The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

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. (John 3:18)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Adapting


seven_of_nine_speaks_for_the_borgI write fantasy and love the imaginative. It should come as no surprise, then, that when H&I started airing reruns of all the Star Trek programs, I eagerly began watching (except for the original—I’m less of a fan of those). Seeing them one after the other has been enlightening on many levels. One thing I’ve noticed is that the theme of adapting or even assimilation arises over and over.

Assimilation is a result of one species, The Borg, taking over the bodies of those they defeat by turning them into cyber-humans with only a collective conscience, not a sense of individuality. As the various Star Trek crews encounter The Borg, their major goal is to avoid assimilation.

But with considerable frequency a parallel theme surfaces—these space explorers from Earth had to adapt.

There’s a lot of talk in our day about adapting. We need to adapt to the changing technology, to the twenty-first century, to postmodern thought, to a global economy, to the realities of science.

The church in America seems to have bought into the idea that we need to adapt to the greater culture in which we live. So we need to find a way to make peace with feminism, we need to become relevant for the next generation, we need to tap into the way people today consume information.

Some changes are subtle, some innocuous. Some correct error from an earlier generation. For instance, I grew up in churches that looked down on drinking and smoking and dancing. In fact, the Christian college I attended required us to sign a pledge saying that we would not engage in such activities. They apparently overlooked premarital sex, however.

I say that tongue in cheek, but the truth is, while we were trying to hold the line against dancing, there were major breaches of a much more serious nature. Breaches in matters that the Bible stands against.

Change needed to be made so that we were no longer concerned with law-keeping while overlooking the point and purpose of God’s righteous demand for holiness. Legalism is not holy living, and my early church experience didn’t do a good job of differentiating.

The course corrective was not to adapt to the culture, though. The course corrective was to return to what the authoritative word of God says.

Of course, in order to do that we first need to know what God’s word says.

Oddly—I say “oddly” but it’s not really odd because I believe Satan, who hates God and wants to undermine His plans and purposes, is behind it—oddly we are not, as a western Christian culture, working hard to learn what God has to say in His word.

I’m fortunate that my church has once again instituted a Scripture reading program for us. As a body, we read a passage of Scripture together and one member of the congregation writes a meditation on the text. We also have preachers (still no senior teaching pastor, but that’s OK—I’d rather we find someone by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, who God wants for us) who instruct us from God’s word.

Currently we have Dr. Gene Getz preaching, and while he was teaching on Sunday, it hit me that I hardly know the Bible, so much greater was his knowledge and scholarship than my own. I’ve long thought the Bible is an inexhaustible source of wisdom and knowledge, but that idea was strongly re-enforced Sunday.

But I’m getting away from the subject of adapting.

It dawned on me this week that adapting is really a voluntary form of assimilation. It’s slower, though. We decide what we wish to change, and accordingly we move a little left or right. Sometimes there’s a bit of a pendulum movement that swings us from one extreme back to the other. But often, each new swing leaves us a little closer to the ideas and patterns to which we’re adapting.

I’m not talking about the issues of the 60s—boys’ long hair and girls’ short skirts—though things that seem so trivial undoubtedly did have an affect on culture. I’m not even talking about things like accepting abortion or moving homosexuality from the abnormal psych part of our text books to redefining marriage so that gays can be part of “normal society.”

The real adaptations we’re making have to do with our relationship to God.

Israel faced the exact same issue. God gave them His covenant and then His Law. They agreed to both. They would be God’s people and they would keep His Law. But once they settled in to their promised land, once they had some stability and security and prosperity, they started looking around at the nations surrounding them.

Look at their gods, at their religious activity, at their power structure. We want to be like them!

King Manasseh was probably the worst. He ruled for over a half century, and under his rule Judah adapted quite well to the nations around them. They started worshiping their gods, erected idols like theirs, practiced witchcraft like they did, instituted child sacrifice like they did. All the things the Canaanites had done which caused God to kick them out of the land, the people of Judah copied.

They adapted.

After all, worshiping one god was passé. Following His law, observing His feast days, making sacrifice to Him because of their sins was just so yesterday.

In the same we, we adapt today.

Is the Bible really authoritative? Might it not be simply a collection of myths, some infused with good, moral teaching? The rest, of course, is thoroughly forgettable because it is so passé. One God? One way to Him? Certainly all ways are equal. After all, we believe in egalitarianism. How could one way be better than the others.

