Tag Archives: Theology

We Celebrate This?

January 22, 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade trial decision that made abortion legal in the United States.  The topic of abortion has really been on my mind the last couple of months.  I cannot tell you why, but it has.  I know it’s a sensitive topic for most of us, and so I have been debating for the last month whether or not I should write about it.  I’ve also seen a lot of editorials, news stories, and clips during this time, and I wasn’t sure if I would just be another “clanging cymbal” or if I would actually be adding something to the discussion to get people to think about why they believe what they believe, and what they should do in order to be a true change agent on this issue.  As I’ve wrestled with this decision, it finally dawned on me that if I’m spending this much time mulling it over, then there is my answer.  That, in a nutshell, is why this post didn’t come out two weeks ago.

To be completely upfront, let me begin by stating a couple things you should know about me and my own personal views.  I am a Christ-follower, an adoptive father, and I believe that life begins at conception.  I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that man’s fallibility cannot overcome the inerrancy of the Bible.  More simply put, I believe that God’s power to preserve his Word over thousands of years is a stronger force than man’s ability to make mistakes as the caretakers of the Gospel.  So now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand.

The way that many of my fellow Christians and pro-life advocates have approached abortion is to push immensely hard to make abortion illegal.  I have a hard time thinking we can just pass a law and assume that the problem will solve itself.  We cannot simply legislate our way to morality.  Forcing someone to do or not to do something against their will shouldn’t be the default approach for abortion, or many other issues we are facing today.  Even if we legislate something, that doesn’t mean it will completely prevent it, otherwise, we would have no need for prisons or police, and we wouldn’t see stories of people going to other countries to get surgeries done that are illegal in the US.  Think about this: when God created us, he gave us free will.  He didn’t force us to love Him because that cannot be considered real love.  So making abortions illegal, will that mean everyone will automatically believe abortion is morally wrong?  Of course not.  Now, should we automatically stop our efforts to limit abortions, or make them illegal?  No.  But we should think, and rethink our approach to it.

We need to stop our vilification of abortion doctors, clinics, pro-choice advocates, and those who have actually had an abortion.  We come off like hate mongers a majority of the time.  Go look up John 8 and read the story again of the adulteress woman that the Pharisees brought to Jesus to get him to agree she should be stoned.  What was Jesus’ reaction?  “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, NIV).  He didn’t ridicule this woman, he looked at her, and had sympathy for her.  Even though she was deemed to be a worthless sinner by her fellow man, Jesus saw her as valuable and ultimately, worth dying for just like all mankind.  Do we look at people who make mistakes, or make decisions to abort a child, for instance, as truly valuable?  I think more often than not, we don’t.

You see, God knows that mankind’s nature is sinful, and that as much as we try to fight it, we make mistakes.  He gave His life for us while we were still sinners who rejected Him, not when we had cleaned up our act enough to be presentable to Him (Romans 5:8).  Our best efforts, no matter how good they seem to us, fall so incredibly short (Isaiah 64:6).  He knows this, and that is why when we look at our fellow man, that we need to remind ourselves that we are all sinners, and that sin manifests itself differently in each of us.  We struggle not against man, but against higher powers that are at work against God and all that is good (Ephesians 6:12).  The ones we struggle against are deceptive, persuasive, manipulative, and cunning, and they use people in such a way that all of us have been deceived by them in many different ways.  That doesn’t absolve us and allow us to do however we see fit (Romans 6:1), but it should give us hope that God is merciful and loves us in spite of ourselves.

But we also need to value life after it is out of the womb.  We talk about people living in poverty as if they are worthless.  We criticize government programs that are designed to provide children with food and healthcare.  We also call their parents lazy, and a leach on society.  I’m not sure how we can effectively care for children in need without also helping their parents.  When exactly did God say that we should stop caring for children once they took their first breath?  If we truly call ourselves pro-life, let’s be completely pro-life.  Abortion is more about poverty and a lack of hope and support than it is about morality.  Do a search of stats online and you’ll see that a large number of abortions are by mothers who live below the poverty line.  We treat people so negatively sometimes that they would never turn to us for help for fear that they will be looked down upon, or that we’d look at them like the Pharisees did the adulteress, when in fact we should be looking at them like Jesus looked at her.  I’m not saying that government programs are the most effective way to care for the poor, or that government should do it vs. the local church, but our message of damning the poor and government assistance programs comes off as arrogant, uncaring, and selfish, none of which can be used to described the One after whom we are to model our lives.

