Archive for category General
“I must stay at your house today.” (v 5)
My house is a comfortable place. I like it. Everything is where I need it to be. If others don’t know where things are, that’s not my problem. They don’t live there. It is my house, right? Why wouldn’t God want to meet us where we are comfortable?
It should not surprise us that Jesus did not meet Zacchaeus at Zacchaeus’ house. Instead, Jesus waited until he was up a tree. The tree was not Zacchaeus’ comfortable place, but it was a holy place.
Take a few minutes to walk around your home. Pause and recall the good things that you have experienced in certain spaces. Thank the Lord for those memories and the people in them.
A lot of people, Christians and non-Christians alike, misunderstand the idea of the Scriptures as our final authority for faith and practice. As a result, there is a lot of confusion about the Bible’s role in the lives of believers.
If you are reading this and are not a believer, then what I have to say may not mean much. For believers, however, let me remind you of the nature of the Scripture’s authority in our lives – what it IS and what it is NOT.
The Bible does not address all matters in life. The Bible is not a “handbook” for life that you can consult whenever you run into a situation you have never encountered before. There are not quick answers to a lot of life’s questions.
The Bible does provide you with the foundations to guide your life. Think of the Bible’s principles as setting parameters for a godly life. As a believer in American in the year 2013, you are probably not going to be asked to make an offering to the divine emperor as Christians living in 113 were. But the same spiritual principles should guide your decisions as guided theirs.
The Bible is not a magical incantation book. Memorizing Scriptures is good and healthy, but that does not mean that just reciting verses you have memorized will make bad things go away or guarantee good things. Quite the opposite may happen in fact. Jesus warned us that we will be persecuted for His name’s sake.
The Bible is truth. It is the Word of God, revelation from God himself. The reason we memorize the Scriptures is not so we can whip out a quick spell (or prayer if you prefer Christian terminology) that will fix our problems. Instead, the Bible gives us a glimpse into the heart and mind of God; and that gives us direction and correction.
The Bible is not easy to read. Forget the idea that you will be able to understand everything in the Bible. You won’t be able to. My father is sixty years old and has been a student of the Scriptures for most of his life, and things still catch him off guard. The Bible is a complex anthology of books written in three ancient (and virtually dead) languages over the course of three thousand years. It is not easy to read.
The Bible will draw you to a greater reality. Because the Bible is not easy to read, you will always find something new. You will be constantly drawn upward from wherever you find yourself. An easy to read book would leave you as you are, without challenging presuppositions and assumptions. The Bible’s very difficulty is what makes it so great.
The Bible cannot work alone. The Bible was never intended to be a tool used by individuals in isolation. We tend to think that the most important thing you can do with your Bible is read it in private devotion. The Bible was not used in this manner anywhere in Christianity except in medieval monasteries. Everywhere else, it was a communal book that came to life in the discussions and conversations of the Church in all its wonderful variety.
The Bible comes alive in conversation. The apostle Peter reminds us that the Bible is not for private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20). If you’re the only person who believes something, you’re probably wrong. The best place to learn the Bible is in community, in conversation.
Someone recently told me that when I preach, he got the feeling that I was not talking AT the congregation but rather I was speaking WITH them. This is my heart’s desire as a preacher of the Scriptures. I want people to feel as if the message is the beginning of a conversation, not a lecture delivered by the “learned reverend.”
At the beginning of the year, a lot of people of people will be making resolutions. Some folks will plan to read the Bible through this year. Some will decide to just read it or listen to it somehow. Some folks will recommit themselves just to worshiping on Sunday regularly. Others will decide to join a Bible study or to get involved with a one-on-one mentoring relationship.
Everyone is a little different, and we all interact with the Scriptures differently. But for a believer, the most important thing in the world is to be interacting with them somehow in community – in relationship with other believers.
If we lay claim to the Scriptures as our final authority, then we must be acquainted with them and continually interacting with them as the Church. Otherwise, what’s the point to all of our religious behaviors?
