Tag Archives: Christianity

Are Christians Mean?

In reality people are people, some are mean, some are nice. Most of us have good days and bad days, and that affects how we treat others. However, people have higher expectations for Christians, as they should. To be a Christian means I follow Jesus, and that is what sets the expectation of others.

Was Jesus always nice? Not really. I know, I know, we all believe in “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but Jesus was pretty harsh sometimes. Most of us can call to mind the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple. That’s a good example of who and what made Jesus angry. Jesus had little tolerance for the self-righteous Pharisees of his day, and the Lord was often upset over the unbelief coming from people who would claim to belong to God.

Jesus was gentle, however, if you understand the term. It doesn’t simply mean “nice,” nor does it imply Jesus was soft concerning injustice and evil. It means he was genuinely understanding of those who were enslaved to sin, and was willing to love them and spend time to teach them the truth. The Pharisees just could not understand why Jesus “ate with tax-collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus never advocated for excessive or fraudulent collection of taxes, nor did he participate  in or promote sinful lifestyles. Jesus taught those who would listen, and many believed in him and changed their minds and their lifestyles as a result.

Sometimes Jesus’ followers weren’t very nice. On one occasion two of his disciples, called the Brothers Thunder, (James and John were known by this name), wanted to bring fire down from heaven to consume their Lord’s opponents (cf. Luke 9:54). Jesus scolded them for this. “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.” When parents tried to bring their children to Jesus, so the Lord could bless the little ones, these same disciples tried to keep them away. Jesus said, “Don’t hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

The Holy Spirit is gentle, and Christians who are full of the Spirit will be too. He is also called “the Spirit of Truth,” and he guides Christians into the truth  (John 16:13). As a result we will speak the truth in love when under the Holy Spirit’s influence (Ephesians 4:15). Not everyone responds favorably when they are told the truth, even when that is done in love. The perception by those who hear what they don’t believe or want to hear may be to accuse the messenger of being unkind.

Christians may be genuinely mean, though. In fact, some of the most difficult, self-righteous, unpleasant people with whom I’ve had to deal over the years were in church most every Sunday. This should not be true of those who claim the name of Jesus. The root problem behind this unkindness is self, or self-centeredness. I want things to go my way, and when they don’t I will mistreat you.

In Christ, though, I am a new creation with a new nature, which is focused on Christ, not self. It is not difficult to be unselfish when I simply turn my mind’s eye on Jesus, and allow him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”   The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:5–8.

I want to challenge my fellow Christians: Be kind! Pay attention to others. Smile at people. Love each other and treat everyone with respect, especially those with whom you disagree. Courtesy is a Christian virtue. Hold doors open for people. Give up your seat on public transportaion or at church, or scoot over so others can sit down easily. Give up the prime parking spot instead of cursing and fighting for it. Don’t cut people off  or flip people off because they aren’t driving the way you want. Refuse to gossip or speak unkindly about anyone. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And that includes social media! Pray for people you’re angry with, don’t post hateful things about them. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; don’t hold grudges. Refuse the play the judge. Take the log out of your own eye before you go hunting for sawdust in someone else’s. Walk around in other people’s shoes for awhile before you snap to a judgment about who they are and why they’re doing what you don’t approve of.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 4:32–5:2.

American Freedom Revolution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
-1st Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
-Evelyn Beatrice Hall paraphrasing Voltaire

“Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
-John Leland, “A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia,” The Writings of the Later Elder John Leland, published in 1845.

Christianity, and more specifically its Protestant expressions, often experienced preferential treatment by government for the first two centuries of the founding of the United States of America. The pendulum is swinging the other direction in our time, and with increasing momentum. Now Christian expression is in disfavor, not only with government, but corporations, academic institutions and the media. There is an obvious bias against orthodox Christianity.

How should Christians respond? How should government respond?

Let’s begin with the latter. The United States of America was not founded as a Christian institution, even though most of its founders were Protestant Christians, and some sought to establish a Christian commonwealth in their respective states. No, the U.S. was first settled by religious dissenters from England who sought freedom to practice their religion. The War of Independence was fought to establish a sovereign nation, whose people would be free from unrepresented taxation and tyrannical monarchy.

The United States was established so that people could have a government that is, as Lincoln famously stated, of the people, by the people, and for the people. Government is established to protect the God given rights of people, not grant those rights. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence opens with the famous lines:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Government exists for the benefit of the governed, not the other way around. Government receives its power from the people, and the people have the right to take that power back.
However, the United States government’s power has expanded continuously over time, and and dramatically in the last 15 years. Under the Presidency of George W. Bush, motivated by the fight against terrorism, federal spying and policing agencies were given unprecedented power under the Patriot Act and through the Department of Homeland Security. During the Presidency of Barack Obama government expansion continued into private healthcare. The U.S. government threatens businesses who will not violate the religion and conscience of their owners by providing health insurance that enables abortion.

