Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

God’s Will Is for His People to be Holy

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is an admonition for us. Christians must be holy, and that is a process. In the sexually immoral culture of 1st century Rome it was necessary to emphasize that holiness includes sexual purity. So important was this issue that it was one of the few prohibitions contained in the circular letter from the Jerusalem Counsel, a formal meeting that was called to determine the relationship between Gentiles and the Mosaic Law.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:5-6, ESV)
James, the half-brother of Jesus and Pastor of the Jerusalem church, came up with the language in the brief circular letter of response.
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19–20, ESV)
Here we find one prohibition to avoid offending primarily the Gentiles: “abstain from things polluted by idols.” Then there are two prohibitions against practices that would offend the Jews: “abstain from what has been strangled and from blood.” Finally, there is the prohibition against sexual sin, which was more prevalent among Gentiles, but equally relevant to Jews, and to us.

Learn to control your *vessel, which is to say your body, especially what we today would call your sexuality. We must control the body and the sexual urges of an old, fallen nature. If you belong to Jesus, then it is not your body any longer, even if you continue in management over it.
“The body must be treated as the Lord’s property and not used as a means of wanton self-indulgence.” (Bruce)

“not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”

Those who pursue sexual immorality do so to the exclusion of knowing or experiencing God. Pursuing sexual passion is often the surrogate for the indwelling intimacy of knowing God, which is why it is common among those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. It is the highest form of pleasure that they know. Hedonism is the pursuit of pleasure, and many in the world are hedonists. Sexual desire consumes many people, so much so that they are willing to risk reputation, career, family and even their lives to pursue and fulfill it. Yet it is insatiable. It is never fulfilled. Only those with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom will be capable of accepting this truth and denying themselves in order to become what God wills them to be: pure and holy vessels, filled to overflow with God’s love and life.

So, how could someone who has experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit turn back to worthless desires when infinite joy is offered to them in Christ? As a pastor and a former youth pastor I’ve watched many young people trade their supposed commitment to Christ for sexual immorality. The result is a once spiritually sensitive and alive young person hardens their heart and becomes dead inside. They have little or no interest in Jesus. It’s all in what you choose to believe, or who you choose to believe in. Do you believe God’s word or your feelings? Do you believe in Jesus Christ or yourself?

“that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter”

We must not take advantage of another. In context this refers first to adultery, which is taking advantage of one or both partners in a marriage covenant. Let us say a man is having an affair with a willing woman. In so doing, he wrongs her husband. However, he also enables his illicit sexual partner to commit sin. A follower of Jesus encourages and empowers others to overcome sin; he is not a stumbling block into it.

Sexual morality distinguished the church from the Roman world.
“Christianity from the outset has sanctified sexual union within marriage (as in Judaism); outside marriage it was forbidden. This was a strange notion in the pagan society to which the gospel was first brought; there various forms of extramarital sexual union were tolerated and some were even encouraged.” (FF Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary)
Over time, Christians changed the sexual ethos in the Roman Empire, as they did in other important areas such as respect for life and protection of the weak. It was a common practice in Rome to simply leave a baby exposed to die if the parents didn’t want it.

In America and around the world today, it is acceptable to kill a baby in the womb. This is an extension of our value of personal freedom, pleasure and profit. I don’t want my freedom limited. I don’t want to take responsibility for the life I’ve pro-created. So, I terminate it. If Christians obey the commandment of God regarding sex, they will not find themselves in a situation where a sexual partner determines that the life of a baby must be taken in order to preserve their freedom or reputation.

We must not take on the sexual ethos of our dying culture. It has gone back, like a dog to it’s vomit, and like a pig to the mud-hole, to immoral practices, which Christian influence had brought into disfavor for nearly two millennia. Today, some churches are  embracing sexual immorality and gender confusion as a norm to be accepted, even blessed. Re-read the biblical text from 1st Thessalonians above. We are to be holy, separate, different than our culture. We follow the design of our Creator, which Jesus himself affirmed.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Therefore, sexual immorality is not God’s creation, and this includes homosexuality and manifold transgender identifications. That said, biblical Christians must be merciful, gentle and understanding when communicating, “speaking the truth in love” to those who identify or are struggling with issues of sexual confusion. Understanding and grace don’t  constitute a change in sexual ethics however. We have no right to reorder God’s design of male and female, marriage and sexual expression in order to make those who struggle feel better. When it concerns sexual practice, the follower of Jesus must stand out as an example of moral integrity and sexual purity.
“…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:25, ESV)

