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Act Like Myself

We speak of the Gospel as God’s good news. Well, what is the good news? The good news is that through Jesus, we are able to live in the presence of God, with God, in other words, and join him, work with him, in expanding his influence in the universe he created. What is my role in all of this? My goal is to be me. To be the person whom God created me to be. My goal is to act like myself.

You see, when God created us, he did something quite remarkable. He made each of us unique. One of a kind. There will never be another person quite like you walking on earth ever again.

This means we will spend the rest of our lives living out the potential given to us specifically to be whom God created us to be. To act like the people God created us to be. To act like myself.

ME

What are some of your strengths when you are in relationship with other people?

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We have just had two recent mass murders in Vegas and Texas. Our hearts ache for all those who suffer. Once again, we are confronted with moral evil being committed by fellow human beings. We immediately look for answers to the question, “Why?”

“Why did this happen?” We are looking for a motive. A reason. Or we get embroiled in debates about mental health issues, safety precautions, gun control, and the like. But, also with these types of horrible events, it is common for people to ask the question, “Why?” in another way. As in, “How could God let this happen?”

This is the classical dilemma that has been called, “God and The Problem of Evil.” It goes something like this.

When we say, “How can God let this happen?” this assumes God could have done something about it. If you don’t believe in God then the question of “Why?” in this case isn’t really pertinent. It breaks down immediately to issues of gun control, mental health, safety measures, and such. Because, if you don’t believe in God, then “Why?” as a philosophical question, easily becomes, “Why not?”  If there is no God, why wouldn’t this happen? The question of “How could God let this happen?” is meaningless. The only question we are left with then is, “How can we get rid of evil such as this?”

But, if you do believe in God, then when you ask “How could God let this happen?” it really means, more specifically, “If God is all-good and all-powerful, how can he let horrible moral evil things happen?” People who believe in an all-good God might say, “God isn’t all-powerful; there are limits to what he can do.” Or, they might say, “There is a reason God let this happen, we just don’t know what it is.”

What if there is another way to look at it for believers in God? Could God permit moral evil to happen and be all-good and all-powerful? Is there an answer to the God and the problem of evil dilemma? I think there is. The best response to this I have ever seen is from Dallas Willard. Here is what he wrote.

God and The Problem of Evil

 

There are very few people who do not ask “Why?” when confronted with the terrible things that have happened in history and continue to happen day by day. This is because we nearly all believe, to some degree, that there really is a God who is conscious of human beings, who is good, and who has sufficient power to prevent bad things from happening. Unless there is such a God, there is no “problem of evil” as usually understood. If there is no God, the only answer to the question “Why are children starving in Somalia?” is “Why not?” We would have no reason to think that they shouldn’t be starving. The occurrence of evil would no longer be strange, and might even seem quite natural–though we would still have the “other” problem of evil, the problem of how to get rid of it.

Certainly the Christian faith is committed to a picture of God and the world that makes every event ultimately redeemable, and therefore permissible, by a personal God who is both willing and able to nurture into being a creation which cannot be improved on. It does not hold that every event is good in itself. Bad things, even horrendous moral evils, do come to pass. But in the vision of Jesus Christ communicated to his people, all human beings–and yes, even the sparrows and the lilies–are effectively cared for. Every person is invited to say in faith and obedience, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

But how can we resolve the classical thorn in the side of such faith, which insists that if God were both all-good and all-powerful, he would not permit the evil things which do happen to occur at all? (We shall concentrate here on the evils that men do or cause, the moral evils. They pose the most serious problem. We shall ask why God permits human beings to do evil.) It would seem that God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful, if moral evil exists, and that we are forced to let one or the other go.

In resolving this dilemma, the first step is to affirm that a universe which permits the development of moral character–one which makes it possible for persons to become the immeasurably precious and even glorious beings that they sometimes do–is of greater value than any world which does not. A world containing only minerals, or minerals and plants, for example, would be of much less worth or intrinsic value than one which also contained human beings as we know them. If personality is not to be regarded as having a very great value, it would clearly be wrong of God to permit the actual suffering and wrong-doing that occurs in order to procure it.

