Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bamboozled: The Value of Trust

MC900332500If you have a few decades under your belt (or in my case sagging over the belt), you’ve likely had the unpleasant experience of being conned by an unscrupulous person or business. Recently, it happened to some folks who are very dear to me. (We’ll call them Ben and Liz). Ben and Liz managed a large event where they sold refreshments. The company that provided the debit and credit card machines for the event withdrew, under a dubious pretense, several thousand dollars from the business account of Ben and Liz. Ben and Liz had to battle through the legal process with the credit card company, but eventually their money was returned. This experience opened their eyes to the unfortunate reality that there are people and businesses out there that make a lot of money by pushing the boundaries of ethics. Some even have no problem with outright stealing. In other words, you can’t trust everyone, it seems.

A lot of businesses people could take a clue from my mechanic. I have one of those rare mechanics who doesn’t try to upsell me. I have brought my truck to our mechanic a few times for problems that turned out to be nothing serious. He didn’t charge me a dime. That builds trust. When something major goes wrong with my truck you can be sure I take it to my favorite mechanic because I trust that he will not take advantage of me. Of course, trustworthiness is something you either have or you don’t.

The gradual destruction of trust in our society has consequences. Many people don’t know God because they have had their trust abused by life. As a result, they don’t know if individual Christians can be trusted. They don’t know if the church can be trusted. They don’t know if clergy can be trusted. They don’t know if the Bible can be trusted. And they don’t know if God can be trusted. But Psalm 118:8 says:

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in people.”

The reality is that sometimes horrible things happen to the most loyal and loving followers who put their trust in God. That’s why I very much appreciate the inclusion of verses 14 and 15 in Psalm 91:

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.'”

That last line is very important: “I will be with them in trouble.” It is a dose of reality. It tells us to expect trouble. You may have heard the term “wait for it.” Well, God promises to be there with us in hardship and to rescue us if we wait for it . . . or rather, wait for him. I won’t jerk your chain. The truth is that sometimes we have to wait a long time for deliverance. Perhaps that is because building trust can take a long time after it has been abused.

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Lance Armstrong: Mountains Ahead

MP900227641Was anyone surprised by Lance Armstrong’s confession about cheating at cycling? (If Oprah Winfrey could not tug it out of him, who could?) The problem of cheating has dogged humanity since the beginning. Remember that Jacob cheated by impersonating his older brother, Esau, to get his father’s blessing and birthright. Today we might not think of cheating as one of the more serious moral issues, but God does. In Deuteronomy 25:16 it says, “All who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the Lord.” Ouch! I don’t cite this verse to make Lance Armstrong feel bad or to sound morally superior (I’m not even morally superior to my Border Collie, and he’s a miscreant), but to point out that something sinister occurs when people cheat.

Proverbs 16:11 says, “The Lord demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards of fairness.” This Proverb is for all who make rules, follow rules, and enforce rules. If we don’t accept that God is the ultimate author of fairness and his standards are much more important and perfect than our notions of fairness, we are doomed to compromise fairness to meet our own desires. Granted, Armstrong may have been competing on what he perceived as a level playing field while doping because most of the other top competitors were doping, but the ethical waters certainly got muddied. And people got hurt in the process.

God knows it is dangerous for flawed humans to think that ethics, morality and fairness are contrivances that society can create and manage for the sake of having a smooth-running society. If a society is to survive and thrive, its people must hold to the belief that there is a moral God who cares about our decisions and actions. Any standards of fairness without the foundation of God are ephemeral. In other words, ethics and fairness are not important because societies can’t survive without them (though that is true), they are important because they are part of God’s character.

Fortunately for Lance Armstrong, and all of us, Psalm 51:17 says: “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, or God.”

Hopefully, Lance Armstrong has started the journey towards a broken and repentant heart. The thing he will need to watch out for is time. As time passes, he will likely desire to move forward and get on with life while people and other forces will want to keep dragging him back to his painful mistakes. It will be challenging to maintaining a broken and repentant heart until he weathers all the storms ahead and comes to the place where God desires to take him. Lance Armstrong can be a better man. But it can only be accomplished with God’s help. Maybe that’s the lesson for Lance Armstrong: this is one race he can’t win on his own. It is a truth that applies to all of us when we stumble.

Loaded: The Church’s Response to Violence

mafia with arms crossed and a gunon handIn the interests of full disclosure, I grew up around guns. My father taught me gun safety and how to shoot at an early age. Ever since, I have owned a gun for hunting. (Think Duck Dynasty.)

