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Monday, January 28, 2013

Mind = Blown

There's a very familiar Scripture verse in Philippians about peace. Here it is:
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:7
The verse is referring to a kind of peace that God provides when we bring our requests to Him in prayer. Recently I was reading this verse and got curious about the word "understanding," so I looked up the Greek word. Do you know what it means? It means "mind"! See for yourself. It gave me a giggle... God's peace will blow your mind!

Then I got to looking up other words. Moving backwards, I looked up the Greek word translated "surpasses" (or "passes", depending on the translation you're reading.) It actually means to stand out above something, to be superior to it or to have more authority. So you could read it as saying that God's peace actually holds more authority than whatever's in your mind. Nice!

I noticed that there is actually a word that is translated into the English word "mind", so I got curious what shades of meaning it might hold. I looked it up, and it actually means your thoughts, the stuff that goes on in your mind. Then to be complete, I looked up "heart", and guess what it means? It means "heart". You know, the thing that pumps the blood through your body. So the peace applies to both what goes on in your mind, and what goes on in your body. Have you ever been stressed out? It affects your mind, doesn't it, but it also has physical repercussions. It makes your heart beat faster, for one thing. If you bring your requests before God in prayer, this verse seems to promise that those sorts of symptoms will be a thing of the past.

So, based on those simplistic, shallow-end-of-the-pool word studies, you might restate the principles in that verse this way: "God's peace is far superior to and more authoritative than any solution you could figure out on your own. Let it do its work, and it will calm your thoughts and de-stress your body."

How's THAT for something you can use on a Monday morning?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sins of a Nation

'Prophet Daniel' photo (c) 2012, Ted - license: Most of my friends don't care for Barack Obama.

Let me rephrase that: most of my friends strongly disagree with many of President Obama's policy decisions. Sometimes this turns into outright dislike for the man himself (even though they haven't actually met him), and occasionally it causes some of them to teeter over into the zone where people believe that he is not a legitimate President because of where they think he was born, or that he is a militant Muslim of some kind trying to overthrow freedom of religion, or some other difficult-to-prove but inflammatory viewpoint. Most of my friends seem to be quite indignant at any suggestion that gun control is a good idea. They are angry when they perceive the President and members of Congress using tragedies as a way to promote what could be seen as a reduction in freedoms. They are incensed if someone says " nation..." and does not follow it up with "...under God...". They dislike Obama's foreign policies and his domestic policies. They were quite disappointed when he was elected again, although as I mentioned right after the election, I was quite proud of their response afterward.

I don't mean to distance myself from their viewpoints... as is often the case among friends, I share some of their concerns. What I am trying to do is paint a quick picture of the mindset of the Christian who is also politically right-leaning. Based on things I see on Facebook, comments posted on YouTube videos of political nature, responses to online news articles, and that sort of thing, there seem to be a lot of Christians who think that sin is dragging this country to its grave. And they are pointing their fingers at the "sinners" (Congressmen, abortionists, gun-control activists, Obama supporters, etc.) who they believe are the cause of it.

Last night I was reading the book of Daniel, and I came to a place where Daniel began to pray. Daniel was in forced exile from his country of Israel, but he knew that the reason for his exile was the sin of the Jewish nation, and Daniel began to pray for his country. I invite you to take a look at his prayer in Daniel 9:3-19 to see what he said.

Do you know what I noticed last night as I read it? Although Daniel was one of the most righteous among his people (remember, he was the guy who wound up getting thrown to the lions because he refused to betray God and pray to the king), Daniel did not pray to confess the sins of others. He confessed and asked for forgiveness of the sins of his country, including himself. He did not differentiate between idolaters back home dancing around on the hilltops making sacrifices to Baal, and himself, stuck in Babylon but praying three times a day facing Jerusalem. "We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land," he prayed, despite the fact that his prayer was in response to his own reverent reading of the writings of the prophet Jeremiah. He included himself among the ranks of those who "...have rebelled against [God] and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets," despite the fact that Daniel was so careful to follow God's Law that years earlier when he was brought to Babylon in captivity, Daniel had "...resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank," risking his life in the process. Although Daniel appears to have been quite a meticulous follower of God, certainly not someone we would look on as a "transgressor", he prayed as though he were. Because he knew that he was a member of God's people, and a member of his country, and he knew that they would live or die as a unit.

"United we stand, divided we fall." That's a good motto. If we point at someone else as the one who is messing everything up, we divide ourselves from others around us... we become a divided country. That sort of thing is what caused the awful "Civil War" that nearly destroyed us once. The United States of America is not quite like Israel... a nation primarily of one ethnicity and chosen specifically by God to be His people. I don't think the United States is chosen to be God's nation; I think the Church (meaning all Christians across the world) is now ultimately God's nation, His "Kingdom." But I do think that Christians should take a play out of Daniel's playbook and call out to God for forgiveness of the sins we have committed as an earthly nation, humbling ourselves as though we are among the transgressors. Because really, we are. Every time an official or governing body we have elected to represent us makes an ungodly decision, we have made that decision by proxy. And "I didn't vote for him" is no excuse. United we stand; divided we fall.

