Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees, Politics and Faith

Never trust a single picture by itself.

It takes more than one to get the full story.

I didn't really want to write about this. It is a subject with so many moving parts and such conflicting ideas both major and minor I feel as though almost no one who writes about it is going to get it all correct. On both sides of the debate on Facebook (admittedly not a bastion of deep thought), there have been loving people calling others they care about ignorant, foolish, overly idealistic and many other greater and lesser insults. I suppose my goal, what I want to do, is to look for what the biblical response in Christian action and reaction to it.

All that being said I encourage you to read through the whole thing before deciding whether this is helpful or not. If it is, I am glad for it. If it is not, feel free to ignore it. I do not claim to be perfect. I am trying to figure it out just like everybody else.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you may remember this post where I warn against politics overtaking faith. This is related to that in the sense that once again we have people polarizing on an issue on the basis of politics and emotion, and trying to use the Bible to back up what they are saying, rather than looking at what the Bible says and standing wherever it stands instead. The first pulls things out of context ("You know, at Christmas time there was a refugee family who couldn't find a room!") while the latter looks at God's position and says "I'll stand there." I hope we can all agree that whatever our feelings and concerns, whatever our politics, we want to stand where God stands and nowhere else. Now that all the introductory stuff is out of the way, we can start getting into the meat of our topic.

A few facts:

I have neither the time nor energy to be exhaustive here, so I will keep this to 3 fairly digestible parts.

1. Europe is finding itself in an untenable situation. In opening their doors to every refugee early on, they are becoming overwhelmed logistically. The newspaper Spiegal for example (Google translate needed), reported that a village of 100 was being told to take 1,000 refugees. That is overwhelming. Unless you have sewer, doctors, food, etc for 10x the amount of people, it will be a humanitarian disaster.

2. According to CNN the US administration is currently set to take 10,000 refugees and says it wants to take up to 85,000 in 2016, upping to 100,000 in 2017. This may or may not happen depending on how the politics work out. Furthermore, at the time of this writing, something like 30 state governors say they will not take any refugees. This also may or may not happen depending on how the politics work out.

3. Syria is a complete and utter disaster. The Atlantic gives a pretty decent overview of the parties involved, the complication of it and the loss of human life. We're not talking about a romanticized movie version of war. We are talking about bad guys vs. bad guys with a whole lot of innocents caught up in the middle. Muslims and Christians, men and women, children and the elderly, all are having their lives ripped apart.

The role of countries:

Now that we have a base-line of information to deal with, we can move forward to the "what now?" phase of things. Many say that the US should not take in a lot of refugees. They warn that ISIS and other evil groups are trying to get in through those channels as well. This is not an unreasonable or unfounded concern, as ISIS itself has said they plan to do this. Furthermore it is also said that the US should worry about its own first. We have many veterans, children and elderly who are homeless and not taken care of. They say if we have the resources to take in so many refugees, we should work on our own problems first. Again, this is a valid argument. To let our those in our own backyard suffer because we are so focused on those far away is not good. You could say the same about the mission approach to the church. While it is good to go into all the world and spread the Gospel, it is foolish and folly to forget about those who are right here with us.

On the other side of the coin you have those (rightly) say that Syria is a place with no hope and nothing to build from, at least for right now. They claim that if we are a Christian nation we should be willing to take any who could use our help and do what we can. This is good sentiment. To ignore what is going on simply because they are far away and "it doesn't affect us," is to be blind to how God works. We are called to all, not just those who are "like us."

Both sides are partially right. It is the job of a country to do what it can to sustain and protect itself. It is the job of a Christian to help those in need wherever and whoever they are. Where the mix-up comes is in the claim that we are a "Christian Nation." We are not. No country on earth has ever been a "Christian Nation." There have been nations filled with Christians, but Jesus did not come to save a nation-state. He came to save people. When we combine the two into one entity, that is where things begin to break down.I think that is also why I have had such a difficult time trying to figure out the Biblical approach to this. So how should we, as Christians, approach this issue?

See, while people make up a nation, they are not the nation-state itself. Our bodies are the same way. I am made up of cells, but those individual cells are not the body itself. My body has a different role and function than any of my cells do individually. It has a different purpose. Cells deal with cell things, the body deals with body things. Try and think of it like that.

If you are looking for a 10,000 foot view; what a response as a nation should be, I suggest reading Matt Walsh's post on this. It deals largely with the nation-state response and Christian attitudes. It was literally posted as I was writing this, but I want to focus on something different. I want to focus not on Christian attitudes and feelings, but individual Christian actions and reactions to the refugee crisis. 

The role of Christians:

I do not think that anyone out there is going to argue that we as Christians should not help people regardless of where they are from. I also do not believe that anyone would argue that the Bible says we should only give aid to those we feel like aiding. None of that is up for debate (at least as far as I know).

In James 1:27 that "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." As individuals, this is where we should stand. With this, there are two categories that people will fall into with the refugee situation: those that do not come into contact with them and those that do.

For those that do not come into contact with refugees, please be careful what you say and stand for, especially on social media. It is so, so easy for words to be misconstrued and people pushed further away from Christ by what they witness us say on the internet. When James says in 3:6 "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell." he was just talking about what comes out of our mouths. What we type with our hands can have the same effect. Remember, before anything else you are in Christ's service to do His Will and bring others to Him. If what you are about to post is going to harm that function, it would be better to keep it to yourself instead. Furthermore, please please pray for them. They are likely coming from a situation so terrible that you do not have the life experience to even begin to empathize with them on a real level. Your prayers have been and are needed desperately by a desperate people.

