We Are Like Simon

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, you her sins which are many, are forgiven – for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Jesus said those words in Luke 8:34. He was talking to a religious leader, named Simon, at whose home he was eating when a woman, who Luke refers to as a ‘sinner,’ approached Jesus and began washing his feet with her tears and anointing his feet with her perfume. Jesus’ words were in response to Simon’s thoughts that believed Jesus would have stopped the woman from touching him if he knew who her character. Most likely, this woman was a known prostitute, which was considered among the lowest and most shameful of all the people in Israel. However, Jesus responded to the man’s thoughts (catch that – Jesus responded to the man’s THOUGHTS!) and said, “When I arrived at your house, you didn’t offer me water so that I could wash my feet. This woman has wet my feet with her tears and she wiped them clean with her hair. You didn’t give me the customary greeting of a kiss on my cheek and you didn’t show me honor by anointing my head with ointment. She kissed my feet and anointed them with ointment!” Jesus ended his response to Simon with the summary, “She loves me more than you do because she understands how much she has been forgiven more than you do.”

I’m afraid that Jesus’ words could be applied to many of us more easily than we might like to think

It might be easy for us to read that and think to ourselves, “Ouch! Jesus really put Simon in his place!” However, I’m afraid that Jesus’ words could be applied to many of us more easily than we might like to think. In Luke’s narrative, we are not told what Simon thought about Jesus, but he likely viewed Jesus as a very powerful prophet, since that seemed to be the consensus view of the people (see Luke 7:16-17). With that in mind, it is easy to see that Simon was honoring Jesus to some degree by hosting him at a meal in his home. However, while Simon’s show of honor toward Jesus was present in some ways, it was measured and limited. As Jesus stated, Simon didn’t show Jesus the greatest amount of honor that he could have shown upon receiving Jesus into his home. It seems that Simon showed the minimal customary honors for their culture and even withheld some common courtesies. In a similar manner to so many of our lives, Simon’s actions demonstrated that he believed that his simple acknowledgement and acceptance of Jesus was enough.

Too often, like Simon, we misunderstand the gravity of who Jesus is and the abundance of forgiveness that has been shown to all of us who have believed in Jesus. For that reason, I think many of us are too comfortable simply “inviting Jesus into our lives” while withholding from him the highest honors of our lives much like when Simon invited Jesus into his home but did not go out of his way to honor him any further. We know that Jesus deserves a certain amount of our honor, but our actions often demonstrate that we don’t believe he deserves our highest honors. If we truly believed that he was worthy of our highest honors, then there would be nothing that he could ask of us that would be too much for us to give him. If we truly believed that he is worthy of our highest honors, then EVERYTHING in our lives would be on the table to be given at a moment’s notice. Sadly, that doesn’t always seem to be the case in my life and I expect that many of you can identify with me. Even when God asks seemingly difficult things of me and I act obediently, still it is often like the begrudging obedience of an obstinate child instead of the glad obedience of one who seeks only to honor his master. I am too much like Simon.

Romans 6:23 tells us that the penalty for sin – just one sin – is death, so the truth of the Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 4.16.17 PM.pngmatter is that every person who has been forgiven of their sins through their belief in Jesus has been spared the death sentence. There is no more devastating a penalty than the death penalty and the Bible tells us that even the nice guy from church who never struggled with any obvious sins, but who did lie that one time, was deserving of the eternal death penalty until God forgave him through Jesus’ payment on the cross. If we don’t understand and believe at a deep, gut-wrenching, heart level that we were once on eternity’s death row until God forgave us our debts by no merit of our own because of the payment made by Jesus Christ, then we will never live as though Jesus is deserving of every honor our lives can afford him. If we simply acknowledge that Jesus is God and that he died for our sins in only a cerebral way, then we will always treat Jesus as Simon treated him and never like the weeping woman who truly understood the forgiveness she had been shown and to whom Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

If we truly believed that he was worthy of our highest honors, then there would be nothing that he could ask of us that would be too much for us to give him.

As I think about this, I’m reminded of Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. In the movie, Robin Hood is said to have once saved Morgan Freeman’s character’s life and for that reason Morgan Freeman’s character refuses to leave the side of Robin Hood. There was no battle so fierce or situation too risky that could persuade Morgan Freeman to leave the side of Robin Hood. Morgan Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 4.14.08 PM.pngFreeman’s character understood that because his life had been saved by Robin Hood, his life was no longer his own. He would live his life and even risk his death for Robin Hood. The same should be true of all of us who have believed in Jesus for our salvation. If we understand that our lives have been spared from such a grievous and torturous end by our gracious Savior who paid our debt with his own blood, then there should be nothing that he could ask of us that might give us pause. He gave all of himself so that we might have eternal life and the only right response is that we would spend our lives in a posture of total and unwavering commitment to him.

