Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Do You Want to Become a Morning Person?

I haven't posted on here in a long time. Part of the reason for that is busyness, and part of it is laziness. But today I came across a blog post from Michael Hyatt that I though was just too good not to share. In it he talks about how to become a morning person. I share this because I've met a great number of people who have told me that they wish they were morning people. So, if you're one of those, click on the link below and read this excellent article. I hope you get something out of it; life is a horrible thing to waste.
How to Become a Morning Person

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm a Grandfather!

Yesterday my first grandchild was born – Luke Wesley denBok. He came into the world amid a flurry of activity and mixed emotions, as life’s complications threatened to deprive us of the sheer joy of the moment. But into this world he came, ready or not.

His birth, to me, was like a microcosm of life. There were risks involved, the mid-wife was concerned for his well-being and a Caesarean Section was considered. Family members were all dealing with their own lives and problems, while trying to play their part and support the new Mom and Dad and baby. This new little one is absolutely an intrusion, but such a welcome one.

He entered the world and was immediately surrounded by people who love him – first his Mom; then Dad; then Mom’s family; then Dad’s family. And on it goes in expanding concentric circles. It is as it should be. Sharing the joy of a new life is good for the soul.

Upon reflection, what strikes me is the importance of each individual. I mean, we are all part of the “human race,” but that is such an impersonal thing. The Psalmist writes of God: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” This is true of every individual. Each human being is precious to God; created on purpose and by design.

As such we are all worthy of dignity, each endowed by our Creator with an innate worth. We know that intuitively (or should) when a child is born, but I think we forget that sometimes when people get a little older. We see the extreme value that each of us has in the willingness of Christ to sacrifice His own life for our sake. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

So, everyone is someone for whom Christ died. The child born in a mud hut in Africa has every bit as much value as my grandson born in a modern hospital. The prostitute working a street corner in Los Angeles is loved by God just as much as the deacon in the three piece suit at First Church on Sunday.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ response when asked: what was the greatest command? He replied, in short, that we are to love God and love people. He also said that if we have done it (visited, clothed, fed, etc...) unto the least of these we’ve done it to Him. In other words, our love for God will be reflected in our love for people.

I read a good example of this in Bill Hybels’ book, “Who You Are When No One’s Looking.” He said that he “read of a doctor who spends his Wednesday afternoons hanging out with a dozen homeless people. He talks with them and laughs with them and gives them medical treatment when they need it. One week, one of the homeless men missed the Wednesday meeting because he could barely walk. So the wealthy, well-trained suburban doctor went to find the guy; he sat him down and gently pried off the homeless man’s shoes and socks. What he found underneath were feet badly bruised, blistered and infected. There, in a public place, the doctor sat down on the floor, bathed the man’s sore feet, dressed the wounds and prayed for the man’s comfort.”

I would like to be like that. I’m afraid I have a long way to go. My grandson is one day old, and already I’d do anything for him. I feel the same about all of my family. But everybody is somebody for whom Christ died. Everyone is worthy of love and dignity. I’m trying to develop a heart for others; to learn to love ordinary people the way that God loves me. After all, as someone said, the entire world, with one trifling exception, consists of others. People matter, all of them, large and small. 

Perhaps I'll get there. I hope so. The world would be a better place if more people loved like that. In the meantime, I'm thankful for a special gift from God. Welcome to the world, Luke Wesley denBok, God has big plans for you.  

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Situation Critical

American Pastor Saeed AbediniNovember, in some Canadian churches, has been designated as a month of prayer for the persecuted church. It's appropriate, then, to highlight the plight of just one of many thousands of cases of persecution around the world. I have written before of the case of Pastor Saeed Abedini (right), a U.S. citizen in prison in Iran for his faith.

His situation has become even more critical in recent days. According to reports from The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), Abedini has been moved from Evin Prison in Tehran to Rajai Shahr Prison in Kara. This prison has been described as "the place prisoners go to disappear."

A Dutch diplomat, Loes Bijnen, described the prison like this: "Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Raja├» Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don't hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence." 

