Saturday, March 29, 2008

Look a Little Closer

I’m lovin’ the Elite Eight. For those of you that don’t follow college basketball, we’re nearing the end of March Madness. Out of the hundreds of Division 1 college teams there are only eight remaining in the annual NCAA Tournament. The winners this weekend become the Final Four and then there is the championship game.

The surprise of the tournament and this year’s “Cinderella” is tiny Davidson College, a Christian liberal arts college with 1,700 students near Charlotte, North Carolina. And the star of the tournament has been Davidson guard Stephen Curry (pictured). Curry is the son of former NBA player, Dell Curry, and has scored 30 or more points in every tournament game thus far.

Saturday the Associated Press carried a story on Curry that began with this opening statement,

“On the red trim on the bottom of his shoes, Stephen Curry has written in black
marker, ‘I can do all things.’

Yes, yes he can. And because of him Davidson is
marching on.”

Reporter Nancy Armor failed to look a little closer at the message Curry was conveying. “I can do all things,” is not a statement of personal confidence. It is a quote from the Bible in Philippians 4:13.

The full quote is, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

I’m sure Curry knows the rest of the verse and was merely writing in short-hand upon his shoe. Stephen comes from a strong Christian home and graduated from Charlotte Christian School.

Curry’s athletic ability and performance have been fun to watch and he’s having a great time on the national stage. But a closer look reveals that Curry has the foundation of Life that will serve him and others well in the years to come.
Davidson lost Sunday to Kansas and missed going to the Final Four by 2 points!

The Embodiment of Grace

Grace is one of those often used words that we sometimes miss the potency of its meaning. We name our daughters Grace and we speak of someone with coordination and ability as having grace. In the Bible grace is not only God’s great gift to us but an absolute necessity.

The typical definition is “unmerited favor” or receiving something that you don’t deserve. I tend to think of grace as the “stuff” that God gives us at any moment of need. You need wisdom and God gives it, that’s grace. You need healing, direction, forgiveness, or salvation, and God gives it, that’s grace.

Friday night’s NBC Dateline carried a story of two families that are the embodiment of grace. The short of it is that a van from Taylor University in Indiana was transporting nine of their students in April, 2006 when a tractor-trailer truck crossed the highway median, struck the van and killed five of the students.

One of the students believed to be killed was Whitney Cerak. One of the students believed to have survived was Laura Van Ryn. The wreck was so horrific and chaotic, and bodies were so bruised and battered, the girls were misidentified.

So, the Cerak family went through the grief of having a funeral for Whitney and the Van Ryn family went through the emotionally taxing ordeal of nursing Laura back to health from a terrible brain injury, coma, and rehab. Five weeks after the crash the Van Ryn family discovered that the woman they had been in the hospital with 24 hours a day was not their daughter but instead Whitney Cerak.

The Cerak and Van Ryn families are both Christian and now have written a book together called, “Mistaken Identity” that tells this story. Both families are pictures of God’s grace as they allow us in their personal and private pain so that we might see--

1. Grace for death and grief (both families had funerals)
2. Grace for perseverance (how does one go on with such a hole in your heart)
3. Grace for forgiveness (officials who misidentified the girls)
4. Grace to love and embrace the other (these families didn’t know each other and now are linked together forever)
5. Grace to trust God when life is so confusing and so painful.

One hymn writer said this about God’s grace--
It is “marvelous, matchless, infinite grace”.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is There Evidence to Convict You of Being Christian?

This past weekend was a very special time of worship at my church as we mourned the events of Good Friday and celebrated the resurrection of Easter Sunday. Of course 2,000 years ago, after the tomb was found empty Christ followers soon began to be persecuted, arrested and even killed. It was a dangerous time to be a Christian.

Recently a youth in Portland, Oregon was placed on trial for being a Christian. Ed Langlois of the Catholic Sentinel reported, “The public trial spanned two weekends as witnesses--including friends, teachers and the parish priest testified about the 15-year-old’s life. In the unscripted adversarial proceedings held in a darkened church, teen legal teams grappled with the question--what makes one a Christian?”

This was the most creative process that I’d heard of that was a part of Kelly Olsen’s (pictured) preparation for the sacrament of confirmation. Youth minister Mike Ashland is the catalyst behind the trial.

