Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pointless Testing


Four years of radiation, chemo and hormone therapy have not stopped the cancer. The doctor finally tells the family what he has known for months. The patient, tired of the treatment, has begun to accept his prognosis. Then, after months of hospice care, a family member shows up and insists on a new round of testing to determine how far the illness has spread. The tests are pointless. They change nothing, and the family member will not likely find the peace they think the results will give them.

God never tests us pointlessly. From our perspective, His testing sometimes seems to be so that He can diagnosis our hearts. He needs no test to see what's in our hearts, but we sometimes need to be tested to find out what we are really made of. And, we need testing to see what God is made of, for when He tests our faith He proves Himself. He proves He is faithful to complete the work He has begun in us.

His testing is not for diagnosis, but for the completion of our faith. So, we can rejoice every time we are tested, knowing that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness in us. That steadfastness, or patience, has its full effect in us making us perfect and complete so that we do not lack anything that is required for a life that glorifies the one who never tests us pointlessly. (James 1:3-4)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Peace


On the 11th of June, 1963, Thic Quang Duc had himself set on fire to protest the abuse of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. He sat in the classic lotus posture meditating, apparently in complete peace as another monk poured five gallons of gasoline over him. The monk then led a trail away from him with the fuel, bowed, and lit the trail. Duc maintained his pose until his body gave way in the fire and he fell. The picture of his death has become an icon, not just of his protest against religious persecution, but of the whole peace movement that swirled around the War in Viet Nam.

Buddhist monks give away all they have, and they regularly burn themselves alive in protest because they are passifists. Though Duc looked at peace, I could not help but think about what Paul told the Corinthians, who were incredibly spiritual, but apparently lacking the love of Christ, "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Cor. 13:3)

Once I shared my struggle with the way things were. The person who listened, a follower of Alcoholics Anonymous, quoted this passage from the A.A. Big Book, "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly as it is supposed to be at this moment." There is good counsel in accepting the things I cannot change, but there is no real peace. How can I accept that which God does not accept and find true peace?

The monk may have appeared to be at peace, but was he? True peace, that given by Christ, passes all of understanding. It is peace, but it is not passifism. It is peace but it refuses to watch an innocent person die without doing something. It is peace, but not at peace with sin or the effects of sin in this world.

The peace of God is not found in the acceptance of all things as they are. It is not found in the refusal to take action. It is not found in becoming a monk. It is found in faith in the sovereignty of God. That faith does not always result in immediate peace, but it does lead us to pray. We cannot meditate ourselves or passify ourselves into peace. We can turn to God and ask for His assistance in anything that causes us to be anxious, trusting that even if we do not feel at peace His peace is actively guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Phi.4:5b-7)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Jesus And The Lowest Common Denominator


There was never a time when Jesus settled for less than best. He loved those who were less than good His whole life on this earth. He mixed with them, touched them, ate with them, was identified with them, and He was their friend. But, He never made peace with their sin, nor did He ever allow them to make peace with their sin or settle for less than His life-giving standard for life. He loved people without ever lowering the bar.

To the healed man who had been lame for 38 years, He said, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." To the woman caught in adultery and delivered by Jesus from a murderous crowd, He said, "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."

There are several reasons we lower God's standards. First, we lower them for ourselves. We believe we are unable to ever reach the bar set by God, so we set it lower; within our grasp, not within His. Then, we do this for others. We know we have failed, and we don't want to become one of those condemning, hateful, prideful Christians. So, we make the universal excuse, "Well, no one is perfect," and then we accept that as our new standard.

That, you see, is the danger. Setting the bar low because of our fallenness is not an admission of humility, or a recognition of human frailty. It is an admission that we do not want to be like Christ. We do not want to be holy as He is holy. We do not want to struggle against our human condition. We want to make peace with it. We do not want to learn how to love the sinner, while hating their sin, including our own sin. And, then we just live common, ordinary lives. My grandmother used to call this kind of living vulgar. Vulgar, by the way, means ordinary.

We must not settle. We must find peace within the will of God, because there is no real peace with God outside of His will. We must learn, and mature so that we find ourselves constantly reaching upward for His glory. It is not an easy life to live, but no life worth living is ever easy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bill's Belch


The string quartet played each quiet note perfectly on pitch. Each table was covered in the finest white linen. The staff were immaculate, and each patron dressed in the best formal dining attire. Every crystal glass sparkled, every silver spoon glistened, and every fine china plate glowed. No table had been reserved for less than a month, and no one mentioned that there were no prices on the menu. The food, the wine . . . everything about the evening was exquisite. Everything and everyone, except Bill.

