Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Do You Find This Puzzling?

            A recent Reuters news article* spoke of the Chinese government's current efforts to crack down on the growth of Christianity in their country.  The article begins by highlighting the struggle faced by Chinese parents who are believers in such a climate of repression.  “When authorities in China’s southeastern city of Wenzhou outlawed Sunday School earlier this year, Christian parents determined their children must still learn about Jesus and the Bible. Churches in Wenzhou started teaching children in private homes or at other venues. Some billed Sunday School classes as daycare, not education, or moved them to Saturdays, more than a dozen local Christians told Reuters.”

The writers go on to cite one specific example.  “In her house, “faith comes first, grades come second,” said one parent surnamed Chen, asking not to use her full name due to the sensitivity of the matter.”  She went on to speak of how the children of believers “must” attend Bible classes because there is no other venue that will provide the guidance necessary to counteract the draw of the vices in the world around them.

            A couple things came to mind as I read the article.  First, I am humbled by the example of these believers as they courageously practice their faith in the face of such persecution.  These Christians are defying the government to be together for times of spiritual education.  Secondly, I am discouraged when I reflect on the flabbiness of much of what is called “faith” in our own country.  Some (many?) Christians can’t be bothered to attend a Bible class of any kind, even when there is nothing standing in their way.  In our own congregation, several opportunities are provided for spiritual education.  Yet, only part of our group takes advantage of them.  This puzzles me.

            Maybe we need more persecution.  Perhaps, then, Bible class would be viewed as more than an elective.  But, then again, maybe it would just provide another reason to skip it.

God loves you!



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

When God Has Other Plans

Steven Brice shared a great post recently on the Charis website titled “When God Shows Up For Christmas".*  He begins by describing (in modern terms) how preparations for Mary and Joseph’s marriage were likely moving forward according to plan until God intervened to disrupt their plans.  He goes on to write of how, from that point on, their world was turned upside down.

I especially appreciate his summary paragraph.  The story of Jesus entering into the world is a story of God disrupting the lives and plans of those God chose. I am aware that during the Christmas season, many find deep delight in thinking about the birth of Jesus or some random white fat guy squeezing through a chimney looking for milk and cookies while providing gifts. But the Christmas story is more than that. It is a reminder that God will disrupt our lives and plans as a gift to the world. I am aware that the Christmas season invites us to create a wishlist of things we want, but the Jesus story invites us to welcome an uninvited guest who is about to turn our world upside-down. So in this Christmas season, as we sing choral songs, drink vegan eggnog, and spend time with family and friends, may we be prepared and be obedient to what mission God is calling us to be a part of when God shows up for Christmas."

As I read these words, I thought of so many others in the Scriptures whose lives and plans were changed in an instant by God’s plans.  Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, Mary Magdalene, Paul, etc..  And as I thought about these people of faith, I reflected on my own reaction to the times when God disrupts MY plans.  It’s so very easy to become discouraged or resentful when things don’t work out the way I would like.  God, please give me the courage to shelve my own plans when YOU have other plans.

God loves you!

* http://char.is/blog/2017/12/23/when-god-shows-up-for-christmas/

Monday, December 18, 2017

God Alone

"There is something about this God of Israel unlike any other deity of the ancient Near East: You either worship him “only” or not at all” (Bill Arnold, The NIV Application Commentary, 1 & 2 Samuel, Kindle edition, Loc. 2612).
The preceding quote caught my attention as I doing some reading in preparation for a recent sermon.  The more I reflected on the statement, the more convinced I became that it strikes at the heart of why much of the world reacts strongly against the God of the Bible.  He demands exclusive worship.
This principle is found throughout the Scriptures.  The Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant were headlined with this sentence from God: “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) Me” (Exodus 20:3).  Later, as Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses reiterated the exclusive nature of serving God: “You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.  You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you” (Deuteronomy 6:13-14).  Jesus reaffirmed the concept in His own ministry as well (Matthew 4:10; 22:36-38).
And that’s the rub.  Most of the world (and, sadly, many professing believers) only want God IF they can worship\serve Him AND someone or something else.  They wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s how it works out.  God AND financial security.  God AND country.  God AND politics.  God AND success.  God AND materialism.  God AND religion.  God AND ???
But if you are claiming to worship\serve the God of the Bible, it can only be God AND nothing!  He is an exclusive God.  He shares His throne with no one.  It’s non-negotiable.  This truth cannot be made more palatable just because our world rebels against exclusive claims.  Perhaps a periodic review is in order.  Am I allowing ANYTHING to divide my whole-hearted devotion to my God?  If so, then some temple-clearing is also in order.  My God desires ALL of my heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

God loves you!

Friday, December 8, 2017

What Does Holy Look Like?