From the beginning the Supreme Court has acted as though it has the authority to deny or create rights to persons. Slaves were denied rights under the 1857 Dred Scott decision because they were considered property by the Almighty Court. In 1973 SCOTUS denied unborn babies the right to life because, in the fatal logic of the court, the mother has an overriding right to privacy. Since that time courts have consistently upheld the right of a woman to terminate the life of the unborn baby in her womb because the court considers that baby nothing more than a part of the woman’s body. In 2015 the Supreme Court defied 5,000 years of precedent in every civilization by redefining marriage.

This is not government of the people, for the people and by the people: it is government granting rights to people. Such a government flies in the face of both the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution— the latter of which, ironically, the U.S. Supreme Court is supposed to interpret to protect the rights of citizens.

Citizens of the United States must retain their rights to think, believe and speak as their conscience or religion calls them to. The only limits to this are the rights of others to the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. In other words, if an Islamic extremist claims they are called by God to kill the infidel, they are not permitted to do so in the United States, since this obviously deprives other citizens of the very rights the jihadist would claim.

1st Amendment rights are being eroded by government’s ever increasing tendency to enforce a politically correct agenda. However, the same principle that applied to Christians seeking to establish a commonwealth, applies to secularists seeking to outlaw public expressions of Christian faith. Leave people to express themselves freely in the marketplace of ideas. The President of the U.S., Congress and the Supreme Court have no right to prohibit or inhibit the free exercise of religion, nor do they have the right to censor free speech. This applies equally to state and local governments, agencies and officials.

Examples of erroding 1st Amendment rights abound. A recent example comes from the State of California. Senate Bill 1146 seeks to limit religious exemptions from Title IX.
Dr. Kurt Krueger states: “The bill effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including the freedom to hire only Christian faculty and staff. If passed without amendments, the new law would also very likely disqualify students attending California Christian colleges and universities from eligibility for Cal Grants, a key state-level student aid program.” The law may be applied further by proscribing coed dorms, and enforcing acceptance of homosexuality, same sex marriage and transgenderism.

If passed, religious schools in California would not be permitted to operate according to the teachings of their religions if those teachings do not agree with what the government has defined as acceptable.

It is this kind of totalitarian legislation that the Supreme Court is in place to invalidate by properly interpreting and applying the U.S. Constitution. However, the consensus in government and in many cultural power centers is to aggressively pursue an agenda that eliminates the rights of religious persons, particularly Christians, to speak and live as their religion dictates. That is not the United States of America.

We need another revolution, a revolution that returns us to our founding principles. Government needs to be limited, not expanded. People must be left to exercise their God given rights.

How should Christians respond?

We must speak the truth in love. That means believers must be intimately acquainted with, and personally committed to, the truth found in the Bible and embodied in Jesus Christ. If you are a Christian I implore and challenge you to love God above all, and refuse to compromise or capitulate to a godless culture. Increasing numbers of nominal Christians are proving the reality of the Apostle Paul’s prophecy in 2 Timothy 3, “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”

You and I would do well to heed the Apostle’s command, “Have nothing to do with them!” Paul was not speaking of avoiding atheists or those from other religions, but those who profess to be Christians but fail or refuse to believe the truth plainly taught in the Word of God. They may be active in their respective churches, yet choose the same values as the godless culture around. The Apostle also prophesied about this in the same passage quoted above. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—” (2 Timothy 3:1–4, NIV84)

Increasing numbers of formerly “mainline denomination” churches are now actively supporting sexually immoral lifestyles, even among their leadership. Episcopalians have ordained openly homosexual bishops. United Methodists are debating inclusion of transgendered ministers. If you are a member of one of these apostate churches I believe the following command and promise applies to you.
“Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:17–18, NIV84)

The United States is not a Christian nation– if it ever was. However, it can be a nation full of God loving, Bible believing Christians who seek to show the love of Jesus both to fellow Americans and fellow residents of planet earth. It may be a nation with a government occupied by many Christians who seek to protect the rights of all people, not Christians alone, and who seek to keep the marketplace of ideas free of totalitarian laws and leaders in order that the Gospel of Jesus may be openly shared alongside other ideas.

Christian faith is always harmed when it is enforced by government coercion.
“An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.” Roger Williams (founder of the first baptist church in America), in The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience. The author of this quote, Roger Williams, is the same Baptist pastor to whom Thomas Jefferson famously wrote concerning the wall of separation between church and state in his Letter to the Danbury Baptists. This was a concept Williams strongly espoused. Williams likened the church to a garden around which God has placed a wall, and he saw the world as a wilderness outside that wall. What Williams didn’t want was influence from the world or coercion from government coming into the church. If properly understood, you and I would do well to support this concept. It is not a prohibition against public displays of religious thought and sentiment, but a prohibition against government involvement and intrusion into church affairs, or preference for a particular religion.

