Junk Food is the Porn of Our Diet

fgyekt1e6hc-brandon-morganMy last post explored the spiritual side of food addiction, diet, and weight loss. In my case, my relationship with food and gluttony had reached a point where it was sinful. I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat. What we often mistake as a simple struggle with health and exercise is often a spiritual battle. God’s Word says:

12For Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

We often make the mistake of thinking weight loss, health, and fitness are merely physical battles when they are actually spiritual. When I was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure, I was often depressed which inflicted spiritual damage on me that went beyond the physical. I believe the enemy knows this. If Satan can attack us through food addiction, gluttony, weight gain, and lethargy, he knows it will eventually impact us spiritually and damage our relationship with God.

Satan is known as the deceiver (Revelation 12:9). His modus operandi is to take the good gifts of God and twist them into something sinful. He does it with sex all the time. What was meant to be a gift from God to a man and his wife has been twisted into pornography, adultery, rape, promiscuity, and deviance — the same is true with food. Food was meant to be a good gift from God and consumed with thanksgiving to the One Who Provides. In my life, however, it became twisted. I became addicted to fast food and junk food. I became a glutton. My physical being began to suffer, which led to my mental being suffering, and ultimately my spiritual relationship with God was damaged. Point for Satan.

Junk Food is to Food what pornography is to sex. When we settle for an unhealthy relationship with our food and choose fast food and junk food over the healthy and nutritious foods God has provided us, we are buying into Satan’s lies.

We have to recognize this fact. We have to see the spiritual side of the issue if we hope to overcome it. If we attack our struggle with weight loss and food addiction in a way that is purely physical, we may enjoy temporary success. It may even look like we’re winning the battle but, if I’m being honest, I’ve seen many people beat obesity and food addiction only to form a sinful and unhealthy relationship with fitness and health. Both issues are flip sides of the same coin and can damage us spiritually.

Once we recognize our battle is a spiritual one, we must fight it spiritually. That passage from Ephesians continues:

13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17, NIV).

If weight gain, food addiction, gluttony, and obesity is a spiritual attack, we better fight it spiritually. If not, we have no chance to truly beat it.


Note: I am currently reading through a devotional plan called Food is Not The Enemy: Overcoming Food Struggles using the YouVersion Bible app on my phone. The Scripture referenced in this post coincides with the devotional. I highly recommend it.

Do You Reciprocate​ God’s Love?

sunset-hands-love-womanIn his post “A Key Ingredient for Friendship“, blogger and pastor Lyn Perry identifies reciprocity as a key ingredient for friendship. He does so after reading about William Shatner’s damaged friendship with Leonard Nimoy in the book Leonard. Perry writes, “Without reciprocity, friendships fail.” And he’s right … it’s hard to love someone that doesn’t love you back.

It’s so hard, in fact, that I suspect even the best of us would eventually tire of an unreciprocated friendship. Heck, I’m only going to care for so long. Eventually, I’m going to write you off if you fail to love me back. I say that even though God role-models something much different.

The oft-quoted verse John 3:16 begins with the words “For God so loved the world …” God loved the world that would crucify His Son. God loved the world that would, by and large, reject Him. Yet God doesn’t write us off. In response to His unrequited love for the world, God displays patience and desires the best for us (2 Peter 3:9).

God’s unrequited love for the world is the most remarkable kind of love ever displayed. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God didn’t just love sinners, He put His Son on the cross for sinners.

That is remarkable!

I write all of this to arrive at a point. It’s not just an unbelieving world that fails to respond to God’s love. There are many of us Christians who are still failing to reciprocate God’s love for us. We give lip-service to our faith in Christ yet continue to live in a way that doesn’t reflect our profession of faith. This is what James was saying when he wrote, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

In the cross, Christ displayed the most remarkable kind of love for the world and Christians, of all people, should be responding to and reciprocating that love. If I’m being honest, I go through periods where my life doesn’t reflect God’s love. I am prone to selfishness. I sometimes allow my mountains to take my eyes off My Rock. My prayer is for that to change dramatically in 2017. I want to love people more. I want to serve myself less than I serve God. Mainly, I want to reciprocate the love God has shown me. Because His love is truly remarkable.

