Encourage One Another

And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:23-25

One of the things that I struggle with the most is getting out of my own little world, getting involved with the community of believers, and being an active member of the body of Christ. I sometimes envy those that have the natural inclination to serve and to encourage others. For me this is a struggle. When I get home from work and on the weekends my first desire is to pull back within myself and rest. I want to just lock the doors, close the curtains, shut out the world, and just be. While rest is important - Jesus Himself often sought a quiet place to rest - a continuous lifestyle of rest and comfort is not what scripture calls us to live.

All believers have been given gifts that God intends for us to use for His purposes in concert with other members of the church (Ephesians 4:11). We are called not only to utilize our own gifts, but also to stimulate and encourage those around us to fully utilize theirs as well. Many of us focus on the encouragement of our brothers and sisters but overlook what we are supposed be to encouraging them to: love and good deeds. We are to help spur and motivate each other to action. We are also given a context here: "all the more as you see the day drawing near."

We must remember that our time on this earth is short and that God has a plan and a purpose for all of us. This world, our own selfish nature, and Satan himself work together to distract us from God's plan and purpose. Each of us must resist the temptation to become self involved and instead be constantly vigilant and focus on what God would have us do each day. This is not as easy as it sounds, and we all require the people God has placed around us to occasionally step in; to motivate and remind us in love where we are to focus our attention. We also need to remember that as hard as it can be for us, it is just as hard for others. 

We have all learned how to put on a good face and we have been taught not to burden others with our trials. Most of us are pretty good at wearing our masks. However, even the person who appears to "have it all together" is struggling just like you are even if they don't show it. They could use your encouragement. As we "see the day drawing near" we need to remember to lift one another up, to not forsake our brothers and sisters to face their battles alone, and to accept help from others when it is offered. 

Within our community of believers we need to be active and attending to God's purposes. Where today can you help motivate or encourage someone to act on what God has equipped them to do?

And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. ~Hebrews 13:16

What Speed Limit?

I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out before Him; Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads were standing before Him; The court sat, and the books were opened. ~Daniel 7:9-10

We read here in the book of Daniel of the day of judgment. What do you suppose is written in those books that Daniel saw being opened on that day? We know that one of the books is the book of life and that anyone whose name is not found there is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). The other books are said to record the deeds of all people and that each person will be judged by the deeds recorded in these books (Revelation 20:12-13). This judgment is not only for the wicked. All will stand in front of God. Jesus Himself tells us that each man will have to account on the day of judgment for every careless word he has ever have spoken (Matthew 12:36).

Most of us have a difficult time imagining that we could have possibly done anything bad enough to warrant judgment. This is only because we do not have an understanding of the perfect holiness of a God who is so exacting that He knows the precise numbers of hairs on each of our heads, has named all the stars, and tracks every sparrow (Matthew 10:29-30).  God has designed a universe with rules so precise and so finely tuned to each other that if even one of these rules, say the strength of gravity or the strong nuclear force, were altered even slightly then the entire universe would cease to be able to support any life. We break God's laws, the rules that govern the machine of His creation, every day of our life and we are so used to it that we don't even notice. But, whether we notice or not, every action we make and every word that we speak is recorded.

To put it in terms that we can understand, imagine that every mile you drove was tracked and that each time you went over the speed limit it was recorded. Let's assume that each of us drives an average of 15,000 miles per year which was apparently the national average in 2008.  If half the time we went the speed limit and below and half the time we went above the speed limit (this seems generous to me) that would mean that we would spend 7,500 miles per year traveling over the speed limit. Over the course of a lifetime of driving (say a conservative 50 years) that would be 375,000 miles spent speeding.

Now, when we stand in front of the judge, the books are opened, and we are to account for each of those miles what the judge will not do is to give us credit for how often we actually went the speed limit. We are expected to go the speed limit. When standing before a judge, you don't get a reward for doing what you are expected and required to do, you answer for what you did wrong, in this case 375,000 miles of speeding. Assuming that on average we went 10 miles per hour over the limit and that the fine was $5 per MPH per mile. We would be fined $18.75 million dollars. Now that we have that fine, let's start looking at each time we failed to yield, ran a red light, neglected to use our turn signals, had one too many beers...  You get the point.

Every day each of us break God's laws and each little thing we do is recorded and, regardless of how many times we obeyed the law or how many good things we have done, we will have to answer for those laws that we broke. The penalty for each of these offenses is more than any of us can possibly pay or bear. But, before we despair, let us not forget the other book: the Book of Life.

