Monday, May 9, 2016

What if...?

What if I woke up tomorrow and everything was different? What if I lost my job? Lost my house? My savings vanished? What if our whole American system collapsed? What if there was a nuclear holocaust and I was one of the survivors?

If those things - or worse - happened, what would be my response? Would I, as Job's wife suggested (Job 2:9), "curse God and die"?

How morbid, right? Then let me phrase the question another way, a way suggested by one of our worship songs at church yesterday. It was my first time attending this church, Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach and it was an awesome time of singing! So as we were singing, the words just jumped out at me as if the Lord were speaking directly to me:
Should this life hold nothing but my Savior,
I will praise you always.
And then later in the same song (What A Savior, Hillsong Worship),
Should this life I live hold nothing but the cross
Where Jesus took my shame,
Then with arms stretched wide and my hands held high,
My every breath will breathe again.
So here's the thing - when I sing that, how much do I mean it? It's easy to say all we need is Jesus. It makes for a nice emotional song on Sunday morning. But really. If life held NOTHNG but Jesus - nothing - would I praise him? Would you?

But that's what real faith is. Repenting and believing in Jesus - salvation - is not a formula to give us "fire insurance." Or just a ticket to heaven. It's not saying the magic words in a prayer and then going on our merry way. It's turning to him with our whole lives. And when we do that, we realize that we exist for his glory, not for our comfort.

Knowing that Jesus is all we need is where real freedom is. Because once we reach that point, we don't have a fret about elections. Or the economy. Or ISIS. Or anything else.

Take it all, but give me Jesus. Did you sing that Sunday? Did you mean it?

Then, as Frankie says.....relax.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Facebook Live

Well, as many of you - at least those who are my Facebook friends - know, I recently discovered Facebook's new tool. (At least, it's new to me.) It seems like a great way to discuss how the gospel applies to life. I have done three videos so far: One on the nature of truth, one with some thoughts from Batman vs. Superman, and one about what it means to have single mindedness.

My friend BJ has referred to what I've done as a "vlog." I've got to admit it's a pretty cool way to communicate. Not only do I get observations out there quicker than with a written blog, but there also seems to be a bigger audience.

(This is actually a concern for me, because I never want to publish or post for pride. I want to influence as many people as possible to live life as it was meant to be lived, in fellowship with our Creator, and have some dialogue about how to do it. Motives are a funny thing; I pray that mine would be as pure as possible.)

If it's going to be worth doing, a lot of viewers/readers is a good thing. So, unless and until it gets old, I think I'm going to keep that up. But...

There's nothing that replaces writing, is there? It requires thought, style, and the ability to organize information in an interesting way. And it's easy to save for future reference, and thus is a good way to create a legacy.

So, the writing is not done. I will continue this blog as long as I think it can make a difference. Sometimes I will write about the same topic as a video. Sometimes it will be something completely different. But it will always be based in what the Lord is teaching me, both through life and the Scriptures.

Let me know your thoughts...

Monday, April 18, 2016

My way

Recently I was blessed to hear and excellent motivational speech. It included a lot of good principles for being a good decision maker and creating a positive, productive atmosphere. At the end of the speech the presenter shared a video to illustrate the last point: "Choose happiness." In the video, there was a drummer who absolutely stole the show. A young woman was singing, but the drummer was having so much fun they moved the camera to watch him. He really was choosing to enjoy himself:


But I could not completely enjoy the moment; I got distracted by the song choice in the video.

My Way is a ballad written by Paul Anka and popularized by Frank Sinatra. It has a catchy melody, builds to a powerful crescendo, and has very proud, even defiant lyrics. I have no doubt that many successful people have considered it to be their anthem as they have looked back over their lives. I know I have heard of it being sung at funerals.

How sad.
"I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way."
"Through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up, and spit it out. I faced it all, and I stood tall, and did it my way."
And saddest of all, the ending...
 "For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has not...The record shows, I took the blows, and did it my way."
The anthem of successful people? More like the anthem of the road to hell.

The Scriptures could not be any clearer on what has separated us from our Creator. Start with the garden, where the man and woman decide they know more than God and are going to choose their food their way. A few chapters later, humanity declares "My way!" and tries to build a tower as a monument to themselves - the Tower of Babel. The children of Israel cry out "My way! My way! My way!" as they worship false gods over and over, finding themselves in Babylonian  exile.

