Friday, August 28, 2015

I Want To See with Clarity, Not Sit with Authority

There are only two times in the New Testament when Jesus says to someone, "What do you want me to do for you?"


Imagine if the Creator of the universe asks you personally, "What do you want me to do for you?" It reminds me of the old joke of the man walking on the beach and he finds a bottle with a genie inside, and ... well, you know where I'm going. What if God posed this question to you? How do you think you would respond?

It fascinated me to discover that the two occasions where Jesus asks this question are both found in  Mark 10. The first time he asks two of His disciples, James and John, "What do you want me to do for you" (Mark 10:36) and they responded:
"Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory" (Mark 10:37). 
What was it they were wanting? From Jesus response, we gather that James and John wanted the power and authority of Jesus. They wished to "sit with authority" over others in the Kingdom. The way Jesus responded to their request reveals what Jesus thinks about so called "spiritual authority." He says to James and John, "you don't know what you are asking," and then responds with these sharp words:
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45). 
Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to "exercise authority over others." I've said before, and I'll say it again, the greatest problem in evangelical Christianity today is the desire for pastors, elders, and "spiritual leaders" to exercise spiritual authority or power over God's people. This is not the way it's supposed to be, at least according to Jesus.

The second time Jesus asks the question "What do you want me to do for you" is just a few verses later in in Mark 10. There is a blind man waiting on the side of the road as Jesus walks out of Jericho heading to Jerusalem. His name is Bartimaeus. The blind man responds to Jesus by saying:
"I want to see..."
Jesus then commends Bartimaeus for His faith and heals the blind man. So, in the same chapter we have Jesus asking two times "What do you want me to do for you?"  The first time he asks, his disciples, James and John, answer "We want to sit with authority" and Jesus rebukes them. The second times He asks, the blind man Bartimaeus responds, "I want to see with clarity" and Jesus praises him.

Preachers, we must learn well the lesson of Mark 10.

Desiring bigger influence over people, or wanting more "spiritual authority,' or asking God to give you a church or a group of believers who will recognize your authority and do what you say ("because the preacher is our spiritual authority") is a desire that seems ripe for Divine rebuke.

However, praying that you might "see with clarity" the wisdom of God is a prayer Jesus honors. When we acknowledge our weakness and turn to Jesus for clarity, we are only concerned with our ability to see, never others willingness to follow.

I'd rather be like blind Bartimaeus than James and John. I want to see with clarity and not even think of having any so-called spiritual authority.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Scars of Law and the Riches of Grace: Josh Duggar and 32 Million Ashley Madison Users

Odysseus by John William Waterhouse
"I have been the biggest hypocrite ever." Those were the first public words from Josh Duggar after hackers released information that Mr. Duggar spent hundreds of dollars at Ashley Madison, a website designed for married people who desire to have extra-marital sexual affairs. Mr. Duggar, the former Vice-President of the Family Research Council, had worked tirelessly in opposition to gay marriage, internet pornography, and other moral and social issues.  All the while, Mr. Duggar lived a secret life of "pornography addiction...and marital infidelity." The public exposure of Mr. Duggar's duplicity - or to use his word, hypocrisy - has set Twitter and social media on fire.

Hackers released the email addresses and credit card usage of 32 million users of Ashley Madison - but the media is focusing like a laser beam on Josh Duggar. Why is there a media and cultural infatuation with a twenty-seven-year old Christian whose singular claim to fame is being the eldest son of a family featured on a second-rate reality television show? The Advocate, an online news organization promoting gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles writes that the Duggars have "a long history of anti-LGBT" rhetoric and actions. The Duggars have promoted "family values" and have called homosexuality a sin.  It seems that The Advocate and other media have the rationale that, "if readers can see the lies and hypocrisy of Josh Duggar's life, then surely they'll understand the lies and deception of Josh Duggar's words," 

That's why Josh Duggar has been singled out among 32 million Ashley Madison users. Those who don't like the idea that moral law actually comes from our Creator will seize on anything to convince themselves and others that there is actually no moral law from God. Promoting hypocrisy in the life of one who speaks freely of Divine law makes those who despise the concept of moral law feel better about the possibility that God's law doesn't even exist. It's not news when an atheist has an affair.

However, those who have singled out Josh Duggar from among the 32 million Ashley Madison users are probably ignorant of the fact that God's law was only designed to expose the problem within us and never designed to expunge the problem from us. I'm an evangelical preacher of the gospel. I'm not surprised by any moral failure in the life of any Christian who publicly and repeatedly promotes God's laws to the world. Not only am I not surprised; I expect it. No matter how boldly one proclaims that adultery and homosexuality are violations of God's moral law, Divine law has no power to remove desires for adultery or homosexuality from within our hearts. 

