Monday, June 22, 2015

Living For Christ in Our Culture Today, #1

This next week I embark on a risky endeavor.  I'm going to do a series of messages on what it means to live for Christ in our culture - or what in the world does it mean to be a Christian and live for Christ in the midst of this world?

With all sorts of cultural issues to address, I do not pretend to be an expert on any.  I am a Christian first and foremost, and my allegiance is, and hopefully will always be, to be faithful to God, his word, and the work of Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God.

I don't pretend to know what all of those things mean.  With racial strife, questions on same-sex marriage, terrorism worries, privacy concerns, and the technological malaise that exists...I would be naive to say, "Oh, I have an answer for this..."

What I do want to do is address some of the issues here - especially as it relates to what I'm teaching on.  I know that not all will agree with me - it has never happened before so I don't believe it will happen again.  What I do hope to do is "reprove, correct, with all long suffering and patience"... to challenge my mind, soul, spirit, along with your's, to "love the Lord your God with all your MIND..." (as well as heart, soul, strength).

My fear is that we have succumbed to the cultural world of post-modernism that tells us that our concepts gained from Scripture are unreliable, out of date, and no longer relevant to our modern world.  I've heard that before.

This week I'm going to dive into one of our more current cultural divides:  Same-Sex Marriage.

I wanted to post for your reading something that I read 6 years ago, and signed on to.  I still believe it to be relevant, as a Christian believer, today.  It is called "The Manhattan Declaration" and comes from a wide ranging group of Christian leaders from Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical groups.  It was released in October 2009, and I signed it in early 2010.

The Manhattan declaration is summarized as follows:
Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

When I signed this document the waves of activism concerning same sex marriage were only beginning to be heard.  It has changed tremendously over the last five years and now our Supreme Court justices are soon to rule on States laws that either grant or prohibit recognition of Same-Sex marriages.

What is it therefore that we, 21st century Christians and citizens, supposed to do?  believe? hold on to? reject? work for?

I would encourage you to read the entire Manhattan Declaration, but especially the second section on Marriage... it's worth thinking about.  You can read the entire document at:

http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/man_dec_resources/Manhattan_Declaration_full_text.pdf

Let me know what you think.

Peace

Monday, June 15, 2015

Heaven: He Makes All Things New

Revelation 21:5
5  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

It's almost summer here in Wisconsin - that is on the calendar.  It has felt like Summer for a couple of weeks or more.  I was walking with Linda and remarked how just 8 weeks ago we were longing for warm weather.  The fight between Winter and Summer is called Spring here, but it is just that - a fight.  One day its warm, the next cold.  One day is dry, the next wet.  I had one day where I turned on the furnace in the morning for a couple of minutes just to warm up the house, only to turn on the air conditioner at night just to get rid of the warm humidity.  That's Wisconsin.

What if Winter leading to Summer through this thing called Spring was not a natural way for us to see something Jesus was teaching us?  The Winter is long, dark, cold.  Spring comes in to usher in light, hope, warmth...good news arrives.  One day I'm looking at snow on the ground and then all of a sudden it's green - flowers emerge, trees blossom, and "look, I am making everything new."

I walk - almost every day - and often use it as a prayer/meditation time.  I "muse" as this blog is entitled.  The very typical part of my walk is to say a personalized version of the Lord's Prayer.  I find Jesus' prayer to be concise, and yet complete.  You remember the second line:  "Let your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Ask the typical Christian what they think of in relation to the Kingdom of God and they will often not have the slightest idea of how to explain it.  So also, Heaven itself.  A Kingdom is a very real thing - a defined place where someone leads, or rules; and there are laws, or ways in which things are to be done.  In Jesus' prayer for us, the plea is for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, for his will to be done on the earth...sounds great to me.  But is it future tense only?  Why can't it be NOW too?
His Kingdom will is/can be done on earth as it is in heaven...isn't that what Jesus taught us to pray.

SO, that then gets us to the place of wondering about what Heaven is like anyway.  I know people who think Heaven is like a long church service - after all, isn't there worship going on in Heaven all of the time?  And for many, we sigh, and think how we're not very spiritual because we can't say, "Oh, I'm really looking forward to an unending worship service..."

BUT here's the key:  What heaven looks like is something we're given a picture of in Jesus' earthly ministry.

Luke 4:18-19
18  “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,
19  and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.