God, Faith, Empirical Evidence and Grace.

skepticSkeptics commonly charge that if any such thing as God actually existed there would be empirical evidence available for all of us to study and thus recognize His existence. Empirical evidence meaning evidence that can be observed, measured, and experimented with according to Scientific Methodology. Skeptics suggest such evidence would remove all doubt to the existence of God and presumably put us all on the same playing field.

My first reaction to such claims is that I’m not entirely sure it’s impossible to measure and observe the existence of a Biblical God … and I plan on writing some posts in the future to address this. However, I suspect what most skeptics are objecting to is the fact that God hasn’t removed each and every one of their own doubts. One skeptic I encountered took great offense that Jesus would offer proof to “Doubting” Thomas by way of allowing him to examine His scars, however, He has never appeared and offered the same proof to modern-day skeptics.

So skeptics take umbrage to the idea that God has not removed all of their doubts, questions, fears, and concerns. Why wouldn’t God make His presence known beyond a shadow of a doubt for everyone to see? It’s a fair question. In fact, it’s a question I’ve asked in the past and it’s the question I hope to address with this post.

It’s quite helpful to examine the life, ministry, and teachings of Christ when asking questions of God. Christ is, after all, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). The Son reveals the Father to us and, as it turns out, Jesus was asked a very similar question as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew:

10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, You will keep on hearing, but will not understandYou will keep on seeing, but will not perceive15 For the heart of this people has become dullWith their ears they scarcely hearAnd they have closed their eyesOtherwise they would see with their eyesHear with their earsAnd understand with their heart and returnAnd I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In this passage, the Apostles ask Jesus why He so often teaches people using parables. In other words, they asked Him why He didn’t give it to the people strait. Why did Jesus speak in parables when He could offer them empirical, objective, measurable, and scientific proof? Jesus’ answer provides us with a clue as to what’s going on.

Jesus tells His disciples that he speaks to the multitudes in parables because while they are seeing, they don’t see, and while they are hearing, they don’t understand. Jesus tells His disciples that the hearts of the people have grown dull. There problem wasn’t that Jesus had failed to provide them with proof, but rather they had rejected the proof He had already offered. The same Jesus that now spoke to the multitudes in parables had healed the sick, preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, healed the blind, exorcised demons, and even raised the dead! He had given them proof but they failed to accept Him as their Lord and Savior. They saw, but they didn’t see. They heard, but they didn’t understand. Their hearts were dull. So now, Jesus spoke to them in parables.

By their very nature, parables are designed to make people think. They take a fable, fairy tale, or story and place it along side reality in a way that illuminates and reveals the truth. On the surface they may seem like simple stories, but as you dig into them a little but truth is revealed. Jesus used parables when speaking to people who had, by and large, rejected Him. Their hearts were dull, so Jesus used parables to engage their mind. He wanted them to think about what He said. His parables served two purposes. For believers, those who had been granted to know the mysteries of the Gospel, would hear a parable and learn even more about their God. Unbelievers, those with a dull heart, would in turn be given something to chew on, to ponder, and to contemplate.

The alternative was simple. Jesus could have simply given them undeniable proof, but he had already done that. He had performed miracles and preached the Kingdom and they rejected Him. So He spoke to them in parables as an act of grace. Jesus didn’t want people to reject Him outright and then face the consequences of their decisions. He wanted them chew on the parables, contemplate them, and engage their minds until their heart followed. Why?

“[Because] The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9, NASB.

It doesn’t matter how skeptical you are. You could be the staunchest of all the atheists and God’s desire is for you to come to repentance. He does not want you to perish in hell. So Jesus spoke to them in parables as a way to save them from themselves. It is better for the skeptical to ponder and contemplate a parable than it is for them to outright reject Christ. Parables are an act of grace.

