Losing by Winning

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Last night I won an online auction. But my heart told me I’d lost. Maybe I should explain.

The auction was for a computer. My old computer [this one] was a bottom-of-the-line door buster special six or seven years ago. It still works as long as we don’t power it off or allow it to go into sleep mode. But if it doesn’t wake up, I’ll lose my latest work when it’s not backed up. That’s not worth the risk.

So for the past couple weeks I’ve been checking out new computers. The ones that caught my eye were bigger, faster, and more expensive–about $800. They had ports and connections and features I didn’t even know existed, such as a blu-ray writer. That would be a major purchase at our house, but I planned to do it.

Then last night I happened across the end of an auction for a two year old off-brand computer with dings and scuffs at a fraction of the cost. It didn’t have any bells and whistles, but it still had twice the processor speed and six times the RAM as my old machine. I knew it was cheap, but I didn’t think it would really sell that low. So on a whim I put down the minimum increase at the last minute, expecting to discover that I had been outbid all along.

Wrong. I won the auction. And I was disappointed. Now I won’t be able to buy the nicer machine with the bells and whistles. When I told my wife I didn’t really want it, she replied, “Then why did you bid?”

Why do wives ask hard questions like that?

Here’s a harder question: “Why didn’t I want it?” After all, this computer should do everything I need for basic computing except video editing (which may be a real issue).

An answer to that harder question is tucked away in 1 John 2:15, which says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.”  I bought under the influence of the lust of the eyes. I won, but I lost because I wanted a fancier computer. My heart whispered, “Not enough.”

That’s why I can’t trust my heart. It’s deceitful and selfish. It always wants more. That doesn’t mean it would have been wrong to buy a better computer. Owning nice things are fine, but we’re in trouble when nice things own us.

Maybe I’ll keep looking. I don’t know. But I do know I can’t trust my heart.

How about you? Do you trust your heart?

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Repetition

When we read the Bible, it’s helpful to note words or phrases that are repeated. Repetition can indicate clarification, emphasis or progression. The story of creation in Genesis 1 is full of repetition.

For example, the NIV text repeats “God said…” at least eleven times in the chapter. We read God made or created something at least nine times in the chapter. It’s hard to miss the emphasis that God is identified as Creator through the spoken word. John 1:1-3 adds powerful insight here. Jesus Christ, God the Son, is identified as the Word, the creative agent of all things.

Repetition of the ordinal days of creation, “and there was evening and there was morning,” indicate a clear progression in creation: the first day, the second day, etc. The assignment of a moral value, “and God saw that it was good,” also indicates progression. God’s repetition of separating (light from darkness, water above from water below, land from seas) brings order out of chaos in the first three days of creation.

Here’s another pattern of repetition: “according to their kinds.” A variation of that phrase occurs ten times in the chapter. At first glance this repetition may seem inconsequential. But when we question the compatibility of evolution to the scriptural account of creation, this phrase takes on more significance.

Darwin’s tree of life requires a common ancestry of all life with offspring that gradually differs from its parentage through mutation and natural selection. In other words, different kinds of life weren’t created “according to their kinds,” nor do they ultimately reproduce “according to their kinds.” If macro-evolution is true, life changes from one kind to another.

But when we read Genesis 1, we see an entirely different picture. Looking backward, God created everything “according to their kinds.” And looking forward, everything reproduces “according to their kinds.” The repetition of that phrase in the text does not point to a tree of life, but to separate, individual lines of life, created and reproducing “according to their kinds.”

To be fair, we must admit the text doesn’t positively exclude the possibility of some system of theistic evolution. But a plain reading of the text certainly doesn’t look like evolution. It looks like special creation with individual species created independently of one another.

Sacrifice and Persecution

Last night I finished The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken. It’s a gut-wrenching story about a man who searched for persecuted people living with Jesus, not just living for Jesus. His quest came at a moment in his life when his own faith was failing after the death of his teenage son on the mission field in Nairobi, Kenya. Ripken found such spiritual strength in the world’s darkest hell-holes where poverty and oppression restricted political and social freedoms. But the worst persecution couldn’t touch these believers’ spiritual freedom in Christ.

Ripken identifies the ultimate enemy of faith as lostness, not any religious, political or economic system. God wants lost people to be found, so the purpose of life is to share Jesus everywhere.

The Insanity of God joins Radical (by David Platt) and Kisses from Katie (by Katie Davis) to form a trilogy of books with a fresh focus on sacrifice and commitment to a global gospel. In a different way, each book presents an alternative to passive, consumer-Christianity. 

