The Fine Art of Diversion

posted Jan 7, 2018, 9:46 AM by Fccea Webmaster

While on a road trip, an elderly couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Forty-five minutes after resuming their drive, the wife realized she had left her glasses behind. Her husband, who tended toward grouchiness in the best of conditions, was not happy!

He complained and scolded his wife relentlessly on the whole return trip. The more he chided, the madder he got. The wife was greatly relieved when they finally reached back at the restaurant. As she got out of the car and hurried inside to retrieve her glasses, the old geezer yelled after her, “While you’re in there, you might as well get my coat and credit card!” 

I’m afraid I’ve been that guy more times than I want to admit. The truth is we all see the foibles of others much more clearly than we see our own. We’ve been in “cover-up” mode ever since the Garden of Eden when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. God, of course, was not fooled.

One of the easiest ways to cover up is to divert attention away from our own issues and onto someone else’s. It’s a lot easier to look outward than to look inward. Far easier to point out someone else’s faults. It’s the fine art of diversion. And it alienates us from both God and man.

This self-deception comes so easily because it is part of who we are as fallen creatures. We can deny it all we want, but God identified the problem as genetic long ago: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). If that’s true, it’s no wonder we prefer to point out the faults of others rather than inspect our own. But true change comes not from self-justification, but from self-appraisal and repentance.

Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:3-5).

That is a lot harder than it sounds. True self-evaluation can be a devastating experience. The thought of peeling back the layers of rationalization that protect our ego is frightening. And yet, it is the first step toward not only healing relationships with others, but more importantly, with a holy, and gracious God.

It is only when we stand naked before Him in humble recognition of our own inability to meet our own standards, let alone His, that we are at last prepared to accept His forgiveness as the free gift that it is, without trying to add any merit of our own to the process.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the editors of The Times of London asked several eminent writers to contribute pieces under the theme “What’s wrong with the world?”  The most profound reply came from theologian G. K. Chesterton who replied, “Dear Sirs, I am.  Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

Chesterton's answer reflects someone who was willing to pay the price to get to the right, and only, starting point for removing alienation, both with God and others.  It's a steep price, but it is eternally worth paying.  Perhaps this year, rather than New Year's resolutions, a New Year's inspection would pay rich dividends.

Published in The Tribune December 30, 2017

Now What?

posted Dec 12, 2017, 1:38 PM by Fccea Webmaster   [ updated Jan 26, 2018, 5:23 AM by Kelly Griffin ]

When he was 88 years of age, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes found himself on a train. When the conductor came by, Justice Holmes could not find his ticket. He was terribly upset and searched all his pockets, wallet and briefcase without success. The sympathetic conductor said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Holmes, the Pennsylvania Railroad is happy to trust you. When you find your ticket, just mail it to us.” Holmes replied, “My dear man, my problem is not ‘Where is my ticket?’ My problem is ‘Where am I going?’”

I suspect that could be said of a lot of people, “My problem is, ‘Where am I going?’”

Most of us enjoy an occasional road trip. I well remember the first one I ever took on my own. I left no stone unturned to be prepared. I had maps of all the places I would pass through. I investigated the road conditions as thoroughly as possible in those ancient days before smart-phones and instant information! I had the car checked over from front to back; I made provision for possible emergencies. I was prepared.

But isn’t it interesting that most of us plan more carefully how to reach our destination for a road trip than for something that is ultimately of far greater significance – our eternal destination? I fear that most of us devote precious little time and attention to preparation for that eventuality.

There is help available. Had Justice Holmes been able to find his ticket, he’d have known exactly where he was going. Similarly, the ticket for our eternal destination is available and definitely not lost. But God’s Word is much neglected – and might as well be lost for all the attention it gets.

Its core message is that there is a God who graciously created mankind in His image and likeness and gave them the enviable responsibility and privilege of magnifying His matchless glory. But instead, we have forsaken that God-given honor to seek our own ends and promote our own glory, rendering us ineligible for the eternal life that He wishes to grant to all.

