Everyone Is An Expert.

einstein

On Monday night, the news rocked the United States the comedian Robin Williams had committed suicide by hanging himself.  Almost immediately the blog posts, the “authoritative” articles on depression and addiction began to get passed around, and now we are in the phase of everyone getting mad at one another for their opinions.  Matt Walsh has received a lot of heat for stating that depression is not only chemical, but can be a spiritual issue too and consequently made a decision to kill himself – he is not a victim of an outside force, while others want to say that Williams was indeed a victim of an illness over which he had no control.

I will not chime in on the issue here.  I have written on suicide before, evaluating its damnable nature, and have studied under some of the most respected Biblical counselors in the world.  But what is grieving my spirit today is not the fact that the conversation is happening, but the nature of the conversation.

Consider a controversial topic:  suicide, depression, homosexuality, gender roles in marriage, divorce, remarriage, atheism, whatever.  Then go to your facebook page, where you can hide behind a screen and the solitude of your bedroom and write your opinion on the topic.  What will happen?  Immediately people will respond with their opinions, and that which they believe gives them authority on the topic is simply this:  “My best friend killed himself”, “My sister suffers from depression”, “I have lots of gay friends”, “My parents are divorced” or “My buddy lost his mom in a tragic car accident and his dad is now dying of cancer and he has no reason to trust God because his life has been so terrible”.

“I know someone who” has now become the benchmark for authority and grounds to speak to a topic.  Unless, of course, you yourself have walked through it.  If you struggle with depression, homosexuality or have been divorced then no one can assert authority over your experience.  Unless, perhaps, they have experienced it too.  We are all reactionary to the world news around us, and we choose to process it based on our own experience and we demand that others listen to our opinions because we are so wise.

We are once again back to the conversation of absolute truth.  A philosopher will read my blog and say, “She is doing exactly what she is condemning”.  And in a way, yes, I am.  However, my opinion is that I am incapable of determining the absolutes on any of these topics and I choose to look to God to see what He determines as the absolute, the Truth.  I submit to an authority higher than myself.

If we can agree to allow the Bible to be our authority then we have a starting point.  If you refuse the authority of God through the proclamation of His Truths through the Bible, then no common ground for conversation can be established.  We will argue the nature of man; does he have a soul?  Is there an eternity?  Is there morality?  And if so, how do we define it?  These conversations are impossible without an agreed authority.  Even if we happen to have a similar morality, we will differ on topics, nuances or preferences.

FOR THE EARTH IS THE LORDS, AND ALL IT CONTAINS.

 – 1 Cor 10.26

Not only does the Earth belong to God, He created the laws of science, laws of nature, moral laws and structures for how we are to live.  Unfortunately, in evangelicalism today, we teach one another to shy away from that.  “No one can refute your testimony” we praise one another when training Christians to share the Gospel.  And while that is true, we must remember that the opposite is also true: we are incapable of refuting another’s story.  What about those who have learned to distrust God because things did not go how they wanted?  What about those who have experienced evil spirits?  What about those who have experienced miracles in false religions?  What about those who have witnessed the sinfulness of Christians and the church full of hypocrites?  What then?

No friends.  Your testimony is important.  But it is not the Gospel and it will not save anyone.  And your testimony cannot stand up as superior to another’s testimony of a false god.  Only the Word of God can do that.  Only the inspired Scriptures can, without a doubt, affirm that we are living a godly or sinful life.  Only God’s direction can determine if we know Him and are forgiven.  And since He is the author of human life, He gets to determine the morality of homosexuality, He gets to determine to cure for depression, He gets to exemplify Himself to the atheist, He alone is God.  And one day, that friend or sister or parent will kneel before Him with the rest of creation.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Phil 2.9-11

Has God done a mighty work in your life?  Do you have a friend who suffers from depression or has committed suicide?  Are your parents divorced?  Or is your buddy homosexual?  That person is not the authority on the topic.  You may not dictate how culture handles the topic just because you know someone walking through it.  God has written the book on each topic.  Literally.  And He has the say.  And whomever is living in rebellion of what He has said about it will give an account for it one day.  So whose side do you want to be on?  The judge’s?  Or the defendant’s?

Let’s get over ourselves.  Let’s get over our “experiences”, and let’s learn to evaluate our experiences against the heart of God – which we can only know and learn through the Word of God, the Bible.  Share your testimony, but lace it with Scripture, and remember that your testimony is fallible, but God’s Word is not.

