Friday, April 9, 2021

Equality or equity?

 "Equity, not equality" has become a bit of a war-cry lately. You see it and hear it everywhere--in researching for this post, I even found somebody relating it to the story in 1 Kings when King Solomon was faced with a decision between two women who were each claiming the same baby to be hers.

I bet you don't have to think too long before you know what conclusion they reached, because right now all we hear is how things should be equitable, not equal.

I've got to admit, it sounds good. I mean, how wonderful would it be if we could ensure that everyone's life turns out spectacularly? That each individual is successful--you know, happy, healthy, and wealthy? It would bring about that elusive utopia, right? We would all happily get along and love each other and everything would be all hunky-dory.

The problem is, in a fallen world a utopia simply isn't possible--and that's exactly what the current definition of "equity" would require. Granted, the way equity is being used today really doesn't fit with what it has always meant, but that's an Orwellian 1984-ish thing that has been happening a lot lately... so I'll use equity the way people are using the idea now. In that sense of the word, King Solomon only had one choice that would have truly been equitable--he should have gone ahead and split the baby in two. After all, that would have ensured that both women got the same outcome, right?

The United States wasn't--and shouldn't have been--founded on equity. The foundation on which our great country was built is summed up in one simple sentence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We are equal because our Creator made us that way. Since the Creator made us to be equal and granted us certain rights, the government doesn't have the authority to try to regulate either. The U.S. government doesn't "grant" us our rights and doesn't determine our "worth" as citizens--those things come only from God. So the question then becomes, what is the Creator's sense of equality? Here's a great place to start: "For there is no partiality with God." (Romans 2:11)

And we'll go from there to this:

"Still the Eternal remains and will reign forever;
    He has taken His place on His throne for judgment.
So He will judge the world rightly.

    He shall execute that judgment equally on all people."
(Psalm 9:7-8)

The word that is translated as "equally" by The Voice is translated as "equity" in the NIV. The Hebrew word is "meyshar," which means "evenness" or "straightness." And perhaps most importantly in this situation, it's talking about how God judges. Since that's the case, let's go back to Romans 2 and look at the verses that come before verse 11:

"But because your heart is obstinate and shameless, you’re storing up wrath that will count against you. On the day of His choosing, God’s wrath and judgment will be unleashed to make things right. As it goes, everyone will receive what his actions in life have cultivated. Whoever has labored diligently and patiently to do what is right—seeking glory, honor, and immortality—God will grant him endless joy in life eternal. But selfish individuals who make trouble, resist the truth, or sell out to wickedness will meet a very different fatethey will find fury and indignation as the fruit of living in the wrongSuffering and pain await everyone whose life is marked by evil living (first for the Jew, and next for the non-Jew). But if you do what is right, you will receive glory, admiration, and peace (again, first for the Jew, then for the non-Jew). God has no favorites." (Romans 2:5-11)

When Paul wrote of God being impartial, he was talking about impartiality in judgment. He said that God holds everyone to the same standards, regardless of background. That's a whole different thing than people are talking about when they say "equity" today. In today's society, we're constantly being told that we should make sure everyone has the same outcome regardless of background. The problem with that? Outcomes are--and should be--based on merit.

Think back to school and those group projects that teachers were so fond of having you do. I'm sure there was at least once that someone in your group didn't pull their own weight and everybody else had to pick up the slack. At the end of it all, when all 4 of you got the A that only 3 of you worked for, didn't it rub you the wrong way? You knew deep down in your core that only 3 of you deserved that grade; there was something inherently wrong with the person who didn't do the work getting an A on the project.

Uh oh, that makes me guilty of believing in another offensive idea: meritocracy. It's become a dirty word in most circles, with many people even coming out to say that the idea goes against Christianity. Why, then, did Paul tell the Thessalonians, "This is exactly why, while with you, we commanded you: 'Anyone not willing to work shouldn’t get to eat!' You see, we are hearing that some folks in the community are out of step with our teaching; they are idle, not working, but really busy doing nothing—and yet still expect to be fed! If this is you or someone else in the community, we insist and urge you in the Lord Jesus the Anointed that you go to work quietly, earn your keep, put food on your own table, and supply your own necessities."(2 Thessalonians 3:10-12) The Scriptures are filled with the concept of people getting what they deserve. In fact, it's at the root of our need for salvation.

