Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Well Lived Life

I'm reading a book that argues against the idea of dualism. The author points out that the Bible does not suggest that the material world is evil and suggest that we should long to escape from our physical bodies to attain pure spiritual existence. In fact, the Bible teaches that the physical creation was made good - and that our eternal destiny will be as physical beings on a physical earth - albeit as resurrected physical beings on a renewed physical earth.

I am about a quarter of the way through the book. I agree with the substance of the author's arguments so far, but I'm nervous about his motives. So far there seems to be a suggestion that Americans should be pretty complacent about the amount of time and money they use to entertain themselves in their leisure activities.

Christians should strive to live life well. We should enjoy the blessings God has given us - good food, good company, beautiful scenery. We should live with joy and appreciation - overflowing with thanksgiving. People should read and walk and eat and exercise. They should travel and explore and experience the vast diversity God has put on the earth. We should get up and get out and live our lives to the full - smell the flowers, taste the food, relish the view, cherish friends and family.

But as twenty first century Americans we have so much leisure time and so many channels of entertainment that we are in danger of smothering the truly good life under piles of frivolous pursuits. It may not be sin to watch a football game. But it can be when all you think about is football and you neglect your family during football season and you rob your boss of your services during football season and you are absent from worship throughout football season.

And something is always in season. 

We are entertaining ourselves to death when we should be taking a cue from the wisdom writers and practicing self control. We need some leisure time. Perhaps we even need some entertainment. But entertainment and leisure time cannot properly be the organizing center of the 
Christian life. 

Something is wrong with American Christianity and I don't think it is that we put too much into our spiritual lives and forget to enjoy the pleasures of God's creation.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Freedom of Conscience

It doesn't matter much to me whether or not the United States of America was founded as a "Christian Nation."  What matters to me is that this country was founded with the ideal of "Freedom of Conscience."

According to this ideal the church and the state would be separate.  The church would not direct the government and the government would not carry out church discipline.  People would be free to believe whatever their conscience directed them to believe without fear of government coercion. They could believe whatever and say whatever and to assemble with whomever according to the dictates of conscience. It was to be a free country.

That is all changing now.  We are no longer free to follow the dictates of our conscience without fear of government reprisals.  You believe that homosexuality is immoral?  That is fine as long as you don't tell anyone and don't act on that belief by refusing to participate in a same sex wedding.

We see the first fruits of this change taking place already... business owners who have scruples against participating in same sex weddings are being fined, threatened and forced out of business.  Not because the people pursuing these cases cannot find business owners who would willingly serve them, but because these activists are not satisfied until they can bully everyone into submission.

I see little chance that things will reverse themselves to restore freedom of conscience to America. Rather, conscientious objectors will face increasing civil and criminal penalties. There will be fines and jail time. There will be required re-education camps called "sensitivity training." More and more people will lose their jobs and their businesses. More and more people will be harassed and attacked because they disagree with the popular and political morality of this declining nation.

Nevertheless we will need to live according to conscience, directed by divine revelation. We will need to handle this oppression with grace and courage... speaking the truth in love and entrusting ourselves to our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

This can be good for us because it reminds us that neither this country nor this world is heaven.  We are strangers and pilgrims - citizens of a heavenly kingdom just passing through.  We have no reward here - but will be rewarded by Jesus when we see him face to face.

Be true to Christ, whatever the cost.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Wrong Side of History

I recently read an essay by former president Jimmy Carter (originally published in 2009) explaining his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Church over their historic practice of excluding women from the roles of pastor or deacon in the churches or as chaplains in the military.

According to Carter there is no difference between between this continued practice in the SBC and the brutality against women in Islamic states around the world. To take the Biblical instructions on the Christian family and the Christian church literally is a sham and an excuse for all kinds of abuse and enslavement.  So Carter rejects the Christian church and instead identifies himself as one of "The Elders" ordained by the late Nelson Mandela. These "Elders" have taken it upon themselves to issue a statement that says in part:
“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
Carter makes many errors in his essay, but the gravest error is his allegiance to modern humanistic rationalism over divinely inspired scriptures.  He stands with them to wave his fist in the face of God and to tell God what is acceptable and unacceptable.

I think this essay was resurrected now - fifteen years after it was written - to support the continued avalanche of humanistic rationalism in support of so called "civil rights" for homosexuals. The particular issues are changed, but the reasoning remains the same. Just take "women and girls" out of the above quote and substitute any modern identity group.

