A Few Statements about God, Truth, & Life

Nothing fancy today . . . or long. I just want to make a few statements to help provide some understanding for why I am so dedicated to speaking out about righteousness in government and culture. I don’t do so from some position of presumed authority or because I think I’m the fount of all wisdom. In fact, it’s precisely due to the failures in my own life over my 61+ years that I feel called to write and teach.

When I was 25, I knew everything. I wouldn’t have said so at the time—who would be that foolishly bold?—but as I look back now, I see that I thought I had captured most of the truth about God and life. That confidence was shaken, though, when I went through a time of estrangement from the Lord. I walked away from the faith and tried hard to find another way. God’s grace, however, prevailed as He allowed me to follow a path that led to a dead end.

At the end of that path, I had nowhere to turn but back to Him, and for that I’m eternally grateful. He gave me a second chance. He showed me the devastation of sin in one’s life, the cleansing nature of repentance and faith in His atonement, and hope for a new start—a new path. I’ve traveled this new path with Him now for about 25 years. It has not all been easy. I’ve had to live with some consequences from that period when I wandered, and the path has contained some rather large potholes, some of which I navigated successfully, others into which I fell. Yet even in times of near-despair, He has shown me His faithfulness.

I am more attuned to some things now. Sin is uglier than ever to me. A culture awash in sin makes me grieve. The politics of hypocrisy and self-centeredness brings pain to my heart, even as I know it does to God’s heart. Falsehood, whether in theology or political philosophy, brings the response of wanting to correct all such falsehood with declarations of truth. As a teacher, which is God’s calling on my life, I have a natural tendency to discern error and counter it with Biblical principles.

Yet I am also more attuned to God’s mercy. He showed mercy to me when I deserved judgment. Even as I point out error and talk of God’s potential judgments, I must leave room for His mercy, particularly toward those in the culture and government who are deceived and are deceiving others. God’s judgment may fall, but I will continue to pray that it be forestalled and that spiritual renewal may increase.

We are to judge. That is Biblical. We are to evaluate men’s hearts and actions. We need to do so, though, only when we have first taken the beam out of our own eye.

A couple of sentences from a small devotional book that I’m reading stand out to me today. The first deals with sin:

It is no secret that when a man sins he ever so rarely does anything unique or original or new or different. Sin is monotonously the same, generation after generation.

My sins were not unique. God’s forgiveness is not unique. But it was uniquely applied to my life. It gave me a new life.

The devotional also noted this:

There is a perpetual power of renewal in the Christian religion. It is forever producing prophets and saints who keep calling it back to the heart of its message.

I have been the recipient of a renewal. God continually calls me back to the heart of His message. My goal is to spread that message in any way I can. This is why I write.

Shining in the Midst of Evil

What can I say about the awful tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, that hasn’t already been said over the last three days? Some have used it as a political football to call for more gun control, ignoring the fact that Aurora already had strict gun control laws. Others have pointed out that if private citizens had the right to carry guns, someone in that theater would have stopped the carnage before it got out of hand. Both presidential campaigns did the right thing by cutting back on overt campaigning while people deal with the situation.

Then there has been the old, tired debate over “why” anyone would do such a thing. The answer to the “why” is as old as humanity itself. Why did Adam and Eve disobey God? Why did Cain kill Abel? Why did the world become such a toxic place that God destroyed it all except for one family and started again? Why did the people emerge from the Flood and try to establish themselves as equals to God? Why have the nations raged against each other for centuries? Why do individuals carry out abominable acts against others? The answer to the “why” is simply another three-letter word: “sin.”

I define sin as I believe the Bible does: rebellion against the righteous commandments of a loving and forgiving God, who also must engage in judgment in order to remain loving and true to righteousness. Sin is man’s way of putting himself first, placing his own desires above that of God’s. Sin manifests itself in grievous acts such as the one in Aurora, but also in petty jealousies and basic self-centeredness. James Holmes’s self-centeredness led to a vicious action that took the lives of many. My self-centeredness, and yours, may not result in a killing spree, but any disregard for righteousness is from the same source.

