Monthly Archives: November 2019

Invited to the Dance of Grace

In 2018, MarketWatch reported that the average Christmas shopper racked up $1054 of debt. If that average shopper made minimum payments on his or her credit card, it would take approximately six years to retire their Christmas debt.
It seems, according to statistics reported in Investopedia, that experts expect the average American to spend more this Christmas than the average American expects to spend. This means that millions of American who are still trying to pay off debts from previous Christmases will once again be adding to their debt load.
The old adage, “You can’t spend what you don’t have,” turns out to be less than the whole truth. Unless our payments are late, card is maxed, or credit is revoked, we can spend what we don’t have – for a while.
Is credit extended in other areas of life? For example, can a piano student play beyond what she has practiced – can she play on credit? If she has put in 50 hours of practice, can she play with 200 hours of experience? Can she borrow on what she does not yet have?
What about in the spiritual realm? Can I spend compassion that I don’t have? What about wisdom? Discernment? Will I have endurance that I have not bought through the testing of faith in times of trial? Is there any credit extended in the spiritual realm or is it strictly pay as you go?
Continue reading

Advertisement

Posted in Faith, Spiritual life | Tagged , | Leave a comment

I AM the Good Shepherd (Part 2)

In “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm Twenty-Three,” Philip Keller writes about his time as a shepherd in east Africa. The tract of land next to his was owned by an absentee landlord and run by a manager – a contract employee type – who was supposed to care for the sheep. But they were sickly, skinny (the land was overgrazed) and beset by predators. Keller says that those poor sheep would stand across the fence and just stare into his green pastures and at his healthy sheep. It was as if they hoped some good shepherd would free them from the abusive one with whom they were stuck. Continue reading

Posted in From the Pulpit, Sermons, Theology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How to Give God a Five-Star Review

Most of us know someone who has almost ceased being a complainer and is now not much more than a complaint. Every word from their lips, every look on their face, is tinged with resentment: People have let them down; life isn’t fair; the future is bleak. When such a person professes faith in God, people who know him or her can only assume that a life of faith is a bad investment.
The complaining believer is a zero-star review for God. The grateful person, on the other hand, gives God five stars. The person “overflowing with thankfulness,” as St. Paul describes it, is the best publicity there is for God. Thanksgiving advertises God. It overflows, as Paul says, “to the glory of God.”
Sincere believers who understand this might regret the complaining they’ve done and decide to be more grateful. But this is getting the cart before the proverbial horse. The place to start is not with what one must do but with what one must know. Grateful people know two fundamental truths about God… Continue reading

Posted in Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I AM the Good Shepherd

It is wintertime and Jesus is walking in the historic Portico of Solomon on the east side of the temple courts. In an orchestrated effort, some of the Judean leaders and influencers encircle Jesus so he cannot slip away. They order him to tell them whether or not he is the Messiah. Jesus’s answer at first seems baffling. He responds: “I did tell you.” Is it possible that Jesus tells us things today and we miss what he is saying? Continue reading

Posted in From the Pulpit, Sermons, Theology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Obstacles to Faith and the Service They Perform

A doubting friend once said to me, “If God exists, why doesn’t he tell us plainly? Why doesn’t he write it across the sky for everyone to see?”
That question is based on an assumption that is patently false and, upon reflection, even silly: the assumption that God’s aspiration for humans – his end goal in creating them – is their assent to the fact that he exists. This is to woefully underestimate both God and humanity.
God’s objective is the creation of a race of great and good beings who can interact with him as they add to the love and blessedness of the universe. The biblical pictures of this – of humans reigning with Christ, crowned with glory, and filled with joy – is nothing short of spectacular. Once we have seen this, the idea that God’s big plan is merely to get people to believe he exists is laughable.
Still, the problem remains: why is belief in God so difficult? Why are there so many obstacles to faith in the awe-inspiring God and Father of Jesus? That there are obstacles is undeniable. The church has never said otherwise, and the biblical data confirm it. Included among the obstacles are: the presence of evil which, on the surface, seems to contradict the existence of a loving and good God; the lack of incontrovertible evidence; and the discrepancy between what those who claim to believe in God say and how they act.
On the one hand, it is difficult for us to understand why God would allow such obstacles. On the other hand, if the biblical God does exist, it must be assumed that the presence of such obstacles does not hinder his efforts in forming a glorious, joyful, and powerful humanity but rather advances it.
Continue reading