And so it goes as we listen to “higher criticism” and progressives and univeralists and a host of other false teachers who show us how we can slice and dice the Bible until it says what the rest of the culture says. So of course abortion is OK, and homosexuality, and women preachers, and people ignoring their contractual commitments—in business or in personal relationships. Of course a little pandering to the wealthy is acceptable, a little bribery, a little lying. After all, it’s just business.

What’s more, what matters most is not God and His righteousness. What matters most is that we are not offensive to anyone, even as we push our way to the top. We must love, at the expense of truth if necessary, so that people will like us and accept us and support us.

That’s a snapshot of Christians adapting.

It’s Not About Us, Or What False Teaching Gets Wrong


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies, and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith—such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, a group of people have begun to self-identify as Christian agnostics. I don’t see the rationale behind the idea. The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or happy or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they, made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to order Him to make us healthy or wealthy. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done, are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong and people who ask questions aren’t necessarily disbelieving. What’s wrong is thinking that our answers are better than God’s.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding, or can re-image God the way he wants Him—all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2014.

The Opportunities Of Christmas


mary_and_baby_jesus017On Sunday, our fill-in speaker at church, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, delivered an unusual Christmas sermon. His key points were anchored by John 12:31-32.

“Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Jesus was speaking about His own death. He declared that two things would occur: 1) judgment upon this world and the ruler of this world would be cast out, and 2) He, Jesus, would be lifted up.

First, “this world” refers to the world system that opposes God, His will, and His way. It’s one of the three sources of temptation: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The one who is the mastermind of all the world systems that oppose God is Satan, but it is the system or systems he’s behind that entice us to sin.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis was masterful in showing that what particular system the tempter used was not the issue. Whatever pulls a person’s eyes off God, works just fine. So someone with the wealth of the world, like Solomon, is vulnerable, as is the poorest of the poor such as the beggar Lazarus.

So Jesus’s coming initiated judgment upon the world system that tries to squeeze God from our consciousness.

Christmas affords the believer the opportunity to ask ourselves if we are siding with Jesus when it comes to casting out the ruler of the world, when it comes to standing against the world system. Oh, someone may say, you’re talking about keeping Christ in Christmas, about refusing to replace Him with Santa.

Well, no, I’m not. The world system isn’t about Santa.

It’s actually about ME.

It’s about looking at the world with the idea of seeing what I can get out of every situation, every circumstance. What’s in it for me? Am I getting what I deserve?

Trying to discern our own motives is hard. Do I want to postpone the meeting because I have something else I want to do that day or because I think it will fit everyone else’s needs more? Do I want to sign up for the prayer team instead of serving in the homeless shelter because it means less travel for me or because I think I’m more fitted for that ministry? You see, even in doing “good things” we can have our eyes firmly fixed on ourselves because the world system tells us it’s all about us.

It’s all about us, and it’s all up to us. We simply have to look within. We have to find our inner strength, because whatever we put our minds to, we can do. Whatever we want to make of ourselves, we can make it happen.

Not really.

But that’s what our world system says over and over and over.

It also says that a person is more valuable if they have all the right bells and whistles. Do you have the newest car, the latest technology, the most up-to-date software? Are your clothes in style? Did you get a really cool gift for Christmas? Dr. Muehlhoff touched a nerve when he mentioned that one.

When I was growing up, we were very middle class. Perhaps low middle class, but I never felt poor. Still, my parents were frugal, because we had been poor. So I generally wore hand-me-downs, and our parents never gave us extravagant gifts for Christmas. We often got practical things—socks, pajamas, that sort of thing.

So going back to school after Christmas vacation was always a challenge because kids would always ask, What did you get for Christmas? I wanted to be able to answer without making my Christmas sound lame.

The thing is, I really didn’t feel deprived for not getting some hot new fad item. I generally didn’t ask for things that I knew were beyond the price my parents usually spent on us at Christmas. But I dreaded telling my classmates what I thought they would look down on.

That’s the world system—gifts have to be of a certain caliber to be considered worth. Really?

That’s the world system that attacks our contentment, that judges according to monetary value, not according to heart intention or thoughtfulness or sacrifice.

Of course all these years later, our culture has become exponentially more hedonistic. Is it fun, is it entertaining—these questions override, can we afford it. Because we can afford anything simply by putting “it” on the credit card. One statistic Dr. Muehlhoff gave was that what the average person spends for Christmas this year via credit card, will take four years to pay off. Of course, they’re still paying off last year’s Christmas, and the one before that, and the one before that, so it is an ever increasing problem.