Coming, as it does, in the midst of an anti-West backlash in Iran, Pastor Saeed's life is in real danger. There is a petition that has been launched in the U.S. to ask President Obama to intervene to bring about a resolution to this situation. If you are a U.S. citizen, please consider signing it. Jay Sekelow describes this as a "life or death situation" and thinks that there may be 24-48 hours to save Saeed.

If you are a believer, it's time to pray. Persecution is nothing new. The Apostle Paul wrote numerous letters during his time in prison, finally giving his life at the hands of a Roman executioner. He said, in his letter to the Colossians, "Remember my chains." It's very easy for us, living in the free world, to blithely go about our daily affairs, never giving a moment's thought to Christians around the world suffering for doing what we so often take for granted.

Whether it's a Pakistani Christian falsely accused of blasphemy, a Christian in China or Vietnam in jail for being a part of an unregistered church, or a Christian in India, beaten for their faith, they ought not to be forgotten. So take a few moments today to pray for those living under the threat of violence and death. How should we pray? Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote "Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  

Pray for strength and courage for those undergoing persecution. Pray that they would remain faithful. Pray that they would be delivered and that the Gospel message would continue to go forward. Pray for God's presence in the middle of their trial. Pray for their families as they suffer in other ways. Pray for those working through various means to bring about relief and/or release for the prisoners. Pray for government officials who would be in a place to make a difference. Finally, pray that God would keep your heart soft to the needs of others and that they would never have to stand alone.

Related Articles:
No Justice for Abedini
Why is Youcef Nadarkhani Free?
Saudi Arabia Calls For Destruction of Churches
Islam & Christianity
A Picnic - Or A Pilgrimage?


Monday, August 26, 2013

Billy Graham: On Technology and Faith

I came across this TED Talk presented by Billy Graham today. It was given back in 1998, but it is still just as applicable today. What does the world's greatest evangelist have to say about technology? I think you'll find it interesting. Technology may be able to solve a lot of problems, but only God can deal with the human heart. It's worth a listen to someone who has spoken to over 2.2 billion people in his lifetime. We won't have him around much longer.

Related Articles:
Book Review: The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham
Billy Graham and Woody Allen
Taking A Stand
Apologize! Should He Or Shouldn't He?
A Picnic - Or A Pilgrimage?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three Keys to Changing Your Life

I just finished a conversation with a friend of mine that reminded me of many similar conversations I've had over the course of my ministry. Truth be told, it reminded me of myself at a crucial time in my life.

Each of us are, at least in part, products of our environment. That can be good or bad, and is usually a mix of both. For me, my personality lent itself to a number of dysfunctions. On the one hand, I found myself driven to achieve, often taking on more than I could handle. On the other hand, I suffered from insecurity that would whisper in my ear that I didn't know what I was doing and didn't have what it took to accomplish half of what I took on.

Becoming a Christian didn't all of a sudden make those proclivities go away. I still needed to learn how to prioritize. I still needed to learn how to deal with the baggage that I'd picked up over the course of my life. I still needed to apply the truth of Scripture to my life to help me to change.That is a process that requires time and commitment. There are three keys that I've settled on over the years that have helped me greatly.

Put God First
When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment He responded immediately: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37) This speaks of relationship. In other words, in Jesus' opinion, the most important thing in life was to maintain a loving relationship with God the Father. He modeled this Himself while He walked among us.

When we stop to consider who God is, we can understand the wisdom of this position. The God of the Bible is all-powerful, and He created the world from nothing - speaking it into existence. We are told that He created us, as individuals, in His image, with a soul designed for eternity. The Bible also tells us that mankind rebelled against God, choosing to try to live life on our own terms. Thankfully, God was not satisfied to leave us in that condition and provided a way out for us. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, became one of us and paid the penalty for our rebellion. It is this God that we are to have a relationship with, the One who was willing to pay the ultimate price for our salvation.

