Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Record Keeping

How far back do your records go? Try this one. A library in New York City was checking its records and found that President George Washington had checked out a book from them in 1789 and never returned it. Now, almost 230 years is a long time to hold onto a library book. If George were around to pay the overdue fine, he'd have to cough up about $300,000! The staff of Washington's estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia, came up with a great idea. They bought another copy of the same edition of the book and presented it to the library in a ceremony.

I once counseled a woman who actually kept a running list of all the wrongs her husband had committed! If my wife wanted to do that, it would be volumes, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, with yearly additions. But the Bible says "Love keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).

In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a king who settles accounts with his servants. The king forgives one servant a debt of 10,000 talents. Today, this would equal millions of dollars. You can picture Peter's jaw dropping at hearing this story, but that was the point Jesus was making with such a huge amount. God forgave us of an enormous debt, one we could never pay, and we should forgive others of their smaller offenses toward us.

This parable is about both vertical and horizontal forgiveness, or God to us, and us to each other. It should bring an end to fault-finding or sin sniffing.

Corrie ten Boom said that when we come to Jesus Christ, God takes our sins and throws them into the sea of forgetfulness, and then He posts a sign: "No fishing allowed." Sometimes we remember what we have done, and we don't allow ourselves to experience God's forgiveness. Or more often, we point the finger at other people who have sinned against us, thinking that we're somehow holier than they are, and we go fishing all the time.

Since that New York library kept the record, the estate of George Washington felt it had to do something to make it right. God had the record against us, but He destroyed it because He Himself "made it right." As the old hymn says, "Jesus paid it all."

Are you keeping a record of wrongs? God destroys the record of the sins He has forgiven. So should you. Notice what happened to the unforgiving servant in the parable. Experience God's forgiveness, and extend forgiveness to your brothers and sisters.

Love God – Love People

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gotta Love Popularity Contests

In an interview in 1966, John Lennon of the Beatles said, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first, rock n' roll or Christianity." That set off a huge negative reaction in the U.S., with angry fans burning Beatle records and merchandise.

Lennon's comment was fairly arrogant, but it's nothing compared to a quote from Voltaire, the 18th-century French atheist. He wrote, "In 20 years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took 12 apostles to rear."

Well, of course, they were both wrong. Christianity is still here, 36 years after Lennon's death and over 230 years after Voltaire's. The reason they were wrong is that Christianity is far more than just a "popularity contest." Jesus Christ is more than "popular" with those who believe in Him. They're willing to take up their cross to follow Him. Jesus said, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:37-38).

People in the first century knew what Jesus meant by taking up a cross. It meant complete abandonment. The idea is that you embrace Christ with an absolute dedication that will take you through persecution, that will take you even, if need be, unto death. For that, Jesus needs to be more than just "popular" to you.

I remember getting laughed at as a young believer because I had a bible at school. And I felt pretty proud: "I'm suffering persecution!" Then I read Foxe's Book of Martyrs and found the stories of people who were completely abandoned to Christ.

Some people worry about what they would do if somebody threatened their life unless they denied Christ. Well, I wouldn't lose sleep over that one. I think God is able to give you a supernatural strength at that time that you don't know you could have. But it begins by an absolute commitment to Christ.

Jesus promised that "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). That level of commitment is shown in the epitaph on the grave of John Knox: "Here lies a man who feared God so much that he did not fear any man."

I pray that we'll be so completely abandoned to Jesus Christ that those words can be said about each of us.

Love God – Love People

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Here's to your Health

We're kind of obsessed with health and wellness here in the U.S. Here are some news stories I saw just this week. One said that getting too little sleep is not only bad for your health but can lead to early death. Another said that getting your exercise in a green place like a park can be good for your mental health. Still another said you can encourage children to eat fruit by cutting it in a visually interesting way. And one said that the substance that makes chili peppers hot can also relieve pain.

We emphasize health so much that it's even led some to misinterpret scripture. I'm referring specifically to a verse all of us have heard. "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2).

There's something going around today called the "faith" teaching or the "health and wealth" teaching. Some teachers will take that verse completely out of context and say it's a proof text that Christians should never be sick and walk in perfect health and healing 24 hours a day. They either don't understand Bible interpretation or they willingly neglect the fact that it was just a common greeting. John wasn't saying that we'll always be healthy. He's saying, "My heart's desire is that you are spiritually healthy. And if you can be physically as well off as you are spiritually, I wish that for you, too."

It certainly doesn't mean that if you're in poor health that you're living a "Satan-defeated life" or that you don't have enough faith! To get that out of the text, you've got to force an interpretation on it.

Physical health or financial prosperity is not always an indication of spiritual health and prosperity. That's very easy to figure out. Do you know any unbelievers who have good health, or who have money? Does that mean that they're spiritually prosperous? No, of course not! And I know some great men and women of God who suffer physically, even though they have great faith. You and I can philosophize about it, but they live it.

What if that were prayed about us, that we would be as physically fit as we are spiritually? I wonder...would we be strong and vibrant, or would we be anemic?

Of course we should eat healthy, get some exercise and enough sleep, and all that. But first and foremost, we should make sure our souls prosper. That's where our emphasis should always be.