Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome to Starbucks! What kind of Christmas can I get you this year?

I like two kinds of coffee.  

Officially, they're both "coffee." But in reality they're so dissimilar, they're like two entirely different things.

One is coffee with flavored cream and sugar. It's a luxurious, desserty kind of thing. The other is coffee black and strong. This drink is bare, sharp, essential. There's nothing desserty about it.

Both start in the same place - made from the same beans and the same water in the same pot. It's what's added afterward that makes the difference.

I call coffee-with-stuff-in-it "coffee drink".
Black coffee I just call "coffee".

Having different names helps me keep mental track of them.

* * * * * * *

I used to think I was a little schizophrenic when it comes to Christmas. On one hand I really enjoy the whole Christmas deal - the lights, the music, the trees, and yes even the gifts. But there's also a part of me that began to feel a little guilty about all the distracting hubbub after I became a Christian.  I mean, really, where is Jesus in all that stuff?

And so, to save myself from an early insanity I decided that, like coffee, there must be two kinds of Christmas.

Officially, they're both "Christmas." But they really are two entirely different things.

Christmas-with-stuff-in-it is a luxurious, desserty celebration.

But there's another kind of Christmas that's just as real, yet intensely more bare, sharp & essential.

* * * * * * *

This year I propose we enjoy "Christmas" to the full.  See, smell, hear, feel and taste everything Christmasy you can. Get everything out of it that hundreds of years of tradition have put into it. And don't even compromise the experience (or belittle God Almighty) by trying to stick Jesus in next to the Tree, between Santa & Rudolph.

But then, when the day arrives, celebrate another Christmas - a Christmas that the world around you doesn't know about or care for. 

Both Jewish and Christian tradition have always called especially holy days, "feasts".

So, I suggest that this year we take a moment out of celebrating Christmas-as-the-world-does-it to celebrate something different, the "Feast of the Incarnation".

This Feast will be a time set apart to fully appreciate the fact that the Eternal God became a human being with only one purpose - to tear us away from sin & death and pull us close to Him. It will be a quiet celebration, maybe at church or in a room by yourself alone with the Lord. It will probably be more an act of joyful worship than a celebration in the normal sense.

And to get you started, here's a text for this day:

In the very beginning, Jesus Christ already was. 
From the very beginning Jesus Christ was God.
Through Him all things were made, and in Him was Life.
But there came a time when Jesus Christ became a human man. 
And He lived with us. 
And we saw His glory.
And His light has taken away our darkness, and His life has delivered us from death.
(John 1:1~17 - paraphrased)

Merry Christmas to you all. 
And many blessings on this Feast of the Incarnation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A question I pose at the end

Here's a thought.

It seems to me that in every area of our lives we are either winning, losing, or not even in the game.

An example: Wellness
I find that I'm either eating brilliantly and working out every day (winning).
Or binge-stuffing chocolate-covered potato chips while lying face down on the couch (losing).
Or, I mindlessly eat whatever's around, and take the stairs instead of the elevator only if they happen to be closer (not even in the game).

Another example: Finances
I'm either clipping coupons and monitoring mutual funds (winning).
Or spending money with hearty abandon (losing).
Or, I go weeks on end without thinking about cashflow in any way (not in the game).

As I type these examples I begin to notice that "losing" and "not in the game" look quite similar. 

I suppose that's because "not in the game" is really just "losing" with no interest in the outcome. When you're losing you hate the fact that you're losing. When you're out of the game you couldn't care less.

To summarize:
Winning = awareness + success
Losing = awareness + failure
Not in the Game = no awareness + no interest

Now, why do I bother thinking all this out loud?

I've been feeling kind of discouraged recently. I know I haven't been walking much in the Spirit or maintaining a spiritual mind. I haven't been praying like I need to, or feeling much interest in the things of God. And because of my failure in this area, nothing else in my life seems very interesting or meaningful. 

As I mulled these thoughts over the other day, a very clear message popped into my head: "You know exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. But you're not doing it. You are losing the battle for your mind."

And all of a sudden I felt even worse.
I was losing!
Therefore, I was a loser.
I wanted to win, but the opposite was reality.

But just as quickly as that thought came and faded away, a realization took its place.

I suddenly recalled all the many years when spiritual-mindedness wasn't even a part of my life. I was worse off then, in those days when I was my own boss and my thoughts never rose higher than the top of my hair, but I felt just fine.

At that point, I stopped and gave thanks.
The stuff above, about winning & losing & not in the game, had all become clear to me.

Today I'm in the game.
I care. I strive. 
I rejoice when I'm winning, and I agonize when I'm losing.  
And I'm no longer blind, mute, dumb and numb.
I may be having a bad month, but even this is so much better than being out of it altogether.

And all this led me ultimately to the question I pose here today: How many Christians are out there who don't know or care about the "game"?  Who just go to church on Sundays (or only on holidays) and barely think about the new life they've been given?  How many Christians just live their earthly lives entirely content with whatever's in front of them and never even realize that a life lived merely in the world is a dark prison with big TVs and no locks?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The last one on Truth for a while, I promise

To wrap this subject up for a while, I want to explain why I believe the question "Where in the Bible did you learn that?" is the only way to successfully combat false philosophies (aka, Untruth). I'm certainly aware there are other possible ways. I just don't think those other ways are reliable or ultimately correct.

