over the next few weeks, Pemby remained mostly out of sight, perched in a tree near the river where his mother had left him. But just a few weeks later, in late July, park officials saw something that intrigued them. A visitor had snapped a few photos of a mother bear with two cubs taken in another region of the park. Rangers recognized Pemby immediately, but were surprised to see that he was in the company of a different mother bear, known as Holly, along with her own young cub.

Mother bears accepting outside cubs into their family units is almost unheard of, so the rangers were justifiably dubious about what the images suggested.  In the first week of September, Pemby was seen yet again with Holly and her biological cub, and their manner seemed to show without a doubt that the mother bear had come to consider the orphan one of her own. Holly has been seen sharing food with the youngster, sleeping by his side and nuzzling him just as his real mother might have.

The rangers have since concluded that a rare case of adoption had indeed occurred, even if the reasons why are virtually impossible to explain.  The orphan Pemby is an orphan no longer. He has been born again. He is now Holly's cub.

The Bible tells us that we can be born again.  We find this truth in John 3:1-3;  There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus was as religious as anyone in Jerusalem, but he needed a complete conversion, a new birth.  Being born again is not what we do. Being born again is when we quit trying and begin trusting Jesus who died our death on Calvary's cross in order to give us, in our death's place, His life.

What jobs do you give newborns? Why don’t we give them jobs? We don’t ask them to work, we love them, feed them, take care of them. We will in time give the jobs to do, but only after we have watched them grow, as we have taught them.  That is what Jesus is talking about when he says that we must be born again.

Listen to this story found in Luke 18:15-17; Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

To become a part of God’s Kingdom you must be born again.  You must receive God’s kingdom as an infant.  Babies don’t have preconceived ideas.  They don’t think that they know it all and can run their own lives.

Our first birth gives us many treasures: a family name, a genetic inheritance, nationality, ethnicity. Birth determines or influences every aspect of our lives—whether we are tall or short, smart or not so smart, rich or poor, musical or can't carry a tune, color blind or sensitive to colors.

When we are born again, none of this changes. We have the same family of origin, the same finances. We can still sing . . . or not. We still take pride in our ethnic or national heritage. These elements of our identity that flow from our birth are treasures. Being born again does not erase them. Being born again puts them in their proper place. All of these identities become subordinate to our supreme identity as children of God.

Because we have been born again we recognize all of the rest of God's children as our brothers and sisters.  They are part of our family. We are part of their family. We see them as the dearly-loved children of God.  We will not do anything to disparage our brothers and sisters.

Similarly, when we have theological disputes, those who have been born again see the people with “differing” views as dearly loved children of God. The status my opponents enjoy as children of God imposes on me the obligation to show them respect. To listen carefully to their arguments.

Being born again imposes obligations. We have joined a new family and this new family has a distinctive culture.  1 Peter 3:8 tells us, "Live in harmony with one another.  Be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble".

One of the fascinating aspects of the bear cub story is the interaction of the cubs. According to rangers, the aggressive behavior of old male bears begins very early. Male cubs fight. They don't share. But in Holly's household they do. Holly's natural-born cub and Pemby have been observed sharing fish together. It appears that the generosity of Mama Bear has created a new kind of bear culture.

In the same way, Jesus has modeled and taught a new way of being human. As born again Christians, people adopted into the family of God, we are called to mimic God in forming a new kind of human community, a community where people show to one another the same grace we have received from God.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Stranded


Recently I received a phone call shortly after I arrived at work.  A caller from Minnesota was asking if I could help a young woman who had been stranded in Mena.  She had traveled from Lafayette, Louisiana to Minnesota by bus to attend a wedding.  On her return trip the bus she was riding on stopped in Mena in the early morning hours.  The young woman along with several other women got off the bus to use the restroom.  She was last in line, and as soon as she finished and walked outside she saw that the bus was pulling away. She chased the bus waving her arms frantically but the bus drove off. 

She didn't know what to do.  She was stranded at a gas station in a strange town.  Her first call was to Greyhound Bus customer service. They were not helpful at all.  It was no concern of theirs that the bus had left her.  Since she was not on the bus that her ticket was written for, the ticket was no longer valid.  If she wanted to continue her journey by bus she would have to go to a Greyhound terminal and purchase a new ticket.  The nearest terminal was nearly 100 miles away and there was not another bus until the next day.  The customer service rep suggested that she take a taxi.  There is not a taxi available in the small rural town of Mena. 

When I arrived at the gas station I found the young woman very upset.  Being stranded here in Mena isn't what she had planned on. We talked about her options in between phone calls from friends and family trying to find a solution.  After some time we finally worked out a plan to get her home.  Her family started driving north from Lafayette and my parents drove her to Texarkana where her family met up with her.  She was no longer stranded.

