Friday, June 24, 2011

Lessons from Chickens . . .

Recently, when we've gone out of town, we've needed to have the person who watches our house leave the chickens in their pen instead of letting them out during the day to roam around a larger area we had fenced in for them. Why? Because they kept escaping and getting into our yard and lawn and vegetable garden causing damage, and because we didn't want our house sitter to have to chase them around the yard at night.

The result of this? Unhappy chickens! But, when we see the reason for that, it struck me that we probably aren't a lot different. If those chickens had stayed in the boundaries we set up for them, they could have had the freedom and food and pleasure of roaming around the large fenced area for each day we are gone. But, because they kept "escaping" the boundaries and going after what, to them, seemed more beneficial and pleasurable, it cost them tremendously in the end.

I wonder . . . how many times to we "escape" the boundaries God sets up for us, and push the envelope, and do things "our way" (kind of like Eve who saw the tree was pleasing to the eye, good for food, and desirable to make one wise)? And, how many times does it force God to restrain, or hold back, something He had in store for us that maybe we never even will ever find out about? Just a thought, and maybe a lesson, from watching chickens . . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Unanswered" Prayers

Father's Day on Cannery Row.
Yesterday I had the wonderful blessing of being able to head north after church and spend Father's Day with my parents. For weeks I looked forward to a good, long cup of coffee at a special coffee shop on Cannery Row—sitting, catching up, just being together. As we headed up the Salinas Valley the fog bank ahead looked ominous, but when we got to the coffee shop I had requested the weather was beautiful, the ocean glittered in the sun, and someone had even left us two outside tables, pushed together, with an umbrella above them and six chairs arranged around them. Thanks, Lord!

When I went into the coffee shop to order while we waited for my folks to arrive I noticed on the top of the counter facing the door a few books on stands . . . a couple of titles by John Steinbeck, and my dad's pictorial history of the Monterey/Cannery Row waterfront and sardine industry, From Fisherman's Wharf to Steinbeck's Cannery Row. When he got there I had fun telling my dad that he was ranked up there side by side with Steinbeck!

Not bad company to be next to . . .
Later last night, as we sat around visiting at my parent's home, Dad reminded me of a time in the very early 1960s when he had bumped in to Steinbeck on the street up in San Francisco. All of a sudden, as he shared it, I thought of how, often, if we were told our future, we'd never believe it because it would be so out of our current frame of reference that we couldn't receive it. When my dad bumped in to John Steinbeck, at the time Steinbeck was a well known author . . . but my dad was not writing, I wasn't in the picture, and grand kids certainly weren't! It would have been, on that early 1960s day, mind-bending to be told that he would one day be a father of a son, a grandfather of two beautiful girls, an author of a book that would be shelved next to Steinbeck's, and spending a Father's day almost 50 years later with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters at a waterfront coffee shop at an elegant resort hotel in an area that, at that time, was marked old abandoned canneries with little tourist appeal.

As I reflected on that, I found myself thinking of how often we probably ask God for an answer to something and, while He knows it, He either can't give it to us, or we can't recognize it as from Him when He does (thinking, instead, we are just having weird thoughts or daydreams), because the answer is completely out of our frame of current reference because it involves situations and circumstances that we have yet to even know will happen. Sometimes, I believe, we must wait to get an answer from God because a person, or situation, or event involved in the answer is not even in place or in the picture yet, and there is no way for us to comprehend an answer that involves something or someone we are not even aware of yet.

As I look back at seasons of my life I realize how many places there are in it that if you had told me where I'd be five or ten or twenty years later I would have either laughed, called you crazy, or simply not been able to wrap myself around it (i.e. the college freshmen mocking a God he claims he doesn't believe in becoming a pastor, etc.). Certainly, if I had a thought about a future like that I would have dismissed it! And yet, when we pray and ask God a question about the future, how many times is that the same situation? We wouldn't recognize the answer if He gave it to us because it is so out of the current context of our life or situation. And so, in that period of waiting, we move ahead on faith—not believing God hasn't heard or doesn't care, but just trusting the love He showed us on the cross and knowing that, if we aren't seeming to get an answer from Him, we can trust His love and trust His character and goodness, and trust that there is a good reason for it—and that He has not left us, ceased to care for us, or stopped watching over us.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is God a Christian?

In a recent blog post Albert Mohler discussed a book by R. Kirby Godsey called Is God a Christian? Let me say that I have not read the book and I am only going on what Mr. Mohler said about it and quoted from it—but even if it is not an accurate picture of Mr. Godsey’s arguments, it certainly is of others we will come across.

In his post, Mr. Mohler quotes Mr. Godsey as writing, “Most Christians assume that Christianity is the one and only religion that is God-inspired and that carries the imprimatur of God’s blessing.” Mr. Mohler then says how Godsey opposes that assumption and argues that, “the stakes for mankind have grown too high for any of us to engage our faith as if our understanding of God represents the only way God’s presence may be known in the world.”

On the surface this argument which Mr. Godsey purportedly puts forth sounds so comforting for those who know and love non-Christians. It sounds kind and “tolerant.” It sounds humble, “Yeah, who are we to claim we have the only way?” But, it is a devastating path for a Christian to go on—and one we MUST recognize and be able to teach our children to recognize.

Fundamentally, as with evolution, the justification of homosexuality as a pleasing lifestyle before God, or any other thing we have created contrary to the Bible, the argument reportedly put forth by Mr. Godsey is one more attack on the Bible as the written and inspired and accurate record of God’s words to us. And, when we start to lose that place of authority in our own heart that the Bible is God’s word to us, from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation, we lose the very foundation of our faith. This is why I am such a supporter of defenses of the Creation account—because the devil doesn’t care where he begins to cast doubt in our heart about the Bible . . . he will eventually take that doubt and move it to the gospel. We can not take these things lightly as Christians, and as those commissioned to pass the baton on to the next generation.

