Browsed by
Author: Mark Tiefel

Not Your God #1: Freedom

Not Your God #1: Freedom

When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.

Not Your God – Freedom

We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.

The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.

The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.

Think of the difference in this way:

Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.

Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.

Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.

Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.

Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”

Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.

Hurricane Harvey and Nashville

Hurricane Harvey and Nashville

2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

If you reading this you have no doubt already heard about the devastating landfall of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston, TX area. Thankfully, as of now the rains have ceased and numerous rescues are being made. People are also coming together by donating time and money to the cause of helping the survivors. Such a time of destruction certainly evokes feelings of humility and gratitude for daily protection from nature’s forces.

What you may not be aware of is an unsettling connection between Harvey and the Church, particularly Christians who have very recently taken a stand on the authority of God’s Word. Just two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood produced a series of statements on human sexuality called the Nashville Statement. You can read the statements here. It doesn’t take long. They are concise. Several pastors and church leaders have signed their names to this Statement as well, as an expression of agreement. While I haven’t studied each thesis in depth, I do believe the Nashville Statement accurately reflects the Bible’s teachings and that it is important to take this stand in our culture.

Perhaps just as importantly, it also does so in a balanced, gospel-motivated approach. So often the accusations of hatred and bigotry are leveled against Christians by those who simply don’t want to hear what God says regarding sexuality. However, you can tell the authors went above and beyond to dispel this image. For example, article 8 reads:

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Article 14 (the final one) states:

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.

These theses make it clear that the intent of the Nashville Statement is not to unfairly shame or throw hatred on those who struggle with homosexuality and transgender feelings. The superior love of the gospel flows throughout the document. But, that is not stopping many, from the Church to the media and everywhere in between, from trying to discredit the document. There are many points to address, but it is here that I would like to zero in on one particular criticism.

Here’s where a connection to Hurricane Harvey comes in. Many are complaining of a lack of sympathy and charity by those who issued this Statement because of its close proximity to Harvey’s catastrophe. You’ve probably seen sentiments of this nature expressed on the news or social media. It is said that this should be a time to unite, not divide. It is said that Church leaders should show empathy, not judgment. But, are these extremes always mutually exclusive? If someone, like myself, agrees with the Nashville Statement, does that mean I automatically hate those whom it addresses? If I don’t object to the timing of its release, does that reveal a calloused and indifferent attitude toward those affected by the hurricane? What if I’ve prayed for those affected by the hurricane? What if I’ve helped them, either directly on the ground or indirectly through a donation? Have I really shown a lack empathy and understanding simply because I agree with God’s Word?

I think, at best, it’s unfair to make these accusations, and, at worst, extremely dangerous. Think of the passage above, especially as you consider the timing of the Statement. Is there ever a bad time to speak God’s truth in love? Paul says we are to “preach the word, in season and out of season.” Another way of saying this is “when it’s convenient and when it’s not.” Hurricane Harvey is surely a monumental tragedy, but who’s to say it’s any more serious than any other tragedy? Surely, there are always moments in life when something bad is happening to someone. If Christians can’t speak the truth in these moments for lack of sensitivity, will there ever be a proper time? By the way, if you continue in the passage, the type of preaching talked about involves convincing and rebuking. That clearly indicates a message of repentance over sin. How can we do that if we don’t clearly label the sin for what it is – a self-glorifying activity that leads away from God. There certainly is no room for “rebuke” if we can never offend someone.

I understand unbelievers who level these accusations against the Church. But, the sad truth is that many Christians are doing the same thing. This is what makes it extremely dangerous. Faith in Christ, the very things that makes a Christian a Christian, is built upon the Word of God. Friendly fire upon this foundation plays into the hands of Satan. According to Christ’s own teaching on loving one another, faithfulness to the Word is absolutely necessary (John 15:10). I ask all Christians to take heed of these points and be aware of falling into the trap of trusting the world’s words over God’s.