Yes, there are varied paths people take to get to the point where they do something such as Holmes did, and we can analyze what there was in his childhood, his relationships, his life disappointments, or whatever, that led to his actions. But when all the analysis is complete, we cannot lose sight of the underlying truth that each person is responsible for his/her actions and the heart attitude that birthed those actions. Even when we call someone mentally ill, we must do so in the context of recognizing that each person is a free moral agent made in the image of God who will be held accountable one day by the God who made him. That basic truth is rapidly losing ground in our age of blame-shifting and excuse-making.

Evil is real. It must be acknowledged as real and dealt with accordingly. Righteousness is real. It needs to be held up for all to see. Christians are supposed to be God’s representatives who show the way to that righteousness. In the midst of evil, we need to shine brightly for the world to see. May we accept the challenge and point others to the only Truth, the only Way, the only Life.

Calling Evil Good

President Obama’s declaration last week that he approves of gay marriage was no surprise to me. In fact, anyone who really believed he wasn’t in favor of it had to be living in a fantasy world. His worldview, which is mainstream radicalism, naturally leads him to it. His professed faith, which departs severely from Biblical roots, is no barrier to it. Already we had seen his administration, through the Department of Justice, refuse to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law during the Clinton years. Attorney General Holder was quite vocal in his refusal. So why would the president’s pronouncement last week be a surprise?

Some wanted to cling to Obama’s previous statements that he was not a proponent of gay marriage, but it should have been obvious to anyone with any critical sense at all that his stance was purely political. Now he has gambled that the nation has moved far enough left that it won’t be a detriment to his reelection. That remains to be seen. Last week, North Carolina became the 30th state to successfully define marriage as between one man and one woman, despite polls that indicate a majority of Americans now support homosexuals getting married. Are those polls accurate?

Those with purely political analyses are saying this move by Obama at this time is meant to take the voters’ minds off the economy:

I do believe that’s part of the strategy, but there’s something deeper at work here: he truly believes in the rightness of his decision:

Those polls I mentioned above could be accurate. We are a nation adrift morally, and it might be true, after a couple of decades of a constant barrage of subtle brainwashing, that most Americans now accept the idea that homosexuality is just a normal way of life for some people, that there is a genetic base for being a homosexual. Unfortunately for those who have jumped on this bandwagon, there is no scientific evidence for any kind of homosexual gene. They are believing a lie.

While I expect Biblically illiterate people to fall for the lie, it’s more disturbing when professed Christians buy into it. They do their best to explain away the explicit passages in Scripture that call homosexuality a sin, but they have to perform some amazing logical and exegetical feats to accomplish it. Frankly, their attempt to downplay the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality falls flat in the face of hard evidence such as that found in the book of Romans. In the first chapter, Paul speaks of those who deny the existence of God as fools, then focuses on how they exchange the truth of God for a lie. One of his examples is homosexuality:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, … and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

The clear message of Scripture is that homosexuality is unnatural and is a choice; therefore, those who choose to engage in homosexual behavior will suffer consequences for doing so. The last part of the passage is quite fitting for our times when it points to those who not only practice it, but who also push to make the abomination tolerated, and even applauded.

Christians are supposed to be lights in this world. How can we be lights for God and His truth when we excuse sin? We are His priests, according to the New Testament. I was reading yesterday in the Old Testament book of Malachi and came across a stinging rebuke of the priests in his day. I think the rebuke applies to us as well if we deny God’s truth:

For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But as for you, you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi.

Christians who refuse to call a sin what it really is are misleading others; they are causing others to stumble in their spiritual walk. That’s a serious accusation, but I feel it must be made. Too many who name the name of Christ are at peace with the world’s way of thinking, and they lead others into confusion and sin when they mishandle the Word of God.

Malachi went on to say,

You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them.”

Sadly, that’s exactly what some self-styled Christian leaders are doing today. And then they make their own disciples who go out and do the same. The error spreads, along with the consequences.

We see the same warning given through the prophet Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

So what about those of us who may very well be the minority now? What are we to do? Returning to Malachi, we find an answer:

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name. “They will be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.

