jasonbwatson

February 15, 2017

Why I Am Not Standing

Last Wednesday World Relief ran an ad in The Washington Post–a full-page ad, I believe–calling President Trump and Vice President Pence to support refugees. The ad featured a five paragraph letter over the names of Tim Breene, World Relief CEO, and Scott Arbeiter, World Relief President, and is being called the Still We Stand Petition. The ad also included the names of “top evangelical leaders from all fifty states” expressing their support for the need to reconsider Trump’s executive order limiting individuals from several majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. The ad did include the names of several well-known evangelical leaders, including Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, Max Lucado, Ed Stetzer, Ann Voskamp, Leith Anderson and Stuart Briscoe. There were dozens of others whose names I did not recognize. (And with all due respect to Voskamp, she is Canadian, and lives in Canada, so the inclusion of her name on the letter was a bit illogical). The ad also featured, prominently, a web address where anyone who wants to do so can add their name to the letter. As of early afternoon on February 15, one week after the ad ran, the site was boasting just over 6,000 signatories. I am not one of them, nor will I be. Here is why.

Trump’s executive order suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. Furthermore, the order states that during the suspension,

[T]he Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures.

This is not a reckless or inappropriate action on the part of the President. I say this not as a Trump supporter–I would definitely not be comfortable classifying myself as such–but as a supporter of the Constitution and a Christian. The very purpose of the United States Constitution is, in large part, “to insure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense…and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (see Preamble to the Constitution). Furthermore, the presidential oath of office includes stating that he “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Therefore, calling a four-month timeout on refugee resettlement to the U.S. in order to make sure that the admission of refugees “does not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States” is both constitutional and appropriate (regardless of what a court said).

The World Relief letter states that Christians are taught to love their neighbor and that Jesus said that neighbor “includes the stranger and anyone fleeing persecution and violence, regardless of their faith or country.” The letter goes on to express support for the government’s need to set guidelines for the admission of refugees, but says that “compassion and security can coexist.” I agree with that–and I suspect Trump, Pence and others does as well. The very point of the timeout is to ensure that that can indeed happen.

The letter goes on to state, “Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.” That is surely true. Churches and para-church ministries have indeed played a vital role in helping to provide for refugees and will no doubt continue to do so in the future. At the same time, it is not the responsibility of the United States government to accommodate the desire of churches to receive refugees. It is the responsibility of the United States to provide for the defense and security of the country.

The further reality is that churches, para-church organizations even individual Christians can still be involved in supporting and helping refugees even if those refugees cannot enter the United States. There are plenty of organizations providing much-needed assistance to refugees around the world and they would no doubt welcome the help the thousands of people signing this letter seem poised to offer.

Mindy Belz of WORLD is one of the most articulate and outspoken voices on the refugee crisis in the Middle East I think, certainly among Christians, and she has written that she does not think that Trump’s executive order will help Christians. It may not. Again, however, helping Christians in the Middle East is not the foremost priority for Donald Trump or any U.S. president. Nor should it be.

By the way, I am not staking unique ground in supporting the order. WORLD magazine has reported that “evangelist Franklin Graham, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd, and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins are just a few of the evangelical leaders defending Trump’s order.”

Ironically, The Washington Post featured an article on February 10 taking Franklin Graham to task about what the Bible says. (Just ponder that statement for a minute, by the way…). The article, written by Joel Baden, who is a professor of Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School, says that Graham “could not be more wrong” when he said that immigration is not a biblical issue. But Baden fails to make his point. He provides ample examples of refugees and exiles being treated kindly and respectfully throughout Scripture. He writes, “Across the books of both testaments, in narrative, law, prophecy, poetry and parable, the Bible consistently spells out that it is the responsibility of the citizen to ensure that the immigrant, the stranger, the refugee, is respected, welcomed and cared for.” Further, Baden cites both the Old Testament–“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:33-34)–and the New Testament–“Love your neighbor as yourself” (which Baden calls the Golden Rule, but it isn’t)–to support his conclusion.

