Sunday, February 27, 2005

Au Revoir

I'll be offline for a few days, but hope you will check back next week. ...
Pressing on,
Grace

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Why So Many Gods?

One of the common misperceptions of young people today is that all people of faith worship the same God but in different ways. There’s a movement afoot to host ecumenical services and forums, bringing Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus and others together. That’s fine for certain purposes. But theologically, their beliefs are quite different. And their gods are distinctly different.

(Jews and Christians do worship the same God, but Jews do not recognize the deity of Jesus Christ, hence they have an incomplete view of the God of Christianity.) Biblical Christians are evangelically motivated precisely because they see such a chasm between followers of other faiths and the one true God.

Our daughter picked up an interesting book recently that addresses this topic. It’s called “Why So Many Gods?” by Tim Baker and Kate Etue. Based on the colorful graphics and vocabulary, I’d say it is aimed at your generation. It’s easy to read and not too deep. Might be worth a look in your church library or public library to find this book as it gives an overview of lots of belief systems.

The authors take the position that Christianity is the only true religion and compares it to many other “faiths” in four categories: World Religions, Secular Worldviews, Occult Religions, and Cults. So you can read about everything from Hare Krishna to Ouija Boards to Mormonism. Even a couple I’ve never heard of like Rosicrucianism and dowsing.

One overarching theme of the book: “Christianity is the only religion where God is really God, because it’s the only one where God saves the people instead of the people saving themselves.”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Happy Birthday, Hans!

Happy birthday, Hans, today and every day. Thought you'd like a message from someone closer to your own age. Hans Zeiger wrote this essay on the occasion of his 20th birthday.

Enjoy!

"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds." Titus 2:11-14

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Revive us, O Lord

In honor of Black History month, I thought I'd give you a little food for thought. Here's an article about how racism is inherent in abortion as it's practiced in America today. Some call it black genocide.

Not only is abortion tragic for an individual (the baby) and his or her family (the parents). But abortion is a cultural tragedy, too. I'll be attending a function of Black Americans for Life this week. Abortion and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases are crippling African Americans, especially in our urban areas. As Christians, we need to pray about this. And we also need to ponder how we can help the cause of Johnny Hunter, Day Gardner and other blacks who are speaking out. Few people realize that Planned Parenthood, which calls itself a family planning clinic, was started by a racist. As the toll of abortion climbs, the founder's racist dreams are being realized right before our noses.

We must pray for revival. Ask God to revive your own heart first. Then your friends and your church. And to bring spiritual awakening to our society that we might turn back the dark tide of abortion and renew a culture of life and dignity.

"Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity." Hosea 14:1

Monday, February 21, 2005

Presidents' Day

Hope you are enjoying some time off today. In honor of Presidents' Day, take a few minutes to pray for our government leaders as we're told in I Timothy 2:1-2:

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Sledding

You know how the Olympic luge runs start off so slowly. The riders (are they known as lugers?) give a big push, and the sled starts to slide. They jump in. And the sled starts to cruise and by the time they reach the bottom, they have attained warp speed. That's how my day was.

So now daylight is long gone and today's post condenses to a thought. A description for Signposts Aloft, a video available in our church library, reads:

Pilots rely on Instruments . . . believers rely on scripture.
To whoever wrote that: thanks! It's a simple and eloquent reminder that God's word is our guide in a dark world.
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Surfing

Did you read Hebrews 11? Did you see how different all those faith heroes were from one another? But they all had something in common ... they believed God. And God was able to do extraordinary things through them.

Today I want to introduce you to someone you may have heard about in the news. Her name is Bethany Hamilton. She’s a 14-year-old competitive surfer, whose arm was bitten off by a shark. This young lady proclaimed her faith in Jesus from the beginning of her ordeal. Exercising incredible faith for one so young, she has never stopped trusting God. And, holding onto Him, she is reaching many others with a message of life and hope. Visit her website and learn more of the wonderful ways God is redeeming a tragic event and get acquainted with a real faith hero of the 21st century.
Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” Isaiah 43:4

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Skating

What is faith? We talk a lot about it. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” In some ways, that’s a tall order.

I’ve heard faith explained (wish I could credit a source but I’ve forgotten) as like stepping onto a frozen pond. You could spend a lot of time on the banks, wondering if the ice will hold your weight. You could circle the pond. You could investigate certain scientifically comforting facts such as what the temperature is outside, how long it has been how cold, and what the history of that pond’s ice strength is. You can even watch others skating around out on the ice.

