Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blade 32

Callsigns used by USAF aircraft are a wonder of originality and irony. Some make sense ("Blade" for the T-6, a propeller-driven pilot training aircraft at Sheppard AFB) while others will leave you scratching your head (AWOL for the T-38's at the now closed Williams AFB). Some reference the squadron ("Hound," the callsign of the commander of 524th Fighter Squadron, "The Hounds of Heaven") and in others the base is acknownledged ("Shepp" the cross-country callsign for T-6's at Sheppard AFB).
There's another part to the callsign. A number. That number is usually two digits. To external agencies, I was Scud 01, but within the flight I was simply Scud 1.

As I have taught now in the T-6 simulator for the past seven and a half years, the callsign is pretty benign. Blade for missions where the student is with an instructor, Turbo if solo, Lucky if it's his very first solo, and Ally, Shepp, Dicey or Madcat if the mission is off-station. Really, there is little I can do to spice up the callsign; it is what it is.

But unbeknownst to all of my students, every callsign I use contains an Easter egg. Today was the last time my student will be "Blade 31." You see, my student's have been Blade 31, Turbo 31, Lucky 31, etc. for the past year. Tomorrow my student will be "Blade 32" or "Turbo 32." They will have the 32 suffix to their callsign for the next year when the have a mission with me. Why?

Tomorrow my bride and I will have been married for 32 years.

Each time I write "Blade 31" or "Blade 32" on the whiteboard, I am reminded of the commitment I made 32 years ago, I am reminded of the one who has invested so much that I might serve our nation for 24 years and continue serving our country by teaching our nation's newest pilots what it means to be a military aviator.

Without the sacrifice, investment and love of that treasure, there would be no "Blade 32." When I write "Blade 32" on the whiteboard to prepare for the simulator mission, I thank God for how he has blessed me, and I think of my precious bride.

I love you, babe.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Your pastor is boring. Now what?

