Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

Recently, I’ve been spending time in the book of 1 Samuel, reading about how Saul was selected to be the first king of Israel.  On the outside, Saul was everything you might expect in a king, tall in stature and confident in his abilities.  He was quite the figure, yet God quickly rejected him as king because on the inside, Saul lacked the qualities necessarily to rule by godly example.  When Saul disobeyed God’s command to totally wipe out the Amalekites, it began the downward spiral of his reign.

God tasked the prophet Samuel with finding Saul’s replacement who ended up being a young harp-playing shepherd boy named David, seventeen years old and much less imposing than Saul.  God knew that David wasn’t going to be quite what Samuel was expecting so He gently reminded him, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  [1 Samuel 16:7 NIV]

What’s interesting is that David ended up being the complete package, rugged and handsome on the outside as well as a “man after God’s own heart,” on the inside.  What I take from this is that God cares nothing about our physical attributes.  His primary concern is what’s on the inside, our godly commitment and inner character qualities, and whether or not we chose to live our lives according to the leading of His Holy Spirit.

If God looks at the heart, why do we spend so much time putting on the “Christian makeup,” attempting to cover up and conceal our imperfections instead of dealing with them?  How much effort has been spent on keeping up Christian appearances!  Jesus told the Pharisees that it isn’t enough to simply look good spiritually.  There has to be something going on within the heart as well. [Matthew 23:25-28]

We all know God looks at the heart, but still how many of us base how we’re doing spiritually on the numbers of Bible chapters read, or the number of minutes spent in prayer or how much we’ve put in the offering plate or how many messages we sat through in church… the list could go on.  Why do we focus so much attention on our outward Christian appearance when God looks at our heart? 

I can think of a few reasons.
1. Practicing religion is easier than building a relationship.  It’s less personable and allows us to compartmentalize our faith to only a couple of hours a day.  Our faith is something we do instead of how we live our lives.
2. Outside religion is more measurable than growing spiritually on the inside.  It’s something that allows for us to do the minimum required and to simply check it off our list.  Bible read –check; prayer time done –check, went to church –check.
3. When we focus on outward appearances, it allows us to compare how we’re doing against others or to our culture as a whole, instead of God’s holy standard set forth in His Word.  In our world, it’s not too difficult to find others around us who make us look like a “saint.”
4. Focusing on our outward Christian appearance allows us to put off dealing with those spiritual issues that keep us from getting personal with God.  We lower the standard which ultimately gives us a false sense of security that we’re doing just fine.

So when God looks at your heart, what does He see?  Does He see anger, jealousy, hatred, pride, or does he see love, compassion, and forgiveness?  Maybe it’s a little of both.  If that’s the case, don’t waste one more moment. Ask the Lord for forgiveness and then for His help through His Holy Spirit in changing you into the new creation that He created you to be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fake News

The date was Sunday, October 30, 1938.  The Mercury Air Theatre, a radio drama broadcast over CBS radio, decided to air a Halloween episode directed by Orson Welles called The War of the Worlds, adapted from the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, called by the same name.  The main gist of the show was that through simulated news bulletins, it was suggested that our planet was under attack my alien Martians.  While the show began with a clear disclaimer that the show was entirely fiction, there were few commercial interruptions, so those who turned in late were sent into panic thinking it to be really happening.  People disagree as to how much panic actually ensued, but the public outrage that followed was definitely real.  Many felt that the show had been intentionally deceptive with its listeners.

Fake news has been around for decades as a novelty, but now, because of media bias, we must filter everything we hear through a “truth” filter, “Is what I’m hearing really true or is it false?”  Recently, a news story was published as being possibly true without any substantiation as to its authenticity.  Their reasoning was to let the reader decide.  It was soon shown to be false, yet many still believed it to be true because they had heard it on the news or read it on the internet?  If we can’t trust the messenger, how can we know if what they tell us is true? 

The ones most upset with The War of the Worlds’ broadcast were the other news outlets because this fake news broadcast created doubt in the minds of listeners that maybe all news providers might be offering up bogus reports.  How could any of them be trusted?

As Christians, we carry a very special message that we call “Good News,” yet many in the world today have determined it to be fake news.  The idea of Jesus coming to this Earth to die for the sins of mankind seems ludicrous, much like Martians invading Earth.  They have come to this conclusion because, generally speaking, Christians have failed to live out their faith in loving and caring ways.  Our culture has deemed the messenger unreliable, untrustworthy and at times, even a threat to society, because of how Christians have conducted themselves.  Churches across America declare this Good News but few listen or pay attention anymore .  Since they don’t trust the messenger, they ignore the message.

I’m reminded of the first couple verses of the old altar-call hymn, “Channels Only.”

How I praise Thee, precious Savior,
That Thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me
That I might Thy channel be.