This consumerism, this hedonism, this ME-ism are reflective of the world system—Satan’s schemes to keep us away from what God wants, and Jesus came, in part, to bring the world and the ruler of this world, under judgment.

As Christmas, ought we who follow Jesus not stand against the world, at least a little?

The second thing Jesus said was that He would be lifted up, with the end result that He would draw all men to Himself.

The next question seems obvious: we who follow Christ are lifting up Jesus in what way?

To be honest, I didn’t like Dr. Muehlhoff’s ideas on this one. Everything he mentioned, someone who was an atheist or a Buddhist could do. On the other hand, at the Atheist/theist Facebook group, someone posted a video of an obnoxious pastor (self-identified) who went into a mall where kids and their parents were waiting to get their pictures taken with Santa, and became shouting that Santa was a lie, that the parents were lying to their children, that Christmas was really about Jesus, not Santa.

Is that what lifting up Jesus looks like?

I don’t think so.

I keep thinking of the disciples who confronted the beggar by saying, I don’t have any gold or silver, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.

I wish I could lift up Jesus’s name like that!! I mean, I can’t imagine someone who just received the ability to walk not wanting to know about this person named Jesus whose name made his healing possible.

So I can’t heal. Does that mean I can’t lift up Jesus’s name?

I think the key is the first part of the answer those disciples gave: I don’t have what you’re asking for, but I’ll give you what I can. I’ve always looked at it like, you want this thing you think you need, but I’ll give you something better. But why not accept it at face value. What if they had silver and gold, would they have given that instead of the healing?

I don’t think the key is in trying to give people the greatest thing they need. I think it’s in putting them before God and asking Him how I can lift up Christ before them.

So no one answer. But an awareness that lifting up Christ is the goal, and the greatest gift possible for Christmas.

Christians, Evangelicals, And Jesus Followers


Westboro_Baptist Church protestersOn the internet I’ve had conversations with someone who claims to be an agnostic Christian, another person who said he might be nicer than God, others who say they believe the Bible but not the facts revealed in the Bible—only the intent behind the words (or something like that).

The point is, not everyone who claims the name of Christ believes what Christians have believed from the earliest years. A recent study noted in Christianity Today (CT) illustrates this point. Ligonier Ministries (R. C. Sproul) and Lifeway Research partnered to discover what Christians believe.

The survey quantified fundamental beliefs that have been key doctrines adhered to by two millennia of orthodox Christianity.

The results reflect what the observant believer already knows … error abounds. As false teaching gains footholds and favor, as churches forsake sound doctrine to instead scratch itching ears, the prevalence of error will continue to grow. (“The 2016 State Of Theology Survey“)

Error does abound. According to CT thirty-nine percent or more of the people in the survey, who also said they strongly agreed the Bible is the highest authority, evangelism is very important, sin can only be removed by Jesus’s death, and salvation comes only through trusting in Jesus as Savior also agreed with the following statements:

  • Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature (54%)
  • My good deeds help to earn my place in heaven (39%)
  • Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God (71%)
  • God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (48%)

Things are even more complicated now that evangelicals are in the political spotlight. Some Christians say evangelicals need to explain ourselves for “getting Donald Trump elected.”

Most recently, Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne wrote that “The Evangelicalism Of Old White Men Is Dead.” Instead our “Jesus-centered faith needs a new name.”

Apparently a Jesus-centered faith, rather than seeing Jesus on every page of Scripture, ignores most of the Bible, favoring the “red letter” parts—the words Jesus spoke which the gospels record.

I’ve tried to explain more than once that “Christians” aren’t always Christians. For instance, the Westboro Baptists clearly identified as Christians, but they spewed hateful things that in no way showed an ounce of understanding of what Jesus taught. There was no offer of grace, no mention of forgiveness, not any love for their neighbor, let alone their enemy, of whom they perceived to have many.

Others claiming the name Christian who go to church regularly, distance themselves from anyone who takes Christianity too seriously. You’re not one of those Christians, I was once asked.

Another group of “progressive Christians” want to update the faith. So they believe the Bible, but they also believe it contains a number of myths, and they clearly don’t know or understand what it says (see the point above about Jesus being created).

So there are legalists. There are cultural Christians. There are people who believe false teaching.