We need to distinguish clearly today. We need to know who is a genuine servant of the Lord and who is not. Anyone promoting homosexual marriage has set himself up against the expressed will of God. As Franklin Graham so poignantly put it the other day, President Obama has “shaken his fist at God” in this matter of homosexual marriage. Graham called it “a sad day for America.”

What would be even sadder is if a Christian would vote for a president who has done such a thing. There are many reasons not to allow Obama a second term, but he has now committed an act that should make every Christian reconsider a vote on his behalf. If we vote for him, we are giving our support to this evil. We will have to answer to God directly for that vote.

Sin, Repentance, & Judgment: A Neglected Message

A week ago, I wrote a post I called “The Moral Majority?” In it, I outlined two misperceptions I believe are hampering efforts to turn around the culture. The first misperception is that too many of us think we still live in a majority Judeo-Christian society. We think we’ll just eventually come to our senses and everything will be alright. The second misperception is that we can live a Christian life without holiness. We blend too easily into our culture and don’t want to embrace God’s righteous standards. I’d like to follow up on those thoughts.

One of the key reasons, in my view, that we don’t live righteously is the message that the church too often proclaims—a message that doesn’t really require a change of heart and action on our part. We are told continually that God’s love is unconditional, and that He will accept us just as we are. There certainly is truth in those statements, but the implications we attach to them undercut what I would consider real salvation.

Yes, God’s love is unconditional. He loves us in spite of what we have done and what we are. But that’s not the same as saying salvation is unconditional. There are very specific conditions before we can enter into a relationship with the One who unconditionally loves us. First, we need to grasp the nature of sin, the utter selfishness behind it, and how it destroys all that God intends for His creation. Only when we come to grips with the evil that not only infests the world, but permeates us as well, can we take the next step, which is a deep and genuine repentance over the sin that we have allowed to control our lives.

Far too many evangelists, pastors, and para-church organizations skip these steps. They are eager to make converts, so eager at times that they just want people to come forward to the altar without first leading them into an understanding of their sin and the need for repentance. Without these two vital components, though, there can be no salvation. Why? Because the basic problem that separates man from God has not been addressed.

We tell these potential converts that all they have to do is accept what Jesus did for them, and then we assure them they are saved. Those whose hearts were prepared for the message are genuine converts, but I believe the majority have simply given an intellectual assent to the need for a savior and want to have what has sometimes been called “fire insurance.” I mean, who wants to go to hell?

The problem is then compounded when we declare that they can never expect to live up to God’s standards since His demands are too onerous for any of us to achieve. We solemnly assert they will probably keep on sinning as they have done before, but not to worry because they’re going to heaven anyway. We lower the expectations to where they’re already met.

This theology has its manifestation in a bumper sticker I used to see on cars that stated categorically, “Christians aren’t perfect; they’re just forgiven.” It’s almost like saying, “Hey, I’m just as bad as you, but I get to go to heaven.” What a great salvation—I can continue to sin as much as I used to, but I don’t have to bear the consequences.

No, that’s not salvation. And the reason we are a weak church, and the reason we are fuzzy over moral issues like homosexuality, can be traced to the prevalence of this diluted theology.

I am prepared to be called judgmental because of these comments. That’s fine. God has called us to be righteous judges, as long as we cleanse ourselves of hypocrisy and we offer our judgments along with the message of reconciliation. The glorious thing is that God says we can be set free from the power of sin in our lives, but we must begin with a proper recognition of the pernicious nature of that sin and earnestly desire a changed heart. That’s when the atonement of Jesus can flood our hearts with His love, all our past sins can be forgiven, and we can walk in newness of life. The only reason I’m “judgmental” is because I want people to experience victory in their daily lives.

The Moral Majority?

My main reason for writing this blog—its only real purpose—is to bring the Christian message to the forefront as we contemplate the state of our culture and the society in general. Within me resides a hope, which I trust comes from the Giver of All Hope, that what I write can aid, in whatever small way, in restoring a Biblical pattern of thinking that will, in turn, strengthen the foundations upon which our society is built.

I believe there are two chief impediments that are making it difficult to make progress. The first is a misperception that guides some of us hoping for societal restoration; the second is a profound personal failing on the part of those who claim the name of Christ.

