Sunday, December 11, 2016

Love (Advent)



During Advent, we talk this ‘story of amazing love’: a God who so loved the world that he ‘put on flesh’ (incarnated), became human, and took our death penalty upon himself (John 3:16-17). In many different places, the Bible is clear about why that happened: Jesus loves us (1 John 4:19; Romans 8:35-39). This past year we talked for a couple weeks about how Jesus’ love empowers and changes how we love others: “Love others as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

As plain as that command is, it goes through a filter.  Many of us think we know what it means that God loves; we think that the love we pass on to others is reflective of that, yet at times we recognize that we don’t understand what it means that God loves us, and we see that we have a terrible time loving God and others well.

So let’s talk about how we get past our filters and misunderstandings and learning to understand the love of God.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Peace (Advent)



It was an interesting group to whom the angels gave this message: “Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:14). The shepherds were probably watching a temple flock destined for sacrifice in and around a tower called the Midgal Eder, the 'watchtower of the flock,' a lookout and a place of refuge close to Bethlehem for their flocks in case of attack.  Shepherds brought ewes there to give birth. The priests maintained ceremonially clean stalls, and they carefully oversaw the birth of each lamb.

The prophet Micah had written years before: “As for you, O watchtower of the flock, (Migdal Eder)… kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8) I don’t think it’s coincidence that angels announced Jesus’ birth to these shepherds. They were temple-trained; they knew the fulfillment of prophecy when they heard it.[1]

But their watchtower was overshadowed by another tower. Herod’s mountain fortress, the Herodian, overlooked the town of Bethlehem.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope (Advent)



During Christmas, we talk about a Messiah, a King and Savior who was anointed or appointed as our deliverer. There are a lot of things that need fixing in the world – the song rightly included a whole list of things that Jesus fixed while he was on earth – but the most important thing is that “the child you delivered will soon deliver you.” All of his miracles, as wonderful as they were, served to confirm that He had the power to deliver us from sin and the spiritual death that comes with it. [1]

What should we expect this deliverance to look like in my life and in the world around me?  When I pray, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done,” I have a pretty good idea of what I think that ought to look like. But does my expectation align with reality? What will a world look like in which Jesus is the Messiah, King and Savior?

I ask these questions because they are intertwined with our Advent focus today: hope. How can we understand and experience a godly hope in this life?  In order to answer this question well, we need to understand what it means that Jesus is the Messiah and what kind of hope he meant to bring, or we will experience a lot of frustration and anger because we have false expectations about what a Messiah will do.

So, let’s do history.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Reflecting The Glory Of The Lord

“A glass can only spill what it contains.” - mewithoutyou

That’s not bad insight into life. We often hear the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out,” but that’s true of good things as well. Jesus taught this clearly:
"The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45)
You don’t have to be a Christian to recognize this. What we pour into our lives is what will eventually pour out of it in some way. It’s one reason people are increasingly talking about the power of entertainment.  There are ways to filter it – there’s a lot to be said about learning how to read, listen and watch as a Christian who listens and sees through the eyes and ears of Jesus – but in some fashion, what comes in will come out.
  • CNN’s Health section online featured an article entitled “Should Smoking Trigger an R rating?”  The author noted, “For every 500 smoking scenes a child saw in PG-13 movies, his or her likelihood of trying cigarettes increased by 49%.” [1]
  • The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reported: “Youths [12-17 years old who viewed sexual content on TV] in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile... Exposure to TV that included only talk about sex was associated with the same risks...”[2]
What we dwell on matters. There is a reason Paul wrote to the Philippian church to focus on things that were good, true, and lovely (Philippians 4:8).  The idea of this verse is not that we retreat from anything bad – we would have to live in a bubble – but that we actively pursue a mental and emotional diet made up of predominantly wholesome things.

We all fill our glass with something. The words and actions and attitudes that overflow will reflect the abundance of images and ideas with which we have filled ourselves. In 2 Corinthians, Paul makes a similar claim:  We will become what we see. He uses the analogy of a mirror reflecting, but the idea is the same.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Aliens And Strangers

John 15:18-19 "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” 
John 17:16 "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
Philippians 3:20 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” 
Hebrews 11:13-16 “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” 
1 Peter 2:12 “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 
Ephesians 2:19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
There is no escaping the idea that followers of God should not feel at home in this world. That doesn’t mean the world is not meaningful, beautiful or enjoyable. It just means that there must always be a godly discontent with the cultural status quo; a holy conviction that this world is broken and in desperate need of redemption; an abiding sense that we are what Moses referred to himself as: ‘a stranger in a strange land’ (Exodus 2:22).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Heart Attack Six Months Later: The Unexpected Turns Continue

I'm not sure why I am surprised that this post-heart attack road is taking some unexpected turns.

My counselor reminded me that the stages of grief are relevant. I had not thought of it that way, perhaps because this experience feels so different from when my dad died. Several days after talking with my counselor, I was on a panel for a local organization called Michael's Place to discuss finding hope after loss. While going through the things that helped me then, I realized that I was taking the same steps since my heart attack. Hmmm.

One of the key things I did then was to write as a way in which to process everything bouncing around inside; I wrote, then rewrote, searching over and over for a way to say it that was ever more honest. I didn't realize it in the moment, but in hindsight there was something about bringing my grief into the light that robbed it of its power. There's a good process that begins simply by identifying and acknowledging all the things that brew inside. I made my writing public after several years, hoping that a public discussion could build an open community of broken and mending people who could be honest about life.

This post is in that tradition. There are differences, of course, because the situation is different. I'm not looking to rob grief of its power this time. I'm looking for clarity and direction to emerge from the mists of the emotional and mental fog that has lingered. Some of you have already responded to what I've written with stories of your one recovery from heart issues. Perhaps this post can help us to continue to do life together with a little more comfort and hope than before.



