Monday, October 31, 2016

Right to Live

It is fair to say that in many ways, this year's election is unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetime.  While I don't normally speak publicly on political issues, I've had several people ask my perspective about Colorado's Proposition 106, titled the "medical aid in dying" initiative.  It raises important questions and considerations.

While at first glance the "right to die" proposition may sound compassionate, I encourage us to look deeper.  From a Christian point of view, I believe 106 in most cases is not only not compassionate, it is dangerous.  The implications are practical, theological and medical.

On a practical level, opening the door to assisted suicide creates a slippery slope that puts all people at risk, especially seniors and developmentally challenged.  While proponents tout "safeguards" meant to protect, they will be easily circumvented through the profit-driven development of a new "growth industry" for the ending of lives that will be immediately created if the proposition goes through.  What is said before an election and what actually happens after are rarely the same.  What is at stake in this proposition is human lives.

On a theological level, rather than trusting God (who has numbered our days), Proposition 106 is another attempt to take our lives, and that of others into our own hands.  The inclination of people to play God and grab control stretches back to the beginning of time.  (For those who recognize Biblical witness, think Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, ...).  It never goes well.  Instead we recognize the dignity of every human being, made in the image of God, and distinguished by His counter-cultural commands, including to not kill.  As modeled by Jesus and empowered by His Spirit's constant presence, we place our trust in God, whether in times of ease or suffering (Romans 8).

From a medical perspective it puts doctors and others serving in the medical field in an impossible position.  They have dedicated their lives to saving and preserving lives, not taking or killing them.  The incredible advancements in medical technologies create important ethical dilemmas that address the very character of us as people and a society.  Our character is not defined primarily by our pragmatism (doing things right), but ethics (doing right things).   I have had the privilege of being with people countless times at the end of their lives over 30 years of ministry.  It is holy ground.  It is remarkable how far hospice and other comfort-giving resources and alternatives have come to make people comfortable.  Dignity is found not by arbitrarily ending one's life, but through honoring of a person's life through our care and compassion.

Any one of these points could easily be expanded.  However, even in the brevity of presenting them here, Proposition 106 is not real compassion.  It is instead an attempt to open the door wider to the devaluing of human life and disposability of it in a culture that increasingly worships illusive idols of control and convenience.  I respect that other people, including Christians may have different views on this.  However, for me, this is further evidence of the deterioration of the moral fabric of our society, and the preference of control and convenience over core values and principles, including the valuing of human life.

13 For you created my inmost being; 
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 
your works are wonderful, 
I know that full well. 
15 My frame was not hidden from you 
when I was made in the secret place, 
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; 
all the days ordained for me were written in your book 
before one of them came to be. 
                                                      Psalm 139:13-16

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Prayer of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness 
Of the Creator of creation. 
I arise today 
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism, 
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial, 
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom. 
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs, 
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven; 
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea, 
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock. 
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me, 
God's wisdom to guide me, 
God's eye to look before me, 
God's ear to hear me, 
God's word to speak for me, 
God's hand to guard me, 
God's way to lie before me, 
God's shield to protect me, 
God's hosts to save me 
From snares of the devil, 
From temptations of vices, 
From every one who desires me ill, 
Afar and anear, 
Alone or in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul, 
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry, 
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul. 
Christ shield me today 
Against poison, against burning, 
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance. 
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

Recovering reliable historical information about many of the saints is difficult if not impossible, and Saint Patrick (c. 390–461) is no exception. Born in Scotland, Patrick was imprisoned and taken to Ireland when he was about sixteen years old. He retuned to Scotland, only to have a dream in which the people of Ireland called out to him, “we beg you, holy youth, to come and walk among us once again.” He did return, and although the details are obscure and the legends are large, he wandered and ministered in Ireland for over thirty years, converting the nation.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

God's Infinite Love

Jim is a star-gazer. Married to my wife's mother, Jim is an intelligent, compassionate artist with a keen scientific mind. His genuine compassion, creativity and love of discovery make him a fascinating person. Most evenings Jim loves to search the heavens using his high-powered high-tech telescope in their backyard, controlled by his laptop inside the house. It is all quite impressive. Even more impressive is his ability to discover stars, nebulas and even other galaxies far beyond our own. I find it breath-taking and mind-stretching enough to take in the beauty of the star-filled expanse on a clear night; it is all the more incomprehensible to attempt to grasp the wonder of infinite constellations and galaxies beyond our own with a distance from us that can only be measured in millions of light years. What we see and experience is only a small fraction of all that is there. It is truly incomprehensible. Is there anything that can reach the heights of the universe?

