Secular Saints

“Secular saints” would seem to be a contradiction of terms, and in some ways it really is.  The dictionary says that the word secular means “of this world, temporal”; and is distinguished from the “sacred”. A “saint” is one who had been declared righteous by God because, and only because, faith has been placed in Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior. But what is a secular saint?

Recently I heard an amazing statistic which stated that when church attenders were asked if they had conversations at home, during the week about the Lord and about His Word, 90% said they did not. Now, I cannot vouch that this was a “scientifically done” survey, but even if it was not of that caliber, it likely does reveal a lot of truth. Sunday mornings is apparently for church and religious activity (it is good for a well-rounded life as one millennial observed), but starting at around noon on Sunday, the Lord is not an integral part of life. So it would appear that many are saintly on Sunday mornings and secular the rest of the week. I read an article recently from the Colson Center in which the author noted that the real issue today for Christians is not atheism, but rather apatheism (apathy about God). This unfamiliar term is what a French philosopher reflected when he stated that “to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” While Christians would say they don’t agree with such a sentiment, the problem is they essentially do. A seminary professor observed that so many in the church today simply don’t see theology and the practical out-workings of theology as something worth their time and energy. They basically don’t care. God is nicely compartmentalized and plays an insignificant role for most of the week.

The Bible has a word which describes the current secularization of believers, and it is the word “ungodly.”  We should note a distinction between “ungodly” and “unrighteous”. While these words are often found together, and overlap, there is a distinction to be noted. “Unrighteousness” focuses on the violating of divine law. There is a standard which God, the great Lawgiver, has established, and breaking His laws are acts of unrighteousness. “Ungodly” looks at marginalizing God in our lives, not a denial of His existence. When the 90% say that God and His Word are not talked about, this is the essence of ungodliness.  God is pushed to the outer edges of life but He is not an integral part of life (until, or course, a crisis happens). Obviously when one is ungodly, there is most likely a lot of unrighteousness there as well. Most secular saints have some feel for what is unrighteous and try and avoid some of the more obvious sins of the flesh. But they (to use Jesus’ term) do not “abide” in Christ on a daily basis. And Jesus was pretty clear, in John 15:1-11, that we need to maintain a close, daily, intimate relationship with Him; that is the core of being “godly”. According to Jesus, “abiding” brings glory to God, and that causes joy and real meaning to flow into our lives. Not to abide will always produce lives which lack real joy, lack the sense of fulfillment and God’s blessing. It is not that God ceases to love His children when they don’t “abide”, but His love is seen more particularly in that He disciplines them (see Heb. 12:3-13). 

How did we get to this place in the church, and what are we to do? The secular saint is the norm today and not the exception. Believers are sounding much like the “world”, reflecting its standards (see 1 John 2:15-17 for the apostles classic warning about the world—the secular).

Much of the blame for the current secularization of the church lies squarely at the feet of church leaders, especially those who are required by Christ to feed His sheep with the nourishing Word of God. The trend started in the 1970s but is full blown today. Bible doctrine and God’s standards are not really taught in most churches. Gone from most pulpits is expositional teaching of the Bible (just declaring in context what the Scriptures are saying). Being in the ministry myself, I have seen many too many men who simply do not feed their sheep. What passes for a biblical sermon is often not much more than religious entertainment.

  Many, in an attempt to help the unsaved person feel unthreatened and “at home” in the church, have backed off of declaring the whole teaching of the Scriptures. Gone are sermons on the tough sayings of Jesus, on hell and coming judgment, on the sanctity of God-ordained matters like life and marriage and many other “controversial” topics. Jan Markell noted in a recent article on “What Happened to My Church?” that “It seems like an ‘eleventh commandment’ came into the church: thou shalt not offend. Taking a stand was clearly over.” 

The result of “sermon lite” (tastes great, less filling) is that the saints suffer a terrible of lack of scriptural knowledge and spiritual discernment. Biblical illiteracy is rampant. They do not really know the character of God and they do not understand His standards. They apparently assume that God is an American; and He is not. Like a good parent, God’s love does not waver, but His favor does.