I personally don't think that we (the United States) will ever be able to right every wrong that we have committed or will commit as a country; I'm not sure that is even possible for any country. But if we seek God's face as His people and pray for the cleansing of our country, I think God will honor our prayers and we will see change for the better. And if we take the attitude that we are all Americans and dispose of the "us vs. them" mentality which has plagued us for the past few decades, it's possible that maybe some of "them" might come to Jesus and become "us". Or, we may find that although we may disagree on some of the details of politics, some of "them" actually turn out to be some of "us" already. But whether we all come to a consensus on political, ideological, or religious ideas (fat chance!) or not, we are all "us". We are all America. The UNITED States. If we become divided because we disagree, we risk failure. If we remain united, we as a nation can remain strong.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy Epiphany 2013!

Last year I did something for my family that I hope to carry on for many years to come as a special tradition. You can read about it here, in last year's post, but the gist is that I wanted my family to remember that Jesus truly is the most important thing about the Christmas season, and I wanted to do it in a way that doesn't make me seem like a Santa-hating, killjoy Bible Grinch. I love all of the fun and gifts and music and excitement of Christmas - this year we must have watched fifteen Rankin-Bass Christmas shows! But I also I wanted to find a way to quietly spend some serious time including Jesus in the holiday season.

Epiphany (January 6) is the traditional day to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men (or the Magi, depending on who you're talking to about it) in Bethlehem. This year I learned another pretty exotic-sounding name for it: "Dreikönigsfest"! Well, last year I decided that this day, whether it happens to be Epiphany or Dreikönigsfest, would be a time that I found a small gift to give each family member that I thought would benefit them in their walk with Christ for the following year.

This year I started out with my little 5-year-old daughter. Months ago, probably last April or May, I discovered the book Heaven Is for Real and read it, and enjoyed it so much that I picked up the children's picture book version, Heaven Is for Real for Kids, from the library to share with her. She liked the picture book so much that ever since then she's been asking about getting the book from the library again! Today she got her own copy, and I wrote the following inside the cover: "The Bible says if we think about Heaven, it will give us courage! I Thessalonians 4:16-18". Of course, she's too little to know how to look up the Scripture verse yet... she can't even read the inscription (or the book) for herself yet. But one day she'll be able to, and then I hope it will mean something special to her.

For my son I got the brand new book, just released within the past month or two, from an author that he and I have both enjoyed in the past: Matt Mikalatos. If you read this blog often, you may have seen my review of one of his other books, Night of the Living Dead Christian, which is a total scream and which my son, who was eleven years old at the time, read multiple times (despite the fact that it is written for an adult audience, not elementary schoolers). Matt's new book, The Sword of Six Worlds, is a fantasy story Matt wrote for his own kids, and it is targeted at middle school/junior high readers. I wrote inside the front cover: "Know your sword. Use it with compassion. Hebrews 4:12". I actually haven't had a chance yet to read the entire book for myself... I came up with that based on some stuff I read about it online. I hope it's appropriate! Coming up with an actual physical copy of the book turned out to be kind of a challenge - I had to order it from Amazon and then wait until they had copies to ship me. I believe it's by the grace of God that Amazon got some copies in and shipped it just in time to get to me for this weekend. And I know it will be worth the trouble! My son grabbed it and immediately started reading. It even trumped the handheld video game console he got for Christmas! If that isn't a high recommendation for an author, I don't know what is!

My wife was a little bit tougher. There were some things this past year that were hard on her, particularly some things that were going on in the news and in politics, and I wanted her to remember that Jesus' desire was for her to live in peace. Specifically, I wanted to bring John 14:27 to her mind; in that verse Jesus characterizes his peace as a gift He gave to us, and I wanted my gift to her to reflect that gift to her from Jesus. Surprisingly, it was a little difficult to find a gift with that verse on it, but I finally found this glass plaque, which when we got it out was more beautiful (and even a bit larger!) than I expected. She seemed to really like it; she put it in a prominent place in our apartment so she (and all of us, as a matter of fact) will see it often.

You know what? I feel a little self-conscious about this blog post. I don't want it to seem like I'm tooting my own horn. In fact, if I wanted to do some horn tooting, I probably would have spent more money than I did and tried to make myself look like a big shot... if you click the links, you can see that each item, before shipping, cost me less than ten dollars. But what I did want to do is share something with you, friends who read these posts: I felt God telling me to do this very small thing to love my family, to be like a priest to them, to maybe give them a gentle nudge toward the light of Jesus. Maybe to give them an "epiphany" of some kind. The gift I wanted to share with you was the inspiration to maybe do something similar with your family. Hijack my Epiphany gift idea next year (or even this year... delayed a day or two!) if you like. A small gift, inexpensive but inspired by the Holy Spirit, can make an impact that will last all year.