Not so Normal Night

Great thoughts to help you keep Christmas central from my daughter, Jodi.

u.b.healthy

Ordinary People — Extraordinary Plan

The Christmas message is about a bunch of ordinary people involved in an extraordinary story. Sometimes I think it is easy for us to read the story of Jesus’ birth and imagine that the other characters in the story were set apart and different in some way, or we just don’t think about them at all. Well, I’d like to focus in for a moment on the shepherds.

If you were arranging the arrival of a king, would you be sure and notify a bunch of dusty, ordinary guys who care for stinky sheep? And not just send them a text message, but send a choir of angels? Well, God thought it was a great idea. One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is thinking about what that night was like for the shepherds. “That night some shepherds were in the fields outside…

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I Will Take Care of You

In earlier blogs I have talked about my pain from a degenerating spine. Surgery in October of 2014 promised relief which did not materialize. More recent tests have revealed multiple issues and my surgeon has declined further surgery at this point. For the last year I have managed pretty well with pain medicine and even enjoyed a trip to Florida for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. In recent days, however, new pain episodes have occurred which impeded walking. Fortunately this pain has been temporary and passed in a day or so.

These episodes have made me think. If you’re like me, you usually jump to the worst scenario. Will I have to use a wheelchair? Will I be able to walk? Will we have to sell the house? The fact that my mother spent the last twenty years of her life in a wheelchair lurks darkly in the back of my mind.

My wife, Karon, is always super helpful at times like this to keep me level-headed. She is good at balancing compassion with level-headedness, and and so I am going to return to the doctors and see about additional spinal injections. Yet I wonder…

God speaks

light streaming through forestA couple of days ago I went into the bathroom late afternoon for medicine. My hamstrings were aching terribly and the new pain was on my mind. Out of the blue God spoke: “David, I will take care of you.” I have learned to recognize these rare moments when God intervenes with a word for me, but these unexpected words of comfort were clear and incontrovertible. They were not whispered but almost shouted into my ear.

I don’t know if you believe in things like this, but I do. I am immensely grateful for such undeserved moments. Why the Creator of the Universe should care about me, much less communicate His care, is inexplicable. But God wasn’t done yet…

Quite often I waken in the night from troubling dreams. I think perhaps that my medication makes them more intense. These dreams are all similar: in every one I am in an exasperating situation, like showing up to preach a funeral only to discover I don’t know any of the people there, including the deceased. At times I am traveling and get lost in a large foreign airport teeming with strangers, or I arrive to speak at a convention, step to the podium, and discover the notes I brought are blank paper. My entire career involved preaching and traveling and perhaps my subconscious mind is processing years of unspoken fears. Occasionally I have enlisted prayer support from my wife and children when the dreams become darker and scarier.

God’s gift

Just one night after God’s message to me, “I will take care of you,” I had a vivid, brilliant, and completely different kind of dream. I found myself in an extensive building with soaring ceilings and beautiful appointments. An ingenious blending of indoors and outdoors gave the impression of timeless wonder. Wide corridors lined with planters and fountains opened into spacious rooms filled with light and peace. Everywhere there was a sense of tranquility, holiness, and safety. Beautiful, ethereal music somehow interpreted what I was looking at.

Tall windows looked out onto breathtaking views. Behind three churchlike windows tall trees in the bronze of autumn color stood majestically. They were backlit with the light of dawn. A gentle breeze drifted through their branches and leaves floated quietly down, spiraling, twisting, hovering, and sinking. The slightest tinkle of wind chimes could be heard in the distance.

Behind a wall of the palest aquamarine glass was a huge aquarium in whose transparent waters floated exotic fish and coral fans swaying in the warm current. There was no sound, but the movement of the fish and the corals seemed to produce their own music.

Hallways and alcoves were covered with iridescent mosaics that shimmered in hues of pale green, blue, and mother of pearl. High windows slanted light and shadows into the rooms and hallways where benches offered a many places to sit in contemplation.

There were many people present who met me with warm smiles and kindness; but no one intruded into my thoughts or interrupted my observation. I felt almost as though I were in a large hotel where the muffled sounds of conversation mixed with the clinking of silverware and china in a nearby restaurant. It was a holy and indescribably beautiful sanctuary that went on forever without effort, maintenance, or care. There was no hurry. There were no expectations. No lost notes. No pain. Only wonderful beauty, light, peace, and uninterrupted serenity.

As I awoke from this dream I again heard God’s voice, “I will take care of you.” I am not sure whether, for this blissful moment, God gave me a vision of heaven, that unimaginably beautiful place where death, fear, pain, and tears will be banished. Maybe God created this vision of the things I love, the world that feeds my soul, and beauty that transcends pain in order to let me know that the desires of my heart are important to him. But I know this, I am not alone and the One who redeemed me also cares for me now and forever.

