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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Biblical Morality Has a High Price

Each morning I do the USATODAY crossword puzzle online. It is found in the Life section of the paper. (Strange calling it paper since there is no paper involved.) The puzzle generally takes me from thirteen to twenty minutes though I have had a few puzzlers that have taken longer. I close the puzzle when finished and can't help but see the "news" from the entertainment world. I am both fascinated in what is happening and not at all interested in joining the fan clubs.

You see, I am fascinated that the writers expect the readers to hang on every word about these celebrities. I don't know who most of them are. I don't follow any of them. I suppose there are many people who follow these people as idols. They learn to talk and look like their idols. I am not slightly interested.

It seems that people follow the most popular trend so that they won't be left out of the conversation. They must know what's going on. They must be valued by others by that knowledge. They must be included in the "group."

Maybe that's why morality is so fluid. The right thing is what everyone else is doing. It justifies itself because with the reward of being included. Thus, normally moral people will get caught up in a riot because everyone else is doing it.

Wasn't that Ayn Rand's point in her book Fountainhead? Even bad plays were all the rage when given amazing reviews. Everyone wanted to be in the crowd who had seen it and praised it. The movie Titanic proved her right. It was one of the worst written movies I have ever seen and, yet it was a blockbuster. It didn't matter whether or not it had any substance- everyone was going to see it and if you wanted to be anyone you better go see it too.

The beatings that Christians suffer today are not physical. They are castigated and separated from the rest of society. They are said to be the immoral people because morality is what everyone else is doing. A thin benevolent philosophy covers the immorality of the world. It gives candy to its children until their teeth rot out because it claims to love them. It takes a mature Christian to recognize evil when everyone they know is saying Christianity is the evil. Many immature Christians adapt their morality to fit with the morality of the world.

And what happens if you hold your ground? Eventually, the world takes action against you. It will not let your business enter a city. It will attempt to get the legal system to call your statements hate language. It will call you names a line you up as perpetrators of all that is wrong with the world.

I see fewer people coming to church. It isn't that there aren't plenty of professed Christians around. They could fill their churches every week but stay home because they no longer have to go to church. The society around them isn't going. They can join the churchless crowd with impunity. There is more right by staying home in this society than by going to church. Naturally, we will see them all again at Easter. I wonder how long that will last.

Yet, something has got to turn this all around or I don't see much morality in the future. I suppose that's how you get to the apocalyptic movies of Divergent, The Maze Runner and Hunger Games. Each of these presents a morality that has been forgotten by its society. This morality seems to be introduced rather than remembered. No one explains why the protagonists are moral. They don't reveal where the morality originates. Maybe they don't know.

So, get ready if you decide that you will not be a part of the new morality of this world. It may remember the morality of the Bible some day but today the world is following the slavery of immorality. It will defend this immorality to the end because ambivalence means that there might be sin in what's going on. Thus, the world will immediately force its social hatred on those who stand for  biblical morality. It will bring legal action eventually if nothing changes.

And committed Christians won't be the most popular people around.

1 Peter 4:3-4 (ESV)
3  For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4  With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Problem Is in Me

Man seems to forget that he is created in the image of God. He was imprinted with God's characteristics of love, forgiveness, justice and even holiness. Man yearns to be reunited with his creator. This union is the only wholeness that man can have. God is the only one who can fill man's inadequacies. All of mankind has fallen short of God's glory. Man looks to be restored. Thus, he looks for the One who is perfect but doesn't know where to look once he has rejected God.

So, people have looked to others to unite with that will allow them to feel whole. They have accepted priests, presidents and policemen. They have sold their souls to professional athletes, pop stars and projected images on movie screens. And each one has disappointed them for each one has the same problem as they do. They have all fallen short of God's glory.

Some have turned to science. Surely, this is the place to find that which is perfect and will give them fulfillment. Yet, they find that does a great job of hiding itself. It never seems certain because the theories are ever changing. Too many of them appear to be religions all to themselves. They are unproved and any contradicting evidence is explained away or ignored. This happens as the scientists state their theories without any doubt to their validity.

