Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Poor Me

Here's something I received from George Bradley recently.

The next time you feel like GOD can't use you, remember...

Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer...


Lazarus was dead.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Live Like You're Dead!

You know how weird it is when someone who has been following Jesus strongly suddenly does a 180 and walks away from all that is true, right, and pure?

I know a man who was a fine Christian leader, founder of a ministry organization, networker par excellence in building his ministry and then BANG, he left his wife and family and everything related to the name of Jesus Christ.

I used to envy his enormous energy levels and admire his broad network. Now I grieve his descent, stunned at the isolation of his new life (not quite the right word, is it?)

That's not all. When I think of him, I am struck with the ingratitude of such behavior in view of the fact that it was our sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. (“My own ‘little’ sins included,” my heart reminds me.) How could anyone treat with contempt so unspeakable a gift as the suffering and death of the Savior?

None of us is immune to temptation. Certainly I am not. But what grief and heartache to so many people comes from wrong choices.

Even more, what grief we bring to a loving Savior when we sin.

Besides, we're dead to sin. Romans chapter 6 says “How can we who died to sin still live in it? ... For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

"You're dead to sin, so live like it!" Paul says.

What a glorious, powerful and liberating death is this death of Jesus, given to us!

Even better, "You're alive to God!"

What a glorious life he has given us in place of the dry, empty shell our life was before we were found in Him.

"Don't let sin reign ... don't present your members to sin ... but present yourselves to God as those brought from death to life ..."

Present yourself to God. With Isaiah, with Abraham, with Samuel we can say, "Here I am, Lord. I'm all yours."

My son, Caleb, has just written a song that says this so much more powerfully than a blog. I've attached it. Listen to it and let me know what you think. (I had to use a video file format but it's actually an audio file in disguise.)

If you like his song, you can hear more at http://greenzonestudio.com/

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pathetic Regime, Extraordinary People

Last November I wrote in this space about meeting an old couple from Iran who were visiting London the same time we were. Only they didn't refer to their country by its usual name. They called it "Persia," choosing the ancient name rather than associate with a corrupt regime. (That was their testimony: "Our leadership is very bad.")

Today's news of a million protesters demonstrating against that very regime makes me wonder if this precious old couple are among them.
At their age, probably not.

Nevertheless, the drum beat of freedom's cry goes on in the streets of Tehran, as tyrants arrest, beat and kill young people who dare to dissent.

"Persia's" leaders may not care about their people, but God does. In fact, in God's economy, the people of Iran, made in his image, are profoundly more important than its government.

Here's how C.S. Lewis put it a few decades ago in his compelling essay, Weight of Glory:

"There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors."

Political leaders--both in Iran and the U.S.--may have little regard for a million people struggling for freedom and the opportunity to improve their lives. Power corrupts, as Lord Acton said, and there is evidence of decaying hearts in powerful people in both nations.

But Iran's people, every single man, woman, boy and girl, are precious to Jesus Christ. In fact, Joel Rosenberg believes that more than 1 million Shia Muslims in Iran have turned to Christ since 1979. May the gospel and glory of Christ continue be lifted up there. And wouldn't it be something if it reached the highest levels?

A million Iranian citizens crying for justice deserve to be heard, not because of their own merits, but because of what it means to be human. Despots in high place may ignore them at least for awhile (although how long they can sustain their imperious posture is anybody’s guess), but from eternity things are going to look very, very different to the most vile abuser of authority.

One more quote from C.S. Lewis to make the point:

"The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Bloody Peace

"President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe called for 'national healing' as he appeared at an independence event with his rival, the current prime minister."

Another broken nationa, another story of the misuse of power and the resulting conflict and shattered lives.

We don't have to look far in the headlines to see the splintered condition of today's world:

  • Sri Lanka Rejects UN Appeal
  • Suicide Bomb Hits Pakistan Police
  • South Africa 'Doomed Under Zuma'
  • Israeli Military Ready to Bomb Iran
Here in the U.S., even at the relatively simple level of political parties, the divide is growing. The Rasumussen polling group reported, in a March 29 story, that "Fifty-eight percent of voters now think politics in Washington, D.C. will be more partisan over the next year rather than more cooperative. That's up from 49% a month ago, 40% two months ago, and 34% in early January."

Those numbers come as no surprise. And that's just the domain of politics, mild compared to divorce, family breakup, ethnic rivalry, homicide and war. Could anybody envision a real and lasting improvement, true healing, real peace? In Zimbabwe? In the Middle East? Anywhere?

There is One who does, One who in fact has promised both peace and justice and who has already made the downpayment. He is in fact the ancient Israeli whose life and death is implicitly acknowledged with every reference to a date; our calendar is testimony to the global impact of Jesus of Nazareth.

