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Thursday
Oct172019

Putting Martha In Her Place

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.” Luke 10:41 (NKJV)

Martha meant well.  Perceptive, industrious and efficient, her hospitality instincts kicked in big-time, especially with guests as renowned as Jesus coming to her house.  She also possessed a bit of a control freak streak, a trait that made her resent her sister, Mary, for not helping her.  Her complaint to Jesus bordered on petulance, but Christ’s gentle rebuke turned the focus away from Martha’s myopia to Mary’s worship.  No, Jesus did not reject or eliminate Martha’s ministry; instead, He prioritized Mary’s sensitivity as the primary reason for His visit.  Marth’s passion was nice, but not critical.  Mary’s attentiveness to Jesus, however, could not be dismissed.  

Martha’s spirit drives much of today’s missionality of the church.  Denominations have expanded the horizon of the church’s reach to include all things secular—environmentalism, ecological concerns, continuing education, faith-based initiatives, recreational regimens, aerobics, coffee klatches, dance studios and wide-ranging social programs.  Secularists have redefined the church to embrace a temporal agenda, and many church leaders, having lost their way spiritually and theologically, have willingly re-shaped the church’s role in the world to conform to non-church ideologues.  You can get your car fixed, buy groceries, get your taxes done, and you can even lose weight in many misnamed houses of worship today.  Secularism’s proboscis has wiggled its way under the tent and pushed until the whole camel got inside.  Now, Mary’s worship signals a throwback to primeval times when “old-time religion” was in its heyday.  

But, when Martha succeeds, Mary finds herself on the doorstep.  When Martha succeeds, the mission of Jesus looks like better banquets, finer facilities and highly efficient programs.  The world, in fact, is ecstatic with Martha’s church. It hates Mary’s naïve focus on the worship and word of the Master.  If the trend continues, Christ’s purpose in the incarnation to “seek and to save that which was lost” will become an asterisk to the church.  The true church must resist this evolving reformation.  We may not reject or eliminate parachurch ministries or eliminate socially sensitive programs, but we cannot allow them to incorporate the sole reason for our existence.  We must reaffirm the priority of the church to be spiritual in nature, evangelizing the lost and winning souls to Christ.    

Wag the Dog.  In the familiar metaphor of the tail wagging the dog, the secondary or tangential ministries of the church have morphed into its perceived purpose.  Rather than the standard-bearer of the gospel, the church is now a social justice warrior, an advocate for physical and mental health, an activist for the “woke” culture and a facilitator for ecumenism.  Insofar as the church stakes its claim as society’s conscience, these endeavors may have merit.  Whenever such roles displace the founding impulse of the church, however, the byproduct eclipses the primary function of the church.  As I have argued before, 

“All of these philanthropic causes are extremely important, but to make the alleviation of social ills our primary mission subverts the calling of the church. We are in the business of saving souls. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26.

The gospel message is eternal, not temporal. If we stop all wars, eliminate all poverty, feed all the hungry and cure all diseases, and yet do not lead people to Christ, then we will have failed in our true mission. If, however, we succeed in turning people to Christ, their lives will be infinitely better. Jesus stated this principle in forceful terms. “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” Matthew 18:8-9.  “Everyday Jesus.”

Jesus is the Architect.  Notwithstanding the foregoing assertions, the church remains a complex institution.  When Jesus announced, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” He did not have a cave or a shed in mind.  Indeed, the word “build” comes from the Greek word “oikodomeo,” which literally means “housebuilder.”  Builders of houses know that the project is not done when the walls and roof go up.  Plumbing, electrical work, HVAC, drywall, paint, carpet, and so on still need to be completed.  Likewise, the church beautifully illustrates the plan of a Master Designer.  He has designed the church to satisfy the plenary needs of all He places within its sheltering arms. 

The church in the Bible fulfilled many roles as fleshed out in numerous accounts.  The church is a “city set on a hill,” a “shining light that must not be hidden,” a “sheepfold,” a wayside “inn” to care for the sick and wounded, a “house of prayer,” and many other metaphors describe Christ’s multifaceted church.  It is not one-dimensional.  His vision went far beyond a singular broadcasting station for the good news of salvation.  The church is as colorful as its constituents, as varied as the manifest needs of society, and as resilient as the agape love of its Creator.  

But all the varied components of the church service one central purpose: the worship of the one, true and living God!  As enthralled as Martha may be with the interesting complexities of the church, she is wrong to allow anything to overshadow the primary reason for its existence.  We must put Martha in her place.  Mary chose the best part.  If we lose the focus of Mary, we lose our very purpose. 