For those that do come into contact with refugees, your actions and attitudes will largely determine how they view Christianity in America. Many in the Middle East view the US as a Christian Nation. It will be shocking enough for them to see what the nation at large is like. It will be worse if those who actively claim to be Christians are no different. Gentleness, peace, aid, kindness, friendliness, spiritual gifts are all things that can make a huge difference. Do not follow the trends of those who are out to make their own followers and get their own votes. Follow the call of Christ to show Him to all you meet without fear, hesitation or apology. You never know the seeds that are being planted, so do all you can to plant good ones in all that you do. Instead of worrying about their motives, consider your own motives in how you respond, because those are what truly matter. Finally, as I said in the last paragraph, pray. Pray for yourself, that you will be Christ to those you meet. Pray for them, that they will come to know the Savior by what they see in you.

I am going to stop here because this post is getting overly long, but I hope it has opened your eyes to a different way to approach this crisis. In all things we are to be Christ's and respond with His love and care, no exceptions. We can make a difference, but only if we are relying on the One Who Makes the Difference. In all things, love. In all things, Christ.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

In His Steps

The standard of Jesus as an author was too ideal. Of course Jesus would use His powers to produce something useful, or helpful, or with purpose. For what reason was he, Jasper Chase, writing this novel? Why what nearly every writer wrote for - money and fame as an author. He was not poor, and so had no great temptation to write for money. But he was urged on by his desire for fame as much as anything. He must write this kind of matter.

But what would Jesus do? The question plagued him even more than Rachel's refusal. Was he going to break his promise? Did the promise mean much, after all?

As Jasper Chase looked out his window, Rollin Page emerged from the clubhouse just opposite. Jasper noted his handsome face and trim figure as he started down the street. He went back to his desk for a moment and then returned to the window. Rollin was walking down the block and Rachel Winslow was now beside him. Rollin must have overtaken her.

Jasper watched the two figures until they disappeared. Then he turned to his desk and began to write. When he had finished the last page of the last chapter of his book it was nearly dark. What would Jesus do? He had finally answered the question by denying his Lord. It grew darker in his room. He had deliberately chosen his course, urged on by his disappointment and loss.

Those paragraphs, from the book In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon, are terrifying to me. They are of a faith rocked and broken not by persecution or upheaval or terror, but disappointment and choice. It is not under torture or torment, it is not with bombs and guns.

It is a man alone in his room, choosing to walk away.

What is terrifying about this is the simplicity of it, and how common it is.

We see people make the choice every day. We have made this choice ourselves, at least on some days. It may not be as final as the paragraphs above, but can be just as deadly.

Our world lives and thrives on the lie that if it is not "bad" then it must be OK. It gives permission to do what we will as long as we are "following our conscience." It insists that our will is good, and that what we desire is fine, that as long as we are following our hearts we surely will end where we belong. In short, it says the exact opposite of what Christ calls us to.

I cannot recall anywhere where God said, "as long as it does not go directly against my commands, I don't care what you do." I cannot think of anyplace in the Bible where that is even implied. And I cannot think of anything like that because I am convinced that it does not exist in God's Word.

You see, Jesus does not call us to follow our own will, but His. He does not call us to tweak our lives, but overthrow them. His call is one of total subjection to Himself, and nothing less. To insist on our will because it is not "bad" is still to insist on our will over His

This is not something that can stand.

What we must do, if we are truly going to follow Jesus, is ask why we do what we are doing. We need to take the time and effort to dig down and see the real reasons and motivations that are driving us. There is a time for work. There is a time for play. There is a time for family. There is a time for friends. There is a time to be alone. But in all of those things there is and must be time for God. He must fill and override them all if we are to be who He truly calls us to be.

If we don't, we may very well reach a point where we look out our window, recognize our final choice, and close into a darkened room and a darkened heart.

If we do, however, we have so much more to look forward to. When our lives are filled with the light and love of Christ, when every crevice and undercurrent is written by God, when we choose to fill our lives and experiences with the life-giving force of the Savior, and when our lives are over-ridden with the love of serving the Master, everything changes.

There is a light that waits over the horizon, and you are invited to it. There is love and hope and light and life waiting on the other side, just out of reach and just out of sight. But we can catch glimpses of it now. Patches of glory that shine through and give us hope for what is coming. But we must make the choice now to be a part of it. We must choose to follow and fill ourselves no matter the cost. We must subject our lives, hobbies, friends, families, jobs, food, experiences and everything else the upward call of Christ.

Because on the other side lies darkness. Beckoning with promises of power and wealth and happiness. Empty promises it can never fulfill because it is empty itself. It has nothing true to offer except a sucking away of all we hold dear. It lies subtlety, appearing to be so much more than it is, its only true desire to drink deeply of our lives and empty us before the end.

But God offers to fill. He offers to fill us to overflowing and more. But we cannot accept it if we hold tight to our own wills. We must let go, because that is the only way we can truly recognize Him as Lord. He offers freely. The only condition being that we give up our poor ration of crumbs so He can fill us with the full fatness of His joy and blessing.

The choice is ours to make. To follow the Master of All who can truly give or the little gods who promise much but only consume. There is life waiting, and there is death.

Let us be those who choose life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Its All About

Christianity is tied to one central object, and one alone. That object is Christ. It is not love or kindness or being nice or giving. Please don't mistake me (and if you know me at all you probably won't): those things are all extremely important, non-negotiable, huge parts of what Christ called us to be. They are not, however, what make up the central tenet of Christianity. And we need to be careful we do not worship the call over the Caller.

"Love is patient, love is kind..."

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

These are all fairly well-known verses in the Bible. They speak of some of the central callings of the Christian. We are called to be all these things and more. We are called to give, to help the poor, to defend the weak, to encourage the brethren, to show mercy and pity, to love our neighbor, to be good, to show hospitality, and many other things.

But they are not what Christianity itself is about.

Because Christianity is about Christ. That's why it is called Christianity. That's why we are called Christ-followers. Please allow me to explain.