But the moral development of personality is possible only in a world of genuine freedom. To nurture moral perfection, horrendous moral crimes must be permitted by God–though he himself never approves of them, actualizes them or requires them. Nurturing moral perfection (within a suitable world) and not allowing wrong doing is impossible. If a child is never permitted to do wrong, it will never become capable of developing a nature or character that resolutely chooses the good. Good persons must live in a world where doing evil is a genuine choice for them.

But does this not mean that God is limited in power, that there is something he cannot do? Not at all, for the impossible is not something that could be either done or left undone. If the janitor does not sweep the room after a lecture, his supervisor can rightly point that out to him, and require that he do it. But the supervisor cannot require that he both sweep the room and not sweep the room. Sweeping the room and not sweeping the room is not something that can be done or left undone. It is nothing at all. The fact that the janitor “cannot do it” does not mean that the janitor is limited in some way, as he would be if he had no arms and could not hold the vacuum or broom.

To hold God to be limited because he does not nurture moral character while simultaneously preventing choice is like regarding the janitor as limited because he does not both sweep and not sweep the room. Producing people with character without giving them choice is impossible because the capacity to choose is a part of character. So it is not something God “left undone,” for it is not anything at all. It is not something he cannot do, because it is not `something’. Period. God remains of unlimited power. He can do anything that might be either done or left undone.

Hence the presence of moral evil in the world does not mean that God is lacking in goodness or in power. The classical dilemma is dissolved by setting existing evil in the context of the good that God achieves in permitting (but not producing) moral evil.

While this may seem like a “merely logical maneuver,” it in fact yields the conclusion that permits us to see the suffering of individuals, ourselves or others, in the larger world of a great and good God, who has all eternity, and resources beyond our wildest imagination, to ensure that the life of every individual who suffers, in whatever way, is ultimately one that even that individual will receive with boundless gratitude.

If all the individual has is `this’ life, then clearly evil, pain and frustration is not redeemed. But seen in the context of God’s world as a whole, seen as but a part of a life that never ends and endlessly becomes more and more glorious, there is no evil individuals may suffer that can prevent them from finding life to be good and God to be good. Theirs is the perspective of St. Paul, who speaks of great suffering as “our light affliction, which is but for a moment and which produces for us a weight of glory far greater than it.” (II Cor. 4)

The child dying in famine is ushered immediately into the full world of God in which it finds its existence good and its prospects incomprehensibly grand. There God is seen, as he now surely is not seen, to be good and great without limit, and every individual received into his presence enjoys the everlasting sufficiency of his goodness and greatness. There is no tragedy for those who rely on this God.

It is the hearty assurance of this for the individual–which we here do not attempt to prove, but only to show that it is not automatically ruled out by the presence of evil in our world–that empowers the individual to deal with the “other” problem of evil: namely, how to get rid of it. If I am truly concerned about moral evil in the world, I should at least worry as much about my responsibility for it as about God’s. By ceasing to do evil I can make a significant impact on the moral evil that is in my world. By trusting the goodness and greatness of God, I can turn loose of the chain that drags me into moral evil: the chain of self-deification, which puts me in the position of the one I trust to take care of me. Nearly all evil-doing is done under the guise of `necessity’. “I wouldn’t lie, cheat, steal, hurt others but for the fact that it is necessary to secure my aims–which of course I must bring about.”

By contrast, if I rely upon God, I can relinquish the realization of my aims to him. I can stop doing what I and everyone else knows to be wrong, and I can calmly cease co-operation with immoral behavior occurring around me. I also can stand against the evils in my world, unconcerned about what is going to happen to me if I do. We need not try to be perfect. We can concentrate on just doing a lot better. That is the surest way of vastly improving the world we live in.

