The Roundtable of Misinformation

I’m sure you’ve heard of someone referred to as too smart for their own good.  That seems to be an oxymoron of some kind, but I believe it bears enough truth to examine.  I’m a teacher, so of course I feel strongly about education and the benefits it can bring in our lives.  I think it’s great for someone to continue learning throughout their life, always adding to their depth of knowledge.  At the same time, I also believe that we can constantly study and analyze subjects to the point where we fail to notice the simple, minor details anymore.  It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.

A great example of this is spoken about in the book of Acts when Paul was in Athens.  Athens during biblical times would’ve been similar to our largely populated and educated metropolitan areas of today.  A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul over the religious ideas he was presenting (Acts 17:18) and like most disbelievers today, they began to insult him, assuming their knowledge trumped Paul’s thoughts and testimony.  Paul was used to this type of behavior in response to his ministry.  He even told Timothy to, “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20), and watch out for those who are, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

The philosophers of this time, much like those today who hold themselves in high regard because of their perceived wisdom, spent all of their time studying and debating the thinking of the day.  The problem is that most of philosophical thought is studied through the eyes of the viewer and the opinions of the day.  It means there’s no standard, that everything is relative and we can make our own standard to meet our needs as we go.  Much of the atheistic talking points today center around this idea as well, that we should use our collective knowledge to develop a moral standard that’s good for everyone.  I’m sure you can see the impossibility of that endeavor because we are inherently selfish creatures, usually seeking to make things more comfortable or palatable for ourselves.

Sadly, many churches and Bible colleges are adapting a form of this thinking as well.  Religion for some has become strictly about Bible knowledge and “study to show thyself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and worshipping in truth above all (John 4:24).  Notice how I quoted verses as reference for those thoughts.  That’s because they are entirely true.  But like the Pharisees who only focused on following the law, we can only focus on learning and not have any motivation to put our learning into practice.  It’s good to find truth, but it’s even better to do something with it (James 2:26).  Any extensive study of the Bible must ultimately lead to spiritual renewal and good works or it’s simply just study for the sake of knowledge.

Just like there are career college students who sputter along aimlessly and never graduate and put their education to work , there can be Christians as well who only focus on learning and none of the doing.  Paul was possibly able to convince some in Athens of the saving power of the gospel because he was out working instead of debating.  If anything, we can learn from Paul that the gospel is at its most powerful stage when it is lived and not just learned.

-Joe

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Eyes on the Prize

My daughter’s field day at school is fast approaching and needless to say, she’s getting pretty excited.  Being tall and thin like her mommy and daddy, our daughter is very good at all of the running events.  Her long legs and stride help her to run efficiently so she’s excited to have a chance to win some of the sprinting events.  Even at the age of 40, I’m a pretty fast runner myself, so I decided to show her a few pointers.  One of those is where her focus should be when she runs.

Now, I know everyone has probably seen Olympic sprinters on t.v. looking around at their competitors or taunting them when winning a race, but running with the finish line in sight is the most efficient way to run a sprint.  I told my daughter that if she wants to run her fastest, don’t look at the person next to her.  Don’t worry about how far of a lead you have.  Instead, look straight ahead at the finish line.  Keep your eyes on the prize.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve spent a lot of time writing and thinking about Heaven.  After reading the descriptions of what our eternity in Heaven will be like in the Bible, it’s easy to have Heaven as our primary focus.  In fact, there’s nothing inherently wrong to be a Christian looking forward to the glories of Heaven (1 Corinthians 9:24).  There’s nothing wrong with longing for a place that God most definitely put into our heart, but I don’t believe it should be our primary focus.

As an educator, I work with kids every day trying to teach them different reading strategies so they can become better readers.  Although there are many things in my day that demand attention and although preparing for our state test is a key component of the school year, my true focus should be on the growth of my students and their academic success, not just clocking in and drawing a paycheck.  Likewise, if as Christians, we only focus on the rewards, on things like Heaven, I believe we’re missing the real meaning of being a disciple.  To be a true follower of Christ means we keep our focus on him.  He is the ultimate prize!

