Monday, January 23, 2012

From a Kid's Point of View

The following is a guest article from my 9 year old daughter.  I hope you enjoy it:
What do you want to be when you grow up?  That is a common question people ask.  Many people say they want to be a doctor, or nurse, or actor, or actress.  But how often do you hear, “I want to be a preacher”, or “I want to be a ladies’ day speaker”? 
            This story is from a book called, The Three Trees.  Each tree had a different dream.  The first tree said, “I want to be a treasure chest and carry the greatest treasure ever!”  The second tree said, “I want to be a mighty ship and carry a great king!”  The third tree said, “I want to be the tallest tree ever, so when people see me, they think of God.” 
Some men came and chopped down all three trees.  The first one was made into a manger in which Jesus was laid. Then the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure ever.  The second tree was made into a little sailboat, which Jesus rode on.  Then the second tree knew that he was carrying the greatest king ever.  The third tree was made into a cross, upon which Jesus was crucified.  When he died, the third tree knew that people would look at the cross and think about God.
They all had a dream that came true.  Yet, how beautiful was the third tree’s dream?  I think everybody should be more like that third tree.  When people think of you, what do they think of?
- Abby Gaines

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Prepare For Emergency Landing

British Airways Flight 206 was flying overnight from Miami to London.  As they flew, passengers dozed, read, watched movies, and peacefully passed time somewhere high above the Atlantic Ocean.  Then at 3 a.m. their peace was broken by terror – an alarm sounded and a recorded message informed them that the plane was about to crash into the ocean!  Passengers screamed and cried as they felt that they were surely about to die.
But it turns out that the recorded message had been played by mistake.  The flight crew quickly announced the mistake and instructed the passengers to ignore the previous warnings.  There was no immediate danger, and everything was operating normally.
As I read that story, I wondered how the passengers viewed their “second chance” at life.  How would we feel if we thought we were about to die, only to find out we were perfectly safe?  Being confronted with death has a way of sharply refocusing our thoughts and priorities.  Worldly things that seemed so important moments before would now find themselves void of any real value.  The “really important” things would now be all that mattered – Is my life right with God?  Do my loved ones know how I feel about them?  Have I prepared them for life without me?  What’s going to happen to me now?  Are there any wrongs that I should’ve made right?  I would think that these are the type questions that might race through our minds.  Those who felt prepared for death probably faced the situation with more peace than those desperate for more of this life.
Furthermore, for the unprepared, would there be any change in life after the initial, euphoric relief of not dying had passed?  Or would they quickly find themselves reverting back to old mindsets?  Would they merely think, “Whew!  That was close!” Then quickly move on.  Or would they be deeply grateful for the second chance, and be determined to prepare better for death?
A king in the Bible, named Hezekiah, had such an opportunity.  In 2 Kings 20, we are told of how he became mortally ill.  God told Hezekiah through the prophet, Isaiah, that he was not going to recover and he would die.  Hezekiah responded by praying as hard as he knew how.  God heard those prayers, and granted him 15 more years.  So how did he respond to his second chance?  We are told in 2 Chronicles 32:25, “But Hezekiah gave no return for the benefit he received, because his heart was proud; therefore wrath came on him and on Judah and Jerusalem”  He wasted his second chance because of his pride.  Would we do better?
The truth is that we are all on notice.   James 4:14 cautions us, whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away”.  People sometimes say, “Live each day like it’s your last!”  We can’t literally do that because there are mundane chores of life that must be done, which we would surely forsake if we knew for certain that tomorrow would not come.  We can’t skip work EVERY day.  We can’t skip the dishes EVERY day.  We can’t ignore the bills EVERY day.
However, we can live each day prepared for our last, by keeping our priorities in line, and by doing all the good we can with the opportunities presented to us by the day.  Just three verses later James would say in James 4:17  Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”   So let us do the good we can while we have the opportunity.  That very challenge is issued to us in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.  
  If today were in fact your last, would you be okay with that?  Or would you be filled with regret?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reflections on "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"


   There is a video that has recently attracted a great deal of attention entitled, “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”  It is a slickly produced, thought provoking video that presents some challenging views.  There are some good points and some understandable frustrations that are presented, however the overall thrust of the presentation is misguided.  The shock value of the presentation has distracted many from the inconsistencies of the actual message.  I thought there might be some value in stripping away the presentation and evaluating the text of what is being said to see if there is any merit to it.

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion.
Then you would be greatly mistaken.  Jesus did stand in opposition to hypocrisy.  He opposed the Pharisees in their manipulation of religion.  However, it is pretty absurd to suggest that Jesus came to abolish religion in general.  He, himself, was a deeply religious man who perfectly kept the old Law.  He was devoted to the Word and to prayer.  He promised in Matthew 16:18 to build his church.  His teachings are almost exclusively religious in nature.  It is safe to say that the first statement of this poem is erroneous
Jesus did not come to abolish religion, but rather to proclaim true religion.  We read in James 1:27 (NKJV) Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Who would have a problem with the religion described there?   