What is that misperception? We seem to think that there is a silent majority out there just waiting for the re-emergence of Christian culture. What we fail to understand is that we are living in a post-Christian nation. Whereas, in decades past, most Americans would have subscribed to some type of Christian morality, we are now a nation bitterly divided over the nature of morality—or indeed whether such a thing as morality even exists. Jerry Falwell, as he attempted to get Christians involved in politics back in the early 1980s, started an organization he called The Moral Majority. It rested on the assumption that most Americans believed in Biblical morality.

That was the case at the Founding of the nation; even those who cannot be classified as Christian believers lived in a culture that expected people to adhere to the basic moral teachings of the Scriptures. The onset of evolutionary theory severely undercut that consensus, which eventually led to the holocaust of abortion, the drive for same-sex marriage, and a general philosophy of postmodernism, where each person constructs his own concept of morality. Polls seem to indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans rarely gather in a church on Sundays.

Yet we continue to act as if what we promote is generally accepted by the society at large. No, it is not. Promotion of the homosexual lifestyle shows up in nearly every television program, in one way or another. It is just assumed by the media that couples live together and engage in sex routinely before marriage. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence to bolster their assumption.

The myth of the moral majority must be shattered before we can make any real progress. We have to see reality for what it is first so we’ll know how to proceed.

The second problem, though, is deeper, and it’s the primary reason we don’t have the kind of influence we seek. It has to do with personal holiness. Now, I know that word—holiness—has become a turn-off. It reeks of past attempts to focus entirely on externalities: don’t wear makeup, don’t watch television, etc. Christians have been their own worst enemy by making holiness into a repellent idea.

True holiness, though, is beautiful. It simply means one’s love for God inspires our thoughts and actions. Holiness is an attitude of the heart that seeks to please God in all we do, and it’s a joyful thing. Yes, a heart for God will lead to changing our external actions, but not because we follow a list of rules. We change because we want our lives to honor the One who brought us out of darkness into His light; we change because it connects us to His heart; we change because it brings harmony and His love into the lives of others with whom we associate.

Christians who live holy lives are attractive; they draw others to them, thereby providing an opportunity to deliver the message God has placed on their hearts: personal salvation first; societal salvation as a result of the permeation of Biblical principles into the society.

My concern is this: too many people who claim the name of Christ don’t portray the Christ they claim to know. I’ve been a Christian now for many decades. I’ve seen true holiness in action; it does exist. Yet it is not the norm. I’ve taught at four Christian institutions of higher learning and have witnessed the sad spectacle of sin destroying that which is good. We don’t talk much about sin anymore; it’s an embarrassment to mention the word in our culture. If we mention it, we’re accused of being judgmental.

But I want to say something very direct: sin is killing us. I am saddened almost daily by “Christians” who don’t act much differently than the world around them, whose language is filled with the same crudeness that we say we deplore, whose attitudes show forth in gossip, slander, and revenge. Those who name the name of Christ have no problem with “shacking up,” accepting homosexuality, or allowing the government to become God. They are endorsing the very sins that are sending our nation into spiritual darkness. Is it any wonder we hardly make a dent in the culture?

I am grateful for those who stand for righteousness; they do make a difference. But far too many who say they want to make a difference are not different themselves. That will never work. What we need is this reminder from Scripture:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. …

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.

Those are not my words. They come from Another. My job today is simply to deliver them. Your responsibility, if you say you are a Christian, is to ponder them and act upon them.

Book Review: Illusion

Frank Peretti is back. Nearly twenty years ago, I picked up my first Peretti book, This Present Darkness, and marveled at his storytelling prowess. After that, I grabbed every Peretti book that came out. Some were more graphic than others in their depiction of sin, death, and the misery men bring upon themselves, but they all were faithful to the message that sin kills, both physically and spiritually. But Peretti didn’t stop there—he always contrasted the consequences of sin with the redemption available through Christ.

Peretti has been notably absent for some time now. I went into the bookstore last week to pick up a certain novel I had heard about, only to discover it wasn’t there. As I perused the shelves, I found, to my delight, that a new Frank Peretti book is now available.

