Satan’s Best Schemes- Racism

The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil- 1stJohn 3:8 NASB

Last week a theological bombshell came out of the Catholic church. In an interview with an Italian magazine Fr. Arturo Sosa stated the following:

 “The devil is not a person,” but is instead “a way of acting evil…It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”  Sosa went on to say, “Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Okay, so, Fr. Arturo Sosa, is the Superior General of the Jesuit priests and therefore a very big deal in the Catholic church. His declaration directly contradicts both Catholic doctrine and the Bible.  When I heard of this development, I did what most people do when they hear something they find shocking. I searched google to find out how many other people agree with him. I quickly learned that a whopping eighty-three percent of Catholics and fifty-five percent of Evangelical Protestants agree with Fr. Sosa that Satan is nothing but a figment of fevered imaginations.  

With all due respect to Fr. Sosa and every other Christian who does not believe in the devil. 

You all are wrong. 

Satan is a powerful being created by God. He eventually became filled with pride, turned against God and embraced evil (Isaiah 14:11-13, Luke 10:18).  The words devil and Satan are used interchangeably a total of eighty-two times in the Bible. Most describe the devil and his exploits (Luke 13:16, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:3, John 8:44, 1stThessalonians 2:18). The other passages are mostly just warnings to be on guard against the devil (Ephesians 4:26-28, James 4:7, 1stPeter 5:8).  It would be strange for God to describe something or someone that does not exist. It would be stranger still for God to warn people about something that does not exist. 

Seriously.

Ephesians 6:11-17 depicts Satan as a schemer. Satan is always looking for an opening so he can hurt individuals, ruin relationships, turn people away from God and basically just wreak havoc on the human race.  The Greek word for scheme in Ephesians 6:11 is a compound word.  The first part of the word means “to study” and the second part means to “run over”. What this word tells us about Satan is that he carefully studies people and situations looking for ways to run people over so that he can derail them from God’s purposes for their life. 

We are responsible for our own choices.  No one gets to lay all their bad behavior at the feet of the devil. That being said, Satan’s fingerprints are all over some of the greatest evils of our time. He does his best work when he plants ideas in our minds that appeal to our sinful tendencies and self-centeredness. Unless we are spiritually aware and walking in the Spirit (John 16:13, Galatians 5:16-17) we run with whatever questionable ideas have been planted in our heads. Because there are fewer and fewer people who are consciously choosing to walk in the Spirit, it is easy for Satan to introduce lies that turn people against each other and cripple the work of the church. 

Satan’s most successful schemes are the ones he uses to drive wedges between people, spread deception and destroy the work of the church. 

Racism is one of Satan’s most successful schemes. 

Racism is not new, nor is it strictly an American problem. Although, for the record, American racism has had some exceptionally ugly characteristics that kind of put it in a class of its own. The ancient world was rife with racism although racist attitudes were based less on skin color and more on achievement, political power and military might. Greeks were the pretentious eggheads of the ancient world, they believed they were superior to any race who lacked art or a written language of their own. Romans supposed they were better than any race of people they could conquer militarily.  Jews took their title as God’s chosen people pretty seriously and believed they were the only race God loved. This led them to believe they were superior to everyone. 

Jesus came to change all that. His coming was intended to eliminate racism from the heart of anyone who truly believes in Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus died for everyone and there is no race is superior to any other (Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:15-17). Sadly, Satan has managed to use pride and human stupidity to convince some people (sometimes even God’s people) that they are somehow better than other people based on the color of their skin or country of origin.  

Well-meaning people have endeavored to eliminate the evils of racism by highlighting any attitude or action that they feel is even vaguely racist. Unfortunately, their definition of racism is so broad that our society has come to a place where literally everything is racist. Satan has cleverly made racism seem less horrible than it really is by calling everything racist. When everything is racist nothing is racist and the real racists get away with truly racist behavior.  

Sigh.

This is a place where Christians can bring much-needed balance to the table.  We do that by loving and respecting everyone regardless of color or nationality and by understanding that there is absolutely no room for racist thinking anywhere in the body of Christ.  

