Something Greater than 9/11

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc

It happens every year when the anniversary of 9/11 rolls around. I find myself wishing that those violent and horrific terrorist attacks had never happened—not only for the lives lost but because of the negative changes that have come to our world as a result of that fateful day.

It’s not that the world was necessarily a nice place before September 11, 2001, but it has definitely been even less pleasant since. Overall, from my perspective, people are less friendly, more calloused, and more fearful. I know it makes me sound old, but there are definitely times when I wish that we could return to the days of yesteryear.

photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc
photo credit: diegofornero (destino2003) via photopin cc

Still, I have come to the conclusion that nothing good ever comes from fretting over the negative changes in our world. Nothing. Those who fail to adapt to change will soon find themselves mired in misery. A friend recently told me about a study that found the one common theme between people who lived to a ripe old age was their ability to adapt to change. I haven’t taken the time to verify the study, but it makes sense. Trying to hold on to what once was has a tendency to sap the vitality from even the most vibrant of people.

Isn’t it ironic that the one group of people—Christians—who should be most adept at adjusting to change is usually the first to resist anything of the sort. In part, this is because we’ve seen such a moral decline in our culture over the past 50 years. Still, something deeper is at work. We often resist change due to our shortsightedness; we don’t realize that, in most cases, change equals opportunity.

Consider, for example, the sense of anxiety and security that so many people feel in our day. Can there be a better opportunity to point them toward our Rock, the One who provides peace and security in even the worst circumstances? What about the fact that so many people are unchurched? At least these folks aren’t beset by the religiosity that has plagued the church for so long.

photo credit: faungg's photo via photopin cc
photo credit: faungg’s photo via photopin cc

Greater still, overshadowing every negative change in our world is the reality that the kingdom of God is advancing on this earth, that the time of Christ is drawing near, that each passing day brings us closer to the full revelation of our eternal hope.

There’s something exciting happening that is easily missed by the casual observer. The kingdoms of man are crumbling while the kingdom of God draws near. The kingdom of God! It’s that one and only government that can produce a truly peace-filled society. This is not a time to shrink back in fear, or to fret over things that have been lost. This is a time to lift up our heads and open our eyes to the ripening harvest around us.

If I could rewind the clock and somehow stop the events of 9/11 from happening, I most certainly would. But I can’t. Thus, I am working to accepting the realities of this world while pursuing the greater reality of God’s kingdom. For the person who loves God and seeks good, change equals opportunity. Let’s not allow it to slip through our fingers!

Facing a Giant? You’re Not Alone!

photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc
photo credit: Fried Dough via photopin cc

A very real problem for all of us is that we tend to profess a depth of faith in God that we do not actually possess. Faith is easy on the mountaintop. The battlefield trenches of life are an entirely different matter. A football team may spend a lot of time practicing in preparation for the first game of the season against their arch rivals, but it isn’t until they step onto the field of play that their true abilities become evident.

All too often, our version of the gospel speaks only of God’s forgiveness in light of our sinfulness, of the efficacy of grace as opposed to our impotent works, of the glories of heaven compared to the pain of this world. All of these things are true, but they fail to present a complete picture. We even go so far as to portray the Old Testament Promised Land as an image of heaven. Do we actually believe that we will have to drive enemies out of heaven? No, each of us has a promised land, a favorable destiny, in this world.

photo credit: Monica's Dad via photopin cc
photo credit: Monica’s Dad via photopin cc

Why is it that every promised land has its share of giants? Why, when we seek that which we believe to be good, must we face health problems, a lack of finances, and all sorts of opposition—not only from others but also from within ourselves? And why, tell me, must these issues loom so large? There are times when a few miniature giants would do me just fine!

We sometimes fail to grasp that God saves us in order to restore us to His image (Romans 8:29), and that His image is that of the ultimate overcomer. God’s goal is never to save us for a sweet eternity only, but to transform us into champions of the faith. By definition, a champion is a person who defeats all opponents; the more formidable the opposition, the greater the champion. You would be unimpressed if I told you that I once knocked out every kid in my son’s fourth-grade class in a boxing tournament. But, if you saw me wearing an Olympic gold medal (that I had actually earned), you would immediately think of greatness. Until we face and overcome genuine giants, we are not true champions in the arena of life.