Just as my mind is stretched by the infinite realities of the universe, the Psalmist makes a bold announcement:

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the skies.
Psalm 36:5

Two realities surpass the seemingly-infinite reaches of universe: the God who created it all out of His intelligent creative pleasure, and even more amazingly, His love for you and me. As stellar as God's love is, it is concrete, displayed in the infinite reality of Jesus' life, cross and resurrection. There is no telescope strong enough to reach the outer-limits of God's specific and personal love for you. It is nothing short of breath-taking and mind-stretching. Every star-filled night becomes an amazing reminder of a reality beyond what we can see or comprehend: God's infinite love.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mercy Prayer

Robert Gelinas' new book, Mercy Prayer offers a powerful invitation to the intersection of the human soul and the the heart of God.  If the music of the gospel is jazz (see Gelinas' first book Finding the Grove), then the ancient mercy prayer is the gospel's call and response lyric.  The one prayer Jesus always answered in the Gospels was the request for mercy.  The profound implications are vulnerable, timely and accessible.

Mercy is not getting what we do deserve; grace is getting what we don't deserve.  Robert Gelinas rightly says mercy carves the way for grace.  Mercy exposes our need, brokenness and desperation.  The truth is, I'd rather focus on grace than mercy. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, grace without mercy is cheap.  Is it possible to experience the heights of God's grace without first experiencing the depths of God's mercy?  Mercy rescues.  The extravagant love of God sets us free through His endless mercy.

Mercy is more than just an aspect of the gospel (good news as it is in a merciless world).  Mercy is at the essence of the gospel because it is the essence of God's nature.  Gelinas points out that the closer we get to the presence of God, the more we find ourselves compelled to pray: Lord have mercy.  This is not primarily because we are overwhelmed by our sin, but because we are overwhelmed by the awesome presence and love of God.  It is no accident that the epicenter of God's presence in the ancient temple, the Ark of the Covenant in the center of the Holy of Holies, was known as the Mercy Seat.

Perhaps more surprising than the frequency of the requests for mercy in the Bible is the revelation of who it is that asks for it.  Even more shocking, who is the first to ask for mercy from Jesus in the Gospels?  I'll leave you in suspense to discover the answer from Robert, but suffice it to say, the door is thrown wide open for you and me to get in line.  How can we not?

The mercy of God changes and forms us.  Robert makes the wonderful point that "receiving mercy transforms us into dispensers of mercy" (pg. 142). Mercy boldly intersects the pain, brokenness, tragedies, sin, injustices, demons, and inadequacies of our lives; it also boldly confronts these realities in the world through those infected by mercy (James 2:13).  How different would our relationships and world be if a contagion of mercy was unleashed through God's infected people?  Mercy becomes a part of us as integral as the air we breathe and the beat of our own heart.  Gelinas masterfully shows us how.

Read Mercy Prayer with expectation and caution.  The well-supported Biblical truths of God's mercy and the practice of this simple prayer will change your life.  Gelinas' writing is accessible, real, honest and practical while leading the reader deeper into the implications of God's mercy with every turn of the page.  Far more than learning about God's mercy or the prayer Kyrie eleison, you will discover the endless mercy of God for you and the liberating prayer that becomes a way of life.

I am so glad for the opportunity to give away a free copy of Mercy Prayer through the generosity of Thomas Nelson Publishers. To enter, simply include: 1. your name (first name is OK) and 2. a preferred way to contact you (e.g. email address, Twitter handle, Facebook address, phone number) in the comment section to this blog post below.  Contact information will only be used for the purpose to notify the winner and to get the shipping address for where to have the book shipped. Enter by Sunday, July 14th.  

Kyrie eleison...Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

2X4 of Grace

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever wisdom and power are his.”  Daniel 2:20 
I had a bad attitude. 

Sometimes in life we need a 2X4 of grace to hit us over the head.  All last week I felt frustrated and irritable.  My patience was short.  My focus was on what wasn’t rather than what is. It was not like me, but it was me. Maybe you can relate to that frustration right now.  Things aren’t going as you planned or hoped for. 

The first swing of the 2X4 came when my morning devotional opened with the verse above from Daniel 2.  It was part of Daniel’s response to God when God showed up in a difficult pressure-filled moment in his life (providing the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream).  The pressure was still there, but so was God in the middle of it.  I ducked and avoided most the impact.

