Something Greater than 9/11

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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.

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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!

God Values Life!

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photo credit: Marxchivist via photopin cc

The story of Noah’s ark has long been a classic Sunday school topic for children’s curriculum. There’s something really cute about the idea of Noah building a big boat and gathering a diverse array of animals on board. What isn’t cute, however, is the idea of a devastating flood killing all human and animal life apart from those on the ark. In fact, many opponents of Christianity (and Judaism) point toward the story of Noah’s ark as an example of what they see as a cruel religion.

Several things stand out to me when I read Genesis 6-9 but I would like to highlight two things in particular. The first point of notice involves the state of the earth before the deluge.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. . . Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Genesis 6:5-8, 11-12 (NASB)

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photo credit: expertinfantry via photopin cc

This passage explains, in human terms, how God felt about the human race at that point in time. The intent of every heart was evil and the entire world was filled with violence. When God violently flooded the Earth, He was simply giving the human race the fulfillment of its own actions—violence and destruction.

This destruction is the total opposite of God’s original design in the garden of Eden. Adam & Eve had been naked and unashamed, secure in God’s peace, and without fear of exploitation. When they chose the path of independence from God, however, everything changed—so much so that their firstborn son murdered his brother in a fit of envious rage. The level of violence only grew until God sent 40 days and 40 nights of nonstop rain.

I find it ironic that we want God to relate to us on our terms but we are repulsed when He actually does so. What we fail to see in Noah’s story is the second point I would like to highlight from Genesis 6-9: God values human life far more than most of us realize.

“Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” Genesis 9:5-6 (NASB)

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photo credit: chantel beam photography via photopin cc

Human life is sacred in the eyes of God and the unjust shedding of blood deserves an appropriate form of judgment. Thus, It is entirely just for God to judge unrighteous acts of violence committed against those who have been created in His own image.

There is yet another important point to this story that we can easily miss: Getting a fresh start is not the formula for a better world. It’s like my high school friend, Chris, who always seemed to get himself in trouble. At least once a week, he was turning over a new leaf. Unfortunately, that leaf never stayed turned in the right direction!

What the human race really needs are the willingness and the ability to relate to God on His terms. Only then, will we be able to experience true peace. Before we go there, however, we need to look at one particular aspect of the Old Covenant that will help us to better understand the severe judgment seen in the Old Testament. Be sure to stay tuned!

I Love the God of the Old Testament!

Judgmentalism
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I love the God of the Old Testament! Honestly, I do. I suppose that some people will imagine me to be a judgmental enforcer of rules—or perhaps a really cruel-hearted guy with violent tendencies. Those prone to stereotyping might picture me carrying a protest sign alongside the members of Westboro Baptist Church—you know, that mean-spirited group of people who hate just about anyone who differs from their narrow-minded view of religion.

If you think that any of these things are true of me because I love the God of the Old Testament, you would be wrong. One of the most disastrous misconceptions held by people today is that Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, is a cruel, violent despot and that Jesus, the God of the New Testament, is a passive and somewhat timid teddy bear. Why would we have such an inaccurate understanding of God’s nature? We generally don’t know the true character of God, nor do we understand the manner in which He interacts with the human race.

What are we to make of statements made by Jesus about His relationship with His heavenly Father (Yahweh)?

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (NASB)

More than once, the New Testament proclaims that Jesus and Yahweh are of the very same essence (nature). The much maligned God of the Old Testament is the very same God who, because of His great love for us, sent His beloved Son to die on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven and our relationship with Him restored. This is the Old Testament God who is slow to anger and full of mercy (Psalm 86).

Jesus and Money Changers
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Many who proclaim only the warm and fuzzy aspects of Christ’s love fail to recognize that it was He who turned over the tables of the money changers and blasted the Pharisees for their unjust practices. Yes, we are referring to the King of kings and Lord of lords who will one day return to judge all who have walked this earth.

All too often, we fail to understand that love without justice isn’t love at all. We don’t realize that God pours out wrath, not because He wants to, but because He would be unjust not to. Would a loving God wink and look the other way when an adult male abducts, molests, and kills a little girl? We may struggle to understand why God allows such things to take place, but we can rest assured from the Scriptures that He will one day call such actions fully into account. The guilty will not go unpunished!

The cross of Jesus Christ is where God’s wrath and mercy meet. Through the cross, the vilest of sinners can be both forgiven and transformed. Through the cross, we discover a love so profound that it overloads the natural mind’s ability to comprehend. If we are to believe the writings of the New Testament—and we should—we can’t help but recognize that God the Father is every bit as loving as Jesus Christ.

All of this, of course, leaves us with one massive, nagging question: If Yahweh is so full of love and mercy, then why do we see harsh judgment throughout the Old Testament? The question is entirely reasonable and well worth further explanation, but the short answer is profoundly simple. Through the course of time, the nature of God has never changed. What has changed is the manner in which He relates to the human race.

