don’t waste your sorrows

This morning my wife Kathi and I participated in a global online gathering of Christian believers from many nations, representing multiple people groups of the world, praying, repenting, and calling out, like the prophet Daniel, for the Lord to forgive our sins and the sins of our respective nations, and renewing our commitment to humbly seek him and to love our neighbors.

Currently, as in the days of Daniel, the people of God are in a time of unprecedented opportunity.

I know the news media tell us that we are in a catastrophe and a crisis and declare that the world is in turmoil and shutdown. Prognosticators and pundits relentlessly trumpet the chaos and destruction threatening our way of life; even our very survival as a species.

All this is true—sort of. But as is always the case when we look deeper into “reality” and peer below the surface of the physically evident, things are not what they seem.

It’s true we are in shutdown everywhere. Untold numbers of people have been consigned to seclusion in their homes. The flowing movement of modern society as we have known it has been halted with sudden and brutal ferocity, creating fear—even panic—in millions of people. We are not able to gather in public squares and marketplaces the way we have been accustomed. The halls of worship built for our rampant consumerism—malls and stores and restaurants and bars—have been closed.

And the halls of worship for religion have been closed as well, although there have been some who choose to defy any imposed restrictions.

This is a time of grief for so many thousands who have fallen ill or have had loved ones become sick and die. Our hearts are broken for such cruel and incomprehensible loss. For such tragedies there are no pat answers; frankly, there are no answers at all save the Bible’s admonition to suffer and weep with them (Jeremiah 8:21, 9:1, 14:17; Romans 12:15; John 11:32-36).

But as we grieve, we must also quiet the inner clamor of our thoughts and ask questions. God invites us to time and again in Scripture to become aware of his greater reality, and if we will perceive it, we will hear the faint rumblings that he is doing something dreadful and wonderful. Our Father, to whom the whole universe belongs, has not turned from us or allowed his hand to be shortened. This plague has not caught him off-guard. He always takes what is meant for evil and uses it for good, if we will humble ourselves. God is not the author of evil, but he does discipline us and he has brought us to this time of worldwide silence unlike anything any of us now alive have known.

And yet…

Also unlike any time in human history, we have technology to go past forced seclusion and interact with each other in meaningful ways. The Lord is changing our expressions of worship and fellowship “as usual” and is causing us deep heart-searching. Have we obeyed the first and greatest commandment and sought after him and loved him beyond everything else? Is his presence our greatest treasure and magnificent reward? Will we really love our neighbors as we love ourselves? Do we really want his kingdom, or are we still content to promote our own little fiefdoms?

This global pandemic has forced us to face these questions head-on. It is forcing us, especially those of us who live in affluence, to face the very real truth that we are not as strong as we think we are. In this time that appears so dark, we can succumb to despair, or we can humble ourselves and draw closer together, heart-to-heart, and communicate with each other through the means available to us. We can recognize more fully that we are truly one body under one almighty and gracious Head.

Our God declares those things which aren’t as though they are, because those things he declares as are are the things he does and plans to do, and so they actually are already accomplished. (Confusing, I know.) He loves to turn our presumptions and our accomplishments upside-down as he displays his glory through individuals and events we would never choose or imagine. 

When we look below the surface of our physical world, we discover paradox. Scientists don’t know why the world even exists or how the fabric of space-time works at the sub-atomic level; we try to get a fix on “dark” matter and energy; we don’t fully understand what time really is (see here and here). It’s the same in the realm of the spirit as we follow Jesus. Lose your life to save it. Give everything away to become rich. Be great by becoming everyone’s servant. (I won’t even begin to discuss the contrast between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom of choice.) We are now directly inside another paradox, because even as people around the planet go into seclusion through “social distancing,” all humanity together is sharing this same emergency at the same time, in essentially the same way. This is not just happening “somewhere else” and oh isn’t it tragic; it is happening here as well as out there. It isn’t only happening to other people; it is impacting all our families and friends. It isn’t the sort of shared experience we would ever choose, but we’re together in this, and if we will respond the way our Lord would have us respond, then even as we are “distancing” socially, we are drawing together in greater intimacy.

