Saturday, September 27, 2008

The glory of the ordinary

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore (Heb. 11:8-12).

When I was growing up, it was thought that if God called a person, that person would become a preacher or a missionary. Period. Some time ago, it occurred to me that Abraham—mighty Abraham, Father of Faith and Friend of God, was called, but not to anything remotely religious. He moved, at God’s leading, to a land which the Lord then promised to his descendants, and he was given a miracle son. These were spectacular experiences, requiring faith on Abraham’s part, but—having a child, founding a new nation—is this a godly calling?

A clue is given in Genesis 18.

“. . . Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him" (Gen. 18:18-19).

The Lord called to Abram back in the land of Ur because he was a man who—for openers—could hear God. He apparently was a man who would purposefully pass on to his children and grandchildren his reverence for and knowledge of God. His godliness would set the tone for a whole race of people to whom God could reveal himself, and through whom he could then make himself known to the whole world. What an amazing thing—the influence of just being a godly father!

But Abraham did one more very ordinary thing which was far-reaching in its effects. He staked a claim—not literally, but by faith, to a piece of real estate to house the future generations that the Lord promised him.

Almost all of the heroes of the Old and New Testaments, the unfolding of God’s revelation of himself to mankind, the birth of the Messiah himself—all came from the descendants of Abraham. What an awesome influence one can have by simply doing ordinary things like raising a family and providing a dwelling for them.

My father has written a family history called The Legacy of Frances.* The story begins with his great-grandmother, Frances, an Indian girl who was rescued from a massacre and adopted by a compassionate soldier. This family imparted its Christian faith to her, and she in turn passed it on in such a way that among her descendants appear 25 couples who have been pastors and missionaries in 19 states and 9 countries. And that doesn’t begin to count all of her progeny who have impacted their families, churches, and communities as Christians. Such is the far-reaching effect in the Kingdom of God of simply raising a family with godly example and training.

Will I ever be famous? Will you do monumental things? Who knows? But one thing is certain—our everyday acts will play an influential role in furthering or hindering God’s plans for generations to come. Will we fulfill the calling of God on our lives?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Political Style

Today I'm sharing some thoughts on Christian political action. These are convictions that have been forming over a period of time.

I believe it was four years ago, when President Bush was running for re-election, that an entertainer made a lewd pun out of the name “Bush.” I was appalled to think that the political style of some liberals had sunk that low—not just strong disagreement and mistrust but utterly demeaning the president in a personal way.

A few months ago, an email came to me that seemed at first to be one of those warm, cute ones. It was all about dogs—how intelligent and loyal and wonderful they are in every way. Then came the clincher. It was a picture of a dog lifting his leg to spray an Obama campaign sign.

I believe I know how this picture appeared to most strongly-conservative people—FUNNY! Not mean, or demeaning—just humorous. In response to that, I would like to throw out a scenario. Does anyone you know and care about continue to make poor choices that are ruining his/her life? In your frustration and anxiety for them, do you want to shake them? Sure. But, how would you react if you heard someone utterly trash-talking this loved one? How would you react if someone spit on this person? Or suggested ___’ing on this person? Would it seem funny? Is it funny to ridicule someone because of their ideas?

Increasingly, I am hearing “vote the Bible.” I say amen to that! The Bible states standards by which we should be evaluating issues and candidates. Additionally, though, I see that it also sets the style and tone for our political actions. Here are some examples:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. . . . But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Pet. 3:9, 15-17).

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (1 Pet. 2:15).

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Pet. 2:17).

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:44-45a).

Behaving in a distinctively Christian fashion—that’s what makes us salt and light. We must speak up (and maybe often and loudly) but—in what spirit? Have we given up on whole blocks of people whom God loves and for whom Jesus died? Are we praying fervently for those who we believe are deceived—or just becoming more and more disgusted with them? If we loved more, and prayed more, and respected more, there wouldn’t be so many people whose beliefs are opposed to the gospel and whose practices weaken our society. If we were doing our part of sharing the gospel with our neighbors, this massive departure from God’s principles that we see in our society and in our political scene would not exist. Whatever stands we take (and may they be the Lord’s positions, not just ours), may we take them boldly but from a heart of humility and concern, from a heart that prays and cares for all men—even those with whom we disagree.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Losing and finding

Even a cursory reading of Revelations is an eye-opener. The whole tone of it is different from what is commonly heard or even thought of in 21st-century America. The prevalent concept of overcoming, which is very popular in some Christians circles, quotes Rev. 12:11a as a mainstay:

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11a).

The last part of the verse is usually omitted. It is one of those ideas that just doesn’t compute with most of us (in the US). Here is the verse in its entirety:

They overcame him

by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death (Rev. 12:11).

