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!

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Is Change Really Possible

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc
photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

Change, my friends is inevitable. Nothing is static in this transient world. Nothing! This is especially true in a world of rapidly evolving technology. Today’s new thing will probably be obsolete by the end of the week!

But when we ask if change is possible, we aren’t referring to change in the general sense—our real emphasis is on positive change. Faced with a steady barrage of negative news, sometimes we can’t help but wonder if things will ever turn in a healthy direction. Violence is prevalent. The economy sits on shaky ground. Our government finds itself immersed in gridlock. The church takes only faltering steps, most of which are in the wrong direction.

There is, however, an underlying question that seems to plague the common person. “Is change really possible in my life?” is the question that most of us ask. Sure, there are the narcissists who stand convinced that they have no need to change. In addition, we find the confident few who believe that, with a bit of hard work, they can become whatever they want. Still, I suspect that most of us have run up against powerful roadblocks in our efforts to become better people. We’ve tried moving forward, but always find ourselves being drawn back into our fears, our compulsions, and our dark thoughts. As a result, deeply-rooted doubts cloud any sense of hope that we once had for a better tomorrow.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc
photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

The essence of the Christian gospel is about change. God was not content with the status quo of sin and death so He sent His much-loved Son to do something about the problem. And do something He did! Forgiveness of sin and guilt is a change we can’t live without.

Still, much more remains. God provided His Word as a roadmap to change and sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts as an agent of change. I’m not saying that transformation is easy by any means, but it certainly is possible—for every one of us.

photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap
photo credit: Matt Gruber via CreationSwap

Through my thirty-plus years as a Christian, I’ve researched, studied, and watched. My desire has been to find a Christianity that really works—not simply another humanistic or ineffective twist to an old religion. In that time, I’ve come to understand that the power of human sin runs deeper than any of us realize. But I’ve also come to grasp that the power of God’s grace is far greater than even the bonds of sin. The key, more than any other thing, is learning to continually draw upon the fullness of that life-changing grace.

Yes, change is possible for any of us as individuals. And if change is possible for the individual, societal change is certainly within our reach.  This confidence in God’s grace as realized through the gospel of Jesus Christ motivates me to press on in my Christian service, knowing full well that ours is a future founded upon real hope.

Speaking of change, we are still in the process of transitioning over to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. If you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

Why Justice Is Elusive

photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc
original photo credit: jerekeys via photopin cc

George Zimmerman: found by a jury to be not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. Was justice served? Personally, I don’t see how the jury could have convicted Zimmerman of murder; there simply wasn’t enough hard evidence. That’s probably why the authorities seemed to be so reluctant to file charges. At the same time, I think that Zimmerman should have been guilty of something. His reckless actions started the chain of events that led to Martin’s death.

Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence, however, is not the primary point of this post. Nor is Martin’s tragic death—as important as that should be. What I find especially troubling about this case is that opinions on Zimmerman’s culpability appear to fall along fairly well defined lines. According to what I’ve seen, most African Americans and political liberals were outraged by the verdict. The majority of white conservatives seem to feel that justice has been served. Why is that?

photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc
photo credit: Dan4th via photopin cc

As a society, we have allowed race and political leanings to taint our perspectives of reality. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it is a bad sign for our nation. Any culture that allows emotion, rather than truth, to color its sense of justice will be ripe with division. I understand that it is entirely natural that we would want to side with those who share our perspectives, ethnicity, or skin color, but we create a recipe for injustice when we allow these things to form our view of reality.

The real problem isn’t race or political ideology; we are plagued by a culture full of people pursuing their own personal and corporate agendas. Personal bias is the archenemy of justice. Those who use their personal desires in an attempt to create their own reality will always bear some sort of bias as they navigate the sticky issues of life on earth.

Jesus Christ stands as the supreme champion of justice in the annals of human history. Why? He never allowed His personal desires or affinities to influence His perspective of reality.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30 (NASB)

This passage both encourages and challenges me! I am encouraged by the fact that, regardless of what happens in the courts of human affairs, impartial justice will be served sometime in eternity. All who have been mistreated, abused, or unjustly accused will one day see the perpetrators of such acts called into account. This doesn’t mean that we should passively accept injustice in our world, but that our hearts can be free of hatred and bitterness as we strive for what is right.

As always, I am challenged by the example of Christ. I want to see as He sees and have the courage to speak truth. It’s counter cultural, I know. Not many among us appreciate truth—even those who claim to value and seek an accurate perspective of reality. Still, a passionate love for truth, regardless of the cost, lays the foundation for genuine hope, not to mention a good night’s sleep.

What Is Truth?

photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc
photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr cc

The conversation saddened me. I was speaking with a middle-aged acquaintance (I’ll call him “Bill”) and the conversation momentarily drifted toward the things of God. Bill, however, quickly steered our discussion toward the topic of sports as he emotionally recounted the opportunity that he had to introduce his young son to a couple of the Pittsburgh Pirates all stars. In Bill’s world, God meant very little and the stardom of professional athletics meant everything. Like so many others who dwell on this earth, Bill’s reality is limited to what he can see, hear, and touch.

