Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The (Rest of the) Christmas Story

Christmas is more than a story of a birth. It is first and foremost the story of God's gift:

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Here is the beginning of the story, the reason for Jesus' birth (Romans 3:9b-26):

 ... all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
    not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
    no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
    all have become useless.
No one does good,
    not a single one.” [Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3]
13 “Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
    Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”[Psalms 5:9; 140:3.]
14     “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”[Psalms 10:7]
15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”[Isaiah 59:7-8]
18     “They have no fear of God at all.”[Psalms 36:1]
19 Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. 21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.


Jesus explained his God-given purpose in John 3. These are the words of Jesus:

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. 18 There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. 19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. 20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. 21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:16-21)

This is my favorite part of the Christmas story: No one earns God's gift. It is free, a gift in the truest sense:

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

May God bless you by giving you a better understanding of his gift this Christmas.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Does God Heal All Wounds?

Now on TCWoman.com (Today's Christian Woman):

“God doesn’t always heal.” It’s true, and it’s also the opposite of the truth. http://bit.ly/17ifvUm

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Separation of what and what?

What do folks mean by "separation of church and state"?

Thomas Jefferson first wrote these words to the Danbury Baptists as assurance that a state religion would not be created, and each American would be able to worship in the manner of their choosing:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." (Read it in its entirety on the Library of Congress website.)

Sadly, Jefferson's statement of religious freedom has become a statement of religious oppression, in essence: "Americans, check your religion at the door. Religious Americans must stop being religious when they express their opinions about American law!"

This is the opposite of what Jefferson presented.

It is unconstitutional to prohibit the free exercise of religion at any time, including when people vote. We all take our identity and experiences--and our resultant worldview--to the polls. There is nothing more American than the right of each individual to vote or opine their conscience.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Wasting My (God-Given) Time?

I often wonder if I'm using my time well. Do I regularly do things that bring glory to God? Are my activities helping me to know God better? Am I making good choices that have eternal significance? 

Or am I just wasting the days that God has given to me?

Sometimes, I'm certain that I'm wasting time. Like when I plop down in front of the TV and mindlessly watch a program—specifically because I feel I don't have enough physical or mental energy to do anything else. Or when I use Facebook to compare old photos of myself. (It's amazing how much time I can waste contemplating my hairstyles through the years.)

At other times, when I'm doing something mundane, like housework, I know intellectually and spiritually that it isn't a waste of time. I recognize that God uses work to build obedience. And it's both satisfying and motivating to complete a task; the satisfaction of a job well done is a blessing from God. BUT ... like the writer of Ecclesiastes so well articulates, work is wearisome. I sweep, frustrated that the dust is already beginning to gather the second I've removed it. I cook, frustrated that hunger will set in again, just a few hours later.  

The writer of Ecclesiastes then suggests that we try to enjoy our blessings as best as we can:

"Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past" (5:18-20).
 
Oddly enough, this instruction to "enjoy life" presents perhaps the greatest mental struggle for me. I often feel guilty when God blesses me, perhaps because many of my favorite blessings seem silly and trivial, in my own estimation. For example, I love to dance. I love to play with other people's children. (I don't have children of my own.) I love to run around with my parents' dog. I love to watch small animalsin particular, birds and bunnies. And I wonder: Aren't these activitieswhich make me smilejust an utter waste of time? Shouldn't I be doing something more useful: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned? Or, at least, more spiritual: praying, fasting, studying God's Word? And my desire to do things that make me happy ... isn't that just selfishness?

Yesterday, while I was in my car, I was half-listening to "Pastors Perspective," a radio show where listeners can call Pastor Chuck Smith and ask him a question. A caller asked whether it was acceptable for him to use spoken word and hip hop to worship God. (Apparently, someone from his church had told him that these genres were too worldly and must not be used for any type of ministry.) My ears perked up at the words "hip hop." This is the type of dance that I most enjoy. And it's the thing I most often feel guilty about, thinking that it's a silly waste of time.

Pastor Chuck admitted that he wasn't very familiar with hip hop. He explained that there were lots of methods and means of worship. And (to paraphrase Pastor Chuck): "If anything brings glory to God, I should not fight against it."

