Calling Something What it is Not

I was recently listening to a devotion given at FCA where the majority of my high school students attend.  The speaker was very articulate, she had good volume, and captivated her audience.  The subject of her devotion was #hash-tags.

She began by defining what a hash-tag is and how we get #hash-tagged by people around us.  She reminded us that unfortunately we begin to believe these hash-tags.

The gears of my mind began to crank and it made me reflect on what theologians and pastors refer to as imputation.  This young woman was teaching the students about imputation.  Calling something what it is not.  In her own manner she was expressing her growing understanding of a truth that is at work all around us.

She discussed the various hash-tags used in High School.  People get hash-tagged ugly because they don’t wear the right clothes.  They get hash-tagged stupid because they don’t take the “smart people” classes.  She argued that we begin to believe these hash-tags and live according to them.

She’s right!  What we are labeled we become.  A pastor shared that he was labeled as a trouble maker when he was a kid and as such all the teachers treated him that way.  He began to think that’s all he was and lived as such – a doofus trouble maker.  We see this all  the time in children, at work, or wherever.  A child may be slower than the rest, but the teacher believes in them and treats them as smarter, brighter, and with dignity.  The child becomes smarter, brighter, and dignified.  People “live up” to the labels put on them.

As I reflected afresh on this truth I began to think of what God call’s us – his label for us.  There are many, but they can be boiled down essentially into two – #rebel or #restored.  The first hash-tag we most definitely live up to.  We live “our way, right away” with little to no thought about those around us, let alone the Author of the story who has us as a supporting character exposing the various aspects of the main character.  This is not the way we were created to be, so are #rebels in the Author’s kingdom.

But, there is another hash-tag the God has for us.  Those whom Jesus has called he has restored into good standing in the kingdom.  As such, God calls these whom his son has called, #restored.

This is the hash-tag that we have problems with if we have been united to Christ in faith.  God calls us redeemed, righteous, restored, adopted, heir, etc.  But our actions look like #rebel and we are afraid that #restored is just dreaming on God’s part.

But here is the the beauty of imputation.  God calls us #restored because as we learn to trust what he says and not how we feel or perceive, we begin to live out of our new label.  The Spirit works in the lives of #restored to bring about change from what #rebel was.

This is the struggle of the Christian’s life.  Trusting what God says or what we think and feel.  Learning to see as God sees in where our struggle comes from.  This is what imputation bears out in the life of the believer.  It grows what God has called us despite our own perceptions.

Looking over the Cliff

Chasing Wind

I was recently asked to comment on the impact of violence in video games, movies, and television shows among students in our culture.  As I thought through the issue and the ways the questions were asked, a thought emerged to the surface.  By examining this lone issue and making a huge deal out of it, I think you miss the bigger picture.  May I ask the question, when behaviorism has ever worked without mammoth effort to compel certain actions?  Or course violence EVERYWHERE has impacted students, but so has a slough of many other concerning issues.  Who has the time and energy to pursue battling all of these issues?

I would submit that these issues are streams of a larger flood that has washed our culture away.  We need to look at cutting these streams off by considering the flood and damming it up there.  The bigger issue that these symptoms flow from is none other than the prevailing idea that “I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and I will do what makes me feel good.”  Sex makes me feel good and violence allows me to feel powerful, in charge, authoritative.  There are other sub-issues of course, but these two I see in daily student ministry constantly.

So… how do we “dam” up this flood?  I see good news and bad news.  Let’s get the bad news out there.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  Let’s be honest.  The flood is too strong, the current too powerful, our dams will be swept away with MAYBE a flinch or two.  Some may argue that I am being defeatist or fatalist or whatever.  Perhaps.  But then again, show me where I am wrong.  May I point out an example?  The DARE program.  Where is it?  When I was in school, it was EVERYWHERE.  I knew my DARE officer by name.  I don’t hear of it anymore.  I see the DARE police car drive by in town, but drugs are still as abused as ever.  Please understand that I am not in any way bashing the DARE program.  I loved it and learned a lot from it.  But it has to be admitted, that it still fails.

