Thursday, December 31, 2015

Religious tolerance and Persian platitudes

Modern America says, "Sure, Christians can worship Jesus. Only do it in your church buildings. Keep Jesus out of the marketplace. Please, just treat Jesus like your pet dog. He can be cute and comforting; just leave him at home. You might think He's the greatest thing in the universe; to us, he just craps on our lawn and makes us feel uncomfortable."

In the Old Testament book of Ezra, we read of the end of Israel's exileIt came about when Cyrus, the Persian King, allowed the Jews to return. His declaration is recorded this way: 


Ezra 1:2-4New International Version (NIV)

“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
“‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
The great and powerful king appears to be so respectful and tolerant of the religion of the Jews. It makes me think of a recent elementary holiday sing-a-long where the public school teacher worked so hard to honor the faith traditions of Jews, Christians, and Santa-loving pagans. Then again, religion is always "ok," as long as the religious people realize their provincial deities are subject to the controlling powers. 
But what if Jesus is the roaring Lion of Heavenly Zion? What if He is an untamed beast who only seems to be absent and quiet? What if He's lurking in the high grass of the African bush, waiting patiently for the proper time of revelation? 


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

10 New Year's Resolutions to be Avoided

With the dawn of a New Year, some of you are about to make big resolutions. Consider these options as those less than helpful...(some of these I've learned the hard way.)

1) Rewatching the various seasons of Lost, Alias, and Heroes attempting to understand plot lines.

2) Getting your name in the Guinness Book of World Records. (Seriously, we all think these people are  nuts.)

3) Investing in your 'new' friend's pyramid scheme.

4) Using devices and drugs (instead of healthy eating and exercise) to lose weight.

5) Watching more YouTube videos. (Pet videos especially.)

6) Opening a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat account. (This is from one 'slightly recovering' narcissist to you others.)

7) Seeing how little sleep you need to survive.

8) Spending as little time as possible with godly, virtuous people. (see Proverbs 13:20)

9) Using free moments to check your email. (Instead try 1 Thessalonians 5:17.)

10) Only reading books, ideas, and authors with which you already agree.

Monday, December 21, 2015

7 Things to Avoid at Christmas

(this is my list; maybe it can be yours too)

1. Turning on the TV.
2. Ignoring the story of Jesus' birth.
3. Sarcasm toward family members.
4. Overindulging in sleep, food or drink.
5. Evaluating the gifts I receive.
6. Missing the opportunity to thank God in prayer and others in word.
7. Not serving/helping with the day.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My Favorite Books Read in 2015

(Not published in 2015, nor in any particular order of preference)

1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland H. Bainton (A fantastic book on a very fantastic character in the history of the church.)

2. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown (A heavy tome that attempts to help us understand possibly the wisest person to ever write a Christian book outside Holy Scripture.)

3. A Grief Observed and Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis (I read A Grief Observed in the wake of my Dad's passing and it was a treasured source of authentic dealings with the real God; Letters to Malcolm reminding me that prayer is the lifeblood of the human soul.)

4. Reread The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander with my children this time (If you have boys [or really any love of epic literature], this is an absolute must read collection of stories. Adventure, courage, virtue, and morality depicted with beauty and precision.)

5. George MacDonald: A Biography of Scotland's Beloved Storyteller by Michael Phillips (MacDonald is a brilliant writer and a controversial theologian; knowing his story helps to know his stories.)

6. Paul Faber, Surgeon by George MacDonald (the amazing sequel to the amazing prequel,
Thomas Wingfold, Curate, that shows a God who slowly but surely breaks us of pride to save us from sin.)

7. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton (one of the greatest writers of English contemplating on the lives of two significant figures in church history.)

8. The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God's Kingdom on Earth by Dallas Willard and Gary Black, Jr. (when I hear Dallas speak, I think I'm hearing Jesus; this book helps me walk with Jesus everyday.)

9. Reread The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (a reminder that the substance of our heart is the substance of our lives.)

10. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (an excellent treatment of one of the most difficult realities we all face.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

How to properly respond to Paul's teaching on election in Romans 9...

From the 18-19th century Charles Simeon:

You, brethren, have other things to do than to be wasting your time about unprofitable disputes [Calvinism vs. Arminianism]". 

You are all at this very moment vessels of wrath, or vessels of mercy: you are now, even whilst I am speaking to you, under the hands of the Potter. You are actually upon the lathes, preparing and fashioning, either for vessels of honour, or vessels of dishonour. The question that most concerns you is, for which you are preparing? and how you may know for which you are destined? In order to ascertain this, you need not look into the book of God’s decrees, but simply examine the state of your own hearts. 

For what are you preparing? Are you diligently seeking after God from day to day? Are you living by faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ, washing daily in the fountain of his blood, and renewed daily by the operations of his Spirit? Are you progressively advancing in the enjoyment of his presence, the performance of his will, and the attainment of his image? Are you, in a word, beginning to live the life of heaven upon earth? This will mark you vessels of honour: and the want of this is sufficient to stamp you vessels unto dishonour. It is not necessary that you should be committing any flagrant sins in order to constitute you vessels of wrath: it is quite sufficient that you are not growing up into Christ as your living Head, and devoted altogether to his service and glory. Let these inquiries then occupy your mind, and trouble not yourselves about the “secret things which belong only to your God.” Whether you are pleased with the Potter or not, he is going on with his work; and in a short time he will cut you from the lathe, and fix your everlasting destinies. But, blessed be his name! He is able to change both your form and use: and, if you call upon him, he will do it; and he can do it as easily as a potter can mar the clay which has been formed only for a degraded use, and fashion it into a vessel of the most dignified description. Whilst you are upon the lathe, nothing is impossible: and who can tell but that you have been suffered, even to this hour, to fit yourselves for vessels of wrath, in order that God may be the more glorified in the change that shall be wrought in you? Yes, perhaps the hour is now come for Saul’s conversion: perhaps this is the hour when he has decreed to humble you in the dust before him, and to make you a vessel of honour that shall display, almost beyond all others, the riches of his glory? O lift up your hearts to him, and pray, that at this time his grace may be magnified in you, and that you may be monuments of his love and mercy to all eternity.

But perhaps with others the hour is come, when the measure of your iniquities shall be filled, and when, like Pharaoh, you shall be made signal monuments of God’s wrath and indignation. What a fearful thought! The Lord grant that it may not be realized in any of you. But beware! His mercy and forbearance will have an end; and that end may be much nearer than you expect. Let not one hour more pass unimproved: but “seek ye the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him whilst he is near.”

