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Christianity: Radical from the Beginning

If you are like me, you learn a lot of things that excite you about God, but following through in obedience after the initial excitement wears off proves difficult. You hear God’s clear call on your life only to discover years have passed with seemingly little progress toward that end.

Or maybe you embarked on your journey of obedience and find insurmountable obstacles blocking your path, challenging your convictions and blurring your memory of God’s working in your life. This precarious position tests your faith as the world’s siren call beckons you to return to Vanity Fair. God’s call becomes a whisper as you begin to doubt a once clear calling.

A Manageable God

Maybe the problem you or I have is that we want a manageable God. When we hear Jesus’ voice we desire to follow him, but we want to bring along a heavy burden—a bag packed with all the things we need to help God accomplish the task. We bring our own refreshments, our own entertainment and our own security blankets. Perhaps worst of all, we bring our own timetable.

But we know deep down inside our soul that following Jesus looks very different. Following Jesus requires surrender. It requires trust.

Radical from the Beginning

Where did Christians get the idea that Christianity is just one more thing to add to the “good life?” When did radical faith become quaint and eccentric and optional? How have so many of us come to the conclusion that we can follow Jesus and continue on with our usual way of life?

Christianity was radical from the beginning. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, they left their nets immediately. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told his disciples to rejoice at persecution rather than hide the light of the Gospel so as to avoid trials. He called them to a higher standard of morality, one that went beyond actions to reveal sinful thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus instructed them to love their enemies and to do nothing for the reward of man. He taught them to pray for God’s will to be done and to expect God to provide for them each day.

Jesus commanded his disciples to store up treasure in heaven rather than treasure on earth. He told them they could not serve both God and money. He explained why they should not worry about anything because God cares for them, but to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus admonished them to get their eyes off other people so that they could deal with their own sin. He exhorted his disciples to be among the few who enter the narrow gate and travel the narrow road that leads to life.

Jesus warned them about false teachers and how to recognize them by their fruit. He warned them that only a persevering, committed faith endures the final judgment.

Jesus calls and instructs us in the same radical way.

Ramifications of the Sermon On the Mount

D.A. Carson sums up the ramifications of the Sermon on the Mount for anyone who desires to follow Jesus:

Nothing could be more calamitous than to meditate long and hard on Matthew 5:1–7:12 and then to resolve to improve a little. The discipleship which Jesus requires is absolute, radical in the sense that it gets to the root of human conduct and to the root of relationships between God and men. A person either enters the kingdom or he does not. He walks the road that leads to life, or he walks the road that leads to destruction. There is no third alternative. Nothing, nothing at all, could have more crucial significance than following Jesus. Even if today this is far from being a universally admitted truth, yet one day all men without exception shall confess it, some to their everlasting grief.1

Should we not exhort and encourage one another to follow Jesus in a radical faith?

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. —Hebrews 12:1

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

—Psalm 119:32

 

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

Notes:

  1. D.A. Carson, The Sermon on the Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 122. Citation is to the paperback edition, 1982.

America’s Fight for Freedom

Whatever happened to America’s fight for freedom?

Don’t get me wrong. Americans still fight for freedom, but for many people it’s a different kind of freedom than previous generations fought for.

Yesterday morning, a day after celebrating our Fourth of July holiday, I wondered if my memory was accurate. It seemed to me that, during the Cold War, most Americans believed that the battle was between God-fearing nations and God-denying nations. Those who wanted to preserve individual freedom fought those who wanted to enslave individuals under collectivistic communism. The most effective pejoratives against communism were that it was godless and would take away our freedoms. It seemed clear—the Cold War pitted those who believed in a sovereign God and in the right of individuals to serve Him or to reject Him against atheists who demanded service only to the state. For Christians who knew their Bible, which system was good and which system was evil was easily discernible.

That was a major reason why the United States was determined to halt communism’s advance, even if it entailed great sacrifice.

But did we win the war?

Who Won the Cold War?

During the Cold War, the majority of Americans believed that communism was evil. Fast forward to today. Why do so many people in the U.S. believe socialism, which shares many of communism’s evils, is good?

I believe our secular society no longer cares much if we adopt a godless ideology, because in practice, most people already live as if God doesn’t exist. Thus, a call to fight godless ideologies will not have the effect it had on previous generations.

I also believe it is because we live in a secular society in which most people want to do what is right in their own eyes. Many Americans want freedom from religion so they can do whatever they want in their personal lives, including behaviors prohibited by Holy Writ. Many Americans want nearly unlimited freedom from government interference, believing the Bible imposes few if any restrictions on their economic activity.

