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The Force of Hope

As our area faces the devastating losses from the Camp Fire, here’s something that may spark our perseverance:

We are those people.
We are those people who, rather than succumb to disaster, rise up and build.
Those whom adversity does not defeat, but rather hardens our resolve and fires our resiliency.
Those who feel the pain, stung by loss, yet are able to look past it and move on to the promise of better days yet to come.
We will not only recover; we will not only rebuild; we will come back stronger, go farther, be better than we were before.
The blasting heat of hardship for us will only harden our steel and temper our resolve.
We are authors who contend that the present account is not the last word in our story, that we have the power to write our own ending.
We’ll cry for a while, but very soon we’ll smile again, put on our work clothes, grab our tools and our faith, and show the doubters how believers come back.
We are those who push back the setback, bring the light to the dark; and, when to weaker souls it would seem the time to cave in, we are those who bring the force of hope.
We are those people.

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Let it Be a Merry Christmas!

Thomas Cahill, in his book ‘How The Irish Saved Civilization’ reveals how deeply impacting were Saint Patrick’s Christian principles upon Irish society. Generations of Celtic beliefs in gods fierce and ruthless towards humanity were swept away as the Biblical concept of a loving, self sacrificing God took root and flourished. Says Cahill, ‘the belief grew strong that the one thing the devil cannot bear is laughter.’ We’re not trying here to make some theological point out of joviality, but we will make the point that God Almighty moved the wise man to say ‘a merry heart doeth good like a medicine!’

I’m with the Irish on this - anything that bedevils the Devil brightens my life! Which brings us to this most special of almost every special time. There’s a reason ‘Merry Christmas!’ bursts from the lips of us who love this season; if the classic Christmas song were retitled to ‘Have Yourself A Somber Little Christmas’, it just wouldn’t have the same ring. ‘We Wish You A Contemplative Christmas’ - huh - that title probably wouldn’t have remained the enduring classic as does the original. Same for “God Rest Ye Dreary Gentlemen’. 

Sure, there are parts of Christmas commercialism and overindulgence that should be avoided and called down, but come on, away with the killjoys! Revere the Nativity, take in the bright lights, sing the carols, laugh with kith and kin, open the gifts, wad up the wrapping paper and throw it, eat the pie… and enjoy every merry moment! The troubles will keep, and the worry warts and grouse-abouts will have all the rest of the year to stomp our joy. But for this season, ages ago the rest of the world voted it would be Merry Christmas, so let’s welcome this opportunity to make things unbearable for the Devil.

To you and yours, a very Merry Christmas!!

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What is Interesting vs. What is Important

Headlines, breaking news, juicy rumors, the buzz, trending now, fake news… blah blah blah, whatever and so on. What grabs our attention and defines our conversation, is it truly important?

Don’t get me wrong, keeping up with the news is vital, and knowing what’s going on in the larger world around us is a treasured gift of the internet. Connectedness has brought us heroic and inspiring stories we otherwise would know nothing of, while also exposing scandal and criminality, and that exposure can push back the darkness. And surely, there is news that is newsworthy. July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence; August 14, 1945, Japan Surrenders, WWII Ended; Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Attacked!

But let’s be honest, in percentages, how much of our attention is focused on the heroic and redeeming compared to chatter and drivel? Too often we are captivated by trivialities, with only a fleeting inspiration by what matters truly, deeply and lastingly. I think of some of my own noshing on mental junk food and taste regret. Sure, there are times to chill, unplug and let the big stuff go to enjoy the recharge of leisure; being uptight all the time creates what I call ‘commitment fatigue’, which actually works against whatever cause we champion.

However, have you ever had that moment of hearing about some person or event, and in bewilderment asking ‘Why isn't everyone talking about this? Why isn’t this headline news’? Or, recalling a story that this morning was the biggest, baddest, most important piece of news in the history of humankind, only to be replaced by the afternoon with this new biggest, baddest most important news in history? Makes one wonder - where’s the stuff that really matters, and how does one keep that at top of mind?

Let’s practice some filtering. On our social media, our consumption of ‘news’, with our intake in the Age of Information, let’s up the percentages of what really matters, and lower the percentages of what’s ‘interesting’. What’s interesting and what’s important are often not the same thing.

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Celebrating Manhood

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” - Irina Dunn

It was Gloria Steinem who popularized this battle cry of radical feminism, spoken first by Dunn. It seems that Steinem and Dunn could brush up a bit on the study of human reproduction, but, let’s move on to the main point.

