Into the Tunnel and Out Toward the Light

A man was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a public audience.  A fellow in the audience passed a note to the speaker inviting him to a debate that Friday.  It was read to the audience and the invitation was accepted on one condition:

I want for you to bring along one person, who in their greatest despair, riddled with addiction, crippled by society, that through embracing atheism brought about a dramatic change and radically transformed them for the good.  Just bring one.  I shall bring 200.

This a wonderful video that offers a transparent view into a life adopting a secular worldview. I find too much in common to list here.

 

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Passover

The table is set before you
As you are guided to your seat.
The invigorating aroma of delightful food
Oh, how excited you are to eat!
The table is set formally,
But you frown as you have not dressed as such
Will you be given the same food?
Or just not quite as much?

You look around at some of the guests
With their façade of makeup and coverings
As pigs with pearls in their snouts
You know you aren’t as becoming.
Will you be moved to another seat, yet another place?
Is this seat a mistake?
Isn’t your place with the dogs
Who beg for food from plates?

However, you do not fear
For you know the owner of this table!
He does not play favorites, He loves us all
And welcomes the willing and able.
For He gave you a ticket,
An invitation,
To come to His majestic table.
And that ticket is your justification
So that you will not be mislabeled.

How many are here without a ticket?
Do they not know the hour is coming?
Or are they deaf to reason and logic
That this table did not come from nothing!

Oh, you try to bridge a conversation
To a person without a ticket
They respond,  “Oh, gosh! You are antiquated!
There will not be any condemnation!”
How do you know and are you sure?
That is what you ask
They respond, “Because there are no rights or wrongs!
It is just cultures that make moral statements.”
You ask, for which culture is forward, which one is backward?
Which one is going the right way?
They scowl and turn their face
And then tell you to go away.

Then the overhead light flickers
The owner has come home!
Some guests seem not to even notice
The majesty of His throne.
Nothing we do compares to His holiness
No grandiose coverings will due
For the Lord knows the depths
Of our moral turpitude.
So the meal is set before you,
It is the Passover lamb
Your invitation then turns to blood
And you know that you can stand.

But for those who are at the table
Sitting in their relativistic worldview stance
What will they say to the owner?
Are they willing to take that chance?

 

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In the moment

“I am now handing out the exams, do not start until I tell you to do so.  Please keep the exams face down.  Please remove all items except pens, pencils, or erasers,” the professor states.  The students shuffle papers away and clear their desks.  They appear anxious to begin.

“It is now 8 o’clock, you may all begin.  You have till 8:50, that is, 50 minutes.”

The students flip to the first page of the exam.  Some brows begin to sweat and furrow, a few pencils tap, some pensively stare at the ceiling, while others feverishly type on their calculators[1].  Nevertheless, there are always a collection of students that look like a seasoned runner: focused, steadfast, stressed but remaining calm, and diligently working toward the prize.  That determined look espouses confidence even if the student themselves do not feel that way!

Question: Where does that confidence come from? 

Short Answer: Preparation.

Long Answer: It stems from an investment of time learning the subtle nuances of the material.  It comes from working problems and understanding their extensions.  It comes from handling the frustrating moments of “I don’t get this” that, through hard-work, transforms into “ah-hah” moments.  Understanding often comes by the way of 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

This means that when the exams do come the diligent student draws from understood material.  They pull it from their banks of knowledge that have been seasoned through time and hard work.  That’s what comes to mind.  That is what brings forth an air of confidence to face the exam.

In the heat of battle or the exams of life what comes to your mind?  Vile thoughts? Empty thoughts? Despairing thoughts?  Self-righteous thoughts? Righteous thoughts? Noble thoughts? Godly thoughts?

Do you read the scriptures hastily just as a student crams for an exam?  Or do you read the scriptures with intention and diligence just as the confident student that prepares?  After all, understanding gained hastily dwindles but those that seek it diligently will increase it (Proverbs 13:11-12).

What came to mind when Stephen was about to be stoned in Acts 7?  What came to mind when the prophet Isaiah was about to be sawed in two?  What came to mind when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were about to be thrown into the furnace?  Or Daniel prior to being thrown into the lion’s den?  Or when you are singled out for your faith in Jesus Christ?  Or the other Christian martyrs of today and yesterdays?

I can tell you what came through their mind: The hope and peace that defies all human understanding in knowing that those in Jesus will overcome death itself and are assured victory in the end (Phil 4:6, 1 Cor 15:55-58).

 

1. This behavior always baffles me. Especially, since I know that their particular exam doesn’t require any calculator use. I often think, “What are they typing?” This behaviour is similar to going to work on a house with a wild chain-saw when you are tasked to work on a plumbing system!