Instead of fighting for freedom from a godless communism bent on taking away our freedom to serve God, too many of us fight for the freedom to serve our self. Now that our society has chucked God overboard on its journey to progressivism’s imaginary man-made nirvana, the argument has turned to economics.

Now, in what seems to me to be a capitulation to our culture’s dominant worldview, the main weapon many Christians use to fight socialism is a zealous promotion of capitalism, claiming it to be the only moral economic system.

What happened to God? Have Christians really come to believe that God will give his glory to another? Is it capitalism that will save us and demand our service?

Who won the battle for the hearts and minds of humanity that was fought in the Cold War? The West may have halted the geopolitical boundary expansion of communism, we may have won the battle against flesh and blood, but how did we fare “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?” (Ephesians 6:12)

The Task Ahead

It is sad that many Christians now fight against godless ideologies, not by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God, but by proclaiming the gospel of capitalism. What message do we send to unbelievers when we are so ashamed of the gospel and the freedom it gives that we promote with all our might the freedom to pursue great wealth via capitalism? Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34-38 ought to sober up any Christian inclined to fight evil by employing the very weapons the enemy uses to destroy him (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Our task hasn’t changed. Our mission is the same. True freedom comes from Christ (John 8:36). The pearl of great price cannot be obtained via capitalism or by voting into power a certain political party. Our job is to spread the good news of the kingdom of God.

 

Did you like this article? Check out my book, The Narrow Road: Loving God In a World Devoted to Money, on Amazon.

Why Christians Care About Economics

How we make our money is just as important as how we spend it.

Economic activity is one of the most common and basic forms of human interaction and the Bible has much to say about it. However, it takes time to understand the complexities of our modern economy so that we can better apply God’s principles to our everyday activity. Here are five reasons your effort will be worthwhile. Read more

The Idol of Self-interest

Idol

There’s a very unpleasant breed of Christian festering in the comment sections of blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook groups. They won’t recognize themselves in the description I give in this paragraph, but you certainly will if you have run across them. They are typically young men, many well-educated and some with a background in philosophy. Their most obvious attribute, aside from their pride and superiority complex, is that they are unteachable. They always have an answer to counter anything you say. They are especially inclined to do so when they don’t understand what you said but think that they do. As one well-known Bible teacher has noted–that’s a stupid way to live. Read more

Why Christians Care About Immigration

Letter from US Immigration and two passports

People are on the move. In 2017, approximately 258 million people, or 3.4% of the world’s population, live outside their country of origin. Migrants include legal and illegal immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, guest workers, missionaries, international students and expatriate businessmen.

According to the United Nations 49.8 million migrants reside in the United States. Saudi Arabia, Germany and Russia host around 12 million each while the U.K. hosts about 9 million. In 2017 India had 17 million native born persons living abroad followed by Mexico with 13 million. Other countries with substantial migrant populations living abroad include Russia (11 million), China (10 million), Bangladesh (7 million), Syria (7 million), Pakistan (6 million) and Ukraine (6 million).

Despite the small percentage of people involved worldwide, immigration is a contentious topic. Citizens in wealthy nations, where 2/3 of migrants end up, sometimes feel threatened by an influx of people who bring different values and customs to their land. Some fear immigrants will take their jobs. Resentment that tax dollars go to support immigrants heightens when stories of lawlessness on the part of immigrants surface.

Most of us have heard arguments for and against current U.S. immigration policy. But how closely have we examined migration from a biblical perspective? Do we have confidence that our words about immigration and that our actions toward immigrants conform to God’s will?

Two Christian Views on Immigration

Within the past two weeks I have heard on Christian radio two disparate views on migration.

One program1 featured a talk given by a former U. S. congresswoman in which she portrayed migration as a threat to the survival of Western civilization. She cited as evidence numerous accounts of attacks on western women by immigrant Muslim men. She asserted that many Muslim refugees do not intend to assimilate into Western society, preferring to live in enclaves where sharia law supersedes the law of their host nation. The goal of Muslim immigrants, she claimed, is to establish an Islamic state in their host nation. Furthermore, she says demographics will make such a takeover possible because the Western world has decided to stop having children.

The congresswoman quoted Deuteronomy 32:8 to support her position that moving one nation into another goes against Scripture. She said that God called Abraham out of mankind’s rebellion at Babel to bless the nations by forming a blessed nation (Israel) that other nations must bless rather than curse (Genesis 12:3). She pointed to Matthew 25:31-38 and Joel 3:1-2; 12-14 as evidence that the nations will be judged on how they treat the nation of Israel.

