Thoughts about faith

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What Christmas Means to Me

That’s What Christmas Means to Me

I don’t have decorations or a tree,
They’re not what Christmas means to me.

No stockings or cookies or gifts to see,
That’s not what Christmas means to me.

No holiday parties, no cards or carols.
You must think I’m the Grinch,
With no heart and no Christmas apparel.

It’s actually a birthday, I hope you can see.
A savior was born amid the debris,
Soon there were wise men, down on their knees.

He put aside His crown,
For the earth to come down.
He lived His life to die for you and me,
That’s what Christmas means to me.

Jesus is the reason I celebrate the day,
He was God’s gift as He lay in the hay.
So as you gaze upon the star atop your tree,
Remember that first Christmas and who was born for thee!
His love is a gift, no cost it’s free.
You just have to ask Him down on your knees.

Then next Christmas you will say indeed,
Jesus is the reason, that’s Christmas for me.


Problems with Darwinism

Darwin3

A key thing for me was their challenging the historic notion that given “enough time” an elaborate and lengthy set of conditions could come together by pure chance. Darwin’s analogy that given enough time a group of monkey’s sitting at type writers could eventually produce the collective works of Shakespeare. Just bang on those keys long enough and eventually the works of Shakespeare will appear.

Think about that analogy. Not all the keys on a type writer are letters that can begin a word. Some are not even found in words. So first the monkey has to randomly pick an appropriate key. Now that has to be followed by another random key strike that will produce the exact letter needed to follow that first letter. If that key strike is invalid, that page will never be part of the collective writings of Shakespeare. Ok, so the monkey tears that piece of paper away and tries again. Eventually he’ll get the second letter right but that assumes he first gets the first letter right. Since the monkey has no idea what he’s typing, he never knows when he’s right. It’s all “right” to him. He just types until he’s done with that sheet of paper then puts in the next. If he types a percent sign as the first letter on the page, everything he types after that is wasted because you can’t begin a sentence with a percent sign or have a standalone percent sign.

So we think it’s just a matter of time though until this group of monkeys gets it right. That analogy, though, is way too simplistic. It’s assuming they monkeys don’t break the typewriters before they write the collective works of Shakespeare. It assumes they don’t run out of paper or ribbon. It assumes they know how to load a sheet of paper into the typewriter and later take it out. It’s not just a matter of randomly hitting the correct keys. I assume his analogy included 100 monkeys because 100 could do it faster than 1. As soon as  you have more than 1 monkey though, you introduce the problem of collation. Somehow this group of monkeys all have to hit the exact right sequence of keys, change paper, and all produce the exact pages needed to create the collective works of Shakespeare. When do they start over? After how many hours of typing do you say, “those pages are no good”, throw them out, and start anew? Who decides when their done? How do they even know when to stop typing? What about the billions or trillions of bad pages they produced? What happened to all of them? Let’s assume the collective works of Shakespeare would take up 5000 typed pages. Just a guess but let’s assume that. For 100 monkeys, with infinite time, to randomly produce the exact 5000 typed pages needed they would likely have produced trillions of wasted pages. Let’s say they eventually produced the 5000 needed then died. This all took place in a giant cave. Some future humans discover the cave and we’ll assume the pages have not decayed. How are they going to discover the 5000 pages that make up the collective works of Shakespeare out of those trillions of pages? Imagine the time that would take?

Well if you have infinite time one could say you will eventually do all these things. If we were to make some reasonable estimates about how quickly a monkey can type, eject pages, load new paper, and so on then we can begin to put some framework of time around this. We can also calculate probabilities. If there are X keys on a typewriter but only Y of them are legal letters then we can calculate the probability of a monkey hitting a correct key each time (not necessarily the needed key but at least an allowable character). Oh but we need to add in some probability around how many times the monkey hits 2 or 3 keys at once and not just one. One could easily imagine that for a single monkey to correctly type one page of Shakespeare might take tens of thousands of years. Now consider you need 5000 correctly typed pages. You can start to put some time boundaries on this experiment. If the analogy is that the collective works of Shakespeare correlates to a single living organism then you need all that time just to get the first single celled organism. That is still a drop in the bucket compared to all the complex organism that make up our world. That is like moving on from producing the collective works of Shakespeare to all the works in the Library of Congress. It gets worse. Even that first organism needed those amino acids to exist, in the right temperature range, etc, etc. That presupposes a planet in the right proximity to a star with those amino acids and all of that is the product of random chance. If that is not enough to exhaust your mind, let’s ask two more questions.

If the letters on the page represent amino acids combining in an attempt to create a protein how did those amino acids know to combine and form something? How did the matter, from which the universe was formed, know to behave? How did matter learn to do anything useful? How did matter learn to form stars and planets? How did matter know when to stop forming one thing and not just keep going past the point where something useful then became useless?

Secondly, where did matter come from? Where did the monkeys get the typewriters, paper, and ribbon from?

Back to our analogy again. We can imagine this would all take a very, very, very, very, very long time. How long is long enough? What are the odds that all this could take place in the 18.5 billion years we estimate the universe is old? We will assume there were failed attempts before the present working universe existed. We won’t count those against our 18.5 billion years. We’ll say the clock started ticking with the big bang that started the present universe. Then given all the trillions of things that had to happen after that moment in the exact right sequence (this is all by chance) that 18.5 billion years later we arrive at the universe we know today, is that even close to enough time? Back to our monkeys, if the monkey has say 40 keys on the typewriter (making a number up here) and only 30 of them are usable characters in English, his got a 3 out of 4 chance of hitting a legal character each time. Not bad odds. Now what are his odds of hitting the first letter of the first character in the first work of Shakespeare? He’s got a 1 out of 26 chance of picking the correct first letter but 1 out of 4 times he’s going to hit an illegal character so the odds are less than 1 out of 26. Now with each subsequent letter the odds get worse because not only does the monkey have to hit a key representing a legal character, but it has to be the exact character that comes next in that word in that sentence of that work. It’s one thing for a monkey to randomly strike keys and type “I” and “am.” He also has to get the order right. If the Shakespearean sentence is “I am” and the monkey types “am I” he has failed. Shakespeare had quite a command of the English language and many of his words were much longer than simple words like “I” and “am.” As the words get longer, the odds of randomly typing the right keys in order, get smaller and smaller. As the sentences get longer, the odds go down and down. Now multiply that times all the pages needed. Without calculating actual probabilities, one could imagine the odds of doing this with 100 monkeys is infinitesimally small. For all that to take place in 18.5 billion years, these monkeys are going to have to randomly do the right thing early on in each sequence of key strokes. In other words, to finish in 18.5 billion years, these monkey are going to have to be incredibly lucky. I mean so lucky that it defies credulity. Now you might say it’s possible to win the lottery on the very first ticket you ever buy even if the odds of winning are 1 in 1,000,000. So it’s possible someone could do it. What if I said a group of 100 people all had to win 10,000 lotteries one single ticket purchases in 1 week. We’ll assume there were that many lotteries to play. Now you would laugh at me. You would say that’s not possible. They would need more time than a week to each win 10,000 times! You can only physically walk into so many stores and buy tickets in a week. Beyond that you have to win! You would tell me it’s impossible. No human being could do that in a week.

That’s one of the problems with Darwinism. For pure chance to have produced this universe in 18.5 billion years is just not possible. The odds are so infinitesimally small as to  be impossible. like to hide behind that ridiculous notion that somehow it all could just be correct on the first try of every of the trillion things that have to happen. Sure mathematically it’s possible but math is not always reality. In real life it is completely unreasonable to think that could all happen in 18.5 billion years even though that sounds like an awfully long time. Not when you start to grasp the number of things that have to happen, in the exact correct order, all by chance. To grab on to that belief, and treat it as fact, is insane.

We could all exist in a Matrix-like existence and our Matrix could be a dream of one person in another Matrix who is the dream of one person in another Matrix and so on. Sounds like a good movie but do you really think that is the case? Would you put any money on that in a bet (assuming we had a way to settle the bet?) If after the bet is made, the truth will be reveled, and if you bet wrong you will be killed, would you bet on that explanation? I don’t think so. So why are so many betting on Darwinism and a universe created by chance? Why are so many people completely close-minded to even considering any other explanation? Yeah, it’s insane yet that is precisely the state of our world today. We have to move beyond the real of pure theory and probability, into the rational world of reality. Just because something is theoretically possible does not make it probable. If these odds are so low that a trillion years would not be enough time, would you bet on 18.5 billion years? At what point would you say, “ok, that’s just not enough time?” At what point would you say, “that can’t be right?”

