(Agree? Disagree? Let me know, please.)
The Lord allowed my wife and I to get out of town this weekend and just spend time alone together -- and He threw in this sunshine, too, just as a bonus.
What a cool God ...
(more pics on the way, just 'cause I feel like gloating about spending three days in 80-degree weather, near the beach and with a beautiful woman.)
"'For I know the thoughts I think toward you,' says the LORD, 'thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you future and a hope.'" (Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV)
"I am a kite, and Jesus is a hurricane. It would
be ridiculous of me to boast that I can fly."
Jesus is the best therapist I know. Like all good shrinks, He lets me make my own breakthroughs — with just enough prodding that I understand exactly what He wants me to understand.
"Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.'"
This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,' says the LORD. 'You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?' declares the LORD Almighty. 'Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.'" (Haggai 1:5-9)
Ever read that passage? I hadn't until recently. Then, the very day I read it, I saw that "E DRAVEN" license plate and instantly thought of how so many people in this world are searching for something ... and they don't even know what it is.
They look in a bottle, filled with a temporary strength and courage that only leaves them weak and fearful. They look in the arms of a stranger, giving themselves away again and again in search of something that will put a smile on their face but instead leaves them empty. They look in pills and needles and smoke which, for a time, wraps them in warmth yet leaves them bitterly cold. They look in academic achievement, their families, clubs, groups, bands, games, cars and, yes, even movies. They all result in the same thing: plants that don't produce harvest, houses that God does not honor. Haggai, some 500 years before the birth of Christ, nailed it on the head.
A preacher once gave a sermon in which he used a wooden figure as a prop. In the center of that wooden man was a perfectly round hole, and he illustrated this point very simply and powerfully. He'd try to put in pieces of paper --representing diplomas -- but they didn't fill it completely. He'd try a Matchbox car, and it wouldn't fit at all. One by one, each thing he tried only left that void as empty as the moment it was cut out of the wooden figure. St. Augustine said it best when he referred to "a God-shaped void." We all have it, and nothing can fill it except, well, God.
Our world is hurting, and inherent in that pain is the search that all humans undertake. For some its an active search. Some think they've found it. Others know they have. What do you know? Late at night, when you're alone, where do you hurt? Is it painful because your search for truth isn't going anywhere? Come to Jesus.
U2's Bono sings, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Indeed.
(Oh, by the way, did you figure out that license plate at the top of the post? When you figure it out, it will hit you "right between the eyes.")
copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. for reprinting information, e-mail to Ephesians514@gmail.com
Christians are the only social group against whom it is culturally acceptable to make fun. Political correctness has touched everyone except us. It's gotten so ridiculous that when an actor called a homosexual castmate a derogatory epithet recently, he was forced by the network to go to rehab. Yes, rehab. Now, you need rehabilitated just for calling someone an ugly name. Apparently, being a jerk is as addictive as heroin.
Prejudice against evangelical Christians is exceedingly frustrating, so much that I often want to the un-Christian thing and lash out. But there's that pesky "turn the other cheek" admonition from Jesus, so I begrugingly accept that as gospel (which, of course, it is. Literally.)
So, the next best thing is to refute some of the misconceptions about Christianity. Today, we'll look at gender issues.
First, some background. The role of women in the Church has changed dramatically in recent decades to mirror cultural shifts as well. After largely being dead following the women's suffrage movement in the early 20th Century, feminism hit its stride in the 1960s. In 1963, Betty Friedan published "The Feminine Mystique," a book whose thesis was that women are more than homemakers and mothers -- indeed, the book "criticized the idea that women could only find fulfillment through childbearing and homemaking" and "hypothesizes that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children." This, Friedan argued, meant that women had no identity apart from that forced upon them by marriage and family.
Then, in the economic boom of post-World War II America, more and more women entered the workforce to supply their families with additional income. Thus, more and more families could now live in more luxurious settings than was possible a generation before. Suburbia flourished.
So, my generation is perhaps the first to fully integrate women into the larger cultural landscape -- in the workplace, in political life and, yes, in the Church.
(That's not to say it's been a smooth transition. There are still some wide disparities among denominations and what roles those differing groups assign women.)
It's safe to say, then, that my generation -- and, by extension, the generations that will come after -- view women much differently and with more reverance and a greater degree of acceptance than those that preceeded it dating all the way back to the genesis of American social life.