Bill looked like everyone else, but something was boiling in Bill's belly. Something he had eaten earlier in the day had given him the worst case of indigestion he had ever had. His wife knew he did not look well, "Darling, you look pale." Bill's one word response drained the blood from her face, "Indigestion." "Oh, no," she whispered. You see, Bill had never belched quietly in his life. It simply was not in him, or rather, when it was in him it was simply not within his ability to let it out quietly. And, if Bill had a character defect, it was that he did not care. He was still a man and belching was his last act of masculine rebellion in the primped and polished world in which he lived.

That evening, that perfect evening, Bill did not disappoint. The water boy dropped his pitcher. Plates full of perfectly placed morsels spilled across the floor as waiters stumbled and fell. The maitre d' thought a wild animal had somehow found its way into the restaurant. One woman near Bill screamed from pain. The belch had so stunned her that she had stabbed herself in the cheek as she took a bite. Red wine spilled across tables and into laps, staining perfect linens and clothing. The cellist broke his bow. Only the buss boy in the corner smiled.

The face of Bill's wife, once pale from loss of blood, now looked like an overripe tomato. She said, with venom in each syllable, "Excuse You!" Bill, looking at the shock and disgust of the room, replied, "No, I excuse myself." He stood, dropped his napkin on the table, and walked out grinning from ear to ear . . . self-justified, self-assured, and all by himself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Discerning Or Determining My Calling


Is my passion equal to God's calling? Suppose I surrender my life to the will of God, ask him to use me, and I have a great passion for a certain ministry. It could be anything from teaching to preaching, from playing an instrument to leading in worship, from working with the elderly to working with children. Does that passion mean I am called to that ministry? What if I want to be a physician, or a pilot, or a mechanic, or a guitar player, or the president? Does that passion mean I will be, or am called to be, or am gifted to be what I want to be?

I was passionate about medicine and spent all of Jr. High and High School preparing myself to enter a pre-med program, but that was not God's will. I was passionate about "fixing" people, and have degrees in counseling, but that was not God's will for my life. The apostle Paul was passionate above all his peers for the law, to be a Pharisee, but that was not God's plan for his life.

Knowing your passion is knowing a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the whole picture. Your passion does not determine your calling. Discernment is required, and discernment for a calling is never found strictly in our emotions and is never found outside the mutual submissiveness of the local church. Read the Word. Elders could desire to shepherd, but unless they were affirmed by the church, they could not, nor could deacons or missionaries or even the Apostles. As independent as Paul was, his calling was confirmed by the elders and the church in Jerusalem.

We can be misled by our passions, even when they are righteous. We need the body of Christ to help us, not to determine our course, but to help us discern the will of God for our lives.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Answer Is Not Always Prayer


I am sure that we, self included, do not pray as we should. We pray too weakly, too timidly, and too infrequently. Yet, there are times when another prayer is not the answer.

The LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground." ~ Ex. 14:15-16

Sometimes we need to stop praying and start doing, stepping out in faith onto the road prepared for us by the One who we have prayed to. There are times when we can pray till we are hoarse and nothing is going to happen, because the answer is awaiting our trusting obedience.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bonitas Non Est Pessimis Esse Meliorem


I wish I could shout, BONITAS NON EST PESSIMIS ESSE MELIOREM!!! into the the heart of every person I ever hear say, "We are all just trying to get to the same place." Try, try all you want, but only the grace of God, granted through the blood of Christ, will remove our lack of true goodness (our sin). And, only faith in that Christ will save us.

I wish someone would shout it into my own ears the moment I think I am excelling at Christ-likeness above the rest. The same Christ who saved me is the only one who can make me what He wants me to be, and I walk by faith in Him as surely as I was saved by faith in Him.

Someone should daily shout, BONITAS NON EST PESSIMIS ESSE MELIOREM!!! in the halls of Congress and on the lawn of the White House and in the Supreme Court, because the only truly blessed nation is the one whose God is the Lord and his only begotten Son's name is Jesus the Christ.

Bonitas non est pessimis esse meliorem is Latin meaning, "It Is Not Goodness To Be Better Than The Worst."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Wrong Prayer Is Always Unsanswered


For years I've been praying a silly prayer. This thought just occurred as I offered 5,000 unreached people to a young man who says he is called to the ministry.

He is looking for what he's supposed to do with his life, and people are asking him to go to their exotic locations and serve. So, I threw my hat into the ring. There are between 5,000 and 7,000 unreached young adults who live within about 20 minutes of our church. That may sound like a small number if you're from anywhere but the rural south, but when it's about 1/4 of the population of your area it's a big number.

