Keep Your Head Down…?

Perhaps you’ve noticed.

Today, if you put an opinion ‘out there’ that it not what the dominant cultural norm is (at least, for this week), you will get attacked, castigated, painted some form of creature not worthy of an opinion.

So, what do we do in that case?

Many of us just stay quiet.

hand over mouth

…and that’s a problem.

Here’s the thing: If you look at life from an earthly, temporary, here-and-now-is-all-that-exists mindset, you will be subject to the whims of your ‘age’, your culture, etc.

However, if you look at life from a Biblical mindset or worldview, you will not look at events the same way. You will realize that we are at a ‘point’ in the Eternal Scheme of Things that God is working out, in His perfect timing and plan.

The choice of which way you look at life is profound and important, for a host or reasons–not the least of which is that it will impact exactly how you will respond to cultural things.

Most importantly, it also helps you to know what’s ‘right and wrong’ about these cultural things. After all, if God is real, and He’s working out HIStory with a ‘plan’ in mind, that might mean that there’s and ‘end date’ to history! Certainly, there’s an ‘end date’ for each one of us, as individuals, and if God is real, then we should pay attention to what He thinks, more than what our culture thinks.

This means that God’s Word on the matter would mean more than a Hollywood star, a Politician, a Facebook Meme, or the loudest person at the party. None of those things could change God’s Word. That would be important to know.

I know that I, personally, have been struggling with this whole thing. As a Christian, I absolutely believe in God, in His Word, in His Will, and so on. Not a doubt in my mind.

I also believe that our culture–Western culture in general, but American culture in particular–has long ago turned its back on God and has tried to ‘throw off’ the ‘constraints’ of living life–even a little–according to His Word.

I believe that the biggest, most influential move to make would be for The Church–not a ‘building’ or ‘organization’, but rather all of the Individuals who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior–to experience a ‘revival’ of passion, purity, and power, through Repentance, Prayer, Worship, the Word, and renewed commitment to follow Him, come what may. I still believe that.

However, one thing I must confess is that I’ve sort of taken a ‘let them go their way’ mindset…I’ve disengaged from cultural and political discussions, assuming that ‘the die has been cast’. That is wrong.

Here’s one Key that those of us who are Believers know: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”–1 John 5:19. We know that satan is a liar, a thief, a murderer and that he will do anything and everything he can to deceive millions who are in darkness and think they are ‘enlightened’. He wants to take them down with himself. We know that “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they (His followers) might have Life, and have it To The FULL” (John 10:10, emphasis mine).

There IS a battle raging in our world today. It’s not primarily a ‘political’ battle. It’s not even primarily a ‘cultural’ battle. It is, first and foremost, a SPIRITUAL battle.

…and we Believers need to engage!

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Multi-Level Reality

When I was a kid, I had a Stratego game.

A Classic table game of strategy and ‘warfare’ to defeat your enemy by capturing his flag.

A little later, my brother and I got a ‘modern equivalent’ when we received ‘Tank Battle’–another strategy game–this one with cool tank pieces–with which you tried to defeat your enemy.

Both of these were good ‘strategic thinking’ games, because they taught you to think with offense and defense–attacking and protecting–at the same time.

Yet, they each had a limitation: They were one-dimensional. They were played on a board, and only one piece could be moved on that dimension at a time.

Enter the ‘next generation’ of strategy games: Chopper Strike.

In Chopper Strike, you had 2 dimensions–the Earth and the Air.

Weapons–both offensive and defensive–needed to be deployed in both dimensions in order to defeat the enemy and win. This game was a lot more challenging because you would tend to focus on one dimension and lose track of the other. It led to vulnerability.

In real life, of course, there are many more things to be concerned about…not so much other ‘dimensions’ (I believe there’s only 3), but many ‘arenas’.

There’s the ‘relational’ arena, where we make friends, commit to family, love, forgive, grow…

There’s the ‘career’ arena, where we make our choices on ‘what to do for a living’ and try to determine Who we are, What we’re good at, Where our passions lie, then to make a living in that area.

