Monday, November 23, 2015

The American Soldier Hasn't Done Enough

Within our society, we have certain groups of people that we revere more than others. Right up there at the top is the American soldier and the veterans, especially those who fought in a war. We revere policemen, who risk their lives on the streets each night as we sleep soundly in our beds. We revere firemen, who brave the flames. We revere teachers, who have committed themselves to teaching our youth. You need not look far on Facebook to see someone praising one of these people for their sacrifice. We see people highlighting our failings at supporting these people at the level we should and expressing a desire to help them before we help anyone else.

As the most revered of all of these, let us consider the American soldier, who has signed his life over to Uncle Sam, who may be called upon to die in order to protect American ideals. Of all the good things that a person might do, what could be better than sacrificing one’s life for the good of others? There is no doubt that we owe a great debt to the American soldier. And these others as well.

But as I think about all that these people have done for our country, there isn’t a one of them who has done enough to go to heaven. No American soldier, no policeman, no firefighter, no teacher. Not one of these much revered people have done enough good to go to heaven. That may anger some people. What audacity for me to say that the American soldier, of all people, isn’t worthy of heaven. But others will nod their head in agreement. Either way, it isn’t my desire to be critical of the American soldier or to say they don’t deserve far more than most of us. Yet, I say with certainty that I will enter into heaven and be welcomed like a man returning home after a long journey.

If you really think about it, that ought to make you angry. I’ve sacrificed far less than the American soldier, but I claim that I’m going while no American soldier has done enough to get there. I claim to have a home in a city so wealthy that there is a street paved with the finest gold, but there are American veterans who have no home. Not only that, I’m ungrateful for what I have. Do you realize that, without the American soldier, I might not have a home in heaven? This is true, because were it not for the American soldier protecting the right to preach, I might never have learned what is needed to gain entry into heaven. But not one of them has done enough to go to heaven. Does that make you angry?

There has been much talk about who deserves to live in the United States and who deserves our assistance. I’ll be the first to say, not me. I don’t deserve to be a citizen of the United States; I was born here. Perhaps my Native American ancestry gains me a few bonus points, but no child deserves to be born to the parents they’ve been born to. Some are born into abusive homes. They don’t deserve that. I was born to good parents in the greatest nation in the world. I don’t deserve that. And if I don’t deserve to be born where I was born, I certainly don’t deserve a home in heaven, but I have one.

Jesus came and died for me. I had no right to ask him to. I’ve done nothing to deserve it. I couldn’t even pay a night’s rent to stay in my home in heaven, but Jesus gave it to me anyway. To make it worse, I was his enemy. And as if that were not enough, I am ungrateful. I can’t even fully comprehend what the Lord did for me and what he has promised me, but I tend to take it for granted, as if it is the most natural thing in the world for me to have the title deed to a home built in a city with skyscrapers so tall you can stand on the top floor and see the blackness of space. I seldom stop to appreciate that I can talk to the ruler of the Universe any time I want.

He didn’t come to save the deserving, but the undeserving. He didn’t come to save the citizens of heaven, but the aliens. He didn’t come to save the wealthy, but the homeless. Even with all the great things they have done, no American soldier has ever done enough to go to heaven. No policeman. No fireman. No teacher. No pastor. No nun or priest. When you think of the splendor of heaven, it is not hard to see that we are incapable of doing enough. But that’s okay, because Jesus did it for us. God, became flesh and lived among us. He died on the cross and rose three days later. Nothing we can do will add up to the value of what he has offered us. If he lived by our values, he would turn us away. I am thankful that he does not. He offers eternal life to us who do not deserve it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Terrorist In My Home

What are you willing to do for Jesus? That’s a question that I’ve heard many preachers ask during the last forty years. Of course, growing up in a preacher’s home, I quickly learned that the only correct answer is whatever he asks me to do. We agree that when Jesus said, “Take up your cross, daily, and follow me,” he was speaking of dying for him, or at least being willing to die for him. We agree that it is within his right to ask us to move to a foreign land, or take a job that doesn’t pay as well as we would like. He might call us to “labor unrewarded” as the song “So Send I You” suggests. But there in the back of our mind is that thought that we really hope he doesn’t. In time, when we haven’t heard his call to the foreign mission field or to pastor a church, we tell ourselves that he must have called us to something normal. Perhaps to give money to support others. “Whew! I was worried he was going to ask me to do something hard.”

