Friday, November 11, 2016

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE PRO-LIFE?

I am pro-life. I have not been as pro-life as I thought I was and professed to be. I am trying to become thoroughly and consistently pro-life as I attempt to listen, study, and think more deeply than I too often have in the past. God is the Author of life. Jesus came to give abundant life. The Bible is the most pro-life book in the world -- although it never clearly mentions abortion. A Biblical world view promotes a pro-life philosophy which is broad and all-encompassing.

There is lots of talk, especially around elections about whether or not someone is “pro-life.” Often the term is an abbreviation for being anti-abortion and anti-choice and in being in favor of the appointment of Supreme Court justices who will vote to reverse cases like Roe v. Wade.

While these are very important considerations central to a pro-life world view, they are only one part of it. Being pro-life is being FOR life – not only for life in contrast to death, but also for quality of life. Pro-life means promoting a good life, a life characterized by “Shalom” – peace, health, prosperity, freedom, etc. – what we all want for our grandchildren.

For example, to oppose human trafficking, is to be pro-life. To eliminate racism is to be pro-life. To address issues related to poverty is pro-life. To promote religious freedom and eliminate persecution are to be pro-life.

With regard to abortion, being truly pro-life goes beyond rhetoric and bumper-sticker slogans. It involves studying to find out what are the circumstances in our society which contribute to people feeling that abortion is their only option. In other words, what kind of things actually reduce the number of lives abruptly ended by abortion. What policies and supports would enable women to feel they could keep their child, or, if necessary, give them up for adoption rather than turning to abortion.

Of course, for followers of Jesus, being pro-life includes caring about life after death – about eternal life in the new earth where Jesus will fix everything sin broke and restore the whole creation to its original perfection. How could I claim to be pro-life and not want everyone to experience the love, hope, forgiveness, and eternal life Jesus’ offers because of His death and resurrection. How could I not want to spread Jesus’ teachings which at their core are to love God and to love your neighbor?

In the pursuit of saving lives by reducing the number of abortions, one must get beyond slogans to examine why Roe v Wade was approved by a conservative judges appointed by a conservative president. One must consider what kind of policies and legislation actually reduce the rate of abortions. Pro-life voting needs to reflect a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be truly pro-life.

Below is a long list of topics which are related to a pro-life world view. The list is not complete and is only suggestive. Each item deserves to be explained and fleshed out. To be truly pro-life is to care about these kinds of issues and to invest oneself and one’s resources to address the problems they represent which are anti-life. Voting pro-life is far more than addressing the very important issue of abortion. Voting pro-life means to vote for job creation, for quality education, for affordable and accessible health care, etc.

Please comment below and add other pro-life issues.

Areas related to a robust pro-life world view:

1. Abortion, 2. End of life – euthanasia, 3. Poverty, 4. Education, quality schools, 5. Affordable college, 6. Trade schools, 7. Preschool, 8. After school care, 9. Special education, 10. School meals, 11. Mental health, 12. Programs for handicapped, 13. Adoption-friendly laws and financial accessibility, 14. Foster care, 15. Child abuse, 16. Jobs, 17. Job training, 18. Workers’ rights/protection, 19. Family-sustaining wages, 20. Equal pay for women, 21. Affordable, accessible health care, 22. Affordable, accessible pre-natal care, 23. Medical research, 24. Supreme Court appointments, 25. Birth control accessibility, 26. Religious freedom, 27. Immigration, 28. Refugees, 29. Racism, 30. Anti-Semitism, 31. Hate speech, homophobia, 32. White supremacism, 33. Hate-mongering, 34. Climate change, 35. Tax policy, 36. Criminal justice issues, 37. Nationalism, 38. War, 39. Despotism, 40. Persecution, 41. Voting rights, 42. Sex trade, 43. Human trafficking, 44. Slavery, 45. Child labor, 46. Illegal Drugs, 47. Prison reform, 48. Re-entry help for ex-felons, 49. Hospitals, 50. “law and order,” 51. policing, 52. judicial system, 53. affordable housing, 54. mortgage rates, 55. bullying, 56. social security, 57. Medicare, 58. Medicaid, 59. Interest rates, 60. Energy issues, 61. Transportation, 62. Buses, 63. Sidewalks, 64. Bike paths, 65. Parks, 66. playgrounds, 67. COLA, 68. Senior care, 69. Home health care, 70. Nursing homes, 71. Freedom of speech/press, 72. Access to shopping, 73. Affordable car insurance, 74. Help for single parents, 75. Food pantries, trucks, 76. Clothes closets, 77. Organizations and ministries addressing poverty, 78. Community development, 79. Access to technology and the internet,

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

How our Lifegroup is dealing with the election.