I know something else. God cares for you, also. He will speak into your life and your pain if you will listen for him. Have you noted that in Scripture, whenever an angel came to someone, the first words were, “fear not?” This is God’s first and deepest desire for you. Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:1-3).

He will take care of you.

The Costs of Fear

It seems that everyone is fearful these days. The Nairobi, Beirut, and Paris terrorist attacks have immobilized us. Reporters talk of “palpable fear” in European cities. Everyone has an opinion about how nations, ours included, should respond. The desperate plight of refugees streaming out of the Middle East exacerbates an already difficult situation. Facebook mirrors this awful tension. The media pumps it up with suffocating rhetoric.

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Of what are we afraid? In the 1950s we were terrified of atomic bombs and communists. America’s biggest fears in 2015 are, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2015, (1) corruption of government officials,(2) cyber-terrorism, (3) corporate tracking of personal information (4) terrorist attacks, (5) government tracking of personal information, (6) bio-warfare, (7) identity theft, (8) economic collapse, (9) running out of money, and (10) credit card fraud.[1] Today in late November, many Americans are afraid of Muslims, the takeover of our nation, and further erosion of our cherished ideals.

 

These huge global and national fears are shoveled on top of the things that regularly sprout anxiety and tension into our lives. Senseless, random crime unnerves us. Winter snow and ice may sabotage Thanksgiving and Christmas travel plans in clogged airports and on freeways. Family tensions twist the happiness and joy out of get-togethers. We all face different stressors such as insufficient income, high job stress, or family dysfunction. Deep inside are the unspoken fears we seldom voice: we are afraid of ending up with a stroke in the back room of a convalescent home reeking of urine. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves if somebody knows us as we really are, and afraid of not being good enough. No wonder many people are anxious and afraid.

 

Fear can be a good thing when it keeps us from stepping on a rattlesnake. If fear prompts you to lock your doors and to look before you leap, that’s a good thing. But long-lasting fear is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous. It raises blood pressure and fosters depression. When afraid, we make poor choices. We may react too quickly or so slowly that we put ourselves in harm’s way. When fear overtakes a city—or a nation—people get hurt or killed. Fear of others produces riots, looting, and mayhem. Fear starts wars.

 

Ultimately, fear destroys your hope for the future. This is perhaps its most costly outcome, because people with no hope and no reason to live will do just about anything—or nothing.

A Christian need not be fearful.

name tag 1 copyIt seems to me that Christians who live in fear misunderstand who God is. Perhaps they have not read the Scriptures that proclaim God’s sovereignty and power.[2] Maybe they have overlooked the fact that this is His world.[3] Could it be that they don’t know Jesus Christ, who left heaven to become a person like us, to provide salvation now and forever[4], as well as personal friendship and help? Maybe they’ve forgotten that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Possibly they never heard that Satan is a defeated foe[5] and those of us who trust Jesus not only have the power to always defeat him[6] but hold tickets to a front row seat for that Day when Jesus returns to set everything right and make all things new.[7]

 

If you are fearful, know that your feelings are normal. But faith must sit in the pilot’s chair of your life and heart. Christians need not fear anyone or anything.[8] I AM is our God. Do not live in fear. Do not allow the enemy to cloak your outlook with fear. Consider again the God you serve. No one can blemish or stain his name.[9] No one can change what Jesus Christ has done or will do when He comes again.[10] Distance yourself from all of the naysayers and fear mongers. Jesus said this:  “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you”.[11] Perfect love casts out fear.[12]

 

When you start to feel unsafe and wonder why God hasn’t swooped in to save you (physically), remember that Christians for generations have lived under oppression. Not only in the Roman Coliseum have Christians faced death; many today are being persecuted and killed just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word shows that God allows much of it for his own reasons but that He works ceaselessly in the midst of tyranny to bring people into His Kingdom. He promises victory of the spirit now to all believers.[13] Ultimately He will judge and bring to justice evil and those who work evil.[14] In the meantime, we are to proclaim His name and His Kingdom.[15]

 

Be reminded that these are the results of walking with Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [16]Fear and hatred are Satan’s plan for you, not God’s!

Walk in joy and peace

 

name tag 2 copyThe genius of the Christian life is Jesus Christ, himself. Not only has he saved us now and forever; not only has he promised us heaven so that we can be with him where he is[17]; not only has he promised us the twenty-four-hour-every-day friendship and help of his Holy Spirit;[18] but He faced every fear you and I will ever have and far worse. He walked through abandonment, loneliness, misunderstanding, betrayal, torture, and crucifixion, and conquered death. He’s the one who said, “Because I live, you, too, will live.”[19] “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” [20] “I will not leave you as orphans.”[21]

 

When fear shows up today and lays claim to you, say, “Excuse me! Not today! I am a child of God and Jesus tells me, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’”[22]