In the United States, violence is something that used to happen to someone else. It was something reserved for urban areas and gangsters or third world countries and oppressive regimes. But in the midst of the suburban American dream, violence was something you observed on television or in the newspaper.
All of that has changed in recent years. Violence has come home.
There has been a lot of bizarre news in the United States in 2012, and all of it has been violent. During the summer there were two – TWO! – strange stories of cannibalistic violence with people actually attacking and eating others. At the opening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, an insane man loaded all the weapons he could find and just started blasting away in a theater, killing a dozen people and injuring another eighty-five.
The past week has seen two very violent mass shootings in two suburban settings not usually associated with violence. In Happy Valley, Oregon, a lone gunman walked into a shopping mall and with apparent abandon, started blasting away at holiday shoppers. Then yesterday in Connecticut, a twenty year old man shot his mother and then went to the school where she worked and mercilessly killed her kindergarten students – her kindergarten students. Both shooters then turned their weapons on themselves.
The scope of these tragedies cannot be overstated. It simply boggles the mind that someone would be so messed up that slaughtering children seemed like an appropriate response to – well, anything.
A lot of people have been asking where this impulse of violence is coming from, and they have been coming up with all kinds of answers. Perhaps it comes from not having strict enough gun laws, or perhaps it comes from banning the Ten Commandments in schools. Perhaps it is a sign of the end times, or perhaps it is because of violent video games.
No one seems to be taking any time to consider what the Scriptures have to say about man’s violent nature.
Let’s consider for a moment just how violent human beings are.
It certainly is nothing new.
In Genesis 2, God creates man. In Genesis 3, man sins. In Genesis 4, man begins to murder his brother. In Genesis 6, we read these words:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
Genesis 6:11-12 (ESV)
Mankind fills any situation with violence, and the more of us there are, the more potentially violent we become. This is something that the author of this part of the Genesis narrative knew over 6,000 years ago at the beginning of human recorded history.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.
Psalm 7:14-16 (ESV)
Violence is part of our sinfulness. It is multiplied and magnified in the “wicked man” but the potential exists among all of us. We need to understand that violence is part of the human experience – a natural consequence of the sin nature that lies within all of us.
And what does God say to all of this? The words he gave to the prophet Jonah echo his desire for mankind to lay down his violent nature:
Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:8 (ESV)
Jonah was speaking to the Assyrians in Nineveh in the 8th century BCE. This was a culture that used violence to good effect. They were renowned for cruelty and destruction. And yet, God points out to Jonah that there are at least 120,000 children in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Judgment would have come on these children as well as their parents, and why? Because of their violence?
One of the promises God gives to David (around 1000 BCE) about the kingdom of Israel is that “violent men will waste them no more.” (1 Chronicles 17:9)
The reality is that violence is simply a matter of our existence here on earth. It is part of life. It has been a part of life for a long time.
We Americans seem to view violence from a distance, believing that somehow we have bettered human nature and have overcome the innate violence of our nature. Sometimes it seems like we have the underlying belief that we are better than those “other” people who are so violent.
Christians tend to think we have done this through moral law codes and sermons. Humanists think we accomplish it through just “being” better people.
But the reality is that we are not any different from Cain who killed his brother in an envious rage. We are no better than the Assyrians. We are still violent, and violence will continue to happen. Human beings don’t evolve and improve. We’re still just as sinful as Cain was.
A world without violence is an illusion. We can clean up the streets and pay more police officers, but we cannot get rid of the violence that resides in the heart of sinful man.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates our need for a Savior, for someone to take our violence upon himself. Christ’s crucifixion was a cruel, awful death; and yet it was a death invented by man to be inflicted upon man. What better way to illustrate how our violent and sinful natures torment the heart of God? What better way to show us the violent grace we receive through Christ?
Does Christ remove the violence of the world? His own words indicate that persecution and violence will continue until his return (Matthew 24:6).
If there is a theology of violence, it is that violence will always be present in sinful man.
If there is an answer to our violence, it is Christ.
No laws will change that. Teachers can’t change it. We cannot improve ourselves enough to eradicate the darkness of the sinful condition.