The Lifegroup (home Bible study) Gloria and I have been part of for many years is a wonderful place where we enjoy friendship, mutual support and encouragement, Bible study, prayer, great food (too much), and a lot of fun and laughter. It's quite a diverse collection of 10-20 people who get together approximately every other week in each others' homes.

Actually our group is a lot like Jesus' small group of 12 disciples -- you know, Peter, James, John, Judas, etc. Now we certainly don't measure up to the caliber of those great apostles who became the foundation of Jesus' church. But we're a lot like them politically -- divided to the max.

After all, one of the disciples was Simon the Zealot. He had belonged to a group (the Zealots) who were committed to the violent overthrow of the Roman government. I'm sure the Romans looked at them like radical terrorists. On the extreme far end of the political spectrum was Matthew the tax collector. This Jewish man was a collaborator with the oppressive Roman government. His fellow Jews would have looked on him as a traitor of the worst kind. He made his living collecting taxes from his fellow Jews for the hated Roman oppressors. He would've been an outcast in Jewish society, lumped together with "sinners" of the worst sort. Their extreme opposite political commitments make the most radical Republicans and Democrats today look like "best buds."

But Jesus brought these two together to work in love and unity for a higher cause -- promoting Jesus and the Good News of His now-and-forever kingdom. Imagine -- working together in harmony in spite of the radical political differences they had espoused and practiced.

That's what Jesus' church should be like -- very diverse and rabidly united in love and in the pursuit of Jesus' mission. Jesus transforms us by His love and power and unites us around a cause that transcends politics like the Sun transcends the streetlight at the end of the block.

Like the 12, our Lifegroup is very politically divided. It includes passionate Donald Trump supporters and passionate "never Trump" advocates. I'm talking about some seriously strong opinions (mine included). Both "sides" think they're right (logically, politically, and Biblically) -- which amazes me because which is right is crystal clear to me, and I can passionately defend the one-and-only correct view. Everybody smile and roll your eyes here.

So how did our Lifegroup respond to last night's election results when some feel like celebrating and some feel like being in deep grief? Some feel that the savior of America and godly values has been anointed while others feel that the destroyer of America and godly values has now been empowered. Tonight we met, talked over some great food, and then moved into our more serious time. We passed out four bells so we had four "no-partisan-talk-allowed" monitors. At least for tonight, if anyone started to talk about how good or bad the election outcome was or to advocate for one candidate or the other, one of bell-holders was supposed to ring their bell as a call to "cease and desist." It worked! We had no divisive, angry, or passionate debate.

Instead we divided up a number of Scriptures to read (see below) and then spent time in prayer for 15 items related to the election on which we could all hopefully agree.

The Scriptures addressed two questions:

What do the following passages teach about God’s involvement in elevating or deposing rulers? Deuteronomy 17:12 Daniel 2:20, 21 Daniel 4:17, 32 Daniel 5:21 Proverbs 8:15, 16 Jeremiah 27:5 Luke 1:52 What do the following verses teach about how God's people are to respond to those who rule over them? Deuteronomy 17:12 Psalm 146:3 Romans 13:1, 2 Titus 3:1 1 Peter 2:13-17 1 Timothy 2:1-6

The prayer requests we then spent time talking to God about were:

PRAYERS WE HOPEFULLY CAN ALL AGREE ON: 1. Pray that Christians will be as passionate about sharing the Gospel, winning lost people, and promoting Jesus, as many have been in promoting their candidate (whoever that was). 2. Pray that Christians will obey the Scriptures to honor, be subject to, and to pray for those who rule over them (see earlier list). 3. Pray for healing of the great divide in our nation, our government, our institutions, our different ethnicities, genders, and economic standing, and between many Christians. 4. Pray for both “sides” to treat each other with respect, to learn to truly listen to the other, to engage in civil discourse, and to understand others’ viewpoints before arguing against them. 5. Pray for people on BOTH sides to be slow to believe and quick to condemn the multiplication of false and/or unproven accusations, and quick to investigate non-partisan sources to discern and to disseminate the truth. 6. Pray for wisdom for President Obama and the congress as to what to do during these last “lame duck” weeks. 7. Pray for President Trump & VP Pence: that they will have great wisdom and listen to wise counselors as they plan their appointments, priorities, and agenda. 8. Pray that God will place people of unblemished integrity and godliness close to President Trump and that he will listen to their counsel -- like Daniel in the Bible who influenced multiple pagan kings. 9. Pray for an end to the bitter partisanship which has benefited no one, and that the politicians will find ways to work together for the good of all the people in the nation. 10. Pray for those who feel disenfranchised and fear for the future – that the new President will be able to reassure them by his words and actions. 11. Pray for the President and congress to enact policies and laws which will promote the value of life from conception to end of life, which will address the underlying issues which increase the number of abortions (e.g. poverty, access to health care, lack of living wage jobs, etc.), and which will value the lives of those who are marginalized and oppressed (e.g. sexual slavery, child labor, discrimination, criminal justice, persecution, etc.). 12. Pray for the appointment and approval of judges who will value life and morality. 13. Pray that God will raise up future candidates in BOTH parties whose personal character and political agendas reflect godly values and morality. 14. Pray for the advance of the Gospel in the USA and throughout the world. 15. Pray that the USA will stand in support of the nation of Israel but also be willing to confront them if it appears they are doing wrong.

Okay, it was probably too simplistic and could be perceived as producing a temporary and artificial unity without learning to have a serious civil discussion of our differences. But it kind of forced us to set down our swords and together to be reminded of how the Scriptures demand God's people to respond to government even (or especially) when it's rulers don't share our values -- think "NERO" and "CALIGULA" in the first century.

Perhaps it also reminded us that it is more important to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-6) for those God has placed over us (Romans 13:1) than to argue, complain, or gloat. I hope it's a start.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The ELECTION: how to pray

How should we pray about the election?

First, remember that although the presidential election is obviously getting the most attention, there are many other offices and positions on the ballot which are very important and effect our everyday lives (e.g. judges, mileage, etc.). To some who don't plan to vote because they are so disgusted with it all and wanting to make a statement to the parties and politicians that we demand better -- don't forget that you can still vote for many other important positions and proposals also on the ballot (e.g. judges, millage, etc.). By the way, making a statement by not voting or by voting for a candidate who doesn't have a ghost of a chance to win, only makes sense if you also actually "make a statement" to the parties and politicians by telling them (email is an easy way) that you did not vote, why you didn't vote, and what you want to see changed. Personally I am still very torn as to whether to vote for the presidential candidate who I believe will be the least bad regarding the MANY things I value deeply, or whether I will "make a statement" by not voting (for president) or by voting for someone other than the two primary candidates. I have already emailed both parties and candidates repeatedly expressing my frustration, disapproval, and disgust, as well as my suggestions and hopes for the future.

The good news is that next Wednesday, the election and all it's related frenzy will be behind us.  The bad news is that NO MATTER WHO WINS, the country will most likely be horribly and acrimoniously divided and the branches of government paralyzed by stubborn and self-destructive partisanship, so that, for better and for worse, very little good or bad will be accomplished by the politicians.

Before we know who will win, could I remind myself and all of us that Christians are mandated to honor (even horrific despots like Nero) and pray for those God places over us whether He gives us whom we want, whom we need, or whom we deserve.  Personally, I have VERY strong feelings about who we should NOT vote for in this election and am not at all pleased with either of the two primary choices. But, no matter how intensely I may disagree with the winner, when the election is over, I'm going to do my best to give them a "fresh start" (hold me accountable to this) and to try not to read into everything he or she does or does not do all the horrific things that people and pundits have been continually throwing at them in this election cycle.

I will pray that all the character flaws which now seem so obvious will be replaced by genuine integrity and concern for bringing people together to accomplish good -- and will try to be hopeful and optimistic in looking for those things. I will pray that God will bring into their lives people and circumstances that will change and shape them into beneficent people with good character and values. I will pray that whatever they have been and done in the past, they will surprise half of Americans by doing and being far better. I will really try to give them a chance and to NOT CONTINUALLY BRING UP ALL THE ISSUES that probably actually needed to be aired before the election but perhaps should be laid aside afterward in order to give them an opportunity to be and do well. I will pray that I will be open to recognizing the positive and to say, "That was good!" rather than "I told you so!" Again, hold me accountable to this.

Because many people are passionately praying FOR their own candidate and AGAINST the candidate of others who are praying FOR their candidate and AGAINST the candidate of others, I will seek to pray more in ways that are more consistent with clear Biblical lessons. Aren't you glad God can sort through our foolishness, ignorance, bias, and too-often, our ill-directed passion-laced prayers!

