Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Taking a Step Back . . .

Recently I had to take one of our cars into town for some service on it. Town, for us, because we live so rurally (is that a word?), is about 55 minutes away. When I got to town a friend picked me up at the repair place and we went to get some coffee and a light breakfast before going together to a ministerial meeting.

For getting our coffee and bite to eat I suggested a spot I like where you can get a cup of coffee (and a refill!) and a bagel for only $3, but my friend took us to another, closer place since my suggestion was "on the other side of town" (about 7–8 minutes away) and our ministerial meeting was on the side we were already on. I was totally OK with him picking—this post isn't about his choice!—but I was struck by the matter of perspective both suggestions revealed.

To me, who had just driven 55 minutes into town, the idea of a "mere" 7–8 minutes being far, or out of the way, was not even a thought. But to my friend, who lives in town, "the other side of town" is a distance. I remember this feeling from when I lived on the Monterey Peninsula. Then, to go the 10 minutes from, say, Pacific Grove to Monterey, to run an errand or get a cup of coffee was "a long way" and avoided unless really necessary. Now, however, when we go to the Peninsula to see my folks, running over to Monterey or Carmel from Pacific Grove is nothing—because where we live now even the most basic errands are a minimum of 30 minutes away, and most almost an hour away.

As I reflected on this difference in perspective I thought how it really is a picture of the perspective we must have as Christians to live effectively in this world and not be pulled by this world. If we can't step back from the world and see things from the much bigger perspective of eternity then the things (events, circumstances, physical items, lures, etc.) of this world will seem really big to us. But, if we can step back from our narrow focus of the world around us and see things eternally, from the big picture, I believe we will find the things of the world not seeming so big to us—hence, they will not have the weight of pull on us they might when our life defines the boundary of our perspective.

Just as from my "distant" perspective "the other side of town" seemed like nothing (and from my friend's town perspective, it was too far), if we can see the things around us and that pull at us through eternal eyes I believe we will see them in the proper weight and perspective we are supposed to. Just like Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12), we must live in this world constantly aware of our heavenly home, of eternal life, and of the things that carry into eternity and the things that are temporary and rust and are consumed by fire.

The expression is often used of people with eternal perspective that they are so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good, but I don't see that. To me, and I think to the Bible, we won't be of earthly good unless we are heavenly minded because a heavenly, eternal mind is the only thing that can keep us keeping things in their proper weight and perspective. If this world is our biggest reality and hope then is stands to reason that the things and events of this world will be our highest influence and weight. But if eternity is our biggest reality and hope then the things of eternity will have the most influence on us and carry the most weight with us. But, because the lure of the world is so powerful and because we live in the world, having an eternal perspective is not natural. We must cultivate and tend it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Inconsistent . . .

One of the things I have been teaching on a lot lately at our fellowship is that our faith and belief "statements" should not just be for thick books and seminaries. If they don't affect our daily life, in the grit and grind of living in this world and being salt and light in it, then haven't we missed something? Jesus didn't spend His whole time on earth in some ivory tower coffee house of safe discussions—He lived very much in this world and interacted with it and touched it. Then Jesus said He was sending out the church as the Father sent Him. Additionally, Ephesians tells us a pastor's job is to equip the saints (the body of Christ) for the work of ministry. Our faith is supposed to impact our daily life, to define its choices and change our priorities and expectations and values and words. We are in the world for a reason, for the work of ministry, otherwise the Father would take us immediately to Heaven where there is no pain, sorrow, death, sickness. This is one of the reasons I stress so much knowing a person's world view—because if they are true to it (which you would hope they would be if they really believe it) then it should affect their lives completely.

Last night's Vice Presidential debates really struck a note with me, though not a good one. I listened to Vice President Biden say that his personal belief is that life begins at conception (that's his supposed world view). Then he said he'd never force that on someone else or take away a woman's choice in the issue. My mouth almost dropped open. How can someone truly believe life begins at conception and then not take a stand to defend that defenseless life? What is the difference between that and removing laws against murder? How can he truly believe that is a life, a baby, inside the mom and then say he won't legislate to stop someone from killing it? If he truly believes it is a life inside a woman then, whether or not he'd admit it, he is saying that he believes a woman should have a choice to kill it.

Now I need to say that I believe Christians have handled the abortion issue tremendously wrong in many ways, and we have come across as cold, insensitive, hateful, angry, etc. I think we often haven't shown a mom to be the compassion of understanding her fear, her dilemma, etc., especially in the cases of unwanted pregnancies. I think we have spilled words that condemn a woman whose had an abortion instead of showing her the love and forgiveness of Jesus. But, all that said, if it is a life in her—and we believe it is—than that is a separate life and it must be dealt with as any other life, and we don't allow murder of anyone else no matter how convenient or expedient it is.