“The Lord is the avenger”

Notice, there is a coming consequence for sexual immorality. Even those in the ancient world were wise enough to fear the consequences of adultery. Consider the cases of Abraham and his son Isaac. First, there was Abraham, who told the Egyptians that his wife was his sister to keep them from killing him and taking her. Pharaoh indeed took Sarah into his harem. In consequence, the people of Pharaoh’s house were subject to a plague. When the Egyptian ruler discovered that Sara was actually married to Abraham, he admonished the patriarch: “So Pharaoh called Abram and said, ‘What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.’” (Genesis 12:18–19, ESV)
Like father, like son. Years later Isaac pulled the same trick with another local king. This ruler feared God and admonished Isaac about the lie, then warned everyone to stay away from Rebecca under penalty of death (see Genesis 26:6-11).

The question is, why have we become so foolish? Why is adultery becoming increasingly acceptable with the advent of websites that promote it, so called open marriages and the like? The answer is simple, many in our world no longer fear God.

There are consequences for sexual immorality: sickness, disease, depression, spiritual insensitivity and a hardened heart towards God. These all come upon the sexual sinner. Then she must stand before God to give an answer, and that is what should truly inspire fear. Judgment Day is coming, and we must all give an answer for what we’ve done in the body, good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10, Rom. 14:10, Heb. 9:27). This fact alone should cause even the most sexually profligate, calloused person to fear God and apply self-control, regardless of feelings or identifications.

This applies all the more to those who would molest or take advantage of someone weaker, even if the weaker partner goes along with sexual activity. It is always wrong for an adult to be involved with a minor sexually. The teacher has power over the student, even if they are not that far apart in age. A 20-something has power over a teenager, even if she is 16 or 17. Willingness may quickly turn to disgust, shame and anger. Sex leaves a permanent mark, and this is especially true when the person exposed to it is young and inexperienced.

It is also wrong to take advantage of someone who is financially needy by offering money for sex. The person may go along, but the one paying or bribing them has the greater guilt, since he is also a stumbling block.
Jesus said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6, ESV)

We each have pet sins. We have weaknesses. Sexual immorality is often that sin or weakness. However, as Christians we are called to represent Jesus. As the Apostle Paul states elsewhere, “Let not sexual immorality be named among you as is proper for God’s saints… or “don’t let a hint of immorality be seen among you” (see Eph. 5:3). Instead, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14).

“God has not called us to impurity but in sanctification”

A former member of this church made a confession on Facebook some time ago. He stated that he now wanted to pursue a sexually immoral lifestyle, even though continuing to identify himself as a follower of Christ. I responded that the two pursuits are mutually exclusive (to negative reactions from some of his friends). Here we have evidence of what I said: God has not called us to impurity. You may feel an urge to follow some desire, some lifestyle, but that urge is not God calling you. It is the flesh, the world and the enemy of our souls pulling you away from God and His purpose for you.

At its root, impurity is not just sexual in nature: it is a divided loyalty, a divided mind. God has not called anyone to be what he clearly prohibits in Scripture. We live in a fallen world. I have no doubt that someone may be deeply enthralled and inured by sexual immorality. Calling it a “sexual orientation” is a redefinition that makes it seem natural. Sex is a powerful motivator that reinforces behavior associated with it. Those who practice sexual immorality are shaped by the practice, even if that is private in nature. They bend their minds and emotions toward a delusion, then believe that it is real, normal and even created by God. God did not create, nor does he ordain what is perverse and inordinate according to his revealed will, and many times obvious in nature. God has not called you to commit adultery. God has not called you to follow homosexual desire, or to pursue a homosexual relationship. God has not called you to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and live as though you were married. He has called you to holiness, and that means you must be different than our dying, disordered, anti-Christ culture. You must be different than your friends and colleagues. You must be like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will give you the conviction and the confidence to do so, unless you push him away…

“Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”

The Spirit of God is holy, and those who belong to Christ are inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit. There is a fundamental incompatibility between pursuing sexual sin—of any kind: homosexual expression, adultery, fornication—and being led by the Holy Spirit. When you go on in sin–although our culture accepts and celebrates it–you grieve the Holy Spirit. You are hardening your heart against God and his leadership. This is a very dangerous game. The Holy Spirit gently convicts you of sin, but you harden yourself to this and excuse your behavior as being part of your nature, justify the sin as acceptable; in fact, you may even justify the desire or tendency as coming from God. God created me this way. No, friend. Now you’ve moved into the most dangerous territory, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, where you call right what the Bible teaches and the Spirit convicts is wrong.

