Humankind’s Sin Nature: The 21st Century Stumbling Block


The_Holy_BibleDoes the Bible teach that Man has a sin nature? That question really needs to be the point Christians focus on when discussing sin. If the authoritative Word of God teaches it, even though we may not understand exactly how it works, then we need to embrace it as true.

The Bible introduces the concept of Man’s sin nature in Genesis. Chapter 5 states that Adam, created in God’s image, gave birth after the Fall to sons formed in his image (rather than in God’s).

Paul in Romans 5 explains this in some detail as he contrasted Adam and his act of disobedience with Jesus and His act of atonement. Here are the key portions focusing on sin:

12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come…

16aThe gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

17aFor if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one …

18aSo then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

19aFor as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,

Verse 12 makes the clear statement: all men die because all men sin. If, however, sin comes about as a result of the “blank slate” of our lives being corrupted by Satan and the world, Man is not at fault. Why then must he die?

Further, how would the “blank slate” be a fundamental shift from Adam, made in God’s likeness, to Adam’s descendants, fallen from grace? Adam had the freedom to obey God. So too, if the “blank slate” were true, his descendants would have the freedom to obey God. Where is the alteration of the human race that Romans 5 points to?

Was it only in the introduction of death as the consequence for sin? But verse 15 says all die because all sin. If all don’t sin, but all die, then God would appear to be meting out undue punishment.

If, on the other hand, the giving of free will was the cause of all Mankind sinning, then how was what God created deemed good?

No, something changed because Adam sinned. He who was good—according to the witness of Omniscience—and consequently able to be in God’s presence daily, chose against God, forever shutting the door on the possibility of Man entering God’s presence on his own. Sin barred the door.

Was this sin, a sin nature or merely sin acts committed by each person? A sin nature.

A cursory study of the original words in the Old Testament translated as “sin” or “iniquity” show that the meanings can refer to a one time act (or guilt) or to a condition.

When a word has more than one way it can be understood, it seems wisest to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Hence the verses in Romans should guide our thinking about sin as a condition, as should the passages in Genesis. Add in what David wrote in Psalm 51 “5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,/And in sin my mother conceived me.”

A verse like Exodus 34:7 seems to be rather thorough in naming what God forgives: “who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Would all of those refer to specific acts and none to a condition? (And can someone remain guilty if his sin acts have been forgiven?)

The entire book of Job serves as a wonderful explanation of sin nature. Job was a righteous man. God declared it, Job insisted upon it, and yet in the end, he lay face down before God, repenting. Why? Because his righteousness wasn’t God’s righteousness. His, like mine or any person’s is but a filthy rag.

If sin wasn’t a condition, then it would not of necessity block us from God. The sacrifices God instituted for the nation Israel should have been sufficient to remove sin from God’s presence. But Isaiah tells the truth about sin:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short/ That it cannot save;/ Nor is His ear so dull/ That it cannot hear./ But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,/ And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
– Isa 59:1-2

In other words, sin is the roadblock that keeps us from reconciliation with God.

What saved Abraham, then? God’s choice of him and his belief in God. It wasn’t righteous acts. Abraham actually went on to do some unrighteous acts after God declared him justified.

What saved Peter? Christ’s choice of him and his belief in Christ, though he too went on to do some unrighteous acts after God justified him.

Sin acts don’t condemn us and righteous acts don’t save us. Jesus said in John 3:18 we are already condemned if we don’t believe in Him.

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The problem that the Pharisees had was one of trying to live sinless lives. As Paul said, he had the credentials if anyone did. He had the blood lines, the education, the connections, and “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Phil. 3:6b).” But he went on to say, he counted it all as rubbish in order to “gain Christ.”

Reconciliation with God doesn’t come from good works, not because God doesn’t want us to do good works (He’s give us lots of admonition and instruction about how to live our lives) but because righteous acts fall short. They fail to deal with our sin nature. Sacrifice could deal with a sin act, but it can’t cleanse the heart. That takes the blood of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world.

