Monday, August 3, 2015
Whenever we try to describe God we are doing so in a limited way. It’s not that we are incapable of knowing God and knowing true things about Him. We can know Him. And we can know true things about Him. However, we are still limited by the fact that He is always greater than our minds can completely comprehend. No matter how great we conceive God to be, He is actually greater than our conception.
That’s an interesting idea to ponder, huh?
Also, His greatness, His majesty and His glory are always beyond any words we can use in our attempts to describe Him. Our words can be helpful but, ultimately, they fall short.
However, we do not have to view these limitations in a negative way. This is actually a good thing. These limitations can serve to remind us of the awesomeness of this amazing God. And just think: this is the One who loves us and created us in His image!
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem just a week before His crucifixion. You probably know the story. It’s a story of celebration and worship. It’s a story in which we see Jesus being recognized as King. He is honored and praised by the crowds. Everything about it seems good and positive and happy.
We typically tell the story on Palm Sunday. And we call it “Palm” Sunday because as Jesus was riding into Jerusalem crowds gathered and they threw their coats and other garments on the road ahead of him and they spread palm branches on the road, as well.
As Jesus was riding, the crowds were cheering and shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They are calling out “Hosanna!” which is an expression of praise and adoration and joy.
It is an incredible scene. The recognition of Jesus as Lord and the inclination to worship Him is so powerful that when some of the Pharisees complain about what is happening Jesus actually says, “If these people kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
It is extraordinary.
But then the scriptures tell us as He gets a little bit closer to Jerusalem and He sees the city come into view something happens that—in light of what has been going on—seems sort of strange. Jesus looks at Jerusalem and all of a sudden he begins to cry.
Jesus is weeping.
What’s going on? This doesn’t seem like it is a moment in which sad tears would be shed. But reading from the book of Luke chapter 19, here is what Jesus says… [He is, basically, saying this to the people of Jerusalem.]
“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side.
“They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.”
Jesus is heartbroken. These people—God’s people—had an opportunity. They could have responded to Jesus and the story would have been different. But they did not. And that makes Jesus said.
God cries tears of sorrow.
…Want to hear more?
If you are in the area I invite you to join us, Sunday, August 2nd, at:
First Church of God
4600 W. 111th Street
Oak Lawn, IL
Services times: 9am and 11am
I know some of you who will read this post do not live in this area. If you are interested the rest of this message will be posted on the church website on Tuesday afternoon, August 4th.
Website link: http://visitusonline.org/scmedia.php?type=recent&loc=visitusonline.org/media/media/recent.php&
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
About five or six years ago a minister told me he thought he would probably go to prison one day because the teachings of the Bible would become so politically incorrect that they would actually be illegal. I remember thinking, “Wow, I hope this fellow’s concern is a crazy, extreme exaggeration.” But the guy did not seem like a kook. I did not know him well but he was smart, educated and eloquent. He seemed like a reasonable, credible, sane person.
Last week I was at an event and during a conversation with a pastor who is a friend of mine he told me, “I think there’s a possibility I will go to prison before I retire from ministry.” He basically invoked the same reasons the other minister mentioned. This man is in his early 60s.
I thought, “Hmm that’s two guys, now, who have shared this concern with me.”
Yesterday I was talking with yet another pastor who is a good friend and I mentioned these previous conversations. My friend said, “Yeah, I think that’s a possibility.”
That sound you just heard was me gulping.
I went into pastoral ministry in my mid-thirties. Entering the ministry as a vocation involved a significant change for my family and myself. So I had to think and pray about the matter a lot. It took me a couple of years to come to a sense of certainty that the call to ministry was, in fact, a genuine calling from God.
When I was thinking, praying and talking with people I trusted about this matter—I hate to admit it—but the idea of having to stand up for God facing truly difficult circumstances like, say, the possibility of prison never really entered my mind in any significant way. (The worst case scenario I imagined was putting several people asleep in the same service.)
I don’t know if these men are way off base—and if their concerns are just plain silly—or if what they are saying has some likelihood of happening. But what they have said makes me think about myself and my commitment to Christ.
To be very frank, I have never seen myself as a courageous warrior for the faith. This is not false modesty it’s just an honest, somewhat embarrassing, admission. But when my friend and I finished our meeting yesterday we prayed—as we normally do—and I prayed that he and I would always be willing to lovingly, graciously speak God’s truth no matter what the cost.
I realize this is a somewhat personal post. I am sharing it with you because I find the comments of my colleagues to be interesting and I thought you might find them interesting, as well. Also, I am sharing this because I want to be on record saying, “It is my desire to stand for God’s truth with love, gentleness, respect and grace and to trust in God as my protector.” I pray the Holy Spirit will empower me to do this.
P.S. I came across this quote from the respected Christian writer and thinker, A.W. Tozer, several years ago. I know I’ve shared it before but I continue to share it because it is very meaningful to me...
“Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defense, and he will have no other. But let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God himself.” A..W. Tozer
Sunday, July 26, 2015
There is a guy who unfortunately had to learn—the hard way—the truth of this lesson: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18.