Feminism’s origin - equal rights for women to end the tyranny of nasty machismo - was the venerable first motive. However, too much of the movement warped into doing to men the wrongs done to women. Not in totality as a movement, but too strident a portion of the movement simply became vengeance against masculinity, rather the trying to right a wrong. 

Simply put, we men will be men. Feminized men are not the answer to misogyny. Femininity and masculinity are not mutually exclusive. Surely, aggressive, selfish, mean masculinity cannot be tolerated. But you know one of the best solutions to men being jerks? Men being men! Strong enough to push back the jerks.

Jesus was the Lamb of God, and the Lion of Judah. Where, when did this one sided picture emerge of Jesus as a quiet, passive, never ruffled dainty flower? The Man Christ Jesus kicked over tables, braided a whip, called out hypocrites, confronted friends with uncomfortable truths (he called Peter ‘Satan’) and on we could go. Sure, he wept, he demonstrated deep compassion, he was approachable by kids, and more. But when those around him needed a rugged Savior, his masculinity asserted itself without apology. He was no wilting bloom, but full of passion and life and manliness!

Thinking about Father’s Day is the spark for this rant. Manliness - it’s the difference between Chamberlain trying to appease Hitler and Churchill shoving the war right back in Hitler’s face. Which of these two would you want protecting you and the kids if an intruder broke into your house?

Velvet and steel, tough and tender, strong and sensitive. As C.S. Lewis said of the great lion Aslan in his novels ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ - ‘he’s not a tame lion, but he’s good.’

Men, live in the Spirit of Christ, loving, leading, unselfish, but never intimidated. Find your lion. 

Stop living on a leash. 

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On Histories and Futures:

This month all across America, we will celebrate Memorial Day. The word memorial came to us from Latin, meaning ‘to belong to memory’, a calling to mind things that have taken place in the past. This holiday honors the men and women of our armed services who have died while serving in the military. I will say, if you have never observed a laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, well, there are few things that will grip your heart as will this. Moving in a way very hard to describe.

More than just remembering our honored dead, the larger lesson of Memorial Day is there are principles and values worth dying for, as did these we honor, yet the memories should serve not only as recollections of the past, but also as markers to guide the future. Our history, or at least the valiant, honorable part of that history, should command our behavior and principles today, and in perpetuity.

Christianity could almost seem a contradiction on this topic. On one hand Scripture tells us that our past is blotted out, that we are new creatures, that what we have been is not a prison keeping us from what we can be. However, just as true, we are urged, adamantly, as Jeremiah the prophet put it, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls…” (Jer. 6:16). The NIV says it,  “This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls…”. Sure, there are things in every past that need to be forgotten, never repeated; a time to move on. But, there is a history from which we mustn’t disconnect, for in that history is our identity, our culture, our principles, what we are supposed to go on being. As historian Daniel Boorstin said “Trying to plan for the future without knowing the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.” 

Our American history, or our Christian history, these are not just memories, but vehicles carrying us to our future. Even the ugly past can serve a positive end - there are some moral failures that must never be repeated, which clearly marks what in our future to avoid.

We don’t just have a future and a past. We have a future because we have a past.

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On Ethics and Their Attachments:

Much is made today about ‘ethics’, the aim being to teach and promote mutual goodness in our relations to each other, and even to the natural world around us. This is a desirable mentality; however, some clarification is in order, along with some checks and balances. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Take for sake of example the ethic of ‘unity’. Singleness of mind and purpose, cohesion and mutual support, especially within a body of individuals, be it a sports team, a business venture, a military unit, whatever. Unity in these examples is a must, a driving force, a desirable ethic. But now consider this - to what is the unity attached? Unity among the Nazis was a powerful ethic, yet one of the most destructive forces ever unleashed among humankind. The KKK; unity for sure, but the attachment of that unity to racism and hatred renders dark the virtue. 

This same case could be made for loyalty, diversity, democracy (remember when women couldn't vote because the ‘majority’ thought they shouldn’t be allowed?); even something being ‘legal’ is ethical only if attached to a transcendent virtue. Slavery used to be legal, which spread over it the thin, artificial skin of ‘ethical’; but we all know now that a greater, transcendent ethic overcame this diabolical practice.

Here’s a thought provoker - who or what is going to determine what are the worthy attachments that hallow the ethic? This is where competing ideas and virtues, the democratization of ethics, as messy and frustrating as they can be, are probably the only protection we have against the tyranny of any single group or idea. 

And so, let us take care to see to what our ethic is attached. We’ve all seen great individuals and causes become tainted, even gutted of morals, by attachments that degenerated from the original ethical intent. 

