Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let Your Vote and Life Count for Something

Genuine righteousness leads to life, but pursuing evil leads to death.
Proverbs 11:19

My son predicted the outcome of the Florida GOP primary.  It was quite funny actually.  My youngest and I were making our way home after running an errand to pick up some lunch snacks for the next day when some coverage of the election came on the radio.  My son sat calmly in the passenger seat playing on a handheld game, seemingly oblivious to all that was going on around him. Yet, when the announcer on the radio said something like, “Both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have blanketed the state of Florida with advertising costing millions, but at this hour it is hard to tell who will win.” 

It was at that moment, as if he had been listening the whole time and had been following the race and movements of the political gyrations of the candidates for years, that my son piped up and said, “Mitt Romney is going to win.”  There was not a moment’s pause from his game or a hint of hesitation in his voice.  Of course this prompted me to ask him, “How can you be so sure when most of the folks who are not nine-year-olds and can actually vote are still riding the fence.” 

“I don’t know.  His name just sounds like a president’s name.  I like it.”  And there you have it folks.  My son is a political genius.  This, however, made me wonder about all of the reasons why a person would vote for a particular candidate.  Could there still be people out there who will, by their vote, put a man in the highest office of the land without any more consideration than the “ring” of his name or the color of tie and suit that he might wear or how tall he is or the color of his skin or the one-time mistakes or successes?  It is amazing to me that year after election year we have these discussions about the depth of consideration of each man or woman who seeks the office and just about always come back with an affirmation that many simply vote for a particular person because of these shallow reasons. 

For instance, many discounted a bid for the candidacy by New Jersey’s governor because he apparently is overweight by a decent bit.  Most of the political analysts were not being critical of his weight, but of the American people and their ability to see past the girth to the man who must might be the best qualified for the job and able to articulate the views of the vast majority of the American people.    It’s odd, but fairly typical.

Most people are perfectly comfortable staying on the surface of not just political issues, but in more important matters, like spirituality.  They carry a Bible, put on some nice clothes, head off to a worship service or two and yet never really strive for maturity, moving ever closer the meat and steadily away from the milk of God’s word.  They never seem to scratch the surface enough to reveal that they are not actually living the Christian life, performing any valuable ministry and serving anyone other than self.  They don’t “prove all things.”  They don’t contemplate the pull of the stuff and nonsense of the world on their lives, count them but dung and keep their eyes on the prize.  Much like their ballot, they check off their box for worship with regularity and pretend there is more spiritual substance to their existence than there truly is.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not picking on those who struggle, fall down, try to get up, get discouraged, lose ground, get up, move forward, get knocked down, pick themselves up…and so on.  On the contrary, these are the folks that have depth beyond the veneer of the shiny clean Christian.  These are the Peter, and Paul and Thomas-like Christians, whose faith, though not without serious issues, ends up moving mountains.  Rather, this is a call those who want the name and look of such men, but just simply don’t want to actually be them or act accordingly. 

In this day, it is my prayer that you are not what my eldest son refers to as a “spiritual robot,” coldly going through the motions of faith with little thought or effort.  Instead, find hope and take heart in your weaknesses, lay them on Christ and live your faith, even when it falls flat on its face.  

Thursday, April 07, 2011

When Slippery Slopes Are The Slipperiest Slope Of All

Does sin control your life? Don't misunderstand me. When I talk about sin I am talking about those things that are contrary to the law and love of our great and gracious God, who has made himself known to us through His Word, World, Son and sons. When we talk about control, however, we are not just talking about committing sinful acts, or the control that sin can gain over us by longstanding practice or the affect of its consequences.

We are also talking about the secondary affect of the idea of sin on our lives that we often label as a "slippery slope," but is something much more nefarious and damaging than an act of sin because it creates a pattern of thought that cripples spiritual growth and transformation. Perhaps it would be clearer if we referred to it simply as "fear." Yet, it is not just any type of fear. It is certainly not a godly fear that is the "beginning of wisdom." Rather, it is a fear that is supposed to be cast out by love and knowledge and hope and peace, which define who we are as Christians.

This type of fear creates spiritual phantasms where none exist. It fabricates sin in things or people or places or ideas where it simply has not flourished. It is the kind of fear that the one talent man feels as he heads off to his sequestered field to bury his talent for the day the master returns.