Some examples follow. Should children be permitted to pray in schools? Absolutely. Should children be required to pray with a teacher or administrator of a public school? Absolutely not. Should public schools teach the Bible?  Even if taught as literature there are many possible problems with teachers importing their own personal bias, or government mandating a certain interpretation, so I think this is a bad idea. Should private hotels be permitted to put Bibles in their rooms? Of course they should. What about celebrations of Christmas in schools? Considering the secular nature of Christmas in our time, I don’t know why this should pose a problem. Santa, Frosty and Rudolph have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus. However, even recognizing Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Christ does nothing to establish Christianity. Perhaps we should be open to celebrations being limited in communities where large groups from other religious expressions exist. Certainly Christmas celebrations shouldn’t be enforced. Should displays of the 10 Commandments or Manger Scenes be removed from government facilities? Yes. This does not mean every religious display must be erased from public spaces. Christianity is part of the history and cultural heritage of the United States, and leaving a cross on a hillside where it has stood as a war memorial does not establish Christianity. These are examples of how I believe it would play out if we’re serious about the 1st Amendment and why the United States was founded.

Trust me, Christian friends, the Gospel will triumph because it is true and it is the best news. Christianity and its Gospel do not require government enforcement. When you combine Christianity and politics, you no longer have Christianity, just politics using that name. Believers must be free to preach and to live out their faith without government intrusion.

I’m sure I’ve made no one happy here. It is likely you disagreed with something I wrote. However, I hope you get the main point: no one’s point of view, religious or not, should be prohibited from public discourse. You have the right to disagree and believe differently, and so does everyone else. Shutting the opposition up or shutting them down is not American, and it is not Christian. Speak the truth as you understand it. Don’t be offended because someone disagrees with you. Give a better reason, a better argument. Live a better life!

Fight the Good Fight

I have studied, trained and taught karate’ and martial arts for nearly 30 years. It’s been a few since I’ve actively taught, but I have some insight I’d like to apply to Christian faith.

I taught my students to defend themselves. We never attack anyone else. We are not seeking to maim the opponent, but to protect life, friends and family from an aggressive attacker. Sadly, if you present weakness, there will inevitably be a perpetrator who seeks to take advantage of you.

Therefore, it’s important to train, to be aware of your surroundings, and to always be ready to defend yourself and your family. Now, this is true whether you apply it to faith, as I am about to, or not. The assumption that you’ll never be a victim of violence is foolish and unfounded. However, avoiding situations where violence may occur, maintaining 360 degree awareness at all times, and having a plan for self-defense and escape will minimize damage and potentially avoid conflict altogether.

If you are a genuine follower of Jesus, then you need to be prepared to defend your faith. Historic, biblical Christian faith is under sustained attack today, from Muslims, atheists and even nominal (not biblical) “Christians”. Sadly, too many supposed Christians are simply compromising or capitulating. They refuse to fight, or they give ground and hope they’ll be able to continue to live a comfortable life.

I don’t want to boil this all down to politics, because it’s deeper than that. However, in the last eight years, since the left gained control over the Presidency, this nation has moved farther from its Christian roots. Atheism is on the rise. Inordinate lifestyles and sexual choices have been normalized. Islamic extremism and it’s militant hatred for Christians has grown worldwide. What are Jesus’ followers to do? Certainly, those in free lands need to vote for candidates with biblical values. However, it appears so many in the USA are deceived that that may not be an option this election cycle. In fact, it appears we are in for four to eight more years of godless policies.

Fellow believers, our hope is not in this world. We must do more than provide ourselves and our families with comfortable lives. We must begin to live out our convictions, even and especially when that is not convenient, comfortable, or even safe. The reality is, our world is more dangerous than ever, and ignoring this fact does not change it. Confronting danger may seem scary, but it may actually be wiser than avoiding it until it becomes worse. We must learn to fight the good fight of faith.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). I hope, fellow believers, that we too may say what the Apostle Paul did here at the end of his life. For your own sake, that of your family and friends, and for the sake of our great nation, Jesus’ followers must learn to defend their faith against the attacks of the Enemy.

This begins by affirming that your faith is genuine, biblical and Jesus focused. The Apostle Paul challenged the Corinthians with this statement at the end of his second letter to them in the Bible. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV) The essence of being a Christian is not in the externals, but whether or not the Spirit of God is living within you. The mystery of the Gospel is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Is Jesus Christ alive in you? This isn’t a metaphor, friend. Do you have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within your innermost being. Is Jesus really and truly in your heart?

If you doubt, then you need to stop where you are, at this moment, right now, and call on Jesus Christ in prayer. The Bible says, “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Talk to God and ask Jesus Christ to enter your heart and take control of your life. Do that sincerely and with all of the faith you can muster. “that if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “To has many as received him, to them he gave the right to be children of God, even to those who called on his name” (John 1:12). Call out to Jesus right now. Affirm that he is Lord, and give up your rights and give yourself to him.

