Posted by: rmlotz | December 19, 2016

Christmas is Not Jesus’ Birthday!

1-1260127732fbcm     Many Christians are shocked and outraged when someone tells them Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday bur instead a pagan holiday. After all, we love Christmas and snow and babies and all things oriental and Nordic. And don’t mess with my family traditions! But the truth is, we do not know what time of year Jesus was born, whether it was early Spring, as many bible scholars suggest, or another time of the year. Frankly (as in freely, not the incense associated with the wise men, focus, focus!) it does not matter when Jesus was born only that He was born.

Why December

In the middle of the fourth century the bishop of Jerusalem wrote a letter to the bishop of Rome. In it he said, “I would like for you to ascertain the date of the birth of Christ so that we could establish a date and have a celebration annually.” The bishop of Rome sent word back to the bishop of Jerusalem that Christ was born on December 25.  And by the end of the fourth century this had become the accepted custom and since then every December 25 focuses on the birth of Christ.

Now Bible scholars know that there is absolutely no evidence at all that Christ was born on December 25. In fact, there is not only no evidence that He was, but there is some evidence that He was not. Well why then did the bishop of Rome do this? Well, the conclusion is that he did it rather arbitrarily. The bishop was tired of spending his December holiday with family members who, after coming back from long boring services at the temple, drank large quantities of wine and talked about politics or which gladiator team would make it to the superdome in Rome.

Pagan Party

December was the major month of pagan celebrations. Think European countries, cold, lots of snow, short nights, dark and dreary.   December was the month of winter solstice with festivals and feasts, Yule logs and lots of beer. What do you do when you have lots of beer and time on your hands- you invent parties. Now, no self-respecting pagan can just take off from plundering Rome, so you have to have a reason to party. If you bring your god to the party, then your boss, or in this case, your tribal leader, cannot get upset with you, when you drink large quantities of alcohol and play beer pong (in this case “beer axe”, usually involving throwing pointy objects at slaves and peasants, whichever one is handy from your last raid). Winter solstice was celebrated throughout Europe for more than a millennia in anticipation of Spring when the ground would thaw and crops planted and the strength of the sun returned and the clouds rolled back so you could go raiding again. And so December became a time of high, boisterous, pagan revelry. Such activities, for example, are found in pagan histories in December with rituals including feasting, adorning the homes with evergreens, hanging trinkets on trees, lighting candles, involving mistletoe, exchanging gifts, and general merry making which included, again large quantities of beer and wine, leading to drunkenness and having to explain to your wife why you are missing your pants and your horse is stuck somewhere in a peat bog.

The Church and Christmas

Now that is why the bishop chose December. And he focused on the 25th because that seemed to be the high point of these festivities. And his thought was to transform the wild winter revelries of the pagans with the life- changing message of the Gospel. The bishop did, what Christianity has attempted to do throughout its history with each culture it has encountered- to transform the culture with the gospel message. The thought was to impose the celebration of the birth of Christ on the pagan celebrations and sanctify them all. It was a nice thought.  But it was doomed to fail. Because what happened was the pagan partying went on and the church was unable to make them conform to the sanctification of the true Christian celebration. Each culture just accommodated Christian themes into their December celebrations. And so what you have now is a strange weird marriage of the pagan and the Christian that we call Christmas.

For Example

Let me give you some example. To the Romans the month of December was important because it marked what is known as the Festival of the Saturnalia. Saturn was the god of agriculture and they were then holding this great feast and partying with lots of wine and all kinds of things that will get you on the naughty list. Everything was done in honor of Saturn so that he might begin to bring the spring, so that crops might be grown. One of the common customs among the Romans at Saturnalia was giving gifts to one another and as far as we can tell that is where the idea of present came from. They also were big on evergreens, which they would hang all over their houses, and that apparently is where the wreath, at least initially, came from.