It is time to press in more closely to our Lord who knows all our ways, who loves us and is drawing us to himself that our faith may be purified and we might come closer to fulfilling the desire of Yeshua that he expressed in his John 17 prayer. May we share the resources and hope we have been given as the body of Christ with those who desperately need the bread and water of Life.

arbiter of a generation

You gotta love Facebook.

This company has revolutionized the way humans interact with each other around the planet, and despite the fact that many of us are grateful for the opportunity to use the platform for personal connection and widespread dissemination of information, Facebook is also a contributor to some extremely negative effects on human behavior, and may even be re-wiring an entire generation.

You wonder why civil discourse is virtually non-existent? (And nope, you can’t place the blame solely on the current inhabitant of the Oval Office.) Does it actually surprise you that truly intelligent, rational thinking is sinking into the mire of self-entrenched fundamentalism? (Under this label, I include those who believe in the supernatural and those who don’t.) Facebook is not the “first cause” for such societal breakdown, but it does have the tendency to pander to our worst instincts of “look at me” promotion and self-centered expediency. People get their information “rush” in hyperbolic bits from the blue-bannered dispenser of all things “social,” so that they can quickly know what to think, and how to connect with the latest gee-whiz cultural event, without putting in all the nasty effort required to actually seek wisdom–which requires time and effort and thoughtful self-examination and wise counsel.

I hate to be the meanie who points this out, but Facebook doesn’t care about you, or me, or meaningful social interaction, despite their warm fuzzy protestations to the contrary. Facebook is a business, and anything that makes it more money is fair game.

The company really wants you to believe, however, that it is watching out for your safety. Why, just check out how the company has banished Faith McDonnell, a woman who dares to share a post about Christian martyrs. She, along with so many others, attempts to give perspective to the world in which we live: a world of individuals who perform the most ghastly atrocities, as well as the genuine, unsung heroes who daily give themselves to sacrificial love and service to the “least of” humanity. But it is important, apparently, that you and I are kept safe from unpleasant realities.

Free speech can be a genuinely difficult concept, because rights that are truly important almost always have a myriad of nuanced, interconnected results. What limits does a platform such as Facebook set on the sharing of ideas? Is it OK to allow pedophiles, or neo-Nazis, or drug dealers to display whatever filth they wish to promote? No reasonable person would believe that would be acceptable. The real issue is that, at least in the case of Faith McDonnell, Facebook’s response was not responsible caution but an impersonal decision generated most likely by an algorithm and enforced through an impersonal form letter. It was a knee-jerk, CYA reaction–no discussion, no appeal. And that should concern us.

I am probably committing the logical fallacy of reductio ad absurdum (“reduction to absurdity”), but I wonder how long it will be before we are routinely shielded from unpleasant issues such as, say, human trafficking and dire poverty and the holocaust of abortion and our desperate need for a Savior.

But hey, at least you can find cute pictures of puppies and kittens, and a gazillion clickbait ads and facile intelligence tests…..

it don’t come easy

I don’t ask for much, I only want your trust
And you know it don’t come easy
And this love of mine keeps growing all the time
And you know it don’t come easy
—Ringo Starr, “It Don’t Come Easy”

Valentine’s Day we think about love: we dream about it, we throw money at it with flowers and cards and candy and romantic dinners. Love has become a consumer holiday. And yes, it is a lot of fun.

Love, as our culture defines it, is giddy feelings, starry-eyed gazing and soft music, walking arm-in-arm, experiencing exciting physical intimacy, laughing and enjoying life, building memories and building a life together. These are all aspects of love, and they are all beautiful.

But true love is even more. Love that lasts “don’t come easy.” Love that lasts is not just dreamy walks and candlelight dinners with beautiful people. It is also arguments and dirty diapers and financial stress and sinning against your beloved (sometimes dreadfully) and being forgiven and getting wrinkles and a pot-belly and, sometimes, losing touch with the “feelings” that started the whole relationship in the first place.

I quote an old chestnut that is still singular and unconquerable truth: real love is commitment. Despite the dreadful pressures of life in a broken world, choosing faithfulness and humility causes love to flourish and widen into something deeper, purer, more confident, and more exquisite than quick and easy “butterflies,” pleasant though they may be.

