Fire the Canon!

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No, that’s not a typo in the title of the article. As a former English Major and one-time Army artilleryman, I would never commit such an egregious error. I will explain in a moment, but first I want to address some recent squawking from certain movie audiences. My wife and I went to see “Justice League” last night. On the drive to the theater, I told her, “Okay, I need to fill you in on some backstory.” This was primarily information from the previous movie “Batman vs. Superman” which she had not seen. Without this update, she would not have understood the next installment. There needs to be some continuity between episodes for the story to make sense. There have been many versions of DC Comics stories (primarily Batman and Superman) over the years in many formats. There have been iterations on radio, TV, movies, and of course, comic books (where it all began). In the movies alone, there have been several different storylines by different directors/screenwriters with different visions of how the story should be told and seen. Fans of the comics often spend a great deal of energy evaluating the new storylines against the original comic versions. The original version is seen as “canon” or the standard by which all others must be measured. Faithfulness to the original story is applauded when it adheres and criticized when it departs.

This phenomenon is on full display in the controversy over the latest Star Wars movie. Many fans of the original three movies, (i.e. what they consider “canon”), feel that the new story is a betrayal and disappointment of what came before. They feel there is no continuity with the older storylines. That flow is important in any story.

The word “canon” is also comes up frequently in theological discussions about the Bible. “Canon” refers to the 66 books which make up the holy scriptures. These were evaluated and accepted after great debate over which books/letters met the criteria for divinely-inspired writings. The Bible was written over a period of 1600 years, in several different countries, by some forty different writers from all walks of life (kings, shepherds, fisherman, priests, doctors, slaves, etc.). Despite the writers’ personal differences, the story of the Bible is completely unified and consistent even in the details. There is remarkable accuracy of prophecies and their fulfillment. If continuity is important in superhero and spaceship fantasy stories, it is infinitely more so for the most important story of all time. If human writers in Hollywood can’t even get these fairy tales aligned properly over the course of four decades, how could we explain dozens of people separated by sixteen centuries recording a story with flawless attention to detail and perfect unity of theme and purpose? We couldn’t, unless God was directing this process.

People are upset that Luke Skywalker would never have acted in such a way. Some complain that Batman would never have used that particular piece of equipment or formulated such a plan. Wolverine’s origin story didn’t include that ridiculous detail, purists howl. Costume elements are criticized as heresy. These stories don’t ultimately matter. The ONE story of humanity’s creation, fall, and redemption has been preserved in painstaking detail so you might have the vital information about your future. Learn about the true “canon”, the Bible, and what the story means for you.

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Broken Chords

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An arpeggio is a sequence of notes played on a stringed instrument, most notably, a guitar. A chord is when several notes and strings are strummed together. An arpeggio, on the other hand, is a group of notes and strings which are played individually, letting each note ring on its own (even if just for a short time). Arpeggio comes from an Italian word for “plucking the harp”. A musician may place his hand on a guitar’s fingerboard in the position of a chord but then chooses to pluck each string individually. For this reason, arpeggios are often called broken chords.

I have always been drawn to arpeggios and players who use them, even before I knew what they were called. There is just something melodic and pleasing about the progression and pattern of them. It allows notes to stand out that might otherwise be lost in the din of a chord. Pulling them apart reveals a sort of hidden beauty that could easily be missed. Life pulls us apart sometimes. We often wish everything would be smooth and consistent. We want the notes of our life to come together in lovely harmony. Rarely does that happen, however. More often, we pluck at pieces and bits hoping to make something that passes for a decent tune. When things fall apart, that supplies the most fertile ground for us to grow. We grow wiser from mistakes. We grow more compassionate for those now suffering what we previously endured. We grow more aware of opportunities easily missed.

Those lovely notes can only be discovered by breaking the chord apart. Don’t worry if the song of your life seems broken and discordant at the moment. It is in those times that God is more perfectly revealed to us. Often, it is only in those times that we truly listen for His voice. The apostle Paul wanted to strum the chord of healing for himself in 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10. “[A] thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (NKJV).

Life may “sound” more pleasant when all the notes are working smoothly together. But don’t forget that some beautiful music can be made from broken chords, broken hearts, and broken roads. Let God put His song into your heart and show you that you are a pleasing sound in His ears. Let Him pull something wonderful from your strings. May the Lord shine upon you.

