What Really Bugs me About the Planned Parenthood Videos …

There’s no need to rehash the media and debate concerning the recently released series of Planned Parenthood videos that expose the appearance of impropriety within that organization, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with them. The left is outraged over what they say are heavily edited videos designed to intentionally mislead while the right is in an uproar over the content of the videos. As a result, a national debate over the defunding of Planned Parenthood has risen to the forefront of our culture wars … and it’s a debate that probably won’t be settled soon enough.

But there’s something that’s been nagging at me about these videos … and I want to take a second to put my concerns into words.

I am ashamed and sickened by the apathy of the Church when it comes to the value and sanctity of life. What bugs me the most about these videos is that they were necessary to catapult the debate over abortion to the front pages of our newspapers. Do you want to know why these videos have left such a big impression on us? It’s because the Church grew silent and cowardly in the face of abortion; so much so that the issue virtually disappeared from our national conscience. Nearly sixty million babies have been murdered since Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the Church has grown complacent about those deaths. As a result, it took a series of “gotcha” videos to remind us what a travesty abortion really is. For this, the videos have done us all a service, however, Christians (myself included) shouldn’t have needed the reminder:

  • “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27)
  • “Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3)
  • “You knit me in my mother’s womb . . . nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret” (Psalm 139:13,15)
  • “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
  • “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 5:17)
  • “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”(Jeremiah 1:5)

Need I continue? God’s Word speaks to the very value of life yet Christians have stood by and allowed nearly sixty million abortions over the last 40+ years. Yet it took “gotcha” videos to upset us. We should be ashamed for our silence.

Abortion needs to be the number one issue on our conscience as we step into the voting booths. God’s Word concerning the value of human life needs to be on the tip of our tongues. We should be united in prayer until this desecration of life has come to an end.

And it shouldn’t take a “gotcha” video to remind us what a miraculous gift from God life truly is.

Modern Day Daniel? The Duke Freshman who Refuses to Read 'Fun Home'

fun homeJacob Brogan, a writer for the liberal Slate Magazine is torn up because a group of incoming freshmen at Duke University have chosen not to read the recommended summer assignment Fun Home written by Alison Bechdel. Upon researching and reviewing the book, which contains sexual images in the form of illustrations, incoming frosh Brian Grasso cited Matthew 5:28-29 as his reason for declining to read the book,”28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Grasso declined reading a book because Jesus has told him through His Scriptures to avoid such images. Yet, instead of being universally celebrated for taking his faith seriously, a quality many would say is lacking in most young people, there is a segment of our culture that is attacking the young man.  

Brogan suggests that Grasso and others are “choosing to live their lives in narrowly circumscribed circles, willfully blind to the stories unfolding around them” and derides the students for objecting to the books contents without reading it in its entirety first. This argument is borderline ridiculous. I didn’t have go to the theater and watch Magic Mike in its entirety to know that its  contents simply weren’t for me. Likewise, I didn’t have to read Fifty Shades of Grey in its entirety to know that its contents would quite possibly damage me spiritually. Grasso, and others, know enough about Fun Home to make an educated decision to avoid it … and that’s exactly what Jesus is advising in Matthew 5:28-29. Don’t entertain it. Don’t play games with it. Take whatever steps are need to completely avoid it. But the left argues one has to read it in its entirety before making that judgement. This is simply bad advice.

In yet another Slate article, Brogan suggests that the images found in Fun Home are not pornographic, rather, they are a, “crucial—and critically moving—step in Bechdel’s discovery and acceptance of her lesbianism.” Brogan seems to be suggesting that nudity ceases to be nudity, and sexuality ceases to be sexuality, provided it is essential to the plot of the story. Brogan couldn’t be more misguided. Brogan’s argument seems to suggest that Bechdel’s book isn’t pornographic, because it’s artistic. However, sexuality is sexuality regardless of its context and the students at Duke University have every right to choose to filter it from their minds.

Grasso’s stand reminds me of a similar stand taken by Daniel in the Old Testament. When taken into captivity, Daniel and his friends were placed in cultural assimilation program in the palace of the king so they could be trained to serve him better. It was a University of sorts and the king made provisions for the boys to eat from the best food from his very own table. There was, however, one problem. Daniel was a Jew. God had given him strict dietary laws regarding the food he was allowed to eat … and the food from the king’s table violated those laws. So Daniel politely declined to partake in the food, “But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8, NASB). Notice that Daniel didn’t have to taste all the food to know that doing so would involve disobedience to his God. Daniel and his friends stayed strong and didn’t take a single bite.

