Month: June 2018

Too much cheese !

too much cheese 2

In the 80’s I had a part time job delivering pizza for Cedar Lane Pizza in Teaneck, NJ. Delicious pie, promptly transported to your door, piping hot. But, there was one complaint the owner received that was so unusual I remember it to this day. A customer called up to complain that there was too much cheese on their pie! Since extra cheese is an expensive extra, this was a startling complaint. The shop’s owner told the pie-makers, from now on you need to dial it back a bit on the cheese ……

Anyway, this memory made me think of when people complain that there is too much grace. They’ll say, dial it back with all this talk about grace; giving the people so much grace means they will do whatever wild thing they feel like doing anytime they want. They need to have the law laid down to them, else, they’ll just have the attitude of “I love to sin, and God loves to forgive me.”

This anti-grace complaint is nothing new. When Paul explained how Jesus frees us from Law to live under grace, he anticipated this exact same objection. As people accused Paul of freeing people to sin to their heart’s content, he said:

May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? 
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:2,15 NASB)

Here’s two big problems with laying down the law instead of teaching grace:

First: Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, but when someone said you were prohibited from doing it, that made you want to do it? Recently, I read that Major League Baseball was removing a video of a fight the Mets manager had with an umpire from the internet.  I thought “Oh yeah? You don’t want me to watch it?” I went online and found the video.

Yes, laying down the law can incite me to disobey!

Second: Laying down the law brings fear of punishment.

It makes Jesus seem like a stern lawgiver. If I do a good deed, I am doing it reluctantly, under compulsion. Uncertain of Jesus’ love, I anxiously try to stay on his good side. 

The answer: The true result of grace.
Jesus died to kill the hold of sin in me. Now I am free: I love doing good in the name of this savior who has already accepted me.

Don’t Cross That Line

wetlands.jpg

But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.        (Hebrews 5:14)

There are acres of woods across from our house. Some of that land is zoned for development, and so townhouses and condos might replace some of the woods. But the rest of the woods is wetlands and can never be developed.

The woods are shown on our town zoning map, but the exact line of demarcation of the wetlands was unclear. It did not much matter if no one was interested in building on the land.

But recently, surveyors went out, marking ‘wetland delineation’ on the wetlands boundaries with pink tape.

The tape now traces a squiggly line of separation between what can be developed and what can’t.

Our Lord uses demarcations too. You might think that the book of Leviticus is a bunch of boring rules. But the overall goal of the rules is quite important: You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, (Leviticus 10:10 ESV).

Today, we are not bound to follow all the rules and regulations of Leviticus, but the goal remains: to discern the line of demarcation between what God says is good, worthwhile and noble and what is trashy, junk, garbage.

How do we tell the difference? It’s not always obvious, especially if there is no specific rule or verse in the Bible for the situation we have a question about. Indeed, today’s opening verse has nothing specific about what is excellent in 2018. It doesn’t tell us whether it’s OK to watch a certain R-rated movie or whom to vote for.

But the verse uses three helpful it-takes-time words: “mature”, “practice”, and “trained”. We really do get better at discernment over time as we continue to walk with Christ and his people.

Just as the experienced wetland surveyor was trained to know where to put the pink tape, we learn where to put our own boundary line between what is worthwhile and what is junk.

Was God Lonely?

rosko

You may remember an FM Disk Jockey named Rosko. Before FM radio became homogenized and commercialized, he had a free-form show on WNEW-FM in New York. He was free to make his own playlists, read poetry, and give monologs. One night, while playing the theme song from 2001 A Space Odyssey, he gave a monolog about why God created man. His theory:  God created man because he was lonely.

But I’d like to respectfully take issue with Rosko.

My reply springs out of what the Trinity is like.  When I first heard about the Trinity, God in three persons, it was presented as dry and abstract. It was a theological puzzle that was hard to either understand or explain.

But I have learned that a much better way of looking at the Trinity is to see it as a love story instead of an enigma.

The 3 members of the Trinity have always strongly loved each other.  Its three members —Father, Son and Holy Spirit, were more than happy with the love and fellowship they had amongst themselves since before the beginning of time. And they could have just stayed in that 3-way love story forever. There was no loneliness inside the Trinity!

But, wonderfully and amazingly, the love among the 3 members of the Trinity was so great that it overflowed into them deciding, out of their love, to create the universe — and us.

