Incomparable

bible.com/72/isa.25.1.hcsb

Who else could do the things our God can do? Who else can rightly be called “God” than the One who made the heavens and the earth by his mighty power and outstretched hand? There is no one else, and thus we have no One else to thank but Him. God is the proper object of our worship and praise today. We were made to praise Him and without Him as our object, our praise feels hollow and worthless. Praising men for their great deeds is good, but praising God is better. Praising a child is good, but praising God, Who gives us all from the liberality of His hands in abundance is far better.

Worship is a natural part of our being, whether we choose to acknowledge God. We will naturally praise someone or something. We will give our allegiance to sports teams, athletes, great thinkers and minds, family, friends, those whom we admire. And we will do it without even thinking about it, because it is an instinctual as breathing. Giving your time and attention to any object or person can be moved into the realm of worship.

We worship an invisible God, whose worship and praise must be intentional. He is made evident by the creation we see around us. We are witness to His majesty through His creative acts, and He draws us to Himself by the awe we feel in His works. Worship of God is deliberate. It is something we may fall into, but to worship a God we cannot see requires our intention and concentration. It is so much easier to worship things we can see. God forces us to engage both heart and mind in worshipping Him, our spirit and our will.

So let us engage the Lord with thankfulness for His marvelous works, His blessings innumerable, and the joys He has graced us with in this life. If you have family, be thankful for that. If you have a home, food on the table, children who say “I love you”, a wife who is still a woman worthy of the descriptor “beautiful”, a good job that pays for your needs, you already have numerous reasons to be thankful.

Celebrate and enjoy this holiday in thankfulness and worship. God bless you today.

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Life Measured in Ministry

bible.com/72/act.20.24.hcsb

Many measure their lives in money, family, or some other tangible asset that people can count. It’s sometimes been said that a man can be measured by his friends, or by the number of people who attend his funeral. I wonder what Paul would have had to say about all that? We don’t know if Paul had any natural children. We know he considered many of his concerts his children, and his protege Timothy was very special to him as a son in the faith.

But Paul describes here an attitude toward the self, putting aside all of one’s accomplishments and the pride that comes with them. Instead he says that he prefers to measure his life in the ministry and preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a standard that if applied to each of us we might find ourselves wanting.

But each of us has a ministry. Whether a mom to her children, a husband to his wife, a social worker to her cases, a line to a factory employee, even a small church to a pastor. Having been in that last category, it is often a discouraging day to continue to minister in the small church, seeing the same people week upon week with no significant change. But being faithful and preaching faithfully, being a constant spiritual presence in someone’s else’s life can mean a great deal.

I want to encourage you this morning with this word from the Lord. Don’t measure your life by your accomplishments and prizes, but in the people who look to you as the anchor in the storms of life. In the people who seek you out when they need an encouraging word. Be mindful today of those people in your life. God bless you today.

Now What?

bible.com/72/2co.7.1.hcsb

After a person has come through the waters of baptism and become part of a church, the pressure is off, right? I mean, the whole “come to Jesus” part is the hard part, after living years “like the world” and doing what you please, I mean really, finally becoming a Christian, finally deciding to “put your faith in Jesus” surely is the end of the line, right? Not if this verse has anything to say about it. This verse goes on to say something about sanctification, the process over time that we as Christians gradually become more Christ-like. Rather than go for a static spirituality, Christians are instructed to grow in their faith, to practice their new spiritual gifts and be engaged in their Christian community: to love one another “as I have loved you.” There is no point at which you can say “I have arrived” in Christianity. There is no end-point to which you can say, “I’ve done enough” and rest on your laurels. Christians are ever-growing, ever-reaching for Christlikeness. Becoming a Christian isn’t a goalpost. It’s the kickoff.

0110 – Source Code 6 -The Call of Justice

“You shall not murder.
(Exo 20:13)

While many of the Ten Commandments seem clear-cut, surprisingly, this one has become more murky, especially as it has been interpreted. In the King James, this text reads, “thou shalt not kill.” Seems simple enough, right? But it is right to “kill” sometimes? What about Capital Punishment? Isn’t that a just “killing” by the state to execute a law-breaker?

