Funnel Cakes and Elephant Ears

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By Jeff Foerster

Having been to the fair, I can tell you there is no lack of choice. From your pick of animals to smell and amusement rides to jostle the “kid” in you, to every gastronomical delight a taste bud may savor that wallet can procure. Whatever you desire, it’s there — especially if it’s deep-fried. When I was a wee lad, I knew the “elephant ear” to be a rare treat. Being of tender heart, I, of course, had misgivings about the origins of said delicacy and approached each encounter with reverence, at least until the buttery, buttery goodness reached my tongue and then any sense of propriety was thrown out the window.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tie edible pachyderm parts into an object lesson with spiritual implications — this is where the funnel cake comes in. Next, I suppose I need to apologize in advance to all you linear thinkers out there who are hoping I produce a direct connection; alas, you are to be woefully disappointed.

On Sunday last, Pastor Martin spoke of the narrow and the broad way, at one point referencing a funnel to illustrate this truth. I think this is a profound picture to keep in mind and meditate upon. Other than cars and kitchens, I don’t know where you’d find funnels, but either way, I invite you to bring a picture of one familiar to the forefront of your mind (or just look below).

The open, or “gathering,” side represents the wide way, one like the fair with options galore. You can choose “traditional” Christianity or choose a “prosperity” message. You can select a life closely following religious mandates or traditions, or you can choose “freedom” from any code of conduct other than that which seems good to you. You may go to church weekly, on Christmas and Easter only, or not at all — It’s entirely up to you, and that’s the point — you create a system of morality and a god in the image that is acceptable to you and, after all, as long as you are sincere, who is to say any differently? The problem is that there is no life here, only a shrinking existence — spiraling toward the small end — culminating in spiritual death.

But there is another way. Look at the narrow end — such a small opening; there’s not much room to pass that way. That way is Jesus. It is not Buddha or Mohammed. It’s not “spirituality” or sincerity or keeping rules, laws, or promises. You can’t take anything with you on this journey; there is room for neither pride nor prejudice. Passing through the narrow way is akin to baptism, symbolizing and identifying with Jesus in His death. But this is only the beginning. From there, from the narrow and uncompromising path of accepting our guilt and inability to do anything about it, embracing God’s solution in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and entering the life of Jesus, from there life eternal begins! Traversing through the narrow way, we come to an opening that has no ending. Expanding ever outward, representing resurrection, this eternal life begins immediately, bringing true freedom that the world cannot offer nor comprehend.

So, the next time you visit the fair or decide to change your engine oil, remember the illustration of the funnel and the amazing gift of God, given to the undeserving, bringing life forevermore to all who praise the name of Jesus!

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Talking Politics … To Be Continued?

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By Jeff Foerster

With the election over and family arriving for Thanksgiving dinner, is it time to lay aside all conversation relating to politics? I mean, we are told there are two things that should not be given voice at polite dinner conversation: religion and politics. Will I suggest to you the same? Well, no. However, neither will I prompt you to throw all caution (and common sense) to the wind and incite a verbal “throw-down” at the table or recommend requiring a political affiliation litmus test at the entry door of your holiday gathering.

In all candor, this piece isn’t really about Thanksgiving or dinner conversations, nor is it even limited to politics in particular. Now add to the mix that I don’t relish a world filled with “polite” conversation, two inches deep — chatting about the weather, “My, we have had a lot of rain over the last two months!” “Yes, that will certainly help us come next summer.” “I’d like to see the sun again.” “Yes, I like the sun too. Let’s be friends!” — Ugh, I don’t think I can take that kind of banter for very long.

So how do we engage in dialogue over passionately held beliefs? It’s relatively easy when you stumble upon those with whom you find a sense of simpatico. What becomes difficult is when you are face-to-face with a being not embracing the depth of your wisdom. Oh, what to do? I am tempted to reach outside my expertise and suggest conversational techniques that may win you friends and make you the life of the party and the envy of neighbors on both sides of the block. Instead, I’ll submit for your consideration a moment of reflection.

Check your heart before you enter the conversation. Ask yourself, “What is my motivation? Am I asking the opinion of another so that I can get to know that person at a deeper level? Am I wanting to refine my political argument with someone who is like-minded? Am I curious about a differing perspective? Am I engaging in conversation with the intent of ‘winning’ a political debate or argument?”

Here’s what needs to happen. We need hearts aligned with Jesus. We need to be filled with the love of God that He demonstrated in the cross of Christ — and then, and only then, should we speak, knowing we represent Jesus in His physical absence and engaging others at a deep level of conversation that first seeks to understand.

Politics and religion, as well as other topics that might fill our conversation, can help us understand someone’s story a bit better, if we have ears to hear. Don’t get me wrong — I enjoy a good policy debate, when it’s healthy and not attached to one’s identity, but I don’t want to miss the greater opportunity to know someone at a deeper level, sharing the love Jesus has for us, right here, right now.