In what ways are you withholding your highest honors from Jesus? What areas of your life have you explicitly or implicitly refused to yield to his lordship? Are there areas of your life where you treat his forgiveness as an excuse to continue sinning, or to excuse a knowing lack of total surrender to his will for your life? Let us not be like Simon any longer. Let’s honor Jesus with our everything.

Let us not be like Simon any longer.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1

“Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel’s will find it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but to forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:35-36



The Truth About The Nashville Statement

Last week a group of 150 pastors published what one of them called a Christian Manifesto, entitled The Nashville Statement, detailing in simple terms what the Bibleimages-1 teaches about marriage, sex, sexuality, and gender. Their purpose in publishing the document was to provide a clear and concise bullet point presentation of the biblical stances concerning those issues, since they have taken such a dominant role in the American culture in the forms of entertainment, politics, and even legislation. As one would expect, the Nashville Statement has been met with a great amount of opposition from this American society that so aggressively touts its tolerance and inclusion of people with all varieties of opinions and worldviews.

While reading some of the responses to the Nashville Statement I have found no shortage of people who do not identify as Christians decrying it as evil and intolerant. However, I don’t think that there is a reason to spend much time responding to their objections because I think it’s expected that they would disagree with biblical stances concerning these topics and many more. If that weren’t the case then they Unknown-1.jpegwould be Christians, right? However, I do think it’s ironic that so many of them are willing to so quickly label the Nashville Statement as evil and wrong, which are words synonymous with sinful, because they’re angry that the Nashville Statement claims that their views of marriage, sexuality, and gender are sinful according to the Bible. It seems that those particular detractors reserve for themselves the right to make moral judgments about other people’s beliefs while refusing to extend the same right to those who believe contrarily to them.

It seems that those particular detractors reserve for themselves the right to make moral judgments about other people’s beliefs while refusing to extend the same right to those who believe contrarily to them.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this conversation is to be had between the professing Christians who disagree concerning the validity of what was written in the Nashville Statement. While there is clearly a large portion of conservative evangelicals who affirm the Nashville Statement’s biblical stance concerning these issues, there are other self-proclaimed “leaders” within the so-called Christian community, like one Brandan Robertson, who have said things like, “Conservative evangelicals…polute the image of Christianity as one that is exclusive, condemning, and archaic.” It is worth noting that the Nashville Statement was signed by many nationally recognized and respected pastors from within the Christian community, such as John Piper, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Russell Moore, James Dobson, and Paul Nyquist, while the vast majority of the opposing “Christian leaders” who have so vigorously condemned the Nashville Statement remain relatively obscure and unknown within the Christian community.

The fact that people like Brandan Robertson, who is himself described by the Huffington Post as “a pastor and LGBT activist,” would seek to discredit the Nashville Statement because it portrays Christianity as “exclusive, condemning, and archaic,” demonstrates their fundamental misunderstanding of the most basic teachings of Christianity. Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That direct quote, recorded in John 14:6 by one of Jesus’ closest friends, made no attempt to hide the fact that Christianity’s message is exclusive. In addition to John 14:6, Matthew 7:21-23 recorded Jesus as having said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus taught that there is an exclusive way, namely himself, that leads to eternal life and a far more inclusive way that leads to eternal damnation.

Contrary to popular belief, Jesus taught that there is an exclusive way, namely himself, that leads to eternal life and a far more inclusive way that leads to eternal damnation. While that might not be what Robertson and those aligned with him want to believe about Jesus, it is imperative that they understand it. They may choose to believe that Jesus was wrong in the exclusive message that he taught, but it is a gross misrepresentation of him to attempt to give his message a more inclusive message than he ever taught. *If you are one who believes that Jesus was simply wrong in what he taught, or that Christianity in itself is false, then I hope you’ll read another blog post that I wrote to tell you how to you can test Christianity to see if it is true.*

The Brandan Robertsons of the world must understand one thing: If Jesus taught an exclusive message of how people can escape an eternal hell and receive eternal life instead, yet they teach an inclusive message that contradicts his, then theirs is the message that is of condemnation – not his. Let me explain. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the Unknown.jpegworld that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus preached an exclusive message so that people would know how they might spend eternity with God instead of in a place called Hell. By showing us the only way to eternal life, Jesus also exposed all of the other ways as those that will end in eternal death and devastation, yet his message was not one of condemnation but of hope! His message was this, “You don’t want to spend eternity in Hell! You don’t realize it but you are going the way that leads to an eternity there. STOP! There is only one way to an eternity with God and it is by believing in me. Stop going the way you’re going and go this way instead!” Did you hear the bigotry and hatred inherent in that message? No. You may have heard love and concern, but you most certainly did not hear hatred, bigotry, or condemnation. In contrast to Jesus’ message, any message that would encourage people to continue the road that he so clearly labeled as one that leads to Hell is a message of incredible condemnation, regardless of how good it made its recipients feel in the moment.

