University Free for All

In recent political debates in the United States, several candidates have called for tuition-free university. Let’s consider history before rushing to adopt that idea.

Catherine the Great in late 18th century Russia observed with deep interest the diversity of devout religious groups that went to British North America. She decided to increase the religious diversity in Western Russia, particularly in what is now modern day Ukraine. She invited various religious groups from Europe to settle there. It changed the fabric of Ukrainian society.

Like the former British Colonies in modern day United States, that diverse and deeply religious fabric offers promise for a society, including religious freedom, freedom of the press. However, diversity is no guarantee of the freedoms of thought, ideas, and values. The Russian Tsar attempted to form a religiously diverse society, which only served to strengthen the State and weaken individual freedoms.

In the British Colonies in North America, the diversity of religious backgrounds was the result of a lack of religious freedom in England. Amid all the diversity and conflicting views on religion, it was not the British Crown, but rather “We the People” who identified common ideas and values under which the United States was established. The North American British Colonists banded together in unity to stand against the tyranny of the British Crown.

Today we face a similar problem with the same opportunity. Modern universities are, in many ways, the most diverse communities in modern culture. However, the diversity in the university is, in similar fashion to Catherine the Great’s edict, often instituted by State mandate.

Unless religious diversity is cherished by the people, the freedoms of religion and thought will need to be protected by the State. The result will not be true diversity or true freedom. The result will be tuition-free university, with higher taxation for all. And the result will be a stronger State that limits the freedom of thought that is required for a truly free university.

Go Barefoot

Luke 10:3-4 Go! …Do not take… sandals.

Why wear shoes? I love to go barefoot in the summertime. I love sand between my toes. But going shoeless is not just for the pleasures of the beach. We wear shoes to protect our feet. But biblical characters would remove their shoes to demonstrate their willingness to give up their rights to gain a greater level of intimacy with God.

David wept when his son led a rebellion to take over the kingdom of Israel. He walked away with his “head was covered, and he went barefoot.” (2 Sam. 15:30)  Because of David’s guilt for adultery and murder, he was denying himself the right to fight for the kingdom. Because he gave up his rights, God promised David a kingdom that would never end.

Each of us has rights as citizens of our nation. We have a right to food, water, clothing, our family, and homeland. But when we hold too tightly to our rights, we often do so at the expense of a relationship with God and others. Think about it. Can you enjoy intimate relationships with anyone without giving up rights?  

God gave us mothers as a perfect example. They deny their rights when they carry us in their bodies for nine months, suffer labor, and bleed. Then, when we are born, they wake all hours to tend to our needs as helpless babies who can do nothing in return but smile and poop!

Denying rights is about winning and losing, but not the way you think. We may try to win by holding tightly to our rights, but then we lose real relationships. If we refuse to let go of our rights to comforts, privacy, time, money, and even offering our opinion, we will likely not enjoy being around people, including family, neighbors, and strangers seeking friendships.

Moses was told to take his shoes off when he met God at the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-10). His feet were unprotected. He became vulnerable. He was told he stood on holy ground. It was a moment of intimate connection with a holy God. Moses came close enough to hear God speak of his breaking heart over the suffering children of Israel. So going barefoot is a sign of a person who has given up their rights to become an intimate friend of God.

And yes, even Jesus went barefoot. He gave up his rights more than any other.

Jesus gave up the glories of heaven for less than a foxhole.  And the Father loved Jesus because he laid down his life for others (John 10:17). Jesus came to show us the Father. When we give up our rights, we help others to know God too. Let’s go barefoot!

 

 

I didn’t like animals, but that changed

Do you ever stop and consider where your thoughts come from? Don’t you wish you could just take those stray thoughts by the throat and wrestle them to the ground and say, “Where did you come from?”

It took a passage from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, for me to realize I had wrong ideas about part of God’s creation. For as long as I can remember I have not been an animal lover. Please don’t judge. I’ve changed.

What triggered my change in thinking? I saw a twitter post that said Leona Helmsly’s dog, the world’s richest dog, died with a $12 million estate. The dog’s personal security expense was $100 thousand dollars annually.

That sickened me. I knew I needed to examine why.

That day I read a passage from my favorite book, The Great Divorce. It was the final speech of C.S. Lewis’ character George MacDonald, a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister who pioneered the field of fantasy literature in the 19th century. MacDonald inspired Lewis by his work, so he became a key character in one of his own fantasy novels.

In case you haven’t read it, The Great Divorce is a fictional story about a group of people who ride a bus from hell to heaven. MacDonald is a resident of heaven who becomes a guide for the main character, one of the residents of hell in the “grey town” below.