[1] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

[2] Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Psalm 24:1-2

[4] John 1:12

[5] Revelation 20:10

[6] James 4:7

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] John 14:27-29

[9] Philippians 2:6-11

[10] Revelation 1:17-18

[11] Matthew 5:43-48

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Ephesians 1:18-23

[14] Matthew 25:31and verses following

[15] Matthew 28:18-20

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] John 14:1-3

[18] John 14:16

[19] John 14:19

[20] Matthew 28:20

[21] John 14:18

[22] John 14:1

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Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 2)

Magnifying glass title-part 2 copy

(See Mistakes Numbers 1-5 in earlier blog, “Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make—Part 1”)

Mistake Number 6: No Devotional Life

By “Devotional Life” I mean a daily time of prayer and Bible study. (Blurting a few “Help me’s” on the way to work really isn’t going to deepen your faith.) Because we lead such frantic lives and overschedule ourselves and our families relentlessly, we somehow feel justified that these things supersede a time of daily prayer. The intrusion of electronics into absolutely everything erodes this important discipline. If we never turn off our phone and would answer it even if we’re praying or reading Scripture, what does this say about who is important to us? For whom and what are you praying? Do you have a prayer list? Are you asking God to inform your day? Do you bring your To Do list to him each morning to see what He would prioritize as most important? Are you working to overcome your temptations? No prayer? It’s killing us.

Mistake Number 7: An Undisciplined Lifestyle

There’s a reason the early church practiced disciplines. Those who had been with Jesus knew the only way to live as He did was to practice what He did and taught. The only way to get good at it is to keep practicing. Besides reading Scripture and praying, here are some disciplines we must practice: purity, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, and frugality  (not an exhaustive list). A good place to start is by reading an old classic, Discipline and Discovery, by Albert E. Day,[1] or other devotional volumes that have stood the test of time.

“Undisciplined,” you say? “You should see my daily schedule. I get up before dawn to go to the gym. I commute long hours to work…” Let me interrupt this recitation to point out that many of us are disciplined about these things, but we are not disciplined in training ourselves to be like Jesus.

The cost of this enormous vacuum in our lives is staggering. One study shows that the lifestyles of evangelical Christians are hardly different than those of non Christians.[2] How can this be? Many have no governor on their entertainment and viewing habits. They live the same, act the same, and drink the same, watch the same movies, television programs and pornography, and divorce just as much. Perhaps this is so because we have adopted the culture’s values and abandoned those of Christ. And this happens because the culture has absorbed us to the point that our souls are withering and dying and we don’t even know it. We must be savvy about the lessons of R-rated films are teaching us. It broke my heart to read a recent post on Facebook from a missionary asking if the film “Fifty Shades of Gray” was as good as the book! I immediately thought of Samson from the book of Judges who wandered so far from God that God left him and he didn’t even know it.[3]

Mistake Number 8: Rely on ourselves rather than God.

Perhaps it’s to be expected that we Americans are self-reliant. We place huge importance on making your own way and sticking it out. Such independence helped settle the American West and win World War II. When it comes to faith, however, independence is deadly.

God-reliance is the central pillar that supports our faith. He is first, ever and always. Paul understood and practiced this. In Colossians he writes, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.[4]

We love and believe this Scripture, but do we fail to grasp how it should affect our lives? This means that the first order of business is prayer. Trouble? Pray. Sickness? Pray. Misunderstanding? Pray. National election? Pray. Work issues? Pray. I have at times felt guilty about praying too much!  Yep. “I shouldn’t bring this trivial little thing to God. He has more important things to do.” Have you ever thought that? Or how about this, “I have been a Christian so long I should know how to handle this by now.” This line of thinking may appear righteous but it is seriously misinformed about where our strength comes from.

You and I will never be wise enough, strong enough, or clever enough to make it on our own. NEVER!

Mistake Number 9: Defend sin rather than confess it.

Probably every Christian has at some time done this. I have. When we are convicted that something is wrong or displeasing to God, we quickly make excuses why in our case it isn’t so bad. We are masters of rationalization and artists at fooling ourselves into believing that our sin isn’t really a “sin.” “While for someone else gossiping is bad, I am really just sharing a prayer request.” “You know, no one should get hooked on pornography, but my sexual appetite is especially strong and has to have an outlet.” “I’m going to see this movie to understand the culture.” “I would help the homeless if I just weren’t so repulsed by their cardboard pleas for assistance. And who knows? They are probably making a lot of money standing there by the freeway exit.” “I know that the Bible teaches against living together unless you’re married, but it makes financial sense for us to do it.”

As a former pastor, I am sadly aware that many longtime Christians hide secret sins—as though God suspends judgment of our sins because we’re so special! Don’t fool yourself. All sin is abhorrent to God. It always will be. C. S. Lewis said it eloquently, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”[5]

God, help us rush to obedience rather than to sin. Help us readily and immediately repent of any sin the Holy Spirit brings to our attention. May we, unlike Esau,[6] not give away God’s priceless salvation as he gave away his birthright because of an appetite we refuse to control.