Avoiding the One-Sunday Stand

Avoiding the One-Sunday Stand

Time after time we see truths from God’s Word which follow the pattern of marriage. Inherent to God’s institution of marriage are certain qualities: commitment, love, forgiveness, and other virtues. It’s no wonder that God would so often use marriage as an example of our relationship with Him by faith. The clearest example of that connection is from Ephesians 5 where God compares the relationship between husband and wife to that of Christ and the Church. So, essentially, God is saying that He expects the same qualities in both relationships. Ephesians 5 is not the only portion of Scripture that makes this connection (Isaiah 61:10, 62:5, John 3:29, Revelation 21:2). Several others, especially in the Old Testament, also compare idolatry to spiritual adultery (Judges 2:17, 1 Chronicles 5:25, Psalm 106:39, Jeremiah 3, Ezekiel 16:5, The book of Hosea).

So, with this thought in mind, it’s not surprising that for every sin against marriage, there’s a parallel when it comes to faith in God. Lack commitment to your spouse mirrors lack commitment to God. Arrogantly ignoring sexual temptations mirrors arrogantly ignoring idolatrous temptations. Refusing to forgive others mirrors, and leads to, refusing to receive forgiveness from God.

I’d like to zero in on one particular area where I think this connection is largely ignored – church attendance. We’re well familiar with the “one-night stand” phrase in our culture and we know what it means. It is a blatant act of defiance to the LORD’s marriage mandates. It is a direct result of the uncommitted lifestyle. So, what is the equivalent in our relationship by faith with God? Church attendance. Church is where we interact with God. It is the realm for building our connection with Him through His Word and Sacraments. But, like faithfulness in a marriage, church attendance involves establishing a Godly habit. It’s not always glamorous to be habitual about something. Being faithful does not always feel fulfilling. But, this is the commitment we have been entrusted with by faith, and one that God expects of us.

Too many believers are having “one-Sunday stands” with God. Now, you may say, “I may not come every weekend, but I’ve sure been at church more than once!” That’s nice, but how does that stand in light of God’s commands to “Remember the Sabbath day…” and “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together (Hebrews 10:25).” Does limping along the bare minimum emulate the Godly attitude of, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD! (Psalm 122:1)'”? Does once or twice a month make everything better?

Likewise, some may also say, “Well, it’s not going to church that is important, it’s knowing and believing the Word.” Again, there is a grain of truth to that statement. Those present every Sunday are no more holy than those absent. It’s not about the individual, but about what is happening at church, or what a person receives. Grace can be received at home just as much as in the pew. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how often a person attends if they don’t actually believe anything they’re hearing. Hypocrites abound, we all know it. But, does that fact alone give you opportunity before God to justify your own absence? That’s like saying you don’t have to be in the kitchen to eat. Well, in a way you don’t have to, and not everyone in the kitchen is always eating. But, if that’s where the food is, why aren’t you, when you are hungry, also there?

The importance of church attendance is really simple so let’s not over-complicate it. God’s Word is there. God’s Word is good for you (necessary in fact). So, be at church. If you don’t feel the need, you might have commitment issues in your faith, and that is certainly not to be taken lightly.

Matthew 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “

Bible Study: Proverbs

Bible Study: Proverbs

In our Bible Study, Pastors Rob Sauers and Nathanael Mayhew discuss the book of Proverbs. Proverbs is one of the poetic books of the Old Testament. Hebrew poetry does not consist of rhyme and meter as English poetry does, but it uses parallelism as a tool to lead us into God’s truth.

Proverbs is an example of wisdom literature and is similar to other wisdom literature found in the ancient world and even today. Even without a special revelation from God, people everywhere have been able to distill certain helpful truths about human behavior into pithy saying. While this is true, Biblical wisdom literature, like Proverbs, rises above the rest. Its source lies not in the observations of sinful human beings, but in the LORD who created life and knows best how it is to be lived. The Bible’s Proverbs are rooted in “the fear of the Lord” (1:7). Therefore, they are entirely reliable and true.

One of the great challenges in reading this book is that Proverbs speaks very little about justification but is focused more on sanctification. As we study this book, we remember that Biblical wisdom finds its highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, who is the very wisdom of God.