Seven Idols Christians Worship

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever book I happen to be reading in the Bible tends to have a discernable impact on my writing. However, I usually only see the impact in hindsight.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I clearly see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was writing a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The difference between those blogs and this one is that this time I am intentionally connecting a biblical topic I have been studying with a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing in the church.  

So. 

I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. Hosea got me thinking about idolatry and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament. 

While I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both abandoned their faith in Christ and “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a tiny bit). The book of Hosea and other prophetic books make a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). In the Bible there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God. Apostasy always followed a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some tend to more of an issue among Christian leaders while others affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we are experiencing. When we get a handle our tendency towards idolatry we may see fewer people leaving the church.  

Sadly, there is something in the following to offend pretty much everyone. Beginning with:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy and godly desire to see churches grow and Christian beliefs spread. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for celebrity and recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture; although the biblical standard for success is vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. He is also unapologetically judgmental. Like it or not, God judges any person who declines to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all lollipops, sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than God (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

1st Timothy 3:6 cautions Church leaders against placing new converts in positions of leadership. This is because when new converts become leaders they also become prideful. Eventually they may even begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other Christians and even God. A twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until we stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols need to be cast down and ours are no different. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to Bible study and prayer. When we study the Bible, it enlightens our minds and empowers us to see life the way God sees life. Prayer ensures that the attitudes of our heart truly reflect the heart of God. 

The Most Misunderstood Word in the Church

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. I have observed that the aforementioned shifts have also resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability and opportunities for influence but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the result was that the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and a good deal of its authority. 

I am concerned that as the church shifts due to technological, social and political changes we have no control over; Christians are in danger of losing some critically important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. In a very real sense it was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

We are losing our sense of community in Christianity partially because Christians have adopted a worldly view of a Christian concept: hospitality. Hospitality is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in the Bible. This is doubtless due to the influence of cable channels like the Food Network and HGTV. Thanks to these networks many have come to believe that hospitality is nothing more or less than preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is more than all that. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. There are at least five misunderstandings most Christians have about hospitality 

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar on the surface because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rdJohn 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command (Hebrews 13:2, 1stPeter 4:9, 1stJohn 2:3). When we practice true biblical hospitality, we show people that we love them and that they matter to us and to God (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people in church world.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Like it or not hospitality is a form of evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households both the husband and wife work. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These undertakings can easily eat up much (if not all) of our spare time.  Many feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding more relationships to the mix simply feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we do not have time to care, it’s time to cut something so we do have time to care. 

Hospitality is something other people should do for me-

 Hospitality is something Christians ought to strive to do for one another (1stPeter 4:9) by providing a listening ear, soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t we are the ones missing out. 

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Weird Lies Christians Believe-

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 Everyone hates a liar. 

 The foulest heathen on earth will react with righteous indignation when they discover that they have been deceived by a liar.

 Seriously.

 That being said, in a culture where obvious lies are routinely accepted as truth it is easy to forget just how bad lies really are. Satan himself is the architect of the whole concept of lying (John 8:44). It was a lie (and the choice to believe a lie) that caused man to become separated from God (Genesis 3:1-6). Ultimately, lies are at the root of idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, greed, selfishness and pretty much every other foul sin and form of foolishness man has managed to devise (Romans 1:25-32). Lies are by their very nature so hideously deceptive that most people who believe a lie actually believe that the lie is truth. Perhaps, the worst thing about lies is that when a person chooses to believe a lie they enter into spiritual and intellectual bondage (John 8:32). Because no one (in their right mind) voluntarily enters into bondage most people living in bondage to a lie have no idea they are even in bondage.

 Sigh.  

