Monthly Archives: October 2006
Like many of our Christian friends across the country, my wife and I went and saw the film One Night with the King on opening weekend. I have to say that I think it was a good film. I’m saying that not because I am a Christian and that is the politically correct thing to say. I really do think the film was well done. It helps to see the story of Esther on film to really grasp the fact that this orphaned Jewish girl defied an entire empire, not only an empire, but a world wide empire!
Since I am not a film critic (as if that wasn’t obvious), I would like to concentrate my thoughts on a passage in the Book of Esther that I have been thinking about a lot lately. After Esther clearly explained to Mordecai the risk of appearing before the king, Mordecai said something to her that is highly relevant for all of us today. Here is what he said.
“Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, then relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
I would like to give a few comments on this verse and relate it to the idea of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the area of world evangelism. There are three truths I would like to relate this verse to this subject.
1. The danger is real. People really are lost without Christ. “Do not think you will escape…”
2. God is perfectly capable of reaching the lost without my help…”then relief and deliverance will arise from another place…”
3. Although everything will turn out right in the end, if I don’t do my part, I’ll be judged. “But you and your father’s house will perish.”
Think about it this way. The Bible teaches that in the end, everything will turn out exactly the way things are supposed to be (see I Corinthians 15:28). Let me ask all my preacher friends a question-How would your life change if you realized that in the end everything will turn out right regardless of what you do? I mean “everything” in the ultimate sense at the end of history. What theologians call “the consummation” is a fancy way of saying “What God wants, God gets”. I’m not giving a license for laziness here. I know things will turn out all right for God in the end, it’s myself that I think I should be concerned about.
Here’s a little test. What do you think of when you hear the word “Quaker”? Perhaps you picture a jolly white haired man in front of an oatmeal box or you think of someone driving a buggy (actually that is Amish). The word “pacifist” might come to mind since Quakers do not fight in wars. You may even think of the term “holy roller” and you would be right, since the original Quakers (who referred to themselves as “friends”) were given their name as a derogatory term because they would “Quake” under the power of the Holy Spirit (sound familiar Pentecostals?).
Let me give you a few other words to add to your database- womens’ rights, prison reform, abolition of slavery, democracy, religious freedom, equality-all of these words should be the first to come into your mind when you hear the word “Quaker” because the Quakers were the people that pioneered these concepts for the human race.
Earlier this year I read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In the story (which takes place in the 1850’s), author Harriet Beecher Stowe describes the Quakers as those who were helping Negro slaves escape to freedom. In a time of hatred and oppression, that is remarkable in and of itself. But what is even more remarkable is that the Quakers would allow the “Negroes” to eat with them as if they were their equals. Shocking! Where did these crazy holy rollers get such a revolutionary idea? After all, even Thomas Jefferson didn’t exactly have black people in mind when he penned the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
I’ll tell you where they got the idea. They got it from the Bible. They had the audacity to believe a tiny little verse in the gospel of John which says that Christ is the “true light which lighteth every man coming into the world”(John 1:9). Quakers believed that since every human being has the light of Christ within (they used the term “inner light”), then every human being is equal in value. The theological term for this idea is prevenient grace, and it is a beautiful concept. Quakers believed that the inner light in every human being can be accepted or rejected, but never ignored. Instead of seeing the world as “us” verses “them”, they saw each human being as a bearer of the Christ image, regardless of how the individual may or may not have responded to the light.
I would like to believe that if I were living in the 1850’s in North America, that I would be affirming the equality of negro slaves by inviting them to dine with me in my home. I would like to think that I would have stood up for them and thrown all of my energies into fulfilling the Biblical mandate to “set the captives free”. But, deep down, I don’t really know if that would have been me. Perhaps I would have swallowed the conventional theology of the day which said that slavery was a God-ordained institution. If I wanted to justify it, I could have twisted many verses of the Bible to justify white superiority. I hope that my heart would have made it hard for me to do that. I hope that I would have been like the Quakers who believed that every human being they met was a child of God equal in dignity and value. Hope is the key word. Perhaps I should rename this post “Why I wish I would have been a Quaker.”