But at some point, if you really want to know if the pond will support YOU, you have to step out on it. That’s faith. And when you trust God and step out on the “ice” for him, when you find that He really will hold you up, your faith will grow. And you’ll find great fun and encouragement joining all those already skating around.

I’m in a wonderful Bible study on faith called “Believing God” by Beth Moore. She looks at faith this way: “Faith is the primary means by which we place our hand in the outstretched hand of God and join Him.”

Read all of Hebrews 11 to learn about some ordinary folks who are called heroes of the faith.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

On Prayer

I have found an interesting blog, Stand to Reason, that focuses on apologetics, the defense of faith. But today I want to draw your attention, not so much to apologetics, as to this blogger's commentary: 10 Tips to Help Your Prayer Life.

Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with God. Our conversation with Him, that can take place at any time or place. I'd encourage you to take to heart the blogger's tip about journaling. I have found writing down prayers or keeping a log to be a great defense against one of the biggest obstacles to effective prayer: Distraction!

"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Philippians 4:6

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Upside of Downsides

Yesterday an Indonesian missionary spoke in our Sunday School class. He is a native and has begun thousands of churches and many seminaries throughout Indonesia. He said Aceh, flattened by the tsunami, is the only province under Islamic Syariah law - in which it is illegal to share Christ. It is an ardently Muslim region whose people despised America and Western ways.

And yet the world has never witnessed such a humanitarian and social crisis as that reaped by the awful tsunami after Christmas. Our guest missionary told us how the American aid was first to arrive and how these people of Aceh welcomed the sight of our helicopters and the relief we brought.

I thought, “we can be like this with God.” When life is good, we so easily go about our business, making decisions as if we are in control and forgetting to consult our Lord. Prayer can grow stale. But when we’re in the pits, whoa. That’s the time when so many of us call on God. Really seek Him. And look to Him for help and relief.

Crisis can draw us closer and deeper with God if we let it. Pit prayers tend to be vibrant and earnest. That’s the upside of hard times. The writer of the Psalms knew all about life in the pits. Read through the Psalms if you’re having a hard day and see how the writer let “the pits” turn his heart to God.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

Friday, February 11, 2005

When Will They See the Light?

This post will be short today. I'm working on another writing project.

The local wackos are up to their tricks again, trying to undermine our laws and policies that require abstinence as the emphasis of sex education classes in our state. You'd think after 25 years of failure, abject failure, of other approaches .... you'd think with sexually transmitted diseases spreading like wildfire among our teens ... you'd think they would see the light.

It's a medical and scientific fact. If you don't expose yourself to germs, you won't get sick. Abstinence works every time it's tried for the prevention of disease (and pregnancy). And you know what else? It protects your heart, your reputation, your soul, and your psyche - something no prescription or drug store device can do.

God knew what He was doing when He set boundaries for our bodies. If you're tempted to step outside His plan, email me. Let's chat.

"Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body." I Corinthians 6:18

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tantrums on Idol

Our family enjoys American Idol. It's generally family fare. And if we tape it, we can avoid commercials. The season when our cleancut, local boy Clay Aiken was winning was really fun.

I have to admire all the participants, though, for making themselves vulnerable to potentially harsh criticism. They have to know Simon will show little mercy. And when he (or one of the other judges) lowers the boom ... ouch!

How do you think you would respond? The one who cried when he laid eyes on the California beaches won me over with his simple gratitude for being there. The one who got crushed, then - like a real man - said, "Thank you for the opportunity." The girls whose disappointment ripples visibly across their faces, but they nod their heads and say thanks. I find them refreshing.

Then there are the ones who rage. Every third word is bleeped. A parent yells at the camera how unfair it is.... what makes them so embittered? Maturity is obviously not proportionate to age! I feel for them, though. They expected a certain result, and when they couldn't get it, further efforts were not even possible, they melted down.

We're all like this at one time or another. We live in a results-oriented culture. It's also an instant gratification kind of culture. Frustration often comes in expecting a particular result and is magnified when we set up a time limit. We can avoid the meltdowns if we can hand over the results to God. Enjoy the process and let go of the outcome.

A friend reminded me of this freeing concept yesterday. She had faced an issue much bigger than she felt capable of handling. So she focused on walking with God, step by step through it. And she said He unfolded the most amazing plan, far beyond her expectations, as she waited on Him and accepted His direction. She got a most unexpected and wonderful result, but she emphasized what a peaceful process it was.