This book speaks on a variety of topics that apply to the lives of God’s people today as much as they did 3,000 years ago when they were first written – a powerful testimony to the timeless value of God’s Word.

May the LORD bless our study!

Lot’s Folly

Lot’s Folly

If you had to describe your approach to making decisions what would you say? Are you the type of person that goes with your gut? Do you like to plan everything out ahead of time? Do you follow the method of listing pros and cons? Decision-making often comes down to emotion and evidence. Depending on your personality you may lean one way or the other but most of us like to make decisions that are emotionally true to our hearts and also true to the evidence, to some degree at least.

Now, as tricky as the question above is to answer, here’s an even tougher one. What role does God play in your decisions? The answer may seem easy on the surface. Obviously, to the believer, God is important. But, is that actually the way you make your decisions or do you just say that? Is God the first one you turn to in moments of doubt, or do you consult a friend? Do you care more about what God says in His Word or what is posted on the internet or what comes from the talking heads on the TV? The thing is, if God is important to your decision-making process, you have to actually listen to what He says.

What most people seem to do is follow Lot’s folly? What do I mean? It comes from Genesis 13:10-13 –

Lot looked out and saw that the entire Jordan Valley as far as Zoar was well watered everywhere like the LORD’s garden and the land of Egypt. This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. 11 So Lot chose the entire Jordan Valley for himself. Then Lot journeyed eastward, and they separated from each other. 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, but Lot lived in the cities of the valley and set up his tent near Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were evil, sinning greatly against the LORD.

Lot’s folly was that he blatantly ignored God when he made his decisions. He trusted himself. He gravitated toward what he wanted. He sought what was most prosperous by the world’s standards. And… he paid dearly for it. In the next chapter Lot was taken captive by a group of foreign kings. He ignored the chaotic nature of Sodom, with its rampant wickedness, and figured he’d be okay. He thought he could control the situation. In reality, it was far beyond Lot’s control and he was swept up in it. Once Abram rescued him you’d think Lot would have learned his lesson. You’d be wrong.

Lot returned to Sodom and continued to block out the Lord’s warning signs. Finally, God’s judgment could not be held back any longer and He sent two angels to get Lot out of the city (Genesis 19). What happened? The men of Sodom wanted to rape the angels and Lot offered his virgin daughters in their stead. How could one end up making such poor decisions? Answer: leave God out of it. Lot was spared that day, but his deliverance came at a cost as his wife perished in the process by disobeying the Lord’s command. Lot’s life held great promise. He had tremendous opportunities before him. It all changed the moment he chose Sodom, because their wickedness was great and they sinned against the LORD.

How does Lot’s folly continue today? It happens all the time, in many ways; whenever people think they can control situations that God warns about. A young person leaves church because they finally have freedom from their parent’s rules and they are ready to explore the world. A husband surfs around the internet trying to ignore daily stress and he is drawn to pornography, which promises excitement and acceptance. Netflix subscriptions, smart phone contracts, designer labels, food cravings, and more all make the annual budget, but offerings to church continue to decline. Consciences are acquitted by simply filling the pew yet ignored completely when it comes to loving those in need. Outcry for ivory tusks and eagles’ eggs resonates across the globe while the helpless plea of the unborn continues to fall on deaf ears. How easy is it to take God out of the decision-making process? Extremely. It happens all the time and in each case, Lot’s folly is repeated.

What are the consequences? Only time will tell for each person. But, even today we feel the weight. As Good Friday and Easter rapidly approach, we stand in unobstructed clarity at the horror of our sinful decisions; of every moment we have ignored God and bowed to our control of the situation instead.

Ye who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great.
Here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, See who bears the awful load.
‘Tis the WORD, the LORD’S ANOINTED, Son of Man and Son of God (TLH 153 v.3).  

Let Lot’s folly be a reminder for you – both of the importance in truly making God part of your decision-making process, and the great consequence borne by Christ because we so often don’t. You will rejoice this Easter, and into the future, with real, living joy because you have a God and Savior who does care about you.

