Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Incomprehensible God

The news was very difficult to read, much less understand.  Why would God ordain such a thing?  It all seemed such a waste from a Kingdom perspective.

We, who are committed to biblical orthodoxy and thus know that the Sovereign Lord governs His universe with His almighty arm, cannot countenance the possibility that tragedies occur outside of His determined will.  Yet, sometimes, we are utterly at a loss to explain the divine rationale.

Over thirty years ago Dr. James Dobson published a book titled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.  As Christians, if we are honest, we will admit that at times God’s ways utterly mystify us.

God declared through His prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9-10).  This truth was on bold display recently in Nebraska.

Just over a week ago the Pals family of five was killed in a car accident as they were on their way to train for missionary service in Japan.  Jamison and Kathryn, both 29, died with their three children: Ezra 3, Violet, 23 months, and Calvin, 2 ½ months.  An “inattentive and distracted” truck driver rammed “at a high rate of speed” into their minivan.  He is charged with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide.

Three years ago, Jamison wrote a letter to Kathryne, encouraging her to embrace his vision of serving as a missionary in Japan.  He concluded, “It may costs us much, but would you have it any other way?  Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ …”  From an earthly perspective, the Pals lost everything.  But they now enjoy the presence of Christ, their mission having been completed.

God is glorified when His saints lay it all on the line in serving Him.  What may appear to be a setback is in reality another step forward.  Sinful, human irresponsibility redounds to the glory of God when Christians are seen serving Him selflessly and faithfully.  May God raise up, through their example, so many replacements for the Pals family that, in the end, much more will be accomplished to further the Kingdom than if the Pals had proceeded to Japan and served faithfully for decades.

God, give us faith to trust your plan … even when we "don’t get it."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eight-second Flatline

Due to unexpected developments, I recently found myself in a hospital, being monitored by an electrocardiogram machine.  Suddenly, the staff sprang to action when they noticed that my heart rhythm had flatlined.  For a span of eight seconds I had no heartbeat, and the pulse remained very sporadic for another minute or so.  After the initial flatline, CPR was administered, bringing me back to consciousness.

Physically, this was a watershed event which will cast a lingering effect over the remainder of my earthly pilgrimage.  The subsequent installation of a pacemaker was meant to ensure that, should my heart again fail to generate sufficient, internal, electrical impulse to maintain a healthy pulse, the pacemaker will produce the necessary contraction of the heart muscle to send life-sustaining blood through the rest of my body.

Considered from a spiritual perspective, such traumatic events remind us just how tenuous life is in this world.  If my heart had not restarted, my soul would be in the presence of God, my body in the grave.  In light of the uncertainty and ultimate brevity of life, the New Testament urges us to “redeem the time” or, literally, to “buy up the opportunities.”  In other words, we are charged with making the best use of the days that God grants to us in this world.

Incessantly we must make decisions on how to use our time and resources. When we thoughtfully evaluate the relative importance of certain actions in light of eternity, such analysis will help us sort through the myriad of opportunities that confronts and potentially distracts us. Not every activity will equally redound to the glory of God.

May God grant wisdom to enable us to make choices that reflect our profession of faith.   Too many who bear the name Christian are bent on merely amassing earthly accomplishments, to the detriment of laying up treasure in heaven.  None of us know when his flatline will become permanent.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Selling Your Soul for a Bowl of Soup

Only the willfully blind fail to observe the obvious spiritual decline that is permeating these United States of America.  The positive indicators, the hard facts, the statistical analyses all point to the reality that increasing numbers of Americans are utterly unconcerned about spiritual matters.

In a generation, from 1974 through 2014, those who never pray has risen from near zero to 15%; those claiming no religion has increased from 6% to 21%, and those who never attend religious services has shot up from 11% to 26%.

And, as an ominous sign portending the future, younger generations are markedly less religious than their elders.   If not anti-religious, many are at least oblivious to such truth and utterly disinterested.

Observers have concluded that millennials (b. 1981—2000) are the least religious in memory and perhaps in all of American history.  Those that follow, variously referred to as iGen or Gen Z, appear to be even more secular.  Compared to youth of the same age a generation earlier, participation in religious services has declined by 50% and personal involvement in spiritual activities has fallen five-fold.

If the present practices of these young people serve as a harbinger of the future, there is no sign of change in the pattern of plummeting spiritual interest across our land.

A recent book, Esau Rising: Ancient Adversaries and the War for America’s Soul, documents that many in American society are driven by the same self-interest, the same disregard for spiritual values, and the same preoccupation with fleshly, temporal concerns as was ancient Esau.  They are literally selling their souls for passing pleasures, fads, and a preoccupation with social media – the moral equivalent of Esau’s bowl of stew.

We who know Christ are charged with discipling future generations and instilling in them eternal values and biblical convictions that will drive them to follow the Lord and not the latest trends on Twitter.  Let us pray for discernment, wisdom and divine grace that will enable us to prevail in the battle for the souls of our youth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Does Presidential Character Matter?

Twenty-four years ago, the slogan that put Bill Clinton in the White House was, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  I.e., despite other concerns, including the personal character and beliefs of the candidates running, the one issue that should override all others is the need to elect the best candidate to maintain and improve the American economy.  Enough voters were convinced by this rhetorical ploy to elect Mr. Clinton.

Now, six election cycles later, Americans are again faced with a critical decision.  And we are once more bombarded with rhetoric that could well be framed as, “It’s immigration, stupid,”  “It’s climate change, stupid,” or “It’s financial fairness, stupid.”  That is, a candidate’s character is again deemphasized in favor of his views on certain other political issues.