The Gospels are clear that God is not looking for blind obedience or religiousity, He wants us - as we are. He invites us to come and, when we admit our need, find our deepest satisfaction in Him. As Blaise Pascal said: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” The early church found this to be true and changed the world with this message. It's still true today. 

Do What You Can Do
When we are faced with a myriad of tasks or challenges there is a tendency to throw up our hands and say, "what's the use?" But for the Christian with a Biblical perspective we understand that God is in the picture and that makes all the difference. While our limited gifts, talents, abilities and resources may be dwarfed by the task at hand, we can do something. I believe that God asks all of us the same question that He asked Moses - "what is that in your hand?"  In other words, what do you have to work with?

We can err in two opposite ways when faced with a challenge: we can have an overly optimistic view of our abilities or we can believe that we can't make a difference. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something. As a leader, I've had to learn to prioritize and tackle the most important things first. This is important when you can't possibly do everything on your list. But still, when the list is long, and the time and resources are limited, and there's a lot that remains outside of your control, what do you do? 

Give The Rest To God
We've already talked about placing God first in our lives. What this speaks of here is the daily application of that truth. I'm amazed at how many anxious Christians that I come across, people whose lives, it seems, are constantly focused on "what ifs" that are outside of their control. The Apostle Paul provides a great remedy for that in Philippians 4:6-7.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." 

These verses really give a picture of how we are to live out Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. If we really believe what the Bible says about God; if we truly believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, conquering death, hell and the grave; and if we truly believe that He loves us and hears us when we pray, this is how we ought to live. We should daily lay our burdens at His feet and do what we can to advance His Kingdom in this world. As Paul wrote, again, in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 - "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
I've found that putting in place these three keys has helped me to be at peace in a world that is often chaotic. It has helped me to keep things in their proper perspective, recognizing that I'm not God, but neither am I helpless. He has called me and will use me, and anyone else who place themselves at His service. At the end of the day I can lay my head on the pillow knowing that God is big enough to handle anything that is beyond my abilities. Worrying never got me very far anyway. As Corrie Ten Boom said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Related Articles:
Life Lessons From A Fellow Traveler
More Life Lessons From A Fellow Traveler
Sometimes It's Okay To Lean


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Two Views of the World

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley

In 1875 William Ernest Henley wrote the poem above that has been taken by many as a sort of personal declaration. Invictus has been quoted at graduations and funerals and, I believe, even inspired Mandela during his years of imprisonment (great movie by the way). Henley was a humanist, who believed in the indomitable power of the human spirit. His convictions come through clearly in his poem. His belief is that he alone was master of his own fate. It is the trumpet call of the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" crowd.

It has been said that Henley's poem was intended to be a fist shaken defiantly in the face of God who who would dare to claim sovereignty over him. The poem below is, of course, a rewriting of Invictus from a different perspective. Dorothea Day was a journalist who, in her younger years, was quite enamored with the writings of Henley, but who later converted to Christianity. Her poem "My Captain" is a retelling of the same story, but from her new Christian perspective.  

Out of the night that dazzles me,
Bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be
For Christ the conqueror of my soul.
Since His the sway of circumstance,
I would not wince nor cry aloud.
Under that rule which men call chance
My head with joy is humbly bowed.
Beyond this place of sin and tears
That life with Him! And His the aid,
Despite the menace of the years,
Keeps, and shall keep me, unafraid.

I have no fear, though strait the gate,
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate,
Christ is the Captain of my soul.
Dorothea Day

On the one hand, Henley would claim self-sufficiency, Day would admit to total dependence on God. Henley appeals to the popular notion that "God helps those who help themselves," (which is not in the Bible, by the way), while Day would fall solely on the grace of God. Finally, Henley's world would revolve around what we can do by ourselves, while Day would focus on what Christ has done and what He can do through us.  

They are two very different views of the world. The question is, which one is true. As a recovered "self-made man" I would side with Dorothea. When we get to the end of ourselves it is good to know that the God who has made us has not abandoned us, nor required us to face the world all on our own. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and, as the missionary David Livingstone said, "that, my friends, is the word of a gentleman."

