The Circus Clown

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once told a story about a circus that caught fire.  The flames from the circus fire spread to the fields surrounding the circus grounds and began to burn toward the village below.  The circus master, convinced that the village would be destroyed and the people killed unless they were warned, asked if there was anybody who could go to the village and warn the people.  The clown, dressed in full costume, jumped onto a bicycle and sped down the hill to the village below.

“Run for your lives! Run for your lives! A fire is coming and the village is going to burn!” he shouted as he rode up and down the streets of the village.

Curious villagers came out from their houses and shops and stood on the sidewalks.  They shouted back at the clown, laughing and applauding his performance.  The more desperately the clown shouted, the more the villagers cheered.

The village burned and the loss of life was great because no one took the clown seriously.  After all, he was just a clown.

Have you ever felt like that clown?  We Christians carry a similar warning, but often we are laughed at. God chose us clowns to be messengers of eternal urgency. If you have felt dismissed in this way, you are in good company.  The Apostle Paul wrote these words almost two thousand years ago:

      The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”

So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.  So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 

1Corinthians 1:18-25  (New Living Translation)

Perhaps one of our biggest struggles as Christians of the Western World is fear of looking ridiculous to our agnostic, atheist, and pagan friends as we talk about our faith in Jesus—yet that is the way God has ordained for them to find out about His great love for them. Every conversation, even every mention of His name is like a seed that goes down into their hearts. We don’t know how long the seeds will lie there, dormant, but they will spring up. That’s God’s work. Ours is to look foolish as we talk about the wonders (read: preach) of life in Christ.

May the Lord encourage us,

Terrified at Christmas

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”                     (Luke 2:8-15)

 

So you’ve probably heard the common application of this part of the Christmas story—that God announces to the lowly shepherds this amazing news so that we might know Christ came for anybody, regardless of social status.  I buy that wholeheartedly, but there is so much more to be tasted in these delicious verses of Scripture.

The shepherds were “terrified.”  No kidding.  Imagine that you’re at work, minding your own business in the stillness of the midnight shift and someone much more formidable than your boss stops by—a being whose power is unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.  At this point, you’re not worried about how you’ve been slacking on the job, you’re worried about how you’ve been slacking your entire life!  God’s own top brass has arrived and it looks like it’s time for an accounting. You are suddenly acutely aware of your own sin and unworthiness in the presence of a messenger from Heaven; but no, the angel says he has “good news of great joy.”

Upon hearing this, the relief has got to be incredible.  You find out that God’s long-awaited promise to set everything right is finally kept.  This is wonderful, you’re thinking to yourself.  And just about the time you’re getting comfortable with your lone midnight visitor, a whole army of angels appears, probably armed for battle. (Otherwise, why use the military term, “heavenly host”?)  Somewhere in the heavenlies there is a battle going on, and the angels are sounding the battle cry, “Glory to God!”  There may be peace on earth, at that moment, because the angels are clearing out any demonic interference.  We know that soon there will be threats on the baby Jesus’ life, that Mary & Joseph will have to flee with Him to Egypt, and that Satan will be trying to stop Jesus the rest of His life.

Angels are terrifying (almost every time they appear to somebody in the Bible, they tell that person not to be afraid) and it’s because they are God’s special forces in the war against ultimate evil.  Christmas was God’s D-Day on Planet Earth.  Of course the shepherds were afraid.  They were front-line observers as God began to take back enemy-occupied territory in the battle for human souls.

Merry Christmas,

 

 

 

NOT BEING EQUALS WITH GOD

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself.
And became obedient to death.
Even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father.
(PhilipPians 2.5-11)

The lesson here is simple yet difficult.  In following Jesus we are following One who did the opposite of our natural inclinations.  We are inclined to equate our own thoughts with God’s (instead of considering that beyond our grasp), we are inclined to make more of ourselves than we ought (instead of making ourselves nothing), we are inclined to be served (rather than to serve), we are inclined to appear to others greater than we actually are (not less), we are inclined to pride (not humility), we are inclined to disobedience rather than an obedience which causes even a part of us to die (i.e. our self–image, our comfort, our desires.)

We enjoy following Christ up to the point where He heads towards the cross.  After that, He’s on His own, it often appears (sadly).

But those who follow Him “on the way down,” will also follow Him, “on the way up.”

Keep the faith,

Mike

Just One Thought From the Bible’s Longest Chapter

It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 119.71

If your law had not been my delight
I would have perished in my affliction.