Likewise, Brian Grasso doesn’t have to read Fun Home to know doing so would involve disobedience to his God. He made a choice to honor his relationship with God Almighty and should be celebrated for refusing to take a bite. His choice should serve as an example for the rest of us Christians who far too often sample the culture around us knowing that it involves disobedience.

Brian Grasso made the right choice. He should be celebrated and lifted up as an example for the rest of us to follow. Good job young man!

My Date of Salvation and An Unexpected Gift From My Mom

Save-the-date-stamp-2Occasionally, my Pastor or another speaker in church, or even random Christians in conversation will reference their salvation date (or date of rebirth) and I always get a little jealous. There’s a little part of me that admires them for remembering such an important and momentous date and there’s a huge part of me that is envious of them – because their salvation seems so clean and flawless. So clean and flawless, in fact, that they can remember the exact date it occurred – heck, I’ve met some people that can remember the exact hour!

That always astounds me because my own salvation experience has always seemed so murky and blurred in my memory. I can remember going to church with a friend when I was in high school. On that day, I responded to an altar call. I can still remember the sensation. It was as if my legs were moving under a power outside myself. I couldn’t have resisted and stayed in my seat had I wanted to! When I reached the altar my friend and another church member led me in prayer. I confessed to God that I was a sinner and accepted the salvation afforded me through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It was a big moment in my young life. I came home that evening and shared with my mom what had happened. She was the only person I told that day outside of the church.

But I’ve always wondered if that was actually my day of salvation. My life and actions following that day seem to suggest otherwise. I quickly grew distressed and dissatisfied with the hypocrisy I saw in my school peers who also went to my church. I would see them behave one way on Sunday and then completely different during the week at school and quickly ascertained that wasn’t what I wanted for myself. So I quit going. I also grew pretty bold in my rhetoric against the church and Christians. In looking back on that time in my life I’ve referred to myself as an agnostic at best and an atheist at worst. I wanted nothing to do with God and often said that if I wasn’t good enough to get into heaven based on my own merits I didn’t want to be there.

Eventually, at the age of 30, I was baptized into the Church as a believer in Jesus Christ. I was called to attend school and study the Scriptures and have become a teacher and staff member in my local church. As my understanding of doctrine and Scripture has grown I’ve come to realize that I really was saved back in high school. Salvation is based purely on the Grace of God rather than my actions. I’ve come to realize that once I accepted Christ on that day nothing could overpower Him:

27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-30 

Once God had a hold on me there was nothing I could do to escape. It just took me about 15 years to quit trying to wrestle out of His grasp. But that understanding didn’t help me where my jealousy was concerned. Whenever another Christian exclaims their date of salvation I feel little pangs of envy deep in my chest. I’ve learned to deal with that.

But I recently received a little gift from my wonderful mother who passed away sixteen years ago. Years ago, when I told her about that altar call, she made my dad go out and buy me a Bible. Because it came from my parents, that old King James Bible is now one of my most prized possessions. I was flipping through its pages earlier today when I noticed something scrawled inside the cover in my mom’s familiar handwriting. it was a date – May 7, 1985. The date of my salvation! In her wisdom, my mom knew that date was an important one and preserved it for me. When I realized what she had done I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy that flooded my eyes. My mother passed from this world into the presence of Christ many years ago, yet still found a way to give me an important gift.

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Thanks Mom! I will see your beautiful face again someday! I can’t help but praise God for His faithfulness and Grace.

 

The Abundant Life

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Image borrowed from Sparkpeople.com

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (NASB)

Jesus came so that you and I may have life, and have it abundantly. I suspect that to understand exactly what Jesus meant by this statement would take years of study. To properly understand, we would have to put His words in the proper context … to have life in abundance would mean to live our lives in the manner prescribed by Scripture, to love others to the fullest, and to love our God with all our might, with all our souls, and with all our strength. We would have to understand that living life in abundance would impact us eternally as well as in the here and now. There’s no doubt no one knew how to live life better, and more abundantly, than Jesus Christ Himself. He stands as the ultimate example of how we should live our lives.

I certainly haven’t mastered the intricacies of living the abundant life, but I have begun to understand that far too often I allow the sin in my life to sabotage it. For all I don’t understand about living life in abundance, I am an expert in screwing my life up! Years of neglect while I pursued my academic interests left me me tired, overweight, and out of shape. In two short years I was forced to have my gallbladder removed, was placed placed on high blood pressure medicine, and learned I was diabetic. To use the words of John “The Penguin” Bingham, I was living a life of sedentary confinement. Such a life is anything but abundant.