I could empathize with the stranded young woman.  On a trip that we took back in 2008 we ended up stranded three times.  We were on our way to Belize.  We had boarded our plane at DFW when the announcement was made that we had to wait in line for our plane to be de-iced.  After three hours on the plane it was announced that due to snow all flights were grounded.  We were stranded in the airport along with thousands of other passengers.  Because all flights were canceled there were so many people spending the night that there was no way to get a motel room.   

We spent a very uncomfortable night in the airport, and it was the next afternoon before we were able to fly to Belize.  When we got to airport in Belize our small plane wasn't able to fly to San Pedro because of a thunderstorm.  We were once again stranded.  On our way home we were once again stranded, this time in Miami, due to flights cancelled due to weather.  

As uncomfortable as it was to spend the night at DFW airport, it was nothing compared to the experience of Mehran Karimi Nasseri.  He was expelled from Iran in the 70's for protesting against the Shah.  He was awarded refugee status by Belgium.  He claimed that his mother was British and in 1988 made a trip to London.  While he was in Paris he was mugged and his papers were stolen.  He went ahead and boarded his flight for London, but when he arrived British officials sent him back to Paris because he had no papers.

Because he had no papers, he was not allowed to leave the airport; He was stranded. He lived there for the next 18 years.  Belgium at first refused to issue new papers saying he had to come back to Belgium to get them, but he couldn't leave the airport without papers. After many years Belgium officials made arrangements for him to be able to return, but he refused.  Apparently the world outside of the airport terminal was too frightening.  

There is a difference in the way Mr. Nasseri and the young woman that I helped dealt with being stranded.  The highest priority of the young woman was to get home.  She didn't want to be stranded in Mena, Arkansas.  I'm sure that Mr. Nasseri felt the same way at first, but after years of living in the airport terminal he no longer felt stranded.  He felt like the terminal was his home.

Jesus told us in John 15:19, "If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it loves its own.  But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you".  

We as Christians have been stranded here on this earth, but we don't belong to it.  It is not our home.  Jesus tells us about our home in John 14:2,3 "In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also".

We are stranded; we are strangers.  This world is not our home.

I am a poor, wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world alone
And there's no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land to which I go
And I'm going there to see my mother
And I'm going there no more to roam
And I'm only going over Jordan
And I'm only going over home

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Picture of God

 
While we are traveling in the car, my wife and I like to listen to audiobooks.  We recently listened to Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.  We enjoyed the book so much that I looked for other audiobooks by L. M. Montgomery. I found and purchased the book, The Story Girl, and we are currently listening to it.

The Story Girl was published in 1911 and tells of the adventures of a group of young cousins and their friends who live on Prince Edward Island.  The book is narrated by Beverley, who with his brother Felix, has come to live with his Aunt and Uncle on their farm while their father travels for business.  The Story Girl is their cousin Sara Stanley, whose many stories fill the book.

One story in the book really caught my attention.  On their way home from school, Felix has some interesting news.  "Jerry Cowan told me at recess this afternoon that he had seen a picture of God–that he has it at home in an old, red-covered history of the world, and has looked at it often."

This bit of news caused a lot of discussion from the little group.  They all wanted to know what God looked like.  The next day they asked Jerry to bring the book to school so they could see the picture.  He told them that he couldn't bring the book to school, but if they wanted to buy the picture outright he would tear it out of the book and sell it to them for fifty cents.

They wanted the picture so much that they pooled their resources and came up with the fifty cents.   Jerry met up with the group after school and brought the page from the book wrapped in newspaper. They paid him the money, but did not open the packet until he had gone.

This is the way L. M. Montgomery described the scene.  "Cecily," said Felicity in a hushed tone. "You are the best of us all. You open the parcel."

"Oh, I'm no gooder than the rest of you," breathed Cecily, "but I'll open it if you like."

With trembling fingers Cecily opened the parcel. We stood around, hardly breathing. She unfolded it and held it up. We saw it.

Suddenly Sara began to cry. "Oh, oh, oh, does God look like that? " she wailed.

Felix and I spoke not. Disappointment and something worse, sealed our speech. Did God look like that–like that stern, angrily frowning old man with the tossing hair and beard of the wood-cut Cecily held?

"I suppose He must, since that is His picture," said Dan miserably.

"He looks awful cross," said Peter simply.

"Oh, I wish we'd never, never seen it," cried Cecily.

We all wished that–too late. Our curiosity had led us into some Holy of Holies, not to be profaned by human eyes, and this was our punishment.

When they showed the picture to the Story Girl, she said, "Surely you don't believe God looks like that. He doesn't–He couldn't. He is wonderful and beautiful. I'm surprised at you. That is nothing but the picture of a cross old man."