Mathew Schmalz, an Associate Professor of Religion at College of the Holy Cross, made the same arguments in Newsweek. Raymond Chang, a pastor, does as well for The Huffington Post.  He focuses on the biblical instruction to treat sojourners as those who are native born and Jesus’s statement that we will be judged according to how we treat “the least of these.” The problem is, none of these passages–or any other passages–instruct any country to throw open its doors to immigrants, refugees or exiles. All of these passages instruct that once strangers are in the land, the people who live there are to treat them with fairness, respect and compassion. I agree with that and I suspect Trump, Pence and others do too. None of them tell a country or a people to welcome absolutely anyone into their borders or to exercise no discretion in protecting their own borders. And again, it is entirely possible–especially in the day and age in which we live–to love and care for refugees even without letting them into our country.

Back in 2014 Wes Walker wrote on ClashDaily.com, “To suggest…that Israel would ever have willingly thrown open the borders to a swarm of culturally hostile foreigners, grant them asylum, and become financially responsible for their care is ridiculous. That would have been seen as an invasion force, and would have been treated as such.” The articles above, and others, that attempt to use the Bible as justification for letting any and all refugees into the United States, or for promoting refugee settlement here at the possible expense of national security, are missing the mark–and the intent of Scripture.

By the way, I am sure I am not the only one who sees the irony in The Washington Post, Newsweek and The Huffington Post attempting to use the Bible to support certain policy positions and government actions. I would love to see them make an effort to support a biblical position on things like abortion, marriage, homosexuality and gender issues among many others. That would be something I would take a stand for!

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside in the United States to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country—who have served in the Armed Forces to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. It is, to borrow words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

I grew up just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what that city has to over. I have taken my children into D.C. several times, and they enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking. Most anyone who visits Washington, D.C. will see several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. There are many others in D.C. and in other places around the country—particularly in places of historical significance. Visiting these monuments with my children provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, about the people and events they were there to remember and honor and about the freedoms we enjoy because of them. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

I am not going to write about the monuments to important events in our nation’s history, however, nor about the sacrifice that has been paid by the men and women who have served in our military and given their lives in defense of our nation. Instead, I want to talk to you about a spiritual memorial day of sorts.

I want to first take a look at several examples of monuments or memorials that God used in Scripture to remind His people of important truths or promises–to help them to remember those things because we are, in the natural, quite prone to forget. After we look at these examples I want to identify for you three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and for our children.

First, the biblical examples:

* Perhaps the most prominent example is the rainbow. See Genesis 9:8-17 and note the repetition of “sign” and “remember”
* Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and God instructed him to take twelve stones and create a monument specifically so that future children would be prompted to ask about them, thus giving parents an opportunity to tell their children what God had done. See Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7, 21-24
* The Passover was designed to create a memorial for the Israelites to remember how God had spared His people and led them out of captivity. See Exodus 12:14
* Easter, as well as the fact that Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, are memorials to the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important event in the Christian faith
* Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is designed to cause partakers to remember the love of God, manifested in the gift of His Son who died in our place. See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now, those are five biblical examples of memorials or monuments whereby God provided direction for remembering important events and promises. It is quite fair to say, then, that the use of symbols and monuments is appropriate and that they are not dishonoring to God in any way. (Provided, of course, that they do not become idols). Take, for example, the cross. Here is what Max Lucado has written about the cross:

The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one? Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved in a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they pray. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer look no farther than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal—the other vertical. One reaches out—like God’s love. The other reaches up—as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love; the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross, then, is a monument, a memorial, a symbol that reminds us the God loves us—that He loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin in our place that we could never pay. We do not, by the way, use a crucifix, because we know Jesus is alive. Yes, His death is significant and meaningful, but I He had died on that cross and stayed dead, we would be without hope.

So, I said I was going to share three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and our children. The first is the one I just shared–the love of God, the gift of His Son, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We cannot overemphasize that love or that atoning sacrifice. I am not suggesting that you must wear a cross necklace or hang crosses in your home or anything else, but I am suggesting that we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and—if we are parents, to remind our children—regularly of the love of God and the gift of His Son.
In an article published just before Valentine’s Day 2015, entitled “Remembering the Unquantifiable Love of God,” Christina Fox wrote,

But real love isn’t something you can measure. The love God has for us is beyond numbers and can’t be tallied. When God promised to bless Abraham with countless children, he used the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore as a metaphor. These are things people simply cannot count. Paul described the love of Christ as surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And the psalmist wrote, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

God’s love for us goes farther than even time itself, into the deep recesses of eternity past. It stretched all the way from forever, forward to the cross, and will continue into eternity future. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5).
His love for us is a love that doesn’t hold back. His love gives everything, to the point of sacrificing his very own Son. At the cross, the perfect eternal love of the triune God was shown most vividly as the Son bore all our sins for us. This is unquantifiable, immeasurable love.