A just, righteous God who judges fairly--or equitably, to use the popular word--must by the very definition of those words give each of us what we deserve. And that's something that's made very plain as well: "The payoff for a life of sin is death," going back to Romans (6:23). What the Voice translates as "payoff" is something more commonly translated as "wages," but in either case the meaning is the same. We sin, and the righteous justice of a perfect God requires that we receive death as what we deserve for those sins. If we weren't deserving of death for our sins, we would have no need of a Savior. As it stands, we need someone to step in for us, to be the intercessor between us and the Judge. And because of the righteousness of the Judge, that Savior has to be perfect--which excludes any earthly form of government from the role.

So why is equality of opportunity so much more essential than equity of outcome, especially in society? That boils down to the fallen nature of people. If left to our own devices, most of us would much rather be lazy than productive. Most of us would much rather have things given to us than to have to work for them. That's the whole reason socialism doesn't work. The only way you can assure equity of outcome is if you take from the group that works and give it to the group that doesn't work.

That doesn't mean that we are excused from taking care of those who honestly can't take care of themselves--that's a task that has been given to God's people since the very beginning, and sadly it's something we've fallen woefully short on for almost as long. God has admonished His people for centuries for not taking care of the helpless. That, though, falls in line with equality, not equity.

Equality says we are all given the same chance to work; equity says we all get the same reward, even if we choose not to work. Equality says all people are treated the same under the law; equity says some groups get special treatment solely as a result of being part of that group... thereby legalizing--and often demanding--discrimination. When you give a certain group special favor, that's the very definition of partiality. And remember this verse?
"For there is no partiality with God."


scales - Wiktionary


Friday, April 2, 2021

Does the resurrection matter?

Easter is coming.

Those words have come to mean a lot of different things. In recent years, they've mostly just come to mean that people will get together to let kids hunt for eggs stuffed with candy. Many will step through the doors of a church building, the only other time besides Christmas that they get dressed up and make an appearance, usually with a big family dinner afterward. It means pictures with chicks, bunnies, and tulips to send to the relatives--a celebration of spring more than anything else.

I read an editorial the other day that talked about how the "true" meaning of Easter was reawakening and "spiritual and moral transformation." Then today I saw a comment on social media about how Jesus was just a man, but a man who died believing it would save the souls of the entire world, so that made him a man worth following and emulating. So is that the case? Is this weekend about simply the death of a good man who thought he was dying for the world, a man with some sort of mental disorder that made him truly think he would be brought back to life? Is it a time for us to think about the ways we need to transform our lives, the ways we need to "reawaken"? Do we really have to believe that Jesus physically, actually, completely died, or can we go along with the idea that it can all be taken as figurative language, because the example Jesus set for us is what matters?

"And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.
Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God,
because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ,
whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.
For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.
And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!
Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable."
1 Corinthians 15:14-19

Paul didn't mince words. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then our faith is something to be pitied. If the resurrection was just some sort of farce, then He wasn't the Messiah promised to Israel. If Jesus stayed in the tomb, then nothing else He did mattered because it meant He was just some sort of lunatic who really shouldn't be emulated. If we worship a Savior who died on a cross and then stayed dead, then our faith is worthless.

On the other hand, a Savior who had the power to step down off of the cross but chose to hang there, mocked and ridiculed, suffocating unless He held himself up by the spikes driven through His feet--that Savior who was then dead and buried, but raised to eternal life and a glorified body?

A Savior who sacrificed Himself for the very people who crucified Him, who prayed for them and used His final breath to point them toward the One True God?

A Savior who promised that He was preparing a place for all those who believe, who wants to spend eternity with us?

A Savior who walked out of the tomb is a Savior worth following.

Children's Sermons Today: Christ is Risen!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Don Lemon's god?

"I respect people's right to believe in whatever they want to believe in their God. But if you believe something that hurts another person, or does not give someone the same rights or freedoms, not necessarily under the Constitution because this is under God, I think that this is wrong, and I think that the Catholic Church and many other churches really need to re-examine themselves and their teachings. Because that is not what God is about. God is not about hindering people or even judging people."~Don Lemon

These words were spoken close to two weeks ago, and I've been struggling with what to say in response for a while now. Not because I think Don Lemon will ever read my words, but because this is an idea that has become more and more prevalent--sometimes even from the pulpit.