In the same way, God has given us enough evidence in our world to lead us to Christ. The skeptic who demands empirical, measurable, scientific, and undeniable proofs from God is failing to see the evidence that is already there. They see without seeing, they hear without understanding. And in all fairness, yes God could appear and prove His existence to them beyond a shadow of doubt, but then they would be forced to make a choice their heart may not be ready to make. Many of the skeptics who watched Jesus perform miracles blamed evil spirits. Others failed to understand. Others demanded more signs. God bowing to your wishes and appearing before you to perform miracles is no guarantee of your willingness to believe …

Some would claim it was all special effects. Others would say it was magic or evil spirits. Others would claim God’s “in your face” miracles violated their free will to choose. Still more would demand more and more proof. Their resistance and denial would lead to their perishing.

So God gives you enough to engage your mind and your brain. He gives you enough proof to ponder and consider the world around you. To study Scriptures for yourselves. He is patiently waiting for you to accept Jesus because His desire is for none of us to perish. He is patiently showing all skeptics grace. 

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” Romans 1:20, NASB.

The Bible and Slavery

Bible2I continually see Scripture being attacked on the basis that it either endorses the practice of slavery or that it fails to explicitly denounce the practice of slavery. I’ve seen skeptics, atheists, and even self-proclaimed liberal Christians use this argument as a means to charge the Bible with immorality, irrelevance, and atrocities. A few years ago, I offered a response to such claims in an online discussion forum and thought I would share them here.

Does the Bible Endorse or Fail to Denounce Slavery? 
It is a mistake to assume the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery and if such an assertion is to be made, it deserves careful and critical examination.

First off, the word “slavery” as it occurs throughout the Bible refers to a wide spectrum of servitude from “leasing” ones service where both parties enter into the agreement willingly to situations that far more resembled slavery as we know it in this country. Biblically, the word “slavery” refers to a wide range of stuff from servitude to outright slavery.

I believe there is sufficient evidence that the Bible condemns the latter forms of atrocious slavery. First, consider the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians for refusing to free God’s people from forced, atrocious slavery. Of all the slavery portrayed in the Bible, the Egyptians rule over the Hebrews can certainly be compared to the racial slavery we experienced in our country. In this situation, I think God made it evident He condemned such a heinous act. Extracting the Hebrew people, as lowly as they were seen in the eyes of the Egyptian people, establishing them as God’s chosen ones, and pouring curses out on the Egyptians was as definitive a statement as God could have made. Certainly, any sane person can deduce that God is not in favor of such forms of slavery.

Couple this situation with the following verses:

  • “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).
  • “But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

The word “kidnappers” in the above passage is alternately translated as “man-stealers” or “enslavers” depending on the translation you are using. These verses when juxtaposed with the Hebrew slavery in Egypt clearly reveals that God does not condone or endorse the heinous, forced, and atrocious forms of slavery. Period. In fact, suggesting God endorses such acts does Him and His Word an injustice and reveals a poor working knowledge of Scripture.

Now this brings us to the more mild forms of slavery (where both parties entered into the agreement willingly). In these situations God’s Word speaks into the hearts of both slave and slave-owner. The method God’s Word uses to initiate social reform in this case is to speak into the hearts of individuals. Social change occurs one conversion at a time in the heart of believers. With this is mind, examine the following verses:

  • For the slave master: Ephesians 6:9, “And masters, treat your slaves the same way, without threatening them, because you know that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him.”
  • For the slave: 1 Peter 2:19-20, “For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God.”

In the culture of the New Testament, slavery was engrained. So the writers of the New Testament encouraged social reform one heart at a time. When this is taken into account, no form of “Christian slavery” would resemble what comes to our mind when we hear the word slavery. Consider Paul’s interaction with the slave Onesimus.

In the first chapter of Philemon, Paul writes that Onesimus is “no longer a slave, but more than a slave” (v.16). He refers to Onesimus as his “son” (v. 10). In verse 17, Paul encourages Philemon (the master) to receive Onesimus as a partner in Christ just as he would Paul himself. Paul even goes as far as to assume any debts or charges that Onesimus may have built up against Philemon (v. 18)!

