The Trouble With Democracy

Today is one of those days I’m tempted to feel nervous about the future. I just voted. But I have no way of knowing whether or not the people I voted for will do what they said they would do. Nor do I have any control over how other people voted. And there is a good chance some people, maybe a lot of people, voted for different people than me.

Which leads to fear. Fear that if we don’t get the right people in the right offices, all is lost.

I’m reading Revelation right now. It’s a great book that speaks comfort to those of us who struggle with political fear. Although the book does look toward the future it was written at a time when all the wrong people were in office. And for the people of God everything looked lost.

And yet through an apocalyptic vision give to the Apostle John, God’s people are given hope. Hope that even when the wrong people are in power, and those wrong people are abusing their power, God is still in control. And though there are seasons to come when God’s people will feel powerless, ultimately there will come a time when God wins. That is there will come a time when all power (political or otherwise) will be taken back by the hands of God, and specifically put into the hands of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

In Revelation 15:1-4 we read:

I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

 

Maybe I’m a little anti-democracy, but I look forward to the day when I don’t have to vote anymore. I look forward to the day when there are no more political campaigns or commercials. When I no longer have to do research to find out who are the best candidates. And I no longer have to trust that the candidates I chose will work out.

I look forward to the day when there is one King of Kings over all the nations and all power rests in his hands. I look forward to that day, because on that day I can live free from the temptation of fear, knowing that the one who is in every way perfect is now ruling over all things.

 

The Best Way to Honor and Support Christians Dying For Their Faith

 

The headlines this last week have been gut-wrenching. ISIS ‘Systematically Beheading’ Children in IraqIraq: Hell has broken out here and nobody caresChristian boy “cut in half” as Islamic State invades Christian town .

The question on everyone’s mind has been, what can we do?

An article on Christian Today provided  five great things we can do to help. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It is a helpful list.

But I would like to add one thing they left out.

I’d like to add a sixth thing we can and should do, not only to help those who are suffering, but also to honor those Christians who have been martyred.   In my humble opinion it is the best thing we can do for them.

What is it?

It is to die with them.

I am not talking about mass suicide or even taking up arms. I mean our willingness take up our cross and die with them.

Let us die to our need to be liked.

Let us die for our need to be normal.

Let us die to our need to stay hidden.

Let us die to our desire to fit in.

Let us die to struggle to keep up with our neighbors.

Let us die to our excuses.

Let us die to self-centeredness.

Let us each and every day take up our cross (whatever that might be) and die. With Jesus. For Jesus. In order to boldly proclaim  Jesus.

When we do this we will (in a small way) identify with them. We will remember to pray for them. We will be led to give what we can for them. And we will honor them.

Yes there is persecution of Christians in America…but let’s be honest, no one is going to kill us or our family for talking about Jesus. At the very worst they will give us a cold shoulder. Or maybe make fun of us.

But often that is not even the case. Most of the time a person will listen and talk with us politely.  If we are kind to others they are more often than not kind to us.

We must take advantage of this freedom!

This freedom may not always exist. There may be a time when sharing our faith will get us thrown in jail, or put us in danger of violence. And if that happens it will only serve to help us identify with our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are daily going through the same things. Not to mention it will  further serve to help us identify with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the innocent one who suffered brutally on our behalf.

But that time is not here yet.

So let us not waste the time and freedom we have been given. Let us honor the deaths of our martyred brothers and sisters by standing for and, if necessary, dying for the same Jesus they were killed for.

Imagine what our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq would say to us who live in a country with such minimal threats. What would they have us do with our freedom?

I imagine the saints that have been martyred,  who are now in the presence of their King, would say one thing to us…

It  was worth it.

Do not hold back, do not be scared.  Jesus is with you.

He is worth living for. He is worth dying for.

You will not be disappointed. You will not be ashamed.

He is worth it. More than you could ever imagine.

Jesus is worth it.

 

 

Christian boy “cut in half” as Islamic State invades Christian town – See more at: http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/christian-boy-cut-half-islamic-state-invades-christian-town#sthash.XKcsdfLn.dpuf

I don’t think that means what you think it means…

In the last post I wrote about overcoming the comparison trap.  I said that when we understand that in God’s eyes we are blessed, we will be freed from temptation to compare ourselves with others.

But there was one problem with that post.

I never actually defined what it means to be “blessed”.

And the idea of being “blessed” is kind of abstract. We throw around the term in a variety of ways. We say things like:

“I feel blessed…”

“Bless you…”

“What a blessing that is…”

“I pray that God would bless…”

But what are we thinking when we speak of being blessed? What should we be thinking when we think of Christian blessings?

