The Inexplicable Sacrifice

With Christmas less than a month away, it’s appropriate for us to think of the sacrifice of Jesus. After all, He didn’t come to earth to look all cute and cuddly in a manger, wooden or otherwise. He came for one primary purpose: to give His life as a ransom for us all.

A song I learned many years ago, when I taught MKs in Guatemala and we sang a chorus each day before dinner, came to mind this morning.

For there is one God and one Mediator
Between God and man.
For there is one God and one Mediator,
the Ma-a-a-an, Christ Jesus,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Who gave Himself, a ransom for us all,
Oh, what a wonderful Sa-a-vior!

The thing is, that chorus is straight from Scripture:

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:3-6)

So I began to think about this “giving Himself” in conjunction with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (emphasis mine). God gave the person He loved most to redeem dying sinners. But because in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, God was just as surely giving Himself for our ransom.

The idea then came clear — Jesus, the Mediator, the bridge between God and man — is the bridge to Himself. It is the ultimate picture of God stooping to reach man, incapable of reaching God because our sin created a separation. Jesus, however, had no sin. He, being God, has perfect access to God. He being man could die the substitutionary death His justice as God required.

I did mention that this sacrifice is inexplicable, didn’t I? 😉 I mean, really. He’s the sacrifice He Himself required?

Why not simply do away with the requirement?

That’s basically saying, why not make green, red? The requirement is a result of God’s character. He is just and holy. To pardon sin, with no penalty paid would be mercy without justice.

I suppose most of us would like mercy instead of justice, as long as God offered that to us and not to rapists or murderers … or even to the guy at work who is constantly taking advantage of others to get ahead, to look better in the eyes of the boss. Him, we’d like to see God give justice to, not mercy.

In truth, we don’t want criminals getting away with harming others and we don’t want selfish people getting away with using people. We long for a just world. Why else are there protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street — in a land of great plenty and generous people? We don’t think it’s fair for some to get rich at the expense of the many.

Over a hundred years ago, anti-trust laws were passed in the US for the same reason. Railroads held the exclusive means by which ranchers could get their beef to market, and they took full advantage of their monopoly to get rich and richer. Other businesses did likewise, and the people cried for justice. Not to God, but to the government, just as the Occupiers are doing.

The truth is, the government — any government — isn’t able to provide perfect justice. Only God can, but that doesn’t bring us comfort because the severity of sin means, I too must face His justice — if it weren’t for His great kindness and mercy that led Him to stoop, to bridge the gap, to mediate, to ransom, to give His Son, to give Himself. How great is our God! Oh, what a wonderful Savior!

Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Severity Of Sin

Black Friday sitting in juxtaposition to the Occupy Movement got me to thinking. Although the Occupiers aren’t speaking with one voice about much, their early 99% signs and the choice of Wall Street as a starting place, tagged them as protesting corporate greed. Why, I began to wonder, weren’t they protesting the greed of the shoppers who pushed and shoved and cursed and pepper sprayed their way to “big savings” on Black Friday?

It’s all in the proportion, I suppose. As long as someone wasn’t bilking thousands of people out of their life savings, then their greed wasn’t alarming. In fact, their greed probably looked a lot like our greed, and our greed is “normal.”

After all, everyone wants the best buy they can get, right? If I have to elbow someone else for the last sale item on the shelf, then so be it. The fastest, most pointy-elbowed chick won the day, right? Shopper beware.

The thing is, the mentality is no different than the corporate exec raking in his millions in bonuses even as thousands of his employees end up jobless. The craftiest, business-wise guy won the day, right? Entrepreneur beware.

In truth, we tolerate greed, or pride, or gossip, or anger, or lying, or any number of sins just as long as they a) don’t hurt us directly; and b) don’t end up beyond some culturally acceptable line. We can hurl abuse at players of an opposing team, and maybe even throw a (plastic) cup of beer at him, but when someone beats up a fan of the opposing team and puts him in the hospital, that’s over the line. Some abuse is tolerable, too much is criminal.