The short answer to our question is not complicated; however, understanding the details behind that answer is somewhat more involved. In future posts, I’ll further address God’s interaction with humanity. To set the stage, however, I’d like to highlight an ancient proverb that continues to speak deep wisdom even in our day.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2 (NASB)

Study Bible
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Quick judgments are easy and usually wrong. Humbly searching the Scriptures, while asking God to open our eyes, is an entirely different matter. Those who are willing to search beyond the realm of natural appearances may soon find themselves encountering a heavenly Father who is very different from what our world thinks!

No Power, No Game – A Key Lesson from the Super Bowl!

Mercedes-Benz Superdome
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It was an odd moment in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome suddenly went half black. The players and coaches stood befuddled, the broadcasters went ominously quiet, and the television cameras simply panned the half-darkened ceiling of the massive dome. Nobody really knew what was going on but one thing was certain—no power meant no game. At least for the next 34 minutes.

As I begin to wrap up this series on violence, I can’t help but make an observation that is somewhat critical of the conservative community standing in total opposition to any form of gun control. This is quite difficult for me to do because I have quite a few good friends I might possibly offend.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes that God has given His church powerful spiritual weapons for the purpose of advancing His kingdom.

The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (Phillips)

I understand that the primary context of this passage is the Apostle Paul writing about truth as our primary weapon for breaking down enemy strongholds; however, in the greater context of the New Testament, we find that truth is not our only spiritual weapon.

Receiving from God
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In His final words before ascending into heaven, Jesus made something quite clear to His followers—He would empower them, through the person of the Holy Spirit, to do all that He called them to do.

But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. Acts 1:8 (AMP)

In addition to His awesome truth and the amazing power of prayer, God has invested within the heart of every true believer a power that far exceeds anything that the human race could ever envision. Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a power that lies dormant as we pursue a multitude of other methods to satisfy our lives and to do ministry.

A fundamental strategy of any type of warfare is to attempt to disarm the power of the enemy. And I must say that, for the most part, Satan has done an effective job of getting the Christian church to lay down its weaponry. We often give minimal attention to the truth of God’s word, a lesser amount to individual and corporate prayer, and even less to operating in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The church has been effectively disarmed to the point of having minimal influence in a society being overrun by dark forces.

Gun Rights Rally
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Our reasons for allowing this to happen may be many but I think they are as weak as our spiritual vitality. In the end, we are either ignorant of God’s power available to us or we aren’t willing to pay the price to lay hold of all that He has for us. Perhaps it is a mix of both, but either way, I can’t help but wonder how the spiritual landscape in America would look if we as conservative Christians were as outraged at the loss of our spiritual weaponry as we are about the possibility of losing our gun rights.

Still, there is good news in all of this! If we will only take the time to dig deeper into His word to discover the power and authority available to us, if we will fast from food and some of our media, if we will spend extended time in prayer seeking His face, God will gladly restore the church what has been lost and neglected. Although God’s power is readily available to every believer, generally, it does not come as easily and quickly for us as it should. Deliberate and extended effort may be necessary.

No Power, No Game! We can whine and complain all we want, but unless we take up the call to spiritual arms, the spiritual landscape of our nation won’t be changing any time soon.

Why Gun Control Misses the Point

photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc
photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc

“The findings were disturbing….” So goes the beginning of a paragraph in an article about the Pulitzer Prize winning report (Assault on Learning) by the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding violence in the Philadelphia school system. After reading further, I could not help but agree—it is all very disturbing!

More than 30,000 serious incidents were reported in the district over a five-year period. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or made victims of other violent crime. As large as those numbers seem, they didn’t represent the full gravity of the problem. Many violent incidents went unreported. Some attacks were carried out by children in the earliest grades.[1]

How many students are there in the district? According Susan Snyder—one of the lead journalists in the story—we are talking about only 146,000 students.[2] The significance of the problem becomes even greater when we recognize that schools are gun-free zones. In other words, very little of this violence had anything to do with firearms.

In one particularly sad case, more than 30 Asian students were brutally beaten by their fellow classmates—most of whom were African American. This type of situation was identity related and it stems from the third primary root of our fallen natures that contributes to violence—our quest for glory. Of the three roots mentioned—self-centered lust, the desire for control, and the quest for glory—the quest for glory is probably the most difficult for us to comprehend.

Adam & Eve had been created in the very image of God, and, being clothed in His glory, they were naked and unashamed. However, by choosing to seek a sense of goodness independent from their Creator, our ancient ancestors quickly found themselves naked and very much ashamed. Painfully separated from the King of Glory, the unhappy result was a glory deficiency which is now inherent to the entire human race.

