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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Subliminal Hope

I've had a lot of things on my mind this week. Haven't you? There's so many that I don't know what to talk about. I've logged on here to write my weekly blog post several times, but I always end up giving up. Everything I write seems very scattered.

I wanted at first to talk about fear, in response to all the fearmongers; they are constantly telling us that the economy is crumbling, the Swine flu is moving in, and we have no way of escaping any of it. I understand that we are living in scary times, and that even Christians can feel fear, but unlike the unsaved among us, we have nothing to lose, even if we die. I wanted to remind you that the Bible says, "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1: 7 KJV). Try as I might, I couldn't seem to express my thoughts well on that subject. I finally decided that it would mean enough to you if I just reminded you of that verse. It really needs no elaboration.

Then I thought I might talk about people who emerge in times of crisis to take advantage of all the troubled people around them. I keep hearing about these people, and it upsets me every time. I think I find it troubling that this behavior is accepted in our society. We make heroes out of everyone, and call every strong personality a leader, but some of these people are not worthy of our attention. God's standard for leadership is humble service, first to Him, and then to our fellow man. An immoral man can seem like a savior, but if he doesn't submit his life to God, he is really an antichrist. Such a man's lifestyle is diametrically opposed to God and His holy standards. Christians should beware anyone who has a strong following, but who doesn't make a point to obey God at all times, even when he stands to offend someone or lose something by doing so.

I couldn't seem to write a decent post about that topic, either.

I still felt like I had an obligation to give you something good, so I thought I'd just end it with a message from someone who was a real leader in hard times.

David was humble before God, and willingly obeyed God, even while he was being hunted by his old friend, King Saul. A group of men who had come upon hard times under King Saul's reign gathered around David. He could have preyed upon these men's fears, and used them to advance himself and become the king of Israel, as he knew he would someday become. Instead, David chose to spare Saul's life and treat him with more respect than even his men could grant the king. This of course offended some of his men, but the fact that they honored his wishes proves that people respect God's kind of leadership more than they do the world's idea of leadership.

Remember, David didn't know if he was going to live to see another day. He had some close calls, when Saul narrowly missed him. David could have given up in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds, but instead he put his trust in God, and tried, by his example, to teach his men to do the same. If we can learn anything from this troubled time in King David's life, it's that the stronger our enemies appear to be, and the more insurmountable our troubles appear, the more we see the greatness of God's power. In David's words,
The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1 NIV)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Shockingly Simple Truth

I read an article on Kryptos in one of my magazines Sunday afternoon. In case you don't know, Kryptos is an art instillation behind the U.S. CIA building. It's a big curved sheet of metal that has an encrypted message written on it. According to the article, the artist who made it expected the codebreakers who work at the CIA (and who have to look at the statue on every lunch break) to crack the code within about seven years. Instead, nearly three decades later, the art piece has one section that has yet to be decoded.

Kryptos appeals to everyone who loves a good puzzle. There is a thrill about knowing "hidden" knowledge. Puzzles and secret things have always appealed to mankind. Why is this?

I think sole mastery of something makes us feel like we have become God. Whoever deciphers K4 (Kryptos section 4, the unknown section) may feel like he or she is the Top Ace of the World for an instant, but that joy won't last long. After all, there was always one person who knew the answer already--the one who made the statue.

So why do we endlessly search for mysteries to solve? After all,
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 NIV)
Mysteries are fun, but solving them doesn't make us some sort of a god. It would be better if we sought the Maker of all knowledge, including knowledge we don't yet know.

That is one thing that troubles me today about many churchgoers in America. I have been hearing of preachers who tell congregants that they have "new knowledge, that can't be found in the Bible." While I was in college, some people encouraged me to use literary criticism techniques (like psychoanalysis and structuralism) on the Bible (I refused, by the way, because I don't accept the basis on which those theories are founded). What I'm saying is, we are always trying to read something new into the Bible--trying to find that "hidden knowledge" that everyone has always missed--but have we forgotten that God already knows all of the secrets in the Bible? Shouldn't we be seeking Him first?

Some people have even gone farther, creating traditions, prophecies, etc. that go farther than the Bible in directing our behavior, including overruling or ignoring Scripture. They often announce these ideas as prophecies. I've already talked about testing true and false prophets in an earlier post.

