Tag Archives: Jesus

Payback Is Foolish

I am not a pacifist. I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord taught his us to “turn the other cheek,” and that’s more than a metaphor for being nice. It represents a way of life. Love people, even your enemies, and trust God as your loving Father to protect and reward you. Trouble is, we don’t really follow Jesus. Oh, we say we do, but when it comes to the hard stuff we don’t really. And that’s why the world is unimpressed with Christians, so much so that they’re turning away in droves.

Let’s look at this idea of turning the other cheek and apply it to a recent sports incident, or series of incidents. So, apparently, there’s “bad blood” between the Texas Rangers baseball club, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Near as I can tell this is the result of an arrogant Toronto player named Jose Bautista who performed an infamous “bat flip” last season during a playoff game with the Rangers. Nobody was injured, well, not physically injured, but Rangers pride was evidently hurt by this example of arrogance. So, fast forward to the current season, seventh game of a seven game series. A Rangers pitcher (Matt Bush) appears to intentionally throw inside to hit Bautista with a 96 mph fastball. Presumably this is payback for Bautista’s unforgivable bat flip. Bautista didn’t wait until next season to deliver his version of payback; he slid hard into second, and past the bag in order to hit the Ranger second baseman Rougned Odor. Now payback is applied immediately upon the offense, and to the offender. Odor throws a right cross and nearly decks Bautista. Texas and Toronto benches clear, players run onto the field ready to fight (or stop the other guys from it). Foolishness. Turning the other cheek, at any point, would have stopped this series of events, which may well continue to play out at a later time.

If the Rangers had been more secure as a ball club last season they wouldn’t have allowed the arrogant celebration of one player to affect them so. If the Rangers leadership (players or coaching staff) was wise, they would have let this go and ensured that lesser players wouldn’t retaliate (such as the pitcher who hit Bautista, during only his second major league game). You want to get back at Toronto? Beat them fair and square.

Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek is not a rule against self-defense; it is teaching us not to seek revenge. A slap in the face is an insult. That was the case in Jesus’ day; it is still the case today. If someone hits me and then stops, I have no need to hit them back. They are seeking to offend me, to demean me, to hurt my pride. What if I have no pride to hurt? What if I am so secure in my identity that a slap in the face from someone cannot diminish me or alter my self-worth in any way? What if I have inner strength that keeps me from being concerned about the opinion of the crowd around me? THAT is what a genuine follower of Jesus possesses.

So, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. The Apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament Law when he taught against seeking payback. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, see also Deuteronomy 32:25). The wisdom book of Proverbs speaks to this too. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (20:22). So, Christians have no business seeking payback.

Ah, but I can hear some of you say, “We can’t expect those Rangers players to live like Christians!” Perhaps not, but I CAN expect YOU who claim to be Christians to refrain from supporting or promoting revenge, violence and poor sportsmanship. My timeline on Facebook is FULL of pictures of Odor clocking Bautista (I took the pic with this blogpost from one of them). If you watched the video, Odor was ready to keep hitting him. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT IS RIGHT? Is it self-defense? No, it is not. It is a man saying, “You hurt me, I’m going to hurt you back.” In fact, it is a man doing exactly what the Old Testament principle of eye for eye and tooth for tooth was intended to PREVENT: injustice. That’s the trouble with vengeance. It is rarely just and it never ends. In fact, it escalates. That’s how wars start. World War I began as a murderous offense, and escalated until 65 million people were dead. This may be multiplied further if the unfair treatment of the German people after World War I is taken into consideration as a motivation for their willingness to follow Hitler into World War II.

I believe we have the right, indeed the responsibility, to protect ourselves and our families from serious harm. If, instead of a “bat flip” a baseball player went after another in an attempt to do more than hurt his feelings, then I would uphold the other’s right to stop the offender. That doesn’t mean kill or destroy or seriously injure the offender. I taught martial arts for many years, and I always led my students to cause the minimal amount of damage necessary to the opponent to stop or escape a fight. I believe that is what Jesus would do. If you follow Jesus, I believe that is what you must do. However, I assure you, payback is not a Christian’s response to offense or harm.

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Identity and Purpose: Male or Female

“He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Jesus speaking in Matthew 19:4-5)

God made you either a male or a female. Your physical body demonstrates this clearly. If you are male, you have male body parts. If you are female, you have female body parts. Biologically, if you are male you have XY chromosomes. If you are female, you have an XX chromosmes.

