Is Faith The End All And Be All Of Christianity?


communion elements-1072441-mI’ve mentioned the Facebook group I was in briefly. The group started out by calling itself Faith vs. Reason and one of the few good discussions we had revolved around the understanding of the word faith. Christians, of course, see no contradiction between faith and reason. Most of us agree that our faith stands on reasonable arguments, and that, in fact, evolutionists have the same kind of faith in their theories as Christians do in the things we believe, such as the truth of the Bible.

Well, that was not consistent with what most atheists believed. Some would not accept that they had faith in anything because to them faith equaled blind faith—more like wishful thinking than the “assurance of things not seen” which Scripture talks about.

Interestingly, a recent comment to a post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction also, in part, addresses faith. The basic issue is that one of the visitors characterized what they thought were “God’s definitions of right and wrong.” Leading the way was “faith takes precedent over action or intent.”

How to describe the part that faith plays in the life of a Christian? This is a topic of many sermons and books and Bible studies. I took the easy way out and made a categorical statement that the list was “wide of the mark.” But that didn’t satisfy and the question came up again. So I’ll give my best shot to answer.

Does faith, in God’s eyes, take precedence over action or intent? Yes, and no.

God tells us clearly there’s nothing we can do to be saved—no action on our part is enough to wipe out the offense of our previous rebellion against God, the very rebelliousness built into our nature by the Fall of humankind into sin.

Instead He needed to act on our behalf. His action is effective because He has no sin. Consequently Jesus could present His life on our behalf, that we might be declared right with God.

So what do we have to do? Nothing, because we still can’t effect a change in our relationship with God. Rather we have to believe that Jesus did in fact stand in our place so that we now can enjoy God’s forgiveness and a restored friendship with Him.

But there’s more. The Apostle James wrote a letter that explains something critical about faith. He said that faith without works is dead being by itself. At one point he said, “You believe that God is One. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.”

In other words, lip-service belief is nothing. Even demons can do that. They can acknowledge God without it making one bit of difference in their lives.

Rather, James describes faith that is lived out—demonstrated by actions. Without the actions that show the faith, it’s as useless as if you tell a hungry homeless person to be warmed and fed without giving them a thing to eat or anything to keep them warm. Words alone are as empty as the body without the spirit.

So, does God give precedence to faith? Well, without faith, Scripture says, it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith? Not something divorced from actions. But the actions aren’t some kind of do-gooder kind that earns brownie points with God. They aren’t rituals either—stuff that we do just because it’s what people who are religious do.

Rather, the faith we have in God changes us. It turns our lives upside down. In the Old Testament the prophets came down pretty hard on God’s chosen people for just going through religious motions. They were doing sacrifices, even fasting, but God didn’t want their sacrifices. He said, what He wanted was a broken and contrite heart. He wants us to come to the end of our efforts and stop trying to dig ourselves out of a hole we can’t possible escape from. He wants us to come to Him with hearts surrendered to Him, acknowledging our need for Him, sorrowing for our previous rebellion.

And from that place of brokenness, He heals us and makes us new. It’s the phoenix rising from the ashes. Sorrow in the black night of our souls, but joy in the morning.

As healed and new and joyful, we can get to work doing what God has asked us to do, which Jesus summarized as loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So God’s thoughts about faith, actions, and intentions? I suppose He’d say good intentions are just like lip-service faith—it doesn’t put bread into the hands of hungry people. Good intentions are just as dead as faith without works.

But actions and faith? Pretty inseparable, those two. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, so faith is built on something, not just a feeling or a wish. There’s substance that can be checked and verified and analyzed and debated and discussed and in the end believed to be true.

But that belief makes everything different. Everything, including our actions.

So why the picture of the communion elements at the top of this post? Jesus said we are to take of the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him—of what He did that turned our lives upside down. When we take communion we are doing something, but we’re not. We’re remembering, but in remembering we’re doing. That’s a lot like a Christian’s faith. We believe, but in believing, we do. And if we are unchanged, there’s the possibility that we are offering lip-service faith.

The thing is, change sometimes comes over a period of time. That’s why we use metaphors like growing in our faith. How radically different we are (under new management, some like to say) can’t always be determined right away on the outside. But God’s at work renewing us, healing us from our brokenness, and equipping us for His service. It’s an awesome change, this coming to Christ. But is it faith taking precedence over actions? Yes, and no.

