Journaling

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Good journaling is not just an exercise in introspection, but a pathway for joy — and a powerful tool in the hands of love.

Perhaps you’re sold on the potential spiritual value of the discipline of journaling, but you just don’t know how to get going, or keep going.

I would encourage you to read this article by David Mathis, Five Ways to Flourish in Journaling.

Biblical journaling entry example:

Date:

Passage Read:

Impactful Verse(s):

Response:

Prayer:

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God loves everyone, right?

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The commonly used statement we seem to be hearing increasingly often these days, that “God loves everyone unconditionally,” is a little more complex than we’d like to assume. Is this statement really true? Yes. And, well, no…

The question of the validity of that statement is actually deceptively difficult. Some like to use the statement as a catch all, end all blanketing statement, but the Bible speaks of God’s love in several different ways. There are at least five (which are outlined in greater detail by D.A. Carson in his book “The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” and mentioned by Kevin DeYoung in a blog on the Gospel Coalition website):

1. God’s trinitarian love. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. The love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit for the Father. Yes, it can be confusing. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22; John 3:35, 5:20, 10:17, 14:31; 16:26-28; Colossians 1:13; 2nd Peter 1:17)

2. God’s providential love over all that He has made. (Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 6; John 1:3; 1st Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)

3. God’s salvific stance toward His fallen world. (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16, 15:19; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15; 1st John 2:2)

4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward His elect. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7-8, 10:14-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Matthew 25:34; Romans 4:4-8, 8:28-39, 9:8-29; 1st Corinthians 7:17; 2nd Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:4-19, 2:1-10, 5:25; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12, 2:13-14; 2nd Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 3:3-8; Hebrews 12:2; 1st Peter 1:3-5)

5. God’s love toward His own people in a provisional way, conditioned upon obedience. (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17-18; John 15:9-10; Ephesians 1:15-19, 2:8-22; 2nd Peter 1:12-25; Jude 1:21)

There are often ignored complexities and overlooked dangers of emphasizing one aspect of the love of God over the others.

First: If God’s love is defined exclusively by His intra-Trinitarian love, which is perfect and unblemished by sin, we won’t grasp the glory of God in loving rebels like us.

Second: If God’s love is nothing but His providential care over all things, we’ll struggle to see how the gospel is any good news at all because, after all, doesn’t He love everyone equally already?

Third: If God’s love is seen solely as His desire to save the world, we’ll end up with an emotionally charged God who doesn’t display the same sense of sovereignty and justice we see in the pages of Scripture.

Fourth: If God’s love is only understood as His electing love, we’ll too see easily say God hates all sorts of people, when that truth requires a good deal more nuance.

Fifth: If God’s love is bound up entirely in warnings like “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we’ll fall into legalism and lots of unwarranted self-doubt.

Talking about God’s love sounds like a simple theological task, but it’s actually one of the trickiest. I’ve actually heard of people debating about whether their kids should be taught “Jesus loves me.” I know many more people and churches which so emphasize God’s all-encompassing love for everyone, everywhere and always, that it’s hard to figure out why anyone should bother to become a Christian. The fact is that God loves everyone and He doesn’t. He hates the world and He loves the world. He can’t possibly love His adopted children any more than He does, and He is profoundly grieved by our sin. (Seriously, can some of us stop pretending sin/idolatry [or whatever you want to call it] isn’t that big of a deal… how would we even begin to explain or understand the cross in any way that makes any sense at all if we ignore the seriousness of sin.) The challenge of good theology is to explain how the Bible provides warrant for all those statements and how they all fit together.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

In the process of trying to understand how someone could love, yet simultaneously have wrath or anger towards the one they loved, Becky Pippert puts it this way: “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference… E. H. Gifford once said, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor” … So, if I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.

“We are far worse than we ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.” It’s a beautiful “paradox.”

Any one truth about the love of God pressed to the exclusion of the others will make for a distorted deity and deadly discipleship. In short, we need all of what Scripture says on this subject, or the doctrinal, cultural, communal, and pastoral ramifications will prove to be disastrous.

Some Theological Implications from Job

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1. Freedom of God:

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. Scripture not only teaches us that God’s whole being is incomprehensible, but each of His attributes – His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, judgments, knowledge, love, mercy, and grace – are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even just one aspect of God’s character or work (Psalm 145:3; Job 26:14; 36:22-23, 26; 42:1-6; Isaiah 40:13-14; 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36). Because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness. God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and many other core teachings of the Christian faith are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

Also, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. The increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is any heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so that we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and to please Him with our lives.

2. Testing of Satan:

The book of Job sets out from the beginning to show that the reasons for human suffering often remain a secret to human beings. Indeed Job’s sufferings come upon him because Satan accused him in the heavenly courts, and the reader never learns whether these reasons were explained to Job; probably they were not. God controls and uses evil, but is never morally blameworthy for it (Exodus 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). However God’s relationship to evil is understood, both His complete sovereignty and His complete holiness must be maintained. In his great suffering, Job says, “the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). We are told that Job’s assessment of God’s providence over evil is correct in that “in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). The greatest evil ever done, the crucifixion of Christ, happened because of unspeakable human sin, but all within God’s perfect plan. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; cf Acts 4:27-28). Even human rebellion unintentionally ends up serving the perfectly wise purposes of God. Nothing – not even sin and great evil – can ever ultimately frustrate God’s sovereignty. Christians can be sure that God will one day defeat all sin, evil, and suffering. Until then, God can be trusted because He is wise, holy, sovereign, and powerful and is always working out His plan to perfection (Romans 8:28) – even when in the short term it may not seem to be so from our earthly, human perspective. The picture of Satan being our accuser and God being our advocate is very clear in the book of Job. As a Christian, we are to embrace this accusation, admit that we are weak and we all fall ridiculously short of God’s standards of righteousness, but we are to then find comfort and rest in the fact that we have an advocate in Jesus Christ, who became the propitiation for our sins (1st John 2:1-2).

