As I sit in an airport watching on television the unfolding horrific story of the shooting at the school in Connecticut, I overheard an airport worker say to someone else: all those children, all those families–and now, at Christmas time.
Immediately what came to my mind was one of the most troubling Scripture verses associated with Bethlehem. That awful, horrible, unspeakable crime of a megalomanic named Herod who had all the boy babies in Bethlehem murdered just so that he could eliminate the one whom people were calling a newborn king.
How can a man do that? How can a man try to assassinate the Messiah?
I was just with two friends from Cuba who waited anxiously to hear from their families whose towns were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and now the monster storm bears down on the U.S.
Big storms are ominous. They arrest our attention. They remind us how small and powerless we are.
In the Bible the storm is a symbol of many different things.
(satellite view of Hurricane Sandy)
Non-destructive wind is an apt picture of the presence of God because God is powerful, yet unseen (John 3:8; 4:24). When God’s Spirit came at Pentecost the accompanying sign was the sound of “a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:2).
Imagine you could go to any expensive restaurant any day and the owner would insist that you didn’t have to pay. Imagine you could pick any new car on any lot and it would be given to you. Imagine you could decide in a day to run for the U.S. Senate, and you were guaranteed a win. Or that you could offer to give a speech to any audience–to thousands in an auditorium or tens of millions on television–and the microphone would be handed to you. Imagine you could ask to meet with any head of state at any time to offer your opinions, and the door would fly open. Imagine fame, power, and wealth.
No exaggeration here: that is the life that one of the most famous men of the 20th century could have had, if he had wanted it. By being the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong did something utterly unique. None of the other eleven men who walked on the moon captivated the attention of billions of people from virtually all the nations of the earth. That first step, the “small step” Armstrong spoke of, only happened once, by one man.
A chill went up my spine when I got home from church on Sunday and heard about the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, just miles from where I live. I was stunned because the shooting was taking place at the very time I was preaching at Elmbrook Church on Psalm 46:9: “He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” I had said in the message: imagine if today the suicide bomber’s detonation device shorted out, all tanks and artillery stopped working, all AK-47′s in the world (75 million of them!) suddenly jammed. All M-16′s and M-4′s turned to dust. In the light of the future judgment when God brings all violence to an end, how can we not commit ourselves to being peacemakers in whatever ways we can?
At times like this we ponder (or at least we should) what Scripture says about violence. Much, of course.
But today I find myself going back to a foundational truth in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”
This is basic, essential, core. We instinctively know senseless murder is wrong, but besides our instincts, there is a real reason: if we violate the image of God we are violating God. Human identity is centered on being made in the image of God. Human dignity is an unalterable truth because we are made in the image of God. Reverence for God compels us to respect our fellow human beings. Reverence and respect. Those two principles keep us on track in life.
And respect for people because they are made in the image of God not only makes murder wrong, but hatred of every kind. That’s why Jesus said “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21).
As prayers are said around the world in response to the shooting, may God compel us to have reverence for God and respect for those made in his image.
Jiang Yuchun was a boy the first time he attended a Christian gathering in a home in Anhui Province, China. He and his father walked fifteen miles under cover of darkness because any kind of Christian gathering during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 was an act of subversion according to government policy. Continue Reading…
Once again, today’s was a Sunday blast, this time at a church compound where many were meeting for the 7 am morning worship. We did not hear how many were injured or killed besides those who drove the vehicle in that caused the explosion.
I find this week’s cover of Newsweek magazine for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11chilling. It is simply a brilliant blue sky and in the upper right corner the underside of a jetliner frozen in a moment of time before calamity.
People are starting to tell their 9/11 stories to each other again. Where were you? What were you thinking? How did it affect you?
The definition of what we are trying to do with this network we’re calling “The Brook Network” is “sharing ideas, pursuing wisdom.” There are so many great ideas in the world today regarding Christian life and Christian leadership. And, more than that, there is wisdom from God available to us–if we care to seek it. If we pursue it.
I’ve been in Argentina for the past week and a half meeting with different folks and leading seminars on “renewing spiritual leadership.” I’ve appreciated what I’ve learned in this part of Latin America, and I wanted to share some of it with you. I’ve spoken in different churches: Anglican, Brethren, Pentecostal–a pretty wide range. I’ve had quality time with some key leaders from Latin America and spent time at one of their theological seminaries. Worship and seminars, conversations and consultations.
Not a good idea to pursue wisdom via bumper stickers. But then again, if you just need to smile today… (thanks to Michael Duduit).
