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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Can't Cross Jesus Out of Christmas

It has lately become a trend to abbreviate Christmas to "Xmas," particularly when dealing with limited space on billboards and in tweets, but this year I have seen it used with increasing significance as a way of "x-ing" out Jesus at Christmastime, as if He wasn't the central reason for the holiday in the first place. It's just another example of a modern movement to secularize this holiday.

I was thinking about that again today, and I realized that, even with all the efforts to remove Jesus, He just keeps coming back into conversation. Sometimes, I think the "x" even calls attention to His absence.  This "x" appears to be yet another symptom of conviction and guilt in society, if the news of more shootings, violence, etc. hasn't been enough to convince you that the general populace has tried to forget God and His authority over our deeds. 

Carrying that thought a little further, I remembered that the character "x" itself in English is itself a throwback to the Roman crucifixion cross. In essence, the symbol of the world's rejection of Jesus this season is the very one they used thousands of years ago at Passover time. That means, in essence, that the original Xmas (called Easter) falls in March this year.  If that doesn't give you pause, I don't know what will.

But, you know, some tried to wipe out all traces of Christ back then, and they failed then, too.

I've been deeply saddened by all the news this week, and I pray for comfort for the families of the victims.  I am reminded again that Jesus brings peace to the hearts of those who welcome Him in, so I have been praying for those who are searching for peace right now in the face of personal tragedies. I'm also praying that those who are thinking about dealing with their problems through violence will find the better way--Christ's way--which brings healing and restoration.

I hope those prayer warriors who are reading this blog will join me in that prayer this season, and if possible, Christians everywhere will take steps to remind people about the real significance of Christmas.  In effect, we would be putting Christ back at the front like He should be.  The world needs to know what we have found!

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2: 14 NIV)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Momentous Event

Yesterday, I went gift shopping after dropping off a few packages at the post office.  It seemed as if everyone in this town was out shopping or mailing something!  I heard on the radio at one of my stops a local D.J. saying that this was what Christmas was all about--sparkly packages, smiles from children, spending time with family, and lots of good food.  I thought about that a lot on the way home.

It seems like a good thought.  I'd love for Christmas to be like a Norman Rockwell painting!  Still, I couldn't help thinking that it was a rather bleak and cold idea for many people to hold onto at this chilly time of year. What about those who couldn't afford gifts or gift wrapping? What about those who can't have children? What about those who have terribly dysfunctional families (or have lost loved ones this year)? What if they have developed allergies to the classic Christmas dishes?  I know a few people in every group, and I know their Christmas is still going to be good. Why?

Christmas is an event that God brought about (not a calendar day or a shopping mall), and it changed the world forever (and I don't mean that it changed the world economy).  Wherever you are, and whatever your life looks like today, you can take part in Christmas. You can start today!

Christmas brought peace...

A Snow Angel
When the angels came to tell the shepherds about Jesus' birth, they announced it by saying, " Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests," (Luke 2:12 NIV).  I see people quoting them every year, but their eyes glaze over as the words leave their mouths. Peace?  How can that be?  I've heard every year a few songs that ask Santa (or God) for world peace, but it's obvious that the world still doesn't understand it.

The peace the angels predicted is peace in the heart--a peace that means the end of hostilities between man and God.  That peace spills over into our interactions with our fellow man, but it isn't always returned to us. Not everyone really wants peace with God, and they also don't care to have peace with us. So, when you think about what the angels said, remember to pray. Pray for peace between you and God (which comes with salvation and repentance), and between you and your fellow man (which comes from self-control and sacrificial obedience to God's plan).  Also, pray for peace in everyone else's hearts by praying for their salvation, and for their growth in their relationship with God, which will lead them to be at peace with others.

Christmas brought rest...

With all of the work that has to be done every holiday, it seems like I hear a lot of complaints about people not getting to rest at Christmastime. Even so, the Bible says, "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his," (Hebrews 4:9-10 NIV).  That "Sabbath rest" foreshadowed in the Hebrew ceremony of the Sabbath is the rest we find in Christ.

It means, more than anything, that we are not any longer slaves to sin, always driven to try to work off our sin with good works, always forced to seek approval from our masters and value from our work.  Now, good works and the approval and value of others has some worth, but God's approval is all that we require, and God gives the ultimate value to our work.  God has opened the doors to free us, should we choose to accept the gift He has offered.

By the way, there is no reason why we can't, as free Christians, stop and take a minute, or even a whole day, to enjoy the life God has given us. If life seems too complicated for that this month, maybe you should consider finding a way to simplify your life, or work in a few fun things along the way. If nothing else, slow down to look at the stars, or the snow, or the Christmas lights!

Christmas brought hope...

If you are in the middle of something that you can't escape, such as a grief period or an illness, it is good to know that Christmas in the end was an event that brought hope to the world. We hear bad news every day. The day of Jesus' birth was no different, right up until the time of Mary's labor, when she got the bad news that she was going to stay in the stable that night!  The world didn't know it then, but Jesus brought a way out of the worst news, and the worst possible news of all is death.

No matter what the circumstance is, bad news is no longer the last word on your life, if you have Jesus in your heart.  As it is written,
On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove His people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:7-8 NIV)
 Choose hope, and look forward expectantly for your great reward in heaven.  Celebrate what this Christmas means, and remember, Jesus is coming back soon!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Be Thankful for the Wait

I've been thinking a lot this week about how it seems that most of life is a period of waiting between the start and the finish of something, whether it's the time between graduation and getting a job, or between the work and the paycheck, or between engagement and marriage, or even between diagnosis and the cure.  It seems like we're always waiting for those God-ordained endings to the waiting period, and many times, we feel they can't come soon enough...but aren't the wait times also ordained by God?

Don't get me wrong; I believe that God is good, kind, and abundantly generous, but sometimes He teaches us things by delaying gratification, so to speak.  I personally know that I wouldn't be the person that I am now if God had not worked on me over a period of years.  Sometimes learning and growth doesn't happen without pressure.

This reminds me of a passage in first Peter, explaining why trials (and that can include long waits) are a good thing, that we should be thankful for--not take for granted!  I'll leave you with that passage, since I'm short on time this evening. I hope it is something you need this week!

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1Peter 1: 6-9 NIV)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Staying Grateful in the Consumerism Season

I recently read one of those "Snark Jokes" that circulate on Facebook and Pinterest, which read, "Only in America do people knock each other down to get the latest gadget just one day after giving thanks for what they already own." It makes you think, doesn't it?  In contrast, the Bible says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain," (1Timothy 6: 6 NIV). 

I was praying this weekend and felt God reminding me to stay grateful this season.  It's so easy to fall victim to "want-itis" and to feel bad about budget constraints these days.  Even if we've learned to be satisfied with less this year, the commercials, sales circulars, automated emails, and web ads (especially this weekend) can drive that peace far from us. It's important that we don't lose sight of the important things in the middle of "Consumerism Season."