The acceptable limits, I believe, exist because we are constantly comparing ourselves with ourselves. We start with an understanding that nobody’s perfect. So we’re all in the category of mess-ups and it’s just a matter of finding our ranking — the lower the better. As long as I believe there are more people ranked above me than below me, I’m in good shape. I’m normal. Acceptable.

The normal part is true, the acceptable part, not so much. The real problem is we don’t have an understanding of how deadly sin is. How much exposure to anthrax is acceptable? How much cyanide is safe to ingest? We understand these to be lethal and do what we can to avoid or counteract them. Sin is lethal too, in small doses or large. There is no acceptable level of wolf’s bane, and there should be no acceptable level of sin.

We don’t think there are direct effects of sin, however. We understand that people die, and that’s a fact of life, no matter how good or bad a person has been. That should be our clue: nobody’s perfect, and everybody dies. Those are about the only categorical statements we can make about humans. Why is it we miss the fact that there’s an association between them? The Bible states it clearly: The wages of sin is death. Little sins, big sins, greed that hurts one or greed that hurts many — the wages are the same.

Which initially might not seem fair. I mean, if some people do their best to go along without hurting others, shouldn’t they get some credit for it? That’s like asking if someone who was only exposed to anthrax for a day should be considered better off than someone who was exposed for a month. Both are deadly.

But we don’t understand this deadly nature of sin. We don’t understand because we can’t grasp the offense sin is to Holiness.

Yet we’re offended at corporate greed. And I feel sure that people who were pepper sprayed at the mall Friday were offended at the greedy shopper. Perhaps others were offended when they were pushed and shoved or cursed.

Our offense seems justified, though we push and shove too, though we cheat on our taxes or on our spouse or in a game of cards with our friends. We who are sinful find sin against us offensive. What, then, must a holy God feel when He is sinned against?

And there’s the real point. Every one of our sins is against Him. Sin after sin after sin. We may stay in the normal range, but think about the hateful attitudes, pride, envy, greed, lust that piles up in one person’s heart over a week, a year, a decade. Each of our sins is toxic. Not that God can be hurt by them but they are like water to His oil. They cannot mix.

On the other hand, sin is toxic to us, even in the smallest measure.

But God who loves us provided the antidote. More precisely, He provided the substitute. Physical death is still part of our experience until Christ returns, but because of His willingness to stand in my place, I am free from the permanent effects of sin if I put myself at His mercy and ask Him to rescue me.

God, because of Christ, has promised He will forgive those who confess their sins:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Does God’s forgiveness mean sin isn’t really such a big deal after all? Hardly. Sin is as toxic as ever, but God’s power is greater. Consequently, Christ, the Sinless One in Whom the fullness of Deity dwells, paid in our stead … if we confess, if we continue in the faith.

Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel (Col. 1:22-23a).

Published in: on November 29, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (7)  
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Occupy Movement The Darling Of Media Eyes

Occupy LA, which has had the help and support of City Council, finally got their eviction notice. In reporting the official pronouncement, one news outlet finally released some numbers. In all 700 people have been involved over the months, though the numbers “swelled” from time to time to as many as 1000. In all fairness, I may have misunderstood. She may have meant 700 tents, swelling to 1000. This could double, even triple the numbers.

I’ve been suspicious of low numbers since the media coverage of the occupy movements began. After all, the camera shots were all tight close ups, no wide views, no sweeps panning a broad area. Nevertheless, the media has religiously covered the events, especially any clash with authorities, though the details of the provocation of such clashes were most often bypassed.

How odd. I mean, there are more people at my church week after week, even if we use the tripled numbers, than showed up at city hall. Did the media bring their cameras to our church service? And how about those 1800 dinners members of our church served on Thanksgiving — media coverage there? I must have missed it.

Another thing I missed from our nightly news and the national early morning news show I watch from time to time were the five rapes connected with the Occupy Movement and the sexual assaults. Yes, I did hear about some property damage, but the news anchors were quick to point out that this activity was perpetrated by a group of anarchists who have attached themselves to the movement. The real leaders, the anchors reported, were actually involved in helping clean up the mess the usurpers created. The news show then put on screen a lone worker trying to scrub graffiti off the side of a building.