Enter the Celts

North of the Romans was the barbaric northlands.   The Northland people had a great celebration during December known as Yule. And in the Yule season and the Yule celebration they honored the gods Odin and Thor. If you’re from Minnesota you understand that. Those are the people who originated in those lands. And it involved festivals, music, drinking and a hot dish. To the east and Persia at the time of December, they worshipped Mithra, the god of light. In England, to the west, the Druids, who were involved in strange priestly worship of trees and nature powers, were gathering sacred mistletoe for their sacrifices, which they made in the month of December. Sacrifices were geared toward friendship and peace. They would march out in the area of the oak groves, where the mistletoe grew, led by their priests in their long white robes chanting. The priests would ascend into the trees with golden sickles and they would cut down the mistletoe. And when all of the mistletoe had been gathered and passed around the people then there would be the sacrifice of two white oxen and the mistletoe were then to be taken back into the homes and they were to be hung in the homes and anytime anybody came under the mistletoe he was to immediately embrace anyone else under there, it was an effort to reconcile people whether they liked it or not, just like today. The Nativity or creche was popularized by St. Francis of Assissi in the thirteenth century in order to bring the message of the Christ child to an illiterate population through the medium of symbols. Three hundred years later Luther picked up the idea of a Christmas tree and brought a tree into his house and put candles on it to symbolize the sparkling stars and the sky over the forest. The trees and trinkets hanging on them had been part of the festivals of the pagans for centuries.

 Leave it to the Dutch

Holland got into the act by giving us their favorite saint, St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a white bearded bishop of Asia Minor who was such a popular fellow that when he died it was believed that he came back every December 8. And St. Nicholas would come back every December 8 and he would ride through the streets on a white horse and all the little Dutch kids would put their wooden shoes out on the porch and as he came along he would put goodies in the shoes of the good kids and where there were bad children he would leave a switch, for obvious reasons. And the Dutch called St. Nicholas Sinterklaas, we translate it in English as Santa Claus.

Caroling started in the fourteenth century along with jesters, musicians and mummers who went around with funny masks singing at the stoops of peoples’ homes:

Here we stand before your door,

As we stood the year before;

Give us whiskey; give us gin,

Open the door and let us in.

Or give us something nice and hot

Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot.*

Even today they still have a mummers parade in Philadelphia. Ever wonder where stockings came from?  St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, whatever, was going through his act one year of putting things in the shoes and I guess he got pretty good at that so he started flipping things into the chimneys. And in one home, anyway, some folks had hung their stockings underneath the fireplace to dry them out over night and the stuff he was flipping in was landing in the stockings and that’s where we got stockings. Oranges were added in the last century through a conspiracy between Florida orange growers, school fundraisers, and the Illuminati (satire people, satire, put down the candy canes and walk away, nobody gets hurt!).

Christmas cards began in 1946. The cards were printed in London by a very enterprising man named Sir Henry Cole who was the owner of an art shop and saw it as a way to make a lot of money. And all the first Christmas cards printed for him were printings of drinking scenes.

Don’t Miss It

Do you get the picture of what Christmas has become.  What a mess, frankly, Christmas is. No wonder so many people miss the best part of Christmas. With all the paraphernalia and the trappings around it, the simplicity of the birth of Christ is literally drowned in a sea of rituals and traditions.

Some say we should not celebrate Christmas and there have been several attempts to outlaw this holiday, without success. People will always to find ways to celebrate December 25th and it is up to us as God’s people to redeem this holiday and not become distracted or caught up in the distractions that can rob us why this is such an important holiday.  The early celebrations of winter solstice were because those who faced the cold of winter hated the darkness and feared what winter stood for- the end of life. Behind the parties and large quantities of beer and wine, was a desperate need for hope. The festivities were a distraction for lives that were often bleak and hopeless. Christmas today is the same. People want hope. Christmas was transformed from a pagan festival to a Christian holiday centered in hope. Michael Card wrote one of my favorite Christmas songs. In it are the following lyrics:

For all those who live in the shadow of death

A glorious light has dawned

For all those who stumble in the darkness

Behold your light has come

Immanuel our God is with us

And if God is with us who could stand against us

Our God is with us

Immanuel

It is based on the Bible verse in Matthew 4:16, “those stumbling in darkness have seen a great light.” As followers of Christ we are called to be salt and light in a world that, more often than not, misses the whole meaning of Christmas. So don’t be offended when someone questions the origin of Christmas. And please don’t be offensive when someone says, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Keep your Christmas traditions close to your heart with a thankfulness that they have been redeemed and transformed because of the Christ child changing our world.  In the midst of large quantities of beer and wine and lights and gifts we don’t need, remember the child who came to save us from eternal darkness and give us hope. Now, where did I park my horse?

 

*Welch, Jr., Charles E. (October–Dec 1966). “”Oh, Dem Golden Slippers”: The Philadelphia Mummers Parade”. Journal of American Folklore. The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 79, No. 314. 79 (314): 523–536.

Posted by: rmlotz | November 17, 2016

Giving Thanks

What Do I Value?

