Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Supernatural God

This past week I was doing my normal sermon preparation for Sunday. That trail took me to 2 Kings Chapter 4. I picked up a commentary on 2 Kings only to find that the author said that the entire book of 2 Kings doesn’t pass the test of critical examination, and therefore, should be read as such. The stories that are in 2 Kings are anecdotal and full of Black Magic and are the stuff of legend. I looked at the cover to see who the author was and found that he was a seminary professor. I asked myself, “Why would someone devote their life to teach a book they didn’t believe was true?” Here is my take on that question. This author has only known a god of natural, human dimensions. The Almighty God of Elisha in 2 Kings is a supernatural God—who is completely unknown to this liberal theologian.[i] While I am at it, let me give you a different expert opinion on the Old Testament by someone else, The Apostle Paul:  
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!”
(1 Cor 10:11-12).
This story from 2 Kings is about facing crisis. It begs us to answer one essential question, “Will I trust God with each crisis or not?” The answer to that question is paramount to the success of our Christian experience. It is a tough thing to trust God. It’s not natural. Most of us are inclined to trust our own instincts and be guided by our own experience, which is usually not godly experience. To trust God we often have to suspend logic and certainly our desire for comfort. Well here is the story:

2 Kings 4:1-7 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves."
2 Elisha replied to her, "How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?"
"Your servant has nothing there at all," she said, "except a little oil."
3 Elisha said, "Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side."
5 She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another one." But he replied, "There is not a jar left." Then the oil stopped flowing.
7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left."

Most of us minimize our gifts, and that is what this lady did. Although this may be truthful in a pragmatic sense, it is based on what she sees and not on what God has done for her. There was something about the crisis that caused her to minimize her gifts. God’s gifts are not measured by big and little, great or small. God used one small stone in David’s hand to bring Goliath down and one small boy’s lunch to feed five thousand. “I have nothing except a little oil” is so descriptive of our mentality. God’s solution not only supplied the need, but was also meant to teach the woman to not despise what she had.

God wanted this lady and her sons to expand their faith. They would need more empty jars than they possessed. She was told to get as many as she could find. “Don’t ask for just a few,” the prophet said. When she had collected all the jars, she was to start pouring and was not to stop until every jar was filled. Once she had filled all the jars, the oil stopped pouring. This is the part that belongs to God. It is the miraculous. It is the supernatural. It is the part where having done our part, then God does the rest. I offer conjecture that the reason the liberal commentator says that what happened behind closed doors was Black Magic was because he has never had a supernatural encounter with God. Until you meet God and He literally saves and changes you in a supernatural way, you cannot believe this part of the story. But, for those who have met God, you know God can do this.

I can see the excitement of the lady and the boys as she kept pouring from one vessel to the next. How was it possible that the oil kept flowing out? They knew it was God. She asked for another jar, and the boys said, “That’s it mom.” She could have filled a hundred more or a thousand more because the oil had a limitless supply. The oil paid her debts and supplied her living. As Abraham so long ago learned, “Is there anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14).

[i] Richard Nelson, Interpretation, First & Second Kings, John Knox Press, Atlanta, GA 1987, pp. 170-174.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pro Life

For fifteen years I have been preaching a Pro-Life Sermon on the third Sunday in January in an attempt to raise awareness to the awful plight abortion has wrought on our nation. On January 23, 1973, seven of the nine black-robed judges on the United States Supreme Court voted to make abortion legal. The Supreme Court Chief Justice Harry Blackmun said the court found the right to abortion in the 14th and 9th amendments. What they didn’t find was a definition of when life begins. In fact, they didn’t even look for it.

I never look at the Old Court House in St. Louis, which sits in the shadow of the Arch, without thinking about the Dred Scott Case. Although it took 250 years, slavery had become a divisive issue in the United States in the late 1800’s. The high court met in the St. Louis Court House to decide the future of a slave named Dred Scott. The court made an unprecedented decision to once and for all settle the issue of slavery. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney determined, in the 1857 Dred Scott case, that African Americans were “regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”[i]

How unspeakable that this court invoked such an odious and maliciously cruel law, but they did. Nine years later and 600,000 dead soldiers later, the hideous law was thrown away with the establishment of the 14th amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment declares, “No State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

What the Taney court did to African Americans, the Blackmun court did to the unborn—determine that they were not persons. Roe v. Wade diminishes the unborn by referring to the unborn child as “potential life” and says “meaningful life” may arise later in pregnancy. The arrogance of this court was beyond comprehension to deny personhood to the defenseless unborn child.

