Thoughts about faith

Author Archive

What About Psychics?

psychics

You see ads from time to time from people claiming to be psychics. A psychic is a person who claims to be able to identify information hidden from the normal senses, particularly involving telepathy or clairvoyance, or who perform acts that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws. People sometimes go to psychics to inquire about a love interest, a business matter, or some aspect of their future. Some claim such powers come from hidden spiritual knowledge taping into spiritual energy. Some even claim Biblical prophets were examples of such knowledge and power and it can be available to you and I if properly trained.

Is this Biblical? Does God give men such powers and approve of it’s use? Where did the Prophets (of the Bible) get their power and how did they use it?

Leviticus 20:27

27 “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones;  their blood shall be upon them.”

First a few definitions. A medium is a person who uses “his or her psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events of a person by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding that person. This means mediums rely on the presence of non-physical energy outside of themselves for the information relevant to the person being read.”[1]

A psychic is a person who “tune into the energy of people or objects by feeling or sensing elements of their past, present and future. Simply put, psychics rely on their basic sense of intuition and psychic ability to gather information for the person being read.”[2]

As the above cited article states, “a psychic is not necessarily a medium, but a medium is a psychic.” According to our passage from Leviticus a medium was to be put to death.

Deuteronomy 18:10–13

10 There shall not be found among you anyone xwho burns his son or his daughter as an offering,5 anyone who ypractices divination or ztells fortunes or interprets omens, or aa sorcerer 11 or a charmer or ba medium or a necromancer or cone who inquires of the dead, 12 dfor whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And ebecause of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the Lord your God,

Once again we see that those who practice divination, tells fortunes, interprets omens, is a sorcerer, a charmer, or a necromancer should be driven out and are an abomination before the Lord. It doesn’t matter what they claim the source of their ability is. No exception is given for those who claim their power comes from God.

How did the Apostles respond when they came upon someone with the power of divination?

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. (Acts 16:16-18)

While this slave girl apparently was able to foretell the future, they cast a demon out of her. The true source of her power was demonic. While she presumably had some ability it was demonic in it’s source and a violation of God’s law. In the book of 1 Samuel, Saul consults with a medium. He wanted to know what his future would be and why he was being pursued. What did God think about his consorting with a medium?

13 “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.”

Notice a contrast is made between Saul consulting with a medium versus seeking guidance from the Lord. Saul should have sought the Lord. Instead he disobeyed God and sought a medium and God took his life from him. Clearly God did not approve.

What about the Prophets? First, we need to understand who the Prophets were. They were men, called by God, to speak messages from God to the nation of Israel. If you read the words of God spoken through the Prophets you will find that the vast majority of what they spoke was not prophetic (future telling) but rather God confronting Israel with a message of judgement and deliverance. At times they did speak of future events but only a minority of the time.

The signs of a true prophet were these:

In Deuteronomy 18:15-22 and Deuteronomy 13:1-5 God listed five certifying signs by which a true prophet of God could be recognized: (1) a prophet must be an Israelite, “from among [his] own brothers” ( Deut 18:15 ) (Balaam is the exception that proves this rule); (2) he must speak in the name of the Lord (“If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name” [ Deut 18:19 ]); (3) he must be able to predict the near as well as the distant future (“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken” [ Deut 18:22 ]); (4) he must be able to predict signs and wonders ( Deut 13:2 ); and (5) his words must conform to the previous revelation that God has given ( Deut 13:2-3 ).[3]

Notice they were all Israelites. Anyone today, claiming to be a modern-day prophet, cannot claim to be in the line of the OT Prophets if he’s not a Jew. Secondly, he must claim to speak in the name of the Lord and his prophecies can never fail to come true. One false prophecy and he is to be considered a false prophet. His message must not ever contradict God’s past revelations.

Prophets spoke as God directed up until the coming of Christ. John the Baptist was the last of the Prophets though Jesus was a prophet but much more than a prophet. We have no more need of prophets because:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1)

These “last days” refers to the time period between Christ’s first coming and his future second coming. We are in the last days now. The need for the Prophets has been done away with as we now have Christ. The Prophets did not speak by their own will or for their own purposes. They never prophesized for financial gain nor to answer man’s inquiry.

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20)

Another thing to note about the prophets is that prior to their calling by God they never prophesized. The also never did it outside of God’s express will and only when God had a message for them to speak.

Now let’s consider those who are modern-day psychics. One such person is Gary Spivey. On his official website his title is “Psychic, Medium Spiritual Healer.”[4] His own claim to be a medium is clearly in violation to our passage from Leviticus. His bio goes on to describe how his prophetic gifts began as a child. Yet none of his predictions were said to be “from the Lord.” Later he appeared on radio and television which lead him to be “ doing private sessions with people where he could help them with any problem they might have from love and relationship questions to channeling a passed love one, or miraculously healing people from physical ailments.”[5]

Once again we find necromancy (talking to the dead) and speaking not as God commanded (in the age where there are no more prophets). He also does so for financial profit. None of these things are consistent with the Bible.

How do such people ever have any insight or correct predictions? The answer is by the power of demons.

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (1 Corinthians 11:14-15)

While demons do not know the future (beyond what God has revealed), they are able to gather vast amounts of information and have lived for all of human history so have tremendous insight into human thinking and activity. This gives them the ability to make predictions that have far greater chances of coming true than anything we could make. Why would they do so? Satan’s highest aim to is keep us from God. He is a master of deception and one of his greatest deceptions is selling us a brand of spiritually that we find appealing, and almost Christian, yet is far from it. Anything to keep us from following as true disciples of Christ. It is appealing to man to have spiritual power. Organizations like the Masons have gained members for centuries by appealing to their possession of hidden knowledge. Our egos want us to possess something others don’t. We want to have special powers that only those who are “enlightened” can possess. Make no mistake. Satan can heal so not all healing is of God. If it will further his purposes he will heal.

Does God heal today? Of course, he does but generally quietly and without fanfare. He also only does so when it is His will. We have no ability to bring about God’s healing. While we are told to pray and ask in faith, not doubting, our prayers are always subject to God’s sovereign will. God never puts His power at our disposal to wield as we will. Faith can move mountains but only when God wills.

It should be clear that no Christian should ever consult with a psychic or medium. We should never “channel” or consort with the dead or those who have “passed over.” Once again Satan can make us think such things are happening. He can appear as anything, or anyone, he wants and having existed since before mankind he knows all about our passed love ones and specific knowledge only they and us share. He can easily deceive us into thinking we are hearing from a loved one. We should never trust such experiences when they clearly contradict the revealed will of God. We are not to seek the future nor expect special powers simply by special knowledge. God instructed us to pray for the sick and call the elders to pray for them but not to seek a psychic or medium to heal them.

We have all we need and all God has revealed to us in His Word. We need not nor should not seek other knowledge and should avoid those who claim to know “secret things” hidden from us. If you can read the Bible then you can know all things that God has made available to man to know.

One final note. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 and Romans 12:6 the gift of prophecy is listed among the spiritual gifts. What is this gift of prophecy? As noted earlier, the gift of prophecy was far more about “forth-telling” than “fore-telling.” Forth-telling was when a Prophet declared the will of God, gave messages of warning or deliverance, and in other ways spoke to influence the people of God. Only on occasion did it include fore-telling (i.e. predicting the future). In that sense a modern-day pastor can be considered a “prophesier” as he is speaking forth the counsel of God. With the completion of the NT canon, prophesying changed from declaring new revelation to the completed revelation God had already given.

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)

Jude speaks of the faith that was “once for all delivered”, meaning the revelation has been made complete. The modern gift of prophecy is that of teaching and proclaiming those things already revealed by God. There are some Christians and churches today who believe God speaks special messages of revelation to individuals. Whether you believe that or not we know a few things. First, any such message must be tested against the Word of God. God never contradicts Himself and would never give a message contrary to His revealed will. Second, such messages when given in the Bible were never for personal gain or financial use. God forbids us to seek out the counsel of those who claim to be able to channel spirits, energy, or fore-tell the future. Personal experience is not a substitute for the revealed will of God. I will not personally judge someone who claims a word from God but I will test that word against Scripture and understand that such “words” are still subject to human frailty and error and not on par with the verbally inspired written Word of God. They never take the place of Scripture nor are on par with it. The focus of our faith should be God’s written revelation not ours or someone else’s personal experiences. There is not hidden meaning or spiritual powers yet to be discovered.

[1] Read more: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/what-is-a-medium-rebecca-rosen/all#ixzz57zXAf400

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/prophet-prophetess-prophecy/

[4] http://garyspivey.com/about-gary/

[5] Ibid.


On Being Equally Yoked

As a Christian I have often been asked by well-meaning friends why I will only consider marriage or dating to Christian women. Beyond that Christian women with similar views to mine. To them marriage is about companionship. Finding someone to share life with who has similar interests and whose company you enjoy. While no two people are identical in every respect they don’t see why faith should be that big of a requirement. To them it seems unnecessarily unrealistic.

To understand marriage from a Biblical, Christian perspective we must first start with life from a Biblical, Christian perspective. Simply put a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. We follow in his footsteps. We seek to live life according to His will and with the purpose of glorifying Him. As the Apostle Paul wrote, our lives are no longer are own but we are Christ’s “bondservants.” In the Old Testament if someone was a slave, say because they were paying off a debt, when released from slavery they could offer their ongoing services freely as a “bondservant”, and if they did, their ear would be pierced on the doorpost indicating their freely chosen status as a bondservant. That is the word picture of what it means to be a Christian. You freely give your life to Christ in exchange for His forgiveness. It is an act of love not an act of coercion. A good definition for bondservant would be “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” It means we are devoted to God and not ourselves.

Biblical marriage is when two such bondservants join together to more effectively serve God and to enjoy the intimacy that comes from such a shared purpose and life. Clearly that cannot be achieved if one party to the marriage was not a believer.  The Bible commands us to not be “unequally yoked.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) The analogy is clear. A team of horses or oxen were often used to pull carts or plow fields. Two oxen would be joined by a heavy wooden collar or yoke. It was essential that the two would work as a team and work in unison. If one pulled to the side instead of straight forward the team would go in a diagonal and not a straight path. If one pulled and the other stood still they would go in a circle or nowhere at all. A good team was one where the pair learned to work in unison pulling in the same direction and the stronger adjusting for the weaker although the best result was achieved by joining to equally matched oxen. So it is to be in Christian marriage. If one spouse if following Christ and the other is going in a different direction that couple will not be an effective team. At least not in serving and glorifying God which is what a Christian’s life should be all about.