 

 

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The Book that Understands Me

The book that understands me
Is something for you to see
As it understands you as well
And His Son will set you free.

It is a book full of wonders
Stories of long past
Riddled with prophecies
Illustrating that this earth will not last.

It is a book that clearly explains
Our fundamental dysfunction
And how that leads to our death
But, moreover, how to avoid our destruction.

The book that understands me
Explains our sorrows and fears
And it promises to deliver us
And wipe away every tear.

It is a book full of revelation
That explains the beginning to the end
Showing the power of the righteous One
Over this world that He transcends.

The book that understands me
Is the one I read day and night
Finding more pleasures while in it
Than if I was to be given everything in sight!

Maybe you’ll look into this book
And put your opinions aside
Read it cover to cover
And let His redemptive power work you from the inside.

You see, the book that understands me
Is a book I wish you all to see
For you would then know the Truth
And that Truth shall set you free.

 

Don’t Drink the Water!

WaterinGlassYou’re good.  I’m good.  We all are good! Why wouldn’t God want us to be in Heaven with him?  Who wouldn’t want more of you or me?! We are that good! But, Hitler? Not good. Just ask a random person if they think Hitler is in hell and they’ll say yes.  Then ask them if they are going there.  Nope! Poor Hitler!

What if Hitler only caused the deaths of 100 Jews? Still in hell? 10 Jews? 1 Jew? How about he just held on to the ‘final solution’ as exhorted in his book Mein Kampf? Still then?  Where is the line I ask between the trajectory toward hell or heaven?  In Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus indicates that even harboring adulterous or hateful thoughts is condemnable, that is, sinful.  Looks like I am out!

It seems our relativistic culture has a problem.  There is a tendency to overestimate our own righteousness while underestimating God’s.  He sees our heart for what it truly desires and the unnatural bent we really have!  You can try to bend it back but it doesn’t erase it completely.  It takes God’s intervention to cure that; a true final solution (Phil 1:6).

God loves us, but hates the dysfunctional bent that we harbor in our hearts.  Now, of course you don’t have ‘this’ bent!  Hitler did, but of course, not you.

Let’s suppose that you came into my office and I offer you a fresh glass of water.

“Before you drink from that cup, can I urinate in it?” I ask.

“No way!” You reply.

“It’ll only be a little bit, you won’t even be able to see it!” I retort.

“No thanks!” You reply.

“How about I urinate in the cup just a little bit and then dump the water out and fill it back up?” I ask again.

“I’ll pass.”

This is how God views our sin.  The water (us) He loves.  It’s just the urination He can do without!

We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). However, He sent His son not to condemn us but to save us (John 3:16).  He took the punishment on himself instead (1 Pet 2:24) and if we accept that free gift (Romans 10:13-14) then He’ll change our bent with His own hands (2 Cor 5:17).

And as a result of His grace God views my glass of water as pure (2 Cor 5:21).

Go to Hell!

A fantastic poem written by John Ault, senior pastor at New Hope Community Church in connection to Luke 16:19-31).  Thank you Pastor Ault for allowing me to share!

“Go to Hell!” Have you ever said those words and meant it?
We imagine Hell to be an awful place and wonder how a loving God could invent it.
Maybe the rationale for hell is hard to see
because of the dysfunction inside of me.

Science tells me the universe has laws,
and every effect is there because of a cause.
It makes sense that if its true on the physical level
moral and spiritual choices also have results that are inevitable.

Want to spend eternity locked in a room with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin,
Ossama Bin Laden, Saddam Husen and Charles Manson?
Guess what? God doesn’t, And neither do I.
What makes us think that a person’s values change just because they die.
Put the damned in heaven and in time they’ll turn it into hell.
If you have any doubts, look at the earth we live on. I’d say we’re doing that here quite well.

Jesus told about a cruel, self-centered rich man who died and got hell as his sentence.
His heart was just as hard when he got there; totally devoid of repentance.
He expected God to send the beggar who sat in sickness outside his door, on whom he had no compassion
He expected God to command the beggar to leave the bliss of heaven to suffer in hell as his servant.
The man had no change of heart, but continued on in his totally self-centered and wicked reaction.
My response is, “Of all the nerve!
You got what you deserve.”

Now, we rationalize and say,
“I’m not as wicked as they!”
But project a straight line beyond the choices you make to the directions they take.
Are the restraints on your life’s immoral directions really from within or from without?
Where is your real love? What are the real desires of your heart?

God is Love and takes no pleasure in damning people.
But God is also good and just, so Hell was prepared for the devil and the rest of those who love evil.
Hell is not a necessary consequence.
Hell is for those who refuse repentance.
It is not an irreversible destiny.
God said through Jesus, “Come, rest in me.”
He undid the consequence of my rebellion and dysfunction when he paid the price on the tree.
He brought forgiveness and the promise of new life and heaven for you and me.

