Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sure, I can do that ...

I Cor 10:23
"Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive.

I have lived in my current residence for over 20 years. I live on a half-cul-du-sac; which means that one road comes from the West, and stops at my house and another comes from the North and stops here. It is an odd shaped lot. I have seven neighbors whose yards touch mine. Because I am on the outside part of the curve, my lot should actually be divided up into two large lots, but there is not enough curb space for two houses.

I tell you this so that you will understand my lawn-mowing predicament. I have a large area of lawn to mow - slightly over half an acre. It is really an awkward lot. If it were a smaller, "normal" sized lot, mowing with a regular lawn mower would be no problem. On the other hand, if it were larger, say an acre, I would have no problem justifying having a riding mower. But at the size it is, it is an arduous task to mow with a push mower and a riding mower has always seemed over-kill. So, I have always had a regular push mower. When I would mulch the grass, it took about two and a half or three hours to mow. When I had to bag the grass, it took over six hours.

When I had two strapping young sons, this was really not a problem. I could simply tell them to go out and mow the grass. However, when they grew up and moved out, the onus was back on me to do the chore. Finally, I broke down and bought my wife a riding mower. (Actually, it was supposed to be mine, but the only way I could get her to agree was to promise her that I would let her mow on the new, fun machine.) We bought one of those ZTR (zero-turn-radius) mowers, which can spin like a top. That was over three years ago, and now, I seldom have the pleasure of mowing the lawn.

The mower is great. It has two handles, one for the left wheel and the other for the right. Pushing a handle forward makes that wheel drive you forward and pulling a handle backward makes that wheel drive you backward. Push both handles forward and you move forward. Pull both handles backward and you move backward. Push one forward and the other backward and you will spin like a top until you get dizzy and lose your lunch, or you are thrown from the seat like a cowboy riding a wild bull. If your lawn is a simple square or rectangle, you can actually make 90 degree turns at each corner and cut it in a perfect square.

At least, that is the theory. It all works well in the store parking lot or in your driveway, but I have found a caveat. While the mower is quite capable of having one wheel drive forward and the other backward, and spinning like a top, my lawn is a might too fragile for that behavior. While I can do that, or sharp turns with the mower in my driveway, if I do that on my lawn, it tears up the grass. You can see small spots of mud (or dirt) in spots where I have cut the corner too sharp or spun the mower too tight.

I believe that this is what St. Paul is telling us Christians. Under the blood of Jesus, our sin has been forgiven. We are no longer bound by the law ... do this, don't do that ... but, we should not use our freedom if it is going to "tear up the lawn." Just as my mower has way more power and agility than what I need to do my lawn, we as Christians have been empowered with freedom to do more than we have the need for most times. And, just as my mower needs a gentle hand so I don't use that power to rip the grass out of my lawn, we also need to temper our freedom with the gentleness of the Spirit (coincidently, that is also one of the fruit of the Spirit) so that we don't rip other people apart with our freedom.


Monday, December 24, 2007

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

H. W. Longfellow

[Note: this poem was written during the American Civil war. Verses 4 and 5, which reflect that war, are not usually included in the popular Christmas Carol.]


Friday, December 21, 2007

A Nativity with Which Everyone Can Be Comfortable

(I am back after a couple of successive hard drive crashes and a lot of overtime.)

A friend of ours has a Nativity set which shouldn't offend anyone. It started out as a fairly common Nativity set, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a shepherd boy and a lamb. However, somewhere along the line, baby Jesus was lost (possibly aided by a mischievous niece). So now she has Mary, Joseph, a shepherd boy and a lamb. Who could possibly be offended by that? Take Jesus away and all the controversy disappears.

That's how Christianity is ... or at least should be. I realize that there are some Christians who are controversial, not because of their connection to Jesus, but just because they are obnoxious all by themselves. They should not be. Our point of contention with the rest of the World should be our unshakable faith in Jesus, and our personal relationship with Him.

Merry Christmas.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Is the Church still Relevant (2)

Last time I asked the question, "Is THE Church still relevant?". A more pointed question would be, "Is YOUR church still relevant?". Is it?

What does your church do for you? Does it make you feel good. If it does, then it is probably not relevant. I once heard it said that "a church should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted." If your church doesn't comfort you when society is oppressing you, and challenge you when society is not oppressing you, then it is probably not doing its job.

God has called His people to be separate from society. There are times when the society tries to imitate the church, and at those times, the people of God have it pretty easy in society because we are doing what they are trying to do, only, hopefully, doing it a little better. We are like a car running with its headlights in the daytime ... only noticible if you look close.

