Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Idolatry of Happily Ever After

Did you know that I was Prince Charming? Sure, I may have only been an adolescent boy but I was going to grow up to be the one who rescued the Princess and with her live happily ever after. Because that’s where I would find complete happiness: in the presence of the most beautiful and flawless woman I’d ever lay eyes on. I would recognize her worth and she’d recognize mine and we’d have all we’d ever need. Our love would magically provide home, health, and everything else we might want. They’d probably write books and make movies detailing our perfect love. And it would all start at first sight. One look was all we’d need and we’d be “head over heels” in love.

“That’s stupid!” These are the words I heard from a good friend as I told her about my idea of love. By this time I was a 24 year old grown man who still clung to romantic love being the end all of life. And why wouldn’t I have? Some of my closest childhood companions were Disney movies. And just about every secular song I ever heard outside of church was about “when a man loves a woman”. The fact is, our culture glorifies romantic love. Just two nights ago as Annette and I watched “Downton Abbey” (I never claimed to be a man’s man), one of the main characters was told that if she’d marry him “every waking moment would be devoted to her happiness.” Turn on the radio and I guarantee you’ll hear a similar promise within seconds. This kind of sentiment is praised as sweet and romantic. Many would probably say that this is how it should be.

The Church has even participated in this phenomenon. For example, I was encouraged to keep my virginity intact because one day I would meet the “the one” and all my dreams would be fulfilled in her. But while saving myself for my future wife was and is biblical, looking to another person to fulfill us is not. Unfortunately, this idea has wreaked havoc in so many marriages as many have looked to their spouses to deliver something impossible for them to give. One of my closest friends, a Christian, has had several relationships end disastrously because they’ve continued to look to be swept away in a fog of romantic love, where all they can see is each other.

I used to think this was beautiful. Now, I see it for what it is: Camouflaged Idolatry. It looks good, because after all, we’re supposed to love and be faithful to our spouse. But as with so many things that God creates and calls good, it’s been perverted. Romantic love has become another vehicle for stealing away our highest affection from the only one deserving of it. This is idolatry. We all worship something, and anything that we adore more than Christ has become our object of worship. Isn’t it obvious that for so many in our culture, maybe even for you, seemingly innocent romantic love has become the idol of choice?

So am I suggesting that we do away with romantic love? Not at all. I’m calling us to keep it in its proper place with proper perspective. God made marriage. He invented romantic love between a man and a woman. It’s a wonderful gift. And its primary purpose is the same as everything that God has made: to reveal His glory to mankind that we would know Him, love Him, and be in awe of Him. Paul writes in Colossians 1:16, “All things were created through Him and for Him.” In writing this in reference to Jesus, Paul declares that even our own marriages are not primarily for us, they are to be for Jesus. How so? In many ways, but let me point out two extremely important ones: First, to be a picture of the beautiful relationship that people can have with Jesus as a part of His bride (Ephesians 5:25-33). Second, to help and spur each other on to carry out Jesus’ command to all Christians to be disciple-making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

If you’re married or plan to be, your spouse will one day stand before the Lord and give an account for their life. Have you ever thought about that? You need to be helping prepare them for that day, not simply engaging in temporal romantic idolatry with them.

After calling my romantic notions “stupid”, my close friend pointed out the blessing of marrying your best friend and having a relationship built on truth and not on fantasy. She struck a chord with me that day.  In fact, she strikes a chord with me every day. She is a very wise woman and I’m incredibly blessed to be married to her. Sometimes it’s a fine line I walk between worshipping her and worshipping the one who made her. But it’s a line that I must not cross. Not when I think about the Cross. And this is what we must do. Think long and hard about the amazing and perfect love Christ displayed for us at the Cross. He is the prince that came to rescue us. We are His bride. This is where we find fulfillment! Jesus is the only one who can truly meet our needs. He is the only one who will never hurt us. He is the lover of our souls. When we dwell on this, it shouldn’t be hard to adore Him more than anyone or anything else. With all your heart, soul, mind and strength, love Him above all else for it is with Him that His people will live happily, ever, after.  

Friday, March 25, 2016


If you haven’t heard, the State of Georgia is considering passing a bill that has created quite a stir. In fact, if it is passed, Disney has vowed to discontinue filming at the Hollywood Hot spot “Pinewood Studio’s” located near Atlanta. Marvel has vowed the same. Many actors and actresses have also publicly denounced the legislation. So what is this bill that has so many up in arms?

