Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

9-11In times of crisis and tragedy, we often hear questions like “Where was God?” or”How could God allow this to happen?” I’m sure those questions were asked countless times during and following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Here are my thoughts on the subject…

Where was God on 9/11? Exactly where you can always find him:

  • Indwelling his people, giving them the strength to endure even the most heinous, evil acts perpetrated against them and others;
  • Acting in ways we know nothing about to make sure his ultimate purposes and plans are accomplished;
  • Waiting eagerly for anyone and everyone to call on him for strength, for hope, for peace, for salvation;
  • Working through the actions and prayers of countless people to make a positive difference in a fallen world;
  • Allowing all of his creation the free will we say we want, even when some choose to do unthinkable evil with that freedom.

God did not cause those evil acts on 9/11, nor is he obligated to prevent such things. His human creation has been given and expects to exercise free will to make our own decisions in life. If you think that God is somehow obligated to prevent evil acts, then you are saying that you want God to control your every action, to remove your free will, to make sure that everything is rainbows and unicorns. But I know you don’t really want that. You want to exercise the free will he gave you, even if that means you rebel against him, even if that means others rebel against him.

For love to be love, it must be willing and not coerced. That means God loves us enough to risk having us not love him in return. That means he lets unthinkable things happen at times, not because he wants or causes them to happen, but because humankind is responsible for its own choices, and sometimes we make terrible ones. There are eternal consequences for such choices, but we would shake our measly little fist at God if we didn’t at least have a choice.

We were not made as puppets, so why, when something bad happens, do we suddenly complain as though God is some giant puppeteer causing all the bad? We can’t have it both ways. Either we have free will and we are responsible, or we do not have free will and God is calling all the shots. Yes, I firmly believe he can and does intervene in the lives of humankind, but never to cause evil.

Where was God on 9/11? The same place you can find him today:

  • Indwelling his people, giving them the strength to endure even the most heinous, evil acts perpetrated against them and others;
  • Acting in ways we know nothing about to make sure his ultimate purposes and plans are accomplished;
  • Waiting eagerly for anyone and everyone to call on him for strength, for hope, for peace, for salvation;
  • Working through the actions and prayers of countless people to make a positive difference in a fallen world;
  • Allowing all of his creation the free will we say we want, even when some choose to do unthinkable evil with that freedom.

The StruggleI’m going to gripe for a few minutes, so bear with me…

Normally, I prefer listening to Christian radio stations when I drive. I find it generally uplifting and better food for the soul than the alternative on other stations. Most of the pre-sets on my radio point to Christian stations and if one of them gets too yappy with talk, I switch to another one playing music. Of course, some of the songs are also reasons to switch stations, and that is the reason for this particular rant.

In August of 2012 the Christian band Tenth Avenue North released the album “The Struggle.” I like the band and their music. Unfortunately, though, I have an issue with the frequency with which Christian radio stations continue to play one song from that album, “Worn.”

Here are the lyrics to the song:

I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn

I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

My prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn
Even before the day begins
I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So Heaven come and flood my eyes

Yes, all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though, I’m worn
I’m worn

If you weren’t depressed before hearing that song, you probably will be by the time it’s over. Then have it played during every normal drive time to and from work for months and you may just want to drive the car off a bridge somewhere.

I understand the appropriateness of capturing life’s moments – good and bad – in songs. Where would country music be without that? But it bothers me when Christian songs focus so much on the negative aspects of life. Don’t we have a better message to share with the world than that?

Yes, we all struggle. That’s normal. Yes, we all get tired and weary. That’s normal, too. But for the Christian who understands that this life is a very short beginning to an incredible, unending eternity with no more crying, tears, or pain, it seems at best self-indulgent and at worst faithless to spend so much time filling our minds and airwaves droning on and on with “woe is me” lyrics that hint at a possible escape but never actually get around to shouting the good news from the rooftops.

If I hear the above song on a station while driving, you can bet I’m going to change the station. Sadly, there have been times when I’ve changed stations only to hear it also playing at the same time on a different station! Gee whiz, folks, get over it! So you felt down for a bit, fine. If you have a clue about Christian faith, you know there is One on whom your focus should rest that gives you hope daily. Find yourself down in the dumps on occasion? I understand, but get into the Word and take your eyes off yourself long enough to remember that your purpose in life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever, and you’re doing neither when you’re camping out in a self-indulgent pity party.

I don’t fault the band for writing and releasing the song “Worn.” From their angle, it may represent a moment in time along the journey of faith that resonates with many others (although it seems that the lyrics of most songs on the album “The Struggle” are along this same line, hence the name “The Struggle”). I fault more the radio stations that give it and similar depressing songs much more air time than others that send a more helpful gospel message to the listening public.