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This article is a re-post of one entitled “Sin, the Stumbling Block or the Roadblock” which appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in September, 2010.

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Doing Good


tennis_shoesThe nightly news has taken to reporting YouTube videos that go viral. One they featured last night was of a store clerk who stooped to tie the shoes of a customer who would have had a hard time doing it himself.

According to their reports, the clerk has received an outpouring of positive feedback. The customer who filmed him bending and tying this stranger’s shoes supposedly teared up because it was so stunning to see someone do a random act of kindness like that.

I suspect it had such great impact because no one had told this store clerk he should do a random act of kindness. In other words, there was no campaign, no day set aside to look for someone to help. He acted because he saw a need and wanted to do what he could.

The story made me think—that’s the kind of self-forgetful love God intends His Church to display, first toward one another, then toward our neighbors, and even toward our enemies.

Imagine what an impact the Church could have. I mean, if one random act of kindness moved people so, what might a dozen do? Or a hundred? Multiply that by every city that has a hundred Christians.

It seems to me either people would notice or people would start taking random acts of kindness for granted. Of course, not every random act of kindness is going to end up on YouTube. In fact, if it does, there’s a possibility it isn’t so random.

I remember when America’s Funniest Home Videos were random instead of staged. I liked them a lot better. Something about the pre-planned spontaneous moment loses authenticity. I suspect the same would happen with pre-planned random acts of kindness.

My guess is, a lot of people would be willing to do a random act of kindness, but we’re too busy and too unaware. We rush past those in need without realizing we could help them. We don’t see the untied shoe or the stalled car or the dropped diaper bag. We could stoop to pick it up or pull out jumper cables or get on our knees to tie it. But we don’t pay enough attention to the strangers around us to realize we could help.

We’ve also become a suspicious lot. We think if someone is offering to do something nice, they must have an ulterior motive.

And we’ve become an independent culture—oddly, when the US was a rural society, neighbors relied on neighbors, but now that we live in close proximity in our cities, we operate on the self-serve principle. Consequently, we may not think to help others because it hasn’t dawned on us that they would want help. We would rather do it ourselves, so they probably would too.

And when we can’t do it ourselves, we pay to have it done. Reportedly, the gentleman who had his shoes tied, tried to pay the clerk for tying them. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, the clerk declined to take any money for doing a good deed.

The first step, I think, is to decide that yes, even little things like tying someone else’s shoes matter. After all, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet.

In that Jewish culture, the job of washing feet was a servant’s job and the recipients were the guests, particularly the guests of honor. Jesus, who truly was the Guest of Honor, took the role of servant, and He stated clearly that He was doing it as an example for His followers.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:13-15)

When I was young, my parents belonged to a church that believed the foot washing command was literal. Hence foot washing became a ceremonial observance attached to communion.

I can tell you, it’s a humbling experience—not so much washing someone’s feet but having someone else wash yours. I get why Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.

But that’s a side issue. The point here is, I believe Jesus wasn’t limiting His command to foot washing. I believe He was saying we are to take the role of servant in our relationships with others.

Hence, we ought to be attentive to those around us. We ought to care more about their time worries than our own. We ought to be willing to go out of our way for others.

Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan did in the story Jesus told to illustrate who our neighbor is? Our neighbor—the person we are to love—is the individual who is in need right in front of us.

In this communication age, we often know of people in need who live half way around the world. Sometimes we think we have a responsibility to them, but we think we have no means for significantly providing them with help. However, we can always pray! That’s not a “cope out.” It’s the best thing we can do because we are involving omnipotent God who can make a difference in their circumstances.

But possibly being so aware of the great needs around the world can make us numb to the smaller needs across the street or down the block. If people aren’t running for their lives or haven’t been imprisoned or kidnapped, we somehow don’t think their needs merit our attention.

In reality, there are people who have the resources to help others in small ways, but they are blind to the very people God has put in their path. So our second step, after we decide little things matter, is to determine that the people God places in front of us matter.

Prayerfully we can make ourselves available to do the small acts of kindness that can make a difference to a watching world starved for love and good news–small acts like tying someone else’s shoes.

