Friday, April 30, 2010

Do we love God???

Coming up on the weekend I thought a good question to ponder is, "Do we love God?" There is a legitimate reason to ask this question. Many of us talk about loving God as if it is an assumed reality if you are a Christian. The truth of the matter is that the command to love God and to love your neighbor or enemy is the most repeated set of commands in the New Testament. When I have to repeat something over and over again to my kids it is usually because they are not doing it. We have an incredibly strong propensity to be self centered as a people. This can be traced back to the fall. The lie of Satan was that we would be like God (Genesis 3:5). Since that time it seems like man is always seeking to be a god unto himself. And so we have this self-centered propensity in general in our society. We have in essence become god's unto ourselves. How does this impact our Christianity? Well lets look at our churches. What do they cater to? The perceived needs of the people usually. We spend a great deal of time focusing on creating programs and services that appeal to the people. We rarely ask the question, "Would this program or service appeal to Jesus?" Our main concern is not offending someone which is usually a euphemism for not ever confronting anyone or dealing with real issues. The main role of the Church is to gather people together at the feet of Jesus, to seek Him as our God and Savior. Jesus knew that we would struggle with giving up the god of self. What did Jesus call us to? He said that we should take up our cross daily and follow Him(Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). The cross is a symbol of death. Paul clarified the metaphor in Galatians 2:20 when he says that we are crucified with Christ but that it is no longer us who live but Christ who lives in us. If that is not clear enough Paul defines what being crucified means in Galatians 5:24 when he says if you belong to Christ you crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. Now obviously if this happened instantly we would not have the commands to love God and our neighbors or enemies repeated again and again. The reality often is that we like God and all that Christianity has to offer, but all this other stuff well that’s for the really committed. I have even heard people refer to it as second level Christianity (Although I have never seen that in the Bible). These are the same people who will tell you they love the Lord. Do they? Do we? Just in case we were confused about the cross thing, Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So the question to ponder this weekend is, "Are we willing to take up our cross and seek to love God?" Join me on this journey after God as we seek to live life focused on Him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Islam, Grace and Southpark

Comedy central apparently aired an episode of Southpark in which they depicted the prophet Mohamed dressed up in a bear costume. I am not endorsing or recommending you see this episode or any episode. The issue here is that a group called revolution muslim opposed the episode. They were adamant that depictions of Mohammed not be shown. They posted on their website graphic pictures of the death of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004 by Muslim extremists for making a movie about Muslim women. The caption under the images read: “Have Matt Stone and Trey Parker Forgotten This?” The threat was seen as very real and comedy central censored the episode. What strikes me about this is the lake of grace that exists in the religion of Islam. While I am sure that Revolution Muslim does not represent all muslims, Islam is rigid and there are reasons that countries controlled by Muslim leadership are so repressive. The main thing that stands out to me is the appalling lack of grace. I have witnessed to Muslims in this country and it always strikes me how they are working to balance the scales. They talk about repenting and seeking to do good. Lets take a step back and think about the seriousness of sin and its offense to God. If I lied to my children I will not get in a great deal of trouble. If I lie to my wife I will certainly face consequences. If I lie to a police officer or a judge I could go to jail. If I lie to the federal government I could lose my life for treason. The difference in each of these situations is the stature of the person or entity I lied to affected the consequences of telling a lie. God is greater than any government and He is holy. How much of an offense is one lie to God? Could anyone ever do enough good to offset just one lie? The tragedy for my muslim neighbors is that they live under a religious experience that offers no grace and so they offer no grace. I count myself privileged that God called my in grace to Himself. He paid the penalty for my sin and made me His child. I repented and now seek to follow Him as my Lord. Repentance for me was recognizing that I have sinned against God and cannot hope to pay the penalty on my own. I called on God in my brokenness to save me and Jesus took my penalty and paid my price. I am counting on grace and this gives me the ability through the Holy Spirit to offer more grace to others. May God grant my Muslim neighbors the grace they need to meet Jesus repent and receive His grace so that they too can come to live God focused lives in Jesus my God.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Understanding Christianity's role in politics