That brings me to my silly prayer. I'll throw down with anyone who thinks they don't need a local church, but for years I've prayed each Saturday night that God would send people on Sunday to worship. I prayed for attendance. I knew it was a bit self-serving, but I know that people who aren't faithful to a local church are not faithfully following Christ.

Look, it's not a bad prayer. It's just the wrong one. Jesus never prayed for attendance. When he saw the lostness of the world around him he told his disciples to pray for God to send laborers who would go out into the harvest.

The church does not survive or thrive on attendance. It survives and thrives on mission, and mission isn't what we do when we get on a plane. Mission is what we do when we get out of bed. By the way, I have prayed right on Saturday nights. It is a regulary prayer I believe is right, and completely un-silly, "God, send us one person tomorrow who we can help know you, and send one more who help us make you known."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Faith, Works, and Are


Just spent some time reflecting on the whole salt and light passage in Matthew. The one word that captures my attention every time I do is the word "are." Jesus doesn't say we should "become" salt and light, that we should work on "brighter" and "saltier." He just says, "You ARE already salt and light."

Have you ever heard it said, "We are human BEings, not human DOings"? How about this one, "God is more concerned about WHO you are than about WHAT you do"? That sounds good. After all, isn't Christianity an inside-out job? I mean, Jesus criticized those who thought following God was about looking good rather than about having a right heart. On the other hand, there's that whole "faith without works is dead" thing that His brother James wrote about. So, what gives? Am I supposed to just focus on BEing or should I focus on DOing?

It has to be simpler, much less esoteric, and much less white-washed-tomb-religion than most of us make it out to be. Once you believe, you are born again. You are who you are by faith in Christ. Now, if you don't focus on renewing your mind like Paul wrote in Romans 12, and you don't add the characteristics of Jesus to your life like Peter wrote in his second epistle, then you will shrivel and fail as a Chrisitan. On the other side, if you spend your life focused on becoming a better you, you won't actually do many of the works you are supposed to do so others "may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (Mt.5:16) You'll just spend your life chasing your own tail.

Jesus didn't call us to a philosphy. That's internal medicine. And, He didn't call us to a life of good works. That's secular humanitarianism, join the Peace Corps and save the world stuff. He invited us to follow Him. Follow Him and you'll learn Him, and you'll learn you're not Him, and you'll change - internally. Follow Him and the works He did you will do, and even greater works than these.

Internal transformation and doing good works are not the opposite sides of the same coin. They are just equal parts of following Jesus. Make this life anything other than following Him and stay confused and mostly frustrated with life.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The First Command To Man And Woman


"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." ~ Genesis 1:28

The first blessing God gave to humans was impossible to receive unless both male and female existed. The first command they received was impossible to obey unless there was the consummation of the marriage of man and woman. The original created purpose, was not tending the garden, but having children.

We understand that homosexuality is a corruption of God's creative plan. One reason is that homosexuals cannot have children as God intended. They cannot receive the blessing or fulfill the command. The issue is not just homosexuality, but also selfishness. The couple that chooses not to have children also cannot receive the blessing or fulfill the command. And, the implications are far beyond that couple, because God's creative purpose in male and female was not just for personal fulfillment but for societal growth.

No culture or society has ever survived a birth rate of less than 2.1 children per family. No culture has ever reversed a birth rate of 1.9 and it is impossible to reverse a 1.3 birth rate. The culture simply de-breeds itself out of existence. If two parents have one child, there are half as man children as parents, half as many parents in the next generation.

The fertility rate in the European Union is 1.38 and the EU is crumbling. In France, the birth rate is 1.8 overall, but among Muslim immigrants the birth rate is 8.1. The trend is consistent across the continent. In less than one generation, Europe will be a Muslim continent.

Canada's birth rate is less than 1.6, and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the nation. Yet Canada's population has increased, but all the increase is due to immigration. The fertility rate of US citizens is 1.6. With the increase of immigrants from Mexico, the birth rate increases to 2.11. The vast majority of Latin immigrants are Roman Catholic. The southern United States will be Latino and a Catholic majority in a generation.

According to the Department of State and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), there were only about 100,000 Muslims in the US in the early part of the 20th century. In 2000, there were approximately 1.5 million, and in 2010 there are almost 8 million. Because of birth rate, the CAIR estimates that in 30 years there will be 50 million muslims living in this nation. And, if this trend continues, in 80 years, this nation will no longer be a Christian nation, but a Muslim nation because as Latinos become more prosperous they follow the selfish American trend of smaller families. What was a Latin Catholic majority will follow the road of American Anglo-Saxon Protestant and become a minority. The culture will be transformed.