Lent Day #22 | Peace

There are many names given to Jesus in the scriptures. Names that speak to what he provides. Names like savior, healer, teacher and friend. There are other names that speak to how he sustains us in our own journey. Names such as the bread of life, guide, living water and the true vine. These are all significant and good. As a matter of fact, we need all of these names so we can continue to expand our understanding and appreciation of who he is. There is no one name that fully encompasses the greatness, majesty and totality of Jesus. This is why those of us who have been redeemed are is such awe of him.

The bottom line is we will never fully understand who Jesus is in his fullness. We can experience his fullness, but wrapping our minds around it is not possible. It would be like a seahorse comprehending an ocean, thinking that in knowing the part it has seen the whole. However, the attempt is what gives rise to our joy and satisfaction in his ability to fulfill his promise to save us!

Prince of Peace - Isaiah 9:6

In the entirety of the bible there is one superlative that stands out to me. It rises to the surface because of the calamity and conflict that seems to emerge so frequently in our time. One of the signs of Jesus glorious return is the “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6) around the world. As every nation develops strategies and weaponry to combat terrorism, civil unrest and outright conflict, Jesus stands at the apex of history as the only one capable of bringing true and lasting peace. The prophet Isaiah declared the coming of this peacemaker when he said,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)

What is it about Jesus that allows the scripture to speak of Jesus as the prince of peace? How can Jesus accomplish this feat?

Will he disarm the armies of the world?

Will he broker peace agreements between warring factions and feuding neighbors?

How exactly is Jesus qualified to bring about the end of this animus that seemingly exists in every culture?

Paul made an interesting statement in his admonition to the Corinthian church. Listen to how he connects Jesus character and disposition toward the world and the method we, those who follow in his steps, wage war against the enemies of God’s kingdom.

1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:1-6, ESV)

Peace does not take place because the weapons of warfare are removed. Peace comes when the motivation to war is excised from the human heart. Only the Gospel can do that because only the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the message of the Prince of Peace. The longer it takes the church to realize the power it wields as bearers of the Gospel of Jesus, the longer it will take for true peace on earth to come.

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Lent Day #21 | Security

One of the many theological debates that bears its head from time to time has to do with our security in Christ. Many millions of words have been penned in the last two thousand years on the subject, so a couple hundred more will not hurt anything. If anything, I hope to bring some Gospel clarity to this important issue.

When we talk about security we have to determine two elements of the issue. First, we have to ask ourselves who is doing the securing? And second, we have to ask ourselves, how capable is this individual in accomplishing the job? If we can answer this question then we have gain significant ground in the conversation. This idea and topic is important because how we answer it will determine how we view and approach God. Our perception of God should be of utmost importance because we draw our identity from what we believe about God.

So, let’s look at the first question: Who is doing the securing? There are essentially two positions here. Either I am doing the securing or God is. If I am doing the securing, then there will always be the risk that I may falter in my task. Maybe I get distracted or am attached and weakened. Personally, this idea does not sit well with me because I know my failures are not a possibility, but an eventuality. Therefore, this option is wrought with peril. The testimony of the scripture provides us with a reason for hope. Peter, in his first letter, writes the following words.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5, emphasis added]

The beauty of our faith is that God has taken full responsibility and ownership of our redemption. He has not left anything up to chance. This is a wonderful promise. The fact that we will fail and falter does not negate God’s ability in keep what he has purchased through the costly sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We are secure not because of any virtue in us, but because of the power and virtue of the Creator of all things.

listening-to-gods-voice

But, what about the second question? How capable is God in keeping us secure? Jesus answers this question for us when he tells the Jews who had gathered around him.

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” [John 10:27-30, emphasis added]

Now, I don’t know about you, but there is a confidence in Jesus’ words that speak volumes to his capability to keep that which he see as his. The question that we must ask ourselves is this: Whose voice are we listening to? The answer to this question will determine the confidence we can have in Jesus’ power to save us and keep us secure.

Lent Day #20 | Repentance

This is a word far too often used by those who have not fully understood its meaning (or even experienced its reality). The underlying reality of this word has escaped many of us because we have thought of it in degrees rather than as a simple, completed whole. What does this mean? It means we think we have more time to “get it right,” when the truth of the matter would frighten us. Repentance is not something to get better at over time. It is a pivot point in our lives.

John 8:11 - Image of woman

The original intent of repentance has been described a change of mind. We are not talking about a curious thought crossing through our minds or something to just sit and mull over. When we encounter the truth of the Gospel of Jesus we have a choice to make. We can turn around or we can keep moving forward. Repentance is turning away from anything and everything not in line with God’s word and will. This is what God is expecting and calling us to. We must turn from sin, not with the indifference of an distasteful odor, but with the intentionality and seriousness of a death inducing threat.

jesus-writing-in-the-dirt

Maybe this is the problem. We have lost our fear of sin and thereby lost our fear of God. As I write this I am moved by my tendency to minimize my sin because I know how marvelous God’s grace is. This may be what Paul meant when he said the following in Romans 6.

1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

What I have come to see is that repentance is not a one time choice. It is a constant act. One requiring the heart and mind to work toward holiness. What we have to see is that the only reason we do this is due to the work of the Holy Spirit of God as he moves us to such an act of obedience. As we move to closer Easter we must seek as clear an understanding as we can of what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. My prayer is that you will join me on this journey.