Ethics are only as honorable as the virtues and practices to which they are attached.

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On Finding Significance:

I would venture that most people seek to satisfy the yearning within that moves us to find our own meaningful purpose in this life. Even if for some that significance is found in a very small measure, still, the motivator to find that particular purpose in life I would argue is innate and universal among humankind. How we set about to discover and operate in our personal significance is too vast a topic for this space, but we do have enough space here to move our thinking in a direction that may get us to our place.

First let’s start with the sad state of society that has fostered what I call ‘unwarranted significance.’  Think about it - a young man who can catch or throw or run a football with extreme skill, thrilling and impressive to the point of bringing an adrenaline rush within the spectators. Compare a soldier who leaves home and family, delays his career, often actually risks his or her life, among many other self sacrifices, for the citizens back home. Then realize that the football player’s wages eclipse the soldiers wages - and we now understand unwarranted significance. Free societies can exercise such inequities, yet it is very revealing.

And then for the rest of us and our search for significance. The internet, social networks, omnipresent media of all types have created a platform for almost everyone to put on their show, vie for their significance. Unfortunately, the definition of significance has become skewed, thereby creating skewed attempts. If it’s not ratings, marketable, loud, outrageous, fueling the buzz, creating enough hits or going viral, amid all kinds of other such measures, then it doesn’t count. Don’t get me wrong, there are significant things that are all the rage, and deservedly so, but there are all kinds of ‘viral’ sensations that are creating significance for all the wrong reasons.

Obviously, on a pastoral blog our core point in finding our significance is finding our place in God’s will and his plan for one’s life. Further, God’s world measures significance very differently, and far more transcendently, than our world. We may find our significance in God’s will in such a way that causes no stir in this world. But heaven sits up and takes notice, and that’s where we want to be noticed.

Jesus tested Peter in John 21, asking Peter if he loved him ‘more than these.’ These - be that the fishing gear and opportunities of that work, or be it the other disciples, Jesus was making Peter evaluate on what he would spend himself, what or whom would be the driving motivators of finding his significance. Don’t misunderstand, God may use us within our current career path to work his will; I’m positive there were many fisherman in the New Testament church that were significantly used of God; but that was their path, and Jesus was showing Peter his path. We should remember that we are serving him with whatever or wherever we are occupied. So we mustn’t sell ourself short, or use faulty scales as does temporal culture.

However, let’s not award some things with an unwarranted significance, and waste ourselves on a ‘great insignificance’ that really doesn’t matter at all.

We are God’s best plan, his only plan, for his work in this world.

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On Defining The Church:

What is the church in the earth? Is it an organization? An institution? Is it one particular denomination, or a loose knit network of ‘believers’, whatever one means by that? What is it’s mission and ethos? There are all kinds of opinions, traditions, historical factors and other elements that add to the noise of the discussion on this topic, so where do we find the vital definition of The Church? On that point, there is a clear answer that rises above the din. So, please excuse the following cliche. 

That clarity is found in the Bible. Even if one has no reverence for Scripture, still, logic demands that they presume that those who are claiming to be followers of Christ would hold His Book as the final authority of what His Community would be here among humanity. Yes, there are arguments among ‘believers’ about what the Bible says about this or that, but the core elements are beyond dispute. Often the ‘disputes’ are not actually doctrinal murkiness, but simply the appearance of murkiness due to misuses and abuses of Scripture, or the cowardice of some to stand up for the Word against institutional church traditions, which are not necessarily Holy Writ. 

There are other problems in defining the Church. Because the body of Christ (a biblical term and concept) is active within our communities in many different ways doing good - feeding the hungry, helping the poor, educating, being a voice in politics, among innumerable other endeavors - unfortunately sometimes in all of this the core purpose and personality of the church is lost. This blog is no where near enough space to take on all of this, or hold forth on ecclesiology (the study of the church - ‘ekklesia’ - ‘the called out ones’). So, on to our main point here, which is, how does the Word of God define and commission the People of God?

Jesus, in Matthew 6 (and Luke 11), gives us what is known as The Lord’s Prayer. In it he makes this statement, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” The Lord God means for his will to be done in the earth as it is in heaven. Heaven defines the church in the earth, not earth telling heaven how it’s going to be. This doesn’t mean political or oppressive tyranny by the Church, for God will not have slaves nor hostile takeovers - He stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20). Until the Second Coming of Christ, He has chosen that only those who choose peaceably and wholeheartedly to serve him are his servants - no iron fisted demands.