Let me first say that Romans makes it clear that God is known to all men through Creation. So much so that men are without excuse for denying God. Rom 1:19-20 says: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. So, in that sense, our faith is not the only way God’s presence may be known in the world. With that I don’t argue. That is why, I believe, so many religions carry the same themes, the same types of stories in their heritage, etc.—because, at their core, they are “God-inspired” by our innate knowledge that He is real and our seeking to give Him shape and definition.

So, I do believe that many religions have a true sense of God’s reality and presence . . . but, from that point, Christianity makes a unique claim, and it is based on the words of the Bible. In it Jesus says that He is the way—that no one comes to the Father except through Him. The parable of the minas makes it clear that at His return those who didn’t want Him as their King will be cast out. On and on we could go, quoting verses that make it clear that if we don’t come to God through the cross then we are not going to stand before Him. All of these claims come from a common origin—the Bible. And the Bible makes it pretty clear that there is only one way. So, there really isn’t room, if we believe the Bible to the accurate word from God, to accept multiple paths to God.

Of course, and here’s the rub, if we don’t believe the Bible to be the word of God then each can define their own path and what “feels right” to them and come up with their own brand of faith and religion that “resonates” with them. Of course, the slippery slope of that, is that there are no absolutes and such a relativism is a catastrophic place for a society to fall in to. There are many people who assert they are Christians who don’t believe that Jesus is the only way. I must ask, “If there was another way then what Father, who loved His Son, would subject Him to the cross?” If there was another way, than do we have multiple, alternative “Saviors”? Often it is these same Christians who will define right and wrong in society totally contrary to the Bible’s words . . . and I have to ask, how do they define the faith? Where do they derive their doctrine?

No, Christianity is based upon the Bible as the doctrinal foundation of our faith. It is one of the most primary ways God reveals Himself and His ways and His path to us. And it is clear that, in what God has chosen to reveal to us, Jesus is the only way. To reject that is to reject the Bible. To reject the Bible is to reject the faith—or to create a faith based on one’s own feelings or ideas and call it “Christianity”. That is arrogance, I believe.

It strikes me that, beyond the inspired recognition that there is a God, if Christianity is not the only God-inspired religion then it isn’t God-inspired at all because it can’t be God-inspired and be wrong, and if it is right it doesn’t leave room for other ways. I don’t see how the two can be reconciled.

Note: It is not arrogant for us to claim we have the only way. We aren't claiming it like we are some super brains who "figured it out." It is actually a very humble claim which says, in faith, "I don't have a way on my own, I trust God and His Bible to have shown me this." It is simply faith in what we believe God says. He makes the claim, we don't. We just repeat it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Turn Around, or Go Around?

First, thanks so much to those of you who have sent, or promised, contributions to the outdoor cooking fundraising book we are doing to help our work with local youth! I really appreciate it! If you haven’t given me one, and you would still be willing, I would “treasure” your recipes, tips, tricks, marinades, secrets, for outdoor cooking (BBQ, grilling, dutch oven, smoking, etc.). It could be meats (I have very little fish recipes or tips!) or sides to go with a main course. I would really like to get a “sampling” from our own area, as well as different regions of the United States (hint, hint, my readers from out of California!), or the world. Please see my post on it by clicking here. The sooner you can let me know something is coming, the more it would help me.

Turn Around, or Go Around?
The other day I was glancing through a Christian magazine I had laying around and there was an article in it by evangelist Reinhard Bonnke (Reinhard Bonnke, The Harvest Continues, Charisma magazine, March 2010). I don’t know enough about him to comment on him, but a part of what he wrote jumped out at me. He was talking about something Jesus showed Him and then he said, “After Jesus spoke these words He planted His cross in the middle of the highway to hell, His arms open wide.” A bit later he said, “When an evangelist preaches ‘Repent!’ we are saying, in effect, ‘Turn around!’ When one sinner makes a U-turn, heaven rejoices and hell is left with nothing left to celebrate.”

This word picture of a road with everyone on it resonated with me because it seems that so often people put off the choice for God with the misperception that, one day, "down the road," they will make the choice either for OR against Him—the choice to get on one road or the other. They treat it like it is a choice they need to make between God or not (or between Heaven or not). What people miss understanding is that the only choice available is one for God—that they are already firmly in the middle of the road that is called separation from God. They must choose to choose God and the cross . . . and not making a choice is in fact already a choice—it leaves them on the road they are on, separated.

"God," or "no God," is not a fork in the road of life that we come to one day. Everyone, by sin, is from the beginning traveling in the same direction on the same road of "no God." The only choice is whether or not to change direction. So, in Bonnke’s example, we are all traveling down the road of separation from God which eternally ends in separation in Hell.

The origin of the word “repent” is not about tears at the altar (though repentance might or might not bring that), but about changing a mind or direction or way of thinking. “Repent”—change your mind, change your direction. In that context, seen in the picture of our life as a journey of separation from God, the analogy of the cross in the middle of the road as a call/sign to make a U-turn, or to turn around, is a very apt one. At least it worked for me and resonated well as it underscores that we are already ON the road of separation from God—we don’t choose that road, it is our default! The choice, the only choice, is whether to change direction. The scary part is that no choice is in fact a choice which leaves you on that awful road. Doing nothing is in fact doing something, and it is the worst thing one can "do"! So, really, it comes down to a person being on the road that is separation from God and being confronted with the cross . . . do they go around it and continue on, or turn around (repent) when it confronts them?


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