A thankful heart comes from a deep understanding of the value of what one has received, either as a nation or an individual. When Abraham Lincoln initiated the first national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, our nation was tearing itself apart in the throes of a civil war. There was not a home then that had not lost a son, a father, or an uncle to the bloodletting. Many families were feeling not only the loss of a loved one, but also the economic crunch associated with war. In the midst of terrible loss and suffering, the nation paused to give thanks to God for sons, through not necessarily home, yet still safe. They paused to give thanks to God for providing for them when things seemed so uncertain. Until the commercial juggernaut of Christmas marketing eclipsed

Our Greatest Need

Thanksgiving, it was our most beloved holiday in America. It was then and still is a time to reflect and give thanks for the abundance and freedoms we enjoy that are anything but free. Whether it is a mother’s love in preparing a holiday meal or a soldier’s love for country to guarantee the foundational freedoms we enjoy as a sovereign nation, somewhere, someplace, someone gave their time and their love to guarantee your day off of leisure, pleasure, and a time to give thanks. Love is like that, it gives without thought to personal cost or sacrifice. Love means to give. When you understand the value of what others gave to you or even the value of what others mean to you, then it compels you to have a thankful heart resulting in an attitude of gratitude. And no one has given us more than God. God sends us the rain , even when we do not acknowledge Him. He gives us good things, like family and friends. He allows us health and opportunity to earn the prosperity that allows us to experience this American dream. God does this because He is love and love means to give.

A Thankful Heart

The apostle John echoed this truth in his epistle in the New Testament when he penned, “…love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love, does not know God, for God is love. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son (Jesus) to be the propitiation for ours sins.” (1 John 4:7-8, 10). The word propitiation is an interesting word in the Bible; it means to literally completely satisfy God’s requirements for our sin. Sin is a word that has passed from our modern vocabulary so let me give you a modern definition. It is our selfishness, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness that keep us from knowing God. Remove the “N” and replace it with a “M” and you read it as, it is our selfish “mess,” our self-righteous “mess,” and our self-centered “mess.” In other words, we often make a mess of our lives because we want to be in control rather than God. As long as we want to be in control, instead of God, then we cannot and will not know God. For there is only one God, and God is love. Since our sin (i.e. mess) is between God and us, God sent Jesus to remove the barrier between God and us, namely our self-centeredness. When I give up my right to be in control and surrender my will and my life to Christ, then love begins to flow through my life and I begin to understand the value of what it cost Jesus Christ for me to know God. The result is an attitude of gratitude and a thankful heart.

Posted by: rmlotz | October 12, 2016

Attitude of Gratitude

Atmosphere affects everyone.  When it comes to restaurants people often think of one thing, good food.  And yet restaurants sell more than just good food.  They sell atmosphere or rather ambiance.  If I am by myself, I could care less about the ambiance of a restaurant, I look for good food.  But if I’m taking my wife out for our anniversary, I want good food and atmosphere.  One person said the definition of ambiance is expensive.  And there does seem to be a correlation between atmosphere and the price of the meal.  But to me a good atmosphere means that the owner of the restaurant not only cares about the quality of his or her food but also they care about their customer and want them to have the most endearing experience possible.  Where is this heading?  Think back to when you were a boy or girl of ten and the atmosphere of your home.  Atmosphere in a home can be constructive or destructive.  We cannot change the home we grew up in but we affect the church we worship in.  You and I affect the atmosphere of our church.  We can either be destructive or constructive.  Our attitude affects the atmosphere of our church.  A destructive attitude focuses exclusively on me- my wants, my desires, my needs.  A destructive attitude is drawn into conspiracy and gossip, criticism and complaining.  A constructive Christ like attitude not only focuses on my wants and desires and also on working to create an atmosphere that removes barriers for others to know and grow in Christ.  A Christ like atmosphere in a church focuses on constantly working toward making their church the best church.  The atmosphere of a constructive church gives a sense of “can do” and “will do.” The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  A “will do” attitude rolls up the proverbial sleeves and goes to work.  Recently, when I shared about the atmosphere that is conducive to disciplemaking, I spoke of an attitude that says, “I want to be a part of helping others become all they can be in Christ.”  A “will do” attitude looks to give others a sense of belonging and opportunities for purpose and participation.  A “will do” attitude has a greater ambition for others than for myself.  So how about it?  Is your attitude helping to create an atmosphere that encourages others to seek Christ?  Your attitude affects the atmosphere of our church.  Atmosphere affects everyone.  And only you can change it.