Does any of Paul’s words resemble the heinous, atrocious images that we associate as Americans with slavery? Paul is encouraging social reform by appealing to the hearts of both Onesimus and Philemon. In no way is he “endorsing slavery” as skeptics suggest.

When Scripture is examined, the Christian can take confidence that neither God, nor His Word, “endorses” the heinous and atrocious act of slavery or human trafficking. We can stand on God’s Word when we oppose such practices and when we do, we will glorify God in the process.

 

Look At The Book Labs with John Piper

I use the Logos Bible Software in my daily study time and for the last several days I’ve been using a course of study from John Piper called the “Look at the Book Labs”. Each day, Piper examines a passage of Scripture and you get to follow along as he studies the Word. The cool feature, however, is that each study has a video. Viewers get to see the passage of Scripture in question (in other words, they get to look at the book) while Piper annotates and marks up the passage during his study. All the while, Piper is commentating and guiding viewers through the study. The end results are great.

In my studies, I try to follow a particular pattern:

  • Observation: here is where I ask questions of the text. Who, what, when, why, and where type of questions.
  • Interpretation: In this step, I bring in multiple translations, commentaries, dictionaries and other extra-biblical sources to help me understand words or phrases that aren’t immediately understood.
  • Application: In this step, I ask myself how the passage I am studying applies to my life. Is there a call to action? Is there a change being asked of me? This is where I determine my response to what I’ve read.

I say all of this because Piper’s studies offer wonderful examples of the first two steps. I really enjoy watching as he guides me through his observation and interpretation. It is very insightful to see what mental processes Piper goes through as he approaches the text. Too often, Christians are tempted to skip observation and interpretation in favor of application, however, Piper’s studies certainly demonstrate how important it is to ask the right questions and take the time to observe and interpret. I am learning from his example.

At the end of each study, Piper also offers additional resources and sermons from his library that apply to the passage in question. I’ve been using his study as a launching point (each one takes 10 to 15 minutes) for my own studies and have tried going deeper into the text. Using these studies, a person can go as deep as they want. Piper’s goal is to teach people how to feed themselves … and I think these labs work wonderfully.

I checked today and these labs are all available on Piper’s website for free at http://www.desiringgod.org/labs. I highly recommend them.

An Argument for Older, Mature Pastors

stanley
Pastor Charles Stanley

A few years ago a young man knocked on my door and invited me to his church. I was a little surprised, because of his young age, to discover he was the lead pastor of his church. I must confess that my initial reaction was negative. I remember thinking to myself that I could never follow a pastor as young as the man standing on my porch. I’ve often thought of that encounter and even repented a bit for my initial reaction. Scripture is rife with stories of God using the young and old alike and I’ve come to learn that, in His sovereignty, God can call and use whoever He sees fit. Perhaps I was a little jealous that such a young man had discovered His calling early in life while I was still struggling to determine my own.

But there are advantages to a pastor who has some years on him as opposed to one who is young. At the top of that list has to be an awareness of one’s dependance upon God. Age has a way of teaching us about our own limitations. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that nothing I’ve accomplished for the Gospel was accomplished in my own merit or in my own strength. I have developed an awareness of my own weakness and sinfulness that makes me appreciate God’s grace all the more. That same awareness should be present in a pastor. In his book, What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All Steve Brown writes the following:

Did you ever think that grace (i.e., God’s unmerited favor) is attracted to sin? That’s what the apostle Paul said: “The law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). 

Older, more experienced, pastors tend to be more aware of their weaknesses and their sin and because of that awareness grace abounds. A friend recently shared stories about a rehabilitation ministry he is involved with for recovering addicts. Essentially, addicts are placed in a secluded monastery where the grace of Jesus Christ is liberally applied to their wounds. The stories that come out of this ministry are beautiful because their sins are often so great that grace is multiplied. It’s the same for a pastor who is aware of his own sin – grace is multiplied.