According to the Washington Post, “The bill protects religious leaders from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and individuals from being forced to attend such events. It also allows faith-based organizations to deny use of their facilities for events they find “objectionable” and exempts them from having to hire or retain any employee whose religious beliefs or practices differ from those of the organization.

What is offensive about that? It’s religious freedom and it’s what our country was founded on. The only thing that might be offensive is that individual States are compelled to do this in order to protect its faith institutions from the loud, obnoxious voices of those that whine about being offended to our liberal federal government.

While I’m not entirely surprised that Disney would advocate for the side that is squelching Religious Liberty, I am saddened. They have fallen quite a ways from the beliefs of their founder. Walt Disney once wrote “I believe firmly in the efficacy of religion, in its powerful influence on a person's whole life. It helps immeasurably to meet the storm and stress of life and keep you attuned to the Divine inspiration. Without inspiration, we would perish. All I ask of myself, 'Live a good Christian life.' To that objective I bend every effort in shaping my personal, domestic, and professional activities and growth.

Faith informed his activities. His legacy, Walt Disney Studios, is trying to make that impossible for me and other people in a position like me. They would have me put my faith in the backseat and be driven by the ever-changing winds of public opinion. I can’t do that. I won’t do that. Walt Disney himself didn’t do that.

So what? What should Christians do about it? Am I advocating boycott of Disney? Do I suggest we use Social Media to protest loudly and incessantly?  Or what about picketing in front of various Disney headquarters? First, the short answer to those questions: No. Now, the long answer to those questions: Noooooo! There is a much more important way to spend our time and resources, which I will get to in a moment.

Disney’s about-face should be seen as a sign of the times. We are living in a country that has traded its foundational principles of religious liberty for secular slavery where the only truth is how one feels and tolerance is the highest virtue. Thus, if you dare object to the immoral actions of some, your intolerance becomes intolerable and you are condemned as a bigot (so much for being tolerant) and become another causality of postmodernity.  But why? How did this happen? Because we DO NOT live in a Christian nation. I hope by now you see this.

I also hope that by now you’ve realized that the way to change things isn’t through politics. If we read our Bible’s, we should know this. Think about when Israel wanted a King.  That made everything better for them, didn’t it? Of course not. Saul was the first of many King’s that would help destroy Israel from the inside out. But the solution, and what I believe the Bible makes crystal clear, does involve a King. The way to true change in our country and our world is to introduce people to the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one and only who can transform hearts and minds. No matter how hard we try, how loud we yell, how much we legislate, we cannot do it. Stop expecting non-Christians to act like Christians. But Christian, do expect yourself to act like a Christian.

And what does a Christian do? Make disciples of Christ. Ephesians 4:12 makes it clear that YOU are to do the work of the ministry! Pastors and such are here to equip YOU to make disciples. Stop merely coasting through your comfy lives, watching your “christian” movies, going to your safe and secluded bible studies, hiding behind the four walls of your home and get out there and tell someone about Jesus! Disciple a young Christian! Bring the widow across the street from you dinner. Invite her to celebrate the Resurrection with you this Sunday. Stop making excuses. Do something now! (Know that I'm preaching to myself here too). 

Disney may be a lost cause but that’s okay, I’m more concerned about the people that make up Disney. And there is a lot of hope for them as I guarantee that every one of them knows a Christian. Let’s pray that those Christians and all Christians (including you) start talking up Jesus. Imagine if every Christian planted a few seeds every day! We may never see an about-face in our country or in Disney, but we just might see an about-face in our neighbor or our coworker or our friend at the gym. But it starts with us making an about-face and obeying the command of our Lord to “Go...” So let’s go. Are you with me?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Where are you Jesus???

“Where are you Jesus? I feel so distant from you!” Have you ever said words similar to these? I know I have.

As I prepared for this past week’s Sunday morning marriage class, I was startled with a truth pointed out in Francis & Lisa Chan’s book, “You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity”. Their point had nothing to do with marriage but everything to do with mission. As you probably know the last command Jesus gave while on earth was to “go and make disciples…” But did you know that the very last thing he said was “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(Matthew 28:19a & 20b) Amazingly, right before Jesus leaves, he promises to be with His disciples! Talk about a paradox! But the truth that Jesus was with them would not have been lost on these first disciples. Think about it. They had just been given a mission, to “go make disciples of all nations”. What a daunting task! How thankful they must have been for his statement of continual presence. 

