Faith, Sanctification, Sin

Throwback Thursday ~ Repeating Wrongs Renders Right?

Originally published September 17, 2013.repeating wrongs

“Four hundred thirty seven”

“Sorry, that’s not right. Try again, Buddy.”

scribble scribble scribble

“Oh, ok. Four hundred thirty seven.

“No, Honey. You just said that, and I just told you it was wrong. Give it another try.”

“But it’s 437!”

“Son, I have the answer book right here in front of me. The answer is not 437. Repeating the wrong answer over and over again doesn’t magically make it right.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation -nearly verbatim- with each of my four children in the fourteen years I’ve been home schooling.

But I can tell you that this morning was the first time I realized that this is the same way many people relate to God and the Bible.

When this dialogue takes place between my child and me, it is because the child has done something wrong. He has forgotten to carry the one. Confused a peninsula with an isthmus. Mistaken an adverb for an adjective.

But he can’t see what he’s done wrong, or indeed, that he’s done anything wrong. And because he’s blind to his wrongness, his default position is to assume that he is right and I am wrong. Forget that he’s in fifth grade and I have a bachelor’s degree, half a master’s degree, and nearly two decades of teaching experience. Never mind that this is the fourth time I’ve taught fifth grade from this very same book. Completely disregarded is the fact that I have the teacher key right in front of me that shows exactly what he did wrong and what the right answer is.

No. He’s right. I’m wrong. The book is wrong. Math is stupid.

Foolishness is indeed bound up in the heart of a child.

But foolishness is bound up in all of our hearts when it comes to sin:

“My husband doesn’t always treat me like
a queen. God wouldn’t want me to be
miserable for the rest of my life, so my
relationship 
with the guy at work is just fine.”

“What the Bible says about
homosexuality only had to do
with male cult prostitutes, so my
monogamous homosexual relationship
with my partner isn’t a sin.”

“I’ve gone to church all my life.
Once, I even repeated a ‘sinner’s
prayer’ and was baptized. It doesn’t
matter what my life looks like now,
I’m sure I’m saved because of that.”

“The Bible says women aren’t
to instruct men in the church?
But I feel that God has called me
to be a pastor, so that verse must
not mean what it clearly says.”

Over and over we say it, hoping to convince ourselves, to drown out God’s law that’s written on our hearts, and to shout down anyone who would call us to repentance. Because we’re blind to our wrongness, our default position is to assume that we’re right and God, and His word, are wrong. Never mind the fact that He’s God -Creator of the entire universe, knows everything, sees everything, has power over everything, and is perfect in holiness- and we’re, well… not.

No. We’re right. He’s wrong. The Bible is wrong. People who agree with God’s word are just haters.

But, just like I tell my children: repeating the wrong answer over and over again doesn’t magically make it right.  When each of us stands before God on the day of judgment, it’s not going to matter how many times we’ve tried to convince ourselves, others, and God that our way is right. It’s only going to matter what God says is right.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 14:12

Christmas, Faith, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ The “Merry Christmas” Melee

Originally Published December 6, 2010
melee

It’s that time of year again. Time for love and good cheer. Peace on earth. Joy to the world.

And war.

Over the last several years, there’s been a sometimes quiet and respectful, sometimes loud and obnoxious battle raging between conservative Christians and merchants over whether said merchants use the term “Merry Christmas” or the more general “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” in their advertising and in greeting customers at their stores.

I don’t know about you, but it’s driving me bananas.

Would I prefer for everybody to say “Merry Christmas”? Sure. But on my list of things to have an aneurysm about, it falls somewhere between my dentist telling me I should floss more and deciding where to get the dog a pedicure. I just really don’t care that much. And I’m wondering, in the grand scheme of things that should be pressing upon Christians’ hearts, should something this minor even register on the scale of issues that upset us?

What Do We Expect?t?

Speaking strictly numerically and statistically, genuine Christians– not just people who say they’re Christians and/or go to church, but people who have actually been regenerated by the blood of Christ –are a very small minority. Despite what you may hear to the contrary, the United States is not a Christian nation. It may have been founded on Biblically inspiried principles, but in practical societal terms today, this is a nation mostly made up of lost people.