The other radio program2 featured a seminary professor who described migration as part of the human DNA, saying that every country has been built on migration starting with God’s command to go and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). God was the catalyst for worldwide migration in Genesis 11. (Of course, problems arise when people migrate to a place where other people already live.)

He said, “migration is a metaphor for the Christian life” citing 1 Peter 2:11. He made the point that not only should we be a blessing to migrants, but also that migrants bring blessing with them. Migrants can actively bless their new community (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Also, he reminded the audience that immigrants are made in the image of God and that Jesus died for them. They too can rule the earth and they can bring something to their host country.

The professor noted that the Great Commission is a call to migration.

Migration and the Spread of the Gospel

This last observation reminded me of one of the lessons in a course called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. (For those who aren’t familiar with Perspectives, it is a class to help Christians gain biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspective on Christian mission and become more involved. Some mission organizations require the course.) The lesson shows that historically, the gospel spread both by voluntary and involuntary migration and by migration of Christians and non-Christians.

For example, missionaries, in obedience to the Great Commission, voluntarily migrate to lands where Jesus is not known. Ruth voluntarily migrated to Israel to follow their God. Daniel involuntarily migrated to Babylon where he had significant impact. The Celts and Goths voluntarily migrated to the Roman Empire for spoil and were evangelized. The Vikings took Christian monks as slaves and Christian girls as wives back to their homeland (involuntary migration) where their captives, over time, evangelized them. African slaves involuntarily migrated to North America where many became Christians.

As the above examples demonstrate, man’s wickedness cannot thwart God’s purpose. Christians need not remain passive in sharing the gospel with migrants while we debate whether or not they should migrate.

As you can see, Christians care about immigration for different reasons. This post is an invitation to start a discussion about immigration. I hope readers will share their perspective and experiences so that we, as Christians, can better understand and better formulate our personal response to the migration phenomenon encompassing the globe.

To start the discussion, I have shared some of my thoughts and experiences in a comment on this post. Please share yours.

Why do you care about immigration?

Notes:

  1. What is God Saying to the Nations? https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/understanding-the-times/
  2. Christians at the Border, https://discovertheword.org/series/christians-at-the-border/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffering and the Prosperity Gospel

Resort Hotel

False teachers typically turn Bible doctrine on its head. They take passages out of their context and apply them to whatever point they want to make. Of course, in the process, they ignore many Bible passages that assert reality and disprove their message. The doctrine of suffering is an easy target for these charlatans because, simply put, no one wants to suffer. Read more

Why I Don’t Envy the Rich

Big house class envy

If you don’t subscribe to the idea that capitalism is the only moral economic system, an idea boldly proclaimed by Christians infatuated with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, and you dare mention inequality, you will probably be accused of class envy. Or, you will be labeled a socialist. It matters not to these ideologues that you reject socialism outright. Read more

The Last Days of Israel

Jerusalem Israel

Some of my favorite Bible teachers on radio have been dispensationalists who believe in a pretribulation rapture of the church. They rarely bring up the subject. In fact, you could listen for years without hearing a sermon on the rapture. The same is true of the church I currently attend. When they say one’s stance on the rapture shouldn’t divide Christians, they mean it. They are more interested in building up the body of Christ and making disciples. Read more

The Rapture: Who Really Gets Left Behind?

Heavenly Image Rapture Left Behind

Does the Bible predict a future “Rapture” of the Church when believers are suddenly snatched off the earth to meet Jesus in the air, and unbelievers are left behind to deal with airplanes without pilots, driverless cars and other assorted chaos? Is Jesus 2nd Coming a two-stage event in which he comes first for his Church, delivering them from the horrors of the Great Tribulation, and later to judge the world and usher in the Millennium? Read more

Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?

sunset heaven tribulation

If you attend an evangelical church, especially a Baptist, Pentecostal or non-denominational church, you might be surprised to know how many Christians do not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture or in a “great tribulation” lasting seven years or that Revelation chapter 20 speaks of a literal thousand-year period (millennium) when Christ rules on earth.

According to LifeWay Research, only one-third of American Protestant pastors believe in a pre-tribulation rapture and only half believe in a future, literal thousand-year reign of Christ.1 Read more

The Speck In Our Brother’s Eye

Money creates problems for many people. Too much of it and we may disown God, too little of it and we may dishonor his name:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God

(Proverbs 30:8-9).