 

” Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”        Galatians 6:9

Posted by: rmlotz | September 27, 2016

Seeds of Change

blairsburg_iowaCombines are cranking up here on the prairie.  Beans are flowing and corn is ripening.  The Fall always puts my mind on the harvest.  Churches are always talking about the harvest.  And like farmers, they are always talking about what makes for a greater harvest- higher yields.  The latest discussion is on discipleship.  This seems to be the new “new” in the church. Some say it is the fruit of the labor of men like Richard J. Foster or Dallas Willard. Terms are popping up on the internet and in conferences like “ancient future” or “spiritual disciplines.” Still others believe it is the result of the emerging church rediscovering the essence of the church without the trappings of a formal structure or building. I have been dwelling on these trends of late and pondering, like many others, where all this will lead us in the church.  I still believe simple is better. Simple does not mean simplistic but rather easy to remember and transfer to others. Jesus had a simple way of making disciples who made disciples. For Him, ancient future would have been nonsense- the same nonsense that many of the religious leaders of His time were spouting. Jesus, standing firmly on the foundation of the Old Testament, transformed the Word of God into a simple comprehensive mandate- “follow me.”

Like a painter filling in a simple outline to bring clarity and depth and color, Jesus defined for us what a disciple would be, not merely one who follows, but one who follows Christ, thus forever changing the meaning of the word disciple and eternally linking the term with Him. This was not new it was foundational to the early and ongoing success of the church.

Jesus’ method of making disciples was unique among the first century rabbis. His contemporaries gathered around themselves disciples whose sole purpose was to master the teachings of their rabbi so that they too could gather disciples and add to their prestige. The religious leaders pandered to the public eye and added volumes of “sayings’ or teachings to the TNKH (the old testament) published in what is now called the Mishnah. The rabbi of the first century sought public recognition and notoriety. These rabbis were concerned with their reputation than teaching their disciples about God. Jesus reacted strongly to this hypocrisy, which led to a crucial difference in his teaching on how to relate to others and how to make disciples. He scolded them for their selfish ambition and propensity for showmanship. Then He sharply explained the difference to His own disciples:

“They love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:7-12)

Jesus made the distinction that His disciples were not to raise up new disciples for themselves. The disciples of Jesus were never to take the role of master. Both then and now, Jesus commands His disciples to raise up more disciples for Him. Yes, we’ll have teachers, mentors, and leaders, but they’ll never become our masters. Yes, we submit to authority, but it’s voluntary and an act of love and humility. As disciples today, just as in the first century, we’re called to follow Jesus and to raise up more disciples for Him. The apostle Paul demonstrated his complete understanding of this principle by declaring: “one man plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. . . for no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.” (I Corinthians 3:6,11)

The evangelical church, by most estimates, is in trouble. My own denomination is suffering the effects of plateau and decline. Like those hawkers who are trying to define discipleship as a return to ancient ways, those same heralds are calling for a return to the past, the glory days as if there is some mystery in the past we have lost that was responsible for our success. We need more zeal, more sacrifice, and greater commitment” some say. “We need better methods and a better understanding of contemporary culture,” others decry.  Still others declare greater effort in evangelistic efforts or apologetics, but I believe we need more followers of Christ and less of disciples of a particular church or pastor or even a theological system. It reminds me of a scene from the movie, “Second Hand Lions,” where the main characters, two brothers, having retired from a life of adventure seeking and have taken up farming. In the scene they are admiring their recently planted garden, when they notice that the corn plants, look like the pea plants and the pea plants look like the carrots and onions. To their horror they recognize that, whereas their farming technique was adequate and the soil conditions were ideal, they had planted the wrong type of seed. The analogy is obvious. Jesus said: “if I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.” Right seed, right fruit.   I am to raise up disciples for Jesus and Jesus alone. No fruit, wrong seed.

Posted by: rmlotz | August 30, 2016

Lingering At the Foot of the Cross

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” Galatians 6:14

“Please don’t be afraid to be a friend to someone who is living in sin. They need you more than those of us who are no longer in pain. Nobody wants to suffer like sinners suffer. They just need God, and God must use us to reach them. They are spiritually blind, and we have to help them see.” These words were spoken by a young woman who had discovered the power of the cross in her life, the power to change. Many ask the question, “Is real change possible?” Many good church people seem to be under the same weight of habitual sin that nonbelievers experience. Depression and despair can afflict the church goer just as much as the unchurched. And yet not all believers are destined to live their lives as if they had never met Christ.

