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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Resurrection World 3-29-2010

My brother admits that he sometimes reminds people of Cliff Claven, the Cheers character who could enlighten, extend and confuse any conversation with his “little known facts.” The difference between my brother and Cliff is that my brother’s little known facts are more often correct. Recently he rocked my life-long assumptions by informing me that the Greeks knew the earth was round over two thousand years ago and actually calculated the circumference of the earth two hundred years before Christ. I checked it out. He was right. They calculated the circumference of the earth to be 250,000 stadia, or 24, 662 miles. This happened somewhere around 210 B.C. The actual distance is 24, 901 miles.

Am I the only one that missed this? When I went to school, I was taught that Columbus sailed bravely westward across the Atlantic, destined, by the prevailing assumptions of that day, to fall off the edge of the flat earth. But now, I am told every Christian scholar in the Middle Ages believed the earth was round. The problem, they thought, was that there was nothing in the Atlantic between Europe and India and the distance was too great. Columbus mistakenly thought the world was smaller than it is and accidentally discovered the new world.

Why didn’t I know this? How did I miss this little known fact in my studies of history and science? How can we spend a lifetime having a false understanding of world history?

What we believe about history makes a difference. It changes our actions and our destiny. The single most important event in human history is the resurrection of Jesus. This event shapes all our understanding about life and death and forms the foundation of our values. Yet billions have never heard of Jesus’ resurrection. And millions more live as if it never happened.

The Apostle Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:17-20)

Jesus came to correct our wrong assumptions about God and about life on this earth. He turned conventional wisdom on its head by exhorting us to love our enemies, to help those who cannot help us, to accept foreigners and aliens. He demonstrated by His life that God loves us and, instead of requiring us to offer sacrifices to Him, He gave His own life as the ultimate sacrifice for us.

If Jesus was raised from the dead, then life is no longer measured in terms of wealth and power. With His resurrection, He reset the measurement for success to include how we serve the “least of these” who live among us. With His resurrection, He declared that death could no longer rob us of meaning and purpose. Living in a world without the resurrection is like living on a flat earth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sorry 3-22-2010

There seems to be a lot of people lately saying they are sorry. Tiger Woods still tops the list as he prepares to re-enter golf at the Masters. David Letterman barely made ripples when he said he was sorry for having sex with his staffers. Presidential candidate John Edwards and Governor Mark Sanford have virtually disappeared after saying they were sorry for affairs that became public. After being caught with a male prostitute, Ted Haggard, the former pastor and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, went on a “I’m Super-Sorry” publicity tour last year. Last week Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington said he was sorry for using cocaine. Even the Pope has said he is sorry for the repeated child abuse by priests in Ireland while similar issues continue to surface in Germany and elsewhere.

I reckon it is good to say we are sorry. We all do stupid things. We all make mistakes. But it seems there should be something more. Two words seem to be missing from our vocabulary and our conversation. The first is “sin” and the second is “repentance.” They are seldom heard even in our pulpits.

We are all sinners like the prodigal son in Jesus’ famous story. (Luke 15) When the prodigal son returned to his father after having wasted his life in a far country, he said, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The story might have ended very differently if the son had said, “I’m sorry. I have made mistakes. I will try to do better.” Somehow it doesn’t sound the same. .

We all need to repent. Repentance was not just an important word but an important concept in the New Testament. Perhaps John the Baptist was best known for preaching repentance in preparation for the Messiah. But Jesus also had a lot to say about it. In fact, the Bible says Jesus came preaching that all should repent. In one place, Jesus said, “Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”

Perhaps part of our problem is that we underestimate the meaning of repentance. The word translated repentance, metanoia, literally means “transformation of the mind.” Only God can truly transform our minds so that we think and act differently. We are all sinners and we all need the transformation of the mind called “repentance.” The Apostle Paul said, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

As we approach Easter we are reminded that God takes sin seriously. So seriously in fact that He gave His own Son to pay the penalty for our sins. Our sins cost Jesus His life. If we repent and put our faith in Him, the Bible says He will forgive us our sins and give us the gift of eternal life. (John 3:16). What’s more, he promises to transform our minds and deliver us from the sin that so easily beset us. (Romans 7-8).

It is a good thing to be sorry for what we have done. It is a better thing to repent and submit ourselves to God’s transforming power so that we don’t commit those sins in the first place.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring 3-15-2010

There is nothing gradual about spring in Texas. One week forecasters issue winter weather advisories for snow, freezing rain and ice. The next week trees, pear, crabapple and dogwoods, explode with blossoms; daffodils bloom; bare limbs put forth buds and the air is filled with the fragrance of cut grass. Spring comes early in Texas. When I lived in Minnesota, March always threw me off balance. Winter let go its grip by degrees, reluctantly withdrawing from the landscape with snowy skirmishes that lasted through April and into the first week of May. But in Texas, it is winter one day. Spring the next, with summer soon to follow.

I like Spring. All that appears dead “springs” to life. It is the harbinger of things to come: the growing season when empty fields sprout with corn and maise and cotton. Gardens yield their miracles: seed and soil and water and sun produce ripe red tomatoes, yellow squash and fat round watermelons.