“In earth as it is in heaven” - this is the ethos of the church, the charter of her mission and values. Spreading the gospel, found seminally in Acts 2:38, showing Christlikeness in love, good works, attitude and lifestyle; bettering humanity wherever we can bring godly, Biblical influence; in short, as Jesus said in Matt 5, the church is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The church isn’t a thermometer of the surrounding culture; it is supposed to be a thermostat affecting the surrounding culture.

Sadly, terribly, some try to make the church a thing it was never meant to be. To view some of the false and grotesque misrepresentations of what some have tried to make the church is frustrating and even outrageous. A whole range of these malformed versions exist, from weak and ineffectual to hard nosed and oppressive. There are all kinds of ‘representations’ of the church that are not actually that.

But it’s out there. The true Church, Bible defined, God pleasing and Christ like, it really does exist among all the distorted others. And we can find it if we are searching with a true heart.

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On Going Big in Little Ways:

Resolutions, those decisions we intend to carry out for the New Year. The personal changes we see that need to be made, the better we know we can do, the failings we need to overcome. Sometimes a herculean effort is the answer, an upheaval, a revolt, an overthrow. There are things that will not change unless we bring to it this kind of force.

However, what if at this point we simply do not have within us the herculean? What if we realize the overthrow fizzled in the past, but the resolution must be achieved, even with the failure of what we thought were our best intentions? Don't give up, hit it again with a new weapon. 

In the mid 1950s, a political scientist, Charles Lindblom, came up with a strategy for taking huge tasks and breaking them down into manageable goals. It’s called incrementalism. Don’t try to solve the whole huge problem, just do what immediately needs to be done right now, or take care of just one part, not worrying about the whole for now. However, when this is done over and over, these little increments add up to huge wins. Incrementalism is practiced, and it works - and it’s been a Bible theme for ages before Mr. Lindblom formalized it. 

       The Word on big wins in little ways - 

Job 8:7 Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase. 

Zech. 4:10 For who hath despised the day of small things?

In Matthew 13, Jesus spoke of his kingdom being like a mustard seed, ‘the least of all seeds’. But seeds grow, incrementally, in stages. Matthew 25, Jesus taught that the way to the great things was being faithful ‘over a few (puny is the meaning) things’.

The story goes, from days of old, all the citizens from those particular parts gathered at the county fair. A lot of visiting going on, but one of the main attractions was the ‘strongman’ contest. Various feats of strength were observed, amid the ‘oh’s’ and ‘ah’s’ and hand clapping for the favorites. 

But one particular contest was stumping even the strongest of the brutes. A bundle of sticks was handed to each, with the instructions to break the bundle over the knee. Many bruised knees, but no broken bundles. Then, an old man, a little stooped and very much unlike the musclebound, stepped forward to take the challenge. He was met with snickers, even some open jeering, but nonetheless was handed a bundle of sticks.

The elder calmly untied the strands holding the bundle together, then taking each individual stick, broke them one by one over his knee, until every stick in the bundle lay at his feet, broken. He had won the contest, because he came at it in a smaller way that worked.

Whatever stands in front of you now, you can do it, one stick at a time. Get the big win, in little ways. The impact of little things, done well, done tenaciously - in this can be great power for great change.

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On Christmas and A Revelation:

The most well known aspect of what has come to be known as the Christmas Story - that being the birth of Christ in Bethlehem - is just that - well known. Less understood is a wider revelation that was brought to us by the Incarnation, the Embodiment. Let’s begin at a place not usually thought of as a beginning for the Christmas Story. 

In Mark 12, Jesus is challenged by a scribe of the Hebrew canon at that time, an expert in the field. The challenge to Jesus, ‘What is the first commandment of all?’ (verse 28). In other words, which commandment ranks first, not chronologically, but in order of priority?

Jesus doesn’t even go to the Ten Commandments. He heads straight to Deuteronomy 6:4. 
‘…The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord…’ (verse 29). Jesus is that baby from that manger, now all grown up. The One conceived of the Holy Ghost in the womb of Mary. And now we begin to see in the Christmas Story not only the baby who was the redemption of man, but the God who is that baby. 

Isaiah 9:6 ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. This baby was a Father at the moment of birth, the everlasting Father. This baby was the mighty God. Not merely sent by God, but that God Himself robed in flesh. 

The Lord God claims solo work as the Savior of humanity, as in Is. 43:11 “I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour.’ Yet Jesus has the same claim, as Luke states, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11). The only resolution of these two statements is God didn’t just send his Son, He became that Son, that Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.

