Friday, December 14, 2012

The CT massacre:

As of this blog writing, this is all I know.  Children are dead.  Adults are dead.  A tragedy has been placed at the doorsteps of, what is supposed to be, one of our safest places - a school.  Each day parents drop their children off at school believing the school to be a safe environment for their children to learn.  Today that did not happen.  Today in Connecticut murder took place; and of a far worse kind than we can imagine.

And lest we forget two others' are dead in Oregon as a shooter walked into a shopping mall and committed murder.  This sad tale only continues.  

People are going to ask why.  Already on various Facebook posts people are asking, "how can this happen in our country!"  We try and find reasons for this tragedy - what is happening in our culture to precipitate such heinous acts?  Is it movies, video games, guns, etc....and if we stop the conversation there we will be attempting to fix this problem simply by trimming the tree of evil - without attacking the root problem.  The root problem of this evil is sin.

I would like to quote from James 1:13-15, "When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me."  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."  I do not know the motivation of the shooter(s).  I do not need to know.  I know that they allowed sin to go unchecked in their heart and motivations and it ended with death.  That is what sin does.  It begins with a seed of hate, lust, anger, distrust, fear, etc...and if not dealt with it grows.  It grows into something terrible and ugly - and all sin leads to death.  All of it.

This is not a simple trite blog saying, "we need to bring prayer back in schools..." or, "we better not take God out of the Pledge..."  No, we must be more serious than that.  This tragedy is not a time to score political points.  Mothers and fathers are grieving a type of grief I do not want to imagine - indeed I cannot imagine it.  Now is not the time to be trite.  Now is the time to be repentant.

God aches over sin.  He mourns over it.  He grieves deeper than we do over what happened today.  And God is the only One who can, and has, offered a solution and hope to those who are grieving.  He has given us Jesus.  He is not trite.  This is no simple answer.  People may ask in the midst of their pain, "where was God when these children were dying?"  The answer is He was where He was when His Son died.  His seeming silence is not inaction.  God has solved this problem of sin and He has solved it by giving His Son to die for us.  But we must acknowledge our sins.  We must not let sin go unchecked in our hearts.  We must see sin for what it is.  We must see ugliness for what it is; and like Ezekiel we must become watchmen - telling others in our culture, our communities, our jobs, our schools, and our churches that we must turn from sin.  We can excuse it no longer.  It must be checked.

The only cure for our culture is Jesus.  I mean it.  Simply taking away violent video games, guns, etc...won't do it.  It won't.  Pruning the tree may curb its growth - but the tree will still grow.  Sin must be dealt with at the root - and the root can only be dealt with by confessing it.  Admitting it.  Seeking help at the foot of the cross.  And for people to know this is what is needed, they must be told.  We must tell others.  We simply must.  Forgive us God.  amen. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

#32 The Elections

I am going to write something that is probably not going to make anyone happy.  That is why I want to do it :)  I was a Political Science major in college.  I carry a Philosophy minor.  I find intriguing the entire political process.  I really do.  I have found the three debates to this point [two Presidential and one Vice Presidential] very interesting.  However, watching last night's debate [the 2nd Presidential debate] I have been struck by something.  I know it is going to sound obvious to readers, but nonetheless it struck me anew.  Both candidates intentionally mislead voters for the sole purpose of attempting to make the alternative politician seem as evil as possible.

This is simply one example on both sides that I saw.  1st, when the President said that he called the terrible Benghazi attack in Libya an, "act of terror" he gave the impression to the debate hearer that he was proclaiming this attack on our Libyan embassy an Al Qaeda sponsored attack from the beginning.  Well....this is simply untrue.  He did, in the Rose Garden, call this attack, "an act of terror" but not in the above mentioned way.  The Administration has come to the conclusion that it was an Al Qaeda attack, but that conclusion came weeks later.

In the same fashion, when Governor Romney tells us that the President has reduced oil production on federal lands, he fails to mention that the reason for this is because of the BP spill and the ramifications of that spill.  He gives the impression to the voter that the President's policies have directly affected that drilling.  This is misleading as well.

Now, please do not post about the above two paragraphs and attempt to contradict them point by point.  That is not really what this post is about.  What this post is about is that these are simply two examples - simply two - where the opposing sides attempt to cast their opponents in the worst possible light possible.  They do this by telling half-truths; which is they do this by lying.

This works because we as people allow it to work.  We are a nation of liars.  Lying has become a part of our ethos.  We lie on our taxes.  We lie to our spouses.  We often mislead and tell half-truths to our children.  We fake who we really are in church.  We give impressions to people that are false.  In conflict we often refuse to see how our behavior has inflamed the conflict.  In our own minds we are often righteous while in our minds our opponents are devils.  We are sick of our politicians acting this way when in many ways we act like our politicians.  I can see it in myself and I can see it in others.  And what I see is disgusting. 

