What Being A Christian Really Means

cross-and-nail

When you think of legalism you think of right-wing fundamentals imposing a demanding set of rules to follow. Today we have to deal with a different kind of legalism, one that has the face of “love” but still devoid of Christ.

I normally don’t pay much attention to articles like this one by Cherise Luter but a few things jumped out at me.

It’s frustrating to hear when someone rejects the gospel because no one could answer their questions. It’s even more annoying when they think they’re too smart for God or the church.

Then I read this:

At 25, I was still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (one of the levees broke a block from my apartment) and adapting to my new home in Houston. I was angry and in a lot of pain. I did everything right. I followed all the rules, I’d think bitterly.

My whole life, I had hung around the right people, stayed away from the wrong people, went to church every weekend, and even sang in the choir. I thought my religion would be my saving grace, but instead, I suddenly found that I had no real relationship with the God I’d claimed to serve. I had to make a change. I had to get real with God.

So I threw all of my questions at God. And God had a comeback for each of them: Just love.

This part of the article got my attention because she raised the same questions as Job, though I’m not sure she realized it.

Why do bad things happen to “good” people?

Job’s “friends” came to him and said that he must have done something wrong to cause his children to die. Job defended his integrity, though, almost to the point of prideful arrogance. How could this be his fault when he was above reproach?

After they went around in a few circles for a few dozen chapters God enters the dialogue and asks Job 66 questions, back to back.

When Job poses his questions to God, similar to Cherise’s, God doesn’t answer him with,”simply love.”

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

Job 38:2,3

God is certainly righteous but He is not stumped by Job’s questions. He has to remind Job that there’s lots that he doesn’t understand but takes on faith. Job can’t possibly comprehend the big picture.

The one thing he can be certain of is that God is sovereign and in control. That’s not a faith based on knowing nothing. It’s about knowing the most important thing. We read in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

job wife

Cherise sadly ends the article by arriving at a Christ-less Christianity, one in which the gospel is missing. Where is Jesus? What mention is there of His sacrifice to atone for our sins? How about the imputation of His righteousness to us?

It also bugs me that Cherise is certain she can love people the way God desires. The kind of love that God wants us to show each other is challenging and unappealing to our nature. It’s something that we can only do with the help of the Holy Spirit.

I fear that Cherise has substituted one form of legalism with another. All she has done is to lower the bar so that she knows she will come out ahead. That’s just a rigged horse race. My hope and prayer is that she encounters the only gospel there is and puts her trust in Jesus as her savior and redeemer.

It is only by the grace of God and the blood of Jesus that we can approach the heavenly throne. As the hymn says,”Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

Advertisements

What Marcus Luttrell Teaches Us About Suffering

The story behind the film Lone Survivor teaches us a lot about how to deal with suffering. In that tense exchange in the interview Marcus Lutrell elucidates a very rare perspective on tragedy which Jake Tapper clearly doesn’t understand. In a sense, they are both representatives of two different viewpoints.

Under the pessimistic view all suffering is vain and is reflection of the vanity of life. For these people it represents the fatal flaw in any theistic worldview. Suffering does nothing but make our lives miserable and if there is a loving God then He’d never let it come into existence, much less eliminate it.

Luttrell made a very important point when he said that they didn’t question their mission and purpose just because an operation went sideways on them. They were in a combat zone doing a dangerous job and that was par for the course. More importantly, they were highly trained and eager to successfully complete the mission. SEALs are intense competitors and they thrive under incredible stress and pain.

navy seals

The rest of us can learn to shape our expectations based on their perspective. I believe much of our struggles are based on our expectations about what God owes us. It’s easy to say “Amen” when the preacher says to put our complete trust in God as our provider but when something near and dear to us is taken away we get desperate. We feel entitled to certain level of well-being and we see our faith as a means to maintain it.

Jesus offers us a simpler, but more empowering, view of life. He teaches us to look to God for our needs and be content and thankful that He has supplied them all. Life is not about material wealth (Luke 12:15) but about living by every word of God. When you have this perspective you’re not likely to get entangled with the cares of this life. You’re not likely to be consumed with a desire for more.