God's History of Faithfulness

The Bible instructs us, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,'" (Hebrews 13: 5 NIV). We don't have to worry about where things are coming from, because God is going to take care of us--and that is a much better guarantee than a large bank account or a great storehouse of gold or even food.

If we've known God for awhile, we have seen this pattern over and over again in our lives.  In those moments when we feel as if our dreams of the perfect Christmas are far from happening (or beyond our means) it is important to stop and remember how God has been faithful through the years, daily providing for us and sustaining us, and not just during the holidays.

See God's Provision

It's also a good exercise to look for God's provision in our lives today.  What do you already have that is clearly a blessing from God?  I'm not just talking about the latest iPhone, and I might not even be talking about friends and family members.  There are tons of little things God blesses us with every day, even right now, from a nice view to indoor heating, plus, He provides our daily needs, which Jesus called "our daily bread."

I don't mean to be trite, but before we let retailers or our peers make us feel bad for not owning the "latest thing" we should count our blessings. After all, the latest thing is always going away, but God's provision in the present is constant.  The Bible says, " I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread," (Psalm 37: 25 NIV).

Give Thanks in the Midst of Current Needs

The last thing we ought to do to stay grateful this season is also the hardest: praise God, even in the face of current needs.  The Bible reminds us again and again that God is faithful, but when we are facing dire needs, such as serious financial struggles, it can be difficult to keep things in their proper perspective.  That is where praise helps us.

I heard a sermon this weekend that touched upon this. The pastor spoke about the "garment of praise" in Isaiah 61: 3, contrasting the symbolism of fresh garments with the ancient Hebrew custom of tearing the outer garment at the neck to express extreme anguish or grief. The pastor noted that praising God brings healing in our spirit, symbolically replacing the "torn garment" of despair. Praise heals us from feelings of despair and grief at our current circumstances by focusing our eyes beyond that, on the God who is powerful enough to overcome obstacles, who is infinitely trustworthy, and who has brought us hope through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God was there before the current circumstances (like holiday stress) arose, and He will still be there when they are gone.  He intends to carry us through it all, as long as we stand with Him.  Isn't that an awesome thought?

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Brief Word on Authority...

I tried to write a longer blog post for today, but after I wrote it, I felt it was too long and involved.  It seemed to belong in a scholarly journal somewhere, not this blog. I might revise it and bring it out later, but for now, I needed to get back to the basics.

Stepping back from it all, I realized that the biggest point I was trying to make is that the basis of all authority comes from God, who in His very nature established a dividing line between sin and righteousness, truth and lie.  This is not changed or dimmed by the authority He has given to earthly kings, lawmakers, teachers, parents, etc.  Here's the text I'm studying (Romans 13: 1-5) :
 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.  Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
When the Bible says that Christians are to submit to the governing authorities that God has established, it is not saying that those authorities should replace God as the final authority in our lives. It is also not suggesting that we respect the governing authorities to the extent that we reject God's authority.  Rather, by continuing to do right, even if those in authority do what is wrong and allow others to do what is wrong, we hold ourselves to a higher standard of respect for authority--respecting the highest authority, which is God. In essence, we go beyond what is required by lesser authorities and stay well within the boundaries of their laws.

When this passage calls governing authorities "agents of [God's] wrath," it is not to say that the governing authorities always share God's feelings about sin; however, they are sometimes used by God to bring punishment on those who reject authority and law.  This is not to say that lawmakers go around randomly punishing people without even knowing why they are doing it. We are talking about natural consequences, when doing things "our own way" eventually puts us at odds with those in authority over us.  There is a reason why God called certain things wrong in the first place, and even the most lenient of lawmakers agree with God's ideas at some point along the line.

Do you have more to add?  I'd love to hear your insights in the comments section.

Monday, November 12, 2012

An Argument for Limited Freedom and the Authority of Law

A short time ago, I saw some postings on a social media site concerning freedom and rights in the United States, and it deeply alarmed me.  Since today is Veteran's Day (observed) in this country, it seemed like a good time to talk about this. It also furthers my mission with this blog to sort out bad arguments for the edification of others.

So, to begin, I'll summarize what was said. This individual postulated that freedom meant that no one had a right to tell him what to do, and that he should have a right to do whatever he wanted, especially with his own body.  When another individual attempted to argue with him, he added that the law was, in effect, trying to impose another person's Christian values on him, which he didn't think was fair.  (I would have given you a direct quote, but this seemed like a clearer and cleaner way to present what was said, without naming names or publishing profanity.)

So, this argument boils down to three main points of contention, if I understand correctly: (1) Does political freedom mean that we have a right to do whatever we want? (2) Are there circumstances where the law should not apply to us because the decision arguably does not affect others? and (3) Do law making bodies, have a right, in all fairness, to impose their values upon others under the law?

I will try to answer each of these subjects carefully and reasonably, although I cannot be unbiased.  I welcome you to keep reading, even if you don't fully agree with me, and hope you will leave me a comment if I missed something important.

Freedom: Limited or Unlimited?

Is is true that freedom really means that we have a right to do whatever we want?

The Christian perspective says that God, being the Creator and Ruler of the Universe, has the right to demand an answer for everything we do.  He also has a right to impose punishment on us when we do what He doesn't approve, and we do not have a choice but to accept this punishment (Psalm 11:4-7).  That doesn't imply unlimited freedom on our part; it is only freedom within the boundaries He has set (Psalm 16:5,6).

God is the only one with the possibility of unlimited freedom, and yet He has imposed limits on Himself, the first being His decision to give each one of us free will.  Although God could take over our bodies and force us to do things His way, He chose not to allow that as a possibility.  Other similar limits include His rule against allowing unredeemed sin in His presence (Psalm 15), and accepting anything less serious than blood as atonement for sin (Genesis 4: 3-7).  He takes these rules pretty seriously, because His strict adherence to them ultimately sent His Son to the cross as atonement for sin (Philippians 2: 6-8).

From the secular perspective, I could argue that one person's freedom cannot supersede or take away from the freedoms enjoyed by others, and thus the general population's freedom limits the freedoms of the individual.  Thus, it should not be legal for one person to pilfer another person's belongings at will, because this infringes on the other individual's freedom to own and enjoy personal property (this definition creates a need for anti-theft laws).  Similarly, one individual's enjoyment of personal property should not prevent another individual's enjoyment of his or her personal property (thus creating a need for zoning laws, noise ordinances, waste disposal and human burial laws, etc.).  These situations tend to require a whole lot of specifics to close loopholes, however, which can weaken this argument over time.