It further teaches that God graciously provided the means of redemption for all who will believe by sending His own Son, Jesus Christ, to take the guilt of our rebellion on himself, pay the penalty for that guilt through His death and resurrection, thus providing redemption for all who will humble themselves before Him. It’s a wonderful story of good news for a fallen race, providing a ticket to eternal life if we will but accept it.

But most of us prefer to question the validity of the message and the deity of the Messenger. At best, we decide we’ll just wing it, hoping for the best with little or no true investigation or preparation for the reckoning we know is inevitable.

We are like Benjamin Franklin who, when asked about his religious faith near the end of his life, replied, “As to Jesus of Nazareth . . . I have some doubts as to his Divinity, although it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” The problem, of course, is that the message from the Creator is that later will be too late as “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). Surely it is worth a little investment of time to investigate now what it all means.

 We don’t want to end like writer William Saroyan. Shortly before his death in 1981, he phoned an Associated Press reporter with one last Saroyanesque observation: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?” Now what, indeed!

Published in The Tribune November 25, 2017

Return To Sender

posted Nov 8, 2017, 4:08 PM by Fccea Webmaster

A man was gifted with a chain saw, took it home, tried it but returned it to the store a week later complaining that it didn’t work. He said, “I was told I could cut down 100 trees a day with this, but I barely averaged one a day last week.” The clerk said, “Let me see.” He pulled the cord and the saw sprang to life. The guy who brought it in jumped back and said, “What’s that noise?” The gift was great – but useless until applied correctly.

 That’s the way many treat God’s gift of eternal life through Christ. The great Anglican theologian, John Stott once wrote: I used to think that because Jesus died on the cross, everyone in the world had been put right with God by some kind of rather mechanical transaction. I remember how puzzled, even how offended, I was when it was first suggested to me that I needed to take hold of Christ in his salvation for myself. God later opened my eyes to see . . . it was necessary to accept him as my Savior.”

 That was a key lesson in the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Exod 7-12). After Pharaoh reneged 9 times on promises to release the Israelites, God imposed capital punishment – the death of all firstborn. Unless! Any family who sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled blood on their doorpost would be spared – the angel of death would “pass over” that house.

 This visually represented the need for a substitutionary sacrifice to pay sin’s penalty. But it was not enough to have killed a lamb. The blood had to be applied to the doorpost – an act of faith indicating personal acceptance of the gift of forgiveness.

 God taught that same object lesson again after the Israelites left Egypt and reached the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army behind; the sea in front. No escape -- except God made provision. He parted the sea. But it took an act of faith to walk between those walls of water -- incredible faith, I imagine! The gift of the parted waters wasn’t enough. One had to personally walk through them.

 Jesus depicted the same truth in Communion. He said in Luke 22:19b: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” “Given for you”. How? In death. Is that enough? No – They just “Eat this.” He does the same with the cup. “Drink this.” His point is, “I will die for you, but you must die, too. You must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). Personal faith! That’s what we affirm every time we participate in this ritual.

 No greater example exists than at the cross. Two criminals died with Jesus – mocking as they went. But as one of them watched the perfection of Jesus, he came under severe conviction. At the last possible moment he said, “’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:42-43). That thief could offer nothing! Yet even as he hung next to Jesus, he somehow realized this man was dying in his place, and he accepted by faith the gift of life Jesus was purchasing for him.

 The other thief? No such promise for him. Jesus’ death was not applied! He would not believe and by faith accept Jesus’ death as being for him. So near, yet so far.

 Elizabeth Barrett’s parents so disapproved of her marriage to Robert they disowned her. Almost weekly she wrote letters to them, seeking reconciliation. They never replied, and after ten years Elizabeth received a huge box containing all her letters – all unopened. They had discarded ten years of exquisite expressions of love from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. How tragic. But no more tragic than missing the greatest love in the universe for failure to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. I pray none will return His gift, unopened.