This biblical perspective also informs us that this life is full of troubles (John 16:33) and that we should not be surprised when bad things happen to us. Followers of Christ do not get immunity from pain and suffering. They do get the grace that enables them to be of good cheer in the midst of sorrow.

We know that tragedy can and will strike us at some point. We also know that God is able to sustain through every tribulation. If we keep things in perspective then we will not forget the goodness of the Lord towards us and His everlasting mercy. It’s important to always remember that because such gratitude shows us how to properly understand the hard times we endure. When you can praise and worship God in those times then you know you have succeeded.

7 Parallels Between Isaiah 53 And Jesus

jesus_christ_on_trial_resurrection1

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:1-9

1. The first parallel that comes to mind is the birth of Jesus. It was a challenge for Joseph, Mary, and others to believe that Jesus was the messiah that was foretold in the scriptures. Later, during His ministry, we also see plenty of examples of people who struggle to accept that He was the one that Israel was expecting to deliver them.

2. When I read in verse two and three that the servant had no beauty and was rejected by men it takes me to Matthew 13:54-57 where the Jews were offended by the idea that a man as lowly as he, of no repute, could do such miraculous works and speak with such wisdom. This is where Jesus says that a prophet is not honored in his own country.

3. The parallel in verse four is much more explicit and we get it from the text itself in Matthew 8:17. The crowds brought their sick and demon-possessed and Jesus healed them all. We read that this is a fulfillment of the prophecy that God’s servant “would take up our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.”

4. In verse five we see that well-known text which explains what Jesus was doing on the cross to offer us salvation. He was beaten, tortured, and whipped for our sakes and because of that we receive healing. We are healed by His wounds.

5. The scene of Jesus’ scourging comes to mind as I read verse seven. He took His punishment, even though it was unjust and abusive. He did not fight back either. There was never a man as innocent and undeserving of any punishment as Jesus.

6. Verse eight relates to the scene in the Temple and in Pilate’s palace after Jesus’ arrest. He did not try to avoid the punishment because He knew this is why He came and that the Lord would give Him the grace to endure. He did not dispute the charges but He did fill His accusers with guilt and shame as they realized that they were putting an innocent, if there ever was one, to death.

7. We know from the narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection that verse nine indicates the burial tomb that was provided for Him by a wealthy man. He was unlike any man who ever lived and yet His body was laid to rest as if He was just another criminal who failed to throw off Israel’s Roman oppressors.

The Suffering And Exaltation of Jesus

Isaiah-52

Isaiah presents God’s servant as one who goes from the most extreme suffering to the highest exaltation. He truly rises from the bottom to the top, from the last to the first. Jesus reaches these extremes when He goes to the cross to be sacrificed for the sins of the world and then upon His ascension when He went to the right hand of the Father.

In the wake of His exaltation the revelation of who He is and what He has done will spread throughout the world. That is exactly what happened as His disciples took the gospel to every kingdom and made disciples of the nations. Beginning with Pilate, we see how rulers are faced with the power of Jesus and amazed at His righteousness and wisdom. The same would happen with Paul in his trials during his ministry.

Gentiles, in particular, have much to be thankful for because they now have the knowledge of that which was only known to Israel. And it was because of Jesus life, death, resurrection, and ascension that we can know fully what prophets and kings in the past have sought to discover. It’s easy to forget what a privilege it is to know what we know and to have direct access to the throne of grace.

The Crisis In Syria: A Biblical Perspective

Boys walk along a damaged street filled with debris in Deir al-Zor

Nahum is one of the minor prophets and was called to send God’s message of Nineveh’s fall. It was an astonishing message given that the city was the largest in the world at the time. Nahum’s message was that God is a savior to those who trust in Him and a terrible judge to His wicked. The Lord explains why He is bringing judgment to the city:

Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard.

Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;

The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots.

The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear: and there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcases; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses:

Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts.

Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.

And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock.

And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee?

Nahum 2:13-3:7

It is important to keep in mind that this message is for a pagan empire. We can clearly see that God still has expectations of them and holds them accountable to those standards. He is concerned about the idolatry, violence, and oppression that ran rampant in the city. I believe we can also conclude that the people had the opportunity to repent and put their trust in the Lord.