Matthew 4:23-24
23  Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.
24  News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon-possessed or epileptic or paralyzed—he healed them all.
 


Heaven is the place where the captives walk free...
The blind go out and get a book to read...
The oppressed live without fear of tyrants...
Sickness...disease...demons...epilepsy...the paralyzed... None of that is there...

"Look, I make all things new."  You notice the words.  He doesn't say "I am making all new things."  No, he's taking the Winter of our cold, dark world and make all the things that existed then, new!  Life is restored, and creation that he called "good" in Genesis 1 is once again completely good.

"Look, I make all things new." means we don't get new glasses, we get new eyes!  When Jesus walked the earth he healed and restored, he didn't hand out crutches.

"Look, I make all things new..."  That's You and Me too....I can't wait to see that.

Peace



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Some Thoughts on Cultural Shifts, Same Sex Marriage, and the Church

I don't consider myself an apologist, nor theologian, not even a scholar.  I am a Pastor and have spent the better part of 43 years developing my role as teacher, scholar, theologian, and apologist.  After all, a Pastor is committed to doing all of those things whether one is good at it or not.

Like others who serve in ministry today, the cultural shifts that seem like a tidal wave of change concerning same-sex marriage have made a huge impact on the church today.  I have read the articles that are both for and against the church recognizing and welcoming same-sex marriage.  I see the Christians who have changed positions on the subject and give their arguments for why they now support that which they had before been opposed to - or at least did not give approval for.

Recently I ran across two articles - both by people much smarter than me and much more credentialed to speak to a larger audience than I might ever speak to.  Both of the articles were provocative, well reasoned, scripturally sound and most of all (to me) absent of vitriolic tension. [Like many arguments that the church has engaged in over the centuries, there are no end of those whose voices "produce a lot of heat, but not much light"].

The one article is written by a biblical scholar - Roger Olson.  It is well worth reading.  What he proposes I have agreed with for almost all of the 40+ years I've been in ministry - which is, that the church is not beholden to the state and neither is the state to the church.  Let them each make it clear where they stand and let each decide what to include and what not.  Historically the church arose in the tension of the Roman empire and on almost every level of culture the church made a stand to be exclusive to Roman government's decrees on philosophy, religion, and cultural acceptability.

 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/06/some-thoughts-and-a-proposal-about-the-religion-and-marriage-issue/

 I would also suggest you read his follow-up short article to clarify some thoughts on the first one:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/06/follow-up-to-my-post-about-marriage/

I also read an article by Timothy Keller who serves as lead Pastor of a large Presbyterian church in New York City.  He's an author I've enjoyed reading over the years and recommend him not only for his ability to write, but also for his ability to let scripture and culture speak to each other.  His article was written for his church as a review of two books that recently came out in favor of same sex marriage.  His reviews are well worth the time to read.

http://www.redeemer.com/redeemer-report/article/the_bible_and_same_sex_relationships_a_review_article

I know that these will not end the debate.  There is a growing movement to accept the cultural shift towards same sex marriage, and many of the church, including friends of mine, have shifted their positions.

I would urge you to read those who have well thought out, well reasoned, and loving responses against that shift...they are there.

Peace


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Overcoming the Fear of Death

I recently wrote on Fears...we all have them.  Perhaps none is more difficult for us to resolve than the fears that come when we think about death.

This is what I know with certainty - 100% of us will die.  We know that this life is not going to last.  While we might wish/hope for a life that is lived lucidly and physically well through our 80's, maybe even into our 90's, we don't know how long it will really be, nor do we know how it will someday end.

How then should we think about this subject - one that frankly we'd love to pretend does not exist?

Let's begin with this question:  Do we really believe that this life is so good, and death so bad?

The Apostle Paul makes a statement about life, and from it, a statement about death:

2 Corinthians 5:1-6
1  For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.
2  We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing.
3  For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.
4  While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.
5  God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
6  So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord.  


The language is crucial for us who believe in both life here on earth and eternal life that is to come.  This life in our body is an "earthly tent".  I have camped, and tents serve their purpose, but I have no desire to live out life in a tent!  This tent of our body is not meant to last, but what awaits us is an eternal body made for us by God himself.  He goes on:  Our bodies are old clothes waiting for new clothing.  Our bodies are physical, limited, and in these bodies we groan, sigh, and eventually this body of ours will die.  Yet that means that one day our life will be heavenly, swallowed up by LIFE.

