Musings on Christianity 14

Musings on Christianity 14

What Good is Faith?

Some people seek faith in times of trials. Some times that faith is proven true, and sometimes that faith is proven false. What happens is that people associate, “God gave me what I want” as confirmation of His existence, and they associate, “God didn’t give me what I want” as confirmation of His rejection or even that He doesn’t exist.

The trouble with that metric is that people forget He’s sovereign. Our God, the creator of the Earth and the fullness therein, our God, the creator of the universe, has a perfect plan. For us to hang our belief in Him on a desire, no matter how important, is to forget that he is wise beyond measure (Romans 11:33).

That doesn’t stop us from doing it, and when we don’t get what we want, we cry out in anger, “What good is faith!?”

I have to reply to that question with another question. What was your faith in? Is your faith in God? If so, trust Him. He may deny your supplication. It doesn’t mean He’s abandoned you or that He doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean that you’re not saved. If He gives you what you want, that’s not exactly confirmation of your salvation either. At best, it’s evidence.

But we constantly use our own trials as a test for Him rather than understanding that 1) we should never test God (Deuteronomy 6:16 and Matthew 4:7) and 2) those trials we face are our tests. I don’t believe they are unkind tests done just to hurt us. Instead, they are trials that allow us to strengthen ourselves and glorify God. That doesn’t make our trials fun, but this is the crux of this chapter.

The good of faith isn’t so that we can get what we want, and that’s how most people perceive it. The good of faith is so that we know that no matter what happens, God is with us (Psalm 23:1-6).

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I had all the faith in the world that God would heal her. From my point of view, He did. He healed her of every pain and sadness and called her to Heaven. That’s not exactly what I had hoped for, but the good of my faith wasn’t to keep the person I wanted to keep, it was to have hope that the God I serve knows what I need. Everything He does is for my good (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

If we make our faith conditional on the idea of what we want, then our faith will be in vain. This is because if our faith is based on obtaining desire, we’re not showing faith in God; we’re showing that we feel He exists to serve us rather than the other way around.

That’s not to say faith isn’t rewarded in the graceful, generous granting of prayers. In the last chapter I showed you just how wonderfully God grants prayers. Those who pray to Him, He hears (Jeremiah 29:11-13). 

Too many people though consider their faith a test, which is an insult to God right off the bat (Deuteronomy 6:16). People think, “God, if you do this for me, I’ll believe!” 

There’s just not a lot of evidence that thought is true. “God if you get me out of this bad situation, I’ll be yours.” That’s exactly the sort of thing the Israelites said while they were slaves to Egypt. God answered the prayer, and they grumbled every step of the way to the promised land and beyond.

Let’s take this back a few levels of infinity. Have you or has your child ever said, “Dad, if you do this for me I promise I’ll … “

Did you keep that promise?

If you’re like me, you answered “… sometimes?” And you know what, sometimes we prove true to our word to God. Gideon was a coward. He wanted to have faith, but he truly needed signs. So he asked for some. They were very specific signs too. God graciously, patiently answered those prayers, and Gideon became a great hero because of the courage God gave him (Judges 6-8).

But even a casual search of the Bible shows just how quickly people forget that they cried out for God, got what they wanted, and then turned away from him.

On the same token, even the most devout servant might pray for something hoping God will grant his supplication. That prayer may be denied. The point of faith is that we trust God has a reason. On the eve before his crucifixion, Christ, our Lord and Savior, God in flesh, the son of God, prayed that God would, “let this cup pass from me (Matthew 26:36-56).” 

That’s a powerful verse to me. The son of God asked if it were possible that he not be crucified. I’ve never heard many people preach or speak on this, but it is so important and so telling. Here is the point of faith.

It’s not the request. “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” it’s the trust in whom one’s praying to. “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

And that is the answer. The point of faith isn’t getting what you want. It’s knowing that even if you don’t get what you want, your father in Heaven knows what’s best not just for you, but for all.

Still, we see the denial of our supplications as rejection. But is it true? Have you ever asked your earthly parent for something and was told no? Does your parent not love you? Sure, there are some who actually think or even know their parent doesn’t love them. It’s a sad truth in this world, but on the whole, most people I know have at least one parent they know loves them. And that parent did not in any way give them everything they wanted when they wanted it. Heck, my mom actually came pretty close. I struggle to think of a single thing I wanted that she didn’t eventually give to me, but they’re out there. I remember once wanting to join the chess club (or some such club). My mom said no. Oh was I mad. I was a selfish, spoiled little brat. I gave my mom hell for denying me this one thing. I’d have to work darn hard to think of another example, but I flipped when this one stupid thing was denied me. I was somewhere between 12 and 13.

What I deserved in that moment was punishment. She didn’t. But even in my selfish, childish tantrum, I knew she loved me. Even when being denied what we want, most of us know our parents love us, and God is infinitely more loving, infinitely more compassionate.