But in recent days, I’ve been reminded of that call, “Take up your cross.” There is a fear that if we allow refugees into the US that we will allow terrorists in as well. That does seem to be a possibility and because of that, many have taken an us versus them mentality. “So,” they say, “if you’re in favor of bringing in the refugees, you’re willing to invite these people into your home.” The desire is to point out that since we aren’t willing to take the personal risk for ourselves and our family, then we shouldn’t be willing to let these people in. It has certainly given me much to think about.

As I consider this situation, what I am beginning to realize is that if I’m truly willing to do “whatever” for Jesus, then yes, the risk is worth it. I’m no more seeking a shortened life than anyone else and neither would I wish harm on my family and friends, but I have nothing to lose. What is the worst that could happen? They could kill me? They could torture me? I look at the way Stephen died, and imagine the pain of the stones striking him. Having been hit by a few small stones, it is a terrible way to die, but look what came of it. A radical Jewish terrorist named Saul heard him report that he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. That same Saul eventually accepted the gospel, became known as Paul, and wrote much of the New Testament.

Given a choice, it is difficult for me to decide whether I would rather die at an old age in my sleep, or to die like Stephen died. Of course, that isn’t likely to happen. If a terrorist were to get in, what is more likely is that they would strike a soft target. But even there, I can see how the Lord might use that. Imagine there is a Muslim family staying with a Christian family. They watch as the Christians pray and listen as they read their Bibles. They hear the gospel, but it has no meaning. Then the attack comes. A man claiming to be a refugee detonates a bomb, killing several Americans. The Muslim family expects the Christians to be angry with them, since that is the attitude that is on the news, but the Christians treat them with the same respect as they did before. It is at that point where the Muslim family sees the gospel in action. To take in a stranger in need is one thing, but to love your enemies is quite another.

We need only to look at the book of Job to see that the life of the righteous is in the hands of the Lord. Nothing can harm us without the Lord’s permission. But if that is what the Lord calls me to, I’m ready. Kill me and I will go to see my Lord. Let me live and I will tell you of Jesus, who died for your sins and mine. My death may encourage a sinner to accept Christ. The very worst that a terrorist can do to me is to give me the thing that I desire the most.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Gospel in Hard Times

Last Sunday, Dr. John David Smith reminded us that the gospel advances only in the face of hardship. The gospel is spreading in parts of the world where Christians face hardship, but in countries like the United States, where it is easy to be a Christian, it is on the decline. Why? What is it about hardship that causes Christianity to grow?

I can think of a few things that might cause this. For one thing, uncomfortable people are more willing to work. Suppose you wake up and hear it raining outside. The covers are nice and warm and there’s nothing requiring your attention. It would be so easy go back to sleep for a while. But suppose you wake up and feel droplets of water landing on your forehead. You can feel that the pillow is wet. Within moments, you are out of bed and looking for a bucket to catch the water. Discomfort causes us to take action.

But churches in the United States are often quite active while still not seeing many people saved. Hardship also provided contrast. I encounter many atheists who are antagonistic toward all religion. For some reason, they take it upon themselves to troll the Internet, arguing with anyone who posts something favorable to God. No argument will persuade them and they will make fun of any argument made. Though it is their sinful nature that causes them to make fun, I think many find it difficult to believe that Christians actually believe what we teach. Think about it. We teach that a man was born to a virgin, that he died, was buried and he rose three days later. We teach that he ascended into heaven and will someday return from heaven riding on a white horse. We teach that that those who put their trust in him will be raised from the dead, even if our bodies have turned to dust. In light of what we have been able to accomplish through medical technology, it sounds ludicrous. Since (in the eyes of the atheist) no sane, intelligent person would believe something like that and many Christians appear to be both sane and intelligent, it is logical to conclude that Christians are lying about what they believe. Hardship and suffering prove otherwise.

No sane, intelligent person would continue in a lie if that lie causes them suffering. People lie because they believe doing so will benefit them in some way. Sure, a person who is dying of cancer might speak of heaven because they don’t want their loved ones to mourn, but there is no benefit to lying if a man is about to kill you if you don’t renounce your faith. I’m sure Paul must have thought about that when he saw Stephen die. There was not benefit to Stephen to lie about seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. It only helped to seal his fate.

