Friday, August 15, 2014

Reality Check


Current Events:

  • The battle in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas is far from over - the world seems to be taking sides and the underlying question is whether Israel has a right to exist - they are fighting for their very survival and the terrorists' agenda is being promoted even in America - a line is being drawn in the sand
  • Russia is creeping into Ukraine, with darker intentions that we realize - tell me why the downed passenger flight has not been vindicated?
  • Christians in Iraq are not only losing their homes due to ISIS invasions, but they are losing their lives - young children being sawn in two and beheaded - fleeing to the mountains only to be starved out
  • The ebola virus outbreak, according to the World Health Organization this morning, is much worse than what is being reported.  Rumors of terrorist groups attempting to manipulate the outbreak for their benefit has left governments to worry about how to manage this new threat while the death rate of those exposed is rising above 60%
  • In the south, the immigration crisis continues to rise, as in this year alone nearly 70,000 children will cross the border illegally.  Congress continues to debate while many Texas towns are struggling to manage the onslaught of women and children, let alone the drug running that is taking place
  • And it's almost time for school to start again - do I need to review Common Core and explain how it is rewriting American History to change us from a nation of freedom lovers to a nation who oppresses African Americans, women and the homosexual community?
(sigh)

This world is broken.  We almost have to turn off the news because our hearts can't carry the load much longer.  We try to ignore it, we run through our day, keeping ourselves busy with life, knowing that we can't change what is going on out there anyway, so why worry about it.  Then a celebrity dies and suddenly we are thrust back into the sadness of this broken world, not through the avenue of world politics but through the gateway of mental illness and depression.  You can't go on Facebook or turn on the television or pull up the news without seeing major discussions about depression.  And to be honest with you…it's pretty depressing.

Okay, friends, the previous reality check comes to you courtesy of a horizontal world view.  Let's do a vertical reality check.  God tells us to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth, for we've died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:2,3)  What does the Word tell us?

  • Israel vs.. Hamas - Jeremiah 29:11 is a favorite verse of many - "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." While this verse is precious to the believer, it's primary focus is the nation of Israel.  Jeremiah was a prophet and he was bringing the Word of the Lord to His suffering people.  And guess what, God still has plans for Israel and though they are going to have to go through a great valley to get there, He is in control and His will is being accomplished even today.  So though it is very hard in Israel, we have to trust that God is in the center of their future and our prayers need to flow up to a God who is intimately involved in every detail and greatly loves His chosen people - bottom line, fight hard, Israel, turn your eyes to the Lord, and trust that He is with you
  • Russia's intentions - Heb. 4:12 tells us that only God can judge the thoughts and intentions of man and Proverbs 21:1 tells us that God turns the hearts of kings like channels of water in His hand - we trust that God is doing things that we do not understand.  At this time our "king" is unwilling to act - are you willing to trust that God has placed it on his heart to do nothing?  God is orchestrating something that is far beyond our comprehension, so we pray for our leaders and we pray for God's will to be done on this earth - but we don't lose sleep because we are worried that God is not in control…
  • ISIS vs. Christians - Matthew 24:9 tells us that in the last days the world will hate us, persecute us and deliver us to death for the sake of Jesus name.  We cannot be surprised by this ordeal - we can be heart broken and we can be outraged, but surprised? No.  Jesus warned us of the cost and friends, it's coming.  Prepare today to give up your life for Christ - sobering but not depressing.  Jesus died to save us from the price of the horrid sin and brokenness we see, so we pray for our brothers and sisters who are under fire, knowing that it is coming our way.
  • Ebola - Is this outside of God's control?  Is God frustrated that this has happened and He can't stop it?  Of course not.  Proverbs 3:5,6 tells us to trust in the Lord and not to lean on my understanding - to acknowledge Him and let God direct my paths.  This Ebola outbreak is obviously outside of my control and my understanding, but God knows what is going on.  So I need to trust Him.  Yes, I see the affects of a broken creation, but the Creator is fully intact and in control
  • Immigration crisis - What can I do to affect what is happening there?  Pray.  Pray for these little children who are without their parents.  Pray for their mothers. Pray for the churches and government workers who are meeting their needs. Pray for the translators and pray for our government to figure out what to do.  James 5:16 says the prayers of a righteous man can accomplish much - trust the Lord and pray about it.
  • Common core - your children's education is not primarily in the hands of the public school teacher.  God has placed that child in your care.  Whether it's public, private or home schooling, you must know what your child is learning and deprogram with the truth when necessary.  Ephesians 6:4 says we are to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord - teach your children to know truth.
Friends, we must understand that this life is not our story.  It is God's.  It might be confusing that God's story is riddled with so much sadness and sin, but He is revealing His character through the brokenness of life.  God is good.  He is rich in mercy.  He hates sin.  He is patient and kind.  He is in control and He is steering the sinful, rebellious hearts of man to accomplish His will.  We must trust Him and we must get our eyes vertical.  Let me end with some scripture for you to take to heart today:
  • Romans 14:8 - "…for if we live, we live for the Lord and if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's."
  • Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ and it is NO LONGER I WHO LIVE, but CHRIST LIVES IN ME…"
  • Colossians 3:4 - "When Christ, WHO IS OUR LIFE, is revealed, then we also will be revealed with Him in glory…"
  • Genesis 50:20 - "As for you, you meant evil against me, but GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD in order to bring about this present result…"