To summarize, this point, I would have to say that the open-ended claim that freedom is unlimited is false and unsupportable.  It must be limited, or it will lead to anarchy and the destruction of general freedom while allowing only a few individuals to experience something like freedom.  How it is handled (from a Christian or secular perspective) may determine who winds up on top or how many enjoy this limited freedom.

Unlimited Freedom Where Others Are Not Affected

The next step in the argument is that sometimes, unlimited freedom does not affect others, and in those cases, the law should not intrude.  I can answer this one from both the Biblical and the secular perspectives as well.

Christians do not limit the definition of sin to only things which affect others.  Ultimately, sin is a personal transgression against laws that stand between the individual and God Himself (Psalm 51:4).  That means that personal decisions, such as the decision to deny the Lordship of Christ (Psalm 2), are also defined as sins, which God can judge.  By extension, the political viewpoint of Christianity says that individual sins are just as prosecutable as sins in public, through a purity of law that applies to the individual just as much as it does to the general public.

The secular arguments here draw upon circumstantial proofs, attempting to establish generalizable absolutes from these specific situations.  It could be argued from the secular perspective that no decision affects only one individual, and therefore there will always be ramifications and changes in the course of history that will determine whether a thing should be allowed by law.  Unfortunately, a lot of those proofs are conjecture and sometimes don't apply to all instances.  There is also the argument that sometimes the law has the right to protect individuals from themselves.  An example of this is the legal process of getting power of attorney over a very ill patient, such as an individual with Alzheimer's Disease.  This would legally prevent a person from leaving a building, rejecting medication, or doing physical injury to himself or herself, even though these decisions would have affected only this one individual's body.

The Christian argument, in summary, is basically saying that the moral law imposed by God over all people individually and collectively is a model for political law, which should also see no boundaries or differences between prosecuting in macrocosm and prosecuting  in microcosm. Meanwhile, the secular argument, which presumes there is no absolute standard, attempts to support its legal authority with anecdotes.  Attempts to apply a judgement in microcosm to a general population this way requires many caveats and leaves loopholes, which can eventually erode the power of the law.

Law's Imposition of Values on Others

This leads to the third and final argument concerning freedom.  Do lawmaking bodies have a right to impose their values on others through law?  This is a tricky question.  Any law is based on the preexisting assumption that there is a right and a wrong side of a thing, but the line between the two is different between Christian and secular thinkers.

The Christian teaching on this says that the authority of a government is given to it by God to enforce law and maintain order (Romans 13: 1-8), and it should be obeyed.  In other words, the lawmaking bodies have a right to impose their values on the disobedient through the power vested in them by God,  the ultimate and final judge.  Furthermore, the definition of "disobedient" tends to closely parallel the definitions God has made.

Meanwhile, the secular argument draws legal authority to govern from "the people," that is the general or collective opinion of active voters or participants. This is often a shifting target, as population demographics change, and the needs and the beliefs of the public change with them.  It boils down to the law speaking for either the loudest, the biggest, or the strongest at any given moment.  It might even draw authority from one or a few individuals, especially those who control the resources.  The law's authority to impose its beliefs can also be drawn from historical precedent, or pragmatic statements such as "the greatest good for the greatest number."  All of these leave open the possibility that one population will be overlooked or wronged by another.

In summary, the authority of government can come from either absolute and unchanging sources (such as God and moral law), or from shifting or situational sources, such as popular opinion or majority rule.  Either way, it is true that one group is opposing another group of individuals, and the winning side is imposing its will on the other.

Wrap Up: How Should We Define Freedom?

In essence, the difference between the two sides of this argument on every point all look back to the existence of God.  The Christian position on freedom says that God limits freedom, and every limitation on freedom is a line He drew first.  Meanwhile, the secular argument assumes there is no God, and that the highest authority is humankind;  they write the rules, and can always change them if something new comes up.

I can go farther to say that where freedom is concerned, God has always been careful about drawing lines, but human beings tend to be much more impulsive and short-sighted.  We cannot see far into the future, as God can, and so our laws tend to be as limited as we are, based on only a partial grasp of the big picture.  If we remove God from the equation, freedom may seem freer at first, but it eventually leads to trouble in the long run.  God, on the other hand, set out rules to protect freedom for all time, drawing lines that never cross each other, no matter how long we follow along them.

Talking about freedom in light of today's situation on the moral and political fronts, I see the necessity to call everyone to prayer and serious personal reflection.  Without a revival, without a general as well as individual acceptance of God's authority, freedom is only a transient thing, and it may not last much longer in the United States. This comment in a forum was warning enough for me!  As we celebrate the sacrifices of those who have died protecting freedom here in America, we should pray that their hard-won gift to us can continue.  I think Twila Paris summed it up better than I can, in her song "What Did He Die For?"  I'm including it here, at the end of my message.

Monday, November 5, 2012

No Earthly King

Tomorrow is the long-awaited official election day in the US, where the nation will decide who will be president for the next 4 years, as well as settling the same question concerning the balance of power in quite a few Senate and House of Representative races.  This is a big event, and it is pivotal in the history of the world, however it goes.

I say it is big, but that doesn't mean it's the end of the world.  I want to remind everyone that we aren't electing a Christ, but rather, an earthly king of sorts.  Whoever gets into office will be imperfect, and prone to sin.  That person, no matter how qualified, is capable of leading the entire nation farther astray if he moves in his own power and doesn't follow the urging of God. 

I say farther astray because I believe the nation has already strayed far from the principles of godliness outlined in the Bible.  I believe this is even reflected in the reputations and beliefs of the candidates we have to choose from.  That's why we should be prayerful about who we vote for, and keep praying for whoever wins (even if we didn't vote for that person) after election day is over.  However it goes, God is still in control, and that's what I want to talk about today.

An Earthly King: What It Means

The ancient Israelites once lived without a visible, central government and single leader, in the period of the Judges. During this time, they were held together loosely by their tribal affiliation and more tightly by the religious customs and laws God had established through the Law of Moses.  In fact, God ruled them as their King, occasionally sending Judges to do His will among them through all of those years.

However, their hearts strayed from God, and they ceased to acknowledge Him as their high King and ruler. They wanted a visible government, complete with a king and officials, which they saw as preferable to the leadership of an invisible God. They were looking for someone who looked "kingly," (1 Samuel 9:2) and they put great stock in the strength of their warriors and in the cleverness of this individual, who would lead them all to victory.  This pride in their warriors and faith in their king would make them just like everybody else (1 Samuel 8: 10-22).

This decision to follow an earthly king reflected a lack of faith in God. They didn't want Him to lead them and direct them any more, though He had proven Himself many times. They would rather trust in human strength, cleverness, and foresight, rather than trust in God's power. It was rebellion.