Are there true and dangerous "slippery slopes?" Sure there are. We see them all the time, especially in scripture. James makes it clear to us when he describes the progress of sin, letting us know very clearly that it begins in the heart, spreads to our acts and when left alone brings forth our spiritual death, as it again turns inward and destroys that inner spiritual man (James 1:14, 15). We find it in Psalm 73:1-20, where, once again, we learn that slippery slopes begin with sin or sinful thoughts.

Let's consider the life of King David for a moment. His sin with Bathsheba began when, as James said, he lusted in his heart after her. It did not begin when he went to the roof, stayed home from war or accidentally viewed her from afar. It was not sinful for David to stay home, anymore than it was for him to have a roof. Yet, the way some folks look at the Bible and sin, this is exactly what they would have you believe, as they compel you to live in fear and thus under a secondary sort of bondage to sin.

This is what we do when we take matters of opinion or articles of expediency and make them either a sin to use nor not use them. For instance, in the last several years I have preached using an digital projection system with programs like PowerPoint to create slideshows. While most find this beneficial, some find it distracting. Most in either of groups will tell you, "That is just my opinion." A few, however, will so disdain change or progress or the discomfort it causes that they will declare such things sinful, trying their best to argue such from scripture by abusing the Word of God, either adding to it or taking away from it, which in itself is sinful.

The saddest part of it all is the fact that this final sin began with only a fear of the idea of sin where there actually was none. It began not with a genuine slippery slope, but a self-created one. It began not with sin, but a fear of the idea of sin, which lead to it. How often do we see this interfere with congregational growth, personal transformation, worshiping in "spirit and truth," and much more.

Each of can be prone to such behavior and must guard against it. Any of us can so radicalize the notion of sin that we see it even when it is not there. We can fabricate it in others and self and often are lead by it to actual sin. We can be so afraid of violating some principle of truth in worship that we fail worship in spirit. We can be so fearful of not living a pure life that we fail to live at all. We can be so afraid of God's existence that we live like he doesn't exist.

Listen to these words of John. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love"(1Jn 4:18). Is that you? Hopefully as you mature (move to perfection) you will let God's love replace your fear and find freedom in the "perfect law of liberty."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Connecting with God

Thank you all for visiting my blog. For some time I have been remiss in keeping it up. However, I want to no only recreate the blog, but expand it to include what I feel will be some helpful Bible Study material and recommendations. I do hope you will follow along and be a part of it. Thank You!


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Legislating Morality?

“You cannot legislate morality!” It seems just about every time we have an election I hear one or two folks make this preposterous claim. Typically, what they really want to say or mean is, “You cannot legislate morality that I am either opposed to or makes me feel uncomfortable, but the ones that protect me and keep me safe are fine.” For instance, most of these folks have no problem with the laws forbidding murder, stealing or other forms of violence. We can play games with words all we want to (calling them “rights” or “civil” issues), but these are moral issues. If they are not and if they do not stem from some higher law that places great value on the sanctity of life then they make little to no sense, but rather are arbitrarily chosen because someone, somewhere simply thought it was a good idea. And who is to say that their good idea is right for me?
The simple fact of the matter is (whether we want to accept it or not) that God, in the long ago, legislated morality, regardless of which giving of the law we are under, for all of mankind. It may be correct for man to say, “We cannot legislate morality,” and in a sense it is true…it does not begin with us. On the other hand, we must uphold the things of God and find within the whole of our lives God’s legislation, mercy and graciousness. In other words, we must make active His laws in our own. This is what our founding fathers had the wisdom to do and what we have foolishly gotten away from. They knew nothing of this nonsense about how we cannot “legislate morality.” They understood that in the end, whether we make the requirement of morality real or not, the moral demand of God will be our judge. You can choose to not go along with it. God has granted you that right. We can choose not to adopt His standard. He has given us that right. However, there are consequences for our choices and upon them our eternity hangs.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cafe Christians

For nearly three pre-dawn hours I sat in my office pondering the finer points of a sermon I was to deliver in a couple days. By my side were a number of essentials in this morning ritual. This is my ritual and while it may seem odd to some it is the manner in which I fully embrace my day and come to grips with it, clearly seeing it as a gift from God.