Our faith isn’t for the sake of obtaining what we want; it’s for the sake of holding on to the only real hope we have. God’s will be done, not our own (Matthew 26: 39). If we trust His will, we can know that whatever happens, whether we like it or not, it’s all part of a perfect plan.

For our panel: What are your favorite Biblical examples of faith being rewarded?  What do we do, or how to we stand strong, when our most heartfelt supplication is defined (the death of a loved one)? Why do we so easily fall away so quickly after we get the very thing we begged God for in our time of need? How can we guard ourselves against doing that?

Musings on Christianity 13

Musings on Christianity 13

How Can I Hold My Faith In Times of Sorrow?

I was barely in junior high when my family was divorced. My biological father did something terrible. He was abusive in several senses. His verbal insults to me were cruel. Name calling and slapping were common things. He’d flick middle and ring finger at my lips for speaking against him. He did more, and he did worse, but the worst thing he did wasn’t to me, so it isn’t for me to speak about.

What he did broke my family for a very long time. I wish I could tell you we moved away, and everything got better, but it didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of love and laughter, but it seemed those times were interrupted with abuse that struck generation after generation. From the time I was a boy until now, I felt like a failure as a man because I couldn’t protect my family from the harm that came their way.

I constantly wondered why. You see, I have always believed in God. So I constantly asked why did this happen? Then came 2013. Yet another member of my family faced an abusive past. To say I was struggling at work would be a drastic understatement. It felt as if I couldn’t do anything right.

I spoke to a coworker a few times that I was tempted to even deny God’s existence, but I couldn’t. I knew he was there. I just couldn’t understand why I felt such pain. I couldn’t understand why I felt such helplessness.

A lot of things started happening then. In that conversation with my coworker, I said that I understood there was a reason, I just didn’t know what it was.

This is a brief story on the truth that there is a reason. His plan is perfect.

It started, with a dog. My sister Rosa and I spent pretty much every evening together with her daughter watching television. I’d hang out with my niece while she worked on an online college course. I let her dogs out, and realized at nine or ten at night that one dog was gone. The time I had with my sister and niece was perhaps the only place I had at that point in my life where I truly felt I was “right.” I felt as though I was competent. I felt as though every decision I made wasn’t some sort of epic failure, and then I lost my sister’s dog.

I told her, “I’m going to find her.” I wandered around in the rain, calling out her name, and, in between calling her, praying. “God, please reunite Rosa with her dog.” I was careful with the prayer. I wasn’t looking for God necessarily to make me look good. Instead, I was just asking God to reunite a person with her beloved pet. For perhaps a few hours I searched. The rain pounded me, but I held onto my faith. I desperately needed to see something.

Then I heard a voice, “You’re looking for that little white dog aren’t you?”

Standing outside in the pouring rain was a man smoking a cigarette. I wasn’t even sure how he was doing it. This was a real man. My sister knew him. They’d spoken. But there he was standing outside in the rain at that moment, at that time. So I called that little white dog the Miracle Dog.

In a lifetime filled with the abuse of so many people I loved, that little answered prayer (we found the dog a few minutes later) was this sip of water when I had felt like I was dying of thirst.

Perhaps you’re wondering how that one little thing could make up for at least four different instances of abuse in my family? Readers, that was a preview. It was God showing me, “Look how carefully I place people. Look how minute the details of my plans are.”

You see, he had to put me in a house I really didn’t have any business being in. He had to place me with a family that didn’t need to accept me. Rosa isn’t my sister by blood. We adopted each other. There wasn’t really a reason. It just happened. But there I was. Then he had to have a lost dog. I think the rain might have been just a flash of dramatic effect, but who am I to question God. Then he placed that guy outside at that exact moment just when I looked in that exact area to tell me something he’d briefly noticed hours before.

“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways,” Romans 11:33.

The Bible is full of these stories of faith paying off. The birth of Isaac. Abraham’s testing with Isaac. But the one that sticks out to me the most, the story that I affiliate a bit more with now than I had previously, is the story of Joseph in Genesis. He was sold to slavery, imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, forgotten in prison, and then, just when it was time, made the second most powerful man in Egypt.

There really are several stories of what some may call coincidence, and one might feel the Bible can have those because it was written to give faith. I’m not actually ready to present my case for why the Bible is real, though there are several books out there that address that question. All I need you to see is that the Bible has these stories. But I’d never thought in all my days that something like that would happen for me.

But that was just a dog. I mean, you keep looking long enough and you’ll find anything, right? Right! But why? Why keep looking. Why not give up? I had something to hold onto. Christ. It’s hard to explain the concept to you. There is no physical thing keeping me from denying Christ. Nothing is stoping me from turning away or letting him go. Nothing physical at least. Any non-believer could say, “Oh, just watch. If his life gets bad enough, he’ll turn away.”

Again, I was tempted. But that silly dog was the exact amount of encouragement I needed to begin a journey that strengthened me for even stronger trails, particularly the death of my mother.

But today is about how meticulous God’s plan is. Here I was, a man who was surrounded by horrid examples of what a father was, constantly feeling like he was failing his nieces and nephew. Here I was, a man helping to raise children that were never his. “Why!?” I wondered.