So I am pursuing changes. Bingham calls it adult onset athleticism. I simply think of it as pursuing life in abundance. I’ve started a walking program to become more active, I eat less and move more, and I’ve lost about seventy pounds (with more to lose). What I’m doing isn’t simply about diet and exercise. I’m not moving more and eating less simply to lose weight. It is all part of a grander scheme to pursue life in abundance.

What I’ve come to realize is that whatever the abundant life is, it isn’t sitting in front of the television eating pizza and Doritos, gaining weight, and withdrawing from the world. I’ve gone on diets for less noble reasons in the past and I have failed every single time to keep to weight off. The life I’m pursuing now isn’t about diet or even about fitness … it’s about equipping myself to live the life God has planned for me.

You can follow my quest to lose weight and become more fit on my Tumblr blog that compliments this one. But, if you do, please remember it’s not about diet, exercise, or fitness. It’s about pursuing and adapting a new lifestyle. It is about living an abundant life!

Obedience Paves the Path Between Legalism and Cheap Grace

Matthew7_24We’ve all encountered those Christians that place legalism of one sort or another above God’s grace in their spiritual walk. Often times, this involves a minor point of doctrine that is treated so dogmatically that it overshadows all else. Legalism is the practice of creating laws where none exists. Paul addressed such legalism in the Book of Colossians, “So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important” (Colossians 2:20-23, Message).

On the flip side of that same coin, however, are those Christians that cry legalism anytime sin is exposed, explored, or preached. These Christians are so quick to charge others with legalism that practically all sorts of behaviors and practices are allowed. These Christians cite the ample grace of God as an excuse to do, say, and behave in any manner they choose. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” It is the practice of offering grace without requiring repentance or discipleship.

These issues are even more confusing when you consider that Christians from both vantage points can often be well-intended. In their honest attempts to honor Scripture and glorify God they have drifted into fringe territory.

In such issues, there is one word that cuts through the fog much like a lighthouse … obedience. 

Too often, in our zeal to mimic the grace of God, Christians confuse obedience with legalism. To study Scripture is to explore a consistent invitation to be obedient to God’s Word. The Bible communicates to readers how best to live our lives. God calls us to be obedient. In fact, it is through obedience that we demonstrate our love for God (1 John 5:2-3). Scripture clearly denotes that we are blessed not for simply knowing God’s Word, but rather for doing what His Word says (John 13:17).

So is it wrong to call on Christians to obey God’s Word? Surely not. There is nothing legalistic about confronting God’s people with His Word and expecting changed lives as a result. However, we should expect people to fail at times. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It’s for this reason we need a Savior! I am incapable of total and perfect obedience and it is by God’s grace alone that Jesus Christ bridges the gap between myself and God the Father.

But we should be careful not to use God’s grace as an excuse to continue sinning. In Romans Chapter 6, Paul asks, “Should we continue to sin so that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). We don’t have to wait long for his answer, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:2).

Paul goes on to teach that our old selves have died with Christ so that we may be freed from our slavery to sin. To be a Christian is to embrace a newness of life that’s found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ so that we may sin no more. We are freed from our slavery to sin so we may become bond-servants of Jesus Christ. Surely this involves changed behaviors, attitudes, and lives!

However, when we fail to live up to the expectations of this new life … and we will … this is when we should gratefully and liberally partake in the grace of God that is found though faith in Jesus Christ! This is the sort of grace that we should then offer to our fellow Christians when they slip up.

Christians would do well to remember that obedience paves the path between legalism and cheap grace.

 

Ezra's Burden

ezra-prayerEzra was born to be the spiritual leader of his people. He was the descendent of Aaron, Israel’s first Chief Priest, so he was a man of good reputation and status (Ezra 7:1-5). He didn’t, however, simply live off his reputation. Rather, Ezra spent his life studying God’s Law. He was described as being a “scribe skilled in the law of Moses” who enjoyed “the hand of the Lord upon him” (Ezra 7:6). In other words, Ezra was a scribe and priest skilled in the art of studying God’s Word, communicating God’s Word, and teaching God’s Word. He also enjoyed certain divine blessings, protection, and enablement that contributed to his ability to serve his people.

