Be a Revolutionary in 2008

 

(Downtown Monroe) 

Want to do something radical and revolutionary in 2008? Why not follow Jesus?

I am not talking about being a “Christian.” Can we admit that there are a whole lot of people in America, and probably right here in Monroe, that call themselves “Christians” but do not really follow Jesus? Personally, I don’t think the word “Christian” is worth a lot anymore. As the atheist Nietzsche said years ago, for him it was Christians who gave Jesus a bad name.

Just follow Jesus. I am not talking about perfection or a holier-than-thou-ness. None of us are perfect. Being imperfect is not being hypocritical. Calling yourself a Christian and not following Jesus, not actually following Him and embracing Him and worshiping Him – that is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hurts the cause of Christ more than atheism does.

I am talking about the heart. My heart, and your heart. A heart that is passionate about… Jesus. A heart that longs to know Jesus. A heart that longs to make Jesus known to others. A heart that has come to Jesus and been flooded by living waters. A heart that knows Jesus. Jesus rejected the superfical self-righteousness of the Pharisees. He always went deeper than that. He was going after the heart. My heart, and your heart. Your heart was made by Him and for Him. He wants your heart. This can be you!

I am not talking about intellectual “knowledge.” In the Bible, “knowing” is an intimate experiential thing. Do I know my wife? Oh yes. Her name is Linda, she’s 5’6″ tall, she loves sushi, she plays piano, she grew up in Illinois, etc. etc. ad infinitum. But of course that kind of knowledge is superficial knowledge, and if that’s all I know in regard to Linda both I and she are in trouble. The real question is: do I know her heart, and does she know my heart?

Do you know Jesus? Not… “know about” Jesus. The demons know about Jesus, maybe more than you or I do. Are you close to Jesus? Does Jesus have your heart? There will be some to whom Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Meaning: “you never got close to me and followed after me.” Where are you with this?

I am not talking about using Jesus to find “prosperity” for your own self. That’s neither revolutionary or radical. That is not the real Gospel. How do I know this? You can see this for yourself simply by reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A lot of what is on TV in the name of Jesus is not really about Jesus. It’s just American materialism co-opting the message of Jesus to advance their own earthly kingdoms. Reject that. Find it truly dull and uninteresting. Jesus is far, far more radical and revolutionary than this.

Why not join Jesus’ real family in 2008? What might that mean? Jesus Himself said that whoever does the will of God are His brothers and sisters. It’s all about following Jesus as King and Lord. It’s all about being a disciple. If someone is not a disciple, an actual follower, are they a “Christian?” More and more, I doubt it. Of course I am not the judge of any of this. But again, read the 4 Gospels and show me where someone is a “Christian” and not a disciple. You won’t find it.

Obey Jesus. To do this you’ve got to die to your own self. You’ve got to deny your ego-self every day and take up the cross and follow Him. But must we be flawless in this? No. Remember, it’s all about the heart, your heart. Does God captivate you? Does He fascinate you? Do you hunger and thirst for God? Is it #1 for you to seek after the kingdom of God and His righteousness?

Personally, I want to be a better, truer follower of Jesus in 2008 than I have ever been. I want God to use me to release people from the darkness of going after money, sex, and power. I want to be further released from the dark power of these things in my own soul. And I want the “Christian-religious” stuff  cast out of me so that I might be encountered by the Living God. The more I read the actual words of Jesus the more I see the distance between what I understand and my flawed heart. Yet, because I (and you) are hugely loved by Jesus, I am drawn to be more like Him.

Reject the false gods of Money, Sex, and Power. They enslave. They are not radical, but commonplace. Increasingly I find them boring, tedious, and harsh. They create addicts who are never, ever satisfied in this life. Show me a money-addict, a sex-addict, or a power addict who got satisfied and achieved contentment – I don’t think you can. Personally, I have known addiction, and I want out. I am more interested than ever in the way out of that kind of slavery. I believe the way out is found in Jesus. It’s all about freedom, and Jesus said, if we follow after Him, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free from our dark addictions.