I can see this by the way in which political defenders defend their party's nominee.  They will look at their candidate and excuse almost anything while at the same time nit-pick the opposing candidate to death.  We see people we like [not only politicians] through the prism of our own self-assured righteousness.  

What our country desperately needs is Christian leadership; and by that what I mean is someone who is dedicated to telling the truth - no matter what the cost.  Jesus identified Himself as, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" John 14:6.  Jesus is truth in the flesh.  Whatever He says is the truth.

Those that follow Jesus will obey the truth.  They will listen to His Word.  And I am praying for a man or woman to stand up politically and unashamedly tell the truth.  But until that time happens, we as Christians need to authentically pray for our leaders [1st Timothy 2].  We need to pray that God give them the courage of truth and the courage of faith.  We need to pray it for ourselves as well.  If we want to stop the lying culture that we live in, let us begin by being the people of Jesus and telling the truth ourselves.  Tell the truth to ourself - and tell the truth to others.  Speak the truth in love.  Speak the truth with grace.  But please, speak the truth.

I am in need of Jesus.  I am in need of His forgiveness.  You are too.  People ask the Lord to raise up a prophet like one of the prophets of old.  He has.  He has raised up the chief prophet - Jesus.  And He is more than a prophet - He is God in the flesh.  We need only to listen to Him.  Amen.

Monday, June 11, 2012

# 31 Mormonism and Christianity

What I am about to write is going to be judged by some to be intolerant, perhaps bigoted, and perhaps cruel.  I want you to know ahead of time that is not the intent.  The intent of this particular blog is really about discerning truth between two different groups.  

The religion of Mormonism claims to believe in Jesus.  The religion teaches that after Jesus rose again in Jerusalem that He visited the Americas and visited groups here.  I am not going to go into the grand details.  Mormonism also teaches that God is not one God in three persons - the persons of Father, Son, and Spirit.  I am going to list a few things here about what the Mormon Teaches about the doctrine of God. 

  1. God
    1. God used to be a man on another planet, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 321; Joseph Smith, Times and Seasons, vol. 5, p. 613-614; Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 345; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 333).
    2. "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s..." (D&C 130:22).
    3. God is in the form of a man, (Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 3).
    4. "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!!! . . . We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil, so that you may see," (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345).
    5. God the Father had a Father, (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 476; Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, vol. 5, p. 19; Milton Hunter, First Council of the Seventy, Gospel through the Ages, p. 104-105).
    6. God resides near a star called Kolob, (Pearl of Great Price, p. 34-35; Mormon Doctrine, p. 428).
    7. God had sexual relations with Mary to make the body of Jesus, (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 4, 1857, p. 218; vol. 8, p. 115). - This one is disputed among many Mormons and not always 'officially' taught and believed.  Nevertheless, Young, the 2nd prophet of the Mormon church taught it.
    8. "Therefore we know that both the Father and the Son are in form and stature perfect men; each of them possesses a tangible body . . . of flesh and bones." (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 38).
  2. God, becoming a god
    1. After you become a good Mormon, you have the potential of becoming a god, (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345-347, 354.)
    2. "Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them," (D&C 132:20).
  3. God, many gods
    1. There are many gods, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 163).
    2. "And they (the Gods) said: Let there be light: and there was light," (Book of Abraham 4:3).
  4. God, mother goddess
    1. There is a mother god, (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 443).
    2. God is married to his goddess wife and has spirit children, (Mormon Doctrine, p. 516).
  5. God, Trinity
    1. The trinity is three separate Gods: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. "That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of divine dealings with man," (Articles of Faith, by James Talmage, p. 3
Now, this is simply a slice of what Mormonism teaches - but I believe the central message of what I want to say lies here.  When I say, "God" the above is not what I mean.  I do not mean someone that used to exist on another planet as a man.  I do not mean someone who had intercourse with Mary.  I do not mean that I too could one day become that which is now God.  I do not mean this.  I mean that there is only one God - who exists eternally - without beginning and without end - who eternally exists as one God in three persons - the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Basically, I simply confess the three apostolic creeds of the Nicene, Apostles, and Athanasian creeds.  Here below is the Nicene Creed which sums up the nature of God and His Salvific work well.

I believe in one God,
the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father;
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
and he shall come again, with glory,
to judge both the quick and the dead;
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceedeth from the Father [and the Son];
who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church;
I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;
and I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

Now, can we see the difference?  The simple fact is that I mean something very different when I say the words, "I believe in Jesus Christ" than when a Mormon says, "I believe in Jesus Christ."  I mean that I believe in the 2nd person of the Triune God - who eternally co-existed with the Father as God and became a man - and now has risen from the dead.  The Mormon does not believe this.  

This is why for most of Christian history the Christian church has said that Mormonism is not Christian - even though they claim they are.  And all this gets to where I want to go in this blog.  Just because someone says they are something does not make that so.  If words have meaning then they have definitions.  And the definition of Christian is someone who believes that which the Bible teaches about the person of God - dutifully and condensely recorded in the Creed - even if they don't say the Creed they believe that which is in it. 

