Monthly Archives: August 2015

Let’s Get Practical

Meghan Vogel, as far as anyone knew, was just your typical high school student.

What she did, however, was anything but typical.

It was extraordinary.

Meghan, from West Liberty, Ohio, had already won the 1600-meter state track championship. Trailing in the 3200-meter race, Meghan saw another runner collapse ahead of her. She could have seen a rival’s fall as an opportunity to gain an advantage. Instead, she saw it as an opportunity to care. Meghan helped Arden McMath to her feet. She then placed Arden’s limp arm around her neck and she supported her until together they crossed the finish line.

Meghan was modest in her heroism. “I knew any girl on that field would do that for me,” she said, “so I was going to do that for Arden.”

It’s a simple premise – and a simple faith.

A youth willing to put her idealism into selfless practice is always inspiring. One may only hope that Meghan doesn’t become jaded when she enters a sometimes ruthless world where dogs still devour other dogs. After all, it’s newsworthy when we see the Golden Rule put to the test. And it’s just another day when we see it trampled.

Self-interest is the norm. We expect it. Self-denial is the exception. We’re amazed by it.

For centuries, theologians and philosophers have argued that Jesus couldn’t possibly have thought that people would actually try and live by his Sermon on the Mount. How realistic is it to think that people – even Christ’s own followers – would recognize their spiritual poverty and mourn over it, live in humility and meekness, hunger and thirst for justice, seek purity of heart and show mercy to others? Is Jesus really expecting his disciples to control their anger, forgive others, love their enemies and trust God for all their needs?

That’s great for heaven someday – but not for the here and now.

The here and now is for the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness, not idealism.

Look after yourself. This is what the world teaches us every day.

Even life in the church tells us quite often that Jesus’ most famous sermon is viewed as more pie in the sky than food for the soul. The Sermon on the Mount is certainly beautiful. It’s just not very practical.

The problem with this thinking – especially within the Body of believers called the church – is that the entire New Testament commands us, through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, to live out the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible tells us plainly that we must flesh out, in very realistic and practical ways, this whole business.  The teaching and preaching of Jesus is clearly intended to directly impact how we live and how we treat others.

If it doesn’t, then we aren’t his followers.

Over and over again we are told to “love one another”. Jesus said this was his “new commandment” (John 13:34). He went so far to say that this was the single, truest, most visible sign of our genuine faith. “By this will all men know that you are my disciples.”(John 13:35, KJV, emphasis added).

Love is the mark of the Christian.

Paul tells us that we are to be “devoted to one another”, to “honor one another” and to “live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12: 10,16, NLT). Paul was as absolute about this as Jesus was. “Let no debt remain,” he wrote to the Romans, “except the continuing debt to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” (Romans 13:8, NLT).

It doesn’t stop with the command to love. The Bible goes on to define what love is and how it is shown.

Practically speaking and practically living.

We’re told to “agree with one another,”  “accept one another”, “serve one another”, “be patient with one another” ,  “carry one another’s burdens”,  “support the weak”, “submit to one another”, “encourage one another”, “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other…” and to “live in harmony with one another.” (I Cor.1:10; Romans 15:7; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; Galatians 6:2; I Thessalonians 5:14; Ephesians 5:21; Hebrews 3:13; Ephesians 4:32; Romans 12:16).

The New Testament is the practical owner’s manual for the Sermon on the Mount.

It pulsates with rubber-meets-the-road living.

All this “one-anothering” is what made the first church in Jerusalem the exciting, dynamic and vital organism that turned the world upside down.  It’s what gives flesh and blood to Christianity today.

Practice more than profession; living more than telling. It’s what the non-follower wants to see in you and me.

When an early believer stumbled and fell on the track, someone else cared enough to stop, pick her up, put her arm around her shoulder and help her cross the finish line.

It’s always been true.

What Meghan Vogel did is what we need to do – for “one another” – at every opportunity God gives us.