3. Retribution and Justice:

The book of Job warns us of following God just for His blessings. We are to love God, our Father, for Himself; we are not to try and use the Father for our own self-centered ends, but rather love, enjoy, and serve Him for His own sake. It’s not often realized, but even careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. Sin is not just the breaking of rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge and thinking that your way is better than God’s way. Job’s friends offer no real help to him as he struggles through his suffering. They come to “comfort” him (Job 2:11), but Job ends up declaring them “miserable comforters” who would “comfort” him “with empty nothings” (21:34). These friends represent an oversimplified “orthodoxy,” based on a misreading of the wisdom tradition to the effect that all troubles are punishments for wrongdoing. Their “comfort” consists largely of applying this message to Job, urging him to identify his sin and repent of it. In so doing, these friends serve as a mirror for all readers who might be inclined to say similar things to people in distress. Astonishingly, the Lord does not take Job to task over his words, instead calling them “right” (42:7). The author does not provide a theodicy in the sense of defending the justice of God. Job’s friends serve as a foil to that end. Their wisdom is a human effort to resolve this dilemma, but as far as the author is concerned, these efforts fail. God also declares that the friends are wrong (42:8). Elihu’s intervention probes further, but neither is he the intermediary whom Job seeks. The author is concerned about the triumph of faith in a time of suffering. To this end his hero succeeds. Job can triumphantly declare, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (19:25). Job’s resolve to love and trust the one who seems to attack him as an enemy is evident throughout. The book as a whole illustrates that a full understanding of God’s reasons for events is not a pre-requisite for faithfulness amid terrible suffering. Further, Job’s deep perplexity and questioning are not a provocation to God.

Job longed for an advocate, an arbiter, someone to plead his case before God in chapters 9-11. “For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay His hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, and let not dread of Him terrify me.” (Job 9:32-34) Like many in the Old Testament, Job longed for the awaited Messiah, and put his hope in the Christ to come. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:1)

4. Strength for Suffering:

The problem of suffering is timeless, whether national or individual. The most important key word in the book is the term “comfort”; the book shows where true comfort is to be found. In 2:11 Job’s three friends come to comfort him; in 6:10 Job takes comfort in not having denied the words of the Holy One; in 7:13 Job claims that God will not allow his bed to comfort him. In 15:11 Eliphaz claims to be offering the comforts of God, while in 16:2 Job calls his friends miserable comforters, and in 21:34 he declares they are trying to comfort him with empty nothings. In 21:2 Job sarcastically offers to his friends the “comfort” of hearing him out. The key comes in 42:6 (where “repented” can also be read as “am comforted”). When Job’s relatives and friends come to comfort him in 42:11, this is probably ironic: Job found the comfort he needed in the vision of God’s unsearchable wisdom.

Evil and suffering may be, if anything, further evidence for God and our eternal need for His grace. The story of Job clearly shows that suffering is allowed by God for our good and His glory. For if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have at the very same time a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know or understand. But you can’t really have it both ways. Most of our modern objections to God are based on poor, warped views of fair play and justice.

As a Christian, we should realize better than others that most of what we’ve needed for success in life comes from us having to go through some very difficult and painful experiences. We should be able to look back on our lives and see that sometimes that illness or extremely difficult period we struggled through was not God turning His back on us, but rather an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth. It is a detrimental mistake to think that if you abandon your faith in God it would ever somehow make the problem of evil or suffering any easier to handle. However, many people claim that “all the philosophizing in the world does not just let God off the hook.” God, however, cripples this complaint by what He has done through Jesus Christ. God deliberately came to earth to “put Himself on the hook” for us and experienced the greatest depths of pain and suffering on our behalf.

Christianity does not provide the reason for every single experience of pain and suffering, but it does supply us with deep resources for actually facing pain and suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. On the cross Christ went beyond even the worst human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceed ours as infinitely as His knowledge and power exceed ours. In Christ’s death, He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it on Himself. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love and there will never be a greater love than that of Jesus Christ.

To suffer for Christ out of love and obedience in the face of pain, rejection, and suffering is the greatest thing we could ever do with our lives. We should, especially as Christians, find joy in our pain and in turn praise Christ through our sorrows. For in the end, the beautiful promise of the Gospel is that even if we lose everything in this world, we still have Christ (Romans 8:18). We still receive the greatest thing there is in our relationship with Christ, because “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We cannot comprehend the immense value and worth it is just to know Him and be known by Him.

Also, as Christians we need to know that our suffering is not in vain. Because for those who suffer, the Christian faith provides a resource not just for the teaching of the Cross, but also for the fact of the resurrection as well. Christ promises a future that is not just a consolation for the life that we suffered through or the life that we never had, but a restoration of the life we’ve always wanted. Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokenness (Romans 8:18-39).

Christ promises that He will not only heal all things, but all that might-have-been will be. Our hope is that in Christ and the restoration that He is going to bring, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

Love: Discipline & Dependence

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Have you ever read, or pondered the closing words of the Old Testament? Malachi 4:6 states: “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” These are the last words contained in the Bible before a 400 year silence.

In the Gospel of Luke, the author lets it be known that this was not forgotten “… and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Fathers, as you look to our heavenly Father, may the preaching of the Gospel in the spirit of Elijah turn your hearts toward your children. Don’t let work, hobbies, disappointment, or your pride turn your heart away from or against your kids. Be kind, considerate, patient, and encouraging with your words. Don’t provoke them to anger, but nurture them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Fathers and mothers, let us prepare the way of the Lord and anticipate His return by pointing our affections toward Christ, and reflect His love towards our children.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of His reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” – Proverbs 29:17

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

The Scriptures tell us that God at times, nurtures us by speaking the truth in love, and sometimes that plays out in an aggressive way. There was an interesting study I read recently about behavioral analysis. It was a study on certain adolescents who came from really good homes, but their hearts were just filled with rage. And so, they would medicate them, talk with them, and try to figure out why. In an effort to better understand where this rage was coming from, they started this intensive study on why these kids were angry like this, and here’s basically what they found:

In almost every one of the cases, they found a mother who took nurturing to a sinful level. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. From their research and study, they found in one case in particular, that one of the kids would be painting and then as the kid walked away and left the paint and started playing with another toy, the mother would clean up all the paint and put it away. And then the kid would move over to this other toy for a little bit, but then he would come back and want to paint again. And so, the mother would pull out all the paints and then put back up the other things and the kid would start to paint again. And so while the kid was painting, the mother would go over and clean up the toys over here and clean up the toys over there. And then the kid would leave the paint, come over back to the toys that the mom just put up and pull them out and start playing with them again. So the mother would go back and clean up all the paint again, because you couldn’t leave the paint out or it would ruin. So she would screw on the top, she would take down the easel, she would put it all up and then the kid would come back over and want to paint again. And so the mother would get the easel back out… and I’m sure some of you are reading this, thinking about your mom, and are just like, “Who is this mother?!” It certainly was not my mother (for which I am grateful). But this mom would pull all the paint supplies back out and set it all back up again, over and over.