Imagine visiting a church for the first time and during the sermon, the pastor clings to his manuscript like a drowning child to a life preserver.
Imagine that when the pastor at last does look up from his papers he stares at the back wall as he drones on in a painful monotony.
Imagine his rigid hands never rising from the papers, no gestures to be seen.
Imagine a pastoral professional assessing this delivery as perhaps the “most mediocre the Church has ever known.”
Would it matter to you that he handled God’s word with care, preached it with accuracy and drew applications relevant to your lot in life, or would you leave never to return?
In a culture nursed on the shaky-cam and bingeing any program at any time in any location, the average Christian will look for a pastor to grab their attention and compel them with stories and anecdotes. The pastor must have a flare for theatrics, for mastering the pregnant pause, and convicting the soul with mere vocal inflection or eyebrow twitch.
And thus, most Christians would have passed on Jonathan Edwards, one of the greatest preachers history has known. All of the above descriptors of the desperately dull pastor are descriptors of Edwards' manner of preaching.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a pastor having compelling oratory and being able to command an audience with gesture and expression, but have these become paramount? If so, we would have passed on the apostle Paul, too.
PAUL
Paul told the Corinthian church that he thought little of his speaking skills (2 Corinthians 11:6), and he thought his preaching to them to be dull of speech, weak, and missing the persuasion and nuance the Greeks had come to expect (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Paul! His power was not in his manner but his message. The power of the gospel.
Consider how the Berean church received this middling orator. Luke tells us, “They received the word with all eagerness.” Picture a puppy when its master approaches with his dog dish. Tail a-wag, bounding its front paws off of the floor. Why did the Berean’s receive the word in this manner? Luke explained, “They were more noble” than the Thessalonians..
THE NOBLE CHRISTIAN
Someone who is noble is thoughtful and discerning, not rash in their conclusions, and sober and temperate with their emotions and attitudes.
When we are about to hear a sermon on Sunday, are we expectant and eager knowing that we are about to feed upon the good food of God’s word? Or do we sit like a movie critic, pen in hand, waiting to shred the the actor? What we glean from the Berean example is that how God's preached word affects us depends upon us. Jesus said the same thing in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). The problem lies not with the seed (the word of God) nor with the sowing of the farmer (the delivery of the good word), but the reason the seed does not take root is a problem in the heart of the hearer.
WHAT CAN I DO?
How do I prepare myself to hear the word? Here are a few suggestions.
Repent of a critical heart. Through the internet we can hear great preachers preach great sermons 24/7, and then on Sunday, we expect our pastor to live up to MacArthur, Piper, Chandler, and Evans? That’s like a husband expecting his wife to look like a super model after three children and thirty years of marriage. Such expectations are unfair. God will use the weakest vessels to most exalt his word and himself. Such a critical heart has no place in the Christian.
Rejoice in the pastor God’s provided. If your pastor strives to teach what God’s word says with accuracy and to apply that truth to the situations of our day, and if God is glorified and Christ is manifest within the preaching, you have much for which to be thankful. Praise God for such a man.
Pray for your pastor. Preparing for a sermon is a rigorous endeavor. God suggests that many ought not desire to do it because of the great responsibility to not dishonor God and his word (James 3:1). 
  • Pray for him throughout the week during his time of preparation that such times would be fruitful for him and that he would be free from distraction. 
  • Pray for him on the morning of the sermon that he might honor God with the delivery of his word.
Be expectant. If a pastor does nothing more than read God’s word, what a great feast you will find therein. If he goes on to explain and apply that word, he has set for you a rich table indeed. The Christian who listens to God’s word proclaimed with a Berean eagerness and expectation will find much for which to glorify God and much to apply to their lives.
Be biblical. The Bereans scoured Scripture. Liking or not liking a sermon can be equally shallow if you have no idea if it corresponded to God’s word. Open your Bible. Follow along. Take notes. Go back later in the day or during the next week to rethink on the teaching and track down some of the cross references or things that came to mind to compare and contrast within God’s word. This is part of discernment and spiritual nobility.
Provide feedback. “Great sermon, pastor,” will bounce off of him on Sunday morning like the buzz of the fluorescent lights. It’s expected. A note during the week on how God used his preaching in your life will be like a cup of cold water after toiling in the yard on an August afternoon. There may even be a time to bring up something you did not understand or that you felt was unclear in the message. Most pastors worth their salt would like to know if they erred or were hazy on a particular point. Please, be gracious here. Consistently critical feedback from you will wear upon him like the blows of a boxer.
Perhaps if we do these things, we will be considered “noble” Christians as well, the kind of church member to which any pastor would love to preach.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Adieu, 2016

Before 2016 had shaken the first page off its calendar, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, and Abe Vigoda died. When the next month brought the passing of Antonin Scalia, Harper Lee, and George Kennedy, the year seemed to possess a sinister darkness.

Soon we toss the remnants of this calendar in the trash, and many will cry "None to soon!" as in shock we saw Debby Reynolds follow her daughter Carrie Fisher in death separated by one thin day.

But is 2016 any different than any other year? Not really. On average, fifty-five million people will die this next year. That's a 150,000 every day. 2016 really isn't a creature to loathe--and we know this--but really this year that is soon past, like every year, is merely a segment along a continuous river. The river is Time. At some point along the way, we got into this Life Boat and at some point, we will disembark in death leaving our tombstone along the bank of Time as the boat continues to travel down stream to its ultimate End.

In years past, the masses lamented when James Dean died in an automobile crash and when Elvis died with peanut butter and barbiturates at his bedside. The 2017 segment of the river will bring other celebrities' lives to an end. Clint Eastwood ain't getting any younger.

CONSIDER

What then do I do with this? In the Bible's most Eeyore-esque book, Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, "It is better to go to the house of mooring than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart." He wants us to see that the deaths we see around us must make us to consider that our time to disembark the boat of life might well be nigh. What then?

Many console themselves with Ms. Reynolds words on her final day aboard, "I want to be with Carrie." Such sentiments flow from the mouths of Christians and non-Christians alike. But is this reality? What happens after death? Where do we go? Will we be with those we loved while on the boat?