Age, mistakes, regret, persecution, trials, and even sin have a tendency to mature a growing Christian. James puts it this way:

“2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, NASB). 

Granted, even a young pastor can possess the kind of spiritual maturity I am writing about, but young or old, this maturity is an essential quality in a pastor. The expectations we place on our church leaders tend to get things upside down. We want our pastors to be beacons of perfection. We want them to be the most holy, most perfect, and least sinful members of our church; yet when I think about the pastors that have taught me the most I discover they are the ones that know first hand the cost of their own sin and appreciate the grace it took to place them in the pulpit. Should pastors strive to be holy and provide an example for us to follow? Absolutely. But I don’t want a pastor who has simply read about trials – I want one that knows first-hand what I’m going through and can relate to my problems. Heck, if Jesus can relate to our temptations, shouldn’t our pastors?

“15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Our leaders need to remember their sin and remember the grace that conquered it. The Apostle Paul, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament penned these words:

“15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.16 Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). 

Paul went on to set the standards required of our pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

“3 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Above reproach, a one woman man, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted, gentle, peaceable, not greedy … there’s a reason these qualifications are written in the present tense. I don’t want my pastor to nurture any addictions, or to be angry, or to have a wandering eye … but if he can tell me about a time when his life failed to meet those qualifications and then tell me how Christ intervened in his life with grace … that’s the gospel! That story of redemption is going to resonate with me and give me hope … because I’m a sinner too.

I suppose I’m not arguing for physical maturity as much as I am spiritual maturity. We see pastors fall all the time. Ministries, families, and churches are far too often ripped apart because we’ve put someone in the pulpit that wasn’t spiritually mature and lacked an appreciation for the gravity of their own sin and the grace it took to conquer it. To reference Paul one last time, God’s power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 2:9) and unless a person understands that, they have no business in the pulpit.

 

 

Christianity’s Gift to the World

thinkingI’m currently reading a book by Steve Brown titles What Was I Thinking? Things I’ve Learned Since I Knew It All. Brown’s books are wonderful. Like me, he is a conservative Christian who believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Doctrinally, I think we are fairly similar. Yet, his writing takes you to new levels of reflection. The first time I read anything by Brown I remember thinking to myself that he was either a heretic or a genius – and it took me a while to figure out which. I’ve settled on genius. Brown writes in a way that is provocative. It’s like he is intentionally picking on the scabs conservative Christians walk around with. What he says makes you angry until you slowly start to realize it’s not Brown that is angering you, but rather God’s Word. And faced with that realization, there is nothing left to do but repent.

Basically, Brown makes me think. I’m sure some people find him annoying – some may have even settled on heretical – but I appreciate him. Here’s a quote from What Was I Thinking? that I currently can’t get out of my mind:

“Our gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation. Our gift to the world is to find where the Holy Spirit is creating beauty, speaking truth, and manifesting goodness—and when we find it, to identify it, enjoy it, affirm it, and get involved in it” (p. 64)

It’s that’s first sentence that has stuck with me … “Our [Christians] gift to the world is not one of anger, judgment, or condemnation.” Too often, that’s the face we present to world around us – anger, judgment, and condemnation. When, in reality, the Church should be an extension of God’s gift to the world – grace, mercy, and salvation through His Son.

Brown makes the further point that because of our anger and disgust with the world around us, Christians often retreat to the Church. We take safe haven in our churches and our Christian subculture because we are convinced that’s where the Holy Spirit is. We do it because it makes us feel safe yet our safety comes at the expense of the culture around us. We create a divide between the sacred and the secular and then refuse to cross it for fear of sacrificing our own righteousness. But it’s important to understand that this divide is man made. From God’s perspective there is no “secular”. The gospel of John makes that clear:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

