Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keeping Jesus at the Center

The only miracle recorded in all four gospels is the miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few small fish and a handful of bread. It was an extraordinary miracle all right because Jesus took the lunch of a small boy and multiplied it sufficiently to feed thousands of people. He simply took the boy’s lunch and gave thanks and distributed it to his disciples who in turn distributed to the multitude. Even after all the people had eaten, there were 12 basketfuls left over (John 6:1-12).

The Apostle John calls Jesus’ miracles signs because he believes these miracles are sign posts pointing us to Jesus. All human beings are attracted to extraordinary happenings. Just look at how people follow the sports and Hollywood stars. Even within Christianity miracles grab people’s attention, and whoever performed the miracle can claim instant fame. John clearly saw miracles differently than most. He saw them as simple sign posts that point us to the real thing—the ultimate miracle worker—the Son of God.

Paul Tripp does a fine job of illustrating the absurdity of falling in love with the miracle and never pursing the miracle worker. A sign simply points to what it was made for, the place or person you want to find. Nobody taking a vacation to Chicago stops at the first sign and believes they have arrived at the destination. They don’t say, “We’re here kids, unpack the car.” You keep driving until you get to the actual destination.[i]

The people who experienced the miracle of the feeding of the 500 did just this. They thought the miracle was the destination. The next day they found Jesus and wanted more bread, more miracles. Jesus, however, didn’t give them anymore. Instead he confronted their erroneous view of the miracle and told them they were searching for bread that will perish and never satisfy (John 6:21-36). Just think about this for a moment, could anything be more tragic than these people who experienced the miracle but didn’t see the sign to keep following Jesus.

Jesus is the destination. He is the reason for living. Whatever good happens—even if it is miraculous, remember it is just a sign to keep following Jesus. He is our savior and our soon coming king. There is no other. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). The satisfaction we all long for in life comes from Jesus.

[i] Tripp, Paul David (2000-01-01). War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles (Kindle Locations 1707-1714). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Remedy for Anxiety

Anxiety is more common to humanity than any of us care to admit. No one is exempt, not even money or fame can place you beyond the reach of anxiety. From an early age all of us begin to experience the feelings that create the state of being anxious. Some, of course, more than others because they are raised in homes where conflict is a way of life and there is very little conflict resolution. These feelings of anxiety come for a host of different reasons, from things not going our way, to being mistreated or insulted or neglected. Interestingly, the older we get the more anxiety we are prone to experience. Anxiety is nothing new because Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes gives us some good advice on how to lessen our anxiety.

Solomon said, “So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless” (Eccl 11:10). He knows from experience that our world in its broken state brings us loss and many troubles. He tells us to cast off these troubles. In other words, rather than dwelling on what has happened to us, which usually perpetuates the problem, cast it off. This is done by giving it to God.

The Apostle Peter tells us to do this: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The very act of casting our anxieties on the Lord means that we are asking for his assistance and trusting him to help us. It means that we are refusing to be tormented any longer by the loss or irritation that has come to us.

The Apostle Paul actually gave us a spiritual recipe for dealing with anxiety. First, we start by counting our blessings and learning to see the good instead of the loss. Secondly, we learn to act right regardless of how we feel. Thirdly, we commit to God in prayer all our worries and anxieties. Fourthly, as a result of having done that, we receive peace that transforms us to be capable of enjoying life. Fifthly, we train our thinking to be on things that are true and uplifting. Phil 4: 4-9:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

If more people followed this Biblical method for peace and sanity, there would be less depression and less people on drugs, and a whole lot less sadness in the world. There would be a better quality of life for everyone who cast their anxiety away and trust God for peace. Youth is so temporal and fleeting—to not realize this is to not have a grip on reality. Solomon says, enjoy life and don’t let anxiety rob you of enjoying life. He says don’t be saddened by the loss of youth because it is part of life. Instead, enjoy life because you belong to God at whatever age you find yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Grace Effect

Grace is a preeminent topic of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul always used the word grace in his greetings and salutations, but it is more than just a word—it is a force. Paul gives us an explanation of grace in these words “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). The understanding of grace begins with the comprehension of our own sinfulness, but at the same time grace is about abundant forgiveness. That forgiveness of our sins is transformative and redemptive. It doesn’t matter who we are or where we live; we all need redemption, and God’s grace is the vehicle of that redemption.

When we comprehend and embrace God’s grace, we begin to change in noticeable ways. We no longer feel the need to try to prove our own righteousness to God, and that’s because we cease to trust in our goodness—we see that as an impossibility. The incessant desire to strive for status begins to dissipate as we realize who we are in Christ. The overwhelming need to compare ourselves to others and justify our worthiness by pointing out the faults of others becomes unnecessary. The unwillingness to forgive others and hold grudges diminishes as we learn the essential importance of forgiving those who hurt us.

The effect of grace gives us a magnanimous heart and removes the pettiness that often plagues us. The desire to be good and righteous is a natural response to grace, or as I am describing it, as the grace effect. But this goodness is not our goodness but the righteousness he gives us. The prophet Isaiah described the effect like this, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). This is a picture of a person who is satisfied with their life and what God has given them, and the result is they have peace.