When Jesus chose a metaphor to help us anticipate His return, He chose Spring. He said, “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” As exciting as Spring is with its promise of summer, it cannot compare with what God has in store for us in the age that is to come, when He will establish a new heaven and a new earth.

For many years, I have thought it significant that Jesus chose a “Spring” image to signify the end of the age. Most futurists paint a dismal picture. Bookshelves and movie lists are full of doom and gloom prognostications. Their predictions include alien invasions that wipe out the planet, a catastrophic meteor collision that makes earth unlivable, nuclear holocaust that destroys civilization as we know it, or a gradual erosion of earth’s resources.

Jesus held no illusions about the reality of our human condition. He plainly taught us that we would have wars and rumors of wars, that we would experience famines and earthquakes. (Mat. 24:6-7). The prophet Isaiah said, “Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane.” (Isa. 51:6)

Erosion and pollution will likely continue. Men will continue to wage war. Our strong and youthful bodies will yield to disease, crippling injuries and old age. But in the midst of the woods the dogwood blooms. Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God is preparing a new heaven and a new earth. (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1). Everyone who believes in Him will be given new bodies that never grow old and never die. (1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 15). Spring is here!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Words 3-10-2010

It is not the well thought out words that give us trouble, words that we wrestle with before writing them down, words that we edit a dozen times before finally putting it in print. The words that trouble us and cause our difficulty are the careless words, the thoughtless words, the words that escape our lips without thinking. These words cannot be called back. Unlike escaped animals from the cage, they cannot be hunted down and returned to captivity.

Sometimes the careless words run rampant causing unknown damage without our knowledge. We don’t even remember what we said, or when we said it. But the damage is done nonetheless.

We try to bury our careless words beneath repeated apologies. “I’m sorry.” Or “I didn’t mean it.” Sometimes we are forgiven. Sometimes others claim to overlook them. But they are rarely forgotten. They lodge in the memory and cast a shadow on everything else.

Jesus said, “I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matt. 12:36) Jesus was apparently referring to our final judgment before God. Ultimately, when we stand before Him we will be required to give account for every careless word. But, perhaps he had something else in mind. Perhaps He was drawing our attention to the reality of human relations. Careless words destroy relationships.

We have seen prominent careers come to an abrupt end due to careless words spoke in the public arena. Like the classic movie, A Face In the Crowd, few are able to overcome racial slurs and arrogant expletives caught on an open microphone. But more damaging to us all are the careless words spoken in the privacy of our homes each and every day. Careless words chip away at relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children leaving families fractured and psyches shattered. On the other hand, an encouraging word, the right word spoken at the right time, can make an enormous difference. The opposite of careless words is not careful words, words that are guarded and self-serving, bur caring words, words that are spoken in the interest of others.

Nothing is more important than learning the discipline of our speech. James compared the tongue to the small rudder that turns a huge ship, or the bit placed in the mouths of horses, able to harness their strength. Careless words, he said, are like sparks that ignite an uncontrollable fire that consumes everything in its path. “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Choices 3-2-2010

Recently two men made two very different choices. In Austin, Joseph Stack, bitter and irate about the IRS, set fire to his home, drove to the Georgetown airport and took off in a single engine Piper Cherokee. Minutes later, in a suicide crash reminiscent of 9-11, he slammed the plane into the IRS building in Austin. IRS worker, Vernon Hunter died in the flames. Hunter, 67, was a Vietnam veteran, an usher at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Austin and dreamed of another career after retirement. Hunter’s children went on record to say they forgave Joe Stack for killing their father.

In Dallas, Andisso Andabo, 22, an Ethiopian immigrant who works as a mechanic, left the Firestone shop where he worked to make a delivery.. Driving along the LBJ freeway in northwest Dallas he saw a car on fire that rolled off the road and landed on its side. Andabo immediately stopped his truck and rushed to the scene. With flames spreading from the engine compartment, he saw a thirty-nine year old woman trapped inside frozen in terror. He smashed the front window with his bare hands and ripped it off. With the help of others who arrived on the scene, he pulled the woman from the burning car moments before it was engulfed in flames. Afterward, Andabo returned to the Firestone shop and went back to work.

Both of these men made choices. Stack chose to take out his anger, bitterness and resentment in a violent act that took his life and that of an innocent man. Andisso Andabo chose to risk his own safety to help a stranger in a moment of crisis. The different choices made by Stack and Andabo reflect different attitudes that each cultivated in private. Each of us may not know what we would do in a crisis, but we each make choices every day to cultivate attitudes that will determine our actions. Anger, resentment and entitlement will ultimately produce violence and retaliation. Humility, compassion and thoughtfulness will ultimately produce sacrificial acts of kindness.

Jesus defined the term “neighbor” in his famous story about the Good Samaritan who put his life at risk to help a wounded victim who had been robbed and beaten. After stopping to care for the man’s wounds, he carried him to the nearest inn for lodging. “The next day,” Jesus said, “he took out two silver coins and and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

The attitudes we cultivate, the choices we make and the actions they produce make all the difference in the kind of world we live in. Choices that lead to violent acts of reprisal create a world filled with enemies that feeds on fear and hatred. Choices that lead to acts of kindness create a world filled with neighbors who help one another by demonstrating love, acceptance and understanding.