Thursday, July 26, 2012

If I Had It To Do Over Again...

I officiated at a funeral this morning, and I'm in the process of preparing for another funeral to take place this coming Saturday for a long-time friend and member of my congregation. As a pastor, I have the privilege of being with people as they near the end of their earthly lives. It's a sacred time; often a time when a light of clarity is shone on what is and is not important. I found it timely that I came across an article talking about this very subject this week.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

What I'd like to do is take her top five observations and build on them. Ware writes that there were several common themes which surfaced again and again. Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Ware says that this was the most common regret of all. Many people realized near the end of their lives that they had spent most of their time trying to please others, or fulfilling the expectations of others.

Without a clear picture of who we are and why we are here, all of us tend to go in the path of least resistance, whether that is wasting our lives or sliding into a role laid out for us by others. I've found that there's great freedom when we understand that God created each and every one of us on purpose and endowed each of us with gifts, talents and abilities. It is when we can align ourselves with God's purposes for our lives that we can find ultimate fulfillment.

I'm reminded of the movie "Chariots of Fire," where Eric Liddell, the British Olympic runner, was having a confrontation with his sister. They were devout Christians and Liddell was planning on being a missionary to China. He put that on hold in order to compete for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. His sister disagreed with him and felt that he was wasting his time and failing God. Liddell's reply was insightful: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." What is it that you do that makes you feel like that?   

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
Ware wrote: "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship." This regret, I believe, comes from the compartmentalization that we have allowed in our world. We've separated work, family, faith, leisure, etc... and as a result work has become something that we have to do in order to "get" to do the rest. Witness the whole "Freedom 55" campaign as evidence of this. We've come to believe that work is a necessary evil.

We must work, and since we have to, we feel we need to get what we can, when we can. This often results in living unbalanced lives, where family is neglected and opportunities are missed. But in God's economy, we understand that healthy work is a part of God's plan for our lives. Looking back at the last paragraph of the previous point, it's about finding what we were meant to do. When our activities match up with God's design for us, fulfillment is the result.

The second part of the equation is maintaining proper priorities and balance. We were not designed to work all the time; neither were we designed to be without work for extended periods of time. In his book, "Choosing to Cheat," Andy Stanley speaks of making the choices to give quality time to our families and our God. It leads to a lot less regret.   

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
In her book, Ware writes that "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result." Many would interpret this as an invitation to "let 'er rip" on anyone who gets in your path. But that is equally unhealthy.

Good emotional health results partly from a sense of wholeness, of being true to yourself. Learning healthy communication skills ought to be a prerequisite for entering adulthood. The Bible gives great advice when it says to "speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15) It also teaches us how to avoid the pitfalls of bitterness - by developing the disciplines of forgiveness (Romans 12:9-21) and prayer (Philippians 4:6-7).
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Ware shares that "There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying." This speaks to, what I believe, is one of our societies biggest problems: the loss of community. With our highly mobile, busy lifestyles, it takes real effort to maintain healthy relationships with friends.

It will be interesting to see whether the newest technology  - twitter, Facebook, etc... will actually have the long-term affect of bringing us together or pushing us further apart. I have been able to renew acquaintances with long-lost friends over the internet, but has it been at the expense of other relationships that could be more rewarding? The bottom line is that we should hold each other more closely. Real friends are hard to come by.  

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Finally, Bronnie writes that "This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

It speaks again of expectations: of trying to be what others expect you to be. I find this is true particularly of certain personality types. Phlegmatics, for example, are much more likely to "go with the flow" and not bother to express their opinion. They genuinely like to get along and feel good about deferring to others. However, the downfall often comes later when they wake up one day with a house they don't like, driving a car they didn't choose, living a life they hadn't envisioned for themselves. It's okay to say what you want! Just do it respectfully. This is also a reminder to all of us to be sure to include others in the decision-making process.

When we have a proper view of God we can place everything else in its proper context. Jesus said "I have come that you might have life, and have it to the full." The Bible speaks often of the joy-filled life. What do you really want out of life?