In 538 BC, Persian King Cyrus, having been stirred up by God (Ezra 1:1), issued a decree that allowed Zerubabbel to lead a wave of Jews out of captivity in Babylon back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s temple. Almost 60 years later, with the endorsement of King Artaxerxes, Ezra led a second wave of Jews out of exile back to Jerusalem to rebuild God’s people spiritually (Ezra 7). This had to be Ezra’s dream job. It was what God had prepared him for all his life. All of his reputation and skills were geared towards this place in time.

Ezra led approximately 40,000 of his people out of Babylon on the 4 month journey to Jerusalem. Imagine his dismay when he arrived to discover that the Jews living in Jerusalem had begun falling back into the sinful practices that led to their captivity in the first place! Chapter 9 of Ezra reveals that God’s people had once again been taking wives from the pagan nations around them and having children (9:1-2). This wasn’t a matter of simple racism, rather, God had expressly forbidden the practice in his Law (Exodus 34:11-16, Deut. 7:1-5). The practice exposed the hearts of God’s people as disobedient, ungrateful, and faithless. It represented not just the intermingling of peoples but rather the intermingling of pagan religions with the worship of the One True God. Such intermingling with pagan religions had led to dire consequences in the past (1 Kings 11:1-8) and Ezra was stunned to learn his people had fallen back into it.

His reaction is a lesson for all of us.

Ezra is so distraught by what he has learned that he appalled. He begins tearing at his clothes and pulling hair from his head and beard. He is genuinely broken over the sin of his people (Ezra 9:1-4). He then begins to pray. Falling to his knees and stretching out his hands before God, Ezra pours out his heart.

Dr. Thomas Constable writes that Ezra’s prayer contains four primary elements: solidarity, confession, readiness to change, and faith in God’s mercy. I fear that too often, when we respond to the sins of our people, our prayers contain only one element – condemnation. We could learn from Ezra’s example.

Ezra identifies with his people even though he himself isn’t guilty of their sins when he says, “I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You [God] for our iniquities have risen above our heads” (Ezra 9:6). He then confesses the sin of his people, “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we … have been given into [captivity, plunder, and shame]” (Ezra 9:7). Ezra then acknowledges God’s grace and expresses a desire and readiness for his people to change, “… yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia” … “After all this has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve … shall we again break your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations?” (Ezra 9:9-14).

I am impressed by the passion of Ezra’s burden for his people. I am also shamed by it. I can not remember ever praying in such a manner for my own people. The church today is highly skilled at calling out the sinners in our culture (and I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t), however, rarely do I see my fellow Christians pouring out their hearts on behalf of the people around us. The Word says we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) so it shouldn’t be hard for us to feel compassion for the unsaved people around us. We should feel solidarity for those people around us because it was purely by the grace of God that we were saved! We should confess not only our own sins but the sins of our culture. We should express a readiness to change and to share our faith with those people who desperately need Jesus Christ as their Savior. And we should express our confidence in the faithfulness of the God who restored His people from exile and sent His Son to die on a cross for us though we were sinners.

Christians everywhere should learn from Ezra’s example. Perhaps, we should take a break from looking down our noses at the people around us and take the time to genuinely pour our hearts out to God on their behalf. Ezra’s prayer birthed a change in his people (Ezra 10). There is no reason our prayers can not birth a change in ours.

 

The Joys and Challenges of Christian Fiction

One of the side effects of attaining my masters degree was that my reading time was devoted to class assignments and research. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all. Pursuing my degree gave me an excuse to read many of the books I would be choosing to read on my own anyway and, post degree, I will still be devoting the vast majority of my reading time to learning more about God and Scripture. It’s what I’m passionate about. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve enjoyed adding some fiction back into my reading diet. I had forgotten what it was like to escape into a good book simply for the sake of enjoyment. There’s something unexplainably cathartic about suspending the stress of “real life” for a few minutes and becoming emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters. I must say, I’ve been really excited lately about giving myself permission to balance out my reading time with good fiction.

For writers, there’s an additional benefit to reading fiction. If one wants to write good fiction, it helps tremendously to read good fiction.  My goal is to write believable and engaging Christian fiction. While this may seem to be pigeonholing myself as a writer, the market for such books is booming … and, quite frankly, most Christian authors fall short on the believability scale (by my assessment anyway). There are many traps a Christian author must avoid. Here’s just a couple i deal with in my writing:

1. Infusing fiction with too much doctrine: Christian authors must remember what genre their working in. Works of fiction are not meant to be guides to systematic theology. We can create characters that are flawed in their theology without endorsing such theology. Simply put, not everyone is well versed in theology. Believable works of fiction will include characters that realistically struggle with same questions, doubts, and flaws as the rest of us. It is a challenge for Christian writers to present works that are faithful to Scripture yet not too heavy-handed.

