Saturday, September 8, 2012


I recognize that many of my friends – Christian friends – on both the political left and the political right have concerns about the upcoming election.  I do.  But is this election the great crisis for America as many appear to believe?  I think not!  I’ve lived through many “crisis times” for America, many greater than this.  I confess though that it is easy for me to be blasé.  I haven’t suffered much.

As I pondered these matters, Isaiah’s “comfort” sermon kept coming to mind.  Here was a message to a people who had a genuine crisis looming.  So I went to my file and lo!, there I discovered sermon notes and a sketchy manuscript from over 20 years ago.  After reading it over I decided to simply publish it as I had written it.  I realize that as much as 1/3 of my preaching is “improv,” so it won’t be as lengthy as when I preacher it.

First a little background.  The date was February 24, 1991.  Our nation was at war, our first real war in 15 years.  500,000 American troops were involved in Operation Desert Storm, an invasion of Iraq to drive them out of the nation of Kuwait, which they had invaded the previous year.

I was pastoring a church in Georgetown, TX and also serving as a volunteer chaplain at the local hospital.  It was in the latter role that I was called upon to work alongside a psychiatrist in leading a group session of families – spouses and parents – of troops deployed to the war.  There were many such families in our city, as it was located close to Fort Hood, from which a large contingent of troops had been deployed.

As the sessions were held in the basement of a Methodist church, I became acquainted with the associate pastor.  One evening while we were conversing before the session, he suggested that we needed to have an encouragement service for the community.  Others besides these families were concerned and anxious.

After we had discussed the format, I consented to be the speaker.  We both agreed that this was not to be a patriotic, flag-waving pro war service; nor was it to be an anti-war service.  Rather it was to be a service where we could give comfort to the many families who were anxious, some suffering from what was known at the time as “chronic stress syndrome.”

The sermon:

Sometimes we feel helpless as we look at the world scene.  The conflicts of nations overwhelm us.  We don’t understand.  Our loved ones are taken from us, it seems, to fight a war that shouldn’t have had to be fought.  The misguided evil ambition of one man has caused the conquest of a nation and the exile of a people.  It has brought suffering on a great number of people, including those of his own nation.  And our loved ones and friends are taken from us.  And we are anxious.

Does God care?  Perhaps when we look at the immense size of the conflict – the millions of people involved – ½ million American troops among them – we may feel that our situation is of little concern to God.  Perhaps the “big guys” are important to Him, but am I?  Is my spouse, my child, myself of any concern, any importance?

Perhaps the words of Isaiah will speak to our questions:

“Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.
Get up on a high mountain
oh Zion, bearer of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
oh Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
lift it up and do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
‘Behold your God!’” (Isaiah 40:1,9)

Isaiah, of course, was speaking to another situation.  The ancient nation of Israel was contemplating its conquest by the ancient nation of Babylonia.  (I didn’t choose this passage because of geography.)  Apparently, there were those then and there who felt as you perhaps may feel.  The message for them may be of some help to you.  In a sense, it is simply some facts about God.  Facts that you may already know, but which I believe need to be emphasized or reemphasized.

First, God is sovereign over the movements of the nations.

”Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket,
Regarded as a speck of dust upon the scales;
He lifts up the islands like fine dust.
Lebanon is not enough for fuel,
nor its beasts enough for an offering.
All the nations in His sight,
He regards them as less than nothing.
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers!
He stretches out the heavens like gauze,
and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He reduces rulers to nothing;
makes the judges of the earth meaningless.”  (Isaiah 40:15-17, 21-23)

God is all-powerful.  The nations are weak.  They are of relatively little importance; He is in control.  It may not look like it from our perspective.  It apparently didn’t look like it from the perspective of Isaiah’s first readers.  That’s why He has to say it and emphasize it, over and over.

And God is just.  He is ultimately going to make things right.

“Behold the Lord GOD is coming with might,
His right arm ruling for Him.
His reward is with Him,
and His recompense before Him.”  (Isaiah 40:10)

And God is concerned about individuals!

“Why do you say, oh Jacob,
and why do you declare, oh Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my cause is hidden from my God?’
Don’t you know?
Haven’t you heard?
The LORD God is from eternity,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He never grows tired or weary.
His wisdom is unlimited.
He gives strength to the weary
and power to the powerless.
Youths may grow weary and faint
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who wait for the LORD
will gain new strength;
they will run and not get tired;
they will walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:27-31)

He is concerned about us; about you and me.  This is in contrast to what we just read regarding the nations.  He is gentle to those who know and trust Him.  Look at verse 11:  He carries us like lambs.  Because He is all-powerful, He can give strength to those who lean on Him.

One of the features of stress syndrome is fatigue.  That feeling of being extremely tired, for no apparent reason.  Apparently it is not new.  Isaiah spoke of this problem.

But something else we should note about God is not found here in this chapter, because to some extent it was not yet true.  And that is that God understands your sufferings, your anxieties, our longings for your loved ones who are away.  Because He gave a Son.  God sent His Son to enter a world hostile to Him.  And that Son willingly came.

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

Jesus Christ – God the Son – went on a mission to conquer death through His death on the cross, and to bring liberation and eternal life to those who put their faith in Him.

