Authority Has a Bad Reputation

Authority has a bad reputation.

Without question there are many in authority who abuse their positions with others. Media reveals examples in the entertainment industry (#MeToo movement), politics, law enforcement, the classroom, neighborhoods and homes, and even in the church.  Abuse of authority – of any kind – is indefensible.  It’s wrong.

I’m wondering today how we got here and how much of this struggle stems from society’s general rejection of authority.  Wouldn’t we do better if we made the effort to reset our understanding, teach appropriate perspectives, and hold up the many good examples of authority that are out there?  We shortchange ourselves when we “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

I think that our authority problem is rooted in what our culture perceives as truth.  When every person decides what is right and wrong for themselves it is no wonder that we have difficulty agreeing on what to teach our children, how to hold people accountable, and why bad people try to get away with unacceptable behavior.  We are caught up in a decline that is circling the drain.

People of faith know that this isn’t a new issue. The Bible teaches us that embracing a relative truth has been the underlying cause of problems, conflict, and abuse ever since Adam and Eve decided to go their own way in the Garden of Eden – rejecting God’s authority, design, and plan. Carry that decision forward over the course of history and it’s no surprise that we’re a mess today. When we ignore the ultimate authority that God designed for us, people “cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18) and go all kinds of crazy. Even a quick, honest reflection will show that the authority we’ve chosen for  our lives isn’t working so well for us.

The old saying is true, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”  That’s why a right understanding of authority needs to be taught in the earliest of our relationships – at home. God says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’”  To ensure that this relationship isn’t abused, God also says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  (Ephesians 6:1-4)

Our need for a right understanding of authority carries over into the realm of civil government: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:1-4)

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”

As I write this, I have just had a conversation with a neighbor who was out for a walk.  True to form, he launched into his favorite topic – his profound dislike for our president.  I tried hard to make my point: Whether we “like” those who lead us or not, there is a reason and benefit for all of us to respect the position of authority and to pray for those who lead us.  Without it we quickly fall apart and anarchy reigns.

What do we do when civil authority is abusive, like we’ve often seen throughout history? When that happens the answer is short and simple: “We must obey God rather than man.” (Acts 4:20)  The Civil Rights Movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an example of this and an appropriate challenge of abusive authority.

There is an important “final part.” Our broken world needs to be restored and reconciled.  Without it our hatred and unforgiveness will be the example we set before the next generation and the problem will simply perpetuate; continuing our slide into degenerative behaviors.  This is where Jesus comes in.  He is the one who offers something new and healing.  Because of what He did on the cross – being abused in our place and paying the price for all of our abuses – we have hope for something far greater than the mess we’ve got now. Where we have “cast off restraint,” rejected God’s ultimate truth, and replaced it with our own, we can experience forgiveness and a reset to authority – God’s Lordship in our lives. Where we have broken relationships with others, we can find reconciliation.  Where we live in mistrust of our leaders, we can trade fear for the peace of a God-guided future.

Where do you place your confidence for life, relationships, and authority?  Maybe it’s time for a change!

Respond:  Join me in the conversation – what is your perspective on authority?

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Soup Mountain

“Will you lead our retreat?”

The question was asked by a member of our congregation who was working in Shanghai, China.  Since I was already going to be in China at the time it was easy to do – sort of.  I just needed to fly diagonally across the country, from Kunming to Nanjing – the retreat site.  Since I had never been to Nanjing before my answer was quick, “Of course, I’ll come.” What an incredible city!  Nanjing has existed along the Yangtze River for over 6,000 years and served as one of China’s ancient capitals for 500 of those years.

The retreat was for their little house church – a mixture of mature believers, new believers, and seekers.  It would take place at the Tangshan Hot Spring Resort outside of Nanjing. Tanghsan is the ancient word for hot spring, but it literally means, appropriately, “soup mountain.”  The resort advertises that the 122-140 degree water contains calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium and is supposed to heal skin diseases, arthritis, neuralgia and many other ailments.  That’s some kind of soup!

Here’s the really cool part: the resort is smack dab in the middle of the Nanjing PRC Army Base – it was full of soldiers on R&R.