We have opportunities at church, opportunities with communion, opportunities when we forgive, when we explain justice and mercy-—we have opportunities around us all the time, every day, to recognize, remember and celebrate the love of God.

The second area where we need to conscious of creating reminders or memorials is in what God has done in our lives. Each of us has stories and instances of God working in our lives, through the circumstances we have experiences, the trials we have endured, the valleys we have passed through, to see God at work and to experience His grace, His comfort, His mercy, His strength, His patience, His faithfulness. We need to be intentional about remembering those instances—and willing to tell others about them.

In Luke 8 Jesus heals a man indwelt by many demons—so many that they call themselves Legion. He casts them out of the man and into a herd of pigs. In verse 38 of that chapter we read that man who had been freed of the demons begged Jesus that he might stay with Him. But Jesus sent him away, and in verse 39 it says that Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And what happened next? The verse finishes, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Now, you probably do not have a testimony so fantastic as being freed of a legion of demons. Neither do I. And frankly, for a long time, I thought that my story, my testimony, any examples of what God had done for me, were pretty boring. But that’s simply not true. Any of us—all of us—can tell others of what Jesus has done for us. It may not be dramatic, it may not incredible, it may not be the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the simple reality is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a miraculous testimony. The almighty, sovereign God of the universe gave His Son to die in your place, and you are now forgiven, set free from sin, and destined to spend eternity in heaven with Him. That is miraculous!

Stephen Altrogge wrote an article entitled, “If you don’t have a dramatic testimony.” In it, he recounts feeling the same way I did—that his testimony is nothing exciting. He grew up in a loving family, was a pretty good and did not do anything terrible from which, or out of which God saved Him. That may make your life story less exciting from a human standpoint, but it is really all the more reason to be grateful and thankful to God. Altrogge writes:

Don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a gripping, over-the-top testimony. Don’t feel like you somehow missed out. Will you get to tell your story in front of large audiences? Probably not. But that’s a good thing. Be grateful that God spared you from the heart-breaking, soul-wrenching consequences of some sins. Be grateful that God saved you before you could wreck your life. Be grateful that you’re not carrying years of baggage around with you.

Those with incredible testimonies may have greater opportunities to tell their stories to larger audiences, but everyone one of us can tell others about what God has done for us. The story of our salvation itself may not be dramatic but every believer has a story of how God has worked in our lives, of how God has provided peace, provided direction, provided comfort…

Let me ask you a question—–could yousay that one or more of these describes you or where you have been at some point in your life: By the grace of God you still alive; delivered from committing suicide; delivered from addictions; no purpose in life—-felt hopeless, lost, no meaning; in the midst of incredible despair, turmoil or uncertainty and you had no idea what was happening or why, but God sustained you and brought you through; you thought you had everything figured out and God told you to do something else that made no sense from an earthly standpoint; you found strength and peace in the midst of incredible physical, mental or financial difficulty… If any of those are true of you then you have a story, you are a monument, a memorial to the faithfulness and goodness of God, and you can and should tell others what God has done in and through and for you.

The third and final area in which we need to create memorials and reminders is the way that God has worked in and through others. The Scripture is full of stories of how God has done marvelous things in the lives of those who follow Him. Look what He did with Job, with Moses, with Noah, with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, of Gideon, of Esther, of David, of Peter, or Paul, of so many others—those are encouraging to us because they are examples of how God works in and through fallen, fallible human beings in order to shape us to be who and what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We should study and know those stories because they are reminders to us.

At the same time, there are many other examples post-Bible times, of how God has worked in incredible ways through very ordinary people. Some of the great individuals of Christian history–Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, George Muller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, D.L. Moody, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, and so many more. In the day and age in which we live, there are people being persecuted for Christ every day-—and we can pray for them, we can know their stories, we can find encouragement and strength and courage and hope in their willingness to stand firm in their faith even when doing so costs them their life. In Hebrews 11 we see a long list of individuals who accomplished great things for God because they obeyed “in faith.” Paul often referenced other believers in his writings. It is not the purpose of Paul or the writer of Hebrews to hold those people themselves out as examples, but rather to serve as reminders–as monuments or memorials–of what God can do in and through ordinary, fallen individuals who get out of their own way and obey God, following His direction and leading in their lives.