Of course, we all know that we are right and those who disagree with us are wrong. Right?! Does it trouble you that Christians and Christian leaders can disagree so vehemently about which presidential candidate all Christians should or should not vote for, and predict that the world as we know it in the USA will likely come to a catastrophic conclusion if the wrong person wins? The trouble is, many Christians and Christian leaders just don't agree on which candidate that is. I'm frankly surprised that the "antichrist" card hasn't been played more frequently (and incorrectly I should quickly add). Perhaps I and others need a bit more humility in our positions and an open-mindedness that gives God space to teach and correct us.

So here's some Biblical guidance on HOW TO PRAY ABOUT THE ELECTION:

"Not my will, but Yours be done" Luke 22:42

"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"   Matthew 6:10)

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men."  1 Timothy 2:1-6

"Come, Lord Jesus" Revelation 22:20

Remember: "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save." Psalm 146:3

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

"My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Jesus’ seven sayings from the cross are some of the most remarkable lines ever spoken. Together they form a stunning picture of what it means to live a righteous life in a sinful, violent world full of suffering and injustice.

Jesus’ grief-filled question is both theologically rich and wonderfully reassuring.

Jesus’ question reveals that He was not only God, but also genuinely human -- “Fully God and fully man” as theologians like to say. As a real man, He had feelings and emotions. Everything in Him shrank from His brutal suffering. Imagine His sense of betrayal by the One who loved Him the most! Imagine the pain of seeing His Father turn away and not help or rescue Him in His time of agony and greatest need! These were the first moments in all eternity when the perfect, intimate fellowship between Father and Son was broken.

His question reveals the horribleness of sin – how it separates us from God, creating distance, alienation, and loneliness. Jesus paid a horrific price so we could be completely forgiven.

Jesus’ question reveals that it’s okay to ask the question, “Why?” Jesus did.

His words reveals that questions, doubts, and faith are compatible. Introducing Jesus’ pain-filled question was His doubled affirmation of faith. His faith in God’s existence and in the solidarity of their relationship are embodied in the words, “My GOD, MY God.”

Have you been betrayed by people you loved? Have you experienced excruciating physical or emotional pain? Have you ever felt that God had abandoned you?

Don’t be afraid to tell God what you feel; then confess your faith – “My God!”

“God, my God, I do not understand why you allow pain and injustice in my life and in the world, but I believe that You are God and You will not forsake me. Help me to trust you and to do Your will no matter how hard it is.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Questions to consider with regard to the election

This has been a very contentious election season. Even Christians are horribly polarized between what many see as two deeply flawed primary candidates and not sure what to think about a number of alternative candidates whose paths to the White House seem next to impossible. Some people argue that we should vote for the “lesser evil” though they don’t agree who that is. Some argue that we should vote on a single issue despite the perceived character of a candidate. Some argue that we should abandon the major parties and make a statement for the future by “wasting” our vote on a write in.

The following questions are not intended or designed to persuade anyone about whom to vote for. They are designed to help Christians to have a positive discussion about how Jesus’ followers can best represent Him and the Gospel in a very emotional and strife-filled environment. They will hopefully provide helpful insights beyond this election cycle.

The following are not in any order of priority:

1. How can Christians passionately share their beliefs about the election without turning people off who don’t agree with them so that after the election they haven’t lost the opportunity to talk to them about Jesus and the Gospel?

2. Try to totally forget about this year’s candidates and the divisive campaigns and make a list: What are the most important qualities you would like to see in the candidates for president in a future election? In what ways would you like a candidate to be like Jesus?

3. Two very common warnings in the Bible are: (1) to not be deceived, and (2) to not engage in passing on gossip and slander. This year, both candidates have made many big campaign promises and people from both sides have widely publicized a huge amount of false accusations. How can a Christian discern which promises are likely to be fulfilled and find out which accusations are true or false? If a Christian discovers an accusation is false (for example on Facebook), what should they do about it?

4. Why do you think that many Christians are boldly and passionately speaking out about the election far more than they talk about Jesus and the Gospel?

5. What are some things after the election that pro-life Christians can do in order to reduce the number of abortions (1) in our community, (2) in our nation, and (3) in the world?

6. Polls show that a majority of voters this year will vote AGAINST a candidate rather than FOR a candidate. What can we do to try to have candidates inspiring positive votes rather than negative ones for the next presidential election?