Defending God


Lion-origional, smallOne thing that the guest preacher at my church said Sunday is that God doesn’t need us to defend Him. At one point he referenced Rottweilers, as in, some Christians see themselves as attack dogs defending God.

I think this idea that God doesn’t need to be defended has gained traction lately. In fact, I’ve recently read or heard some version of a now famous quote by Charles Spurgeon to that affect: “The truth is like a lion. Whoever heard of defending a lion? Just turn it loose and it will defend itself.”

Yes, Spurgeon said “truth,” not “God.” But the Christian can certainly extrapolate to God.

So, is it true that Christians are not to defend God? Certainly no one is going to actually harm God or do away with Him (though some have tried). And our defense of Him certainly isn’t an attempt to preserve His life.

Rather, as the preacher Sunday used the term, it seemed tied to defending God’s honor or His will, His preferred way of doing things.

It is kind of silly to talk about defending the Sovereign Creator God who is all mighty . . . and yet, I think Scripture asks us to do just that. It’s one of the oddities of the Christian faith—like the last being first and losing our life to save it.

For a while there, leaders in my church liked to say we believers are the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s a good metaphor, but the truth is, Jesus doesn’t need weak, fallible, sinful humans to do His work. But He wants us to do His work.

I think defending God is the same thing. God doesn’t need us to defend Him, but He wants us to. I think that’s a Biblical position. In his short letter, Jude says,

I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (v. 3b, emphasis added)

Paul tells Timothy to “guard what was entrusted,” and even to “fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”

He gives the church in Ephesus the list of armor and tells them to stand firm against the schemes of the devil because we struggle and we need armor to protect us in the struggle.

Peter, in his second letter, had a great deal to say about false teachers, but he concluded by bringing the application home:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness. (2:17)

All this to say, it appears to me Scripture paints a picture of opposition in this world. On the one hand is truth and on the other falsehood—that is, God and His way opposed by Satan and his desires.

So if believers are to be in the fight, we are not just trying to survive. At some point we are to go on the offensive. I think that’s what an apologetics ministry like RZIM is all about:

The primary mission of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is to reach and challenge those who shape the ideas of a culture with the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Excerpt from the RZIM Mission Statement)

But here’s the thing: when the Christian contends for the faith, the primary modus operandi is to proclaim the truth. The gospel itself is an offense to those who are perishing. We certainly don’t need to add our own offense. We ought not put ourselves into the spotlight and become the story.

Rather, we are to contend by speaking the truth in love; speaking with grace; being at peace with all men as much as it is up to us to do so; being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks about the hope that is in us, yet with gentleness and reverence.

So, yes, as an extension of the truth, we are to defend God. We counter lies with proclaiming what is true. That, by the way, is what Spurgeon’s quote is all about—letting the lion out of the cage.

The image is not someone saying, Oh, the lion can defend himself, then walking away. It is of someone actively opening that cage so the lion can go to work.

We Christians too often strive and struggle and find our efforts garnering mockery and ridicule. But I wonder if some of that is because we’ve taken up sticks and stones and have decided to defend God with our own tools and in our own way.

Contending for the faith is little more than opening up the Bible and declaring as true what God said about His person, plan, Word, and work in the world. Mostly, we need to remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces out to lie about God. So we counter the enemy’s offensive by proclaiming the truth.

It’s a job God could do for Himself, but for some reason, it pleases Him to get us involved. It makes me feel as if He’s asked me to guard the King’s crown or something really, really valuable. After all, something worthless needs no guard. Only the most precious needs to be protected. Imagine, God giving us such a responsibility!

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians Are Not Pharisees


Bible-openThis article is a re-post of something I wrote on Facebook yesterday. I apologize to any who waded thr read it earlier. ;-) However, it’s an issue I’m passionate about, so I think the article is worth repeating (with some editing) for those who missed it.

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Rant-ish article. I’m starting to connect some dots and I don’t like the picture I think is emerging. Last week author and friend Mike Duran wrote a blog post about the trend to discount the Bible in favor of following Jesus. That’s one dot.