It just makes me think that while we are searching for deep truths, sometimes we miss the truth that is accessible on the surface. Do I think that God put depth in the Bible, for those looking for double meaning and prophetic references? Of course. I encourage anyone who wants to look closely at the intricacies of Scripture. Still, God made sure that, even if we're not the best readers in the world, we can still get the basics. They are hidden in plain sight.
At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. (Matthew 11: 25, 26 NIV)
The basics of the Bible, which even children can understand, are the basic truths that we all need. Children understand that we need to seek Jesus, and that we should love and obey Him. Children know how we should respond to God--with genuine eagerness. They also know to take God at His Word, instead of trying to change His Word to fit their desires.

Jesus Himself told us to take children as our examples:
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18: 2-4 NIV)
So do you want to be the greatest? Do you want to solve a great mystery? Run to Jesus with the same wholeheartedness and eagerness as a little child! As your knowledge of the basic truths of Scripture deepens, God will help you see more of the depth and intricacies of Scripture.

People keep saying, "the truth is out there," or make comments about man's "endless search for truth," but I'm telling you, the truth has been found. The truth has been revealed. His name is Jesus. Seek Him!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Christ is Risen...Not the Easter Bunny

Sunday, large portions of the world celebrated Easter. Many people went to church, sporting new, brightly-colored clothing. There were Easter egg hunts and hearty Easter lunches. The funny pages in the newspaper were filled with Easter-related cartoons. Unfortunately, though, Christ hardly made an appearance this Easter. Even though Easter is officially over for another year, I think Christians should not stop talking about the Resurrection, despite the culture shift we are seeing today.

Some examples of this cultural shift:

  1. The April 14th, 2009 issue of Woman's Day magazine actually said, "Whether vibrantly colored, filled with jelly beans or made of chocolate, eggs are what Easter is all about" (Vol. 72, Issue 8; page 23, under the heading "Egg-Celent Sweets.").

  2. I read in the news that a very slim majority of people in the Netherlands, according to a recent study, actually know that Easter is a Christian holiday.

  3. At least half of the major cartoons in my newspaper, including strips like Dilbert and Shoe, made absolutely no mention of Easter at all on Easter Sunday, and instead chose to focus on the economy and similar issues. Is it that the cartoonists had no Easter-related ideas, or is it that the cartoonists didn't want to acknowledge the holiday for whatever reason?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Some Background on the Holiday

Easter is the anniversary, calculated from the Jewish calendar, of the day Jesus rose from the grave. The Bible records that Jesus' crucifixion coincided with the Passover and the following Sabbath in the Jewish (lunar) month of Nisan. We can calculate from the day of the Passover, and the Sabbath that follows, which day the Resurrection took place.

Easter eggs and bunnies, on the other hand, have pagan, not Christian origins. The name, "Easter," is derived from the name of a Germanic fertility goddess (Ostara or Austron), who was worshiped around this time of year (the month of the spring equinox). I've also heard some people try to link Easter with the worship of Ishtar, a Babylonian fertility goddess associated with Venus, but I can't find any proof that Ishtar is actually connected, linguistically.

The early English author, Bede, records that some elements of the worship of Austron were adopted into the celebration of Easter. This is where we get the Easter bunny and decorated eggs, both symbols of fertility.


The day that Christ was raised from the dead does not have any special holiness inherent in it. Some people would disagree, but we don't worship days or places or things--we worship Jesus. Celebrating Easter is not going to make us more holy than worshiping God on any other day would. I'm just upset to see Jesus forgotten on Easter, because that tells me He is truly being forgotten everywhere else.

Jesus deserves more attention today, and every day. He needs to be in the center of our hearts. Christians don't need to make their Christianity reflect the culture; culture, instead, should be made to reflect the condition of the Christian's heart.

I think it's probably too late to make the Easter bunny go away--besides, it's infinitely more marketable than a Resurrected Lord and an empty tomb--but we shouldn't forget Jesus in the midst of the festivities. We shouldn't forget Him when the holiday is over, either. After all, Jesus rose from the grave once, for all time. He was the risen Lord on Saturday, and He is still the risen Lord of my life this week.

