Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What's down There?

In my childhood I had a fascination with hidden things. I scoured my basement to find the secret, hidden room, tunnel or passageway that surely had to be there. When those didn't turn up, I shifted my attention to the backyard. More specifically, what would I be able to find if I dug a hole and kept digging, deeper and deeper? Would I find dinosaur bones? Indian artifacts? Lost civilizations? Jimmy Hoffa?

I probably have to blame Jules Verne's book Journey to the Center of the Earth for firing my imagination. He wrote about enormous, ornate caverns; mushroom forests with colossal beasts; and prehistoric seas filled with gargantuan sea monsters. I just knew all kinds of wonders were waiting under our backyard too.

Apparently, I'm not alone in this quest. At some point the Germans, Americans, and Russians all tried to see who could dig the deepest. The winner was Russia. They called it the "Kola Superdeep Borehole." They worked on it from 1970 to 1994 and managed to dig 12,262 meters deep. That sounded mighty far down but, then again, meters don't really do it for me. So I converted it to measurements I understand, and it ends up they dug down 40,229 feet, or 7.62 miles deep. A bit more impressive than the measly hole I was able to manage. Of course, it would have helped if dad hadn't come home from work and asked what I was doing. (I couldn't understand why he seemed so perturbed about it all.)

So the Russians got pretty deep, but after 24 years they quit. Why? Because the temperature at that depth was 356 degrees Fahrenheit, and that was hot enough to melt all the materials they could find to make their drill bits. But even at that staggering depth, they only made it about 0.2 percent of the way through the earth. They weren't even able to make it past the earth's crust into the mantle!

An international team of scientists is currently hoping to go deeper, but they need a couple of things: a billion dollars in funding, and technology to pass some "monumental roadblocks."

I wonder what they'll find.

This old earth God created is pretty incredible. It's amazing what we are discovering and learning about it. But even more, I wonder what kind of mind-blowing stuff God has in store for us? What will we discover when Jesus returns and refashions this planet? What wonders will we find in the new heavens and the new earth? Or think even higher -- what will it be like to see the angels and the heavenly host --or even more fantastic -- to gaze upon the face of God our Father, and to feel the touch of Jesus our Savior?

Time and life have a way of stripping away the child-like sense of wonder we may have once had about this world. But Jesus' sacrifice has opened for us a new and awesome future. We just need to take time every once in a while to remember the beauty, the thrill, and the discoveries that are waiting for us.

This world is a tremendous place -- full of marvel and fascination. That God has created it (and the universe that surrounds it) is yet one more testament to His limitless power and perfect attention to detail.

Have you seen any natural earth location (canyon, mountain, valley, river, ocean, meadow) that spoke to you in a profound way -- in a way that said more than "Wow, that's beautifu!" but rather pointed to the very handiwork of the Maker Himself?

If so, let us know. You can share your thoughts with us by clicking here and commenting.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Game of Politics

Primary season. How fun! When I listen to the Republican and Democratic candidates bickering back and forth, ripping each other's reputation to shreds, it gets discouraging -- like not a one of them is worth voting for. And we still have nine months to go! All the name calling and game playing make me want to wish away the rest of the year. But that all changed when I heard the news that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in Texas over the weekend. Politics isn't a game anymore, and I'm reminded why this and every other presidential election cycle is so important.

In 1986 Justice Scalia was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, and the U.S. Senate confirmed that nomination. In January 1989 President Reagan left office and his ability to directly guide our country was no more. But his appointment continued impacting the decisions made by the Supreme Court for 27 years after his presidency, until Justice Scalia died last weekend.

I'm not sure if that vacant Supreme Court seat will be filled while President Obama is in office, and I won't pick sides in this blog. But it shows that one of the most important aspects of any presidential election is the winner's chance to change the makeup of the Supreme Court. Just five of those nine justices can radically alter the legal, economical, moral and social direction of our nation by their decisions. That is a president's legacy that far outlasts his/her four or eight years in office and can permanently change our culture.

And that takes me back to the whole process of electing our next president. The apostle Paul made a big deal of his Roman citizenship. It opened a lot of doors for his ministry, even guaranteeing him an audience with the Roman emperor and the chance to share the saving Gospel with the ruling authorities. The other apostles, being Jews, certainly didn't enjoy that privilege.

That's why this primary season is so important, and we all need to take part as we can. We need to use all the benefits our citizenship afford us to help protect our fellow citizens and give the church freedom to declare the glorious story of Jesus Christ and His salvation.

And even if the elections don't go our way, we're reminded to pray for those in authority over us. Let us not forget to ask that God would give them wisdom, insight and integrity to do that which He would have them do for the citizens He has entrusted to them.

While it's true the most important citizenship we have as believers is our upcoming residency in heaven, we certainly don't want to underestimate the importance of our earthly citizenship -- and the impact our vote can make this primary season, and in November.

The road to the presidential election is fraught with drama and hot air. How do you keep your head in the game when it comes to staying current with candidates' positions and deciding for whom you will cast your vote?

We welcome your comments on the Men's Network blog. You can raise your voice to the masses by clicking here and sharing your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Super Bowl Storylines

So many great storylines came out of the Super Bowl last Sunday. I could talk about Peyton Manning putting to rest all the talk about not being able to win the big game; or I could analyze how Defensive Coordinator Wade Philips built a smothering Bronco defense around Von Miller; or I could bemoan Cam Newton's staccato postgame press conference. Each offers an insight to our struggles through this life, spiritual maturity, and what it takes to live together as the body of Christ in the world.

But the thing that most jumped out at me was the predictions before the game. Experts carefully lined up the Panthers and the Broncos. The two great defenses cancelled each other out, and when you paired the two offenses, Cam Newton's was much stronger than Peyton Manning's.

