Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Making a Choice

It is difficult to determine where you are in life.  The veil of the fallen world distorts our thinking to a large degree.  One way we notice this is that we have inconsistent actions.  For example, we may believe that abortion is an evil as we are dedicated to respecting life, but we may also be fine with innocent, collateral damage in a “just” war.  These two ideas are incongruent.  If we have a guiding principle that life is valuable in every way, then this should alter the way we think about ALL life.

If you hold the Bible as your guide, you will read that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven (or God) quite often.  Jesus first message as he began his ministry was to “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17)  The theme of the Kingdom of Heaven runs all throughout the New Testament writings culminating in the visions of Revelation.
For us to truly understand where we are, we must get this point.  We must see that there are two and only two competing Kingdoms.  Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven.  He brought about its possibility here on earth, in this realm.  Up till that time, since the sin of Adam, our realm had been dominated by the Fallen World System (FWS).  The earmarks of the FWS are death, sin, and evil, only evil.  Even seemingly good actions in the realm of the FWS have evil at their core.

Many believe that there is vast worldwide conspiracy being perpetrated on humanity by the Illuminati or some other very wealthy and influential group.  I believe there is a conspiracy in our world, but it is being enacted by the FWS and that system has a master who is Satan.  Satan seeks only our death and destruction (John 10:10).  He is evil and everything about his system is evil.  He attempts the make the evil seem good (see the Garden of Eden).

Thus, when Jesus came to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven a great war began for the realm of earth.  The realm of earth had been dominated by the FWS for a long time; the battle began and is continuing today.  The battle is not for land so much as it is for the hearts and minds of created order.  Jesus came to free us all from the bonds of the sin and death (FWS).

I can hear people saying, “Don, is not God sovereign and can He now just defeat Satan with a Word?”  The answer: Yes.  The defeat of Satan has never been an issue.  The issue has always been the battle for your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Out of His love, God gave us the ability to rebel against Him.  Love can never be compelled it must be chosen.  Evil seeks rebellion, while Jesus seeks Shalom, a restoration to proper relationship.  The battle has never been about land, money, and power.  These are weak, deceptive, and small ideas.  The battle is for your heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Thus, we are confronted with this most concrete reality: There are two Kingdoms vying your loyalty.  The first is the Kingdom of God.  This Kingdom always seeks the good even when it is hard and inconvenient.  Sometimes it is not always easy to see the good, but there is always a good.  Then there is the Kingdom of the Fallen World.  This Kingdom will you use any means necessary to perpetrate evil.  It will even surround evil in apparent good.

There is much that could be argued for these points.  Many scoff at such a dualistic way of viewing the world.  Are there not shades of grey?  Are there not people who are not Godly, but do good things?  The answer is yes, of course.  They are participating in Kingdom of Heaven realities without even realizing it.  The Bible is full of these types of people.  Egypt was a Fallen World system that God used for the good of the Israelite people.  Balaam was an evil person that God used to advance the Kingdom.  The list could go on and on.

The greatest challenge we have is how we are to live in a dual Kingdom reality while discerning which is the good path; the Kingdom of God path.  We can be sure of this when we are doing good we are participating in the Kingdom of Heaven, and when we do evil we are participating in the Fallen World.  The “church” has been used at times to perpetrate great evil.  When it behaves this way it ceases to be the Church of the Living God, it ceases to be the Church of Jesus Christ.  It becomes something different.  It ceases to be a church by Biblical standards.  What you think and what you do both individually and corporately MATTERS!

The greatest temptation of the Church is to align itself with the values of the FWS.  The Church fails when it molds too readily the values of the culture as truth instead of the God’s eternal truth.

Many are on the sidelines and passively make no decisions.  They arrogantly sit aside as an observer thinking that they are above the fray.  A passive response to life is actually making a decision.  Doing nothing is a decision.  We cannot go through life without actually standing up for something.  If we do act passively we end up getting steamrolled by the FWS.  We will be easily swayed by its thought patterns.

The battle really is for your mind.  What you think does determine your actions.  We are reminded that we are to be transformed by the renewal our minds (Rom 12:1-2).  We must have clear thinking.  We must understand how the World attempts to pollute our thinking.  We must also choose to fill our minds with the good.  We must be soaked in the Word of God.  How can we know God’s nature and character unless we know His Word?  God is outside our self-reflection and self-actualization.  We must choose to live daily in the Kingdom of God dynamic.  We must always, always, always choose the good.  In doing so, we help advance the Kingdom of God.