This got me thinking about how I fight against the things that God surely intends as blessings to me:
  • Dance is a tremendous blessing. Every time I dance, I feel such deep gratitude that God has given me a strong, healthy body and the ability to express thoughts and emotions through movement.
  • When I play with children, I learn so much about my own spiritual condition. Young children are transparent sinners: They lie, cheat, steal, and express all kinds of selfishness, never trying to hide a bit of it. (Adults later teach kids how to hide their sin by putting on external good etiquette.) Still, no matter how bad kids act, we recognize that children are deserving of love. Even our sinful society recognizes the value of children.
  • And when I run around with Bernie the Beagle, or gaze at a small woodland creature, my awe and praise ultimately goes to the Creator of all things. I recognize that only a good Creator would create in such a delightful manner.
Through the enjoyment of God's blessings, I am moved to worship God.

The caller on "Pastors Perspective" mentioned that he meditated on Psalm 45 in thinking about his own passion for rhyme. So I had to look it up when I got home. It begins:    
 
 Beautiful words stir my heart.
I will recite a lovely poem about the king,
for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet." —Psalm 45:1

I have a feeling the radio caller knows he was created to be a spoken word artist. It wasn't just that he learned a skill; it was something that began as a desire because God intended for it to be developed. God designated for him to live during a time in history when he could express that God-given skill through hip hop. God provided the means for him to hone that skill. Out of that enjoyment and blessing come praise.

Every Christian is called to do good, to love others, and to worship God. I think I've been very narrowly defining what it means to "do good," to "love others," and to "worship." This (wrongly) causes me to believe I'm wasting my time.

I was created to dance, to play, to fully enjoy the sights and sounds that make me smile. I was created to worship the Creator through the enjoyment of his blessings. And that certainly is no waste of time.
 -----
THINK IT THROUGH
1) Do you ever feel like you're wasting time? Do you think your concern has any merit? Or is it unjustifiable guilt?  

2) Identify some unique activities that cause you to worship God (e.g. watching a sunset, a hobby, spending time with specific people). How does engaging in this activity bring about worship? What specific ways do you worship God after engaging in this activity (e.g. gratitude, awe)?

3) Why is good work so frustrating sometimes? Read Genesis 3, focusing on verses 17-19. Someday that curse will be lifted. Try to imagine what "perfect work" will be like. To help you imagine, think of a time when you were doing something that was so satisfying, you lost track of time.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Everyday Matters Bible for Women

Some of my pieces were published in the Everyday Matters Bible for Women, which was released in Sept. 2012. Today I discovered that you can read a few of them for FREE in Google books--just search for my name and it will pull up the pages.

You can view more information on this Bible at Amazon or Christianbook.com

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"October Baby," Inspired by Abortion Survivor, Opens March 23

"October Baby" opens in theaters this Friday, March 23. The movie was inspired by the life story of Gianna Jessen, the survivor of a failed abortion. http://www.octoberbabymovie.net/

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A "Perfect" Diet?

Bosch Last Judgement DetailI was having a conversation with a some Christian friends about the "perfect" diet. We quickly came to the conclusion that while some foods are nutritionally superior (and others hardly qualify as "food"), there's no such thing as the perfect diet. 

That's because there are no perfect foods—all of our food is grown in a post-Fall, imperfect world. After Adam and Eve sinned, God declared that the ground was cursed (Genesis 3:17). So all of the edible plants in the world have been growing from cursed ground since that time. All animals have eaten those plants, and carnivores have eaten other animals that ate the plants. In essence, all vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, and animal products (e.g. milk, butter, lard) are contaminated.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

When Health is an Idol

95appleI used to watch The Dr. Oz Show religiously. Actually, I’d record it so I could rewind and jot down information on supplements to take, medical tests to demand, and the right type of lip balm to keep my pout healthy year-round. While no human physician has a fail-proof prescription for perpetual good heath, I thought Dr. Mehmet Oz’s seemed pretty close.

Then the unthinkable happened: Dr. Oz was diagnosed with a precancerous polyp in his intestine. He told People magazine, “This was a shakeup for me. I have done everything right.”

I, too, thought I was doing everything right. Along with watching Dr. Oz, I worked out more than 10 hours every week, which included teaching two hip-hop classes at my gym. I meticulously planned my meals to have a nutritionally exact balance. I weighed, measured, and recorded every bit of food I consumed. I had a schedule for drinking specific quantities of water, a schedule for taking supplements throughout the day, and a schedule for eating high-potassium foods at regular intervals.

Then I, too, got sick.