Daniel tells us in chapter 4 that God sets rulers over the kingdoms of men as He pleases. God allowed Bashar al-Assad to take over and will remove him when He desires. We should ask ourselves: “What does God think of this nation and what is He doing with them?”

As we follow the events that occur in Syria we should remember that the Lord knows what is happening there and He is intimately involved. This was not an accident or a surprise for Him. In fact, this may be a sign of His judgment of the current regime and its downfall, if that should happen.

God cared enough for Nineveh to send Nahum there and preserve his prophecy as part of His special revelation to us. I believe that this means that Christians should also be concerned about a nation’s spiritual condition. We should pray for justice, peace, deliverance from oppression, the proclamation of the gospel, and the salvation of the kingdom. For those who are in or near those regions they should resist the evil being promulgated through those societies.

Believers should not lose heart at the tragedies that occur in Syria but look to God to manifest His power and glory. He is faithful and just and has all wisdom and understanding. Who else would you want in charge of the world?

When The Clay Talks Back To The Potter

potter clay

Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?

Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?

Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me.

I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.

I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts.

Isaiah 45:9-13

We are better off trusting God rather than supplanting Him.

We have inherited an inborn desire to be God from our original ancestors. Pride deceives us into thinking that we can do God’s job better than He can. We have all these plans laid out for our lives (without consulting Him) and we get frustrated, even resentful when God doesn’t abide by them. And these are not trivial things I am talking about, like work or family. There are people who have been looking for jobs for months, or even years, and they feel like they are being stressed to the breaking point. Why does God tarry and not provide? Does He not care? Is He glorified when we are stuck and there are no prospects?

You are not going through whatever it is you are enduring because there is a lapse in God’s plan for you. He is not preoccupied with something else. I find it jarring when I consider that everything that has happened to me is part of God’s will. It makes me a little apprehensive to know that I am that exposed as I follow the Lord. There is no bubble that God makes for us so that we will be insulated from the cares of life. But that is not reason for fear because Jesus told us that He has overcome the world.

The problem with the clay’s resentment towards the potter is his lack of faith. He does not believe God knows what He is doing and since he has no understanding or control over anything he is in disarray. Without that trust he certainly cannot serve the Lord and he will not gain spiritual maturity. He is more likely to do anything he can to get out of that situation and avoid suffering altogether. But if there is no suffering, no cross, then there is no glory and thus no hope. By this point he is not even trying to live his life according to God’s will because he is deciding what to do himself. He is not the Lord’s servant because he is acting like the master.

God knows the big picture and we do not. In fact, we will not know it in this life. Not only do we not know but I believe we cannot understand it, even if He explained it to us. I believe it would be so overwhelming that it would do more harm than good. It reminds me of my toddler nephew and nieces who ask difficult questions at times. How do you explain death and evil to a child? You will mess them up for a long time trying to explain it to them. Instead, you have to tell them what they need to know so that they can trust you in their ignorance until they get older. We have that interesting quality of being smart enough to pose a tough question whose answer is beyond our ability to understand. We have to trust God in our ignorance as well.

When God Intervenes

The_road_i_walk

I think we implicitly assume that when God intervenes it is always for our good and that bad things happen, in part, because God is absent. When tragedy and evil strike people often ask why God did not intervene.  We ask the same question when we are going through major difficulties. We want God to get us out of it. We wonder if God is powerless to stop it or if he is indifferent to evil. Those seem to be the two possible conclusions. Scripture fortunately provides us with a third option that is true and encouraging.

Instead God allows evil to occur but then overcomes it with His grace. In the book of Job we see that God allows Satan to inflict Job with pain and suffering, both in his body and the loss of his children. God allowed it because He is in control and not powerless. When Job speaks of his sufferings, though, he never mentions the devil. He attributes it to God, and he is right. He doesn’t blame God but he does say,”the Lord gave, and The Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of The Lord.” Job learns that he has to be able to trust God when there is no answer to the question,”Why is this happening to me?” God then restores Job and blesses him with more than he ever had before his trials.

The desire to know why you’re going through the pain and suffering makes it difficult because you don’t have the full picture. It hurts and you don’t know if it will ever end. You’re realizing that you have no control over what happens and the thought that you don’t know what else may happen fills you with fear. What did I do wrong? Is this punishment for some sin I committed? God must be angry with me. So how can I atone for it?

