A Magic Talisman

The Super Bowl this Sunday should be a great game between the Niners and the Ravens. I’m a lifelong Niners fan, so I hope my team pulls it out!

The interesting part of this for me has been watching the controversy surrounding Ray Lewis. Ray made a bunch of remarks about how the Ravens playoff run was God’s blessing on them and more recently about how no weapon formed against him shall prosper. This kind of stuff is pretty common in Christian circles in America today. Ray basically has said that he loves Jesus, and God has told him that his team is God’s favorite and they have God’s blessing.

raiders-of-the-lost-ark-1981That brings me to my devotions earlier in the week. I was reading 1 Samuel 4:1-11 and this common American Christian approach to God’s blessing and success hit me in the face. In that episode, Israel went to war against the Philistines. At first the Philistines defeat the Israelites and kill 4,000 soldiers. But then the Israelites have an idea and go get the Ark of the Covenant from its place in Shiloh. When it shows up in camp the Israelites shout for joy and the Philistines quake because the God of Israel is suddenly in camp. This God defeated the Egyptians and surely can defeat the Philistines. The Philistines even believe it!

As the narrative progresses, though, things change. The Israelites think that the presence of the Ark guarantees that God is on their side, but in reality the Philistines deal Israel a terrible defeat and kill 30,000 soldiers, scattering the rest. Not only that, but the Ark is captured by the Philistines! What a terrible defeat to Israel and a disrespect to God. If you read 1 Samuel 5 it’s clear that God can protect His Ark whenever he wants to (He kills a lot of Philistines and gives them tumors!), but for the Israelites having the presence of the Ark did not serve as a magic talisman of protection against defeat. They couldn’t use their God as a tool for military victory. That’s just not how it works!

This same thing seems to apply in our lives, as exemplified in the stories of Ray Lewis saying that God would not let his team be defeated. Maybe that’s so, but having a Psalm written on your shirt or a Jesus fish on your car is certainly no proof against evil. (Please oh please, Lord, may my Philistine 49ers teach the Ravens a lesson in humility!:) ) That’s not to call Lewis out personally; he’s just repeating what he’s been taught and what is very common in prosperity preaching in America today. God wants you to be rich and successful, to win the Super Bowl or get the contract or the girl. Anyone who is not with you in that is the enemy and therefore God’s enemy.

No.

A football game is not a moral issue. It is not good vs. evil. It is not God’s team vs. Satan’s team. It’s two talented football teams playing a game to see who is better for 60 minutes on that day. It’s competitive, it’s intense, there is a lot of money and prestige on the line, but God doesn’t really care who wins I don’t think. And putting God’s character on the line to come through with a Ravens victory runs afoul of Exodus 20:7 I do believe.

That’s the lesson in the 1981 classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Germans thought that the Ark was a powerful weapon, but it protected itself from them. (or, more accurately, God protected it from them…just like in 1 Samuel 5!) God is not a magic incantation to bring success. He is not a weapon to be used, but the Lord God Almighty of the universe to be worshiped!

So please, think before you equate your success with God’s success. Think before you say that someone else interviewing for a job you want can’t have it because “no weapon formed against me shall prosper.” If victory in the world is God’s mark of success, then a lot of people we look up to failed. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, who died in jail. Moses, who wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his failure. The Apostle Peter was crucified for following Jesus. Even Jesus, whose mission it was to come and lose the ultimate battle on our behalf. Only through that loss (which He despised [Hebrews 12:2]) brought ultimate victory and vindication, and only then before God and not people. Same with Paul and Peter and Moses and many others.

Don’t use God as a magic talisman. Instead entrust Him with the outcomes and worship Him no matter if you get to play in the Super Bowl or get the first pick in next year’s draft.

Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!

A Little Help

Sometimes, a little help from someone with knowledge and ability goes a long way. And sometimes God uses a problem in life to remind us about spiritual truth.

I’ve had a headlight out on my truck for a long time. It’s never been that big of a deal to me, but it’s not really safe either. I replaced the bulb and that wasn’t it. I checked the fuse and that was fine. So, knowing that it was somewhere in between and not knowing how to proceed, I left it. That was all well and good until Thanksgiving weekend, when I got pulled over and given a fix-it ticket by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. No more ignoring the problem!

I don’t have the owners manual for my truck. I used to, but the truck got stolen a few years ago and when it was recovered the manual was missing. But that’s okay, my Google Fu is strong so I looked up the problem and found the right fuse in the fuse panel on a reputable forum for my truck. I checked that fuse (which was good) and the bulb by switching it to the other side. (also good) I knew it was in the wiring and had no more ability to check it from there.

Sigh. This would be expensive. A good mechanic with electrical knowledge is about $120 an hour.

I also have a man who just started attending our church who loves cars. He owns several project cars and wanted to help me solve the problem. So on Sunday afternoon I took it to him and showed him what I had done so far. I told him that I had checked the bulb and the fuse output and it was somewhere between them. I told him that I looked it up online and that I knew it was fuse #23 on my fuse panel.

Oh no, he told me, that’s wrong! He had looked it up in the actual manual (he has an online subscription to a library of manuals as a mechanic) and it was actually fuse #47 we needed to check. And lo and behold, there was no fuse in the spot for #47. He put a 10A fuse in it and viola! Good as new.

10 seconds. A ten cent part. A simple fix. And a world of difference between the guy who thought he knew what he was talking about and the guy who actually did. With a little help from a pro and a bit of knowledge, my fix it ticket was taken care of.

As I drove home with both headlights functioning I got to thinking about how this is a great analogy for the Christian life.