Published in: on February 26, 2015 at 6:07 pm  Comments (7)  
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Hateful, Mean Christians


Anti-Christian_sign_in_Federal_Plaza_ChicagoMore than once I’ve read the charge that Christians are hateful and mean. It goes along with the idea that God is a wrathful tyrant. The concept started with the idea that He is, and therefore we are, a kill-joy. But it’s gone far beyond that notion.

Now Christians are considered hateful because we who adhere to the Bible’s clear teaching, oppose same-sex marriage. How unkind to deny people a meaningful, loving relationship that everyone else gets to enjoy simply because of their sexual orientation.

Christians are also haters because they want to deny women the right to choose for themselves what they do with their own bodies when it comes to pregnancy. This language is, of course, euphemistic speech for the right to have an abortion.

Christians are haters because they send people to hell for the smallest things, like telling little white lies or drinking too much at the New Year’s Eve party. In fact, they assign people to hell if they don’t believe in their Jesus as if there’s only their way or the way to hell. How hateful can they get?

The thing that people who take these views don’t realize is that Christians don’t send anyone to hell. God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell. Rather, hell—or death, not just physical but spiritual and relational—is the consequence of the sin God warned Adam against.

Furthermore, God put into motion His plan of redemption to rescue us from hell. But telling people about this bailout, this merciful deliverance from the destiny we’re heading toward, is considered hateful.

It makes no sense. Would a good neighbor see a fire across the street and do nothing? Would a good parent watch his child drink bleach from the cleaning supplies and not intervene? Would a good citizen watch a kidnapper force a young girl into his car and not at lease call 9-1-1?

In all these circumstances, the minimum action a person would take is likely to raise the alarm. And if possible, the person might even step in to stop the harm that’s underway. Parents are even expected to do this and would be considered negligent if they didn’t prevent a child from ingesting that which is harmful.

But when it comes to raising the spiritual alert, Christians are considered hateful. It makes no sense.

Western society has gotten to this place in part because we’ve moved from instructive action to preventative action when it comes to the next generation. By that I mean, we are less likely to show young people why and how than we are to pass rules against.

For instance, when it comes to abortion, we’re quick to preach abstinence until marriage and to reinforce the fact that the product of conception is life and therefore should not be killed. These are preventative measures.

But how good are we at coming along side unwed pregnant women and helping them financially or emotionally? What kind of counseling are we giving to the scared and confused teen caught in her own sin? Are our actions and attitudes the equivalent of picking up stones in judgment of the sinner?

Except, in that situation the one who dies is the baby, not the mother whose sin resulted in the little life she thinks she has to terminate.

The Church should come along side sinners and offer the same grace that has been offered and is being offered to us. And the next generation should be involved in the process. This kind of modeling is instructive.

Yes, we should talk about purity, but a healthy marriage will instruct young people in a far more effective way than telling them when to start dating and how much or little sexual activity is OK.

Christians should not stop shouting warnings to a world sliding away from God. Life without Him is dark and riddled with instability and insecurity. It’s meaningless and fraught with conflict. We most certainly should charge across the street and shout fire or rip bleach bottles out of little hands or scream for someone to stop the kidnapper as we lay hold of the young woman to wrestle her out of his control.

We see the danger awaiting our friends and family and neighbors. We know what they need in order to move from darkness to light. Why would we stay silent, even though any number of bystanders may misunderstand and mis-characterize us as haters?

Which is worse, to be misunderstood and slandered or to do nothing to point others to Jesus Christ? When we tell others about who Jesus is, we are doing the most loving thing possible. But in this day when evil is called good, and good, evil, it’s no wonder that our loving actions are misunderstood as hateful.

Of course pretenders who claim the name of Christ, but who live as legalists, don’t make things easier. They accumulate negative press while the thousands upon thousands of Christians who go about serving their neighbor, loving them as Christ would, receive very little recognition.

We don’t put legs to our faith in order to gain accolades or to create good photo-ops. But perhaps we should be more vocal—giving God praise for what He does through His Church. In the Old Testament, the recurring motive for what Israel did was so that the people would know that the Lord is God.

Maybe that needs to be the motive behind what we Christians do—not on the sly, but openly, boldly. “I’m spending time at the homeless shelter, not because I’m a nice guy, but because Jesus is Lord, and I wanted the opportunity to tell you that”—that sort of thing.

Hateful? Christians ought not be hateful. It’s a test, in fact, according to John, a measure of who is a Christian. How can we say we love God and hate our brother? The two are mutually exclusive.