Despite Todd Burpo's multi-million dollar claim, no man of himself and while still on the boat knows the full answer to that question, but God, the author of this story and creator of the river, did not leave man to be clueless about the eternity that he would face upon his death. He declares with crystal clarity:
    "It is appointed unto man once to die but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)
Judgment? Yes. That's no fun. True, but because man stands in rebellion against God, each one will stand before him to give an account of his life (Revelation 20:11-15). Considering, though, that before God "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10), our guilt and condemnation are as certain as death.

HOPE

Here is the good news (or "gospel"): God didn't leave men to die. God tells us that Christmas is about God becoming man, Jesus Christ, but the purpose of Christmas was Easter, that God's judgment for man's rebellion would be poured out not on deserving mankind but upon his sinless Son. God himself would take the just punishment and condemnation that we had earned. "He made him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What then is left? Taking hold of that free gift. Jesus himself declared "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Only Jesus' death on the cross covers the sin of man. To reject such a gift is to reject man's only hope in the afterlife. 

Here is the painful and sober question: Where are those we adored while we rode the boat together down this stream of history, those who disembarked in 2016? For many, we do not know. In condemnation, none will party. None will celebrate. Grief, agony, and despair await. In Christ alone, there is joy and relationship and celebration and glory.

That may seem harsh, but that is God's own declaration and not mine. The gift is free for any who desire it--in truth, who desire HIM. Free. Open to all. For those who do not wish that gift, for those unwilling to bow the knee to God and his truth, for those who want no part of him, he will give them what they desire.

Eternal life with God is exclusive not in regard to whom it is offered but it is exclusive only in regard to whom will receive it.

We will not venture far into 2017 before the next celebrity dies. Will we then hate this segment of the river, too, or will we delight in the journey and those with which we travel? Will we fantasize about those who disembarked or will we consider what has been revealed about the way to eternal life and the choice we have made in that regard as we hasten down the river?


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Growing up

At some point, some calendar long ago, the sun rose and exposed that I was no longer the sixteen-year old me. What caused me to know that the care-free, pleasure-soaked life of then would not follow me into the now. What happened? When does the sobering clarity of life slap us from the rolling-hilled forest of youth?

One evening this past week at the dinner table, my youngest son--now twenty-two--spoke of my life and my career as though I were the Bill Gates of my vocation. When I explained to him that in my career field I was a few miles south of latitudinal average, a shadow fell across his jovial face and he winced. After a few moments of awkward silence, we continued our meal and the conversation turned lighter. 

In that instant, I believe I saw my son grow up. 

Is that when it happens? Does the cold mountain of adulthood become clear when we see that our old man is just a man and perhaps not a very good one at that?

Oh, the illusions that we hold in our youth about our fathers. He can ride a bike without holding the handle bars! He knows how to win at every game. He can catch and hit a ball. He drives a car. He pins you and all your brothers at the same time!

We were little and didn't understand that every dad can do those things.

It's one thing to recognize that your dad is ordinary. It's another thing to expose that to your son yourself.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Target: Boycott or no?

Christians wonder what to do about Target and their wide-open stance regarding bathrooms. Many react on emotion.