A second is from the same camp. In this view, the Bible is the idol of the Calvinists (or anyone taking a Sola Scriptura stand). They think the Bible is the third person in the Trinity. (I’ve heard this accusation against some Christians more than once and not just on the Internet.)

A third dot is another trend, this from evangelical pastors wagging the finger at “Pharisees” in the traditional church. Well, if they were talking about non-Christians who pretend to be Christians, I could see the point. But no. This is aimed at people who “think they have to protect God, as if He can’t protect Himself. They have let their passion smother their compassion.” Like the Pharisees, who were just so dog-gone zealous for God that they went out and made a bunch of extra laws.

It’s this last position I’m ranting against. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day, in fact, were God haters. They were no longer keeping the law in order to be holy. I mean Jesus repeatedly nailed them for their hypocrisy—to the point that He called them sons of their father the devil, the father of lies. He spelled it out in Matt. 15

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, / BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. / ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, / TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”

All of which seems rather mild compared to what Jesus said to them in Matt. 23. He started by saying

“The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.

Six times He called them hypocrites, but He also said they were blind guides, serpents, a brood of vipers, and whitewashed tombs.

I finally grasped what Jesus was driving at when I read John 19 recently—specifically this:

“And he [Pilate] said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’ So they cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ ”

I’m emphasizing that last line because it’s the crux of the argument.

Could there be a more pronounced repudiation of God? Not just of Jesus as Messiah (because they still could have thought Jesus wasn’t who they were waiting for, but the true Messiah would still show up), but their repudiation was of any Messiah and of God as their head. That cry was really their declaration of independence. They didn’t hide their wayward hearts with that pronouncement.

But Jesus knew this about them long before they came out in the open. So, I don’t see the Pharisees as well-meaning over-zealous legalists who were trying to please God in the only way they knew how. Rather, they had gone their own way for their own political and financial gain, built their own system, and repudiated God, all the while pretending to follow Him.

So how does this relate to people dissing the Bible in favor of Jesus? I think one bleeds into the other. The implication is that it’s the Bible that makes people legalistic. They want to follow the Bible so they aren’t compassionate and they want to follow the Bible so they don’t follow Jesus. It’s following the Bible that makes the Pharisees because they’re trying so darn hard to please God, just like those poor misguided Pharisees of old.

So the answer is either (a) chuck the parts of the Bible that don’t fit with following Jesus or (b) wake up the silly Christians who have gotten bogged down with the silly legalistic stuff (you know, about homosexuality and such).

So here’s the truth: A Pharisee is a God hater who is trying to go his own way. Consequently, the true Church, Christians who have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, aren’t Pharisees. (I’ll qualify that statement in a bit.)

Second, anyone who wants to follow the Bible—not anyone who follows parts of the Bible that they pick and choose to follow, for whatever reason—most likely knows that Jesus boiled the commandments down to two: Love God and love your neighbors. In other words, there is no way someone reading, believing, and obeying the Bible is going to smother compassion with passion.

The REAL problem is that people aren’t reading the Bible. Christians aren’t and professing Christians aren’t. So, yes (here comes the qualifier), it’s possible for Christians to act in ways that seem Pharisaical. That’s a far cry, however, from being a Pharisee.

And a person doesn’t get Pharisaical by following the Bible too much. The hypocrisy comes from saying one thing and doing another–something the Bible speaks to over and over in James and the gospels and Proverbs and the prophets.

In short, rather than moving away from the Bible we Christians ought to be soaking ourselves in it.

Soaking. In. It.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 5:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Church That Tolerates False Teaching


Pergamon-the white stone-0026The third message Christ delivered in the book of Revelation was to the angel of the church in Pergamum. Almost as if reciting a list of pros and cons, He begins with a declaration of what He knows about this church.

First they held fast to Christ’s name. Then, they did not deny the faith even when they experienced persecution, even when one in their midst was martyred.