And what ended up happening was, as the kid grew and developed, they weren’t really ready for any of the disappointment that is life. Because that little scenario is the only bubble in which you’ll get your way all of the time. And so, the kid couldn’t deal with kindergarten. And so as they grew, they began to develop this anger and this rage towards everyone who didn’t give them what they wanted. Because if we would just give them what they want then everything would be great… and I don’t know if you’ve ever been with anyone like that, like they just have this pervasive problem and they can’t ever see that the common denominator is them. And what happened here in this case is that it was not biblical nurturing. Biblical nurturing would be more like, “Uh sweetie, mommy put those up. You can paint tomorrow. (kiss) Little artist, go on now. (hug) Go on, play with your other stuff. Mommy already put the paint up.” The Biblical idea of nurturing is more like that. And overall, women just naturally provide nurturing nourishment much better than men do, but that does not excuse fathers from raising their children in a nurturing manner.

We must always remember though, that as parents, we’re not going to be a good enough to pull off salvation in our children’s hearts. We’re just not. We’re not going to be able to model it well enough. All we can do is commend God’s works to them. He’s got to save them. So we are to plead with Him. Men and women who walk in pride, they don’t need to plead for the lives of their children. You know why? Because they’ve got it. Why would they need to plead? God forbid if their kid runs amok. You know what the issue was? The issue wasn’t them; the issue was all you other guys’ kid. Your kid(s) came into their life, influenced them into darkness and if you would have done a better job, if you would have watched what they watched, if you would have watched what they read, if you would not have allowed them to watch the “Smurfs, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, the Disney Channel” or whatever the Evangelical community is now saying is evil and wicked and after the souls of our children, if you would have done that, then in the end, “my kid would love the Lord, because I raised them to love the Lord. That’s not how I raised them. Your kid was the real issue.” I’ve been in that room before. I’ve actually heard parents declare that nonsense.

Or here’s one I think that most everyone has seen. There are men and women who cannot sustain relationships for any period of time. Like, they have a good friend for about six months and then they’ve got this whole other group of friends for about six months, and then they’ve got this whole other group they run with for about six months. Or they go from this relationship, to that relationship, to this relationship. And if you sit down over a drink with them, they could tell you all about all that was wrong with all of those people without ever being able to see that the common denominator is them. And that’s pride. “Let me tell you why everyone else has issues.”

People who walk in pride are just perpetually in crisis. There’s always a crisis, always. It’s never having to do with them though. It’s always someone else. It’s absolutely devastating to the pursuit of Jesus. Because in the end, you don’t believe you really need Him despite the fact that all objective evidence would say it’s the other way. But you can’t see objective evidence. It’s this insane belief in our own sufficiency that robs us of freedom and life… it’s pride (Luke 18). I mean, God has flat out said that proud He will know from afar and they will not be able to draw near to Him (Psalm 138:6). Think about what that means? God opposes the proud. (Ecclesiastes 7:8; Jeremiah 13:15; Luke 1:51; James 4:6; 1st Peter 5:5)

The proud also deny their need for dependence. The Bible is clear in its teaching that we are all beggars, in desperate need of grace. We are completely dependent on God for everything; we are to praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Job’s conversation with God near the end of the book of Job is a great display of how little and not-in-control of things we all really are.

There is this idea of sanctification in the Christian faith that is beautiful, but pretty painful at times; more specifically, it is the truth that God is working all things together for our good so that we might look more like Christ. This is easy to regurgitate but difficult to really believe and apply in our daily lives. I am bent toward a particular cynicism that doubts the goodness of God in my life and His unwavering commitment to finish the good work He began in me (Philippians 1:6). My natural inclination is not to see every situation as His grace toward me and care for me in leading me to depend less upon myself and my wisdom and more upon Him and His.

As parents, there are so many more ways to see this, and feel this, than those without children.

I am more confident in my ability to love and serve my wife when I am in prayer. As parents, we are called to be more confident in our ability train and discipline when we are in prayer. I’ll admit my first thought is not always to pray. My first thought is not always to ask the sovereign Ruler of the universe to watch over and protect my marriage. The reality that I have access to the Father, through Christ, does not always immediately enter my mind when I first begin to have difficulty or struggle.

But we are dependent on God. Even when we’re not fully aware of it, or living as if we don’t believe that. In subtle ways, as parents we are to continually train our children in dependence. It doesn’t matter the situation or circumstance – dependence upon God or dependence upon ourselves to grow in maturity should be taught. This road was never promised to be easy, or to be filled with happiness and void of pain. But in the end, we hope for something greater, we rest in the idea of this promise: “Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.”

The Gospel offends our pride, not our intellect.

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Many of us think that our intellects are offended by the Gospel of Jesus, but actually it is our pride that is offended. So many of us say we’ve rejected the old-fashioned, outdated, back-woods, ignorant, no longer needed, archaic gospel of Christ because of our education, our enlightenment, and that we’ve evolved out of our misguided, weak way of thinking, but Jesus would say you’re actually a prisoner of your own cultural and class-consciousness. Because you see, as privileged people, educated people, cultured people, we believe the lie that we’re self-made. We believe that we are where we are simply because we worked very hard and we have earned everything we have, but the poor and underprivileged know that doesn’t work that easily; the poor understand and know that it is by grace, they understand and know that we are not in complete control of our lives, they can better see all the different factors that put us in the place we are today, if we’re successful professionals, businessmen/women, artists, musicians, etc. (This is why the term “self-made millionaire” is so oxymoronic and silly.) So many of the factors that put us where we are today are not because of what we did, but because of what God gave and has allowed us by His grace.

