A New Perspective

I just turned 34 years old. On my birthday, I received two entirely different reactions to that statement within just a few hours of each other. First was my 8 year old’s reaction when I told him how old I was: “Wow, Dad, that’s pretty old.” A little while later I heard an entirely different response as a good friend said, “Oh, you’re just a baby.” As I thought about these responses, I realized that they really illustrate a reality of life – perspective makes a big difference.

I see this difference in all kinds of ways. As I watch professional sports I see kids that need to grow up, but I remember a time that I wanted to grow up to be like them. I tell my son to “Stop being gross!” and he replies, “I’m not, I’m being funny.” My wife asks if I can turn off my noisy radio, but I can barely even hear it. Someone recommends a movie that they think is terrific and I watch it only to be disappointed that it isn’t really that good. On and on I could go with differences that are nothing more than a matter of perspective – a different way of looking at the exact same thing. Most of the time, these differences simply serve to make life more interesting. It does remind me though of how different our perspective is from God’s.

Think about the many ways that we see things differently than He does. For instance, I think I’m pretty good, but He sees my righteousness as filthy rags. I think I’ve worked hard enough to make it to heaven, but He says that’s impossible. I look at my sin problem and realize it’s impossible to overcome, but He has made all things possible through His Son. I think of how bad I am, and He sees me as perfect because of Jesus. I see problems, but He sees endless possibilities. I see pain and He sees opportunity. I see a world that seems out of control and He sees His plan playing out over the course of time. As I consider these differences in perspective, I’m thankful that His ways are higher than mine. I’m also challenged to align my perspective with His. It might be difficult at first, but I’ll be better off when I look at life from His perspective.

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Sunday Supper March 29, 2015

In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

  • I watched Unbroken this week and was pleased. It is the story of Olympian and WWII POW Louis Zamperini. It was a good movie and fairly accurate as far as I could tell. You can see more about the movie here. If you’re curious about the accuracy of the movie, there is an interesting article here. As usual, the book by the same name that the movie was based on was even better and I highly recommend it.
  •  Thom Rainer offered some excellent observations about mean churches over on his blog.
  •  Paul Seger, the General Director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide had some helpful and brief thoughts on short term missions trips.
  •  Great article entitled Why You Should Think Twice Before Badmouthing Obama admonishes believers to honor our president regardless of our personal opinion of him. I’m not sure how recent this article is, but I came across it through a friend this week. Good stuff.
  •  My most frequently viewed post this week was Thoughts on Religious Freedom. The impetus for that post was the signing of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but I didn’t really comment much on the bill itself. Here is some information from the Gospel Coalition that might prove helpful. To be fair, here is a perspective from a group opposing the bill.

I hope you enjoy this random collection of stuff. What have you been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful?

Thoughts on Religious Freedom

My state of Indiana made national news yesterday when Governor Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill is being painted as a protection for the religious liberty of business owners by some and as aggressive discrimination (primarily towards the LGBT community) by others. I suspect that the real truth lies somewhere in the middle, though I am not qualified to speak to the true intent or implications of a bill such as this. I have no desire to argue with anyone about the merits of this bill, though I suspect as with most things it will do some good and cause some harm. What is for certain is that opinions on this topic are varied and intense, and this always fosters inappropriate dialogue and behavior from all sides. When it comes to my own personal feelings on these types of issues, my greatest concern is that Christians represent Christ well – regardless of our political, social, or theological opinions. Toward that end, I have some thoughts that should shape our speech and actions during controversial times such as these. Consider the following:

  • Religious freedom is a sociopolitical blessing and not a divine guarantee. I am thankful for the religious freedom we experience in our nation, but God never once promised that society would always make it easy or convenient to follow Him. Religious freedom is nice, but it is given to us by a human government and might one day be taken away by that same government.
  • Religious freedom must be shared equally. We cannot bemoan the religious liberty of those we disagree with and complain about ours being infringed upon at the same time. I do not have to see every belief as theologically or morally equal to stand up for that person’s right as an American citizen to have that belief.
  • Religious freedom is not the historic norm. Christians should expect to be disagreed with and even persecuted. Jesus predicted this (Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:18-19) as did Paul in his writing to Timothy. Paul said that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12).” Though we are blessed with religious freedom at the moment, it is not to be considered the norm by true believers. We should expect persecution, and when we receive it, we should respond with love and prayer and gentleness.
  • It is always right to obey God, whether it is legal or not. In Acts 5:29, Peter and the apostles told the government that they must obey God rather than man. When they made this statement, they were also willing to face whatever consequences that may have come with it, and we should as well.
  • We must distinguish between God’s law and our own personal beliefs and preferences. This is where there may be a great deal of difference in the determination of what violates God’s law. I opt to see this line drawn at sins that God Himself spells out for us. In context of the law we are discussing, I believe it would be a sin for me to participate in homosexual activity myself, but that it would not be sinful to provide business services for those who do.
  • We are called to be holy, not to force others (particularly an unbelieving society) to be holy. There is no scriptural obligation to force moral legislation on an unbelieving world. God wants changed hearts before he expects moral conduct anyway, so there is no spiritual benefit to forcing unsaved people to abide by our beliefs. The only purpose this serves is to make it more convenient for me to live as a believer in my society and convenience is never promised or even encouraged by God.
  • Theological or moral correctness are never a license to mistreat another person. This is probably the issue I am most concerned with in the Christian community. For some reason, the church seems to believe that as long as they are right then they can also be mean and hateful. This is unacceptable and dishonors the Lord. I am not saying that it is never ok to say that someone else is wrong or that someone’s behavior is wrong. I am saying that it must be done in a loving manner. There is no room for name calling or disrespectful, angry and out of control conversation.
  • God’s Kingdom is not of this world. Above all, we must remember that this world is not our true home. I am afraid that we get so caught up with every societal issue that we forget this is all temporary. True believers will set their affections on things above (Col 3:2). We will not be ensnared by the temporary things of this world (2 Cor 4:18). Practically speaking, this means that our priority should always be spiritual things. When it comes to a disagreement, the other person’s salvation should always concern me more than my rights or my correctness on a particular issue. Unfortunately, many Christians would rather see lost people burn in hell than violate their own earthly comfort or convenience.

I’m sure that there is more that could be said and I am certain that many will be offended by what I have written. Regardless, I assure you that my heart’s desire is to see God’s people rise up and show His love in a way that is so uncommon and so unexpected that it might just make a difference in this dark world in which we live. To God be the glory forever!

Two Are Better Than One

This morning I was working with my preschooler on her Bible verse for the letter “Y” which happens to be John 15:14. It says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” We read it together several times and I explained what Jesus meant when he said that his friends keep His commandments. We read a little story that is supposed to help her remember the concept and then I asked her if she remembered her verse. This was her version: “Friends do whatever I say.” I laughed because at times that seems to be what she thinks about friendship, but thankfully she had a pretty good understanding of what the verse was teaching.

After our little conversation was over, I continued to think about this verse and its implications on my own friendships. The reality is that if Jesus is such a great friend to me, then I should seek to be the same kind of friend to others that He is to me.

If you think about it, there are lots of things that make Jesus the best possible friend. As I sifted through traits like love, faithfulness, compassion, etc., I realized that there was one foundational truth that seemed to shape all the others – He always has my best interest in mind. I don’t mean to say that He gives me whatever I want or “does whatever I say”, but that His friendship with me has the aim of making me a better me.

This might be one of the most defining characteristics of genuine friendship. Friends are those special people that we can count on because we know they actually care about us. Solomon expressed this with the imagery of companions walking together. He says that “two are better than one… If either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).” I think the benefit he is describing includes any situation where we might need to be “lifted up” emotionally, spiritually or otherwise.

Similarly, Paul exhorts believers to “…encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)…” This pictures an unfinished structure to which a friend adds the necessary pieces for completion. What a wonderful picture of what Jesus does for each of us and what a challenge to each of us in our friendships. We are not judging the incompleteness, but working with them to become what they are truly meant to be. A true friend has the ability to both accept you for who you are and love you enough to push you toward what’s best for you. That’s because, like Jesus, genuine friends have each other’s best interest in mind. May God grant that each of us grow increasingly into the kind of friend that Jesus is and wants us to be.

Friendship – No Pain, No Gain

One of my favorite movies of all time is “Remember the Titans.” In one scene early on in the movie, Coach Boone is working the guys hard to try to bring them together as a team. They’re out in the hot sun doing drills and we hear this exchange: Coach Boone – “What is pain?” Team – “French bread!” Coach Boone – “What is fatigue?” Team – “Army clothes!”

While this scene was clever and inspirational, it was just a creative way of expressing the common axiom “no pain, no gain” that has been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. While we most often associate that saying with exercise or sports, its original application was actually spiritual. Benjamin Franklin is generally credited with the modern version of the saying, but an early form of the expression is found in a Hebrew collection of Rabbinical teachings known as “The Ethics of the Fathers.” In it, Rabbi Ben Hei says, “According to the pain is the gain.”