Does God suck if Christians suck?

auditorium

Why do you not go to church?  Did they judge you when you walked through the door?  Did you not get a follow up call when you filled out the visitor card?  Did someone say something hateful about your guilty pleasure?  Or interpret a passage of Scripture differently than you would?

Christians are hypocrites.  They claim the love of Jesus and say that they believe the great commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself”, but they are mean, they form cliques…  Yes friends, they sin (Matt 22.39).  So naturally, since I am perfect, when I walk into a church building and it is full of people who are not perfect, the logical thing is to walk out.

Right?

Because it is all about love anyway.  And since they do not love me perfectly within the church walls, then I will go out and justify myself by preaching love without a concrete definition of it.  But I know I can do it better on my own than with that group of liars.

How many times have you encountered this argument?  I have not performed any polls, but I heard this position frequently in the Midwest.  Living in the West, now, it appears a general apathy towards the Church at large, or a cynicism that faith is a crutch for the weak is more prevalent, but the issue remains:  People get hurt by Christians, so they hold their grudge and choose to ignore God.

“No one invited me out to lunch today, and no one cares that I was even here.  So I’ll not come back.  I can pray on my own, and even listen to a podcast!”

“I don’t like how the church spends our money – why is a sound system more important than feeding the poor?  I’m going to give my tithe to the local soup kitchen instead of the Church.”

“I like to gamble.  But the preacher had the audacity to get up on the stage and say that it is sinful.  How dare he.  I’ll show him, next weekend I’ll be at the casino instead of here listening to him judge me.”

Christians are sinful people.  They have been forgiven, and the call of Christianity is to die to that sin, to learn to love God above all else and to love one another as we love ourselves.  But no one does it perfectly.  Scripture tells us that if we say that we do not sin, we are liars (1 John 1.8)!

When I was in the sixth grade, I learned first hand that pastors are sinful because of a moral failure.  My family joined a new church and six years later lost our pastor again, because of a moral failure.  Since then I have watched three close friends who were in the pastorate and one missionary throw away their faith, life and ministry because they chose sin over God.

Does that mean God is at fault?  If Christians suck, does that mean that God does too?

I’m writing still mulling on an article by Michael Gungor, on which I wrote yesterday.  His message was on the denial of absolute truth, but his undertone was resentment towards the church because serial killers believe in God, but heretics help him when he is desolate.  I wonder if that is truly the case?  And I wonder if he is defining love by tolerance or by the Bible?

Is it loving to stand by while someone hurls face forward, full speed ahead towards Hell?  Or is it loving to jump in their path and try to help them see the path to Heaven?

But I digress.

Anyone who has raised children knows that you cannot judge a parent by the actions of his child (especially an adult child).  The most godly of parents end up with hellions some times.  And sometimes the most wicked and neglectful parents end up with dynamic, kind and loving children.  So why would we try to judge God by His children?  All humans are sinful.  They are going to hurt us and let us down.  Even those who have experienced the redemption of God and who are trying to love with everything in them.  They will get tired, irritable, selfish, “hangry”, or pass by you and not see you.

But God will never let you down.

The LORDS lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

– Lam 3.22-23

He will keep His promises, He has never not kept His promises.  He will complete any good work He has begun in you, me, or any believer (Phil 1.6).

So, dear skeptic, put down your unrealistic expectations and pride, and realize that Christians mess up too (just like you).  And remember that the Church is not a museum of perfect people, but is full of those who know that they need a Savior because they are not perfect!  And when your heroes, leaders, and friends royally screw up – or even abandon the faith – remember that your hope is not found in them, but in the only one who will not and can not fail.

And to the faithful church goers, remember that there are broken and hurting people coming in our paths, through our church doors, and perusing our facebook pages.  Speak God’s truth in love.  Embrace the repentant and help one another learn to know and love God more, making disciples and building Biblical community.

You are only responsible for you.  But you are responsible for you.  So let’s not ignore God if His people seem unlovely, because eternity is at stake.

Gungor and Absolute Truth.

This morning I read an article by Michael Gungor, a musician, who is offended that a friend would consider him no longer a Christian “because of my lack of ability to nail down all the words and concepts of what I exactly BELIEVE “.  His premise is a philosophical acrobatic which has been around for centuries:  how do we know we can believe or know anything?  Philosophers have questioned everything from knowledge and learning to the simple question, “how do I know I exist?” And it is from this degradation of the understanding of reality that Renes Descartes concluded his famous thought, “I think, therefore I am” in 1637.

But Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, was 2100 years behind the more well known thinker who wrestled with existence, the Buddha.  Siddhārtha Gautama (the Buddha) lived five hundred years before Jesus walked the Earth, and built an entire philosophy and religion on the presupposition that nothing truly exists, and to attain freedom from the cycle of suffering (exemplified by the cycle of reincarnation), is to become freed from passions and enslavement to the physical realm.  Enlightenment, then, is realizing that nothing is real and ultimately ceasing to exist.

Gungor is flirting with this fundamental issue in his post.  While never quite settling on the Buddhist end that nothing truly exists, he questions if we can ever truly know something and argues that we only believe what our environment/culture teaches us, and all that we think we know is fundamentally a belief.  Using gravity as an example, he argues that there is a possibility that our understanding of gravity is errant and someday another source may be discovered (like a computer simulation).

He then attempts to apply his logic that all knowledge is assumption to God:  since the Earth is constantly rotating, and it is spherical in nature, looking physically up towards the sky is not necessarily looking towards Heaven, if such a place even exists.  He does not disprove the existence of Heaven, but simply attempts to define a spiritual place physically and implies that since we never know if we truly are looking towards it with our eyes, we can never truly address it.

Our environment and culture shape what we believe.  But we never can really know anything because it might be disproven, and thus everything is an assumption.  And since everything is an assumption that is molded by our experiences, we only believe what we experience.

Are you confused yet?  If so, it is because this circular logic essentially says nothing.  He ultimately argues that nothing really matters, except how you act based on what you believe.  You may not judge another’s beliefs because his beliefs are simply the result of his environment, and while he admits it sounds fatalistic, he still tries to apply morality to an existence without absolute truth.

And therein lies the key.  

This man is so preoccupied with assumptions that he misses the primary assumption he is holding, and that is that his logic has the final say.  There is no absolute truth and he will use his logic to determine his god and his own morality, a lifestyle of love, how he defines it based on the environment in which he grew up, however to which he is not allowed to hold another accountable.  Because my experience might shape my morality differently than yours.

Whew.

Live and let live.  Except, don’t judge me because you don’t really know anything, and I won’t judge you because I don’t really know anything either.  However, I reserve the right to be angry because a serial killer affirms Jesus and impending judgment but still murders.

His conclusion, in regards to Christianity, is simply that he finds the Bible to be allegorical.  No, friends, this is not a new statement.  Have you ever heard of St. Augustine?  He argued that the Bible should be read allegorically 1400 years ago.

But the problem here is that in arguing such, we take God’s authority away and place it squarely in our own hands.  It is now my interpretation of this story, the moral that I see present in it, that is of importance.  So Gungor says he is incapable of believing that Adam and Eve were the first humans, because of “what he has seen”.  He is now the authority, his environment has shown him something that he believes to disprove this (even though he admits his experience might be disproven further), and so he will find a moral in the story to affect his actions.  But it will be only his moral, because it might say something different to you.

His conclusion is this:

So, for me, I’ve decided to think about my ‘beliefs’ in terms of how I live rather than what my unconscious assumptions are. Because there are lots of people that have all sorts of beautiful ‘beliefs’ that live really awful lives. If I’m on the side of a road bleeding, I don’t care if the priest or the Levite have beautiful ‘beliefs’ about the poor and the hurting.. Give me the samaritan. The heretic. The outsider who may have the ‘wrong’ ‘beliefs’ in words and concepts but actually lives out the right beliefs by stopping and helping me. That’s the kind of belief I’m interested in at this point.

And after telling his constituency not to try to label him and say that he is not a Christian, he says,

So you believe in God? So what. You believe Jesus was the Son of God that will someday come again to reconcile all things? Big deal. So do most serial killers.

He attempts to apply James’ teaching of faith through works to himself, stating that all that matters is what you do.  “The right beliefs” he defines, as someone who stops to help him.

Now.  That was all a recap of what he said.  And my response is simply this:  You are not the authority.  Nor am I.  Nor Gungor or anyone wrapped up in vain philosophy.  It sounds to me as though this man is upset that serial killers believe in the facts presented in the Bible but continue to live heinous lives.  The Bible and the facts claimed therein, therefore, are the culprit and consequently untrustworthy.  Instead of attacking the issue of sinfulness within Christians, and instead of trying to submit to God and His statutes, he throws the baby out with the bathwater.  Since a demon can academically assert the truth and reality of God, then God is not a truth and reality.  Implied, however, on a deeper level, is that he is at an impasse with God because he loves something that God defines as sin, and therefore is trying to justify himself by reinterpreting God.

