Saturday, August 29, 2015
What does it take to get rich? We're surrounded by what we think of as the rewards of riches; all sorts of things to spend money on. There are studies showing, however, that the more choices we have, the more time we can spend on evaluating all the possibilities, and finding less enjoyment with what we do finally choose.
Assuming that we're starting from Ground Zero, there is all kind of advice out there. Saw one the other day that boiled down to: Work hard, long hours; live cheap; develop your mind, and never lose track of your goal. We do live in a world that requires work, one way or another. Sounds a little like the cost Adam paid, doesn't it?
It's the last item that draws the line between the world and God. What is the goal? We often focus our time and attention on getting rich as a guarantee of security. How secure is this? Paul advised Timothy, who apparently was dealing with this issue in his congregation in Ephesus, "If it's only money that these leaders are after, they'll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after." (I Timothy 6:9-10, The Message)
He doesn't mean just that money can come, and money can go. Even if the money is there, "losing your footing in the faith completely" is, in the long run, scary--even with money in the bank. Or as Jesus once put it, "what do you gain if you lose your soul?"
Can we keep our eyes on God, earn the rewards of being good and faithful servants, and build a treaury that will last forever?
Saturday, August 22, 2015
Choices can be tough--but they are a constant fact of life. Especially in our society, we are constantly faced with decisions. And more to the point, we are unavoidably faced with the results of our decisions.
Some of the decisions we make have long-term results, and may eliminate others. The major example is a decision to follow Jesus. if taken seriously, it will keep us out of many major pitfalls. It will also bring other issues in our lives in sharper focus. We are also provided with not only the instruction book, but with relationships with others on the same path, and with God-in all three Persons--Himself.
The whole concept of "choices" tells us something about God. If you chase the concept of "chosen" in Scripture, you find both that He has chosen to interact with His creation; and that He wants us to choose to interact with Him. And our response is a choice that will determine our life here and forever.
I have heard believers in God who see Him as too big and overwhelming to deal with minor details like us. The evidence that we have, however, of God's Personhood and His desire to love and care for us, includes records of a whole bunch of folks over thousands of years--not just ancient documents, but historical records of real people, including some we may even personally know; not to mention our own experiences. Choice is part of God's DNA, and our responsibility as creatures made in His image.
In addition to the obvious, major decision points that we have faced, some of the stickiest results of our choices are those that are not matters of life and death, or of major commandments, but things that we really wanted and that seemed logical and good at the time. I find that not having thought things through enough, or paid attention to little warning flags in my brain, or not knowing enough, can create situations that may have repercussions down the line that drastically limit my options; or even bring something to a painful end. This may not be completely negative; there are good memories and good lessons. But then my prayerful response is: OK, God, how do I get through this, and where are You taking me from here?
Saturday, August 15, 2015
Salt has been recognized as essential to life just about as long as we have historical records. The land that became Israel was blessed with mineral salts, both rock salt cliffs and sea water that can be (and still is) evaporated into salts. In addition to the practical, everyday uses for salt, its significance and value is reflected in some important ways. It is included in the recipe given to Moses for the incense to be used in the Tabernacle worship, and the sacrifices brought for worship were to have salt added to them. (I wonder if the fact that salts add colors to flames may have been one reason for salting sacrifices?)
Salt is still used as a symbolic gift to seal a covenant or a relationship by the exchange of salt or sharing salted food. God's promise of the continuing kingdom to David and his descendants is described as a Covenant of Salt. The prophet Elisha's first miracle was anointing an unuseable well at Jericho with salt at God's command to produce sweet water; it is still a major water source to this day.
By the time of Jesus, the use of salt both in worship and in households was common. When Jesus described His followers as "the salt of the earth" they would have seen it as part of their traditional sacrificial system, as well as the common use to enhance and preserve food.
What we find odd is Jesus' warning about salt that has lost its ability to be "salt"; we wonder at how that could happen. We need to remember that much of the salt they had available was not the pure salt that we buy today; it was a mixture of various mineral salts. In some cases, the actual "salt" was the most readily soluble, and if it got damp, it could get leached out of the mix, not leaving enough available sodium chloride to do the job. The remaining mineral salts were often used on paths and roadways—makes sense, keeps the weeds and mud down. (Salts, in higher concentrations, makes land barren; there are recorded cases of conquered cities made uninhabitable by being “sown with salt”)
So if Jesus told His followers that we are like “salt”, what does it mean? Our lives should add savor to our communities; our presence should enhance worship; our lives should make a difference.
After prayers Hamed, the resident theologian, spent an hour answering my questions. Hunger sent us next door to an Afghanistan restaurant where we ate lamb kabob, pita bread, and rice with our fingers. We spoke and ate for two hours. It was delightful conversation between two men committed to their faith. We talked about the Qur'an, shariah law, veiled faces, democratic government in a Muslim world, and those committing crimes against humanity in the name of Allah. Our conversation was deep and wide. It evolved as we spoke and took on an evangelistic tone. Hamed was showing me the need to recognize Jesus as a prophet, and give up my polytheism. He challenged me to worship only the one true God. As our conversation headed to a zenith I shared with Hamed that I agreed with almost everything his young preacher had said. I could kneel beside him, face to the ground, and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But my problem was the blood. Lambs blood on the doorpost facilitated the exodus. God gave Abraham a ram to save his son. There was blood in the tabernacle, and blood in the temple. Finally, there was blood shed on a cross. In fact, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. As Hamed firmly testified that there is no God but Allah I was reminded of 1 John 5:11-12 which I memorized in 1977. For this is the record, God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his son. He who has the son has life and he who has not the son has not eternal life. I concluded by sharing with Hamed that for me to declare Jesus as less than I believe Him to be is as difficult as for Hamed to declare Jesus more than he believes him to be. I left a Christian, and Hamed remained a Muslim. But I made a new friend, ate a great meal, and respected that Hameds seven year old son sat with us and listened attentively to an hour of prayer, and three hours of adult theology. I now have a friend who can give informed answers about Islam to my far ranging questions.