Wednesday
Sep112019

You know you’re a grandfather when . . .

The only time you enjoy spending money is on your grandkids.

You seldom play golf unless your grandkids are playing.

You’re only happy to answer the phone when your grandkids call.

The only people who touch your hair are the barber and grandkids.

You look forward to recitals when your grandkids are performing.

You pay attention to your grandkids grade reports.

Until your grandkids came along, you hated stories about kids.

You don’t get upset when your grandkids mess up your clothes.

You laugh at any joke your grandkids tell.

You let your grandkids laugh at your clothes or hairstyle.

You never talked like a baby until you had grandkids.

You scold anyone who criticizes your grandkids.

You never held a baby more than a minute until you had grandkids.

You never watched a baby breathe until you had grandkids.

You insist on hearing any news about your grandkids.

Your grandkids parents never treat them good enough.

No cheap toys will work for your grandkids.

No one is smarter or better looking than your grandkids.

You never prayed more passionately until you had grandkids.

If these things are true, you have earned the title of grandfather!

Wednesday
Sep042019

God's Covert Operations

“In that day shall the branch of the LORD be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence. And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain. Isaiah 4:2-6 (KJV)

In terms of human behavior, “overt” is simply BLATANT and “out in the open” - where “covert” is HIDDEN and done discreetly or secretly. Overt behavior is any bodily action that persons can directly and sensorially observe. Some examples of overt behavior include walking, dancing, running, using body language such as hand gestures and facial expressions.  “Covert behavior is any mental, social, or physical action or practice that is not immediately observable. Some examples of covert behavior include deception and lying, systemic discriminatory practices against certain social groups, and political candidates omitting important information to make their case seem strong. (Quora)

In terms of military operations, a covert operation is a military operation intended to conceal the identity of (or allow plausible denial by) the sponsor and intended to create a political effect which can have implications in the military, intelligence or law enforcement arenas—affecting either the internal population of a country or individuals … (Wikipedia)

Operation Paperclip was a secret program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) largely carried out by Special Agents of Army CIC, in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, such as Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, were taken from Germany to America for U.S. government employment, primarily between 1945 and 1959. Many were former members, and some were former leaders, of the Nazi Party.[1][2]  The primary purpose for Operation Paperclip was U.S. military advantage in the Soviet–American Cold War, and the Space Race. The Soviet Union was more aggressive in forcibly recruiting more than 2,200 German specialists—a total of more than 6,000 people including family members—with Operation Osoaviakhim during one night on October 22, 1946.[3] (Wikipedia)

God’s Covert Operations or Blessings in Disguise

It is my strong conviction and contention that serving God incurs benefits and blessings that seem to have little or no direct relationship to your service.  In other words, God’s people are far more blessed that they think they are!  We literally have no idea what all God protects us from, what the sources of our blessings really are, or the benefits that redound to us and our families by adherence to God’s Word.  

When we “wander off the reservation,” or we cast aside restraints that seem to be useless vestiges of the past, or we reinterpret spiritual principles and doctrines to conform to modern, progressive thought, we expose ourselves to dangers that God never willed or wanted for us.  Our problem is that rebellion against authority is deeply ingrained in the human spirit, and when we grow carnal or cold, that tendency charges to the forefront with a vengeance.  

 “Selfies have become a matter of life and death — and no, that’s not just an exaggerated pronouncement from your Instagram-obsessed teen.  In recent weeks alone, selfies have been credited with saving at least one Michigander, and blamed for killing a 32-year-old woman who fell to her death while visiting Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula as she took photos near a 200-foot cliff. 

“New research identified 259 other deaths worldwide in the past six years related to selfies, of which more than a million are taken a day.  “Everybody is trying to be somebody on the Internet,” said Norman Irvin, a 28-year-old Detroiter who regularly posts selfies on his various Facebook accounts. “You take a picture of yourself, your crew, and hope you get a few likes. The more dangerous the selfie, the more likes you get.”  As a result, he said, people try to do extra getting a pic next to a Tiger or bungee jumping off a bridge.  His riskiest selfie ever: A snap while on a Cedar Point roller coaster.” Detroit Free Press, 10/3/2018. 

These people temporarily suspended the blessing of common sense.  Their desire for something novel or dangerous made them think they were immune to the laws of gravity or the nature of wild animals.  In the same way, people cavalierly dismiss the warnings of Scripture to give in to carnal or sinful impulses.  Slavish obedience seems oppressive; in reality, it protects, preserves and strengthens our lives.

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26 (KJV)

God often reveals His PURPOSE BUT conceals His methods.