Christmas is not only the story of the Savior, but a revelation of who was that Savior. Not just a good man or prophet sent by God. Not just some divine agent sent from heaven. John says it very well, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth’ (John 1:1,14).

Not the only thing surely, but the first thing to remember about Christmas is this, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: (Deut. 6:4)

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On Choosing Discontent:

I am fully aware that in this season of gratitude, the title of this piece may appear way out of line. Stay with me.

From a Christian standpoint, not only in this season, but in all times we live with the Biblical urging ‘In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’ (1Thess. 5:18). Thankfulness is not only a good for positive mental health, but for the believer it is God’s will, which should drive and direct all that we do. This is just one of a host of scriptures making the point.

Surely, even many who are not motivated by Christian belief are stirred up in this season to expressing thanks for good fortune, along with reaching out to reconnect with loved ones. So, when is discontent desirable?

It is desirable discontent that has caused peoples all the world over to revolt against tyranny and fight for human rights and democracy. It is discontent that has caused the scientific population to rise up against the ravages of disease and go for the cure. Discontent drives the disadvantaged teen from the ghetto to get the college education and discover their best self. It sets fire to a church hungry for revival. It wrenches one out of their pew to an altar to come to terms with God, finding eternal life.

Consider this, are we capable of hiding fear of change, complacency, laziness, all such, behind a guise of ‘contentment’, when actually it is vice dressed up as virtue? Are we brave, discerning and true enough to judge our ‘contentment’ by this measure? Let’s face the question with ourselves.

We owe these people a great debt of gratitude, those who are discontent that things are as good as they’ll ever get. 

Be one of those discontented that brings great change.

 

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On Counterbalancing Virtues:

God’s people find themselves in a tension of virtues from which we will not be relieved. However, as the tension on the kite gives it the ability to remain aloft, so this tension of virtues keeps The Church at her best, especially in regard to engagement with the surrounding culture.

The church is sent into the world as Christ was sent into the world (John 17). And immediately here’s the tension; Jesus’ ministry was redemptive, welcoming and compassionate. It was also godly, transformative and uncompromising. The worst of sinners were sought for and received gladly; yet, this reception was intended to transform that life into a life pleasing to God, freed from sinful habits, by the unmerited gift and enablement of grace.

Counterbalancing virtues - where one weighs against the other so that one or the other does not exert overmuch influence. All compassion, not countered with biblical mandates to godliness would result in a milquetoast gospel having no power to change a life. Conversely, rigid righteousness without the softening embrace of mercy is an austere, glowering gospel without attraction. 

Here’s the Word; “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ…” Ephesians 4:15. Truth - often to our ungodly nature uncomfortable, contrary and unequivocal, is balanced with love - affection, benevolence, caring deeply and authentically. Also this from Psalm 85:10 “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Mercy and truth together, righteousness a companion with peace. 

To the unchurched, even to those hostile to the position of biblical Christians, please be open minded enough to realize that there are some positions about which we simply cannot give ground. And yet, we can hold those and care, and show compassion and live with all at peace.

To the Church, please realize that extremes in any virtue is not the position God takes. Weakness where God is strong is not compassion, and harshness where God is merciful is not righteousness.

The right mix of all virtues is possible when we allow God to have His way.

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On Bringing Our Best Mind:

                I just finished a book by Amy Morin entitled ’13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do’. It sparked within me the concept of bringing our best mental game to every day, every situation. Especially as the people of God, mental sloppiness should have no place in our practice of excellence. On the job, in the classroom, in relationships, in the formation of godly character, in all of our pursuits and situations, let us be marked by an exceptional mentality.

                Morin says this on page 9, ‘Developing mental strength is about improving your ability to regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances.’ We are not talking here of a naive, positive mental attitude that will not accept negative input, neither a humanistic view that ‘we are our own divinity’, but rather wherever in our circumstances we find ourselves, we will not allow certain defeatist mentalities, nor weak mentalities, bring us down. Nor will we allow ourselves mental neglect, mind decay.

                Absorb the Word of God, the utmost of exceptional thought. And add to that absorbing dynamic literature, along with the influence of mentally adroit people who will challenge us to up our mental game. With scriptures such as Eph. 3:20 ‘Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…’ we cannot accept minimal thinking. The NIV puts it this way Eph. 3:20 ‘Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’ Imagine is a huge little word. Imagination is what brought us flight, vaccines, computers and so on.

                I understand the Word also warns us against vain imaginations (Rom. 1:21) and a selfish, conceited mentality (Pro. 16:18; Rom. 12:3), among other ungodly mindsets. But let’s not get lazy and hide behind phony humility, dodging our duty to bring our best mind to our living and purpose, especially our endeavors for the Kingdom of God.

