Friday, May 28, 2010

Is God Fair part 3/Right Living

As I finished mowing my backyard a few days ago, I stopped the mower and crouched down to trim the grass surrounding the air-conditioning unit. The lawn had grown tall around it and so I began to take fistfuls of grass and pull them out (roots and all) away from the platform. After yanking out a few clumps, I had a flashback of my youth.

Many times as a child, my siblings and I would accompany my father on trips to Graceland Memorial Park where my grandfather and other relatives were laid to rest. Our voices would be stilled as we followed dad making his rounds.

Every time we’d go, my dad would squat down and methodically pull grass away from the edges of the flat headstones. He wanted the plaque to be free from the weeds that flourished in the tropical heat. I think it was one way he could remind us of those who passed before us, as well as to reflect on loved ones gone by. He was in a sense reminding himself that they were not forgotten. Pulling away at the grass as if pulling away at the cobwebs that threatened to cloud his memories.

I distinctly remember the sound of him silently pulling at the grass. The sound was identical to what I heard as I pulled the grass around my ac unit. It reminded me that death awaits us all; some sooner, some later.

And it got me thinking about fairness.

Is it fair for some people to live their lives in obedience to God, and yet never see the fruits of their labor? Entire books of the Bible discuss this dilemma at length (especially Ecclesiastes). Why live a righteous life, if the only visible result is persecution and pain? Why bother?

If indeed, this is all there is to existence, then we would have no hope. The apostle Paul mentions this in a letter to the Christians in Corinth who were being misled by some who claimed that this was all there was to life: “And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.”

We have hope because of Easter morning.

We also have a reason to follow right living; not to get brownie points or a “bigger mansion” in heaven, but because God wants us to live with Him NOW as well as when we pass from this life to the next.

When we focus on what others are doing (or failing to do), we take our eyes off of God and forget who He wants us to be.

It is in these times of forgetfulness that we sometimes fall into despair.

Sometimes we have to pull at the weeds. The weeds that threaten to choke our lives. The weeds that try to make us forget God’s promises.

What weeds are pulling at you this week?


Matthew 13:18-23
“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

Hebrews 11:8-16
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

1 Corinthians 15:12-20
But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

Psalm 73
Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong.

They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else. They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!

They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. And so the people are dismayed and confused, drinking in all their words.

“What does God know?” they ask. “Does the Most High even know what’s happening?” Look at these wicked people— enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.

If I had really spoken this way to others, I would have been a traitor to your people. So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors. When you arise, O Lord, you will laugh at their silly ideas as a person laughs at dreams in the morning.

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you. Yet I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny.

Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. Those who desert him will perish, for you destroy those who abandon you.

But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Is God Fair? part 2/Why I Write

Yesterday, May 20, 2010, I handed over a parcel containing a script for a comedy titled “Strawberry Fields for Now” to a Post Office clerk. That package is on its way to the Virginia Screenwriting Competition in Richmond. I sent a previous script titled “Feeding Jesus” to this same competition last year. I didn’t make the cut, but got some very helpful feedback that I used to improve the story. “Feeding Jesus” is currently at the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting; the Super Bowl of screenwriting competitions. You know when they hand out Oscars and the recipient gushes, “I want to thank the members of the Academy…,” well, the Academy sponsors this competition. If I even make the first cut and get into the quarterfinals, I’d be ecstatic.

Getting back to “Strawberry Fields”, I first started writing SFfN around December of 1997. It’s taken THIRTEEN years to finish it (or rather, to finish the current draft (#12)). You see, for many years, I'd tinker with it for a day or two, and then put it away for “later”. On more than one occasion, I almost threw it away. It wasn't until I got serious about writing that I really got anything done to it.

I got serious about writing when I got mad about local politics. “Feeding Jesus” was born out of my anger towards the discrimination that many immigrants (both legal and illegal) faced in my town a few years back. Anger is rocket fuel, and I used it to propel my rear into my chair and my fingers across the keyboard. Finishing "Feeding Jesus" gave me the momentum I needed to go back and restart SFfN. “Feeding Jesus” also gave me the impetus to begin writing my weekly blog.