If we call ourselves Christians, but have none of those items above, I am not convinced that "Christian" is the right term for us. They show what it means to follow Christ. We cannot follow Him without love, we cannot follow Him without aiding our fellow man, we cannot follow Him without doing what He did. It just doesn't work. I cannot follow someone and then choose to not do what they said or live how they lived (or at least try my best to).

Hebrews 12:1-2 says "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

This is what I mean when I say Christianity is not about being nice, love, kindness, etc, but Christ.

Being a Christian requires those things, but it is not about those things. They are important and non-negotiable, but they are not the hub of the wheel. Jesus is.

The Hebrew writer makes it clear: we are to lay aside every weight (those things which hinder us), put away sin and run the race. We run that race by following in Jesus' footsteps. We follow His footsteps by loving our neighbor, by helping the poor, by encouraging the downtrodden, by showing kindness and mercy to all regardless of who they are or what they've done, etc.

But those are things that we do. They are not the things that we look to. They are not the things that we follow. We look to and follow Jesus, and none other.

Because Jesus is the only one that can save us. Without Him, everything else loses meaning. It is because of Jesus that everything else has a purpose. I cannot work my way into Heaven, I have to come through Jesus.

Want to know how big a deal love is?
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." I John 4:7-8.

If you don't have love, you don't know God. That's pretty clear. Love cannot be separated from Christianity. It is completely entwined within it.

But want to know the greater purpose of love?
"In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." I John 4:9-11

It is time we took the Word of God seriously about the calling He has called us to. To be there for the weak, to aid each other, and to love. Because He loved us first, and because He calls us to follow in His footsteps.

So let us follow. Not in the (relatively) weaker elements of the calling, but the greater One. The Hub.

Let us follow the Caller Himself.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Maturity and Entertainment

As you probably know, the new Muppets show recently aired on TV. It has been promoted as being a more "mature" and "edgy" version of the Muppets, with sexual jokes and innuendo, some language and a large dose of cynicism injected into the characters.

Now I'll be up front. I'm not a big Muppet guy. I remember seeing them on TV and Sesame Street, but they were never really my thing. I do not have much of a nostalgic view of them. I do at least try to keep informed on what is going on in the world though, and this was a big deal in the TV world, so I went ahead and watched it. I don't think I'll ever watch another one (like I said, Muppets aren't really my thing), but at least I know what it looked like here so that I can know what I am talking about.

It got me thinking, however, about what we consider to be "mature" programming. Now to be clear, while some of the jokes were crude and cynical, I didn't really notice anything horrifyingly blatant and outlandish, at least when compared to shows in similar time slots and formats. I had read what others had written about the show, but it really wasn't some new level of disgusting or crass. It was basically like any other generic mockumentary show, with Muppet characters taking the place of people who would be there instead. Honestly I was just kind of bored. 

But what I want to talk about is the larger issue at play here, which is why we call certain things "mature" and "edgy" and what that really means when it comes to what we choose to watch and play and allow our children to watch and play.

For a long time now (and especially it seems since TV Ratings began), the term "mature" has been used to describe many things that are anything but actually mature. We see this in the video game world as well, where M ratings for games are given out for content that is not mature, but for the blood, language and sex involved in it.

But blood, language and sex are not mature things in-and-of themselves. In fact they often do little more than cover over a film or game that, at its core, is simplistic and sophomoric in its telling. And we are the lesser for it.

The reason I take issue with this is because of how it has been and does change our perception of maturity. In doing this it gives those who are not mature (children, teenagers) a false idea of what it means to be mature and what it means to grow up. Children want to grow up and be big enough to do what adults are allowed to do. There used to be a time where that meant work and have a family and strike out on their own. Now in so many cases it becomes taken to mean play what adults play and watch what adults watch.

And those are two very different goals to have.

I realize that this is anecdotal, but I remember a kid in elementary school who told me he didn't want to play a video game unless it was rated 'M'. Having an 'M' rating meant it was good. All the other ratings meant that the game just wasn't worth playing, basically.

This was a kid. He wasn't over 4th grade at the time. He had no business having seen an 'M' rated game, must less it being his rating of choice.

But I am convinced that the reason he wanted to play those games (along with so many other kids), is because he wanted to be like the adults. And we have so infantilized and degraded what it means to be mature as to make it worthless. The biggest problem is that while we will suffer some for it, those who suffer the most from that mistake will be the kids who grow up thinking this is the way it is and should be. That your maturity is based on what you play and what you watch, instead of who you are and what you do with your life.

This is why it is so, so important that we not only take care of what our children watch and play but pay attention to what they perceive as why they can watch and play those things. Do we use terms like "this is a Mommy and Daddy show," or "this isn't a game for kids," not realizing that we may be driving them towards those same things by saying so? When we do something inappropriate for kids, we need to ask ourselves why said thing is inappropriate. 

The reason we need to ask ourselves why is because there are legitimate reasons for why we can do things children cannot do something we can. Some of these questions may look like the following:

Is it too complicated for them to understand?
Are the themes involved not something they are emotionally ready to handle?
Are my children ready to have their worldview challenged this way?
When is a time I would be comfortable allowing them to do this?

There are other questions to be sure, but this is a sample of legitimate reason you may not want your children to watch or play something. There are another set of questions that need to be asked however, that are a bit harder. We need to ask them though, because there are things that are not legitimate reasons for us being able to watch or do something when they cannot. Some of these questions may look like the following:

Is there anything good or worth thinking about in this show/movie/game?
What is the reason behind what is going on in it?
Is this glorifying sin or something that is sinful?
What is this filling my mind with and how does it affect my life?
Do I, as a Christ-follower, have any business watching or playing this?

