Monthly Archives: December 2011

Serendipity or Destiny?

Is there such a thing as “destiny?” My grandmother believes in destiny—or to her…providence—to such a degree that she vehemently proclaims that luck is a pure illusion. Over Thanksgiving, I recall Grandma telling my brother, “Luck doesn’t exist!” For my grandmother, everything happens for a reason and is preordained by God. Grandma’s faith in God’s sovereignty and providence supersedes any other element of control in the universe. Chance, luck, serendipity…these forces do not exist.

In the movie Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale’s character, Sara, is a lot like my grandmother. She’s completely confident that if something is meant to be…it will be. Her faith in destiny is overpowering and alluring. For her romantic counterpart, Jonathan, her convictions are extremely frustrating. Logic, comprehension, control are all necessary components for Jonathan. He has feelings for Sara and wants to ensure that those feelings develop into a relationship. Sara, however, is perfectly content leaving the development of their relationship in the hands of destiny.

According to Simeon, Jesus Christ was destined to bring joy to some and revelatory darkness to others; some would follow Christ, while others would oppose him.

“Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, ‘This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.’”

—Luke 2:33-35

For Simeon, holding the Christ child in his arms that day was not serendipitous. It was definitely pleasant, but it wasn’t an accident. Simeon expected it! God had promised him that someday he would lay eyes on the Messiah…the Savior of the world…the Light to the Gentiles. Simeon knew his destiny and he knew the destiny of Jesus. He also knew that the joy Jesus would bring to us would come at a high cost. The joy we receive would accompany a sword that pierces the soul of Mary, the side of Christ, and the heart of God. Jesus was no accident, and neither was his death upon a cross.

Is a confessing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior serendipitous? Is one’s faith a pleasant, accidental discovery? Or, is one’s faith an intentional directive from God? Do I get to choose whether I am one of the many who fall or one of the many who will receive joy?

I, like my grandmother and Sara, believe that God is ultimately in control. I believe in destiny! I’m not going to stand idly by, however, and assume that life is simply a chess game and I’m a mere pawn only advancing forward when God so chooses. Here’s my answer to this conundrum:

  1. I whole-heartedly agree with the following quote from Serendipity: “Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. Uh-uh. But rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan.”
  2. Some of the events that make up that tapestry require me to act.

Therefore, I’m going to trust that my faith in Christ is predestined…yet I will daily choose to actively pursue Jesus with passion and vigor.

…and YES, I’m still going to ask her for her phone number.

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The Perfect Gift

When I was thirteen, I went through a phase where I desperately searched for a hobby—something I could claim as my own…my identity. I wanted people to look at me and tell their family and friends, “Hey! Do you know who that is? That’s Shawn Vander Lugt, the renown coin collector or model railroader or stamp collector or latch hook expert or toilet paper tube collector.” Yes…I admit it:

“Hi, my name is Shawn Vander Lugt. When I was thirteen, I collected toilet paper tubes.”  

I distinctly remember what launched this frantic need for a self-defining hobby. The Christmas before my thirteenth birthday, my brother received an art set, pads of paper, charcoals, art pencils, and so on. My brother is an artist…and an extremely gifted one. He would show off his work at family Christmas gatherings and everyone would “Oooh” and “Ahhh” at his latest masterpiece. God blessed my brother with a gift…a talent that far exceeded anything of which I was capable. My brother embraced this gift from God; he uses it regularly and is productive with it. I have no doubts that when God holds my brother accountable, God will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

I was proud of my brother’s gift, and never jealous of it. However, I wanted to possess my own gift, a gift that I too could embrace…one for which I could be held accountable. I wanted to make my God proud. Ergo…on that great and triumphant day, when I fall on my knees before my Lord, I wanted to show God my impressive collection of toilet paper rolls. I wanted God to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few toilet paper rolls; I will put you in charge of a million toilet paper rolls.

Wouldn’t that be AWESOME?