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Heart Check


For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, 
the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, 
the testimony given at the proper time.
I Timothy 2:5,6

In these two verses, one sentence actually, Paul gives the gospel - he lays out what separates Christianity from the world.  Boom.  Said.  Done.

Here's the problem with religious tolerance - being accepting of a lie does no good for the believer of that lie.  Let me explain it this way:  Your child comes home from school and is working on her math homework.  It's pretty straight forward - addition. When she finishes, she asks you to check it. Here's what it looks like:

1+2 = 4
2+2 = 5
3+2 = 6
4+2 = 7
5+2 = 8
6+2 = 9
7+2 = 10
8+2 = 11
9+2 = 12
10+2 = 13

Now, she's not that far off really - each answer is just a little bit wrong, but they're still wrong.  So what do you do?  In the name of tolerance and acceptance, do you just pat her on the head and say, "Good for you!  You did a great job! Keep up the good work!", fully knowing she is going to fail that assignment?  Of course you wouldn't do that.  You would sit down with her and correct the errors and have her rework the problems.  You might grab a few apples and use them as a visual aid, as well.  But you wouldn't just tolerate her misunderstanding about addition.  You would gently correct it or else she will fail.

Here's the problem - we know that 2+2 = 4 is a universal truth, right?  It doesn't matter what society you come from or if you're right or left handed - it's truth.  But some would argue that I am not comparing apples with apples - that "religion" (sorry, I hate that word) and mathematics are not comparable.  Religion is personal - it's subjective, so it can vary from person to person. Math is objective and that makes it truth.

But remember, Jesus said to Pilate that He was born to testify to the truth (John 18:37,38), to which Pilate asked, What is truth?  The world cannot quantify truth - today truth is subjective, therefore each of us is allowed to believe whatever he wants to believe, and as long as he lives by his convictions, he's a man of integrity.  Recently the Pope agreed with this assertion, declaring that eternal life is for people who live according to their convictions, even if they do not believe in God.  

If this is the new truth, then 2+2 can equal 5 and we'd better not correct it because we'll be offending our child's version of truth.

Pretty skewed, right?  Murky reasoning leads to bad conclusions.

So now let's turn to the gospel.  You believe it's truth, right?  It stands in complete opposition to all other religions - it is based on DIVINE ACHIEVEMENT rather than HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (you see the difference, right?).  We know the scriptures teach against empty tradition, vain effort and false religion.  In our verses above, we are clearly taught that there are not multiple avenues to God - that all religions can't take it's own pathway to God and in the end, we all end up okay.  Do we just believe this and hope we're right?  Or do we confidently stand on truth, seeing its evidence within creation and thousands of year of transformed lives?

Here's another problem with tolerance - Christianity clearly claims to be the ONLY way to God. If you are a Christ-follower what place does religious tolerance have in our belief system?

If we truly believe the gospel, then what do we do about it?  Do you stand by quietly while your neighbor turns in a faulty math paper?  Or do you love them enough, knowing their eternity hangs in the balance, to sit with them, gently correct them and share truth with them?  Or have you bought into the lie that truth is relative and you're hoping everything ends up fine in the end for everyone…here's a suggestion - spend some time with I Timothy 2:5,6 and do a heart check.  

You have the truth - what are you going to do with it?  Don't fear rejection - Jesus had plenty of that and it didn't hold Him down. You have a precious gift that gives life.  Share it and see what God does...


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Once for all



For Christ also died for sin once for all,
the just for the unjust,
so that He might brings to God,
having been put to death in the flesh, 
but made alive in the spirit;
I Peter 3:18

The great religious conflict - cross vs. crucifix.  The Catholics depict Jesus suffering on the cross and the Protestants emphasize the resurrection by hailing the empty cross.  It's a rather heated debate - if you don't believe me, just google it.  Chat rooms on both sides are heated - Catholics claim the Protestants focus on the resurrection to lessen their guilt but they choose to remember the suffering that saves them.  Protestants claim the body on the cross equates to idolatry and the 10 commandments warn of making graven images.  

These are the nice arguments - it gets pretty nasty after that…

So which is right?  Is it sin to have a crucifix?  Are we looking at nothing if the cross is empty?  Why does it even matter?