What has anger moved you to do?

In the Gospel of Mark we find the following interaction:

“Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus said to the man, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.” Mark 3:1-6 NLTse

Did you catch that? Jesus got ANGRY, but instead of using His anger to destroy, He channels it to heal the man (Thanks Rob Bell for this great insight!).

Anger can be very destructive or it can be used for healing. God channeled my anger into developing the discipline of writing consistently. Two scripts, a weekly blog, and a children’s book dealing with a child abandoned by her father, are the result…so far.

We sometimes feel helpless against problems our world faces. There are some things that are out of our control such as when a natural disaster might strike, or coming down with a disease or disability. However, we CAN work together to make things better. There are situations all around us that are patently unfair; Injustice and hunger are just two out of a very long laundry list. “Why does God let this continue?”, we sometimes think. What is it that makes you mad? Might God be whispering in your ear, “I want something done about this and I want YOU to do it”?

The tools to transform the world as we seek to bring about His Kingdom are there for us to use. Once again, the resources are there.

What makes you mad? What are you going to do about it?


Friday, May 14, 2010

Is God Fair?

On Monday, May 5th 2003, I was in my office at Culpeper Baptist Church getting ready to go home, when I became aware of a loud grinding noise overhead. Our day care was located directly above me, and I thought somebody was just moving some furniture. It wasn’t until later that I found out that we had just experienced an earthquake. The epicenter of the quake was 49.7 miles away and 3.1 miles underground. It measured 3.9 on the Richter scale; strong enough to put cracks in one of the walls by the church’s sanctuary.

Over the past few months, there seems to have been a tremendous amount of seismic activity ranging the four corners of our fragile planet. The volcano Eyjafjallajoekull in Iceland erupted, sending clouds of ash that disrupted air travel around Europe for six days in April, and the major earthquakes in Haiti, Chili, China and Indonesia (to name a few) have caused some to be alarmed. But did you know that scientists record on average 50 earthquakes a day? FIFTY a day! Most earthquakes are so insignificant, you cannot sense them. Others are so devastating that they destroy cities and lives alike in their wake.

Why does God allow such devastation? How can He stand by as people lose their loved ones, their homes, and their livelihoods while others continue their lives in peace and security?

Is God fair?

The human body is a complex organism made up of roughly 10 to 100 trillion cells (one trillion is 1 followed by 12 zeros). The sheer fact that we live, grow, move and breath is a miracle in itself. The body is a self-regulating organism. We can adapt to our environment and we can create new life. We are strong … and we are incredibly fragile. Cancer and diseases fill our hospitals and take their toll on our friends, neighbors and ourselves. A tiny blood clot can end your life as fast as an assassin’s bullet.

For those who have led long and meaningful lives, a terminal illness may not be such a tragedy, but what about children who must be hooked up to machines just to keep them alive? What about babies who are born with bodies that do not function as they should? Why do some live healthy lives of carefree abandon while others must struggle for every breath?

Is God fair?

What about people who are born with predispositions that conflict with God’s standard for right living? For example, there appears to be genetic factors that contribute to alcoholism. Studies of twins who had biological parents who were alcoholics showed that they also had tendencies toward developing the condition even if they were adopted by parents who didn’t drink. Many people hold onto the argument that if God made them with certain predispositions, that they have a right to live in tune with their nature. Others hold onto God’s standard for right living and struggle mightily against what their own flesh cries out for.

A similar question can be raised by many couples who want to have children, but cannot. Why does God allow some to have many children and others to be infertile? It’s not their choice and it’s out of their power. Why won’t God give them what they want?

Is God fair about these things? Things like natural disasters, diseases, and genetic heredity? Things that we have no control over?

I don’t believe God is fair … at least how we define fairness. Our view of “fairness” is extremely myopic. The mere fact that we are finite creations guarantees that we cannot see “the big picture” as an infinite God can and does.

In the book of Job, a man rails against God and the “injustice” that is being perpetrated against him. He seeks to meet God in a court of law to make his appeal. When God does appear to Job, God does not defend the particulars of why He allowed calamities to rain down on him. God asserts that Job cannot possibly even begin to understand why things happen.

“Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:1-7

God speaks for three entire chapters about His role in creation; Job’s answer speaks to his humility.

“Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:1-6

God’s ways are so much higher than our own that even our best efforts at judging “justice” and “fairness” fall short.

“Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:6-9

Does all this mean that we live fatalistic lives? Does it give us a reason to blame God for those things that make life so difficult? Should God receive any less praise because we don’t understand His ways?

One thing we can know is that God not only loves us, but is at work around us. He can create beauty from pain and diamonds from ashes. He can take away our fear concerning an uncertain future and fill us with bright hope instead.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28

There are some things in this world that we must accept, because we cannot do anything about them. What we CAN change is our attitude towards them, and how we live our lives despite them.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss ways we can affect our broken lives and fractured world.


Scripture taken from the NLTse

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Where Two or Three Gather

One evening in the spring of 1994, a friend of mine and I sat in his car, waiting to pick up another friend who was getting off work. As we often did, Glen and I discussed important life topics (typically: girls, video games, civil war re-enacting, or music). Music was on the forefront of our minds that night; or rather, the LACK of music. At the time, there was no radio station in Miami that played Christ-centered music that rocked. There was a contemporary station, and a few “sermon stations”, but nothing that appealed to young adults like us. Nothing even came close.

So, as we continued to vent about this, we began talking about a vision for a new station. We talked about what it would be like and what it would play. And as we talked about it, we got more and more excited. We decided to pray together about it, quoting what Jesus said in Matthew 18:19-20 as justification.

“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

We prayed and believed it would happen. That was that. The next day, we ran into a friend of ours who was a DJ at the University of Miami’s radio station. We grabbed him and shared our idea. He shook his head and replied, “Talk to Rob, not me.” Rob Robbins was the other DJ we knew. “But Chris,” we continued, “Wouldn’t this be awesome?!”

“Just talk to Rob,” he repeated. So we hunted Rob down and shared what we had in mind with him. He looked at us kind of funny, then told us he had just started the paperwork to get a radio station started in South Florida. A radio station that point for point matched what Glen and I so eagerly prayed about the night before.

Five grueling years later, CALL FM signed on the air for the first time on February 9, 2000 at 8:05pm.

God used Rob Robbins and his team to achieve what many “experts” believed to be impossible.

God is still at work.

And He starts with two or three people.

Now, I’m not saying that God is a vending machine who takes in prayers like coins; reaching the quota gives you what you want.

What I am saying, is that God works in the hearts of His followers, and as they live in community with Him and each other, He sometimes lets them peek into a little corner of His plan.

I’ve always found it important to pay attention to what God speaks through others ESPECIALLY if He has been saying the same thing to me.

This is why church, a gathering of believers (whether under a steeple or around a coffee table), is so important.

What I find really interesting about Jesus’ describing the church as two or three people is that those verses are sandwiched between verses dealing with Church discipline, and verses dealing with the need to forgive others generously. The church is to honor God with right living, and it is to honor God by mimicking His forgiving nature.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die?” says the Sovereign LORD. “Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” Ezekiel 18:23

Living right and loving others unconditionally is not an easy lifestyle; in fact, it is impossible on our own. However, it defines what a church must do to invite and grow followers of Christ.

If you are a follower of Christ and are not currently connected to a body of faith, I challenge you to find a community where you can grow. If you are part of a community, find new ways you can connect with others.


Part One of The River Community Church’s Vision

Life Changing

Small groups of people are where it's at. When asked where our church meets, we laugh. "All over the place," is our response. The church is about people, not buildings. Our Small Groups ARE the church. They meet regularly to share life; both its joys and struggles. You'll find them meeting in bars, malls, coffee houses and diners. You'll see them serving others in our community and beyond. And you'll hear about them starting new Groups. There are people all over the place who need to reconnect with God and with others; without new Groups we'd never get to share this journey with them. All kinds of friends are invited to walk along with us. They come because here they discover acceptance and love.

Related Verses
Matthew 18:15-22

Correcting Another Believer

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.

“I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

Hebrews 10:23-25

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Selected verses taken from NLTse.