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.].”]