Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Everything You Always Wanted In A God. And Less.

In the 1970s, Lite Beer from Miller took the beer industry by storm. Miller Lite was the first light beer produced by a major brewery and distributed nationally. The ad campaign for the beer was as successful as the product, itself. Take a leap down memory lane with this commercial from 1979.

The pitch was the stuff of genius. With Miller Lite, you get all that great taste you've come to know and love (if you're a beer drinker) without having to put up with the consequences of guzzling as many calories and carbs as regular beer. Everything You Always Wanted In A Beer. And Less.

Calories and Carbs. A unique American / First World problem. Across the planet today, 20,864 people will die from lack of calories and carbs. Estimates of world hunger/malnutrition run as high as 33%. Finding a way to take a food source and wring all the nutrition out of it is a bizarre concept, let alone standard practice. Imagine taking car tires and figuring out a way to subtract all their road-gripping ability and durability out of them. Would you consider that an "advancement"?

The point is, to have the overall lifestyle that some beer drinkers want, beer producers have found a way to diminish the innate quality of beer – they had to liberate from the beer some elements that are essential to its nature. (The brand "Natural Lite" is quite an oxymoron.)

This is my third and, for a while, last installment on a theme that has been heavy on my mind lately – the nature of God. My last two posts (1, 2) here at Follow Illustrated have focused on the nature of people to throw God off balance… to only accept part of His character. This installment returns to the theme and goes a little farther in contemplating why someone would do this.

The pastor I wrote about in "Half A Bridge" emphasized his point about "seeing the world through the lens of love" by soliciting and reading letters from people who had been wounded by the church and/or Bible. Not surprisingly, the high point was reached when the pastor read a heart-wrenching (as intended) letter from a practicing homosexual. The writer said that as a 13 year old boy he was told that he was an abomination and hated by God. The writer considered this no less a crime than child abuse… as did the pastor and the majority of his audience. Mission accomplished.

Before I speak to the specific issue of homosexuality, let's address the "lens of love" part. Earlier, I used the term "liberal". There is little doubt that vast amounts of the Bible speak about the character of God and much of that speaks to His specific character trait of righteousness. On this note, let's get an odd little Word from our Sponsor:

A false balance is an abomination to the LORD,
But a just weight is His delight. (Proverbs 11:1)

You've heard of the Ten Commandments (a guide to what God thinks is right and wrong) and all that, but God is so interested in righteousness (in Heaven and on Earth) that He talks about the scales of everyday commerce. God wants people to honor and emulate Him by being absolutely fair with one another. Have you ever heard of the habit of some butchers to hold their thumb on the scale while weighing meat? It's true, it happens, and even that is "an abomination" to the Lord.

Well, a fair weight at the grocery store is one thing, but what about when God starts infringing on the stuff I… or you… or others like to do? That's when we liberate things. Just like those calories and carbs in beer, we find ways to "take away" the natural things that impinge upon our lifestyle.

I was not surprised when the pastor at the liberal church hit his high point with the topic of homosexuality. In the sermon, the pastor mocked and discredited the Bible as a whole. When he was done, all he could recommend to his flock was to read any one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). How are homosexuality and the gospels tied together?

It's an old ploy. I see it every time the topic of Christianity and homosexuality comes up. This pastor played the well worn card of "Jesus never condemned homosexuality". Having liberated themselves of "hurtful" passages from Deuteronomy and the Apostle Paul's writings, liberals love Jesus because He's loving, not hurtful; gentle, not judgmental.

Oops… you know what's coming, a Word from our Sponsor:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” (Mark 7:21-23)

The word "fornication" is an umbrella term used to describe all sexual sin/immorality. (It's from the Greek word 'pornea' from which we get "pornography".) "Fornication" in Jesus' day and to Jesus' audience meant everything from pre-marital sex to homosexuality. That's just a simple fact. Are you surprised that Jesus spoke out against all sexual immorality rather than just one practice? I guess since Jesus used a generic term and not a specific one, liberals have an even easier time liberating their particular sin-of-choice from the whole lot.

I have written previously on the topic of homosexuality. It is (well, should be) as much an "abomination" to atheist, God-hating evolutionists as it is to right-wing, Bible-thumpers. Read the articles (1, 2).

Now, let's leave the gays alone for a moment and get back to our beer. Low-calorie, low-carb foods are evidence of one thing – people out of balance. Americans, for example, generally get too little physical exercise and consume too much food – and by food, I mean high-calorie, high-carb food. There's nothing wrong with the food our ancestors ate. It is we who now have a lifestyle that cannot tolerate the whole food that is naturally grown/produced. So we alter it. We take perfectly good and essential nutrients and liberate them from our food in a struggle to maintain our lifestyle without consequences.