For example, if you know me and someone came up to you and you began talking about me and they said, "hey...I know Chris Ogne!  She's such a card!"  You would raise an eyebrow...for I am not a woman.  If you inquired further and they said, "oh know - Chris - she's about 5 foot 4 inches tall and she weighs 100 pounds...."  You would immediately know that the, "Chris Ogne" they are talking about and the Chris Ogne you are talking about are not the same person - they simply share the same name.  And that is what I am getting at here.  The Mormon can say, "I believe in Jesus."  They can vocalize J E S U S in the same fashion as the Christian - but they mean something totally different.  The Christian and the Mormon worship two totally different Gods - and only one can be right.  

It is going to be very interesting to see how many Christians compromise their faith and simply say that Mormonism is simply another denomination within Christendom this political season.  We have already seen compromise.  

This is not a blog about whether it is ok to vote for a person of a different religion than your own.  This is not about that.  I am simply interested to see how many Trinitarian Christians compromise their faith and declare that Mormons believe as we do.  It will be interesting indeed......

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#30 The Church

Something has been percolating in my mind recently - and that is the church.  [For use in this blog I mean, "church" to be the visible gathering of believers in the institution of church - while I of course recognize that the church is an invisible body of believers scattered throughout the world.]  Specifically, people's expectation of the church.  What got my mind on this subject were two articles that I recently read - the first from Andrew Sullivan in Newsweek. Here is the link to that article if you are interested:

The other was written by Mark Galli as a response.  Here is his article:

Both of these articles got me thinking heavily.  One of my biggest laments actually can be reflected in both of these articles.  I get saddened by the many who expect the church to be, well, perfect.  They expect that the people of the church will act above reproach in all things.  They expect that the church's kindness, grace, love, and discipline will simply be obvious to all.  And those that feel this way are right about one thing - the church's behavior should be that.  Absolutely.  Lest we forget that Paul's admonition to the Ephesians was, "be imitators of God therefore..."  Jesus Himself said, "Be perfect therefore as my Heavenly Father is perfect...."

Yet, as human beings we have never met that standard.  A cursory examination of the Pauline Epistles showcases that the church was beset with divisions, factions, and envy.  My goodness, if you read 1st Corinthians you see that they had huge sexual immorality problems, discipline problems, and their use of the Sacrament was downright ghastly.

My point in writing all this is simply this - people abandon the institution of church because of failed expectations.  Yet, I do not believe this is a good enough reason to abandon the institution of church.  I simply don't.  Because while we will meet sinners at church - and those sinners will sometimes act out of sin - Jesus has chosen to work through this organism.  It has never failed.  Through the early years, the middle ages, and yes -the 21st century - Jesus works through His church.

What do we believe happens when we go to church?  We meet with God.  He inhabits the praises of His people.  He comes down - He comes down - and with the bread and wine enters into us through His body and blood.  He forgives sins.  He gives us the sweet words of absolution.

When one abandons the church, one abandons the very presence of the people where we are called to exhibit our love of neighbor [and yes, even our love for enemies].  The church is filled with people - sinners -who do dumb things.  And they need forgiveness.

Should the sin of the church appall us?  Absolutely.  It was appalling to Paul - and even more appalling to Jesus.  But should it surprise us?  No.  If your expectation of church is that you can meet with the Lord, praise Him, hear His Word, and receive His Sacrament, then perhaps you will not be disappointed.  But if it is to find people that are so amazingly godly that you see the perfection you so will be consistently disappointed and disillusioned.

Furthermore, I have met many that gave up on the church - only to realize that being a lone ranger Christian really is no better.  Furthermore, if you do leave the church and continue to evangelize, well....then maybe people will want to gather in your home.  Enough gather and you'll have to get some kind of organization.  Don't worry - as soon as you do that you'll get some bitterness, anger, etc....

This is not to excuse the church.  She should be ashamed of her sins - repent - and receive forgiveness.  I should too.  And yes, so should you.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

#29 Failure.  "For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  [Romans 3:23]

Well....I have to admit something.  I will not get to 40 devotionals by the time of Easter.  I am at 29 - and there is only a few days left until Easter.  Now, I can tell you this - I will get to forty - but it will be after Easter that I finish.

This fact, and some other things happening in my life have led me to this subject matter - failure.  I must admit something to myself - I, in and of myself, am indeed a failure.  Morally and otherwise.  To quote the  famous Apostle Paul, "I do not understand what I do...the good I want to do I do not do - no the evil I do not want to do, this I end up doing!"  I speak when I should be silent.  I am silent when I should speak.  I find myself too often a failure.