Interestingly, sociologist Tony Campolo recounts another survey - this one of octogenarians - who were asked "If you had life to live over again, what would you do differently?" Their top 3 answers were similar to those above. They said: 
  • They would risk more.
  • They would reflect more.
  • They would do more things that would live on after they were dead.
Similar answers, but slightly different. I think the bottom line for all of these is that we need to be living our lives with a view to its brevity. Life passes quickly, and we need to remember that one day, it will be someone else planning our funeral. What do we want said of us? How can we live a life that is fulfilling? How can we make the most of the time that we have?

I think each of those questions leads us back to our relationship with God. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment in the law (in other words, what is most important) He replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love God and love people. Sounds like a recipe for a great life. Try it, you might like it!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Mark of a True Man - Heroes of Aurora

As stories emerge from the deadly shooting at Aurora, Colorado, one theme is being repeated - heroic sacrifice. At least four young men gave their lives protecting their girlfriends.

Alex Tevez and Amanda Lindgren
The first story was of a young man by the name of Alex Tevez. He had just turned 24 and had recently finished graduate school in Denver. When the shooting started he pulled his girlfriend, Amanda Lindgren, to the ground and covered her with his body. Family members expressed that this was what they would have expected him to do - it reflected who he was as a person. 

Jonathon Blunk and Jansen Young
Then there was Jonathon Blunk. Jon pushed his girlfriend under a seat to shield her from the bullets, telling her to "Stay down!" He was a soldier who was planning on re-enlisting. He had told his girlfriend, Jansen Young, "I was born to serve my country." When she exited the theater unharmed she said, "Jon just took a bullet for me."

John Larimer and Julia Vojtsek
 Next was John Larimer. John was a 27 year old third petty officer in the Navy. When gunfire erupted he immediately jumped over his seat and put his body between the gunman and his girlfriend, Julia Vojtsek. She said he "immediately and instinctively covered me and brought me to the ground in order to protect me from any danger." John, the youngest of five children, had told his brother, Noel, that that would be the best way to die, saving someone's life. Little did he know that it would happen in a movie theater.

Matt McQuinn and Samantha Fowler
Finally we hear of Matt McQuinn, 27. Matt dove in front of his girlfriend, Samantha Yowler. The couple had met at a Target store in Springfield, Ohio, where they both worked. Samantha was injured during the attack, suffering a gunshot wound in the knee. His stepfather, when asked what he thought of Matt's actions replied, "I'm not surprised. That's what a man does." 

As I've been reading stories about these men, and watching news stories, I couldn't help but think about the whole question of what makes a man a man. What immediately sprang to my mind was Ephesians 5:25 - "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

As a pastor, I do a lot of premarital counseling. I always include this verse when I talk to the potential grooms. This was the way that God intended men to love their wives; with a sacrificial love, a love that is willing to do whatever it takes, including the ultimate sacrifice, to protect his family. 

It's a picture of the love that Jesus Christ had for His church. He willingly went to the cross, the most horrible death that evil men of the time had imagined. It wasn't for any crime that He had committed that He died; He was a willing sacrifice in our place. He said, in Mark 10:45 that He came "to give his life as a ransom for many." In Ephesians, Paul holds this model up as the standard for all men in their relationships with their wives.  

It's appropriate to honor these men, who put their lives on the line when the bullets started flying. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Courage is found in unlikely places.” It's even found in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

We have lost a lot in this tragedy, as 12 people lost their lives and scores of others were injured. But we've also gained something by the example of these brave young men. While one man stood, with protective gear and an arsenal of weapons, to rain destruction on innocent people, 4 young men demonstrated what real love looks like. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13) I've included a video with interviews of the young women whose lives were saved. One question for you: what would you have done?

Beautiful Sacrifice - 4 Boyfriends Lay Down Their Lives For Their Girlfriends in the Movie Shooting from sharethemessage on GodTube.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Hope Amid Despair

We've all heard the reports from Aurora, Colorado, about the horrible shooting that took place last Friday in the wee hours of the morning. As viewers in a crowded theater were enjoying the premier showing of Dark Night, a young man preparing to drop out of graduate school entered in full protective gear and three weapons and began to shoot. When it was all done, 12 people lay dead and scores wounded, the youngest being a four month old baby.