Published in The Tribune October 14, 2017

Don't Tread On Me

posted Sep 2, 2017, 1:26 PM by Fccea Webmaster

A cartoon shows a tiny baby, seconds after birth. The physician holds the baby upside down and slaps him on the bottom. Instead of crying the kid screams, “I want a lawyer.”

Isn’t that a pretty good picture of our culture? We are certainly the most litigious society in history.

Forbearance, forgiveness, overlooking a fault – if anything, these are traits that we consider a sign of weakness. Strength is exhibited by defending one’s rights. Our rights are our identity, and God help the person who steps on them, advertently or inadvertently.

Of course, we all, myself included, like to see the bad guys get theirs. I remember some John Wayne movie where Big John arrived just in time to keep a young cowboy from drawing down on someone who had been too attentive to his girl. John turned his attention to the offender and said with clenched teeth, “I’m gonna use good judgment. I haven’t lost my temper in 40 years. But, Pilgrim, you caused a lot of trouble this morning. Might have got somebody killed. Somebody ought to belt you in the mouth, but I won’t. I won’t. The blankety-blank I won’t!” and he laid a haymaker on the guy. A muddy melee followed involving all interested parties. Of course, no one really got hurt. It was a movie!

In real life, the grudges raised in defending one’s rights often last for years or even decades. No one wins.

This is not to suggest that major infringements of legal rights should not be defended through appropriate channels. If the case is legitimate, the offense costly and a remedy available under law, the pursuit of justice is a major function of government.

But I am concerned with the minor irritations and personal vendettas that cause breaches in relationships out of all proportion to the “crime.”

Not to pick on churches, but not long ago a case made major news in Dallas where a church rift got so bitter that each side instituted a lawsuit seeking to dispossess the other side from the church’s property – this despite the warning of Scripture prohibiting professing Christians seeking public redress against each other (I Cor. 6:1-8). An investigation showed that the trouble all began when, at a church dinner, an elder was served a smaller slice of ham than a young person seated next to him!

God has a better way. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). We might well ask, which displays more strength – a soft answer in a tough situation, or lashing out at the slightest real or perceived provocation?

Actually, God invites those who really trust Him to put all such issues in His very capable hands: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:18-19). We’re trespassing in God’s domain when we get into the “defending rights” business.

The world would have a lot more peace if we had a few more people like the guy who, while driving, came to a bridge under construction. The road narrowed to one lane with a light at either end. He stopped on the red light, then proceeded when it turned green. Halfway across he met a car coming the other way. The oncoming driver leaned out his window and shouted, “I don’t back up for idiots!” Putting his car in reverse, the first man replied, “No problem. I do.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a few more people strong enough to “back up for idiots”? Maybe we could be one.

Published in The Tribune September 2, 2017

Presuming On God's Kindness

posted Sep 2, 2017, 1:23 PM by Fccea Webmaster

The teacher asked, “Can people predict the future with cards?” One student answered, “My mother can.” “Really?” “Yes, one look at my report card and she can predict what happens when Dad gets home!” He’s got an accountability issue.

So do we all, although it’s not a popular subject in these postmodern times. But what if accountability and judgment are real? Wouldn’t it be worth consideration?

Jesus thought so. For example, on the day of His so-called triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), as acclaim was coming from all sides, what was Jesus doing? He was weeping (Luke 19:41)! Amazing! But why?

Jesus knew that as the crowd cheered, the religious leaders were in back rooms plotting His demise. He knew that within days the cheering crowd would be calling for his death. His refusal to assume leadership on their terms would turn them against Him. This is the official refusal by the nation of Israel of their long-promised Messiah.

With rejection, judgment became inevitable. So, Jesus warns, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).

And it all happened exactly as Jesus prophesied. Pushed to the limit by Jewish insubordination, the Romans came in April, AD 70 under General Titus. They surrounded the city, set up a barricade, and set siege. By the end of 5 months, Jewish historian Josephus tells of the ghastly conditions – raging famine, bodies piled like firewood, women eating their own children.