When the successful person says they don’t need a savior, they just need an example, they don’t need what Christ did to break through any barriers between them and God, they can do it themselves, they can be good enough, and as long as they’re a good enough person according to their own standards they will feel good about themselves; what they’re really doing is creating their own religion in which they themselves are god. Jesus taught that many are blind to this because of their cultural and class-consciousness, because they don’t want to come to grips with true reality, they don’t want to lose that false sense of ownership, that illusion of control; they don’t want to believe we need intervention from any God if we desire to be saved from the brokenness of this world. Unfortunately we cannot medicate man to perfection again, nor can we legislate peace in our hearts. We can’t educate sin (or whatever word you want to use for things that you would deem not to be right and good) from our souls, it has been there from the start. The idea that we create our own standards of everything and there is absolutely no justice in any form of an afterlife is even less of an incentive and pretty much obliterates any motivation to live a better life; at least that would do so if you were to carry it through to the logical and rational implications contained in such a worldview.

Can anyone say they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets? Did anyone you know choose the place or the hour they were born? Think then, what can anyone truly claim? Not a thing, not even their name! So try to recall just one thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything’s grace after all. If there’s one thing we can know in this life: we are all beggars.

Some people claim the Christ-centered, grace saturated gospel is nothing more than a fictitious and free “Get out of Jail” card. Advocates of this conclusion usually claim Christianity does not hold people accountable for their actions; and many don’t believe in hell or the idea of hell. They criticize the silly saying “the devil made me do it” and in this they are right, because it is just that, silly and stupid. Paul goes so far as to say, “are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” or maybe better translated “Oh hell no! You’re damned if you do.”

Within the Christian worldveiw, sin is slavery. The Bible does not define sin as just breaking rules but also as “making something besides God our ultimate source of value and worth.” These good things, which become idols, enslave us mentally and spiritually and drive us relentlessly, even to hell if we let them. You are actually being religious, though you don’t seem to know it – you are seeking to find a kind of salvation through things that can end up controlling you in a destructive way. Slavery is the choice-worshiper’s horror. C. S. Lewis’ imagining of hell can be helpful in trying to understand it. In ‘The Great Divorce,’ Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. In the story, they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. Lewis’ descriptions of people in hell are striking because they mirror the denial and self-delusion of substance abusers. When addicted to alcohol or an idol like success or money, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior or see the roots of our problem. Lewis writes:

“Hell… begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it… You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Many people today struggle with the idea of God punishing disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell – in one sense – as the freely chosen, eternal slum of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible. Here is an example of this: First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isaiah 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Psalm 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17). Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something (idols, pseudo-saviors) to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or exhaustion and drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, fear, and drivenness are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus – and the wages of sin is slavery and death… it’s hell.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’ bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their tragic delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Genesis 3:4-5), but in reality their choice has ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

Hell is no more exclusive than tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the contemporary mindset than the statement: “I think Christ is fine, but I also believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God in the end.” A slightly different version is: “I don’t think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief.” This view is generally seen as inclusive.

The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then He owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, and then we owe Him (Romans 1:17). In short, to say a good person can find God is to say good behavior is the way to God. In essence this view says, “Good people can find God, but bad people cannot.” But what happens to us moral failures? We are excluded. You see, you can believe that people are saved by goodness or you can believe that people are saved by God’s grace, but you cannot believe both at once – and the approach that appears inclusive at first glance is really equally exclusive. The gospel says, “People who know they aren’t good can find God, and people who think they are good cannot.” Those who believe their moral efforts can help them reach God are excluded.

So both the gospel and the secularist’s approach are exclusive, but the gospel’s is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.”

Christianity’s view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often these days, people say something along the lines of, “I have a personal relationship with a loving God and I’m very spiritual, but I don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the only answer or path at all.” One could ask them why and get a response along these lines, “Because God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin.” But their answer raises another set of questions, namely: Did it cost God anything to love us and embrace us? Did He agonize or cry out for us? What else is lost if we lose Jesus’ nails, thorns, and the cross? Their answer is usually something like: “I don’t think any of that was necessary.”

How unsatisfying this is in the end. In an effort to make God more loving, we often make God less loving. His love, in this understanding, required no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God (or something seen as ultimate) like this will always end up being impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder.

This more “sensitive” approach to the subject of hell is actually impersonal. It says, “It doesn’t matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow His example and/or live a good life.” But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. To say that any good person can find God or whatever they see as ultimate is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.

The gospel is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that “the core of true salvation.”

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of a loving God is filled with wrath?” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” The Christian understanding of hell is that it is both the result of a human choice (as “the greatest monument to human freedom”) and of divine judgment. God must, and does, actively judge and reject those who have rejected Him. To ignore, mock, and belittle God and His existence only sadly and ironically results in hell and the further exclusion of knowing Him.

Growing up I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I had never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me until years later. The old cliché of “turn or burn” is stupid because heaven isn’t a place for those who are afraid of hell, but a place, a reality for those who love God. In the Gospel of John, in chapter 11, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb and the text tells us that Jesus wept. Yet God is also extremely angry at evil. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God – He’s both. He doesn’t only judge evil, but He also takes the hell and judgment Himself for us on the cross. Before I had always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn’t know it also told us about how much He was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus’ love. Indeed, it is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

But then again, a naturalistic, relativistic humanist who believes we can only know what we can know empirically, would claim that nobody can truly know they are right, and therefore nobody can truly be wrong. Right? However, in saying that we all believe what we believe based on where we were born and what we were taught as children seems to be implying that we don’t really have freedom to believe in truth, but rather whatever the dice land on. (And by you saying that, your own statement and logic is then based merely on your own culture and is relative; and negates anything you say from being universal truth.) That it is not grace and human freedom intermingled, but rather impersonal fate that decides our lives. If it is arrogant for someone to claim to know something is true, how can it be humble to claim that they actually cannot know truth, but that rather truth is relative.