There’s also the ‘political’ arena–which gets so much of our attention today. It is in this arena that President Trump has made a very controversial decision to remove all of our troops quickly from Syria, and to proceed with haste to do the same thing in Afghanistan. This has raised ‘red flags’ among many–even his supporters. It has even led to the resignation of a trusted member of his cabinet–General Jim Mattis.

Now, believe it or not, I’m not interested in debating that. I will not defend the move, nor will I approve it.

My purpose is to wake you up, and to challenge you to think differently–about this, about the Middle East, about the historical changes that are happening (and increasing) there…as the relate back to the 3 ‘dimensions’.

I said that I believe there are 3: Physical; Mental/Emotional; and Spiritual.

The one area we have been notoriously bad at understanding is the Spiritual dimension. I believe that is because we are generally self-centered, here-and-now thinkers who have a sinful nature and have a tendency from conception to tell God ‘no’ and go our own way.

Romans 3:23: Says, ‘”All have sinned; all have fallen short of God’s glorious standard”

Ephesians 2:1 Says “As for you, you were dead in your sins, in which you use to live when you followed the ways of this world, and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”

That ‘spirit who is now at work’ is satan, the devil. Jesus described him as a “liar from the beginning”…a “murderer”, and the ultimate “thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy” everything that God is doing. (John 8:44; 10:10)

We have an enemy–not primarily a military or political one, but a spiritual one. He makes it his goal to distract, divide, and distance us from God and from one another.

He’s pretty good at it too.

Here’s the important point: We imperil ourselves–spiritually, and in every other way–if we don’t take into account the ‘spiritual’ dimension and the enemy of our souls.

We risk eternal separation from the love of our Creator, Redeemer and Friend, if we don’t deal with our sinfulness by receiving by faith the grace of God, through Jesus His Son.

…AND…we risk not seeing things in the here-and-now accurately.

For example, I am of the opinion that this move by our President is in keeping with God’s ‘big picture’ thinking. He is, after all, “The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13). He (God) knows the plan. He’s working His plan. His plan is perfect.

We are part of that plan, whether consciously or unconsciously. If we’re not believers, we ignore (or even oppose) Him…yet He still uses us in His plan. If we are believers, we do our best to follow His will, His Word, and His leading…but we still must rest in the fact that He is still working out His Plan for history. We can trust His plan.

Don’t believe me?

Just take a few minutes to pray, then read Matthew 24-25; Luke 21; Ezekiel 38; Revelation 16-19; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.Read the news–other than American news media–and see some of the moves. Think about how this move by our President–whatever his motivation–may be part of the Plan.

Don’t be so concerned with the ‘Strategic moves’ of the here and now…instead, make sure by faith, prayer, and worshipful living, that you are ready for the ‘Big Picture.

Are You Ready?

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people say it…and how many times I have said it too…’Are You Ready...for Christmas“?

Of course, when we ask this it’s sort of a ‘superficial greeting’–similar to ‘How you doin?’ It’s polite small-talk. Friendly banter.

The answer is anything from ‘Not even close’ to ‘Just about’ to the occasional ‘Absolutely–been ready since October!’

(You just have to wonder about those people.)

As for me…I’m ‘Just about’ ready.

A couple more gifts to buy, a little prep for our Christmas Eve service (6:30 @ KCC, by the way)…some ingredients from Meijer…then ‘yes‘, I’ll be ready!

When I think about the eternal significance of what we are about to celebrate, however, I think we should slow down and ask again…at a deeper level, ‘Are You READY?