A Greater King

I have seen people in despair over this election.  Some seem to follow candidates with an almost religious devotion and fear the worst if their votes do not prevail.  I've heard multiple reports of voting fraud already, due to the new early voting option.  I've even heard reports of people threatening to riot if they don't get their way (which is unheard of in the US, for those who don't live here).  I can't say that the worst won't happen.  I will admit that it looks pretty grim.
However, I'm not ready to despair.  I follow a greater King, who I believe is going to take care of me if everything else falls apart.  He will not be dethroned in any election.  He wasn't dethroned in the ancient "election" that chose the first king for Israel.  Even though they had an earthly king, he and all of his court were still answerable to God.

In fact, God is in control of this election, though many strive to control it.  God already knows the outcome, and can do as He pleases about it.  As Isaiah described God:
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. (Isaiah 40: 22-24)
If we have been foolish, as the ancient Israelites were, and have put all our hope in the strength of an earthly king, we may get what we asked for, as they did.  That was its own punishment, as Samuel warned them (1 Samuel 8: 11-18), outlining a loss of property and personal freedom, leading to oppression.  Their earthly kings began by taking their sons to war and ultimately led the whole nation into shame and exile.

We can learn from their hard lesson, and not hang all of our hopes on people.  It is better to trust in God, and do our best as Christians to support a government that submits to God and maintains law and order (Romans 13: 1-5),  "not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience" as Paul explained.  All those in authority are put there by God, and answerable to His authority, so take heart!

See you at the polls! Don't forget to pray.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tackling the Mess with Faith

Today, I have to admit that I am suffering from an acute case of mental clutter that has lapsed over into real life. I look around and see a whole bunch of unfinished projects and half-run errands, like that craft project I bought the stuff for but didn't make, or things I didn't quite put back in their places because I would have to move too much furniture to do it.

I'm talking about it today because I think this is a common problem, and that it is often a testament to a kind of underlying fear (the type and origin of the fear depends on the situation).  Now, those who know God don't have to be afraid, because He's given us freedom from fear, but I can personally testify that once we've gotten into the habit, it is very difficult to stop.

Some people call fear a sin, condemning it as doubt of God, but I think it's really doubt of the physical world, such as doubt of our own strength. That doubt is something God can use to build our faith, if we let Him, or it can be a doubt that cripples us.

 I'm speaking of myself, too, as you recall.

Sometimes clutter, including mental clutter, comes from a deep need to avoid further trauma, but God is bigger than that trauma, and can use the situation to prove to us again that He can heal us, and that He is with us as we deal with the situation.  Sometimes clutter comes when we feel we need to prove ourselves, so we hyper-focus on that one aspect of our lives, letting the clutter build up elsewhere. In this case, God can build our faith by showing us how He gives us value and sustains us, and how He is worthy of our trust. God can make our efforts meaningful and adequate, even when we feel we haven't done enough, and He can stay on the job, taking care of the situation when we need to go do something else.

Sometimes fear-induced clutter has a different origin, which I might not have described, but I can say that whatever it is, God can meet that need. He can deal with the problem. We just have to have that tiny bit of faith that opens the door for Him to work on it with us. This is something God has been teaching me lately.

I am reminded of the verse in Hebrews that defines faith as a belief built on proof of God's power, which gives substance to the things we can't see yet. It says in the NIV, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see," (Hebrews 11: 1).  This verse sort of describes that middle time we are now living, between the thing God did that first gave us confidence in Him, and the thing God is going to do next, which will reassure us of that confidence.  The verse also points out that faith is generalizable; that is, it may have started when God proved His power in one situation, but it looks forward to a point when God will deal with something that came up later. In other words, faith believes that the same God who fixed us long ago can fix us today, and tomorrow, too, no matter what comes up.

So, wrapping this up, how can we deal with the fear-induced clutter of the mental and physical variety?  A lot of people say, "Just face it. Just start the process of cleaning up." Maybe that's all it is going to take for some people, but if fear is too crippling to allow us to "just start," I would say that we have to start by renewing our faith.  We need to remember God's strength, goodness, healing, or whatever answer He holds for our present need.  If we're going to face our fear, we need our confidence back, and that confidence is found in the unseen, but very real, power of God. Then, we can tackle the mess.

Are you dealing with fear-induced clutter today?  Here are some questions for reflection.
  1.  Sometimes clutter is the physical sort, like dirty laundry or junk mail. Sometimes it's mental, like social media and television, which can keep us from dealing with pressing issues in our lives.  What kind(s) of clutter do you feel you are dealing with today?  Is fear involved in the situation?
  2. In Psalm 77, David looked to the past to refresh his faith. What has God done for you in the past that inspired faith in Him? What was He teaching you about Himself in those circumstances?
  3. How can God's actions in the past give us confidence in our present circumstances?
  4. As we begin to tackle the clutter in our lives, what can we do to keep our confidence--our faith--strong throughout the week?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Luxury of Rest

I'm writing my Monday blog on Tuesday, because I've been busy with a million little tasks the past few days. I'm not complaining.  However, I do find it ironic that the subject God has been talking to me about a lot over the past week has been rest.  Specifically, the nature of the sabbath.

I've been reading a book about the sabbath this week, on loan from my sister, called Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab. I also keep stumbling across articles in magazines and on the web stressing the importance of rest and vacation time. Here are some key points I've gleaned from it all.

  • Doctors and office workers are pretty much united in the health benefits of periodic rest from work. I've also read several articles this week touting the benefits to creativity and innovation of taking a break from the routine, or from stress-inducing activities.  Why do we refuse to stop work, with all this evidence for the benefits of rest? Could it be a fear that we'll be left behind in the rush and information deluge? Could it be a fear of financial catastrophe? Whatever the cause, fear doesn't seem like a good place for Christians to live. The sabbath, as it was established, was like a weekly vacation or a celebration to remind us that God (not our own efforts) protects us and prospers us.
  • Sabbath in Hebrew can be translated "rest," but it more generally means "stop." So when the Bible says that God rested at the end of creation, it means that He also stopped. He stopped to enjoy all the things He had made, and He took a whole day to do it.  He invites us to step back and enjoy what He created, with Him.
  • When God first instituted Sabbath observance in the Ten Commandments, He reminded the nation of Israel of their slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5: 14-15). They had no break from their work as slaves, but the Sabbath distinguished them as free people under God's covenant, with no cruel masters to keep them working without a rest. The Sabbath symbolized freedom and the luxury to enjoy that freedom.
  • The Sabbath also symbolized God's abundance. The Israelites had to live hand to mouth every other day of the week, gathering only enough manna for that day, but on the Sabbath, they ate the extra manna, the extra blessing that God had sent them (Exodus 16: 21-26). They did six days of work but got paid for seven, in essence.
  • The origin of the Sunday celebration among Christians had to do with the day of the Resurrection, the "Lord's Day," not the timing of the Jewish Sabbath service, which is on Saturday. In essence, Sunday service for most Christians is a combined celebration of God's completion of Creation (the old sabbath) and Christ's completion of our redemption through His death and resurrection (the new sabbath, the new creation).
 I shared these points today because I want to encourage my readers to consider taking a Sabbath of some kind, perhaps not on Sunday or Saturday, but maybe on another day of the week. I'm not suggesting legalism or empty ceremony.  I'm talking about celebrating the luxury, freedom, and abundance that we have because of the God we serve.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not Stressed at All

I've been feeling stressed, harried, and sad this work week. It really doesn't follow anything going on in my life or the weather--in fact, life is great and the weather is blissful these days. I can only conclude that this discordant mood of mine is coming from spiritual sources, and they don't have my best interests at heart.