7. In a year when people are saying horrible things about the candidate they oppose how should Christians who feel passionately about the election speak in light of the Bible’s commands to “honor” and “respect” those who govern us (even scoundrels like Nero in the 1st century) and to speak with both “grace” and “truth”?

8. Most Christians agree on what they believe the Bible teaches about abortion. What are some important Biblical principles with political implications about the following issues: religious liberty, poverty, racism, immigration, refugees, wealth/greed, tax reform, attitudes toward other nations, attitudes toward non-Christian religions, unclear proliferation, climate change, response to the LGBT community, criminal justice reform, “Black lives matter,” nationalism, war/nation building, economic policy, the relative place of character in candidates, etc.

9. Some Christians supporting Trump and supporting Clinton make statements like “If you’re a Christian, you can’t vote for __________.” Why is there such strong disagreement this year? How do such statements sound to non-Christians? What might be a better way for Christians to express their strong “convictions” about the election?

10. Being pro-life obviously means to oppose abortion. List as may other issues as you can which are also important pro-life issues which Christians should care about.

11. What are some practical guidelines for Christians who want to use Facebook to engage in political debate but don’t want to harm their relationships or damage their witness to lost people? What are some practical guidelines for political posts on FB?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The antidote to hopelessness

Jesus' followers were understandably devastated by His betrayal, arrest, torture, sham trials, and brutal crucifixion. Their hopes were dashed! All that they had imagined and dreamed had turned into the worst possible nightmare.

At Jesus' empty tomb (Luke 24), the angel decked out in "clothes that gleamed like lightning" challenged their despairing gloom: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen! REMEMBER how He told you . . ."

They forgot that He had promised to rise from the dead three days after His betrayal and crucifixion. He had laid it all out for them repeatedly. Obviously they neither comprehended at the time nor remembered when it happened.

Their three days of hopeless grief were unnecessary. They could have spent those days in confident anticipation . . . if they had remembered and believed.

Remembering Jesus' promise wouldn't have made it any easier to witness what happened. It wouldn't have made it any less devastating to see what He suffered or to feel grief over His death.

But remembering His promise would have filled their grief with hope and eager anticipation.

No one can reasonably deny the reality of the pain of living in a sin-broken world. Poverty, injustice, betrayal, sickness, death, and all kinds of suffering are real and they hurt! But the Scriptures bleed with God's promise, guaranteed by Jesus' resurrection, that when He comes again, everything will be made new and beautiful. His people will live happily ever after in God's new earth and heaven.

Remembering the promise won't eliminate the pain, but it changes it. On the other side of suffering is glorious and permanent healing. Remember Jesus -- what He did for our redemption and what He promised for our future.

Me and mine

Remember the story of Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)? They were withheld from recognizing Jesus at first and He drew out their thoughts and feelings asking for their take on the momentous events they had witnessed in Jerusalem (the crucifixion). Their response is remarkably provincial, perhaps revealing how much their focus was on their own nation and people to the exclusion of the rest of the world: "We had hoped that He was the One who was going to redeem Israel." It would seem that they embraced the hope that Messiah would bless Israel, but didn't care much whether He would bring anything other than judgment to Romans or other peoples. Apparently in their reading of the prophets and hearing of Jesus' message, they totally missed the universality of God's love and His plan to restore the whole creation to its original perfection, fixing all that sin broke. They misunderstood God's selection of Israel as a vehicle to bless the whole world and assumed that God loved them above all others and that the focus of history was for their nation to the exclusion of all others. The tendency to focus on "me and mine" is all too familiar -- both personal and national. Of course we should prioritize our own family and people (1 Timothy 5:8), but not to the exclusion of others. "God so loved THE WORLD . . ." is the familiar theme of perhaps the most famous Bible verse -- John 3:16. Love of one's own should be the foundation from which love for all of one's "neighbors" both near and far can flow. Selfishness and pride sometimes show in a nationalistic and cavalier apathy regarding the needs and suffering of those beyond our families, our neighborhood, our city, and our nation, even as an appropriate love of family can perversely morph into selfish neglect of others and their needs. The promise of the Gospel -- that Jesus will redeem not just Israel but all nations and peoples -- is beautiful, hope-filled anticipation which should fuel our prayers and actions to match God's global love.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Tis the season for accusation

