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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Great Expectations

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By Jeff Foerster

My expected delivery of a short treatise on how the philosophy behind Star Wars has infiltrated the Christian church has been pushed back past its opening date. This coming polemic will simply have to wait, as I myself uncovered, and will here reveal, something simpler and much greater: hope. In this age of Islamic terrorism, economic instability, and frequent natural disaster, hope has by many been relegated to the category of “four-letter word.”

You may not be able to accomplish all that you ever dreamed, but you will be able to accomplish all that God has planned for you! He knows the end from the beginning and knows you better than yourself. He has plans that are greater than you can imagine or could ever craft if you had a thousand years for planning and another thousand to execute; but, do you believe this? Will you trust that being the servant of all here on Earth can lead to greatness for eternity? (Luke 9:48, 22:26-27)

I tell you these words with truth, but true hope does not originate with me; neither does it come from you. This is good news! Being a hope-filled person doesn’t require boundless energy, nor a gregarious personality brimming with enthusiasm. It doesn’t require me to listen daily to talks from motivational speakers or to make lists of happy things. I am not the source. Nor are you. God alone is the source of all hope, for hope requires promise, and promise requires power to fulfill it; He alone is able.

JeffLastWordI have hope because of Jesus. I have hope because our Savior was promised from days of old. I have hope because Jesus lived a life bent not on His own glory, but to seek and to save the lost, declaring the great news of the Father He was sent to deliver. I have hope because Christ despised the cross, but went willingly, becoming a slave to the will of the Father. I have hope because He died, showering the ground with His blood in order to shower me with forgiveness and mercy. I have hope because Messiah rose from the dead so that you and I could have life eternally! I have hope because Jesus is coming back again for all those who love Him. I have hope because heaven and earth will one day become one as God makes His dwelling among men forever and ever, amen!

I wanted to stop writing there. I wanted to end with an exclamation point, and where do we go from here? But “go” we must. Inspiration without action is futility; it is a love song never given voice.

Just as thankfulness is a choice, so too, embracing hope requires the will. Hope requires bending the will to focus on what is not seen (Hebrews 11:1), Living in hope is faithfulness of the heart. It requires an attitude, a pathway of conscious decisions to divide thoughts into two camps, those that please Christ and those that should be crushed, bound, and burned.

How do we “choose” hope? Again, hope is not all butterflies and lollipops and Cheshire smiles. It is lived out among struggles, and difficulties, and sorrows. It requires a firm adherence to the truth, and a reliance upon God to administer it with integrity. Choosing hope announces the unstoppable power of our Creator and affirms the loving-kindness and persistence found in His grace.

It is a choice – a choice to see the day not as a set of circumstances with dictates defining reality, but as a series of opportunities to express thankfulness, trust in His promises, and take action in steps small and large. If you find yourself staring into broken circumstances and listening to voices telling you, “It doesn’t matter …” or, “No one will know …”, or “How many times do I have to …?” At that point recall the words of God, what he has said about you and His promises for you: “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). In addition, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). God has plans for us, for good, and we can demonstrate our faith in Him and hope in these promises.

Choose obedience like Abraham did. He was a man who “went forth” from everything known when God called him to do so. Now, God has not called all to travel to unknown lands or to sell all that they own and give to the poor, but He has called each of us to obedience to the clear commands of Scripture. Allow me to engage you in two practical steps:

  1. Pray for God to reveal His commands as you read the Scriptures. Pray for His power to obey those commands He lays upon your heart by your eyes and through your ears.
  2. Refresh your view of the Ten Commandments as Jesus describes them -asking God how you might step out in faith to obey from the heart, honoring God when no one else may know, when you don’t see a reward on the horizon, save for pursuing a closer relationship with the Almighty, even if you’re not sure how obedience and trust work together toward that end.

Embrace obedience for sure, but above all know your Bible and keep your eyes and heart fixed upon our Savior (Hebrews 12:2). May your adoration forever be poured out to the One who loved you before the foundations of the world!

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Giving Thanks

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever been around thankful people? Do you notice the effect it has upon you? Listening to their positive talk and glass-half-full attitude makes one feel just a little bit better, just a little warmer, as if the sunshine of possibility is rising up inside of you. Rodgers and Hammerstein is flowing through your noggin and out through your whistler: “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” When those folks are around there ain’t nothin’ that can get you down! That is, unless you’re not feelin’ it.