For the child of God, every day can be–every day should be–memorial day.

November 26, 2014

Public prayer

My entire post yesterday was the result of Max Lucado’s answer to the first question in his interview in Leadership Journal. There are other thought-provoking elements of the interview, too, though, and I want to touch here on the issue of public prayer. Lucado was asked if praying in public changes the way he prays, and he answered that it does. He elaborated on his answer though, no doubt at least in part to ensure that no one interpreted his “yes it does” as justification for the public prayers we have all heard that more closely resemble a dramatic recitation than a sincere prayer. You know what I am talking about. The voice changes to the “prayer voice” and the vocabulary changes, too, to include the “right phrases” or the Old English “thee” and “thine.” Sometimes both.

Not only is that not what Lucado had in mind, I do not think that is pleasing to the Lord. In fact, Jesus had some harsh words for the manner in which the Pharisees prayed publicly. In Matthew 6:5 Jesus said, “For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.” Whatever they received from others in that situation was all they were going to receive, Jesus said. Their public prayers were performances for which they expected attention and respect. God is not interested in the least in such prayers, in no small part because He is not the audience–those watching and listening are the audience.

Lucado said that praying in public is “a huge privilege.” It is a privilege to intercede on behalf of another, he said, and it is a privilege to “model sincere prayer.” Effective and appropriate public prayer is offered in a sincere manner, often focused on different praises and requests than a private prayer might be, but otherwise containing the same elements of a private prayer. Lucado cautions against the theatrical prayers I described above, saying, “May the Lord deliver us from using those [public] prayers as a time to showcase our own spirituality.” Later, he says, “It’s always a mistake to try to impress people with your knowledge or your eloquence in prayer,” calling such behavior nothing but “self promotion.”

Lucado is talking about public prayer that is offered aloud for, and within the hearing of, an assembled audience. There is another kind of public prayer that is just as important as the sincere prayers Lucado is describing, and that is the public prayer that is offered quietly or silently in a crowd, a prayer that others can see but cannot hear. This could be as simple as a bowing of the head and closing of the eyes for a few moments or it could include speaking aloud a prayer for yourself and those in your group but not for the hearing of anyone beyond. These prayers can model sincerity and devotion, as well. Since the words are not heard by the audience it is the simple act of praying in a public setting that is the testimony. It is a quiet means of declaring to those around us that prayer is important enough to us that we will do it even when it may attract looks from others or cause us to stick out.

Prayer is a tremendously private activity and the Scripture makes it clear that that is as it should be. Perhaps for that reason, perhaps for others, I actually know someone who will not pray in public. I do not mean that he does not like to do so, I mean he will not do it. Not aloud, anyway. He will attend a prayer meeting and join in a group prayer gathering, but he will not pray aloud. I am not advocating that attitude because, like Lucado, I see public prayer as a privilege and an opportunity. I would much prefer to see someone refuse to pray publicly than to pray like the Pharisees, though.

One last thought on public prayer is that we do not need to concern ourselves with how effectively we speak or how impressive our prayer sounds. Many people are uncomfortable with public prayer. Since there may be many reasons for that I am not going to judge anyone’s motives, but I will say this: if your reluctance to pray in public is because you are not sure you will “do it right,” you need to get over that. If it the prayer is sincere, that is all that matters. Maybe your prayer will not sound as authoritative or impressive as someone else’s, but God is not comparing you with anyone else and neither should you. A public prayer is just having that honest conversation with God I described yesterday…and allowing others to listen in.

November 25, 2014

“An honest conversation with God”

Filed under: Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 10:18 pm
Tags: , ,

Max Lucado recently wrote a book entitled Before Amen. I have not read the book, but I just finished reading an interview with Lucado about the book (and the broader topic of prayer) in the fall issue of Leadership Journal. The interview reinforced my desire to read the book, but it also provided several thought-provoking admissions and statements about prayer.

