Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Father's Letter . . .

The following is a letter I read at my son's graduation for part of the commencement speech. Many requested it so here it is. My hope is that parents and their graduates alike will be able to identify with its sentiments.

A Father’s Letter . . .

Dear Son,

Where to begin? All the years come suddenly to this moment and I am proud, I am thankful, I am emotional, I am nostalgic. And there is in me the dawning realization that every step you take from this day forward will be pregnant with the possibility that your path could take you further away from me than I am comfortable with.

For the better part of two decades, I have engrossed myself in your life. Much of my effort has been simply to keep you alive and healthy. I have sung songs, and played games, and answered questions, but more than that, I have loved you at depths that even now you are not able to understand and won’t be until you have a child of your own. Though at times I have tried to express and explain that love to you, I realize that, for now, I’ll have to be content with knowing its depths on my own. Part of a parent’s lot I suppose.

Early on I saw that from time to time you went through changes as you grew and matured and I realized that, if I were to continue to be close to you, I would have to adjust to the changes. As your interests changed, I adjusted mine so that I could continue to relate to you.

Starting out, I had clear goals. I always hoped that by the time you reached adulthood you would still love me as you did when you were just a little one. While that has been my hope, and still is, I have many times had to choose fatherhood over friendship in order to pursue another goal I had which was to give you direction and leadership. Sometimes choosing that road was hard and it left me feeling lonely, but my commitment was firm. And if given the opportunity to do it all again I would do it without hesitation.

The teenage years have been particularly unique in their challenges. Life goes along undisturbed, communication with your child is clear and good, and then it happens: adolescence! It’s a lot like losing radio contact. There is communication, then static, then the connection seems lost. But pretty soon, connection gets established again as long you try which we both did.

For a long time now, you have demonstrated a growing desire to be independent. At first, I took that personally. Then I realized, with help, that your need for independence is the normal response of a child who has been nurtured, taught, respected, and appreciated. In the end, I have to admit that what I want is for you to be able to go out on your own and be OK.

There were countless lessons I tried to teach you that I hope have stayed with you. They were all important, but some of them rise to the top and are worth repeating in this letter.

Like the fact that it is mathematically impossible for anyone to be right all the time and that sometimes, you have to say you’re sorry; that if you are going to stay close to those you love, you have to work at it; and that you should live everyday as though it were your last. I taught you that while we trust in God for the future, we have no promise of tomorrow, so you have to live today as though there were no tomorrow. Take time to look around and appreciate the blessings in your life today, especially the people. I taught you that THESE ARE the good old days! They certainly have been for me.

I also taught you about Jesus. That He is the only way to heaven, that He is coming back soon, and that He loves you and cares about you. That He expects us to live right and that He has given us the power to do so, not in order to earn salvation (which we cannot do) but in order to live up to what He has done for us (which, admittedly, we can’t do either but we should try). I taught you to call on Him, and that, no matter the situation, prayer will work. That advice will always serve you well.

I tried my best to instill in you a confidence that there is nothing you can’t do if you try. I have believed in you your whole life and I believe in you now! I taught you that you can do anything through Christ and that nothing is too hard for the Lord, but that most of all it was important to find out what HE WANTS YOU TO DO!

You should know that I still feel the sting of failures I made while you were growing up: Misspoken words, times when I was too busy or impatient. Times when I was slow to understand what you needed or just misunderstood things altogether. Thank you for loving me anyway. Just as I learned from my father’s mistakes, you have learned from mine and your children will learn from yours. That’s how it works.

It is my indescribable pleasure to be your father. But, for now, I am beginning to let you go. Not entirely; never entirely. As long as I am alive I will do everything I can to be here for you and be a blessing to you, just as I always have. My door will always be open to you. Wherever I am, you will always be welcome. And as long as I am on this earth I will be here for you. And if you ever look up and I am gone, just know that I am with Him. So, walk in faith and we will be together again. But for now I am here and for now it is time for you to spread your wings and begin to fly. No too far at first, but over time farther and farther, ever so certainly, until you find your place in this world.

