Thursday, April 23, 2009

Uncertain Steps

There is an image that I think of when life gets challenging. It's a memory from several years ago. At the time, I was running, A LOT. And there wasn't much that could prevent me from going on my Saturday morning run. One day, the sky was cloudy, it had been raining, but I thought the worse had past. It hadn't. While on the run, there were moments where as the rain beat down upon my cap, I couldn't see what was up ahead. All I could do was stay focused on where my foot was going next and, with faith, take that step. I know the final destination was my warm, dry apartment and I just had to keep going until I could get there.

It was a great lesson on several levels. First, check the forecast before you go for a run. (Something I still don't do.) Secondly, it is a touchstone moment that I look back on in my life. Just like that stormy jog, there are days and weeks where the rain seems to be pouring down. Where I am going to go and how life is going to turn out seems very uncertain. The streets are slippery and one false move could mean a lot of pain. However, in the midst of those tentative times, I know that all I need to do is watch where my foot will land next. I don't need to see the whole journey, I must faithfully follow the Way, until I reach my Heavenly home. My steps are uncertain, but my destination is not.

I Corinthians 9 compares our time here on Earth to a race. We are to train and prepare so that we might receive our Heavenly reward. In my mind's eye whenever I think of this passage I focus on the victorious athlete crossing the finish line. What I don't see is all the practice in the rain that got him there. May I take comfort in the times of uncertain steps, knowing that the prize for which I train will make every moment in the rain worth it.

Labels: ,

A Heroic Compromise

The recent firestorm over the just-released torture memos has elicited opinions from anyone and everyone. Is it torture? Is it not torture? Is torture every justified, and if so when? The questions that have germinated from the memos are not new ones. They are questions that look at the heart of what we value as a culture and as values change so does our interpretation of the actions of others.

Along with this debate of what actions are justified in war, there's a lesser struggle that is undergirding the discussion. In times past, people would point to the military as instruments on justice, truth, and courage. As questions have arisen over tactics used, one might wonder who our new heroes should be. Again, the culture is quick with an answer. An answer, I'm afraid, that is often found wanting. defines heroes as someone with noble character or that does brave deeds. In a recent People article, Liam Neeson's director on the film Chloe stated, "Liam is heroic...He came back and finished." The quotation is referring to the actor's quick return to the set after the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson. Now, please hear me carefully, I think Mr. Neeson conducted himself exceptionally well under the circumstances. He maintained a sense of dignity in the midst of an unthinkable family tragedy. "Heroic", though? For returning to work? I'm not sure that qualifies. Sure, what he did may be noteworthy, but to put in on par with those who sacrifice their lives or their freedom, those that are true heroes, seems far-fetched to me. Just as it seems equally ridiculous when we hail someone because they can run fast, or because they can catch a ball. Sure, there talents are extraordinary, but exercising the gifts that God gave them does not mean that we should look to them for anything else. They are, in other words, very rarely, good role models for how we should contact our lives. They very infrequently met the heights of the word's definition.

When there cease to be high standards for those that we acclaim, we are often willing to accept less and compromise more. Let that not be the case. Let us retain the word "hero" for those that rightly deserve it, and maybe the debate on how we define other words, will get a little easier too.


Friday, April 17, 2009

The New Blessing

A recent conversation with a colleague we touched on a topic that is often mentioned, but perhaps rarely discussed. The topic was evangelism, or more specifically the manner in which Christ is presented to non-believers. As my colleague stated (and as my pastor often shares) a lot of evangelism efforts these days start with the fact that God is the solution to your problems. While, ultimately this is true if the problem you are talking about is sin, that's not the place most people start. Usually, there's a Earthly circumstance that is not the way we would like it to be - a broken marriage, a ill relative, a tough economic situation - and God is presented as a way to make you feel better about what's wrong in your life. In other words, God isn't meaningful to your life because He is the Creator of you and is the reason for your existence, He is simply important in that He has the power to change your temporal circumstance. If another solution can also change what's wrong with your life, than well that's just as good. The altogether-differentness (i.e. His holiness) is more of an after-thought rather than the reason why our lives should be centered around praising Him, and the reason we need Him to save us.