So, is your faith real? Is Jesus really living within you? The next step is to learn and train to defend that faith in the face of opposition. We don’t attack people, we enter into spiritual warfare. That begins in your own mind. Combat doubt and ignorance by exposing yourself to the truth of the Bible, and by listening to believing teachers. Popular Bible teachers, even those with sound doctrine are not enough. As AW Tozer wrote, “I take my help where I find it and set my heart to graze where the pastures are greenest. Only one stipulation do I make: my teacher must know God, as Carlyle said, “otherwise than by hearsay,” and Christ must be all in all to him. If a man have only correct doctrine to offer me I am sure to slip out at the first intermission to seek the company of someone who has seen for himself how lovely is the face of Him who is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley. Such a man can help me, and no one else can.”
(The Pursuit of Man, xiv).

We are instructed to be ready to defend our faith, and to do so with gentleness and respect for the person to whom we are making that defense. That begins with setting apart Jesus Christ as the one in control in your heart, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do ti with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:15-16a). We are also told to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Our purpose is not to prove ourselves right and the other person wrong, nor is it to defeat or humiliate our opponent. Our purpose is to defend the truth of the Gospel before all people, and, if possible, to win our opponent over to faith in Jesus Christ, in order that they may be saved.

The real battle is against God’s great Enemy and our adversary in this life, Satan. You and I are not so significant that we’ll be fighting the Devil himself. We will encounter his lies and those influenced by him through those lies and through interaction with other fallen angels, whom we call demons. Once again, this battle begins in your own mind. Faulty assumptions, half-truths and outright lies comprise the basis of bad thinking. “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Change your thinking; change your ways.

You must renew your mind with the truth found in the Bible, and that must be illuminated, or properly interpreted and applied to your mind by the Holy Spirit. Read the Bible, or listen to it read, daily. You must take captive any thoughts that are contrary to the truth of the Bible. You must change any opinion that is contrary to the Word of God. You must not elevate any value or ideal above Jesus Christ and the clear teaching of the Bible. Consider what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, marriage, gender, the sanctity of human life. Don’t permit those who have been programmed with lies propagated through the media, the school system and government to sway you. Have compassion on those who are caught up in sin, but don’t compromise, accept that sin as God’s will and plan. Start with the sins of your own heart, though. Stop justifying, excusing or lying to yourself about them. Satan’s original lie to Eve in Eden was, “Did God really say…?” Yes, he did. It’s wrong. Cry out for strength, mercy and forgiveness. Repent.

Pray for understanding. Pray about what you read. Pray for yourself and others. Pray against the Enemy. Pray in preparation to speak with anyone about your faith. The battle is spiritual and we wrestle and win in prayer. “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” (Ephesians 6:12-13).

Finally, engage others in the marketplace of ideas. Give personal testimony of your faith and what God has done and is doing in your life. No one can contradict authentic personal experience. Read and prepare to provide solid, reasonable answers for your faith and the truth of the Bible. Do not fear to talk to those who disagree. Remember, God will give you the words when you are speaking for him, “for I will give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” (Jesus speaking to the disciples in Luke 21:15).

Take action to protect your family and your friends against sin and evil. Limit what you expose your children (and yourself!) to through the media and online. The news media is biased against Christians. The entertainment industry promotes godless lifestyles and violence, colleges and public schools actively oppose the Bible and orthodox Christian faith, advertisers use sex and violence to sell their products, much of corporate America stands behind perverse values. It is time to stop supporting what is destroying faith in America!

Forewarned is forearmed. Learn to defend yourself, Christian. It’s only going to get worse. The good thing is, you’re not alone. God is your defender. “For you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy” (Psalm 61:3). We will win because Christ has overcome sin, death and hell. “If God is for us, who can stand against us? …No in all these things we are more than conquers through him who loved us” (Romans 8:31 & 37).

Coexist.

This world is a place where life with God and without God must coexist.

This is the case in order that people may clearly see the difference and decide whether they want to live with God for eternity. Those who live by faith in God and those who do not live side by side in this world.

The primary choice we are making over and over again every day is whether or not to believe in God.

If we believe, we live in light of that faith (James 2:14-26) and we seek to have a relationship with God. If we disbelieve, we incline to our own understanding of the world and live accordingly (Prov. 3:5). Unbelief is wrong because it separates us from the one who is good and right. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Unbelief has disastrous consequences, since it cuts us off from our Father and the hope of eternal life.

The contrasting lifestyles and states of wellbeing of genuine believers vs. unbelievers are clear indicators of the relative value of having a relationship with God. For example, a scientific study recognized that people who pray regularly are psychologically healthier than those who do not. The strength possessed by believers in the midst of tragedy and suffering is testament to the value of faith in God. Those who tithe their income are less materialistic, less controlled by money or the constant yearning for it.

So, why aren’t more people turning to faith in Christ? Don’t they see that this offers a better life and life after death? Are believers failing to show this to them convincingly? Or are they being deceived? Satan is the deceiver, and he is called god of this world.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)
I believe Satan has effectively deceived the world, including increasing numbers of Christians (Matthew 24:24).