Many believers experience the power of forgiveness that is only possible beneath the cross of Jesus. Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). What makes the difference? It is a willingness to linger at the foot of the cross and recognize that only at the foot of the cross is there power available to forgive sin and walk in victory. To be a follower of Christ is to leave the old man of sin hanging on that Calvary tree and rest in the assurance of continuing saving grace available to the new man hidden in Christ. It is when we go back to the cross and pull down the old man of sin do we lose our victory and power. Paul says, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I must trust in Christ to live His life through me as I surrender my will to the will of the Holy Spirit. In the Christian classic “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian, carrying a heavy burden, encounters the cross. There he leaves that burden of the old man, the flesh, and takes up the new life hid in Christ journeying to the celestial city. The “will” must linger at the cross so that our new man surrendered to Christ can walk the walk of faith. Can real change take place? Only if you are willing to linger beneath the cross and walk only by faith is real change possible.

There is a book called, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” This pretty much sums up the current debates on the internet between the evolutionist and the creationists camps. Both sides state opinion as fact and argue past each other. The amount of ignorance surrounding evolution, creation, Christ, the Bible and other controversial topics is staggering. Reading the DaVinci Code does not make you an expert on Biblical historical criticism, nor does a cursory reading of “The Origin of the Species” make you an expert critic on Darwin. The debate has moved beyond Darwin and the Bible. Evolution and Intelligent design both have strong arguments and both sides have weaknesses. There is no missing link for evolution, at least not one that the scientific community can agree on, and the age of the earth will always be in dispute. Both theories of origins require faith.

There is a difference between absolute truth and absolute evidence for truth. Absolute truth is not dependent upon my knowing or observing it, however, since I am a finite and limited being observing the absolute truth, there is not absolute understanding of an absolute truth. For example, if I personally witnessed the resurrection then I would be approaching an absolute conviction regarding its validity but everyone else must rely upon expert testimony regarding the resurrection, reliable but not absolute. Let me give you an example. Before 1968 we did not know absolutely that the moon existed, no one had ever been there. However, using math, physics, engineering, astronomy and several other scientific “facts” we made informed guesses as to the location, trajectory, and geology of the moon. (One of the reasons the legs on the Apollo moon landing craft were so long is because they believed the dust on the moon would be a couple of feet thick, instead, once we landed we discovered the dust was merely inches thick). Once we landed on the moon, then we had absolute truth regarding several “beliefs” about the moon, and some things we learned were wrong. The truth about the moon did not change but our understanding did. The NASA scientist got most of it right from a very limited understanding and very little wrong (some would even says they had divine guidance). Now suppose someone who had already gone to the moon met with NASA and advised them on how to get to the moon, then they would have near “irrefutable” truth regarding the moon but it would still be based on faith in the one giving the information that would then be compared to what the scientists had discovered.

So there is absolute truth regarding Christ, and God in general, He has given us clues (i.e. facts ) pointing to who He is and what He is like, we call this natural or general revelation. God has also given us an expert on who He is and how we can know Him- Christ (we call this special revelation). The Apostle Paul says in (I Corinthians 13:12) that we see through a glass darkly but then face to face. There is absolute truth regarding Christ, we have a measure of certainty regarding that truth, what small amount we posses is more than adequate to have conviction that He is the truth. The limited understanding we have of Christ as compared to other truth claims (i.e. atheism, naturalism, pragmatism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, etc.) is the difference between what the scientist in 1472 knew about the moon and what the scientist in 1972 know about the moon. Perhaps the most endangered species on the Internet is an honest seeker of truth. Most of the bilge passed off as academic debate on the Internet would never stand up in an academic setting and therefore is spurious. The Internet is a tremendous tool but it is also a marker for our modern proclivity to make unsubstantiated statements and call it “expert” opinion. It’s like finger painting on a kindergarten wall and calling it a masterpiece. I for one, will be glad when we as a society move beyond postmodernism, it gives me a headache. There is no longer common ground for intelligent discussion since everyone does and believes what is right in their own eyes and do not want to be confused with the facts. Postmodernism needs to stay in kindergarten where everyone shares equally. In the grown up world there is truth, there is logic, and there are facts. Intelligent people make intelligent choices within the framework of these three, everyone else is merely finger painting!

Posted by: rmlotz | August 16, 2016

Where Moth and Rust Do Not Decay

I am still trying to get this blog thing down.   I have been working through the whole concept of faith lately as it relates to obedience and my own motivation to do things for God’s glory rather than my own recognition.  So much today that is touted as theology proper is really mere pop psychology masquerading as Biblical principals.  Often, the language we use reveals the theology of our hearts more than a theology of the mind.  Colloquialisms are fertile ground for what we really believe about ourselves, and ultimately, about God.  American church culture, especially, is full of colloquialisms that are often repeated for spiritual emphasis that often can lead to a theology that is not necessarily biblical.  One such phrase I have often used myself in preaching and teaching is: “A trophy of God’s Grace.”  Whereas, it can be interpreted as the results of God’s active grace in an individual’s life leading to a proper example of God’s sanctifying work to encourage others to submit to the life changing work of active sanctification, it can also be misinterpreted as the end to a means in sanctification.   Even Christian music often sings about “being an example of Christ to others.”  Our example or token then becomes something that is on display for others to admire or emulate.