And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.  Exodus 15:26 (KJV)

Prevention of disease was God’s purpose, but one of His methods was the simple act of washing. 

Washing.  (Mark 7:1-9). The Jews, like other Orientals, used their fingers when taking food, and therefore washed their hands before doing so, for the sake of cleanliness. Here the reference is to the ablutions prescribed by tradition, according to which “the disciples ought to have gone down to the side of the lake, washed their hands thoroughly, ‘rubbing the fist of one hand in the hollow of the other, then placed the ten finger-tips together, holding the hands up, so that any surplus water might flow down to the elbow, and thence to the ground.’” To neglect to do this had come to be regarded as a great sin, a sin equal to the breach of any of the ten commandments. Moses had commanded washings oft, but always for some definite cause; but the Jews multiplied the legal observance till they formed a large body of precepts.  Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.

Remember, this was long before microbes and bacteria were discovered by scientific research.  People thought that disease came from miasma, or a noxious form of bad air, an offensive smell or night air.  But God knew what the real source was, so he commanded that the people wash often.  Had they substituted God’s word with their human wisdom and human experience, they would never have troubled themselves with inconvenient, laborious and time-consuming washing. The fact that it became a meaningless ritual by the Pharisees does not diminish the original benefit of God’s command.

Many other Hebrew laws extended benefits to the people that were hard to trace back to the source.  They had the ten commandments, plus dietary laws, clothing laws, planting laws, harvesting laws, animal husbandry laws, sexual behavior laws, cleanliness laws, laws concerning the care of the dead, infectious disease laws, laws governing human waste, and a host of other laws, rules, commandments and statutes.  Although they may not have understood it at the time, every one of those laws constructed a barrier to something disastrous or damaging to the lives of individuals and of society in general.

The Covert Blessings in the New Testament

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 (KJV)

  1. Fornication ()
  2. Idolatry (Athletes, rock stars, entertainers)
  3. Effeminacy (Gender dysphoria, all matters related to LGBTQ issues)
  4. Thievery (Abolition of personal property rights)
  5. Covetous (Disappearance of loyalty, faithfulness, respect of others)
  6. Alcoholism (Dozens of physical and psychological problems)
  7. Reviling (Public shaming, twitter feuds, selective hatred, scorning)
  8. Extortion (Bribery, threatening, blackmail, force)  

Paul continues to expound on this subject.  12  All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. He probably refers to dietary laws, meaning that he is not condemned before God to eat certain meats, but he doesn’t feel they are beneficial for him.  He definitely preaches against substance abuse or addictions. 

The Apostle elaborates on the sin of fornication.  Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.  And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.  Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 

All of these prohibitions contain a hidden blessing.  While the world looks at them as restrictions on normal human behavior (and therefore justifiable), God tells us that to indulge in these acts hurts us, but to avoid them translates into blessing and preservation. 

The blessings of a holiness lifestyle

Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 20:7 (KJV) 

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 Peter 1:13-16 (KJV) 

And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. Revelation 22:10-12 (NKJV)

  1. Alcohol
  2. Tobacco
  3. Substance abuse
  4. Self abuse
  5. Immodest dress
  6. Worldliness
  7. Hair
  8. Language
  9. Media
  10. Conflict, violence
  11. Disobedience

Prohibitions against these behaviors (and more) seem to some as legalistic, oppressive, or even silly.  But if you remove the restraints of each standard and follow them out to their logical conclusion, they end in heartache and disaster.  Rather than offensive restrictions, we must look at them as God-given protections acting as preventative measures against harm to the body and soul. 

Final Illustration

A few weeks ago, I had a company come out to my house to trim several branches from the trees that had threatened the house and hindered mowing the grass.  They ran the branches through a chipper and did a great job cleaning up the yard from all the debris.  Two days later, a storm moved through with lightening and high winds.  The next morning, I look out and saw many branches in the yard, evidently blown down by the wind.  It made no sense.  I just had all the excess branches lopped off.  The ones that remained should have been secure.  What happened?  The branches that the tree guys took down were shielding the other branches against the storm.  When they were taken away, it exposed the trees to winds that they had always been protected from.  The law of unintended consequences was in full display. 

Likewise, when you lop off some prohibition, some restraint, some seemingly silly doctrine, you eliminate the protection that they provided for the individual, the family, the church and the community.  When we use the human logic of “what good is this?” or “that seems so silly,” and disobey a scriptural command—even if we don’t fully understand why it’s there—we expose our lives to dangers that we never saw coming. 