And reading books nowadays concerning righteousness simply makes me feel all the more of a failure.  I read a book the other day where a pastor was writing that he had said a swear word because something fell on his foot - and that sent him into a depressed tailspin for a week.  One swear word.  Now, I am not legitimizing a curse - the Bible is very clear on this subject matter.  We should only speak those things that are fitting the calling we received.  Yet, having said that, if one swear word sent me into a tailspin [and I rightly realize that even things thought are as guilty as those things said] ....well....then I would have crash landed a long time ago.

What I mean by this is that even the books written in Christian bookstores I find do not often address my problem.  They talk about failure - and they talk about what I would consider, "minor" things.  When I talk of failure I talk of pride.  I talk of anger.  I talk about the secret things and motions of the heart that you do not want to share with anyone.  And when it comes to things like this - I am a failure.  I too often find myself always looking at things and how they affect me personally instead of how they affect my neighbor.  I too often find myself quantifying what I do and measuring it against what others' do.  Now, I am smart enough to know how bad this is so I do not often act it out - but inwardly I know that it is there. Inwardly, I know the old man in me is simply itching to get out.  Inwardly, I know I am evil.  I know I am a failure.  I know I can do nothing on my own.

Now, what do I do with this failure?  Do I quit?  Do I run?  Do I hide?  Do I pretend that I am a success - even when I am a failure?  What do I do?   I confess.  I admit.  I readily acknowledge.  And then I lay the load of dreck that is mine and lay it at the foot of the cross.

Maundy Thursday is coming up.  Good Friday is coming up.  I recently put a BC cartoon on my wall detailing why they call the beating, whipping, flogging, murder of Jesus, "good" friday.  They call it good because He took my place.  It is not lip service from me to say I really do indeed deserve what He took.  I, like the thief that hung next to Jesus on His left can readily admit, "We are receiving our punishment justly...but He is hanging innocent."  I believe this - not only because the Scripture says it - but I truly feel and know that it is so.  I am guilty.  He is innocent.  He took my place.  He is good.  He is victor.  I am failure.

And the joy comes here - He has given me His victory.  This love - this matchless love - is understood by me most when I truly get a glimpse into my soul - recognize what is truly there - and know I am forgiven - because of Good Friday.  Amen.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

#28 Being remembered

15 The life of mortals is like grass, 
   they flourish like a flower of the field; 
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, 
   and its place remembers it no more. 
17 But from everlasting to everlasting 
   the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, 
   and his righteousness with their children’s children— 
18 with those who keep his covenant 
   and remember to obey his precepts. [Psalm 103:15-18]

Upon reading the Bible today I reflected upon something.  There are very few people remembered.  I was reading through the book of Acts - especially the later chapters - where Paul is standing before leaders of great cities making his defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And none of these historical people are known by me.  If they have made an important contribution to our history, I do not recognize it.  At their time they were exceptionally important - but now....we do not even remember their names.  

Very few people leave significant earthly impact after they die.  And even if they, in actuality, do leave significant earthly impact - most will not be recognized by the common man for leaving it.  We may look back at the Romans and say, "some of what they established we still use today!  My goodness, that is impressive!"  But even when we say that I do not believe that we have in our minds any particular historical Roman person.  

The fact is very simple - when we die, outside of perhaps those that knew us and loved us best - we are forgotten.  And within a generation of our death we are almost always forgotten entirely.  For example, I absolutely loved my father.  Actually, since he is in glory awaiting the glorious resurrection and is sentient, awake, and worshipping the Lord...perhaps it is better said that I love my father [present tense].  Yet, he is dead.  My oldest daughter, Olivia, knew my father even before he got Alzheimers.  Yet, though my father had tremendous impact upon me - she will not see that.  I can tell her.  She can experience what my father taught me through me - but my dad will most likely not be an important historical figure in my daughter's life.  She did not get enough time with him to really, "know" him.  So, when me, my brother, and my sister-in-Law die - he too will be mostly forgotten.  All that might remain are pictures in albums.  

Adding to this thought, I have been privileged to officiate over certain military retirements as the acting chaplain for their ceremony.  I have done this four times.  Each of these four retirement ceremonies were, I would say, some of the best that any human person can expect.  No, they were not presidential, yet they were high ranking military personnel.  One was on a Navy vessel.  There were speeches given.  There were gifts presented.  There was a reception immediately following.  And then we all went home.  In all four cases the next day someone else was doing their job.  Chances are, right now, the work they were doing continues under the guidance of someone else...and they have mostly been forgotten.  

Now, why do I bring this all up?  I will tell you :)  It is not to depress us - it is to  remind us of what is most important.  You see, according to Psalm 103 the life of mortals is like a flower - we bloom, the wind blows, and then we die.  And we are not remembered.  But the Lord remembers the righteous.  The Lord never forgets.  

One of the most touching moments in the Gospels is Jesus' encounter with one of the thieves on the cross.  The one thief rebuked and reviled Christ.  The other rebuked the 1st thief and looked at the Lord and simply said, "Jesus...remember me when you come into your kingdom..."  And it was at this point that Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in paradise."  