As I read the description of Illusion on the front flap, it drew me in immediately. It’s a fine mixture of science fiction, action, and romance, all within a Christian context. It doesn’t preach, but it does deliver a sobering message about those who try to play God, the potential of a marriage based on Christian commitment, and how to deal with the loss of a loved one. I refuse to give away the plot, but suffice to say that the plot, along with the character development of the protagonists, held sway in my mind over the four days it took to finish it.

Perhaps one of the reasons I found it so fascinating is that the main characters were both born in 1951—an auspicious year, to be sure, since I also was born then—and what they knew, I knew also. All the cultural connections were real to me, as was the poignant fact of the characters reaching that landmark age of sixty—not quite decrepit yet, but identifying with the man who was wondering why it no longer was as easy as it used to be to run, climb the stairs, or perform all the other daily duties in life.

Yet it’s not just a book for “old” people like me. It speaks to every generation.

If you’ve never read Frank Peretti, this is your opportunity. Try him, you may like him. If you’re like me, a Peretti fan from previous years, you should welcome this new addition to his collected works. It will also be a welcome addition to your library.

The Meaning of the Cross

On this Good Friday, I want to draw attention to another aspect of the atonement of Christ. Our traditional theological explanation is to say that Jesus died on the cross so we might escape the penalty for our sins. Most of the time we seem to treat it as a type of commercial transaction. Sure, we are grateful we don’t have to bear the consequences, but all too often we see what Jesus did as some kind of transfer: God the Father got mad at Him instead of us. Whew, that was close.

I don’t accept the idea that God was angry at Jesus, that He couldn’t stand Him at that moment because of all that ugly sin attached to Him. Well, the Father did abandon Him, right? It must have been, as the majority of preachers say, that He was pouring out judgment upon Him because He became the personification of sin. The scripture used to back that up is the one that says Jesus became sin. Yet a closer examination of the Greek shows a better translation is He became a sin offering—not the same thing.

Why did the Father turn away? Two reasons, I believe. First, Jesus had to suffer this alone. Just as any sinner separated from God will feel supreme emptiness at the Last Judgment, so Jesus had to fully grasp that experience. We’re told in the book of Hebrews He had to be made like us in all things so He could be the perfect sacrifice. He had to undergo every temptation as a man to be able to take our place. Yet until that moment on the cross when the Father turned away, He never had experienced alienation from Him. Throughout all eternity past, they were One. Now, for this one agonizing moment, He fully experienced the feeling of separation.

Second, and this is where some may say I’m speculating too much, think about the effect on the Father as well. This was new to Him also. He had never been separated from the Son. If Jesus was suffering, wasn’t the Father also? Yes, Jesus carried out the physical suffering, but both grieved in their hearts.

You see, God the Father and God the Son are not some faraway entities. They live with us, feel with us, work with us at all times. The crucifixion was an intensely personal act.

The other half of this is that we so cavalierly tell others to accept what Jesus has done for them and they can live forever. It’s much deeper than that. We need to come to grips with the personal nature of the crucifixion. We need to “see” the agony Jesus voluntarily submitted to for our sake. In our spirits, we need to view the cross as more than a commercial transaction where we dodge a bullet or have a debt paid. We need to gaze upon Jesus on that cross, realize the degree of His suffering, both physical and spiritual, and be so humbled by His love for us that we would never again want to do anything that would bring even more grief to Him.

In other words, we need a stronger sense of the absolute evil of every sin—the bottomless selfishness of every sinful thought or action—in order to bring us to a place of genuine repentance. The cross should break us down, humble us to the point where our commitment to Him is to live a life that honors Him at all times.

Salvation is not one prayer, and too often we push people into praying a prayer of salvation that may be phony. That prayer will only be real when we first acknowledge our complete spiritual poverty without Him and seek His forgiveness. When we come to that point, when we know in our spirit that we are nothing without Him, only then can we begin to walk in newness of life.

On this Good Friday, we should contemplate not some payment of a debt, but rather the kind of love that would lead the God of all creation to empty Himself of all Godhood, and to humble Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. If we understand the depth of that love, we will be changed. And that’s what it’s all about anyway.