 Christians are not immune from believing lies all sorts of weird lies. Because we are God’s ambassadors (1stCorinthians 5:20) and because the most pernicious lies all have a spiritual component to them. The lies Christians believe make life and ministry much more difficult. Following are six lies Christians routinely believe:

 God doesn’t care about __________________________ anymore-

 Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever issue you (or someone you know) has decided God stopped caring about over the course of the last century. On one level, it actually makes sense that unbelievers would choose to think that God has somehow moderated His stance on issues like hatred, lust, adultery, greed, selfish-ambition, homosexuality and covetousness. Heathens have a vested interest in buying into that line of thinking. However, anytime Christians buy into this lie we lose our individual and cultural moral authority. Even a small loss of moral authority seriously hinders our ability to be obedient to the command to act as witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). 

 Christians who grow-up in a Christian home are spiritually superior to those who grow-up with pagans or vice-versa –

 A lot of God’s people (including me) have bought into one version or another of this lie at some point in their Christian life.  Christians who come from a long line of Christians and Christians who grew up in the spiritual ghetto (metaphorically speaking) are the ones most likely to believe this lie but for entirely different reasons. The first group sometimes has issues with spiritual pride and self-reliance and the second doesn’t always have the faith to believe God can turn their mess into a message. Both versions are categorically wrong. God uses anyone open to being used (Numbers 22:26-30).

 Deception and hypocrisy are fine as long as we keep it on the downlow-

 I am convinced that most Christians do not consciously choose to begin living a double life. It just kind of happens. One moral compromise leads to a another, coverups become a way of life and before they know it fakery, duplicity, and pretense are their standard operating procedure. This particular lie hurts everyone because even unbelievers understand instinctively that Christians are called to live life at a higher standard.  When Christians choose hypocrisy and deception over sincerity and authenticity it quickly becomes painfully obvious to everyone and unbelievers judge God, the church and other Christians for the willful duplicity of a few (Numbers 32:2, Acts 5:1-10).   

 If I believe something to be true, it is-

 This is without question one of strangest lies to take root in the history of humanity, just because it is so stinking easy to fact check. Nonetheless, most of the world has bought into the notion that truth is self-determined. Even many Christians have hopped on this bandwagon and believe that the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE should alter His opinions regarding homosexuality, adultery, premarital sex and dozens of other issues simply because lots of people feel differently than He does about those issues.  

 Church is a waste of time-

 This clever lie is courtesy of the devil it keeps believers from reaching their full potential in Christ. Church does matter. It matters because it is one of the primary places we go to learn about God’s plan for our life. Church is also the place we learn to accept and love people who are different from us. Ideally it is where we got to encourage and be encouraged and where we grow mentally, spiritually and emotionally (1stThessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13).

 My gifts are stupid-

 This lie is perhaps the devil’s cleverest lie ever. It keeps good and gifted Christian people on the sidelines thinking the only gift they have to offer anyone is an occasional casserole brought to a potluck. This is simply not true. If a Christian is breathing God has a purpose for that person in the body of Christ (1stPeter 4:10, Romans 12:3-8). It’s up to each one of us to find those gifts and use them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways We Made the Facts Feel Sad this Week

 

You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 It was a tough week to be a fact.

 During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said something that implied she might be a-wee-bit intolerant towards certain facts:

 “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

 Later in the week Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security), presented some statistics (a fancy word for facts) concerning the number of migrants, drug smugglers and gang members crossing the Southern border in a given year, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi interrupted Ms. Nielson’s presentation to say:

  “I reject your facts”

 Hmm.  That’s all I have to say about that.

 Dems were not the only ones coldshouldering the facts this week. During an interview with Mike Wallace, Whitehouse Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders stated that accuracy regarding the number of terrorists captured at the Southern border did not matter so long as the overall numbers of terrorists captured in the country were accurately reported.  

 Sigh.

 If I were a fact I would be a bit miffed.

 As I considered the flagrant fact-shunning, I found myself thinking some rather scornful thoughts regarding worldly people and their lack of logic.  Then I had a weird and fairly awkward epiphany. I realized that Christians do the same kinds of things with a different set of facts. We sometimes disdain, disregard and disrespect facts or truths simply because we do not like them. Following are five things Christians say when we just don’t like certain facts.    