Monday, April 6, 2009

LIBERTY (and justice) For All

I was traveling down the interstate near my hometown the other day, and saw a billboard that caught my attention. It had no markings on it, except the company that owns the billboard itself, to identify who had paid for it or why. It consisted of a blank white background, with the word "Liberty" emblazoned in a very large typeface, with the stars and stripes of the American flag filling in each letter. Underneath it, in tiny, cursive-like, pale blue typeface, it read "and justice for all."

If you live in America and have ever recited the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, you recognize those words as the end of the pledge. They are gleaming words of idealized patriotism, and most Americans can practically recite them while asleep. So why did I have a problem with this billboard? Am I not a proud citizen of this republic?

My problem was with the unequal treatment of the words liberty and justice. If we do not value justice as much as liberty, we will end up losing liberty as well. Liberty, the freedom to move around and go about our lives without the interference of despots and our fellow citizens, is based on a proper sense of fairness and justice. We would have no liberty when the courts favor criminals but lock up the good citizens for the slightest infraction. We would have no liberty because we would have the fear of injustice barring our way.

Furthermore, if we value liberty more than justice, we have perverted the meaning of the word liberty. Liberty would basically mean the freedom to do anything to anyone, without being stopped--including victimizing others. If someone had to be crushed to get it, liberty is really more closely related to the concept of anarchy--and that is nothing I could ever be proud of.

If we value justice, we will guard our liberty by preventing certain people from "taking liberty" with others. The law was invented to punish those who believe their liberty is more important than that of other human beings around them. The law was not invented to interfere with those who are minding their own business or even helping others to achieve all the liberty and justice they are allowed to have, under law.

Now, why am I bringing up these patriotic concepts on a Christian blog? Isn't patriotism practically a dirty word in some people's circles these days? Well, I think it's important to note that these patriotic ideals are not possible without God's involvement. Recent attempts to divorce God from patriotism has given patriotism a bad name, and rightly so.

I think it's telling that first people tried to remove "under God" from the pledge of allegiance, and now they are marginalizing the word "justice." Anarchy is possible without God, but history has shown, time and again, that domestic order is dependent most of all on a worldview that recognizes God as a sovereign and moral judge over all mankind, without exception. Yes, I said it, but allow me to make myself a little more clear--when a nation refuses to make the Judeo-Christian God the exclusive guiding focus behind all of its workings, it is destined for failure. There are no exceptions. There is no compromise.

I am perfectly aware that some scoffers may read this and disagree with me. I'm sorry if you do, but I'm not going to change my position to make you feel better. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not in America today, our most effective concepts of justice and human rights are from the Bible.

Human Justice vs. God's Justice: From Sacred to Genocide

It would take too long to go into every specific concept, but I can give you an example of what happens when man devalues justice by removing God from the concept.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, human life is sacred (that is, special and irreplaceable, and of tremendous value), therefore taking a life is no small thing. In God's covenant with Noah, God said,
And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man." (Genesis 9: 5,6 NIV)
Why is human life sacred, then? Because God made it, and because humans were set apart as the only beings in creation that resemble God (in that we have a soul, a sense of right and wrong, and a free will). Murder is a rejection of God's authority as Creator and a defacement of His image. Anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Judeo-Christian worldview, doesn't understand this.

Any nation that doesn't believe human life is sacred could justify genocide and "ethnic cleansing." I cannot think of any more notorious nation in recent history than the Third Reich under Hitler. Hitler argued, in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, that humans are nothing more than very intelligent animals, and that some humans are less evolved (and therefore more animal-like) than the so-called Aryan race. To improve the race as a whole, the weak "animals" must be killed off, and it would be unfair (unjust) to the pure race to allow the weak ones to survive and compete for limited resources.

This would be easier to accept if we were talking about a herd of sheep, but we are talking about people! It becomes an easy step to justify murdering a person when you no longer see him or her as special or valuable, and you no longer believe you could be punished by God for murdering this person. When we don't fear God, we put man into God's place, and justify everything based on how much it offends or inconveniences man. To rationalize murder in this way is the ultimate perversion of justice.

Therefore, justice is linked to righteousness, and righteousness comes from God. Any attempt at righteousness without God at the center is merely a system of rules that can be twisted and broken when they seem outdated or not specific enough for the situation.