God's Law Changes Nobody, It Only Scars

God declares adultery to be a violation of His moral standard. "You shall not commit adultery," God says (Exodus 20:14). Solomon wrote, "the person who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does it destroys his or her own life" (Proverbs 6:32). Likewise God calls homosexuality "an abomination," a violation of His intention for the world (Leviticus 18:22). Paul says those who commit homosexuality have "taken the truth of God and exchanged it for a lie, worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). 

God's law was given to expose corruption in the heart and to restrain actions by the sinner; but it was never designed to expunge corruption from the heart or to reverse actions by the sinner. The law is powerless to change us.
"But we know that the law is good, if one uses it the way it was intended, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (1 Timothy 1:8–11).
The law scars. It might restrain, but the person restrained by law is scarred by the battle to throw it off. Sadness, unhappiness, despair, depression and all other emotions that bubble up when being held or restrained from obtaining the very thing the heart wants will lead the sinner to fight against God's restraints (the law). Let me illustrate this principle.

Odysseus, the great captain of the seas in ancient Greece, knew that the island of the Sirens was an island to be avoided. The beautiful half-naked, woman-like creatures who inhabited the island would sing their beautiful songs to entice sailors to enter their port. The Sirens would then attack the sailors, maiming and killing them before consuming their bodies. To avoid this sensuous but deadly island, Odysseus ordered his men to bind him with ropes, to put wax in their own ears, and then ordered the sailors to tighten the ropes when they saw their captain fighting against them. As Odysseus and his men sailed by the island of the Sirens, Odysseus heard the beautiful music and wanted with all his might to swim to the Sirens. He fought against the ropes. The sailors, with wax in their ears, tightened the ropes. Odysseus fought harder. He would later say,
"I became desperate to plunge into the sea." 
The sailors used the ropes to restrain Odysseus, and the ship eventually sailed by the island of the Sirens, avoiding certain destruction and death of Odysseus and his men. But Odysseus was scarred for life. The ropes couldn't change his desires; they only prevented him from obtaining them. The legacy of Odysseus fighting against the restraints could be seen in the physical scars he bore.

God's law is like the ropes that constrained Odysseus.  It may be used to bind others, as a civil society may choose restraints in the form of laws that prohibit adultery and homosexuality (as America once did), but those others will fight against those laws until they are thrown off, because law cannot change the heart.  

This is why it should never be surprising to any of us when those who advocate tightening the ropes wind up falling into the sea themselves. 

God's Riches in Christ Is Beautiful Music Indeed

So how do we actually change? How do we avoid the Ashley Madison websites of this world? How do we say no to our addictions? How do we sail by the island of the Sirens? What has the power to change us? 

According to the New Testament, the only thing powerful enough to change us from the inside/out is the riches of God's grace toward us in Jesus Christ. It's never the law of God that convinces a man to change his life; it's the grace and goodness of God in Christ that has the power to change the human heart. 

We must become captivated by a sweeter, more beautiful song. 

Going back to Greek mythology, Jason was another captain who sailed the Aegean sea. He and his men, the Argonauts, had also heard that the island of the Sirens was beautiful but deadly. Unlike Odysseus, Jason didn't sail by the island bound by ropes and with wax in his men's ears. Jason asked Orpheus, the greatest musician in the world, to sail with him and his men. When they came near to the island of the Sirens, Orpheus began playing his music. Jason and his men were so captivated by what they heard from Orpheus that when the Sirens began singing their songs, they sailed right on by because their hearts were captured by more beautiful music. 

This is what the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ does for us. It's a sweeter song. The problem is that many who name Christ as Lord often seemed more concerned with tightening the ropes than creating beautiful music.

Yesterday I performed a funeral service for an elderly woman who died of Alzheimer's disease. I chose as my text God's incredible promise to those who trust His Son: "I will remember your sins and iniquities no more" (Hebrews 8:12). I explained that God's forgetfulness, unlike Alzheimer's, is intentional, personal, and eternal. When you begin to live in the knowledge of God's forgetfulness of all those times you "missed the mark" (sin) as a spouse, person, parent, etc... then you can relate to God not out of fear nor "obedience to any law," but in the knowledge of His great grace for you in Jesus Christ.  After the message, a couple unfamiliar with true Christianity, told me that the message had "changed their lives." God's grace is the only thing powerful enough to change lives

Life lived to its fullest comes from listening to the beautiful music that is struck by the chords of God's riches in Christ. Even when we screw up intentionally and wickedly (i.e.. "iniquity"), God forgets it because Jesus died for it. That's rich grace; and it alone will change our hearts,  The music of grace causes us to lose desire for the lesser pleasures of sin and iniquity. Our lives change when we begin to feel that God's grace for us is more beautiful, more pleasurable, more captivating, and more enticing than our sin. 

