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) www.eatoncc.org

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) www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on December 24, 2016

Occasions for Giving Thanks

posted Nov 15, 2016, 12:54 PM by Kelly Griffin

A basic training recruit fell into bed one night after a grueling day. Suddenly, he heard a voice: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake – thank you, Lord.” That’s one thing to be thankful for – escape! But, in fact, there are many occasions for thanksgiving.The obvious one is in good times. Judah’s King Hezekiah forgot that after God spared him from a deadly illness. “But Hezekiah did not make return [give thanks] according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him” (II Chron 32:25).

He was like the woodpecker hammering away during a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning hit his tree, splitting it from top to bottom. Brushing himself off, he exclaimed, “Boy, that was some peck!” That showed a human tendency to take credit for every success. But God reminds us, “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). It’s important to give thanks in good times.

But how about when you’ve lost control? The captive Israelite, Daniel, was given a high position in Persian government. Jealous colleagues, knowing of his piety, appealed to King Darius’ vanity to pass a law that no one should petition or pray to anyone except the king.

Daniel got the memo and knew he’d lost control. Nevertheless he went home and opened his windows. Then, “He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.” Gave thanks? Why? Because he knew that while he’d lost control – God hadn’t. That’s something to be thankful for.

An extreme challenge is to be thankful when there’s not enough. Say what?! Well, Jesus did. He had a crowd of over 5,000 one day. It got late. Dinner time. No food. Jesus asked, “What do we have?” Andrew found one boy with a lunch – five loaves and two fish. He gave it to Jesus. “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). He gave thanks for not nearly enough – and suddenly, it was. Perhaps there’s a lesson there!

Then, how about in tough times. Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed in Philippi for healing a demon-possessed girl. Cold, bleeding, and ridden with pain, what were they doing? “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Amazed, no doubt! God released them all and saved the jailer.

But most amazing of all was Jesus. The night before His crucifixion, He dined with His disciples. “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:27-28). Gave thanks!? The disciples didn’t realize what was coming. But Jesus did. The wine represented His own death; yet He gave thanks! Why? Only one answer will do. He knew His death was the price for the forgiveness of their sins – and ours. We all have a lot for which to be thankful.

Winston Churchill once said of the RAF which staved off German invasion of England early in WWII, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” At the cross we see a correction: “Never in the field of human failure have so many owed so much to One.” There’s no better time than Thanksgiving to pay that debt. Happy Thanksgiving.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference) www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on November 12, 2016.

Someone to Blame

posted Oct 10, 2016, 2:16 PM by Kelly Griffin

A “Peanuts” cartoon shows Peppermint Patty telling Charlie Brown, “Guess what, Chuck. The first day of school and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault.” Charlie Brown responds, “How could it be my fault?” She answers, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me.”

I can’t help but wonder if casting blame like that isn’t at the heart of much of the chaos we are witnessing in our society. Are we are seeking excuses for bad behavior rather than root causes? Isn’t it always easier to blame someone else than take personal responsibility?

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, UK, suggests that as professional therapy has become a way of life in our culture, people have increasingly defined themselves as victims who have suffered at the hands of parents, teachers, employers, the government or any other ready blameworthy entity.

Leonard Bernstein put it to music in West Side Story when the gang sings: “Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, / You gotta understand, / It's just our bringin' up-ke / That gets us out of hand. / Our mothers all are junkies, / Our fathers all are drunks. / Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks! / Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset; / We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get. / We ain't no delinquents, / We're misunderstood. / Deep down inside us there is good!”

We’d all like to pin the blame on someone else for society’s ills. It’s been said, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” But, of course, every snowflake contributes.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archepelago mused, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds . . . we could just destroy them.” Then he continues, “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart.” Better to blame someone else and destroy them?!

Society’s ills will not diminish until we all take the hard inward look exemplified by the celebrated British journalist G. K. Chesterton, who, when asked by the London Times for an article identifying the problem with the world, responded with a postcard: “I am.”

We need to look inward before casting about outwardly for someone to blame. That’s critical to healing the societal ills. But it’s far more critical for another reason.

God reminds us in Romans 14:12, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” This is the ultimate in personal responsibility – to answer to one’s Creator – no excuses allowed. Daniel Webster knew. When asked, “What is the greatest thought that can occupy a man’s mind?” he replied, “His accountability to God.”