Some suggest we compartmentalize our lives and practice our faith in private and see no reason for it to impact a marriage. Such a thing is not an option for a Christian for to do so would be to stop following Jesus or only following him selectively.  We are to love and serve God with every fiber of our being in every way on every day. Faith is not a hobby you can take up or put down. It’s not a club you visit when you want but spend time away from. It is a purposeful way of living. It is intentional. How could such a life not affect a marriage? How could a divided couple glorify God? Abraham Lincoln once quoted Jesus when he said “a house divided cannot stand.” His reference was to the country divided as it was North and South.  Jesus’ words were in response to the religious leaders who accused him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus reasoned that Satan’s house could not stand were it divided so how could Satan be at odds with himself? It is equally true that a marriage divided cannot stand.

There are Christians living in unequally yoked marriages. Sometimes a couple marries then later one becomes a believer and the other doesn’t. In such situations the believer is called to live in peace with the non-believer in so far as they are able but if the non-believer leaves they are free to remarry. If you are a Christian though, entering into an unequally yoked marriage is not God’s will. You might make it work but it will never be the kind of marriage God ordained marriage to be. As followers of Christ why would we want such a thing? The message of 2 Corinthians chapter 6 is how Christians need to be separate from non-believers in our ministry. Not as neighbors or family members but in ministry we cannot be yoked. Christian marriage is a ministry. It is a ministry from one person for the other and from the couple to God.

Paul uses the analogy that Christ is the bride of the church. Marriage is a picture of what Christ’s relationship with the church is like. Is the church not made up of followers of Christ? How could that analogy hold true if God allowed for marriage to non-believers?

Marriage is not about finding a cure for loneliness or an activity partner. It is out finding a co-minister. A non-believer cannot co-minister with you. Such a union would also be a poor witness to any children that might be born of that union. What message would it send to them? Do you want to send the message that you are willing to compromise on your faith?

A final word, being equally yoked means more than just marrying a fellow believer. It means finding a fellow believer who will work with you as a team and not all believers would be a good match. Your calling, your gifts, your maturity level may require someone who is aligned with that. It is not a minimum requirement but something to be taken very seriously. It is a decision that will affect the rest of your life and have a profound influence on your ministry.

 


Being Propositional

Being Propositional

We live in an age and culture where tradition religion is being rejected along with absolute truth. I think this rejection has several aspects to it. First, we live in the entertainment generation who have short attention spans and want attention getting presentations be it audio, video, or spoken. We already have a million things in our lives vying for time and attention so the church has to step it up or not make the cut.

Second, while this generation of Americans may be the first to not be better off than their parents, still compared to 100 years ago or 1000 years ago we are much better off on average. Most of us simply have not lived a hard life. Some for sure but you don’t have to go back very far in history to arrive at a time when daily living was hard. A time when there were no grocery stores, microwave ovens, washers and dryers, cars, and so on. Putting food on the table, a roof over your head, and trying to stay healthy consumed most of your time. Life was fragile and realizing you were not in control came easy. Today’s generation though feel they have everything under control. They feel entitled. They have wants but few needs unless they live in poverty or have poor health. The idea of needing a Savoir is foreign to them. They don’t need anything and certainly not a savoir. Saved from what?

It is popular these days to be spiritual but not religious. Usually by “religion” people mean organized religion (i.e. a church or denomination). People cite numerous reasons they have left churches. Among them: schedule, boring, not wanting someone to tell them how they should live. They want everything catered to them from the teaching to the children’s ministries to the coffee.  Being spiritual can mean anything. Often, it’s a hodgepodge of new age beliefs perhaps mixed in with a little Christianity but rarely anything resembling Biblical Christianity.

Christians are increasingly seen as narrow minded, bigoted, unscientific, close minded, and trying to force their beliefs on everyone. Outsiders believe Christians believe as they do only because they were raised that way and see themselves as more enlightened because they arrived at their own beliefs independent of how they were raised. Of course, this precludes the possibility that someone might do their own thinking and arrive at the conclusion that the faith they were raised in is the right faith. It is assumed that at some subconscious level they are biased by their upbringing.

Yet I believe the single predominant reason people reject Christianity is the propositional nature of it. We want a belief system that we can craft for ourselves that is positive and has no potential negative consequences. No one or nothing to judge us. No one or nothing to be accountable to. We want a philosophy to live by not a faith in a living God who commands us. It comes down to us wanting to be on the throne and not God.

We want whatever makes us happy. We want happiness without any effort. We expect God to give us that happiness requiring nothing from us in return.

The first great proposition of the Bible is that we are sinners separated from God

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22)

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

Why do we need a savior? Because our end is death as the fruit of our sinful lives. This is not referring to our eventual physical death but rather our present spiritual death. We are already spiritually dead due to our sins and each breath we take is merely biding time until this life is over and then comes judgment. We are inmates on death row except we are already dead. Greater punishment awaits but we are already dead. We have rejected and sinned against a holy God and there is nothing we can do on our own to get right with God. Yet God, rich in mercy, provided us with a solution. That solution is Jesus. Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Cor. 7:10)

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9)

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38)

“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (Acts 26:19-20)

So salvation is a gift from God we appropriate by faith. Such faith should lead us to repent and turn from our sins to a living God. That requires change. That means striving to live life God’s way not our way. It means being obedient to God. Jesus’ obedience led him to the cross. He died, according to God’s will, and resurrected to bring us victory over death both physical and spiritual. His disciples, particularly the Apostles, left everything to follow him. They left jobs, families, homes and followed Jesus for 3 years around a dusty countryside often sleeping outside at night. After Jesus returned to heaven they preached the Gospel (or “good news”) until their deaths. All but the Apostle John were martyred. Following Jesus was not easy yet not one of them regretted his decision.

No one wants to hear about repentance, sacrifice, denial. We want to indulge our flesh not deny it. We want to live as we see fit. No dusty roads and sleeping outside for us. No God does not require us to sleep outside but He does require us to follow him. To follow we must stop heading down our present path and turn and follow His. We don’t know what peaks and valleys that path will take us through but we know Jesus will walk it with us and at the end it will lead into eternal life.

God’s proposition is this: we are dead in our sins and He offers forgiveness if we will humble ourselves, believe, and follow. It means moving off the throne of our lives and letting God sit on it.

What say you to God’s proposition? Are you going to continue to follow your own path or God’s? Do you really think you can be happy leading a life that is not directed by the God who created you and loves you more than you love yourself? The choice is yours. In John 3:16 Jesus said “whosoever will come…” You must be a whosoever.


Not yet what we will be

At church the gentleman who gave the communion devotion began with a story about a recent wedding he attended. When he arrived the various branches of the family were off by themselves and no one was intermixing. At the reception though there were not enough tables for each group to stay isolated. Families were forced to mix. By the end of the reception everyone was mixing, talking, and having fun.

He commented how meals have a way of bringing people together. Culturally we connect over food and drink. He made reference to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in Heaven. Predictably he spoke of communion as our meal with the Lord.

While I understand completely his point it also struck me how I could not relate to his analogy. I grew up in an alcoholic family where my Mom got drunk every afternoon. Dinner, while the whole family was gathered, was anything but a time of coming together. It was tense, unappetizing, and something to be endured. Due to my Mom’s alcoholism we never celebrated holidays or birthdays with family or friends. When I was married my ex-wife hated hosting anything at our house and hated holidays. Dinners were tense as she hated to cook and was never in a good mood.

I have been single now for years. To this day I don’t do much around holidays, birthdays, or other events. I take no special pleasure in food or drink. I “eat to live” not “live to eat.” Fine foods are wasted on me. I’m not into wine or beer the two most common social drinks in this country. I put as little time into preparing and eating food as I can. Going out to dinner or eating with others is not special to me. I’d rather go for a walk and talk to someone than sit and talk around a meal.

So where am I going with all this? I know I am different. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. Before his crucifixion he had the Last Supper with His disciples. He used bread and wine as symbols. He promised not to eat of the fruit of the vine again until with them in heaven. Our great communal gathering in heaven is described as a feast.So I know when I get to heaven I shall be changed and I will celebrate that feast as much as anyone there. It reminds me that we are not yet what we will be. We are imperfect with our scars and flaws. Things that should be common and natural are not always. In time though we will be changed.

There is much in life that is foreign to me. Experiences common to others that I know little of. None of that will matter though in eternity. I think I will enjoy connecting over a meal when we feast in heaven. Praise God for all He has in store for us.


What I Have Learned – So Far…

You never get a do over in life. You can start over but you can never do over.

God never promised us an easy life. He never promised we’d be free of pain, sadness, loss, or persecution. He did promise He’d be with us to the very end of the age.

God never said He would take away all the consequences of our sin or of those whose sin harmed us. He did say He would wash our sins away as white as snow.

Sometimes God’s greatest work is accomplished in our pain and suffering. How we handle suffering is sometimes our greatest witness to a world that suffers but sees suffering as something to be avoided.

We will not find justice in this life but before the throne of God justice will be handed out and by the grace of God so will mercy.

Happiness is not a feeling when all is well or we are having fun. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is learning to be content and give thanks no matter what our circumstances.

Trials are a part of live as a believer. God is preparing us for eternity and to make us more Christ like.

Nothing on this earth will satisfy the longing of our soul. Only God can fill that vacuum in our hearts. The only true soulmate we will ever have is Jesus Christ.

If we do find happiness and joy, friends and family, good health and good living we owe it all to God and His good grace and good pleasure.

The greatest words we can ever hope to hear are “Well done good and faithful servant. Come and enter into the rest I have prepared for you.”

The greatest act we will ever perform will be to take the Crown of Glory off our heads and cast it to the feet of Jesus on His throne.

What we have cannot be bought with all the money in the world and the richest man or woman will never have as much as us. Our treasure is in our hearts and bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore rejoice and give thanks to God Almighty. He loves you, cherishes you, died for you, and calls you His child.

There is no greater love and this truly is the greatest story ever told.

Look to Jesus and you will never lack for anything again.


Starting Over

I’ve come to a realization that has only taken nearly 56 years of life to come to. That realization is that no matter what has happened in your past you can’t get a do over but you can start over. The real significant part though is that while you can start over you can’t always erase the scars of the past. God can help you deal with them but He doesn’t always erase them.

I’ve heard and read amazing stories of people coming to the Lord from highly troubled pasts and instantly being healed of them (e.g. drug addiction). Praise God! If you know the Lord then you know He can do ANYTHING. Yet Paul prayed three times to have the “thorn in the flesh” removed from him and God did not grant him that desire. Whatever that was Paul had to carry it with him to the grave. What Paul learned was that when he was weak God was strong. He learned to lean on God and be content no matter what.

I’ve met many well meaning people who perhaps had some difficulties in their past who hoping to help me have told me I just need to make up my mind that I am no longer controlled by the past and everything will change. It did for them they say. Perhaps that worked for them and I’m not denying their claims but such thoughts seem inspired by the school of thought that says we are what we think and if we truly believe something we will have it. Christians know better. God is sovereign. Paul did not suffer from a lack of belief. His faith was amazing. The problem was not with Paul. The problem was Paul at first not seeing that his affliction was being allowed by God to bring about a greater faith and trust in Paul. God was using “all things” to work together for good in Paul’s life (Romans 8:28).

