C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

Some of the stories in the news these days about people identifying differently than the way they were born are confusing.  We all wear labels whether we realize it or not, and for the most part they help our friends and acquaintances know who we are.

C.S. Lewis could be somewhat crass, but never cruel; silly but not sacrilegious.  He supposed Jesus could be considered either as crazy as a man who says he is a poached egg, or as deceitful as the Devil of Hell.  Perhaps you’ve heard his argument that given how Jesus self-identified, he was either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord.  He summarized this way: “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.  But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.”

So how did Jesus identify himself?  Just within the confines of the gospel of John we find a trove of claims.  He told the woman at the well, “I who speak to you am (the Messiah).”  Isaiah tells us the Messiah would be Almighty God and Everlasting Father and Jesus knew that.

Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”  People clearly understood that he equated himself with God and were incensed about it.  When He said, “I am the bread of life” and “I am the living water,” He declared that the deepest, most basic, and most enduring human need can only be met by knowing and believing him.

He said, “I am the light of the world” as he made the blind man see.  “I am the door of the sheep…if anyone enters through Me he will be saved.” “I am the good shepherd” that lays down His life for the sheep.

Over and over he says, “I am.”  But probably my favorite is when Jesus enraged an argumentative bunch with, “before Abraham was born, I am!”  Here he claimed the very name of God as revealed to Moses at the burning bush.  Shocking!  Lunatic, liar, or Lord?

Skeptics don’t think the ‘LLL’ argument is very strong because to them we can’t be sure what Jesus actually claimed.  They would dismiss the gospel of John as a fabrication of his followers.  If so, skeptics need also explain why his followers who walked with him, knowing it to be a lie, would suffer persecution for a myth of their own making.

I’m convinced of John’s narrative of how Jesus self-identified as God the Son.  “I Am,” he said, and he still is.  Identify with him, believe him, and live!

Honor Your Father

father baseballWhat is something that you particularly appreciate about your Dad?  That is the question I posed to several people recently.  Listen to their answers:

 “He always took me to Braves games even though that was probably not his favorite sport.  But he did it to spend time with me.”

 “My dad was not a musician, but he drove me to music lessons and attended every show and concert.  It was something he wanted to share with me.”

 “He is very selfless, always doing something to make life better for us.  He worked a regular job during the day, then came home and worked on the farm sometimes until late.  He expected us to work hard too.”

 “He had extremely great character.  He lived it, rather than just telling me.  He showed me how to live life.  He was very loyal in his faith.  He was consistent.  In order to have integrity, you must have consistency.  He was consistent with discipline, but in a calm, direct way.”

 “When I was leaving for Air Force training, Dad said, “They can’t kill you.” After training he said, “Now they can kill you.”  I was shipping out to Vietnam.  He was a man of few words, but He seemed to always say something potent.”

 “Dad was raised poor.  He always worked hard to make sure we had something.  He showed us we needed to work hard, and instilled that value in us.  He enjoyed spending time with us trout fishing and ginseng hunting.”

 “Dad’s been gone five years now.  Every time I smell pipe smoke I think of him.  He was a well respected, small town agriculture teacher for 30+ years.  He was deeply liked by students, family and others because he was an old fashioned gentleman.  When he passed, his students from way back came to pay respects.”

 I see some common themes here.  A dad impresses when he has a good work ethic, spends time with his children and takes interest in their lives, is a respectable man of integrity, shares his wisdom, and models Godly living.  You can’t go wrong there.

 Our culture says gender no longer matters, that men and women are interchangeable.  The National Fatherhood Initiative contradicts that idea with published studies that identify pathologies resulting from homes without fathers.  Children experience more behavioral problems, are more likely to be poor, and are less likely to excel in school.  Teen pregnancy, delinquency, incarceration, and drug use are more likely.  Men, you are needed!