The first item is a small silver medal, kept in a wooden box in my office, one of the few reminders of a lost loved one. On it is a prayer that I use as my stimulus for prayer. The second item next to me is my pair of shoes. I remove them at least while I study to feel fully connected to the gift of this world. Third, and most obvious, are books, the simple smell of which triggers the want, need and desire to be studious and commune with the saints who wrote most of them, but are no longer among us. Finally, though this is not all that is involved, I have a cup of coffee, which I drinking fully, but slowly.

So, there I am, engaged in this odd scene, refining my sermon like a monk reciting some mantra, and in walks one of the leaders of the church. After a cordial greeting, he makes sure that he tells me “You shouldn’t be drinking that coffee…it is the Devil’s drink.” Well, so much for my focus. Switching gears however, I began to explain to him that I am only doing what religious men have done for years.

You see, coffee was not discovered until around 600 AD in the plateaus of central Ethiopia. At first it was worshipped (praised) for its medicinal qualities and was soon being used by the religious as a catalyst to meditation. Soon, coffee growing had spread from Ethiopia to India and from India to France. Europeans loved the strangely strong but enticing and aromatic brew. However, many warned, due to its origins use among pagans, that it was a threat to “Christianity.” The pope at the time, Clement VIII, decided to first try the drink before he issued a pervasive condemnation of the beverage. The result was not denunciation, but approval. As a matter of fact he blessed the drink and declared it “Christian.” His love for a good cup of “joe,” as some describe it, led to the springing up of coffee and tea houses across Europe, where the greatest of minds would gather and help usher in the “Age of Reason.”

By this time, my aged companion and fellow worker was not necessarily convinced of the Christian value of coffee, but was growing bored, so I cut right to the chase and said, “You shouldn’t be so quick to make assertions you know little about,” and went back to my work. It was a lesson I had reinforced for me time and again as a preacher. A lesson that says, “Don’t believe all you hear and make sure you know what you’re saying before you say it.”

We all do well to heed those words. As James would say, “Be slow to speak, swift to hear.” In this day, heed those words and live or… go ahead and put your foot in your mouth and suffocate in the generally accepted ignorance. The Devil’s drink is not coffee, but a good strong dose of ignorance on loose lips.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Refusing God's Way of Escape

Holiday shopping can be a very enjoyable task, though often is one that can be very frustrating. What to buy, where to buy it, how to put up with the 50,000 other people trying to get the same thing that you are in a store that seems to only hold 100 people and checkout 10 simultaneously. The experience is also fraught with learning experiences as well. First and foremost are a few lessons in patience. I learned long ago, if you are in a hurry, “Just Say No!” There are other lessons as well, however.

This year while waiting in line to get a last minute gift card at one of the local superstores, I got in line with perhaps the slowest cashier you have ever seen (and perhaps the most frustrated). At one of the busiest times of day her scanner on the counter gave out and would not seem to scan anything. Therefore, after she scanned item number one and it didn’t go, she got the hand scanner (that little gun looking thing that is portable – they ought to give them holsters and teach them quick draw for this time of year) and it worked fine. She then put the scanner away and went back to the stack of stuff the person in front of me was trying to get through the “less than ten items” line. On the second item, the scanner didn’t work either so the woman opened the drawer, got out the hand scanner, scanned the item and then put the hand scanner back. Same thing on the third through fiftieth item… scanner doesn’t work, get hand scanner, put hand scanner back, try counter-top scanner.

The thing that amazed me was not that this was so slow, but the woman’s willingness to continue in something that just wasn’t working and frustrating her to death, especially when she had a perfectly good alternative that she kept ramming back in the drawer. Each and every time she would go to the handheld, but then put it away, as if the other were going to magically fix itself. What a waste of time and energy.