Or so it seemed.

All through the previous two weeks I expected the predictions were probably right, but had a nagging feeling in my mind because of the AFC Championship Game. How can you underestimate a defensive game plan that left Tom Brady confused, and Bill Belichick unable to make those incredible second-half adjustments, especially when the Denver offense really wasn't putting any pressure on them? As I listened to the game coverage driving back from Chicago Sunday night, I heard Boomer Esiason and Dan Fouts comment on how similar this game was to the AFC Championship Game.

To me that will be the most fascinating part of Super Bowl 50: the Broncos' defensive game plan. That defense seemed to enjoy playing the part of the underdog. When everyone else dismissed them and ranted about the league MVP and the unstoppable Panther's offense, it seemed to motivate Colorado's defense to prove everyone wrong.

That makes me think about the body of Christ. That Bronco defense didn't just come together last week and prepare for the Super Bowl. It was pulled together by a front office that drafted players from college, and brought others in through trades and free agency. It was assembled to be a team. Just as Christ has called each of us together in our congregations and assembled us to share His precious Word in the most effective way to the community, in which He has placed us. It's our Christian family -- our faith community -- that is our greatest strength.

Wouldn't it be great if we had a little more of Denver's fire, spunk and can-do attitude? When our culture belittles and attacks us, why don't we stop circling the wagons and muttering apologetically? I'd like to see us emerge from our foxholes, pull together, and hold high the cross.

We have God's flawless game plan, and a victory Jesus already won 2,000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem. We have God's matchless gifts in the Bible, Baptism, and Holy Communion to strengthen and assure us of the glorious, eternal celebration that awaits, when Christ returns and restores His creation to perfection.

No, we're not trying to move a ball down a field, or keep it out of our end zone; rather, we're trying to save our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and everyone God brings into our path from Satan's vile trap. That is a much higher calling, and the crown of life surely trumps the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

With the Broncos' win, another NFL season bites the dust. There are many life lessons to be learned from football, and dogged determination is one of them. How often do we ask God for that kind of resolve in our faith walk? What kind of victories would we like to see take place in our lives, the lives of our friends and family, the life of the church on earth?

Any thoughts on the game just finished -- or the game of life we're all in at present? If so, you can comment by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Eating with Sinners

I ran across an interesting passage in Bible class last Sunday morning. "The Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at Jesus' disciples, saying, 'Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?'" (Luke 5:30).

We got to talking about what that meant for us as followers of Jesus. What if a homeless alcoholic or a strung-out addict showed up in church next Sunday? It seems like Jesus would go right up and start talking with them. What if we did that? Would we get grumbling and cold stares from other members who don't want that kind of person in our church?

Or what if one of us found out the two guys who moved in next door are a married gay couple? Jesus surely doesn't approve of that choice. But what would He do? Would He shun them to make it clear that they're going the wrong way? Well, we couldn't see Him doing that. We concluded He'd make their acquaintance, stand with them at the fence talking, or invite them over for a beer and get to know them. We figured He'd work hard to go from a total stranger, with His two cents worth, to a close, trusted friend with priceless words to share.

And now, the $64,000 question: wouldn't Jesus have us do the same? Doesn't it seem right to strike up a relationship where we can prove our genuine concern for them and their welfare -- both in this world and in the judgment to come? Once we've shown ourselves as true blue friends, then we can share our deep concern for their eternal welfare in a way they won't be able to easily dismiss.

Then someone in class brought up the instance of a friend whose grown child is moving in with his girlfriend. The mom is fine with it because she loves her son and doesn't want to drive him away. But this member of class couldn't let it lie and give the wrong impression that she condoned this. She said, "I wouldn't be able to approve that choice," but she confided to us that she wasn't sure if that was the right answer.

After a moment of silent thought, we looked again at Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners. When Jesus associated with a sinner who was going the wrong way, like the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4), He took time to make it clear that God has a very loving reason for forbidding certain things to us. They may be things we think harmless and innocent, but He knows their destructive potential. The bottom line: He cared too much to keep silent and watch those people bring harm and destruction on themselves, without a warning.

That started us on a discussion of the topic of living together and to examine our culture's view of it. What makes it look so attractive, and why does our culture buy into it? Someone suggested that living together seems smart, like test driving a car. Actually, from that point of view, we agreed it actually makes it seem naïve and foolish for a couple to wait to live together until they are married. But then we stepped back to look at the heart of marriage from God's point of view. It is a man and woman's commitment to remain together no matter what: "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us." Once we put God's light on it, it was clear that living together is the exact opposite. It's learning to live in a relationship without any ultimate commitment. It's really a good way to condition ourselves for separation and divorce, instead of marriage.

Suddenly, we saw how we could change a discussion about living together away from a smug, self-righteous attack on a young couple's chosen lifestyle to a heartfelt discussion of genuine love and concern for their well-being. That's how we follow Jesus' example of eating with sinners.

I realized in all my years of leading Bible class, I've not done that enough -- i.e. used that time as an opportunity to share our witnessing stories and challenges, and explore ways we can grow and improve. We all added some important tools to our witnessing toolbox last Sunday.

Sometimes stifling the urge to say something righteous is the hardest thing to do. We all get impulses to voice our opinion, especially when we feel the ground we stand on is sure -- black and white. Nonetheless, no one ever stood on surer ground than Jesus, and apparently even He was open to initiating conversations and launching friendships, even when some form of corrective admonishment might have been in order.

How about you? Do you resist the urge to be overbearing with your opinion, especially in situations where you might not know the parties that well?

Or is it damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead?

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