We were talking last week at church that it seems like people look to extremes when they try to picture God. They either see God as this horrible, vindictive tyrant ready to throw lightning bolts at anyone who has too much fun... or, as Don Lemon seems to do, they see God as a jovial, rosy-cheeked grandfather type who lets all the "little ones" get away with everything, no matter what.

As Pop pointed out, Satan loves getting us to think in extremes. Because if you start seeing God at either end of that spectrum, you aren't going to see Him as He really is. And if you don't have a true picture of who He is, it becomes really easy to think you don't actually have any use for His laws or His love... or Him.

It is absolutely true that God is love. I think John 3:16&17, the verses that so many people learned before any other, is profound theologically because it points out just how much God loves us:

"For God so loved the world
that He gave His only begotten

that whoever believes in Him
should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God did not send His Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but that the world through Him might be saved."

The God who created us, the God who spoke time into existence, loved us so much that He sent His only Son as a sacrifice, His death paying the price for our sins and in exchange giving us life if we simply believe in Him. Jesus came to save us, not to condemn us.

Too often, though, we stop there. When Jesus was speaking with Nicodemus, that wasn't the end of the conversation:

“He who believes in Him is not condemned;
but he who does not believe is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

And this is the condemnation,
that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light,
because their deeds were evil.
For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light,
lest his deeds should be exposed.

But he who does the truth comes to the light,
that his deeds may be clearly seen,
that they have been
done in God.”

 While it is true that in Christ there is no condemnation, there is a caveat: we have to believe in Him. We have to, as the writer of Hebrews said, "believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) We have to believe that we are sinners who are totally unworthy when left to our own devices, but the One True God loves us enough to save us from the sins that wreck our lives.

The flip side of that is, those who do not choose to believe are already condemned. It's not a matter of God "sending people to Hell," but rather a matter of people choosing their commitment to their old ways instead of changing their lives to fit God's way. In either case, we've been promised that we will all stand before the throne and be judged by God one day, and that His day of judgement is something to be feared.

I know when I've done something wrong. To be honest, I usually know in the moment when I'm doing something wrong, though I often choose to keep doing whatever it is that I know I shouldn't be doing. And as long as nobody finds out about it I'm good, right? That's how we tend to think, anyway. Like Jesus said, when we are doing things we shouldn't be doing we love the darkness--because that way our deeds can stay a secret. As long as there isn't light to expose our actions, we can convince ourselves that they aren't really all that bad.

The idea of coming to the light should be terrifying then. At least, that's what human logic says. It tells us that if the writer of Romans was right and all of us "have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (3:23), if all of us have been doing bad things in the darkness, we should be afraid of having all those things exposed.

An amazing thing happens when we come to the Light, though. John told us,

"His breath filled all things
    with a living, breathing light—
A light that thrives in the depths of darkness,

    blazes through murky bottoms.
It cannot and will not be quenched."
(John 1:4-5, Voice)

You see, we don't have to be afraid of our deeds being exposed when we step into the light because we have been given the awesome opportunity to know the Light.

"Because There is one God and one Mediator between God and us—
the man Jesus, God’s Anointed,
Who gave His life as a ransom for all so that we might have freedom."
(1 Timothy 2:5)

 I have to say, Don Lemon's god is not my God. The Eternal God, the One who spoke the universe into existence and created light out of darkness--He says He is a jealous God.

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth,
there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
but a certain fearful expectation of judgment,
and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy

on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose,
will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot,
counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing,
and insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord.
And again, 'The Lord will judge His people.'
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
(Hebrews 10:26-31)

The Eternal God demands perfection from His people. At the same time, though, He created us and knows we are nothing more than dust. In His great and unfailing love for His creation, He sacrificed His Son--the Light that came into the world He created--so that when we stepped into that light, He would see nothing of our past and dark deeds.

We will all face judgement, a day when every thought, word, and deed will be exposed, and we will all be declared guilty. What happens next, though, depends fully on whether or not each one of us chose to walk away from the darkness into eternal life in the Light.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

even in abandonment

 While I know I can't speak for everyone, but I think it's pretty safe to say that there will come a point in every Christian's life when they feel abandoned by God. That may be shocking to say--after all, we all know all the promises that tell us that God is always with us, that He will never leave us. Even when you are absolutely convinced of the validity of the promises of God, though, there can be times when those promises don't feel true.