Trust Him:
As the One who cares for you.
As the One who cares for your loved one.
As the One who entered into your pain to bring you salvation.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Some thoughts on a few thoughts gathered from various sources:

“In the beginning God…” – Moses (Genesis 1:1), ca 1450 BC
“…the infinite abyss (within man) can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

Man is obviously made to think.  It is his whole merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought.  Now the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its Author and end.” – Blaise Pascal, Pensees, ca 1660 AD

I have always been, I suppose, somewhat of a philosopher.  I suspect that all of us are to some extent, even though most of us have had little, if any, formal schooling or even reading on the subject.  As Pascal tells us, we were made this way – “made to think.”

I recall as a child sitting off to one side in our living room in the evenings, listening to the conversation of the adults.  My father and my uncles and their friends would sit for hours discussing the great issues of life.  The conversations would, actually get quite deep and cover a wide range of heavy topics – especially after they’d had a few beers.  And the deeper they got, the more likely God would intrude into the conversation.  I’m not speaking of what we would call “religious” discussions.  They were, as I’ve implied, quite philosophical.  Nor am I simply talking about the occasional use of His name in oaths.

I started reading quite young and before I entered high school I had devoured, besides westerns and science fiction, a number of the classics as well as works of historical fiction which were popular in that day.  And again in my reading, there would be God, intruding uninvited as it were.

He’s always there!

Scholars and scientists have studied and attempted to ascertain what makes man (or humankind) different from the other creatures, especially the higher animals, such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans which we are informed, are our “cousins” and with which we share 98% of our DNA.  Without getting too deep into anthropology or theology, I’d like to oversimplify by saying that God has put into us – humans – the consciousness of Himself.  He has not done so with His other creatures.

It makes little difference whether we are educated or uneducated, whether we refer to ourselves as Christians, pagans, Atheists or whatever; God is always intruding Himself into our thoughts.  He is inescapable.

“… (a man) sets for himself trees of the forest; he plants a fir and the rain makes it grow.  And it is something for a man to burn.  He takes from them and warms himself; he builds a fire and bakes bread; he also makes a god and worships it; he makes a carved image and falls down before it.

Part of it he burns in a fire; on this part he roasts meat, eats and is full; he also warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I’m warm, I can see the fire.’  And the rest he makes into a god – his own carving.  He falls down before it and worships it; and he prays to it and says, ‘Save me, for you are my god.’” -- Isaiah (44:14b-17), ca 650 BC
“…men who suppress the truth in their unrighteousness, because what can be known of God is revealed among them, for God has revealed it to them.  For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being comprehended through the things He made, leaving them inexcusable; because though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or thank Him, but became futile in their reasoning and their senseless heart was darkened; claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image of corruptible man, and birds and four-footed animals – even snakes.” – Paul (Romans 1:18-23), ca 56 AD

According to Paul, the one who worships idols – false gods – does so not because of lack of knowledge of the true God, but because of deliberate choice.  Though elsewhere he speaks of the ignorance of these worshippers, it is apparently a chosen ignorance.  God has revealed enough of His attributes in nature to be able to demand worship of Himself and to hold inexcusable those who do not do so.

Paul doesn’t discuss the “why” of man’s rejection of the God revealed in nature, other than what appears to be pride – a supposed wisdom which is anything but that when it comes to one’s perceptions of God.  Paul calls it elsewhere “the wisdom of the world.”  (See:  JESUS FOR DUMMIES.)

Could idolatry also be motivated by fear – fear of facing the truth about who God is?  Certainly what I have seen of various religions has seemed to demonstrate that fear.  The rituals of paganism can bring comfort and relief from fear.  By fulfilling religious obligations one can feel protected from having to think about the God who has revealed Himself and of any obligations one might have toward Him.

I might also add that present day idolatry does not necessarily involve the worship of objects, animate or inanimate.  It may also involve the worship of ideas – the creation of a god in one’s own mind.  How often when speaking of God have I heard a remark something like, “That’s how you think about God, but here’s how I like to think about Him”?

What about Atheism?
“I am talking about something much deeper – namely, the fear of religion itself.  I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself:  I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy be the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.  It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief.  It’s that I hope there is not God!  I don’t what there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

I am curious, however, whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God – anyone who, whatever his actual belief about the matter, doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct (though of course he might want to know which answer was correct).” – Thomas Nagel, The Last Word, 1997

Could the Atheists’ rejection of God also be influenced by fear?  The words of Thomas Nagel would seem to strongly imply that possibility.  Mr. Nagel is quite honest and his confession shows his vulnerability.  I suspect that one day he may open his mind to the existence of God.  As Jesus once said of a perceptive scribe, he is “not far from the Kingdom of God.”  But those “angry Atheists” – Dawkins and company.  Could their angry arguments be the rantings of a disguised fear – disguised even to themselves?

And then there are those of us who claim to know God.  I fear that we too sometimes seem to be doing our best to avoid Him.  We try to protect ourselves from thinking too deeply about Him by getting wrapped up in religious or legalistic – even “theological” thoughts and activities.  We try to wall Him off into a corner of our lives and minds, but it seems that He always seems to punch His way through our barriers and intrude Himself back into our thinking.

So if God is going to intrude into our thoughts, with or without our permission, perhaps we would do well to pay attention to Him, to cease fleeing, to start listening and to allow His thoughts to influence ours.
“You awake us to delight in Your praises; for You made us for Yourself and our heart is restless until it reposes in You.” – Augustine of Hippo Confessions, ca 400 AD