It is a snare to imagine that God wants to make us perfect specimens of what He can do.  When I was a boy, my older brother (who is only eighteen months older than me) and I would often compete to see who could get the most awards or trophies each year.  I still remember being devastated when my brother got more trophies than me during baseball season one year.  I was irreconcilable and cried for more than an hour.  And even throughout my childhood, getting rewards in school or in sports consumed me.  I lived to hear those words of approval and praise.  Consequently, when personal family crisis during my high school years sent me into severe depression it crippled my ability to “prove” my worth in school and sports.  From that moment forward I always felt like a failure.  This feeling of failure stayed with me into my early adulthood.  Even as a young pastor, I was good at serving God, but just could not get the relationship part down.  In my mind I knew God loved me, but often was jealous of the relationship aspect others seemed to enjoy.  This dissonance between knowledge and experience finally came to a crisis shortly after I finished college.  On the conference floor at the Atlanta Promise Keepers Pastor’s Conference I gave up being a “trophy” of God grace and merely surrendered to God’s infinite love.  I no longer worry about being on display, but instead, enjoy going wherever my savior leads me.  My life is now defined more in terms of people rather than performance.  God’s purpose is to make us one with Himself.

The mark of maturity for the believer is not the measuring up to an ideal (i.e.  “The Mature Believer”) but instead the degree to which your life is real and vital in relationship with Jesus Christ, and your abandonment to Him.  Christian perfection is not, and never can be, human perfection.   Christian perfection is the perfection of a relationship in God, which shows itself amid the common everyday occurrences of human life where my own will and God’s Spirit vie for my attention and obedience.  When you obey the call of Jesus Christ, the first thing that strikes you is the often mundane tasks of simple obedience to Christ day by day- that Christ calls us to know Him in simply living, in stewardship of my time and money, in serving my wife by loading the dishwasher, in clearing my schedule to sit through a painful high school choir concert because it is important to my son, in doing the mundane of church administration, or even the dreaded changing of the oil in my vehicles.  The next thing that strikes you is- other people seem to be living perfectly consistent, mundane lives as well.  Such lives are apt to leave you with the idea that God is not in the mundane.

The temptation then is to associate the mundane as not having value and that we are only truly living as “trophies” of God’s grace when we are perfecting our faith through superhuman effort of “laying down our lives” for the “sake of the Gospel.”  We mistakenly believe that the superhuman admonishment of “well done thou good and faithful servant,” only applies when I am serving God in areas related to church and missions or at least giving my resources to these limited areas of ‘God’s grace.”  Inadvertently, I sign back up for the “God only loves me when I serve Him well,” fan club so that I can be an example again of what God can do in my life so others can see that I have the right faith and thus really understand grace because I am working hard for eternal things and enduring the mundane things so that my life can be defined by my service to God- that, by my human effort and devotion, I can reach the standard God wants.  In a fallen world this can never be done. I am called to live in perfect relation to God so that my life produces a longing after God that results in a corresponding obedience to work out my relationship with God by investing in other people’s lives, not in admiration for myself.

God is not after perfecting me to be a trophy” in His spiritual show-room; He is getting me to the place where I will simply trust Him and that the mundane and the “super-spiritual” acts of obedience in my life are both useful tools He uses for me to discover Him.  “Well done thou good and faithful servant,” is not a measure of how well I serve but rather how well I know Christ and simply do what He says.  Serving and loving God flows out of this relationship, at least service that lasts.  My trophies lie in a box in my closet, collecting dust.  They are of value to me now only in the memories they conjure up.  I now see the grace in how those experiences have shaped me into the man I am.  In that I am simply content.