“You don’t want to spend eternity in Hell! You don’t realize it but you are going the way that leads to an eternity there. STOP! There is only one way to an eternity with God and it is by believing in me. Stop going the way you’re going and go this way instead!”

In sum, the Nashville Statement merely restated what Christians have believed for thousands of years, based on Jesus’ clear teachings about the one exclusive Way to heaven. Therefore, one or both of the following options must be true of everyone who has found the Nashville Statement so very repulsive: 1) They have not actually read the Nashville Statement and have relied solely on the opinions of other people, or 2) they simply do not understand that Jesus’ exclusive message was one of hope – not condemnation. Those who seek to massage the Christian message into a more inclusive one than was the message that Jesus actually taught serve only to wish for a safe and prosperous journey for those who are traveling the way that Jesus said leads to eternal death and destruction. Those well wishes are the ultimate form of condemnation. In contrast, the pastors who signed the Nashville Statement attempted only to call the attention of those traveling the way that ends at such a dreadful destination to the fact that there is another way, a right way, that leads away from eternal destruction and toward eternal life. I applaud the efforts of those 150 pastors.

Those who seek to massage the Christian message into a more inclusive one than the message that Jesus actually taught serve only to wish for a safe and prosperous journey for those who are traveling the road that Jesus said leads to eternal death and destruction. Those well wishes are the ultimate form of condemnation.

Are Mormons Christian?

Mormons call themselves Christians. They talk about the gospel, being saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, and even claim belief in the Bible. Their nicely dressed Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 9.08.57 AM.pngmissionaries are respectful and kind, yet their exact beliefs are often a mystery to those outside of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Some refer to the Mormon church as a cult while others believe that the Church of Latter-Day Saints is simply another denomination of Christianity. So which is it? This post brings clarity by comparing the core teachings of the Church of Latter-Day Saints to biblical teachings about the same matters. Those theological teachings include: The nature of God, Jesus, eternal salvation, and Creation.

The founder of the LDS church, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), penned the book of Mormon and taught several sermons that were influential in the formation of Mormon doctrine and thought. In one of his best known sermons, entitled The King Follet Discourse*, he taught what he considered to be true about the nature of God, how God came to be, and how Mormons will one day themselves become a God. In that sermon, Joseph said, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form…We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea…God himself, as the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did…” Joseph Smith’s claim was that God began as a man who was eventually exalted to the position of God in the same way that Jesus was a man who was eventually exalted to godship. Joseph taught that Yahweh was one of many gods, as is Jesus.

In Isaiah 45:6, we read where God said, “I am the LORD, and there is none other, besides me there is no God.” Deuteronomy 4:35, “Yahweh, He is God; there is no other besides Him.” Isaiah 45:21, “There is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; there is none except me.” 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible the only God.” It is clear that Christianity teaches that there is only one God and that there is none other. The Bible teaches that he is the only eternal God, which means he had no beginning, nor was he ever a finite man. Furthermore, Jesus claimed to be one with God in John 10:30. To dispel any ideas that he was a created finite man, he even said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Of course, “I am,” was the name that Yahweh gave to himself in Exodus 3:14, which is why the Jews picked up stones with which to stone Jesus for what they believed to be blasphemy following his claim to be the eternal I am.

Doctrine of God Contrast: Joseph Smith taught that Yahweh had a beginning and that he was a man before he became one of many gods, as did Jesus. In contrast, the Bible teaches that Yahweh is the only eternal God. Joseph Smith also seemed to understand Jesus to have been a separate God from Yahweh, yet the Bible teaches that Jesus is one with the Yahweh.

In the King Follet Discourse, Joseph Smith also discussed salvation. “Here, then, is eternal life- to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves…as all gods have done before you…until you attain the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory as do those Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 9.11.21 AM.pngwho sit enthroned in everlasting power…so it is with the principles of the gospel – you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.” Smith taught that salvation entails humans becoming gods through the process of exaltation. In his belief, he taught that there are many gods and that there will be many more. In the book of Mormon, he also wrote, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”** Smith taught that humans must do works, which are accompanied by God’s grace, through their process of exaltation and unto salvation. Therefore, his definition of salvation is not achieved by grace alone, but by “grace after all we can do.”