It reminds me of the gospel story of the military commander who sent word to Jesus through a servant that his son was dying and he wished for Jesus’ healing of his son. He added that it was not necessary for Jesus to come to his house. He believed that if the Lord would just “say the word” his servant would be healed. But it was “if” the Lord said the word. God is always sovereign. Jesus marveled at his faith.

Happiness is not having all our thorns removed. Happiness is learning to praise God and lean on His grace with our thorns. Happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. Think about that. Happiness is NOT dependent on our circumstances but on our relationship with God and that is something no one, no disease, no trauma, no tragedy, nobody, can take away from us. Thus we can be happy even in the midst of those things. That’s not to say we have no emotions except happiness. Tragedy still troubles us but we see those things through God’s eyes. We see the big picture; the eternal picture. We’ve read the end of the book so we know what will ultimately happen.

We can’t believe away our problems but we can believe our way to victory over them. God does sometimes take them away and what an awesome God we serve! Yet even when He doesn’t He brings about good (Romans 8:28). Faith is not asking why but saying why not? Why not me? Faith is growing through our trials not just asking God to remove them.

I can’t go back and make my past different as appealing as that seems. To be honest even if God gave me that power as a one-time gift I would not exercise it. I don’t know what I would be like today were it not for the trials in my life. Perhaps I would be an even better believer but perhaps I would take so much for granted and not have the battle tested faith I have. I would not risk that and I trust that God is causing all things to work together for good, that His preparing me for eternity, that my tears will be turned into joy, and that He who began a good work in me will complete it.

Starting over is realizing you have no strength in yourself but can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. It is learning like the Apostle Paul to be content no matter what our circumstances.

At the end of his trial Job received many blessings from God yet the family he lost was still gone. Gone at least until he joined them in heaven. Job’s memories of that trial did not get erased. Job though knew God better than ever before and saw his own limitations and foolishness. His ultimate act of character was to put his hand over his mouth acknowledging that he had no right to answer back to God.

Ultimately we have to trust in God’s goodness, love, and grace. If we believe in Him then we must trust Him. That means trusting our daily lives to Him and His will. Can we do it any better than to do it His way?


What I Believe

This brief statement is not meant to be complete nor cover all aspects of my faith. It is not my “Apostles Creed.” It is as simple and brief a presentation of my faith as I can make.

I believe that God created the heavens and the earth, the universe and all that is ex-nihlo (out of nothing). I believe that God is eternal without beginning or end and without creator. Nothing that exists, has existed, or will yet exists does so outside of His knowledge and will.

I believe God is holy and just – without sin. Because of this an unholy, sinful man cannot long stand in the presence of God nor dwell with Him. Only by the cleansing of our sins and the taking on of the righteousness of Jesus Christ can we abide with Him.

I believe God exists in three persons an inadequate word used by finite beings to understand an infinite God. These persons are ways in which God manifests Himself. God the Father is spirit without form. God the Son proceeds from the Father and became a man through a virgin birth and will forever have a body. The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to in-dwell the believer and work in the hearts of men. Together these three persons are known as the Trinity.

I believe that Adam was the first man and Eve the first woman. They did willfully disobey God and their sin has been passed on to all future humans in what is known as original sin. We are born in sin already enemies with God. We possess neither the will nor the power to become God’s friend. It is only through the gift of faith (given by God’s good will and pleasure) that we can receive salvation. Salvation is an act of that received faith in which we acknowledge our sinful state before God and receive forgiveness for our sins through faith by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and are declared righteous by the imputation (accrediting to us) of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Apart from faith in Jesus there is no salvation. Thus salvation is wholly a work of God, not due to any goodness or merit in us (we have none) and none without this salvation will enter into heave but will instead dwell apart from God and His faithful in hell for eternity. Hell is a real place with real suffering and from which there is no escape. There will come a day, yet future, when all men and woman of all ages will be judged by Jesus Christ after which this earth and this universe will melt and vaporize and a new universe and earth will be created by God.

I believe that while salvation does not rest in any way upon our acts, our works, good works, are a fruit or sign of our salvation. Salvation is by faith alone but saving faith is never alone (i.e. it is followed by good works). In this life I will never attain perfection or cease from sin by my sins have already been paid in full by the blood of Jesus Christ (even those I have yet to commit). I do good works now because I love God, want to obey Him, and have been given a new nature by which I am now capable of pleasing God.

Being a Christian is being a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ. To follow Christ you must know Christ. Not just know of Him but know Him personally. Such a relationship is built on reading His Word (the Bible), praying to Him, and obeying Him.  All such followers are part of a new, heavenly family. Going to church is going to be with our new family and to rejoice, celebrate, confess, worship, and learn together. We are not saved by attending church and not all who attend church are true followers of Jesus Christ. Churches are full of imperfect people and are themselves imperfect. A truly bad church that is not faithfully teaching the Word of God should be shunned but the lack of perfection in a church (or any and all churches) is not a reason to avoid church. Just as among non-Christians, Christians can be hypocrites. They can say one thing and do the opposite. As Jesus told His sleeping disciples in the Garden just prior to His death, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” While such hypocrisy is sinful and regrettable it is not necessarily evidence of a false faith nor reason to conclude all Christians are hypocrites. Christians are not perfect but forgiven. The measure of one’s faith cannot always been witnessed in one moment or even one year but over the course of a lifetime and sometimes hidden in the heart. What marks a true follower of Jesus is not the absence of sin in their lives but the refusal to give up and give into their sins. Ours is a lifetime struggle against a tireless foe but a battle we do not fight alone as God gives us strength.

We share our faith not to judge others but out of compassion and by the very command of our Lord as He (and we) do not wish any to perish but for all to come to saving faith (John 3:16). We desire that the incredible joy we experience be experienced by everyone. To live life without Christ is like using a new phone ignorant of how it works and the proper way to configure and use it. Without reading the manual we are unaware of many important and helpful features. We struggle in our use of the phone because we are ignorant. At times the phone is absolutely amazing yet we do not realize how much more amazing it could be if we but availed ourselves of the knowledge of its full use. To live life without Christ is to not know where you came from, where you are going, why tragedies, wars, suffering, and the like occur. It is to be without divine comfort. It is to live with guilt perhaps never receiving forgiveness. It is to not know why you were created and what God’s plan for your life is.

I am but a flawed follower of Christ but one striving to be more and more like him. I accept I will at times be ridiculed, laughed at, called names, considered ignorant and even persecuted. If the world can reject a perfect man full of love like Jesus Christ what hope have I to avoid persecution if I follow in His footsteps? If I am persecuted for doing good then such persecution I gladly accept. My greatest desire is to be an example of Christ to those I encounter. That in some small way they may see a difference in my life. Through my prayers and God’s sovereign grace I hope they will join me in living life to the fullest and knowing eternal forgiveness, peace, joy, and fellowship.


Loving the Darkness

I think the #1 reason people refuse to follow Christ is a failure to grasp the holiness of God and by contrast their sinfulness. We compare ourselves to an arbitrary standard, pick out the worst in society or history, and judge ourselves to be “pretty good.” Therefore, if there is a God (not that they need one), then surely he would not reject a “good person.” Yet our righteousness is like a dark cave compared to God’s which is like the blinding sun at noonday. Stare at the sun too long and you will blind yourself. Our eyes simply cannot handle that much pure light.

Imagine a man who lived his entire life from birth in a dark cave with seemingly no way out. A stream trickles through with some fish and the climate is warm enough that he does not die from exposure. His eyes have grown accustomed to the darkness of the cave. He can’t really see much but his eyes, accustomed to the extreme darkness, can make out a little. Then one day some cave explorers find a way into his cave and discover him. They have bright lights on their heads that blind him. He has to look away as he’s never seen such brightness. He can’t understand their language but they seem trusting and he allows them to lead him. Realizing his eyes aren’t ready for the full light they put a bag over his head as they approach the exit. At first he is frightened why they would do such a thing but suddenly he senses he is in more light than he thought possible even with a dark bag over his head. It takes months of gradual exposure to the light for him to get to where he can open his eyes fully outdoors. Finally he can see and a new world all around him. A world he could never have imagined. Yet compared to the brightness of the pure sun he is still limited in what he can see as are all the others there who never knew the darkness he did. He can though see more than he could have imagined.

We are spiritually born into utter darkness like the man in the cave. All we know is darkness yet are convinced we can see as our eyes have adjusted to the darkness and we can dimly make out a few things. We have no idea that such brightness as the sun exists! Indeed it is so foreign to all we’ve even known that we cannot even imagine such a thing. We have no idea what we are missing outside of that cave. We don’t even realize a world exists outside that cave. We don’t know we’re in a cave. The cave is our world, our universe. We have no idea how we got there or what awaits us.

One day someone comes into our cave and through sign language communicates the idea that there is a whole wide world outside the cave and that there is light in that world. We have to choose though if we are willing to leave the safety and comfort of the cave (at least it feels safe and comfortable to us) or venture outside into the light. Scarcely believing such a world exists and feeling we already have all we need we decline to follow. Why go we reason? There is nothing more to life than what we have. This person is deluded. Logically they are either a liar, a lunatic, or highly unlikely are correct. We don’t trust them. Even if they are correct how do we know what the outside is like? What if they make us a prisoner or make us live a miserable life? Why risk so much for the unknown that really doesn’t make sense to us? So we stay (John 3:19).

Jesus Christ is the man coming into the cave to lead us out into the light. Yet we love the darkness more than the light. God the Father is the sun. His holiness is SO bright our eyes cannot look upon it. We will need new eyes if we ever hope to gaze upon such light. If we follow Christ out of the cave our eyes begin to adjust to the light slowly over time. We begin to see our sin but also the greatness and grace of God and the beauty of all He has created. No longer hidden away in darkness we now marvel in the light. Such beauty! So much to marvel at! We are aware though that compared to the brightness of the sun we are still in relative darkness but for the first time in our lives we understand that there is more than the pure darkness. There is a marvelous light. We cannot fully gaze upon it yet but we look forward to the day we can.

Praise God that He sends His Son (John 9:4) to us in the darkness of our sin and leads us into the light and into a life we never knew possible! Those in the darkness think they are the ones having all the fun with absolutely no idea how much they are missing out on. Non-Christians think Christians lead boring lives not allowed to have any fun. How little do they realize that true fun is not in license to do whatever we want (which in their case is controlled by their blindness) but in the freedom to be whom God created us to be. We are not slaves or handcuffed. We are living the life God designed us to live.