In other words, at a young age pride and arrogance brought trouble and embarrassment to this fellow’s life and he discovered, firsthand, their difficult consequences.
It would be nice to say, “Since the fellow learned this important lesson that is the end of the story.” But what happened is the guy forgot about the lesson and, sure enough, he had to learn it all over again.
You know what?
It would be nice to say, “Since the fellow learned this important lesson TWICE that is the end of the story.” But what happened is the guy forgot about the lesson and, sure enough, he had to learn it all over again.
You know what?
It would be nice to say, “Since the fellow learned this important lesson THREE TIMES that is the end of the story.” But what happened is the guy forgot about the lesson and, sure enough, he had to learn it all over again.
Are you seeing where this is going?
It is amazingly easy to fall back into the trap of pride and arrogance even when you know the trouble they will bring. They come so naturally to us, don’t they?
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Yesterday I stopped at a McDonald’s in central Illinois for breakfast.
I ordered a couple of breakfast burritos and the clerk seemed hesitant to complete the transaction. I didn’t think much about it—I just assumed she was moving a little bit slowly—but then the clerk turned to look behind herself, leaned over the counter toward me and in a lowered voice said, “I wouldn’t get the burritos.”
I had a puzzled look on my face.
Before I could say anything she continued, “Our microwave isn’t working and the burritos aren’t good today. They are sort of… well… trust me, they’re not good. I’m just being honest with you. I wouldn’t order them.”
I said, “Oh. Okay. Well, then I will have a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit.”
She said, “I’m sorry but I’m just trying to be helpful. I, personally, would not eat the burritos.”
I said, “No need to apologize. I appreciate your honesty.”
When the order came we sat down at a table, unpacked the bag and discovered that they got the order wrong.
For about 4 seconds I felt really irritated. Then I laughed and thought, “Hey, this will make for a fun little post online.” But now that I’ve posted it online… on second thought, I wish I would have had some decent breakfast burritos.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
I believe, in general, it is good and important to be positive. Over the years, I have discovered there is research in the field of psychology which confirms this is true. However, my understanding that being positive is a good thing is much more simple than that. It is based on the straightforward idea that having a primarily negative attitude throughout the course of life would be a miserable way to live. And in the end the negative person will look back and see that he/she has experienced a sad and sorry life.
(By the way, I have encountered a few people along this journey who have provided confirmation of this truth with their negative misery.)
My belief that being positive is good and important does not mean I am unwilling to recognize there are ugly, bad, evil, tragic, frustrating and sad things that occur. Of course I realize terrible things happen. No one is immune from this aspect of life.
But even though bad things occur I still believe we can choose to seek solutions and, because of the wonderful truth of God’s grace and mercy, attempt to focus on what is good. It may be that we seek the good even as the tears are flowing. But for the sake of my life and, frankly, for the sake of my own sanity I want to seek and find the good. It is not always easy to do this, and I have not always succeeded in this attempt, but I believe it is worth it.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Monday, July 13, 2015
Christians do not view surrender to God as something negative. This type of surrender is not understood to be a form of losing. Rather, surrender to God is an acknowledgement of the truth that power and life are found in Him. This may seem odd, but surrender to the Almighty One—the One who knows what is best for us—is actually victory.
Friday, July 10, 2015
The concept of courage is occasionally being mischaracterized in our culture.
If people do something involving very little risk, knowing in advance they will be celebrated, applauded and even awarded by the leading people and institutions of the culture in which they live then what they have done really does not need to be characterized as “courage.” For example, if an actor takes on a particular role and plays it in a unique and artistically creative way, that may be interesting or noteworthy—it may even be worthy of an Academy Award—but it is not really an example of extraordinary courage.
Courage is demonstrated when people do something they understand to be right even though there will be very difficult consequences or perhaps even great personal danger, as a result.
I bring this up because real courage is significant and important—even honorable. It is helpful for us to be clear regarding a concept like courage. We need to understand what it really means, and how to recognize it.
So, when first responders show up at the scene of a disaster, for instance, and they enter into perilous situations—at great risk to themselves—to help others, that is courage.
When the infantrymen stepped off the boats as part of the Normandy Invasions, fighting for a cause that was right even though they knew many of them would not make it, that was courage.
Real courage is meaningful, vital and not all that common. It deserves to be esteemed.
“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” 1Corinthians 16:13&14
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
A materialistic worldview rejects God and posits that matter is all that exists. This is an increasingly common and influential worldview in our culture, particularly in academia. On this view the universe is basically a large machine which is simply working according to the laws of physics. Materialism is a deterministic view of reality.
One of the implications of a materialistic worldview for you and me is we do not have free will. The scientists and philosophers who hold this view and write about the subject understand this implication and suggest that what we believe to be free will is actually an illusion. We “think” we are exercising real choices in the course of our lives but guess what? We are not.
It is interesting, however, that some of the scientists and philosophers who hold this view will admit free will is an illusion we need to maintain.