It is still a “power play” or “truth claim” to make the assertion that one cannot know truth, because you know this to be true how? What someone with this worldview seems to be saying is that Christianity belongs to a particular culture or maybe even to some cultures, but not to all. Dr. Lamin Sanneh, African scholar and professor at Yale, wrote a profound and important book called “Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West.” In that book he addresses the question of what culture does Christianity really belong to. The answer is that no one culture, no single demographic really owns Christianity. He mentions the fact that Africa has gone from having about a 9% Christian population to 50% in the past 100 years, that Korea has gone from somewhere around 2% to about 50% in the past 100 years, and that Japan and China have also seen exponential growth in the Christian faith within the past 100 years. According to many scholarly sources the Christian faith is growing twice as fast as Islam or Buddhism, and it is not isolated to a particular continent, culture, age group, financial class, people group, or any single measurable demographic.

Dr. Sanneh says that he is very tired (and I share his feelings here) of people saying that Christians must not impose their culture on others or try to convert Africans because they are destroying their culture. (For one thing, this would assume that Christianity itself has a culture and that some actually assume it is a white, middle-class American culture… but that is to ignore or revise much of history. We forget Christianity is an “Eastern Religion” in that it began in the Middle East amongst Jews and Gentiles alike, and it has grown to include all nations and peoples as time continues to move forward.) Because in other words, they are saying Christianity belongs to them, or a certain type of person, but it doesn’t belongs to Africans. Dr. Sanneh replies, how dare you?! He explains how every culture has a baseline narrative. Paul talked about it in the cultures of his day in how the Jews wanted power and the Greeks wanted knowledge/wisdom. Every culture has a theme, every culture has certain things they are after.

Dr. Sanneh says that African culture understands that the world is filled with spiritual forces, and especially lots and lots of dark spiritual forces. So how are they going to address that? He writes that while the tribal religions believed in those spiritual forces, they had no true answer in how to overcome them. And then they looked at the modern secularism that was coming and they realized that modern secularism just laughed at their Africaness, because it said you can’t believe in miracles or spiritual forces, especially not demons; the secular worldview just laughed at and mocked their Africaness, it belittled them and their culture. Which is really what cultural totalitarianism looks like. He goes on to say that they then looked at Christianity, and Dr. Sanneh says this is what has been happening: that Christianity answered the great cultural challenge of their hearts. People sensed in their hearts that Jesus did not mock their respect for the sacred, and Christianity did not mock or belittle their clamor for an invincible savior; and so they beat their sacred drums for Him until the stars skipped and danced in the skies. And after the dance, the stars weren’t little anymore; because Christianity helped Africans become renewed Africans, not remade Europeans or westerners. There is a true cultural diversity among Christianity, for God does not want homogeneity, He wants us all to come to Him. And then the great grace He has given us, and to every single culture, the plot-line will only find its happy ending in Him.

We all need to realize and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their first principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

In his lecture “The Question of a Weltanschauung,” atheist Sigmund Freud described a worldview as:

“. . . an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.”

Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us have decided on a set of assumptions about the way the universe works that helps us rationalize our existence and explain the “fixed place” of everything. What you think about cultural topics like food, music, movies, politics, religion, art, etc. is inevitably related to your “overriding hypothesis” that you build your life upon. Socially, people with similar worldviews tend to be your friends and those competing worldviews tend to be your “enemies.” Philosophically, where you’ve landed on the answers to life’s greatest questions (meaning, purpose, evil, justice, etc.) guides your emotional and physical responses to everything.

At its core, the debate among philosophers about the nature of rationality, at least with regard to scientific knowledge, lies in the problem of justifying the term “uniformity.” For example, on what basis can we expect that gravity will act on a ball the same way in two similar places? Or at similar times? Believe it or not, this problem has caused extreme anxiety for many philosophers.

Additionally, serious problems arise in justifying objective reality (metaphysics – How can we know anything?), values (What is good science?), conceptual categories (Why can we define things as objects, rocks, galaxies, etc.?), and the reliability of the mind (epistemology – Why can we trust what we observe?). In fact, one of the biggest puzzles in the philosophy of science is justifying at least 93 finely tuned constants, or “brute givens,” that exist in the universe to hold things together and make everything work. Just reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics will have you questioning how fast “science” would have really progressed without philosophy aiding it along the way.

A rational worldview requires a basis to explain not only all of these philosophical conundrums, but also a basis to understand the scientific, personal, and cultural systems we build on top of them. At the end of the day, the root cause of irrationality is a faulty worldview. If your first principles cannot hold their ground, then you’ll never be restful. Your life will be built upon what Bertrand Russell calls “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

The first step toward getting out of this line of irrational thought is to understand that you need not be enslaved to define your own identity and nature of reality. There’s more to life than just you. We’re all used to being influenced by outside sources (family, friends, society, culture, books, movies, etc.), so why not carefully consider what those sources are as we establish our core principles? The second step is to find a worldview that meets all of the intellectual criteria described above. I’m convinced the only worldview that meets all of them is Jesus. He exists outside of nature to define reality, justify uniformity, give us values, and provide a foundation upon which to think reasonably about everything (although admittingly, many of us that call ourselves Christians still think with fallen minds).

Jesus allows us rest in a form of knowledge called revelation, which He has given us generally in nature and specifically in scripture:

“For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” – Romans 1:20

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:15-17

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” – Hebrews 12:1–2

This is how we get out of irrationality. The worldview of faith is a gift that Jesus gives freely to anyone willing to receive it (1st Corinthians 2:12; Matthew 7:7). With our minds we understand that science is not the enemy of faith, rather it needs the Christian worldview and with our hearts we rejoice in the gracious rescue from just being accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on, unwittingly as orphans of an unyielding despair.

Governments in the hands of the King of kings.

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We’re so flippant and arrogant as Americans. Right now we’re watching this really cool thing happen, we’re watching the whole world shift. We’re a generation that’s literally watching and tracking the socioeconomic epicenter of the world shift. For the last 100 years, the United States of America has been a bedrock, world policing, economic power. We were the show. And that’s shifting right now, isn’t it? Asia is a dominant power, India is a dominant power, the South is a power. You’ve got these other nations that are rivals.