With that said, I don’t want to wallow in despair forever, because there is hope.  The root of this behavior is in the heart: what a person wants and desires.  The natural hearts seeks to please itself and build a kingdom for itself, make its own name great.  There is only one type of transplant that will effectively kill this vile, selfish weed – the new birth Jesus discusses in John 3.  The power to “dam” up this tide is found in the gospel alone.  Paul reminds us that the gospel is the POWER of God.  It gives people a new heart with new desires.  We must appeal to what people want and desire.  We must show them the conclusion of what they are recklessly pursuing – namely the futility and finiteness of their wants and desires.  As strong as those desires are, they are still far to weak to do what we expect them to do: give us satisfaction and contentment forever (CS Lewis).

I cannot teach without appealing to affections.  Behavior comes from the heart and as such I appeal to their hearts – to be grasped by the gospel.  Gazing at the cross and seeing what Christ has done affects a new life that produces fruit.  As we learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates, the things that we once hungered for diminishes.  All of a sudden the desire for violence and gore, for lust and sexual gluttony, diminishes and fades in-light of true satisfaction.

Be warned.  This is hard and time consuming.  Hard because you have to think differently and hard because you have to trust God alone to do what he alone is able to do.  Time consuming because we are addicts and we must be weaned.

God grant us grace to see as you see and love as you love – one-way.

Corrupted Hearts Abuse Anything

In Acts, Peter is given a vision.  In the vision, a sheet comes down filled with all sorts of unclean animals.  Peter is told to take and eat.  Of course, he balks.  Then, he is told not to call unclean what God has made clean.  (Acts 10:9-16)

Jesus, when speaking to the crowd, says that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person, but rather what comes out of it.  The heart’s intentions and thoughts are broadcasted through the mouth.  Out of an evil heart comes all sorts of sinful actions and words.  (Matt 15:10-20)

The writer of the Proverbs says to keep your heart with all diligence, because from it flows a man’s life.  (Prov 4:23)

Jeremiah says that the heart is deceitful above all things and that it is desperately sick.  (Jer. 17:9)

I was reflecting on these passages after I remembered a t-shirt that was worn in Happy Gilmore.  It said, “Guns don’t kill people, I kill people.”

There was the simple truth proclaimed in a silly movie.  Man takes whatever instrument he can at his disposal and uses it to defy the Maker, the Creator, who rightfully exerts his will on his creation and fashions it as he sees fit.  In and of ourselves, we cannot abide there being a Sovereign God.  So we abuse, out of a broken, bitter, vile, heart, whatever we can in God’s creation. We want to suppress our acknowledgment of his existence, because his existence is a judgment on us.

The first thing that comes to mind is the use of alcohol.  Drinking these types of beverages makes one instantly unholy, unwise, sinful, or whatever emotions are stirred up with its use.  I have heard people rant and rave about the evils of alcohol.  I have heard people speak at length about the folly and lack of wisdom shown in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.  I have heard people say that men called into ministry of the church have no integrity if they drink a beer or have a glass of wine.  I have heard people say that if you drink, you are not a Christian.

Families have been destroyed through the abuse of alcohol.  People have been hurt, abused, killed, because of the use of alcohol.  This is of course why it is such an emotional issue for so many people.

I am not going to debate the use or non-use of alcoholic beverages as a recreation.  That’s not my point here.  What concerns me, though, is the object of the ranting, raving, long speeches, and emotional heat.  That object: alcohol.

Alcohol in an of itself is not the problem, nor has it ever been.  The problem is people.  We are broken.  We abuse anything and everything.  Just as guns don’t pick themselves up and kill people, it is sinful men and women that take these things and use them to destroy, maim, and numb themselves against God’s image as seen through fellow creatures.

The heart of men, apart from the resurrection work of the Spirit, is what produces abuse.  We rant and rave against alcohol, but don’t apply this hatred of an abused substance consistently to other life destroying, family sundering abuses that are just as common and just as corroding.

What about the abuse of work?  Men and women who are addicted to work?  They spend every free moment they can at work or thinking about work.  They use it as an escape from family life in the name of “providing for my family.”

What about ESPN?  Men and women who are addicted to sports?  They spend every free moment keeping up with stats, news, scores.  They spend large amounts of money on cable/satellite, tickets, jersey’s, or whatever else?  During the weekends, their families are neglected and even treated harshly if they get in the way.  It consumes everything, like a drunk man stumbling down the street, but somehow this is a more acceptable and wise abuse.