I think it started when I turned on the television in the morning on Monday and heard news reports about crime and travesties of justice, people believing lies about Jesus Christ and denials of God's plan. After a barrage of such things, the world begins to sound...well, depressing. And defiant. And really hostile to innocence. It's enough to stress out compassionate souls like myself, and it makes me sad, too, because this is not the kind of society that God blesses.

A God who made this can surely fix everything!
However, I am seeing that dwelling on this is the wrong reaction to bad reports on the airwaves. When we feel the distress of the world, it's a perfectly normal reaction to be dismayed--if it was up to us to overcome it, that is--but God has called me and you to seek Him to find supernatural contentment in the midst of chaos. In Jesus' words, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11: 28, 29 NIV).

The problems in this world are huge. Some of them may be insurmountable, in fact. Still, God is stronger and bigger than all of those problems.  We can find rest in Him because we can let Him be the one who makes everything "okay." Let me say that again...God makes everything work out; without Him, we would be in a constant tumbling state of chaos, but with Him, we can lie back and rest without knowing the future (Romans 8: 28), like a kid on a train.

We can trust Him to protect us, because He has proven Himself trustworthy. The Bible is full of miracles I could describe again for you here, but much more immediate are the miracles we fail to notice every day, from the rising of the sun to the meals we eat. We are blessed; God is keeping us every moment of every day, even when we aren't looking for Him or thanking Him for it. I know it is Him because there is nothing else big enough or powerful enough in knowledge or human power or natural might that can bring order out of chaos! If He could establish order among the careening planets to bring us day and night, spring and harvest in their times, He is capable of fixing the problems in the world today!

So, returning to my initial point, I see this bad mood that settles over my day after I hear bad news as unnecessary and basically silly. I know a good God, who is also great.  My problem is not that the problems that dismay me are too big. No, my problem is that I have a faith that is too weak, and needs refreshing. When I feel this way, I need to spend some time in prayer and reading the Bible, which is filled with God's supernatural reassurance.  After all, He already saw the future I'm facing now.  He's not worried. He's not stressed out, so why should I be?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23: 1-4 NIV
P.S. As I was writing this post, I tuned in to my free Pandora account and heard these songs, which helped me.  If you are, like me, in a "discordant" bad mood today, I think they might help you as well. God bless and keep you!

Fountain of Youth, 4Him
Wonderful Maker, Jeremy Camp
Hallelujah, Mike's Chair
Window with a View, 4Him
What Life Would Be Like, Big Daddy Weave
While I'm Waiting, John Waller
Lord Move, or Move Me, FFH

Monday, October 8, 2012

Traveling Small

I have been traveling this week--in fact, I'm posting this from an unfamiliar living room--and I feel the same things I have felt on previous long trips. I have scattered, sometimes vague impressions of people and places, and constant little reminders of God's presence and power in it all.

I guess traveling makes me feel a good way. What I mean to say is that it reminds me of the bigness of the world, and the infinitely larger bigness of the God who created it all.

Of course, if I had any doubts that God exists, I would only need to get into an airplane like I did this time (twice; once at sunset and once after dark), and look down at the great big world peeling off under the belly of the plane, with trees and streams, clouds and twinkling stars scattered attractively across the landscape outside my tiny porthole window.

I even got a chance to spot my own little neighborhood as the first leg of my flight took off, and all the great big nuisances that seem like monumental problems looked like miniature doll furniture from that new-found perspective.

So, traveling makes my life look literally small. It also reminds me the bigness of the world's problems. The first day after I arrived here in south Texas, I was exploring the town, and one of my destinations was a popular (and crowded) public street lined with little shops and restaurants. My host had recommended this area for the daytime, but also instructed me to watch out for vagrants and panhandlers there. I did find them (I think there were around ten in the span of five blocks), and as I pressed forward through the throngs of regular shoppers like myself, I was moved concerning these people.

They were strung out on drugs and alcohol, and some were clearly members of various cult-like religions that deny the true God. The sin in their lives had reduced them to such a point that their degradation was visible to all, but I had a sense that there were others there, in the affluently-dressed crowds, who carried a similar corruption and empty longing on the inside. As I prayed for them (yes, even while waiting for the crosswalk lights), I realized that they were there because they were not ready to hear from their Savior, but that He was also there, waiting for them to give Him a chance to help them.

I felt a hint of the intensity and the urgency and the heart-brokenness of the God who came to save a world full of crowds like this, but who was rejected by many of them. The streets where Jesus walked had the same mix of people, even though it was separated from where I was by thousands of years and miles.  It's the same scene everywhere, but maybe travel shows it more clearly than usual. All I know is that He saw the destructiveness and repulsiveness of sin in such scenes with more clarity than my own eyes can, and yet He had compassion.

That brings me to my next point--I was reminded that I was small because no gesture of mine could really change anything about the way things are, whether I am traveling or home, unless God used it. Only God sees the heart and can cause people to see the truth about Him, and the end result of sin. Only God can rescue the world. If I could ever change anything, it would be because God used something I did to advance His kingdom. Because, well, I'm small and frail compared to the needs of the whole world.

I asked God if He wanted me to do something about what I saw all around me, but all He asked of me was prayer that the hearts of the people would thirst for Him and nothing less (Isaiah 55: 1-2, 6-7). So, I did, even though it seemed like a meager offering. If anyone can change the sweeping landscape of the world that we see from a plane, or reach inside the dark places in the human heart, I know God can.

Today, I'm calling all believers to continue to pray for change at God's hand, because He can. I also call anyone reading this to do what Jesus asks you to do, wherever you are, and however futile it may seem. God can do things with our meager offering, but He needs a willing heart. It's okay to be small, because we know a very big God. We can rest in that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Death of Logic

I have written often on this blog concerning truth and logic, and what my folks used to call "common sense and decency."  I even wrote a series a few years ago outlining basic errors in logical argumentation and how to unravel them. I love logic, but I've got to say that by the looks of all the news I've been hearing lately, I am convinced that logic is becoming a rare bird.

Frankly, it's frightening.