If you believe we all got here by chance, then apparently you are willing to wait for eternity before concluding that is just not the answer.

At some point, the rational mind must say, “this is not rational” and reject it.


Justification

justificationWhole books have been written on justification and imputation. I am not going to attempt to replicate them or give as full of a treatment. My purpose here is only to give an overview.

Let’s start with the term impute or imputation. It comes from Latin and is an accounting term that means “to apply to one’s account.” In finances, expenses are debited and income is credited. So, if something is imputed to you, it is credited to you or your account. The Reformer’s chose this term to differentiate it from the term the Roman Catholic church used which is infuse or infusion. When something is infused it is added to and mixed in with what is already there.  Some people have health conditions that require them to receive infused medication. Instead of receiving a pill or a shot, they spend hours hooked up to an IV that drips and infuses the medication into their blood. An example of this is chemotherapy. Theologically, the term double imputation is used. Consider 2 Cor. 5:21:

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This verse (though not only this verse) shows us double imputation. The first imputation is that of ours sins being imputed to Christ: “for our sake he made him to be sin.” Our sins were not infused into Christ’s as He “knew no sin.” No, our sins were imputed to Christ. Though He had never sinned he took upon Himself all our sins. God did this so that Christ’s death could atone for our sins. Jesus had no sins of His own to atone for but by imputation, he had our sins to atone for. The second imputation is that His righteousness was imputed to us: “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is a righteousness that only God can have. We can never, on our own, posses such righteousness. We become “the righteousness of God” through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Infusion says Christ’s righteousness is added to ours and it is this mixed righteousness that becomes our righteousness before God. What can we add to the righteousness of God? Since God’s righteousness is perfect and complete there is nothing we can add to it. Can you add more time to eternity? Can you add more numbers past infinity? If you have the righteousness of God then you have perfect and complete righteousness. The very righteousness of God Himself! That is what this verse teaches us. Christ took on our sin and atoned for it so that we could take on His righteousness and be saved. One theologian said that two of the most beautiful words in the Bible are for us. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected for us. For us, He took our sins upon Himself and shed His blood to atone for them and gave us His righteousness.

Underlining has been added for emphasis:

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Romans 1:17)

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13)

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith (Romans 9:30)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:21-22)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:30)

Note here we become “righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Sanctification is listed as separate from righteousness and after it.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4)

“In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jeremiah 23:6)

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

Note that righteousness is a gift. If it was something, even in part, we earned it would not be a gift.

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5)

Here we see the world credited which is the same concept as imputation. This verse expressly says faith is “credited as righteousness” to “the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” God justifies “the ungodly.” That does not sound like someone who has had Christ’s righteousness infused into his own. Were that the case, he would not be ungodly. What is credited to him as righteousness? His faith. It is his faith, not his works that are credited as righteousness.

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19)

for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26)

Who does God justify? The “one who has faith in Jesus.” Faith, not works.

and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3:9)

Again, our righteousness is not derived from the Law (works) but “through faith in Christ.” That righteousness “comes from God on the basis of faith.”

I hope these verses show that we are justified on the basis of having been imputed the righteousness of Christ on the basis of our faith in Him, itself a gift of God.

As I have previously written, sanctification necessarily follows justification. Sanctification is an ongoing and progressive work in our lives as we gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6)

Sanctification is that ongoing work that God has begun and will one day perfect.

One misconception I find about salvation by faith alone, is that it becomes a license to sin. Since you are “saved by faith alone” then you can sin all you want once you express faith. Paul addressed this and wrote “May it never be!” Here is the fallacy in that. First, you can express faith but not possess faith. In other words, no expression of faith saves you unless you truly possess faith. You can say all the right words but if in your heart you don’t truly believe what you are saying then that is a counterfeit faith. Ever heard the term, “foxhole faith?” It’s been said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In times of crisis men will sometimes cry out to God for protection or deliverance. Such faith may not be genuine. It may be just a “hail mary” (i.e. just in case God exists I will ask for his help). That’s not to say deathbed faith or foxhole faith is never genuine. God, who alone sees the heart, knows. True faith, while it can be born in a crisis, remains even when the crisis has passed. In His parable of the seed, Jesus talks about how some of the seed sown gets choked out by weeks or never grows. There are those who respond to an invitation of faith, but we see over time that their faith was not genuine. The thief on the cross, one might say, was a “foxhole believer” yet Jesus said he would be with Him that day in Paradise. While his faith might have been expressed under extreme crisis, He possessed true saving faith.

I wrote previously, that God saves us to “walk in good works He prepared beforehand for us.” If you truly possess saving faith it will produce fruit in your life. When God declares you just on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through your faith, He doesn’t just change your status from sinner to saint and then leave you alone. That is a misconception! That is not what salvation by faith alone teaches! When God saves you, He changes you. You are given a new nature. That new nature cannot help but produce faith. Thus, a changed man will not have an attitude of  “I can sin all I want because I am saved by faith alone.”

When we realize how sinful our sin is, and how Christ took our sin upon Him, how can we not want to please and obey Him? If someone saves your life, would you not be grateful to them? If we would be grateful to someone who saved our physical life, would we not be much more grateful to someone who saves our spiritual life and thus our eternal soul?

Sometimes, to try and question salvation by faith alone, people will put hypothetical questions to you like “Could you murder someone, feel no remorse, and still be saved?” My answer would be no! It’s possible a saved person could murder someone (though unlikely) but not without remorse. The Holy Spirit would convict their conscience of their sin. Usually these hypothetical questions presuppose situations that would never occur with a truly saved person. However, if you answer (even with qualification) that yes that person would still be saved, they say “Aha! See, you don’t think how someone lives matters at all. You can say you believe, live like the devil, but still be saved.” If someone is “living like the devil”, and never repents, then I would seriously question their possession of saving faith. I would suspect they never had saving faith and thus are not saved. It is exactly this time of “easy believism” that James and other NT authors write against. Their writings do not teach that we need works to be saved, but that without works we weren’t saved. God does not wait to see those works before He saves us. He saves us when we possess no good works, but transforms us such that good works necessarily follow.

I believe the key to all this, is to understand that saving faith is a gift. God choses who receives this gift. The possession and expression of saving faith is a work of God through us. Without that gift, we can express faith but it is an empty faith and not from God. We should not confuse the two. If you merely express faith without possessing it, you might “live like hell” or have an attitude that you can sin all you want because you are saved by grace, but you will be mistaken and find yourself on Judgment Day hearing “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)


James 2:24 – Faith vs Works

Hebrews111In examining the difference between the Catholic understanding of James 2:24, and the Protestant understanding, I am going to begin by asserting that the Scriptures contain no true contradictions. We may see apparent contradictions (which atheists love to point out without sharing how those apparent contradictions are resolved), but if God is the author of Scripture (which both Protestants and Catholics affirm), then God does not contradict himself. If we think there is a contradiction, then the error is with us, not God. We also must admit that all of Scripture must be considered and we cannot pull one verse out and have it stand on its own. We must consider not only the immediate context but the context of all of Scripture.

Some people think they see a contradiction between Paul’s teachings and James’. They say Paul teaches salvation by faith alone whereas James says saving faith requires works. Who’s right? If we begin with our earlier assumption, that Scripture contains no contradictions, then we must dig deeper if we are to resolve this apparent contraction.

In Ephesians, Paul writes:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB emphasis added)

Here, Paul clearly states that we are “saved through faith”, and to further clarify salvation is by faith alone, Paul adds “not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” His words are very clear as is his meaning. Salvation is by faith alone. Yet, in verse 10, Paul concludes that we (those saved) are God’s workmanship “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” Why does Paul add this right on the heels of saying salvation is by faith alone? Why mention works at all? Paul does so to show that good works are something God “prepared beforehand” so that we would “walk in them.” In other words, God has prepared good works for us to do once we are saved. God does not save us and then leave us as we were. He gives us a new heart, a new nature, no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness.

Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18)

As the saying goes, salvation is by faith alone but faith is never alone. In order for us to walk in those good works God prepared beforehand for us, we must first be saved and changed. God must swap our old heart dead in sin, for a new heart that is a slave to righteousness. Then, and only then, can we walk in those good works prepared beforehand for us.