All things came into being through Him. It’s this fact that gives God the authority to speak into the hearts of every man and into the core of every situation. It’s that fact that gives Jesus the authority to forgive our sins. It’s that fact that gives God the right to determine that salvation must be accomplished according to His plan rather than our own. It’s that fact that is the foundation of grace. And when we retreat in disgust from the world around us and take refuge in our Christian subculture we are failing to take that gift of grace to the very people that need it the most. Jesus understood this. That’s why He hung out with sinners. That’s why He said,“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). Even the Great Commission, our marching orders from Christ, instruct us to take His message of grace to the world, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

When Christian present nothing to the world but anger, judgment, and condemnation and then retreat back to the safety of our own Christian subculture, we are forfeiting the one gift we have to give the world. It is imperative that Christians refuse to forfeit our input and voice to the culture we live in. Music, arts, literature, science … all of these things stand to benefit from the input of Christians.

If we want to deliver Christ’s grace to the world, we must be engaged in the world. Jesus once prayed for His disciples, “14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15, emphasis mine). Notice that Jesus didn’t pray for His disciples to be taken out of the world; rather, He prayed that they be kept safe from the evil one as they engaged the world for Him. 

Christ’s prayer should be the strategy of the Church. Rather than withdrawing from the world and drawing imaginary lines between the secular and the sacred, we should engage the world. We should deliver Christ’s gospel to the sic and refuse to sacrifice our voice while tending to our own safety.

Genius.

Lessons from Genesis: Prayers of Intercession

sodom-and-gomorrah-painting
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, an 1852 oil on canvas painting done by John Martin

My study this morning included God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The wickedness of these cities had reached such a pinnacle that God’s wrath was imminent, but He used the moment as a tool to reveal His very nature to Abraham. Before destroying the two cities, God visits Abraham and reveals His plans. This visit leads to an incredible exchange between Abraham and God:

23 Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” 26 So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” 27 And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes.28 Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” 29 He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” 30 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” 32 Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten” (Genesis 18:23-32). 

I must admit this passage used to confuse me. I couldn’t quite figure out why God needed Abraham to remind Him of His own just nature. Quite frankly, the thought that Abraham had to negotiate for the lives of the righteous upset me. However, my confusion was born out of misinterpretation; what’s happening in this passage isn’t a negotiation – it’s intercession.

God is just. He knew exactly what He was doing when it came to Sodom and Gomorrah; but by allowing Abraham to intercede on their behalf, he revealed His gracious nature to Abraham. Yes God demands justice for sin, but in doing so He never sacrifices His own grace. God allowed Abraham to intercede for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, and by doing so, He allowed Abraham to become a channel though which God’s grace flowed.

Abraham’s intercession for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reflection of Christ’s intercession for those who call Him Savior:

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6) 

Just as Abraham interceded on behalf of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus Christ intercedes on my behalf. With his prayers of intercession, Abraham was displaying a particular kind of Christ-likeness that I far too often fail to display. My prayers tend to be selfish, “God bless me!” – when a proper prayer of intercession should read, “God bless them!” 

My goal is pray less selfishly. I want to pray more for others. God knows exactly what He’s doing when it comes to His justice and His grace, but when I pray a prayer of intercession it shapes my heart to resemble the heart of Christ who prayed the most famous of all intercessory prayers …

“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

[View all posts in the Lessons from Genesis Series] 

Knowing Verses Obeying God’s Voice

image from citygatekeepers.org

In Christian circles these days we can get bogged down with the concept of knowing God’s voice when we hear it. I’ve even taught whole classes on discerning God’s voice from that of the enemy and our own subtle thoughts. In retrospect, I’m beginning to realize the problem with most Christians isn’t knowing God’s voice when we hear it, but rather, our problem is heeding His voice when it directs us toward obedience.

When speaking on this subject Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them” (John 10:27, emphasis mine). Even newer Christians who have spent little time in His Word have the ability to discern God’s voice on most subjects. Sitting under the preaching of a decent pastor and attending an occasional Bible study is sure to communicate some things to us concerning God’s voice, right?