To understand how Satan has accomplished this you must recognize that there are two worldviews at war in our nation today. The Christian worldview and secular utopianism. Currently, the delusion of secular utopianism is spreading. The Christian worldview has been under sustained attack by the proponents and leaders of secular utopianism since the 1800’s.

The Christian worldview is based upon the Bible. It is centered upon a faith in the God who created the universe, and made human beings in his own image. Its morality is based upon the will of God, who will judge the world. Its hope is in a coming new world where Jesus Christ will reign.

Secular utopianism, simply stated, is the godless pursuit of personal happiness in this world.

It is humanistic and seeks to make earth into heaven, and each human being into a god. It is based upon Satan’s ancient lie spoken to Eve in Eden.“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4–5, ESV). According to this worldview the only god who matters is you. It has adherents in every religion, but it denies the authority of the only real God and Creator of the universe. Yes, there are many who would call themselves Christians who are actually believers in this worldview. The Apostle Paul warns that these apparently religious people are, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Secular utopianism is a materialistic worldview, giving no credence, or at least no significance, to a real heaven beyond this world. Karl Marx is perhaps its most powerful proponent. Marx famously called religion opium because he believed it kept people from realizing they needed to fight to make this life and this world the only heaven there can be.

Marx wrote:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Communism and Socialism promise to create a secular utopia by enforcing income equality and then by abolishing private property, but ultimately what is sought is the abolition of any personal opinion that does not conform with the ideology enforced by the state. We saw this in the failed USSR and we see it prominently in China and in North Korea. This is the direction the liberal/progressive movement is taking the USA.

However, the left is not alone in it’s pursuit of secular utopianism. It is the same on the far right. The free market capitalist’s favorite philosopher is Ayn Rand, who formulated the philosophy known as Objectivism, which is an intellectual justification of the self-centered pursuit of happiness. The reason capitalists love her is due to her support of a laissez-faire approach to capitalism, which permits market forces to work. However, unbridled free-market capitalism inevitably results in the abuses of which many  were victims during the 2008 financial crisis. This is the grist for Bernie Sanders’ popular grind against big corporations and income inequality.

So, neither the left or right have the answer to our problems, and neither can offer human beings what we really long for: love, purpose, lasting peace, fulfillment, the reason for our existence, which is God himself. Oh, but they try. You and I must follow the radical route, the narrow path, which will make none of our political and worldly friends happy.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14, ESV).

Our culture has become toxic. It is imperative that we repudiate its godless values and protect ourselves and our children from being inculcated and indoctrinated. In order to do this our minds must be renewed by daily reading (or listening to) the Bible. We must be active in church. Jesus himself established the church, not a building or an institution, but communities set apart from the world to worship the One True God. The time in long past when a Christian could sit at home and rely on their own self-discipline and understanding of the Bible and expect to grow. Now, not only will you not grow, you will regress; you will fade into the light of common day; you will become more and more like the post-Christian culture, which has an inescapable influence on all of us.

Do you need examples of this influence? There is the obvious proliferation of pornography, available on every phone, tablet and computer. Our entertainment is filled with sexual immorality and violence. There is wide acceptance, even enforcement of the so-called rights of people to participate in perverse sexuality and distorted views of gender. Far more dangerous is the marginalization or outright rejection of Christianity in favor of the unbridled pursuit of self-satisfaction, pleasure or personal happiness. This is secular utopianism at work, and it is most dangerous when people believe that it is good, virtuous and right to pursue godless and distorted practices. Those who reject these practices as wrong and/or speak against them are considered evil and kept from expressing their offensive opinions in the public square, which was once a marketplace of free ideas.

The Western world is build upon the foundation of a Christian ethic and philosophy. The current preoccupation with secular utopianism has been labeled “post-Christian culture” by some observers. Author Mark Sayers, in his book Disappearing Church gives insight.
“Post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, whilst simultaneously feasting on its fruit.
Post-Christian culture attempts to retain the solace of faith, whilst gutting it of the costs, commitments, and restraints that the gospel places upon the individual will. Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, whilst defending the reign of the individual will. Post-Christianity is Christianity emptied of its content” (Kindle loc. 200)

This may help to explain why, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, people still pursue heaven on earth. There is continues to be enough of a Christian remnant, and the remnant of its ethic, to keep us from descending into the outright evil of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, and there is still enough temporary prosperity to keep us well fed and entertained. However, the widespread addiction to alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs (painkillers and anti-depressants) is testament to the fact that the pursuit of happiness is failing.

People who have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, must genuinely follow him. “Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). What if you don’t reflect that light? What if you don’t shine? Then people cannot tell the difference between a Christian and a secular person. If that is the case, why would anyone want to waste time and energy devoting themselves to something other than themselves?