God remembering me.  This brings me amazing comfort.  I can be forgotten by family, friends, and all my work can be lost.  But the Lord will remember me.  The Lord cares so intimately for you and me that He has done more than throw a passing party for us - He has died for us.  He has risen again for us to purchase for us an eternal future with Him.  He remembers.  

So be encouraged - your faith in the Lord is not in vain.  He remembers.   He always remembers.  Amen. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#27 Trayvon Martin

I am going to address a subject matter that many are terribly upset about - the killing of a young 17 year old teenager by a much older neighborhood watchman.  This killing took place in Florida.  If you have not heard about this event then let me briefly explain.  

A man carrying the last name Zimmerman was his community's neighborhood watch leader.  He spotted the 17 year old walking in his neighborhood and thought he was suspicious.  He followed him.  The rest of the events are murky - I only know this - Trayvon is dead.  He was killed at the hands of Zimmerman by a gunshot.  

This is not going to be a post about the events of that night.  I do not know the events of that night.  This post is going to be about the aftermath of the events of that night; how the public, the media, and certain interest groups have fomented rage concerning these events. 

The dead young man is black.  The shooter is half white/half hispanic; and this has made a difference.  The narrative being woven is one of a suspicious white man's racism causing the death of an innocent black man; and those entrusted with the calling of meting out justice - namely the police force and other authorities - have turned a blind eye to this killing and have allowed the shooter to go away free.  

This narrative has caused extreme rhetoric.  On the one side we have a  police officer say on television, "act like a thug and die like one!" [referring to Trayvon Martin].  On the other side we have the leader's of the, "new black panther" organization put out a 10,000 dollar bounty on the shooter - taking justice in their own hands.  An erroneous address of the shooter is, "Tweeted" and an innocent older couple is harassed in their home because of it. [An erroneous address was tweeted and it happened to be the address of a couple that has nothing to do with any involved party]  More has happened.  People are outraged.  Cable talk shows are filled with discussions and racial implications.  This event has been saturated all around us.  People are angry.  Very angry.  On all sides. 

And yet, I have heard nothing of how Jesus would like us to respond to this event.  And make no mistake, Jesus did give us information on how to respond to this.  

Now, before I go there, I want to make one thing clear.  God has established government to bear the sword.  [Romans 13] Those called to protect and serve in the jurisdiction of the event are called to dispose of their duties in honorable ways. Whatever governmental punitive measures must be taken must be taken.  Period.  

But what does Jesus tell the rest of us - those not commissioned to bring justice on this event?  He says these words in Luke 6:27-36, "27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

 Now, I want us all to take an honest look at these words.  Do they apply?  I am convinced they do.  Jesus gave these words to His disciples - those that know Him - and asked them to live them out.  Those of us not charged by God through this government to bring justice - we are called to simply bless, love, turn the other cheek, and give.  Period.  Especially to those who persecute and mistreat us.  This is how we show the love of God to the wicked - by dismissing their cruelties and in their place giving love. 

But that is not what I see us doing.  I see us as a public fomenting rage.  I see us as people distrusting those that are different from us.  I see us getting angrier and angrier inside.  I imagine many conversations based in generalities at many kitchen tables around our country - mostly complaining - about groups of people.   

I remember the Amish.  On October 6th, 2006 a shooter entered an Amish school house and murdered students there - and then murdered himself.  A horrific tragedy.  But do you know what I find most amazing?  The Amish response - and it was immediate.  Genuine forgiveness to the shooter and the Amish blessed the deceased man's widow.  Amazing.  It was a true act of grace.  

This is not what I see here.  We as a community and as Christian people should be praying and helping the family of Trayvon Martin.  To outlive a child is a terrible suffering - a suffering I cannot, nor do I want, to imagine.  But we also need to be praying - earnestly - for Mr. Zimmerman and his family.  No matter what the situation, He needs the grace of God as well. 

If he is guilty, we must leave room for God's wrath.  Even if those entrusted with imputing justice fail - even intentionally overlook - their duties.  God will take care of this.  Listen to God's Word in Romans 12:19, "Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'it is mine to avenge, I will repay, saith the Lord.'"  I do not know all that happened on the fateful night that Trayvon was killed.  But I do know one who does - and He is very fair and just in what He does.  I will leave the judgment to Him.  While we all wait for supreme justice, I have been commanded to love - to bless - to give - and to sacrifice for the wicked - whomever they are.  

I see the devil working in this tragedy.  I do not know Trayvon.  I do not know Mr. Zimmerman.  But I do know my neighbor.  I do know the people in my church and my neighborhood.  Am I allowing the emotions of something far away to effect my opinions of the people close to me?  The devil does not care how you feel about Mr. Zimmerman or Trayvon- so long as it negatively effects the way you treat those that look like Mr. Zimmerman and Trayvon in your own neighborhood.  That is what he wants.  

