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!

The Greatest Holiday Ever!

photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc
photo credit: |vvaldzen| via photopin cc

There is something about Easter that sets it apart as one of the most significant holidays to celebrate. Thanksgiving and Christmas rank right up there, of course, but aside from peanut butter eggs and sugary peeps, Resurrection Sunday continues to be one of the most meaningful days on the calendar.

One thing that I especially appreciate about this three-day holiday experience is that it conveys a profound message of hope while still maintaining a firm grasp on reality. In a natural sense, there is very little good about Good Friday, and yet, its continued remembrance provides an ongoing reminder of humanity’s desperate need. Sin is dark and violent—a reality that we dare not ignore. Yet through the cross, not only is sin addressed but it is dealt a fatal blow with Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

The timing of Easter is also quite meaningful as it signals the arrival of new life bursting forth after the long, cold months of winter. The lengthening days and increased warmth of the sun provide a powerful sense of hope and anticipation. What an awesome time of year!

If there is one word that I could use to describe Easter, it would be new. That we speak of new life is evident, but a greater dimension remains that often receives only lip service. The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the initiation of the New Covenant. The original meaning of new in a Biblical Greek context doesn’t simply mean a more contemporary version of something one already owns. Rather, it speaks of something entirely new and different compared to what has previously existed.

photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc
photo credit: mbtrama via photopin cc

If I decide, for example, to purchase a new car to replace the one that I already own, I am simply buying another vehicle of a similar type. But if I chose to purchase a car that also serves as a boat, a submarine, and an airplane, I would obtain a vehicle that is unlike anything known to all of my neighbors, friends, and relatives.

The New Covenant, while yet another in a series of sacred and binding relationships between man and God, is totally different from any type of relationship previously known to humanity. Through the New Covenant of grace, we are offered the extreme privilege of being able to relate to God on His terms—not through the law-based existence of our ancestors.

People who are repulsed by the all of the judgment seen in the Old Testament often focus on only a small piece of the puzzle. One of our most deadly errors is to miss the fact that the Apostle Paul compares the Mosiac Law to a harsh school-master who points the way toward the New Covenant of grace.

Before the coming of faith we were all imprisoned under the power of the Law, with our only hope of deliverance the faith that was to be shown to us. Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him. Once we had that faith we were completely free from the governess’s authority. Galatians 3:23-25 (Phillips)

photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc
photo credit: Michael 1952 via photopin cc

This passage calls to mind the image of a strict Catholic school nun of an earlier era. (I know that they weren’t all hard-nosed, but there were enough mean ones to make the stereotype somewhat viable; each of my Catholic childhood friends had his own traumatic story to tell.) Step out of line in any way and you could be sure that Sister Mary Meanheart would immediately smack your fingers with her wooden ruler—her continued harshness awakening within each heart an intense desire for salvation, or, at the very least, a nicer nun.

God never intended the Mosaic Law and its judgments to be a permanent way of life. His goal was to show the futility of a legalistic worldview and leave us longing for a new type of existence. This realization makes it especially unfortunate that we so often define Christian maturity in light of how well people obey certain rules. At its very core, the Gospel is a message of freedom, not one of requirements and obligations.

Not only does Easter mark the arrival of spring, it indicates the initiation of a truly new way of life—one filled with hope and peace and everything good. For those who grasp the true meaning of the season, this is a holiday worth celebrating!

The Keys to a Peace-filled Existence

Noah Webster statue by Korczak Ziółkowski
Photo by Ragesoss – CC-BY-SA 3.0

Noah Webster once wrote: “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe.”[1] And you thought all Noah did was write dictionaries!

Webster is also reported to have stated, “Tyranny is the exercise of some power over a man, which is not warranted by law, or necessary for the public safety. A people can never be deprived of their liberties, while they retain in their own hands, a power sufficient to any other power in the state.”

The great fear of our Founding Fathers was not of a U.S. citizen with a gun, but of a tyrannical government run amuck. Technology was less advanced in those days, and society was not especially inclined toward senseless violence, so we can only infer how Webster’s statements would apply to our current situation. However, one thing has not changed since the days of our forefathers—human nature is still driven by a lust for power (control).