Our response to our personal giants reveals the true depths of our faith. The fact that we have sufficient faith in one area of life does not necessarily mean that we trust God in all areas. When fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and bitterness take root in our hearts, they indicate areas in which our faith is shallow. Thus, every giant is in a sense tailor-made to help us grow in these areas. Am I saying that God is responsible for raising opposition against us? Not necessarily! Our fallen world provides more than enough difficult challenges to our faith. I do know, however, that our loving Father will use even the largest obstacles for His sovereign purposes.

Like the ten doubting spies of Numbers 13, many of us tend to view our giants as signs that God has abandoned us. Very few have the heart of a Joshua or a Caleb. Later in time, only the shepherd boy David stood up against the Philistine champion Goliath, while Saul and all of his mighty men cowered in fear.

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photo credit: saturn ♄ via photopin cc

How we respond to our giants will impact, not only our lives, but also the generations that follow. Sadly, David had to face Goliath only because Joshua’s generation failed to completely destroy their generation of behemoths. We can only imagine how Anak’s descendants tormented the nation of Israel for 400 years until a shepherd boy with David’s faith happened along. And not only did the kid fell that monster of a man, he used Goliath’s own sword to finish the job. God loves to show off by transforming our greatest weaknesses into our greatest strengths!

(This post is based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon. Also, when our new SfMe Media website goes live, our blog posts will be switched our new ministry website, and this blog site will be phased out. You can subscribe to by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

The Boston Marathon Attack: Another Wakeup Call?

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I don’t think that there is such a thing as a pleasant sounding alarm. Even elevator music has an obnoxious feel if it serves to wake me from my slumber, forcing me to face the difficulties that may lie ahead. The wear marks on any snooze button stand as evidence of this reality. How we give that snooze button a workout as we repeatedly slip in and out of slumber!

Worse than a pleasant sounding wake up call, is one that may seem to be disturbing in its own right. For example, a loud funeral dirge in the morning will not contribute to anybody’s happiness. A rude awakening can be considered the worst kind.

I am of the opinion that the church in the U.S. has been asleep for many years now. Collectively speaking, our primary concern has been more about our own comfort and happiness than about the necessary advance of God’s kingdom. Horrendous events such as happened at the Boston Marathon seem to provide rude, but only temporary, awakenings from our slumber. After an onslaught of social media calls for prayer, we will seek a return to the status quo as quickly as we can.

Looking back on the tragedy of  9/11, many Christian leaders felt that it would be a defining moment for the U.S. church as people flocked to houses of worship. Less than a year later, however, life was pretty much back to normal, albeit a little less comfortable. The overall levels of anxiety and depression have probably increased since that time, but not enough to compel us to any type of meaningful action.

photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc
photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc

What we fail to accept is the fact that bombings such as the one at the Boston Marathon take place on a regular basis across the globe. And in many cases, medical care for the victims is grossly inadequate. Are the lives of these people any less valuable in the eyes of God simply because they are somewhere over there?  Yet, for reasons both just and self-centered, we mostly choose to turn a blind eye to what happens outside of our sphere.

The problem with our isolationist mindset is that evil is never content to stay in its home territory. Evil is active and alive; it will never rest until it achieves total domination. The church’s slumber will give evil free permission to advance, and when she finally awakens, the threat will be upon her very doorstep.

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If I see this correctly, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil will only increase in number in the coming years. Already, we are becoming fearful and hardened—far from the qualities of a free society or a vibrant church. Our answers, however, lie not in fear, mistrust, or bitterness, but in faith and love. This isn’t rocket science. Momentary changes mean nothing. By necessity, active faith and passionate love must become a way of life for those who profess the name of Christ. May we pray with all of our broken hearts for those affected by the Boston marathon–and may we continue to pray (and labor) for the kingdom of God to be realized all over the world.

Let’s Believe (Not Grieve) for our Nation!