For example, why couldn't a person ask: Where in church tradition did you learn that? or What logic led you to that conclusion? or How does Islam respond to that?

To answer that, we must first answer this: From where do we learn truth? I can come up with only three possible sources:

1.  Reason (we think it out)
2.  Feeling (we go with what out gut/heart says is right)
3.  Revelation (we are told what is right by a "higher source" - a god/spirit, teacher, tradition)

But, there are problems with each of these:

1. There are a lot of things we can reason out, but way too many we cannot, no matter how smart we are. For example, thinking alone could not possibly have discovered the deeper things of Faith, such as Christ's advent and resurrection. To be known, they had to be revealed. Another obvious problem with this source is the source itself - that is, how imperfect and easily-lead-astray our human minds are. If you sit alone under a nice tree on a beautiful day and try to work out a theology describable as "perfectly true", you will fail every time.

2. Refuting feelings as a viable source of truth doesn't even seem worth the virtual ink this screen is virtually printed on. Feelings are about as stable and reliable as waves of the sea. Only a person who would try to build a house on the surface of the ocean would even think of basing his understanding of truth on emotion. It's an easy trap to fall into, but foolish nonetheless.

3. To be reliable, the "higher source" from which we get our information must 1) know the truth, and 2) be willing to reveal the truth. If our so-called higher source is ignorant of anything at all, the truth it proclaims will be flawed in some way. And, if that source is not absolutely Good we should have no confidence it's told us absolute truth. Clearly, most of the sources we normally rely on, like cultural norms, professors, celebrities, books, lyrics, friends, etc must be disqualified.

And it's not just me who thinks this way.

Paul addresses precisely this issue in chapter 2 of Colossians. 

He begins the letter by reviewing for his readers several important truths about Christ and themselves, but then skids into what seems like a purely parenthetical passage:

I say this (ie, the things he's been teaching) 
in order that no one may delude you with 
plausible arguments. . . .See to it that no 
one takes you captive by philosophy and 
empty deceitaccording to human tradition
according to the elemental spirits of the 
world, and not according to Christ. (4 & 8)

In these two verses Paul gives a formidable list of ways that falsehood can get anchored in our heads. He’s not saying that everything produced by these sources will necessarily be false – but that we need to be very careful of the information or ideas we get from them.

Here’s a quick layman’s explanation of what those things mean in the original Greek.

  • Plausible arguments (also, enticing words) – This is like a practiced stump speech. It has all the kinks worked out, and the message is concise, precise, and virtually waterproof. However, this carefully crafted persuasion is intended to lead others into error.

  • Philosophy – This simply refers to speculative inquiries into all kinds of details. Often good, but in its negative sense, an extremely useful tool for making falsehood feel like truth.

  • Empty deceit – Similar to plausible arguments, but the less polished version. These are intentional lies intended to produce error or sin. “Empty” means fruitless and devoid of truth.

  • Human tradition – There’s a little more flavor in the original words than we get in English. While “tradition” is the teaching, precepts or rituals handed down from generation to generation, “human” was added to highlight the inherent flaws in those traditions that can lead us consciously or unconsciously into error. In other words, “Because we’ve always done it that way” is not always the wisest answer.

  • Elemental spirits (also, elemental principles) – These are the basic building blocks of ideas. Like letters, these principles are mixed and combined to create more complex ideas (like words) that eventually evolve into whole philosophies.

Paul was warning his readers to hold fast to the Truth they learned from him (and we in turn learn from the Bible) because Untruth can sound, feel, taste and seem so very right. In fact, its power lies precisely in its ability to mimic truth.

And as you might expect, all this just leads me to encourage once again: Examine the things you believe or assume in light of the Scriptures. Keep asking the question, “Where in the Bible did you learn that?” And keep seeking God’s Truth.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Embracing the sliver

Have you ever thought about what a huge advantage falsehood has over Truth?

Truth is incredibly limited. It exists within iron-clad boundaries and has no wiggle room at all. Truth is a tiny sliver of reality in a universe of infinite possibilities.

Untruth, though, can be anything at all.

Here’s a simple example of what I’m talking about.

Everyone knows that 2 + 2 = 4.
Everyone also knows that 2 + 2 does not (and never will) equal 5.

Or 3.
Or even 4.0000000000001.
Nor will it ever equal 17.594 … or 0.136452 … or 44,572.0990213.

You get the idea.

While Truth inhabits only the tiniest part the whole possible spectrum, falsehood resides at every other point.

Because of this, it’s no surprise that most people find at least one of the infinite manifestations of untruth more attractive than Truth. Nor should it shock us that, those who do, often accuse Truth of being “intolerant” or “exclusivist”.

But Truth is still Truth.
And all the rest is still untruth.

And to make things even more confusing, falsehood uses its advantage brilliantly.

Untruth can (and does) transform itself into whatever shape, flavor or texture will best endear it to the desires, preferences and needs of its intended victim.

