Mark 3 – Sneak Preview


rubber_bandMy church is reading a chapter a day from the New Testament this year, then different members of the congregation write a meditation on the passage. It’s very cool. We have read chapters together as a church before, but the accompanying devotionals are new.

Because I’m a writer, I’ve been included on the slate, so I thought I’d post my very short article here today. It’s scheduled for August 7, but the deadline to turn it in is tomorrow.

First, it really is important to read the chapter. There’s lots happening. In Mark’s rather abbreviated style, he doesn’t linger much on any one event. Rather, he packs a lot into a few verses. One online source where you can read the passage is the Blue Letter Bible.

Secondly, I have to explain something a recent guest preacher, Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach of the Discovery Church in Simi Valley, CA, shared as part of his sermon. He began with a little of his background Pastor Caleb.

When he was young, his parents divorced, both going into the homosexual lifestyle. Caleb was raised by his mom and her partner. They were very involved in the LGBT community, and he marched along side them in gay pride parades. In fact, when people screamed nasty things at them or threw urine or waved offensive signs, he’d ask his mom why those people did those things. Because they hate us, she’d say. But why? he asked. She’d answer, Because they’re Christians.

Caleb was determined to stay away from Christians, but God had other plans. In yet another testimony of someone out to disprove God’s truth, during his study of Scripture Caleb found faith in Jesus. He was clear that he believes what the Bible teaches, including what it teaches about marriage—that it is a union between one man and one woman.

What’s more, long story short, both his mom and his dad have found faith in Christ.

After giving us his personal background, he preached from John 8 about the adulterous woman thrust before Jesus. His take away was that Jesus offered the woman grace and truth.

We Christians too often offer only grace or only truth. Grace, he said can be seen in the constant admonition to love, love, love, love; everything is love, without any accountability. Truth can be seen in the litany of things we stand against and the priority we give to those things.

Jesus offered both, grace and truth.

Caleb illustrated the point with a large rubber band. If you handle it on one side, let’s say, the grace side, it hangs limply with no purpose. If you handle it on the opposite side, the truth side, it hangs limply with no purpose. If you handle it on both sides simultaneous, you now have a powerful tool that can be used to its appointed purpose. But the power comes from the tension between the two sides. So too with grace and truth!

That’s important for you to know as you read the following sneak peek of my article. It’s short. We can write no more than 250 words. (You can imagine how that taxes me, long winded as I am!)

– – – – –

Jesus declared that those who do His will are His family.

The Pharisees didn’t qualify. They only paid attention to Jesus in order to catch Him in some kind of compromising action or errant teaching. They didn’t care that the will of God included care for the lowly, such as the man with the maimed hand. Their concern was that people followed the traditions regarding the Sabbath. Traditions, not Scripture.

Likewise when the unbelieving Jewish leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the chief rebel, Satan himself, they didn’t care that a fellow human had been delivered from demonic power. They only cared that Jesus was getting attention they wanted.

Even Jesus’s own family didn’t qualify as people doing the will of God. They portrayed great concern for Jesus when they saw that He didn’t even have time to eat because so many people were crowding in on Him, seeking healing. They made an attempt to “save Him from Himself” instead of letting Him do the work of the Father.

stretchedrubberbandIn contrast, Jesus did His Father’s will. He healed and cast out demons and hand-picked His inner circle of followers and told stories to warn His listeners about Satan. He confronted those who lied about Him.

His “Father’s business” as Christ once called God’s will, was to serve others and to stand against the evil one; He lived his life with that tension between grace and truth. As should we who desire to do His will.

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Published in: on June 30, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Beauty Of The Law


10_Commandments012Some people look at God’s Law in much the same way as they look at sin: it’s outmoded and detrimental. Some go so far as to say Christians ought to follow the law if they truly believe what the Bible says.

Of course that’s a set up—a trap—because they want to charge Christians with cruelty or hypocrisy because of the consequences in connection to some of the decrees listed in the Old Testament. They don’t understand that believers in the work of Christ at the cross have a New Covenant that supersedes the old. They don’t understand the function that the Law now plays in the life of the Christian.

All this to say, not many people expound on the beauty of the Law. But I think we Christians can do so.

Paul refers to the Mosaic Law as a tutor:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

That alone makes the Law valuable. But beautiful?

I term it beautiful because it creates such clear pictures of greater spiritual truths.

Take for example all the laws that detailed what made the people unclean and what they had to do to become purified. A woman with an “issue of blood” was unclean, as was any thing or any person she touched. A leper was unclean in the same way. Anyone touching a dead person became unclean.

The most notable thing about those who were unclean, as I see it, was that they were cut off from the rest of the people and from worship. They couldn’t participate in the religious celebrations or offer sacrifices. Their condition was a barrier between them and God, between them and other people.