“To whom then will you liken Me, Or to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, And speak, O Israel: “My way is hidden from the LORD, And my just claim is passed over by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:25-28 (NKJV)

Sunday
Aug042019

Commiseration

Okay, let’s run the full gamut of clichés.  You’ve got a burr under your saddle, a bee in your bonnet, a thorn in your side, an axe to grind, a bone to pick, a fly in your ointment, your hair’s on fire, you’re ready to bite someone’s head off … you get the picture.  You’re somewhere between mildly ticked off to flat-out furious.  You don’t like what is happening, but neither are you hankering for a full confrontation.  At the same time, you can’t get over it.  So, what do you do?  You look around for someone who feels just like you do! 

Commiseration feels so good!  When you risk voicing your complaints about the situation and find an understanding spirit, a listening ear, an affirming attitude, an agreeing mind, you wallow in vindication.  Ye-e-e-s-s-s-s!  I’m not crazy after all! “See, honey?  (to your spouse). She (or he) feels like I do! It’s not just me!”  People who seek commiseration never question their core attitude.  They seldom, if ever, sift through their applecart to see if a rotten apple is lodged somewhere in their heart.  It’s never them.  They dismiss or ignore anyone who disagrees with them.  (They’re brainwashed, they’re not sophisticated enough to understand, they have a vested interest in what’s going on, they’re clueless).  They keep looking until they spy a friendly face, someone sympathetic with their aggravated spirit. 

Then, when two people team up to share their beefs, it’s not hard to get a third person involved.  The third party thinks that if these two feel the same way, the issue must be legit.  At their prompting, he or she begins to see things that formerly went unnoticed.  Criticisms that never occurred before materialize out of nowhere, and soon, a negative spirit takes over.  As such, commiseration that starts out by venting, expressing a hurt or asking a not-so-innocent question grows into a faction, a movement or a mutiny.  The murmuring Israelites, the evil spies, the fickle crowds who left Jesus and a host of other Bible examples prove the point.  “Don’t be fooled by those who say such things. If you listen to them you will start acting like them.” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (TLB). 

When you feel offended, you should check your own spirit first.  Why do you feel this way?  Are you just resisting change?  Is an insubordinate spirit being exposed?  Are you nursing a grudge?  Has your pride been wounded?  Remember the true test of submission comes when you are asked to do something you don’t want to do.  The last thing you should do is run to a sympathizer.  You need to be challenged, not mollified.  “Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:22-23 (NKJV).  Jesus’ sharp rebuke of Peter could have been offensive, but Peter needed the correction.  Whenever you resist correction, whether actively or passively, you fall into the hands of the devil.   

Don’t seek commiseration.  Ask for truth.  Rebellion against authority never wins.  If something needs to be changed in the matter, enter into private prayer about it and let it go no further.  Seek out godly, prayerful counsel.  Keep your spirit pure and your will submissive.  You may find out that the entire scenario was different than you first surmised. 

Friday
Aug022019

Unbelief: The Lurker

The term “lurker” has now entered the spotlight via social media.  It refers to someone who logs onto a website or a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter but does not interact or post.  Lurkers like anonymity.  They typically don’t want anyone to know they’re online.  They don’t announce their presence.  If they do make a comment, it will most likely be under an assumed name.  They know who you are, but keep their own identity secret. 

In a recent sermon, the preacher focused on the phenomenon of unbelief.  The more he described unbelief, the more I saw it as a lurker, hiding in the shadows of the mind, slipping into camouflage, posing as something far more noble and respectable than its ugly self.  In its many disguises, unbelief can swagger around with fake credibility.  It can situate itself in the middle of bona fide spiritual traits like faithfulness, orthodox doctrine and spiritual giftedness.  It can enjoy accolades and even admiration from those who innocently succumb to its deception. 

One of unbelief’s go-to disguises looks like intellectual inquiry.  “I’m just trying to understand …”  I want to check out some other commentaries, lexicons and theological authors …” “I’m wondering if we have interpreted this accurately …”  While scholarly pursuits may be fine after one believes, a person never believes as a result of carnal, egotistical endeavors.  Faith comes first!  “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV).  If study created belief, seminaries would be hotbeds of revival.  They’re not. They’re cold dungeons of cynicism. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NKJV) 

Another favorite—albeit unsuspected—cranny for unbelief to hide is caution.  “I’m very careful of what I believe.”  “I like to wait and see what happens.”  “I always talk to my friends and find out what they think before I make a decision.”  Those statements really emerge out of unbelief.  All you need to believe is the Word of God.  Jesus charged the Pharisees with unbelief when they refused to take Him at His word.   “But because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me.  Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” John 8:45-47 (NKJV) 

Yet another excuse for unbelief is bandwagon enthusiasm.  “I’ve been fooled before, so I don’t jump at everything that comes along promising pie-in-the-sky rewards.” “Whenever everybody jumps at something, I get skeptical.”  “I never go along with the crowd.”  This premise is false on its face.  If someone yells “Fire!” in an arena, this same person would most likely head for the exit along with everyone else.  In the case of reticence to embrace God’s Word, unbelief drives the action, not healthy skepticism.  

