Answer the Question

“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Would you answer such a question?

Entertainment critics hit Barbara Walters hard for asking Katharine Hepburn a similar question on the “20/20” show in 1981.  But the question wasn’t random. Context helps. Hepburn complained that fame had made her into “sort of a thing.” Walters asked, “What kind of thing?”  Hepburn answered, “I’m like a tree,” which elicited the follow up, “What kind of tree are you?”

Jesus used questions not to entertain, but to challenge his hearers to believe who He is.  Consider these four questions recorded by John.

“What do you seek?” (John 1:38).  Jesus directed this question to Andrew and John.  At the time they were followers of John the Baptist who called Jesus “the Lamb of God.”  Were they looking for a different teacher to follow, or a stimulating religious talk?  After spending the day with Jesus, Andrew told his brother Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” Maybe the question helps you clarify what, or rather who, you seek.

“You are a teacher in Israel and you do not understand this?” (John 3:10). This was for Nicodemus, when he wondered how someone is born again of the Spirit.  Jesus reminded him about Moses lifting the serpent on a pole to save the people. That event foreshadowed the Son of Man dying on the cross “so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”  Do you believe Jesus is God the Son, and His sacrificial death provides for you to be born again to eternal life?

“Do you believe this?” (John 11:26). Jesus asked Martha to believe her brother Lazarus would live again. He made the remarkable claim that “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”  Do you believe Jesus not only raised Lazarus, but His own Resurrection was the miracle that authenticated everything He said?

“Because you have seen Me, have you believed?” (John 20:29). Thomas had been a doubter, wanting to see the resurrected Jesus for himself. Thomas touched Jesus just to make sure He was real.  Then Jesus looked down through history and saw you.  “Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” He said.  You have yet to see Him, but still you believe?

You can ignore a question.  Hepburn might have dismissed Walters’ question as too metaphorical. (She didn’t. She saw herself as a “white oak tree, strong and great.”) Maybe the source of the question gives you pause.  “May I take your pulse?” would be OK coming from your doctor, but weird from a co-worker.  But when God takes on human flesh to read some questions into the historical record, they aren’t metaphorical or weird.  They’re vital because of the Questioner and the question.  So, give Him your answers.

Enjoy His Presence

“He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.” – C. S. Lewis

How many friends or followers do you have on social media? Human nature compels you toward relationships. You want people to like your posts, know your name, and look at you when you enter the room. While it hurts to be ignored or considered irrelevant, you are gratified to be welcomed as part of the inner circle. That yearning, never satisfied by human relationships (or social media), points to something far more glorious.

In The Weight of Glory Lewis writes, “But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. The promise of glory becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, and welcome into the heart of things.” Nothing less than the presence of God is what we truly desire.

God created humans that way, and throughout history He met that need. He appeared to Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses. He was in the garden, the fiery furnace, and the temple. As the people returned to Jerusalem after their exile to Babylon, the Lord declared, “Behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people” (Zech. 2:10-11). By this the Lord opened up the invitation to enjoy His presence.

He ultimately fulfilled the promise of His presence by stepping into His creation as Emmanuel, “God with us.” He “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory.” His presence was not just for that moment.  As Jesus told His disciples, “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am there you may be also.” He promised that the Father would send the Helper, the Spirit of truth, saying, “You know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.” (Matt. 1:23, John 1:14, 14:3,17). God is present for you.

The writings of Brother Lawrence popularized “the practice of the presence of God.” Awareness of God in each moment brings you peace, empathy, and contentment. It is an ongoing reminder that your identity and destiny are in Christ. Your awareness of the reality of God becomes apparent to the people around you as you live for the divine accolade, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

As you travel through this life and gain relationships, remember the One who made your journey possible and prepared your ultimate destination. To have God is to have enough. Enjoy His presence.

Praying for Liberty

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).

The theme for this year’s National Day of Prayer was, “Lord, pour out your love, life, and liberty.”  What an encouraging and timely prayer!

President Harry Truman inaugurated the National Day of Prayer in 1952.  That same year, Paul Harvey wrote a book for Americans. He warned that fear is a tool to control people.  He wrote, “man + fear – God = man over man.”  Almost 70 years later, politicians, media, and activists still mix fear and godlessness to accrue power.  You may be aware of what’s happening but rather than responding in fear, trust the presence of the Lord to give you freedom from fear.  That is a liberty no one can take away.

The zeitgeist (cultural mood) of today entraps the soul.  Professor Carl Trueman writes that it “prioritizes victimhood, sees selfhood in psychological terms, regards traditional sexual codes as oppressive, and places a premium on the individual’s right to define his or her own existence.”  Such a mood coerces people to create an identity, morality, and meaning “ex nihilo” (out of nothing). They’re trying to build a smart phone with sand and a screwdriver. The good news is that God created with order and meaning, so when you discover His design and purpose for your life, you are liberated.

