Monday, December 6, 2010

Broad Shoulders

One of the most popular biblical texts at Christmas time is Isaiah 9:6-7.

From the Old Testament, these verses show up on seasonal greeting cards and in pastors' sermons and even provide a slice of Handel's Messiah. The words "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given" offer tremendous hope and speak of God's greatest gift to the world, Jesus.

But another line in that passage is quite intriguing. It says "and the government shall be upon his shoulder". In these days of strong, populist anti-government sentiment, that phrase really grabs your attention. Politicians and legislators and leaders of all political parties as well as the executive branch are widely distrusted and seen as incapable of effecting wise, effective leadership right now. Confusion and division and inertia abounds. Polls suggest that very few people have confidence in what's coming out of Washington, and similar feelings seem to exist among citizens of other nations about their governing authorities. What does it mean, then, for the ancient prophet to predict that the government shall rest on the shoulders of Christ? What could that portend?

Obviously the main point here is the kingship of Jesus. All of scripture develops that idea. He is referred to as "king of kings and lord of lords" and the apostle Paul, in Philippians 2, affirms that everyone eventually will recognize Christ's authority and yield to it. All of the threads of biblical teaching appear to indicate that Jesus began to establish his kingdom when he came to earth centuries ago. At present he reigns, invisibly and often imperceptibly, through acts of divine providence and through the workings of the Holy Spirit in and on the hearts of people. Both Old and New Testaments, in various ways, promise that one day Christ will return to this world for a second time and his kingdom will ultimately triumph over the nations and be fully manifest to all. According to texts like Isaiah 9:7 and 11:1-10 his victorious, eternal reign will be marked by peace, justice, integrity, and prosperity. Evil and inequities and war and deception will all be banished. So will poverty and racism and crime.

It's pretty clear from scripture that even now Jesus is at work behind the scenes on the world stage impacting the affairs of nations, leading everything to a final conclusion. We may see only chaos or tangled lines but Christ is slowly and surely weaving out his design for restoration and healing for this bruised and battered planet. History will have an endpoint. Good will win. Imagine how different this world would be today if it looked to him in submission and obedience. The halls and chambers on Capitol Hill would have a refreshing new tone if Jesus was in charge. North Korea and Iran would no longer be worrisome. The pundits and media talking heads would have vastly new and positive topics to discuss.

Of course this business of the government being on his shoulder has a bearing on the Church, too, whether we're speaking of the worldwide fellowship of true believers or local assemblies. This insight reminds us that the Church belongs to him. Members don't own it, he does. Members can't really build it, only he can. Check Matthew 16:18 on that. We can't take credit for successes. That goes to him. Ephesians 3:20-21 is emphatic here. Surely this idea should warn us about trying to run the church. A man named Diotrephes in 3 John was strongly rebuked about that. Jesus is the head of the Church. Individual Christians should work hard in it, doing their very best to share the Gospel and develop new believers and reach out in all kinds of people-helping ministries, but when all is said and done, we must look to Christ for guidance and strength and leave the results in his hands.We ought not be endlessly pushing for new rules and policies that choke out the missional vitalty of the church and quench the Spirit's moving among us. We shouldn't plot and maneuver and scheme to attain power in our congregations but should have servant hearts under the leadership of Jesus. How many church fights and splits could be avoided if we remembered that? How much burnout among parishioners could be prevented if we realized that we're not responsible for the harvest, just the planting?

And certainly this conviction that the government shall be placed on Christ's shoulders has implications for our personal lives, too. So many of us are control freaks. We tend to be worry warts. We obsess over a lot of stuff. We have to learn sooner or later the value of letting go. You know what I'm talking about:our adult children sometimes make decisions we can't understand or friends may verbally wound us and not even seem to notice or the aging process slows us down and wears us out and holds us back or prolonged illness in the family robs our joy or some folks just don't like us regardless of how hard we try to please them or unresolved sibling rivalry rears its ugly head or lack of financial resources keeps us from doing some of the things we'd like to do. Sometimes we feel helpless. We want things to go our way, to be just right. That's an echo from Eden and a hint of Heaven but we're caught in the in-between and so we get anxious and uptight and often angry at the circumstances we face. In this present fallen world, there are some things we'll not be able to change.Many times we fret over things that end up not happening. We stress out over stuff that's none of our business or we get bogged down in other people's junk.

Like Peter in John 21:20-22 we need to be reminded not to get overly worked up over things we're concerned about needlessly. Like Paul in Philippians 4:12 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 we have to learn the secret of contentment and trust, regardless of our situation. Jesus talked in Matthew 6 about stopping foolish worry. The ancient sufferer got to the place in Job 13:15 where he could have confidence in God however dark his problems were.

Our Lord has strong, broad shoulders. He can handle our burdens and fears and doubts and longings. He is sovereign and is using the bits and pieces of our lives, both good and bad, to develop us and mold us.He knows what he's doing! Our part is to yield to him, opening up our clenched hands and releasing control to his authority.Our task is to learn what his commands are by studying the Bible, and then obeying. With that comes incredible peace. After all, it's not about our image but rather his image being formed in us. Turning over our messed up lives to him in a new birth is the beginning point of a journeythat will find us repeatedly surrendering matters to him and that winds up at that moment when we breathe our last and commit our spirit to him in death and enter into the eternal adventure awaiting us beyond.

The picture of a child being carried on the shoulders of his big, strong dad is apt here. Ah, the exhiliration, the freedom, the sense of relaxed abandon, and that awesome view!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


SEPTIC TANK THEOLOGY. In our current Sunday morning sermon series on popular cliches, sayings, and expressions in everyday conversation evaluated in the light of scripture, we recently considered the oft-used phrase, "misery loves company".

That line can be taken 2 different ways. It may mean that sometimes hurting people want others around them to listen to them and comfort them. Or it might be suggesting that bitter, miserable folks often want to spread their toxic attitudes to others so they won't be all alone.

How does this saying look from the perspective of God's Word? Perhaps we should examine it from some varying biblical angles.

It is safe to say that cranky, negative, unhappy individuals do sometimes seek out others to align with them in their misery. A swamp, a cesspool of emotional and relational poison is then formed. Through gossip and complaining, resentful and frustrated persons build a coalition of folks who then stew in their juices and spew out their venom. The ancient wisdom teacher warns us frequently not to be drawn into these webs that can turn us into angry, whiny people. Check out Proverbs 13:20, 16:27-29, 21:19, 22:10, 24-25, 26:20-22, and 29:22. Read Hebrews 12:15, too. Two Old Testament characters, Korah in Numbers 16 and Absalom in 2 Samuel 15, stand out as spiteful, critical persons who tried to get others to link up with them in their meanness.