Expose your unbelief.  Don’t let it hide behind its many masks.  Call it out.  Don’t encourage, enable or prolong its existence in your life.  It is not innocent.  It is an evil motivation that must be identified, not protected.  “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Hebrews 3:12 (KJV).  As long as you call it something other than what it really is, you will fail to rid yourself of its influence.  

Let Abraham, mighty in faith, serve as your example.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he steadfastly  clung to his faith.  “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” Romans 4:16 (KJV) 

“Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.” Romans 4:18-21 (KJV)

Like Abraham’s era, these times call for strong faith.  Devote yourself to the Word of God.  Let it be enough.  Expel the lurker!

Wednesday
Jul242019

The Great Significance Swap

 

Staring intently at the iPad, my four-year-old grandson would swipe his finger across the screen every one or two seconds.  After several swipes, he would raise his head and announce in a matter-of-fact voice, “He died.”  Down his head would go again.  Process repeated, ad infinitum. 

I don’t want to make too much of this, but it did strike me as revealing.  Have we trivialized the solemn significance of death until it is on par with a video game booboo?  Yes, we have.  Virtual reality has become just as real as actual people, events and circumstances.  Even gamers and cyberspace experts are starting to warn the world about this danger. Cody Lewis, writing in www.resourcemagonline.com cautions us, “The emerging world of virtual reality is not only providing a new, fully immersive gaming experience, but creating new ways for people to see the world. Whether it’s a virtual reality airlines out of Japan or a way to bring excitement to exercise, people are finding innovative and exciting ways to use the technology.  The problem, however, is that we don’t know its long-term effects on either the body or the mind. We are in a wait-and-see situation. That’s frightening, but we are also in a similar situation with smartphones, so what can you do?”  

The virtual reality concern, in my view, is only symptomatic of a larger problem.  Our political climate has poisoned the minds of many into a state of inversion about life.  I call it a significance swap.  We now value things once thought to be trash and trash things once thought to be valuable; we celebrate the silly and denigrate greatness; we elevate the inconsequential and ridicule the truly significant; we laugh at real danger and fear safety.  It’s an insane progression that leads to eventual catastrophe—sooner rather than later.  Years ago, Tony Campolo asked the question, “Who switched the price tags?”  He said that we have made the expensive cheap and the cheap expensive.  As you might imagine, we could go deep into this phenomenon, but in this piece, I want to lay the case out in a brief way just to get the conversation started. 

Examine the following propositions.  Each of them deserves elaboration, but I believe that they hold a kernel of truth despite their skeletal format.  It would be fairly easy to find illustrations all around us that proves the point. 

·       Words over deeds. 

·       Feelings over facts.

·       Youth over age.

·       Visceral over thoughtful.

·       Specious over sensible.

·       Short term over long term.

·       Perception over reality.

·       Symbolism over substance.

·       Convenience over difficulty.

·       Quick over time-consuming.

·       Planning over executing.

·       Temporary over permanence.

·       Superficiality over depth.

·       Wishing over working.

·       Illusion over truth.

·       Spectacular over ordinary.

·       Fun over joy.

·       Skepticism over faith.

·       Patronism over loyalty.

·       Chaos over order.

·       Loud over soft.

·       Flesh over spirit.

·       Running over standing.

·       Getting over giving.

·       Like over love.

·       Me over you. 

I believe that the second word or phrase in each couplet holds much greater significance over the first.  Somehow, we have been conned into the opposite position and the systemic problems we now experience in our society demonstrate the folly of the move.  As you look over these contentions, how do you fare?  Are you falling for the ruse of conventional wisdom or can you cut through the noise and get a clear vision of reality?  A challenge like this is a mere intellectual exercise unless you have the courage to do something about it in your personal life.

Monday
Jun102019

Leave Me Alone

So, you’re your own person, right?  You should be able to do whatever you want to do?  Everybody else can go jump in a lake.  Nobody has the right to tell you what to do, where to go and how to live.  Isn’t this the message of Hollywood? Isn’t this what movies, books, magazines, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, feminists, radicals and progressives have been cramming down our collective throat for decades?  You know it’s true.  You just may not be aware of the consequences.  Think again.   

Two diametrically opposed philosophies present themselves to us.  Either you are your own person or else you are not your own.  Either you live for yourself alone, or you acquiesce to the opinions of others.  One is independence, the other is interdependence.  You cannot have it both ways.  Of course, it can get complicated.  Gray areas, blurred lines and unspoken laws cloud our vision.  But when you step back far enough to take in the whole picture, things begin to make sense.   

The thing is, if you follow total personal independence out to its logical conclusion, the impact can be devastating.  If you really are your own person with no obligations to anyone except yourself, then family falls apart, friends flee, community suffers, and society unravels. You can buck societal norms all you want, you can thumb your nose at family honor, community standards and cultural pride, but you simultaneously unleash a backlash that will undoubtably rock your world.  If you drive a nail into the bottom of the boat, everything sinks. 

Case in point.  “A Vietnamese fashion designer and model is facing punishment in her home country for wearing a skimpy dress in France, some 9,000 miles away.  According to a report, Ngoc Trinh, 29, wore the flimsy, see-through black gown at the Cannes Film Festival in May. ‘Her outfit was improper, offensive and has caused public outrage,’ Nguyen Ngoc Thien, Vietnam’s minister of culture, sports and tourism, said afterward, according to the Sun. The minister ordered an investigation into whether Trinh violated Vietnam’s public decency laws by wearing the dress—even though she did so far from home. If guilty, she could face a heavy fine, the Sun reported.”  www.foxnews.com, 6/9/19. (I won’t include a photo here for obvious reasons.)

It would seem that this Vietnamese model, half a world away, had the right to wear the clothes she wanted, to enjoy herself, and express her personal tastes.  But she also represented a country, a culture and a way of life that defined her as a person.  Her audacious choice of clothing turned into a disconnect from her roots.  And here is the problem.  Absolute independence requires a monumental sacrifice.  One must separate from everything that gives meaning to his or her life in order to freely indulge in any whim, desire, impulse or urge.   

Some say, “Well, I don’t care!  I don’t care what anybody else thinks.  I’m not going to live my life by someone else’s rules!” Those who really think this way will have to retreat into isolation to live a reclusive life.  We cannot live in society without paying homage to culture, customs, laws, styles and common values.  Why?  Is it not culture that provides the seasoning, the uniqueness, the fascinating flavors of life?  As a frequent traveler to many countries, I always look forward to experiencing the uniqueness in each venue of the world.  The architecture, the dress, the language, the food, the landscape, the scenery and the personalities of the people infuse my wanderings with intriguing interest.  When I look out of the window of the plane or walk out on the street in front of my hotel only to see McDonald’s, Starbucks or Wal-marts, I am totally turned off. I want to see the distinctiveness of Greece, or Chilé, or Hong Kong, Israel or Korea.  Those cultures can only be perpetuated by the loyalty and connectedness that each member hold sacred. 

The Bible teaches us that we are not our own.  When we enter into the body of Christ, we forfeit our own will and adopt the values and sacred traditions of God.  The Message Bible puts it this way: “Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So, let people see God in and through your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (MSG) Those who inject foreign customs and ideas into the church engage in subversion and fraud.  The worst kind of “cultural appropriation” involves those who claim Christianity but believe and behave in blatant anti-Biblical ways.  

You want to be left alone?  Play the maverick.  You’ll get love from yourself and from those who make financial or political gain from supporting you. 

Thursday
Jun062019

Start Small, Grow Tall

“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” SS 2:15  

“Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.” James 3:4  

Let’s talk about real life, about where we live, walk, talk and think on a daily basis.  Most of us don’t live on a grand scale, we don’t deal with billions of dollars, we don’t crisscross the globe every week on jumbo jets. 

Scalability 

We consider ourselves common, ordinary, average people who are just living our lives in day-to-day routines, with average expectations, and ordinary outcomes.  The problem is that we have a mindset known as scalability.  It is an engineering term, and also a computer-designing terms that reflects the ability of a process to expand or decrease to meet demand levels.  

According to www.lifewire.com, “Scalable — or scalability — is a term most often encountered in the business/finance world, typically applied to a process, product, model, service, system, data size, or activity. It’s a question of growth that evaluates important criteria in order to determine feasibility and value for any given product or service.  When someone asks, “Can it scale?” they want to know how well the manufacturing or service process can be expanded or shrunk to meet different requirements, such as: Greater demand, Reduced demand, Sudden power outages or other types of output problems, Time to market, Return on investment.” 