Well of course it does! The Bible tells us that even Satan - the prince of darkness himself - can appear as a glorious angel of light. When he wants to.

If beauty woos you, that’s what he’ll be. If terror cows you, he can do that too.

It’s no wonder Jesus warned us that the gate which leads to life is a very narrow one.

In the end, the best advice I can give I gave before, and I’ll give again: Be intentionally aware of the things you believe and keep asking yourself where in the Bible you learned them. If you have no answer, reconsider.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just because it's true

We may sometimes be a little confused about why we follow, preach or teach Christ.

I remember a series of conversations I had with a Japanese woman when I lived in Japan. She wasn't a believer, and she simply could not fathom how anyone could be a Christian when the Truth of God conflicted with so much of what she wanted to believe.

Even so, she had a pretty decent understanding of the Faith, and kept asking me questions that usually went like this:

"Don't you Christians believe such-and-such?"
"Yes. We do."
"But isn't that terribly harsh [strange / illogical / scary / old-fashioned / difficult]?"
"I suppose it is."
"Well then, how can you believe it?"

I kept trying to get her to understand that how I felt about the Truth really didn't make much difference. If the doctrine she'd asked about that day was in fact true, my opinion of it was irrelevant. I could accept it or reject it. But that's it. Nothing I could do would affect the reality of it in the least.

There two important points in this story.

The first is this: If we aren't clear about the fact that Christianity is true, we allow God's message to degenerate into mere opinion.

It would be ridiculous and obnoxious of me to insist that everyone profess that autumn is the best month, because there are four equally good months out there. I happen to like autumn best. But if I sincerely believe that it is objectively and universally better than the other three, I'm a fool. The best month, like many things in life, is opinion.

God's truth is not like that. When I encourage someone to follow Christ I am not doing it because I happen to think Jesus was nicer than the Buddha. I am not offering them what I think is the better of several possible, equally good, Faiths. I am offering them the One Truth.

This distinction is extremely important to maintain. People must understand that what they are accepting or rejecting is reality - not some declaration on the level of, which kind of ice cream is best. The difference in gravity is tremendous.

CS Lewis puts it like this:

The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact — not gas about ideals and points of view.  (From Mere Christianity)

This leads nicely into the second point: The Word of God has beauty, power, majesty, comfort, wisdom, etc. The Word of God is True. We are perfectly right to rejoice in and share its beauty etc, but if we don't hold to God's Word because it is True, we could be in serious danger.

If we believe, preach, or teach Christ primarily because we think the message is beautiful or helpful or life-changing (or any of the other hundreds of possible reasons), we are likely to eventually go in one of three wrong directions:

  • Those who believe because it's beautiful may lose faith when they see "ugliness" (eg, Hell) in it. Those who preach it because it's life-changing may lose heart when they see someone whose life did not change. Etc.
  • We may begin to pick and choose our doctrines. You know how it goes. "I like this one. But I do not like that one. So I will embrace this one. And I will reject that one."
  • We may be tempted to push it in the direction we want it to go, gradually moving away from the truth so that it lines up better with the reason we teach it. If we teach the gospel because we love the poor or think society corrupt, we could make Jesus into a mere social reformer. If we want evil people to suffer for their sins, we could twist the Word so that mercy loses out to judgment. And so on.
Instead, let us remain stable and focused and wise.

Your word, LORD, is eternal; 
   it stands firm in the heavens...
The statutes you have laid down are righteous; 
   they are fully trustworthy... 
Your promises have been thoroughly tested, 
   and your servant loves them...
Your righteousness is everlasting 
   and your law is true. 
(Psalm 119)

Thank you all for reading today. I sincerely appreciate it!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Some radical thoughts that aren't really so radical

I ran across a blurb this week describing the ministry of John the Baptist, and it sparked such a mini-flurry of thoughts in my head that I had to write them down.  And because they all came together so nicely, I decided to make them this week's blod.  

Here's the blurb:

"Could it be that his appeal lay in the very strictness of his message, which was in sharp contrast to the soft religiosity peddled by religious leaders seeking popular support?  Could it be that John's call for personal purity and individual righteousness was seen as a refreshing change from the ritualistic and institutional religion which had developed over the centuries?"

Here are my musings on it:

  • How well the term "soft religiosity" describes our modern (American) Christianity!  But we don't need to point any fingers at religious leaders to profit from the reminder.  We each decide how we want to live our Christian lives based on how much of ourselves we're willing to give to God.  One of the great old preachers, AW Tozer, wrote something like this:  "We are all exactly as filled with the Holy Spirit as we want to be.  Maybe not as much as we wish we were - but exactly as much as we want to be."  Ouch.

  • John's message was bare-bones and no nonsense.  How much of our faith and lives are diluted by the addition of other things?  We love, desire, enjoy "God and" - but how often "God only"?  How different our attitude is from that described in one of the hymns of Israel:  "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You."  (Ps 73:25)  I read that psalm probably 50 times before I caught that it's not "more than You".  It's "besides You".  Ouch.