Are You Ready…to celebrate the Incarnation–The amazing fact that God (the God of Creation, Ruler of all, Sovereign over all history) became flesh and blood–like us? (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)

Are You Ready…to acknowledge that He came in the most vulnerable form He could–a baby–to traveling parents in an amazing, miraculous way? (Luke 2)

Are You Ready…to worship ‘Immanuel–God With Us’. God who became human in order to walk our walk, talk our talk–yet to do so without any form of sin? (Hebrews 4:15)

Are You Ready… to confess your sin and selfishness to Him, to ask Him for His gracious forgiveness–through the Son, Jesus–and receive His humbling, amazing Grace? (Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:1-9)

Are You Ready…to surrender your life to Him in an ongoing act of worship, acknowledging His right to rule and reign over your life, your death, your eternity…and everything in between? (Romans 12:1-2)

Are You Ready...to believe and stake your life on the fact that He is ‘The Way, The Truth, and The Life”, and that “No one comes to the Father, except by Me” (Jesus)? (John 14:6)

Are You Ready…to lovingly, persistently, graciously and boldly share the Good News about Jesus to all who will listen, praying earnestly that some will come to faith–real, transformational, Life-changing faith in Him? (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Are You Ready…to welcome Him back again–this time as Triumphant Lord of All–coming to vanquish the man-centered anti-christs, who seek to establish themselves as ‘rulers’ over all? (Acts 1:6-11; Matthew 23:39)

Are You Ready?

This Christmas, it’s about much more than having the lights up and the shopping done…this Christmas, let’s say it as it should be:

Are You Ready...for Jesus?

What Are You Waiting For?

Many of us know when we need to make changes.

Maybe it’s after that Doctor appointment. Maybe it’s after another fight…one more job loss…when the bills outlast the money.

Changes rarely happen with we’re comfortable. In fact, changes almost never happen when things are going well and we’re ‘safe and secure’ in our own lives.

That could be why I see a couple realities as I look around:

  1. People generally like where they’re at…and they want to stay there.
  2. When changes do happen, it’s often only when we ‘have to’ make them.

In those cases, the changes can feel traumatic…forced…difficult.

When it comes to FAITH, however, God is more ‘invitational’ to us.

He invites us to change, and asks us to respond because we ‘want to’.

Think of it this way:

If you’re a parent, you love your children. You want them to obey your rules…because you know what’s best for them. You know how to avoid danger better than they do. You know how to stay healthy more than they do. You know how to maintain relationships more than they do.

When your kids are little, you can ‘compel them’ to obey. In fact, as a parent, there are times you must do so.

However, as they get older, you don’t want to keep doing it that way–rather, you hope that they will realize that you are inviting them to a healthy, safe, relationally-sound lifestyle because you love them and want the best for them!

In the same way, God the Father invites us to move closer to Him…not primarily out of ‘fear’ or mere ‘obedience’ (although, as the God of the Universe, He deserves both). Rather, He invites us to move closer to Him because He created us, He loves us, and He genuinely knows and wants the best for us.

He loves us with a sacrificial love–one that sought to ‘rescue’ us from the dominion of darkness in this world.

In fact, that’s what Christmas is all about!

That’s why the cry of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel…’ still rings true.

 

We know we need Him…and the great news is that, He Came!

So…what’s it going to take for you to respond?

Is it going to take a crisis? Is it going to take a setback? Is it going to take an illness?

OR…is it possible for you, instead, to respond to His love through faith in Jesus, the Son–who was sent to ‘Rescue’ us that first Christmas.

He is holding out an invitation to you…will you respond?

I want to invite you to come and hear more about it this weekend at our Christmas Program, “RESCUE!”. Saturday @ 7pm or Sunday @ 9 or 11am.

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Getting Warmer!

Ahh, winter.

A beautiful time of year–from the indoors!winter 2

I love to watch the snow coming down out the back of my patio door…or my office. Beautiful!

Seriously, there are very few feelings that are nicer than coming from the snow into a warm house…chili waiting…or maybe hot chocolate, wrapping yourself in a blanket and sitting by the fire.

fireplace

There is just something satisfying about warming up when it’s cold outside.

When the world is cold, a source of warmth is most welcome!

Well, we all know that there are more ways that this world is ‘cold’ than merely the temperature.

This world can be a ‘cold’, mean-spirited, critical, self-centered and nasty place. It can be a place that bullies, abuses, and discourages us.

At times, we can feel alone, isolated and exposed–like a person locked out of their house with no coat and no keys on a winter morning. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also dangerous!

So, how do we ‘warm up’? Where do we get our ‘fire’ and our ‘blanket’?