Every one knows that there is a problem with humanity and that is evil.  This man wants to encourage you to live by love, but he will not dare tell you how to love because your environment alone can dictate what you consider love to be, and what actions are morally acceptable and even good.  However, he is offended that someone might try to categorize him based on his belief system.  What is loving for you is your decision, as long as it does not offend me.  But then he strangely interjects his caveat, that the right belief is to stop and help him when he is hurt.  So, I guess he can define for you what is loving.  And right.  Because of his assumptions and environment.

Everyone is trying to deal with the problem of evil.  Even if you philosophically argue that everything is personal preference and disposition (there is no absolute truth), if someone steals your car, murders your mom or punches you in the face, you are going to expect justice, if not seek retribution yourself.  Why?  Because it is evil.  And you know it.

All religions in the world are attempts at dealing with this problem.  The major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, Catholicism) know that the evil is within us and are trying to work off a debt of sin.  Muslims, through the five pillars, Jews through sacrifices and Catholics through prayer and penance.  Most polytheistic religions consider the gods to be, at least in part, a source of the evil and attempt to appease the gods of their anger (which can be a result of any stimuli), through sacrifice, ritual and offerings.  Eastern religions suggest that suffering is the result of desire and thus freedom from the cycle is the goal.  Nothingness.  Suffering is merely perceived, so get over it.

It is Christianity alone that says, “I am incapable”.  Christianity acknowledges that my logic is limited, my strength flawed and my nature wicked.  But God.  These are two of the most beautiful words which are repeated throughout Scripture.  God took it upon Himself to reveal Himself to us, to give us His Word, to offer us forgiveness and salvation through the literal death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to then instruct us how to live in a righteous way.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

– Eph 2.1-7

God defines morality.  God defines good.  God defines love.  My pastor likes to say this, “Is it more loving for God to give us His Word, tell us His heart and show us the way to salvation?  To warn us the way of death and to make one, easy to understand path?  Or would it be more loving to place us in a world of evil, with multiple paths and say, ‘You figure it out’?”

Just because you have never seen the laws of gravity broken does not mean that God did not write the physical laws of the universe.  Just because you have seen fossils in the ground and listened to humans say that the placement of fossils in the sedimentary record proves evolution, and argue that they completely understand the half life of carbon and thus can tell all of history by their scientific method does not mean that God did not create the ground, perhaps some of it complete with fossils, and that the Bible is not true.

You are not god.  I am not god.  My logic or skills of science or perception do not change reality, morality, judgment or eternity.  And my feelings or desires do not affect what God defines as sin.  Nor does the culture at large.  God created all of humanity, all of the world, and cultural shifts and quirks that we see exhibited in our society today are not new.  There is nothing new under the sun.  And when these sinful tendencies were exemplified in previous generations, God did not change his mind.  He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  Sodomy:  sexual intercourse through the anus, attained it’s name because of the homosexual cultural of the city of Sodom.  God judged it some four thousand years ago.  So are we suddenly more enlightened than those people?  Or the ancient Romans, two thousand years ago?

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

– Joshua 24.15

I will serve the Lord.  And I consider it the most loving this possible to plead with you to serve Him too, because I believe His Word, the Bible, to be true and accurate and the only hope.  So if you want to let me define my own love, then let me love you by sharing with you the hope that I have found in forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and not of my own logic or effort.  And please do not try to change God’s words or speak for Him.  Because He has clearly outlined sin, the penalty for it, the offer of forgiveness for it, redemption from it, and eternity with Him.

On Ann Coulter: Are American Missionaries Simply Narcissists?

Ann Coulter has rocked the conservative Christian world with her abrasive opinion article, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded To ‘Idiotic‘”.  Her basic premise is that American missionaries are narcissists and want to be recognized and glorified for their service and proselytization  internationally because,

“…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools.  They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots.  So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”

Her perspective is that all missionaries (and specifically Dr. Kent Brantly) could “have done more good for the entire world” by serving in America than traveling to a third world country, because, she believes, that America sets the course for the rest of the entire world.

Is this true?  Does her argument hold any weight?

Coulter’s positions assumes quite a few things.  Firstly, that America has as much, if not more need than the rest of the world.  She refers to the poor and needy living in Texas and the “virus of spiritual bankruptcy and moral decadence spread by so many Hollywood movies”.  She argues that leading one movie producer to faith and conviction about such wickedness, to prevent the creation of such movies, would be a greater impact on the world than “maintaining himself in medieval diseases of the Third World”.