Since the Newtown massacre of innocent children and the ensuing debate about gun-control, thousands of Americans have rushed out to purchase firearms. Many of them fear the government will clamp down on the sale and possession of certain types of guns. The Second Amendment has once again become a hot topic of debate.

But what does the tragedy of Newtown say about America? If you look at the FBI statistics on violent crime, you will see that violent crime has declined in the last five years. Still, the advent of school shootings should make us pause and take a sobering look at ourselves. What is the role of the church in this generation of cavalier attitudes about violence?

When I research words like “violent” and “violence” in the Bible I am struck by how forcefully the Old Testament prophets tried to warn their fellow citizens that the proliferation of violence in their society was making God every angry. The wisdom books of the Old Testament also contained warnings. “Hands that shed innocent blood” is described in Proverbs 6:17 as one of the things God hates. This is not just a severe warning to individuals; it is also a warning to entire nations that do not take God’s loathing of violence against the innocent seriously. The strong have a responsibility to protect the innocent. Yes, God will deal harshly with individuals who shed innocent blood, but he may also deal harshly with a nation, or factions within a nation, that seek to advance agendas rather than pursue genuine safeguards that protect the innocent. I don’t think God will accept our excuse that real solutions are too expensive.

We can’t stop every evil or insane person from shedding innocent blood, but we can at least begin to explore and implement real safeguards. It is also time to rethink the unhealthy relationship we Americans have with violence in many forms.

For as long as I can remember, sexual sins have topped the list of sins that American Christianity deemed most serious. Perhaps the sin of unwarranted violence needs to replace sexual sins at the top of our list. I even wonder if the church should focus more on confronting violence against the innocent than it does on things like, say, gay marriage. I’m just saying.

Revivals

It is common in the ecosystem of evangelical Christianity to hear pastors express a deep desire to experience revival in their churches. For instance, last Sunday I heard a youth pastor share her belief that revival will come through the youth. This made me curious about revival (church revival, not Creedence Clearwater Revival). I looked up the word “revival” in three common translations of the Bible, including the New International Version. I got zero (0) hits in each translation. Wow, the word “revival” is not mentioned in three common translations of the Bible. However, I did find a beautiful reference to the word “revive” in Psalm 85:5-6, which says:

 “Will you be angry with us forever?
 Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
 Will you not revive us again,
 that your people may rejoice in you?”

Of course revivals are real in the church. There are confirmed examples of revivals happening throughout church history. Some revivals are local, others impact entire nations.

Clergy and laity supplications for revival take different forms. Some ask for church revival directly from God. Some desire the Holy Spirit to inspire revival in the church through the manifestation of supernatural events. Some seek revival by prodding the congregation to get off their . . . pew and take action, usually in the form of repentance for sins, service to the poor and evangelism. I am sure there are other catalysts that I have overlooked.

If you look up the word revival in the dictionary you will see words and phrases like: rejuvenation, vigor, restoration, awakening, a new production of an old play, revitalization. Such words and phrases imply physical and mental action and energy. If you look at the calendars, schedules and programs of many modern Christian churches, they are already running at a frenetic pace. I wonder how the typical modern church would squeeze a revival into their weekly schedule. Are we capable of recognizing a revival if it happened in our midst? Are we so abuzz with ministry activities that God is not inclined to compete with us for glory? In other words, is the church too busy for revival to happen? On the other hand, would a God-inspired revival take over despite our busyness and accomplish God’s intentions in the church and surrounding community? I think so. But are we willing to let go of the reins to God?

We make a mistake if we think spiritual matters like revivals have jump-start formulas. I suspect that God likes to choose the time, place and manner of revival. It seems spiritually astute to also recognize that God may never choose to manifest an awe-inspiring revival in the place where we go to church. I know a pastor (we’ll call him Jim) who saw a miracle-producing revival happening in a large church in a nearby town. The effects of the revival spread throughout the community. People were experiencing miraculous healings for everything from colds to cancer. Jim had an intense desire for a revival to happen in his church so he set about making a lot of changes in the church, changes geared towards inspiring revival. Years passed with no revival. In the process, Jim nearly destroyed the church. Hundreds of people left and he had to step down from his position as senior pastor before the church was damaged beyond recovery.

John 3:8 says:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

This verse reminds me that we can’t pin the Holy Spirit down any more than we can pin down the wind. We simply don’t know when or how the Holy Spirit will alight in our midst in a supernatural way, including revival. I find this element of mystery in our faith to be cool. Besides, we don’t want a God we mortals can manipulate. We can pray for revival and prepare our hearts, but the final decision belongs to God.