A religious life based on rule following and a misplaced focus on rewards and what God can do for us is not Christianity in the real sense of the word.  There’s no doubt that our salvation is a wonderful gift.  There’s no doubt that Heaven will be far greater than we could ever dream or imagine.  But true Christianity is more about the intimate relationship we get to have with our Creator than with anything else.  Just being in the presence of God is all the reward we really need.  And you know what?  We already have that reward (Galatians 2:20-21, Ephesians 3:16-17)!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

(Philippians 3:7-11)

Keep looking forward to the greatness of Heaven but remember that it’s the presence of God that makes it great.  Make sure to keep your eyes on the prize… the right prize!

-Joe

 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus

What would it be like to be friends with someone really famous?  What would it be like to be friends with the president of the United States?  Better yet, what would it be like to be friends with every president of every influential country around the world?  Imagine the sway you could hold over some of the most important decision makers of our time.  Think of what it must be like to be in the know in regards to all of the policy decisions made each and every day, not to mention the popularity such friendships would bring.

You might expect that to be friends with that many world leaders would require some background in politics or at least some ability in public relations.  But what if it were just you or me, just an average, everyday person with a family, a normal job, and a normal life who was friends with the most important people in the world?  Or even better, what if you were friends with someone even more important…say the Creator of the entire universe?

It is not heresy to say that we can call ourselves friends of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  It’s God himself who says we have this friendship and it is the most intimate and impactful thing we have as Christians.  No other religion in the world claims to have a god so interested in the well-being of its followers.  But as Christians, as dearly beloved children of the one true God, we can know that our Creator wants that kind of relationship with us.  Jesus seeks us and waits for us to invite him in as our friend (Revelation 3:20).  And he doesn’t just pick you if your life is perfect either.  He communes with even the worst of society (Matthew 11:19).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

(John 15:12-17)

Jesus does offer this friendship freely and of his own accord, but like any friendship, it’s not simply one sided.  Jesus will always love you even if you deny him, but he wishes that you would reciprocate that love.  He asks that we…

  • love one another (vs. 12)
  • obey his commands (vs. 14)
  • bear fruit in our lives (vs. 16)

His love and friendship should cause us to show that love to others.  We have been given much so that we can give to others.  Also, true friendship with Jesus means we accept him as our Lord and we obey him as a result.  We don’t take advantage of his generosity and use it to do what we want.  Finally, a friendship with Jesus will manifest fruit in our lives.  You can’t spend time with the vine and not bear the fruits of love, mercy, and peace (John 15:1-10).

I know it would seem great to be friends with all the important leaders from around our world.  It seems as if they hold the kind of clout we would love to be a part of.  But there’s nothing like having a friendship with Jesus, the one friend who will always love us even more than we could love ourselves.

-Joe

 

Where Do We Draw the Line?

beautyThe news has circulated for several days now, so I’m sure most of you have heard that Disney has decided to include a decidedly gay scene in their upcoming live action version of Beauty and the Beast (Article).  Not only that, but the actor playing the part and the director of the movie have both been outspoken over their pride of the inclusion of a gay scene (Article).  Because of this move, Christians across the religious landscape and of different doctrinal beliefs are calling for a boycott of all things Disney including their other companies like ABC and ESPN.

I understand the uproar.  My first inclination was to cry foul over just another example of immorality in our society and Disney’s ambivalence over the fact that they are primarily viewed as a company who promotes movies, programming, and theme park entertainment for children and families.  But I wanted to spend more time studying God’s word on this matter and not just rely on my very fallible opinions on things.  I hope you’ll read along and see that how we interact with the world around us, especially the lost and sinful of the world, helps determine our influence for Christ and his glory.

WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?

This question was asked by a friend of mine and it is a great question that I’m not sure I have the answer to.  Are Christians not supposed to patronize businesses that promote immoral behavior?  I suppose if that were so, I would not be using the services of a huge number of businesses out there because so many are outspoken against Christian morals these days.  Am I right to not attend church at any congregation knowing that there are probably people there who are actively sinning in their life?  Should every Christian that works for Disney or its other companies now quit their jobs because of the promotion of homosexuality in a new movie?  I daresay that would be disastrous and leave no one of influence who could continue to let their light shine for Jesus while at their place of employment.  I even have an extended family member who is a practicing homosexual living with her partner (they are legally married in the state of Washington).  Am I supposed to ostracize myself from her and lose any chance of ever planting seeds of Jesus’ grace and redemption in her life?