Tempered Independence

Tempered Independence

Proverbs 15:20 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.

This verse from today’s devotion caught my eye. I write especially for teenage readers, but it really applies to all. Remember that God still cares about how you treat your parents. So often excuses are given because of immaturity or naive oversight. But, in reality, there’s nothing complicated about the intent of the fourth commandment. One of the subversive, under-the-radar, dangers we face in our culture is the desire to be independent of traditional norms, no matter the cost. There is a huge push for personal independence; so much so that the sin of simple disrespect is often overlooked.

Yet, it still matters to God that you take into account your parents’ thoughts and feelings, no matter how unjustified you think they may be. Personal independence is not the end all, be all of life; it’s a process whereby an individual grows and matures; it’s never supposed to be the consummation of life. If you make changes or want to do things differently, think them through first. Have a reason for your change that is not just about your personal independence, or doing something just to stand out. It’s often those very decisions which you will most regret later in life, but I’ll also give you two more reasons why:

1.Your parents love and care about more than you give them credit for. It’s not a coincidence that in the previous chapter of Proverbs, we see this bit of wisdom, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray(12:26).” Many are the ways of life that can lead you astray, and many are the people that will befriend you on those paths. Who you choose to spend time with matters. Who you choose to imitate matters. Your parents love you unconditionally, so much so that they would tell you things you don’t want to hear, knowing full well the reaction they’ll get for it. You simply cannot overstate the value of love like that.

2. Your parents are blood-bought souls of Christ. He came to earth to suffer and die for them, just as much as He did those things for you. He loves them just as He loves you. This means your parents are valuable to God; and if they are valuable to Him they should be so to you. You also know how it hurts and affects their faith when you rebel or change for foolish reasons, or for your own selfish independence alone. Perhaps more than any other relationship you have, the way you treat your parents will have a profound effect on their faith. Instead of being so quick to separate yourself from your parents, exercise Godly wisdom by seeking to build them up in Christ.

 

Be a Role Model

Be a Role Model

Although it’s been over ten years since I passed my driving test and received my driver’s license, I vividly remember one piece of advice from the instructor. He said, “Always be sure to use your turn signal, even if you don’t see any other cars. You never know who is watching.” This point of emphasis has probably stuck with me because I’ve been reminded of it often. Sometimes I won’t use my turn signal because I’m trying to dart out through the intersection quickly. Sometimes I just get lazy and don’t feel like signalling to other drivers. I know I’ve cut others off before because of these things. So much can happen so quickly on the road, it’s so important to remember that you can’t keep track of it all on your own.

I wish this principle was applied more often in other areas of life. Why don’t we make more of an effort to think about what we’re signalling to others? This is so obviously important in the example we set for others. We may think no one is watching, or paying attention, but oftentimes many are. As a sports fan I was reminded of this again in the past week as the topic of professional athletes as role models again came to the forefront. If you haven’t heard, there was an incident at Madison Square Garden, the famous arena where the New York Knicks play basketball. The incident involved Charles Oakley, a famous player for the Knicks in the 90s. For those who haven’t seen or heard it, the following video can bring you up to speed.

Now, I don’t know what the long-standing beef between was about. In a post-altercation retaliation, Oakley was banned from MSG, and the owner made comments about Oakley’s mental health and suggested he might have problems with alcohol. I don’t know about the validity or usefulness of any of those claims. What I do know is that what we witnessed on television (in the video above) was not normal, healthy, or appropriate. Oakley was eventually arrested, his actions were condemned, and he apologized privately. But, to me, the most concerning part of this entire episode is the present aftermath.