But maybe we’ve forgotten how to show our love. Then again, maybe our love will look like hate in the eyes of those who have rejected Jesus. The first, we need to fix, the last we need to let go.

Identity


American_flag-1342516-mMuch is made of identity theft these days, but a new consideration has come up with the terrorist attacks in France. This identity issue was something discussed on a news program. The question is whether Muslims identify most with their nation or with their faith community.

Supposedly a high percentage (80% if I remember correctly), said they first thought of themselves as Muslims, then as French citizens, or British, or whatever. I shook my head at the news, then thought, But wait. Don’t Christians think the same way? Or shouldn’t we?

To be honest, I think a lot of Christians and even more professing Christians think being a good American is a requirement for someone to be a good Christian. I don’t know what they think about Christians from another country.

The distinct feeling I get is that Christians ought to work hard to get this nation turned back to conservative values. Then all will be well.

First, America, for all the wisdom of its founders and the blessings we’ve enjoyed during the first 200 years of our existence, has been deeply flawed from its inception. I could enumerate the problems, but that’s not my intent here.

The second, and perhaps more pertinent issue, is that God never intended to create an earthly kingdom—not after Man sinned, and not on this world that was under the curse of sin. Jesus Himself spelled this out more completely right before He was sentenced to be crucified:

Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”

Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”

Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38)

Yes, Jesus is a king. No, His kingdom is not of this world. So why do His followers try to set up “heaven on earth”?

To recap, America is flawed, God never intended to create an earthly kingdom, but there’s a third factor. No kingdom of God is possible in the here and now.

The bottom line is this: no matter how perfect a government a group of people might set up, it is still going to have sinful people in places of power. What’s the old adage? The best of men are men at best—meaning they are flawed, incapable of making perfect, selfless decisions one hundred percent of the time. It will take a perfect King to rule a perfect kingdom—and that’s what Jesus intends when He returns.

In the meantime, the idea of America or any other country being God’s country, is mistaken. Since Christ first came, God has gone in a different direction, away from the idea of a nation as His representative, which Israel operated under. Rather, He’s chosen followers which He fits into a new embodiment of His design for humankind.

This precious value, then, is for you who believe . . . you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:7a, 9-10)

Additionally, Colossians tells us God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).

In other words, this kingdom of which we’re a part, this holy nation, is something all of us who have redemption are a part of. It’s not something unique to Americans! Which ought to go without saying, but apparently some people need to have it spelled out. Which is fine. The Bible does a fine job of spelling it out.

Paul agrees with Peter, not only in his letter to the church in Colossae, but also to the one he wrote to the church in Philippi: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). According to Strong’s, the Greek word “citizenship” isn’t ambiguous. It has these meanings:

  • the administration of civil affairs or of a commonwealth
  • the constitution of a commonwealth, form of government and the laws by which it is administered
    • a state, commonwealth
    • the commonwealth of citizens

One commentator explains our real identity is that of aliens:

If we are citizens of heaven it means that we are resident aliens on earth. Foreigners are distinct in whatever foreign land they go. Christians must be so marked by their heavenly citizenship that they are noticed as different.

In fact, the Philippians would have understood this analogy well. Though they lived far from Rome, they were still citizens of Rome, with rights and privileges as well as responsibilities of their citizenship. They were to represent Rome well.

So, too, we Holy Nation people are to live with our rightful identity in mind, our true citizenship, aware of our rights and privileges, but not forgetting our responsibilities. We are to represent God well. Which was what He’s intended all along!

Sweet Aroma


grilled-chicken-legs-745038-mI’m sitting here enjoying the aroma of barbequed chicken. I don’t think anyone is actually barbequing, although it’s certainly warm enough that they could. It’s just that most people, even in SoCal, don’t think about barbequing in January. (This may be quite different for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, however. ;-) ) I suspect I’m smelling the aroma of roasted or fried or broiled chicken from another apartment in my building.

Nevertheless, the scent is tantalizing. I’m having meatloaf tonight but am sitting here thinking, Why couldn’t I be having chicken? Never mind that I had chicken all last week!

It’s that mouth-watering scent lingering in the air, that sweet aroma that induces a desire for a chicken dinner. It’s almost enough to prompt me to hunt down the nearest KFC. Almost.

But that’s what a sweet aroma is supposed to do, isn’t it—entice a person to draw closer. When I smell the salt-water breeze, for example, I know I’m close to the ocean, and I’m honed in on reaching the beach. The scent of evergreens does the same for me when I’m heading for the mountains.

