Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Where's the justice"

She called it "unfair" and wondered aloud, "Where's the justice"? I'm talking about ABC's Diane Sawyer on last night's World News Tonight.

It seems that some financial manager types bought a lottery ticket - one $1 ticket - and for a client who wishes to be anonymous. What are the chances of winning millions with a $1 ticket? Well, that's exactly what happened. A likely already rich millionaire took a chance with a buck and won over $100 million after taxes.

Wow. The rich get richer...

This has stirred up some controversy, as you can imagine, by a media that wants us to believe that there's something wrong with this picture.

But, it was fair. Anyone had the opportunity to buy the ticket, even me. (What was I not thinking?) It wasn't like a millionaire bought thousands of tickets to have a better chance. Nope. One ticket. One dollar. So, "unfair"? I don't think so.

What's unfair is that lotteries tend to milk the already poor of what they can't afford to blow. That's unfair. That's injustice. And it's sanctioned by our government!

Likely this winner will wisely invest his/her winnings and see it grow and produce more millions, certainly providing jobs in the invested businesses. Perhaps (wouldn't it be nice?) this winner will donate some of the winnings to charities that will make our world a better place for those who are less fortunate.

But an "injustice"? Only if you think it's a sin to be rich or believe we should all be on an equal financial playing field.

Some guys get all the breaks! But "unfair"? An "injustice"? I think not.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Crisis Christianity - Tres

This is the third in this series. If you're just finding these posts, scroll down to the first one - uno - and read it, then dos before this one. Makes more sense that way, I think.

Just to be redundant I'll say again that every Christian goes through crises in life. When you trusted Jesus as Savior you were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, not to save you from crisis but to lead and if necessary, carry you through it. David's Shepherd Psalm spoke of the "valley of the shadow of death" - a crisis.

Not only has God permanently placed His Spirit within us, He has also placed us within His body, the church. I've written (and spoken) extensively on the role of the church in the life of the believer, so I won't belabor that here. But one reason for the church is for there to be surrounded and engulfed in others who will be the hands, feet, ears and voice of God in our lives, including times of crisis.

God never planned for any Christian to survive life in this world apart from the church relationship. That's clear as crystal in the Scriptures. Apart from a healthy relationship in a healthy church we're easy prey for the enemy of Christ and His church. It's like living outside the walls of the fortress during a siege. It's not a safe place to be.

Yet, so often over the years I have grimaced as I've watched brothers and sisters - partners in my church family - deal with crisis alone. Usually it's after the storm has passed and the damage has been severe that I learn of the struggle. The damage has been done and the recovery will be long and difficult...a recovery that perhaps could have been avoided completely had the believer simply put down his/her pride and called out for help.

Here's an example. One of our elders will get a phone call that one of our church partners is about to have their electricity turned off tomorrow. Tomorrow. I know enough, having dealt with these kinds of situations to know that if tomorrow is D-day it's because the bill hasn't been paid in a couple months. That means the crisis has been going on for 90 days or more. Yet, nothing is discovered until it has gotten "out of hand".

Why? PRIDE. And guess what, the Bible tells us more than once that pride is sin - something that separates us from our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with His sheep.

It might not be a financial crisis. It could be marital, parental, career, physical...I've actually found out about surgeries after the fact! How can we serve, reach out, give or even pray if we're kept in the dark about your crisis?

If the smoke detector in my house begins to sound an alarm I need to act immediately. There's no snooze button on those things. And if I fail to respond at the first smell of smoke, it might not be long before I'm consumed in the flame. In the same way, at the first sign of personal or family crisis, don't hope it will correct itself. Don't pretend it isn't there. God wants to intervene and His plan of action is to use His children to respond.

Give Him a chance before the crisis wrecks your life. See pride for what it is. Know that there are no perfect people in the church and that there is someone who has been through that same tribulation who can walk with you through it. Be honest and transparent. Connect with a small group and nurture those relationships.

