Monday, February 23, 2009

The State of the Union

As I write these words, we are about 36 hours from President Obama’s first State of the Union speech before Congress and the nation. I took some time recently to look over State of the Union speeches dating back to 1790. Typically, Presidents have tended to describe the state of our union as “sound” or “strong”.

Given the tenuous economic condition our country is in, I am curious to see how the President will define our state of the union this year. I wouldn’t think he would want to downplay the current challenges, but at the same time, it probably wouldn’t be good for him to say “The state of our union is in the toilet.” The markets probably wouldn’t react favorably to such candor.

Of course, when Presidents evaluate the state of the Union, the benchmarks they use generally include such things as unemployment, budget deficits, inflation and other key economic factors. I’m sure they also take into consideration our standing on the world stage, including the strength of our military and our diplomatic relationships abroad.

However, I doubt that many of them give serious consideration to the spiritual state of the Union. How much do they factor “leading spiritual indicators” into their evaluation of our nation’s welfare?

I am afraid if they were to take stock of our country’s “state” using God’s standards, we wouldn’t fare well. We would likely be described as “stiff-necked” and “hard-hearted”, as the Israelites were described during the years of the wilderness wanderings. Undoubtedly, the recurring words used to describe God’s people in the days of the Judges could be our mantra as well: “Once again, [they] did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”

Like those in Haggai’s day, we plant much, but harvest little. We eat, but are never satisfied. We drink, but our thirst is not quenched. Despite the abundance of clothing, we are not warm. And we earn money only to put it in purses and wallets with holes.

We are like those whom Jesus condemned for honoring Him with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him.

If we are honest, we would have to admit that spiritually speaking, the state of our Union is fragile. We pursue the things of this world at the expense of seeking the things of God. We are more interested in our economic well-being than in our spiritual welfare. We are blind to the fact that we could gain this whole world, but lose our own soul. And God has declared that’s not a very good trade.

While it’s easy to criticize the spiritual state of our nation as a whole, let’s not lose sight of the need to conduct such an assessment of our personal spiritual condition. It does us no good to condemn those around us while falling short of God’s standards ourselves.

So, if you were standing before the nation to describe the status of your relationship with the Lord, how would you complete this sentence: The state of my spiritual condition is _____.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Once I was "Lost"

Some of you know that I am a big fan of the ABC TV series “Lost”. Over the past couple of seasons, they’ve gotten into some science fiction and time travelling stuff that I don’t completely understand, but the show still fascinates me.

It’s one of those shows that’s hard to explain. The bottom line is that an airplane crashes on a remote island in the Pacific. Strange things happen on the island. There’s a smoke monster and a polar bear and some wild boars. In addition to the survivors of the crash, there are other people on the island. There was a French lady, and some hostiles and some “others”. Some survivors get rescued. Most don't. If you have never watched the show, then none of this should make sense. If you have never watched the show and this does make sense, please call your doctor right away.

One of the things I find so intriguing about LOST is the spiritual dimension of the show. Certainly, no character is overtly Christian, and there isn’t much talk about God per se, but there are characters who firmly believe that things don’t happen by accident, and that there is a grand design that goes beyond each of us.

This season, the show’s characters are time-travelling. Sometimes they travel ahead in time, and other times they travel back in time. A few times, they’ve even traveled to a period of time which included an earlier time that they were on the island—theoretically, they could encounter an earlier version of themselves, though that hasn’t happened (yet!).

That’s really the point of this whole blog entry (and you didn’t think I had a point, did you?). A couple of episodes ago, one of the survivors (his name is Locke) saw something which he recognized as being a part of an event in which he had previously participated. But rather than walking toward that event, he deliberately took a path away from the event. That led to an exchange with one of the other survivors (Sawyer). Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

SAWYER: Why did you turn us around then? Wouldn’t you want to go back there?
LOCKE: Why would I want to do that?
SAWYER: So you could tell yourself to do things different. Save yourself a world of pain.
LOCKE: No, I needed that pain, to get to where I am now.