We need to stop fomenting.  We need to be still, know that He is God, and get busy loving our neighbor - no matter who my neighbor is.  Amen. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

#26 "If you are willing, you can make me clean...."  [Mark 1:40]

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Jesus' encounter with a leper in Mark 1.  In Mark 1 a leper comes to Jesus and asks the question above, "if you are willing, you can make me clean."  Now, why would the leper frame the question in this manner?

Because this man is used to people being unwilling to help him.  According to the book of Leviticus, a leper was ostracized from the Israelite camp.  It was so bad that if they were around people that were not infected with this terrible skin disease they would have to yell out, "unclean!  Unclean!"  They would have to warn people about their disease and alarm them about their possible infection.

I want us to imagine such a scenario for a moment.  Imagine being diseased.  That is bad enough.  But imagine that your disease makes you, literally, untouchable.  No one wants to be around you.  No one wants to touch you.  You cannot participate in the life of the church.  As a matter of fact, you cannot even attend the festivals of the church in the God you believe in.  You may believe that God Himself has forsaken you.

It is under this particular situation that this leper approaches Jesus.  He asks Jesus, "if you are willing, you can make me clean..."  And what does Jesus do?  Well, even if you do not know the story I bet you can answer this question.  Jesus will heal him, of course.  But it is not the healing that amazes me the most - it is the means by which Jesus heals the man.  It is recorded in v.41 of Mark 1, "moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, 'I am willing: be cleansed.'"  Jesus could have waved His hand by the man and healed Him.  Jesus could have simply spoken a word and healed him.  He could have simply thought to heal him and healed him.  Those are not the methods Jesus used.  He reached out His hand and touched the untouchable.  He put His hand right in the sore and said, "I am willing." 

This touches me so much.  How unwilling am I to touch the untouchable.  How much fear do I have?  Yet, God reached in to me and touched the untouchable.  My sin is far uglier than this man's leprosy.  And God reached out and touched me and saved me.  He did the same for you.  This is how much God loves you and me - He is willing.

What else impresses me is that the leper approached Jesus.  He knew of the goodness of Jesus - and in that knowing approached Jesus.  This leper did not give up on healing.  There are too many of us that, because of our sin, want to hide away.  We are too like Adam and Eve who hid in their sin.  Approach Jesus.  He is willing.  Bring to Him all that you need.  He loves you.  Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

#25 Suffering

I was reading C.S. Lewis today and his masterful work, "The problem of Pain."  Now, I am no C.S. Lewis, but reading it really touched me.  And what he was talking about was the love of God; and how this love presupposes our suffering. 

Let me explain.  There are images used in the Bible about God's love towards us.  We have Him as the potter and we as the clay [Isaiah 29:16].  We have Him as the Shepherd and we as the sheep [John 10:11].  We have Him as the Father and us as the child [Luke 15].  We also have Him as the groom and us as the bride [Revelation 21].  Now, I want to take these four images and talk about them in relation to our suffering. 

Most Christians, when they talk about the love of God, want not real, exacting love.  They want a disinterested grandpa who simply wants the children, "to be happy in what they are doing."  But that is not real love.  Real love desires the best for the object of their love.  For example, if a potter is approached by a boy that he has only a cursory relationship with, and that boy wants the potter to make a pot, the potter may oblige the boy.  Yet, it will most probably not be his best work.  The boy is easily pleased with a simple pot - and the potter will make it.  He will make the pot, give the boy the pot, and the boy will go away happy.  All is well.

Yet, if the potter wants to produce his best work, he will painstakingly make the pot.  Those things that are not right in the creation of the pot will be put right.  The pot will be intricate.  The pot will be special.  The potter will sweat in order to create it correct.  All those that see his prized pot will marvel at the beauty of it all. 

Yet, if the pot were sentient, I wonder what the pot would say during the molding process.  At what point would the pot say, "ok...that's enough!  That's good enough already!"  The pot, during the process, may even question the goodness of the potter and his exacting nature.

The same might go with a puppy.  [Many of our readers do not own sheep - so the puppy illustration is one that C.S. Lewis used and I like.]  If the puppy had an adult human mind, the puppy may be confused about the goodness of the master.  He does not let the puppy pee where it wants.  He does not let the puppy play and, "nip" at the children.  He may even cage the puppy from time to time.  He will give the puppy shots and vet visits.  But the master will also play with the puppy. [The fact that puppies do not have adult human minds is why they are so happy no matter what we do :)]  Yet, the old, wise dog, who lives with the master and has seen his contemporary wild dogs die off young knows that the hard work the master put in in the beginning was worth it.

So also a son.  We have all met adult children.  [Those who numerically have reached adulthood and yet still often act and behave as children.]  We have seen how unattractive they are in character.  What good Father would want such a thing?  No good father.  This is why the good father both loves, and corrects and disciplines, his child. 

The husband is often most critical with his wife.  This is not good.  Yet, I do believe I know the motivation from a Christian husband.  He loves his wife more than any other girl.  The petty selfishness or irritations that he may see in other women he overlooks because he cares less for them - but from his wife he wants her to be the most beautiful, most well-spoken woman there is. 