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany stand as a classic case in point—their thirst for power resulted in the untimely deaths of approximately 70 million people. To put this into perspective, this equates to roughly the current combined population of our 29 smallest states! That is 70 million fathers, mothers, children, siblings, and friends. And, unfortunately, the death and destruction of WWII stand as the fruit of but one of many such conflicts that have occurred throughout the course of human history.

Hitler and Nazi Party - December 1930
Photo by Bundesarchiv, Bild 119-0289 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Our natural tendency is to bemoan such terrible things as though they are far removed from any one of us, but that would be a huge mistake. Hitler could never have committed such atrocities without the help of all who participated in the Nazi party, as well the involvement of other Axis nations. World War II was undoubtedly the collective effort of many parties.

Our inherent desire for control breeds conflict and destruction on so many levels. Nazi Germany certainly stands as an extreme example, but the fruit of seemingly less significant attempts to control others is fiendish in its own right. How many families have been severely damaged by a controlling mother or father (or a rebellious child)? How many churches have been divided because of internal battles for control? How many powerless, unborn children have been slaughtered due to parents who refuse to release control of their own agendas?

The greatest struggle that any of us will ever fight is the battle of the will. And, unfortunately for us, when we win, we lose. Those who get their own way in life will find themselves far from the will of God and His abundant life. Death in its many forms is all that we can expect. Thankfully, inherent to the Gospel is God’s provision to free us from our compulsion to control.

Somewhere along the line, you may have heard of a little something called the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:10-12 (NASB)

When Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray, right near the top of the list was, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” God’s kingdom is essentially His government in which His will is performed. All of this means that any Christian’s top priority should be to pursue the will of God–rather than his or her own personal agenda–because of a deep love for our Savior.

Peace is one of the defining attributes of the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). This type of peace isn’t simply an absence of conflict but rather an almost unexplainable harmony brought about through an environment of authentic love.

Humble Prayer
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Guns have become the focus in our debate over violence because very few of us genuinely understand real peace. Whether on the streets of a city, in the conference room of a church, or the living room of a home, the entrance to the path of peace comes not from standing tall in power, but bowing low in humility. Surrendering control. Yielding to His will. Giving God the freedom to have His way. These are the keys to a peace-filled existence.


[1] An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, (1787)

The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
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World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
photo credit: Mr Jaded via photopin cc

1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
photo credit: HackBitz via photopin cc

I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

Jesus: Lord of Rest!

Carrot on a Stick
photo credit: Ben Sutherland via photopin cc

We all want it in one way or another, but some of us definitely more than others. I speak of our human need to be in control—that elusive capacity to get what we want, when we want it, and how we want it. Like a vain pursuit of the proverbial carrot on a stick, a quest for control will leave us both frustrated and exhausted.

But why does the need for control matter so much to us? Why do we invest so much time and energy pursuing it? Why do we exhaust ourselves trying to attain something that we might be able to only faintly grasp? Simply put, it is the way we are wired; and it has been that way from almost the beginning of time.

The Fall
Photo courtesy of Pitts Theological Library

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were seeking to be like God apart from God. Who is God? He is the Sovereign King of the Universe. This means that our Creator is accountable to no one and that He has the authority and ability to get whatever He wants whenever He wants. God, however, has chosen to limit Himself in this regard as He relates to the human race. Because He wills it, we each have a certain degree of freedom to make our own choices. The King of the Universe then mysteriously directs those choices toward His sovereign purposes.

The human desire to be God operates quite differently. Although we seek the ultimate sovereignty possessed only by God, we lack the power and authority to fully engineer people and circumstances in directions that we deem to be favorable. Our natural tendency, therefore, is for us to try to control all that surrounds and affects us. And while the need to be in control is entirely natural, that does not necessarily mean that it is good for us. There is nothing artificial, for example, about poison ivy, but you won’t find a poison ivy beauty cream anywhere on the market.