Hope sprang up in our hearts, although we were not wholly convinced.

"I don't know," said Dan dubiously. "It says under the picture 'God in the Garden of Eden.' It's printed."

"Well, I suppose that's what the man who drew it thought God was like," answered the Story Girl carelessly. "But he couldn't have known any more than you do. He had never seen Him."

"It's all very well for you to say so," said Felicity, "but you don't know either. I wish I could believe that isn't like God–but I don't know what to believe."

Just like these children, far too many of us don’t know what to believe. There are so many pictures of God that we see every day. God’s own professed followers often paint horrific pictures of God; Pictures of hatred toward other races and religions, pictures of intolerance. Pictures of an unjust God who burns and tortures people for an eternity.

The children decided to ask their minister about this disturbing picture.  Felix was sent to ask him while the rest of them remained in the background but within hearing.

"Well, Felix, what is it?" asked Mr. Marwood kindly.

"Please, sir, does God really look like this?" asked Felix, holding out the picture. "We hope He doesn't–but we want to know the truth, and that is why I'm bothering you. Please excuse us and tell me."

The minister looked at the picture. A stern expression came into his gentle blue eyes and he got as near to frowning as it was possible for him to get.

"Where did you get that thing?" he asked.

Thing! We began to breathe easier.

"We bought it from Jerry Cowan. He found it in a red-covered history of the world. It says it's God's picture," said Felix.

"It is nothing of the sort," said Mr. Marwood indignantly. "There is no such thing as a picture of God, Felix. No human being knows what he looks like–no human being can know. We should not even try to think what He looks like. But, Felix, you may be sure that God is infinitely more beautiful and loving and tender and kind than anything we can imagine of Him. Never believe anything else, my boy.

I believe that Mr. Marwood got it right.  God is infinitely more beautiful and loving and tender and kind than anything we can imagine of Him.

We need to be very careful of the picture of God that we paint.  For some people, the only picture of God that they can see is the one that we paint.  Psalms 86:15 says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth”.  Is that the God in your picture?

Plato's Soul


Does Greek philosophy affect your thinking?  That’s probably not a question you have thought about.  What do you know about Greek philosophy?  Whether you know it or not, you probably view the world through the eyes of Greek philosophy.

If you are part of what we now call the western world, your brain is Greek.  The ancient Greeks gave us western civilization. The Romans spread Greek philosophy to world.

When we refer to Greek philosophy we are usually talking about the thoughts, teachings and writing of three important Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  They helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science.

Socrates always emphasized the importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body. His teaching inspired Plato’s philosophy of dividing reality into two separate realms, the world of the senses and the world of ideas.

Plato came to the belief that the material world as it seems to us is not the real world, but only an "image" or "copy" of the real world. He called this thinking the theory of forms.  The forms, according to Plato are abstract representations of things, and properties we feel and see around us.  In other words, Plato recognized two worlds: the apparent world, which constantly changes, and an unchanging and unseen world of perfect forms.

Plato noticed that the world was full of imperfections.  You have probably noticed the same thing.  Plato’s question was, how do I know it’s not perfect.  How do I recognize the imperfections?  How do I know what perfection looks like?

Plato said we can sense imperfection because somewhere out there is perfection.    Each imperfect thing in our world has a perfect counterpart in spiritual world.  He taught that our imperfect world is an imperfect image of the spiritual world.

He applied this thought to our physical bodies.  We realize that our physical body is imperfect but to know that there must be a perfect version out there somewhere.  To Plato, that perfect version is the human soul; The spiritual part of you that leaves when you die and goes to a perfect spiritual plane.  This teaching of Plato, had been adopted by mainstream Christianity.  Plato’s concept of an immortal soul creates a problem when we look in Genesis.

Genesis 1:26,27  Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.   Genesis 1:31, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day".

There are a couple of points that I want us to understand from this passage.  Number 1 is that we are not an imperfect copy of our immortal soul; we are a copy of God himself.  We are created in his image.  Number 2, Creation wasn't an imperfect copy; God said that it was very good.  According to Genesis, Plato got it wrong.  He was on the right track with some of his ideas.  There does have to be perfection somewhere for us to know that we are seeing imperfection, but according to Genesis, Adam and Eve were not created with immortal souls.  They didn't need them.  They were created in the perfect image of God.

We were never meant to live as bodyless spirits.  Creation was of perfect physical beings.  Adam and Eve lived in a real perfect physical world, a world without death.  There was no reason for a spirit or soul to ever leave the body.  The only hint you can find in Genesis of a possible disembodied spirit is in Genesis 2:7.  The King James version reads, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

I want you to notice something.  Man became a living soul. The soul was not a disembodied spirit.  It was not something that leaves the body.  Man didn't receive a soul, he became a soul.  Modern translations read, man became a living creature, or living being.