Thoughts can be the seeds of reality. Let us think as big as our God!

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On The Right Blend of Wisdom:

We’re in that last few weeks as summer begins to wind down, and the resumption of school is just around the corner. The supreme importance of education can hardly be overstated. Even with all of the caution Christians must exercise to guard against spoiling philosophies (Colossians 2:8, James 3:15 and many more) that would corrupt and eventually overthrow our faith in Christ, nowhere does the Bible state that a well instructed mind was something from which to flee. Hardly. While an educated mind corrupted with ungodly, anti-Biblical teaching is anathema for the believer, an uneducated mind so corrupted is far more frightening. Some of the greatest intellects in all fields of education were rooted and flourishing in Christian thought - C.S. Lewis, Isaac Newton, the Curies and on we could go. In fact many educational institutions would do well and show due gratitude and respect if they would acknowledge their Christian genesis. So, we Christians are weighted with the responsibility to find that right mix of intellectualism that remains immovably grounded in and subordinate to God’s word.

Daniel and his three found that sweet spot. Daniel 1:4 reveals they showed great aptitude for ‘science’, ‘cunning in knowledge’, ‘skillful in wisdom’. These were not uneducated half baked Pentateuch thumpers. They had the intellectual goods, and the presence of person to stand before kings. Moses also, highly trained in the best Egypt had to offer. Paul, a master mind among master minds. Yet in all these cases, and others, their intellectualism, though greatly enhancing their effectiveness, did not enable and empower their effectiveness. Daniel’s powerful, revelatory interpretations to Nebuchadnezzar flowed from anointed consecration. Moses ruined his own efforts until he strode back into Pharaoh’s courts empowered by divine unction. Paul, brimming with brilliance and high education, was a disaster for the Church until his life-quake reformation.

There’s also this; in Acts 4:13-14 uneducated Peter and John bring the educated elite to dumbfounded silence with a miraculous healing and a powerful message delivered by Peter. They could only ‘marvel’, wonder and admire, at the courage and unassailable power of these two ‘unlearned and ignorant’ men operating with the anointing of their union with Jesus. Schools and colleges would do well to expand their narrow-minded view that education takes place only in the classroom. There’s a vast, compelling and competent institute of higher learning outside their confining little walls called Life and Experience. I digress; now, back to our regular programming.

I repeat, as Christians, our ongoing responsibility in regard to educational pursuit is to find that right mix of intellectualism that remains immovably grounded in and subordinate to God’s word and anointing. At no point should the Spirit and Word have to compete with our intellectual positing.

Lest I wax too long, I close. There is so much to be said on this. Christian family, as we pursue education, and I say go for it, let us be ever mindful, wholly committed to this absolutely fixed, nonnegotiable tenet: Prov. 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Education is a path; our consecration to God is the launch and ultimate destination.

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On Freedom vs. Lawlessness:

For Americans, July 4th is a day when our minds turn to freedom, remembering it was this day in 1776 that our forebears stunned King George III, Great Britain’s Parliament and the rest of the world with the Declaration of Independence. A declaration it was, not a suggestion, not a request. Declarations force those stating such to back it up with wholly committed action, or if not this, then forever be scoffed at as weak wannabes without the guts to make it happen, or go down trying. We stuck by our declaration, fellow Americans, and here we are, freedom bringers to all other lovers of liberty.

Freedom. What does it mean in its truest, most beneficial sense? I worry that sometimes we have a skewed definition of liberty that might be actually closer to anarchy. Too many are convinced that freedom means ‘I can do whatever I want.’ We must clearly define and diligently practice the responsibilities of freedom, lest it corrode into lawlessness.

I don’t know who said it, but from my study journal there is this, ‘Only those willing to bear the burdens of freedom have a right to its rewards.’ The rewards we love; the burdens are not as easily welcomed.

Freedom burdens us to be responsible, to care for the interest of others as well as our own; to realize that just because we are allowed to do something doesn't mean it’s the best decision. Liberty allows us to drive on public property anywhere we choose, but the responsibility of freedom gives us that right to drive with the restraint of a speed limit. 

Apostle Paul put it this way in 1Cor. 10:23 ‘All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.’ He’s saying there is so much allowed, but I want to do that which is profitable, wholesome and helpful to all, not just my mood of the moment. Permission is not the only consideration of those with mature understanding of liberty, but also is it beneficial? Is some other person or good harmed or diminished if I exercise my ‘rights’? 