Sometimes I ain’t feeling it. Sometimes I can’t relate to what they say. While they are zip-a-dee-doo-dah-ing along their yellow brick road, I find myself looking for a bucket, just in case, and trying to cleanse my figurative palate of a generic plastic taste. I am not feeling like giving thanks. And that’s when I start to get it. I look around and realize that many of those giving thanks are not doing so because “sunshine” is always on their doorstep each morning. There are many in our congregation that could make “dour” a lifestyle choice; they bear circumstances and are confronted with feelings that would make such a decision quite easy, even somewhat justifiable.

And there we go … it’s a decision. Giving thanks is a choice. It is not birthed of circumstance and emotion; rather, thanksgiving is an attitude which blossoms in praise, like a plant well-watered by truth about who we are, who God is, and what He has and is doing for us. More than that, I believe its roots go deeper into the soil of trusted, experienced relationship with Jesus.

So I don’t have to wait for emotion to come over me and usher me into thankfulness. I don’t have to sit and wonder why some people “get to” be thankful. I don’t have to be “feelin’ it.” Instead, I can choose first thankfulness and place circumstance and emotion in the able and loving hands of my Creator.

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Moses Anyone?

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By Jeff Foerster

Have you ever pretended to be Moses when you were younger? Standing there before the water (gutter stream), arms held high with a staff (tree branch) in hand, holding back raging waters while a multitude of Israelites (ants) crossed through the sea. Maybe you became David facing a giant with a sling and a few smooth stones, or Esther, about to risk your life before the king.

Maybe this wasn’t you as a child, but have you as an adult imagined yourself in the role of a famous biblical character and wondered if you would have made the same choices? What might it have been to experience those “mountain-top” periods of victory or encounter with the power of God?

So, I find myself considering Moses. What was it like to see that bush aflame and then to hear the voice of the living God? What awe was inspired when standing before Pharaoh, lord over the ancient world, and proclaiming judgment upon him, watching God display power through plagues? And what of the adrenaline-junkie experience of walking between walls of water?!

That’s not my life. Mine is much more ordinary, filled with routine and repetition. Over a period of time, one week looks like the next with little to mark its passing save for a seasonal change in weather or holiday celebration. I can begin to wonder what God has for me and if my “adventure” will be coming soon. In this mode I long to have my days filled with experiences rivaling those named in Scripture. Where is my adventure? How can I achieve greatness in life? How can I actualize the skills God has given me, doing something no one else can do? All of this is a longing for significance. And all of this is focused on me.

There was but one Moses. What of the Israelite slaves? 400 years of dust, and mud, and searing sun, and burning muscles, throbbing veins, generational hopelessness and death. Hundreds … thousands … likely millions of Israelites lived and died with not even mention of their name handed down to us. They made bricks, they served their masters, they had children, and they were no more. There was no glory for them, no tales of bravery to be recounted.

The story of centuries of Israelites under Egyptian slavery seems a waste. It’s a depressing thought to consider each individual life, born in slavery and dying under the same. Some were likely gifted as artists, others craftsmen. Some skilled as leaders and statesmen. None of these talents could be fully actualized, having been crushed under the weight of slavery. Whatever dreams might have been, would not see the light of day.

As the story of my life unfolds I can make the mistake of evaluating it by varying measures of success – financial, career, or otherwise. If I choose this path I make one primary and critical error – focusing on myself. It’s easy to take this focus; even our American culture celebrates the importance of the individual.

The narrative of this life, rightly understood, is much larger than the one, starring myself, I often have running through my head. This story is much greater, for it belongs to God. He will accomplish His purposes. I may play a role, but the plot does not pivot because of me. God decides what prominence my character takes; He decides that with infinite wisdom. My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to yield in faithful obedience to the commands of God. He does not hide these, but openly proclaims them in His Scriptures. Though, even these good things can be diversion if I think that through obedience I gain His acceptance and love.

The sun neither rises nor falls because of me. I do not change the seasons, nor do the rains heed my presence. But I do know and rest in this: whatever my lot in life, whatever my accomplishments, whatever my experiences, whatever my trials, God has placed me securely into His family. My significance is born of no other substance than this relationship with Him.

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Spare Some Change?

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By Jeff Foerster

Change. Nothing stays the same. Has your opinion ever changed? If so, how firmly to your current position do you hold? Have you ever learned something? If you have, you must admit some ignorance prior to that time. Your hairline and waistline may change. Your choice of clothing (hopefully) changes over time. Your fingernails grow, and there is nothing you can do to stop them (ask Nebuchadnezzar about this — Daniel 4:33).