But you know what's funny? If you look at today's attitudes toward women compared with those of a certain Jewish carpenter living in Palestine in, say, the first century A.D., you'll find that Jesus was ahead of His time -- a true renaissance man.
See, Jesus broke all sorts of barriers, and that was part of the reason He was so threatening to the religious establishment. He hung out with tax collectors and lepers, poor people and prostitutes. So it should come as no surprise that He embraced women as a vital part of His ministry and His inner circle.
Trivia time: according to John's gospel, who was the first person to whom Jesus explicitly revealed He was the Messiah? It wasn't Peter, it wasn't James and it wasn't John. It was a woman -- and, just for good measure, she was from a social group that was discriminated against and, at the time she met Jesus, had been divorced five times and was in a sexual relationship with a man that wasn't her husband.
"The woman said, 'I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.' Then Jesus declared, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:25, 26, NIV ... read the entire story here.)
What's more, remember the first person Jesus met after His resurrection? Yep, it was a woman. After Mary Magdalene encounters the empty tomb, she retreats to the garden, weeping. Jesus appears to her even before a reunion with The Father!
"Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" (John 20:17, ESV)
So we see that two of the key moments in Jesus' earthly life -- the revelation of His divinity and His resurrection -- were first revealed to women.
Other key moments from the life of Christ in which women were prominent include Mary's anointing of His feet (see John 12:1-8; in other gospels as well), Jesus' teaching that His mercy overrides Levitical law (see John 8:2-11), an eldery, widowed prophetess being rewarded in her dedication to prayer and fasting by meeting the baby Jesus (see Luke 2:36-38) and the pure face that women were an integral part of His inner circle (see Luke 8:1-3). And this is by no means a comprehensive list.
And those attitudes didn't end with His ascension. Among the apostle Paul's key people was a husband/wife ministerial team, Priscilla and Aquila. You can read about them in Acts 18 in general but Acts 18:24-28 specifically (which is a great story and you should read it to see their importance to the early church.) In that passage, Priscilla is mentioned before her husband. Coincidence?
Further, Paul writes reverently about women in Colossians 3:19 -- "Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them;" Ephesians 5:25 -- "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her;" and, in regards to equality, Galatians 3:26-28 -- "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith ... there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (emphasis mine)"
Of course, Christians throughout history have not always followed the plan. Man is always twisting and corrupting scripture to his own ends.
But looking at the biblical ideal and the intent of Christ, women aren't just valued as much as men. They are realized as the true treasures of God that they are.
(copyright andrew j. beckner, 2007. all rights under copyright reserved worldwide. e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for reprinting information.)
Then there's the cultural perspective. We Generation Xers are naturally a little jaded about things. It's no wonder that many of us view this Deepak Chopra/Oprah Winfrey style of theology that Osteen espouses as more than a little suspect. At best, we dismiss it. At worst, we are offended because we feel patronized.
Now, don't get me wrong here. I'd hate for anyone to leave here with the idea that life sucks and that Christians are no better off than non-believers. That's certainly not the case. Life in Christ is joy, and we would do well to remember that so long as we don't lose sight of the fact that our joy can never be complete while we live here, in this body and on this plane of existence.
Furthermore, the wonderful thing about having Christ in your life is having that blessed assurance that when life does suck, we have peace in the hope that is found in Jesus.So, in the end, it's not that we suffer that matters. It's how we react to that suffering. Do we sulk, or do we seek?
Faces only a mother could love
Barry gets a hug ... GLORY!!!
Sure, it sounds simplistic. After all, you can't really follow Christ unless you have faith in who He is.
That's not specifically the kind of faith I'm talking about. The point I'm making is that I'm always consciously aware that God, in His benevolence, mercy and grace, is taking care of me. It's the Bobby McFerrin approach to Christianity: Don't worry, be happy.
There's a simple reason behind it, too: I'm a simple guy. I'm not a deep thinker, much as I'd like to be. I recently listened to a lecture entitled "Hermeneutical and Exegetical Integrity." Don't ask me what it was about. Heck, I'm not even sure I spelled that right.
The point I'm making is that I govern my life by common sense. I am Pavlov's dog; that is, I'm conditioned to understand that God has always -- always -- taken care of me. The Guy is batting 1.000 here. He never misses.
