Friday, May 28, 2010

Just gonna say it

OK, so here's what I'm realizing: there are seasons in life when some things that I really want to do I just don't get to do very much of. Take, for example, this season in my life. I'm now less than two months away from the biggest move in my life, and there are MANY things to keep busy with. I've been preparing a sermon for Sunday, prepared a talk for Wednesday night, and taking a course for seminary online. Now, to be sure, I've also been able to enjoy myself - I was able to play golf with a bunch of pastors on Monday for the "Pastors Masters" event, and tomorrow I get to do a little wine tasting with the Sissons. So that's all great.

All this being said, I just don't have time to consistently blog and I need to admit it to myself. So, no one needs to read this, it's just that once I get it out there it's more real, ya know? Like when you know something is wrong in your life but you aren't changing it because you're not telling anyone... and then that moment comes when you tell someone and you say out loud that you're going to change. You have a much better chance at success in my experience when that happens. So, I've just got to admit that while I love writing, I'm not going to be able to do it consistently for the next few months. Now, who's to say I'll have tons of time to do it once I start school full time and am living in new city? I guess we'll just have to figure that one out.

But, the good news is that I've now admitted it and can be OK with it. There, I said it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Theology: Marriage

This past Wednesday night in youth group we discussed marriage. To be sure, it is truly impossible to cover all the important aspects of marriage in just one night. That's the case with all of the big topics we are covering in this "final series" before Noelle and I move. However, that doesn't mean some important things can't be said. It's just saying that not everything can be said. With that in mind, here's a little review of what we talked about

We covered three important questions that I believe kids are asking about marriage: What is God's purpose for marriage? Why is it unwise to marry someone who doesn't believe in Jesus? What happens when people get divorced?

First: What is God's purpose for marriage? Genesis 2:24 gives us a very important recap of marriage - "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The "one flesh" idea will come back later on. But we see from the creation of the world that God created marriage to be a blessing to humanity, to glorify himself, and to be the best means by which to raise children. Marriage is a great blessing! It is hard work, to be sure, but to enjoy your marriage is one of the greatest blessings God has bestowed upon mankind. Having a strong, healthy marriage is the key to getting through the worst of times (speaking from a marries perspective, that is). And having a bad marriage makes any of the best of times difficult. God has also made marriage to glorify himself. When two people come together who love him and love each other, it's hard to find a better testimony of God's love, grace, patience, and forgiveness in action. Marriage sharpens two people together, it is the furnace through which God burns off sinful attitudes, selfish tendencies, and wrong belief. God also intends marriage to be the most beneficial way to raise children - two people lovingly bringing God's creation into the world to love the child, nurture him/her, and help them know Jesus.

Second: Why is it unwise to marry someone who doesn't love Jesus? Surprisingly enough, you will not find a verse that says "You can't marry a non-Christian!" This does not mean there aren't excellent reasons why you should avoid doing so, however - it's just important to be honest and know that there isn't a direct statement in the Bible like that. One of the best verses that helps us understand why we should avoid marrying a non-Christian is 2 Corinthians 6:14 - "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers." What does it mean to be "unequally yoked"? The farming imagery is used to describe something like an ox and a donkey being tied together (yoked) to plow a field. If two completely different animals are tied together, the work will be nearly impossible to do - they have different purposes, strengths, and are going to move in different directions. For a more extreme example, think horse and bunny... that one wouldn't go well for the bunny! The principle for marriage is that, if you marry a non-Christian, you are marrying someone with totally different values, beliefs, and expectations. You WILL move in different directions in life - and honestly, the most likely scenario is that the Christian will eventually give in and not lead a Christ-centered life. It is unwise because to join your life so closely with someone who doesn't share your love for God is to tie yourself up in immediate and long lasting conflict, and it is (mot likely) going to be very difficult to be a good witness together of the character of God.

Finally, what happens when people get divorced? We turned to Mark 10:1-12 for this one, where the pharisees test Jesus and ask him his thoughts on divorce. Moses had permitted men to give a certificate of divorce to their wives - a pretty easy process it seems! Jesus informs them that it was because of their hard hearts that this ended up being allowed, but from the beginning of creation (he quotes Gen. 2:24) God intended the two to become one, and says that what God joins together, no man should tear apart. And divorce is just that, a tearing apart of our lives because we have become one in life and purpose with the person we marry. Jesus equates divorce and remarriage (I know there is controversy over this, but sometimes that can't be entered into on nights like these) with adultery - there is still a life long commitment made before God to love this person until one of you dies. And that doesn't change in God's mind just because the state signs off on your divorce... harsh as that sounds. Divorce tears away at the fabric of our lives - like two pieces of paper glued together cannot be cleanly separated but will tear apart, so too with people's lives when there is divorce. Is there forgiveness available? YES! Is there healing that happens? YES! God is gracious, yet we need to understand that it is painful and not as God intended.