There is great blame to be given to the church, but each and every believer must personally obey Christ and daily have the wonderful experience of abiding in Jesus. Otherwise, being ungodly as well as unrighteous will always be the result. A believer cannot blame Pastor Jones entirely, for each of us is to be “abiding in Christ.” Am I ungodly (secular)? Are you ungodly (secular)? This is not a trivial question, but goes to the very core of our lives as believers.

God Friended Me

You may recognize this title from some previews of an upcoming show on TV.  The idea is clever and CBS has included it among their Fall shows to be broadcast in September. The basic idea is that a young man, Miles Finer, a self-proclaimed and somewhat aggressive atheist, receives a “friend” request on his Facebook account from none other than God. (The act of “friending” is when someone is invited to exchange messages with the one doing the inviting, and allowing that person to see one’s personal information).  Miles initially thinks that this is a hoax and someone is just fooling around with him, seeing that he is an atheist. But Miles’ “God account” will keep directing him to others who then enter his life with the result that Miles becomes an agent for some good changes in the lives of others. There is something to this, Miles concludes.

CBS says that this show is intended to be a “humorous, uplifting drama” which will show the good that is in people.  It is to be a show that is inspiring and encouraging to those who view it. Now, the producers of the show are clear that there is nothing supernatural about the episodes (unlike “Touched by an Angel”, or “Highway to Heaven”). The philosophy behind the show is that we are all in this life together and there really are a lot of good people out there.  Apparently, the big question of “did God really contact Miles’ Facebook account” may take some time to answer (if it ever is revealed). It probably depends if this idea has enough steam to keep it going for months or even years. But CBS has high hopes that this clever idea will morph into a hit show.

As I hear the promotions for this show, I have a number of responses.  First, I do like the idea of a show that is positive and uplifting. It sure beats so much that is aired on TV that focuses on murder, betrayal, deception, immorality and a nasty assortment of other bad behaviors. The show will focus on the good that is in people, and there is often good to be seen in people (they are, after all, created in the “image of God”).  It might be nice to have a program that emphasizes good deeds and kindnesses of various kinds.

Second, while the idea is clever, it is not original.  Whether online or offline, God has been inviting people to be His friend for millennia. Abraham took Him up on it and became one. To become a friend of God, Abraham believed in the true God and then lived in fellowship with Him (James 2:23; 2 Chronicles 20:7). Moses was God’s friend and they spoke to one another as friends do (Exodus 33:11). Jesus called His apostles “friends” (John 15:14-15). Over time the apostles had come to believe in Him and to obey His commandments with the result that they had a wonderful, close relationship. The invitation by the sovereign creator of the universe to come and be friends is open to all. The friendship that is spoken about in the scriptures comes about when we personally respond to His invitation. We trust Him for our eternal salvation and then we listen to Him and obey His directives. But, when we pause to think about it for just a moment, it truly is an awesome thing that the almighty One would bother issuing such an invitation; and then, to follow up on the invitation and make it a reality. Through His Word, God daily is “friending” people. The issue, as always, is will they respond or put the invitation on hold.

A third response is a little predictive. The storyline points to views of God, in this upcoming series, that will reflect the growing, general view of God in our culture. We have talked before about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (see a previous blog).  Fundamentally, MTD says that God is nice and He wants us to be nice too.  He doesn’t get upset about such antiquated ideas as “sin” and certainly is so loving that the idea of judging people apparently never enters His mind. He is there to give us a helping hand (so that we will be happy and fulfilled) if we want Him to, but He won’t interfere in our lives, much less make some demands on our time or behaviors. But He would like us to be nice and helpful to others. And who can be against being nice and good?

While I don’t know for sure, at this point, how God is going to be portrayed, we can be pretty sure that He will likely bear little resemblance to the God whose attributes and character are detailed in the Bible. And we can be very sure that the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ will be totally absent; claims that Jesus is the one and only way to God; that He alone is truth; and that life only comes through Him. As the Apostle Paul reminds us (2 Cor. 4:4), it is the truth about Christ that the Enemy labors at keeping from people, and characteristically this has been done through religion. In the CBS story, Miles’ father is a preacher, and so, we might get some general religious information through him, but we can be sure that the real truth about Jesus Christ will never surface.