Again, there are more questions than these, but this is a start. These questions are why I am so against things like Game of Thrones, the Kardashian's show and Attack on Titan (among others). They are why I refuse to play games like the modern Mortal Kombats and The Last of Us. It is not that they are well-polished and smartly done, but because they give nothing good back to the one involved with them. They are filled with gore, evil, cynicism and language and wrapped in a coating of sadistic humor. To fill yourself with entertainment like this is to fill yourself with the evil they are filled with.

We justify this by saying that it is "realistic," or "taken to the point of absurdity," but that is not the point. The point is that we have to justify it in the first place. As Christians, as those who claim to follow Christ, if we have to take pains to justify what we are watching or playing, chances are we don't have any business watching or playing it.

We need to ask these questions. We need to check ourselves on the entertainment we make ourselves a part of. Because what we desire to be a part of is what our children will desire to be a part of. And they will and do notice.

Take stock of your entertainment. Consider whether it is something worth being a part of or not. If you may come to the conclusion that yes, it is OK then great! But keep checking yourself so as to not get sucked into something that is not. If you get the feeling that it is not, perhaps it is time to change. Don't be afraid of it. It will enhance your life. It will enhance your children's life.

But don't allow the the world to tell you what you should or should not like, watch and play. Allow God to answer that question. He will never let you down.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Christ Died for Our Hearts

This is a rewrite of AW Tozer's essay of the same name. Large parts of it are quoted (but not marked as so), other parts are rewritten for clarity with a more modern audience. Originally written 50-70 years ago, none of it my own, it is very much worth reading.

The human heart lives by its sympathies and affections. In the day that will try every man's works it is not how much we know that will come in for much consideration. What and whom we have loved will be about all that matters then. For this reason we can never give too great care to the condition of our inner lives.

The vital place of moral sympathies in human character has not received the attention it deserves from our religious teachers in recent times. We are only now emerging from a long ice age during which an undue emphasis was laid upon objective truth at the expense of subjective experience. The climate in church circles was definitely chilly. We made the serious mistake of comparing ourselves to each other to judge our spiritual lives instead of comparing ourselves with Bible saints and with the superior lovers of God whose devotional works and hymns linger like a holy fragrance long after they themselves have left this earthly plane.

The reason behind this huge error is not hard to discover. The movement toward objective truth and away from religious emotion was in reality a retreat from fanaticism. Bible-loving Christians half a century ago were disgusted by certain gross manifestations of religious action by those who claimed to have the most exalted spiritual experiences, and as a result fled from the wildfire and into a deep freeze. Bible teachers became afraid to admit the rightness of religious emotion. The text became the test of tradition, and fundamentalism, the most influential school of evangelical Christianity, went over to textualism. The inner life was neglected in a constant preoccupation with the "truth," and truth was interpreted to mean doctrinal truth only. No other meaning of the word was allowed. Objectivism had won. The human heart cowered in its cold cellar, ashamed to show its face.

As might have been foreseen, the resulted in a steady decline in the quality of Christian worship on the one hand and, on the other, the rise of religious entertainment as a source of mental pleasure. Wise leaders should have known that the human heart cannot exist in a vacuum. If men do not have joy in their hearts they will seek it somewhere else. If Christian are forbidden to enjoy the wine of the Spirit they will turn to the wine of the flesh for enjoyment. And that is exactly what Christianity (as well as the so-called full gospel groups) has done in the last quarter century. God's people have turned to the amusements of the world to try to squeeze a bit of juice out of them for the relief of their dry and joyless hearts. Commercialized "gospel" singing now furnishes for many people the only religious joy they know. Others wipe their eyes tenderly over "gospel" movies, and a countless number of amusements flourish everywhere, paid for by the consecrated tithes of people who ought to know better. Our teachers took away our right to be happy in God and the human heart wreaked its terrible vengeance by going on a fleshly binge from which the evangelical church will not soon recover, if indeed it ever does. For multitudes of professed Christians today the Holy Spirit is not a necessity. They have learned to cheer their hearts and warm their hands at other fires. And scores of publishers and various grades of "producers" and getting fat on their neglect.

The human heart with its divine capacity for holy pleasure must no longer be allowed to remain the victim of fear and bad teaching. Christ died for our hearts and the Holy Spirit wants to come and satisfy them.

Let us be like Isaac and open again the wells our fathers dug and which have been stopped up by the enemy. The waters are there, cool, sweet and satisfying. The will spring up again at the touch of an honest shovel. Who will start digging?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You Won't BELIEVE What They Do with This Baby!

Image from Adam4d

I hope that title is click-worthy enough. Because what they do with that baby is tap its heart and see it beating, then cut off her face to pull out her brain.

Heart beating. Face cut off. Brain pulled out.

Do I really need to say anything else at this point? I you think I do, then read on.

Just as a reminder right up front, this is not a political issue. It is a moral one.

I'm pretty much past the point of being angry. I don't know if I am even sad anymore. More than anything I believe I am just kind of numb. And not the good kind of numb that lets you ignore whatever is going on, but that sinking, horrible kind of numb that comes over you as a defense mechanism so you don't completely lose your mind.

If you haven't seen the video, I suggest you do not watch it unless you have an extremely strong stomach and/or demeanor. If you are a sensitive person at all, a transcript of it would be much, much better for you.

I have been pretty quiet on the topic of abortion, especially on this blog. I mention it sometimes in preaching, but rarely (if ever) in writing. That cannot happen anymore. Though I may be late to the battle, the evil is too great and the costs are too high for me to remain silent anymore.

It is known that science at large promotes the idea that life begins at conception. Even PBS (not exactly a religious or conservative think-tank), promotes their special "Life's Greatest Miracle" with the tagline, Trace human development from embryo to newborn through the stunning microimagery of photographer Lennart Nilsson.

Trace human development. Not embryonic development. Not potential human development.

Do we see the disconnect yet?