Jesus then moved on to the “But I have this against you” column. The number one issue was that someone in their church was doing what the Old Testament prophet Balaam did.

Balaam is actually not as well known as his donkey. He was the prophet hired by Israel’s enemy to curse God’s chosen people. When messengers from the enemy king first approached Balaam, he refused to go. After negotiations and direction from God to go but to only say what God told him to say, Balaam went.

Balaam’s intention was not pure, however. God sent an angel against him and had it not been for his donkey, Balaam would have died. In a miraculous intervention, God allowed the donkey to speak to Balaam, then opened his eyes and set him right.

And yet, though Balaam did deliver God’s message of blessing over the people of Israel instead of the curse he’d been brought to deliver, he found a way to get paid. He told the enemies of Israel how they could entice God’s people to sin. For a time the plan worked. Their sin brought God’s wrath upon Israel, and many people died.

So in the church of Pergamum, there was a “Balaam” teaching ways that would lead God’s people into sin. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were others holding to the teaching of the infamous though anonymous Nicolaitans—those who did deeds God hates.

You’d almost think God was holding this church accountable for being tolerant. And you’d be right. They weren’t removing the Balaam-like false teacher. They weren’t telling the people holding to the teaching of the Nocolaitans to knock it off.

Because they did not take steps against the false teaching in their midst, Jesus told them they needed to repent. And if they didn’t repent, Jesus said he’d come “with the sword of My mouth” and make war on those they should have dealt with.

I suspect this sword is the word of God, which Paul identified in Ephesians as part of the armor of God. Clearly, the best weapon against false teaching is the truth.

Jesus closes his message to Pergamum by once again giving promises to those who “overcome.” You’d think “overcoming” is a theme in these messages.

And still I have to ask the question: overcome what? Interesting that John, who wrote Revelation, had this to say about overcoming in 1 John 5:4:

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

Those who have ears to hear receive the promise that if they overcome, Jesus will give them “hidden manna.”

Manna harkens back to the days of the Exodus when God literally fed His people with the bread of angels. For forty years, He provided for their physical needs. Manna also alludes to Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life.

The second half of the promise is a little more cryptic. Jesus promised to give them a white stone and on the stone would be a “new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Rev. 2:17b).

One possible idea is that the white stone referred to something from the Greek culture:

there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the public expense … These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.” Clarke then gives examples of the different kinds: “Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted … But the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”

The inscription of the new name which no one else knows implies an intimacy between the one who overcomes and God. I think the white stone and new name might be my favorite part of this message though I don’t really understand it.

Just to make things interesting, Jesus also will have a new name no one will know.

He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. (Rev. 19:11)

So in this aspect, those who overcome will be like He who has overcome sin and death and Satan and the world. Amazing that we are even remotely identified with Christ, and yet time and again, that’s His promise.

The Poor Church That Is Rich


Painting of the Gulf of SmyrnaIn delivering messages to the angels of seven first century churches, Jesus generally confronted them about problem areas. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He contradicts the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich. This could possibly be a comparative indicator similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to “the one percent” most of us would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual conditions versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who fled Mosul may be poor now. They’ve been forced out of their homes, have only the belongings they could carry, may not have a way to make a living in whatever refugee camp they’ve landed. They are poor and are suffering tribulation physically in the truest sense.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers to receive doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have the promise for that faithfulness: the crown of life and, if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know we who are in Christ will be like Him. So are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, with Ebola in Africa and tornadoes in Boston, with flooding in Las Vegas and bombs flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel, with Russian-backed terrorists fighting to divide Ukraine and ISIS attacking Christians, with Nigerian girls held captive by Muslim terrorists, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Despising Youth


McCainFatherandGrandfatherWhen I was young, I loved Paul’s counsel to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. Now that I’m likely in Paul’s generation at the time of his writing that letter, I’m less certain it’s such a good idea for young pastors to lead the elders.