Then I met Julie, and then I met my sons. Three wonderful boys who fill my life with love and joy, and they needed me. I wrote that correctly. They didn’t need someone. They needed me! This isn’t arrogance. You see, my sons are struggling with their own feelings of loss and confusion. They’re struggling with a divorce of their own and trying to understand. I lived a life where I saw so many perfect examples of the worst a father could be, but I was also shown so many wonderful examples of what a father should be. The man who raised me. The comic shop owner who literally caught me trying to steal from him, and then forgave me, and then allowed me to take care of his shop when he went to get lunch. 

I met those boys and saw their need, and never felt more certain that I’d perfectly understood a very important verse of the Bible.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” Genesis 50:20

God’s plan is perfect. In that moment I realized that every trial I faced and every hardship I encountered wasn’t necessarily punishment. I was unworked metal that needed forging for His use.

I was custom forged to be the father my sons so desperately wanted and needed, and now, looking back, I wouldn’t wish those I love to go through what they faced, for it was far harder than my own struggles, but if I could go through it alone, if I had to feel that pain again, I’d do it in a heartbeat if it would make me a fraction of a better father than the clumsy, well-meaning man I am now.

When we hold onto our faith, when we trust in His plan, in time, in His time, we understand why. The incident with the Miracle Dog was years before I met Julie, but God knew I needed just the smallest bit of light. I needed to find a stupid dog lost in the rain. I needed to see His perfect plan in that moment, just to get me by for a few more years until I could truly get it.

I have to tell you that not every suffering is made to forge you, but it can. It can prepare you. It can sanctify you. It can focus you. It can rebuke you. When you endure that suffering and maintain your faith, that comfort does a lot. But when you come out of the other side of the trial, I can tell you the blessings are far greater than the suffering was painful. One hug from my sons, and all of that pain and abuse just melted away. One smile from my sons, and I feel like the most blessed man in the world. One “I love you” from my sons, and I feel like the most loved man on earth.

And to think, it almost never happened. I could have chosen what many called, the wiser path. I could have stayed in the Navy. I could have gotten back into the Navy when I learned I’d been selected to be promoted to chief petty officer. I might have stayed in if the job at DINFOS wasn’t available. You see, even there is the meticulous work of our God. I wanted a job there as a civilian, but there weren’t any openings, not until a dear friend of mine got promoted, right when my time in the Navy was ending.

When we focus on all the bad that happens to us, we will only ever see our suffering. This is how we become convinced we’re alone. We’re looking at the punishment rather than our offense, or we’re looking at the fire rather than the blacksmith. But when you choose to focus on God, no matter what, you see the hope. At least, I did.

It might take hours, while you’re looking for a little dog in the rain. It might take years, while you’re working on getting a book published. It might take decades, while you’re looking at abuse and hate and hoping you’d get the chance to show love and compassion. The time it takes forges you. And when it all comes together, it’s more wonderful than you could imagine.

I’m still alive, so my trials aren’t over. I’ve had this time of joy in my life, and I mean to enjoy it. I mean to praise God for every minute of it. In times of need he is there. In times of plenty, He is there. Those times of need are when I know, after these days I’ve had, I can lean on Him harder. He is the secret to being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

For our panel: What else does suffering do for us? What other value might there be in holding on to Christ?  How, can we hold on to Christ when we feel lost? Would you be willing to share a story in which you felt lost, and holding onto Christ helped you? How does holding on to Christ help us in the moment of suffering, before the relief comes?

Musings on Christianity 12

Musings on Christianity 12

Why Christ?

Inevitably, there comes a time when people speak of religion and begin to try and harmonize faith into one set of beliefs. The idea is that any path taken to honor God will lead to Him. This is most common for people who believe in a singular God. There are also times when people will question why one faith is superior to another. 

What I’m not going to do is tell you why my faith is superior to another faith. What I am going to do is simply explain why I need Christ.

Let me ask you a brutal yes or no question. Remember, you can’t explain or justify your answer; you must simply think, “yes” or “no.” Are you perfect? I didn’t ask if you were generally a good person. I didn’t ask if you’re no worse than someone else. I didn’t ask if you haven’t done anything truly bad. I mean, are you absolutely perfect?

I know I’m not. The first chapter covers this same theory. Remember, I’m not good, and neither are you. This is the first part of why I need Christ. I’m not perfect. I’d even go so far as to say I’d rather not even attempt to justify myself next to some other mortal men. I have regrets in my life. 

The next part of this explanation demands yet another important honest question. The same rules apply.  Do you believe you could earn your way into Heaven? Some religions do. Some people do. If you answer, yes, then there’s really not much I can tell you. Time will tell. I however, do not think I could earn my way into Heaven. Why? Because if I’m not perfect, I can’t honestly expect a perfect God to want to have anything to do with me.

Here is another issue that needs to be addressed. It’s perhaps comforting to think of God as someone who loves us. This is actually true. However, the idea of “love” is the one that needs clarification. There are those who want the idea of God’s love to mean, “I can do whatever I want, and he still loves me.” 

I don’t believe that’s true. First, let’s look at this as any Christian should look at a question. Does God love everyone?  He does love us in that he offered salvation to us (Romans 5:8).  But if you lean on that verse, then you must remember the whole thought. God shows his love for us (which is there) in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. If Christ is the mechanism for which he showed his love, we must, therefore need him for that love to have been shown.

But why then did Christ’s death need to be? I’m coming to that, but first we must address the concept of God’s love.

God’s hatred does exist. There are those he hates. Who? He hates evildoers (Psalm 5:5).  He hates those who are haughty, those who’ve lied, those who’ve shed innocent blood, those who devise wicked plans, those who hurry to evil, a false witness, and those who sow discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Anyone as self defensive as I am would quickly shout, “I’ve never shed innocent blood!” They may say, “I’ve never devised a wicked plan!”

I’m not going to invest time to explain how God sees hatred of another itself as murder (the shedding of innocent blood) (Matthew 5:21-48).  I’m also not going to invest time discussing what constitutes a wicked plan. Indeed, I’m going to simply conceded those two arguments.

However, the items on this list I, for one, can not dispute condemn me are those who lie, and those who sow discord. Here comes another brutal question. Yes or no: have you ever, ever, lied? Welcome to the list of those God hates (or hated, we’ll come to that).  I’ve lied. I don’t have any idea of the number of times I’ve lied. From, “Mom, this sure tasted great!” to “You look fine!” I’ve lied. Those are just the “white” lies. Lies we tell for good. Let’s make something clear. You can not do something evil for good. You can not lie for a good reason. If you’ve lied, you, like me, are on the list.

What about sowing discord? Well, have you ever talked about someone behind their back? Have you ever vented to a friend about that guy you “just can’t stand?” Have you ever spoken about that boss who “everyone hates?”  That’s right, you’ve sown discord. Welcome to the list. Don’t worry, I’m on that list too. 

What then can we do? There are some who would say, “Sure, you’ve done some bad in life!” They conceded the first question above proclaiming, “no one is perfect.” Then they try to make that lack of perfection ok by either stating “God loves us anyway,” which we’ll address here in another moment, or they say, “the point is to try to do more good than evil.”

Here’s were that logic just falls short for me. Taking from the list of things God hates listed above, just imagine every “fib” every “white lie” you’ve ever told. I don’t know about you, but I lost count. So how can I know how many good deeds to do? If my single list of this one “bad” thing is already too difficult to count, how, exactly can I hope to know how many “good” deeds I need to do?

This line of thinking becomes even more mind boggling to me. What about the severity of the sin? I was a little thief in my younger days. Does that mean I have to give in these days? Does the “right” I’m obligated to do have to be at least equal to or greater than the “wrongs” done? It just gets too complicated. It also leads back to one very important thing. Do I really think I can earn my way into Heaven? If I don’t think I can, then no amount of good deeds is going to be enough anyway.

And I don’t. I don’t think I’m going to do a darn thing for the creator of the universe. I don’t have a resume item I think will compare with, “created all things.”

So I need help. If I realize I can’t earn my way into Heaven because I’m not perfect, I’m can’t even tell the amount of good I must do to outweigh the bad I’ve done, and I’m not able to do anything to impress the God who created the universe, I need someone or something to help me. Therefore, I need Christ. 

The next question then must be, “What does Christ do for those who believe in him?” There are several different ways to ask that question, but that version works for me.

The first thing he did for us what that very same demonstration of love I mentioned above from Romans 5:8. His very death, if we believe in him and his death, is a symbol of God’s love. Why though? Why did his death for us help us? Why is his death the symbol of God’s love?

Because death is the price for sin (Romans 6:23). In the days of Moses, a substitutionary sacrifice was enough to temporarily pay the price for a man’s sin. That substitutionary death was to be a lamb without blemish, a perfect lamb. 

These sacrifices had to be repeated though. They were offered at specific places in specific times and repeated because man continued to sin. This had to be repeated because an animal was never regarded as equal to man (Matthew 6:26 gives one example of this fact). So the only way for man to be permanently forgiven is for a perfect man to die.

Therefore, I need Christ. He was perfect. He did die. More importantly, he was raised. His death paid for my sins. His resurrection broke the bonds of death so that life everlasting becomes possible.

So I choose Christianity for a great number of reasons. The reason that’s relevant to this particular chapter is that I already know there’s nothing I can do to be good enough to get into Heaven. I need help. I know I need help because I already know I’m not good enough on my own. What Christ did is pay the price for my sin. What Christ does is advocate for me with his Father in Heaven (1 John 2:1). Rather than rely on myself to negotiate my way into Heaven, I rely on Christ to be the way.

Again, this isn’t where I say to those of other religions, “This is why you’re wrong.” Instead, this is where I say, “This is why I need Christ.” No other religion has a figure who, in perfection, provided me a means to be cleansed and a person to advocate for me.

Dr. John MacArthur once broke religion down into two ultimate groups: Faith based religion and works based religion. If you believe in your core as some do that you are the one who must earn your way, I’m not going to convince you other wise. I just don’t agree. I’m just too aware of too many people who did so many good things, but I can always find one guy who doesn’t think that person measures up. However, what I can choose to do is have faith in one who was perfect and paid my price and speaks for me.

I offer this prospective to you to help you understand why I feel the need I feel. If you don’t feel good enough, Christ is. If you don’t feel as though you can do enough, Christ has. If you don’t feel you’re perfect, Christ is.

For our panel: What are some other ways to demonstrate how Christ served as our substitutionary sacrifice? What is the relationship between sin and death? What was it that showed you the need for Christ? How is Christ unique as a savior in comparison to other religions? How does Christ serve as our advocate in Heaven?

Musings on Christianity 5

Musings on Christianity 5

Where is the line between Grace and Law, and fellowship and judgement

Growing up, the biggest stumbling block I faced in my walk with Christ was composed of groups of people who attended a church but didn’t act very Christian. You may have seen people like them. They’re the ones outside events screaming into bull horns. They’re the ones outside a soldier’s funeral proclaiming that man went to Hell.

Their actions and hostility all led me to a place where I thought that’s what Christianity was. I thought Christians were a group of self-entitled jerks who used God to snub their noses at others and proclaim how holy they were by comparison to others. I wanted no part of that. It got to the point to where I honestly feared walking into a church. My mom was told God demanded she remain married to a man who molested her daughter (a direct contradiction to Matthew 5:32). I was told it was sinful for me to go and use the bathroom during a pastor’s sermon.  So the story of how I came to be a member of Hope Bible Church is one longer than I can tell.

If I were to try and summarize, it started with invitations. They didn’t demand or say anything. They just offered. Then, as I told them my story, they were kind enough to refer me to the online sermons. This let me hear the word and listen. I didn’t like everything I heard, but I understood it. Even what I didn’t like wasn’t a statement of persecution; it was a statement on how the Bible clearly says those things are sinful. HBC didn’t expand on the law. They simply shared the word and what it means. That’s not to say there isn’t accountability in the church.

There in lies the root of this chapter’s question. Whenever I talk about the faith with people, even other professed Christians, I hear an interesting range of ideas.

I don’t need a church that judges me: I do. And the members of the church are supposed to judge (1 Corinthians 6:3).

But that thought quickly swings high and right with. Our church must punish sin. No it doesn’t. In fact, the most extreme thing Christ taught us to do if a person sins against us and refuses to repent is to let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. John MacArthur’s notes on Matthew  18:17 state, “If he still refuses to repent, step three requires that the matter be reported to the whole assembly — so that all may lovingly pursue the sinning brother’s reconciliation. But failing that, step four means that the offender must be excommunicated, regarded by the church as “a Gentile and a tax collector.” The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother.”

But this balance is a tough one to have, especially when a body seeks to increase the law. After all, this was exactly what happened to the Pharisees. No church should seek to elevate itself above God. However, it should absolutely serve as a place of worship  and prayer (Mark 11:17), loving discipline (1 Corinthians 6: 1-8) and fellowship (1 Corinthians 14:26). I’m also a fan of the summary of Churchly discipline found in 2 Timothy 4:2.

Personally, I fear a church without discipline every bit as much as a church that seeks to condemn and persecute. No, churches actually can’t let anyone come in and do what they want (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), but neither should they seek vengeance because that belongs to God (Romans 12:19).  That doesn’t mean we don’t rebuke or discipline. (again see 2 Timothy 4:2)

Think of it like a true friend. Would you really let a drunk friend drive home? Is it loving to let a person put himself in danger? If you would do something to protect the life of one you love, how much more would you work to save his or her soul?

But I’m also confident we have those friends. Those friends who can’t wait to list out our faults and tell us how wrong we are. There have even been those friends who look at our misfortune and simply presume wrong (Job).

The same balance you’d have with a friendship should be the least you expect from a church in my opinion. From there, we need to seek churches that have a firm grasp on how to identify sin and lovingly correct it so we might grow together in sanctification.

For our panel: How does a church balance discipline? What should a church do (if anything) to help sinners repent? Should a church seek and speak against sin? If so, how? What does loving rebuke look like? How can one who’s experienced some of the misguided persecution of a church like I’ve mentioned above reconcile that against the loving grace of God and how a church should correct a brother? Is there ever a point at which a church should proclaim or deny a person’s salvation?

Musings on Christianity 4

Musings on Christianity 4

Can I Have Nothing In This Life?

In the previous chapter, we looked at happiness. An absolute mind might think that in order for one to have peace in heaven, that individual can’t have anything in this life. That’s not necessarily true either. Our Heavenly Father loves to bless his children. And those who seek his kingdom and righteousness will always be provided for. (Matthew 6:33)

There are indeed material blessings for those who follow his commandments. “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your heads and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you even ways.”  (Deuteronomy 28:3-8)

The danger becomes thinking of God like some sort of shopkeeper. First in His grace, God gave us forgiveness of our sins, removing the price of death. This is the kindest thing anyone could do. Even so, God still graciously provides for us. Even more so, God lovingly blesses us. These are, all of them, gifts that he gives in love, and can take for his reasons. (A very vague reference to Job.)

I mention this because too often we follow with a heart full of desire rather than devotion. And that’s the real trick. If you go to work, you expect to be paid for your work. If you make a trade, you expect to receive fair compensation. Who wouldn’t? But what service can you offer the Lord that deserves anything?

I don’t know about you, good reader, but I’ve certainly said something to the effect of, “After all I’ve done, I deserve (insert monetary desire)!” Here we go again. If our service and worship was for the sake of gain, it wasn’t real worship. 

We see this lesson most clearly in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Perhaps I bring this up, and you wonder, “Wait, wasn’t this the story about the guy who demanded his inheritance and then squandered it?”

Yep, that’s the one. Lots of people, heck, most children, can remember the story of the younger son. But do you remember the older brother? More importantly, do you remember how that son reacted when his younger brother was welcomed back with a feast?

Verse 29 carries that wonderfully insightful example:

“ … but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.”

Here we see the motivation for that obedience. This son served his father only wanting what rewards he thought he was due.  Even so, this parable contains the loving truth:

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31)

Why covet a (in this case) goat when you already have everything?

We often get caught up in things. I sure do. But when I pull back for a moment and reset my focus on the correct source, things start to calm  down. Brothers and sisters, I’m not telling you that you have to live a life of poverty and famine to assure your place in Heaven. In fact, if you think you have to do something to get into Heaven, you’re woefully misguided. Our redemption, through Christ, is a gift.

So the things we do aren’t an effort to earn anything. Instead, what things we do are a result of what has been done for us.

I’m not asserting millions for “true believers,” and I’d caution you to look carefully at anyone proclaiming God gives money for faith. Again, the sovereign creator of the universe and everything in it frankly doesn’t need a darn thing. He gives, and he takes. He has his reasons.

Those who follow Christ faithfully, have already assured themselves a place in Heaven. The Lord may also grant you many blessings. Just don’t let the expectation of material, earthly things to become the God you serve. It’s that covetous nature that can tempt a person. It becomes a barrier.

So if we focus on Him, everything else will truly take care of itself. We may find trials and tribulation, but that’s why we’re told to learn to be content in whatever situation. (Paraphrase of Philippians 4:11)

God knows better than anyone how to give wonderful gifts. (Matthew 7:11)

For our panel: Should we be afraid for our souls if we get a big raise or a new high-paying job? What’s the secret to being content in any situation? How worried should we be about worldly provision and abundance? How do we claim God provides for us like is says in Matthew when we live in a world with homeless people? Are they without faith?

Musings on Christianity 3

Musings on Christianity 3

Doesn’t God Want Me  to be Happy?

Our great nation was founded on the belief that man has an inalienable right to pursue happiness. People come from other countries to pursue the vague concept of “The American Dream.” What is that dream?

For some it’s financial wealth. For others, The American Dream is a single family home with a white picket fence. Others think The American Dream is to become a successful business owner.

I don’t proclaim that any of these inherently wrong (though some make it Biblically challenging to truly seek salvation). However, all of those measurements of happiness are faulty in one specific way. They define happiness as something measured by things others pursue, and those resources are limited.

Bear with me as I attempt do articulate the fundamental flaw in the adea that “everyone has the right to be happy.”

If happiness is money, there is only so much money in the world. For you to have more, would require someone else to have less. This is because money is a resource. Our national debt skyrockets more and more every year because we continue to confuse credit and money, and they’re not. (Tangentially, credit is also a limited resource.) One may say with perhaps even an earnest heart that if we all just shared our money, we’d all have enough. I’m not economically wise enough to state if that’s possible, but here’s where that idea of everyone being “happy” starts to fall apart.  You see, I’m absolutely content in what I have. I have a home (through a mortgage).  Our family has two cars. My wife and I each have employment. So we must be happy right? Well, we are, but we’re still striving to obtain more. We’re looking for ways to reduce our expenses and increase our earnings. This is wise financial discipline really. But if one could ever have the vague idea of “enough,” they’d still seek more. That’s where the flaw becomes known. Happiness is a concept that belies the idea that one could have more or less. It’s definition is simply a state of being. Therefore, you either are, or you are not.   

It’s this simple argument that I make to assert that money can’t make you happy because the fact that we have any should then be enough, but we pursue more. This same logic applies to a business. Economics is pretty simple. I you want a business to be successful, some other business will eventually fail. If you sell breaks and become the best break business ever, every customer you earn is another customer a different break company loses.

That’s usually when someone says something to the effect of, “well of course money isn’t happiness.”  Ok. We’ll leave that topic and move to another.

Happiness is a person’s right to do and be who they want to be.