Worldly churches have little influence and lose members because they are no different from the culture. This is the case with churches where the Bible is distorted and disbelieved. Today many formerly large denominations are a shell of their former selves and a tithe of their former size because they have reinterpreted the Bible, rejected it’s authority and embraced contemporary cultural ethics. Then there are churches where relevance has taken precedence over the Bible. They may technically agree with orthodox Christian teaching, but they don’t emphasize anything controversial or counter-cultural. They teach practical advice and preach personal happiness. Some of these are churches where style and slick production is more important than biblical substance. In both of these types of churches—-the liberal, heterodox, or the surface conservative where relevance trumps all—people are unaffected by the truth of Christ. People leave, attend sporadically or live lives that are no different than their neighbors who do not go to church.

Those of us who are saved, are saved from this cursed world. We have been given hope in a life beyond our earthly existence. I am a new creation, set free from the three forces that kept me blind, lost and spiritually dead: the world, the flesh and the devil. The life I live on in this body on earth, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and proved it when he died on the cross to save me. I must live this out daily. Then sinners will see and change their minds about God and about this world (Psalm 51:13).

The church of which I am Senior Pastor is called Lifewell for a reason. Jesus promised to make within each believer a wellspring of water overflowing with eternal life (John 4:14). That is God-quality abundant life. We want people to see this life lived through us and to be drawn to the God who gives it.

There is no good life apart from God, even non-believers benefit from the faith of God’s people. That is what is holding this rebellious, increasingly godless nation together at this moment.  Maybe what held your life together when you were in a state of rebellion and practical atheism was the prayers of a faithful grandma, or friends who refused to give up on you.
Believers are by no means given material advantages; in fact, the opposite may be true in many cases. However, the internal wellbeing produced by spiritual life within is its own reward far above wealth. God himself is the reward to his people (like the Levitical priests, cf. Deut. 18:2)

“Those who come to him must believe that he exists and he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after him” (Hebrews 11:6).
See also, Isaiah 40:10, 62:11, Gal. 3:14, Col. 1:27, Eph. 3:16-21.
“As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?”
(Psalm 42)

We live in a world where life with God and apart from God coexist. If you claim to know God, it is imperative that you live that life to the fullest, and live it openly. People who have no faith need to see the difference. Is there a difference in you? If not, you don’t really believe in this good and loving God, who sent his Son to give eternal life. Jesus promised to give a rich an satisfying life.

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I have come to give abundant life” (John 10:10).

Lent: Reasons to Fast

The season of Lent is a time many Christians choose to fast. For 2016 the season begins on Wednesday, February 10th

The following are some reasons for fasting, and not just for Lent. Fasting may be beneficial at any time.

1. Fast as an Act of Dedication–  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted after his baptism and prior to entering into his ministry. Perhaps he did this to gain confirmation and clarity by intensely focusing on God.

2. Fast as an Exercise of Discipline–  Learn to say no to “me.” All of the temptations Jesus underwent in the wilderness were attempts to get him to act expediently and egotistically. If the Lord had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but, rather, the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. I need to learn to say “no” to myself.

3. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence–  Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34).

4. Fast to Establish Determination–  Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21).

5. Fast as an Act of Desperation–  Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah and Ninevah). “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12 NIV). A need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel 10 & 21 days of prayer), David seeking the healing of his 1st child by Bathsheba.

6. Fast as a Means of Detoxification– Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as the result.

A vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods can be a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you fast, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver can rid you of accumulated poison.

The same principle applies to the mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.

7. Fast Regularly to Diet– Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn off, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the following four principles.
A. If you make a commitment, keep it. Consistency is important for any discipline.
B. Choose something that will really require discipline to give up.
C. Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.
D. It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.

What Is Love?

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love”

(1st John 4:7-8, New Living Translation).

What is love? Valentine’s Day makes this a pertinent question. My favorite writer on the subject didn’t get married until he was 58, and even then it was for charitable, not romantic, reasons. C. S. Lewis, the famous author of the Narnia series of books, married Joy Davidman in a government office to provide her with British citizenship. A few months later Joy was diagnosed with cancer, and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Jack, as Lewis was known by his friends, chose to love and care for Joy. The feeling between them grew, and nearly a year after the marriage of convenience there was a hospital wedding presided over by a clergyman from the Church of England. ’Til death do we part was a potent reality. Joy left the hospital to convalesce. It was not until this point that she moved in with Jack. God worked and Joy’s cancer went into remission. Jack and Joy lived happily for three more years. Then the cancer returned and took Joy. Jack wept.

C. S. Lewis understood love as no one else whom I’ve read on the subject. At first this understanding was philosophical and academic. He wrote The Four Loves, an intelligent and insightful book describing the different types of love and their corresponding relationships. Lewis used Greek words to define each love. Agape’ is God’s unconditional gift love, exemplified in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Philos is the love between family and friends, which the philosopher Plato called “the milk of human kindness.” Eros is erotic or sexual love, designed by God to connect one man and one woman for life. Finally, storge’ is what we would call affection. It is found in each of the previous three loves, expressing itself appropriately in different relationships.

C. S. Lewis lived out his creed. He was unlike like the men of his day, and his perspective is entirely foreign to us today. A breakdown of the timeline of Lewis’s relationship with Joy will reveal this.