How did Greek philosophy become so entrenched in Christian doctrine and thinking?  One of the ways was through the writings of Justin Martyr who lived in the second century.  He wrote extensively to defend Christianity.  He was raised in a pagan home and he was weaned on Greek philosophy.

In his Address To The Greeks  Justin wrote, Plato seems to me to have learnt from the prophets not only the doctrine of the judgment, but also of the resurrection, which the Greeks refuse to believe. For his saying that the soul is judged along with the body, proves that he believed the doctrine of the resurrection.  But Plato, having accepted what they teach concerning the resurrection of the body, teaches that the soul is judged in company with the body.

He also wrote, "while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers". Do you see how Greek philosophy crept into Christian thinking?

Greek philosophy plants hope in immortality of the soul but Christianity depends on physical resurrection.  We believe in a real physical Jesus coming back for real physical people.  According to the Bible you are a real person,  a living creature.  In the earth made new it will still be true.  Plato was doing the best he could with the information he had, but you have more information, so don’t use Plato to guide your thinking.

In 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53 we read, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I’m eagerly waiting for the day when this corruptible body puts on incorruption, and this mortal body puts on immortality.  I’m eagerly waiting for the day when I will begin spending eternity in a real physical place with a real physical body.  I hope that you are longing for that day too.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Unforgivable


Did you know that the Bible talks about a sin that God can never forgive?  Throughout the centuries since the New Testament was written, millions of people have lived in fear that they may have committed it. Is it really true? Is there something that God is unable to forgive?

The Bible says in Matthew 12:31 – “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven unto men”.  So, it turns out there really is a sin that can't be forgiven, and it's blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

That raises a really important question, just what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?  In order to understand what the sin against the Holy Spirit is, it's important that we understand exactly what the role of the Holy Spirit is.  In John 16:8, referring to the Holy Spirit, the Bible says, “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”  The Holy Spirit works as a kind of "conscience" for the whole world.

What happens when you decide not to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit? What happens when you feel the pang of guilt and you know the right thing to do, but you deliberately choose against it?   Many theologians teach that this is when people actually step into the territory of the unforgivable sin.  They refer to it as grieving the Holy Spirit.

I will agree that it is a serious issue when we tune out the Holy Spirit, but is it unforgivable?  I have to say NO!  As a matter of fact it is not grieving the Holy Spirit; at least that is not what is being talked about in Ephesians, the only place that it is mentioned.  Ephesians  4:30-32 says,  “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you”.

According to the Bible it is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice that grieves the Holy Spirit along with a lack of kindness and forgiveness; although I am quite sure that He is also saddened when we tune him out.

How can I be sure that grieving the Holy Spirit is not the unpardonable sin?   Matthew 12:31 reads, “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men”.

This is a strange verse.  There are two facts separated by a “but”.  Fact number one is, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men”.  Fact number two is,  “the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men”.

Notice that EVERY SIN will be forgiven.  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Now, you might have noticed that there were no exclusions in that verse. It says that if we confess our sins, Jesus will both forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and there are no "ifs", “ands”, "buts", or "maybes" attached to that promise.

Is there a sin that God cannot forgive? The answer is yes, and the sin that God can't forgive is the sin you don't repent of.  If there is no sin that God won’t forgive if we confess it, then what was Jesus talking about there in Matthew 12?

We need to look at the whole chapter to see why he made such a statement.   There are several incidents that happened before Jesus made the statement that blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Incident number one; the disciples pick and eat grain on the Sabbath and the Pharisees disapprove.  Incident number two; Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath and the Pharisees disapprove.  Incident number three; Jesus heals a blind deaf man and the Pharisees say it was through Satan’s power.

Do you see a pattern?  There is a dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees.  All of these incidents bring Jesus to speak the following words to the Pharisees.  “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men”.  They weren't a sermon that he was giving to everyone, but they were a conversation he was having with the Pharisees.

Why was Jesus talking to the Pharisees about something that was unforgivable?  Earlier we decided that there is a sin that God cannot forgive, and it is the sin you don't repent of.  Why would the Pharisees not repent of a sin?  They were extremely picky about keeping the law.  The reason that they would not repent is because they couldn't see that they were doing anything wrong.

The unforgivable sin is the one that isn't confessed, but there are two very different reasons for not confessing.  The first reason is because you have so tuned out the Holy Spirit that you can’t see sin. The second reason is because you are so sure you are doing right that you don’t see your sin.

