Sunday, April 25, 2010

WHAT?

Did you know that 20% of the folks in Britain think that “haggis” is an animal that roams the Scottish Highlands? That’s what a survey done last week declared, as reported by Reuters. The study was commissioned by the online carry-out food service, Just-Eat.co.uk.

For those Americans who don’t know what a “haggis” is, (and who also suspect, with the aforementioned 20% of Brits, that this is a rare beast that dwells on a hilltop) here goes: “Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours.” That’s what Wikipedia tells us. The photo shows an intact specimen. (For my personal experience with this Scottish delicacy, see here.)

Just-Eat requisitioned the opinions of 1,623 of the good people from all across the U.K. to discover their acquaintance with traditional Scottish culinary fare. Obviously, they weren’t acquainted at all. (Of course, not! Not in a land where the national dish is an Indian concoction—chicken tikka masala! BTW, the adventurous can procure a “haggis bhaji” or “haggis samosa”—a deep fried variant of the Scottish dish—in Indian restaurants in dodgy parts of Scotland!)

15% of those 1,623 claimed “haggis” was a Scottish musical instrument. Maybe they thought it was Gaelic for “bagpipes.” Some (4%) even asserted that “haggis” was a character from the Harry Potter series. Close. That was “Hagrid.”

What was even more suprising was that 14% of 781 Scottish folks surveyd did not know what “haggis” was. Yup, 14% of Scots had no clue. And “haggis” is the national dish of Scotland.

I wonder how many of us who call ourselves “Christian” can say what exactly that species of humankind is.

Nope, it’s not inherited in one’s genes. Nope, it’s not by virtue of citizenship in so-called “Christian nations.” Nope, it’s not because I go to church on Sundays and even given them my money. Nope, it’s not adherence to a system. Nor is it to help the poor and needy. In fact, there is nothing—nothing!—one can do to be a Christian.

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds
which we have done in righteousness,
but according to His mercy ….
Titus 3:5

Well, then, what is it to be a “Christian”?

To be a “Christian” is to be one who, because he or she has believed in Jesus Christ as their only God and Savior, has had his or her sins forgiven as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and has thus become a child of God, and part of the people of God.

But as many as received Him [Jesus],
to them He gave the right
to become children of God,
—to those who believe in His name.
John 1:12

Nope, nothing you can do to be Christian. One must simply believe, in faith, placing their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish, but have eternal life.
John 3:16

That is what it means to be a Christian. One becomes a Christian not by doing something, but by believing Someone—one who died on the cross to pay the price of our sins, fully and finally.

For by grace you have been
saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves,
it is the gift of God;
not as a result of works ….
Ephesians 2:8–9

It’s a free gift! Will you take it?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SMOKE!

Last week, one of Iceland’s volcanoes, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull (what a terrific name!), blew its top, sending smoke and ash 6 miles high. As far as volcanoes go, this one is not a biggie, but it happened over some of the world’s busiest airspaces. The stuff, consisting of minute particles of rock akin to glass, once sucked into an airplane’s engines can congeal, causing disastrous failure. And what’s more, this ash cannot be spotted by weather radar. Which spelled inordinate vexation for all of Europe. A smoky disaster!

A normal Saturday would have had 22,000 flights in Europe, but yesterday there were only 5,000. Canceled flights are costing carriers $200 million a day. A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association said it could easily hit a billion dollars’ loss in revenue this week. Not to mention the economic repercussions related to air cargo shipments—everything from fresh fruits and flowers to microchips and mail is affected. Add to that, the hundreds of thousands of people stranded in some airport missing work. Even routine diplomacy got scuttled, evidenced in the dwindling guest list of dignitaries attending Polish President Kaczynski’s state funeral today. Then there is the potential of all of this ash coming down to terra firma and into the lungs of humans and animals …. A smoky disaster, indeed!

Hopefully the smoke-spewing creature will go back to sleep soon, leaving us all alone. But one can’t be too sure. The last eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull in December 1821 didn’t subside until January 1823. May that not happen again!

Smoke. In the Bible, more often than not, smoke is frequently pictured in relation to some activity of God.

Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke
because the LORD
descended upon it in fire;
and its smoke ascended
like the smoke of a furnace.
Exodus 19:18

Smoke seems to indicate His presence.

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne,
lofty and exalted, with
the train of His robe filling the temple.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds
trembled … while the temple
was filling with smoke.
Isaiah 6:1, 3–4

It is likely that it symbolizes God’s holiness. It also indicates God’s wrath against sin.

And the foundations of the
mountains were trembling and
were shaken, because He was angry.
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured.
Psalm 18:7–8

And so smoke shows up in God’s judgment of evil as well.

And the smoke of their torment
goes up forever and ever;
they have no rest day and night,
those who worship the beast ….
Revelation 14:11

I suspect its connection to God’s holiness is why the smoke of sacrifices pleases a holy God, an oft-repeated theme in Leviticus.

And the priest shall offer up in smoke
all of it [the sacrificial animal]
on the altar for a burnt offering,
… a soothing aroma to the LORD.
Leviticus 1:9

Smoke, a soothing aroma.

But, no more. A greater sacrifice, the Perfect Sacrifice has been made, this one never to be repeated.