Another reason the gospel spreads in hardship is because the hardship is not limited to Christians. We see that with ISIS. Certainly, they desire to kill Christians, but they also desire to kill Jews, and anyone else who disagrees with them. They will even kill other Muslims. What sets Christians apart is the hope that we have, even in the face of an enemy that wishes to kill us. Those of other religions compare their own reaction to that of Christians and they realize that Christians have something special.

We don’t like to face hardship and we shouldn’t seek it out, but there are things about hardship that will open doors for us to win the lost that we do not have without it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Making Friends for Jesus

Have you ever stopped to think why you are friends with the people you are friends with? And why was it so much easier to make friends when you were in school than it is now? It is sad, but one of the reasons many Christians struggle with the idea of soul winning is because they don’t know any lost people. O, sure, they might know their lost neighbors (they might) or they might encounter a lost person working the checkout at a grocery store, but what are the chances of success with people who are barely more than strangers?

I’ve been thinking about the concept of repeated spontaneous contact. It seems that friendships are not particularly mysterious; we make friends with the people we spend time with. Those people you hung out with in the hall in college before class? It wasn’t hard to be friends with them. If you want to make friends, you need repeated spontaneous contact. But how do we do that?

Some people are looking into changes in the way we do housing to achieve this. Maybe there’s something there, but it seems a little drastic. Creating walkable communities is a good idea, but that isn’t a solution for sharing the gospel with the whole world (just to the rich folk in walkable communities). Also, people in rural communities have repeated spontaneous contact just because there are fewer stores and entertainment options.

People who are involved in church have repeated spontaneous contact. By “involved” I mean that they are working in some ministry or participating in something like choir. Just attending church won’t do it. But people in choir are friends, just because they see each other frequently. But again, that doesn’t translate well into preaching the gospel. We expect that the people involved in church have heard the gospel many times and the people we want to reach are those who have not. We need repeated spontaneous contact with people who are lost.

Public schools are a great place for that. Ironically, that is why many parents choose to homeschool or enroll their children in private schools. They don’t want their children associating with lost children and teachers. But even if it is just a few minutes waiting round to pick up the kids from practice, parents have opportunities for repeated spontaneous contact with teachers and other parents.

For those of us without children, or who have reached the stage where they have moved out on their own, spontaneous contact becomes much less repeated. The question becomes, what can we do to make it more frequent? I don’t have a good answer. I only know that I need one. I get out and ride my bicycle in my neighborhood. While I don’t really know many of my neighbors, there are several that I see out and about every evening. There’s a lady who walks her dogs that I’ve spoken to once or twice, but I couldn’t tell you her name. There’s a guy who rides his bicycle at about the same time as I do. One guy keeps telling me he’s going to ride with me, but he never has. It is repeated spontaneous contact and it is friendship of sorts, but not enough. We must find a way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why I'm Not as Spiritual as You

October, that wonderful time of the year when people feel the need to post about how they’ve studied their Bible and come to the conclusion that they shouldn’t celebrate Halloween. I must not be studying my Bible enough or something, because I love Halloween.

While there are thing about Halloween that I don’t think Christians should be involved in, the same can be said of Christmas. In fact, I believe I can make the case for Christmas being the most wicked of all holidays. There are plenty of things to love about Halloween. For one, it happens in fall. Not in winter when the cold air keeps you inside. Not in spring, when everything is covered in mud. Not in summer, when the sun burns you to a crisp. Halloween is at a magical time of the year.

Halloween is the only holiday in which everyone goes and visits their neighbors. Think about that. There are preachers who stand in the pulpit every Sunday and say, “You should visit your neighbors.” Well, on Halloween, they do.

Halloween reminds us that we all die. Some people criticize Halloween because it is a “celebration of death.” I don’t think many people who celebrate Halloween would agree with that. For most people, it is just a time to dress up in silly costumes and eat candy. It’s a time to throw a party. But death is a part of it. Many of the costumes people chose are either of dead people or of bringers of death. Does that mean people are celebrating death? No, quite the opposite. Death is something that people fear. Halloween reminds us of our fear. Sometimes, it is good to remember our fears, so we can learn to overcome them.