A life in the womb is a human life. If it wasn't, abortion wouldn't be controversial. It is controversial because the life being destroyed is a human life. Yet by law there is a magical 7 inch boundary between the uterus and the outside world that says human life can be destroyed there, but not here.

But Planned Parenthood can't even abide by that.

They have taken living people, born outside the womb, and dissected them to sell their parts for money. We are currently living in a society where government gives half a billion dollars to an organization that has taken living people and chopped them up to sell their body parts. Yet it is justified by saying "oh, well that money doesn't go to abortions." That is a lie. In giving that of money to an organization, it directly goes to abortions by freeing up money from elsewhere for them.

I can't believe I am having to argue against giving money to an organization that is now known to treat living humans as a chop-shop for research. Of all the things I thought I would ever write about, this was not on that list. Yet people defend it and politicians sit around twiddling their thumbs because "shutting down the government is bad" and "people don't like them looking like big meanies."

I dare say that the destruction, torture and selling of humans in order to sell their parts is a far greater evil than shutting down the government or looking mean.

I don't know what to do about all this. I'm just one person. But maybe, just maybe if people started banding together we could make a difference. There is a great evil on our doorstep. It is not far away, it does not take a plane ride to get there, it does not requires us to learn another language or culture. It is right here in our backyards.

It is time for people, and especially Christians, to start banding together against this madness. Like I said I don't have a 4-step plan or anything, but I can take ideas from others like Matt Walsh, who though I often have serious disagreements about how he writes, readily concede that he puts forth some good ideas, which are:

  • Keep the issue out in the open. Talk about it on social media. Talk about it with your friends. Take a stance publicly, through whatever forums you have available to you.
  • Support candidates who are one hundred percent pro-life and fully committed to the cause. I won’t tell you which candidates fit that bill because I think they still have to prove themselves.
  • Take to the streets. Picket Planned Parenthood clinics. March. Rally. Be present and active physically.
  • Money talks. Our government gives half a billion dollars to the abortion industry. You might not have that much to give, but donate whatever you can to pregnancy centers and other organizations that serve the cause of life.
  • Pray. If we aren’t going to include prayer in this crusade, it will be hopeless. Pray. Every day.

    If we do these things together, it will make a difference. One alone may not be able to do much, but there are millions of Christians out there who can make their voice known if only they will use it. Let us not fall prey to the lie that says we cannot do anything about it.

    Let us make that difference to save the innocent, and let us do it together.
  • Monday, July 27, 2015

    The Terror of Darkness

    Habakkuk 3:17-18
    "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation."
    Usually I try not to give spoilers to upcoming sermons, but all well.

    I believe this verse is something that we, as Christians, need to take a long hard look at. The reason I believe we need to consider it (and by consider I mean think about, study and apply to our lives), is the potential it has for radically and fundamentally reshaping our entire outlook on life, especially when the Terror of Darkness comes and destroys our view of the world around us. It can show us how even in fear and destruction we can choose to rejoice in God and give Him our all, even if our all is a pittance (in our eyes) compared to what others our even our past selves have been able to offer.

    You see, far too often we fall into a trap that says if what we can bring before God does not measure up to what we have been able to bring in the past, then it must not be a worthy gift.

    This is a lie.

    I do not recall anywhere in Scripture where God commands that if you are able to offer him 3 full grown bulls when you are 25 years old, that once you hit 35 years old you better be able to offer him 3 full grown bulls or nothing at all. Likewise I do not recall anywhere in Scripture where God commands that if you make it to the high mountains of faith and can offer Him the most amazing worship and devotion at 25, that once you hit 35 you better be able to do the same thing or nothing at all. It is just not there.

    And it is a trap to believe we are called to such a thing.

    Now at first glance this feels backwards. Paul says to run the race, right? In a race you make progress, right? So therefore we must make progress in our faith in order to be "running the race," right?

    Right. Also, wrong.

    Right because we are called to run the race to win the prize, wrong because we tend to mistake our concept of progress for faith's concept of progress.

    Most humans like to think in linear terms. You go from Point A to Point B and that is progress. But faith isn't like that. Faith is messy and filled with progress going up and down, left and right, backwards and forwards. It is filled with high mountains and low valleys and horrifying enemies and beautiful allies. It is anything but linear.

    In other words, it looks a lot like life.

    Take Peter's progress for example. He followed Jesus, cast out demons, preached the Gospel, denied Jesus...wait, what?

    Yes, denying Jesus was also a part of his progress of faith. Not a fun part, mind you, but it was a part of it. And Jesus Himself called Peter out on it. Ever stop to think what effect that may have had on Peter's outlook on life? He denied the the One of whom he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." He confessed Jesus to His face, then turned around and denied he ever knew Him.

    Think that may have had an impact on his desire to ensure he never did anything like that again? That is progress, but it only became progress because he chose to let it become such. When Jesus told him three times to "Feed My sheep," Peter was saddened, but he still chose to say "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."

    He chose progress after his darkest hour. He chose Jesus, even after he failed his Savior. The other path was taken by Judas.

    But back to Habakkuk.

    Habakkuk has just been told by God that all of Judah is about to get wrecked by Babylon, an evil, brutal nation. Then when he questions God about it God's answer is basically "Don't worry, the Babylonians will get their's too."


    But that is not his response. Instead, He spends the first 15 verses of chapter 3 praising God and recounting the power He has shown the Israelites. He spends it praising God.

    Then we see just how terrified he is of what God has told him when he says this in verse 16.
    "I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound;rottenness enters into my bones;my legs tremble beneath me.Yet I will quietly wait for the day of troubleto come upon people who invade us."
    Habakkuk is terrified. And he admits it. He puts it out there for all to see. It almost looks as though he has given up. That he has thrown in the towel and walked away.