  1. I needed to know truth but had been fed a falsehood. Jesus said to some new believers in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know what God says about life and everything, and there are plenty of people who think they can tell us what God says who really can’t. Without the truth of God’s Word we are in trouble and can think we know what the problem is while in reality being misled.
  2. We need leadership and community. In Luke 6:39-40 Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We all need mentorship and guidance from those who live for Christ in authentic and appropriate ways. (Hebrews 13:7 says the same) If we try to make it in the Christian life by ourselves, we fail. And just like I needed someone older and wiser in the ways of cars than I was, we too need mentors and leaders who we go to for help with living for Christ.
  3. I waited a LONG time to fix a problem that was simple and easy to fix. That was dumb. Likewise, how often do we put up with sin or problems in life when the answers are available?
Have you experienced this kind of thing? Where have you needed some truth and a little guidance to solve what you thought was a huge issue that in reality was pretty simple?

 

A BIG Transition

Yesterday I noted that every living thing changes. That’s true of families just like it is of organizations. Laura and I announced a fairly major family change on my Facebook last week and it’s generated enough questions to warrant a more thorough explanation.

What was the major family change? Well, since our oldest daughter was 4 years old, we’ve been a homeschooling family. She graduates from high school this month, and we’ve had all four of our kids at home for school for over a decade. But next month our oldest will enroll in college full time, our son will enroll in the local middle school and our youngest daughters will head to the local elementary school.

If you don’t care why, then thanks for reading and I would appreciate your prayers as we transition. 🙂

If you do care, allow me to explain. I explain not to justify but just to offer insight into our process and our priorities. If it helps you assess your process and priorities, no matter your schooling decisions for your kids, then I am excited for that.

We have been enthusiastic but not militant homeschoolers for a long time. For us, it has always boiled down to the truth that we wanted Christ in our curriculum, we wanted the kids to be able to learn without peer pressure, and we wanted them to be able to work at a pace that was good for them. But we also always said that we would re-evaluate every child every year. And this fall, as we evaluated our family and our kids, we decided that the best education and experience that they could get would be in a public school. There are several reasons for that.

Number one, we felt that it was best for our kids at this time. Jesus said, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV) We have worked hard to help our kids stand firm in Christ and know Him. They are “as innocent as doves.” But what they aren’t is as wise as serpents, and it’s time in our eyes for them to get a little of that exposure. Plus, our son wants to play football in high school and our girls want to learn musical instruments. 🙂 They can do that from home as well, but this is far easier and probably better for them.

Second, and I don’t say this lightly, my amazing and talented and beautiful and incredible wife was diagnosed with clinical depression this fall. Now, I tell you that simply to brag on my wife a bit for being strong enough to come forward, find hope in Christ and seek healing. That takes incredible guts and also takes real concentration and focused effort.

Go read the link above from WebMD and ask yourself if you could be successful as a teacher while dealing with that. I know I couldn’t be.

Third, given the first two we looked at our kids and felt that our homeschool was just not being as successful as we want it to be. It wasn’t structured enough for our needs, and the kids weren’t getting the education we want them to with teachers who are excited about their subject and teaching in general.

Finally, Laura wants to pursue her dream of being a midwife. That will take time and effort to go to school, and she feels like she serves Christ when she is in the birthing community. I want to encourage that and so do our kids.

So to help our whole family serve Christ more fully, we decided the best thing for us right now is for the kids to go to public school. We’re excited for our kids to love on their schoolmates in Christ, to be a light to their teachers, and to get involved more fully and missionally in our community. We’re excited to support Laura as she seeks healing from severe depression and to affirm her calling and gifting. We’re confident that this is what is best for our kids at this time. And it’s not a permanent decision, as we will assess this summer how the spring went and see if we want to stay on this course or make another change for the following year.

I hope you do the same. I hope you look at life right now and ask yourself if what you’re doing helps you serve the Lord, or if you need to make a change. And I pray that this might help you have the courage to change if you need to.

 

Dead or Alive?

I’ve been hearing this phrase in my head over and over in the past few months:

“Every living thing changes.”

Maybe it’s partly because I’ve noticed that the gray hairs in my beard are staging a coup d’etat over the dark hairs. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through a lot of transitions in life the past few months at church and at school and at home and with friends. And change can be scary because it moves me away from something that I know and into the unknown.

But if it’s static and unchanging, it’s not alive. A living person is constantly changing. (cue comments about my weight going up and gray in my hair…) Likewise, a relationship that is alive is always evolving and growing and moving. I thank God that my marriage is not in the same place that it was when we said “I do” 17 years ago! A business that thrives is always changing. IBM, for instance, began as a maker of dials and time recorders in the 1880s. Imagine if Apple had decided to stick to making desktops and Steve Jobs hadn’t changed to embrace the mobile phone market!

This is true of people as well. Consider the Apostle Paul, who in my mind is the greatest follower of Christ to ever live. In one of his earliest letters, he says in Galatians 5:12 “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” That’s pretty hard core! But at the end of life, in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, the very same man said, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

This is also the case with our spiritual life. If it is not growing, it’s not living. That’s not to say that we’re not saved (salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone), but it’s not living and breathing and useful for today. This is what James talks about in James 2:17, that a faith that is not working and growing and changing is dead.

Every living thing changes. So embrace the change and the growth.

How about you? Where are you changing? Is your marriage changing for the better? Are you growing closer to God, growing in your use of your spiritual giftedness in service to God for the benefit of the kingdom, and changing your heart? If you took a spiritual inventory would you find that compared to a year ago some things have definitely changed, or are you in about the same place?

Every living thing changes.