I will ccontinue to be challenged by the preachers Friday charge that we live for God as if we are in the midst of an emergency, never to be mired in passive complacency.
Keep prayng that I get everything God has for me in this coming week of prayer, evangelism, deliverance, and instruction.
I love you.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Two of my good friends grew up in strict, legalistic churches. They know the rules. One commented to me that he was in church regularly as a kid, but he's not living it. The other one was harsher: "Do you know what the teaching I got growing up makes? Atheists!" One thing I noticed about both of these guys is anger. These are not kids--both are middle-aged. One often vividly describes what he thinks should happen to people who cause him trouble or inconvenience. The other has a history of depression, which is often related to anger. They learned about judgment, and missed the rest of the story.
I know from my own experience that being nagged to stop being frustrated and angry does not accomplish anything good. The breakthrough for me was realizing one night that the bad temper I was wallowing in was in danger of getting out of control. I remember calling out to God to take it away; I could not stop it on my own. And then I could feel it draining away . And God took not just the emotion of the moment, but the trigger; I do not know any more what it was that set me off. What I do recall is realizing that a big part of it was an unhealthy enjoyment in feeling sorry for myself. What I learned was that I had the choice to be all about own feelings and frustrations; or to deliberately pass it off to Someone who could get it out of my hands and brain, and do whatever, if anything, truly needs to be done.
Knowing about God and knowing God are not the same thing. Knowing about God is a first step; we need to remember that we can never know everything about God this side of eternity, but the writer of Hebrews said it well: we need to know first that He IS, and He rewards those who seek Him. Knowing only His greatness and power is just the beginning. The real miracle is that He--the Master of the Universe--wants to reach down and have a relationship with little, fallible us. Peter recognized Jesus' Lordship as He was walking on the water; he was willing to accept Jesus' invitation to get out of the boat, but found that he could only do it with his hand in the hand of Jesus.
God has given us the basic principles of becoming fit for His presence; but we also need to remember that like Peter, we can't do it on our own. In fact, we can't be the people God made us to be on our own; our own priorities and self-centered wants will keep us trapped in ourselves. If we are willing to hand it over, He can give us the wisdom and strength to do what needs to be done, or drain away what needs to be gone. (And if you look carefully, the opposite of each of the basic commandments is our own self-centeredness.) It is important to recognize and confess our failures, but we have to go beyond the wishful good intention to do better. We have to accept the power of His forgiveness, and let Him get rid of whatever stands in the way of living in His eternal Kingdom.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
When I was working with our Adventure Club kids' program, there was one lesson I don't forget. The topic was very basic: the difference between right and wrong. The lesson worksheet was a page of balloon outlines, each with a simple description of things that a kid might do; some good, some bad. One might have been "kick the dog"; another might be "take out the trash." I passed out a red and a green crayon to each of the kids (about eight 8-9-year-olds) and told them to color each of the good things green and the bad things red. The kids were discussing and coloring, and I noticed one boy by himself at the end of the table looking puzzled and doing nothing. I explained it again to him, and he asked "but i don't understand; what's the difference?" I realized that he did not have the concept that some things are good to do, other things are not good to do. One evening one of our children's workers saw him riding his bike out at about 9:30 at night on a school night. When asked if it might be late for for him to be out, his answer was "Why not?" I occasionally saw his mother in church, apparently listening and coming out with an occasional "Hallelujah!", and she did bring the boy to church. But something wasn't connecting here.
Looking around at today's world, we see and hear a lot of "Why Not?". The idea that there is right and wrong seems old-fangled and cruel, especially when it interferes with something you want to do. Too often "right" and "wrong" is a reflection of what you think will make people think better about themselves. Sometimes it's throwing blame around without knowing facts or context--and away from yourself. Sometimes it's avoiding responsibility. And the rationalization: so what difference does it make? In many cases, there is an immediate upside, and the downside may crash down fast, or slowly, or in an unexpected or even unknown area.
The ultimate answer to the "Why Not" is also the heart behind the rules: God. He does know Why Not, and He is the ultimate accountability. When we think about the Commandments, we have a vision of Moses coming down from a mountain with the Law. But the letter of the Law is not the most important part of this incident. Look at Exodus 19, the previous chapter. What God told Moses to tell the people of Israel is first, that they saw what God did for them in getting them out of Egypt. Then, if they would listen to His Voice, He wanted to have a relationship with them. Moses brought this word to the people; they agreed, and Moses took the agreement back to God. Notice something about this whole conversation: They did NOT know the content of the agreement! The were taking it on faith that what God wanted of them would be best for them.
There are lots of targets out there in this world. Some of them are income levels; some of them are job successes, some of them are body images; we can think of many more (and there are plenty of people out there who will be happy to set up a target for you.) They may not be bad targets: but are they God's targets?