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via Flickr cc

Truth, in a sense, amounts to an accurate description of reality. That which is deemed to be true is that which agrees with what is real. The problem is that there are many different “realities” in our world, and, thus, many different versions of “truth” that clamor for our attention. These “realities” are actually only of human perception and so we must ask ourselves if our “realities” and “truths” correspond with the ultimate reality of God.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman prefect over Judea, Pontius Pilate, nervously conversed with Jesus just prior to sentencing the Son of God to death by crucifixion. It was during that interaction that the notoriously cruel Pilate uttered the infamous words, “What is truth?” (John 18:28-40) To Pontius Pilate, objective truth was sacrificed for the “reality” that corresponded with his own personal agenda. Similar to Bill, the Roman ruler was at a total loss when it came to dealing with the reality of Christ and His Lordship.

In the pluralistic culture of our day, it sounds noble-minded to say something like, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your beliefs.” Such statements always make me chuckle because they send a clear message that the unseen spiritual world is nothing more than human fabrication—something akin to the Greek mythology I enjoyed studying in my younger years.

A strong case can be made that because the spiritual world around us is eternal, it amounts to a greater reality than the temporal material world in which we live. Bill’s two baseball heroes may be able to play for another ten years or so, but their careers will end and their bodies will eventually go to the grave. In contrast, the Creator of the Universe exists eternally.

photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc
photo credit: Pierre-Olivier via Flickr cc

Why does any of this matter? Pontius Pilate ordered that the innocent Christ be unjustly tortured and killed.History tells us that Pilate’s life took a downward turn a few years after the crucifixion, and that he eventually committed suicide. The day will arrive when not only Pilate, but all of us will be judged by God’s eternal truth. No high political ruler or MVP from any sport from any age in history will stand guard at those pearly gates. What will matter for each of us—and it will matter a great deal—is the degree to which we discovered the reality of God’s eternal truth and aligned our lives accordingly.

People pay a lot of money to attend fundraisers with political dignitaries. They also shell out a lot of cash in an attempt to buy into the glory of collegiate and professional athletics. But in the end, only one reality will matter. When it comes to gaining access to the eternal truth of God, well, that is a “ticket” worthy of a steep price!

Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?

original photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc
photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

There was a season during my teenage years when CB radios were all the rage. People installed them in their cars and sometimes even their houses. My buddy’s dad had his own little CB station set up in the corner of his living room to keep him entertained through the long winter evenings.

“CB Lingo”—once only the language of truckers and rednecks—became common jargon for all of American society. Whether by radio or by phone, it was common to greet a friend with, “Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?” Little did I realize then that it was Jesus who coined that phrase—only His was a slightly different version.

Talking on CB Radio
photo credit: Andrew 鐘 via photopin cc

Matthew 13:3-9 records what is often called “the parable of the sower.”

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (NASB)

Did you notice how Jesus ended His little story? “He who has ears, let him hear.” It’s similar to, “Hey, Ya Got Your Ears On?” but with a slightly different twist. Jesus commonly used this phrase when in the process of making a difficult statement. In a sense, the Son of God was saying, “Listen up folks, you may not like what I’m saying, but you really need to hear this.”

photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap
photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap

After Jesus presented the parable of the sower, the crowds went on their way marveling about the eloquent stories that He told. Christ’s disciples, however, pulled Him aside and began to ask questions in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. The Messiah’s followers didn’t just hear what Jesus said; they actually listened.

You know, one thing about Jesus is that He is just so darn easy to ignore—at least in the short-term. A few people in Western culture totally reject what Jesus had to say, and I’ll say that, at the very least, I applaud them for their honesty. Most of us simply pick and choose, approaching the teachings of Christ like we would a restaurant buffet. We keep what tastes pleasant to the palate, while conveniently ignoring anything we deem to be distasteful.

Buffet
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The problem with this approach is that the words of Jesus Christ can never be simply a matter of preference—they are the very words of life. Whether we choose to reject His teachings, or simply ignore them, I can guarantee that we will find ourselves paying a steep price in the end. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with.

Personally, I really do prefer the pleasant parts of Christianity. I like, for instance, going on retreats—taking time to linger in the presence of God and sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But along the way, I have also learned the life-giving value of less palatable things like hard truth, correction, and discipline. The fact that I don’t like something doesn’t mean that I don’t need it!

How about you? Ya Got Your Ears On?

Love that Never Dies

original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc
original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc

Critics of the modern Christianity often complain that our modern Bibles lose something in meaning due the difficulties of language translation. In part, they are correct—although I have found that digging deeper into the original languages is common practice for most of the scholars and pastors who approach Bible interpretation with a great deal of care and humility.

There is one particular Hebrew word, extensively used throughout the Old Testament, that is rich with meaning but does not translate well into English. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains (DBL Hebrew) defines the Hebrew word hesed (also spelled chesed) as:

loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship [1]

One of the best known uses of this ancient word can be found in the sixth and final verse of the much loved twenty-third Psalm:

photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc
photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (NKJV)

The word translated as “mercy” here is actually hesed. Various versions of the Bible also translate hesed as “love” (NIV), faithful love” (HCSB), “unfailing love” (NLT), and “lovingkindness” (NASB). As you can see, limitations in the English language make it difficult for us to get a full understanding of the word’s intended meaning.