As for you who have reason to hope that you are already vessels of mercy, O! bless and praise your God. Remember, ye were taken from the same mass of clay, as others, who bear a very different shape. Remember, too, to whom you owe the distinction that has been conferred upon you. Had you been left to yourselves, you would have been in as degraded a state as any. It is God, and God alone, who has made you to differ, either from others, or from your former selves. Give him then the glory of his rich and sovereign grace, and seek daily to become more and more “vessels of honour, meet for your Master’s use [Note: 2 Timothy 2:20-21.].”]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

9 Steps to Holistic Living (satire)

1. When you're born, don't get vaccines. Er, well, maybe we should, but not all of them, just the really important ones, but maybe not those either. So you know, just do the right thing and you'll start life going the right direction. Wait, oops...if you're reading this, it may be too late, so uh, maybe get a time machine and go back and tell your parents what they should have done.

2. Next, make sure your parents swaddle you (A.KA. baby burrito) at bedtime, laying face up. Or, if you think the doctors were right in the early 80s, ask to be set down on your stomach. Well, to be honest a few studies are questioning the whole swaddle thing so consider letting all your limbs hang out, but beware of other hanging things in doorways because Consumer Reports have concerns there.

3. Get breastfed. Have your parents read you lots of books. Make sure they do "tummy time," regular bathing (but not too much for fear of dry skin), and start brushing the second teeth might be coming. Be sure to throw out all those Baby Einstein videos because I guess that was a load of cra-. Of course, you might be allergic to breast milk or your mom might have not been able to help in that regard. You might as well cross out all Ivy League schools as future possibilities, but besides that you should be ok.

4. Be home schooled, or private schooled, or find a quality public school (probably in that order). Better yet, hire your own personal tutor from some Western European nation so you can learn multiple languages and pick up some much needed culture. Speaking of culture, beware of television, NASCAR, and all things Boy Band during your growing up years. If you get stuck in one of those normal public schools, just pray you get that one teacher who hasn't been brainwashed by the liberal establishment, the one who is there to subvert the evil plans laid out by Jimmy Carter in the late 70s. Speaking of Carter, pray for him; I think he's still a Democrat.

5. Whatever you do, don't play football. So many head injuries and such a beastly, 1st century gladiatorial spectacle that dehumanizes all things sacred. Play something more humane like soccer (a.k.a. 'football' to every other country on the planet...I might add if you could live in any of these other countries you are probably better off since every U.S. politician seems to try and make sure the USA becomes less like the USA and more like them--which admittedly is kind of weird since most countries look to the U.S. to be like us, hmm, my head hurts which makes me think of football, sports, oh year...Back to soccer). Clearly, a game watched by billions, involving hardly any safety equipment, sometimes culminating in physical violence among players, referees, and fans, is a much more respectable and safe sport than football.

6. Beware of popular culture. No TV, no movies, drop Netflix, internet filters must be everywhere, no Harry Potter, and a thorough aversion to Disney will keep you on the straight and narrow. For a minimum, please avoid reality television (especially Donald Trump's The Apprentice)--it severely distorts your ability to understand reality. But while we are on the subject, pray for Donald Trump; I think he's still a Republican. Now, that I'm thinking about it, pray for the Republicans because Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.

7. Beginning around age 4, you should start preparing to apply for college. Buy all hard copy books at Barnes and Noble and online software related to improving your ACT score. Volunteer out of the goodness of your heart to all sorts of places, but make sure they are organizations scholarship committees look upon with favor. Be amazing at art, a 4-sport letter winner, sing like a lark, and speak 4 languages, and then when you get to high school, try and do better.

8. Avoid Monster energy drinks, but any energy drink from a pyramid scheme (cough), I mean a friend's small business, is ok. Avoid buying in bulk from evil places like Sam's Club, but Amway has the blessing of God so you should be fine there. You could exercise regularly to stay healthy, but it might be easier just to drink down the powders and pills, wrap the stomach, and wear the electrical shocking equipment to keep you looking fit.

9. Be religious, but avoid Christianity. It's popular to be a religious atheist or agnostic so feel free to go with the flow. Islam is a peaceful religion and a good option. Those Hindu and Buddhist countries known for military dictatorships, human trafficking and exploitation really have religion figured out so consider that too. All else fails, having multiple gods and goddess might pan out in a pinch. Christians, however, are all narrow-minded bigots who preach forgiveness, grace, truth, and beauty. It sounds too good to be true--keep a particularly close eye on any Baptist who reads their Bible and tries to talk to you about their beliefs.



Monday, October 19, 2015

Good Grief

Grief is good. It is the fitting response to a world of sorrow.

Still, however, I wonder how a person without a belief in God can deal with sorrow. Grief says, "This is wrong. This sucks." Grief says, "This is not how it's supposed to be."

But an atheist, believing in random evolutionary theory, cannot say, "This is not how it's supposed to be." What is, is, in a world of evolutionary absolutism. Evolution demands us to ignore emotional responses and instead accept the status quo. Evolution creates a way of relating to the world not all that different to Hinduism. In Hinduism what is, is your fault, your karma. This is why the caste system says, "You should stay in your class." The "untouchables" are there because of what they have done. Hindus are supposed to let karma have its day.

Christianity is a belief system that allows for and pleads for grief. For at the heart of the universe is a God who created a world to be good. Humans brought death and decay into this world. But God cared for the world, grieved over it, and then sent His Holy Son to be a beachhead of revolution. Jesus' death is D-Day in history, leading one day to V-Day when He will return to wipe away the tears of faces and the stains of sin.

Now, we wait. We groan for a better day. We grieve. But we grieve as those with hope. It's good grief.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Time Traveller's Wife (and how it might help your marriage)

This was written up by a gifted pastor and personal friend, Dan Leman (it would be worth your time to download a sermon or two from this servant of God http://faithefree.net/#/sermons):

