Tuesday, September 29, 2009


How are things going?
No, really – How are things going?
If you’re like most guys out there, you’re a bit concerned about the economy, your job, your finances, your 401(k), being able to meet sales quotas, cutting back on expenses, etc. But a few other guys are probably much more focused on some of the more serious difficulties of life than you may be.
For example, one man I know is waiting for both his brother and his sister to die – they both have terminal cancer with a prognosis of days to maybe months to live. Two friends of mine have marriages at the crossroad – can they be salvaged or will they unravel? I know three men who were at the peak of their business careers not too long ago, but now they can’t find any employment to support their families.
If we are honest and transparent about how we answer a question like “How are things going,” I think our answer will probably say a lot about what we are focusing on in our lives.

While it’s always a dangerous exercise to ascribe to God our characteristics and emotions, have you ever thought about God’s response to a question like “How are things going?” How do you think He would respond?
Someone who may lean heavily on a ‘pre-ordained,’ carved-in-stone theological philosophy, probably sees God as a bit impersonal and cold and would envision Him responding to that question with an answer like, “According to plan.” But I can’t believe that it was part of God’s ‘plan’ for His people to sacrificially give money to an organization that would send Bibles to lost people in the Philippines and then for storms on September 26, 2009 to flood a warehouse there and totally ruin 90,000 Bibles. Could that be ‘according to plan?’ I don’t think so.
Someone else may imagine God answering the question with a frenetic, out-of-control, “Not too well right now!” But that would imply that the Maker and Sustainer of the entire universe is somehow ‘surprised’ by or not completely in control of every little thing that happens anywhere and everywhere. I can’t believe that.
Another may theorize that God set things in motion (wound the clock, so to speak) and then He let them take their natural course. Such a ‘God’ would respond to “How are things going?” with something like, “About like I would have expected.” But such a God would not have seen our need, cared, and solved our most pressing problem by intervening and sending His own Son.
So how would God answer the question, “How are things going?”
I am convinced that God’s answer would depend totally upon who was asking the question.
God is perfect, self-sustaining, and in need of nothing. Yet He desired to create beings with whom He could have a personal relationship. He set up the perfect place for that to happen and then . . . His created beings decided their plans were superior to the perfect plan.
And decisions have consequences.
Things no longer operate according the perfect way God intended them to, but they still operate within and under His supervision and control – just impacted by man’s decisions to do things contrary to His perfect way. Not just way back there in the Garden, but today, too.
Yet God still desires personal relationships with His created beings.
And He is reaching out to each and every one of us.
Every day.
He loves us so much, in fact, that He has done everything necessary to make that relationship possible. And that relationship is the key to God’s answer to any specific person’s question of Him, “How are things going?”
Certainly God cares about our circumstances, our hurts, our finances, our stress, our worries. But He cares most about our relationship with Him. That’s where His focus is and that is where He wants our focus to be.
All of those other things won’t necessarily go away, or be fixed, or be explained. But focusing on our relationship with God will bring about a peace that transcends all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)

So, “God – how are things going . . . between You and me?”

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
You will show me the way of life,

granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
Psalm 16:2,11, NLT

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wanna Talk Politics?

In my first Economics class in college, the professor was a fairly crusty old fella who had been teaching the same course for many years. He knew what to expect each year as a new set of students began the course. Most of the students fancied themselves smarter, more sophisticated, and more ‘enlightened’ than the professor - typical college kids, I suppose.
So the professor always made it a point to demonstrate how ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ don’t always mesh in the real world. The first session he would ask some general questions allowing students to [more or less] affirm their predisposed socio-political inclinations and when he pinpointed a particularly adamant ‘fiscal conservative’ who espoused a hard core ‘personal responsibility’ ethos, he would bait the student in and end up asking a final question, “So, do you think people should starve to death on American streets?”
Can anyone really answer ‘yes’ to that question in front of a group of their peers at a church-affiliated university?
So, the professor would pronounce that we all must then agree that the government has some responsibility to keep that from happening. He would then leave all politics behind for the semester and focus on how GNP, unemployment, inflation, etc. interact and how they can be manipulated pursuant to Keynesian economic theories.