When I come to realize that I can jump into the sea and He'll never hold it against me, and when I come to understand that if I jump for a lesser pleasure I'm acting senselessly by abandoning my only real Treasure, and when I find myself swimming to a lesser pleasure that will ultimately only destroy me, then maybe it's time for me to ask why I'm not being captivated by the beautiful music of God's grace in Jesus Christ?

If, however,  I hear the beautiful music of grace, and if I begin to walk in the deep and unconditional love of God for me, then I indeed discover that I need no illicit love to fill my heart. And if I come to revel in the sweetness of God's intentional and personal forgiveness of me, then I find the power to throw off any addiction that helped me deal with the pain and guilt of my failures. And  if  I come to understand that God, who spared not His own Son for me, will freely, daily and cheerfully give me everything I need, then I will be unable to find any reason to spend time worrying about tomorrow. 

I have Him.

The Beautiful Music of God's Grace in Christ Changes the Heart

Ephesians 2:7 ... God sent His Son so "that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Romans 9:23... God gave us His Son "make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy..."

Ephesians 1:7... "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."

I Timothy 1:14... "and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus."

John 10:10...Jesus said, "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and that you might have life at its fullest."

If you've understood what I've written above, you understand my life's message. I'm not sure if it's clear to you or not, but after reading about Josh Duggar this morning, I felt compelled to write for those Duggars out there not yet caught. 

Real change comes from rich grace.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ISIS Tortures and Murders Dr. Khaled Al-Asaad

Dr. Khaled Al-Asaad, the renowned professor of antiquities in Palmyra, Syria, was brutally murdered this week by ISIS. Dr. Al-Asaad, 83 years of age, had worked as a professor in Syria for decades, and held the title of general manager for Palmyra, one of Syria's most ancient archaeological sites. He served as the director of the museum of antiquities. Palmyra is located 134 miles northeast of Damascus and is renowned for its historical artifacts.

I reached out to my cousin when I heard about the death of Dr. Al-Asaad. She worked in Syria for many years as an archaeologist and was recognized by The Los Angeles Times as "the leading American archaeologist for Syrian artifacts." She, like all professional archaeologists, was shaken by the news. Dr. Al-Asaad was a peer and a friend.  ISIS has a goal of destroying all cultural and historical heritage sites not affiliated with radical Islamic ideology.  Dr. Al-Asaad knew his life was in danger, but he reportedly said, "I live in Syria and I will die in Syria." He did.

ISIS believes any historical artifact protected, preserved and displayed in museums is "idolatry." ISIS is dedicated to the destruction of all historical artifacts and the murder of all historians and archaeologists who engage themselves in "idolatry." The New York Times reports that ISIS leaders had detained Dr. Al-Asaad for weeks in a vain attempt to discover the hidden location of Palmyra's valuable antiquities. This Tuesday, ISIS "dragged Dr. Al-Asaad to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd." The Times goes on to report that "his blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists ... his head resting on the ground between his feet."

Be prepared.

I am about to show you the picture of Dr. Al-Asaad's mutilated and murdered body. It's a picture that ISIS displayed triumphantly on social media, but one that the American media is refusing to post. Turn away if you don't wish to see it. Let me give you my reason for posting it.

With the invention of photography, social change blossomed. Progressives who wanted to change child labor laws, unsafe work environments in factories, and a host of social problems in the late 1800's had a new, profound and powerful friend.


We are a visual people, and only when people get sick and tired of seeing the brutality and inhumanity of ISIS will civilized people get sick and tired of accommodation. In a culture infatuated with the death of aged athletes and movie stars, here's hoping a photograph of the murdered Dr. Khaled Al-Asaad will wake Americans up to the brutality of radical Islam and put people in office who will actually do something about it. Wake up, America. ISIS must be stopped.