Writing to the church in the city of Colossae (in what is now Turkey) about 30 years after the public execution of Jesus, Paul had this to say about that death: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

Why did Jesus die? Among the many dimensions to the answer is the one given above. Jesus died to bring reconciliation to all things, to make peace. His death was the downpayment for the healing of the world. At a cosmic level too profound to fully understand, the perfect God-man laid, by his death, the one true foundation for peace.

The working out of that initial divine act is still underway. Every broken marriage that is mended, every shattered life put back together, every divided family restored ... every time enemies are reconciled, we are seeing the power of Jesus' death at work.

The ultimate reconciliation of all things awaits the coming of his kingdom in its fullness. May that day come quickly. Until then, yes, healing and reconciliation are possible. It's true because he died. It's sure because he rose again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Only Nine Quadrillion

Watch politicians very long and you'll see some strutting. (This is particularly true in the camp that, while claiming to be about the little guy, is amok with self-aggrandizement. There is, on the other hand, that kind of person who doesn't consider himself the center of the universe: he is called a conservative.)

But I digress. I was thinking about the big-man syndrome so much a part of American politics. How great we make ourselves out to be.

But, of course, we're not very great. We're not even a little bit great. The most exalted ruler of the most powerful nation at the most momentous time of history has not the slightest claim on importance, notability, or weight. Not in the eyes of his Maker.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers ... He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble.

Man isn't big. Big is what God is.

God's job is to be big; man's job is to relish how big God is, to delight and wonder at the excellencies of His greatness, His worth and value.

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. ... All the nations are as nothing before Him. They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.

The picture is a view of the Orion Nebula from the Hubble telescope. According to NASA, "the nebula's glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immense interstellar molecular cloud only 1,500 light-years away."

I love that "only 1,500 light-years away." Of course, 1,500 light years is 9 quadrillion miles, no puny hike, but on a cosmic scale, right next door. (Here's a fun and educational little video on the subject of light years.)

Or, to put it another way, 1,500 light years is an utterly impossible distance for man, while to God, who holds the universe in the palm of His hand, it is nothing. Nothing at all.

Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number. He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Better than a Blackberry

My two-year-old Palm Treo isn’t as shiny as it used to be. For one thing, I’ve dropped it lots of times. (Happily, nobody was around to catch that on video.)

More to the point, the technology has moved far beyond it. A mere 700 days ago, my Treo was a cutting-edge device. Now, the iPhones sported by some of my friends have left it in the dust.

My Palm gives me phone access and organizes my chaos and that’s enough for me. At 55, I don’t have to lead the information technology revolution. Younger folks can wow me with their handheld window to the world. I’m still fascinated by all of it, and intrigued by a book like Wikinomics that elaborates on where the current trajectory could take us.

(For example, the author notes that the goal of Wikipedia is to see that “every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” Amazing. And just think: if they succeed, and everybody has a handheld, maybe school will become obsolete. After all, if every fact on every subject is available to every person in seconds from any location, who needs to go to some boring class?)

In fact, I guess ChaCha represents steps already taken in that direction.

Thus does information technology advance. Even the Bible is available as software, even on a handheld. I use it myself, with great benefit.

Still, as fascinating as all this intrusive technology may be, there’s something curious about it. If I read my Bible rightly, there is a dimension of life … a very important dimension … that cannot be digitized and downloaded.

The following verses suggest that the nurture of God’s word cannot be reduced to streaming bits:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

The Bible is given to us as a whole-life source, one that requires regular reading and consistent contemplation. It could be thought of as the opposite of consulting a reference work. You can go to the library and dwell among the classics in reflective study, or simply pull an encyclopedia to look up a fact. Both have their appropriate uses. But they are not equal in their impact on who I am.

Looking up a fact in a reference can be very helpful, but it has little if any impact on my character. On the other hand, when I spend time in thoughtful reflection of ideas and concepts written down by men and women of maturity and wisdom, I am changed. (Which suggests we would do well to keep going to school after all.)

To the degree that those ideas and concepts are biblical, in synch with the one authoritative revelation available to us, the change is profound, and good, and even eternal.

That says something about our nature, since the same Designer who made us also ordained that wisdom and prosperity come from deliberation of His divine Word.

Maybe scriptural meditation was never easy for us distractable humans. But if there was ever a time when we were tempted to neglect it, maybe we’re living in it now.

Or, maybe not yet.

Maybe, if Jesus tarries, a day will come when the data stream will go straight to our brain, no handheld needed. If so, even then our nature would not change. Even in such a world, our growth and our prosperity would depend on our obedience to God’s laws: tune out the chatter, get the Word in, mull it over, think about it, dwell on it.

That's work, to be sure, but work with better rewards. Better even than the latest Blackberry.