Being disappointed with God or feeling abandoned by Him is something that it seems the Christian community hushes up and sweeps under the carpet as if it is some dirty secret that shouldn't be mentioned. If we feel like we are distant from God, we must somehow have lost our faith. Or at the very least, in "church talk" (or maybe just "Southern Baptist talk", I don't know) we're back-slidden.

We ignore those feeling in ourselves--push them down and try to suppress the slightest twinge. When others say something, we talk big about how we know God will work everything out and how we can "just trust Him".

Here's the thing, though. We actually have the ultimate guide to how to deal with feeling abandoned. It isn't a sin--if it was, Jesus wasn't sinless. Because as He was hanging on the cross, Jesus felt abandoned.

Kind of a big deal breaker, right?

It isn't wrong to feel like God has abandoned you. It isn't a sin to feel like you're alone in the hard times.

So now that we have that out of the way, let's look at what we can learn about dealing with that feeling from our Savior who dealt with it as well.

1. It's okay to cry out and ask God why.
I'm sure you're familiar with Jesus's words: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" Which means, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Too often, we're told we can't question God. Why is that? Is He too weak or insecure to handle it? Will He second guess what He's got planned if we dare to ask Him why?

God already knows your thoughts, so trying to keep your feelings quiet, not voicing the questions screaming relentlessly in your head, doesn't do anything but hurt you. He knows what you're thinking, so it's not going to surprise Him to hear it. He's not going to be caught off guard and He's not going to strike you down. God knows our humanity limits our perceptions, so He knows that we can't see the big picture. We can't step outside of time and space to look ahead and see just why it is we go through all the crazy things we go through in this life. We can't know all the ways He's working behind the scenes. We can't have all the answers all the time.

At the same time, He knows that we crave those answers. We were created as caretakers and seekers of truth, but most importantly we were created to live in communion with Him. When sin entered the picture and we could no longer walk with Him in the cool of the Garden of Eden, He knew our hearts would break time and time again over the separation we feel. He doesn't expect us to keep all of those feelings bottled up and somehow "secret" from Him. In fact, it's incredibly foolish of us to think we can. Otherwise the Psalmist was wrong when he wrote,

"You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;

    you perceive my thoughts from afar."
(Psalm 139:1-2)

 2. Even then, point to God.
Jesus's words on the cross, while powerful enough when taken on their own, are much more powerful when you look at where they came from. Those words that show His anguish--the words of a Son who feels abandoned by His Father--are a direct quote from Psalm 22:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

    by night, but I find no rest."
(verses 1&2)

 The really incredible verse that follows this, though, is why I think Jesus chose His words as He hung there. He knew how important His words would be to His followers, His friends who were left to face a world they couldn't imagine was real. He knew that once they--we--had time to process His words, spoken in the depths of excruciating pain that most of us can never imagine, once there was time and opportunity to search out just why those words seemed so familiar, the impact would grow. As it is translated in the Complete Jewish Bible, verse 3 says:

"Nevertheless, you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Isra’el"

 Even in the depths of agony, Jesus pointed to the Eternal God of Israel. He spoke of the God who is holy, despite the circumstances in our lives. As He is in everything else, Jesus is the One we should strive to emulate when we are overwhelmed by the things of this world that break us down. No matter our feelings, we know God's promises are true. We know His word is true, even when (especially when?) it tells us that our heart is deceitful above all else. So in those times when our hearts are crying out that God has left us, we can still turn to His promises and know that He is holy. In those times, in the darkest moments, we can still point to Him.


Thursday, February 4, 2021

what then shall we do?

 There is no doubt that the world is going crazy. People seem to have collectively lost their ever-lovin' minds and are running toward a future that is full of broken hearts, shattered dreams, and days of darkness that we can't even imagine. Those who see the direction the world is headed are called bigots and conspiracy nuts and enemies of the state.

And honestly? We should take that as a blessing.

Jesus was despised by the world. Isaiah wrote,

"Out of emptiness he came, like a tender shoot from rock-hard ground.
He didn’t look like anything or anyone of consequence—
    he had no physical beauty to attract our attention.
So he was despised and forsaken by men,

    this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way;
    he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him."
~Isaiah 53:2-3

If we are truly His followers the world should despise us, too. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have lived this truth for generations, but most in the United States haven't ever truly tasted the meaning of Jesus's words: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10) We've lived in peace and comfort, which has overwhelmingly led to complacency. As a result, we are fearful of the future that so many of us see coming so quickly. We are afraid of the cliff we see everyone running toward.

