Trump, the Bible & Fear

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I’d like to write a catchy cutline here, but honestly, I don’t know what to say.

These are three thoughts, any of which could be a valid post on its own. Unfortunately, I’m already behind today, so I’m taking the quick route out.

With the current tone in the U.S. presidential election, I’m surprised the Bible hasn’t played a bigger role, but it makes the occasional appearance. Donald Trump showed us his childhood Bible in Iowa, and cited some key scripture from Two Corinthians at Liberty University when he picked up their endorsement.

Yesterday, there was a rift over what Marco Rubio may or may not have said about the Bible in passing to a Ted Cruz staffer who was looking at one.

Substantive stuff, all.

In the competitive race for who’s the “greater” Christian, which most of the country doesn’t give a rip about, here’s the thing about the Bible … and some who hold themselves up as the purest of the pure (which isn’t Christian BTW) get this VERY wrong:

The Bible was never intended to make another person feel bad, and it was certainly never intended as a tool for one person to shame another. Its message is grace, not disgrace. If you see someone citing a Bible verse in a way that ridicules another person’s actions, their faith is most likely at beginner’s level. It’s a beginner’s mistake, but it’s a mistake, and we shouldn’t do it.

The Bible was written as a simple tool: as a source of instruction for truth and growth, and as an encouragement to spread the good news of the gospel. It’s God’s written revelation of himself. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

As Christians (or those who still use that label) we can’t even agree about that. A growing number of Christians will tell you the Bible is, in several places, in error, fallible, wrong. They will tell you it doesn’t say what it says. That you can’t read it and understand it. I’m not in that camp. Count me as “all in” for biblical truth. Mark me down as pro-Bible.

***

I heard a local friend on the radio this morning who was speaking about fear. He has a unique understanding  of the vested interests so many institutions have in herding us toward a fearful mentality, and he understands the world is a much better place than what we’re told.  He proposed an idea I really liked:

“What if faith, not fear, were our default reaction to the way we walk through life?”

It’s something good to think about.

***

Finally, I’m not overly concerned about the route we’re taking to elect the next U.S., president, but it’s difficult for any of us to ignore. I think about it mostly in terms of what it means for my place in the world, how I work my way through that new world in doing what I’m called to do, and especially what it means for the future generations of my family. It’s really hard to imagine.

But coming to terms with a character as Trump portrays himself isn’t easy when you think that he may actually come to represent us all, by default or otherwise.

Something about our heritage has always encouraged us to bathe ourselves in the idea that we’re the greatest nation that leads the world, and that the world looks to us for great leadership.

I’m no longer sure about the first part, but the last part is true enough. The World is watching. We need to think about what we’re showing them.

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James the Apostle: Son of Thunder

(Blogger’s Note: Taking a break from my normal format and style today to offer a few thoughts about James the Apostle. It’s appropriate here, since the Camino de Santiago’s traditional route along Camino Frances (The French Way) concludes in Compostela, Spain at a cathedral where it’s believed James’ remains are enshrined.)