 Psalm 119.92

  •  The writer of this psalm is brutally honest and humble. His walk through suffering led him to discover what he did not know about God’s ways. There was immense value in the middle of his misery. His affliction turned his mind toward learning God’s word. Ironically then, in verse 92, it was the very things he learned that kept him from giving up when the pain seemed unbearable.

Affliction was not part of God’s original plan for the human race. (He had made us for an eternal Garden of Eden, but we’ve spoiled that by our own sin.) We’ll return to that blessed existence through Jesus, our Savior, in Heaven. In the meantime, God is about making the best come out of these bad situations.

There is a treasure in our trials—whether those trials be physical, mental, or emotional (and whether they were our fault or not). That treasure is a connection with God which sustains us through the afflictions this life always brings. God loves us so much that, in the middle of suffering, He has provided the medicine we didn’t even know we needed—His own thoughts and words—which bring incomparable joy.

Your statutes are my heritage forever;
    they are the joy of my heart.

My heart is set on keeping your decrees
    to the very end.

Psalm 119:111-112 

 

Keep striving,

Artwork from the CD by Tom Quinlan

THE JOY OF INCONVENIENCE

“I have known some people…driven by their distress, to use theological terms to which they attached no doctrinal significance, merely because a drawer was jammed tight and they could not pull it out.”  – G.K. Chesterton

Have you ever noticed that frustrating, annoying, embarrassing or inconvenient events from your past are now looked upon with great humor?  (Insert your own memory of the events here.)  Why is that, since at the time they seemed anything but funny?  Or, have you noticed your own ability to look at a friend’s minor problems more positively than he or she can?  How is that possible?

I think the answer is PERSPECTIVE.  In both cases above, you are able to gain perspective by either time (in your own case) or distance (in the friend’s case).  You are viewing the situations from a different vantage point.

Is there any way to gain perspective on the frustrating, annoying, embarrassing, or inconvenient events that are happening to you right now?  Wouldn’t you love to see the poetry in your car breaking down, the whimsy in your basement flooding, the romance of waiting in a queue, or the humor in your trousers ripping?

The answer is in PRAYER.  When you are in the moment, it is the best way to gain perspective on a perturbing situation.  “How are you using this agitation for my good, Lord?”  “Where is the adventure in this, Lord?”  “How is this minor problem giving me a glimpse of grace?”

God sometimes allows us to be teased out of our earnestness.

Philippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Relax in Him,

–Mike

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Giving Up

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” 

(Jim Elliot’s journal entry for October 28, 1949—based upon the words of Jesus in Luke 9:24,  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

  • Give up your plans for God’s plans.
  • Give up your mortal life to gain immortal life in Christ.
  • Give up hoarding money to gain infinite spiritual wealth.
  • Give up your frustrations to gain God’s peace.
  • Give up your preferences for God’s truth.
  • Give up your unforgiveness to gain God’s forgiveness.
  • Give up your control of others to gain God’s control of you.

What we hold onto is so futile, so temporary, so poor in comparison to what God offers, one wonders why it is so difficult to give up.  The answer is simple—it’s everything we have!  Jim Elliot, the 28-year-old missionary to Ecuador who was murdered along with four other young missionaries by warriors from the Huaorani tribe, gave up his earthly life. What he gained will never be taken away. To say it in slightly different words, ”They are wise who give up what they cannot keep to gain what they cannot lose.”

 

How Much Do You Trust the Heart of God?

Matthew 25:16-18, 24-28  The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money… 

Then the man who had received the one talent came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents…”

The sentences above come from the lines of a story Jesus told about three guys who were given amounts of money to invest by their boss (a talent was a huge sum of silver or gold). The boss commends the two guys who go out and double their money, but condemns the one who took no risks at all with it. The main point of the story is not about investing, even though Jesus uses a financial example here. (It does appear, however, that  Jesus is okay with people making money with their money.)

That may come as a shock to some.  If He were to tell the story today, Jesus may well make the guys in the story stockbrokers or business entrepreneurs. Conversely, a lot of people at Scum of the Earth are artists, writers, poets, actors, dancers, musicians, designers—you know, the kind who often don’t think much about money and investing it.  One could say that’s because they don’t have much; but in this parable, even the guy who got only one talent was expected to trust his master and do something with it.