Cement Trucks and Good News

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Nobody likes getting bad news. It is for this reason many put off going to the doctor. They fear the discovery of some terrible illness. But until the doctor makes a diagnosis identifying the problem, treatment cannot be started and healing cannot begin. The bad news must come first. Some people may be resistant to read and study the Bible because it will confirm their worst fear: they cannot measure up to God’s standard. Scripture will point out very quickly that we are all failures in the righteousness department. It is much easier, albeit foolish, to simply ignore that report.

Imagine a road construction site. One lane is cordoned off with orange cones and a cement truck sits alongside the curb. For whatever reason, the truck slips out of gear and begins rolling down the incline towards the intersection. A young woman is making her way through the crosswalk as the signal has instructed her. A man off to the side sees the truck rolling toward the woman and picking up speed. He dashes to intercept the truck and jumps into the empty cab. At the last moment, he shoves the brake pedal down and stops the truck within a few feet of the woman. She is blissfully unaware of all these happenings because she was engrossed in the song playing through her earbuds. Her life has been saved, but not changed or bothered in the least. Now consider another scenario. This time, the young woman is between the man and the runaway cement truck. He sees the danger to her, but knows he cannot stop the truck before it strikes her. Instead, he runs with all haste towards her. Again, at the last moment, he leaps at her, knocking her from her feet. They both roll to safety as the truck plows into an empty parked car. When she realizes how close to danger she was and what the man did for her, she overflows with gratitude. Initially, she was threatened by this stranger leaping at her as if he was attacking. The tumble on the street was not pleasant in the least and seemed a great unkindness. It wasn’t until she saw the truck narrowly miss that she recognized the depth of her danger and his sacrifice.

We had a “truck” hurtling toward us as well. It was loaded with the weight of our sin and the condemnation that accompanies it. Our death would bring that penalty to bear upon us. Jesus didn’t just stop the truck (as in the first scenario). That would have allowed us to go on in ignorance and unrepentance. We would not have seen the other trucks that await us, nor would we have been thankful for that rescue. Instead, Jesus knocked us out of the way and stood in the path of the truck Himself. Imagine watching a stranger push you out of the way and take the hit so you could be spared. Would that not fill your heart with gratitude? Ah, but first it would likely break your heart with guilt. We don’t like feeling guilty. Some people don’t want to think about what Jesus did because it makes them feel bad about themselves. They don’t want to read the Bible because it points out their weakness and need for a Savior. The gospel is literally the “good news”. But the good news of salvation is meaningless without first recognizing the NEED for salvation. We must understand the bad news of our lostness first.

The gospel is defined in 1st Corinthians 15:1-4 as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although tragic, the death is the first and most necessary part of the “good news”. He died for our sin on the cross. We must understand, accept, and appreciate this before it does us any good. Of course, the BEST news is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. He was resurrected on the third day. Because He was raised, scripture tells us those who believe and obey Him will also be raised.

Christians must be mindful of this when seeking to guide others to Christ. Sometimes we may be guilty of emphasizing the “bad news” and making sure people understand how lost they are. We may be too harsh in condemning sin in the world and not kind enough in sharing the good part. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NKJV). Let us never be guilty of focusing on the bad news to the neglect of the good news. Let us not be like a doctor who diagnoses a terminal disease without offering the cure. Let us always “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). People may forgive us for tackling them if we are quick to help them back up.

The Greatest Injustice

not-fair-stampThe accused is brought into the courtroom. He is shuffling feet which are not only dragging because of the manacles, but also heavy with the guilt of what has brought him here to this court. The prosecutor, Satan, smirks at the defendant certain of a slam-dunk conviction. He has all the evidence lined up and has been eagerly anticipating this trial date. He plays his role well as “the accuser” (Rev. 12:10). Now all his hard work is about to pay off. The defendant slumps down into his seat, shackles rattling against the chair leg. He is not alone at the table, however. His advocate (1st John 2:1) is seated next to him and offers a reassuring pat on the shoulder. He seems as equally confidant of acquittal as the prosecutor does of a conviction. The accused does not share his defender’s optimism. He knows full well the weight of the evidence against him. Suddenly the bailiff announces: “Hear ye, hear ye, court is now in session with the Honorable Jesus Christ presiding!” The prosecutor’s head snaps up from his opening argument notes as does the head of the accused. Both watch in shock as the defense attorney stands up, buttons His coat and strides to the bench before sitting down. He raps the gavel once and the trial is set to begin.