It may not surprise you that I believe it comes from God.

As Augustine said,  You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee’. The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As Physicist/Philosopher Blaise Paschal wrote, that the human heart has an ‘infinite abyss’ within, and that  “…this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself” (Blaise Paschal,  Pensées VII(425)). The Psalmist wrote,

“As the deer longs for streams of water,
    so I long for you, O God. 
I thirst for God, the living God.
    When can I go and stand before him?” (Psalm 42:1-2)

This winter, let the cold outside remind you of the harsh evil of the world…but let the warmth inside remind you of the Love of God, the Father in heaven, who wants us to experience the warmth that comes from knowing Him–through Jesus, the Christ.

“This is how God loved the world: He gave[g] his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”–John 3:16-17

Let this thought sink in: God–the God of the Universe–wants you to know Him! He created you, He loves you, and He has ‘Life to the Full’ planned for you–as you love Him and move toward Him by faith in Jesus. hot chocolate

My prayer is that, no matter how cold the world is outside, you would experience the Love of God on the inside…and that His love would change things for you!

 

 

 

Pots and Kettles

If you are…ahem…at least ‘middle aged’, like I am, you have heard the phrase, ‘That’s like the Pot calling the Kettle black’.

It’s an idiom for hypocrisy–when person #1 accuses person #2 of doing the very thing that that person #1 is actually guilty of.

I always wondered: Where do phrases like that come from? According to my ‘extensive research’ (Urbandictionary.com and Wikipedia.com), it arose from centuries ago when people cooked over an open fire. They would use lead pots and copper kettles. Afterward they would clean and polish the kettles…but leave the pots untouched. This resulted in the pot becoming increasing sooty and black. It the pot were to look at the kettle and accuse it of being dirty, all it would actually be seeing is its own reflection.

 

Today in this world (especially in America) there is a whole lot of ‘Pots’ calling a great number of ‘Kettles’ black.

…and before you assume that you’re the shiny one, there’s a good bet that you’ve got some ‘soot’ on you.

So do I.

We all have a worldview–a point of view from which we interpret events in this world. That’s normal and fine. However, we have an increasing tendency to assume the worst in those who see things differently than us…and we tell them so, in Tweets, Facebook posts, or Blogs.

While it may be a good thing that we’re expressing our opinions, it doesn’t take a social scientist’s study to see that the net effect in our culture has been a coarsening of discourse. What used to be an occasional debate and disagreement has become a 24-hour-a=day, 7 day-a-week Twitter war, where each person tries to get a better ‘mic drop comeback’ to their opponent. Mic DropAll the while, relationships, families, and even our society is being ripped apart.

The result? We find ourselves increasingly marginalized and separated into smaller and smaller groups, where we share our ‘offenses’ that we’ve taken from others.

The thing that unites us is…division!

The ‘Left’ accuses the ‘Right’ of being ‘hatemongers who are power-hungry’, and the ‘Right’ accuses the ‘Left’ of being ‘anarchists who morally divisive’. One claims that the ‘other’ started it, and the other replies ‘did not–you did’!

Sort of sounds like a child’s playground argument, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Proverbs 26:20-21:

“Without wood a fire goes out;
    without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.”

 

Now, we have increasing animosity in the news. Terrorism in the mailboxes…violence against a synagogue…riots in Seattle–and that’s only in America over the past week!

Soon, we have an election.

I (along with many) are so tired of the commercials. It’s almost comical to stick through one commercial break in a news program. In just one commercial break–one commercial accuses the Republican, and the next commercial accuses the Democrat–of the same thing!

Question: Where will this end?

Truthful answer: We don’t know. It depends…on us! You and Me!

It is very possible that we’ll have increasingly violent attacks on Politicians, Religious institutions, and the very fabric of our nation.

…or, we can repent of our sinful pride, and seek to be peacemakers instead.

Will we–You and I–continue to throw logs on the fire?

Will we resort to childish ‘you started it’ arguments, or will we challenge ourselves to Rise Above, and seek respectful discourse, assuming the best about the other person along the way?