It is not just about the woman's choice! There is another life involved, and if we believe that we must—must!—defend the defenseless. That is God's mandate! I remember for me the turning point in the whole issue came when a brother said to me something to the effect of, "Everyone talks about a choice. What if they ask the baby its choice? What if they said to it that it was an accident, would it like to die? No one talks about the baby's choice." That, for me, was the defining moment. I realized that if I truly believed that was a life inside a woman then it, too, had rights and a choice, and if it couldn't defend or stand up for them on its own then others must. That is what God is about, and American used to be about. Are we still? He still is.

At its core this whole issue reveals an even higher and more important truth in a man or woman—what is our true (not just professed) world view, and what is our highest standard of truth? This issue, like many others, has at its core a much greater truth and that is the truth of where we stop as the final word in truth and right and wrong. Will that highest point that trumps all be God or man's opinion? Questions like this cut through all the expedient words and empty professions and reveal the true heart and belief of the person making them.

Note: Even Congressman Ryan wasn't consistent with his world view as he was listing exceptions to his anti-abortion stand. I think that when we start to make murder OK even in a few situations we are opening a slippery slope that won't stop just because we say, "no more." Once an avalanche begins it is unstoppable. It then becomes not a question of right and wrong, but a question of how far right or left the demarcation line is put, or of when it is right or wrong. The reality of that is that we aren't any longer saying something is right or wrong as an absolute, but we have changed over into saying man's wisdom defines right and wrong. That, then, becomes arbitrary which leads to moral relativism . . . one of the most dangerous philosophies a society can have. The rejection of absolute right and wrong is not tolerance, it is naive foolishness and the first step on the path to death.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Long, Long Time Ago . . . ???

I am pretty passionate about defending Genesis 1's account of Creation and the later descriptions of the flood of Noah as literal. I believe it there is no reason, scientific or otherwise, to doubt them—and I believe our stand on them is of tremendous importance. I believe that the Gospel (and our outlook on future judgment) hinges on the truth of Genesis 1 and the judgment of Noah's flood, and that there is no other true way to explain death as a wage of sin, or to trust either the Bible or Jesus' words (Who spoke of Creation and the flood as literal), without trusting in both as literal and true.

In my experience, the primary reason people start to doubt them or to try and compromise with them is because of an underlying assumption of vast periods of time being needed to create what we see around us and in space. Basically the two schools of belief divide along these lines—either slow change over long periods of time, or rapid change driven by major cataclysmic events (i.e. a global flood and the fountains of the deep opening up) over a short period of time. Our educational systems (including some Christian, of which I have friends in) have seemed to have bought, without question, that what we see is the result of vast periods of time and gradual change.

Unbiased science, however, does not support this—and yet we teach it and receive it as truth instead of just another belief system or theory. If you want evidence of massive geological change over short time look at a Creationist account of what happened at Mount St. Helens. It was that experience that turned my friend, Dr. Rick Oliver of Confound the Wise Ministries, from an avid anti-Christian with a PhD. in Evolutionary Biology into a Genesis defending scientist. What happened there in a very short time turned upside down the teaching of how much time is required for major geological change—and Mt. St. Helens was not a large volcano in terms of what is believed existed some time ago.

Look also at the errors in scientific dating methods and, even more importantly, the underlying assumptions that are made in the dating methods. Whether mechanical (carbon dating, etc.), or by association (strata dating, etc.), there are tremendous assumptions made that are embedded in a prior belief of vast periods of time. Then, with that prior belief, we develop dating that substantiates it. Then all these "educated" men and women come out touting eons of ages and we, as Christians, intimidated, try and come up with theories to mesh "science" and the Bible.

Simply look at the advances of man within the last 150 years and I think you'll see that man doesn't require a lot of time to advance rapidly. In 1903 the Wright Brothers took the first 12 seconds of powered flight. By the middle to end of the next decade planes were flying bombing runs and dogfighting in the sky, and within 66 years of their flight we were sending men to the moon and bringing them back. Many of you readers will remember the first home computers and the massive, room-filling more "advanced" computers of just a few decades ago . . . and now most people in America have, as a "necessity," phones and tablets that are tiny and yet vastly more powerful and all connected around the world with wireless technology. We fought the war of 1812 (and wars much later, including our Civil War) with sailing ships. Today, only 200 years after the war of 1812, and only 150 years after the Civil War, we have nuclear powered super carriers that can go over 25 years (yes, years!) without refueling, and are over three football fields long (the Enterprise is, according to Wikipedia, 1,123 feet long—almost four football fields!). Only one hundred and fifty years ago this coming November Richard Gatling patented his Gatling gun which would revolutionize warfare . . . and in only a little over 80 years after that, in 1945, war would be turned upside down forever by atomic bombs that would do to entire regions and cities what the Gatling gun did to an advancing small body of men.

We could go on and on in all fields—medicine, technology, science, etc.—but it is clear, man doesn't require long periods of time to rapidly advance, and nor does geology . . . especially when you add to Creation the realization that God probably created with an appearance of age, and that there was a massive global upheaval and flood from both within and above after that. We must, I believe, if we and our generations are going to remain and stand confident in the Bible and God, question why we ever doubt it and realize that we are buying into assumptions and theories that are laden with guesses, falsehoods, and bias. Let every man be a liar, God is still true, and He always will be.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rude, or a Life Preserver?