Adding yet another layer of significance to Psalms 23:6 is the Hebrew word for “follow” (yirdpuni), which, according to the DBL Hebrew can be translated to mean chase, pursue, and even hound.[2] Do you see it? God’s faithful, undying love will pursue His children all of the days of their lives! God loves everyone ever born, but His hesed is now only fully expressed to those who have entered into a New Covenant relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. What an amazing privilege it is for us to be the apple of God’s eye!

photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc
photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc

Plumbing the depths of God’s undying love for His children, however, is not my primary purpose for addressing this concept. The nature of New Covenant Christianity merits a paradigm shift from following lists of rules (in order to gain God’s acceptance) to returning God’s faithful love with a faithful love of our own. Just as two married people are to be faithfully devoted to one another for all of their days, so, too, God’s children are to practically live out their love for their Lord and Savior.

There is nothing nebulous about genuine love. God’s grace both frees us and compels us to live in a manner which is very different from the cultural mindsets that constantly seek to define us. The Christian life is in no way defined by adherence to the Mosaic Law, but by a faithful covenant love that finds its expression in three specific areas as identified by three Greek words for love –agape, philia, and eros—that were used in the writing of the New Testament.

Over the next several posts, we’ll use this foundation to build a framework by which we can see how New Covenant love is to govern the manner in which we live out our Christian faith. I know I’ve gone a tad technical with this post, but this stuff is too good (and important) to ignore!


[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Church of Whatever We Want Jesus to Be

Paul's Letter
Valentin de Boulogne – Public Domain

If ever there was a person who was an authority of the Christian gospel, it was the Apostle Paul. Author of one-third of our New Testament, Paul penned letters to the churches in Rome and Galatia, both of which have become premiere sources for our understanding of the gospel.

Notice how Paul begins his letter to the Romans:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…. Romans 1:1 (NASB)

This verse provides a point of convergence for all Christians. Would any of us dispute Paul’s calling—or his authority for that matter? We all might also agree that the gospel (good news) is integral to the Christian faith. Even those who do not consider themselves to be evangelicals still revere the centrality of the gospel.

Christ's Resurrection
Noel Coypel – Public Domain

Professing Christians begin to diverge when it comes to the heart and purpose of the gospel. Jesus came to earth as God incarnate—that is God in the flesh, in human form. The Son of God walked amongst us as the Son of Man. After fulfilling a supernatural ministry on earth, Jesus suffered a torturous death on a wooden cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all men and women. But death could not hold the Son of God! On the third day following, Jesus rose in power from the grave, never to die again.

Sadly, there are some professing Christians who would disagree with this Biblically-based representation of the good news of Jesus Christ. They might say, “Humans aren’t all that bad and are able to please God by being good people and doing nice things—like helping little old ladies across the street.” They might say, “Sure, Jesus was a great moral teacher, but he never believed himself to be God. A few misguided souls simply misunderstood his teachings.” Further still, they might say, “Jesus never performed any actual miracles and we all know the resurrection to be scientifically impossible.” “Of course, these things are recorded in the Bible, but the book is more of a teaching tool intended to help modify human behavior than it is the inspired word of God,” they might say.

It is not my goal to be rude, but I can’t, for the life of me, understand how such a perspective can be called “Christian” when it attempts to strike a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith. If we remove the reality of Christ’s miracles and His subsequent resurrection, we lose the power to transform human lives. Christianity, then, becomes more of a humanistic self-improvement project than the radical, life-changing movement it was intended to be.

I understand that some people find certain tenets of the Christian faith to be repulsive. Seriously, how many of us relish the thought of needing a Savior to remind us that we are thoroughly inadequate in heaven’s eyes? The picture of a bloody sacrifice does little to make me feel warm and fuzzy. And, of course, dying to my own selfish desires has never been at the top of my bucket list!

I disagree with the theology of Unitarian Universalists but I do respect them for their honesty; they don’t claim to be Christian. On the other hand, I really struggle with those who profess Christianity but deny the substance thereof. It is one thing to disagree about the meaning of Scripture. It’s a totally different issue to deny its authority.

Church of WhateverWe live in a world in which the title “Christian” means just about everything; therefore, it means nothing. What makes this state especially sad are the precious human lives adversely affected by such confusion. Would we, perhaps, be better to make a distinction between those who embrace the supremacy and authority of Christ, and those who would like to reinterpret the Bible according to their own desires? We could call one group the church of Jesus Christ and the other the church of whatever we want Jesus to be.

I realize that the abrasive tone of this post breaks from my usual pattern but I believe there are times when we sacrifice honesty for the sake of nicety. If you would like to make your own religion, have at it! Enjoy yourself! Do it up right! Create whatever makes you feel good. But let’s not forget that Jesus Christ is the head of His church and that He will form and shape her according to His desires—not ours.