We do have a biblical mandate to go to and try to help hurting people, though. Texts like Romans 12:8, 15-16, and James 1:27, and 2 Timothy 1:16-18 all stress that. So does Galatians 6:1. But we better make sure we're strong in the faith when we attempt to minister to those who are bogged down in sin or grief or anger or guilt. We need to be constantly getting spiritually re-charged by prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with positive, emotionally healthy individuals or we'll be vulnerable to getting sucked into the pain of those we're attempting to rescue.

I suppose that Hell will be the ultimate and eternal misery. Sinners who die without Christ have that as their unending destiny. My impression, though, is that even with that horrible place being heavily populated, there probably won't be any companionship there. That's the sense I get from reading Luke 16:19-31. Hell will be a destination of utter loneliness.

It needs to be said that all of us are miserable spiritually until changed by Jesus. Jeremiah 17:9 and 31:33 and Romans 3:23 and Mark 2:16-17 and Matthew 11:28-29 and John 10:10 make that point powerfully. How blessed we are that Christ came to us and beside us in our weakness and hopelessness and began to transform us! In the 4 Gospels, Jesus spent a lot of time in the company of miserable people and when they were willing to be changed(John 5:6) He lifted them.

NEW BOOK. Kerry and Chris Shook have written Love At Last Sight(Waterbrook Press, 2010). It is a helpful, practical, 30-day guide to growing and deepening relationships, whether marital or with friends. It's simple and straightforward but very insightful. The discussion on pages 151-152 of how certain types of aquatic life illustrate how different people deal with their anger is worth the price of the book. Puffer fish, hermit crabs, angelfish, electric eels, sharks, and piranha all picture the wrong approaches to expressing angry feelings. There are lots of constructive tools here for building stronger ties with those we love.

YOGA. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler stirred up a hornet's nest with his recent blog post(reprinted in our worship guide the other week) criticizing the practice of yoga by Christians. He's gotten a lot of response, much of it negative. Maybe what he wrote will drive folks to the Word to see if what he said is right(Acts 17:11) or just personal opinion.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vision Correction For Relationships

In my pulpit, over the last few months, I've been preaching a series of messages on popular cliches, sayings, and expressions that we tend to use and overuse in everyday conversation. We've been examining them from a variety of angles through the grid of scripture and a biblical worldview to see if they accurately describe the realities of life.

It's been fun!

I've probably enjoyed preparing and delivering this collection of sermons more than any other in my ministry. Gotten a lot of positive feedback, too. We've considered "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" and "don't count your chickens before they hatch" and "misery loves company" and "don't burn your bridges behind you" and lots more. We've dug into a lot of texts that sometimes support and sometimes refute these clever, catchy phrases.

The other Sunday we put this one under the microscope: love is blind. When folks toss that line into their talk they mean that generally people do not notice the faults of those they love. Well, is that true or false, good or bad? It would seem that it makes a lot of difference in dating and marriage relationships or business partnerships or friendships or church life whether you accept the validity of that cliche or reject it. Does God's Word provide any help here?

I think so.

Scripture does appear to suggest that we are to overlook a lot of stuff. In our dealings with those close to us we shouldn't take up every offense or get bogged down in every issue. Proverbs 10:12 and 19:11 as well as I Peter 4:8 make that clear. Remembering that each of us is fallen, human, and thus not perfect ought to keep us from being irritated at the little mistakes and idiosyncrasies of those around us. The realization that we don't always know what another person's going through can prevent us from getting upset or walking away or lashing out, too. Those we care about might be wrestling and struggling with some painful trial of which we're totally unaware, and their hurt might be behind some of their reactions that we do not understand. We just have to let a lot of things go. We need to be more patient. After all, in any of our relationships it ought to be our goal to build up and encourage the other individual.

It must be said, though, that the broad sweep of biblical counsel urges us to be observant, discerning, and careful in our ties with one another. Surely that's what Paul stressed in Philippians 1:9-10. We're to go into our relationships with our eyes open and probably should avoid making the closest, most intimate alliances with those who pose a danger to us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It would be a most profitable exercise, for example, to take our children and teens through a crash course in the book of Proverbs, when we talk with them about close pals and dating, to help them observe all the warnings there about certain types of persons with whom they probably shouldn't link up. The foolish the angry, the lazy, the mean, the proud, the alcoholic, the violent, and the one bitterly alienated from his parents are just some of the individuals we should be aware of when it comes to forging our deepest bonds. Their toxicity could spill over onto us. In Genesis 24, Abraham sent his servant Eliezer out to find a bride for his son, Isaac. He gave him very careful instructions as to what to look for and what to avoid. It may be sweet and sentimental to get all caught up in warm, fuzzy, romantic feelings and refuse to see any negatives and potential trouble spots but it is a most unwise practice fraught with dire consequences.

We must not forget, either, that sometimes we have to confront and correct those we love. That's a biblical responsibility given to us in the body of Christ. It's not easy, and never fun, but often out of deep concern for others in the family of faith who may be straying or drifting we have to go to them and gently but firmly draw them back. This is where a grace/truth balance is vital. Proverbs 27:6 and Galatians 6:1 are pretty emphatic about this. We can't overlook or ignore serious sin or error in family or fellow church members but instead must do the difficult and genuinely compassionate work of restoration.

How blessed we believers are, though, that Jesus loves us inspite of our sins. A line from an old Gaither song reminds us that the "One who knows us best loves us most". It's kinda like the Old Testament prophet Hosea. He was fully aware of his wife's despicable adultery and yet chose to buy her back out of slavery and bring her home and shower her with love just as God forgave and loved Israel. According to verses like Romans 5:8 and Psalm 103:12 and Jeremiah 31:34 Jesus came to us completely cognizant of our ugly sin but chose to die in our place, paying our debt, that we might be forgiven and bask in God's love. Even now He knows all of our habits and inclinations and thoughts and even our motives and yet stays in love with us and works in us to gradually change us to be what we ought to be. What a Savior!

All of us probably ought to get our spiritual eyes examined when it comes to appreciating God's love for us and applying our love(2 Corinthians 5:16) to others.

Monday, August 30, 2010


AT THE MOVIES: The new film, "Eat Pray Love" is the basically true story of writer Elizabeth Gilbert and her decision to drop out of her marriage and travel abroad to find herself. She tours 3 countries(Italy, India, and Indonesia), enjoys great food, dabbles in some Eastern spirituality, and falls in love. The scenery is beautiful. The story is interesting. I have some real concerns, though.

Elizabeth offers a very poor example when it comes to marriage. The husband-wife thing is not just about love but about commitment, too(Genesis 2:24). Walking out and running away when there are misunderstandings or when one's partner's personality quirks irritate or when the grass looks greener someplace else may seem heroic or courageous or romantic but it's far from the ideal that God put in place. Part of genuine, mature love is working through our issues with our spouse, not bailing out at the first sign of trouble or discontent. Actually God may use our partner's weak points or irksome ways to refine and strengthen us! You'll rarely find the deep happiness you seek by gingerly skipping away from your mate or your family or your church in search of some fantasized better life elsewhere.