And by far the best way of taking this stand is by simply relying on Jesus Christ to guide and help us. The life that is in him is the best light that has ever been given to human beings. The surest sign that God is who we hope he is is the presence of Jesus Christ in human history. By trusting him the best we know how, we will begin to share in the eternal kind of life that belongs to God. We will begin to live in the world of the Twenty-Third Psalm, where we “fear no evil,” where “goodness and mercy shall follow me all of the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” That will be given to us in response to our trust. Experience will confirm it to us.

Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, “Why do you follow Jesus Christ?” My answer is always the same: “Who else did you have in mind?” I am open, I am willing, and I always seek to know more. But so far I have found no one who remotely compares to Jesus Christ as a practical guide to how things are and should be in human life. He proves to be one who is in touch with reality in depth and who guides me evermore into a life that comes to terms with evil in all of its dimensions. He brings us into the path leading to an experiential solution for the problems of evil.

 

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John 20
12There she saw two angels, clothed in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body had been lying. 13’ Woman,’ they said to her, ‘why are you crying?’ ‘They’ve taken away my master,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they’ve put him!’

Mary sees the two angels. Peter and John didn’t see angels when they were just there. Maybe it takes tears in your eyes to be a lens to see angels.

“Woman, why are you crying?”

They have taken away my master, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.

Mary calls Jesus her “master.” This same word is used for “Lord.” Mary’s honored leader. In another Gospel we are told that Mary had had seven demons attached to her and Jesus had delivered her from them. She was healed. Mary, who is a faithful follower of Jesus all the way from the foot of the cross to this empty tomb, now.

Is she crying for the loss of her Lord? Is she crying because she is thinking about the uncertainty his death will bring to her life? Is she crying because evil has won out over good? We don’t know.

But, now, it is time to turn around.

ME

When was the last time you cried? Think about those circumstances and what Mary is feeling.

Mikvah

John 1

The people who had been sent were from the Pharisees. They continued to question him. ‘So why are you baptizing’, they asked, ‘if you aren’t the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet?’

The Pharisees are checking John out because he is announcing a strange new message from God. When he dunks people in water, it’s a new thing for a prophet. In the Old Testament this is not spoken of.

There is ceremonial washing that becomes a custom for the Jewish people just before the time of Jesus. It is called a mikvah. There are several mikvahs outside of the temple of Jerusalem, for instance. People even had personal mikvahs attached to their homes.

You immerse yourself in a mikvah. There is not someone there immersing you. But, a mikvah is not a bath. In fact there are many regulations passed down about what is a proper mikvah and one rule is you have to be clean before you go in! Immersing in the pool is a sign of purity.

Nature with rivers and oceans provided the primordial mikvahs. So, we see the constructed mikvahs, beginning in the first century BC until present day, make it possible to have this sign without having to seek out bodies of water.

With John the Baptist we see a combination of a prophet announcing God’s plan and a mikvah- like immersion as a sign of a fresh start and a new way of thinking.

In Matthew 3:11 John explains, “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God.”

To repent is to think at a higher level. Here the turning to God and turning away from sin is a better way of thinking. A sign to begin again.

ME

When you are bathing or showering, think of it as a time to connect with God and remember you are baptized.

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John 1:21
“Are you the Prophet we are expecting?”
“No.”

 

Elijah isn’t even the most important prophet in Jesus’ day. Moses is #1. In Deuteronomy 18:15-18 God promises to send a prophet like Moses to lead the people.

 
“…I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him.”

 
This unknown like-Moses prophet is expected by the people of Jesus’ day. John said, “No,” to this prophet, too. John is getting ready for someone else.
A hint of this prophet arriving will come later in the Gospel of John. After the feeding of the Five Thousand the Jewish people think Jesus is this great prophet. (John 6:14)
When those men saw the sign which He had done, they then said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

ME
What does it mean to you that God is already talking about Jesus to Moses?

you the Prophet we are expecting?”
“No.”