This means that it’s a safe bet that the majority of the people at the helms of these corporations are lost. And guess what? Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and lost people gotta act like lost people (Romans 8:7). What this means is that their decision whether to use “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” has nothing to do with Jesus or respecting the “true meaning of Christmas”. Their decision is going to be based on what’s going to make the corporation the most money. If saying “Merry Christmas” will get more customers in the door, that’s what they’ll do. It doesn’t mean they’re honoring Christ, it mean’s they’re pandering to Christians.

When we exert pressure on these corporations to say “Merry Christmas”, what real change are we effecting? Are we not just creating more people who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13)? Are we not sending them the subtle message that external behavior, rather than a reborn spirit, is what counts? One day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). One day. But that day is not today. We can’t force change in people’s hearts by coercing them into saying “Merry Christmas”. And, to God, a change of heart is the only thing that matters.

Where Should Our Passions Lie?

I used to belong to a Christian “social issues” organization. In many ways, it’s a great organization. I got frequent e-mails from them regarding which social issues various corporations were investing their profits in, where politicians stood on the issues, and lots of other helpful information and resources.

But every autumn they would begin their annual “Merry Christmas” campaign. They have buttons you can order that urge people to say “Merry Christmas”. They have leaflets and stickers and videos you can order for your church to promote saying “Merry Christmas”. They publish a “Naughty and Nice” list of merchants who use “Merry Christmas” (nice) or some other wording (naughty), so you’ll know which stores to shop and which to boycott.

And it made me stop and think– how many manhours go into that campaign every year? How much money does the organization invest in it? How much money do churches and individuals spend on their materials? Is investing that much time and money in promoting “Merry Christmas” good stewardship?

We have brothers and sisters all over this planet who would give anything to own a copy of the Bible. There are crisis pregnancy centers that operate on a shoestring trying to help women and their babies. There are missionaries who live in poverty in third world nations taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it. There are people starving. There are children who have been kidnapped by human traffickers.

And “Merry Christmas” is what we want to get all worked up about?

What’s more upsetting to us, the fact that someone says “Happy Holidays” or the fact that the person who said it might die and spend an eternity in hell? Where do our passions truly lie? Are we passionate about the same things God is passionate about?

This Christmas, can we just focus on what’s important? We have a God who loves every person so deeply and so violently, and whose mercy and grace are so unfathomable, that He came here personally to redeem us.

And there are people all around us who don’t know that.

And they desperately need us to love them enough to tell them that in Jesus there’s hope. A way out of their sin. A way to get clean. A secure eternity. Peace.

God and sinners, reconciled. Oh, what a Merry Christmas!

Evangelism, Faith, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday ~ An Open Letter to My Friends Who Are Struggling…

 Originally published September 10, 2008.

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Dear Friend,

I know you have been going through some rough times lately. Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one. Maybe you’re ill with a serious disease. You might struggle with depression. You could be watching a loved one battle cancer or another terminal condition. Your marriage may be close to breaking up. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re simply sick and tired of the way your everyday life is going. That the world is going to hell in a hand basket and you’re getting sucked right down with it.

I’ve listened as you’ve poured out your heart. I’ve walked with you as you’ve struggled. I’ve held your hand and prayed with you. And while my heart breaks for you because of the circumstances you’re going through, what crushes me even more is the despair, the hopelessness I hear in your voice. That there’s no way out. That it’s impossible to deal with the pain. That there’s no one who can really help you.

But there is. And that’s what I desperately need to tell you.

I haven’t told you before, because when everything was going fine for you, you didn’t want to hear it. But sometimes people just get to a point in their lives where things are so bad they’re willing to try anything.

And so, I’m asking you to try, just try, one more thing. If you’ve already tried everything else, and nothing’s working, what do you have to lose?

Please try Jesus.

Jesus loves you. He cares about your pain and your struggle. And He’s the only One powerful enough to actually do anything about it.

I’m not talking about simply bowing your head and asking Him to get you out of the horrible situation you’re in. I’m talking about bowing your life to Him. Giving up. Surrendering. Letting this King you’ve been doing battle with all your life conquer you for your own good, sit on the throne that rightfully belongs to Him, and set up His rulership over your life.

This King doesn’t desire to reign over you so that He can tyrannize you. He’s a freedom fighter. He has already made the ultimate sacrifice to set you free from the oppressive regime under which you’ve been living: you. All you have to do is renounce your throne and become one of His subjects.

What does this mean in practical terms? You set aside a little uninterrupted time to talk it out with God. You recognize that He is God and you are not. You admit to Him, and to yourself, that you have sinned.