What about hunting and fishing?  What about cars?  What about movies?  What about video games?

These are just some things I was reflecting on.  Its out of the heart sinful things come, not because someone sipped on a beer for recreation, watched their favorite team play all weekend, or went hunting for a few hours in their free time.  These things are made sinful by us abusing them, not the use of them in and of themselves.

 

 

Family Laughs

Last night during dinner, after the three-ring-circus of getting the boys’ hands washed, dried, getting them to sit down, and making sure no one and nothing was missed during meal-time prayer, we each took time to talk about our day.  It was during these conversations that I asked my youngest if he would share with the rest of the family what we had picked out for dessert.  His eyes glazed over as he seemed to journey back into another age.  Immediately upon this reflection, his hand went to his chin as he seemed to stroke a non-existent beard.  He said, “hmmmmm…”, then with genuine earnestness, proclaimed the prize of his brief meditation, “I don’t remember.”  We all burst out into laughter.  After waiting for a more thoughtful response, it was so funny to have such a reply.  We all took turns during the rest of the evening making sure we stroked our beards and thought profoundly about questions asked of us.

As Cindy and I reflected on his behavior, she assured me that he was just being like his daddy.  I was thinking about her insistence that I was the model for this behavior, and had to lower my hand from stroking my non-existent beard to inform her that assuredly she was wrong, just in time to “eat my own words.”

Chuckling about the episode today, my thoughts swirled toward the Father.  “You therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  My son gets some of his behaviors from spending time with his daddy.  By watching, talking, listening, and experiencing life together, he learns what his daddy is like and desires so much to be like his imperfect father.

God, let me look to you, listen to you, talk to you, experience life with you, and know you, that I might be more like you.  You made yourself into a man.  Oh, that I would look to your Son, Jesus.  I want to be like him.

As I stroke my non-existent beard, God draw my heart and thoughts to your Word, that my life would draw others into knowing who my Father is.

Proverbs 14:12

This morning I was reading and reflecting on some of the Proverbs, asking God to speak to me through his Word.  Several Proverbs popped out, but 14:12 stopped me.  It is underlined in my Bible, so maybe that added some emphasis for me also.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (ESV).

Another passage that came to mind in reading this is Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (ESV).

Put these two together:  There is a path, a way, that seems right in a man’s heart (which deceives you more than anything else in the world or outside the world; it is sick and twisted; you cannot plumb its depths of corruption and trickery), and this path, this way, leads to death.  Its destination is YOURS and MY destruction.

The nasty part about all of this is that it is not another person’s heart leading you astray and to ruin, it is YOUR heart, it is MY heart.  This led me to consider a couple of other passages about what my heart likes to latch itself onto.

Isaiah 44:9-20:  Isaiah says that my heart wants to worship something.  It wants to worship anything other than God.  It deceives me into taking the work of my hands or life, and worshiping it.  I create something using the creativity that is part of my nature because it is part of God’s nature in me from theImago Dei.  I then use what I have created and treat it as if it is my god and can deliver me and bring me comfort, when it is like a card house, ready to fall at any time.  I work to create my own city, my own empire, and like a beach before a hurricane, when the storm comes, my god, my empire, my city, is destroyed.  My idol cannot save me from the Creator.  BUT, my heart deceives me to make me believe it is true.  I was made to worship.

Jeremiah 2:11-13:  John Piper uses this text in a sermon I listened to a few times.  God’s complaint against his people through the mouth of Jeremiah is that his people have committed two evils.  1)  They have forsaken Him, the fountain of living water.  2)  They have dug their own wells that are broken, that hold no water at all.  Piper describes it like this: the people have turned away from a steady, bubbling, river of fresh, clean, pure water and with their back to it, dig into the dry, cracked, sand, and lift it to their lips and say, “Oh satisfy me!  Satisfy me!”  Our hearts trick us into thinking that the dry, cracked dirt is the quenching water that satisfies thirst.  My heart makes me try to find satisfaction and joy in this world as an ends to itself.