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger taught me the secret to loving someone who consistently falls short of the person you want them to be. 
It is a complicated book that presents a love story from two perspectives: Clare is a normal girl and her story progresses along a normal timeline, but her love interest, Henry, has a genetic disorder that causes him to jump around in time.  Because of this disorder, Clare first meets Henry when he is a middle aged man and she is a little girl, and as she grows up she keeps meeting different versions of him as he time travels back to her from different years in the future.  
Eventually Clare meets Henry in real-time when they are both roughly the same age. This is the first time Henry has meet Clare, but by this time Clare knows older Henry, the Henry he will become, very well, and she is thoroughly in love with him.
This is where it gets really interesting - because the young Henry that Clare meets is totally unlovable.  He is selfish, immature, and very, very rough around the edges.  All of Clare’s friends wonder how she could love him.  To any normal person, Henry is too damaged and too dangerous to love.  What could she possibly see in him? 
What does she see?  The secret to Clare’s love is that she sees what no one else can see.  She sees beyond the person Henry is now to the person that he is going to become, and she loves that version of him.  She knows that this immaturity and violence and self-destructive behavior are just a phase. He will not always be like this. He will get through it, grow out of it, and become the man who is worthy of her love.  And so she loves the Henry that is now because she has a clear vision of the Henry who will be. And she knows that part of the means by which he becomes that Henry is through her unconditional, faithful love.
I think this is also the secret of God’s unfailing love toward us as we consistently fall short of who he wants us to be. Romans 8:29-30 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Like Henry and Clare, God is not constrained by the normal rules of time. When he looks at us, he sees the whole picture. Before we existed he knew us and loved us. And he made a plan for us to be transformed from what we are now to be just like Jesus.  In fact, our glorification is so certain, he uses the past tense – “those whom he justified he also glorified.”  He can see the future us.
And He loves the future us.  The future me is awesome – faithful, kind, generous, honest, loving, joyful, patient – perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  And God loves that version of me!  Of course he does! And because he sees so clearly the glorious version of me that I am becoming, he doesn’t waver in his commitment to me when I fail in the here and now to be just like Jesus.  In fact, it makes him double down on his love for me, because he knows that his unconditional love for me is the means by which I will become the glorious, future, conformed-to-the-image-of-Jesus version of me.
This is the secret I have found to loving fellow Christians who consistently disappoint us.  If we only look at the present we may give up and walk away. We may harden our hearts towards them because of the constant disappointment.  We may withhold love until they prove worthy of it because we just don’t see anything there for us to love.  But when that is the case, we need to time-travel.  We need to step outside of our limited chronological view and see them the way God sees them.  We need to see the future version of them.  If they are believers in Jesus, then we know that they are guaranteed to become a perfect, glorious, supremely lovable version of themselves!
When we can’t love the person who is, we must look into the future and love the person who will be.  And then we pull that love back into the present and apply it to the person in front of us, knowing that as we love the present version of them in spite of their failings, God uses our unconditional love as the means by which he makes them who they are destined to be.
It is the same logic of Ephesians 5:25-27. Jesus doesn’t marry a beautiful bride. He marries a bride and makes her beautiful.  As we love those who don’t deserve it, that very love changes them into people who deserve it more.
Seeing people this way has revolutionized the way I interact with everyone. It has obvious implications for parenting and marriage, but also for very challenging situations like people trapped in poverty or fighting mental illness. If you can’t find it in yourself to love the person in front of you, do a little time travelling and love the person God has promised they will become. Love the bride and watch her become beautiful.

Monday, October 05, 2015

My Tribute to Dad (funeral eulogy)

Thank you for coming. Thanks for your love, support, and shared memories. My guess is that many of you are here because of what I believe was my dad’s greatest quality. It was this: In the over 1000 rounds of golf I played with my father, I never saw him treat another human person without a measure of respect. Whether we were golfing with a person of means or a vulgar drunk, my dad would offer them a handshake and dignity.
Each of my siblings has been raised to work hard and do it with integrity. It was my Dad’s dad who said that if you lose your integrity you lose everything.
                My dad was born the 4th of 4 children, 10 years younger than his next oldest sibling. My Grandma Lucille would make him cake and cookies for breakfast. (This is the same grandma who would later let me eat a whole pound of bacon by myself.)
Dad grew up in a home of a Veterinarian father who gave his life to his work. In high school, dad stayed out late and did his own thing, often spending late night hours working on cars. He was gifted at sports and in music, succeeding in high school football and basketball and singing in high school and into adulthood. After a less than stellar year at the University of Iowa, Dad regained footing when he took a year off to work, met my mom through his sister Donis, and soon was back in school at Upper Iowa University.
                After marriage and college graduation, he began to work with his father-in-law’s farming operation and other businesses in Sumner, Iowa. For over 10 plus years, my dad honed his skills as a farmer. He gave his life to his work, but life as he knew it came to a crashing halt in the farming crisis of the early 80s. He told me a few years ago, it was one of the hardest experiences in his life. He felt like a failure as a man, and didn’t know how he was going to take care of his family.
                To restart life, Dad began selling property and casualty insurance with Farm Bureau. Soon, the entire family moved down to central Iowa, eventually landing in Indianola in 1990.
Over the past 25 years this has been his home. He’s raised a family. He’s worked. He’s golfed. Along the way, he found ways to serve family, friends, neighbors, and clients. My dad was who he was. He never offered a limp fish handshake, nor changed his personality and opinions to fit in with the crowd.
                He was Jon Proctor. My dad. Your friend.
                But he wasn’t perfect. He made poor lifestyle choices, possibly the very choices that ended his life so early. Dealing with complex emotions and relationships was never his thing. I heard from one of his Farm Bureau employees from the early 90s at the visitation that Dad wasn’t the easiest guy to work for…my Dad could be demanding at times. And since he was a fix-it guy, I think he often found emotions and relationships to be a bit too messy.
I remember a few different times growing up when my dad would come and get me late at night and tell me I was driving to retrieve a sibling from some nefarious adventure. His line was always, “Matt, you’re driving; I’m too angry to drive.”
                My dad was aware of his sins and shortcomings…he knew of his need for forgiveness. In fact, it was during the middle of the farming crisis that he put his faith in Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior.  
Here are his own words from a letter he wrote me in 2012: “Before coming to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, life was a ‘roller-caster’ of emotional and spiritual ‘ups  and downs,’ and it was difficult for me to understand what God’s mission for me was to be. Only after He challenged me with trials which I never thought I could ever have to encounter, did I come to discover that I truly had to place my faith in Him, because there was no way I could ever deal with what this life has in store without having Him guide me and to be the sole source of trust.”
                My dad was aware of this truth found in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
                This is one of the greatest truths in the Bible. It means that God offered His Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross for sinful people. Jesus takes the penalty for our sins. He becomes sin for us. Though Jesus never sinned, was holy, and good, Jesus dies for sinners to make them righteous…justified. Those who believe in Jesus can be right before God. But it’s not our good deeds that make us right with God, it’s Jesus’ deeds. The only thing a Christian brings to the table with regard to their salvation is their sin. We bring nothing…we’re just beggars asking for the bread of forgiveness, and God grants it.
                Today, we honor my dad. He had a fun personality, worked hard, and served many people. But let us not deceive ourselves. My dad did bad things. He sinned. He needed forgiveness. He needed grace. Just read the lyrics of the songs we’re hearing today. They are songs about a God who saves sinners. They are not songs about how impressive we are. Dad sang those songs because he knew truths like the one found in 2 Timothy 2:11-13
NIV  2 Timothy 2:11 Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
                Those who die in Christ live forever with Christ. Even though we are faithless at times, God remains faithful. We must put our hope in God, for alone we are hopeless. The best way you could honor my dad today is to place your trust in the Savior and Lord He professed.
                Today, my dad is gone. This is a tragic thing. There’s a special place in the human soul that longs to be close to their Dad. We want their blessing. We want their affection. We want to make them proud. I already miss my dad’s strong hands, gentle hugs, and insightful advice.
                But a number of years ago, I was properly taught that only the heavenly Father can satisfy the longing of the human heart for a strong and loving father. Even at my dad’s best, he couldn’t satisfy the ache in my soul. My dad was flawed, weak, and broken. Only God is loving enough, powerful enough, and good enough to meet this need. God is the protector of widows and a father to the fatherless.
                I turn to my heavenly Father for these longings, but I also hang on to my memories to not forget my earthly father.
I’ll never forget the special weeks a number of years ago when Dad helped me finish the basement in my current home so that his 3 grandsons could move in to a nicely remodeled bedroom (he did a similar project for my sister Heather). Dad took my oldest son golfing on a few occasions and found different ways to connect with each grandchild. As an adult, I’ve learned to frame walls, dry-walling, and an assortment of skills from my dad. More than anything, he’s given me the courage to tackle life and projects with great confidence.
                One of the interesting things about my dad is though he helped his kids and friends in many ways, he always grumbled his way through the project. I would’ve swore that he hated every second of working on my basement. He groaned, whined, and complained, claiming he’d never do big projects again. Lo and behold, he continued to help others with projects.
Similarly, a number of years ago, we were moving my sister and we had all sorts of problems, claiming then, he wouldn’t help someone move ever again…only to help many others move beyond that claim. This was my Dad…a little rough at times…but a willing servant. I’ll miss him.
                I’m thankful for my dad. I’m thankful for this person who taught me so much. I’m thankful my father was a professing Christian. For our hope lies not in our golf game, investment portfolio, or deeds accomplished. Our hope lies in promises like these from the lips of Jesus Christ: "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”
               



Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Poem: Babies and our Joy

They wiggle their toes and we smile with glee,
A tiny little person that looks like me,
They stretch and they stir and all is aglow,
Little souls at work, new lives to grow.

All that pictured so life can be seen,
All that from an ultrasound screen,
My future so fragile, my pleasures at risk,
My hopes could be dashed, a bad choice tsk tsk.

They suggest I can end it,
That life I can kill,
Their body dismembered, my body free,
Sign here, they say, for life is for me.

Family planning it's called, but death is their plan,
Not parenthood, but 'freedom' on demand,
I want joy now; it has to be mine.
Sacrifice, pain, responsibility take too much time.

But grace is sufficient to cover my shame,
Grace comes through Jesus' name--
Grace to choose what is right,
Grace to protect those without might.


(Inspired by http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/william-wilberforce-and-the-pro-life-movement)

Problems with evangelical Christianity...

#1: They take the Bible as the Word of God, able to be read and understood in its original context and with ongoing significance, without error in the original writings, with the authority to speak to all aspects of life from the board room to the bedroom. The problem with this is I lose authority and control over life. I don't get to dictate right and wrong; I'm expected to learn and submit to right and wrong.

#2: They believe in the supernatural. They make the the universe God-haunted, demon-filled, and divinely-dependent. They think God hears prayers, responds to human choice, and invades human decision-making. The problem with this is God can override me and circumvent me.

#3: They believe in hell and judgment. They believe human thoughts, attitudes, and behavior are observed by an all-seeing eye who responds to my wrongdoing without favoritism. My life matters according to the cosmic scale of history. If I align myself with the universe and its divinely appointed author, then I am rewarded. If I go against the Maker and his ways, I experience the consequences of opposing the ordering of the universe. The problem with this is I cannot live any way I want and get whatever consequences I want.

#4: They believe Jesus was God and Human (John 1:1-3, 14). They think Jesus is not just a good moral teacher who I can carefully scrutinize picking and choosing what ideas I like. They think what Jesus says about marriage and adultery (Matthew 19) is as important as what he says about children (Matthew 18) and the poor (Matthew 25). They believe if I pick and choose what I like about Jesus, His teaching, and His apostles, then I'm really not a Christian but a part of a religion of my own making. The problem with this is Jesus' demands and expectations are out of this world; no one can do all this; it's simply impossible.

#5: They believe grace leads to life change. They think grace is not a license for immorality, but a pathway to transformation. They believe love has strings attached, jealous strings that demand affection and loyalty from those who claim to love God (John 14:21). They believe the costly grace of the Cross leads to costly obedience. The problem with this is I'm running out of excuses.

#6: They believe faith and repentance in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to hope. They do not think Jesus is a way to God but the way (John 14:6). The problem with this...wait, wait just a minute. That's amazing news. There is a way to God!! Who cares if it's only one way? There is a way. Glory, hallelujah. I'm going to give up my problems with evangelical Christianity because their solutions are way more sufficient and satisfying than my problems.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Faithful Worker - Sarah Smith of Golders Green

This past Sunday September 13, 2015, I preached a sermon from Genesis 1 and 2 entitled, "The Work and the Workers." I argued that God created and redeemed humanity for the purpose of doing good work. This work will be like God's work--bringing order out of chaos, light to dark places, and life where there is death.

In C.S. Lewis' beloved book The Great Divorce, we read of an example of one faithful worker. The scene before you takes place near the entrance of the High Country (heaven) where a conversation is happening between two departed souls. They are observing a glorious being that one nearly mistakes as the Virgin Mary...but the conversation reveals the identity of the person in this conversation:

Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. . . . Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done. . . . Only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

"Is it? ... is it?" I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It's someone ye'll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith  and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be...well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things….
 “And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“              Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
 “Isn't that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people's children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
“And how...but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs...why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.

“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”

Saturday, September 12, 2015

10 Reasons to Avoid Church

1) You do not want anyone to question your beliefs or your behavior.

2) You do not want anyone to ask you for time or money for causes that don't benefit yourself.

3) You think you have arrived morally and ethically; churches will most likely preach ideas that seem old fashioned or out of date culturally and cut against your own desires.

4) You "find God" in various past-times and environments better than the gatherings millions of Christians have pursued in the first 2,000 years of Christianity.

5) You do not want to learn to love difficult people.

6) You won't feel compelled to sing songs that you do not like. You can just stay home and listen to what you like.

7) You won't have to have spiritual leaders trying to get to know you and help you become more like Jesus.

8) You can live your life and write your own story, rather, than be challenged to give up your life and join God's story.

9) You won't have to hear about what humans deserve: death, hell, and judgment.

10) You won't have to hear about what God offers in light of Jesus' life, death and resurrection: forgiveness, heaven, grace, and love.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The demise of hope haters

Each time a "faith-based" movie makes money in Hollywood the critics ask, "How is this possible?" Why do these feel-good, happy-ending, God-saturated films sell so well? (think of the recent big weekend for "The War Room," a movie that I won't get to until it hits DVD.)