    But that's not it at all.

    Instead he has given up all his hopes and dreams and plans that were his, and latched onto the hopes and dreams and plans that are God's. He knows there is no hope left for Judah. His friends, his family, his city and his country are going to be destroyed. Judgment is coming and there is nothing he can do about it.

    Save for accepting it and turning to God instead of even those things for his happiness and joy.

    Hillsong United has a song called "Even When It Hurts." In it they sing,
    Even when the fight seems lost, I'll praise You
    Even when it hurts like Hell, I'll praise you
    Even when it makes no sense to sing, Louder then I'll sing Your praise
    This is Habakkuk's answer to his terror. To praise and honor God, to take joy from Him, because there is nothing else he is going to be able to take joy in. It is all going to be wiped out.
    "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation."
    Terror and darkness and fear is not the end of the story for the Christian. It may look that way at times, and we may not be able to see beyond it, but we can, even if it is only in the most barely perceptible way, understand that there is something beyond it.

    Because there is something beyond everything. This world. This heartache. This blindness. Everything.

    There is the King.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2015

    A Life of Confidence

    Today I attended a memorial service that was streamed online for one of my teachers at SIBI. His name is Gerald Paden. He was a missionary, teacher, preacher, prankster and many other things.

    I say was, because now he is a participant in the Great Celebration that is Heaven.

    He was also a man of extreme confidence, and who shared with others what that confidence means and looks like.

    For a long time I had doubts about the security of my salvation. I wasn't exactly taught to doubt it, but there also wasn't a huge emphasis on it in class and worship growing up (or maybe there was and I missed it). In any case, I found myself far too often worrying about what would happen if I died suddenly, or if Christ came when I was in the middle of a sin. What would happen if I were to suddenly "die in my sins," so to speak.

    I don't think it was until I was in Paden's class on the epistles of John that I finally grasped the shocking, visceral, horrifyingly unreal depth that is salvation in the blood of Messiah.

    Understand, brothers and sisters, what it means to be walking in the light and in the blood of Christ. As John writes it, "walking in the light" is a settled practice of choice. It is not our mistakes, but our desire to follow, that define our walk in Christ. My settled practice of walking in the light as He is in the light is the choice I make to follow Him not only in the times it is easy, but to follow Him back out of the mire when I have totally blown it.

    This is what is so shocking about it. That not only would God forgive our sins by Jesus' sacrifice, but that He would keep on forgiving us when we utterly fail Him after choosing to follow Him. Further, not only does He keep on forgiving, He continues to allow us to come before Him on His throne to make known what we need of Him. He continues to listen to us, to love us, to cherish us even when we have made a complete and utter disaster of it all because of the saturating nature of the blood of the Lamb.

    That is what is so visceral about it all. God not only puts us into His family and His church, but He does so by replacing our blood on the altar with the blood of Christ. In the Old Testament, the worshiper would slay his own sacrifice in agreement with God that his sins deserved death. The animal's blood took the place of the worshiper's on the altar. This is how Christ saved us. It was our blood that should have been spilled on the cross, and in putting our faith in Christ for our salvation, we agree with God to the point we must cry out "Crucify!" with the crowd before Pilate. In doing so, we agree that God's judgment is right, and that Christ is the only one who can atone for what we have done.

    All of this is why the depth of salvation is so horrifyingly unreal, and why we can have such confidence. It goes beyond "Jesus saved me," to "Jesus SAVED me." We will not have confidence in our salvation until we realize the depth of what has been done for us on our behalf. Hebrews 7:25 says, 
    "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."
    Consider that.

    In the Gospel of John 21:30-31 John writes,
    "And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name."
    Then at the end of I John in 5:13 he writes,
    "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."
    Jesus does not desire us to live in a fearful expectation of judgment. That type of life is reserved for those who do not place their trust in Him. We are those who can live a life of confidence, because His Word has the final, authoritative say in everything we know and see and feel and believe. It is because He is true, because He is just and because He is merciful and loving and great that we can live our lives doing the best we can for His glory. Not so that we will earn our way to His side, but because He has already earned our way to His side for us.

    That is what is means to live in confidence.

    That is what it means to live in Him.

    Monday, June 29, 2015

    Christians: The World Does Not Get to Tell You What You Believe

    There has been a growing trend I have taken note of lately when scrolling my Facebook and new feeds which has been disturbing me. It has been around a while, but lately has seemed to be rapidly increasing. What I am encountering disturbs me not because it has an effect on me personally, but because it can have an enormous impact on newer Christians and those who are weaker in the faith.

    The trend is this: people who are not Christians, who have not studied the Bible with an open heart willing to accept God's Will, are telling Christians how they should believe and what their faith should look like.

    This is a problem, and not a small one. This is a major issue that needs to be (not should be, but needs to be) corrected in our homes and church families. This is not people of faith disagreeing on some random issue, this is not people who love God have debates over what The End will look like, and this is not some petty inter-congregational squabble. This is the world, who does not care about nor love the One True God telling us His children what we should believe about what Him and His Will, regardless of what He has revealed in His Word.

    This is a problem which cannot be ignored.

    When we allow those outside the faith to tell us what we must or should believe, or what Jesus would do, or what God is really like, instead of looking to His Word to inform us of these things, we will get a warped picture of things every time. Honestly, if I never read another "This is what Jesus would say to X," or "This is what Jesus would do about Y," written by someone who does not believe in who He is and what He has done it would be too soon.

    As those who desire and strive to follow Christ, it is time for us to start educating ourselves on what He has revealed in His word. When you hear the argument that "Jesus never said that," it is a lie. He is God, and if you believe that God led man to write what He desired then yes, Jesus did say it. He may have said it through another's written word, but if you believe in the inspiration of the Bible there is no getting around the fact that Jesus did say a great many things that people have not given Him credit for.