May the Lord of all glory bless your Thanksgiving and all your days!

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Wisdom of God

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By Jeff Foerster

What did you take away from Sunday’s sermon? What is God telling you; what is He shaping within you as you heard His word preached? How are you becoming different, different than you were and more like God’s Son?

Let’s take a look back at what Martin shared with us. There are two places one may seek wisdom: “the world” and the LORD. The world’s “wisdom” is seductive, in that it feels right and satisfies the inner longings of significance and self-determination. It focuses itself upon “what works” and the surface level of life. This is satisfying for all who want to “get results” and take pride, joy, comfort, and even rest in a job well done.

Faith does not play a substantial role in the wisdom of the world. Instead, circumstances and status become indicators of success and can even lead to a warped understanding of God’s blessing. We see a negative picture of this in John 9, as the disciples query Jesus to tell them the origin of the sin that led to the blind man’s circumstances.

Where the world focuses on circumstances and outward things, true wisdom, coming from God Almighty, digs deeper and cultivates a heart that can weather any circumstance. God doesn’t make the climate around you calm, He strengthens you for, and in the midst of, the storm. The Scriptures speak of being purified by the fire of testing and tribulation (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18). If you belong to Jesus, if you are a son or daughter of God, then God is at work, changing you for your good and, more importantly, for His glory.

What to do: Repent! In humility, ask God to reveal your sin. Seek His forgiveness and that of others, and turn away from the desires that worldly wisdom would have you pursue. Ask God to teach you (James 1:5). Then, listen to the Lord—sermons on Sunday, talking through what you heard with another, listening to sermons on radio or online, reading the Scripture, asking God questions and waiting for His response—through His Word and through others speaking His Word.

You have to know this: God loves you to death! He loves you just the way you are, and He loves you too much to leave you that way. Join Him on this exciting journey and you will be transformed before your own eyes, and the eyes of others.

The cost: all that you hold dear. The benefit: peace regardless of circumstance, everlasting life, and more than you could possibly imagine!

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Living a Life of Significance

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By Jeff Foerster

pushbroom

I had some unencumbered time the other day, and I got to thinking. I see people leaving us for Heaven, in my family and in our congregation. I notice that plans and strategies formulated are often difficult to execute with any degree of smoothness. I hear preaching that announces God has desires transcending the doing and the going and the surface-level results in this life. That’s when I realize these thoughts are all connected.

I felt a longing well up within me. This desire called itself by name with little hesitation and no sense of bashfulness. “Significance!” it cried out. Questions were asked, and answers were demanded: “Will I be remembered?” “Will I achieve greatness?” “Will my days here matter beyond my own life?”

Many are the moments of “maintenance” in this life. Everything seems to get dirty, from cars, to houses — inside and out — to our own bodies. Everything seems to break down with the ravages of time. Everything seems to need repair. Everything seems to need to be done again … and again. Grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, sleeping, and brushing teeth all require nearly constant attention.

All this time, all this effort doesn’t generally propel one forward, but rather it keeps one from sliding backward. An owner of a car will never awake one morning, enter the garage, and find additional features on the car not there the night before, nor will this happen gradually. In fact, in our society, we acknowledge this decline from the start with a premium paid at the outset. We call this the “sticker price,” and it is well known that once the car is driven off the dealer’s lot it loses value immediately. We are willing to pay to host this little “party” for the fleeting moment when the car is at its best. A very expensive gathering of yourself, maybe one or two others, and the car salesman. Smiles are had, especially by the salesman, papers are signed, currency is exchanged, keys are handed over, and that ends the ritual celebration.

From there the law of entropy (involving increasing disorder) takes over. Everything in our known universe is engaged in decay, or a “winding down” of order, as can be measured in its effectiveness, usefulness, or consistency. This curse upon the natural world is something that must be fought against to stay “even.” If you’re not engaged in the battle, you’re losing the battle. Like attempting to block the flow of a river, it will find a way around and keep on moving, carving another pathway of least resistance. If you do manage to stem the flow, to secure a dam before it, time will wear away at the blockade, causing breeches in the wall, or the long backed-up water will finally surge over the top.

This can all sound a bit depressing. It can definitely seem overwhelming if this is where your focus is fixed. I am propelled by my desire for significance to look and see if significance can be found in the “doings” of this life. I recall the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who declared:

All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing,

Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

That which has been is that which will be,

And that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

“See this, it is new”?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us.

(Ecclesiastes 1:8–10)

I do not think a desire for significance is sinful. It, like anything else, can be misplaced and misused, but it is a desire which can build pressure and that has energy that can be harnessed to act as a catapult toward deepening a rich relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Once again I am turned back from seeing myself as a human “doing” to a human “being.” I now see the issue of significance as one that can only find its fulfillment by the marriage of the will of man and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in the “heart” and not in “doings” that focus is rightly placed. For it is neither cars, nor houses, nor career, nor wealth, nor any other thing that will be carried forward into eternity, save for the heart that God is making new.