Yesterday I talked about how Christianity should not really be associated with a political party. So how does Christianity come into play. Trusting in Jesus and following Him is not about joining a club or being part of a team. It is first and foremost about a relationship. It is about pursuing knowing and loving God. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus said, “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus calls us first and foremost to love Him. Political parties are formed around ideas and ideals not relationships. When we reduce the relationship with God offered to us by Jesus death on the cross to a political ideal we cheapen it. Are we called to impact the world? Clearly! In Acts 17:6 the Jason and some others were accused of being part of those who have turned the world upside down. What were they doing that turned the world upside down? They were introducing others to Jesus. These people were so affected by the relationship with Jesus that they stopped worshipping the emperor. They were willing to face persecution and death rather than stop following Jesus. The way to influence and change politics is to change hearts. When hearts are changed and committed to following Jesus in everything then laws will change because the people have changed. The problem we face as a church in general is we have become too much like the world. 1 John 2:15-16 is instructive. It lists three things as being of the world.

  1. Desires of the flesh
  2. Desires of the eyes
  3. Pride in possessions
For the most part most people who would call themselves evangelical Christians embrace these things. Those of us who are seeking to live a God focused life if we are honest struggle with these things at some level. These things make us an enemy of God and put us in alliance with the world. We must return to living lives that have an unquenchable desire for God alone. This is the really the only antidote to the influence of the world and the best hope for changing hearts and lives. This is the only real role Christianity should play in politics.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Who loses when Christianity becomes political?

In my conversations with people throughout the years about Christianity and Politics it seems like there is one thing that is consistent. Conservatives usually want to see Christianity plastered as a subtext to the campaign they support. Liberals get up in arms and defensive when they see Christianity plastered as a subtext to any campaign usually crying separation of Church and state. Who looses in these collisions between politics and Christianity. I think Jesus does. Before you liberals rejoice and you conservatives tune me out please hear my reasons. I am all for a Christian being able to take a political position or hold office. I am even for them having the freedom to base their position on the Bible. What I am not for is a whole church or denomination supporting a party. When this happens it becomes divisive. Christians who hold a liberal stance are offended. Christians who hold a conservative stance don't really gain anything in the end. The big problem here is really a foundational issue that arises out of the Bible. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The foundational problem with Christianity and Politics is that Christians are not getting involved under a Christian umbrella in order to follow Christ. The main reason that they trumpet to get involved is to protect our rights. But the last time I checked if we have died to self (Romans 12:1), rights should be a distant second or ever much further behind the glory of Christ. I would like to feel I can support other Christians but when I see my saviors name used to advance a political cause that has very little to do with His kingdom I find it impossible to support. My goal in living a God focused life is to advance His kingdom. Jesus kingdom is filled with grace something I see very little of in politics branded as Christian.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The real question God or chance

An article featuring Stephen Hawking called, "Aliens may exist but contact would hurt humans: Hawking" explores the idea that Aliens if they do exist and do show up on our doorstep are probably looking for lunch. The reason that they would be here, according to hawking's discovery channel show, is to hunt for resources after draining their planet dry. From a God focused perspective my question is, "Where is God in this?" Of course I expect a resounding round of silence because there is no God in any of these conversations. The reason that aliens exist and might happen upon our planet is purely chance. What is chance anyway? Outside of a description for mathematical probability it is nothing. It is not a force any more than luck or the easter bunny. But supposedly against all odds everything has happened by chance. Hawking a brilliant man calls the statistical odds that aliens exist rational. It is just as rational when looking at the irreducible complexity of simple cells to statistically assume a designer of much higher intelligence than us created life as it is and put it in motion. This is the assumption behind all of the inspired writing in the Bible. Instead of looking at the vast expanse of the heavens and assuming aliens, David the Psalmist assumed God. Psalm 19 begins with “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Did God create the heavens so that we might fear an invasion of resource hungry aliens? No! God created the heavens to cause us to stand in awe and wonder in a way that only the heavens can make us do that. So if you get a chance wherever you happen to live go outside tonight and look at the heavens and ponder the vast greatness and grandeur of our Lord Jesus Christ the creator of Heaven and Earth (Genesis 14:19).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Who's the biggest loser?