However, because the Bible teaches that there is one God, as we saw in the previous section, biblical salvation does cannot be understood to mean that humans “humans [become] gods through the process of exaltation” as Joseph Smith taught. Instead, Revelation 21:3-4 describes the eternal state of those who receive salvation from God. It reads, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall they be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” While there are more biblical teachings about Heaven, it is clear that humans will not be exalted to deity or become gods. Instead, they will remain human beings with glorified eternal bodies and will dwell with the one true God for eternity. Concerning how Christians receive salvation, Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Doctrine of Salvation Contrast: Joseph Smith taught that salvation entails human beings working through the process of exaltation to become gods. He taught that they do not achieve salvation as a gift from God or by grace alone. Rather, Smith taught that men must do works in conjuntion with God’s grace to reach salvation, or exaltation, and to become gods as have all of the other gods. This doctrine makes clear that Mormonism is not a monotheist faith. Instead, it is a polytheistic religion with innumerable gods. In contrast to Joseph Smith, the Bible teaches a monotheistic message that establishes that humans will never become like God, nor will they reach a state of deity. Instead, they will live with God in eternity as children of the King, who have been rescued from an eternal separation from Him through faith in Jesus. The Bible teaches that this salvation has nothing to do with the works of man – it is a free gift from God.

Finally, Smith provided his insights on Creation in the King Follet Discourse. He said, “In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create a world and people in it…Now I ask why the learned men who are preaching salvation, say that God created the heavens and the earth our of nothing? The reason, that they are unlearned in the things of God and have not the gift of the Holy Ghost… But I am learned, and know more than all the world put together…we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter…”Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 10.51.17 AM.png

Contrary to Smith’s teaching, the Bible teaches that in the beginning God created the universe. There was no council of gods involved in his decision making process, nor did they exist. There was only Yahweh. Furthermore, Hebrews 11:3 tells us that “the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible,” so God’s creating was a much greater miracle than simply organizing chaotic material. God spoke and the universe came into existence.

Doctrine of Creation Contrast: Smith’s polytheistic beliefs informed his belief that Yahweh conferred with other gods prior to creating the universe out of previously existing materials. In contrast, the strictly monotheistic message of the Bible teaches that Yahweh created the universe from nothing more than his Word, which John 1 teaches was personified in Jesus.

Conclusion: Joseph Smith and the Latter-Day Saints teach much about core Christian doctrines (i.e. God, Jesus, the gospel, salvation, and creation). However, while their terminology is very similar to that of biblical Christianity, their teachings about those core Christian doctrines often seem to be in opposition to what is plainly stated in the Bible. 

“There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who brought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” 2 Peter 2:1-2




Where is God in the Midst of Pain?

Pain is often something that causes people to doubt God’s existence – or at least his goodness. We live in a world of seemingly unnecessary pain, sickness, death, and brokenness, so how could an all-powerful and good God really exist? Many religions offer varying answers to that question, but in my view the Christian worldview offers by far the most sufficient and coherent answer. The answer requires a bit of a backstory to be given, but the answer will be worth the read for those who are currently in the midst of pain, or who simply want to know the answer.

As with everything inside of time, it all began in the beginning. Genesis 1-2 gives an account of creation and after each day of the creation God said, “It is good.” Thus all things were made good – no sickness, no pain, no tears, and no death. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God on what seems to have been a regular basis and there was no separation between them. However, God gave Adam and Eve only one command: Do not eat from a Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 9.21.20 AM.pngcertain tree. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned against God for the first time and ate from the tree of which God commanded them not to eat (Genesis 3:6). After they sinned, God cursed the earth (Gen. 3:14-19) and introduced within Creation pain, relational strife, nature’s unrest, death, and more. Following his pronouncement, God separated himself from humans because He is perfectly just, which means that sin cannot remain in his presence without being punished, and he is mercy compelled him to separate himself from us. That is the bad news, but without bad news there can be no good news.

The good news, commonly referred to as the gospel, is that in God separated us from his presence before his perfect justice was demonstrated to us so that his mercy could be shown through Jesus, who paid the sin debt – death – for anyone who would believe in him and submit their lives to his rule and reign. Not only did Jesus claim the authority to forgive sins – he rose from the dead in fulfillment of his own prophecy (Luke 18:31-33) to prove that his claims were true. God did this so that his perfect love and mercy could be shown to everyone who believes in Jesus (John 3:16) while his perfect justice would be shown to those who refused to believe in Jesus and in doing so chose to pay their own debt to God. When Christ returns all of Creation will be reunited in perfect unity in him (Ephesians 1:10) and those who have believed in him and submitted their lives to him will live with God in the same closeness that Adam and Eve enjoyed. For them there will be no more pain, sorrow, tears, or death forevermore (Revelation 21:2-4)! However, until he returns all of Creation groans in anticipation of his coming, as it exists apart from God and under the curse that was pronounced in Genesis 3 (Romans 8:22). Unfortunately, until Jesus returns we humans are not exempt from the pain and hardships that are experienced in a world marred by sin and separation from God. So where is God during our suffering and why does he allow it to continue?