There is no sin that you can commit that is unforgivable if you confess.  Remember 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

In Revelation 3;20, 21 Jesus makes this promise.  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Jesus never stops knocking.  No matter what you have done in your life, He is standing at the door and knocking.  Will you open the door?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

How Much Are You Worth?


In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”  What He meant is that a person’s love ought to reach in three directions—upward to God, outward to others, and inward to self.

Most Christians agree that loving God and others is important, but is it important to love yourself?  Self love or self esteem isn't considered a Christian attribute.  It’s often associated with pride and self-centeredness—and there are plenty of both in our world. However, that’s not what Jesus meant. He was saying we should recognize and appreciate our worth. God created us in His image so we could have a relationship with Him. Jesus died for us so we could be forgiven and reconciled to the Father.

Since God values us so highly, shouldn't we love ourselves? I’m not talking about a boastful attitude, but a quiet peace that comes from knowing we’re deeply loved by our heavenly Father.

A healthy self-love is essential. If it is missing or in some way incomplete, we can’t really love God or others as we should. A sense of unworthiness leaves us empty and prevents us from looking up to God in devotion and reaching out to others with affection.  God does not want us to have low self-esteem.

The Bible actually has many passages that tell us what God has to say about our worth and our value in His eyes. Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

You were made in the image of God.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “You made my whole being; you formed me in my mother’s body. I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way”.

You were made by God in an amazing and wonderful way.

Ephesians 1:4 says that “God chose us before the world was made so that we would be his holy people—people without blame before him.

God chose you even before the world was made.

In Romans 5:8, the Bible tells us that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”

Jesus died for you not because you were good enough, but because he loved you.

If we focus on how much God loves us and the price He paid to redeem us, we’ll come to see ourselves as God sees us, and that will help us understand just how much we’re really worth as children of God.

Our self-worth is too often based on what other people tell us about ourselves. Jesus is the true authority on our self-worth.  Since He gave His own life up for us by dying on a cross, that should tell us just how valuable we really are.

When we fully accept God’s love for us, we’ll have a healthy appreciation for ourselves, an ever-growing passion for Him, and the ability to care for others.

How much are you and I truly worth? And what value should we place upon each other?  Often we'll look at the work someone is doing, and if they're doing a poor job, making mistakes, then we view that person as of little value.  But is this the correct way of seeing value in someone?

Think about it, if we truly saw the value of people as God does, would we still treat each other the way we do?  Mathew 25:45 tells us, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you refused to do for even the least of my people here, you refused to do for me.’

The key to seeing and understanding the value of you and me and all other people in the world, is to see our value in light of what Jesus did to save us!

Are there people in our sphere of influence who are failing to thrive because we are not showing them the love that they need?

There’s no question that Christians should want to be loved and to love others. But it’s not enough to tell others that you love them – you must SHOW you love others! Love is not an abstract idea. Love must be manifested. True love is not just something you feel – it’s something you demonstrate!

We all need to grow in this area because everybody needs to know they are loved. You especially need to know how to show love if you are a follower of Jesus because He said, "All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other." John 13:35

In 1 John 3:17-18 the Bible says, “What if a person has enough money to live on and sees his brother in need of food and clothing? If he does not help him, how can the love of God be in him? My children, let us not love with words or in talk only. Let us love by what we do and in truth".

We show our love through our actions.  God has asked us to love others to help them thrive.  There are so many people in this world who are failing to thrive.  Are there those that we know who are failing to thrive because we are not loving them – by what we do?

Let’s remember how much we are of value in God's eyes! All of us! And remember to be kind and loving to all the people in this world because of what Jesus has done for us, and the great worth He has placed on each of his children.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Failure To Thrive


Frederick II was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability. He was king of Sicily and Germany during the first half of the 13th century. He was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1220. Frederick is considered by modern historians to be the most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors.

Frederick astonished his contemporaries who called him stupor mundi, ‘wonder of the world’.  His court blended Norman, Arabic and Jewish elements.  He was witty, entertaining and cruel in six different languages, Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic.  He was a man of serious intellectual distinction, and he was friendly with Jewish and Muslim sages.  He encouraged scholarship, poetry and mathematics, and original thinking in all areas.

Frederick’s openness to ideas kept him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church. His demands that the Church renounce its wealth and return to apostolic poverty and simplicity did not sit well with the papacy and its supporters, who branded him as Antichrist. He was excommunicated not once but four times.

Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning, and considered himself to be an equal of the scientific minds of his times. He carried out a number of cruel experiments on people.

I recently watched a video presentation by Ty Gibson titled, ‘Frederick’s Experiment’. In it he tells of one of these cruel experiments. The purpose of the experiment was to discover what language children would naturally grow up to speak if they were never spoken to.