Jillian Michaels the trainer on the biggest loser is getting some press time. Yahoo published an article titled, Jillian Michaels Criticized for Anti-Pregnancy Comments. Apparently Michaels has taken the position that she will adopt rather than have children of her own because of what that will do to her body. I hope that she does adopt and have the joy of a child in her life. But honestly I will be somewhat surprised if she does. You see Jillian has basically revealed the same self-centered perspective that is everywhere in our culture. It takes sacrifice to raise children. Not just your body, but your time and your energy (physical and emotional). One of the reasons that people in our society are making this kind of decision is that our society holds very little value for God. There are lots of people that want to have children and can't and my heart goes out to them. But the people who do not value the gift of life that God has placed within them are to be most pitied. These folks fail to embrace God's command to Adam and Noah (Genesis 1:28; 9:1) to be fruitful and multiply. These folks see children as an impediment to their career or desires for life. Instead of this those who seek to live a God focused life are going to see children as a blessing and gift from God. While Jillian Michael's might be a star trainer on the, "Biggest Loser" when it comes to children and they gift they are from God she ends up being the biggest loser.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The threat of prayer

As I reflected on yesterdays post, it occurred to me that those who oppose prayer have a real problem on their hands. First of all many of those that oppose Christian prayer claim to be atheist. That is they do not believe in any God. Now I do not believe in the tooth fairy or the easter bunny or celebrating halloween, but I do not go around trying every legal thing within my power to shut those things down. Why because they have no power over me. Interestingly enough the atheist involved in bringing lawsuits and the ACLU have overlooked on multiple occasions Muslim prayers or Hindu prayers. Why? These prayer hold no threat for them. They are no threat because they do not have any power over them or over anyone for that matter. But Christian prayer is a different story. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that something within them recognizes God. They suppress their recognition of God. One of the ways that they do this is by squelching Christian prayer any time they can. This action by the atheist of our world to try and squelch Christian prayer no matter what else they may say is an admission that these prayers are a threat to them. By opposing Christian prayer they make a tacit admission that the God of Christianity is real and that He threatens the life and existence without God that they desire. So take heart when the world opposes you. It is not so much you they oppose but Jesus Christ who indwells you by the Holy Spirit. Rejoice when the pagan opposes you because what they recognize within you is God's image. You have been counted worthy to face opposition for living a God focused life (Acts 5:40-41).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When evil becomes good and good becomes evil

The New York Times has an article titled, "Evangelist May Be Disinvited to Prayer Day Event at Pentagon". A more complete article was on Yahoo, "Army considers rescinding invitation to evangelist." Apparently the Pentagon is considering rescinding an invitation for Franklin Graham to pray at the national day of prayer event at the Pentagon. The reason for the potential recall of the invitation hinges on a statement Franklin made in 2001. After the terrorist attacks he said, "Islam is a very evil and wicked religion". Since we have Muslim employees at the pentagon people are afraid that Graham's presence might endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists.
Now lets think about this logically. Our troops are in the middle east fighting muslim extremist because they attacked us first. Somehow a Christian preacher praying at what is a historically Christian tradition in a Christian country is going to stir up muslim extremist. The extremist are not already stirred up by the fact that our troops are fighting their fellow extremist?!? A preacher praying for a few minutes in our country is going to push the extremist over the edge? I guess they will now become extreme extremist (whatever that is). This is just evidence that we have become a nation that is held hostage to the radical belief that we can somehow pacify our enemy into accepting us. This will never happen and that is apparent. Since this is not a political blog why the political focus? I am glad you asked. You see we do the same thing in the church. We do it with the seeker friendly movement. All this is a watering down of the gospel to make it relevant to the unsaved. What we have done is stripped the gospel of its power to change lives in the name of having more friends. We are trying to pacify them into accepting us. This will never happen. Men and women need a change of heart in order to accept Christ. Jesus was not acceptable in His day and to the pagan He is still not acceptable. Why? Jesus requires us to repent of our sin and accept Him as our Lord. Paul called people to repent and believe in Acts 19:3-5. There are people in the church today who would tell you it is evil to share this message with someone. We have begun to call good things evil when we do this. We seem to have forgotten where we should be seeking our friends. James 4:4 says that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. See what we need to do is seek Christ first and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). This will result in a transformed life and a real care and compassion for people that comes from Jesus. This is the only way that lives will be changed from evil to good. We must never give up seeking to live the God focused life.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Volcanos and Sovereignty