All in all, I hope it was a helpful night - it was helpful for me to (hopefully) put these big issues into fairly brief answers. Marriage is wonderful, fun, messy, hard, and beautiful at all times. Are you married? Bless your spouse today and thank God for him or her. Are you single? Ask God to make you into the kind of man or woman who will make an excellent and Godly spouse one day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Theology: Does God Care More About Christians Than Non-Christians?

Does God care more about Christians than non-Christians? This is an excellent question worthy of our attention for many reasons. It is also a bit of a dangerous one. What I mean is that the way we answer it will have a direct impact on how we treat people. That is to say, what we believe about who God loves and doesn’t love will inevitably have an effect on how we think about people and how we treat people. So, what’s the answer to this challenging question? This is something many people struggle with for years, so a clear and simple answer simply can’t be given in one brief reflection on the subject. That being said, I do believe we can come to see some very important truths about ourselves and about God by looking at three truths from God’s Word.

First, the truth that God gives “Common Grace” to all people. “What is common grace” you ask? Common grace is the term we use to describe how kind, loving, patient, and generous God is towards all people. This is a vital truth for us to see. God is gracious to everyone. How so? Well, if we believe the Bible’s testimony that all men are absolutely incapable of rescuing themselves from sin, and are far worse than we ever dare admit, we might come to see how great God’s common grace is. If you and I were to receive “fair” treatment from God, that is to say if you and I were to receive the fair punishment for our treasonous, rebellious sin against the King of the universe (and that is what every sin is), we would have been killed immediately and given an eternal punishment. That is how serious sin is, and that is the “fair” treatment of sin. However, while God does decree that the consequence (or wage, from Romans 3) of sin is death, he does not give this sentence to us immediately. That means that everything that we see as good in the world – sleeping, eating, joy, laughter, the beauty of nature, the satisfaction in a game or recreation, and so on – is God’s common grace to all mankind. So, we see here already that God does love all people are does “care” for all people.

Second, we have to remember that the Gospel tells us that God went an infinite distance in rescuing us from our sin. Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ claims that God came to us, instead of us needing to do all kinds of things to get approved by God. God covered the infinite gap between Heaven and earth because of his great love for us, and paid the price himself for our sin against him. He died in our place so we could become “children of God” (I John 3:1). But, here’s an important question: what exactly IS a Christian? The question at hand is about whether God cares more about Christians… so, what or who is a Christian? A Christian is someone who was once deserving of eternal punishment for rejecting God, yet God came for them, died for them, and rose for them and gives them eternal life. A Christian is someone who, when God looks at them, God sees Jesus and his perfection rather than their sin. So, if you’re a Christian, you’re not one because God thought you were so special, or because you went to church or came from a certain family – none of that either qualifies you or disqualifies you – you’re a Christian because God has loved you and you responded in faith to receive his free gift of grace.

Lastly, God calls all Christians to love others in the same manner in which God loved us in Christ. Philippians 2:1-11 describes Christ letting go of all his Heavenly rights in order to humble himself in his humanity all the way to death on a cross. We are implored by God to see Christ’s sacrifice and example and be so changed because God is living in us that we in turn love others sacrificially, genuinely, and humbly.

So, does God care for the Christian more than the non-Christian? In many ways, the answer is no. None of us deserves God’s love yet he pours out his love on all mankind every day. None of us has sought after God on our own – rather, God has loved us so deeply that he seeks after us and rescues us from our sin and rebellion against him. Christians do have a special, unique relationship with God because of their faith in Christ. There are important differences in the way God responds to his child and the way God responds to someone who is still in their sin without hope. God knows us as a perfect Heavenly Father knows his children. But these things are not meant to boost our ego or make us think we matter more, therefore treating others with contempt. Let us follow in the example of our Savior, filled with His Spirit to love people the way God has loved us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Theology: Why does evil live on yet good people die?

For the last couple of weeks, and up until Noelle and I move, we will be discussing big questions people are interested in talking about from our youth group. This is the question and my response to it from May 5th. I'll be posting these on this blog rather than printing them each week for anyone interested

Why does evil live on yet good people die? This is an important question, but also one that might be slightly misguided. In order to see things more clearly, we need a correct understanding of what is “good”, what is “evil”, and what God has done about it and what he promises to do in the future.

For starters, we need to remember that “good” is not based on what we think is good but on God, who defines all that is good and is perfectly good. And we all fall short of the standard when we realize that’s where the bar is at! No one is good like God… in fact, no one is truly “good”. We can do good things, say nice things, and so on – but we are not good. Without God’s grace crashing into our lives and changing us, we are broken, rejecting God’s will and intention for our lives.

Second, what is “evil”? While there are many good definitions, one good definition of evil is this: evil is anything that goes against God’s nature and his will. That means, anything that opposes God’s perfect creation, his character (love, grace, kindness, fairness, justice, etc.), or his will for humanity is evil. When we see it this way, we see that all of us are in fact “evil” – once again, we can do good things but we cannot be called “good” at the core. But we can be called “evil” because we all live contrary to God’s design and character.