I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb – a 6’3”, 240 lb white guy sitting in the hot spring pools with hundreds of others.  I tried hard not to draw any attention to myself.  That lasted for only a short time until we settled into the “little fish hot spring” pool where thousands of tiny fish swarm you to “remove” the dead skin cells from your feet, legs, arms – and wherever else they can wiggle.  I didn’t last 30 seconds and came flying out of the water with a yell, much to the enjoyment of my fellow bathers.  For the remainder of the time we were there, I was pointed out to those who had missed my embarrassing moment, often with accompanying laughter, a mimicked yell, and hand motions as soldiers described my rocket-like self-extraction from the little fish hot spring pool.  Any thought of blending in while leading a Christian retreat (we did keep our purpose for being there secret) in a hot springs resort, located in the middle of a military base, deep inside China, was gone!

On the last day of the retreat I was blessed to have a significant conversation with one of our retreat participants – a seeker who became a believer as the Spirit created faith in him through the Gospel.  As the conversation concluded, he asked to be baptized.  Right now.  By me.  It made me think of Philip and the Ethiopian official in Acts 8:37 when he said to Philip, “See here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”

Well, there was certainly no shortage of water in the hot springs – just privacy.

The solution turned out to be an easy one.  The “villa,” in which we were conducting our retreat, had a small high-fenced private backyard with a waste deep, 12’ diameter pool.  The big water faucet was turned on, hot spring water poured in, and an hour later we were ready to go.

“What prevents me from being baptized?”  “Nothing!”

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  Cheers, hugs, tears, and photos followed (which I can’t show you in this blog).   What a joy.  In that moment, our Heavenly Father adopted a new brother into the family of God, forgiven, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and the promise of a glorious inheritance.

I’ll always remember my first baptism in China – in a backyard of a private villa, in a hot spring spa, in the middle of a PRC military base, 27 kilometers outside of the 6,000 year old city of Nanjing, and 6,550 miles from home.

Water and the Word are a powerful pair!

Respond:   Got a baptism story to share?  Post it in the reply section!

 

“That’s Too Coincidental to be a Coincidence.”

I discovered something exciting and new in Scripture during Easter this year (God’s Word is like that, you know, fresh and revealing every day).

In the account of the Creation recorded in Genesis, the Bible says that God took Adam and “put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

In the account of the Re-Creation recorded in John’s Gospel, the Bible says that Mary Magdalene saw Jesus standing in the garden near the empty tomb, “but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’” (John 20:14-15)

In both accounts God uses the image of a “gardener!”

“Coincidence?  I think not!”  (The Incredibles, Pixar Film, 2004)

The first “gardener” blew it!  The Second redeemed it!

The first Adam was formed by God to care for and steward creation – he failed. The  Second Adam was the eternal Son sent from the Father to save and restore creation because of God’s love for his broken world – He succeeded, beyond all imagination!

“That’s too coincidental to be a coincidence.”  (Yogi Berra, Professional Baseball Player and Philosopher (1925-2015)

The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul made sure we didn’t miss it.

Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being” (Genesis 2:7); the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49

And later from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of  righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Romans 5:18-21

One gave up eternal life in pursuit of his selfish desires and sin – and death gripped creation.  The Other gave up His life in selfless pursuit of our restoration – and the freedom of forgiveness and eternal life was offered.

Thank God for the Second Gardener!

John finishes his story this way:

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. John 20:16-18

 He still calls His creation by name. He’s still in the business of making New Creations – like you. So, like Mary, turn to Him – experience the grip of the Gardener’s amazing grace.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  2 Corinthians 5:17

Enjoy His amazing “coincidences” today!

Respond:

  • Share some “coincidences” and fresh discoveries you are seeing in the Bible.
  • Got a gardener in your life? Pass this along – I bet it’ll bless them.

 

Look for the Light – Lost on the Ganges (Part 3)

The Gospel of Matthew tells of a time when Jesus engaged His disciples at a monument to hell, death, and darkness. The city of Caesarea Philippi was only twenty-five miles from the Jewish cities of Galilee and yet it was a million miles away from the worship of the true God. Sitting at the base of Mount Hermon, Caesarea Philippi was the center of worship for the Greek god, Pan. The local people built shrines and temples to Pan in the rock cliff face that stood over the entrance to a cave that they believed to be the entrance to the underworld – a Gate of Hell. The people believed that each winter the gods descended into the underworld through the cave entrance and returned to the surface of the earth in the spring. As the god of shepherds, flocks, and mountains, Pan was worshiped as a god of fertility, requiring dark deeds of bestiality and temple prostitution. The residents of Caesarea Philippi believed that their sexual perversions would ensure Pan’s return. The darkness was easy to see.