The truth is, “being blessed” likely doesn’t mean what you (and I) think it means.

In the BibleIsaac_Blessing_Jacob_-_Govert_Flinck

God blesses people when he gives them some kind of physical or spiritual gifts (Gen. 1:22; 24:35; Job 42:12; Ps. 45:2; 104:24, 35). A person blesses God when he shows God gratitude (Ps. 103:1, 2; 145:1, 2). A person blesses himself  when he rejoices in God’s goodness to him (Deut. 29:19; Ps. 49:18). And one person blesses another person when he expresses good wishes or prays to God for the welfare of the other person (Gen. 24:60; 31:55; 1 Sam. 2:20). [1]

So far this sounds like what we’d expect.

But in the New testament things get a little more interesting. The most common Greek word for “blessed” is makarios (see The Beatitudes). This word means “happy”.

But this is not the  Pharrell Williams kind of happy (nothing against the song). Being “blessed” is not based on a feeling. Rather makarios (“being blessed”) is based on a person’s status from the point of view of others. [2] In other words a person is “blessed” when they are favored by someone else. And it is the knowledge of that favor which brings about the person’s happiness.

This is the key to understanding being “blessed” in the Christian worldview. 

Being blessed is not something that comes from inside of us. Nor is it based on anything we do or have in and of ourselves. To be blessed is to be favored by someone else. When Jesus calls people “blessed” (again, see The Beatitudes) he is telling them they are favored by the greatest someone else— God himself.

This is the good news: through Jesus Christ any person can receive the favor of God!

Having the favor of God trumps all other favor. It’s the favor that levels the playing field. It is not about what a person has been given in relation to someone else. One gift from God is not better than another. The only thing that matters is that a person has the favor of God. For the favor of God is the blessing, not just the manifestations of that favor.

This is hard for us in the United States. We often equate being “blessed” with our allotment of physical goods — money, beauty, health, or other material things.

But God’s primary concern is not our financial and material well-being. The example of Paul in Phil 4:12-13 shows us that much.  Sometimes God blesses us with material resources and sometimes he doesn’t. So then, what is the big deal about God’s favor?

What good is God’s favor in our world?

Romans 8:31-35 answers that question well:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Despite who we are or what we have done. Despite our social-economic condition or family’s colored past. Despite our failures, or sins. Despite our insecurities or weakness.

If we have the favor of God,  we are free from all condemnation. We have a new social status. We are members of a new family. We have a new inheritance waiting for us. We have been made into a new creation. We have been forgiven. We have the Spirit of God within us, and are able to draw on his security and strength.

To have the favor of God is to know, despite our external circumstances, that God is always for us. That He is always working things out for our good according to his purpose. That our story is (because of our relationship to God) always significant.

To have the favor of God is to know that the perfect, unconditional, eternal, incomprehensible love of God displayed through Jesus Christ is yours forever.

And the more we understand what that means we will understand what it means to be “blessed”.

 

 

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[1] Easton, M. G. (1893). Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

[2] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) (131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

 

 

 

Overcoming “The Other” Internet Addiction

I don’t mean to do it. But sometimes it is so hard to stop.  A few minutes in and my thoughts are engrossed in it.

It used to be easier not to think about, but now it seems like the internet and particularly social media has made it so much easier to get lost in.

The comparison trap.

Asking myself consciously or unconsciously “how is my life in comparison to others?”

Has this happened to you?  It’s a common problem. In fact, it’s so common TIME magazine wrote an article about it.

So how do we overcome it?

We don’t. At least not on our own.

The only way out of this trap is to get an outside perspective. We need a new reality from an expert that transcends our subjective opinions on what makes for a good life. We need an objective answer to the question, “am I blessed?”

The Bible give us that outside perspective.

It tells us what kind of people are, in God’s eyes, objectively blessed. For example, here are 42 kinds of people the Bible calls blessed:

  1. Those whom God chooses. Ps 65:4; Eph 1:3, 4.
  2. Those whom God calls. Isa 51:2; Re 19:9.
  3. Those who know Christ. Mt 16:16, 17.
  4. Those who know the gospel. Ps 89:15.
  5. Those who are not offended at Christ. Mt 11:6.
  6. Those who believe. Lu 1:45; Ga 3:9.
  7. Those whose sins are forgiven. Ps 32:1, 2; Ro 4:7.
  8. Those to whom God imputes righteousness without works. Ro 4:6–9.
  9. Those whom God chastens. Job 5:17; Ps 94:12.
  10. Those who suffer for Christ. Lu 6:22.
  11. Those who have the Lord for their God. Ps 144:15.
  12. Those who trust in God. Ps 2:12; 34:8; 40:4; 84:12; Jer 17:7.
  13. Those who fear God. Ps 112:1; 128:1, 4.
  14. Those who hear and keep the word of God. Ps 119:2; Jas 1:24; Mt 13:16; Lu 11:28; Re 1:3; 22:7.
  15. Those who delight in the commandments of God. Ps 112:1.
  16. Those who keep the commandments of God. Re 22:14.
  17. Those who wait for the Lord. Isa 30:18.
  18. Those whose strength is in the Lord. Ps 84:5.
  19. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Mt 5:6.
  20. Those who frequent the house of God. Ps 65:4; 84:5.
  21. Those who avoid the wicked. Ps 1:1.
  22. Those who endure temptation. Jas 1:12.
  23. Those who watch against sin. Re 16:15.
  24. Those who rebuke sinners. Pr 24:25.
  25. Those who watch for the Lord. Lu 12:37.
  26. Those who die in the Lord. Re 14:13.
  27. Those who have part in the first resurrection. Re 20:6.
  28. Those who favor saints. Ge 12:3; Ru 2:10.
  29. Those who are undefiled. Ps 119:1.
  30. Those who are pure in heart. Mt 5:8.
  31. Those who are just. Ps 106:3; 10:6.
  32. Those who are the children of the just. Pr 20:7.
  33. Those who are righteous. Ps 5:12.
  34. Those who are the generation of the upright. Ps 112:2.
  35. Those who are faithful. Pr 28:20.
  36. Those who are poor in spirit. Mt 5:3.
  37. Those who are meek. Mt 5:5.
  38. Those who are merciful. Mt 5:7.
  39. Those who are bountiful. De 15:10; Ps 41:1; Pr 22:9; Lu 14:13, 14.
  40. Those who are peace-makers. Mt 5:9.
  41. Those who are holy mourners. Mt 5:4; Lu 6:21.
  42. Those who are saints at the judgment day. Mt 25:34.

Now you might be tempted to think that most of this list doesn’t apply to you. And based on your own merit, you’d be right.

But if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re in luck.  In Jesus Christ, and through Jesus Christ, and because of what Jesus Christ has done on your behalf, you are (in the eyes of God) every one of these kinds of people.

Therefore in the eyes of God you are truly blessed.

Because this status comes from God it can’t be changed. Because of your relationship to Jesus, it is your permanent condition.

We might not feel it. But that is only because we are so accustomed to using our own standard for what makes us feel blessed.

Our feelings will change when we accept that what God says about us is really true. And when we do, we we will be free from the addiction of comparing ourselves to others. We will be free from the comparison trap.

 

May we embrace our God-given status of being blessed today!

 

 

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The list is adapted from: R. Torrey’s. The new topical text book…. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Bible Software (2001).

True Identity

The other night I went with our high school students to watch How to Train your Dragon 2. As I watched the movie, I was reminded just how significant the question of identity is to each of us.

In the movie, the main character Hiccup seeks to answer the question, who am I?  He wonders if he could become the new village chief, even though he is nothing like the current chief–his father. He wonders where his spirit of curiosity, peace, and exploration comes from. In Hiccup’s mind, understanding who he is will determine what he should do.

For Hiccup, even though he is told to look within himself,  the answers to his questions of identity come from outside himself. Through the encouragement and wisdom of his family, friends, and community, he discovers who he is.

The movie reminds us that we all desire to know who we are.  That who we are will drive our actions. And that the answer to who am I? is actually found outside of ourselves.

This is the way God made us.

God made us to desire an answer to the question who am I? God made us so that our actions would be dependent on our identity. And God made us to search for our identity in things and people outside of ourselves.

Why?

God made us this way because it is his desire to give us our identity. And it is his desire that our actions be dependent (or motivated) by our God-given identity.

What is our God-given identity?

For those who have been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God says to them:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12:)

Notice, first God reminds his people who they are:

(1) Chosen race, (2) a royal priesthood, (3) a holy nation, (4) God’s possession, (5) God’s people, (6) receivers of mercy

Then he encourages them to act in manner that flows from that identity…

(1) Abstain from passions of the flesh, (2) keep your conduct honorable, (3) do good deeds.