Mistake Number 10: Living a Life Devoid of God-Worship

America is becoming a nation of image-fixated narcissists living with an entitlement mentality who put themselves above everything else. It’s more than a trend. It’s a frame of mind that infects us from the time as one-year olds we starting putting selfies on our Facebook page (helped by a doting parent) to the time we become senior citizens complaining about the quality of a free meal delivered to our doorstep. Materialism has so mesmerized us that we think it’s just a personality quirk to have 150 pairs of shoes or normal to post hundreds of photos of oneself on line every week.

Someone without God on the throne will put something or someone else, usually himself or herself, on the throne. We have added God to our long list of other possessions and give him a share of our time and attention. Incredibly, we feel good about having God as part of our lives as we apportion him a pathetically miniscule amount of thought. How arrogant we are to think God can be possessed or that we do him an honor to make him a tiny part of our lives! Read Job 38 to be reminded of who God is. The Bible is exceptionally clear on the disastrous outcome of idolatry. “Everyone [who makes idols] is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. The images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them. They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish.”[7] Paul wrote, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry [italics mine] and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition [italics mine], dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.[8]

Every day we must remind ourselves that God is everything and we are nothing (but God elevates us to the position of his heirs alongside Jesus Christ because He loves us).We must consciously carve out time to worship, to meditate on God, to read His Word, and to pray. We must ask Him to reveal to us our selfishness, pride, egotism, and arrogance; then repent and humbly acknowledge and worship him.

We have lived in an age of ease in which Christian faith has been the norm. That time is over. A tiny faith built on little prayers that only seek personal benefit will not survive the times ahead. The Bible and history teach us that Christians will be persecuted and that our faith is made strong through suffering. Let’s stop whining about how the pagan world should faun over us (aka Starbucks red cup nonsense). Instead resolve today to love God wholeheartedly and abandon small dreams whose only focus is your happiness. Launch yourself into the bracing oceans of life where God’s wonders will be discovered[9] and stop paddling around in the stale tide pools of self-indulgence.

[1] Available for one cent on Amazon.com!

[2] http://www.christiantoday.com/article/american.study.reveals.indulgent.lifestyle.christians.no.different/9439.htm

[3] Judges 16:20

[4] Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)

[5] The Great Divorce, HarperOne; New edition (April 21, 2015).

[6] Genesis 25:29-34

[7] Jeremiah 10:14-15

[8] Galatians 5:19-21

[9] Psalm 107:23-24

Ten Huge Mistakes Christians Make (Part 1)

Magnifying glass title copyToday is my seventy-first birthday. Funny, I never imagined myself as seventy-one. Old people are achy and wrinkled but I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me. Old people are forgetful and love thinking about the “good old days.” But me? Yep. The Dave Shultz of 1962, the year I graduated from high school, could not have imagined my life today. But here I am, and here you are, changed, different, learning to adjust. And don’t get too comfortable, because more changes are on the way. “Change is the only constant in life” was first penned by Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about 500 years before Christ was born. Apparently the ubiquity of change hasn’t changed!

In this everything-is-changing environment, many say that the church also needs to change, perhaps even that Christian beliefs should change. What, exactly, does that mean? What should change? And what should not?

Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. One of its fundamental characteristics is that it does not change. Imagine! In an environment of chaos, there is something eternal, everlasting, and altogether predictable. When we get up every morning we have no ideas what changes will come that day. The dog may throw up on the carpet. We may meet the person we’ll marry. You just never know. Wouldn’t it be good news to have something that is ageless and utterly dependable? We do: God’s Word.

Yet many question whether there is absolute truth anywhere. I choose to believe what God’s Word says about itself and what Jesus says about it. The Psalms declare, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”[1]  John’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the living Word of God[2] and Hebrews proclaims that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”[3] If you choose to believe this, you are also choosing to believe that Christ and His Word are unchangeable and eternal.

I’m taking the time to lay this quick foundation because it is absolutely essential that we Christians comprehend and embrace it. If we don’t, we’re toast. Here are ten huge mistakes Christians are making.

Mistake Number 1: Ignore the Bible

Christians are in trouble if we don’t know what the Bible says. It is astonishing how few Christians have committed any verses to memory. Many could not tell you how many books are in the New Testament or what they are. We confuse the Bible with colloquial proverbs like, “God helps those who helps themselves.” Many would be hard put to turn to any verses that explain their own salvation. We know it’s in there, but we’re not sure where. Do you read the Bible regularly? Have you read through the Bible? What did Jesus teach about Himself? The Bible is eternal and provides the only sure hope for our future. We ignore it at our peril.

Mistake Number 2: Substitute Reason for Faith.