So while I have some issues with some of the tactics of the pro-life movement, the pro-choice side certainly needs to stop and look at themselves to understand for what they are truly fighting.  I came across a video that has to be the most morally disgusting pro-choice video I have ever seen produced by the Center for Reproductive Rights (an odd name for an organization that works to eliminate the results of reproduction).  To me, it conveys the message that abortion is sexy. Watch it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2QXzzBFlCc, or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM9Y374l7-U, and then come back to continue reading.  (FYI – I posted 2 links for it just in case one gets removed.  The first link I had for it, the video got pulled…..maybe because they realized how tasteless it is.)

I’m sorry, but making it legal for over 50 million abortions in the last 40 years is not something we should celebrate, and it should not be something we put as a milestone of what we as a people are working hard to achieve.  President Obama just hailed the work of NARAL, and actually used the word “celebrate” when describing Roe vs. Wade.  This issue is not about woman’s health and it’s not about empowerment, it’s about the basic idea of whether or not the elimination of life at any point in time is justified, and whether we should be spending more time fighting to eliminate the need for abortion vs. the protection of the right to have one.

Here are some passages of Scripture that helped me to understand just how precious we are to God, well before our conception and throughout our lives:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” – Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV).  Everyone ever conceived is known by God.

“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” – Psalm 139:13 (NIV).  God uniquely designed each of us from conception.

“I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 64:16 (NIV).  God writes our names on His hands.

Why do we spend so much energy in defending pro-choice and abortion and not enough on caring for orphans?  Why is the elimination of a life whitewashed by calling it a “choice”, or discussed as part of “women’s health”, or worse yet referred to by the government as “reproductive health”?  Isn’t it strange that abortions are allowed up to and beyond the point where the child could live on its own if it was actually born?  And if that child were to be born prematurely, wouldn’t we go to heroic ends and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to help that child survive?  I don’t say all these things to make anyone feel guilty.  I say them honestly to make you consider that we should be striving to be better than this.

Regardless of what you believe to be the most effective way to reduce, and hopefully eliminate abortions (i.e. education vs. legal means), I would hope that your goal is to help solve this issue.  I would hope that you expend more of your energy on caring for children and proving that the better choice is always life and that there are viable options for children that were unplanned.  We must take better care of the children already here who are neglected and marginalized, but we also cannot turn our backs on defenseless children just because they are still in the womb.  But we cannot fight for the rights of the unborn and then not do what we can to care for those already living and in desperate need of help.  If we don’t, then I think we are holding on to a double standard.  Let’s expend more energy on the care of children than on arguing pro-life vs. pro-choice.  My guess is that people can more easily remember the last time they argued about abortion rights than the last time they did something to care for an orphan, or a single Mom, or a pregnant young girl who thinks she cannot do it alone.

One of my heroes is someone that I have never met.  I have never seen her face, and I don’t know what she is like.  In late 2006, as an unwed girl in her early 20’s, she found out she was pregnant.  Even though prenatal care in rural Russia is not up to par, and abortions outnumber live births there, she made the brave choice to give birth to a child.  On May 20, 2007, her little girl was born and she made another difficult choice to release her parental rights.  She did all this not knowing that about 16 months later on September 10, 2008 that little girl would become our daughter.  I thank God every day that this young woman chose the path that the world deems more difficult, because if she had not, my life would not look like it does today, and my heart would not be filled with love for my beautiful, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Alina.  I also pray for God to look out for Alina’s birth mom and that He protects her and comforts her.  My hope is that she has found faith in God and that she has been adopted into His family.

God is Greater than Law

As you have likely seen by now, President Putin of Russia signed the bill that effectively bans inter-country adoptions to the United States.  Let me give you a few statistics that will help you understand the magnitude of its impact.

  • There are currently 52 families that have been matched to children, and are close to finalizing their adoptions.  Some of these are literally days away from being complete, and in most cases, the child will have to start the waiting all over again.
  • There are between 500-1000 families that are in the process of trying to adopt from Russia, meaning they had not been matched to a child yet, but were somewhere along the journey to find their child.
  • About 1000 are adopted from Russia annually (down from 5-6 times that amount just a few years ago).
  • Over 15,000 teenagers “age out” of orphanages every year, expected to live on their own without a family support system.
  • Approximately 110,000 orphans live in some form of orphanage in Russia, but there are nearly 700,000 total orphans in Russia.