Now imagine as you are standing in front of that judge faced with an impossible fine. You are left with no other choice than to be sentenced to a life in prison, forever separated from the life of freedom you were meant for. Imagine that someone enters the courtroom, marches straight up to the judge and lays down the entirety of the fine in cash. This person boldly states "This one is Mine!" He holds out His hand to you  and all that is required of you to gain your freedom is to accept the free gift of His salvation. This is exactly what Jesus did for each of us when He chose to come into His creation, live the perfect life, and die on the cross as a willing and perfect substitute for each and every one of us. All that we must do is accept this free gift.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) but there is one who has freely offered Himself as the sacrifice to pay fully for all of our sins. When the book of life is opened and your name is found written in it because you have accepted the free gift of salvation through Christ Jesus, the fine and the sentence is forever erased. Do you know Jesus personally? Are you certain that when the books are opened that, no matter what is found written in them, your name is written in the only book that matters?

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.' ~Matthew 25:34 

Elegantly and Beautifully Simple

If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.~Romans 10:9

We Are Here by Sérgio BernardinoAs part of his theory of Special RelativityAlbert Einstein discovered one of the most famous equations of physics: E=mc^2.  Now, while most of us are familiar with it, I think that it is safe to say that very few of us can adequately explain the detail behind this little equation. Indeed, people go to school for years taking grueling courses in higher mathematics and in physics to understand the ramifications and proper usage of this simple little formula. What is striking about this formula, as well as the other important and ground breaking scientific equations such as gravity or Newton's Second Law of Mechanics (F = ma),  is that while they are complex in their application they are at the same time elegantly and beautifully simple. 

This is the way that God has consistently revealed Himself to us through nature. He has designed a universe for us that is at the same time infinitely complex and elegantly simple.  What a child can understand in principle in a day, a scholar could study in detail for an entire lifetime. 

It should come as no surprise that what God has revealed to us in His Word is no different than what He has revealed to us in nature. Scholars and Theologians over the past two millennia have studied and dissected every detail of God's Word. Literally millions of sermons have been preached on it, books written on it, classes taught on it and yet we have yet to truly scratch the surface of what it contains. In the midst of all this complexity is the elegantly simple message of the whole thing. 

Many people spend their whole lives diving into the detail of the bible and completely miss the simplicity of this message. Others look at the bible, try to dive right into the details like a child diving right into a calculus class. They get frustrated, convinced that God would have made it simpler, and give up on God.

The simple message of God's word is captured in the story of the thief on the cross. Jesus was crucified next to two thieves. One of them mocked Him, but the other confessed that he deserved his fate and he confessed Jesus as Lord. He asked that Jesus remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus' response to this man who had never done any of the "religious" things that we expect today, who was not baptized, who did not take the Lord's supper, who did not go to religious school, who was a confessed criminal deserving of death on a cross, to this man Jesus said "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43).

There is also the story of a man who goes to find laborers for his vineyard. He hires some men early in the morning and agrees to pay them a good amount. He later finds other workers, and later still more, until the end of the day. When the day is over he gathers all the workers in order to pay them their wages starting with those that he called last (who worked for only an hour) and going to those whom he had called first (who worked all day). He paid them all the same amount, a fair wage for a full day's work (Matthew 20:1-16). 

The simple message of the bible is that God loves you more than you can possibly comprehend and He is seeking you. He has been seeking you all your life. Jesus never stops calling you and will never reject you if you will only heed his call. All that respond to His call receive the same reward of eternity in paradise with God Himself in the flesh. There is nothing that you have done that is too bad or that disqualifies you. An entire lifetime of rejecting Him will be forever washed away in an instant. From that moment on Jesus Himself will become your personal teacher and tutor. He will personally explain all of those things that seem so complicated now.

It is as simple as this: Confess + Believe = Salvation. Like the theories and equations of Einstein, the practical details of this equation can take a lifetime to explore, but just as we would expect from God, the equation that describes it all is elegantly and beautifully simple. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16


'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' ~Ecclesiastes 1:2

When Solomon took the throne of Israel he was very young and God gave him the opportunity to ask for a blessing. Instead of asking for riches or long life, Solomon asked God for wisdom in order to lead his people well. This unselfish request so pleased God that God granted Solomon not only wisdom but also honor and great wealth. Solomon was not just granted a little wisdom either, but God promised that Solomon would be the wisest man that had ever lived and that would ever live on this earth (1 Kings 3:7-15).