“Sin” means to break God’s laws. You know the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), right? At least some of them? Have you ever lied, stolen something (even something small), dishonored your parents? Then you have sinned. And by the way, your opinion on whether or not something should be a sin doesn’t make a hill of beans of difference. When you can create the universe, heal the sick, walk on water, and rise from the dead, maybe you’ll get to make the rules. Until then: God’s turf, God’s rules. And you’ve broken them. All of us have.

What happens when you break a local, state, or federal law? Well, if you get caught, there’s supposed to be some kind of punishment. If you speed, you have to pay a fine. If you steal, you go to jail. If you murder somebody, depending on where you live and whether or not you can get the verdict overturned on a technicality, you get the death penalty.

There’s punishment for breaking God’s laws too. James 2:10 tells us:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

In other words, if you’ve broken one of God’s laws, you’ve broken them all. So, since we’ve all committed the same crime against God– breaking all of His laws –we’re all destined for the same punishment. Hell.

Yes, there is a hell just as surely as there is a heaven. Once again, your opinion on whether or not hell does exist or should exist matters about as much as your opinion on whether or not the sky is blue or whether or not it should be a different color. Your opinion does not change the facts.

The good news is that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, has already taken the punishment for the crime that we committed. Have you ever heard of a completely innocent victim of a crime volunteering to take the death penalty for the perpetrator for no other reason than that he loves him? Me neither. But that’s exactly what Jesus did for you and for me. And believe me, it was cruel and unusual punishment.

But Jesus didn’t just die in our place. He did away with the eternal death of hell by coming back to life after three days in the grave. And He’s willing to share that victory over hell with anybody who wants it badly enough. It’ll only cost you your life. Not your physical life, of course, but your spiritual life.

After admitting to God that you’re a sinner, the next step is to believe with your whole heart that Jesus died and rose again to take the punishment for your sin (Romans 10:9-10). You gratefully tell God that you accept that Jesus did this for you. You ask Him to forgive you, and make a commitment to Him and to yourself that with His help you’re going to turn away from a life of sin and serving yourself and turn to a life of serving and obeying Him. (This turning away is called “repenting”.)

Finally, you put your money where your mouth is and act on what you’ve just committed to. You spend time reading your Bible and praying in order to get to know God better. When opportunities to sin arise, you turn away from them. As you grow in your relationship with God, you discover what He wants you to do with your life, and you follow that path.

This last step is a very important one that, all too frequently, gets left out. Simply mouthing a prayer and then going back to business as usual ain’t gonna cut it. In fact, if you are able to go back to living the way you always have, with no discernable change of heart or behavior, at least a gradual one, you probably aren’t a Christian. If you’ve truly given your life to Christ, you’re going to be a different person. You’re going to have an aversion to sin, and a love for God. Your attitudes towards others will change. Your priorities will change. Your beliefs about right and wrong will change.

Simply SAYING you’re a Christian doesn’t make you one. I could sit here all day long and tell you I’m a doctor. Sure, I’ve taken some biology classes, and I do have some medical knowledge, but I didn’t go through medical school, I’m not licensed, and I don’t treat patients. If I wanted to become a doctor, I’d have to submit myself to the things that are necessary for becoming a doctor. It’s the same way with Christianity. We have to submit ourselves to what God says is necessary for becoming a Christian: true repentance, and trust in Christ.

If you’ve stuck with me this far through this seemingly interminable article, you’re probably thinking back to my very first paragraph and saying to yourself, “This ‘giving your life to Jesus’ stuff is all well and good, but my husband is dying/I can’t find a job and my house is about to be foreclosed/my mother just died/I’m on the brink of divorce/etc. That’s all I care about, all I can think about right now.”

That’s precisely why I told you about Jesus. When (and ONLY when) you give your life to Him, He helps you through your problems. You want peace when you’re struggling with a rebellious child? Comfort after the death of a loved one? Strength when your body is in pain? Joy instead of sadness? These things, and many others, are just some of the “fringe benefits” you get from being a Christian. But you only get them as a result of giving your life to Christ. There is no other way.

Thanks for allowing me to get this off my chest, Friend. I just couldn’t go one more day telling you that I’m praying for you to have peace or strength or healing without telling you how to get those things. And so I’ll urge you just once more: try Jesus. Or as the Bible puts it (Psalm 34:8):

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!