Jonah the prophet learned that lesson the hard way. God gave him an assignment in one place but he boarded a ship and went in the opposite direction. The Lord had to lead him through an exacting discipline process after that. Another Old Testament prophet, Hosea, obeyed God's command when it came to marriage and garnered vital insights about real love in the midst of great difficulty and personal pain. The very idea that joy and success and fulfilment in life can only be found somewhere else from where God has planted you is highly foolish and potentially dangerous.

And this whole business of "finding yourself" is suspect, too. Usually that's code for "doing what I want to do", being free, having no restrictions, satisfying my personal desires. In Matthew 10:39 Jesus said, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Apparently, then, the key to contentment is discovering what God wants and getting on the same page with Him. Even if that ultimately calls for serious sacrifice, a richness and a depth in living will result.

Mention is made in the movie about the "god within". That ought to raise a red flag among discerning Christian film watchers. Our God, the one true, living God, is transcendent. He is other than us. He is above and beyond and greater than us. He chooses to come near us, and to indwell us by His Holy Spirit, but that is not what Gilbert is talking about. We are not divine. We are not deity. That false idea is pantheism and must be rejected. It has many unsettling implications and is a demonic doctrine. It may sound all spiritual and mystical, but it is totally false!

Opportunities to travel and the appreciation of delicious foods and taking time to get away for vacations and rests that offer refreshment are all good things. They are gifts from the hand of a gracious God and should be gratefully received. Gilbert's approach misses the mark, however, and goes too far afield.

SERMON SERIES: I'm continuing to delight in the preparation of this collection of Sunday morning messages on popular sayings, slogans, cliches, and expressions in everyday conversation as we examine them through a biblical lens from various angles. We'll keep at this for a while. Thanks for your response...and for your suggestions of sayings to be included.

STUDY BIBLES: Christmas is less than 4 months away, and if you are considering purchasing a new Bible for someone this year let me encourage you to buy a study edition. They're more expensive, but the reader gets the benefit of not only having the text of scripture but many, many helpful explanatory notes, too.My favorites are the ESV Study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible(now available in the great ESV translation) and the Life Application Bible. The NIV Study Bible is good, too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bedroom Redecorating

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Don't count your chickens before they hatch. God helps those who help themselves. Don't burn your bridges behind you.

These and hundreds of other popular cliches and sayings are spoken in everyday conversation to wittily make points.

In my pulpit ministry this summer I've been bringing messages on several of those clever phrases and slogans and expressions. We've been taking a look at them through a scriptural lens, examining them with a biblical worldview to see if they offer anything in the way of truth or if they are just catchy statements used to spice up routine chats.

The other Sunday we put this oft-used saying under the microscope: You've made your bed, now lie in it. Apparently first recorded back in the late 1500's, this trite cliche seems to be a critical, sarcastic way of telling an individual that he must put up with the unpleasant results or effects of a foolish decision made or action taken.

Is it wise or helpful to speak these words to someone who has just made a mistake or a mess?

Well, actions do have consequences.Galatians 6:7-8 makes that clear.King David in the Old Testament learned this the hard way after his sexual sin with Bathsheba. Even though he got God's forgiveness for the heinous act, he had to live the rest of his life with the devastating personal and familial aftereffects of his wrong choice. Sometimes in the passion and recklessness of youth our kids don't see that their deeds have longterm effects. We adults have to help them connect the dots. And we have to be reminded of the same lesson ourselves. Regardless of whether it's an adulterous affair or overeating or smoking or abusing drugs or gossipping or playing around in school and not studying, our actions will produce unintended negative results. Mark it down.

However, it may not be the best or most useful thing to condescendingly, condemningly exclaim this expression to a person who has bungled something or blundered in a big way. Our words have tremendous power. People who stumble or who flubb up need hope and redirection, not caustic barbs. Judgemental statements may actually harden and seal them in their poor behavior. Verses like Proverbs 12:18 and 15:23 and 18:21 suggest that with our tongues we can either wound and bruise and cripple or refresh and encourage and inspire. As Christians our homes and churches should be "grace places" where people who have floundered and failed know they'll be loved, accepted, picked back up, and pointed to a better path. Flippantly uttering this cold, heartless cliche to an individual who botched it only sentences him to regret and stagnation. We just leave our hurting friends in ditches when we blurt out that phrase in our frustration or exasperation at their actions. Many an adult still lives under the burden and curse of hearing "You'll never amount to anything" or "I wish you'd never been born" shouted at them in childhood.

It needs to be understood, too, that sometimes our beds are made for us.

There is such a thing as generational sin, patterns and practices that get passed down in families. It's possible to be predisposed to bad choices as a result of growing up in a dysfunctional home. Anger or alcoholism or laziness or abuse in a family tree can be transmitted through several generations. God seems to address this in Exodus 20:5-6. The patriarchs of Genesis could tell us about how parental favoritism and sibling rivalry, for example, kept cropping up in succeeding eras until finally Joseph broke the cycle and halted the downward spiral by forgiving his hateful brothers. His example teaches us that we don't have to be victims or stay stuck in habits or trajectories that we inherited. We can acknowledge, and choose to move out of, harmful patterns and forgive those who handed them down to us, and then go forward in a new, positive direction.

It's hard to imagine Jesus using that cynical slogan. He didn't usually leave people as they were, in their mess. Even when the rich young ruler of Mark 10 ultimately rejected Christ and went his own way, which was a recipe for life failure, Jesus had a heart of tender compassion for him.

Jesus didn't consign the paralyzed men of Mark 2 and John 5 to permanent disability. He healed them. He didn't push away the adulterous woman of John 8 or the frequently divorced woman of John 4 but rather forgave them and offered them a new lease on life. Ditto the despised, cheating tax collector Zaccheus of Luke 19. These persons had no hope or had failed or had sinned miserably but Jesus lifted them instead of spouting off harsh words about their status. The power of salvation in Christ is life-transforming. So says 2 Corinthians 5:17. By placing our faith in Jesus we can be completely changed, despite our past or our failures. Spiritually speaking, we don't have to stay in "bedbug- infested cots".

Of course making the choice to refuse God's freely offered mercy in Christ finds us "making our bed" for an eternity of horrible exclusion from all the wonderful blessings and benefits of knowing the Lord. Revelation 20:15 describes that in stark terms. The uniqueness of Christ for salvation and the exclusivity of the Gospel are ideas hotly debated these days but texts like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 are hard to refute.