 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.  . . .”         Philippians 3:12

Posted by: rmlotz | August 8, 2016

Ascending and Descending

“In that day a fountain will be opened. . . . for sin and for impurity”

Zechariah 13:1

El Cielo is a little church at 13,000 feet high above the central highlands of Honduras. There is no electricity no running water. There is not even a road to the little village, merely a donkey trail that winds up the mountains from the central town of Las Lajas. No one goes to El Cielo unless you are from El Cielo, but I did, to preach the gospel to a little village church there. In my primitive Spanish, reading by kerosene lantern, I shared the love of Christ with that little fellowship of believers. Later, walking down the mountain at midnight with the jungle canopy reaching up to embrace us, I sang a song of praise to the Lord along with my translator and his wife, they in Spanish, I in English. . . .”There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath the flood lose all their guilty stains.” Jose, my translator sang with unusual passion and tears.

Later, I learned that he was a former soldier who fought in the El Salvador war during the Reagan years. In town he was known as one of the most violent men around who drank fiercely and beat his wife and children mercilessly. When a retired couple decided to spend their twilight years planting churches in central Honduras, they started by opening a nursery for indoor plants and building a little church. Maria, Jose’s wife came to Christ first under the loving care of this older Dutch couple. For Maria, coming to church meant ridicule from Jose and regular beatings during drunken rages. Jose resented the change he saw in his wife and blamed the missionaries. Through gentle patience and love Andre and Connie eventually led Jose to Christ. When I arrived in Honduras I found a changed man at peace with himself, his family, and his God.

In Jeremiah 13:23 God asks the question through the prophet, “Can a leopard change its spots?” The answer implies that through God, and only through God, it is possible. The power of the gospel remains for the purpose of changing lives. And only God alone is able to change a life. This is what He does because He is the God who changed the coarse of human history in one day by hanging on a tree to break the power of sin and death that had enslaved humankind through the delusion of autonomy. Blood broke the bondage and blood forms the bond between God and man that changes us through the transforming nature of Grace.

I need to remember this from time to time, especially when I am frustrated with myself and others who try to live changed lives without changed hearts submitted to the transforming power of God’s Spirit. It seems it would be so much easier if we believers would wear t-shirts that warned others when we were in the flesh and not the Spirit- something like,

“Danger! Loss of Power. Prone to fits of Self-righteousness and Anti-social behavior!”

Perhaps then we could simply stop everything and cry out to God on behalf of those dear ones who have forgotten what it means to be a believer, and gently love them back to repentance and submission instead of reacting to each other through biting words or wounded pride. There is a fountain filled with blood and we need to bathe

Posted by: rmlotz | August 3, 2016

On God and Elephants

19766_514053686187_5351784_n  When I was in kindergarten, my favorite time of the day was story time. Perhaps you have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant. This story has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It has been popularized in Western culture to explain God and various religious interpretations of God. For those unfamiliar with the traditional story, pull up a chair or your nap-time rug. Here is how it goes:

Six blind men encounter an elephant – how they knew that it was an elephant the story does not recount. The first man touches its trunk and says that an elephant is like a palm tree, another touches its side and says that an elephant is like a rough wall. Another feels its tail and says that an elephant is like a piece of rope. Each comes into contact with a different part of the elephant and is convinced that their own explanation is correct and that the others are wrong. None of them realize that they are all experiencing just one part of the same elephant and that none of their explanations are complete.

Sound familiar. In the same way, it is argued, different religions, and even denominations within a said religion, experience different parts of “God” but fail to realize that each is just one part of the complete truth. The problem with this story is obvious. The story itself claims to have the one and only “best” explanation of the various explanations for God. To accept the story as a true explanation of religions and their respective views of God means you believe you have the correct view of God and religion. See the prejudice. Truth by its very nature is exclusive. Everyone believes they have the correct view of God. Tolerance, the most popular view today, emphatically declares that everyone has a right to believe what they believe about God and no one else has the right to question their belief. This view of truth is fine as long as you live in a hole in the ground and have no contact with any other human being.

Greg Kouki in an article entitled “The Intolerance of Tolerance,” says:

“Most of what passes for tolerance today is not tolerance at all, but rather intellectual cowardice. Those who hide behind the myth of neutrality are often afraid of intelligent engagement. Unwilling to be challenged by alternate points of view, they don’t engage contrary opinions or even consider them. It’s easier to hurl an insult–“you intolerant bigot”–than to confront the idea and either refute it or be changed by it” [endquote].

Because people confuse acceptance of the person with acceptance of what they believe, it is now impolite to question anything or anyone. And in fact, anyone who questions another person’s statements about what is true, is labeled intolerant. It always amuses me that people have convictions about religion and God, which they would never apply to any other area of life. Try applying this conviction to teenagers. Everyone has a right to believe, and act on that belief, and no one has a right to question it. If you have teenagers, give it a try and let me know how it turns out.

