Milk or meat

January 12, 2015

I am ashamed of what you are about to read. If there are things in my past that I could change this would certainly be one of them. When I was a kid and probably even into my adulthood, telling the truth was not a strength for me. I lied. I mean I lied a lot. I lied to my parents much of my childhood. I’m not proud of it. I wish it had been different but it wasn’t. I was a serious liar. I lied to my friends, I lied to those who cared about me, and maybe (not sure) most damaging…, I lied to myself. Lying is a destructive character flaw. Even calling it a “character flaw” is an attempt to lessen the blow. I mean, it’s way more than that isn’t it?

Sooooooo… what I am about to say is not an attempt to excuse myself or lessen the seriousness of my behavior. I have certainly asked God to forgive me and I have repented of my sin. My question to you is this: Are we Christians collectively a bunch of liars? No doubt some would say so. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 certainly indicates that if we in the faith say certain things are true that are not… then we are indeed liars!

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

Of course, it’s simple to tell if we are lying about the resurrection. I mean, the “if” of the resurrection might be in dispute but if we say there is a resurrection and we know there is not, I believe that fits the classic definition of a lie, right? But there are other issues that are not nearly this… clear. Hold that thought.

There were many reasons why I came to the faith in my teen years.

  1. It was in the late 60’s and there was a cultural ethos amongst young people that called them to radical positions. Becoming a Christian was somewhat radical, at least in comparison to where many of my drug and sex experimenting peers were.
  2. Going to a youth group meeting on a regular basis found me in the presence of those of the opposite sex with whom I was… shall I say… quite interested.
  3. I grew up in a culture where the reality of God and Jesus were rarely questioned.
  4. I was attracted to a God and a Jesus who loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me. I had never heard that before in a way that I understood.

No doubt there are other reasons. But my point is, in many ways I was not told the truth about Christianity. I heard about the loving Jesus, the flannel-graph Jesus, the sacrificial Jesus. But in the context of wanting to “sell me” on the benefits of the faith certain aspects were “overlooked.”

What you may ask? Well things like:

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Matthew 8: 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 21 Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

See what I mean? We don’t tell people from the beginning that Christianity calls for sacrifice, servant hood, slavery and maybe even death. We only share the fun, positive aspects. We/I lie. And here’s the tragedy of it all; we/I have watered the faith down so much that even “we” don’t believe it anymore! We/I have little clue as to the sacrifice, slavery and death part of the faith. We have no idea what it means to “take up our cross.” In today’s vernacular regarding the Christian faith: “It’s all good.”

I guess in the classic sense of lying we really aren’t. Why? Because we actually believe what we say. We really do think “it’s all good.” Somewhere in the past The Church (at least in our country) took a wrong turn and we have not found our way back. I don’t think we ever will. In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks through John to 7 different churches. He tells them the things they are doing well and the things they are not doing well. He says this to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2: Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.

You get that? Their “love” was Jesus and they gave that up. Last week I encouraged you to read through the Gospels to see who this Jesus really is. If you do, you will not find a Jesus limited to gentleness, kindness and stuck on a flannel-graph board. You will find a radical, suffering, dying savior who calls us to follow in His footsteps. There is no way around that if we are true believers.

In regard to the lying thing. I know that we need to speak to others in age appropriate language. So telling new believers about the complexities, difficulties and hardships of faith may not be the best place to start. (I’m actually not sure about that.) But ultimately that isn’t the problem. The problem is that we have bought into the “it’s all good” mentality of Christian faith and we have never progressed from there. Hebrews 5:13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. I suspect WAY too many of us are addicted to spiritual milk.

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Freedom

January 10, 2015

As many of you know, I spent four years in the U.S. Navy. Furthermore some of you like to remind me that I was on a ship for all of 10 minutes during my enlistment. My daughter Rebekah who is working for Disney Cruise Lines has now logged WAY more hours at sea than I did. Not only was my lack of exposure to sea-going vessels limited to ships, I was never on a submarine either. I saw many of them, all different sizes, but I never actually descended into the depths of the vessels, or the oceans. I think I’m okay with that. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

I want to turn your attention to “freedom” for a moment; in particular the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ. There are many verses that broach this topic. Below are just a few:

Galatians 2:4  This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Galatians 5:1  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:13  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Ephesians 3:12  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

1 Peter 2:16  Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

It’s worth noting that our freedom “In Christ” is not license for what many think of as “freedom,” i.e., doing whatever we want whenever we want. That’s not freedom, that’s chaos. Imagine a world where every living soul decided to live in the sort of freedom I just described. A simple example might be driving on the interstates. What would it look like if there were no speed limits, no guidelines? (“But there are places where there are no speed limits.” True, but they tend to be in isolated areas so that folks are not endangered.) Some might say that it would not bother them as long as they were not expected to keep up with the crazies. Well, it might not bother them until the speed of others endangered their lives. Or what if everyone else decided to drive at 5 mph? All of a sudden your freedom to be safe, or to get somewhere on time is impeded. You see, freedom, true freedom comes with boundaries.

In the context of the faith, “freedom” is often accompanied by the phrase “in Christ.” In other words, we are not under that O.T. law any longer, but there are still limitations to our freedom. We, as Christians, can do whatever we want as long as it is within the boundaries of the person of Jesus Christ. Look again at the Ephesians passage above:

Ephesians 3:12  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Are we given the “freedom” to approach God anyway we want? No! We are called to approach God “in and through Jesus Christ.” Freedom as a Christian is not without bounds!