The number of people suffering from inferiority complexes and dwarfed self-confidence is staggering.  Most of them are trying in their own dysfunctional ways to compensate for their low self-esteem. When people compare themselves to others and tie their appearance, accomplishments and success to others, they are in bondage. The grace effect sets us free to serve Christ and live out our God-given purpose in quietness and confidence. We feel no need to blow our own trumpet, and yet there is confidence to live life.

The greatest effect of grace is that it teaches us to have self-control. Paul wrote to Titus about this: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say No to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12).  The underlining reason most people are unhappy is that their minds and passions are out of control. God's grace empowers us to say no to our worldly passions and yes to godliness and self-controlled living. It is helpful to see grace as a masterful and gentle teacher helping us learn how to live with self-control in every area of our lives.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Two World Views

Dr. Robert George has written a book entitled, The Clash of Orthodoxies. His book is about the clash of two world views: the Secularist and the Judeo-Christian views. The clash is evident in so many areas, from education to the environment to how we define sexuality. Understanding the differences between these two views helps us understand why there is so much controversy over the subjects of abortion, euthanasia, marriage and many others. These world views are important because these different perspectives translate into different public policies, depending on who’s in power.

One very important difference between the two views is that the Judeo-Christian view believes the basis for its beliefs and moral judgments come from the Bible. This view holds that there are absolute, universal truths, such as life is sacred and therefore must be respected in all stages. The secularist does not see life as sacred, but rather as utilitarian, and therefore does not see the need for life to be protected or respected in all stages. This is why the secularist strongly believes in abortion and euthanasia. Secularists generally claim to not believe in absolute moral judgments, yet they absolutely believe in a woman’s right to abortion and the right to end your life.

Between these two views, the debate about life is not really about when it begins; any standard human-embryology textbook clearly defines life as beginning at conception. The debate is more accurately about when life has value and when it ceases to have value. From the Judeo-Christian view, we view all the stages of life as equally important. An embryo, a fetus, an infant, a toddler, an adolescent, a young adult, a middle-aged adult, an adult and an older, comatose adult all have something in common. Through all those stages it is the same person, from embryo to older adult. Even though the fetus at the beginning and the comatose person at the end of life are fully dependent on others, they are no less valuable, precisely because there is a person there.

Much of the same differences come into view when we talk about sexuality. Secularists believe that marriage is a social and legal convention that produces none other than an emotional and legal bond between two persons. Secularists define good, decent and acceptable sex as whether or not it is consensual and so long as there is no coercion or deception involved. This is the reason that secularists can freely distribute contraceptives to school-age children with no reservation.

From a Judeo-Christian view, sex is part of a bigger picture and should not be separated—and that larger picture is marriage. From this view, marriage is not only a legal and emotional bond but also as a biological and spiritual union. After all, a man and a woman can reproduce through the marriage act, which is a single act performed by two people. Thus, showing…“a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This union is more than a metaphor of one flesh; it is a true union. The Judeo-Christian view believes that when sex is sought purely for pleasure or emotional closeness, what really happens is disintegration of the bond between the two participating persons.

Perhaps the disagreement about how both worldviews see the world can best be seen in their view of human choice. Secularists believe that humans have little choice in life. They see free choice as an illusion. So it is not hard to see how they view criminals and the problem of poverty for example. They see people as not responsible for their actions because of external or internal pressure. The Judeo-Christian view comes straight from the Bible and informs us that God has given to each of us a free will, and God will hold us responsible for our choices. [i]

[i] George, Robert P. (2014-05-20). The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion, and Morality in Crisis (Kindle Locations 115-315). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Power of the Choice

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians he encouraged the young Christians to set their hearts on Christ—on things above, and not on earthy things. He clearly explained what he meant by giving a list of the earthly things, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:3-6). Then Paul made an extraordinary statement, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:7-9).

I am completely struck with the words “But now you must rid yourself of all such things…” Just because these believers had placed their faith in Christ did not mean that all the negative stuff in their lives was miraculously swept away. There is no such thing as automatic spiritual growth. Paul underscored an important truth, which is that God has given us a free will that we exercise through the power of our individual choices. When Paul says to us, “You get rid of these things,” he is referring to something that will only happen if we make it happen. We choose to stop lying, we choose to stop stealing, we choose to stop losing control of our temper, we choose to stop slandering others, and we choose to stop using profanity. By the same token, we choose to put on the mature, appropriate behavior. We choose to tell the truth, we choose to be honest, and we choose to control our emotions and our tongues.

I love words because they are the vehicles of how we communicate with each other. One of my favorite words is magnanimous. It means to be big-hearted, which is the opposite of being petty and small. It means to be generous in forgiving an insult while remaining free from petty resentfulness. I propose that people choose to be magnanimous or they choose to be petty. I for one am trying to choose to be magnanimous every day. It is a better way to live.

We love to find excuses for the bad ways we treat others and how we misbehave, but the truth is that we chose to act that way. We will continue to act badly until we rid ourselves of those earthy things and choose to dress ourselves in ways that more resemble Christ.