This is downright puzzling to Christians who have been led to believe that the main reason for believing on Christ is so that life will become better for them. It seems like failure—not overcoming—to believers who are convinced if one has faith, calamity cannot happen to them—or at least not for long.

It seems to me that the dividing point between the popular conception of what an overcoming life is, and the Bible’s portrayal of the overcoming life, is this: What is it that Christians are expected to and equipped to overcome?

· Popular Christianity says that Christians are to overcome all sickness, poverty, unhappiness, discomfort, and the like.
· Biblical Christianity is about overcoming sin, heresy, hardships, and persecution.

· Popular Christianity wants to overcome anything that stands in the way of personal happiness and blessing.
· Biblical Christianity strives to overcome anything that stands in the way of the advancement of the Lord’s kingdom purposes.

Big difference!

In partnering with the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel, the apostle Paul had many unpleasant experiences:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:24-29).

Wow! Inconceivable, perhaps, to you or me, but—how about Paul? Did he find that following Jesus was not so cool? Not what he had expected? Actually, what he thought was:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8, 10-11).

Paul thought that following Christ—including the “suffering” and “death”—was so wonderful that he considered everything else worthless.

Perhaps we have—to some degree—lost our way as Christians. We have tuned out Christ’s clear message:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it (Mark 8:35).

We want to keep our lives the way we want them to be, instead of spending our lives for Christ’s sake. Don’t say “But I’m just an ordinary person. I want to be a light to a few people, but I don’t aspire to be a hero of the faith. I’m not that courageous or self-sacrificing. I’m just not made of the same kind of stuff as Paul.” The early churches weren’t made of it, either. That's why Revelations was written. Those who heeded its message and appropriated God's grace, rose to the occasion—and in the process, they found LIFE and infected others with a hunger to know it as well.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Can

The best-known definition of “grace” is undeserved favor. This thought opens the mind's eyes to the oceans of love, mercy, and kindness that have been expressed by God toward mankind. It is the door by which we may enter into a saving relationship with him. But this grace is much more than a willingness to receive us and to pay for our salvation. It is also the divine influence upon the heart to enable one to do the will of God. This is the kind of grace that is spoken of in the greeting or closing of 18 out of 22 epistles to the early churches. "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ." These people needed the enabling power of grace to walk out their new-found faith in the face of hostility from their ungodly cultures.

An encouraging glimpse of the power of grace is seen in Voyage of the Exiles by Patricia Hickman, the first in a series of novels based on the deportation of English prisoners to Australia to found the first English colony there. Subtly, a story of grace unfolds in the lives of the principle characters. One of the convicts, George Prentice had been arrested as a pickpocket. He had resorted to that lifestyle when the bottom had dropped out of his livelihood. In the extremity of life on a prison ship, and intensely longing to be reunited with his wife and daughter, George tentatively turned to God. When—to his wonderment—his prayers were met with a sense of God’s presence and peace, he continued to speak to God and began to take delight in reading the Bible. Humbly grateful for God’s love and help, George desired to be a better man than he had been—to be strong enough to do what was right even when the odds seemed to be stacked against him. A series of encounters with ruthless elements on board the ship was the crucible in which George grew to be a man of integrity, courage, and forgiveness.

Rachel, a young woman whose life had been marked by misfortune and degradation, was cast into a holding cell in one of the prison ships with Becky, a political prisoner who believed in God. Over time, Rachel became convinced there was something to her companion’s faith and became a believer as well. As the influence of the Word and the Spirit of God grew in her heart, her character and perspectives on life changed. A moment of truth in her new life came during a violent storm. As her cell mates in the bowels of the ship wailed and screamed for God’s help, Rachel’s heart overflowed with thankfulness and joy as she recognized the absence of fear and sense of well-being that God had worked in her.*

By the enablement of the grace of God, George, Rachel, and others on the voyage were becoming heroes of the faith. Perhaps it was the horror of their lives that caused them to avoid the trap of becoming “bless me” babies.** They did not think that their new relationship with God entitled them to nothing but blessings. Instead, they responded humbly to his call upon their hearts to please him and to bless others.

Perhaps experiences such as theirs are what prompted James to make the stunning statement

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James :2-4).

Apparently, it is not being shielded from trouble that brings the greatest joy to the Christian. It is the developing of one’s faith and character to the point of becoming able to meet whatever life brings with love, confidence, and joy.

I want to be like them. I want to “take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). And I CAN, regardless of who I used to be—because GRACE enables me.
*Patricia Hickman, Voyage of the Exiles (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1995). To learn more, visit

**We could not live--or thrive--physically or spiritually without God's blessings. Confidently expecting our Father to abundantly care for us is one of the foundations of our walk with God. It is perhaps part of what Jesus meant when he said that one must be like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. However, only a spiritual infant believes that main focus of their relationship with God is "me" or "blessings."