The problem with this approach is that not only does it lead to a misunderstood view of what a right response to God looks like (our whole life offered to Him for His purpose) it also misunderstands what God is up to in the life of His people. In discussing Christ's promises, B.B. Warfield writes "prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity of the New." In other words, before God sent His Son to the Earth to be a living sacrifice for our sins, He demonstrated His pleasure, His closeness, with His people through material possessions. This is why many of the Proverbs extol the virtues of the rich man. In His Son's descent, however, He provided the greatest gift He ever could. Therefore, His promises His church not a good life here on Earth, but trials, persecutions, and situations that will refine them to make them more like Him (see John 16:33, John 15:20, James 1:2-4). We present Christ as a way to make this life better, and He is, but only in so much as He changes our focus from the temporal life to the eternal. His blessing is that through the trials of this world, we are better prepared to enjoy what's in the next - His presence, everlasting.

God's still blessing His people, but oftentimes is not in the way we would imagine. How have you experienced God's new blessing? May we, like the apostles, rejoice when we are found worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 16, 2009

They're Just Words

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me"

Children often respond to the taunts of their peers with lyrical retorts of their own. Successful rejoinders not only insult their opponents but also disarm the previous litany of words. It's a deft strategy similar to the ones superheroes use to stop a would-be assassin’s bullets. Sure, the assailant gets the shot off, but the impact is blunted.

The problem with this strategy, however, is that it’s grounded on a fallacy. The children say that the words are insignificant, but we all know that's not true. Someone once took the response and made it more accurate by acknowledging the impact words can have. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart." We want to believe that words are just words, that they have no significant to our lives and that they can be quickly disregarded. However, having been stung by the pain of someone else's words, we all know that this is simply a wish that remain unfulfilled.

However, there are times when words are just words. Not in the sense that the children on the playground mean it, but in the sense that the words are apt, appropriate, and are the words that should be spoken at the time. Often times we hate to hear these words of justice, words that show are insufficiency in comparison to God's perfection, words that reveal that sin that prompts our actions. Sometimes, words uncover that which we want to remain hidden, but just like the judge issues a just pronouncement of a criminal's sentence, words can also be used to reveal the just punishment of God that we all deserve.

The good news is, that the words Christ said on the cross were not "You are guilty", but "it is finished." He paid in full the penalty for the wrongs that we committed. These words were anything but insignificant. They are the proclamation of our salvation. They signify that our punishment has been paid by another. It was a travesty of justice, and a pronouncement of grace. They weren't just words, but they were the triumph of a Savior.


No Small Offering

Easter is a time of celebration. While it has disintegrated into a celebration of cute bunnies and funny tasty candy (Peeps, anyone?) its still a cause for hoopla. Of course, Christians know that the reason we celebrate has nothing to do with the trappings of the day and has everything to do with why the day was originally established. It was set aside as a day to remember the resurrection of our Lord and Savior - a day when death no longer had victory.

Preceding Easter, many people ascribe to a tradition known as Lent. During these forty days they give up something of importance to them. It was popular this year to give up Facebook - an acknowledgment perhaps that the time we devote to "friending" people we knew in grade school might be better spent doing something else. The idea is that we sacrifice because Christ sacrificed, and in doing so we honor His death.

While the intention of Lent is a good one, I wonder if we trivialize what Christ did by thinking that our abstention from chocolate for a month, really equates to what He did on the cross. After all, He gave up the one thing that we are all longing for - daily communion with our Creator. He had peace that surpassed understanding, love abounding, and joy inexpressible, and He left that for what we experience here on Earth - an absence of peace, fleeting love, and mitigated joy. Our willingness to give up worldly pleasures doesn't compare to His relinquishing of heaven's gifts. And while we a never be able to match Christ's sacrifice, we can give Him all we have - our life, our love, and the talents He has so graciously bestowed upon us. It's still not a fair trade for what He had to endure, but it's the best we have to give.

We want to compartmentalize our gifts to God. We want to say, "I'll give up TV, but I'm keeping my covetousness." We'll give up treats but hoard our independence. May we determine here and now that just as He gave up everything, so will we. With the same intention as His - that our Father may receive glory.