It takes a major world crisis to briefly break the stride of network news and social media obsession with the latest dripping-with-mud accusations being flung around the presidential campaign – either by the candidates or by their loyal supporters. Fact checkers can hardly keep up with the constant stream and the old adage, “If you are going to lie, make it a WHOPPER and many people will believe you,” seems to have risen to an art form. Having at times in my life been the target of painful accurate accusations as well as of horrific false slander, I know very personally how painful and damaging they can be. Charles Spurgeon used to say, “A lie goes around the world twice while truth is putting its boots on.” Proverbs, the Bible’s book filled with wisdom-nuggets, is brutal in it’s condemnation of gossip and slander, as in 26:22-28. It’s very much worth the minutes it takes to read! In my Bible reading this morning I was again reminded how often and how horribly our Savior, the sinless Son of God, was falsely accused (e.g. Luke 23:1, 2). It was a reminder that I should never be quick to believe accusations apart from compelling evidence from unbiased sources or admission from the accused as to their accuracy. It’s often important to try to discern the motivations of the accusers as that can reveal skewed perspective, blinding bias, or even incentive to lie. There is, of course, a legitimate place, even a moral responsibility, for confronting an evil-doer and from warning others of their danger. But such confrontations and warnings must be truth- and love-filled, and must be carried out with humility, integrity, and godly motivation. As a follower of Jesus, I should be committed to not being na├»ve or predisposed to believing accusations, to not inappropriately passing them on to others, to (whenever possible) take the accuser straight to the accused for face-to-face interaction, and to rebuke anyone who wants to dump their accusations of others in my lap unless they are asking for my help in addressing the problem in an appropriate way (e.g. Matthew 18:25-18 in interpersonal issues). And “yes” – just for the record in this political accusation season – I have sent personal emails to BOTH of the primary presidential candidates expressing my concerns. I didn’t think they would take my phone calls or arrange a face-to-face meeting.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Herod in us

When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod for judgment, Herod "was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see Him. From what he had heard about Him he hoped to see him perform some miracle." Herod's interest in Jesus was totally self-serving. He wanted to be entertained by Jesus performing some supernatural deed in front of him. He had no interest in Jesus other than as it benefited him. It was all about him (Herod) and what he could gain from the connection with Jesus. The possibility that he needed to fall on his face before Jesus and spend the rest of his life following Him wasn't remotely in his thoughts. It's easy to demonize Herod, a vile man who likely deserves whatever criticism which might be heaped on him. But, perhaps there is more of Herod in us than we would care to admit. Is it possible that for some, participation in church is like that? It's all about us - what we can get for ourselves: contact with friends, entertainment (not expensive either), affirmation from others, a self-satisfying sense of "spirituality," connections for our business or social life or children, esteem for being a "good Christian," etc? Is it possible that not everyone connects with Jesus' church for totally unselfish reasons -- in order to love God and love others, to serve, to sacrifice for a cause, to give, to help others, etc? That is not to suggest that it is inappropriate to go to church out of a deep sense of personal need and desire for forgiveness and transformation for oneself. Hopefully the motivation is not merely for relief and feeling good, but springs from a repentant heart full of grief for how one's selfishness has hurt others, from a desire to be made whole in order to please God and serve others. No wonder at the judgment Jesus will say to "many" very religious people, "I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers" (Matthew 7:23). I would be less than honest if I didn't acknowledge that the same self-centeredness and self-seeking is a pervasive temptation for pastors like myself. Motivations may be mixed and complex but I am painfully aware how easy it is to do good things with selfish motives -- secretly concerned more for self than for others. I need Paul's reminder, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a changing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom great mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1ff). P.S. Remembering that we are all "mixed bags" -- beautiful because made in God's image and broken by sin -- it might still be a revealing exercise to attempt to discern the primary motivations of those running for president -- recognizing that we cannot fully know another's heart even though their words and actions are often revelatory. It's THE HEROD TEST: Is the pattern of their lives characterized by self-seeking or by serving and sacrificing to help others? Of course such an evaluation may divide "along party lines" unless we can somehow rise above that sometimes Herodian plague.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