Now, let’s apply this concept of scalability to you.  For example, if you have a growing family, say going from one to four kids, it changes the way you shop for groceries, the time you spend cooking, the way you apportion your dishes, not to mention the money you spend, especially as they get older.  The recipes don’t change, but the size and amount of the ingredients change.  (We’re not even getting into the housing space you need, the gas and electric you use, the clothes you buy, the amount of washing you do, the number of Christmas presents you need, and on and on.) 

And then, there’s the empty-nest syndrome.  When the kids get older and move out, you start scaling back.  It messes up some people.  They know how to cook for an army; they don’t know how to cook for two people.  And when some families are reduced to one person, many of you don’t like to cook at all!  It seems that when the scale gets too small, life loses its luster, food doesn’t taste as good, nice clothes don’t seem as important, taking care of things don’t drive your activity and desire as they once did.  

As a matter of fact, when many people reach this stage, they rapidly start to decline in their health, their hygiene, their social activities and their interest in life in general.  They don’t take care of themselves as they should because they lose incentive.  When something is big, it seems important.  When something is too small, it doesn’t matter.  

Divine Metrics 

God has never operated on a scalability basis.  He has never put truth on some sort of metric.  His scale is absolute.  He doesn’t place truth into context, that if things were important enough, or the stakes were high enough, or the outcome was powerful enough, or if the people were high-profile enough, then He would place more emphasis on being truthful.  No.  In God’s economy, truth is truth, false is false, sin is sin, right is right, love is love, hate is hate, good is good, evil is evil, no matter the scale in which it exists. 

Consider Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah:  “And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:23-25  

Abraham’s prayer went from fifty down to ten, and each time God agreed to grant his request.  Notice in this passage, that God did not place a number on his willingness to grant deliverance or mercy.  He did not gauge his punishment or his salvation on the enormity of Sodom’s sin, the foolishness of Lot or the virtue signaling to the world.  He measured his promise on the basis of Abraham’s prayer.  

Plastic People 

People are plastic, that means that human beings often change to fit their environment or context.  We are prone to judge something as good or bad, as acceptable or non-acceptable depending on how important it is in the general scheme of things.  Let me put this in terms of a few questions: 

  • Is it okay to be rude if a person is not very important to you?
  • Is it okay to curse if the situation or person really deserves it?
  • Is it okay to cheat on your taxes if the amount is too small to notice?
  • Is it okay to lie if telling the truth would get you into trouble?
  • Is it okay to steal from your workplace it your boss owes you anyway?
  • Is it okay to be immoral if your husband or wife is a fool?
  • Is it okay to disobey God’s Word once-in-a-while if you are usually obedient? 

Now, I can hear somebody say, “Hey, nobody is perfect! We all make mistakes.”  True enough, but here’s the catch.  When you make a mistake, do you call it a mistake, or do you justify it?  Nobody is perfect, but should we make imperfection our standard of behavior? If we can sin with impunity, then why do these scriptures exist? 

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:7-10   

Scalability allows us to expand or shrink our sin, our mistakes, our problems to a harmless, or even innocent state.  We can be dismissive of something that we consider small or insignificant but can actually have huge consequences.  We live in the era of the “MeToo” movement in which flirtatious behavior like winking, commenting, kissing or touching can cost a person’s job or land him or her in jail.  What you may think is stupidly small may be inexcusably big in the eyes of someone else. 

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart seventy-three seconds into flight, killing its seven crew members. The entire vehicle disintegrated after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The failure caused a breach joint, allowing pressurized hot gas to reach an external fuel tank. The structural failure of the external tank broke up the orbiter.  The O-ring breakup caused the disaster.  The Challenger catastrophe tragically illustrates the importance of one thing.  

While preaching some time ago in Greenville, Ohio, I used this illustration.  A woman came up to me afterwards and said, “Brother Jordan, I may have been the one to made that O-ring!  I worked in the plant that manufactured O-rings for the space program.”  She felt terrible for a long time about that piece, but she found out later that it wasn’t her fault. The engineers at NASA should have scuttled the launch because the temperature was too low for the integrity and safety of the O-rings.  

In case you don’t think something small can hurt, consider these:  one bad apple in a barrel; a nail-puncture in a tire; a negative 1 in an equation; a single cancer cell; a trace of arsenic; a single insensitive tweet; one vote in an election; one point or run in a sports game; one disparaging look at a child.