And then you’ve got silly preachers on television going, “If we don’t repent, we’re going to be second stage…” It’s like, “Dummy, we’ve always been second stage.” God has been using nations for His plans and His purposes since the beginning of time itself (just read the book of Habakuk for instance). When Christ returns, do you think He is coming straight to Manhattan? Is Christ coming to Big Apple going, “I’m here, people of the United States! Worship Me, you peoples of the earth.” Is that how it’s going down, in New York City? The upper West Side? Or maybe it’s Los Angeles? Please…

The Bible will tell you that it’s going to shift. It’s got to shift. The gospel is not solely an American story. We are a people among peoples, and there will be one Shepherd, there will be one people. This is what you find yourself caught up in. I don’t know what you thought of the last election, but you shouldn’t panic. We’re so polarized in our culture where you have one group that’s celebrating… and then we have other places that are building bunkers and stockpiling weapons, crying about the sacred second amendment. It’s this really weird thing right now.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.” – Proverbs 21:1

But according to the Scriptures, God places men in office. God’s not going, “Oh no! I’m going to need a huddle here. What are we going to do about the economy in the States. I mean, we all know I love them more than any other people group on earth. So what are we going to do about that? Did you know that some of them can only afford one television, and only 700 channels?! And what’s even worse, some people have to watch their TV live, when the show airs!!! We’re really going to have to do something about this! Holy Spirit, this is on You, what have You been doing?! You need to get down there.” You can giggle about this, but that’s exactly how we think. While the whole world burns we just keep watching television and buying trinkets…

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The King of Kings and the Kings of Earth

In the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays the role of young, idealistic Jefferson Smith who is appointed to the U.S. Senate. When Senator Smith arrives in Washington, he dreamily boards a sightseeing bus headed for the capital city’s sites. At the Supreme Court Building, he looks up at the sacred words inscribed in marble: “Equal Justice.” Then in a moment intended to evoke a sense of majesty, he slowly ascends the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial to gaze upon the massive statue of this greatest of presidents. Alas, if only this world’s leaders were as majestic as their monuments! A few short scenes later, Senator Smith finds himself face down in the muck of D.C. corruption and power politics.

Since the history of the world, not one nation has been without corruption. Not one has lived up to the ideals inscribed on its monuments. And it’s on this landscape of fallen nations and futile kings that the story of Israel and its rulers is set.

Same as the Other Nations

As the period of the “judges” came to an end, God was Israel’s only king. But the people called for “a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have” (1st Samuel 8:5). At first, God gave them the kind of king they were looking for. King Saul was tall and handsome. But he was impetuous and foolish, jealous and paranoid. He even massacred an entire city – men, women, and children (1st Samuel 22:11-19). “Build your pretty monuments if you want,” God seemed to say, “but do you really want to put your hope here?”

But God did something unexpected. The people might have wanted a king for bad reasons, but God used for good what they meant for evil. God will rule His people through a human king, and He will make His glory known through such a king.

The message for Jefferson Smith and for us is this: You’re right to place all your hopes in a great Leader, to believe that His government will bring equal justice for all as well as life, liberty, and happiness. But you’re not going to find these in the governments or nations of this world. You’re going to find them in an unlikely place and in an unlikely Leader.

It’s true we should give thanks for just and godly leaders. At the same time, we must never forget that first and foremost, Christians are citizens of heaven. Praise God for leaders and nations that seek equal justice and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we must remember that ultimately these things will be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In their absolutely best moments, the governments of this world can only provide a shadow of what our Savior and King Jesus, will provide.

Work with a Loose Grip

So how does this truth affect our view of earthly leaders? First, we obey human governments, knowing that they have been instituted and authorized by King Jesus. They are His servant and agent (Luke 20:19-26; Romans 13:1-7). We should also pray for them. But we should never disobey Jesus, even if other authorities in this world call us to do so.

Second, we should never let our national identity and national values define us more than our Christian identity and Christian values. Our churches should not be gatherings of Americans; they should be gatherings of Christians who may or may not be American. What can you do to make internationals feel welcome?

Third, we should strive with whatever opportunities the Lord gives us in government: voting, policing, soldiering, adjudicating, and legislating to love Christ and to love our neighbors. Christians should work hard for peace, justice, prosperity, and the safety of our neighbors because we love them. And we should do this so that through our lives and fruit, our non-Christian neighbors get a more accurate picture of Christ and His rule. All of us have been given rule over something, even if it’s just a voting ballot, a team at work, or a homegroup. And we want to use whatever rule we have to produce good in the lives of others, just as Jesus does through His rule.

Finally, even as we work hard for good government, we do so with a loose grip, knowing that our true Savior and King is Jesus, not our favorite presidential or congressional candidate. Jesus is the hope of the nations.

Blog by: Jonathan Leeman, The Gospel Coalition Blog
(Second section is an excerpt from “The Gospel Project” for Adults Bible Study from LifeWay. — The first section was added by me.)

http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/tgc/the-king-of-kings-and-the-kings-of-earth

http://www.gospelproject.com

Smug Skepticism

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Contrary to the view of some, the Bible is not some out-dated, antiquated collection of silly rules and ignorant stories.

Let us look at Hebrews 1:1-2, and then think a little about this, because if you’re a bit of an agnostic or an atheist, you’re going to have some major issues with what I’m about to say. So this is more for the good of fellow believers who have to answer these kind of questions, and then maybe by the Spirit’s mercy, for those of you who aren’t believers, maybe the Lord will work. Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.”

There are two ways to look at the Bible. The most popular being, “This is the road map to life.” Have you heard this? In fact, if you’ve ever made the drive up I-45 towards Dallas, you may have seen the big billboard that says, “Can’t find your way? Check My book – God.” It’s the road map to life. Now in some ways, I want to affirm that view. Because there are things in here that help me understand what I should or should not do at a given crossroads, but it’s not a detailed map. If I’m wondering, “Should I marry Kathryn Barrett?” that’s not in there, or at least I still haven’t come across it in all my reading. “Where should I go to college?” This book isn’t going to help you choose between in state, out of state, community, private, etc… Now there are actually maps in there, but it’s not like, “Here you are. Go left.” That’s actually Judah and Israel, the divided kingdom. So this is not a road map to life.