I think all the routine maintenance of life has great value — but it is not in “doing it well” that matters. All the maintenance, all the hours, all the labor, serve to remind us of our dependency upon God. Each breath we take is granted by Him who loves us. Each time we slumber, each time we take nourishment, let these be reminders from our Creator, loving whispers to say, “I’ve got you. I know what you need, because I created you to need. Turn to Me in all things, and rest in Me, because I AM enough!”

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Church Wars! Part II: Attack of Discernment

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By Jeff Foerster

I should tell you, as a matter of public record, that I own stock in the science fiction sector. I have held positions here for quite some time, having grown up with dystopian novels such as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. I still read Ray Bradbury when I take the time, and I just finished Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Aliens have long had a special place in my heart as I looked to the heavens and wondered what we may find or what may find us. Prometheus and the Alien trilogy, Close Encounters, Contact, X-Files, and Signs—the list of films goes on and on. As a five-year-old I sat in a theater watching the original Star Wars bright and shining on a screen, loud and larger than life.

Last week’s Last Word may have signaled to you that I recommend abandoning all vestiges of science fiction, more particularly, Star Wars. So, what do I suggest—throw Boba Fett out with the bathwater? Simple answers sometimes result in profound mistakes; I think this is the case here. Before declaring the Star Wars franchise bankrupt and without shareholder value, I think it wise to examine oneself alongside film. God tells us to “keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). So, will Star Wars stain me? Again, a quick answer may do more harm than good. Let me suggest to you this: You know you better than most do. Even more so, God knows you better than all do—including you. Ask yourself and ask God to speak to you what effect your entertainment choices have upon you. Be open to being taught.

George Lucas has been quoted as saying that the price of admission to see one of his films is a price charged for tuition. He sees himself as a teacher, an educator. The impact his curriculum has upon a person depends in part upon what an individual brings to the table; our worldview matters. “Worldview” is a way of understanding and interpreting, even classifying or categorizing the experiences and events of the world around us. It’s like a lens through which everything is viewed and interpreted. Do you remember the “BluBlocker” sunglasses of the 80s-90s? They filtered out all the blue light from the spectrum and everything was washed in a bath of orange. Of course, taking the glasses off brought the world back to normal. It was not the world that changed, but the perspective of the viewer. However, one’s worldview is not as easily changed as a pair of glasses; it is constructed over many years and can shift, but it does so in a largely incremental fashion.

Everyone has a worldview that allows them to make meaning; a follower of Jesus likewise imposes his/her own schema upon the narratives they encounter. This is crucial to understand when any slice of entertainment is about to be consumed. What do I bring to the table? What is my worldview, and what is the worldview of the artist/author/teacher to whom I listen? Does he or she share my goals—that God be given glory? How is truth approached—with honor and deference, or with skepticism and disdain? Many questions are there to ask, yes.

There are a couple factors I’d like to bring into the light: the power of emotions and the strength of worldview. Emotions come in a variety of flavors: some sweet, some sour, some hard to swallow. If followed, they can lead one to acts of kindness or, just as easily, to fits of rage. Emotions are powerful, and when the heart is stirred it can prompt changes in thinking, beliefs, and, therefore, actions that follow. Emotions are good; God created us with a capacity to feel emotion, to enjoy it and be taught by its power—be it a signpost, a warning, or an invitation. Because of this power, it is not to be taken lightly. Scripture tells us not to arouse or awaken love before it’s time (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4).

These emotions are for our good; they enable us to praise God with joy and enjoy His gifts with enthusiasm. This takes place when we lead our emotions where it is good to go. Even more easily, though, emotions can turn things on their heads and begin to lead us. Instead of pointing us to enjoy our Creator and seek to become more like Him, we can become enamored with what the Father tells us is off-limits, even forbidden. We may do this when fixing our eyes on a character who has attractive traits and, because of these, emotional connection is made with him/her. Then our desire for connection (an element of relationship) can become prioritized over discernment. When especially enamored, we may brush aside warnings and dismiss any criticism, in order to retain that felt relationship.

Doubt what I am saying? Consider how rabidly a true Seahawks fan will defend their team, defending their favorite character (oops, I mean “player”) when they are called out for a penalty or criticized by one of many commentators. How about the political theater? Have you ever heard someone defend a candidate largely by way of emotion? The good is taken with the bad. Some may say when you take them both then there you have it, the facts of life, but I tell you that some emotional attachments, even based on positive characteristics, can merge with less savory traits, leading to defense and even adoption of the very beliefs that will work against the biblical worldview God is constructing in you.