Photo by jurvetson — CC BY 2.0

I tried to pray on Wednesday morning after the election, but found myself having trouble getting through. Apparently so many angels had been watching campaign ads run by The World Will End If Obama Wins PAC that they were inconsolable when the final election results came in. Angels are a high priority with God, of course, and so He was awake for much of the night doing damage control. When it came time to hear my prayers, the lines were jammed, leaving me without guidance or strength for several hours. Scary times!

Regardless of how any of us voted (or did not vote) on Tuesday, I hope that we realize the importance of putting everything in perspective. One man did not create the problems that we face as a nation and one man will not be able to fix them. I know that many of my friends were deeply grieved by the election results, but it is not like Mitt Romney was going to wave a magic wand and return the U.S. to some romantic yesteryear that never really was.

Photo by Mikamatto — CC BY 2.0

I am not saying that certain current trends are not disturbing. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the sense of animosity that divides us as a nation continues to intensify. We were all put off by the caustic nature of the recent campaigns, but if our government is representative of our people, it says something about what drives the average person. We are not dealing, however, with hatred for hatred’s sake, but rather an animosity driven by fear. If there is anything that was woven into the fabric of every negative campaign ad, it was fear. Even with the election over, the residue of that fear will continue to linger for a very long time. Fear is the fourth and final trap that I want to highlight in relationship to Christians and the political arena.

I have always been intrigued by the Parable of the Sower, now seeing it as one of the pillars of Christ’s teaching ministry.

And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world [age] and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Matthew 13:22 (NASB)

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The seed suppressed by thorny weeds refers to those who have willingly received the message of the kingdom. Unfortunately, not all who embrace Christ will produce the necessary fruit of His kingdom.

The worry of the age is that collective sense of anxiety that accompanies the large scale problems of any era. As Christians, we are especially susceptible because we care. But if we allow a sense of worry to build a nest in our hearts, it will choke the vitality of our lives, rendering us fruitless.

I have the privilege of interacting with Christians from a variety of spheres in the universal Body of Christ and a common thread I see running through most of their lives is an underlying sense of discouragement due to the collective worry of the age. But I don’t believe that God wants us to grieve for our nation and our world as much as He wants us to believe for our nation and our world. It is our faith-filled prayers and not a foreboding sense of fear that will move mountains.

Photo by Lincolnian (Brian) — CC BY 2.0

If there is anything that is going to turn the tide of unrighteousness in our world, it is a vibrant Church. But if the people of God are mired in fear and worry, what platform do we have to make any real and viable impact on our culture?

The key in all of this is not to remove ourselves from the political arena, or to simply ignore the issues around us. The key is learning to take the things that burden us to Christ and to prayerfully roll our concerns onto His more than capable shoulders. You and I were never meant to carry the weight of the world. Let’s not allow campaign induced fear to build a comfortable nest in our hearts.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;

And the government will rest on His shoulders;

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,

On the throne of David and over his kingdom,

To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness

From then on and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NASB)

The Glorious Sweet Corn of August

You’ll find it there sitting in a corner of Hoss’s parking lot on most days in August. I speak of an old maroon pickup truck with wooden side boards and a green shaded canopy over the bed—a bed piled high with fresh, recently picked sweet corn. Occasionally, “Silver Queen” is the offering of the day, but I prefer the “Butter-N-Sugar”. A little wooden sign on or near the truck read’s “Himmel’s”, and I must say that I find it to be the standard by which all sweet corn is measured. In fact, after writing this I may need to stop and buy a dozen on my way home from the office.

What makes Himmel’s corn so special? Its delicious flavor! When we eat other corn on the cob we can’t help but compare it to Himmel’s and rarely does it measure up. But that, of course, is our own family opinion and, in all honesty, what we think matters very little in the grand scheme of the universe.

When we speak of glory, we find one standard that rises above all others—the glory of God. There is something so mystically amazing about God that even those who don’t believe in Him want to be like Him. His majesty intoxicates us, His power makes us tremble, His love leaves us filled with an almost confusing sense of warmth. How can He be so high and mighty and powerful, and yet so lovingly embrace our human frailty and waywardness?

Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden, naked and yet unashamed. Fear of vulnerability was not something that even entered their minds. And yet, after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, they immediately found themselves naked, ashamed and very much afraid. What had changed?

