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Encouraging Authenticity

The culture in the USA today is one of inauthenticity.  We are quick to put on our public manners and publicly acceptable face.  We airbrush our professional photos and carefully edit our social media presence so we look good and smell good to other humans.  If you doubt it, consider just these two startling facts:

  1. 80% of women under 35 report they have altered their photo before posting it on social media.1
  2. Men’s hair care products to cover up gray is growing 1.5 times the average of all other products.2

It appears, whether we are a woman or man, we have been infected and taken over by Hollywood’s ideas of beauty and the advertising machine’s idea of acceptable.  In short, it is not good to have an imperfect outside – and, the outside is all that matters.

And yet….   

When I ask people to name someone they admire from their own lives and why, they inevitably mention someone whose character or wisdom or simple kindness elevated them into the “admire” category.  Not a whisper of how the body looked.

We have (almost) swallowed hook line and sinker that our outsides are what matter.  It is no wonder.  We are bombarded with these images from Hollywood and Advertising.  We almost never hear the value of these other, inward traits.  

I would say if ever there was a time to heed scripture’s admonishment to “encourage one another” (Thess. 5: 1), it would be today.  We each are desperate to hear messages (perhaps from someone we already admire) that we are valued – that there is something worthy in us that is not about the outside of us.  If God is pressing someone into your soul as you read this, why not take a moment to send them a text, email or note (or, gasp, actually call them up!).  Dare to say something like, “I know this is coming out of the blue, but I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you.  I admire you because ____________, and ________, and ______.  I am thankful you are in my life and you have been a gift to me.”  

It may feel awkward and out of character for you to do that.  I get that.  But this is just one more piece of evidence that we ought to do this – because apparently we are not in the habit of doing it (as we should be)!  I mean, if we break out in sweat and chills to say a nice, authentic compliment to someone we know and respect, what does that say about our normal habits of communication?  It does not speak to a pattern of “encourage one another, as you are already doing…”, does it?

I can promise you this, if you will persevere thru the awkwardness and send the note, you will give the other person a rare gift and the two of you will have a “moment” – the good kind, the kind that binds us to each other in authenticity.  

If we are ever to banish the plastic, fake personas and jettison the corporate yoke that enslaves us (you know, “spend money on this so you can be younger, thinner, more like the air brushed photos, and more acceptable), we must start somewhere.  If we are ever to have authentic relationships that transcend the state of our body (which morphs and is always less than perfect!), we must actively find ways to emphasize each other’s internal/eternal good parts.  Encouraging each other to authenticity of soul is a low-risk, easy tool to wield against the gathering dark.  Satan hates authenticity.  So why not pick up a compliment and wield it today?  

Yes, today.  Now.

Today is a good day for that.

1 K-Love Host reported this statistic on 3/26/2021 on the air as part of an interview with female counselor.  Also see Thinner, smoother, better: in the era of retouching, that’s what girls have to be | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett | Opinion | The Guardian, accessed on 3/27/2021.

2  Beauty Services and Retail Show Growth – News – Modern Salon, accessed 3/27/2021

The Easter War

Easter weekend – as celebrated in the USA – makes it easy to focus on the celebration of Easter.  It means family, good food, easter egg hunts, flowers budding, maybe a new dress or tie. 

But the Friday before Easter was not a celebration.  Friday was the day of The Lamb of God.  Friday was the day of war.

I am not certain I fully grasp what it meant for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross.  I wonder at the level of physical pain  – the lash would have opened his back to the bone.  Blood and flies everywhere.  Then there was the spitting and name calling of the crowds.  He was going to die for these – and they reviled him. Did it break His heart to see their faces ugly and sneering?  And what of those few who loved him and wept at the foot of His cross – how much would that break His heart to see them weeping?  Finally, he was separated from God.  Jesus, The Word who was with God and who was God, was suddenly cut off!  What would be the anguish of being cut from the Trinity? Then, if these weren’t enough, Jesus bore the weight of every sin upon himself.  Every cutting remark any human has ever said, every blow to the body of every child/woman/slave/man, every starved, abandoned, abused, depraved moment that humanity has perpetrated on each other through out all time:  all of this He bore.  All. 