In short, the numbers are dreadful, and they show us that the move today by the Russian government will not benefit children.  Russia is using this bill to directly retaliate against the US for passing the Magnitsky Act.  That bill was named for an attorney who uncovered details of a tax fraud scheme and reported the officials involved, only to be accused of tax fraud himself and was imprisoned.  While in prison, he was allegedly tortured and beaten, and then died of his injuries after not being given sufficient medical care.  With Magnitsky’s death still being investigated more than three years later, the Magnitsky Act denies US visas to any official suspected to be involved in his death, and also freezes their US assets.  So in effect, Russia is now defending rich, corrupt officials by making pawns of marginalized and defenseless children…..their OWN children, mind you.

Russia has defended itself saying that their bill was motivated by the nearly 20 cases over the last decade where Russian adopted children were abused or even died under the care of their American parents.  While I am all for defending children at all costs, I would say that this reason is a bit hollow given that the US and Russia just signed a new adoption agreement less than 2 months ago.  That agreement took about 15 months to negotiate, so if it didn’t cover all the Russian government’s concerns, can we really believe that this new bill brought about one week after the Magnitsky Act was passed is truly warranted to further protect their children?  Were they just not detail-oriented enough over that 15 month period to cover everything?  I don’t have to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: that’s just not believable.

Let me be clear and say that I want all children to be protected, and 20 is not an insignificant number of cases of abuse to me.  But given that there were over 32,000 adoptions from Russia to the US during that time period, that is .06% of the adoption case.  That is 6/100ths of 1%.  Quite literally, that seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

My wife, Brandon, and I have gone through the gamut of emotions today: anger, resentment, confusion, sadness, you name it.  We’ve spent a lot of time talking with people via email, phone, text, social media, etc.  We’ve also read story after story of parents who have had their chance at parenthood yanked out from under them.  I can’t imagine their grief, and I pray that they have family and friends as wonderful as ours who have wrapped around us and supported us from the beginning.

But the most wonderful redeeming fact through all of this is that we serve and are loved and comforted by an amazingly beautiful and gracious God.  He sees the actions of a handful of politicians in Moscow who are sacrificing the welfare of innocent children in order to protect the interests of their rich counterparts.  The Bible overflows with the message of caring for orphans.  Not much angers God more than people who take advantage of those easily forgotten by this world, and there is no one who better epitomizes that than orphans.

They are voiceless: we must give them a voice.  They are weak: we must be strong for them.  They are marginalized: we must make them the center of our plans for justice.  Even if we do not get the privilege of seeing the good that ultimately will win out over this evil, we must continue to fight for them.  The God we serve is just, and He will see to it that the guilty are punished.  We may also not be able to see how He weaves good into the ashes of this mess, but that, too, will happen.  We all must have faith that it will, even though it may never be apparent to us.  No group of men is stronger than Him, and the last verdict on this matter is already written, and the victory is God’s.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” – Isaiah 10:1-2

“For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice, the upright will see his face.” – Psalm 11:7

All of this is obviously much easier to say or write than it is to truly feel and believe it.  It is also much easier to write this when it is not my child that has been torn away from me.  I pray for all those who are in that situation tonight, and that God’s people wrap around and support you.  May your faith in Him be made stronger amidst your own weakness, even while you can’t see how any good can come from this.  May you one day be able to look back on this as simply a sidetrack while on your journey to parenthood.  May you be able to look back and know without a doubt in your mind that God has woven together your family with the absolute love and care that only our Father could have.

“I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

Why, God?

When tragic events happen, such as the shootings Friday in a Connecticut elementary school, we are left with an empty feeling of being unsure how and why something like this could happen, and if it could have been prevented.  Many people also are left asking “How could God let this happen?” or “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”.  Some Christians believe that it is not appropriate to question God, when in reality, He is the best one to which we should ask questions.  Even Jesus asked questions of God, His Father.  If you recall, on the cross He asked cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)  So did Jesus sin when He asked this question or didn’t He?  Since Jesus lived a sinless life, then that leaves us to draw the conclusion that asking God questions is not a sin.