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  • He is not to be confused with two other men named James who appear in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, another apostle; and James, the brother of Jesus, a leader in the Jerusalem church and author of the book of James.
  • Of the three apostles who comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John), we know the least about James. We do know, however, that he was the eldest brother of John, and that their father’s name was Zebedee (their mother’s name was Salome.)
  • James possessed two natures, both of which were characterized by strong feelings. He could be particularly indignant, had a fiery temper when adequately provoked, and when the storm was over, he was inclined to justify and excuse his anger. Except for these periodic upheavals of wrath, James’s personality was much like Andrew’s. He was a superior public speaker. Next to Peter, James may have been the best public orator among the 12.
  • James, his brother John, Peter and Andrew were all partners in a fishing business prior to their calling to follow Jesus.
  • There is evidence that James was the first cousin of Jesus, and had been acquainted with Him from infancy. It is believed his mother Salome was the sister of Jesus’ mother Mary.
  • Not much is known of his ministry after Jesus’ resurrection. It is believed, however, that he lived another 14 years before his martyrdom. By order of Herod Agrippa I, James was beheaded in Jerusalem about the feast of Easter, 44 AD. It’s believed that during this 14-year period, James visited the Jewish colonist and slaves in Spain to preach the Gospel.
  • He could be quiet and thoughtful one day, and a very good talker and storyteller the next. He usually spoke freely with Jesus, but for days at a time he was the silent man. James had many spells of unaccountable silence.
  • The outstanding feature of his personality was his ability to see all sides of a proposition. Of all the 12, he perhaps, came the nearest to grasping the real import and significance of Jesus’ teaching. He, too, was slow at first to comprehend the teacher’s meaning, but once they had finished their training, he acquired a superior concept of the gospel. James was able to understand a wide range of human nature; he got along well with the versatile Andrew, the impetuous Peter, and his self-contained brother John.
  • James, John and Peter, had three experiences with Jesus witnessed by no one else. They were present for the Great Transfiguration, witnessed the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and were called aside to watch and pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night before His death.
  • James was the first apostle executed.
  •  He was not above mistakes. When a Samaritan village rejected Jesus, he and John wanted to call down fire from heaven. It was his fiery temper for which he and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or “Sons of Thunder.”
  • It has been said that when the apostle James was led out to die, a man who brought false accusations against him walked with him to the place of execution. He doubtless expected to see James looking pale and frightened, but he saw him, instead, bright and joyous, like a conqueror who had won a great battle. The false witness greatly wondered at this and became convinced that the Savior in whom the prisoner by his side believed must be the true God. The man himself, therefore, became a convert to Christianity and was condemned to die with James. Both were consequently beheaded on the same day and with the same sword.Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 5.30.51 AM
  • One of the Camino de Santiago’s great traditions upon arriving at the cathedral in Compostela takes place at the Pillar of Many Hands where James’ image is carved into a pillar and surrounded by Christ and the other 11 apostles. For 10 centuries, pilgrims who complete the journey have placed their hand on the same spot and offer a prayer of thanks for protection and safe travel.

(Biblepath.com was a source for some information in this post.)

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The Parable of the Blessing Box

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” ~ Matthew 7:7-11

***

(Blogger‘s note: I’m not sure if it’s possible to plagiarize a parable, but just for the sake of full disclosure, this parable, or a form thereof, has been passed through the generations. It may be most noticeably found in Bruce Wilkinson‘s Prayer of Jabez. The parable takes on subtly different variations with each telling. This just happens to be mine.)

Blessing Box

William was 72, and he’d just died.

And he now found himself face-to-face with a man who greeted him as if he’d known him all his life.

***

On earth, William had been a good man. He was faithful to family, attended church regularly, and respected by all who know him. For William, life was pretty easy. Most days he felt blessed beyond what he deserved, and so for the many magnificent things in his life, he always felt a little guilty.

No one ever knew it. He just carried it around, and kept it in a place where no one ever saw it.

Lord, why have you blessed me with so much?” he often asked in his prayers.

And as a result, he mostly coasted through life, grateful all the while, never asking for much. To have asked for more would have been an insult, he thought.

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At this moment, William stood face-to-face with Peter. William was in Heaven. Light was everywhere. Will saw colors he’d never seen before, and the music was so beautiful it took on a new dimension. William could actually see the music in the air.

Peter was standing by, waiting for William’s arrival, to give him a tour of the place.

Quickly in, among the majestic beauty of golden streets and sidewalks of pearl, William noticed a facility resembling what a warehouse looked like on earth.

“What is that place?” William asked.

“Nothing we’re interested in seeing,” Peter replied.

But William was drawn to the warehouse.

William will have nothing of Peter’s ongoing tour until he can see the warehouse.

And Peter, as he has so many times before, finally relents.

He opens the door and William almost trips over himself to see what’s inside.