Monday, August 17, 2015

His World Got Smaller as His God Got Bigger

There are a few occasions when I am taken by surprise with public expressions of faith in Christ by God's people. This morning was one of those occasions. Kathie Lee Gifford gave a clear testimony of the importance of receiving God's grace in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Her words were clear and sincere. Some Christians may be bothered by the glass of wine in front of Kathie Lee as she shares of her's and her husband's love for Christ, but not me. I'd rather be around a person who exudes the joy of Jesus and drinks a glass of wine than a person who eschews a glass of wine and is devoid of the love of Jesus. Kudos, Kathie Lee, for letting your Light shine before the world - on national television no less. One of the phrases Kathie Lee used to describe the last few years of her husband's life is a phrase that will stick with me:
"His world got smaller as his God got bigger."
May that ultimately be true of all of us who name Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. To watch the full touching tribute to Frank Gifford's faith click here:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I'd Rather Follow Patrick Henry than Mikey Weinstein

There is a remarkable woman who lives in Enid, Oklahoma named Christina Hopper. She is a wife, mother, and a former United States Air Force F-16 fighter pilot. She now instructs future fighter pilots. Her long list of accomplishments is impressive; an accomplished collegiate swimmer at the University of Texas, the first black female fighter pilot to see air combat for the United States Air Force, a highly decorated fighter pilot, and now one of the top triathletes in the nation. She's won the Good Housekeping Award for women leaders in government, invited to appear on Oprah, and has been nationally recognized for her leadership skills. Christina is a member of the church I pastor, and this week she found herself on the receiving end of a diatribe from the pen of Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

It seems Mr. Mikey was offended  when he read an article last week from the Vance Air Force Base Public Affairs magazine that highlighted Christina and her recent accomplishments as a triathlete. The reporter made a statement about Christina that caused Mr. Mikey Weinstein heartburn. Here are the reporter's words about Christina, comparing her triathlete training to life:
"The triathlon courses are designed by others, but Christina's life's trail is directed by faith. Faith in God, faith in those she is close to and faith in the belief that life's spoils, whether they be triathlon finishes, flying or family, are blessings."
Faith in God.

These are three words that caused Mr. Weinstein offense. It seems Mikey Weinstein believes that no United States Air Force pilot should ever publicly voice faith in God, but instead, promote faith in the Constitution of the United States.

Worse, Mr. Weinstein, a lawyer, takes a decade old video from The Christian Broadcasting Network  and pulls a deceptive bait-and-switch in his article, acting as if the Vance Air Force Base Public Affairs Magazine promoted Christina's faith in Christ. Shame on you Mr. Weinstein. The Vance Air Force Base article never mentions Christina's faith in Christ. The Christian Broadcasting Company highlighted Christina's faith in Christ many years ago. Get your facts straight. But even if Vance Air Force Base had mentioned Christina's faith in Christ, I'd rather have a believer in historic Judeo-Christian principles in control of an F-16 in American fighter jet than an ISIS fanatic. No?

The Weinsteins of this world--those who wish to sanitize all mention of God from our United States military personnel--exhibit a weakness that our American forefathers never possessed. Listen to Patrick Henry's wisdom and notice how it is diametrically opposite of Mr. Mikey Weinstein's religious bigotry.
"If we wish to be free; if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending; if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained — we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of hosts, is all that is left us." Patrick Henry
Sorry, Mikey Weinstein. I'd rather follow Patrick Henry than you.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Spiritual Pride Is Seen By Its Fruit, Not Its Root

One of the greatest American theologians in our nation's relatively young history - at least compared to Europe - is the brilliant Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).

Edwards once wrote an article showing the eight characteristics of spiritual pride, a disease he says "is much more difficult to discern than any other corruption because, by nature, pride is a person having too high a thought of himself" and therefore one afflicted would be unable to see it.

Edwards writes that pride "is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment, and the main handle by which Satan takes hold of Christians to hinder a work of God."

Since pride is "so secretive, and cannot be well discerned by immediate intuition of the thing itself," it's best, says Edwards, to "identify it by its fruits and effects." Edwards then proceeds to name eight characteristics of spiritual pride.
  • The spiritually proud person is full of light already and feels he does not need instruction, so he easily despises instruction and the offer of it.
  • Spiritually prideful people tend to speak loudly and often of others' sins - like the miserable delusion of hypocrites, or the deadness of some saints with bitterness, or the opposition to holiness of many believers - and always finds fault with other saints for their lack of progress in grace.
  • Spiritually proud people often speak of almost everything they see in others in the harshest, most severe language.
  • Spiritual pride often disposes persons to act differently in external appearance, to assume a different way of speaking, countenance or behavior to be seen and praised by others, whereas the humble person never sets himself up to be viewed and observed as one distinguished.
  • Proud people take great notice of opposition and injuries, and are prone to speak often about them with an air of bitterness or contempt.
  • Another pattern of spiritually proud people is to behave in ways that make them the focus of others, coming to expect deference from others and forming an ill opinion of those who do not give them what they feel they deserve.
  • One under the influence of spiritual pride is more apt to instruct others than to ask questions.
  • As spiritual pride disposes people to assume much to themselves, so it disposes to treat others with neglect.
Surprisingly, Edwards sums up his examination of the fruit of spiritual pride by making a statement worthy of consideration by us all:
"We ought to be very careful that we do not refuse to discourse with carnal men because we count them unworthy to be regarded. Instead, we should condescend to carnal men as Christ has condescended to us."
That there's some heavy, thoughtful mental food for those of us who are living in a culture of carnality. Before we speak a word of condemnation about those we perceive to be in sin, we might want to take stock of Edward's keen observations.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Wiki "me" dia - The Inherent Bias in Wikipedia