 

The prosecutor jumps to his feet and angrily sputters, “Objection! You must recuse Yourself from this case! This is not fair!” The Judge responds, “Overruled. ‘For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son’ (John 5:22). Is the prosecution ready to begin trial?” Red-faced and flustered, the prosecutor grudgingly gathers his notes and says, dripping with disdain, “Yes, your honor. The prosecution will show beyond any doubt that the defendant did on many occasions willfully and knowingly violate the laws and clear commands of God. I am prepared to offer irrefutable evidence of these crimes to the court.” With these words, he waves a minion at the back of the courtroom forward pushing a hand cart piled high with several file boxes. As the stack is dropped near the table, one box tips over and spills its humiliating and vile contents onto the floor. The Judge holds up a hand and grimly states, “The court is familiar with all the evidence. There is no need to present it. It is accepted into the record as fact.” The defendant flinches as the gavel cracks from the bench. What hope can there possibly be now?

The Judge takes a deep breath and stares for a long moment at the stack of boxes. “The evidence is more than adequate to establish guilt. The court is ready to render a verdict. Does the defendant have anything to say before sentence is passed?” Head bowed, the accused knows there is no defense to be made. He is indeed guilty of every charge. He whispers a nearly inaudible “No, Your Honor” aimed at the floor. “Then the defendant is found guilty and sentenced to death per the demands of the Law.” The gavel falls like a thunderbolt and the accused clenches his eyes shut, not seeing the prosecutor pump his fist in victory.

But then, he hears the sound of a chair scooting back and looks up with sodden eyes to see the Judge taking off His robe and coming back to stand behind the defendant’s table. “If it pleases the court, a plea agreement has been reached. I move that all charges be dropped.” The stunned prosecutor barks, “Wait, what plea agreement? I made no agreement!”  The Advocate then strides back up to the bench and sits down. “A plea agreement has indeed been reached. The defense attorney has agreed to accept the sentence of death on behalf of the defendant. The accused is absolved of all charges and is free to go. Court is adjourned.” This time it is the prosecutor who recoils at the rap of the gavel. “This is outrageous! This is a gross miscarriage of justice! I call for a mistrial! You can’t do this!” The Judge replies, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Romans 9:15).  “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down’” (Rev. 12:10).

The cross was the most unjust thing that ever happened in human history. An innocent Man was killed and the guilty went free. How could a just God allow this to happen? God Himself told us when He revealed His heart in scripture. “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11).  A scene much like the one above played out in the Old Testament book of Zechariah in a vision of God’s mercy to a rebellious Israel. “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes’” (Zech. 13:1-4).

God found a way to satisfy His justice and still extend mercy. That way was the cross. It was, as Satan objected, a great injustice. But when it comes to God’s love for you, “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Sermon Sketches #4

brody_2Last Sunday I preached from Ephesians 4:11 about the gifts Christ gave to the church for her establishment. The roles of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher were for the growth and development of the church. In my Powerpoint, I had a slide of DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” which features Jesus at the table with the twelve apostles. I assume that is the image Brody Morton was trying to recreate. I was struck by the image he drew. Jesus is alone at the table. He seems none too happy about this by His expression. Please notice the 12 empty place settings. A point I made in the sermon was that we still fulfill these roles today in some fashion. The word apostle means “one sent”. It can refer to the twelve, but not exclusively. I asked the question: are we also not sent into the world as salt and light as well as ambassadors for Christ? Brody apparently understood this and drew Jesus as if He is asking, “Will you be My apostles? Will you join Me at this table and go where I command teaching My gospel?” What a deep and poignant question for every Christian! I am constantly amazed at the understanding of our young people. Too often we underestimate their wisdom and grasp of important things which we can easily miss. Keep teaching us, kids. We must become like you in order to enter the kingdom, after all!

Sermon Sketches #3

I love my little sermon illustrator buddies! Brody Morton did a great job listening to my lesson on Joel. You see how the plague of locusts was a foreshadowing of the destruction of the temple/Jerusalem by the Babylonians (sometimes rendered “Bablonens”) and the captivity. This event was itself a prophecy of another army–the Romans– later destroying Jerusalem (or, Jurslem) again in 70 A.D. All of these point to the ultimate “Day of the Lord” when the final judgment and destruction of the world will come. Very astute observation and analysis. What I love most is the note of encouragement by his brother Jackson. They are so supportive of each other and could teach us all a lesson about brotherly love. Great job, buddy!

