Monthly Archives: February, 2016

I’m not voting for Kim Il Sung

I recently read an article in the February 2016 issue of The Voice of the Martyrs magazine entitled “God’s Soldier in North Korea.”  The article described the life of Ji Park, a convert to Christianity who deeply desires for his fellow countrymen to know the truth about Jesus Christ.

In the text, the following caught my attention:

“Ji’s distrust of the North Korean government increased even more when he discovered the Ten Commandments in the Bible. He grew up learning the Ten Principles of the Establishment of the One-Ideology System, which all North Koreans must memorize.  These principles, along with their 65 clauses, describe in detail how each North Korean should live” (p.4).

Have you ever read the “Ten Principles of the Establishment of the One-Ideology System”?  I had not.  When I found them, I wasn’t shocked at their content.  The goal is to create a citizenship of communist clones who put all their faith in a large, centralized government.  Just so you can say you’ve read them, here they are:

1. We must give our all in the struggle to unify the entire society with the revolutionary ideology of Great Leader Kim Il Sung.

2. We must honor Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung with all our loyalty.

3. We must make absolute the authority of Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung.

4. We must make Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung’s revolutionary ideology our faith and make his instructions our creed.

5. We must adhere strictly to the principle of unconditional obedience in carrying out the Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung’s instructions.

6. We must strengthen the entire Party’s ideology and willpower and revolutionary unity, centering on Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung.

7. We must learn from Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung and adopt the communist look, revolutionary work methods and people-oriented work style.

8. We must value the political life we were given by Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung, and loyally repay his great political trust and thoughtfulness with heightened political awareness and skill.

9. We must establish strong organizational regulations so that the entire Party, nation and military move as one under the one and only leadership of Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung.

10. We must pass down the great achievement of the revolution by Great Leader comrade Kim Il Sung from generation to generation, inheriting and completing it to the end.

(See:  http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk02900&num=10829)

Americans are in the midst of a wild political season–the 2016 presidential election.  Democrat and Republican candidates are attacking one another verbally and explaining why their plans and policies are superior to their opponents.  There is no bloodshed.  There is no automatic succession to the Oval Office.  Instead, a war of ideologies and words is raging.  Our founding fathers would be pleased (I think).  The people will decide who will serve as our next leader.  And, if we don’t like what he/she is doing, we’re free to say so without fear of persecution.  For that freedom and for many others, I am very thankful to our Lord.

However, I am also concerned that our nation is headed towards the socialist society epitomized in the extreme by Kim Jong-un and the North Korean government.  We may be a long way from requiring our citizens to memorize official propaganda like that detailed above, but a vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton is a step in that direction.  Simply put, when government increases in size, personal liberties decrease.

One of the mantras of most republican candidates is that our government ought to be smaller rather than larger.  Most Americans wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  But as President Reagan is attributed to have said,

No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. (Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com)

So–can this bloated bureaucracy be changed?  Is it too late to shrink the beltway?  I’m not smart enough to know that answer.  I do know that we are currently quite dissimilar to North Korea.  I also know that voting for candidates adhering to a socialist agenda’s isn’t the solution to our nation’s ills.  Yet while I know who you should not vote for, I cannot presume to tell you who you should vote for!  Vote your conscience.  Vote for freedom.  If possible, vote for a candidate that does not believe the federal government is the cure for the myriad of problems faced by the citizens of our nation.  Above all, vote.

Allow me to close with a quote from Mama Cass of the group the Mamas and the Papas.  She said the following in 1972:

“Your vote and my vote (she looking at John Denver) is not any more important than anyone else’s, they are equally as important, and very important…I don’t think it’s so important who you vote for.  You vote for who you believe in.  But the important thing is to vote because it’s our way and it’s the best way.”

(Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKdknYaSHgE)

“Because it’s our way and it’s the best way.”  Indeed.

May we all vote wisely in this election.

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Keeping the Past in the Photographs

Several days ago, I heard a song on the radio that really struck a cord with me.

