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.