Wishful thinking may be nice, but it is never really helpful in the long run. Perhaps a better question is this- what needs to change in my thinking today to make into the kind of person that would have done what the Quakers did yesterday? I’m going to make a bold statement here. Please don’t burn me at the stake. Here goes. If my current theology does not produce in me a goodness to the degree of 19th century Quakers, then whatever theological concept that is preventing this from happening needs to be flushed down the toilet.
This post was written on August 24th, 2006
I was watching Prime Time last night and they did a segment on twins at war in the womb. They showed the story of a young woman and her husband who were expecting identical twins. Everything was going well until the mother sensed she was having problems. It turned out in the ultrasound that one of the fetuses was stealing blood from the other fetus. In order to correct the situation, the doctors performed a surgery, but to no avail. The couple was then faced with a heart-wrenching choice. Should they abort one baby and save the other or should they risk losing both children by doing nothing?
Understandably, both parents were in agony over the decision. How could they choose one child over the other? At the same time, how could they risk losing both lives when they could save one? The father, evidently God-conscious, prayed that God would make the decision for him. The next day, one of the babies died. He never had to make that decision. After the other baby was born, it died a few days later.
Not only did my heart go out to this couple, this indicident also gave me an opportunity for a little moral reflection. What could this couple have done? I imagine if they had chosen to abort one of the fetuses to save the other, some in the Christian right would have screamed bloody murder. But then, what about the other side? I imagine that some on the far left would have practically accused them of double homicide if they had made a conscious choice not to abort one baby to save the other. The far left would have accused them of sacrificing both of their babies at the altar of their moral convictions.
And then I imagine there are some Christians who would say that if the young couple would have had enough faith, then God would have healed both babies. They take the wonderful Scriptures that inspire faith for miracles and then turn them around to bash the heads of those who seem unable to put their faith muscles to work.
What is my point in all this? My point is that in our search for moral and spiritual absolutes, we can easily miss the heart of Jesus who came “not to condemn the world, but to save the world.” We also forget that, according to Jesus, mercy is one of the “weightier matters of the law.” As long as we are on this side of eternity, life will not only be filled with black and white decisions, but every shade of grey in between. Somehow, I think God understands this much better than we humans who are ever too eager to assert our moral superiority over others.
The gospel of salvation can easily become the gospel of condemnation on both sides of the current culture war. The good news is that Jesus died and rose again to give this couple the hope that they will one day see both their babies again. It’s about time we Christians drop our superiority complexes and start pointing people to the good news.
This post was written on August 4,2006 Read carefully. This article has broad implications
As promised, I said that I would be writing posts over the next month about the nature of the gospel and its relationship to today’s society. It would be helpful to start with one simple question. What is the gospel? We know that the word “gospel” means “good news”, but what precisely is this “good news” that Christians are supposed to share with the world?
I remember one day in Bible School when a woman named Sally Green suggested to my School of Missions class that the message we are suppose to share with the world is “Your sins are forgiven!” I remember that almost as soon as these words left her mouth, most of the class immediately turned against her. The common objection was, “What about the need to repent? Don’t people need to be made to feel like they are sinners first? What about hell, wrath, and judgement?”
All of these are good questions, but they betray a basic misunderstanding regarding the gospel. The way most people understand the gospel is, “Repent so that your sins can be forgiven.” Although this sounds Biblical, the truth is actually the other way around. The true gospel is, “Repent because you have been forgiven.”