What if I told you voting republican really wasn’t his mission.
What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian.
These statements are obviously true, but also sort of beside the point.
And just because you call some people blind.
Doesn’t automatically give you vision.
This statement is also true.  But remember that it cuts both ways.  Calling “religion” wrong, doesn’t automatically mean that you are enlightened. 

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars.
The greatest fault of the video is that it fails to differentiate between “religion” and “religious people.”  Many religious people are hypocrites.  All religious people are flawed (aside from Jesus).  The weakness lies with people, not religion.  Has religion been used by some as an excuse for selfish ambition?  Yes, of course.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all religion is wrong. 
This lyric also assumes that all war is inherently wrong.  War is often times a great atrocity, but there are sometimes good things that result.  Despots that oppress and mistreat their own people have been overthrown.  Freedom has been gained and upheld.  War gained the right to free speech that allowed this video to be made without fear of legal oppression.  Of course many wars have also been fought simply for the sake of broadening boarders and increasing power.  My point is that many fallacies are made by painting with too broad a brush – which this video does repeatedly.

Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor.    
I agree that all churches do not always use their funds in the best possible way.  Again, this is a fault of people, not religion itself.  On the other hand, I rather suspect that the vast majority of charity that occurs in the world is done in the name of some religion or another.  I don’t know of very many churches at all that do not have some form of benevolence program, although for many it probably should be an even higher priority.

Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce.
I don’t know of a single religion that does that.  If they did, then that religion would be wrong – not religion itself.

But in the old testament God actually calls religious people whores.
Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice.
Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist.
            Religion is the system of beliefs.  It cannot practice anything.  The actual charge that I suspect the video intends to levy is that religious people are too judgmental.  That charge is true of a lot of religious people, but not all.  We must also separate the failures of the adherents of a religion from the teachings of the religion itself.  And as far as ridiculing God’s people… isn’t this video doing just that?

They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it.
Not realizing religions like spraying perfume on a casket.(…)

Like lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat.
But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies.
While the corps rots underneath.
            This criticism can be fairly brought to religious hypocrites.  Jesus said similarly to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-28 (NKJV) 25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Yet Jesus never criticizes religion itself, only the Pharisees’ twisted form of it.  No claim is made that ALL religions are correct, but that doesn’t mean that NO religion is correct.

See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core.
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.
            Now I think we come to the core appeal of this way of thinking.  If we can separate Jesus from organized religion, then we are free to reshape Jesus into our own image – disregarding anything we find demanding or inconvenient. 
            Repentance is a change of thinking that leads to a change in behavior.  The change does have to start at the core – the internal heart of a man.  But when that change takes place, then it will be visible in the way that we live.  Like John said in Luke 3:8,bear fruits in keeping with repentance”.     There are certain behavioral expectations of a Christian, and you won’t read very much of Jesus’ teachings without coming across some.  Jesus would say in Matthew 7:21 (NKJV) "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Doing something is required.  We are saved by grace, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus has no expectations of how we should act.

Now I ain’t judgin.
I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look, Cause there’s a problem.
If people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook.
I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy.
It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey.
I agree.  Of course that isn’t a criticism of religion, but rather of hypocritical individuals. 

You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me.
Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography.
See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded.
Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted.
See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness.
But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness.
If he is implying that he has made changes since that time to bring his life more in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, then I rejoice for him.  I’m not sure how this is a criticism of religion though.  It was religion that introduced him to Jesus, and exposed him to the Scriptures.  Without religion, then he likely would continue wasting his life in riotous living.
If on the other hand he is implying that he has not changed those behaviors because they don’t matter – they are simply weaknesses to be boasted it – then I would point out Paul’s words in Romans 6:1-2 (NKJV) 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean.
It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.
            I heartily agree with this.

Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin.
Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him.
See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan.
He looked down and said I want, that, man.
I’m pretty sure these are the teachings of some religions.  Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools.
Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules.
Jesus called the Pharisees fools because of their twisted religious teachings, but he didn’t hate religion itself.  Jesus, himself, practiced and taught religion.
As far as rules go, Christianity is more than a list of rules, but there are some rules involved.  Jesus said in John 12:48 (NKJV) He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him--the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  Sounds like there are some things for which we’ll be responsible.

Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin.
            That is just a contradiction.  The church is religion.  The Bible teaches religion.  A system of beliefs that acknowledges the existence of sin is religion.  I would like better clarification.

But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in.
Yes.  Yes, they would.

See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men.
But the son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then.
These statements are true.  But they are not indictments of religion.  He was maligned by men wearing sandals.  Does that mean that wearing sandals is wrong?  No, of course not!  Jesus was probably wearing sandals too.  Jesus was a religious man, insulted by other religious men.  The fault was not in religion itself, but in those men and their erroneous version of it. 
Self righteousness is not God’s righteousness.  It is wrong whether it comes from someone who believes in religion or from someone who doesn’t.

Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention.
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum’s.
See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention.
See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection.
See because religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son.
Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see.
            This creates a false and dangerous dichotomy.  It is nothing more than a series of unsupported, inflammatory statements.  Jesus and the church are not at odds with one another.  The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the head of the church, and the church is his body – Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 5:23, and Colossians 1:18.  The idea that we could love Christ while hating his church is ridiculous.  The church is the bride of Christ.  He loves it and bought it with his blood (Acts 20:28).  To reject Christ’s church and to reject his teachings (religion) is to reject him.  Jesus said in John 14:15 (NKJV) "If you love Me, keep My commandments”.

And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans.
Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man.
First of all, Christianity is a religion.  Secondly, what’s wrong with man searching for God?  Hebrews 11:6 says that Godis a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Jesus, himself, said in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” 

Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own.
Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face.
He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace.
And while being murdered he yelled. “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you.
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb.
Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room.
Again, this is all religious teaching

So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it.
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it.
            When Jesus said “It is finished,” he did mean it, but he wasn’t talking about religion being finished.  His mission was finished.  His redemptive work was finished.  Our debt of sin had been paid.

             I think that the maker of this video has some legitimate frustrations with organized religions; however he allows his frustrations to take him to places that aren’t logically supportable.  There are people who do things in the name of Christ that are not very Christ-like, but that does not invalidate the teachings of Christ.  We should be on guard against hypocrisy and self-righteousness in ourselves – this is a fair challenge.  But let us also be on guard against overreactions.  Jesus loves his church, and so should we.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fill Your Buckets

     The story is told of a city dweller who moved to the country and bought a milk cow.  Shortly after he did, the cow went dry.  When he told his neighbor what had happened, the neighbor expressed his surprise.  The city man said that he was surprised too.  “I can’t understand it either,” he lamented, “for if ever a person was considerate of an animal, I was of that cow.  If I didn't need milk, I didn’t milk her.  If I only needed a quart, I only took a quart.”  The neighbor then understood the problem. He explained that the only way to keep the milk flowing is not to take as little as possible from the cow, but rather to take as much as possible.
     How true that is in our spiritual lives as well.  If we only turn to God when we feel that we need something, then we miss out on the real joy of a daily walk with God.  In fact, we will likely find that the amount we draw out then will not be enough to satisfy our need.  Let us drink from the well of abundant life that God offers to us everyday, by diligent prayer and personal Bible study.
Psalms 1:2-3 (NKJV) 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Real World vs. Virtual World

Recently a man in China spent $16,000 for a sword – not a real sword, mind you, a virtual sword.  It is part of a game, called “Age of Wulin”, which had not even been released yet.  The game is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) that is set in ancient China.
That type of financial decision seems absurd to most of us, but he’s not alone in spending “real world” money on virtual property and items in these type of games.  As a matter of fact, a recent study valued the virtual economy for online role-playing games at $3 billion dollars.
A lot of us might look at that somewhat disparagingly.  Why would you invest so heavily in things that aren’t “real”, but just exist in an imaginary world!?  It just doesn’t make sense. 

But on the other hand, most all of us do it all the time…  Not necessarily online, but how “real” are the material things which we obsess over?  How permanent are they?   1 Timothy 6:7 says, “(NKJV) For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
If we shift our focus a little so that we can see the spiritual world as the “real” world, and this physical world as temporary – almost an illusion, then our priorities and desires also radically shift.
Jesus seems to have this perspective when he says in Matthew 6:19-21 (NKJV) 19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
            That is not to say that we will never enjoy a luxury or that we’re evil if we do.  However, it does mean that we ought to put first things first.  Let’s not be so distracted by this life that we lose sight  of what’s truly “real” and what really matters.
            Let us be mindful of the words of 1 John 2:15-17 (NKJV) 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mugged the Wrong Guy

Recently in Chicago, a 24-year old man, named Anthony Miranda, approached a parked car with a man sitting in it.  He asked the man in the car for a lighter.  When the man didn’t have one, Anthony pulled out a gun, demanded that the man get out of the car and hand over his money. 

What Anthony didn’t realize is that the man he had just chosen to mug was an MMA fighter and an Ultimate Fighting Champion.  At a moment when Anthony was distracted the “victim” leapt into action.  He grabbed the gun and wrestled Anthony to the ground.  By the time the police arrived, Anthony had two black eyes, a face full of cuts, and had shot himself in the ankle.  He made the mistake of attacking someone who was well prepared for it, and he paid the price.

As I read about this incident, I was impressed with the value of preparation.  Temptations will attack us, often when we don’t see it coming.  But if we are properly prepared, then like this MMA fighter, we’ll be able to make short work of defeating that temptation.  If we haven’t prepared ourselves, then we may find ourselves unable to resist the attack on our souls.

Paul urges us in  Ephesians 6:10-18 (NKJV) Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”

Are you properly prepared and equipped so that you can take your stand against the schemes of Satan?