Move ahead in time from the giving of the Law to the life of Christ. He who could speak a word and calm the wind and waves, who could heal by saying, Get up and walk, chose to touch a leper in order to cleanse him. Touch a leper. By all rights, Jesus should have become unclean. Instead, the leper took on Christ’s purity rather than Christ taking on the man’s uncleanness.

A woman who suffered with an issue of blood for twelve years dared to touch … not even Jesus, but the bottom of his garment. She knew by Law she would be rendering Him unclean. Instead, she was healed and her sins forgiven. Jesus? still pure.

When this woman encountered Jesus He was on the way to Jairus’s house. His little girl, a pre-teen, was sick, and while Jesus dealt with the woman in the street, word came that Jairus’s daughter had died. Jesus went anyway, put everyone out except those He hand-picked, and then touched the little girl. He took her hand and commanded her to stand up. She did. Instead of becoming unclean because he touched someone who had died, Jesus brought life and remained clean.

What does this have to do with the beauty of the Law? Because of this litany of commandments, thousands of years later I see and understand Jesus better. I see how He is greater than the Law, how He provided the cleansing demanded by the Law even as He brought healing to those condemned to isolation and separation by the Law.

What a beautiful picture of redemption!

The major part of this post first appeared here under this same title in October 2011.

Published in: on June 29, 2016 at 5:36 pm  Comments Off on The Beauty Of The Law  
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Faith That Moves Mountains


Brown_Mustard_SeedJesus talked about faith that moves mountains. A couple times. Matthew records one instance in chapter 17 and then a bit later, in chapter 21.

The first time Jesus mentions it, He says, somewhat surprisingly, that the size of our faith is unimportant. Maybe even immaterial. The point He’s making that the very smallest amount of faith, the size of a mustard seed, is able to move mountains. Except, He couples their mustard seed-sized faith and what it can do with a chastisement—that their faith was too small.

I can only surmise that any faith smaller than a mustard seed had to be no faith at all. This idea seems consistent with the second instance in which Jesus challenged His disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. On that occasion, He added an important caveat: “if you have faith and do not doubt” (Matt 21:21b).

So I’m wondering if faith that moves mountains is pure faith, no matter the size or the amount, not gobs and gobs of faith with just a little doubt.

We’re big on doubt these days. We applaud people who are “honest” about how they feel concerning God and how He’s “let them down.”

Certainly we have examples in the Bible of people who didn’t have the kind of faith that moved mountains. If fact, in the first instance Matthew recorded, when Jesus talked about mustard-seed faith, He was answering why the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon during the time He was up on the mount of transfiguration.

Peter, right after he’d declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, showed his ignorance and doubt in what Jesus said. No, no, Peter declared, you aren’t going to be killed like you just said. That can’t happen!

Jesus’s response is very telling, I think: “Get behind me, Satan.”

He wasn’t sympathetic or compassionate. He didn’t say, I know how shocking this must be for you to hear, and I understand why you doubt my word, but trust me on this.

I kind of wish Jesus had responded that way. I mean, I think Peter’s response was understandable, given what he believed about the Messiah. He was expecting a victorious king to come and defeat the Romans. But he let what he thought was going to happen affect what he believed about what Jesus told him would happen.

It sounds like such a little thing, this crack in the faith statement Peter had just delivered, but it obviously wasn’t a little thing to Jesus. He wants faith that’s untainted with doubt.

George-MuellerI’m reading a biography of George Muëller right now. When he was a young man, he became convinced that he was to live simply, and completely dependent upon God’s provision. He was a young pastor, and he gave up his salary. At the time, in the early 1830s, the church received payment from the richer congregants for pew rental, and that’s where they got money to pay their pastor.

Muëller believed none of the church members should be treated in a better manner than any other. And he believed God would supply all he needed. So he stopped the practice of renting the pews and he refused a salary.

His trust in God to provide for his needs extended to his ministry. First he started an institute that supported foreign missions, funded six Christian day schools, two Sunday schools, and an adult school, along with various outreaches to the poor. Later he added an orphan’s home, then a second, and a third. Even when he had over 100 orphans under his care, his method for raising money was to pray. He would tell God, and God alone, about their needs.

People gave generously to his work even though they didn’t know what his specific needs were. But the cool thing about what Muëller did was that he was intentionally walking by faith so that other Christians would see and believe that God meant what He said in His word.

His faith was contagious, and it continues to inspire people even to this day. It inspires me. I want to believe that God means what He says, without any doubting. He’s proved Himself faithful in the lives of so many others, in the Bible and throughout history. Why would I think He’s grow tired of caring for His children.

He who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is certainly not going to change His mind when I bring my needs before Him. He’s not going to give me a scorpion when I ask for bread because He loves me with a Father’s love.

The thing God asks of us is to seek His kingdom and His righteousness. A la George Muëller. He wasn’t seeking for his own aggrandizement or comfort or ease. He was seeking to tell others about the love of Jesus Christ and the good news that He covered our sins with His robe of righteousness.

