Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Of Plants and Men

Jesus would often use the physical world to explain spiritual realities. Mustard seeds illustrate faith. Fruitless fig trees illustrate pointless living. A farmer sowing seed illustrates evangelism. The Gospels are chock full of Jesus' stories and their effectiveness is undeniable.

As a preacher, I am always looking for ways to emulate the Master Teacher. As fall approaches and the time for planting bulbs and certain other plants draws nigh, my wife is excited. After four years of living in an apartment with no yard, she is itching to plant a spring flower garden. This means that trips to plant nurseries, reading of countless internet articles on botany and visiting landscaping websites has occupied much of her time. This also means that I, the loving and understanding husband, have spent more than a few minutes listening to plans, ideas, and interesting tidbits about various plants. As she was doing this one day she reminded me of two phenomena that I remember learning in High School Biology class (I typically try to repress all memories from High School. Highwater jeans, thick glasses and a body type that resembled an anemic giraffe made me the recipient of much unwanted attention).

The first of these phenomena is phototropism. Have you ever put a potted plant in a window and after a few days it leans toward the window? What it is leaning toward is the light. The plant is actually stretching itself, and growing toward the light. God has equipped these plants with photo-receptive cells that can sense where the most light is and sends messages of, 'Hey, we need to go this direction if we want more sunshine!'

The second phenomenon is thigmotropism. Watch a vine grow up a trellis or see a venus flytrap close when a fly lands in its open maw and you are witnessing thigmotropism. The plant can actually 'feel' touch and will react to it. While most thigmotropic plants are harmless, some are parasitic and will wrap around another living plant, like a tree, and literally sap the life from them.

So what type of plant are you? Are you phototropic or thigmotropic? Do you want to grow in the light of a living God, thriving in your relationship with Him, or do you simply go with what 'feels' right at the time. The problem with being a thigmotropic Christian is that often what 'feels' right isn't. Solomon knew this when he penned, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." (Prov. 14:12). As a minister I have seen this first hand when lifestyle choices that are contrary to God's plan are justified by saying, "In my heart I know this is right." God's Word begs to differ: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick..." (Jeremiah 17:9a).

What hope is there? I mean, if we can't trust our gut feelings and heart what can we trust? Simply put, we trust God's Word. In Psalm 119 David composed a love poem to God's word. In it he proclaims God's word as a "lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." (v. 105) If we are phototropic we live in God's Word, and if we stay phototropic, eventually we can trust the heart again. How? By hiding God's Word in our heart (Ps. 119:11) In fact the true 'Word' of God is Jesus (John 1:1) and when He takes residence in our heart, He doesn't merely dwell there, He renews the heart! This is what God promised through Ezekiel when He said, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (36:26)

"God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." I John 1:5-6

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Time Religion vs. New Morality

I make it a point to try to read what people who disagree with my worldview write on a regular basis. My hope is to discover what makes them 'tick' or what they view as supremely important. Knowing that I do this, my wife pointed out an article to me on CNN's website:


The article basically takes the stance of if we accept the technological advancements of our age, we must therefore accept the moral advancements too. In other words, our moral code is too 'antiquated' to be effective for such a modern time. Instead of looking to people of great faith for our morality, we should look to people who made tremendous profits for our morality. To quote the authors, "it is they (the profiteers), not the Mother Teresas of the world, that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same."

I wonder if the authors took into account that our current economic state is due to the fact that people valued profit above morals. I also wonder if they would be in favor of re-instituting the practice of colonial slavery in order to turn a quicker profit. While I respect their candor and intellectual honesty, I can't help but wonder where our world would be in the absence of such out-of-date morals. As it is the child sex slavery industry is devastating economically challenged countries. But the practitioners are earning the big bucks. Should we teach our children to honor that as well? This is what happens when we place intellectualism as a god instead of following the One who created all things (and yes, I still look to the Old Testament for my beliefs on origins).

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this article is that it is written by two well-respected men. I worry that this philosophy of 'moral evolution' will make it into our classrooms (in some instances it already has I'm sure). I am confident that this very philosophy is being taught in many institutions of higher learning, resulting in the ethical vacuum we see on Wall St., in politics and in our judicial systems.

I am reminded of the book of Judges, where it is said twice of the extremely immoral time, "In those days Israel had no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes." I feel that the same is true of America. If we make profit our 'king', then we are headed toward a downward spiral that will end in catastrophic ruin. Instead, let's return to that "old time religion". It's good enough for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

I was very excited to learn that I could get the newest Ted Dekker release to review for booksneeze. I have read several of his works, including the Circle Series, Obsessed and Showdown to name a few. So when Immanuel's Veins showed up in my mailbox I was more than excited to get it.

The story takes place in 18th century Russia. Catherine the Great sends two trusted soldiers, Toma and Alek, to protect a Moldavian aristocratice family, a mother and two beautiful daughters. Alek, the consummate ladies' man, immediately falls for the younger daughter, a naive girl who is out to milk every physical pleasure she can out of life. Toma, the main character, falls for the older daughter, Lucine. Lucine has a painful past and is slow to trust or love anyone.

The antogonist is a mysterious Russian royal named Vlad. His mysterious castle and followers slowly entice each of the characters into a sensuous trap. Through many twists and turns Toma fights to free his love from the grasp of Vlad's power, and uncovers the power of true love over lust.

Dekker is a master at taking spiritual truths and explaining them through story, and this book is no different. With one story Dekker explains God's pursuit of His beloved and reveals the dangers of lust masquerading as love. The symbolism is powerful and poignant and the message is unmistakable. If there was anything I would have to criticize, it would be Dekker's character development. After reading several of his other novels, I know what he is capable of and I was disappointed with characters who were entirely two-dimensional. While the story line was great, and the action was fast-paced, making this book a page turner, the characters came off as flat and hard to empathize with.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, it's a good read, it just falls short of high standards set by a talented author.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Just when you thought that he couldn't possibly turn out another fantastic book, Max Lucado releases his best work in several years. I admit that I approached this book with a cynical point of view. Many of Lucado's books have a certain 'feel' to them, and after you have read a few, you feel like you have read them all. And this book had some of those same Lucado-esque qualities: short chapters, retelling familiar Bible stories in prose, modern-day stories and illustrations and powerful simplifications of Bible concepts were all present. But what set Outlive Your Life apart from his other books was the challenge to impact others in every chapter. His focus on applying the message sets this book a notch above most of Lucado's other works.

Lucado uses the events of the first 12 chapters of Acts to motivate the modern Church to do what the ancient church did so well; connect with hurting people. Lucado emphasizes that God used "ordinary Joes" to do extraordinary things. Whether it's feeding the hungry, helping the persecuted church or simply showing hospitality to the downtrodden in our communities, Lucado challenges the reader that he can help, and that the Biblical mandate is that he MUST help. Injected into each chapter is a story of a modern 'ordinary joe/jane' to illustrate how the most common people in the hands of an uncommon God can impact the world.

At the end of the book is an excellent study/discussion guide which can be used as an individual or in a small group setting. Even if you feel you have read all that Lucado has to offer, I recommend this book. It won't disappoint.