Twice in the book of James we find the phrase ‘law of liberty’. To some these two terms contradict each other, but the wiser mind understands there is no liberty without law, law considerate of all, not just a few. Freedom is not the absence of any restraint; that is simply lawlessness, which is simply another flavor of tyranny. Those who signed the Declaration of Independence knew that it was only half their endeavor to cast off the oppression of unjust rule; the other half, more difficult than the first, was founding a nation of liberty within just law. 

Savoring liberty’s rewards comes only with acceptance her responsibilities.

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On Readiness and Opportunity:

    In this season most given to graduations and weddings, these milestones of momentous effort and commitment, these two words, readiness and opportunity, are worth a look. The story of Joseph, eleventh son of Israel (Jacob), is stuffed with scores of lessons on character, faith, perseverance, prophetic direction and protection, and that is just the beginning of a great list from a great life. Yet readiness and opportunity are huge factors from his life well lived.

    We’ll pick one of these inspirations, from Gen. 45:8 ‘So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.’  

    Extraordinary! From vengeful, ruthless brothers selling him into slavery; from a lying adulteress having him unjustly imprisoned; from an ungrateful cell mate forgetting to return a great blessing with a little consideration; to this, ‘a father to Pharaoh, lord of all Pharaoh’s house, and ruler over all Egypt.’ Beyond astonishing!

    So many, too many lessons from this noble life to go into here, but let us capture and practice this - Joseph was not the winner of some random lottery of good fortune - he was in this place by the hand of God and his own preparedness.

    Whatever hardships and setbacks life heaped upon him; whatever undeserved pain and misfortune brought to him from the nastiness of others; whatever bewilderment and conflicts of faith he battled internally from being so out of control of self determination; no matter, he thrived as much as possible wherever he landed, fair or not, positive or adverse. It wasn’t from finishing school he launched into the upper echelons of Pharaoh’s court. It was from dank prison. Conditions are important, yet most important are not conditions, but being of right character whatever our conditions.

    It is easy for us to see the quick success of some and be deceived into falsely thinking that it’s got to be fast or we’re doing nothing, going nowhere. Or, misjudge our own pace by the flash of the meteor, and give up, thinking our time is gone, and succumb unnecessarily to a numbing existence of just getting by. Or worse, speed past the requisite formation of character and good practice it takes for longevity in success, and end up rushing to a wreck. Ours. And with all this, to forget God has a will for our lives, and we either board that train or waste our purpose and giftedness on the wrong track.

    Joseph took the quick leap from prison because he had taken the long walk of forming character and readiness.

And destiny favors the prepared.

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On Elections and Politics:

    In Matthew 22:15-22, there is an engagement of wits between Jesus and his opponents, the Pharisees. The Pharisees sought to ‘entangle him in his talk’. Hypocritically using a blend of Jewish patriotism and religion, they pose to Jesus the question of taxes to the Roman government. Their true motive was to whip up public anger against Jesus by getting him to espouse loyalty to their overlords, these Romans, and also try to move him to get himself in trouble with the Romans by possibly speaking against taxation and the Emperor’s rule in general. Either way, they thought Jesus would lose. Pathetic schemers! Take on the Divine Mind, hoping for entrapment? Really!? Jesus’ incontestable answer in verse 21 ‘…render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are Gods.’ He not only buried their feeble attempt at entrapping him, he laid down a principle that helps guide us in our current affairs. 

    Jesus understood there were two worlds in which Christians operate - God’s world and man’s world. Obviously, God’s world will dictate believer’s response should there is an irresolvable conflict between the two - Acts 5:29, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men’; and this, just one directive of an exhaustive list from scripture. ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ - another defining principle for the Christian; God’s world takes precedence over this present world.

    Yet, no ungodly demands being present, the Christian is compelled, also by a long list of scriptural examples, to live and engage lawfully in the political structure of his society. Daniel did so under Babylonian and Persian rule; Moses had to contend with the Egyptian governmental structure; Joseph also, hundreds of years before Moses; we’ve already seen Jesus’ angle on it; also, the New Testament church of Acts. Apostle Peter put it down in scripture ‘Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.’ (1Peter 2:17). The political world, as far as possible without compromise, was part of the life of the church; they lived in these two worlds.