So while the various episodes might have some “uplifting” elements to them, we need to be careful not to be drawn even a little bit towards the growing cultural view of God. A proper view of God produces a deep reverence for Him and this is at the very core of being a friend of God and Christ.

Is God Carless or Indulgent?

It can be a fascinating spectacle to observe a parent dealing with a misbehaving child. Sometimes the parent will make a clear declaration on what must or must not be done, but the child seems not to pay attention and continues doing what he or she wants.  The parental threat (and there can be many of those) is not followed up on, and the child continues on the same behavioral path. Parental standards have been successfully challenge by the child. When the encounter draws to a close, it seems that the parent might be frustrated but apparently not too upset about their own rules and standards being violated. And surely the child has developed the view that the parent is not all that serious about these matters; either because the parent is too indulgent or “loving”; or that the parent is too distracted to really deal with the situation; or maybe that the parent lacks the energy to enforce the rules. 

This same thing has been a problem with God.  He has set down many clear standards of behavior in the “Ten Commandments”, and an untold number of other places.  But many of His “children” don’t seem to pay attention and He doesn’t appear to do much about it.  As a result, the misbehaving person arrives at the erroneous conclusion that God is careless about righteousness and justice. He seems sort of indulgent and, frankly, really doesn’t take His own standards seriously. Their view of God and His standards becomes so badly distorted that they (in the words of the prophet Isaiah) “call evil good, and good evil; and substitute darkness for light and light for darkness…” Another prophet Malachi, looking at the people of his day, noted that these were saying “everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,” and “where is the God of justice?” Today, God indeed seems to be so very tolerant and to fit nicely into tolerant America!

The folks that the ancient prophets were talking about look a lot like many in our culture today. In fact, in our nation, people with these attitudes appear to be everywhere. What God has said doesn’t seem to really matter to them. God has spoken clearly about the sanctity of human life; about the sacredness of marriage; about the clear guidelines for morality and immorality; about the necessity of avoiding lying and deception; about being absolutely fair in business dealings; about being diligent in one’s work; about avoiding using His name in a vain way; about being kind to others; and etc. etc.  And with these commands and precepts, God states that these things cannot be violated with impunity.  And this, of course, is the problem.  These are being violated regularly by many, and God seems not to be paying attention; or worse, He sees it all and indulgently does nothing about it.  Thus, we see this viewpoint developing today as it did with the people of Isaiah and Malachi. But that viewpoint is badly mistaken, failing to observe two major points.

First, judgment delayed is not judgment denied. King Solomon ends his powerful and relevant book of Ecclesiastes by declaring that “God will bring every act to judgment, everything that is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”  When the people of Malachi’s day asked “where is the God of justice”, he immediately responded by stating that He is coming and it could be at any moment, and when He does come no one can handle that day of His judgment.  Even the most arrogant amongst us will find that they cannot stand before Him. Malachi gets specific and states that those who violated God’s standard of morality/immorality; those who deceived; those whose business practices were unfair; those who fraternized with the occult world; and those who did not reverence Him would be severely judged.  So, first God does take His commands and standards very seriously with the result that all in His creation will give an account for the way they have responded to His revealed standards.

But secondly, those who think God has become somewhat careless about enforcing His righteous standards usually fail to understand an essential aspect of God’s nature.  He explained to Moses, on Mt. Sinai (Exo. 34), that He Himself was slow to anger, exceedingly gracious and very compassionate towards the frailty of men. God usually does not judge men immediately (though He has sometimes), but rather works with them through His Word, through the conscience of people and through godly people. So when people seem to thumb their noses at God and get away with all sorts of evil, it is because, the One who loves to save, is using time to reach them in order to bring them to Himself.  However, as God explained to Moses, if a person will not respond and stop their transgressions, then I “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished”.  So, it would seem, that the time is now to take corrective action to insure a good time when that certain day of judgment arrives.

On Being Religious

The sheer number of religious expressions and ideas in our culture today is truly impressive. Our culture, if nothing else, has an unending variety to choose from as far as what one might believe in.

People seem incurably religious. And, in spite of philosophies like Marxism and worldviews like many forms of evolution, people remain religious. It is just not easy being atheistic. There is indeed that “God shaped vacuum” in the heart of each person. People do want to believe in something, and so they do.

