Monday, September 13, 2010

Faith and Thinking

In John Stott’s little book Your Mind Matters I found this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He was commenting on Matthew 6:30 in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and offered a great critique to those who feel that faith and thinking are opposites; that a person who has faith is a person who refuses to use his mind. Instead, says Lloyd-Jones, a person who exercises faith must use his mind.
Faith according to our Lord’s teaching in this paragraph, is primarily thinking; and the whole trouble with a man of little faith is that he does not think. He allows circumstances to bludgeon him. … We must spend more time in studying our Lord’s lessons in observation and deduction. The Bible is full of logic, and we must never think of faith as something purely mystical. We do not just sit down in an armchair and expect marvelous things to happen to us. That is not Christian faith. Christian faith is essentially thinking. Look at the birds, think about them, draw your deductions. Look at the grass, look at the lilies of the field, consider them. … Faith, if you like, can be defined like this: It is a man insisting upon thinking when everything seems determined to bludgeon and knock him down in an intellectual sense. The trouble with the person of little faith is that, instead of controlling his own thought, his thought is being controlled by something else, and, as we put it, he goes round and round in circles. That is the essence of worry. … That is not thought; that is the absence of thought, a failure to think.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Love Is Deeper

As I watched old news clips from 9/11, I was surprised not, by the grief I felt, but by the frustration.  I am frustrated that the evil that was unleashed that day is still ongoing.  I am frustrated that terrorists are still plotting and carrying out horrific acts of violence.  I am frustrated that wackos who threaten to burn the Quran get so much press.  I am frustrated that love and grace seem to be in such short supply (I am especially frustrated when love and grace are lacking from those who claim to be saved by the love and grace of Jesus).  

As I thought about these frustrating things, God reminded me of a song by David Wilcox that refocussed my thoughts.  God reminded that love is deeper and love wins.  
The first minute is David tuning his guitar - if you endure that part, the song is worth it.  


You say you see no hope, you say you see no reason
We should dream that the world would ever change
You're saying love is foolish to believe
'Cause there'll always be some crazy with an army or a knife
To wake you from your day dream, put the fear back in your life...

Look, if someone wrote a play just to glorify
What's stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late he's almost in defeat
It's looking like the evil side will win, so on the edge
Of every seat, from the moment that the whole thing begins


It is Love who makes the mortar
And it's love who stacked these stones
And it's love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we're alone
In this scene set in shadows
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it's love that wrote the play...
For in this darkness love can show the way

So now the stage is set. Feel you own heart beating in your chest. 
This life's not over yet.
so we get up on our feet and do our best. 
We play against the fear. We play against the reasons not to try
We're playing for the tears burning in the happy angel's eyes

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Jesus and the Mosque


For weeks I’ve been listening—sadly—to the heated public debate about the proposed community center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York. I’ve wished I could add something constructive to the conversation, but what? I didn’t know, so I continued simply to listen, ponder and pray. Then two days ago I stumbled upon a brief article by Leighton Ford that captures my thoughts.

Like many who grew up in the church, I’d heard of Leighton Ford for decades. The brother-in-law of Billy Graham, Leighton is himself a gifted evangelist who has spoken to millions of people in 37 countries. He served as the Vice President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and for many years was the featured alternate speaker to Billy Graham on the Hour of Decision radio broadcast, and hosted his own daily TV and radio spots in the US, Canada and Australia. 

Clearly, Leighton Ford is well grounded in the historic Christian faith and has long been respected in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity. That’s all I knew about him until I recently served with him on the US Board of World Vision. That’s when I discovered that Leighton is also an incredibly warm and soulful man, an accomplished artist and author, and a deep and careful thinker. I am most grateful that Leighton Ford Ministries is committed to raising up younger leaders to spread the message of Jesus worldwide. And I hope many American Christians will read and espouse the perspective Leighton shares in the following words. I’m convinced he’s right: Jesus’ voice is the one we need to pay attention to. 

Jesus and the Mosque, Leighton Ford

On a shelf at home I have a copy of Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, the story of the Syrian-born writer Mazhar Mallouhi. As a young man who grew up in a Muslim family he had a profound spiritual hunger, read widely, learned of Jesus in the Bible, and became a follower of Christ while remaining loyal to his Muslim culture.

His novels are read by millions in the Middle East. Through them he has sought to bridge misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians. 

In the book is a photo of him in the famous Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo, sitting with a group of Muslims as they read the Gospels together. It is his custom to say, “I am a follower of Christ. Here is what Jesus said. Tell me honestly, do you think I am living as Jesus said I should?”

I thought of Mallouhi’s question during the heated dispute over the location of a Muslim mosque and community center near Ground Zero in New York. Among the voices being raised – some harsh with anger, some deep with indignation about rights – I wonder if the missing voice is that of Jesus?