Real love is action (John 3:16). Real love is messy; it steps into the filth and the bitterness of life (John 1:9-12, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Romans 5:20). It embraces darkness, and by doing so dispels it (Isaiah 59, Ezekiel 16, 2 Corinthians 4:6). Love is shamelessly romantic (Isaiah 62:5, Song of Songs 1:2-4, Hosea 2:19, John 3:29). Love is not concerned with its own reputation (Jeremiah 31, Micah 6:3, Philippians 2:7-9). Love gives reward when all that is owed is the harshest punishment (Hosea 11:7-11, Jeremiah 31:32). Love pursues even when the pursuit is unwanted (Isaiah 65:1-2, Ezekiel 18:31-32). Love shines its light into every dark corner, reaches without hesitation into the most wretched sewer, freely offers mercy to the hardest heart, responds with tender love to the cruelest hatred. Love does not tire or fail in its relentless quest to restore the beauty originally intended for all humanity and all creation.

We do not understand love like this, because we are finite and because we are fickle. We fear that if we “love too much” we will not have enough for who and what is truly important. But love is not an object of limited quantity that must be divided up and parceled out piecemeal; it doesn’t grow thinner the more it is spread around. The more we love, the larger becomes our capacity to love.

So, Jesus has shown us what love truly is by the way he came, the way he lived, the way he died, and the way he rose again. Love is incredible and eternal, but it “don’t come easy.” Just ask the Son of God.

When all we know of this world has ceased; when history has wrapped up and “all things new” has begun (Revelation 21:5), love will exist unhindered and unchallenged. Anything that fights against love or raises its twisted head against goodness will be stripped of influence and power. For endless reaches of time (and, I think, space), love will reign unchallenged.

When all else fails, love prevails. Both now, and for eternity.

faith and aliens

We had a fascinating and mysterious guest in October 2017.

When I say “we,” I am referring to all of us on planet earth. Space object 1I / 2017 U1 (proper name: Oumuamua, meaning “a messenger from afar”) was discovered by Robert Weryk at Haleakala Observatory on October 19. At the time, it had already made its closest approach to the Sun and was heading away from it at a relative velocity of about 54 kilometers per second.  

It was the first such visitor scientists have ever observed, and excitement and speculation about its composition and origins was widespread. It was weird and interesting and fit no categories we had devised so far to explain objects running through our cosmic neighborhood. Oumuamua is still shrouded in mystery, although recently, an interesting and plausible hypothesis has been proposed by an astronomer at NASA’s JPL regarding this interstellar fly-by.

But a Harvard astronomy professor named Avi Loeb begs to differ. He thinks it could be an artifact from an alien civilization.

Now, if that is even a remote possibility, it is not some sort of probe, because it isn’t functioning—at least not in any way astronomers can determine (yes, they looked). But perhaps there are other things it could be: a light sail, interstellar flotsam, a huge cigar; we still really don’t know, because it is small and it is mysterious and it is gone (at least, beyond where we can see it; as I write it is somewhere near Saturn).

Apparently, though, it is not mysterious enough to warrant any hypothesis. Dr.  Loeb’s ideas have been met with hoots of derision and disgusted refutation. I recently read this comment from a scientist and found it interesting and informative. Astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter from Ohio State University tweeted, “Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it.”

You got that, Avi? Are we clear? “We don’t know what this thing is, but we damn sure know it isn’t of alien construction, and you insult us by even asking about it!”

Okay, first of all, I think Dr. Loeb’s theory is whack-a-doodle, too. (See what I did there?) There has been no evidence gathered to this point that could begin to point to such an idea. It’s outlandish, but also kinda fun. When this visiting whatever-it-is first showed up, the scenario reminded me of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama—a fascinating novel about a visit from an uninhabited alien spacecraft. I read several articles that referred to that story as well.

But despite my personal opinion, I have an issue with Dr. Sutter’s remark. He is far more educated than I, so maybe I’m missing something, but I wonder: Why are Avi Loeb’s ideas so much detritus; an “insult” to scientific inquiry? Don’t we make amazing discoveries when we are willing to ask questions? As I understand it, here are the basic steps in any scientific inquiry:

  1. Identify the problem. A scientific observation must be objective and verifiable by others through experimentation and continued observation.
  2. Ask a question, and research the question. Determine what information and resources are available and evaluate them to help “fine tune” the question.
  3. Create a hypothesis and make a prediction. Determine, through deductive reasoning, what result(s) are expected if the hypothesis is true.
  4. Conduct experiments; collect and analyze data. Data is reviewed and analyzed to see if the results prove or disprove the hypothesis, and if the date is statistically significant, and if it can be attributed to a specific cause rather than random chance.
  5. Draw conclusions.
  6. Share results.