Well, maybe we should be asking why happy-ending literature still sells so well. Why do people still gobble up Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and George MacDonald--writers who have no problem showing the underbelly of humanity, but seem to find joy and redemption in the end?

The answers are myriad, but let me offer one: hope. These authors (and their like-minded film-making contemporaries) believe that hope is a real, living, vibrant force for the human soul.

A movie that ends hopeless or a story that ends in disaster might be honest, but rarely compelling. The characters might stun, the plot marvel, and the climax startle, but if the conclusion ends without a way forward, a way out, or a way beyond, then darkness wins. And there's something in the soul that says darkness will not and must not win. We know that evil cannot have the last word (something modern horror writers have figured out as well). The monsters must be destroyed, the enemies pushed back, despair dissipated.

Walker Percy once said the best books don't lie. (By the way, Percy was able to lace hope in his books that teemed with apparent hopelessness and absurdity. The hope lay in the worldviews and viewpoints not believed by the central characters.)

Books and movies without hope lie. They ignore a universe that was created by One able and willing to come and redeem it.

Hope sells. Hope saves.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Redeeming sexual sin...

In chapter 3 of Rosaria Champagne Butterfield's fantastic book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (a free audio book download is still available for a few more days), she recounts an incident when she spoke before a college audience about sexual sin.

With candor, she told people to not think that heterosexual marriage is the answer for redeeming sexual sin.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem decades of fornication.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem a sinful pornography addiction.

Heterosexual marriage doesn't redeem homosexual trysts.

As one who has sinned sexually both before and after marriage, I need redemption. I also need to know there is a way back if I sin again...where is our hope? Answer:

The only redeemer of sexual sin is Jesus Christ. He forgives us of wrongdoing. He has the power to renew hearts and bodies. He can make us new and send us out as washed, sanctified and justified (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Repent and turn to the Redeemer...

There is hope for anyone, from any past, from any sin...but our hope doesn't lie in "getting sexuality figured out" or "getting married to the right gender." Turn to where this great hymn of the faith points...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.



If this stirred ideas, frustrations, anger, or longing, you might also appreciate a sermon I preached on August 23, 2015 entitled, "Hope for Human Sexuality."

Thursday, August 27, 2015

7 Myths about Seminaries & Bible Schools

1. These schools are for pastors and missionaries. Sure, these schools prepare people for this sort of ministry, but many people end up in seminaries and Bible schools to serve their other vocational spheres with more theological acumen. It's not uncommon for a lawyer, homemaker, and local police officer to be studying the Puritans beside future missionaries. Thinking is something all Christians are called to, and many people in many fields of endeavor have benefited from a class or two, or a degree or two from a theological institution.

2. These schools will help you to mature in your faith. Don't think of seminary as some sort of God's Gym for the soul. The academic nature of these institutions have stolen the soul of many. Most professors are not trying to make someone doubt the authenticity of holy Scripture or question theological belief. But yes, they want you to know what various scholars have said and taught, what heresies exist then and now, and they want to make you question your questions and doubt your doubts. On the backside of the hard work of thinking, you will probably mature. On occasion, you'll feel stunted and pulled in many directions. 

3. These schools will protect you from secular influences. Sometimes these schools lose their gospel-centricity. Some schools come to question or deny orthodox belief and practice. Others get attached to legalistic ideas and behaviors. Others get caught in the crossfire of cultural debates. Don't send your kid to any certain school thinking they'll come out looking like a Billy Graham, Jonathan Edwards, and William Wilberforce all wrapped into one. Even the best schools will expose students to current ideas. They aren't trying to woo you to believe these ideas, but your soul might get wooed nonetheless. It's your job (not the school's job) to examine yourself so that you stay in the faith.

4. These schools are filled with only godly teachers and students. These schools are filled with humans. Some who deeply love Jesus. But others are in the throes of spiritual depression, doubt, and despair (necessary seasons for every believer). They have good days and bad days. Others have abandoned the faith but haven't had the courage to share it. Others seek to subvert godly belief and practice. (This is not the norm, but it has happened and will happen.) Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves even at a theological institution.

5. These schools are easier than other educational endeavors. These schools believe in academic rigor. They want Christians who can think and honor the LORD with their mind. An unthinking Christian is a disobedient Christian. Come ready to dig in.

6. These schools are like little churches. These schools are schools. Many of these schools have people who will love you, pray for you, instruct you, correct you, and fellowship with you. Still, however, none of these schools have been tasked to shepherd you. They do not have elders and shepherds. They do not (or at least should not) conduct the sacraments of holy baptism and communion. They cannot put you through church discipline (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5). So, stay plugged into (or find) a local church. Submit yourself to its leadership, doctrine, and ministries. Find mentors who know a thing or two about what it takes to walk with Jesus in the midst of theological education. 

7. These schools prepare people for "the ministry." Since the dawn of the church, ministry leaders are formed through disciple-making. Leaders are formed through the liturgy of the gathered church, the ordinary means of grace, and through intentional apprenticeships. St. Augustine never went to seminary (not to mention Peter, James, and John). Gaining the theological tools of using the ancient languages, reading and integrating theology, and the analysis of the Biblical text can all be learned and honed in a theological school. Still, these are tools, and I've met my fair share of weekend warrior carpenters who shouldn't use the tools they bought at Home Deport. There are weekend warrior ministers who are just as dangerous with the theological tools they've picked up in school. If you are desirous of serving the kingdom, you'll get your best training in the local church, among a college of laboring pastors, and through submitting yourself to apprenticeship. Bible college and Seminary can aid you (it was totally awesome for me), but it is not even close to sufficient.

Let me leave the myth-side of things and close with one final application:
  Pray for seminaries and Bible schools. Add the 3-4 schools closest to you geographically, or related to your local church's networks or denomination, and pray for them. Pray for godly instructors, holy students, and long-term kingdom impact. These institutions are gifts to the kingdom. 


Are there any other myths you could offer?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

No introductory fluff

                With a hunger of expectation, I devour books like some people binge on Netflix. Sadly, too many books in the 21st century have embraced a practice that most filmmakers figured out decades ago--just start the story. Since the dawning of fast forward, no one watches the ten-minute credits that precede the epic films of the 1940s. Still, however, the more books written, the longer introductions have become. Then, there are forwards, acknowledgements, and then some sadist thought new editions needed multiple introductions for each edition.  We assume your spouse and children played a key role in the book’s development. Yes, we get it; your editor corrected your English and those six couples that come over for yard games in the summer were a huge inspiration. Well, ladies and gentlemen, guess what? Those one to two dozen people we do not know and will never meet are going to read your entire book so if you put those kind words in the back, they will get to them in due time. For the rest of us, just start the story. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

3 Priorities for Families with School Starting

1) Update your prayer list. Pray that your child would seek first God's kingdom in all their endeavors and in all their education. Pray regularly for teachers, classmates, coaches, and conductors.  (If you're a public, private, or home educator, "Help Lord", is a good prayer.) Pray for administrators. Pray to God that you'd prioritize your schedule for His glory, not your kids' glory, your glory, your teams' glory, etc.