“Some people would say that [her inability to feel pain] is a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain is there for a reason. It let’s your body know that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”

There is much to be said to offer a complete answer to that question, so I aim to address only two aspects of the full answer: Why does God allow pain in the world and what is his response to our pain until Jesus returns and reunites all things? To answer the first, I think it’s helpful to consider a medical disorder known as CIPA. While Ashlyn Blocker was in kindergarten, NBC published an article about her life with CIPA. The article told of problems that arose from Ashlyn’s disorder. For instance, when her baby teeth were forming and she was learning to chew, she would often chew her tongue and lips into a Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 9.50.12 AM.pngbloody mess without realizing that there was a problem because she could not feel the pain of the lacerations. Similarly, when she was three years old Ashlyn placed her hand on a scalding hot pressure washer and did not it hand away because she did not feel the pain caused by the engine. Concerning her child’s disorder, Tara Blocker said, “Some people would say that [her inability to feel pain] is a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain is there for a reason. It let’s your body know that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.” Perhaps one of the primary reasons that God allows pain to exist in the world is because it alerts us to the fact that something is wrong, namely that we live in a fallen world that is separated from his presence, and it reminds us that we should yearn for an eternity with Him when all things will be made restored and there will be no more death, no more crying, no more pain. Yes, our current pain hurts, but if it is properly understood it should send us running into the arms our Heavenly Father in a way that will secure that our eternity will be spent with Him.

So what is God’s role in our current pain? First, it’s important to remember that God is no stranger to the pain we feel. He doesn’t watch from afar with a sort of calloused coldness. No, Jesus lived as a man for 33 years. He felt the full spectrum of physical and emotional pain that we feel: A best friend died causing Jesus to weep (John 11), his family was not initially supportive of his ministry (Mark 3:21), he was homeless (Luke 9:58), and he even was betrayed to death on a cross by someone closest to him (Matthew 26:21). Jesus, who is God in the flesh, has surely felt the pain we feel which explains how he can be our Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 9.24.54 AM.pngsympathetic high priest and not one who watches with no understanding (Hebrews 4:15). However, in our pain God comforts us through his Spirit and through other people (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). That reason, along with several other reasons I discussed when I wrote in Can You Really be a Christian Without Going to Church?, is why it is so important for the Christian to be involved in the local Church and to be intimately known by other members of the body. In the church, which is made up of people who have experienced all types of pain and healing, we can be encouraged and supported by other Christians who have felt the pain we endure. All the while, God works in his mysterious ways to bring about our healing.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, our pain is for our good. It reminds us that things are not as they should be and that we should live in eager anticipation for an eternity with God in thanksgiving to him for paying our debt in Jesus’ death, so that we would not have to spend eternity separated from him in an even more complete manner than we currently experience. While we eagerly await his return, we must also understand that his delay is not without merit. In his mercy, he delays his return in an effort to give more of us an opportunity to believe in him. Upon Jesus’ return, eternal and unchanging just judgment will be pronounced on all who have not believed and it is not his wish that any should perish, so he patiently bears with the evil and suffering in this present world to giving more opportunity to those who have not yet believed to do so (2 Peter 3:9). Our God is merciful and good. He uses pain to draw us near to him so that we might one day experience eternal life with Him – no more pain, nor sorrow, nor tears, nor death because the former things will have passed away.

God uses pain to draw us near to him so that we might one day experience eternal life with Him – no more pain, nor sorrow, nor tears, nor death because the former things will have passed away.

Can You Really be a Christian Without Going to Church?

We live in a culture of autonomy. It’s in the fabric of our culture for us to seek to be left alone to pursue whatever has our attention and to avoid anyone who might slow us down. That’s probably the reason it’s so common to hear to someone explain that he does not go to church for any number of reasons followed by the reminder, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” But is that true? Of course, there’s some validity to the claim – our salvation is not based on our church attendance – but I am most interested to ask that person, “Why do you not want to go to church?” You see, not going to church definitely does not disqualify a person from being a Christian, but his reasons for not going to church very well could.

Not going to church definitely does not disqualify a person from being a Christian, but his reasons for not going to church very well could.

Some would argue that the Bible never says that Christians must attend church and I will concede that point. However, I would also remind those people that almost all of the New Testament epistles were written to local churches, so the letters were written with the assumption that everyone reading the letters would have already Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 3.58.51 PM.pngbeen involved in their local church. That means that there would have been no reason for any of the apostles to give a mandate for his readers to be a part of the local church! If that isn’t enough, then we should remember that there are 59 different “one another” statements in the New Testament. Those statements give Christians instructions about how they should live with “one another.” How would it be possible for a Christian to understand those 59 passages of Scripture without acknowledging the apostles’ assumption that Christians were already living in community with one another? In addition, how can a Christian obey those passages if he refuses to live in community with other Christians? It’s undeniable that the connection of the Christian to the local church is a basic assumption that is laced throughout the entire New Testament.

