About Me

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Saginaw, Michigan, United States
A sinner who may come before God because of Christ

Friday, July 13, 2007

This Spiraling World

Looking across the headlines today it would be very easing to be a little depressed: Missing 12-year old girl found dead, America prime target for attack, husband accused in murder of wife.

Going to more local, here in Saginaw we have this epidemic of teen's being shot and killed (mostly gang related), Michigan's employment looking bleak, 20 Campgrounds closed due to funding.

Finally, at the personal level, friends and family report children who are living lives filled with 'sex, drugs, rap-n-rock', divorces, terminal illnesses.

There is a very bleak picture one could paint of modern, middle-class, American lives. I am sure it is the same in all classes and cultures of people. Sorry, Wayne Dyer and Norman Vincent Peale, all does not become better just because I think it is or even want it to be.

But it is OK to be a little depressed about what is happening around us. It is sad to see sin coming to fullness. We can see the pain and destruction of this from a global to a local to a personal level - and we should wonder why we embrace sin when the results are not only apparent but felt time and time and time again.

However, in our depression, we must not forget our hope. Christians have a light at the end of the tunnel that gets us through each day.

Our response to the world around us is to cling to that hope, to grasp it fully and firmly, realizing that it is what is keeping us from despair.

Job's response to the destruction of his world as he knew it was to praise God, realizing it all came from God. But this was not a stoic praise, it was a praise that came from deep within his heart because he knew how fleeting all things are except hope in God.

Let us respond the same as Job. Weep, laugh, cry, smile, enjoy, be in pain all with the knowledge that it is the repentance of our heart and the renewing of our lives through the reception of Christ as Lord that makes each breath worth breathing.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

How can we then understand mercy without understanding sin?

In one episode of the West Wing, a show about American government politics, the current President is meeting with an opposition Senator and the talk goes to religion. The Senator says that he was once a church-goer until his wife bought him a Bible and he read it and was shocked at the violence commanded through the punishment of death for adulterers, homosexuals, etc. and that is why he turned away from God.

I thought this was an interesting point of view.

Most agree that the punishment should be weighed with the seriousness of the offense. The more serious and offensive we find something, the more severe and harsher we want the punishment. Misdemeanors are, to society, less offensive than felonies, so fines are less costly and jail time is of shorter duration.

It seems logical then, that what is most “offensive” to God is that which would have the most serious punishments. Therefore, those sins requiring the loss of a life as punishment would be the most grievous ones to God.

The criminal, on the other hand, does not look at his own offense but rather at the punishment, often finding it too severe for the crime.

This is where our culture misses the point.

To the character on West Wing, those “sins” are minor. In modern thinking, they are private matters and should have no offense to society or to the individual because, they ask - what harm is caused by these actions. But in the mind of the Senator (writers of the show), the “sins” were not that serious to them so the punishment appears harsh. Rather than look at it from the God’s perspective, the law-giver, they were looking at it from the law-breaker’s perspective.

How often do we, like that character, ask not “Is this wrong” but, instead, demand to know “Why is this a wrong”?

We (as a culture) theoretically set laws based on the “common good”, but God sets His laws based on His Character – Who He is, perfection. This can best be explained with the concept of silence and darkness.

With noise, silence ceases to exist. With light, darkness ceases to exist. Evil is like darkness, the absence of light or silence, the absence of noise. Bring in righteousness, evil no longer exists. That which is not righteous cannot exist in the presence of pure righteousness (which is what God is). By breaking God’s law (i.e. sinning against God) we have lost our righteousness and can no longer be in God’s presence.

That is why it is wrong, these behaviors and actions violate righteousness. We, who are unrighteous, those who have sinned (who among us has not done something wrong) can no longer be in the presence of God.

That is where Christ comes in. As God in human form, perfect human form, He “took on our sin”, actually, “became sin for us” and took on the punishment. God, in a sense that is hard to conceptualize, actually separated Himself from Himself and, in doing so, brought Himself back together and now, because of what He did, we have our sins against God covered (hidden) from God and can be in His presence. He gave us mercy through His own sacrifice for our sins.

Getting back to the original statement, unless we see our sin, our need for salvation, God’s mercy does not make sense. We are as running around in darkness not realizing we are in dark until we see light and then realize we are in darkness.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Praise Songs should glorify God, duh.

I have a strong passions regarding when it comes to the Glory of God. I have little interest or even offense when non-Christians attack or demean or belittle God. What else should we expect from those who have know personal relationship with their Creator?

Where I do have little patience is with those who profess Christ and then who proclaim Him as less than He is.

One area where this occurs regularly is in the (so-called) praise songs bandied about these days. Some of them are great and make me fall to my knees, but others are so simplistic, even pathetic in the image they portray of our Savior and Lord.

A few years ago, I critiqued in a newsletter I send out (now called Encouragement from Saginaw) a song that was used in the church I was a member as falling into the poor category. The response from the leadership was interesting - they did not argue or disagree with my critique, but the concern was that I was hurting the leader's reputation. Their concern was more how this would effect the ministry.