 I think that God just wants me to be happy –

 Folks typically whip this weary line out when they really, really, really, want to do something that the Bible explicitly prohibits (adultery, bitterness, homosexuality, divorce without biblical grounds, premarital sex, etc.). Like it or not, it is a fact that God forbids certain behaviors (Galatians 5:19-21, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:3-6, Revelation 22:12-16). That said, I do not believe God forbids things because He is indifferent to the feelings of people. God is not an uncaring monster who gets a kick out of seeing people living out their lives in abject misery. Truth-be-told God just cares more about our eternal wellbeing and holiness than our momentary happiness.  God sees the bigger picture and potential consequences we are incapable of seeing in our fallen, finite state. He knows what making a specific choice (like committing adultery or becoming bitter) will do to our souls, our families and our ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. God loves people and He knows that we are all just stupid enough to forgo our future health and spiritual wellbeing on the altar of pleasure and expediency. God loves people too much to simply let us be led by something as stupid (and subject to change) as feelings.  

 My God wouldn’t do that-

 People typically say this in response to being told that God judges sinners who refuse to repent of their sin. They might say “my God doesn’t judge” or “my God loves everyone”. The biggest and most basic problem with this particular line of reasoning is that it is firmly grounded in willful ignorance. There is only one God and He does love everyone. However, God makes it clear in His word that He will judge anyone who refuses to repent (John 5:28-29, 1stTimothy 2:5, Job 21:22, Revelation 6:9-11, Revelation 20:12-13).

 That’s not my conviction-

 Conviction is a firmly held belief concerning whether or not something is right or wrong. Christians should feel conviction (a sense of guilt) anytime they knowingly violate God’s standards. In recent years some have concluded that if they don’t feel conviction (guilt) over something then it’s not a sin. Their lack of guilt or conviction makes the thing okay. But, here’s the thing, one does not have to feel conviction or guilt about something for it to be wrong (Romans 1:28-32, Jeremiah 8:12). There are people in thisworld who do not feel an ounce of conviction about doing really terriblethings (murder, bigotry, infidelity, blasphemy, theft). Their lack of conviction does not make a sin any less sinful.  The Bible clearly states that the only time our feelings should dictate whether or not something is right or wrong is when the issue is not clearly a sin (grey area). If we feel guilty doing something (even if that thing is not clearly violating Scripture) then God does not want us to do that thing (1stCorinthians 8)

 I haven’t experienced that so I can’t say if it’s right or wrong-

 There are actually people who sincerely believe that one must experience something in order to judge whether or not something is sinful. This simply does not pass the logic test. If you carry this line of thinking out to its reasonable conclusion it means one cannot know if it’s wrong to kill someone until they have actually committed murder. Please. That’s just stupid.

 I reject that reality-

 Reality is a fact. Facts cannot be debated or rejected (sorry, Nancy). Reality is what it is. Only crazy people reject reality and they are crazy precisely because they choose to reject reality.  People who do not wish to be labeled as crazy should not reject reality.

  Please be courteous to the facts this week folks. Last week was a rough one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Out the Why of Christmas

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ~ Luke 4:18-19 NIV

A note to my readers:

Okay, so, I am not a big fan of self-promotion.  To be perfectly honest, I loathe it with every fiber of my being. However, I do want to let you all know that I recently wrote a devotional based on the book of Colossians. It’s called Rooted: 29 days in the book of Colossians. It’s available on Amazon in a softcover for only $3.75. It would make a good stocking stuffer. If you have already purchased the book (and you don’t hate it) please consider writing a review. I would really appreciate it!

Rooted Book

Being a Christian and a blogger is tough at Christmastime. 

 At this point in history everyone knows that December is the month the early church chose to celebrate the advent (arrival) of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2). If one is both a Christian and a blogger (and I am both of those things) then the season of Christmas is legitimately a very big deal that warrants at least a mention in said blog.

However.

For whatever reason, Christmas in the Western world has become more of a cultural celebration than a spiritual celebration and that makes Christmas tough for me personally as a Christian writer. Do I write a syrupy-sweet post lauding the shallow but still Christian aspects of the season? Or, do I go the more prophetic route and demand in a cantankerous tone that everyone ditch the fun stuff and worship Jesus in spirit and truth sans the materialistic, godless razzle-dazzle? Or, do I simply pretend there’s no such thing as Christmas and continue on with business as usual?  