  • What is this weakness we have for seeking popular support?  If we know God Almighty, why do we still care about the approval of others?  Paul hit it right on the nose when he wrote: "If I were still trying to please men I wouldn't be a servant of Christ."  He's right!  Society and culture have become so perverse that when we try to please others (by doing what they want and expect of us) it's almost certain we won't be pleasing to God.  We know that.  But still we do it.  To quote Tozer again: "I won't seek persecution, but I want to walk so close to Jesus that when they reject him they'll dump me right out along with him."  Ouch.

  • How tempted are we to imitate the softness we see in others who profess total commitment?  As Christians, do we feel free to go places where Christ is not welcome?  Do we make great friends of people who despise Him?  Do we readily join in conversations He would refuse to be part of?  At what point does our devotion to Him need to put a damper on our fun?  At what point does it force us to be different?  "Weird"? Or, that guy?  Ouch.

The point of these musings, the blurb, and John's entire ministry is this:  The things of God do not run through middle ground.  

We like to believe they do.  But they don't.

Jesus called for radical followers who were so in love with God and so committed to Him that they were ready to die for Him.  That's not poetic imagery or oriental hyperbole. It's reality.

Following Christ is either radical or frivolous.



1. characterized by lack of seriousness or sense
2.  self-indulgently carefree; unconcerned about or lacking serious purpose
3.  of little or no weight, worth, or importance

Monday, November 8, 2010

Just a thought - 3

I have no insightful comments today.  This simple & profound truth speaks for itself.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." 

 C.S. Lewis

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fear, control, and some words from a man named Jim

The human antidote for fear is control.
- Jim Mars (Valley Evangelical Free Church, October 31, 2010)

Considering the title of this week's blod, you can imagine my surprise when our guest preacher spoke these words last Sunday. As I jotted them down I wondered how he knew I'd been planning to write this week on the topics of fear, control & submission. And then I realized he didn't, and that I needed to watch fewer spy movies.

Still, I was amazed at the perfect meshing of topics, and at how God can so beautifully orchestrate for His glory the lives of people who've never even met.

Here's something to think about: I believe the root of evil is fear.

By this I do not mean that the source of evil is fear. The ultimate source of evil is Satan.

What I do mean is that the primary reason we humans act in evil ways (defined as consciously causing harm or acting in intentional rebellion) is fear.

I came to this conclusion for several reasons.

First, I looked around. I noticed that, yeah, sometimes people are just grumpy. But almost all the people I saw who were behaving in mean, nasty, abrasive or volatile ways were frightened people. I noticed it first when I worked for a mortgage broker. With mortgages you're dealing with very big money and very serious consequences when things fall through. The bigger the risk people faced, the less patient, kind or understanding they became.

I continue to notice it today. Granted, some folks have the annoying gift of being able to turn the most insignificant bump into an infuriating mountain and then scream crazy things at it. But for the most part, people are quite civil until the stakes of success or failure reach a level of real significance. It seems very few of us have the faith or maturity to walk in the way of Christ when the potential price gets high enough.

Next I looked inside. As I recognized this tendency in others I began to see it very clearly in myself. Fear makes me edgy, unkind. In the absence of fear I'm peaceful and sweet as honey.

Finally, I thought about what Jesus said about the source of evil. At the time, I still believed Jesus taught that "money is the root of all evil," but now I know He didn't. What He said was "money is the root of all kinds of evil." The old translations didn't get it quite right. But still, that's quite a statement.

So I pondered: Did Jesus mean that the physical objects we call "money" (coins, bills, credit cards) were some kind of innate evil presence emanating a ghoulish influence? Did he mean that money just sitting on a table or buried in the ground is evil in and of itself? I think not. It seems to me (and the context of that passage is important) that He meant money in a specific situation - i.e., money in human control. That is, it's not the money itself that is evil, but the kinds of feelings and actions it can create in people.

But that leads to another question: Is it really the coins that create those evil tendencies - or is it what the coins represent: power, influence, security, comfort, etc? If it is what they represent, then it's really the deep desire for those things that causes the evil of which Jesus spoke.

And (stay with me here...), what is the common source of desire for those things? I say it's fear. You want power because you fear weakness. You want influence because you fear insignificance. You want security because you fear torment. You want comfort because you fear pain.

Although it's kind of long for my normal blod offering, I want to include a passage from a book called The Trifling Adventures of Grover Rodriguez, because it illustrates so nicely what I'm talking about here. I pick up in the middle of a conversation about the nature of evil between two college sweethearts sitting on a hill under a romantic full moon. She wants to debate. He has other ideas.

"So you believe that evil exists, right?"

"Of course," I replied, already ready to move on.

"Then what do you think the cause of evil is?"

"I don't know. I've never thought about it, but isn't it different in every situation?"

"I think it's fear," she whispered, ignoring me. "I've thought about it a lot since that thing with my mom. People are only harmful if they're scared of something."

I sat back now, and she put her hand back in her lap.

"Fear? Really? You think so?" I didn't know if I was bored or curious.

"Definitely." She moved into professor mode. "Give me some situations in which you think evil is involved."

"All right. Bigotry. How about bigotry? Why does the evil of bigotry exist, based on the Fear Theory?"