No word, however, about using some of the millions of dollars earlier reported that were coming into the Occupy Movement in support of their protests, to pay for the damage and clean-up.

The thing that stands out the most to me about the way the media at large has handled the Occupation movement is the disparity with how they covered the Tea Party. Note, for example, this quotation:

“Tea Party supporters”, says Patrik Jonsson of the Christian Science Monitor, “have been called neo-Klansmen and knuckle-dragging hillbillies”. Jonsson adds, “demonizing tea party activists tends to energize the Democrats’ left-of-center base”. He notes that “polls suggest that tea party activists are not only more mainstream than many critics suggest, but that a majority of them are women (primarily mothers), not angry white men” (from “Tea Party movement”).

A fairly objective view of the media coverage comes from Poll Watch Daily, reporting on the findings of the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism analysis comparing media coverage (good or bad, apparently) of the two protests.

What I find informative is the decline in Tea Party coverage and the rise in Occupy Movement coverage, though apparently many more thousands of people were involved in the former.

What’s a Christian to make of all this? First, political protests and media coverage, problems in government, in business, in labor organizations, in the political process only reflect the problems in the human heart.

Second, there will be no perfect human solution. Interestingly, the Antichrist will offer a solution which will seem to be The Answer. But there is no answer apart from Christ.

Believers need to focus our energy and efforts on what ultimately makes the only significant difference — changed lives. Only through faith in Jesus Christ will anyone be other than greedy at the core.

We sinful humans are selfish, prideful people; our goodness serves us or conforms to societal expectations more than it serves those we say we’re helping. That’s true for the members of the media, politicians, bankers, anarchists, Tea Party organizers, and homeless people. It’s true for those of us who stayed home through all the protests.

Christ alone can mend the rift that our sinful natures create. He brings us back into relationship with God. In turn God gives us the impetus to care for others as He’s told us to.

When we love our neighbor, and when we see the corporate banker who looks like he’s getting away with highway robbery as our neighbor, we love him anyway and determine not to steal from him no matter how much he’s stolen from others. We also work for a fair and just government that will hold thieves accountable, no matter what color collar their shirt is. And we pray.

Mostly we should pray. God can do far beyond what we ask or think, so imagine if His people rose up and had a Prayer Party or an Occupy Prayer Movement asking for a revival in our land — not so the economy would improve or so that the people we want to see in office, win elections, but so that many more people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that they place their faith in Him, and find forgiveness for their sins — what couldn’t God do?

Published in: on November 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Friday – Introducing Brock D. Eastman

As a child Brock D. Eastman, author of Taken, the first in a five-book middle grade science fantasy series, Quest for Truth, wanted to become a paleontologist. His toys and books related to dinosaurs, and undoubtedly he knew the difference between a stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus. Dinosaurs filled his room and his imagination.

While such an interest may not be typical among writers, picturing the world populated by creatures we know today only by their bones might explain why Brock gravitated toward speculative literature.

However, “gravitating toward literature” might be a stretch. Brock didn’t do much reading until college, and then the books that awoke his interest were J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. At that point he realized he’d been missing out. Since then he’s become a voracious reader. His favorites include Lord of the Rings, the Eragon trilogy (Inheritance Cycle) by Christopher Paolini, Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment, and Narnia.

Though Brock didn’t initially pursue writing as a career, he nevertheless became involved with making and making available stories. His day job is with Focus on the Family where he is the Product Marketing Manager working with the long-running children’s series Adventures in Odyssey.

He’s also had the opportunity to play several cameo roles in various episodes, and he wrote The Imagination Station series’ Book 5, Showdown with the Shepherd.

His own fiction was not something he intended for the public, however. Exploring the possibility of writing a story that “dealt with life and death and what that really means,” he wrote the first two books of the Quest for Truth series as one volume, primarily for family and friends and as a result of a conversation with a co-worker.