Of course it was a great idea in Timothy’s case. Paul described him like this to the Philippians:

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (Phil. 2:19-22)

Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. He was genuinely concerned for the welfare of the church in Philippi. He didn’t seek after his own interests, but those of Christ Jesus. He’d proven his worth in the past, publicly. He’d served with Paul to advance the gospel. He’d worked for Paul the way a child would for his father.

Those are a lot of pluses, but there’s more. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy he tells him to

remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1:3-4)

Young though he was, Timothy could discern between strange doctrine, myths, endless genealogies, speculation and the truth about God. He wasn’t fooled, though apparently men his senior had fallen into such error—people Paul had “handed over to Satan.”

In fact, Paul told Timothy to be an example to others by his speech, conduct, and quality of godly living.

Is it so hard to imagine that young people today might not have the same qualities Timothy had?

I don’t think Timothy was one of a kind, but at the same time, I don’t think his validation in Scripture is cause for the church to rubber stamp someone because he is young.

In other words, in the same way Timothy’s youthfulness was not to be a reason for people in the church to discount what he said, his youthfulness was not the reason they were to pay attention to him, either. Rather, Paul was saying Timothy had a spiritual gift and had served with him and had the ability to discern error. Because of his godliness and service and work for the gospel, his youthfulness wasn’t to prevent him from ministry.

In Colossians Paul said that in the family of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave, or freeman, but Christ is all and in all. In Ephesians, he added male and female. In many ways, though he didn’t list it, he was making a case in 1 Timothy for old and young being included with the others.

Today I see a sad turn of events in the church—division based on age. Maybe I spent too many years teaching junior and senior high schoolers, but I happen to enjoy the Timothys of the church. As I’ve heard from several sources lately, they aren’t the future of the church; they are it’s present, just as much as I am.

Age divisions aren’t new. I experienced the “generation gap” when I was growing up. It’s simply ridiculous, as if youths have nothing to contribute because they haven’t lived long enough and older folk have nothing to contribute because they’ve lived so long.

Isaiah says that “vigorous young men” can stumble badly and that those who are weary and tired can gain new strength by waiting on the Lord.

In other words, old age is not an excuse to retire from Christian service, and youth is not an excuse to avoid it. Older saints serve an important role in the church—they are “like fathers” and “like mothers” to younger members. But youths play an important role too, some, in fact, as significant as Timothy.

More important than the believer’s age is their heart-attitude. Timothy was Paul’s kindred spirit. Any young person who thinks like Paul and cares like Paul and serves like Paul should most definitely not be despised because of his youth.

Published in: on July 14, 2014 at 5:53 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christians Dying For Their Faith


Christian_child_sufferedwithburnwoundsThe news doesn’t carry reports of Christians dying very often, but believers are facing persecution in all kinds of places. Sudan hit the news some years ago, but believers in Nigeria have also faced attack. Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, and reports came out of Iraq months ago that terrorists were targeting Christians. I can only imagine that things are worse now for believers, not better.

In fact, The Catholic Herald has called upon us to provide sanction for persecuted Iraqi Christians.

One organization, Prisoner Alert, has identified 40 countries in which Christians are being persecuted:

In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share your faith Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus. (“Persecution Worldwide”)

This is not some fabrication by extremists or by an organization with an ax to grind. Media outlets as diverse as Fox News and the Huffington Post have recently reported the atrocities committed against Christians.

Perhaps the most straightforward report, however, was the recent article in the Christian Post:

For at least three reasons, the contemporary persecution of Christians demands attention: It is occurring on a massive scale, it is underreported, and in many parts of the world it is rapidly growing.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds that Christians are suffering persecution in more places today than any other religious group; between 2006 and 2012, Pew says, they were targeted for harassment in 151 countries-three-quarters of the world’s states. Similar findings are reported by the Vatican, Newsweek, the Economist, and the 60-year-old Christian support group Open Doors.

These numbers dwarf the ones put out by Prisoner Alert, and the incidents of persecution are well-documented, though not well-known here in the West.

The question is, what are we to do once we know about how our brothers and sisters in the faith are being treated? Some advocate putting pressure on our government and the other governments of the world to censor these countries practicing religious intolerance. Others want to see the US implement economic sanctions.

