Tuesday, September 27, 2016


"For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me." - Psalm 38:4

I am not really sure the story behind the picture of this lion's wounded face. I can assume, though, it was caused by a fight that he had with another lion and I'm not sure what the other lion looks like, but I think this picture speaks volumes. When I look at this picture I think about my own life. I think about the broken childhood I experienced, I think about how I was introduced to pornography at the age of 12 and how it was a part of my life for 8 years, I think about how sexually immoral I was in high school and even halfway through college. I think about my anger problem and the insecurities I have. I think about how sin has marred, scarred, and wounded my soul just like this lion's face. It has certainly left its mark on me. Like this lion, I walk around everyday with the scars that sin has gashed into me. Sin effects the way that we think and act. For example: when I was 3 or 4 years old my parents got a divorce. I lived in a really broken home and my mom had custody of me. I would go see my dad every other weekend and though he was there physically and I knew he was real, he was absent emotionally and spiritually in my life. I didn't feel like he cared about me a lot of times. The way my earthly dad treated me has effected me in the way I view my heavenly Father now. I can remember walking in the living room around the age of 6 years old to make conversation with my dad and he would shoo me away and tell me to be quiet because he was trying to listen to what was on television. That is how I sometimes view my heavenly Father now. I know He is real, but I don't feel like He cares to talk to me sometimes. So that is just an example of what I mean that sin effects the way we think and act. It breaks our view on everything. I didn't have a male figure to teach me what biblical sex looks like, so I inevitably had to teach myself the incorrect view of it through pornography and experiencing it for myself before marriage (I hope that wasn't too personal). Sin has placed such a heavy burden on my life in many more ways than just those examples. That burden that sin has placed on me is far too heavy for me too carry. Again, like this lion, I have scars all over and a heavy burden to carry, but I, and you, can trade our heavy burden for a light one.

" 28. Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. 29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus gives us the invitation to come and exchange our heavy load for His light one. He offers us rest for our wrecked and wounded souls. All the baggage that I have in my life and all the baggage you have in yours, Jesus says to come and lay it at his feet. He tells those that are broken in spirit, those that see that their burden is too heavy, to come and let His sacrifice on the cross heals your wounds. Jesus does not say, "Go, do away with that heavy burden and your crimson stains of sin." He says, "Come, I'll take that heavy burden for you and I'll wash your crimson stains away." We cannot deny the mark that sin leaves on our heart and soul. We need not try to cover up the deep wounds and brokenness we suffer from. We must come to the great Physician, as John Newton would call our Lord, and let Him heal us.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Who Am I? Solely Trusting in Christ with our Identitiy

But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” Acts 19:15

Who Are You?

Stop reading for a moment and complete this sentence: I am a(an) _____________.  Some of us fill the blank with characteristics about ourselves making up our personal identity, but most people identify themselves using a word or phrase that refers to their nationality, gender, or religion. This is associated with our social identity which is a part of our self-concept. Some of us spend our whole lives trying to find this perfect identity, and we are left never having an answer to the perplexing question: Who am I?

The Pursuit of an Identity

Everyone is looking for an identity. We want to be fully known and fully loved. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and at the same time just be ourselves. We want affirmation and acceptance. Why do you think we put the highlight reel of our lives on Facebook and Instagram? We want people to see us smiling in nice clothes and eating good food. You would never post a picture of yourself having just rolled out of bed eating instant mac and cheese crying. Why? Because we want everyone to think we got life figured out. But in reality when we are alone in introspective thought, we develop deep soul stirring questions that if we could answer, we’d feel our problems would be solved. Am I man enough? Am I attractive enough? Am I lovable?  Am I considered a success? It’s normal to have these feelings. Our culture defines our worth in these question and superficial qualities, so we put high demand to constantly improve ourselves. 
Abraham Maslow

American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, created the Maslow hierarchy of needs, which is a theory that was established to fulfill distinctive human needs in order. In layman’s terms, Maslow created a list of needs that humans sought to obtain through life. The list of needs include physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization. Maslow concluded that all needs funneled to self-actualization, but studies have shown that very few actually ever obtain this last need. Isn't this somber? People spend their whole lives trying to discover who they actually are, and very few ever make it there.

 Honestly, I could not tell you where I fit in this hierarchy of needs, but I can tell you that I am a child of God, a son to the King, and an heir to the throne. My identity is no longer mine and, I have been bought with a price through Christ Jesus. He is my identity (1 Corinthians 6:17). He is my life. I no longer have to be a slave to what the world expects of me, because I am fully known and cherished through Him. I am blessed to say I am a Christian. There is so much simplicity and truth within John 1:12. It states, yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. It really is that simple, but somehow we complicate things.