In Romans, Paul spends a lot of time contrasting the Jewish understanding of salvation with true salvation. The Jews thought that works made them righteous. God gave them the law and they thought by keeping the law they would make themselves righteous. Yet none of them (or us) could perfectly keep the law. James writes:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

You don’t have to break every law. If you break even one, you are guilty of breaking all. It’s interesting that James (who some think is arguing for works salvation) would say this. If our works are necessary for salvation, what happens when we stumble on one point? We become guilty of breaking all the Law. Since none of us (save Christ) can keep the whole Law perfectly, how can we hope to be righteous on our own when even one failure makes us guilty of breaking the entire Law? Obviously, we can’t be righteous on our own.

Back in Romans, Paul anticipates the person who heard his words thinks that if salvation is by faith alone, by God’s grace, then why not go on sinning? After all, our sins are forgiven and covered by God’s grace! Paul answers that thought with an emphatic negative when he writes:

Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Romans 6:15)

So, we are saved by faith, not works, and we are now slaves to righteousness but if we stumble in even one point of the Law, we are guilty of breaking the whole Law. Thankfully, Paul adds that we are now under grace and no longer under the Law. Therefore, we do not have to keep the whole Law perfectly. Does that mean the Law was pointless and of no importance? Paul answers this:

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

The problem, Paul writes, is not the Law but rather sin which dwells in us. The Law itself is holy and righteous and good. Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)

Jesus perfectly kept the Law and thus fulfilled it. When we believe, we receive the righteousness of Christ. We are justified. It is “just as if” we never sinned.

We already saw that Paul says that once we are saved, we are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves to righteousness instead. He goes on to say:

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)

After having been freed from sin (a result of salvation) we derive a benefit namely sanctification (that change and the walking in the good works God prepared beforehand). The ultimate outcome is eternal life.

Given that, how are we to understand Jame’s writing?

If we return to our assumption that Scripture does not contradict itself, then there is only one possible way to understand James. He is writing to warn us, that true saving faith will produce good works. This should not surprise us, as early we read that we were to walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us by God. So works are a necessary and guaranteed outcome of saving faith. Only God can see the heart. Anyone can claim to have been saved based on a confession of faith. Faith though is not just a matter of saying certain words. You have to mean what you say and truly put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savoir.

People have all kinds of mistaken ideas about salvation. They think if you were baptized or if you attend church or if you “lead a good life” you will go to heaven. Other ideas abound. Yet none of these things save you. In multiple places in the NT, we are told to test or examine ourselves to see if our faith is genuine. There could be nothing worse than thinking you are saved when in fact you are not. Scripture does not give a list of required characteristics of someone who is saved, but by studying Scripture you can arrive at a pretty good idea of the kinds of that ought to be true of a believer, and if you see these things in your life, and you’ve put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, you can know you are saved.

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. ” (2 Peter 1:10-11)

Much of what James writes is about those marks of a true believer. James contrasts for us the true believer from the false believer. To quote John MacArthur “The error James assails is faith without works; justification without sanctification; salvation without new life.” (https://www.gty.org/library/questions/QA81/does-james-2-contradict-romans-4)

Someone who thinks they are saved because they prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, or did some other religious act, will have to examine themselves by James’ words. They say they are saved. James said, show me your salvation by your works. James point is that faith without works is a dead faith because true saving faith will always produce good works as we saw earlier. God has prepared “beforehand” good works for the believer to walk in. If we are not walking in good works, then we have a problem and better be questioning our faith to make sure we have not deluded ourselves into thinking we are saved when we aren’t.

The issue between Protestants and Catholics is that Catholics say salvation requires sanctification and thus is not by faith alone. Yet if we make sanctification a requirement for salvation then salvation requires works and Paul clearly wrote that salvation is a free gift of God based on faith alone (not on works that no man should boast…). At times I almost think Protestants and Catholics are saying the same thing but differently. Protestants affirm a saved person will show the fruit of sanctification by good works. If not, they presumably were not ever saved. The exception, of course, would be someone whose salvation happened immediately before death or some severe health crisis (a coma for example) and thus is not able to show the fruit of sanctification. Such a person is still saved. The thief on the cross is the classic example given. Thus, from the Protestant perspective, a saved person will be sanctified. It’s just that sanctification is a process that begins after salvation. Catholics say you have to have sanctification in order to be saved. They allow the exception of the thief on the cross saying he lacked the opportunity to become sanctified (sounds like he was saved by faith alone…). For them, sanctification must happen before salvation. So both say faith is required for salvation. Both say sanctification is a mark of a believer. The difference is when sanctification occurs. Does it come after salvation (Protestant view), or before (and a requirement for) salvation?

If Scripture contains no contradictions, then the answer must be after salvation or Paul’s statement that salvation is by faith alone, not by works, could not be true. To take the Catholic view, you must conclude Paul is wrong in saying salvation is by faith alone.

I don’t know why the Catholic church wants to add sanctification to faith (presumably their understanding of Scripture though to my mind it requires the belief in a contradiction in Scripture). I can see some human reasons why someone might want to add sanctification. One reason is that salvation by faith alone leaves man out of the equation. Since we are told that our faith is a gift of God, then man has nothing to boast about. He can’t say “I did my part.” He can’t say “my salvation is 99% God and 1% me.” No it’s 100% God. Human pride wants to believe we played some part in our salvation. In the Catholic view, you get this. Even though they say faith is from God and sanctification is from God, yet they believe that a single “mortal” sin is sufficient to completely kill all of the grace you possess and send you to hell. They believe you have free will to choose whether or not to commit a mortal sin so in the end, you could always say “I chose not to commit a mortal sin” and therefore I played a small part in my salvation.

I also think we like the idea because we want a way to measure ourselves. We want to make examining ourselves easier.  If we can say, I’ve done good works and never committed a mortal sin, then we can feel good about ourselves. From the church’s perspective, it is a good way to keep the faithful in line. If you feel like you better have good works and need to avoid mortal sins, then you’ll tend to do as you’re told. Fear can be a powerful motive. That’s one thing I found sad about my Catholic mother and other Catholics I have known. While they all felt they would go to heaven, they were never totally sure. There was that fear that after leading a good and faithful life they might lose it all with a mortal sin or get to heaven and find out they did not have enough good works. The Apostle John wrote:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:15-18)

Notice John says that “we may have confidence in the day of judgment.”  He also says that perfect love casts out fear. We don’t need to be fearful about our eternal state. Or, as Paul puts it:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

The word translated “know”, is in the perfect tense in Greek. That means it speaks of a permanent knowledge and the Greek word means to know with absolute certainty without a doubt. Therefore, if we can know with a permanent, absolute knowledge that we are saved, then there is no reason to fear and no chance we can lose that salvation which is an issue for the Catholic belief in a class of sins known as mortal sins.

So, in conclusion, if we can know now that we have eternal life, and have no reason to fear, then our salvation is sure. We cannot lose it. We are saved by faith alone, a faith that is a gift of God. That faith is followed by a lifetime of sanctification as we walk in the good works prepared beforehand for us. There is so much more than could be said, but I will stop here.

Why is this important? Paul said if anyone gives you another gospel, other than the one he delivered, such a person should be anathema (cursed or excommunicated). If we love the truth then we cannot tolerate a lie. A salvation that includes works as a requirement, is a lie. Some Catholics will say, they do not believe in works salvation but rather faith plus sanctification. They try to say sanctification is not a work. What is sanctification then? It is a process in which we live according to our new nature and walk in good works. What Catholics are saying, is that your faith must be accompanied by a sanctified life that produces righteousness. Not as a result of salvation but as a requirement of it. That is by works. If you read the anathemas of the Catholic Council of Trent, anyone believing salvation is by faith alone is to be anathema. According to the Catholic church, this is a grievous error. If so, then we must say their misunderstanding of salvation, and teaching others the same, is also most grievous. You cannot have it both ways. You are either saved by faith alone or faith plus works. Paul answered the question for us; salvation is by faith alone.


Differences: Catholicism vs the Bible

I grew up Roman Catholic. My Mom was a devout Catholic so I did it all from infant baptism to first communion and confirmation plus catechism classes every Sunday until I graduated from high school.

There was a kid at my high school who was in my class but I did not know him well. He approached me in the spring of my freshman year and asked if he could share the “Four Spiritual Laws” with me (Campus Crusade for Christ pamphlet). I said he could but would not have time after school until track season ended. With about 2 weeks left in the school year we met in a classroom after school. I can still picture the room. He went through the booklet and asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Christ into my heart.