    So I want to encourage you, as short a post as this is, to stand firm not in what the world tells you to believe, but in what God says. He is the One True King, the Alpha and the Omega, and the One who makes all things new. There is none better that we can listen to beyond Him.

    So listen to the True One, and Him alone.

    Monday, June 1, 2015

    Put on the Armor

    This was originally written for this month's bulletin article at the North Park church of Christ, but I wanted to share it out here too. :-)

    You know all those little old men and women who really know their Bibles?
    Yeah...they're probably more like this spiritually. :-)

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  (Eph. 6:10-13)

    There is something in reading these verses that has hit me, which I had not really considered too deeply before. These verses come just before the famous “armor of God” part of Ephesians 6, which has spawned posters, songs and many years’ worth of VBS material. Many of us know all about the armor of God. I have even heard entire sermon series on it, each part dedicated to a specific piece of equipment. But reading this section again I have to ask a question.

    When is the last time we actually put the armor on?

    I am a big fan of fantasy. I grew up liking it and I continue to jump into just about anything with knights and kings, magic and monsters, battles and honor. Something consistent in fantasy worlds is the importance of one’s equipment. Whether it be a sword, a father’s armor or an ancient talisman, great need and importance is given to taking care of and using what one has. It makes sense, because otherwise, why carry it around at all?

    I sometimes wonder if we need to ask ourselves if we only carry around the armor of God instead of wearing it on a daily basis.

    Sometimes armor can be uncomfortable. It can feel heavy and bulky, and even like we won’t be as effective. But that is only temporary. As we wear and live in the armor on a day-to-day basis, it will become less and less uncomfortable and unwieldy, while become more and more a natural extension of who you are.

    Think back to when you first got married (if you are). When the ring goes on your finger it feels weird and kind of heavy. It rubbed against your other fingers strangely and threw the balance of your hand off, even if just a little. It didn’t take too long, however, before your fingers conformed to it to the point where taking it off made you feel like you were missing something. It had become a part of you.

    You see, the enemy isn’t going to sit around and wait for us to put our armor on before attacking. If he finds us without it, you had better believe that we are walking around with a giant target on our back. It is not good to have the armor without using it in every part of our lives. It is the equipment God has given us to fight back against the evil one. To claim victory in this world of darkness. So let’s make sure we are wearing it. Every moment of every day.

    Let us claim victory with the equipment God has given us to claim it with.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    Take a Solid Step

    This week I got together with a small group of men to talk about our struggles and confess our sins to one another. Feeling like I needed some accountability, I spoke about my needs and struggles. I also decided I needed to take some definitive steps to get away from the issue.

    You see, I struggle (mightily) with controlling how much I play certain types of video games.

    Some games I have no problem with, I can sit down, play for a little bit, and shut it down and move on with my day. Others however I completely lose any sense of self-control and go on multi-hour sprees for days or weeks on end. For whatever reason the switch just won't turn off.

    In talking about this with these men, I started adding up just how much I played (*very* conservatively) over the last year. Since I got to bed later/wake up earlier than everyone else, that tends to be my "me time." It is in these hours that a good deal of playing comes from. That being said, however, plenty of other time I realized was being soaked up thinking about, planning and researching different aspects of games. I didn't even include that in my estimate. All that being said, I *conservatively* played around 500 hours of video games last year.




    20.8 days.

    Not 20.8 work days, 20.8 twenty-four-hour days.

    That is not OK. And remember, that is a conservative estimate. It also doesn't count the thinking/reading/research aspect of it. If I really took the time to go through everything, I would probably stretch closer to the 600+ hour mark, but I'm sticking with 500 because I don't want to feel like a complete waste of space.

    That is not OK.

    Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having a hobby, or even with playing games as a hobby. They can be good for stress relief, getting out of your head, relaxing and a host of other good things. But 500+ hours minimum shows that I have an idol that needs to be taken care of.

    So it is time to take solid steps to do so.

    I've done the cold turkey thing before, where I don't play anything for 30 days or so. While that has worked during the break, I eventually go back on a rampage, playing catch-up because "hey, I took a break." I have done this several times before, with the same results So cutting them out this way doesn't exactly work.

    Instead, I believe it is to take the games that are a problem, and rid myself of them. Not put them in a drawer or hide them away for a while, but to rid myself of their presence once and for all. Sell the cartridges and discs and uninstall them from my PC. The ones I have no problem putting down and not thinking about I will keep, and use them as a normal, beneficial hobby that keeps me from binging later. The ones that cause me to stumble, will be gone.

    The reason I write all this is to challenge you, dear reader. I want to challenge you to take a look at your favorite things and ask yourself if you have an idol to rid your life of. You may need to quit it all completely cold turkey or take a different type of approach like I am. Either way solid, practical steps must be taken if we are going to rid ourselves of idols and distractions and become the people God calls us to be.

    Where we spend our time will determine where our priorities are. Do you spend your every waking hour watching TV? Facebook? News? Do you spend it on your job? Working out? On politics?

    I am convinced that the most insidious idols are those which are not directly sin. We can easily see how pornography, abuse and cheating are sin. These things go against God's stated law. But when it is something on the side, and when it can even have good effects, it becomes much more difficult to recognize when it becomes a sin problem. It takes time, effort and honesty to say to yourself "this is sin not because of what it is, but what I have turned it into."

    I once heard Mark Driscoll state that when a good thing becomes a God thing it becomes a bad thing. Regardless of what you think of the one who said it, the statement is true, and it is up to us to take it to heart. It is time to take a stand.

    So I challenge you to look at your life, and start taking solid steps to fix those things which move your further from God and replace it with things that bring you closer to Him. Half-measures will not work. We must be willing to give it all for the One True King.

    So let us start moving.