The “Super Christian” Stereotype

There is a high standard for Christians in this world, you could call it a Holy calling. We are supposed to be the front runners to aid in charities. We must be above reproach from any worldly desire. We shouldn't be laughing at crude jokes at parties. We aren't supposed to be watching R rated movies, and the only television show we should like is Duck Dynasty. We are supposed to be optimistic in a pessimistic world. We are supposed to be the voice of reason/wisdom with our friends, and have a servants mentality to put others needs first. It is a necessity that the Christian’s life look radically different then the world around it, but how often do we fall short of this “Super Christian” stereotype. Maybe you have experienced this in your own life. For a short while, you were following this Christian agenda only to crash after a week and start going back to your old sinful habits that contradict your new desires. Is this life even possible to sustain? Now there is truth within this “Super Christian” stereotype, it is called the pursuit of holiness, but this does not happen overnight. It is a long journey or a race of endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2). We are called to be different but we must be careful not to put the cart before the horse. Our pursuit of holiness can’t and will not happen without firmly being rooted in our new identity. This is why we can’t lean on our own understanding anymore (Proverbs 3:5). This is why we must fight our instincts to trust our own self. Why? Because we know nothing good comes from our self (Psalm 51:5). A life of trying to do Christian things without the Author of the faith is setting yourself up for a life of failure and misery. This is why we are so quick to drop the daunting task of the Christian lifestyle, because we start trusting in our own identity and then almost immediately we lose hope. But Christians were never meant to live this life trusting in self. Immediately after our conversion to Christianity, we have been given new identities, new personas, new desires, new life and hope. We have been given Christ, and we must be rooted in his identity and know the impact of what that means before we go any further.

Justification and Sanctification

I want to brief in this section but really clarify the necessity of trusting in Christ and the dangers of trying to rely on yourself  after the fact your identity is in Christ. I’m throwing two “churchy” words around here (justification and sanctification). Both are essential to the Christian life but justification must come before sanctification.

 Justification is the legal act of where God declares sinners to be innocent of his or her sins. Do not make the mistake of thinking this means you are sinless, but it does mean you are declared sinless. How can this be? Simple answer: Jesus. Through the Son’s perfect life, he was the propitiation of our sins and reconciled us back to our loving Father (Romans 3:24). Jesus brought us from the court room to the family room. Because of Christ and only Christ we are free from the wrath of God and are now sons and daughters to the King.

The simplest definition of sanctification is obedience to Christ. Sanctification is the sovereign process of the maturation of a Christian in which he gives us the human responsibility to pursue Him. Galatians 2:20 says I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I that lives but Christ who lives in me. The life I live now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. Since we have been justified through Jesus, it should be our desire to love and obey him. The more we obey and pursue Him, the closer the relationship we have with our Father. This goes for any relationship. I hope to one day have a wife and be able to do nice things for her. Let’s say I give her flowers one day for no special occasion. She asks me why I did this and I responded, “Well you’re my wife, I have to…” WRONG ANSWER. I’d probably get slapped with good reason. My real response would be more along the lines of, “because I love you! I don’t have an ulterior motive, I did it from the bottom of my heart.” The same goes with our relationship Christ. We do things for Him not out of begrudging duty or ulterior motives, but to love him more and get closer to Him.

This is why it is so important to know the difference and order of justification and sanctification. Because of justification, I have the freedom to be sanctified and obey Christ. But it would be impossible for me to obey Christ or do enough good to earn my justification. We call this legalism. Legalism takes all the joy out of following God, and you live in the constant pressure of wondering have I done enough (which the answer is always no). To live a life of legalism, is to live a life of monotony and misery. Our identities are reduced down to self-righteous Pharisees, and that is far from the love of God. (Mark 2:17)

Embracing Our New Identity

I am a huge fan of anything Christopher Nolan directs. Needless to say, My favorite movies are the Batman trilogy. In the final movie, The Dark Knight Rises, we are introduced to Selina Kyle aka Cat Woman. Kyle is a master thief, and she is always on the run for her criminals past. During the movie, Kyle adamantly pursues to get possession of a computer software program called the "clean slate" which can erase any identity in any database in the world. She aligns herself with anybody that can promise to give her this clean slate, this new identity, in which they constantly fail her on broken promises. Kyle actually betrays the one guy that can actually give her the clean slate, Bruce Wayne. Near the end of the movie, Wayne gives Kyle another chance and offers her the USB with the clean slate  program, and she responds,"You trust me with that? After what I did to you?" Wayne smiles and responds, "I'll admit, I was a little let down, but I think there is so much more to you....you're tired of running and you want to start fresh...I can give that to you."

Does this resonate with you? This is the Christian conversion in which we receive our new identities, and we are Selina Kyle. Our whole lives, we spent pursuing folly things that promised to complete us that always miss the mark, making us feel incomplete. And while we were chasing these carnal desires, Christ was always there telling us, "I'm enough, I can give you what you're heart is looking for." And we turned our backs against Him and continue to look for our identity elsewhere. Luckily for us, Jesus is patient and forgiving. He is not the one to hold grudges, and eventually we realize he is right, but fear we have done too much because of our damning past. That's when Jesus smiles and says, "I think there is so much more to you than your past....you're tired of running and you want to start fresh...I can give that to you. I make all things new (Revelation 21:5)."