2. Christian characters tend to be wooden and robotic:  Christian writers must walk a fine line. We must be sensitive to our audience, most of which have no desire to read foul or crass language in our works. However, we are sill charged with writing dialogue that flows naturally and is believable. Most people in the real world simply don’t respond to life threatening moments by saying, “Golly jee whiz! That was a shucks-darn of a situation!” Such dialogue can ruin an otherwise decent work of fiction. So in this sense, the Christian writer must be better than others. We simply don’t have the luxury of falling back on base language when writing dialogue. Our characters must be believable and fall into the scope of our genre.

These are two of the traps I’ve been working to overcome in my own writing. So, I plan on reading works of fiction with the goal of learning from them. For instance, I just completed Joel C. Rosenberg’s David Shirazi trilogy. It’s good stuff. Rosenberg’s stuff is tremendously popular and, for the most part, Rosenberg avoids the traps I mentioned above. When his stuff is good, it is very good. However, even his books are not without their flaws. I found myself making mental notes as I read through the trilogy. Rosenberg’s audience is the audience I want to tap into. Not necessarily with works of international intrigue … but I would like to produce engaging and intelligent fiction that is both faithful to Scripture and believable.

I am that reading more will help me improve and perfect my craft. I am interested in your thoughts though. What traps do you see Christian writers fall into? How have you overcome them in your writing?

The Gospel of Rob Bell

RobBellRob Bell has been the focus of much discussion since the release of his book Love Wins in 2011. In the book, Bell famously questioned the existence of a literal hell along with the need to believe solely in Jesus Christ to avoid such fate. It was this book that led to Bell’s departure from Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan.

A recent article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey  reveals that Bell has stepped out of the pulpit (and out of organized church all together), however, his books are still on the shelves. In addition, he is currently developing a show for the Oprah Winfrey Network.

A show on the OWN Network will inevitably reach an audience far larger than the 10,000 seats available in Mars Hill Bible Church … so I think it’s fair to ask what message Bell will be offering his viewers. When asked if he still considered himself an evangelical by Bailey, Bell offered the following response:

“If we mean Jesus’ message of God’s revolutionary love for every person, and we can surrender and give our life to acts to loving kindness, then man, sign me up.”

Bell’s response encapsulates the gospel message he believes in and teaches. The problem, however, is that this isn’t the gospel message Jesus Christ Himself taught and believed in. Bell’s statement does contain a kernel of truth. God’s love for each and every person is revolutionary. So much so that He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins on the cross (John 3:16). However, we aren’t called to surrender and give our lives to acts of loving kindness, we are called to surrender and give our lives to Jesus Christ. Scripture records that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22). Our sin separates us from our perfectly Holy God (Isaiah 59:2) and only a belief in Jesus Christ will make us right with Him again (Romans 3:22, 10:10). As Christians, we give our lives to Christ for salvation and then the acts of loving kindness (that Bell references) follow. Acts of love (or works) follow from our faith and serve to demonstrate our faith as being real (James 2) … but they are not the object of our faith – that is reserved for Jesus Christ.

And with all apologies to Rob Bell, Scripture teaches that a failure to place one’s faith in Christ results in an eternal Hell where there will be a separation from God, weeping, gnashing of teeth, and the experience of fire and punishment that is eternal (see Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, Revelation 14:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 20:10, along with others).

Rob Bell promotes a gospel message that falls short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in Scripture. There is no doubt many believers and unbelievers alike will fall prey to this false gospel (Matthew 24:11), but if you choose to watch his show – please go into it with your eyes wide open. Be aware that his gospel is not the Gospel of Christ.

There is much media in the world today that offers to distract us from the Word of God. Movies such as Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings take nuggets of Biblical truth and wrap them in man-made fiction. In the same way, Bell’s gospel falls short of the real Gospel.

Christians, be careful in the world of media. Be careful not to quickly believe everything you see and hear. Test all things by Scripture (1 John 4:1).

My Type 2 Diabetes

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Image found at http://www.diabetescaregroup.info/type-2-diabetes-adult-onset/

It’s now been just a little over two weeks that I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. The diagnosis came after some routine lab tests at my family doctor. My a1c (a 3 month average of my sugar levels), which I’m told should be 6.5 or under, came in at 10.5. It was high enough for my doctor to announce I had uncontrolled diabetes. If I’m being honest, I was a little shocked it was so high, but I was also a little relieved.