It makes no difference at all what one’s spiritual appetite or preference might be. You could pursue one of the major world religions (each with an impressive number of sub-views) or perhaps one of the “new age” gods (who immigrated from the east) or even one of their spirit cousins who live in the Amazon basin.  Or, if all else fails, you could do what many have done and that is to construct your own eclectic god (which seems to be a current favorite). The point is that we can “have it our way” when it comes to religion.

But candidly, the sad reality is that religion, at best, is a temporary panacea for the human soul. I normally would not knowingly agree with Karl Marx.  But he did famously state that religion is nothing more than a drug that is bad for people.  And with that, I would fundamentally agree.  I told one of my granddaughters a few days ago that the worst thing one of the grandkids could say about me is “grandpa is very religious”.  I am not (as the term is commonly used).

Religion speaks of us folks trying to get right with God through a variety of means, or trying to make Him happy and accepting of us. This is what religions attempt to do…provide the needed highway to arrive at a good place. I am not religious, but I am righteous.  Now understand, this is not some attempt to be clever with words, but it is a 180 degree difference in perspective regarding a person’s relationship with the great Creator Savior.  I am righteous because I was given the only kind of righteousness that God accepts.  This righteousness is a gift given when a person places their trust in Jesus Christ, the God-man who died and rose bodily from the grave. (Note the key elements of faith in Jesus as it is found in John 20:30-31). Religion cannot and will not produce righteousness.

As a result, I don’t try and win God’s favor and love, since He already loves me and cares about me.  I do work at obeying Him (not in order to persuade Him to like me), But I want to obey Him because I am so incredibly grateful for what He has done (in giving me eternal life), is doing (in giving me a guilt free meaningful life here and now) and will do (in giving me a guaranteed entrance into His eternal kingdom). Religion tries hard to do all these things but cannot produce any of them. Religions give techniques, specific works and rules to assist an individual in achieving nirvana, reincarnation, heaven or whatever and to avoid some bad stuff. 

But the great question for each is, “am I religious or righteous?”  There really is a big difference. Righteousness comes only through Jesus Christ. He Himself said that “no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  He also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life”. His claims dismiss all religions. There is no middle ground regarding Jesus. He is who He said He is, and He does what He says He does, or He is certifiably insane. I have made my decision on this matter.

That Critical Two-World View

“You are so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good!”  That used to be a common come-back to religious type folks from non-religious type folks.  Aside from the fact that no such person really exists (ones who are too heavenly minded), it is not something anyone really wants to be like anyway. After all, who wants to be fundamentally useless in this life. But the people who live the very best in this present culture are those who look carefully at this world we live in while keeping an eye towards heaven, where the Savior is going to come from (Philippians 3:20-21). This is the perspective of the best of the best.  It keeps life and the issues of life in the proper perspective.

And this brings me to the ongoing debates and hostilities that are spreading like the proverbial wild fire in our country. There is seemingly no end to the issues: a Supreme Court appointee, illegal immigrants, upcoming elections, and, of course everyone’s favorite, Vladimir Putin. In all of these matters and others, we as believers in Jesus Christ we have something to offer our culture; something that brings what is the very best to mankind.  It is not that we are amazingly brilliant or smarter than the average bear, it is because the Creator God gave the rulebook and game plan for life. And He has made it possible for people to live (as Jesus phrased it), an abundant life by following what He had said. This is not a denominational or religious thing but a humankind thing. Because of this, believers are to engage the culture we live in and contribute as best we can.

The truth is, however, that we look ahead for something far superior to anything being proposed in Washington DC or expounded on any university campus.  We look ahead to the coming of King Jesus who, as a benevolent dictator, will bring in the epitome of full and abundant living.  He will bring in peace between men and nations as well as peace with the Lord Himself.  There will be significant prosperity for all; in the language of the Bible, every person will sit under their own vine and fig tree (we may not be into vines and fig trees but the point is that life is going to be very enjoyable and prosperous). Living will be characterized by full joy and there will be an enhanced knowledge that all will possess. The characteristics of the reign and the magnificence of King Jesus rule over all the earth are simply amazing. 