Just a channel full of blessing,
To the thirsty hearts around;
To tell out Thy full salvation,
All Thy loving message sound.

Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous pow’r
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.

This year, make it your priority to be the kind of messenger that people rely on to speak truth into their lives.  It is only by being honest, loving, and trustworthy that people will accept the Good News as the life-changing message that it is.

For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed.   Hebrews 4:2 [NIV]

Taking Matters Into My Own Hands

Whenever we flipped the calendar into a new year, it serves as a good time to reflect on one’s life to see if any changes need to be made going forward.  Being a guy, this usually takes only a few moments: eat healthier, don’t do anything stupid, and live on a budget.

A new year also serves as a time to reflect on where I am spiritually and what changes God might want me to make in my life, such as being more intentional about my relationship with Him, building deeper friendships and being more missional with my friends and neighbors, and maybe sitting down as a family to read through the New Testament.  [There are 260 chapters in the New Testament and 263 days in a year if you don’t count Saturdays and Sundays.]

A new year is also a good time to reflect back on how God has blessed over the past months and then to grab hold of His promises going into 2017, whatever it might hold.

One of our family’s favorite verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  These verses are meant to encourage us, knowing that God is always in control and has a grand purpose for our lives.  The various events that happen in my life, good or bad, are meant to give me hope and remind me of my preferred future with God in charge. 

Paul reiterates Jeremiah’s words in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”  This doesn’t mean that it’s always smooth sailing but only that God’s purposes are being fulfilled as it pertains to each one of us and that our faith and perseverance should see us through.

Yet, here’s the problem.  Not many of us have the faith or the patience to see us through those difficult and challenging times.  We end up like the Israelites who… “did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” [Judges 17:6]  We follow in the footsteps of people like Adam & Eve, Cain, Jacob & Esau, Joseph’s brothers, Moses who disobeyed God by hitting the rock, Aaron and the golden calf, Achan stealing the gold in Jericho, most of the judges of Israel such as Gideon with the ephod, Jepthath with the foolish vow, Samson with his many shortcomings.  How about the kings of Israel and Judah beginning with King Saul, King David with his womanizing ways, King Solomon, King Rehoboam, and on down the line.  All through biblical history you see individuals taking matters into their own hands, refusing to rely on God.  There are some exceptions though like Noah, Daniel, Jeremiah, the Apostle John, and Paul, but for the most part, people, then and now, tend to do whatever seems right to them and then seek God’s wisdom or approval.

I must admit, when I get going in my day, I often simply react to my circumstances and never stop to consider what God might be up to in my life.  Most of the time, I operate under the rubric of doing what seems right to me. 

This year, my one resolution is to trust God regardless of how the circumstances may look to me, to trust Him with my future and then have the patience to wait on Him instead of rushing into a stupid decision.  God has great plans for my family and me and I can’t wait to discover what He has in store for the coming year, but I guess I’ll have to be patient and wait for Him to reveal them to me in His time.  It’s kind of like Christmas, one present at a time, which is about all I can handle anyway.

Friday, December 9, 2016


We all know the famous line of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, “Christmas…Humbug.”  Scrooge saw Christmas as just sentimental drivel, an excuse to shirk one’s duties by declaring a holiday from all life’s problems. Then you have Tiny Tim, the antithesis, who saw Christmas as a time to pause and thank God for His many blessings given to us throughout the year.  “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

I’m guessing most of us fall somewhere in-between the two extremes, leaning more towards a “Tiny Tim” Christmas mentality but at times letting our “Scrooge” out of the box.

The church at Colossae had a big problem.  The time was approximately 60 AD, only thirty years after Jesus died and rose from the dead for the sins of the world, and this small congregation found themselves surrounded by a culture that believed that Christmas was all “humbug.”  They believed Christmas didn’t matter, that Christ wasn’t actually born physically, and what really counted was religion; the things you did to show your sincerity.  Their flashpoints were the observance of the Sabbath and new moon celebrations, the worship of angels, a simplistic lifestyle, and circumcision.  It sounds as if the church of Colossae faced the same problem we as Christians face today; religion over relationship, sincerity over truth.

Paul wanted to address this heresy head-on in his letter to the church letting them know that it isn’t what you do that makes you right with God but rather your love relationship with Him.  

Paul wrote, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.  So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.”  (Colossians 2:8-10, NLT)

Paul’s words remind us that…

   1.   Christmas is God’s testimony that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.  Jesus did come that first Christmas night to identify with us, to become in all ways like us, so that He could later die for our sins, being our sin sacrifice.  John wrote about His coming in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Christmas did happen and it happened so that Christ could build a relationship with us.  