Regardless of who said it and how, there is truth to be found in this simple concept: many of the best things in life are only acquired after a little bit of pain. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of relationships. One of the great benefits of friendship is that we can build each other up and make each other better, but that generally doesn’t happen without some measure of pain. The wise king Solomon said it this way: “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).” The imagery is that of two iron blades being rubbed together to sharpen each. I think the benefit here is obvious – two people make each other better. However, in order for two pieces of iron to sharpen each other there has to be friction and pressure. This produces great heat. If we transfer this fact into the analogy, then we are back to the truth with which we started. Namely, the benefits of friendship often require us to go through painful or uncomfortable moments.

In friendship, this pain could take the form of loving correction or great effort in being patient with your friend. It could be mutual accountability between friends who agree to hold each other to the standards found in God’s Word. It might be the pain of enduring hardships together and bearing each other’s burdens. Whatever form the pain takes, we can be sure that it will come. The important thing is that we remember that the pain will bring blessings, and when it comes to our friendships it will certainly be worth it. Who knows? Maybe God will take that painful relationship and turn it into one of your greatest blessings.

The Sacrifice of Friendship

A few days ago, I found myself in one of those predicaments that is minor in reality, but could spell disaster to the fragile emotions of my young children – two pieces of candy for three eligible kids. To make matters worse, we were in the van so there was no escaping their reaction to the inevitable decision. These are the kind of scenarios that strike fear into the heart of parents of young children everywhere. So I did what any good parent would do and told them I was going to eat the candy myself. As I prepared to pop the little candies in my mouth, my oldest spoke up and offered to let his siblings have the candy. I beamed with parental pride as I gave the candy to the younger kids and praised their older brother for his kindness. In the world of young children, this was a major sacrifice and I was pleased that my son was learning the joy of sacrificing for others.

Self-sacrifice is a virtue that has been vilified in our “me first” society, but it is one of the cornerstones to Christ-like relationships. While popular culture says you need to look out for number one because no one else will, God says to “regard one another as more important than yourselves” and to “look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).” When this takes place in relationships the experience is very rewarding and fulfilling.

However, we instinctively hold back from this self-sacrifice because the risk is obvious. The risk is that I will be taken advantage of, used or hurt if I sacrifice myself for someone else. Jesus alluded to this risk when He said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).” Though he is speaking of His sacrifice for His disciples and all mankind, He brings up a scenario in which one friend pays a higher price in the relationship. He also reveals the key to this kind of sacrifice. The key to this kind of self-sacrifice is love. When I love as Christ loved, than I am able to sacrifice as He sacrificed, and that’s what real friends do.

Friends Don’t Bail

I recently asked my four year old if she enjoyed playing with another little girl. Her response: “Yes! We both love princesses and chocolate and coloring, so we’re best friends.” I had to laugh at her simplistic perspective on friendship, but it isn’t so funny when you realize that many adults still think the same way.

So many friendships dissolve when disagreements arise that it makes me ask, “Is that true friendship?” Does a friend demand agreement on every issue? Do real friends betray each other to get what they want? Would a true friend lie about those who no longer comply with their demands? Of course the answer is a resounding, “Not a chance.”

We’ve all known a few “fair weather” friends who hang around when things are good but take off when times get tough. That’s not a real friend. Real friends don’t bail when you make a mistake or forsake you when your opinion is different than theirs. A true friend will love at all times, particularly when it is difficult. If someone “stops being your friend” because you don’t agree with them on an issue or tries to manipulate you into doing what they want, then they aren’t really your friend.

Genuine friends continue to love and care for each other even in the difficult times. God’s Word says in Proverbs 17:17 that “a friend loves at all times.” All times would include disagreement on issues and differences in preference and desire. All times would include times that you were not necessarily working for the same goal. All times encompasses instances of conflict and diversity and moments of inconvenience. A friend loves at all times. We should use this principle as a measuring rod for our friends, but also as a mirror. Let’s commit to being the kind of friend we want to have – one that doesn’t bail when times get tough.

My Greatest Joy

March Madness descends upon us and I, for one, am cheerier for it. Last night, my wife actually caught me humming “it’s the most wonderful time of the year…” as I looked at my bracket for the very first time. As my brother and I concluded a serious conversation, we finished with a jolly “at least the tournament starts on Thursday…or Tuesday or Wednesday, but for real on Thursday.” For all of you normal people who don’t understand what I’m talking about, it’s pretty much Christmas in March for the sports fan. Honestly, college basketball is not even my favorite sport; but this has always been my favorite time of the year.