Volcanos erupt. The Earth quakes. Hurricanes batter our cities. Where is God in all of this? Perhaps how can God be in all of this? Is God in heaven wringing His hands over the natural disasters that are brought about by sin? Is God really helpless in the face of tragic natural disasters?
Psalm 68:8 takes a different view. Here God is seen as the cause of earthquake and rain. Jeremiah 14:22 sees God as the giver of the rain. If He controls the rain then ultimately He controls hurricanes and tornadoes. These are all logical conclusions and indeed scripture teaches us that God brings all these things to pass. Romans 8:18-23 talks about these things revealing that creation groans under the curse longing for the revealing of the sons of God. When disaster strikes it is for the purpose of pointing us to the greater reality of the even greater power than nature...God. We have a missionary that we support in Indonesia. What many people do not realize is that the tsunami there hit one of the most militant muslim parts of Indonesia. Our missionary saw great openness to the gospel after the tsunami. Did the tsunami bring death and destruction? Yes! But it brought some to Christ. There were eternal rewards that were reaped by that disaster. How much is even one person's eternity in heaven worth? It is truly incalculable. Does God bring these things to pass? Absolutely! But they are truly for the sake of His glory. People need to see the greater reality of the eternity that awaits them so that they might turn to Jesus and begin to also live God focused lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Money Matters?

I have been preparing to speak to a church men's group this Saturday. They have been going through a book by Timothy Keller called Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. I have the chapter on money. This has been incredibly relevant for me. I have been without work since the end of December. God in His grace has been supplying our needs, as I pick up side jobs and continue to look for work. It is easy in a situation like this or any situation where money is tight to begin to become fixated on money. But the real question at the end of the day is, "Who is it that supplies our needs?" is it us or is it God. If we believe that it is us then we have cause for feelings of desperation and fear. Not only that but we begin to watch every little penny. I don't think that is why God put us on this earth. Our battle should not be for financial security our battle should be to keep finances from drawing our hearts and our focus away from God. Paul talks at length about God's provision in Philippians 4:10-20. Most people quote Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” usually they mean that God will allow them to be successful and an overcomer, but that is out of context. Paul talks in verses 11-12 about how he has learned “ whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” What Paul is saying here as he wraps it up in verses 19-20 is that God is the one that supplies his needs. So no matter what comes our way we must remember that it is God who brings us our work. It is God who grants us favor and sees to it that we receive a raise. It is God who provides the good deal on a house or a car that you bought. Truly in our lives we have seen God supply time and again. Even though I have seen it often it is good to be reminded that our flesh will long for the securities of this world and we must fight to put our hope and trust in God. We need to see Jesus as our greatest hope and treasure. We must never allow our hearts to be distracted from living a God focused life.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tax Day-Render to Ceasar...

I can't help but reflect on Jesus response to the Pharisees who were trying to trap Him. Matthew 22:20-22 says, “And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.” The fact that they marveled always strikes me. It reminds me that at a certain level we too should be abandoning ourselves to God first and foremost. Money should not be something we hang onto and grasp for but rather it is a tool to advance God's kingdom. We too should marvel at the one who truly supplies all we need. When tax day comes and we owe do we give it up grudgingly? Or do we recognize that God has ordained the current system we have. The money that is rendered to the government is certainly part of God's ordained economy. I am not saying don't vote or try to effect a change. But there is a sense in which it demands that we trust God. We must look beyond the government and realize that it is truly God that supplies our needs. Use tax day and any money that you might owe as an opportunity to refocus your life on the one who truly supplies your needs. To realize that our greatest treasure is truly found in our Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's the focus?