When it comes to making our beds, we all could use a little help.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Leader Lab

All of us involved in ministry should take advantage of opportunities to hone our skills. Pastors, staffers, deacons, and Sunday School teachers ought to jump at chances to attend seminars, conferences, and training events where insights and methods for more effective leadership are presented, whether offered by the state convention or the local association or some parachurch organization.

But right in our own backyard, so to speak, and much closer at hand, is an excellent resource for picking up hints and tips and strategies for successful Kingdom work. I'm referring to the Bible. As we scour the scriptures, studying the biographies of the major characters found on its pages, we can develop profiles of the men and women who led well, and, applying what we learn, can enhance our vision and sharpen our approaches as we guide groups and serve people.

Think about Elijah, for example.

This famous Old Testament prophet stands out as a model of productive leadership. Practical lessons abound as we examine his ministry style and techniques.

Obviously it needs to be said that the key to his success was prayer. Even a New Testament writer comments on that, in James 5:16-18. We see illustrations of his commitment to conversation with the Father in 1 Kings 17:20-21, 18:36-37, and 19:4, 10, and 14, and it seems like he carried on a running dialogue with God throughout his tenure of work. To dare to think that we can accomplish anything of lasting spiritual value without a dependance on the Lord in supplication and intercession is sheer folly. Overreliance on human tactics to the exclusion of waiting on God for direction is a dead end.

Elijah appeared to grasp the reality, too, that there are polarities in ministry which require balance. Sometimes you deal with individuals(17:1,10;18:7-8;19:19) and at other times with groups(18:19). Occasionally the situation calls for confrontation(17:1; 18:40;2 Kings 1:16) and at other moments for mercy and compassion(17:10-16). There are seasons to be with people(18:19) and periods of being alone(17:2-7). Sometimes the presence and intervention of God is dramatic and almost overpowering(!8:38;2Kings 2:11) and then at other times He speaks gently(19:11-13) and works slowly and progressively(18:43-45). There will be days of routine and waiting(17:2-7) and then bursts of intense activity(18:20-40; 2Kings 2:1-11). We're wired and gifted by God in certain ways to serve Him along definite pathways, but to keep us on our toes and to surprise us with His greatness and creativity and to expand and grow us and keep us out of ruts He'll take us through some ministry patches where we have to develop and utilize some different skill sets. In God's work, you soon learn to expect the unexpected!

Let's not forget, either, that God had to teach this prophet to take care of himself. In body and in soul. Read all about it in 1 Kings 19. After Elijah's supernatural victory on Mount Carmel he got depressed and stressed and anxious and burned out(ever notice how spells like that sometimes arise after revivals or building campaigns or serious counseling sessions or painful committee meetings?) He was tired and he was lonely. He was ready to quit and prayed to die. The Lord was patient with him, though, and took him through a gradual healing process that restored him physically, mentally, spiritually, relationally, and vocationally. Only then did he recommission and reassign him. We make a grave mistake if we don't protect and safeguard our spirit and our body. If we're always pushing and rushing and don't take time for proper diet and exercise and periods of slowing down and reflecting we're probably gonna crash sooner or later. It is a smart minister who builds into his schedule ample time for rest, recreation, family outings, vacations, and seasons for just listening to God. And the lesson that God taught Elijah in 19:11-13 shouldn't be lost on us--it's not just in the big churches or the big days or the spectacular miracles or the loud, exuberant worship gatherings that the Lord is at work. He works in a myriad of ways. That concept ought to free all of us up!

We also can learn, too, from the way this man of God closed out his ministry. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 the prophet chose and summoned his successor. 2 Kings 2:1-14 indicates that he spent time with and mentored Elisha as well as some prophetic bands in different cities. He stuck close to the guy who would take his place and explained the ropes to him. He strengthened his connection with Elisha as the day of his departure grew closer(rather than emotionally pulling back). A very smooth transition was forged and a great ministry was continued even though Elisha was his own person and pursued his service a little differently. It has often been said that the real test of the success of our labors is what happens after we leave. We bequeath a legacy of effectiveness and ensure a bright future for those who will take up our task if we prepare carefully and give them the tools they'll need to be at their best when we're gone. And by the way, when we say goodbye, we need to leave! Elisha's ministry was every bit as scintillating and productive as Elijah's had been even though he served along some alternative tracks. But there is no record that Elijah ever swooped back down from Heaven to ask his successor why he wasn't doing his job just like Elijah had done it!

Go off to those classes and symposiums and learn all you can about strong leadership. Make sure, though, that you don't overlook that best manual on spiritual service ever written,right there at your fingertips--God's Word. Sure saves on travel expense, too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


One of the critical lessons about life that we learn as we get older is the value of letting go.

There's a lot of stuff over which we have absolutely no control. It does no good to get all twisted up in knots over it or rage about it or lose sleep or precious time because of it.

You know what I'm talking about. Adult children sometimes make decisions we can't understand. Friends may verbally wound us and not even seem to notice. The aging process slows us down and wears us out and holds us back. Lack of financial resources might prevent us from doing some of the things we'd really like to do. Spouses, as they get older, may say or do this or that and where once we may have overlooked it, these days it is a real irritation. Long standing dreams may now seem out of reach with little or no hope of fulfilment. Unresolved sibling rivalry might be rearing its ugly head. Prolonged illness in the family may be robbing our joy.

It shows up in church life, too. Sometimes members up and hop off to some other congregation without saying why or even good-bye. Often programs and ministries limp along because of a lack of volunteers(a case could be made that if there isn't passion for some event or project in the fellowshIp then maybe God isn't in it and it should be scrubbed or avoided or put on hold). And there are the ever present whiners and complainers and negativity forces.

It's easy for any of us to feel helpless and powerless at what life throws at us from time to time. We have that sense that we have no control over our situation. We want things to go our way, to be just right. We're subconsciously longing for perfection. That's an echo from Eden and a hint of Heaven but we're caught in the in-between and so we get anxious and uptight and occasionally angry at the circumstances we face. That's totally human but it sure does hurt.

Someone wisely said once that if you can do something about what's troubling you, don't worry about it and if you can't do anything about some problem or thorn then likewise don't worry about it. That's good advice, even if hard to practice. Some things aren't going to improve. Some people are not gonna change(regardless of your pleading or pressuring or placating). Actually some of our painful issues are probably going to get worse. That's just the nature of life in this fallen world. It does us no good to get bitter or to sit and stew in our own juices and waste the valuable time we have and miss out on all the joys that this existence does offer.

We have to discover the practice of letting go.

