Monday, January 15, 2018

Nefarious Integers Standing In The Way Of Our Understanding!

Some would say, it’s all Steve’s fault – Stephen Langton. He was really trying to be helpful and, to his credit, he has made the study of the bible much easier. It was the early 1200’s and Mr. Langton was actually Archbishop of Canterbury Cardinal Stephen Langton. (By the way, Archbishop Langton was responsible for the creation and acceptance of the Magna Carta, “The Great Charter of Liberties”, but that’s a story for another time.)

Until this point in history you had to work very hard to study scripture. For one thing, you needed to know either Greek, Hebrew, or Latin (all three if you wanted to get a full understanding of the Old and New Testaments). But, even if you knew all three languages, in the 1200’s most copies of scripture lacked any kind of “address system”. There was no “John 3:16” there was only John, Isaiah, Genesis, etc.

If you knew Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus, AND if you remembered John was the one who recorded it, then you would open the book of John and scan each paragraph until you found it. You had to work very hard to study scripture and there were no cross-references.

To help make study easier, Archbishop Cardinal Langton added chapter divisions to the bible. Prior to this you simply had the book of Psalms, now you have 150 chapters of Psalms. Before this system was added, Proverbs was one large book; now you have 31 chapters of Proverbs. Finally, after twelve centuries, there were milestones to guide you along the way as you were reading the bible, and bible study became less of a chore.

Three hundred years later a printer named Robert Estienne added verse divisions, and study of scripture became that much easier. Instead of turning to John chapter 3 and scanning the whole chapter, you could jump right to John 3:16.

Jump another 500 years forward and you arrive in 2018. Now you have dozens of translations and interpretations stored in your phone and available at the touch of a button. We have hundreds of reading plans available to us that divide the bible into topics, and some that simply give us the “Verse of the Day,” or as they say in France “Verset du Jour.”

Accessing the scripture has become so effortless you can have scripture read to you while you are driving to work, or taking a shower. You don’t even have to read it for yourself, just keep the soap out of your ears and your eyes on the road.

Each of these advances are truly wonderful. We live in extraordinary times! Our access to scripture, it’s various interpretations, commentaries, cross-references, and maps has become less demanding – which is fantastic … and, also, a drawback. Usually we make very little effort to study scripture beyond a few taps on a touchscreen and, as a result, we frequently miss out on a new richness of understanding; an understanding that was beyond imagination just 800 years ago; before there were chapter numbers. That’s a problem.

For instance, have you ever included John 2:23-25 along with the story of Jesus and Nicodemus found in John 3:1-21? The chapter number “3” might be getting in the way of a new revelation about why Jesus was so excited to talk with Nicodemus.

Consider the unsurmountable barrier called the number “5”. Have you ever noticed that Matthew 4:23-25 really should be included with chapter 5, what we call the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount? Could these verses offer insight into what Jesus was really talking about in the Beatitudes? (By the way, the word “Beatitudes” didn’t make its way into the bible until 1540 – and then only as a section title. “Beatitudes” is not found in the scripture text. But that’s another story for another time.)

Perhaps there are additional places in scripture that invite a closer examination. Could it be that there are other nefarious integers, or combinations of digits, that passively hinder us from a fresh understanding of God’s word? Or is it that we no longer need to labor at tilling the soil of God’s Word, so we don’t make the effort? Have we settled so long, surviving on volunteer heads of grain, that we no longer understand the possibility of a record-breaking harvest of truth and life?

I am thankful for people like Archbishop of Canterbury Cardinal Stephen Langton, who made an extra effort to make my study of scripture easier. Now I can focus my efforts on other areas of studying scripture – like, what does Ephesians 5:16 have to do with Ephesians 6:13? Or, can Luke 6:20-26 help me understand Matthew 5:3-12?

By the way, if it wasn’t for a guy named Steve in the early 1200’s and a guy named Bob in the 1500’s, I wouldn’t have been able to write those last two sentences. Thanks, Steve! Thanks, Bob!

Now, who’s ready to work?

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Sunday, December 3, 2017

On A Cold, Dark December Evening

I was reminded today about a moment twenty years ago during the Christmas season. I was on my way home from a rather contentious meeting. We were going to be leaving Holland, Michigan soon (not knowing that we would end up in New Castle, Indiana). Cheryl had just given birth to our second daughter, Emily. Other than that bright spot, 1997 had been a rough year.

The year began with terrorist Mir Qazi being sentenced to death for a rifle attack outside CIA headquarters, killing two. The top-ranking enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major of the Army, was suspended for allegations of sexual misconduct. The U.S. government acknowledged a “secret war” in Laos. Timothy McVeigh is convicted of his role in the Oklahoma City bombing and sentenced to death. Thirty-Nine Heaven’s Gate cultists committed mass suicide. A New Jersey high school senior gave birth in her school and left the newborn to die in the trash. Ramzi Yosef was convicted of planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Michael Carneal opened fire on a prayer group in a Paducah, Kentucky high school killing three people.