I encourage you to really think about your daily actions.  What do they say about you?  Do you really think about the Godly good in all situations?  How do we discern what is the Godly good?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

You Are Here

How does a Christian respond to the things of the world?  There are a lot of terrible things happening right now.  There really have been a lot of terrible things happening throughout history.  Christians have at times responded well and responded poorly.

A challenge to a proper response to the world is that many Christians lack a certain understanding of how Christian ideology should apply to the world around them.  Christians lack a certain unifying philosophical perspective on life.

Most people do not understand their own personal philosophies or where they originate.  Thus, we are not really able to calculate our actions, reactions, and interactions with those around us.

Here is an example: Most Americans believe that people should have freedom, and this freedom can only be taken away by the justice system for infractions against freedom.  When problems arise in Africa, the Middle East, and in Asia, Americans believe that freedom, democracy, and capitalism are the answers to the issues.

This is a fundamental philosophy that we hold and we do not really even know why.  Thus, our answers to the problems around us are really not based on the actual problem, but more based on our philosophy of life.  Problems are often much more complex than simple glib answers, but the glib answers allow us to shirk any real thoughtful action on a certain situation.

Another example: We believe hard work will lead to success.  So you ask some wealthy people about helping poor people and you might get some callous responses like, “They just need to work harder.”  This is not really a callous response, rather it is an oversimplified response based out of someone’s life philosophy.  Our philosophy is largely based on our experience.  For that particular wealthy person hard work has paid off, but for many disadvantaged people hard work may not produce the same results.  Thus, divergent philosophies begin to develop based on life experience.  The relative “worth” of hard work is dependent on many factors.

One thing can be said for certain is that two people living in the same society can have dramatically views on the world based on their experience and socialization.  Whether we realize it or not, our philosophy on life affects every decision we make.

Nothing could be more important than developing the proper view of the world around.  We must consider another example based on Christian axiom: God helps those who help themselves.  Many people assert this philosophy sure that the testimony of Scripture backs this understanding.  It is false in many ways and is not Biblical.  It is based on the idea of the Christian work ethic that pervaded America throughout its history.  It rang true to many who felt that hard work lead to their success.  Thus, an axiom was created to help them define their success and still give a little nod to the work of God in our lives.

First, this axiom is not in the Bible.  Second, it is troubling because it does not mirror the authentic Christian experience.  For something to be true, it must be able to be applied across all cultural experiences.  You do not have to read Christian history long to understand that this statement is actually against some of the very fundamentals of Christianity.  Did God help Paul because Paul helped himself?  Did God help Stephen because Stephen helped himself?  Did God help Abraham because Abraham helped himself?  Are you worthy of forgiveness because you helped yourself?  Once you begin to flesh out this axiom it is easy to see how false it really is.  We must scrub this philosophy from our lives.

I use this only as an example of how insidious some philosophies on life can be.  We must be thoughtful and reflective on our views.  Humanity is greater than its conditioned response to a situation.  We have the capacity to learn, to grow.  It takes more than just muddling through.  It takes actual reflection on life.  It takes reflecting on your behavioral patterns, both bad and good.  It takes understanding yourself.

We cannot really understand ourselves until we understand where we fit into the cosmos.  Most Christians have answered this question.  We should view our lives and our actions in understanding that there is an active, just, and loving God.  Christians of all stripes would agree on a basic understanding of God.  While we cannot really understand all there is to know about God, we can understand His character through the reading of the Word.  However we miss God many times; we do not know what He wants because we have not studied His Word.  We have not let His Word and His character inform our actions; rather we seek to explain our actions by abusing His Word.

I am not attempting to argue the existence God to someone who does not believe in Him.  Rather, this is a call for Christians to understand where they fit into the world.  Also, it is an attempt to let people truly see the world, to help us really understand the problems we face.  We have too quickly adopted the mindset of the world.  This has prevented us from confronting evil the way we should.  This has caused us to be overly sensitive to certain things.

I remember being young and going Christmas shopping at Governor’s Square mall in Tallahassee, FL.  This was really the first time my parents let me navigate something on my own.  At intervals around the mall there were maps.  You could find your location using the “You are Here” star on the map.  I loved this.  It comforted me.  I might not have been where I wanted to be, but at least I knew where I was.  The first step in getting where you need to go is in understanding where you are.