While in covenant relationship with God, they had been clothed in His glory. It is like our moon being clothed in the glory of the sun. But its beauty fades when the sun’s direct rays no longer fall on the moon’s surface. In the same way, the human quest for independence has left us with a painful glory deficiency. Almost instinctively, our souls know the taste of glory, longing to return to the majesty that once was. But separation from our Creator means only darkness, serving only to intensify our craving for signficance.

Photo by Crystian Cruz – CC BY-ND 2.0

We see the quest for glory no matter where we turn. From the ditch digger boasting about his thick callouses, to the bank executive relishing her position of power and influence, to the athlete sacrificing his body for the sake of a championship ring, human life is all about the pursuit of glory. When the quest for glory fails, doom and depression take root. But even when we think it succeeds, the effect is only short-term. Soon the glory fades and we find ourselves grasping for more. Like a junkie driven in mindless obedience to his drug cravings, we’re addicted to our glory fix, often without realizing its captivating influence. We will get our glory one way or another lest we die in shame.

The problem, however, lies not in our perceived failure or success. Because, you see, no measure of human glory can ever begin to attain to the glory which emanates from God. How many of us approach perfection? How many have limitless power? How many possess never-ending beauty? How many serve the world with love so pure?

The glory of God is indeed our goal, but we fail so miserably in this quest that we’ve taken to comparing ourselves to one another. Those who run faster and jump higher and think harder and look better are the ones lauded for their greatness. But the comparisons are all in vain. In fact, they are deadly.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I don’t see this statement referring to two separate concepts, but rather only one. In other words, I believe Paul was saying, “all who seek to attain to the glory of God completely miss the mark, falling woefully short of His perfect majesty.” This is where sin finds its root—in the prideful attitude of the heart seeking to be like God apart from God. But unlike our friendly banter about which sweet corn tastes the best, the standard of God’s glory is entirely unattainable. Unfortunately, that doesn’t keep most from continuing to try.

Photo by – CC BY-SA 2.0

The true freedom of the Christian faith lies in giving up this exhausting quest. By admitting that the full extent of our own glory amounts only to darkness, we position ourselves through the cross of Christ to be restored to a right relationship with Him. Drawing near to Him in love and faith, His glory clothes the dark, naked soul. And once again, like in the beginning of time, life is ever so sweet.

Era of the Living Dead

Evans City Cemetery – Photo by Willjay – CC BY-SA 3.0

The film begins with Barbra and Johnny visiting their father’s grave in rural Pennsylvania. Barbra is afraid to be in a cemetery at such a late hour. Johnny teases her, as any brother would, totally unaware that a zombie–a reanimated corpse–is about to knock him unconscious against a headstone. The rest is history. Night of the Living Dead proceeded to become one of the most revolutionary horror films of all time.

Until Night of the Living Dead came on the scene, horror movies were mostly innocuous—nobody took them seriously. But genuine fear dripped from the frames of this particular flick. Parents who naively took their kids to the theater reeled with regret as their unnerved children squirmed in genuine horror.

Exactly what was so scary about Night of the Living Dead? I think perhaps it was the sense that the evil inescapably was us. It is one thing when evil is out there, or when monsters can easily be identified as alien creatures from planet X. But the potential (and fear) for us and our loved ones to become the source of evil is a game changer.

Fear and death have always been closely linked. The potential for death, or loss, powerfully grips the human heart with various forms of fear–especially anxiety. It all points to a zombie-like existence in which we find ourselves longing for life, but beset by fear; for fear in and of itself is a form of death.

The intent of Lucifer’s zombie conspiracy was to usher fear and death into a world once defined by peace and life. The plan worked to the point that death and fear now characterize unredeemed humanity.

Many centuries before Night of the Living Dead was filmed in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the Apostle Paul wrote of another sort of living dead. In speaking of widows he stated, “But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). Imagine that, a seemingly harmless widow proclaimed to be a sort of zombie long before film was ever conceived. Now that’s truly scary!