I am not a scientist, but it seems pretty clear to me that Dr. Loeb is identifying a problem and asking a question. His ideas are weird–really weird–but so are black holes and dark matter. At our current state of understanding and ability to monitor Oumuaua, it does not appear likely that any kind of experiment can be conducted to prove or disprove Loeb’s ideas.

That isn’t really my point, though. I am trying to understand how another scientist can mock him and reject his potential hypothesis out of hand. Sounds like rigid fundamentalism to me–a worship of scientism, not respect for science. We don’t actually know that this is not an alien artifact; at least, not by purely empirical evidence. Oumuamu is certainly “alien” in origin, in that it came from outside our solar system. However, has anyone put forward evidence that Oumuamua could not possibly be manufactured by some other race of beings?

Before dismissing his thoughts as an “insult,” perhaps rational minds could put forth clear, compelling evidence as to why they are wrong.

I constantly see the same dismissive attitude regarding the existence of God. If you are a believer in any sort of higher power, you must be uneducated or gullible–or worse. However, in the question of God’s existence, despite a prevailing western view of materialism, there are well-thought-out and clear expositions of the rationality of Christian faith. The honest inquirer will at least listen and consider, rather than assume the matter is closed.

Humans do not, and cannot know with certainty that God doesn’t exist. Of course, the skeptic will answer “You can’t know that he does exist either.” And of course the skeptic would be correct. But consider this: Men, women, and children from every tribe, tongue, and nation, in diverse and sometimes uncharted regions, for uncounted millennia, have experienced God’s love and presence in a myriad of mysterious and majestic manifestations.Throughout the world today, millions of people will proclaim that their life has been radically changed because of an encounter with a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, who these people claim is the living Son of God. In many cases, these same people are beaten, tortured, and even killed because they refuse to renounce their trust in him.

I, too, have had this encounter, and have experienced God’s loving goodness and care in my life, and have known his guidance, and have grown to realize the authority and power of the Scriptures, and have “heard” the voice of the Holy Spirit leading me, and have felt his comfort. Not only that, over decades I have met and known people whose lives have been thoroughly, miraculously changed by submitting themselves to God.

Maybe some people reading this would discount everything I’m writing as fantasy. I would counter that of course, you can choose not to believe, but there is a lot of evidence that is pretty darned overwhelming, if you will honestly consider it. Unless you decide you know better, and your attitude is the same as the previously mentioned astrophysicist: To even consider such an idea is an insult. I know there is no God, no supernatural world.

I’m reminded of a scene from the movie “Men in Black.” A New York City police officer, played by Will Smith, has just discovered that alien beings are alive on the earth, and that their existence is a secret unknown to most of humanity, a secret closely guarded by an unofficial government organization. One of the agents for this organization is played by Tommy Lee Jones, and he sits down to talk to Smith about what Smith has just discovered. At one point in their conversation, Jones says:

Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody ‘knew’ the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago everybody ‘knew’ the earth was flat; and fifteen minutes ago, you ‘knew’ that people were alone on this planet. [Sigh.] Imagine what you’ll ‘know’ tomorrow.

When we rely on our own understanding, we truncate our imagination and shrink our world. There is so much still to be explored and understood. There is so much mystery in the cosmos. And I have found that surrounding it all, and transcending it all, is a Mystery beyond mysteries, a being of perfect love and perfect justice and unimaginable mercy. Millions of my brothers and sisters have discovered him as well.

We have come this far by faith, and we have come to know our Father’s goodness. Imagine how much more we will know tomorrow.

land of the free, home of the brave

Except in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Today I read the story about Ramin Parsa, a former Muslim who fled his native Iran after he became a Christian. Parsa now lives and works as a pastor in Los Angeles. Last August, while visiting in Minnesota, his hosts took him to see “the biggest mall in North America.” While there, the pastor randomly encountered a couple of Somalis and as their conversation progressed, Parsa was asked if he was Muslim. At that point he shared his Christian convictions with them, but was promptly ordered by mall security guards to cease talking about that, and shortly thereafter he was arrested and treated abusively. 