It also creates lots of confusion. We need look no further than our political divisions to see the problem. Read more

Let Your Collection of Idols Save You!

In the wake of cruise missile strikes in response to Sarin gas attacks in Syria, the U.S. dropping the largest conventional weapon in history on an ISIS target, and U.S. warships sailing toward North Korea, internet searches for World War 3 on Google have reached an all time high. Other people, especially those who believe this show of strength will deter aggression from other nations, show considerably less concern.   Read more

No Rules

sign that says no rules

Last Monday morning the social media world was in a huff because United Airlines denied boarding to teenage girls on one of their flights because of inappropriate attire. All the major news outlets reported the story.

How dare anyone tell us, the paying public, what to wear? Read more

Have You Experienced the Miraculous?

What have you done for me lately?

This is not a question we should be asking God, but it seems we do. What better explains an inconsistent prayer life? We get excited and thankful when God answers our prayers, certain we will remain connected to our Creator. Then we drift. This comes up, then that. We become too busy, too self-sufficient, too satisfied with life without Him. Read more

A Look In the Mirror

I found the widespread description of this past presidential election as a choice between the lesser of two evils perplexing. From an issues standpoint, I considered nearly every presidential election in my voting lifetime to be such a choice. Why were people in such turmoil over this election and not the previous ones? Read more

People Get Ready

Dark Clouds On the Horizon

This past presidential election cycle awakened fears in the hearts of many Americans that might otherwise have lain dormant had there been a candidate who rose above the lesser of two evils criterion.

Christians across America sense that time is running out. Like a train speeding toward a canyon not knowing its bridge is out, our nation has failed to slow its moral decline or alter its course by taking a different track. On the contrary, we seem to be accelerating as we approach the abyss. Read more

When the Task Seems Too Hard

street in coloocan

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, 
 too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:5-10

Read more

The Church Is Not a Parenthesis In God’s Redemptive Plan!

(This is the first article in a series that explores God’s plan and the Christian’s place in the unfolding drama that is indeed the greatest story ever told. It is God’s story, not ours, yet God has graciously made our story part of a larger, exciting, awesome, and beautiful story – God’s redemption of the world.  Included in this story is the Great Tribulation.  Will Christians be Raptured and thus escape this troubling time or must they be prepared to be faithful witnesses through it?) Read more

The Saddest Words of All

In John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem Maud Muller, a poor maiden and a rich judge, upon a happenstance meeting, imagine how different and better their lives would be if they left their own situations and lived like the other.  But their chance meeting was soon over, with neither having voiced their imaginations, as the judge closed his heart knowing his family would oppose him accepting a lower station in life. Read more

Does America Have An Incurable Wound? – Part 1

Israel Had An Incurable Wound

In the book of Micah we learn that Samaria (the capital of Israel) had an incurable wound and like untreated gangrene it had spread to Jerusalem (the capital of Judah). What was the wound that was so loathsome to God?  The northern kingdom’s idolatry had reached a level from which judgment would no longer be withheld. As a result, God proclaims to the whole earth that he will make Samaria a heap of rubble. Read more

Christian Journaling: Seeing God’s Providence In Your Own Words

Are you ever surprised by how quickly you forget what God has done for you or what he expects of you? I am not just referring to something you heard in a sermon you thought was interesting. It could be something that touched you so deeply that, at the time, you would never believe you would forget it or fail to act on it. But you did.

You are not alone. Read more

A Watch In the Night

watch in the night, Garapan

A thousand years in your sight
 are like a day that has just gone by,
 or like a watch in the night. Ps. 90:4

I remember my concept of time when I was a child. It went by slowly. On my seventh birthday my present was a fishing rod and tackle box ordered from the Sears catalog. (Remember those?) Every day I watched for the mailman hoping he would bring my package. It took six weeks to arrive. To me, it seemed like an eternity.  Read more

A Comfort Beyond Measure

My times are in God’s hand.  I find great comfort in this fact particularly because of three things that are true about God – he is good, he is omniscient and he is omnipotent.  If he is not good, I have every reason to fear his sovereign power.  If he is not omniscient, then his plans might be misguided or have unintended consequences.  If he is not omnipotent, then he is unable to do all that he has promised and my times are not really in his hands. Read more

The Love of Many Will Grow Cold

cold winter scene

I feel it sometimes. Cold, heartless evil.  It’s all around. It’s dark and ugly. It’s chill penetrates to the bone.  I felt the cold when I heard of the murder of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I feel it when I read about ISIS beheading and crucifying Christians. The darkness draws close with countless other events reported on the nightly news.    Read more