Yet Jesus’ reassurance that He was with them was given in the context of them carrying out the mission He had called them to. Think about that! Jesus was saying that He was with them as they went out to all nations. He came to save and He sent out His disciples to make more and better disciples. Jesus is in the business of saving people. And so Jesus was with them when they were making disciples. He was with them when they were baptizing new disciples into Him. He was with them when they were teaching those baptized into Christ.

We may not like it and many of us may not do it, but all Christians have been given the same mission as the first disciples: To make more. We’ve all been enlisted for the same thing. We are in a battle for people’s souls. Jesus wants to save them. And so I believe that Jesus’ power and presence are most experienced when we are on the front lines doing what He said to be doing. Unfortunately, I fear that 99% of the time dear Christian, you and I are on furlough getting some R&R. This has to change!

I had a good conversation with a visiting Christian woman on Sunday morning. She is trying to figure out the best ways to get Christians connected with non-Christians. She believes this is the most crucial element we must focus on in evangelism. While I too believe this is vital, I think the bigger problem is this: using the connections we already have to introduce Jesus! I mean ask yourself, “When was the last time I told an unbeliever about Jesus?” My guess is that you’re glad your answer to this question is private. But is it really? Jesus knows.

Please understand, I’m not trying to guilt trip you here. Not at all! I’m trying to remind you of a glorious blessing! Jesus is with us! And I believe He is most with us when we are consumed with Him and His mission to save!  So out of your love for Him and this amazing truth, join Him in this most sacred and imperative mission. Plant a few seeds today! Have Jesus on your lips! 

And the next time you find yourself asking, “Where are you Jesus? I don't feel your presence in my life!” ask yourself, “How engaged am I in making disciples?” That very well could be your problem.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Should a Christian Make New Year’s Resolutions?

There seems to be 3 reasons why some say Christians should not make New Year’s resolutions:

1. They are unbiblical. You don’t see this practice prescribed in God’s Word.
2. They are worldly. This is a common practice of an unbelieving world, selfishly trying to make themselves better apart from God & His divine help.
3. They are rarely kept. Christians should follow thru on their goals.

It’s easy to read these 3 reasons and then piously add New Year’s resolutions to our list of things not to do. But are the reasons above legitimate? Should they keep a person from making resolutions?

The short answer is no.

New Year’s resolutions are not unbiblical. Scripture doesn’t speak on the subject. We need to be careful not to make hard and fast rules where the Bible does not. Where God prescribes specific actions, we must obey. Where there are obvious principles, we must practice them. But where God is silent, we cannot put words in His mouth.

New Year’s resolutions are not inherently worldly. While non-Christians may make selfish resolutions that are kept by their own strength, this doesn’t need to be the case for the Christian. Resolutions can be motivated by a desire for God to be glorified and an understanding that we are incapable of keeping them apart from God’s gracious power.

The third reason listed is entirely TRUE, but is NOT a reason against resolutions. It is faulty logic to say that because resolutions are rarely kept perfectly, Christians cannot make them. If this were true, than we should not be aiming for Christlikeness as we will never attain this perfectly. No, our aim should be the bullseye (complete Christlikeness), knowing full well that we will often miss the mark. If we set our standards lower, we are not following Jesus but rather a version of Him that we’ve created in our own minds. Yes, Christians must follow thru on our goals, but to never miss a goal means that you’re probably sitting on the bench, rather than playing as if to win.

So if there is nothing wrong with making resolutions, the question becomes: Is it good to make resolutions and if so, what should my resolutions be?

I believe making resolutions is a good idea. In fact, we should be making them all the time. Following Christ on the road of life is an every day, moment by moment decision. We didn’t (or shouldn’t have) hit cruise control when Jesus saved us. We should constantly be driving in the direction that He is leading us, while making needed adjustments (resolutions) in our steering as we start to get off course. But when we plow into another person or we drive into a ditch, it is helpful to have a clear demarcation of recommitting ourselves to following Jesus in specific ways that we’ve been neglecting.

What then should our resolutions be? The first thing to do is to ask God. He knows where you’ve gotten off course better than you. If it’s been awhile since you talked to God, your first resolution should be to become a person of prayer. I’ve heard it said and wholeheartedly agree that “Prayerlessness is a declaration of independence”. We must be people dependent upon God’s Holy Spirit working in us and on our behalf.

After asking God (and listening), take a look at what our Christian brother, Jonathan Edwards resolved to do.[1] You can find a link to an excellent article on what His resolutions were at the bottom of this post.

The basic principle for what we should resolve to do is to do what God tells us to do, for this brings Him glory. For instance, the Apostle Paul tells us “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”[2] We should resolve to not be conformed to this world but transformed into Christlikeness. If you recognize this is an area of failure, describe how you will practically do this and then resolve to do it. Repeat as necessary.