2) Develop a kingdom-minded schedule. What are the things that allow you to grow in Christ and focus on the Kingdom?
       Make sure those items of utmost importance are scheduled first. Start with carving out 24 hours for a weekly Sabbath--if all all possible, make this the Lord's Day (Sunday)--a day for worship, resting, praying and playing. Next, schedule daily time (or at least most days) where you personally and your family together pause to pray and hear God's Word. From there, listen to the Spirit and wise counselors and friends. We'll need to honor our vocational callings as students, entrepreneurs, engineers, homemakers, moms, dads, etc. At some level, we all need wisdom to schedule good sleeping routines, exercise, and wise eating patterns. Each of us need regular time with other believers during the week--a small group Bible study, 1-on-1 accountability, and things of that nature. When will you read, hone skills, pursue life-giving hobbies, serve the poor, and the like?
        In a fallen world, we'll never finished "our" work. But Christ's work is finished...begin by resting in His finished work.

3) Work with your eyes on Christ. Success for you and your family members is not measured by grades, promotions or paychecks. Success is not what your boss or coach thinks. Success is walking by faith in and for the Son of God. Through Jesus Christ, all believers are dearly loved children of the Father and pleasing in His sight. Now, live for HIM--not your boss, not to out-do you cube-mate, not to impress scholarship committees, not just to get ahead. We are not to be man-pleasers or to work with our eye on the employer. We focus on God...live for Him and through Him. All labors are not in vain...Jesus' resurrection assures that all worthy, sacrificial, love-inspired labors will be tested, tried, and found approved and blessed. Labor in love; labor for Jesus.

Dorothy Sayers reminds us, "The only Christian work is good work well done. "

Friday, August 14, 2015

Does God hate sinners?

Does God hate sinners? Does God hate adulterers, liars, and cheats? 

Sadly, there are many people in the name of Christ who go around on blogs and conferences claiming God hates this sort of person and God hates that sort of person. They use verses like these found in Psalm 5:

NIV  Psalm 5:4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. 5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; 6 you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.

It’s important to note that to hate someone in the Bible does not mean what it means in normal American speaking. If I hear that someone hates me, it come across that these people see everything about me as vile and wish 100% evil upon them. It comes across that they despise every fiber of my being.

But this is not what the Bible means by hate. It means you are morally opposed to the evil in that persons’ life. God hates Matt Proctor the liar, but he does not hate Matt Proctor the person. Similar to God, we should hate rapists and child abusers. We should hate liars and cheats. This is appropriate. But like God, we should love people and want good for them. God allows the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. God loves His enemies, and sends his Son to die a sacrificial death for his enemies. It’s actually possible for us and God to hate liars as sinners and to love them as persons at the same time. It’s possible to hate rapists (the sinners) and love them (the persons) at the same time.

Woe to any group who inaccurately depicts God’s holiness and love. They can never be separated nor should be.

To say one thing without the other without context is foolish at best and culpable at worst.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Well that's a helluva an idea

"You're a bigot, Lisa."

"Wow, Tom, that's quite a loaded term. Why do you say that?"

Tom, a vibrant 30 year old young professional, with a beautiful smile and a gifted mind, responded, "I just can't stand any sort of religious person who still believes in hell. It's absurd. It's disgusting. It's laced with hubris and idiocy."

Lisa, Tom's high school educated cousin, was chewing the remains of her hot dog at the Johnson family reunion. Tom and Lisa had been chatting about life, family, jobs, and the like for the past hour. Eventually, Lisa had turned the conversation to spiritual matters. In quick succession, Tom had cornered her on whether she believed in a literal hell or not. As soon as Lisa said yes, the conversation at hand had begun.

She looked directly into his college-educated eyes and said, "Hell is one of the greatest inducements to love in the universe. It's believing in hell, and a variety of related beliefs, that makes me quite intentional to love."

"Whatever! Hell is a judgmental and old-fashioned concept that has no place in modern thought and practice. Clearly, if there's a God at all, he or she would be loving enough to bring everyone to heaven."

"Well Tom," Lisa stuttered out, "I think an 'anything-goes' sorta God doesn't lead anyone to live or act any differently."

"Well, at least it leads to tolerance and decency," interjected Tom.

Lisa stumbled for words, then went silent for a full 30 seconds. Tom figured he'd finally put his Jesus-freak cousin in her place.

"Tom, what I've come to see is that 'the anything goes God' results in people not caring about anyone or anything."

"What do you mean, Lisa; you're not making any sense."

"Well, give me a few seconds to speak before interrupting and I'll try," Lisa remarked and then with furrowed brow thought for another half-minute in silence.

"Let me put it this way. Since I believe in hell and that people who don't get right with God go there, I make it my ambition to lovingly relate and speak to people about these matters. I want to grow in love and mercy so they can know the God of love and mercy..."

"But Lisa..."

"Seriously Tom, give your dim-witted cousin a chance to finish a thought..."

"Ok, go ahead."

"Thanks cuz. Well, the opposite happens with the 'anything goes God.' If you don't think people's beliefs and actions matter for eternity, my guess is you don't care much about those people's beliefs and actions now. You'll do your own thing and they'll do theirs. Supposed 'tolerance' is the slippery slope to indifference. Believing in hell makes me anything but indifferent."

"Yeah, but who are you to say I'm going to hell or anybody else?"

"Well luckily for you and everybody else, I don't get to make that decision. God, who is just and good; He gets too. And like I said before Hell is one of the greatest inducements to love in the universe. Hell is so bad it induced God to send His only Son Jesus to come and lovingly die to provide forgiveness for all who will believe and follow Him."

"L-i-s-a, seriously, that is so narrow-minded. Jesus the only way, humph."

"Hmm...I never thought of it that way cousin. I'm just tickled there's any way at all. I'm even more tickled that I've gotten to tell you about that way right now."

Tom, at ease for the first time in the entire conversation, after a moment said, "Well, Lisa, that's a helluva an idea."


Friday, July 31, 2015

More people paying cash for animal violence...

News flash: more reports of 'animal' abuse and violence for pay. So called "doctors" are ripping out 'animal' fetuses and selling parts to laboratories for research. What 'animal'? It's genus species is called Homo sapiens.