Others have lost themselves in their leisure. Maybe they are distracting themselves. Maybe they are seeking perfection in themselves. Leisure activities should be fun rather than driving the individual to feel complete. Yet, even murder is not beyond the ones who believe others are in their way of their ultimate pursuits.

So, should we be surprised that people are rioting over the injustice of some policemen? I don't think so. They are looking for justice and finding that those with whom they have placed their trust are unjust. The violence often comes from a sense of helplessness. They don't know what else to do. It makes no difference how irrational it is. It doesn't matter that the vast majority of the police would have been just. These people are seeking justice but don't know where to find it.

A people who turn their backs on God will find a world of chaos. Man has fallen from God's glory and does not know what is right or wrong within himself alone. He is imprinted with God's image but that image has also been marred. Man seeks his own glory as well as wholeness. He is conflicted so that on any given day he can be the saint or the sinner. And the ruler of this world appears to be winning right now.

Is there a fearful world on the horizon? I want to be one who is full of hope and I am. I know that God Himself can turn all of this around. I know He can heal our land. I also know that God does not force us into compliance. I know that His people have become casual in their faith. I know that He will respond if His people will simply come to Him wholeheartedly.

As seminary students we all heard the stories of the great revivals. We all dreamed that we would be the Evan Roberts who would return to our home churches to preach a message in which one of the revivals would break out. We wanted to be the D.L. Moodys, John Wesleys and Jonathan Edwards. We longed to be looked up to as the new R.G. Lees of our generation. Maybe our hearts were in the wrong places. We were seeking our own glory, weren't we? its no wonder that there hasn't been a revival.

Yet, God's promise is still true even if there aren't any people who really mean what they say in their prayers. Maybe we want to want to turn from our wickedness. Maybe we want to want to be humble. Maybe we want to want to pray. We're just not there yet. Yes, I include myself in that "we."

It is at these moments that I realize how far I have fallen from God's glory. I want to be His without any reservation but I am being pulled by the world around me. I commit myself once again to find that the commitment doesn't last. Yes, I press on but I am afraid I will simply fail one more time. You see, I am created in God's image and know that my fulfillment can only be found in Him but too often seek my own glory rather than His.

Who can save me from this? Jesus. Even now I know that my turning to Him will bring back the peace that I so often lose by pursuing exactly what the world seeks. I have forgotten that He must be Lord of each day. I have forgotten what that means when I do not seek His glory.

A saving commitment to Christ is something I need daily. It should be just as "new" as the day before. It should have the same joy for I am uniting and identifying with my Lord. Maybe the real problem is that I have kept trying to do this on my own. Just like the rest of the world.

Romans 7:24-25 (ESV)
24  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Criticism at Its Best

2 Samuel 16:5-13 (ESV)
5  When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. 6  And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7  And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8  The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” 

9  Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10  But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” 11  And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. 12  It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” 13  So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust.  

I hate criticism. I am not humble about it either for I respond vehemently when I am criticized. I wonder if I could be as gracious as David was if I had received this reception when everything seemed to be going against me.

Shimei was a distant relative of Saul. His fortune would have, no doubt, been better if Saul's family had retained the kingdom. Shimei either didn't know the real details of David's ascension to the throne or he chooses to ignore them.

He accuses David of wrongdoing in becoming king. He calls David a man of blood as if David had something to do with Saul's death. Maybe Shimei didn't want to admit the truth. Saul had been badly injured in battle and chose to commit suicide rather than let the enemy capture him. 

I have found that the facts make little difference when people want to criticize you. Rumors and outright lies will suffice. Circumstances are easily ignored.

Shimei calls David a worthless person. This is a condemnation. Calling someone worthless is an eternal judgement. It means that the person can't change. Saying that you did worthless things or that you acted in a worthless manner is not a statement about the individual. It is merely a judgement of the actions rather than the person.

