Sunday, April 26, 2009

Avoiding Ceaseless Pursuits

About a month ago, my sister by marriage sent me a Newsweek article entitled "Generation Diva: How Our Obsession with Beauty is Changing our Kids" ( According to the article, the lie society preaches that you are not “beautiful enough” is ensnaring younger and younger children; the statistics are alarming—14% of Botox injections are for 19 - 34-year-olds; cosmetic surgery numbers have doubled for those 18 and under; and American 8 – 12-year-olds alone spend $40+ million per month on beauty treatments. In fact, the average girl today will have spent “$300,000 on just her hair and face” by the time she is 50.

The article also quoted writer Susie Orbach's new book, Bodies: "good looks and peak fitness are no longer a biological gift, but a ceaseless pursuit. And obsession at an early age, she says, fosters a belief that these are essential components of who we are—not, as she puts it, 'lovely add-ons.' It primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them."

What a horrific lie Satan is dispersing through advertising, TV shows, magazines, radio— like a strong wind blowing seeds across the continent, each seeking to take root in young (and not so young) minds to grow into a monstrous, thorny obsession.

God knew many people would have self-esteem problems, so He caused His servant, David, to pen words about how beautiful we are to Him: “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth” (Psalm 139:14-15, my Italics). Did you hear that? God’s “skillful” hands crafted you into something He considers “wonderful.” What plastic surgeon could possibly be more skillful than our God?

But, you may not be caught up in Satan’s lie that you are not “beautiful enough.” Yet beauty is not the only “ceaseless pursuit” and “obsession” Satan encourages Christians and non-Christians alike to grab hold of and allow to consume their lives because of being “not enough” by society’s standards. In present-day America, several other obsessions instantly spring to mind.

For example, one is the lie that you’re not good enough to keep your job in this economy. Satan tells us that there are so many other people smarter than us who could do our job so much better. The result of this lie? One, we make our job an obsession, working insanely long hours and ignoring all other aspects of our lives and families. Or, two, we obsessively worry all the time about being laid off or downsized. Either way, we are ignoring God’s command in Matthew 6:25-27: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Does God promise we won’t lose our jobs? No, but He does promise to care for us in those times.

Another example is the lie that you’re not a good enough mother or father. Satan tells us that if we don’t sacrifice everything for our child, don’t send him to a certain school, don’t involve her in certain sports, don’t give him this particular educational toy, then we’re ruining her chances for a successful future. The result of this lie? We make our children our god, spending all week, including the Sabbath, giving them every advantage we can possibly squeeze in and teaching them that they are #1 in life. Not only does this make them ill-prepared for real life, but worst of all, it means we place them before God. Even in the Old Testament, God said, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

The list could go on and on. The point is that ANY time we believe that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not _____ enough (you fill in the blank), we lose the confidence we need to be the best witness for Christ and we cease trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Yes, alone we are never enough, but in Christ, we are always enough. Instead of holding on to this truth, though, we take our eyes off Jesus and obsess about something temporal, not something everlasting.

In a sense, we become like Peter who believed enough in Jesus to get out of the boat and even, for a time, to successfully defy the laws of physics and walk on the water. But then, “when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:30-31). Was Peter “enough” on his own? Of course not. He needed Jesus. But, like Peter, we doubt ourselves, and so we needlessly obsess over things that aren’t worthy of our thoughts. But we are enough in Christ! In Christ, we are beautiful enough, smart enough; if we give Him our children and our marriages and seek to live up to His standards and not the world’s standards, we can be good enough parents and spouses.

Whatever lies Satan and the world are whispering in your ears, whatever obsessions you have waiting in the wings or that you are actively pursuing, they will diminish your confidence, power, and energy to live for Jesus. The next time you have one of those “I’m not _____ enough” days, God has a Word to directly oppose that lie. He wrote it long ago and preserved it especially for you, for that specific moment when He knew you’d be needing to hear some Godly truth. If no Scripture springs to mind, find an Online Bible Concordance where you can look up a keyword. God has an answer to every lie Satan seeks to plant in your mind. Seek that answer so the lie doesn’t take root.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Semantics of Submission

I do not want to write this blog entry. God asked me to write this last week and I begged for something more cheerful to say at Easter. Thankfully, He gave me a different message then, but He has also continued to tell me all week long that He has not released me from this current message, so I am struggling to say the right thing here, to take a stand where many have just stepped aside, to help you as Christian understand what you are being called upon to do in the America in which you live.

First, know that I respect the office of the presidency; I pray for the President (1 Tim. 2:2); and I know without a doubt that God places the President of His choice into that office. As Paul states, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1, my italics). As a result, President Obama has my prayers and support: if He succeeds, America succeeds. However, since I base all my political views on The Bible (which isn’t too popular a stance in our present culture), I am disconcerted by several of his beliefs and think all Christians should be concerned as well.

As most all of you probably know, this past month, President Obama’s words from last year have come back to haunt him. Presently under scrutiny is his statement, "Whatever we once were, we're no longer a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” Obama later clarified this statement in an e-mail to CBN News senior national correspondent David Brody: "We should acknowledge this and realize that when we're formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we've got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community." He further stated, “My intention was to contrast the heated partisan rhetoric of a distinct minority of Christian leaders with the vast majority of Evangelical Christians – conservatives included – who believe that hate has no place in our politics.”

I refuse to get into a debate about whether we are a Christian nation at present (much less into a debate about whether the founding fathers were truly Christians or Deists or whatever). I think such discussions are fruitless and are masking the real problem behind President Obama’s words—a problem where Christians are called upon to no longer be “divisive” but to come together and basically accept everybody’s beliefs for the good of all people.

This problem is two-fold. First, our President is depicting anyone who wants to base our country’s “policies” on a single religion as divisive and guilty of “hate.” President Obama tactfully describes these divisive haters as “a distinct minority of Christian leaders” versus the “vast majority of Evangelical Christians.” This is an attempt to put in our minds a vision of the nutty religious extremists versus “normal Christians” or “Christians like us.” While this psychology might make us feel good that “well at least we’re not like that,” this is an extreme danger for us as Christians. We should not be comfortable with being just the “vast majority” that is acceptable.

If all Evangelical Christians were standing up for their values, then they, too, should want America’s policies to reflect their moral values, and, thus, would be labeled as religious extremists by our present administration. Do you see the scary logic behind this? To truly follow Christ’s commands and stand up for what His word teaches (on gay marriage, abortion, divorce, etc.) is to be criticized by the highest office in our land as a person of hate and divisiveness.

You are being given a choice here—to be an extremist for Jesus or to be a part of the “vast majority” who are the “lukewarm—neither hot nor cold” Christians that Jesus says He will “spit…out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). These Christians have lived under the mantle of political correctness, apathy, and a “let’s all get along” attitude for their entire lives such that their views can no longer be said to be Jesus’ views. A true belief (moral, religious, or otherwise) will permeate every fiber of our being and, thus, impact everything we do. In other words, our actions, what political views we support, where we spend our money, etc. show what we really think, who we really love.

Secondly, the problem is that our President is encouraging Christians (especially those in politics) to basically “just get along” with all others, to sacrifice their moral and religious beliefs for the good of the whole, for the good of peace. As President Obama puts it, “translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.” This request implies that one’s commitment to Jesus and one’s commitment to world unity (or at least “American unity”) can coexist in one’s heart. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is and always has been a divisive religion; it’s all about separating the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32).

Jesus, Himself, warned us that following Him would cause division: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD” (Matthew 10:34-36).

To truly follow Christ is to be at odds with the world, to be considered a religious extremist, a fanatic, a hater. Jesus warns us of this happening: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:16-21).

But Jesus also gives us hope when we are persecuted for allowing our beliefs to permeate every aspect of our lives: “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:26-28).

As Christians, we should pray that God convicts our President of these facts. No matter what, though, we should not make apologies for our beliefs. We should not bow to the winds of political correctness or a desire for peace and unity in the world. We can love all people of all creeds like Christ loves them yet still stand firm that their beliefs and choices are wrong and will ultimately result in God’s wrath upon them. You have a choice—be lukewarm and be accepted by the world but rejected by Jesus or be an extreme lover of Christ and be called one who hates by the world but accepted by Jesus as His child.

There is coming a day when you will likely be called upon to make a decision, will have to choose a side. As Joshua 24:15 says, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Not In the Fiction Aisle

This past weekend, we celebrated Jesus’ offering His lifeblood on the cross as a substitute for our sin and, three days later, His resurrection, which garnered victory over death and made possible our reconciliation with God. Jesus is alive!

Well, that’s what we were supposed to be celebrating, but each Easter season that passes, I see less and less focus on Christ. It’s like Jesus is slowly being “politically correctness-ed” out of everything for the sake of societal unity and acceptance. Even among so-called Christians, Jesus seems to get lost among the bunnies, baskets, egg hunting, feasting, and new outfits for the children.

The story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection has become so well-known to many of us that we have forgotten to feel the story fresh and anew, not as “just a story” but as history that is true! For example, when you read the Easter story and imagine it unfolding before your very eyes, can you hear the hammer pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet? Feel His humiliation when the soldiers mock him? See His chest heave, struggling to breathe as He hangs suspended between heaven and earth? Hear Him say “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Does your heart tighten? Do you breathe in the sorrow of His death and wait in painful anticipation for the women to visit the tomb and find that He is not there? Do you feel the heavy weight of sin lifted off your shoulders upon learning that He has risen from the dead, that the Father has accepted His sacrifice for your personal sin? No matter how many atheists or cultists have tried throughout history to suppress this story, it still resounds like a bell echoing through an empty valley. And if the story is true, then it is a story worth sharing…a story worth dying for.

But, why is it SO important that Jesus die on the cross or that He be resurrected from the dead? Why can’t the story just be an allegory, a folk tale, a case of “mistaken tomb identity” or a case of mass hysteria by the “more than five hundred brothers” (1 Corr. 15:6) who saw His resurrected body? Why is it really necessary that the story be 100% true?

First, why the cross? Why did God have to become man and die such a horrible death by crucifixion, a death so inhumane that it was forbidden to any Roman citizen, no matter how serious the crime? To begin with, The Bible shows that blood was always required to cover sin. Throughout the Old Testament, the priests were constantly offering blood sacrifices of spotless, blemish-free animals to cover people’s sin, but these were only temporary “fixes” for sin. However, when Christ offered His life, He became the ultimate, perfect sacrifice—He was the sacrifice of all sacrifices, thereby eliminating the need for any more temporary animal sacrifices: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Another question could be why couldn’t Jesus just die quickly? Why must His sacrifice be so painful and inhumane? I think the answer lies in the depth of His sacrifice. Such an extreme plan where Jesus left His Godly throne in heaven to die on the cross for sinful man--for men who hated Him and spat upon Him--means this form of death, this suffering, this cross is God’s plan and is absolutely necessary to salvation…the only way to salvation. This was no easy sacrifice! What else can possibly be worth more than Jesus’ death on the cross? My works? No. God’s word tells us “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

If I can contribute something—anything--to my salvation; if I have anything of value to give that could possibly “add” to the value of what Christ did on the cross—if either of those two situations is true, then that means Jesus’ death wasn’t good enough and that I have to “finish the job” of salvation. Can you hear the hubris and ego in that statement? The self-sacrifice of Jesus (perfect, God, sinless) wasn’t good enough, but somehow I (sinful, fleshly, pure man) can do something else that will be good enough. This is what Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses all teach, that to be saved, people need Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and “works.” Please understand that ANY need for works, for "something else," negates the power and completion of salvation on the Cross. You can’t have it both ways—either the cross was the ultimate, complete sacrifice or it was worthless because there is no way that small, sinful man can sacrifice more than our great God sacrificing His own life for all of humanity.

Secondly, why is the resurrection necessary? Thankfully, Paul already preached a great sermon on this to the Corinthians, some of whom were questioning whether Jesus actually came back to life: “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Corr. 15:12-19).

In this passage, Paul states clearly that if Christ were truly not raised from the dead, then our faith in Jesus is sorely misplaced. In essence, we trusted a liar because Jesus told His disciples, "The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later" (Mark 9:31). Put simply, to trust Jesus means He must be 100% correct in everything He says—He is either God and knows all or He’s not. Additionally, if Jesus’ resurrection were all a hoax, then there is no hope for us to escape eternal damnation. Without His resurrection, without His gaining power over sin and death, we are still permanently stained the blackest of black with our sin; without the resurrection, we will die, too, in our sin because this would mean the Father rejected Jesus' sacrifice, and without His sacrifice for us being found acceptable to the Father, we are all doomed to hell. Thank God the resurrection is true.

Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection is no allegory, folk tale, or mass hysteria; it is history and truth. Just as in the Old Testament when the priest looked not at the sinful person but at the spotless lamb that person offered for sacrifice to cover his sin, if you are a true child of God, He does not look at you and your sin but at the sacrifice offered for your sin: His perfect son. You are covered by the blood of the only perfect lamb of God. And He is enough. As you go throughout your week, keep ever before you an attitude of eternal thankfulness, amazement, and awe for what Jesus did on the cross and what His resurrection means to you as a Christian. And remember—there was a cross. There was a tomb. There was a resurrection. As Paul aptly celebrated, "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corr. 15: 54-57). Praise God, the story is true.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

To Bear Much Fruit

Our orange and grapefruit trees have started blooming, the beginnings of next winter’s fruit. The problem is my two-year-old son loves flowers, so we’ve had many conversations this week about how each flower he picks is an orange that won’t grow for him to eat and how sad it would be if there were no fruit next year. His eyes widened at the “sad” part of what I was trying to teach him; then, he said, “Yeah” and hasn’t picked one since. Since Wyatt adores citrus fruit, he really would be sad if the trees bore no fruit next year.

This seemingly insignificant conversation got me thinking about the fruit we, as Christians, are supposed to bear and how sad our Savior might be when we don't bear fruit as we should. When speaking to His disciples, Jesus gave a beautiful analogy, describing Himself as the vine and true Christians as the branches attached to that vine: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:1-6, my italics).

This passage could be renamed “A How-To Lesson on Having a Fruitful Relationship with Christ.” In these verses, Jesus gives us the key to good fruit-bearing when He repeats the word “abide” seven times. According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, to abide means “To remain, abide, dwell, live.” Thus, the first step to bearing good fruit is to dwell in Christ, to have His Spirit dwelling within us.

This leads us to the question, Can non-Christians bear fruit? Yes. Matthew 7:15-20 says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” A bad tree (or bad vine) will produce bad fruit. A good tree (or good vine) will produce good fruit. Bad vines and bad trees are sentenced to the same punishment in both John 15 and Matthew 7: being thrown into the eternal flames of hell.

Next, note how in John 15, Jesus doesn’t say that Christians might bear fruit or will occasionally bear fruit. No. He’s quite emphatic that true believers will bear fruit. But what fruit is He talking about? Later, in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul gives a list of specific fruit (not fruits) that Christians will bear when they “walk by the Spirit” (v. 5): “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Thirdly, Jesus straightforwardly tells us that the more we bear fruit, the more God will prune us so that we will bear even more fruit. Ouch—pruning sounds pretty painful. But, I wonder if we looked at the various trials God sends us as just His “pruning” to make us a more fruitful part of the vine, would that make them easier to bear? Would that be enough of an answer to our “Why, God? Why me?” that we’re looking for?

Finally, Jesus makes sure to tell us that we cannot produce fruit on our own. Wow. How many times have we tried to do things in our own strength, in our own patience, in our own love instead of in His love, His patience? Jesus is clear. On our own, we will be unproductive and fail to produce any real fruit.

In light of Christ’s analogy, I find a quotation by writer Frank Scully very interesting. Scully once quipped, “Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?” If lately, you seem to not be bearing much fruit in your life, ask yourself if you are truly going “out on a limb” in your service of Jesus. If your love for Him has grown lukewarm, if your service of Him has become “safe” and “only when convenient,” your love for others will cool as well, you will find yourself acting more without patience and self-control, and you will not feel that incredible peace and joy deep in your soul.

This week, try to think of one way you can go out on a limb for Jesus and find some fruit that you can only produce in Him.