Does it mean we hate this life?  NO...  because the life we live now is a GIFT from God, it is meant to prepare us for this Eternal Life that is to come.

Look at these quotes from John Calvin as he reflected upon the life of the believer, both here and in the future.

First he reflects on the way in which we should look at our present life on earth:

"Were there no proofs in Scripture (they are most numerous and clear), yet nature herself exhorts us to return thanks to God for having brought us forth into light, granted us the use of it, and bestowed upon us all the means necessary for its preservation. And there is a much higher reason when we reflect that here we are in a manner prepared for the glory of the heavenly kingdom... When once we have concluded that our earthly life is a gift of the divine mercy, of which, agreeably to our obligation, it behooves us to have a grateful remembrance..."

In contrast, he reflects on the way in which we look at the end of our earthly life and the life to come after our death:

"Let believers, then, in forming an estimate of this mortal life, and perceiving that in itself it is nothing but misery, make it their aim to exert themselves with greater alacrity (ie. readiness, or exhuberance) , and less hindrance, in aspiring to the future and eternal life. When we contrast the two, the former may not only be securely neglected, but, in comparison of the latter, be disdained and condemned. 
If heaven is our country, what can the earth be but a place of exile? 
If departure from the world is entrance into life, what is the world but a sepulchre, and what is residence in it but immersion in death? 
If to be freed from the body is to gain full possession of freedom, what is the body but a prison? 
If it is the very summit of happiness to enjoy the presence of God, is it not miserable to want it? 
But “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord,” (2 Cor. 5:6). 
Thus when the earthly is compared with the heavenly life, it may undoubtedly be despised and trampled under foot."

I LOVE what Calvin says in summary of how our lives look like as they end in death:

"For it is as if the Lord had assigned us a post, which we must maintain till he recalls us."

We do not despise life here on earth - it is God's gift to us.  Paul said it like this to the Philippians:

Philippians 1:20-24
20  For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.
21  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
22  But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better.
23  I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.
24  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.


But this is what I know, our life ends as God - who has assigned us a post - recalls us to himself, to LIFE, to heavenly glory, and to his throne!

Peace

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dealing With Our Fears

All of us have fears and they change with the changing seasons of our lives.  When I was a father of four small children, I feared something happening to me wherein I would not be able to provide for them.  I feared something happening to them worse than injury or failure.  I feared, probably most of all, something happening to their Mother since I had no idea how I'd take care of four kids!

All of us have fears.

As I've gotten older my fears have changed.  I now have more thoughts on health concerns than anything else.  Linda and I recently met with some friends who are our age and as we drove away we both commented on how wonderful it was to be with them - AND, not once did we talk about health issues!

I have fears about future issues.  I watched my Mother battle Alzheimer's Disease for over 10 years and saw her lose her memory of almost everyone she knew.  I watched my Father battle disease for the last couple of years of his life before he succumbed to it.  As a Pastor, I've stood with brothers and sisters in community as they have gone through innumerable pains from disease, divorce, depression, and more.

All of us have fears - yours are probably different in many ways, and in some ways, you probably have some similar ones.

It's not always bad to have fears.  I buckle my seat belt, look both ways at intersections, lock the doors, turn on lights in the dark, fill up the car with gas when it gets below a quarter tank, check for weird sounds, read articles about prevention and pain, on and on I could go.

Sometimes our fears are proved to be pointless; but I don't think fears are bad - they can help us be prudent and discerning if we allow them to.
But, sometimes they can be paralyzing and prevent us from moving forward in life.

For example, I woke up in the middle of the night, and the first thought in my mind was about death!  Why?  I do not know.  I found myself realizing that I could not get back to sleep because it had invaded my mind and imagination with all sorts of fears.  But, I recalled a passage of scripture:

Hebrews 2:14-15
14  Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--
15  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.


 Although we know all will eventually die, our ultimate goal in life is to live.  Yet the fear of death is real.  But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that the enemy of God uses the issue of death against us - unless we have our faith in Jesus who as a human also died, and showed that death has no power in the face of eternal life in God.

Fear - the proper fear - is protective, prudent, and wise.

Proverbs 3:5-7
5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6  in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

7  Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.


There is a fear "of the Lord" that is not based on quaking fear of judgment...  

1 John 4:18 
18  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

But one that recognizes the wisdom and power of that wisdom in life that deserves respect and awe over the so called wisdom, or foolishness of the world:

Proverbs 9:6-12
6  Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.
7  "Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.