It’s my annual Christmas conundrum. 

The soul-searching/navel gazing began early this year when I was asked to speak at a Christmas event in early December. As I prepared for the event I did a lot of thinking about Christmas in general and why we celebrate Christmas in particular. Ultimately, I decided that Christians have (for the most part) lost sight of the “why” of Christmas. In the midst of the feverish gift-giving, cookie-baking and decorating many of us have forgotten that Jesus’ first coming was more than just an excuse to make merry. 

It was the biggest game-changer in the history of forever.

 The birth of Jesus paved the way for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection, made it possible for every human who has ever lived to to get free from the penalty of sin (eternity in hell), the fear of death, the prison of idolatry, and the spiritual oppression that began at the fall (Genesis 3). Furthermore, the values of compassion, charity, justice and equality that Jesus brought to earth caused humanity to do some collective soul-searching. As a result, human rights, women’s rights, poverty programs, egalitarianism and the whole concept of religious freedom eventually became things human beings take seriously enough to fight for.  

That is worth celebrating. 

However, too often at Christmastime we get so caught-up in the hullaballoo that surrounds Christmas that we lose our sense of wonder and astonishment at the beauty that lies at the heart of the Christmas story.  We lose something of infinite value anytime we cease to rejoice and wonder at the crazy-truth that the God of the universe willingly left the comfort and majesty of heaven simply so that He could give a bunch of mostly ungrateful, clueless sinners an opportunity to get right with Him. 

Keeping the why of Christmas in mind this time of year is no easy task and no one needs another to-do list this time of year. That said, there are three really basic things we can all do to keep our hearts in the right place at Christmastime:     

Free yourself from the weird bondage that surrounds Christmas-

 Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth was to free humanity from bondage (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5, Luke 4:18, John 8:32). Yet for some inexplicable reason every December millions of people (mostly women) celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior by freely putting themselves into bondage over a bunch of (mostly stupid) stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with God, Jesus, or why we celebrate Christmas. Those things include (but are not limited to) baking billions of cookies, writing newsletters, decorating, gift-giving and unnecessary people-pleasing. None of those things are sinful but neither should they be done out of obligation or in place of the things that help us and other people grow closer to Jesus.    

Read through the book of Luke before Christmas day- 

Weirdly enough, Jesus (the whole point of Christmas), can (and does) get lost in the celebration of Christmas. Reading the book of Luke is a powerful weapon against secularism and spiritual complacency at Christmas.   Luke’s passion for the person of Jesus shines in his writing. He uses words like awe, surprised, marvel, amazed, wondered and astonished almost excessively, sometimes two or three times in a single sentence. As you read through the book take the time to highlight those words. Pray that God will fill you with wonder and amazement as He empowers you to see His hand working in your life and in the lives of the people around you. This tiny act will help you to see Jesus in fresh new way this Christmas. I promise.

Be purposeful about being grateful- 

The materialistic focus of Christmas oftentimes keeps us from being grateful for the things we already have (and most of us have a lot). When we take the time to be thankful for what God has already given us our gratitude serves as a reminder that there is more to life than stuff and more to feeding our souls than getting stuff and we could all use a little bit more of that this season. 

How One Bible Teacher Got it Hopelessly Wrong This Time-

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

  Seismic shifts have taken place in evangelical churches in recent years and it is true that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of these two realties there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

 Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens in church world that is so peculiar or awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.

 A podcast I listen to regularly interviewed Pastor Andy Stanley. I, like, most American Christians have read several of his books.  I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is study it.

 

 

How Politics Became the New Religion-

They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, “these are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” ~ Exodus 32:8 NIV

 We live in strange times.

 In the spring of 2017 a group of Republican lawmakers were attacked by a gun-wielding wacko. One of them was nearly killed. In Portland Oregon ANTIFA protesters are blocking traffic, harassing old ladies, demolishing property and menacing anyone who disagrees with their politics and/or dubious methods of expediting change. Men, women and sometimes even their children have been forced to leave restaurants simply because those gathered at that restaurant do not approve of the political beliefs of those men and women.