When the Romans broke through, thousands were slaughtered and others sold into slavery. Titus had ordered the magnificent temple be spared, but the enraged soldiers started it on fire. Gold and silver utensils, stored inside for safe-keeping, melted down, filling the cracks between stones. Greedy soldiers used long bars to pry apart the massive stones to get at it until not one stone was left upon another.

It all happened just like Jesus said. But why seventy years later? Why not immediately? The simple answer is God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (II Pet 3:8). He often delays to grant that possibility -- 120 years before the great flood came, four generations for the Amorites (Gen 15:16), 400 years and ten plagues for the Egyptians. Jesus’ own generation got three years of personal ministry and forty years afterward to repent.

But too often God’s patience is read as acquittal. Paul warns in Romans 2:4: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”

God is not anxious to judge but inevitably He will. Opportunity is not forever.

A couple years ago, my wife, Patty, and I visited England with brother Jon and wife, Anne. One cold and rainy day we journeyed by train to Hampton Court (one of Henry VIII’s palaces). On the return, Anne and I decided to get some coffee to ward off the cold. By the time we were served, the train had pulled in and loaded. We rushed downstairs to the platform, but despite our frantic waves, the conductor closed the doors and waved the train on. We were just in time to see Jon and Patty waving at us through the window with silly grins on their faces. When the time comes, the time comes.

It’s no different with God. Now is the time to remove the issue of judgment by receiving God’s solution in His Son (John 5:24). The judgment of Jerusalem is just a preview of coming attractions for all who reject His offer. We must not presume on His patience, but accept His love.

 Published in The Tribune July 22, 2017

It's All Relative - Or Is It?

posted Jun 17, 2017, 7:16 AM by Kelly Griffin

A tourist in Palestine saw a skull in a museum labeled the skull of St. Paul. Later, in another town, he saw a second skull similarly labeled. He went to the curator and asked, “Now which is which?” “Both,” said the curator, “this one was his skull when he was a young man.”

We all see the humor in that. But consider, it can only be humorous if there is such a thing as truth – true Truth!

This is not a popular notion in postmodern times. Philosopher Terry Eagleton claims, “There is no absolute truth; rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate.”

Others would claim it is not society but the individual who determines truth. Bertrand Russell claimed, “It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature – not even Nature personified as God” – an expression of moral relativism which may explain his notorious womanizing and his affair with his own daughter-in- law when he was 79 and she was 53 years younger.

Ernest Hemingway’s creed was, “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” One wonders how both parties of a violent rape would view this definition, 

The fallacy of relativism was on clear display at the Nuremberg trials of Hitler’s henchmen following WWII. A dispute arose as to what laws should be used to try the accused. After all, the defendants averred, they had not broken any laws. How could they be accused of murder when their actions had been carried out under a legal system where personhood had been redefined to exclude Jews and other undesirables?

The fact is that relativism fails by its own definition. Relativism insists that there are no absolute truths. But the
assertion itself is a statement of absolute truth! It is patently self-contradictory. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the introductory story, no one can live consistently with the assertion that all truth is relative. Philosopher Norman Geisler tells of one student who wrote a well-documented term paper defending his position as a moral relativist. But when the professor returned his effort with a grade marked “F – I don’t like blue folders,” the student was incensed at the injustice of getting a grade based on the color of his folder. Would we not agree – it wasn’t fair? But he could only be right in his protest if he was wrong in his paper!

Nancy Pearcy, a staunch defender of a Christian world view, was surprised, after a presentation at Harvard defending the concept of truth, when a professor came up to defend his relativistic colleagues. He said, “They know their theories don’t explain ordinary life outside the lab. But why throw it in their faces?” Why indeed? Why not let the charade continue, even though we all make daily decisions which make sense only if there is such a thing as absolute truth?