My book, "THE GOD FOCUSED LIFE" just came out this week I had a meeting about church related items with a representative from a local Christian bookstore today so I took a copy with me to show him. As we discussed the topic of the book I pointed out that the book addresses often unrealized cultural barriers to loving and pursuing God. That seemed like a good topic to talk about in today's blog. I explained that one of the things that marks most of the devotionals produced in America is a basic pattern. The books typically ask us to summarize the passage being addressed or they summarize it in some unique manner. Then most books ask what does this mean for you or how does this apply to your life. While this is not necessarily a bad question it is the focus of the question that creates a problem for us. You see in this scenario God becomes a means to an end, and the end is us. To look at it another way think about the last movie you went to see or perhaps the last book you read or music you bought. Did any of those things happen because someone you know and like suggested them to you? Most of us are dramatically affected by relationships. We find our decisions influenced by those who are close to us. Similarly a relationship with God that is focused on God will have a dramatic impact on what movies we see, what books we read and what music we listen to. Why? Because a relationship with God will be helping us to know God better. If you ever received a letter from someone that you love you probably did not read it to figure out how it applied to your life. You read it to know the other person better. If they mentioned something that happened that caused them pain you would instantly make note of it. Applying something like that to your life about someone you love is automatic. The reason that I think this is a much needed topic and a really big deal is that the church by a large number shows a great disregard for the things that God does not like. The common catch phrase is that we live under grace. Indeed we do. But if we really loved God would we want to selfishly do whatever we wanted? If we cared about the relationship with Him would we treat His desires with such a high degree of disregard? Doesn't Jesus call us to die to self? As for me and my family we will seek to live a life focused on loving and pursuing God.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Longings to be part of something significant

There is an article in the New York Post today titled NYC's own superheros. The article is highlighting real people who are donning costumes and taking it to the streets just like the average joes in a new movie that recently came out. This whole super hero thing is fascinating. The rise in the number of super hero movies over the last ten years is also significant. Why are these movies successful? Why was the whole hero comic book industry successful? Why would someone don a costume and take to the streets of New York to help other people? All of these things are happening because they resonate with something inside of a lot of the population. First I believe that we all sense that things are not the way we would like for them to be. There is a longing almost an ache for the world to be better than what it is.
Romans 8:19-23 tells us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Secondly there is a hunger for significance inside of man. Unfortunately this significance if found outside of Jesus Christ is usually a desire for significance in the eyes of man. This is usually driven by pride and really a capitulation to the desire born in the garden of eden to be like god (Genesis 3:1-6).
What's the answer? According to Romans 12:1-3 it starts with becoming a living sacrifice and not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. It is really accomplished in Christ, because it is in Christ that we are made truly alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). You see Jesus truly is a real hero. He has conquered death and hell. He will rescue any that come to Him, repent of their rebellion and take Him as their Lord. So rather than feeding a usually man centered hunger for significance, I think I will instead seek to cultivate a Jesus focused life that I hope will glorify the only truly great hero that has ever lived. My Lord Jesus.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cheating in a culture without God