Unfortunately, this argument grossly misses the foundation and drive of Biblical Christian missions.  While yes, it would be a wonder effect to see Hollywood transformed by saving faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate goal is not morally excellent movies, or even America’s reputation around the world because of our movies.  No, the goal is the eternal salvation of souls.  So to elevate the salvation of one Hollywood mogul who has had access to the Truth of Jesus Christ his entire life over the thousands of people groups around the world who have no Bible, no access to a church or anyone who knows of Jesus Christ, is quite simply wrong.

Need is a difficult topic to understand.  Americans have the disposition to think that we are the best, and everyone else is lesser.  We shun those of lesser education and income here at home, and we pity the rest of the world who does not govern themselves by democracy, who do not have all of the pleasures and amenities that we have, and who live differently.  We all have our own car, pity the country that survives on public transportation.  We all have completely reliable electricity, woe to the family who still cooks on an open fire and has no television.

If American missionaries set out to improve the world by making them more like us, then yes.  They are narcissists.  If a people group has survived 2,000 years without electricity, then they probably have their systems down.  They do not need electricity.  We can offer it to them, and see if they want it!  But to be culturally ethical, we need to let them determine to what end they use it, if they even want it.

But the one thing that every human being under the sun needs is salvation from damnation, which is the just judgment of God over our sins.  So the best way to judge and assess need to is evaluate people’s access to the Gospel.

For faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

– Rom 10.17

I live in Denver, Colorado, which many reports affirm to be one of the least evangelized cities in the country.  It has one of the lowest percentages of professions Christians.  But you know what?  I pass by eleven churches on my way to work.  All of which are open and have services weekly.  There are four within walking distance of my house.  Four.  This is not the case worldwide.  There are millions of people around the world who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ.  Not even as a curse word.  Now, you tell me.  If eternal life and salvation depends on the grace of Jesus Christ, which only comes through hearing the Gospel, who has more need?  The Hollywood mogul who was present for the screening of the Passion of the Christ, or the tribe in Asia of 500,000 people who are still sacrificing to spirits and casting spells on one another, never having heard the eternal hope of salvation?

Coulter’s perspective also assumes that the United States sets the stage for what happens “downstream”, or in the rest of the world.  Yes.  America has unprecedented impact with the globalization of everything, and with the internet and direct access.  However.  Our influence, however real it may be, does not directly meet the Spiritual needs of people around the world.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

– Rom 10.14-15

And that is why we go.  Coulter argues that we go for accolade.  Yes, I am sure that many do go for the praise of man.  But the simple reality is that America’s narcissistic population quickly forgets the person living halfway around the world.  Why?  Because we do not think about the rest of the world and we live for our pleasure.  Those people are out of sight, out of mind.  When they come home, they might get to speak at a Church, might raise money to build an orphanage and might even receive an award for humanitarian effort.  But missionaries in the third world are some of the most lonely and forgotten.  Those who go for praise do no last on the field.

Nevertheless, Paul teaches us clearly:

Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; he latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.

– Phil 1.15-18

The greatest need is most certainly not in the United States.  There is need here, undoubtedly.  But Jesus Himself commanded us, as His parting words, to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  So it is a matter of obedience.  And when we encounter those who do go for the wrong motives, instead of getting angry and sending them home, we should rejoice that the name of Christ is going forward!

A Christian genocide has begun.

isis

ISIS has begun to attract the attention of the world.  Thinking that everyone is distracted by Israel and the unrest there, ISIS has started without consequence what is now being called a Christian genocide, murdering all who have not fled or converted, and marking the homes of Christians who have fled with the threat that they will be killed if they return.  The United States responded this morning, with our first attack on their artillery.

But yet we get up and go to work like normal.  We take selfies, plan our vacations, go out hiking or to see a movie, just like normal.  We, after all, are not in danger, and what can we do anyway?  As I listened to the news this morning and pondered the dichotomy of my personal activities for the upcoming weekend, I began to meditate on Paul’s experience:

Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.  I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

– 2 Cor 11.23-28

Consider with me the simple, yet profound reality of his lashings.  The lashes were designed to bring a man to the brink of death.  Forty was the maximum number allowed by Jewish Law, and they would only prescribe thirty-nine so as to not accidentally exceed what God had allowed – and to be sure to not unintentionally kill the recipient as killing him thus would be against the Law.  Thirty nine was the penalty, the amount given to almost kill a man.