This is a fallen world. As a result, deformities and abnormalities exist. Some studies indicate that there may be as many as one in 1,000 babies born with some type of genetic abnormality. This may or may not result in a physical deformity. In rare instances a person may be born with both male and female body parts. These are exceptions, not the norm. However, Jesus’ authoritative and inspired teaching about sexuality and gender apply, even to those who have to deal with such a challenge. 

Jesus’ teaching should be a comfort to anyone who must deal with gender confusion. You are either a male or a female. God has created you, in spite of any apparent contradictions that arise in a fallen world, apart from God’s immediate care and control. You don’t have to live apart from God’s care and control, though. Affirm that Jesus is Lord, and believe his teaching. Give your life to him. Recieve his Spirit and be transformed from the inside out.

Once in the care and control of God, once filled with his Holy Spirit, you will be convicted of the truth. Follow those convictions; they are Jesus Christ’s teaching being made real to you. You are a male, and Christ will work by his Spirit to make you a man of God. You are a female, and Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, will raise you up to be a woman of God.

Your identity is in Christ, not the world. The world is deceieved by the god it has chosen to believe in, and that god is a liar, a thief and a murderer (John 8:44, 10:10). “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of 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). If you look to the world, if you listen to the prevailing voices in our culture today, you are going to be deluded into belieiving in a distorted image of personhood and humanity. If you identify with anyone or anything in the world, you will be kept from realizing your true identity.

You have been created in the image of God. In this fallen world, the divine image in you is damaged; it is broken. Jesus Christ is one with God, and he became a human being to restore the image of God in us. The natural tendency of every human being in this fallen world is to sin. Sin is falling short of God’s design and standard for human life. It is logical that apart from God we cannot be what he wants us to be. How would we know? Why would we care? Apart from God, I just make it up as I go. I choose my own identity, follow my own path. The problem with that approach to life is, human beings are created for the purpose of fellowship with, and service to, their loving Creator. Apart from that purpose, we are lost.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and “the exact representation of his (God’s) nature” (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the only one who can restore the broken image of God in you. He will not do that without your permission. You see, as a person made in God’s image, you have something that only persons possess, something that proves you are made in God’s image. You have free will. God will not violate your free will, not even to keep you from living a self-destructive life, not even to keep you from being ultimately destroyed in hell. Will you give Jesus that permission?

In fact, the reason the world is fallen, deceived and headed for destruction is due to human beings rejecting God’s care and control over them. God gave us the earth (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 115:16), we turned away from him and chose to believe the Father of Lies, who is also “the spirit now at work in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That is how Satan became god of this world. Human beings believed him and gave up their rights to him. You don’t have to continue to believe his lies, however. 

The lie we are being told today sounds like good news: “You can be whatever you want to be.” The trouble with this truism is, it dooms those who believe it to failure. Why? Most adults, if they are honest with themselves, realize it just isn’t true. Perhaps as a youth you were told this and believed it. You wanted to be a professional athlete or singer or actor. You tried. You tried out. You were rejected. You aren’t talented enough, or attractive enough according to cultural standards. You were disillusioned. That’s not bad when you’ve been living an illusion, so long as you realize you can do many great things. However, many experience more than disappointment; they fall into depression.

Another result of believing this lie extends to sexuality and gender. “You can be whatever you want to be.” So, in some places children are now being taught to choose their gender. This in spite of the fact that the American College of Pediatricians has called the practice child abuse. “The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex… Facts – not ideology – determine reality.” Nonetheless, it is gaining support as the result of a militant group that fervently believes the lie, and is transforming our culture accordingly.

Then there’s this principle, which on the surface seems reasonable: “Be true to your feelings.” The problem with this principle is, feelings may decieve and be deceived. Feelings are dynamic, even erratic. Making decsions, especially life-altering ones, based upon feelings is, at best, unwise. I’ve heard children express a desire to be the gender opposite their own biological sex. I’ve heard the same child express a desire to be a dog. It is interesting that, biologically speaking, the regions of the brain that generate emotion develop very early, logic and reason come later. It is inherently childish and foolish to rely on feelings to determine reality, or identity. Better to discover the facts and follow the evidence.

Here’s a better principle for you to live by: “God made me for a purpose.” And here is something you can believe in and not be disappointed: “I can be whatever God created me to be.” God created you for a purpose. Spend your life discovering and accompishing that.