Jesus agreed: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matt 12:36).

That’s when we’d all like an advocate like the mother at a teacher conference who said, “My son Paul is a very sensitive boy.” The teacher replied, “Yes, I’ve noticed. How can I help?” Mom replied, “Well, if Paul misbehaves, please spank the boy next to him!”

The good news of Jesus Christ is we have such an advocate -- one who has paid the price for the failures of our hearts. So the Apostle John says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1b). He’s the Savior we all need – not someone to blame, but someone who took the blame.

But the responsibility to accept His advocacy is mine alone.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference), www.eatoncc.org.

Published in The Tribune on October 1, 2016.

Better than Wealth

posted Aug 23, 2016, 6:52 PM by Kelly Griffin

A man met a friend on the street and said, “Hey, Joe, I hear your boy started college this year. What’s he going to study? Medicine, engineering, law, perhaps? What does he want to become?” Joe replied, “That I’m not sure about. Right now the big question is, is he going to become a sophomore?”

I imagine a lot of parents have the same concern at the start of a new school year. Forget about rocket science; let’s just get to the next grade!

But as much of a concern as that is, I think there is a bigger one. The incredible fact is that through childbirth, God has given mankind the ability to create life – life that will have an eternal existence. That is a sobering thought, and poses a bigger dilemma than whether that child is going to be an astronaut, an accountant or a farmer. 

Someone has said, “Most people are more concerned about where their kids are going to college than where they are going to spend eternity.” That’s why Scripture suggests that knowledge alone is not sufficient. God advises, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding” (Prov. 3:13). To emphasize the extreme importance of this advice He went on, “How much better to get wisdom than gold!” (Prov. 16:16). Better than wealth makes it pretty important, does it not?

So what is wisdom? A typical answer would say knowledge is the collection of facts; wisdom is knowing how to interpret those facts and what to do with them. That’s a good starting point.

But God takes it one step further than that. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). Ultimate wisdom comes from knowing and revering God – from understanding and pursuing His ways. Given that we were created in the first place to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, doesn’t it follow that failure to know, love and appreciate Him will leave a gap in our lives that cannot be filled in any other way – no matter how hard we try?

Solomon further advises on the source of wisdom: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). This points us straight to Scripture as the ultimate source for knowing God and deriving principles to live by. There is nothing we could do that would contribute more to our future happiness and success of our children than to introduce them to a lifelong study of and commitment to God’s Word. All the wisdom of a benevolent Creator is waiting there to be mined, discovered and practiced. 

Perhaps you would expect advice like that from a pastor, but if you will allow me a personal note, it was principles derived from Scripture that I found most sustaining, productive and lasting through a lengthy career as a business executive. God’s wisdom extends to every aspect of business, financial, personal, marriage and family life. It works; it brings true happiness and you never really get to the bottom of it. 

Education is great, but it is not the end-all. I find it interesting that at the beginning of history, God put mankind in perfect environment with the simplest of tests and man succumbed to the lies of Satan. According to Revelation 20:1-15, at the end of history, and after a perfect thousand-year reign by Jesus Christ Himself, that same enemy will be able to gather a host of rebels. What’s the point? It’s not about a perfect environment or a stunning education. It’s about the human heart. And only the wisdom of God can change that.

So, as we seek to give our kids a good education, we must also remember: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom” (Prov 4:7). We owe it to ourselves – and we owe it to them.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church, a member of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, www.eatoncc.org

Published in The Tribune on August 20, 2016.

What We Can't Do, He Already Did

posted Aug 4, 2016, 2:20 PM by Kelly Griffin

A rowdy friend of Mark Twain once announced, “Before I die I’m going to climb Mt. Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.” Twain replied, “I’ve a better idea. You could stay home in Boston and keep them!”

Is it good to keep the Ten Commandments? Of course – good for all of us. But there’s a deeper question. Can a person make peace with God by keeping them? Is that the way to eternal life? Most people think that’s what the Bible teaches. Actually, it warns against such thinking. “For all who rely on works of the law [Ten Commandments] are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Gal 3:10). In other words, “If you choose to approach God by keeping the Law, all you have to do is – be perfect!”

That’s why Jesus said things like: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). And, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). That’s a pretty high standard. That’s an impossible standard.

