Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Good Life

Beware of these teachers of religion! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. They love to sit in the best seats in the synagogues and at the places of honor at banquets—but they shamelessly cheat widows out of their homes and then, to cover up the kind of men they really are, they pretend to be pious by praying long prayers in public.

A couple of weeks ago we thought about Jesus’ warning against the sinful influences of politics and religion (read here). 

Now we see what He thinks of people who use God as a manipulative means to political, social, or economic ends (Luke 20:46). 

Many of the religious teachers around Jesus were quite enamored with special clothes, special greetings, special seats in church, and special places at parties.

Rich and powerful scribes—their protracted and pretentious public prayers notwithstanding—don’t impress Jesus. He fully understands the kind of people they truly are.

And He doesn’t want us to be anything like them.

Accordingly, He teaches us that we cannot follow Him and pursue prestige, power, and popularity. If we decide to follow Him it will be in the Way of the Cross. He says,

If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me (Matthew 16:24).

This isn’t to say that a follower of Jesus can never experience fame or fortune; but to insist that such things—if they come—will not be the focus or goal of the Christ-follower’s life. The wealthy and/or admired Christian will seek to use these things to further the kingdom of God as humbly as she can. Enjoying God now and forever will be her highest end or good.

So why trade a full life with Jesus for an empty one without Him?

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world,
and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
~Luke 9:25

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Love, Marriage, and CS Lewis

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. (CS Lewis, The Four Loves)

The Four Loves is a marvelous study on the various types or kinds of love within human experience. Lewis examines our “loves” in light of four Greek terms: storgephilia (also phileo), eros, and agape.

I’d like to consider eros

Eros, in Hollywood, is the end all and be all of all things between a man a woman. Hollywood knows only one sort of love and it knows it wrongly.

Hollywood, more often than not, simplistically equates eros with sexual desire (from eros comes erotic). But eros is more than sexual desire and sexual desire is often less than eros. Human sexuality may operate within eros or without it. (When it operates without it, it is little more than—in fact it may properly be thought of as less than—animalistic.)

Eros, as conceived by Lewis, is the state of “being in love.” Healthy marriages certainly enjoy romantic love. But eros in marriage cannot simply be enjoyed. It must be encouraged. Godly spouses will seek to stir eros in their covenant lover’s heart, as well as in their own heart.

Yet, as vitally important as eros is to marriage, it is but one aspect of it. We dare not elevate eros too highly. We must not make a god of him as Hollywood has done.

As Lewis observes,

Eros, honored without reservation and obeyed unconditionally, becomes a demon . . . what costlier offering can be laid on love’s altar than one’s conscience?

How many homes have been decimated, honor betrayed, and hearts vitiated in the name of “love”? Eros must be submitted to Christ and His word. And when it is, it is glorious.

Rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love (Proverbs 5:18b-19).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Jesus & Other Ways

Early Christianity was known as the Way—a clear reference to Jesus’ claim of being “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). To be sure, there were many ways then as there are now, but Jesus eschews them all and invites us to do the same.

However, we sometimes con ourselves into believing that we can somehow hang onto Jesus while following other ways. But how does one simultaneously travel north and south and live to tell about it?

Quite often we are so enculturated by the ways of world that we are oblivious to our wandering. Indoctrination can be imperceptible.

Thus, Jesus warned His earliest disciples: “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15).

Jesus uses leaven as a metaphor of sin’s invisible or unnoticeable, spreading or increasing influence in our lives. We may imagine that we needn’t heed the Lord’s “Watch out!” because—the last time we checked—the Pharisees and Herod are long gone.  

Yes, but their ways are with us still.

The Pharisees walked the way of religion; Herod the path of politics.

Dear reader, please beware of the leaven of politics and religion. These coercive ways are not the Way of Christ and they can never advance the kingdom of God.

Those who dismiss the Lord’s warning against the ungodliness of politics and religion should remember this one important thing: Jesus reads Facebook.

I think He knows what He’s talking about. Don’t you?

Pharisees, Herods, Zealots, Essenes
Caesars, gods, and philosopher kings
So many ways, so many means
Ends never to bring
Apart, above, below and beyond
Power’s thirst allayed
Quenched on a Cross, love displayed
The Way of a crucified God

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hooonestyyyy Is Such A Lonely Word...

In a time of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” Jesus is a breath of fresh air. There’s no truthiness in Him—only truth. And He invites us to walk with Him in His Way; to be His disciples.

In other words, He wants us to trust and emulate Him in all we say and do.

He teaches: “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).

Why is this way of speaking and living such a rarity? Why are we so often tempted to tell it like it isn’t?

I think one reason we are tempted to tell it like it isn’t is our desire to impress. We want others to think well of us, and the truth about us just doesn’t seem all that impressive. So…we fudge a little.

Another reason we may tell it like it isn’t is to protect ourselves. Perhaps the thinking is, “If so-and-so knew the truth, they’d like me less;” or something to the effect of, “If the truth comes out, I’ll be hurt.”