With this constant personal change, the desire may build for something dependable outside of yourself to lean upon. Do not look for consistency and hope in the greatness of America. Our monetary system is smoke, clouding mirrors. Our nation’s position of leadership in the world is quickly disintegrating. Our cultural priorities have become infantile and delusional. There is more strength in dry rot.

If constancy, if hope, is not to be found within ourselves, in treasure, national might, nor human appetites of any kind, where do we look? To what or whom do we run? The Christian readily knows this answer, but do you consider, O Christian, to what lengths God has gone to demonstrate this to you? Do you see how God has spoken to all generations by the perpetual word of His creation?

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” the Scriptures tell us (Psalm 19). “Pretty!” you say, and move on with the day. But do you know what this means?

The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west each and every day like clockwork. Seasons take their place, in order, each and every year without fail. Seeds send forth shoots and trees blossom and bear fruit. Gravity continues day in and day out. Water falls from the sky, pooling upon the earth. Then, nearly imperceptibly, it vanishes into thin air, only to return again and again. Oceans roar the coming of the tides, only to shrink back a few hours later what was so forcefully pronounced, readying themselves for the next surge.

Though the human world is bent on change, even glorifying it for its own sake, God has provided stability in the chaos, a strong tower in the whirlwind. Though there be more, one great message I take from the constancy of creation echoes in the whisper of God’s own voice to us:

“… since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made …” (Romans 1:20).

Nature demonstrates His nature, consistent and reliable, upon which we can depend. The very earth upon which we live, move, and breathe testifies at all times. Jesus is the Author and Perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2) and we fear not because the Sun rises each day, water falls from the sky and is taken up again, and the ground brings forth fruit in season, reminding us that the Maker of all things is true to His word. Hills speak, “God is our Rock,” and mountains proclaim, “Yahweh is our Firm Foundation.” Oceans roar, “Jesus is our Strong Tower!” The wind cries “Faithful and True!” and the heavens declare the glory of our great God!

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Greatness!

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By Jeff Foerster

True greatness is not about accomplishing great works, achieving great positions or “success,” or fulfilling one’s destiny or “calling.”

I challenge you to go back and read again the above sentence. Several times. Do you believe these words are true, or have you already begun to explain them away saying, “Yeah, except …” or, “I agree, but …”? Granted, on the surface it sounds counterintuitive. It may come across like the opening lines from a suspect motivational speech ending in, “That’s why I’m living in a van, down by the river!” So what then? Do I suggest shunning hard work and making a name for oneself?

Now, before you run off and vote socialist in upcoming elections and live off government largess (made available by China, Japan, and your hardworking neighbor), consider that the above statement is not a call to inaction. Rather, it is an invitation to shake off the malaise of discontent induced by a life lived off target. Being “driven,” “working hard,” “going the extra mile,” and “striving for excellence” can each be positive characteristics. The problem comes not from the degree of effort exerted, but the expected outcome. It is when we hold tightly to our vision, our calculated plan, that we set aside the purposes of God and relegate ourselves to lesser positions, though they might seem more desirable to human eyes.

Finding one’s strength in outcomes is alluring, precisely because it appeals to our sinful flesh. It does not require faith, which is what God desires, but relies on what can be seen, felt, experienced. Yet faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval (Hebrews 11:1-2). God has a grand plan, conceived in perfect wisdom and born of perfect love. Jesus tells us not to work for food that perishes, nor gather treasures upon the earth (John 6:27; Matthew 6:19). He also warns us concerning seeking the approval of men rather than that of God (Matthew 6:1-2, 5).

So what of this “making a name for oneself”? The truth is, God already has a name for you: son, daughter, and fellow heir with Christ. The question is not whether to trade a life spent pursuing significance for one of insignificance. Rather, it is a question of determining who decides what is significant—you, or the Lord? Are you willing to submit to His plans and His purposes? Will you trust that He knows what He is doing and where He is leading you, though you know not the details? Are you willing to trust God in the routine, in the “small things?” Are you willing to let God organize the priorities of the life He wants to live through you? You are not your own; you were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Rest assured, “significance” is exactly what God has planned for you, though it may not look as you imagined, and it certainly will not be within your control. Unwittingly, a musical ensemble by the name of Pink Floyd illustrates in their song, “Wish You Were Here,” a choice and a warning for us: “Did you exchange, a walk-on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?”

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