The problem with our hearts is that since the fall of Adam and Eve, it has wanted us to be god.  So… according to Paul in Romans 1, we use the very things God has given us to reflect his glory to try and reflect our own.  Trees, sunsets, beaches, stars, moons, planets, beautiful poetry and stories, fine wines and beers and coffees, birds, lovers, oceans, ideas, etc etc etc become our tools.  We pursue our joy in pleasure in them for the sake of joy and pleasure.  BUT, life is not generated by these things.  These things point to the Life Generator.  We are poor gods trying to be satisfied with something that was never created to satisfy.  Oh satisfy me!  Satisfy me!!!!  Like a frustrated child trying to put the triangle piece into the circle opening, our efforts are vain, leading even to death as we pursue life in these temporary satellites, thinking they are the true emitters and not merely the things that relay the truth.

Oh deceitful hearts that lead us to death!  Friends, this is where an early death is crucial.  The place where Jesus died, the cross, is the death of our deceitful heart.  In the cross alone is an early death for this deceitful worm found.  Romans 7:24-25a, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”   In his death, our death is accomplished.  In his resurrection, our life is promised.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is death.  God grant me faith to trust my death to the cross and hope in the life given through your resurrected Son.

The Purpose of Trials

A friend and I have been chatting for a while this morning about the purpose of trials and suffering.  We were led in our discussion to James 1:2-4. God really used this passage to encourage me and prepare my heart once again for the trials and suffering that he has in store for me.  When we are in between sufferings, God gives us conversations like these to build our hearts and get us ready before the fire actually comes, so, for this I am thankful.  I wanted so share some of our reflections and write them to seal it in my own heart and mind.

James says that trials are a testing, a tempering, for the purpose of producing steadfastness.  KJV says that testing produces patience, while the NIV and NASB say, “perseverance” and “endurance,” respectively.  It’s cool what each of these words conjures up in my imagination.  Steadfast makes me think of those old Scottish castles in the highlands.  They have endured through storms, battles, time, and human activity.  Yet… they are firm, still there to awe us and make us feel nostalgic.  Trials and sufferings produce rock solid castles of faith that endure the weathering of life.

Perseverance and endurance remind me of marathon runners.  Running, running, running, to go the long haul.  Building their fortitude.  Able to maintain long and rugged courses.  Withstanding the pressures to achieve the goal.

All of these things are what James has in mind.  He says in vs. 4 that the full effect of steadfastness of faith is perfection and completion.  God turns the heat up in your life and my life to produce a faith in us that will carry us to the goal, the prize, namely, being with God himself.  Like children running to candy as the staple of their diet, we run to the world to satisfy.  God uses suffering and trials to wean us off of that which destroys and make us desire that which satisfies.

Thus, James can say, count it all joy when you meet trials.  God is producing in you something that will last forever and deeply satisfy.  Oh what joy!

 

What’s in a Name?, Part 1

So, what’s in a name?  What’s the big deal about names?  Why do we spend more money to have certain names on our clothing, cars, televisions, cellphones, entertainment devices, etc?

A name is, of course, an identification.  Its the way we make distinctions.  There are two men.  One’s name is Bob and the other is Gary.  Now I can differentiate between the two.  There are many cities in California.  San Fransisco, LA, San Diego, etc.  Now I can differentiate between them, with a name.  I see 50 books on my shelf.  With their names, I can, differentiate between them.

Not only is a name a way to identify something, names also conjure up all sorts of thoughts and emotions.  For instance, the name Adolf Hitler.  What did you think when you read this name?  What pictures were in your mind?  What feelings did you have?  How about the name, George Washington?  What did you think about when you read that name?  How about Apple?  How about Mercedes?  How about Exxon?  How about Polo?  How about Harry Potter?  How about Osama Bin Laden?  How about London?  How about Moscow?

The power of a name to do this conjuring, comes through the reputation that is attached to the name. Reputation (whether good or bad) is the power of the name.  According to dictionary.com, a reputation is,”The estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally.”  What is the popular opinion concerning something?  This is the reputation.