Fresh baked bread draws me, too, and so does apple pie. Or chocolate chip cookies. Pretty much grilled anything can start my stomach growling, and here I am—back at that aroma of fried chicken.

Interestingly, the Apostle Paul refers to the knowledge of Christ as a sweet aroma.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)

I find this passage a little hard to digest (pardon the pun—I just couldn’t resist), but the main point seems to be we believers carry the aroma of God to other Christians first but also to non-Christians. To Christians, the scent is sweet—it’s the aroma of life—but to the latter, it’s the odor of death.

Several commentators connect this image Paul used, to the aroma of burning incense in the Roman triumphal parades. To the Romans the scent was a sign of victory, but to the prisoners and newly acquired slaves, the odor was the mark of death or the end of all they had previously known. Notice, what the two groups smelled was exactly the same, but because it meant something entirely different to each, they reacted in diametrically contrasting ways.

So, too, the aroma of Christ. To the Christian, He is life. To the non-Christian? Not so much.

And yet . . . I can’t help but wonder if the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ isn’t as enticing to non-Christians as to Christians. Enticing, but perhaps because it isn’t compatible with other odors, it becomes a hated thing. Or perhaps an odor is too weak or, worse, identified as one thing, when actually it is something else.

I’ll never forget one of Christopher Hitchen’s last articles in which he mentioned all the notes he’d received from Christians who said they were praying for God to miraculously heal him. Truly, he seemed touched. Of course he also mentioned the ones he received that said he was dying of cancer as payment for his atheism.

That last is not the sweet knowledge of Christ. I don’t know what that kind of ugliness is or where it comes from—maybe a white-washed tomb.

The knowledge of Christ is His life of ministry and His death “that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” The knowledge of Christ is His resurrection power and His promise to return as our King.

Whether the words of life He spoke or the deeds of life He performed, whether the death He suffered that gifted us with life if we belief, whether as the first alive from the dead, or whether fulfilling the promise of life everlasting, Jesus is all about life.

That’s a sweet aroma. That’s the enticement He offers. I’m not sure how that beauty and truth can do anything but attract. I guess it does. God’s word says it does.

Like that fried chicken, the aroma we transmit permeates the air. The job of every believer is simply to make sure we’re not smothering it or diffusing it beyond recognition. How those around us respond is their responsibility. How we permeate our world with the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Christ, is ours.

Published in: on January 7, 2015 at 6:21 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Thanksgiving Day


ThanksgivingFeastI love Thanksgiving. For a number of years I said it was my favorite holiday.

My church used to hold special Thanksgiving Day services—a kind of “come as you are” affair back in the days when everyone still dressed up for church. So there was a real casual feel.

I don’t remember what all we did. Sing, I’m sure. And pray. But this was the part I remember the most: in this church whose sanctuary held over 1000 people, they put up microphones in the side aisles and let whoever wanted to share come down and talk about why they were thankful.

No time limit. No slick presentation. We went for an hour and a half, give or take, and it was the best, hearing what God was doing in the lives of the people in our church. Often these were people saying how great God was although they’d experienced some pain or suffering or loss. Their witness was that God went through the trial with them. More than once I ended up in tears from hearing these experiences of God’s faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about. Those early colonists who set aside a day to express their thanks and to feast with their Indian friends who had made their survival possible, were proclaiming God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the trials they’d faced.

Danger, sickness, and death on the ocean. Dwindling provision, inadequate shelter, more sickness and death when they landed. But when they made it through the winter, when the Indians helped them plant, when harvest time came and they had provision for another winter, they gave God thanks.

When we slide past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas instead of plugging into the rich heritage this nation has enjoyed, we miss out. Think about those early celebrations. No racial or ethnic or cultural prejudice. No one advertising or trying to get rich quick. Everyone sharing from what they had. And everyone acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts.

Today if everyone in America spent Thanksgiving by setting aside any prejudices, by taking a pause in all the get-ahead schemes, by sharing instead of trying to get, by thanking God for giving us what we need for this day, how different our nation would look.

Christians so often like to say we need to put Christ back into Christmas, but I think we need to put thanks back into Thanksgiving Day.

Scripture puts a great emphasis on thanking God. For example, note the times thanks is mentioned in this passage in Colossians:

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 added).

To our detriment, we Christians don’t make thanksgiving a big part of our worship service, or, I dare say, of our own personal prayers.