The Apostle Paul, in Phillipians 4:12, speaks of having learned the secret of contentment. It encourages me that this greatest, most mature and godly Christian of all time, had to struggle and wrestle with this and learn it like we do. He suffered and sacrificed and had to release so much that had been of value to him previously(reputation, educational attainments, position). But he fell back on the sovereignty of God. The Lord knows what He's doing and only permits or allows what is for our good and His glory. God is carrying out His plans and purposes for us as He works in us. Check out 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. If we gradually lose our health or our long-cherished hopes and ambitions, or if we find ourselves stuck in circumstances that we wouldn't have chosen and cannot remove, then we must trust in the midst of the darkness or discomfort like the ancient sufferer testified in Job 13:15. All this is part of our sanctification process.

Jesus on one occasion had to gently rebuke Peter for being overly worked up over something that he was concerned about needlessly(John 21:20-22). Our Lord told him that he shouldn't be in a tizzy about it but instead should just focus on following Him. Many times we fret over things that end up not happening. A lot of times we stress out over stuff that's none of our business or we get bogged down in other people's junk.

As we practice letting go of foolish worry(Matthew 6:25-34), and as we start giving away more and more of our treasures and trinkets and tools now and as we yield up our fears and anxieties over losses and distresses to the Father(the famous Serenity Prayer comes to mind) we rehearse for that moment when we will have to surrender everything in death. Perhaps that is why Jesus could so effortlessly cry from the cross "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." Likewise Stephen, in Acts 7:59. When you've lived in simplicity and generosity and humility and obedience and abandoned self-interest, you can die without fear or regret

Breathing in, breathing out. Accept with gratitude what God gives. Release back to Him what you cannot cling to or handle on your own. After all, it's not about our image. It's about His image being formed in us.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Prince Of Persia

It hasn't exactly been a box office blockbuster, but the new movie "Prince Of Persia" has been seen and enjoyed by thousands since it opened in late May.

The action adventure film, based on a video game, tells the story of a young street boy, adopted into the family of an ancient Persian king, who becomes a prince alongside 2 brothers. He grows up to be a man of integrity and courage, and with the help of a beautiful princess saves the kingdom, and perhaps the world, from the evil schemings of a power hungry individual in pursuit of a sand-filled dagger that gives its possessor the ability to turn back time.

This cinematic piece is great fun. It's also complete fiction.

It may surprise you to learn, though, that a "prince of Persia" is mentioned in the Bible. This one is for real.

The reference comes in the Old Testament book of Daniel, chapter 10, verse 13. It speaks not of a human being but of an evil angel who temporarily thwarted the attempt of a heavenly angel to deliver, from God, an answer to Daniel for a prayer he had prayed seeking information and counsel about the future of his countrymen, the Jews. The narrative implies that wicked territorial spirits under the command of Satan were assigned to nations to seek to influence them in opposition to God's will and people. This prince of Persia, then, who evidently was responsible for trying to manipulate the decisions of that kingdom that had just chosen to release many of the Jews long held in captivity, managed to struggle with God's angel and delay a response getting to Daniel for 3 weeks. His evil machinations were overcome by the assistance of Michael, God's chief angel, who came to the aid of the heavenly messenger, who may have been Gabriel. It's interesting that a Hollywood film, "Legion", earlier this year, in its plot had Michael and Gabriel pitted against one another. Nothing could be further from the truth. They're on the same page, the same team, serving God!

All of this sounds so far-fetched and hard to believe in our sophisticated, technological age. But evangelical theology affirms the truthfulness of it. Some lessons emerge.

For starters, spiritual warfare is a reality. There is a titanic, cosmic battle going on in the supernatural, invisible realm all around us. We can't see it but good angels slug it out with demonic forces in a conflict to determine who will persuade and control peoples and nations and individuals. In the admittedly pictorial, apocalyptic book of Revelation you get strong hints of this in chapter 12, verses 7-9, and elsewhere in the New Testament, in Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that a monumental, ongoing struggle is being waged between spiritual forces. National and international philosophies, policies, and actions could well be influenced and shaped more by what we can't see than by what we can. Personal choices, too, are often impacted greatly by this continuing wrestling between good and evil beings over a fallen world whose ultimate redemption has already been won and victoriously assured by the saving death of Christ on the cross. The outcome of the war has been determined but skirmishes go on. Christians must decide each new day how to respond to the temptations faced so that they cooperate with God's plan.

This old, old story also reminds us that prayer is really important. Daniel was so concerned about his people that he prayed for them, seeking God's purposes for their future. Regrettably, most believers pray very little and in our churches prayer is often the spiritual discipline that is emphasized the least. Someone has said that the devil is unhappy but not overly troubled when we go to church or read the Bible or share our faith but he trembles when we pray! It is probably in our praying that we have the greatest opportunity to actually make a difference in this world and partner with God in what he is up to. You could team up with God when you intercede for a grieving family whose name you read about on an obituary page. You work alongside the Lord when you pray for those who might be injured in that car accident that you come up on as you're driving the interstate. When viewing the nightly news you could petition God about people and situations, even of global significance, that are mentioned and play a possible role in potential divine interventions. You might silently converse with the Lord about that hurting person sitting across from you in a doctor's office waiting room and thus be involved in heavenly activity.

There's no doubt that spiritual battles will continue on in the invisible supernatural regions and in individual Christian lives until history wraps up. The angel lets Daniel in on that crucial fact in chapter 10, verse 20. But as was true for that towering Old Testament character, we can have hope and strength. Just as the heavenly being reminded Daniel that he was loved and valued by God, believers should know that they are prized and protected by the Father. As Daniel received a lifting touch from the angel, so we can learn to draw encouragement from the often needed physical hugs and embraces that the Lord uses our human companions to bring to us when we're down and depressed or lonely and confused. And the most vital source for peace and strengthening as we face the challenges and uncertainties of life will come to us, as it did for Daniel, in the truth that God reveals to us in his word. That truth clues us in that the events happening on the world scene, though so often troubling, are ultimately in the hands of a wise and sovereign God and are being worked together toward a grand and positive conclusion. Immersing ourselves in Bible study can increase our confidence and stability.

The days of the real prince of Persia are numbered!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Up, Up, And Away

There's a strange twist in Acts 8 at the very end of the story of Philip's successful evangelistic encounter with the Ethiopian eunoch.

It may be that some applications and insights for our own Christian walk and soulwinning could be gleaned here.

You know the narrative. Philip has been involved in a very effective mass evangelism campaign in Samaria where many lives were changed. Suddenly the Lord redirects him away from the crowds and out into the desert.There he meets an African government official who is returning, from Jerusalem, where he worshipped the God of the Jews, to his own country. He's reading the Old Testament scriptures. Philip uses that as a springboard to initiate a conversation, witnesses to him about Jesus, leads him to Christ, and baptizes him.

And verse 39 says that as soon as they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away! Before he could really celebrate the conversion of this new brother, before he could disciple him or take him through new members' orientation or even get his address for follow-up or report his name to denominational headquarters, he was taken from the scene!