So what are the real reasons that you do not want to connect to the church? Is it because it’s full of hypocrites? If so, then I would ask, “Do you think it would be difficult for anyone to look at your life and find areas where you do not resemble the perfect Christian?” If there are any areas in your life where you miss the mark of being the perfect Christian, then you’ll fit in perfectly among the hypocrites at church! We welcome you! Maybe you don’t want to go because you’ve been hurt by people at church in the past. I ask, “Have you ever hurt anyone?” Perfect! The church has a place for you! The church is by its very nature full of people who openly admit to Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 4.10.46 PM.pngfalling short, which is the reason we know that we need Jesus. It seems a curious thing that anyone claiming to be Christian would want to keep from living in community with other Christians. In every other facet of our lives we seek to surround ourselves with people who share our common interests, priorities, goals, etc. The Bible tells us that the very nature of being a Christian is that we die to ourselves and take up a completely new identity in Christ (Galatians 2:20). If that is true then why would a Christian not want to be involved in a church where there are other Christians? They have the same identity! It makes absolutely no sense to disparage the local church while claiming to have the exact same identity as the people who are there.

It makes no sense to disparage the local church while claiming to have the exact same identity as the people who are there.

Perhaps it’s most important to remember that the Bible teaches that Christ’s love and devotion to the Church is similar to the love and devotion that is supposed to be found between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-30). As a husband to Brittni, I can confidently say that anyone who claims to love me must also love Brittni. If you slander my wife, or refuse to eat with her, then my relationship with you will be nonexistent. My love for her does not leave any room for me to embrace anyone who would look down upon her. To be honest, my love for her would even make it very difficult for me to be connected at a meaningful level to anyone who is even indifferent towards her. I think the same could be said to the person who disparages the Church while claiming to be a Christian. Is it really possible to claim authentic love and allegiance to Jesus while at the same time disparaging and ignoring his bride? If you love Jesus, then you must also love his bride.

Anyone can point fingers at the church and draw attention to the areas where she fails. It shouldn’t be difficult to find such failures when we consider that the church is totally comprised of fallen people. The challenge is not to point out her weaknesses. The challenge is to be a part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) and to contribute by building up her areas of weakness, yet that runs contrary to Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 4.02.12 PM.pnganother aspect of our culture – consumerism. Consumerism doesn’t seek to give but to get. In contrast to consumerism, 1 John 3:16 tells us that we cannot love as Christ loves without giving our lives for our brothers and sisters (i.e. those within the Church). So, yes, you can technically be a Christian without going to church, but it’s a difficult case to make that you can remain an autonomous and consumeristic Christian with no desire to change in conformity to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29). Let’s remember that the term Christian means Christ-like and that Jesus was not autonomous in nature nor was he a consumer. Instead, he was the exact opposite both. So how would you say someone remain autonomous and consumeristic and still claim to be Christ-like? It’s a tough sell to make.

If you’re that person who claims to be a Christian while refusing to be a part of a local church, then I hope you’ll do two things. First, I hope you’ll do an honest self-evaluation of your life to see if you are truly a Christian, or if you are one by title only, which could explain why you have no desire to be a part of a church. Second, regardless of what your self-evaluation reveals, I pray that you’ll find a local church to join.

Alex Deaton and the San Bernardino Terrorist – A Common Enemy

From last weekend until early this week, a statewide manhunt, in Mississippi, for Alex Deaton turned into a nationwide manhunt. Alex first used his hands to kill his ex-girlfriend then he went on what appears to have been a random shooting spree throughout several states. He killed several people before he was finally apprehended in Kansas. As the manhunt continued I viewed Alex’s Facebook page to see what I could learn about him and I noticed something that raised my eyebrows. It appears that he was as common of an American guy as they make – complete with a daughter he seemed to love, tribal tattoos, and a Harley Davidson. He definitely didn’t seem depressed, murderous, insane, or even on the path to becoming as such. Yet I couldn’t help but find irony as I considered his ongoing crime spree alongside one of the memes founds on his page.

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I’m not going to spend time discussing the ignorance of that meme, or the false dichotomy that the meme makes between Muslims and Americans, as though a Muslim cannot at the same time be an American, nor will I discuss the fact that the gunman who the meme seems to reference (the San Bernardino shooter) was an American born citizen. What I think is most worthy of consideration is the fact that the same murderer was responsible for the instances in Mississippi and San Bernardino, even though he used two different people from two different ethnic backgrounds, two different religious professions, and two different skin tones to commit his deplorable actions.