For instance, when asked what the greatest of all the commandments were, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40). Even if we can’t quote this popular passage, most of us at least know it, right? I have to think even non-Christians know this passage. If not this one than we certainly know the portion of 1 John 4:8 that says “God is love.” So when asked the questions, “How should you love God?” or “How should you treat your neighbors?” most of us should be able to discern God’s voice on the matter. Knowing what God wants us to do isn’t the problem …

The problem is we don’t do it. 

When given the opportunity to put God first in our lives we consistently choose ourselves. When given the opportunity to love our neighbors as we love ourselves we make excuses and decline. When God tries to save our marriage we throw our hands up and do what we want to do anyway. When God says don’t have sex with that person or you shouldn’t be looking at that website or please don’t make that choice we boldly declare that we know what’s best and fail over and over and over to be obedient.

This kind of disobedience can be expected out a person who doesn’t know Jesus, but for us Christians it is inexcusable. We choose to disobey God’s voice and then claim ignorance when, in fact, we’re just selfish.

I fear that this kind of disobedience has become the norm in the Western Church rather than the exception. This disconnect between our knowledge and our actions is damaging the testimony of the Church. The non-Christians in our culture see that disconnect and dismiss Christ because of it. Our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ see that disconnect and choose to embrace it rather than change it. James wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) and I have to believe that works blossom from obedience to God’s voice.

Christians … it is time we stop just telling the world what we know and start showing them what we believe.

Can Christians be Concerned About the Environment and Climate Change?

greenbible
image from worldmag.com

Christians are often characterized as being unconcerned about the environment, climate change, and global warming. To be fair, I suppose it does appear that way sometimes. However, in truth, it is okay for Christians to concern themselves with matters of the environment. We must remember, that when God placed mankind in the Garden of Eden He gave him one responsibility, to tend to the Garden:

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15, NIV).

Not only was mankind created to take care of the environment, God also gave us a certain amount of dominion over the environment:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule (have dominion) over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26, NIV).

The world and everything in it belongs to the Creator. Genesis 1 teaches us that He created it all to bless us and then gave us dominion over it. He, in effect, loaned it to us. When you loan something to someone, there is a certain expectation implied with that loan; you want them to take care of your possession – the more valuable the item, the more care you expect to be taken with it. For instance, if you loan someone your car for the weekend you are, in effect, giving them dominion over your car for a couple of days, and when you get it back you expect it to be in the same condition as when you loaned it. It’s even better if they bring it back washed and with a full tank of gas!

Christians, we are expected to take care of God’s world. His creation is precious. When our scientists tell us we are damaging it we need to listen and take steps to do better, if such steps exist. I fear that environmentalism has somehow become associated with the political left and those on the right, including the vast majority of the Church, rail against it because they think they are supposed to.

Environmentalism, however, is not a political issue, it is a Biblical one. God gave us dominion over creation and expects us to take care of His world.

There is one word of caution, however, and it is a word the secular left is sure to disagree with. Christians cannot allow the environment to become their idol. We should care for the world in obedience to and respect for the God who created it. We cannot, however, become so obsessed with the environment that we elevate it to our primary focus in life. Christians should be motivated by respect and obedience when it comes to tending the garden, not fear. Why? Because God’s Word contains an outstanding promise:

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (Revelation 21:1, NIV).

The Apostle John’s vision recorded in Revelation saw our earth passing away … ceasing to exist … and new heavens and a new earth taking its place. Climate change, global warming, pollution – these are all issues that (sometimes unknowingly) attest to one Biblical fact – the world is tainted by sin. When Adam sinned, sin entered the world (Romans 5:12). Now, thousands of years removed from that original sin, we live in a world tainted with environmental issues. Because of sin, tending the garden has become far more complicated, just as God told Adam it would:

“Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, NASB). 

Because of God’s grace, we will someday receive new heavens and a new earth – a new Garden. Those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus can rest assured in that promise. But until that day, God’s directions to tend to the earth and have dominion over the environment still stand. We should care about the environment, but we can’t let the fear of this earth expiring (and someday it will) rule us. Our actions must be governed and motivated by respect and obedience to the Father and hope in His promise of a new earth.