At the end of the movie, Kyle and Wayne go on to save Gotham City and run away to Italy and live happily ever after. Kyle erases her old identity, and she no longer lives in the fear of being haunted by her past. At the end of the movie, do you think Kyle goes back to living her life of crime? Absolutely not, She spent her whole life trying to steer clear of her past, why would she ever go back? The same goes for us, with our new identities. Just like Kyle with our new Christ-like identities, we no longer have to live in the condemnation of our hideous past (Romans 8:1), and we get to be in constant fellowship with the one who gave us our new identity (1 Corinthians 1:9). We can say no to sin for the first time, because it is no longer our master (Romans 6:14). Because of that promise we are truly free for the first time. This freedom allows us to live life with peace, and every obstacle big or small thrown at us will not be able to shake the firm foundation of our identity in Christ (Romans 5:1).

Closing with Lewis

Maybe this is your first time ever hearing anything like this. You might feel this is true, but have no idea where to start or how to obtain this identity. Ironically to find you're identity in Christ, we must totally abandon the pursuit of finding yourself, and start fully pursuing the life of Jesus. He is the genesis to a new identity. No one describes this better than C.S. Lewis when he states: 

“Your real, new self (which is Christ's and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

True Healing

As human beings, we want things. Some things that are good, and some things that are bad. Either way, when we want something, we want it now. We lack patience in so many areas of our lives.

At work about two weeks ago, I was speaking with a co-worker. He was telling me a little bit about his life and what his reason for moving to North Carolina was. He told me his dad got a job here. Then I asked what his mom does for a living, and he informed me that she had passed away sometime ago, but before she died she was a nurse. We continued working and the I kept thinking of how hurt I would be if I lost someone who was close to me. How would I respond? I would be so devastated to lose my future wife, a parent, a sibling, a friend, etc. Would I respond with rebellion towards the Lord, or would I run to Him for comfort.

  "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." - Matthew 5:4

We are humans, and we have emotions. We experience hurting, heart breaks, pain, and mourning. When our hearts are broken, we want them healed and healed immediately because it hurts so bad. We settle for the "quick fix". We will do anything to not feel the pain of the loss of a loved one, or a divorce, or a breakup, or whatever causes our heart grief. Something so painful to our hearts will take time to heal, but we want the pain gone now so we will turn to alcohol, sex, drugs, money, food, or anything to give us that "quick fix" and we numb our hearts to the pain. We turn from true healing only found in Jesus and we go to the "broken cisterns, that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13). These quick "fixes" that we turn to do not heal our hearts, they just simply numb the pain. The hurt is still there, but that quick high numbs us for a short time. We are simply too impatient.

Jesus is not in the business of numbing the pain and covering it up. He's in the business of healing that pain. His healing is usually longer than we hope.

 "Wait for the Lord; be strong and courageous. Wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27:14

Waiting for the Lord, especially in difficult, mournful times, isn't easy. It takes patience and it takes us leaning into Him. It takes us saying, "You must increase, I must decrease." But why? Why do we have to wait? Why can't He just heal us and make this pain go away fast and for good? I don't have the definite answer. I'm not God. I can't give you His reasons, but I can tell you that He moves with compassion (Mark 1:41). He sees ours tears and He feels our pain. But in those difficult times we don't know if He hears our cries for help. Sometimes at night I look up at the sky and I see the stars everywhere, shining bright. Then there are nights when I walk outside and I can't even see the glimpse of a star, but I know the stars are still there, the clouds are just blocking my view. There are times when I feel the Lord working and shaping my heart and then there are times when I can't trace Him because there are some clouds in my way. Genuine, authentic healing takes time. There is no quick "fix" when you lose someone your close to or have a tragic event happen in your life, you either turn to the things of this world and you sear the pain or you turn to Jesus where there is true healing. So why turn to Jesus?

    "But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint." - Isaiah 40:31

And on that day when He returns to redeem His children from this broken world and mortal body...

   "They will no longer hunger; they will no longer thirst; the sun will no longer strike them, nor will any heat. For the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." - Revelation 7:16-17