Might I suggest stepping back, reading, and thinking a bit? Here's Albert Mohler's two cents on the topic:
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It is always important for Christians to think very seriously about the moral and worldview implications of how we operate in the economy as consumers, as economic agents. The most recent flashpoint for that discussion comes as the retailer Target has announced that it will be the first major corporation to have a policy on bathrooms. And, in this case, it is a very wide open policy stating publicly that the corporation expects to allow anyone to choose to use any bathroom based upon their own self-perceived gender identity. On its own website, Target announced that it is,
“…continuing to stand for inclusivity.
“So earlier this week, we reiterated with our team members where Target stands and how our beliefs are brought to life in how we serve our guests.
“Inclusivity is a core belief at Target. It’s something we celebrate. We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day.”
But the statement from Target on its corporate website goes on to cite the very kind of legislation that we previously discussed in terms of Donald Trump when the company states,
“Target supports the federal Equality Act, which provides protections to LGBT individuals, and opposes action that enables discrimination.”
Now when you look at those words carefully and consider the context and the syntax of that sentence, it’s very clear that this is a corporate statement opposed to any definition of religious liberty that would in any way be considered discriminatory by anyone on the LGBT spectrum. Furthermore, it puts this company in the position of making very clear moral judgments.
Now that’s really important when you consider the Wall Street Journal and another article with the headline,
“Big Business Speaks Up on Social Issues.”
Mark Peters and Rachel Emma Silverman have written this article together in which they document the rather astounding revolution whereby American corporations, and especially America’s largest corporations, now have decided that it is in their corporate interest to crusade upon certain moral issues, certain social questions. And the fact that this is such a revolution is what explains the story on the front page of a section of the Wall Street Journal. As Peters and Silverman report,
“Companies used to avoid hot-button social issues, fearing that any strong stance could alienate customers and staff. Now, executives say it is far more risky to stay silent on issues such as gay rights.”
Now as I began, this raises a host of issues about how Christians should operate faithfully in an economic context. The first thing we need to recognize is that we are economic agents. That’s a part at least of what it means to be made in the image of God. And wherever you have human beings you will have transactions being made. Adam Smith pointed out in the most fundamental work on economics in human history that that’s necessary, because eventually, if you put two people together in a community, one values or needs something the other has and is willing to offer something else in exchange. That at its very essence is an economy, and thus it is laden with moral importance from the very beginning. Nothing we do in an economic world is not connected in some way to a basic moral question. And yet we’re also, we remind ourselves secondly, living in a fallen world in which there is no perfect economy and there is no perfect economic stance from which to operate without some complicity in larger moral questions in the economy.
That gets to the third issue, and that is this: when Christians are thinking very carefully about how to be faithful as Christians in an economy, we do so knowing that we have choices we can make, but we do not have the choice of not being economic participants. So many Christians are asking the question, should we now boycott Target? Just judging from an historical perspective, oftentimes boycotts do not work. They are far easier to declare than to carry out, and even when they are carried out they sometimes do not have the effect that was intended when the boycott was organized and declared.
Now this doesn’t mean that an individual economic action is unimportant. It does affirm the fact that as Christians are considering where we will do business and where we will not, there are a multiplicity of issues that complicate the question. But the bottom line is, would we spend money in a corporation, in a shop, in a store or restaurant, in any kind of business where that business might be publicly not only not allied with our convictions, but perhaps even publicly stating opposition to them?
Now once again, this isn’t as easy as it might appear. Because if you’re considering Target making this announcement, it could be—and we’ll have to look at this much closer—that Target is merely stating publicly, perhaps for its own publicity, what other corporations are actually doing more covertly or quietly. One of the issues that is raised by the Wall Street Journal article is the seeming inevitability of most American corporations, especially publicly traded corporations that are active in the stock market, from inevitably turning in the same direction. It’s a question of when, not if.
Christians will indeed decide if they want to do business with Target, knowing that Target has now targeted our own convictions in terms of the company’s website. But we will also have to be honest in understanding that there are other companies that are going to fall in exactly the same line, and we’ll get there perhaps sooner even rather than later. And furthermore, there are other companies that may be participating in things that we would also oppose of which we are not aware. That again doesn’t mean that the boycott is wrong. It does point to the fact that boycotts often just don’t work, because as the economy moves, people move on and the boycott becomes something of a forgotten history.
Christians have to understand that in a fallen world, every aspect of an economy is fallen, and that means that there is no safe place to stand, there is no safe business in which to shop. Even if we know the owner of the shop and we know how he or she organizes the business, there’s a supply chain behind and a web of relationships beyond. That doesn’t mean this isn’t important. It does mean that it is complex, and you can’t reduce faithfulness to something as easy as the question of boycott, yes or no? 
Should Christians boycott Target? That’s a question that I do not believe has an answer. Should you boycott Target? That is a matter for your Christian conscience. Those are two separate issues, and it is the second question that should have priority for individual Christians.
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The above was taken from his daily "The Briefing" podcast dated April 26, 2016, linked here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Gender confusion

