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Monday, January 30, 2012

Jesus' Creed

A creed is simply a statement of what we believe. Everyone has a creed because everyone believes something. Even atheists have a creed, which is their belief that God does not exist.

Every religion has a creed. Islam believes that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet. Hinduism believes in reincarnation with a strict caste system and an endless array of gods. Buddhism also believes in reincarnation and promotes an eight-fold path to escape suffering.

Every Christian denomination and church has a creed. Some call them statements or confessions of faith. They vary slightly but almost all affirm the Trinity or triune Godhead as One. They almost all embrace the divinity and humanity of Jesus, his sacrificial death, resurrection and promised return. Some recite the Apostle’s creed that dates from the second century or the Nicene Creed adopted in 381.

Increasingly people are developing their own customized creeds, blending elements of the world’s major religions with their own personal preferences. This is especially true of the vast number of people unattached to organized religion, but it includes many who are regular church attenders and members.

Perhaps it would be helpful to ask, “What was Jesus’ creed?”
When Jesus spoke about God He described Him as our Father, teaching us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven.” He taught us that the Father knows our needs before we ask Him, that the very hairs of our head are numbered, and that He takes great pleasure in giving us the Kingdom.

When Jesus spoke about himself he said, “I am the light of the world. … I and the Father are One. He that has seen me has seen the Father. … He that believes in me shall never die. …The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. … I go and prepare a place for you, and if I go I will come again and receive you to myself.”

A lawyer once asked Jesus what He believed about the commandments. Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Many believe this is the essence of Jesus’ creed. It summarizes every thing he taught about God and life.

We may or may not know the belief statement of the church we attend, but we have a core belief that governs everything we do. All of us have a life creed. For Jesus this core belief was built around loving God and loving others. Everything He did and everything He said reflected His love for God and His love for others.

When we stand before God, we will not be judged by the creeds of the churches we attended. Neither will we be judged by the creeds we memorized and recited. We will be judged by how our core belief made a difference in how we lived, what we did and what we said. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Beyond Religion

A young friend of mine wrote on his facebook page, “Religion is still the opiate of the masses.” He got some interesting responses. One person agreed with him. Another wrote, “It can’t be. If it was, I would take it for recreational purposes.” Of course the statement originated with Karl Marx when he was developing the Communist Manifesto, the philosophical foundation that would eradicate religion in Russia for seventy-five years. When I visited Moscow and Lenin’s tomb ten years ago the hopeless despair left in atheism’s wake was palpable.

My first inclination, like many, is to jump to the defense of religion. But that might not be the most thoughtful response. After all, religion killed Jesus. The Roman government reluctantly carried out the crucifixion only after Pilate had repeatedly tried to release Jesus concluding, “I find no fault in him.” It was the religious leaders of Jerusalem who incited the crowds and demanded Jesus be crucified.

Mankind is incurably religious. Every culture on every continent has spawned religion. And, more often than not, the results have not been good. 9-11 and the Twin Towers serve as monuments to the deadly effects of Islamic Jihad. The Hindu caste system of India consigns millions to poverty without hope.

The Christian religion can become corrupt, self serving and self absorbed. Perhaps Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, found credibility with so many because they suspect that religious systems can become politically vicious when their survival is threatened. The mentally unstable often use religion to justify atrocities against the innocent. We cannot forget the 909 people, including women and children, who voluntarily drank cyanide out of religious devotion to Jim Jones in Guyana.

Sometimes religion is not just an opiate, it is a poison.

Jesus, on the other hand, makes people less selfish, more generous, fills them with hope and leads them to sacrificial efforts to help others. Jesus transformed a little Albanian girl named Agnes into Mother Teresa who spent her life living among the poor of Calcutta and caring for them. Faith in Jesus made William Wilberforce the leader of reform in England to abolish slavery in the British Empire. Faith in Jesus Christ changed a backwoods playboy from North Carolina into Billy Graham who preached grace and forgiveness to millions. Faith in Jesus Christ catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr from the backstreets of Atlanta into the forefront of the Civil Rights movement. The list goes on.. Faith in Jesus Christ transforms us into better people and the world into a better place.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Happened to Winter?

For the past week I have been visiting friends and family in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Montana. Most Texans avoid these regions in January. But, when you have grandchildren in Montana, what can you do?

The weather tricked us. We discovered balmy weather in the forties and fifties, with no snow. Instead of blizzard conditions with blowing snow, we were greeted with brown grass, bare ground and blowing dust. My friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin were not happy. They despise a wimpy winter. Maybe that is why the Packers lost last night to the Giants. Playing at Lambau field, site of the famous ice-bowl in 1967, the weather must have confused them. Yesterday we went to church in Billings, Montana without wearing a parka. What is this?