Here's a recent example of what I'm talking about. I read in the news about a man who ordered a hamburger with no onion at a fast food restaurant, and then called the restaurant to complain that they had put onion on his burger. They apologized and told him to come back for a free replacement burger. He then ate the burger and returned to the restaurant to get his free extra burger. When the clerk told him that he couldn't get another hamburger because he'd eaten the evidence, so to speak, he threw the cash register and a soft drink at her.

Um...yeah....So, is this an illogical reaction? I think so. Logic has basic premises. We have to back up our arguments with proof, for instance (such as bringing the restaurant clerk the burger with onions clearly visible in it).  We also have to behave in such a way that our arguments are believable and acceptable (not throwing cash registers, for instance). Logical points or reactions are equivalent in magnitude to counterpoints our counter-reactions (for instance, most people would just pick the onions off instead of getting deeply upset). We're talking about basic, rational, civil behavior here. What is going on in our society?

The Bible predicts illogical or irrational behavior as a symptom of sin in a society. Proverbs has two such warnings: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1: 7 KJV), and "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" (Proverbs 9: 10 KJV).  In essence, what the Bible is saying is that once belief in God is established, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, and understanding will follow.  If you read it the other direction, however, it is saying that sound thinking (read logic, truth, common sense, and decency) will fly out the window once God is removed from the picture.

If you want to restate this more simply, you could say that the presence of God brings peace and order, while the absence of God brings chaos. This is even generalizable, because the breakdown of law and order in civilization or logic in the individual mind often starts with defiance of the basic rules, and the rule-enforcer. Get rid of God, get rid of all of His rules, and you have anarchy, even anarchy in our thinking patterns.

It is known that we have organizations and individuals in US society (and throughout the world) who are working to remove God from everything. The rise of illogical behavior is only a consequence, predicted well in advance for us to take heed.  We (as individuals and as society) need God; the chaos without Him only underscores the need.  The Bible points out this dependence on God when it says, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God," (Matthew 4: 4b NIV). Truth and logic precede from the mouth of God--they are the hallmarks of His order--and bread which sustains our strength also comes from His hand.  If we get rid of God, we are left exposed to the wrath of God, in an untenable situation where superior might is the only form of persuasion left to us, and even that fails without sustenance from God.

It doesn't seem logical to ignore warnings or the one who sends them, especially when they come true.  It doesn't seem logical to reject the one who is kind enough to warn of approaching danger. In fact, it isn't logical at all.  So what can a Christian do about the death of logic in society?  Illogic cannot be fought with logic (Proverbs 26: 4, 5); however, it can be fought with prayer, which is an appeal to a Higher Authority, asking that He demonstrate His authority again in the lives of those who have rejected Him.  Only when God's authority is recognized in an individual heart can logic make headway there. Otherwise, watch out for the proverbial (or literal) flying cash register. That's my point.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Justice Tempered with Mercy

Yom Kippur starts tonight at sundown (as I mentioned in my last post). It's a Jewish festival centered around God's justice. Jewish people traditionally believe that for the first ten days after the start of the year (on the Jewish calendar), God reviews His records about every individual and all the nations, and on Yom Kippur He passes judgement on each individual for the coming year.

Now, since this is not written in the Bible, I am reluctant to fully accept this tradition, but I do think it is a good starting point to reflect on the nature of justice today. If God was passing a ruling on the nations right now, what would He say? More importantly, what kind of justice can the world expect from God?

Justice: The Foundation of God's Throne

If I had to answer the first question, I would say God's assessment would be pretty sobering. I, in my humanity, have seen a lot of things in the news this week that offend my sense of justice, but I'm pretty sure that I am still blind to little injustices all around me.  I also know that not every injustice that is done in a day will ever make it to the news. If I in my weakness and limited knowledge can see injustice and be grieved by it, then I can only imagine what God sees, and records, in a given day, week, month, or year, and how much it grieves Him.

All the time that God is watching all of this, He is waiting for us to straighten up so He doesn't have to give us a whipping--pleading with us in the Bible, demanding our attention through nature. To Him, obedience is better than sacrifice and punishment (Hosea 6:6).  He loves not punishing people, because it distresses Him (Isaiah 63: 9), but for the sake of all the victims out there, He will continue to punish, and He won't forget even one punishment that is deserved. God does this because justice is the foundation of His very throne (Psalm 89: 14), one of the basic principles of His nature, and He will not change. He will not pervert justice, for any reason, and we can count on that...but is this the whole picture?

Justice Tempered with Mercy

 I think everyone says they love justice, but when it comes down to it,what they mean to say is that they love benefiting from justice, not reaping it. When we were kids, we liked to see our siblings get punished when they were cruel to us, but we hated being the kid who got the spanking.  Now that we're adults, we see that being the one meting out punishment is hard, too. As a parent, boss, or jury member, we want punishment to be severe enough to fit the crime, but at the same time, we worry about being too extreme in our punishment.

So, honestly, what we all want is justice (for injustice done to ourselves) tempered with mercy (when we are on the receiving end). Even God wants that for us.

This is why God, who has the power to bring justice with such fierceness that no one could stand before Him, chooses to wait and be patient, only dealing out punishment when it has the maximum effect and the most benefit for all.  This quality of God's nature and will is what Micah was describing in chapter 7, verse 18:
 Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. (NIV)
This quality of God's nature led Him to send His son, Jesus Christ, to die in our places. Jesus made our punishment His own, so that everyone who calls on Him can avoid the full measure of God's punishment, which is eternal spiritual death. It was a creative way to uphold justice while still being kind and merciful, and it illustrated, once and for all, God's brand of justice: unbiased and uniform, but also endlessly merciful.

That, my friends, is the kind of justice we should imitate, because God practiced it first, and He proved to us that it is good.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rosh Hashanah: God's Lordship and His Coming

Today marks the first of the "High Holy Days" on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year's day.  I'm talking about it today, because it bears greater symbolic significance today for the world than it has, perhaps, in previous decades.
Image from this site

This holiday is traditionally celebrated by blowing the shofar horn (which gets its significance from Numbers 10: 1-7, and Exodus 19: 16-19) and eating symbolic foods like honey and apples. The horn signifies God's leadership and lordship over mankind, and is also blown in praise of the Lord.  The honey and apples represent a blessing for a "sweet new year."

The Jewish people believe that on Rosh Hashanah the Lord opens His records on every person to review the sins and pass judgement at the beginning of the new year. His judgment is "sealed" 10 days later, on Yom Kippur (the "Day of Atonement").  This means that from today until Yom Kippur, Jewish people all over the world will be contemplating their deeds over the past year, and seeking to make atonement for the wrongs they've done, so that God will "seal" them in the Book of Life for the next year.