We call it sexual freedom but it's sexual anarchy.
The torrential push to make sexual identity and gender identity something fluid, dynamic, and changing will not bring about idyllic tranquility. It can't. Freedom without form is chaos.
A couple recent stories in the news about how fast and how far things are getting pushed:
  • A biological boy demands access to the girls bathroom at Hillsboro High School in Missouri.
  • A Washington State University professor banned offensive terms in her classroom, terms like 'male' and 'female.'
  • Did you know that there are new pronouns out there? 'Xe,' 'xem,' and 'xer' are being debated right now as proper gender neutral pronouns at the state level in Tennessee because of "gender offense" in UT Knoxville.
  • Target stores have removed the gender tags in its toy departments. No longer will you find "Boys Toys" or "Girls Toys," you'll just find "Toys."
The last one is not much of a problem as you will still have Barbie in a different section than the Avengers, but the others create much bigger issues.
  • Must girls who believe they are biologically female and who desire a discreet location in which to change away from one who is biologically different be coerced to abandon their discretion?
  • In the case of terms and pronouns, if all is fluid, will professors have to determine your gender of the day to tag you with the proper pronoun? Or will the students have to guess which way the professor is feeling today so as not to get a mark against them?
The one place reality continues to hold sway is athletics. Because of basic biology (male and female), women cannot compete with men at the same level. If they could, they would be integrated (see golf, football, hockey). 
Men's gymnastics cannot be women's gymnastics and vice versa. The beauty and grace would be stripped of the women's events and the titanic strength would vanish from the men's.
Should we add 100 lbs to the male hockey players so that the women can compete at an equal level? But then is that equal? Or are we just highlighting the differences we all know exist? And what would become of the game with the speed slowed down?


If male golfers had to compete with shorter clubs or heavier clubs, we would miss the spectacle that is men's golf. And rather than heighten the accomplishment of women, those accomplishments would be asterisked like a Barry Bonds home run.
The clash of world views could not be more pronounced than in discussing gender and sexual identity. One side says "I determine." The other side says "It is what it is." The former is the direction the country is hurtling. The latter is the stuff of our history and our past.
The God-given forms of manhood and maleness and womanhood and femaleness are not something invented. They are inherent in every cell of your body. They cannot be changed. That form has provided form to the family: father, mother, husband and wife. It provides form and clarity to our language. It certainly provides form for the Olympics and other athletic ventures.
And from the move afoot in our halls of higher learning and of government, one of these ideas will not be permitted to exist.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The stuff of stars

August's dying day proved a delight in Madison, Wisconsin as my brother and I enjoyed a patio on Capitol Square drinking coffee and catching up on the last year.
During one of the seven-minute lulls, a card carousel just inside the coffee shop caught my eye. "You are made from the stuff of stars," it declared. 
Indeed, there is truth to the claim. The stuff of the cosmos is the stuff of your cells. The sun churns hydrogen into energy and as you are mostly hydrogen and oxygen in their moister mix, you are the stuff of the sun. The minerals within your bones and muscles are in the mix of the Moon, calcium, iron, and magnesium to name a few.
Being an edgy coffee shop the card no doubt intended to boost its receiver from the muck and mire of life. You're not ordinary. You're not plain. You're the stuff of stars after all.
Ah, the romance. As bright as the stars shine so, too, can you shine. Can't you just see the Hollywood movie? The protagonist doesn't die, they just dissolve into the stuff of stars.
The Bible declares the same thing, in a way.
God tells Adam in the third chapter of his book to humanity, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return" but God doesn't tell the cream of his creation this tidbit to bolster his brooding heart. Adam had just rebelled against his Creator (I've often wondered how long it took for that to happen), and God was fulfilling the promise he made in declaring that such rebellion would lead to Adam's death. 
Being created with and returning to the stuff of stars wasn't man's ultimate end nor his ultimate good. The essential substance of man is of much greater value, and therein lies the sanctity of all humanity from the greatest to the least.
It's not that God created man of dust that makes him unique--he did that with all of the animals, after all (Genesis 1:24)--man is unique because God created him in his image (Genesis 1:27, 9:6). It's not the material of man, it's the immaterial that matters. The fact that we are of the stuff of stars doesn't highlight that point, rather it highlights our fragility. Knowing we will all die touts the truth that we stand hostile to the God who crafted us in his image for dust we are and to dust we shall return.
And yet, there is a reconciliation. Man couldn't do it any more than a broken computer can fix itself. God reconciled man to himself when he took the same dust to himself and died the death that men deserved (Romans 5:6-10).
I never saw the platitude that adorned the inside of the card. It should have read, "And still you will die," for that is the sobering truth we must each swallow. Will that turn us toward hoping to the stars our hoping in the One who crafted the stars and crafted each one of us in his image?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Willing