God designed and created the universe, and that includes our planet and our amazing bodies. Therefore, there is a way things are supposed to be. It is my responsibility to live according to God’s purpose and design for my body and life. The Bible contains God’s revelation, and the Spirit of God will enable me to understand it if I approach him with a willingness to learn and do his will. Everything I’ve written today comes from the Bible

You must realize that clinging to the values you’ve received and opinions you’ve derived from the world puts you at odds with the Lord. In fact, the Bible uses stronger language than that. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). I invite you to turn away from the world and toward God. Change your thinking; change your ways. Follow Jesus Christ and his teaching, and that includes his teaching about gender and identity.

Open your heart and invite the Spirit of Jesus to enter. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and be at peace with God and yourself. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). In Christ, there is neither male nor female, only children of God. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Everybody Has an Agenda

Everybody has an agenda. You can log that somewhere so you’ll remember it. Nobody is just out on a quest to find the truth or follow the evidence wherever it leads. Now, I’m not saying there are none who allow the evidence to convince them contrary to their agenda, but those who permit the evidence to have an influence on their preconceived notions are a rare breed. Most of us have already arrived at a conclusion and hold onto the evidence that supports it, while ignoring, rejecting and forgetting any facts that might seriously test that conclusion (and therefore challenge us).
Let’s take the belief in God as a primary example. There are three types of people when it comes to faith in God: those who believe, those who disbelieve, and those who refuse to make up their mind one way or the other. Now, the final group might at first seem like the ones who would be most apt to seek an answer, but I think it is just as likely that they are just more lazy or indecisive than either theists or atheists. “God? Who can know if God exists or not. I have better things to think about, more important matters to attend to.” So, the agnostic typically has an agenda too: She doesn’t want to be bothered to seek. He is more interested in something else and doesn’t wish to be distracted.
There are atheists who used to be theists–I’ve only encountered former Christians in this category, but I’m sure there are former Muslims, Jews or former believers in polytheist religious ideas as well (Mormonism, Hinduism). Each of these former Christians have a story to tell. Christians would call this a “testimony”. The story follows a pattern: “I was raised in church. I encountered certain evidence against the existence of God, or for evolution, or against the Bible, and since I’m a rational person I don’t believe in God. Faith in God is like belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” However, I often find that the more vocal atheists are not merely logical and intelligent people who just followed the evidence, or failed to find evidence for God, but emotional people (like all people) who are angry with God for one reason or another. Many atheists are not really logical non-believers, but actually anti-theists, or God haters. Richard Dawkins fits this category perfectly. The man hates God. Evolution is his religion (I’m not making a judgment on the validity of evolutionary theory here, but on Dawkins’ fundamentalist devotion to it.) Dawkins famous quote from the God Delusion verifies this. 

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” 
Then there are theists who used to be atheists. My exposure is to Christians who converted from atheism. The two popular authors who exemplify this are Oxford don C. S. Lewis, and the former crime journalist for the Chicago Tribune Lee Strobel. Lewis’s journey is a bit more complex to describe, so I’ll focus on Strobel. His wife had become a Christian, and so he wanted to prove that the Bible or the Christian faith, or, most likely both, were fake. After two years of research, he became a Christian. Now, on the surface this would seem to be one of those rare cases where someone allowed the evidence to change their agenda. Perhaps. However, the fact that Strobel’s wife had become a devout believer had to have been a powerful motivator for him to follow suit. I should hasten to add that that motivation in itself doesn’t invalidate the evidence that Strobel discovered, but it may help us to understand why he accepted that evidence and dismissed the arguments of atheists. Lewis is harder to pin down because his thinking is more complex. In my reading of his work it would seem that the powerful sense that he had that “there must be something beyond this,” that the mythology he loved carried him to a world he desperately wanted to exist, worked as a motivator. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
I am going to give an example of one person for whom I can find no agenda other than “following the evidence wherever it leads,” and that is philosopher Anthony Flew. He was a towering figure among atheists for half a century. He wrote many books espousing and defending atheism. Flew wrote a paper called “Theology and Falsification,” which he first presented at a meeting of the Oxford University Socratic Club in 1950. The chairman of that club was none other than C. S. Lewis. Flew’s paper, which sought to demonstrate the absurdity of theism due to its inability or unwillingness to admit falsifiers, was the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the 20th century. Yet at the end of his life Anthony Flew authored a brief, non-technical book tellingly titled “There Is a God.” When the critics got wind of Flew’s change of mind they assumed what I’ve asserted here” there is an agenda. 

