Monthly Archives: September 2012

Fainting Flesh and Facebook

Psalm 63:1:  O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

Hectic American life can be devastating for Christians in having an intimate relationship with God.  So many things demand our time and energy – deadlines, appointments, TV, social media, sports – to name just a few.  Actually… that’s not quite accurate is it?  Those things have no power over our time unless we give it to them; but the problem is we do just that.  Read the verse above again though.  Look closely for any indication that David’s thirsty soul or fainting flesh would have been satisfied with Facebook or watching a ballgame.

The truth is that the deep, unfulfilled longing all humans beings experience can only be filled by God.  That is the way He designed us.  Efforts to plug the hole with “stuff” only lead to stress and dissatisfaction.  As you read and feel the earnestness of his words, understand that this type of desire and abiding love was not something peculiar to David.  We not only have the opportunity to have the same intimacy with our Creator, God actually desires this type of passionate devotion.  So how does it happen?

If we are patient, continually waiting upon Him, pouring out our hearts to Him and listening for His voice to us, we will learn that we need no other fulfillment than God.  We must allow Gospel truth to be our foundation, not shallow clichés or the latest self-help theory.  The more time we spend in His presence, reading and treasuring His Word, the more we will find that obeying His commands means intimacy is growing and that His presence is becoming an ever-increasing joy.  Our existence as followers of Christ should be driven by a lifelong quest for intimacy with God.

We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God.  He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.”  A.W. Tozer

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Voting Without a Choice

I enjoy politics – meaning the debating of issues, cases being made for and against something, and outcomes being decided by the people.  I do not enjoy what has become the reality of our political process – unadulterated partisanship.  Even still, as Christians we have an obligation to not disengage ourselves from society’s way of governing itself.  We must attempt to influence as appropriate and offer hope where there is none.  I also believe that it is entirely appropriate to view issues through a Biblical lens and look for candidates who line up with our beliefs.  But what do we do when there appears to be no good choice?

The answer ultimately, is that we pick the best of the two or in this case, the least bad of the two.  The other option is to not choose at all, but I do not think that is the right answer either, at least not for me.  So as I look at both candidates, I find myself in a bit of a quandary.

Early on in the primaries I heard a good deal about the reluctance “main-stream” Christians were having about the possibility of voting for Mitt Romney.  Romney, as most know, is Mormon and many within the evangelical world do not consider Mormonism a Christian denomination.  Lately however, it seems that the vast majority of those convictions have vanished without a trace.  From what I see now, large numbers of Christians are heartily endorsing Romney’s candidacy.

Having researched the teachings and beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I come to no other conclusion than they adhere to and teach a false gospel.  This means that should Romney be elected, a system of beliefs that leads people to eternal destruction will likely become more accepted within our society.  This is a problem for me.

As I watch what looks to be movement in support of Romney by Christians, I tend to wonder what percentage of this “shift” is due to serious reflection through prayer as compared to strictly anti-Obama distress.  Were there thoughtful considerations about how a Mormon president will elevate the status of a religion which leads people to hell?  Or does Obama’s pro-abortion and pro-“gay-marriage” stances along with the “clean living” Romney holds to, simply wipe away any such concerns?  Or were those concerns ever even present?

Overall, I assume that the shift I have mentioned probably has more to do with these issues of abortion and so-called gay marriage; both of which I happen to hold as priorities myself.  While I will limit my views of the current president (occupational safety), if I were to summarize my thoughts about the effects of each’s presidency it would fall out something like this.  Romney is a pro-life advocate (although I think he is pro-choice in the case of rape or incest) and would likely be inclined to support initiatives targeted toward saving human lives.  Romney is against so-called same-sex marriage and would likely be inclined to strengthen the definition of marriage and support traditional family values.  However, Romney’s election will no doubt increase the acceptability of the Mormon denomination and could potentially help to broaden its membership.  Obama on the other hand is pro-abortion and will likely continue to support initiatives designed to uphold choice above life. Obama also supports so-called same-sex marriage and is willing to legislate his views on it.

Based on these reasons, I cannot vote for Obama.  Based on my uneasiness about how a Romney presidency could bring Mormonism into the mainstream, I am hesitant to vote for him.   There are of course many other issues important to me but for now I will leave it like this.  If I had to vote today, I would vote for Romney.  I just would not feel good about it.  Either way though, whoever is sitting in the Oval Office deserves our prayers and respect.

Having said all of that, I do think it is important that as we think about political races, and specifically, presidential elections, we not put unwarranted spiritual expectations on non-spiritual leadership.  Yes, the president is the leader of the nation and he leads in a number of different ways.  None of those ways however is as priest.  Regardless of who lives in the White House, God’s Kingdom will move forward.  How do I know that?  Romans 13:1 reminds us that God is in control: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  Also, Daniel 2:21 states “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”  So let us not be completely overwhelmed by the impending “bigness” of it all to the point that we lose focus of our calling.