Even the wisest and most discerning heart can be led away from God if pride is allowed take foothold in our lives. Solomon's blessing led him down a dark path. On this path he determined that he would use his wisdom to discover the true purpose of life and where happiness on this earth can be found. Solomon was rich beyond compare. He had power and wealth and women. He searched for happiness and fulfillment in every kind of pleasure. He searched for it through hard work, through the building of great monuments, and through the study and pursuit of knowledge and of greater wisdom. He experienced every good thing that we today search desperately for and what he found was emptiness and folly.

We all seek that which will give us rest, fulfillment, and satisfaction. We look to our work, to our families, to our recreation, to our studies, or to our religious practices. We explore philosophy, engage in moral debate, get involved with social causes. We search in alcohol, drugs, sexual promiscuity, or general moral rebellion to find that feeling of ... whatever it is ... we'll know it when we find it ... just around the corner....

Solomon explored all these things to a degree that very few of us could and what he found was only darkness and pain. All the things we try to distract and to fill ourselves with are meaningless outside of a relationship with God. Blaise Pascal put this way:
There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.
The only important question worth asking on this earth is do we have a personal and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ? If that question is not answered in the affirmative then all other philosophical, social, and moral questions and discussions are utterly meaningless. Once we have found that relationship, however, then it begins to illuminate all other aspects of our lives and by it we are able to see our world as it truly is. Our blinders are removed, the emptiness inside us is filled, and our true purpose is revealed. 

Solomon was the wisest man that has ever lived. He searched the earth for meaning apart from God and found only emptiness. Only by knowing God do we begin to know ourselves.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. ~Ecclesiastes 12:13

Come and Die

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. ~Luke 9:23

Many people, perhaps most people, both inside the church and outside the church, have a dangerously softened, sanitized, and ultimately incorrect idea about who Jesus really was, about what Jesus really calls His followers to do, and about how Jesus really calls his followers to live. 

Our culture is a consumer culture where we expect things to meet our needs and where we will shop around until we find that perfect thing that fits our wants and our desires just right. Our society teaches us, either explicitly or implicitly, that anything that does not add to our personal comfort either physically or emotionally should be cast off as we search for that which makes us happy (this includes moral standards as well as spouses). Because happiness is our primary concern we must also realize that others just want to be happy too, and so as long as they are happy and we are happy then everybody is happy. Right?

We do this with the church and we do this with Jesus too. As Christians, we tend to shop around for churches that have just the right feel to them. Do they have a good child care? Are they wearing the right clothes? Does the pastor give stirring messages that keep me awake and make me laugh? Do I like the music style? How are the decorations?  Do they have chairs or pews? What time does the service start because I don't want to have to get up too early! Are the sermons tolerant because I really don't want all that talk of God's wrath and call to sacrifice anything in my life and I certainly don't want the preacher saying anything that might offend anybody. Just give me a comfortable environment and a comfortable feel-good message so that I can check off my weekly religious duty and get back to living my life for myself the rest of the week. 

Is this the type of focus we are to have? Is this what Scripture calls us to? Ultimately, if we boil it down to the core of the message, we are called to do one thing, and that is to give up our lives completely and totally to Jesus. We are to take up our cross and to die to ourselves and to this world - not once when we say a prayer when we are first saved - but every day thereafter. 

"Come and Die" may not be the most appealing slogan and may not make for great advertisements but it is exactly the message that we are called to both hear and to proclaim. Following Jesus and walking the narrow path means sacrificing our comfort, our popularity, our material things, and even our lives if necessary.

In his book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman points out:
History and church tradition tell us that many of those who followed Jesus when he was here on earth ended up on that road. According to tradition, Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead. Luke was hanged in Greece. Peter was crucified upside down. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during a missionary trip. Jude, the brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows when he refused to deny faith in Christ. James was beheaded in Jerusalem. A decision to follow Jesus is a decision to die to yourself.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity:
Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out."
The fact is that only by dying to yourself and to this world can you finally become the person that God created you to be. The message of denying ourselves goes against everything our culture tells us. Those that don't know Christ and those that have been hardened by a lifetime of dead and meaningless religious activity (see our posts on Religion vs. Relationship, and Who Then is Greatest) will chastise and caution us to "show moderation" and to "not take all this stuff too far". It is not possible for those who do not have a personal relationship with God to understand this message because the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). 