Thursday, October 16, 2014

Exiles on Earth

Far too often Christians regard the commands of God as burdens from which we have been set free. Christ lived the life of following God’s commands for us, and then died in our place so that if we place our faith in Him, we have forgiveness of our sins. Though this is true, it is not where the Christian life ends, but merely where it begins. To place our faith in Christ means that we begin to follow Him, and He is in the complete opposite direction of sin and death. Since logic dictates that one cannot go in two opposite directions at once, we must turn from our sin in order to follow Christ. This is known as repentance, and it is required for the Christian life. I am not advocating a works-based salvation in saying this, but only repeating what scripture teaches (Acts 3:18-19; Acts 20:21). Repentance is not a work that saves us, but is the natural visual representation of our following Christ.
            Therefore, we have not been freed from God’s commands just because salvation is by grace alone. It is true that because of what Jesus has done we are no longer under the civil law dealing with high priests and offering sacrifices, but we are still expected to uphold God’s moral laws. It is important to note that God’s commands are not just some decree that He laid out, but it is the reflection of His holy character. When we become a Christian, we are to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), who is the exact imprint of the nature of the Father (Hebrews 1:3). To say, then, that we are freed from God’s commands is synonymous with saying we are free from God Himself. This is an appalling thought to any true Christian. No, we must strive for holiness in order to experience a deeper relationship with God. These works are done, not to earn our salvation, but to grow us in spiritual maturity.
            Since we are not capable of turning from our sin on our own accord, repentance could also be considered an act of faith. Faith that, by the Holy Spirit, we will be sanctified. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Also, it is written that, “the righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4).” It is by faith that we do what the Father calls us to do, not necessarily knowing what the outcome of the specific action may be, but fully trusting Him who is leading us to that outcome. Hebrews 11 lists many examples of Biblical characters that exercised great faith in the Lord. Noah, for instance, had no empirical proof that water would fall from the sky (a phenomenon now known as rain, which had never happened before at that point in time). This water would cause a flood, the Lord warned Noah. Therefore Noah built an ark as he was commanded to do. God’s word held more weight with Noah than his own understanding. Likewise Sarah was, logically speaking, too old to have a child. Yet instead of considering the logic of the situation, she considered the faithfulness of the One who promised. This same faith is what led Abraham to leave all he knew, for the Lord promised him a greater inheritance. This exact promise is true for us today, but just as Abraham had to no longer count Haran as his home to receive his inheritance in a foreign land, we can no longer count the earth as our home. This is why Peter refers to Christians as “elect exiles (1 Peter 1:1).”
            To consider the Lord’s commands as burdensome demonstrates a lack of faith in our future inheritance. The men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 were not commended on leaving behind earthly pleasures, or the works they performed, but on their faith in God that led them to leave these pleasures behind and to perform these good works. Since faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” this means that they truly believed the Lord’s promises to them and viewed Him as far more valuable than even the tangible comforts and desires of the flesh that were directly in front of them. Therefore, they left it all behind to follow the Lord. They did not consider returning to their old land or old ways of life for they saw that their inheritance in the Lord is far superior. Why should this be done out of grief or sorrow? To be sad to leave behind the fleeting pleasures of the world demonstrates a lack of belief in the superiority and permanence of a relationship with God. Matthew 13:44 says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
            Following Jesus is not an easy thing to do, but it brings immeasurable joy. There is no doubting that it will bring about persecution and suffering on this earth, but that is because a Christian lifestyle is so far from the world’s preferences. For God’s character and the wickedness of the world are always in opposition. When we become followers of Christ, we become exiles on earth; when we become exiles on earth, we partake in the promises of God for a greater inheritance. Therefore, we can have peace for “…this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen (1 Corinthians 4:17-18).”
            The Christian can face suffering with joy. The loss of earthly possessions is a reminder of our permanent home in eternity; the loss of loved ones, relationships, and friendships are reminders of our permanent relationship with Christ FOR eternity. The Christian life is often depicted in scripture as a race to be run. This analogy shows that we are just passing through as we make our way to the goal. If we can truly view it like this, then God’s moral commands are no longer the burdens in our lives of which we feel obligated to obey, but they are part of the goodness of our destination. Sins then become the burdens that keep us weighed down in this life, and we must continually remove them from our lives. For sin is of this world, and to refuse to leave sin behind is to call the world our home. Though giving up a sin is almost always difficult, it has never once been regretted by a true follower of Christ.
            We must now realize that apart from God we could not run this race in the first place. Because of our inheritance of sin (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3), this world would have been our portion, and hell our final destination. But because of Christ’s work on the cross, we can place our faith in him for our salvation and begin the race of the Christian life. We can also know that Jesus Himself can sympathize with us in our present persecution as we anticipate the coming Kingdom of Heaven. For “…Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).”
            I would now like to encourage any Christian who may be reading this to find a small group of brothers or sisters in Christ so that you can exhort one another daily and hold each other accountable in your fight to become more like Jesus. Tom Wright wrote that “justification is not an individualist’s charter, but God’s declaration that we belong to a covenant community.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Extravagant Love

I often hear the phrase, "good things happen to good people." For some reason I hate this phrase, I guess because it is completely opposite of what the Bible teaches. We hear from false teachers that if you give to their "ministries" the Lord will bless you beyond what you can imagine. This is known as Karma. So if your faith is Hinduism or Buddhism your present state of existence determines what your future existence will be like. Prosperity gospels and majority, if not all, of other religions in the world's basis of salvation is determined by your actions, also known as... Karma. I want to hit on this topic because I believe when compared to the Gospel of the Bible it makes the love of God even more radiant because we realize there are no "good people," but there is a good God.