I think this story’s all about trusting God. It’s about gambling the possibility of failure (investing the talents and losing them) because we know the loving heart of the Master (unlike the one guy who called him a “hard man”).  How many of us trust the goodness of God in money matters? How about matters of the heart (friends, spouses, family)? How about church and ministry matters? Is God expecting us to venture the resources he has given us? Is he looking for returns on the money, the love, the relationships, plus everything else he has entrusted to us?  Is he looking to profit from all that he has conferred upon humanity? Looks like the answer is, “Yes.”

The Kingdom of God is about expanding God’s goodness in the earth, not retracting it—and thus we must risk losing what He has so freely given. He wants there to be more hope, more faith, and more love. Therefore, let us presume upon his grace, let’s count upon his mercy, hazard a guess, tempt fate, lay holy odds, and take a chance for the Kingdom of God. We shall see what happens! (Even if we lose, we can trust in the integrity of the heart of God.)

Who Is God, and What Is He Like?

Who is GOD?    This question is relevant today because there are so many definitions of who God is.  In postmodern American culture he is at once the vague “higher power” of the various 12 step programs, the identical God who is behind all religions, or even the god of any individual’s making.

God is a living, personal, infinite, constant spirit who is the Supreme Being.  By this, we mean that God is alive not dead, that He has a personality, that He is the same eternally, that he is a Spirit as opposed to a material being, and that He is the master of all that is.

Living: Jeremiah 10:10 But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God… John 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.

Personal: Exodus 3:14  God said to Moses,  “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites:  ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 20:2  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  Exodus 20:7  “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Infinite: 1Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1Timothy 6:16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see…

Constant: Psalm 90:1  Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Malachi 3:6  “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 

Spirit: John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. 

Supreme Being:  Psalm 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.  1Tim. 6:15 … God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords…

 

What is GOD like?
In the world in which we live, people can be confused because they hear Country Western performers who thank God for music awards and terrorists who thank him for the destruction that occurred on September 11th.  The character of God is an extremely important doctrine because it affects us at once personally and corporately as humans.  The way we relate to God is based upon our perception of his character — will he accept me, sinner that I am, or will he cause me to suffer for the tiniest mistake?  These, and other questions about his character, are the questions that haunt us unless we know what He is like.

When it comes to his character God is perfect intellectually, ethically, emotionally, volitionally, and relationally.

God is perfect in intellect.  We say that he is intellectually omniscient; by that, we mean that he knows everything.  Psalm 139:2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  Psalm 139:3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Psalm 139:4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.  1John 3:20 … he knows everything.

We say God is faithful; but that we mean he has integrity, that he keeps his promises.  Is. 44:26 who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers…  Rev. 19:11  I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True… 2Tim. 2:13 if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

We say that God is wise; by that we mean that intellectually he uses his knowledge in the best possible way.  Rom. 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

When it comes to his ethics, we say that God is both loving and holy, merciful and just.  God chose both the nation of Israel and his church because of his great love.  Deut. 7:7  The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. Is. 63:9 In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.  John 3:16   “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  But, because God is also holy, he detests evil in all forms.  Psalm 5:4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.   Hab. 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?   Isaiah 6:3,5  “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” …  “Woe to me!” I cried.  “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”  God is both merciful and just — and although these attributes seem mutually exclusive, one cannot exist without the other.  There is no mercy possible without justice as the necessary standard.  Jesus appealed to a just God himself: John 17:25  “Righteous Father…”   The Apostle Peter said of Jesus at the time of the Lord’s humiliation at the hands of the authorities, 1Pet. 2:23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. The Apostle John heard these words in his revelation: Rev. 16:5, 7 Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; … And I heard the altar respond:  “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.”   Yet, on the other hand, the scriptures attest to the mercy of God.  Deut. 4:31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.   Dan. 9:9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him…  2Chr. 30:9 … the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.” 

God has emotions that are perfect.  He hates evil, yet he is long-suffering and compassionate.  Nah. 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.  Ex. 34:6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,  “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…  Lam. 3:22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  Mic. 7:19 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.  Matt. 15:32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said,  “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”  Matt. 20:34  Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.  Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said,  “Don’t cry.” 

Volitionally, God is omnipotent (all-powerful).  There is nothing he cannot do.  Angels know this and say so in the Gospels.  Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”   Jesus himself said it in the Garden of Gesthemane: Mark 14:36  “Abba, Father,” he said,  “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 

Relationally, God is both near to us and yet far from us. (He is immanent and transcendent.)  Jer. 23:23  “Am I only a God nearby,” declares the LORD,  “and not a God far away?  Is. 57:15 For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy:  “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.  Eph. 1:20-21 …when he raised him [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

By fantastic mercy,

Mike