Repeatedly Scripture tells us that truth is not perceived by wisdom, but by faith.[4] Even so, the Christian belief system is staggering under the onslaught of our culture that demands that we accept its norms as our own. Shockingly, many Christians are buying into this mindset. We believe that the world’s brightest minds understand more than the Bible. If science says it’s true, then it must be so. If God cannot be proved, then maybe…and we wonder. If there are so many religions, then…and we wonder. If so many people say it…and we wonder.  Hear again Paul’s proclamation to a church that was infatuated with sin: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’”[5]

Mistake Number 3: Fail to form a personal relationship with God.

I could never begin to describe what my friendship with God means to me. We are in constant communication. I love him with every fiber of my being. He is my number one encourager and friend. For me Jesus is highly personal and the Holy Spirit is an ever-present helper. Because of this, I want to please him and show him that I love him. I know that He is taking care of me now and always. I can’t wait to meet Him in Heaven. My first priority in the morning is to be with him. It’s not something I have to do. It’s something I get to do! The apostle John writes about this intensely personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about.”[6]

In every church I’ve pastored there were people who had no idea this was even possible. For them Christianity was keeping the rules and trying to be good. How tragic!

Mistake Number 4: Pick and choose what you like about Christianity.

Large congregations of Christians meet every Sunday firmly believing that if they serve God that he will bless them with money and cars. Or that every Christian will be healed. Or that Jesus loves people so much that He will abandon the whole redemption thing and just take us all to heaven.[7]

Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, believed that God had created the world but no longer intervened directly in daily life. “In fact, Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents. So Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument, perhaps a penknife, to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy.”[8]  Sad that such a brilliant man thought he knew more about the Bible than those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ and his teaching!

Are we doing the same thing? Fornication is practiced by unbelievable numbers of Christians. And what is fornication? Sleeping with anyone to whom you are not married. The Bible says it is a sin, period. Society says it isn’t. So we cut out the part of Scripture that condemns our lifestyle.

Mistake Number 5: No Church Attendance

A few years ago we met a couple who, like us, were new in town and looking for a home congregation. They stayed a few months and left. We run into them now and then, but they have stopped looking. The husband who, according to his wife, “studies Greek and Hebrew,” can’t find a church worthy of them. Really?  One gets the idea that he would advise Jesus on his theology.

Finding a group of Bible-believers and meeting with them regularly is essential to your faith. We need the messages (even if they don’t meet our lofty standards), the singing, the scripture, and the fellowship. We need people to pray for us and we need to pray for them. Christians are the body of Christ. If my hand were chopped off it would die without the body to sustain it. We need the discipline of getting up and by so doing tell ourselves that our faith is as important as going to work or watching the Pittsburgh Steelers.

(Look for Part II coming soon)

[1] Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

[2] John 1:1-14

[3] Hebrews 13:8

[4] 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

[6] 1 John 1:1 J. B. Phillips New Testament

[7] See Luke 13:23-25

[8] Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/#usdk1IlI0PMkwTB6.99

What If There Were No God?

What If There Were No God?

The other day in that moment between waking and sleeping I thought, “What if there were no God? What if this is all there is?”

I lay there wondering what that would do to my most cherished values and beliefs. I got up and let Molly out. Soon the coffee was done and I carried a steaming cup to the recliner to watch the sun rise. Molly jumped up into my lap and was soon asleep.

“No God”? I couldn’t get my mind around it.

“No God” means a meaningless universe. It would mean that we are here by accident and that every fantastic, living, beautiful, inexplicable thing we witness every day of our lives appeared out of nowhere and will disappear in the same way.

creation“No God” means that human life immediately loses immense value. It would mean none of has a soul and that each of us is no more important than the individual lives of 950,000 species of insects or the billions of protozoa swimming in the farm pond. “No God” makes it possible to commit genocide and feel no pang of guilt. In a godless world those who have things are more important than those who don’t have things. You may as well kill the sick because they are only using up valuable resources.

“No God” means no Bible. No scriptures would guide us, teach us to love our neighbor, or say how important it is to forgive each other. No great men and women of God would have lived to leave us our priceless legacy. We would never read of the way God revealed Himself through prophets, angels, or his son, Jesus Christ. No artists would have been inspired by the Annunciation, the crucifixion, or the resurrection. Michelangelo never would have carved the divine Pieta or the majestic David. St. Peter’s Basilica would never amaze us with its sublime architecture nor any of the world’s other incomparable cathedrals.

A world without God would not have produced those Christians who left Europe to establish what is now the United States of America. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities would never have been founded for they were established by Christians, as were University of Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Cambridge University in the U.K.[1]

“No God” means no Jesus Christ.

No Jesus Christ means no redemption.

No redemption means no salvation.

No salvation means no heaven.

No heaven means annihilation at death. A godless world makes it a laughable exercise to even imagine being reunited with our dead parents or friends.

“No God” means no worship. No hymns would have been written. No glorious oratorios would be composed to proclaim, “He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!” Our hearts would never be lifted up in worship. We would never be moved to tears with the love of God for us. Neither Christmas nor Easter would remind us of the greatest story ever told. There would be no such story.