How should we live?

Let’s get practical.

May God bless you and your family.

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A Place for You

It was quiet in the room.

There were ominous signs.

Events would soon overwhelm them and strike fear and confusion into their hearts.

The men glanced at each other but tried to conceal their anxiety.

This night was special. One that none of these men would ever forget.

Three years of an incredible journey had led to this. They would write about it; about him; about what they had seen and heard and handled.

They would never be the same. Neither would the world.

They would die for this – for him.

Jesus looked intently at the men around the table. He knew it was just the beginning. He would entrust all but one with the building of his church and the advancement his kingdom.

He had spoken to them that night with words of steel and velvet. Before supper he had washed their feet and set an example. He said that one of them would betray him, another would deny him. He told them he was going to leave them and they would not be able to come.

Not tonight. Not for a while.

He told them to love each other, that by doing this they would prove to the world the authenticity of their faith and their loyalty to him.

Whatever they were thinking by this time is hard to imagine. There was a moment of silence.

Then Jesus smiled. He knew what they were thinking and he knew what they were facing.

He loved these men. He had chosen each of them to be in his band of brothers. It was a band that before this night was over would be stretched but in the end even the gates of hell itself would not break it. Time and persecution would only serve to strengthen it.

Jesus had much more to say to them. He would tell them about the Holy Spirit, about the vine and the branches, about the world’s hatred and how, in the end, their sadness would be turned to joy.

But now he wanted to offer them hope and encouragement.

Reading their anxious spirits, Jesus told them, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1, KJV). If you believe in God, he said, believe in me.

Why?

Because he would defeat Rome?

Because he spoke the truth?

Because he would give them political victory?

Because he would defeat ISIS, Planned Parenthood and gay marriage?

Because he had all power?

Because right would inevitably triumph over wrong and good would defeat evil?

No. None of these.

“I go to prepare a place for you” (14:2, KJV).

This was the comfort he offered these men on this night of crisis.

Jesus spoke of a place.

It was a beautiful and wonderful place; a place that human eyes had never seen. It was a special and specific place filled with breathtaking glory and unimaginable happiness; a land of unspeakable joy and endless wonder.

“In my Father’s house,” Jesus told them, “are many mansions” (verse 2).

Years later, on his island of exile, the aged apostle John jangled together all manner of strange and conflicting metaphors as he tried desperately to describe the magnificence of his vision; the sights and sounds he experienced.

Words failed him – and they fail us – but they were all he had.

In the end, sadness, sickness and even death itself were all destroyed. John saw a new heaven and also a new earth – an earth spotless and perfected in all its glorious splendor.

The most spectacular places you’ve ever seen, multiplied by ten thousand.

And God wiped away all tears forever.

In this land we’ll never grow old. We’ll never have to say goodbye. We won’t go home – we’ll be home. No clocks, no calendars, no endings and no partings.

Timeless glory.

Heaven?  Can’t wait!

We struggle and persevere in this world and in this life; we stand and we fight and we vote. We care deeply. We resist evil and pursue justice – not because we think heaven will come to this fallen and dying world – it won’t. This present world, shrouded in darkness and shackled by sin, is sick and doomed. It is passing away.

Some day it will perish. No nuclear deal will prevent that.

You and I live in hope. We work and pray for renewal and change right now because we know that every day leads us closer to our final destiny, to our continuing city, to our Beulah land.

To this place Jesus is preparing for us and has promised us.

We’re not marching on Washington. We’re marching to Zion, “beautiful, beautiful Zion”

As Paul reminded us, because of the hope of our glorious future, “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58, KJV).

Jesus told his disciples that night that he would come back and get them.

“When everything is ready, I will come and get you so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3, NLT, emphasis added).

He’s coming back for you and me too.

When our hearts are troubled, as they so often are these days, let’s listen to his whisper:

“Don’t worry. I’ve gone to prepare a place for you.”