It was, most likely, in the face of this Gate of Hell that Jesus spoke.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:13-19)

“On this rock” – the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God – Jesus builds his church and the gates of Hell, all of them, will not prevail.  That includes Manikarnika Ghat and the fog of Hinduism. Gates cannot stand before the Kingdom of God. The mission of God – the work of the Church and agencies like Mission India – proclaims the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ to everyone living behind gates of Hell.  Whether the Church is in India or the USA, it is our joy to boldly tell the story of Jesus, no matter how dark the place.

Look for the light – it is here.  It is Jesus!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Look for the Light – Lost on the Ganges (Part 2)

Our wakeup call was for 4:30 AM. The itinerary called it, “Sunrise on the Ganges.”  Yea, that didn’t happen . . . We never saw the sun or much of anything for that matter because the fog was thick and low to the ground. If God’s purpose for this excursion was to experience again the contrast of light and dark – we did. As we walked toward the river we moved deeper into a fog that seemed determined to block out the light.

The Ganges River is a place of darkness; worshipped by Hindus as the most sacred body of water in the world. They believe that it is the embodiment of the goddess, Ganga, the daughter of Himalaya, the mountain god. By bathing in it and drinking the water Hindus believe it will cleanse, purify, and heal them. They also believe that if they dissolve the ashes of cremated loved ones in the sacred water it will atone for past sins and carry them directly to paradise. That’s why important Hindu cremation shrines are located on the Ganges in Varanasi. It is believed that 40,000 human bodies are cremated every year and then placed into the river. Amazingly, the river, polluted with human waste and industrial contaminants, provides drinking water for an estimated 40% of India’s population.

Our riverboat was a simple, ancient, wooden boat, open hulled except for a small covered section at the bow and stern. There was no captain’s wheel – just a hand-controlled tiller. The little engine coughed and sputtered when started with a hand crank. The speed was controlled with a light weight throttle cable like the one on my lawnmower. Rough wooden benches ran along the gunwales. A skipper and first mate (I use those terms very loosely) did the rest of the work, pushing us off from the shore, past the bathers in the filthy river, and into the fog.

20180117_080006From the very beginning we couldn’t see anything past 8-10 feet. We slowly motored up the river and then turned around to retrace our route. That’s when the fog got thicker. All sense of direction and equilibrium was lost. We were going in circles. We laughed uncertainly. It’s a bit disconcerting to see the skipper leaning over his cell phone looking at Google Maps, trying to find his way home. We gained direction when one of our group members downloaded a compass app on his phone and when some random guy rowed up alongside of us in a much smaller boat, seeking to sell us refreshments, and pointed the way.

As the boat moved turned toward the shore we eased out of the deep fog and into the spiritual darkness of Manikarnika Ghat – the famous Varanasi crematorium. We found it: 25.3108° N, 83.0141° E.  Fires smoldering, bodies burning, a temple of the lost, a monument to hell, death, and darkness.   The darkness was easy to find.

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Look for the Light – Lost on the Ganges

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Twenty minutes ago we thought it was funny. But now there was nervous laughter.  This was the fifth time our dilapidated, open-hulled-scull had motored past the same anchored boat.

We were lost on the Ganges.

The Ganges River wanders 1,560 miles from the Himalayans to Kolkata and the Bay of Bengal, finishing as the third largest river delta in the world. But the tiny section that we were on, flowing through the ancient city of Varanasi, was only about 900 feet across. Getting lost on this part of the river was quite an accomplishment!

Our little group was in India to experience firsthand the incredible things being done through Mission India and their local partners. MI does one thing three ways: they bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of India by training church planters who plant churches, offering adult literacy classes where people learn about Jesus, and providing year-long and short-term Bible Clubs for children. While supported by the church of the Global North, the work is all done by the church of the Global South, indigenous leaders in India. It is amazing! The things that are being accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit are happening on a scale that is hard to believe. It needs to be seen in person and you need to meet the incredible people that God is using to make it happen.