“No God” means no missions or missionaries. The lives of millions would continue to exist in darkness and their bodies would remain ravaged by sickness for no one would have traveled to the far corners of the earth to proclaim the gospel. There would be no gospel. Billy Graham would not have preached on six continents and millions would never have accepted Christ but would still be lost. Countless hospitals would have never been built, clinics would never have been established, and orphans would be left by the hundreds of thousands in the  world’s bleak cities.

“No God” means no prayer. I have thought more times than I can count how utterly awful it would be to manange life without prayer. When human help is unavailable, when the help you need is beyond what any human could possibly do, or when no one cares what you’re going through: how would you survive without prayer? A Godless world surely would be a pitiless and pitiful place of unimaginable loneliness and desperation.mother-hugging-child-olympics

“No God” means no personal friend who sticks closer than a brother. Without God we would never hear of the Holy Spirit and never experience His warmest comfort, wisest counsel, or blessed peace in the midst of trouble. There would be no ministering angels sent by God to protect, bless, and carry out His will on earth as it is in heaven. No one would need to explain miracles, for there would be none. No need to talk about divine guidance. It would be massively absent. The human heart that longs for enlightenment would always be dark. Those who mourn would not be comforted. Those who suffer for righteousness sake would perish. The brokenhearted would remain broken. The unborn child would be discarded as carelessly as a rotten cabbage.

“No God” means no judgment. Can you imagine how awful it would be were we to have no hope that people will reap what they sow? What despair would pour into our lives if we thought that the criminal and murderer would never be judged or that the cruelest torturer would never pay for his crimes. How useless it would be to “hope for the better” because there would be no better—ever. Some claim that everyone will be saved. This blasphemy can only be believed if there is no God. And, in reality, everyone would not be saved, but lost.

Many people pose difficult questions about God, such as “If God is good, how do you explain evil?” and “If God is loving, why do good people suffer?” Some keen minds have found the proof of God too difficult or beyond human capability to understand. Some claim to be atheists. Others agnostics. Some even ridicule those of us with faith in God. Everyone must choose what to believe.

No God? For me, there are a thousand things easier to believe than this.

I believe that God does exist. I believe He does love the world. I believe He did send Jesus Christ and His Spirit. I believe His angels are at this moment winging in glorious ministry to the four corners of the earth.

I choose to believe in God. I choose to believe His Word. I choose to believe in Heaven and Hell and am happy to leave their population up to God the Father. Faith in God gives hope and meaning to the universe. It gives me hope. Faith in God gives warmth to life. Faith in God gives dignity to the human race. With a Creator God every life has meaning. Every life is precious. Good is rewarded. Bad is punished. Each person has value. I have value.

Man-Praying-with-Outstretched-arms-676x451I believe these things because I know God. I talk with Him each day. I read His Word that answers many questions if we will but look for those answers. What I know of God, of course, is itsy-bitsy, a mere speck of His vastness. But Jesus Christ said, “Because I live, you, too, shall live.”[2] And I plan on spending an eternity getting to know Him a lot better.

Even were I to discover upon death that my faith was ill-founded, it would be worth it to have lived as though He loves me, to have believed he helps me, and to begin each day with new hope for tomorrow.

[1] https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/harvard-yale-princeton-oxford-once-christian

[2] John 14:19

Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.

Why Silence Will Heal Your Soul

I had a few hours between flights and the airport was almost deserted. A quiet spot and comfortable chair beckoned me. There was even a bonus: a plug-in to charge my cell phone! Dropping my backpack into the adjoining chair, I unzipped it and pulled out my yellow pad and pen, preparing to write a bit.

As I started to gather my thoughts, music from overhead speakers butted in. Voices, drums, and guitars assaulted the quiet, making thinking impossible. “Till your world burns and crashes, Till you’re at the end, the end of your rope, Till you’re standing in my shoes, I don’t wanna hear nothing from you From you, from you, cause you don’t know.” One singer after the next wailed on and on about lost love and unfaithfulness. “I put your picture away ‘cause I’m lying next to him.” “I can’t go on.” “You just have to wait.” The depressing lyrics pumped into my brain. The relentless strumming was an angry child throwing a tantrum between my ears. Ironically, every other song was interspersed with a recording reminding the listener that this was the blessing of ad-free music! (The repetitive announcement was worse than the ads.) I remembered sitting in the Las Vegas airport some years ago with a ruckus that made this music positively saintly. The halls and waiting rooms of that Nevada airport were crammed with slot machines and other gambling games, creating a cacophony of beeping and chiming that occasionally was interrupted by sultry female voices inviting anyone within listening distance to a sure-to-win gaming experience. In that airport—as well as another—I wished for ear plugs.