We must stop for just a minute and consider why we think or react to certain things in certain ways.  We often do not understand how the fallen world philosophies have taken over our “faith.”  We must take an honest assessment of where we are in the world and what has influenced us.  Only then can we really begin to find where we need to be.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Living a Greater Story

Pop culture is full of sermons.  Dead Poet’s Society taught my generation to carpe deim.  This might be the only phrase I remember from 2 years of high school Latin.  We were taught by Rudy that if we try hard enough that we can accomplish anything, including playing for a second rate college football program like Notre Dame.  Hoosiers, Sea Biscuit, and almost any other sports movie ever made laud the achievements of the hard trying underdog.  In our society we eat this sort stuff up.  Frankly, I have just named 4 of my favorite movies, Notre Dame bias aside.

These movies teach us some really good things.  We need to see each moment as an opportunity to do something great.  We need to press beyond the artificial boundaries that we all seem to be limited by each day.  We need to hear sometimes that we should ignore the people who bring us down or tell us we cannot do something.  We need to hear that greatness comes from the heart.  These are all good points and worth considering.  I am still left with a question, “Why?”

Why should we attempt to excel at all areas of our lives?  In Dead Poet’s Society the teacher played by Robin Williams says that his students must seize the day because eventually they are all worm food.  Um, I hate to be critical, but he basically told his students that the achievements of the past are mostly doomed to anonymity, and somehow this inspired them to read poetry.  I tried to like poetry one time, but I guess I am just not that sophisticated.

When I reflect on my existential crisis, I come to a decidedly different conclusion.  Most of the people reading this probably have a similar world view to me, in that we believe that we live for a greater hope.  We live for a greater purpose.

I have been reflecting on what I want my life to be about.  The vain part of me wants to be remembered for being the best at everything!  I want to all of you to look at me and think if only I could be that guy.  However, the logical implication of this is that my life would be lived only to serve my own ego.  It would mean that my story ends with me.  That is it, and Robin Williams would ultimately be right, I would end up being worm food.  This kind of life would lead to resignation not inspiration.  It reminds only me of the vanity and meaningless of life.

The Lord tells a different story.  He says that my life has tremendous meaning.  He tells me that what I do does not end with me; rather it has eternal consequences that reach far beyond what I could possibly imagine.  There is one caveat though.  I must realize that my life is ultimately not about me.  I must live to find my place in a larger story.  I am not the main character in the great narrative of life.  Jesus is.  When he becomes the main character, everything I do takes on eternal significance.  Every small, insignificant action takes on eternal meaning.

Hebrews 11 tells us of the wall of faith.  The one thing that all these people have in common is that the story did not end with them.  The story is yet to be fully told.  We need to live always pointing to the great unfinished business of redemption.  One day the Lord will come back and finish the story.  But until then we must tell our “by faith” story.  We must live in obedience to our role in the story.  Our lives might ultimately be forgotten.  Our legend might fade.  But we can sow the seeds of eternal significance.

Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us that we are running a race.  We do not look for victory, but we look to Jesus the “author and perfecter of our faith.”  We are not destined to be worm food, we are destined for glory.  Let us live up to that glory.  Let us live in the greatest story ever told and live in anticipation of the final conclusion of that story.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Tribute To My Mom on Mother's Day

The mother’s voice is the first voice that a child ever knows.

- It is the first voice that comes to comfort when pavement proves to be harder than your knee. 
- It is the voice that reminds you that you are worth something whether or not that girl you like realizes it or not. 
- It is the voice of wisdom that guides when your life is at a crossroads. 
- It is often the voice of your conscience reminding you what is right and wrong, and always calling you back to the right. 
- It is the voice of instruction reminding you of the tenets of faith and life.
- It is the voice of soothing words of peace that calm the raging storm that brews inside our hearts.
- It is the voice that bids you to get up and keep going, even though life has beaten you down and crushed you into the ground.
- It is the voice that rejoices with you when you find that special one to live your life with.
- It is the voice that your whispers comfort to her grandchildren in the earliest stages of life.
- It is the voice that tells you that you can do it, even when the rest of the world doubts.
- It is the voice that is full of pride when you become what God always intended you to be.

Most importantly it is the voice of prayer that pleads with God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth for your very life.

Voices fade, diminish, and even disappear, but no matter how far or how distant that voice becomes – It is always the voice telling you that she is proud of you, that you are worthy, that no matter what comes she knows you can do it!