If I were a Muslim I might want to claim rights, but also want my leaders to consider whether another location would work and help to heal some deep hurts. But I am not a Muslim. Those issues are for the Muslim community to decide.

What I need to ask is: what does Jesus say to us who say we follow him?

Suppose we, like Mallouhi, sat down with some Muslims in the new community center, and read with them some of the words of Jesus, words like “Do good to those who hate you.” That could apply to radical terrorists who want to blow us up. So how can it not apply to Muslim neighbors who are living among us?

Many years ago my late friend J. Christy Wilson was pastor of the first ever Christian church in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through the good offices of President Eisenhower permission was granted to build the church, attended by Christian expatriates.

The time came when the Afghan authorities revoked permission and announced they would knock the church down. When the bulldozers arrived what did the church people there do? Served tea to the workers who were pulling down their church building!

They were living out a central tenet of our Christian faith – that we are “saved by grace” – God’s grace freely given in Jesus Christ – and they showed grace.

How can we do that? I hope the churches and the Christ followers in New York can figure it out. Perhaps delivering a cool drink to the workers who will build the center? After all Paul went so far as to write (and this was about enemies, not neighbors) “If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.”

Does this mean we naively accept real evil? Not at all. I understand the rage that 9/11 stirred. Force is often needed to protect the innocent. But ultimately I have to follow Jesus as Paul did when the apostle admonished us to “overcome evil with good.”

What does the love of Christ compel me to do? Perhaps, whether in New York or Charlotte, to extend a little more grace – actually a whole lot more. Wouldn’t that be the best witness we could make right now?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Daily, Mini Resurrection

The other day my wife told me that she liked me a lot better when we were on vacation.  I thought that was kind of rude till I realized that I liked myself better on vacation as well.  On vacation, life seemed full of endless opportunities to enjoy God’s blessings and bless others in response.  As a result, I was fun to be around.  But since coming back from vacation, I feel like I’m hungover from a cocktail of discouragement, frustration, and anxiety.  I want to enjoy God and bless others, but I’m just in a bad mood.  
I’ve been a follower of Jesus long enough to know that the solution isn’t to ask for more vacation time and the solution isn’t just to try harder to be the person I want to be.  I know the solution lies in letting God change me.  So, I set about bringing my discouraged, frustrated, anxious mind to God to be renewed.  
God is showing me that most days I awake with a mind already in a bad place.  I awake most mornings already ticked, frustrated, or tired.  Thankfully I’m not alone in my experience.  C.S. Lewis said,  The moment you wake up each morning, all your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.   That’s exactly what happens.  My mind is off and running without Jesus most mornings (when I’m not on vacation) and I’m trying to play catch up from there.  Which is why Lewis went on to say “And the first job each morning consists in shoving it all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other, larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”    I need Christ to perform a mini resurrection each day, awakening me from my sin stupor into the glory of His love and grace.  
Here’s a few things that I find necessary to experiencing a mind renewing resurrection each morning:
Make myself happy in Christ
I get up while the house is quiet and get a cup of coffee (which I believe is also part of Christ’s daily resurrection in me).  I sit in my favorite chair and I start the day telling God that I need Him to wake me up to real life.  Then I spend time reading and meditating in God’s Word till my heart is happy because of who God is and what He has done.  This may not sound very spiritual - that the goal is to have my heart happy in Christ, but this is what giants of the faith have discovered.  Consider George Mueller’s thoughts:
The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend everyday was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished.”  What a wonderful truth - God wants me to be joyful!  My first task of each day is to rejoice in Him.  
Bring my junk to Jesus
Now that my heart has been made happy in Jesus, I am in the right place to recognize and give over the junk in my mind that is not of Christ.  Romans 8:6 instructs me that “letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death.  But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”  My sinful nature directs my thinking wrongly.  It directs me to worry about financial security instead of trusting God to provide all that I need.  It directs me to fixate on wrongs that others have inflicted on me instead of forgiving them because of Jesus.  It directs me to complain about the shortcomings of my family and friends instead of accepting and loving them as they are.  It directs me to think and rethink how to handle things differently at our church as if I am the one who causes the life of Christ to grow in others.  As I recognize these sinful thoughts, I confess them to Jesus - trusting that He has already died to take them away.  By confessing them to Jesus, I experience a profound exchange - Jesus takes my junk and puts it to death then gives me His life and peace in return.

Ask God to work in my troubles
The Christian faith isn’t escapism.  While I’m not supposed to fix my mind on the things that are troubling me - I’m not to ignore them either.  God has sovereignly placed me in the situations I find myself for His good purposes.  By making my heart happy in God and giving my junk over to Him, I am in a place where I am now ready to pray about the things that are troubling my mind - asking for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done in them.  
As I practice these things each morning, I find that God performs a mini resurrection in me.  He brings the life and peace of Jesus to my mind which was previously frustrated or worried or apathetic.   This changes my whole outlook and demeanor for the day - even how I relate to my family even though we're not on vacation!