I’ve called these people “pretend Christians” because they claim the name, but they don’t believe what Christians believe. Some believe some things—those evangelicals who answered the survey agreed that salvation comes by trusting in Jesus as Savior. But are they referring to the Jesus they think God created? And what did He save them from if men are basically good? Do we actually need to be saved or do we need to simply try harder?

The thing is, none of this scrambled, confusing mashup of insincere people flying under God’s banner along side sincere followers of Jesus, is new. From the beginning, Enoch, who walked with God, lived even as “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

Later Israel included people who obeyed the Law and those who challenged it, those who loved God and those who clung to their household idols.

Jesus helped to make some sense out of the confusion when he explained to his disciples the parable of the sower.

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)

So some people appear to accept the word, but their belief is superficial or is crowded out by things they care about more. They present as Christians. And they likely claim to be Christians. But they aren’t producing fruit.

Jesus gave another illustration to help sort out the Christ-follower claims, this one found in John 10:11-15.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.

One day this confusion will all be sorted out. And that’s the shepherd’s job. He knows His sheep. Our job is not to try to separate the sheep that belong in the fold from those who don’t. Our job simply is to say, Here’s the good Shepherd. Listen to Him.

An Attitude Shift


Locusts_feedingAll things are lawful. That’s what the Bible says, and that’s apparently the way many Christians are living their lives. The fact is, however, that the Apostle Paul who penned those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there. He went on to say that not all things are profitable or edifying.

As part of this “not all are profitable or edifying,” I was raised to believe that some things were better left alone lest they prove to be harmful or stumbling blocks.

Alcohol was one such thing. Yes, the Bible did not prohibit drinking. In fact Jesus turned water into wine, and that makes it pretty hard to make a case against drinking alcohol. And yet there were cultural considerations–how strong was the alcohol in Biblical times and what other drinks did they have available? In addition there is the knowledge we’ve gained today about the addictive quality of alcohol and the psychological propensity of some people toward addiction.

In short, we have choices people in the first century didn’t have, bad and good, and we have an awareness that we might find alcohol more than we can handle. So is it OK to drink? Presented with such a choice about any number of things–smoking, doing drugs (easier to decide because those are illegal), sex before marriage, going to movies, dancing, gambling–my church and family challenged me to error on the side of caution.

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded, and a temple should be cared for, not exposed to harmful substances, whether harmful physically or emotionally or spiritually.

I suspect that kind of reasoning is foreign to today’s youth.

As I look back at the particulars of the things I was taught, I can see how some churches and some individuals turned those tenets into legalistic propositions that defined spirituality. Clearly such a misuse of cautionary behavior is wrong. And today legalism has become the great sin of the church.

But it seems to me we have tossed the baby out with the bath water (that’s really a horrible image, isn’t it?) Yes, we have unshackled our youth by teaching them that the only sin connected with alcohol is drunkenness and that sex outside of marriage is wrong but if you’re going to do it, be sure it’s safe sex, and dancing isn’t outlawed in the Bible (after all, David danced before the Lord), and on and on. But where’s the caution? Where’s the “all things may not be profitable or edifying”?

From what I can see, Christian kids are too often thrown to the locust–that is, forced to make decisions that could affect their entire lives without the cautionary wisdom that they might want to protect the temple of the Holy Spirit from harm. They’re given the facts, certainly. They know about addiction and sexually transmitted diseases and designated drivers.

But they aren’t being challenged, I don’t think, to choose what is profitable and edifying. They’re being taught how to play with fire rather than the wisdom to stay away from fire.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Cor. 6:19-20).

In the end, I chose some of the things I was taught as a young person and rejected others. What I didn’t reject was the principle that I had freedom, including freedom to choose the profitable and the edifying. I was not a slave to my lusts or to the way the world does things.

Yes, I acted like a slave at times–still do. Thank God for His mercy.

What I fear is for this generation of young people and their children who aren’t being taught that they don’t have to involve themselves with lawful things simply because they are lawful. They can choose a better way, a profitable and edifying way, that will spare them lives of heartache and missed opportunity.

God can redeem the years the locust have eaten, but I can’t help but wonder if we who should be teaching the next generation when we lie down and rise up, when we’re sitting in our houses or walking along the road are not fulfulling our responsibility. Should we not clue them in that all things may be lawful, but a whole lot of stuff isn’t profitable or edifying?

This article is a re-post of one that first appeared here in October 2013.