 Now on behalf of dads, here are some Biblical thoughts for sons and daughters.  “A wise son makes a father glad” (Prov. 10:1).  “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Honor your father and your mother” (Eph. 6:1-2).  On this Father’s Day, honor him by telling him what you appreciate about him.  If he’s gone, honor him by remembering his life and legacy with your family.

Grapevines of Grace

VineyardThe idea of agritourism is really catching on in Georgia.  Around the state but especially in North Georgia, vineyards are a big draw, with estimated economic impact of $15 million.  Viticulture has persisted throughout history, so no surprise that Jesus spoke to the ages with lessons from the vine.

 Jesus may have been walking by a vineyard with his disciples when he spoke these words: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  To the one who tries so hard and fails so often to live a righteous life, this is a foreign thought.  The branch does no work but cling to the vine.  The believer to be fruitful has but one goal, to abide (reside) in Jesus.

 Hudson Taylor, notable missionary to China, discovered this secret, and he came to call it the ‘exchanged life.’  Though full of activity as he tried to do enough to please God, he suffered the futility of never being enough.  You can hear the relief in a letter to his sister, “The weight and strain are all gone.  But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.  I am no longer anxious about anything as I realize this; for He, I know is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. His grace is sufficient.”

 The believer is “in Him.”  What are the things that can only be true because of that, and not from our own activity and futility?  We are a new creation.  We are his workmanship.  We receive the gift of his own righteousness.  Seventy times in the New Testament, ordinary believers are called ‘saints’ (holy ones).  We no longer live but Christ lives in us.  If all these things are what God does as we abide in Christ, how is it possible to add to them by our own effort?  Ephesians 1 is the “in Him” chapter.  Read it and be blessed while you learn to rest.

 Taylor shared with his friends a booklet with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s words, “How, then shall a Christian bear fruit? By efforts and struggles to obtain that which is freely given; by meditations on watchfulness, on prayer, on action, on temptation, and on dangers? No: there must be a full concentration of the thoughts and affections on Christ; a complete surrender of the whole being to Him; a constant looking to Him for grace.”

 You know the words of the song Amazing Grace.  You know God’s grace means His unmerited favor toward you.  But do you know the exchanged life that comes from abiding in the Vine?  “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Everyday People

StonestreetJohn was a rowdy, distracted high school kid in a Christian academy. On the last day of school before Christmas break, his teacher gave an assignment that would change his life.

The assignment paired him with a friend to go visit a shut-in, to bring some Christmas cheer. He was about to meet Omega Buckner. After an awkward attempt at conversation and singing Silent Night together, Ms. Buckner asked if she could pray for the boys. Despite having heard prayers all his life, John never heard anyone converse as though Jesus were in the room.

Two years later, he woke up thinking about her. He went to visit, and she greeted him by saying she had prayed for him that morning. Thus began a warm, mentoring friendship. In college, he took students to meet her, and many were impacted by the depth of her faith. The visits lasted until her life ended at age 97, but her impact on his life will not end. John Stonestreet tells this and other stories about “God’s audacious plan to change the world through everyday people” in his book, Restoring All Things.

It is tempting to be discouraged as the culture turns against the truths Christians know, and the values we hold sacred. Before he died in April, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George concluded, “It is likely that I will die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die executed in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” His statement expresses the hope that God is always at work, renewing, regenerating, reconciling. Remember Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God?

God’s servants are called to be a blessing to the cultural belligerents, and to the world. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:19-20). All Christians are called through the life of Christ to be part of the Father’s work, even if we are unpopular or misunderstood.

In your community you will probably find Omega Buckner’s kin providing food and financial help to the needy, helping mothers with unplanned pregnancies, assisting with medical needs, reaching out to jail and detention center inmates, and providing counseling and rehabilitation therapy. You will find Christ-followers serving in government, education, business, and civic organizations.

What becomes of Western culture is beyond our control. T.S. Eliot wrote, “For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” That we are here and trying is the evidence, hope, and victory that God is accomplishing His plan. Whatever the future, everyday people will still be part of the great work of God, loving and reconciling people to Himself.