Labels: ,

Friday, April 3, 2009

Not Yet Known

Throughout my life I've become notorious in my family for losing cameras. I'm not sure what it was, but for some reason, I never could seem to keep a camera in my possession for very long. It was an expensive, as well as annoying, predilection. Yet despite the angst it caused me, there was little doubt that at some time in the future a new camera would once again become an unintentional donation to another person. It seems as if the lesson was just never learned.

Sometimes our relationship with God can feel like that. We walk with Him, we talk with Him, and we think we have this whole Christianity thing down. Then something happens; usually something unforeseen and something that prompts conviction, and we realize that our well-maintained religious facade is masking our heat's need of some serious restoration from our Lord and Savior.

The good thing is that we're not the only ones who have experienced this. In B.B. Warfield's book "Faith & Life" (which I am reading based on a recommendation from a trusted friend) he opens with a recount of the life of Elijah. Elijah was a man who had a specific task grated to him by God, and who's character was uniquely suited for accomplishment of this task. A man of strong moral conviction, Elijah was to warn the Israelites about the consequences of their sin. Despite the fact that here was a man who was literally on a mission from God, on numerous times he had to face the fact that he did not fully understand Him. As Warfield demonstrates, among Elijah's hard-learned lessons was trusting in God's provisions, being charitable towards others' sufferings and more. Elijah was a man who heard directly and audibly from God and yet for him, there was always a part that remained unknown.

So it is with us. Despite our deepening understanding of God, there will always be new lessons for us to learn. While daunting, this is also a beautiful reminder that He is altogether different from us. And its His difference that allow us to trust Him and rely on His unwavering faithfulness. Unlike my propensity for losing cameras, God never loses us. So even when we feel like we know nothing at all, we can know that. And when we don't understand what's happening in our life, we can take comfort in the fact that for us, as was with Elijah, He is fully, not yet known.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Truth Misrepresented

When people misrepresent the truth, it is usually because of one of two reasons. Either they didn't know the truth, and so spoke it error, or they did know the truth and purposefully deceived us. When its the former, our response tends to be more gracious as we all realize that our knowledge is limited and its conceivable that people can make what's affectionately called a "honest mistake." However, when the deceit seems intentional, we often have a harsher response. This makes sense. Yet even when our response is one of graciousness, we have to wonder about the consequences of misrepresentation. Even "honest mistakes" can wreak havoc.

I thought of this today while listening to a commercial on a Christian radio station. Where I live, there are not an abundance of options and while the station we have isn't my favorite, I am grateful that music praising my King is allowed on the airwaves at all. While listening today, I heard an advertisement for a local Easter play (which can rightly really be called a performance of magnificent proportions) that caught my intention. In promoting the pageantry the announcer said something along the lines of, "He died, He was raised, and a faith was born."

Now the announcement may seem harmless to most, but as I listened, I couldn't help but be taken aback. A decent command of Scripture teaches us that saving faith didn't begin upon Jesus' resurrection. After all, all of the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews had been long-gone from the Earth by the time Jesus arrived on the scene (Hebrews 11). If faith began with Jesus' resurrection, why were these individuals commended? What does that mean for their eternal salvation?

Now I'm hoping that the commercial was a case of an improper approval process or failed attempt at communication and not a sanctioned church announcement, because it not only misrepresented the truth of the Gospel message, it misrepresented Truth itself. In the commercial, the fact that Jesus came to do His Father's will first and foremost was far from the announcer's pitch. Instead, the appeal of the ad was that salvation was on the market, all you had to do was buy the product of Christ. That wasn't what Christ was about. And neither should be His followers. Not only was the chronology of the message wrong (faith wasn't born upon Christ's resurrection) but the entire message was distorted, presumably in an attempt to sell more tickets. And the lesson of the commercial contains a lesson for all Christians, because we are all advertisements for Christ. Is their Truth in our advertisement or are we too misrepresenting Him?


Better Things Ahead: April 2009

This page has moved to a new address.

Better Things Ahead