What good people?
Let's start in Romans 3 and Psalm 14. In Romans 3:12, Paul agrees with what David says in Psalm 14:3; "All have turned away; all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one." (Isaiah also hits on this in Isaiah 53:6). So if you claim you are a Christian, you have to also claim that there are no good people because Christians believe the Bible and the Bible says, "no one is good." Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden our default nature has been set to wicked. And to for your deeds you think are good, let's go back to our pal Isaiah and see what he says about this. In Isaiah 6:5, Isaiah is delivered to the Presence of the holy God and the first thing he says is, "Woe is me for I am ruined." Now I have no Masters of Divinity and I am certainly no Biblical scholar, but what I have do have knowledge that Isaiah is a man of God. He is a major prophet whom God uses to instruct sinners to repentance, so I am willing to bet that Isaiah is further along in his process of sanctification than anybody reading this article and the first thing he says is not, "Oh hey God, boy I'm glad to see you. Look at all these great things I have done." No, he falls to his knees in awe of the holy Creator of the universe and says, "Woe is me for I am ruined." To sum up what is going on here, Isaiah does not go around sinning. He is a man after the Lord, but when he becomes transparent to the holy God, even something he thought was a "small" sin is enough for the wrath of God to be unmercifully poured out on you. That is how holy God is, that even one "little" fib has stained you. I'm closing on the bad news with this, even our best works are still "filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). So even our best acts of service to others and God are nothing more than a stained rag to Him.

"But God, Who is rich in mercy"
Good thing is that the Bible doesn't stop there. It goes on to point us to even though we are bad people, there is a good God. So now since sins has entered the world, God looks down upon us with grace, not out of obligation, but out of delight and makes a Way for bad people like you and me to be righteous. That Way is Jesus Christ. So this is why the love of God is so immeasurable. To Him, we have absolutely nothing to offer Him. Let's say the boss of a painting company came to me and said. "I want you to work here. I'll teach you all the skills you need to do this job." I would say to him, "Sir, I have no idea how to hold a paintbrush, much less how to use one. If I worked for you I would cost your business a lot of money." Then he replied, " That's alright, I want you to work here, no matter what it costs me." That is how to love of God works.

"Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." - 1 John 4:10 

What this verse is saying is that God loves us despite all of our failures. How amazing and extravagant does that make His love!? Even though there is nothing He needs from us to benefit Him, He still decides to love us, even in our wickedness, He chooses to have mercy and lavish grace on us. I don't know about you, but when somebody wrongs me or does something to make me mad my initial reaction is rarely, if ever, patience and love. But this is God's character. His mercy, love, faithfulness, holiness, and compassion are found in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived the perfect life, which He then imputes to those who believe this with the fullness of their heart. I'm not talking about just believing facts that there is a God. I'm talking about believing that there is a God with a love so vast beyond all measure that He would send His Son to die for a human race that has nothing to offer Him, except for a repentant heart that says, "I am a sinner deserving of an eternal hell, but praise be to You for the making the Way to eternal life through Jesus Christ!"

Thank you for reading. Love you guys!


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Mystery of Suffering and how Christians Sorrowfully Rejoice.

Pastor John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Which I think most Christians can agree with this when life is going like it should. We do this well when everything is easy and comfortable, but what about when life becomes hard. What is our mindset when loved ones die, a miscarriage occurs, or someone you know is diagnosed with terminal cancer? How can the glorification of God relate to suffering and the pain of this life? Can the Gospel really offer us joy in times of death, heart aches, disease, war, and tragedies?

Why does God allow suffering?

The first thing we need to make clear is that suffering and evil are two totally different things. Evil can coexist inside of suffering, but please don’t confuse the two. God is not the author of evil nor sin (1 John 1:5), but He does allow sin and evil to live in a fallen world. God is totally sovereign over all suffering, and he ordains it to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). This means even if Satan is involved in your suffering, the Father still has a hand in it. Ultimately God is in control of the amount of suffering we experience and the boundaries of the affliction to the ones He loves (as it was in Job’s case). Satan has no power or authority to do anything. I think a good many people have a problem with this concept. It usually leads to the question “Why would a loving God allow suffering?” I think C.S. Lewis answers this question best in his book the Problem of Pain. Lewis states:

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word "love", and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. "Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest "well pleased".”

We as human do an awful job of misinterpreting the word love and try to make everything about us. So when things aren’t going the way we want them to go, initially we begin to doubt. We raise our fists in the air and complain because things didn’t go the way WE planned. Why is this our initial reaction? Though we may not admit it, sinfully we prefer a god that we can grasp or understand, or a god that would do what we would do.  So when God does something that we can’t grasp or goes against our plans, we claim he is not fair. But ultimately God’s motives is making himself most glorified, and sanctifying us in the process (and sometimes sanctification can be an extremely painful process.)

