Thoughts about faith

faith

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 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!


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.


Who Hijacked Christmas?

CrossTree-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What is Greatness?

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

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

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

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

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


Two New Saints?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Is This the Gospel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 


Imagine a World Without Religion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Misconceptions on Christians and Homosexual Marriage

Lately I’ve read a number of letters ad commentaries trying to suggest the Christian response to homosexuality is irrational particularly in the current debate over gay marriage. I’ve seen a trend of misconceptions I would like to address.

First off, and this is my pet peeve, it is grossly unfair to assign the label homophobic to anyone who is not fully supportive of homosexuality. A phobia is an irrational fear. Most Christians do not have a phobia about homosexuality. Their opposition is based on the teachings of the Bible and not a fear that homosexuals will take over the world and turn everyone one else into a homosexual. Some may have concerns about what is being taught to their children but no more so than some parents object to certain sex ed content sometimes taught. The are not against their children learning about the birds and the bees but might prefer to discuss it privately with their children or using different materials. That is not a phobia.  The word homophobia has become a derogatory term suggesting someone who is a bigot, hateful, close minded, and irrational. Is there no room for disagreement in our democratic society without negative labels being attached?

One misconception I’ve heard is that Christians believe all unions have to be about procreation therefore homosexual unions are invalid. One article I read cited the case of an old couple being married and asking if these same Christians consider that an illegitimate marriage since the couple was beyond child bearing age. Of course not! No where does the Bible say marriage is not allowed if the couple cannot have children. God gave the command to “be fruitful and multiply” but that was a general instruction and never said there could not be exceptions. Christian churches do marry older couples. My Mom remarried at the age of 80 to an 80 year old man. They got married in a church. So this is not an argument about the ability to have children in the union.

Other articles have tried to call into question what the Bible really has against homosexuality and argue that the only concern was for homosexual prostitution. There is poor, self-serving scholarship behind those claims. There is no reason to believe there is anything other than regular homosexuality in view in the Biblical passages.

The bottom line is this. The Book of Genesis tells us that God first created Adam. He had Adam name all the animals thus giving him ample contact with every type of animal. Adam found that although the animals were great none were suitable to be a companion to him. He was human and they were not. So God created Eve – a woman. Adam responded with great excitement that now here was the perfect companion to him. God then went on to define marriage as between a man and a woman. No where does Scripture change that definition. It has always only recognized marriage as being between a man and a woman.

God could have created two men or two women with the ability to procreate in some other fashion. Man and woman each in some unique ways convey the communicable attributes of God. In other words women have some traits of God we men don’t quite have and we men have some traits women don’t quite have. Together though we complete the traits God has passed on to us.

So the real Christian objective to homosexual marriage is simply that it goes against God’s definition of marriage. We realize full well we live in a secular, democratic society. However that gives us the right to exercise our right to vote as we please and speak out for what we believe just like everyone else. Opposing homosexual marriage is not a hate crime. It does not involve hate at all. It is simply standing up for our beliefs. Personally I have no hatred toward gays and have had gay friends. I treat them no differently than anyone else. However if you ask me if gay marriage should be allowed I am compelled to say no. I say that though based on my beliefs. I realize that society as a whole may decide it’s ok and in time it may become the law of the land.

Disagree which is your right but please don’t toss out straw man arguments, call it homophobia, or hatred. There may be a minority of Christians who cite some of those reason or who have a hateful heart but if so they are not following the teachings of God and I cannot back them.


Another Example of “Your God is Too Big”

It is fashionable these days, at least here in America, to claim belief in “God.” America is still largely a Judea-Christian country at least in terms of our culture. A large percentage of Americans still attend church and profess a faith. Even among those who do not regularly attend church believe in “God” is still high. Some speak of a “higher power” that helps them overcome alcoholism or disease. Some scientists claim we have a “faith gene” that predisposes us to believe in something outside ourselves or perhaps within ourselves but something divine or more powerful than ourselves. Such belief, it is claimed, can create a positive state of mind that empowers us. So it is fashionable to believe in some kind of higher power unless you are a hardcore atheist.