Joy was a divorced American author seeking British citizenship when her visa was not renewed. Lewis gave her his name in a civil marriage to provide this. So, Jack, as Lewis was known to his friends,  entered into a relationship with Joy because he wanted to help a friend. This is agape’ love.

A friendship had also grown between Jack and Joy as they discovered common intellectual, literary and personal interests. The friendship deepened as the two pushed through life’s struggles together. This is philos love.

After Joy’s cancer was discovered she was hospitalized. At this point, Lewis realized something he hadn’t previously. He loved this woman as a man loves no other person.  Jack determined to express love to her on another level. He decided to marry her in eyes of the church, and asked a minister of the Anglican communion to perform the ceremony in her hospital room.

Afterward, Jack brought his beloved Joy home and began to care for her in earnest. The cancer went into remission, and the two lived together as man and wife, and enjoyed several years of happiness. It is important to note that the relationship between Joy and Jack did not become romantic or sexual until after the two were married in the eyes of God. This is eros love.

In the end the cancer returned and took Joy from Jack. Lewis had written several notebooks full of personal feelings and observations during this time, and anonymously published them in the book, A Grief Observed. It was a terrible loss for him and the book presents honest observations.

It was friendship and divine compassion (philos and agape’) that drew Jack and Joy together, love that sustained them in her illness, and it was the love of God that strengthened Jack in his grief when Joy was gone.

What is love?  It is indeed a “many splendored thing,” but fundamentally love is genuine compassion for another person. Love is the commitment to act in the best interest of the beloved, regardless of self-interest. Love must be the basis for every human relationship.

So, the next time you choose a friend or a lover, ask yourself:  is this about love, or something else? Then do what is good and right and God-like: choose to love.

Growing Again

I got off track. Okay, that’s a colloquialism, but it’s true. I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus, but I got away from my calling to preach Good News. Why? Reasons that I can think of: 1) Disappointment 2) Rejection from people I cared about, 3) Desire for things outside the will of God, 4) Disbelief that God wants to bless me.

Let’s begin with the last first. I’ve tried many things to get God to bless me. Early in my Christian life I made promises that I couldn’t keep. I’ve fasted, both food and other things. I’ve prayed, complained, journaled, read more and more of the Bible, served, given money, offered personal sacrifices. Nothing changes me, and that’s the real issue. I must change, but “a leopard cannot change its spots” and I cannot change my nature.

I’ve come to the realization that what I do and who I am doesn’t matter. It’s who God is that can change, well, everything– even me. That’s the nature of the Gospel. God is good and God loves me (and you) and God has done everything that needs to be done for me (and you) to be blessed and changed. We cannot change our natures, but God will… once we trust his love and goodness enough to permit Him to begin (and continue) that process of transformation.

I was saved many years ago at the age of 16. I made a deal with God that involved nothing more than taking him at his word. I was a lustful, sin sick teenager who heard the message that God loves me and accepts me “just as I am.” I tried to clean up my act, but was not able to measure up. I couldn’t eradicate the lust of my heart. When I heard the Good News that Jesus died for me just as I am to make of me what he wills, then I accepted the offer of life in place of my living death. So, the deal went like this: Lord, I cannot do this on my own; I cannot stop this lust in my heart. If you accept me as I am and you will help me, then you can have my life.

It’s interesting that even many years later I still default to trying to please God by trying to stop lust and sin as a precondition of his blessing. That’s not the deal I made with God, though; or, I should say, that’s not the deal He made with me (and offers everyone in the Gospel). God is good, apart from Him, I am not.

Don’t try to compare yourself to me, though. You might be tempted to say: “Well, I’m better than you. I’m not doing anything that bad.” You might be surprised to find that that isn’t true. Even if it is, Jesus is the example of what a human being is supposed to be, and I assure you, you’re not that good and moral. Or, you might say: “I’m much worse than you. I’ve done horrible things.” You might be surprised to know that God judges the heart above the action, and even when I’ve done nothing externally wrong, my heart is wicked and yearns for things that, even if the world accepts, God hates. So, I may have imagined it but never done it, and you have done it. The difference is whom you’ve hurt in addition to God and yourself, but we’ve both sinned.

The point is: God is good no matter what we’ve done, and he offers to make us right. First, he sees us as good and right, even though we aren’t, because Jesus became our sin and died in our place, debt paid, penalty served. Theologians call this justification or imputed righteousness. What it means is, because of Jesus God sees us as righteous, even while we are still struggling with sin. There are many places where this is taught in the New Testament. For example:

since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–24, NRSV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NRSV)

This is the basis of the Good News, the Gospel. Yet, although I’ve preached it every week, I still fell short of consistently living like I believed it. Why? Well, I said I had an issue believing that God wants to bless me. That resulted from a guilty conscience as I wrestled with lust and anger and other sin. Formulated into a statement, it would be: How can God love someone who desires this, or who has done that?