Of course, the verses in 1 Peter are just a small sample of our God-given identity. In his book, Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ, Neil Anderson provides us with a fuller picture of  our identity in Christ.  Take a moment and watch this video inspired by Anderson’s book:

Click here for a print version of “Who I Am In Christ”

Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we no longer have to wonder who am I? We are free from this existential crisis. In Christ, we are given an identity that is bigger, stronger, and more worthwhile than anything we can find in our family, friends, or community. In Christ, we are given an identity that will last forever.

In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our acceptance by God. In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our security of self. And in Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our significance in the world.

Only in Christ do we discover who we were truly made to be. Only in Christ do we discover our true identity.

Free From Graduations

When I graduated from sixth grade, all I could think about was would people like me in the seventh grade. When I graduated from eighth grade all I could think about was would people like me in the ninth grade.

It was a little pathetic I know…

But, hey, I wanted to be accepted. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be part of the “cool group.” And it turns out that desire to be accepted never goes away.

Whether we’re graduating from elementary school, high school, college, or entering a new career, there is always a part of us that desires to be accepted by the next group of people. We can’t help but look for approval from the “cool group.”

The “cool group” isn’t always the people who wear the best clothes or who are the most popular. As you graduate in life, the cool group is often the group of people that has something you want. Whether it is knowledge, good-looks, money, power, or the appearance of success. It is the group you want to be around because you’re hoping that some aspect of their life will rub off on you. And in turn you will be “cool” too.

The reason any of us want to graduate into the “cool group” is because we want to be valued. We want someone with some status to give us his or her approval. We want this because we believe the approval of someone we look up to will somehow show the world we are worth something too.

We’re not wrong.

Getting the approval of someone with a higher social standing will add value and worth to our lives…but it won’t last. It will only last until we meet someone else with a higher “cool” factor. As soon as that happens, we’ll want that person’s approval…that is, until we meet someone “cooler.”

It can be a never ending search for approval. A never ending search to find our self-worth. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend our whole lives trying to “graduate” from one person’s approval to another.

Thankfully, Jesus sets us free from this never-ending desire to “graduate.”

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the King of kings, and the ruler of all of the universe. There is no one in the universe with a higher social status than him.  He is at the very top. He is smarter, prettier, richer, more accomplished, and more powerful, than any other being in existence. There is no one “cooler” than him.

Yet, despite his untouchable social status, Jesus did something for you and me that was unthinkable–scandalous even.

He set aside his social status. He came down from heaven. And he pursued you and me.

We were in no state to be pursued. We were rebels, we were gross, and untouchable. We were evil and unlovable.

Yet Jesus came and invited us into his life, into his home, and into his holy family.

Of course, in the state we were in, we couldn’t actually enter into his family. Our evil desires, thoughts, and actions made us too unclean, too imperfect. We were too much of a mess to be a part of Jesus’ “cool group.”

So Jesus again did the unthinkable. He cleaned us. But not with soap and water. But with his blood.

On the cross, Jesus, the king of kings, sacrificed himself for you and me. He used his blood to wash us clean and make us holy. He paid our entrance fee into God’s family.

It was a gift.

A gift he gave to the undeserving, the unworthy, the poor, to all of us desiring to have some kind of social status. As a result, for all those who would believe in him he gave them the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

In this mind blowing act Jesus did something amazing for all of us who would receive him. He gave you and me status. He gave you and me his approval. He made us new creations.

Jesus broke the never ending need to “graduate.”

Today, we no longer have to look for acceptance from other people. We no longer have to try to “graduate” to the next level of “coolness”. We no longer have to work like crazy to climb up the approval ladder. Because Jesus, the One at the top, has come down to us—to accept us.

Of course, now, the only question is, will we accept him? Will we accept his approval? Will we give our lives to him, and stop looking for lesser approval from others?

If we will, we will be free from the never-ending desire to “graduate”.

For all the graduates this year, may you no longer worry if the next group of people you will meet will accept you. Jesus Christ offers you his approval. Give your life and future to him.  Then rest in the knowledge that wherever you go,  you are already accepted by the “coolest” person of all.

Does What I’m Doing Matter?

It has been one of those weeks. The kind of week where I feel really busy, but then wonder if any of what I accomplished really mattered. It has been a week without energy. A week that felt foggy. A week that lacked, a certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe you have experienced that kind of week.

Currently, I’m reading Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, an excellent book for the Easter season. In it, he writes the following passage–a passage which I should probably read every week.

But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care or nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make. This is the logic of the mission of God. God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there.

I pray you’re having a great week. But just in case your week, like mine, has felt a little futile, let us remember that nothing we do for the Lord is in vain. Our work matters.