God’s Intention for Suffering:
In John 9, Jesus and his disciples spot a blind man on the streets. The disciples begin to ask what sin this man committed to deserve this suffering. The disciples reasoned that because of this man’s personal sin he was being punished. I feel we do that at some regards still today. Somehow in Christian circles we have adopted the Buddhist concept of Karma (my actions in the past will affect my future), which is the exact opposite of the character of God. We tend to think someone must have done something terribly wrong to disrupt them from their comforts, but let’s rationalize why the Christian God does not work on the concepts of Karma. If we truly believed that God works on the basis of Karma then there would have been no point in God bringing his perfect son to die the death we deserved. Why? Simply put, we deserve the death Jesus paid in full. If you looked at the core of the theory, if God really worked on the concept of Karma, He would not trade our sin for miniscule deviances of this life. If we truly got what we deserved, we would all perish eternally and we would have no rebuttal. Isn’t it amazing our God is the exact opposite and that He loves us unconditionally to see past our sin because of the perfect sacrifice of his son? Anyways back to John 9, after the disciples questioned why the man was blind, Jesus answered with weighted words. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus eventually healed the man, but his suffering was not in vain. Our suffering is ultimately used to magnify the Lord. Even if we aren’t healed from our troubles, even if depression persists, God ultimately uses the ones he loves to magnify himself during tragic times.
Another reason God allows suffering is to show us our dependency for Him. When we begin to be prideful or start to rely on other things to satisfy us, do not think He won’t strip idols out of our life so we can once again fully enjoy Him. God doesn’t do this because he hates us but on the contrary. Imagine a small boy who wants to pretend to be in the army so he picks up a steak knife from the kitchen and begins running around with it. When his father sees him doing this he immediately stops the child and takes the knife away. The child begins crying because he assumes his father is taking away his fun. The same happens to us. When God takes away our physical health, mental capabilities, relationships, and our temporary pleasures we assume he is taking away our joy, but in the moment, we are blinded to his goodness for us. We can’t see his love behind every motive in our lives, protecting us from things that are hindering us from Him.

Joni Eareckson Tada on Suffering:
 I don’t think anyone had a better understanding of suffering than Joni Eareckson Tada. At the age of 18, Tada was paralyzed from the shoulders down during a diving accident. If anyone had a reason to feel sorry for themselves it was Tada, but instead her tragedy brought her closer to the Lord. In her books, Tada states deep truths about suffering. She says, “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”  Tada goes in depth about the compassion the Lord has for us when we suffer: “There is nothing that moves a loving father's soul quite like his child's cry.” She also realized there was more than just physical healing: “He has chosen not to heal me, but to hold me. The more intense the pain, the closer His embrace.” When tragedies do occur, our Father longs for us to look at Him. C.S. Lewis says, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” When life is dark and we can’t seem to press forward, we have a God screaming at us to cling to Him.  

Why we can Have Hope in Suffering
It would be hard for me to understand suffering if I believed in a God who never had suffered, but I do not have to wrestle with that because my God has suffered. One of the elements that separates Christianity apart from any other religion is the fact God came down to earth to suffer for the ones he loved. Hebrews 2:9-10 says, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  So when life throws you a curveball, we can’t scream at God for not understanding, because he has been there. He empathizes with us. He matches us step for step through life. Whatever hardship I go through I can rest in the fact Christ went through it first. Suffering allows us to come to the realization that our time on earth is temporary. As Paul states in 2 Corinthians, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Our afflictions won’t even make a dent on the surface of eternity, and gives me eager anticipation to be in the presence of Him. I long for the day I can run into his arms free from any more pain. As Christians our time on earth is the worst it gets, but we look forward to the kingdom, to eternity. We shall gladly persevere until that day.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. –Romans 21:3-4

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Christianity and Homosexuality: Four Common Arguments and Christian's Response

"The right wing conservatives think it's a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion Man-made rewiring of a predisposition. Playing God, aw nah here we go America the brave still fears what we don't know. And God loves all his children, is somehow forgotten, but we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago." - Macklemore "Same Love"

I was very hesitant to write this article for a few reasons. The first reason, people normally refuse to reason with what is distant to their belief, no matter how legitimate of an argument. Second, I don't necessarily support highlighting one particular sin. When we highlight a particular sin, it seems we are elevating that sin to a bigger sin, which is NOT true. Sin is sin. Christians get a bad rap on this topic, but in reality Christians are not opposed to just homosexuality, we are oppose to all sin. We empathize with the struggle of sin and we see how it consumes our lives and separates us from Christ (Romans 6:17-18). Third, there are many more important things we could be doing than debating this subject. Lastly, people are really ignorant when it comes to this topic, so we have morons from both ends of the spectrum arguing with each other. With all that being said, I wrote this article to inform and hopefully give a Biblical perspective on this subject.