Don’t take my word for it though. The Apostle Paul is a far better guide on these matters than I am. Let’s hear what he has to say about what precisely is the message of the gospel.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses against them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)
According to the Apostle Paul, the message of the gospel is, “God is not counting your sins against you. He has reconciled you to Himself. So, therefore, repent and be reconciled to God.” Remember that Jesus Himself said that His message to the world is, “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:19)
Think also about the parable that Jesus gave to Simon, one of the religious leaders of His day. Jesus said, “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” (Luke 7:41-42)
Notice that Jesus said the man freely forgave the two debtors. Jesus then asks the question of which man will love more in return, the man who owed little or the man who owed much? You see, when God forgives, He forgives freely. His call to repent and to be reconciled to Him is in light of the fact that He has already freely forgiven you. Remember that Jesus did not ask the woman who was caught in the act of adultery to tell Him that she was sorry and that she would never do it again before He forgave her. He simply told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11) Notice that Jesus forgave her first, and then He told her to repent. That is how it is suppose to be.
Bottom line: Sally Green was right. The gospel is in fact, “Your sins have been forgiven!” In light of this, God is now calling men and women everywhere to repent, believe the good news, and enter into a wonderful new relationship with Him based on love, grace, and truth. Now that’s good news!
Tonight at the NGA conference, there was a room called “The Cave” where they had the Stations of the Cross. I remember this way back when I was 6 and 7 years old in Catholic school and they taught us about the stations of the cross (After the second grade, my parents left the catholic church and raised me in an independent charismatic church). I find it very refreshing that in an evangelical protestant conference for evangelists, there is an appreciation for the contributions of other branches of Christianity. I think this is part of a larger trend within evangelicalism of rediscovering the older historic traditions of the Christian faith. Growing up in the charismatic movement which prided itself in casualness, I’ve found that lately I’ve had a deep hunger to experience Christ in quiet reflection through art and beauty. I have to admit, I feel much closer to God in a Catholic cathedral staring up at the beautiful artwork portraying the life of Christ than I do in a crowded church clapping hands and shouting praises. Maybe that’s just me. I realize that both are necessary. I am glad there are different expressions of worship within the Body of Christ. In traveling around the world, I have come to realize that Christianity has a built in adaptability factor in adjusting to different times and places.
Sometimes I feel , however, that in the current ” Christian youth movement” that emphasizes punk rock, hip hop, and battle imagery, the art of reverence for God is often lost. I can even remember mosh pits during the praise and worship service in the youth group I was raised in. Often the mentality is that since kids like to rock and roll, why can’t we get them to rock and roll for Jesus? That’ll bring them in! Church has to be “cool”. Don’t get me wrong. I am not opposed to Christian rock music, punk music, metal music….or any other kind of music that is dubbed “hip” by today’s young people. I’m just wondering if we are losing something in our search to be “cool” or “non religious” (a charismatic buzzword). I’ve been wondering lately if the charismatic pride for casualness that I grew up with is really something worth boasting about.
Maybe I’m just an old man trapped in a 28 year-old’s body, but I would love to hear choral arrangements of classic hymns such as “Softly and Tenderly” “It is Well” and “There is a Fountain” sung in church or…God forbid… an evangelistic event. Can anyone else relate to this or am I just weird?
Tonight was the first session of the Next Generation Alliance Conference with Louis Palau Evangelistic Association. We are here to learn and to network with other evangelists that are shaking the world for Christ. I feel like I am in a Who’s Who gathering of preachers. The atmosphere is very warm and encouraging. There is a sense that we are all in this together. Louis Palau spoke about how although we are living in frightening times, God is every bit as excited about the task of the Great Commission as He has always been. Palau spoke with passion, humor and grace while warning the proud and encouraging the discouraged at the same time.
One of the most touching moments was when Louis’s son Andrew spoke about how, although he was raised in a godly home, he had rebelled for the first 27 years of his life against anything and everything to do with Christ. Although his father would gently and lovingly encourage him to follow Christ, he continued in his rebellious ways. He drank, did drugs, got involved in bad relationships…just about everything the prodigal son did. I am sure there were a lot of people who probably looked down on Louis at that time because of his rebellious son, but would that have been fair? According to Louis, we all have our own decisions to make about our relationship with God. I am thankful that Andrew Palau eventually made the right decision.