As a result, God expanded Muëller’s opportunities to reach people with truth. The mountain that Muëller moved was the piles of provisions needed for his ministries. When some of his workers asked, what do we do if we have no bread in the morning, he never offered a plan B. His plan A was for God to provide through the generosity of His people, and He never wavered from that plan.

The result was that his orphans were always properly fed and clothed. And that more and more people understood just how faithful God is.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Problem With Salvation


In the previous three posts (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday), I addressed the reality of sin and the need each of us has for the good news, that God has rescued us from the mess of our own making. But that’s only part of the story. More than what God has saved us from is the reality of what God has saved us to.

I addressed this in a post a number of years ago, and I want to reprise that article today.

– – – – –

When I was a kid, growing up in a Christian home, I attended Sunday school regularly. My first recollection of an explanation about sin and salvation is tied to heaven and hell.

Later I attended a Bible club and received a Wordless Book that reinforced the concepts.

Clearly, I did not want to go to Hell. If Heaven was the only alternative, then that’s where I wanted to go, and if Jesus could get me there, then I wanted to accept Him “into my heart.”

I had to get past the idea of a shrunken version of Jesus fitting into my heart, and one Sunday school teacher was able to explain, the Holy Spirit was actually the One who would live in my heart.

Why didn’t they just say so, I thought. I had a vague understanding of the Holy Spirit because a lot of hymns called Him the Holy Ghost. Ghosts didn’t sound holy to me, so I had already asked my parents about that one. I don’t remember what they told me, but it must have been adequate for a child’s understanding because I wasn’t troubled by further questions until much later.

But I digress. From my own experience, from listening to others tell their testimony and to some venting about unhappy religious backgrounds, I see confusion when it comes to the issue of salvation.

In part I think this is because some of us never grow up in our understanding of God. But another contributing factor, I think, is that I had an experience of being saved from Hell rather than an experience of being saved to God.

Any teacher, coach, and most parents will tell you that part of training involves laying out consequences. God deals with us the same way. He tells us what the wages of sin is, just as He warned Adam what would happen if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

So Sunday school teachers who spoke of Hell were not inventing something or using scare tactics. They were telling the truth.

However, escape from Hell isn’t all that great in and of itself. For years I worried about boredom sitting on those clouds, playing a miniature harp for all of eternity.

Eventually my understanding began to grow and my relationship with God began to develop, but it took years.

I had one friend in college who had serious questions about God, in part because she had questions about eternity. My answers were woeful and unbiblical, and she dismissed Christianity in the face of them.

That experience drove me to ask more questions.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

  1. Salvation seems to be less important to some people than their efforts to earn it.
  2. Salvation is much more about being in God’s company than anything else. The real terror isn’t Hell. It’s separation from God. Conversely, Heaven is only great because God makes it great.
  3. Christ provides the only access to God.
  4. Because salvation is really a relationship, it is dynamic.
  5. I don’t have to wait for “later” to experience the joy of my salvation.
  6. The relationship I now have with God grows like any other relationship. If I spend time with Him, I am close to Him. If I don’t, I’m not.
  7. Right now, my relationship with God is more like an Internet friendship. I know Him in part, in the ways He’s revealed Himself to me. Someday, I’ll know Him in person.

This article originally appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in August, 2009.

Published in: on June 27, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments Off on The Problem With Salvation  
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Treating Poison Oak


WaterBalloonWhen I was younger, I loved water balloon fights. Or water fights of any type. My brother and sister and I used to have a pretty good water fight every once in a while. We had these plastic squirt bottles meant for ketchup and mustard which sent out a pretty great stream of water—better than any of the water guns we had (this was in the pre-soaker days).

Fast forward to college and a warm, late November evening, with vacation right around the corner. Someone came up with the idea to ambush a group of guys on their way to their dorm from the library—with water balloons! Oh, yes! I was in my element!

We did a little scouting and found a good place off the trail where we could hide in the bushes, toss our balloons, and make a quick get-away. So we waited. And waited.

After maybe ten minutes, one of the girls in the group said, Yeah, guys? Isn’t this poison oak? She held up a twig from the bushes we were hiding in. Sure enough! It had poison oak’s tell-tale three leaflets with scalloped edges.

Poison_oakYikes! But we thought it was a little too late. I mean, we’d been hunkered down in those bushes the entire time, so would a few more minutes matter?

On came the guys. We let fly our balloons and then scampered away. Except, this group of guys was of a mind to get revenge. They chased us down somewhere near the chapel with the nice little fish pond behind it, and, yep, in we went. With all the water and pond scum we had to deal with, the poison oak was forgotten.

Until the next day when the first sign of rash hit. Left untreated, it got worse. At last I made my way to the on-campus health facility to see the nurse. Lo and behold, one of the guys who had tossed us into the pond was also in the waiting room. And yes, he was covered with rash as well.