Modern tolerance has been high jacked by well meaning but naive persons who want the world to be like kindergarten. The older version of tolerance, rooted in Judeo Christianity, claims all persons in all circumstances, deserve respect and courtesy even when their ideas are false or silly. You tolerate (i.e., allow) behavior that is moral and consistent with the common good and tolerate (i.e., embrace and believe) ideas that are sound and rooted in truth. You do this because everyone is created by God and have high value. Everyone has the right to believe what they want, even if the belief is wrong, but not all beliefs are true nor are all beliefs good for a society. This is still a good guideline.

All truth has its source in God who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. The disciples asked Jesus a valid question: “Can you tell us what God is like?” Jesus’ answer to them was earthshattering: “When you see me you see what God is like.” Jesus claimed to have the one and only “best” and correct truth about God and God’s creation. Jesus even claimed that everyone else’s views were either wrong or corrupted by sin. In fact, Jesus claimed all other views of truth would be judged by whether or not they agreed with Jesus’ claims. Wow, how intolerant. What a bigot! And yet, Jesus demonstrated a love for those who disagreed with them that many radio talk show hosts and religious pundits need to learn from. When a person claims to know what is true, it is only arrogance if that person believes they are the source of that truth. Remember the elephant. If the elephant tells me what an elephant looks like, sounds like, and how an elephant acts, then I am not being arrogant when I tell others what an elephant is, I am only being truthful.  (Elephant Painting by Chad Lotz)

Posted by: rmlotz | August 2, 2016

The Dangers of Writing a Blog

This is a blog. For the past thirty years, my writing has been for a select few people- persons who have allowed me to speak into their lives my perspective on the issues of life. For decades now I have been urged by many to broaden my audience and speak more to a generation rather than a select few.

What is a blog? What is its function, what are the dangers of producing it or reading it?

Essentially, each blog is a look into the mind of the writer. It reflects (in this case) his view of what’s urgent or interesting.

The writer’s perception of life, his/her perspective, controls the content of such a blog. His presuppositions are the glasses through which he sees and judges reality. His contacts, experiences, relationships and reading are the climate and culmination of the culture in which he writes. Try as he may, he cannot escape his prejudices.

A blog is one-sided. It has no place for dialogue, although posts from readers and comments by those who are acquainted with the writer, or meet him, are most helpful in providing insights that he has missed or correctives to what he has written.

But by the time reaction comes, the damage has been done. No correction can reach all readers.

The choice of what to write about is itself significant. Despite what is offered today by some blogs as the writing of opinion, blogging is more than just sharing what is important to me. What’s urgent on the present horizon to claim the time of readers who will bother to listen? This is the writer’s question.

“Urgent” is not quite right. When you get to know a person, even one who has the presumption to think that maybe he has something to say that you’d like to hear or need to hear, you soon tire of “Now hear this!” If you really get to know him, if he shows you his thinking in any sort of depth, you find humor and levity along with opinions about weightier matters.

You also find that he has views on political, economic, and social — as well as religious — matters.

“Passing on the Right” along with everything else in this website, should be judged on the basis of its correspondence to the Bible, God’s Word. This is the standard for all writing. This is the standard we have to set for ourselves, which doesn’t mean that we can’t be wrong. It rather indicates that our opinions, along with those of our readers, are subject to that authority which can be invoked to prove us wrong. Or right. Everyone has an opinion, which is simply that- an opinion. The question behind each opinion is to what or to whose authority are you basing your opinion on? Everyone works within the framework of his own presuppositions and prejudices. At the outset my prejudice is clear. My authority is the Word of God, the Bible. It is the measure and judge of what is true, right, and sane.

What to write about? This is the columnist’s recurring question as each deadline approaches.

— That Christian man who told me last month that he feels hopeless as he views the current political climate?

—The Muslim man I met last week confused about Christianity and has trouble separating the claims of the Bible with the culture of those who claim to follow its teachings.

— The couple that shared with me about a recent encounter with a church hosting a rodeo in the church so people can “meet Jesus?”

— The paradigm shift in our culture from “We the people” to the “rule of law,” which means whoever makes the rules is the law and dissent means a show of force to silence the majority.

These are some of the current thoughts percolating in my mind.

It was while speaking at a conference in Montana, a man came up to me and gave me one of those warm compliments that are a communicator’s great reward.

“I told my wife I didn’t want to miss tonight,” the man explained, as he shook my hand. “I’ve been following your messages this week, and so I already know you. But I wanted you to meet me.”

Thanks for reading my blog each week. I hope, somehow, that I’ll get to know you too.

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