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Arise! Awake!

daffodils.jpgWhen God has determined the time to be right, He begins to stretch out the days. The sun warms the ground and soon tiny green things begin to appear. The daffodils are first: the heralds of spring. They blow their golden trumpets in announcement. “Awake! Arise!” All nature hears the call and begins to shake off its dreary, winter slumber. The forsythia erupts in brazen glory launching out tendrils of flaxen fire. Next, the pear trees determine to shame all whom have not yet heeded the trumpet’s call. They burst forth in pale, fluffy clouds among the somber branches. The husky aroma fills the breeze to declare: “Spring is here!” Tulips snake their way up from the dark soil and sit like stately decorations in a gentleman’s lapel. The redbuds stealthily ease their lavender jewels until one day they seem to have appeared everywhere overnight. Just as the pear blossoms begin to fade into green, the lilacs come on the scene to replace the lost aroma with their own magnificent perfume.

All the trees have now begun to bud and resurrect. Soon the air will be filled with maple seeds helicoptering their way down to the ground much to children’s delight. The leaves elongate and widen. The breeze is now filled with the symphony of their melodious rustling. Phlox creeps across the barren ground and overcomes the brownness. Rose of Sharon bushes stack their pale blossoms atop one another. Not to be outdone, crape myrtle elbows in with its vibrant reds and purples. It will stand its ground deep into the hot summer, for God has made it hardy and beautiful. The world is alive again and it makes the winter seem to have been far longer and darker than it was because of the glorious contrast.

Why did God make the world so beautiful? Why did He make us able to appreciate beauty? None of the animals acknowledge God’s masterful handiwork. I suppose it is because we are made in His image and He Himself appreciates beauty. Let us revel in the cascading waves of God’s artistry that He sends to us at this time every year.

Dear Snowflakes: We Made You This Way and We’re Sorry

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Driving my grandsons to school today and I hear the oldest exclaim, “Aww man!” It seems a crew from the city works department was loading up the merry-go-round from one of the local playgrounds. I have fond memories of seeing how fast we could get them spinning and trying not to be flung off onto the ground. Good times. Nauseating, but good. I have lamented the slow erosion of “all the fun equipment” from playgrounds—tall slides, jungle gyms, even swings for crying out loud. The powers-that-be have deemed them “too dangerous”. *eyeroll*

I pondered this, wondering how any of us ever survived childhood. Equipment like that populated playgrounds for a good century up until now and I don’t recall reading news stories about mass slaughter of innocent children. No breathless reports of city parks turning into killing fields littered with broken little bodies. I began to think maybe the problem isn’t with the equipment, but rather, the children. What wimps.

But wait!

My grandson (and his brother) were crushed that “all the fun equipment” was being taken away. The city didn’t decide to remove them because they polled fearful second-graders. It must be the grownups. People like *gasp* me. I am 44 years old. I know, young for a grandpa, thank you. Thank you very much. How did I get…old? It certainly can’t be me, can it? It’s those young whippersnappers who get me riled and make me look around for a can to shake at them.

Millennials are easy targets these days. Spoiled, irresponsible, lazy, opinionated, entitled, etc. Dismissed by older, tougher, adultier adults as snowflakes, crybabies, and cupcakes. Well don’t complain about the cupcakes if you baked them. That’s right, millennials, it’s not your fault. Well, it’s not ALL your fault. My generation began the nonsense of participation trophies, nobody gets cut from the team, and building self-esteem AT ALL COSTS. If young people today are insufferable, it’s because we made them that way.cupcake

We rescued our kids from every possible boo-boo and discomfort. Us trying our hardest to be good parents resulted in a generation (or two) who cannot or will not deal with adversity. Hand sanitizer is the perfect illustration of this problem. We squirted it all over our children’s hands in an effort to keep the bad bugs out. What we never realized, until scientists began to study it, was that it also keeps the good bugs out. Immune systems have been handicapped because they never had to deal with biological “trigger-words” or “micro-aggressions”. When one is encountered, the system over-reacts. Follow me, here. Because we never let our kids learn how to play on the “dangerous” equipment, everything unpleasant sends them to the emotional Emergency Room. They wind up primal screaming on CNN holding a picket sign or whimpering in “safe spaces” with coloring books.

Some soul-searching is in order for everyone above college age. Yes, the kids are annoying these days. Yes, they need to grow up and toughen up. But don’t blame them for the way we raised them. They didn’t demand participation trophies. They never asked to be slathered with Purell. Understand that I am speaking in generalities. Many will protest, “I didn’t raise my kids that way!” My point is that WE find OURSELVES in this predicament as a nation; a world, even. It “took a village” to get us here and it’s going to take us all to get out. Pointing fingers hasn’t gotten us very far. Maybe it’s time to start pointing mirrors.