1. Save the whales. Collect the whole set.
2. A day without sunshine is like night.
3. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
4. Half the people you know are below average.
5. He who laughs last thinks slowest.
6. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
7. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the
cheese. Continue Reading…
I remember the speeches of my coaches who told us how to react to losing a game to an opposing team. An honorable person knows how not to be “a sore loser.”
But the spectacular victory of the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl yesterday raises the important question: what does it mean to be a good winner? Any of us can handle an accomplishment, a success story, or a “win” in ways that are helpful and honorable–or the opposite.
1. Good winners are generous. They look up, wide-eyed at what they have accomplished, but they know that the win happened only because of many others who have contributed.
2. Good winners have gratitude. They view the “win” as a gift that would not have been possible without the people in their past getting them to this place. They have gratitude for what parents, or past coaches, or good friends and colleagues did for them to help them get to a place of success.
3. Good winners give glory to God. Every human accomplishment you can think of points to that higher intelligence, that master designer, who is God. How does a wide receiver leap in the air at full run, moving dozens of muscles in perfect and slit-second coordination, coming down with the ball in the end zone? How is it possible for a master pianist’s fingers to fly across the keyboard, striking keys thousands of times in perfect coordination and intensity? How does a composer invent the music in the first place? How can men and women ride atop a controlled explosion which sends them into earth orbit? How does a surgeon cut flesh, and yet healing is the result? The evidence of God’s existence abounds–and oftentimes our “wins” show what God has done. Continue Reading…
It was quite overwhelming yesterday to see hundreds of men filing into the seminar I was doing on the topic of “Dealing with Anger” for the excellent No Regrets men’s conference at Elmbrook Church. There was a sense of urgency in their faces, which reminded me of how large this issue is in our lives, particularly for us men. Anger is a deeply personal issue, and it is even a geo-political issue (consider the recent street scenes in Egypt and the phenomenon of angry young men in many parts of the world). Sometime I want to study the whole issue of where anger figures into leadership (from righteous indignation to toxic ill-temper).
The audio (MP3) of Dealing with Anger is now available. Here is a screening test on whether or not anger is a problem in your life. And here is the outline of the seminar, twelve ways to deal with anger, from a biblical perspective (and some of the relevant Scripture passages).
As I sit by the fireplace with the wind outside howling and blurry flashes of snow outside the window cutting one way and then the other, I am comforted by one thought. My friends in Chicago are getting hit harder than we are here in Wisconsin. (Just joking, Chicago friends. You have suffered enough.)
I can’t wait to see what the landscape looks like at morning’s light. In preparation, I went looking for a theology of snow in Scripture. Sure enough, there is one.
1. Snow reminds us of the awesomeness of God’s creation and of God’s sovereignty.
“God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow he says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, his mighty downpour…. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast” (Job 37:5-6, 10).
When the ancient Hebrews were told that God was going to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey, they were promised a very small strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Desert (the whole area is sometime called “the fertile crescent“). The nation of Israel was founded on that fragile land bridge between the superpowers of Egypt and Mesopotamia (in ancient times, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia; today, Iran and Iraq). Today Iraq is barely stable, Iran is a simmering cauldron of religious dominance and youthful longing for modernization. And today Egypt burns.
On New Year’s Day a bomb went off outside a Coptic Church. Twenty-three people killed. Today there is rioting and looting in all the major cities. No one knows what will happen next. Other countries in the region watch and wait. What country will have the next revolutionary uprising?
I think so often about the land promised to Abraham, and how it was not a promise of the easy life, of continual peace and prosperity. That never was the case. So what do we say God has promised people today in Christ? When I watch riots in the streets of a burning city just a few hundred miles from the land “flowing with milk and honey,” I’m reminded that Christ offers us the way back to God so that we have faith, hope, and love. But there is no guarantee of peace in the world. But where any believer in any part of the world can do one small thing to bring peace, then “blessed are the peacemakers” applies. Pray for the peace of Egypt.
On this date in 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell speech to a national television audience and coined a phrase to describe a frightening new reality: “the military-industrial complex.” This was a kind of prophetic word, a warning to the whole world that a new monster of our own making was on the loose.
Weaponry was not new in the history of humanity, and modern industry was in its adolescence. But when they were merged–for the first time in human history–the making of war became the making of profit on an industrial scale. This monster has enormous power and it demands to be fed. Continue Reading…
You approach an intersection where a disheveled homeless man with a wild mop of hair approaches your open window with a scrubby hand-scrawled sign on cardboard that says “I have a God-given gift…”
The sign says: “I have a God-given gift of a great voice.” So a TV reporter from Columbus, Ohio, rolls his window down, camera rolling, and asks the man to show off his gift. And out of the man’s mouth, across the stained teeth, comes a radio voice as rich and smooth as pure cream. Resonant. Beautiful. [Here's the minute-and-a-half clip.]