King Frederick took babies from their mothers at birth and placed them in the care of nurses who were forbidden to speak in the babies hearing. Along with the prohibition on speaking, a second rule was imposed. The nurses were not allowed to touch the infants other than to clean or feed them. To his great dismay, Frederick’s experiment was cut short without finding out what language the babies would speak. The babies grew up to speak no language at all because they died. In the year 1248, an Italian historian named Salimbene di Adam recorded, “They could not live without petting.” The babies literally died for want of touch.

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.” For some reason, we humans flourish under the influence of love and we gradually die without it. Dr. Dean Ornish in his national best seller, Love and Survival, presents study after study demonstrating that love is a chief influence for mental, emotional, and even physical health. He says, “The scientific evidence . . . leaves little doubt that love and intimacy are powerful determinants of our health and survival. Why they have such an impact remains somewhat a mystery”

The problem for many scientists is that they are trying to understand the human need for love within the context of Darwinian evolution. Evolution begins with a survival-of-the-fittest premise; it states that self-preservation is the highest law and the main factor in our survival. Love, is self-giving rather than self-preserving, and, therefore, makes no sense in the evolutionary context.

If evolution is the truth of human origins, then human beings are merely biological animals and there is no such thing as love. And yet, here we are; creatures who thrive on love and are utterly dependent on it. Every human has a desire to love and be loved.

We can’t help but ask the question at some point: What is that something more that we so desperately long for? In 1 John 4:16 the Bible tells us that “God is love”. And in Genesis 1:27 it states that, “God made mankind in His own image”.

Scientist may feel that the reason that love and intimacy have such an effect on our health and survival is a mystery, but I don’t. God made us to love and be loved.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Voyage to Tarshish


In Matt 21:28-31, Jesus tells a parable. A father had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "No." But later he felt bad and went and did as his father had told him. The father then went to his second son and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "Yes." But he didn't actually go. Jesus asked, "Which son did the will of his father?"

The answer was: The first son, the one that actually went and worked into the vineyard.

There could easily have been a third son in this parable: The father says, "Go work in my vineyard." The son says, "No." There's a discussion between father and son and in the end the son says, "Fine! I'll go and work in your stupid vineyard. Now quit pestering me."

He's the son who gives grudging obedience, half-hearted obedience. That's Jonah. We have all heard the story of Jonah.  He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.

The Lord called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead he runs away to Tarshish, a great and wealthy city on the coast of Spain. It is about as far to the west as most Israelites have ever ventured, while Nineveh is about as far to the east as most Israelites have ever gone. Nineveh is a great city and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people, so Jonah is afraid and wants to be completely away from this calling and from anyone who may be inclined to go on this ill-fated adventure.

The Bible tells us that the Lord threw an intense wind at the sea. The violence of the storm put Jonah’s ship in jeopardy of breaking apart. The sailors panicked! They started running back and forth, throwing cargo overboard to lighten the boat; every man, out of desperation, cried to his own deity.

The sailors said, You know what we should do? We should cast lots to find out who is ultimately responsible for our distress!  So they cast their lots, and Jonah’s name was chosen.

The sailors said to Jonah, “What have you done? Because of you, we’re all going to be killed.”  What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?

Jonah answered, God is using the sea to punish me, so pick me up and throw me into the sea! Then the sea will grow calm again, and you’ll be safe! This is all my fault! This great storm of my God’s anger has built against you because of me!

At that, they grabbed Jonah by his arms and legs and threw him overboard. And when they did, the raging sea grew calm.

God didn't let Jonah die. He chose a large fish to swallow Jonah; for three days and three nights the prophet Jonah sat safely inside the belly of this fish.  Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and the fish threw up Jonah onto the dry land.

Why did Jonah disobey God and take a voyage to Tarshish?  Jonah was a prophet and received messages directly from God.  You would think that when God said, “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh”, that Jonah – the prophet – would obey.  So why didn't Jonah go?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's direct enemy. If there was one nationality that Israel hated and wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, it was the Assyrians. The Assyrians were powerful, destructive, and ruthless with any nation getting in their way.

Why did Jonah run?  Why didn't he obey God? Because he is guilty of what many if not all of us have done, pass judgment.

Jonah set himself up as a judge against Assyria. He had been given a message of warning from God himself, but he determined that the Ninevites are not worthy of this message.  Assyria was not worthy to be saved.

The command to get  up and go is the same message that we find in the great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19,20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus has told us to get up and go.  Where are you going?  Are you on the road to Nineveh or on a voyage to Tarshish?  We have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time, because they are no good.

When we decide that certain people groups aren't worthy of our time, aren't worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish.  When we hate any people groups we are saying that they aren't worthy of God’s love or his salvation.