For example, defendant Kelly’s mother was called to the stand and testified that Kelly did have a Bible and rosary but had not been seen using them. But the bulk of the testimony pointed to accounts of helping the homeless, attending Mass, acts of kindness and generosity.

In the end the jury found the defendant guilty of being a Christian and Kelly was therefore sentenced to “live and die as a Christian.”

How would the scenario play out for you? Keith Manuel of the Louisiana Baptist Convention points out that as your faith is being scrutinized and questioned you might declare,

“I’m a member of a Christian church.” Yes, but how difficult is it to join a church?

You might say, “I’ve been baptized.” Does baptism prove anything other than you got wet?

“My parents are Christians and I grew up in a Christian home.” Yes, but doesn’t the Bible teach that everyone must personally commit their lives to Christ. Christianity is not genetically passed on.

Jesus said that those that follow Him keep His commandments. And, Jesus declared that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love people. A lover of God worships God. A lover of people befriends, serves, and gives to bless and meet their needs.

If arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Time between Hope Lost & Hope Realized

Today is Holy Saturday. It is the day between Good Friday, when the Lord Jesus was crucified and buried, and Easter Sunday, when the Lord Jesus resurrected and vacated the tomb.

In the church traditions that observe Holy Saturday it is typically a day of silence and prayer. No Mass or worship gatherings are held. Those sanctuaries that have perpetually lit candles denoting the Presence of Christ extinguish the flame. What was taking place in the unseen world and with the Person of Christ on Saturday is still a mystery to us.

However, we do know what was taking place in the lives of those early disciples. They were despondent, fearful and depressed. Though Christ had foretold the events around His death it had all been beyond the comprehension of the first century followers.

Holy Saturday is a time between hope lost (we had hoped He was the Messiah) and hope realized (death is conquered and Jesus reigns). Holy Saturday is a picture of seasons in our lives that we all experience.

I’ve had those seasons where I had prayed and obeyed, followed and executed things that God had called for from my life. I believed God for outcomes that He promised. Yet those outcomes not only failed to happen but to some degree it seemed that the dream/vision had died. I had entered the “zone” of Holy Saturday.

Easter Sunday is a reminder to us that “resurrection happens”! Along with celebrating the saving work of Christ, on a personal level Easter is a stirring, a tugging on my heart that “Saturdays” don’t last forever. Easter calls for me/us to persevere in hoping, trusting, believing and following our Lord.

With respect to the promises of God and the activities of His kingdom, dark and quiet “Saturdays” will not dissuade me from hoping in the Lord.

“My soul, wait in silence for God only. For my hope is from Him.” Psalm 62:5

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur Clarke and a Space Odyssey

On Wednesday, March 19, Sir Arthur Clarke passed from this world into the next. His passing is lamented by thousands of his readers and fans. Though as a child I had seen with great curiosity “2001: A Space Odyssey” I never read any of his 100 works nor followed his accomplishments in science. However, a friend of mine today shared his own personal sense of loss referring to Clarke as his distant mentor. Thus, I was stirred to look at Clarke’s life and reflect.

My friend pointed me to YouTube and Clarke’s last public comments recorded on his 90th birthday. I loved Clarke’s reference to his “90 orbits around the sun”. He also stated his final three wishes in life that he hoped to see before he died.

1. To see some evidence of extra-terrestrial life
2. To see our world kick the addiction to oil
3. To see lasting peace in his adopted country of Sri Lanka

Certainly Sir Clarke didn’t see wishes 2 and 3 come to pass. As I’ve scanned biographical material I would also say that it is probable that Sir Clarke didn’t see wish #1 either.

Though I’m sure it doesn’t fit Sir Clarke’s definition, many of us have seen evidence of extra-terrestrial life and by that I mean the out-of-this-world arrival of God in the person of Jesus Christ living among us over 2,000 years ago. Clarke longed to see evidence of life that was not from our planet and the Bible is clear that Jesus Christ was not from our planet.

Clarke corresponded in the 1940’s and 1950’s with C.S. Lewis and read Lewis’ writings which are heavy-laden with Christian themes but I could find no indication that Clarke became a follower of Christ.

Sir Clarke was renowned for pointing out the ironies of life--
“The truth, as always, will be far stranger.”
“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.”
Speaking of UFO’s, “They tell us absolutely nothing about intelligence elsewhere in the universe, but they do prove how rare it is on Earth.”