You see, the Mall of America is a private, not public space, and it has rules against “solicitation.” So, along with not being able to pester people for money, or offer your services as a prostitute, at the Mall of America you also cannot have a private, polite conversation about anyone’s spiritual welfare. 

Surprise, surprise: Mr. Parsa’s story has been conveniently overlooked by many media outlets, including even some in Minnesota. 

Now, I am not a legal expert or a Constitutional scholar, but in my understanding–and I’m sure in the understanding of most rational-thinking Americans–First Amendment free speech INCLUDES the right to freely explain one’s religious or political beliefs or opinions. 

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Through my life, both professionally and privately, I have known and worked with thousands of different types of persons and personalities. They all had their own beliefs and opinions and likes and dislikes and food cravings and sexual desires. Some people have been utterly fascinating; others I found mind-numbingly boring. With some individuals I have been able to establish immediate rapport and even friendship, while other people so thoroughly “rubbed me the wrong way” that  I found myself wishing for the power of invisibility so I could disappear  whenever I caught sight of them.

But always, as a Christian, I have attempted to respect each person as an image-bearer of God. And always, as an American, I have attempted to respect each person as someone with a right to their opinion (no matter how repellant or stupid). Because in the United States of America, we celebrate the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

I like malls and I like shopping, although I get burned out rather quickly (unless, of course I discover a bookstore–or a cool hardware store). I have always enjoyed the bustle and interaction of people and the general hum of activity and fun, especially this holiday time of year, despite the excess of rampant materialism. In general, malls have historically been places for people to hang out and enjoy themselves and possibly even sometimes find out something new.

Except, apparently, in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

That place needs to have “America” stripped from its name. Maybe change it to “Mall of Totalitarianism.”

red noses and revival

I don’t often read anything on HuffPost (unless for some reason I’m in the mood to be agitated). However, today the site had an article that caught my interest.

Apparently, a batch of newly-minted adults have been discovering some ugly truths underlying the holiday favorite “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

One of their main findings? Santa is really a jerk.

Many of us who are older noticed this quite some time ago. Think back on the cartoon. Santa, along with the rest of his deer crew, mocks Rudolph for his non-conformity; just minutes after the poor little guy is born, Santa tells him he had better get it together if he wants to be part of the “sleigh-pulling” band. Later, during reindeer games, he tells Donner–Rudolph’s dad–that he ought to be ashamed and is saddened that Rudolph had shown such promise; but alas! If only he didn’t have that red nose! Because, of course, being different disqualifies you.

And late in the show, when Donner is away looking for his lost son, Santa laments that he is worried about the deer being lost out in the big blizzard. Why is he so concerned? Is it because Donner could be in danger, freezing to death in the wilderness? No; Santa’s frantic because Christmas is only two days away, and he needs Donner to work Christmas Eve!

The final take-away is that everyone was prejudiced and wrong. Rudolph comes in handy because–lo and behold–his unusual nose is actually useful sometimes! He even talks Santa into visiting the Isle of Misfit Toys. (Although, people also noticed that during the credits, one of the elves throws the misfit bird–who can’t fly–out of the sleigh without an umbrella parachute. Kind of like the “turkey drop” in the famous WKRP episode. Happy landings, Tweey!)

Now, I’m not trying to be deliberately sarcastic or cruel. I really do have fond memories of those stop-motion puppets and their adventure. I loved the show as a small boy, and I still like to watch it every year. But while reading the HuffPost article, I started thinking that a lot of people perceive God as being just like that Santa: distracted with His own concerns and generally frustrated with our weaknesses. Also, a lot of churches function like the reindeer gang. If you are too weird, you really can’t be a part of our group; unless it turns out you have something we can use.