So, what to do?
We must answer violence with compassion, war with peace. The Church must be the peaceful rocks of truth that the waves of destruction crash upon and we must continue to love.
We must not be a marching army, determined to conquer the violence of man’s heart. Instead, we must become the heart of society – the clear voice of the gospel in the midst of voices of chaos, rage, guilt, fear and pain. To be the body of Christ is to be the peacemakers.
We must do this although the strength to do it is not present in our own spirits. We must rely upon the Spirit of God, upon the direction of our grieving Creator who wishes to see His creation reconciled. It is not enough to mourn injustice or to lament violence. We must become the agents of His peace, in whatever ways we can.
Violence will not cease as long as their are sinful human beings.
So, grace must not cease. The Church must never cease to be Christ’s peace and grace.
Lately, I have not been writing a lot for the blog. There have been a lot of contributing factors to my absence, but to be honest the biggest is that I don’t really know what to write about right now. My last couple of posts were about medieval history, which is a topic that fascinates me; but it is not really applicable to ministry or faith.
I will probably pick up writing again after the holiday season, but I am not entirely sure yet.
In 1203, a massive Venetian fleet sailed into the Golden Horn intent on landing a Crusader army and taking the city of Constantinople. The Crusaders had intended to sail to Egypt but they had failed to pay the Venetians and now were doing the Venetians bidding in attempting to put the young claimant Alexius Angelus on the throne of Constantinople.
When the battle began at the sea walls, the Norman Crusaders almost faltered. The Venetian galleys hung back as the battle became a stalemate. Then from the midst of the fleet, one galley picked up speed and headed for the beach. At its prow was a nearly ninety year old blind man named Enrico Dandolo.
Dandolo had been elected doge of Venice in 1192. Before that, he had been a wealthy merchant from a good family and had even served as an envoy to Constantinople. When the representatives of the Fourth Crusade had come to Venice seeking passage, Dandolo had taken the cross himself.
Where there was money to be made, Dandolo was there and there was a lot of money to be made in a Crusade. But the endeavor had fallen apart and Venice was on the verge of bankruptcy if the Crusade was not profitable. So, Dandolo had led the Crusaders to Constantinople to aid Angelus’ claim to the throne because the bounty Angelus promised would cover Venice’s expenses and provide a bit of profit.
When the fleet faltered, Dandolo ordered his galley beached as a message to the rest of the galleys. His act would be told and retold for five hundred years in Venice. As a result of his charge, the Crusaders took the city and the course of history was altered.
Dandolo believed in Venice and making money. His zeal drove him to exceed any human limitation in pursuit of his goal.
What about us? Do we have within us a passion for anything that is strong enough to send us at full speed to the hostile beach? I fear the greatest problem among Christian leaders is that we do not believe anything passionately. We are lukewarm in everything rather than boiling in one.
Some Sundays, I have a little trouble getting an idea out. This Sunday may have been one of those days.
The big idea on Sunday was this: when you look AT things I the world, what are you looking FOR?
In Luke 12, Jesus challenged the religious people of his day. They were able to interpret the sky but they could not see what God was doing. They could perceive creation but they were missing the Creator.
From a practical perspective, the question is simple: are we looking at what is going on around us and missing what God is doing? Are we failing to see Christ because we are too busy looking at everything from our own perspective?
To borrow the tired cliche, we cannot see the forest for the trees.
To borrow Jesus’ imagery, we cannot see the heavens for the sky.
I would encourage you to look at everything in your life differently this week. Don’t just look AT your situation, job, family, relationships. Look FOR Christ in these things. Find how Jesus is revealing himself even in the smallest aspects of life.
You cannot say you believe something until you are willing to accept it in the void.
What do I mean by the void?
There are a lot of rational reasons to believe in lots of things. There are often a lot of rational reasons not to believe. Sometimes there are lots of things we don’t know – places where there simply is no conclusive evidence.
There is no conclusive evidence for the Bible or the Way of Jesus. There is no way to build a rock solid, undeniable, pack-it-up-and-ship-it argument for the viability of the Christian faith. There are always rational explanations for why things don’t have to be the way we think they are.