I have yet to read a report that says we should pray. That, I believe, is the most powerful thing we can do, and it is the most effective and immediate. In so doing we are interceding on behalf of those who are members of our body. What’s more, we’re taking their situation to the One Who can actually do something for them:

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
(Isaiah 40:21-23, emphasis added)

Besides, Scripture can guide us to specific ways we can pray for those facing persecution. Here are just a few which I posted earlier in a comment to friend Mike Duran‘s Facebook update which spurred these thoughts:

* That Christ shall even now as always, be exalted in their body, whether by life or by death (Phil. 1:20).

* That they may be delivered from perverse men (2 Thess. 3:1).

* That they might not fear intimidation and not be troubled (1 Peter 3:14).

* For physical protection and deliverance (Rom. 15:30-31).

* That they will love their enemies (Luke 6:27ff).

* That they will be comforted (2 Cor. 1:3-5).

Here are some others:

* That they might grow in grace and the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

* That the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in them (2 Thess. 1:12).

* That God will protect them from the evil one (2 Thess. 3:3).

* That God will strengthen them so that they may attain steadfastness and patience (Col. 1:11).

* God will equip them in every good thing to do His will (Heb. 13:20-21).

* That they will not enter into temptation (Luke 22: 39ff).

* That they will rejoice that they are considered worthy to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41).

May God raise up a mighty army of prayer warriors to shoulder the burden of those who appear helpless to the world. They are not. God can, if He chooses, intervene with legions of angels. He can shut the mouths of lions, stop rivers, calm storms, blind the eyes of the enemy, rout thousands and thousands with a few hundred men. God is mighty to save, and for some reason, He delights in including us in His work. May we faithfully be on our knees.

Christian Superstars


Ted DekkerSome years ago, I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when author Ted Dekker was the keynote speaker. I was impressed by his humble, heartfelt recognition that God had opened the door for him to receive his first publishing contract. And yet, in between sessions and at meals, conferees treated Mr. Dekker like a superstar.

I’ve seen the same reaction to agents and editors. But this response is not confined to the writing world. If in doubt, think Tim Tebow. Christians who openly profess their faith and who hold highly visible roles in society become Christian superstars.

This is not something new. On the apostle Paul’s first preaching and teaching mission, he and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the Church to do the work God had for them.

Along the way, they arrived at a place called Lystra. As Paul was preaching, he saw a man in the audience who couldn’t walk. In fact, he’d never walked in his entire life. In some supernatural way, Paul recognized that this man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to stand up.

It’s hard to fathom how great a miracle this was. I imagine the man’s legs had never developed properly. Any muscle he had would have atrophied. And yet, he got to his feet. And then he started leaping and walking. It’s a phenomenal scene.

And the people who were standing around watching reacted as you might expect. They thought Paul and Barnabas couldn’t possibly be normal human beings. They concluded that two of their pantheon of gods had come down in human form to visit them. Barnabas they concluded was the chief of the gods, Zeus himself. Paul, the one who was doing most of the talking, they concluded was Hermes, the messenger.

All this discussion was taking place in a language that Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak. Certainly they knew the miracle had caused a stir, but at this point they didn’t realize the direction it was taking. Only when the priest from the temple of Zeus showed up with garlands and oxen to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, did they get the picture. The people of Lystra wanted to worship them.

Here’s the key part of the story. Rather than standing humbly by as the people proceeded to treat them like gods, the apostles did something that mourners did—they tore their robes. Then they rushed into the crowd to stop what was to them egregious—the crowd was crediting them with what God had done.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.” (Acts 14:15)

Happy ending, right? Paul and Barbabas stopped the people from treating them like gods. They did, but the ending wasn’t what you’d actually call happy. With some prompting from angry Jews who followed them to Lystra, the crowd ended up stoning Paul and left him for dead. If he did die, God raised him. At any rate, he got up, and he and Barnabas continued on.

The point is, resisting the crowd was the right thing to do, but it cost Paul.