More info here: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/07/30/10-updates-on-planned-parenthood-a-new-video-and-how-to-contact-congress/

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A taxonomy of belief

Everyone functions by beliefs (whether in Christianity or another system). What we believe to be true, beautiful, and good are the most profoundly shaping things in our lives.

In my short stint on planet earth, I've come to see some recurring patterns in various life stages that I'd like to point out. Various ages are prone to different characteristics. On one hand, these characteristics are not "good" or "bad," but their extreme forms are dangerous. I've specified age ranges for the sake of simplicity, but since every human is unique, we should allow for great variation.

Here's a simple taxonomy:

Children ages 0-11 usually take on the beliefs of their parents--especially parents who are loving, emotionally stable, and involved. If their parents function reasonably well, the children assume they are to function similarly. If the home of origin is broken or painful, children will run to the arms of anyone who cares or find any and all ways to escape through media, rebellion, relationships, etc.

Youth aged 12-16 begin to take on their own belief system. It's primarily shaped by those who engage with them in a loving and supportive way (parents, friends, teachers, coaches). The 7th grader who finds his liberal history teacher friendly is most likely to be open to liberal ideas. The 9th grader who finds acceptance at their school's Christian ministry will be apt to take on Christian beliefs.

Students 17-23 begin to see the world as black and white. There are people who are right and wrong. There are good ideas and bad ideas. Sometimes people cut off relationships with family and friends because they cannot reconcile different beliefs and relationships. (Interestingly in the past 50 years or so, the dominant black-white ideology of US culture is that no one should judge another person. This is held with white-knuckle conviction and other people are judged for thinking otherwise [catch the irony?].)

Young adults 24-30 begin to feel guilt for their black and white days. They meet nice people with extremely different beliefs and practices. The categories that seemed to work a few years ago don't line up as simply as they did before. The danger at this point is to quit believing some ideas are right or wrong entirely. We become tolerant of too much and quit thinking hard about how beliefs ultimately shape people. These final years before children and increased responsibilities end up setting a trajectory for many many years.

Adults 30-50 do not have much time to reconsider beliefs. They had two decades from ages 10-30 to work out their ideas, but now they have jobs, kids, bills, and the like. If a major life event occurs, they might pause and rethink their beliefs, but normal day-to-day living (with hours of Netflix binging not helping) keeps them from slowing down to evaluate their cherished beliefs.

Adults 50-65 slow down enough to set a fresh course of living. No longer are their kids watching (so they think). Previously faithful Christians start looking more like 20 something socialites. Formerly committed non-Christians seek solace in the church. It's an interesting time. What I've found is that these years are too often wasted. Instead of stepping into the role of mentors and coaches for those younger, these "empty-nesters" choose to take more vacations, drop their volunteer responsibilities, and fade out of the church.

Adults 65-death cherish their beliefs. They believe those beliefs have brought them to where they are today and so they are confident that this is the way all others should go. This leads to anything from old curmudgeons or kind evangelists of worthy causes. Sadly, the younger generations don't look to these wizened souls.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Kite that Wants to Soar

There once was a kite that loved soaring into the sky. The wind in its tail and the glories of the heights enraptured its soul. But one day the kite felt constrained by the string and its owner’s grip. The kite thought, “If only I could get away from this string and this puller of the string, then I’d be free to seek higher glories.” And so the kite cut its string. For a few moments, the kite took off at breakneck speed. Higher than ever thought possible, the kite soared.
                But then the truth of physics struck. For a kite with no string has no negative force acting upon it to keep wind in its sails. The kite plummeted fast and crashed mightily. To escape the string and its master brought more destruction than ever thought possible.
                The question remains for the kite. Will it put itself back under the Master’s power? Will the kite face the facts? Fall back under the Master’s guiding hand? And find the forgiveness it needs to soar again? Will it? Will you

This was the closing story to a sermon preached 6/28/2015: 

http://cornerstone-marion.org/2015/06/28/june-28-2015-james-41-10-ending-adultery-coming-home/

Friday, May 22, 2015

Settling for More

Long ago, contentment was considered a virtue. The quiet repose of an aged laborer spoke volumes of their character. The simple smile upon a tired and tireless widow maintaining her subsistence farm screamed glory. The forty year career in the same position resulted in a glorious retirement party of gratitude.

Today, the world only settles for more. That is, they can only be content today if they believe tomorrow will be better. Today's job is okay as long as they don't have it next year. Today's house is sufficient as long as they have 500 more square feet in a decade. Today's wife is okay as long as there's an upgrade before the silver anniversary.

Below the surface of the "settling for more" virtue is impatience, ingratitude, and anxiety. Our character is so shallow that the depths of contentment are never reached.

Finding a solution might prove fruitless if we only look within.

That's why the ancients were commended when looking beyond. They looked beyond themselves to a God who called people to positions, places, and responsibilities. They received their callings with a sense of duty (not destiny). They stayed where they were helpful because they believed helpfulness is more important than having more. Work is primarily contribution, not compensation, remuneration, or even recognition. It's a willingness to love at home, at work, among my neighbors, and out to the nations.

Today, you can have gratitude and contentment, because today, you have been placed to serve those around you. All the recognition we need comes from the eyes of a heavenly Father who is pleased with good work, done well.

Stay in your marriage. Don't just assume "stay" means "don't divorce." Stay with a sense of vocational faithfulness. Stay to cultivate, grow, and develop your marriage.

Stay as a parent. Stay in your children's lives, no matter their age. Stay in a state of prayer for your kin. Stay in a role-model mentality.

Stay in your local church. Stay in good times and bad. Stay to see growth. Stay amid fights. Stay through reconciliation. Stay for the new pastor. Stay for the old pastor. Stay for the visiting preacher and the lay preacher. Stay in a place of service.

Stay in your job. Stay in your house. Stay in your neighborhood. Stay there because God has put you there. Stay to serve. Stay to bring human flourishing.

He who calls you is faithful; and He will bring His work to pass. Stay where He has called you, stay until His work is done.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wealth and Poverty; Stewardship and Service

Note well this wise teaching from Dallas Willard:

    "From within this kingdom perspective on human worth and well-being emerges a solution to the major social problems of wealth and poverty. That solution consists in a new type of human being, people who have assimilated the character of Christ into all areas of life and society. These people clearly see that giving [charitable contributions, tithes, offerings, etc.] is only a part and by no means the largest part of stewardship before our Lord. These people understand it is part of their responsibility to control the world's possessions in a way that ministers to all. The poor are much more to be benefited by the godly controlling the goods of this world than by their performing a pious handwashing that only abandons those goods to the servants of 'mammon.' We are not speaking of political power as normally understood, but of personal vocation fulfilled in the power of God. Possession and direction of the forces of wealth are as legitimate expression of the redemptive rule of God in human life as is Bible teaching or a prayer meeting. For example, it is as great and as difficult a spiritual calling to turn factories and the mines, the banks and the department stores, the schools and government agencies for the Kingdom of God as it is to pastor a church or serve as an evangelist.