Let’s be blunt. If we as a society were required to let anyone pursue whatever they wanted, we’d have to let murderers kill whoever they wanted. Before you just shrug and say, “That’s not what I mean,” think. We either live in a society that demands those living in that society follow a set of rules or we don’t. And if we agree that rules (such as those against murder) are necessary, we then have to acknowledge that there are things that are wrong and things that are right

I hope that can put aside any argument that “People should be able to do whatever makes them happy.”

But what about those areas deemed more “gray” in the eyes of society. The Bible has quite a few lists of things that are wrong. There are things that are abominable in the eyes of God. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

We’ve already discussed the ten commandments, some of which clearly state things that should never be done.

1 Corinthians Chapter 6 gives a very plain list of sinful traits that ensure a person will never see the kingdom of God (unless that person repents and turns from said sins). 

The simple truth is there are things one shouldn’t do. What religion one follows and what nation they live in may alter the agreed-to  standards of right and wrong, but anyone who just takes a minute to think about what the meaning of the words “People should be able to do whatever makes them happy” really mean, they’d have to acknowledge that’s simply not true.

That’s when the prepositional phrase “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone” usually pops up. What is hurt?  Because there’s no way anyone could honestly mean “offend.” The way our nation is today, we demand quite a lot of people deny their offenses for the sake of letting people “pursue happiness.”  In fact, a person offended at another person’s “pursuit of happiness” is seen as the villain. Yet that same person is only pursuing happiness, and doesn’t it hurt to be unhappy?

This reveals that some consider happiness as the ability to do what he or she wants without anyone being bothered or bothering him about it. But that’s circular thinking. It lead right back to the top of this very post.

I’m not even going to try and articulate wright or wrong. If you’re Christian, read the above passages and see for yourself what God’s word declares as wrong. If you’re not Christian, surely you have an idea on what is wrong and what isn’t. I’m not going to convince you otherwise. The goal up to this point has been to show how impossible it is to have happiness if doing relies on others (or those others not mocking you) or resources. 

If you can at least agree that happiness can’t be attained by accumulating things or doing things (based on the information above), the next logical question has to be, “Where does happiness come from?”

Call it what you want: Joy, Pleasure, Happiness. I’m not going to get semantic in this. Whatever you want to call it, how do you get it?

The Christian answer is Jesus Christ. “He 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.” (Revelation 21:4)

If we can’t articulate what happiness is, I submit to you an alternative. How would you like a life free of death, mourning, crying or pain? Even if I’d want more stuff, a guaranteed life free of that particular list of stuff sounds pretty good to me. Sign me up!

Does that mean a Christian doesn’t suffer those things? Of course we do! Those promises aren’t for the “current things” (this life), but only when those become the “former things” (the next life).

This reveals two things. 1) Nothing of this world is truly worth anything. Does that mean I’m going to stop saving money? No! But it does mean I won’t put the accumulation of wealth above following Christ.

The trouble arrises when the pleasures of the flesh blind us to the real source of happiness that is God. But anything of this world is finite. Money comes and go. Jobs come and go. Lovers come and go. Health comes and goes. Your body is born and then it decomposes. It’s all temporary.

So here’s where you have to make a decision. If you don’t believe in a God, live it up! I mean that. If the only happiness you’re ever going to attain is limited to what this world can offer during your lifetime, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:32)

But if you don’t believe in God, my heart breaks for you. If all you can have is what’s in this world, then I weep for you because there is absolutely no promise you’ll get anything. You have no real hope. Even in this great nation the only thing you’re offered is the right to pursue it.

I’d be devastated on behalf of anyone who pursues happiness his whole life never to obtain it, but I assert that’s exactly what will happen if one continues to measure happiness by wealth, lovers, job status, or a home. Because if these things gave happiness (a state of being happy) why wouldn’t you ever eventually find the need to stop pursuing? After all, if I want to find my keys and then I find them, I don’t keep looking for my keys do I? No, I have that which I sought.

So does God want you to be happy?

Consider the above source of happiness. If happiness is eternal life without death, mourning, crying or pain, then does God want everyone to be saved?

Yes. There are plenty of verses that say this.  1 Timothy 2:4 says it plainly.  God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Now, we aren’t going off on that tangent! You know the one. “Well, if God wants us to do it, he can just make us!”  I’ll discuss free will in a future chapter. For now, we have to stay on topic.

Yes, God wants you to be happy, but that happiness is found only in accepting Christ as your savior.

In the next chapter, we’ll discuss what happiness we can have on this earth, but if you agree that everything of this earth will eventually fade, we must then agree that we should seek eternal happiness, which only comes in the next life.

For our panel: Why doesn’t God want people to have things? How can one truly know that happiness comes from a life dedicated to pleasing God? What are the consequences for refusing to turn from sin because that sin “makes you happy”?