But coming back to the present situation which is not so amazing.  The reality is that man’s governments will never be able to accomplish what the rule of King Jesus will accomplish.  The democratic republic that we have in America has its flaws to be sure.  But the concepts found in this form of government have some roots back in the Scriptures.  For example, the Founding Fathers clearly knew Deuteronomy 17 and its principles can be observed in dozens of places in America’s founding documents.  Those Millennials today, and others as well, who imagine that Marxism (or whatever name one might want to use) is the way to go, seem unaware that it has never worked at any time or in any place.  So many of the ideas found in this form of government violate so many of the rules that the Creator put into place.

So as believers intelligently dialogue (without screaming and being uncivil) with others, we do have valuable contributions to make.  But the believer must also keep intact a two-world view: living well in this world while keeping an eye on the world to come.  Our ultimate hope is not in the direction that Washington DC heads towards, but in the One who will come back to this planet and will establish the long awaited, and oft prophesied, rule over all the earth (Psalm 2). Keep your focus.   

America the Beautiful or America the Insane?

Across all the political spectrum, there is a growing sense that this is no longer grandpa’s America.  The right wing, left wing and all points in between, are suggesting that presently there is a national insanity and it seems to be growing.  And these varied voices just might be right.  Consider some recent events.

A man threatens to kill the three young children of a congressman who is held responsible for the (alleged) separation of children from parents among those who have entered the country illegally.  The White House press secretary is forcefully asked to leave a restaurant at the start of the meal because the restaurant staff is traumatized by the presence of someone who works for Donald Trump.  A retired US soldier says that if there is an attempt to remove Donald Trump from the presidency, this will result in armed violence and bloodshed.  Target, in spite of declining sales, promotes enthusiastically its “gay pride” month with all kinds of “gay pride” merchandise for adults and children.  The long respected FBI and DOJ are under congressional scrutiny for dishonesty of all kinds.  Many NFL players have so politicized football that it seems less of a game and more of a social protest platform.  Universities where free speech was once a hallmark, now classify some free speech as not acceptable. Politicians openly suggest that active revolution is acceptable even if it includes violating established laws. (Note: Newton’s law of physics states that “for every action taken, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This statement is about physics but can surely apply to our national life.)  Reactions to actions and statements are happening and it is likely that more severe ones are to come.

The list of illustrations is endless. But one more.  Laura Ingalls Wilder who influenced generations of kids with her stories has had her name removed from a literary award that once bore her name.  This was done by the Association for Library Services to Children.  The ALSC did this because Wilder’s books were at odds with the “core values” of the ALSC.  And this is what is particularly fascinating about all of the above mentioned illustrations.  All justify their pronouncements and positions by using such terms as “core values”, “higher standards”, “integrity”, “moral grounds”, “certain standards”, “commitment to community”, “injustice/justice” or “upholding our morals.”  There is clearly some sort of moral guidelines that are being appealed to, though rarely is the source of those standards clearly set forth. Most likely, the “core values” really just reflect the current moral trends of the culture, which will be different (not necessarily better) a few years from now.  But these “core values” seem to moving America into a moral insanity while solving nothing.

Let’s bring in Jesus for just a moment and observe a claim He made about Himself in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 3:14). He said that He was “the Amen” and “the true witness”.  This is the only place in the Bible where “the Amen” is used of Jesus.  The title means that Jesus speaks that which is true and unchangeable, and that what He says will surely take place.  Jesus is also identified as “the true witness” (Greek word is martyr) which is a term that is used of Him in the New Testament (e.g. John 3:11, 32-33), and which communicates the trustworthiness of His witness to truth. He will never misrepresent the truth, either by exaggeration or by leaving out vital points.  He will never speak to be “politically/religiously correct”.  So these titles of Jesus communicate the critical point that when He speaks, He speaks absolute moral truth that never changes.

So while people and organizations can sound quite righteous by the words they use to establish their points and positions, the reality is that there is really just one absolute standard for mankind’s “core values”, “morals” and “standards.”  The ones given by the great Amen, the Faithful Witness, Jesus Christ. But when individuals, nations and other kinds of groups chose to set aside (or ignore) those standards as revealed in the Scriptures, there is precious little to rely on but the shifting sands of cultural whims. This was Jesus’ point when He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 7:24-27). There He illustrated what we have been talking about.  He spoke of the foolish man who built his house on sand. But in contrast, the wise man built his house on the solid rock (in context, the teachings of Jesus). At first those two houses probably looked the same, and it seemed to make no difference what they were built on. Life went on. But, a storm came. When the storm hit, the house on the rock might have lost a shingle or two, but the other house collapsed. America is starting to choose the sand for its foundation…and that does not end well.  2 Chronicles 7:14 states: 

“(if) My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.”

This verse is given to Israel who was in a covenant relationship with God. It was not given to America.  However, embedded in this verse are universal truths which can be applied by America and would result in great good for America.

What is needed in America are men and women (and pastors) who courageously declare by life and by word, what the Amen and True Witness has declared. This is not the time for timidity. Individuals, like you and me, might not see themselves as having any power to effect change, but the Almighty, Omnipotent One historically has delighted in using powerless nobodies to effect great change.

Is the Church’s Motto Today: “The Force is With You and Wants You to be Happy”?

The other day I was watching a television preacher who was telling his congregation about what God was doing and what He wanted to do. In his sermon, one could see how this preacher viewed God.  But after viewing for a short while, I got the distinct impression that the God the preacher was proclaiming bore only slight resemblance to the God who has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and in Christ; the One who is sovereign and majestic and the center of the universe.  The congregation probably thought what they were hearing was, in fact, truth about the God of the Bible.  But, sad to say, that was not the case. Too many churches today seem fundamentally ignorant about the nature and the attributes of the great Creator God.  Without fear of contradiction, I would say that the church today in North America has a terribly low view of God.

Several months ago, we mentioned in a blog a little bit about the terrible distortion of God which is now found in so much of “the church.”  It goes by the label “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”  MTD is quite a mouthful, but essentially it says that there is a God (of course), and He has suggested what is right and wrong (though nicely and without threat of judgment).  His primary desire is that we are happy.  And to that end, He will definitely work with us to make us happy.  If we run into difficulty, He is at our service to help straighten out our problems so that we will be happy. He is there when we need Him and He is delighted to make us happy because we, not Him, are actually the center of the universe.  This, of course, is really bad doctrine; and really bad doctrine has a bad effect on us.  MTD, it seems to me, is just one step above (maybe not) the Star Wars perspective of the good, benevolent side of “the Force”.

A few weeks ago, I picked up and re-read the little book, “Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer.  It is a classic on the Person of God and is a must read for all serious, thinking Christians.  If you haven’t read it, you really need to.  If you (like me) read it years ago, I would encourage you to refresh your mind and your soul by giving it a good read again.

Tozer wrote the book sixty years ago because he sensed that:

  “The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshipping men.”

And this is not just an academic, theological issue since it directly impacts the way we live as Christians and the way the Church operates in this culture.  Tozer rightly observed that not seeing God with clarity through the lens of scripture “is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.” Tozer, of course, did not originate this idea but it is found again and again in the OT prophets (like Malachi) as well as in the OT wisdom literature. Tozer then drives the sword of the Spirit deep into us when he declares without stuttering:

“It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous and inadequate.”

Especially since the 1960s, the Church has sown to the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind. God is looking more and more like us, and this is to be expected since so much preaching/teaching fashions God to resemble man.  The Church at large has been so desperate to be relevant that is becoming more and more irrelevant because it has nothing really to offer beyond “the Force is with you and wants you to be happy—if, of course, you can work him into your schedule”.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the Church and the culture these days. It is difficult to have serious exposition of the Scriptures about the God who is revealed in the Scriptures if you are essentially running a religious entertainment center. Someday people are going to be shocked when they face the God of Scripture and realize that the “church” was essentially lying to them about this great God.

To reverse this sad trend is not easy, nor can it be done quickly.  Tozer says it clearly: “If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.”

The Scriptures inform us that a proper view of God is truly the starting point spiritually (Prov 1:7; 9:10; Psa. 111:10).  We can see ourselves correctly only after we begin to see God correctly. It is spiritually fatal to compromise this point. Life simply cannot be lived well when our concept of God is not what the Bible says.  It takes time and a diligent study of the Word of God to begin to see the attributes of the God of Scripture.  And while we will never fully comprehend Him, we do know that He has revealed much about Himself that we can understand.  Pastors of churches need to feed the sheep with wholesome doctrine and cease attempting to entertain the sheep Sunday after Sunday. This wholesome teaching includes dealing with the very nature of our God. It will take some time to kill off MTD (and related falsehoods) and getting a hold of a copy of “Knowledge of the Holy” might be a great start.

Mirages – So Real Yet So Empty

Driving with my family through the desert some years ago, our 3 year old son Timmy and I had a memorable conversation.  As we traveled through the hot desert, Timmy observed water on the road a short distance ahead. However, we never did get to it. It was always a short distance ahead. Seizing this as a teaching moment, I instructed my young son on the phenomenon of optical illusions; that is, in this case, mirages.  There really was no water out there, I informed him.  Now, there were a lot of things Timmy didn’t know, but Timmy knew water (having baths every day and having a close relationship with the backyard garden hose), and he was having none of my rhetoric on the matter.  He saw, he knew and that was that.

So after a few futile moments of discussion, I looked ahead and saw a sign by the side of the road with “water” near it.  I asked Timmy if he saw the sign and the water, and he did.  So I drove to the sign, parked the car and exited the car with little Timmy.  He was speechless, as there clearly was no water on the road.  Puzzled, he got back into the car without any further conversation about water and mirages.

Mirages seem so real but there is really nothing there. They are alluring but empty. In his memoirs, wise King Solomon (who for a time lived unwisely) told of life wasted pursuing mirages in his life.  He identified four that he went after: education, pleasure, material possessions (money) and then hard work.  In his memoirs (the book of Ecclesiastes) he records that he energetically went after all these but eventually discovered that they were mirages (He uses the terms “vanity” and “striving after the wind”). Solomon was a multi-billionaire who could buy anything and do anything to maximize all four of the above mentioned areas of life.  But in spite of that reality, he found them amazingly empty and personally meaningless. They did not produce what they advertised.  But, he does go on to clarify that all four of those things are legitimate if (and only if) the Lord God and His principles are at the center of a person’s life.  Many other biblical authors concur with the King.

We know from the very beginning that God invited Adam and Eve to learn and to engage in scientific investigation.  It is God who thought up the idea of pleasure and gave us the ability to enjoy all things.  God created the material world and there is nothing evil about money and material things, as long as they are not preeminent in our lives. Hard work (not being a “workaholic”) can bring some satisfaction, but even that satisfaction quickly vanishes away if it is the center of life.

Why all this talk about “mirages”?  Simply because, the largest segment of believers in North America (those claiming to be “born again”) are actively engaged in the pursuit of mirages and, like Timmy, they are sure that they are real. Upwards of 90%, according to some fairly detailed studies, see North American evangelicals as being in hot pursuit of money (materialism) and pleasure (hedonism). The other two mentioned by Solomon are present in a number of lives also. These “born againers” seem to have made the terrible mistake of thinking that the “American dream” and a biblical worldview are essentially the same.  They are not.  If a midcourse correction is not quickly made, the “abundant life” promised by Jesus to His followers (John 10) will be missed. And, more significant a greater quality of life in the eternal kingdom of God will be missed.  Timmy eventually came to understand about mirages.  The question is whether or not so many American believers will do the same.

Responding to the Crass Culture of Today

I am sure that I am not alone in my weariness to the growing profanity, crudity and incivility that is everywhere in American life today.  The public square is getting crowded with comedians who aren’t funny, politicians who really don’t serve their people, and many talking heads on TV who appear to have limited vocabularies and yet speak authoritatively on most everything. So, what should be our response to all this verbal sludge? Perhaps we should find a comfortable cave to retreat to.  Maybe an armed assault on the local TV station or government building would work.  Would a billboard blitz showing that the other side is made up of mental midgets be helpful?

And while we initially resist the non-combative words of Jesus’ apostles, they do have insights we should listen to.  It is very important to remember that these believers lived in a world where the less than nice Romans dominated; and where much evil was clearly on steroids.

First, a word from Peter.  He said: “Keep your behavior excellent among the gentiles (unsaved) so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of YOUR GOOD DEEDS, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation….such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:12, 15)

The response to the slander of hateful folks (who Peter says really are ignorant) is to work diligently at doing good deeds in our sphere of influence. (Jesus also indicated that our good works makes our heavenly Father look good before others. Matt. 5:16). So apparently, the will of God would not include an armed assault on the TV station and should not be considered.  But what we should consider is how we might proactively be expanding our good deeds in our circle of contacts and influence. In this regard, what might we begin to do that we are not presently doing?

Second, the Apostle Paul gives needed counsel to believers when they find themselves in discussions about critical matters, such as good and evil, truth and error, right and wrong. 

He notes in 2 Timothy 2:24-26 that “the bondservant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome but kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition…that they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. 

Four key matters for us to think about. First, we cannot retreat to that comfortable cave after all, but must engage the falsehoods of our day. If we don’t, who will?  Second, we are to be prepared to intelligently discuss the matters of truth and error, right and wrong. We might need to do some homework. Third, we just have to check our attitudes. Responding like the ones in opposition to us is off limits and ultimately counter-productive.  So, nasty billboards, shouting real loud or abusive speech are not part of the approach we are to take.  And fourth, a much needed reminder from the Apostle about the reality behind all this.  There is an Evil One (so said Jesus in John 17:15) and it is wise to recognize the ultimate source of what we see in our present world as originating in this malevolent being. So, while other options might be more appealing to me, I must do things the biblical way and represent Christ well in this crude culture.

Syria, Russia and Iran—Any Significance?

 

The unending conflict in Syria just keeps on giving.  It seems that one nightmarish event is topped by yet another, and this week has provided the specter of civilians (again) being killed with poisonous gas. The Assad government’s brutality is well documented, and one wonders how someone like this manages to stay in power.  Bashar al-Assad took over Syria in July, 2000, and he retains his power these many years later.  But it is not because he possesses great leadership skills or because he can charm the socks off everyone in the region. He retains power because of the support of Russia and Iran.

The Russians supply him with military aid and private Russian contractors are regularly airlifted from Moscow to Damascus to support and aid Assad.  Without the Russians, Assad’s rule would have ended long ago.  Then there is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who are deployed by the thousands at military bases all over Syria. Iranian commanders are often involved in the battles that rage throughout this land.  Iran is gaining more influence and a greater presence in the region because of this civil war. 

Israel knows that Bashar al-Assad is not the main problem, but it is Iran and Russia together that form a terrible threat to their existence. Israel keeps a watchful eye on their northern border and periodically targets convoys, military bases and other situations that they cannot allow to exist.  But while Israel had indeed experienced some notable successes, Israel will not be able to do this forever and time is definitely not on their side.  

The Scriptures tells us that the God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, which means He will not be caught off guard by Israel’s enemies.  Long ago a prophecy was given to Ezekiel which has become well-known in these days. It states that after Israel has geographically returned to the land given to Abraham, there will be an invasion of Israel that is led by Russia and will include Iran. The massive invading army will be crushed unilaterally by the Lord God.  So great will be this intervention by God that Israel will begin turning in faith to their God (which is the primary purpose for this event).  Ezekiel 39:21-22 informs us that the nations of the world will sit up and take notice, but more importantly, Israel will become a believing nation (something that they are not presently).  The text reads:

“And I shall set my glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. And the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward.”

We, of course, must not get caught setting dates for the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. We simply don’t know when God will do what He says He will do. But neither can we ignore what is evolving in our world today, assuming that there is no relevance to current events. Jesus said that we are to discern, as best we can, the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:2).  At just the right moment, God (whose timing is impeccable) will tell these enemies that “it is time for you to invade Israel” (see Ezekiel 38:8 and 39:2), and He will compel them to attack Israel. (Note that Russia, Iran, et.al are not going to determine when these events will take place). It is hard not to believe that what we are observing in Syria is somehow preparatory for those events long foretold by Israel’s prophet.