Archive for the ‘peace’ Category

Do not fear!

I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. —Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

Note: I periodically turn to previous blog entries for content that is relevant today. This entry is based upon an article I wrote in 2015.

Many people today are scared. Constant fear is slowly become part of the human condition. It’s running rampant right here in America. The majority of Americans now believe that their children’s lives will be harder than their own. They worry about unemployment and the economy. Many fear illegal immigrants. Others are afraid to gather in public places for fear of violence. Why wouldn’t people be afraid? Many media outlets and politicians survive by instilling fear in the public.

On a cosmic scale we hear about giant solar flares that could destroy technology, pushing humankind back into the Stone Age. A large meteor or asteroid collisions could destroy the Earth.

In the natural world, super volcanoes threaten to cause destruction on a planetary scale. Earthquakes like the recent one in Haiti and tsunamis in diverse places threaten thousands of lives. Many fear that global warming will cause killer storms, droughts, melting polar ice, coastal flooding and forest fires.

On the human plane, we have just just witnessed the rapid collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and death. Many fear the threat of terrorism in the homeland as a result of Afghanistan’s demise. Others fear home grown terrorists. Yet others worry about flesh eating bacteria, brain eating amoebas, the CORONA-virus Delta variant, and a growing list of drug resistant bacteria and viruses. Some hunker down in their homes, worried about wearing masks, riots, violence by/against the police, and mass murders making public places unsafe. Some fear that computer hackers will steal their identities and wealth.  Others fear hackers will disrupt our critical national infrastructure, as we recently saw with the hack on the Colonial pipeline.  There are wars and rumors of wars. Religious persecution is increasing around the globe. It can all be paralyzing.

Do not fear.

There are two types of fear mentioned in the Bible. The first is fear of the Lord. This fear is not associated with being frightened. It is a reverential awe of God and is to be encouraged. According to Psalm 111, fear of the Lord is the “beginning of wisdom” and leads to rest and peace.

The second type of fear is detrimental. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy it is described as a “spirit of fear.” A person can be completely overcome by a spirit of fear, virtually frozen and unable to function. Such fear weighs a person down physically, emotionally and mentally.

Unfortunately, many Christians have succumbed to a spirit of fear. Some fear those of other religions and are reluctant to reach out to them in Christian love. Some fear those who are different from them culturally or racially. Some of us are hesitant to invite those in need into their lives for fear they might lose something or it might cost something. Some are afraid to leave the comfort of their homes and familiar surroundings in order to reach out to the needy. Others are hesitant to give of their wealth for fear they might later find themselves in need. A few are afraid of just about everything.

Christian fears often boils down to a fear of losing something—possessions, comfort, safety, security. In Philippians chapter 3, verses 7-8 (ESV), St. Paul describes how he has let go of the things of this world in order to focus on what is truly important: ” But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

It is impossible to grasp the outstretched hand of Christ as long as we tightly cling to things of this world. David tells us in Psalm 34 verses 4-7 (ESV):

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”

Take the fears before you today and give them to the Lord. You may paralyzed by a fearful nature, facing a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, a call to missionary service, or other difficult challenges. The best first step in any situation is to cast aside your fears—let go and let God!

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6: 10-12 (ESV)

“The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”    —Oswald Chambers

The joy of the Lord

The Joy of the Lord

If you’re a user of Facebook or YouTube, you’ve probably seen videos of military service members who have been on deployments reuniting with family members.  These are moments of pure joy and happiness.  They seem to say, “everything is going to be OK now.” This type of joy is a wonderful mountaintop experience, but it is fleeting.  It’s simply not possible to sustain such temporal joy, but there is another type of joy that’s eternal.  

Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.  Karl Barth

Did you ever meet somebody you just knew was a Christian without being told?  There are some people whose face and disposition simply can’t hide the joy of Christ that dwells inside them. Often, this kind of person will invite you to visit their church. Christians want to share their joy with others. They are thankful for the joy that dwells within.  In Galatians 5:22, the Apostle Paul calls joy a fruit of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 2:3, Paul describes how he wants to share his joy with the people of the young church in Corinth.