America is full of spirituality but feathers get ruffled when one tries to define that spirituality particularly in definite terms. When your “higher power” becomes Jesus Christ and not just any “Jesus Christ” but the Jesus of the New Testament then well you are simply going too far. Now you are being exclusive and definitely not tolerant. You see in modern society “tolerance is next to godliness.” So we want a “higher power” but we want that “higher power” to be a bit ill-defined and there when we need it but otherwise respecting the boundaries of our lives and the beliefs of others. Sort of a god who is like a genie in a bottle. Rub the bottle when you need him but otherwise he stays in the bottle and does not interfere with your life.

Christians get into trouble because we know things about our “higher power.” See our “higher power” revealed Himself to mankind through the prophets in the Old Testament and principally through the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. He also sent His Holy Spirit to inspire men to further His revelation. Thus we have the Bible – Old and New Testaments. We believe not just in a concept but in a real, personal God who has revealed Himself to us. We don’t call him “higher power” but rather we call Him God, Lord, Jesus Christ. Since He has revealed Himself to us we know many things about Him and about what He expects of us. Now there is a particularly distasteful subject. God expects things from us. We like our higher powers much more benign. They are supposed to grant us our wishes but expect nothing in return. The thought of a God who holds us accountable just takes the fun out of the whole spirituality game! Spirituality is fun when it has no rules or we get to make up the rules. As soon as we say God made up the rules then we have crossed that line in the sand and stepped on a whole lot of toes…

Now let’s go back to the days not long after Jesus ascended into heaven. Fifty days to be exact on the Day of Pentecost which was a Jewish feast day. The Book of Acts of the New Testament in chapter two describes for us an amazing event that took place on that day.

1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (from the NIV translation)

Much could be written, and has, about this passage so I am not going to try and deal with all of it. What I want to focus on is verse 13. What has happened is that a group of uneducated hicks suddenly were able to speak in foreign languages and dialects such that people from all over the known world were able to hear and understand them in their native languages. This was a miracle. Men who were not even eloquent in their own native tongues were suddenly speaking such that men from all over the world could understand them in their native tongues. God was pretty BIG that day. Most were amazed and in awe but predictably there we some who, unable to explain the clear miraculous event and unwilling to consider the implications of this being a miracle, mocked the Apostles and accused them of being drunk. Now that’s a sensible explanation! If you don’t have an answer just make fun of them!

Have you ever known anyone to get smarter when drunk? Ever seen a drunk in a bar suddenly speak fluent Arabic despite never having studied the language? Doesn’t happen does it? No in fact most drunks have difficulty speaking clearly in their own native language much less speaking a language they know nothing of. To suggest these men were speaking fluently in foreign languages due to excessive drinking was probably something a drunk would say! It made no sense. Yet that is what happens when God is too big. Rather than marvel and accept some mock and come up with ridiculous explanations that strain credulity. God was getting too big for their comfort so let’s just side step the whole issue and accuse the Apostles of being drunk. There. Problem solved.