Some of you reading this right now have already answered ‘yeah, but…’.

STOP! Just STOP!

The enemy of our souls is fomenting an increase in selfishness and hostility, and it’s not going to end well!

That’s why it is CRUCIAL for those who are children of God, by faith in Jesus, that we stand up and love others…as we should. It is crucial that we Christians live out the things we say we believe and show the love that we’ve graciously been given. It is imperative that we remember that we are NOT ‘of this world’ and that our #1 priority is living for the glory of God–and pointing others to our eternal future, inviting them to come along.

1 Peter 2:9-17: 

“But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

“Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.

It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.”

THIS is what we were called to–not mud slinging…and not accusing others of the very sins that we, ourselves are committing.

They’ll know we are Christians by our love!

As for me, I am trying to raise the level of discourse with those who don’t see things the way I do.

I invite you all–Christian or not–to join me!

 

No Rest for YOU!

One of my favorite ‘Seinfeld’ episodes from years ago was called ‘Soup Nazi’. There was a chef in New York who was very temperamental, and IF you wanted soup from him, you had to make sure to conduct yourself according to his ‘code’ while in his shop…otherwise you’d here the phrase, “No soup for YOU!”, and you’d get kicked out. Soup Nazi

Fortunately for us, God’s approach is very different than that, however, many don’t understand that. In fact, many–outside the Church, and even inside of it–believe God to be like that temperamental chef, and if we ‘mess up’, He’s going to say something like ‘No Rest for YOU! No Salvation for YOU! No Grace for YOU!’

The truth is that, IF it were up to us–our heart and behavior–we would stand condemned. Not because God is irrational or moody, but because we have rebelled against His righteous, holy standards. By ourselves, we can do nothing to change that.

The Scriptures make it clear: Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way”; Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”

That’s the ‘bad news’ of the Gospel.

Fortunately for us, however, God didn’t let it end there.

Instead, He provided for One–Jesus–to be the ‘Atoning Sacrifice’ for our sin, and to earn our forgiveness…the Perfect One substituting Himself for the imperfect ones…the Righteous One paying the price of us, sinners.

Romans 3:23-24:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Ephesians 2:1-5: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But 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.”

That’s the Good News of the Gospel!

Here’s the crucial…life-changing…ETERNAL Truth that YOU need to deal with:

God loves you and wants to welcome you in…but you need to repent of your sin and receive His forgiveness, by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

God wants us to have ‘Rest’…real, eternal rest!

‘Yes–Rest for YOU!

But…sadly, many of us would rather try to figure out our own answers.

We try to either: 1) Write God, Himself, off as an ‘invention’ of people who were more ‘primitive’, and less ‘enlightened’ than we are; 2) Convince God (and ourselves),  that we’re ‘not that bad’ and that we don’t really need His forgiveness or Jesus’ sacrifice; or 3) Show God that we’re going to try to ‘straighten up and fly right’, and that we’ll just try harder.

We invent ways to make ourselves righteous, hoping to placate Him.

This is nothing new.

The people of Israel, who should have known better, did it continually.

They would try to ‘figure out their own answers’, yet they’d miss God completely. Therefore, they’d be disciplined by God–out of His love, and for their own good–to bring them back to Himself.

He–their loving God and Heavenly Father–wanted to show them love and compassion…but it’s as if they said “NO!” “No Rest for ME!”

Isaiah 30:15-18:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
    Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
    Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
17 A thousand will flee
    at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
    you will all flee away,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
    like a banner on a hill.”

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”

We’re pretty similar to them.

We try to figure out our own answers…our own ‘solutions’ to our personal and societal problems. We figure that, if we can just pass the right laws, put the right safeguards in place, elect the right politicians, then we can ‘have rest’.

Yet, this will never be the case–as a society, or as an individual.

You and I CANNOT have real ‘Rest’ apart from Jesus the Christ…because, apart from Him, we remain dead…separated from God.

The GREAT news?

We don’t have to stay there!

Through repentance and faith, we can be forgiven–and have New Life, in Jesus!

Then–and only then–can we hope to hear, ‘Yes! Rest for YOU!’