Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jesus Changes People's Lives

Mark 5 tells the story of the man possessed by a multitude of demons, and the demons encounter Christ ...

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” 9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

First, notice that Jesus is in complete control of the situation. There is no question that the demons are going to leave this man. The question is simply a matter of where they’re going to go, and even that is up to Jesus. You want to see how to powerful Jesus is?

Understand this scene. These demons that have terrorized this man for some time, who have given him the strength to break chains—what do they do when they see Jesus? They run and bow in homage before him. They don’t do so out of love, but they do do so out of respect for his authority and power.

So they run and bow before him.

--They plead with him not to torture him.

--They plead with him not to send them out of the area.

That’s power. These demonic terrors are cravenly afraid of Christ and tremble before him. Jesus a mere man? I don’t think so.

Second, notice that Jesus is the only one who could handle this situation. Verses 3-4 emphasize that no one was a match for these demons. But Jesus clearly was. In fact, the demons were no match for Jesus.

Third, Jesus and the disciples had just come through a horrific storm. It was a storm so bad that the disciples were scared for their lives. Several of these disciples were seasoned fishermen; they were very familiar with the Sea of Galilee. It would take an awful lot to scare them.

So this was a terrific storm. And Jesus had calmed it. With the briefest of commands, the storm instantly ceased. But there’s no respite. They come ashore, and they are immediately confronted by this man possessed by a legion of demons.

It’s like Rocky 2, 3, and 4. Rocky gets done fighting Apollo Creed, and then he’s got to deal with Clubber Lang. Lang taken care of, now he’s got an even tougher opponent in Drago from the Soviet Union.

But this poses no problem for Jesus. He faces two impossible opponents in a row, and dispatches each of them with ease. He doesn’t even break a sweat.

What is highlighted in these verses is the power confrontation. The man who is delivered is in the background. But the result is that this man is unchained. He is delivered. He is set free. And Jesus is the one who has done it. Jesus is the only one who could have. The man is only specified in v. 8, where Jesus says, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” And that is exactly what happens. The man was chained. He was tied up. And Jesus comes in, fights off his captors, unties him and rescues him.

What are we to learn from this scene? Just this. Jesus is able.

--He is able to deliver you.

--He is able to set you free.

--He is able to rescue you.

Jesus still changes lives.

--He still transforms hearts.

--He still sets people free from lives of despair and hopelessness and self-destruction.

--He still sets free from sin and the devil.

--That’s what the cross and the empty tomb are about.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What if "keep" was a foreign word?

In a world of innocence and sinlessness, where God provides for one's needs and there is no such thing as lack or want, a tempter tries to introduce evil into the heart of the woman who lives in this world. In this scene she has just lain down a robe he gave her.

"Will you not keep it?" he said: "you might wish to carry it on some days even if you do not wish for it on all days."

"Keep it?" she asked, not clearly understanding.

"I had forgotten," said the Un-man. "I had forgotten that you would not live on the Fixed Land nor build a house nor in any way become mistress of your own days. Keeping means putting a thing where you know you can always find it again, and where rain, and beasts, and other people cannot reach it."

This struck me. Do I not have a God who provides all things (Mt 6:33; Php 4:19)?

Loosen my grasp, Lord, on the things that are "mine." Root out of me greed, which is idolatry.

--C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, ch. 10

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Doesn't God Love Everyone?

We were studying Psalm 103, and we were discussing verse 17, which reads:

But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’S love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children— Psa. 103:17 (NIV)

And Gretchen—small, quiet Gretchen—asked the question, “But doesn’t God love everybody?”

Good question. I stumbled through an answer, I think, but it wasn’t a very good one. And then I thought about it, and we revisited that verse and that question in the weeks ahead.

The answer is, Yes, God does love everyone.
“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 (NIV)

But Psalm 103:17 is not denying that God loves everyone. It’s saying something different. It says God’s love is with those who fear him. The difference is between God’s attitude and actions on the one hand—they are for the whole world—and who feels the effect of his attitudes and actions on the other hand—only those who fear, who believe in him, who live in obedience to him.

A couple has two grandchildren. Grandma & Grandpa love both grandchildren very much.
They invite them over to their house.
They bake cookies for them.
They buy them presents.
They send them cards.
In that sense Grandma & Grandpa love both grandchildren.

The granddaughter always goes when she’s invited. There she eats the cookies. She always opens the gifts, and she reads and re-reads the cards.

The grandson never goes over. So he never eats the cookies. Their gifts to him remain unopened. And he tosses the cards in the trash. In fact, he has little regard for his grandparents.

In this sense, though Grandma & Grandpa love both grandchildren, their love is with only the granddaughter. She’s the only one that experiences the benefits of their love.

In a similar way, God loves everyone, but because of their refusal of him, those who don't love and fear God do not experience the blessings and gifts of his love.

Soft Persecution of Christians in America

Defining persecution is a bit tricky.

Severe forms of persecution are obvious, but does persecution occur in America? I think so, but not like in China or India or Afghanistan or Ethiopia.

Here Christians are often marginalized and mocked. Many other groups are generally protected by political correctness, but Christians are open targets. It’s okay for Hollywood, the media, and the politicians to belittle Christians.