Shooting victim - Petra Anderson
The media coverage has been non-stop, everything from background stories on the victims to what could possibly be the motive behind this horrific crime. I came across a blog by an Aurora Pastor today that I felt like I needed to share. One of the young ladies in his church was injured in the attack. But in the midst of all of the grief and despair, a little hope. And a reminder that God is still God. Take the time to read the article and let me know what you think.

It's by Pastor Brad Strait. You can find it here.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012


Balance - it's just a word, but it has a lot of meaning.

If you're not balanced physically, a lot of bad stuff can happen. You have a hard time walking; even standing. A lack of balance makes it challenging to work, to play, to do almost anything. In fact, it can be quite dangerous. Imagine trying to cross a busy street when you're having trouble with your balance.

I think that there are even greater problems when there's a lack of balance in other areas of your life. There are some who seem to be determined to take huge risks with their finances, for example, on a regular basis. There's nothing wrong with a calculated risk - but recklessness most often leads to ruin. Learning balance enables you to maintain a certain level of stability while remaining open to opportunity when it presents itself.

Another area where the lack of balance can have serious repercussions is in the spiritual realm. I have seen many in spiritual leadership who have jumped on the bandwagon of every trend that came along, to the detriment of themselves and also those who follow.

This is, I believe, part of the purpose for the inclusion of Ephesians 4:11-16 in Scripture: 

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

The world is full of ideas, many of them conflicting. There's a growing trend to hold two contradictory opinions and assume that both of them can be true. That is logically inconsistent - not to mention that it breaks the law of non-contradiction. I've met many who have nowhere to stand philosophically because they have no basis for what they believe. They've simply collected random ideas that they've heard about and mixed them together, pulling out which ever one seems appropriate at the time.

In contrast to this trend towards "whatever," Jesus still speaks clearly. In Matthew 7:24-29, Jesus wraps up His famous "Sermon on the Mount" with the startling claim that whoever heard what He said and failed to put it into practice would ultimately find ruin; yet those who obeyed His teachings would stand the test of time. These verses speak of foundation, of finding balance.

Throughout Scripture we find references to God's way, His path, His truth. Here is where we find stability. Archimedes once said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world." Looking back through history, we find countless men and women who have changed the world by standing on the firm place that is the Word of God. 

How balanced is your faith? Are you standing on the shaky ground of opinion or the rock solid that is God's revealed Word?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taking A Stand

Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. - July 18, 1957

I came across a picture today that sparked this blog post (at right). It was a picture of two of my favorite people: Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. In 1957, when much of the United States was segregated, Martin joined Billy on stage at one of Graham's crusades at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Today, a meeting of two such notables wouldn't attract a lot of attention, but this was different. It was a statement that, regardless of what culture might say, the Gospel of Jesus Christ pays no attention to the color of a person's skin. In a letter to Graham after the Crusade, King praised Billy’s commitment to holding non-segregated revivals, commenting, “You have courageously brought the Christian Gospel to bear on the question of race.”

It was one thing to have non-segregated crusades in the North, but Billy Graham also held them throughout the South, beginning with Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1953. It was an issue of conscience with Graham, who, at least in one crusade, physically removed the barrier designed to keep whites and blacks separated. He also preached to an integrated audience in South Africa before the end of apartheid.

His commitment was not without cost. Many financial supporters withdrew their support when Billy refused to change his mind. He also faced criticism from the black community because he wasn't more vocal about the issue of civil rights. His focus was on a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Of course, Martin Luther King Jr. paid the ultimate price for his decision to stand publicly against the injustice of segregation. Billy Graham remembered a conversation with King about the cost of commitment. "Martin Luther King suggested to me that I stay in the South and hold integrated meetings and that he was going to take to the streets and that he would probably get killed in the streets. 'But I don't think you ought to because you are going to be able to do some things that I can't and I'm going to be able to do some things you can't, but we're after the same objective.'"

The probability of his own death didn't keep King from doing what he felt was the right thing to do; the impact of his decision is still being felt today. Graham has been blessed to live to a ripe old age, and he, as well, is leaving a legacy of changed lives. They wanted to see justice done; to see hearts changed; to see compassion and truth triumph over cruelty and deception. We need men of courage like them today.