The latest from SportsCenter this morning portrayed Oakley like an underdog hero; someone willing to stand up to the billionaire white man. Former players are excusing his actions because that’s just the type of guy he is. He wouldn’t take any guff on the court so we can’t expect him to take any off the court either. In fact, just today, Oakley’s altercation was compared to the arrest and death of Eric Garner, an event that sparked social outrage. So, somehow Oakley now has become a symbol for social rights by getting into a fight in public and getting arrested. I don’t know what’s sadder; Oakley’s reaction or the media’s excusing and defending of it. Both of them set horrible examples. This doesn’t excuse the Knick’s owner at all, but no one is publicly defending what he did, even though it didn’t involve hitting anyone in public or getting arrested. Regardless of what the owner said or did that led to the altercation, there was absolutely no excuse for Oakley’s actions. Yet when they are continually pardoned in the public eye, people start to think it’s okay to act that way if you have a good reason for it.

Role models should be calm under pressure and never verbally or physically combative. Based on what I know about Oakley’s playing career and what I saw on the video of the incident, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did have anger management issues. Yet, today his actions are being lauded as honorable. Both things are sickening.

Here’s where the Christian’s calling comes into play. The Bible says nothing about fame being a requirement for mentoring and setting a good example yet so often we look to the rich and famous as role models. Rather, faith in Christ is the difference. When a person believes, he or she automatically takes up the mantle of bearing Christ’s name. This is so important and necessary because everyone to some extent, especially young people, desire to follow the example of others. Role models will be made even if you don’t show your faith. Don’t force young people to emulate professional athletes because they don’t see anything better in their lives. Take time today to help them see what makes an action right or wrong; don’t throw them to the media wolves to decide for themselves either. Above all, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful (Colossians 3:15).” When you act you may think no one is looking, but God always is, and usually many others are too.

The Dying Art of Commitment

The Dying Art of Commitment

Each year, Oxford University Press, the organization that oversees work on the renowned Oxford Dictionary, introduces a word of the year. The word is meant to reflect the state of the world in the passing year. For 2016, the chosen word was “post-truth”. This is how they define it:

“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Post-truth does not point to something which comes after the truth, such as a conclusion based on the truth. Instead it represents something that is feeling-driven, rather than fact-driven. See this article for a good explanation.

The panel tasked with choosing the word of year concluded by saying,

The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix  in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

Think about that for a second. A panel of literary experts has concluded that the most appropriate word for the past year is one in which truth has become “unimportant or irrelevant.” Sad as it may be, I agree that this meaning of “post-truth” accurately reflects the state of the world in 2016, particularly in America. People are growing less and less concerned with what is actually right and more enamored with their own personal desires and quests for individual liberty. With the emergence of believe systems like post-truth, we will only continue to see a growing influence on objective-based, truth-claiming beliefs like the Christian faith. Many people have the mistaken perception that Christianity is all about blind faith, but it’s actually rooted in historical fact and objective, outside of the person thinking. Nothing encapsulates this more than the simple teaching of salvation in Jesus. This most-important teaching of Christianity is all about what Christ has objectively done outside of the individual to secure salvation. It is not about feeling; rather it supersedes that.

I believe we’re already starting to see a post-truth effect in our culture when it comes to commitment. Commitment issues are growing in the most important parts of life in our society. Take marriage for example. Rising rates of cohabitation (living as husband and wife before marriage) in the last 20 years reveals a lack of commitment. A Pew Research study from 2011 also shows that Millennials, the demographic most influential in establishing post-truth philosophy, place a greater emphasis on love rather than commitment in marriage. Love is typically viewed as an emotion. Commitment is an established decision. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between feeling and truth.

We’re also seeing this in churches, which isn’t much of a surprise considering that God uses marriage to describe His relationship with believers (see Ephesians 5 and Matthew 9 and 25). Both marriage and faith are built on commitment. Feelings certainly play a role in both, there’s no denying that, but neither were ever meant to be about feelings alone, or apart from truth. However, religion in America is following the same trend as marriage. Both are increasingly becoming more about a feeling-based positions rather than objective truth. This represents the “post-truth” mentality. It also presents a serious problem, not just because marriage and family structures are eroding, but because feeling-driven belief is really a product of humanism. Humanism is an utterly ungodly philosophy which places all confidence and hope in mankind. It reigns when peoples’ opinions and personal choices outweigh the divine will of God and it ends in idolatry.