Published in: on November 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm  Comments (2)  
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Christians Selling Out The Church


church-in-guatemala

I read it again today on Facebook—the church let down America by voting for Donald Trump. Here’s the heart of the article, written by a friend:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

What possessed [Paul]? What conviction gripped the soul of this Apostle to the Gentiles? I think that Paul believed if the church didn’t live this out, no one would. It is the church’s responsibility, and it’s alone, to manifest the realities of God to the earth, to be the outpost of heaven.

This is why blacks feel betrayed.

This is why women feel betrayed.

This is why Mexicans feel betrayed.

This is why Muslims feel betrayed.

Not because America let them down. But because the church did.

We may very well have voted for the pro-life candidate, but it appears as though we did it at the cost of blacks. Of Mexicans. Of Muslims. Of women. And I, for one, believe that the cost was too great.

I don’t want to get into the demographics of the vote—how women voted for Mr. Trump and therefore ought not be lumped in with those “feeling betrayed.” For the record, I feel betrayed that the Republicans let him run under their flag, but that’s a post for another day.

I also don’t want to address the idea that concern for the life of the unborn should take a backseat to concern for “blacks” or “Mexicans” or Muslims or women. There’s a lot to say about that statement, but I’ll need a separate post to deal with it.

Instead of those things, I want to think a bit about Christians ripping on the Church. I know I’ve addressed this subject before, but I think it’s reaching a crisis point. We’re not talking about progressives or atheists or people of other religions. We’re talking about people who believe the Bible and who are using the Bible to rip the Church.

We Christians aren’t perfect (though a small segment hold to the belief in Christian perfectionism, most of us acknowledge our sin and see the Bible as addressing ongoing sins—see Paul’s confrontation of the church in Corinth concerning their sin of tolerating sin in their body). I’m in no way saying that we can do no wrong or that we don’t have sins we need to address. The condemnation and warnings of Jesus given to the seven churches in Revelation, are ours too.

But in this day when the world mocks and denigrates the Church, we believers ought not join right in!

First, the Church is far greater than the collection of believers here in America. Therefore the statement that “the church” let down the list of people above is wrong. Even if American Christians had let someone down, it wouldn’t be “the church” that was at fault.

In reality, the article addressed a type of “Christian nationalism” that I agree with, but oddly, in the midst of this identification came the accusation that the Church was at fault for what happened in the American election.

Sorry, but the Church is an all-encompassing body that includes people of every tribe and tongue and nation which God is preparing as His bride.

Other metaphors describe us as His family; as His body, with Christ as the head; as a spiritual house made up of living stones with Christ as the cornerstone. These descriptions reveal our true identity. We must not be pulled into false ideas about who we are. We must not join the world in bashing the one Jesus died to save.

Besides our true identity we also know the following:

1) false prophets sneak in to steal and kill and destroy. Sometimes the world and even other believers see the false prophets as true and assume the worst of the entire flock.

2) sometimes bodies of believers can become lukewarm or can lose our first love and need to be called back to Christ, but that is not true of the entire Church.

3) therefore, no matter what happens in America, the Church is not to blame.

4) finally, our citizenship, just like that of every believer, is in heaven. This world, including our native or adopted home on earth, is temporary. We’re “just a-passin’ through.”

5) while we’re on earth we testify to the One who saved us, in part by our unity, by the way we treat one another.

So Christians bashing the Church? Not such a great witness.

In truth, Christians need to stand up for the Church, because no one else will. We need to reject the idea that we are responsible for what false teachers teach, unless we give them the pulpit and prod others to come in and hear their message. To think otherwise would be like saying Jesus was to blame for the false teaching of the Pharisees, because, you know, He was there too.

Well, no, Jesus wasn’t to blame for the fact that those religious leaders used Scripture to teach self-righteousness.

We need to keep front and center that the true Church holds fast to the gospel, that Christ died for sinners according to the Scripture, that we ourselves have received a new life in Christ because of what Jesus did on our behalf. Any teaching that contradicts those fundamentals is a different gospel.

We need to stop calling those who preach a different gospel, the Church.

And we need to stop going along with the world to bash the true Church.

Published in: on November 15, 2016 at 7:09 pm  Comments (6)  
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I’m Not Ashamed – The Story Of Rachel Joy Scott


imnotashamed

Today I went to see I’m Not Ashamed, the motion picture made of Rachel Joy Scott’s short life and tragic death when she was the first person killed during Columbine over sixteen years ago. Well, it’s not really about her whole life. It’s more of a look at her spiritual life during her last year.

[Below: an interview with Masey McLain and Ben Davies, the two actors who starred in the movie.]