Wouldn’t it be funny if we learned that the night Jesus walked on water was Halloween night? Of course, they wouldn’t have called it Halloween then, but it appears that Jesus wanted to scare his disciples and then use their fear to teach them. He knew they would think him a ghost when they saw him. He could have calmed the sea for them, without being near them. He could have walked far enough from their ship that they couldn’t see him. He could have gone by boat. But what he chose to do was scare them a little. It is good for us to experience fear in a situation that won’t cause us harm. Halloween does that for us.

I’m certain that I will persuade no one. My friends who post so much about the evils of Halloween will all think me a heathen. But I can’t help it. I love Halloween.

If your car's so great, why the need to show another vehicle?

Have you ever noticed how many bicycles appear in car commercials? Here is an example:

Of course, car commercials are fiction, often showing us cars doing things that we shouldn’t try doing with a car and would void our warranty if we did. But the goal of many car commercials is to sell this idea that, if you buy this particular car, life will be fun. You won’t have to mess with traffic. You’ll have three friends riding with you. You’ll be able to go places and do things that you couldn’t do without it. The image that sells that idea the most is…a bicycle.

The fact is, the car they show you in the commercials doesn’t exist. I don’t mean because it is loaded with all the options, but because you won’t find a car to give you the feeling of excitement that they promise in the ads. Not in the city anyway. Sure, you can load up your car with a bunch of friends and drive through downtown, but instead of looking at the city lit up at night, you’re busy watching for pedestrians, or for the traffic lights. You reach your destination and you aren’t walking on red carpet but paying the valet or searching for a parking garage that isn’t too far away. And then there’s the everyday use. Mostly, what you are doing is driving between stoplights and waiting, unless you get away from city traffic.

To get around reality, car marketers throw a bicycle or two into the commercial. We all know that bicycles are fun. If you see a car at a stoplight with a bicycle on top, you know the driver is either going to or coming from doing something fun. So what if he’s now just sitting there sucking up the exhaust fumes of the car in front of him? At some point in his life, he did something fun.

It seems to me that instead of buying these little cars, people ought to either drive a truck or buy a bicycle. Buying a bicycle is cheaper, but if you have the money, buy both.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Don't Be Tuckered Out

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. - Galatians 6:9-10

Galatians 6:9-10 is an interesting passage. It is translated as “let us not be weary in well doing,” but I don’t think that’s the way many people read it. Instead, they read it as, “let us not be weary of well doing.” Two little letters can make a world of difference. To be weary of well doing would mean we just don’t want to serve the Lord any more. We would rather go do other things, like go fishing, or attend a ball games, or whatever. But to be weary in well doing means that the well doing is what is wearing us out.

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve experienced that. Our church website has been down and the hosting company couldn’t figure out how to fix the problem. They closed the trouble ticket without fixing the problem, so I decided the best thing to do would be to try a different hosting company. Unfortunately, when I moved the data from one server to the other, some of our pages wouldn’t work. Since then, nearly every free hour I’ve had has been spent fixing the website. Do very much of that and it’ll wear you out. It wasn’t that I was weary of well doing, because I wanted to do what I was doing, but the work will wear you out.

But it seems a little strange when you read Galatians 6:10, because it says, “as we have therefore opportunity, let us do good.” It makes more sense when we realize that the word translated as “opportunity” is the word kairos, which could also be translated as “time.”

Here’s what I think Paul is saying: Stop wearing yourself out serving the Lord. If we’re following God’s leadership, things will get done in due time. So, let’s do what good we have the time to do, with priority being given to helping Christians, and trust that the Lord will take care of those things we don’t have time to do.

For me, this weekend, my plan was to make good use of the rain and stay home Friday and Saturday working on the website. It seemed like a God think, since I would’ve wanted to ride my bicycle, if it had been nice outside. I put in about sixteen hours on Friday working on the website. On Saturday, I worked from about four o’clock until eight o’clock in the morning before deciding to go to the grocery store for my normal shopping run. I would be quick and then go back to work. My plans changed when my truck wouldn’t start. A dead battery. I sent the truck off to get fixed, but then, without another vehicle, I rode my bicycle seventeen miles to pick it up. Though the situation was not of my choosing, it was a very enjoyable ride. Sometimes, the Lord gives you the rest you need, whether you want it or not.

So, unless you want to spend a ton of money on car repairs and doctor bills, don't wear yourself out doing good. Do what you can when you have time to do it, but realize that you can only take on so much. It is okay to say, “no.” We have a responsibility to do what we can, but only what we can. We must also rest.