I believe God is merciful. I don’t believe making mistakes, sexual or otherwise, disqualifies you from heaven. However, I read soberly passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein the Apostle Paul clearly states that those who practice sin will not inherit heaven.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
(1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NKJV)

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There Is a Time and Purpose for Everything 

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes states that there is a time and a season for everything. 

 “a time to be born, and a time to die; 

  a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

  a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

  a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

  a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

  a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

  a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

  a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

  a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 

  a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

  a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

 a time to love, and a time to hate; 

  a time for war, and a time for peace.” 

(Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

“Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God would allow something bad to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.” -Tim Keller
That there is an appointed time or season implies God has a purpose and a foreordained plan, even if he is not the direct cause of something. God may intervene in nature or in history and order something to occur, or he may allow an event due to the free will of people, or the blind operation of nature’s laws. Since God has the power to intervene, we rightly see him as ultimately responsible. 

God has a purpose, which is being worked out in the world. You and I have free will and the responsibility to seek God and discover his will, and the way he intends things to be.

God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). God’s will is bound to his character, and God is love. Therefore, nothing God wills is outside his love. God always has a reason and a purpose for causing or permitting things to happen. We call this Providence.

God is not the direct (efficient) cause of severe weather events like Hurricane Harvey, but he is the final cause. That is, God has a reason for creating the world, and the laws by which it operates, and for giving humans a will and permitting them the freedom to exercise it. He has a reason for permitting humans to sin, and for placing the entire earth under a curse of separation from his immediate life-giving care. God has a reason for subjecting the creation to futility and bondage to corruption (see Romans 8:20-21). 

God’s plan has always been for the present creation to be temporary. Even before the fall, Eden was not intended to be the final state. God realized that human beings would sin, and that has always been part of his plan. God is not the efficient cause of sin, but he has a purpose for permitting it.

The final cause, the purpose for every event that takes place under heaven, is the hope of eternal life with God. This hope involves God’s plan to adopt believers as his children and make them like his only begotten Son. This hope extends to the recreation of heaven and earth. God’s purpose for creating everything is so you and I may have a relationship with him as Abba-Father for all eternity.  What an amazing plan!  So, hang on: This ain’t heaven… yet. But heaven is coming!

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation. 21:1-5).
For now, there are events that take place in our world and in our lives for which God does not reveal the an immediate purpose. 
However, we can be assured that a good and just God has good reason for what he does, and the ultimate purpose is to make the saints holy like Jesus, and to bring many sons and daughters to His glory (Heb. 2:10, Rom 8:29-30)

We can be assured, then, that whatever happens will result in our good and God’s glory (Romsns 8:28).

A Reasoned Response to Recent Shootings

Regarding the high profile officer involved fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, realize this: every one of us is prejudiced in some way. To a degree this is a result of how our brains categorize and connect things. It is also the result of our past experiences and perceptions of the world. The truth is out there, but that doesn’t mean anyone has a perfect or strictly objective view of it. Facts must be evaluated by dispassionate and trained persons if we are ever to find the truth of any incident. That is why there are courts of law and trials. That is why the arresting officers in a particular case don’t have the final say. Ideally, a jury of the accused’s peers will determine guilt or innocence.

I have past experiences that bring me to realize that not all police officers are trustworthy. I choose to believe that most are, but I’ve been on the wrong side of criminal cops. So, when I hear, or read of a shooting like that of Sterling or Castile, I am immediately suspicious of the officers involved. I may be inclined to rush to judgment because of my personal experience with bad cops. You may have a glowing view of law enforcement because nothing bad has happened to you, your family or friends. Instead, your prejudice may be toward anyone whom the police accuse, arrest or shoot. Your automatic reaction may be to believe that the person must have done something wrong, rather than assuming their innocence as the U.S. justice system demands.

What I believe all of us must do is admit to our prejudices, withhold judgment, and let facts come forth. Somebody may well say, “Yes, but you don’t know how I feel. You don’t know what I’ve been through.” However, that is exactly what reason circumvents. My feelings and experiences do not form the basis for a reasoned evaluation of a unique incident. Reason looks at evidence and evaluates accordingly. You and I need to stop emotionally reacting and start thinking, evaluating available evidence, and praying before we speak, post, or protest.