Yet, Sir Clarke may have lived an awful irony, “Ever looking for extra-terrestrial life we miss the Extra-Terrestrial that comes looking for us.”

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Does Anyone Pay Attention in Church?

This past week Senator Barak Obama has been distancing himself from his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Rev. Wright has received a good bit of attention during the presidential campaign because of his mentoring influence upon Obama.

However, in the past week the attention became unwanted as old video footage was broadcast of Rev. Wright preaching in the week following the tragic events of 9-11. With pretty heated rhetoric Wright made a number of controversial remarks that are considered racist. Obama has completely denounced the remarks and declared that they in no way represent his views. This of course raises the question, “How can the Rev. be your mentor, preside over your marriage, baptize your children and advise your campaign and yet have provocative views that you both are surprised at and repudiate?”

To answer that question we turn to Rosa Brooks of the LA Times. Appearing on the final episode of the now cancelled Tucker Carlson show on MSNBC, Brooks answers the above question by saying Obama was “probably sitting in church and not listening. I can tell you…people go to church and don’t listen.”


As one who spends hours every week in prayer, research and writing messages such words kill me. Though I think Brooks’ “explanation” on behalf of Obama is lame I had to laugh and cringe at the same time. I was literally studying for this week’s message when I took a break for a few minutes to scan some stories online.

Oh well. I’ll turn back to my study with the persevering conviction that God has something He wants to say to those who gather to worship Him Sunday morning and that it is His intent to bring that talk through me.

Is Religion the Problem with the Increase in STD's?

This past Wednesday the New York Times published the findings of the first national study of four common sexually transmitted diseases among girls and young women that found that 1 in 4 are infected with at least one of the diseases. The diseases are human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, genital herpes, and trichomoniasis.

Among African-American girls nearly half of those studied between the ages of 14-19 were infected with at least one of the diseases compared to twenty percent of white teenagers. Among the infected women, 15% had more than one disease. These diseases are very serious that can cause terrible problems.

To cover the reaction to these findings the Times went to Cecile Richards, the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation. Richards said that these findings “emphasize the need for real comprehensive sex education. The national policy of promoting abstinence-only programs is a $1.5 billion failure and teenage girls are paying the real price.”

Syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly opined, “The word ‘abstinence’, is of course, a reference to those who advocate a traditional, religious view of sexual morality. It is a buzz word that means ‘Religious Right’….the critical question is, ‘Why are these numbers as high as they are?’”

Is religion and its “antiquated Puritan morality” the problem? Is the answer more education about safe sex?

Mattingly reminded readers of a classic article written by Peggy Noonan. Following the horrific Columbine High School massacre Noonan wrote:
“Your child is an intelligent little fish. He swims in deep water. Waves of sound and sight, of thought and fact, come invisibly through that water, like radar; they go through him again and again, from this direction and that. The sound from the television is a wave, and the sound from the radio; the headlines on the newsstand, on the magazines, on the ad on the bus as it whizzes by--all are waves. The fish--your child--is bombarded and barely knows it. But the waves contain words like this, which I'll limit to only one source, the news:

. . . was found strangled and is believed to have been sexually molested . . . had her breast implants removed . . . took the stand to say the killer was smiling the day the show aired . . . said the procedure is, in fact, legal infanticide . . . is thought to be connected to earlier sexual activity among teens . . . court battle over who owns the frozen sperm . . . contains songs that call for dominating and even imprisoning women . . . died of lethal injection . . . had threatened to kill her children . . . said that he turned and said, "You better put some ice on that" . . . had asked Kevorkian for
help in killing himself . . . protested the game, which they said has gone beyond violence to sadism . . . showed no remorse . . . which is about a wager over whether he could sleep with another student . . . which is about her attempts to balance three lovers and a watchful fiancé . . .

This is the ocean in which our children swim. This is the sound of our culture.”

I agree that there is a never ending need for education. We need to understand and teach about the dangers and risks associated with irresponsible sexual encounters and activities. At the same time we live in a culture, in a “fish bowl” if you will, and that culture is bombarding us with sexual and violent messages that are shaping our thinking, our values and therefore our behavior.

It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. We must continue a counter-cultural message of sexuality that is higher than an instinctual, animalistic, hedonistic expression that sanctions “whenever two people are consenting and using a condom.”

