Thursday, November 24, 2005

How to Act Like an Atheist and Idolater

When Good Christians Act Like Atheists and Idolaters

Want to act and look like an unbeliever? Care to have core traits that make you indistinguishable from atheists or agnostics?

Good news! It doesn’t take becoming a serial killer, a suicide terrorist or a child abuser. According to Romans 1:21-23 all it takes is… well, read it for yourself:

"For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."

"Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (NIV).

It is one small step for man yet one giant leap for mankind from not honoring and thanking God to becoming foolish and functional idolaters. To know about God and not give Him due credit (glory) or properly thank Him is to be no different than your run of the mill atheist or blatant idolater. Ouch!

Arguably, the fearful pagan sacrificing chickens to appease an unknown Creator is closer to true worship of God than we educated, technology driven, pure materialists who live without properly praising or thanking Him.

To ascribe credit for one person’s work to another is to be guilty of lying. In this case, it is bearing false witness about our Ultimate Neighbor. It is to misrepresent the one (or impersonal forces) who did not do the work – giving them undue credit.

To not laud the Lord is to strip away His deserved praise and thanks - the One who did the work. Me taking credit for the Mona Lisa or the Magna Carta is beyond funny. It is insulting to all involved.

One of the dangers of pure atheistic evolution (life came from time, chance and non-living matter) is to ascribe some of God’s best work to nothing but cosmic luck.

To assert that our beautiful mountains, that awesome sky and those humbling oceans "just happened" is to mute their testimony of their Creator.

In rejecting the work of the Creator, we become deaf to the heavens when they declare the glory of God (see Psalms 19 & 8). Nature’s songs of praise cannot be heard because there is no One to whom it would sing.

Even if it were left up to the rocks to cry out, we could not hear them if they did. Beyond sad and tragic, that is blasphemous – if not by design then by default.

It is not the loss of Adam of Eve to evolution that is most tragic – though the biblical / theological magnitude of that cannot be overstated.

It is that God is banished from the garden of our weedy hearts, leaving us less than fig-leaf clad. And we are left to turn the created into the Creator.

Seeing God for Who He is - His awesome character - is the basis of praise. We give or "ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name" (Ps. 29:2). To understate His greatness in any realm naturally limits and minimizes the rightful praise we offer Him.

Thanksgiving focuses on what God has given or provided us. It is flows from our acknowledging that every good and perfect gift has indeed come down from our heavenly Father (James 1:17). We thank Him for gifts He bestows because of Who He is, for what He has done for us, or mercifully, not done or allowed to happen to us.

Is gratitude a struggle for you? Could some of it be dealt with by remembering Who is Whom and whom is not? Do you need in any way to re-enthrone the Creator, knowing our rightfully jealous God will not share His glory with any one? Careful meditation on passages like John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16, 17 might help refocus your heart.

A focus on God – rather than mere gratitude or guilt for all our stuff, health and "blessings" – will best restore us to being people who are truly thankful in ways that give Him more glory. It is then we will do as the psalmists says:

"Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice." (Psalm 105:1-3 - NIV)

"Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength." (Psalm 29:1)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Worth, Work & Rejoicing NOT that . . .

What are You Worth? How Do you Know?
Kerry S. Doyal –

It’s Saturday and I am in college. My big plans for most Saturday nights were to sit in the dorm lobby and wait for a phone call. I would set up vigil near the big wooden phone booth, guard it from any one fool hearty enough to try to use it and wait.

In the early 80’s, this was the cheapest way to keep in touch with my parents and Robin, now my wife. Dad worked for the phone company and got a deal on long distance. Robin would drive over to their house for the call and we all would catch up on the week’s news.

Yes, I know that sounds pathetic. Regular old Good Time Charlie, eh? In our era of cheap long distance and cell phones, it is hard to fathom. Oh well, I guess those were my good old days.

Another memory I have of those calls was a pattern of “Q & A” between my Dad and I. “How you doing?” he would ask. “Good.” I would reply. “I had a good week, I got a lot done.”

Some seven years later, while struggling through a long, dark season of life & ministry, I reflected on that part of our Saturday ritual. “How you doing?” “Good. I got a lot done.”

Mulling over that exchange, bells and lights of self-revelation went off. No doubt about it, as a good American male, my worth was clearly tied to my productivity, my successes, my accomplishments.

When I was getting things done, seeing lives changed, furthering His work, I felt good about me. Worse still, it was in such times I felt God felt good about me. Being lovable at such times, I was loved.

However, successes were few and failures seemed many during those doubt-filled days of ministry misery. It was a time that caused me to question my self worth and value to God or the kingdom.

What if while in college, I wondered, God entrusted me to a time of sickness and non-productivity? With test grades slipping, books not being read, papers not being written, I would have probably suffered more with matters of my soul than of my body.

Almost a decade later, everything I touched seemed to turn to mold; hardly gold. With little to feel good about, why should I feel good about me? Why should God?

When I grasped what my answers to my Dad revealed about me, it saddened me. Yet, it also became a point of freedom.

During those days of doubt, I happened – yeah right – to read Luke 10. A group of 72 Disciples were returning from a powerful ministry venture. They were jazzed and ready to report to Jesus. God had used them in obvious ways.

Hearing of their exciting exploits - healing the sick, raising the dead and kicking demonic derriere - Jesus affirmed their ministry. And then, in His classic “seem to change the subject style,” Jesus took advantage of the moment to teach them, to lead them deeper.

Read slowly a few times these words of Jesus that redirected my life: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20 - NIV).

If I may paraphrase: Do not find your joy and source of identity in what you have done for Me. That fluctuates. Rejoice in what I have done for you – provided salvation. That is settled, secure and cannot change.

For me, this was a “lights going on, chains dropping off” moment of truth-grasping (John 8:30-32). This story in Luke intercepted my story and reset the shape of my life and ministry. It seemed after this epiphany, God seemed to line up particular guys He brought into my life - they all needed to hear this truth too (Eph. 2:8-10).

If our worth is based on what we do for Him, we better never have a performance lapse. Talk about pressure and an unreasonable – no, impossible – expectation. It is a demonic and damnable lie.

Our performance, successes and results will always be in flux and mixed. ‘Tis true: ya win some, ya lose some. Yet, for those of us who need to win all of them to be okay with us, this means trouble. For me, that means I am only as good as my next sermon, which puts me in deep trouble.

Yet, God’s love for you and me, His unconditional acceptance never wavers. It is not rooted in me, but Him (Titus 3:3-7).

Be honest: when do you feel good about you? More importantly, when do you sense the favor and smile of God on your life? Is it when there is good reason to sense His love?

Do good grades, a raise or promotion, perfect kids or health indicate – or dictate – how you think God is thinking and feeling about you? Or, is your worth based in HIM: His love, grace, acceptance, mercy and forgiveness? These are gifts, not earned or merited (digest Rom. 5:1-10; Ephesians 1-3).

His favor is based on His desire to express His glorious grace to even the likes of us. In fact, the “least worthy” of His love become His best exhibits of Love (see 1 Timothy 1:15-17).

The next time you have a success, enjoy it. Call a friend and have them party hearty with you (Romans 12:15; Psalm 20:5).

Better still, the next time you fail, stumble and mess things up royally, stop right in the middle of your mess to wallow and revel in His ongoing, never decreased love for you (Romans 8:26-39). If in those times you can know and experience the love of God, methinks you are on to something special.