Galatians 5:13  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Whoops. You might be asking, “What does this have to do with submarines?” Good question. If I told you while you were 500 feet below the surface of the ocean in a steel cigar that you had the freedom to roam wherever you wanted to, does that mean “anywhere”? Of course not. It means within the confines of the sub! You could try to roam outside I suppose, but it would be met with instant death. Hmm, that sounds like a metaphor if I ever heard one.

For those of us who claim to be Christians, looking for license or freedom outside of Jesus is… well… spiritually fatal. But as long as you remain “in Christ,” you are free to roam at your heart’s content. It’s the same “freedom” given to Adam and Eve; “You are free to eat of any tree in this garden… well except for ‘that’ one.” Again freedom, but within bounds. That’s the only way to actually possess it! Anything else is anarchy and chaos.

One last comment. You may ask, “What does it mean then to be ‘in Christ’”? On one hand, I want to say that if you have to ask that question it might be very difficult for me to explain. But here is my real answer. Find a Bible. Find the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 1. Begin reading and stop when you finish the Gospel of John, chapter 21. (It will most likely take more than one sitting.) Read as if you have never heard of this Jesus person before. Listen for the first time to what he says about following him, caring for the poor, submitting to God. If you do that and you still want to know what it means to be “in Christ,” then come and ask me.

Blessings.

Innocence and morality

January 2, 2015

  • Just out of curiosity… why do I get more calendars than I can find wall space for one year and the next year I get none? I don’t know either… but DO NOT flood my office or post office box with calendars!
  • Every year for Christmas my kids get me the latest copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” No book this year. I mean there was a new one published but it was not under the tree with my name on it. I’m not complaining but… well…how should I interpret that? Don’t tell me I’m too old. If you say that then you can NEVER read the comics page in the paper ever again.
  • I am so proud of my wife. Guess what she did in 2014? She consumed 110 books! I say consumed because a few of them (not many) were audio books that she listened to in the car going to and from work. Someone will say, “How does she find the time?” Hey, we all make decisions as to how we will live our lives. Some in front of a television, some at a hobby, too many at bars… reading books sounds pretty good to me.

Well, on a much more serious note… and sadder I might add. Ellen and I got away for a couple of days recently. We went and stayed at a chain hotel with a small swimming pool and hot tub. Our first night we wandered down to the pool and found ourselves in the water with an 8 year old boy, whose name escapes me right now, and his teenage sister. Their mother was on the other side of a glass wall in the exercise room. The boy was outgoing, innocent, playful, and not afraid of adults. As I began to swim back and forth in the pool he asked me if I wanted to race. Now keep in mind that the pool wasn’t much larger than a living room. We “raced” back and forth. Each time he requested a larger lead to make it fair. (I was encouraged to discover that I can at least beat an 8 year old boy in a swimming contest.) Anyway, it wasn’t long before I began to feel the pressure of our culture invading the scene. There I was, a strange, gray haired, “creepy old man,” playing in the pool with an 8 year old boy whom I did not know. Granted, my wife was there, and his mother was visible, but…

At one point he jumped on my back as I swam by. I very quickly and, I hope, discretely got him off of me. Years ago I would have been throwing that kid all over the pool and we would have had a great time, but not anymore. Not because I am no longer able, but because of our culture’s perceptions and tragically… realities. Some might say I am over reacting. REALLY?! Where do you live? That being said, under the heading of “protecting children,” we might be doing them more harm than good.

I remember when I was young and in the Boy Scouts. Our Scout Master was an amazing guy. I didn’t know this term back then but he was the first “boys’ man” I ever met. Essentially that means he was a man who knew how to relate to boys and young men. He was tough, demanding, a disciplinarian whom we respected greatly, but he also cared about us. We and he did things together that would sadly, now be looked upon with suspicion.

I don’t really know how to end this other than to point out the obvious. We live in a broken, fallen world. Satan will attempt to destroy anything that is good and wholesome. As we continue to watch the moral decline in our culture, I am baffled by those who see our direction as a good thing. The decline of “religion” is looked at as a positive reality by many. Really? If it were not for “religion” we would have no culture. We would live in the midst of man-made oppression and moral chaos. Why you ask? Because without religion there is no moral baseline. Without it, it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Who’s to say what is good or bad, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable?

Well, Happy New Year! Okay, the truth is this. There is “Happy”, or “Good” News. Nothing new here. Our hope as Christians will never be found in this world. Our hope is not found in our work, our hobbies, our bank accounts or even our families. If it were not for the hope found in Jesus Christ, I would be inclined to be demoralized by what I have written above. (I should add that the word “demoralize” here is an interesting one. It means to remove ones “morale”. “Morale” comes from the word “morals,” i.e., we lose our morale as we lose our morals or as we lose our sense of that for which we stand.) But I do have hope in Jesus. Oh don’t get me wrong, I have my bad days. But for the most part I know that this life is only “practice” for eternity. We can either “practice” with a firm sense of what we believe. Or we can float along, thrown to and fro by the ever changing morals of our culture. It’s up to you.

Blessings.