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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sick, Tired and Scared of Modern Life? I Feel a “Lot” Like You…

I’ve been reading about one my oldest ancestors … one who isn’t exactly the pride of the family.

His name is Lot. He was Abram’s nephew. When Abram was called out of Mesopotamia to travel to Canaan, Lot and his family came along. God prospered Abram’s extended family, making Lot part of a wealthy household. When they finally decided that the land could no longer support all of their prosperity in one place, Abram gave Lot the choice of where he might settle. Lot made the choice we would all probably make: The Jordan Valley, which “was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt.” He picked the Eden-like surroundings that were geographically closest to his old hometown of Ur. He also chose to live in one of the key cultural centers of the area, the city of Sodom. But Lot soon found out that there is more to this life than enjoying all that this earth and contemporary culture has to offer.

It may have been topographically beautiful, and the city may have been artsy and progressive … but Sodom was morally reprehensible. Imagine a city where men would be so brazen as to come to your home and beat down your doors if you didn’t turn your male houseguests over to them to be sexually assaulted! That’s what happened when two angels visited Lot. So confounded by the situation was Lot that, as an alternative to seeing his guests defiled, he instead offered his two virgin daughters to the mob. “Do to them as you please,” said Dad.

In answer to Abram’s prayers, and by the help of his two, strong angel visitants, Lot and his daughters were rescued from Sodom. But, even in the rescue, Lot’s spinelessness was evident. His own extended family didn’t take his warnings seriously. Even as he was being commanded to leave, “he lingered,” and had to be “seized” by the angels to get him out of town. His own wife didn’t heed the warning to keep from looking back at the judged city, and lost her life. 

ImageAnd here’s the next, not-so-well-known part of the story. This whole episode so shook Lot that he attempted to flee from the world he lived in. No longer able to be a cosmopolitan hipster in Sodom, he found himself in Zoar – but he was afraid to actually live there. So, he exiled himself and his two daughters to a cave outside of town. This led to a desperate act by his girls, who got him drunk and had incestual relations with him in order to get pregnant. It seemed the only way they could “have a life” as they saw their father getting old and nearing death. 

That’s our uncle Lot. A grimy story, and one we don’t like to talk about often at family get-togethers. For some reason, though, his story is making more sense to me in our modern day.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our day is marked by gay “mobs” pounding on our “doors”, insisting that we and everyone in our houses submit to their sexual definitions, and to embrace their activities. This is especially true in our Sodom-like larger cities. Like Lot, we can find ourselves exasperated by their incessant influence, and even be duped into thinking that illicit-yet-traditional sexual activity could serve as a preferred antidote.

Because it is so hard to live according to God’s principles in a godless world, our next step might be, like Lot’s, a fearful abandonment of culture. If we just take our virgin daughters, run away from the city, and go live in caves, we’ll be safe, right?

But Yahweh’s plan for His chosen people has always been to bless the world around us, not avoid it. If only Lot could have been more like Uncle Abram, who was politically involved, engaged in public acts of religion, and (though he had moments of difficulty navigating his cultural landscape, too) ended up being more of an influence on his culture than vice-versa.

Like Lot, I can be a sucker for the beautiful things of this world. I can find myself clinging to them, even when God calls me away from them. I can find myself so tired and fearful of the decaying culture of our world that I want to go hide in a cave somewhere.

But my wife and daughters are depending on me to lead them into better decisions than the American dream, urban values, or isolation. After all, we have been called to be a part of God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great. so that you will be a blessing … in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Twelfth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 12 coolWe finish our Christmastide journey through Romans 12 and 13 by coming full circle back to Advent.

Jesus came at Christmas … and He’s coming again soon.

“Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)

79 percentThis surprised me: Most people believe Jesus will return! Well, they did in 2006, anyway, which isn’t that long ago. In a Pew Research survey taken that year of thousands of American adults, 79% said they believe in the literal second coming of Jesus.

This surprises me, because people don’t live like it. They hardly talk about it. It certainly doesn’t seem like people are preparing for it. That’s why I’m just not sure we’re ready for it.

Almost everybody missed the first Christmas. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, Simeon, Anna, and some Iraqi astrologers…that’s who got it. The prophecies were out there. The timing of His coming was spot on (see the book of Daniel). Still, it was an anonymous event.