As so many before us, we ask Jesus, "What then shall we do?"

1. Rest in the knowledge that God isn't surprised by what's ahead of us.

"Remember the old days. For I am God; there is no other.
        I am God; there are no other gods like Me.
From the beginning I declare how things will end;

        from times long past, I tell what is yet to be, saying:
    'My intentions will come to pass.
        I will make things happen as I determine they should.'”
~Isaiah 46:9-10

Look at that again-- He alone is God. He knew how things would end before they even began, and He determines how things happen.

All this mess and chaos that somehow has caught us off guard? He's not surprised by any of it. And here's the kicker that we seem to forget--His will is still happening. The stuff we're seeing in the world around us didn't throw off his plans or make Him have to rethink things.

2. "Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope." (1 Peter 3:15)

In this time of confusion, people are searching for hope. We're told in Ecclesiastes that God put eternity in our hearts, but without Him that sense of eternity is disquieting. It's that sense of eternity that has people searching and striving, but He's the only One that can satisfy that longing. When people see us, they should see that we are different--that we aren't searching for a way to be filled. They should see that we have a "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7), that we aren't filled with stress and anxiety about the future. It should be so obvious to them that something's different that they ask why. And when they ask, we have to be able to give an answer. We have to be able to tell them that we know God is in control and that He is able to keep us through anything and everything that comes our way.

I have to be honest, I don't live that way. I tend to dwell in a place of stress and anxiety instead of resting in the unexplainable peace of God. Instead of relying on Him to give me what I need for today, I work and plan and stress over trying to make sure I have everything I need for the future. Oh, I'm ready to give an answer (I'm good at answers), but I don't live in such a way that people want to know what makes me different.

3. Remember that we aren't promised ease and comfort.

Sometimes we seem to cling to the idea that once we have made the decision to follow Christ, life will turn into smooth sailing. I can't count how many times I've heard people say, "Just love Jesus; He wants to make you happy." The thing is, we aren't promised happiness. In fact, we're promised exactly the opposite: In John 16 Jesus told His disciples that in this world they would have tribulation. What was translated as "tribulation" is the Greek "thlipsis," which more literally means a pressure that constricts or constricts. Jesus wasn't telling His followers that things would be easy. Instead, He told them that they would face times that would put them in a tight spot, times of pressure and friction.

As He so often does, though, He followed the warning up with a promise: "you need not fear; I have triumphed over this corrupt world order." (John 16:33, Voice)

4. Take refuge in God.

I'm glad that Jesus has overcome the world, don't get me wrong. Without that promise, the others wouldn't do a whole lot of good. What I'm most thankful for, though, is the promise that we aren't left to fend for ourselves. Yes, we will face hard times. For those of in the United States, I think we're tumbling towards a time when we will get a taste of what our brothers and sisters around the world have experienced for a long time. Here's the thing, though--God could have given us salvation and the promise of eternal life, then stepped back and told us we were on our own to get through this life. But that's not the way He chooses to operate. Instead, He makes us these promises:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  ~Joshua 1:9

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." ~Matthew 28:20b

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." ~Isaiah 41:10

And like David wrote after God saved him from Saul, may we always say, 

"I love You, Eternal One, source of my power. The Eternal is my rock, my fortress, and my salvation; He is my True God, the stronghold in which I hide, my strong shield, the horn that calls forth help, and my tall-walled tower." ~Psalm 18:1-2

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

"Ascendant" Christianity?

Recently, the New York Times published an article singing the praises of President Biden's Catholicism, saying that he is "perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century." The mention how his life has been "steeped in Christian rituals and practices" and talk about how his Catholicism directs his life and his policies. They cheer about how his faith doesn't focus on all the divisive aspects of Christianity like abortion and sexuality, but instead focuses on climate change and racial equity. They hold him up as a bastion of what truly tolerant, liberal Christianity should look like--someone who doesn't do the bidding of the horrible Conservative Christians who have been in power for way too long. Like so many are so quick to do, they praised liberal Christianity for being quick to unite in love and quick to ignore all those "hateful" aspects of the Bible that point out sin. One of the things the writer of the article seemed most proud of was that "There is a sense of moral synergy on the left, among not only progressive Christians but also humanists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and the spectrum of faith traditions."

Just as a reminder, when Justice Amy Coney Barrett was facing her confirmation hearing for the Federal Circuit Court in 2017, Senator Feinstein told her, "“The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that people have fought for years in this country." The same people who are praising Biden's Catholic faith were attacking Barrett for hers.