Related Articles:
Book Review: The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism
On the relevance of Christianity
What Is a Christ-follower?
Worldview - an introduction.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Book Review: The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Book Review: "The Reason for God - Belief in an Age of Skepticism," Timothy Keller, New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008. 310 pages.

Before we begin, here's a little bit of background on Timothy Keller. He is the founder and pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan since 1989. He has grown the church to six thousand regular attendees at five services as of the writing of this book. They have also planted many daughter churches. Timothy has an engaging style, making it a part of his strategy as a pastor to deal with people's objections to the faith. This book is a natural byproduct of that commitment.

The book deals with the major objections to Christianity and belief in God that Keller has been confronted with over the course of his ministry. The introduction begins with his personal spiritual journey. Having been raised in the church, but exposed to the conservative/liberal debate within it, Keller's faith eventually became a casualty of a socially radical liberal university. He speaks of three barriers to faith which were erected in his life: Intellectual - did Christianity make sense? Personal - was God knowable? and Social - Could you believe in God and the Bible and also have a social conscience? Timothy has obviously resolved those conflicts in his mind and entered the ministry to help others do the same.

This book is really about engagement; opening a discussion about faith with those who do not believe. Keller "urge(s) skeptics to wrestle with the unexamined 'blind faith' on which skepticism is based, and to see how hard it is to justify those beliefs to those who do not share them." He also provides first-hand accounts of real people in their spiritual journey. But first he deals with objections to faith which he's encountered.

Objection 1: There Can't Be Just One True Religion
The claim to exclusivity for Christianity is one of the main reasons people gave Keller for rejecting it. This arises partly from the growing liberal value of tolerance - we don't like for anyone to tell anyone that they're wrong - and a negative view of religion in general as divisive and a root of many of the world's problems. Keller deals with this objection by first laying out the options some would propose: we can outlaw religion; condemn religion or keep religion completely private.

Keller explains the presuppositions behind each and then shows why each approach has and will fail. He then launches into an apologetic for Christianity, and a call for the church to follow the model of the early church in bringing its very best into society.

Objection 2: How Could A Good God Allow Suffering?
Here again we find one of the most common objections to belief in the God of the Bible. If God is loving and all-powerful, why doesn't He intervene to prevent suffering? The problem with this objection is that it begs the question: on what basis do we believe that suffering and evil are wrong? As C.S. Lewis concluded, in a purely naturalistic world, we should expect that pain and suffering would be the norm. Yet we have a sense that this ought not to be. Where did that come from? We all must ask, believers and non-believers alike, where does evil come from?

For the Christian, we find the answer in the Biblical record of the Fall of Man and the introduction of sin into the world. According to Keller, "Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice or salvation."

Objection 3: Christianity Is A Straitjacket
The argument here is that since Christianity adheres to a moral code and to a source of absolute truth, the resultant religion must be the enemy of freedom. The questions that must be dealt with here are multifaceted: the nature of truth, community, Christianity and freedom. The underlying assumption here is that "true freedom is freedom to create your own meaning and purpose." It also assumes that all truth is relative, but is it?

Keller answers each of these questions, first by pointing out that, despite our protestations, we all cling to some source of truth, either objective or arbitrary - it's unavoidable. He then demonstrates that within each community there must be an underlying set of agreed upon beliefs and practices which, of necessity, are somewhat restrictive. He also shows that Christianity, far from being culturally rigid, has from the beginning allowed for cultural diversity while maintaining an adherence to orthodox faith. Finally, of freedom itself, Keller tells us that "freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions." Within Christianity we are free to be the people God created us to be.       

Objection 4: The Church Is Responsible For So Much Injustice
Here Keller identifies three issues: First is the issue of the glaring character flaws of many Christians; second is the issue of war and violence and the church's complicity; third is the issue of fanaticism - what of Christians on the fringe? The first issue is based on a misconception that Christians believe that faith in God makes them better people. It doesn't. One can find Christians at all stages of character development because behavior change is a gradual process, and church should be full of people who are flawed because they are people in process. The second issue is more troublesome, for it is obvious that a great deal of harm has been done in the name of Christ over the centuries. It is wrong and goes against the very teachings of Christ. Finally, fanaticism, tending to express itself in legalism, has pushed many honest seekers out of the church.