Even the apostles were not spared from tribulation and death. Are you complaining about what, in light of eternity, are mild inconveniences? Are you only seeking the light and easy path that seems free from trouble and pain or are you seeking only His will no matter where that may take you? Are you truly willing to sacrifice everything for Him that sacrificed everything to save you?

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. ~Luke 9:24


Exult in Tribulation

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; ~Romans 5:2-4

Exulting in tribulation and in trials goes contrary to our nature. While we may take pleasure in enduring a difficult task because we can see the growth that we get from it or because we can see that the result of our endurance is worth it, such as going back to college as an adult, the difficult times in our lives that seem pointless to us can be demoralizing and even devastating.

God often calls us out of our comfort zones in order to accomplish His purposes both in us and in the lives of those that He has placed around us. Sometimes this can be as simple as a calling to speak to the stranger in the grocery store when we don't feel like talking to anybody. Other times it may be much more serious such as the loss of a job, house, or even the death of someone close to us. In these more serious times we often can see no purpose to the difficulties and tragedies that have befallen us and in frustration ask God why He has afflicted us. We may wonder what we have done wrong in order to deserve this.

As followers and disciples of Christ we are citizens of a Kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36, Philippians 3:20). God does not tell us that all things will be good for those who love Him. Rather He tells us that all things will work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). This is an important distinction. God has a plan and a purpose for everything that happens in our lives. Sometimes we are able, after the trial has past, to see in retrospect the benefit and the good that came from it. We are not, however, promised that the good result will always be realized or recognized on this side of eternity.

God's plan and His purposes for us while we are on this earth are far more grand and far more intricate than we can comprehend. God is working out His plan with an eternal focus and, to the best of our ability, we must try to see all things, both the good and the difficult, in the light of God's eternal purposes and not in the light of our temporary and temporal  circumstances. Our time on this earth is short and fleeting. God has much for us to do as He works in us to prepare us and those He has placed around us for His return. Let us not allow ourselves to become weary in our trials but, with the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, rejoice through the tribulations and the trials of this life in the confidence and in the expectation of our Lord's coming.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words. ~1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

Martha's Distraction

Teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on your wonderful works. ~Psalm 119:26-27

When I wrestle with a tough idea, the temptation is to push it out of my mind. After all, it is messing with my productivity and efficiency. I have things that are my responsibility and I can't be distracted by any old stray thought right?  This, for me, is one of the difficult blessings.  I do not like having my efficiency messed with.  Whatever interferes with my schedule is an intrusion. If the topic I'm thinking about has to do with living out my faith, I have to remind myself that it is OK to slow down and spend time dwelling on it. A thought or consideration that you can't shake is very likely the Holy Spirit bringing something to your attention.

For those who don't believe that God is real, you are not exempt. I know that the stray idea that God might actually be real and even possibly be everything that Christians believe He is, has occasionally crossed your mind. This train of thought is worth pursuing. An honest evaluation is always worthwhile on this subject, especially since you are betting your eternity on being right.

Likewise, the uncomfortable suspicion that I have something to work out is worth the time and effort of an honest perusal. God plants these thoughts for our own good or to prepare us for the benefit of someone else. It is amazing how well faith and the bible hold up and are strengthened by rational, intellectual scrutiny. The pace of my chores and routine can slow while I think as I work. It would, in fact, be wrong to willingly prioritize my work in this world over an opportunity to further my personal relationship with God when He speaks to me.

I have a sister who lives in Vietnam. Imagine if my sister called me all the way from Vietnam and said she had something important that she wanted to discuss and in reply I said, “Sorry, I am in the middle of laundry, and the dishes aren't done yet. Can we just do this later?” Of course I would take a break and talk to her for as long as she needed because my relationship with her is far more important than making sure every dish is clean.

The gospel of Luke tells a similar story:
As Jesus and his disciples were on the way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Martha let her service – in this case to the Lord Himself – get in the way of listening to what He was saying.  I relate to Martha more closely than anyone else in the bible, including her exasperation that no one was helping her.  I, too, get worried and upset in my effort to get everything done.  Whether you are a Christian or not, God is speaking to you and calling you deeper into relationship with Him. Are you going to put Him on hold and ask if you can call back when it is more convenient for you, or are you going to stop and listen to what He is saying?

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. ~Psalm 119:148

True Devotee

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven ~Matthew 7:21

Brian was a football fan - big football fan. It didn't matter if his team played at home or away, Brian figured out a way to make it to the game in order to cheer on his favorite players. He wore the team jersey, had the logo stickers on his car, and had pictures of the players hanging on the walls of his home.  He liked all the players, well most all of them, but the quarterback was his favorite. Brian knew every single thing there was to know about his quarterback. He knew his birth date, his mother's favorite food, the names, ages, and eye color of his pet hamsters, and the type of oil he preferred to put in his very expensive car. Brian knew so much that he had even written two books on the life and times of his quarterback and maintained a blog to keep up with all of his stats and to promote his greatness to the rest of the world. In every city and town that he visited he told people about his team and about his quarterback. Brian was the real deal, a true devotee. 

One day the news broke that his quarterback was getting married. The wedding was to be held at a big fancy resort with no expense spared. All of the quarterback's family and friends were invited to share in the joy and celebration of his special day. Brian was very excited and immediately made plans to attend the wedding. He took time off of work, bought an expensive tuxedo, arranged for airfare, and made certain to pack signed copies of the books he had written (surely his quarterback would want a couple of these!)  

The day of the wedding arrived and Brian showed up, decked out in his tux with his books in hand, at the resort. He was appalled when the man at the door told him that his name was not on the list. Brian showed the man the books he had written and told him that there must be some mistake. The man took one of the books to show it to the quarterback and see if there had been some oversight. Considering that Brian had never actually met the quarterback what do you think the response was?

Knowing facts about somebody is not the same thing as knowing somebody. You could study a person all your life and never develop a relationship with them. Sadly, this is what many of us do with Jesus. We study Him. We like Him. We put stickers on our cars to make sure everybody else knows we like Him. We write about Him. We speak about Him. But do we really know Him? When we show up to His wedding feast will we be invited in as honored guests or sent away as masquerading usurpers? This is a question that all of us must ask ourselves and honestly evaluate.

I am writing this message as much to me as to anyone else. After all, I have a Jesus fish on my truck, I listen to Christian music, I study all about Jesus, and I obviously write about Him too. But do I really know Him personally or am I mistaking intimate knowledge for intimate relationship? Am I counting on my good works and my good intentions to win me a place at the table, or am I focusing on surrendering myself fully to God so that He brings me ever closer to Him in a personal relationship? Most of us skip too quickly past this question and run the risk, like Brian in our example, of foolishly assuming too much. Take a moment to talk to God and listen to what He tells you about your relationship and where you need to surrender to Him more.

Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’~Matthew 7:22-23

The Veil is Torn!

And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; ~Matthew 27:51

The short time that Jesus spent on this earth changed absolutely everything. His life was the culmination of God's redemptive plan that had been put into motion the moment Adam bit into the fruit. That act of Adam's disobedience to God caused a vast separation between God and His most treasured creation, us. This was a separation that could only be overcome by God himself becoming the atoning sacrifice. This was His plan and His purpose from the beginning.

Secular history, far from controlling sacred history, is controlled by it, must directly or indirectly subserve its ends, and can only be understood in the central light of Christian truth and the plan of salvation.
All of human history, both before and after Jesus, prepares for and points to His life and His work of redemption for all of humanity. History (as well as science, psychology, astronomy, etc.) can only begin to be properly and correctly understood when viewed through the lens of the truth of Christ's life and God's plan. 

When Adam sinned, we were separated from God. Humanity was forced to live apart from His continual and personal presence (Romans 5:12). Before Christ appeared on earth as man, God chose to reveal Himself to humanity and to make Himself known to the world through a single people, the Israelites.  Though the Israelites knew God they were still separated from His continual and personal presence. Only priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to go through the veil and enter into the inner sanctuary of the temple, and then only one priest and only once per year. 

The veil was a symbolic representation of the required separation from God due to our sin. When Christ died on the cross He paid the price for that sin and the veil was torn. That which separated us from the very presence of God was forever removed (2 Corinthians 3:16). When Christ ascended to heaven He defeated death forever and built a bridge across the mighty chasm that spanned between God and humanity. When He sent His Spirit to indwell and live with us forever, He gave us power over our sin and made us one body. Everyday He molds and changes us us to conform to His very image, bringing us closer to Himself.