If we evaluate the election from a biblical perspective, character must rise to the top in terms of God’s order of priorities.  Romans chapter 13 declares that civil authorities are to serve as “God’s ministers” to enforce right and wrong by controlling law-breakers and protecting the innocent.  Right and wrong, good and evil, are valuations that civil government must make and enforce.  But this begs the obvious question: who determines what is good and must be protected and what is evil and must be punished?

For those who adhere to the authority of the Bible, the clear answer is that civil government must reflect God’s view on the controversial moral issues of the day.  It should not be the barometer of fickle public opinion.  Rather, the timeless and unchanging standard of Scripture should inform the decision-making of government leaders in their assessment of how to enforce right and wrong.

So, when you enter the voting booth in this primary season, your principal concern should be: which candidate’s character best reflects the truth of Scripture and therefore puts him/her in the best position to enforce legal standards that mirror God’s eternal law?  Proverbs 29:2 captures the essence of the matter: “When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice; but when the wicked rules, the people groan.”

Friday, April 3, 2015

Passing Fancies

Many have observed the rapidity at which our world changes.  Fads come and go; nations rise and fall, technological revolutions continue to transform our society.  Probably nothing can better illustrate this phenomenon than the meteoric rise and dramatic decline of Blockbuster Video stores.

In 1989, a new Blockbuster store was opening in the U.S. every 17 hours.  The future could not have been rosier.  Founded in 1985, Blockbuster’s mushrooming growth reached a peak in 2004 of 9,000 stores.  Today, just eleven short years later, you can’t go to a Blockbuster store to rent a DVD.  The chain filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and officially became defunct last year.

As such, Blockbuster becomes a metaphor for the transitory nature of this present world.  The lifecycle may exceed the thirty years of Blockbuster, but human innovation and ambition divorced from God will all fail in the end.

The Old Testament quotes the Creator as declaring, “I am the Lord, I do not change.”  Any worldview that ignores the reality of creatures’ accountability to their Maker, whose eternal laws of justice and morality govern the universe, will ultimately be dashed upon the rocks of despair and destruction.

It is easy to be driven with earthly concerns which will lose their significance a moment after death, even as the novelty of driving to the neighborhood video store to rent a DVD has been superseded by more efficient means of accomplishing the same end.

Wise people anchor their lives in the unchanging truth of the Lord of the universe.   He will never become passé; His Word will never be rendered obsolete.  He can give your life significance that will transcend even the devastation of death.  Ecclesiastes ends with these words, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

Finding Happiness in 2015

Most sane people desire to live a life filled with peace and happiness.  While fleeting at times and difficult to prescribe for many, a recent survey of over 15,000 Americans reveals a secret to happiness known to many but ignored by the majority.

This survey of American adults, between the ages of 18 and 60, reveals that people who attend religious services weekly are almost twice as likely to describe themselves as “very happy” when compared to those who never attend such gatherings (45% vs. 28%).  The other end of the spectrum confirms this pattern.  Twice as many people, who never go to religious services, view themselves “very unhappy” as those who do attend (4% vs. 2%).

Moreover, while the study found that personal identification as religious or an affiliation with a particular group were also linked to a sense of happiness, the strongest factor was weekly participation in church services.  

One cannot explain this phenomenon merely as the fruit of social interaction.  The survey found that religious participation produced a greater sense of happiness than for those who were merely socially engaged in other ways.

And these results are not a fluke in 2014.  Ten years ago a social survey found similar patterns.  In 2004, religious Americans were again nearly twice as likely to view themselves as “very happy” when compared to the non-religious (43% to 21%).  And the reverse was also then true: those who never attend worship services were much more likely to indicate a lack of happiness (21% vs. 8%).

Truly there is nothing new under the sun.  The Bible warns against “neglecting to meet together.” In view are not social relationships in general but specifically focused interaction to encourage faithfulness to and worship of the Lord.

If there is a spiritual void producing unhappiness in your life, make the weekly worship of God your focus in 2015.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Reality of Christian Oppression

It seemed the entire civilized world breathed a collective sigh of relief recently when Meriam Ibrahim was finally permitted to leave Sudan.  She had been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging for allegedly converting to Islam from Christianity, despite her claim that she was raised by a Christian mother and therefore never renounced Islam.  While we thank God for Miriam’s freedom, we grieve for the millions more still facing oppression for their faith.  

Who are the most persecuted people in the world?  Christians.  In our own nation, it seems that every viewpoint is valued and protected except that of followers of Christ.  Worldwide, the situation is worse.  

According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular organization with members in 38 nations, Christians are the target of 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today.  The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity states that, throughout the world, 100,000 Christians are executed every year – because they are followers of Christ.  The Pew Research Center has determined that Christians face some level of discrimination in 139 of the world’s 195 countries (stats cited from the Belfast Telegraph).

But the nature of persecution in much of the world dwarfs what we in the West have to face.  We may be harassed for wearing religious jewelry in the work place or praying publicly in Jesus’ name or expressing our faith on a dorm bulletin board.  All the while believers elsewhere are languishing in jail, having church buildings destroyed, being hacked to death by machete-wielding radicals, or being forced to endure tortures and forced labor.

Such a reality comes as no surprise to Christians who take Jesus’ words seriously.  He promised that if the world hated and persecuted Him, it would do likewise to His followers (John 15:18-20).  We who know Christ must never forget the spiritual war that is raging and determine to remain firmly established upon a biblical foundation, come what may.  And let us rejoice that, in the end, truth and righteousness will triumph.