World Vision, Guiding Principles and the Problem with Trial Balloons

World’s Shortsighted Vision

In a move to widen its base and deepen its coffers, World Vision attempted to wade out into one of the most politically and socially charged issues of our time on Monday. The humanitarian organization known for helping starving and uneducated children all around the wold decided to allow “legally married” same-sex couples from the United States to work for the international organization. This decision kindled a quick and pointed response from several large evangelical denomination leaders. By yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon, World Vision had reversed course.

World Vision Logo

There are several issues I want to explore. The first is the initial announcement. Why did World Vision, an organization focused on humanitarian aid, decide to make this decision public? Hiring standards are not typically discussed outside of the human resources department of an organization. So, we must assume the purpose for this public move was to measure the response, both among the base supporters and non-supporters of World Vision. The reversal and the explanation now ring hollow because it is difficult to make a principled argument when your first attempt was pragmatic.

The second issue with this entire saga is connected with the reversal. I take exception to the “biblical jargon” bandied about now that the uproar has been heard. If Richard Stearn did not anticipate this response from the more conservative supporters of World Vision, then he has to be one of the most naive people on the planet at best. I say at best because the other option is that this was an intentional and calculated decision to see what would happen in the public arena (a trial balloon discussed below).

The argument that the policy was an attempt to stay neutral in the discussion is about as believable as the moon being made out of cheese! For an organization of this size, and for the leader of this organization who has access to other leaders on the world’s stage, not to have consulted with them prior to the announcement is disingenuous. I am not one to be overly critical, but any thinking person would have to recognize the dangers of swimming in these dangerous waters.

So, what does this second decision really mean? It means World vision has opened itself up for attack on at least two fronts. This sentiment is exactly what Mark Tooley from The American Spectator has pointed out.

There are reports that after Monday several thousand World Vision donors, out of a reported more than 400,000, threatened ending their support. There’s also an indication that work with overseas missions partners, working in traditional cultures, was imperiled. The later was probably more persuasive than the former, although both should have been anticipated before Monday. Ironically, Wednesday’s policy may cost World Vision far more dollars than Monday’s.

Angry LGBTQ groups and their allies, who previously were unfocused on World Vision’s internal policy, furiously now may target it for boycott, demanding that government and corporations halt funding. Liberal supporters of Monday’s policy angrily denounced Evangelicals withdrawing support, with one declaring: “It’s astounding to me that Christians would take food from starving children because a gay person might have helped in getting it there.” Will that same professed concern for starving children inhibit liberal demands for corporations and government to defund World Vision? [Source]

The lack of critical thinking and discernment in this decision is mind-boggling. This reality leads me to the next topic in this entire conversation, the issue of guiding principles. What are they and how do they work?

Guiding Principles

The reality of this situation for World Vision is that they have done irreparable damage to themselves. The purpose of guiding principles is to guide you through the decision making process and provide you with a redoubt when the attacks come. In this case, Stearns and World Vision should have taken more time consulting the scriptures rather than the tea leaves of culture. What has happened in the process is that they have lost their “True North.” The reason being, guiding principles must make sense and must be worth the fall out. If the decision made on Monday was one of conviction and principle then why make the change on Wednesday? When I read the following words attributed to Richard Stearns they rang hollow.

“The last couple of days have been painful,” president Richard Stearns told reporters this evening. “We feel pain and a broken heart for the confusion we caused for many friends who saw this policy change as a strong reversal of World Vision’s commitment to biblical authority, which it was not intended to be.”

“Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent,” said Stearns. “Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

“We listened to [our] friends, we listened to their counsel. They tried to point out in loving ways that the conduct policy change was simply not consistent … with the authority of Scripture and how we apply Scripture to our lives,” said Stearns. “We did inadequate consultation with our supporters. If I could have a do-over on one thing, I would have done much more consultation with Christian leaders.” [Source]

As a supposedly Christian organization, their primary concern should be what they interpret the Scriptures to say, not the supporters or the detractors. It simply does not make sense to me to make a decision like this and not have counted the cost (Luke 14:28ff). If this was a calculated decision, then there was a terrible miscalculation on the part of World Vision and the Board of Directors.

The Problem of Trial Balloons

Wikipedia defines a trial balloon as follows: “A trial balloon is information sent out to the media in order to observe the reaction of an audience. It can be used by companies sending out press releases to judge reaction by customers….” It appears, on this side of the events of the last several days, this is exactly what World Vision did. Rather than doing surveys, focus groups or any number of tactics to gauge the response of this decision, World Vision decided to use the most public and volatile option. Even if they anticipated this reaction (which I highly doubt), World Vision has chosen the secular model of operating rather than the spiritual.

It seems this is the danger of organizations and individuals whose spotlight grows too large. The desire to create a “big tent” is foolish. This is not the way Christians and Christian organizations should make decisions. World Vision’s credibility and integrity is now in question. And they have hurt themselves because of their own choices. The lack of discernment in making this decision and then the reversal after the criticism is evidence of a lack of conviction. I would feel bad for World Vision if I felt this was an honest mistake. However, I don’t. I feel bad for the thousands of children who will be affected as support for World Vision wanes in the aftermath.

My hope is that Richard Stearns, the board of directors and World Vision would seek the God kind of wisdom we all need to navigate the ocean of life. Especially life in the public arena.