Now after all those years of Catholic education you would think I would have told him I already had Christ in my heart. After all I had been baptized and confirmed. I had committed no mortal sins. Yet I wanted to pray that prayer. I felt no pressure. It was just him and me and God. I didn’t care what this kid thought of me. I knew, by the grace of God, that I needed to give my life to him.  Those things I had done as a Catholic were just a matter of following the plan. You did those things because it was time and expected. I don’t recall the nuns ever saying confirmation, for example, was optional and we shouldn’t participate if we weren’t sure. I imagine my mom would have been perplexed had I announced I didn’t want to get confirmed and the nuns would have been talking to me… It’s not that I didn’t want to get confirmed when that time came but I did it because it was expected. I didn’t really feel like I was making a commitment or a decision. It wasn’t being done on my initiative. Now I was deciding on my initiative that I wanted to give my life to Christ. No one knew what was happening that afternoon except me, this boy, and God. So I prayed.

The heavens didn’t open and I felt no different, though I felt at peace. Yet what a change started in me! We had an over sized, soft covered, gold edged, Catholic Bible sitting on our coffee table at home collecting dust. My Mom had filled out the section at the front with birth dates and such but otherwise that Bible was never opened. No one told me to read the Bible. Not the kid at school, not the nuns or priests, not my parents. The Holy Spirit led me to pick that Bible up and start reading. I started in Genesis and over several months read to the end of Revelation. I became the first person in my family to read the entire Bible. Over the remaining three years of high school I read that Bible completely three more times. Not normal reading for most high school kids especially kids who went to the Catholic Church and had no one encouraging them to read the Scriptures. I learned so much. I quickly learned far more than I ever learned at church or in those Catechism classes. As I read, I encountered truths that did not agree with doctrine taught by the Catholic Church. Once you read the Bible for yourself, you realize it’s not that complicated or difficult to understand. A few things are, but not the Gospel and many, many other things. I didn’t need a priest to tell me what those passages meant. No priest or Pope could be a better teacher than the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God.

My faith was now in Christ. He was my mediator. Not a church, not a priest or Pope. In time I left the Catholic Church after sharing the Gospel with a priest at the church. He believed that people were leaving the Catholic Church because they wanted something nicely laid out for them in black and white whereas in the Catholic faith you had to think for yourself and wrestle with the gray. I will grant there are some Protestant churches that overstep Scripture and try to run people’s lives, but most just teach the Word of God and let us pray and decide how to respond to it. Scripture is usually pretty clear. In the Catholic Church everything has to be approved and blessed. Priests read everything when saying the Mass. Other then their homily (mini sermon) the rest is all scripted. Altar boys and girls hold open books for them to read their prayers from. That seems a lot more black and white to me.

I have Catholic friends and it always strikes me how they talk a lot in terms of their church. It’s the church this and the church that. When they have questions, they don’t turn to Scripture, they go ask a priest. I was talking to a Catholic lady friend the other night, and she shared how she went to her priest to ask him about sex before marriage because a friend had asked her and she wanted to know for her and her friend. At first I was shocked she didn’t know the answer. She’s in her 50’s and been a lifelong Catholic. How could she not know? Then I was sad because she’s probably never read the Bible because if she had she’d know the answer. I asked her what answer the priest gave her. This was an 89 yr old man who had been a priest since his 20’s. Not someone you would expect to hesitate to answer such a question. His answer was not an answer at all but merely an irrelevant observation. He said that people today have a lot more sex than they used to. I asked her if he said anything else and she said no. She then added that “he didn’t say it was wrong.” True, but really he didn’t say anything. Perhaps she made that remark because that’s the answer she was looking for? I can understand her thinking that he is an ordained priest charged with shepherding the faithful so he would be obligated to tell her if something was sin even if he knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. Therefore, it was (in her mind) reasonable to assume his lack of prohibition against premarital sex was implied permission. Sad that a supposed minister of God could not give a straight answer or quote a single Scripture. Maybe that is what my old priest meant when he said people liked these Protestant churches because they made everything so black and white. What he should have said, is that they use the Bible to answer questions, and if the Bible clearly addresses the issue then there’s the answer. My friend’s priest left her with a non-answer, total murky gray.

When we stand before God, the question won’t be “did you believe in the church and put your faith and trust in her?” No! It will be “did you believe in Jesus Christ and put your faith and trust in Him?” Yet millions of Catholics are trusting in their church for their salvation. They don’t know the Gospel. I never heard it in the Catholic Church. Yes there are some Catholics who have come to know the Gospel and accepted it. Praise God! Some say they have stayed in the church hoping to reform it. How did that workout for Martin Luther? They will never grow if they stay in a church that won’t teach the Word. If I were to ask my friend why she didn’t just open a Bible and find the answer I am sure she would say it was quicker to ask her priest as after-all he has already studied these things. If she is depending on her church to teach her all she needs to know for life and salvation then her faith is in her church and not in

the Lord. Church teaching is all well and good but we are called to be like the believers in Berea who did not just take the Apostle Paul’s word but searched the Scriptures to see if he was teaching the truth. Do Catholics think their priests or even the Pope is greater than the Apostles? If Paul commended them to search and check the Scriptures for themselves would he not say the same to us today?

I am so thankful, God is His grace, gave me faith and led me to read His Word. What a treasure so many miss out on. How can we hope to obey and serve God if we don’t even read His words to us?


The Church

Hallgrímskirkja

Here in the first world, we live in an interesting time in church history. I can’t drive a few miles without passing a number of churches. Even if I narrow the list to Christian churches, there are still dozens and dozens of Christian churches within a 30 minute drive of my home. These include both denominational and non-denominational churches.

Many of these churches only differ in superficial ways. Perhaps its their style of music, their informal atmosphere, or allegiance to a denomination. Some sing traditional worship music while others prefer contemporary. Yet we all preach from the same Bible and share the same fundamentals of the faith.

Having many churches is not bad. It does help keep the body sizes smaller and more intimate than having fewer larger churches. It also makes gathering together easier with less time spent driving. You might actually go to church with neighbors. Yet there are downsides to all these choices.

For one thing, there is a lot of money tied up in the many facilities of all these churches. Facilities that often sit empty and lightly used six days of the week. How many churches are in debt paying off building loans while other churches meet in school gymnasiums waiting to have enough money to buy land and build? How many pastors hold back in their preaching for fear of offending someone and seeing donations decline where the budget will no longer support the payments on the debt? One thing I will say for the Mormons (who I do not consider Christian), is their sharing of facilities. Often 3 wards, what we might call a church, share a single facility. Of course some churches have multiple services and use their facility quite a bit, but there are many small churches that have but one service per Sunday and could easily share with another church. Think of the money that could be saved and spent helping those in need or supporting missionaries?

Another downside, is the fracturing of the body. When we keep starting new churches around some non-essential doctrine or preference, it can lead to a judgmental attitude and a lack of unity among Christians. I know of churches, for example, who are opposed to age segregated classes. Parents keep their children with them in the service. After awhile it is tempting for families in such a church to think that their way is THE way and age segregation is anti-family and anti-Biblical. I’ve seen churches that will only sing Psalms and Hymns and only allow a piano or organ. I’ve heard comments like “That church sings contemporary music!” as though that marks them as a carnal church. Our distinctives start to become essentials of the faith. We become fractured and often look down upon Christians who worship in a different way than ourselves.

One thing that concerns me about the modern church is what I consider a confusion about it’s mission. A saying I heard many years ago sums up my feelings nicely:

The purpose of the church gathered, is to worship God and edify the saints.
The purpose of the church scattered, is to seek and save the lost.

In other words, the local body meets to worship and equip. It is our time to gather as a community of believers for worship, equipping, and to love and serve each other. The rest of the week, when the church is scattered, we are to be evangelists to our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. We still worship privately and we still seek edification but we are no longer surrounded by our church family. We are being living witnesses in our jobs, our schooling, in our neighborhoods, at soccer games and Little League. We are all called to be evangelists in both word and deed.

Yet we live in a post-Christian society with declining church attendance. To combat this, many churches have tried to be more “seeker sensitive” and break away from what they see as traditional church to something more contemporary and relevant. The thought is that most people today don’t want that traditional, stuffy, boring, old time Christianity. They want something contemporary, alive, relevant, exciting… So we serve coffee, inject our services with drama, video clips, and large worship teams. We try to keep the preaching upbeat and practical. We want the unchurched (be they non-believers or those who gave up on church) to come.

I have one problem with that. While I agree the church should strive to be “all things to all men”, and adapt to the culture where Biblically permissible, it should not lose sight of it’s mission which when gathered is to “worship God and edify the saints.” Too often such churches serve only milk (i.e. elementary teaching) and never serve meat. The body never grows beyond adolescence. In seeking to keep the teaching upbeat and relevant, the pastor(s) pick and choose topics and never preach the “whole counsel of God.” Topics that might be taken negatively are passed over. Nothing potentially controversial or convicting is spoken of. Yet is not “all scripture” valuable for edification and reproof (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? Some such churches will explain that they have small weekday groups where more meaty topics can be discussed yet Sunday is the one day most people can attend and the number one teaching opportunity of the church. If we gear our messages to the unbelievers attending, we fail to equip the saints.