Some of you must think I am a crazed fanatic, but I must tell you that my enthusiasm for sports has mellowed with age and children. I still enjoy sports of all kind, but my former self would question my present fandom. It’s been ages since I watched an entire game of anything and I often have to look up the record of my favorite team in a given sport. That might not sound odd to some of you, but this is coming from the guy that at 19 years dumb actually quit a job because he was scheduled to work when the Tar Heels made the final four. More confessions could be made, but suffice it to say that my view on sports has changed significantly over the years.

Many factors have probably played into that change, but none so significant as the realization as a young man that my passion for spiritual things paled in comparison to that of my fandom. Before you check out because you don’t care that much about sports, understand the real issue I wrestled with. It wasn’t an issue of sports as much as it was an issue of my passion for Christ. For me, this issue was raised in the context of sports, but it resulted from a question that is generic enough for everyone. The question is simply this: Is Jesus the person that excites me the most and is He my greatest source of joy?

When I realized that I couldn’t answer yes to that question, I had to intentionally deal with the heart problem this revealed. The reality is that this is a type of idolatry. Throughout the Bible we are told to avoid idolatry (Exodus 20:3; 1 John 5:21), but we often think of this command as pertaining to little wooden statues or the like. I think that Isaiah 42:8 sheds some light on idolatry as more than that. There God says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” Idolatry is about stealing God’s glory. It’s about putting something in His place. Nothing should have more value to you than Him. Nothing should be more important nor bring greater joy than Him. He should be your greatest influence, motivation and excitement. My prayer is that we can together with the Psalmist tell God that “earth has nothing I desire besides you.”

Love Your Enemies

Recently, in my daily Bible reading, I came across a familiar passage of Scripture in Matthew 5. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Though I’ve read this passage many times before and even quoted it (and similar passages) in sermons and lessons, I saw it in a new light. I have always seen it as difficult, but for the first time I saw it as impossible. Faced with the difficulty of this observation, I was forced to consider his statement a little further.

As I considered His statement, I found some comfort. At the same time that Jesus is commanding us to do the impossible, He is also promising His divine enablement. That is the meaning of His statement – “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” We know that doing anything – even loving our enemies – cannot make us God’s child. The sense of this statement is more of a description. God’s children love their enemies and we do it in the same way we do anything – through His power and not our own.

I think that the specific enablement comes through the second part of the command. If you want to love your enemy then you should pray for him. Prayer may feel awkward, but the more you do it the more God will increase His love in your heart toward the person who has mistreated you.

It can also help to purposefully show love toward that person in tangible ways. I’m not saying be fake, but I am saying to intentionally do something kind for your enemy. When you do, take the time to pray and ask God to help you develop love for that person.

The good news is that He will. As hard as it may seem at first, you can love your enemy. As impossible as it might feel, He will enable you to love. It isn’t you, it’s Him – and that’s what the entirety of the Christian life is supposed to be anyway. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).”

The Bag of Shame

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Today was one of those exciting mornings that have become somewhat regular for our family. I’ll spare you the details and suffice it to say the events of the morning included a last second dash to the curb because I forgot to take the trash out; the discovery of water under the sink; a child manifesting sickness of multiple varieties; having to change my clothes as a result of said sickness and finding that the baby had decided it was a good time to redistribute all the clothing in her room. And, by the way, this all transpired before 11:00. I write with trepidation at what the remainder of the day might bring.

However, as per the usual, we found some humor in the midst of this mess. As I was dashing around cleaning up the sick child who hadn’t quite made it to the bathroom, my oldest followed me. Observing the chaos, he comments on the nature of the accident and says, “Dad, go get the bag of shame.”

Some context is probably necessary here. We have a prize bag at our house. The idea is that if the kids do something exceptional throughout the course of a day, then they get to reach into the bag and choose a reward. Well, to my very logical 8 year old, it seemed to make sense that we should also have a bag of shame. I laughingly explained that we do not have a bag of shame, though my imagination admittedly runs a bit wild at the thought of what we could put in that bag.

As the day progresses, I find myself thankful that the craziness always passes and that God doesn’t keep a bag of shame either. We are so prone to mistakes, foolish decisions and even sin that we would always be partaking of this bag. Instead, he offers patience and forgiveness and blessing. Thank you Lord for your undeserved favor on your children.