Mom, thank you for your voice!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Attack on Christianity in America

Fear tactics are effective motivators for people. If you watch television commercials closely you will see that sex or fear (or sometimes both) are being used to compel you to buy something. Politicians use fear to try to frame the opposing candidate as the one who will bring down America. Even the title of this blog post uses a well-known fear to get you to read. Nothing riles up Christians quite like our religious liberties being attacked. We often say, “Our rights are going way!” or “We are being persecuted for our faith!” News channels and politicians capitalize on the fear that these things create in Christians. These are two ideas that I find frankly laughable.

It is true that our society, government and power structures are becoming more hostile to true Christianity. It is hard to read the news today and not observe that. Obama is trying to require Christian Institutions to provide something that is inherently against their stated ethics. A small group in California was being fined for having regular meetings in their home. For Christians these are just but of few more signs of a society growing in hostility towards faith, and in particular Judeo-Christian faith.

I want to offer a slightly different take on these things and provide a little historical perspective. Most people know that Christianity started as a small sometimes persecuted faith. The Jews, the Romans, and most local societies persecuted Christians. They were persecuted because they would not participate in the rituals of that society. They were persecuted because they made radical claims about Jesus. They offended the current philosophies and world view of the day. They caused businesses to dry up because they converted people away from idol worship. Societies will tolerate almost anything until you attack their money or their peace.

In the early 300s Constantine legalized Christianity and made it the state religion. For many this was and is a great day for Christianity. Finally, Christians would not be persecuted and the faith would spread unabated. However, this moment marked actually one of the biggest attacks on Christianity ever conceived. Christ became mingled with the State and Christians became the puppets of whatever government institution wanted to use them. As time passed, Christians sought to grab temporal power instead of recognizing the tremendous spiritual power available through Christ and the Holy Spirit. They sacrificed real power and truth for a pitiful and weak substitute.

For roughly the last 1600 years Christianity and the State have been mixed together in stranglehold that has largely removed the life and power from real faith. I am largely speaking of Christianity from a Western bias; this is not the story of Christianity in the world-wide theatre.

As I observe the growing hostility towards Christianity in our society, I cannot help but be a little relieved. I think this marks a sign that Christians are finally beginning to be the true salt and light they are supposed to be. The truth of the message of Christ is beginning to be more dominant again. Christians are refusing to be the puppets of the government or a certain political party. What does the puppet master do with a puppet that is no longer of any use? He disposes of it. Christians must continue to stand strong against the manipulative attacks of our society, corporations, government and political parties. We must not be their pawns; rather we must seek to walk in perfect harmonious step with Christ. We must do only what we see the Father doing!

Now some of us get fearful at the infringement of religious freedom in America as it relates to Christianity. I believe this reveals in us a certain weakness of faith. We erroneously believe that the world institutions can destroy the true Church. We often see Jesus as the Savior, Friend, Lord, and Brother, but do we really see Jesus as the KING!! Do we really believe that? He is the King!! No scheme of satan or of man will have any success against the King, the TRUE KING. We need to adjust our view of Jesus and the power of His Kingdom as it manifests on this Earth. Worldly institutions are hostile to true Christianity because they recognize the true spiritual power of Christ and not the weak temporal power of government! So as our faith is being attacked, be at peace and rest in this fact: This is good news and evidence that God’s Kingdom is at work in this world and we are right in the middle of it.

So let us not be fearful, because we serve the only true King and His Kingdom is powerful. It conquers the world systems, time, nations, hearts, minds, and souls. Our King is a conqueror in His way, not ours. He does not use military might to usher in His Kingdom, He uses love. He is not a destroyer of life; He is a destroyer of sin. His Kingdom will not pass away! Let us face this world and this time in remembrance of the real King.

Lord grant us the faith and endurance to handle this. May we always represent your grace and forgiveness as we encounter hostility and derision. Make your presence obvious in all those who follow after you. May your Kingdom come and may your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Good Moment

When I was in high school it became un-cool to decorate the tree with my family. It was an event to be endured, not so much enjoyed. Added to the pain was the type of the ornaments that went on the tree. My mom insisted on putting our school pictures from each year into small frames and displaying them on the tree. From all objective standards our tree was packed and gaudy. As I grew older, I began to be embarrassed of the multitude of reminders of my dorky past. One year, I was into sweat bands and prominently displayed a wrist band for a school picture. What was I thinking? Decorating the Christmas tree with my family became simply an obstacle to doing what I really wanted to do, which was, uh, nothing really.

