What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Securing The Future 9-27-2010

It has been nine years since the World Trade Towers collapsed in flames. The smoke still looms, casting its shadow in our memory and clouding our future. The constant threat of terrorism has not gone away. Nine years later, however, it is increasingly clear that terrorism is not the number one enemy to a future for our families. Afghanistan and Mexico bear witness to this fact.

In Afghanistan, our soldiers have performed admirably, meeting most of their military goals. The path to victory remains blocked not by terrorism but by corruption. A recent article in Foreign Policy Magazine stated, “…corruption and mismanagement at all levels of Afghanistan's government is the single largest obstacle to achieving an orderly transition to Afghan control and convincing local citizens to reject the Taliban.”

Mexico teaches the same lesson. In a region arguably as rich in natural resources as the United States, corruption keeps Mexico captive to poverty. An editorial in the Dallas Morning News recently stated, “The drug cartel battles that have turned the border area into a war zone are just one example of the power criminal enterprises can obtain when bribery and collusion are allowed to penetrate all levels of the police, government, business and state-owned enterprises.”

The history of the United States is unique because of the moral values that have protected her from crippling corruption. Few gave our fledgling nation any hope of survival when it was formed. Fifty years after the American Revolution our new nation was not only surviving but thriving. The Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States in search of the secret to our democratic success. In 1831 he concluded, “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other. … Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

The secret to our future is the same. Each generation must embrace the kind of faith that establishes honesty and integrity in commerce at every level. We may feel there is little we can do individually to counteract terrorism. But we can secure our future and that of our children every day by the choices we make. Every time we choose truth, justice, fairness, and honesty, we choose our children’s future. Every act of kindness, generosity and charity prepares a people to experience God’s blessings. The path to the future is always the path of repentance and faith.

When John introduced Jesus he clarified what repentance meant: “And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." Luke 3:10-14).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Post-Christendom Jesus Followers 9-20-2010

Anne Rice, the popular author of the Vampire Chronicles that sold some 100 million copies, shocked the secular world when, in 2002, she announced she was done with vampires. After thirty-eight years as a professed atheist, she said she had found faith in Christ and returned to the Catholic Church. Two months ago, she rocked the Christian world by proclaiming she was renouncing Christianity. She stated, "For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” She went on to say, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me."

Of course, I think Anne Rice is selling “Christianity” short. While churches are often quarrelsome, sometimes even hostile, I would hate to live in a world without churches. I visited Russia at the end of the Soviet Union and saw what that looked like. Churches do far more good and create much more charity than otherwise. But, she does have a point.

Interestingly, Anne Rice is not alone. George Barna, the leading researcher on faith in America reported in 2008 that “a majority of adults now believe that there are various biblically legitimate alternatives to participation in a conventional church.” It appears that there is a growing number of people who claim faith in Jesus but want little or nothing to do with the institutional church.

For some, this may sound alarming or confusing. The fact of the matter is, we are living in a post-Christendom world. Christendom was defined by the dominance of the institutional church, both Catholic and Protestant, that shaped and influenced the western world. At its height, Christendom dominated governments and communities. This is no longer the case.

For those of us who are serious followers of Jesus, we can take heart by reminding ourselves that the most fruitful period of faith occured in pre-Christendom, the first three centuries following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Here is the paradox. Worldwide, we are witnessing the largest growth in the number of Jesus followers in history. In China more than 30,000 new believers are baptized every day. The number of believers in Africa grew from 9 million to 360 million in the last century, most in the last decade. More Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last two decades than at any other time in history. Interestingly, the rapidly reproducing churches in these nations look little like our western Christianity. They resemble the churches of the first century that met in homes as close-knit communities that produce transformed people who act like Jesus.

At their core, churches are communities of believers who exhort and encourage one another to become like Christ. Churches are the wine-skins provided to contain the new wine of faith in Christ. Over time, each generation’s “wine skins” grow brittle, inflexible and institutional so that succeeding generations must discover new “wine skins” that serve their new found faith in Christ.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Center of the Universe 9-13-2010

For thousands of years, men assumed that the Sun and stars rotated around the earth, that we were center stage, but, starting with Galileo in the sixteenth century, we found out that our earth is only one of nine planets that orbit the Sun. More recent investigations along with our first forays into the fringes of outer space have verified that we are, indeed, a very small speck of dust in the galaxies nowhere near the center of the cosmic creation.