In describing the process of falling away from God, Romans 1 says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (v 21, emphasis added).

Not giving thanks follows immediately after not honoring God. I don’t know if there’s anything that can keep us closer to God than thanking Him—not particularly for the stuff He gives but for God Himself.

I think it’s cool to take a passage of Scripture and identify what it shows us about God—either His work or plan or person—then use that to thank Him. But not just on Thanksgiving Day, though setting aside a day to feast and thank God and our family and friends is a cornerstone upon which we can build thankful hearts during the other 364 days.

In many ways, the more prosperous we are, the more we have to work at thankfulness. It’s so easy to start taking for granted the good things we have—and expect to have, day in and day out.

For example, I made a grocery store run this afternoon. I didn’t think until this minute to thank God for the grocery store. I’m not wondering if I’ll have access to a grocery store tomorrow. I expect to have it available to me whenever I need to buy more food.

It’s easy to move from that “take it for granted” position to an entitlement position, then a demanding one (see the people of Israel during the exodus). Giving thanks forestalls that downward spiral.

Thanksgiving feeds a relationship. Why wouldn’t it work the same way with God? In fact it does. The more we thank Him, the more we appreciate the many things about Him for which we can be thankful. As our awareness grows, our appreciation grows. As our appreciation grows, our thankfulness grows, and our thankfulness triggers a whole new awareness of God, starting the cycle over again.

So, no matter whether you live in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving, all year long.

Why Atheists Think Christians Are Arrogant


Preaching God's wordMy post today is actually in response to a comment from an atheist on another site. We had a brief exchange of ideas, and in his last comment, he said I shouldn’t bother responding because he wouldn’t be reading on that thread any more. Then he repeated his charge that I, like other Christians, am arrogant.

This individual isn’t saying anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s not a charge I’m willing to accept in the context he’s delivering it.

As it happens, I am arrogant—it’s a part of my sin nature which causes me to be deceived into thinking I’m better than I am, more truthful, more intelligent, more kind-hearted, more . . . you name it, and I’ve probably thought it if it puts me in a good light.

But that’s not the arrogance I, and other Christians, am being accused of. Rather, the idea is that because I believe there’s a right and true view of the world and am unwilling to say, “If it works for you, then it’s all good,” I’m arrogant.

By that definition, everyone is arrogant (which is actually right on the money) because clearly this commenter thinks I’m wrong, so words of tolerance (“as long as it works for you”) only mask a smug attitude (stupid Christians).

The truth is, not all worldviews can be right. Consequently, Christianity can’t “work for me” and Buddhism “work for you” because the two systems aren’t different flavors of ice cream. They’re not even languages. They are more like differing addition facts.

But in reality there is only one of those.

To say, in my system one plus one equals three, may be “true for you,” but it isn’t true. You may believe it, but in so doing you aren’t going to increase the number of apples if two people each give you an apple. Believing that one apple and one apple equals three apples still only leaves you with two apples.

So too when it comes to the philosophical understanding of the world. There aren’t multiple truths and each person gets to pick and choose the one that fits there personality best. The world doesn’t work one way for Christians and a different way for atheists. If God is real, then, like the sun, He shines on us all—the just and the unjust. Believing in Him does not increases His reality, and disbelieving in Him does not detract from His existence.

Anyone taking a “whatever works for you” view, simply doesn’t believe that there is Truth; consequently, according to this outlook, it really doesn’t matter what you believe in—as long as you don’t believe that there is an absolute Truth.

The fact is, believing that there is no Truth is the truth in which this person believes. The idea that anyone who says “whatever works for you” is not arrogant, but whoever says, only one thing works, is arrogant, simply demonstrates how deceived people are who take this “whatever works for you” position.

But atheists also believe Christians are arrogant because we “send people to hell.”

This, of course, is inaccurate. No human sends anyone to hell. I dare say, God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell in the way the atheists mean it.

Jesus said clearly in John 3 that our rejection of God and His Son condemn us:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It’s this “not believing” that sends people to hell.

The patrolman waving people away from a downed bridge is not thought of as responsible for sending someone who ignores him into the icy river. And generally speaking no one thinks he’s arrogant for doing his job.

Christians have more incentive than the patrolman does, in many instances, because we know the people we’re warning—or we’ve had some level of interaction with them. They are rarely anonymous faces whizzing past our “Bridge Down, Take Alternate Route” signs.