“Religion” in the sense of seeking to live life with a connection to God and in harmony with His will is not the problem. It is the solution to the problem and, it is the path to deep, meaningful, beautiful and lasting sexuality.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Your sin will find you out

The ancient scripture found in the Book of Numbers is as true today as it was thousands of years ago and it will always be true throughout eternity.

“…You may be sure that your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23, NIV)

Former New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer, drew his bank’s attention after several sizable transfers of funds occurred. The bank contacted the IRS. The IRS investigated and Spitzer was soon busted. He had been paying large sums of money for sex with prostitutes.

As I watched his wife stand by his side in press conferences and thought of the confusion and humiliation his daughters are going through, it occurred to me…

“If you think it is awful, like the worst day of your life, to have your sin found out here and now, wait until you stand before God someday.”

Spitzer reminded me that no one EVER gets away with anything. Someone might get away with something throughout this lifetime but eventually everyone stands before God and “your sin will find you out.”

In an unrelated story I learned that an innocent man is about to be released from prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Alton Logan was literally at home and in bed asleep when Andrew Wilson went into a McDonald’s in 1982 and killed a security guard. Police found witnesses who mistakenly identified Logan and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He's been in prison for 26 years! Wilson’s attorneys, who knew that Wilson had committed the murder, never said a word to anyone because of the attorney-client privilege. Wilson died within the past year thinking that he got away with murder. Now that his life in this world is over he knows that his sin found him out and that he got away with nothing.

The attorneys have now come forward in an attempt to see Logan go free.

My point of reflection is that sin is serious. It has terrible consequences. It brings destruction to innocent people. In novels and movies people get away with sin. In our world it often appears that people get away with sin. We need reminders such as the stories of this week that our sin will find us out.

The reason that God has declared some things as sin is because they are broken, hurtful, pain-inflicting, consequential things from which our Lord wants to spare us. The way of righteousness is not about obnoxious “self-righteousness” but about right ways that are full of life and blessings.

Spitzer is still alive and can still repent, find forgiveness and perhaps rebuild his life with the help of God's grace. I pray that he will.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Religious Stories Often Lack Critical Substance

We're approaching the Jewish Passover and Christian celebration of Easter. Have you noticed that the media tends to carry religious stories when the calendar approaches significant religious holy days? If a story passes on more information that advances understanding or even inspires the reader that’s great. However, I think such stories require writers who themselves have a thorough understanding in order to capture and give us the essence of something substantive without a boring or routine regurgitation of facts that one could read on Wikipedia.

Because there may be a lack of qualified writers doing the writing there is a tendency to put out unsubstantiated stories or theories that lend to a hot headline.

Check out the MSNBC title, “Was Moses High on Mt. Sinai?” Or the Reuters title, “High on Mt. Sinai?”

Yes, someone was able to find an Israeli psychology professor who is putting forth the idea that Moses was high on drugs when he ascended Mt. Sinai and therefore the burning bush experience and the receiving of the 10 Commandments were a result of hallucinations rather than divine encounters.

Benny Shanon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University contends that there are two plants in the Sinai desert that contain psychoactive molecules from which a hallucinogenic brew can be prepared. Shanon claims that when one is inebriated by the brew one sees a light and has profound religious and spiritual feelings. Shanon is familiar with the effects of the drugs because he has partaken of the brew over 160 times himself.

I’ll resist joking that Shanon must have been under the influence of the brew when writing the results of his “research”. Sexy headlines and fluff content and the reader quickly moves on to other articles and other subjects. Yet the subject of Moses, the exodus of 2 million Jews from Egypt and the receiving of the 10 Commandments that has shaped the lives of billions of people and the laws of hundreds of nations is a deep mine of gold nuggets.

If divine encounters and divine interventions were not a part of the story then it becomes all the more remarkable that in an obscure desert with a group of slaves the world was forever impacted and changed.

These matters deserve our serious reflection.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

First Sunday in the New Facility

We are living in exciting times in my church family these days. Along with meeting new friends and seeing significant life change happen for several, we now have a new location.

Meadowbrook Church has been a mobile church since the first day of our founding. We’ve rented various schools for Sunday worship gatherings. This past September we began construction on a warehouse with the vision of transforming it into 24/7 ministry space.

Today was our first Sunday in the new facility and our first worship gathering. What a fun day to be with friends, experience God’s presence and celebrate God’s activity in our midst.

Stay tuned for future reports of the services and ministries we hope to provide to Redmond and the greater Eastside of Seattle.