We got to talking about how death is portrayed so lightly these days on television and in other media, so I set out to write a book where no one would die, or if someone did, it would not be taken lightly. As a Christian, I recognize that death should not be glossed over. [from “Brock Eastman: Futuristic Animation” by Katie Hart]

Family is important to Brock. At 27 he is married to Ashley, the girl with whom he read those Harry Potter books back in college, and he is the father of two daughters. They live happily in Colorado where Brock can enjoy the outdoors and quality time with his family.

At the urging of those who read his work, Brock decided to explore publication. Ultimately he secured a five book contract with P&R Publishing. Taken, a kind of Indiana Jones meets City of Ember story, is the culmination of six years of work.

In this volume, set in the future, Mr. and Mrs. Wikk, archeologist-explorers, are taken captive by a secret society. Their four children embark on a quest into space to find their parents, but they discover that the world is not what they once thought. If they hope to rescue their parents, they must take up their quest for truth, starting with the forbidden planet on the edge of the galaxy and the mysterious blue people who inhabit it.

While the series is written for younger readers, Brock hopes teens and parents will enjoy the story as well.

You can learn more about Brock at his web site. You can also find him on Facebook.

The Place Of Thankfulness

Call me a curmudgeon if you will, but some years I balk at Thanksgiving Day, the holiday US citizens will celebrate tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong. I love what Thanksgiving was meant to be, but I don’t like what it’s become so very much. I mean, “Turkey Day” or “Football Day” and stores open that evening to get a jump on “Black Friday”?

When I do hear someone talking about Thanksgiving as it pertains to it’s original intent, people get the facts wrong. It represents the pilgrims thanking the Indians for their help or it commemorates the vile imperialism of Europeans. Such nonsense.

But we go through the motions — turkey and all the fixings, family get-togethers (the best part of the day) and huddling around the TV.

My church, First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, maybe has the best idea for a true Thanksgiving. For the last eight years we throw a Thanksgiving party at a school in a community not far from us. Members donate turkeys and stuffing and pie, then act as greeters and servers and table hosts. Last year we served 1,800 dinners, and this year we’re expecting 2000. Afterward, there’s music and games and crafts and sports. We also collect donated clothes and groceries, boxed up as give-aways.

This most nearly mirrors the Thanksgiving we refer to as the first. Maybe next year I’ll invite my family to join me serving food to people less fortunate — a true thanksgiving celebration.

The main point is, however, that thanksgiving is to be a part of who we are, and it is to spill out in our sharing what we have with others — sort of the opposite of Black Friday. (It crosses my mind that it is most likely people from the 99% who are greedily pushing and grabbing in these price-slashing sales. Ironic that the 1% is then accused of greed. Might it not be that greed is part of the sinful nature of man, present in the 100%?)

As usual Scripture is the best instructor. Here’s what Paul had to say to the church in Colossae:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (3:15-17 — emphasis mine)

Might we not assume that Paul wanted to get across the importance of thankfulness to those believers? And of course, his words are for us today as well. Peace and thankfulness, God’s word and thankfulness, all we do and thankfulness. Instructive pairings, don’t you think?

Does God Still Speak In A Still, Small Voice?

From the beginning of time, God communicated with Man. Adam and Eve knew Him in such a close way, they talked with Him as anyone might talk to their friend. Because of sin, however, God’s intimate communication with His creation changed. He still talked with Cain and Abel, but by the time of Noah, not many people were listening.

In a later generation Abraham heard God speak, and eventually so did his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. When Joseph came along, though, he knew God’s voice only through dreams.

Moses was a throw-back — God spoke to him and even to the entire company he led out of Egypt. No still, small voice, this, however. The people were terrified of God and begged Moses to be the go-between so they wouldn’t have to hear from Him directly again.