The Cyrus Cylinder
I was recently doing some research on Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great. He is founder of the Persian Empire (550 to 330 BC), and is the Cyrus in the Bible that God calls "My shepherd" (Isaiah 44:28) and His "anointed" one (Isaiah 45:1). The world knows him as Cyrus the Great, and military leaders from Alexander the Great to Patton studied the character of this king of Persia who conquered the Babylonians (October 11, 539 BC) and allowed the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their city and their Temple. Anyway, I normally don't look at Wikipedia when doing any kind of research, except to possibly examine sources in the footnotes, but in this case I read the entire entry for Cyrus the Great

Anyone--and I hope there are only a few people in this category--who believes Wikipedia is the end all in terms of accurate information should understand that Wikipedia information is always slanted toward the bias of the writers and editors who take their time to input data.  

For example, throughout Western civilization, it is common knowledge that Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BC, a country where tens of thousands of Jews had been held in captivity for many years. The Jews had been taken to Babylon (modern day Iraq) by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who in his rage against the Jews destroyed their city (Jerusalem) and the Temple of God in 586 BC. Some of the Jews taken into Babylonian captivity included men like Daniel, Jeremiah and others biblical authors. Nobody can fully understand the Old Testament without the historical understanding of the Jews in Babylonian captivity during the 6th century BC.

In 539 BC, "the Lord's anointed one" - Persian king Cyrus the Great - conquered Babylon and released the Jews, allowing them return to Israel. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews rebuilt their city and the Temple. Anybody with familiarity with the biblical text and ancient western civilization knows this story by heart.

In 1879 British explorers found The Cyrus Cylinder. This ancient treasure is written in Babylonian cuneiform and perfectly describes, from Cyrus' perspective, his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. The cylinder has sometimes been described as "the first charter of human rights" in that it reveals Cyrus the Great's magnanimous heart toward the people he conquered, allowing them freedoms according to their traditions and beliefs. As I read Wikipedia's entry about The Cyrus Cylinder, the third paragraph of the entry jumped out at me:
"The Cylinder's text has been traditionally seen by biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of Cyrus' policy of the repatriation of the Jewish people following their Babylonian captivity (an act that the Book of Ezra attributes to Cyrus), as the text refers to the restoration of cult sanctuaries and repatriation of deported peoples. This interpretation has been disputed, as the text identifies only Mesopotamian sanctuaries, and makes no mention of Jews, Jerusalem, or Judea."

The way the writer for Wikipedia frames his "information" about the Cyrus Cylinder makes one think that there is reason to distrust the Bible and the Jewish records of Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah. If I had the ability to edit Wikipedia, I would point out:

(1). No other Mesopotamian "cult" but the Jews has a written record of Cyrus and his decree to repatriate subjugated peoples, so to say the Cyrus scroll "makes no mention of Jews" is like saying the Constitution of the United States makes no mention of the amendments to it.
(2). The Cyrus Cylinder confirms -- to the letter -- everything that the Jews in their ancient writings said Cyrus did.
(3). Without the Bible and the information given us in the Old Testament, very little would be known of Cyrus. In fact, he bore the name Cyrus the Great in the time of Alexander the Great because of the Bible.

It's a little known fact that when Alexander the Great took his army to conquer the Persians in 330 BC, he came to Jerusalem, the major crossroads between Greece and Persia (modern Iran). The Jewish priests met Alexander and showed him the scroll of Daniel, pointing out that the ancient text prophesied his victory against the Persians (see Daniel 11:3).

The only ancient record worthy of our trust,  the only religious source of fulfilled prophecy of among all the religions of the world, and the only book upon which you can stake the eternality of your soul, is the Bible. It would seem to me that if the enemy of truth wishes to confound the world, he will inspire writers to place their bias against the Bible into Wikipedia, and that is exactly what is happening.

Everyone has bias. Truth transcends bias. God's Word is truth. Wiki "me" dia is not.