Wade these deep waters.
    "Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. 

    "Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. 

    "Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks.

    "What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

    "Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? 

    "Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands."
Thomas à Kempis

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The honest atheist: Woody Allen

If nothing else, Woody Allen is candid.

In a recent interview with UPI (read it here), the director spoke about why his film's characters tend to have a meaningless view of life. It is because he has a meaningless view of life.
    "I firmly believe -- and I don't say this as a criticism -- that life is meaningless.

    "I'm not alone in thinking this. There have been many great minds far, far superior to mine that have come to that conclusion. Both early in life and after years of living and, unless somebody can come up with some proof or some example where it's not [meaningless,] I think it is. I think it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. That's just the way I feel about it."
Many atheists who have plumbed the depths and implications of a universe with no God come to the same conclusion.
    Atheist and biologist Stephen Jay Gould opined, "We may yearn for a ‘higher answer’– but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating.”
    Atheist and author Aldous Huxley noted, "The philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political."
    Atheist, philosopher, playwright, and author Jean-Paul Sartre reasoned, "Man simply is…Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself."
Allen continues,
    "I'm not saying one should opt to kill oneself, but the truth of the matter is when you think of it, every 100 years... there is a big flush and everybody in the world is gone, then there is a new group of people, then that gets flushed, then there is a new group of people and this goes on interminably for no particular end -- I don't want to upset you -- there's no end and no rhyme or reason."
Interesting that he mentions suicide because if there is no objective purpose, one must wonder, "Why bother?" The endless repetition of life and death and life and death must give pause. Few of us will accomplish anything like Shakespeare, anything that will be remembered four minutes after our deaths much less four hundred years. He notes, though, that even Shakespeare's works in a universe void of God have no meaning.
    "So, all of this achievement -- all of these Shakespearean plays and these symphonies and the height of human achievement -- will be gone completely. There will be nothing. Absolutely nothing. No time. No space. Nothing at all. Just zero. So, what does it really mean?"
If there is no Creator who will reveal to me his plan and purpose for my life, then I am left to firgure out the cosmos and my place therein within a span of eighty years. Good luck with that.

So what's the point? How does one cope with such a belief about the cosmos?
    "What I would recommend is the solution I've come up with -- distraction. That's all you can do. You get up. You can be distracted by your love life, by the baseball game, by the movies, by the nonsense: 'Can I get my kid in this private school?' 'Will this girl go out with me Saturday night?' 'Can I think of an ending for the third act of my play?' 'Am I going to get the promotion in my office?' All of this stuff, but, in the end, the universe burns out. So, I think it is completely meaningless. And, to be honest, my characters portray this feeling."
Is it any wonder men refuse to grow up, frittering away the hours playing video games or getting lost in pornography? Is it a surprise that superstar after superstar overdoses or pulls the trigger to numb or end the pain? Just distract yourself from your meaningless, pitiful existence.