It’s necessary for us to recall how important commitment and truth are to true faith in God. Psalm 37:5 states, “Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

Most importantly, let us remember that to forsake the pursuit of objective truth, is to forsake Christ. It was Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Me (John 14:6).” The Bible also records that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).” It‘s frustrating and sad to see the decay of marriage, commitment, and truth in our society. But, the struggle is not over yet. These set-backs are signs of the world we live in, but there is more that can be done. We are wrestling against a problem that strikes to the very heart of our faith. But, that which is threatened is also the very solution and hope to the problem. The key is to continue believing, defending, and confessing Jesus Christ in our lives.

Let our prayer of commitment to the Lord be the same as the Spirit-inspired words of Proverbs 3:

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart, 4 And so find favor and high esteem In the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:3-7)

 

A Vote for Life Matters

A Vote for Life Matters

For me, part of preparing to register my vote in this year’s election involves reflection on the last few years. I am continually led to think not so much about President Barack Obama, but rather his wife, first-lady Michelle Obama. It’s becoming more common for the first-lady to push for significant change while her spouse is in office. It almost becomes a position in and of itself. Mrs. Obama has devoting significant work in the last eight years to educating young children in healthy living. She has helped create a movement called “Let’s Move” which encourages five pillars:

  1. Creating a healthy start for children
  2. Empowering parents and caregivers
  3. Providing healthy food in schools
  4. Improving access to healthy, affordable foods
  5. Increasing physical activity

“Let’s Move” prides itself as “America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids”. Who can argue with this motto or any of the pillars it supports? Healthy eating and exercise are great things to teach kids about and encourage them in. In this effort I certainly support Mrs. Obama. At the same time, I can’t help but cringe at the blatant contradiction that exists in reality. Any political candidate who claims to care about children, yet supports and promotes abortion, is simply hypocritical. This is why I think of Michelle Obama during this election season. She has a track record of supporting abortion through politics, both for her husband and for other politicians. It’s not so much that this is a new issue for our country; it’s certainly been around for much longer than the last eight years. The thing that bothers me most is this recent insistence by those who promote abortion that they care so much about children. If Mrs. Obama would at least be honest about her position I could respectfully disagree with her and appreciate her candor. But, for her to put on the front of making her life’s work about helping kids and growing a healthy next generation, while promoting the senseless murder of millions of unborn infants, is a most despicable evil.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that along with the growing discussion of the morality of abortion in our country also comes a growing promotion by abortion supporters of the ways in which they support children. It reeks to me of a man-made salve to alleviate the consciences of those who know better.

This is why a vote for life matters. When election season comes around, abortion is relegated by many to a strictly political topic. Questions of right and wrong take a backseat to questions of personal rights. What people say becomes more important than what God says. Righting the economy, fighting terrorism, preserving 2nd amendment rights, and determining which tax plan helps me the most all help us collectively drown out the blatant horror of stripping a helpless child from the protection of a mother’s womb.

Please don’t take this as calloused indifference toward a pregnant mother’s difficulty, especially that of a single mother or a rape victim. But, no atrocity demands a further atrocity as retribution, especially when that retribution is directed at the innocent. To speak out against the plague of abortion in our country and to vote for life is not to ignore the pain or rights of women. A system which advertises murder as the first and best choice is a broken system. We can do better.

So many people have complained this election season about the presidential candidates of the two major parties. It feels like no one is happy with our options. The problem is always passed off as someone else’s fault. In truth, I believe that the candidates we have are a reflection of the individual citizens of our country. That’s how a democracy works. Our government leaders’ morality is a litmus test for our own morality. To blame the candidates, but not see oneself as a contributor to the problem, is an element of personal hypocrisy too, equally as damning as standing for healthy eating while vacuuming wombs bare.

vote-for-life-3

This is why moral and religious issues absolutely matter when it comes to our vote. You can buy into the “political” label for abortion but that’s willful ignorance. When we’ve allowed such a blatant moral tragedy to exist and prosper for so long (roughly 55 millions abortions since 1973), should we be surprised when immorality seeps unchecked into other areas of our nation; into the economics, into transparency of government, into the military, and even into the personal and professional lives of our leaders? If we’re willing to talk away what is done to a helpless infant in the most fragile of states, we’re going to be willing to talk away anything.