I remember reading Bernard Goldberg’s book about the bias of news media. Goldberg, who worked for CBS News, tells about a CBS Weekend News conference call he was in on. They were discussing various current events, and Gary Bauer’s name came up. Bauer was the president of the Family Research Council at the time, a Christian organization. During the course of the conference call, someone referred to Bauer as “the little nut from the Christian group.” What especially stunned Goldberg was that no one showed any concern for her open disrespect. There would have been rebukes if she had referred to Jesse Jackson in a similar way, or if she had referred to a homosexual advocate in that way. (Bias 127-128)

The point is that mild forms of persecution exist in America.

Further, if spiritual trends continue, it appears more vigorous forms are coming. If our nation continues to go godless and continues to worsen, the godly will increasingly become targets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

China to Its Christians: "No More Mr. Nice Guy"

China is planning on tightening its clamp on Christian worship this year. It's State Administration for Religious Affairs announced that it will "guide Protestants worshiping at unregistered churches into worshiping at government-sanctioned ones."

I like the word "guide." It's surely a euphemism for a punch to the face and a club to the knees.

Police told one Christian detainee last year that they would stop being "nice" in 2011.

The English-language newspaper in China that reported all this also stated that China "will strengthen regulation of foreign nationals' group religious activities in China and resist foreign infiltration under the pretext of religion."

Voice of the Martyrs, my source for this info, concludes with a request to pray that Chinese Christians be prepared for a potential new wave of persecution, and that this persecution would not intimidate new believers.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

If You Break the Law, You Better Look for Help Elsewhere

Many are under the impression that when they stand at the last judgment, if their good deeds outweigh their bad, then they will gain entrance to heaven. First of all, I wouldn't want to count on my good outweighing my bad.

But further, that belief is just not true. Those who seek to be accepted by God on the basis of their works must understand that they need to keep God's law perfectly. A lifetime of complete compliance to God's law is required.

John Calvin elaborates:

Works righteousness is perfect obedience to the law. Therefore, you cannot be righteous according to works unless you unfailingly follow this straight line, so to speak, throughout life. The minute you turn aside from it, you slip into unrighteousness. From this it is apparent that righteousness does not come about from one or a few works but from an unwavering and unwearying observance of the divine will. But very different is the rule for judging unrighteousness. For a fornicator or thief is by one offense guilty of death because he has offended against God's majesty. (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.18.10)

In truth, the commandments of Scripture, because they set the bar so impossibly high (due to our sinful natures), encourage us to seek Christ, for the commandments of Scripture must be kept perfectly for us to be righteous.

John Calvin again:

With a clear voice we too proclaim that these commandments are to be kept if one seeks life in works. And Christians must know this doctrine, for how could they flee to Christ unless they recognized that they had plunged from the way of life over the brink of death? How could they realize how far they had wandered from the way of life unless they first understood what that way is like? Only, therefore, when they distinguish how great is the difference between their life and divine righteousness that consists in accepting the law are they made aware of this, in order to recover salvation, their refuge is in Christ. (3.18.9)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Too Focused on the Next Life? I Don't Think So

Traditional Christianity is sometimes criticized, by the Emergent Church and others, of being so focused on the next life that they ignore and neglect what they could be doing in this life.

"They're so consumed with heaven when they could be helping to bring a piece of heaven here on earth. They're so concerned about escaping hell when they could be helping to relieve the hell here on earth."

It's the old "you're so heavenly-minded you're of no earthly good" charge, and I don't buy it.

Four reasons:

1) The Bible tells us to be heavenly-minded.

It counsels us to look to the future, and the writers of Scripture talk about looking forward to our future hope, to the coming of the Lord, and the final consummation. (See end of post for a sampling.) The Lord wants us to be heavenly-minded.

2) This life is temporary.

When Sara and I moved into our first apartment, the second floor of a house, we knew we wouldn't be there more than a year or two. Guess what? We didn't do any remodeling. We didn't do any painting. Nothing like that. We knew we would be moving on.

When you go to a hotel, do you rearrange the furniture, go out and buy new artwork to put on the walls, put pictures of your family up on the night stands? Neither do I.

3) The future is coming.

Imagine an athlete with tryouts coming up. Would it be good counsel for him to focus on the now and not on the future? Would anyone consider him wise if he sat on the couch each day, watching 6 hours of TV, playing 6 hours of video games, and eating ribs and chips and washing it down with can after can of Michelob?

Or how about the college student with an approaching senior recital? Is it a good idea for her to spend her days shopping, sipping cappuccinos at Starbucks, and watching late night movies with her boyfriend?

The athlete needs to prepare for the future. So does the musician. So do all of us.

4) The biblical heavenly-minded Christian doesn't neglect earthly concerns.

The Bible commands Christians to care for their children, to pray for their governments, to aid the poor, and to actively love the needy and even their enemies. The Bible commands Christians to give generously to the needs of others.

We are to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, yes, but how do we do that? By living out a life of love and kindness and generosity here on earth. Monasticism is not what Jesus calls us to. He calls us to a life "in the world." We are the salt of the earth. As Adrian Rogers once put it, you don't put the fish in one barrel and the salt in the other.