Photo by Joe Shalbotnik – CC BY 2.0

Paul’s words remind me of a lobster pound a traveler might find along the coast of Maine. Right there, in full view for patrons to see, is an open tank with live lobsters crawling around. I mean, technically they are alive, but in a greater sense those lobsters are already dead. They repeatedly circle the tank (what else is there to do?), their once powerful pinchers banded shut as they jostle for meaningless advantage. The finality of death is inevitable, and unless a savior of sorts purchases those crustaceans and releases them into the ocean, it is only a matter of time until they are boiling in a pot and then lying on a plate.

Since Lucifer initiated the zombie conspiracy, death and fear have continued to hold captive the general population of the human race. Like the lobsters in the tank, like the widows of 1 Timothy 5:6, ours is the Era of the Living Dead. Powerless, hopeless, and beset with fear, we scurry about, jostling for meaningless advantage, pursuing only momentary pleasures; doing what we can to forget about the giant hand of death that will, in its season, tear us from the only world we’ve ever known.

If this all sounds very morbid and repulsive, that is only because it is very morbid and repulsive. The Gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t simply a nice, optional message. The Gospel is our only genuine hope.

Photo by Ted Van Pelt – CC BY 2.0

The Hating Game

I’ve heard the standard Christian arguments. “Homosexuals hate Christians because darkness hates light.” “We have a righteous anger about immorality.” “We hate the sin but love the sinner.”

It’s relatively easy to justify our attitudes, but truthfully speaking, all too many professing Christians do feel contempt toward those in the GLBT community. In essence they despise those who embrace or promote homosexuality as a lifestyle. Contempt is rooted in self-righteousness and serves in many ways as the antithesis of love, being therefore a form of hatred.

On the other hand, conservative Christians are often perceived as the dreaded enemy and orthodox Christianity the evil empire ruled by the hate-filled  followers of a capricious, judgmental deity.

Of course, a certain amount of friction is to be expected between these two opposing camps (okay, maybe a lot of friction!). But the vehemence of the contempt and the harshness of the rhetoric have risen to scary heights. Why is this?

Fear! And in many cases, it’s a fear incited and preyed upon by leaders from both camps.

Experience teaches us that most people crave comfort and security. They’re looking for meaningful relationships, decent jobs, nice homes and an abundance of food for the table. Of course, entertainment and material possessions score high on the agenda. Much of this is oriented toward self. They may express concern about the goings on around them, but as long as the bad stuff is out there they have little motivation to do anything more than shake their heads as they mournfully discuss the sad state of the world.

Leaders see life differently. They often think deeply about issues and focus squarely on the ramifications of governmental actions and cultural trends. The always looming challenge for leadership is to motivate the rank and file with a vision to give and to serve.

Now tell me, how better to effectively motivate people than with fear? Fear has a very real way of grabbing our attention and compelling us to do something. If we can convince people that a particular group poses a threat to them and their loved ones, we are better able to motivate them to action.

Adolf Hitler was a master at appealing to what he called the unthinking masses by using propaganda to play upon their fears, in particular, their fear of Jews. Ever so skillfully his regime painted a warped picture of those evil Jews as the root cause of all the nation’s ills. We all know the painful results.

Such propaganda techniques are now commonly used for political leverage with little thought of potential repercussions. The more leaders can demonize perceived enemies, the more resources they will be able to garner for the cause. And while such scare tactics may help win specific battles, in the long run they damage lives by inflaming dangerous passions of hatred and contempt.

The more we allow these efforts to fuel the flames of hatred and contempt in our own hearts, the more we actually begin to resemble the evil enemies we are accused of being. The painted portrayal eventually becomes reality.

I once heard a homosexual activist with conservative Christian roots say that leaders from both camps regularly demonize those on the other side because it is an effective fundraising tool. The more evil and uncaring they make the enemy look, the more money people give.

Photo by mind on fire - CC BY-SA 2.0

Many GLBT leaders continue to stereotype conservatives as hate-filled, homophobic bigots and no small number of conservative leaders continue to portray all with alternative sexual orientations as openly lewd, hateful and militant. Simply add a heartbreaking story about someone whose life was painfully damaged or destroyed by the callousness of the enemy and the propaganda cocktail is complete.

It’s all a game of strategy, but in the end there are no winners. And much worse, there are some very big losers. In my next post I’ll talk about the plight of those caught in the crossfire between the homosexual and conservative battle lines. For some the pain is unbearable.