I eventually gave up my impulsive pursuit for a hobby and later discovered my perfect gift. The gift for which someday I hope God will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the east paid Him a visit. Upon coming to the house, they saw Jesus with His mother, bowed down, and worshiped Him. Next, the wise men presented Jesus with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

These three gifts weren’t just random Christmas presents. They were more like my brother’s art set. They embodied Jesus’ identity and ultimate purpose. They were the perfect gifts. Hebrews summarizes Jesus’ purpose and his fulfillment of these gifts most eloquently:

GOLD: Jesus, the King of Kings

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

—Hebrews 1:3-4, 8

FRANKINCENSE: Jesus, the Great High Priest

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

—Hebrews 4:14-16

MYRRH: Jesus, the Savior of the World

“He [Jesus] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

—Hebrews 9:12-15

Every Christmas, we remember the perfect gifts Jesus received from the wise men. These gifts embodied the Gospel message in its entirety. Corresponding to Jesus’ royalty and authority over the world, His position at God’s right hand as our mediator and High Priest, and His authority over sin and death through His death and resurrection, the gifts of the wise men were perfection. The wise men NAILED IT!

This year, when you’re out doing your last-minute Christmas shopping and you have that new vacuum cleaner for your wife at the checkout stand, think about the message you’re giving. Is this gift the best expression of your wife’s purpose? What gift embodies who she is as a person? What gift embodies who you are as a person?

 What is your gold…your frankincense …your myrrh?


Excluded!

When I was in Jr. High, one of the “cool kids” threw a huge birthday party. Everyone who was anyone was invited. When I didn’t receive an invitation, I was devastated. The weekend of the party arrived and I floundered at home in my own self-pity.  Winning the lottery couldn’t have made that weekend any better. Whether someone doesn’t invite you to a birthday party or picks you last for a kickball team, exclusion is devastating to one’s self-esteem.

Evangelists proclaim the Gospel and boast that it’s for everyone—everyone who believes. The problem arrived when “authority”—whatever that may be—began to dictate who believed and who didn’t and thereby excluded those who they assessed didn’t believe. Heresies developed, Synods responded with disciplinary action, dogma became authoritative, Scripture and the papacy were exonerated. Christianity became a religion just like all the others and it no longer was a faith for “everyone.” Because of this fact, Christianity is often –and rightly so—accused of being an exclusionary religion. Christian dogma mandates faith in Christ—his death and resurrection—as the sole requirement for inclusion. If one doesn’t believe, one is not included in the community of faith. My question is:

Who instilled the authority upon us, as Christians, to determine whether one truly believes or not?

The Apostle Paul writes:

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

—1 Corinthians 3:5-7

I wish Paul had added one more function to the end of this passage. Who harvests? From other Scripture passages, we know that God is the one who harvests the wheat when it is ready. Unfortunately, over time, the Church has assumed the harvesting responsibility. When we begin to decide who’s in and who’s out, tragedies such as the crusades, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, slavery, apartheid, and exclusive measures the Church embarks upon.

I’m just as guilty of judgment as the next person. Where did we, as Christians, go wrong? When did grace take second place—or even third or fourth place—over condemnation? When did we renounce our divine commission to plant the seed and water it in the fields, and instead take on the harvesting responsibilities?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel appeared to the destitute and impoverished shepherds in the fields nearby. The Lord’s glory radiated about the shepherds, and they were afraid. The angel comforted them saying, “Don’t be afraid! I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master” (Luke 2:10-11—The Message).

These evangelists are right-on. The Gospel is for everybody, worldwide. God loved everyone so much that he sent his Son into the world to die, so that anyone who believes in Him has eternal life. Sure, after God harvests the crops, the wheat is definitely separated from the tares. Yet, whether one truly believes is for God to decide and no one else. As Christians, we are called to emulate the shepherds, go out into the world, and tell everyone what we see and hear—to testify about our own experiences with our Lord and Savior.  Like the shepherds and like the Apostle Paul, we plant the seed. We are also called as Christians to make disciples, to teach others about Christ and the wonders that lie within a genuine faith in Jesus. Like Apollos, we are to water the seed. Let’s leave the growing and the harvesting to God.

It breaks my heart to see condemnation, exclusion, and hatred spewing from the mouths of Christians—especially during Christmas. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, a joyful event for EVERYBODY…worldwide.


Augustus Gloopitis

My daughter is currently learning about the Roman Empire in school. Thereby, her weekly spelling words surround this topic. Last week, one of her spelling words was Augustus, the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. I quiz her daily on her spelling words. As I state the words—instead of using the word in a sentence—I attempt to use the word in a song. I had trouble with Augustus, so as an alternative to singing, I quoted Luke 2:1 in the King James Version: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” My daughter immediate realized that I didn’t contribute to her quiz by singing the word in the lyrics of a song and began to sing the first line of “Augustus Gloop!” From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!

I knew the next line…so I continued:

The great big greedy nincompoop!

She was impressed…especially with the word “nincompoop!”

