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Monday, June 27, 2011

The Fourth

Next Monday we celebrate the Fourth, a uniquely American holiday. No other nation has a holiday quite like it. No other nation on earth has aspired to a higher and simpler ideal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Two of the most prominent men who created the Declaration of Independence died fifty years to the day after the signing. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration died in his home at Monticello on July 4, 1826. A few hours later, on the same day, John Adams, who edited the early drafts and won approval for the Declaration before the Continental Congress died in his home. Thirty-seven years afterward, on July 4, 1863, Lee’s Confederate army withdrew in defeat from Gettysburg. On that same day, Vicksburg fell to Grant, two pivotal battles that decided the preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery. On July 4, 1884, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States.

In many ways the history of our nation has been written by our efforts to live up to the Declaration of freedom and equality for all. We have struggled among ourselves, often falling short. We have sought to defend and extend freedom among foreign nations by sending our young men and women to lay down their lives.

We have learned that ultimate freedom can never be achieved though legislation and government alone, as important as those are. Ultimate freedom must be achieved in each human heart. Every one of us must fight a personal war with our own sin nature that seeks to make us captive and steal our freedom. We see everyday in the lives of our politicians, sports heroes and celebrities the consequences of losing that battle in the secret places of the heart. Greed and corruption remain the greatest obstacles to freedom and equality among the nations of the earth.

The pervasiveness of sin is perhaps the best documented reality in our world. The media is filled with daily accounts of its presence and the horrendous consequences it can create.

Two thousand years ago another document was drafted. It was not voted upon by representatives and did not found any government. But those words spoken long ago hold the secret to the ideals that we have embraced. Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin … If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”

God sent His Son into the world not merely to pay the penalty for our sin so that we might enter Heaven, He sent Him in order that He might overcome sin’s grip on our lives and set us free. The Apostle Paul had once been enslaved to ambition, anger and resentment. He started his early career persecuting the Christian faith. But he found a better way. He confessed, “The good that I would do, I don’t. And that that I don’t want to do is exactly what I end up doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24).

This Fourth, as we celebrate the freedom envisioned by our nation’s founders, may we experience true freedom that is found through faith in Christ.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Imagination. It is the magic carpet of the mind. With it we can journey centuries backward in time or fly forward to the future where we have never been. We can imagine things as we wish they were, and, when it is most productive, we can actually change the world around us. Imagination sets us apart as human beings from all the rest of creation.

Imagination is, perhaps, our most powerful tool for good or evil. Adolf Hitler imagined a world without Jews and launched the Holocaust. Martin Luther King, Jr., imagined a world where men would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.” His imagination fueled the Civil Rights movement.

Forty years ago this week John Lennon recorded his trademark song, “Imagine” in the Ascot Sound Studios at Tittenhurst Park. It became Lennon’s signature song and has remained one of the most popular songs ever recorded. In 2002 the song came in number 2 in Britain as the most popular song of all time. In 2009, Rolling Stone ranked the song number 3 among the five hundred greatest songs of all time. It owes most of its appeal to the musical talent of John Lennon, but some of its appeal is found in its lyrics: to imagine a world of peace where “all the world will be as one.”

What if we used another script for imagining a different world? What if, instead of Lennon’s lyrics, we used Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount? What would that world look like?

If we followed Jesus’ instructions we would treat everyone with respect. No one would be considered a fool and no one would be expendable. Adultery and lust would vanish. Marriage would prosper. Each of us would speak truthfully and no one would lie. We would refuse to retaliate and no one would seek to get even with those who have wronged them. We would go the extra mile and, if anyone asks for our shirt, we would give him our coat. We would not only love our friends and family, we would love our enemies and seek to do good for them. Our faith would be authentic and real without any hypocrisy. We would give to the poor in secret without even taking a tax deduction or hoping someone recognized our charity. Instead of praying long repetitious public prayers, we would pray privately from our hearts. If anyone has wronged us in any way, we would forgive them without requiring them to ask for it. We would no longer be driven to accumulate possessions and money. Instead, we would invest our resources in doing good for others who are in need. We would no longer worry. Everyone would treat everyone else the same way they desire to be treated.

Each of us, every day is creating a world of our own imagination. In the end, we each must choose what we imagine and what the world around us will become.