A Stone to Remember

pile-of-stonesThe grind of the academic year screams to halt upon the submission of final grades. There is a beautiful silence that echoes through the halls as the daily traffic ceases. Colleagues are more ready to engage in more lengthy conversations, summer research goals are easily and quickly carved. Students will occasion your office, sometimes with tears of joy and other times with sadness.

This term, the emptiness of my office lingered heavy on my mind. My time at Baylor University was ending, a new chapter beginning at Clarkson University. My books were boxed, pictures were delicately stacked in a corner, letters from students now put away. My voice echoed about the room like a pinball machine with a hundred balls! All that was left was my external hard drive, a pen, and a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress.

The book was to be gifted to my colleague and mentor Qin Sheng. I opened the inside cover and within minutes wrote an inscription and poem to Qin expressing my gratitude toward his mentorship. Why do we write these inscriptions? To say thanks? To express our heart to someone? Or is it so that we both remember that moment?

Throughout my entire life I have habitually taken rocks as a reminder of a certain experience. I have a rock from my last baseball game that I played in. I have a rock from when I ran a 2:03 half mile. I have a rock from the day that I graduated college. I have a rock from when I was to be baptized. I now have a new rock that sits at my desk. None of the rocks are labeled nor fancy, however I can remember where and when I picked them up. Why do I do this? Because, like many of us, we have the tendency to forget!

The rock serves as a testimony to the faithfulness of God.  This practice is seen throughout the Bible. In that light, the entire Bible is dedicated to reminding ourselves to what God has done for all of us. It reminds us what He will do, it tells us how to find the path home through Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the natural tendency is to forget.  Often-times,  focusing on the ordinariness of life.

I think about the 12 stones from each Isreali tribe that Joshua stacked to remind themselves of what God had done and was about to do. God then parted the Jordan river and the people marched into the promised land for the first time en route to Jericho (Joshua 4:8-18).

I think about David’s Song of Praise, a testimony to God delivering David from his enemies, when it seemed at many times all hope was lost (2 Samuel 22).

I think about the writing of the names during the convenant renewal made by the people of Isreal when the wall of Jerusalem had been rebuilt (Nehemiah 9:5-38, 10:1-27)

I think about the Song of Moses, a testimony of God leading His people out of slavery, defeating the Egyptians, and parting the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-21).

In each instance the people forgot, regardless of the written testimonies, songs, or erected monuments. No amount of supernatural miracles prevented this. They forgot. We would have forgotten, we do forget. Instead of taking a rock as a reminder, we throw them at the very one who will offer us bread and life. Yet, no matter how hard the stones are thrown, it never takes away from the incredible grace offered to us through the cross.

We are fickle and we’ll forget. However, even if you are eating the slop with the pigs and snubbing our noses at our Father He is still there waiting to forgive, if only we turn to Him. And when or if that occurs for you, I am assured that a new rock, a cornerstone in fact, will form for you that you won’t forget so easily.

Dragging Jesus through the dirt

bostonIn the wake of the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon a chilling sadness rings throughout this country. The footsteps of thousands of runners should be all that echos in our memories, instead we are left with alternative graphic images etched in its place.  Many of us are compelled to action and help, regardless of distance or financial means. The tragic events provide a platform to offer support, empathize, feel compassion, and bring love.

There are, of course, many distinct ways of attempting to accomplish this end.  However, my stomach churned in agony, when I read that the Westboro Baptist Church, known for its extreme ideologies, announced that Boston received this bombing as a punishment for allowing same-sex unions, thus would be picketing the funeral processions of the deceased.  Rather then embarking on a full discourse of ideological differences let’s consider a scenario where Westboro Baptist did something different.  After all, the financial means are there if a group of protesters are making their way to Boston.

Suppose they came to each of the funerals and served them.  Suppose they sought out any invited guests that needed transportation and then provided a taxi service for them.  Suppose, they took care of preparing, providing , and cleaning up the ensuing meal after the service.  Suppose they offered to take care of the children during the service to free the hands of grieving parents. Suppose they circled the service in an air of prayer to our heavenly Father.  Suppose they tended to any household need in the forthcoming days.  Suppose this was the case and then they left to go back to Kansas.  Thus, I offer one question:

If the deep and heartfelt intention is for the affected people to turn toward God in the midst of this tragedy, which option will ultimately render a positive response to this end? Which one shows support, compassion, and brings the love of Jesus Christ evidenced by a transformed mind, heart, and soul? 

Consider Matthew 8:5 – “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ ”

Did Jesus say: “Be gone you polytheistic, hateful, persecutor of the one true God! Your sins have brought this suffering onto yourself!” or I will go and heal him.