While many are happy for a respite from shoveling snow and digging out cars, we can’t help but miss the sounds of children giggling down snow-covered slopes, the slap of hockey sticks in the park, the sight of snowmen standing sentry in front yards, not to mention ice-fishing and snow mobiles. Of course, winter might still show up. She has several months left to make her appearance. When I woke up this morning it was 7 degrees with several inches of snow that fell overnight. It should get up to 15 today even though the temps are predicted to return to the forties by Saturday. Without winter’s harsh grip it is difficult to fully experience spring’s miracle: thawing streams, budding limbs, fields of flowers and fresh green grass.

The seasons somehow enrich us with rhythm purpose and meaning. They help us recognize our connection with creation including the migrating geese and the hibernating bear, badger and bee..

From the dawn of creation, God provided seasons. In Genesis, “Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” (Genesis 1:14).

Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Life is lived in seasons: birth-childhood and youth; young adulthood; middle age; old age and death. Every season is unique. Every season is to be received as a gift from God and celebrated. Each has its challenges, difficulties, advantages, sorrows and joys.

When Jeremiah looked at seasons and the miracle of nature, he was reminded of how disconnected human beings can become from their creator. “Even the stork in the sky
knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but My people do not know the ordinance of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:7).

Maybe this winter, however it turns, can remind us to celebrate all the seasons of life, living in a way that remains connected to the Creator and His creation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thin Places

Celtic Christianity has a term to refer to those moments when the separation between this world and heaven becomes so minimal that we sense the presence of God. They call these the “thin places.” They are the places where love and compassion reign. Where forgiveness overcomes resentment. Where selfishness is swallowed up in sacrifice. Where prejudice surrenders to acceptance. Where the violent flame is quenched and people live in peace. They are the times when our soul is overwhelmed with awe and we worship God.

The news usually focuses on “thick places” where our world is farthest from God. For some strange reason people gravitate to the sick stories of murder, corruption, abuse, crime and war. But God gives us moments when He comes near, moments when we sense the fragrance of His presence and we hear the whisper of His voice.

Occasionally the media alert us to a thin place, like the recent story of strangers who plunged into the icy waters of a Utah river to rescue children drowning in an overturned car. We witnessed another thin place when the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania provided food and comfort to the family of the killer who murdered their daughters in the Amish school a few years ago.

Sometimes we sense the thin place when we stand before God’s creation and marvel at its majesty, beauty, complexity and balance. Sometimes we feel it in cathedrals and churches or informal and intimate gatherings with other believers. Sometimes the thin places appear in everyday life. Often, when they do, they are unexpected..

When Jesus came, the reign of God broke through upon the earth so that we were able to see, in a brilliant flash, what God’s Kingdom really looks like. This is what John meant when he said, “That was the true light, which, coming into the world enlightens every man … we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Wherever Jesus went he created a thin place. This is why Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

When He sent his followers out, Jesus taught them to live and speak in such a way that people would know that they had come into a “thin place.” “Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” (Luke 10:8).

As followers of Jesus our task is to help create the thin places. We do so by living in such a way that the reign of God rules in our hearts, controlling our speech, our actions and our decisions. We are to create “thin places” wherever we work or study, among our co-workers, fellow students, family, friends and even our enemies.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” He was teaching us to pray that we might become instruments for the thin places. This is why Jesus said, “You are the light of the world … let your light so shine that men may see your good works and glorify your father who is in Heaven.” God desires that His reign and rule should be displayed and celebrated.

Monday, January 2, 2012


This week we close the book on 2011 and open the first pages of 2012.

Closing the book on the past is important. First, we need to close the book on the insults and injuries that we may have suffered. Failure to close the book on these can cripple us in our efforts to embrace the future. We can only overcome past insults and injuries by practicing forgiveness. Jesus had a lot to say about forgiveness. He taught us to pray, “Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And, after teaching us to pray, drew the application: “For, if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” When Peter, feeling rather generous, asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus responded, “Seventy time seven.” As we close the book on 2011, it is important that we forgive those who have mistreated, insulted or injured us in any way.

Second, we need to close the book on our own sins and transgressions. We all regret things we did and things we left undone, words spoken and words we failed to speak. The guilt and regret of the past can become a huge burden that weighs us down and prevents us from achieving our best. God wants to take this weight from our shoulders. The Psalmist wrote, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Ps 103:11-13). “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” (Isa. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

As we open first pages of 2012, the possibilities are endless. A recent poll indicated that most Americans are optimistic about the future. On January 1, ABC News ran the headline: “Public Optimism Prevails Nationally and Globally.” The article went on to say, “Despite the still-deep downturn, Americans overwhelmingly express positive views about what 2012 holds for them personally.” God wants us to be optimistic and hopeful. We can look forward to the future based on God’s promises. “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Both Paul and Peter agreed that Jesus is the source of this confidence. “Just as it is written, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’” (Ro. 9:33; 1 Pe. 2:6; Ps 118:22; Isa. 28:16).

May this year be a year of forgiveness and faith! May it be your best year ever!