In a post at wineskins.org entitled “What Do We Know Of Holy?”, Paula Harrington addresses how hurting people as well as those with whom we disagree are often mistreated in the body of Christ. In her opinion, much of the problem can be traced to a lack of active holiness in the lives of God’s people.  After offering some scenarios in which an inappropriate response was given, she has this to say:
“What does holy look like when you’re faced with someone who doesn’t interpret Scripture the way you do? It looks like laying down your stones and choosing grace instead. That may mean withdrawal but it never means cruelty. What does holy look like when someone has been offended? Regardless of your opinion on the subject, holy looks like listening and trying to understand someone else’s viewpoint and story...In every relationship holiness looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It’s thinking Jesus and inviting him into every situation” (http://wineskins.org/2017/09/18/what-do-we-know-of-holy/).
  “Holy” is one of those religious words that are easier to talk about than to practice. We are more comfortable with discussing it than doing it.  Active holiness is far more difficult because, at that point, our living must begin to mesh with our knowing.  I find it instructive that the Bible doesn’t tell us to “know holy” but often encourages us to “be holy” (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
  Those of us who set apart for God’s purposes are called to exhibit holiness in all that we say or do.  That can be a tall order.  If you are like me, you find it easier to respond in kind to someone who mistreats you. It’s easier to be vengeful instead of forgiving.  But that isn’t how a holy person should react.  Harrington’s last statement in the post goes like this: “Church, it’s time we step up. We are God’s people. We know holy. Let’s start living it. The world is watching.” I agree.

God loves you!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Practicing Thankfulness

“A blind boy sat on the steps of a building with a hat by his feet.  He held up a sign which said: "I am blind, please help." There were only a few coins in the hat. A man was walking by. He took a few coins from his pocket and dropped them into the hat.  He then took the sign, turned it around, and wrote some words. He put the sign back so that everyone who walked by would see the new words. Soon the hat began to fill up. A lot more people were giving money to the blind boy.  That afternoon the man who had changed the sign came to see how things were. The boy recognized his footsteps and asked, "Were you the one who changed my sign this morning?  What did you write?" The man said, "I only wrote the truth.  I said what you said but in a different way." I wrote: "Today is a beautiful day but I cannot see it." Both signs told people that the boy was blind. But the first sign simply said the boy was blind. The second sign reminded people that they were so blessed not to be blind. Should we be surprised that the second sign was more effective?” (Borrowed and adapted).
It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget just how much we have for which to be thankful.  It can be especially problematic for those of us who live in this nation because we are so richly blessed in so many ways.  If we are not careful, we can begin to take even the simplest of God’s gifts for granted.  In such a setting, we have to be intentional about reminding ourselves of the extent to which God has been benevolent toward us.  With that in mind, especially as we enter the holiday season, allow me to encourage us all to remember to practice being thankful.  “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name”  (Psalm 100:4).
God loves you!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Reaping The Whirlwind

“For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

         If you have followed the news recently, you know that the entertainment industry has been rocked by numerous allegations of sexual misconduct.  Several actors and actresses are speaking out against the predatory practices of others in positions of power and influence in the business.  In many cases, the abuse took place years ago but wasn’t reported until now for fear of losing jobs or opportunities for jobs or because they were paid money to keep quiet.  But, emboldened by others who have stepped forward, these silent ones are also being heard.  The jury is still out, as they say, but due to the sheer numbers involved, it's naive to think these are all fabricated claims.  Time will tell.
         The contributing factors to this problem in the industry are likely numerous.  I have to wonder if at least some of problem has been fueled by the attitude that most of Hollywood has taken toward the “sexual revolution” in our country over the last few decades.  The entertainment industry has been at the forefront of stretching the boundaries of what is considered to be appropriate sexual behavior.  The “boys will be boys” mentality has been coddled if not glorified.  Sexual deviance and violence are more and more prevalent in movies and television.  Is it any wonder that the dividing line between acting and reality is increasingly blurred?
         Please make no mistake.  I’m not saying that these victims deserved what happened to them — that they somehow “had it coming.”  That would not be showing the attitude of Christ.  Sexual abuse should never be condoned regardless of the contributing factors.  I applaud the courage of those who have finally said “enough is enough!”  I am hoping that this example from one segment of society will help us all to realize that sometimes our choices can have devastating consequences.  Rather than pointing my finger at the entertainment industry, I need to first consider how my own “sowing” could be contributing to my own “whirlwind.”

God loves you!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Worked To Death

“Miwa Sado, a young journalist for Japan’s state-run broadcaster, spent the summer of 2013 frantically covering two local elections in Tokyo.  Over the course of a month, she clocked 159 hours of overtime. She rarely took weekends off. She worked until midnight nearly every night. On her birthday, June 26, she emailed her parents, who thought she sounded weak.  Not quite a month later, just days after the second election, she died of congestive heart failure. She was 31” (https://www.nytimes.com/
The Japanese even have a word for it.  They call it “karoshi” or death from overwork.  The problem starting attracting attention in the 1980’s as an increasing number of overworked Japanese employees, in varying industries and occupations, were dying from the stress associated with an unreasonable workload.  The competition in the Japanese workforce is tremendous.  The article referenced above went on to say that Ms. Sado “...was a young woman making her way in a blue-chip organization. Her employer is considered one of the most prestigious companies in Japan, a country where exhaustion is often seen as a sign of diligence.  A 2014 government investigation found that Ms. Sado’s death was a direct result of her work life.”
Work, in whatever form it takes in our lives, has an important role to play in our lives.  We are encouraged in the Scriptures to “...do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23).  One way to promote healthy interaction with unbelievers and to provide for our needs is “...to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
But the Bible never promotes working ourselves to death.  The Sabbath provisions were given, at least in part, to emphasize the need for regular periods of rest and reflection.  Jesus Himself needed and sought times of rest and invited his followers to do the same (Mark 6:31).  Working yourself to death is never a badge of honor.

God loves you!