Conclusion: Our problem isn’t that we are too disciplined in our Christianity, it’s that we are not disciplined enough. Use New Year’s resolutions as an opportunity to be more faithful as a disciple-making disciple of Jesus, recognizing that it’s only by being dependent upon Him that your resolutions will ever be realized.

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards
[2] Romans 12:1-2

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Confusing Message of Christians & their Guns

Let’s just get this out of the way: I don’t believe it’s wrong to own a gun or to protect yourself with it. But there seems to be a segment of Christianity who seems to have adopted a new mantra: “Preach never, and if possible, use guns.” Sure, I’ve not read or heard anyone say this exactly, but if you summarized the bumper stickers on many of the trucks I’ve seen lately, this is what you would get. It’s as if Jesus said, “Go therefore & make gun rights in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the NRA, the 2nd Amendment, & Charlton Heston”.

Am I missing something? Did Jesus come to institute personal freedoms or to command that we lay down our personal freedoms, like He did, for a bigger cause? Wasn’t it Jesus who said "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”? Why yes it was. Look it up, it’s Matthew 16:24. Its Jesus saying that we must die to ourselves if we are to live with Him. Identifying with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection through faith, is what makes us Christians. Either many so-called Christians never did this, or somewhere along they way, they laid down their cross, stopped following Jesus, and along with their personal freedoms, picked up a gun.
Have you confused “The American Dream” with God’s dream that all people be saved??[1] Or have you simply chosen to go for the latter? Don’t you understand that “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are only found in Jesus and in following Him?

So then, what is the greater cause we should be concerned with? The Great Commission.[2] Making disciples. Being a disciple-making disciple. Of Jesus! We must be adamant about this.
And here’s something so important that many Christians don’t seem to understand: When we are more or just as adamant about other things as we are about Jesus, it confuses the heck out of the world. And rightly so. Why should they think that Jesus is far and away most valuable & worthy to be the Lord of their lives, when your life and passion seem to say that other things are just as important, if not more important.

But it’s especially confusing when it’s guns. Guns bring death, Jesus brings life. Jesus taught mercy and love. Guns are used for justice and often hate. People often say “Gun’s don’t kill people. People kill people.” That may be true, but guns don’t save people, Jesus saves people. Guns may protect and prolong life on this earth but that’s it.

“Preach always, and if necessary, use words”[3], is the actual quote that I referenced at the start. This is good but I’d go one step further. Preach always, and if possible, use words. Because whether or not we realize it, we’re always preaching something by how we live our lives and what we stand up for. Think about it. Everything you do says to the world what is important to you. And look for opportunities to use words that exult Jesus and show others their need for Him, and only Him. Because it’s so much more necessary to use words than we realize. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”.[4]  So whether you’re speaking or simply going about your daily business, preach Jesus, not a confusing message of Jesus + guns.   

Listen, we only have one witness. Let’s not muddle it by forcing Jesus to share the spotlight with guns or anything else. Because He won’t. And I wouldn’t want to be you when He calls you to account for trying to force Him to.  

[1] 2nd Peter 3:9
[2] Matthew 28:18-20
[3] St. Francis of Assisi
[4] Romans 10:17

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Christian Response to a Muslim Topic

What to do about Muslims? Talk about a volatile question! Okay, I will. 
Albeit, briefly.

First off, this answer may not make sense to those who aren’t Christians. And to those of us who are, this may upset some. Yet I believe this answer is one we arrive at when we “put on the mind of Christ”, which according to the Apostle Paul, we have.[1] Unfortunately, too many Christians think in the flesh, with our primary desire being to protect our flesh, our physical bodies. But lest we forget, our mission is not to save ourselves from possible terrorists, but to join with God in the Great Co-Mission by making disciples out of possible terrorists. We must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”[2] This means that our struggle is not against Muslim’s, but against the one (Satan) who desires to keep them from being freed from the terror of sin. We should have compassion and love for Muslims, especially when we remember that they are trying desperately to earn God’s favor and forgiveness.

So how do we this? I’d like to suggest 3 ways.

First, don’t generalize about all Muslims being terrorists. Yes, the basic tenants of their faith are not grace, love, and mercy to all people (as is the Christians). In fact, violence is an accepted way of making converts in the Quran.[3]. That being said, most Muslims do not practice this in the same way that most “Christians” do not practice the Great Commission. Most Muslims simply want to live peaceably. We absolutely cannot equate being a Muslim with being a terrorist.