The Bible teaches us that the only way to endure is through faith. We ask “Why?” and God’s answer is,”You have to trust me.” Do not be so confused as to think that this is easy. When you’re suffering you’re quite sure that an answer to the question will help but it takes faith to believe that it won’t. It’s like explaining to a child why a relative died. Children, like us, can ask questions whose answers are beyond their ability to understand. There’s no way we can fully answer their question so we have to give them enough of an answer to sustain them until they can understand. Likewise with us, we have to wait until we learn more. Sometimes that may not happen before we die. We have to carry on the meantime, though, and so we must believe that we can rely on God in our ignorance, confusion, and pain.

The great news is that there is hope for those who put their trust in The Lord. He is almighty. He doesn’t just react to events but drives them. He is not a 911 dispatcher who sits around waiting for a call. He is proactive. As Psalm 23 says, He is the shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death as well as the green pastures. He doesn’t just deliver us from danger but leads us into it, always with us and protecting us.

Around The Web

Why there is always an organ shortage

I just need to point out that the perpetual shortage of human organs available for transplant isn’t an unfortunate circumstance, that’s its not really-sad-but-that’s-just-how-things-are, and it doesn’t say something about our society that so few people are willing to donate. We did this to ourselves. Selling organs is banned. This shortage, and the reason that girl is probably going to die, isn’t just happenstance, it’s the direct result of the absence of a free market in human organs. Selling a kidney is legal in Iran and guess what: there’s no waiting list for kidneys.  Free markets don’t create shortages.

Churchgoers ashamed of their faith

According to the survey, 66 percent of American churchgoers agree Christians should seek out honest feedback about their spiritual life from other Christians. Churchgoers also seem to think they live out their faith in a manner that is evident to others. Just 14 percent of churchgoers agree with the statement: “Many people who know me are not aware I am a Christian,” while 72 percent disagree with the statement. However, the survey also shows churchgoers often leave important elements of faith unspoken. Nearly a third (29 percent) agree “Spiritual matters do not tend to come up as a normal part of my daily conversations with other Christians,” while 50 percent disagree this is the case. Still, the survey reveals 57 percent of churchgoers agree they openly share about difficulties they are experiencing when they talk with Christian friends, while 1 in 4 do not.

Female breadwinners have unhappy marriages

Some may resent women who supplant them as providers, but most do not. . . . So expect this: in a breadwomen’s world, women will experience their own share of resentment, competitive feelings, and ambivalent emotions. In the short term, it may be women who are most unsettled by the new world order. . . . They will struggle to preserve their own sexual attraction to men even as they strive to remain feminine and pleasing. . . . They will cling to the hope that this is all temporary. They will feel, in their heart of hearts, that something is wrong. The fact is, men have made a lot of progress; the question is whether women have come as far.

Am I conservative?

I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.

France and same-sex marriage myths

The French are a tough crowd. I learned this when I took to the stage at the March 24 manif and fielded the boos from over a million marchers at the mention of “homophobia.” They weren’t booing me, thank goodness; they were booing the idea of people accusing someone of homophobia for asking obvious questions about the logistics of surrogacy contracts for gay men like Perez Hilton. The crowd cheered me on for most of my six-minute talk. But the moment was educational. Whereas in the English-speaking world we observe some British conventions of privacy and politeness, it is never a good idea to tell French speakers that some questions are off- limits. They are a blunt people. It’s one thing to get booed by a few hundred people in a gymnasium. It’s completely another to stand below the Arch of Triumph and hear over a million French people boo at the same time. You feel the zeitgeist with much more force. It seems like the buildings, the sky, the trees, and even the birds overhead are groaning at you. This is not a scenario that will allow you to fudge facts.

The Christian view of suffering

A robust theology of suffering is necessary but not sufficient, Carson insists, for at least two additional attitudes characterize mature Christians: (1) they admit their guilt before God and cry to him for renewal and revival (see, for example, Neh. 8-9), and (2) they are quick to talk about the sheer goodness of God. To be sure, Carson’s framework is not necessarily the most helpful thing to offer someone first entering the throes of terrible suffering. “You’ve just been diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma; do you want this lecture?” he asks. Of course not—and you shouldn’t. The importance of relational sensitivity and tangible compassion in the midst of crisis cannot be overestimated. Moreover, when the immediate needs are concrete (e.g., water, security, shelter), God’s people should be quick to respond in love.