As Americans, or maybe just as humans in general, we spend so much time blaming other religions, races, and nationalities for the grievous acts that are happening throughout our land and the rest of the world. We get so focused on the different types of reasoning that leads to such regretful ends that we miss the fact that all of the different styles of flawed and evil reasoning leads to the exact same end. Radical Islamic terrorism leads to the same end as does the greed that drives the Mexican cartels. Similarly, the ideology fueling the gang bangers in Chicago leads to the same end as did the flawed mindset of the jealous ex-boyfriend from Mississippi, named Alex Deaton. The reason they all lead to the same end is because Jesus’ words were true.

“[Jesus said to them,] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar.”  John 8:44

The simple truth is that those who reject Jesus and, instead, live for themselves live according to their father’s will, who is Satan. His will is only to lie, steal, kill, and destroy. When we lie, we speak Satan’s language. When we steal from others, kill one another, or destroy that which God intended to be good, we act in direct accordance with Satan’s character and his will for us. That means we must move our attention away from ideologies, nationalities, and skin colors as though they are the source of the problems in our world and we must, instead, realize that all of the perpetrators of such evils have one thing in common and that commonality is the true root world’s problems – they all reject the gospel and refuse to submit to the lordship of Jesus.

There is no need for racism or nationalism. They are counterproductive in our fight. Our fight is not “us versus them.” Rather, our fight is us versus him.

For eight years during the Obama administration, it seems I heard on repeat that “we cannot defeat our enemy, unless we name our enemy.” I’m in total agreement with that sentiment, so let’s name our enemy. Our enemy is Satan and he has blinded the eyes of the world and, sadly, even the eyes of many Christians, so that they focus only on surface level explanations for the death and destruction that we see throughout our world. He has made it all to easy for those who are blinded to completely miss the fact that all of those different explanations for evil have the same root cause – namely, himself. Satan is our enemy. For that reason, there is no need for racism or nationalism. They are counterproductive in our fight. Our fight is not “us versus them.” Rather, our fight is us versus him.

Our battle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of evil. Ephesians 6:12

With that in mind, I urge you to hate what is evil and to love what is good! Hate Satan. Hate the death and destruction that he brings. Hate the lies that he inspires. At the same time, love the people for whom Christ died. Have pity on those who are still blinded by Satan. Love Jesus enough to obey his command to take his light into the darkness of the world and to make disciples of the whole world (Matt. 28:19-20). In case you’re uncertain, the whole world includes even the most vile people who still live according to Satan’s will. It will only be after you realize that Jesus saved you as you actively lived according to the same evil desires that drove Alex Deaton and the San Bernardino murderer to kill innocent people that you will develop enough love for Jesus and for other people to drive you to directly attack the true enemy by means of loving and pursuing with the gospel those over whom he still has his control.

Our enemy is not another religious set of beliefs. Our enemy is not another country or ethnic minority. Our enemy is not the people of a certain race. Our enemy is Satan. If we lose sight of that fact we will never be able to be used to defeat him.

Abortion is a Woman’s Right…right?

This following is discussion of the six most common lies that I hear recited from my pro-choice friends – although to their credits I do think that they believe these lies and do not lie intentionally. This is one of my lengthier posts, but I hope that you’ll read and consider each of these short discussions. Also, I invite you to respond where you disagree – just try to do it without making unsubstantiated assertions or emotional pleas.

Lie #1: Abortion is a woman’s right.

That is to say, “It is a woman’s right to intentionally kill her unborn child.” That is no Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 9.35.06 AM.pngdifferent than believing, “I have a right to the pursuit of happiness and you inhibit my happiness, therefore, I have the right to kill you.” That’s absurd! A person’s (i.e. baby’s) right to life is more sacred than all other rights and should be held above any other competing “right” held by another person. Therefore, a baby’s right to life trumps any competing “right” or desire of its mother.

Lie #2: Abortion is legal, so there’s nothing wrong with it.

Slavery was once legal and Jews were legally exterminated during the Holocaust. Was either of those black marks on human history right, or even morally neutral, since they were legal at the time? Ironically, pro-choice advocates are using similar “personhood” arguments to those that were used by the supporters of slavery in America and by the Nazis in Germany. Though the Holocaust and slavery were legal in their respective lands and at their respective times, we can all agree that they were equally as wrong then as they would be now. Might does not make right.

Alongside this lie often comes the argument that “If abortion is made illegal, then they will just be performed in ‘back alleys’, instead of ‘clinics’, and women will die due to poor care.” First, I do not think nearly as many women would seek abortions if such procedures were not as readily available. Secondly and more importantly, I say, “Ok.” Murders should only be committed in back alleys and under the cover of darkness, instead of in the open and in front of approving bystanders. I’m not arguing that it would be good for women to be hurt by complications due to “back alley abortions”; however, I am saying that it does not follow that we should collectively bless murderous activity because, otherwise, those involved with it will choose to do so in less safe environments where they could potentially get hurt, too. Evil should always be forced into the back alleys of culture, instead of celebrated on Main Street.