The book of Job is about a man who is tested by Satan.  Not only did God allow Satan to test Job, but He appears to all but offer him up to be tested, not once, but twice (see Job 1:8 and 2:3).  By all accounts, Job was a close follower of God, so it begs the question as to why God allowed bad things to happen to him?  Job lost all his children, his livestock, his wife rebuked him, and he was stricken with sores on his entire body.  Throughout the whole book, Job and his friends have a debate as to why this is happening to him.  His friends appear to be resolved that it obviously must be because of something Job did.  Eventually, Job turns his questions to God as he is wrestling with why all that had happened to him.

Ultimately, God doesn’t answer His questions directly, but asks him a series of questions instead, with the main one being “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4).  In the series of questions and statements about His creation, God is laying the foundation not for knowledge of His deeds, but for an understanding that our finite minds cannot begin to comprehend.  I think Job wanted a direct answer, but even if he had been given a full dissertation as to why it happened, he would not have understood or been able to accept it.  What he did get was an appreciation of just how much God controls, and how His plans are so much greater than what we can fathom (see also Isaiah 55:9).  We ultimately have to accept the fact that we are incapable of fully understanding God and His reasons.  Obviously, that is much easier to say than do.  But consider this: I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that Job is considered to be one of, if not THE oldest book in the Bible.  It’s a testament to just how long man has wrestled with how God works.  We are able to see that God has used Job’s story for thousands of years to let others know that we cannot fully understood Him because we are not God.

While God does not cause evil things to happen, He obviously is allowing them to happen and we wonder why that is the case.  We must remember that because of sin, man effectively made his choice to distance himself from having a close relationship to God (see Genesis 2 & 3).  God gave us free will because you cannot have love without it.  You cannot be forced to love something or someone, but we can’t seem to accept that fact when we wonder why God allowed man to sin in the first place.  He chose love above obedience when He created us.  Since the dawn of time sin has only grown, and man has sought to push God as far out of our lives as possible, and yet when bad things happen, we ask Him where He is and why He allowed this evil to come upon us.  We want a god made in our own image, and to do what we want him to, when we want him to do it, and to butt out when we don’t want him around.  That’s the kind of god man would create, essentially something like a celestial slot machine.  I wrestle with this question often, so I don’t expect to answer it fully for anyone here, but hopefully you can see the irony.

I can assure you that God certainly does weave good from tragedies such as this.  When bad things happen, we can more clearly see the good in people by their responses and reaction to the needs that arise.  We witness stories of how people pull together and help out their fellow man.  We hear heroic stories of how people saved one another during the tragedy, and we see that even people shaken to their core can overcome difficult tragedies.  We also see people who have experienced similar tragedies in their lives strive to help those now following in their difficult footsteps because they know exactly what it feels like to be in their shoes.  I’ve already read stories where people from across the country who are trained in dealing with these kinds of difficulties are already on their way to Connecticut to help.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Dan Malloy, Governor of Connecticut said “Evil visited this community today.”  I’d actually go one step further and say that evil actually resides in our communities continuously.  People might ask where God was yesterday: He was right there with the people who saved some of the children who otherwise may have been victims as well. He is in the people who have been praying and ministering to the families impacted by this tragedy.  You see, people are God’s plan A, and there is no plan B.  He expects us to display His love for others by helping them, and seeing that there is still hope when things seem to be the darkest.  God knows what it’s like to lose a child, because He experienced that when Jesus was crucified.  As a parent, I cannot think for one second that He didn’t feel anguish and heartache at the sight of His only son being beaten and crushed, but something that awful was not in vain, and He used that sacrifice to pay for the world’s sin so that we could be reconciled with Him.

It’s not a coincidence that when tragedies happen, those impacted tend to turn to God for answers and church attendance swells.  I just wish that we would learn to stay locked in with God and allow Him to help us wrestle not only with the difficult circumstances like this, but the trying times we have in our daily lives.  How much greater a people would we be if we focused on living justly and caring for others not just when tragedy strikes or when the holiday season is here, but constantly?   As it says in Lamentations 3:40. “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.”

How I wish that I would remember to follow God daily and ask Him to “Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” Isaiah 33:21-22.  My prayers and condolences continue to go out to those impacted by this senseless evil.

Greater Love: Jesus or Chicken?

It’s been a long couple of weeks since the whole Chick-fil-a fiasco.  I’ve spent some time discussing it with people, both in person and online, and I’ve also read several news stories and blogs covering many aspects of the story.  I also have close friends and family whose opinions are across the spectrum on this issue, and some who are just fed up with it all and can’t wait for it to blow over.  Honestly, the only way I can now describe my feelings after seeing this whole thing unfold is simply to say that I am sad.  I’m saddened because I know people who are hurt by the backlash from one or both sides, and I’m saddened because I don’t believe our actions as Christians have glorified God through any of this.