But, society tires of trying to imitate the church. To live a truly holy life require supernatural energy from God, one cannot do it without Him. Then some things happen, (1) society begins to resent the church for continuing to live as they no longer can, (2) the churches which have enjoyed the comfort of society begin to imitate society rather than follow God.

I heard recently that a large group christian churches had decided to focus less on "salvation" and more on the environment. I was rather upset to hear about it, not that I do not think we should take care of the land that God has given us, but in truth, what they are saying is that they no longer care if all of mankind suffers for eternity in hell, as long as the grass on this ephemeral dwelling is green and pretty. I believe that group of churches have made themselves less relevant.

To be relevant, the church needs to:

- tell people that they are doomed to an eternity in hell (and all that entails ... hell will be an eternity of suffering, not a giant party)
- Jesus is the only way out of that destiny
- how to acquire that salvation from God
- once you have done that, how should you conduct your life
- how can we thank God for providing so great a gift
- how can you entreat others to also get off the path to eternal torment and onto the path to eternal life

If your church is not focussing on those six things, if it is instead telling you how to use God to make yourself rich and get everything you ever wanted, or telling you not to worry because there are many ways to God, then your church is irrelevant.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Is the Church still Relevant (1)

OK, so maybe religion is still relevant ... but what about the Church?

Well, let's look at that from two perspectives. First, the Church, as the formal body of the religion. I am most familiar with the Christian Church. Not specifically with any specific denomination (although I have been members of several, and attended many more), but the Church (capital "C") as the body of Christ here on Earth.

Just what is the purpose of the Church?

We are given several examples of what the early Christians did. They worshiped God. They prayed They had instruction in living a holy life. They fellowshipped together. Fellowship? What is that? To put it simply, they were a community. They ate together, helped each other, supported each other in difficult times, and did fun stuff together ... kind of like parties, I guess.

Of all these things, we are commanded by Jesus to love each other, and again by Paul not to quit getting together. So, that "fellowship" thing must be pretty important.

Of course, look at the times they lived in ... in many places, becoming a Christian meant you lost your job. In others it meant you were executed. One of the Roman Emperors would have parties, and for light in the evenings, he would dip Christians in tar, hang them on poles and light them on fire. Others were thrown to the lions in the arena. The lucky ones got to live as slaves on the ships. So, it meant a lot to have a community to share your sorrows, and your hopes ... people to help you when you lost your job, or your family.

How about today? There are few in the U.S. who have lost their jobs because they converted to Christianity. Fewer who have been executed because of it. What does the Church offer us today?

Well, for one thing, it offers us the chance to share our abundance with our suffering brothers around the world who are losing their jobs and their loved ones because they have converted to Christianity. (You may not think of that as a big opportunity, but having been on the giving end and the receiving end of the stick, I can tell you, it really is much more blessed to give than to receive.)

Another thing it offers is the chance to worship God and to learn about Him. (You might be thinking that you can do that as well, or even better at home by yourself.)

But one of the best opportunities it offers is the opportunity to make true Christian friends. (Oh joy, I hear you say, sarcastically, just what I need, some "Christian" friends ... boring hypocrits.) I won't argue that I have met some folk in church who I wouldn't trust to water my plants, but I will say that all of my very closest friends have been fellow Christians - people that I would trust with my life and the life of my family. I have met Christians, through other Christians, who on our first meeting were willing to open their house to me in a time of need.

I do not claim to be a prophet, but I can tell you this, there will come a time in the not too distant future when it will once again become very unpopular to be a Christian in the U.S. I don't know that people will be jailed for it, but I do believe that it will mean losing your job and becoming a social outcast. When that happens, all those folks who go to church on Sundays because it is the "thing to do", or because it is a good place to meet business contacts, will stop coming. Only those people who put God ahead of all else in their lives will be in church. That is when it will be a great time to be in church. That is when you will once again be able to trust those people with your life and the lives of those you love with no reservations.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Is Religion Still Relevant?

I think that question is quite appropriate. After all, science has told us all there is to know, and religion wasn't included. To quote The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, "what's the use of our debating the existance of God when tomorrow your machine will give us his phone number?"

Well, the problem is that science has not told us all there is to know, it has only told us some of what we asked. And, the answers it has given us are limited by our own understanding.

If you had some sort of a sealed black box which plugged into the wall and had an on/off switch, you could measure how much electricity it used when it was off, and how much it used when it was on. You might take its temperature when it was on to see if it was putting out heat. You could put it on a scale to see if its weight changed when it was on. You might try making the room completely dark to see if there was any light coming from inside of it; or maybe probing it with a stethoscope to see if it made any sounds when it was on. You could put a ruler next to it and see if it changed size. If you were ingenious, you might come up with some more tests ... put some smoke around it and see if it created any air currents when it was on. But sooner or later you would run out of things to test.