Everyone should be welcome and made to feel welcome yet the goal is to worship and edify from the whole counsel of God. That is why I personally prefer teaching that is verse-by-verse, and book-by-book. It is the only way to ensure you preach the whole counsel of God. It also has the added benefit of teaching everything in context as God’s Word was given to us as books and letters and not topically arranged. Such teaching helps you to understand the author, his audience, and the context of the passages. Such teaching though is difficult to find anymore. Topical teaching has all but taken over and having catchy titles for topical series is all the rage now. I’ve even seen churches advertise a series with a title like “How to have great sex!” The series was actually about how to have a good and loving marriage which in turn is the best recipe for great sex, but the title was chosen to be eye grabbing and elicit curiosity. Whose eyes are they trying to catch? I would think the saints would not need such eye glitter which is clearly aimed at those outside the church.

This also leads to the abdication of evangelism to the “professionals.” Many modern Christians think evangelism is inviting someone to church where the professionals can take over. Granted, it’s a lot easier to invite someone to church than share the gospel with them. Yet many will not come to church with you until and unless they see something different in your life that attracts them. Your actions and your words might be the greatest chance for them to believe. There is nothing wrong with altar calls or other forms of invitation at church services, but the primary purpose of our services should be corporate worship and edification, not evangelism. If we get to the point where everything about our church is catering to non-believers, we have missed the mark.

We’ve become too preoccupied with church growth as the measure of success. I would suggest that the true measure of success is the maturing of the body and that growth will be a natural outcome of such maturing. As the saints deepen in their faith, holiness, and are fully equipped, they will be busy seeking and saving the lost and we will see growth. Even if we don’t, that does not mean we are doing something wrong. If we are truly living in the End Times, as some believe, we may not see growth. We live in a post-Christian society that is growing increasingly secular. Our job is to find those whom the Lord has gifted with faith to bring into the fold knowing that the number may be dwindling. If we measure success by the maturing of the body, the numbers will not matter. If there is no turnover and the body just keeps aging, then we should re-examine that maturity and make sure the body is sharing it’s faith.

For me there is rest in the sovereignty of God. If we are doing our jobs and sharing our faith, and watering it with our prayers, then God will bring the harvest but according to His plan and will. We cannot make anyone believe. We can only share the Good News and pray. If growth comes, praise God! If growth is small, praise God! As long as we are being faithful we need not worry over numbers.

My fear is that many of these seek-sensitive churches are full of baby believers and non-believers. There is little maturing going on. We’ve made it so comfortable to be there and not change that there is little reason to change and little opportunity to do so. I appreciate those times I walk away from a sermon deeply convicted, even remorseful. I know the Holy Spirit is working on me. Churches that try to keep everything upbeat and positive and fail to teach the convicting things, are not doing their jobs.

We live in an age where opportunities to share the Gospel are like never before in human history. We have churches on every street corner, the Internet, TV, radio, books, magazines, … Yet I see a weakening church with members with little grounding. Christianity has become too easy, too comfortable at least here. There are places in the world where being a Christian costs a lot. Just to be able to gather to worship is huge in some places. Worrying about the style of music or age segregated classes are not even concerns. Perhaps we could learn from them.


The Great Secularization of America

Christmas is always a touchy time of year. It’s America’s favorite holiday but also fraught with political correctness. Afraid of offending customers, retailers long ago changed the season’s greetings from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Nativities and other public displays of the Christian celebration of Christmas were banned from public display. The holiday tunes played in the background at stores were cleansed to remove the more religious ones.

Christmas in America is big business. Estimates put annual retail sales during the Christmas season at 30%. That is almost one third of annual sales done in a little over a month. We have Black Friday and Cyber Monday and a plethora of sales and daily specials. No parent wants their children to wake up Christmas morning to a tree not laden with presents. We go into debt and run around like chickens with their heads cutoff looking for presents, buying wrapping paper, getting holiday meal fixings, and whatever else needed to fulfill the expectations of the holidays. It is a month plus dance that is over all too quickly as children rip through unopened presents. What took hours to shop for an wrap are opened in a matter of seconds.
I read an interesting article in USA Today by Tom Krattenmaker. The title of his article is “Jesus doesn’t need Christianity. His example is powerful without any religion at all.” The crux of his article is that Jesus is a great moral example and if we just separate him from the religious beliefs about him, then we have something honorable we can all celebrate. Just separate Jesus from his claim to be the divine Son of God and view him as a philosopher and teacher and bingo – problem solved.

Of all the world’s major religions, Jesus is unique. He alone claimed to be God. Mohammed only claimed to be a prophet. Confucius and Buddha were teachers not gods. None of these men predicated their own death and resurrection and rose from the dead. If you take the divinity from Jesus and he’s just another holy man, guru, sage, with insights we can benefit from. To quote Krattenmaker,

“If secular people can focus on the values and teachings of Jesus without getting tripped up by the religious context — which comes naturally for some, not so easily for others — they might find a surprisingly relevant source of guidance and uplift.”

Does that sound much different than this description of Buddha by Barbara O’Brien?

“The Buddha who lived 2,600 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Siddhartha Gautama, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
You could almost rewrite her description of Buddha so it reads:

“The Christ who lived 2018 years ago was not a god. He was an ordinary person, named Jesus of Nazareth, whose profound insights inspired the world.”
For years secularists and atheists have sought to eliminate Jesus but failed. Atheistic dictators from Stalin and the communists in China have sought to eliminate all religion including Christianity yet underground churches have sprung up all over their lands. Since that strategy has failed, “if you can’t beat ’em, redefine them.” The problem isn’t Jesus, it’s relgion and the religious beliefs about him. That’s what causes division and offense. So simple. Secularize Jesus and focus on his moral teachings and now you have a Jesus we can all celebrate. As Krattenmaker put it:

“Just as the person of Jesus came before Christianity, so might the figure of Jesus — philosopher, teacher, moral exemplar — outlast American Christendom.”
Of course Kratternmaker is wrong. Jesus IS Christianity. He did not come before it. God’s plan of redemption and sacrifice began long before Jesus’ advent in the life of the nation of Israel. Jesus’ incarnation was the continuation and culmination of God’s plan of redemption. To say Jesus came before Christianity is like saying Martin Luther King Jr came before Civil Rights. Christianity was not founded by the followers of Jesus after his death. Jesus discipled them to carry on and spread the faith after his resurrection. Christianity is not a man-made religion started after Jesus’ death. Jesus started Christianity.

It’s true America is in it’s post-Christian era. While belief in “God” is still prevalent, what “God” means to people is all over the map. A century ago when people said “God” they meant the Judeo-Christian God. Not “God” can mean anything and everything. Even among church goers faith is down. Many attend out of a sense of tradition more than a sense of conviction.
Christian author Josh McDowell wrote a classic book titled “Evidence That Demands a Verdict.” In it he says you have three choices when it comes to Jesus: He is either Lord, liar, or lunatic. Jesus claimed to be God, a claim which caused the Jewish leaders to label him a blasphemer and seek his death. They did not view him as a harmless moral teacher. They viewed him as a liar who blasphemed by claiming to be God. To the Romans he was a harmless lunatic crucified ultimately because the Roman governor Pilate feared unrest and how it would affect his career even though he believed Jesus to be innocent of anything deserving death. His disciples and millions or billions since viewed him as Lord. God incarnated. You cannot reduce Jesus to a mere man who had inspiring insights. If he is not God then he is either a liar or a lunatic. Are liars and lunatics the source of inspiring insights?

There may be a post-Christian place for Jesus in America but if so it will be the latest chapter in the great secularization of America. We’ve tried to eliminate Jesus, marginalize Jesus, but those efforts have failed. So now we will embrace him but not the real Jesus but a homogenized Jesus who gives no offense. We are seeking harmony by blending the moral teachings of the world’s religions to something we can all embrace. Religion is being replaced by philosophy and personal truth. Absolute truth is strictly forbidden. Embrace the moral teachings of Jesus and that’s okay. To claim, as Jesus did, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but through {him} me” and now you are offensive and intolerant.
I do agree with a sentiment expressed by James S. Robbins, in another USA Today op-ed piece. He writes:

“Americans have a right to celebrate holidays in whatever manner they wish, and not to be shamed and bullied by the PC police. People are only driven further apart when they are forced to walk on eggshells out of fear that some sullen victim-in-waiting will take exaggerated offense at their innocent, heartfelt expressions of good cheer.”
He goes on to say:

“People should say Merry Christmas — or Happy Hanukkah, Happy Diwali, Eid Mubarak, or any other holiday greeting proudly and happily, and hope others will take it in the festive spirit it is offered. Americans can — and should — be kind and joyful for each other, no matter what they believe.”