In a sinful world suffering is necessary.  I cannot imagine a sinful world and a loving God without it.  We must be refined. 

What gives me all the hope in the world is we have a suffering God - who went through it all with us - and for us.  He lived on this earth.  He died our sinners' death.  He rose again to bring us to Him.  Refine me Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

#24 - The world does not know. Go and make disciples of all nations....[Matthew 28:19]

I went to church tonight.  As usual, Jesus was present in His Word.  We sang songs.  We heard the Word.  We had fellowship.  We also had a visiting young lady.  She is a teenager.  And tonight I had the opportunity to speak with her.  The experience was good - and also enlightening. 

You see, I still think that many Christians assume that the story of Jesus is being told to our younger generation.  In many cases it is not.  In many, many cases it is not. 

You see, this young lady enjoyed our service very much.  She commented how nice everyone was and how wonderful it was to be there.  She came to church for a different reason other than to worship the Lord.  The reason is not important.  What is important to this story is that she came - and she did not know about the Lord. 

I told her about how much God loves her.  I told her about our mutual sin problem.  I told her about how our sin separates us from God.  I told her that this separation has dire consequences - that if not set right we would be punished for our sin.  I told her about how God rectified this disastrous situation through the death of His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  And then I told her that Jesus rose again from the dead to defeat death.  It is at this point that she audibly laughed.  She did not laugh to be rude.  She did not laugh to demean this truth.  She did not laugh because she wanted to mock.  She laughed because she honestly thought that at this point I was joking.  Basically, "ok....I got the whole someone died for me...but someone rising from the dead???  he he....."  When I told her I was serious she stopped laughing and in an authentic way kind of apologized for the laugh. 

You see, she had never - ever - heard about the story of Jesus.  She did not know that Easter was the story of Jesus rising from the dead.  The eyes are the window to the soul - and she was as authentic as anyone I have seen.  She really had never heard this news.  With a church on every corner, in the midst of all the airwaves, she had never heard.

I told her the good news.  She said she believed what I had told her.  She said she would be back.  I want to follow up with her.  But she is not the only one.  What I have noticed is that too many of us in America assume that our neighbor knows this wonderful truth.  We must stop this.  The world does not know.  America, in many ways, does not know.  Many of the churches we assume are full of believers on Sunday are not.  Many, sadly, sit half-empty.  Many churches are shutting their doors.  Many of the, "successful" churches no longer share the story of God's wrath towards the sinner and His grace given in Christ.  The world, simply put, does not know the story of God's love in Christ. 

But if you do, let me tell you, go.  Go to your neighbor.  Go to the person next to you at work.  Go to your family member.  Tell them.  Tell them the story of God's wrath - and grace.  Tell them how good He is.  When you do, you will be surprised how many simply do not know. 

It is a privilege to tell people of the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Please, take that privilege seriously.  Amen.
#23 - fear
·         18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. [1st John 4:18]

      Is there anything that you are afraid of?  Some people are afraid of spiders, snakes, and other various things.  Some of our fears are relatively innocuous - like fear of spiders and like things.  However, other of our fears cause us to act in ways that are terribly dangerous.  

     Sometimes we fear losing our job.  This fear often makes us act in compromising ways.  I had a friend tell me that his particular job asked him to, "cook the books" because they were being audited.  The boss told him that the business would have to shut down unless my friend created some of these accounting scams and everyone would lose their job.  My friend did it.  [He told me all of this well after the point]  When he told me this it was amazingly sad.  But what drove him to do this?  Fear.  Fear that he would lose his job.  Fear that his refusal would cause others' to lose their job.  Fear often causes us to compromise.

      Another situation is relationships.  We sometimes are afraid of how others' will react to truth - and therefore we will fall to the temptation to lie.  Under the guise of, "not wanting to hurt another's feelings" we will tell people what we think they want to hear - instead of the truth.  We are afraid of confrontation so we do not confront.  We simply stew - like a pot - until we blow.  

      Fear is an ugly thing.  Fear can make us do very ugly things.  And I think if we are honest we are afraid of more things than we put on.  We are afraid of losing people in our lives.  We are afraid of things that may happen to our family, we are afraid of what may happen to us.  All along the devil laughs....

      The above Scripture says that there is no fear in love.  Primarily of course this is talking about God; for we no longer have to fear the wrath of God due our sin because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty.  He has taken the full cup of the wrath of God Almighty upon Himself so that we no longer have to taste this.  If we possess authentic faith in Jesus Christ then there is no stored punishment awaiting us - we have only the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit - both now and in eternity to revel in. 

      However, this truth ought to impact our every day lives as well.  For my friend that compromised his ethics in his job.  He needs to trust that God has his best interests in heart; and yes, he may have lost his job - but God would still provide.  For those afraid of confrontation - in a godly way we can confront - knowing that both you and the individual we confront will be better off in the long run instead of the lies.  We do not need to fear losing people - for we will always have God and His Son Jesus.  