Those who vote based on abortion are looked at as religious zealots or simpletons; people who are willing to overlook the important things for an idealistic crusade. Abortion is not the only important issue which our vote impacts, not even the only moral issue. But, there is no doubt, it is the most glaring evil in our country, especially when one considers the moral and rationalistic gymnastics which are used to excuse it. We know more about a mother’s womb today than ever before in history. There is no doubt that life begins as God teaches, at conception. A child’s heartbeat alone begins within 18 days of conception. We cannot claim ignorance about what abortion really does. What a blatant contradiction, that in this supposedly great age of science and reason our culture has found more and more ways of ignoring the clear evidence in favor of sinful desires.

Common objections to voting pro-life:

1. It violates the mother’s rights. We often hear this as the most common objection to the government getting involved in ending abortion or setting rules on abortion. It’s true, in one sense, that the government has no right to infringe upon a woman’s rights, or any other citizen’s, without just cause. We certainly don’t believe the government should never get involved, or never restrict anyone, because all laws are restrictive in some way. Laws are necessary, both by logic and by what God says in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7). The question comes down to what the law says and why. Is there a reason for restricting a woman’s right to procure an abortion? It depends on the reason. If a woman is in serious health trouble due to the pregnancy and could lose both her life and potentially the life of the child, there is an obvious moral reason for possible termination of the pregnancy and it shouldn’t be determined by the government. However, this situation describes less than 1% of all abortions, and even in these cases the right decision is never clear cut. Most abortions are done because the mother decides, or is pressured to believe, that it would be too difficult or inconvenient to raise the child. Abortions also occur frequently as a last-ditch effort at birth control. In such cases, the government’s responsibility should be to protect the innocent and provide support for expectant mothers who need help. Advocating death over life is never supportive. In no other realm of society do we force the agenda of death as much as abortion. In any other area it would be considered barbaric, but somehow we’ve allowed that exact system to exist for over 40 years in this country.

2. Christians have no right to legislate their beliefs on others. This argument assumes that opposition of abortion is unique to Christians. Although Christians are often the most outspoken voices against abortion, it is by no means simply a Christian issue. Most religions in the world respect the life of the innocent in some way. As Christianity itself teaches, the basic moral law that murder is wrong is in the heart of all people since God created them to recognize that in the conscience. Therefore, to relegate the pro-life stance to promotion of only one religion is a fallacy. The fact that abortion without just cause is immoral is not just some ancient tenant of Christianity, it is an unchangeable moral law, set in our hearts by our Creator. It is true whether you believe it or not. Christians who say they shouldn’t vote based on their faith should also check where their loyalty rests. When human governments allow things that a morally wrong, Christians are to obey God above all. Saying that a Christian should not vote against abortion because it is forcing one’s religion upon others is putting government above God. We, obviously, are not to use the government to do the church’s job, but we are also to be lights that shine forth the truth of Christ in the decisions we make, a vote being one such decision. I encourage Christians who think this way to diligently consider the import of Matthew 10:32-33 when it comes to their view of government: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

3. Abortion is a necessary evil because chastity is not realistic in our society and the world is overpopulated. First of all, regarding chastity, it may be extremely rare in our society but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. God clearly wants man and woman to wait until marriage before sexual contact. This is clearly not the norm in our culture, but it remains God’s commandment. While it is very difficult to keep chaste before marriage, God promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” To say that it is impossible to be chaste is to tempt God by doubting His promise to help in temptation. It also reveals that the one who doubts is in danger to more than just sexual temptation, but also to idolatry, by trusting in their own word over God’s.