Rhiannon and I went to see the movie The Prestige yesterday and, I have to say, I think it is a great film. With enough twists and turns to make your head spin, the film also teaches a valuable lesson about the cost of vengeance. Without giving too much away, the story is about two rival magicians who develop a feud that ends up costing them everything. Given what is happening in the Middle East and in various other regions around the world, I think the world can learn a lesson from these two dueling magicians. As all who watch this film will see, bitterness really does poison the soul.
For all of you who love frustration, I have a little excercise for you that may give you your frustration fix. Go to Seattle Washington and park in the public parking directly across from the famous Seattle Space Needle. Park your car and walk around for a while so that your body and your mind is not as alert as it normally is. Upon leaving the parking lot, follow the sign to lead you back to Interstate 5, which is the only highway that will take you where you need to go. You will notice the blue Interstate 5 sign with an arrow pointing straight ahead, but when you follow it, you will soon discover that the sign leads you to nowhere. If there is a sign to tell you to turn right, then it is invisible and only seen through the eye of faith. When you finally see another sign that says Interstate 5 and the arrow is slanted to the right and you can not tell if it is telling you to go straight or to go right, go straight because if you go right, you will just have to turn back around.
Another piece of advice, if you are looking for The Champions Center (a church pastored by Kevin Gerald) and you are on U.S. Pacific Hwy E and you cross the bridge looking for Portland Avenue, take the first stoplight and go left. Don’t expect to see a sign because there isn’t one.
Do I sound a little frustrated? Okay, I’ll admit it. I am. Of course, there is always the possibility that I might be a little nimwitted when it comes to the road, but for the love of everything sacred and holy, shouldn’t it be a little easier to find where I am going in this frustrating, but beautiful city?
Now that I think about it. I wonder how non-Christians feel when they are looking for answers from their Christian friends? Or better yet-I wonder what kind of signs that I have been giving lately? If Christ lives in me and I represent Him, shoudn’t those seeking spiritual truth have the right to expect me to give clear directions? As the Apostle Paul said, “If a trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?” I think it is fair to ask myself what kind of signs I have been giving to those around me. I have a feeling I’m not the only one who needs to be asking this question.
Okay, so I lied. I said I wouldn’t post today, but I’m posting anyway. The hotel here in Portland, Oregon actually has wi-fi. Logging onto the internet from my laptob in a hotel is actually a new experience for me. It looks like I’ve finally joined the 21st century!
We actually had to fly from St. Louis to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Portland. How out of the way is that! Can you imagine if we actually drove this route? People would think we were crazy. Air travel can be so peculiar.
I did want to mention a feature I saw on the ABC Morning show for Delta Horizons. I saw a story about an African American man who was deaf and mute and was born with polio. For the first six years of his life, he could not walk. After his mother sent him away to a special school for the handicapped, he eventually learned to walk. When he became an adult, he got a job washing cars at a Honda dealership and has worked there for 20 years only missing three days.
What was so touching about the program was the man’s enthusiasm for his job. He loved washing cars. His enthusiasm and love for life was so incredible that he merited the attention of a prime time news channel. And, by the way, he was not mentally handicapped as far as I could tell. He just loved washing cars and brightening people’s days. Watching the program reminded me of the Scripture, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
In true Christianity, there should be no division between the sacred and the secular. Whether you are standing in front of multitudes preaching the gospel or fixing leaky faucets, if your attitude is that you are doing your job to glorify God, what a difference you can make!
There really aren’t very many words that I can say but that this man deeply touched my heart. I saw Christ in him and I don’t even know if he is a Christian. I think we all need a reminder from time to time about the beauty of serving Christ in the simplicity of life.
After months of moderating comments, I have decided to turn off my comment moderation feature at least for the moment. I will be out of town for the next few weeks, but will attempt to continue posting depending on my internet access.
Since I will definitely not be posting tomorrow, I have decided to give you, my readers a topic to discuss.
Here is the question: What are the implications of the Big Bang theory in the origins debate?