Elijah isn’t even the most important prophet in Jesus’ day. Moses is #1. In Deuteronomy 18:15-18 God promises to send a prophet like Moses to lead the people.
…I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him.
This unknown Moses-like prophet is expected by the people of Jesus’ day. John said, “No,” to this prophet, too. John is getting ready for someone else.
A hint of this prophet arriving will come later in the Gospel of John. After the feeding of the Five Thousand the Jewish people think Jesus is this great prophet. (John 6:14)
When those men saw the sign which He had done, they then said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves!

ME
What does it mean to you that God is already talking about Jesus to Moses?

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John 1:19-21

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.”

“Well then, who are you?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?”

“No,” he replied.

John the Baptist and Jesus have their lives intertwined. So who is the Messiah?

First Century Israel Messiah Description:

King from the house of David who would overthrow all injustice and rule over Israel and maybe the whole world, too. Prior to Jesus others are called the Messiah, including Cyrus of Persia, who is their enemy, but who helps them out (Isaiah 45:1).

This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,

    whose right hand he will empower.

Now it’s Jesus’ turn. Is he the Messiah?

Or is he Elijah?

Elijah? Elijah is taken to heaven directly (2 Kings 2:11).

As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

Elijah will return before the Day of the Lord when he world would be judged by God (Malachi 4:5).

See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreaded day of the Lord.

Now they think John the Baptist is the one sent to announce God’s new day. Jesus apparently thinks this (Mark 9:13). Speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus says:

See, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreaded day of the Lord.

John doesn’t want anyone to think this way. Not the Messiah and not Elijah.

ME

Think about a time that God worked in your life  through someone who was not a follower of Jesus.

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John 1
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Here we see God’s great reboot. Where have we heard the words, “In the beginning…” before? At the creation in Genesis 1, the first words of the Bible, in the Old Testament. Now, in the New Testament, we hear these same words again, “In the beginning…”
John, the author of the Gospel of John, is telling us this book is about the God of creation acting in a new way with his creation. What has begun in Genesis is going to be fulfilled by the creator God acting in a new way within the world he creates.
Reboot. It is all about the Word.
The word, “Word,” is an interesting one. Our words take on life of their own. When we speak we use breath and the sound that comes out is received by the hearer. Our words take on meaning.
“He is a man of his word.”
“I give you my word.”
And words have power.
“I love you.”
“I’m sorry.”
“We have the test results…”
God’s Word takes on a life of it’s own. From eternity, God’s Word is Jesus. All of existence comes through his Word.
ME
How do you use your words best?

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Matthew 2

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. 

Joseph continues to be guided by God in his dreams. Normally we hear from God through the scriptures, hearing the word taught and preached, through study, and through our own prayer life. God’s main way to speak to us is in our thoughts.

Why is it different with Joseph? Well, we don’t need to assume he is not hearing from God on a regular basis. Undoubtedly he is because he is a faithful man. But, there are some things Joseph needs to know that he can know no other way. If the holy family is isolated in Egypt, how else are they going to get news concerning Herod?

So they return to Judea. In other words to Bethlehem which is in Judea. It seems they won’t be going back to Nazareth after all. Except that Joseph hears Herod’s son is now ruler. Jesus is still in danger! Now what do they do?

It is a father’s place to support and protect his family. Joseph is such a great example of this. But his heroism doesn’t come from his great strength or wisdom. The reason Joseph is such a strong father is he has a strong father. God his Father. The human Jesus is protected by his human father who is protected by his heavenly Father. This is the most important thing fathers can do in the lives of their children. Be a model of trust and openness to God.

ME

Who has been an important man in your life?

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(This is a blog post about Halloween I have submitted to Life Model Works website)

First, let’s get this one out of the way for parents. Parents, if you grew up in the United States and so did your parents, maybe even your grandparents, then if you celebrate Halloween as the American traditional holiday it was when you or your parents or your grandparents were kids, you’ve got it covered. You can have the traditional down-home American Halloween, even today.

Now, along with that, the focus on how everyone else chooses to celebrate Halloween is going to be whatever is the craziest, most provocative, most extreme stuff out there. What sizzles sells. This is why what the media and social media chooses to cover this Halloween season won’t be you out trick or treating with your cute little Ninja Turtle.