Now, I don't want to fall back on the ol' Romans 8:28 standby if for no other reason that it could very well be the most mis-interpreted passage of scripture that most people -- non-Christians too, ironically enough; they clearly aren't reading it properly -- like to recite each time they stub their toe. This is a whole post of its own, and I don't want to get off on a tangent here, but it's important to realize that there are a number of components that come into play when referring to "all things work together for good," namely, that not everything in every circumstance is all hunky dory. Sometimes things go terribly, terribly wrong, and if you're hoping for Romans to bail you out, you might be in for a rude awakening.
The point is, I've always had a strong sense of personal faith in the collective -- ALL things work TOGETHER for good -- plan of omniscient God, and can look past individual painful circumstances to realize there's a Big Picture.
Problem is, lately I've realized that's not enough, mainly because of this song. (You can listen to a portion of it here.) I can't rest on those laurels. It's all too easy to say I have full faith that God will work things out. Indeed, I take a certain amount of Pharisaical pride in being a Big Picture guy.
So the question I have is this: how can one go from a mindset of knowing, understanding and accepting that trouble is a fact of life and that it all works out in the end, to actively pursuing trial and tribulation for the express purpose of God's glory.
Now, don't misunderstand here. God doesn't want us to hurt. He doesn't seek our pain, nor does He, with a flick of His divine finger, play a cosmic game of Eenie-Meanie-Miney-Moe, seeking to pick out those He would hurt just for some sense of morbid fascination. He doesn't play games with our lives. That's not the God I know, although that god is often taught in some theological circles. Mark Driscoll calls it "Cruel Calvinism," or a belief system in which God is sovereign, but not good. It's important to understand that He is both. God doesn't cause bad things to happen, but we live in a world governed by free will. Where there is free will, there is sin. And where there is sin, there is pain. But the beautiful part of pain is this: "... though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the test genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6b, 7 ... make sure you read it in full context here.)
So, do we need to actively pursue and seek trial and tribulation? That's not rhetorical; I don't really know. What I do know is that Peter understood that the ebbs and flows of life are there for a reason, that the pain we feel now, from time to time, is an essential part of the process of sanctification that began with our new birth and won't be completed until our death.
That means, for me, I have to move beyond resting on a faith that relies on common sense. The faith that takes its place should be one that maybe doesn't relish or seek out pain but embraces it as an opportunity to see God's divine plan at work both in good times and bad.
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It's not the common belief, but it is true nonetheless that my generation -- so-called Generation X -- had self-sufficiency forced upon it. Now, maybe we weren't particularly good at it, but the fact remains that divorce, a high rate of attrition in college, the explosion of the number of children growing up without fathers ... all of these were particularly heaped upon our generation in percentages likely larger than any before.
Because of all that, one of the defining characteristics of our generation is this sense of something being wrong, of always feeling a general sense of malaise. It's the idea, immortalized in the movie "Reality Bites," when Winona Ryder's character talks about being proud of Baby Boomers' sense of social justice, civil disobedience and a pure sense of right and wrong. But, her character says, "they sold out their revolution for a pair of running shoes." What, then, did we have to cling to, socially? Video games? The Cold War? Our culture didn't exactly inspire us.
(Of course, many of us have grown up now, put away the Nirvana records and bought SUVs. The lesson? That every generation puts aside its nonsense in the name of taxes, child rearing and two vacations a year.)
But what I find in Jesus is the very thing many of us, through the course of our lives, long for: He is a place of refuge, a place to hide and bury fears, sadness and uncertainty.
What would you, Generation Xer, give, in the hustle and bustle of a way of life that was perhaps forced upon you, to just once be gently rocked to sleep, to be sung a song, to worry about nothing? That smile on my daughter's face? It's the smile of someone totally at peace, of a mind purely and securely at rest without any hint of knowledge of fear.
That's the embrace I gave my daughter -- and that Jesus gives me.
Forgive my meandering diatribe that may or may not embarrass me in a couple of weeks when I go back and read this. (I'm betting it will). It was written over the course of two days, the bulk of which came at, oh, 2 a.m. or so on a worknight. (See? We Xers are respectable ... I worry about bedtimes.)
But if you got nothing out of this, wrap your mind around the central metaphor here: that all of us, at one point or another, just needs held like a baby, sung a lullaby and kissed on the cheek.
And if you've never experienced the love of Jesus, it's hard to relate how truly wonderful knowing Him can be. It's not all wine and roses. Heck, it's not all beer and dandelions. The great wheel of life still goes 'round and 'round, and every once in awhile it lands on Lose Your Turn.
But when it does, there's always someone there -- The Someone -- who knows just what happens when it's time to spin again.