For many of you reading this, Billy Graham's most active ministry, and certainly Martin Luther's campaign, were before your time. I'm going to include video to one of Graham's messages and one of King's speeches. If you've never heard them, take a few minutes to get an education - it's worth the time.


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Monday, July 09, 2012

A Picnic - Or A Pilgrimage?

A friend of mine posted this quote below on his Facebook page. I liked it so much that I decided to use it as a springboard to a new post. I tracked it down to its source, and it's from an article that Eyvonne wrote in her blog called: "Real Faith in a Hard World."  
"Christians act as if we have the right to live in a society where our 'Christian' sensibilities are never offended. We want the world to be beautified, anesthetized, and purified before we step foot into it. Instead of facing the ugliness we see and sharing the best news of humankind, we create impenetrable fortresses for ourselves where the dark cannot get in and the light cannot escape. We don’t realize how bad life really is for many because we’ve insulated ourselves from it. If Jesus acted like many of us, He would have stayed in heaven." - Eyvonne Sharp
The article in question is about a decision by "Lifeway" books to stop selling the movie "The Blind Side" in its stores due to “explicit profanity, the use of God’s name in vain, and racial slurs.” It's a very balanced article that expresses the sentiments of a great many people, if the comments section is any indication. The quote above, by itself, struck me enough to make me want to comment.
I grew up with a "fortress mentality," being told that it's a big scary world out there and we needed to do everything we could to avoid it. This was well-meaning, and partly true. There are, and always will be, things that we need to stay away from in culture. There are also things we need to stand up to and confront. But, I think more than anything else, there are things we need to understand, and people we need to love. It was Billy Graham who wrote, "Jesus didn't call us to a picnic, but to a pilgrimage."
When the early church began, it was in the context of a hostile environment. Jesus had been crucified just forty days before in the same city where Peter stood and boldly proclaimed the Gospel. It wasn't long until persecution broke out and the church was spread out throughout the Roman Empire - which was also hostile. In fact, a cursory glance at history will reveal that the Church has had to learn to thrive in cultures where they didn't call the shots, and was often healthier.
 There are a whole lot of subjects rolled up in this, but the main point I want to make is this: we are responsible to reflect the love of Christ regardless of the context within which we find ourselves. This speaks of Jesus' call to be "in the world but not of the world (A paraphrase)." How did they live this? In a time when infanticide was common in Rome and babies would be left beside open sewers to die, Christians would rescue them and raise them as their own. When disease spread through cities and the healthy would leave town, it was the Christians who stayed to care for the sick and dying, risking their own lives in the process.
It was the church's unconditional love for the people around them that was the "salt and light" that transformed society from the inside out. They demonstrated a better way with their lives, often laying down their lives in the process. Much of what is good in Western society is a result of Christians assessing and engaging the culture with love, attempting to live out Jesus' prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Much of Christendom has either forgotten how to do this or simply stopped trying.
It's past time to stop with the angry protests and pick up a servant's towel. The old saying is true: "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." Thanks for the reminder, Eyvonne. If you are called by the name of Christ, go out there, find a hurt, and heal it in Jesus' name. Do something to enhance God's reputation in the world. Lord knows there are enough people tearing it down.
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Sunday, July 08, 2012

1000 Days In Jail

Many years ago I had opportunity to visit a childhood friend in Kingston Penitentiary, one of Canada's most notorious prisons. It's not a nice place. I've never been imprisoned. For that I'm thankful. I don't know how I'd handle it - being deprived of my freedom, an enforced separation from my family and loved ones.

I particularly don't know how I'd handle it if I were imprisoned unfairly, like Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. This Pastor marks 1000 days in an Iranian prison today. His crime? Converting from Islam to Christianity. Not only is he in prison, but he is on death row. In the Iranian system, once convicted, you can be taken at any time and executed. It is likely only the attention of the Western media that is keeping the Iranian "justice" system from carrying out the sentence.

The latest word that we have is that the Iranian courts have set a new trial date for him, the reason is uncertain. Speculation is that they will change the charges to something relating to threatening national security in order to deflect attention away from the religious persecution. Nadarkhani is only the most visible of those suffering for their faith in Iran.