If you are wealthy enough you can buy a sports cars capable of hitting speeds of 260 mph. Yet if all you do is drive it around town in 25-45 mph zones you have no idea what the car is capable of and the feeling of opening it up wide and feeling the hum of the engine as the car rockets to its maximum speed. You will never know the thrill or riding a bike until you take the training wheels off. Those in Christ are living life to the full. Their engines are running full throttle. Those who reject Christ are driving that expensive sports car at 35 mph having no idea what more that car could do.

Too many are born, live, and die in the cave never knowing the light. When their eyes are finally opened it is on Judgement Day and it is too late. The passed up on their opportunity to leave the cave preferring the darkness. Given their choice God rightfully sentences them to eternal darkness. That is after all what they wanted. They had a chance to step out into the light and see but they preferred the darkness. Their lifetime passed without ever choosing to leave the cave so now they will dwell in eternal darkness. Yet now, for a time of judgment, their eyes are open and they are startled by what they see. Yet all too quickly they are taken back to the darkness from which they will never leave. The greatest suffering they will experience is having glimpsed the light and now with understanding realize their doom. Oh they will curse God and hate Him for not allowing them into His light! Yet for a lifetime they refused Him. He sent many to their cave to rescue them but they refused to leave. They were told about the marvels that awaited them outside the cave yet still would not leave. The rejected everyone who ever came to them. So now God has given them an eternity to live out their choice. They got what they spent a lifetime wanting. Yet somehow God is at fault!

No God is not at fault. We must take responsibility for our choices. Faith is when we do take responsibility for our sin and acknowledge it to God and ask for His forgiveness, His grace, and ask Him to lead us to the light promising to follow Him. The choice is ours. Do we stay in the cave of eternal darkness or do we step out in faith and embrace the light? Do we believe we are already living life to the full or do we trust God to show us how to really live life to the full? Do we accept our car can only do 55 mph or trust that it really can do 260 mph and even more?

That is the question. That is the choice. How will you choose?


Common Misunderstandings About Christians

In the ongoing discussion about same-sex marriages (now decided by the Supreme Court) I keep hearing two charges against Christians that are misunderstandings of Biblical teaching. Most of those who spout these things are just blindly repeating what they have heard others say making no attempt to understand the Christian perspective. We live in the age of Google and other search engines so it’s not very hard to search the topic and get some different perspectives.

The first charge I hear against Christians is that we are not to judge anyone. They know that somewhere in the Bible is a command to not judge.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.… (Matthew 7:1)

The problem with the use of this verse is that it needs to be understood in it’s context. This verse deals with situations where we judge either with improper motives, without knowing someone’s heart, or by making up a requirement and then expecting others to live up to it. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time were famous for this. To apply Scripture and call something sin that God has called sin is NOT judging. That is simply applying Scripture and standing up for right and wrong. We are called to be light and salt to our generation and we can’t fully do that if we never speak out against sin or evil.

Although the origins of this quote are still under debate, this famous quote (though not from the Bible but certainly based on Biblical principles) applies here:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Winston Churchill used this quote during WWII. As Christians in an increasingly secular and godless world we must “do something.” That “something” is to proclaim the Gospel and at times to confront sin and evil and call it what it is. Our aim should always be to lead men to repentance not to just go off on them and then feel smug and superior. At the same time we live in a world that puts tolerance and acceptance about all else. We are turning perverse into diverse. Perversity into diversity. If we fail to (lovingly) proclaim the truth soon there will be no one doing so. Society is like the frog in the water that is slowly heating up until it’s boiling. The frog’s body adjusts to the increasing temperature to a degree then suddenly it is killed by the boiling water. The more sinful actions are accepted as “normal” by society the easier it will be to get new sinful actions accepted.

Jesus told us to count the cost and that devotion to Him would at times lead to persecution. We should not be surprised then if we are attacked for opposing things like same-sex marriage. We will be told we are ignorant, bigoted, intolerant, hateful, etc. We may lose friends over it or customers. It is precisely at this time that we cannot fail to be a witness and stand up for what is right no matter what the cost. I love how Billy Graham recently put it: “Our society strives to avoid the possibility of offending anyone – except God.” How true.

The second misconception is that Christians are to love everyone. That IS true but you can love someone and still believe they are living in sin. In fact sometimes the loving thing to do is to warn someone of the consequences of their actions. Parents love their children yet at times must deny them things or make them do things they don’t like. We do it out of love for our children because we know what’s best for them. Likewise we have to sometimes pull a friend aside and share something about them that they may not like hearing but we know they need to hear. Just avoiding anything someone might not like to hear is not love. Love wants what’s best for that person not just what they want. We are to “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Love does not mean condoning any action anyone takes. You can love your neighbor in many ways yet still disapprove of his actions.

When Jesus was left alone with the woman caught in adultery He showed grace and forgiveness and love yet He still told her to “go and sin no more.” Likewise Jesus told the woman at the well that the man she was living with was not her husband. He did not stay silent on that. Jesus got violent when confronting the money changers in the Temple. Was that a failure to love on Jesus’ part in any of those 3 situations? No!

We must gently correct those who throw these charges around. We must do a Peter wrote:

always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (1 Peter 3:15)

Let us be loving yet firm and stand up for the truth. Let us remind the world that God is still on the throne and will be The Judge.


What About Homosexuality?

Homosexual rights and same sex marriage have become the civil rights battle of our age. Supporters of same sex marriage often shake their heads at anyone in opposition calling us narrow minded, ignorant, bigoted, or religious whack jobs. We’re told no one is hurt and we should all be equal under the law.

Before I move onto my main point I would suggest a quick detour to the nature of our laws. Almost every law we have is somewhat arbitrary and and won by the majority. Why was the law of the land a speed limit of 55 for so many years? Why not 50, 60, 65? Why not let each state determine on their own roads what the right limit should be (technically they still had that right but would be denied much needed federal highway funds if they chose a higher speed limit). Why is sex between a 18 year old boy and a 17 year old girl a crime? We might question a 50 year old man having sex with a 17 year old girl but an 18 year old boy? What changes when someone turns 18? Are not some 17 year old’s far more mature than some 20 year old’s? I could go on and on but in the end society has to establish some laws, some limits, some minimums and maximums. We don’t all agree with each and every law. Some change with time. Public morality changes with time.

So why should I, as a Christian, stand in the way of a same sex couple who love each other from getting married? Well for starters I live in a democracy where we are each allowed to vote according to our conscience. How I arrive at my voting choice is up to me.I have just as much right to my opinion as does everyone else. Those opposed to me seem to think I have some moral requirement to “live and let live” and not stand in the way of the choice of others. Yet in a democracy we don’t have to all agree.You may not agree with my reasons but that does not make them less valid. I may live in a secular society but that does not mean I have to put aside my spiritual beliefs when it comes time to vote. We are all guided by something be it personal values, religious beliefs, philosophy, or whim. Their belief that same sex marriage is just as valuable as opposite sex marriage is still a belief!

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis was once asked about this very topic (of homosexuality) and this is what he wrote:

I have seen less than you but more than I wanted of this terrible problem. I will discuss your letter with those whom I think wise in Christ. This is only an interim report. First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forgo otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be? I wish I had a letter which a pious male homosexual, now dead, once wrote to me—but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women could not give. But it is all horribly vague and long ago. Perhaps any homosexual who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way. Jealousy (this another homo. admitted to me) is far more rampant and deadly among them than among us. And I don’t think little concessions like wearing the clothes of the other sex in private is the right line, either. It is the duties, burdens, the characteristic virtues of the other sex, I suspect, which the patient must try to cultivate. I have mentioned humility because male homosexuals (I don’t know about women) are rather apt, the moment they find you don’t treat them with horror and contempt, to rush to the opposite pole and start implying that they are somehow superior to the normal type. I wish I could be more definite. All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it must be sought.

Lewis took a unique perspective here. He did not get into the debate as to whether people are born gay or not nor what made them that way. He simply stated that regardless of their circumstances they were to still obey God’s Word and see a vocation from their tribulation. Any honest reading of the Bible must conclude that God intended sex and marriage to be between the opposite sex. Most people in this country oppose polygamy yet what if they argued they were born that way and it was just as natural for them to have multiple wives (or be one of the wives of a man) as for others to stick to one partner? Does not society have to decide and do we not do so by voting our consciences?

It is time to stop the name calling and labeling and accept we each have a view and are entitled to it. I will vote my conscience as informed by my faith. I don’t believe in same sex marriage because God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. That has not nor ever will change. I live in a democracy though and others will vote according to their beliefs. I fully expect that at some point in time same sex marriage will be the law of the land. Not with my support but then this is a democracy and my vote is but one. It is my right and not born out of ignorance, hatred, close-mindedness, or bigotry. It is a reasoned decision based upon my faith.


Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I have read many impassioned pleas by those who feel Christians are to blame for them not having the right to same sex marriage or abortion. They ask why we can’t just let it go and if they are wrong then let God show them. As one woman on Facebook put it:

You are going to be just fine should I choose to marry a woman…you really don’t need to be in control of who I choose to be with … no matter how you feel about homosexual unions… it is not really important for you to control it. If you really feel it is a “sin,” then let God teach me…that is His/Her/whatever you believe’s job, not yours. LET IT GO!!!

While I know she writes with great passion for her beliefs I must point out a few flaws in her logic. First, we live in a democracy which means we all have equal rights to voice our opinions and beliefs and support the candidates we want and vote according to our conscience. We believe in the First Amendment which is why there was such an outcry when the French satirical journalists were killed by Islamic extremists. So I have just as much right to oppose same sex marriage or abortion as she has to support it. What she wants is not really free speech. She wants a world in which no one will stand up for what they believe if it might impose on someone else’s choices. Yet is society acted as she wishes we would have very few laws and soon lawlessness would reign. Why have a speed limit if it imposes on someone’s joy in driving 120 mph? Our founding fathers believed that we each have a voice and it is by engaging those voices and debate that we often arrive at the best decision. We should not silence those whose beliefs might oppose other’s beliefs.

Second she fails to understand Christianity although that is not her sole focus. Her statement implies it is only God’s role to teach. Hebrews 5:12 says “by reason of time you ought to be teachers.” Teacher is a role and gift listed in Scripture. God teaches us by His Word (the Bible) and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit yet gifts some with a special talent for teaching. Parents are to teach their children in the ways of the Lord just as those with the gift of teaching are to instruct the church. This writer has failed to consider that God may be trying to teach her through the voices she so opposes.

This generation has mistakenly made tolerance the highest moral value. Live and let live some say. Yet at times opposition is a gift from heaven to keep us from harming ourselves or others. Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; But the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” A true friend will not be afraid to tell it like it is even at the risk of offending you. Would you prefer your doctor not to inform you that you have cancer because that might upset you? Would it not be better to know the truth as there might still be time to treat the cancer and live? We value a friend who can correct us when we are wrong and change the course we are on. If we tolerated all our children’s selfishness and disobedience they would grow up to be selfish, entitled adults expecting the world to bow to their will. Parents are not always and at all times their children’s best friends.

