Health Fad?

Am I the only one being bombarded by advertisements of health systems, diet menus and fitness clubs this month? It’s obvious that marketers are tapping into the new years resolutions craze that hits us every year. My guess is that they assume that more health-related resolutions are made than anything else, and they are probably right.

So, not wanting to be left out, I’ve made sort of a quasi-vegetarian diet resolution: I will only eat animals that are vegetarians:).

But seriously, I am concerned about health — mine and yours. Eternal health. So, again, I offer to you my Balanced Bible Menu. The Pillar College marketing department has updated and redesigned this handy, versatile way of reading the Scriptures that avoids the two main pitfalls of well-intentioned Bible readers.

But before continuing my own marketing campaign, I want to share an interesting finding from Thom Rainer’s short book Who Moved My Pulpit? Writing about the importance of leading from HOPE for pastors who are trying to lead their congregations through change, Rainer comments on Brad Waggoner’s insight in The Shape of Faith to Come. “The essence of the study is that the most mature Christians have one common trait: they read the Bible daily.” Rainer continues, “So it is with leaders as well. You can’t have hope if you’re not hearing from the Author of hope every day.” Leaders are readers, especially of the Bible.

Those who know me well know the two themes that grip my soul as I yearn for spiritual renewal in our day: biblical illiteracy and the loss of reverence that plague our nation increasingly with each generation. Denigrating the majesty of God and ignoring his Word will destroy our nation, as it has in other cultures and eras. That’s why I want you, as a mature follower of Christ, to use and encourage others to use the Balanced Bible Menu.

Here are the pitfalls it avoids: by scheduling you to read only five days per week, you will not give up because you fall behind. Use Saturdays and Sundays to catch up, if you need to. And, by having you read 4-5 chapters from Law, History, Writings, Prophets, and New Testament, each week you will have a variety of content without losing track of the contexts. You won’t get spiritually starved in the wilderness of Leviticus, or mesmerized by the genealogies of 1 Chronicles because the next day you will move onto another section that will be more nourishing.

So, if you’d like an electronic copy or one or more printed copies of my Balanced Bible Menu, please let me know by responding to this Upfront.

Incarnation, 2016

Because He was born, we can be born again. God became man; the only Christmas gift that matters. That’s the essential message of Christmas. It’s really that simple and really that profound.

Maybe every insight has been shared, every message has been heralded, every image has been exegeted, every carol has been sung, and every idea about Christmas has been thought. So much for the modern, rationalistic approach to the Incarnation-Christmas as usual-decreasingly enchanting as we get farther from the joys of unwrapping presents.

Now, let’s turn to the meaning of Christmas for you and me. It’s experiential! I’m moved by the Incarnation because God has invaded my loved ones and me. Bethlehem excites me, but His invasion eternalizes me. I’m the manger; you are the manger, if He’s been born in you. Previously grossed out by the creaturely filths of this stable called Earth, we are mysteriously made into temples-sanctuaries-of the God Man. We are cleansed by His presence. The angels who sang Peace on Earth at His birth renewed their carol at my rebirth-they rejoice, we are told, over one sinner who comes to repentance. Now that’s Christmas! Angels not just on the top of my tree but also at the top of their voices heralding my birth.

But why? What’s the big deal? It’s just me. God can raise up children from stones, and there are about six billion more like me in the stable. The big deal is all about incarnating God. Spirit becoming flesh to enable flesh to become spirit. It’s about family, God’s forever-family being brought to glory-many sons and daughters.

I’ve just returned from China and Hong Kong, still in awe of an amazing privilege I had of meeting with a dozen Chinese pastors and 11 young Chinese who have been trained and commissioned to be missionaries to other nations – Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Cambodia, as well as unreached parts of China. Stories of real conversions in spiritually dark places were amazing.

You ask, What in the world is God doing? That’s what He’s doing. He’s birthing sons and daughters this Christmas, moving into their mangers to bring sanctuary to troubled war-torn people whom he so loves. And He’s doing it in Newark and Paterson, USA. Pastors in these cities find themselves ministering to poor people to awaken faith and hope. Now that’s Christmas. I think I hear angels singing.

Question: would your church become excited if a lot more poor people started showing up? You know, homeless, jobless, penniless, dirty people. People in trouble, like with unexpected pregnancies, outsiders to your community, drifters who just need a little shelter in their distress. Or would you prefer well-educated, wealthy, gift-bearing visitors? Which will it be? The Christ, or gold, frankincense and myrrh? Or the Christ of the lowly, smelly shepherds? How is Christmas coming to you this year? More importantly, how is Christmas coming from you this year? The mission, should you choose to accept it, is incarnation. And you can do it in Asia or New Jersey; among the financially or spiritually poor, or wherever God wants to father sons and daughters. You see, incarnation can continue through each of us who have been born to the lively hope! (1 Peter 1:3).

A Test of Character

As we move beyond the heat of a divisive political contest in which we had two presidential candidates who were extremely disliked and not trusted by most people, with opposite halves of the citizens having to opt for one of the candidates, we now find the character of our nation being tested. Prior to the election, it was the characters of Clinton and Trump that were in the spotlight. Now it is the character of the USA that the world is watching. Will we prove to be a nation of civility and sensibility, or will we show ourselves to be the very things we disliked about the two candidates?

People may seem to be very interested in what the candidates say, but we forget that the soul of our nation is revealed more by what we say about them and how we say it. Moral mudslinging and cruel caricatures badly sullied the campaigning and diminished respect for the office of president.

Politics is a highly polished art form which is waged like battle; offensive verbal volleys are flung at enemies with the expectation that a discredited foe is a defeated foe. In days past, however, the one discredited in the public eye was the mudslinger. In today’s “new dark ages” (Alasdair MacIntyre’s phrase) civility and sensibility have given way to smearing and slinging. And all too often politically active Christians contribute to the nasty noises, thereby undermining our credibility as thinkers and as followers of Christ. We may think we know how Jesus would have voted and justify our triumphalism or our vindictiveness accordingly, but, really, do we really have the arrogance to assume we know the mind or purposes of the Almighty?

In the summer of 1995 the people of the United States were gripped by the O. J. Simpson trial. When the jury found him not guilty, our nation was polarized by the different responses of whites and blacks. On the college campus where I served, the responses were rather typical. Black students were greatly pleased and celebrated the verdict, while white students were shocked and dismayed. Sensing that this could cause a very unfortunate polarization on campus, I spoke to the students the next day in chapel, reminding them that only God and O. J. Simpson knew whether or not he committed the murders. Then I exhorted them to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, like Simpson’s God-fearing mother, and to weep with those who were weeping, like the parents of the Simpson’s wife.

The main point here is that followers of Christ are to seek first Christ’s kingdom, which has a platform of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, according to Romans l2:15, which goes on to admonish us to “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind,” and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Some people are truly fearful of what President Trump will do to their civil liberties. Others are relieved that he will halt the erosion of conservative values. As Christians, I believe we have a pastoral mandate to love and care for all our neighbors. Remember, there is another option besides Democratic and Republican; it’s called the Kingdom of God, ruled by One whose perfections we are called to emulate.