That next crisis might begin to show itself today. Be ready. You don't have to handle it alone and it doesn't have to ruin your life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving's Presuppositon

Because of our elementary school plays we did about the Pilgrims and Indians feasting together after a tough first year for the Plymouth Rockers, we all should know that it was a time to express to God and to their neighbors gratitude for life and its sustenance.

Like the other traditional faith-based holiday celebrations that have been part of our American heritage for all of our history, Thanksgiving has undeniable roots in our country's Judeo-Christian heritage. I can't help but believe that, as best they could, the Pilgrims used that first feast with their pagan friends as an opportunity to tell them about Jesus Christ and why they had left England for the New World in search of religious liberty.

This day always begs the question: "Thanksgiving to whom?" A TV commercial playing today has several celebrities urging us "Give thanks". On Facebook lots of my friends are telling what they're thankful for, which is a good thing. But if we are giving thanks that must mean our gratitude is directed somewhere. Otherwise it really makes no sense.

For Christians, this is an annual opportunity to pause (fortunately for most of us it's still a holiday) and perhaps recount the blessings - whether obvious or cloaked - that our heavenly Father has given us. And then to acknowledge His sovereignty and provision in our lives.

If you're not a Christ-follower, I hope that perhaps you'll pause and ponder that the God who made the universe loves you and wants you to know Him. He has provided everything needed for that to happen in Christ.

There could be nothing greater for which to thank God than for life - not only this life, but for eternal life. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. (2 Corinthians 9:15)

So as you "give thanks" today, remember that thanks given means thanks received. This is a day, above all else, for worship and praise.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crisis Christianity - Dos

While on vacation this week Gail and I met Cindy. We didn't plan to meet her (or her wonderful family). It was one of those "God made this happen" things.

In our conversations over dinner she mentioned that she was a survivor of cancer. Like so many who battle the dreaded "C" word, her experience included surgery, chemo (and all of it's fun after-effects) and the ever-present questioning, "Why me, Lord?". For many, a disease like cancer is life's greatest crisis. I can only imagine.

But here was Cindy, several years later, looking as healthy as could be, with a glow on her face and a twinkle in her eye as she shared her story with us. Her crisis didn't defeat her, it made her stronger. And, not only that, it gave her opportunities she would have never had before to help others.

How? Oh, I forgot to mention that Cindy is a committed Christian. In fact, she was a bit disappointed that her vacation was taking her away from her church for a couple of Sundays where she has a regular ministry as a volunteer. In telling her story she spoke about faith - not in some nebulous pie in the sky fashion - but in words that described reality. For her, the crisis was real, but no more real than the Lord and His followers who were there every step of the way.

She spoke what I have often wondered myself: "How can people who don't know the Lord get through these kinds of things?". After all, cancer strikes non-Christians as well as believers. For some Christians that's a paradox in itself - not that non-believers get sick, but that believers do - but that's a subject for another time.

I guess the answer to that question is, "Some do. Some don't. But those for those who do it must be the most frightening experience". I guess that's why some choose to end life rather than go through the experience itself.

The reality is all of us go through crises in life. All of us. What makes the difference is that a growing relationship with Christ builds within us a strength and a reserve that continuously taps into His power to help us "do all things" and get through anything. That kind of genuine Christianity doesn't necessarily protect me from crisis (some crises are of my own making, but not all), but it gives me the faith and the relationships needed to take me through it.

Then (and only then) does this wonderful dynamic within the church body take place. Paul wrote, "He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." (2 Cor. 1:4 NLT)

The "rest of Cindy's story" was what produced that look of wonder in her eyes. Friends were giving her name and number to others in the same seemingly sinking boat. "Here's someone you should talk to. She's been right where you are." She shares with them the fears she felt and the doubts and the "What if's?" about her family should she not survive.

God has not only cured her of cancer, He has given her a new voice and platform to encourage other women and to let them see and hear how her faith in Christ and the prayers and support of her church family helped carry her through. There's nothing like a life story to bring the truth of the Divine down to our level.