The Bible tells us that absolute truth does exist and is defined by God. We may live in a pluralistic society with all sorts of beliefs but for the Christian there are absolutes and we must always uphold them. It is clear from my reading of the Bible that God created marriage to be between one man and one woman only. Not two men or two women. Sex between two men or two women is likewise condemned. I realize not all agree nor care what I believe but my highest allegiance is to God and as long as my government allows me free speech and to vote my conscience I will oppose same sex marriage. I don’t hate same sex couples but I cannot agree that what they want is marriage. Certainly not as God defined marriage and He is THE author of marriage. I would lovingly call them to consider God’s purpose for their lives and for marriage. I am though but one voice and ultimately the majority will likely prevail. I have no doubt in time that same sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states. That does not make it right. Nearly all of Germany supported Hitler yet that did not make him a good or moral man.

God calls us to be His witnesses for the truth. We have voices and must use them. Whether we carry the vote in the end or not we are to speak the truth in love. I’m sorry this woman cannot see that. She thinks us as mean spirited or controlling. Is a parent who forbids their child from playing with matches being controlling? Perhaps but that control may just save their child’s life. God gave them the role of parenting their children teaching them right from wrong. Likewise God has given His children the role of standing up for good and truth in this world. We cannot fail Him. We must speak the truth no matter how unpopular and if we are the only one. That is not control it is love.


Who Hijacked Christmas?

CrossTree-1

So it is Christmas time once again and once again I must ask why in the world do non-Christians celebrate Christmas? It makes about as much sense as the British celebrating the 4th of July. Sure fireworks and BBQs are fun but the 4th of July was when their American colonists turned their backs on Mother Britain and declared their Independence. Hardly a reason for celebration.

Yet that is precisely what the vast majority of Americans (and other nations) do at Christmas.  They turn their backs on God and have hijacked Christmas and turned it into a celebration that has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus Christ. We might tolerate some sacred Christmas hymns in the background at the mall and we might even let our shadow fall upon the entrance of a church on Christmas Day but deep down inside these things are not what Christmas is all about for most.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the celebration of God’s gift to us. The most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16, sums it up perfectly: “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life.” So the gift giving was from God to us. What about those Wise-men? They gave gifts back to God in recognition of His gift to us. They did not give each other gifts. If we truly want to emulate them we should give to God by giving to those in need (as God needs nothing).

Yet we run around like proverbial Chickens with our heads cut off trying to figure out what to give to Aunt Jean and nephew Josh who seemingly already has every X-Box game in existence. We fight the traffic, fight the crowds, stand in Black Friday lines, and overspend to give more to those who already have more than enough! Now what on earth does any of that have to do with the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?

The problem with Christmas today is that it is missing Christ! He is not the “reason for the season” (truly He is but not as we celebrate Christmas). Buying, giving, and receiving gifts is the new “reason for the season.” We’ve forgotten God’s gift to us and instead substituted our gifts to each other. Spending time with family and having traditions is wonderful but if Christ is missing from Christmas we are celebrating a phony holiday. Christmas has been hijacked.

There were no reindeer or Santas in the stable when Jesus was born nor were there any bunnies with baskets full of candy when Jesus rose from the dead. If those holidays for you are not about Christ could you do us all a favor and be honest and create some other holidays at some other time? Yes the emperor Constantine hijacked the end of the Winter Solstice to assign a date for Christmas. I wish he has never done that. The birth of Christ can stand alone quite well thank you. We don’t know the exact day on which He was born but that doesn’t matter you see because those who welcome Christ into their hearts celebrate His birth every day. Charity also has no time of year. You can give to the poor and those in need 365 days of the year. When children write lists and pout when they don’t get everything on them and we spend more than we can afford to “give our children a good Christmas” we know we have the wrong priorities at least if we are claiming to be celebrating Christmas. Now Christmas has encroached upon Thanksgiving! A day started by the Pilgrims to thank God for their survival has turned into the beginning of the holiday shopping frenzy. I read this morning of people waiting in line for K-Mart to open at 6am on Thanksgiving Day. We have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now Green Monday. Where does it end?

If Jesus is not your reason for the season, do us all a big favor and start your own holiday. Quit hijacking Christmas! The only present I will ever need God has already given me. Jesus!


What is Greatness?

I just finished watching (again) the excellent HBO mini series “John Adams.” It is a wonderful account of our Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation. Woven throughout the account is the story of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. They began as allies working together on the Declaration of Independence and being great friends. Politics though divided them as Adams was in favor of a strong Federal government whereas Jefferson stood for State’s rights with only a small Federal role. Jefferson stooped to low blows (all too common today) in order to defeat Adams in his bid for re-election after becoming our second President. Late in life for both men they reconciled though only through the pen never visiting each other again. The deep respect and friendship survived the years of politics and age brought wisdom and charity to both men and ironically and providentially both men died on July 4th on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Without doubt both were great men with great vision and passion. They had the courage to risk their lives to stand for rebellion and the dissolution with England. Both had great wisdom in formulating the government for this nation while flawed still stands as perhaps the greatest government of men ever created save God’s own governing of Israel. Their names are still known to us over 250 years later yet for all their great accomplishments it still comes down to one thing. Did they know Jesus Christ and follow him? No earthly accomplishment no matter how great and no matter how many are benefited can overcome a lack of faith. In the light of eternity what we build in this life, no matter how good and lasting, will not last. The Roman Empire stood for a thousand years yet eventually was conquered by Germanic hordes. The United States is still young compared to the Romans. If the Lord tarries it will one day be supplanted.

I sometimes fear my life has not accomplished much and indeed I should desire it to do so providing I labor for the Lord’s glory. Yet one life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is immeasurably more valuable than the greatest of secular giants if it is lived for the glory of God. We are stewards of what God has entrusted us with and so until He returns we are to strive to govern as best we can, cure diseases, and provide jobs yet all of that will one day be destroyed when God remakes the universe. What lives for eternity is our souls and our faith. That no fire will ever touch.

I applaud such great men as Adams and Jefferson. Truly their Creator endowed them with great gifts. Let us pray for such gifts but let us use our gifts and resources, whether great or small, to the glory of the one, true God. For indeed what profits a man to gain the whole world but lose his very soul?

Perhaps Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson are in heaven. I hope so. Let us never though fear our accomplishments too meager if the love of God is in our hearts. Such love triumphs over all accomplishments for it is not by works but by faith that given by the grace of God that saves us. Praise be to God!


Two New Saints?

Statue of Pope Paul II falls and crushes a man to death just 2 days before John Paul II is declared a Saint. Where was his intercession on behalf of this man?Image: Statue of Pope Paul II falls and crushes a man to death just 2 days before John Paul II is declared a Saint. Where was his intercession on behalf of this man?

Yesterday Pope Francis honored John XXIII and John Paul II declaring them saints. Sainthood is a uniquely Roman Catholic practice that is not well understood by non-Catholics and perhaps even some Catholics. I’ve read where some Catholic commentators liken a saint to a hero of the faith. Someone to look up to and celebrate.The Roman Catholic Church teaches that saints are to be venerated which means to revere or hold in deep respect. Nothing wrong with having heroes or great examples of faith. However, in Roman Catholic theology a saint is more than a hero.

The Catholic Church has redefined the Biblical term “saint” or added a new class of saints. Biblically anyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ is a saint. Saints are not a special class of believers set apart by especially noteworthy lives or supposed miracles attributed to them nor subject to any earthy inquiry and ceremony. All who are in Christ are saints. So the Roman Catholic use of the term saint and declaring certain people saints is not using the term in its Biblical sense.

More than that though their belief about what sainthood means is also non-Biblical. Among other requirements, candidates for sainthood must have two miracles attributed to them. One while living and another after death.The purpose of there being a miracle after death is to prove the candidate is in heaven, receiving our prayers, and interceding before God on behalf. Yet nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to anyone other than God! There is not one example of Jesus, the Apostles, or any of Christ’s followers praying to anyone but God alone. 1 Timothy 2:5 says there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The Catholic Church tries to side step this verse by claiming it does not preclude “lesser mediators.” Therefore Christ is our “one mediator” when it comes to salvation but other mediators are possible in lesser matters. They cite the Apostle Paul exhorting men to make intercessory prayers. Yet Paul was writing to living men. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest there is any possibility of someone in this life communicating with someone in heaven other than God Himself. In fact, prayer, but it’s very definition is communication with God! To use the word prayer to cover communication with someone who has died and believed to be in heaven is a misuse of the word. Christ is the one who intercedes on our behalf before the Father and it is to Him alone we pray.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. (Romans 8:34 NIV)

If we have Christ interceding for us why would we need anyone else? Do we imagine a sovereign God is persuaded in His actions by the intercession of a “saint?” No! We pray not to persuade God but to be changed by our prayers into trusting God, His mercy, His goodness, and His will. Prayer changes us not God. God does not change His mind because of our prayers or anyone else’s. So why do we ask other people to pray for us? It gives us comfort, it reminds us that we are all one in Christ, it teaches us all to look to God, trust in Him, and accept His will. God though is sovereign. His will is not moved by our prayers nor swayed by the sheer volume of prayers. To suggest a “saint” or Mary “has God’s ear” and can intercede on our behalf is not only un-Biblical but robs Christ of His role as our sole mediator.

What about the miracles attributed to the intercession of these former Popes or other past saints? Certainly God has and can perform miracles but Biblical miracles are always done for the glory of God. In the Book of Acts we find in chapter 14 an account of Paul healing a lame man. After the healing the crowds became excited exclaiming “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” (Acts 14:11). What was Paul’s response?

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you…” (Acts 14:15)

Paul was desperate to open their eyes that this man was healed by God and not be some “god” as they supposed he was. The focus of all the Biblical miracles was God never the servant through who attended over the miracle. The disciples of Paul did not venerate him because he healed people nor any of the other Apostles. They attributed the miracle to God and God alone. If someone would have tried to honor Paul because it was his intercession that brought about the miracle I can imagine Paul tearing his shirt and demanding that he was nothing and it was by the hand of God the man was healed and not due to Paul in any way. Yet the Roman Catholic Church goes to great lengths to attribute these miracles to the intercession of some saint and the focus quickly becomes the saint and not the Lord.Suddenly everyone is praying to that Saint. One woman was said to have been cured by holding a picture of the late Pope to the tumor on her neck and leaving it there overnight while praying to him. I have a very hard time with that. Biblical miracles never drew attention to the hands through which God worked but to God Himself. While Jesus once used spit and mud He never gave someone a piece of his clothing and told them to wrap their lame leg in it or sleep with it on their eyes. The whole focus is wrong in the case of the Catholic sainthood “miracles.”