I’ve seen TV shows that have tried to come up with natural explanations for miracles like the parting of the Red Sea. Turns out it was a sand bar that blocked the water with just the right wind conditions. Sorry but that doesn’t even explain the “walls of water” described in the Biblical account. See we just can’t have a Big God who can miraculously part water so we have to find another explanation. Oh we’ll throw God a bone and say he was smart enough to know about that sand bar and the wind requirements such that he made it all happen at precisely the correct time. Sure God can and has used natural causes to accomplish His will but He is far bigger than that. He spoke the universe into existence out of nothing. You don’t get any bigger than that! Still we have scientists like Stephen Hawking postulating multiple parallel universes (see the matter for our universe came from the collapse of a parallel universe) so no need for a God to create matter thank you. Well Stephen where did the matter for the very first of all these parallel universes come from? Oh well it just spontaneously appeared.  Well why didn’t you say that in the beginning? Yes who needs God now that we have spontaneously self-creating matter! No need for a Big God who is self-existent and eternal. The funny thing is that in this silly attempt to explain away the need for God the atheist almost ends up with a “Small God.” See his God is matter. That matter had to be intelligent did it not? I mean how did it know how to form and create stars and planets? How did it figure out the speed of light and the power of gravity? Seems that matter had to have rules encoded into it’s very essence. How? I thought matter was just well matter. Kind of dumb on it’s own but when used properly can do amazing things. Take clay for example. Clay is pretty dumb but put it on a potter’s wheel and let some expert hands shape it and you can create some amazingly beautiful (and useful) things out of clay. The clay is still dumb but in the hands of a master that dumb clay ends up looking pretty good. Somehow though Stephen Hawkin’s matter had to be Smart Matter since we can’t have a Master (i.e. God) directing it. Ok so really what we have is self-intelligent matter. Maybe not as well defined as the God of the Bible but that’s how we tend to like our “higher powers.” Stephen Hawking’s “higher power” is matter. Whatever works for you Stephen. I mean isn’t that the point? If that “higher power” helps you feel better about yourself then who cares what it is right? At least intelligent matter doesn’t tell you how to live your life!

All the evidence for God aside, to me in comes down to a choice. Either you believe like Stephen Hawking that matter just somehow self-created and had intelligence and the rest followed or there is a self-existent, eternal God who is intelligent and created matter, the laws of physics, and created this one and only universe and put us in it. So intelligent matter or intelligent God? I’ll go with God. Last I checked matter didn’t give us any revelations, enable simple Galilean men to speak foreign languages, or raise people from the dead. So I’m going to go with the God who has done all those things and more. Yes a Big God.


Thoughts on “Mindful Living”

Mindful Living is all the buzz in secular psychology these days. A simple web search will produce volumes of articles and   books. In one such search I found articles on “The Calligraphy of Mindfulness”, “Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce the Sensation of Pain”, “Mindfulness According to William Wordsworth”, and “Mindfulness, Mindful Eating and Eating Disorders.” Before I comment more on this “mindful movement” let’s examine it’s roots.

First what is “Mindful Living?” According to livingminodfully.org it is:

Mindfulness is about waking up to life and what it means to be fully human. The practice of mindfulness is marked by openness and curiosity toward your experience.  Mindfulness meditation develops awareness and compassion, which are essential to living skillfully.  Compassionate attention helps develop many qualities and abilities such as focus, clarity, insight, love, compassion, and joy.  These translate into reduced stress and anxiety, improvements in health and mental wellbeing, and greater adaptability and appreciation in life.  Mindfulness practice helps us to take care of ourselves and thus transform the suffering and stress in our lives and in our society.

Pasted from <http://www.livingmindfully.org/>

Another similar sight puts this statement across their home page:

At LivingMindfully.com we embrace all paths that lead to peace & oneness…

Pasted from <http://livingmindfully.com/>

According to an article on wikipedia the origins of Mindfulness are Buddhist:

Mindfulness (Pali: sati, Sanskrit: smṛti / स्मृति) in Buddhist meditation.; also translated as awareness) is a spiritual faculty (indriya) that is considered to be of great importance in the path to enlightenment according to the teaching of the Buddha. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. “Correct” or “right” mindfulness (Pali: sammā-sati, Sanskrit samyak-smṛti) is the seventh element of the noble eightfold path. Mindfulness meditation can be traced back to the Upanishads, part of Hindu scriptures and a treatise on the Vedas. [1]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

The same wikipedia article goes on to explain the connection between Buddhist Mindfulness teaching and Western medicine:

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is increasingly being employed in Western psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. Scientific research into mindfulness generally falls under the umbrella of positive psychology. Research has been ongoing over the last twenty or thirty years, with a surge of interest over the last decade in particular.[23][24] In 2011, NIH‘s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) released finding of a study where in magnetic resonance images of the brains of 16 participants 2 weeks before and after mindfulness meditation practitioners, joined the meditation program were taken by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It concluded that “..these findings may represent an underlying brain mechanism associated with mindfulness-based improvements in mental health.”[25] A January 2011 study in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, based on anatomical magnetic resonance images (MRI) of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) participants, suggested that “participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” [26]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

From my own reading Mindfulness, at least as employed in Western thinking, seems to center on taking the time to slow down, observe your actions, and appreciate the nuances of them. Although I am not a Buddhist or particularly well verses in Buddhist philosophy I immediately sensed a contradiction. I always thought that Buddhist thinking and meditation was about clearing the mind and to stop thinking. So Buddhism would seem to be about being unmindful to me so how can the same philosophy produce Mindfulness? Indeed as I read further I found I am not alone in seeing this contradiction. Under the heading of “Zen criticism” in the same wikipedia article I found this criticism:

Muho Noelke, the abbot of Antaiji, explains the pitfalls of consciously seeking mindfulness.

We should always try to be active coming out of samadhi. For this, we have to forget things like “I should be mindful of this or that”. If you are mindful, you are already creating a separation (“I – am – mindful – of – ….”). Don’t be mindful, please! When you walk, just walk. Let the walk walk. Let the talk talk (Dogen Zenji says: “When we open our mouths, it is filled with Dharma”). Let the eating eat, the sitting sit, the work work. Let sleep sleep.[22]

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness>

Now that sounds more like what I would have expected from an Eastern philosophy.

Confused? I sure am! So am I supposed to be mindful during my walk or am I supposed to let the “walk walk?” See the contradiction? To some the mind is the problem. Any amount of thinking is counterproductive. The less you think the better. Don’t think. Just do. To others we need to be thinking just at a slower, positive, present level. Both seems to claim to grow from the same root stock yet have contradictory applications.

As a Christian my first and foremost question is should I be seeking any wisdom from Buddhist philosophy? Is not Buddhism a competing world view to the Biblical worldview? There is no question in my mind that Buddhism is a competing worldview. My Christian worldview is not one in which the ends justify the means. While something might work for some people does not alone make it worthy of my consideration. History is full of man’s philosophies and attempts to make sense of the life we live and the world we live in. What separates Christianity from the plethora of human philosophies is directional. Human philosophy is man’s attempt to explain existence, life, and the meaning of it all. Christianity, and specifically the Scriptures (Old and New Testament), are God’s revelation to man about existence, life, and the meaning of it all. See the difference? One is man trying to explain “god”, or whatever concept of ultimate truth they espouse, and how we are to live. The other is God revealing to man his existence, his purpose, and his God. Human philosophy is limited by definition because it starts from a position of ignorance guided only by what may be observed and imagined. Divine revelation is limited only by what God choses to reveal and the finiteness of our minds in understanding what an infinite God reveals to us. Since human philosophy has no way of knowing if it is on the mark it can only judge by what appears to be efficacious. If it makes your life go better then it must have value and in the end that’s the best we can hope for since by human philosophy we never can know the truth due to the inherent limitations of our own knowledge. We see this in the plethora of human religions, philosophies, self-help books, and so on. Google enough and you will find a multitude of often contradictory articles on how to deal with a problem in your life. I might suggest as well that human philosophy so often has issue with Biblical Christianity precisely because it allows for “many paths” to a truth or solution whereas Biblical Christianity allows for just one. Saying there is only one way to truth is fighting words to those who embrace many paths. It is seen as arrogant, ignorant, intolerant, and any of a number of like synonyms.