We are no longer a people separated from God and unable to enter into His temple. Due to what Jesus accomplished, we have become the very temple itself and the Spirit of the living God lives in every person who accepts this free gift of ultimate love and sacrifice (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are free from the bondage and ultimate penalty of sin. The bridge to our Father and eternal life is built and it is open to all who would choose it. That which separated us from our Creator is forever gone. The veil is torn!

He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. ~John 19:30

Life of Learning

Take my yolk upon you and learn from Me ~Matthew 11:29

A large part of our christian walk is about learning. We study the bible, go to Sunday School, and debate theology with our spouses and friends. Knowledge is one way that we strengthen our faith as well as our trust in God and we are encouraged to pursue it. With knowledge comes the responsibility to act on what we know to be true. Taking responsibility for our failures, working with the Holy Spirit to correct ourselves, and doing God's will in a culture that does not value our faith can be difficult and humbling. Deepening our understanding so that we can increase our productivity in God's service can lead us into some difficult and frightening places. Sometimes we forget what a blessing it is to be in a constant state of growth.

As children we learn rules, both household and social. We go to school and get an education. Some of us chose college and continue our education but at some point we stop pursuing knowledge as a primary focus. We know enough to pursue a career so we set our sights on on our daily lives and on making our way in the world. We get in a rhythm, become comfortable with the expectations of society, and we stagnate. Some people continue to study all of their lives, but their end goal is usually to gain money or influence, or to “keep current”, their goal is not for knowledge itself. It is only in our spiritual growth that there is truly no end to our learning and to our growth. What a great blessing even when it hurts.

Outside the doors of the church lives a vast population of socially adept, comfortable and relatively happy people. They are not morally or ethically inferior to Christians, but without a relationship with Jesus they have no motivation to learn and to grow spiritually. They don't understand that the very concept of a “good person” is an oxymoron. If they heard someone make this claim, they wouldn't believe that it applied to them. Their finances are in order, their culture makes sense and they are respected by colleagues. It is only when they consider the point of it all that they feel uneasy.

Biology tells us that the point of life is to create new life. Poetry tells us to be insightful and expressive. Atheism tells us that we die and end and anyone who can't accept that is weak. These are not great points for a collection of self concerned individuals who face a 100% mortality rate. It is most comfortable to simply not consider the point of living and therefore, without knowledge of it, they are merely waiting to die. Their favorite photos, lovingly crafted scrapbooks, videos and journals are destined for the dump within two generations. When people promise at funerals “We will never forget you” that promise holds only as long as they live, which isn't for very long. Our names and our stories disappear from this world more thoroughly and more quickly than even the atheists admit.

How awesome to have a desire for knowledge that doesn't end when our secular education is complete. How inspiring to seek answers to the difficult questions of life that lead us to faith. How gracious of God to give us a textbook so complex that we can study for a lifetime and still have more to learn. How amazing to know a God that grants us eternity to learn about and to get to know Him and all of His creation!

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness ~2 Timothy 3:16

The Morality Argument

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. ~Psalm 19:1

In response to a question posed by one of his former students pertaining to the relationship between morality and God, a college professor wrote a note on facebook lamenting on how some people rely on the idea of God to define their concept of morality. He summarizes his post this way:
"The bottom line is that the existence of God is immaterial to virtuous, moral behavior. Good people don't need a pastor, a minister, a prophet, or a church to tell them how to behave. They already know what's right in their hearts -- and if they don't, they have the ability to figure it out."
I do not personally know this professor, nor was his post of sufficient length or detail to fully flesh out the reasoning behind his argument but the gist of it is clear. It is actually an argument I know quite well because it is based on the view that I firmly held as an atheist. There are two basic paths that this line of reasoning generally takes. The first is the idea that there are no absolutes and that all concepts of right and wrong are determined either by the individual or by society.  I address this point of view in the blog post titled Absolute Truth.

The second line of reasoning, and the one that the professor seems to be following, is that there is such a thing as a collective morality and that each of us has an instinctual knowledge of the definition of morality, or at least what it should be. In one sense, this point of view is absolutely correct in that there is an absolute standard for morality and each person does have some internal and inescapable awareness that the standard exists. One aspect this point of view does not account for very well is the question; if we all know about this internal morality, why do we seem to have such difficulty in following it?

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes the matter this way:
"These, then, are two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and they cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in."
It is vitally important, when addressing a matter of any seriousness, that we ensure that we are starting our thinking from a solid foundation. It is very easy to throw out high-minded, feel-good statements about our own goodness and moral abilities, but upon what do we base our beginning assumptions?  