I would even suggest it’s possible these were not true miracles. While only God knows it would not be unlike Satan to cure someone if it put the focus on a man and not on God. Now we have a billion Catholics world wide praying to “saints” and venerating them rather than focusing all their attention on the Lord.

Many have also suggested that the choice of these two Popes is to politically be inclusive by making saints of two different styles of Pope. While I cannot read the mind of Pope Francis the mere suggestion makes the whole thing more laughable. Should “saints” be chosen for political considerations?

Sadly sainthood, like so many other uniquely Catholic traditions, is not Biblical. The Catholic faithful don’t seem to mind though. They have bought into the authority of the church and its traditions and do not test by Scripture what they are taught. The Book of Acts highlights the Berean Christians:

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

The examined the Scriptures to test what Paul was teaching them! Even the great Apostle Paul with all the miraculous things God did through him was checked up on by the very people he was teaching. This is mentioned to their credit. That meant opening, reading, and knowing their Scripture. It was not enough that Paul said it. Yet in my 24 years as a Catholic and in the lives of almost every Catholic I know no one questions the priest, the bishop, the cardinal, or the Pope. No one learns their Bible and checks for themselves. If pressed they run to Catholic Answers or some Catholic site to look up a response incapable of searching the Scriptures for themselves.

I hope these two past Popes are in heaven but if they are I guarantee they are not hearing our prayers. Do I question their salvation? Possibly as the Catholic Church does not preach the Gospel as they add works to faith thus preaching a false Gospel and Paul sternly said that if anyone preaches a false Gospel they shall be damned to hell. I will let God decide that though as He is judge.

Let us celebrate all who follow Jesus Christ. They are the saints. They don’t need a ceremony, the blessing of a living Pope, or any man made process. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and not on men.


He is Risen!

Image

The three greatest words ever spoken. Those three words fulfill the hope of millennia of believers. They are the capstone of the great prediction ever made. Those few words separate Jesus Christ from ever other religious leader or so-called “god.” Those three words proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord! Just three words but when you know the significance of them it changes everything.

One day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Today believers the world over bow their knee and confess with their tongues that He is Risen and Jesus Christ is Lord! By the sheer grace of God we do so voluntarily now. We have not seen but believe. One day all will see and that revelation will drive them to their knees. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe! John 20:29.

He is Risen!

 


Is This the Gospel?

An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion[1]” is on the decline.

So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.

Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’  I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house.  Don’t put that in front of my house.  I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)

Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.

In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”

In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?

Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?

God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.

In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:

“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”

My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)

Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”

Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?

Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.

Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”

Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”

“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”

That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.

I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like  Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.

I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:

“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”

His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?

God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).

We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.

The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?


[1] As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.

 


The Good News versus the Bad News

According to Dictionary.com, a preacher is “a person whose occupation or function it is to preach the gospel”. Sounds right. Now what is the gospel? The word “gospel” comes from two Greek words but in essence means “to bring the good news.” The same words were used to describe a messenger or runner sent from the front lines of battle to deliver news of victory to the King. So a preacher is someone who proclaims the good news. Now I come to the crux of the purpose of this article, what is the good news? What victory was won? What great thing happened?

Good news is good exactly because it is not bad. The military messenger’s message would not be good news if the army lost the battle. It is good news because there was an alternative and that was bad news. In the case of the gospel the bad news was not just a potential outcome it was a reality. Every human being is born under the outcome of the bad news. The bad news is that we are all born in sin separated from a Holy God. Theologians call it original sin. It is the sin of Adam and Eve and their disobedience applied to all mankind. When they fell (sinned) in the Garden we (all mankind) fell with them. It was a representative judgment where a group is judged by the actions of one or a few. As a result of that original sin we are born with a sin nature. By nature we are in rebellion against God, against His authority over us. We want to make our own rules, decide our future. We want to be our own man; our own woman. We want to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong. We don’t need God or at least we don’t need a God who is going to tell us how to live and stifle our fun. At least while life is good we can ignore God or at most look to Him as a cosmic vending machine who dispenses only the good things want. Leave religion for the fanatics, the foxholes, the dying, and anyone else not strong enough to stand on their own two feet and thus in need of an imaginary crutch to help them stand.

The Bible describes this state we are born into:

Romans 3:10-12, and 23 
As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” … For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.(NLT)

So Paul’s letter to the Romans informs us that “no one is righteous” (i.e right with God). “No one is seeking God” (i.e. we are not searching for Him). We have all become useless. We have all turned away. No one does good. Not a single one. That is part I of the bad news. All means all as is in everyone! No one means not a single one. There are no exceptions. This is who we are in our natural state which we were born into.

In case you think Paul was not inspired and misrepresented Jesus then hear what Jesus had to say:

Matthew 13-14
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Jesus describes a narrow gate through which we may find eternal life and “few who find it.” We’ll come back to this but that doesn’t exactly sound like the universalist approach that there are “many paths to God.” If that were the case then the gate would be wide yet Jesus said the wide gate “leads to destruction.” Christians are often accused of being narrow minded precisely because we don’t embrace universalism (in case you are not familiar with that term it is a belief that all religion is equal and all bring man in harmony with the divine.) Christians are labeled intolerant because we don’t believe all beliefs are equal. Instead we believe in absolute truth (i.e. that their are absolute truths that cannot be violated and that two “truths” cannot coexist. Buddhism cannot be the path to the same “god” Christianity is. They are not different but equal paths to the same end. They are different paths to different ends.

So where does this leave us?

Romans 6:23 
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (NLT)

Wages are something you are owed for services rendered. You sign an employment contract and you perform your work as instructed then your employer owes you wages as agreed upon in the contract. If not there are laws to protect you and enable you to recover your wages. So you earn your wages. Romans 6:23 says the “wages of sin is death.” What kind of death? Physical death? No worse. Spiritual death. Yes we will die physically and that is part of the punishment of the fall of Adam and Eve but note in this verse death is being contrasted with “eternal life.” Eternal life is eternal life with God which goes far beyond the physical.

There is another critical contrast apparent in this verse. Not that our sin is due wages (i.e. we are owed death) whereas the contrast is the “free gift of God” – eternal life. Can you earn a gift? Dictionary.com defines a gift as:

“something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned”

People give gifts not out of obligation nor expecting repayment. They are unmerited, unearned. Don’t confuse gifts as used in the Bible with our human institution of gift giving. We might withhold a birthday gift from an unruly, or ingracious child saying they don’t deserve it. However that is a contradiction. It would not be a gift if it had to be deserved. Gifts are not earned or owed. A good word to introduce now is the word grace. In the Bible grace comes from a Greek word meaning “unmerited favor.” If God gives a free gift it is pure grace.

So in summary here is the picture. We are born in sin. The wages of sin is death. The road to eternal life is narrow and few find it. The only way out is the free gift of God of eternal life. There you have the bad news. We are sinners deserving hell. There is good news though too! God offers us a free gift of eternal life. How do we get that gift?

John 14:6
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

How many ways are their to God? Jesus said He was the only way. Can Buddhism lead you to God? Can Hinduism? Can Joseph Smith? Can your own spiritual beliefs? Nope. Is that narrow minded? Sure. Is it narrow minded to say “2+2=4” and not 5 or 3? Is it narrow minded to say water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit? No those are absolute truths. Too many people today throw around the term “God/god.” “God” can be anything to anyone. So when I speak of God I mean the God of the Old and New Testament. I mean Jesus Christ. I mean him and him alone. I have run into spiritual teachers who say they believe in Jesus but they also believe in Buddha, Confucius, and a host of others. No Jesus said He is the only way. He is not a path he is the (one and only) path. 

Now some of you may have been reading earlier in this article and raised an understandable question. Why should I be born in sin because of what Adam and Eve did? That doesn’t seem fair. Shouldn’t I stand or fall on my own? Hmmmm…ok do you really think you could live a lifetime and never sin? Have you ever even made it through a day or a week? You’ve never lusted in an improper way? You’ve never had hateful thoughts toward someone? You’ve never lied? Never cheated? We live in a world today full of temptation. We have Internet porn, unlimited access to entertainment of all kinds not all of which are good, streets full of sights and sounds meant to entice us to sin. Now think about Adam and Eve. They lived in a beautiful garden. No tv, no radio, no billboards, X rated movies. Just the two of them and God. Plus they were born without original sin. So they had a nature that could truly chose between right and wrong. Yet what happened when temptation came in the form of a snake but in the person of Satan? They caved in minutes. Do you really think you could have done better? Really? Ok so maybe you do. Maybe you think you could have lived a lifetime without every once sinning. If so you would have then been very lonely in heaven as I don’t think anyone else would be joining you! Was it really unfair of God though to judge us through Adam and Eve? Consider the flip side of that coin. In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul refers to Adam as the “first man” and Jesus as the ‘last man.” Remember the story of David and Goliath? The Philistines had this giant of a man that no one could defeat in battle. There mere sight of him put fear in men’s hearts. Goliath taunted the Israelites offering to fight their best man winner take all. It was really psychological warfare as the Philistines knew nobody in Israel would dare take on Goliath with the nation’s fate riding on the outcome. What they were proposing though was representative form of war. We each pick our best warrior and let them decide if for the rest of us. We should be able to relate to that. Many of us live in democratic countries where we elect our representatives. We don’t get to vote on bills they do. On a much larger scale our military represents the whole country. During WWII the US had approximately 16 million men and women serving in the military in some capacity. That represented about 11% of the total population. In subsequent wars the percentages have been much smaller. Still 11% represented 140 million.Had they failed out country might have eventually fallen. Let’s go back to the free gift of God or grace. God could have left us in our sins, sent us all to hell, and we would have had no right to complain. Instead He freely gave of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus was our David. He took on that giant of sin and through His death on the cross and His shed blood he won the victory. He sacrificed Himself for us. Except His death was not the end as death had no hold on him. 3 days later her rose from the dead. All we have to do is accept his death and victory on our behalf and put our faith and trust in Him and Him alone. That sounds like good news to me! If you don’t like the good news and think you can do better on your own then I hope you can lead a sinless life. I’m sure it’s already too late for that though. Plus we are born in sin so you are born condemned and incapable of leading a sinless life.Jesus is the way. The only way.

Would the Good News be good news if you did not know the bad news? Imagine the king when the runner appears and announced we won the battle and the King says “what battle?” “All my troops are resting and none are at battle so I don’t know what you are talking about.” Until we realize we have a sin problem that has eternal consequences we are tempted to think we are fine. We think we are a “good person” and therefore surely God will let us into heaven. We don’t, nor could, understand the absolute holiness of God. He cannot allow sin in His presence. Not any amount. No one can be good enough.

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.