God didn’t let up.  The devotional continued by leading me to Psalm 148 (with the promise of Psalm 149 the next day and 150 the day after) – all psalms of praise.  I could feel the wind of the 2X4 swinging over my head.

Two hours later my wife and I headed for worship.  It was Sunday morning.  While on sabbatical this summer, we are visiting churches throughout the area to experience what God is up to around us.  The service started with an opening music set that focused on all-out no-holds-barred praise of God, declaring the many reasons we have to do so.  You can tell a lot about what a church really believes by how it worships and how it prays.  This church believed God is not only worthy of our praise regardless of our circumstances or attitude, but God changes us when we praise Him.  Praising God in the face of challenges may not change our circumstances, but it changes us and our imagination in them.  I struggled to enter into it at first.  My bad attitude continued its efforts to hold me back.  The longer we praised God, the more I felt my heart begin to melt.  The 2X4 made another pass.

Then the pastor stood up to preach.  He preached on the intimate relationships of Judah (Genesis 38).  Any guess what Judah’s name means in Hebrew?  It means: Praise (c.f. Genesis 29:35).  There was no ducking this 2X4.  I didn’t see it coming.  The stinginess of my heart began to give way to the extravagance of God’s grace; my half-empty perspective began to fill again toward over-flowing fullness of God’s grace and goodness to me.  My wife and I talked all the way home.

The last 2X4 was an impromptu family conversation that afternoon initiated by our 25 year-old son.  Floodgates of grace, candor and clarity opened.  My heart lay exposed, but in a way that allowed healing and the balm of God’s grace to be applied.  I was led to praise and a renewed heart.

Praise isn’t something we do; it is what we are made for.  It is part of who we are.  God alone is worthy of our praise (1Chronicles 16:25, Psalm 33).  The first recorded words out of human lips were praise to God (Genesis 2:23).  It is not only a human function; it is the natural response of all creation (Psalm 19:1, Romans 8:19-21).  The universe bursts with praise; and if we hold back, rocks will cry out (Luke 19:37-40).  If that wasn’t enough, it will be the focus of eternity (Revelation 19:1-8).

The worship and praise of God sets all things right; it declares things as they are in the face of outward appearances.  Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated a new day, a new reality, a new kingdom that we have been ushered into despite the limitations and brokenness around us right now. He defines reality, and gives us cause for praise.

Psalm 22:3 is often quoted as “God inhabits the praises of His people.”  Technically this verse can be translated this way; but it is probably not correct (as much as we like it!).  The Hebrew words, structure, context and poetic pattern more accurately translates as: “You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.”  It is not that God inhabits our praise, as much as He, the Holy One on the throne, is our praise.  Like water for a fish, our praise of God is the environment we were made to thrive in.  It is no wonder this is the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46).  Moses said it right, when God gave his rescued people a second chance (and a second set of tablets) after the golden calf incident.  It is not just that God gives us plenty of reasons to praise Him, but

He is our praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”  Deuteronomy 10:21 (see vv. 12-22).

When we miss or lose sight of this, our attitudes go south like mine did.  It happens so easily.  Our flesh reacts, the enemy tries to discourage, the attitudes of the world around us fuel discontent.  We lose sight of what is true and what we are made for.

Heads up: here comes the 2X4 of God’s grace.  God loves you.  He made you and, sparing no cost, He redeemed you.  God is in and at work in every detail and circumstance of your life.  He is forming your heart into the image of Jesus.  So, like Paul and with the Spirit’s help we can have an attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:5) to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As it turns out, our praise not only blesses God, it changes us.  I praise Him for his perspective-giving, attitude-changing 2X4 of grace. “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his”  (Daniel 2:20)

Monday, June 3, 2013

Gospel Buffet: Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast is one of my three favorite meals of the day.  A few times a year we'll enjoy a splurge of a breakfast buffet, one of those grand displays of breakfast foods spread out across a room.  

Ever notice that people approach buffets differently?  There are the Initiators, those who grab the nearest plate and start at the first buffet line, making their way until the plate is full.  They go back to their seat, enjoy their food and then start back again where they left off.  There are the Pick and Rollers, those who ping pong around the room, cutting in line to select specific items.  Then there are the Strategists, those who start by walking around the room, strategizing their approach before implementing their plan. You usually see them in the omelette line early.  If you like to people-watch, it is interesting sociological study just to observe behaviors around a grand buffet.  Whatever the approach, a great buffet offers more wonderful food than one person can consume in a single sitting.