This physical discovery gives rise to a more personal question that affects our daily existence. “Where is the center of my universe?” For most of us, the answer to that question is a very small two-letter word: “me. Everything revolves around us and our interests. This is the reason we are prone to become angry with God. Sooner or later the evidence begins to pile up that, like planet earth in the cosmos, we are not the center. Everything is not ordered for our personal gratification, pleasure and benefit. Maybe the Eagles expressed it, “This is not the center of the universe.”

Paul started his life like most of us, focused on his own ambitions. He went so far as to arrest Christians, both men and women, and throw them into prison to advance his own agenda. But, after he met Christ everything changed. He discovered that the Christ whom he persecuted was, in fact, the center of all creation. ”He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17).

Recently billboards have been springing up that proclaim, “I am second.” They are part of a movement to proclaim what Paul discovered. We are not number one. God is. And when we make Christ the center of our universe, everything else comes into focus. According to the web site, “I Am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others.” I Am Second testimonies include people like Jason Witten, Colt McCoy, Josh Hamilton, Tony Dungy, Joe Gibbs, Anne Rice and many others whose names you may or may not recognize. They include the rich and famous as well as those who have been addicted, abused, molested and imprisoned. The number ultimately includes all of us. Check it out at www.iamsecond.com.

When Jesus Christ becomes the center of our universe everything changes. All the petty resentments and disappointments disappear. Scripture begins to make sense. For instance, in an effort to comfort others, many people quote the Bible when tragedy strikes saying “All things work together for good.” What the Bible actually says is, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, for those who are called according to His purpose.” This is entirely different. All things don’t work together for my good when I am the center of my own universe. They only work together for good when I recognize that God is the center of the universe and I am created for his glory.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Child Within 9-6-2010

Jesus changed all our presumptions about what it means to be “religious” when he took a little child, stood him in front of his disciples and said, “Except you become as a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” Many people conjure up images of old men with long gray beards, black capes and stooped shoulders when they think of people who are religious. Some think of ascetic monks living in desert regions, emaciated and starving, bleary eyed and anti-social. Others picture nuns robed in their habits whispering prayers as they finger their rosaries. When he wanted to forge an image in the mind of his followers Jesus chose a child. Why would he do this?

Jesus left the answer to that question up to us. We can all speculate about the lesson he wanted to teach by choosing a child. Here are a few characteristics that stand out to me when I think about children and the reason he chose a child to illustrate the nature God looks for in Kingdom people.

Children live in the moment. They are not worried about the future. They are not burdened with guilt about the past. Watch children playing on a playground. They have little awareness of time. They wear no watches.

Children become friends fast. Most children have not learned to be hesitant and shy. They greet one another as if they have already met. “Want to play?” And the game is on.

Children laugh. I love listening to children on the school playground and in the park. Anywhere children gather, the air is filled with laughter. It is their nature to laugh.

Children do not know prejudice. I’m not sure when we learn racial and cultural prejudice, but young children have not learned this lesson. They readily accept each other as equals regardless of skin color or clothing. If they notice a difference between them, they do not hesitate to ask about it. And, once the difference is recognized and addressed, they move on.

Children trust. With their father’s extended arms and a little encouragement they will fling their bodies into open space fully confident they will be caught.

Children are awed by God’s creation. They are mesmerized by grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and flowers. They stop and take time to watch an ant wrestle a crumb of bread across the ground. They notice the spots on a lady bug.

Children have great imaginations. Give a child a sandbox, a stick, or a can and they can construct unbelievable creations. I watched children recently playing in the sand. They were digging a hole. When I asked what it was, they looked at me with a puzzled look, as if I was the only one who did not recognize the obvious. They patiently explained that it was a grasshopper sanctuary.

This list isn’t complete. You can add others, I am sure. Somewhere within us all is buried the child we once were. Perhaps if we could re-connect with the child-like simplicity within us, we might take our first steps toward becoming Kingdom citizens as Jesus described it.