For if the blood of goats and bulls
and the ashes of a heifer … sanctify …,
how much more will the blood of Christ,
who … offered Himself
without blemish to God?
Hebrews 9:13–14

The price for sin has been paid fully, finally, and forever. And for those placing their trust in Jesus Christ as their only God and Savior, sin is no longer an issue between them and God.

Praise God—no more smoke!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

LEADERS!

Yesterday, a national tragedy struck Poland. A plane crash took the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski (and his wife, Maria) and a number of Poland’s elite: 96 of them were killed when an aging Russian Tupolev aircraft plunged into a forest in Smolensk, in Western Russia. Perhaps the worst disaster for Poland since World War II.

The Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, wept when he heard the news. Thousands of Poles were laying flowers and candles, and praying around the presidential palace in central Warsaw. Flags were lowered to half-mast. The nation proclaimed a week of national grief. Twenty monks rang the Zygmunt bell at Krakow’s Wawel cathedral, the traditional burial site of Polish kings of the past—a tolling reserved for times of profound grief and loss.

Among the dead yesterday were, besides the President, Poland’s army Chief of Staff, the commander of the navy, and heads of the air and land forces, the Central Banker, deputy Foreign Minister, deputy Parliament Speaker, several members of parliament, Olympic Committee head, Civil Rights Commisioner, bishops, …. A ravaging of the upper echelons of Poland’s leadership.

Loss of leaders.

I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like for the early church to lose its leaders, not to old age and decrepitude, but to murder.

James the Greater (one of the sons of Zebedee), beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD. James the Just (the brother of Jesus) and leader of the church in Jerusalem, stoned to death in 62 AD. The apostle Peter crucified (upside down, tradition says) in Rome in the late 60s AD. Paul beheaded, around the same time, and in the same place. And whenever and wherever the church has been persecuted, such tragedies have continued to (and continue to) occur. A ravaging of leadership.

But the church is never left rudderless.

… the gates of Hades
will not overpower [the church].
Matthew 16:18

Another generation of leaders there always will be. Indeed, a key goal of growth into maturity is so that there will always be leaders. Or perhaps, it should be stated the other way round: leaders are those who have grown into maturity. And thus one might well say that the criteria for leaders are the benchmarks of maturity.

Certainly, the mark of growth is Christlikeness.

… the building up of the body of Christ;
until we all attain to … a mature man,
to the measure of the stature
which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:13

And, of course, this Christlikeness will be manifest in the “fruit” the Holy Spirit produces.

… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ….
Galatians 5:22–23

But I submit that the leadership qualifications in the New Testament are also yardsticks of maturity, norms to which all—yes, all believers—are expected to attain.

Loyal to spouse, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to intoxicants, gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money, a good manager of the household, not a new convert, one with a good reputation outside the church, not self-willed or quick-tempered, loving what is good, just, devout, holding fast the faithful word, and above reproach.
1 Timothy 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9

Let’s all press on … to leadership. Let’s excel!

… we request and exhort you
in the Lord Jesus,
that as you received from us
instruction as to how you ought
to walk and please God …
that you excel still more.
1 Thessalonians 4:1

The church ravaged of leaders? Never!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

BLUES?


That picture was in front of the House of Blues in New Orleans, one of 12 similar live concert halls and restaurants all across the United States. This one delivers not only blues but also southern cuisine—“where music and food feed the soul.”

“In Blues we trust!”

The blues, of course, is a musical genre with unclear origins, linked to folk music, spirituals, shouts, and chants, that came about primarily from within African-American communities in the South toward the latter part of the 19th century.

The term likely refers to “blue devils,” that cause melancholy and sadness and the musical form often has lyrics that connote depression and loss. As one musicologist wrote, the loose narrative of the blues enabled the singer to voice personal woes in a world of harsh reality—“a lost love, the cruelty of police officers, oppression at the hands of white folk, hard times.” “Blue” has made its way into dictionaries to indicate gloom and dejection.

So why trust in blues?

Doesn’t sound to me like something to trust in! Who cares to be sad, melancholic, dark, and saturnine? Prozac, no wonder, is the best-selling drug in the history of pharmaceutical industry. In 2006, over 200 million antidepressant prescriptions were handed over to Americans. Zoloft’s American sales ($3 billion in 2005) exceeds that of Tide detergent. And in the UK, the total cost of depression and its treatment amounted, a few years ago, to more than £5 billion.

Trust in blues?

With all the bad news around the world and in our own lives, a blue mood seems to be justified. In fact, ever since the Fall of man, there has only been one bit of Good News. Only one.

He has risen!
Mark 16:6

He conquered death …

… Christ, having been
raised from the dead,
is never to die again;
death no longer is master over Him.
Romans 6:9

He conquered sin …
O Death, where is your victory? ...
The sting of death is sin, …
but thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:55–57

He conquered Satan …

… the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who is at the right hand of God,
having gone into heaven,
after angels and authorities
and powers had been subjected to Him.
1 Peter 3:21–22


That’s the Good News—the only Good News.

Now I make known to you, brethren,
the Good News ….
that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
and that He was buried,
and that He was raised
on the third day…
1 Corinthians 15:1, 3–4


Why be blue?

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus;
He came to love, heal, and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict’ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

William and Gloria Gaither, 1971


No more blues!

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who according to His great mercy
has caused us to be born again
to a living hope
through the resurrection
of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3

Happy Easter! No more blues. We don’t trust in them!