Christ the Redeemer

Christ the RedeemerAs I watched the Olympics this month in Rio, I was struck by how the camera would always pan to the image of the Christ the Redeemer statue standing with arms outstretched atop the mountain overlooking the city.

“All the events of the Games are happening the the shadow of Christ the Redeemer, who is overlooking it all,” one commentator noted.

Which got me to thinking, does not Christ our Redeemer oversee all our activities, sporting or otherwise, wherever we are?

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Idolatry

golden calfWhen the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”  Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. —Exodus 32:1-4

When we hear the word idol, we think of things like statues and golden calves and we say to ourselves, “I don’t have any idols.”

But the truth is, of course, that idols can take all shapes and sizes and can be all sorts of things.

Whatever takes the place of God in our lives or pushes God to the side is an idol for us.

One look at our society today, and it is not too hard to spot our modern-day idols:

TV shows, our smartphones, the internet, social media, movies, video games, pop culture gossip, food, clothes, cars, our intellect, our abilities and skills, our jobs, our houses, our personal possessions, our social calendars, superstars, the desire to have fun, the need to be popular, the want to be first.

The list could go on.

When I think of what causes me to turn to idols, it is the same cause that the Israelites had in the wilderness: They did not trust God enough. They got impatient for God to do something to help them, and when they didn’t feel like God was doing it quick enough, they took matters into their own hands and crafted a calf from their own belongings.

What calves are you crafting lately, and why?

So much of life comes down to trust and we must as Christians put all our trust in God’s hands, not our own.

When we craft calves for ourselves, we are saying, “We don’t trust you anymore, God.”

And when we turn over our destiny to the things of this world, we have only disaster to look forward to.

Everything on this earth will cease to exist someday, and all that we will have is God.

So do a good hard idolatry inventory and cast aside all that takes your focus off of the one true God.

As the Bible says,

The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever. —Isaiah 40:8

And never forget that Christ went to the cross to take away all our idolatrous ways and bring us back to God. The shadow of that cross is what keeps idols at bay to this very day.

For more insight into this topic, I highly recommend one of my favorite books Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols by Madeleine L’Engle.

For Such a Time as This

handsAnd who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? —Esther 4:14

Mordecai’s words to Esther rang through my head this past month when I was caring for my dad who was hospitalized and then in rehab after a major surgery.

I could feel God calling me for such as time as this:

to be a comfort to my dad and my mom as they had been a comfort to me throughout my life.

to be listening ear to my parents as they dealt with the struggles and frustrations of setbacks and side effects and paperwork in the same way they listened to me vent to them all these years.

to be an advocate for my dad when he could not speak for himself about his needs and his condition, just has he had spoken on my behalf to others.

What I learned from the experience is that I am stronger than I thought I was, that God had certain things happen to me in my life that would prepare me to be a responsive caretaker to others, and that all that happens to me and to my parents I must leave up to God.

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What Is Essential?

praying handsThe June 2016 issue of Christianity Today reported on the findings of a recent Pew Research Center survey that asked the question, “What is essential to being a Christian?” (They could choose more than one thing.)

Among all Christians surveyed:

86% said “Believing in God”

71% said “Being grateful”

69% said “Forgiving others”

67% said “Being honest”

63% said “Praying regularly”

42% said “Reading the Bible”

35% said “Attending church”

What would YOU say is essential to being a Christian?

I say it is “Being more like Jesus every day.” What does that mean?

For me, I go back to that classic song from my childhood days, which said, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Our love for others is what is essential to our Christian faith and what we should focus our attention on. It is, of course, at the heart of the Greatest Commandment that Jesus gave to us:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” —John 13:34-35

Our love from Christ is what sets us apart as Christians in this world.

And the love Christ showed was selfless, all-embracing, outside of the norm and ceaseless.

My prayer is that it is this kind of Christ-like love that defines who we are as Christians 100%.

The Lukewarm Believer

bored believerI recently read this quote by Francis Chan in his wildly successful book, Crazy Love:

“Lukewarm people love God, but they do not love him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They would be quick to assure you that they try to love God that much, but that sort of total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals” (Crazy Love, p. 73).