8  Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.

9  Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

10  "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

11  For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.

12  If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer."


Even Jesus weighed in on this when confronted with the anger and opposition of the religious leaders.  
Luke 12:4-5
4  "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.
5  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.


SO, I do have fears...  and yet I'm a person who realizes that some, while all too real, are not worth the time and anxiety spent on them.  There are eternal issues that God in scripture makes clear are worth the time to spending time thinking about.

Your thoughts?

Peace





Thursday, June 4, 2015

Israel Reflections - Final

This is the final post I'll make on our trip last month to Israel.  The overall time was filled with lots of interesting times to both site see and meet some people from Israel.

Israel is a place filled with Tension!  That is an understatement.

All over the country young adults fill the ranks of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).  A picture of six young women carrying automatic rifles is not an odd picture at all in Israel.  Young adults are conscripted into the army for two years when they reach 18.  They serve as a deterrent to acts of violence that flare up from time to time as Palestinians fight against the Israeli rule in the West Bank.

The tension is complicated, and don't let anyone tell you that it can be solved simply, if only Israel would do "this or that"; or if only the Palestinians would do "this or that".  Those who write from the states side that they have the solution are not credible - naive at best, foolish in reality.

When the Palestinian uprising called the Second Intifada broke out in 2000 it was no longer youth throwing stones and rocks.  It was organized with firearms, rockets, grenades and mortars.  After Arab terrorist groups organized their fight they also sent young people (often women) into Jerusalem (mainly) and strapped suicide vests on them to kill as many as they could in public places.  Israel responded with the Separation walls.  It's sad to see the walls...they are ugly and they serve as a constant irritation to the Palestinians who are (by their own admission) MUST WORSE OFF now than they ever were before.  One can understand Israel's actions as a "enough is enough" action.  And, One can understand the Palestinian anger at being segregated and penned in.

SO, is there any solution?  I believe the solution is not political, but Spiritual.  God called Abraham to this land, and the land belongs to Him.  Jesus walked this land to declare the nowness of The Kingdom of God.  If there is to be a solution it would be Jews and Arabs discovering the Gospel with Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness and Peace as outcomes of lives given over to God.

Our friends, David and Karen, have lived there for a few years now - and without hesitation have always shared outwardly their faith in Jesus Christ.  They have made countless inroads through friendships into both Jewish and Palestinian Arab - Muslim and Christian - people.

They are genuinely loving, caring, and intentional people who are seeking to make a difference in a land that desperately needs to have something different happen.



They have made friends with Muslims like this young man David worked with on his dairy project.

Mohammed is a young Muslim man from Hebron and although he is angry with the Israeli occupation, he freely admitted to me that every Intifada and every Western political solution (think Oslo Accord) has made things worse instead of better.

Most of all he just wants to make a living, marry and have a family - he was a great guy to meet.

As we drove through Bethlehem I heard a man from the street yell out in a loud clear voice - "DAVID"... It was Majdi, David's shopowner friend.

When David presented us to Majdi, he didn't try to sell us anything, but instead invited us to the back room, made us tea and wanted to sit down and find out things about us.

He didn't argue politics nor spew hatred, but as a Muslim wished out loud that Jews and Arabs could co-exist and get along with each other.


 One night David and Karen took us to the homes of Palestinian Christians  and introduced us to his friends and their Mother.  The man on the right is ISSA, which is Arabic for Jesus.

His family has lived in Bethlehem for generations, and again, they just want to build a family life in the midst of the tension.  Issa told me that many Palestinian Christians have fled the West Bank because of the way in which they are often treated as a minority among the Palestinian Muslim majority.  When the Intifada broke out in 2000, Muslim fighters showed up  at their house in the middle of the night an dtold them they had five minutes to flee before they used their home as a firing platform for lobbing mortars into Jerusalem - which the Muslim fighters knew would invite retaliation to that firing spot by the Israeli army.  Issa's father died of a heart attack during this time and Issa's family lived out of their car for almost a year while their home was constantly taken over by PLO, Hizballah and other Palestinian military groups.  No wonder so many Palestinian Christians began to leave - but Issa said his family has no intention of fleeing because this is their home.


It's a strange land - full of tension, full of pain, and distrust.  I loved the trip and loved seeing all of the sites, and meeting some wonderful people.

Scripture says to "Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem."

I can't help but say "AMEN".