* * * * *

I am wrestling with the idea that this heart attack was an answer to prayer. Writing that publicly makes me a little nervous, so please stick with me as I explain. Biblically speaking, there are three possible causes for my heart attack.

First, perhaps it’s just life in a fallen world. Though God created all things good, the world is currently in a broken state, 'groaning' in anticipation of an ultimate redemption (Romans 8:22). That means stuff breaks. Things decay and rust. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is in full force. Sometimes this manifests in the fallout from moral evil in which people bear the consequences of their own sin as well as the sins of others. Sometimes this manifests as natural evil (hurricanes, disease, drought) as a deeply broken world stumbles toward a future in which creation will be returned to its original glory.  It may well be that my heart attack is just a reminder that we live in a world that exists between its good beginning and its glorious remaking. 

Second, perhaps it's a reminder that evil is more than just a theoretical absence of good. In the Christian worldview, there is a supernatural realm in which evil is embodied in beings that desire to further the chaos and brokenness of a fallen world. We live in parallel worlds, one physical and seen and one spiritual and unseen, and they intersect at times and in ways we usually don’t see and rarely comprehend. It could be that the evil that haunts the earth (the Bible gives the primary entity the title of "The Satan") seeks to ravage and devour that which is good - in this case, the goodness of bodily health. The Bible does not require that explanation, but it certainly allows for it. 

Third, the Bible allows the possibility that God actively caused it.  The Bible is clear that God does not tempt us to sin, but he does send us trials and temptations. We are going to get pruned (John 15) not because He dislikes us, but because He loves us (Hebrews 12:6). Think practically: a parent who never disciplines his or her children does not love them. A lack of discipline is an abdication of parental responsibility. I discipline my boys because I want them to grow up to be men. 

The idea that God is behind this for my good has biblical precedent. God desires our holiness above all else, and if we must be stripped of our comfort and happiness to build in us His holiness, that is a far better scenario than gaining the world and losing our soul. The idea that God may be the source of our pain may be a tough concept. I don't mean to make this post cumbersome, but I think I need to note a few passages of Scripture that must be considered as part of this discussion:
  • “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,  so that man can find out nothing that will come after him." Ecclesiastes. 7:14 (NKJV)
  • “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed?" Lamentations 3:38 
  • “Again, when a righteous person turns from their righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before them, they will die.”  Ezekiel 3:20
  • “'Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips."  Job 2:10 
  • “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things."  Isaiah. 45:7 
  • "The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.” Isaiah 19:22
  • "The LORD said to him, 'Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?'" Exodus 4:11
  • “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross." Acts 2:22-23 
  • "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your [God’s] power and will had decided beforehand should happen." Acts 4:27-28
  • "Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” John 18:11
  •  “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, 'My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:5-11
So, which one of my three options is the cause of my heart attack? I don’t know. I want to say that clearly. I don’t seek to find a devil or an angel behind everything that happens. With apologies to Calvinists everywhere, I am not ready to say that God's sovereignty means that God actively causes every individual thing that happens.

However, I am in the process of considering that God not only allowed but may well have caused my heart attack. I certainly don’t mean to suggest this is always the case with sickness and pain. Frankly, I don't think it's the case with every situation of pain or suffering in my own life. I am just considering the possibility that in this case, God is involved in ways I must consider.

It would makes sense to me. I’ve been praying for most of my adult life that God would make me a man after His own heart. I’ve been asking him to make me holy, to humble me, to order my loves (as Augustine so famously opined), to cause me to decrease so that He can increase. I’ve been asking for God to step in, knock down my idols, and clean spiritual house.

I have to consider that God is honoring my prayer. Why? Because this heart attack is laying bare some real idols in my life: specifically, my idolization of my health and strength. If that makes me look shallow, so be it. I have to face this. As you read this, brace yourself. I hope this makes you face yours too.

There is a real possibility that I won’t be able to return to my previous level of fitness. That's a big deal to me. For perspective, my forties were the fittest decade of my life. I found Crossfit; I qualified for Regional Games three years ago (45-50 year olds) by making it into the top 200 in the world. Then my shoulder blew out (thanks, basketball) and about two years I had major shoulder surgery. A week before my heart attack, I did the last WOD of the 2016 games with my oldest son, compared my score to the ones posted online, and thought, “My shoulder feels good; most of my strength is back. I could shoot for the Games again.” A week later I was in a hospital bed.

You prayed for this, Anthony. You asked me to knock down your idols.

Is 'idol' too strong? Tim Keller offers a handy list of how to identify idols from his book Counterfeit Gods. Keller prefaces his list this way:  “Life only has meaning/I only have worth if…

  1. I have power and influence over others.” (Power Idolatry)
  2. I am loved and respected by _____.” (Approval Idolatry)
  3. I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life.” (Comfort idolatry)
  4. I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____.” (Control idolatry)
  5. People are dependent on me and need me.” (Helping Idolatry)
  6. Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe.” (Dependence idolatry)
  7. I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone.” (Independence idolatry)
  8. I am highly productive and getting a lot done.” (Work idolatry)
  9. I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work.” (Achievement idolatry)
  10. I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions.” (Materialism idolatry)
  11. I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities.” (Religion idolatry)
  12. This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me.” (Individual person idolatry)
  13. I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality.” (Irreligion idolatry)
  14. My race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior.” (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  15. A particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in.” (Inner ring idolatry)
  16. My children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me.” (Family idolatry)
  17. Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me.” (Relationship Idolatry)
  18. I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt.” (Suffering idolatry)
  19. My political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power.” (Ideology idolatry)
  20. I have a particular kind of look or body image.” (Image idolatry)

I wouldn't say that I think life has meaning only if #3, #4, #9 and  #20 work out well for me, but let's be real: if I thought people looked on my strength or my physical appearance dismissively or with disdain, I would be crushed. I don’t want to be the guy who walks into the gym and people think, ‘I’ll bet he used to be something.” Or even worse, "Good Lord. Put more clothes on." I want to be the guy people notice. I want to lift more than the guy next to me. An awful lot of my identity, confidence and sense of self-worth comes from my strength.