Written by Josh Wilson and Ben Glover, it’s entitled That Was Then, This is Now.*  Here are the words:

We used to hide from the light
We made friends with the night
We were headed the wrong way on a one way track
Going nowhere fast

We got used to the dark
We thought this is who we are
And we figured that we were just too far gone
But we were wrong

‘Cause love came running like a river
And we got washed in the water
Then He said you’re forgiven
Your sins are gone

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph 
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then and this is now 

We’ve been remade by grace
We’ve all got new names
And nothing we do could ever change
What He did that day

When love came running like a river
We got washed in the water
Then He said you’re forgiven
And you belong

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph 
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then 

If we turn and confess every unrighteousness
He is faithful and just to forgive
Oh, so turn and confess every wrong and regret
And see what it means to live

That was then, this is now
You’re bought by the blood, saved by the Son the saints all sing about
That was lost, this is found
And it’s time to say goodbye to the old you now

So go ahead, put the past in the past
Box it up like an old photograph 
You don’t have to go back
‘Cause that was then and this is now 
‘Cause that was then and this is now 

When I heard that song, a familiar and significant phrase came to mind:

“such were some of you”

It’s found in this passage in 1 Corinthians, chapter six:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

That’s my old life contrasted with my new life!  I don’t know about your past before Jesus, but several of the sins mentioned by the Apostle Paul in this passage accurately described me before I was washed, sanctified and justified.  My sexuality was out of control.  I stole when I got the chance.  I was consumed with covetousness.  I was a drunkard, quickly headed toward alcoholism.  The old photographs of me are not flattering.  But!  But God invaded!  He radically changed me and continues to do so.  I am definitely not what I once was.  I am definitely not what I will be.  Paul’s message, like that of the song quoted above, is that I am to walk in the newness of life (2 Cor. 5).  I am to live Christ in the present, not returning to the sinful practices of the past.  That was then, this is now.

And now is better.

Here’s a video of the song:

*Publishing: © 2015 Meaux Jeaux Music / Rock And A Harding Place / 9T One Songs / Ariose Music (ASCAP) 

Geezer for Jesus: Finishing well as I am marvelously helped

Before Sunday School this past Sunday, I watched a Matt Chandler sermon.  It was the story of King Uzziah from 2 Chronicles 26.  Unlike his father’s half-hearted commitment to the Lord (2 Chr. 25:2), Uzziah possessed genuine passion to honor God.  The author of Chronicles states,

“Uzziah was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jechiliah of Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of the LORD according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah [the priest], who had understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the LORD, God prospered him.”

In other words, God blessed the king as he attempted to live a life to the glory of God.  King Uzziah was also a discerning man when it came to issues of national security.  Much of his effort was focused on Judah’s military (surely he was a republican!).

“Moreover, Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, body armor, bows and sling stones. In Jerusalem he made engines of war invented by skillful men to be on the towers and on the corners for the purpose of shooting arrows and great stones. Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong” (2 Chr. 26:14-15).

Uzziah was a man on a mission.  He knew what he what he wanted to accomplish and moved forward with his plans.  However, he couldn’t accomplish anything on his own.  He was only able to be successful because “he was marvelously helped.”  Don’t you love that choice of words?!  He was marvelously helped by the LORD and by those who served him.

And that’s why the next verse is so incredibly jarring.

“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God…” (2 Chr. 26:16).

Pretty discouraging, eh?!

He started strong but finished wrong!  He was humble at the beginning of his reign only to end up full of pride.  He came out of the gate seeking God and one of the last adjectives employed to describe him is “unfaithful.”  We are immediately informed what he did to prove that his heart was amiss.  He decided that he could perform the role of priest and entered the temple with the goal of burning the incense.  Azariah, the priest and eighty others attempted to stop the king, but he would not relent.  The result was tragic.  God disciplined him by giving him leprosy.  Uzziah would live out the rest of his days in seclusion (2 Chr. 26:16-21).

Chandler’s comments on this text reminded me afresh of my desire to finish well as Christian.