Second, we need to have a paradigm shift. For some Christians, the question has become, “how do we have more Christians in the world than Muslims? Do we have more babies? Do we outlaw Islam?” This is the wrong question to be asking. The question should be “how can we do a better job of making disciples of all people, especially Muslims?” It’s not us versus them. The goal is not to “win” as if this were some contest. The goal is to glorify God by seeing more of his creations be redeemed thru faith in Jesus. Some of us need to change the way we think.

Third, let’s look at Muslims coming to the USA as an opportunity. For centuries we’ve had to primarily send missionaries to other countries in order to reach Muslims with the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is far less true today. In addition to that, I’ve heard reports of many Muslims around the world coming to faith in Jesus. This should excite, encourage, and challenge us to reach out to our Muslim neighbors with the hopes of starting a dialogue about the true identity of Jesus.

Christians, we need to be careful. It seems that our country is waking up to some of the realities about Islam and so it would be very easy to jump aboard, leaving behind our Christian witness. While Politics has its place, remember that it will never save people. We cannot police the world to Christ. Choose your battles wisely, and remember that it’s not Muslims we’re fighting against.

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:16
[2] Ephesians 6:12
[3] Quran 2:191-193) 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Disability We All Have

I recently read an article about Steve Sarkisian, the former Head Coach of the USC Football team. He is suing the school for various reasons. Included in the article is the statement that “The suit also asserts Sarkisian has, at times, been "a person with a disability" under federal law because of his alcoholism and that the stress of his job contributed to his alcohol dependency.[1]

My sister has disabilities. She was born with them. She cannot do anything about them. If she pushed herself, she could develop more in certain ways, but she could never be a fully functioning adult. Period.

I was a gambling addict. It controlled my life. I lied to my wife, family, and friends. I stole from a person very close to me.

Are we all in the same boat? Are we victims, equally in need of certain breaks and help/protection from government?

If so, what is your disability? What behavior can you not control that you should be getting special treatment because of? Maybe it’s cheating on your taxes? Maybe it’s cheating on your spouse? Maybe it’s running red lights? If so, maybe you should tell the IRS, or your wife, or the police, that you have a disability. Maybe then they’d back off and see that you’re the victim, not the people you hurt by your actions.

Okay, so I’m being facetious. Hopefully that’s obvious. Hopefully it’s equally obvious that Mr. Sarkisian (the alcoholic) and myself (the gambler) do not have disabilities in a way that’s even close to the same way that my sister has disabilities. Mr Sarkisian has a very real problem and I HAD a very real problem. He needs help. I needed help. But this does NOT mean that we should be classified in the same way as my sister and millions of others who cannot do a single thing to undo their disability.

Let’s be real. Addictions, especially chemical ones, are real and horrible life-changers. I don't pretend to know everything about addiction, especially chemical addiction. But what’s at the heart of the issue? At the heart of the issue is the heart. We’re all born with the same disability: selfishness. We’re addicted to self. This addiction plays itself out differently for every person. Some mask it pretty well, while others do not. Some deal with it and take responsibility for it, while others blame things and other people for it.

So how does one deal with it and take responsibility for it? It starts with Confession. Believing and saying the same thing as God on the subject: You’re a sinner in need of a Savior. Confessing that Jesus is your Savior, not yourself or anyone else. Then turning away from your sin and towards following Jesus. It’s pretty simple. Sin & selfishness are no longer in control of you, you belong to Jesus. Simple, yet so hard for prideful people. Simple, yet unfathomably wonderful.
What if you’ve truly done this? The means for stopping a certain behavior, whether it’s chemical dependency or not, are not much different. I’ll use my gambling as an example. I confessed that I was not living the way God created me to live. I was sinning against Him. I confessed that I needed a Savior then as much as ever. I confessed, again, that Jesus is my Savior. I confessed I needed His help. I turned from my sin and towards Christ (repentance). I put off certain things in my life that tempted me to gamble, including watching poker on TV & playing with friends. I put on truths from Scripture(such as needing the help of brothers) & a closer relationship with Jesus that filled the void left by the gambling. The grasp that gambling had on me was quickly weakened and then slowly destroyed. It’s not easy, because we’re fighting against the flesh, but thru dependency upon God’s Spirit and not ourselves, it’s very doable.

Some have a physical and/or mental disability. All of us share the same spiritual disability. Let’s be careful to put things in their proper category. Don’t you agree?

[1] http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/14313181/steve-sarkisian-files-wrongful-termination-lawsuit-usc-trojans