With more love than I know how to express,

Your Father

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reality and Ideal

The existence of the ideal is evidence of its possibility.

Ever been inspired by a movie because of the values it portrayed? The story was challenging and beautiful, moving and uplifting. Then you come back to "reality" and realize that the players are just actors, the movie is based on a novel, and you realize that it is just a story. This "balance" between idealism and reality is aided by our own exposure to shattered dreams, burst bubbles, and unmet expectations.

We face this type of exposure to reality all the time. In fact, it begins to seem that everything and everyone has a seemy underside; a corrupt core predisposed to dishonesty and fraud. We learn to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. We adjust our expectations of people when we hear that a pastor has committed adultery, or a friend has been busted in an internet scam, or we observe everyday, garden variety hypocracy when people we know don't operate with integrity. By the time we "grow up" we have been conditioned to temper idealism with "reality." But, I am not ready to be done with idealism.

I have a book (though I never read it) titled The Way We Never Were. The premise of the book is that nostalgic reminiscenses of, say, the 1950s are unrealistic. There were no Leave it to Beaver households. It was all Hollywood hype.

I wasn't alive in the 50s so I don't know, but I want to argue the following point: If I can imagine a story with values in which all the characters operate with integrity and depth and idealism, isn't the fact that I can imagine such a thing proof, to some degree, that it is possible?

Now, if you choose to, you could let your mind run away with all of the examples of things that you could imagine that would be unlikely to happen (I will leave the examples to you). But don't do that. Instead, recognize that, nestled in this rant, is a call to live idealistically. Some people say it can't be done but I say the fact that you can be moved by the dramitization of such values is the evidence that you can be inspired to imitate such idealism.

Now, cut to Scripture as our example of idealistic living. The Bible is full of high ideals that God clearly expects us to pursue. I have met people who feel that even the call to live according to Scripture is unreasonable! To think this way is to completely miss the power of God's grace. It is possible to do right. It is possible to think clean thoughts. It is possible to envision people who interact with integrity and honor. It is possible to be a person who interacts with others with integrity and honor.

Such living demands that we focus not on the evil inclinations that bombard us but on the example of Jesus "who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2b)." That is, instead of focusing on the seemy underside of things and giving place to our own propensity to imagine evil, we instead pursue the right path. But how? This is the point of grace. We have been given the power to live differently; on a higher plane!

Paul said, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:24b-25a)!" We have been rescued from a worldy reality and called to higher things!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Beware of Radical Judaizers with a Messianic Afterthought

This week on Facebook, I fell into a den of radical Messianic Judaizers. OK. Let me first say who I am not talking about. I'm not talking about Jewish people who discover Jesus and exhibit the joy of being what some have called "completed Jews." Those people normally are a blessing to encounter. That's not who I ran into.

It would take too much space to tell you all about my encounter. But suffice it to say that these people were the most divisive, legalistic "believers" in Jesus that I have ever encountered. Now, I know there are some bad examples of Christianity out there (think Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kansas protesting at funerals, but I digress . . .)

These so called believers in Yeshua rant and rave about the church being pagan, and Pentecostals being demonic, and Christians not keeping Sabbath and following the Torah. The don't want to be called Christians, they don't believe in our Jesus (Their words, not mine). One of the women responded and said, "I am not a Christian and I don't follow your Jesus, I follow my Yeshua . . .)" Is this the unity Jesus prayed about in John 17?

Alright, I understand the drive of Jews who find Jesus to hang onto Jewish practices to some degree. But guess what: most of the people I encountered this week,if not all of them, were Gentiles.

Now, I have known people over the years that pursued Jewish traditions as a way of practicing what I can only assume they felt was a more authentic approach to Christianity. Obviously there is a lot to be gained by understanding Jesus through the eyes of messianic Judaism. The Sedar, the feasts, etc. all can be a blessing. But going back into the Law is not what Jesus intended.