I guess the line is drawn when the immorality of others leads to temptation that I’m unable to withstand.  If spending time with someone who speaks with filthy language causes me to begin to speak in such a way, I may need to consider stepping away from that situation lest I fall into sin.  All I know is that God requires that we still live in a world full of sin and not be influenced by that world (1 John 2:15), but maintain a holy and righteous life worthy of the calling we’ve received (Ephesians 4:1).

Now back to the subject of Disney and its new movie.  We are sorely mistaken if we expect Hollywood, who has long been putting out movies of questionable immorality, to put out biblically accurate movies.  Even other movies and programming that Disney and its others companies have released have some examples of inappropriate sexual innuendo or language and violence.  1 Corinthians 6:12 reads, “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.”  A lot of what we do may be ok in the eyes of God, especially if our faith is strong, but it is not necessarily good for our hearts and souls.  Our rights do not supersede our responsibility to honor God with our choice of entertainment.  Finally, consider that we are encouraged to think on things that are pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8), and that includes our choice of entertainment.

YOU CAN’T SEE A SPECK WITH A PLANK IN YOUR EYE

Have you ever stopped to wonder why Jesus spent so much time criticizing the religious elite of his day?  After further study of the religious and cultural environment of the day, we can see that the hypocritical attitude of the Pharisees is what aggravated Jesus the most.  They created such heavy burdens for the Jews to bear with their manmade traditions and rules that it was virtually impossible for anyone to maintain any semblance of holiness.  And it’s not like the religious leaders were helping people to grow.  They would sit back in their high position and criticize the behavior of others (Matthew 23:4).  What they failed to understand is, we can’t fulfill just the first part of the law of loving God and not fulfill the second part which is to love others (Matthew 23:23).  In order to truly show love to God, we must show love to his children as well, even if we disagree with the sin in their lives.  Today is the same.  Many in the church use their state of redemption to bash those in the world still living in sin.  They create such guilt and difficulty that I can completely understand why someone would never want to give Jesus and the gospel a try.  Like the Pharisees, we cannot just follow the law in regards to sin and forget the weightier matters of love and mercy.

Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).  This basically means that if we’re outspoken over the sins of unbelievers while minimizing our own sins, we are in the wrong and will be judged according to how we’re judging others.  It also means that we can’t be outspoken over certain sins that abhor us like homosexuality and then look past all of the very obvious sins of adultery, lying, and gossip that are all around us, even in the church.

And speaking of judging, we must be careful of that as well.  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside.”  I liken this to a person working a job for a major company.  It’s not their responsibility to do the job of the CEO.  Instead, they are paid to do the tasks that they have been given.  Likewise, we Christians were given the job to be a light to the world around us, not to judge the worthiness of salvation for those who are living in disobedience to God.  What we don’t want to do is be like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14.  He sat there praying to God, all the while holding himself in high regard because he was such a good follower of the law.  He even openly bashed a tax collector nearby and was pleased with himself for not having that man’s dirty sins.  It was the tax collector who went home justified, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

Finally, I want us to think about what Jesus would do when dealing with situations like these.  We tend to think that our time is much more sinful than past generations, but that isn’t so.  There is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and sins like murder, idolatry, and homosexuality existed in Jesus’ time as well.  Also, we can’t hold ourselves in high regard just because we’ve been saved by God’s redeeming grace.  There are others out there who need that redemption too.

So what would Jesus do?  Just take a look at the Bible and you’ll see that Jesus spent a lot of time with blatant sinners and it was always the religious who had a problem with it (Matthew 9:9-12, Luke 7:36-39, John 4:1-18, John 8:1-11).  I wonder, if Jesus felt it appropriate to minister to the adulterous woman at the well, or would sit down to a meal with tax collectors and sinners, or allow another sinful woman to anoint him with perfume and wash his feet with her tears, how would he want us to respond to others today?  Would he want Christians to hide behind the closed doors of their homes and churches and criticize the world from the pulpit or our Facebook pages?  Or would he want us to go out there amongst the world, spreading the message of the gospel to those who need it most?  But we must be cautious.  We shouldn’t justify spending time with sinners to evangelize them if our intent is to still keep one foot in the world.