But despite that love we rebelled against God. Did God dump us? No, out of the abundance of love from this same triune God, came the decision to redeem us by sending God’s Son Jesus:

 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

And showering even more love upon us, Jesus the Son blessed us by sending the Holy Spirit:

 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26.)

I could never please a lonely, needy God, but because his Son and Spirit live in me I am able to please our loving Father.

Surprising Flowers

Processed with MOLDIV

I expect to see daffodils in people’s gardens in early spring. They are welcoming signs of the change of seasons.

But this spring I saw something unexpected while walking in the woods across our street.

Wild daffodils in the middle of the woods.  

My surprise flower encounter led me to reflect on what is expected and unexpected in how God works in our lives.

When we watch how God works does it look like a garden that is well ordered, predictable, manicured, and under control?   Can there be surprises or unpredictability in the kingdom of God? Let’s check in with Paul:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

Personal testimony: My own life was struck by the Lord’s unpredictability. Back when I was a teenager and knew everything, I decided that Christianity was just a bunch of myths and fairy tales; I was too intelligent to believe such nonsense. But in my 20’s I was stunned to be knocked upside the head to see that Christ’s story is true.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.   (1 Cor 1:21)

I heard this foolishness and suddenly it started to make sense to me.

Of course, Paul is being ironic in his use of the word “foolishness”. It’s only foolish from the perspective of modern rational logical scientific enlightened thinking.   But from God’s perspective becoming a Christian is the wisest thing that could possibly happen. Even though we can’t prove Christian faith beyond the shadow of a doubt, it is not unreasonable… Indeed, what stunned me was that there is evidence 1 that an individual who claimed to be God was executed, came back to life and was seen by many.

Dear readers, you are in one of two camps. You may already believe Jesus’ gospel is true and life-changing. Or you may be a skeptic as I was. Every day God challenges skeptical people…maybe you are being wooed today.

I refused to believe until Jesus showed me he is truth and love and said, “Come on in.” What about you?

1.  Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

You’ve got to hit the red button

red button

Our worship service at The Chapel 1ended.

You can exit the sanctuary down the crowded main aisle. Or go out the side exit – that’s a nice shortcut.

On a recent Sunday, quite a few people, eying the shortcut, headed over to the side door.  But the door was locked.

A crowd began to build up and mill around. Some people got discouraged, gave up, and headed over towards the main exit. But — then — someone reached up to the left of the locked door and punched a red button. The door swung open! Those folks who waited now began to stream out.

When we are faced with temptation, we have a choice, just like the people by the door. Do we trust that there’s a way out — or do we give up?

It’s likely that this verse is familiar to you:

 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But less familiar is the following verse:

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:14).

Note, an idol does not have to be an actual figure that we bow down to. Rather, it is anything we are tempted to make more important than Jesus. If we give in to temptation, we are worshiping an idol instead of Jesus. But we have a choice: we can flee from our tempting idol to something else.

I hereby confess one of my own idols: vastly overestimating what good politics can accomplish.

To worship my idol, I was spending way too much time watching MSNBC and Fox News. The former was enraged that our president was ruining our country. The latter was enraged that our wonderful president was being destroyed by his enemies. Both sides were making an idol out of how the correct politics would cure so much of what is wrong with our country.  I was getting sucked up into their anger; all their futile arguing was giving me agita; I gave in to the temptation to enter their vitriol instead of doing something worthwhile.

So, during Lent, I started a fast from those two networks. Lent ended several months ago but…my fast has not ended yet.  Sometimes I do miss the fights, and I am tempted to hear how the two sides are reacting to the latest Presidential tweet; but don’t think I am missing something of lasting value by not tuning in.

Now, if politics is the idol I am fleeing from, I need to flee to something else.

So, I have fled from politics to…. more of Jesus. This sounds spiritual, but it’s not only spiritual: On a visit for a routine checkup the nurse took my blood pressure—and, not knowing about my FOX/MSNBC fast, she said, “Your blood pressure is way down; have you started taking a drug for it?” Nope — it wasn’t a drug; it was what I stopped taking — exposure to angry arguments!

I encourage you to reflect on what your own idol might be. Yours might be politics, too; but it could be sex, money; or something else. When our idol tempts us — we know that God not only gives us a way out but also provides something to flee to.

When we hit our own red button, we’re turning from our idol to the satisfaction that only Jesus can provide.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/