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.

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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
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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!
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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!

Bats Are Our Friends

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I saw recently that a local school district must spend more than $60,000 to relocate bats before they can build a new school. Many of the locals think it is a senseless waste of money but I disagree. In spite of their ugliness, bats are our friends. Did you know that one bat can eat 600 or more mosquitoes in only an hour? I hate mosquitoes (and their disease carrying tendencies) so much that it makes me like bats—even though they give fresh meaning to the word ugly. With the number of bats dropping precipitously due to disease, it makes good sense that bats would be protected as they are.

All of this makes me wonder if perhaps there aren’t other unlikeable things in life that we should actually appreciate more than we do. I am not especially fond of difficult times but the Bible strongly encourages a perspective of trials and tribulations that differs vastly from common thought.

 When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. James 1:2-4 (Phillips)

We aren’t exactly certain if the author of this passage was James the half-brother of Jesus or not, but based on the modern perspectives of the Western Church, it is all too obvious that James didn’t have a clue about his subject matter. It only seems appropriate that we rewrite the passage to bring it more in line with modern times.

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When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, let your hearts be filled with resentment because such difficulties are unwelcome intruders. Realise that anything that threatens your personal comfort and security can be declared to be the arch enemy of God. Being mature and complete, lacking in nothing has nothing to do with enduring through difficult times, and everything to do with developing a sense of personal entitlement. James 1:2-4 (Contemporary Western Version (CWV))

Perhaps my CWV interpretation leaves something to be desired, but if I were translating the text based on the evidence of how Christians are responding to our current times, I honestly don’t think it would be much different.

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I get it. Really, I do. I understand that we are deeply concerned about the future. I see our religious freedoms unraveling. I am also well aware of the huge hole we have dug with our national debt. But is it possible that our ever-faithful Father is using “momentary light affliction” to produce within us “an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”? (2 Corinthians 4:17)

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Is it possible that the trials of this life are like bats? They are mysterious and creepy, yes, but in the end they may well be better friends than we realize. I, for one, would rather have an ugly bat fly by my head than the West Nile Virus incubating in my blood. Just a random post-election thought.

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

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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.

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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.

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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 Mercy of Failure

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In the midst of all the jubilation of the Olympics we see a flow of sad tears—mostly young people who have sacrificed and worked their entire lives only to see their dreams of Olympic gold vanish into thin air. Many have envisioned this moment from early childhood, idolizing their Olympic heroes with a persistent determination to follow in their steps.

The goal is glory, with law-based standards providing the opportunity for the glory of a champion to be attained. Those who work their tails off to swim faster or jump higher or tumble better than anyone else earn an Olympic medal of glory. While other kids were playing, they practiced. While friends enjoyed unhealthy treats, they restricted their diets. While siblings slept in, they arose in the early hours of the morning to work out.

But the athletes aren’t alone in all of this. Their families also made tremendous sacrifices to the point of some packing up and moving for the sake of training. And when those athletes are doing their early morning workouts, you can be sure that a coach is watching intently while drinking a morning cup of brew. Add the financial investment of sponsors and it becomes evident that a significant investment is required for every medal winner . . . and for every loser.

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I saw failure play out Saturday morning as U.S. cyclist Taylor Phinney pounded his fist in frustration after finishing fourth in the men’s road race by a bit more than a gnat’s eyelash. Phinney went on to explain that fourth is the worst place to finish, meaning that he was almost good enough to medal, but didn’t quite make the grade. Later in the week, a fencer from South Korea stood on the mat sobbing for 30 minutes after losing a closely contested match.

Whether the Olympics, or any other sporting venue at any level, there are always many more losers than there are winners. All share the quest for glory, but most experience the agony of defeat. And really, we aren’t just talking about sports, but virtually any arena of life. Failure to meet expected standards is common to humanity. No one likes to fail; I’ve never met a little boy whose vision for life was to become a failure.

But aside from the damage to the human ego, is failure really as bad as we make it to be? Is it possible that there might also be benefits to failure? And no, I’m not talking about the inability to succeed as being a wake-up call that provides fresh determination to work harder for the sake of future success.

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Imagine, if you will, a harsh teacher (call him Mr. Law) broadcasting every little error you make to the entire class. Each failure is then followed by a painful smack from a wooden ruler. Miserable. Miserable. Miserable. In the lunch room one day you hear other students bragging about amazing Miss Grace. She’s so nice and kind, never focusing on their errors and even spending extra personal time helping them do better.

You go to great lengths to switch teachers, and Miss Grace’s almost magical passion for learning literally changes the course of your life. Many years later, sitting by the pool of your multi-million dollar mansion, you find yourself being strangely thankful for Mr. Law. If he hadn’t made you so miserable, you would have never made such a persistent effort to get into Miss Grace’s transformational class.

We can find a very tangible connection between sports, and academics, and morality, and just about any area of life that involves measuring up to standards of perfection. Our failure opens our eyes to our need for something (or Someone) more beyond ourselves. And this, my friends, is a powerful expression of God’s mercy.

Having experienced the pain of failure first-hand (and more times than I would like to admit), I have come to realize that the painful consequences of a life lived independently from God are far worse. Better to fall short and seek His face, than to succeed and glory in one’s own perceived greatness. Failure, when accompanied by faith in God, becomes the springboard to an amazing future!

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