Describing Christian joy to a non-believer can be difficult. When I was a young captain serving in the Army, I had a battalion commander who assigned me a special project.  I listened to his instructions, but they weren’t clear to me.  I asked specifically what sort of product he expected me to give him when I had completed the project. His surprising response was, “I’m not sure, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Christian joy is like that, you’ll never fully understand it until you’ve experienced it.

Joy may include happiness, but happiness is not a precondition for Christian joy.  The Apostle Peter describes joy as gladness not based on circumstances (1Peter 1:8-9). Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.”  Clearly, Christian joy does not depend on being happy.  It is founded in the assurance that:

  • Jesus has paid for all your sins, past, present, and future.
  • You have been freed from the power of sin and can choose to obey.
  • You live under God’s grace and mercy.
  • You are an adopted child of God.
  • You have eternal life.
  • God knows you by name and hears your prayers.
  • You are part of God’s church family and joined by the Holy Spirit to fellow Christians.

In Romans 15:13 Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joy and peace are yours for the taking if you will put your trust in God today.

Doxology: To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  –Jude 1:24-25

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

Rooted in the Word

Rooted in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2: 6-7

My wife and I lived near the Chesapeake Bay in the Hampton Roads area of southern Virginia for over seven years.  During our time there the region was struck by four hurricanes and a tropical storm.  All the storms caused great destruction of trees, as most trees in the area are evergreens, including many pine trees which have extremely soft wood.  Pine trees also tend to have shallow roots that run outwards near the surface of the soil.  We frequently saw massive pines that had snapped clean in two in the middle of the main trunk or ones that were blown down fully intact, because the roots were not deep enough to withstand the high wind.

Pine Tree Damage

We presently live in South Dakota, in the upper Great Plains.  To say it’s windy here would be a gross understatement. The average wind speed in our region is around 12 mph.  Days with 25-35 mph gusts are not uncommon. On the windiest days in the late spring and summer it’s fascinating to watch the hardwood trees in our backyard swaying to and fro in a mesmerizing dance. Sometimes they appear ready to break in two, but they always stand up straight whenever a gust subsides.  One of the reasons hardwoods are strong is that, unlike evergreens, they have deep roots, an invisible support network that provides a firm foundation.  

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord  Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word.  –From the hymn “How Firm a Foundation”

Windblown trees are a wonderful metaphor for Christians. Everybody is shaken to and fro by fear and emotions at one time or another, but not all respond in the same way.  Some are like softwoods with weak, shallow roots and some are like hardwoods, with strong, deep roots. Christians need to cultivate strong roots in Jesus.  Each of us can grow and strengthen our roots through the Word of God.

The first chapter of the book of Genesis begins with the familiar words, “In the beginning,” painting an image of two forms of the triune God, the Father and the Holy Spirit:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.  –Genesis 1: 1-2

Chapter 1 of the Gospel of John echoes the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…”, and describes the preincarnate Jesus as “the Word of God,” who was there with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit at the creation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.   –John 1: 1-5

During these trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, are your fears and emotions tossing you to and fro?  Do you find your faith being challenged? If so, then maybe you need to strengthen your roots in the Word of.   Immerse yourself in scripture today to cast out fear and emotions.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. –1Peter 5:6-11

*All Bible quotes in this post are from the NIV.

These trying times

King David stretches out his hands in prayerKing David stretches out his hands in prayer,  Hungarian Gradual 1500-20

 

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  American patriot, poet, philosopher, and political activist Thomas Paine penned these words in December 1776, referring to the difficulties associated with America’s Revolutionary War.  Paine’s words couldn’t ring truer today. These are tough times. The global Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused rapid, fundamental changes in the lives of Americans and millions of people around the world. The pandemic effects are cascading and could affect us for a generation.

Christians have special responsibilities during times like these.  My recommendations for all who profess Christ as their Savior are as follows:

Trust in God: Viruses are a natural part of this world. Remaining informed, preparing and not panicking are vital when facing contagion, just like we plan for natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards. No matter how dire the situation might appear, the Lord remains our refuge and strength, “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). When Christians put their trust in God, it bears witness to the power of Jesus Christ to all those around us.

Pray Without Ceasing: Be aware of God’s presence and have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day. Pray for the sick, those who are frightened, and those who are alone. Pray for public health officials, for doctors and nurses, researchers, caregivers, emergency management personnel and police. Pray for our elected leaders, especially those who will be making important decisions that will impact many lives. Pray for those who have lost their jobs and whose continued employment is at risk.  Pray for those who have lost their child care.  Pray for those who have had their school year disrupted.