Whatever you are facing, however you are serving Christ, try not to let a lack of results or "skewed" results discourage you. Give those to God. And give thanks for the opportunity.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Misguided Policies

Yesterday I skimmed an interesting article by Helen and Peter Evans. In it, they reviewed a presentation by well-known author and Harvard Med School grad Michael Crichton. They said he voiced a serious concern about science policy, namely “how politicized research results in distorted conclusions and misguided policies.”

In my day, we would have simply said “input determines output” or, in this case, “faulty input determines faulty output.” But I like Crichton’s formula better, because it spells out that crucial middle step – the distorted conclusions. Setting aside science, let’s consider this in personal terms.

If your research or knowledge is flawed by bias or misinformation or whatever, then your thinking will be off, too. You will draw distorted or wrong conclusions. Those, in turn, can lead to misguided actions. Unfortunately, you live in an age of widespread misinformation. Much of television and music aimed at your generation portray a flawed view of life.

For instance, the media glamorize a loose lifestyle. Bed hopping is idealized as freeing, normal and fun. Rarely does a tv program ever depict the serious physical, emotional and mental consequences of such a lifestyle. How many stars of these shows contract a debilitating and disfiguring sexually transmitted disease? How many get unintentionally pregnant? How many acknowledge the emotional trauma and guilt associated with aborting a preborn baby?

So I hope and pray you will be careful in choosing the movies, shows and music you choose to “input” into your mind. And I hope, if you have a restrictive Mom like me, that you will understand she may well be trying to protect you – protect you from corrupt data that leads to distorted thinking that leads to bad decisions.

“Good sense wins favor, but the way of the faithless is their ruin.” Proverbs 13:15

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Like A Wave

Reading the news today of President Bush’s increased approval ratings amuses me. We all know the numbers were boosted by successful elections in Iraq. And we all know they will decline again following the next tragic event there. Or maybe they’ll go up if Bin Laden is captured. What fickle people we can be.

Whether your opinion of Bush is good or bad, whether you favor the war or not, don’t you think your approval (or disapproval) should be rooted in something deeper or more substantial than isolated events on the ground? If more people stood on principles or policies, it seems to me the numbers would vacillate a lot less.

But I am sometimes like these poll responders. We had to make summer camp decisions last week, and I could not make up my mind. We were under time pressure, and I found myself unable to stick with a decision. Trying to please the kids. Trying to please friends. Trying to juggle the schedules of about 20 youths and 4 camps. My double-mindedness was frustrating others. I felt totally incompetent. Do you ever feel like this?

And suddenly the words “You are like a wave, tossed to and fro” penetrated the whirlwind. That’s a phrase from the first chapter of James. It describes those who are without God’s wisdom, those who doubt His wisdom. It was like a spiritual spanking from the Holy Spirit. Get your mind and your eyes back on track! I was losing sight of the goals we had already (prayerfully) set for our family’s summer.

Jesus uses a simple analogy to illustrate how vulnerable we are when we don’t hear or practice His words. He says we are “like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:26-27) When we base our decisions and actions on circumstances, events, feelings, and popular opinion, we are building on sand. James says we’ll be double-minded and unstable. (James 1:8) We’ll probably have lots of crashes.

Here’s the flip side:
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Monday, February 07, 2005

Some Good News

Sometimes I like to see what other bloggers are posting. I found an interesting post today on an evangelical blog that gives the “gospel” in 10 steps. The blogger’s wife had developed these points as a simple way to explain the good news to young children. Keep in mind the target audience. Many of the comments he received seemed to forget that this is a simplification for children.

I’ll leave it to true theologians to debate steps #9 and #10. But I think the earlier points may help clarify how Jesus is our “ransom.” Remember recently when we discussed
love and sacrifice, and I said that the price Jesus paid was “essentially a ransom”? Warnock’s outline sets forth the separation between a holy God and us – a separation caused by sin that holds men and women captive.

The Bible tells us the “wages of sin are death.” In His love, God sent Jesus to set us free. He, holy and perfect, gave His life on the Cross as a ransom, a payment to set us free. It’s as if a judge sentenced you and me to death, but an innocent man (Jesus) steps forward and says, “I’ll take the sentence on myself.” And then we are allowed to live.

Will we live perfectly? No. Grasping this concept is just the beginning of a new relationship, an eternal process of living for God and with God in your life. Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

Friday, February 04, 2005

How to Stay Christian in College

A week with a sick child at home and sundry obligations has left me with little time to write anything original. So today I’m going to direct your attention to an article published on the Prison Fellowship website.