The video of this encounter has gone viral on the internet. His name is Ted Williams. He was an addict for years but has been clean for the past two. Now he is being interviewed on radio stations, and is receiving job offers to use his voice for tens of thousands of dollars from radio and TV stations, advertisers, and a team of the National Basketball Association. And it’s all happened in a few days. Almost eight million people have so far watched the original video clip on YouTube.
What a great story.
It makes me think of this. There are tens of millions of people walking around with “a God-given gift” of voice–but they don’t understand it. They don’t appreciate that any human being who has experienced the grace and truth of the living God in Jesus Christ has a message and a voice that is far more impacting than a silky-smooth set of pipes. At least Ted Williams understood that his voice came from God, and said so on his cardboard sign (and now in one interview after another).
So, what if every one of us who know about God’s great rescue in Jesus, looked for one person this week, and had the boldness to say in some way: “I have a gift…”?
In many doorways of the Roman Empire there was a depiction of a god with two faces pointing in opposite directions. Janus was the god of transitions. He looked ahead and he looked behind–to the past and the future. He was a kind of doorkeeper, a minder of the gate. And so our calendar’s first month, January, is named after him. On January 1 of the new year we look behind, and we look ahead.
So what’s on the other side of the doorway you’re stepping through?
One day Jesus said: “I am the gate for the sheep…. whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10).
In Jesus’ day the shepherd tending a small flock would gather the sheep into a pen during the dangerous night hours and he himself would lie across the gate area, acting as a human door. And then the “door” would come open in the morning and the sheep could go out to pasture.
Here’s something I think we frequently miss. Jesus’ emphasis is not just on being a door that protects us from outside intruders, but a doorway designed to let us out into the wide world around us where the opportunities are.
Leaders have to get people out the door. Leaders have to be willing themselves to leave the pen and launch out. What are the opportunities and challenges you are facing on the outside?
Want to do regular Bible reading in 2011? Some of my favorite Bible reading plans are put out by the Navigators, and can be downloaded free. Here are three Bible reading plans.
I suppose it’s a cultural thing, but, like 50% of other Americans, I’ve always liked making New Year’s resolutions. And like most people who make them, I am disappointed in those years when February 1 rolls around and I can’t even remember what those resolutions were. We like the idea of resolutions because we like new beginnings and we like to take control when so much of life seems beyond our control.
So, the earth has come back to the starting line in its orbit around the sun. We know we have to take choices in life seriously. What might your resolutions be? Surveys show that most Americans will resolve to lose weight, stop smoking, get out of debt, get organized–that kind of thing.
What I’m doing today is looking at an Old Testament verse that I have come back to hundreds of times over the years, Micah 6:8, and I wonder if there is anything better to do than to recommit to the three things this verse says the LORD requires of us.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
[first] To act justly
[second] and to love mercy
[third] and to walk humbly with your God.
What great news it is that God has shown us what is good, so we are not left in the dark. Acting justly means doing things right the first time whenever possible. Loving mercy means taking pleasure in showing grace and forgiveness to others. Walking humbly means staying on pace with God–not lagging behind his direction, and not surging ahead.
It is a nightmare one can hardly imagine. Buried alive, half a mile beneath the surface of the earth, thirty-three miners in the country of Chile have been trapped for the past 66 days. Day after day. Week after week. They knew it would be this long or longer. But as rescue efforts to bring the thirty-three miners out of a collapsed mine near the final stage, the excitement in Chile and around the world is irrepressible. Drilling experts have been at the scene for the past weeks relentlessly drilling Continue Reading…
According to last year’s U.S. census, 45% of households are maintained by unmarried women or men. In our churches, single adults comprise a third or more of the typical congregation. So why is it that most churches offer very little reflection on the single life? Why is it that biases against unmarried adults remain so strong, and usually subconscious? While Scripture certainly depicts the sanctity of marriage, we are making a horrible mistake to assume that sanctity is in any way less accessible to the unmarried. The apostle Paul, for instance, speaks to some of the advantages of the single life (1 Corinthians 7:32ff.).
I’m speaking on this subject at Elmbrook Church this weekend. If anyone has any observations or convictions to share with me, leave a comment (you don’t need to leave your full name).
Here are some other statistics from the census:
53 percent are women/47 percent are men
61 percent have never been married/24 percent are divorced/15 percent are widowed
31.7 million live alone and comprise 27 percent of all households, up from 17 percent in 1970.
16.2 million are 65 and older and comprise 17 percent of all unmarried people.
There are 88 unmarried men 18 and older for every 100 unmarried women.