Really you can reduce worldviews down to two. There is the Biblical worldview and the secular/humanist worldview. Within the secular/humanist worldview there is the scientific worldview. Science limits itself to that which can be observed, repeated, tested, and falsified. Quite simply if something falls outside the ability of science to explain it (by it’s own rules) then it falls into the intellectual limbo of unknowability. Science can advance the theory that the universe began in a Big Bang in which highly condensed matter literally exploded and went on to form galaxies, stars, and planets. Science cannot address where that matter came from nor the rules or laws that dictated the results of that explosion. Such questions lie outside the bounds of science and thus are unknowable. Ironically modern Western thinking proceeds from the premise that all this is knowable is knowable via the scientific method and the rest is not worth philosophizing about. At times though Science stumbles upon it’s own logic like postulating that the matter for the Big Bang came from the collapse of a parallel universe of which there may be a countless number. Such postulation does nothing to resolve the issue. It just shoves the question back further in time. Ultimately you are faced with the same question. Where did the matter come from for that the very first universe (or first set of parallel universes)? Where did the laws come from that determined how that matter would act? Science cannot answer that question and never will be able to despite physicists like Stephen Hawking boldly declaring that religion is not necessary to explain such things and that science has all the necessary resources. Funny how a man who is so staunchly atheistic describes a universe that can create itself out of nothing (ex-nihlo) the very words used by theology to describe how God created the universe (see: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-02/world/hawking.god.universe_1_universe-abrahamic-faiths-divine-creator?_s=PM:WORLD ). Stephen Hawking is sounding very much like a theologian to me. He just doesn’t want to ascribe this ex-nihlo power to an identifiable, knowable God but instead leaves it to an impersonal universe. Whatever works for you Stephen.

Science, though part of the secular/humanist worldview, really sets itself at odds with both the Biblical worldview and rest of the secular/humanist worldviews. I stumbled upon an article about a psychologist Ellen J. Langer(http://chronicle.com/article/The-Art-of-Living-Mindfully/63292/) who created a bit of an uproar through a blog entry she wrote for Psychology Today.  She recounted a story of a friend who had gone with a group on a trip to India during which they met a guru who asked to have his picture taken with them. Two photos were taken with different cameras and when developed neither photo pictured the guru. He was unexplainably not in either photo. Langer offered no explanation but used the story to suggest that when the data does not fit the theories (i.e. there was no logical reason the guru should have been absent from the photos) then we need to “open our minds to possibility.” Not surprisingly Langer was railed at for making such an un-scientific, intellectually untenable suggestion. All Langer is suggesting is that when the facts don’t fit our theories then we need to think “outside the box.” Therein is the rub. Science cannot think outside the box. The box is science. Remove the box and you remove science. Thinking “outside the box” in science is limited to challenging theories and positing new ones while staying inside the box of the scientific method.

I digress though. So what about the Christian and Mindful Living? Is this worth our consideration? I think not and here is why. We already have divine revelation that tells us all we need to know about life and how to live it. It’s called the Bible. Our problem is our ignorance of it. The typical scenario plays out like this. Secular psychology touts the benefit of some Eastern philosophy such as meditation or Mindful Living and it’s all the rage. Thoughtful Christians come along and say that parallel ideas are taught in the Bible and point a few out. They then suggest that such a philosophy does have benefit for the Christian providing we consider it in the Biblical context. While I appreciate this approach to me it begs a troubling question. Why does it take a Buddhist philosophy employed by Western psychology to get us Christians to reconsider what’s been sitting in our Bibles and within the proper context for thousands of years! Could it be that we are scandalously ignorant of our Bibles? I think the answer is a resounding yes!

I found an article that attempted to address Mindful Living and Christianity. What caught my eye was that the first 90% of the article quoted various men like 17th century monk Brother Lawrence, Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, and Dr. Normal Vincent Peale (all men it seems who tried to blend Biblical Christianity with Eastern philosophy). Finally at nearly the end of his long article he quotes two Bible passages with minimal comment. Apparently the philosophies of men have more meaning than the divine revelation of God. I don’t find this shocking though as the articles author sounds far more Buddhist than Christian to me and his list of links are strong evidence for that.

My call in this posting is for us Christians to start being Christians! Romans 12:1-2 describes how we go about doing this:

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, [a]acceptable to God, which is your [b]spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this [c]world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may [d]prove what the will of God is, that which is good and [e]acceptable and perfect.