The fact is, we don’t break the Law, the Law breaks us. I have a cousin who loved hang-gliding. It was a lot of fun – right up until the moment when a wind shear stalled his glider and he plunged 100 feet to the ground. He survived only after six painful months of recovery. He didn’t break the law of gravity. The law of gravity remains intact to this day. But the law of gravity broke him.

So it is with God’s Law. We don’t “break” it. It remains in force because it is not just a random collection of “dos and don’ts”. It is a statement of God’s holy character! We don’t break it, but it breaks us. So is there no hope of us engaging with a perfect God? Yes, there is hope. But the hope is in God, not in us.

That’s what the Law is telling us. You can’t – but He can! What God demands, God provides. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). When God gave the Law, He also gave a sacrificial system. Grace! He was saying, “I know and you know you can’t keep this Law. So here’s your solution. A sacrificial substitute to pay your penalty.” And since everyone knows no sacrificial lamb could actually remove guilt, those lambs were pointing to a greater, ultimate Lamb who would come later.

And come He did! John the Baptist pointed to Jesus of Nazareth one day and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The symbol had become reality which is why after dictating an impossible standard, Jesus pointed to this solution: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).

The solution could never be my righteousness; it’s always been His righteousness. He lived the life I could not live and paid the penalty I could not pay, so by grace through faith (Eph 2:8) I could have the life I could never earn. That’s the gospel.

A man went to buy a 47-cent stamp from a vending machine one day, but encountered two signs. The first read: “This machine takes exact change only.” The second read: “No pennies!”

God’s Law presents us with the same impossible challenge. But what we can’t do, He’s already done. It’s just up to us to accept it by grace through faith.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church, a member of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, www.eatoncc.org.

Published in the Tribune on July 9, 2016.

Get a New Boss

posted Jun 14, 2016, 11:04 AM by Kelly Griffin

Knowing God has implications beyond the obvious. Take a business environment, for example. 

Perhaps your manager is like the guy who started a departmental meeting saying, “Please don’t think of me as your boss. Think of me as your friend who is never wrong!” 

Whether stated that blatantly or not, that would be a challenging environment. How do you cope? Let me make three suggestions for those who have a relationship of trust with God.

First, remember that you work for God, not a person. Really? Yes. I Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Colossians 3:23 is even more specific: “What you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” When I work for God, ill-treatment by a human manager still stings. But the pain and frustration is considerably less when my real commitment is to a God who loves, cares, understands and protects. 

Second, work for God, not a paycheck. Naturally we all need the paycheck. Why else would we be working? The bills have to be paid. 

But for those who have put their trust in God, there’s a bigger picture. Paychecks don’t last long. Reward from God lasts forever. He advises us to be “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph. 6:7-8). That’s a Paymaster you can count on.

Jesus urges in Matthew7:20, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Giving our best with a good attitude, even in a difficult or unfair situation, is one way we do that.

We should pray like Moses, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psa. 90:17). The word translated “establish” literally means “make permanent.” Our work may seem trivial and be soon forgotten. But when prayed over, God won’t forget. He gives it permanency. 

The summer before my seventh grade year I painted our big, old two-story clapboard house in Hutchinson, Kansas. It was a tough job in the humid Kansas heat, and it took me all summer to complete the job. I got a couple of small interim payments, but what I was really working for was the brand new bike Dad promised when the job was complete. That’s what kept me going. And those who know God are always seeking His greater reward more than a paycheck.

Finally, it pays to work for God, not a promotion. Good, hard, honest work is its own reward, but ambition can become an idol that disappoints. Leave the results to God. Prov 27:2 advises, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth . . .”

Early in Teddy Roosevelt’s career, a couple of advisors suggested he might one day be President. He told them, “Never, never remind a man at work on a political job that he may be President. It almost always kills him politically. . . . If I begin thinking about what it might lead to, I will begin to work for it, I’ll be careful, calculating, cautious in word and act, and so – I’ll beat myself.” He threw them out saying, “Don’t ever mention that to me again.” Good advice.

LBJ staffers found him a demanding leader. He passed an office one day where the desk was piled high with papers. Johnson observed, “I hope your mind’s not as messy as that desk.” So, the guy made sure his desk was clear the next time Johnson came round only to hear, “I hope your mind’s not as empty as that desk.” 

If you’ve got a boss you can never please, get a new Boss. It’ll work wonders for your peace of mind.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church, a member of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, www.eatoncc.org.

Published in The Tribune on May 28, 2016.

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