Here’s a challenge. Try going a day without comparing yourself to anyone – not your height, your weight, your hair, your clothes, your car, your spouse, your golf score, or anything else. If you think it will be easy, you might be surprised. Just see how you do when you choose which checkout line to enter at the grocery store or the best lane to drive on the expressway. Those decisions are also based on comparisons.
Fastest, smartest, newest, biggest, safest, most – these are all words used in comparison. Our culture is formed on comparisons. So are our minds. We understand ourselves in relation to others; that is, through comparison. Those comparisons start in early childhood, before we are capable of articulating or even comprehending the meaning of comparison.
Are we smart? How would we know apart from comparing ourselves to others? Are we successful? How about attractive, or friendly, or wise?
While forming comparisons is a natural and necessary part of growing up, it is also a source of much of our dissatisfaction. If I lived in a Papuan village where I was the only person with a car, I would be happy with my car, even if it was rusty, the seats were lumpy, and the car could not accelerate past 35 miles per hour.
However, I might be very dissatisfied with that same car living in my Michigan town. Why? It’s not as if the car has changed. But the situation has changed. Other people’s cars are shiny, and comfortable, and fast and, compared to theirs, mine is a bucket of rust.
Comparisons can quickly lead to dissatisfaction. This is even more likely because comparisons are often rigged.
http://www.lockwoodchurch.org/media (listening time approx. 28 minutes) Jesus makes the extraordinary claim that he is the light of the world. This claim is rooted in Old Testament texts and is made in conjunction with the Jewish Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles). … Continue reading
In the 1980s, the denomination I served encouraged me to attend a conference on evangelism presented by Evangelism Explosion (known familiarly as EE). This enormously popular approach to personal evangelism was pioneered in the 1960s by D. James Kennedy, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and was and is used throughout the world.
It was hard for a shy introvert like me to strike up conversations with people I didn’t know. It was even harder to strike up conversations about spiritual matters with people I assumed didn’t care. EE was designed to help people start and guide conversations to a particular end: the acceptance of receive Jesus Christ as one’s personal Savior.
At the EE conference, attendees were taught to ask people two questions, designed to coordinate with one another, and both including the prepositional phrase, “if you were to die tonight.” Both questions also included the idea of going to heaven.
There were things about the training I appreciated and things that made me uncomfortable. The discomfort came largely from the similarity between the EE program and programs that teach sales techniques. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was selling Jesus the way the kid at the front door sells vacuum cleaners. It seemed to me that, in both cases, the immediate goal was to get the person on the other side of the door to say yes to something they might not really want and probably didn’t understand.
On Sunday, I jumped (more like tumbled) out of an airplane at an altitude of 14,000 feet – that’s more than 2-1/2 miles up. I told you I’d let you know what that was like, and I will try to describe it for you, but it’s one of those “you had to be there” things.
First, the rush. Not the rush of jumping, but the rush of getting to the jump site. For me, that meant leaving church as soon as possible, changing clothes, and hurrying to the airport, which is more than an hour from home. We went through a MacDonald’s drive-through – slowest MacDonald’s ever – had to stop for gas, and I was worried everyone would be waiting for me.
They were not. When I arrived, the place was packed. All the people whose jumps had been postponed – ours was postponed because of weather on three straight Sundays – were there, waiting. And waiting. I waited about four hours.
When our group was finally called, we went inside to put on jumpsuits and get our instructions. On a large mat, we watched as three full-time parachute packers worked non-stop to prepare the chutes for the next round of jumps. It was interesting to watch these young people work. They talked and laughed with each other as they worked and I wanted to say, “Would you please concentrate on your work?” (Well, not really. But I could see how someone might feel that way.) Continue reading
http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 27:43) In C.S. Lewis’s space novel, Out of the Silent Planet, a language expert named Ransom is abducted and taken to another planet where alien creatures reside. Ransom escapes his captors and flees into the vast, mysterious … Continue reading
The reporter’s “cultural” explanation also fails to explain similar acts of forgiveness. Who can forget the forgiveness offered by Emanuel AME Church in Charleston to the white supremacist killer Dylan Roof? Then there was the multi-colored Jamrowski family in El Paso who forgave the man who went to Walmart to kill Latinos. And some of us remember Corrie Ten Boom, who forgave her Nazi guard after the deaths of her sister and parents and her own terrible mistreatment in Ravensbrück.
People don’t understand it – this remarkable forgiveness. Some are angered by it. But sooner or later people will come to recognize it. It is the mark of the forgiven people of Jesus. Continue reading
http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 24:36) Have you ever said about someone, maybe a bad driver or a person who cut in line at the store, “Who does he think he is?” Would it surprise you to know that people said the … Continue reading
People in our church received phone calls, reputedly from the IRS or law enforcement, to inform them they would be arrested within the next few hours because of their tax debt. After setting their hair on fire with threats of arrest, the caller offered to put the fire out. They could avoid arrest and jail time by making the minimum payment required by the IRS. A means for delivery of payment was detailed.
Those calls are, of course, a scam. The receiver’s Caller ID has been “spoofed” and the number of the real caller hidden. A fake, and frequently local, number appears on the caller ID. I’ve even received a call the phone display indicated was coming from me.
The FCC encourages Americans to hang up as soon as they realize they’ve answered an unwanted call. Even better, they recommend not taking the call at all, unless one recognizes the number on the Caller ID.
I registered our phone on the “National Do Not Call Registry,” thinking that would give me some leverage with telemarketers, but we still receive numerous calls each day, often from spoofed Caller ID numbers. I used to stay on the line, wait for a real person, and then tell them that I am on the ‘Do Not Call” registry and politely ask that my name be removed from their database.
That used to work. Not anymore. The last few times I’ve waited for a real person to whom I could make my request, the caller hung up as soon as he heard the words, “I’m on the …” I didn’t even get the chance to finish the sentence. A lot of good it did to get on the registry. Continue reading
http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 25:09) General Eisenhower announced his candidacy for President of the United States at his boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy from a presidential-looking room in New York City. Bill Clinton chose Little Rock … Continue reading
When religion is transformed from a response of faith in the God of heaven into an instrument for getting things done on earth, it is disfigured. It may retain the accoutrements of true religion – ritual, liturgy, personal prayer, offerings – but its essential nature has been altered. It preserves “the form of godliness,” as the Apostle Paul put it, while “denying its power.”
For as long as people have been religious – which is to say, for as along as there have been people – this has been a problem. When God ceases to be “the Beginning and the End” and becomes the means to an end, religion becomes a merely human tool.
There are illustrations of this phenomenon in the Bible itself. One particularly revealing instance happened early in the history of the nation of Israel. The Hebrews first identified as a distinct people group during the centuries they spent in Egypt. After their escape from Egyptian oppression and their migration to a suitable homeland, Israel operated under divinely given laws, summarized in what we know as the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments themselves were engraved on two stone tablets and kept in a specially made and ornately decorated box known as the Ark of the Covenant. (Think Raiders of the Lost Ark.) The ark, which was considered sacred, was only to be moved by religious professionals and was never to be directly touched.
As sometimes happens with items of treasured status, people began to think of the ark superstitiously, as if the box itself possessed inherent power. So, when Israel’s war against the Philistine kingdoms began to go poorly, someone floated the idea that the ark could be used to rally the troops, bring God’s favor, and win the war.
The immediate effect of bringing the ark into battle was everything Israel’s leaders had hoped for. Their soldiers were inspired and their enemies were intimidated. But it is dangerous to try to use God as a means to an end, no matter how important the end. The Philistine armies crushed Israel’s troops, forced them to retreat, and captured the ark.