Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Under The Influence

The ways of the prevailing culture whether American, Chinese, Polish or Indonesian—its assumptions, its values, its methods of going about its work—are never on the side of God. Never.1

As followers of Jesus we are called and challenged to be countercultural; in the world but not of it. Of course, culture is unavoidable and thus we cannot, in fact we probably should not, try to rid ourselves of it entirely. ("Uncultured For Jesus" seems a bit ill-conceived, does it not?)

Nevertheless, Christ-followers must guard against being unduly influenced by the assumptions, values, and methods of the world.

Two areas where Christians are currently too heavily influenced by culture immediately come to mind.

The first is media. We are drowning in it. Information and misinformation abound. I always think of Mark Twain’s quip: “If you don’t read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you do read them you are misinformed.”

What would he say today?

I am increasingly convinced that media hurts more than helps. What if we spent more time with scripture than news? 

We have to break the ignorant and faithless habit of letting the journalists of the day tell us what is going on. We need at least to give Isaiah equal time: Holy, Holy, Holy.2

Dear reader, who is a surer guide for navigating the minefields of society than Jesus? Do you think He has more wisdom than popular pundits? 

The second area of concern is politics. When we are euphoric or suicidal over who wins elections, we are imbalanced. Overreactions from Statists (Left and Right) are to be expected. But why the hysteria from those who claim to follow Christ?

Friends, politicians are no more qualified than pundits to tell us how or what to think.

The times in which we live are not definitive for our lives. The kings and presidents who lead us don’t have the last word (and certainly not the first!) on how we live our lives.3

Yet many Christians simply mirror the culture when it comes to all things government. They cede way too much influence to kingdoms of the world.

Jesus reveals a better Way.

He says we should give to Caesar what is his (tax money) and to God what is His (everything else).

Said another way, your money bears the image of your government; you bear the image of your God.

He tells us and He shows us.

Jesus ignored the whole business. Jesus spent His life walking down roads and through towns dominated by Herod’s policies, buildings shaped by Herod’s power, communities at the mercy of Herod’s whims. And He never gave them the time of day. . . . He lived as if Herod had never existed.4

So who influences you the most? I mean really.

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1Eugene H. Peterson, “The Jesus Way,” p. 126
2Ibid, p. 134
3Ibid, p. 132 
4Ibid, p. p. 202, 204

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jesus Talks With Donald Trump

Jesus: “Thank you for meeting with Me on such short notice, Donald.”

Trump: “Not a problem. Inconvenient, maybe, but not a problem. Did you see me win the election? Did you see it?”

Jesus: “Most of it. Do you still think it was all rigg—”

Trump: “It was fantastic! Wasn’t it fantastic? Terrific. I beat Crooked Hillary bigly, Jesus. So bigly.”  

Jesus: “I’m guessing you must be over the moon these days for the Electoral College!”

Trump: “Electoral College is good. Not as good as Trump University. But good. People are saying it’s good. They like me over there. So, it’s not bad, I don’t think.”

Jesus: “Anywho…I’d didn’t come to talk politics. I’d like to talk about you.”

Trump: “I’d like that too. I like you, Jesus. I do. I like you. You seem nice.”

Jesus: “Right.”

Trump: “You should’ve endorsed me! Evangelicals love me. Absolutely love me. You should’ve. It would’ve been huge.”

Jesus: “Well, evangelicals don’t care about what I think nearly as much as you may imagine…”

Trump: “No? Well I think you’re great. I should endorse You!” (Laughs.) “Maybe I’ll make You great again.”

Jesus: (Laughing.) “No, no! That’s quite alright, Donald. Can we be serious for just a moment?”

Trump: “Sure. Sure. I like serious. I think serious is good.”

Jesus: “Once, long ago, I asked this question: ‘What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?’ I know you’ve accomplished a lot in your life. But how is it with your soul? Have you thought about this?”

Trump: “Well, I’m a good person. Okay? Believe me. I’m a good person. Right now I’m thinking about the soul of our nation—”

Jesus: (Chuckles.) “You mean your nation, the United States. All nations are my concern. I’m not an American, you know!” (More chuckling). “But, Donald, don’t you see that a nation doesn’t really have a soul? I know it sounds poetic. But the  soul of a nation is simply metaphor. People, not nations, have eternal souls. I love the nations because I love the people. Nations and empires come and go but individuals last forever. So…how is it with your soul?”

Trump: “I think it’s good. It’s good. I’m gonna make America great again. That I can tell you.”

Jesus: “So I’ve heard!” (Smiles.) “Donald, every American—in fact every person who has ever lived or ever will live—needs a Savior. Let me be direct: I am the Savior everyone needs—including you.”

Trump: “I’m a deal-maker, Jesus. I make good deals. It’s what I do. And I’m gonna make America great again.”

Jesus: “Friend—I hope you don’t mind Me considering Myself your friend—”

Trump: “Not at all. You’re a good person.”

Jesus: “Friend, I’m not talking about making the richest and most powerful nation in the world richer and more powerful. Honestly, I don’t consider material wealth and military power to be all that 'great.' All these things are transitory. The kingdoms of this world—yours and everyone else’s—will come and go. But My kingdom is forever. I wish you would seek My kingdom and encourage others to do the same.”

Trump: “The heaven thing is nice. It’s good. But I live in the real world. Okay? The real world. And I’m gonna make America great again. We’re gonna start winning again.”

Jesus: “Well, I’m not talking about heaven, exactly. I’m talking about the real world we both live in. My kingdom isn’t of the world but it’s certainly in it. Nor am I talking about 'winners' and 'losers' as you are. Rather, I’m offering you and everyone else eternal life.”

Trump: “Sounds terrific. Let’s do this again some time. Okay? Okay? Alright.”    
Jesus: “In case we don’t, please hear Me now. Your nation’s problems aren’t the lack of money or military. More of these things will not help you. The root of your problems is sin—closed hearts more than open borders. I’m offering you and everyone else something completely different. I’m inviting you to enjoy life in My kingdom now and always; to do things My Way. Won’t you at least think about it?”

Trump: “Maybe I’ll run it by Pence, see what Mike thinks about it.”


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Jesus Way

For about the last 4 years (probably longer) I thought Hilary Clinton would be the next President.

My crystal ball is broken.

Of course, I’m not alone. Many folks were mistaken; but I’m thinking of two groups in particular: pollsters and conspiracy theorists.

The vast majority of polls predicted a Hilary win. What went wrong with the polls? I guess we’ll just have to wait for the pollsters to tell us.

And the conspiracies!

First we were told there wouldn’t even be an election—martial law Obama style. Then conspiracy enthusiasts insisted the Republican primaries were rigged. Finally, up to the day of the election, conspiracy theorists claimed the election was being stolen.

Not a word of truth in any of it.

Even so…pollsters and conspiracy theorist are here to stay. (They’re like “prophecy” preachers: No amount of wrongness can put them out of business.)

At any rate, the election is finally behind us (sort of).

So what should Christ-followers do now? Well, we should do now what we should’ve done all along: Follow Jesus.

Numbers don’t lie. Sometimes numbers are filthy liars.

That being said, vote totals demonstrate that America is deeply divided. This has pretty much always been the case. In addition to being deeply divided, the nation is also deeply sinful and hurting. And make no mistake, politics—earthly coercive powers—can never heal us.

But Jesus shows us a different Way.

He alone brings true forgiveness, unity, and healing. As we trust Him and His way in every aspect of our lives, the Holy Spirit renews our minds and transforms us from the inside out. As we individually and corporately experience His grace and abundant life, we are empowered—as His new humanity—to share His love and mercy with others.

In other words, followers of Jesus must lead the way in loving our neighbor as ourselves—Democrat, Republican, and indifferent. We must endeavor to sincerely repair the relationships this vicious election cycle destroyed. (This is why I say the election is behind us “sort of.”)  

Our attitude must be: No matter who you voted for or if you didn’t vote at all, Jesus loves you and so do I. Christ-followers won’t just say it. We’ll live it.

Jesus people will also pray for Donald Trump and all who are and/or will be in authority. We want God to influence them to obtain wisdom and servant-hearts.

Pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. (1Timothy 2:1-2)

Peace and quiet. Godliness and dignity. It’s the Jesus Way. Is it yours?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wicked Ways Without and Within

The Lord detests the way of the wicked,
but He loves those who pursue godliness.
~Proverbs 15:9

Life is a journey. To a large extent, where you go depends upon whom you follow.

Presently, many folks are following politicians—two in particular. Their reprehensible race to the bottom—the way of the wicked—is detestable, indeed.

But while it’s relatively easy to see the wicked ways of politics and the evil without; what about the sinfulness within? You know…that whole “plank in your own eye” thing of which Jesus warns.  

As I think about God detesting the way of the wicked, the prayer of Psalm 139 comes to mind:

Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (v. 23,24)

Followers of Jesus don’t want anything in their hearts and minds to hinder intimacy with the Father. So, we offer our honest and vulnerable plea: search me, O God.

Things can creep into our hearts almost imperceptibly. We can—without due diligence—harbor things that God doesn’t like. Because God is holy and because He loves us immensely, He is displeased with anything in us that works against our or our neighbor’s good.

We need Him to point out these things to us. When He does so, we must immediately begin praying and working towards being rid of all He dislikes. I’m thinking about things such as anger, pride, self-will, envy, pettiness, bitterness, un-forgiveness, self-righteousness, and all “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21).

We’ll likely not eliminate all wrong things at once or once-and-for-all. Thus, our pursuit of godliness is a life-long expedition. As we pursue God, He lovingly and patiently leads us along the path of everlasting life. Notice, He does not drive us, but leads us; walks before and beside us like a shepherd.

And always remember: God doesn’t simply empty. He also fills. 

Dear reader, what would the Lord like to remove from your life today? Whatever it is, offer it to Him at once. You’ll be glad you did. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Unfailing Love

Your unfailing love is better than life . . .
~Psalm 63:3

The psalmist says much in few words.

First, we see that God loves. God loves because love is essential to His very nature. God loves and always has. Even in eternity past, when no other thing or person existed, God loved. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shared love within the Godhead. God is love (1John 4:8).

Second, we understand that God loves unfailingly. This lets us know that His love is not predicated upon what others do or don’t do. Rather, His love is based upon His character and nature alone. He does not love more at times and less at others. His love endures all things and never fails.

Finally, we are told God’s love is better than life. What does this mean? I think it means all loves pale in comparison to His. It means all things other than God are finite and can do and be only what their finitude allows. Thus everything life offers is impermanent or transitory; but not God’s infinite, unfailing love.

But while God’s love is constant, our comprehension and experience of it are not. That is, for any number of reasons, we don’t always sense, understand, or express it as we could or perhaps should. So, we want to grow in our capacity to know God’s love; both in the giving and the receiving.

Increasing love for God, self, and others is the primary manifestation of true spiritual growth. What will such progress look like? It will look more and more like Jesus.

**************** 
Prayer: All-loving God, enable us to intimately and increasingly know You and Your love. Let our love be fervent and genuine. Show us how to love in thought, word, and deed. Help us to love others like Jesus loves us. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thinking About Thinking

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right,
and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are
excellent and worthy of praise.
~Philippians 4:8

Have you ever thought about your thinking? What thoughts occupy your mind and why?

It is apparent that many folks in our country—and even in our churches—are filled with anxious and angry thoughts. The impending election coupled with 24/7 cable news only serve to heighten their angst.

Sensing the tension in my own mind, about 6 weeks ago I felt led of the Lord to go on a “media fast.” (I have since found several other friends doing the same.) The difference in my attitude and thinking is astounding.

I am convinced that less news, more Jesus is a good thing.

We know the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But how can these be ours if we constantly feed our minds fearful, angry thoughts?

I assure you, appearances notwithstanding, there has never been a godly person with an ungodly thought-life.

So, Jesus cleans us inside out. He says, “First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” (Matthew 23:26).

Would you like to be loving, joyful, patient, kind, etc.? Then you must think about your thinking. You must “fix your thoughts” on excellent things.

***********

Prayer: Holy Spirit, please renew the spirit of our minds. Transform us. Help us to have a more disciplined, godly thought-life. Make us more like Jesus in what and how we think.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

God's Free Gift

The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
through Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 6:23

A wage is something earned. Thus Jesus says, “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). You and I certainly deserve the death-wages of sin, for we are sinners by nature and choice.

But God is rich in mercy.

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
~Ephesians 2:4-5

Because God is merciful we don’t always get what we deserve. We’ve earned death but God’s amazing love compels Him to give us a free gift instead: eternal life. This precious gift comes through Jesus Christ.

Aren’t you thankful for merciful love?

His love for us is so great that He freely gives us life that never ends. In other words, God loves us so much that He desires to be with us now and always. Today and every day—for all eternity—God welcomes our company.

He’ll never regret the time we spend with Him and neither will we.

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Prayer: Father, how we rejoice in the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting! Holy Spirit, make us merciful towards others like Jesus is towards us.