Chan is a firm believer in the fact that the lukewarm believer is the biggest threat to the future growth of the Church. He goes straight to Jesus’ words in Revelation to back up this claim:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit out out of my mouth.” —Revelation 3:15

Pretty definitive language from our Lord that he does not like when we are wishy-washy in our faith. We can’t get by with being “godly enough,” Chain says (Crazy Love, p. 67). We must be all in.

How do we go about going all in as Christians? Chan has some ideas:

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Exodus or Exile?

Mark Labberton, in The Dangerous Act of Worship, outlines two paradigms that the Christian church lives under: The paradigm of exodus and the paradigm of exile.

shipThe exodus paradigm has had an enormous impact on the American Christian church in that “the United States was established by those who were leaving various kinds of bondage to pursue religious and spiritual freedom” (The Dangerous Act of Worship, p. 135).

And Scripture does indeed support the exodus paradigm. As Paul states,

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

The concept of the exodus paradigm is that we are passing through this earth on the way to our real home in heaven.

The exile paradigm, on the other hand, is about settling as strangers in a strange land and doing all we can to live out our calling in the midst of a culture that is not in line with our belief system. In this paradigm, we realize that we are “to be signposts, to be salt, to be light in the world. Exile allows us to hold on the the slow and steady path toward God’s re-creation” (The Dangerous Act of Worship, p. 146).

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Is Worship Too Safe?

padded pewIn The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton contends that most churches like worship services that are safe. He argues that  we have created false dangers about worship that have limited what worship can be, causing us not to worship as fully as we could. Here are the false dangers he sees at work:

False Danger #1: Worship That Is Not Under Control

Worship services are very orderly these days, lasting almost exactly one hour and usually following a very regular routine. I for one like the order and routine of worship, but when that is what becomes more important than the the Gospel message that is said or sung in worship, then there is a problem.

False Danger #2: Worship That Doesn’t Seem Relevant

The desire to be relevant to today’s culture has led to the use of screens, IPads and contemporary music in worship, which in and of themselves are not bad. But when our goal is to be relevant rather than true to the Gospel, then the essential role of worship has been lost. Continue reading →

Vocations

In doing research for a Bible study, I ran across this passage about a man named Epaphroditus, whom St. Paul calls “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (Philippians 2:25). Now that’s a lot of jobs for one person!

But it make me think that we have a lot of jobs too in our lives—jobs that are not exclusively related to our profession or paid occupation. We call these many callings in various aspects of our lives vocations.

vocationThe idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life.

So when I think about my vocations, my callings from God, I consider my role as a editor of religious writing, a Bible study leader, a work colleague, a son, a brother, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin and a friend.

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Drive-Thru Prayer

DriveThruPrayerI saw this sign that said “Drive-Thru Prayer, This Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.” in front of a church in my neighborhood and just had to blog about it.

I find it interesting that in our society today everything can be “drive thru,” even prayer. Everything we do seems to be done on the way to something else and should be done quickly.

I mean no disrespect to this idea of having an evening when this church has a drive-thru prayer event and I am sure that if people want to, they can pull to the side and have a longer prayer with a parishioner.

But the concept to me begs the larger question of how we look at our spiritual disciplines.

Are they something that we do when we have an extra minute or two?

Are they something that we see as something that is secondary to our scheduled events and activities for the day, like games and practices and lunch out and work, etc.?

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Favorite Verses

favorite versesIn the June 2016 Thrivent magazine, there was an article in which people related their favorite Bible verses and why they were so meaningful to them.

Here are some of them:

Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven. —Matthew 5:16

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. —2 Corinthians 1:3-4

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forever. —Psalm 125:2

Then came this verse:

The Lord turned to him [Gideon] and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?“ —Judges 6:14

This verse struck a chord with me in that moment because I was feeling over-busy and bedraggled. And the words “go in the strength YOU HAVE” really registered with me and gave me hope and confidence that I could accomplish the multiple tasks that laid before me. I may not feel the strongest I have ever felt, but God has given me the strength I DO have to do great things, which is something I need to be grateful for and remind myself of daily.

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