Archive for the ‘Jesus Christ’ Tag

Christmas Rant   Leave a comment

Black Friday is behind us, signalling the start of the frenetic mid-winter shopping season and the annual debate over whether it is appropriate for Christians to acknowledge Christ at Christmas.

I’m a born-again Christian who believes that everybody has a right to be wrong and to live according to that belief. If you don’t believe in Christ, I do not think you should be obligated to worship Him. However, I also do not believe you have the right to tell me who or what I may worship or when it is appropriate for me to engage in that worship.

Can we all just stop trying to force one another to conform to each other’s idea of what is right?

So it’s Christmas and I believe in Christ. I’m going to say “Merry Christmas.” Why? Because I am not of another faith. I am not a solstice worshiper who greets the turning of the sun. I worship a singular God with a singular holy day. I don’t celebrate a loose set of “holy days”. So when you say “Happy Holidays” to me, I will say “Merry Christmas” in return. I’m not forcing you to agree with me. I am being true to my beliefs and worshiping my God. If that angers you, that’s on you. You might want to examine that. Why does my worshiping Jesus Christ as God, Savior and Lord piss you off? Is it because you value your own beliefs higher than mine or is it an altruistic impulse to protect me from harm? If it’s the first rather than the second, get over it. If it’s the second rather than the first, thank you, but I think I know what I’m doing it.

My beliefs do not force you to believe just as your beliefs do not force me to believe. Except when you insist that your beliefs have higher value than my beliefs and you do indeed try to force me to go along with what you believe. If it upsets you that I say “Merry Christmas” in response to your “Happy Holidays” than you need to get over that, because I’m not going to stop, not even if you make it against the law for me to worship Jesus.

That’s how strongly I believe in Jesus Christ as God, Savior and Lord. You can hate it all you want, but I will continue to lift worship to Jesus Christ by every action and word.

Merry Christmas!

What Jesus Said   Leave a comment

It’s popular today to say that Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, so it must be just all right with Him.

For we, as Christians, pay particular attention to the words of our savior. Jesus said nothing regarding homosexuality, and in his ministry spoke more about the sins fo the spirit than the sins of the body. …Our reading of the Bible in its entirety is one of a loving, forgiving and nurturing God who wants us to help create a world that accepts and empowers us all.” (Letter to the editor, (Episcopal) Rev. Penelope Duckworth, Stanford Daily March 1990).

That’s true. Homosexuality is not specifically addressed in the four gospels. However, to assume that Jesus was neutral on the subject ignores a mass of indirect evidence to the contrary. It is Biblically sound to say that God’s love and grace is available to gay men and lesbians. Jesus extended mercy and forgiveness to men and women from all walks and circumstances of life. For example, turn to John, Chapter 8.

“Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?’ This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.'” (John 8:1-11)

A few things are clear here. Jesus released this woman from all past and future condemnation while at the same time silencing the self-righteous, prudish arrogance of the Pharisees. But don’t ignore His last statement to the adulterous woman: “go, and do not sin again.” The gift of forgiveness and reconciliation Jesus granted to this woman required that she mend her ways and lead a different lifestyle thereafter. It wasn’t that she hadn’t sinned. It was that He forgave her sin upon condition that she in faith did not continue in sin.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16-19)

Jesus demonstrated a similar depth of compassion regarding divorce, but He firmly endorsed the central importance of marriage in society:

“Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; and large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.’

“The disciples said to him, ‘If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.’ But he said to them, ‘Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.'” (Matthew 19:1-12)

Jesus implied marriage was for life and divorce only permitted under the exception of adultery. The disciples were startled at the standards Jesus indicated when He quoted Moses as authoritative. A single life might be better, they said. Jesus responded that a celibate, single life, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” was acceptable.

Jesus made no mention of homosexuality as a third option for those who might have been “born that way.” He didn’t suggest that all have a right to choose their own “sexual preference.” He did not give us the slightest reason to believe that every individual has a God-given “right” to his or her body, to do with it what we wish. Instead, he presented a picture of marriage which is at times difficult and demanding, but is the only relationship where sexual expression meets with God’s approval. Those who prefer to remain single are to live as “eunuchs,” that is without expressing their sexual desires.

