Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forcing sinners to act like saints

Too often in America we would sure like those outside the Church to act like saints.  We even want to make laws about it!  Prayer in school, the 10 Commandments in courthouses.  "In God We Trust" on our currency.  Well, you get the idea.  But lets be honest.  Those things have been part of America since it was founded, and it doesn't appear to have helped a whole lot.

Now don't misunderstand.  I wish people did all pray to God, in and out of school.  I wish that those who walked into the courthouses would be convicted for the ways they've broken the commandments of God.  And I wish we did indeed trust God.  Unfortunately, that is the reality we live in.  

So what are we to do?  If you ask many Christians in America, the answer is to make these things laws.  Make prayer happen in school.  Pass legislation to force people who don't believe in God to act like they do.    But they aren't.  And these aren't the types of things which will convince them to follow God.  

If we would remember our history, the history of our nation, we would recognize that the thing which brought us over here in the first place was religious freedom.  Shouldn't we allow people in our own country the same rights our ancestors fought and died for?  

Most Christians have the line down "love the sinner, hate the sin."  The problem is that we will love the sinner as long as he gives up his sin, but otherwise, we are going to have to spend most of our time around him pointing out how bad he is.  

So what should we do?  Do we ignore sin?  Or do we just pay attention to certain sins?  (Interestingly enough, there are a lot of Christians who want to make drunkenness against the law, but not so many who want us to make laws about obesity, though the Bible is clear on that one too.)  What is the balance between speaking out against false teaching, but still loving those who are trapped by the deceit of Satan?  

I think the Biblical approach is also the approach of Christ.  Jesus readily identified the sins of the people around him, even going so far as to tell the woman caught in adultery to "go and sin no more."  He corrected false teaching, called out the hypocrites, and cleaned up the temple.  The message of Jesus started with those who called themselves believers, and extended to those who made no such claim.  Jesus didn't only condemn the religious, nor did He only condemn the sinners.  Jesus was an impartial judge of truth.

This should be what we do as well.  The difference, though, is in the goal of our actions.  What are we actually trying to accomplish?  If it is conformity to our way of thinking, than we are not acting like Jesus.  If it is confession and repentance, than we are acting like Jesus.  Loving the sinner and hating the sin will happen when we acknowledge wrong behavior not to get the person to conform, but to confess.  Not to get people to change their ways, but to allow God to change their hearts.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rob Bell and Marriage

If you haven't heard about Rob Bell coming out in support of gay marriage, you probably don't have any Christian friends or look at any Christian websites.  A couple of weeks ago he came out in typical Bell fashion, talking a lot but saying very little.  Then, to clarify his position, and the reason why he thinks Christians should support gay marriage, Bell produced this video.  Feel free to check it out for yourself.

This isn't the first time he has come out on issues which stray far from orthodoxy.  His book "Love Wins" explores the doctrine of hell.  This is admittedly a difficult subject, and perhaps it would do us all well to examine what we think about it.  Bells views, however, are far from anything Scriptural.  I read the book, and wrote a review of it, if you would care to read it.

My concern with Bell in both of these, and with many Christians, is they are constantly trying to figure out what "works" in the world today.  The concern isn't truth, or what Scripture says.  He declares that God "makes some" people gay.

Now understand that I'm not talking about legalizing gay marriage in America.  That isn't what Bell is talking about either.  He is addressing what Christians are supposed to believe is righteous and holy.  Unfortunately, what he believes is right is far removed from Scripture.

I don't say these things simply to attack this, though this is certainly an issue in the forefront of people's minds today.  My concern, as ever, is our approach to what is right, and how we deal with the Bible.  Scripture, and the truth within it, do not conform to the standards of the world.  Instead, we are supposed to speak boldly the truth, no matter how much people don't care for the truths we present.

D. L. Moody said this: “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.”

Our goal should be to always seek truth, and if perhaps we need to reexamine issues, I don't have a problem with that.  I believe that reexamining what we believe is healthy and necessary.  The question is, how will we examine truth?  And if we discover that Scripture is clear, what choice will we make?  Will we ignore truth, or will we stand for what is right?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Gods at War

I recently read "Gods at War" by Kyle Idleman, preparing for a group study I'll be leading.  The subtitle is "Defeating the idols that battle for your heart."  This is not a book for those who are willing to stay trapped in their walks with God.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  If you want to be challenged to examine your heart and priorities, this is the book for you.  Idleman cuts right to the heart of things, with his no-nonsense approach.  He approaches this in a loving but straightforward manner, desiring to see us set free from the things which keep us from loving God with all our hearts.

