As time goes on, many of us will look back at 2017 and remember it as a year of storms. We have had storms of political division and unrest, storms of tragic events ranging from terrorism to the senseless taking of innocent lives, and we have had literal storms - specifically three major hurricanes that came back to back-to-back and left a wake of devastation, homelessness loss and death. It is the hurricanes, the natural disasters we will focus on today. Are these events a coded message from God? Is God punishing us for our blatant sin or is He telling us to mend our foolish ways? Now, if you don’t believe in God, could these natural disasters be a coded message from “Mother Earth” letting us know that we have messed with her precious and vital ecosystem for too long? Are there lessons here for us to learn?
A few weeks ago we began a conversation about the Bible and its inherent challenges of understanding and interpretation. As we discussed the book in all of its complexity, we suggested a very straightforward and simple conclusion: the Bible is difficult to understand because it was purposely written to be difficult to understand. Such a conclusion really disturbs most common Christian thinking about converting the world here and now. As we continue to lay out what we believe to be the reasons for such an avoidance of world appeal by the Scriptures, we now turn the focus on the really big question of results. Why would God, why did God set up a plan where everyone does NOT get a fair chance to come to an understanding of the Bible in our present environment? What good could possibly come from such a strategy?
In the immensity and complexity of the book we call the Bible, there are some verses that have become somewhat famous…like the Christmas text “Good tidings of great joy…” The football stadium text “For God so loved the world… the character of God text “God is love…”. Another text that is well known and deeply meaningful is spoken by Jesus to one of the thieves dying on the cross next to him, Jesus said “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise…” This text shows us the power of God’s love as expressed through the compassion of Jesus and his sacrifice and it is truly inspirational in the hope that it portrays. Now, here is a simple and very legitimate question - what was Jesus saying to this thief? What was he promising and why was he promising it? As we find out by examining so many verses of Scripture, what seems to be said is not always what is really meant. So, did Jesus really say what most th
Pick up a book or an article and start reading...if that book or article is well-written, it will bring you to some kind of conclusion, some kind of understanding or realization that you didn’t have before. Now, these realizations can be across a wide scope of subjects and learning, but the bottom line is you picked up that well-written book or article and now you have some greater knowledge or insight. Now pick up the Bible and start reading…it starts out all good and wonderful and then just six chapters later it seems like God gets mad and pretty much scraps His whole creation thing. Why? Read further and the confusion grows! So, what's up with this, anyway? The Almighty God, creator of all things, surely could have had the Bible written in such a way that it would be universally understood! Well the fact is, He didn’t! Why not? There is actually a really cool answer to this!
You hear the word "temptation.” What do you think of? For some of us it might be best to NOT answer this question out loud. For others it might be dark chocolate or getting even or pushing the envelope or wanting to take what is not ours. In every case, temptation is directly built upon our human desires, and our human desires left unfettered will continually fabricate webs of attraction, entitlement and deceit. These webs are binding, sticky and tenacious, and once we allow ourselves to touch them we may find ourselves too close to walk away, too weak to resist and too willing to try it out – you know, "just this once!" Temptation has shattered many relationships, disrupted many positive pathways and broken the contentment of many lives. Temptation is unfortunately not only alive and well, it is being fed, fostered and flaunted by our present society! What do we do! How do we get that temptation genie back in its bottle?
In many ways we are daily in a fight for our lives. There are so many choices that present themselves to us each and every day, many of which can distract and derail us from what is most important. The biggest factor that determines whether we stay on track with life or go down some rabbit hole of distraction and disruption is simply...me. Yup, I am the decision maker - the gatekeeper of my own mind and body - and I alone have final say as to what kind of victory or what kind of defeat I will experience. Now, wait a minute! As a Christian shouldn’t I be subject to the will of God through Christ? Absolutely! Then why am I saying that I am in control? It’s simple! I decide how much influence the will of God will exercise in my life at any given moment and that makes ME my worst enemy! Great! Now what do we do? What do we do? We learn how to identify, fight and win the battle!
It was just a few weeks ago the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked a firestorm of vitriol and reaction throughout our country. What happened, what didn’t happen, who reacted and how - all of these things became the fuel for more protests and more protests against the protests and reaction of a very negative kind everywhere you looked. Let us be abundantly clear on one point – those who would paint themselves as any form of supremacist, white or otherwise, are servants of a deep and destructive darkness. Period. Those who take the law into their own hands and use violence and threats as their primary tools to eradicate all whom they consider supremacists are also choosing to borough down that dark hole as well. NONE of this is good! All of this provokes hatred, and rightfully so. Shouldn’t we as Christians hate such evil? Yes we should. The bigger question here, however, is HOW do we engage our hatred for evil in a Christlike manner?
...Unless one is “born again.” This phrase carries great meaning no matter what Christian denomination you come from. The meaning of the phrase certainly changes depending upon your particular belief system, but the power of the phase remains intact. To be “born again” in all cases implies one of the most significant spiritual changes any person can ever experience. So when does being “born again” happen and what does it really mean? Does this spiritual change happen when one is baptized as an infant or when one commits their life to God through Jesus or when one is baptized as an adult or when one dies? Is this spiritual change a prepaid one way ticket to heaven or an opportunity for power and control in your present life, or is it a sober and humbling opportunity to sacrifice all that you have and all that you are?
We all would like to think that we are special in some way before God. We want to be sure of His love for us and His guiding hand in our lives. For most of us, being special translates into a feeling – an emotional response that produces a sense of security. But is that all there is to being special? For the Christian at least there is much more to it. We know that everyone is not called to follow Jesus and we also know that according to the Bible, God does specifically call some to follow. How does this work? How does God get your attention and touch your heart and mind? What makes us want to respond to God and what might make us shy away from responding to Him? Is it easy to recognize when God is seeking us out and trying to touch our hearts?
Christians like most other people are creatures of habit. Although society has engineered dramatic changes in how we handle our lives, for many Christians the act of going to church remains a staple in their lives. We go to church to do what? Traditionally we have gone to learn about God, to have fellowship with those of like mind, to get away from the rat race of our lives and to remind ourselves about how to live in a Christlike fashion. Traditionally we have gone to church to reaffirm our faith – to strengthen ourselves to better stand for our core beliefs. As I said, times have changed...now it seems as though many of us go to church for different reasons. In many instances church has become a place of neighborly activity, social acceptance, goodness, activities entertainment and fun. Church is now a nice place to go to feel good about myself. So, are these changes unhealthy or bad? What’s wrong with feeling good about myself? What makes a church a really good church?