The argument, however, is that Biden's religion is different. They say he embraces a new version of Christianity, "a Christian moral vision that makes room for a pluralistic society." To a follower of Christ, nothing should tell you to run away quicker than someone talking about changing theology. That, however, is exactly what is being lauded in this article.

The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), but it doesn't change. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." As followers of Christ, we don't change His teachings in order to make them fit with society today. In fact, Christians who find themselves in agreement with the world should take the time to truly examine their beliefs. James 4:4 puts it pretty bluntly: "Don’t you know that making friends with this corrupt world order is open aggression toward God? So anyone who aligns with this bogus world system is declaring war against the one true God." A true follower of Christ isn't going to fit in with the world. Jesus Himself said, "If you find that the world despises you, remember that before it despised you, it first despised Me. If you were a product of the world order, then it would love you. But you are not a product of the world because I have taken you out of it, and it despises you for that very reason." (John 15:18-19)

Too often, people confuse religion and faith. Christian religion is one thing. It is full of rituals and observances. It is on display in mega churches who fill their buildings with laser shows and giant productions. It is posted all over social media with things like #blessed and people using the name of Jesus to promote social justice. It is made evident in the "name it and claim it" mentality that turns God into some kind of cosmic genie there to fulfill wishes.


It's that kind of religion that I believe God had in mind when He told Israel,
"I hate—I totally reject—your religious ceremonies
        and have nothing to do with your solemn gatherings.
You can offer Me whole burnt offerings and grain offerings,

        but I will not accept them.
    You can sacrifice your finest, fattest young animals as a peace offering,
        but I will not even look up.
And stop making that music for Me—it’s just noise.

        I will not listen to the melodies you play on the harp." (Amos 5:21-23)

God obviously isn't a big fan of religion. He isn't fooled by the pomp and circumstance. He doesn't revel in the lights and get fooled by fancy words. He doesn't care how "devout" we appear to the world. In fact, when Jesus walked the earth His harshest words were reserved for those considered by society to be the most devout--the Pharisees and Sadducees.

 In the eyes of God, it doesn't matter how devoted I am to a belief if that belief is false. And God's word is very clear on what is considered a false belief: anything that goes against the gospel of the perfect Son of God made flesh, then sacrificed on the cross for our sins and raised again to give us eternal life if we believe He is the only way, truth, and life. No matter who is preaching it or where they are preaching from, anything that says differently is false.

Christianity doesn't leave room for other beliefs. By very definition, it can't--as followers of Christ we are called to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them what Jesus taught, and showing them how to follow His commands (Matthew 28:18-20). Our faith isn't one of concessions and caveats, solely a "moral vision that makes room for a pluralistic society." If I truly believe that Jesus meant it when He said He was the only way to the Father, the only truth, the only source of life, then it makes me incredibly unloving to tell people it's okay if they don't believe in Him.

How horrible would it be to know the only way out of a burning building, but sit back and tell people that they can go whichever direction they want? How much worse is it, then, to know the only way to eternal life, yet let people believe whatever they want?




Thursday, January 21, 2021

defend the faith

I've been a bit quiet here lately. I think that's partly because I don't much enjoy being a voice of doom and gloom, and partly because to be quite honest, in the current political climate I'm afraid of the possible consequences of being outspoken.

"Political" probably isn't the right word, though. The issues we are facing right now aren't political, but spiritual. And it's for that reason and that reason alone that I have to put aside my fears and pray that God will give me the words I need, just like Jesus promised His disciples when He sent them out into the world.

We read from Jude at church on Sunday, and I've been pulled back to it over and over again since then. So much of what Jude wrote then is so fitting for today. He wrote to all those called by God the Father, starting by saying that he wanted to write to them about the amazing salvation they all shared. He doesn't say it, but I think that means he was wanting to focus on the beautiful aspects of salvation. It's kind of like what I would like to write about here--the amazing, unfathomable richness of God's love and mercy for us, His unending grace poured out over us, and our undeserved adoption into His kingdom.

Instead, like Jude, I feel like I instead need to share a warning. We are in a time when we are going to be called to be defenders of the faith. In Jude's words:

"I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. [...] But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction." v. 4 & 10

That is the case in American churches today. We have people who stand behind the pulpit and say that sin isn't an issue, that God just wants us to have "health, wealth, and happiness" and that we don't actually have to live according to His commands. They preach a gospel that includes all the happy parts like eternal life and forgiveness but leaves out the hard parts-- like repentance and correction and hating sin.