As a rule, I enjoy contemporary Christian music. That wouldn’t be the genre of choice on my radio, downloads and CD collection if I didn’t. But I want songs with some depth and with some clear gospel teaching that points the listener in the right direction. I love, for example, the theological depth of the modern hymns written by Keith and Kristyn Getty. Their songs like “In Christ Alone” and “The Power of the Cross” are so full of truth and depth and the gospel message that the hearer cannot help but feel the power of the message within.

You might want to click the links for the two Getty songs in the previous paragraph to watch them on video while following the lyrics that display to the side of the video. You’ll notice a big difference in the content of those two songs compared to the 31 uses of “I’m,” “me,” “my,” etc. in the song “Worn.” While the two Getty songs contain the personal pronoun as well, the context is in the role of Christ for the person and not in the individual’s personal feelings and self-absorption. Perhaps there’s a lesson in the pronoun use: when we focus on ourselves and take our eyes off Jesus, we suffer the negative consequences.

Christians, don’t produce or use Christian music just because it sounds appealing musically. If it is “Christian” music, then the message contained therein must be sound. It’s OK to acknowledge struggles we all face, but don’t stop there, and don’t even think about focusing a Christian song on yourself as opposed to our Lord. We have enough repetitive, lightweight drivel in contemporary Christian songs used in worship these days, and too many simplistic songs with predictable phrases of church speak. We need more solid spiritual food for the soul.

We can and should do better in what messages we send to the public through music.

What do you think?

MoneyI heard with disgust this week of yet another celebrity spending an exorbitant amount of money on a wedding, this time $7 million.  While that is only a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $34 – $70 million spent for Prince William and Kate Middleton to wed last year, it is still grotesquely obscene in my opinion to waste so much on so few for so short a time.  In fact, I even find the average wedding cost of $28,427 to also be absurd.

This post, however, is not a rant about wedding costs.  I could just as easily be talking about buying very expensive cars, homes far larger than is needed or a host of other items.  The things purchased are not the point.  My point is about wise, responsible use of resources, and nobody can convince me that such extravagance is ever appropriate regardless of the occasion or who is involved.

Some will surely retort, “But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!”  That, my friends, is where I beg to differ.

I realize that not everyone reading this post shares my Christian beliefs, so understand that my objection stems from my faith and my understanding of biblical stewardship.  All that we are and all that we have belongs to God.  “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).  We do not own anything – a point proven when we breathe our last breath and see just how much we get to take with us to the life to come (zero).  We are stewards of what is entrusted to us for as long as God gives us life and breath, and it is our responsibility to manage what he has entrusted to us responsibly.

There are just too many needs in the world for those who have much to recklessly spend what they wrongly consider to be “their” money any way they wish.  There are untold numbers of people with no homes, no food, inadequate opportunities for work, little education, and other life-limiting circumstances that can be changed if others will only do so.  And, for my fellow Christians concerned about the spread of the gospel, that isn’t going to happen if we spend extravagantly on ourselves.

This is not about the world’s 1 percenters being bad or evil because they have achieved great financial success.  It is about the responsibility of each of us to be a steward of what God has given us, regardless of how large or small that amount may be.  (By the way, if you live in the United States, you’re pretty much in the world’s top 1% economically, so stop pointing the finger at the top 1% of that top 1% since you’re in the world’s top 1% yourself.)

My views on this are not politically motivated and, in fact, I am a very conservative person with strong Libertarian leanings politically.  For me to in any way suggest that what people earn is not their own seems to go against the grain of my political core.  The difference, however, is that there is a huge distinction between (a) the government taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots,” and (b) individuals voluntarily sacrificing their own opportunities for extravagance in order to extend a helping hand to others and make a positive difference in the world.  The latter is what I believe people with a healthy, biblical sense of stewardship will willingly do in a desire to love God and other people more than themselves.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I went to China and experienced the joy of worshiping with fellow believers who do not earn in a lifetime what I earn in a year.  Yet, they were incredibly generous, gracious and giving, going out of their way to prepare wonderful meals for us and hosting us in ways far better than we deserved.  I recall the impact of being able to distribute Bibles to fellow believers there who would otherwise never be able to afford one.  I was humbled when told that the average Bible would be shared by five people and would likely be instrumental in three of those five coming to the faith.  The cost of those Bibles?  About $2-3 each.