Musings on Christianity 1

Musings on Christianity 1

Musings on Christianity

Introduction

In this project, we seek to better understand Christianity. We also seek to apply Biblical principles to life issues. In this blog series, the goal is for this to be an online panel in which I pose questions and offer an introduction. These introductions will be my interpretation and application of scripture. As I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t even attended seminary. I’m not a pastor. I’m just a man studying the word of God and working to apply it to his life. My sincere hope is that the elders of my church, Hope Bible Church in Columbia, Maryland, will contribute to the discussion. I also hope that other pastors around the world will join in intelligent, loving discussion of these topics.

We seek to operate in truth and love, which is an essential combination. If any should feel compelled to comment, I humbly request that you support your opinion with scripturally based supporting comments. You are more than willing to add personal application, but we seek a historical, grammatical hermeneutics based discussion which will help Christians, or people who are curious about the faith, gain wisdom on how to approach topics of faith and life. For consistency, please use the ESV. I’m not claiming it to be better than other versions of the Bible. It’s just the version that I as moderator am currently using, and I believe strongly that consistency is essential in any academic discussion. You are more than welcome to then include other translations of the Bible to add further clarification, but I’d appreciate it if we begin with on version and then branch out.

Please be advised that your comments are subject to being included in this book. By placing a comment you consent and permit me to include your comment in the final version which will be sold.

I will be the editor and compiler of this book. As such, I retain the right to include or omit any comments. My hope is the elders of Hope Bible Church will review and edit the project for hermeneutical accuracy.

The inspiration for this blog series is a combination of the concept from the book Right Thinking In a World Gone Wrong by John MacAurthur and several thoughts, discussions, and questions I hope to understand better as I grow in the faith.

The end goal is to produce a published book which will provide readers with answers to questions and scripturally-grounded mindsets to apply to life’s issues and situations.

We sincerely hope this series of 52 weekly discussions (or at least I hope there will be discussions) will provide comfort and wisdom through the only source equipped to help man face the world in which we live.

 


 

 

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People

If we’re going to confront questions about faith or Christianity, let’s just start right off the bat with one of the biggest, if not the biggest, questions.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

This questions has a major fallacy that must be addressed:

There are no good people.

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19)

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, adultery coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)

“The Lord looks down from haven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:2-3)

A point of pride for man is the desire to proclaim himself good, when that’s just not the truth of it. I’m not good, and neither are you. If we declare ourselves good, we do so only in comparison with man. We can certainly look upon man and pridefully declare ourselves better than one and less than another, but then we make man that standard by which we measure ourselves, and this is the improper standard. We can surely look to one another on our journey, but the foremost standard by which we should always evaluate ourselves is God himself, and compared to a perfect, holy God, we fall so very short. (The last part is paraphrased from Romans 3:23.)

Some read scripture like this and feel compelled to turn away. Who wants to be called a bad person? Who wants to be condemned? But this is less an accusation or inherent condemnation than it is a simple fact of our own, broken, human condition. I am not good, and neither are you. I’m not claiming to be the worst human, I’m just not pretending to be anywhere near the same level as God. Neither am I declaring you, reader, the worst human ever. However, if we are human, we are not good.

So what is this question really asking? It’s asking why bad things happen to people regardless of their level of evil. You may add to this question the sub topic of why do evil people thrive while the good suffer?

This isn’t always true. Personally, I’ve had some wonderful things happen in my life. I’ve also seen my share of tragedy. But isn’t it hard to see people we love suffer? Isn’t it infuriating to see someone who’s wronged you receive rewards you seek? I know it bothers me, but should it?

First, let’s not forget that humanity suffers. The richest man alive with the most children has suffered in some way. The most wretched person, homeless and starving, is still alive or was still given life. If we focus on our suffering, we forget or even cast aside any blessings we’ve received. We’re like children who are well-fed, housed, and genuinely loved by our Father who forget it all and declare our parents horrible because we didn’t receive our most recent desire, or we’ve just come upon some misfortune.

“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

What do we do when someone who’s transgressed against us receives rewards and we don’t? Sure, it stinks to feel passed over, but this world isn’t the reward. The greatest reward is to be in the presence of God in His kingdom. Does this mean I don’t want a promotion or to sell more books? Of course not, but  I hope to be very careful before I start looking to others who have worldly things.

“be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” (Psalm 37:2)

A parable I seek when I need comfort as I suffer and others who I arrogantly declare are more evil than I am receive wealth and happiness, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

People will receive on this earth, and people will lose things on this earth. However, I’m a bit wary of hoarding worldly things. This doesn’t mean I didn’t work to be debt free or I’m not working to ensure I have a three-month emergency fund. However, if God appeared to you and gave you a choice: All the money and joy you desire on Earth at the cost of eternity afterward, or all the pain and misery you fear at the reward of joy and glory for eternity afterward, which would you choose?

Then consider this: As bad as things have gotten, have you never had one moment of joy or pleasure? If not, then I offer my genuine prayer for comfort and peace to you. Yes, bad things happen, but they happen to all people. No person is good. If we focus on the rewards of eternity, we can find comfort.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

For our panel: Must people suffer? What about children? What does suffering do for us? How does suffering help us if it does? What scripture can we seek to find comfort or gain understanding?

Thank you for reading,

Matt