"Fear of the unknown. Fear of someone else coming in and taking away what you have—your livelihood, your home, your beliefs."


"Too easy. Challenge me."

"What about gossip? That's evil, right?"

"It is. And the answer would be fear of being disliked by others. Fear of being the one gossiped about if you don't do it first. Fear of thinking that you're the most pathetic or scandalous person around - so you make sure someone else seems worse."

"Tailgating!" I shouted triumphantly for no apparent reason. "How do you explain that scourge of society in terms of fear?"

"Well," she began, "if you were tailgating someone, why would you be doing it?"


"What do you have to be frustrated about?"

"The person ahead of me isn't going fast enough."

"Why do you want him to go faster?"

"So I can go faster too."

"And why do you need to go faster?"
"So I can get where I'm going faster."

"Grover, dear - you do see where this is going, don't you?"

I honestly didn't, but then I was only eighteen and had other things on my mind, so she continued without me.

"Is it because you need to get to work faster? You're either late—fear of being yelled at—or you need to get something done as soon as possible—fear of not succeeding. Maybe you're late for a date—fear of upsetting me!"

"Or, more likely, I just can't wait to see you," I crooned, feigning adorability.

"Fear of not having enough time with me!" she retorted.

"Hmph," I sniffed. At this point I was willing to let her win.

While fearful things happen to all of us, we are not obligated to experience fear. When fear hits us we have to act. But how we act is up to us.

Some choose to live out the quote from Jim Mars. They medicate their fear by taking control. From the moment fear appears, they demand that everything and everyone obey their desires. They know that if they can succeed in taking complete control of everything, they need fear nothing. Control is what they do in the absence of faith.

Others sense fear's approach and react in a different way - they surrender control to God. They practice control of self rather than control of others. With true strength, they rationally assess the situation, consciously take it to God, commit it fully to Him, and then leave it there.

Don't misunderstand. This doesn't mean they roll over and play dead. The Christian continues to act in a completely responsible and righteous way, but can have peace no matter what happens because she has relinquished control of the outcome to the Lord.

And this is exactly what Jesus encouraged in His disciples when He told them:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

[Click here to listen to Jim Mars' powerful message of hope and surrender:]

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just a thought - 2

Here's another wonderful CS Lewis quote on the topic of "ideas" - this time, from the other side of the road.

Because I believe that the unstated but underlying presuppositions swirling around every thought, conversation and piece of writing in the world are much more powerful than the stated and blatant ones, this quote has always spoken to me.

See what you think.

I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by an directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s lines of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent… You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if wherever we read an elementary book on Geology, botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the reconversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interest of apologetics would be sin and folly.

- CS Lewis in "Christian Apologetics"

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Where in the Bible did you find that?

The very power of [textbook writers] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is doing his English prep and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.
— CS Lewis (The Abolition of Man)

Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
— Paul (Romans 12:2)

Last week's blod got me thinking.

How many of the things I believe about life, myself, and reality are really the teaching of idols and not God?

And how many of those things am I entirely unconscious of, as in the kind of scenario described by CS Lewis above?

And even more frightening perhaps, how many things are inside my head that I would strongly deny if asked about openly, but by my words and actions prove daily that I do in fact believe them?

I doubt myself (and I encourage you to doubt yourself too) for several reasons:

1. I've had over 42 years of indoctrination into the faith of the false gods and philosophies, and only about half that much as a Christian learning the truth.

2. As stated last week, our culture is saturated with false and foolish teachings that are laid before us with absolute confidence. If you hear something often enough it begins to sink in, no matter how ridiculous, unlikely, or unreasonable it is.

3. My head is full of ideas, most of which I've never taken out and examined side-by-side with God's truth. There are so many things I take for granted. Although I'd love to wade in and start throwing ideas out like a recovered hoarder getting ready for a yard sale, it may be that the best I can do is root them out one-by-one as they appear.

And so, I decided to do just that - analyze and keep track of the things I discover lurking in my head that smack of false philosophy. When I find them I write them down along with the corresponding truth. Making them conscious and exposing them to the light seems like the only way combat these enemy thoughts.

Here are a few items from my list so far. I'll bet some of them would be on your list too.

Lie #1: I start with a lie that is so cliche and predictable that I almost blush to list it. But, it's become so abrasively prevalent in every facet of our society that I also hate to ignore it. The lie of which I speak is that sex outside of marriage is both fine and unavoidable - and, according to nearly every sitcom in existence, hilarious. The truth, however, runs from Genesis through Revelation. The truth is that this kind of relationship is never acceptable outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage. Saying otherwise has become trendy and the social norm, but it's false nonetheless.

Lie #2: Another lie is the key doctrine of the false god, Fate: Things just happen. If what we mean by "things just happen" is "things happen that we can't explain" or "things happen that are out of our control", then we're still okay. But I suspect that's rarely what we mean. I suspect what we really sincerely believe we mean is, "there's no rhyme, reason, or meaning behind much of what happens to us." And that is false. I posted a blod a while back ("Creator, savior & king" - June 5, 2010) on just this topic. In it I explained the "Trifecta of Faith" - that God is All-Knowing, All-Loving, and All-Powerful. Logically, if God is all three of these things, there is no way anything in His universe could ever be random or meaningless. And if you are in Him, if you love Him, and if you are called according to His purpose, then you can know that "all things work together for good" (Rom 8:28).