Paul was stripped naked, his back beaten with a whip that tore the flesh off his back.  Bleeding.  Infection.  The scar tissue alone that developed in the aftermath would make him appear deformed.  And five times this happened to him!  Five layers of scar tissue for his entire back being ripped open.  Could the man even walk?  Added to that was beatings with rods, a stoning where they threw rocks at him until they believed him to be dead, multiple imprisonments and being robbed.

And these are only the attacks of man.  Compounding his hardships were natural factors like shipwreck, a day and night floating on the sea, hunger and poverty!

Imagine your daily job, food instagramming, tv watching, pleasure seeking world being transformed into what Iraqi Christians are experiencing right now.  Would your faith sustain you through this?  Would you uphold your belief in Christ if it required lashings, beatings, stonings, the death of your children?  Would you still care to scroll through your facebook feed and see all of the filtered pictures of your friends’ perfect lives?

It’s real people.  Will it impact you today?  We do not and should not seek martyrdom, that is not the point.  But we should pray for the persecuted church, for the salvation of ISIS, for the completion of the Great Commission and God’s glory.  Jesus tells us that Christians will be hated and murdered by all mean before the end will come.  Not only that, He prepared us to be ready to stand firm during such trials.  This was His prayer for us:

“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.  I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

– John 17.13-19

Jesus was not concerned to keep us from suffering.  He came into the world to suffer and die, and in the same manner He is sending us into the world.  In fact, Scripture tells us that all Christians will join in His sufferings (1 Peter 4.13).  But He prayed for the disciples and for us that God would sanctify us and uphold us while we walk those paths.

Chances are high that you will not walk that path today.  But pray, in the way Jesus prayed for us, for those who are walking it today.  That God would sanctify them, uphold them, draw near to them, and comfort them.  And if you have the ability to stand up for them, do it!  Make a difference!  The instagram of your lunch can wait.  And the lunch we enjoy in eternity will make it quite unimpressive anyway.  Be about eternal things today.

Should we fear Ebola?

ebola-patient

Unless you have been living under a rock the last few weeks, you have indubitably heard about the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus.  My freshman year of high school, I took Biology and was assigned the virus, or hemorrhagic fever, as my topic for a presentation.  The stories of people’s organs essentially liquefying has stuck with me all these years later.  As of yesterday, between the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, 1,700 cases have been reported of this illness that has up to a 90% mortality rate.  That is an astounding number, making this the most substantial outbreak of the disease to date.

Many activists, however, are arguing that we are looking at the wrong disease.  While it is a tragedy that 1,700 people are currently sick or have died from Ebola, the world annually looses 250,000-500,000 to the flu.  Since the February outbreak of Ebola began, 300,000 people have died of malaria and an estimated 600,000 have died from tuberculosis.  But since malaria and TB are well known, the numbers and casualties no longer make headline news.

I want to suggest that not only are we looking at the wrong illness, we are looking for the wrong healing.  If you stretch the continuum long enough, humanity’s mortality rate is 100%.  Every human being who has ever lived and who is living now will die (unless Jesus returns and takes those few fortunate souls home first, and Elisha and Enoch of course).  Many of us will die of heart disease, perhaps more from cancer.  Some will die from a tragic and unexpected accident while others will just pass peacefully in their sleep.  But make no mistake,  150 years from now, every single one of us will be in eternity.  Is the method of our passing, then, really that pivotal?

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…

– Heb 9.27

It is appointed unto man to die.  Death is not an ugly reality with which God has to deal.  He is in control, and because of sin, He has designated, appointed physical death to each of us as the consequence of a lifetime of sinfulness.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Rom 6.23

Even those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ’s blood will suffer the consequence of death for our sins.  It is no longer a judgment, as Jesus took the condemnation and punishment that we deserve, but it is the final consequence which will usher us to the judgment seat of Christ.

So what then?  What is our proper response?  Jesus tells us clearly,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

– Matt 10.28

Jesus commands us to not fear those who would kill us.  He is speaking specifically to men who would kill a faithful witness, but the point is equally as strong, do not fear the viruses.  Do not fear death.  Death has lost its sting, when our eternity is secure (1 Cor 15.55).

Does that mean that we ignore Ebola?  Malaria, TB, the flu?  Absolutely not!  In much the same way that we do not let murders roam freely, killing whomever they desire, we purposefully value the sanctity of human life and seek the well being of those who are created in the image of God; humanity.  That being said, however, the most pressing need of a patient of the Ebola virus is not physical healing, but spiritual.  The Ebola virus will pass – either in regained health or in death.  But eternal damnation will not pass.  If a person dies without atonement for his sins, He will never be made right with God.