Isn’t that true diversity? We preach the value of diversity and how our differences make us stronger yet when it comes to Christianity that is one diversity we don’t see as worthy of inclusion. We celebrate some types of diversity while attempting to homogenize others. Sadly some Christians will seek the path of least resistance and embrace this watered down, homogenized Christianity. The true followers of Jesus will not hesitate to say Merry Christmas and celebrate a risen Lord rather than an easter bunny. This is the wake up call the church in America has needed. Too long now American Christianity has been easy. It has not cost us much. It’s when our faith comes at a price that we find out how real it is.
Without Jesus there is no Christendom. Strip Him of his divinity and you are left with a liar or a lunatic. America turns her back on God to her own peril. While humanity possesses more knowledge than ever before in history. our knowledge has proven to be foolishness as we are rejecting our Creator. As the Bible says, “There is a way that seems right unto man, but in the end leads to destruction.”


The Foolishness of Humanity

When I think about all the bright minds in the world and the things we’ve discovered and created, it makes me sad that so much thought and money has gone into things that either do not benefit mankind or that benefit for a profit when a less profitable but perhaps better or more lasting solution might exist.

Take the military for example. We have 5th generation fighters and bombers that can reduce their radar signature to that of thimble making them virtually invisible. We have jets that through various thrust nozzles can literally stand on end and “walk” across the sky. We have smart bombs that can fly through an open window and destroy a building with amazing precision. Now the 6th generation is upon us where operator less drones will fight in future wars. Some voices even warn that AI (artificial intelligence) will one day be the downfall of humanity. You need only watch the movie series The Matrix to see such a scenario.

Men have orbited the earth, walked on the moon, sent unmanned spacecraft across the Solar System and beyond. Talk of putting humanity on Mars is not that far fetched or far off. Time does not permit for me to mention our advances in medicine and computers and so much more. Yet for all these accomplishments we still have people starving, children dying, and families living outdoors exposed to the elements. We see women preyed upon and sold as sex slaves and all manner of evil existing upon this earth. For all our brilliance humanity has done little to solve the same basic problems that has plagued us from the beginning. Some will blame it on population growth or communism or greed. There are a million reasons but they mostly boil down to one fundamental truth that God gave us thousands of years ago. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said that sin starts within. It is in the wickedness of our hearts that sin is conceived. We lust for what we don’t have. We steal, we attack, we torture to get what we want. Did Hitler start a world war to benefit humankind? Did Stalin really care for his countrymen as he imprisoned and put to death millions of them? Can you even begin to understand the evil in someone’s heart who could lure a young woman into their control then put her on drugs and sell her body to whoever will pay? The problem for most of us is that we don’t live close enough to see these evils with our own eyes. Yet its not “out there” far away, it is all around us and in us. Some of us might be just as wicked were our circumstances different.

We collectively spend trillions of dollars on our militaries to fight or deter wars yet think of what all that money could do if spent on more worthwhile endeavors like curing cancer or providing enough food and clean water and medicine to everyone in the world. What if all those brilliant minds that spent their days figuring out how to kill with weapons more efficiently were instead retasked with solving age-old problems like hunger and sickness? It comes down to priorities.  The United States has never won a World Cup. We are a rich nation of approximately 300 million and have many great athletes yet the focus here has never been on soccer. Nations much, much smaller than the US regularly field teams that are much better than the best we have. I’ve often thought that if we didn’t have football (American football that is) and all of that talent was funneled into other sports just how much better at soccer might we be? Not all football players would excel at soccer but surely some would. Those speedy wide receivers, cornerbacks, and running backs might be awfully good if they grew up playing soccer and never went into football. Other nations best us at soccer because they live and breath it and every child in their country grows up idolizing their soccer stars and their nations take great pride in the success of their national teams. While all but a few lacks the resources of the US their focus enables them to exceed us in this one sport. Now imagine if humanity’s focus was on solving world hunger or sex trafficking or pollution? Imagine what could be accomplished? Instead we are like American and soccer. Oh we like it a little and we’ve had some success but we still lack the sheer passion and popularity to rival those nations that dominate the sport. For our great love of American football we get little return on that investment in the international sports because outside of North America football is simply not played. The rest of the world doesn’t care. No harm, no foul because football is a sport and it hardly matters whether or not the US has a competitive soccer team. US soccer fans might beg to differ but part of what makes this world so interesting is that we are not all clones. We have major sports played all over the world but also have more regional or country specific sports that are still greatly enjoyed. I don’t know if Australian Rules Football is played outside of Australia but I am sure the people there love it. We don’t have to all be equally passionate about the same sports. Yet some things should have a shared passion. Who among us is ok with starving? Who wants to be sick and have no access to medical care? Who wants to be forced into slavery? I think we can all agree to those things. Yet our wickedness forces us to spend trillions on weapons and soldiers to fight wars we hope we never have to fight. We spend billions on creating and maintaining a nuclear arsenal in the hopes its very existence will prevent it from ever being used. While I understand the rationale and won’t deny it has worked, if you step back for a moment and really think about it you realize how incredible insane that is! We have people dying of hunger, women or young girls forced into being sex slaves, we are polluting our earth, and we terrorize each other and these problems must wait because we need to spend billions on weapons we pray we never will use. Just ponder that for a moment.

Can we solve all the world’s problems with money? No. Can all the brightest minds solve all the world’s problems? No. There are no easy or sure answers to many of these issues but wouldn’t you just love to see what we could come up with if we did put our focus on those and other problems? We may not cure cancer but what if we could make it so cancer no longer was a death sentence? What if everyone could get good and affordable healthcare and life saving drugs didn’t have to consume your life savings?  Imagine that?

I am not the first to imagine that and a famous songwriter and musician had his own thoughts on the problem. His name was John Lennon. He wrote the song “Imagine.” While he imagined a way in which all these problems could be solved his solution would never work. Why? Because he did not consider that the heart of man is desperately wicked. In his imagination there were no countries so no need to fight over borders or resources. He imagined no possessions so we all shared and shared alike. No religion so nothing to live or die for. Somehow this produced a “brotherhood of man” in his imagination. His solution to the problem was to take away all those things are wicked hearts lust for so we would no longer have them to fight over. Yet only pure hearts would live without possessions, could live without borders, could be a true brotherhood. The fundamental truth is: unless you change the heart of man you cannot change the actions of man.

We know this but we lack the means to pursue it. We know instinctively that incarcerating a criminal will not necessarily take the criminal nature away. Once freed many former prisoners return to a life of crime. In prison you removed them from society so they could not practice crime. Once back in society their nature was to be criminals again. Thus, in some corners we seek to reform criminals. If we can get them to see the error of their ways and learn a new way then perhaps they can return to society and no longer be criminals. Free a criminal and he will return to his criminal ways. Rehabilitate a criminal and he will become a productive member of society. So why is it not that simple? Aside from resource limitations it comes down to unchanged hearts. Rehabilitation can work and sometimes does and is certainly better than strict incarceration but its success rate is nowhere near 100%. You see ONLY GOD can fix the wicked hearts of humanity. If we continue to seek solutions apart from God, we will continue to live apart from the life God created us for. There is only one answer. JESUS.

Oh, but how we HATE simple solutions! We’d rather pay thousands for some drug with a million side effects than pay nothing and change the way we eat or get out and get some exercise. We’d rather lose tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to get a divorce then learn to love each other. We want the quick fix not the real fix. This highlights the other problem. We want to sit on the throne of our life and the second anyone tells us what we need to do we bristle at that! We are so desperate to hold onto control that we reject the loving guidance of the very ONE who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The very ONE who loves us so much He sent his Son to DIE for us. We are forced to accept that we are controlled by governments and employers but we cling for all we’ve got to our free will and we will not submit it to God. God sent us the solution in the person of Jesus Christ and what did humanity do? They crucified him. That was a big fat NO THANK YOU GOD! We not only don’t want your solution but we are going to kill your only son just to really let you know how we feel.