The book is set up in four sections.  In the first section, Kyle sets the groundwork for the rest of the book.  He points out that idolatry is indeed an issue today's world, even though we don't bow down to statues.  He talks of out these things battle for our heart, for our passions.  In chapter 3 he talks about the idea that God is a jealous God, not willing to give up the heart of man, but will fight for our hearts.  Speaking of the jealousy of God, he says "It's overwhelming to realize that the Lord God loves us this way."  Idleman shows us how much God loves us, and how this drives His actions toward us.

The next three sections all deal with what he calls the three "temples" in which the gods are located.  These are temples of pleasure, power and love.  In the temple of pleasure we find food, sex and entertainment.  Now, understand again that Idleman pulls no punches.  He is trying to show us specific examples of how we may be worshiping these things.  So at times, it gets more than a little convicting.  There are many people who are trapped by these things, and you can tell by your life whether it is true of you.  Your actions will indeed speak to your heart.

The second temple, of power, holds the gods of success, money and achievement.  Many today in America are trapped by these gods, and I love that Idleman deals with the obvious ones, but also some of those which aren't quite obvious.  Sure, we get the business man and woman who live for their careers.  But what about the people who only feel like they have really made it when their house is clean, or they have accomplished some task to perfection?  These are also idols.

The final temple is the temple of love, and in this one Idleman deals with the gods of romance, family and me.  In my opinion, this is probably the most difficult section for most people.  As a pastor I have often counseled people who struggle with idolizing their families and relationships.  Then they wonder why their relationship with God isn't growing.  This section pulls that in, along with marriages and worshiping self.  This was a very challenging section to the book.

One of my favorite lines comes from this last section.  Idleman says "God isn't simply a way to get to heaven; heaven is a way to get to God."  Why do we serve God?  Is it so we can get to Heaven, or get to God?  That is an important question.

At the end of every chapter, Idleman has some questions to ask ourselves, helping us do a little self-examination.  I love this quote which he has in each of these sections.  "Idols are defeated not by being removed, but by being replaced."  I hope and pray that all who read this book search their hearts, identify their idols and replace them with Jesus Christ

Monday, March 4, 2013

The History Channel presents The Bible

As I sat and watched The Bible last night on the History Channel, I was excited.  Yes, yes, I know there were some inaccuracies.  I know it was supposed to be a ram, not a sheep.  And I know Sarah wasn't supposed to be there.  I get that they did some things during the 2 hours which gave the Bible more drama, though that's a bit of a funny statement.  The Bible doesn't seem to be lacking drama!

But there were some strong messages which came through.  The power of God was put on display for the world to see.  Whether it was in Creation, the Flood, the Plagues, or the drowning of Egypt's army, it was clearly evident.  As Moses cries out that Pharaoh is not God, but only the God of Israel.  This was a powerful message.

Perhaps the most powerful message was when Abraham was going up the hill, and straight from the text in Genesis, says to Isaac, "The Lord will provide a sacrifice."  Powerful, to say that least.

Also evident was the faith of God's people, and those who lacked faith.  Then we got to see the consequences of both.  The faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses and Aaron was there for all to see.

I guess what really excites me is that there is more coming.  We will eventually get to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.  This is the message we all need to see again and again.  I hope many are watching, and many find themselves capture by the love of God.

So aren't we missing the point?  Shouldn't we be excited that there are some in the entertainment industry who want to present the Bible to the nation in a fresh way?  At times Christians are the worse for criticizing those who are striving to do their best.  Shouldn't we be the ones encouraging, blessing and supporting this program?  I mean, we complain all the time about the junk on our television.  Now there is something worth celebrating, and we nitpick it to death.

Was it perfect?  Of course not.  Will I watch it again next week?  Absolutely.  All in all, I loved it, recommend it, and look forward to next Sunday as we take the next steps in the story of God working among men.