Of course, many critics find fault with Christian movies because they aren’t well made or because they are preachy, and there are critics of this film too. One review I read said it exploited a tragedy to get its faith based message across:

To use the senseless death of a school shooting victim to promote one’s warped political agenda is, to use a trendy term, deplorable. One should expect nothing less from the odious low-budget film company Pure Flix . . . Their latest, I’m Not Ashamed, bends the horrible tragedy of the Columbine massacre into a false narrative of Christian martyrdom. (The Guardian)

This and another review read into the film a number of things that simply aren’t there. Here’s one issue:

The movie begins almost immediately with news footage of the shooting (including from the security cameras), with a broadcaster noting: ”What everyone is looking for now is a reason.” Anyone familiar with PureFlix films won’t be surprised that the answer is unambiguously evolution. God’s Not Dead took a whole segment to lecture against its evils; here, Dylan and Eric’s eyes light up when a teacher waves a copy of Mein Kampf in the classroom while lecturing on social Darwinism. Even if it’s true that Harris wore a shirt saying “Natural Selection” the day of the shooting, it’s still a very slippery moral slope to imply that teaching evolution rather than creationism will lead to school shootings. (“The faith-based biopic I’m Not Ashamed blames Columbine on Darwin”)

Since the movie never once mentions evolution, this criticism is an unbelievable stretch that shows the criticism isn’t about this movie at all but about PureFlix and possibly Christianity or at least about perceived Christian beliefs.

At any rate, the negative comments dealt more with what the reviewer thought the movie was saying than with the actual movie. Was it exploiting Columbine to deliver a message? Was it preaching against evolution? Did it have an implied political agenda?

I didn’t see any of that.

Admittedly, at the beginning I was aware of every possible scene or word that could be construed as awkwardly overt or preachy. I also felt a little disappointed because the trailer I’d seen had revealed so much of the opening of the movie.

But somewhere in that first half hour I forgot about critiquing. I forgot I was watching a “Christian” movie. It was the story of one girl’s inner struggle and seemed so familiar, I thought high schoolers today could understand what this girl had felt. That she was struggling to live publicly what she claimed to believe privately, is the story of identity. That she grappled with being genuine, not fake or plastic, while at the same time longing to be accepted and to fit in, is so realistic and identifiable.

Did the movie exploit the school shooting? Not at all. You could take out the few scenes that showed the shooters. You could take out the end, and you’d still have the core of the movie. But Columbine gave context to this girl’s life. The things she struggled with, the decisions she made were magnified because her life ended tragically at such a young age.

Finally, the technical aspects of the film were on a par with your average movies. The acting is spot on—believable, realistic, natural. I particularly liked the two lead actors, Masey McLain and Ben Davies.

I don’t know anything about cinematography, so I can’t comment on that, but one review criticized the sudden jump cuts from one group of students to another. Those were in the movie. But jump cuts are common in today’s film making. Maybe there are rules to make them seem smoother, or something. I don’t know. I honestly wouldn’t have given them a second thought if I hadn’t seem the comment in the review.

What amazed me was how the movie has lingered in my mind. This is one I won’t quickly forget—maybe because it was true, maybe because of Rachel Joy Scott herself, maybe because the story involves spiritual matters. All I can say—I hope it lingers in the minds of the reviewers, too.

[Below: an interview with Rachel Joy Scott’s mother who made this film possible by making her daughters letters and journals available.]

By Grace Alone, Through Faith Alone


martin_luther_lucas_cranach_1526I admit, I’ve been spoiled. I’ve grown up with so many great gifts—loving parents and siblings, an opportunity for a sound education, attendance in church from infancy on, a middle class existence that ensured I had three square meals a day and a warm place to live and many changes of clothes in my closet. I had a secure and happy childhood, though we moved many times.

Part of my growing up included my spiritual education, so I understood early on that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. I understood that I could not do enough good things to make up for the bad. And I understood that no one could help me because they had their own sin problem. No one, except Jesus. His being the only sinless person who ever lived qualified Him to be the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world for those who believed.

So nothing I did or could do would merit me to be acceptable to God. Only Jesus, standing in my place, taking the punishment I deserved, solved my sin issue.

Because I understood the basics of salvation at an early age, I have never grasped what it would be like to live any other way.

I’ve heard Jews and Catholics and Greek Orthodox joke in a knowing way about the guilt instilled in them by their religion, or more specifically, by someone who was holding them to a strict adherence to their religion—a parent, a priest, a teacher. I’ve also heard people refer to Christians as bound by guilt.