Lie #3: It’s a woman’s body, so abortion is her choice!

Wrong. From the time of conception, the unborn child is her own entity with her own unique DNA and genetic makeup that will never change or develop any further. All that changes from the time of conception until her natural death due to old age is her: Size, level of physical development, external environment, and her degree of dependency on Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 9.42.05 AM.pngother people. As she continues to develop in the womb, a baby girl develops her own organ system, feelings, and even thoughts (yes, there is evidence that suggests babies are capable of dreaming within their mother’s wombs). An unborn girl is NOT a part of a woman’s body – it is simply reliant on the mother so that she can continue to live. The same is true of a one year old child and we agree that it is wrong to kill her simply because she cannot survive on her own.

Lie #4: It’s not a human person – it’s just a clump of cells.

Modern science is clearly refutes this lie. Pro-choice advocates must ignore modern science to tell this lie, yet they continue do so. Consider the following:Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 9.49.04 AM.png

Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard Medical School) “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at the point of conception.

Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni (University of Pennsylvania) “…I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption and any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of human life…”

Professor Hymie Gordon (Founder of the Mayo Clinic’s Medical Genetics Program) “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

Lie #4: Abortions are a better option than to have children born into poverty, or forced into the        foster system.

Following it to its logical conclusion most easily refutes this lie. Simply ask, “So would it follow that it would also be best for us to kill the kids who are already born and who are currently living in poverty, or in the foster system? Would they be better off if they were dead?” Of course not! Kids in poverty stricken areas and those who grow up in foster care are of no lesser value than are kids who have been born to wealthier family units. The pro-choice advocate would likely respond to this line of reasoning by claiming that Lie #4 is not about the “value” of a child, rather it’s about saving a child from a life of what we consider to be “poor quality.” To this logic I would respond, “If quality of life is determined by social status and wealth, then please explain to me why the suicide rate among the wealthy is exponentially higher than the suicide rate among those whom we would claim have a “poorer quality” of life.” The answer: Because quality of life has very little to do with social statuses and wealth.

Lie #5: Abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest.

Another way to pitch this lie would be to say, “The child deserves to be killed because her father committed a horrible crime.” That would be viewed as a terrible idea in any other situation. It’s a curious thing that we would seek to justify sentencing a baby girl to die because her father committed the crime of rape, yet her father cannot even legally be sentenced to death for his crime! When presented this lie, one should remind the pro-choice advocate that statistics demonstrate that less than 1% of abortions in the U.S. are performed because of rape or incest and then ask, “Would you be willing to grant that all other abortions not performed due to rape or incest are wrong?” I’m almost certain the answer will be “no,” which demonstrates that this lie does not even represent their true reasoning for being pro-choice. This lie is just a distraction tactic. It is not lost on me how difficult rape or incest would be on the victim of such a crime. Indeed, it would be incredibly difficult on everyone impacted, yet the fact remains that killing an innocent baby will not remove the emotional pain that the victim feels, nor will it bring justice to the wrong that has been committed against her – it will only kill an innocent child.

Lie #6: Abortions are sometimes necessary to save the life of the mother.

Abortion can be defined as the intentional taking the life of an unborn baby. Similar to the argument concerning rape or incest, this lie is nothing more than an attempt to justify 99% of abortions based on less than 1% of cases. However, there are rare times that ectopic pregnancies do happen and in which the mother’s life and the baby’s life are in grave danger. In those rare moments, the doctor has the option of either losing both of his patients, or performing a life saving procedure that will be able to save one of his patients. In those situations, the doctor is not intentionally taking the life of an unborn baby – he is performing a life saving measure to save the dying baby’s mother. The unfortunate reality concerning this procedure is that it has not yet been developed to the extent that enables the doctor to simultaneously save the baby’s life. Lie #6 is false because the doctor in this situation is not acting with malicious forethought to intentionally take a life, aka performing an abortion. Instead, he is acting with the sole intention of saving the only life that could be saved in a very sad and unavoidable situation.

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I hope it’s now clear to you that our country is sacrificing its children on the alters of profit and convenience. We cannot continue to mindlessly accept and regurgitate the lies that are used to justify their slaughter. Instead, Christians, we must share the life and forgiveness that is found in Jesus, as well as our personal love and support, with women who are in difficult pregnancy situations. We must also pray for the overturning of Roe v Wade and take every possible measure to make sure it is overturned as we intentionally and boldly refute pro-choice lies at every opportunity. If you call yourself pro-life and do none of those things, then you have not been pro-life – you have at very best been indifferent. It’s time for a course correction.