There is an article out today on Yahoo about how rampant cheating hurts China's research ambitions. I am drawn to this because this problem will get worse in America as we drift further away from the God of Christianity. China has actively worked to suppress religion throughout its modern history. This has resulted in a culture that has no authority to answer to outside of the state. All men even men in China know that there is a God (Romans 1:19). The problem is that they have suppressed the truth of God and believed a lie in order to alleviate their consciences. What this has produced is a society that for the most part will cheat, plagiarize and resort to ghostwriting to get by. The article sites that in research papers bought and sold in 2007 fully 70 percent were plagiarized. This points to a moral decay in the society that can only be helped by one thing. Bringing the Lord Jesus to the people of China will reform their hearts. This happens in an effective manner when people really come to know Jesus. The Holy Spirit living within them convicts of sin and the need for righteousness (John 16:7-11). But the bigger issue I see is the increasing moral decay in the United States. As a society we are drifting away from God. This is happening for a variety of reasons but the single biggest issue lies at the feet of pastors and their churches. What has happened is we have taken the presentation of a message oriented around the unchanging and awesome God who has rescued us from eternal damnation, and replaced it with a message that is oriented around the people and their world. The God in this second message is the means to an end and the end is us. He serves us. This is a far cry from the message of Jesus to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). What has happened is most people who attend church are comfortable with allowing that and perhaps devotions in their home to be the biggest expression of public Christianity that they make. We have become a society of Christians consumers living in our Christian ghetto content to let the world go. The majority of people manning the oars in the boat of our society are pagan. They have no moral base outside of the tattered remains that have been passed down from our forefathers. The direction they are rowing us is away from the light of the gospel. How can this change. Politics will not do it. The only answer that can rescue a society adrift is for Christians to live like Christians. We must bear the glory of Jesus to the people that we meet. If we do not share the marvelous message of Jesus redemption with them they will not hear and if they do not hear they cannot believe (Romans 10:17). The only hope for a changed society begins with you and me being willing to live God focused lives to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Does what we do matter?

Perhaps a better question is, "Does Jesus matter to you?" In the early church Justin Martyr talked about how the lives of Christians were remarkably different than their neighbors and accusers lives. He pointed out that they were different because of Jesus Christ. Why is it that Christians that you see during the week very often do not look any different from the world. What have we lost as Jesus bride. Do we feel like Christianity is binding and restricting? I can't count the number of times I have heard some version of the following phrase, "We live under grace not under the law!" What is that supposed to mean? I really do not get it. Which of the laws in the moral law is such a bad and restricting thing? Don't kill seems like a good idea. Don't steal is one I like. Not lying makes for better relationships. No adultery is a good one too. Honoring your parents is a good idea and a good example. Not coveting would help us all to be more content so I'm not sure that ones a bad one either. I guess when we really look at it, the laws of God that everyone hates are the first ones. We all want to nurture our own little god's. We want to be able to bow down and worship them on our weekends and our vacations. You know what they are. You want to feel like you can have them and Jesus too. You don't want to set one whole day a week aside to honor God in your life. You see we don't have a problem with the law. We have a problem with God. We want the idols of money, sex, power, porn, drugs, position, etc. We sense innately that those things and Jesus are incompatible. We sense that God is going to ask us to give them up. Your right! Once you give them up you will find that you do not miss them. You will look back on what you thought was freedom and see that it was empty and unfulfilling. You will never regret pursuing Jesus with all that you are. When you start to pursue knowing God you will find real fulfillment and satisfaction. You will find your actions changing because you will see the law, not as a restriction or a performance ladder to climb, you will see it as a means by which you might embrace pleasing the one you have come to love (Psalm 19:7-11). You see it is never a burden to please the ones that we love. So you see what we do does matter. It tells everyone around us what and who we love. May God fill our hearts with a passion for Him so that we might be more faithful in pursuing a life focused on Him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Is there a reason to agree with Sam Harris? Why?