It is important to remember that the Bible is also critical of people who act like this. Keller reminds us that "true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor and marginalized." It's not only the church that has been guilty either. In the twentieth century the greatest cause of injustice (human rights abuses, pogroms, death camps, genocide, etc...) were atheistic regimes. This in no way excuses the church when it has been wrong, but it demonstrates that injustice is a human problem, not a Christian one. On the other hand, it has been those motivated by Christian motives who worked to end slavery, campaigned for civil rights and lead the way in social reform, often at great personal cost.

Objection 5: How Can A Loving God Send People To Hell?
With this subject, Timothy shares that many secular minds believe that it is a contradiction to believe in the equality of all people and yet believe in the concept of hell. Keller found several connected beliefs lurking beneath the surface of this one: a God of judgment simply can't exist; a God of judgment can't be a God of love; a loving God would not allow hell. At their root these are preferences. We all would prefer that there would be no hell. The first belief in particular goes against our Western sensibilities and our doctrine of tolerance at all costs. Keller goes to C.S. Lewis to demonstrate that this belief is a cultural adaptation.

As to the second and third charges, relating to the love of God, the implication is that God cannot be both judging and loving. But is that true? The Bible clearly teaches that God is both. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf says it this way, "If God were not angry at injustice and did not make a final end to violence - that God would not be worthy of worship..."

Objection 6: Science Has Disproved Christianity
The famous atheist Richard Dawkins stated that one cannot be an intelligent scientific thinker and still hold religious beliefs. Is he right? In this chapter Keller shows how the supposed war between science and Christianity exists only in the minds of those who hold certain (unscientific) presuppositions. For example, the presupposition that "No supernatural cause for any natural phenomenon is possible" is not a scientific statement, but a philosophical one. He could have done more with this chapter, but this quote is telling: "A majority of scientists consider themselves deeply or moderately religious - and those numbers have increased in recent decades. There is no necessary disjunction between science and devout faith."

Objection 7: You Can't Take The Bible Literally
Keller draws on his own student experiences for this chapter, recalling how many of his college courses caused him to question the reliability of Scripture. It was when he began to do research on his own that he realized how little evidence there was for this revisionist school of thought. The influence of this skeptical view of Scripture has been waning in recent years. Anne Rice, who converted to Christianity after a successful career as a novelist, wrote that "I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read." Keller goes on to deal with the typical challenges to the reliability of Scripture, providing solid reasons that the Bible can be trusted historically and culturally.

He quotes C.S. Lewis, who just happened to be a world-class literary critic, as saying: "I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, and myths all my life. I know what they are like I know none of them are like this. Of this (gospel) text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage... or else, some unknown (ancient) writer... without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative..."

In the remaining chapters of the book Keller moves from a defensive posture to providing a positive case for believing, including chapters on:
  • The Clues of God
  • The Knowledge of God
  • The Problem of Sin
  • Religion and the Gospel
  • The (True) Story of the Gospel
  • The Reality of the Resurrection
  • The Dance of God
Even a synopsis of these would take up considerable space but, suffice to say, the book is worth reading, whether you are a skeptic, a seeker or a Christian wanting to deal with some questions. It's not an accident that this book hit the New York Times bestseller list. I'll end with a great quote from Keller: "Jesus's life, death and resurrection was an infinitely costly rescue operation to restore justice to the oppressed and marginalized, physical wholeness to the diseased and dying, community to the isolated and lonely, and spiritual joy and connection to those alienated from God. To be a Christian today is to become part of that same operation, with the expectation of suffering and hardship and the joyful assurance of eventual success."

Related Articles:  
Who Do You Read?
Divine Appointments
Book Review: Mere Apologetics
What is Truth?
"Truth" - by Ravi Zacharias