It’s one thing to be held hostage to unwelcome music in a public place. It’s another to willingly submit to constant noise and music day after day and month after month. The TV is always on. Music is always playing. Newscasts drone their unremitting opinions. Computers chirp. Cell phones ding. IPad games talk and beep. Have we grown so used to constant audio and visual stimulation that we no longer remember how to or want to carry on a conversation in a quiet room? It’s as though real people—or even God—are boring and so we prefer digital companionship. I think that some people never experience silence. It seems that silence scares us with its unwelcome invitation to think or experience nature without musical accompaniment.

It takes silence to learn who you are.

When you are silent you can get in touch with your inner self. If you are always listening to other people’s ideas, how will you know what you believe? Lyrics of songs are life philosophies and outlooks. Play them often and long enough and they become your philosophy and outlook. Consistent reading of newsbytes and listening to info-bits suspends your own thought processes with predigested information. (But that’s another tempting subject I will not pursue at the moment.)

It can be intimidating to unplug, turn off, and think. However, unless we have silence, we often do not ask the big, important questions which, left unanswered, keep us from personal peace and emotional homeostasis. Who are you? What kind of personality do you have? What do you believe and why? How does God figure into your life? How connected are you to your family and why? Do you like your work? Why do you choose the things you choose? What thoughts run through your mind? What attitudes color your choices? Which experiences hold you hostage and still poison your hope?

It takes silence to get in tune with our world.

Contemplating the natural world opens our minds and hearts to incredible insight and discovery. Quiet observation and reflection reveal God’s genius and the innumerable patterns of the sky and sea. Those who discovered gravity—and a thousand other things–spent long hours quietly paying attention to nature. But even those of us with no scientific intention can benefit from learning the gentle come and go of the seasons and the ways of the butterfly and dolphin.

The sounds of nature will enchant you. Ocean waves sweep up the shore scattering pebbles and foaming upon the sand. A dancing campfire crackles and hisses as it casts flickering orange light across your face. Great trees bend before the wind, their leaves whispering of autumn. A mockingbird’s silver song echoes through the clear morning air.

The beauty of our world will mesmerize you. Warm turquoise waters shelter brilliant tropical fish among the undulating sea fans. Sunflower seeds grow in intricate precision and design even if no one sees them. The tiny feathers of hummingbirds and the minute scales of butterfly wings glitter neon colors in the sunlight. The moon pulls vast oceans as they ebb and flow in ageless rhythms. From the fireflies twinkling over the soybean fields of Indiana to the aurora borealis swirling fantastic colors over Alaska and Finland, our world spills over with exquisiteness and wonder.

Can’t you feel the frantic pace of life disappear just thinking about it? Only those who commit themselves to observe without interruption will learn the calming serenities of nature.

It takes silence to hear God’s voice.

Meditation and contemplation are time-honored ways to still your soul and discern God’s voice. We pay an enormous price for the never-ending, frenetic lifestyles we lead. Today’s social media are hypnotizing and addicting. Just try to find a crowd in which at least 90% are not glued to their cell phones. Everywhere you go, in every household, school, and event, cell phones rule. Now I choose to have a cell phone and I truly love the way I can connect with my children and grandchildren who never use e-mail anymore and don’t even know what a letter is. Minutes after it’s happened I can see my grandson, Caleb, hit a line drive, courtesy of the wizardry of cyberspace. I played computer games for a while until, thankfully, dry eyes put a stop to watching a screen for more than a few minutes. Only then did I realize how much time of every day had been consumed by trivia. Suddenly I had time for for reading, observing, writing, and contemplation. When we choose to be in touch with everything and everyone we choose to abandon God. We might deny it, even be shocked by the idea of it, but the truth is that you cannot be in touch with God without silence.

I’m thankful that there are an increasing number of people demanding that their kids not use cell phones at home, period. Family survival depends on real conversation, not texting that dinner is ready.

How much more must be unplug ourselves and spend time with God.

If anyone needed to hear God, it was the prophet Elijah. Jezebel was intent on killing him and he was emotionally distraught and running for his life. In fact, he was begging to die when a huge storm swept in. “…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper….‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”[1] It was God.

Put down your cell phone or tablet. Walk outside and look up, not down at your screen. Begin looking and listening for the divine. If this is new to you, be prepared to wait. We will have to train ourselves to recognize His voice. It is not surprising that heartbreak often sharpens our receptiveness to the divine. Cancer, job loss, divorce, and the death of those nearest to us stop the clock of routine. We are suddenly all ears and eyes, wondering what will happen, who will take care of us, or what course of action we should take. Calamity abruptly jerks us awake and we see life’s true priorities in high relief. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for tragedy to do this. We can learn to lay aside the superficial and become conversant with the eternal. This quest is quite possibly the most important you will ever take.

[1] 1 Kings 19 (NLT)

Have we Forgotten?