The crux of the problem is that truth is relative -- if there is no objective standard. But everything changes if a moral law, like the Ten Commandments, is not simply a list of do’s and don’t’s based on someone’s opinion, but rather the reflection of the character of a transcendent God. Suddenly defining personhood becomes a much easier task. Defining rape and incest as moral wrongs becomes a matter of objective reality rather than personal preference. And the fact that we all have a “sense of oughtness” becomes understandable rather than an unexplainable mystery.

Jesus told Pilate during His trial, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37b). Pilate, 
a postmodernist before his time, answered with skepticism, “What is truth?” Given that exchange, I find it much easier to side with a resurrected Christ than a Roman functionary.

The concept of absolute truth may not be in vogue – but what if it’s true?

Published in The Tribune on June 10, 2017.

Filing a Flight Plan

posted Apr 24, 2017, 4:00 PM by Kelly Griffin

The comedienne, Rita Rudner, once said, “I’ve never been good with math. So whenever I got a math test, I’d just write, ‘I’m going to marry someone who can do this.’” It’s good to have a strategy for math.

It’s good to have a strategy for life, too. A lot of the difficulties we face are a result of bad decisions on our part. But, the Bible teaches we have some help urging us toward those bad decisions that necessitates a strategy.

That’s where our Creator can help. God’s Word not only offers forgiveness for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ; it also offers strategic advice for living up to the family name.

The Bible defines three great enemies that can destroy lives – the world, the flesh and the Devil.

The Devil is presented as a real, personal, spirit being with power to influence lives (see Job 1-2; Daniel 10; Luke 22; Luke 4 and many others), but always within limits imposed by God Himself (I Cor 10:13). The strategy for dealing with him: Fight. James 4:7b says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Fight him; resist his temptation through the use of God’s Word as exemplified by Jesus in Luke 4.

“World” is a term the Bible uses in a number of ways including to describe the anti-God worldviews, philosophies, and immoral lifestyle temptations coming from outside us. James 4:4b warns, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” The strategy for overcoming the world is: Faith. I John 5:4: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” This is not a blind faith but one that puts God at the center of things and provides better and more rational answers for “how things are” than explanations, which leave God out of the equation.

Then there is the flesh – the human nature we are born with that typically wants its own way and can rationalize almost any means necessary to get it. This is temptation from the inside, including things like greed, covetousness, jealousy, lust, anger and the like.

So what is the strategy for meeting these temptations? Fight the desire? Pray? Quote Scripture? Meditate? Get an accountability partner? Group therapy? Any of those might help, but God’s very practical advice is: Flee! “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (II Timothy 2:22). How unexpected, yet practical.

I Corinthians 6:18 targets a specific desire: “Flee from sexual immorality.” Flee it. Run. Plan ahead to avoid the temptation.

Like Joseph, in Genesis 39. Sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, Joseph eventually found himself running the household of the second most powerful man in Egypt. But Potiphar was away from home a lot. Joseph was easy on the eyes, being “handsome in form and appearance.” Soon a housewife who was “desperate” before her time had singled him out. Presumably she was also beautiful and represented a great temptation.

Yet Joseph consistently resisted her advances until one fateful day when “she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me!’ And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside” (Gen 39:12) – a very literal application of God’s advice in the New Testament.

Of course, we cannot avoid every single possible temptation of the flesh. But we can avoid the people, places and media that attack our personal Achilles heel. The point is -- have a flight plan for the desires we know take us down.

Take a page from Billy Graham who made it a point never to be alone with a woman other than his wife – mostly to avoid the possibility of a vicious lie, but also in recognition of his own humanness. Prayer never hurts; but when it comes to the flesh, have a flight plan. It will pay rich dividends.

Published in The Tribune on April 29, 2017

Is it a Failure to Communicate or a Failure to Listen?

posted Apr 24, 2017, 3:55 PM by Kelly Griffin

“How do you spell toad?” one first-grader asked. Teacher replied, “T-O- A-D.” Later the teacher found: “I toad my mom I wanted a dog for my birthday.” Something got lost in the communication!

Is it possible the same is true between us and God?