Many years ago I got into an argument (surprised?) with a lady I worked with. Our argument was basically about Capital Punishment. To her, executing a condemned man violated this commandment. As as seen as an absolute, this is not incorrect. All life is sacred, even life which has taken the life of another, or committed treason against the state. But this is not a position I take lightly. The State is authorized, even commanded to take the life of the convicted man (or woman) who takes the life of another person. It is the very seriousness and sacredness of life that one ought not to take it from another person. God tells the family of Noah after they emerged from the ark:

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen 9:5-6)

Because God considers life so precious (it is made in His image), He commands that anyone who takes someone else’s life ought to be killed and thus deliver him up to God for judgment. If you follow the Old Testament Law, you find that God pronounces several categories of sin, in addition to murder, that call for the killing of the perpetrator, including religious malfeasance, sexual deviance, dabbling in witchcraft and sorcery and so on. However, these later laws were only binding on the people of Israel, not the whole world. However, the law given in Genesis 9 is binding upon all men who are descendants of Noah, which is everyone.

Does this have anything to say about state-sanctioned killing, like war? This commandment comes from the same God who commanded the Israelites (as a King commanding his troops) to go to war against Canaan and retake their rightful property (according to the promises made to Abraham). Because God commanded it, it was automatically a just war. So the idea of going to war and killing your enemy in a just cause seems to be legitimate. What a Just War is or what a state is should the subject of another blog entry. The point here is that killing on behalf of a state, as a soldier or representative of that state, is also exempt from this command, “do not kill.”

So it seems obvious that Exodus 20:13 does not supersede Genesis 9:5-6. So if this command does not refer to the state-authorized killing of murderers to whom does it refer? All other taking of human life apart from the state. Thus it is translated above as “do not murder”, meaning do not take someone else’s life as an individual. But where does this impulse from from? Jesus explains it this way:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Mat 5:21-22)

Have you ever been angry?

Have you ever been angry with another person? What was it that made you angry? I think people get angry for one of two reasons: 1) that their own sense of right is violated, or that 2) someone else’s right has been violated.

If someone steals your car, your promotion, your place in line, you get angry. Why? Because they were not entitled to these things, you are. And your sense of justice, the oughtness of things, is violated, by which you choose to become angry, because taking back by force seems just under those circumstances.

But have you ever been angry for someone else? Someone called your wife a name. Does that make you angry? Your kid being bullied at school. Does that make you angry? Four planes were used by terrorists to hurt your country. Does that make you angry? Though these things didn’t happen directly to you, your own sense of right and justice are violated, and you can respond with anger.

But this anger comes from a judgment call. If the repo man “stole” your car because you were delinquent on payments, you may still be angry, but are you righteous in your anger? If your child was being rude and obnoxious, did he deserve to be treated in kind? You may still be angry, but is it a righteous anger? We often make these judgment calls, resulting in ANGER with insufficient information. We take action before we’ve heard all the facts. That’s why the state is authorized to execute a man, because the state takes the time to gather all the facts and make summary judgment towards the accused. It takes longer, and justice isn’t always Just, but is better than a snap judgment, and the horrible long-term consequences that emerge from it. If you remember the Hatfields and the McCoys, you know why its a bad idea for people to “take the law into their own hands” and act as “judge, jury, and executioner” because it leads to murder and destruction of whole families due to near endless feuds.

This commandment is more than trying keep us from killing each other. It is to prevent the massive internal conflicts that happen when people feel justified in killing their fellow man. It is to stem the tide of aggression and destruction when anger is not held in check.

I’ll cap this here, but I think you get the idea. Please comment below and tell me what you think . Looking forward to reading your comments. Thank you all for subscribing.

 

Is There Still Mystery?

bible.com/72/ecc.11.5.hcsb

Well, is there? Arthur C. Clarke is famously quoted along the lines that any technology sufficiently advanced will be labeled magic. And yet, we are approaching God’s advanced technology day by day in our understanding of science. The magic is disappearing by the day. For example, a degree in biology can probably tell you how bones are formed in the womb. In meteorology, you can probably credible explain the path of the wind. Isn’t the “activity” of God just around the corner in theology?

But that’s not the question I want to ask. What I really need to ask is this: do I need the mystery? I don’t presume to ever figure it all out, and I never will. But do I need the mystery to believe in God? Do I need a “god of the gaps” to fill in the holes of the things I can explain by supposing they are God’s will, or, that’s just the way God made it? Does God need to be mysterious to be believed?

I think if we pinned our faith on the idea that there are things we can’t explain or understand, we will find our faith on shaky ground. It is like children who grow up to find out Dad isn’t a superhero, or mom doesn’t know everything. As children we believed these things because our parents were the most powerful beings in our universe. As we matured, we learned they were human after all.

So a faith based on God as he Cosmic Bogeyman, or the Great Magician doesn’t hold up. When we grow up, that’s not what we need from God. In fact, the older I get, the more I need of a God who is in control of the things that I know I can’t. My health, my life’s direction, my work, my family, so many things that as I become aware, I just become overwhelmed by the enormity of the universe. I need a God that who looks after me, who cares about me. Even when things go wrong, or if I suffer, I need the assurance of a God who says, “Fear not. I am with thee.” I need the Divine Presence now more than ever.