10 virgins

Then, Jesus told His disciples often that He would come a second time in glory to judge the world. In many of those stories, he describes people who simply were not going to be ready, and who would miss it.

Now, here in Romans, Paul says that there is a position to be taken in light of the upcoming return of Jesus. It’s a moral agenda – the mortifying of sinful desires. Frankly, it’s the opposite of our usual Christmastide agendas, which are fixated on indulging our desires. My wife Karen works at a daycare, and has been asking the kids if they had a good Christmas. The response is almost always a listing of gifts received. A “good” Christmas is a profitable one, not a righteous one. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, his precepts! O! ’tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”

Define Good XmasI hope this has been a “good” Christmastide for you all … in the goodest sense of the word “good”! I pray that your meditation on the incredible gift of the Holy Christ has moved you to want to give your life as a living sacrifice to Him in return. To put on Christ. In thanks for His first coming, we prepare ourselves for the second.

The (second) day is at hand! We believe it. Let’s be ready for it!

Merry Christmas … and a blessed Epiphany season beginning tomorrow.

 

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Eleventh Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 11 paper

Today’s post is not particularly clever. But it is more central and profound than any I’ve posted yet this year.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet”, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10).

Christmas. The celebration of the coming of Jesus. We celebrate His birth at Christmas, His death on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter … but, without His life-well-lived between His birth and death, there is no redemption. He is the only one who has ever fulfilled the Old Testament law … and, in doing so, was capable of laying His life down as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Without God becoming man, and bring perfection to our human condition, we were lost. Now, through the man who fulfilled the law, there is salvation.

What gift do we bring to Jesus to celebrate the holiday? Today’s short passage from Romans 13 calls us to the one thing that trumps them all: Our engagement in the Jesus-like practice of fulfilling the law. We do this by loving one another.

Jesus loves us like no one has ever loved anyone. The one who personally crafts every beautiful human being never once thought an illicit, possessive, manipulative thought about another. The one who would be unjustly murdered never once holds a “you fool” thought about any of us. The one who created every earthly resource, and who could create whatever He wanted ex nihilo at any time, never took anything from anyone, and adopted a life of poverty.

Loving others means denying your own lustful desires, both in thought and deed, and instead showing honor to others, treating them as holy.

Loving others means denying the instinct to be angry with others, both in thought and deed, and instead offering mercy and forgiveness when wronged.

Loving others means denying our ceaseless pursuit of stuff, both in thought and deed, and instead rejoicing in the prosperity of our neighbor, and seeking to give rather than accumulate.

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In short, Jesus loved us by completely mortifying those renegade desires that are part of our human nature. By getting things squared away internally, he was truly able to live sinlessly…and for the blessing of others. That is the Jesus who came, and He is also the example of what God is looking for in us:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

Simple. Impossible? It seems like it. But, we can love, because He first loved us. He gifts us supernaturally to be able to do it. Yes, we can. Will we? I hope so…it’s how we will be marked as His disciples in 2014 and beyond.

 

Tenth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 10 fence

Christmas … and politics? Do we have to?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but alsofor the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)

The first Christmas was more politically charged than ours is today. The Jewish people, with their long, proud heritage of freedom fighting and military rebellion, were under Roman occupation. The ongoing hope was for the promised Messiah to come, who would lead them to their political emancipation.

magiherodThe birth story itself is soaked with politics. The very reason Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem was because of the Empire-wide taxation program (you think signing up online for Obamacare is tough duty – try a 50+ mile donkey ride during your 9th month of pregnancy!). Jesus spent some of his childhood in the hated next-door-nation of Egypt because the local ruler felt threatened by religious prophecies. Then, Jesus grew up in Galilee, which was predominantly Hellenistic, unlike the conservatives in Judah, who would find the simple-minded “liberals” from down the hill to be at best pitiful, at worst repulsive.

It was impossible to keep from being embroiled in politics in first century Palestine.

globes ornamentsThis is good for us to hear today. Jesus came into a political situation, and lived a politically-aware life. And the incarnate one gave specific guidance for living out this reality. Be good citizens. Pay your taxes faithfully is you the payer … and if you’re the payee, please collect only what is properly due. And here, Paul echoes these counter-revolutionary ideas: Subjection. Do what is good. Have appropriate fear of the magistrate. But even more than that, it’s attitude! Respect and honor!