There’s no doubt that we should be careful of the situations we put ourselves in and be careful of the people who are around us.  “Bad company (does) corrupt good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33) and can negatively influence us and cause us to succumb to sin.  We are not supposed to have anything to do with evil but rather expose it (Ephesians 5:11-14).  And yet we are also commanded to get into the world and make disciples of all men, teaching them to obey and fear God (Matthew 28:19-20), and the only way to do that is to befriend sinners and engage them in honest, genuine conversation about our concern for their souls.  We’re not to sit there and give them a guilt trip over their obvious and maybe not so obvious sins.  Instead, we are to love them the way God first loved us.

-Joe

Unintended Consequences

consequencesI wasn’t even going to write this post.  I’m not sure if I was slightly afraid to or unsure of whether or not I possess the knowledge to do so.  I’m even a little worried of the backlash it may create because the topic challenges some strongly held opinions.

And then I prayed.

I prayed that God would give me the insight to make suggestions without sounding judgmental.  I prayed that I wouldn’t allow my opinion to be bound on others but that I would use God’s word to admonish and instruct.  And finally, I prayed that my readers would be convicted to let God speak to their hearts and convince them of our ultimate priority.

As a Christian, I have many important responsibilities but none greater than placing God as my primary concern.  If I’m truly going to proclaim faith in the God of the Bible then I must be willing to seek him first (Matthew 6:33) and be ready to give him my undivided obedience.  Anything less and I may as well not call myself a Christian.  It’s here that I want to start because if you’re unwilling to give God your all and your acts of religion are just done for show, you might as well stop reading right here.  Unless you’re prepared to go all in for God, then your opinions start getting in the way of his commands.

With that said, I want to look at the unintended consequences of creating a form of Christianity that we’re simply comfortable with rather than the form of Christianity described in the Bible.  The problem here is that instead of doing what the Lord has instructed us to do, we quickly fall into the trap of doing what we want.  “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers that suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  One has to look no further than the church to see how man has corrupted the sound instructions of God.

In the Old Testament, pagan rituals, sexual immorality, and idolatry won the day in early worship practices.  People found it much more interesting to create a form of religion that allowed them to hold onto different aspects of the world rather than being distinct as God’s chosen people.  Today, not much has changed.  Most modern churches practice some form of entertainment as a means to attract more visitors, and while that seems as if it were harmless, it basically takes the focus off of God and puts it on us.  In the July/August 2005 edition of Preaching magazine, mega-church pastor Max Lucado had this to say…

“No longer can we afford the luxury of thinking that the people who are sitting in our pews are going to be there every Sunday.  We have to arrest their attention.  We have to use every device possible to reach them and to teach them and we need not be so apologetic about entertaining them.  I mean, they’ve been entertained all week long, every time they turn around.  I have no apology for putting a good singer in front of them to entertain them if they’re not Christians.  You’ve got to do something to reach them…”

Now, I have no doubt that Mr. Lucado has been able to reach many people for Christ through his books and entertaining worship services.  In fact, I have no doubt that his church provides excellent instruction that is supported with plenty of biblical references, but there are unintended consequences from centering your worship of God around entertainment, namely that it is no longer God-focused but instead people-focused.  The writer of the 19th Psalm had it right when he said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight” (Psalm 19:14).  What God finds acceptable is all that really matters.  When we need a praise team or talented musicians or lights or smoke just to draw the masses, we have effectively invented a new form of idol worship.

This is not only a problem within the mega-church movement with their high energy bands and their multitude of programs that are only marginally related to God.  It’s also a problem in the quiet rural church where members are more interested in when services end so they can make it to the local restaurant.  I’ve even noticed churches that tout that they worship as the Bible has instructed turning towards a new form of distraction, namely phones and tablets.  Why do some Christians criticize the entertainment driven services of the church down the street but spend their time texting on their phone or handing their kid an Ipad to play games so they will keep quiet during the sermon?  Don’ those devices create distractions as well?  Where are our minds and hearts during worship?  Are they truly on God or are they somewhere else?