From time to time throughout the remaining history of God’s chosen people Israel, judges, prophets, or kings heard from God, but they were now the exception rather than the rule. And still they sought Him and asked direction of Him. And why wouldn’t they? For forty years God’s presence had been with the nation in visible form. They camped where He wanted them to camp and departed when He wanted them to depart. They attacked peoples according to His direction and crossed rivers in the way He stipulated. They were used to God being in their lives in a real, tangible way.

No surprise, then, when their leaders turned to God and asked Him where they should go and who should be in the front of an impending attack.

More surprising, to Saul anyway, must have been God’s refusal to answer the king He had rejected. Saul was in a bind and wanted to know what he should do, so he went to God. No answer. He asked the priests who used some method of divination that wasn’t explained in Scripture but was referenced regularly. Still no answer. He went to the prophets. Nothing. Saul was experiencing the truth of Isaiah 59:1-2.

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 hid His face from you so that He does not hear.

After Saul came David, and he was unique — not in the Moses-throw-back way, but in the church-forerunner way. David, unlike, others in the Old Testament had the Holy Spirit with him permanently. Others experienced His presence on an occasional basis. He came on Saul, and He left. He came on Samson, and He left. He came on David, and He stayed:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” (1 Sam. 16:13a – emphasis mine)

The significant thing here is that David continued asking God what He wanted Him to do. Should He go up against the Philistines in Keilah? Would the men of Keilah deliver David into their hands? Should he pursue the Amalekites who raided his city? After Saul’s death should he go up to Judah? To which city?

And on it goes. David, filled with the Holy Spirit, asked specific direction from God — not the kind of instruction you can find in the Bible, if they had had a copy of the complete Scripture.

But here’s the thing. There is a segment of Christendom today that looks down on the kind of communication God had with David. Or perhaps more accurately, they look askance at it. Not those instances recorded in the Bible so much, but certainly any such communication a Christian would wish to have along those same lines today.

God spoke in the Bible. Period. The end. He doesn’t give people today any special or “secret” calling, they say.

I share their desire to preserve the integrity of the Word of God. I have no belief in some sort of esoteric, mystical path to God. There is only way way we can know Him and that’s laid out in the authoritative Word of God. But also laid out in the authoritative Word of God is communication with Him about very practical, mundane things. And also laid out in the authoritative Word of God is the truth about the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, for example, said that the Holy Spirit would “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26b). I wonder how He does that. Then there is Acts 1:8a — “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” I wonder how that power manifests itself.

A specific instance of the Holy Spirit’s direction is recorded for us in Acts 13:2.

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

I don’t know how still or small His voice was there, because apparently all who were gathered together heard Him.

Two important things here: the Holy Spirit not only spoke to them but He specified that He was calling Barnabas and Saul to a particular job.

Is God’s voice audible today? I’ve never heard it so, but that doesn’t mean He won’t speak to someone audibly if He wants to. When the Holy Spirit speaks into a Christian’s life, is it a secret message given only to him that flies in the face of God’s written Word? Never. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. He would not give direction to one of His that would countermand the clear instruction He’s already given.

But He does hear and answer prayer, sometimes with a sequence of circumstances that are too on point to be coincidental, sometimes with a peace that surpasses understanding, and sometimes with a still small voice that gives the same kind of direction King David sought.

This is not Gnostic or heretical. It’s the way one person relates to another. God didn’t give up His right to talk to His people because He gave us the Bible. In fact He gave us the Holy Spirit so we would have a more intimate communication with Him than a good many of those people we read about in the Old Testament.

Think about it. Israel saw the Shekinah glory fill the temple, but today believers, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, are the temple He fills.

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 6:07 pm  Comments (2)  
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Work, Sure, But Entertainment?

Scripture tells us to do our work as for the Lord. Paul mentions this in his letter to the Ephesians, for example, when he says, “With good will, render service as to the Lord and not to men” (6:7). He says essentially the same thing to the Colossians. In this case, however, he elaborates a little:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (3:22-24)

Some people might argue that Paul was speaking specifically to “slaves” and therefore the passage doesn’t apply to us today. There are several problems with that view.