Last night I watched my children decorate the tree with a great amount of joy. Sometimes these moments do not live up to the hype. Children have a way of arguing about things, but not last night. Last night was harmonious and joyful as we decorated the tree. They were polite to one another, they helped one another, it was truly a post card moment. It was one of the good moments of life. It was a beautiful time.

I was enjoying moment, but also reflecting back to my own memories. It made me regret some things in my life. I began to wonder at what age my children would think it is un-cool to decorate the tree with mom and dad. I began to feel sorrow for not leaning in to my parents more when I was an adolescent and teen. These moments, the truly great ones are fleeting and sometimes we forget to really enjoy them.

I guess I just want to say to my mom, “I am sorry that I did not enjoy those family moments more. I hope that I did not ruin them for you.” I also want to say, “Thank you. If it was not for your love and hard work, I would not have been able to enjoy that moment with my children last night. I wish you could have been there. I think you would have been proud of me. I laughed with my children, I took pictures, and I danced with my wife. It was perfect.”

The lesson I take away from this is to try to remember to lean in. Lean in to the ones who love you. Lean in to ones you love. These moments, these truly beautiful moments are short, enjoy them for all they are worth.

Monday, October 31, 2011

One Christian's Response to Some Pressing Political Issues - Abortion

Let me state first and foremost that I have not decided who I will vote for and I am not trying to endorse a certain candidate. I frankly would probably never “endorse” any candidate. Elections have become troubled waters for Christians of late. In the past most Christians were single issue voters and this issue was surrounding abortion. Abortion is rightly a high priority for Christians voting in this country. It is nothing short of the murder of human life. I believe one of God’s highest values is life (John 10:10). A candidate’s stand on this issue is important. I do not know that America will ever do away with abortion. Our best hope is to deal with the underlying causes that lead to abortion. Instead of asking a candidate if he or she is for or against abortion, let’s ask candidates how they will decrease the number of abortions. This is the goal after all. Making abortion illegal will not do away with the problem because the problem is much deeper than Roe v. Wade.

These causes are routed deeply in sin. Not just the sin of the individual, but the sinful state of the world around us. But how can we as Christians combat this sin, and still be loving? This is indeed a tough question. Instead of yelling at people for aborting their babies, why don’t we adopt those babies who were not aborted? I have not adopted as of yet in my life, but I have many friends who have. I praise God for these people who are battling abortion and poverty 1, 2, and even 3 kids at a time. You know who you are and I thank you for picking of the slack. Please do not let us forget to do our job.

There are other ways to battle this problem. Hospitals were originally founded largely by religious organizations. The Catholics, Methodist, Presbyterians, and Baptist all have names that are associated with hospitals. It is with great sadness that I remind us that many hospitals that bear these names are complicit with the abortion problem. These institutions are driven much more by money than they are by helping people. Some people claim to have abortions because they cannot afford the cost to have a baby. Having paid out of pocket for our last child, I understand this concern. It is ridiculously expensive to have a baby, especially if you do not have insurance. Are we as Christians going to let children die because there is not money available to help bring these children into the world? Are we? Are we going to go joyfully on buying our iPads, TVs, cars, and houses while children die? All the while blaming the government for allowing this to happen, it is time to take responsibility for this. We as Christians must repent before God and man, ask forgiveness and BE part of the solution. We need to work with these hospitals to provide for people to be able to have children.

As we listen to the candidates speak on this issue. Listen to the nuanced response. A candidate may say something like, “I am pro-choice, but have an active plan that I hope will reduce the number of abortions significantly.” Someone else my just say, “I am pro-life.” Instead of giving our vote to someone just because they are pro-life, let’s require them to show us a plan that will help alleviate abortions. Let’s raise the level of discussion about this issue to something greater than just a sound bite. We are smarter than that, aren’t we?

The next phase of this is that we as the Church must be prepared to care for the children born. We must not let them exist in poverty, for this reveals no value for life either. I will post later on some of the other issues facing Christians, such as the faith of the candidate, poverty, social programs, war, defense, and other issues.

I believe God hates abortion and I do as well. We need to be in prayer about this. We need to repent, and we need to be a part of the solution instead of being angry and vindictive. Please pray, but be ready to act as well. We must act in love, not violence or hatred.