Significance for the World

While Christians do not have to observe this particular traditional holiday, they should at least contemplate the spiritual and symbolic meanings it has to the Jewish audience. The day also means something to Christians and Muslims (but I'll get to that).

First of all, in these troubled times, it would do us good to stop on a day like this and think about the lordship of God, and His authority, which gives Him the right to pronounce absolute judgment over our sins.  As my parents put it often enough to me, "If the Lord was to come back right now, what would He think about what you're doing?"  We talk a lot about the blessings of God or the salvation of Christ, but we ought to remember to consecrate our daily lives to God's service, as well.  God has been abundantly merciful and generous, "not wanting anyone to perish," (2 Peter 3:9 NIV), but He desires our obedience, and deserves honor from us!  I believe God is always watching, throughout the year and not just today, and that the standards He has shared with us in the Bible are boundaries He holds us to, as people who know Him and seek Him.  If sin was grave enough that Jesus had to die to atone for it, it should not be treated more lightly by those He has redeemed!

Secondly, the shofar of Rosh Hashanah has significance to those who are waiting for Christ's return. The Bible says that Christ's second coming will be heralded by horns, just as in the days of Moses (Exodus 19: 16; 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).  This has prompted many Biblical scholars to suggest that the Second Coming could very well happen on Rosh Hashanah or some time during the 10 days before Yom Kippur.  I don't know--Jesus Himself didn't tell us when He will come back--but it certainly is possible, and the perfect symbolism of this timing would make sense, since Christ's death and resurrection, as well as the day of Pentecost, were timed according to Jewish festivals.  If Jesus came back this week, it would be wonderful, but I suggest being prepared for His coming, whenever it could happen. It would be best for the Lord to find our hearts ready and watching for Him throughout the year (Luke 12: 35-37). 

Finally, the day is significant in light of world events this week. I would be insulting the intelligence of everyone in the Middle East if I failed to point out that the widespread violence there is occurring during the holiest week in the Jewish calendar, with rather significant timing. The anti-American and anti-Jewish speech I've already been hearing for a week seems perfectly timed to blot out this Jewish holiday, and to show aggression toward the Jewish race. It might be important to point out that the New Year of the Islamic calendar starts at sundown on November 14th this year, but it draws its name Ras as-Sanah from Rosh Hashanah, as well as some of its traditions.  In light of all of this, I now better understand what Israel's Prime Minister meant in a tv interview I saw yesterday, in which he said that in the Muslim's eyes "We are the same [the U.S. and Israel]."

I choose to accept this cheerfully (Matthew 5: 11-12)!  This is just another reason why Christians should pray for peace throughout the Middle East (Luke 6: 28), for the "sweetness" of the coming year, and for the salvation for many souls!

So, in summary, this week is significant because of the cultural meanings to the Jewish people and the world.  It is also an important reminder for Christians to contemplate their lives in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.  He could very well come today!

P.S. As an interesting note, although I am not Jewish, this holiday has personal significance to me, aside from all that I just discussed, because I accidentally timed the completion of the first draft of my novel for September 26th (Yom Kippur this year). The novel just happens to cover a lot of the topics significant to this holiday! Ironic, huh?

See you here next week!  As my Jewish friends would say it, Shana Tova (A good year)!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Jesus' Message Still Goes Out

These days, we rely so heavily on the internet for everything, from shopping to deciding what's for dinner, and a little bit of everything in between.  I know that I do! When I logged my computer on today and began to discover that pieces of the internet had stopped working due to a massive webhosting problem, I was  upset.  However, I'm not despairing. The most important things in my life are not really in cyberspace, and they don't crumble under technical failure or bad health, human error or any other problem.

The very most important thing is my life is my relationship with Jesus Christ. It's so important to me that others hear about Him and get to find out how awesome it is to know Jesus.  I also want to make a contribution, no matter how small, to the defense of faith when it's under attack. That's my main motivation for this blog. Today, I'm reminded again that this message, God's message, will still go out, even if a problem rises up to block it.  God just can't be stopped!  He's too big, too powerful.

Even when He's being ignored over the airwaves, He has messengers on the ground.  When even they cannot speak, God speaks through Creation itself, or object lessons in our lives. What Daniel prophesied about God and His power is still true today:
Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. 
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.  (Daniel 2: 20-22 NIV)

You know, reaching God is pretty low tech, because He designed it that way. You can talk to Him, anytime, anywhere, and you don't need a special device or specialized skills.  He can answer all of your questions, and no one can silence Him.  He can comfort you in the middle of a rotten day, and no one can interrupt Him when He's speaking. God is unstoppable, not merely because of the weakness of His enemies but rather due to the power of His righteousness. I know of no other who could truthfully be described this way: Accessible yet powerful, kind yet a conqueror, gentle yet unshakeable.  Do you know Him?
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. (Psalm 65: 5-7 NIV)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Prophesying Peace

 From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms.  But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true. --Jeremiah to Hananiah in Jeremiah 28: 8-9 NIV
This past week has been pretty heavily filled with troubling news of the state of the US and world economy, the changing (or vanishing) moral values of my country and others in the world, social unrest, wars and rumors of wars, various natural disasters, and even cruelty to animals. Just turn on the television and watch, and "The sights you see will drive you mad" (Deuteronomy 28: 34 NIV).

I cannot point you to a political savior, or some educational program that will stem the tide of broken homes. I cannot think of a way to stop hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, nor can I prevent diseases such as cancer from touching you (or a family close to you).  I'd love to tell you, "this wound is not serious" (Jeremiah 6:14), but it is.

I have something even worse to tell you--it's getting worse, and it's going to keep getting worse, unless this nation and this world turn back to God in humility and repentance and begin to obey Him.  I'm simply citing what the prophets wrote down, centuries ago.

Prophesying Peace

Deuteronomy chapter 28, for instance, seems to accurately describe all the things we are beginning to encounter today.  It can be summarized in two parts: (1) If you bless and honor God and His laws individually and as a nation, He will bless and prosper every facet of your life (even preventing disease and natural disasters), both individually and collectively; (2) If you turn away from God and do not obey His laws, both individually and collectively, He will curse you in every aspect of life (even bringing diseases and natural disasters), and eventually hand you over to a conqueror. Don't just take my word for this. Follow the link and read it for yourself.

When I see this distressing news all around me, I recognize it as a symptom of a spiritual decline, while it seems that many people around me dismiss God and are still looking for a physical, earthly solution.  What solutions do we have? Some people say the results of this upcoming US election will decide the fate of many nations.  Some people are looking for a scientific breakthrough. Some keep saying that if we just "believe in ourselves" and "spread a little love" that the chaos around us will go away.

I've heard these ideas often enough that they seem like prophecies to me; however, they have never come true.  They've been coming for decades, and yet things keep getting worse.  So, I'm ruling them out as false.  There must be another path to peace!