Here’s the complete song from the movie:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
The great big greedy nincompoop!
Augustus Gloop!
So big and vile
So greedy, foul, and infantile
‘Come on!’ we cried, ‘The time is ripe
To send him shooting up the pipe!
But don’t, dear children, be alarmed;
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed,
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed
Although, of course, we must admit
He will be altered quite a bit.
Slowly, the wheels go round and round,
The cogs begin to grind and pound;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we’re absolutely sure
Then out he comes! And now! By grace!
A miracle has taken place!
A miracle has taken place!
This greedy brute, this louse’s ear,
Is loved by people everywhere!
For who could hate or bear a grudge
Against a luscious bit of fudge?”

My daughter’s quick modification from the biblical reference of Caesar Augustus in the prologue to Jesus’ birth to Augustus Gloop caused me to take pause. Is there a connection here? Of course there is! And if there isn’t…I’m going to create one.

Augustus Gloop was a nasty, greedy, gluttonous pig…and his parents facilitated and enabled him. Augustus represents Christmas spirit gone awry. This year’s Black Friday commenced the Christmas season with pepper spray in the Wal-Mart electronics department, burglary in the Wal-Mart parking lot, trampling at shopping malls, and all-out madness. The enabling parents of the Augustus Gloops of the world were trying to save a few pennies. In so doing, they were perpetually contributing to the greed and gluttony of their progenies.

When Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river and is whisked toward the fudge room, he’s beginning the process of refinement. Augustus Gloop is transformed from an undesirable, brutish, dog into a loveable, unselfish child. Willy Wonka assures us that Augustus will be just fine.  In fact, by some miracle, Augustus Gloop will be changed…he will be “loved everywhere.”

Jesus’ humble birth—his being wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger—is  a true representation of the desired Christmas spirit…the spirit that seems to have been lost in the disarray of flat-screen televisions, Apple products, and innovative gaming systems. Jesus’ incarnation is Almighty God in the form of a helpless baby with only straw for a bed. God could’ve come as the Roman emperor, the High Priest, or a general in the Roman infantry. He didn’t. God didn’t perpetuate the concept that riches, possession, power, and success were necessary in order to transform the world. Instead, God did the exact opposite. In Jesus, we see humility, faith, compassion, a giving spirit, and sacrifice as those necessary qualities. Faith in Jesus—his death and resurrection—is transformational. The true spirit of Christmas is to believe in the purpose of this humble baby and become transformed through Him. Jesus’ Spirit will help us combat the symptoms of Augustus Gloopitis, and embrace the love, purity, and transformation of Christmas.


Unfaithfulness

Very few things in this world are more traumatic to the integrity of one’s heart than unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness can drive one to murder another human being, murder one’s self, or spiral downward into severe depression. A broken heart is devastating.

Scripture testifies to the heartlessness of unfaithfulness with the mandate found in Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Wow, just think if we still enforced this precept today. We definitely wouldn’t have a population problem…and unemployment? Forget about it!

According to Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary were as good as married. After Joseph proposed his intentions to Mary, he had to serve Mary’s father for a specified period of time…a poor-man’s dowry. During this time, Joseph and Mary had to abstain from intimate relations, but they were considered married for all intents and purposes. Joseph was waiting patiently—or quite possibly, impatiently—for his wedding night with Mary, and then BAM…one day she shows up preggers. Talk about a smack in the face. Joseph knew about the Levitical mandate when he discovered that his fiancé was pregnant. Joseph knew he could legitimately have her executed. Unfortunately, he didn’t know who the culprit was, and Mary wasn’t fessing up. In fact, Mary had concocted some far-fetched “conceived by the Holy Spirit” mumbo jumbo. In a valiant display of grace and mercy, Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly in order to avoid the public stoning of the woman he loved. Joseph’s heart was breaking. The love of his life had been unfaithful.

We know today that Mary didn’t develop a fanciful story regarding the conception of Jesus; we know that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless…for the fun of it, let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s sandals for a second. Perhaps a visit from an angel in my dreams confirming my fiancé’s alibi would convince me to stay with her, but it wouldn’t completely heal my heart; it wouldn’t eradicate all doubt. Even though Joseph married Mary, he was probably still nursing the aftermath of his broken heart.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and the Magi from the East presented their gifts to Jesus, Joseph’s favorite angel paid him another visit in yet another dream. I can hear Joseph saying, “Oh great…it’s you again!” The angel said to Joseph, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” Matthew tells us that Joseph got up, took Jesus and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. Joseph stayed in Egypt until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).