Did he just become invisible? Was he miraculously, supernaturally airlifted out and transported away? Did he simply walk away quietly and humbly and unobtrusively while everyone in the eunoch's caravan was preoccupied with the official's spiritual experience? We don't know. We're not told. The text only tells us that this evangelist was whisked off, that the new Christian no longer saw him, and that Philip showed up later in other places still sharing the Gospel.

Why did the Lord choose to conclude this very positive outreach effort in this way? By taking one of the key actors off the stage? We can only speculate and venture some guesses.

It's certainly possible that God removed him from the scene to prevent him from succumbing to the ever present inclination and temptation to want to take credit for this evangelistic victory. To receive those congratulatory pats on the back, to be recognized as a high achiever among soulwinners, to be invited often to speak and repeat the details of the story of the big fish won in unusual circumstances. Just thinkin' out loud here, but we all are aware of the human propensity to toot our own horn and embellish the testimony to the applause of others. Could it be that the Lord was sparing Philip from a detour into pridesville following a ministerial high point? We must never forget that we are simply tools in God's hands. He graces us and chooses to give us the privilege of being used by Him. If there's anything good in us, He put it there.

Or maybe God helicoptered this faithful witness out of the situation for the eunoch's benefit. Surely this new believer needed to learn early on that his salvation came from the Lord and not a man. He now must put his focus on following Jesus. Rather than being dependant on another Christian, even a leader, he must walk by faith and trust that God would place other spiritual guides in his path all along the way to help disciple him and answer his questions and model a godly lifestyle before him. Perhaps the eunoch would have leaned on Philip a little too much, setting himself up for a disappointment. In our celebrity culture today we run the risk of putting dynamic Christian communicators and writers and entertainers and pastors on a pedestal, idolizing them and hanging on their every word. Then, if they stumble or fall away, our faith is damaged. Far better to immerse ourselves in scripture and ask the Father to plant different tutors and mentors on our journey(I Corinthians 3:5-8) as we need them. Incidentally, the 2 kinds of Christians most able to assist us in our ongoing pilgrimage are those who simply, humbly, contentedly, restfully walk with the Lord(Isaiah 50:4) and those who have suffered and been tested and have experienced the rich maturity that comes from that(Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It's usually not the flashy Christian superstars who prove most beneficial as role models along the trail!

Okay. Sure. The newly saved eunoch needed further teaching and instruction. How to pray. How to forgive. How to understand the scriptures. How to deal with adversity.How to plant churches. But by not being able to latch on too tightly to Philip, he could "go on his way rejoicing" and stretch his spiritual muscles and spread his wings and return to Ethiopia where he himself could become a bold witness and a strong Christian leader. God would see to it that this babe in Christ got what he needed.

We can say without reservation that God in His wisdom and sovereignty and providence knows when a job is finished. When Philip had completed his assignment on that isolated desert road, the Lord placed him elsewhere. God knows where we are! We really don't have to push and scramble and climb. We're to bloom where we're planted and be faithful where He has located us at the moment. When He's ready to reassign us, He will! Obviously for Philip there was more work to be done in other locales and when he "parachuted down" he hit the ground running(vs.40) and kept up the ministry of preaching and leading people to Christ. God made it very clear to him when the desert task was complete and a new city ministry was to commence!

And by the way, one of these days our earthly labors will be finished and we'll be caught up to Glory. It may happen at death. You'll be busy serving the Lord and suddenly He'll say, "It's time to come home" and you'll be gone. It might happen at the return of Jesus. You'll be faithfully, passionately working for Christ and unexpectedly He'll appear(I Thessalonians 4:17) and you'll be instantaneously lifted away. Wow! In either event, you'll have this Philip-like experience one day. And who knows? Throughout eternity, God may have us fanned out throughout this vast universe of His, doing His work among the galaxies and supernaturally teleporting us just as he did this dedicated evangelistic deacon centuries ago. What a prospect!

The Lord's ways are mysterious. Philip must have wondered, in frustration, why God would move him from a high octane city-wide crusade to a lonely, sandy road to minister to one man. But what a serendipity he had out there, getting to lead this guy to Christ and then to be whooshed away somewhere else. God constantly surprises, and amazes, us! His work is never really boring. So...let's stay at it. It's too soon to quit. You have no way of knowing what He's gonna do tomorrow!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Movie Themes

Where to start.

In recent weeks a whole spate of movies has come out that touch on biblical issues and spiritual concerns.

Serious evangelical Christians can use the perspectives expressed in these films as discussion starters with seekers and skeptics who surely have been to the cinema lately. The Apostle Paul modeled that ministry approach in Acts 17 when he observed and then utilized aspects of Athenian culture to launch a conversation about Christ in that pagan city. In Colossians 4:5 he stresses the importance of using every opportunity to cultivate an interest in Christianity among those outside the faith while Peter, in 1 Peter 3:15, advises believers to always be alert and prepared for chances to speak of the hope we have. In today's world, we can draw seed thoughts from movie plots to engage people in reflection and then present the biblical worldview.

Take, for example, "The Lovely Bones", the story of an adolescent girl, brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor who happens to be a sex offender. She goes out into a sometimes beautiful, sometimes fuzzy afterlife where she views her family's grief and desire for justice and where she pines away at lost youth and tries to orchestrate her killer's punishment. OK. It's just a motion picture, but its depiction of what happens at death sure is at odds with the biblical description. For starters, scripture makes it clear that not everybody goes to Heaven when they die. Only those who embrace Christ for salvation will show up there. And those who enter that tangible, material, beautiful place will not harbor jealousies or lusts or regrets or bitternesses anymore. Their bodies will be whole and their spirits will be perfect.There will be travel and art and learning and creating and growth. Contrary to this film's interpretation,though, the center of attention in Heaven will be God, who will receive worship and adoration forever. Even though the amenities will be indescribably awesome, it will not be simply a zone of self-indulgence. And there'll certainly be no possibilities of reconnecting with those left behind or somehow influencing earthly events.

Another cinematic piece, "Legion", weaves a tale of God capriciously, angrily deciding to completely destroy mankind and sending angels Michael and Gabriel to accomplish the deed. Only problem is that Michael feels that this isn't a good idea and proceeds to join forces with the frightened human race and thwart God's plan.

This film regrettably throws together a whole bunch of bits and pieces of significant biblical themes into a tangled mishmash(Flood, God's wrath, birth of Christ, end-times events, angels and demons, etc) that makes no sense. Worse, it offers up a God who is evil and mean-spirited, perhaps mentally ill. It depicts a God who is changeable and probably powerless. It leaves out the wonderful grace of God in Christ and assumes that God has no foreordained, long-standing plan for what will happen to this world. It portrays a heavenly world in chaos and divided just like the human one which is trapped in sin. God is reduced to human attributes and flaws. How completely opposite all this is to the scriptural presentation of God as sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient,immutable, holy, yet patient, and loving, willing for people to repent.