At the time I didn’t know how poison oak worked, but it was pretty clear that my exposure to the plant had transferred to him. In fact, he had a worse case of it, and to make matters worse, during the upcoming quarter break, he was scheduled to go on tour with the choir.

I don’t think I felt properly sympathetic at the time. I mean, I was dealing with my own misery, but at least I could do it at home, coated with calamine lotion and lying very still so as not to aggravate the itching.

I’ve since learned that poison oak, when damaged—the kind that occurred when a group of college girls tramped into the patch to hide—releases an oil to which many people are allergic. That oil can stay on clothing (pet hair, too, for those who might be curious). So when the guys with vengeance on their minds grabbed us to throw us into the pond, they picked up the oil off our clothes.

Poison oak is a nasty business. If you’ve never had it, count your blessing. There isn’t any cure. I mean, it’s an allergy. It could have been washed off if we’d acted promptly, but none of us really knew what we were dealing with. And of course, the unsuspecting guys had no clue. They simply contracted poison oak from our clothing.

Because there’s no cure, all you can do is minimize the effect. At the time, calamine lotion was pretty much the only thing the nurse could give us. But that treatment was temporary, smelled, and looked really bad. Though it reduced the itching, it was really only a cover up.

I don’t know what science understood about poison oak back then. Now we know there is a way to bring the rash under control. I mean, it’s an allergy. Allergies respond to antihistamine, but apparently not topical antihistamine. Only internal antihistamine.

But here’s the point of this story. Identifying the fact that we were lying in a bush of poison oak didn’t help us at all. For one thing, we didn’t leave. For another, we didn’t go immediately back to our dorms and wash. We didn’t handle our clothes with care, and we didn’t warn anyone else that we could potentially give them the rash by transferring poison oak oil to them.

So, sure, we knew we were in a patch of poison oak, but that knowledge did us no good since we didn’t take any action because of what we knew.

In the same way, we can understand that nobody’s perfect—that we have a sin problem—but unless we do something about our condition, we will put ourselves and others close to us at risk. Because sin has consequences—far worse ones than the rash poison oak gives.

“Doing something,” of course, doesn’t mean, figuring things out on your own. It doesn’t mean following a twelve-step program, though that might treat the symptoms and even ease the consequences for a time. But as addicts admit, the battle to stay sober or drug free is a lifetime battle.

The real problem, then, is not the poison oak, so hiring someone to try and take out all the bushes, isn’t going to solve the problem long term. The real problem is the allergy—that part of a person’s makeup we’re born with.

Here the analogy between sin and poison oak breaks down because the best we can do for the allergy to poison oak is to administer an internal antihistamine. For sin, though, we can actually have it removed from our lives. Scripture says because of Christ we can be freed from the slavery of sin, that it will no longer have mastery over us.

I’m telling you, that makes me want to shout for joy. Hallelujah! If you’ve ever been tormented by a nagging, persistent, irritating habit that is harmful to you and to the people around you, and you can’t figure out how to stop doing what you don’t want to do, then you understand the slavery of sin.

Jesus Christ sets us free.

Published in: on June 24, 2016 at 6:07 pm  Comments (3)  
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Nobody’s Perfect


familynews_061514I don’t remember a time as a child when I didn’t go to church and Sunday School, unless I was sick. At some point the Sunday School teacher told the class that all people everywhere had sinned. How I resisted that idea! I related that story in an early post.

I remember distinctly that I wanted to believe I could live without sin. I didn’t have the habit of lying and I’d never stolen anything. I was young enough that most of my actions were monitored by my parents. I was also the youngest in the family, so if my parents weren’t watching, chances are my brother or my sister was. In short, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to sin.

So maybe, I thought, with the way things were going, I could be the first person, besides Jesus of course, to not sin.

Well, I think it’s pretty clear that sin already had a stranglehold on my life. I mean, how much pride does a little person have to have to think she might alone resist all temptation and stand beside Jesus as a sinless person?

The problem was that I was blind to my pride and therefore blind to my sin. I set myself to studying the matter of sin. Everyone I knew had some sin I could identify, so I turned my attention to the Bible. Nope, all those people had sinned, too. I finally had to admit that I fell into the “all have sinned” camp, but I did so with great reluctance.

All that to say, I understand when people who are not Christians don’t want to think of themselves as sinners. Competitive people especially, who like to meet the standard set before them (and often want to do better than everyone else in the process), and people who want to be in control, don’t like to be told we can’t do something.

I can’t be sinless? What are you talking about? Just watch me!

And of course, by that time it’s already too late. The sin that was crouching at the door is now in full control.

Why?

Because sin is actually already in our hearts.

We have this basic fact recorded for us in the Bible. We know that sin took hold of Adam when he rebelled against God, and all of us since have been born in Adam’s image—in his likeness.

Most interestingly a group of Yale scientists have found a way to measure the moral values of infants too young to talk. Their findings are clear: babies aren’t blank slates at all. They prefer kindness and generosity, and yet they have prejudices. They are just and they are greedy. (See “Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature“).