“When reports of my change of mind were spread by the media and the ubiquitous internet, some commentators were quick to claim that my advanced age had something to do with my “conversion.” It has been said that fear concentrates the mind powerfully, and these critics had concluded that expectations of an impending entrance into the afterlife had triggered a deathbed conversion. Clearly these people were familiar with neither my writings on the nonexistence of an afterlife nor with my current views on the topic. For over 50 years I have not only denied the existence of God, but also the existence of an afterlife” (There Is a God, p. 2).

So, if this was not Flew’s motivation or agenda, what was? Well, his father was a minister, and somewhat of a contrarian. Perhaps Flew was following in his father’s footsteps. It should be noted that Flew did not claim to be a Christian. He didn’t even have faith that the God he had come to believe exists may be known at all. Anthony Flew called himself a Deist, which is a theist who believes God created the world and let it run on its own.
As one reads Anthony Flew’s book, There Is a God, however, it does seem that the old philosopher did what he believed he had done his entire life, what I’ve said here that nobody does. He followed the evidence.

“My departure from atheism was not occasioned by an new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades my whole framework of thought has been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was not a paradigm shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.'” (There Is a God, p. 89).
I don’t have Flew’s temperament as a scholar or his apparent willingness to continue seeking, but I can admit to my biases, attempt to have insight into my own agenda, and factor those into my research and study of God and the Bible. Perhaps you can do the same? I think we may each aspire to follow the argument and evidence wherever they may lead, even at the expense of an emotional investment into our preconceived notions. Atheists should admit that they either hate God, and/or do not want a God over them telling them what to do. Christians should admit that they need to have a God in control of their chaotic world, and/or deeply desire a father to love them and tell them that they are ok. Admit your bias. Look for your agenda. Are you just trying to prove to everybody that you are right? Are there certain people whom you have something against and seek to prove wrong?
I do believe that the evidence clearly leads to the existence of an unimaginably powerful Being who sustains existence, an incalculably intelligent Mind behind the creation of the universe. I do believe that this Being is capable, willing, and has made efforts to communicate with human beings. I am astounded and appalled at the profound stupidity I see parading as intelligence in our culture. This article was occasioned by an editorial I read in the Washington Post wherein a man advanced what appears to be a growing thesis, that Jesus Christ never existed. Now, it doesn’t bother me than one person, or even a small group, espouse such nonsense. After all, there is also a growing community that believe the earth is flat. As a Christian, someone who worships Jesus Christ as the Son of God, denying his existence is not only ridiculous but deeply offensive because such wide publicity may serve to make the lie more believable by people who would be helped immeasurably by believing in Jesus. It is also infuriating that the editorial came out around Easter. The disrespect shown to Christians by the media demonstrates their agenda. However, I need to put my emotions aside and publicize the evidence, which overwhelmingly supports the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Even skeptic Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became the Son of God and similar books, who holds the New Testament to be no more than a collection of human documents, affirms the existence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. 
If you dismiss the Jesus of history, you must dismiss antiquity. For example, there is better and more prolific evidence for Jesus Christ’s existence than there is for Alexander the Great. Both of these men changed history. Yet the earliest full biographies we have of Alexander come from 400 years after his life, and they are obviously written by those who are very favorable to the conqueror. The earliest oral tradition, which is recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 dates to within two to five years of Jesus’ crucifixion. Nearly 500 witnesses of the resurrection were still alive at the writing of that Corinthian letter. The Gospels, Jesus’ biographies, date to within 40 years of his life. These are also written by those who favored Jesus; yet they present potentially embarrassing incidents about the followers of Jesus, and even about the first witnesses of his resurrection. It was Jesus’ women followers who were the first to see him alive on that Easter Sunday; their testimony would have been inadmissible in a first century Jewish court because women’s opinions or observations weren’t respected. Even the chosen male disciples intially rejected these women’s testimony. The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament come from the second and third centuries. More importantly, there are more than 5,000 manuscript fragments that date earlier than the fifth century. The manuscripts detailing Alexander’s life by contrast come from the 11th century, over a millennium after his life.
I know my motivation and agenda and try to admit it when I’m looking at evidence, but what could be the agenda of someone who wants to erase Jesus from history? Perhaps the same as that of the atheist, an unwillingness to believe in God and Jesus is the Son of God, or perhaps it has become trendy and these pseudo-historians are looking for attention, or they are inveterate contrarians who must always be against something in order to have a sense of meaning. Dan Brown in his DaVinci Code novel seems to have been of the final type, in that he wanted to shock readers with the news that Jesus was really a feminist who wanted to turn the church over to his wife! Anything to sell a book. I see something more insidious than commerce at work here, however. There is a concerted effort among many in the media, big business, and especially the academic community, to oppose Christianity. They want to change the Christian worldview. Indeed, they have been quite successful. Although our calendar still has Christmas and Easter, fewer young people than ever know what these holidays are supposed to celebrate. Near Easter of this year our youth minister asked a group of teenagers what Good Friday meant; none of them knew.
There is an agenda in the media, in academia and in big business. It is to recreate our culture and remove the Christian basis of a previous era. However, our most cherished values are being destroyed in the process: life, liberty and the pursuit of deep and meaningful happiness.