You prayed for this, Anthony. 

I’ve been asking God to create in me a clean heart and give me a renewed spirit. I meant painlessly (note to self: practice praying with more precision). I’m starting to think God’s granting me the dignity of taking my prayer seriously. To use a C.S. Lewis analogy, I thought God was going to simply fix up this shack of my life; it turns out that His plan all along was to make a mansion. That means He’s going to have to do some serious remodeling. Maybe destroy the idols hidden in the closets of my heart. Maybe even blow up the house. 



* * * * *

I've been saying that it was in March that my heart attacked me. I’m starting to think it‘s been attacking me for years, pummeling me with false loves and tainted longings, pumping pride and fear into my spiritual veins when it should have been sending humility and peace. Perhaps it was in March that the Great Physician stepped in with the local ones and began to fix my rogue heart. I would have preferred a less painful and traumatic approach, but I think I've already established that picking up on hints isn't really my strength.

Paul asked three times for his mysterious ‘thorn’ to betaken from him. God refused; how else would Paul realize that God’s grace was sufficient unless he was confronted baldly with his own insufficiency and sinfulness? Is this not one way in which God builds character? Do I think I am on some spiritual plane where God won’t have to deal as bluntly with me as He did with Paul?

“The Lord gives,” said Job, “and takes away. Oh, bless his name.” This is not just about trusting a sovereign God who is too mysterious for us to fully understand; this is about realizing that sometimes it is only in the taking that we understand what God is giving.

* * * * *

Is the idea that God is involved more intimately than I suspected just an attempt to find some grand spiritual meaning in order to find the comfort of an explanation? I suppose I could be. Maybe it is just life on a fallen planet. Maybe God has simply allowed the evil that slouches through the world to have access to my health for reasons I won’t understand in this life. Within the broader scope of possibilities that fit within a biblical framework, I must acknowledge that all three of the reasons I offered can and do occur. No one - certainly not me -  has the wisdom to weigh in with absolute certainty about what is the case in every situation.

Yet, I must consider that God loved me enough to stop my heart for the sake of my soul. Now, I am praying that, no matter the reason, He gives me the wisdom and courage to trust that even this can work for my good.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Heart Attack: Five Months Later

It’s been five months since my heart attack. My doctor has told me that my heart is completely healed; medically speaking, I am cleared to do whatever I want (including Crossfit again if I so choose). A lot that could have gone wrong didn’t. For that, I am profoundly grateful.

But in addition to the medical perspective on the status of my heart, there are other dynamics at work. I am learning that this kind of injury is a much more existential one. I’ve had two knee surgeries, foot surgery, and a major shoulder repair; I thought I knew what the path to recovery looked like: I take time off; I get out of shape; I ease back into life. All these are true once again, but now there is an internal complexity that is remarkably different from my other experiences.

Some of it’s good. Some of it’s not. I have some trepidation about sharing this, but I figure - it's life. I wasn't the first and I won't be the last to experience the aftermath of a heart attack. Consider this my frank contribution to life together in hopes that we all can better walk through this beautiful and broken world. Anything helpful you wish to contribute in the comments section will add that much more.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Life God Grants In His Name (John 20:30-31)

“Jesus performed many other wondrous signs that are not written in this book.[1] These accounts are recorded so that you, too, might believe that Jesus is the Anointed, the Liberating King, the Son of God, because believing grants you life in His name.” John 20: 30-31
John had one goal: to convince his readers that Jesus was God in the flesh so that they would believe, because believing grants life in Jesus’ name. A couple questions come to mind: What life did he come to share? How do we know we are living in it?

That life’s ultimate and eternal expression will be life in the New Heaven and New Earth.[2] Throughout the New Testament, the writers cling to the promise of a heavenly reality where we see Jesus fully and we experience life fully. But that life also starts now. When Jesus taught about the Kingdom of Heaven, he gave earthy examples about how life looks when God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Life granted “in his name” [3] happens now. We can participate now in a life in line with the character, nature and will of God. That’s a huge claim, so let's look at what Jesus said and did to get an idea of what that looks like.

  • he preached peace, hope, love, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness.
  • he taught respect for authority even as he taught how to respond properly to corrupt or oppressive power.
  • he taught generosity over greed.
  • he argued that justice was important, but so was mercy.
  • he preached repentance and modeled forgiveness.
  • he claimed we could know God and know the truth about how He wants us to live in holiness.
  • he said that knowing this could set us free from bondage to sin and from eternal punishment for our sins.
  • he demonstrated that God loves the world, not just one race, class, or sex.
  • he treated even the most marginalized people with value, worth and dignity.
  • he said the world was broken by sin, but He could fix it – at great cost.
  • he explained that we were dead in our sins, but he could bring us back to life.
  • he proclaimed we could be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven now and for eternity.[4]

The word got out relatively quickly. In AD 100, there were about 25,000 Christians. In AD 300, there were about 20 million. As best I can piece together what historians have to say, the number of Christians went from about ½% of the populations they were in in AD 100 to 15% of the populations they were in by AD 300. Jesus was compelling; something about who He was and the life that He promised was motivating people to commit in spite of intense persecution.