No can you imagine having incurable cancer and a doctor comes to your door with a treatment that will cure you of your cancer but you’re going to have to make some lifestyle changes you’d rather not make. So, you not only decline his treatment but you shoot him in the head to send a message to those who sent him that you want NO PART OF THEIR TREATMENT. Apparently, you’d rather die than give up control of your life! You might say that’s ridiculous and no one would ever do that yet how many people have died from lung cancer who could have simply given up cigarettes and never contracted it? Lung cancer from smoking cigarettes is 100% preventable! Not a single person needs ever die that way. According to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, 80% of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette smoking resulting in the deaths of more than 7 million people globally each year. Sad isn’t it? Yet these people suffer from a terrible addiction that can be very hard to break. In the name of free choice corporations exist that make millions of dollars of profit from selling the cigarettes that kill these people. You see even when we know the way to prevent our death we still often fail to do so. Without God’s help we are powerless to do the very things we know we need to do. John Lennon’s solution sounds good on paper but without God changing hearts it will never work. I will agree with him on having “no religion” but only if we accept the definition that religion is man’s attempt to know God whereas Christianity is God’s revelation of truth to man. Lies divide but the truth unifies. It is not by having “nothing to live or die for” that we find true freedom. Jesus said “the truth shall set you free.” Freedom comes from knowing God through his Son Jesus Christ. In that truth is the power to not only know what you need to do but the power to do it.

That’s good news! Maybe that’s why they call it the “Good News” 😉 You’ve heard the expression “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want first?” The bad news is that we are sinners clinging to our thrones and unless we accept God gracious offer of forgiveness and love we will die in our sins eternally separated from God. He won’t force it on us. We can choose to continue to sit on our thrones and suffer. We can go to our graves separated from Christ singing “I did it my way.” We can then spend eternity separated from Him because we rejected Him. God not only won’t force Himself upon you now but He won’t force Himself upon after you die either. The time to believe is now! It really is pretty simple. Just get off the throne and give it to God. Kind of like giving up cigarettes and never contracting lung cancer. Why do 80% of the people who die from lung cancer contract it from smoking cigarettes? Because they are addicted and lack the willpower to quit and not restart. My point here is NOT to belittle those who struggle with smoking addiction. I have never smoked but I sure am addicted to diet soda which I know is not good for me. Worse I was born addicted to sin. In heaven God will give me a new body so the mess this life has made of this one won’t matter then (but it’s in my best interests now to take better care of it) but my chance to break the addiction to sin only comes in this life. I’m glad I let Jesus break me of that addiction. I still sin but I am no longer a slave to sin. I am free now. You can be too.

It starts with humility. We have to admit to ourselves and to God that we have sinned and turned our backs on him. We have to admit that we can’t fix the problem and we need Him. We have to get off the throne and let Him take over. You might say “that’s too hard…I can’t do it.” Kind of like giving up cigarettes is too hard. Yet God loves you so much he will give you the strength to do what you cannot do. Supernaturally He will supply everything you need. All you have to do is ask Him. Don’t worry that it might be hard or that you don’t feel you have the strength. Just ask Him. You can do it anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to be in a church, or on your knees (though humbling ourselves before God is a good thing), or clean your act up first. God will take you as you are, right here, right now. There is not a single thing you need to do before you ask Him. There is nothing you could do that will prevent Him from coming into your life once you do ask Him to. So, what are you waiting for? Why would you wait another minute? I don’t say that to pressure you. Take all the time you want. God is patient. I say that because usually things that are “too good to be true” aren’t but this one is. Why not start living that life of freedom now? I only pray you ask Him before this life is over for you because once it is that invitation goes away. You might say it’s a limited time offer. God wants you to ask him today. Why doesn’t God’s offer go on for all eternity? If you know the truth and won’t accept His offer in this life then you never will. God gives you enough time in this life to see the truth. If we don’t then God will leave us in our sin and give us what we want which is to have nothing to do with Him. That’s what Hell is. It’s where everyone ends up that want nothing to do with God. Unlike the songs and movies though, Hell is not the fun place where all the parties are. We don’t realize it but whether you love God, hate God, or think He doesn’t exist, you still benefit from God’s grace in this life. You haven’t even had a taste of what existence would be without God’s presence. In Hell God will totally withdraw His presence. Evil will have full reign. God’s restraining power will be withheld and evil will consume everyone who rejected God’s forgiveness. This world is full of evil but it’s not all evil. There is good too. Imagine though if all the good left and only the evil remained. Is that where you’d want to spend the rest of eternity? I guarantee you that you are not even capable of imagining how horrible that will be. We can’t because we’ve never experienced it. Yet that doesn’t have to be your future. Say yes to God and experience true life. In this life God won’t solve all your problems or take away all your pain. He will use it to grown you and mature you and make you more Christ-like. Some of it He will take away or lessen but no matter what you go through He will go through it with you. In heaven though He promised us there will be “no more sorry and no more tears.” We will no longer get sick or go hungry. Evil will be gone. Just as we cannot imagine an existence without good and only evil so we cannot imagine an existence where there is only good and NO evil. That is why Paul, who briefly visited heaven, wrote to us:

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

In other words, heaven is going to blow our minds! I don’t know about you but I find that amazingly exciting and I am not one to get easily excited.

I love how a favorite song by an artist named Phillip Sandifer put it. “What its all been said and it’s all been done, did you go my way child, did you know my son.”

Do you know God’s son? Do you want to know him? If so, cry out to Jesus and you will know Him!


Thoughts on Pride Month

Pride Month_Hero_withText_final

This month is Pride Month and all around me I see rainbow colors. At the office I see signs saying “Pride” and there are various events around promoting “the positive stance against discrimination and violence toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to promote their self-affirmation, dignity, equality rights, increase their visibility as a social group, build community, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance. Pride, as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBT rightsmovements throughout the world.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_pride)

Now the term “queer” can be used as a term for non-heterosexual orientations. As a Christian I cannot support Pride Month. Let me explain. What I am NOT saying is that I support discrimination (with some caveats), violence, public shaming, etc, against the queer community. The caveats I have in mind is that I am opposed to non-heterosexual marriage or forcing faith-based organizations to employ those who oppose their faith. As Christians we are to “hate the sin but not the sinner.” Opposing homosexual behavior does not require hating, shaming, or discriminating against those who practice it. We should be like Jesus who, when left alone with the woman caught in adultery, told her he did not condemn her but to “go and sin no more.” He did not ignore her sin. He did not shame her in front of the small crowd of people. He did not yell at her or strike her. He showed grace but still instructed her to “sin no more.” I’m not suggesting that every time a Christian encounters a homosexual he/she should tell them to “go and sin no more” but if asked if homosexuality is a sin we should not shrink from saying what the Bible clearly declares.

I see no dignity in flaunting rebellion against God nor do I believe we are free to redefine marriage since God created and defined it. I definitely cannot celebrate sexual diversity as God only defined one type of sexuality. So I cannot celebrate Pride Month.

The queer community want the world to accept them as normal and as morally good. I can’t any more than I can accept adultery as morally good even if it involves a man and a woman. Sin is sin whether it involves heterosexuals or homosexuals. I cannot join in taking pride in sin. Not mine or anyone else’s.

Believe it or not I have friend’s who are homosexual and I work with people who are homosexual. Most have no idea how I feel. I don’t go out of my way to make my feelings known. Unless they asked they would probably never know. One good homosexual friend does know how I feel but we remain friends. My gay/lesbian co-workers like me and see me as nice and friendly. I treat them no differently than I do anyone else. However, I don’t condone their behavior or support their “right” to marry. I am not one to attend marches or rallies so they aren’t likely to see me at one.

What bothers me is how both sides tend to use unnecessarily negative language about the other side. Calling anyone who disapproves of homosexuality “homophobic” is not only wrong but a misuse of the English language. My opposition of homosexuality is based on my faith not a phobia. I don’t fear it. No one has called me adulteryphobic. The use of that term is just an attempt to cast those who oppose homosexuality for any reason in a negative light. Besides, phobias are usually irrational fears and my beliefs are neither irrational or fear based. If we ever hope to get along we have to avoid such terms. I try to be respectful in my language. I was very hesitant to use the term “queer” because for much of my life it was considered a derogatory term and it took a lot of convincing for me to accept it was now ok to use. I had no desire to use an offensive term although I know I can’t always avoid offending because sometimes simply disagreeing offends someone.