The Christian who lives in a dream world, wears a white robe, sits on a hill looking at the sky, and has no conception of what "the real world" is like is a caricature. The biblical Christian knows better than most the sinfulness, filthiness, and hellishness of this world, and she has her sleeves rolled up and is working to do something about it. And she does all this because her eyes are set on the future when the Lord will return and bring about the final establishment of his kingdom.

  • They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess 1:9-10 NIV)

  • 1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:1-4 NIV)

  • while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (Titus 2:13 NIV)

  • 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. (2 Peter 3:11-12 NIV)

  • 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Php 3:18-21 NIV)

Friday, March 11, 2011


A Biblical Philosophy of Providence in a Science Fiction Novel

"Don't imagine I've been selected to go to Perelandra because I'm anyone in particular. One never can see, or not till long afterwards, why any one was selected for any job. And when one does, it is usually some reason that leaves no room for vanity. Certainly, it is never for what the man himself would have regarded as his chief qualifications."

--C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, which is book 2 of his Space Trilogy, ch. 2

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Top 9 Movie Actors

The 9 Best Movie Actors of All Time: An Experimental List

Jeff Bridges
Michael Caine
Robert Duvall
Harrison Ford
Cary Grant
Gene Hackman
Jimmy Stewart
Denzel Washington
John Wayne

Runners Up
Russell Crowe
Matt Damon
Tom Hanks
Anthony Hopkins
Steve Martin
Spencer Tracy
Sylvester Stallone

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Interesting Quandary

From Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis

My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call "good," but I wasn't sure whether I liked "goodness" so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can't eat, and home the very place you can't live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.

--chapter 1

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

All People Go to Heaven?

Perhaps you have seen that Rob Bell is coming out with a new book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. In it he allegedly sets forth his case for universalism, the belief that everyone goes to heaven.

In his promo video--you can see that here--he takes offense at the thought that anyone would think Gandhi is in hell. Then he goes on to address the idea that "billions and billions" will end up in hell while only a "few select" will make it into heaven. If that's the case, he asks, then how does one become one of the select few? Is it what you say or believe or know, or do you have to be initiated into something or be born again or take a class?

Then he goes on to suggest that millions and millions of people have believed (erroneously) that God will send you to hell unless you believe in Jesus, and the implication is that Jesus rescues us from God. If that's the case, what sort of God is this? Surely such a God is not good. Surely such a God cannot be trusted. And surely that is not good news.

This is why, Bell argues, so many people are turned off by Christianity, because they see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies and say, "Why would I ever want to be part of that?"

Let me just briefly respond to each point.

I don't know whether Gandhi is in heaven or in hell. But I do know that if he never put his faith in Jesus Christ, then he is in hell; and I also know that, if, when his end came, he was trusting in Christ for his salvation, then he is in heaven. That's what the Bible says. I don't presume to know different than the Bible.

What of the idea that billions and billions will burn forever while only a select few make into heaven? I wonder if billions and billions is a bit high and "a select few" a bit low. Though the Bible does say that the road is narrow and a relative few find it (Mt 7:13-14). But beyond that, Jesus died for all. What more could God have done? People who end up in hell are not there because they didn't have a second chance. They're there because they spurned God's sacrificial gift and refused to believe in Christ.

How does one become part of the select few? Bell seems to reject the idea that there might be some stipulation to entrance into heaven. But did not Jesus establish stipulations? Yes, you have to believe something. You have to believe in Christ. "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36). And Bell mentions, "Do you have to be born again?" Does he not know John 3? What did Jesus himself say? "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (v. 3).

Does Jesus rescue us from God? That's not what the Bible says. Jesus rescues us from sin, from the devil, from "this present evil age" (Gal 1:4).

Who came up with this plan to save us? Was it not God the Father? "For GOD so LOVED the world that HE GAVE his only Son ..." (John 3:16). The plan of salvation originated in God the Father.

The heart of the Father toward all of humanity is one of love and mercy. God's justice must be satisfied, or else he is not a just and righteous God, and so God provided a way that we could escape the consequences of our sins and he still be just. That way is the cross of Christ. And to receive that enormous blessing, we must put our faith in Christ. Is that too much of God to ask, surrendering our lives to Christ? Apparently Bell thinks so.

Does God send people to hell? In one sense, yes. But he's provided a way out. If they refuse that way, that costly, blood-bought way, that only way, do they not consign themselves to hell? If someone gives you two options and you refuse one option, are you not choosing the other?

So I disagree with Bell. I think such a God is good. I think he can be trusted. And I think the news that Jesus died so that I don't have to go to hell, that I can be reconciled to God and enjoy the blessings of heaven and eternal life--I think that is indeed good news.

People may be turned off by Christianity's perceived inconsistencies and absurdities, but they are only perceived. In truth Christianity--the Bible--is amazingly consistent, as is our God and his plan of salvation. At the cross God's holiness and love meet. At the cross his justice and mercy are both wonderfully manifested. Where is the greatest manifestation of God's love? At the cross: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).