In about 130 AD, Justin Martyr formalized what the early church was already noticing.  He noted that the Kingdom of God was exploding because followers of Christ were dong three very specific things: they were believing, belonging, and behaving.[5]  I want to revisit this today not as a formula that promises specific results, but as a model (just as the Lord’s Prayer is a model) for how God intends to mold us into the image of Christ so that our life is truly ‘life in His name.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Prayer (John 14-16)

“Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son; if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”  John 14:13-14 

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7 

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:16 

“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23,24
* * * * * * * * * * 

Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples on prayer is pretty eye-catching: five times he says,  “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” I see three question begging to be answered: What does it mean to ask in God’s name; do Christians get anything and everything they ask for; and ultimately, how should we pray?

I am going to address this by walking us through what’s commonly referred to as The Lord’s Prayer. After my dad died, I really struggled with the concept of prayer. Lots of people had prayed – and felt really confident that God’s plan was healing – and yet he died. I spent years reading about prayer, talking with others, and regaining my footing in this area. The Lord’s Prayer was huge to me during this time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to pray or how prayer worked, but I knew Jesus said, “Pray like this.” So I did.

Jesus offered this prayer to his disciples as sort of a model. There’s nothing magical in the recitation of it, but in it we see foundational principles in how to pray, and why. Some have claimed we see the whole of the gospel message revealed in this prayer. Perhaps that is so. At the very least, this prayer offers some answers to the questions I raised earlier.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

In This World You Will Have Trouble: The Reality Of Persecution (John 15-17)



John 15:18 – 16:3 “If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason. Don’t forget what I have spoken to you: ‘A servant is not greater than the master.’ If they persecute me, they will persecute you… The time will come when they will kick you out of the synagogue because some believe God desires them to execute you as an act of faithful service.”

John 16:32-33  “Be aware that a time is coming when you will be scattered like seeds…In this world, you will be plagued with times of trouble, but you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order.”

John 17:14-14  “I have given them Your word; and the world has despised them because they are not products of the world, in the same way that I am not a product of the corrupt world order. Do not take them out of this world; protect them from the evil one.”
                                            _____________________________________

Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the night of his arrest. Basically he was telling them, Expect persecution.” He was right. Hebrews 11 gives quite a list of what happened to not only these disciples but many who claimed allegiance to Jesus: wandered in deserts and mountains, lived in caves, tortured, sawn in two, jailed, flogged, chained, put to death by the sword and stoned. They all were killed but John, who was terribly tortured and imprisoned.

In this specific warning to his disciples we see a broader warning to all who will be his disciples. We may not all experience the exact persecution the disciples or the early church did, but because the Kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the Kingdoms of the World, those who love the world will despise followers of Jesus; the church can expect to be despised, broken apart, scattered and persecuted. Though Jesus has overcome the world, “in this world you will have trouble.”  “Trouble” of some sort is clearly a reality that has haunted followers of Christ throughout history, including what is happening to the global church today.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Glory Of God (John 13-17)

In the book of John, Jesus is constantly telling people to glorify God, and He is glad that through the salvation of people He himself is glorified. And then he says God will glorify those whom he has chosen, called and justified.[1] So, if you are a Christian, you believe God is glorious; you believe He knows it and wants others to know it; and you believe that God wants to make you glorious. The language of glory and the reality of glorification is directly connected with God and with us. I don’t know about you, but I think that all sounds exciting even as I feel a little – maybe a lot -  uncomfortable.

Why? Because I don’t think we have a great understanding of glory. That’s not the Bible’s fault. I suspect it has a lot to do with how we see our fallen world distort or ruin our perspective on what makes something or someone glorious, and how we should respond.

So let’s talk about glory and glorificiation, because we are going to need a biblically grounded view of this if we are going to have a true view of God and of ourselves as followers of Christ. We will begin with a small sample of verses from the book of John that capture the biblical use of the word ‘glory’ as it relates to God, people, shame, suffering and hair.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jesus' New Command: Why Loving Our Neighbors As We Love Ourselves Is Not Enough (John 13,15)

John 13-17 is John's last lengthy recorded conversation of Jesus talkining to his disciples. Judas has left to betray Jesus; time is short. These chapters give us a condensed focus: “Remember this.” While Jesus highlights a number of different themes from these chapters, my focus is on what he had to say about loving others well.

One of Jesus’ most famous teachings is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This was a brilliant distillation of all 600+ Old Testament laws. If you do the first properly, the second should follow naturally. If you don’t do the second, it’s a pretty good indication that you aren’t doing the first well either.[1] This summary of the law raises two immediate questions.
  • “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan. Everybody is your neighbor, even those you most dislike for religious and cultural reasons.[2]
  • What does it mean to love your neighbor “as yourself”?  Didn’t Jesus just say we have to die to ourselves? How does this work? And there may be an even more haunting question that comes with this: “What if I don’t love myself? Does this mean I can’t love other people?”