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.

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.

Mithra vs. Christ

From a published interview with historian Edwin Yamauchi.

“Nothing in Christianity is original” (DaVinci Code, Dan Brown).

Writers have claimed that a pagan mystery cult Mithraism is really the basis for Christianity. Actually, this is only one of several mystery cults that popular writers have associated with Christianity. Others are: Attis, Osiris, Adonis and Dionysus. However, the Persian god Mithras who was worshiped in the mystery cult called Mithraism is the closest parallel.

“Mithras… was born of a virgin in a cave on December 25, was considered a great traveling teacher, had 12 disciples, promised his followers immortality, sacrificed himself for world peace, was buried in a tomb and rose again three days later, instituted a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” and was considered the Logos, redeemer, Messiah, and “the way, the truth, and the life.”

How do you respond when people  present ancient “facts” like this?

What do you do once you’ve been told something like this?

Mithraism as a mystery religion cannot be attested before about AD 90.

“Gordon dates the establishment of the Mithraic mysteries to the reign of Hadrian, which  was AD 117-138.

Mithras was born of a virgin… No,the legend has it that Mithra was born out of a rock.

Mithras was born in a cave like Jesus…The New Testament doesn’t say Jesus born in a cave.

Mithras was born on December 25… Jesus was actually born in the Spring (Lk. 2:8).

December 25 was the date chosen by Emperor Aurelian for the dedication of his temple to Sol Invictus, the Roman god called “the unconquerable sun.” Mithras is sometimes depicted shaking hands with this god. It became the date Christ’s birth was celebrated in AD 336, the year before Constantine’s death, following the Christian practice of appropriating pagan holidays for holy use.

Mithras was a teacher with 12 disciples…. No, Mithras was a god.

Mithras’s followers promised immortality…. Inferred, but what’s new? That’s religion.

Mithras sacrificed himself…. He did not. He killed a bull.

Mithras buried and raised…. We know nothing about Mithras death, so there could be no resurrection.

Mithras was considered “Good Shepherd, Way, Truth and Life, Logos, Redeemer, Savior. “No… that’s reading Christian theology into this” Yamauchi

Mithras had a Eucharist meal…. Common meals shared in most religious groups.

Was a Mithraic rite called taurobolium the basis for Christian belief in Christ’s blood sacrifice for sins?

Taurobolium- initiate was placed in a pit with a grate over it and a bull was slaughtered above allowing the blood to baptize him.

It is an anachronism to base Christ’s sacrifice on the practice, since it is first attested to in the Attis cult in AD 160.

“Do you see any evidence that Christianity borrowed any of its beliefs from Mithraism?”

“Not really… they were rivals in the second century and later.”

So, my friends, not everything is as it appears on the internet!

Winter Solstice

Each day there is less light,

Spreading darkness threatens

To bring unending night.

Will the world be mantled in black?

Will light be pushed back

Until it ends?

Will there come a day,

When there is no day?

The sun is a pawn,

Even if its gravity holds us

And its light uphold us,

It is nothing but a ball of gas,

A created thing

Subject to the laws of the Creator-King.

Today is Solstice,

Let the celebration begin, 

the Light of the World has come!

Son of God, the only One.

Paradoxes abound: 

immortality became mortal;

Infinity limited itself;

Almighty God became human.

Creator of 200 billion trillion stars

Born as a baby on a small planet

Orbiting a seemingly insignificant sun.

The shortest day is here!

Darkness must end.

The light has won.