In Isaiah 48:9-11, God brings this whole issue up.  He had called Abraham, made a pledge to him and thus set a people apart for himself.  Later, he identified himself to Moses.  He gave Moses his name: Yahweh.  This name was God’s identifying himself among the other gods, so that he would be distinguished from them.  After all, they had not revealed their names to anyone (their names had been given by their creators), and here was Yahweh identifying himself, making himself distinct.

These set apart people were brought out of slavery through mighty signs and wonders through the power of Yahweh.  The name of Yahweh was gaining a reputation.  Yahweh had saved a people that could not save itself.  He had also given them clear revelation on how to live as his set apart people.  This was in order that Yahweh’sreputation might be displayed before the watching nations.  Yahweh was making his name known and his people were to be the display of that reputation: the God who saves the unsaveable and them existing to show his mighty power and glory, mercy and grace.

They did not do a good job of showing God’s true reputation.  The Old Testament is an account of Yahweh’s people failing to faithfully illuminate to the nation’s Yahweh’s mighty power and glory, mercy and grace.  Yahweh’s reputation was being destroyed and defamed.  This is what he is saying through Isaiah, “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.  Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.  For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my NAME BE PROFANED?  My glory I will not give to another.”

When God’s name is mentioned, he wants his reputation to be instantly thought of.  He wants to be known as the mighty God who saves the unsaveable, the One who judges the wicked, the One who is full of grace, truth, mercy, and holiness.  He calls apart a people to accomplish this.  Trophies of grace that testify to this Name.  That increase his reputation.

What is God’s reputation in your life?

Mark

We have been studying through the Gospel according to Mark on Wed nights.  Through Mark’s account we are being challenged to compare three different interpretations of Jesus: what does the culture say, what do we say, and what does Mark say concerning the person of Jesus.  The question then arises, whose word do we accept as true?  Will we accept what the culture says (majority rule)?  Will we accept what we say and experience (subjective)?  Will we accept what Mark says (objective)?  Or, will we have a hodgepodge of belief concerning who Jesus is?

Mark’s plea is that we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the very Son of God (vs.1).  Then, he goes about giving us his account (a record of Peter’s account, we believe) to show us why this claim is true.  Will we believe him?  Join us on Wed night as we go through this gospel and learn more about who Jesus was and what went on during his life.

A Great Luther Hymn

I forgot how much I love the words to this hymn.  I hope you find encouragement in this dialogue between the Father and the Son.

1 Dear Christians, one and all, rejoice,
With exultation springing,
And with united heart and voice
And holy rapture singing,
Proclaim the wonders God has done,
How His right arm the vict’ry won;
What price our ransom cost Him!

2 Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay;
Death brooded darkly o’er me.
Sin was my torment night and day;
In sin my mother bore me.
But daily deeper still I fell;
My life became a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.

3 My own good works all came to naught,
No grace or merit gaining;
Free will against God’s jugment fought,
Dead to all good remaining.
My fears increased till sheer despair
Left only death to be my share;
The pangs of hell I suffered.

4 But God had seen my wretched state
Before the world’s foundation,
And mindful of His mercies great,
He planned for my salvation.
He turned to me a father’s heart;
He did not choose the easy part
But gave His dearest treasure.

5 God said to His beloved Son:
“It’s time to have compassion.
Then go, bright jewel of My crown,
And bring to all salvation.
From sin and sorrow set them free;
Slay bitter death for them that they
May live with You forever.”

6 The Son obeyed His Father’s will,
Was born of virgin mother;
And God’s good pleasure to fulfill,
He came to be my brother.
His royal pow’r disguised He bore;
A servant’s form, like mine, He wore
To lead the devil captive.

7 To me He said: “Stay close to Me,
I am your rock and castle.
Your ransom I Myself will be;
For you I strive and wrestle.
For I am yours, and you are Mine,
And where I am you may remain;
The foe shall not divide us.

8 “Though he will shed My precious blood,
Me of My life bereaving,
All this I suffer for your good;
Be steadfast and believing.
Life will from death the vict’ry win;
My innocence shall bear your sin,
And you are blest forever.

9 “Now to My Father I depart,
From earth to heav’n ascending,
And, heav’nly wisdom to impart,
The Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you
And teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.

10 “What I on earth have done and taught,
Guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom’s work be wrought
And honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy
The heav’nly treausre should destroy;
This final word I leave you.”