 Just when it feels safe to simply blame kooks on the left for all this lunacy, a kook on the right has been caught mailing explosives to Democratic politicians and a news outlet. Sadly, there are an abundance of nut-jobs on both sides of the aisle.

Smart people everywhere ought to lay awake at night wondering why there are so many individuals who become so utterly unhinged at the mere thought that an acquaintance, relative, neighbor or stranger on-line might disagree with their political opinions.

 Seriously.

 This problem is not exclusive to a small group of whack-jobs who react violently to those who disagree with them.  According to the Pew Research Center forty-four percent of progressives and thirty-one percent of conservatives have confessed to blocking or unfriending someone on social media simply because they disagreed with their political views. That means that nearly eighty-percent of our population is so pig-headed (and immature) where their politics are concerned that they will not allow themselves to be exposed to an opinion they disagree with. Before we do the trendy thing and blame the President for this mess we need to keep in mind that those statistics were collected a full two years before the 2016 election (October 2014).

 Truth-be-told this whole loathsome mess is actually a spiritual problem rather than a political problem. Humans are spiritual beings (Genesis 1:27, Romans 1:19-20).  Every person has a God-sized hole inside their soul that they attempt to fill with something. For eons humanity has filled that void with religious activity of one sort or another.  Recently our culture has wandered away from the religious and embraced the secular. As we have drifted away from belief in God a substantial number of those God-sized holes have been filled-up with political dogma. As a result, folks on both ends of the political spectrum are zealously embracing their political beliefs as absolute and unerring Truth. Those who have embraced politics as the answer to everything believe that the only way we as a culture will be “saved” is through conformity to their particular brand of political dogma.

 We should all be alarmed by this turn of events because in the past, when nations have embraced politics in place of a God, the end result has always been the same. A strong political leader eventually stepped into the void and demanded that he be obeyed as if he were God. This has always resulted in citizens being forced to obey the tyrannical leader or face the consequences (enslavement, imprisonment or death).

 As Christians we have a sacrosanct duty to our God and our culture to be a stabilizing and preserving influence (1st Timothy 2:1-3, Matthew 5:13). There are four ways to do this:

 Pray for revival-

 For the most part, individuals in our civilization are dreadfully unhappy. Those who embrace their political opinions as absolute truth tend to be more miserable than most. This is because politics can never really fill the space in our hearts that was intended to be occupied by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray for the salvation of those who are inflexible and militaristic in their political opinions.  When we see revival, we will also see the social change politics have been unable to bring about.   

 Be kind-

 We do have not have to kowtow to every outrageous thing crazy people say. In fact, I personally believe that we should be ready to explain why we believe what we believe about everything, at all times to all people, even crazy people. That being said, we do need to speak that truth kindly and with grace even to crazy people (Colossians 4:6, Ephesians 4:15, 1st Peter 3:15).

 Keep your priorities straight-

 Politics are critically important. Every Christian who is fortunate enough to live in a democracy should be politically mindful and active. At the very least Christians should make every effort to vote and to vote biblically. That being said, politics are not, nor should they ever be the end-all-be-all of life (especially for Christians). Even the best, most biblically astute political candidate in the world or the most well-crafted law will never save anyone from anything, only Jesus can do that.

 Know who you are-

 If you are a believer in Jesus Christ you are a child of God. A believer’s identity is to be found in Christ and Christ alone. Christians should never find their identity in a particular political party or partisan belief system. Anytime we do we are clearly stepping over the line into the sin of idolatry.

Keeping Bitterness at Bay-

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more~ Psalm 71:20-21 NIV

 There are some sins unique to a few seriously creepy individuals. Normal people might joke about murder. However, few of people actually kill people.  Even fewer people joke about cannibalism, human sacrifice or most of the sins listed in Leviticus chapter twenty. 

 Then there are the other sins.