But those ‘political’ issues dog us every day. Whether we are active in the political process or just want to discuss governmental affairs around the water cooler – most people have some pretty strong opinions about ‘political issues,’ even if they don’t necessarily think about them in that light.
And I don’t think that most ‘political’ issues have a biblical ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side. There are many issues that people may try to turn into political issues but are actually moral issues that do have a definite right or wrong in God’s eyes - like abortion, the definition of marriage, and pornography, to name only a few. However, other issues are not ‘carved in stone’ for followers of Christ.
Although he was speaking of theological doctrine, the often quoted phrase of Rupertus Meldenius is worth repeating: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things love.
For example, the views of the function and scope of government are very much debatable and, while I may have my personal opinion about them, there’s not necessarily a biblical right or wrong side to be on. The Bible does teach us to take care of our elderly, our widows, orphans, prisoners, etc. But it doesn’t forbid the government from having an active role in that as well. We can certainly disagree on what that role should be, but it is not against the Word of God for the government to be involved.
So, why does all of this ‘politics’ have to be so nasty. Why do some people cast Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as candidates for the office of ‘Antichrist’ while others are convinced that Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh already hold that office? Can’t people have different opinions about political issues and still love one another? Well, let me rephrase that question because that is simply not possible for some people: Can’t followers of Christ disagree about political issues and still love one another?
We know the answer to that question, but it’s hard, isn’t it? Certainly the ‘practice’ is much harder than the ‘theory.’
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them . . .
Love each other with genuine affection,
and take delight in honoring each other
Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)

There is nothing wrong with holding strong opinions about those ‘political issues’ that can be so divisive; but it is wrong to be divisive. There is nothing wrong with opposing particular issues; but it is wrong to create an opponent. We can advocate certain causes without making adversaries. We can argue against positions without being against people. There is no problem with embracing political discourse, as long as we continue to embrace the people with whom we discourse - Is it more important to win the argument, or to win a brother?
How do we do that? How can we pull that off?
In love.
In Christ’s love.
Can you even fathom what the political landscape in this country would look like if all of the discussions were undertaken in love? In Christ’s love?
Amazing things could be accomplished.
An awesome God could be seen.
Don’t you want to be a part of that?
Are you ready to let love – Christ’s love - determine how you converse with and relate to others rather than party affiliations and differences of opinion?
Are you ready to “do everything in love?” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Ephesians 4:29-5:2 (NLT), emphasis added

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Foreign Policy

With all of the fuss going on right now concerning the ‘health care debate,’ I was surprised the other day to see that ‘health care’ is still not the primary concern of the voting public. Right now, the ‘economy’ is the top priority of the voters out there.
At other times, ‘national defense’ may be the top priority in our country; or ‘trade’; or ‘human rights’; or even ‘environmental’ issues. But, things change in our country or around the world, and suddenly our national priorities change.
What about the priorities and ‘hot button’ issues in God’s kingdom? Do they change with the circumstances in the world or at the whims of our culture? Of course not.
Although the various ways that socio-political-governmental issues have manifested themselves over the centuries have changed (from the ‘Great Wall’ as a defense policy to satellite missile defense systems), the basic issues and concepts haven’t – just the way they have been prioritized. But the issues that are most important in God’s kingdom haven’t changed at all.
Different folks could probably make arguments that all kinds of ‘governmental’ issues (such as national defense, welfare, the environment) are addressed in the Bible. People will use biblical ‘excerpts’ to debate both sides of almost any issue. But what I discover about the most important issues in God’s kingdom doesn’t require any strained interpretations or out-of-context quotes. In fact, it is my opinion that the most important issue in God’s kingdom - foreign policy - is addressed in unequivocal language in one, specific verse:
“[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Matthew 28:19-20

There is God’s kingdom, and there are all of the others. The ‘foreign policy’ for all citizens of God’s kingdom is simple: make disciples of everyone in every other kingdom.
That seems pretty clear to me. Yet many of us obviously don’t really get it. So, in the style of some of the recent ‘town hall’ meetings, I’ve allowed the submission of pertinent questions related to this policy pronouncement:
■ “This doesn’t really apply to that jerk next door who leaves his garbage on my lawn, right?” Wrong.
■ “O.K., I can probably handle the concept of going ‘across the street’ to spread the message. But you’re not talking about going ‘across the tracks,’ are you?” Yes.
■ “Should we wait until people show an ‘openness’ to the message – until they are ‘seekers?’” No.
■ “So, you mean we should be taking the message of ‘Christianity’ to those natives in the deepest, darkest jungles who worship the moon?” Yes, but not only.
■ “Surely you don’t mean those radical extremist terrorists out there, do you?” All nations means ALL nations.
■ “We pay missionaries and evangelists to ‘go,’ and then we will build churches and create curriculum to help the converts grow, right?” No.
■ “We all have certain spiritual gifts, and mine isn’t ‘evangelism.’” No excuses.
■ “Am I supposed to sell everything and move to the other side of the world.” Maybe, maybe not.
We are not members of a political party who get together and formulate platforms and policies. By His grace and by His love, we were made heirs and citizens of His kingdom. The foreign policy set by the Leader of our kingdom is: campaign everywhere for our Him. If anyone anywhere is not a follower of Christ, he is a foreigner to whom we have been sent.
You can find statements dealing with ‘defense’ policy in God’s Kingdom in Ephesians 6:12-17. You can find ‘Kingdom’ policies dealing with ‘welfare’ in James 1:27 and Matthew 25:34-40. You can even find ‘environmental’ policies in Genesis 1:26.
But the issue that makes His heart beat fast - the top priority in His kingdom - is His ‘foreign policy’: Go and make disciples.
Is that the top priority in your life?
Or do you let economic issues distract your focus?
Are you more concerned with securing your boundaries, rather than breaking down walls in order to spread the message?
Are the ‘human rights’ of the oppressed more important to you than the eternal destiny of the lost?