We are “ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)  As easy as it is to get caught up in this world’s affairs, this is not our home.  Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).  Accordingly, we are not here to do our own bidding, but the bidding of our Father.  Let us be reminded that this world, including the United States, will one day fade away, but the Kingdom of God will endure forever.

Happy Feet

I recently sat down and watched part of a movie called Happy Feet 2 with my son.  I had never watched the first one in its entirety but knew enough to know the basic theme of the movies.  Now, I confess up front that I do not know exactly how the movie ended, though I did ask my son later to give me a summary.  I also want to point out that while the movie is cute and has some positive elements, the often subtle but sometimes blatant references to homosexuality, evolution, and even activist environmentalism will ensure it won’t become a household favorite for us.

The part where I picked up involved the main character, Mumble (a penguin), who displays his joy by tap dancing – which apparently is a bit unusual even for a penguin.  Mumble had just discovered a large group of penguins who had been trapped after a huge chunk of ice broke off leaving them completely stranded, helpless and hopeless.  Mumble and his son and son’s friends set out to rescue the trapped penguins and according to my son, eventually do save the group with the help of some other dancing penguins, which of course ties into the title.  Happy Feet came to the rescue.

Several days later I happened to be thinking about something Paul says in Romans and these penguins came back to my mind.  It may take a minute, but allow me to explain.

In Romans 1:14 the apostle Paul states “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (ESV).  King James Version says it a bit different by using the phrase “I am debtor” instead of “under obligation.”  Verse 15 follows up with “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”  These verses prompted some questions.  “Why do you feel such a deep indebtedness to seemingly everyone, Paul?  I understand you were clearly called by Jesus himself to preach the Gospel, but you said you are in debt to people – why?  Why does God’s calling upon your life make you feel like you owe something to Greeks and Barbarians and the wise and the foolish?  What are you saying Paul?”

Having now had the opportunity to ponder it a bit, I offer the following.  Paul was clearly called by God to preach the Gospel; but I don’t think that God’s command specifically to preach was creating this indebtedness.  Paul was certainly going to be obedient to the call, but there is something else going on here as well.  Earlier in verse 5, Paul gives what I see as the true reason and an answer to my questions.  Read verses 1-5 to get the flow but pay attention to verse 5 in particular.

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations

It’s all about GRACE!  God’s unconditional, saving, free, sovereign grace created in Paul the indebtedness he felt toward others.  Here is how I would explain it.  The force of God’s grace is what drove Paul his whole life.  It carried him through beatings, shipwrecks, abandonment by friends, and imprisonment just for the opportunity to make good on this debt.  God’s grace offered through Christ sustained him through the many, many trials in which he suffered.  But here is the catch – Paul knew he didn’t deserve one single bit of this grace!  He understood fully the ‘hugeness’ of receiving the FREE gift of grace.  He looked at his life before Christ and saw nothing but hopelessness.  He saw his diseased, sinful, depraved heart and knew that he had been given a new one.  He saw his own death, but knew that he was now alive!

With that understanding, how could he look at a lost and hopeless world, full of Greeks and Barbarians and wise and foolish, and not feel obligated to offer the exact same hope he had?  How could he not proclaim to anyone who would listen, the only means of rescue?  He couldn’t and he didn’t.  He felt the weight of God’s undeserved grace in his own life and was left with nothing else but “to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome” and Galatia and Ephesus and Thessalonica and Corinth and Philippi and on and on.

So where does that leave us and what about those penguins?

As I meditated on Paul’s indebtedness, I thought of Mumble again.  Just as he stood looking out upon those who were completely helpless in and of themselves, who would DIE without rescue, my thoughts were blasted with the faces of those who I see every day – those who I know are lost without hope, apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  Just as Mumble looked into the faces of fear and suffering as he stood on the firm footing of safe ice, I look into the same faces of fear and suffering all the while standing on the solid rock of salvation… and too often, far too often… I say NOTHING.  I do NOTHING.  I watch from a distance as the lost continue to trudge toward an inescapable death.

I know all Christians are not called to preach or teach, BUT if we have been truly saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we should all feel the weight of such an undeserved gift.  If we understand the magnitude of what we have been freely given, we should all feel indebted to those around us.

As I close, I picture those dancing penguins on their way to rescue the helpless – their feet moving with intentional joy owing to nothing but what they feel on the inside.  I look at the church, I look at Christians, I look at myself and I think, “We need happy feet!”

Think Hurricanes, Think Labor Pains, Think Sin

It is a terrible thing when people suffer from natural disasters, but it is also a tragedy when we miss the point of them.  Yes – there is a point, a sovereignly designed point.  As people in the south continue to deal with the damage caused by Hurricane Isaac, what are we to think about why such things happen?  Better yet, why does God allow these horrible events to occur?  That is the question everyone loves to ask, but is it the best question to ask?  We will see, but thankfully we do not have to wonder without direction.  God’s Word is not silent on the issue although it still remains a very difficult question.