      Let us not live in fear.  May God's love cast it out.  Amen. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

#22 Be still and know that I am God. [Psalm 46:10]

It was about a month ago.  My father-in-law arrived home from the hospital.  He is still ill but the insurance would no longer cover his rehabilitative hospital stay.  Therefore, one family member a week agreed to go over to the house and stay with dad and care for him.  Physical and Occupational Therapy would still come to the home and work with dad; however, we still needed to be there.

The past three Monday's have been days where I go over to my In-Law's house and spend time with dad.  We get him up, eat together, talk, pray, and do the things that dad needs done.

Now, I am going to be honest in this blog this afternoon.  When I first heard that I was going to go over once a week and care for dad I was...shall I say....less than enthused? But the Lord reminded me of something that we have been going through in our church throughout Lent - a little book entitled, "Why Give" written by John Devries.  The main thrust of the book is that God is a giver - He gave us all, especially and most notably His Son.  Therefore, in response and in collaboration with the Lord, we are called to be givers.

I was reminded of this principle...and hesitatingly agreed to go over once a week.  Now, I have to tell you something - Monday is absolutely a day that I look forward to now.  Dad is funny.  I enjoy spending time with him.  And do you want to know one of the greatest parts of my Monday?  My phone gets no service in his home or neighborhood.  What this means is that I cannot spend the time just calling people and getting, "work" done.  I just spend time with dad.

Today we took a walk through his neighborhood.  It is hard work getting dad out of the house.  His entire left side is, I would say, 90% immobilized.  His mind is all there - but he simply cannot use his left side.  Therefore, to get him out of the house we have to help him transfer from the chair to a wheelchair at the bottom of the steps.  Then transfer him from the wheelchair to the Ameriglide stair lift to get him up the stairs.  Then from the stair lift back to a wheelchair and then out of the house.  It is difficult to do.

Yet, today is a gorgeous day in Maryland.  My phone did not work, I was not distracted, and we just spend about one hour walking through his neighborhood.  We stopped and smelled flowers.  We listened to birds.  We talked with neighbors.  It was a God moment.  No distractions.  No interruptions.  Just me, dad, and the Lord taking a walk.  We spoke about God and faith.  We talked about his determination to get back to walking again.

Dad is happy to be home.  I am glad he is home too.  I am glad that the insurance company refused in-hospital rehabilitation care.  If it did not, I would not have been able to get to know my Father-In-Law better - and I would not be able to appreciate this, "Be Still" moment with God.

I live in Maryland.  My brother and mother took the brunt of care-giving for my father who passed away from Alzheimers.  This is my first real extended caregiving experience.  And I see God through it all.

My goal in this blog is simple - say yes.  Say yes when someone asks you to give.  You never know how the Lord will bless you in giving.  Amen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

#21 Time, "Before a word is on my lips you know it completely, O Lord." [Psalm 139:4]

I want to talk about something that I do not think many contemplate - time.  What is time?  Our language is built around the subject matter [we have past, present, and future tenses], we are absolutely governed by it [we talk of our past, present, and future] and we live within it all our lives.  Yet, I do not think that I have ever encountered a good description of what time is.  We cannot define it.  When you look the word, "time" up in the dictionary you usually only get a definition of what time does - not what time is.  You will read something along the lines of, "it is the succession of seconds, minutes, days, and years..."  Which of course only tells us how we measure time - it tells us nothing of what time is. 

But we do know that time is real.  We cannot visit yesterday.  We cannot jump to tomorrow.  Time is real.  And if it is a real thing, it is a created thing.  And if it is a created thing, then God created it.  And if God created it, He is above it. 

What I am getting at is something I do not think many Christians recognize.  We talk about God being present everywhere - and we are right.  He is present in all places at all times.  Yet, due to our dependence on this time/space universe we think about God, "seeing" into the future or, "looking back" into the past.  This is inadequate. 

When God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush He told Moses the name that He should be called, "I AM."  This is because with God there is no such thing as a future or past - God is eternally present. 

For example, if time is a line ----------------------------------------------------------------------------like this - and every dash is a moment in time, then if you are reading this you represent God.  He sees the line all at once.  He does not live, "in the line" like you and I do. 

The implication of such a thing is that when God said, "let there be light" He was simultaneously experiencing the return of Christ and the marriage supper of the Lamb in glory.  He is, right now, [so to speak] experiencing you in heaven [if you believe].  God does not need a fast-forward or rewind button.  It is not simply that God, "knows" the future - He is in the future, "right now."  So when we read a prophecy it is not simply because God sees what is going to happen - He is experiencing that future now. 

This brings comfort to me.  For when the Scripture says, "He who began a good work will complete it unto the day of Christ" I know that God is already experiencing me in glory.  Thank you Lord!  Amen.