Homosexuality is more relevant now than ever. There are now 29 states that have legalized gay marriage, and in 2011 four percent of  Americans claimed to be gay, which I imagine that percentage has increased. As of January 2014, the Boy Scouts of America allowed openly gay members. The media has produced numerous shows supporting a homosexual lifestyle. Musicians and artists have made monumental stands for gay equality, and at the Grammys Macklemore performed "Same Love" while 32 couples gay and straight were married. Former college football standout Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be drafted in NFL history. Jason Collins was the first openly gay athlete to play in one of the major sports league (NBA) in the United States. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently announced he is gay, and claims it is the greatest gift God has given him. The homosexual lifestyle has become a very normal thing in America, and everyone looks to see what the Christian thinks and says.This can be very confusing now because some claiming to be Christians welcome homosexuality with open arms while others assume if you are gay you have no hope and it does not matter what you do, your destination is hell. So what can we believe? Lets start with the Bible.

What The Bible Says About Homosexuality 

If  we claim to be Christians or believe in the teaching of Christ, we must believe that the word of God (the Bible) is infallible, and contrary to what Macklemore says the Bible is not paraphrased and we can rely on the validity of scriptures.There have been 5,686 partial and complete Greek manuscript copies of the new testament found. Out of these manuscripts around 99 percent match word for word, and 99 percent of the variations among the manuscripts involve a missing letter in the word, some involve the reversing of two words (such as Christ Jesus instead of Jesus Christ), and some may involve the absence of one insignificant word such as an adjective. Because of this evidence, we can rely on the Bible word for word.

If the Bible is perfect, then nothing can be put in or taken out. A perfect God chose men after his own heart to write the book of his wrath, grace, love, justice, and mercy.

Homosexuality is mentioned in the bible several times, and we can not excuse this sin as an old Levitical law or Old Testament law because it is mention consistently throughout the Bible.

Old Testament

Genesis 19:1-11

Leviticus 18:22 

Leviticus 20:13 

New Testament

Romans 1:18-32 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 

1 Timothy 1:8-10 

All Sin Is Damning

That was a pretty harsh heading I know, but it's true. If we go back to before Genesis three, everything was perfect between God and man. Adam and Eve quickly ruined that relationship and separated ourselves from a perfect God by breaking the only rule they had to keep. God sentenced death to Adam and Eve for eating a forbidden fruit. That seems like a harsh punishment for eating a piece of fruit right? That is why we have to understand the severity of sin, but most importantly who we are sinning against.

Here is an example of this:

If I slapped you in the face, what would you do to me? You would probably punch me in the face.
If I went up to a random guy on the street and slapped him in the face, what would he do to me? He would probably get a couple of his friends to beat me up.
What if I went up to a policeman and slapped him in the face? He would probably use his taser on me and then arrest me.
 Finally, What if I went up to North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un and slapped him in the face? I would surely die. The severity of sin's punishment is always a reflection of the person sinned against.

For the most part, we severely underestimate the seriousness of our sin against God.

God's Plan of Redemption

I don't want that to necessarily depress you, because there is hope! Our sin did not catch God off guard. He knew we would mess up and had a perfect plan to bring us back to Him (Ephesians 1:4-14). Simply because it pleased God, He chose to redeem the ones He loves by sending a savior to bridge the gap between us and God that we created. (Genesis 3:15)

In the Old Testament God would constantly remind us of a savior. It was prophesied over 300 times, and through Jesus, all of the prophecies were fulfilled.

That is the best news we could possibly hear. God sent Jesus, the one he loved the most, to live the life we couldn't live and to die the death we deserved. This is crazy love. God sent a part of himself to save us from eternal punishment, if we choose to love, obey, and make him Lord over our lives. (Micah 6:8)

But there is one problem. We are still not perfected, so we still sin. Our bodies still crave the things of the world that are detestable to a perfect God (Romans 7:14-21). After salvation, our souls within our bodies desire the Lord and what is pleasing to Him (Psalm 37:4), and when we do mess up Jesus covers us in His righteousness making us spotless in front of a Holy God. This is also a great reminder we can't save ourselves, but it requires Jesus for our salvation. (Ephesians 2:8)

Living in Constant Sin and Abusing Grace

Before I became a Christian, I used to sin a lot, and now that I am a Christian, I still sin a lot. But there is a huge difference between the old and new me. The old me loved his sin and would continue to do it, but the new me is very convicted of his sin and hates it and will do anything to turn from it.

This brings me to my next point, it is impossible for a Christian to live in constant sin. When a Christian sins, he is temporarily saying, "God I'm trusting in (insert your sin here) for my satisfaction right now rather than You." Eventually the Christian will be torn over this sin so much that He will eventually remove himself from it and repent (Romans 6:1-2) (Romans 6:11-12).

The last paragraph does not just affect the homosexual, but anybody who makes a habit of their sin: the man addicted to pornography, the drunkard, the self consumed, the fornicator, etc. Even the guy who constantly disobeys his parents (Romans 1:30).