 He sees millions of white boxes with red ribbons wrapped carefully around each one. Each box has a name on it.
William runs to the “J” aisle (his name had been Jones on Earth) and finds a box with his name. He opens the box and Peter hears the familiar deep sigh, he’s heard so many times before.
Inside the box, William’s just found all the blessings God wanted to give him. But they remained in side the box because JOE NEVER ASKED FOR THEM.
Fortunately, for William, there no regrets in Heaven. Just more wisdom every day.
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“Now Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that you would bless me, indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from the harm that it may not pain me!’ And God granted him what he requested.” 1st  Chronicles 4:10
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The Holy Spirit: Our Bastard Stepchild?

“It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send Him to you.” ~ John 16:7

Notice the last sentence in that verse. “I will send HIM to you.”

God the Father.

God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit.

Seems the Spirit is the last one to get our attention. We put Him at the bottom of the list.

We count the Spirit as one of the Trinity because the Bible tells us to do so. But why do we so often view Him as the lesser of the three, an occasional afterthought, when John tells us in the verse above that it is better for Jesus to go and the Spirit to come.

Another translation of that verse says: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”

Though Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it’s the goal of most Christians to follow Him and to become more like Him. How do we know Jesus if he’s away in the Heavenly realm and we’re here on earth, and why was it better for Him to go away?

Jesus’ task on earth was completed on the cross. It is a finished work. The job was done, and thank goodness for that.

But we do well to remember that God himself took on our humanity as Jesus the Son, and by His own choice He limited himself by becoming man. Jesus (as man) could not be all things to all people, in all places at all times.

In other words, if the Lord Jesus were here today in His human body, He couldn’t be where I am now and where you are at the same time.

But there is one who can, and is.

If the “headline” on this post makes you uncomfortable, I join with you in that discomfort. I mean no harm and no disrespect. It makes me uncomfortable because it points out my failure, and moreover, my sin.

So many times, I’ve heard people in church say … ‘the Holy Spirit was really present in our service today.’

Are we guilty of viewing the Spirit as some magical energy force, more powerful at one time than another, choosing to “show up” at one moment and not the next? Is He just some heavenly fog that we eagerly await to descend upon us and transfigure the moment? Is He just some spiritual portal through which we must pass to touch the face of God?

I’m guilty.

A pastor in my hometown was courageous enough to ask this question to his congregation last  Sunday. His question stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. Why would I long for the Spirit to show up and do a great work in my life when he’s already right there, all the time? He lives inside of me.

He grieves when I violate my moral consciousness. He disciplines me in love when I go against His will, but He stands beside me at all times and loves me because I belong to Him. The deal is done.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten things wrong. We’ve bought into the idea that the Spirit is some transcendent force or power – some notion just beyond our grasp and reach. We hope and pray that He will show up and move us on Sundays.

We’ve learned it all wrong, and so now, we have a lot to un-learn.

I know I do.

Thank goodness for the Better Way, and let the lessons of un-learning begin.

Discovering Tozer

Two good friends recently turned me on to the works of A.W. Tozer, who in 1919, began 44 years of Christian ministry. His works are among the most insightful I’ve read. It’s as if they were written just yesterday.

Among the more than 40 books he authored, at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. His books impress on the reader the possibility and necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

I wanted to share selected exerpts from the preface of The Pursuit of God, written June 16, 1948. See his insight just as it exists today:

“In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct “interpretations” of truth. They are thirsty for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water…

“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, or anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy…

“I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: ‘The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’ It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of  Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: ‘Orthodoxy, or right opinion is, at best, a very slender part of religion…

“Thanks to our spendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church  the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us…

“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth.  The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness ofr the very  God Himself in the core and center of their hearts…

~A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God

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Is the Easter Bunny the Anti-Christ?

Last Christmas eve I attended a candlelight service where 50 or so people came together to prepare their hearts for the celebration of Christ‘s birth.

