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Monday, April 30, 2018

What's In A Name?

The world waited most of a week to learn the name of England’s new prince, born to William and Kate on Monday, April 23. Finally, on Friday, we were introduced to His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge.  For much of the next century we will likely follow Prince Louis alongside his brother and sister, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Names are important to us.  My youngest grandson was born a year ago.  He knows his name.  When we call his name he turns and looks. He knows we are speaking to him.  Even my dog knows his name.  When I speak his name his corgi ears pop up, his eyes are alert.  Nothing compels us like the sound of our name.

Names give us entrance. When someone knows our name, we listen.

When God commissioned Moses to deliver his people from Egypt, Moses asked, “Whom shall I say has sent me?”  God responded, “Tell them, I AM THAT I AM has sent you.”  The Israelites captured this name with the Hebrew letters YHWH.  The name was too holy to be spoken.  When they came to God’s name in Scripture, they inserted the word, “Adonai” meaning “Lord.”

The third of the Ten Commandments recognizes that God has entrusted to us something special, something precious. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” (Exodus 20:7) He has invited us into relationship with Him.  He has given us His name.  We must not take this for granted. David sang, “Therefore I will give thanks to you among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to your name.”  (Psalm 18:49).

Isaiah looked forward to a new name God would give us.  He wrote, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will [a]rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled when the angel announced the Messiah’s birth to Mary and Joseph and instructed them, “You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins.”    God has chosen to redeem and transform us through that “name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).

This is an awesome thing.  The God of the universe, who created the expanse of the galaxies, who designed the sub-atomic particles, who gave breath and life to every creature, God, who made us in His own image, has given us His name that we might be exalted to know Him, honor Him and adore Him.

How then could we possibly use His name as an expression of amazement, consternation or anger?  How can we possibly live without thought of His greatness, goodness and grace?

Monday, April 23, 2018

Escaping the Image Makers

Christine Rosen, writing in The New Atlantis, stated, “Americans love images. We love the democratizing power of technologies — such as digital cameras, video cameras, Photoshop, and PowerPoint — that give us the capability to make and manipulate images. What we are less eager to consider are the broader cultural effects of a society devoted to the image.”

Images for idol worship have always been about manipulation, attempts to manipulate gods to control our circumstances and to control others around us.  Our current image culture is no different.  We create images to control our destinies and to control others.  Idolatry is about manipulation.  But, God will not be manipulated.  He will not be used for our personal advancement or the control of other people. 

We have become a people controlled by images.

The recent controversies over Facebook and Russian interference through the manipulation of social media is a case in point.  Images make a difference.  They influence our thinking and our action.  We are bombarded constantly on smart phones, tablets, TVs and laptops.  Some have linked the recent rise in teen suicides with the surge in social media.

This is why God gave us the second of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Exodus 20:4-5). 

God wants to free us from the image-makers who seek to control our minds and distort our values.

The image culture invades our churches when we assume that worship requires the assistance of sound systems, amplifiers, video screens, special lighting and special effects, when we create our own Christian pop-culture complete with celebrities. We ought to be reminded that in Jesus’ day authentic worship took place on hillsides, seashores, and in houses where two or three were gathered together in His Name.

The author of creation made us in His own image. When we know Him we are truly free to know ourselves and others as we truly are, created in His image with unlimited potential for love and good works. For this reason God sent His Son, so that we might know the only image that can set us free. “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15). 

This is the definition of sin: attempting to live life on our own terms in our own image and becoming addicted to our man-made idols.  N.T, Wright put it this way, “Since sin, the consequence of idolatry, is what keeps humans in thrall to the non-gods of the world, dealing with sin has a more profound effect than simply releasing humans to go to heaven. It releases humans from the grip of the idols, so they can worship the living God and be renewed according to his image.”

When we believe in Jesus and place our trust in Him, we are empowered to become like Him.  We are set free from the image makers that lead down paths of addiction and depression.  “Those whom He foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:29).  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Putting God First

I grew up in the Tom Landry era of the Dallas Cowboys.  When he was hired for the expansion team in 1960 they had little prospect for success. After going winless in their first season, Landry told the team his priorities were God, family and football, in that order.  Bob Lilly, who had just joined the team as the All American recruit from TCU said to himself, “We will never win.”  Under Landry they went on to appear in 5 Super Bowl games, winning two. His 20 playoff wins is second most in NFL history.

I heard Tom Landry speak at the Billy Graham Crusade when Texas Stadium was built. He described his emptiness when he achieved each of his career goals as a star running back for the University of Texas and all-pro defensive back for the NY Giants.  He quoted Augustine, “Our hearts are restless indeed, O God, until they find their rest in Thee.”  A year before he became the first coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he came to faith in Christ and gave God first place in his life.

Similarly, Jordan Spieth at 24 has already won three major golf championships.  When asked about his priorities he said, “My faith, then my family and then, after that, you know, this is what I love to do.  Golf is not number 1 in my life.”

Our oldest son had difficulty “launching” when he grew up.  His first semester in college he passed racquet ball.  It was the only course he attended.  His second semester he was on probation.  It was a struggle, for him and for us.