Merry Christmas! God has come, and has made it very clear: Life in light of Christmas leaves us inescapably in the politics of our lands … where we, like Him, will be blessed to live honorably. This is a gift of God! For it is “for your good.”

 
 

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Ninth Day of Christmastide ’14

Number 9“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21).

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We celebrate the birth of Jesus because He is absolutely and wonderfully good. He never sinned. He never did anything to hurt anyone. He loved everyone, especially the unlovely. He provided food. He healed. He even raised people from the dead. A nicer person has never been known, and a more magnificent life has never been lived.

But, as we all know, Jesus’ life was marked by antagonism. From His rocky birth story (road trip, manger, refugees in Egypt, escaping infanticide) to His adult years (theological controversy, political disagreement, execution, abandonment, doubt), this good man was constantly dealing with bad responses.

V - ScroogeWhen Jesus began his teaching ministry, one of the first things He said was “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12).

V - PotterIn other words, this is no surprise. It’s written in stone. Good comes into our fallen world, and the natural reaction is that it gets beat up.

It should not surprise us that God’s entering His own world through the incarnation should end with conflict. It should also not surprise us that, in as much as God abides in and sanctifies us, we are destined for adversity, too.

V - BurgerSo, Paul’s words today are an appropriate Christmastide reminder. Life on the planet is full of fighting, much of it over limited resources which leave us hungry and thirsty. As the arrogant attack one another, it leaves us in tears. These are the conditions of Jesus’ coming to Bethlehem, and they remain the conditions of our day-to-day experience.

V - FarkusHow will we mange these conditions? Is there hope? For Jesus, it ended in death. Will it be the same for us? If so, is Christmas really a good thing, or is it just getting into a fight that we’re destined to lose? The last words of the verse give us our hope: “Overcome evil with good.” It’s possible.

V - GrinchIn fact, it’s promised. It won’t happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we attempt to live our lives well … as well as Jesus did, that’s the goal … knowing that, for now, we’ll experience Jesus-like reactions. But, like Jesus, along the way, there are moments of wonder, of redemption, of glory for the Father.

Merry Christmas! Christ has come. Now, put on your armor…it’s more dangerous out there than ever.

 

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Eighth Day of Christmastide ’14!

Number 8“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

If you’re like me, you’ve always hoped to be really prosperous so that you could give more to others. But that’s not the way prosperity plays out. One could make the argument that the U.S. has been the most materially prosperous culture in history. But statistics point out that our having more has not translated into giving more. In fact, statistics show that 30% of Americans don’t give … period. 80% of Americans give less than 2% of their income.

Verses like today’s are not new to us. We’ve been told all our lives that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We should give, it is good for us to give, and we can give. But we don’t give.

scrooge turkeyDickens’ Christmastide story A Christmas Carol speaks directly to this problem of our human condition. Scrooge is a miser – the opposite of generous – who is stirred to change his life. The story ends with Scrooge spending liberally to contribute to the needs of the poor, especially to the family of his employee, Bob Cratchit. Everyone ends up having a most happy Christmas because of his gifts. “God bless us, every one!” says Cratchit’s boy, Tiny Tim. Perhaps the “Scrooge Factor” is why giving does spike during the Christmastide season (or maybe it has more to do with year-end tax benefits to our giving). But, 171 years of Dickens’ tale, along thousands of years of Biblical influence, doesn’t seem to have moved our meter. We seem to be getting worse.

My heritage, then, is scrooge-like. I’m not generous, American culture is not generous, and the American Christian church is not generous. But it hasn’t always been like this. I have ancient relatives who were very generous. The first days of the church were marked by need-meeting and generosity. “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) Is there any chance I can become more like those people? Any chance our churches can become more like that early church?

Giving GuyThe Christmastide word today challenges us to be proactive. It doesn’t say be willing to respond if a need comes our way. It calls us to seek to show hospitality. We should be internally motivated to be generous, and do what we need to to find opportunities to express it. After all, getting gifts is wonderful! If it is truly more blessed to give than to receive, it must be really wonderful to be generous!

Have a wonderful, blessed new year!

 

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