Those seem odd to me. I don’t recall a time in my life when I’ve felt guilt-driven.

So I’ve been spoiled because I’ve believed from my youth that I’m forgiven because of God’s grace.

Christians haven’t always had this understanding. There was a period of time when grace took a back seat to doing good works as the Church defined them. No doubt those who were saved, gained that standing with God because of His grace, but they were perhaps less aware of it.

All that changed four hundred and ninety-nine years ago when Martin Luther went public with the results of his own doubts, questions, and struggles to understand God. On October 31, 1517, Luther sent a paper he’d written to his bishop: “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” This document became known simply as the Ninety-five Theses. Whether Luther ever attached a copy of the document to the door of the church at Wittenberg is a matter of contention, as was the document itself, when it first appeared.

But from the thoughts, question, and issues Luther looked at, grew the bedrock of Protestantism and a reformation (though more slowly, it would seem) of the Catholic Church. Luther challenged the practice of selling indulgences, by which the priests grew richer because of the desire of the poor to do what they could to insure the salvation of their loved ones.

Luther contended that salvation depended on God, not on humans:

The most important [truth of Christianity] for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the Messiah.[43] “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”[44] (see “Theology of Martin Luther,” Wikipedia)

Luther had much Scripture to support his position, not the least of which is Ephesians 2:8-9—“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The work is God’s, Luther proclaimed. A worker giving his copper to the church would not save the soul of his dead brother.

When I was growing up, I’d never heard about indulgences or even doing something to help a dead person reach heaven. The works I knew about were the kinds of things people did to make themselves acceptable to God. And these works included good things: going to church, reading the Bible, giving money to the poor, going on a short term mission trip, and so on. Good things.

But just like Paul’s list of good Jewish things recorded in Philippians, this Christian list of good things amounts to rubbish if its considered the means to a relationship with God. Paul’s birth status, circumcision, religious affiliation, and even his personal righteousness, were nothing in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ (Phil. 3).

Essentially Martin Luther discovered and proclaimed what Paul had learned through his own quest. The two men were similar. They both wanted to please God, and they both went about it by trying to be good enough for Him based on the good things they did. Both eventually realized that there weren’t enough good things in the entire earth to make them good enough, but that God had given right standing with Him as a free gift through Christ Jesus.

That’s grace.

Nothing earned here.

A free gift.

Undeserved.

I know that rankles American minds—perhaps the minds of others, too. But here we have two competing philosophies—an independent, “earn your own way” mentality and an entitlement, “you deserve it” belief. God’s free gift is an affront to both of those positions. We humans don’t get to take credit for salvation, no matter how you look at it. We didn’t earn it, and we aren’t so wonderful that it ought to have been handed to us based on our incredible merit.

Luther did the hard work of sussing out from Scripture this truth, and I’m incredibly grateful.

Thanks be to God for His free gift of salvation, and thanks be to Him for teaching this truth to Martin Luther so that he could make it widely known.

Satan, The Imaginary, And Halloween


Every year around this time Christians begin a discussion about celebrating Halloween, but perhaps speculative writers, more so. The conversation is justifiable, especially in light of the fact that Halloween has become a highly commercial, and therefore, visible, holiday in the US. As a result, television programs, movies, and certainly commercials have some tie in to the weird, the supernatural.

For Christians, there seems to be a great divide when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Are we taking up the cause of the enemy if we carve a pumpkin and hand out candy to Trick-or-Treaters? Should we offer alternatives—a harvest festival instead of a haunted mansion—for our church activities? Should we seize the moment and build good will in our community by joining in wholeheartedly, or should we refuse to recognized the holiday, turn off the porch lights, and decline to answer the door when masquerading children arrive?

Satan

As I see it, there are two critical issues that dictate our response to Halloween. The first is our attitude toward Satan and demons. Is he (and are they) real? How big a threat is he? How are we to respond/react to him?

Scripture gives clear answers to these questions. Satan is a real being, one referred to as the father of lies (see John 8:44) and as a being masquerading as an angel of light (see 2 Cor. 11:14).

In response to something Spec Faith co-contributor Stephen Burnett said in his article “Shooting at Halloween pumpkins”, I laid out an account of Old Testament references to Satan and his forces. Here, in part, is that comment:

Satan was abundantly active, starting in a certain garden where he brought his devilish behavior before Man and his wife. Another vivid depiction of Satan’s activity is detailed in the book of Job.

In Egypt, Moses faced Pharaoh’s conjurers. Certainly their source of power was not God, yet they duplicated a number of Moses’s miracles.

On the way to the Promised land, God instructed the people “They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot” (Lev. 17:7 a). Forty years later in Moses’s farewell speech, he described how the parents of the current generation had behaved:

      They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
      To gods whom they have not known,
      New gods who came lately,
      Whom your fathers did not dread. (Deut. 32:17)

I think it’s clear that the gods Israel continued to worship—and the ones worshiped by the neighboring people—were demons. Hence the admonishing to excise sorcery from their midst.

Unfortunately they didn’t obey but continued to involve themselves in demon worship:

      But they mingled with the nations
      And learned their practices,
      And served their idols,
      Which became a snare to them.
      They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons (Ps. 106:35-37)

Then there was this verse in I Chronicles: “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

I could give you verses from Daniel too, showing that Satan was active in standing against his prayers, and that he was in fact “the prince” of, or had cohorts who were, known locations. Isaiah, too, and Zechariah had prophecies involving Satan.

The point is, Satan was very active in the Old Testament.

Scripture is also clear that Satan is a threat. He is described as an adversary and as a lion seeking to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). He’s the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), the tempter (Mark 1:13), the one who snatches away the Word of God (Mark 4:15), the one who can bind (Luke 13:16) and destroy (1 Cor. 5:5) and torment the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7), who comes against us with schemes 2 Cor. 2:11), who demands to sift some (Luke 22:31) and possess others (John 13:27), who hinders believers in their ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan is real and he is a threat, but he is not greater than God. In fact his doom is sure. Scripture instructs us to be on the alert against him, to stand against him, to resist him, but Satan is a defeated foe (Col 2:15 and Rom. 16:20). We are never told to fear him.

The Imaginary

The second critical issue when it comes to deciding how we are to deal with Halloween is our understanding of the imaginary. Dragons, vampires, cyclops, werewolves, zombies, goblins, orcs, trolls, and such are imaginary creatures from the pages of literature. Witches and wizards that wave magic wands and/or fly around on brooms are imaginary. Ghosts that float about like bed sheets and are friendly or who pop in and out of sight at will or move things about with a word are imaginary.

Are Christians ever instructed in Scripture to stand against the imaginary?

On the other hand, most of us recognize that these various creatures are or have been representative of evil. The question then becomes, are we handling evil correctly by giving attention to the things that have been used to represent it?

Along that line of thinking, I believe it’s fair to ask if we should avoid representations of snakes, because Satan entered one, lions because Scripture said he is one, and angels because he appears as one.

The greater question, it seems to me, is whether or not dressing up in costumes of creatures that have an association with evil might trivialized evil. For instance, the “red devil with horns and a pitch fork” image of Satan trivialized him so that fewer and fewer people believe he is a real being—not a good thing at all if we are to stand against him.

Halloween

These two issues—what we believe about Satan and what we believe about the imaginary—collide in this one holiday. But there’s another element that must enter into the discussion because ultimately, what we do on Halloween is done in front of the watching world. We need to ask, what does our culture believe about Halloween?

As other comments to Stephen’s post reveal, some studying the holiday see its historical underpinnings—either pagan Celtic practices or early Church traditions. But what do ordinary people today see? Are our neighbors celebrating evil? Or are they having fun dressing up as something spooky? Are they going to haunted houses because they want to invoke the dead or because they want a shot of roller-coaster-ride-like adrenaline?

While we can’t deny that a fringe element—perhaps even a growing fringe element—see Halloween as a celebration of evil, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that the majority of people in the US view it as nothing more than a reason to party. The activities are consistent with the day but have little or no meaning, much the way most people celebrate Christmas.

How we as Christians celebrate Halloween, then, hinges on these three factors—our view of Satan, our understanding of the imaginary, and what we want to say to our culture.

Is there one right way of doing Halloween? I don’t believe so. I do believe we should avoid pointing the finger at other Christians and saying that they’re doing it wrong. Paul speaks to this issue in Colossians 2: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath Day” (v. 16). Those who choose to celebrate are just as clearly not to point the finger at those who choose not to celebrate.

The only way we can insure that Satan has his day is by our disunity, our unloving attitude, our angry arguments over whether or not we celebrate Halloween.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared at Spec Faith in October 2011.