Most people, myself included, don’t get direct, verbal messages from God. He doesn’t text, tweet, email or do neon signs! So how might God communicate?

Is it possible that creation is one means of “hearing” Him? And indeed, when one considers the unimaginable magnitude of a universe composed of billions of galaxies, all comprised of tiny individual atomic universes, might we not catch a first glimpse of His greatness?

Could this all really have happened by chance? If the “Big Bang” gives a scientifically possible explanation for a beginning, what explains where the mass and energy necessary to create such an event came from in the first place? What explains the extreme fine-tuning of hundreds of variables necessary to sustain human life – a miracle of precision not explainable by any reasonable probability theory, even given billions of years?

What explains the six feet of DNA tightly coiled inside every one of our body’s 100 trillion cells, each cell containing more information than the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, all stored in a computer-like 4-digit chemical alphabet, whose letters combine in various sequences to form meaningful information that uniquely defines that individual?

Could the physical universe be the Creator saying, “Pay attention to this amazing display of my creative power, personality and love in creating this environment for you”? Is that not at least as plausible, if not more so, than saying it all happened by chance? Doesn’t this confirm the Apostle Paul’s comment in Romans 1:20: "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse”?

Furthermore, is it not possible that this Creator has communicated in words? Could the Bible be what it claims to be – “the Word of the Lord”? Is it not rooted in a verifiable, historical context as no other religious writing? Does it not show evidence of divine authority in many ways including the casual revelation of many scientific facts hundreds of years before human verification? Is it not unique in the unity of its progressive message though written by more than 40 authors of varying backgrounds over a period of 1600 years? Is not the precision of its prophetic declarations and fulfillments unprecedented in human history?

Is it not also possible that this Creator has gone even further in communicating with His creation through the most widely known figure in human history – Jesus of Nazareth? Is it possible that the claim of Hebrews 1:1-3 is true? “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:1-3).

Are those claims not proven by the death of resurrection of Jesus – confirmed by the empty tomb, the changed lives of the disciples, the triumph of the church over Roman power, and the powerful, credible eyewitness accounts?

Is it not possible that it’s not a case of God not communicating, but a case of our not listening?

Howie Mandel says, “Traveling at twice the speed of sound is fun – except you can’t hear the movie till two hours after your land.” I hope none of us are traveling so fast in this life that we don’t hear God’s communication concerning the next until – too late! Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 8:8). Happy listening!

Published in The Tribune on March 18, 2017.

A Different Kind of Love

posted Feb 6, 2017, 12:58 PM by Kelly Griffin   [ updated Apr 24, 2017, 3:56 PM ]

Alfred, Lord Tennyson reminded us, “In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."
Well, it’s not Spring. But it’s nearly Valentine’s Day which prompts its own thoughts of love.

But you don’t have to be very old to discover that human love has limitations. For example, during a high school halftime show, one young band member stepped out to play a trumpet solo. His father, sitting high up in the bleachers, turned to his neighbors and proudly announced, “That’s my boy!” But about that time the boy, who had been playing so well, began to hit some sour notes. "Well," the man said, "maybe not. They all look alike from up here.”

Human love, you see, has a selfish core. We love for some attractiveness or endearing quality that we find in the other person. Take that quality away, and love fades in like manner.

That’s one reason we have difficulty relating to a transcendent God. We ascribe to Him the same qualities that define us. But His self-revelation in the Bible expands the picture. There, in the words of Brennan Manning, we find a God who loves not for what He finds in us, but for what He finds in Himself.

That’s great news because in our saner moments we realize that while we may “play our trumpet” well and with good intentions much of the time, there are enough sour notes of selfish indulgence, ego-driven ambition and shameless compromise to create a yawning chasm between us and an infinitely holy God. If He were not also infinitely loving, all would be lost.

Thankfully, He is not just infinitely holy, but also infinitely loving. So King David could say in Psalm 6:4, “Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.” His appeal is to God’s steadfast love, not to his own flawed performance. He knew divine love was his salvation.

