THE TRILEMMA

We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. [2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)]

spiderwort - wild flowerIn C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the youngest child, Lucy Pevensie, happens upon an enchanted armoire and steps into the magical world of Narnia. Upon returning, she rushes to tell her siblings of her astonishing adventure. Hearing such a tall tale and finding no concrete proof of its truth, her older siblings assume the story to be a figment of her imagination. They take their concern over her falsehood to their wise elderly uncle. He cautions them to use logic and consider Lucy’s story carefully. He points out there are only three possibilities: either she’s lying, crazy or telling the truth. After pointing out that lies are usually more plausible than Lucy’s tale, he asks if she’s lied before. The children admit she’s always been truthful. After pointing out that none of Lucy’s behavior indicates mental illness, they all agree she can’t have gone mad. He then suggests that since she’s neither a liar nor crazy, they could consider the possibility that Lucy’s story is true.

Interestingly, this is the same line of reasoning Lewis uses in what is called the “Lewis trilemma” or his “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument found in Mere Christianity. Lewis uses this logical argument when people claim to believe in the existence of Jesus as a great moral teacher but not as God (which, unfortunately, many people do). Jesus talked as if He was God. He professed to be able to forgive sins and to be the only way to the Father. He claimed to have existed since the beginning of time, that He was a heavenly king who offered everlasting life, and would judge the world at the end of time. Lewis points out that we have only three choices about those fantastic claims: Jesus was either a liar who perpetrated a fraud, a madman with delusions of grandeur, or the Lord. The one thing Jesus couldn’t have been was just a principled man or an excellent teacher of morals and ethics! Jesus was either a very bad or troubled man or He was divine and exactly who He said He was!

There are many people who consider Jesus simply to be a Jewish version of Buddha or Socrates: a great man, filled with compassion and love, who had some profound and noble ideas. That whole Messiah/Son of God thing, however, just doesn’t sit well with them. We should remind them that neither Buddha nor Socrates claimed to be God; Jesus did! The Pevensie children soon learned the truth of Lucy’s claim and, hopefully, others will see the logic and truth of Jesus, as well!

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. 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. He did not intend to. [From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis]

The Father and I are one. [John 10:30 (NLT)]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. … Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. … And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. [John 14:6,11a,24b (NLT)]

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FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

We must also consider how to encourage each other to show love and to do good things. We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. [Hebrews 10:24-25 (GW)]

Bar None Cowboy ChurchWhen people become dissatisfied with their houses, they don’t abandon the idea of living in a house again and move into a tent. Either they tolerate their grievance, remodel or go shopping for a house that better suits their needs. Yet, with our churches, when people become dissatisfied with their particular parish or denomination, they often stop going to any church at all.

Sometime remodeling a house can be a simple project and modifying a church may be as easy as suggesting a new small group or working with the worship committee to explore new avenues of worship. Our northern church, for example, responded to the changing needs of the parish by adding a contemporary worship service to its traditional ones. Sometimes, however, remodeling won’t do the trick and what’s wrong for us can’t be changed. Perhaps the house is two-story when we no longer can negotiate stairs or the church no longer corresponds with where we are in our faith journey. Whatever the reason, rather than abandon church altogether, it’s time to go house-of-worship hunting until a new church home is found.

Church hunting isn’t much different than house hunting, except that we’re less interested in the number of bathrooms or curb appeal. Like any other important choice, we start by taking our quest to God in prayer and then exploring the Internet to see what’s available. As with real estate, we may have to check out several possibilities and visit more than once before finding the church that can feel like home. Like people and houses, Christian churches come in all sizes and styles and each has its own personality. A good Sunday school could be important for a young family while opportunities to serve may be more important to retirees. Some people prefer mega-churches while others want an intimate atmosphere. Some people want the ceremony and dignity of traditional or liturgical churches while others want the free-flowing atmosphere, contemporary music and PowerPoint displays found in “praise and worship” churches. Others may even favor the more casual atmosphere of the “seeker sensitive” churches with their use of secular music and performance style worship.

Not every house is right for every family and not every Christian church is right for every Christian. Recently, our travels brought us past both the Free Spirit Biker Church and the Bar None Cowboy Church. While neither would be a good fit for me, they are for someone else! The important thing is to find the right balance of Scripture, prayer, preaching, music, evangelism, sacraments and fellowship for our individual needs. What we must never do is give up on Christ’s Church just because we’ve given up on a particular one! Like Goldilocks, we just have to keep searching until we find the church that is “just right!”