How often does this ring true for us spiritually? We get caught in some desire or want. We begin to bear the consequences. God gives us a way out. However, we just toy with the escape and stay in the frustrating, shame-producing, hurtful, sinful path. How absurd! All the while God gets stuffed back in that proverbial drawer and waits for us to pull him out. Often it is only when it becomes convenient for us, or we, Like King Saul of the Old Testament, have been caught. Yet, God has your solution. Do you want it? He’ll be waiting for you! Don’t waste your time trying to manage the spiritually ineffective and defective. Strive for His perfection by doing His will.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Golden Or Moral Compass

I will be the first one to tell you that I do not typically get overly excited about what Hollywood does. I become even less excited when people go off half-cocked about something they heard and aunts, cousin’s nephew’s, uncle tell them about something that might be true in a movie or book. Most of what Hollywood does falls well short of true artistic endeavor and even the great talent that is enlisted is done so for the sake of making the almighty dollar and furthering hidden, unrighteous agendas rather than anything that would benefit anyone. This being said, the entire industry is nothing more than a sideline in life, where folks can catch a break from reality once in a while, though there are some great fact based movies that are designed to educate and have a positive message that aligns with Christian values and a deep sense of morals (though they are few).

Thus, when I had heard about the release of the “Golden Compass,” based on the books by known atheist Phillip Pullman, I really didn’t flinch. After all, what impact could it have? However, the more I thought about it, the angrier I grew. I looked at my daughter, whose imagination seems to have no bounds and I began to realize that for her, the thinking process would be a whole lot different. She would not have the experience I have. She would not understand hidden agendas and innuendo. She would not see the story for what it was and discount it? For her, there is the distinct possibility that her imagination could be shaped by her willingness to suspend her disbelief about this movie and a failure to have a firm basis to dismiss the fundamental ideas. In other words, to her it is much more real and believable. To put it in biblical terms, there is a great chance of this child being offended (lead down an ungodly path) in her innocence and lose her fundamental understanding of what it means to be “right” or “wrong.”

With that in mind, I began to explore what this movie and the books that it is based are all about. What I found was shocking, though not unexpected. In reality it is pretty much the same as every other attack that has ever been lodged against Christianity. The standard modus operandi, as is the case here, is to take the failings of genuine Christians or the perversion of the disingenuous and personify them to the extreme. It is no wonder then that most of what Hollywood does, centers on the beliefs of Catholicism, though few of us would ever blur the line between Catholicism and Christianity. From this is born “The Magisterium,” headed by Miss Coulter (Nicole Kidman), where abuse of power and corruption is the norm. It is a place where colorful, loveable and innocent children are abused and oppressed, forcing a fight. Important here is the fact that the word “magisterium” is a real word that is a direct reference to the Catholic church and its authority to teach. Pullman veils his distain only slightly in this regard.

Creating this vile entity he proceeds to write off Christianity as a whole, though he fails in one regard that should be as plain as the nose on any ones face – Christ. The story never takes Christ into account, but instead assumes the failings of men, which the Bible itself is very candid about. The story never entertains such a character or by such refutes anything about the life and ministry of Christ. Odd for a collection of stories designed to kill off Christianity in the minds of children. Instead, again, he focuses his attention on those who claim Christianity and abuse power. Christ himself would have been displeased with such and was in his lifetime, evidenced by things such as his cleansing of the temple.

Before we go farther it helps us to know a little more about Pullman and his intentions in the books and movie. He is an avowed atheist who wrote the series “His Dark Materials” to offset the Christian based teaching found in C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia Chronicles.” It is a three part series (The Golden Compass being the first Installment), which ultimately leads to one of the main characters killing God. As the series progresses, the message becomes more and more antichristian. Thus, the story may pull children in and draw their attention before they even know what they are being taught, like a trap draws an animal. In book two God is referred to only as the tyrant, but by book three he is being called “God,” “the creator,” “Yahweh,” Adonai,” “El,” “the King,” and “Almighty.”

This first movie may not have any overt antichristian messages, but that is the intention. The first movie draws the attention. The second goes a little further and by the third children are to rebel, rise up and slay God.

Pullman himself has said that though he is an atheist and has boldly proclaimed that if there is a God and his like the God described by Christianity, he should be “put down,” the film is not about being antichristian by advocating goodness, wherever it maybe found. Perhaps this is more of a money-making ploy than anything else, kind of like we saw with the “DaVinci Code,” where the message of the book was well-watered before it hit the big screen so that the greatest amount of money could be made. It is hard to make money when everyone is offended by the message. It is hard to not think this when Pullman has been so staunchly antichristian in his writings of the past, where he claim, “My books are about killing God.”