I’m afraid that the reason we don’t want to travel to Nineveh and give the good news is that we are afraid that God might actually save the people we don’t like.  That was apparently a factor in Jonah’s decision to take a voyage to Tarshish.

In Jonah 4:2 Jonah shows his true feelings as he talks to God.  “God, isn't this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? This is exactly the reason I ran away to Tarshish in the first place. I know how You are! I know that You are not like other gods, that You are full of grace and compassion, that it takes a lot to make You angry, and that Your loyal love is so great that You are always ready to relent from inflicting misery”.

Are we afraid that God is so full of grace and compassion, and that His love is so great that he might extend salvation to those we don’t want to associate with?

When God asks you to get up and go, what are you going to do?  Are you going to head to Nineveh even though it is an evil city, or are you going to take a voyage to Tarshish?

Tolerance


On March 19th, Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church died. He was known as a preacher of hate.  His followers were known for their opposition to homosexuality and for picketing the funerals of soldiers.  They believe that God kills soldiers to punish a nation that tolerates homosexuality. They would picket soldiers funerals with signs that read, “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates You,” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.”

After Pastor Phelps death I did see some hateful comments and Facebook posts, but I saw something else that surprised me.  One prominent homosexual leader said, “I believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. I pray for [him] and his family just as I pray for those he harmed".

Another mentioned that instead of celebrating the death of Phelps, he recognized that Fred Phelps had a family who loved him and would be sadly missed by many people. And that even though there were strong disagreements with Phelps on many levels, there would be no gloating or rejoicing over his death.

Two days after Pastor Phelps died his followers picketed at 17-year-old singer Lorde’s show in Kansas.  Counter demonstrators unraveled a banner that said ‘sorry for your loss’ as a response to their ex-leader’s death.

In a blog post titled A Time for Tolerance, Pastor John Bradshaw addressed the passing of Pastor Phelps with these words.

"Some Christians—who by definition must subscribe to Jesus’ teachings regarding manifesting love towards others—find it impossible to love homosexuals, or to demonstrate toward them even a modicum of tolerance or kindness. I suspect some of this has to do with the Internet age: it is easy to be hateful when you might be geographically removed from the object of your scorn, and the expression of your vitriol is conducted via a computer keyboard. But many Christians—and I recognize that ‘many’ certainly does not equal ‘all’—treat homosexuality with a special type of hatred, and homosexuals as the worst of sinners.

There is little wonder that many people are turned off by Christianity when they witness “Christians” treating others with hatred and scorn. One prominent British personality has stated publicly that he could never be a Christian because Christians are so brutally unkind to those with whom they disagree.

I’m certainly not advocating or excusing homosexuality. As I read the Bible I see homosexuality as being contrary to the will of God. But so is dishonesty. So is pride. So is lying. And so is being hateful. In expressing hate towards gays, many “Christians” are guilty of a sin towards which God cannot—and will not—turn a blind eye.

As hard as it may be, God calls Christians—commands Christians—to love everyone.  And until we do, we are no better than those we criticize and condemn".

Pastor Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life".

Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love”.

Jump


One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flame, smoke, and blackness.  He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

In life each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof.  We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation we will be destroyed by fire.  The biggest question in our lives is, what must I do to be saved.  In the little boy’s situation the answer was jump.  What is the answer in your life?

In Matthew 19 the Bible tells us that a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  The first thing Jesus told him was keep the commandments.  The man said to Jesus, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

This man asked the all-important question – What must I do to be saved?  But notice how he asked the question.  The way he worded the question tells us a lot about him.  What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?  I think that many of us can relate to this man. I’m leading a pretty good life.  What other good thing do I need to do to be saved?

The man wasn't expecting that kind of answer he got. He liked the “limited realm” of righteousness where people stop doing things. He was good at it.  He stepped back when Jesus pointed him to the “continuous realm” of righteousness where there is no limit and no end of really caring for other people.

Many of us are very uncomfortable with this whole concept of being a Christian as Jesus explained it. We tend to be Pharisees by nature. We are very happy with negative approaches to law because we like to know where the limits are.

We feel more comfortable when we can see the extent of our obligations. Jesus wants us to see that his true followers aren't trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.  He taught this lesson to Peter in Matthew 18. “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Rabbinical law said that you were to forgive three times.  Peter thought he was really expanding on that.   Jesus told him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”.   Once again, Jesus points out that his true followers aren't trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.

In actuality Peter was not asking “How much can I love my neighbor?” but “When can I stop loving my neighbor?” That’s a very human question. I like that question. When can I stop loving my neighbor? That is where we are as natural people.

When can I stop all this niceness and give people what they deserve? I don’t like grace. Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I don’t mind getting it, but I don’t really like passing grace on to others.