Today I will conclude my dealing with Sam Harris's talk on why we should ditch religion at the TEDs conference. I have addressed some of the issues raised by Sam Harris and qouted by John D. Sutter in an article on called, "Philosopher: Why we should ditch religion." These comments in the article are recaps from his 20+ minute video presentation on the TED web site. (There is a link to it in the link above if you want to see it.) Sam's case is an emotionally charged one. He makes the statement that, "Religion has convinced us that there's something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There's concerns about what God wants, there's concerns about what's going to happen in the afterlife." This statement is a legitimate statement if there is no God. But as I have talked about in earlier blogs Sam has not made His case that there is no God. Rather Sam has made the case for suffering and the insufficiency of religion using appeals to human dignity and man's knowledge as ultimate determinate factors without explaining the basis for either. Sam depends on God's image in man without acknowledging that dependence. However I would agree that the Christian church is often too caught up in trying to force unsaved pagan people to live a life that is moral by God's standards. The pagan man hates God (Romans 1:30). We are not called by Jesus to change the actions of people. Changing peoples actions makes us Pharisees (Matthew 9:11, 12:2). God said to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Since we cannot change the heart of men our job is not to change pagan men and women but to introduce them to the one who can change their hearts. 
Sam also talked about how there is no reconciling Islam and Christianity and indeed he is correct. The problem is that Sam sees all religions as the same and here is the fatal error. Jesus made it clear in John 14:6 that He is the way the truth and the life and that no man comes to the Father except through Him. This then explains the problem with all religion outside of the Christian faith. It is the need of Jesus to be the central figure in the lives of those that would be reconciled to God that drives Christianity. We do not kill or force our belief on others because it is God that changes their hearts. What do we do? We kindly and compassionately share the gospel with those that God places in our lives. Our heart for them is to save them from God's wrath. If they reject that then they are rejecting God. At that point our focus should be to live God focused lives before them. The only way the society will be changed is if Jesus Christ first changes us.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What makes something morally important?

Continuing the Sam Harris response (See previous post for more details). Sam claims that the following are real problems: nuclear proliferation, genocide, poverty and the crisis in education. He claims that these are issues that tremendous swings in human well being depend on. Then he goes on to state that, "Religion causes people to fixate on issues of less moral importance."
First of all I would like to know how he arrives at any value for Human life at all. His concern here is, "human" well being. What could possibly be valuable about humans over any other animal on a planet that in his mind has simply evolved. Man becomes little more than a happy accident, or unhappy as the case may be. You see Sam makes the case that man has value and all the people listening to him comprehend the argument without elaboration. For that statement to make any sense without explanation Sam is appealing to an unstated dignity that is resident in man. Something that all men see and understand. That resident dignity is the image of God in man. However corrupted that image may be man still sees and values it. He nurtures it because it is an echo of the lie that man betrayed God for. The lie that man would be like god. Sam wants to play God but never explains on what basis he can play god. No Sam appeals to the image of God in man from creation. Sam depends on the very tenants of the Christian religion to make his case.
I would argue that the true foundation of the Christian faith in the God of the Bible does indeed deal with issues that, "tremendous swings in human well being depend on." The Bible tells us that God the Father sent His only begotten Son to die in our place and satisfy His holy wrath against our sin. This was done to reconcile us back to God. In the transaction Jesus also conquered death and has given us eternal life that we might spend it with Him. We must repent of our sin and turn to Jesus as our Lord. If we reject the Christ our choice will leave us to pay the penalty for our own sin as we face a Holy God. Jonathan Edwards once said in a sermon that when a man has been in hell suffering torment for 10,000 years he will not be one day closer to the end then the first day that he entered hell. I would like to know from Sam what is more important: nuclear proliferation or eternity in hell, genocide or standing to face God's wrath unrepentant, poverty or eternal damnation, the crisis in education or the crisis in education about our eternal state. As a Christian I would love to see these inequities rectified. But I also want to see the people who are suffering them have the chance to hear about Jesus. Sam would like to wipe out the ability to know the truth of God. The only truth that can really set a person free is found in Jesus. I hope that Jesus changes Sam's heart. In the meantime I will continue to pursue a God focused life.

The Purpose of Suffering - Part 4 Future Praise

Lets look at one final reason of how pain is a tool that God introduced into a fallen world for the sake of man. We have looked at three parts of suffering in the previous posts. I am looking at this to seek to address some of the issues raised by Sam Harris. See the previous post for more details. The fourth main reason that God introduced pain into a fallen world has to do with the glory of Jesus. God had determined in eternity past to send His only begotten Son Jesus, the second person of the trinity, to take the penalty for our sins and become the mediator between God and man. This is how God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Now think about eternity. What has Jesus promised? Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” Jesus promises us that there will be no more pain anymore. The depths of God's love for us is demonstrated by the great pain and sacrifice that Jesus endured on our behalf. The pain that we experience now will be the only reference point we will have for understanding the pain of Jesus suffering in order to remember the depths of His love for us. When we see the nail prints in His hands we will praise Him because of the pain we have as a reference point for understanding His pain. While our understanding is stunted in comparison to the infinite pain He endured for us it is never the less an important reference point we take with us into eternity. When Christians endure pain and suffering here we are storing up future praise for our Lord Jesus. The pain we experience will be a vast reservoir we will draw from to praise Him for His glorious work on the cross for us. Living a God focused life will help me to look past the pain to the great God and Savior that I serve. It will help me to embrace the pain He sets before me. The pain becomes a grace by which Jesus will be valued more fully by me in all of eternity.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Purpose of Suffering - Part 3 Divine Retribution