A Prayer for Protection

Since you, O God, are with us,
nothing that has happened, nothing still to come,
can rob us of our hope in Christ.
Sustain us, we beg you,
during this time of uncertainty.
Bless all the emergency and medical personnel
who are caring for the sick and working to contain the outbreak.
Grant swift recovery to those who are affected
and comfort to their families and loved ones.
Encourage those who are afraid.
Bind us now, more than ever,
to you and to each other,
so that we may triumph
by the power of him who loves us,
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.

Social Distancing, not Social Disconnection: Caring for the sick and dying is a fundamental calling of Christians. Early Christians were noted for caring for the sick and dying, sometime risking their lives. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. Even if a pandemic prevents Christians from gathering as congregations to worship, they can still support one another in caregiving. This can be in the form of prayer, verbal encouragement in person or by phone, and coming alongside others to provide help. Each individual’s personal situation will dictate the level of risk he or she is willing to accept.

Be Informed, not Misinformed: Today we live in the Information Age.  Unlike previous times, where people may have suffered from a paucity of information, today people are bombarded by information from thousands of sources on a 24/7 basis. Many of these sources are not accurate or reliable. It is more important than ever to get your information from reliable sources.  Here are some good sources.   

 

Crises come and crises go.

When they’ll happen you never know!

But rest assured that God is there,

to keep you in his loving care.

This will pass!

Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? –Matthew 6:25–27

 

A Heart of Stone

Heart of Stone

Political discourse in America today has become vitriolic — constant lying, name-calling, bickering, accusations and spewing pent up anger. Indeed it has gotten so bad that even the president has joined the fray.  Social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook only serve to exacerbate the situation, as they have become bully pulpits for angry politicians and journalists.  It’s gotten to the point where I dread looking at social media or reading/listening to the news, as there is a paucity of objective discussion and reporting everywhere. Personal civility and decorum in America is rapidly declining, particularly in the political realm.  

           Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.                                           –Proverbs 16:24*

 Words are like bullets—once they’re let fly there’s no taking them back. The Epistle of James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  By using this  strong comparison, James emphasizes that Christians must be mindful of the colossal power of what proceeds from their mouths.  The epistle goes on to note the inconsistency of praising God with one breath and cursing people made in God’s image with the next (vv. 9–10). Words can demean and destroy.

When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.”  —Oswald Chambers

This leads me to ask the question, “How radically would America change if suddenly all the politicians who profess to be Christians started behaving like Christ followers, becoming beacons of light in the dark political landscape?”

In January 2017, the New York Times reported that 91 percent of the new Congress identified as Christian.1 The Times went on to say that this figure was only slightly less than the 95 percent reported in 1961. Allmost all US presidents, including President Trump, have been Christians according to Pew Research.2

Christianity isn’t a label or tag; it’s a life, guided by the Holy Spirit, where an individual endeavors to be Christ-like in thoughts, words and deeds.  Inevitably, all Christians transgress and fall short of the glory of God along the way, but striving towards the ultimate goal of Christ-likeness remains a constant.

Restoration and transformation are two recurring themes in the Book of Ezekiel. Restoration is displayed in God saving the people of Israel from bad shepherds, giving them societal safety, reuniting tribes, and God’s children being restored to a right relationship with Him.  God’s ultimate restoration of his people is exemplified by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. 

On the other hand, Ezekiel describes transformation as a personal, spiritual experience. To the ancient Hebrews, the heart was the locus of a person’s being, their mental processes, emotions and personal will. The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines hard-hearted as, “having or showing no kindness or sympathy for other people.”  In the passage from Ezekiel 36 below, evidence of spiritual transformation in God’s children is the softening of their hearts. 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  —Ezekiel 36:26-27

One of those laws referred to in the Ezekiel passage is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 30:5, after being asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” In the next verse, Mark 30:6, Jesus adds to this, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”   

This brings me back to politics.  Christians who also happen to be politicians don’t get a free pass when it comes to loving their neighbors.  Christian politicians contributing to the Capitol Hill vitriol need to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves whether their actions glorify God. Are they being patient, humble, pure and obedient to God?