On and on it goes. Rulers build empires and kingdoms. Businessmen build large successful corporations. Politicians manipulate the system to their own gain.

But before we point fingers at the powerful...we all do it, don't we? We base families on the sand of giving our children a better (more comfortable) life - we do it our way. We spend our leisure time and our money on whatever makes us happy. We make minute by minute choices based on our way, without a thought of our higher purpose.

All the while subconsciously singing along with Ol' Blue Eyes.

You and I were created for a purpose. Like the rest of the universe, we are designed to reflect the glory of God. What a messed up world we've created by our insistence on our own way. What if more and more of us realized that "my way" is a dead end? That we were made in the image of God and should reflect that image? That we are not like the sun, giving out our own light, but like the moon, reflecting the light of the sun?

It will happen in totality one day, when all who have ever lived will bow down before Jesus. (see Philippians 2:9-11 and Revelation 5:6-14) In the meantime I pray that you and I will, with God's help, live life, not our way, but his way.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Book review: Bad Religion

Not too long ago, I came across an article about the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump; the article was entitled How Christianity Explains Trump. In the course of the article a reference was made to the book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Ross Douthat, a columnist for the New York Times. As I look around at the state of faith in my country today, I found the premise fascinating. So it didn't take me too long to read it. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the history of 20th and 21st century American religion, and what it means for us today.

The book is divided into two main parts. First, it traces major trends in religion over the past 100 years or so. This may sound like a tedious exercise and at times it really is. There is a lot of history, a lot of names, and no shortage of facts. While this is laborious, it is necessary to lay the groundwork for today's issues. He starts with a period of time where faith was grounded in the historic Christian tradition. While there were the usual denominational disagreements about doctrines, the foundation was the historic view of the nature of Jesus, the Trinity, and God's purposes for the world. The church was growing in popularity and figures like Billy Graham helped spur unprecedented levels of church attendance. He then shows how the church moved into what he calls "the locust years," where people (and clergy) were leaving the church in droves. Much of the church then responded with "accommodation," which was based on the idea that if we could just water down the message, people would come back to a faith that didn't demand much of them. It didn't work. So then came "resistance," characterized by pushback against the softness of accommodation. It led to active political involvement of evangelicals and is the basis of much of the support from Christians that Republicans enjoy today.

And then we come to today's world, and this is where I think Douthat has hit the nail on the head. All of these forces have led us to a pair of religious philosophies that he labels as heresies. My first reaction was, "Whoa, that's strong language!" But as I look back on the warnings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles about false teachers, I think he may have something. Both of these heresies are driving the public debates of 2016.

The first is the prosperity gospel - the unscriptural concept that God's primary goal for Christians is that we have riches, or at least an easy life. If we pray hard enough or have enough faith, God stands ready to give us all that we ever wanted. Put another way, God owes me the American Dream. This is an insidious distortion of the gospel, but why is the subject for another post.

The second is when we turn American nationalism into a religion. Somehow, a large number of us have come to believe that we are some sort of latter day Israelites, the chosen nation of God. And as such, we claim the promises of God to his people (made up of "people from every tribe and language and people and nation" - Revelation 5:9) and act as if they were made specifically to our nation. This leads to a sense of entitlement and religious snobbery toward our Christian brothers and sisters around the world. It show up on the liberal side in a belief that the USA is the solution to all the world's problems. On the conservative side, it shows up as a deep pessimism: Woe is us, for our nation which used to serve the living God is sliding down the path to destruction. If only we were God's people like we used to be.

The fact is (conservatives) that God's people have always been a remnant in every nation. It should be out goal to expand the kingdom of God one person at a time.

And it is also true (liberals) that our country is not the church and so we can not expect it to meet the needs of all the people; that's our job.

I believe the book gives an excellent diagnosis of the deep divisions we have in this country. So how should we respond as Christians? I believe we must:

  • Commit ourselves to the kingdom of God as our first loyalty,
  • Recognize that our material blessings are a gift of God, not a right as Americans,
  • Use more of our resources (time and money) for God's kingdom, including finding ways to meet the needs of the poor,
  • Make sure our political thinking is kingdom-based, taking a stand on each issue separately rather than allowing ourselves to be pigeon-holed into one box or the other, and, above all,
  • Avoid voting out of fear or with our pocketbooks; vote for what's right without regard for self.
Again, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is wondering why Christian influence is divided and waning. And then I recommend a lot of prayer about what you can do.

God bless his creation.