So when I see a wedding that costs $7 million, I translate that in my mind to about 3 million Bibles shared by 15 million people with maybe 9 million coming to faith from the impact of God’s Word.  On the scale of my mind I see an extravagant event on one side of the scale (whether it’s a $7 million wedding or buying a $5 cup of coffee) and an eternal change in someone’s life on the other side of the scale, and I can’t help but mourn at the loss of potentially life-changing good that could be done if and when we value others more than ourselves.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone.  I have my own ways I spend money that I could easily do without – from eating out to my tech toys to driving to work when I could take the bus, etc.  Growing in my understanding of stewardship is an ongoing challenge.  For example, last year after the China trip, I cut back our cable subscription to the bare minimum $15/month package that gets us 21 channels.  I could do without that, too, of course, if I chose.  I stopped buying $100 pairs of running shoes in favor of $30 pairs from Walmart that last just as long and feel every bit as comfortable.  Between my wife’s 1996 van and my 2001 car, we’re approaching 400,000 miles between them.  We’re not model stewards by any stretch, but at least we’re aware of the biblical model and attempt to live reasonably as people who believe that “our possessions” really aren’t ours – they are God’s, and we are to manage them responsibly while giving generously and sacrificially to others and for the work of God’s kingdom.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11b-13).  It seems to me that the mistaken culture of greed, hoarding and extravagance must be called out, not because it is uneven distribution or because everyone is entitled to equal amounts of possessions (they aren’t), but because a lifestyle of extravagance and self-centeredness is unscriptural.

“But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!”  No, it isn’t yours or mine.  It is God’s.  You and I are stewards of it for a short while, and we will all give an account to him one day for how we managed it.

facing-your-fearThe story of David and Goliath is commonly known.  From the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel chapter 17, we read about the young shepherd David who went to deliver some goods to his older brothers in battle.  While there, David was alarmed that nobody on the Israelite side of the battle line was willing to stand up against the Philistine giant Goliath.  David volunteers to do so, not because of confidence in himself and his own strength, but because he believes in the power of his God to lead to victory.

Young, small David can’t wear the heavy armor offered him, so he sheds it in favor of his sling and five smooth stones he chooses from a nearby brook which he puts in his shepherd’s pouch.  I love the image of 1 Samuel 17:48, “When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.”  David then killed Goliath with one stone from his sling.

I like verse 48 because of the phrase “David ran quickly toward the battle line.”  It stands out because it shows that David was eager to face what many believed would be his downfall.  I’d like to say that David ran toward his fears, but the truth is that David didn’t fear Goliath.  He had supreme confidence that what he was doing was the right thing and that the God he was serving was more than capable of protecting him from even a giant like Goliath.

When was the last time you ran toward your fears to face them head on?  It isn’t easy.  Just as so many other men in that battle in 1 Samuel saw Goliath and turned the other way, we have a tendency to avoid situations where we think the odds are against us.  Too often we refuse to face our fears, and too often we fear because we fail to place our trust in our Creator who is supreme over all of his creation.

David declared with confidence to Goliath, “The battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”  Oh, that we would face with such confidence the battles we face.

Run at your Goliath.

For or AgainstThis post is for my fellow Christian believers, but anyone is welcome to read and respond…

I wrote in a recent post that I’m tired of conflict, especially of all the public arguing, yelling, protesting and general hatefulness spewed by both sides on so many divisive issues.  I also posted yesterday about the fact that Christians can’t and shouldn’t keep their faith to themselves if we are to be obedient to the teachings of the One who is the center of our faith – Jesus.  Today’s post extends the thinking behind those two previous posts in order to challenge my fellow Christians (and me in my more cantankerous moments) to spend more time discussing what we are for than what we are against.

My fear is that too many who do not share our faith, after seeing and hearing us in public, walk away only knowing about those practices with which we disagree.  They may have an idea of the things we hate, but not that which (or the One whom) we love.  They may never hear the full central message of what we do believe and why we believe it.  We may spend so much time on social issues (which we have every right to be concerned about and involved with) that we fail to deliver the central message of the faith regarding who Jesus is, why He came to earth, what He did on our behalf, and why it matters eternally to each and every person on the planet.

It seems that many of us are out of balance, fellow Christians – allowing ourselves to get sucked into public debate that, to be honest, is not going to end this side of heaven.  In the process of chasing those genuinely important issues, we risk failing at our most important mission of making much of Jesus in word and example.  That’s a shame and, most likely, a sin.  We can and we must do better.

Please think twice about devoting too much time, energy and resources in causes against things.  I’m not suggesting you change any beliefs or heartfelt convictions.  I not telling anyone to not be involved at all in such causes.  What the Scriptures teach must still be authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.  Each person must live according to what the Scriptures teach, how God has gifted him/her, and according to one’s sense of calling.

I can’t help but think, though, that our witness to the world and our own state of spiritual health will improve if we intentionally shift more of our conversations to what we are for as opposed to what we are against.  In fact, if hearts and lives are changed because people respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, we may just find that the other issues that tend to consume us become less of an issue.

If you want a focus for your time, energy and message, make it Jesus.