It goes deeper, though…

Are you ready for the real confession? I’ve always had a suspicion that God doesn’t really love me. Yes, “God so loved the world,” and I’m part of the world of people he loves. But that seems so general and impersonal. God loves everybody. I’m not disparaging that; I appreciate it. However, it didn’t translate into me feeling God cares about me personally. So, yes, I’ll get into heaven because of Jesus, for God loves the mass of humanity so much that he came and died. But what about “he died for me”? I believe God loves people; I just don’t think he really likes me all that much. Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t want to be around me. So, I feel neglected, sometimes abandoned, even though I’m saved.

I default to that because when we consider God in the natural, we are inclined to understand him to be like our human fathers. My biological father was absent; my step-father was distant. I wanted my step-dad to adopt me, but he wasn’t willing to ask me to take his name. I experienced rejection from both men. Additionally, I could never measure up to my step-father. He was a big man, bigger than life sometimes. I was a scared boy. He tried to help me. We studied karate’ together. He certainly didn’t need this; he did it for me. So, don’t think he was a bad guy; he wasn’t. I’m not disrespecting the man. However, I could never call him “Dad”. I always called him by his first name instead. I could call him my dad to other people, but never to his face. Why? He didn’t ever give me permission to.  Almost no one knows this, but when I was baptized as a teenager, I used my step-dad’s last name. I was looking for a Dad when I came to Jesus. And I found one in God the Father, but I have had a hard time sensing or receiving his love and acceptance.

In the natural I feel rejected, neglected, abandoned, unworthy of affection and incapable of measuring up, even at my age… That is how I’m inclined to feel about God the Father.  As a result, even though my thinking and theology teaches otherwise, I have a proclivity to act like I’m on my own living for God doing ministry for Him. Yes, I’m saved, and yes I’ve got some gifts the Lord has given, but I often feel I have to do it all myself.  This is the reason I’ve become so angry when things don’t work, or situations don’t work out, or when people have abandoned or opposed me.  I just feel like there is no one in my corner to to help me up or fight for me when I’m down. This has created a negative environment at times. And it does not indicate that I have the right quality of faith in the God of Jesus Christ.

However, that has not consistently been the case, and it has begun again to change. God is a good, loving and engaged Heavenly Father and the One whom Jesus gives me the right to call “Daddy.” I’ve begun to sense that once again as I’ve simply chosen to believe it in spite of my own sin.

Last year I began with a fast of several things; in fact, I encouraged our church to do the same. I continued saying “no” to one of these things for many weeks. This didn’t stop my lust, anger and other assorted attitudinal sins, though: only faith has helped.

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23, NRSV)

The year was not one of growth, at least not on the surface. However, what I began to realize and internalize more deeply than ever is this: God loves me anyway. I’m not saying I believe he loves me and doesn’t care if I become angry or lustful. I’m saying, he loves me in spite of my sin and loves me enough to stay with me and work with me and help me overcome. That is a very big deal.

I’ve known and taught, nearly my whole ministry, that our lives must be God-centered rather than self-centered. Early on, I was profoundly affected by the book Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. I came to the conclusion that our greatest problem is self-centeredness, and that our greatest pursuit must be God himself, living a God-Centered life.

However, in reading this confession you can detect a lot of self orientation. That’s because knowing something, even teaching it, is not the same as realizing and living by it. That is what has begun to change over the last 6-12 months. Through the typical disappointments and failures, my faith has– are you ready for this?– grown stronger. This has not been the result of me overcoming my weaknesses, but of realizing God’s acceptance of me in the Beloved (in Jesus) IN SPITE OF MY FOOLISHNESS AND SIN.

The covenant I entered with God is the New Covenant, and it is not offered to those who are deserving, good and moral, but to those who recognize they are weak and in trouble. This Agreement with God was inked in blood, but not mine. Jesus signed it when he was crucified. I cannot fail because the New Covenant is in Jesus’ blood. He is the Guarantor. Not me. My part is to agree, to commit my weak self to Him, to open up and let His Spirit enter and do the lifelong work of transformation. I just need to trust Him, instead of myself. “Trust in the Lord wit all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). I need to love Him, above myself. “He must increase but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

I fail my Father daily in big and small ways, but Jesus never falls short. His covenant of grace will always remain in place. He will never deny or forsake me. That is the Gospel, and it is very Good News.

What will be the result of this renewed realization? I am okay. I am secure. I am not easily angered or shaken. I will persevere in believing that God will bless and anoint and cause me to succeed in His work. I will not fail. Discouragement, disappointment, anger and doubt are all dissipating, evaporating like the dew when the sun grows warm. Hallelujah!

I am positive of this. It is not self-assurance or delusion, but faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

I am convinced. Faith is inherently positive, so I am positive. This will be a challenge in a darkening world filled with bad news, increasingly opposed to Christian faith. However, I am not afraid. I will not shrink back to destruction, but I will persevere in faith to the preserving of my soul in paradise and life eternal (Hebrews 10:39).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37–39, NRSV)

Amen.