This was never the Lord’s intent. He is gracious and merciful and patient with our weakness and foolishness, and He gently, but firmly, draws us into His presence so we can be changed by His mercy and purity. As the church, we should likewise be gracious, bearing each other’s burdens and “…stir(ring) up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

The Holy Spirit is continually drawing people to Jesus. And in this season, when He is breathing His fresh wind into the body of Christ worldwide, we can and should expect the Lord of the harvest to add daily to His church. But remember, a lot of those people will not look or act or think like us. People who don’t know Jesus act like people who don’t know Jesus. This is to be expected.

Yes, God is holy, and He gives grace to His people to be holy. But let us remember that there is huge diversity in His body, and we may even find some “Rudolphs” among us. We will need them for our foggy days ahead.

Santa and Rudolph

…that they might be one…

I write today during the National Day of Prayer for the United States of America.

Prayer is, of course, always a good thing. It is vital to the well-being of an individual, a region, a nation; and indeed, our entire world. God Himself has declared regarding anyone and everyone who longs to find a true home in the heart of the living Creator:

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples. (Isaiah 56:7.)

This year’s theme is “unity,” which is also good and powerful. Yet all of us who live in the U.S. are aware of the incredible divide and animosity that exist in our society; and the body of Yeshua is not exempt.

But as I prayed this morning, I became aware of a phrase in the heart of the Holy Spirit. I sensed that He referred to our arguments and strongly-held opinions as “petty irreconcilable differences.” Now, I understand that there are issues that are of grave concern, and they absolutely, unequivocally must be addressed.  There is no denigrating issues of injustice and racial inequality and hatred and violence. There are innumerable social, cultural, and political evils in our nation. The battle is fierce; the stakes are high.

And yet I understood, in the short, potent word dropped into my spirit, that much of our fighting occurs not because we are working together to overcome evil, but because we are angry that we can’t agree or get along. So, people “agree to disagree,” which is a cop-out from the hard work of true unity. Our argumentation and frustration and strident clamoring are nothing before the relentless, reckless, raging river of fire that is the love and holiness of God. The crystal cascade of the water of life “flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1) sweeps away the flotsam of our foolishness and carries us into crying out that we might echo the purity of our Savior who prayed

“…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23.)

Today, we humble ourselves, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways. Together in Him, overwhelmed by His glory, we become one, that the world might know He is alive.

love casts out fear

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light.

Radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace.
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth!
(“Silent Night”)

Into a world crushed under excessive burdens of hatred, fear, deceit, and shame, Jesus was born to testify to the truth of God, and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Scripture tells us that in Jesus the Messiah, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting people’s sins against them. This is magnificent news to all who are weary and troubled and fearful.

There is no fear in love. but perfect love drives out fear….
(1 John 4:18).

This truth is a beacon of hope; radiant energy piercing the darkness of the prevailing spirit of the age. Our world is energized by agitation. Human leaders achieve power using threats and dire warnings of punishment or chaos. When people are afraid, they make poor choices and are easily manipulated. But the child of God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, does not need to fear the world or the systems and powers of the world. God is greater by far than every earthly authority and every dark demonic host.

This is not a time for us to be swayed by the narrative of our culture and live in fear. For us who know His love, He makes all things work together for our good. For those who have not yet come to the realization of His kindness, He is reaching always with mercy, proclaiming that now is the chosen time, now is the day of salvation.

We can fully trust our Lord and His love for us. We belong to this One who shone with purity of love, given as a gift of grace. And because we are His, we are given the gift of His great love in our hearts. As we respond to that love, as we love Him and love one another, we shine like the radiant beams from His face. We can be bright outposts of hope for the people living in darkness.

For it is you who light my lamp;
the LORD my God lightens my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28).

Jesus is the Light of the world, and those with eyes to see will bow and worship Him in joyful adoration.  He was Lord at His birth; He has been Lord from ageless eternity; He will forever be Lord of all. Christmas is a season of holy light; a season of holy giving; a season of holy reflection; a season of joyous, holy love.

What better time than the season of light to proclaim the truth of the Son of God, love’s pure light? The Light of the world has dawned upon us, and in the illumination of His love, we can journey unafraid, our hearts filled with joy.

genuine value

Everybody wants to be somebody.

We desire significance. We want to be recognized; we want to be known; we want to be loved. We want to be important. This cry for value and dignity bubbles from caverns deep in every human heart. If we are truly to be whole people, we must understand our honest need.