Remarkably, in the midst of great persecution, there have been more conversions to Christianity in the past 15 years in Iran than in the previous 300 years. This is according to RZIM, which regularly ministers in the Middle East. There have been many stories of Muslims having visions which lead them to convert to Christianity.

At a recent conference, Christian Iranian leaders felt lead to commit themselves to share the Gospel with 5 new people every day. One couple was traveling across Iran and stopped to fill up their gas tank. They had shared the Gospel with 4 people. There was an armed man who looked menacing, leaning against the wall of the gas station. The wife looked at her husband and said, "there's number 5." He responded in the negative and cast doubts on her sanity. He pumped and paid for the gas then got in the car to leave.

As they pulled away, she once again told him "that is number 5." He said to her, "would you like a dead husband?" She said, "I'd rather have a dead husband than a coward for a husband!" Like any of us would do, he turned the car around and went back. He took a Bible from the car and walked over and presented it to the man. He began to weep. In a vision, he said Christ appeared to him and told him to come to this place and wait - someone would come and give him the book of life. He had been waiting for two days!

The point is that the Gospel will not be stopped. Nadarkhani's response when he was asked to recant to save his life was simple: "I cannot!" His situation, and that of thousands of Christians imprisoned worldwide, is a silent rebuke to lukewarm Christians everywhere. Jesus didn't call us to go to church when we feel like it, as if that made us Christians. He said, "Take up your cross, and follow Me!"

Remember Youcef Nadarkhani and his family today - and take the time to pray for him and his family, as well as suffering Christians around the world. Pray that where the Gospel message is banned, doors of opportunity would be opened. And pray for yourself, that you would be faithful to bloom where you have been planted.

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Saturday, July 07, 2012

When It Rains On Your Parade

What do you do when life throws you a curve? Today was "Heritage Day" for our small community here near Georgian Bay. It was also the 140th Anniversary of the town - and we had thunderstorms. The event was cancelled due to bad weather and a meeting will be held to determine whether or not to reschedule.

I'm sure that the organizers of today's parade and all of the festivities are very disappointed; a lot of hard work was put into preparing for this day. It reminded me of times in my life when things just didn't go according to plan, times when I was reminded that I'm not in charge of the world and some things are just outside of my control. So, the question remains, what do you do when the unforeseen happens? This can be anything from an economic downturn, to a natural disaster, to an illness or a car accident.

I'm sure you may have your own list, but let's first look at what not to do.
  • Don't panic. I'm sure we've all encountered the "Chicken Little's" of this world who are convinced that whatever has just happened marks the beginning of the end of everything. They are the typical over-reactors, making the situation worse by adding their own anxiety to the mix. 
  • Don't blame. It's very easy to resort to the blame game when something goes wrong. "George was in charge of weather, it wasn't my fault!" The truth is, sometimes someone did mess up, but the time to deal with that is not when you're in the middle of a crisis.
  • Don't avoid. This is probably the most common mistake that people make. They freeze and find themselves unable to make a decision. You may be able to get away with this if the matter only concerns you, but usually there are others involved.
That's what you shouldn't do - here are some suggestions for what you should do. Feel free to send along your comment if you think of anything I've missed.
  • Stay calm. If you need to, get alone and take some deep breaths to clear your head. If you are the leader, people will be looking to you. If you are in a panic, everyone will be. If you're a believer, pray. Remember that while you may be surprised, God isn't.
  • Assess the situation. Information is power, so be sure that you have all of the information you need. Gather around you the people who can tell you what you need to know. What are your options? If you're a visual person, write them down. Consider the ramifications of each choice. As Zig Ziglar said: "Every choice you make has an end result."
  • Make a decision. At the end of the day, someone has to decide what to do. If you're the leader, that means you. While it is important to analyze the situation, sometimes we can get stuck in what is called the "paralysis of analysis." Weigh your options, consult those you trust, and make your decision.
  • Stand by your choice. It might not (likely will not) make everyone happy, but few choices do. When leaders make hard choices, they very quickly find out who their friends are - and who they aren't. Rightly or wrongly, it was your decision to make. Once you've made it, own it.
  • Learn from it. Be sure to go back and revisit this once the dust has settled. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? Could this have been avoided? Was this a result of bad planning? What could we have done differently? 
  • Maintain a positive attitude. This is a life choice. I read something by Charles Swindoll a long time ago that has stuck with me. I'll share it here with you as I conclude. May the sun shine on your next parade.   
"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

"Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

"The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

"And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.
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Thursday, July 05, 2012

Divine Appointments

I looked at my Facebook page today and noticed something a friend had posted. She said to be thinking of her because she had "a meeting today with someone who could change her life." That got me thinking. It got me thinking about turning points, about encounters that altered the trajectory of my life, but mostly, it got me thinking about my relationship with God.

What kind of juggling would I do to my schedule if I had the opportunity to meet with someone who could potentially "change my life?" Perhaps it might be a person of influence who could open the right doors for me and introduce me to the people I need to meet. Perhaps it would be a wealthy businessman whose financial backing would make a dream become a reality. There's no denying that there have been meetings of a few moments that have had a great impact on the lives of individuals.

But today, as I read my friend's post, I thought about the opportunity that I have daily to meet with someone who can open any door and bring to bear resources that are beyond my comprehension. Through Jesus Christ, I am invited to come and spend time with the King of all kings, the Creator of the universe. To some, this sounds like a crock and a complete waste of time, but I beg to differ.

Look at the example of Jacob, in the Old Testament. He was a liar and a deceiver (his name actually means "supplanter"). But after an encounter with God his name was changed to Israel and he became the one through whom the twelve tribes of Israel came. He had met God and He was never the same again.

In Isaiah 6 we find Isaiah, a Jewish priest, entering the temple to worship, but it wasn't just an ordinary day. God actually showed up! The Bible tells us that the presence of God filled the room and the glory of God was so dense that the doorposts and thresholds shook, and Isaiah said, "Woe is me!" (Translation: "I'm a dead man!") But God's purpose was not to kill him, it was to change him. The result of the encounter was that Isaiah found his purpose and calling in life - to speak to the nation of Israel on God's behalf. He had met God and he was never the same again.

There are many other examples from the Bible and right on up to our modern age. I'm one of those whose life was changed by an encounter with the living God. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to have a real encounter with God and not be changed. What I've found with many people is that they really aren't interested in actually knowing God, they just want enough of Him to have a clear conscience. So, how big is your God?

The God of the Bible spoke the universe into existence and sustains it by His power. He designed all of creation with its complexity and variety; He even designed you. He claims rightful ownership of everything and everyone and is in control of history. He raises up and also humbles kings and presidents and kingdoms and empires. Yet with all of that, He takes the time to hear and listen to my concerns. He invites me to join with Him in His plan to see His Kingdom come in this world.

I have a very busy schedule. I could work 24/7 for a long time and still find work to do. But each and every morning, I will pause and spend some time with my Bible and in prayer. I have a very important appointment with someone who can (and has) changed my life.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Where Is God When You Need Him?

It's a question I've heard a lot. It comes in different forms but it's basically the same sentiment being expressed: why did this happen to me? If God is so good, then why...? If God can do anything, why didn't He stop my brother, mother, father, son or daughter from dying? Where is God when I needed Him?

It's not a new question. It's been asked from the dawn of time. It was asked by Job - in the oldest book in the Bible. It was asked by King David, a "man after God's own heart." It was asked by Jeremiah, and it's being asked by many today.

The reason that the question is asked is because we're human, and we don't like pain. It's asked of Christians because we believe that what the Bible says is true: that evil is evil; that God is all good; and that God is all-powerful. The argument from some is that one of those statements must be false. Either there's no such thing as evil, as some Eastern religions would teach (evil is an illusion), or God is not all good, or God is not all-powerful. It's called the trilemma.

But when we actually look a little deeper in the Bible we find the answers revealed in the story of mankind. The Bible teaches us that evil is evil, but it doesn't belong here. The world was not created with evil; we were placed in a world without evil, but rebelled and chose our own way. The Bible teaches that God is all good - and He created each of us with freedom of choice. That freedom comes at a cost - sometimes we choose poorly and a price must be paid, often by innocent others. The Bible also teaches that God is all-powerful, but, for a time, allows us to face the consequences of our choices and to, perhaps, change course and find our way home.