    And so, here we are in an election year, 2016. As Christians, we are to be salt and light, which must contact (salt) and shine uncovered (light) in this present world. We are responsible to be any kind of godly influence we can be. Voting is one of those influences. I do not believe the church should become a politically active body; but neither are we to disengage and play the recluse in political matters, for rendering a vote is rendering unto Caesar. Elections make statements on, and create moral environments; we are wrong to take ourselves out of the opportunity for such an impact. Yes, it is a delicate balance to be that salt and light and remain non-politicized; and emphatically yes, we too often do not have a clear, Christian choice, and must wince and vote. But to lock ourselves out of voting by some misguided, idealistic but unrealistic altruism, is to give over the power to impact the moral climate to those who are not at all concerned with ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. 

    No, we will never politically bring revival. That is a supernatural God event. No, the church should not reduce herself to a political player. But screaming from the rooftops, we Christians must get out there and be a voice, speaking by ballot. Choose the candidate that most closely aligns with Biblical values (yes, I know, I said earlier sometimes the best we have is a wince and a vote) - not party, not tradition, not special interest groups. 

    In politics, sadly and painfully it is true; if we say it’s all or nothing, nothing is what we’ll get. Render unto Caesar - vote - and trust God to take care of the rest.

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Giving Up the Good For the Best:

‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.’ - Jesus, John 15.2

Here in John 15, Jesus lays out a very clear expectation; if we claim this bond with him, fruit is expected. First, godly character and relationship with Him. Then, further accompaniments - active and committed local church involvement, along with our energy, resources and spiritual giftedness expended on advancing the Kingdom of God. This is a short version of fruitfulness, yet we must agree to God’s expectation of us to strive for increased and fully realized potential in our discipleship with Christ.

C.S. Lewis, in his collections of essays entitled ‘The Weight of Glory’ challenges us with this - ‘we are far too easily pleased.’ He illustrates with a child, playing in the dirt making mud pies, refusing to see the greater pleasure of a vacation at the seashore. In the child’s limited, immature view, why leave these mud pies? This is great fun! Yet this self imposed limitation holds him back from a far greater experience. Anything wrong with a kid enjoying his dirt? No - unless that enjoyment becomes a hindrance to a far greater experience. 

The folks at Gadera hear about their pigs running off a cliff into the sea (Mark 5, Luke 8) These Gaderenes - they miss that their terrorizing demoniac is now transformed into a normal man - no, better than normal. They miss that someone so powerful and transformative is among them, this Jesus. No, instead it’s - what has happened to our pigs?! Totally oblivious that if this Jesus is capable of such supernatural acts, they’ve got an opportunity much greater than pigs! Pig farming good? Sure (let’s ignore the kosher issue here), but driving out Jesus over pigs? Really?

‘He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit’. Obviously ungodly elements must go. But what else might be seemingly good, yet is keeping us from the best? We might claim “Why, I’ve been serving God 30 years!”. Well, glory! But, do we have 30 years growth and increase, or the first year’s experience repeated 30 times over? 

Also this, more fruit does not equal more activity. We all know (but do we practice?) the principle that busyness is not necessarily productivity. Sometimes it’s actually an avoidance of purpose, or a false front to cover a lack of purpose. The case is not being made here for the lazy and unmotivated; ambitious achievers are on the go people. Just consider - might we be busy about something that’s not really the best? Think Mary and Martha, Luke 10:42.

Let’s stop, and evaluate, and hear what the Spirit may be speaking. Lord, bring me to my best, whatever pruning may be required.

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A Potent Formula for Apostolic Mission:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and ultimately Christian martyr at the hands of Hitler’s Nazis, stated this - 'Being a Christian is less about avoiding sin, and more about actively and courageously doing the will of God.'

‘Actively and courageously doing’ - here is a powerful formula for Apostolic mission. We cannot be so minimal to believe that escaping defeat is the same as winning a victory; that because we survived another day without doing wrong, that is enough. This is a piece of victory, yes, but there isn’t a sporting event anywhere that wins on defense alone, with no offensive scoring. 

Joshua’s brother in faith, Caleb, wanted the mountain region, where lived the giants who a generation before had kept Israel out of the Promised Land. The Church in Jerusalem had exploded with astonishing revival, but the commission was still ‘unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ Jabez prayed for the favor of God (1 Chron. 4:10), and part of that prayer was ‘enlarge my coast.’ Bring me into more territory, increase the perimeter of my boundaries. And God granted his prayer. But if Jabez’ borders increased, it required the enemy to give up some territory. This is not a case for self-serving ambition, but when it comes to the Enemy of the Church, let’s snatch from him every bit of his turf God will give us! 

This from Dan. 11:32 ‘… but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.’ Exploits - bold and daring feats. Let’s enlarge our definition of winning. Not just we avoid doing wrong, but we also advance the kingdom. Our mixture for mission is now much more potent.