On August 28, 1982, 20-year-old PFC Joseph White, stationed in Korea, ran across the minefield of the DMZ, heading to North Korea as fellow soldiers pleaded with him to turn back. Officially, he defected “for motives that are not known,” although fellow-soldiers reported that as a result of a dispute with his sergeant, his freedom to visit his Korean girlfriend had been pulled. They believed he may have gone AWOL to be with her.

When the Army released its official report confirming the defection, his parents held a press conference near their home in St. Louis. His teary-eyed father said he accepted that his son was indeed a traitor: “He has lost his credibility in this country, and even with me.” But then he continued, “But I still love my son, and I want him back.” I want him back.

Multiply that a million times and you have a glimpse of the heart of God. He wants us back from the brokenness that separates us from Him. So while His holiness creates the unbridgeable abyss between us and Him, His love provides a way. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners (in a state of defection), Christ died for us.”

Because of His love, He Himself paid the price His holiness required to pave our way back, if we will just place our life in His hands by faith. Joe White never made it home. He reportedly died within three years of his defection. That need not be us. Although we, too, have defected, the way home has been bridged by His love – not for what He finds in us, but for what He finds in Himself. That’s a love worth having, and it’s ours -- if we just believe in Him (John 5:24).

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference)

Published in The Tribune on February 4, 2017

It Matters Who We Worship

posted Feb 6, 2017, 12:54 PM by Kelly Griffin

Philip Yancey tells of a 16th century Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who went to China bearing samples of religious art to illustrate the Christian message. The Chinese loved portraits of the Virgin Mary holding her child, but were repulsed by pictures of Christ’s crucifixion. They insisted on worshiping the Virgin mother rather than the crucified God.

But you don’t have to scrutinize many Christmas cards to realize we do much the same thing. We observe a sanitized, feel-good holiday stripped of purpose and often stripped of the central person.

Is it wrong to celebrate a generic holiday that encourages the best in the human spirit? Of course, not. But to make Christmas that holiday is to rob it of its meaning and to deny the highest reason of all for human celebration – the possibility of forgiveness and a guilt-free relationship with our Creator.

Isn’t it good to promote the values Jesus promoted? Yes. But to do so in the absence of any recognition of the ultimate purpose of His birth is heartbreaking because that purpose matters.

Jesus was born to die. There’s hard evidence. His birth and many of the events of his life predicted hundreds of years beforehand, but so also was the fact and even the nature of his death. Israel’s King David prophesied that the Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced a thousand years before Jesus’ death by crucifixion (Psa 22:16). 

Jesus himself repeatedly prophesied his own death during his last months on earth. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must . . . be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). Jesus’s death was no surprise to the prophetic writers of Scripture, much less to Jesus himself.

It was also unlike any other. It was squarely aimed at mankind’s devastating guilt before God. Isaiah identified both the problem and solution in Isa 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

How did God do that? Sacrificial death. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa 53:5).

No person could pay their debt to God except by eternal separation from Him. That’s where Christmas comes in. God Himself solved our problem by sending His own Son to take on human existence – fully God and fully man in one unique person. As a man he lived the perfect life we could not live; as God he paid the infinite price we could not pay. He was born to die.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus’ resurrection demonstrated the completeness of his victory over sin and death for all who will believe in him. Christmas is the start of the greatest story ever told. But if we only worship the baby in the manger. or worse, discard him altogether, we deny God’s plan to redeem our fallen race.

Paul summarizes in II Corinthians 5:17: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

David Sandeman a Scottish missionary to China lay dying of cholera when a friend asked how he was. He replied, “I am head-to-foot righteousness.” None of us could claim that on our own. But Christmas is God’s plan to make fallen humanity “head-to-foot righteousness” by faith in him. Jesus himself said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). 

No one else in history could ever say that. That’s why he alone is worthy of worship. Merry Christmas!

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (part of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference)

Published in The Tribune on December 24, 2016

1-10 of 109