Lie #3: The next lie is one that's not quite so obviously dangerous - until you start thinking about where it leads. This lie comes in varying forms, usually couched in terms like, "You've got to follow your gut" or "Do what feels right". On the surface this seems like good advice. But I am personally convinced that much of the nastiness we treat each other with (if you're in customer service, you know what I mean!), the deadly self-indulgence & self-obsession of the "Me Generation", and the epidemic ruin of relationships ("I just don't 'love' her anymore. . . ") comes from making emotion/feeling the guiding force in our lives. In contrast, the Bible commands us to walk by our faith (by what we know to be right & true) instead of by our feelings. And while it's true that feelings were given to us by God to enhance the quality of our lives, it's also true that they are a type of appetite, which like all appetites can become tyrannical and gluttonous if not kept carefully in check. Emotions are meant to supplement, not reign.

Lie #4: "If it's not against the law it's okay." Our civil government has a responsibility to legislate for safety, not morality. Because of this, many things that God forbids to His followers will be allowed by the state. It's simply a matter that 1) God's laws are higher and more inclusive than the state's, and 2) not everyone who is a citizen of a certain government will also be a citizen of the kingdom of God. One example of this is that gossip is forbidden to the follower of Christ. But until it becomes slander, no one will ever be prosecuted for doing it. Here's another very current example: There's a big network-news-inspired debate going on in Iowa now about traffic cameras that automatically ticket speeders and red-light-runners. For the child of God this should be an absolute non-issue. The world may live by the rule that they can speed (i.e., break the law) as long as they don't get caught, but the Christian who is living by God's law of righteousness need not fear any traffic cam. He'll always be doing the right thing whether anyone's watching or not.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to combat false gods and their doctrines is to ask yourself (or someone else) this question of something you assume or believe to be true: Where in the Bible did you learn it? If you have no answer for that question, you'd be wise to reconsider how true it is in light of God's Word.

Remember, the goal of idols/gods/false philosophies is to define us in their terms. They exist to tell us who we are, where we came from, and what we need to do. As Christians, we must not allow them to succeed. The only one who has a right to define us is the One who made us and saved us

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just a thought - 1

I ran into this polished gem last night and felt the urge to share it.

It goes very nicely with the recent discussion of freedom and choosing sides. It's from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. Enjoy!

"[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A statement in need of an explanation

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves
any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.

(Leviticus 19:4)

Those who worship idols are disgraced —
all who brag about their worthless gods.

(Psalm 97:7)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Here's my statement in need of an explanation:

Even as a modern and so-called Christian culture, it's possible that we worship idols more today than at anytime in the history of human existence.

And here's my explanation of that statement.

To most of us, the whole idea of idol worship is obscure and confusing. It makes us crinkle our brows and wonder how anyone could be so silly as to sincerely worship a piece of metal or wood. In fact, we probably wonder why God had to tell the Jews over and over to not do it. I mean, who would want to?

If you're like me, when you think about idol worship you picture an old woman bowing to a statue in a temple, or a group of painted savages dancing around a bonfire in honor of that fire. While that's all fine and accurate, it's also extremely superficial.

And it's precisely that superficiality that allows us to get away with idol worship ourselves.

Important Point #1: An idol is a material representation of an immaterial god.

One of the most insightful things I learned as a Comparative Religions student at university was that even in the most primitive religions, the idols themselves are not considered gods. I seriously doubt that anyone has ever worshiped a piece of wood because it was a piece of wood.

Instead, that little piece of whatever is worshiped so faithfully because it represents something more than itself. The statue or fire or picture acts merely as a visible, tangible, comfortingly present image of the invisible god they serve.

So, putting this point into context for today, what we are actually forbidden to do is worship any god except the LORD (that is, Yahweh**).

But unless I suspect we're all bunch of closet-pagans, why would I have made my original statement? (You know, the one that requires this explanation.)

The answer to that lies in the answer to this: What exactly is a god with a lower case "g"?

Well, for one thing, a god is not a god as we tend to think of "gods".

The Bible is absolutely clear that there is only one God. There are no gods other than Yahweh. There are many spirits, but there are no other gods. The idea that there are many gods (such as in Hinduism) is absolutely unacceptable if you accept the Bible as truth.

So, if there is no such thing as gods, what are these things that the true God warns us not to worship?

Important Point #2: Just as an idol is a material symbol of an immaterial god, a god is an immaterial symbol of a false philosophy.

It's a God substitute. It gives the believer what he desires - what we all desire: meaning, hope, comfort, joy, strength, explanations, identity, belonging, protection, guidance, boundaries, values. Etc, etc.

Every god ever created has stood for something, explained something, demanded something, promised something. That's what gods do.

When God warns us to not worship idols or gods, what He's really telling us is that we must not seek meaning, comfort, hope, etc anywhere other than from Him.