On this particular evening the air seemed especially cold, and the night very dark. I remember asking myself, exhausted from the long, hard meeting, “What are we doing bringing another child into this crazy, messed-up world?”

I was tired and overwhelmed, and felt guilty and a little selfish for being excited about Emily’s recent birth. What kind of future would Emily and Kaitie face? Would their days be even darker than this December night? Would there be any hope?

Fast-forward twenty years and we’re still talking about terrorists, sexual misconduct, and school shootings. But there is also hope; something that doesn’t make the news. Something that we frequently take for granted.

Kaitie is busy ministering the love of Christ in various ways. From a smile and hard work at camp, to children’s ministry at church, she is sharing the hope we can each find in God. She also works in an “outpost” called elementary school shining a light for young lives to see and emulate.

Emily is serving God as a ministry student, extending hope and joy to her fellow students. Among other duties, she serves as a dorm chaplain. Sometimes the road is hard, and the days are long and stress-filled, but she sees the fruit of her efforts every day.

I am thankful for a God who knows and holds the future. A God who does not get tired of speaking words of hope to his children lost in despair or depression.

On a cold, dark December evening things can look very bleak. Sorrow can easily consume you, and the future can be obscured by doubt and fear. But I can tell you that, twenty years later, you will see hope. Like the first tulip of the spring peeking through the last blanket of snow, new life will quietly break through and brighten your horizons.

Don’t lose sight of hope. All is not lost. The future is not as cold and dark as it seems tonight. Christmas can be a season of hope and expectation. The light has come.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” - John 1:1-5 NIV


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Monday, November 13, 2017

I'm Blessed, Not Guilty

The “thankful” posts I’m seeing on social media started me thinking. I have, without question, many things to be thankful for. Unfortunately, there is a sport swelling in our culture where contestants redefine some of those gifts as “privileges” and I refuse to play that game.

All the blessings in my life are gifts from God. They were not handed down to me by some imaginary elite class of ancestors. Everything good and perfect in my life is only there because God ordained and orchestrated it.

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” - James 1:16-17 NIV

Every good and perfect gift — each one was a gift from the Giver. I was entitled to none of the gifts. We’ve all been given gifts, but none of us were gifted identically.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” - Romans 12:6a NIV

Many of us have common gifts. We all have received the gift of life and breath. Most of us have received the gifts of sight and hearing. Each individual has been offered the gift of eternal life, but not everyone has received that gift. In this we see that we can reject, or ignore a gift. And sometimes we can be ignorant that the gift has even been offered.

We have not all been given the same gifts. Only a little over 4% of the world population was born in the United States. Only six of every ten U.S. citizens are non-Hispanic, non-Latino, whites. On average, out of 2048 individual U.S. citizens, 1048 will be male. Counting these three gifts alone, I belong to the 1.2% subset of white male U.S. citizens in the world.

When you add to this the various facts that: I was born in Ohio, raised in Michigan, live in Indiana, and had a father who was a tool and die maker for GM - I belong to a fraction of a percent of the global population. And I’ve not counted the gifts of education, income level, family structure, religion, denomination, congregation, and blood type.

A person with all of the same gifts that I’ve been given falls into a very, very small micro-fraction of the world population. And if I believe scripture, every one of those gifts were given to me by God.

Because these are gifts from God, I shouldn’t feel guilty for my male-ness or my white-ness. I can’t apologize for being a U.S. citizen, because if I did I would be saying - in effect - God was wrong. Each of these “good gifts” were given by Him and for His glory. And each one has special value.

I will never know the joy of giving birth to another life. Only women, and not even all women, have been given this gift. No matter how deeply I desire this gift, I have not been wronged if I haven’t been blessed with it.

I have not received the gift of being born into a large Italian family. I will never experience the food, and fun, and heritage that would come with a gift like that. But I have not been deprived of those things. Those are gifts that belong to another and, if I have a problem with that, I have a problem with the Giver of those gifts not the one receiving them.

Yes, I have been blessed with many gifts that are valued very highly in our society. But I will not disown or disrespect those gifts simply because others think it’s unfair.

The modern pastime of renaming gifts as privileges overlooks a significant truth. Gifts come with responsibilities.

God has given me good gifts and it is my responsibility to steward those gifts, and to leverage those gifts for His purposes. I will be held accountable for how I use the gifts I’ve been given.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” - Luke 12:48b ESV

Some have squandered their gifts, and others have misused their gifts resulting in horrible, sometimes unthinkable, consequences. But that doesn’t mean the gifts were bad, or inappropriate. Every good and perfect gift comes from God, but what we do with them can turn them very dark, or simply ineffective.

Each person reading these words, and every person you meet today, has been given gifts. Some of your gifts are identical to the gifts I’ve received. Many of your gifts are different from mine, and some are unique only to you.

I am thankful to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and I will not apologize or feel guilty for what He has given me. I choose to be grateful and the depth of my gratitude reinforces my desire to steward those gifts well.