I could spend a considerable amount of time debating the specifics of the issue, and still not convince anyone that I am right (nor could they convince me I am wrong).  So rather than going down that rat hole, I would like to challenge my fellow Christians to be better.  Let me start by asking this question: find a story in the Bible where Jesus lashed out at someone who was already marginalized by society at large?  Before you open your Bible or your browser to do some research, let me save you some time…..you won’t find one.

In everything that I read about Jesus, both in his actions and in his words, He never further marginalized anyone who already feels like a lesser human being than the rest of society.  In fact, the people that riled his anger the most were the religious elite or zealots (i.e. Pharisees and Sadduccees) who were more concerned about keeping the law than they were about showing compassion or love for their fellow man (Mark 7:6-8).  You will also find stories where Jesus reached out to outcasts like tax collectors (Matthew 9:9-11), Samaritans (John 4:1-26), and lepers (Matthew 26:6).

One of the most notable stories that is often discussed is when these pious men brought an adultress to Jesus (John 8:1-11) and wanted him to agree that she should be stoned, just as Mosaic law required (Leviticus 20:10).  Without saying a word, Jesus knelt down and began to write in the sand.  He then raised up and said that the person without sin should throw the first stone.  That ruled out everyone except for Him.  But what did He do at that point?  He knelt back down to continue writing in the sand, and the men left him one-by-one until only the woman was left standing there.  He then told her to go and sin no more.

When Jesus was brought before Pilate on trumped up charges, He didn’t fight back (Matthew 27:14).  He hardly said a word.  Instead of defending Himself, or pointing out that proper protocol was not being followed for His trial, He actually prayed for them (Luke 23:34).  He then allowed Roman soldiers to mock Him, spit on Him, beat Him, and eventually crucify Him (Mark 15:16-37).  This is our model, and the One who gave His life for us, for all of us who daily betray Him with our sinful actions.

Compare that example now to where we were the last few weeks when we felt not that we were going to be put to death, but only that our freedom of speech was being threatened.  What is our reaction?  We throw a big rallying party at fast food locations across the country and post on Facebook and Twitter with actions and words that largely are not meant to glorify Him, and in fact, further marginalize an already downtrodden group of people.

Not only did Christians pour out en masse that day, but our actions also served as a sort of safe haven for people who actually are full of hate, fear and bigotry.  Did you read any of the stories that interviewed homosexual employees of Chick-fil-a?  Many of them had to serve people who said they were glad that their company was against “perverted gays”.  Regardless of your opinion on the morality of homosexuality, the legality of same sex marriage, or whether or not this had anything to do with free speech, if you are a Christian, I hope you re-evaluate your response to this whole mess.  The minute we divide the people of this country into and “us vs. them” mentality, we have lost our witness.  Maybe some think it was justified, but honestly, I cannot find evidence in the Bible that would support that claim.

I get that we need to stand up for rights that we feel are being infringed upon, but I don’t think we can attach our religious beliefs to every single political movement out there.  Not once did Jesus make a stand on a political issue during His ministry, even though he was asked directly to do just that (Mark 12:14-17). We scream when we are being persecuted in arguably the country with the most freedoms in the world, but remember that freedom of speech guarantees only that we will not be arrested for speaking our mind, it does not guarantee that we can say whatever we want without someone disagreeing with us.  Not only that, why should we be surprised that people won’t like our values and what we stand for?  Jesus promised this would happen if we followed Him (John 15:20).

I guess if you fully realize that God poured out an endless amount of love, grace, and mercy onto people like me; a lying, thieving, prideful, hypocritical, envious, blasphemous, sinner; then it makes you think about how you should treat others.  Maybe if we are going to err on one side or the other we should do so on the side of showing too much love, grace, and mercy.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how much love, grace, and mercy we can muster it could never match the amount that God has shown to us.

In the end, I just don’t think this was the place to make our stand.  Where I think we should make our stand is in finding homes for orphans, or feeding the hungry, or not allowing someone to go through an illness alone, or any other of the countless social issues that the church has shown such a rich history of combating.  We are on this Earth to be a light, to offer hope, and to show people a glimpse of our Father in Heaven, and I don’t see how waiting in line for an hour for a chicken sandwich did any of that at all.  You’ve heard it said that to whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:48): by being richly blessed to live in a country with freedom of speech, we’d be better served to use that freedom to speak out against real persecution around the world vs. using it to fuel the flames that have caused a great rift such as this.