So, I will admit that I am angry at what appears to be, at best, inept police officers overreacting and killing people. Were they racist? I don’t know. Did race play into their actions? I don’t know. It may have, but one would need to interview people in the lives of each officer to make that determination. Would Alton Sterling or Philando Castile be dead if they were white. Very probably, assuming all of the circumstances were identical, except for their ethnicities. I admit my bias. I am white, and I have been in an incident involving white police officers where I was accused of something I did not do, something those officers knew I didn’t do. In my situation the two officers involved should have been fired at the very least, and then jailed if justice was to be served. So, I know it is possible for police officers to act badly regardless of race. That said, I could be wrong. Maybe the officer would never have pulled Castile over. Maybe the two Louisiana cops would have treated Sterling differently. This might be racially motivated on some level. However, that cannot be determined without evaluating the officers involved, as well as the culture of the police departments where they serve.

Racism was clearly Micah Johnson’s movtive when he murdered five Dallas police officers and injured nine others. He stated that his intention was to murder white people, especially white police officers. It appears this was his twisted version of vengeance for the deaths of black persons by white officers. You and I need to back off of our hate filled, angry reactions to these events, or we may well find ourselves in the same kind of unreasonable, emotional state that motivated Johnson.

Jesus Christ taught that it is what comes from the heart that makes a person bad. What we think always comes before what we do. More importantly, how we think will put us in a position to do good or evil. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immorality, thefts, lies, slanders” (Matthew 15:19). A cop, a criminal, or a citizen may have an evil heart, a bad attitude, distorted thinking, and that is what results in evil actions. “When selfish desire is conceived, it results in sin, and sin results in death” (James 1:15). The way we think about what is happening right now really matters. Hatred and anger are not only a bad response, but an evil one. These attitudes will spawn further violence. Please, my friends, let none of us be part of it!

Slanderer

The Devil is a slanderer; that is what the name means and that is what he does well. Have you ever been at the receiving end of a slanderous accusation, or a malicious rumor? Many of us have at one time or another. It is not possible to control what others may say about you. It is possible to control what you do about it.

You may be innocent, but unstable, angry people may attack you or your character anyway. The internet has made this very easy. Social media, in particular, provides a pipeline for slander. In the privacy of their own home, and with the ease of a few keystrokes, anybody can say anything about anybody anytime. Facts are unnecessary and truth is rarely sought. People enjoy seeing conflict; it doesn’t matter if there is a basis in truth. As Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?” In our day truth is the casualty of our culture of self-interest. Too many think of truth as whatever the majority says it is, or what the loudest and most convincing voices say it is. By this definition truth is the story people believe.

However, that is not truth. Something is true when it corresponds to reality, and absolute truth is what corresponds to ultimate unchanging reality. Jesus Christ called himself the embodiment of truth. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). We may come to know the Truth when we follow Jesus Christ and live by his teaching and commandments. “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). When you understand that truth is not just an opinion, but, rather, what is taught and embodied in Jesus, then you are on the way to living a healthy, reasonable, stable life.

Truth comes from God, who made the world and holds it together. God is behind existence, or reality. What is true is based upon objective reality, not subjective perception of it. In order to understand—or even properly perceive—reality, you have to believe that there is a right way and a wrong way of looking at things. When I choose only to see what pleases me, benefits me, or agrees with my preconceived understanding of things, I will inevitably be blinded by my overwhelming self-interest. If someone hurts me, for example, whether they intended to or not, I may not be able to look at them reasonably or objectively any longer. Anger, fear, resentment, hostility and the like, are all emotions that produce a fight or flight response. The one who hurt me has become the enemy, and I cannot see or say anything good about them.

An example of this may be observed when a couple divorces. Former lovers, partners and parents become mortal enemies. Children hear (or overhear) each parent accuse the other of various crimes and character flaws. Kids are caught in the middle and forced to choose sides. They become casualties of war, victims of friendly fire. Wisdom would lead parents to respect one another as a model for their children, even when they feel compelled to divorce.

The Devil is a slanderer. He uses slander to divide and conquer. He seeks to steal, kill and destroy all that God loves (John 10:10), and that means you and me and our relationships. You may be angry because of some offense or past hurt, but the Bible says clearly, “Human anger does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). You may want to get back at someone for something that they’ve done to you (or what you think they’ve done). However, the Bible teaches that we must leave payback to God. He is the one in charge of judgment; not you, not me. Jesus could have called down legions of angels to destroy those who were crucifying him, but instead he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The Apostle Paul quoted from the Proverbs and from the Law when he said, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19-20). Jesus clearly commanded, “Do not judge or you will be judged. With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). It is the devil who urges you to seek payback. This is a distorted form of justice.