I know for some this seems like a personal attack.  It seems as if I’m advocating for a worship service that lacks any semblance of spirit but only follows truth.  Jesus himself reminded us that true worshippers would include truth and spirit when coming before God (John 4:24).  On the other hand, there may be some who are self-righteously saying that they already follow God’s instructions concerning worship and see no need to make any changes.

I simply hope that we will all seriously examine our motives for what we do as Christians.  Not only our worship practices but ultimately our overall walk with God.  Is he really our Lord and Master, or is he just a sideshow act?  Do you really place your faith and trust in the God who loves you enough to die for you, or is he just one more thing in your life between work and play?  I sincerely pray that if you’ve decided to give your life to God that you would do so joyfully and wholeheartedly and not let anything in this world, even if everyone else is doing it, get in the way of giving him your all.

-Joe

Freedom Isn’t Free

image

I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard this phrase before. Freedom isn’t free.  And it’s true, it isn’t free. We think of the freedoms we’re afforded in America and we’re wise to remember the sacrifices made by many citizens over the years.  For those of us from military families, we’re easily reminded of time served in defense and service to our country. Today, America’s Independence Day, we’re especially mindful of what a great nation we live in and the hard work, dedication, and patriotic fervor that went into making it great.

But today, freedom doesn’t seem to have the same meaning it once had. When most think of freedom, they think of their God-given and Constitutional right to do as they please.  Freedom means we can vehemently voice our objections to anyone wanting to take it away.

“Freedom of speech?  Don’t dare try to stop me from saying what I want to say.”

“The right to bear arms?  That’s right, you better keep your hands off my guns.”

“Religious beliefs?  You better not tell me what I can and can’t believe in.”

There’s an arrogance surrounding our personal freedoms and most people forget that they come at a cost.  The men who drafted our Constitution did so in order to grow a strong and united nation, not so we could use that document just to get what we want. The women and men who have served in the military and died for our country made the ultimate sacrifice in order that you may enjoy your freedoms responsibly and not use them in a casual and flippant way.  The providence God has showered down upon us was because America was a godly nation, not an arrogant one.

So today, remember that your freedoms have been paid with a price.  They are continuing to be paid for.  Set aside the drinks and hamburgers and fireworks for just a moment and appreciate the blessings we’ve been given and always remember…

Freedom isn’t free.

-Joe

There is Only One Path

one pathLocated in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee lies Mt. LeConte.  At 6,593 feet, it is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are five separate trails (Alum Cave, Rainbow Falls, Trillium Gap, Bullhead and Boulevard) that reach the summit.  Some are harder than others but they all reach their destination.  I’ve been to Mt. LeConte on three of those five trails and sure enough, I always ended up at the top of the mountain.

In today’s religious landscape, it’s popular to believe in many spiritual paths.  Tolerance is preached as the ultimate in religious maturity.  Many people want to create their own personal idea of God and salvation and develop their own path to get there, one that is easy and comfortable.

The truth is, there is only one path…through Jesus!

It may be unpopular to speak in absolutes, but the Bible, the inspired word of God, teaches that there is only one way to know God and that’s through our Savior Jesus Christ.  Let the words of Jesus himself, the Son of God, convince you:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

(John 14:6)

Nowhere in that passage does it give us permission to create our own path.  There’s no evidence suggesting Jesus will be tolerant of mankind’s idea of how to find God.  What’s scary is that the path is narrow and few will find it (Matthew 7:14).  That doesn’t mean that the path is hard to find.  It means that many will choose not to take it.

In hiking terms, trying to walk through the wilderness without a path is called bushwacking.  There is no discernable path, but you try to create one by traveling through the brush.  Needless to say, it’s hard and much easier to become lost.  In a way, our walk towards God is much the same.  When you’re not on the path, it’s hard and impossible to find Him.

Jesus was very clear about how to find God.  He was very adamant that obedience to that way is an all or nothing proposition.  The word of God is as simple as we want to make it.  We either follow the path God laid out for us or we don’t.

There is only one path.

There is no other way.

-Joe