In one discussion I had about sin with someone who thinks the idea is reprehensible, she explained bad behavior as immaturity. Just like newborns don’t know how to talk or walk or chew (mostly because they don’t have teeth!), they don’t know how to show empathy. They need to be taught. And if they keep learning, they will one day move away from things that create barriers between people.

Except the science shows that theory simply is not true. Infants do know which is the kind puppet and which is the selfish one or the mean one. And yet the babies themselves choose to do the selfish, the greedy when given the opportunity.

But, as my atheist friend suggested, good teaching can change this pattern of selfishness—up to a point. The scientist’s conclusion based on the study of the older children:

They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for—the selfishness, the bias—but he says the instinct is still there.

The instinct, the sin nature, is still there. We can mask it. We can pretend it’s not there. We can call it by another name, but the fact is, nobody’s perfect.

Nobody.

So if we’re all in the same boat, then what’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: we’re in the boat, and God is not. And we need God. After all, we were made for relationship with Him. That’s how we received the inclination to value kindness and justice which the Yale scientists discovered in their tests of babies.

Sure the scientists chalk these traits up to evolution, but I’m not sure why they think that greed is a trait passed on from animals. From all I’ve seen, animals seem to use what they need and move on. Sure, squirrels might store up nuts for the winter, but it’s not like they’re storing up nuts for ten winters to come, particularly so they can have more nuts than any other squirrel in the tree, and more specifically so they can have more nuts when they die. In truth, they aren’t looking to win by on-upping their fellow squirrels.

In reality, prejudice, greed, hate, selfishness are human traits. Sinful traits. We have them because we’re made in the image of the sinful people who begot us.

The key point here is that sin is universal. It’s a problem we all relate to because we all have to deal with the imperfection of the people around us and the imperfection of our own hearts that lead us to do hurtful things to others in return.

Identifying sin is only a first step, however. Sort of like recognizing you’re lying in a patch of poison oak. Once you see the problem, you can take steps to deal with it. And that’s the good news of Christianity. God has dealt with this sin issue for us, and now He wants us to trust Him.

The Problem Is Sin


Seattle_AtheistsIn the Theist/Atheist Facebook group I’ve mentioned from time to time, a question came up about faith (is it a virtue). One thing led to another and one person involved in the discussion said he had four problems with faith in the “christian god.” The first area he mentioned was sin. He said, in essence, that he rejects the idea of sin.

I was shocked at first. This discussion took place just a week after the Florida shooting that killed 49 people at the Pulse, a gay bar in Orlando. I think, how can anyone watch the news and then turn around and say he doesn’t believe in sin?

My only answer is that Satan, who Jesus described as the father of lies, has blinded the eyes of unbelieving people. The problem is so obviously sin.

Society talks about love and tolerance, to the point that those topics have become almost trite. And yet, as if bringing an answer to the problem of violence or hatred or prejudice or terrorism—whatever was behind the actions of the Orland killer—several Broadway stars resurrected an old folk song from 1965 by Burt Bacharach: “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”

Before this cry for love, God gave us the Law that serves as our tutor—showing us how impossible it is for us to act in a morally upright way day in and day out, every hour of every day.

Jesus explained that God’s standard goes beyond the Law to include our attitudes as well as our actions. So lust makes us equivalent to adulterers, hate makes us as guilty as murderers. And yes, Jesus said, the law requiring an eye for an eye needs to be replace with love for our enemies.

So when the world tells us we need love, they’re right.

The problem is, they think love we somehow generate from within or already have but need to tap into, will be victorious over sin. If we love, we won’t be selfish any more. Or prideful. Or angry. Or greedy. Or lustful. Or power-hungry. Or jealous. Or vengeful.

If we had this love or could learn to love other people, if that was all we needed, then why do bad things still happen? Even if we just figured out the benefit of love fifty years ago when the song first came out, shouldn’t we see some progress, if that’s all we need?

In truth, the fact that we are still dealing with prejudice and hatred and corruption and all the other problems in our culture—abuse, pedophilia, sex trafficking, rape, identity theft, and more—is proof that sin is real. We should see some movement toward a better society, but what evidence is there for a positive change? We haven’t curbed alcoholism or drug addiction. We haven’t stemmed the growth and power of gangs. We haven’t replaced love for violence at any level. Kids still bully kids. Men still abuse women. Women still cheat on husbands. Takers continue to take.

Why is that, if not sin? There is no explanation.

Atheists have no explanation. I’ve asked before. Those who believe in evolution have no theory how society, which developed, they say, from the animal world, has taken on these evil tendencies.

Because that’s the prevailing view: humankind is good but society corrupts. The question remains: when there were just a handful of evolved humans, were did their evil tendencies come from? The atheist formula—good people create a bad society—simply does not compute.