In church later that morning, our pastor spoke about Daniel.  Daniel is a great example of a believing man who refused to grow lukewarm in his faith.  You are probably familiar with the account of Daniel in the lion’s den.  You may not be aware that Daniel may have been in his eighties.  He had lived the whole of his adult life in exile.  But rather than become bitter, he remained tender in his relationship with the Lord.  We are told that Daniel set aside time every day for prayer (6:10).  And when he was warned that his devotion to God might be punishable by death, Daniel exhibited great courage.  Like his friends who were put into the fiery furnace, Daniel understood that God was more than able to protect him (see Dan. 3:17).  And that is exactly what God chose to do.  A group of hungry lion’s licked their chops as Daniel most assuredly prayed, praised and rested in the shadow of a mighty angel (Dan. 6:22)  The next morning, King Darius rushed to the execution chamber, hoping Daniel was still alive.

“he cried out with a troubled voice…’Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?'” (6:22).

Consider Daniel’s reputation!  King Darius knew him to be a servant of the living God.  He described Daniel as an individual who constantly served the LORD.  Unlike Uzziah, Daniel had no intention of fading.  He refused to allow the external circumstances of his life to dampen his internal relationship with his Creator.

I have often said that that I want to be a geezer for Jesus.  That’s not necessarily an easy goal to achieve.  Life is hard.  Sin wears us out.  Our physical strength weakens.  Our culture dulls us.  Finishing well requires persistence and prayer.  And I need to be marvelously helped along the way.  And I have been marvelously helped!  God has remained with me and many individuals have served Him by serving me. Many names come to mind such as Jodi, Ray and Char Hauser, several pastors and a lot of wonderful friends, some of whom continue to encourage me by their example as well as their words.  I’ll continue to need them all if I am to reach geezer-for-Jesus status!

One scholar once studied the characters of the Bible and found that 2/3rds of them did not finish well.  But 1/3rd of them did!  I want to be in that third!  Don’t you?

 

 

Considering the Hays Code because Hollywood Won’t

I know that there is a fine line between censorship and oversight.  Believe me when I say that every day finds me grateful that I do not live in North Korea.  I love the freedom I am allowed to experience on a daily basis as a citizen of the United States.  Yet I do not find myself opposed to oversight, particularly self-imposed oversight such as the 1930 guidelines published by the motion picture industry (The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 [Hays Code]).*

Consider these words taken from that document:

“If motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind…Hence the MORAL IMPORTANCE of entertainment is something which has been universally recognized. It enters intimately into the lives of men and women and affects them closely; it occupies their minds and affections during leisure hours; and ultimately touches the soul of the whole of their lives.”

Don’t you appreciate the understanding behind that admission?!  Entertainment intimately enters into our lives.  Without a doubt, it occupies our minds and affections.  That which we see and hear does indeed touch the whole of our lives.  This is why we must be very careful in our choices.  We will be changed.  There is no question.

Meditate upon some of the self-imposed guidelines from the Hays Code:

“No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.”

“The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.”

“In general passion should so be treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser element.”

“Pointed profanity [a list of words was included]…is forbidden.”

Do I wish modern movies followed this code today?  Yes, most of it.  I very much would like for those within the entertainment industry to live and work coram Deo (before the face of God).  It would change our world if actors, actresses, directors, singers and writers consciously sought to glorify God and benefit society.  But that is not happening, at least not very much.  Consequently, I have to put into place my own self-imposed guidelines.

Is that legalism?  No. It is wisdom.  Legalism is when I inform you that my guidelines need to become your guidelines. That I will not do. What I will do, however, is continue to carefully select how I utilize my discretionary hours each week.  If I do not renew my mind (Romans 12:2), my mind will return to fleshly, sinful thoughts and thought patterns.  If I do not put genuine effort into setting my mind on things above (Col. 3:1,2), I will find myself stuck in the quicksand of things here below.  The end result will be that I will love creation more than Christ.  I will look more like the world and less like the Savior. I will find myself preferring evil over good.