Monday, July 18, 2016

Dying To Live (John 12)

You may have heard of an autobiographical book (and eventually a  movie) called Eat Pray Love written by Liz Gilbert in 2006. Here’s a brief synopsis thanks to Google:
“Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life: a home, a husband and a successful career. Now newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds that she is confused about what is important to her. Daring to step out of her comfort zone, Liz embarks on a quest of self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India and Bali.”
This was not the first time Gilbert had discovered something about herself. In 2015, Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Times in entitled “Confessions Of A Seduction Addict.”[1] In it she describes what she found out about herself in the years before the events Eat Pray Love.
"It started with a boy I met at summer camp and ended with the man for whom I left my first husband. In between, I careened from one intimate entanglement to the next — dozens of them — without so much as a day off between romances. You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.… If the man was already involved in a committed relationship, I knew that I didn’t need to be prettier or better than his existing girlfriend; I just needed to be different… 
Soon enough, and sure enough, I might begin to see that man’s gaze toward me change from indifference, to friendship, to open desire. That’s what I was after: the telekinesis-like sensation of steadily dragging somebody’s fullest attention toward me and only me. My guilt about the other woman was no match for the intoxicating knowledge that — somewhere on the other side of town — somebody couldn’t sleep that night because he was thinking about me. If he needed to sneak out of his house after midnight in order to call, better still. That was power, but it was also affirmation. I was someone’s irresistible treasure. I loved that sensation, and I needed it, not sometimes, not even often, but always… 
In my mid-20s, I married, but not even matrimony slowed me down. Predictably, I grew restless and lonely. Soon enough I seduced someone new; the marriage collapsed. But it was worse than just that. Before my divorce agreement was even signed, I was already breaking up with the guy I had broken up my marriage for… If you asked me what I was up to, I might have claimed that I was a helpless romantic — and how can you judge that? If really cornered, I might have argued that I was a revolutionary feminist, taking brazen agency over my own sexuality… 
For the first time, I forced myself to admit that I had a problem — indeed, that I was a problem. Tinkering with other people’s most vulnerable emotions didn’t make me a romantic; it just made me a swindler. Lying and cheating didn’t make me brazen; it just made me a needy coward. Stealing other women’s boyfriends didn’t make me a revolutionary feminist; it just made me a menace. I hated that it took me almost 20 years to realize this. There are 16-year-old kids who know better than to behave this way. It felt shameful. But once I got it, I really got it: There is no way to stop a destructive behavior, except to stop…"
She then tells a story about meeting a man to whom she was really attracted but whom she resisted. She stopped her pattern of destructive behavior. As far as one can tell when the article ends, all is well. It’s heart-breaking to read, but there’s an apparently happy ending. Then she traveled on her quest for self-discovery as chronicled in Eat Pray Love, which culminated in her marrying someone new. Then, one year after her perhaps too hasty article about her move into maturity, this appeared in the New York Times[2]:
"Ms. Gilbert, speaking directly to her readers in a Facebook post, said that after 12 years she was separating from José Nunes, the Brazilian importer whom she met during her travels and later married, and who was a central character in the book… In April, Ms. Gilbert said that she missed travel: “I’ve never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to come to this earth and miss.”
So there was no happy ending. In her journey of self-discovery she discovered things about herself, but to what end? To what purpose? The act of discovery is not enough. One needs to discover not just things but true and good things – and then allow those things to transform you.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Taking Off Grave Clothes (John 11)

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany. [Mary and Martha, his sisters] sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”  But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  So when he heard that he was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go into Judea again… Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” 
 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him...” 
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 
Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." 
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you…”   Then Mary, when she came where Jesus was and saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.[1]  
 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"  
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

The physical revival of Lazarus was yet another of the seven miracles that John included in his gospel[2] to fulfill his stated goal: so we would believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Jesus himself says this happened “so the Son of Man will be glorified…so that you may believe…you will see the glory of God…for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe you sent me.” In this miracle, we see Jesus establishing that he has has the power to raise the dead. This is important, because the Bible teaches us two key principles that follow from this fact.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Meeting of Misery And Mercy (John 7 - 8:12)

In the story of the Woman Caught In Adultery, we see Jesus embody God’s perspective on how to balance judgment and mercy.[1] We will first look at the context of the story, then at the person of Jesus, and finally why this story matters to us. Let’s start with some background information that begins to unfold in Chapter 7.
  • This happened on the day after the eight day celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacle/ Feast of Booths. The Jews lived in huts during this time to commemorate how the Israelites lived in tents during the Exodus.
  • Moses had commanded that during the days of this Feast the law be read, so this was an annual, purposeful focus on the Law of God.
  • The main purpose was to thank God for his provision during the past in the wilderness wanderings (Lev 23:39-43) and in the present as seen in the harvest just completed (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).
  • The people were reminded of their profound dependence upon God for provision. They would recite Psalm 118:25 every day: “O Lord, defend/rescue/deliver us, and prosper us.” 
  • They had a ceremony in which four different types of plants were brought to the altar. These four plants symbolized four different kinds of Jews. One plant had a good fragrance and a good taste, symbolizing knowledge of the Torah and good deeds. One only had fragrance (only good deeds); one only had taste (only knowledge of the Torah), and one had neither.
  • There was a series of water offerings each morning in the temple, commemorating the provision of water in the wilderness. When Jesus tells them to come to him to drink (7:37-38), he is linking himself to God’s provision in the Exodus.
  • Menorahs would be lit in the House of Water Drawing, which was in the Court of Women in the temple. People would dance and sing, “Blessed be he who hath not sinned; and he who sinned and repented, he is forgiven.”[2]
  • Jesus' proclamation that he is the light of the world (8:12) linked him to the feast's lamp-lighting ceremonies that commemorated the pillar of fire during the Exodus. The morning that Jesus is challenged is the morning that four festival lamps in the court in the Temple ("The light of the world") were put out.
  • Jesus had been teaching from, among other things, the book of Isaiah, and he quoted a prophecy about the Messiah and used it to refer to himself.
So Jesus has been claiming to be the Water and the Light and quoting a revered Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, all to show that he is the Messiah for whom they have been longing. The good news was that the God whom they worshipped during this feast was with them. Many of the people were starting to believe.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Peace Of God (Philippians 4:1-9)