You can’t earn your salvation. As we saw earlier it is a gift not something you earned and God owes you. It is “not as a result of works.” This is a stumbling block to the pride of man. We want to believe we are good. We want to believe we contributed to our salvation. It is a blow to our ego to admit we can do nothing to save ourselves. God has to do it all. Yes when we truly understand the “bad news” we are so grateful that God made a way. He could have left us in our sins but chose to send His Son to die for us. We can be washed by His blood and have our sins erased. We marvel that God would save us.

I took pains to explain this because in my next post I want to address the trend today to ignore the bad news and even aspects of the Good News. Many pastors/preachers today are motivational speakers rather than preachers of the Bible. They are more Christian Tony Robbins. Yes there is tremendous motivation in the Bible but Christianity is not about being healthy, wealthy, or being positive all the time. God wants something greater for you. He wants to give you spiritual health, spiritual wealth, and an eternal perspective that allows even the negative things to be seen as part of God’s great plan.


Christmas: The Hijacked Holiday

I’m not sure there has been a greater hijack in history than the holiday of Christmas. Name another holiday whose meaning has been so taken over by secular culture and turned into a major world event? Is Hanukkah celebrated outside the Jewish community? How about Ramadan the great Islamic holiday? Nope. Those holidays are celebrated largely within their faith communities or countries largely dominated by those faiths. No holiday has gained such universal stats as Christmas.

Yet Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Many who celebrate it could care less about Jesus or his birth if they even believe in his existence. Perhaps a parallel, though on a much smaller scale, can be found in Saint Patrick’s Day named after an Irish saint. Here in the United States many people wear green on March 17th, drink green beer, and otherwise make merry. Yet most aren’t Irish nor know a lick about Saint Patrick. Really it’s just an excuse to party!

Christmas has become that. Some staggering percentage of retail sales take place during the Christmas season. Lights go up on houses, trees are decorated, plays and musicals and parties are held. People sing, bake cookies, and especially SHOP. The funny thing about the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is that on the first Christmas the gifts were brought by the Wise Men and given to the baby Jesus. They were gifts from men to God. The Wise Men did not celebrate the birth of the Savior by gifting each other or their friends and loved ones. They gave gifts as an act of worship and celebration to God. Now granted we don’t have the same opportunity they did to literally lay gifts at Jesus’ feet. If we wanted to give gifts in the spirit of the Wise Men we would give to the less fortunate, the needy, and we would give in Jesus’ name. We would have our children save a little allowance or do something to earn a little money to then give to the less fortunate. Yes that spirit does live and charitable giving is undoubtedly highest around Christmas but we are not generally jamming the malls and lining up hours early for the doors to open on Black Friday to buy gifts for the needy. We are buying for ourselves and generally family and perhaps friends who may not be at all needy.

What never ceases to amaze me is how stressed people get around Christmas. So many school events, parties, cookies to bake, decorations to put up, and shopping to be done! No wonder New Year’s is such a huge party. It is almost that great sigh of relief that Christmas is over! We survived the season and now let’s party. We agonize what to get Aunt Gretchen or if Tommy has enough presents already or you should get him more. We go into debt and spend money we should not.

As heartwarming as it is that people donate presents to Toys for Tots or to needy military families those children would not feel left out if they did not receive presents if presents weren’t what Christmas was all about! I’m not a scrooge and against brightening a child’s eyes with a shiny new toy but doesn’t it seem like the true meaning of Christmas has gotten lost in all this shopping and feasting and tradition?

Thus we have sayings like “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Most hear it and ignore it. The ACLU fights over public nativity scenes yet you can’t fail to hear songs on the radio or in the shopping malls full of Christian meaning if you but listen closely. Of course we have Santa Claus, and Frosty, Rudolph and so forth. We love the classic Charlie Brown Christmas. Yet do we recall that at the end Linus read from the Bible about the true meaning of Christmas?

Much good happens at Christmas and many families are reunited and spend meaningful time together. That is good. I have mixed feelings about the hijacking of Christmas. On one hand I regret the meaning of Christmas is lost on so many. They may sing carols that praise God yet in their hearts they do not know Him. For many their celebration of Christmas has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ. His name is not even mentioned except in the name of the holiday itself. In fact it is become more common to say “Happy Holidays” than “Merry Christmas” so as not to offend someone who is say Jewish or Muslim.  That in itself demonstrates how completely Christmas has been hijacked. No one tells me “Happy Holidays” around Hanukkah or Ramadan. No sadly we have all but lost what Christmas is all about. As a child the big debate was always whether we got to open our presents before church of after. If after then church had better go fast!

On the other hand I am thankful for the spirit of giving to the poor and needy even though it represents a tiny fraction of what we spend on the non-needy. In an odd way I am thankful that over 2000 years after his birth Jesus Christ is still being sung about and the world eagerly anticipates the day we celebrate his birth even if it does not believe in him. His impact on history is undeniable.  For those who think him a myth or just a plain man I dare them to name any other myth or mere man who has impacted the world anywhere close to what Jesus has.

My prayer this and every Christmas is that some will remember what Christmas is really all about. God gave us a gift by sending His son Jesus Christ. That was really the first gift and it was given to the spiritually needy which is all of us. Our response should be worship and thankfulness. We should celebrate God’s gift to us as the Wise Men did. We should remember too that God’s gift would not long later give his life for us. He would die a terrible death to shed his blood to wash away our sins.

Yes Christmas is all about giving. It is all about God giving hope and forgiveness to mankind. It is about the greatest story ever told. A true story. As the prophet Isaiah prophesized hundreds of years earlier:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

Now that is something worth celebrating! That is Christmas.


Imagine a World Without Religion

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

 

These are the lyrics to John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine.” It voices a sentiment shared by many in today’s spiritual climate. It suggests a “brotherhood of man” is possible if we can just imagine a better world free from the things that divide us:

  • No heaven
  • No countries
  • No religion
  • No possessions
  • No greed or hunger

The premise is that if we remove these things that historically have caused conflict, division, or even wars then we will achieve a brotherhood of man. Before I address this from a Biblical perspective I want to first make a few comments.

To some extent these things were tenants of Communism. Communism downplayed or forbid religion. In the State approved churches in China, for example, pastors were not allowed to preach on heaven or hell. The government did not want to give people anything to “live or die for.” Lenin’s motto was “From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” There were still possessions but in theory class distinction was eliminated. Your job or education did not determine your income. Just your needs. There were still possessions but in theory no one had considerably more than others since income was distributed by need. A larger family would need more income than a small family but not to give it a higher standard of living. The collective farms run by the State would provide for the sustenance of everyone. So did it work?

History would say NO! The Soviet Union fell apart and China has had to resort to free market reforms. While China still represses religion house churches thrive. I know those who espouse John Lennon’s ideals would say the problem was these things were forced and enforced as opposed to voluntary. They must believe that slowly over a long period of time mankind will see the wisdom of abandoning the things that divide us.

I would ask the question though if these things are the root of the problem. Jesus was confronting the Pharisees who were complaining that His disciples were eating with unclean/unwashed hands. Jesus addressed their concerns saying:

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ (Matthew 15:17-20)

Jesus’ point was that sin begins in the heart, in the mind. A pure heart can look upon the same scene an impure heart can look on and have a very different reaction. The stimulus is the same but the way the heart responds is what is different. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” That is the natural state of man’s heart: desperately wicked. So we have a desperately wicked heart and it is out of our hearts evil comes. So how will removing all outside sources of division cure the heart of man?

If you go back far enough in time there were no countries, few possessions, and few religions yet somehow we got to where we are today. What began the downward spiral? The problem is the heart of man. The wicked and desperate heart brought about wars and greed and division. Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Human history was not very old yet Cain murdered his brother out of jealousy and anger. They were not affected by all the things John Lenon would have us eliminate save religion. They believed in but one God and had no quarrel over land or standard of living. Yet Cain killed his brother. So we see sin already at work so soon after the fall of man.

An analogy might be putting a criminal in prison. We isolate criminals from society and take away their freedom. For the sake of argument let’s assume the prisoner is in solitary confinement.  There he cannot commit any crimes. Has his criminal nature (i.e. his heart) changed? Not necessarily. He may be completely unchanged but lacking the opportunity to pursue criminal acts the inmate cannot commit further crime.  For Lenon’s vision to work hearts would have to change. Merely eliminating countries, and religion, and possessions would not work. Men would still hate, still lie, still cheat, still steal.

Besides you can never eliminate everything that could divide. What about looks, intelligence, talents, and so forth? Those things have longed caused jealousy. They are things we are born with to some extent and so you will never eliminate everything that could cause division. Unless our hearts change it won’t matter what we eliminate.

If religion is one source of division it is interesting to note the attitude of the early Christians as recorded in the Book of Acts chapter 4:

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Here we have a group of highly religious people sharing everything! Some had much to give, some had little, some had only need. There were divisions yet their changed hearts moved them to give for the benefit of others. Christian missionaries have for centuries taught people to read and write, help them become self-sufficient, brought much needed medical attention, and so forth. Yes in time organizations like the Peace Corp did the same as a secular organization but missionaries were doing these things for centuries before any secular groups were and continue to today. Christians run homeless shelters, homes for abused women, orphanages, and so much more.

Religion is often blamed for wars and at times rightly so although often those religious wars are as much about racial and cultural differences as they are about religion. As a Christian I will only defend Biblical Christianity. I do not approve of the Islamic teachings (held by some) that infidels are to convert or die. Yet how many people died under Stalin and Mao? While Hitler claimed a Christian background there was absolutely no evidence of it in his life and his views of racial purity and eliminating the weak were nowhere found in Christianity. Japan’s many atrocities in China, Korea, and in WWII in general was not religiously motivated. The deaths from these sources far exceed deaths from so-called religious wars.

 


Confusing the creation with the Creator

I’ve been on an online dating site and in filling out your profile you have various choices when it comes to your faith. A common one I see chosen is “spiritual but not religious.” That of course could mean just about anything.

One woman I corresponded with reported one night that she had just returned from a run in the foothills and added “that is my church.” 

I get it how being out in the beauty of nature can move you, touch you, and be a spiritual experience. In fact that is very Biblical with the qualification that the “spiritual experience” should be your being moved to praise the Creator for His creation. Nature is God’s creation. When in nature we are in the presence of God but not just when we are in nature.

Even the unbeliever has a soul meant for fellowship with God. What they are feeling in nature is the awe of God’s creation but instead of worshiping the God who created nature they worship the creation. Their “spiritual experience” is not with our Creator. They are not praising Jesus Christ.

Church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him. Church is a group of believers not a building but experiencing the awe of God’s creation is not church. As a believer you can and certainly should worship God when moved by the awe of His creation but that is still not church.

So sad though that people experience the awe of creation yet do not know the Creator. The handiwork of God lies before them and they do not realize it. Romans 1 says they are without excuse. If they can look at the universe and the vastness of God’s creation and not believe in Him then they are blind.