Be a radical in 2008. Be a revolutionary. If any historical figure was, surely it was Jesus of Nazareth. Follow after Him. Put down all the Christian books for a while and read the original documents. Read and re-read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in 2008.  Discover Jesus. be discovered by Jesus. Don’t compare your life with with any mere human (like me or anyone else); measure yourself by the Real Jesus. He is the light of the world; indeed, He is the light of life. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Your Marriage Can Be Saved #18: How to Communicate In the Middle of Conflict

 (Sterling State Park, summer 2006)

In my second year of marriage Linda and I were invited to be in a couples’ marriage discussion group with one of my seminary professors and his wife, Dr. David and Nancy Augsburger. We said yes, we’d love to join. David was one of my favorite all-time professors. In fact, he is still on the “top 5″ list of persons who have positively influenced my life. I learned so very much from him.

We were a part of this couples group for two years. One of the things that happened in the group was that, on occasion, marital conflicts between spouses emerged. David and Nancy taught us how to handle it by evaluating our expectations, setting correct standards, and communicating truthfully and lovingly. David is a great scholar on managing and dealing with anger, and has written a number of books on it.

David’s communication-in-conflict theory was based on Ephesians 4:15, which says: “therefore speak ther truth in love; so shall we fully grow up into Christ.” In this brilliant bit of wisdom there are two communication points: 1) when you speak, the speak the truth; and 2) when you speak the truth, speak it in love. Truth without love can be destructive; love without truth can be avoidance and denial.

I have been told more than once that “We don’t argue in our marriage. We don’t have any conflict.” I never believe this. Because every marriage has conflict. In fact, conflict is a necessary part of a healthy marriage. In conflict, marriages grow stronger. Try to avoid conflict and “sweep it under the rug” and the marriage weakens.

In my next marriage-saving blog post I will share with you just how speaking the truth in love is done and why it can be a marriage-saver. (David’s very readable book on how to do this can be purchased here for under $10.)

“I Am Legend,” God, and Evil

(The River Raisin) 

In “I Am Legend” Will Smith plays Dr. Robert Neville, a scientist who was part of developing a cure for cancer that instead turned into a killer virus, wiping out most of mankind. Neville is immune to the virus, and stays in NYC working to find an antidote.

A woman and her mute son find Neville. This woman claims to hear from God and be led by God. Neville says to her, “There is no God.” Later on Neville, when talking about the virus, says “God didn’t cause this.” Which is correct. The question this film raises but never adequately deals with is: does the reality of massive evil argue against the existence of God?

The wiping out of mankind causes Neville to turn to atheism. I assume Neville was a theist, as we see his wife praying for his safety as he is separated from her and his daughter. Now, in the face of mass extermination and the residual suffering of humans turned into “Dark Seekers,” Neville apparently has concluded God could not exist. For if God did exist, he could have stopped this horrible thing from happening. Such evil shows that if there is a God he is either not all-loving or not all-powerful. Or, there is no God.

When Neville says “God didn’t cause this” he is, in my mind, at least entertaining the idea that, even though there is this mass suffering, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Humans caused this suffering, he being one of them. Neville thus presents a form of what is called The Free Will Defense against the argument from evil. God has given persons free will, because love is only possible if persons have free will, and love is the highest value for God. This is risky for God since persons can use their free will to either deliberately bring about evil or inadvertently bring about evil. Neville and his colleagues were trying to bring about a great good, and instead brought about a great evil.

This reminds me of atheist Albert Camus’s The Plague. The main character, Dr. Rieux, labors to help infected people in their homes and in hospitals. Father Paneloux tells people the plague is an act of God against the sins of the people. The story can be read as being about the essential irrationality and absurdity of the world. No cure is found, and Dr. Rieux’s wife dies as well. Where was God?

In “Legend” the cure finally comes, and Neville becomes a God-believer again. From my Christian paradigm, the “cure” has already come. There is an antidote for our darkness-diseased souls in Christ.

As for the atheist Camus, read Howard Mumma’s Albert Camus and the Minister, which records Camus’s interest in God and Christianity in his later years.

Overcoming Worry

(RR tracks across Dixon Road) 

Of all the things I have ever worried about in my life, my estimate is that less than 5% of them have come to pass. Which means: I have spent a good deal of time worrying about things that come to nothing. Worry, anxiety, fear…  I’ve experienced them all, as I’m guessing you have too. I have wondered, what sort of person would not worry? One answer to this would be: someone who’s had their brain removed. But then, of course, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their worry-free life.