What about "The Book Of Eli", a post-apocalyptic story starring Denzel Washington? It's about some future time when the world has been largely destroyed by some cataclysmic disaster. One lone man travels across a barren landscape, facing all kinds of dangers, and carrying what may be the last copy of the Bible to a place where possibly it might be used in the refurbishing and reestablishment of the earth and culture.

Three cheers for a movie that seemingly exalts the status and significance of the scriptures. Nevertheless, there are problems here. First off, the predicted, ultimate devastation of this planet associated with the second coming of Christ in the last days won't be quite like what's dramatized in this film. At that time, according to the Bible, there will be no second chances for restoration. There will be no possibility of any man-made renaiisance.No prospect of simply pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, working hard, and starting over. Judgement will commence, and then, for believers, a God-directed renovation of this messed-up earth will occur as eternity begins. Also, you get glimpses in the movie of wrong ways to use the Bible. One evil-hearted individual attempts to steal the book from the wanderer so that he can utilize it to control his band of thugs.That kind of mindset is with us all the time, isn't it? And,sadly, at film's end, the delivered and copied Bible is seen as just one more book among many in a redeveloped library of great works of literature, not as the unique, life-changing book that it is.

Finally, "The Wolfman" opened recently. Here is the popular tale of men who are reduced by a curse to a wild, savage wolf-like status when the moon is full. The term for it is lycanthropy. Most people don't know that there's a similar story in the Bible, in Daniel 4. No pagan curse and no full moon business but rather an act of God's judgement, after strong warning, against the uncontrolled pride of Babylon's ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. He became more like an ox than a wolf, but for 7 years lived an animal-like existence until he learned the lesson that before God's sovereignty we are to be humble and grateful and submissive. The Lord usually doesn't use methods like that today, but He will get our attention. We would do well as individuals and as a nation to abandon prideful self-seeking and self-will and submit to God, who made us and knows what's best for us. One of the sins that God hates most is pride, and it is so destructive to human relationships.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hand Signals

Sarah Palin again created quite a stir when she spoke at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville a few weeks ago.

The part of her speech that garnered the most attention and generated the most buzz among the media and pundits, though, seems to have been her cute remark teasing President Obama about his apparent overuse of teleprompters when he speaks to groups. What made her comment so bizarre was that even as she was making it, the TV cameras and photographers could easily see jotted notes of an apparent outline of her talk and seed thoughts for responses to questions scribbled on her left hand!

It's laughable. She's been pilloried in the press for what seems like hypocrisy.

All of us certainly should guard against saying one thing and doing another. Jesus frequently warned about a hypocritical lifestyle. I suppose that politicians and educators and us preachers have to be especially careful that we don't lecture our listeners about stuff that we're not practicing ourselves. I am so keenly aware of my own sins and foibles and failures that I really try to be measured and transparent in my sermons and in my counseling. To exude grace, to speak the truth in love. To avoid setting the bar higher for you than I am reaching for myself.

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson wrote in his blog that the recent Palin incident should caution us to refrain from attacking people personally when we have to criticize their policies or their philosophies. I agree. We don't have to condemn someone's personality quirks and idiosyncrasys and style just because we are at odds with their perspectives on issues. Her silly little barb about Obama's speaking techniques drew attention away from the larger import of his basic views of governing. And it can be a little dangerous to assume that we know another individual's motives when we are essentially opposed to their convictions and stands.

Now, what about Obama's teleprompter use and Sarah's very hand-y cue cards? Is it so wrong to have some notes when making a talk or presentation?

I don't think so. When I was in Jr High and had a girlfriend, I'd be so nervous about calling her on the telephone, scared that I'd run out of things to say and that there'd just be silence, that I actually penciled some conversation points on paper before dialing her number! I use an outline and notes in the pulpit. Probably most preachers do. I tell young people that the key to giving a good report in class is coming up with 3 or 4 talking points or developing a short outline, which makes it a lot easier to stand up and have something to say or write that long term paper. Reflections of substance. Frankly, I'd much rather hear a professor or a politician or a minister speak with the aid of notes if he can thereby talk with intelligence and eloquence and say something thought out and worth saying and interesting to hear. This might surprise you, but I think it can even be helpful occasionally to write out our prayers. What is the Old Testament book of Psalms but a work of prepared, written prayers and praises that we can use even today to recite back to our awesome God? And incidentally, I even jotted down a few notes about ideas I wanted to stress in this article before starting to write it!

Yes, there's a place for extemporaneous speaking. For sharing right out of the heart.No manuscript or note cards. We'll not always have the luxury of time to diligently prepare for proper wording and grammer and sharp, crisp insights when we're unexpectedly called on to pray aloud or to answer a question or to comment on an issue. What that means is that we've got to be continually in a state of preparation by our reading and by our personal, private prayer life and by our attention to what's going on around us and by quality time spent in solitude and meditation. That was Paul's secret for effective witness in Athens(Acts 17). That was Peter's advice in 1 Peter 3:15. Know what's happening. Get God's mind on something.

By the way, Ms. Palin's markings- on- the- hand reminds me that God has done something similarly. In Isaiah 49:16 the Lord says, "Behold, I have enscribed you upon the palms of my hands..."Now I know that's anthropomorphic language(ascribing human form or characteristics to our invisible God, who is Spirit) but what a message it conveys. God loves us and cares for us and thinks about us in such a way that it's like He's got our individual names and situations written indelibly on His hands! Sarah may have scrubbed her hands with lots of soap to erase her memory joggers when she got back to her hotel room that night, but God delights in seeing and considering our enscribed names. Forever.

Let's leave Ms. Palin, and yes, Mr. Obama, alone when it comes to using memory tools for their speeches. Cut 'em some slack. Let's pay more attention to what they're actually saying.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When The Saints Go Marchin' In

How ' bout those New Orleans Saints?

They deserve congratulation after Sunday night's Super Bowl victory. It was a good game.

It set me to thinking. You know one of the New Testament labels for Christians is the word "saint'. It shows up often in the epistles. It doesn't denote a perfect person("She's so sweet and kind. She's a real saint.") Nor does it refer to someone elevated or canonized by a church. It doesn't speak of one who is especially religious.

A saint, rather, is someone called out by God, for God. An individual set apart for God's purposes. The term connects with sanctification and with holiness. It designates a person positionally placed in God's family and service and involved in a lifelong post-conversion process of becoming like Jesus.

I've never researched why the victorious football team of last night has that particular name. I also do not know how many, if any, of the players are believers in Christ. I am aware that the guys were not expected to win that thing in Miami. But they really showed us something!