Jesus taught Peter that there is never a time when he could stop loving his neighbor or stop passing on God’s grace. Jesus taught that there is no limit to Christian love.  Like Peter, we are much more comfortable with the negative than the positive approach to law. We want to know when we have fulfilled our quota of goodness so we can relax and be our normal selves.

How I treat my neighbor is the acid test of Christianity. Out of that principle comes a meaningful keeping of God’s laws.  Because I love my neighbor, I will not covet my neighbor’s car, house, wife, or husband. Because I love my neighbor, I cannot use him or her as a sexual object for my own pleasure.  Because I love my neighbor, I will not take things that belong to him. Because I love my neighbor, I will not kill or even hate him.

Love to God and neighbor is the centerpiece of Christianity.  “By this,” said Jesus, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s go back to the story of the boy on the roof.   The fireman called to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

What must I do to be saved?  I need to trust Jesus so much that I will jump into his arms.  He can’t save me if I don’t trust him enough to jump.  He can’t save me if I am busy trying to save myself.

It’s time for us to really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Believe enough to surrender our will and jump into his arms.  Will you jump with me today?



Monday, February 10, 2014

Liberty


When I was in school I learned that the Pilgrims came to America aboard the Mayflower in search of religious freedom in 1620. The Puritans soon followed, for the same reason. Ever since the Pilgrims arrived millions from around the world have done the same, coming to an America where they found a place where everyone was free to practice his or her own faith.

Unfortunately this isn't true.  The arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in New England in the early 1600's was a response to persecution they had experienced in England; But the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not tolerate opposing religious views. Their colony was a dictatorship that allowed no dissent, religious or political.

Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were banished following disagreements over theology and policy. From Puritan Boston’s earliest days, Catholics were banned, along with other non-Puritans. Four Quakers were hanged in Boston between 1659 and 1661 for standing up for their beliefs.

Ministers like John Cotton preached that it was wrong to practice any religion other than Puritanism. Those who did would be helping the devil. They believed they followed the only true religion so everyone should be forced to worship as they did.

The Puritans did not understand the principle of religious liberty. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others.

True religious freedom in America started with the vision of one man, Roger Williams.  He was a trained minister in England and took holy orders in the Church of England.  Because of his Puritan sympathies he had no chance of a job in the Anglican Church.  In 1631 he traveled to the New World to be with other Puritans.  In Massachusetts he was at odds with the authorities because of his belief that people should be free to follow their own convictions in religious matters.  

In October 1635 he was tried by the General Court and convicted of sedition and heresy. He was then ordered to be banished.  In the spring of 1636 Williams and a number of his followers from Salem began a settlement.  He called it "Providence" because he felt that God's Providence had brought him there.  He said that his settlement was to be a haven for those "distressed of conscience”.  

Roger Williams believed that any effort by the state to dictate religion or promote any particular religious idea or practice was forced worship. He colorfully declared that, "Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God”.

Most of Williams's contemporaries and critics regarded his ideas as a prescription for chaos and anarchy. The vast majority believed that each nation must have its national church, and that dissenters must be made to conform. Rhode Island was so threatening to its neighbors that they tried for the next hundred years to extinguish the "lively experiment" in religious freedom that began in 1636.

Are your feelings on religious liberty like those of Roger Williams, or are they more like the Puritans?  The Puritans definitely believed in religious liberty.  They just didn't believe in it for others.  If you haven’t thought much about religious liberty – and we seldom do if our liberties aren't being taken from us – spend some time today thinking about it.  

Do you really believe in religious liberty for those whom you disagree with?  What about other Christian denominations with different practices?  What about the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu or the Wiccan.  What about the agnostic or the atheist.  Do you believe in religious liberty for them?  

If you do believe in religious liberty for all, you will not make disparaging or hateful remarks about anyone.  John Wesley said, “Condemn no man for not thinking as you think. Let everyone enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God”.  

It is a good thing to do what we can to stand up to those governments that are trampling on the liberties of Christians around the world, but will we be as vocal when the liberties of others religions are taken from them.  If we truly believe in religious liberty we must be advocates for anyone whose liberties are threatened.

In the end it is all about the God we serve. The God I serve never forces the will or conscience.  He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  2 Peter 3:9 says , “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance”.

God wants all to come to repentance, but he only wants the willing. He will not force us to come to him.  Free will to obey or disobey, love or hate, submit or rebel, is not only biblical but essential to man's relationship to God.  He wants us to love, obey, serve, and worship Him and to do so by choice: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve”, Joshua 24:15. God isn't glorified in any obedience, worship, or love that doesn't come willingly from the heart.

If God so freely gives liberty – even to do what is wrong – we should be willing to give religious liberty to all.