How is it possible to have the brains we have and move into greater freedom from worry? The answer Jesus gives is: a person who trusts, really trusts, in God would not worry. “Trust” and “worry” do not go together. Jesus speaks about this in Matthew 6:25-34. He says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Here are some of Jesus’ bullet points. 

1. We do not need to worry about life’s basic things. Why? Because if we live our lives trusting in God, God considers us more important than, e.g., birds who are also provided for.

2. Worrying about something adds nothing to our lives. I’ve even read studies that claim worrying subtracts from the days of one’s life. Surely it is true that worrying is non-productive. Worry, anxiety, and fear immobilize and lead to non-action. Worrying is counter-productive, making worrisome situations worse. Jesus is saying, if today you are worried about something, rest assured that “worry” will not make the situation better and, in some cases, will make it worse because of the resultant non-activity.

3. Jesus is saying that trusting in God will lead to basic needs being provided. Here we must distinguish between basic needs and personal wants and desires. In this regard I have found myself, at times, worrying about something that I don’t even really need. That now strikes me as a true waste of emotional time and energy.

4. Jesus tells us that “pagans” (=non-God-followers) run after material things. Richard Foster, in A Celebration of Discipline, argues that the more material things a person has the more things they have to worry about. Here I am reminded of research that I’ve read re. materialistic cultures and levels of anxiety. I have a friend, Dr. David Augsburger, who wrote a brilliant study showing how there exist cultures who have little of what we have, but do not even have a word for “anxiety” because the condition seems nonexistent. Personally I have found that when I am thankful for what I have rather than needing to have more things to be thankful for I am more at peace in myself.

I think a “worry” or “care” is like the tip of an iceberg. Melt off the top of the iceberg, and more surfaces. The only way to get rid of the tip is to get rid of the entire iceberg. Personally, I am asking God to heal my heart that still is too filled with the cares of this world so that He can use me to help others with their cares and concerns. Because the more self-obsessive I am the less good I am to others. Here are some things I suggest to get help and healing from worry.

– Keep a spiritual journal. In that journal write your fears and worries, and give them to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you.”

– Re-read your journal periodically. Remembering how God has been there with you in the past gives real hope for the present.

– Saturate your heart, soul, and mind with God-things. Let such things fill your heart. Do not let the media’s disasters fill your heart. If you avoid media reporting of the endless disasters of this world you will not be living in denial. This is because a fair portion of media fears never materialize. Remember, e.g., Y2K. I have found that when I make it my first priority to fill heart and mind with God-things I gain an eternal perspective on world-things.

– Separate your real needs from your mere wants. Begin to see how our American materialistic culture works to create false needs within us that lead to false anxiety over either not having such things, or over having them and needing to care for them, protect them, store them, worship them, etc.

– Follow Jesus more intently and more intensely. For example, read Matthew 25 about what Jesus says in regard to helping the poor and needy. Take His words seriously and move towards others. I strongly believe that, as you begin doing this, you will find that your own cares and worries will dissipate.

– Trust God. In this sense trust is not some emotion, but an action. Actually trust God with your life. Trust in God and worry cannot coexist in the same human heart.

People: Spiritual Mushrooms or Spiritual Oaks?

Here are some mushrooms growing on a log in the woods on the back our our property. Near these mushrooms we have a few tall oak trees.

Mushrooms come up quickly. In contrast, it takes a long time for an oak tree to grow. Mushrooms are fast, oak trees are slow. You can fry mushrooms in a pan and eat them, you can make a table from oak wood. You can knock over a mushroom with a nudge of your toe; it takes machines to dislodge an oak.

Spiritually, and emotionally, some people are mushrooms, some are oaks. Spiritual mushroom-people seem to grow overnight; spiritual oak-people take a lifetime to grow. Mushroom people are weak; and oak people are strong. The truth is that what grows quickly does not last.