For example, when asked, “What does a good prayer do?” Lucado answered, “A prayer is simply an honest conversation with God.” If you’re like me, you have had the experience of hearing someone else pray and thinking, “Wow, it sounds like he/she is talking to another person…just having a conversation!” It always strikes me when I hear that because, more often that not, that is not how I feel when I am praying. I know God hears me and that I am talking directly to Him, but I do not talk to Him the same way I talk to my brother, my wife, my children or my friends. I say that as an admission of my own weakness, because there really is no reason why I should not talk to Him in a similar way. Yes, I need to approach God with reverence and respect; I am absolutely not advocating an overly casual approach to God. I am not even suggesting that we should allow ourselves to get too comfortable in how we approach God. He is, after all, God, and there has to be an acknowledgement and understanding of who He is and who we are.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie The American President when the President of the United States, played by Michael Douglas, is having a conversation with his long-time friend and current adviser (chief of staff, perhaps, I cannot remember) played by Martin Sheen. Sheen keeps referring to Douglas as “Mr. President,” and Douglas wants him to just call him by his name. Sheen refuses to do so, because the office Douglas holds requires that level of respect in Sheen’s opinion. In my mind, the same is true of God. Even though He desires a close, personal, even intimate relationship with me and with each of His children, even though He invites us to call him “Abba,” the equivalent of “papa,” He is still God, and I must never allow myself to forget that.

Having said that, I must also remember that there is no magic formula for speaking to God. I do not need to assume a specific posture or include specific words. I do not have to use a “prayer voice.” While I need to speak to Him respectfully and with full appreciation for who He is, I can speak to Him in the same manner in which I would speak to someone sitting at a table with me. “A good prayer,” Lucado said, “reestablishes a sense of communion with God.”

I tend to be reticent by nature, and I am not one to chit-chat just for the sake of making small talk. I do, however, enjoy conversation, and I find both pleasure and connection in conversation with friends and loved ones. I can have a lengthy conversation with someone I am not close to, of course. I have done that, and I am sure that you have, as well. I can leave that conversation feeling no closer to that person–feeling no deeper sense of personal connection–than I had before we talked. So it is not the conversation itself that establishes connection. True, regular conversation will build familiarity and increase the likelihood of closeness, but I have also had regular conversations with people to whom I am not close. In fact, I have had regular conversations with people to whom I do not even desire to be close. Our conversations are transactional in nature–giving or receiving necessary information.

That is exactly what my prayers should not be. God does not want me to approach Him as one more thing on my to-do list. God does not want me to tell Him about my day or about my needs because I am supposed to; He wants me to talk to Him because I want to. He does not want me to talk to Him with the cold formalism I reserve for people I communicate with simply because I need something. Neither does He want me to communicate with Him with the disinterested familiarity I have for people I talk to regularly but do not really know or even want to know. Instead, He wants me to talk to Him with the same kind of attitude and spirit I have when I am talking to someone I love, someone I know and want to know more, someone whose presence and company encourages me and makes me happy.

Do you know people in your life like that? If so, think about how you talk to that person and how it is different from the way you talk to your neighbor, your cubicle-mate, your boss or the teller at your bank. You may be quite friendly with those folks, but I suspect you are not often encouraged or strengthened by the time spent with them. (There may be exceptions, of course; you might have a great and deep relationship with your neighbor, cubicle-mate or even your boss. I guess it’s even possible for you to have such a relationship with your bank teller, though I suspect there would be another element to that relationship if that were the case). The people with whom we have deep, meaningful, connecting conversations are the people we are willing to be vulnerable with, people we empathize with, people we miss when we do not get to talk with them for a while and people whose presence lifts our spirits when we are together. Some of us will surely have more of these people in our lives than others, but I think it is fair to say that few of us will have a long list of people who fit that description. In fact, I think we would be fortunate to count a dozen such people in our lives.

That kind of conversation is the kind that God wants us to have with Him. That is the kind of “honest conversation” that Lucado has in mind, I think. That is the kind of conversation that I, sadly, often do not have with God. I get wrapped up in trying to remember to say the right things, I neglect to mention things that I do not think are that important and, in the interest of full disclosure, I often find my mind wandering to other things when I try to spend a lengthy time in prayer. These are my weaknesses, things I need to work on. I know this because these are not problems when I am in conversation with those dozen or so people I described above. When I am conversing with those individuals I am not particularly worried about saying the right thing; I can just be myself. I am not worried about only mentioning things that reach the appropriate level of importance; instead, I will share little–even trivial things–and delight in doing so. In fact, I will encounter things, read things, do things, that cause me to think, “I want to tell this to so-and-so.” I certainly do not find my mind wandering when I am with those folks. On the contrary, I am focused on what they are saying, focused on what I want to share with them, and am more likely to lose track of the time we are spending together than to find my mind wandering to other things.