The sad thing is, Christians have backed off from declaring the problem of sin. At some point the narrative accepted on most fronts was that “fire and brimstone” preaching was bad, that people shouldn’t be scared out of hell, that what would “win people to Christ” was to hear about His love and forgiveness.

There’s a lot of truth it that approach. Paul wrote to Titus, explaining the saving work of God:

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)

So, yes, the catalyst for change is God’s kindness and love.

But the atheist I mentioned from the Facebook group went on to say that the third thing he had against faith in God was salvation. He apparently doesn’t want it because he believes he doesn’t need it.

That’s the place people end up if they believe they are good and don’t have a sin problem. Maybe we shouldn’t bring back fire and brimstone preachers, but we certainly should tell the truth about human nature.

It’s hard for me to believe that anyone in the world would ever stand up and say, I’ve never had a wrong thought or done a wrong deed in my entire life. I’ve loved others as much as I love myself. Any such person would most likely be guilty of lying and of pride, so there goes the idea of good. Because in God’s way of accounting, “good” means “without any bad.”

In our society we put good on a sliding scale. If we can say something is “mostly good,” then it’s good. Five stars. But even the best five-star people we know, still fall short of perfect. They know it. We know it.

So why aren’t we coming to the obvious conclusion: the problem our world has is sin.

Until we get a proper diagnosis, we’ll slap band-aids over incurable wounds.

One more thing. Telling someone he is a sinner is not hateful. That’s like saying a doctor is hateful for telling someone he has cancer. Uh, no. Not. Hateful. Try, honest.

We have spent too long in the faery land of Good Humanity, so we no longer recognize what stares us in the face every night on the local and national news: humans sin. We all sin. Everyone of us.

It’s not hateful to admit that sinners sin. It’s not hateful to tell people there’s a Savior—One declaring Himself to be Love—who wants to rescue us from the mess of our own making.

Published in: on June 22, 2016 at 6:16 pm  Comments (17)  
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Gays Aren’t The Problem


San_Francisco_pro_gay_marriage_protest

On Facebook, a friend of mine addressed reactions to the recent terrorist attack at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Reactions from Christians. Hateful reactions.

In part she said

I need to stand up now and denounce the Christians I’ve seen saying that they are glad there are 49 fewer gays in the world and they are only sorry that the shooter didn’t finish the job.

This is vile, vile talk, and people who express such thoughts are no friends of mine.

I saw one short video clip on a news program that showed a pastor in northern California saying hateful things. And now there’s reportedly another pastor in Arizona who has said even worse.

As the news of these reactions flooded media channels, other Christians immediately responded with great love and support for the LGBT community. Society is rallying around gays and decrying Christians for hate speech. Of course there’s the usual “it’s the guns” response, and a few people are saying, Wait a minute; this was an attack in the name of loyalty to ISIS.

With all this clamor, one person commented to my friend’s post by asking some tough questions. I’m not sure they weren’t the same kinds of questions Jesus faced when the Pharisees were trying to trap Him by something He might say, but perhaps they are legitimate, tough questions. Here’s what the commenter asked:

Pls, as a true Christian, what is your take about the gay thing. Are we to love them as they are? Or to tell them it is wrong to be gay? Or to turn a blind eye to whoever they are and whatever they do? Your honest answer pls.

Really, that seems so much like an Are we to please God or Man? question. If we say God, we’re going against our culture and will incur further hate from those who decry hate speech (notice the irony), and if we say Man, we’re conceding the marriage ground and ultimately the authority of the Bible. In either case, Christians lose.

Oh, we lose, too, if we turn a “blind eye,” the option that many German Christians chose when confronted with Hitler’s treatment of Jews.

In reality, the answer is None of the above. Because the liberal left under our current administration has successfully challenged the status quo and redefined marriage, or prohibited states from putting a halt to the redefinition of marriage, and because gender identity has become a new, favorite liberal cause, we Christians have reacted. We want to defend the status quo, to push the LGBT community back into the shadows, to force compliance to God’s standad.

And make no mistake, God’s standard is marriage between one man and one woman.

But God’s standard is also for truth instead of lies, fidelity instead of adultery, love instead of hate, kindness instead of gossip, humility instead of pride, and much more. I don’t see us Christians taking to the street to rally against prostitution. Or to stand in pulpits and wish for the death of men (or women) addicted to pornography.

For some reason, some people, professing to be Christians, have drawn a line in the sand, saying if we could just stop this “gay thing,” we’d have our country back. That position has more problems than I can address in one post.

First, the goal of the Christian out not to be to “get our country back.” As much as I love America and am sad at the changes I’ve seen in my life time, I have no desire to work to return things to the “good old days.” God has given believers a clear mandate: we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

The incredible thing about belief in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, is that we now have a spiritual kingdom that is far more important than the temporal one in which we live. So Christians in China and Guatemala and Cypress and Indonesia and Japan and South Africa and Morocco and Venezuela and India and wherever else in the world, are part of the same kingdom.