While it is true that God will forgive all our sins, the forgiveness of sins requires repentance. That doesn't mean just saying I'm sorry. Biblical repentance means turning away from the sin, not living in the middle of it and saying, "Oh well, God will forgive me so it doesn't really matter what I do."

As followers of Christ, we are so often told that we shouldn't be so judgmental. There's a sign I drive by that says, "Love everybody. I'll straighten them out later. ~Jesus" We are reminded time and time again that Jesus didn't stone the woman caught in adultery. That story--which conveniently leaves out the fact that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more"--is used to tell us that we shouldn't tell anyone that anything they are doing is wrong. If we are truly loving, we're told, then we should stop telling people that they are living in sin. We shouldn't judge people--we should just accept them for who they are.

There's a little bit of truth in that. That's the tricky thing Satan does--he puts enough truth in his lies to make them seem believable. It's true that there isn't any sin that should exclude someone from coming to Christ. As His followers, there shouldn't be some group of people we think aren't worthy of the good news that Christ died to take the punishment of their sins.

Once someone has become a follower of Christ, however, they are called to something different, something higher. We are called to be constantly becoming more like Christ, which means turning away from anything sinful. As fellow travelers on the narrow road, we are also called to hold each other to that higher standard. In Jude's words, 

"Keep being kind to those who waver in this faithPursue those who are singed by the flames of God’s wrath, and bring them safely to Him. Show mercy to others with fear, despising every garment soiled by the weakness of human flesh." (v. 22-23) 

Or as his brother James said, "Brothers and sisters, if someone you know loses his way and rebels against God, pursue him in love and bring him back to the truth." (James 5:19)

Or as Paul wrote to the Galatians: "My spiritual brothers and sisters, if one of our faithful has fallen into a trap and is snared by sin, don’t stand idle and watch his demise. Gently restore him, being careful not to step into your own snare. Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. Don’t take this opportunity to think you are better than those who slip because you aren’t; then you become the fool and deceive even yourself. Examine your own works so that if you are proud, it will be because of your own accomplishments and not someone else’s. Each person has his or her own burden to bear and story to write." (Galatians 6:1-5)

We are often reminded that we shouldn't expect those who are not followers of Christ to operate according to God's standards. As such, when they are lost in sin we shouldn't be surprised. All of that changes, however, once someone comes to Christ. Then we are supposed to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help pull them up out of the trap of sin, keeping in mind that we may need them to do the same for us one day. We are to speak the truth in love, not "love" people so much that we hide the truth from them. Because the real truth is, if you let someone continue to do something that is hurting them, you don't truly love them.

As a nation, especially as one that once claimed to be Christian, we have bought into that lie. We have decided that God's word is hopelessly outdated, so we need to take it on ourselves to figure out what He actually meant. We do that by convincing ourselves that the Scriptures are nothing more than a collection of writing by fallible men, so that means they are open to interpretation.

God in His ultimate wisdom, though, knew our hearts from the beginning. He knew we would be tempted to pick and choose which verses to follow based on the idea that we live in a "different time" (though when I read the Bible, I really don't think our time is all that different...) and therefore need to examine His words through the lens of our current understanding. That's why we have verses like the ones found in Paul's letter to Timothy:

"But as for the wicked and the imposters, they will keep leading and following each other further and further away from the truth. So surely you ought to stick to what you know is certain. All you have learned comes from people you know and trust because since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus the Anointed. All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work." (2 Timothy 13-17)

So test everything you're hearing, whether it's from a friend, parent, spouse, or pastor. Anything that goes against the word of God is wrong, no matter who is saying it. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Do we really want justice?

The United States is headed down a very dark and dangerous path. It's nothing new--we've been moving that direction for decades--but it sure seems like we've gone into free fall with the things that are going on right now.

Though many would have us believe otherwise, the United States was founded as a nation whose goal was to please God. This was a country established on a declared dependence on God the Creator and on the idea that our rights are not dependent on something being granted by an earthly government, but instead they are granted solely by the One who created us. The Declaration of Independence states clearly that our pledge to each other is made possible only by "a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

Let me be clear here--I fully believe that Israel is God's chosen nation. I don't pretend that the United States has taken that place; God made a promise to bless Abraham, and His promises are never broken.