In college I was in a fraternity that had no secrets and all our creeds, oaths, and principles were available for anyone to read them.  We used to say by doing so, we made it to where anyone could hold us accountable to them.  I believe it’s even more important that we, as Christians, hold ourselves accountable to what we claim we believe.  Given that the Bible is the best selling book in history, if we don’t hold ourselves accountable to it, we’ve already seen that others will.

May we think and rethink our positions both politically and morally so that when we deliver the truth, we do so out of love and we show that the reason we point it out is not because we want to be “right” but because we actually care about people (Romans 12:9-21).  We will never be able to control what people think about us or what will be said about us, but we can manage our reactions and show that we are His people by speaking with love in our words and compassion in our hearts (Philippians 4:5).

Endless Saturday

I recently read the book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Place” by Eugene Peterson.  If his name is unfamiliar to you, you might be familiar with one of his other works The Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible, putting it into contemporary language.  In “Christ Plays…” he made a comparison of Holy Saturday (the day in between Good Friday and Easter) to the times that we live in today.

On Holy Saturday, things seemed dark and hopeless.  The disciples and Jesus’ followers had just seen their Messiah brutally beaten and murdered and they were reeling.  They believed that He was going to liberate Israel from Roman captivity, and become the King of a new kingdom on Earth in their day and time.  When that didn’t happened, they didn’t know what to do.  In today’s world, we find ourselves in a similar position, not knowing what to do until God’s kingdom is restored one day.  I thought Peterson’s comparison was brilliant, and it really put things into perspective for me.

Today, we can’t help but see the bad things that happen in this world, everything from accidents or illness happening to good people around us to travesties of justice that occur around the world.  At times, we can allow ourselves to think that hope is lost, and wonder where God is in all of this, as if he’s an absentee landlord.  Many Chrstians and non-Chrstians alike even ask how God can sit idly by and allow these kinds of things to happen time and time again.

But where we are today is not God’s doing, but man’s.  All the way back in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve chose to defy God, they brought about a curse on themselves, their descendants, and upon the Earth.  What has occurred since then is what happens in God’s creation, both men and the world, when it is apart from its creator.  Man and the world were both designed to live in a close relationship with God, walking and living among us, and when we chose to push Him away, we have since reaped what we sowed and found out the consequences of our actions.  Bad things happening to good people isn’t necessarily a direct result of a sin they personally committed, but it is a direct result of our collective sins as humans.

But the beautiful, wonderful, and amazing thing is remembering that today is just Saturday, it’s not Sunday yet.  The story is not finished, and God’s work in us and the world is not complete.  Things may seem bleak because with every passing day we are farther away from God than at any other time in human history.  After Jesus’ ressurection, he appeared to many of His followers and in those moments He reminded them, just as He had been telling them throughout His ministry, that his death was part of the plan all along.  He had to be made a sacrifice as payment for our sins so that we could re-establish our relationship with God, and one day commune with Him just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden.  Jesus’ death had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier, but the disciples needed to be reminded that the brutality of what they saw, the darkness that they felt, and the loss they were experiencing was part of the plan.

We do not have the ability to know God’s plans, thoughts or ideas, as they are simply too big for us.  Isaiah 55:8 tells us that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and that His ways are higher than ours.  To be honest, would you really want God or His way of doing things to be as limited as what we humans could come up with?  Just look around at the mess we have made around us, and you’ll quickly answer that question with an emphatic “no”.  We can’t agree on simple things like what we want to eat for dinner, much less things as big as right vs. wrong, or the best way to run our lives.

But as Psalm 145:17 tells us, the Lord is righteous in all His ways, so we need to take heart that He knows exactly what He is doing.  Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he told his disciples that it is not for them (and consequently us) to know the time when God’s plans will unfold (Acts 1:7).  So instead of worrying or concerning ourselves with what God is NOT doing, let’s busy ourselves with the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us: love our God and love our neighbors (Mark 12 :30 & 31).  What would our world look like if those of us who call ourselves Christians actually lived out what we preached vs. just talking about or debating it?  What if we spoke in love vs. tearing down others?  What if instead of saying that the world is getting more and more corrupt by the day, we strived to make a difference?  What if we did as Andy Stanley has said and “did for one what we wished we could do for many”?