First, “slaves” in Judea during the first century weren’t as we understand “slaves” today. These were people who committed themselves to service in order to pay a debt. Mosaic Law mandated that those under such obligation would be freed every seven years, whether they’d paid their debt or not. Hence, it’s foreseeable that some of these slaves were skating, biding their time until the seven years were up, and consequently not doing a good job at all for those they worked for.

Second, Scripture tells us that all Scripture is given for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Consequently, a passage addressed to someone else can still contain truth we can apply. For example, I learned a great deal about teaching from Scriptural instruction to leaders and to parents. The passages in Nehemiah and in Proverbs were addressed to people other than teachers, but that doesn’t mean God didn’t intend for teachers to learn from them too.

Thirdly, the last line says, “It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Since I as a believer do serve the Lord Christ, I have to think this passage actually is addressing me directly.

One way or another, then, this passage speaks to believers today, and we can conclude, then, that work is to be done for the Lord.

Earlier, though, Paul said he was praying for the Christians at Colossae, “that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (1:10).

The “in all respects” reminds me of another verses in chapter 3 — “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (3:17 – emphasis mine).

“In all respects” and “whatever you do” bring me to the issue of entertainment. Scripture seems quite clear about how we are to conduct ourselves in our work, but what about our leisure? Doesn’t our entertainment fall in the category of “whatever”?

I’ve thought about this for some time, and even wrote several posts on the subject at Speculative Faith (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), but I haven’t been entirely satisfied with my position on the matter. I see in Scripture a clear statement that we are to work six days and rest one day.

I see in nature, with our physical requirements, that we are to sleep a third of our time. I also understand that in the same way our body needs exercise and food, our mind needs exercise and food. Hence, some “leisure” is simply a way of giving our minds what we need, and in a sedentary work environment, it may also be providing our body with the exercise it needs.

But where does “mindless” entertainment come into the picture? Over and over I hear, often based on a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien, that escape is a good and appropriate thing for us to do. We are prisoners escaping from what has held us, the analogy goes, not soldiers deserting in the midst of a battle.

But how do we know we aren’t deserting?

The prison escape seems to me to take the freed man home or at least some place better. Mindless entertainment seems to do neither. Home is where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God — a transcendent place of wonders too amazing for Paul to write down when he was transported there in a vision. It puts us in God’s presence, creates satisfaction, gives us our hope.

Does mindless entertainment accomplish any of these things? Does it take us to some place better? How could it if it is mindless? God didn’t make us mindless, and for us to live in a mindless way even for a few hours, seems to me to be a downgrade of circumstances, not an upgrade.

One last thought — what might be mindless for one person, may not be mindless for another. Take sports for example. I remember when I first learned that the linemen in football actually had a plan, that they were assigned differing blocking schemes based on the play that was called. Suddenly running backs plowing straight into a pile of hulking bodies didn’t see silly. The whole game took on greater purpose. Someone else can watch the same game I watch, however, and see nothing but men running around in a way that seems disorganized and unproductive. An entire game of this would seem mindless to such a person.

I have to think the reverse is also true — things others find challenging for whatever reason might indeed be mindless to me (like tinkering with the engine of a car! or watching golf! or NASCAR!! 😉 )

What I’m questioning, I guess, is entertainment that a person declares to be mindless, then engages in fully, for hours. How does that fit in with, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”?

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 6:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Knowing How To Get Along … With Or Without

The Apostle Paul was an amazing man. Not perfect, mind you (there was that little tiff he had with Barbabas over John Mark, for example), but still a remarkable example of how a Christian should live. One thing in particular stands out to me, however — his contentment.

I’ve been thinking about his statement in Philippians about his attitude toward his financial situation. “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:12).

When I’ve read that verse before, I’ve been thinking primarily about how Paul learned to get along with humble means, how he dealt with going hungry, suffering need. Today it dawned on me that he was also saying he had to learn how to deal with prosperity, how to handle being filled and having abundance.

So what are some characteristics of getting along in each of these conditions? These are the first things that came to my mind.