In our western culture there are two fundamentally opposed world views upon which people generally base all of their thinking. These are the natural and theological. Do your observations and philosophy about the universe begin with the view that all life is the result of a combination of time and random chance and where every ability we have is due to the process of natural selection over billions of years? Or do you see the universe from the perspective that all life was created with purpose and with meaning; that there is a power higher than us that has made Himself known through all that He has created and through specific special revelation (see our post on God's Revelation for more on this)?

If these are the two main competing world views (I am simplifying for brevity) then the question becomes how do we determine which is correct? If you have a personal relationship with God, this question is easy to answer, but what about those that do not yet know God? Is there any intellectually acceptable help to guide them? 

The main criteria for evaluating a world view is whether or not it is internally consistent. That is to say, does my world view ever contradict itself? For example, one of the foundational principles of the naturalistic world view is that every ability we have is the result of, and can be explained in the light of, natural selection. In other words, if a trait doesn't help us survive in this world, then it is eventually discarded as it is not passed on to successive generations. But this point of view is at odds with what we see in people. Our concept of morality and our inescapable internal desire to care for those that are weak and infirm is fundamentally opposed to the idea and theory of survival of the fittest.  

The Christian world view, however, is completely consistent in describing what we observe in human behavior. It fully explains our internal concepts of morality and our innate desires to help those in need as these are characteristics that define creatures designed in God's own image. It also completely explains why we, in practice and in heart, consistently fail to live up to this morality through our fallen sinful nature. Most people, when arguing the naturalistic world view will point to the failures of the church as an example of how religion fails to successfully fulfill the internal law that we all feel. But this failure itself is entirely consistent with what scripture reveals to us about the fallen nature of man and of our inability to navigate the path of moral behavior ourselves apart from God. 

This is just one example of many. A true and honest look will reveal that the Christian world view is the only world view that is completely free from all internal inconsistencies. Precisely what you would expect from the truth.

Much ink has been spilled over the course of human history debating this issue so I do not expect to be able to treat it fully here. For an excellent treatment of the subject in more detail, I would highly recommend Mere Christianity. No one quite says it like C.S. Lewis. In the mean time, if you will remember to ask yourself if your world view adequately explains the universe and observed human behavior in an internally consistent and complete way, you will begin to find that there is only one single world view that succeeds and that is Christianity. 

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ~Colossians 1:16-17

Pray Continually

Pray continually ~1 Thessalonians 5:17

This is a pretty short and succinct verse that also, at first glance, seems rather impossible. Could this mean that I am literally commanded to pray continually, every minute of every day? How would I ever get anything done if I spent all my time in prayer? I believe that the answer is yes, we are commanded to be in prayer continually in everything that we do. It is in everything that we do, in fact, that we learn to know God and begin to understand His grace, mercy, and extreme love for us. It is in the details of life that we begin to learn to understand the will of God for us, but only if we are paying attention, listening, casting our own pride and selfishness aside, and focusing on Him and on His will.

In the book of Revelation John describes how he witnesses the throne of God surrounded by four creatures and twenty-four elders. Day and night, the creatures never stop saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” and each and every time they say this the elders fall down and lay their crowns before the throne (Revelation 4:1-11). It would seem that these elders have little time for anything else, yet later, one of the elders carries on a conversation with John (Revelation 7:13). So which is it? Is the elder continually praising God or talking with John? The answer is that he is simultaneously doing both. The image that John saw was a picture of how we are to be inwardly oriented toward God in all things and at all times. 

The full context of the verse in Thessalonians is “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We are not called to be disconnected from our environment or our circumstances but rather we are called to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful in every situation - constantly giving praise and glory to God - no matter how good or how bad the situation may seem to us. In Revelation, the elder that carried on a conversation with John also never stopped praising God and casting his crown at the throne. John is seeing and describing, in a very visual form, the attitude that each of us is to seek and to maintain throughout every moment of our lives.

God never stops speaking to us and desires that we be in constant, unceasing fellowship with Him. We are to cast our cares, our troubles, our hurts, our concerns, our pride, our failures, our selfishness - everything - at His feet. In all things we must pray in the Spirit and let our requests be made known to God (Ephesians 6:18). This sounds difficult, and surely as we let the cares and concerns of this world distract and occupy us, it is difficult to be constantly mindful of God. Focus today on picturing God on His throne. Imagine casting your concerns and your troubles at His feet. Listen to what He says to you. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

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