Glory is fleeting . . .
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From a very young age, it becomes every person’s goal to find a sense of significance through his or her performance, appearance, possessions, etc. It is in the fickle court of human approval that we seek to find significance. As we enter the world of comparisons and judgments, our value as human beings depends upon our ability to measure up to the ever-changing standards of our individual subcultures. In the high school scene, for example, those who meet current standards of beauty and athletic performance become wildly popular, while those who fall far short of the standards find themselves condemned as objects of scorn.

The pursuit of glory is so ingrained in the human psyche that for the most part we find it to be entirely natural. But the division it creates and the destruction it wreaks! A group of black students viciously beat 30 Asian students in Philadelphia schools simply because the Asians did not meet the standards of a black identity. Ironically, it was the same mindset used by whites to justify the horrors of slavery for so many years. We can see that at its roots this type of violence has nothing to do with black or white or any other skin color—it’s rooted in an all-encompassing effort to achieve a glory-based identity.

The tree of identity-based violence springs from the seed of contempt. Any time we despise someone who fails to meet our particular standards we commit an act of spiritual violence toward that individual. Physical violence ultimately erupts as we nourish seeds of contempt with the right (or wrong, depending on one’s perspective) environmental conditions.

At its core, the Gospel is an identity message.[3] We find our true significance through our relationship with God, not by our performance, but in our lofty status as sons and daughters of the eternal King of Glory. To abide in Christ is to be clothed once again in God’s greatness, secure in identity and free to be humble.

photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc
photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc

 Will fewer people be killed if our government implements gun control measures? Possibly. Violence and its resulting pain, however, will continue to plague American society until we strike the problem at its evil roots. Once again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most powerful solution to what ails us!


[1] Susan Snyder, The Press, the Passion, and the Prize, as found in the IUP Magazine, VOL. XXX, NO.3, p. 17

[3] Check out our Search for Me Identity Study for a much more in-depth explanation.

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)

It’s Time to Ban Dark-Colored Hoodies!

photo credit: Fayez Closed Account. via photopin cc
photo credit: Fayez Closed Account. via photopin cc

Having spent far too much time meticulously watching local news reports out of Pittsburgh, I have come to the conclusion that most of the reported crimes are committed by people wearing dark-colored hoodies. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why someone hasn’t moved to ban them. I think that light and bright-colored hoodies would still be acceptable—as long as criminals don’t begin to use them when the dark ones can only be found on the black market.

No, this isn’t a sarcastic statement on gun control—a little levity now and again can help us from being overwhelmed by the weight of such issues as violence. However, I do want to again emphasize that we rarely focus on underlying issues because we are the problem.

Over the next few posts, I plan to highlight each of the three primary roots of the human heart that create conflict between us. The only real difference between violence and conflict is that violence is somewhat further down the same tumultuous road. I’ll also highlight how the Gospel provides the only truly effective antidote for each deadly root.

photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc
photo credit: david_shankbone via photopin cc

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way. James 4:1-3 (Message)

The Message Bible isn’t always the most accurate, but there are times when I think it does a great job of communicating the intent of the original writer. In this case, James was strongly challenging his readers that selfish lust is a primary source of conflict–even to the point of violence.

Nowhere is the contrast between a worldly and a kingdom mindset greater than when it comes to selfish desires. The message of our world is, “You can have it all! You deserve it! You owe it to yourself! Put yourself first!” On a daily basis, we find ourselves bombarded by thousands of advertisements intended to play upon the selfish tendencies of human nature, compelling us to spend our money on a vast array of products.

In contrast, the message of the Gospel is one of selflessness—of laying down our desires for the benefit of others. After all, isn’t that what the heart of love involves? Certainly, the Gospel is about God’s amazing love for us, but we dare never forget that we are called to deeply love God and others in return.

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40 (NASB)

photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc
photo credit: hoyasmeg via photopin cc

To our detriment, we have tried to shape the Gospel to fit our Western consumer mentality.  How can we expect people to be unselfish when all we do is proclaim what Jesus can do for them? How often do we hear altar calls in which potential responders are challenged to fully count the cost of becoming a disciple of Christ before making a decision to receive Him (see Luke 14:27-33)? Almost never.

Would fewer people respond if they were compelled to count the cost first? Absolutely! But in the process, the Church would begin to look much more like the Church should look. Rather than fighting amongst ourselves because of envy over who got the bigger blessing, we would be alive with the power and vitality to make a real impact in the world around us.

How can we influence the world around us to become more peaceful and loving when conflict due to selfishness so heavily colors the fabric of our churches? Love is the answer—not only God’s love for us, but our love for Him and others in response to all that He has done for us. May we never minimize love’s importance or fail to realize love’s amazing power to transform even those who wear dark-colored hoodies!