Sometimes we play fast and loose with the truth in effort to manipulate people. We deftly tell it like it isn’t to elicit certain responses and behaviors. (We may even deceive convince ourselves we’re doing such things for others’ good.)

Doesn’t telling it like it isn’t sound absolutely exhausting?

Following Jesus liberates us from all this.

When we find our self-worth and identity in Him, we can finally stop our striving. We can rest from our labors to impress, protect, and manipulate.

When we live in the reality that He not only knows all about us but also loves us with God-sized love; we are then free to live without fear and pretense in our interactions with Him, ourselves, and others.

What love, joy, and peace come from walking with the Lord!

You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
(John 8:31-32)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Divided Loyalties

I received the following comment from last Saturday’s blog:

Speaking of and on EARTHLY things? As an American? I am absolutely all about America 1st.

Below is my response.


Thank you for reading, Friend. I think I understand your sentiment.

That being said, it's difficult to see how one can be "absolutely all about America 1st" and also be "absolutely all about the kingdom of God and His righteousness 1st."

A few things come to mind...

First, you and I have only one life to live, one worldview. So, which kingdom (America's or God's) will be "absolutely 1st" in our beliefs and behaviors?

Second, Jesus' kingdom is earthly. That is, His kingdom is right here on earth. He rules and reigns where we are. He rules and reigns in our hearts (unless our hearts belong to something or someone else—another kingdom).

Yes, Jesus teaches us that His kingdom is not of the world (meaning His kingdom does not originate from the world like other kingdoms) but He is quite clear that His kingdom is indeed in the world—here, now. (This is good news!)

Third and finally, Jesus fully understands the problem of divided loyalties. He teaches us that we cannot "serve two masters." (That is, we cannot be "absolutely all about" two—sometimes antithetical—kingdoms.) The fact is, many times the American kingdom is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.

Thus, it is my sincere prayer that I and all others who would follow Jesus do so with hearts and minds given wholly to Him.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other;
you will be devoted to one and despise the other.
(Matthew 6:24)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Twilight Of Evangelicalism

We have a new President. I pray God influences President Trump to be honest, wise, and humble; to be a true servant-leader.

I pray and I think.

I reflect on the deleterious effects the election of 2016 had—and continues to have—on evangelicalism within the United States and perhaps beyond.

For far too many, following Donald trumped following Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong.

The overwhelming majority of evangelicals, in my personal acquaintance, voted for President Trump simply because they—rightly or wrongly—believed him to be the “lesser of two evils.” 

Nevertheless, vote for him they did. And so, they’re understandably perceived and portrayed by the world as being aligned with President Trump: his ways, his views.  

Is it any wonder that some are longing for a new Christian movement altogether, one not married to the Republican Party or sullied with identity politics?  

Evangelicalism was closely associated with the campaign of Donald J. Trump . . . As a result, much of the good that went by the name “evangelicalism” has been clouded over; now a new movement is needed to replace it. . . . Jesus-centered faith needs a new name. . . . Perhaps we need a new reformation — one that invites Christians to return to the teachings of Jesus and offers our neighbors a truer vision of how He lived and moved in the world.

In other words, “cultural-Christianity” isn’t working.

As Keith Giles observes: "You can't convert a culture that has already converted you."

But as the sun sets on some, it rises upon others...

Thus, just as I pray for President Trump and hope for the best, I also pray for Christianity in the USA and hope for the best; that lessons are being learned and allegiances to Christ and His kingdom are being clarified and strengthened—yes, a new reformation, a brighter tomorrow.

Make no mistake. I’m not talking about "America first."

"America first" isn't the message of Jesus. He calls us to an entirely different Way. 
Jesus tells His followers to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). 

What if evangelicals were actually committed to doing what Jesus says to do in the way He says to do it? 

Asked another way: What if we were more Christian than American? 

Can we show a better Way to disoriented cultures? Can we model for them a more Jesus-looking God?

They’re watching, dear reader. So is the Lord.

For you who fear My name,
the Sun of Righteousness will rise
with healing in His wings.
~Malachi 4:2

For a follow-up piece, see here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Avoiding God

Here are some time-honored tips for avoiding God.

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.

Ah, the inimitable C.S. Lewis!

We’ve been God-dodgers from our genesis it seems. But there’s a problem. The great difficulty in avoiding God is namely this: He’s terribly conspicuous.

Probably no one has ignored Him altogether but it’s certainly not from lack of trying. (Did you ever try really hard to not think about something or someone?)

Lewis himself gave atheism his best shot; but in the end, his faith in no-God couldn’t withstand Love’s relentless pursuit.

You must picture me alone in that room . . . night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? (Surpised By Joy, p. 125)

God’s neither lost nor hiding. He’s clearly seen in the beautiful face of Jesus Christ. Wherever you are, God is there. Open your eyes and bask in the view.