If we did these things, maybe we might finally say to ourselves that until the perfect timing of God’s return, we will follow what he told us to do and show His love on this Endless Saturday.  The story is not over….

“Searching for God Knows What” by Donald Miller

Having really enjoyed “Blue Like Jazz”, I decided to move on to Donald Miller’s next book and was simply blown away.

Let me start by saying that I really like the way Miller writes because it almost seems like its his continuous thought process, straight from the heart, and put down on paper.  Sometimes he jumps around from one thought to another seemingly without a connection, which might make some people think he is taking a bit of a meandering road to lead up to his point.  But given that my thought process works in a very similar way, I like it quite a bit.

Miller also is great at explaining the evolution of his thoughts, in most cases using references to conversations or happenings in his life, and sometimes using creative metaphors.  I think this really shows how our faith and beliefs can also evolve over time as we investigate the subject matter more, or have conversations or interactions that move our ideas over the course of time.  Given that we will never know exactly what God’s true teachings and directions are until we meet Him in Heaven, I think Christians should always challenge what they believe and why in the relentless pursuit of following Him.  This is evident in Miller’s book, and it’s quite refreshing to see the honesty with which he writes about it.

There were a couple of discussions in the book that really put the ideas in a new light for me.  First, his discussion behind how both God felt after the Fall, as well as Adam and Eve.  I don’t want to spoil anything from the book, so I will just leave it at that.  I truly have never given as much thought about God’s feelings after this event, and it was humbling to say the least.

Second, was the concept of how men have reacted in the absence of God.  Again, without trying to give anything away from the book, it’s generally the idea that man does certain things and acts in certain ways because we have that void in our lives that will not be filled until we are reunited with God.

Both these discussions really brought me closer to God in that I started trying to see things from His perspective.  They even sparked other ideas for me about the very nature of God and just how much He loves His people – all of them.  Needless to say, I highly recommend giving this one a read.

How Much is Too Much Grace?

I had a great discussion this week with several folks regarding the plight of the poor, and our country’s social economic policies. It’s a topic that I have wrestled with quite a bit lately in an effort to determine where God is convicting and leading our family to help those less fortunate than us. With that in mind, it’s always interesting to get others’ viewpoints and challenge your own so long as you can maintain the proper level of respect for one another and your differences in opinion (which we did). For the most part, I understand the usual arguments on both sides of the discussion, and there are some merits of nearly every point with which I agree.  I decided to pull some of my points from that discussion, and expand on them a bit more in order to challenge people to actively determine where they fall on the issue and why.

When thinking of helping the poor, we sometimes shrug our shoulders and think “we can’t help them all”, so we do nothing.  But consider how much it means to the one person that you can help provide a meal for this week, or offer an encouraging word to them.

Other times we make broad generalizations that many people in need aren’t willing to help themselves, or they are lazy, or they don’t manage their money well.  That makes me wonder if we think we know better than what Jesus himself actually taught, since after all, He called upon people to help the poor.  In Luke 11:41, He told the Pharisees to “be generous to the poor”: do we think that somehow that message wasn’t meant for us as well?

Do we make these kinds of arguments as to why we shouldn’t help others because we believe that is truly part of being Christ-like, or are we doing it to provide ourselves an excuse to ignore God’s call to action?

It’s ironic that we will chide a poor person for how they choose to spend what little money they have, or assume they are lazy, but we will let rich people run companies like Lehman Brothers into the ground and we don’t speak of them with the same sort of disdain.  Wealth is destroyed all the time due to the greed of others, but we provide an excuse that says they are “job creators” and so we seem to give them some sort of untouchable status.

When we talk about the poor as if they are taking from the rich or that somehow they are unworthy of our help, even if those comments are directed only at those who abuse government programs, why should we expect any of the poor to accept a helping hand from Christians or our churches for us to lead them to Christ?  Why would they turn to people who seem to have distaste for them and ask for help?  The answer is simple – they won’t.