One reason Jesus said nothing specifically about homosexuality is that “gay lifestyles” were virtually unknown in Israel in His day. It’s always important to remember that Jesus lived in a culture. While God was certainly aware of the larger Greco-Roman cultural practices, Jesus’ audience was not. Everyone knew and understood the acceptable standards of their culture. Even suggesting heterosexual activity before marriage was scandalous enough that Joseph almost put Mary away for becoming pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-24)

Despite what some folks want to believe today, Jesus didn’t come to set aside the Old Testament and the Law of Moses. When He argued with the Pharisees and scribes, it was always over their extra-Biblical rules (a complicated web of taboos and strictures that circumscribed every action of daily living), not the actual Law of Moses. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:31-32)

Jesus invariably upheld the authority and applicability of the teachings and Law of Moses. In fact He interpreted Moses in a manner which intensified the demands of the Law, that moved it from being a physical morality to being an inward holiness. It’s important to understand that the Law reveals the moral character and the holiness of God, attributes which do not change. The purpose of the Law of Moses was not and is not to produce good moral behavior, but to call all of us to understand our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness:

“…a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

What Morality Is   2 comments

“I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of these things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. pg. 130.)

No one has ever become “good” or “righteous” on the basis of morally proper behavior. Morality is Satan’s big laugh on mankind.

Morality is a result of the fall of man into sin. Morality is a lie, based on the falsehood of independent-self, autonomous man. Morality is sinful. Sin is anything not derived from God. Morality is sinful because it advocates the autonomy of goodness and fails to understand the spiritual nature of all human behavior.

“Whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and morality is not based on faith. Therefore it is sinful.

Morality is humanistic. Humanism is based on the thesis of the autonomous self-potential of mankind, first introduced in the Garden. Morality is humanistic because “goodness” is alleged to be knowable by oneself and do-able by oneself apart from God.

Morality is psychological manipulation. Behavioristic psychology attempts to manipulate human behavior in “behavior modification,” failing to understand the spiritual source of all behavior. The social moralists employ such behavioristic psychological manipulation to keep their particular “society” in check and functioning in accord with their self-oriented objectives.

Morality is offensive to God. God hates autonomous morality! It is contrary to His intent for mankind. Isaiah graphically stated that “all our righteous deeds are as a filthy rag” (Isaiah 64:6). Paul described his religious and moral efforts as but “rubbish” or “dung” (KJV) in Philippians 3:8. Morality is offensive to God.

Morality is “another gospel.” When Paul wrote to the Galatians warning them of the religionists who were trying to add moralistic requirements to the simple gospel of grace in Jesus Christ, he indicated that they were bringing “another gospel” which was “no gospel” at all since it was devoid of any “good news.” History is replete with moral supplements becoming part and parcel of so-called “Christian religion.” Whenever morality is introduced it supplants the singular sufficiency of Jesus Christ and constitutes “another gospel.”

Morality is “salvation by works.”  Paul wrote to the Ephesians explaining, “For by grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). Salvation is always enacted by the dynamic of God’s saving work in the provision of His grace. Salvation begins in conversion, but the continuing dynamic of the “saving life” of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10) makes us safe from satanic misuse, abuse and dysfunction in order to restore us to the functional use God intended by His grace activity in the Christian. Morality says we don’t need salvation or a relationship with Christ. We simply need to be “good” according to how our society defines “goodness” this century.

Morality is legalism. Morality sets up a code of acceptable conduct, rules and regulations of right and wrong that form an independent, external law, to which all subjects are expected to conform. Striving to conform to the law is thus the moralistic objective of “obedience.” Moralistic, legalistic “obedience to the law” is far removed from the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5) that listens under God’s Spirit and is obedient to Life.

Morality is deadly. Legalism lacks the vibrancy and vitality of divine life. Paul wrote in II Cor. 3:6, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The “letter of the law” on which morality rests is deadly! It kills all expression of God’s life in man, as man works himself to death!

Morality is devastating and destructive. Incapable of ever measuring up to the moral requirements, man is increasingly frustrated, unhappy and grieved.  It binds a person, making them slaves to law, convention and social approval. To the Galatians Paul explained, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;…do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Morality destroys the freedom to be and do whatever God wants to be and do in us. The rigid chains of moral inflexibility allow for no novelty, newness, no spontaneity of fresh expression of the Spirit.The Pharisees engaged in their perpetual pretense of piety. Though their moralistic attempts are often called “self-righteousness,” in reality they had a pseudo-righteousness, no righteousness at all, just sin! Jesus detested, opposed and exposed the Pharisaical morality.