Many skeptics argue that this particular prophecy from Hosea wasn’t speaking of Jesus (God’s Son), but of Israel. Upon reading the verse, Hosea 11:1, one would have to agree with the skeptics. Hosea 11:1-2 reads: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.”

There’s really nothing to be skeptical about it. Matthew wasn’t an idiot…he knew exactly what he was doing by referencing this verse. Joseph’s trip to Egypt—with Mary and Jesus in tow—and then back again wasn’t the fulfillment of some literal interpretation of Hosea 11:1. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the essence of Hosea’s prophecy…in its entirety. The book of Hosea gives us a visual image into how God feels when his people are unfaithful. God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute who, even after she marries Hosea, continues to cheat on him with other men in public. God tells Hosea to do this so that Hosea could feel the way God feels every time His people put their trust in other gods. Hosea 11 is a window into the very heart of God. God wants nothing more than to deliver His people from the slavery of sin and desolation. Even when the love of His life is unfaithful, God remains faithful to His commitment—God’s love never ceases. God never gives up wanting to save His people, even when they find comfort in the arms of another. At the conclusion of this passage, God expresses His love for His people in this sonnet:

 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes.”

—Hosea 11:8-11

God sent the heart-broken Joseph back to Egypt to illustrate the true purpose of Jesus. It wasn’t so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by traveling from Egypt back to Israel. It was so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by redeeming a people who perpetually broke God’s heart through unfaithfulness. Jesus is the final solution through which God will deliver His wandering people from the slavery of sin and death that is so often equated to the bondage they experienced in Egypt.

Jesus, the Lion of Judah, roars upon his victory over the grave. Jesus’ victory delivers us from our Egypts…from our Assyrias…from all those places in our lives that hold us captive. Even though our unfaithfulness breaks God’s heart, through Jesus, God calls us (his sons and daughters) out of Egypt…out of sin and death and He redeems us. Now we can flutter like doves, and settle in our homes…in our homes with the Lord.


My Best Friend’s Girl

The sun was peeking over Long’s Peak and spraying its resplendent rays along the western slope of the Devil’s Backbone. I had spent the sweltering summer day hiking with my children through Lory State Park. Upon the completion of our hike, we pensively watched teenagers jump from the red cliffs into the refreshing water of Horsetooth Reservoir while we waded along the shoreline. Even though all three of us wanted to join the teenagers and plunge into the cool waters, we abdicated the idea, jumped into my Chevy Metro, turned on the air conditioner, and drove home. It had been a great day.

As we rounded the curve, just past Masonville, “My Best Friend’s Girl” by the Cars started to resound over the airways of my Metro’s state-of-the-art stereo system. I turned it up and began to “jam out.” My children watched with mortified looks. I, however, knew that—deep down—they were impressed with my Napoleon Dynamite skills. Upon the song’s conclusion, I turned down the volume and my daughter simultaneously asked, “So…is that song about a guy who used to date his best friend’s girlfriend?”

“It sure is!” I answered.

“Did you ever date your best friend’s girlfriend, Dad?”

Taking over, my son answered her saying, “It’s just a song. Dad’s only had a couple girlfriends. Shoot. He doesn’t even have a BEST FRIEND!”

BAM! DOUBLE BURN!      …and from my own son!

My son’s burn was true…and I have only myself to blame. I named him after the Old Testament prophet, Micah. The role of the prophet—then and now–is two-fold.  The prophet’s inspired by God’s Spirit to analyze his culture’s contemporary situation and “state the obvious.” In addition to cultural analysis, the prophet also provided his society with a futuristic perspective of either judgment, hope, or a combination of the two.  My son—named after a prophet—analyzed his father’s current state of affairs. It can be debated as to whether his analysis was of divine origin, or whether it was just THAT obvious. Unfortunately, my son didn’t provide me with gifts of clairvoyance. He didn’t impart any resemblance of hope for a future girlfriend…or SHOOT….even a future best friend. My son is halfway to becoming a true prophet and fulfilling the prophecy of his given name.

It’s December 1st.  For the next 24 days, as we sojourn through the Advent season, we’ll reflect upon the prophets of old and their divinely inspired assessment of their contemporary cultures, as well as their futuristic insights of Messianic hope, peace, joy, love, and reconciliation, which was—and continues to be—fulfilled in our Immanuel, the Prince of Peace.

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

—Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7