That is the kind of prayer life I want…an honest conversation with God.

June 18, 2014

False Lights

My favorite vacation spot is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These barrier islands are historically significant for several reasons. On Roanoke Island Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish the first permanent English colony in the New World. The colony disappeared, and is now commonly known as the “Lost Colony.” Several hundred years later the Wright Brothers went to the Outer Banks to fly their plane–the wind and sand creating ideal conditions for flight and safe landings. In between, the islands were a great spot for pirates to hide or rest. Ocracoke Island was the “home base” of the notorious Black Beard.

One of the towns, or villages, on the island is named Nags Head. Legend has it that “wreckers” would hang lanterns around the necks of mules – colloquially called “nags” – and walk them very slowly up and down the beach. The intent was that ships at sea would see the light from the lantern and interpret it to be ships at rest or at anchor, hopefully prompting them to turn in seeking a place of rest. Instead they would run aground and then be plundered by the wreckers on shore.

Whether or not this legend is true, it provides an excellent illustration of what the devil is up to in our world today and indeed has been up to ever since the very first sin. He loves to try to lure us with “false lights” that seem to be very attractive, appearing to offer us safety or success.

I am also a fan of lighthouses. There are several of them on the Outer Banks and I have enjoyed climbing to the top of three of them. But they are great illustrations of what Christians are to be in the world.

They are also a great example of what Jesus Christ is. In John 8:12, of course, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Interestingly, in Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” So lighthouses are a great illustration of both Jesus Christ and Christians.

Satan, on the other hand, is characterized by darkness. Darkness is not attractive. The Bible says men love darkness rather than light, of course, because in our sin nature we enjoy the supposed-secrecy that darkness allows. But when we are looking for something, trying to find our way, we look for the light. The light can guide us out of darkness. It can direct us to safety. It can reveal dangers. Satan has no light to offer – so he imitates light in an effort to cause us to wreck, just like the wreckers at Nags Head.

There are many examples in our world of false lights. The reality is, they all follow the same pattern as Satan’s very first temptation of Eve. He asked her, “Did God really say not to eat of this tree?” And Eve said, “Yes, we cannot eat of it or touch it or we will die.” And Satan said to her, “You will not surely die. You will become like God!”

Satan takes the truth, perverts it and tries to make it appear attractive, like something to be desired – just like the wreckers at Nags Head used a light to appear attractive, but really was designed to lure the ships into running aground in order to plunder them.

We could no doubt think of many contemporary examples of Satan’s lies masquerading as truth…

• Homosexuality is just an alternate lifestyle, people are born that way, God created them that way, or it is just a sexual preference;
• Abortion is not the killing of baby; it is just a clump of cells or it is just a woman making a private decision about her body;
• Gender is arbitrary, it just depends on whether you feel like a man or a woman, not on the anatomy you were born with;
• Marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman – it could be a man and a man or a woman and a woman (or many other redefinitions which are soon to come);
• Premarital sex is not wrong, it is just part of growing up or part of exploring your sexuality;
• Marijuana is not dangerous (see previous post for more on this one);
• Integrity just depends on the situation – if you really need a good grade and you didn’t have time to study just copy off someone else’s paper or, better yet, just plagiarize it (as just one example);
• You don’t have to obey your parents when they are old and not with it.

We could go on, but what it comes down to is, Do what makes you happy! That is the mantra of the world in which we live.

The concepts of right and wrong have changed radically even just within my lifetime…and I am not that old!

This is the world in which we live. This is a bleak and depressing picture. Yet it provides the backdrop for why God’s Truth is so very important today. We have to hold firmly and diligently to God’s truth because it does not change. The world around us is nothing but shifting sand. There is no stability! On the other hand, Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” There is no changing with God!

The Truth – genuine light – does not change. Jesus said He is the light of the world; He does not change, His light does not change. He also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” There’s no change there, no debate, no question, no alternate pathway.

There is a classic story that no doubt some of you have heard before, but it fits well with what I am trying to get at here.

Max Lucado quotes Frank Koch telling this story:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.'”

“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

The light from lighthouses provides direction for safe passage and also warns of danger. God’s truth does exactly the same thing. We must learn and be familiar with God’s truth in order to identify dangers and stay on the right path. It is through God-given discernment (the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives) that we can differentiate between false lights and the true Light.

Blog at WordPress.com.