I don’t think the treatment people today give Christian superstars is so different from what the crowd wanted to do for Paul. Sure, no one is preparing a sacrifice, but we’ve got our own rituals. We want autographs and we want our picture taken with Important Christian, as if somehow proof of us standing beside him makes us a little more important too.

I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t responding in this way because we, like the people of Lystra, are crediting the Christian author or football player or agent with what God has done. Would we rush for an autograph if we thought, Wow, God is so great to use someone just like me to write books that reach hundreds of thousands.

On the heels of that thought, I wonder how many stones of envy might come out.

In the end, it seems to me that the culture of celebrity in which we live is unavoidable, but we as believers can resist treating each other the way the world treats their own. The success of other believers should give us cause to sing God’s praises, not those of the clay pots He chooses to use.

And a few pots would benefit from tearing their robes and rushing out in the crowd to stop the wrong-headed acclaim being thrown their way. No, no. We’re just human. The power, the ability, the strength—that’s all from God. He’s the superstar. He’s the one deserving of the praise.

Christians And Immigration


Tijuana-San_Ysidro_border_crossingFrom time to time I think Christians get on the wrong side of certain issues, not because of our theology but because of our opposition to those who typically take positions we disagree with. Take environmentalism, for example. Apart from the ridiculous extremes that put Humankind as subservient to nature, Christians should be doing all we can to preserve and protect creation. That’s the job God originally gave us.

Immigration is another such issue. Christians are taking an unbiblical stand on immigration much of the time. Here’s what God’s position on immigration is:

For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. (Deut. 10:17-19)

No bribes? Good, good. We’re all for no bribes. Justice for orphans? Absolutely! Protect the orphans! For widows? Well, OK, though it sounds a little like welfare. But aliens? Love for aliens? Come on, don’t you realize . . . They might be here illegally. And we can’t condone illegal behavior. We simply have to maintain the rule of law.

I get the illegal issue, but I think that’s perhaps secondary. I think first Christians need to be front and center loving aliens and strangers—especially in America where we or our ancestors were most likely at some point aliens and strangers.

In fact, we celebrate and give thanks for the love our forefathers received when they were aliens and strangers in a holiday called Thanksgiving.

Now we’re in position to welcome, to show love toward, people who are new, who are learning the language, who . . . OK, I heard that . . . something like, But they AREN’T learning the language. Well, just maybe if we talked to them, we’d give them a reason to learn the language.

But think about being in a foreign country, where you don’t know how things work exactly, where you might be ridiculed for no other reason than that you came from somewhere else. Immigrants need love. They are precisely the neighbors Jesus said Christians are to love.

Yes, I think illegal immigration has muddied the waters. I do think we should be a land that believes in the rule of law. I do think people entering the country illegally should face some consequences.

But first, what we’ve been doing, isn’t working. Too many people who are sent back across the border because of their immigration status find a way to return.

Then, too, more and more people who have grown up in the US and who know no other home because they came here with their parents illegally as children, are facing the consequences of a decision they didn’t make and over which they had no control.

So what are we to do? I think Christians should become the vocal minority pushing for immigration reform. We need some brave lawmakers to step up and work out a fair law that will bring illegal immigrants the hope that they can become naturalized citizens without discouraging legal immigrants and without encouraging a new flood of illegal border crossings.

We also need to reach out to immigrants without worrying whether or not they are illegal. We should offer English as a second language classes and we should offer mentors who immigrants can go to when they have questions.

I’m sure there are many, many ways Christians can reach out to immigrants. My church makes a concerted effort to contact foreign students who are studying in our local universities. They are away from home, in a foreign country, adjusting to a different culture.

Sound familiar? Immigrants are going through those same things, so why shouldn’t we reach out to them in the same way, or more so? I mean, they’re staying, so we have a chance to build into their lives on a long term basis.

There are so many good things that would come out of Christians taking a stand to love immigrants. But above all, we’d be following the dictates of Scripture, and that ought to be enough.

It ought to be.

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Photo credit: © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

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