“Ethical behavior by itself can too easily entrench a man in self-righteousness. He has joined the Pharisee, praying with himself to a god who is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘I thank thee that I am not as other men are.’ …No mortal man can win by self-effort what in the nature of things must always be a gift.” Frank Lake, Clinical Theology. New York: Crossroad. 1986. pg. 168.

Morality is fraudulent. It can never deliver what it promises. It does not achieve the results it is designed to achieve. Paul explained in Colossians 2:23 that morality is of “no value against fleshly indulgence.” Those patterned propensities of selfishness and sinfulness in the desires of our soul will never be dealt with, or overcome by, moral suppressionism or by moral striving to overcome. Morality is a contrived substitute for Christian living. As a posturing pretext of living a “good Christian life,” morality plays the part of an impostor. Instead of disallowing our selfish expressions by allowing the life of Jesus Christ to be lived out through us, morality masquerades self-oriented conformity as “spiritual behavior.” It’s hypocrisy!

Morality is idolatry that reduces God to a moral ideal, an ethical standard and a behavioral formula that becomes an ideological idol constructed and carved in the human mind, which the moralist then submits to rather than God.

“Seeking to be godly by submitting yourself to external rules and regulations, and by conformity to behavior patterns imposed upon you by the particular Christian society which you have chose, and in which you hope to be found ‘acceptable.’ You will in this way perpetuate the pagan habit of practicing religion in the energy of the ‘flesh,’ and in the very pursuit of righteousness commit idolatry in honoring ‘Christianity’ more than Christ.” (Ian W. Thomas, The Mystery of Godliness. pg. 43.)
Morality is a religious inevitability. Wherever you find religion you will find morality. They are always “coupled” together. Why? Because religion is a man-made social organization that requires morality standards to give it external form, to give it a reason for existing, to cement loyalty and conformity, and to keep the guilt payments coming in. As people perceive their inability to please and appease God by their inadequate moral behavior, they seek to buy off their sin in “indulgences.”

Morality is also a worldly necessity. In the society of the “world,” populated by fallen mankind, morality is necessitated to keep the chaos of selfishness and sinfulness “in check,” if even temporarily.

Morality is also relative. Human, social, worldly and religious morality is never properly related to the absoluteness of God’s character of goodness, and to the absolutely only expression of God’s goodness by derivation from God by God’s grace. Morality is relative to the intents and desires of the prevailing authorities in the particular society over which they have manipulative control, albeit governmental or ecclessiastical. Morality is relative to the majority of the individuals in that society willing to accept the moral standards, either under threat of punishment or by democratic concensus of what is “good” and/or “evil” with an individual accountability to the so-called “good” of the whole. Morality is relative to the limitations of fallen man in keeping such moral conditions, due to the selfishness and sinfulness of the “flesh.”

Morality is antithetical to Christianity. Morality always attempts to establish “goodness” apart from God alone, and its availability to man by the indwelling of Jesus Christ alone. Morality denies the derived existence of good in the character of God. Morality denies the derived knowledge of good by the revelation of God. Morality denies the derived expression of good by the grace of God. Morality precludes the primary assertion of the Christian gospel, that the availability for the expression of God’s goodness in man is only by the presence and empowering of the Spirit of Christ in man, received by faith in regeneration and sanctification.

“Morality…necessarily collides with God’s decision brought to pass in Jesus Christ, which locates the life and truth of man out beyond anything that man can formulate, know and live.” (Jacques Ellul, To Will and To Do. pg. 71.

Christianity is not morality. In many ways, it is the anti-morality.

Faith is Clinging to What Is Known   3 comments

Faith is a complex experience, so it is hard to address the whole of it in a blog post. I’m not even attempting that.

The early Christian believers had knowledge as well as faith. Peter, John and Mary saw the empty tomb. Thomas was offered the opportunity to touch the nail scars. Paul met Jesus face-to-face in the road. They KNEW that Jesus was risen again because they’d seen and talked with Him. It was such a powerful experience that Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, who were greatly opposed to His ministry during His lifetime, became believers who were willing to die for their faith. The knowledge that He was risen so convinced that them Jesus was God incarnate that it gave the early believers the courage to speak the gospel even under persecution and most of them would die for their faith. Even when everyone around them said they were wrong, they held fast to the KNOWLEDGE of what they had actually experienced and that gave them faith that God would keep His promises for the future.

Modern Christians do not KNOW God in the same way that early Christians did. We must exercise faith more than they did. Yet that does not mean we do not have some knowledge to support our faith.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of evidence is against it. That is not the point at which faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair; some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.

Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why faith is such a necessary virtue; unless you teach your moods “where they get off” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

For Lewis faith is the determination of the mind to cling to what is known in the face of what is felt. Though it involves trust it’s all about knowledge: trusting that what one knows to be true remains true even when it does not feel true.

The early Christians had every reason to desire to recant their story. Their culture made it uncomfortable and eventually fatal to believe that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh. Their faith in Him didn’t bring them power or prestige. It brought them death, and yet they held to it even as the sword hung over their necks. Clearly, they had no doubts about what they believed.

They KNEW Jesus.

I may not know Him in the same tangible way they did, but that does not mean I don’t KNOW Him.

Crucial Differences   3 comments

An acquaintance, Afshin Ziafat, was raised a faithful Muslim in the United States and accepted Jesus as Savior as a senior in high school. He tells the story of how during a basketball game in a public high school, he said “Jesus Christ” to express his frustration at what might have been an illegal check. One of the other players shot back “Stop! That’s my Savior you’re dragging through your foul mouth.” Afshin shot back “You mean, your prophet.” And, the other student said “No, I mean my Savior and my God.” Ashin demanded to know where he’d gotten that idea and the other student said “The Bible.”

God touches people when they are ready for His touch and that set Afshin on about a year-long search for proof that Jesus was nothing more than a prophet and that his classmate (or his classmate’s religion) was making it up. Instead, he convinced himself that Jesus Christ is Savior and God. His wealthy father disowned him and he had many other struggles because of this life-changing event, but he is still a faithful Christian with an international ministry to Muslims.

Afshin learned something that the atheist in this video has not.  There is a substantial difference between faiths. While this woman would like to lump all religions together, they are not the same. There are huge differences between Islam and Biblical Christianity, between Hinduism and Biblical Christianity, between various Christian-like cults and Biblical Christianity and, for that matter, between “Christianity” and Biblical Christianity.

And, those difference matter!

Let’s start off with very basic differences between Islam and Biblical Christianity.

The God of the Bible is not Allah and Allah is not the God of the Bible.

The Qur’an describes Allah as a vengeful, angry god who demands the total obedience of his followers and even then, they may not make it into paradise. “Allah is a long way away and you do good deeds in hope of getting closer to Allah, and hope for the best,” Afshin says. “If Allah wills, you go to paradise, but you never know.”

Allah offers no peace, even for the faithful Muslim. Good deeds don’t guarantee a ticket to paradise, but even asking questions about confusing ideas in the Qur’an could, because Muslims are not allowed to question Allah, who is a far distant god, a being to be feared, who is always ready to punish wrongdoers.

Contrast that with the God of the Bible. NOTE: I said the God of the Bible, not the Christian God. Many sects have redefined God in their own image, but the God of the Bible is still discoverable through that book.

God created the universe and the first man and woman as an act of love and He immediately sought a relationship with them in a world that provided all that they needed for life.

Adam and Eve chose to alienate themselves from God, with tragic results, because the one thing we need for life more than the garden could provide is Him. We are the inheritors of that choice to violate the human-divine relationship. It means we sin (disobey God) and it means that we can never be good enough to reestablish that lost relationship throughout our own power. Fortunately, what we cannot do, God can.

The Old Testament foretold a Messiah who would come to bless mankind. That Messiah is Jesus Christ! God took on human flesh to step down into our messy world, live and die to restore that relationship. God as Jesus offers peace and forgiveness to the people of this world. Those who have asked Christ for forgiveness have agreed to restore that relationship and share His message of restoration and peace. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). When Christians share the gospel, we are speaking for Christ, Who is giving you every opportunity to restore that relationship.

The most awesome truth in the world is that while all people have sinned, God still loves us so much that He personally make it possible for us to be forgiven so that we can have a relationship with Him. While Allah is distant and angry, the God of the Bible is personal and loving.

But, unlike Islam (and some other isms), God does not force anyone to come to Him who does not want to come to Him. It is your choice to reestablish that relationship. Biblical Christians can tell you about the gift of salvation, but they cannot (nor should they) force you to accept. God can love you and provide you with the door way to a restored relationship, but He will not force you to walk through it. It’s always your own decision.

While Islam is a religion that involves doing things, saying prayers, keeping rituals in the uncertain hope of appeasing an angry god, Biblical Christian faith is a restored relationship with a loving, forgiving God Who says that once you’ve entered that relationship you will always be restored, even if you are not always the ideal Christian.

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