The Apostle Paul was a "Hebrew among Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5). In other words, he was more authenticly Jewish than any of the people I met this week. In the book of Galatians, we see that Paul was concerned about a group of people who were attempting to pull the Galatian Christians back into legalism and the Law. These people were Judaizers. In Galatians 1:6-10, Paul said:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! 10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

It's amazing to me how that these modern day Judaizers feel qualified to question the New testament and act superior to the Apostle Paul! In one place Paul says, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice (Philippians 4)." That's good enough for me.

Bottom line: this thing is about grace, not going back under the Law. If Paul came out from under the Law, who do we think we are to go back under it? Paul said to the Galatians:

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (Galatians 3:1-3)?

Beware of those people who think you have to go back under the Law to find a deeper place in Christ. Let's not replace the Presence of God with ritual and ceremony. It's not what He wants.

LAST WORD: Nowhere in the New Testament does anyone say, "Want to be a better Christian? Become a Jew. Observe Old Testament laws." Not Paul (Hebrew of Hebrews), not the Apostles in Acts 15, not the Apostles to Paul in Galatians 2. And what about the vision Peter had just before Cornelius visited (Acts 10)?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

666 The Number of a Man: Dress Rehearsal Part II

If you didn't read my last entry on the subject of RFID technology you might want to do that before reading this one.

OK, so the technology exists, through Radio Frequency Identification to implant a chip about the size of the now proverbial grain of rice into human bodies for the purpose of security, the retrieval of personal records, buying and selling, etc.

Some people have missed the point, either of the videos (included below) or of my last blog. The point is not to say that this IS the mark of the beast or that this is exactly how it is going to be done. The point is to recognize the dress rehearsal. That is, to recognize that pieces are falling into place that let us know the times we are living in as they are related to biblical prophecy. So what "actors" are on the stage for this rehearsal?

The most obvious is THE SLOW BUT SURE EXCHANGE OF NATIONALISM FOR GLOBALISM. There is an increased identification across the globe of our shared concerns. A bad economy that the world has experienced at the same time. The threat of terrorism that is happening across the world. These two issues alone cause the whole world to begin to ask the same questions and say the same things and need the same answers. The day will come when global concerns will trump national ones. We have leaders in Washington right now who already sing this song.

It is not hard to see how the rise of global consciousness will demand increased global coordination. Ultimately this will lead to the need for specific global leadership. A leader will be needed who can point the way, shoulder the burdens, offer the answers, call down fire . . . . This is the climate that will give rise to the antichrist.

But, back to the chip. The Perry Stone video below claims that the government is going to require that all Americans have the chip by 2012 (there's that date again. Poor Harold Camping just can't seem to get any respect for his prediction of a 2011 Rapture). This sounds like one of those Christian rumors that we love to spread and it probably is. However, a student in one of my classes asked her brother who is apparently high up in our national security departments. He said there is no way that could happen. SO HERE'S THE THING: When we are looking at end time prophecy and extreme events we can't look at them through current reasoning. That is, you can't say something is impossible in 2012 when you don't know the pressure that will be brought to bare by that time (I am making no claim concerning 2012). I can tell you this: let a nuclear threat be made good in America and let politicians tell us that the answer is security that could only be brought on by this chip and suddenly the impossible becomes possible! Let the economy take an even worse hit due to massive identity theft that could supposedly be solved through a chip and and the immortal words of Bill Clinton will once more ring out from the "mighty mountains of New York to the curvaceous slopes of California": "IT'S THE ECONOMY STUPID!" Americans will do practically anything for the economy.

One more interesting tidbit concerning this RFID technology. My impression was always that the chip itself would contain massive amounts of one's personal information and itself be their identity carrier but an article from 2004 says that the chip itself does not hold all the information but rather a barcode or number that would then be the access code into the bank of information held on a computer. So the chip would indeed begin to look like the Revelation 13 prophecy that calls it the "number of a man." Extending this globally every person would be assigned a number. Rev. 13 seems to suggest that the antichrist's number will be 666 (just one way to read it).

Well, little children, what do you think? I would love to hear your questions, comments, and insights.
So, the RFID chip is a reality. (If you didn't read my last entry on this subject