Why would Jesus, who could have called it off in an instant, press on thru every bit of that? 

The answer, of course, is love.  Yet it was still a war.

Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain.  He is also the Lord of Hosts, the foremost soldier in God’s army. Pause a moment over that: our leading general’s two battle weapons were prayer and profound, all-covering love.  Jesus defeated his foes with these two weapons: prayer that brought Him close to His Father, and love so great He would sacrifice Himself — even for those who hated Him.  

What power must there be in these:  prayer and love!  What crazy, world changing, foundation shattering power!  It is power we humans hardly understand, much less know how to wield wisely.  Yet, even so, Jesus has entrusted us with these same weapons.  In fact, we are commanded to wield them.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves and, armed with this love, go and make disciples of the world. We are also to pray. Pray as already-victorious sons and daughters of God, clothed in the armor of God, praying in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18) without ceasing. 

Oh my siblings-in-the-faith, make no mistake, God is showing His glory to the world thru us.  Let us not weary in well-doing, but press on in the battle for The Kingdom.  Not by rending and shredding others with our words or actions, but thru prayer and love.  Let us dare to pick up these two weapons and wield them wisely and well in the world 

Easter:  an act of war.  Fought with prayer and love.

Friday was the day of The Lamb of God.  But Sunday?  Sunday is the day of The Lion of Judah, The Lord of Hosts, The Morning Star, The Prince of Peace.

He is risen.  Oh!  He is risen, indeed.

Regrets

Regrets

We all have regrets.  Our choices in the past can leave us disappointed in our present life.  Life hasn’t turned out the way we expected or wanted. The longer we live, the more “opportunities” we have to look over our shoulder, wondering what might have been. 

Sometimes, even when life is going well—and certainly when life is disappointing—we play a game of  “if only.”  It goes something like this: “If only I had done this or that instead of what I did. Oh, how much better life would be!”  But there is a problem hidden in that “if only.”  We don’t know that life would have been better had we done things differently.  Our imaginations paints it as “wonderful,” but it would have been just as bad — or worse.

The truth is we don’t get a “do-over.”  We get one life and we travel on it one way:  forward in time.  Whatever we have created in our choices (or was created for us by the choices of others), this truth remains:  this is our one, precious life.  We don’t get another. 

How, then, shall we live now?  

Shall we become bitter, weighing out all we have lost?

Shall we be defeated because we never got a chance in the sun?

Shall we complain, point fingers, and cast recriminations to every corner because life has not been fair or even kind?

We could.  We often do.

Scripture, however, is clear we should not do any of those things.  Paul said he counted all he had lost as nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).  James 1:2 says we should “count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”  And over and over, scripture tells us to rejoice (Psalm 33:1) and rejoice (Habakkuk 3:18), and rejoice (1 Thessalonians 5:16)!  In fact, one Wiki user reported counting 286 verses that tell us to rejoice.  (FYI, I did not fact check that.)  The point is that we should live and can live with thankful hearts for God’s walk with us. Our life may not be what we want it to be. Our life may not be what God wants it to be.  Yet we can still be joyful and thankful.

There was a film released in 1995 called Mr. Holland’s Opus.  It is the story of a man’s life as he struggled to create a magnificent musical work (an opus).  I won’t spoil it for you as it is worth watching if you can find it.  He becomes very despondent at one point thinking his life has been wasted.  In the end, they show his Opus —  a truly magnificent work, albeit it not the one he thought he was creating.

All of our lives are like Mr. Holland’s.  We choose and choose and choose – and this is what we have now:  the life I am living, the life you are living. We are told by God to be thankful and rejoice, no matter our circumstances.  So, we must, like Mr. Holland, look for the things that are of worth in our lives, in spite of any disappointments or regrets.

God is more faithful than we can know or imagine.  He is the master at making lemonade from lemons.  Further He isn’t keeping a tally of missed chances and blown opportunities.  Only we humans do that.  