   There truly is no division between sacred and secular except what we have created. And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into sacred and the secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop getting into 'church work' as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking, and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work."

From The Spirit of the Disciplines

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Our Everyday Vocation: We're all priests (yes you!)

The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. One of the seamless ideas throughout the Bible is that humans are to serve as His priests. Priests who wear the hat of engineer, homemaker, customer service professional, and the like.

In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve are "priests in the Garden." They are to represent God as image-bearers, share in God's work as fellow creators, and stand as mediators between God and each other. They fail miserably at all of these tasks, ushering sin, guilt, and death into God's created world.

Genesis 3 details the brokenness, but also depicts the promise of God's plan to redeem humanity and this fallen world (3:15)...later we find out, He's going to use us too!

For example, God's people, the nation of Israel, are tasked to be a kingdom of priests among the nations of God's grand world. The words of God to His people as recorded in  Exodus 19:5-6 read, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." (NIV)

These words are important, but just as important are the words right before: Exodus 19:4 "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself." (NIV) God is reminding His people that He is their redeemer. He bought them out of slavery and has made them a kingdom of priests. With this theme in mind, we see now, that another priestly role God's people have is that we are to be co-redeemers with God. Our work is ultimately tied to bringing people to God for His redemptive work in their lives (we don't save anyone), but as priests, Israel must faithfully present the Creator and Redeemer.

If you jump ahead to the New Testament, the idea is expressed again: 1 Peter 2:9 "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (NIV)

We are to be a holy priesthood. In fact, Revelation 1:5-6 says the very purpose of Jesus' sacrifice of blood was to free us and make us a kingdom, priests for God.

So today, be the priest God has made you to be:
  1) Represent God in all that you do as His image-bearers.
  2) Stand as a mediator between God and other humans.
  3) Serve God and others as a co-creator and co-redeemer of God for His glory and the good of others.

This priestly role flows into all vocations, all jobs, careers, and callings. The job you have needs God's creative and redeeming power. The people in your life need God's creative and redeemer power (all this is possible because the blessing of Abraham and the Holy Spirit are in you, cf. Gal. 3:10-14).

So, make ugly things beautiful. Bring life out of death. Bring order out of disorder. Bring hope in despair. Bring good news where bad news permeates. Be priests.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Rant

Despicable. Unacceptable. Embarrassing.

With uncanny audacity and arrogant brashness, he tries at this time to put himself in the limelight.

Too late. 

Weeks ago he might have had a chance. But this? Now?

His name is mud and his career is over. He's dead to me.

Why can't he learn to keep his mouth shut when he's down for the count?

Why now does he think he can subvert hundreds of years of civilization?

This messiah-complex isn't going to win you any rewards.

Who dares to stand in front of all the key players at the most inappropriate time and deal with questions like this?

But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." 

"You have said so," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" 

"He is worthy of death," they answered.

Matthew 26:63-66 (NIV)


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter's Wonders: The Victor of Sheol

By the time I toddled, the day was joy,
The family, the sun, the birth of spring,
Mirth emerged as a puppy with a toy,
Easter came and life was towering.

All this, apart from knowing truth,
All this, without a meeting of the king,
All this, amid my soul's uncouth,
All this, with rebellion lingering.

Then, the day changed from wonder to wonder.
Resurrection overshadowed painted eggs,
The joy of Jesus came like thunder,
His healing grace took even my dregs.

New mirth emerges for the crucified king,
New birth refreshes my stale soul,
New mercies cover my wandering,
New worship to the Victor of Sheol.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

PSA: 9 Email Etiquette Tips for the 21st Century

With nearing 2 decades of email experience in a variety of sectors, I would like to offer these rules to live by:

1) Email should avoid subjects of an emotional nature (unless you are writing your grandma about the arrival of your new baby...but seriously, she'd rather have you call or bring the baby over to her house). Regardless of writing personal or work related emails, do not use email to share strong opinions, feelings, dislikes, or to express frustration. Please extend the recipient of such conversations their due dignity by inviting them to a personal  meeting or if a meeting is not possible due to travel, a phone call.

2) Stick to questions and statements related to facts, scheduling, and agendas. If you want to know if Tom can meet next Tuesday at 2PM, send an email. If you want to know if Tom would rather meet for Italian or Chinese, send an email. If you want to know if Tom likes his job, do not send an email. If you want to know why your first cousin skipped your daughter's bat mitzvah, do not send an email. (See #1 for more details.)

3) Always include a subject that gives the reader a decent insight into the message's content.

4) Note that bolded text (except when used for formatting purposes), ALL-CAPS expressions, and exclamation points come across as angry screaming to the recipient!!!! Avoid or use with caution. Since you aren't dealing in the realm of emotions or opinions (see #1), much of these kinds of expressions will not be needed in your email.

5) Be brief. Admittedly, I have learned  over the years that my brevity has come across as rudeness on various occasions. So, be careful not to be so brief that you sound curt or terse. Still, with the amount of email we all deal with, the more direct you are about the subject matter, the more time we save for one another.

6) Only request one to two actions. Try not to send your boss, coworker, or spouse an email asking them to answer 5 questions, commit to pull off 5 tasks, and submit 4 different reports by morning. Stick with 1-2 questions with 1-2 responses. If you have a variety or questions or requests, you might need to ask for 10-15 minutes of their time for a conversation. Or just send multiple emails (see #9's cautions on sending more emails).

7) Do not send work email outside of work hours or expect others to reply. Since many people get their work email on their phones, at home, or wherever they might be, try to only send email between 7:30AM and 5:30PM (or whatever are your company's work hours). There are many free pieces of software that allow you to schedule an email's arrival. So even if you are working and sending email at 1AM in your superhero pajamas, your coworkers don't need to read the email till after their first cup of coffee. If you really need to know something from a coworker after work hours, call them on the phone.

8) When in doubt, don't send the email. If you wonder if the email might not be appropriate, don't send it. If you debate whether your boss will appreciate a forwarded message, skip it entirely (for that matter, skip most forwards entirely...we read that joke last year anyway).

9) Use email less and less. Its convenience has made it an inconvenience. Email has turned "water cooler conversations" into a thing of the past. Too little talking and too much typing has dehumanized our lives, workplaces, and friendships. So stop by your boss's office, stand up to ask a question to your cube-mate, and use your phone for it's original purpose (to talk with your voice, in case you've forgotten).

Do any of you have other tips or suggestions you've come to discern through your journey in the digital age?