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  What we consume in the beginning of our day affects everything else the rest of the day. If we under-eat or eat poorly, we'll feel it.  If we eat well (in both senses of the word), we'll feel it. As true as this is with our physical bodies, so it is with our spiritual life. Scotty Smith confesses he cannot conceive of a better way to begin every day than feasting on the Gospel, on a breakfast buffet of God's grace.  In his wonderful devotional book Everyday Prayers, he writes:  
Apart from the gospel, I'll whine more than I'll worship.  Apart from the gospel, I'll judge people more than I'll seek to understand them.  Apart from the gospel, I'll get my feelings hurt quicker than being careful not to offend others.  Apart from the gospel, I'll avoid people who want more from me than I want to give them. 
Apart from the gospel, I'll react selfishly to irritants rather than responding graciously.  Apart from the gospel, I'll talk more than I listen.  Apart from the gospel, I'll think about me much more than I think about you.  Apart from the gospel, I won't risk anything; I'll do just enough to get by.  Apart from the banquet of the gospel, I'll be reaching for junk food all day long, literally and figuratively.
Starting the day feasting on God's grace changes everything that happens after.  It may be tempting to start the day by chewing on insecurities, pressures, conditions, weaknesses, evil, or all that is wrong in our lives or in the world.  Those may be the most natural places we go, like filling a buffet plate with donuts.  We reach for them without even thinking - and we feel it later.  Instead, by starting the day with the Gospel: 
  • God's love for you, 
  • God's forgiveness, 
  • God's grace and mercy, 
  • God's declaration of who you are in His eyes, 
everything else is experienced differently. We are filled up with the nutrients and goodness of the Gospel.  Those insecurities, pressures, conditions, weaknesses, evil or even all that is wrong in and around us are handled differently when we start with what is ultimately true.  

Starting with the buffet of the Gospel reminds us that if God is for us, who can be against us.  We start being filled up with the truth that in Jesus, we are more than conquerers through Him who loved us.  The buffet of the Gospel is better and more than any one person can consume in a single sitting.  There is no better way to start (and continue through) the day.  It is the breakfast of champions.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Like Those Who Dreamed

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.   Psalm 126:1-3

The words jump off the page "... like those who dreamed."  

Who are these dreamers?  They are people God delivered from exile.  They were people who got their lives back. God restored them. They are those who experienced first hand what only God can do - and He did it for them!  

What happens in the hearts of people who begin to grasp the enormity of what God has done for them?  God's grace in action does more than inspire dreams, He creates dreamers:

  • dreamers filled with laughter and songs of joy; 
  • dreamers whose lives are so different that others concede the great things God has done for them.

When God does what only God can do, He creates dreamers who dream what He might do next.  

This has been God's dream for His people all along.  It was the Pentecost dynamic in Acts 2:

This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 
'In the last days, God says,   I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy,   your young men will see visions,   your old men will dream dreams... 
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
Salvation does more than save us from our sins and our past; salvation sets us free for yet unseen possibilities and futures.  For the redeemed, there is no going back, only forward with Jesus.  That's why tears flow out of this verse from Wesley's great hymn And Can It Be! 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Dreams take us to new places.  Ever had a dream when you were sleeping that seemed so real you were certain it really happened - and you wished it had?  When I was six years old I had a dream I walked out to my front yard, began flapping my arms up and down, and started to fly.  It was an awesome flight!  I woke up and excitedly told my family about my new-found skill.  They were unconvinced and a little concerned.  Attempts to recreate the experience grounded me back on earth.  However, I can't help but imagine that other six year olds before me had similar dreams, like the Wright brothers from Ohio.    

History is replete with God's dreamers: Abraham, Joseph, Esther, David, Isaiah, Peter, Lydia, Paul, and John, just to name a few.  More recently, William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Bob Pierce, Gary Haugen and others have inspired us with dreams of God's redemptive possibilities in the world.  

As inspiring as God's dreamers are from the past, today is our day.  It is our day to grasp again 

  • the enormity of God's love, 
  • the enormity of God's saving work in Jesus, 
  • the enormity of the resurrection, 
  • the enormity of God's glorious riches of this mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory.  
Overwhelmed by what God has done for us in Jesus, it is our day to be unleashed like those who dream what He might do next.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.  Ephesians 3:20

What do you think?