Pop culture, men, and lowered expectations

Message boards, blogs, and Twitter are all filled with the ranting and ravings of men between the ages of 18 and 40 who are livid about this super hero movie trailer or that casting decision in the new Star Trek. Layers of expectations are placed upon highly anticipated films or television shows that can only hope to crash-and-burn in the eyes of those same devoted fans. And for what? Because people you don’t personally know made a product you had nothing to do with and after choosing to pay U.S. currency (or devote hours of your life) to watch it you are less than satisfied with the final product? Who cares? The easiest answer: I do (and have most of my life).

Europe’s other crisis: religion

The problem for many of the spiritual leaders attending is that Europe is also undergoing a crisis of religious identity. In several countries, church attendances and religious affiliation have plummeted in recent decades. Just 51 percent of citizens in the EU’s 27 nations said they believed in God, when questioned for a 2010 survey. In Sweden, Estonia and the Czech Republic that number fell below 20 percent – although more said they believed in the existence of “some form of spirit or life force.” Forty percent of the French declared they believed in neither god nor spirt, along with 30 percent of the Dutch, 27 percent of Germans and a quarter of the British. In the 20 years up to 2010, the Evangelical Church of Germany, closed 340 churches and is considering giving up another 1,000, the news weekly Der Spiegel reported in February. Dutch churches are reportedly closing at a rate of two a week – around 4,000 remain from the estimated 19,000 built since the 13th century. From 1999 to 2010, the Church of Sweden says it lost 800,000 members. Even in the traditionally more devout Catholic countries of southern Europe, faith is under pressure. A survey released in February showed 70 percent of Spaniards describe themselves as Catholic, a fall of almost 10 percent in a decade. Among Spanish Catholics just 12.5 percent attend mass at least once a week.

All faiths agree on religious liberty

A Jew, a Catholic, and a Protestant—but also a Muslim, a Mormon, a Sikh, and an Orthodox Christian—walk into, not a bar, but a religious freedom conference where they all sit on a panel entitled “Many Faiths, One America.” And here’s the punchline: they all agree. Not, of course, on doctrinal issues, but on the centrality of religious liberty to the American regime and on the pressing need for a united front to address growing threats to it…Americans of all faiths should not accept the premise of an omnipotent state that doles out favors to various organized interests. This not only encourages factionalism, but it makes religious liberty the exception, rather than the rule.

Atheist believes Christians unfairly treated in media

The non-believing child of secular Jews does his tribe proud by volunteering the opinion that Christians get a bum rap in the national media. The portrayal of Christians as “doctrinaire crazy hothead people” doesn’t square with fond recollections of former public radio colleagues who kept Bibles on their desks and invited him to screenings of Rapture movies (At WBEZ? Really?).

How Long, O Lord? Reflections On Psalm 13

Image

This morning my brother was preaching at church and the text he selected to speak on was Psalm 13. I hadn’t read it in a long time and going through it today was very timely and refreshing.

I have much more appreciation today for this Psalm and others like it in which the writer expresses the anguish he feels in the midst of hardship and directs it towards God. An immature view of the strong language used in the Psalm would be that David is being bold and arrogant, and towards God directly at that. But for someone who has experienced difficult and challenging times in their life it’s a perfect expression for what they were feeling. I think it also shows that God welcomes and encourages us to air out those emotions to Him. If you read carefully then you can see that David has not in complete despair even though he’s crying out.

What I love about this Psalm and others is that as you think it’s only going to get worse that it suddenly changes, as if David’s spirits are being lifted as he’s singing about his sorrows. His prayer is being answered as he’s saying it and hope starts to come back again as He’s singing God’s praises.

As I was just writing that last sentence I’m reminded of a musician I saw in an interview saying the same thing about blues music. He gave an example of a song in which he’s singing about a lost love and how life isn’t worth living anymore and then he suddenly comes to his sense again and finds a reason to hope for the future.

The sad thing is people who don’t read the Bible don’t even know about all of these literary gems buried in its pages.