In Colossians 3:8, Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it’s the model all Christians should strive to adhere to in their actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Christian politicians should display a Christ-like heart—Ezekiel’s “heart of flesh.”  Christians behaving like Christ can bring real healing transformation. Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion, recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not by violent revolution, but through years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political or military power that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but the perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression. American politicians could achieve a lot by following their example.

 Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  —from an Anglican Prayer of Confession

 1 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/03/us/politics/congress-religion-christians.html

2 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/20/almost-all-presidents-have-been-christians/

* All Bible quotes are taken from the NIV Bible.

 

An Unshakeable Kingdom

Peace be Still by Arnold Friberg

“Peace, be still,” by Arnold Friberg

The tragic mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton have many Americans on edge, as they struggle to understand what is causing it all. Sadly, such tragedies have become common in our country. The public and government responses to these shootings are predictable: the left calls for stricter gun control laws, while the right emphasizes the Constitutional right to bear arms and attributes the shootings to mental health problems. Unfortunately, most Americans fail to recognize the root cause of the problem. Why is this?  Perhaps it’s because we live in a country where, for many, the idea of good and evil has become an archaic concept, something associated with ancient religious superstitions.   

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council explained it like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Satan “…prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Those lacking a solid spiritual foundation very easily become his prey. Yes, evil is real.

Chaos often breeds isolation, which for some people means empty lives nearly devoid of human contact. Isolated and confused, they might seek meaning in their lives through narcissism—an egoistic admiration of one’s self, which is a form of idolatry. Narcissism is easily fed through social media, where one can simply manufacture a false persona in an effort to gain approval from others.

Over prolonged periods, isolated individuals can  become enveloped by darkness.  Some may seek meaning or self-purpose through infamy—mass shooters are not soon forgotten.  Mass shootings are only one symptom of the problem however. It manifests itself in many other ways, including drug and alcohol addiction, pornography addiction, child abuse, human trafficking, suicide and countless others.

To begin to fix the problems in America, we don’t need more laws or more gun rights.  We need a spiritual revival of our Judeo-Christian roots. Dr. Jack Graham, the pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX explains it like this, “All of us are involved in some kind of a spiritual battle—a warfare that’s going on increasing.  A battle that is getting hotter and hotter right now and predictably so.  In fact, the Bible tells us that in the final hours of human history that perilous times will come.  Difficult dangerous times will come.” Dangerous times are not exclusive to American Christians.  Persecution of Christians because of their faith is running rampant around the globe.

Of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Rev. Franklin Graham wrote, “The Word of God tells us to ‘mourn with those who mourn,’ and that is what our nation is doing. We grieve the tragic and devastating loss of life in El Paso and Dayton this weekend. The number of victims of the mass shootings is much higher than the headlines reveal, because each mother, each father, each sister and brother, each wife and husband, is also a victim—a victim of the heinous and senseless evil unleashed by two murderous gunmen. Their loved ones have been stolen from them.” And “”As we mourn with these families and communities, let’s continue to sincerely lift them up in prayer before the Lord.” Despite what some politicians have said, prayer is a proper response to mass shootings.

Fortunately, Christians needn’t despair at what they see happening around them. They can be confident that God is in control of their lives, even when the world appears to be coming apart all around them. Throughout the scriptures Jesus remains as solid as a rock. We see this vividly portrayed in Mark chapter 4, when Jesus and His disciples are on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm. Jesus is asleep on a cushion when his frightened disciples wake Him, fearing they are about to perish. Jesus rises and speaks the words the simple words, “Peace, be still.”  Immediately, the wind ceases to blow and the water grows calm. His disciples then marvel that even the wind and the sea obey Him.    

The same Jesus who calmed the storm is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”  

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” Christians need only do their best to imitate the life of Christ. God will take care of the rest.

My Superhero

Superheroes

Superheroes are all the rage these days.  They’re winning at the box office with blockbuster movies like “Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther”  “Aquaman” and yet another new episode in the Spiderman series.  Older superheroes like Superman and Batman remain tremendously popular too.

With Christmas approaching, the aisles of toy stores and toy departments are lined with superhero kitsch, mainly over-hyped, over-priced superhero-themed stuff that will make the kiddies giggle on Christmas morning and eventually be tossed into a corner with a dozen similar forgotten toys.  Superhero figures also fill the pages of comic books; some of these books are sold for incredible amounts of money—literally worth their weight in gold.