You received Christ Jesus the Lord, so continue to live as Christ’s people. Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving. [Colossians 6-7 (GW)]

Also, let Christ’s peace control you. God has called you into this peace by bringing you into one body. Be thankful. Let Christ’s word with all its wisdom and richness live in you. Use psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to teach and instruct yourselves about God’s kindness. Sing to God in your hearts. Everything you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:15-17 (GW)]

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THE SANCTUARY CANDLE

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. [Exodus 27:20 (NLT)]

HibiscusAlthough an acolyte usually lights the altar candles at our northern church, our pastor did it yesterday. He came out of the sacristy with an unlit brass candle lighter in his hand, reached up to the sanctuary lamp, removed its red glass globe and took it out of the holder. Using the sanctuary candle, he lit the candle lighter before using it to light the altar candles. After returning the sanctuary lamp to its rightful place on the wall, he explained that, although there had been several books of matches in the sacristy, they all were empty. No one seems to smoke anymore and, being new to our parish, he had no idea where matches might be stored. A resourceful man, he solved the problem perfectly.

Sanctuary lamps probably date back to the original rules Moses was given for the tabernacle and they are often found in Jewish temples. Also called the Christ candle or eternal flame in Christian churches, they burn continually as a reminder of the eternal presence of God. While a sanctuary lamp often is present in traditional or liturgical churches, it certainly isn’t necessary for worship. Our mountain church, for example, doesn’t have one and our Florida church, which meets in the park, doesn’t even have a sanctuary let alone an altar or candles!

What, I wondered, would have happened if, while fiddling with the sanctuary light, our pastor had inadvertently extinguished its flame? Although he would have been embarrassed, worship would have continued without that symbol of God’s lasting presence. Candle or not, God is eternally present and the light of Christ continues to shine in our dark and troubled world. The flame from that one candle lit the altar candles much as the light from Christ lights our lives. God’s flame, however, must not stop with us. Jesus is the light of the world and it’s not enough for us just to shine; like that brass candle lighter, we must pass that light along to those waiting in darkness.

It only takes a spark To get a fire going,
And soon all those around Can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love Once you’ve experienced it;
You spread His love to ev’ryone. You want to pass it on.
I wish for you my friend This happiness that I’ve found.
You can depend on Him. It matters not where you’re bound.
I’ll shout it from the mountain top. I want my world to know:
The Lord of love has come to me. I want to pass it on.
[“Pass it On” by Kurt Kaiser]

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)]

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LEADING SOMEONE TO WATER

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seeds on the ground. He sleeps at night and is awake during the day. The seeds sprout and grow, although the man doesn’t know how. The ground produces grain by itself. First the green blade appears, then the head, then the head full of grain. [Mark 4:26-27 (GW)]

horsesAfter their recent visit to the oncologist, a friend asked me to pray for her father. His cancer is terminal and she asked me to pray that he will come to know God. He’s been sitting on the fence for quite some time and his time for fence sitting is rapidly running out. As I added him to my prayer list, I wondered, “Can we pray someone to God?”

While farmers can plant, water, hoe and fertilize, it is up to the seed whether or not it ever will germinate. Jesus told several parables about sowing seed and gathering the harvest. In none of them, however, does the farmer turn that seed into a sprout. All we can do is prepare the way by planting His word. We can bring to light the Son, but it is up to the seed to seek the Son’s light.

In the end, the harvest comes through God’s provision, not man’s efforts. If we could pray people to God, our churches would be full and all would be well with the world! It’s been said that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Unfortunately, because of that pesky free will thing, the same goes for man and the living water offered by Jesus. While we can’t pray people to God, we can continue to share the Good News and ask God to reveal Himself to those for whom we pray. The rest is up to them; the choice is theirs and theirs alone.

A man came to evangelist Alexander Wooten and asked, using the biblical phrase, “What must I do to be saved?” Wooten said, “It’s too late.” The man was shocked. “It’s too late? You mean I can’t do anything?” Wooten said, “It’s too late. It’s already been done for you. The only thing left for you to do is to believe that it’s done.

They see, but they’re blind. They hear, but they don’t listen. They don’t even try to understand. So they make Isaiah’s prophecy come true: “‘You will hear clearly but never understand. You will see clearly but never comprehend. These people have become close-minded and hard of hearing. They have shut their eyes so that their eyes never see. Their ears never hear. Their minds never understand. And they never return to me for healing!” [Matthew 13:13-15 (GW)]

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SEND ME

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” [Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)]

frangipani - plumariaIn Biblical days, being a prophet was a little like being God’s press secretary. A prophet spoke for God and conveyed His message to the people. Unlike press secretaries of today, however, there would be no quibbling about the meanings of words nor would a positive spin be put on negative news. Prophets didn’t speak off-the-record, never received faulty information from their boss, and didn’t use alternative facts or half-truths. God’s prophets spoke only the unadulterated and often unpopular truth. Like today’s press secretaries, however, their messages were often more confrontational than comforting and they often were ignored. While a bearer of glad tidings is popular and welcome, prophets, as the frequent bearers of sad tidings, were not. Being God’s prophet was difficult, lonely and often dangerous.