When I heard that exchange, I immediately thought, That’ll preach! (That’s the way pastors think, I’m sorry to say). What Locke was saying is that heartache and pain are sometimes part of a process that leads to something greater. Locke’s comments echo those of the Apostle Paul who said, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Think back to some adversities you’ve experienced in your life. While there may be things you would change if you could, do you realize what a different person you’d be without those experiences? Do you see how God has used even those difficult situations to bring you to where He wants you today? Like Locke in “Lost”, sometimes we need the pain to get to where we are—or to take us where God wants us to be.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Call to Arms

We are starting a new series of messages on Sunday mornings entitled A Call to Arms. It is a study of the great spiritual battle that is raging all around us, and it is a plea to all believers to become engaged in this battle.

Whenever the term “spiritual warfare” is used, there are two extreme responses that are typical. One is a denial of any type of spiritual warfare. Such ignorance or complacency is common among Christians today, and it is one of the reasons that many believers are living discouraged and defeated lives.

The other extreme is to spiritualize everything. Every disagreement, every difference of opinion, every difficulty is viewed as an “attack” of the enemy. This type of reaction leads many Christians to become overly defensive and often leads us towards isolation and seclusion.

Neither of these extremes is Biblical, and neither leads us to a closer, more intimate walk with God.

So as we go through Ephesians 6:10-20 over the next few weeks, we will try to avoid the extremes, and we will seek to develop a healthy perspective on this topic of spiritual warfare. Primarily, we will be encouraged to take the battle seriously, and to arm ourselves with the spiritual weaponry that God has made available specifically for this purpose.

Our first message this Sunday (February 15) focuses on The Adversaries, and reinforces the reality of the battle as well as to clarify what the battle is really all about. If you are able to join us at Life Spring for this series, I believe you will be encouraged by these messages, and you will be motivated to prepare yourself to respond in a forthright manner to this Scriptural Call to Arms.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day

Wow, I can’t believe it. Today is Groundhog Day. We’re still eating turkey leftovers from Christmas and picking up pine needles in the carpet. How can it already be Groundhog Day?

I just visited the Official Site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” and learned that the rodent in Pennsylvania (no, I don’t mean Ben Roethlisberger) saw his shadow, thus a harbinger of six additional weeks of cold, snow, ice and other assorted elements associated with the season preceding Spring. Don’t put those shovels away yet, boys and girls.

Now, as holidays go, I think Groundhog Day tends to be underappreciated. After all, how much do we have to look forward to in the thick of winter? I mean, especially this year, with football season now behind us (I don’t count the Pro Bowl as real football, so don’t even go there with me), and with Easter still over two months away, what are we going to do with ourselves? Most workers won’t even get another paid Holiday until Memorial Day, which is 16 weeks away!

So I suggest we start treating Groundhog Day with a little more respect. First of all, any Holiday of any significance is marked prominently with lots of sales. I mean, in a few weeks, we’ll be told that the best way to celebrate the birth of Presidents Washington and Lincoln will be to buy a sofa, television or box springs & mattress. It’s what George and Abe would have wanted us to do.

So why not start with a Groundhog Day Sale? We could be encouraged to buy warm, furry coats. Or to “burrow in for winter” by purchasing space heaters and blankets.

Of course, the really great Holidays revolve around food. If Groundhog Day is going to take its rightful place among the major holidays, then we have to have copious amounts of food specifically associated with this momentous occasion. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks and pasture pigs (I am not making this up) are herbivores, so let’s come up with special dishes to celebrate the day made with vegetables and berries. Or, for those meat lovers out there, we could enjoy “Waco Groundhog in Sour Cream”, “Groundhog Stew” or “Groundhog Meatloaf” (visit for these and other fine groundhog recipes).

We could come up with songs to sing around the piano honoring the Groundhog and its great contributions to civilization. We will need decorations especially suited for the day. And no Holiday worth its salt would be complete without a line of Hallmark Cards (with online versions available for those of us too cheap to buy stamps).

Perhaps you doubted my wisdom (or sanity) when you started reading this, but by now I hope I’ve got you thinking. Feel free to contribute your own ideas as to how this momentous holiday can be celebrated. Don’t hold anything back. After all, do you think that those Pilgrims and Indians originally anticipated a two day celebration of giving thanks that would be marked by food, football and sale prices so low they may never be repeated? That holiday revolves around a bird that can’t fly, so don’t sell the beloved groundhog short.