 Those irksome little sins that sprout-up like weeds in a garden. The sins we all struggle with at some point in our lives (1st Corinthians 10:13). There is simply no one in all of human history who has not grappled with lust, inappropriate anger, jealousy, hatred, selfish ambition and the inclination to gossip (Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6).

 Bitterness is another one of those sins. Scripture clearly instructs Christians to avoid becoming bitter and remaining bitter (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15). That being said, most of us (if we’re honest) will admit to giving into the sin of bitterness at some point.  

Most people do not become bitter without reason. This can lead other wise sane people to feel justified and even righteous as they wallow around in the anger and resentment that inevitably leads to bitterness.  Regrettably, I am well-acquainted with the sin of bitterness. I learned first-hand over the course of several miserable and painfully unproductive years that bitterness is one of those sins that hurts us far more than it hurts the people who have sinned against us.

 It is critical we understand that God does not forbid bitterness because it is never defensible, logical or understandable. God forbids bitterness because bitterness gradually obliterates every good thing God has done in us.  At the root of a bitter spirit is unforgiveness. Unforgiveness causes us to miss the grace of God and prevents us from experiencing the Christian life in all of its beauty and fullness (Matthew 6:14-15, Hebrews 12:15, Luke 17:4).

 The ways we can become bitter are endless. Something as small and seemingly insignificant as being offended or ignored can cause a bitter root to develop in more sensitive people. An unfaithful spouse, a twofaced friend, an unpleasant childhood or ongoing injustice can cause bitterness in even the most thick-skinned of individuals.  

 Because bitterness is such a common sin and because it is something we are cautioned to avoid at all costs there are at least four things every Christian needs to understand about bitterness.

 Bitterness makes spiritual growth impossible-

 It does not matter how many Bible studies the bitter person attends (or teaches). Nor does it matter how much of the Bible someone can repeat verbatim. There is something about the choice to remain bitter that makes it impossible for that person to apply the truth they have learned (or taught) to their own life. Any learning that does take place is typically just empty academic agreement (head knowledge) rather than a full emotional and intellectual adoption of truth we have understood and embraced (heart knowledge). Satan celebrates when Christians become bitter because bitterness keeps Christians stuck in a cycle of obtaining knowledge without actually growing (2nd Timothy3:7).

 Bitterness halts clear communication with God-

 Bitterness is a sin (Ephesians 4:31). Repentance from sin is the only way to restore clear and unrestricted communication with God (2nd Chronicles 7:14, Daniel 9:1-19). Sadly, bitterness blinds us to the lack of communication we have with God, making it more difficult to get right Him.

 We have a responsibility to prevent our own bitterness-

 There will always be situations that come into our lives that have the potential to make us bitter. Some of those situations are one-hundred-percent unforeseeable and therefore entirely unavoidable. That being said, the author of the book of Hebrews tells the readers of the book to “see to it” that no “bitter root grows up”. The writer is instructing Christians to process and forgive offenses as quickly and completely as humanly possible.  Likewise, Christians should be very careful about voluntarily placing themselves in situations where bitterness is an obvious and foreseeable end result of said situation (Ephesians 5:15).

 Behaving in a way that causes others to become bitter is as sinful as bitterness-

 The New Testament clearly teaches a principal of mutual accountability when it comes to sin (Matthew 18:6). For example: Christians are clearly forbidden from committing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Mark 7:21). That being said, spouses are cautioned against refusing each other sexually because doing so could tempt their spouse to commit adultery (1st Corinthians 7:1-5). Obviously, a lack of “IT” in a marriage does not make adultery acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:4). However, it does make the other partner accountable to God for their refusal to obey Scripture.  Similarly, each person is responsible before God for their own choice to become bitter. However, we have an obligation to live in such a way that we do not give people just cause to become bitter. If we don’t we will be accountable to God for our refusal to obey Scripture.

 There is only one way to deal with bitterness-

 Forgive.

 Seriously.  It really is that simple. Let go of any bitterness you are holding onto and let God be the judge and jury of the other person.

 It’s His job (1st Samuel 24:12, Hebrews 4:13, 1st Peter 4:5).