I want to encourage you, my friends, not to live in ignorance but to inform yourself.  This is not an argument over a Psalter (Reformed vs. Christian Reformed).  This is not a spat amongst family.  This is a debate between two belief systems:
  • One system requires penance and personal suffering, prayers to a holy mother as well as deified saints, rosaries, sprinklings, candle lightings and extra biblical writings
  • The other system puts its faith and trust in Christ alone - in what He did and that He died once for all - Jesus in my place.  It's not what I do, it's what He has done
  • One system embraces works for salvation 
  • The other embraces works because of salvation
  • One emphasize suffering
  • The other emphasizes grace
  • One has a Savior hanging on a cross, continuing to suffer as we sin
  • The other has a risen Savior, seated at the right hand of the Father, finished in His redemptive work, now interceding on our behalf
Many of us in the church believe that the Catholic faith is consistent with the Christian faith - that there are many Catholics who are Christians.  I am not the judge of the heart by any means, but I want to warn you today not to fall for the lie that Catholicism and Christianity are close cousins.  They're not.  They could not be farther apart.  Just as Mormonism claims to be a cousin - it's not.  Both Catholicism and Mormonism claim the name of Jesus, but their claims are not consistent with the Word of God because they add to the gospel. 

Let's take a quick look at the five Sola's, birthed out of the Reformation which was the result calling out the Catholic belief system in comparison to the Word of God:
  • Sola Scriptura - scripture alone - the Catholic Church said the foundation of faith came through scripture, tradition and the teachings of the Pope - the Reformers said scripture alone
  • Sola Gratia - grace alone - the CC said salvation came through a combination of God's grace plus merits earned from good works and penance, plus the good works of those who preceded you - the Reformers said grace alone saves
  • Sola Fide - faith alone - the CC said man is justified by faith and works - the Reformers said by faith alone - faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ
  • Sola Christus - Christ alone - the CC said we are saved by the merits of Christ and the saints, and Mary and all who intercede for us - the Reformers said we are saved in Christ alone
  • Sola Deo Gloria - the CC said the glory of salvation comes through and it thereby accredited to  Christ's works, Mary's works, the saints' works and the sinners works - the Reformers said the true gospel is that which gives glory to God alone
There is a big and ever widening gap between Christianity and the Catholic church and our verse above is a foundational one for the Christian faith - once for all - Jesus' suffering is complete and His work of salvation is finished - that's why He sits at the Father's right hand.  The suffering on the cross was so much more than the physical torture - it was bearing the wrath of God.  If Jesus continues to suffer when we sin (a Catholic teaching), then He could not be in the presence of His Father right now, as our sin would not be allowed in the presence of a Holy God.  No, His salvation work is complete - His death and sacrifice was sufficient - it is enough.

Back to the cross - I am not going to be legalistic and say it is sin to have a crucifix. There are much greater battles to fight.  But we need to be informed about where our imagery in the church comes from and understand the theology that is behind it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Captivated


"Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason…
my conscience is captive to the Word of God…
here I stand…I cannot do otherwise. God help me."
Martin Luther
April 18, 1521

Martin Luther, when brought before the emperor at the Imperial Diet of Worms, was expected to recant of his teachings which threw fuel on the Reformation.  Instead, he firmly stood on the Word of God.  He was unable to withdraw his teaching because they were firmly grounded in the scriptures.

He claimed his conscience was captive to the Word of God.

Interesting choice of words, don't you think?  It gives us a word picture of bondage and though in America, bondage is a word of the past and freedom is preferred, truth be told we are all in bondage to either sin or God.  The picture of redemption - being bought off the auction block - was a favorite of Paul, as he opened many of his letters reminding his readers that he was a "bondservant of God."

Romans 6:20-23 clearly teach that we are either in bondage to sin and free to righteousness (meaning that righteousness is not expected of us) or we are free from sin (sin is not expected of us) and in bondage to God.  

So what are you in bondage to today?  Do your desires and your feelings rule your decisions?  Ephesians 4 describes those in bondage to their sin-encrusted feelings like this:

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,  being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;  and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  

But it goes on to say:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind,  and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

The key to this passage is the renewal of the mind - how does one renew his mind?  If when in bondage to sin, we act on our fleshly desires, how does one act when in bondage to God?  He acts in faith - believing the Word of God, acting on it, laying aside his feelings because he knows God's way is best!

So let me ask you again - what are you in bondage to?  Do you know the Word enough to be in bondage to it?  Or do you simply believe in the concept of God and Jesus but continue to live daily, making decisions based on what feels right to you - that's your conscience leading you, rather than living with your conscience being captive to the Word of God…

Are you captivated with the Word or with yourself?  

Good thing to ponder on today...