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote about one group that attempted to establish justice (law) and follow it without God's righteousness.
For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:2-4 NIV)
Who were these "zealous" people? They were the people of Israel, many of whom had accused Jesus of defying their concept of the law(He healed people on the Sabbath, claimed to be God, etc.), and demanded that He be killed. They had allowed themselves to be taken in by the same thinking that later "justified" the Nazi Holocaust. Now Paul, a Jew himself who had formerly taken part in eradicating Christianity, was preaching for a righteousness that is based on Christ's example (which is better than, and puts and end to man's laws).

Shall I say it again? Liberty without justice is not liberty, and justice without God's righteousness is not justice. Therefore, liberty cannot exist apart from God and His righteousness.

Returning to the Billboard

I've been talking about justice and liberty as if they were concepts on a dissection table, rather than central "doctrines" of American culture. Unfortunately, they are living concepts, and it pains me to see how they are being dismantled and redefined in American culture. We are talking about a paradigm shift away from God and righteousness, and it is happening across the board in our culture.

I'm not talking about political camps of thought (R, D, or I, for instance), I'm talking about thousands upon thousands of people who have grown up or are growing up without respect for God, and therefore without proper respect for their fellow man. These people are not just leaders on Capitol Hill; they are leaders in our schools, leaders in our communities, leaders in our armed forces, and leaders in our churches. They are teaching our children, and our children are taking their example. A generation that does not value God's justice is doomed to collapse, because God resists them.

Christians need to recognize that unrighteousness, in all its forms, is inspired by the Devil, who is also called the Destroyer for good reason. If we care about America (or indeed, any other nation we live in), we must resist unrighteousness through prayer and a lifestyle and speech that is humbly submitted to God's leadership, and we must teach our children to do the same. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating some kind of armed resistance. I'm talking about resisting the pull of the world in that place that is completely our own--the space between our own two ears. As John wrote in Revelation,
"Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death." (Revelation 12: 10-12 NIV)
Now is not the time for silence, as long as we are able to speak. If we want to overcome Satan and gain true justice and liberty (not just in this life, but also in the next) we have to testify to what we have found in Christ. Day and night, we have to talk about righteousness, and we have to display righteousness in our deeds. This requires boldness. As the proverb says,
When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.(Proverbs 28: 12 NIV)
But Proverbs also tells us,
The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (Proverbs 28:1 NIV)
Now is not the time to hide, my fellow Christians. Our world needs righteousness, and if we have Christ, we have what they are looking for.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

No Fool

It's April first, which traditionally (in Western culture anyway) is celebrated by playing tricks on others to try to make fools of them. I'm bringing it up to point out that the commonly-understood definition of fool is a person who is unworthy of the esteem of his peers. No, you might say, you've got that wrong. Fool is just another word for stupid. A fool a person who is not as clever or as wise as those he wants to respect him.

I think the normal reaction to being called a fool shows that I'm right on this one. This is not about intelligence, but rather about public esteem. We are comfortable with the idea of knowing less than our peers, but we hate it when someone points out this weakness, especially as a way of putting us down. Maybe this is one reason why I don't like April Fool's Day, because I dislike how this holiday can turn friends against each other by making some people into the April Fool's joke. It's fun to play a trick on someone, but it's usually not fun to have the trick played on you. It just goes to show us that fool doesn't mean stupid to us, it means pariah--which is something we'd like to avoid at all costs.

Why do we take it so personally when someone tricks us and other people laugh? I think it's the product of making man's approval too important. We are more likely to think of something as good if other people think so. We are less likely to do something if other people tell us they disapprove (John 12: 42-43).

That's the bad news. The good news is this is not the definition offool in God's sight. God defines a fool as a person who does not care for His approval--a person who despises advice or correction. He does not laugh at us when we get tricked by others. Instead, He goes after those who are laughing, because He told them to serve us and to love us, and they are being disobedient.
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright. (Proverbs 14: 8, 9 NIV)
Putting someone down does not make us wiser than that other person. More importantly, putting someone down to make ourselves feel better is not acceptable to God.

I'm not saying that Christians should not celebrate April Fool's Day, but we must celebrate with kindness and love if we want to model Christ's behavior for others. As Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves....If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Romans 12:10, 18 NIV). If we keep that in mind, no one will be a fool today.