The Hays Code reminded those in the industry that the sympathy of the audience is thrown to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin “when sin is made to appear attractive, and good is made to appear unattractive.”  I think you will agree with me that now eighty-four years removed from this document, many movies do indeed present sin as attractive and that which is good to be unattractive.  And if we are not guarding our hearts (Prov. 4:23), we can easily find ourselves to confusing these as well.

May today find all of God’s people (me included!) striving to live out the admonition of 1 Corinthians 10:31:

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do (click a mouse, choose a DVD at Redbox, pick up a remote, stream a show on Netflix), do all to the glory of God.”

And–deep down–all of God’s people want to do no less!

*http://www.artsreformation.com/a001/hays-code.html

 

Post Football Blues

“Oh well; football is over.  Now we’ve got to see if Jesus is enough.”

I spoke those words to a co-worker the morning after this year’s Super Bowl.  Every year I have struggled with the reality that the NFL season has truly come to its conclusion.  I hate to admit it, but I have felt—particularly in year’s past–as if there was are void in my life—like something important was missing.

What’s wrong with me?

My heart is an idol factory (see Calvin’s Institutes, I.XI.8).  This is evidenced in my inordinate love for the world.  Mark Dever said, “Worldliness is taking an inferior good and treating it as your final, ultimate end.”*

Have I really elevated my love for football to the status of an idol?  Perhaps.  Thus, at the end of another season, I forced myself to reexamine my loves to ensure Christ, not creation, is first.  I cannot serve two masters (Mt. 6:24).  There is no room on the throne of my heart for Christ and a football.

What must we do when we know that to be the case, but our wanting is struggling to translate into actions?  Consider what Pastor John Piper had to say:

The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life also nourishes life. The same word that ignites the fire of love also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.**

No twelve step process for rekindling your relationship with God?  No quick fix to repair the loss of intimacy with the Father?  Nope.  Piper simply shares the centuries-tested manner in which believers draw near to the Lord:  The Word of God and prayer. Immerse yourself in the Word of God.  Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of His grace.  Good counsel.  I don’t need to define the word immerse for you.  You grasp his meaning.  Waiting until Sunday morning to open your Bible isn’t going to do it. Only a daily habit of reading and study will suffice.  Heart-felt prayer was also encouraged.  The action listed is cry out.  The subject is you.  The individual receiving the action is Christ.  And the prayer is specific:  a new vision of His grace.  I believe Piper is suggesting that we beseech Jesus to show us more of His person and His work on our behalf.  I also believe that is a request Jesus likes to answer.  “Reveal to us afresh how great You are and the great things You have done, are doing and will do for the Father’s glory and my temporal and eternal good!”  Can’t you envision the Lord saying, “My pleasure”?!

Don’t be content with lukewarmness.  Pursue a new passion for Christ.

Most of us can relate to the concept of spiritual lukewarmness.  Our passion wanes. Outside influences often serve to dampen our fervor for Christ.  For some, it is ongoing health issues.  For others, it can be the never-ending struggle with finances.  And for others, it might be distractions like football.

The call to renew our relationship with God should be heard by each of us today.

Thanks for joining me in my “confessional booth”!

*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7T0sSor8JGc

**http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/do-not-love-the-world

Why does Jesus deserve glory?

We can answer that question by seeing the answers to these two additional ones:

Who is Jesus?
What did Jesus do?

See if you can answer those important questions from this passage in Revelation, chapter one:

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood— 6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.

Who is Jesus?

  • Jesus is the Faithful Witness
  • Jesus is the Firstborn of the Dead
  • Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the Earth

First, Jesus is the Faithful Witness.  What He testified about was reliable.  What He said was true, including all he testified concerning the person and the works of God the Father (John 12:44-50).  In reality, His life was a greater witness than His assertions (John 14:9).  Second, Jesus is the Firstborn of the Dead.  Others had died.  Some had even risen from the dead.  But Jesus was the “firstborn.”  He was God’s One and Only Begotten, raised by the power of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:20-27).  Third, Jesus is the Ruler of the kings of the Earth. He’s in complete control.  He’s already on a throne–the throne of David (Acts 2:25-36)–and wise world leaders worship Him (Psalm 2:10-12).