We are not random collections of organic molecules that happened to develop consciousness; so our desire for esteem is part of our very nature, and it is good. But our consumption-obsessed society tells us we aren’t quite good enough. Make yourself better-looking, get more money, acquire more stuff; then you’ll be fulfilled and achieve real success. We desire outward signs to display our preeminence.

Unfortunately, when we seek at any cost to be important in the eyes of others, it is easy to lose sight of the beauty to be found in another person. We are too busy accomplishing great and mighty deeds. The world’s attitude is summed up in the famous line from Gilbert & Sullivan: “When everyone is somebody, then no one’s anybody” (The Gondoliers).

But our Father turns that on its head, because in His great heart, everyone is somebody, and no one’s nobody!

As I have written elsewhere, when we lose ourselves in Him and His desire and purpose, we become more ourselves than we ever can apart from His will. But when we let rightful desires within us run wild and unchecked, they turn into cravings; and cravings, unchallenged, turn into addictions.

My craving for significance is calmed by realizing that it can never be fulfilled by another human, and it cannot be pacified even if I “improve myself.” My heart is at peace when I realize the truth that Yeshua, the Creator and King of the universe, “greatly desires my beauty” (Psalm 45:11). He is the one who created me, created you, created everyone who lives, and He has placed within each of us a tiny expression of His glory.

Somehow, although none of us can really understand it, the eternal tabernacles in the temporal.

So, why do I crave recognition from any person? If I spend my time and energy trying to receive honor from people instead of God alone, it short-circuits my faith and my ability to live truly as I was meant to.

During one of His encounters with leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus issued this stinging rebuke:

I do not accept glory from men, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves….How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that comes from God alone? (John 5:41-42, 44 TLV).

If I scurry about seeking approval from others, I miss intimacy with the one true Source of life who alone can validate my existence. Connected with Him, I have the courage to live selflessly, full of love for others, desiring their good and being willing to pour out my life for them, as Yeshua poured out His life for me.

I will also find myself free to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

faith and foolishness

It is no secret that our materialistic, western culture has no time or interest in matters of genuine faith, unless of course we follow the acceptable party line of allowing faith to exist privately, as a talisman or a balm soothing our own frazzled psyches. Of course, there are all sorts of “feel-good” self-help ideas and techniques we are encouraged to try, and when life becomes hard and dark, we hear repeated the ever-present mantra that informs us, with artless sincerity, that we need to “have faith.” But faith in what? Faith in human ability and reason, or in human goodness, or in the goodness of the earth, or the fidelity of the universe–faith in faith. Anything but faith in a supreme Creator based on the assumption that such faith represents a connection with reality as it actually exists, despite our inability (usually) to encounter such reality through physical sensation.

And of course, for some individuals, faith is an enemy of humankind, a slog through the toxic waste of superstition and stupidity, an engine of repression and hatred through millennia of history. People who subscribe to any religious belief or spirituality deserve ridicule; or at least condescending pity. The so-called “new atheist” assault (their ideas are not necessarily all that new) on religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is alive and well and shows no sign of abating. It is not surprising that people who hold to these dogmas are intent on scandalizing and attacking “faith” with pure, empirically-proven reason on every intellectual front.

Christians stand for truth, and boldly proclaim the reality of a kingdom “not made with human hands.” Unfortunately, many believers quietly harbor fears and doubts regarding what they believe, and may even ignore a nagging suspicion that perhaps, if they were smarter and better-educated, they might actually find that their faith seemed foolish to them, too. They read about new advancements in science and technology, or ponder the worldview of brilliant philosophers, or try to engage angry and potent—and sometimes surprisingly entertaining—arguments from individuals such as the late Christopher Hitchens, and something inside just sort of wilts. But, they determine to believe, just the same, and do their best to marshal facts and evidences to buttress their faith. Unfortunately, often such people have intellectually and emotionally equated their faith with their opinions.