As a fellow, finite human, I cannot begin to tell you all that is of worth and value in your life.  I can, however, assure you there is something. Many things, even. The only road from “regret” to “rejoice” is the one where we pack up our disappointments and what-ifs and leave them at the foot of God’s throne (leave them, I say!  Not leave them and pick them back up!).  You and I are created to do good works.  Let us leave behind these regrets that so entangle, and press on to the things God lays before us. God is still on the move – let us be also.

We won’t get a do-over – but we can have a do-now. 

This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Biblical Truth and Science

Biblical Truth and Science

Time magazine recently profiled Dr. Francis Collins, a scientist who believes in God and science in that order. Collins heads the National Institute of Health. He is and has been in the middle of our nation’s struggle with the pandemic. (He is Dr. Fauci’s boss.) More important, Dr. Collins is a Christian. 

In his The Language of God Collins described moving from atheism to agnosticism. Finally, he describes an experience when, as he put it, “I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.” That decision became the cornerstone to Collins’ holding biblical truth and science together. 

Holding biblical truth and science together is important for you and me. The world seems to have crowned science as king. Many believe science is the way to discover true knowledge; that science is the only real hope for the future. Some believe human beings, even the human race itself, can be “engineered” to move us toward perfection. They claim death is simply a hurdle that science will help us leap. In short, there is a naïve optimism that counts on technology (applying science) to solve the world’s problems. 

As Christians we cannot ignore the increase of knowledge and ability exploding around us. God gave us minds and these minds are to be used for His glory. He called us to season and to illuminate the world, not simply complain about circumstances. If we are to have any influence on today and tomorrow, we need to think about bringing together science and biblical truth. Here are some points to think about:

  • Seek to establish a firm biblical foundation of truth in our own hearts and minds. When we explain or defend biblical truth, we should not simply be trying to justify our own opinions or what we’ve always heard.
  • Recognize the importance of humankind. We are not “top of the evolutionary heap” animals. People are God’s representatives in the world. We are important. We have a history and a purpose.
  • Accept that humankind and the world with it is fallen. Sin is a fact of life in each of us and in whatever setting we find ourselves. Broken from the beginning, our ultimate hope is in God, not in ourselves.
  • Affirm the value of science and technology as tools which God may use in His way. These tools, when used with such biases as rejection of the supernatural, disregard for God (no God or no need for God), self-exaltation to the point of neglecting others folks, however, may be more harmful than helpful.
  • Reject the view that human knowledge and ability is the final measure. God alone is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful).

Finally, as C. S. Lewis wrote regarding our commitment to God’s unchanging standards, “We must at all costs not move with the times.” Even when the latest scientific evidence or national poll stands against biblical truth, God’s Word is sure.

  Francis Collins, The Language of God, (New York:  Free Press, 2006), 225.

Leaving the Parking Space

Leaving the Parking Space

Parked

The sun came out – after a long, winter cold span.  I sat in my parked car with the sun streaming in and thought, “Oh!  It is good to rest here!”  It reminded me of Peter’s statement to Jesus after the transfiguration on the mountain.  Peter, James and John were witness to the transfiguration.  Right in the middle of God’s glory shining down, Peter says, “Lord! it is good for us to be here.” (Mathew 17:4).  Mind, he goes on to offer to put up tents, but only because “it was good” for “us to be here.”  You may recall the response to Peter’s suggestion is “listen to my son” and “Get up” because we have to go.

I am Peter so often.  Oh, I long to be Paul (Mr. This-One-Thing-I-Do).  But instead I find I am Peter:  impulsive, jetting enthusiastically one way and then just as strong on an about face. Loving Jesus, but a little rudder-free and wind-tossed.  Sometimes (often), I am like Peter was in this moment:   I just want to stay where it is good.  Like that morning.  I wanted to stay in my parked car in the warm sun and imagine that I was making headway on my journey. 

Foolish, I know.  But being human, I can easily deceive myself.  I read scripture, I say a prayer, I attend Bible study.  I mark all the boxes and say all the right churchy-phrases.  But I wonder sometimes if I am just parked in my warm spot imagining that I am on a spiritual journey. 

Am I making headway on my spiritual journey?

Am I growing at all?  

Am I even different this year than I was this same time last year?

Because I would like to be.  I would like to be in motion towards God and about God’s business in His Kingdom.  I would like to NOT be a “parked car”.  