Many adults and kids alike are attracted to these imaginary superheroes, yet they pay little attention to a real superheroes in their midst.  This superhero is powerful.   He is fearless and always defeats his many enemies.  He never makes mistakes. He can’t be outsmarted. He never tells a lie. He is a clear thinker and never loses his cool. Millions of people have purchased figurines of the real superhero.

So far the real superhero sounds about the same as the imaginary ones doesn’t he?  However, there are really many differences between my superhero and the imaginary ones.

Unlike the imaginary superheroes, my superhero isn’t handsome.  According to one writer, there’s nothing about his appearance one would find particularly attractive.  The same writer described my superhero as a sad man. He doesn’t sound very exciting or charismatic does he?   

My superhero did the unthinkable.  He surrendered to the enemy!  Only a short time after his surrender he was violently put to death and buried in a tomb.  End of story?  Not quite!

My superhero has performed many miracles. He turned plain water into wine and controls all of nature. He gives sight to the blind and makes the lame walk again.  He can control the wind and the sea, calming storms and raging waves. He can walk on water. 

Headline:  Man surrenders himself in exchange for hostages.  Billions saved!

Yes, my superhero surrendered to the enemy, but it was done voluntarily. He freely sacrificed himself to free billions of hostages.  He was put to death by the enemy, but he rose from the dead after three days and now lives forever.  He has already raised men from the dead and will raise many more in the future. 

My superhero doesn’t wear a mask, he wears a golden crown.  He has been called the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel—God with us, fully man and fully God! His name is Jesus. During this period of Advent Christians around the world reflect on the promised return of their Savior.  The book of Revelation describes him like this:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  –Revelation 19:11-13 (NIV)

The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus, the “Word of God” is the author of all creation.  All things were made by Him: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5 (NIV)

Darkness has never overcome my superhero and it never will.  He cannot be defeated.  Jesus sacrifice of himself defeated sin and death forever.  Jesus offers redemption freely to those who claim him as savior. His story is told in this passage of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through Him all things were made.

 For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

 For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

 On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

 He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

Now that’s what a real Superhero looks like!

…to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.  –Revelation 1: 5b-6 (NIV)

Taming the Tongue

Politician yelling cartoon

Note:  all Bible quotes are taken from the NIV.

The single most important rule for Christians who are public figures is “behave like Christians.” This is especially true for elected officials, of whom former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” Douglass was talking about the institution of slavery in America, but his words still ring true when it comes to American politics today.

Christianity is damaged when politicians claiming to be Christians don’t act like it. Probably the worst examples are ad hominem attacks on political opponents.  Christian politicians would do well to stick to criticizing their opponents’ policies and dispense with character assassination.

Christian politicians needn’t look far for advice; they can simply open their Bibles. Jesus told Pontius Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is great wisdom reminding all Christians that we (including politicians) answer to a higher authority.  In 1 Kings 22, the story is told of the time the king of Israel had to decide whether or not to go to war against Syria. Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, advised his fellow ruler, “First seek the counsel of the Lord” before making a decision (verse 5). This is sound advice that Christian politicians would do well to take to heart. Seek God’s guidance before seeking the guidance of man.  They should also note Matthew 5:16, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Many politicians seem to blurt out whatever comes to mind at the moment, without thinking things through. Then they often have to “walk back” their comments, leaving themselves open to criticism of being flip-floppers, liars racists and worse.  One of my former U.S. Army battalion commanders liked to remind his officers, “Engage your brain before operating your mouth.”

Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 says it even better: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. A dream comes when there are many cares, and many words mark the speech of a fool.”

Many politicians are too quick to become angry at comments from their opponents.  Proverbs 12:16 says, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult.”  Don’t be thin skinned!  Proverbs 17:27 says, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.”

I offer all politicians a final word of advice from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Politicians may do as they please for now, but there will ultimately be a day of reckoning.

 

 

Hurry up and slow down!

Slow Down

Be still, and know that I am God.  —Psalm 46:10a (ESV)

We live in a world of high-speed escape artists.  Everywhere one looks, people are rushing to and fro to get the next thing on their long list done. When they grow weary, many turn to adrenalin-pumping extremes to “relax.” There is extreme biking, extreme running (Parkour), building- and rock-climbing without safety equipment (free-climbing), half-pipe skiing and snowboarding, and base jumping, which is free fall parachuting from cliffs or high structures.