I guess I’ve moved from being awed by an unknown universe to an unknown future. I don’t need a God to explain how stars work. I need a God to explain that my work matters. Thank you God for continuing to hold me in awe, even as my knowledge improves, you continually lead me forward to deeper and greater mysteries. Thank you God for looking after me even when my eyes aren’t on you. Thank you for loving me, even when I am not lovable.

Of God and Country

Mom, baseball, and apple pie. November is going to bring all of these home. The World Series is wrapping up, and both teams will go home, one a world champion, the other, next year’s contender. November we also go home. Moms become important again, because we go home for Thanksgiving, and Mom will work tirelessly again to prepare yet another expansive feast, including apple pie. We turn our focus this month to these basic American values, and how we find them reflected in the Scriptures.
America is first a Christian nation. From the puritan pilgrims who landed on her shores with their Protestant Geneva Bibles, to the Founding Fathers Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin who sought to form a nation with Christianity at its center. Those we call the pilgrims were all members of the same church. It was a massive church relocation project, from the friendly confines of Europe, to the hostile American coast. Yet they believed that God had something greater in store for them and their descendants. 100 years later, they were proven correct. Their descendants became the backbone of a nation determined to serve God above King. In God our nation found its stalwart defender. And her fathers made God and His Word the core of our nation’s heritage and government. Our country was founded on the assumption that everyone would be engaged as citizens with strong moral cores. And of all the safeguards in our government to keep it from becoming tyranny, this was one they did not foresee.

They never thought the moral core of the citizen would become so corrupt, that the system would be in danger. They never thought that prayer would be removed from school, or that Jesus Christ would cease be a part of popular culture. They never thought that the perversion that is homosexuality would become the gold standard of tolerance. Or that the slaughter of innocents in the womb, the safest place in all the world for a child to grow, would become commonplace. They never thought that the people would become so desperately corrupt in their own lusts that less than half of the country would attend church. For the standards and ethics of Christianity are what form the basis for a people governed by God, and a government formed by those people. For a people who will not be governed by God will be governed by any man strong enough to take the crown. Pray that our country will not go the way of Cuba, Venezuela, or the old Soviet Union. There are strong men waiting in the wings if we do not assert that God indeed is King, and all of us are His subjects. Are you ready to defend our nation before the throne of the Lord of hosts? Please pray for our nation today.

A Little Bit Goes A Long Way

bible.com/72/eph.4.1-3.hcsb

So it’s been a little bit since I’ve shared something with you. Thank you for your patience. My Dad has been in a bad way here the last few days and life has been a little overwhelming. I got a call Monday afternoon that Dad was going for emergency surgery on his heart and that led to a four hour drive back to Indiana to be with family. Turns out “emergency” actually means “in four days” so there’s that. I go up tomorrow to be with family and deal with the stress and worry.

This verse looked like a good one to share with you all, since all of our interactions with others could use a little humility and gentleness. This is especially true as a patient and his family who are in crisis mode. I saw a lot of ways we could have been shouty and petulant during this whole thing. I’m thankful we weren’t. But I can think of a lot of moments we could have lost our cool and felt justified. Hospitals move at the speed of slow sometimes, and getting the right care can mean a lot of waiting. That’s not compatible with folks who’ve been told that their loved one is critical and could die without immediate surgery by the Doctor at the last hospital, before transferring to this one.

Civility seems like it’s always the first casualty in a crisis. We just don’t have time for it. But being humble and gentle isn’t reserved for times when everything is ok. It’s called for at all times. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for all things under heaven. But when Jesus was subjected to the torturers, He was a like a sheep led to the slaughter, silent before the shearers. We may not all be like Jesus, but we can demonstrate a little humility and kindness when the need arises.

Suffering is not an easy road. And many of us don’t do it well. We maintain a perspective that this life is all that matters. We forget that this is merely the boot camp for the world to come. We are being trained, tested in our mettle and our resolve, for the eternity that waits for us. Oh but that we could just get a glimpse of what awaits us there, then we might not be so anxious about leaving this world. Then we would know that every test and ignominy we suffer will be recompensed, made good in that perfect place.

My friends, let us strive to be humble and gentle. For our Heavenly Father is proving us faithful, even in the midst of trial. Our life is more than food and clothing, shelter and work. God is forging us into His children with whom He plans to spend eternity with. Forging is not a painless process. But we too shall be made beautiful.

God bless you all.