“For this reason, brothers and sisters, my joy and crown whom I dearly love, I cannot wait to see you again. Continue to stand firm in the Lord, and follow my instructions in this letter, beloved. Euodia and Syntyche, I urge you to put aside your differences, agree, and work together in the Lord. Yes, Syzygus, loyal friend, I enlist you to please help these women. They, along with brother Clement and many others, have worked by my side to spread the good news of the gospel. They have their names recorded in the book of life.
 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice!  Keep your gentle, forbearing nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come.  And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.” (Philippians 4:1-9)

Euodia (Ee –oo’ –duh) and Syntyche (Syn’-tuh-kee) worked with Paul to spread the gospel; their names were written in the book of life (if this draws from the Roman culture, this was referring to a record of citizenship – in this case, in heaven). No one questioned that they followed Christ and labored together with Paul and others as sisters in Christ.
And they had issues. It doesn’t appear to be about doctrine or sin. It seems like…they just had trouble getting along. And it is serious enough that Paul asks a dude to intervene and help them resolve it.

Have you ever seen Christians argue? I mean people you really admire, people who you respect deeply because you are know they are committed to surrendering to and serving Christ – have you ever seen them just really butt heads over something and not be able to resolve their conflict? This has been a problem for 2,000 years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Best Resume (Philippians 3:1-21)

 It is time that I wrap up these thoughts to you, my brothers and sisters. Rejoice in the Lord! (I don’t mind writing these things over and over to you, as I know it keeps you safe.) Watch out for the dogs—wicked workers who run in packs looking for someone to maul with their false circumcision. We are the true circumcision—those who worship God in Spirit and make our boast in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King—so we do not rely on what we have accomplished in the flesh. 

If any try to throw around their pedigrees to you, remember my résumé—which is more impressive than theirs.  I was circumcised on the eighth day—as the law prescribes—born of the nation of Israel, descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; I have observed the law according to the strict piety of the Pharisees, separate from those embracing a less rigorous kind of Judaism. Zealous? Yes. I ruthlessly pursued and persecuted the church. And when it comes to the righteousness required by the law, my record is spotless. 

But whatever I used to count as my greatest accomplishments, I’ve written them off as a loss because of the Anointed One. And more so, I now realize that all I gained and thought was important was nothing but yesterday’s garbage compared to knowing the Anointed Jesus my Lord. For Him I have thrown everything aside—it’s nothing but a pile of waste—so that I may gain Him. When it counts, I want to be found belonging to Him, not clinging to my own righteousness based on law, but actively relying on the faithfulness of the Anointed One. This is true righteousness, supplied by God, acquired by faith.  I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, 11 so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead. 

Not that already I have obtained it or already have been perfected, but I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. Brothers and sisters, as I said, I know I have not arrived; but there’s one thing I am doing: I’m leaving my old life behind, putting everything on the line for this mission. I am sprinting toward the only goal that counts: to cross the line, to win the prize, and to hear God’s call to resurrection life found exclusively in Jesus the Anointed. 

All of us who are mature ought to think the same way about these matters. If you have a different attitude, then God will reveal this to you as well. For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. Imitate me, brothers and sisters, and look around to those already following the example we have set. 
I have warned you before (and now say again through my tears) that we have many enemies—people who reject the cross of the Anointed. They are ruled by their appetites, their glory comes by shame, and their minds are fixed on the things of this world. They are doomed. But we are citizens of heaven, exiles on earth waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come and transform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control. (The Voice)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Apparently, those who meant Paul harm and undermined his ministry in Chapter 1 were insisting that Paul just wasn’t qualified to talk about the gospel because he didn’t have a good resume. Unfortunately for them, they chose a bad marker for qualification – circumcision. As odd as that sounds to us, it was a sign that as children they had been dedicated to God by their parents. It was a covenant ritual. The legacy of being one of God’s chosen people had continued through them because their bodies showed their commitment to the Law.

Paul just was not a good guy to challenge about carrying on the Law. If there were woodsheds in Philippi, he takes them there. “Are you kidding me? I am the man. I am blameless in following the Law. I killed people for the sake of the Law.” He’s also a Roman citizen using his Roman name, Paulus, to write to his Roman audience. By any external marker, by any sign of outward conformity, by any punch list of things good religious people do, Paul wins.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Pastor’s Reflections On An Unexpected Heart Attack

PART ONE: THE UNEXPECTED EVENT


I’ve had chest pain before. Three years ago, I visited the ER and underwent extensive testing that showed a strong heart. They gave me Xanax and Prilosec to see if one of those who help, and the Xanax worked. Chalked it up to stress. Since then, whenever I have had discomfort in my chest, Xanax and just a change of position cleared it up pretty quickly.

This time, the pain started the same way but quickly became something else. It was center mass; hard, demanding, unrelenting. I didn't feel like a vice was squeezing my chest or that an elephant was standing on me. It didn’t radiate. I just hurt, sweated profusely and turned very pale. Xanax and Tums did nothing. No position was comfortable. It took probably 30 minutes for my wife and I to decide it was time to take me in just to be sure. (No need to tell me we should have called an ambulance. We heard that one or thirty times while at the hospital).

Going in was a more confusing decision than it may seem. I am 47, and I am low on all the risk factors. (When I told my doc I didn’t have a family history, he said, “Now you do.” Clever guy.) Why would I be having a heart attack?  Six days prior, my son and I had done Crossfit’s 16.5, which was for me a 17 minute grinder of thrusters and burpees. Two days prior, I had tacked an extra session of clean and jerks onto a heavy kettlebell WOD. Thursday, the day of the attack, I had done heavy deadlifts and squats at the YMCA. I had some minor chest pain, but it went away when I sat down. It should have happened at any of those times, right? But it happened when I was playing Carcaconne with my family.  The whole drive to the hospital I fluctuated between, “No way!” and, “I wish Sheila would just blow that red light because this really hurts and might be serious.”