If the box did something which you could not detect, if it somehow teleported a rock from Venus to Saturn every time you turned it on, and teleported it back when you turned it off, you would never know what the box did, and would probably conclude that it did nothing but hum a little. You do not have the ability to measure what it is doing, nor would you probably think to measure that particular function, even if you had the ability to make those measurments.

The scientific method is a tool, a powerful one, but it is limited by our ability to use it properly. It is also limited by our ability to ask the right questions and correctly interpret the answers.

So, science by no means negates religion.

But, that does not mean religion is relevant.

What purpose does it serve?
What influence does it have in our daily lives?
What influence should it have in our daily lives?

This is where religion finds its relevance ... or more appropriately, this is where we find it relevant.

Religion serves us. It tells us why we are here. It tells us of our importance in the grand scheme of things. It tells us that, in the eyes of our creator, we are all the same, because we all came from the same source. It tells us how to and how not to treat each other. It give us the courage to do that which we know is right in the face of that which we fear, because it gives us hope of a life that is not limited to our frail, mortal existance.

We serve religion. We have a responsibility to obey the laws which our religion commands us to obey. We are ultimately answerable to our creator above all others, even our religious leaders.

Religion also binds us together. We have a common belief, something that transcends the glitter and thorns of this world we live in. When outside pressure is telling us to pull away from our brothers, our religion tells us that they are our brothers and not to abandon them.

Our brains build on the foundations that science affords them but our hearts build on the faith of our religion.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Do You Want to Get Well?"

What a stupid question!

Back up 15 minutes ...

There was a place in Isreal which was legendary for healing. It was a public pool, probably originally a decorative area, or maybe a place where the poor could come to cool off on a hot day. But after years it was no longer used for that purpose. It seems that this place had a reputation for healing miracles. Legend had it that if you sat there long enough, the normally calm waters would get a ripple, or maybe a splash, and that was supposedly because an angel touched the water. At that point, the first person in the pool was healed of whatever illness they had. Either it must have worked, or maybe the people hanging around were so desperate that they would try anything.

Any way, there was a man, a quadraplegic, who had been there for thirty-eight years (St. John 5:1-14). He must have seen some people healed, otherwise I cannot imagine that he would have stayed there that long. As a matter of fact, he does claim that other people have gotten in ahead of him (v. 7) and they must have been healed, or he would have gone home (at least I would have if I had been him).

It is into this situation that Jesus walks. He looks at the man and asks him that question, "Do you want to get well?" I find it interesting that instead of saying, "What are you, nuts? Of course I do!" the man tries to explain why he hasn't been able to ... "some one always jumps in ahead of me." (So, get a patio chair and go sit in the shallow end ... don't get out of the pool!)

(Hint to the man who had been sitting there for thirty-eight years, you are talking to the Guy who sends the angels to splash in the pool!)

Jesus by-passes the pool and just tells him to get up and walk. And he does. No splashing in the pool, no going for a swim, no big ceremony. Just a simple "pack up and go" (OK, "Pick up your mat and walk.") And he was healed.

What about us? Do we want to get well? Well from what? The simple answer is sin. Do we want to be healed from our sin? Oh, not just the "God saved me and washed away my sin, and now I'm going to Heaven" sin, but what about the daily sin that we commit? Do I really want to be healed of the sin of ignoring God six and a half days a week, and playing Christian on Sunday morning? Do I really want to be healed of the sin of ignoring other people and thinking myself to be the most important person in the world? Do I really want to be healed of the sin of treating God like a cosmic Santa Claus, and constantly pestering Him with my petty wants? Do I really want to be healed of the sin of not falling on my face in worship and treating Him like the Creator of the universe that He is?

There is a part of us that says, "oh, yeah, I guess I could do that, if I want," but can we really? I'm sure that every time the man saw the water splash, he thought, "maybe this time." But, it didn't happen. He was too far gone, he lost the ability to move the inches to get into the pool. Had Jesus not come by, he probably would have been there until he died. We are also too far gone. Sin has robbed us of the will or the drive or whatever you want to call it that would "put us in the pool".

"I could do that if I wanted to," but the not-wanting-to is part of the disease of sin. Even if we could start, we could not keep it up. The life of the Spirit cannot be lived in the power of the flesh. That means that if you have to force yourself to do the right thing, go to church, give an offering, be nice to people even when they're a pain, etc., then you will come to the end of your rope and quit. It might be tomorrow, next week, or a year from now, but at some point you will say, "to heck with it! It's not worth it!"

Like the man at the pool, we need Jesus to heal us.