Why anyone in their right mind would choose to be a Presidential press secretary (for any president) is beyond me. At least it offers fame, fortune and the possibility of a “tell all” best seller in the future. Why anyone would choose to be God’s prophet is even harder to understand. There was no plus side to being the one who brought a message of judgment and destruction to the people of Judah, Israel and the surrounding nations. Indicting people for their sins is no way to win a popularity contest. Nevertheless, Isaiah reported for duty when God called and took on a job that no sane person would want.

Isaiah answered God’s call because he trusted that God would provide him with the necessary words. He knew that God didn’t bring the Israelites to the edge of the Red Sea only to have them drown in the waters or be captured by the Egyptian soldiers and God didn’t part the waters only to have his people die from starvation or lack of water in the wilderness. God didn’t put Noah and the animals on that Ark only to have them never reach dry land and He didn’t send David out to meet Goliath without providing him with those five smooth stones needed for his sling. Confident that God would provide, Isaiah answered His call. Even though God warned Isaiah that most people wouldn’t even listen to him, let alone heed his words, Isaiah still said, “Here I am. Send me.”

When God calls on us, rarely will it be a request as difficult as being one of His prophets. He does, however, expect us to be His messengers. When He calls, do we answer or do we ignore the call? Do we trust Him to provide us with whatever we need or do we doubt and reject Him? When called, Isaiah said, “Here I am. Send me.” When God calls us, do we say the same?

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. [Isaiah 50:4-7 (NLT)]

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WHAT’S OLD?

Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. [Psalm 71:18 (NLT)]

 Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t. [Richard Bach]

eastern black swallowtail butterflyYesterday morning, I was shocked to hear a sportscaster describe both Venus Williams (at 37) and Roger Federer (nearly 36) as “old.” Although Williams was defeated in the Wimbledon finals, Federer easily defeated his youthful 28-year-old opponent and became the oldest person in 87 years to win the title. Since both players are just a little more than half my age, I wondered what defines “old.” When we spent our winters in Colorado, we’d occasionally see Banana George (George Blair) in his signature yellow jumpsuit shredding the slopes on his yellow snowboard. Having learned how to snowboard at 75, George was in his eighties and early nineties at the time. Was he old? Famed as a star of the Cypress Gardens water show, this stunt water skier didn’t even learn how to water ski until he was 40. He started barefoot skiing six years later and became a legend by water skiing on one foot while holding the tow rope between his teeth! He continued doing that trick until he was 79! It was not until he was 92, and suffering from Lewy body dementia, that George reluctantly hung up his water skis and snowboard.  I’m sure he would have had a few choice words for the sportscaster who called those tennis greats “old!”

When 36 is considered old for tennis, it’s easy for “seniors” (a nice word for old people) to consider youth a prerequisite for feats of strength and bravery. After all, David was probably about seventeen when he heroically defeated Goliath. Daniel and his three friends were less than fifteen when they boldly refused to be defiled by eating the king’s food. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were no more than thirty when they bravely chose a fiery furnace over worshiping Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue. Samuel was just a lad when he readily answered God’s call and Mary was barely in her teens when she willingly became mother to Jesus.

It’s good to remember that youth is not a requirement for doing God’s work. Moses was eighty when he led the Israelites out of Egypt and, when he died forty years later, he still had clear eyesight and was strong and vigorous. Joshua had to have been at least sixty (and probably much older) when he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. Abraham was seventy-five when he left Haran and headed for Canaan and Sarah was ninety when Isaac was born. Moreover, contrary to popular belief (and most Sunday school coloring pages), Daniel was not a young man when he faced those lions. By that time, he was acting as an administrator for Darius the Mede; six Babylonian kings had come and gone and sixty-six years had passed since his arrival in Babylon as a youth. When he was thrown into the lion’s den because he dared pray to God, Daniel was around eight-two years old. At that age, we’d expect a stroke or heart attack to finish him off before the hungry beasts could. Nevertheless, Daniel survived and continued to prosper under both Darius and Cyrus the Persian; he recorded his prophetic visions for at least three more years.

Even though we probably won’t take up snowboarding in our seventies or get pulled on bare feet through the water while holding a tow rope between our teeth, like Banana George, we can continue to have a passion for life. While Roger Federer and Venus Williams may be considered old by tennis standards, none of us are too old by God’s!

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, “I used everything you gave me.” [Erma Bombeck]

Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! [2 Corinthians 4:16b-17 (NLT)]

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