QUESTIONS WE ASK OR SHOULD

In our beautiful, broken world, at some point most people are confronted with suffering, pain, and injustice to the point where they ask an agonizing question, "Where is God?" It's comforting to recognize that throughout the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, that question is asked again and again. The words may be a bit different but the sentiment is the same. The answers aren't always what we would hope for, and too often it seems there is no answer at all. We are left hanging with our questions and doubts. But the acknowledgment of the question's appropriateness is comforting. On the cross, Jesus asked His Father a related question: "Why have You forsaken Me?" It wasn't the same as "Where are You?" Jesus didn't question the existence, proximity, awareness, or ability of His Father, but He did question the purpose for His horrific circumstances. The mystery of Jesus' full humanity coupled with His full deity are encompassed in His question. As a real man yet without sin, He not only asked "Why?" which is on the edge of a tacit accusation, but also He pleaded to be rescued from the pain and injustice -- "Let this cup pass from Me." Quickly Jesus moved from His question to an affirmation. He immediately expressed His surrender to His Father's will: "Nevertheless not what I will, but Your will be done." What a wonderful example to us! Thereby Jesus signaled permission for us to also ask "Why?" without guilt or shame, and also indicated that it is okay to ask to be saved from suffering. But Jesus also modeled faith and full surrender to God's will no matter how difficult it might be. All that said, earlier this week a retired pastor friend, knowing some of the painful things I had experienced, asked me if I had been able to discern the answer to another question in relationship to the time of pain: "What is God doing?" Reflecting on his question I realized that it was a beautiful statement of faith at the same time it was an acknowledgement of the sometimes mysteriousness of God's providence and its apparent contradiction of God's love, goodness, and power. The more I thought about the question, the more I realized how good it would be to ask that question again and again with regard to all that life serves up to us whether good or "bad" -- "What is God doing?" Awareness that God is always at work in everything and that He is always purposeful and always good -- that awareness can help me to look for His always good purpose and cooperate with it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Was Jesus a poached egg?

Jesus stands out from every other person in history. He has no equal or even any similar. His story is unique, His character is unblemished, His justice is unassailable, His power is unlimited, His wisdom is unequaled, His love is relentless. He is surprising, accepting, shocking, encouraging, unconventional, frustrating, incomprehensible, compassionate, uncompromising, just, comforting, disconcerting, affirming, convicting, authentic, frustrating, inspiring, patient, sorrowful, joyful, angry, inviting, consistent, unpredictable, greatly loved, hated, forgiving, judging, kind, truthful, trustworthy, humble, confident, and above all, He is LOVE. C. S. Lewis argued cogently that the alternative to believing that Jesus is God is to believe that He was insane or demonic: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to . . . Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” (Mere Christianity, 55-56) Was Lewis’ logic sound? This blog argues “yes.” https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2016/02/01/is-c-s-lewiss-liar-lord-or-lunatic-argument-unsound/ Whatever people believe about religion, Bible interpretations, dogma, Christians, or the church, they must still reckon with Jesus. He stands above and over them all. They must all be defined by Him, not vice versa.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Whose Kid Are You?

Jesus was the master story teller. His stories were typically simple, familiar, memorable, relevant, practical, pointed, thought-provoking, and sometimes open-ended or even shocking. His story of the unjust manager in Luke 16 is all of the above with the added element of being a bit perplexing. Did Jesus really suggest that lying, stealing, and cheating to benefit oneself is a good thing to be emulated? The contrast Jesus suggested in His description of the “people of this world” and the “people of the light” is instructive. His followers are the children of the light -- literally “sons of,” that is, descendants of, regardless of gender. They belong to the light, are students of the light, are being formed by and becoming like the light, and thus bear resemblance to the light. Assuming that “the Light” refers to Jesus, the “Light of the world,” the implications are legion and call us to meditation and introspection. Jesus’ followers are not children of this age – shaped by the transient and passing culture in which we are all immersed. This suggests the appropriateness of asking, “What is transforming my life and character day by day? Do I bear more resemblance to Jesus or to the world around me? What would those around me say?” The focus of Jesus’ contrast is one’s attitude toward and use of money and material things and how they relate to “true riches” which retain their value after this age when worldly wealth has vanished and one arrives at their “eternal dwelling” in the age to come. Jesus’ point is that the former (worldly wealth) can be transformed into the latter (true and eternal riches) by investing them to “gain friends” who will welcome them into their eternal home. Jesus leaves us to consider how one’s resources can be so used. At risk of doing what Jesus did not choose to do, I would suggest that one way may be investing in the spread of the Gospel in one’s community and around the world. Jesus’ description of the future division of sheep and goats in Matthew 25 suggests another: using one’s resources to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and tend to the imprisoned. Identifying Jesus’ authentic followers is not as simple as checking church attendance. Rather two distinguishing characteristics are whether one is becoming more like the counter-cultural Jesus and how one invests their resources to gain eternal friends. Whose kid are you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