Wailing Unto God

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A while back there was a video clip making the rounds. It is footage of a man who is being confronted by friends and family on the A&E show “Intervention”. After one member of the family reaffirms his love, the addict lets out a wail from the very depths of his soul. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee925OTFBCA (Kleenex alert)

Some people shared this video as a joke; finding humor in the rawness of his emotional response. I saw something different. I saw a lesson on how we should respond to God’s unimaginable love and forgiveness. Consider what is heard as the man cries out:

It is a wail of shame and regret for past sins, hurts, and disappointments.

It is a wail of disbelief that one who has been so injured by his selfishness could offer forgiveness and love instead of bitterness and anger.

It is a wail of gratitude at being given a second chance to make up for past mistakes.

It is a wail of joy over the power of stubborn love and reconciliation.

His cry is our cry to God over our sin, of our repentance, of our relief, of our reconciliation, of our joy, of our long-sought-after peace.

This video shows the power of love which intervenes when we are unwilling or unable to do so.

The cross was our intervention; God’s refusal to hate us or let us continue to be dead to Him. It was God doing for us what we never had the strength or will to do for ourselves.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NKJV).

Let us cry out to God from deep in our soul and show our gratitude for his stubborn and healing love.

God’s Pickin’ and Choosin’

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I once volunteered to be a teacher’s aide for my son Gabe’s kindergarten class. The teacher asked me to go over the kids’ spelling words and call them back one at a time behind the short bookshelf where it wouldn’t be so distracting for them. I went down the list and soon the final bell rang. I was a bit disappointed I hadn’t made it to Gabe’s name before the bell rang. When I came back around the corner, I saw the teacher trying to comfort Gabe who was crying. He was crushed that I hadn’t called his name. I tried to explain to him that I simply went down the list (as I thought I was supposed to), but he was inconsolable. He thought I was doing it deliberately. Every time he heard my voice from behind the bookshelf he hoped it would be his name called. Every time it wasn’t, his heart broke a little more. I was devastated to think that my child could ever think that of me. I didn’t blame him in his five-year-old reasoning skills. I thought this would be a happy memory we would cherish for many years. It turned out to be something that haunts me still.

Sometime after, I realized this is a perfect illustration of the false, unscriptural doctrine of predestination as taught by Calvinism. It affirms that some are selected before birth by God to be saved while others have been chosen to be condemned. Numerous scriptures teach firmly against this arbitrary choosing by God. The decision is ours of whether or not we will accept salvation or be condemned (John 5: 28-29; 12:48; Matt. 23:37; 2 Cor. 5:10). Specifically, John 1:12 says, “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right [opportunity] to BECOME children of God, even to those who believe in His name”. And 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-14 teach, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is our response to the gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection that determines if we will be saved from our sins or condemned by them.

Calvinism also slanders God’s character by casting Him as a heartless tyrant who saves and destroys on a whim. Scripture affirms that God does not play favorites. “God impartially judges according to works “(1st Peter 1:17). Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34 mirror this. Calvinism reduces salvation to a matter of luck in finding oneself “on the list”.

I return to the illustration in that kindergarten class. My son was bewildered how his own father who claimed to love him would choose others over him. Imagine a faithful Christian waiting for his or her name to be called on Judgment Day and feeling the crushing disappointment as name after name is spoken but not theirs. Questions would soon arise. “Don’t You love me, Father? What have I done or failed to do in order to be left out like this? Have I not followed Jesus as best I could? Have I not placed ultimate faith in You to save me apart from my own feeble attempts at holiness? Have I not obeyed your commands and sacrificed as You required? How can you desert me now when I need you most on this day I have spent my life anticipating? Don’t You love me? Won’t you keep Your promises to me?” Imagine the flippant and heartless answer which must be given by the false god of Calvinism: “I am sorry my dear, but you are simply not on the list.”

Calvinist predestination degrades us into mere meat puppets dancing on cruel strings, utterly devoid of free will. Even more sinister, it makes God into a loveless monster who saves and kills without reason or mercy. That is NOT the God of the Bible. How our Heavenly Father’s heart must ache as mine did that day to think my child could find such evil within me. God is love (1st John 4:8).

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