Monday, June 13, 2011

What Is God Like?

What is God like? It is an important question. Our answer determines our worldview, how we see ourselves, how we see others and how we measure what is important.

If God doesn’t exist, as some assert, we can only view the world as a collision of random accidents. We live accidental lives on an accidental planet in an accidental solar system moving through accidental galaxies. Ultimately our lives have no reason or purpose. We simply are, for a few short years, and when we die, we are no more.

Others see God as the “prime mover.” He designed the physical laws of the universe and set it in motion like a wind up clock or toy. But, He is not involved in His creation. It is simply unwinding itself, spinning along according to its primal design. We each live our lives as infinitely insignificant cogs in the master machine.

Some view God as an “all seeing eye” watching us. He is personally cognizant of our lives and our actions and He is watching everything we say and do. We each live our lives like Truman Burbank, Jim Carrey’s character in “The Truman Show.”

Still others envision God as a god of vengeance. He delights in taking note of our sins and punishing us. Our journey on this earth is little more than a process of being beaten into submission by a god who punishes us for every sin we commit. Entire religions have been built around methods of sacrifice and penance to appease this angry god.

Jesus had a different answer. If you want to know what God is like, Jesus said, think of your father. Of course not all fathers are good. There are some deadbeat dads out there who spoil the image. But the vast majority of fathers love their children and would do anything for them. That is why we honor them on Father’s Day. I was one of the fortunate ones to have a good father. He was, and is, my hero. He was neither famous nor rich. He had no lasting achievements. He died when he was 53. But he was a good man, the best man I ever knew. He corrected me when I was little and did wrong things. He taught me a better way and set a better example that has served me for a lifetime. If I needed anything, he was there to help. That is why Jesus said, “Don’t worry. Your Father who is in heaven knows what you need.”

Now that I am a father with children and grandchildren of my own I better understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If you being evil know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give what is good to you!” This helps me enormously. If God is like that it changes how I see myself, how I see others and how I see the world. Happy Father’s Day!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Time and Eternity

Time. It is the great mystery. Past, present and future. The past is beyond our grasp, as is the future. We sense that somewhere out there the past exists as we lived it. We are the same people that we were when we engaged in past circumstances, solved past problems, pursued past goals. We can remember it, but we cannot relive it. Likewise, we believe that somewhere out there lies our future. We can envision it, but we cannot yet experience it, and, we have learned that our envisioned future might turn out far different than we imagine. Only the present moment belongs to us.

Our modern measurement of time with nano-second precision has given us the illusion that we can control time and make it our servant, that we can stretch it and compress it. We pant through frenzied days of frantic activity trying to conquer the clock. In almost every sport, whether football, basketball, soccer or track, we are competing against time, trying to manage the clock. The team that can best utilize fractions of a second to put points on the board, emerges the winner. Golf and tennis, competitions passed down to us from an era before the clock ruled, have been adjusted to fit our time-conscious culture by putting players “on the clock” to speed up play while adding sudden death play offs and tie breakers.

Two centuries ago, without mechanical and electronic precision, men measured their lives by more natural cycles: seasons for planting, growing and harvesting; the moon, waxing and waning from a tiny silver sliver to a full faced orb and back again; days measured by the shifting shadows of the rising and setting sun. Trans-ocean travel was dependent upon the wind and the currents in the sea. Time was less precise. Time moved more slowly. In some ways, life was lived closer to eternity.

When we touch God we reach beyond the boundaries of time into a realm that exists beyond us. We are drawn into the “eternal.” Even the word “eternal” is inadequate to convey the reality and ultimate dimensions of God. The New Testament writers, writing in Greek, opted for the term eis aionion, literally “into the age” or “beyond the age.” It could also be translated “beyond time.” Everywhere we read the word “eternal” in the New Testament, it is the translation for this mysterious phrase, eis aionion. God draws us beyond time into a dimension that cannot be measured by our mortal comprehension.

When God revealed Himself to Moses, he gave his name as “I AM,” a clear reference to His timeless being. When Jesus explained his identity, He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus said that those who believe in Him “will never die.” Faith changes the game. It suspends the clock, stretches the moment into eternity and compresses eternity into the moment. When we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, he lifts us out of our myopic mortal existence and pours eternity into our soul. He invites us to live eis aionion, into the age.