That is the void.
Sometimes there just aren’t any answers except, “I accept it by faith.” As the old school fundamentalists used to say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That’s all there is to it.”
Force them to listen if you have to.
You cannot be the spiritual authorities for your family if you do not accept the authority of Scripture in front of them.
It is your job to teach them about the Scriptures, not their Sunday School Teacher’s or the pastor’s.
No excuses, moms and dads. It isn’t easy, but it is necessary.
TO OREGONIANS: THIS POST IS TONGUE-IN-CHEEK AND UTILIZES HYPERBOLE TO DESCRIBE YOUR FAIR STATE. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.
NEW ENGLANDERS: [WHISPERED TO ONE SIDE] BUT IT IS MOSTLY TRUE.
People in Oregon are crazy. I mean, they are crazy.
We spent two weeks in Corvallis, Oregon, with my grandfather and his wife Sandy. It was a great vacation, and it was awesome to get to know Sandy a little better. We enjoyed sitting in their living room, talking and teasing. Pap and Sandy were fantastic. Ariel had so much fun with them and misses them greatly. Nic and I miss them even more. It was a REALLY fantastic vacation.
But the people in Oregon are crazy.
Let me begin with their roads. There are two roads that run through Corvallis called 99W and 99E. Both of them are at times divided highways, and they run north and south. As if this weren’t befuddling enough, they intersect sometimes. In Portland, near the airport, there are these random flower boxes right in the middles of streets. They serve no purpose other than making you turn a little to the right and then left again on streets with no traffic. And then there is 80th Avenue, which has EXITS and is a four-land, divided highway. Even our GPS was confused by the way the streets work.
Then there is the food. In Oregon, they don’t know how to make pizza or pasta. Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of places in the country without decent pizza, but usually there’s at least one place somewhere. We went to half a dozen places looking for decent pasta or pizza. What we got was Chef Boyardee or reheated store brand frozen pizza. (If you are ever in Newport, avoid the Cucina Pizza at ALL COSTS.)
And worst of all, NO DUNKIN’ DONUTS. This is an abomination of epic proportions! For some reason, DD just hasn’t caught on out there. There are next to no DD’s anywhere in the northwest. Starbucks is good coffee, but drinking it every day would turn your stomach inside out. There was nowhere to get a decent donut.
You think I am being unfair. At Subway, they had NO provolone or Swiss cheese. How do you have a Subway without CHEESE?
Third, Oregonians don’t know how to drive. There are two types of Oregonian drivers – the speed limit driver who stays in one lane and gets where he is going when he gets there. I don’t so much mind this person. The other is the reckless, rude and dangerous driver who shows no respect for anyone else in the road. He speeds. He brakes needlessly. He swerves across lanes of traffic. In New England we have rude drivers, no denying. But there was something just – I can’t find the word to describe it.
And then there was the personal rudeness of people. New Englanders are considered rude, but we generally appear to be rude because we keep to ourselves. We are abrupt and often hurried. In countless lines in Oregon, we had people cut in front of us, slam doors in our faces, and even jostle us. At a museum, I was reading a plaque to Ariel and I had a tour guide walk up right next to me, I mean TOUCHING ME, and just start talking over me. In line at Subway, two older men downright ignored Nichole repeatedly, even when EVERYONE ELSE in the restaurant could hear her asking them to move.
Now, let’s face it. People everywhere are crazy, and I am exaggerating for effect a little bit (but not much). People here in New England can be just as crazy, and our roads don’t make any more sense then the ones in Oregon. The real difference is that they are our roads.
New Hampshire is my home. It is where I am raising my daughter, where I minister and live. It is in my blood. I visit other places, but this is MY PLACE.
And that is one of the reasons I know I am called to minister and work for the cause of Christ here. I cannot imagine living and working anywhere else.
It is good to be home. And all joking aside, Oregon was great. We did lots of fun stuff as a family and generally enjoyed ourselves immensely…now if they only had a Dunkin’ Donuts.