But this is the very conclusion that Solomon came to when he penned Ecclesiastes. "Meaningless, meaningless," he screams into the cosmos, "All is meaningless" (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He, like Woody Allen tried to distract himself, but he found that, too, was meaningless. He tried great works (2:4). He accumulated possessions and wealth (2:7-8). "I kept from my heart no pleasure...then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun" (2:10-11)

Solomon anticipated Woody, "A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever...What has been will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (1:4). Solomon's conclusion? "Behold all is vanity and a striving after the wind" (1:14).

Note that comment "under the sun." When man tries to find his way without looking "above the sun" to the God who created him, he finds no meaning.

But God has not left his creatures so bereft. In little snippets throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon gets his mooring. No place is this better seen than at the very end when he declares, "The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." Man must seek after the God who is there. The God who revealed himself plainly in his word in time and space.

In the very creation, God gives man identity and purpose. He spoke space and time into being and reveals that in the first sentence of the Bible (Genesis 1:1). He created man unique compared to the rest of the creation in that man alone will bear God's image (Genesis 1:27). In that unique station, God commissioned man with the stewardship of the created realm (Genesis 1:28). This was only the beginning.

Why the pain, problems, and personality conflicts? That's one page over in Genesis 3, but even there, God has not left man without hope. Why is man so wonderful but can be at the same time so villainous? God's word alone explains this extraordinary schizophrenia. Man's rebellion against God has marred man, but God had a plan to restore what man had so absolutely devastated. In Jesus Christ, God gives man hope.

I appreciate Woody Allen's unashamed honesty. In rejecting God's testimony about what he has done, man has no hope of determining who he is or why he is. I hope and literally pray that God will give him eyes to see the God who is there and to see the true hope for this world and the next found at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beware the "false teacher?" Is it me?

A few days ago, Tim Challies concluded a series he had done on false teachers and took the opportunity to sum up some of the seven key lessons he learned from that exercise (here). We must we know about such hucksters so we do not become duped or deluded about what God has said. After all, the cosmic collapse began when the charlatan of charlatans planted the catastrophic seed with, "Did God really say?"

As salient as Challies' article, it got me to wondering about those I declare false teachers saying the same thing about me. What better way to cause even greater confusion in the church than having the false teachers start shouting that folks who profess the things I profess are the false teachers.

Who's to say, right? Looking at Challies' warnings, might such be used against me?
    As I noted, people who profess the same creed I do are common, right? Is that wrong? 
    I don't announce myself to be a false teacher, either. As such, am I deceptive? 
    Am I dangerous, too? Do I pick and choose my doctrines and ignore or subvert others? 
    Am I a divisive force among the true church? Let us be clear in dividing light and darkness. Let us not divide light from light. 
    Do I scratch the itch you have? Is that my desire?
    Am I intentionally deceiving you?
    Does the true message of Jesus Christ make me sick?

I ask none of this to subvert Challies' excellent points. Here's the deal: if we're trying to figure this out on our own, we're hosed. False teacher/good teacher cannot be discerned through argument. The only way to tell a counterfeit bill from a real bill is to compare the bill in hand to the real thing.

We compare to the word God has given us, the Bible.

God provided it to us. Where at one time nobody had their own Bible, today homes teem with copies of the Bible--pick your translation--and if they don't, every translation is available free online. Despite its ubiquity, the Bible is less read by Americans and by those in the Church than ever before. And lions prowl the streets seeking whom they may devour.

The only way for you or me to discern whether a teacher is rightly or wrongly preaching or teaching God's word is compare what they declare to the entirety of God's word, not just what they profess but what they deny or omit.

The Church in America and around the world will continue to be deceived to its destruction if they continue to whitewash or ignore the black and white of God's clear word (note the increased impotence of mainline denominations over the past fifty years).

That task is not to be shouldered by the pastor alone, though he shares the burden. Each member must be nourished by God's word every day. A believer who has no heart for the words of the Bible is like the athlete avoids the gym like a liberal avoids Limbaugh.

To discern the false teacher, I must know well the true Teacher. I must know well the words and voice of my God and King so when the song of the seductive siren begins, I'll recognize it in a moment and avoid the enticements found there (John 10:27).

If unrecognized, great will be my fall.