Condemnation hurts. It takes on the depth of eternity. The one condemned is fated to remain condemned. Condemnation is intent on hurting. 

Shimei says that David is getting what he deserved. This usually comes from someone who doesn't think he has gotten what he deserved. The one who criticizes thinks he was entitled to something better than he has received. He is grateful when others get what they have coming to them. 

Too often, the ones who castigate others do so at a safe distance. Shimei walks along the ridge of a hill. He stays close enough to yell condemnations,  throw rocks and kick up dust but far enough away that David's attendants will have to chase him before cutting off his head. I personally have seen many people hide behind others to hurl their gossip and libel. They stay far enough away to protect themselves and stir up others enough to do the dirty work. They loves staying in the shadows.

David looks at this providentially. He sees that his life can't get much worse. His own son seeks his life. This, in comparison, is a minor inconvenience. David knows that he hasn't caused the wrong that is being done to him. He believes that God has instigated this cursing. He believes God will therefore take the bad that is done and will bring it about for good. This sounds a lot like Romans 8:28.

So, David sees God leading Shimei to curse David. Ultimately, everything either comes from God's commission or His permission. He is either causing or allowing things to happen. Thus, it must all figure into God's great plan. Maybe I don't deserve the criticism I receive. Yet, God will make the thing that can hurt me deeply into something that will bless me.

Still, I don't think I will like criticism when I receive it. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Part of "Make Disciples" Is Confusing?

I applaud new churches. They are "reaching" people who do not know the gospel more effectively than established churches. Unchurched people are more likely to come to a church that doesn't smell like the churches they have been warned about who judge them.

But many of these churches are like surrogate mothers who are no more than the vessels for the birth. They don't leave their newborns on the doorsteps of those who will care for them. They simply reach out to have more children. They don't realize the damage they are doing because they are doing such a good job in reaching new people. Their doors are open and their seats are filled. They can't see those who are starving for growth.

Maybe they are afraid to spend the time teaching these new "disciples" the word. Wouldn't they have to slow down their numerical growth to take care of their converts spiritual growth? I'll admit I would rather preach to a full room. I would love to see people come to know Christ every week. I might have a whole different attitude if I was good at winning people to Christ. Don't get me wrong. I have baptized several hundred people. I see people come to know Christ but I have never had the success of those I see around me. They see their converts come like water out of a fire hydrant. I see converts come like out of one of those watering cans that are used on your house plants.

But here is my confusion: Didn't Jesus tell us to make disciples? I don't see anywhere that He told us that conversion was enough. Shouldn't the people who come to our churches be mature enough to tell others the reason for the hope that is within them? Shouldn't they know His words? Shouldn't their lives be changed by His word?

Maybe that's why Christians are being converted to the thinking of the world. They adopt the culture around them because the culture of the church has no depth. They don't know what one who believes in Jesus needs to believe to live like he believes. They don't know the dangers of adopting the world's values. They don't know how it affects their families or their testimony. They don't know what makes a Christian distinct from the world.

It is so easy for some to hi-jack the church when those who make up the church don't know what is wrong or right. Heresy enters the church because their are no gatekeepers to warn those inside. Each heretic claims he has revelation beyond that of others. His followers are the elite. He tells them that they are full when they are really empty.

Another problem may be the reluctance of believers to dig deeper into the word. Some preachers may realize that a deeper understanding of the word isn't popular to worldly people. Thus, it is better to appeal to their base desires: to be healthy, rich and famous. People certainly gather around those themes.

But as for me, I can't do this even if it means smaller groups gathering in the church I pastor. I can't call it success if I don't see spiritual growth no matter how many people are sitting in the seats. I believe it is irresponsible to win people to Christ and leave them in the baptism waters to find their own way. I believe they must hear the word and abide in it.

Otherwise, I don't know how they will ever know the truth.

John 8:31-32 (ESV)
31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”