May God bless you and your family.

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God’s Work of Heart

O’Reilly’s is great!

Whatever part for my car or truck I need, the helpful, friendly folks at O’Reilly’s will have it in stock or they can order it. Considering that my truck, a daily driver, is 36 years old and my car is 50, O’Reilly’s has been a lifesaver on countless occasions.

As an auto supply store, they’ve got all kinds of parts.

So does Planned Parenthood.

Even staunch pro-choice advocates had to grimace at the breezy, nonchalant discussions recently caught on undercover video. Officials of Planned Parenthood talked about harvesting tiny body parts of unborn babies as if they were making after-dinner plans.

Or stopping by O’Reilly’s

Even the liberal Washington Post conceded the videos were “hard to watch”.

Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical services spoke of the desirability of a “17-weeker” because he or she was “more likely to yield what we needed.”  By the second trimester, the baby had grown big enough to offer “the tissue that you want”. A fourth of the agency’s abortions in Los Angeles are performed in the second trimester.

The overwhelming majority of Americans believe abortions in the second trimester should be illegal. But they are not.

And so over drinks in a restaurant Planned Parenthood folks talk about using “less crunchy”  techniques  when pulling a baby from the womb of its mother so as not to damage key organs. Someone observes that “intact fetal cadavers” can be had by altering the abortion procedure.

This is so tragic and sickening that it is indeed “hard to watch”.

We all should sympathize with young women with unexpected or problem pregnancies. We should support medical research in the relentless pursuit of cures for dreaded diseases. Fetal tissue, the argument goes, is invaluable to this laudatory medical effort. Less commendable is the greed and callous ethics that lead to the despicable trafficking of infant body parts for money. A doctor once remarked that this profitable business was like “the goose that lays the golden eggs”.

When the United States Senate, in response to the videos, debated a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the predictable arguments were heard. This agency offers a wide-range of services to improve women’s health, including contraception that prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The legislation, however, would have shifted resources to other health care providers that don’t specialize in harvesting body parts.

The bill was defeated in a close vote but the deep moral concerns are left unresolved.

When a society begins to devalue the lives of its weakest and most defenseless members, its collective conscience, in the biblical term, is seared. Abortion has become so commonplace for so long that it was inevitable that the bodies of unborn babies would become commodities, means to a greater end, useful instruments of medical research and experimentation.

Fetuses not babies; tissue, not people.

Morality never exists in a vacuum, nor does it remain unaffected by choices and opinion.

That which is at first objected to, if seen frequently, becomes in time tolerated and, if it lasts long enough, can be approved of. Familiarity too often breeds a cavalier moral indifference.

The Planned Parenthood videos jolted our awareness of what abortion on demand is and what it involves.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts accused abortion opponents of wanting to take our country back to “the 1950s or the 1890s”. But if it’s a historic parallel the senator seeks, it would be the 1850s.

On March 6, 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its infamous decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case. Dred Scott, a former slave, had escaped his master and sought legal recognition of his freedom and citizenship.

But according to Chief Justice Roger Taney and a majority of his colleagues, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect” (emphasis added).

Black people weren’t people at all. They were common chattel property, just like a wagon or a cow.

Democratic presidents Pierce and Buchanan and presidential nominee Stephen A. Douglas all shared this view.

When it comes to the rights and personhood of unborn children in the 21st century, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and others in their party are the natural and direct political descendants of Pierce, Buchanan and Douglas.

The trafficking in the body parts of murdered infants in the womb conjures up the diabolical heartless experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. His favorite experiments were on twin children, without regard to pain or consequence. After all, this was for medical science and these children were only Jews.

As you and I prepare ourselves for another presidential election, when abortion will again be debated, let’s remember and courageously affirm the preciousness and beauty of all human life. It’s precious to us because it’s precious to the God who made us.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body,” the psalmist marvels before his Creator, “and knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, NLT).