Let’s be clear: faith is not opinion. We are not ushered into relationship with the God of the universe, the Father of Lights, the One those image we bear, by an opinion we have formed! Opinions are necessary and we can’t come to conclusions about any aspect of life without them. Reason is vital for human life, and it is actually a valuable component of our faith. Our ability to reason is a good gift from our Creator and it enables us to sift through ideas and concepts that compete for our attention. However, we run into trouble when we insist that faith in God’s existence make a case for itself under cross-examination from our limited understanding of life in a vast and (so far, still) incomprehensible universe. Faith is not opposed to reason, but neither is it subject to reason. The honest seeker in this Internet age can find all kinds of resources that give good, reasoned answers to their questions; answers that will at least give them something to honestly ponder, even if they are not ultimately convinced.

Because, even though it rubs against our nature, the truth is that we become citizens of the Kingdom of God through faith, not with faith. In other words, we do not get to figure everything out. We don’t carry a parcel of faith as a gift for entrance into the glorious privilege of being made children of the King of kings. We do not base the reality of our encounters with him on our knowledge or our feelings. We base our hope on the sure confidence we have in God’s faithfulness. His promises are true, and he never changes.

Now, I am aware that I am arguing in circles. I am saying I have faith because it is true, and I know it is true because I have faith. Unfortunately for our rational minds, that sort of is the deal. Faith requires humility; humility conceives faith. To see with eyes of faith requires a different way of looking at our lives and ourselves. Very early in our existence, we learn that we are the Most Important Person Alive. We gain our ability to navigate life by the knowledge we discover through our five senses; and then, as we grow in intellect, we come to understand the power we have to determine our reality and truth. But pesky old faith runs counter to that very common understanding, and forces us to confront mystery and admit that we don’t have all the answers. The glorious gift that accompanies faith is that faith allows us the privilege of pleasing God, because it is admission of our own creature hood. It is acknowledgement of our limitations.

Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées that God “…so regulates the knowledge of Himself that He has given signs of Himself, visible to those who seek Him, and not to those who seek Him not. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough obscurity for those who have a contrary disposition.” The apostle Paul told us the same thing in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made….” And over thirty centuries ago, the warrior-poet King David wrote:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
heir line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4).

If we will be honest, we humans do not like the fact that we are finite, because we want to be in charge of our lives and our thoughts. The Bible teaches us that the essence of sin is insistence that I am right. I have the right to control my life and my view of reality and the world. No one can tell me how to think, how to believe, or how to act (other than obeying laws that are for the common good of society. Although some people won’t even agree to that.) Certainly there is no overriding, ultimate authority that I must answer to. Some things are true, but there is no such thing as Truth.

So ideas such as “faith” and “ultimate truth” are foolish vapor, intellectual cotton-candy for the masses who want to comfort themselves with sugary thoughts. Individuals who are truly rational are the courageous pioneers of our species, determined to live solely by intellect and reason, free-thinkers protecting us from primitive superstitions and comfortable, sculpting-clay philosophy shaped by the mentally deficient. They will not be confused or deceived by such twaddle.

But the man who insists on living by his own understanding is already confused and deceived.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1.)

You may have thought I was just like you; but I will rebuke and indict you to your face. (Psalm 50:21.)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel. (Proverbs 12:15.)

I know these passages might seem like in-your-face, “my dad can beat up your dad” playground posturing, and it would be if God were not real. But if God is real, then in kindness, he is letting us in on some inconvenient truths, which unbelievers dance away from with their fingers in their ears, humming their own tune and refusing to listen.

Our Creator loves us. He has given us life and provided a good world for us to live in (and yes, there is tremendous injustice and cruelty, but we will discuss that soon in another post). We have been made in his image, and he cherishes every person as a unique representation of himself. He woos us with his kindness. If he chose, he could explode upon the earth with an overwhelming display of his power and glory, silencing every tongue and destroying every enemy. But he chose instead to treat us kindly, subverting our propensity for self-exaltation by humbling himself and appearing on the planet as the Man, Christ Jesus. He then destroyed our foolish pride through the grotesque and unexpected: He died a criminal’s death on a cross; bloodied, beaten, and treated with contempt. And then, with supreme, delicious irony, he returned to life, exalted beyond all measure!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe…because the foolishness of God is wiser than men….(1 Corinthians 1:18, 20-21, 25).

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11).

Whenever we think we are getting really smart, the Lord shows us up to give us a dose of reality. In Jesus, all God’s promises and goodness are on display, and he invites those who are willing to come and receive all that he offers. It is glorious, and it is free for anyone who will believe.