Above all, Jesus ties our forgiveness from God to our willingness to forgive others. If you refuse to forgive, you will not be forgiven for your sins either. At first, this seems difficult to reconcile with grace, but it is what Jesus clearly taught. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14–15, NIV) If I am not willing to forgive, then I am also unwilling to repent of my sins and be forgiven as the result of faith in Jesus.

You may not be the one who has been wronged, and you may have no consciousness of having wronged another, but that will not save you from being accused eventually. What will your response be? Even if you’ve never been unjustly accused of something, you may be fascinated by reading or watching people argue and fight. What should your response be? The answer to both of these scenarios is the same when you are a follower of Jesus.

Our fist reaction must be love, and our first action must be prayer. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Pray for wisdom in dealing with the person(s) or situation(s) you face (James 1:5). “Be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) when dealing with people who are obviously allowing the devil to use them as tools of hostility and destruction. Fight them in prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and upon their consciences. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). If your reputation is being harmed, read the Psalms and pray for vindication from the Lord. If you must act to protect yourself or your family, do so with restraint and in love, which means seeking only to stop the slanderer’s actions, and lead them to realize their wrong attitudes. Again, be wise. Forgive, but be wise about restoring trust.

I’ve waited to the end of this essay to give a real world example because I wanted to lay out the problem and the principles first. I’m also not interested in inciting the very thing I’ve warned against here. So read the example with that in mind.

Recently one of my social media connections left highly slanderous posts about a person in our church. The accusations they made were emotional, untrue, and libelous. I don’t know if I was able to delete these posts quickly enough to keep them from doing harm to the reputation of our church and the person they accused. I have banned them from all social media over which I have control. However, the slanderer went to a site I don’t control and left a horrible, libelous review of our church, filled with accusations and lies. This person has never attended our church. If the review was read only those who know this person and their history, the damage would be minimal, but anyone may read a review and few people doubt what they read.

I wrote this person a reasonable and honest email, asking them to remove the review. After some consideration they did. I cannot guarantee that their feelings have changed. In fact, a recent email indicates that they are still hostile. So, I continue to pray. I will be seeking wise counsel, and, if necessary, we will take appropriate action to protect the reputation of our church and its members.

What should you do? If we all stopped reading and sharing gossip, rumor, accusation and slander, it would serve to change our communities and our culture. When you encounter something like I’ve described, immediately begin to pray. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom, and open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, then you will know if you are to confront someone about slandering or gossiping. Show love and compassion toward all, and refuse to be the judge in any situation. May truth, justice and love prevail among Christ’s followers at all times. Amen.

Male or Female Is Reality

You may not realize it, but the current controversy concerning gender, which has expressed itself as a debate over what bathroom a person should be permitted to use, is actually a philosophical and theological issue. In fact, scientific fact is proving to have impact only if interpreted with a subjective bias. It is a fact that someone born with XY chromosomes is male, and a person with XX chromosomes is female. The subjective bias enters when we attempt to look at exceptional cases and apply them as a general rule for everyone. As many as one in one-thousand persons are born with a degree of genetic abnormality, which rarely affects physical characteristics but may arguably impact some behavioral traits. The case is made by LGBT advocates that this is evidence of gender fluidity, and is applied to everyone. The result is, the puzzling separation of gender identity and physical sexual characteristics. In other words, a male who believes he is a female as we’ve seen showcased by the media in Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner. The LGBT lobby is promoting this concept successfully.

Philosophically this is an ontological issue. Ontology is the study of reality. What is real, and what is the fundamental nature of the real? It is also an issue that concerns epistemology, which is the study of how we know what we (think) we know. More recent philosophy has shown no interest in ontology, preferring to make the case that everything is limited by our epistemology in any case. In fact, since Wittgenstein many have simply given philosophy up as little more than word games. That is to say, if we cannot really know anything for certain, how can we talk about what is real? Everything is what I or we say it is? We tell stories to make sense of reality. These stories are called metanarratives. There is no truth, at least in the traditional sense of absolute truth. There are just stories. When a community agrees to a particular metanarrative, then that story becomes their truth. Do you see why I’m making the case that the current controversy over gender is philosophical?