Jesus said it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18:23). Ripken shows us why. He reverses Wall Street economics and puts true riches on the other side of the equation where they belong. True wealth is living with Jesus and sharing him with the world despite poverty and political persecution. His conclusion: “Jesus is worth it.”

It’s hard for me to say “Jesus is worth it” when I consider how little I’ve suffered. Most of my personal suffering has been self induced: guilt, anxiety and fear. How can we who have the most freedom be afraid? How can we who have the most material wealth be anxious? Perhaps it’s because we’ve trusted in ourselves.

Ripken introduces us to followers of Jesus in persecuted places who don’t have the option of trusting in themselves. They had to trust in God. And God came through for them. 

I highly recommend this book. But be warned: It may change the way you see the world. 

First Steps

First a confession: I’ve never blogged before.

Not very encouraging, huh?

If you’re going to keep reading, you need to find something worthwhile fast. People can access a blog from around the world, but my target audience will be the people in and around Clarkfield, Minnesota, a very rural, very traditional, relatively poor, barely-hanging-on-by-its-fingertips community of about 800 souls. You may not have a church home, but you do have an intense spiritual interest. Maybe you landed at this site in a private quest to find out if this little congregation called New Life Church is safe for someone like you to visit.

Perhaps you’re checking out the sermons online. Please bear with us while we get the technical stuff sorted out. We just started making recordings. Sometimes we miss the beginning of the message. Sometimes we miss the ending. Sometimes the sound quality just isn’t very good. So not all sermons will be posted. But we’ll try to give you fair samples. Hopefully they’ll get better when we get some new equipment.

Below are worship notes which might help you know what to expect in the “Where?” series during the summer of 2013:

June 9, 2013

Recently I told a group of C&MA pastors I planned to preach on creationism vs. evolution and lay out the various interpretations and theories about the question of origins.

“Why would you want to do that?” one seasoned pastor asked with genuine concern.

Another pastor simply said, “Good luck.”

What worried them, I suppose, is this is a closed-case debate in the evangelical church. Many Christians already have made up their minds about origins. Most people want their views reinforced, not called into reexamination.

There’s a genuine danger that this series will be lighting matches in a dynamite factory. So wear a fire-proof suit! That’s a price we pay in the quest for knowledge. I can get defensive when I hear something from a different perspective. It happened to me just a few days ago at West Point. But the agitation was my fault, not theirs.

Truth isn’t fragile. It won’t shatter if we press it and put it under a microscope and examine it one more time with an open mind. If it’s true, it can withstand the scrutiny. Every belief and presupposition, no matter how sacred, is on the table and open to cross-examination. If we don’t take that bold step of maturity, we’re not pursuing truth, we’re merely clinging to dogma and prejudice.

It’s easy to tell if our minds are closed because our words will carry more heat than light. Ridicule, sarcasm and scorn merely expose a shallow mind, a discourteous spirit, and a blind faith. That doesn’t honor Christ. And it doesn’t persuade the multitudes for whom Christ died.

So this summer we’re going to do more than answer questions. We’re going to question our answers. We have nothing to fear from that except criticism from people who don’t have the courage or the character of Christ. His Word will still be true. Our examination will not change the facts.

Despite all that, some of you still may be agitated until you find out exactly where I stand on this issue. I’m not trying to hide it at all. I’m a young earth creationist. But it’s great if you’re not. In fact, I’m rather disappointed that we have so few old earthers hanging around New Life. It’s far too predictable (and unfruitful) preaching to the choir.

Doug

July 7, 2013

My wife says I’m an expert at making messes. Usually she’s making the point in jest when we’re having fun. But we both know she has a point. I allow clutter to accumulate on my desk, on my dresser, and in the bill drawer.

I wish I had a more beneficial field of expertise, but nothing comes to mind at the moment. So I’ll just have to share with you today my superb expertise about messes.

From time to time (that means when a blue moon falls on a Tuesday in years ending in “7”), I make a genuine effort to clean up my clutter. Yes, it’s mundane. But what happens is that I take the clutter and separate individual items into piles based on specific criteria: old or new, church or personal, file or toss, act on or ignore.

It never dawned on me before this week that separation is a key step in the task of creating order from chaos. It’s true in my field of expertise; it’s also true of God in his work of creation. In fact, several times in the first few verses of Genesis 1 that God separated things—light from darkness, water above from water below, land from water.

That’s interesting! And it’s very practical. Stay tuned.

Doug