Unfortunately, many people, especially young people, who (like Carter) have grown up in churches and have been taught the truth of God's word are now choosing to side with humanistic rationalism. They are very concerned about being caught on "the wrong side of history."

"The wrong side of history" means that they think the most important thing is what other people think about an issue.  When people write history books a generation from now - who will be portrayed as the villains and who will be cast as the heroes?  They think (and they may be right) that people like former president Carter or supreme court justice Ginsberg will be the courageous heroes who stood against the evil oppression of religious people that claimed a higher authority for their beliefs than humanistic rationalism.

I think it is not very important what the historians think about us. By then we will be dead - long gone.  By then the only thing that will really matter for us is whether or not we were right about God. If there is no God (as secularists emphatically insist) then whatever stance you took on these issues will not matter at all.  But if there is a God (as is apparent to the vast majority of human beings) then it will be vitally important to have been in a right relationship with the God that truly exists.

I may end up on the "wrong side of history," but I believe I am on the right side of eternity.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Getting People to Attend Church Business

I read an article today about the top factors that attract and keep people in churches. The answers were the usual suspects - Friendliness, Children's Programs, Worship Experience/Music, and Preaching. The article noted that only 4 in 10 Americans attend church regularly.

I'm pretty sure the intended message was, "churches are not doing a very good job of giving people what they want - only 4 in 10 Americans attend church regularly."

Issues like those mentioned are worth thinking about, but not for the reasons listed. Christians should be friendly to strangers and love people unconditionally. Christians should care about providing quality children's programing. Christians should worship enthusiastically. Christian preachers should communicate the Bible clearly and passionately.

But we are not in the "getting people to attend church" business.  If we fill the church to overflowing by providing everything an American consumer could possibly want but those do not encounter Christ and become converted we are not accomplishing anything significant.  If we get 100% of our community and the surrounding communities to attend our church - but they do not hear the truth of God's word confronting the sin in their lives, we are failing.

If we were in the "getting people to attend church business" we could succeed by holding church in the big top tent with a three ring circus, scantily clad performers and daring high wire acts. It would be grand! The band, the clowns, the lions and elephants would bring people in, for sure. But so what?

Jesus did draw big crowds at times. But you will notice that many times the big crowds were disappointed. In John 6 he fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. The next day they came to him again, but he refused to feed them again and told them that he was the food they really needed - that they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. The thousands who had been singing his praises the previous day and wanted to make him king now deserted him and he was down to his twelve disciples again.

We are supposed to be in the discipleship business. We want people to have their hearts changed by God through an encounter with Jesus. That might happen in a mass meeting or it might happen in a one on one encounter. Both are recorded in Scripture. But when people encounter Jesus, a significant number of them will not be converted and will actually be offended. They will go away faster than they came.

There is nothing wrong with drawing a crowd unless that is your main goal.  But the real issue is making disciples and instructing them in the Scriptures.  If you can do that with a dozen people over the course of your lifetime you are in good company.

(John 6:37) All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

(John 6:44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jesus And Clark Kent

Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But he didn't come as a superhero. He came as a humble bundle of human flesh - a completely dependent, stinky, crying baby - unable to communicate - needing to be carried everywhere - helpless.

Jesus experienced growing up. At some point he crawled, then he pulled up and took his first steps. He probably fell down in the process. He went through human developmental stages. He developed language skills.

Jesus was not like Clark Kent. Clark Kent was Superman in disguise, but he was still superman - bulletproof - able to leap tall buildings - super strong. Clark Kent was an extra terrestrial and not a human.

Jesus was fully human. He experienced human limitations. He became tired, hungry and thirsty. He knew what it was to exert himself to the limit of his very human strength. There were things he could not lift and things he could not reach.

Jesus knew exactly what we experience on a day to day basis - sleeping, waking up, eating, drinking, (and even digestion with all that means.) If he had a pebble in this sandal he had to stop and shake it out.

The recognition of Jesus as a fully human person is important. His death for human sinners was a real human death. He was not sustained on the cross by superhuman (or supernatural) abilities. It hurt him like it would have hurt us. It was agony for him in the same way it would have been agony for us. 

Jesus' life and death were not a dramatization of human experience - they were true human experience. That's what Christmas is about. God became a human. By that he became the perfect Savior - the true bridge between God and men. Now he is our perfect high priest - He knows what it is like to be us.

Have a Christmas that is full of wonder!