And that is where this whole thing gets sticky and way too close to home.

Important Point #3: Our idols today are much less obvious than those of the past, but we still face them.

We need to be aware that there are hundreds of gods out there that offer meaning, values and answers.

The fact is, we live in a culture saturated with false philosophies such as Humanism (the belief in human potential, values & worth as the greatest good), Materialism (the belief that nothing but matter exists), Rationalism (the belief that only things which can be explained logically can be true), All-Truism (the belief that everything/anything is true to the one who believes it), and No-Truism (the flip side of All-Truism, the belief that nothing at all is really true) - in addition to all the other overtly religious belief systems.

Almost everything we see on TV, read in magazines, or learn in universities takes these philosophies for granted and teaches them as truth.

And every one of them demands our attention and allegiance. Every one of them wants to give us answers to the big questions of life.
- Where did we come from and what is our purpose?
- What do we believe about the world, reality, human nature?
- What is right and wrong - and why?
- What kind of people should we be?
- What can we hope in when in trouble?

The sad thing is we all hold so many beliefs and opinions that we received directly from these idols, instead of from God. And even sadder, we are likely completely unaware of the fact. We just take them as obvious, natural, or common sense "facts". But they're not. They're taught. And we learned them.

That is why we have to be so careful to guard against allowing them to define our beliefs or character.

That is how we avoid worshiping idols in America today.


** Yahweh is the "personal" name of the God of the Bible, of Hebrews and of Christians.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's not about being good - it's about choosing sides

Think about laws for a minute.

To help with your thinking, I'm going to say there are two types of laws that serve two different purposes.

There are "active laws" which tell us what we are required to do and what we are forbidden to do. Rewards or punishments follow.

There are also "inactive laws" which remind us what is expected. These are laws that used to be "active" but have changed so that obedience is no longer enforced. But the desire of the lawgiver is still perfectly clear.

Here's an example.

It used to be a law in our house that the children were in bed with lights out by 9:00 pm. If they did that, all was well. If they did not, there were consequences. Now that those "children" are 16 and 19, the 9-o'clock-rule is no longer in force. It has gone from being an active law to an inactive law.

They still understand, however, that although I don't stand next to their beds at 8:59 with a stick in one hand and a carrot in the other, my desire that they get a decent night's sleep has not changed. I just no longer force them to do it. They are now free from that law, and they make their own choices.

Now, here's why we're thinking about laws.

The New Testament makes a big deal about active and inactive laws. It never actually refers to them that way. But that's the gist.

Normally, this concept is couched instead in terms of freedom - specifically, freedom from the Law - and it refers exclusively to those who are in Christ.

For the Christian, our acceptance by God is not based on anything we do or don't do. For the Christian, all laws have been deactivated.

It's with this understanding that we can make sense of what Paul says in Romans 6:15-16.

In the previous verses, Paul went to great lengths to convince his readers that we are in fact completely free from law. Once he's made that case as clear as possible, he then asks an obvious question: If we really aren't required to obey any rules anymore, what are are going to do? Obey them anyway?

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?

Maybe it's just my imagination, but I bet there were plenty of people reading that letter who hoped the next sentence would be, "Heck yes we will! We're free! Let's go out and sin, sin, sin!!!"

But it wasn't. Instead, Paul answered his own question like this:

Certainly not!

(The phrase translated "Certainly not!" in my Bible has a little more pinch in the old King James, which renders it, "God forbid!". However you translate it, it comes from two Greek words that mean essentially, "May such a thing never be".)

At this point my imaginary reader would ask the next obvious question: "Well, why not, Paul? Seriously! If we can do whatever we want, why wouldn't we?!"

Paul's answer to this is simple. And a little frightening. He writes:

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves. . . ?

There are only two options here.
By your actions, words, thoughts, choices you either present your saved and forgiven self to obedience/righteousness/God or to sin/death/Satan.

That's it. There are no neutral positions.

And, there is no coercion. Because we're free.

The "problem" is, as free men and women we have the responsibility to freely make good choices. (And that's hard. It's so much easier to make good choices when you are forced to! Or is that just me?)

God is still the God of righteousness, goodness, and love.
Satan is still the god of disobedience, evil, and selfishness.

So, will you freely choose to be on God's side? Or will you equally freely stand with Satan?

Remember this: The way we live our Christian lives is not about obeying rules or being good.

It is all about choosing sides.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Q&A on the fear of God

Question: Why does the Bible say we're supposed to fear God - and, at the same time, love Him?

Answer: See below.


When we think of things we fear we tend to imagine things like psychopaths, tsunamis, and dams (am I alone on this one?). . . spiders, high school bullies, terminal illness, or even bigger spiders.

And we love none of these things.

Go ahead. Try it. Think of a few things you fear and see if there are any you can honestly say you love.

And yet, the Bible is not crazy. Nor is it mistaken. These two apparently mutually exclusive commands work perfectly well together, once you understand them. Here are some reasons why.

1. It's not the kind of fear you're thinking of.

There are at least 11 different words used in the Old Testament (OT) that describe fear as it relates to God. There are at least 6 in the New Testament (NT).