I’ve attended many of these services over the years at many different churches and I like them. I like that we sing the traditional Christmas songs; I like that kids come in their pajamas in anticipation of the wild morning ahead; and I like how it makes me think back to more than 2,000 years ago when the world received the miracle of miracles.

As I walked into the foyer for that particular service, one of the sweetest ladies I know was the first to greet me. I was prepared to give her a hug and wish her a warm Merry Christmas.

But before I could extend a hand and offer a warm greeting, she took the initiative with this:

“Don’t tell me Merry Christmas. Say happy birthday, Jesus.”

And she meant it.

I remember the strong movement a few years ago against the “Xmas” phrase. And for the record, it’s a movement I support. It does, in fact, take the Christ out of Christmas. But Santa Claus isn’t the devil, and neither is the Easter bunny.

For the last few years, I’ve noticed a similar trend. Among many evangelical Christians, Easter has now become “Resurrection Sunday.”

It’s certainly true enough. Among all things, first and foremost, Easter is the time when we recognize the one aspect that makes Christianity unique among all other religions. We serve a living God, not one who is dead in the tomb, or worshiped as a stone carving. Christ is alive, and it’s a belief I hold to be as true as the air I breathe.

So Resurrection Sunday – it’s a good thing.

But what of the extremity of this … because I like Easter.

Ninety percent of the references I heard in my church yesterday were to Resurrection Sunday – not Easter. That’s fine, but when did Easter become such a bad thing that we go out of our way to avoid the word?

I don’t hate the Easter bunny…and I don’t believe Jesus would either.

He’s soft, cuddly and has that really cute cotton tail.

My grandmother loved flowers. She particularly loved the Easter lily. I wonder if it should now become the Resurrection Sunday lily?

I’m not anti-Resurrection Sunday.

But I am pro-Easter.

Hop on Peter Cottontail. Jesus loves you too.

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The Church “On the Verge”

(The following excerpts are notes I’ve highlighted from “On the Verge,” written by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. Full credit for these observations goes to the authors. This book was written as an observation from a 2011 meeting of pastors from 12 megachurches across the U.S. who analyzed their ‘attractional” vs. their “missional”growth strategies.)

  •  60% of Americans report significant alienation from contemporary church growth models.
  • This means a greater number of churches are competing for the 40% who do relate to current growth models. The question posed is how do we reach the 60% who are alienated? Bringing them to church no longer works. We must take the church to them.
  • Jesus intended the church to be much more of a movement than an institution.
  • Christianity is designed to be a people’s liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from one person to the next through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake, and yet by most accounts, most churches can be described as institutional in form and nature.
  • Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms not for the so-called sinners, but rather for the religious people of his day. It explains why he chose and empowered ordinary people and not the religious elite to take the gospel to the world.
  • Jesus is a big believer in the human imagination. His parables are a perfect example.
  • Imagination is soaked in possibility. It can see around corners.
  • In order for the church to move forward, it must continually look back to the original model of the 1st Century.
  • Organizations can, over time, develop into impersonal institutions that tend to impose conformity (that is, crush creativity). They can become controlling entities that resist the promptings of the Spirit and undermine the people dynamic of the gospel.
  • Again, 60% of America’s population (much higher in Europe and Australia) is increasingly alienated from the prevailing forms of the church. In missionary terms, it means they are culturally distant from us. We need to ask the question, what is the gospel for this people group, otherwise we simply leave them in the dust.
  • If we persist with the current status-quo, we are in effect asking the non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church. WE are the sent ones – not them. What is church for these people?
  • The church doesn’t consist of its institutions; it consists of the people of God. We know this in our theology, but our practice is almost entirely at odds with this belief. We have so identified the church with its rituals, theology, denominational templates, symbols and professional clergy that we can’t see this remarkable truth.
  • God is not only the creator, but also creative and constantly creating and reimagining.

Enough to digest for now, I think.

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