When we see hurricanes and typhoons or any other natural calamity, as Christians, we should think – labor pains.  Labor pains of course imply there is a birth coming, in this case, the birth of a new world.  Now without getting into the whole pre-, post-, or a-millennium debate, here is what I mean.

One day this defective world in which we live will give way to a new world; one in which Jesus will reign and all wrongs will be made right.  Jesus himself described it as he spoke to his disciples in Mark 13:8 saying “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  The words “new world” (palingenesia) literally means regeneration or new birth and is only found twice in the New Testament; the other being in Titus 3:5.  In Titus, the term is used in a spiritual sense regarding the conversion process by which one becomes a “new creature” in Christ.

We get another clue from Jesus regarding this idea of the coming new world when he references the end times in Matthew 19:28 (and it is also one place where I get the idea of labor pains).  Jesus said, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.”

So in these two verses alone, we find the truth that there will be a new world or “regeneration” and that prior to that, there will be troubles which Jesus describes as “birth pains.”  While he does not go into great detail about what all of this means, the apostle Paul fills in the blanks.  Before we go any further though, let me remind us of our question and after reading the passages above we may now ask it with more detail.  Why does the creation have to experience the suffering of these “birth pains?”  We are getting close to answering but let us look at what Paul adds to the discussion first to help our thinking a bit more.  Romans 8:20-23 provides the clearest understanding of what I am talking about.

[20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

As you linger on what Paul is saying I hope you pick up on some key terms and ideas.  First, it is critical to note that in verse 20 when Paul says “the creation,” he is referring to both the physical universe in which we live as well as humanity (verses 22 and 23 address each separately).  Second, notice that the creation, all of it including us, was subjected to futility.  Immediate question:  By whom?  Read on and you will see that God subjected it.  Yes, God.  How do I know that?  Because the creation was subjected “in hope;” and neither Satan nor man can subject anything “in hope.”

Second question, what does Paul mean by futility?  From the context of the entire passage we can see there are three other terms that are synonymous with futility that help to see his meaning.  One is “bondage to corruption,” one is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” and the last is “groan inwardly.”  So we can understand humanity as being subjected to a corrupted nature or “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2) just the same as the physical world has been subjected to a flawed existence.

Both conditions result in the need to be fixed and neither the world nor humans have the ability to self-correct.  Hence, humanity and nature need a “new birth.”  With that, we are starting to make the connection between what Jesus said and what Paul is talking about.  If we keep it together in our minds, we can now pose our overarching question with the full force it deserves.  Why did God subject his once perfect creation to a diseased condition that has caused and will continue to cause such horrible destruction and suffering?

I believe that is a good question with right Biblical thinking behind it.  So what is the answer?  Well, let us go back to the beginning, that is, “In the beginning.”  Genesis 3 describes what is rightly called “the Fall.”  Adam and Eve profaned the perfection of God’s creation by disobeying God and introducing sin into the world.  As the first man, Adam represented all of mankind before God.  When he sinned, all of humanity fell. “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).  Listen to God address them after their treason:

[16] To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  [17] And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 

Contemplate if you will the effects of our first father and mother’s sin.  God could have wiped the slate clean right then and there and started over, but he did not.  God could have enforced a temporary punishment that would have applied only to Adam and Eve, but he did not.  The reason God did not do either of these things, but instead subjected his entire creation to futility was because of SIN.

Think of Adam and Eve’s sin, but move on.  Think of the whole world’s sin, but do not stay there either.  Think of today’s society of sin, but continue.  Keep thinking about sin until your thoughts land squarely in your own lap and your own sin, and in my own lap and my own sin and then and only then are we very near the answer to our question.

Whether or not we choose to view it through a Biblical lens is up to us, but let us not miss the point.  The moral outrage of a perfectly just and righteous God over sin is in our face every day.  God chose to give us touchable, seeable, feel-able, real-world parables in the form of hurricanes or tsunamis or earthquakes to show us the way he feels about sin.  We will continue to see and feel these things until Jesus returns and makes all things new and the labor pains bring forth perfection once again.

I will close all of this with two passages.

The first is John writing of a vision in Revelation 16:7-8.  Read what he wrote:

“[7] And I heard the altar saying, “Yes, Lord God the Almighty, true and just are your judgments!”  [8] The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.  [9] They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.”

Yes, they missed the point.

Lastly, let us turn once again to Jesus’ own words regarding a disaster of his day.  After having been asked questions that were no doubt very similar to our own regarding what seemed to be pointless suffering due to disaster, he answers in Luke 13 saying:

[4] Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? [5] No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

If nothing else, please hear this. Do not get caught up in thinking someone’s or some city’s sin is the cause of their disaster. When we think like that we miss the point! Jesus would not hear of that type of thinking. Focus on his message for those of who did not experience the suffering this time: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

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