We watch extreme television entertainment, like American Ninja Warrior and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting.  If sports is not your thing, there are extreme game shows with names like Wipeout, where contestants crash and burn on crazy obstacle courses, and Fear Factor where contestants, among other feats, eat large volumes of worms and bugs.

Many escape reality through physical addictions, turning to drugs, alcohol or sex to remove them from reality. Others simply unplug from their daily grind, spending long periods of the day disconnected from the world. Video games are one way of escaping reality. The most extreme “unplugging” involves new virtual reality technology.  With this technology, one can don a pair of goggles and be instantly transported to a new 3-D “world.”  Anything goes on these virtual playgrounds, including extreme sports, extreme violence and extreme sexual fantasies.

For some, cell phone addiction provides a different kind of virtual reality.  Have you spoken with someone who constantly looks down at their phone? It’s like they don’t have time for you. It’s annoying, not to mention downright rude.  Or perhaps you’ve observed a family seated in a restaurant waiting for their orders to arrive—everyone is heads down playing with their phone instead of interacting with other family members.  In 2014, Charit Taneja wrote in “The Psychology of Excessive Cellular Phone Use” that:

Cell phones enable behavioral problems and disorders, particularly in adolescents. This fact has become more and more evident in communications media, inspiring new pathologies, such as “Nomophobia” (No-Mobile-Phobia), “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) – the fear of being without a cell phone, disconnected or off the Internet, “Textaphrenia” and “Ringxiety” – the false sensation of having received a text message or call that leads to constantly checking the device, and “Textiety” – the anxiety of receiving and responding immediately to text messages. 

Some people escape auditory reality. In the fitness center where I exercise, about half of the people wear headphones or ear buds while using an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical machine, stair-stepper or other exercise device. I assume most listen to music, hoping it will carry away them to another, less painful place as they push their bodies to the physical limit.  While such auditory isolation might reduce the agony of a heavy workout, it hinders socializing with others and can even be dangerous. At certain times of the year here in South Dakota it’s a good idea to keep one’s ears peeled for the sound of a tornado warning siren.   

A frantic pace combined with isolation can lead to perilous situations. Anyone who lives in a big city has seen drivers who dangerously weave in and out of traffic, desperately trying to get ahead a couple of car lengths while putting their own and other people’s safety at risk. Many of these drivers have so much on their “to do” lists that feel a need to constantly rush. Others live in their own private worlds where it’s all about satisfying their own needs, with no regard for the needs and safety of those around them.

 Far too often, erratic driving results in road rage.  According to analysis by performed by Trace, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States, instances of road rage where someone in a car brandished a gun or fired a gun at another driver or passenger more than doubled over the a three-year period, increasing from 247 in 2014 to a high of 620 in 2016.

The high-speed, escape mentality is tearing away the very fabric of our society. We’re becoming a bunch of one-armed jugglers with our eyes and ears covered. It’s easy to get caught up in the race and lose sight of what really matters in life.  Christians aren’t immune to this.  It’s easy to become distracted and let the day slip by without a thought of God.  I think Islam gets it right on one point—stopping to pray five times per day.  Christians would do well to adopt a similar practice. 1 Thessalonians: 5 encourages us to “pray without ceasing.” (ESV)

Psalm 46:10a (ESV) says, “Be still and know that I am God.” God wants us to slow down and focus on him in the midst of our daily hustle.  It’s during times of stillness that we can, if just for a moment, look God in the face and begin to gain a deeper understanding of Him. In Mark 4:39, Jesus is with his disciples in a small boat when a great storm occurs.  The terrified disciples appeal to Jesus to do something to save them.  He utters the simple command, “Peace! Be still.” Immediately the weather becomes calm.

This beautiful story is about much more than Jesus calming the weather.  It is about Jesus giving up a sense of Peace in Him that helps us through the storms that occur in our daily lives. In 1 Kings: 19 (ESV), God speaks to Elijah in “a low whisper.” My advice to you—slow down, be still, unplug, hear God’s whisper, and discover His peace. 

 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)