I know that I often let other issues cloud my vision and take priority over what is most important to Him. But that needs to change. I am a citizen of His kingdom, not an expatriate. I want His foreign policy to be my marching orders. I want to be a part of telling ‘foreigners’ about ‘citizenship.’ He’s my Leader and I owe Him my complete and total allegiance.
Are you with me?
Jesus made it clear that when we received His ‘stimulus package’ (the Holy Spirit), then:
“[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Life is Hard; Then You Die

How often have you heard someone with a ‘less-than-sunny’ disposition proclaim their philosophy of life with words like, “life is tough, then you die?” I don’t normally have a lot of patience with such pessimism and cynicism, but I recently heard another version of that mantra that I actually believe could be the type of advice we could even be teaching to our children. The life philosophy which I believe could be a guidepost for us and for our children is:
1. Life is difficult.
2. You are not ultimately in control.
3. It is not about you.
4. You will die.
Although this may sound similar to the “life is tough, then you die” philosophy, it is actually diametrically opposed to it. Let me explain.
It cannot be disputed that for every single one of us, life is often difficult and hard. Maybe you face financial problems - just as you think you’re getting caught up, another round of bills or expenses pops up and more money doesn’t. Maybe it’s a child who has made poor decisions that are coming home to roost. Maybe health issues make life particularly difficult for you.
Life is a blessing and a gift from God. Yet, it can be very hard. Very difficult. Relationships, pain, money, broken dreams – a multitude of obstacles keep life from being ‘easy street’ day in and day out.
But life’s difficulties don’t make life ‘bad.’ They don’t make life unpleasant. They just add to the experience. They are just part of what life is. And we should be able to find joy in all that life throws our way. We should be able to echo Paul and say, “I have learned to content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)
I believe the primary reason many people turn bitter and unhappy with their lives is because they don’t get or accept the second part of this philosophy – ‘you are not ultimately in control.’ We often think we are in control; we almost always want to be in control. Yet, we’re not.
Sure, we may be able to control many aspects of our lives and certain things that happen around us. But when it comes to waiting for those test results on your newborn baby, whether the radiation is going to work, if your job will be outsourced, if your wife will come back – it’s in those moments that we realize that we really are not in control at all.
Then we have the choice to either turn to the One who is in control, or believe that everything is out of control. Worship our Maker, or despair.
It should be an easy choice, but it requires giving up the idea of control.
That should also lead us to the epiphany that ‘it is not about you.’ When we think life is about us, we see life’s difficulties as ‘bad things’ because they negatively impact our enjoyment of life. Or maybe we believe in a ‘God,’ but think He must not care much about us because some ‘bad things’ keep happening to us.
But that is so myopic; so self-centered.
Instead, when we see that what happens is really about God, and then we realize that what we may be going through is in some way, in some fashion, in some [perhaps] never-to-be-known manner part of His divine plan, we can not only accept it, but we can embrace it. We can actually face those difficulties with joy because we realize that we have been chosen to be part of His plan. Whether we understand it or not.
And that leads to the final aspect – you will die. When, how, where – we don’t often know about those. But, each of us will die.
However, that is when life truly begins. Assuming you have put your faith in the One who really is in control; assuming you have placed your faith in the One it really is all about – whatever hardships or difficulties you may have experienced will be so forgotten and irrelevant as to have never happened.
Are you ready for that? Does the thought of death scare the bejeebers out of you or does what lies beyond keep you up at night in anticipatory excitement?
It is not pessimistic or ‘gloom and doom’ to say “you are going to die.” It’s a warning of a fact. What are going to do about that?

So, do you agree with me that this is a four-step life philosophy worthy of adopting and teaching to our children? Let me amplify it a bit to drive it home a little more:
1. Life is difficult. But God loves you more than you can know.
2. You are not ultimately in control. The God who eternally loves you is.
3. It is not about you. It’s all about the God who loves you beyond understanding.
4. You will die. Then you’ll finally understand how much God really loves you.

You don’t have to wait until ‘then’ to experience the joy of the life He gives. When life turns difficult, acknowledge you’re not in control, look for Him in it, and die to self.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100