So, the Biblical response to the question can be answered with three statements.
  • All is not as it should be. We live in a fallen world - a world at war. The Biblical view begins with a protest: "This is not right!" We see this as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stood before the tomb of His friend, Lazarus and wept (John 11). Many find this an odd verse, seeing that Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. But I believe He wasn't weeping for Lazarus. I believe He was weeping for Mary and Martha, the grieving sisters of Lazarus, and for each of us who suffer pain and abuse. He wept because this was not the way that the world was intended to be. When we weep, we echo the sentiments of Jesus at this moment - this is not the way it was meant to be.
  • We are not abandoned. Part of the beauty of Christianity is that it reveals a God of compassion who enters into our suffering and becomes one of us. Jesus is a suffering Savior first. As has been said by others, Christianity has the only God with scars. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Like David wrote in his beautiful Psalm 23, "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." It wasn't just words either. Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross accomplishing redemption for lost humanity. The cross also brought about healing to broken and wounded humanity. It was and is a message of hope in a sometimes dark world.
  • He will make all things right. It sounds trite, but it is true that our perspective is limited, and God sees things much differently than we do. The world is a hard place; sometimes bad things happen to good people, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't care. He has promised that one day all will be made right. Jesus declared, "I make all things new." We long for justice - and justice will be done. We long for what the Jews call "Shalom" - the peace of God. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God into our world. There is a sense in which this Kingdom is to come - some day, heaven. But there is also a sense in which it comes now, in the victories that we can gain right here, right now.       
God calls us to live our lives in light of two very different realities. One is that we live in this fallen, messed up world, and we're to make of it the very best that we can. The second is that we recognize that we are made for eternity, and the way that we live can affect eternity. So to make the most of our lives is to help others become all that they were created to be. St. Francis of Assisi had it right when he wrote these famous words:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen 

Where is God when you need Him? He's right there with you. No matter what you're going through, He is there. The greater question for most of us is where are we when God calls us to make a difference?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Book Review: The Last Christian On Earth

Book review: "The Last Christian on Earth - Uncover the Enemy's Plot to Undermine the Church," Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2010. 254 pages.

Os Guinness earned a DPhil from Oxford University , has been a freelance reporter for BBC, and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution  and a guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies.

I had the opportunity to hear Os Guinness teach a short time ago at the RZIM Summer Institute. I was impressed by his ability to communicate and his obvious understanding of history and contemporary culture. His grasp on the forces shaping our culture is obvious after reading "The Last Christian on Earth."

This book was originally published in 1983 under the title "The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church." It has been updated and re-released. The gravedigger thesis, the theme around which the story is written is this: "The Christian faith contributed decisively to the rise of the modern world, but it has been undermined decisively by the modern world it helped to create. The Christian faith has become its own gravedigger."

Os Guinness
Born in China, educated in Europe and living and working in the U.S. has given Os Guinness a unique perspective from which to analyze the church. In the style of John le Carré, and reminiscent of Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters," Guinness has used the literary device of writing memoranda from one spy to another about how to undermine the church. It is a thought-provoking work that should be read by Christian leaders and influencers.

It certainly gives much food for thought on where the church has gone wrong and how to correct those errors. It speaks of the different reactions to modern culture and where they have failed: from the trap of isolationism to the compromise of liberalism and points in between. The question he asks is pertinent for every Christian leader: "Can we regain the full integrity of faith in Christ while fully and properly engaged in the advanced modern world?"

The answer is, obviously, "yes," but the questions remain. "How will we?" and "will we?" Guinness recommends that "the old three-step approach of 'discern, assess, and engage' is still the better way." So this book is an invitation to take a serious look at the culture in light of the Gospel - and this can only begin with a renewed commitment to the core truths of the Gospel. Thus, Guinness ends the book with a printing of "An Evangelical Manifesto," written in 2008 by a number of Evangelical scholars including Charles Colson. It is a call to do exactly what Guinness' book calls us to do. I recommend this book for any serious Christian concerned about how best to engage the culture.     

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