    Thursday, April 23, 2015

    On the Proper Use of Scripture

    It has come to my attention over the last several years that in many cases, I have simply taken what was told to me over the years and incorporated it into my thinking without considering the correctness behind it. This is mainly evident in the use of Scripture to defend or make certain arguments. Taking a look back, I find that the more I study and consider the contexts and points being made in Scripture, the more I see where verses and passages were used incorrectly in order to have a quick "go-to" source for an argument. I do not believe this was done maliciously or with bad intent (in fact I believe just the opposite), but that does not mean that it is OK to continue to let it slide. This post, and possibly another, will explore some of these verses and passages, to see what they mean, and also to look at a better way defend the faith we hold so dear.

    This requires a different way of looking at Scripture. Now I am not calling for a totally changed hermeneutic (way that we interpret Scripture), but simply a revisiting of how we use Scripture so that we can do so in the best way possible. This is a good deal harder, and takes a bit more work, than spouting off a single verse to make a defense. In order to make arguments as I suggest, we need a worldview that is not only Biblically centered, but Biblically knowledgeable. This means work, and sometimes is means answering a question with "I don't know, let me get back to you." 

    Now I realize I am only one preacher with a small, mostly unknown blog. But we have to start somewhere, so it might as well be here. I hope it is as useful to you to read this as it has been for me to write. :-)

    As an example, let's look at the subject of music in worship. Now, the church of Christ arguments tend to center on Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19 and (oddly enough) Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1. Let's look at what those passages have to say.

    Col. 3:16
    Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

    Eph. 5:19
    Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

    Lev. 10:1
    Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.

    Now, as I said, these are the go-to verses for the subject of music in worship. However, there is only one problem. They don't actually speak about music in worship at all

    Colossians speaks directly about putting on our new selves in Christ, resisting sin, and love. Verse 3:16 is a command on how we are to speak with one another all the time. It is a command about how we speak, how we act, and the thankfulness we should have in our hearts towards God.

    Ephesians is much the same. Paul writes about walking in love, escaping sin, and making the best use of the time we have in these evil days. Verse 5:19 is about how our attitudes and interactions with each other should be filled with love, affection and holiness while being filled with the Spirit.

    Leviticus then talks about Nadab and Abihu and how they did something unauthorized during the sacrifice to God. This is usually used to say "if God didn't say it, we shouldn't do it." There is just one problem with using this particular verse as the go-to argument: that's not the only thing they were guilty of. See, God had been very, very clear about exactly how the priests were to deal with the sacrifices. There are chapters...and chapters...and chapters...that govern everything from clothing to pre-service to post-service and everything in between. Nadab and Abihu did more than add something because they thought it was nice. They disobeyed clear, direct orders from God Himself doing something "contrary to His command" They had been given explicit directions, and did something else. This is generally not where instruments in worship fall today (unless they are saying "I know A, but I'd rather do B instead, so whatever".

    Now, if you are a little spooked, that is OK. If you disagree with me, that is OK. But go and read the chapters (even the whole books), to see if what I say is false. Because I have a little secret.

    I still see music in worship as not being what God intended.

    I let go of the above verses years ago to argue my point, however, because I found a better way. It is a little more difficult, but much more satisfying, because I am no longer using verses on their own pulled out of context, but instead appealing to God's consistency and nature as I see it throughout the Bible.

    You see, throughout the Old Testament, God did allow music in the assembly of worship. But it was never done how and when they wanted. God ordained specific instruments during specific times of the worship, as in 2 Chronicles 29:25-30. He was very clear about the hows and direction the music would take. Outside of the assembly worship there seemed to be less restriction, as David danced and had music played in celebratory worship while the ark was brought back to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6. So it seems we see two types of worship here: corporate/temple and non-corporate.

    Now as we move into the New Testament, remember how God treated instruments in the Old. He used His prophets to say "do this and this and that." We don't see that in the New Testament. In fact, we are given precious little direction beyond coming together, sharing communion with one another and the Lord, being orderly, and putting each other before ourselves. It would seem then, that if God did desire instruments to be used in corporate worship, He would have had the writers make some mention of it somewhere. This is more than an argument from silence. This is an argument based on how God planned and prepared specific uses and purposes for them in the Old Testament. Indeed, if you look at the history of the church, you find that note was made of how instruments were not used in the early church (The Early Church and Today, vol. 1, page 280).

    It is because of these things that I do not see the permission to use instruments. We just don't see it and we do see a known, acceptable way to worship the True King of All Creation. If we are chasing the very best of what God wants for us, what keeps us from doing anything else?

    Realize, however, that this takes music off the salvation-issue list. We cannot see into the hearts of men. That power is reserved for God alone. People may be doing their very best, but messing up (as we all do so often). This is an issue that can be discussed and debated, but I am not able to see it as a determining factor on whether or not we can have fellowship with another (which, if it is not a salvation issue, must be the side we come down on).

    Now this is not to say this is not an important subject. Any subject dealing with our worship of God and the how, why and when is important. We should be honest with ourselves about that. There is nothing more important than that which is about to God, our relationship with Him, our worship of Him and our following His Will. These are the first things in our lives, not the last things we consider.

    This is what I mean though when I say we need to rethink our use of Scripture. We are People of the Book, those who chase Truth. As we come to know that Truth, we must be willing to subject ourselves to it, regardless of what that means. We are humans, and we all must grow and we will make mistakes, but let our mistakes be ones of trying our best to follow God, and not ignoring Him in favor of our own predispositions.

    If you disagree with me, please let me know. If you think I have misused Scripture, please tell me. Leave a message or email me. I am more than happy to have this discussion at any time. Like I said, I am chasing the Truth, wherever that leads, and I will certainly need help along the way. I know I can't do it myself.

    But let us seek Truth together, as friends. As those saved in Christ. As the brothers and sisters that we are.