   2.   Christmas declares God’s pre-eminence over every ruler and nation on this planet.  It didn’t matter that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census to be taken of the entire Roman world or that King Herod issued an edict regarding the killing of babies born in Bethlehem.  God reigns supreme over the Evil One and the evil of this world.  It doesn’t matter how crazy your life may be at present, God is always in control and will bring about an end that will ultimately bring glory to Himself and allow you to draw closer to Him.  God isn’t just a “philosophical thought” or a feeling, much like many in Colossae believed.

   3.   Christmas reminds us that our completeness is only through Jesus Christ.  Christ “made himself nothing...being made in human likeness… He humbled himself and became obedient to death –even death on a cross!”  [Philippians 2:5-11  NIV] .  He identified with us, taking on human flesh so that we could have a relationship with Him.  He was born physically so that we could be born again spiritually.

John writes in John 1:12, 13, But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.  They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.  It’s not Christ, plus something else.  Trusting is Jesus is enough and that’s what Christmas is all about.  It’s about Jesus, born of a virgin, born with humble beginnings, so that we can be born again.

This Christmas, don’t get wrapped up in all the humbug, the trappings of Christmas, the “Christ plus other stuff” mentality.  It’s always been about Jesus, His birth, His life lived on earth, His ascension to the right hand of God the Father and His coming again for us.  Christmas is what makes it all possible, it’s what completes us.

As Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Friendly Rivalries

Friendly Rivalries

They remind everyone before the start of the game that it’s a friendly rivalry in the spirit of good sportsmanship and as such we should all behave ourselves no matter the outcome.

Every town and every age group seems to have their rivalries.  For me, in junior high it was my Fairfield Spartans against the Geyer Bulldogs.  In high school it was my South Side Archers against the North Side Redskins.  We called them “the river rats” because their school was by the St. Joseph river.  In college, it was the Fort Wayne Bible College Falcons against the Bethel Pilots.  But this week, I was again reminded that there is no rivalry like the Ohio State Buckeyes and T.T.U.N [The Team Up North], which some refer to as the Michigan Wolverines.

Some say it isn’t a rivalry anymore because Ohio State has won fourteen of the last sixteen meetings, yet Michigan still leads in the overall record 58-48, with six ties.  Last Saturday was a game for the ages as Ohio State came from behind to win in double-overtime, 30-27.

Then two days later, tragedy struck the campus of Ohio State, as a Muslim extremist drove his vehicle into a crowd of students and then jumped out of the car wielding a knife, attacking those close by.  Michigan players immediately tweeted out their support and encouragement to those affected by the attack.  Concern for a fellow combatant superseded the rivalry.

The Urban Dictionary defines a “friendly rivalry” as “A connection shared between people who can’t stand each other’s guts but don’t dislike each other either.”  That about sums up this rivalry.  We can’t stand them but we need them so we put up with them.  OSU engineering professor William Clark was among the victims in Monday’s knife attack.  After the ordeal, Clark reminded everyone what is really important, “University campuses are vulnerable to this kind of thing because we are an open society where young people can grow up and learn and make a certain amount of mistakes.”  He continued, “We’re still a great university.  We still beat Michigan!

For many Christians, their relationship with Satan falls under this category of “friendly rivalry.”  We “hate his guts” yet we “don’t totally dislike him” either.  He’s our bitter enemy yet some Christians choose to follow his playbook.  They wear the “Jesus” jersey yet they do things that make people question which side they are really on.  These people go to church on Sunday yet cuss out the person who cuts them off in traffic.  They put $10 in the offering plate at church but fail to lift a hand to help a neighbor.  They tell people how much they care about their circumstances and that they are praying for them, then gossip about them to others.  This is called fraternizing with the enemy.  How long will Christians continue this love-hate relationship with the devil?  It’s like me wearing a Michigan shirt to an OSU rally.  I don’t think that would go over very well with those sitting beside me.

In Philippians 3:18-20, Paul has some very pointed words for those who call themselves Christian but live as though they are not.  For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ.   They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.  But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”  [NLT]

As Christians we must be all in.  Our loyalties are to lie with Christ.  If you’re a Christian today whose actions or attitudes do not line up with your faith testimony, I encourage you to do one of two things.
1. Quit saying you hate Satan while continuing to do the very things that make him smile, or...
2. If you refuse to change your worldly lifestyle, quit saying you love Jesus.  You make it harder for others who do, who want to live a life “worthy of their calling,” who want to make a difference in God’s kingdom and who want to share the good news with others. 

This may sound a bit harsh but there is no friendly rivalry when we talk about spiritual warfare.  Satan is not a friendly rival; he isn't just someone we cheer against.  He is our bitter enemy who seeks to do us harm.  If you do things that please him, the Apostle Paul says that makes you an enemy of the cross of Christ as well.  You can’t have it both ways, so quit trying.