These 17 words are usually translated into English as variations of fear, awe, dread, dismay, trembling, falling back before, and respect.

While these words describe what we all recognize as terror, they nevertheless stand for something clean and oddly wholesome. None of them contain any connotation of "fear that results in loathing". (You know, like the fear inspired by spiders and even bigger spiders.) There are other words for that kind of fear.

In the Bible the "fear of God" often indicates a healthy reverence, including a fear of offending God and a hatred of evil.

2. It's a reminder that we are not to get all chummy with God. Intimacy is part of our relationship with Him, but flippancy never is.

One of the most ridiculous parts of modern Christian thinking is the idea that when we get to Heaven we'll be all, "Yo, Big J, 'ssup?!"
(Note: This is my best flippant hipster imitation. If it's not good, I don't care.)
(How's that for flippant!)
(You caught the irony, right?)
(Sorry - getting back to the topic now. . . )

Chumminess is calling God "the man upstairs".
It's excusing disobedience with, "Me and God, we got an understanding."
It's the belief that we can do any silly or idiotic thing we want, and God will just laugh right along.

God is our Father, and He will be our eternal friend.
But when we start calling Him "Pal", we're on the wrong road.

People who rightly fear God will not fall into these traps.

I remember the first time our general lack of awe toward God became clear to me. I was talking to a Muslim man many years ago. He truly feared his god. I sensed such a reverence and gravity in his concept of the divine that I honestly felt embarrassed by my lack of it.

That experience made me think.
Today I am convinced that the modern American Church suffers terribly under a watered-down sense of who God is.
We do not take God seriously enough. Not even close.

3. Fear of God is the result of a correct understanding of who God is.

As portrayed in the Bible, the fear of God doesn't make us run & hide so much as fall down and worship.

Every manifestation of God to humans in the Bible describes those people trembling, falling down, even despairing of their lives. In that moment, they caught just a glimpse of who God really is, and it affected them tremendously.

There was a German theologian (Rudolf Otto - "The Idea of the Holy") who tried to describe what it's like to experience the presence of God. He found that he had to create some brand new words to do it because all the old ones were so tainted with insufficiency. One of his new words was mysterium tremendum. It describes a lightning bolt awareness of the mind-boggling awesomeness of the holy, coupled with a shivering sense of one's own smallness & fragility.

I actually experienced something like this on a much smaller scale a few months ago.

I was driving to work one morning and found myself looking directly into a massive, powerful thunderstorm. Over me was nothing but clear blue sky. But about 10 miles ahead was a straight horizon-to-horizon line of heavy, roiling black as far as I could see. It had a presence. It was chilling.

As I looked at it my jaw dropped, and my gut began to twist. I had that feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster hill when you know what's about to happen.

I have to say that I'm not normally afraid of storms. And when I am it's because I fear the tornadoes hiding inside it, not the storm itself.
But on that morning I was irrationally and viscerally terrified by what was in front of me - by the thing itself, and not its potential effects.

The fear I felt at that moment was my natural response to the presence of something infinitely more powerful than myself.
That's mysterium tremendum.

And that was just a storm.
Imagine standing in the presence of God!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Where God dwells on earth

There's a song I've sung for years but never until recently understood what it meant.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living Sanctuary for You.

The problem was I never heard the words right. I always heard it as "Lord, prepare me a sanctuary. . . "

Missed two little words there.
Four letters.
Big difference.

I recall (with a little excitement) the moment the actual words registered in my head and I realized that this is not a prayer for me to get a sanctuary, but instead, for me to be a sanctuary.

I also recall (with a little embarrassment) the very first thought that entered my head with that revelation: "Huh??!!"

Even though I suddenly understood what the song was praying for, I still didn't get why it would pray for that.

Why would I need to be a sanctuary?
How does that even make any sense?
How does my being a sanctuary help me at all?
(How many of you can tell I'm an only child?)

But even as those questions flew through my head a second wave of understanding hit me and I knew the answer: "It's not for my sake (dope!), but for others. I'm supposed to be a sanctuary for them."

I immediately pulled out my nerd-pad (yes, I keep a memo pad in my shirt pocket) and began jotting some notes. They looked something like this:

But that's only because I'm left-handed and even I can barely read my writing.

Luckily, I was later able to decipher my notes. Here they are in normal human format:

What is a sanctuary?
- a place where God dwells in the world
- a place of safety & refuge
- a place where man can meet with God
This is supposed to be me!!!

And now that I see it, it's not just this song. This command/plea/privilege is all over the Bible. As a Christian I am personally called to be a Sanctuary of God and a sanctuary for others.

If the people around me who don't know Jesus can't see Him in me, where can they see Him?

If they can't come to me for the kind of peace, comfort and refuge that doesn't exist in this world, where can they get it?

If God's people walk through each day eminating no more light than anyone else, how will others be drawn to His glory?

I hereby confess that I've done a pathetic job to date of being God's sanctuary on earth. But I also hereby confess that since the day I discovered the prayer in this song, I've begun asking every morning that I might be the place in my world where God meets Man.