During this time I told him he needed to put God first in his life.  “If you put God first,” I said, “everything else will come into focus.”  His response wasn’t immediate. It took several years, including boot camp in the Marine Corps. But he followed through and put God first.  Everything else came into focus. Today he is a wonderful husband and father of three teen-agers, leads a Bible study for high school youth and has a successful career in Information Technology.

The first of the Ten Commandments is God’s invitation for us to know Him.  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  This is amazing. The creator of the universe wants to have a personal relationship with us in which He alone takes first place.  If He is not first in our life, He is not God. Everything starts here.  Life comes into focus when God becomes the priority of our life.

Sometimes we are drawn away from God by personal pleasures and the pursuit of sin. Sometimes we are drawn away by things that simply make us too busy for God.  We think we know what is best and we pursue our goals and dreams without taking time to submit those goals and dreams to God.  

In His sermon on the mount Jesus addressed the fragmented life that is filled with worry and anxiety.  He said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

Monday, April 9, 2018

Finding our Moral Footing

For centuries Western Civilization has embraced the Ten Commandments as the bedrock for law and conduct. But, in the twenty-first century, such an assumption no longer holds true. Bit by bit the Ten Commandments are being chiseled from their central position in our culture.

In 2001, after a two-year legal battle, a 5,280 lb. granite Ten Commandments monument was removed from the rotunda of the Alabama State Capital.

In 2004 the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Kentucky ruled that the Ten Commandments could no longer be displayed in public schools and courthouses. To do so, the court ruled, would be an endorsement of religion.

In 2014, followers of the pagan faith, Wicca, sued the city of Bloomfield, N.M. over a 3,000 pound Ten Commandments monument that stood in front of the City Hall. The court ruled the monument had to be removed as a violation of First Amendment rights.

In June 2015 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the presence of the Ten Commandments on the capitol grounds was unconstitutional. On October 5, under cover of darkness, the 4,800 lb. slab of stone was moved from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds to a private location. 

These reflect sensitive legal issues in our nation that values freedom of religion and separation of church and state. But what is more disturbing than the removal of monuments is the removal of the Ten Commandments from our consciousness.  Few can name them. Stop for a minute and see if you can recall all ten of the commandments?  Can our children or grandchildren quote them?   If we don’t know the Ten Commandments, how can they guide us in our values and action?

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mathew 5:17-19).

The first four of the Ten Commandments tell us how to have a healthy relationship with God.  The next six tell us how to have healthy relationships with each other.  

Zhao Xiao, a leading economist in China, researched America’s secret to prosperity. He concluded, “... the key to America’s commercial success is not its natural resources, its financial system or its technology but its churches.  ... The market economy is efficient because it discourages idleness, but it can also encourage people to lie and injure others.  It thus needs a moral underpinning.”  Xiao’s conclusions are remarkably similar to Alexis de Tocqueville’s in 1840.

Starting next week, this column will reflect on each of the Ten Commandments and their implications for today.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Light Within

Five years ago the earth shook and a mushroom cloud rose above the small town of West, Texas on April 17, 2013.  A devastating chemical explosion leveled a large section of the town killing fifteen and injuring more than 200.  Last year a memorial was constructed near the site so that those who were there might never forget.

Two days before the West explosion terrorist bombs ripped through crowds gathered near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three were killed and 264 were injured.  The bombings have not stopped the race.  This year, on April 16 more than 30,000 will participate in the 122nd running.  

Authorities eventually determined the West tragedy was the result of arson. The Boston bombing was an act of terror.  But both cases are remembered by remarkable stories of courage, faith and determination.

On the first anniversary in West, a choir sang Amazing Grace while surrounded with flickering candles on which students wrote, “Rise Up West!”  CNN reported, “Residents say their faith has been instrumental in understanding and dealing with last April's tragedy. Montgomery Irwin says the anniversary falling so close to Easter -- with its message of resurrection and renewal -- is especially appropriate for the people of West.”

When the bombs exploded in Boston, many ran for their lives.  Carlos Arrendo did the opposite.  Not knowing if another bomb might be set to detonate, he tore through the fences to get to the victims and render aid.  He rescued 27 year old John Bauman whose lower leg had been blown away. Carolos, 52, was attending the marathon to honor his son who was killed in Iraq.

Perhaps the Apostle John had this kind of human resilience in mind when he wrote, “That was the light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” (John1:9).  Every human being is born with a reflection of that light that is at the source of creation.  In some way we are like the clouds that reflect the rising sun, streaked with crimson, purple and gold prior to the sun’s entrance. Often in our moments of greatest heartache and difficulty we reflect the greater glory.  But when the sun rises, its brilliance supersedes everything that has gone before.

This may be what Zecharias meant when he said, “The sunrise from on high has visited us!” (Luke 1:78).  Or John, when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as the only begotten Son of God.”  (John 1:14).  All of our expressions of courage, faith and determination, mixed as they are with our shortcomings and our sins, are but dim reflections of the perfect light that is found in God.

It seems fitting that before the anniversaries of these two tragic events, the world paused to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Seeking comfort, consolation and inspiration, we turned our eyes toward that event in human history when God entered into our suffering through His Son and overcame death and the grave.

Our human resilience reflects not on our own glory, but on the glory of Him who made us in His image, Who sent His Son to forgive us our sins and transform us into children of light. He is the source of all comfort and all strength.