It seems I have been experiencing some of the symptoms of diabetes for quite a while. Most prevalent was a sluggish feeling that hung with me most of the time. It was somewhat akin to walking through jello and made even the most routine tasks a challenge. I had been attributing this feeling to working the night shift, but in retrospect, I think it was due, at least in part, to diabetes. I also found myself irritable at times without knowing why. This too, it seems, can be attributed to diabetes.

So I was relieved at least that there was something I could do to address the feeling of blahs that had come to characterize my existence. In my case, the immediate prescription was diet, exercise, and some medication. In the two weeks since my diagnosis, I’ve lost six pounds and my fasting blood sugar level has dropped almost 150 points. My goal is a sugar level of 120 when I first wake up and I’m consistently in the 150’s. And though I have much more progress to make, I feel like I have taken some small steps in the right direction.

My diagnosis was a wake up call. It was clear, black and white evidence that the way I eat directly affects my health. In my case, years of snacking and fast food had given my diabetes. My diagnosis also gave me a choice. I could try and fix the problem or I could ignore it. I know several people who take medication for diabetes yet live like they don’t have the disease. This seems to work for a while … at least until more severe symptoms begin to raise their ugly heads.

As a Christian, I feel like my choice was clear. Life is a precious and miraculous gift from our Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ said that He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). To accept a diagnosis of diabetes without adjusting my diet and habits just doesn’t seem like an abundant life to me. My desire is to honor God with my life and to be an example for others to follow … and that means I need to commit to a different lifestyle over the long haul. I’ve got to acknowledge that it’s not going to be easy. Last night was especially difficult for me. I almost caved and ordered a pizza, but I got through it. I’m not suggesting I’ll never enjoy a good meal again, but when I do, I want it to be on my terms.

My wife said last night that I’ve embarked on a new lifestyle. Healthy eating and exercise need to characterize this new lifestyle if I hope to have life in abundance. I need to confess my sin of negligence when it comes to my health and repent from the lifestyle that led to diabetes if I hope to overcome it. If you’re reading this, please say a little prayer for God to lend me His strength to stick to my new diet.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).

Essential Church

withoutchurchI was browsing library books today and stumbled over several book titles that troubled me. One that especially stood out was How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean. I must admit that I haven’t read a single word of this book, so perhaps I’m off base, but the title suggests that engagement in a local church is not an essential element in the Christian’s life. This struck a chord in me because I’ve had a particular passage of Scripture running through my mind all week.

The Book of Acts records the Apostle Paul’s salvation experience on the road to Damascus. With letters of authority from the high priest, Paul set out for the Damascus synagogues so “that if he found any there who belonged to the Way [Christianity], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2, NIV). Paul had already created enough havoc in Jerusalem to cause the Christians there to scatter and had even participated in the stoning of Stephen. His intentions in Damascus weren’t good.

Then the risen Jesus intervened.

When a flash of light from heaven appeared, knocking him to the ground, Paul heard Christ’s voice ask, ““Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).

This single question from Jesus to Paul embodies how Jesus views the church. Paul had been attacking and harassing the Christians who comprised the Church and Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?”

Jesus sees the Church as an extension of Himself. In my mind, this is the single most powerful argument for the validity of the Church (both local and global) in all of Scripture. It is a game-changer in the way we should view the church. When we view the local church and the Christians that make up its numbers, we should see Jesus.

I’ve heard all the cliches:

‘I don’t need church to be a Christian.’

‘Churches are full of hypocrites.’

‘My faith is personal.”

But here’s the deal. Christ intentionally built community into our spiritual walks. The subtitle of Bean’s book suggests it will help Christians find “alternative forms of Christian community,” however, I fear reality is something quite different. Outside the local church most Christians do not bother looking for Christian community. They immerse themselves in the world and neglect God and His Word.

Scripture provides quite a different example. After Christ rose from the grave on the fist day of the week, Sunday became the day Christians began meeting to commemorate the event. On at least one Sunday gathering, Paul preached to those in attendance until midnight! (Acts 20:7).

The local church remains the best opportunity for Christians to gather with like-minded believers, to worship the Lord, and to immerse themselves in His Word. Despite all its imperfections, the church is an extension of Jesus Christ and should be seen as essential to living out our lives as Christians.

Find a church, serve, and grow.