Sin is not a disease.  It is our very nature.  And because of our wicked nature we will all die.  Are you ready?

A broken wing

A6A7G9

On Saturday, my mentor and her husband walked out of their house.  There was a large, black crow sitting on the hood of her newly washed and waxed car.  Not wanting the bird to do its business on her car, she started to shoo it away.   The bird did not move, so her husband grabbed a small stick and tossed it in the direction of the bird, but it stayed put.  “What a stubborn bird” she thought, as her husband went around the opposite side of the car and started to tap on the hood to scare it.  The bird did not move as they both marveled at how the bird was not only unintimidated but stayed put, seemingly mocking them in their feeble attempts to scare it from the car.  Finally she drew close enough to the bird that it started to move, and as it slipped down the slope of the slippery car, they realized that it was hurt and unable to fly away.  Immediately her frustration at the insubordination turned to sympathy for the injury.  The couple got into the other car to run errands and my mentor began praying that God would take care of the bird, and that it would be gone by the time they returned home, and it was.

This might seem a silly story, but in hearing it yesterday, I had to think to myself how applicational this story can be in our day-to-day lives, and that on a variety of levels.  The most basic of levels is simply this:  we are all sinners.  By nature, we can do nothing but sin.  If your neighbor or friend is not a believer, he has no ability or desire in and of himself to obey God or honor God.  Sinners sin.  What else do you expect?  Dead bodies stink.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

– Eph 2.1-3

The second, and perhaps more difficult application here, is that sometimes people have an injury and offend us with an inability to fix or help themselves.  I, admittedly, am no psychologist or counselor, but I do know that sometimes God walks people through extended seasons of grief or healing after a traumatic event before they are restored completely.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

– Ps 34.18-19

I also know that we, as long as we are in our physical bodies, are at war with the flesh and fighting against our wicked desires.

For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.  So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

– Rom 7. 15-19

Sometimes we just screw up.  We all do.  Now, there are times when the wickedness of another is intentionally aimed at us.  There are times that someone sets out to do us wrong, to hurt us.  But there are other times when someone’s failure and sin is enacted completely apart from concern for us, and it is quite possible that there is a broken wing behind the insubordination.

Is this another, “walk a mile in some one’s shoes” or “judge not” shpiel that we have all heard ad nauseam?  No, actually it is not.  Because Scripture commands us to fight sin.  Put it to death.  To not make peace with it, but take extreme measure to rid it from our lives.  But it is an exhortation to consider the brokenness behind the sin.  Condemning ourselves or our friends for a mistake or a big fat ugly sin does not preach the Gospel.  Preaching forgiveness through redemption by the blood of Jesus helps mend the brokenness that led to the failure.

So let’s not hit the one who has a broken wing.  Let’s not stand scoffing at his sin.  Let’s show him the path to healing which leads to obedience.

 

So you have a Jesus fish.

ichthus1

American Christianity has become trendy.  Musicians fake faith to succeed in the Christian music scene, Jesus has been trivialized to be made cool (anyone remember, “Jesus is my homeboy”?), WWJD bracelets were a permeating fad that rocked the teenage world before silicone wristbands were the thing, and we all know the passive aggressive ichthus fish that Christians mount on their cars, either in silent witness of their faith or in direct rebuttal to the Darwin fish or coexist bumper stickers parked down the street.

So let us consider some food for thought.  When I was in high school and the Jesus fish fad started, I told my friends that I would never put one of those on my car because sometimes I make mistakes:  I can cut people off, I might speed, and I know how prevalent road rage is so I do not want to be a bad witness.  Sounds pretty noble, does it not?  It did in my seventeen-year-old mind, anyway.  It’s better to not be a hypocrite, right?

Yes.  It is better to not be a hypocrite.  We learn from Scripture that it is better to be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev 3.15-16).  I realize that there is debate about the exact meaning of the passage, as it has been suggested that hot and cold seasons led to better shipping lines in the ports near Laodecia; that hot and cold were both good things, but the simple reality is that God holds us accountable to the measure by which we have understanding.

Paul teaches us that those who have the Law will be judged by the Law:

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

– Rom 2.12-13

This can be confusing.  Does it mean that people who have never heard the Gospel, the story of Jesus, are off the hook?  Do they get to go to Heaven?  No, it does not mean that.  We know that everyone has sinned, and some have sinned knowing the Gospel and some have sinned not knowing it.  But all know that they have sinned, and verse twelve tells us that those who do not know the story of Jesus will still perish.  God’s wrath will still be poured out against them and their sin in eternity.