Second, if you are a parent who is a Christian, here is a disclaimer. I am a biblical scholar, as are my colleagues. We can make 10 cases of why Halloween is not helpful, 10 why it is not harmful, and 10 more why it is a great opportunity to spread joy and love your neighbors.

I am also a historian, as are many of my colleagues, and so we have already studied all the varied background information about the “origins” of Halloween and such. I personally don’t find origin stories all that helpful when making decisions about present reality, and I notice that when we do make origin stories a huge deal, we tend to simply grab on to the origin stories that serves our point of view. When we pastor-types hang out together, we can argue all of these points and then see who the loudest, most aggressive person is, as he or she will probably go away thinking they are the Bible Answer Guy/ Origin Historian Extraordinaire. Come to think of it, if that’s the case, then we do have a problem and will need to do some work on self-satisfaction and humility. That’s not good…

Where does that lead us?

I will give my opinion as a Christian/parent/grandparent/pastor. This is profound, so wait for it…wait for it….

Do whatever you want, with common sense. If you don’t want to do anything? Don’t.

Alright, but what is common sense?

According to the latest brain science, God designed us so that the emotional well-being of children has already been wired to a great extent by age one. Parents, whatever you decide about Halloween is not going to “scar them for life.”

Hospitality toward your neighbor is a big deal for Jesus, and an important model for your children to witness. A friend of mine said it this way:

“Halloween is the only day of the year when many of our neighbors come to our homes.  Don’t miss this great opportunity to be at home when they stop by.  Let’s be hospitable!”

I would add, hospitality toward you neighbor might include trick or treating in your own neighborhood, as there are many homes that still have a warm remembrance of the down-home Halloween of days gone by, and your kids will increase the joy level of their evening, some in a significant way.

Appropriate costumes? For your children? Not too dark; not over-sexualized.

Appropriate costumes for neighbor’s kids? That’s their business. But, what do you do if they come to your door as a gory zombie or a sexy nun?

Give them candy without an editorial.

If you are already done trick or treating with your own kid and they see the gory or over-sexualized, at the end of the night, you can have a meaningful conversation about their experiences in general and the topic of costumes might come up. Then go for it.

Personally, as a pastor of a church where we celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday,  whenever I see gory monsters, zombies, and vampires, if these same kids choose to worship with us some day and they are not familiar with Holy Communion, it will be very interesting when I start talking about eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood…

Oh, well, Happy Halloween! Or not…

 

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Ephesians 5 

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 

All right. I could’t take it any longer. I have to use some kind of statistic on the topic of marriage in our society today! Here it is.

In an recent Pew Research Center survey, adults were asked which statement was closer to their own viewpoint. The statements had to do with marriage and having children.

Statement #1

Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority.

Statement #2

Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.

Results? Here we go again United States divided!

4% answered “don’t know” “neither” or  “both equally”

The rest of the country?

Statement #1

46% of Americans think society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority.

Statement #2

50% of Americans say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.

I guess the Bible is accurate once again in reflecting the human condition.

“This is a great mystery!”

The Bible doesn’t say everyone needs to get married and have children. Our best model of human life? Jesus. Didn’t marry. Didn’t have children.

But the overall message of the Bible is crystal clear. For everyone else, marriage and children are the foundation of well-being for society.

Now what if I don’t want to use the Bible as my criteria? Fine. Look at any research having to do with marriage and children.

Married with children-

Healthier. Mentally and physically.

Joy level-

Higher when married with children.

Satisfaction level-

Higher when married with children.

So, what is the mystery? The mystery is why something so obviously helpful in bringing well-being into our lives, and as a result, bettering the well-being of society, is not considered a priority for half our country!

When husbands and wives model the love Jesus has for people, society thrives. Always. When we become the kind of people who can devote ourselves to the well-being of those closest to us, everything else around us gets better in the long run.

ME

What are some of the qualities you see in marriages you admire?