A lesson emerges.

We Christians are usually viewed by the world as a bunch of losers. As ignorant and backward. Out of step and out of touch. But ultimately we win!

The culture around us may laugh at us now, but one day there will be trophies and crowns and rewards for God's faithful ones. The time clock is running down. Soon the hard fought contest will be over. And surprise will permeate the universe, just as it did yesterday evening in that stadium and in millions of living rooms across America!

Whose team are you on?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


SERMON RECAP: Last Sunday morning we took a look at Luke 4:14-21 with its story of Jesus, on the front end of His ministry, visiting the synagogue in his boyhood hometown of Nazareth(I think it's important to "go back home" sooner or later, both literally and figuratively).

Jesus participated in the synagogue service by reading an Old Testament passage and commenting on it. He really valued the scriptures, as evidenced by His going where they were honored and knowing where to find the text he wanted to read. Apparently it was not only His custom to "go to church" but to spend time in God's word. The Bible is God's authoritative revelation to us(2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and should be treasured. How valuable are the scriptures in your life?

It's obvious that Jesus saw himself in the text. He interprets the Isaiah passage as referring to Him personally in His Messianic role(vss. 18, 21). Sometimes when we read the Bible we're tempted to think it's just a history lesson or that it's for somebody else. But scripture is our instruction manual and a love letter to us from God. Our marching orders.There are warnings, promises, comforts, directions, and challenges there for us. Today. It is equally clear that Jesus saw Jesus in those Old Testament portions. That sounds redundant, but what I mean is that our Lord understood that the ancient scriptures unfold and predict and picture and present Him. In some way He shows up in every Bible book! In the types and ceremonies and tabernacle and prophecies He is foreshadowed and announced. His post-resurrection dialogue with some followers on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27 puts it all together for His listeners.

Most importantly, Jesus saw us in the scriptures. In verses 18-19 he uses the text to offer His personal mission statement and strategy for ministry. It's all about people. It has to do with meeting needs. Certainly He viewed His task as that of compassionate social, physical outreach(helping the poor, the hurting, the jailed, the sick). Also, though, He took His assignment as encompassing a far deeper work, that of inner, spiritual transformation(sinners are poor in spirit, soul-blinded, captive to sin, and needing deliverance). Contemporary believers, too, have a dual task. We must endeavor to relieve human suffering but also witness to grace and salvation and life change in Christ.

AT THE MOVIES: The new film, "Avatar" has been a box office smash since it opened about 6 weeks ago. It has lots of action, gorgeous scenery, thrilling music, an intriguing plot, and creative special effects. This sci-fi flick spins the narrative of soldiers and scientists from Earth who travel to a distant moon, Pandora, to try to extract a precious mineral desperately needed on our by then deteriorating planet. They are ultimately and decisively thwarted by the defensive actions of the natives who reside there.

This motion picture is quite interesting and entertaining, but regrettably is a thinly veiled Hollywood protest against perceived Western greed and exploitation and environmental plundering. It comes across as anti-American and anti-military. It portrays essentially a pantheistic, New Age, Wiccan, Earth-worshipping spirituality wrapped in an attractive, appealing garb. There seems to be a blending of Eastern religion and African animism here.

What to tell the kids: yes, Christians are to take care of the environment. That's a mandate from God(Genesis 1:26-31;2:15). No, we are not to worship nature. Our God is personal and transcendant, greater than, and above and beyond, all that He has made. He is not in flowers and trees and grass and stars but rather fashioned them for His glory and our enjoyment. He reveals Himself in His creation(Psalm 19:1-6) but more significantly in His scriptures(Psalm 19:7-14) and most perfectly in His Son, Jesus(Hebrews 1:1-3). No, when we die we are not absorbed into some kind of vague, cosmic force but instead will have distinct, personal identities.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sharpening The Ax

How about a good book?

Reading is a great way to stretch mentally and deepen spiritually. The Apostle Paul understood that. Even when at the end of his ministry, in jail and near death, he was requesting stuff to read, according to 2 Timothy 4:13. He wanted to stay sharp and fresh, intellectually alert and vocationally visionary and spiritually focused.

We could benefit, too, from using some of our time during these winter days to recharge with the aid of wise writers. Allow me to pass on some suggestions of helpful works that are blessing me personally just now.

Anything that John Ortberg pens is insightful and creative. His latest offering is The Me I Want To Be(Zondervan, 2010). He discusses individual growth and maturity in a variety of areas, and uses very helpful illustrations. Chip Ingram's new book, Living On The Edge(Howard Books, 2009) also deals with deepening our spirituality, and he develops, in a very practical way, the applications that come from Romans 12.

You'll find John Piper's most recent work, though brief, to be rich and pointed. It is A Sweet And Bitter Providence(Crossway, 2010). He works through the Old Testament book of Ruth, drawing out crucial themes that impact our lives today. He highlights sex, race, and the sovereignty of God as well as the comforting truth that the Lord is always at work in our situations to bring about our good and His glory. Pure Pleasure(Zondervan, 2009) by Gary Thomas would refresh you. He ponders why Christians feel so bad about feeling good. He offers a practical theology about delighting in the everyday pleasures that God created for us to enjoy while warning about the misuse of those joys.

Want something a little deeper? Try the weighty academic study by Andreas Kostenberger, A Theology Of John's Gospel And Letters(Zondervan, 2009). It thoroughly probes the historical and literary features of these New Testament writings and digs out in detail the critical themes. This work provides fodder for a long, satisfying investigation of these portions of scripture. Sermons galore could be birthed out of these pages, and Sunday School preparation enhanced.

For some scintillating reflections on marriage, check out Love And War(Doubleday, 2009) by John and Stasi Eldredge. This couple blends scriptural thoughts with experiences out of their own relationship and those of people they counsel to serve up some beneficial advice on marital issues. Their transparency is refreshing and their wisdom enriching. If you need to brush up on your leadership skills, you might find Axiom(Zondervan, 2008) by Bill Hybels to be of assistance. This noted megachurch pastor shares a wealth of insights in short, incisive chapters on matters like vision, strategy, communication, teamwork, assessment, and integrity. It's almost like a "book of Proverbs" on leadership issues.

Dr. Larry Crabb does an interesting thing in his new book, 66 Love Letters(Thomas Nelson, 2009). He devotes a chapter to each book in the Bible and"converses with God" about what He is trying to communicate in each particular portion of scripture in terms of personal concern. This comes off like a daily journal kind of reading experience and is packed with rich thoughts on all kinds of spiritual and emotional matters in light of what God gave us in His Word centuries ago. This book offers a different kind of devotional way to work through the Bible over a year.

So...see ya at the bookstore.