Handling crises with a rock-solid faith isn't random. A strong foundation of knowing God and His promises coupled with a passion for knowing Him daily and discovering the new mercies He offers with each sunrise is God's prescription.

You don't wait until the crisis kicks in to reach for that kind of faith and walk with the Lord. If you do it's like trying to dip a bucket-full of water out of a coffee cup. Instead, you build that kind of faith now, daily adding another brick to broaden that foundation for the time the storm arrives.

And there's where our humanity tricks us into thinking that because everything might be smooth sailing today, I'll worry about dealing with trouble tomorrow. And by neglecting those God-ordained relationships with Christ, His Spirit and His people we set ourselves up for life-shattering/faith-shattering crises that could and should result in our ability to glorify God, but instead bring us hopelessness and anger at Him.

I heard Rick Warren (whose wife Kay is also a cancer survivor) once say that you're either in a storm, have just been through a storm or about to go through one. How prepared you are is really a choice you make.

So start now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Crisis Christianity - Uno

"Crisis Christians" is a term I occasionally use in my writing and speaking. What does it mean?

"Crisis Christians" are people for whom a daily vibrant growing relationship with Christ is a hindrance to the lives they prefer to live. They like knowing that Christ is "there" when needed, but the only time they want to need Him is when life throws a serious curve ball their way, and there seems to be no other solution but to turn to Him.

So, Crisis Christians find Jesus to be an option or another add-on to the bundle we call life. He's a rider on their insurance policy, usually added after the diagnosis or disaster strikes.

Not only do Crisis Christians not have a life-changing walk with Christ, they also have a take-it-or- leave it attitude toward His body, the church. Mostly leave it. Take it would require commitment interpersonal relationships, including deep friendships with people who might actually take their Christianity seriously. Christmas and Easter for sure. After that it's kind church attendance is occasional at best. (And then they wonder why no one seems to recognize them?)

And Crisis Christians don't want to hang with those kinds because deep down they know it would require picking up a cross. And that's just too much for their busy lives. Life's complicated enough without getting overboard-serious about following Jesus.

A number of paradoxes come from practicing Crisis Christianity.
1. Because they typically haven't learned the grace of generosity they don't give, whether it be time or finances. They're too busy or can't afford it. Yet they always seem to be one step ahead of bankruptcy. And when the bottom falls out they hope the church has some funds available to bail them out.

2. It works...for them. Or so they think. They meet with the preacher or the deacons, and with tears and true feelings of hopelessness, not knowing where else to turn, plead their case. The church comes through, praying for their crisis and maybe even offering to bail them out with counseling or a monetary stop-gap. Once again their heads are above water and they can breathe. And with that sense of dodging whatever bullet it was, they go back to neglecting the relationships with Christ and His servants.

3. Although they are consumers and not contributors, (and typically they are going to find themselves in a new crisis sooner than later) and once again the Lord and His family will make an attempt to pull them from the ditch, eventually they will find some reason to be critical of the hand that feeds them. That includes God - "I'm angry at God for letting this happen to me". And it includes the church- the small group that bent over backwards to serve them - the counselors who gave them sound advice, including corrective steps - the givers who took money from their own wallets. Sometime down the road they'll accuse the church of being uncaring; of not being there for them.

And that's really what Crisis Christianity is all about. It views Jesus and His body as being there "for them". Never is it seen the other way around. So really, Crisis Christians are not practicing legitimate Christianity but a shallow imitation. And after 30+ years in ministry I've almost come to the place where I can see it coming - the signs are easy to spot.

But there is another way. And I've also seen it lived out in the lives of normal men, women, and even children, who when crisis comes are not only prepared, but willing to share what their crisis taught them with the rest of us.

My next post will go there. In fact, I think there will be two more parts to this thing. So before you jump on my case, let me finish!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday USMC!

The few, the proud, founded in 1775 on this date. They are the oldest branch of our military.