I’ve written in the past about Christopher Hitchens, the razor-tongued journalist whose writings on atheism have convinced some and come off as woefully uninformed and biased by others. His 2007 book, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, was a popular anti-creed, and he liked to travel the country debating believers. Now Hitchens is facing a particularly horrifying disease: esophageal cancer. So will he pray for healing? Will he let others pray for him? This brief interview which aired yesterday is telling.
It was thrilling several years ago when Anne Rice, the bestselling author of Interview with a Vampire and other similar novels, announced that she had returned to the faith of her youth and had a fresh new relationship with and devotion toward Christ. Her subsequent novels celebrated the majesty of Christ. So when she wrote the following last week, it was stunning and saddening: Continue Reading…
That’s the eye-catching title of an AP article about a home video that has gone viral on the internet in which a small group of people are seen dancing to the disco tune “I Will Survive” at the gate of Auschwitz and other sites of the Holocaust. The key to understanding the video is that it was arranged by Adolek Kohn, himself a Holocaust surviver. So Adolek, his daughter, and his grandchildren have made a statement that, in his mind, is an act of defiance, resilience, and conquest. Not surprisingly, some are deeply offended, considering the exercise an intemperate expression in the light of the horrors of what happened at such places.
I visited Auschwitz a few years ago. The feeling of being in the damp and dark gas chamber, the crematorium, the processing rooms, the firing squad wall, is something I will never shake off.
But this does raise an interesting question. If we believe that in the spiritual realms Christ really did defeat the power of Satan, that the Evil One is now like a rabid dog on the loose but not with unlimited power, that we are called to believe that the outcome of the war against evil has been determined–then is that not a truth to be celebrated, heralded, and explained? I know I have seen many believers go through unbelievably difficult and oppressive life circumstances, surviving because they know that Christ ultimately is the victor. It is genuine; it is real. Their worship is a rebuke of the intent of the Lord of darkness.
During World War II Charlie Chaplin cheered people up with satirical portrayals of Hitler as a stumbling buffoon. Maybe there is a parallel when we sing, in the words of Martin Luther: “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us; We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us; the prince of darkness grim; we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.”
I found the 130 comments that many of you posted on the topic of temptations today very helpful as I prepared the sermon for last weekend at Elmbrook. I asked you to complete the following sentence: “One of the powerful temptations we all have to guard against today is…”
The results? Dozens of different ideas. Naturally, sexual temptation came up, but not as frequently as these points:
• self-indulgence; self-gratification
• electronic media
• technology, internet
• competition, comparison, status
• spiritual complacency
Many comments were quite intense and passionate on these issues. I guess we’ve all seen a lot of wreckage (and have been part of the wreckage) in life. The comments that stood out to me were on the theme of competition, comparison, and status. If ever there was a demon masquerading as an angel of light in American culture today…
One of the most vivid descriptions of salvation in the New Testament that every believer should hang onto is the concept of adoption. Because God adopted us in Christ, we have the assurance that we have a new relationship with God that is decisive, determined, and certain. It is a matter of status, not just experience. And adoption says this too: God wants us. Like human parents who go through great efforts to adopt a child, God chose to forge a new relationship with us. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:4-6, ESV).
The Scriptures also compel us to be serious about real-life adoption of children whose lives would be otherwise at significant risk. Russell Moore offers this new article on the reasons why all believers should be pro-adoption.
Many men don’t feel up to the task of expressing love, or at least that’s what they’ve been told. Yet in their hearts they know that they are concerned about their kids. They hope that their kids will “turn out” okay, that they will be safe, Continue Reading…
Don’t know exactly what to make of this story in the news, other than it’s sheer weirdness. A gigantic statue of Jesus in Ohio was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Called by local residents, “Touchdown Jesus,” it has long been Continue Reading…
More than 100 of you made comments in the post “Vocation or Vacation.” The comments were revealing, encouraging, and heart-rending. I ask myself, what can a person do who feels trapped in a very difficult job? Easy question to ask, hard to answer. Here are some thoughts that line up with the message on the book of Proverbs [outline]:
Senator Bob Dole said that, second only to backbone, a leader must have a funny bone. So go ahead and have a laugh at this video which illustrates “if they ain’t followin,’ you ain’t leadin.’ Teach a group of recruits jumping jacks for the first time?…. Continue Reading…
It was very sad to hear in the news that Vice President Al Gore and his wife Tipper had announced that they were separating, sadder yet is the fact that it has just been two weeks since they celebrated their fortieth anniversary. The number “forty” appears throughout the Scriptures, typically for a long and sometimes difficult period through which God’s people must persevere. “Forty” is a long time–either to struggle, or to find redemption. Usually both. Continue Reading…