SHEEP LIVES MATTER

In Jesus' familiar parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd obviously believes that sheep lives matter. He left his comfort zone to pursue the one-out-of-a-hundred which was missing -- launching out into the dark night rather than bedding down with his flock for a good sleep under the stars. There were 100 sheep -- all their lives mattered -- but there was one whose circumstances called for prioritization. He was lost. The parable gives no information as to why or how he became lost. We tend to jump to the conclusion that it was his fault. He had special needs the 99 did not. They were comfortable, well-fed, and safe. Well it must be that he had been rebellious or foolish. He decided to wander off. Right? It is the nature of sheep after all (Isaiah 53:6). But we don't know that it was his fault. It wouldn't be hard to imagine reasons he became separated from the flock which were not his fault or the result of poor decisions he made, or that his own laziness in not following got him in trouble. Perhaps he was sick or injured and no one noticed that he couldn't keep up. Perhaps a bully-sheep chased him off and he was unable or afraid to catch up and face more abuse. Or perhaps . . . you fill in the blank with other possibilities. Frankly, even if it was his fault, it didn't seem to matter to the shepherd. The fact was that the lost sheep needed special attention -- more than the other 99 -- and so the shepherd dropped everything to pursue him. Jesus' story didn't address blame, only need. Jesus always seemed to prioritize those who were marginalized, oppressed, or in need -- widows, orphans, women, children, the homeless, those in poverty, the hungry, those with inadequate resources, the sick, the incarcerated, those trapped in sin (think for example of James 1:27; Matthew 25:31ff; Luke 15:1f; John 8:1ff). "Wait a minute," I hear someone responding, don't "ALL LIVES MATTER?" Of course they do. But not all lives need prioritization like the lost sheep, the widow and orphan, the hungry and homeless, the oppressed, etc. Perhaps there are lessons here for churches. There is a natural tendency to turn INWARD -- to prioritize the needs of the already saved. The budget,the staff, the programming, the attention -- all seem to prioritize the "found," while little time and few resources are focused on "the lost." Perhaps there are some cultural lessons too -- for example, "Black lives matter." What would Jesus say?

Monday, September 19, 2016

RETIREMENT IS A LITTLE LIKE DEATH

Last week after 32 years at Calvary Church (48 in vocational ministry) I retired from the pastoral staff. It was the culmination of many years of thinking and working on transitions and a year of very intentional preparation along with the elder team and staff. The church provided the most amazing retirement party imaginable for Gloria and I! As the retirement day approached I reflected frequently on the idea that retirement is a little like death. It is a time of endings and new beginnings. More specifically, knowing the time of your approaching retirement is, I suspect, a little like knowing the time (approximately) of your approaching death -- as when your doctor says, "six to eight months is my best guess." Thankfully, I can only speak from experience about retirement. This knowledge can bring joy and gratitude as you recall great memories from the past; trigger deep regrets for your failures and unrealized dreams and goals; bring into sharper focus what is important or trivial; and motivate you to getting important things done that might help and influence others in a positive way. There is an awareness that your ability and opportunity to influence others is going to dramatically change (not end). This clarity can increase productivity much like the big push to get things done just before you leave on vacation. Among many other things, I preached a final sermon series entitled, "Before I Go." The exercise of planning what topics and Scriptures I felt were most important to share in those last dozen sermons was challenging -- kind of like creating a very serious "Top Ten" list. What did I want our dear church to remember most from the LAST sermon? Along with numerous meetings with individuals and groups, I prepared two documents to share with key leadership groups in the church: "Parting thoughts for Calvary's elders and staff," and "Missionary strategy suggestions for Calvary Church." Reflecting on all this, I wish there were a way to secretly "pretend" you had an approaching retirement date so as to bring about the kind of clarity and urgency all this produced. There is a big part of me that wishes I had perceived and acted on many of these things more strategically and emphatically years ago. Perhaps that's why as part of my retirement I would like to be involved in "Encouraging Churches & Pastors" (a possible logo for my post-retirement ministry) -- pulpit supply, writing, interim ministry (maybe), Seminary teaching, consulting, coaching, mentoring, etc. Pastor friends, think about secretly scheduling your premature and pretend "retirement" date. If you can fool yourself, you may be very pleased by the clarity and urgency it empowers. Oh yes, there's another way that retirement is a little like death -- because of Jesus, there is wonderful new life beyond death (and retirement) with exciting new possibilities and opportunities. Let the journey (retirement) begin!