No amount of celebrations, special months, parades, influence in Hollywood or with the press, will change God’s truth nor my beliefs. Getting along does not mean we have to accept and support beliefs we believe to be wrong. We can “hate the sin but not the sinner.” We can stand up for the truth. Trust me I have been told I am a fool for being a Christian. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or accept me. For the queer community to expect nothing but support is not living in reality neither should society expect no one to ever disagree with anything. If find it ironic that at the annual White House Press Corps Event, any dig on the President, no matter how mean, is celebrated and defended as freedom of speech. Say one word of opposition to homosexuality and you could loose your job at many companies. If you are in a public position look out. It might even be called hate speech even if there was nothing hateful about it. Plenty of people hate President Trump (I am no fan) and are protected by free speech no matter how vicious their attacks on the President are. Why the double standard?


Single Point of Focus

Image result for point of focus images

I recently took a photography class from one of the best fine art and commercial photographers in the world. The number one concept he shared with us is having a single point of focus in our photos. The idea is that every photo should have a single point of focus you guide the viewer’s eyes to. Through the use of focus, lighting, lines, and other elements, you direct them to what he termed “the payoff.” You don’t want to direct their eyes to nothing but to something. They should leave viewing your photo having found that point of focus (just one).

I thought later about how our lives should have a single point of focus. As followers of Jesus Christ, He should be that single point of focus.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2) emphasis added

Notice we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus. If we are to run “with endurance the race that is set before us” then we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. Long distance, open-water swimmers, always pick a point on the opposite shore of horizon to use as their single point of focus. Every few strokes they glance up and check their location relative to that single point of focus. If they are a little off, they correct course. For that to work that single point of focus has to be fixed, constant, unchanging. It does no good to pick a point that might move because if it does you will move off course following it.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hewbrews 13:8)

Talk about a fixed point! Jesus never changes. He is the one point we can fix our eyes on with perfect confidence.

17Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:17-19) emphasis added

This verse goes on to say how Jesus has gone into the inner sanctuary for us. Our hope in Him is an “anchor for the soul.” Again, we see the idea of having a single point of focus or an anchor. Things that fix us to one location.

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, keeps us on course, but as we follow Jesus our lives become an element in God’s “picture” to lead others to Christ. We might be a guiding element in the “photo” of someone else’s life.

1And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

We should strive to be like Paul, who urged his followers to imitate him as he imitated Christ. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we become imitators of Christ. As such we can point others to Christ.

What then is the focus of your life? Does it have a single focus?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:5-8) emphasis added

Notice what happens when we have more than one point of focus. We become double-minded and Scripture says such a person is “unstable in all they do.” Hardly seems like a good recipe for life. We need to be single-minded. We need to have a single point of focus.

Just as a good picture should have a single point of focus, so should a godly life.


More on Gnosticim

Gnosticism

Gnosticism has been around since sometime after Plato and well before the time of Christ. The Jews considered it heretical as did the early Christians.

The Gnostics considered the spirit good but the body evil. The incarnation, or God becoming a man, presented a problem for them. How could the good spirit of God be corrupted by flesh? Some Gnostics held that Jesus’ body was just an illusion. Therefore, God did not taint himself by becoming flesh. This thinking requires a total disregard of Scripture. According to the Bible, our sins could only be paid for by the shedding of blood. It had to be the blood of the Messiah who was fully God and fully man. Jesus was called the “second Adam” who, like the first Adam, was a representative of all mankind. In Adam, all mankind fell into sin. In Jesus we have salvation as he is the second Adam. If his body was an illusion then we are still in our sins. No blood (only the illusion of blood) was spilled. Jesus only appeared to die on the cross.

The second solution was the belief that God created a slightly lesser spirit into which he put his “divine spark.” That spirit in turn created another lesser spirit. This process continued countless times until somewhere along the line a man was created with the remnants of this divine spark. This succession of beings is called emanations.  By having Jesus be a distant, distant, distant emanation from God it gets them around the problem of the good, spirit God, being tainted by flesh. Once again this contradicts the Bible which teaches that the Holy Spirit caused Mary to be pregnant with Jesus. No emanations. Such a distant emanation would not be fully God and fully man as the Bible teaches. Once again, we would be left in our sins.

These teachings were argued against in the New Testament and denied by the early church. The Gnostics formed communities away from mainstream Christianity. They created their own writings and tried to pass them off as being written by Biblical figures. Collectively they are referred to as “The Lost Books of the Bible.” One such book is the Gospel of Mary supposedly written by Mary Magdalene (the book refers to a Mary but does not say Mary Magdalene). A good portion of the book was lost but the Gnostics claim Jesus had a relationship with Mary and left her in charge of the church but patristic Peter (male chauvinist) silenced her and made sure no one knew of Jesus’ intentions. Thus, they had to preserve this truth. This “gospel”, though, dates to the late second century or early third century. Once again it contradicts the Bible. There is no Biblical account of Jesus having a special relationship with Mary (or any woman) or of his putting her in charge of the church. Instead he left the Apostles to lead the embryotic church. Why would Jesus appoint 12 men to be the disciples if he planned to put a woman in charge? Why not have a group of Apostles formed from both men and women? What evidence do they have that Peter was anti-women? Why would Peter disobey his Lord (in a major way) then go on an die as a martyr for him? Signaling out Peter to be the anti-Mary almost seems like something anti-Catholic as Protestants do not see Peter as having more authority than the other Apostles.

These books were never accepted by the early church nor written about. It is unreasonable to think Peter, or anyone, could so suppress the truth. Surely copies of the true Scriptures would have survived to testify to their failed efforts to silence the truth. Its fanciful story telling to try and support beliefs that are false. People have different reasons for accepting these teachings. Some see in them support for women pastors or priests. Some see access to “hidden knowledge” with a feeling of excitement at being among of small group of people who know the truth. Regardless of their reasons they are believing a lie which is leading them away from the truth.


Gnosticism and the “Lost Books of the Bible”

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Gnosticism, from the Greek word gnostikos (having knowledge), is a modern term used for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems dating back to the first and second century AD. These beliefs share the idea that the material world is evil and thus could not have been created directly from God. Therefore, there were a serious of emanations from the highest God, which trapped the “Divine Spark” within the human body. Many emanations from the highest God was the God who created the universe. This Divine Spark could be liberated by gnosis.

Gnosis refers to knowledge based on personal experience or perception. In a religious context, gnosis is mystical or esoteric knowledge based on direct participation with the divine. In most Gnostic systems, the sufficient cause of salvation is this “knowledge of” (“acquaintance with”) the divine. It is an inward “knowing,” comparable to that encouraged by Plotinus (neoplatonism), and differs from Christian proto-orthodox views.[1] Gnostics are “those who are oriented toward knowledge and understanding — or perception and learning — as a particular modality for living.”[2][1]

Gnosticism has two main tenants. The first is its believe that matter is inherently evil whereas spirit is good. Some believe that Jesus only had the appearance of a physical body because he could not have been good and physical in nature. Gnosticism teaches that anything done in the body has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only. The second tenant is their claim to possess an elevated knowledge, or “higher truth”, known only to a chosen few. They claim higher knowledge, based not on the Bible, but from a mystical higher plane of existence. Thus they see themselves as a privileged class, elevated by their higher knowledge.

Their proponents usually defend them by claiming they were hidden or surprised by the early church because their teachings were not what the church wanted (if true why wouldn’t the church want them?)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

The Gospel of Mary

Among the Gnostics are those who hold to a theory that Jesus had a romantic relationship with Mary of Magdalene and that he appointed her as leader of the Christian church. This theory is held despite no evidence to support it. In 1896, the gospel of Mary, was discovered in the Akhmim Codex in Cairo, Egypt. It was not published until 1955. Ten pages are missing including the first six. Written in Greek and Coptic, the gospel of Mary codex is dated to the 3rd (Greek) and 5th (Coptic) centuries A.D.

Who the Mary of the text is, is not made clear. In the New Testament six women are named Mary including Mary, Jesus’ mother; Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany. It is assumed by proponents of this theory that it was written by Mary of Magdalene. According to the theory, “true” Christianity is exemplified by Mary whereas patriarchal Christianity is exemplified by Peter. No such teaching is found in the Bible and this writing dates to the late 2nd century at the earliest.  Like the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip, and the gospel of Judas, the gospel of Mary is a Gnostic forgery, using the name of a Biblical character to give validity to its heretical teaching.

These Gnostic gospels contain teachings that are contrary to the Bible and hold different views of Jesus Christ, salvation, and virtually every other major Christian doctrine. Their teachings have no support from the early church fathers and the teachings of the Apostles. They were written by a heretical sect to support their teachings. Their only support comes from those sympathetic to their views.


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!