When we put sin in front of Christ and have no urge to repent, we aren't really loving Jesus. We are just loving the fact he can get us out of hell. In every relationship, sacrifices must be made from both sides to have a fully functional loving relationship. The same goes with our relationship with Jesus. If we can't give up certain areas in our life for Him, we don't really love Jesus, we just love his stuff.

Four Most Common Arguments for Homosexuality and a Christian's Response

When Christians attempt to stand up for what they believe, they are usually hit with some tough questions to answer. I am go to list four of the most common arguments I have heard for homosexuality and how Christians can respond to these.

1. So you're perfect? We all sin so how can you judge someone? 

This argument is usually the first I hear, but we are addressing the wrong issue. The issue is not sin but repentance. If we confess to be Christians our main desire should be the greatest commandment, loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:38). And if we hold true to this commandment we obediently obey the Lord. I am not perfect but I do have accountability in my life whether it be my friends, family, or scriptures that will call me out on my sin, and this makes me walk in constant repentance. Sometimes I hate when my friends or the Bible confronts me of my sin, but I know they are right and want what is best for me. This is called righteous judgement. We have this Christian cliche where we say, "who am I to judge?" The problem with this argument is that judgement is not necessarily a bad thing. If we truly love and care for someone, when we see them struggling with something we will address the problem even if it is difficult. There is judgement that is sinful, but Jesus addresses this in John 7:24 saying, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Our job is not to judge by outward appearances, but judge the heart with what is right according to the scriptures and what the Father desires. As Christians, we should be very delicate confronting others on sin. If we confront others sin to condemn, the love of Christ is not in us (John 8:11). When we act out on righteous judgement, it must strictly be done out of love for the one struggling in sin.  

2. Homosexuality of the Bible is different than homosexuality today. 

This argument is saying that when Paul addressed homosexuality, he was talking about a different type of homosexuality that would include orgies, pedophilia, and men having sex slaves rather than a monogamous consensual relationship. They would say Paul had no idea these monogamous relationships even existed. This is entirely false and has been dis proven at the scholarly level. There has been numerous amount of pieces of pottery and paintings from that time period that shows the existence of a monogamous homosexual lifestyle. Even secular historians would tell you that monogamous homosexual relationships existed in the era Paul lived in.

3. Where in the Bible does Jesus say anything about homosexuality.

In other the words the argument is if Jesus never said anything about it, then it must be alright. There are two problems with this argument. 

First, Jesus does hit on this, but does not specifically mention the word homosexuality. In Matthew 15:18-20 Jesus says, "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person." Jesus mentions sexual immorality in these verses, and almost every where we look in the Bible homosexuality is always classified under sexual immorality.

Second, If you do not find the first argument valid, just because Jesus did not specifically mention a sin does not mean he supported it.The argument of silence is a weak argument. Jesus did not specifically speak of idolatry, which is still one of the biggest sins humanity struggles with today, but we know he would never condone it. 

Another reason why Jesus didn't mention the subject of homosexuality much is because this sin was not necessarily prevalent at the time. Jesus was usually addressing Jews who held to Levitical Law. It was not a great debate at the time. 

4. I was born this way/God made me this way.

Can someone be born gay? I use to think that homosexuals chose to be gay, but now I can see it both ways. We are all born into sin, Psalm 51:5 says, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (NIV)." So yes, I think a person can be born with homosexual desires, but the truth is we all struggle with different sins and just because we have an innate desire for a certain sin does not give us a right to act on it. 

Here is an example of this:

A pastor named Rick Warren was being interviewed by NBC anchor Ann Curry, and she asked him if they prove homosexuality to be genetic would you still take the stance you take. Warren answered yes, and Ann was baffled and asked him why? Warren answered calmly saying, "genetically I want to have sex with every beautiful woman I see, but no one in society or culture says that is best for me or best for my wife or best for my children.... Not giving into your desires shows maturity, I think it is apart of delayed gratification, I think its a part of character."

If a person can be born gay does this mean God made that person gay? Absolutely not. God is not the author of sin (1 John 1:5), but allows sin to happen in a fallen world. 

I think Romans 1:18-32 is a great example of this. God sees us loving sin more than him and when we choose sin over the joy God offers then he will allow us to indulge in that sin. When we exchange the truth of God for a lie, we will become futile in our thinking. This is not just homosexuals but anybody who gives in to their own selfish desires. 

Where to Go From Here:

As Christians, we must show love and patience for these people. Talking solely of morality (everything discussed in this blog) with a homosexual will not change their heart. The Gospel changes hearts. Before we even enter the discussion of morality, we must address the Gospel of Jesus in every aspect back and forth. Transformed hearts lead to transformed lives. I think it would be almost impossible for a gay man or woman to change orientation before he or she had a changed heart. Our goal is the Gospel not sexual orientation, and through the Gospel the latter can follow. How? because Jesus is enough. Jesus is more.