The strength of the individual’s worldview and how greatly it aligns with a biblical worldview will also affect the impact of entertainment choices. Identifying this development as “spiritual maturity” will aid understanding the impact a conflicting worldview will have upon one’s own. The less developed and tested the worldview, the more it is susceptible to being altered by an opposing view, whether that view is confrontational or politely placed in a palatable offering of entertainment. Children (especially in chronological age) are by nature at foundational stages of constructing their worldview. Much care must be given to build on the solid ground of truth. Expecting young ones to be able, unguided, to distinguish between truth and falsehood is folly. We are commanded in Scripture to teach our children at all times:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

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Church Wars!

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By Jeff Foerster

So, on my journey to the rebel outpost the other day, my transductor gives out. I pop the hood to take a look and unfasten my lightsaber from my utility belt to shine a little light on the problem, but, after a brief crackle, that too goes on the fritz—where is a repair drone when you need one? What a time to be stranded in a less-than-savory part of the galaxy!

Star-Wars-Force-AwakensStar Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens has catapulted itself, with a little help from some devoted fans and a devoted entertainment infrastructure, into the hearts and minds of millions of people across the globe.

Everyone loves a good story and Star Wars, like a cinematic buffet, provides narrative nourishment for varying tastes. Action, adventure, and excitement interwoven with character development tell a tale of good and evil, of courage and cowardice, of loyalty and treachery, of pride and prejudice … uh, sorry, that’s another story.

This latest installment of the Star Wars saga is true to its former tales at its core. We are prompted by the trailer, “The force; it’s calling to you. Just let it in.” Just what is this “force,” and how does one “let it in,” if we accept the encouragement of the characters? Though we see characters engage in “good” and “evil” actions in this film, its foundational philosophy does not align with a Christian worldview of either.

Instead, Buddhist philosophy gets a nod, as the force is largely an impersonal power that permeates the universe. However, the yin-yang symbol does more to illustrate the central struggle in this multi-episodic tale. Chinese religious thought is embedded with a duality of powers seeking to use the force for their own ends. There is no clear separation of good and evil, rather each (see Yin and Yang) contain elements of the other. However, we know that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). In Star Wars, the characters seek to bring balance to the force. Instead of the inevitable destruction of evil and the glorious and eternal reign of good through our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest outcome is a ceasing of the struggle between light and dark and the peaceful coexistence of the two sides of the force.

Some sympathy may be given to the idea of struggle between “light” and “darkness” when we look at human tendencies to sin. We may rightly see the consequences of man’s fallen nature in our world, then wrongly understand the nature of darkness. We can see darkness as an opposing power to light, but present in man, and therefore we can suppose it to be present and equal in all the universe in similar fashion. This falsehood can extend its tendrils into Christian theology, seeing the struggle between the “old man” and the “new creation” of the believer in Christ Jesus as evidence of the continuity between film and reality. But this “sympathy” is misplaced and, if left unchecked, may lead one to embrace this ideology alongside Christian doctrine (if possible) or to replace it outright. The result: the sovereignty and absolute holiness of God is dismissed, and the foundations of truth are discarded.

Now, if these distinctive natures of Christian theology and Star Wars philosophy are clear to you, consider one more inroad to the Christian church. The condition of man’s heart is decidedly deceitful. The prophet Jeremiah cautions us that no one (aside from God) can fully know it (Jeremiah 17:9). Combine this disposition with an errant philosophy wrapped into an entertaining story filled with connectable characters encouraging people to access a supernatural force to achieve their own desires. Add a modicum of “Christian” vocabulary and you have just promulgated the “prosperity gospel.”

This ideology (also called the “Word of Faith” movement) claims that faith is a power in the universe that, when connected with and exercised (sound familiar?), will produce results, given the skill, in this case the strength of belief, of the individual in question. This “faith,” as it is promoted by many false teachers, is so great a power that even God Himself is in subjection to its authority. This belief system takes root when we as humans become the point of reference instead of a holy, perfect God. With misplaced focus, humanity and our many desires take center stage, resulting in the supplanting of God and the making of Man the epicenter around which all history dwells.

This is dangerous ground, to put it lightly; it is the same ground that Adam and Eve tread in the Garden that long-ago, tragic day. This belief is in contradiction to the truth that God is the supreme power in the universe, transcending all powers and authorities, even the vastness of the physical dimensions of all time and space. Without a watchman on the wall, a guard for your mind and heart, and a guard to the hearts and minds of your family and others placed in your care, serious damage may result.

“My people perish for lack of knowledge,” declares the Lord (Hosea 4:6). Don’t be one of them. Speak truth to yourself and speak truth into your relationships. We have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), but we are also cautioned to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Do this as you watch movies, as you read books, and as you live lives pleasing to God the Father in a world which rejects Him and seeks to nullify the truth of the gospel of Jesus our Lord and Savior!

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