Todd VanEk, President of Mission India, tried to prepare us for what we’d experience.  His words stuck with me then and they stay with me now: “Look for the light – the darkness is easy to find.”  He wasn’t kidding.

Before arriving in Varanasi we spent time in Kolkata. The contrast between the spiritual darkness and the light of the Gospel was hard to miss. We arrived at the Kali Temple on a high festival day. I have never seen anything like it: buyers and sellers in temple stalls 20180115_111815_01offering items for purchase, Kali’s favorite flowers, live animal sacrifices,  people frantic in their attempts to push their way through the crowds to stand for a moment before the idol and offer their worship. Panic and fear etched their faces – there was no hope. It reminded us of the Indian Jones movie, Temple of Doom where the boys, working as slave labor in the mines, are held captive under Kali’s power – there was only death in their eyes too. Kali is the Hindu goddess of creation and preservation (one of 30 million Hindu gods and goddesses). But it is her role as destroyer that makes people flock to her altar to fearfully offer sacrifices to appease her.

Next door to the Kali Temple was Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying. The contrast was striking. We saw people in their last days of life, regardless of their religious background, being cared for with compassion and the love of God. There were smiles and gentle touches. It was a house of peace.

Both of these places, the Kali Temple and Mother Theresa’s Home, affected people who were dying. The difference was, one group knew they were dying – the other was clueless.

“Look for the light – the darkness is easy to find.”

6. I Will Pray for You (Part 2)

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) Mao Zedong sought to remove the remaining elements of capitalism, tradition, and religion from society and to impose his Maoist system as the dominate expression of Communism in China.  His actions resulted in the elimination of his challengers and the establishment of the Red Guard youth, indoctrinated by Mao’s Little Red Book, to do his bidding. The movement spread into the military, urban workers, and party officials.  Millions were persecuted as they suffered abuses raging from public humiliation, imprisonment, torture, labor camps, seizure of property, and execution.  Large parts of the population were displaced as young people were forced out of the cities and into the countryside.

Throughout the decade, the little village in the Yunnan mountains saw their church destroyed and their pastor imprisoned, even while they continued to gather for worship.  They did so in homes, outside in the fields at night, and then finally in a cave carved into the mountain.  The soldiers came, just like before. This time, instead of executing a handful of teachers, they entered the cave and murdered the believers gathered from across the mountains; following Jesus through the valley of sacrifice and martyrdom and into the Church Triumphant .

When their pastor was finally released from prison (the Village Leader’s brother) he was escorted back to the village by government officials who declared that he could no longer preach and teach in the name of Jesus.  And yet, as the officials stood and looked on in amazement, the pastor, standing next to the rubble of the destroyed church, called the believers to gather for Bible study and worship. The government officials simply walked away.  This incredible story is a description that vividly follows the experience of the early Church Militant in Acts 4.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.  So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together.  “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.

Then, the story-telling was over.  After a time of silence our friend turned his moist eyes and pained expression in our direction and asked, “What is it like for the Church in America?”  We, haltingly, began to explain the nature of the American church and the ease of our lives, faith, and practice. When we concluded that the biggest struggle the Church has in America is that of apathy, he gently and humbly said,

“Then I will pray for you to experience persecution.  It will help you grow and become courageous.”

Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 are very clear.  The closer we get to the end of time – in this time between the times – the worse it will be for the Church Militant and the more we will experience persecution and struggle. “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:9-14)

When it happens to us, I wonder how the American church will do.  How will we follow in the train of the Miao –the Church Militant?  It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.  May God grow us and grant us courage, just as our friend prayed.

Some Thoughts

The closer we get to the end of the flight from Hong Kong to Kunming, the more excited and emotional I become.  Every time since 2003 it has been the same.  As the plane descends, its air filtration system begins to drink in the air of Yunnan and disperse it throughout the cabin. Whatever the filters do, they cannot remove the aroma that brings with it the rush of feelings, memories, and anticipation – instantly reconnecting that part of my heart that is always here, always in the Miao mountains.  Before my feet touch the soil of Yunnan, I know I am once again privileged to step into the footprints of Morrison, Taylor, Pollard, Stephen, and the village believers and leaders.

Back on the path again, following in their train.