Again lets look at how pain is a tool that God introduced into a fallen world for the sake of man. We have looked at two parts of suffering in the previous posts. I am looking at this to seek to address some of the issues raised by Sam Harris. See the previous post for more details. The third reason that God introduced pain into a fallen world has to do with providing meaningful recompense for our rebellion against Him. If there were no pain there would be no way for God to provide corrective discipline (Hebrews 12:3-11). We would unruly sons with no means for our loving Father to correct us. Divine retribution extends to those who reject God entirely and never become sons as well. Their judgement will be portioned out according to the evil deeds that they have done (Psalm 28:3-5, Romans 2:5-9). God is a just judge and pain is a means of rendering justice for those who have lived in rebellion against Him. They have been given a clear revelation that there is a God in the heavens and yet they have suppressed that truth and pursued their own futile thinking (Romans 1:18-25). Pain and suffering in a fallen world that is in rebellion against God makes sense. It is a necessary component to communicate God's eternal wrath against sin and rebellion. Without it we could never know how much God hates sin (Deuteronomy 12:31). Knowing how much God hates sin the heart of a Christian that is focused on God should be bent toward running from sin like Joseph ran from Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:11-12). Understanding the great mercy of God exhibited in giving us pain for correction and retribution should drive us more than ever to living a God focused life.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Purpose of Suffering - Part 2 The Restrainer

Yesterday I started to explain how pain is a tool that God introduced into a fallen world for the sake of man. We looked at one part of suffering. I am seeking to address some of the issues raised by Sam Harris and qouted by John D. Sutter in an article on called, "Philosopher: Why we should ditch religion." In the article Sam makes some comments related to suffering. These are recaps from his 20+ minute video presentation on the TED web site. (There is a link to it in the link above if you want to see it.) Sam's case is an emotionally charged one. He is passionate about the need to combat repression and pain wherever it exist. I pointed out how in many ways Sam seems to see repression and pain as the highest moral tragedy. Since this appears to be key to his discussion on science determining what is morally right and wrong without the need for religion I thought I should address it. Today we will look briefly at how pain is a tool of God to restrain mankind. Pain was introduced as a result of the fall of man (See yesterday's post). In the new heaven and earth it will not exist. So God introduced it into a fallen world for a good purpose. Imagine a fallen world in which there is no pain. On a purely physical level I could steal from you because I wanted to and be sent to prison for the crime. Would prison without pain have a reforming effect on me? No! Would there be any real reason for you to want me to go to prison since you do not feel pain either. We would be constantly cutting ourselves and burning ourselves because there would be no pain to restrain us. Pain in this regard is a grace because it makes reform possible and it provides protection. Certainly there are areas of our world where pain and suffering proliferate because the world is fallen. One of the reasons for this is so that we as followers of Jesus will reach out and help the sufferers. Mark 14:5-9 almost cast it as a forgone conclusion that we would be helping the less fortunate. Jesus calls us to help those in need. To comfort them with the comfort we have received from Christ. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 Paul makes it clear that suffering is a means by which we might bring comfort to the sufferer. In verse six Paul sees it functioning for the sake of not just comfort but for salvation. In the light of the gospel it becomes clear that pain and suffering is ultimately for the glory of God. He uses it to restrain what would be rampant sin and He uses us to bring comfort and salvation to those who are suffering. The truth of God's work through pain can only be realized as we live a God focused life.