The Prophet Truly Sent by the Lord

It seems to me that there are only two ways to achieve peace on a large scale: (1) Take away the crowd's power and ability to resist (i.e. an enforced peace), (2) Change people's hearts until they no longer want the things that cause unrest.  I don't want the first choice. This is what God predicted (even promised) for those who reject Him.  In the past, this was accomplished by the Babylonians and the Romans, to name two.  Someday, it will be accomplished by a great political world leader, who the Bible calls the Antichrist, who will come with a bow (but no arrows) and will conquer (Revelation 6:2).

The second choice is Christ, who now proclaims peace in the hearts of those who know Him (Zechariah 9: 9-10; Luke 4: 16-21), and who has promised (read: prophesied) He will someday bring peace to the earth as well (see Matthew 23: 37-39; Jerusalem ironically means "City of Peace").  This first peace, which He has already brought, is a peace in our hearts. It is a freedom from the entrapment, shame, and punishment of sin.  It changes us (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because it is so disconnected from our circumstances, it is a peace that lasts when there is no peace around.
So what Jesus Christ prophesied has come true--from His death to His resurrection, from His message to His mission. What He promised, He did. Shouldn't we recognize that He has "truly [been] sent by the Lord" to bring us the "solution" to all our problems?  Since He fulfilled His promises, can't we trust Him that He will fulfill the last one (upon His return)?

Since some people have said that blog posts of this sort are "too depressing," I want to end this post with a clear message of hope, which is the entirety of my intent.  Although circumstances are bad (and if we linger on them, we can get depressed), there is a clear path to peace, a clear lasting joy, and an enduring hope.  They are all found in a personal relationship with Christ.  Seek Him. Know Him. Follow Him. Obey Him.  Christ has spoken peace into a troubled world, so believe what He said!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Trust and the Sabbath

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work....For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.--Exodus 20: 9-11

For some time now, I have been pushing myself so hard in my work that I've pretty much worked right through the weekend.  Besides the fact that I feel guilty about my failure to take a proper Sabbath, I've heard (and can personally confirm) that this kind of schedule is bad for creating burnout and heightening stress levels.  So, this past weekend, I really tried to stop. I really did. I ended up feeling restless and even bored, and found myself switching the computer on again, just to fill the boredom.

This experiment revealed some weaknesses in me that I need to correct. It also made me think a little more about the purpose of the Sabbath in Biblical times.  Most obviously, it was symbolic of the rest that we could find in Christ, who opened the doors of heaven for those who believe in Him (see Hebrews 4: 8-11).  Without minimizing this very important meaning, I also wanted to point out some subtler messages that the sabbath rest sends.

To a mostly agrarian society, the idea of completely stopping all work one day of the week was pretty radical. A lot can happen with livestock in one day (obviously, the Bible made allowances for helping an animal in distress on the Sabbath).  Also, if a person is harvesting a field and has to stop for a day of rest, what could happen to the unharvested crop in the meantime? This carries forward today, even in non-agrarian jobs, when a worker has to leave a project half-completed, and wonders if he or she did "enough" to stem the work overload when Monday comes.

There is also the worry about finances that creeps over people when they are not working. Taking a whole day off makes people very aware of the fact that they are not making money at that moment, especially those who make little money anyway, or those who have a lot of bills.  Since money buys food, clothing, and shelter, and these things are essential for life, taking a day off is almost like jeopardizing survival.  It can be scary!

On top of these basic worries, there is a feeling of lost esteem that can overtake people who are used to actively working at a job.  There may be few people to interact with on a day off, and no accolades or any kind of emotional reward.  This is perhaps the most subtle loss of all.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that, besides the spiritual symbolism, the Sabbath is a trust exercise that God established to teach us about Him and to clear up our misconceptions about work.  We can get so involved in our work that we begin to think we can control our futures and buy our salvation and security with our efforts, and we begin to value ourselves by our labor. God wants us to see that He guards our interests, provides for our needs, and gives us the value and attention that we secretly desire--but we need to trust His word on it!  Through Christ, God's only son, God has prepared and established a future for those who know Him which can never be taken away--not even by a catastrophe that sweeps over us in one day. The work of preparation, and the work of salvation, is already done. Now He just wants us to enjoy it with Him.

Let me reiterate my point: Work is good, but it serves a different purpose from establishing salvation, protecting our futures, or giving us our value. God has already done all of that, so if at all possible, we should take time from our labors to acknowledge and truly enjoy this new-found rest with Him.  That is what the Sabbath is for--a weekly reminder of God's power and provision.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Heed the Warnings

The evening news has been rather disturbing this week, bristling with stories of Christian persecution worldwide, as well as a declining moral climate and an increased acceptance of sin, especially in the legal arena.

Meanwhile, I have been reading through Jeremiah again.  I don't think I'm imagining things when I see similarities between the ancient Jewish culture in that book and today's culture.  The prophet told those people to repent or face punishment, and in chapter 18, he went through an elaborate demonstration and object lesson to convey this message. Even so, the leaders and officials seemed unimpressed.  They scoffed and said, "It's no use. We will continue with our own plans" (Jeremiah 18:12). These days, a similar reply would be, "You go your way, I'll go mine."  Even the threat of God's wrath, or of suffering and danger, was not enough to shake them or change their minds.

I bring up Jeremiah because I am concerned for the United States and many other so-called Christian countries of the world that have been making world news headlines recently with immorality and scandal. If God judged sin in those days with drought, famine, plague, violence, and ultimately invasion from a foreign power, what is to prevent Him from judging sin the same way now? I'm also deeply concerned that I've been seeing the same unimpressed, lackadaisical response to the threat of God's wrath in today's world as there was, long ago.

This is all very troubling. I could delve deeply into the situation, but there is not enough room in this blog post, or my schedule.  Besides, my main point is to call my readers to prayer and revival.

The sky is not falling; God is still in control, no matter what the newspapers say.  However, where there is sin to be given up, we should seek the Lord's forgiveness and change our ways. It is time for Christians to gather and pray for each other, and to pray for revival--a return to the Lord and His ways--worldwide.  The world doesn't need our charity as much as it needs our Savior.  It doesn't need our condolences as much as it needs His comforting.

I am praying nightly for these things. Care to join me? Set aside some time every evening, perhaps right after the evening news goes off on television, to pray for your neighbor, your nation, and any country in the world that you heard about on the news.  It may only take a moment, but it is a significant step!  Ask the Lord to reveal sin and bring about a desire for Him in the hearts of those you are praying for (that includes yourself and your own household).  Pray for the missionaries, preachers, and lay ministers.  Petition the Lord for a harvest of souls, and a change in the world through revival. Pray for the Lord's guidance and protection in this increasingly dangerous world. See you at the prayer closet!
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55: 6, 7 NIV)