I found out after the surgery I had 100% blockage in left anterior descending (LAD) artery that runs down the front of the heart and supplies the front and main wall (that's a before and after picture to the right). That kind of heart attack is commonly called a Widowmaker, a little nugget of info I’m glad Sheila and I didn’t know that at the time. The doc told us later, “A lot of people don’t survive this one.”

Why did it happen? Plaque dislodged and moved; that is the only thing that is clear. Sometimes it happens unexpectedly. Could I have done something to prevent it? Sure, in a general sense. I could have spent my whole life being healthier – but we could all do that, right? Nothing stood out. To quote my quotable doc again, sometimes it just happens. Occasionally the marathon runner keels over while the 85-year-old obese lifetime smoker does not. There are general principles that tend to ensure certain results - and then there are particular people who get different ones. I appear to be particular.

A lot of things worked in my favor. I was home and only ten minutes from the hospital, not flying to or boating in the Keys like my wife and I had been doing three weeks ago. My wife was present to observe what was happening and help me decide what to do. I got to the hospital relatively fast, probably within about forty-five minutes after the pain started. (Fun fact: the nurse asked Sheila if she wanted clergy present, and Sheila said, “He’s here already.”) From the time I got to ER until I had a stent was an hour and fifteen minutes. Because I got in so fast, blood flow started quickly enough that long-term damage to the heart muscle will likely be minimal.

So now it’s a handful of pills every day, a very slow reentry into the ebb and flow of life, a suddenly serious study of how to fill my body with things that promote heart and artery health, and a lot of prayers of gratitude that God has allowed me more time with my wife, my boys, and my friends. 

Which brings me to the theological part of this experience.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Shine As Lights (Philippians 2:12-16)

Therefore, my beloved, obey as you have always done, not only when I am with you, but even more so when I can’t be. Continue to work out your salvation with great fear and trembling, because God is energizing you, enabling you to desire and do what always pleases Him.Do all things without complaining or bickering with each other,[1] so you may become innocent (unmixed or pure) and blameless (above reproach); you are God’s children called to live without a single stain on your reputations among this perverted and crooked generation[2]. Then you will shine like stars across the land as you hold to (or hold forth) the word of life. 

I remember DC Talk singing, “I want to be in the light as you are in the light – I want to shine like the stars in the heavens.” Who doesn’t? Wouldn’t it be awesome to illuminate the spiritual darkness in the world with the light of our life as Jesus shines through?

You might be thinking, “There is no way I can do this. Do you even know my personality? My past? My situation right now?” Well, Paul says that if certain things characterized the lives of the Christians in Phiippi, they would “shine like lights” in their generation (or nation, in some commentaries). As we have seen throughout this book, Paul will not leave us wondering. He tells us how to shine for Christ.

We need to back up first and talk about “working out our salvation.”
Paul does not mean that the Christians at Philippi must work to earn their salvation. That is a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). Paul’s uses an image that is also found in the writings of a Greek named Strabo, a contemporary of Jesus. Strabo said the Romans ‘worked out’ the great silver mines of Spain, getting all they could from the depths of the mines.

Paul seems to be saying that Christians must ‘mine’ the riches of salvation’ – not casually or flippantly, but with a sense of what’s at stake. "Fear and trembling” doesn’t mean terrified – it’s the same phrase Paul uses to describe how the church in Corinth received Titus (2 Corinthians 7:25) and how Paul himself approached the Corinthian church when he preached Christ (1 Corinthians 2:3). It seems to have something to do with taking it seriously, with recognizing that magnitude of the task.[3]

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

True and Worthy Citizens of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-29)

So here is what I want you to do: conduct yourselves as true and worthy citizens of the Anointed’s gospel, so that whether I make it or don’t make it to see you, I will at least hear that you continue to stand, united in one spirit, single-minded in purpose as you struggle together for the faith in the gospel. Don’t be alarmed in any way by what your opponents are doing. Your steadfast faith in the face of opposition is a sign that they are doomed and that you have been graced with God’s salvation. And now, you have been given the privilege of not only believing in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, but being chosen to suffer for Him as well." (Philippians 1:27-29)
Being a true and worthy citizen of the gospel sounds daunting to me. Why? Because I know me. “Worthy” is not a word that comes to mind in describing myself in relation to the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are plenty of days in which unworthy seems like the best fit. Yet Paul calls on the Christians in Philippi to conduct themselves as worthy citizens of the gospel, so this must be something we can accomplish with God’s help. God won’t ask us to do what His Spirit won’t empower us to do.

I realized that one reason this sounded daunting was that I was thinking I had to be worthy enough to become a citizen, but that is clearly not what Paul is saying. My righteousness – my self-earned worthiness – has been and always will be garbage (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). I am a citizen of the gospel because Jesus is worthy and He has covered my unworthiness on the cross. Paul is talking about what it looks like for a citizen to live in a way that ascribes worth to the one who granted us this citizenship. So this is not a question of salvation. It’s a question of discipleship, of following Jesus in an honoring way.