I apologized for any personal offense but stood firm on my assessment of the songs lyrics. After this had settled I wrote the following:

While I have strong beliefs, I try to test them through exposure to alternative or contrary viewpoints. It would be foolish for me to believe in my own perfection, even the “great” thinkers of the faith have some short-comings or area of error or personal character flaw. These should remind us of how far we are from God’s glory.

Secular humanism, on the other hand, stands man above God as more important than God. It is centered on the individual, while promoting the concept that everything is interconnected and nothing is above anything else. No wonder modern man is outraged at the killing of baby seals but celebrates the abortion of unborn human children.

Man risen, not Christ risen, is the call of humanism. Out of this line of thinking rises a number of other “isms” – naturalism, feminism, communism, socialism, egalitarianism. All centered on man and his needs, wants, and desires - that God-granted talents are best used for man’s purpose and not as God desires.

When this concept is not purged from one’s self, our worship moves from Awesome God to Magnificent Man. Worship’s focus becomes the individual’s experience rather than God’s delight in our outpouring to Him. Worship moves from a corporate statement to a singular feeling best summarized.

“Was I fed?”, “Was I ministered to?”, “Did the songs please me?” Becomes the mantra as the measurement of the value of the service (or music or sermon) - being the tickled ear and not the changed heart.

A.W. Tozer put it this way: “
I'm always suspicious when we talk too much about ourselves. Somebody pointed out that hymnody took a downward trend when we left the great objective hymns that talked about God and began to sing the gospel songs that talk about us. There was a day when men sang "Holy, Holy, Holy," and "O Worship the King," and they talked objectively about the greatness of God. Then we backslid into that gutter where we still are where everything is about "I." "I'm so happy," "I'm so blest," "I'm so nice," "I'm so good," always "I." The difference between heaven and hell is the difference between God and I. Jesus Christ, by canceling His "I" was the Christ of God, not as I will, but as Thou wilt. The devil by magnifying his "I" became the devil-when he said, "I will arise, and I will raise my throne above the throne of God."

I struggle with wanting me pleased on Sunday morning (and the rest of the week) rather than our Lord being pleased, forgetting that His pleasure brings me no greater joy. I struggle with putting my self aside for what God has ordered or ordained. I struggle with the roles He placed, or has not placed me in; with the doors He close and the personal desires left unmet.

Yet, I am learning to bring to the altar each week the leftovers of my “old man” to put them under the authority of Christ and renew my mind - but sometimes I will just not let go of who I was! Having been raised on the junk food of Humanism, filled with the fat of self-esteem, digested the lie of personal potential, and have grown obese on the philosophy that it is all about me, so much that my heart is clogged with the cholesterol of the world.

But Praise God who is a skillful surgeon, and who operates with a precise, radical surgery. He opens my chest and replaces that dead heart with one made in His perfection. He clears the blocked arteries with the medicine of the Word. He places me on the healthy diet to disdain the world’s poisoned feast, reminding me to not eat of it to my fullness but to find true bread only in Him!

Brothers and Sisters, eat of the only worthy fruit, which is Christ Crucified. Obliterate our old self through the shining light of Him. Stand firm in the Law and the Grace. May you be filled by the station He has set before you and find your satisfaction not in the mud pies of the world but in the banquet feast of the Lord.

For His Glory,

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Good and Faithful

Have you ever been going along just thinking you were doing okay. Maybe living on ‘auto-pilot’, looking at your life and saying, “ Hey, I’m doing alright”. “I’m praying, I’m reading the Bible, I’m serving, God is blessing me, I’m giving a tithe, I’m offering alms, I’m sharing the Gospel, I’m avoiding sin, I’m serving the Church and my neighbors, I’m being righteous, I’m bathing most days, I’m brushing my teeth regularly, I’m losing a little weight”.

Then the Lord strikes you through the heart with a passage. Well, not even a passage, but a verse. Actually not even a verse but a few words in a verse.

That happened to me today in Mark 11:12: “For you are not swayed by appearances but truly teach the way of God.”

My other readings of this always brought me to the conclusion that this was only about how I viewed others. Do I love (or hate or dislike or give kindness or withhold my love) to people based on their actions, circumstances, poor choice, or ethnic heritage or economic situation or even who their mother happened to be? Am I judging others with the same scale that I weigh myself? It seemed this verse was only saying – “Tom, what is your attitude towards others”. Am I seeing others through my distorted vision or through the clarity of God’s eyes?

But today these little words went a little deeper than that for me.

Christ is not ‘asking’ me anything here but making a statement, a command. We are not only ‘not to be swayed’ by where or who or how someone is, we are to ‘truly’ teach the way of God to them.

Which raises an even more critical question: “While I am living as a Christian, is my life teaching about Christ and is it doing that in a way that is true?

Here is the thing about teachers, the effective ones are those who have a great passion for the topic they are instructing. A ‘true’ teacher not only has knowledge and a great technique, but a desire for the student’s betterment. He wants others to not only learn, but to catch his passion and grasp hold of the subject.

We are not only to be good students of Christ, we are to be true teachers of Christ. We are not only to be concerned if “I” am doing good, but is that good coming of anything – does my living good teach the way of God?

It was much easier to assess my life on only how I treat others because then I could pat myself on the back and say “See, God, I am doing well”. And our hope is that he responds “my good and faithful servant”.

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