Usually when people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” it means they have no concept of a personal God. They feel something spiritual but not toward God. In a few cases it may be believers that have had bad church experiences and for now are not attending church. To me it’s a red flag. Asking what they mean by it is always interesting.


Love is Kind

The second attribute of love Paul gives us is that love is kind. He began with love is patient and now moves on to kindness. Kindness could be described as an example of love in action. What is wonderful about kindness is that it originates from within us. You can command someone to be kind but if it is not natural for them to be kind the command will have little impact on them and their attempts at kindness will be forced. Yet through the working of the Holy Spirit we can learn to be kind.

I should backup though and first define love. In the Greek language of the Bible there were three words all translated as “love” in the English. Two should be familiar to us. The first is phileo from which we get the word Philadelphia. It speaks of a brotherly love. It is a love two friends or siblings might have toward each other. The second is eros from which we get our word erotic and refers to the physical love a husband and wife would have for each other. The less known word is the Greek agape which is the kind of love God has and is also known as unconditional love. Only God naturally possesses agape love. As believers, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we can possess agape love but it comes from God.

Throughout his discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul exclusively uses the word agape. So he is telling us what God’s love is like and what it should be like in the life of a believer – a follower of Jesus Christ. So agape love is patient and it is kind.

The word “kind” is the Greek word chresteuomai, which means to be adaptable or compliant to the needs of others. This kind of love does not demand that others conform to how we want to love but rather goes outside itself to love others how they need to be loved.

It is a willingness to serve and to change in order to meet the needs of others. By nature we are selfish. We want easy love. Easy love is when you love in a way that is easy and convenient for you. Kindness is when you do something for someone for no other purpose then to love and serve them. Kindness comes from a soft and tender heart. It is able to put the needs of the other above our own needs. It also speaks to the way we treat others. Acts of kindness touch other people’s heart. It makes them feel special. They recognize that you are showing a compassionate, self-sacrificing love.

Gary Chapman wrote a best selling book called The Five Love Languages in which he posits that we each speak one or more of the following types of love languages: 

  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Quality time
  3. Physical touch
  4. Gifts
  5. Acts of service

According to Chapman we don’t just speak one language but we may speak one or two stronger than the rest. These love languages address how we feel loved and how we express love. The point of his research is to help a couple understand themselves and each other. Once you understand how your loved one experiences love you then endeavor to love them in that way. That may not be natural for you. They may desire words of affirmation and you don’t naturally think to affirm them through your words. Or they make value physical touch but you are not a hugger or expressive physically. This is an example of where love is kind. Because you possess an agape love that is kind you change in order to meet their needs. Your love motivates you to love them in the way that is meaningful for them. The easy love would be to love them as you like to be loved. If you love gifts then giving them gifts would be easy for you. Sometimes we make the false assumption that everyone is like us. 

We’ve all have heard of the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While completely good and true we need to put an asterisk on the end. In doing unto others as we would have them do unto us we need to add a footnote that what we really want is for them to love us in a way that is meaningful to us. So doing the same for them means loving them as they need to be loved. It involves kindness. I don’t think any of us would apply the Golden Rule to say that since you’d love everyone to give you hunting related gifts for Christmas that “doing unto them” means giving everyone on your list hunting related gifts. Some may have no use for such gifts. In that application “doing unto them” would mean giving them gifts that were as meaningful to them as hunting gifts are to you.

agape love involves going outside ourselves and doing kind things for others. Simple acts of kindness, even to a total stranger, can convey love in a most powerful way. Christ set the example. It is a Divine act of kindness to save lost sinners. It is agape kindness that says to “Do good to those who persecute you.” Jesus showed kindness on the cross when He prayed to the Father to forgive those crucifying him as they “no not what they do.”

There are many ways to express kindness. It is not the act but the spirit in which is is carried out and our willingness to change to meet other’s needs. To be known as a kind person is a great testimony to agape love working within you.

I truly believe what the Apostle Paul wrote that it is “better to give than receive.” Giving is self-sacrificing especially when we do not receive in kind. It is giving out of pure love for the good of the other expecting nothing in return. It is a desire to bless another with nothing in it for you. agape love is not a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” arrangement. It does not expect an equal amount of love in return. agape love loves purely as an act of kindness toward another.

I try to practice kindness with everyone I meet. I think it is one of the most powerful testimonies I can give to the love of God within me. It’s not forced though. I don’t practice kindness because I think I should. It just flows out of me because the agape love of God is at work within me.

So if you want to practice the Golden Rule love with great kindness. Some think kindness a weakness. No it takes more strength to be kind, to change for the sake of another, than to not practice kindness. If we possess the love of God then our love will be kind.


Thoughts on Christmas 2012

Recently my local Christian radio station encouraged listeners to call into their listener line and comment on their best Christmas memories. I have yet to hear any on the air but I imagine the stories will have to do with family reunions, loved ones returning safely from war, a last Christmas with a loved one, or just great fun times. As I thought about it I could not think of a single meaningful Christmas memory. For various reasons I won’t go into holidays in general have never been much celebrated in my life and I have no traditions around any of the holidays. While others are madly dashing to stores in December and attending all sorts of holiday parties and events my Decembers tend to be pretty close to any other month. This Christmas, like some past, I will spend alone yet I can’t say that bothers me. Oh I would love to spend it with someone but at the same time I don’t find it depressing that I will be alone.

Not having traditions has it’s advantages. For me Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I am not distracted by all the gift giving, events, and family gatherings. At the same time I know December 25th is just a day picked by an ancient Emperor since we don’t know the true day on which Christ was born (probably not in the winter though). As a believer I celebrate the birth of my Savior every day. So while it is nice to gather with other believers in a community celebration Christmas is not that unique for me.

What I told the radio station is that I don’t have any wonderful Christmas memories but perhaps this year will provide one. This might seem backwards but my dear sister is dying of pancreatic cancer. She has fought bravely since March but at this point the cancer has won and her days on this earth are nearing their end. It could even come during this holiday. While it saddens me to no end yet it is a powerful reminder of why Christmas is such a wondrous celebration. We would be without hope had Christ not been born. He came into the world to bring us the Good News and then to pay the price for our sins on the cross. Through His death and resurrection we can live eternally with God in Heaven. 

For many the loss of a loved one at Christmas can forever dampen the holiday for them yet for me it will be a celebration of the birth of my Savior and my sister’s Savior. Though we mourn the death of a loved one because we will miss them so badly yet when they know Christ we know they’ve graduated to glory. We cry because we miss them and feel the loss of them in our life yet we cry not because they are without hope and we will never see them again. Now we look forward to that day we will be reunited with them for all eternity in the very presence of God Himself.

To me the story of the birth of Jesus overcomes our human affairs. In the future my celebration of Christmas will come with the glorious reminder that the birth of our Savior means I will see my sister again.

There is nothing wrong with gathering with family and friends to celebrate Christmas or to attend events and such. As Christians though we need to find our true meaning in what the birth means. Hope was born that night!


Love Is Patient

Paul’s great discourse on love, found in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, begins with “love is patient.”  What does it mean to have patient love? First remember that the Greek word Paul uses here for love is agape. If you recall there are three Greek words all translated “love” in our English Bibles. Agape is the word used to describe God’s love. It is a supernatural love that is not native to us but can be practiced by us through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Patience is not a natural virtue in many of us because patience requires self-sacrifice.  It means putting the good (or perhaps the laziness) of someone else ahead of ourselves. If we are selfish then we will not be patient. Yet as we read the entire text of Paul’s discourse on love we will see that agape love is a self-sacrificing love and therefore incompatible with a lack of patience.

John Piper wrote:

“Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved. It will even suffer and die for the beloved in order that its joy might be full in the life the purity of the beloved” (John Piper, Desiring God206-207).

Patient love is other-directed love.It is a love rooted in desiring the happiness of the other as more important than our own happiness. In fact is a love that finds it’s happiness in the happiness of another. Think of an earthly example. How often must parents be patient in their love for their children? Raising a child takes tremendous patience as we are born immature and rebellious. If our parents ceased to love us the moment they grew impatient their love would be very short-lived. Patiently loving a child though is often easier than patiently loving an adult. The child is our off-spring and their selfishness is regarded as part of their immaturity and thus to be expected to some extent. We still hope for their maturity and our love for them enables us to persevere through much.

When it comes to a fellow adult though, be it a spouse, a boy friend/girl friend, a friend, a family member, a co-worker or neighbor, then we are far less understanding as we believe they are mature enough to not try our patience. Suddenly we become selfish and our needs come before their needs. We run the risk in our divorce friendly society into becoming cynical about relationships and we put our needs first and determine we will never let someone else’s needs trump our own. We look for a partner who will allow us to keep our needs first. If they will do so and your feel compatible then you seek a relationship but protecting your needs is always foremost on your mind. You’ve been burned before so no more.

Yet paradoxically such an attitude really undermines love and lessens the chance at future success. As soon as needs come in conflict, as often they do, then the solution is often another divorce. What makes love work between two people is when they put each other first and learn to find happiness in serving the other. If that brings you happiness then you will never lack for it. If the other person loves you the same in return you will both overflow with happiness. Both will have your needs met yet not in a selfish way.

Happiness is elusive in a sense. If you seek it you won’t find it but if you seek to give it you will find it in return. When you are not at the center of your world, but God is, then patience will go with the territory and you will possess a patient love.

Patience comes from God:

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). And that’s why we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger” (James 1:19).

God’s patience give us time to repent and time to grow in our faith. Patience does not mean inaction but rather faith that our actions will be used by God for good (Romans 8:28).

We all know deep down inside that we are imperfect. We desire that others show us patience. Nothing is worse in a relationship than fearing that one wrong slip up and the other person will dump you. You know you will make mistakes but if they have a patient love they will allow you to grow through your mistakes having faith in you.

Consider practicing a patient love towards all. Remember too that our call to love patiently is not conditional upon being loved patiently in return. As followers of Christ we are to love as He loves. Agape love is unconditional love.Since it seeks not it’s own reward it does not matter how the other responds.We find love in giving love.

A final thought. That does not mean we should enter into a relationship with someone who does not love us.We can love them unconditionally but it would be unwise to seek a marriage with such a person. However we can and should always love patiently and especially in those relationships we already have.

May God grant us the grace to love with patience as He has patiently loved us.


What is love?

I’ve always believed 1 Corinthians 13 to be one of the greatest passages in all of Scripture. If we could just learn to love with the kind of love Paul here describes our marriages would never fail, family strife would not exist, and the world would be an amazing place. The problem is we don’t love like this.

I want to take on one descriptor of love at a time and comment on it. Some of what I say will be commentary-like but I plan to through in personal experience as well. I am by no means perfect at love and fail to live up to these words all the time but by the providence of God my life has taught me to love more like this passage. God’s grace has enabled me to turn the trials into my life into growth and truly He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

This is going to take time but I hope it is of some use.