You and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

We are God’s work of heart.

So is every unborn child.

May God bless you and your family.

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“This Tremendous Lover”

Through the dark woods the little boy ran.

As fast as his skinny legs would take him he ran. Through the gullies and up the hills; across the streams and over the fields he breathlessly scurried on.

His heart beat faster and faster. Fear raced through him like a freight train. He dared only once to glance back at the giant vicious predator. The bear was closing on the lad, his fierce growls of hunger growing louder as he pursued his tiny prey.

The boy finally reached the place of no return – and no escape.

He was cornered.

The little boy closed his eyes tight. The bear leaped on him from behind and gave a menacing final growl.

Then just as suddenly, the bear released the little boy from his powerful grasp. The boy squirmed out and jumped to his feet and turned to face the bear. The boy giggled and ran into the bear’s strong limbs.

“I love you Daddy!” he gleefully exclaimed.

Hugging him tight, the dad smiled and whispered, “I love you too, son.”  Taking the boy’s little hand in his, the father walked his son out of the bedroom.

Game over.

How comforting to know that the menacing bear you imagine pursuing you is really your loving father. Your unfounded fear melts away in the warm embrace of the one who would never harm you because he loves you more than you’ll ever know.

After all, he’s your father.

When Francis Thompson first published his iconic poem, The Hound of Heaven, many readers were at first startled at the metaphor of God as a relentlessly pursuing animal. But when studied and understood, the comparison pulsates with a passionate beauty. The poem is the story of God’s determined persistence in the face of our stubborn and foolish resistance. We try to run and hide, but we can’t.

God chases us “down the nights and down the days … down the arches of the years …” We continually flee “from this tremendous Lover”, Thompson writes. Until, in time and circumstance, God corners us with his love. And we surrender, not into the grip of a ravenous hound, but into the arms of a compassionate and merciful God, who loved us all along.

 After all, He’s our Father.

When Jesus first addressed the Almighty Creator of the universe, shrouded in sovereign, inscrutable mystery, as “Our Father”, the Jews were unaccustomed to such Deistic intimacy. Nor were the gods of other religions any more approachable.

People perceived a menacing bear, a hungry hound, perhaps, but not “Our Father.”

Still, Jesus pressed the analogy.

“You fathers,” Jesus said, “if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13, NLT, emphasis added).

We all want to be good parents. Most of us believe we are, whatever else we may be. Is not God our Father capable of being so much more to those who commit themselves to his care?

That’s the point Jesus is making, not only in his Sermon on the Mount, but throughout his teaching and his stories – throughout his brief life on this earth: God is our merciful and loving Father. Yes, he will punish us, he will correct us, he will test us and he will teach us. But the one thing he will never do is hate us.

Why then do we so often fear him and flee from him? Why are we tempted in our sorrow and pain and suffering to see God as a cruel, vindictive or, at best, indifferent Sovereign?

God loves you and me perfectly. John tells us that “there no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18, NKJV).

John wraps up our relationship with God into the arms of the Divine loving nature:

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (I John 4:16, NASB, emphasis added).

This is much more than a lovely esoteric concept; it is a life-altering reality for the one who believes.

The Bible is nothing more – and nothing less – than the story of our Father’s abiding presence, his faithful provision and his unfailing protection. The essence of its panoramic display – cover to cover- is the Father’s unchanging, unconditional and endless love.

CS Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia, consistently portrays the lion Aslan – the Christ figure – as neither tame nor safe but always good.

I don’t know why God should love me. I truly don’t. But I know he does, despite my occasional misgivings. It is his nature to love me. And as Paul reminded Timothy: “he cannot deny who he is.” (II Timothy 2:13, NLT).

After all, he is my Father.

“God is love.” This is the summation of his nature.

In this central, undeniable and incontrovertible truth is our hope – both now and forever.

He’s our “tremendous Lover.”

May God bless you and your family.

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