When one of the “grey town” visitors asks if anyone could go from heaven to hell, MacDonald got down on his hands and knees and plucked a blade of heaven’s grass. He explained that the bus and passengers came up through a tiny crack as small as the blade of grass. With a deep Scottish brogue, he said,

“All hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world, but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the real world.”

“The damned are shrunk up in themselves…their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes are fast shut. First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts or their mouths for food or their eyes to see.”

“Can no one reach them?”, the visitor asks. Can anyone travel from heaven to hell?

MacDonald says,

“Only the greatest of all can make himself small enough to enter hell. For the higher a thing is, the lower it can descend.”

It was the next thing MacDonald said that helped me change my thinking about animals:

“Man can sympathize with a horse, but a horse cannot sympathize with a rat.”

Why did I have an aversion to animals? I have been reading C.S. Lewis’ works since before I came to know and love Jesus Christ. Most all of his allegorical works, including some of his best overall works, are fantasy novels with talking animals.  Even with my lack of affection for animals, I have enjoyed Lewis’ books. His treatment of the animals and his message through them was always somehow acceptable to me.

My thinking changed. Put simply, I have not allowed myself to have affection for animals because so many people attribute human qualities to them. They treat their animals like children of their own. This may sound hard-hearted to you, but I think people spend too much of their time, their energy, and their money on animals. Did you know the USA and Europe spend $17 billion dollars every year on pets, while only $0.81 billion is invested in reaching the unevangelized? Did you know 4.5 million people are victims of human trafficking? My thinking has been that if you value a dog like a child, you are actually devaluing human beings that need your limited attention. That harsh judgment had to change.

I still think we should be careful to give attention to human beings created in the image of God. But just because other people have an excessive affection for animals does not mean I should disrespect animals, part of God’s good creation, or, for that matter, disrespect people who care for animals.

So this is what I do: I do not elevate animals to human status when I show affection to them; I “descend” or condescend. When you stoop to love an animal, you exercise the kind of grace that God himself shows when he condescends to love us.

I still do not agree with those people who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their pets. However, I can condescend with the same kind of love and affection that Jesus shows to me.

I will continue to devote my resources to Jesus’ mission. However, I will not reject animals. I can show them kindness and have more patience with those who are affectionate with animals.

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. – 2 Cor. 10:3-6

When the apostle Paul wrote those words to the church in Corinth, he instructed them to wrestle their stray thoughts to the ground. So this is what I do. I ask: “Where did this thought come from? Is it a Biblical thought or not?”

How to stay unbreakable

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable. ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

You are made for love. Walls may be built around the heart by those who are too afraid to get hurt.
Take heart. Be strong. Be courageous enough to be vulnerable.
You are made for love. Get out there and love the world God made for you.

Stay a while…

Where do you experience the deepest friendships? There’s something about the table, sitting with family, friends, and especially strangers welcomed with a cup of coffee or tea, a shared meal, and a conversation. 

It’s easy. Food is more than a necessity. It’s a celebration of life. Mealtimes are opportunities to connect with neighbors. Invite someone to stay a while. Listen to their stories. Who knows what difference a table conversation might have?

What is there more kindly than the feeling between host and guest? – Aeschylus

When your degree doesn’t matter

Wil Schroter, CEO at Startups.com writes, “Your degree is just the most expensive piece of artwork from your past.”
Ouch! Why? He explains it all in this one sentence:
“In our time we’ve seen very little correlation or causality between the level of education people have achieved and their ability to excel at their jobs.”
So, take a look in the mirror and get real honest with yourself.
What do you seek? GPA? Salary? Stuff?
How about thinking bigger? How about making a difference?
Time to think about making your mark. Steve Jobs said,
“I want to put a ding in the universe.”
Challenge yourself. Consider the difference you can make for others.
Your future is just up ahead.

Tomorrowland

On a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, my conversation with the man sitting next to me took a sad turn. He’s a merchant marine on his way back to sell his condo in Boston and build his new house on 12 acres in Maine. He said,

“When the nukes go off in about eight years from now, radioactive fallout will be driven across much of the Mid-Atlantic, but the currents won’t reach Maine.”

He asked what I do and I replied that I equip people from many nations with a gospel of hope to do practical service in every sphere of influence. He said he’s a Christian too, but then he said:

“People aren’t prepared for the end times.”

It seems we have two very different views of the future. Two very different gospels.