Is there danger in these? Well, the answer is yes, if we allow children to watch unchecked and untaught about the truth in a rightful fashion. I have never been one to simply hide the truth, good or bad, from anyone, let alone our children. The truth here is that there is a movie, it does have some neat looking graphics and, no doubt, loveable characters they can identify with, but also has a message that is flawed. Teach them both – the good and bad – the differences between and the consequences for both. The parent who simply tries to hide these matters from children who can understand, will create only greater curiosity over the matters. I remember growing up with a young girl whose mom would take all the magazines that came into the house and use a black sharpie to cover up pictures that showed too much and words that were not fitting. From time to time I would see the girl in the library at school reading the very magazines mom had edited. She once told me that it drove her crazy to not know what was under the blacked out parts and would come to the library to find out. I don’t think it is healthy to deliberately expose children to the trash the media offers, but we should do more than say, “It’s just not Christian.”

We must teach the truth and that truth says very clearly that there is a God who is the creator of all that is good and who loves us (Gen. 1-3). That truth says this God had a son and came to earth to die for us (John 1, 3) and in doing so set the bar for goodness as high as it could possibly go. Furthermore, we are told man can excel, though often does not, to that level of goodness and be Christ-like in our actions, not abusing power, lacking tolerance and misusing the name of God, though some will. Chances are Pullman has never come to know the God you and I know and may we pray that he does.

Some might say, “Well, aren’t you overdoing it? Isn’t it just a book or movie? How is it any different than Harry Potter or Star Wars or Lord of The Rings, where people rise up against and oppressive forces? There is a dramatic difference between the forgoing works and “His Dark Materials.” The former were stories that seemed, to a great extent, mirror the principals of Christianity or at least did not seek to undermine them. Their authors never said things like, “I want to kill God.” Consider Pullman’s own words. He says, "I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak. I'm a great fan of J.K. Rowling, but the people—mainly from America's Bible Belt—who complain that Harry Potter promotes Satanism or witchcraft obviously haven't got enough in their lives. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

So what do we do then? Do we see the movie or not? Seeing the movie is a matter of conscience I believe, but parents would be strongly advised to forewarn their children about the thrust of the movie and discuss these matters with them. Some other advice would include:

· Don’t be like the “Christians” that the movie is supposed to represent. I can understand Pullman on this level. There are a lot of folks out there who have done much to ruin the reputation of Christianity or have left things undone and marred Christianity’s credibility in a lot of eyes. Don’t be like them. Let your words ring true. Keep your promises. Live a pure life. Admit your faults and grow in God’s grace and love.

· Don’t argue that or in such a way that people are left with the impression that Christianity is all about I am right and you are wrong. There is a right and wrong, it is for us to adopt and do, not take and beat others up with.

· Be a servant. Listen to the needs, hurts, desires and troubles of others and help them. Often we fall down here. We see struggling and just simply state the obvious – “Well, that is a sin.” Be helpful and out of God’s grace draw your strength to help others.

· Be prepared. Equip yourself to talk about the movie or books, as well as related topics. Be candid and frank, letting your children know about how some do fail to live up to Christ’s expectations. If you simply condemn the movie and books and have no idea what you are talking about and why then you will end up doing more harm than good.

Also, an article inChristianity Today about this very subject, made a good suggestion about having questions ready for discussing the movie or books with your children. Here are some of their suggestions.

· If we cast off all "authority" and set up "free will" as the ultimate source of guidance, where will that get us?

· Has the world shown us that the human heart is a trustworthy "compass"?

· Does free will lead us always to the right choice?

· If the heroes accept the "truth" of the alethiometer (the compass itself), aren't they letting themselves be guided by just another source of truth—another "Authority"? But didn't the story tell us "Authority" is bad and we should only follow our own hearts?

· If there are "many truths," then aren't these heroes being as self-righteous and wicked as the oppressors by demanding that their version of the truth is better than others?

· What is so inspiring about the battle between the bears? Hasn't this story led us to a place where it's just "survival of the fittest" all over again? Should we really hope that the world falls into the hands of the strongest fighter, rather than into the hands of love?


Higginbotham, Steve. “The Golden Compass” Gospel Gazette online publication.

Overstreet, Jeffery. “Fear Not The Compass” Christianity Today online article.