From Genesis to Revelation, this book is God’s selfdisclosure of Himself in reconciling all things to Himself in Christ. More simply, this book from Genesis to Revelation is about Jesus. So when we look at David and Goliath, David and Goliath is not some children’s story about you overcoming your difficulties. It is not about you “facing your giants” or what the number of smooth stones represent. It is a historic moment that is meant to be a shadow of God saving His people in Christ from sin and death. When we look at Noah and his ark, it is a historic moment. It’s also a shadow that there would be salvation from the wrath of God. As we watch Moses lead people out of slavery and into the Promised Land, Colossians says it’s a shadow of what Jesus would do for us. He would lead us out of slavery to sin and into the Promised land. On and on we could go.

So the Bible is not a road map to life, although there are aspects of how we live our lives that are found in the Scriptures. Rather it is a book about God reconciling everything back to Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

So if you’re a bit of a skeptic, then here should be your issue. You should be saying right now, “You’re doing the same thing that any self-proclaimed religious prophets have done. Because the Bible was written by men. And since the Bible was written by men, how is it different from the ancient animal temple guys who came out and said, ‘Thus sayeth the monkey/cow/snake’? How is it any different?” It’s very different on several fronts. Please let me try to briefly cover some of them. Let me give you what is indisputable when it comes to the Bible, and then we can get into what is disputable.

There are 39 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books written in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and a bit of Aramaic. It was written on three continents: Africa, Asia and a bit of Europe. It was written over a time period of over a thousand years. The authors include kings, peasants, prophets, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, scholars, etc. Books cover history, sermons, letters, hymns, and a love song. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, family trees, and numerous legal documents. It covers hundreds of controversial subjects with unbelievable unity, from different cultures, across a thousand year period of time, in different languages. It is a spectacular book with one theme, one point, and one direction.

A couple of other things. It runs contrary to the desires of most men and women. It wants to say, “This is where joy is found,” despite the fact that men and women historically, across all cultures have said, “No, I can find joy and life over here.” So if you want to build a religion, you usually do that by telling people what they want to hear. So at the ancient pagan animal temples, it’s, “If you give certain offerings to the monkey/cow/snake, then your crops won’t fail. If you give certain offerings to the temple, then your pigs won’t die.” But the Bible is a lot different than that. If you ask cultures, “Men, what do you think about sex,” the response is, “Yes please.” But the Bible is going to say, “Sex is good, beautiful and God-created, and here are the confines in which you should participate in this gift to you for your greatest joy and God’s greatest glory.”

So God begins to outline how He created things to work, and it runs contrary to our rebellious nature. So He’s not trying to win friends and influence people.

The second thing that is unbelievable in the Bible is there are only four guys in Scripture who would pass background checks to watch kids: Jesus and the boys in the fiery furnace. Everyone else is pretty questionable. No one else passes the background check. King David would be like, “I can play my harp and put them to sleep.” Yeah, but you slept with somebody who was not your wife, and then you killed her husband. Moses could say, “I led millions of people out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.” And you murdered a guy with your bare hands. I’m sorry, you can’t watch our kids or be trusted in the nursery.

The Bible is filled with shady characters. And this goes back to the point that the book is about the mercy and beauty of God in Christ and not you and me. Because almost all the men and women in Scripture are these abject failures who God uses mightily. Why? Because the point is Him, not you. So for those of you who like the other end of the spectrum where you loathe yourself, that’s just as much idolatry as loving yourself. Both are saying, “I have no need of the cross of Christ.” Both are wrong.

So what happens today with many people when you get into this dialogue about the Bible is one of two things. People tend to try to paint the Bible as some kind of old-school, fundamental, weak, 1950’s, “Leave It to Beaver” kind of, out of date, Reebok high tops with Zubaz pants, and a fanny pack kind of feel. If you dress like that, I’m sorry. You need to find someone to help you. This is what’s painted though. If you give any weight to the Bible, then you’re not with the times. Now there are going to be a couple of issues I have with this.

Our society would call me very arrogant for saying that I believe the Word of God is the measure of how life should function, but others are not arrogant for believing that their own brain is the standard? And then on top of that, you have to believe that you think this culture at this time is the apex of human existence. Now, let me be straight. I love my grandparents (only my Dad’s Mom is still living and with us today), but some grandparents can embarrass us, can’t they? Specifically around race and things like that, they just embarrass us sometimes. Some of the things they say, even innocently, you’re just like, “Don’t talk like that… Don’t say those words around me, please.” It’s a shameful thing that some people in older generations don’t understand is shameful. And if you don’t think that same thing on a different subject is going to happen to us 30-40 years from now, you’re a fool. And so this first bit of it being old-school is, “Oh, so I’m trusting in thousands of years of history that have actually yielded some pretty fascinating and phenomenal results. I really am such an idiot.”

Now the second thing that happens more often than not, is simple regurgitation. What I mean by that is so many people that are skeptical will just go, “Well the Bible is just filled with inconsistencies.” Every time you hear that, you should simply reply, “Okay, show me.” Nine times out of ten, they can’t really show you. They’re just regurgitating. But there are semblances of inconsistencies in the Scriptures that need to be unpacked for sure. So for the guy or girl who would say, “There are inconsistencies, and here is what they are,” it usually can be solved by a very basic, intro-level understanding of hermeneutics.

Here’s what I mean by that. You don’t read history and poetry the same way. You read them differently. They are two different genres of literature. You don’t read them the same. So what I have found a lot of the time on the inconsistency front is they want to come out of Psalms and talk about the natural order and say, “That’s now how the natural order works.” Well, “It’s a poem.” You don’t pick up some Edgar Allen Poe, and after reading about a talking raven, toss that book in the garbage, do you? Does anyone really believe Poe’s objective in that poem was to try to convince everybody that an actual raven talked to him? Well, maybe. He was insane after all. But we don’t read poetry like we read history.

So you can’t go to the Psalms and say, “Look what it says about the sun. Scientifically we know it doesn’t work that way. You see? It’s inconsistent. We should throw away the entire Bible, except for maybe that part about loving others, let’s keep that and misquote it.” No, the Psalms are songs and poems. You read poetry different than you read history, different than how you read a genealogy, different than you read architectural specifications. We know that different genres require different forms of interpretation.