For example, Marvin Minsky of MIT states, “No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will; that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm.” He goes on to say, “We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief [free will], even though we know it’s false.”
There are a number of problems with the view that we do not have free will. It runs counter to common sense, for instance. Also, it does not adequately explain our human experience. Notice that Minsky, who holds a materialistic worldview, openly admits we, nevertheless, need to maintain the belief in free will even though we know it is false. Isn’t that a strange position for a scientist to hold?
There are other problems with the denial of free will, for example, if we do not have free will then we have no true basis for the concept of moral accountability. After all, we are just machines working according to the purely materialistic, pre-determined laws of the natural world. We shouldn’t hold a machine accountable for doing what it has been programmed to do, should we?
Christian theologian and philosopher Nancy Pearcey writes, “It is ironic that people who reject Christianity—who think that without God they can finally be free—end up with philosophies [like materialism] that deny human freedom.”
*NOTE: These thoughts were prompted after I read Part Two of Nancy Pearcey’s excellent book, “Finding Truth.” Nancy is a brilliant and insightful author who writes about substantive issues in an accessible way that even regular guys like me can understand.
Friday, July 3, 2015
When I think about this country in which I have been blessed to be born and for which I have great love and appreciation, my mind frequently turns to the concept of freedom. Freedom is an extraordinary gift.
Because I have spent my whole life in the United States and have experienced the comfort of what would be thought of, here, as a middle class lifestyle I realize that I too often take freedom for granted. I forget that the basic freedoms I consider to be normal are actually not the norm for many people in our world and have not been the norm for most of the people throughout history who have lived on planet Earth.
The freedoms I—and many of you who will read this post—have assumed to be normal are actually rare, unique and quite special.
So first of all, I thank God for freedom because all good things come from Him. (See, James 1:17)
But I also recognize that God frequently works through people. Therefore, I am extremely thankful for courageous men and women who have fought and sacrificed to establish this freedom long before I was born and for those who continue the fight to maintain this profound gift.
Freedom is never secured in such a way that we can sit back and say, “Well that’s it. We don’t have to worry about freedom anymore. It’s taken care of!”
No. The struggle for freedom always continues because there have always been and there will always be people who want to deprive others of freedom.
There is gratitude in my heart for the privilege of living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Independence Day helps remind me of something significant that I should probably bring to mind more frequently: the importance and beauty of freedom.
I hope you all have a safe and happy fourth of July. My sincerest heartfelt thanks to all American military personnel past and present.
Love and blessings to you. And God bless America!
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
God loves gay people. The church loves gay people. I love gay people.
The things Jesus said about love and the extent of our love for others makes it clear that we are to love everyone. In fact, when Jesus told the parable which has come to be known as the story of the Good Samaritan, part of the point He was making is that we are called to love all people. Jesus specifically crafted the story to help us understand the comprehensiveness of our love for others should extend to the point that we would even love people we may not be naturally inclined to love.
Over the years I have actually been criticized a few times by people who have suggested I am over-emphasizing the concept of love in my teaching. My response is that it is my intention to speak God’s truth about love—love cannot be separated from truth—with the same emphasis it is given in the Bible; and this is a very strong emphasis.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1Corinthians 13:13
However, God has designed sexuality—which is a good thing—to be expressed within a certain context. The context for sexual expression is one man and one woman in a marriage relationship.
It is, perhaps, a bit ironic with all the discussion these days regarding homosexuality that I have had more conversations—uncomfortable conversations—with Christian heterosexual couples who were not living within God’s boundaries for sexual conduct than with homosexual men and women who struggled with God’s boundaries regarding sexual conduct.
One of the issues that has made the topic of sexuality so caustic and difficult to discuss with grace, respect and love is that sex has become an idol in our culture. The fact that certain issues regarding sexuality are held to be “no longer up for scrutiny, debate or honest disagreement” is evidence that sex is an idol (i.e. a replacement for the real God).
I want you to know that before I posted this message I prayed diligently with the hopes that I would communicate truthfully, graciously and effectively. In fact, I have shared this same message on Facebook and last night I prayed by name for all my friends on Facebook. I even prayed for the families of some of my friends on Facebook who are now deceased. […And, by the way, this prayer time took a while. Lol! It was actually a very good and meaningful time of prayer.]
I know some of you will disagree with what I have written here, I respect your right to disagree. Please know I love you even if we disagree. But more importantly, Jesus loves you.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Love and blessings,
Saturday, June 27, 2015
For those of us who are trusting in Christ we have a truth from God’s word which is important for us to keep in mind. It will be helpful for us to allow this truth to shape our understanding and perspective of what happens in life.
The truth is that the problems and troubles we endure as we stand for Christ are small [this next part is critically important…] when we understand them in the light of eternity. Think about it: anything which is finite and temporary is small in the light of eternity.
Please know I am not trying to make light of anyone’s troubles. I would never want to do that. It is my basic inclination to “weep with those who weep.” However, I am trying to help put our troubles in perspective. What I am sharing is based on biblical truth, it is based on the truth that eternal life with God is real.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18