Here is a timely post from my daughter, Jodi.

u.b.healthy

flag2 I remember where I was. I remember going to work as a labor and delivery nurse that night and having the hospital on lock down and the presence of fear heavy in the air. I remember celebrating with families as new lives came into the world at the same time not knowing how to handle the wide variety of emotions I was experiencing due to the day’s events. So much tragedy, so much loss, yet so much opportunity for America to stand together, unified, and be reminded of what is important. All lives, our freedom, safety, and many blessings we take for granted everyday like jobs, families, running water, electricity, and emergency responders ready and waiting to help.

My heart pounds as I write this morning. Our country has changed a lot, but the American flags that flew on 9/12/01 are not on every car and every corner today. Lives…

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People-Watching

The other day I was at Tucson Orthopedic Institute waiting to get two spinal injections. Karon had a concurrent dental appointment and I was alone in the lobby with my cane to steady me. It was a perfect time for people-watching.

At the hospital

Chartreuse phone-croppedA lady in black with a chubby little dog named Yoda talks on her chartreuse phone. (The little dog looks just like Yoda!) A star tattoo embellishes her shoulder.

A hollow-eyed man seems to be with her. A red lanyard circles his neck dangling some kind of badge. His crutches lie beside him. He tries to talk with Yoda’s mommy, but is cut off with her curt, “Shhhsss! I’m calling Mother.”

A gravelly voiced gentleman with silvery bed hair wheels into the discharge area. Although the aide who brought him leaves, he carries on a conversation about predicted thunderstorms and parking meters.

A harried, olive-skinned young man in faded green scrubs hurries by in squeaking tennis shoes as a well-dressed matron makes appointments on her cell phone.Lady on cell phone

A lady recently treated with spinal injections tries to stand up. She waves off the nurse who offers to steady her and promptly collapses on the floor. Some men rush to hoist her up and settle her into a chair. Twenty minutes later she tries to stand again. Again she declines assistance. Again her legs crumple like wet spaghetti! Two different men lift her into a chair. I left before she tried a third time. (Usually such reactions are temporary in case you’re worried about her.)

Two men opposite me (I’m guessing navy vets) chat while waiting for their wives. I overhear them assigning a type of ship to each lady as she arrives. “Yep. She’s a battleship.” “Destroyer.” One slow-moving gal wobbles by. They look at each other and smile. At the same moment they say in unison, “Aircraft carrier!” and break into chortles. Funny stuff to pass the time.

I suddenly remembered another time I watched people and wrote about them. I was in my 30s at a lunch counter in Wisconsin…

At the lunch counter

She sat, stretched to the full height of her six years. Her fragile fingers, smeared with too-pink dime store polish, clutched a fork and partially-demolished piece of cherry pie which gradually spread from the plate to the counter top.

Her mother chain-smoked the time away, nodding periodically to her bright-eyed magpie’s chatter. Behind the almond-shaped, black framed glasses her eyes reflected some other place. Her mind seemed to be far away. Perhaps she was tired.

A young man whose face was cratered with acne perched opposite me like a robin come back too soon. His eyes were full of winter, and his bony hands huddled around the empty cup which had long ceased to give warmth.

An old man in a green sweater had been cornered by a balloon-cheeked woman whose false teeth clacked like castanets.

A frail creature with soda straw hair peered through ashtray glasses at the menu in studied ritual before ordering a small coke. She alternated princess-sized sips with puffs of cigarette smoke aimed through wrinkled lips at some unseen target on the ceiling.

The teen-aged waitress bustled about with ice cubes and napkins, making excuses for dirty spoons. A hair net clung like a refrigerator magnet to her head, her once-white uniform apologizing for being a size too small.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror, hunched over some cherry cheesecake I didn’t need.  I noticed with embarrassment the frayed tee-shirt I was wearing.

We were a semi-circle of strangers from different worlds, careful not to look each other eye to eye, pretending interest in the backs of menus instead.

Now, as then, my thoughts were interrupted by God’s gentle voice, “I love these people.”

God’s interruption

How quickly we judge and criticize those different from us: “Too fat!” “Anorexic!” “Filthy!” “Snobbish!” “No taste whatsoever!” “How can they appear in public like that?” We can be merciless and unrelenting unless someone—or God—stops the flow of our criticism to remind us that we fit right into this group of oddballs.

People sitting in waiting room
People sitting in waiting room

From God’s perspective, everyone is a masterpiece of his loving creation. Each face windows his divergent touch. Every flaw to him is inexpressibly precious.

In our world where so many loud people are building walls and we are encouraged to divide people into groups I need to remember that we all are God’s handiwork. He knows every detail of every single life in every single country in the world and yet he loves each of us completely and unconditionally. When the prophet Samuel was selecting a king for Israel, he had a hard time finding the one God had chosen. That’s when God told him, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height….The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1]

What does God see in my heart? It is not my place to label and divide but to accept and love. When God is so hugely gracious to me can I not be gracious to those he loves?

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7