I’m not trying to divide us into the haves and have nots because the rest of the world has already done a fine job of that.  I also am not trying to say that we should increase the funding of entitlement programs in the United States.  I certainly don’t want to inadvertently create a larger group of people who are dependent on the government.  In my opinion, if a person is dependent on the government, they are less likely to take a stand against policies that are detrimental to the people and our nation. However, I am trying to challenge people to care for the poor and defenseless in America and the rest of the World.  I don’t believe that God will bless us for defending the rich as much as he will for trying to help the poor, and give them guidance on how to improve their situation vs. just sitting back and watching them continue to suffer or self-destruct.

Just to be clear, I’d prefer that people and charitable organizations provide these kinds of services as well, because then they can see the direct benefit of their actions and hopefully get the feeling that they are making a difference.  Unfortunately, it’s just not happening at the level that it needs to be. It’s time that we Christians step out of our glass houses en masse, and help the needy.  If more Christians and churches stepped up
their benevolence to those in need in this country, would we even need our current level of governmental assistance programs?  Until such time that we step up and provide that level of assistance, then it’s hard for us to argue that these programs are completely unnecessary.  If you continue to argue against these programs entirely, then I would like to see what you are doing about the gap other than complaining about it.  I’m referring to real, meaningful, active assistance, not just donating a few bucks here and there and allowing others to do it for you (including others in your own Church).

There are numerous points in Scripture that tell us that we are to help the poor. As you research this topic, it becomes quite evident that God isn’t making a suggestion; he’s directing us to do it.  We are to be examples of Christ and to be His hands reaching out to help the world around us.
What better way to be His witness than to share with others what He has blessed us with (i.e. some of our time on Earth, our wealth, and His gift of grace)?

Now, the question for all of us is, “what does this help look like”?  I believe that each of us has to answer that question in our own lives based on our convictions and where God is leading each of us.  God blesses every one of us in different ways and with different levels of material things. I don’t believe that a rich person is necessarily overly blessed by God, just as I don’t believe that poor people are not blessed enough. Blessings are not all counted in material possessions, in my opinion, but if we insist on using this as a measuring stick, consider this: those of us in the United States are far wealthier than the average citizen in the rest of the world.  If you would rather see the direct impact of your help, there are great
needs closer than we care to think about, as there are countless people in cities around us that are without a home, or without food.  How many of them are also in need of not just hearing but actually SEEING the love Christ has for them?

Is there such a thing as too much grace?  When we help others, God has not promised that we will never feel taken advantage of, or that our benevolence will automatically help a person up another rung on the ladder to self-sufficiency.  If we don’t offer love and grace in the name of God, then how can we expect that from Him when we ask forgiveness for our own sins knowing that because of our very nature we surely will sin
again?  Sometimes the change that God is after may not be in those we help, but in the attitude of those He has called to offer help?

There are two books that I would highly recommend for those looking to discover what God has called them to do in helping others.  One is “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, and the other is “Radical” by David Platt.  I’ve just recently read both of them, and found them not only challenging, but very interesting reads.  The takeaways from reading these for my family and I was to help the needy at least one time per month in 2012.  We’re already on the right track having volunteered at a food pantry last Saturday, and creating our own opportunity to offer meals to the needy before the end of the year.

The Love of Christ?

As Christians, we are to show the world the love of Christ.  That’s why I find it hard to see those who claim to be Christians and Christ-followers speak in hate toward others.  Are we really saying what God wants us to say, or are we just saying what we want to say, and attaching God’s name to it?  Are we speaking out to correct our fellow man to help guide them to Christ, or are we lashing out at them to point out their faults so that we can appear better than they are?  Or, to make it appear that we are closer to Christ than those we are bashing?

It’s no secret that God hates sin and cannot tolerate it.  In order to let us into Heaven, he can accept nothing less than perfection.  Man cannot be perfect, no matter how hard he tries.  It’s absolutely impossible.  Therefore, the only way that we can get into Heaven is by accepting God’s grace in the form of accepting Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.  His sacrifice washes away our sin so that we can be given the gift of eternal life.

Interestingly enough, none of us have ever met someone that Jesus did NOT die for. Not a single one. Think of the absolute embodiment of the worst person ever alive, and then realize this – Jesus died for that person just as he died for you.

The next time that you want to judge someone, or go to a rally with a sign that says “God Hates <insert name or sin here>”, just remember that you are talking about one of God’s creations, and someone that He loves so much, that he sent his Son to die in their place should they choose to follow him.  Maybe that will cause you to think twice about your motives?  I’m not saying that you should just accept their sin, but just maybe you need a little reminder that we are to show compassion and love toward them, just as Jesus showed compassion and love toward us.