We have seen how odious this law is when compared to an attempt to protect the innocent from murder by anyone besides the mother. In 2003, the murder case that dominated the air waves was the Scott Peterson case. A late-term male fetus washed up on the shore of the San Francisco Bay, and shortly after, the body of his mother washed up. Scott Peterson was not only charged with the murder of his wife, but also with the murder of this unborn child. Ironically, it was murder for Scott to kill his baby, but Laci, his wife, could have aborted the same child, and it would have been perfectly legal.[ii]

Does that make any sense at all? That the value of a child is determined by who commits the act of murder? When does the child have value because it is a life—a life that belongs to God? I would like to ask you a question if you believe abortion is wrong—what are you doing to help in this great struggle for life? Are you reaching out to young single moms who are struggling with the idea of raising a child? Do you support your local crisis pregnancy center? Are you praying for God to help us in this fight for life?  Since 1973 fifty-five million little innocent lives have been lost in this war. May God help us.

[i] Brian E. Fisher. Abortion: The Ultimate Exploitation of Women (Kindle Locations 427-433). Online for Life.
[ii] Brian E. Fisher. Abortion: The Ultimate Exploitation of Women (Kindle Locations 488-550). Online for Life.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Secular Versus Sacred

A lady who was waiting to catch a plane at an airport decided to buy herself some cookies and eat them while she was waiting. She bought the small package of cookies and sat at a table where a gentleman was already sitting.  She opened the package and began to eat and read her newspaper. She then heard the sound of cellophane rustling. She looked in unbelief at the man seated at her table who had just helped himself to her cookies. She quietly drew the package closer to her and pulled out another cookie for herself. She heard the noise one more time. This time the man had pulled out the last cookie and broke it into two and left the other half. She heard her flight number so she made her way to the plane. When she arrived at the gate, she reached into her purse to pull out her ticket and found her package of cookies that had never been opened. Somewhere there was a man in that airport thinking about a very strange lady. 

An elderly lady found four men in her car as she came out from the grocery store. She pulled a gun out and said, “Get out of my car because I have a gun and I know how to use it.” They did, and she put her bags in the back and proceeded to put her keys in the ignition, but they didn’t fit. She had confused this car with her car, which was on the next row. She loaded the bags in her car and drove to the police station to tell her story and found there were four men there telling a story about an old lady who had just hijacked their car.

It is absolutely amazing sometimes how often we think we are right when we are not. We are capable of much worse than these two ladies when it comes to people. We definitely all need help to build relationships with the people in our lives. We need to know how to treat people and how to conduct ourselves and how to regulate our own emotions. Our integrity and character shows up most in our relationships.

One of the greatest traps we all fall into is thinking there are two separate realms of secular and sacred. Sunday mornings are sacred because we are in his house worshiping God, but Monday mornings are secular because we are at our jobs just doing work. This is a fallacy because every moment of everyday is sacred to God. Paul wrote these words about how sacred every day is: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). The truth is, having a meaningful conversation with your wife or husband is just as sacred as being in a worship service. It is not either/or, it’s everything, Whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Howard Hendricks, in a collaborative book entitled Life of Integrity, tells this powerful story that demonstrates the importance of seeing every moment as sacred to the Lord:

I was flying out of Boston recently. The crew boarded the passengers and then got word that we’d have to get off because there was “a slight mechanical problem.” So we all got off the plane, and they said, “In fifteen minutes you’ll receive further information.” You know how to tell the experienced travelers from the amateurs? The amateurs believe the public announcements. It was six hours before the plane finally took off for Dallas. The passengers were angry and impatient. And, as always happens, free drinks were freely offered. Well, there was a guy sitting across the aisle from me hotter than a hornet, and every time a flight attendant walked down the aisle, he would give her a portion of his mind he very obviously couldn’t afford to lose. I thought, “The poor gal.” So after a while I walked back to the galley and talked to her. I said, “You know, I’m a frequent flyer, and I’m always looking for somebody doing a good job. American Airlines should be proud to have you on the team. I cannot believe how nicely you handled this obnoxious character sitting across from me.” She smiled and said, “Thank you very much.” Then I asked, “Could I have your name? I would like to write the company and tell them how much I appreciate you.” “Oh,” she said, “I wouldn’t. You need to know that I don’t work for American Airlines.” “Oh, really?” “No, I represent the Lord Jesus Christ.” So I picked myself up off the floor, and we had a delightful conversation. How would you like to have someone like that working for you? That’s what we need in America. Don’t give me jazz about foreign countries being able to beat us. They’re not beating us. We are defeating ourselves. We need a larger corps of guys who are men of integrity, who will penetrate the companies of the United States. When I was talking on this subject some time ago, a dear guy came up, pulled out his handkerchief, and started blubbering. When I asked him what was the matter, he said, “I’m the only Christian in my company.” “You gotta be kidding!” “Nope,” he replied. “Just me.” “You mean to tell me you’re the only believer in your whole organization?” “That’s right.” “Wow,” I said to him. “Do you mean to tell me that God Almighty entrusted that entire outfit to you?” Stop feeling sorry for yourself if you’re the only believer on the block or in the tennis and health club. God has sovereignly placed you there as His representative of integrity.[i]

[i] Hendricks, Dr Howard (2011-04-06). LIFE OF INTEGRITY, A (Kindle Locations 2276-2302). Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Importance of Connections

As a pastor I have a keen interest in helping young parents enjoy the parenting years. Those little ones will grow up so fast and be gone before you realize it. However, when a young couple is struggling with financial challenges, marital confrontations, and of course, the daunting tasking of parenting small children, they can sometimes feel overwhelmed. At times parents can feel they are doing something wrong and that nothing seems to be going right. I would like to offer a suggestion that the most important work in a family is the work of connecting. When mom and dad have a good connection, then it is easier to develop good connections with each child.

Research indicates that kids respond positively to their parents when there is acceptance and clear rules with supervision. This kind of relationship produces in the child a higher self-concept, academic competence and the development of autonomy. Research invariable underscores the importance of how much better off kids do in future life adjustment when they grow up in a home where parents model good self-regulation and conflict resolution and truly help their children feel accepted.[i]

When Marilyn and I left our two-year-old son, Eric, in his first day care in Costa Rica, he cried his eyes out. The second day I took him, I was expecting the same scene. However, to my surprise when we reached the gate, he looked around and spotted one person he was looking for and took off. I stood there for a moment and watched as parents brought their children; most of the kids were running to the same person. She was a plump little lady who was hugging and squeezing the kids. What was it that made the kids run to her? I noticed other workers all by themselves with no kids running to them. Over the course of the year it wasn’t hard to figure out why the kids took to this lady. She had something to give. She had a certain grace about her that made a love connection with each child. That love connection is what I am referring to in the parenting process.

Another researcher writes about what happens to adolescents when parents make a connection with them. When they make use of encouragement, praise, and physical affection, the adolescents tend to engage less in antisocial behavior and engage in more positive behavior. When adolescents feel valued, accepted, and loved, they are more inclined to internalize parental values and accept parents’ rules and attitudes.[ii]

In order to make connections with our children, we first have to accept them in all their uniqueness. Sometimes that can be a challenge because personality clashes can happen between child and parent. Then there are the normal challenges of parenthood. Christensen and Jacobson insist that when acceptance comes first, it opens up the way for change. Acceptance enables a parent to accommodate the needs of each child.[iii]

[i] Putnick, D., Bornstein, M., Hendricks, C., Painter, K., Suwalsky, J., & Collins, A. (2008). Parenting stress, perceived parenting behaviors, and adolescent self-concept in European American families. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(5), 752-762. doi: 10.1037/a0013177
[ii] Wang, M., Dishion, T., Stormshak, E., & Willett, J. (2011). Trajectories of family management
practices and early adolescent behavioral outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 47(5), 1324-1341. doi: 10.1037/a0024026
[iii] Christensen, A., Jacobson, N. S. (1999-10-06). Reconcilable Differences (pp. 11-12).
Guilford Publications. Kindle Edition.