In the Christian world I’ve seen people attend one conference and emerge announcing their total transformation. While I believe this could (in principle) happen, and God could rapidly accelerate a person’s spiritual growth, it usually does not happen this way. The life of the real Jesus-follower is a slow-growth thing. Look, for example, at Jesus’ disciples in the 4 gospels. Their spiritual development was definitely not some overnight wonder.

Slow growth produces solid results. Here, for me, are the things that, when done daily, produce long-term transformation of the heart. 

– meditation on Scripture

– study of the Bible

– prayer

-worship as a daily lifestyle

– giving your life away to serve others

– keeping a spiritual journal, which is a record of the activity and voice of God in one’s life

Spend every day, week, and month doing these things and the result, after a lifetime, will be a spiritual oak-person. This is a person who, like the person of Psalm 1, will not wither when the droughts of life comes.

A Last Minute Gift – “The Bible Experience”

(Windy Day in Monroe )

One of today’s great New Testament scholars is Scot McKnight. I regularly check out his excellent blog. Scot strongly recommends picking up The Bible Experience, which is an audio Bible unlike any other.

For a sampling, watch the 11-minute video here or here.  

John Maxwell says: “Inspired By…The Bible Experience is exactly what its title indicates, an experience. I’ve listened to many audio Bibles over the years, but none have achieved what The Bible Experience has, which is to bring the Bible to life in a very real, compelling, accessible and experiential way. I would strongly recommend that you listen to it and share it with others. I guarantee it will change the way you and they engage with the word of God.”

Christmas Eve at Redeemer

(Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe) 

If you are looking for a Christmas Eve service in Monroe my church is having one.

Where: Redeemer Fellowship Church – 5305 Evergreen – A quarter mile north of Telegraph and Dunbar

When: 6-7 PM, Monday, Dec. 24

What: A candlelight and communion service

For other Christmas Eve services in the Monroe are check out the Monroe Evening News.

Your Marriage Can Be Saved #17: Letting Go of Control

(MB&T in Monroe) 

In the best marriages I have seen neither husband nor wife try to control each other. This is not easy. Indeed, as Gerald May wrote in his brilliant book Addiction and Grace, there are people who are addicted to control in the same way some are addicted to drugs.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like being controlled by someone else. However, this isn’t true of everybody. Wherever there is a “controller” you will also find a “controllee.” Marriages that have this dynamic are master-slave relationships. Such marriages are deeply troubled and in need of help.

If you are in this kind of marriage and feel controlled by your spouse my recommendation is that you get help for the “controllee” part of you. What is it in you that allows yourself to be manipulated? Discover what this is, and with God’s help it can be healed. It will, however, be a shock to your controlling spouse when you begin to use the word “no.” And note this: the one who needs help is YOU, not the controlling person. I mean this in this way: you will never need to complain again about being controlled and manipulated once you learn how to set boundaries to this happening. You can’t change your significant other anyway, so you can be free to stop doing this.

If you are the controlling person, recognize how destructive such behavior is in marriage and get help with it. In marriage, control and manipulation reduce your partner to a prisoner (or a slave). Is that what you really want in marriage? If so, then realize that it will be impossible to experience love. Get help to identify the roots of your controlling behavior. Learn to see this behavior, not as freedom for you, but bondage. The good news is that you can be free of the terrible burden of always having to get things your own way. Yes, I said “terrible burden.”

I remember reading, years ago, the chapter in May’s book on addiction to control. I underlined entire pages as I read. Why? Because God, through May’s writing, was showing me how attached to controlling others I really was. When I began to see this, I know I did not like it. And this was good for me, since inner dissatatisfaction and personal brokenness are always the first steps to relational freedom.

In my marriage to Linda I never feel she is trying to manipulate or control me. If she is upset by something I do (and it does happen!) she states this to me. In fact, it happened again today! This is different from nagging. I’m saying this because some think that if they let go of control marital chaos will happen. Actually, controller-controllee marriages are the ones in chaos. Someone has to begin to let go of the control. Someone else has to begin to stop being controlled. Why not you? And when both do this, the result is trust.

God and Philosophy

 

(MCCC) 

Tonight I gave the final exam in the Logic class I teach at MCCC. Yesterday I gave my final series of oral exams in my Philosophy of Religion class. It feels like a long semester, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to teach at MCCC.