With a Little Help from Your Friends was written by J. Budziszewski, author of the best-selling book How to Stay Christian in College. Much of what he writes could also be applied to high school, particularly if you attend a public school. Acknowledging that many youth stray from their faith during their college years, he poses the question: “Is there hope?” And then he answers it:

Of course ... To paraphrase Saint Paul in Romans 8, I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor professors, nor administrators, nor dorms, nor drugs, nor degree counselors, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We can be separated from Christ only by acts of our own will.

Do read the whole article. One thing the author emphasizes is the importance of Christian fellowship. Positive peer pressure, you might call it. I made a lot of mistakes in high school and college. But I’ll attest that without the encouragement and accountability of many dear friends in the faith – one of whom later became my husband – I would have made many more errors and many worse messes.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A Picture is

worth a thousand words. Go here and see a photo from last night's State of the Union address. In some respects, this image is so powerful I'm hesitant to comment at all. But I know my own teenager went to bed in the middle of the President's speech and hence missed the night's high point. A quick scan of the major network websites this morning showed no visuals of this moment. In fact, you would think the whole speech had been about Social Security.

So ... to give context, the woman beside Lady Bush - as our youngest has named her - is an Iraqi whose father had been murdered by Saddam Hussein. Now she leads a women's movement in Iraq and risked her life, along with millions of other citizens, to vote this weekend. The woman in blue whom she is embracing is the mother of a soldier slain in Fallujah. That's his father shaking hands with an unidentified military man.

Wow. What a picture of redemption. Both families united in grief and tragedy, but also in hope and mutual comfort. We glimpse the good God is working through the sacrifice and suffering of those who laid down their lives for others. As people of faith, that's our hope on display - that in the darkest hours God has not forgotten, and God, in His time and in His way, will redeem our troubles and pain.

"For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too." II Corinthians 1:5


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Truth

As I’m writing this post, speculation about the authenticity of a photo is swirling. Some terrorist group has published a photo on the internet, supposedly of a captured U.S. soldier. However, bloggers and others have taken a close look and are claiming the “soldier” may actually be a GI Action figure - “Cody” made by Dragon Models USA, to be specific. Now I don’t know the bottom line. I don’t know, but certainly hope, it is a farce.

It’s a bit unnerving how information ebbs and flows. Not that long ago, CBS News was shamed by publicizing what turned out to be forged documents about President Bush’s military service. Then accredited voter services published misleading poll results early on election day, figures that turned out to be way out of whack and a major embarrassment for the organizations involved. I’m sure you have examples from school how false ideas and rumors can spread and cause confusion or worse.

How do we know what is true? How do we know whom to believe? Truth is an important and ever elusive attribute in our culture. And the failure of adults to speak truth without spin or varnish makes it even more difficult for teens to find it. I hope you will search for Truth – with a capital T - and not give up, especially in relation to moral issues. God created you. He knows and loves you more than anyone on this earth. Search His word, the Bible, for Truth in this life.

“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Reaching for High Ground

One man who took a God Pause, reflecting on the tsunami, was Chester Debnam, a local pastor. He wrote an article, The Recent Earthquake Tragedies, calling for a renewed commitment to evangelism and to remember spiritual food as we rush to meet physical needs. He cited Revelation 6:15-17: And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”

The December tragedy provided just a glimpse of what the “great day of wrath” could be like. These verses remind me of a friend of my in-laws. He is a former Silicon Valley executive who had made his fortune in America and lived around the world, eventually settling down in Thailand. According to news reports, the 73-year-old man had been chairing a meeting for members of a private club on the coast when the wave hit. He was washed into the ocean and spent several hours at sea, clinging to a tree branch, before a change of currents and his own efforts brought him back ashore.

The resort was wiped out. Even the clothes he wore had been stripped away by the force of the waves. Many of his friends were lost. He found that some resort guests and employees had taken refuge on higher ground and survived. As in the verses above, rich and poor alike had scrambled for the high ground and hoped for mercy.

It didn’t matter whether you were a wealthy vacationer or the resort gardener, the tsunami was a great equalizer. And when the end comes, our own purses and billfolds, cell phones and passports, Nike Air Jordans and Uggs will be stripped away. In material terms, we will all be equal before the Lord. What will we have left to show for our life here on earth? What will remain of your life that is eternal and unshaken?

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” Heb. 12:28-29