The argument about overpopulation is so over-the-top it is almost not worth commenting on. What you see in it is the honest practice of evolutionary philosophy. If we are truly animalistic organisms with no Creator, then life is all about survival at all costs. Why not destroy the weak and fragile to preserve resources for ourselves? It is truly the most shameful and baseless defense for abortion, but you will see it employed by many.

A vote for life matters greatly. It matters to other issues as it seeks to root out evil in our government and culture. It matters to God, Who says that murder is wrong and Who is our Creator and the One who fashions life from conception. It matters to our fellow citizens, many of whom live without the light of Jesus in their lives, and could use a Christian’s solid and Biblical witness of the truth. It matters to mothers who are pregnant and are pressured to take the “easy” way out while not realizing the great pain, anguish, and guilt that they are acquiring in the process. It matters to the helpless child in the womb, who has no voice in our nation, except perhaps yours.

I encourage you to get out next week and exercise your blessed civic right to vote. Vote as one whose ultimate trust is in what God says, not the world. Vote as one who reflects the value of life with which Jesus has enlightened your heart. In His cross, we have a continual reminder: Life is always greater than death! A vote for life matters for many reasons.

life-is-greater-2

1 Peter 1:17-19 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

A Book of Faith

A Book of Faith

“My faith is in a person, not a book.”

In WWII soldiers were issued the New Testament for Servicemen. It was a copy of the NT with a metal cover. Given the nature of combat, there were indeed times when the literal book saved a soldier by stopping a bullet. This hard copy edition of God’s Word soon took on a mythical status. It was God’s book that could actually stop bullets! Certainly, the effectiveness of this protection was not simply a matter of a metal cover with compacted pages. The times in which this book literally spared a person’s life was a matter of God’s providence.

We hear the quote above often today. We who hold to the clear words of the Bible as they are presented in their given context are often scoffed at as if we believe it’s the literal pages which save us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw this past week that displayed a similar thought, “It’s not WHAT that matters, it’s WHO”. True, indeed. We would never want to emphasize the literal book itself at the expense of Who the book is about. Religion in name only is not true religion. But, what do we do when the WHO (Jesus) tells us that true faith is all about the WHAT (His Word)?

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Giving the impression or making people feel that the WHAT of our Christian faith isn’t that important can quickly become idolatry. If we don’t heed what Jesus teaches or what He stands for, then we will simply turn Him into what we want Him to be. So is the path that all who ignore the clear words of Scripture eventually walk. Just as the New Testament for Servicemen displayed God’s protection and providence, at times; so also the words of Scripture today display God’s grace and forgiveness. Both the WHO and the WHAT matter, and both are essential to faith and salvation.

John 8:31-32 is certainly straightforward enough, but earlier in the same Gospel, the Holy Spirit was even more direct. At the very beginning He revealed that the WHO is really the WHAT.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)

Simply put, you cannot have the WHO without the WHAT. Jesus is called the Word precisely because the written and spoken Word is necessary to understanding and believing who He is. To follow the Scriptures is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to follow the Scriptures. This applies to the continuance of faith just as much as it applies to its beginning. We have an example of this from a group of Christians who struggled with the same thing,

“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)

Paul admonished the Galatians because they were drifting from that which had first brought them to faith. They began in the Spirit by “the hearing of faith.” Clearly, at the very beginning, faith was indeed about a Book, and the WHAT mattered greatly. But, Paul called them “foolish” because they had drifted from this foundation. In a very modern fashion the Galatians began to ignore the teachings of God’s Word. They probably figured they knew enough about the Bible and didn’t really need to use it anymore. Paul’s entire point was that the Bible matters vitally to faith, at any point in the Christian’s life.

We do well to remember this truth as we approach another anniversary of the Reformation. God used this event to bring His Word (the Book, the WHAT) back into peoples’ lives. Today, as a result, we have greater access to the Bible than ever before. But, the same lie of Satan remains; namely, that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the words. Breadth of access does not guarantee faithfulness. Instead, it can very quickly lead to shallow understanding, belief, and faith. Let our boast be in both the WHO (Jesus) of our faith and in the WHAT (His Word), because the two cannot be separated.