But those who have heard will be held to a higher standard.  The judgment will be according to knowledge and responsibility.  Someone might say, “Hell is Hell”.  And yes, an eternity of suffering in Hell is a terrible thing.  But Jesus states that those who hear the truth and deny it will suffer a worse judgment than the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah who were destroyed by fire for their wickedness (Matt 10.15, 11.24), and even worse for those who are hypocrites, who profess to be leaders in the Church and lead people astray, their judgment will be the worst:

“…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

– Matt 18.6

Perhaps the most sobering sections of Scripture deal with precisely this topic:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.  Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 

– Heb 10.26-29

The absolute worst situation, eternally, in which one can find himself is to have heard and known of Christ and His work and to deny it and live a life of sin.  We know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, so we must share the Gospel every opportunity that we receive, but at the moment of hearing one enters a new level of responsibility before God (Rom 10.17).

On that foundation we return to the original question.  Should a Christian hide is faith for the sake of not being labeled a hypocrite?  Is it more noble to not put a symbol of my faith on my car for fear of being judged when I make a mistake?  No.  It is not.  In fact, Jesus said,

“But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

– Matt 10.33

Does that mean that I must put an ichthus on my car?  No.  And no, you do not have to forward that chain email or post the picture of Jesus to your facebook wall to ensure your salvation.  But it does mean that if your logic for not doing these things is to not be labeled as a believer, then you need to check yourself.

We must, however, adhere to Jesus’ standards and the foundations of the faith.  We may not excuse our own sin or other’s sin by the blanket observation that “everyone is a sinner”.  We cannot let our friends continue sinning without holding them accountable based on the logic, “I just sinned yesterday”.  We must let sinful brothers and sisters call us out.  Because our sinful brother and sister is not the standard.  Jesus is.  And even though we all fall, we can push one another on to holiness.

So put away your fake piety and embrace your identity.  And when you screw up, praise Jesus boldly in front of others for the grace that you have received for the forgiveness of your sin.  If you have an ichthus on your car and you cut someone off in traffic, make a kind gesture and mouth “I’m sorry”.  If you are wearing a WWJD bracelet and you get angry, or lie, or screw up, return to the offended party and confess it.  Repent.  Praise Jesus for grace.  And let that be a testimony of how Jesus is working in you today.

Why do I need a savior?

If you were to ask the average Christian on the street, “Why do you need a savior?”, the answer would most likely be something like this:  I have sinned and that sin has separated me from God, so I need a savior to die in my place so that I can be forgiven.  And yes, this is true.  This is a glorious and beautiful truth that Jesus died in our place.  He redeemed us.  He is the propitiation.  The ransom.

But Scripture tells us that this is only half of the story.  We are not good people running around with a problem of sin, or a disease.  The full story is this:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”

– Eph 2.1-3

Apart from Christ we are dead.  Spiritually dead.  What does that mean?  We walked according to the ways of the devil, his spirit was working in and through us (vs 1-2) and our very nature was to follow our father the devil (John 8.44), and everything we did was apart from faith and therefore sin (Rom 14.23).

We need a savior who can bring us to life.  Create life.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

– Eph 2.4-5

There are two kinds of people in the world:  Spiritually dead and Spiritually alive.  Either we are of the devil or we are of God.  We are sheep or we are goats.  A goat cannot make himself a sheep, and the dead cannot bring themselves to life.  This is why we need a Savior.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.  Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

– John 5.24-25

My pastor likes to say, “You cannot be made into a new creature and not know it” (2 Cor 5.17).  This is true for those who were converted later in life or who were rescued from a lifestyle of despair.  It is also true for those who were raised in a family of believers and who came to faith at a young age.  However, those who do not remember much of the former life or who did not have long standing practices in spiritual death may not have experienced the transformation as profoundly.  But such a one can simply acknowledge about himself, “I am alive!”  If you have Spiritual life, you have been saved!  You are a sheep!  You are of God.

Do you hear the voice of God?  Does He speak to you through the Scriptures?  Are you convicted of Truth when you hear the Gospel, and teachings of the Word?  If you hear His voice, you are a sheep.  You are His.  He has given you life.  And the very reason you needed a savior has been covered.  You are no longer dead, but alive to Christ, righteousness and salvation.

dead