Pasted from <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12&version=NASB>

The key is found in verse two. It is the renewing of our minds. We renew our minds by reading God’s divine revelation to us (i.e. we read the Bible). Biblical meditation is not some mindless state like Buddhist meditation but rather the focusing our minds on what we are reading and allowing it to wash over us as guided by the Holy Spirit to where it informs us on how to live. The Word of God is instructional and propositional. It is not a philosophy. It is precisely because it is instructional and propositional that it is rejected by most. We all love philosophies because there are so many to pick and chose from and if one doesn’t work why just pick another. Philosophies do not demand anything of you. They can be safely ignored.

I could write, and perhaps will, another article on God’s teaching on how to deal with everyday problems and worries that Mindful Living seeks to address. What we don’t need is to read books and articles on Mindful Living written from a Buddhist philosophical viewpoint. What we do need is to practice Romans 12:1-2 and allow the Spirit of God to renew our minds through the Word of God.

Human philosophies will come and go although nothing is truly new any more. Buddhist teachings have been around for centuries. Certain aspects of it will gain popularity from time to time but it’s all been there for centuries.  God though is eternal and His revelation predates anything Buddhism or any other human philosophy has posited.  Why follow the imaging’s of men when you can go straight to the Source – the divine Word of God?

I’m sure Mindful Living has helped some. The goal though as a Christian is not just learning to live a more peaceful and happy life. Biblically happiness is a by-product of a right relationship with God. It is not an end unto itself. We are living mindfully when we realize that it is God who created all things for our use and pleasure as we seek to love, obey, and glorify Him. We become enlightened by renewing our minds as per Romans 12:1-2. Enlightenment though is always limited to that which God has revealed as we will never have the mind of God. It is in knowing that God, His purpose for our lives, and His divine plan for eternity that our everyday acts take on mindfulness. Don’t focus on mindful living though. Focus on your relationship with God through His revelation and in the person of Jesus Christ and you will live mindfully.


Why This Blog and Why This Name

J.B. Phillips wrote a book titled “Your God is Too Small” in which he argues that modern man with all his technology has antiquated notions of God and does not find God big enough for our modern world and modern problems. Not in any way disagreeing with his work I am coming at this a bit askew. My take is that many reject God for the opposite reason. He has grown too big. As long as God remains distant, disinterested, limited in power, and a bit nebulous then belief in such a God is acceptable. However, the moment we claim this God can do miracles, create the universe out of nothing, create the universe in 6 literal days with the apparent age of billions of years, and can be known in a personal, detailed way why then that God is too big! Now he is a force to be reckoned with and we don’t like that. We want a safe God who is there when we need him but otherwise respects our boundaries. If He is knowable in a personal and specific way then that is not conducive to religious tolerance because now we have a God that just might differ from someone else’s God. So in a sense we want our God to remain small. I should have named it “Your God is too Big” but I put “Our” in there and now I’m stuck with it unless I want to start all over and so the name is here to stay.

That is why the name of the blog. As to why I am writing it well I love to write and teach and do commentary on modern life and faith. As a divorced Christian I have found myself somewhat of a second class citizen at times in some churches. Get a divorce and all kinds of doors close to you in conservative churches no matter what the reasons. You are damaged good and not the kind of example the church wants to hold up to its members. I am not going to argue the point and instead have chosen to find other outlets for my thoughts in the hopes they might benefit someone while providing me with a much needed outlet. So thus this blog.

I hope my occasional articles will be of some benefit even if you disagree with me on some points. I may even disagree with myself over time and have to retract some things. This is my space to think aloud and I hope you will read with that in mind. No matter what my convictions I am a student always learning and respectful of other’s convictions. In thinking aloud I sometimes see the error of my logic or my understanding of Scripture. That is a good thing. So read and comment if you like although I reserve the right to edit or block comments I feel inappropriate. I am not hear to enter into major debates. I hope though you will find some food for thought.