During this season of thankfulness, do not discard, disown, or distance yourself from the good gifts you’ve been given. Do not feel guilty, or apologize, for the many ways you’ve been blessed. And do not neglect your responsibility to steward those gifts and blessings well. God gave you those gifts and blessings. Celebrate each one and do nothing to insult, or break the heart of, the One who gave them to you.

Yes, I have been blessed! I will forever be grateful – guilt-free and unapologetically. What will you do with your blessings? Will you gratefully embrace them without apology? Or will you play the game, feel the guilt, and insult the Giver?

The choice is yours. Choose well.



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Monday, August 14, 2017

I Wonder ...

We live in a society where life is cheap and easily discarded, yet the common worth of an individual is valued in dollars, power, pleasure, and fame. 


A society where compassion has not been cultivated, reason has not been taught, anger has been unleashed, and hope has been lost. 


We live in a culture where communication is no longer on our lips, but is spread 24/7 through a few finger taps on a touchscreen. Where our ears are no longer open, yet expressing ones self has become the highest virtue. Where free speech is only tolerated when it is politically correct, and then only if no one takes offense. 


Where most despair that they have no voice, yet the ability to self-publish in multiple media formats is greater now than at any point in history.


We live in a society where we are no longer guided and grounded by principles, but enslaved by party, policies, and platforms. 


Where we are afraid of living and dying alone, and yet spend most of our waking hours interacting with a handheld liquid crystal display.


We live in a world that desperately wants to feel alive, and to know real unchanging truth. A world that desires a purpose to pursue, a path to follow, a cause that will unite.


If only there were such a purpose, a path, a cause. If only there were a truth that generated true life. If only there were a cause to unite us.


If someone were to stumble on such a solution to what makes this society so sick, I wonder if he or she would actually, intentionally live it out? Share it?


Or would that person only bring it out one day a week to play with it, then pack it away and guard it; so that they could play with it again in seven days?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

In Its Time

"... in its time I will do this swiftly." This passage below emphasizes that there is a time and place in history when God acts. He is rarely early, but never late. He's an on-time God. 


But when it becomes time for God to act, He acts swiftly and decisively. His purposes will not be thwarted.


Remember the other "timing" verses? “... And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” - Esther 4:14; “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.” - John 7:6; “My hour has not yet come.”- John 2:4; “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, ...” - Galatians 4:4; “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:” - Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV


God will act in his time, but when He acts it will be swiftly. 


“Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.”


Isaiah 60:21-22 NIV

Sunday, January 29, 2017

God's Got This Too

Exactly 22 months ago today, after an interview with George Stephanopoulos, many of the "talking heads" and political elites pronounced then Gov. Mike Pence's career dead. A few days later I joined his staff.
 
It amazes me, as I reflect on this part of my journey, how God had a plan all along. The pundits and the politicians (friend & foe) didn't have a clue. Then again, neither did any of the rest of us. But God knew.
 
It's just another reminder for me, and maybe for you too, that no matter the prognosis, no matter the "disaster" that just occurred, no matter how unlikely it might seem, no matter how dire the future looks right now ... God's got this too.
 
There is only One who knows what your tomorrow looks like. He loves you. You can trust him.

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

I am tired … more than that, I am weary

I am tired … more than that, I am weary.
 
I am weary of brothers and sisters in Christ (people who should know better – who do know better) who easily abandon bedrock principles of Christianity to attack or defend someone they have never met, simply because they are on one side (or the other) of an artificially drawn line that defines an imaginary isle.
 
We celebrate and share articles with leading sentences like, “Many Americans appear ready to give [insert name of current or former President here] a pass when it comes to his lack of religious knowledge, sensibilities or behavior, but I think that’s a mistake.” Would we use that same language to describe the visitor on the back pew, or the neighbor we’ve been praying for down the street?
 
Many believers eagerly embraced the idea this past fall that half of a particular candidate’s followers were irredeemable. And that was a gracious description compared to what they reserved for the candidate. Do we really believe that anyone is irredeemable?
 
Why do many of my Christian friends champion a march that deliberately excluded people who cherish and value the right to life? Can these positions really be held by people who claim that “Jesus is the subject” and “Our banner is love”?
 
I’ve heard some defend their views with the excuse, “I’ve heard with my own ears, and seen with my own eyes.” (Forgetting that they saw and heard through news sources that were skewed both right and left and none coming from a spiritual perspective). Did first hand testimony matter (testimony NOT filtered through electronic media and shaped by editors, and producers) when our Redeemer stooped down and started writing in the dust at the feet of those accusers? Was He only the Redeemer of the accusers?
 
I’m weary. And I long for the church to mature, understand its identity, and reclaim its mission to advance the Kingdom of God. For now, we live in an age of faith “tribes”, nation-state citizenship, regional pride, sports team allegiance, and personal preference. We should celebrate our strengths and appreciate our differences.
 
I long for the day when political ideology no longer trumps foundational principles of the faith. Unfortunately, I believe we are as stiff-necked as our Old Testament forbearers. In the meantime, if you wish to pass judgment on me please use the one found in Matthew 22:34-40:

“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


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