We aren’t shouting warnings because we want to rub it in the faces of others that we’re right and they’re wrong. We also aren’t sticking our tongues out and Naa-naa-naa-ing them because we’re in and they aren’t, or that they will never get in since we have the secret and aren’t telling them what it is.

Paul lined up with this position when he said, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Those ultimate wages belong to each of us, and the free gift is offered to us all:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:23-27a, emphasis added)

In short, the charge of arrogance is true of all people, but doesn’t apply to Christians as a group. ;-)

We all have deceitfully wicked hearts, but Christians have been washed by the only cleansing agent that can deal with the stain on our souls. Jesus Himself took our guilt and shame and put it on His own shoulders, then went to the cross and died in our place. Here’s how Jesus Himself put it:

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. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

It’s an open invitation, one that Christians feel compelled to pass along.

Is it arrogant to invite people to believe? On the contrary, I think it’s a humbling thing to stand exposed before the world, saying, I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, we’re all sinners. It’s a lot more comfortable to think I’m good enough on my own. It’s a lot easier to say, “Whatever works for you.”

But the truth is, there’s a day of judgment awaiting and only one thing will work for you—faith in Jesus Christ. Any other notion is a lie.

It’s not arrogance that drives Christians to speak the truth. It’s obedience to God’s command and love for those who still need to hear.

Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

My Story


I'm the one in the front with the "what's going on" expression.

I’m the one in the front with the “what’s going on” expression.

I love hearing how other people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though our backgrounds are different and the events in our lives are miles apart, we still have a common experience when it comes to giving our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So it’s exciting to hear other people tell the details that brought them to that place.

My story always feels ordinary and unexciting, but I guess that’s part of the beauty of God’s amazing love. While He can pull out a last-minute rescue such as the one the thief who died next to Jesus experienced, and He can dramatically turn around a Christian-hater like Paul, He can also open His arms to the little children whose parents brought them to receive His blessing.

My story is like the ones those little children might have told years later.

I came to Jesus when I was three—as near as I can tell. I don’t actually remember the moment in time when I turned my life over to God. At least not that first time.

Yes, there were multiple times. I’ve written elsewhere (in “Believe in Jesus” and “My Deceitful Heart“) about my early doubts and the process of coming to realize I had, in fact, entered into a relationship with God despite my sins of action and attitude which continued to plague me. You see, I’d thought the evidence of my relationship with God would be a life of perfect obedience, and I just wasn’t seeing that.

Eventually I came to the point where I realized if I was to get off the roller-coaster of doubt, I had to trust that God meant what He said: if I confessed with my mouth (and I had) and believed in my heart that Jesus was who He said He was (and I did), I was saved.

The issue wasn’t what I had to do because I couldn’t do anything big enough or great enough to earn a right relationship with God. If I was to be saved, it was because of what Christ did for me, and I simply had to put my trust in Him.

Here’s the thing that I think is so cool about my story of coming to Christ—He saved me from myself.

I used to hear testimonies of people who came from hard lives—drugs and promiscuous lifestyles and gang involvement. Now they had a testimony, I thought. God saved them from stuff that was killing them.

Me? Well, I lied to my first grade teacher and didn’t come to the dinner table right away when my mother called.

See? As I was measuring stories, mine wasn’t so great. It was easy for me to believe in Jesus because I didn’t have all the garbage others had to wade through.

But, oh, how wrong that perspective is. I had my own pride and self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes from which God had to save me.

Which is harder, to save someone who is a drunk or a prostitute, or someone who thinks she might actually be good enough she doesn’t have to have the “sinner” label attached to her?

Well, as it turns out, neither is easier. Both require the exact same thing—the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. Not one kind of sin is more or less easy to forgive than another. Both are forgiven because of His work at the cross, period. I don’t bring a thing to the table and neither does the person who comes from a lifestyle mired in hard living.

My pride and self-righteousness was as great a barrier to reconciliation with God as drug addiction or having an abortion was for other people. Sin, in any and all its shapes, is what blocks our path to God, and sin is built into our DNA.

It’s even built into the DNA of “the good kid.” So my story is really the same as every other Christian’s—God rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. He pulled me up from the miry clay because I couldn’t pull myself up.

In the end, my story is really God’s story. He’s the hero, the rest of us, me included, are proof of His love, His power, His forgiveness, grace, and unrelenting faithfulness.

Talking To Atheists


"Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape."

“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better and we could talk.

Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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