Posted in Theology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Defense…

Imagine growing up in a home that idolized the New York Yankees. You were born in 1950, and your earliest memories involve the Yankees: going to games, watching them on TV, trading baseball cards for great Yankees players: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra. Your Yogi card is even signed. Now your hoping to get your Mickey Mantle Card signed.

In your home, the Yankees are the subject of conversation every evening at dinner—and those conversations are full of anxiety. “In the good old days, we were the winners. Oh, when the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, was at the plate. Those were the golden years. Now, everyone is out to get us. The bullpen looks weak – don’t know about that Whitey Ford guy. Mickey is playing injured. And Roger Marris – he used to be a Cleveland Indian, and those Cleveland guys never amount to anything. This year will be bad. Things are going in the wrong direction for us.”

Of course, the Yankees won the World Series twelve times in the 23 years following Lou Gehrig’s retirement, including a five-year stint in which they won every series.

Sometime people talk about the church in the same way: “This year will be bad. Church people aren’t what they used to be. Things are going in the wrong direction for us.” But this is a distorted view, if ever there was one. Jesus’s church will not fail. The kingdom of God will win.
Continue reading

Posted in From the Pulpit, Sermons, Worldview and Culture | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I AM: The Door for the Sheep (Series: Allow Me to Introduce Myself)

I was speaking at a conference years ago. During the break a woman came up and introduced herself. She was a Christian who had married a reformed con man after he found Jesus and had been released on parole. It turned out, however, that he had not reformed, only revised his approach. He became a minister and started his own religious radio program in Northeastern Ohio. She told me that money was pouring in from listeners who were inspired by his spiritual cant. All the while, he was living a godless life, sleeping with his secretary, and laughing all the way to the bank. Continue reading

Posted in From the Pulpit, Sermons | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Power of Idolatry and the Idolatry of Power

The last sentence in St. John’s first letter is: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It’s placement as the apostle’s final word gives it substantial weight. He clearly regarded it as important.
We do not. The sentence hardly seems to fit our postmodern era. Idols were a part of their culture, not ours. Humanity has advanced beyond our ancestors’ crude worship, lavished as it was on lifeless, heartless symbols and images.
Think again. Consider the images that we have endowed with power: the apple with a bite taken out of it (Apple Corporation); the golden arches (McDonald’s); five yellow bars, radiating out like sunrays (Walmart); the smirky gold smile (Amazon). These images connote power, even world dominance.
One year out from the U.S. general election, I can think of two other symbols that connote power. The Donkey and the Elephant. Continue reading

Posted in In the News, Peace with God, Spiritual life, Theology, Worldview and Culture | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Is Time-Change a Real Thing?

Historians attribute the idea of Daylight Savings Time (DST) to a New Zealand entomologist named George Vernon Hudson. Near the end of the 19th century, Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, recommending a two-hour time-shift in October, which would be reversed in March. Apparently, the entomologist wanted more daylight hours to search for insects.
The idea evoked interest but failed to get traction. Ten years later, an Englishman named William Willet lobbied to make twenty-minute time changes on four consecutive Sundays in April, then invert the process on four Sundays in September.
It was the Canadians who first tried the idea in 1908 and the Germans who went wholesale for the idea in 1916. The German rationale for the change was that longer daylight hours would mean less artificial lighting, thereby saving fuel that could be used by the military in the First World War. The idea soon caught on in England and France.
The U.S. was late to the game. Though the nation tried it briefly in 1918, they jumped off the bandwagon in 1919, and did not get back on until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act in 1966. But in 1967, the people of Arizona and Michigan rebelled, and returned to standard time and Indiana didn’t get on board as a state until 2006.
Does DST really help us? Continue reading

Posted in Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment