Archive for April, 2009

You Need To THINK!

April 24, 2009

One of my greatest aggravations as a Christian is fellow Christians who seem to be resistant to knowledge and learning.  I hear Christians talk about their faith as if it were an act of will, imposing belief on themselves in the face of all difficulties, discouragements, and doubts.  This is not what we are commanded to do!

[ESV] I Peter 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

The expectation is not that we would blindly barrel forward holding onto “faith” as some sort of mantra, but instead have a coherent explanation for what we believe and why we believe it.  Romans and Hebrews are two books of the Bible that were written as just such an explanation.  They were written for a particular audience at a particular time, but we have many similar sorts of books today.  Lee Strobol has written several such books, including The Case for Christ and The Case for FaithEvidence that Demands a Verdict is another fantastic book that explains why we should believe.  I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist is yet another excellent book.

If you have questions about why things work the way they do, don’t just grab hold of some mystical faith.  Ask people you respect.  There is a reason why bad things happen to “good” people (no one’s actually good, and bad people do bad things to bad people).  There’s a reason why there’s suffering in the world (it’s called sin).  Your doubts and questions are probably from non-Biblical thinking/assumptions.  Get answers.  Ask questions.  If your pastor can’t answer your questions, find one that CAN!

You have to think!  You cannot reach people for Christ if you cannot explain Him.  These days, you may have to convince people that he actually existed.

The Death of Christ

April 16, 2009

One of the things that always escaped me for most of my life was why Christ died on the cross.  I’m not talking about his purpose in dying, but rather, what killed him?  My mental image came from movies of the day, when you’d watch Ben-Hur and other great classics around Easter.  Here was my image of what happened:

Christ went to get flogged by the Romans.  This was painful, but not a big deal.  I saw some leather straps hit his skin, leaving superficial cuts and welts.  No biggie.  Then there was the crown of thorns thing.  It looked pretty painful, and I figured it was probably worse than the flogging.  Then he got nailed to the cross.  I figured most people starved to death up there.  I guessed a few bled to death, maybe, but I really didn’t see how breaking someone’s legs sped up the process.  I just didn’t get what the cause of death is.

I recently read an article by Frank Turek that reminded me of what really happened.  This explains what actually happened, and how truly horrible His death was.  If you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, you know what the flogging was really like.  It turned his back into hamburger.  It makes stumbling make a lot more sense.  Christ wasn’t a weakling, he was a powerfully built carpenter.  Severe blood loss will sap your strength.  Then He suffocated to death.

I always kind of wondered about that, but this morning I tried something.  If you pay attention as you breath, you’ll notice that your chest rises and falls with each breath.  Now think about the angle of the arms in a crucifiction.  That would probably tend to pull the ribcage up.  Try breathing.  Get a sense of how your ribcage moves as you inhale and exhale.  Now, deliberately stop your ribcage from falling as you exhale.  Take a few breaths.  Your ribcage will rise further, but you’ll quickly start feeling uncomfortable as you find you CAN’T exhale properly.  Inhaling is easy… except your lungs are full of air.  Letting your chest drop is a wonderful, sweet relief.

Jesus was beaten horribly, perhaps almost dead when they stopped.  He had no strength to rise up and exhale.  He suffocated in agony.

You Have No Rights

April 10, 2009

One of the side effects of being a citizen of the United States is I have a mindset that I have certain “rights”.  Our Declaration of Independence asserts the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Our Bill of Rights asserts a variety of rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to due process of law (before losing life, liberty, or property),  the right to trial by jury, public trial, and protection from double jeopardy. Freedom of assembly, religion, and speech are among those protected rights.

If you listen to the media, you may learn of other rights: the right to free health care, the right to not be offended, the right to not hear about somebody else’s religion, the right to not be disagreed with, the right to reparations for what my great-great-great grandfather may or may not have done to your great-great-great grandfather, and the right to abortion on demand (if you’re a woman).

Of course, the second set of rights is in direct conflict with the first set, but nobody seems interested in talking about that.  Here is the dirty secret: you have NO rights.  The right to life does not help a murder victim or the victim of an abortion.  In many countries, speaking your mind will get you a very long prison sentence.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get to experience a kangaroo court, otherwise you just rot without the pretense of defending yourself.  Rights do not actually exist.  There are privileges that are granted in certain countries, but no rights.

So, what do we actually have?  We have responsibilities.  We have the responsibility to love only God.  We have the responsibility to not commit murder.  We have the responsibility to not lie.  We have the responsibility to not steal.  The ten commandments are the ten responsibilities.  As long as you maintain them, you are in great shape.  Unfortunately, I have broken, or plotted to break, almost all of them.  By the age of five, every person I know has found themselves in trouble.

Watch five-year-olds at play some time.  They have two concepts clear in their mind: Property rights and covetousness.  Attempt to take a toy away from a child and you will hear a screech of, “MINE!” or a howl of tears and misery.  The child clearly understands the concept of owning a toy.  Watch for a little longer and one of the children will attempt to take a toy away from another child.  The parents will probably be embarrassed, but their darling angel is now a thief.

By age five, almost every child has stolen.  We don’t need to teach children this, we teach them how to share.  I don’t know when the age of accountability is.  It may be as young as 5, or as old as 25.  What I do know is that it doesn’t take long for us to violate our responsibilities.  We fight, steal, covet, lust, lie, and reject God at a very early age.  Just as in US law, a violation of the law means you start losing rights, so it is under God’s law.  We are all sinners; guilty of high crimes against the Almighty.  We have no rights.

Fortunately, we do have grace.  You deserve no good thing.  By grace, good things happen to you anyway.  One of the questions we hear a lot is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  There has only ever been one good person, Jesus.  Why bad things happened to him are two-fold: 1) he allowed it.  2) What he did in coming to Earth was similar to dropping a baby lamb into a pit with starving lions.  We all know what would happen.

You are not a good person.  You are a sinner.  You have no rights, but you can have grace.  We are all under a certain amount of grace already.  The fact that we didn’t annihilate each other in the 60s is proof enough of that.  The fact that we manage to have reasonably civilized societies is grace.

However, God offers a way to greater grace.  You deserve to be in that maximum security cell.  Jesus already went in.  Let him list your name as one of the people he went in place of.  Let him deal with the horrors inside for you.  Pleading innocent will not work.  Pleading guilty is not enough.  The price is paid, if you will allow the worst injustice of all time to be for your benefit.

If the thought of a little, cute, fluffy, cuddly lamb taking your place in the lion’s den sounds horrible, and you would never allow it, you understand the problem many people face with accepting Christ.  It is hard.  The key to being able to stomach it is this, the lamb will take SOMEBODY’s place.  The lamb will take the place of several people.  You cannot stop the injustice of such a thing, but you can benefit from it.  Jesus has already died for you.  Jesus has already been scourged for you.  Jesus has already been humiliated for you.  It is up to you whether, in your case, it was for nothing.

This Good Friday, I encourage you to watch Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson.  When Christ is beaten, do not look away… he did it for you.  When Christ stumbles, do not look away… he did it for you.  When Christ writhes in agony on the cross, do not look away… he did it for you.  If you cry as I do when I watch it, do not be ashamed of your tears.  By his stripes you are healed… if you will accept his gift.  You have no rights.  Will you accept grace?

Characterizing Sin

April 5, 2009

One of the issues with discussing sin is that people have many different ideas about what it is, and what its significance is.  You can detect these differences by how people talk about sin in their lives.  Consider how we discuss lies: there are “white lies”, “small lies”, “big lies”, etc.  Contrast this with the ninth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”.

Clearly, there is a tendency to view sin in terms of “degrees”, rather than absolutes.  This is not the only difference that can exist: we also tend to view acts as “bad”, “good”, and “neutral”.  The thought is that most actions are neutral, but some are exceptional in one direction or another.  Contrast this with the only command in Genesis given to Adam and Eve: eat of any fruit in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Here is the reality: There are no neutral acts.  All acts are either in or out of God’s law.  There is no special reward for doing what you are supposed to do, but there is a penalty for doing what you are not to do.  Consider traffic laws.  If you perform a “rolling stop”, where you slow down for a stop sign but do not come to a complete stop, you can be pulled over and given a ticket.  However, if you are extra conscientious about using your turn signals for lane changes, you will never get pulled over and be given a “reverse-ticket” where the police officer hands you $50.  The same is true of sin: complying with the law is doing what you are supposed to do.  Not complying is sin, and punishable.

Obviously, this suggests that all sins might be of equal severity.  Look at the punishment that Adam and Eve suffered: Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, pain in childbirth, land that required sweat and toil, and death.  The very nature of reality was altered by their acts.  All this for a few bites of fruit.  Sin has one punishment, separation from God.  Sins are not big or small, and there are no good works to make up for it.  God doesn’t have “community service”, it’s already included in the “to-do list” in the law.

Sin is a terrible thing.  Our tendency to commit sin on a daily, or even hourly, basis has largely desensitized us to it.  Try this experiment: when your spouse asks you what you’re thinking about, tell the absolute truth.  My wife doesn’t always like hearing that I was thinking about how to solve a programming problem while staring soulfully into her eyes, but it seems to make her feel even more flattered when I tell her that I was thinking about how the colors in her eyes are laid out and how pretty her hair is.  I realize it’s somewhat weird (OK, it’s very weird), but it also gives her more insight into what goes on in my head and who I am.

The world went from being “very good” to being covered in water in just a few short chapters in Genesis.  Sin is destructive in ways we cannot understand.  When you start to embrace this idea, the need for Christ to die for you will grow.  Understand, too, that Christ knew what he would suffer so you could be a child of God again.