My bachelor’s and doctoral degrees were both in philosophy. I was heading for an undergraduate degree in Music Theory when I became a follower of Jesus. That’s when I switched to philosophy. Because, as someone who was coming into belief in God, I wanted to discuss this stuff, and philosophy was the area that dealt with the big questions.

Philosophers talk about God and think about God in a variety of ways. These ways are:

– Theism – the belief in one God. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are theistic religions.

– Atheism – the belief that God does not exist.

– Agnosticism – the claim that we cannot know whether or not God exists. NOTE: I sometimes meet someone whos ays they are an agnostic, by which they mean that they don’t know whether or not God exists. That’s a weak form of agnosticism. Philosophical agnosticism makes the very strong claim that one CANNOT know whether or not God exists.

– Polytheism – the belief that there are many gods. Hinduism is, arguably, polytheistic.

– Pantheism – the belief that everything that is, is God. Again, Hinduism seems pantheistic.

– Deism – the belief in one God, but that God has nothing to do with us or the world. Many of America’s founding father were deists, such as Thomas Jefferson.

I have found that students love discussing about these things, and are looking for persons to dialogue with without being lectured at. Like a number of MCCC professors I am sure, I have students who contact me years after teaching them to correspond and continue the God-dialogue.

Your Marriage Can Be Saved #16: Forgiving Your Own Parents

(Monroe) 

Years ago I read a quote from Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Willow Creek is one of the largest churches in the nation. Hybels is someone I have always admired. They have a lot of staff, and Hybels was writing about how to hire staff. He advised: never hire a person who has not worked out things between themselves and their own parents. Especially, never hire someone who does not love their parent and has not forgiven them.

I think this can be applied also to marriage: never marry a person who has not worked out things with their own parents. Put another way: never marry a person who does not, from their heart, love their own mother and father. Why?

First – if they have not gotten things right with their own parents they will bring the bitterness of unforgiveness and pain into the marriage. As their spouse, it can happen that they will take it out on you, as if you are their mother or their father. Persons unable to truly love and forgive often view themselves as victims. Never marry someone who has a victim mentality.

Second – if they do not love their own parents – even if their own parents are not very lovable – they will send a strong message to their children. I have seen this come back to get them, as their own children adopt a relational model of unforgiveness and nonreconcilation.

Third – they will find it harder to forgive you when you hurt them. And hurt them you will. This is inevitable. In Christianity, to forgive means to release the other person from indebtedness towards you.

But how can you do this? Men can begin by reading John Eldridge’s book Wild at Heart, especially his chapter on “The Wound.” Women – read Captivating, by Stasi and John Eldredge, especially their chapter called “Wounded.” Make no mistake about it, unhealed wounds ooze, and what oozes is not good for a marriage. The good news is that there is a road to healing and reconciliation.

When I was a young man I disliked my own father, for a few reasons, among them being that I viewed him as someone who could never admit he was wrong. I saw the way this affected my mother, and it angered me. My dad had a lot of good qualities, but this was not one of them. One day, I had had it with him, and I raged at him. For me, relationship with my father was now over. Emotionally, I hated him. When I became a follower of Jesus I saw that I had to face this and deal with it, and that the anger inside me was not good. So – to make a very long story short – I forgave my father. I told him one day that I loved him. He was not a great communicator, but I know this affected him. Our relationship was healing. I saw him as a brother in Christ. I also was beginning to see that I was no easy person to relate to either.

What really feels humbling to me is that my sons have me as their father. Realizing this, I have many, many times asked them to forgive me for misunderstanding them or being too harsh with them or being unloving and unkind to them.

Finally, and from my Christian point of view, the heart of my faith is the cross of Christ and the resultant forgiveness. I often think that if God, in Christ, can forgive me and love me, how can I not extend such forgiveness and love to others? It’s not always easy, but it is the doorway to freedom and relationship.

(Over a period of 37 years Linda and I have counseled several hundred marriages in a variety of situations ranging from “need a tune-up” to “in cardiac arrest.” While we have at times wondered if a certain marriage would make it, we admit to having never met a marriage that we thought could not be saved and made better.)