He is no ordinary man!

What did Jesus do?

  • Jesus loves us
  • Jesus released us from our sins by His blood
  • Jesus has made us to be a kingdom of priests to His God and Father

First, Jesus loves us.  The “us” being referred to in the passage are the believers found within the churches of Asia (1:4).  As a result, John has in mind that nothing-can-separate-us-from-the-love-of-God-that-is-in-Christ-Jesus love of God (Rom. 8:28).  Second, Jesus released us from our sins by His blood. He has forgiven His people, and His people–like all others–needed to be forgiven.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).  I didn’t need convincing when I first heard a preacher proclaim that I was a sinner in need of salvation.  I was held in bondage and needed to be released.  I could not release myself.  My situation required a monergistic work.  In other words, what I desparately needed, only God could do.  And that is exactly what happened.  And the cost was priceless:  the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:17).  Third, Jesus made us to be a kingdom of priests to His God and Father.  Like his friend, Peter, John utilized Old Testament language originally applied to the nation of Israel and employed it to describe the New Testament church (see also 1 Peter 2:9).  Jesus is our perfect High Priest (Hebrews 5:9-10).  Now all those connected to Him comprise an entire kingdom, ministering one to another!

Who is Jesus, and what did He do?  John clearly answers those questions as he begins to describe his revelation!  And knowing those answers provides the rationale for giving Jesus the glory He deserves!

“To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Jesus Christ was amazing and He has done amazing things.

Still is.

Still does.

(And Cam Newton and Peyton Manning don’t even come close!)

Making a Difference Today

I read Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy’s book The Generosity Factor earlier this year.  A couple of quotes stood out to me, including:

“A generous person quickly discovers that each new day provides new opportunities to impact the lives of others.  Every day we can find countless ways–great and small–to make someone’s life better” (p.51).

“It’s one thing to think about ways to help others; it’s quite another to act…There’s a big difference between held values and operational values. Held values are what people say.  Operational values are what people do” (p.60).

“One of my goals in life is to do everything possible to back my words with actions” (p.61).

One of the main characters in the book learns that he can truly make a difference in the lives of others through the correct use of his time, talent, treasure and touch (p.42).  Later in the story, he is informed that his life will take on genuine significance if three things are in order:  Master, Mission and Mate (p.72).  The Master, of course, is God.  The Mission is to glorify God and bless people.  The Mate aspect stresses the importance of choosing the right spouse whose priorities align with those just described.

Though I often fail, these are my same passions!  These are also the passions I deeply desire to see my five children embrace.  It would grieve me to see them transition into adulthood and prove to be selfish men and women, focused solely upon their own dreams and wants.

Is there anything I can do to guard that?  Yes!  I can continue to teach and put them under biblical instruction.  But there is something that may be even more effective:  My example.  Since more is caught than taught, I need to ensure that my life is repeatedly marked by a visible lack of self-centeredness.  That is one of the reasons a resolution this year for me is to do at least one Good Samaritan act each month.  If these opportunities do not present themselves, I need to look for them.  Although I need to first bless my immediate family with my time, talent, treasure and touch, others all around me have needs as well.  My held values need to be my operational values.  Due to God’s amazing grace, the Master and the Mate aspects of my life are covered.  Mission, however, needs to be fleshed out daily.

Do these thoughts resonate with you?  Do you contemplate the purpose of your existence and the consequences of your conclusions?  I hope you do!  It may require you to turn off the ethic-dulling, mind-numbing computer (games, social media, streaming services) or television (dramas, reality shows, sit-coms).  The time-tested tools of a pencil and a yellow pad might be required.

Who am I?  Why do I exist?  What difference am I making?  Can I really make a difference?  Can I possibly make this world a better place?

You can.  So can I.  And we can restart–or start for the very first time–TODAY.