The progressive/liberal/left believes in and supports the type of thinking I’ve outlined above, which has been labelled “postmodernism”. When I was a young person in church, this was called “relativism,” but we applied it to morality. Now it is being applied to all of reality. In the case of the gender issue, many of those who support transgenderism fail to recognize that a person is fundamentally male or female. Rather, the person is what they say they are. In so doing, they ignore biological reality in favor of personal choice and subjective perception. Now, when I say “they” I am not referring to a person who presents a genuine exception to the biological norm. As mentioned earlier, there are persons who are born with genetic, and even more rarely with physical, abnormalities. Those born with both male and female physical traits are now called “intersex.” These persons must discover for themselves whether male or female best describes them, and how they wish to proceed with their public lives. However, the LGBT community, and those who support their political ideology, promote the idea that this is the case for everyone.

The exception is not the rule. There is actually a fallacy of logic on full display here. My introductory logic text from college, written by Dr. William Kilgore, calls it “Converse Accident.” It is illogical to make the exceptional case into the rule. The left commits this fallacy regularly.

It is a titanic expression of egotism to presume that there is no reality other than the one I, or my community defines and describes. It is arrogance on the highest level to make reality as your community has defined it the rule for everyone else. This is precisely what is occurring in the United States today under the influence and political control of the left. It was reported today that President Obama will mandate all public schools permit a child to use the restroom or locker room of their choice, depending upon their self-identified gender. Nobody else gets a say in this. That is not democracy.

There is an essential reality, though. When a person or community lives in accord with reality, they are healthy and sane. The alternative is what we see increasingly on display in the United States today, unhealthy thinking and moral insanity. There is irony in the rationale used by leaders like President Obama, or the U.S. Supreme Court, when issuing undemocratic directives. They appear to truly believe that they are upholding the civil rights of minority groups. Many people have been persuaded that this is the case, and that is why the normalization of lifestyles and behaviors once considered abnormal, even immoral, continues unabated. However, framing this as a civil rights issue doesn’t change reality. From birth a person is either male or female, regardless of personal feelings, identity or lifestyle choices. This is a scientific, biological reality for the overwhelming majority of persons.

There is also a spiritual reality, which underlies the material one. This is where theology becomes important to this debate. God created persons male or female. That is true even for those who have been born with some degree of biological abnormality. In this life, you are created and born male or female, and you are destined to be either a woman or a man.

Jesus Christ responded to a question about divorce with the following reinforcement of the creation account found in Genesis of the Bible’s Old Testament.
But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Mark 10:6–9, ESV)
From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. That is to say from the beginning of the creation of humankind, but it also applies to your creation as a person in the image of God. You are either male or female. This doesn’t depend upon how you feel about yourself. It doesn’t depend upon whether you enjoy activities that our society or culture has typically associated with men or women. It doesn’t depend upon physical characteristics such as body hair or muscular size. You are a man, or you are a woman. God created you to take on that special role and responsibility. I’ve written and spoken about this extensively elsewhere. Here’s a link to a recent Mother’s Day message about what it means to be a woman. How Women Are Like God

There is a great deal of concern expressed over the high suicide rate among the transgendered (and rightly so). Suicide and bullying of transgendered persons are often cited as important reasons for changing our policies and attitudes toward this population of persons. Public acceptance of the transgendered person, it is presumed, would limit suicidal behavior. That is possible. It woudl certainly seem to limit bullying. However, I would like to make the case that the transgendered person is struggling with something deep within themselves: their own identity. For a person born with normal chromosomal and sexual characteristics who feels strongly that they are actually supposed to be the opposite gender, there will always be an internal conflict. This is cognitive dissonance, an ongoing war between what this person is in reality, and what this person is striving to be by choice. That war will not end with surgery, hormonal therapy, or public acceptance. It will not end until the person embraces who they really are biologically and spiritually: a man, or a woman.

There is a way things are supposed to be. However, we are living in a broken world in rebellion against God and his created order. The only way to find health and sanity is to agree with God as he has revealed himself in his inspired book, the Bible. The only way to find life and fulfillment, the only way to discover whom you have been created to be, is to believe in and follow the One who called himself Son of Man, Jesus Christ. He is the perfect human; all that God intends for us to be is found in Jesus.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12, ESV).
Receive (believe in, fully embrace) Jesus the Son of God and Son of Man, and be what you were created to be.

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).