Another drain on freedom is unrestrained government.  Levying usurious taxes, spending borrowed money, imposing overburdening regulations, removing incentive to work, and funding the extermination of unborn humans are forms of tyranny.  The totalitarian impulse brands as a bigot anyone who speaks out to protect the innocent and preserve freedom.  As government grows in power, we’re reminded of Lord Acton’s famous maxim, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The good news is that we know One who is more powerful and can displace tyranny and totalitarianism with liberty.

By far your greatest need for liberty is not from fear, culture, or government.  You can suffer in a prison of sin without seeing the bars, but you can be set free! This is why the gospel is such good news!  Jesus said the Father “has sent Me to proclaim release to the captive…to set free those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18).  Oppressed by what, you ask? He answers, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin…so if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36).  Step into the sunlight of that freedom!

The National Day of Prayer is an important reminder that “God rules over the nations” (Psa. 22:28), but you can pray for liberty any day.  Join me in praying that Americans experience the liberation they seek, the freedom found only in Christ Jesus.

A Senator’s Redemption

U.S. Senator Tim Scott spoke to the nation last month. Setting politics aside, surely you can appreciate his life story of hope and redemption.

Broadcasting to a national audience on multiple platforms he said, “Growing up, I never dreamed I’d be standing here tonight. When I was a kid, my parents divorced. My mother, my brother, and I moved in with my grandparents. Three of us, sharing one bedroom. I was disillusioned and angry, and I nearly failed out of school. But I was blessed. First, with a praying momma. Then with a mentor, a Chick-fil-A operator named John Moniz.”

Moniz had noticed and felt compassion for the young Scott. Motivated by his Christian faith, Moniz hoped to positively impact one million people. For four years he taught Scott the life lessons that had helped Moniz find success and significance. He wanted Scott to look beyond athletics and entertainment to more realistic goals, packaged as a “back-up plan.” He said, “If you have a job you’re doing well, but why not become a job creator?” Turns out that Scott needed a backup plan.

Driving on the freeway, Scott fell asleep with his mother in the car. He awoke with a start and snatched the steering wheel. The car flipped and rolled into the opposing lane. They survived, but a broken ankle ended his big hopes for athletic success. He attended a small college where a fellow student, John Rickenbacker, resumed the conversation that Moniz started. The result, Scott explains, was that in 1983 “I accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life.” He also implemented his backup plan, focusing on academics and entrepreneurship.

Scott sees God’s sovereign hand in the near tragic accident and in the men who invested in him. When telling the story he recites, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). In Scott’s story, that means an angry young man becomes a U.S. Senator, speaking to the nation.

Only four years after meeting Scott, Moniz died at age 38. Scott’s national audience far exceeded the number of people Moniz had hoped to impact, and they heard this uplifting message: “Original sin is never the end of the story. Not in our souls, and not for our nation. The real story is always redemption.” I hear Moniz’ voice loud and clear. Through the one he impacted his million, and more.

Some do the work of Christ as fast food managers, fellow students, or redeemed senators, but all do it for the glory of God. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Value of Motherhood

“Mom and apple pie.” It was a common answer from WWII soldiers when asked, “What do you miss the most?” It led to the expression, “As American as motherhood and apple pie,” a way to express a value everyone accepts.

A scant 25 years after WWII, feminist Shulamith Firestone imagined a revolution leading to a motherless utopia. She wrote, “The goal must be the elimination of the sex distinction itself. The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes independently of either. The dependence of the child on the mother would give way to dependence on a small group of others. The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.” Even a casual observer can see the technological and cultural pieces of that vision emerging right now.

Truth is, many Americans reject this vision and its values and wonder if others are capable of sorting truth from lies. There was a time most Americans would have agreed that the biological family is sacred, a gift meant for human flourishing. But now that’s thrown back into the face of the Creator saying, “It’s tyranny. I’ll do it my way.” After all, if a material universe spawned us by natural processes, why adhere to any “outdated” notions of man, woman, marriage, and family?

The beauty and value of motherhood and family are inherent in God’s design. He created male and female in His image. He blessed them saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” A man is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, becoming one flesh. Eve conceived and gave birth to Cain saying, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” (Gen. 1:27-28, 3:24, 4:1). God values mothers because they share in His creative work!

In the 1970’s, Kamila Benda was a professor and mother in Prague, under communist rule. She devoted herself to preparing her children to resist the totalitarian lies, even after her husband became a political prisoner. She read stories to help them distinguish between truth and deception. Their favorite was “Lord of the Rings.” Rod Dreher asked her, “Why Tolkien?” She replied, “Because we knew Mordor was real. Resisting the evil Sauron was our story too” (see Dreher’s book, Live Not By Lies). That her children kept the Christian faith to this day is a testament to their mother.

Despite a changing world and a changing America, we still value Mom (and apple pie!). Mothers have had a key role in human flourishing since the beginning of time, and we still celebrate them with a holiday. So, thanking God for family and for the mother’s love I have known, I value all mothers and wish you a happy Mother’s Day!