But of course we still have to deal in the here and now, the kingdom in which we find ourselves. We still have to “render to Caesar.” So here’s my answer to the questions the commenter raised:

The Biblical “take on the gay thing” is that gossip, slander, adultery, homosexual activity, lying, taking God’s name in vain—all of it—is sin.

Essentially sin is rebellion against God, and John 3:18 tells us that “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

So if all the homosexuals stopped their homosexual activity, they would be no closer to God unless they believed in Jesus. It’s not their homosexual activity that separates them from God: it’s their rebellious hearts that say they will go their own way, no matter what God has to say. In that regard, homosexuals are no different from any other sinner.

So how are we to treat homosexuals? We are to treat them as we do any other unrepentant sinner. We should pray for those we know and ask God how we can present His truth to them. We are certainly not to slander them as a group.

At the same time, I don’t think we are to embrace them and identify with them as some have done in an effort to distance themselves from the hate speech.

Most certainly we shouldn’t pretend that homosexuality isn’t sin, but we also shouldn’t act as if it’s the unpardonable sin.

Above all, we should teach the next generation, because they’re getting pounded in schools and media that the LGBT community is nothing but a minority group that should be respected. (Emphasis added for this post; other formatting edits have also been made.)

In short, gays aren’t the problem! Sin is the problem. The stubborn hearts of humankind that refuse to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ—those are the problems.

And that’s what Christians should be speaking against. No, my neighbor, my friend, my co-worker, my critique partner, my uncle, my sister, my Twitter follower, none of us is good. We have a sin issue that we all must deal with, and there’s only been one successful solution: accepting the payment Jesus Christ made at the cross.

Pretending that we’re actually good simply does not square with the facts. Working harder, trying better, hoping we’ve done enough, leave us wanting. Pretending that sin doesn’t matter, doesn’t make it go away.

The happy, happy news is that Jesus did what we can’t do. He has dealt with our sin for us. And that’s what every unrepentant sinner needs to hear—those in the LGBT community included.

Published in: on June 17, 2016 at 5:45 pm  Comments (10)  
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God’s Not The Problem


Peter008I read in Acts recently about Peter and John getting tossed into prison over night because they healed a man in Jesus’s name.

Their response?

Peter preached to those in authority. When they warned them to stop preaching and healing in Jesus’s name, they answered with a clear, bold statement:

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)

True to their word, they continued to preach Christ and Him crucified. They continued to heal. In fact all the apostles did. Powerful things were happening, and the church was increasing in numbers, to the point that the Jewish leaders became jealous and decided to throw them into prison again.

After consulting, with one another, they decided they’d flog them into obedience.

Of course, they had to re-arrest the apostles because an angel had set them free! But they didn’t go into hiding or leave town. They went right back to the temple and started preaching again.

So once more the Jews hauled them in front of the authorities and confronted them:

“We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Well, yeah! To be expected since Peter told them they had to obey God rather than men. He repeated it since they apparently hadn’t got it the first time:

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

After more consultation, the Jewish leaders decided to beat them into obedience. And here’s the point of this post. Steadily the hostility toward the apostles was turning into persecution. And how did they respond?

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (This and the previous two quotes from Acts 5)

Rejoicing.

Continuing to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.

I find their reaction to be in such stark contrast to Christianity in the West. When we face soft discrimination, we’ve started playing the persecution card, as if there aren’t actual martyrs in the world today, dying because they believe in Jesus as their Lord, their Savior. We’ve begun to take the mantle of victim, and as a result we’re pulling back from opportunities to boldly speak the truth in love—the truth that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

Look at the balance of what Peter said to those standing in judgment over the apostles:

The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

He could have left out the “whom you had put to death” part in order to be less confrontational, but the truth is, part of their job was to expose sin. That’s what Peter did when Ananias and Sapphira pretended to present the church with the entire amount of money from the sale of their land. In truth, they were lying—to the Holy Spirit, Peter said. He called them out, declared their sin publicly, and in that instance, these pretenders paid with their lives on the spot.

Things are different today. Christians, myself included, are very conscious that preaching Christ might offend someone. We don’t even like preaching in church very much any more.

And should we experience ill treatment because of our faith, we’re much more likely to sue than we are to rejoice because we’ve been found worthy to suffer for His name.

What’s more, we’re more likely to say, Why, God, when I’ve been serving you so faithfully? Why are you letting all this suffering happen to me? That’s the approach of the people of Israel when they were leaving Egypt. They didn’t rejoice in the power of God. They didn’t look forward to the promised land. They looked back to the familiar comforts of Egypt and treated God’s prophet and by extension, God Himself, as if He was the One harming them.

News flash! God is not the problem. Suffering is a result of sin. So why are we so quick to blame God, to suggest that we could do a better job running things—from our health and finances to the Presidential elections and dealing with terrorism. We have lost sight of God’s sovereignty and His power.