And then here’s the other big thing that happens. There is a fundamental posture of heart when it comes to the Scriptures that reveals where your heart really is. People either come to the Scriptures with a heart that desires for it to be true or they come to the Scriptures with a heart that doesn’t want it to be true. And depending on where your heart is, you’ll find all the ammunition you need. Here is a classic example of this, straight from the New Testament:

The Pharisees and Scribes loved to question Jesus and try to trap Him in His answers, but He always nailed them, just completely blew them away with His responses… and it never led to their repentance or faith. So they would get together and go, “How can we trip up Jesus? How can we turn the crowd against Jesus? I know, let’s ask Him about taxes!” And then they would stroll on over and ask, “Hey Jesus, should we pay taxes to Caesar?” And Jesus responds with one of the most brilliant answers ever given in recorded history, “Does anybody have a coin? Whose picture is that on this denarius? It’s Caesar’s image. So why don’t you give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and give unto God that which is God’s.” Jesus didn’t dodge the question, He said, “Sure, pay taxes to Caesar because the coin bares his image, but you were created in the image of God, and your whole life belongs to God. And it’s not like they go, “Oh, He’s right. That is the best answer ever, He completely got us. He’s the Messiah. Praise Your name! We’re going to follow You now.” No, they’re like, “Dang it. Okay, gather up. What are we going to get Him with now? How about resurrection!”

And then they run back out and go, “Okay, let’s say there was this dude and he had a wife. He died, and his brother married his wife. He died and the third brother married his wife. On and on through seven brothers. At the resurrection, whose wife is she?” And Jesus just goes, “Man, you don’t understand the resurrection. In the new heavens, in the new earth, when all things have been made new, we won’t be given in marriage like we are here. Marriage is a shadow of covenant. Covenant will be fulfilled. Our relationships there will be so vastly superior to our relationships here that marriage won’t be an aspect of the new heaven and new earth the way it is now. I’m not saying you won’t know your spouse or you won’t have special affections for them. I’m just saying the relationships we have in the new heavens and the new earth, when all things have been renewed no longer require shadows because we’ll have the true form. Marriage is a shadow of something, and we’ll have the actual true form in the new heaven and new earth.” And do they repent? Absolutely not. They immediately go back and just do this over and over again until they figure out they can’t get Him, so they decide to kill Him. Instead of thinking, “Hey, maybe He is who He says He is…” They reach the conclusion, “He has grown too powerful. He keeps duping us. Let’s kill Him.” And then you get the cross.

Sadly what I have found through study and conversation, is that a lot of people approach texts in the Bible like this. “Let me prove it wrong.” So they go and Google something like, “Bible inaccuracies.” Here’s a pretty common one from Matthew 28:5-7, where it says, “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.'” Now in John 20:11-12, the exact same story is also described. Here’s what it says. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white.” So in the Matthew text, one angel speaks to her, and in the John text, there are two angels.

Now if the fundamental posture of your heart is, “I do not want to believe the Bible, and I do not want to submit to the God of the Bible,” then this is a problem. It’s time to throw away this error-ridden book. If your fundamental posture is, “I love the Lord. The Holy Spirit has awakened me to reality, what do I do with this?” it’s a lot more simple, and beautiful.

So if I get home here in a little bit, sit down with my wife, Kat, and she asks me if I talked to my friend Greg today and I say, “Yeah, I talked to Greg, and here’s what we talked about.” And then later on, Greg may call me and say, “Hey, is Ryan still ok with our plans next weekend, did he ever hear back from Taylor?” I’ll say, “Yeah, he’s still good to go, and Taylor is coming as well.” Now Kat would not yell from the kitchen, “You are a liar!” No, I didn’t lie. I just didn’t go, “I talked to Greg, and do you know who else I talked to? I talked to / texted with / saw this person, that person, and this person…” I don’t always do that. Why? Because that’s not what she was asking. So Matthew says an angel spoke to her. John is a furtherance of the narrative. So we know one angel spoke, but there were two angels there now. How do we know that? Because there is unity in the Scriptures.

The primary message of the Bible is the gospel, it’s what the Bible teaches. Passage after passage, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, the cross of Christ. God is making Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteous, perfect life of Christ. What an incredible exchange. Shouldn’t we want this to be true? Like, I get humanistic secularism. I understand it, but there are some real huge holes in it. Like, I love my wife… I really really love her. And I refuse to believe that my affection and love for her is just neurons popping off in my head, that love has no significance, no meaning, no depth, no nothing; it’s just chemicals firing off in my brain. And I refuse to just delude myself into ignoring the logical implications of that worldview, and behaving as if those implications don’t exist.

It’s such a weird thing, what atheistic secularists believe. Okay, so what’s love? Have you ever been so infatuated with another person that you can feel your soul being stirred? Do you not believe in love? You can, but love is just a chemical for you. Or what do you do with beauty? What makes something beautiful? Have you ever stood and just been in awe of something? Have you ever stared at a picture, a painting, any piece of art, any sunset or a landscape and just been in awe of what your eyes were drinking in? So what do you do with beauty? Is it just neurons firing off in your head? Is that all beauty is? Are all aesthetics just something that we project meaning upon? I mean, what makes something beautiful? I’m telling you, there is an intense ferocity beneath everything. It’s the uncaused Cause, the Prime Mover, the Creator God. And if there is no God, there’s really no such thing as love, there is no such thing as beauty.

Here’s another confusing thing about the secular mind and reality. A lot of people I know who are very secular, they just decry that people aren’t more involved. “Why aren’t we getting more involved in Sudan? Why aren’t we getting more involved with helping and serving the poor?” As a Christian, I’m just like, “Well, your own worldview says that eventually the sun burns up and kills all of us and that all of this is meaningless to begin with. Your very worldview is competing with your desire that all of us engage the poor.” Shouldn’t we want the Gospel of Jesus to be true? It brings deep meaning, it brings immense truth, it brings powerful purpose. Religion does not. Religion is very exhausting. Do this so you can be accepted? Oh no, no, no… The book of Hebrews says God is no longer taking any offerings for sin. Christ on the cross was that offering.

Also, in the end, Jesus did not die for my arguments, my research, my preparation, my study, my witticisms, my sarcastic comebacks, or any of my understanding of the issues at hand. He did die, however, for my pride in any and all of those things. There is hope, there is love, and there is Truth to know.