The parking places, though, are so tempting!  This, after all, is my comfort zone.  I like it here, where things are the same and not challenging.  I am known, the people around me are familiar, and my routines give me an illusion of control.  It is a comfortable parking place – all this marking boxes, saying churchy-phrases, and volunteering in all the same old spots.

Yet even as I basked in the sun streaming thru my car window that morning, I knew I could not remain. Nor can I remain the same in my journey with God.   If we are called to anything in Christ, it is not to stay (warm, safe, parked).  Jesus said “come” and “follow me”.  So, though my path is dotted with tempting parking places, I must stay only a short while in any warm and safe place.  God’s call is upon my life – it is upon all our lives. Thus, while our destination is not always clear on our spiritual journey, the call to put one foot in front of the other most assuredly is.  

In a practical sense, this means doing different things.  It may mean reading a great authors from our legacy of faith from a different denomination (gasp!  What?!).  It may mean serving somewhere ne and challenging.  It may mean curtailing your lifestyle to be a better steward of all God has entrusted to you.  There are many things that might be a “new step” in your journey.  It is rare that Jesus uses the word “stay” – so it is possible that doing the same old same old in your faith is just what you should be doing.  But more commonly, Jesus said “go”, “come”, and “follow me”.  This means taking new steps.  So if you have become stale in your journey, or if you have felt safe and unchallenged for a while, then it is time, my sweet brother or sister in the faith.  It is time to get out of our warm, safe, parking spot and make headway again. 

Intercession for Others

Intercession for Others

How long do you think the apostle Paul’s prayer list was? He prayed for churches by name. He prayed for the Jewish people. He must have prayed for his co-workers, his enemies, the emperor, and on and on. No wonder he wrote that we should pray without ceasing. Paul prayed and asked for prayer because he knew the importance of something called intercession.

Intercession is praying with a purpose and with some passion for others. (This blog focuses on praying for people as opposed to entities such as a nation or a church or a school system.) Intercession is a privilege and an opportunity. More, it builds that community which is so important in the kingdom of God. 

OK, if you and I already believe in and practice prayer for others, why this blog? Could it be that we can get into a habit of simply praying, “Lord, bless so and so today”?

Imagine for a moment how you would answer God if, when we asked Him to bless somebody, He answered, “What do you want Me to do? What do they need?” Would we be able to answer? Would we take the easy way out and ask God to act according to His will? That sounds good, but it often reflects an ignorance on our part—an ignorance of what the person needs, what she or he is going through, feeling, or even how the person is praying for himself or herself. 

Certainly God knows what folks need, but intercession is privilege of praying for them. It encourages us to consider what the person wants and how God might want to work in his or her life. When we ask,  “How may I pray for you?” we aren’t being nosy. People may be reluctant to talk about their situation and we want to respect their privacy, but we need some guidance only they can give. For instance, when someone asks us to pray that God would heal their family, what do they want from God? What person, relationship, or need in the family needs God’s touch?

Besides praying with knowledge and godly wisdom, sometimes the Spirit may show us how to be part of the answer to prayer. We may have resources we can use to help. We may have had experiences God leads us to share. For instance, when we discover a person needs a job, we may have contacts that will let us be part of God’s answer. Or, we may know very well what it feels like to be unemployed and so are able to pray for the discouragement, even fear, that rises in the heart.

We are not automatically the answer to another person’s prayer. Often, despite conversations with others, we still don’t know exactly how to pray in a given situation. We are able, though, to pray more deeply, more lovingly for and with the person. We are able to lay out before God our desire and theirs in specific terms, always leaving open the option that God may have a different goal and method. God’s way and purposes are always better—that’s the reason we pray for God’s will to be done—after we have shared our best thoughts and desires with Him. For example, while we want to pray for physical healing when a friend is ill, the experience of illness can bring them to a level of humility that everyday life does not teach.

Intercession is not new or complicated. It is a privilege you and I have enjoyed as we have prayed for others and as we have asked folks to pray for us. That privilege is part of the community God intends for us to enjoy here and on into eternity. What could bring us together more now as brothers and sisters in Christ than coming before the Lord together in prayer?