When we pray, James warns us about asking with wrong motives, more interested in our own pleasures. Jesus said we are to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Is that what we’re praying for? Or are we praying for peace and comfort in our time, so that we will be safe and can do what we do in peace?

I don’t know about others. I only know my own heart, and I confess, I’m a long way from the response the apostles exhibited. I can say, my heart is willing, but there’s that problem with the flesh! Maybe by the time I have to face some actual persecution, God, by His grace, will have shored up that weakness!

Published in: on June 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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Me-ism


Olympia_roller_coasterI was talking with a friend yesterday about the radical changes in society here in the US. We started looking at history to see if we could figure out how the earthshaking changes occurred. OK, first she related to me a discussion in a Bible study centered around Ephesians 5:16: “making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” The question came up from a Millennial, what does it mean “the days are evil”?

Well, that’s a question I think is self-explanatory. I mean, I just heard a statistic that said 90 people a day die in the US from gunshot wounds. Well, I went to verify this if possible. It’s a stat apparently Secretary Hillary Clinton has used in speeches against gun violence. On a web site that lists the numbers of deaths annually, the total they give for 2015 is 12,942 people killed “in a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide” (The Trace). A little math reveals that’s more than 35 deaths a day.

Oh, so 35 isn’t 90, meaning it’s not so bad? The days aren’t really evil then? Well, 35 people would be like killing everyone (and a few visitors) in one of my classes during my teaching days. Every day! I think that’s pretty evil.

And that doesn’t begin to address the numbers of assaults, the muggings, the lies, the adulteries, the rapes, the abuse, the drunken stupors, the addiction overdoses, the robberies, the prostitution, the bribery, the corruption, the hate, the pornography, the abortions, the cursing, the betrayal. I find the evil to be overwhelming.

I mean, listen to an average news show and see what horrific things are happening in the world. The days are evil.

But this young Millennial had to ask, What does it mean, “The days are evil.”

So my friend and I began to discuss where in society is the breakdown that made this intelligent, well-educated Millennial ask for a definition of evil days. I mean, with atheism on the rise and church attendance on the decline, with terrorism seemingly unchecked, and presidential candidates who are potentially going to be indited for crimes or who have advocated for illegal action in their debates, I find it astounding that anyone would not immediately grasp the concept of “evil days.”

Thus the conclusion: something in our society has broken.

What, and when?

I suggested first, the dynamics of the home are not what they once were. During World War II and the Korean War, then the Viet Nam War, young men were not in the home, so any number of young wives were left to parent alone or to change roles from the one caring for the home to one providing financial necessities.

I didn’t mention this, but divorce also became easier to obtain and the stigma of divorce was removed. Hence, single parent homes began to increase. In short, a generation was not parented well, and they, in turn did a bad job of parenting their children who are now Millennials.

Parenting styles also changed. One difference was the determination that spanking was an inappropriate form of punishment. But there was also a surge of what my friend called “helicopter parents” who constantly hovered. I’ll add that homes became more child-centric than ever.

Our discussion ended before we reached any conclusion, but as I look at the changes in our society, I see two threads: parents who neglected their children, so they ended up growing up like weeds, and pampered children who grew up thinking the world owed them whatever their hearts desired.

Both extremes produced children who are part of the Me-ism of today. The first decided that no one else was going to watch out for them, so they had to watch out for themselves. The latter saw that everyone was taking care of them (coaches awarding participation trophies, teachers giving do-over tests, or changing their standardized test results, more recently, safe zones on university campuses where students won’t hear anything that offends them, and the like), so they expected the world to continue to center around them.

I’ll add another element. Our society has moved from one that believed in hard work and success to one that believes in happiness and safety. Our highest priority now seems to be happiness, and safety is needed to make happiness possible.

Consequently, entertainment occupies much of our time and attention. We want to have music on always. Unless we’re watching TV or the movie of our downloading choice. We read about the stars and watch “news” shows about the stars and talk about the stars. We are obsessed with the lives of people who act. Or sing. Why? Because they entertain us. And entertainment is key to happiness.

I think Me-ism is responsible for our view of truth and the push for tolerance. After all, if the most important value is each person’s individual happiness, then whatever the person wants must be good. If you want to believe in an after life, then that’s fine because it works for you. But if someone else says there is nothing beyond the grave, that’s fine too because they can be happy here and now. Because, you see, all views have to be tolerated so that everyone can be happy.

Enter Jesus saying that He is The way, The truth, The life, and no one can come to God the Father except through Him. He shatters the underpinnings of Me-ism. He shakes us from the lethargy of escape to entertainment and tells us to be on the alert. Peter explains that our enemy, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Paul says to Christians

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)

In short, we simply don’t have time to be caught up in Me-ism, no matter what our culture is about. Like the first church which broke from their Jewish friends, neighbors, family, and community, Christians need to break from the culture of Me-ism and hold to the standards of the Bible. Because, yes, the days are evil, but our Redeemer is coming back to set things right.