Think about your life for a moment. Think about those things, people, places, experiences and memories that are most precious to you. The few thoughts that top this list are in all likelihood some of your greatest treasures. Now, think again about your life for another moment. Think about the things, people, places, experiences and memories that you obsess about – the images that you replay again and again in your mind that go ‘round and ‘round on that insatiable loop of conditioned and driven brain activity. The obsessions that top this list are in all likelihood your treasures as well. Kinda disturbing, isn’t it. So, what do we do about it? How do we learn to isolate and diminish those things which we cherish but hurt us? How do we instead focus on and appreciate those items that bring true honor, blessing and joy?
For most of us it’s simple. God is good, Satan is evil. They fight and God wins. God destroys Satan and all evil with him. It is simple and reassuring until we think a little more deeply about it. Where did evil actually come from? If God created all things then He must have created evil – why would he do that? If God wins the battle between good and evil and then destroys evil, would He be destroying one of His creations? If God truly is stronger than evil then we need to ask if God is even paying attention because one look around our world and it is obvious that evil is handily winning. So, are God and evil really a compatible pair – opposites that need each other to exist? Could God ever truly destroy evil or is the destiny of our world and our universe to be subject to both?
Loss brings grief. Everyone hurts when they suffer loss and many losses are met with grief. The recent Florida school shooting brings the trauma out in the open for all to see. Yet, before and after that singular tragedy there have been and will continue to be countless experiences of deep grief that are not so public. For many of us bereavement acts like a disease. Its symptoms can be deep and debilitating, and its cycle is repetitive and exhausting. Grief stinks and yet is an important and even healthy part of our coping with our traumatic personal losses. So, how do we go about finding the healing part ? How do we know what to hang on to, what to let go of and when any of this should happen? Finally, what can those of us who are not presently experiencing a personal loss do to help those who are in such pain and anguish?
We are losing our grip. Really. There is a battle for our children raging before us and we are losing it miserably. Raising children does not at all look like it once did a few generations ago. Back then, parents were expected to control their households and children were expected to grow up within that control. You might argue that such an arrangement was a little rigid. Perhaps. Now children and their feelings have become the idols of their parents' lives and those parents dutifully bow before and serve the desires, hormones and natural immaturity their children display. You might say that such an arrangement is a little - a lot - permissive. Absolutely! So, what do we do about it? How do we think, act and respond to our present parenting crisis? How do we swim upstream against the current of pitiful parenting and grab hold of and apply principles of powerful parenting?
A few weeks ago we began talking about Jesus speaking the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. This was one of the few parables he actually interpreted for his followers, and in that interpretation he revealed it was a prophecy about the difficult future of Christianity. He spoke of false Christians and an entire age when the true and false would grow together – outwardly indistinguishable from one another - until the "harvest" time. We traced some of the corrupting influences through the long history of the church and began to see how the gospel was treated (and mistreated) along the way. Jesus, after speaking the Wheat and the Tares Parable, spoke two other parables. We believe they further described the corrupted condition of Christianity. So, what do these other parables tell us? Are we in danger of being deceived? Is the gospel even intact here and now in our present world?
If you believe in the Bible then you believe there are two institutions that have existed as long as humanity has been on this earth. First, there was the institution of obedience and honor to the Almighty Creator. God created and blessed Adam, and he in turn owed his allegiance to God. The second institution was that of marriage. Upon the creation of Eve it was declared that Adam would be committed and faithful to his wife, Eve. Loyalty to God and Marriage - two God-declared necessities that began the human journey. As we look around at our present conditions two new things become ominously apparent. First, we have all but lost our godly loyalty, and second, we are rapidly losing our marital bearings. For many, marriage still remains a vital piece of the human puzzle, so how do we keep its vitality relevant? What do we do? How do we act? What do we avoid? Our best course of action to find answers is to go back to the book where it all started…
Life has really changed. With all of the amazing connectedness we have through social media, we are more alone than ever. We see people via Facetime but we cannot touch them. We “chat” without talking. We “like” without truly feeling emotion, we “follow” without knowing where we are going and we “join” without ever going anywhere. As a result of all of this non-active activity, when someone crosses us in any of these virtual environments we can snap back at them in so many ways with without having to actually face them. We tweet, post, Instagram, email, text – all with anonymity. Funny, Jesus specifically taught us to “turn the other cheek” - not to virtually smack them upside their head! What does turning the other cheek even mean and how do we apply it in both our real and virtual worlds? Is this teaching of Jesus still as relevant and powerful as it was centuries ago?
So much of what Jesus taught was about the practical parts of living – learning to love, forgive and encourage one another - and these are the parts of his teachings that seem to garner the most attention. Jesus did, however, spend significant time imparting prophetic teaching as well. He came to earth as a man to ransom the human race, and in so doing, to call out "a people for his name." Much of his prophetic teaching was focused on how that calling would work and what that calling would face by way of challenges and pitfalls. Jesus was specific about what to expect regarding that calling regarding Christianity in terms of corruption and deceit. It sounds odd to think about Jesus calling out some future failures of what would come to be thought of as the Christian world, but he did. How did he do it? What did he say? What did he mean? What should we be paying attention to?
When I was a kid and faced with the potential consequences ("consequences" nothing...I mean I was faced with getting punished!) for my actions, there was often that moment that every kid dreads. I had to tell my dad or mom what I did. Now look, they already knew what I did; they were teaching me to own what I did. Anyway, at those fateful and fearful moments, my dad would often say “tell the truth and shame the devil!” This was never easy to hear for it reminded me that God is pleased with truth and the devil is pleased with lies, and even though lying seemed like a “get out of jail free” card, it was really an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” card. Guidelines are easier when you are a kid. As adults, how well do we do when faced with the gray areas and the white lies of life? Do we have resolve? Is it strong? What is it based upon? Can God bless us when in those gray areas?
As Charles Dickens opened his classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” He went on to explain the contradictions of his own culture. Here we are generations later, and we can easily say the same thing. Our culture is filled with wonder, technology and advancement, as well as suffering, misunderstanding and false narratives. One group of our culture that finds itself right in the middle of all of this is those who are transgendered. For many, the idea of being transgender is not only foreign but perhaps even highly doubtful. For others, being transgender feels natural and needs not only recognition but respect as well. This truly poses a dilemma of understanding and acceptance for many on all sides of the matter. So, how do we, how should we as Christians approach such a sensitive and passionate part of our world? Where should we stand? Why should we stand there? How should we approach those with whom we may disagree?