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"