The Mustard Seed 

We have been basically talking about the bad things that can happen as a result to underestimating the sin and mistakes that we make in life.  But the concept of scalability also hold true for the positive behaviors and outcomes.  Look no further than the parable of Jesus about the mustard seed.  “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Matthew 17:20   

Just as we underestimate our sins, we overestimate the steps it takes to make things right.  We think that doing the right thing, doing what pleases God, making a difference represents such an astronomical output of effort that we are too intimidated to even begin.  How can I ever be as holy as the pastor?  How can I ever measure up to the great men or women in my life whom I admire?  How can I ever stand up to the bad habits, the wrong decisions or the evil influences that surround me every day?  

This kind of negative thinking is a non-starter.  The old saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” conjures of an image of the length of the journey before it focuses on the single step.  Think of it this way:

A life of Bible reading begins with a single scripture.

  • A prayer life takes only a simple prayer to get going.
  • A friendship begins with a smile or a word.
  • A better marriage begins with “I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”
  • A right relationship with God begins with confession.
  • Helping a friend begins with an encouraging word. 

Some of you who are new here don’t know that I can play a guitar.  In June of 2006, my wife and I decided to go to Wauseon to start a preaching point or daughter work.  We went to an elementary school with about 6 or 8 FAC people who lived west of Toledo and had a little service.  I provided the music, so you know it couldn’t have been much.  Somehow, it caught on and began to grow.  A year or so later, a situation in the church in Bryan resulted in some people who wanted to start a church.  The pastor asked me to take it under my wing as a daughter work.  Eventually, the two daughter works merged which resulted in autonomous church in Archbold today pastored by Bro. Jason Clutter.  We didn’t go from an elementary school library to a congregation in Archbold overnight.  It started small by doing something so small that it may have looked like nothing.  It is surprising how God take our nothings and turns them into somethings!  

Much has been said lately about a multiplication revival.  We’re talking churches in various places around the Toledo metro area.  This takes soulwinning to a level that may seem way beyond your personal capability.  Big plans, big ideas, You may have already crossed it off as an unattainable goal.  You may be making this much harder than it really is.  It may be time for you to Here is all it takes to get started: 

  • “I’m thinking about you.”
  • “I really appreciate you.”
  • “How can I help you?”
  • “Here is a bag of groceries.”
  • “I baked these cookies for you today. Enjoy.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “Mind if I shared a scripture with you?”
  • “I’d like for you to come to church with me Sunday.”
  • “How about coming over for a barbeque this week?” 

Guess what?  You don’t have to be an expert in the Bible to do any of these simple things.  You really don’t have to have expertise in anything.  So, why are we so reluctant to do any of them?  It’s because we don’t consider it to be worth our time or theirs.  We downplay, dismiss and underestimate small things as too insignificant to have much value.  

There is a fascinating verse found in the account of Elijah and the fire called down from heaven.  “And Elijah said unto Ahab, Get thee up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain. So, Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, And said to his servant, Go up now, look toward the sea. And he went up, and looked, and said, There is nothing. And he said, Go again seven times. And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand. And he said, Go up, say unto Ahab, Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not. And it came to pass in the meanwhile, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.” 1 Kings 18:41-46     

First, notice that Elijah heard the sound of the abundance of rain before the clouds ever formed in the sky.  Then, when the servant went out, he saw a tiny cloud that he described as a “man’s hand.”  Don’t discount this description.  There is meaning here.  It was not God’s hand.  It was a man’s hand.  Miracles begin with the injection of humanity into the equation.  E. M. Bounds said it this way, “Without God, man cannot.  Without man, God will not!”  You cannot sit around in a faithless, feckless, stymied, despondent, disparaged, lazy state and throw everything back into God’s lap.  You cannot bow out of the action and say, “God, if you want this done, you will have to do it by yourself!”  No.  Without faith, it is impossible to please God.  If you’re not willing to start small, you probably won’t start at all!  “Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.” Job 8:7  

“There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?” John 6:9  

You can start right now.  Turn to someone and say, “I believe in you!”  There is no telling what all God can and will do with the slightest effort on your part. 

“For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” Zechariah 4:10  

If u’re too big to start small,

u’re too small to start big,

said my pastor.
Start small, then grow tall:
advice of most mentors.
So when u’re up,
you can thank God;
appreciating those down-line.
Start small, then shine.

Ehimika Ehimigbai

START CLOSE IN

Start close in,

don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

~ David Whyte ~ 

A small lad, a small lunch, a small remnant, a small prayer, a small sacrifice, a small word, a small song, a small look, a small gesture, a small gift, a small acknowledgement, a small trip, a small invite, a small step, a small nod, a small smile—it’s not what you accomplish, it’s what you start. 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the big picture; start out with the stick figures.  See what God will do when you start small.