On the recent trip to San Diego I wrote about in my last post we were blessed by a couple getting us a hotel room there with some travel points they had. It made it so wonderful to be able to stay in a place with a pool and not have to rush 2–3 hours back to Los Angeles late at night after the reception. While at the hotel that night we had a special time with the girls going into the pool and whirlpool late at night (for us). While near the pool there were a few guys sitting around, one of whom was smoking a cigar and the smell was hard to escape. Then, when we got to our room, we found the smoke from the cigar rising and floating in our open door and we had to close it instead of leaving it open.

I found myself a little irritated, and judging the man. Then, the next morning, we found out there was an AA convention at the hotel, and I had the thought . . . what if that man had lost his family and maybe everything to an alcohol addiction and he was at the convention, turning his life around, and smoking a cigar was his only way to combat the urge to drink? What if that cigar was the price to pay to see a man's life restored, a father and husband brought back, and a life turned around?

Now, I realize there are ways that are simply courtesy, and I am not saying that nothing is right or wrong, but after having that thought (which I don't know if it was even remotely true or not) I thought . . . if that was the case I would sure find my heart toward that man different.

We never really know what is someone's story, someone's past, or someone's reason. How often I've assumed something or thought something only to find it had no basis in truth. The Bible makes it clear how careful we must be not to judge others. We can be discerning, but judgment is another thing. God knows the heart. We don't.

I have met many Christians who were "rough around the edges" and didn't "behave" quite "properly" in church. And I've met many Christians whose noses go up at that. But, I wonder, if in many cases we could see how far the "rough" Christian has come in their walk based on where they were when they came to the Lord, and how far the judgmental ones have matured from where they came to the Lord, we just might find that the "rough" ones have come a lot farther than the "proper" ones in their walk.

I've always said our fellowship is a workshop, not a museum. If we can't, as Christians, find (and offer) a place for all people to grow in the love of Christ then we have missed what it is all about. I am reminded of when Chuck Smith reportedly threatened to rip out the carpet of his church building because elders were concerned about the "rough" ones off the beach tracking in stuff and ruining it. May we never care more about "carpet" than people.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

God's Plans or Ours?

Over twenty-five years ago I was in San Diego on a summer break from West Point and I vividly remembering driving through the grounds of a Catholic college campus shouting an obscenity out the car window as loud as I could at a God I didn't think I believed in.

This weekend I had the privilege of attending a wedding for a former youth grouper in San Diego, just a few miles from that site. This young man, along with many other former youth groupers, had moved to San Diego a couple years ago and is strongly involved in a fellowship and ministry while there. Multiple people from our area went to the wedding and Mary Ann and I were awed, and blessed, to see 12 former youth groupers and 6 current youth groupers at the wedding. We had worked with some for the full 6th-12th grade, and others only taken to winter camp once or twice. Some were very strong in the Lord, and others still figuring it out.

It struck me deeply as I looked around the room and as we got to take our picture with all of the former youth groupers, how amazing God's plans are for our lives—and how different they are from what we would probably design, and how different they are from what the world calls valuable.

At the same time I was at West Point Mary Ann would have been getting a degree in foreign language. Some time after we were married and moved where we are now and started working with youth and pastoring the small, rural fellowship we attend someone who knew one of our parents commented something to the effect of, "What a waste. With their education they could have really done something." So often what the world defines as doing something, being successful, etc., is in complete contradiction to the plans God has created each person to walk in. We will have to choose whether to walk in our own plans and wisdom, or to walk in the plans He has created us for.

As I shouted out the window that day I can only imagine that God could see me and could, at the same time, see 25+ years ahead of the moment to when I would be sitting a few miles away, surrounded by youth groupers I had shared His name and story with. And yet, at that moment, He and anything called ministry were a million miles from anything I would have planned for myself.

If I am honest there are times I really struggle. I see people all around me who can take vacations whenever they want. I see people who can fix their cars, buy what they want, go to the doctor freely, etc. I struggle, not with the people (who I have nothing against, and many of who have been overwhelmingly generous to us), but with jealousy. Then I look around me and the world and see all the people who have so much less than me and the condemnation comes in for feeling that way. It is a battle, but one in which moments like the wedding will frame my thoughts. I will see my life, my family, the lives that have been touched by God in some way through our meager efforts, and I have to ask, "What could I possibly get or have gotten for myself that would have any eternal value or true, lasting happiness, compared to that which I get by being who God calls me to be, in the way and place He calls me to be it?"

It is something, I think, we all have to decide—over and over. Will I frame and define my life, or will I allow the One who created me for special plans frame and define it? And, truly, when we think about it, what could we possibly do or get for ourselves that would, in the end, not seem hollow compared to the privilege and eternal value and wisdom in serving the Lord who is worthy of all honor and glory, and walking in the unique plans He has created each of us for?


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