However, I also fully believe that when we as a nation declared ourselves to be a nation relying on God's protection, we made ourselves representatives of Him. As such, we are called to uphold certain standards--and we have fallen woefully short of them for far too long.

God is merciful and slow to anger. To put it bluntly, He puts up with a whole lot of stuff before He takes action. At the same time, though, we are told time and time again that He disciplines His children. When we invoked His name in the founding of our country, I believe we entered into a covenant.

And we haven't upheld our end of the deal.

The thing is, God always upholds His end. And part of entering into a covenant with God is dealing with the consequences that come as a result of of our failures... and if recent and current events tell you nothing else, they should tell you that we have a whole lot of failures.

I've seen a couple of verses from Amos quoted lately:

"Search for good and not for evil
    so that you may live;
That way the Eternal God, the Commander of heavenly armies,
    will be at your side,

    as you yourselves have even said.
Hate what is evil, and love all that is good;

    apply His laws justly in the courts at the city gates,
And it may be that the Eternal God, the Commander of heavenly armies,
    will have mercy on those descendants of Joseph who survived."
~Amos 5:14-15

Any time I see a verse quoted, it makes me go and read it in context. All too often we see verses quoted that seem to say one thing but actually have a significantly different meaning when you look at the verse in context. While these two verses are pretty timely and significant on their own, it takes on a much deeper meaning when you read them in context.

This passage is in the middle of a much larger passage that talks about the failings of nations. Amos reveals God's judgment against Philistia, Tyre, Edom, and Moab. That's not where it stops, though--His judgment for Judah and Israel follow closely behind.

Amos 4 ends with these verses:

"So this is what I am going to do to you, Israel.
        Because of what I am planning, prepare to meet your God, Israel!
Witness the One who shapes the mountains and fashions the wind,

    who reveals His thoughts to human beings,
Who changes dawn to darkness
    and treads upon the high places of the earth.
The Eternal God, Commander of heavenly armies, is His name."

 And what were Israel's crimes? Their leaders were silencing anyone who dared speak the truth. They were getting rich on the backs of the poor, from taxes imposed on them. God said He saw the depths of their sins, how they had turned away from what was right and gone so far as to persecute those who did right. They took bribes and abused the poor. That list of sins is what comes directly before verses 14 & 15, where God's people are commanded to hate evil and love good, to live justly.

What follows, though, is the consequence if His people refused to repent and run back to Him: 

"Get ready to hear wailing from every street,
    people crying out in pain and sorrow along every highway.
The farmers will be pulled away from their fields to mourn,
    and those who are trained to grieve will wail with them.
In every vineyard, there will be mourning
    because I will pass through the middle of you."

As an individual, I know that I am saved from God's wrath and judgment. It's not because I'm some amazing person who never messes up--it's simply due to the fact that I know just how utterly useless my own attempts to be "good enough" are and have accepted the amazing gift of God sacrificing His Son as a replacement for my punishment.

As a nation, though, I truly believe that we have finally pushed too far and that we are about to see what happens when God gives us what we've been demanding for so long--a society without Him. We're about to see what happens when God removes His hand of protection and instead turns us over to experience justice and righteousness.

"How horrible for you who look forward to the day of the Eternal One!
    Why do you want it to come?
For you, its arrival will mean darkness, not light.
It will be as if you were to escape from a lion

    only to run headlong into a bear,
As if you ran into a house to hide, leaned against the wall to rest,
    and a poisonous snake latched onto your hand.
Will not the day of the Eternal One be darkness instead of light,

    pitch black, without even a hint of brightness?
Eternal One:
I hate—I totally reject—your religious ceremonies

        and have nothing to do with your solemn gatherings.
You can offer Me whole burnt offerings and grain offerings,

        but I will not accept them.
You can sacrifice your finest, fattest young animals as a peace offering,

        but I will not even look up.
And stop making that music for Me—it’s just noise.

        I will not listen to the melodies you play on the harp.
Here’s what I want: Let justice thunder down like a waterfall;

        let righteousness flow like a mighty river that never runs dry."
Amos 5:18-24

The justice and righteousness of God are not things to be taken lightly. I'm afraid that we've been demanding them for so long, though, that God is about to give our nation exactly what we've been asking for.

All I can say is that I am thankful God's promises are eternal.
In the midst of the chaos and the confusion, He promises His presence.

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