Getting along with humble means, a person would need to remain generous, not penny-pinching. He’d also need to deepen his trust in God’s provision. Third, he’d need to foster a spirit of joy and rejoicing when others are blessed in ways he is not.

I think of people in Scripture who exemplified these traits. The widow who gave her last coin in the temple collection is one of the most generous persons on record. Her poverty did not stop her from worship and service, though it cost her all she had.

The widow of Zarephath that God sent Elijah to was generous in the same way. She was about to prepare a final meal for herself and her son when Elijah asked for a drink of water and a bite to eat. She didn’t turn him away but informed him of her meager provisions. He said, fine, make the last of the flour and oil into bread as you planned, but make me a little cake first. And she did, based on his promise that her supplies would not run out.

In that regard, she’s also a great example of someone trusting God to provide, but then so was Elijah. He’d just come from the brook Cherith where God fed him by sending ravens to bring him bread and meat. But this was a time of drought, so eventually his water source dried up. No trouble. God sent him to Zarephath where he found the widow with … practically nothing. So together they trusted God to replenish the flour and oil day after day.

King Saul’s son Jonathan seems like a great example of someone rejoicing in the success of someone else. Never mind that David would be taking the throne instead of Jonathan, he gave David his armor and sword, protected him from his father’s jealous rage, and essentially blessed his future rule.

Learning to get along in humble circumstances is only half the story. We are also to get along in prosperity. The characteristics I see that are required include not hoarding what we have, not squandering it, and not loving it more than we should.

Jesus addressed these issues. He told the parable about the prosperous man who decided he should deal with his great wealth by building a bigger barn. He didn’t see the light of the next morning.

Jesus also told the story about the prodigal son who squandered his money in riotous living. He’d been given a generous inheritance, but when famine came, he’d used up all his resources. When he came to his senses and returned to his father, he repented, not for squandering his wealth but for going his own way. The way he handled his money was only a symptom of the breakdown of his relationship with his father.

But Jesus told another story that reinforces the idea about not squandering our prosperity — the parable of the talents. Three servants were given money to invest. Two were praised when their master checked up on them. The only one who was rebuked and punished was the one who had squandered what he’d been given to invest.

Mark 10 tells about an encounter Jesus had with a rich young power player that underscores the importance of not making money into a god. This young guy was conscientious and diligent. He played by the rules. He was scrupulously religious. But for some reason he felt compelled to ask Jesus what he was missing. Jesus told him he needed to sell all his stuff and come on the road with Him and the other disciples. Mr. Very Rich couldn’t do it. He loved his stuff too much.

Getting along with humble means, getting along in prosperity — they both have their challenges. How remarkable that Paul navigated through the waters of both extremes to be content in whatever circumstances. Ah, but not remarkable. I forgot to add the key verse (one we use out of context more often than not). “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Published in: on November 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Way False Teaching Works

False teaching seems to be on the rise. On one hand Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, and on the other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, Look, another one of Satan’s lies, and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, just as Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

I realized this with new clarity when I wrote “Upside Down Commands.” False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among Christians with the intent to lead some astray, those pandering false teaching will come from within the church. And they will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth which leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing. God loves you (true), and wants to bless His children (true). He has promised to answer prayer (true). Therefore, a child of God can hold God to His word and expect Him to provide lavishly, even as He cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. The blessings God promises might be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering. Further, this “doctrine” was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings, as if all of the Christian faith was about obtaining God’s (physical) blessings.

Here’s another example from Trinitarian Theology, the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins).

* “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
* “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
* And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]

Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [the leap: “all men” has no qualification such as Colossians 2:19a “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]

Therefore, we understand from Scripture that… [doctrine based on the point of error]

* When Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false — only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians]
* When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false — see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
* When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false — unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

[excerpt from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology”

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking about what our pastors are preaching with our Bibles open. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on them are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

Published in: on November 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm  Comments (3)  
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Upside Down Commands

Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? 🙄 ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Published in: on November 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Comments (3)  
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