One, I believe, is filled with fear and despair resulting in desperate acts of self-protection. The other is marked by faith and hope for a future that ultimately fulfills Christ’s great commission to “make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

Though perils of the fallenness of our humanity and the wicked schemes of our adversary may tragically affect some of us, I believe God’s will is to complete that which he began. He watches over all of his Word to perform it. (Jer. 1:12)

On this same flight, caught a Disney movie called Tomorrowland. George Clooney stars in this apocalyptic story of a future. I’ll not spoil it for you, but I will give you a central theme. Casey, a teenage girl recalls a story with a question her father, a NASA scientist, told her when she was a small child. It goes like this:

“Two wolves lived in the wilderness. One is despair and hopelessness. The other is hope and possibility. Which one survives?”

ANSWER:

“The wolf that survives is the one you feed.”

I offered a suggestion to my new friend that he consider Abraham’s prayer for his neighboring cities. Abraham appealed to God to hold back his judgment if only ten righteous people could be found there. (Gen. 18:32)

God responded to the prayers of one person who believed he can be appealed to for a different future. Today there are about 2.5 billion Christians living all over this planet. Sadly, not all of those believers are in a conversational relationship with God. Not all are “feeding” hope and possibility. Not all are dreaming God’s big dreams for all humanity and all of his creation.

We don’t know better than God, but he will respond when we talk to him and listen. He has dreams for tomorrow and for every tribe, and tongue, and nation.

What are your dreams for tomorrow?

Fork in the Road

Someone said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.”

A while back Mary and I were in Switzerland. We drove from the sleepy Swiss village of Burtigny to the bustling city of Lausanne to do some errands. We downloaded the turn by turn instructions to get to our destination. Mary played co-pilot, reading the French street names to me as I drove through the city to Office World.

Neither of us speaks French. Between Mary’s interpretation of the street names and my reading of the street signs, we made several u-turns. In fact, we passed in front of Office World three times, before we noticed the big red English letters on the building.

I like the adventure of going to new places and meeting new people. However, the process of getting there can be stressful, and hilarious, especially if you heard our feeble attempts to pronounce French!

How do you find your way to a new destination? How do you respond when you suddenly realize, “I have not been this way before.”

There are key moments in our lives when a decision must be made, a direction must be chosen. And there are moments when a generation faces a similar choice of major significance to the future. Our choices will affect others; in fact, our choices could affect perhaps millions of people.

I see the two choices. I see a fork in the road and the signpost with clearly inscribed names for two pathways.

One road is named “The Way of Increase” and the other is named “The Way of Decrease”.

Both pathways are the way of influence and change. Both ways will impact many others. Both ways are the way of personal sacrifice. Both ways shape the future and the way power is distributed.

The Way of Increase is exciting. It is the way most will choose. It’s the way of increased power, increased popularity, and increased numbers. The way of increase is called “blessed”; it’s the way of apparent abundance.

I believe in God. And I believe he promises blessing and abundant life, so choosing that path of increase will not seem foreign. It’s easy to read the sign; it’s easy to choose.

The other pathway is the Way of Decrease. This sign is very difficult to read; it’s foreign, unfamiliar, and unwelcome.

Why one would take that sharp turn toward decrease is difficult to imagine. It appears to be a complete reversal of direction. Whatever progress was made seems to be lost the moment you take this turn. The way is narrow and difficult. Suddenly the smooth road becomes a steep incline and a very rough terrain. Few take this road, and most would mistake it for a path for sheep.

And that’s the choice. Will you take the easy road or the narrow road?

The Way to Increase is filled with spiritual excitement and expectations of triumphing over any that might get in your way. It is the way to power. It’s a highway with speed and comfort, and many are on that road. You can congratulate yourself when you look in your rear view mirror to see multitudes following you.

The Way to Decrease is the way of surrender. It is quiet there. Few are seen of this road. Tears fall on this difficult path, but few will notice. Why would anyone take this path? This way is not producing the numbers and the excitement we have come to expect.

But those who choose the Way of Decrease have seen the top of that steep incline on that difficult path. They have seen the One who went that way to the top of that hill.

Jesus chose the Way of Decrease.

It is THAT way, the Way of Decrease, that brings true Increase to others. The way of abundance is life-giving, life-surrendering, and power giving.

So the choice is clear. Take the path to gain power, or the path to give power. History is marked by those who have chosen the Way of Decrease, giving away and distributing power to the powerless.

 

Holiness is MORE than Intimacy with God

At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ. I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for.  –  Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
  1. Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
  2. Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations. To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation. In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
  • In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation
  • Does not imply rejection of other nations
  • Not due to special features of Israel
  • Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
  • Instrumental, not an end in itself
  • Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
  • Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
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