Third, what has God done about evil? Has he done anything? Hear we need to see that God has responded to evil. God became a man (Jesus Christ) and experienced evil – he was betrayed, beaten, and killed on a cross. God doesn’t avoid evil and suffering, he enters into it! He experienced far greater evil than any other human ever could – not because no one suffers like that, but because Jesus didn’t just die… he took all the punishment we deserve as people who oppose God and sin against him. He took my place, your place, the place of the world and offers forgiveness because the debt has been paid for. All who come to him in faith, knowing they should have died instead of him but trust him as Savior, experience a newness of life given to them by God – the Bible calls this being born again, being a new creation, and other things all describing what happens when we become Christians.

Lastly, what has God promised to do in the future about evil and suffering? This gets at the heart of tonight’s question. Why doesn’t God just end it now if he could? Is he not all powerful, or (and this would be worse) is he not all good? No, he is all powerful and perfectly good. Read 2 Peter 3:8-13. We see that God is not slow or weak; he is patient and is in control of history in such a perfect way that he is bringing many people to himself rather than ending history now. He is not pacing back and forth in Heaven like he doesn’t know what to do… he is perfectly carrying along the plan to make a new heavens and new earth – one without death, evil, suffering, tears, pain, or anything that is not in perfect harmony with himself. What starts with human beings through faith in Christ – making us new creations who know, love, and worship him – will eventually be seen in a perfect world forever.

God knows the pain you’ve been through. He went through great pain to be with you. Trust him and know that He loves you, and even when we can’t see it He is working for our good and his perfect plan, showing off his greatness and the great love with which he loves us.

For further reading: Romans 1, 3, 8. Ephesians 2. I Peter 2:18-22. 2 Peter 3:8-13. Revelation 21 & 22

Monday, May 10, 2010

What I’m Watching: The Invention of Lying

Last night, Noelle and I rented a movie that was funny and surprising. It is called “The Invention Of Lying” and came out sometime last year. There are many actors/actresses you would recognize – I don’t think it made it all that big time, however. I can’t officially endorse it considering it had quite a bit of sexual references, though not necessarily sexually charged activity if you will (I always feel weird describing this stuff). The premise of the movie was that at the time of the movie no one in the world had ever lied – lying simply didn’t exist. Everyone said exactly what was on their minds, no matter what. They insulted each other, they admitted their fears, they confessed sexual desires, and so on. They said some seriously funny stuff. But that wasn’t he main point of the movie, from what I gathered.
The main character in the movie, Mark Bellison, was very down on his luck. His mom was dying, he lost his job, he was about to be evicted. Then something happened that changed everything: he told the world’s first lie. And since everyone believed everyone’s word, he got anything he asked for – tons of money, a girlfriend, and he even got his job back by “discovering” a completely made up story about aliens coming to earth in the 14th century (he was a screen writer). The turning point of the movie was when his mom was about to breathe her last, Mark told her that everything she knew about the after life was wrong – you don’t go into nothingness forever, instead you go to your favorite place and get a mansion and everyone else is there with you. Word got around that Mark knew something about the afterlife that no one had ever heard, and so the world literally gathered to hear – on his lawn, on TV, on radio, any way they could. Mark took a while to make something up (because by this time he knew he was lying), but eventually wrote down 10 important things people needed to know about the afterlife. Here’s the kicker (for me at least): he wrote them down on Pizza Hut boxes because he thought they looked like tablets and he claimed to have gotten his information from “The Man in the sky”.
Sound at all familiar? The movie did an amazing job mocking much of the Bible’s storyline about the afterlife, the 10 commandments, and so on. It was seriously intriguing to Noelle and I as we watched the rest of the movie to see how many things they poked fun at. Eventually Mark was being questioned about all kinds of things but all he had to do was say “the Man in the sky is talking to me…” and he was free and clear. Since everyone naively believed Mark, and since the Man in the sky says so, they went along with whatever they were told. I’m telling you, it was an all out assault (albeit indirect) on Christianity and the Gospel. But here’s the problem: the movie only vaguely resembled the Christian message.
No where in the film was forgiveness, sin, justification, the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and so on mentioned. The only important thing was that you don’t do 3 bad things while on earth so you can get your mansion. God was a Man in the sky, a figment of Mark’s imagination – not a loving Creator who redeems mankind from their bondage and spiritual death through the bloody sacrifice of his Son. Not a Father in Heaven who created us for his glory and our joy, Someone who pursues lost sinners by grace and mercy, patiently bringing us to repentance and faith in his Son. Nowhere was the Gospel given, nowhere was there a turn for the better. The ending was interesting and I’m not going to spoil it here. But I will tell you that the entire thing was portrayed as “people make up a God in the sky to make themselves fell better”.
I really hope I didn’t ruin everything for you, because if you are an adult who decides what they watch and doesn’t have movie-watching guidelines, I do suggest seeing. If nothing else it is a portrayal of how many people see Christianity and the God we claim to be the true God. It lays an axe at the root of much of what we hold dear, and yet it also cuts short the beautiful Gospel of Christ that we love. If you’ve seen it already or if you see it soon, let me know what you think.