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy Photo by Puzzler4879 — CC BY 2.0

There is something about the human will by which we think that having our way will make our world bright and rosy, yet the opposite becomes our reality. For someone who is not God to try to play the role of God is nothing short of exhausting because there is so much in our world that we can never control. Rather than experiencing peace, joy, and an overall sense of fulfillment, we find ourselves frustrated, angry, resentful, anxious, and depressed—all while immersed in a deep sense of weariness. The older we get, the more entrenched this feeling of exhaustion becomes.

Once again, the Gospel provides the answer to all that ails us. God calls us to seek first His kingdom and to completely surrender our wills, not because He is on a power trip, but because it is what’s best for us. How we begin to experience fresh life when we finally learn to surrender our need to be in control! But letting go is much easier for some than for others. Those of us who have been through especially painful or traumatic experiences will find the desire for control to be a downright compulsion. This means that we must deliberately cultivate a strong faith in God so that our hearts will be free to let go.

The Nativity
Photoby Keith Williamson — CC BY 2.0

In this Christmas season when we so often focus on Jesus as Savior alone, we will gain so much more by recognizing that the good news of the Gospel is to also see Him as Lord. Allowing Jesus to take His rightful place as Savior and Lord over our lives is to experience a measure of freedom and rest that an envious world can only long for.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 (NASB)

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)

Photo by jenny drowning — CC BY 2.0

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)

Every Person a God = Every Day a Conflict

Photo by Jeff Williams – morgueFile

Maryland blue crabs are crazy, ravenous creatures! Throw anything that resembles food into the water and they swarm to the location, consuming what they can while jostling for position. In their eyes, they are the bottom lineNumero Uno. No one else matters. And when threatened in any way, those pain-inflicting pinchers aggressively come up in defense. It makes perfect sense that the word “crab” is synonymous for mean and crotchety.

The thing about crabs is that they don’t get along especially well with one another. If you happen to see locals out catching crabs, you’ll notice that they often use bushel baskets. After catching more than one ornery crustacean, they don’t worry about putting the lid back on the basket, even though the last thing they want is for a crab to latch on to their toes. Every time that a crab tries to climb out of that basket, you can be sure than another will pull it back in.

Any crab with a brain would conspire with the others to work out an escape plan. They’d need only to allow one to reach the rim of the basket, giving a slight heave ho to help the others out. And the crabbers? Their feet would soon be mincemeat! It won’t happen, of course, because crabs don’t grasp the concepts of honoring others or seeking the common good. Every crab is its own god.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the zombie conspiracy by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were looking after their own interests. When they attempted to redirect blame for their own actions, they were putting themselves first. When they hid in the shadows in shame, neither was concerned about the welfare of the other. Desiring to be like God apart from God is all about looking out for Number One—i.e. self-deification.

Photo by joncandy – CC BY-SA 2.0

In spite of claims to the contrary, there can only be one Number One. Fans will always prefer a sudden death playoff over co-champions. A tie is never sufficient, for glory and power are not easily shared. That’s just the way it is.

When each living human seeks to be the center of the universe, conflict is the result. When each living human seeks to control his/her own life and the lives of others, conflict is the result. When each living human climbs higher in a personal quest for glory above all others, you guessed it, conflict is the result. As these things happen on the playing field, we call it entertainment. It is nothing short of tragic, however, when real life is marred by discord and violence.

Photo by public.resource.org – CC BY 2.0

We may sound a universal cry for peace, but it will never happen without violating someone’s free will, for the will never ceases to lift itself above all others. In a world where every person is a god you can be sure that every day will carry a conflict. Increasing measures of narcissism (self-deification) in our cultures means increased contention. As a result, the only way to enable people to get along is by passing more laws in an attempt to govern outward behavior.

Only the true Gospel of Jesus Christ can truly free us from our narcissistic tendencies without destroying our freedom in the process. A humanistic gospel, on the other hand, will be characterized by anti-virtues such as elitism, control, and contention; making life just plain crabby.

Personally, I have tasted the peace of the Gospel and I can’t help but find myself longing for more.