When Paul said, “To live is Christ,” hd didn't just leave a vague phrase hanging in the air. He made it specific: serving Jesus through fruitful labor (1:22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (1:25). Fortunately, Paul does the same thing again when describing what it means to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

To Live Is Christ (Philippians 1:19 – 26)

I will continue to rejoice because I know that through your encouragement and prayers and through the help of the Spirit of Jesus the Anointed, I will soon be released from this dark place. I don’t expect that dishonor and shame will plague me in any way, but I do hope that I will continue to be able to speak freely and courageously about Jesus, and that now and forever the Anointed One will be glorified and placed above all else through this body of mine—whether I live or die. For my life is about the Anointed and Him alone. And my death, when that comes, will mean great gain for me. 
So, if it’s His will that I go on serving here, my work will be fruitful for the message. I honestly wouldn’t know how or what to choose; I would be hard-pressed to decide. I lean toward leaving this world to be with the Anointed One because I can only think that would be much better. To stay in this body of flesh—even with all its pains and weaknesses—would best serve your needs. Now that I think of it, I am sure of this: I would prefer to remain to share in the progress and joy of your growing belief. When I return to you, we will celebrate Jesus the Anointed even more. (Philippians 1: 19-26, The Voice)
 Paul is using a metaphor featuring the commander of a vessel in a foreign port who feels a strong desire to set sail and go home; this desire is balance by his belief that he needs to stay longer in the port in order to fulfill the mission. Paul was not ‘at home’; he wishes to return (to his heavenly home), but he has not received his final orders, so he waits faithfully and productively. The NIV says the same thing with the classic usage we often hear: 
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me." ( 21-26, NIV)
There are two words for "life" in the Greek: bios, from which we get our word ‘biology’ (or "the affairs of everyday life" - 2 Timothy 2:4) and zoe, which is the essence of life. It's the fuel on which our life runs. What gets us up in the morning? What motivates us? What brings us satisfaction and comfort? What inspires us and gives us hope? These ideas are all captured in this concept of life.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Four Reasons I Am Pro-Life

During a week that commemorates the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I would like to offer four clear reasons why I believe that the unborn child is a human being, and that stopping the pregnancy causes the death of that child. I am going to give four different arguments for this position. The first will be scriptural; the second will build on church history; the final two will represent arguments that build from biology and rationality. (If you are not inclined to give weight to the Christian perspective, just skip to the third point).

(NOTE: I will be primarily referring to elective abortion, not the “hard cases” such as rape and incest,[10] serious medical difficulties in the baby,[11] or times the mother’s life is in danger.[12] These are situations that need to be answered carefully, compassionately and truthfully, but they are broader than the purposes of this article. Go to the footnotes in this paragraph for more info.)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

LIfe Together To The Glory Of God (Philippians 1:1-11)

" In a series of battles there in 42 B.C.E., Mark Antony and Octavian ('Augustus') conquered the forces of the assassins of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus. In some ways this battle marked the turning point between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire (which meant the emperor would now be deified)…  Augustus turned Philippi into a Roman colony… Here he planted veterans of the civil wars and the supporters of Mark Antony… Special privileges were allowed to these Roman colonists, such as exemption from taxes and the right to own and market property." (Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible)
By the time the Apostle Paul got there, Philippi was highly Roman, highly militarized, wealthy, and because of where it was situated geographically, one of the hubs of the modern world intellectually, economically and spiritually. Some historians described it as a gate between Europe and Asia. In Acts 16, we read an account of how the church started in Philippi.[1] 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Four Questions For Modern Prophets

Well, it's that time of year when prophecy moves front and center in some Christian circles. Let's set aside for a moment whether or not you believe there are prophets today identical to prophets in the Bible or if prophecy is meant to be foretelling (predicting the future) or forthtelling (boldly speaking God's truth). I don't want to get sidetracked from a particular observation: if you believe the gift of prophecy is legitimately exercised today, you should be concerned that most of what is labeled 'prophecy' today does not reflect a biblical position.

In “Bad Year For Astrologers: 
Hardly Any Predictions Came True,” 

Wolfgang Polzer offered an amusing look at the woeful state of astrological predictions:



It was a bad year for astrologers. The Society for Scientific Research of Para-Sciences in Rossdorf near Darmstadt, Germany, examined 90 predictions about the year 2004; none of them came true.

One astrologer predicted in 2003 that US-President George W. Bush would be assassinated. Los Angeles was due to be destroyed by asteroids. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder should have handed in his resignation and would have been replaced by opposition leader Angela Merkel according to astrological forecasts. 
“Clairvoyants usually turn out to be failures,” says mathematician Michael Kunkel of the Society. He recalls that astrologer Patricia Bahrani predicted a terror attack on Berlin and Anton Tewes even a nuclear attack on New York. 

Some predictions are so general that they may be interpreted either way. Others are incomprehensible to normal human beings. Astrologer Rosalinde Haller, for instance, foresaw “serial vibrations in Southern Australia”. She did not even bother to explain what she meant, commented Kunkel.

If you are a Christian, this should be sobering. Why? Because prophecies that don't come true, are so general they may be interpreted either way, or are incomprehensible to normal human beings have become the norm in the Christian prophecy circuit as well.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

No Shortcuts (The Building Of Christian Character)

There is a tension in the Christians life between what God does for us and what God expects us to do. God is always at work doing something in us and for us that we can’t accomplish on our own power, but the Bible is also clear that God expects us to participate in the building of our lives.

“Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand; and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house; and it fell.  And great was its fall.”(Jesus, in Matthew 7:24-27) 

Jesus is the rock on which we build a foundation of life that will stand in the midst of storms. But we build. Whether on sand or stone, we will build something. After talking about people who were commended for their faith, Paul wrote,

“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...” (Paul, in Hebrews 12)

Jesus is the author of our faith and the finisher of our faith. There is no righteousness we can earn or attain on our own merit. God does all the heavy lifting when it comes to salvation. However, we were not saved for complacency. We throw off everything that hinders. We lay aside every weight. God may have built the stadium, equipped it with every good and perfect gift, and put us on His own team, but we've still got to put our phone to the side, strap on the shoes and run.