Sure, low-carb and low-cal food makes sense if you're 50 and overweight and watch too much TV. But the least we can do is be honest… the food is not the problem. We are.

A problem far great than our waistlines is the way we have liberated from God the character that we deeply need. We need a just God. When we see injustice, we ask God for help. We have a nation built upon laws (standards of righteousness) that are designed to reduce evil and when evil happens those laws punish law-breakers and protect us from them. Our great nation won World War II when we mobilized against one of the most unrighteous forces on earth – hell-sized hatred of fellow man (as advanced by Hitler and his Aryan philosophy). We need righteousness in this world and we need a God who is righteous.

The only problem with God's righteousness is when it bumps into what we want to do. That's when we clip the Bible down from sixty-six books to four. That's when we write letters to pastors talking about how Christians have abused us. That's when we "look at the world through the lens of love" because we don't want anyone, especially God, looking at us through the lens of righteousness. It's funny. It's like putting your hands over your own eyes and saying, "You can't see me." Everything you ever wanted in a God (Love). And less (no Righteousness).

Let me clean up one thing. I'm sorry for the gay man who was told that God hated Him. That is as far from the truth as throwing away 94% of the Bible. God does not hate gays, not even if Fred Phelps says that "God hates fags". God hates all unrighteousness, but He loves all people. Yes, He loves the sinner, hates the sin. He calls out to all people – all who have come up short of His unrighteousness. He makes an offer. Keep it up and go to hell. That's the "perish" part of John 3:16, it's there, it's real. The rest of the offer is repent of your unrighteousness, accept in faith the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and enjoy everlasting life in God's presence.

We can take the calories and carbs out of the nature of beer, but I remain unconvinced that we, God's creation, can take righteousness out of the nature of the Creator. What do you think?

Clark H Smith

Monday, January 13, 2014

Half A Bridge

I attended a church service yesterday that completely unnerved me. My wife and I are still at the trembling point about it. I'd like to share just a bit of the pastor's message and then share with your some thoughts to help you if you ever run into a similar situation.

We visited a mainline protestant denomination (read: Liberal) where one of my sons plays in the praise band. The pastor was beginning a new series about studying the Bible. He celebrated the "51% or more" of his congregation who were skeptical about the Bible (because it is a confusing, complicated, and contradictory book). He then illustrated the problems with the Bible by citing many verses out of context and mocking them, altogether.

What the pastor did is a very astute approach to verbal argument. It's called deconstruction. You pick apart something piece by piece until the audience feels like there is nothing reliable in it at all. Then you're free to overlay your own viewpoint on top of the rubble you've just created. Really, very clever.

The pastor's main point was that nowhere does the Bible call itself the capital 'W' Word of God. It is only the "word" of God. He said Jesus is called the Word of God and we should worship Jesus, not the Bible. Take a minute and think about that. What's your position on the word/Word of God?

Let's clear one thing up real fast… the pastor made a terrible error that would have gotten him laughed out of the first week of Greek 101 class. There are no lower case letters in Greek (the language the New Testament Bible was written in)! Lower case didn't come along for over 1000 years after Christ. So his distinction between 'w' and 'W' was a bit of cleverness that his flock was impressed with, but has no basis in reality.

Also, Jesus is called the "Word of God", but only once and that's in Revelation (19:13) and the pastor told his audience not to go reading books like Deuteronomy and Revelation.

Let's get a breath of fresh air here with a word, I mean WORD from our Sponsor:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3, 14)

This passage definitely does refer to Jesus as the Word. Notice the part about "All things came into being through Him". Remember creation in Genesis 1?

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

“Let there be light” was the word of God… no, it was the Word of God according to John. Jesus brought the thought of God (light) into existence, into being. Jesus is just that, the thoughts of God coming into existence.

Perhaps you've heard this: All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)

Inspired means, literally, God-breathed… His words coming out of His mouth. John tells us that all those words became flesh in Jesus Christ. John does not say those words were overshadowed and rendered obsolete by Jesus!!

The last thing the pastor did was tell his congregation that they should "look at the world through the lens of love". He deconstructed the whole Bible as a mish-mosh of confusing jargon and said, "let's just focus on Jesus".

Liberals do this because they can pretend Jesus of the Gospels only is soft and fuzzy. He doesn't pick on gays. He doesn't stone anyone. He just says "love one another" and "turn the other cheek" a lot. Jesus comes off as the exact opposite of the harsh, angryGod of the Old Testament and He is someone who would gladly be our friend but never make us uncomfortable with our lives. Well, sure. If I was going to invent a deity, that's what I'd do also… and one that gives me a lot of burnt ends and chocolate malts.

But the Word of God had an edge to Him, didn't he?

And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables (John 2:15)

Not only did Jesus drive the money changers (payday loan sharks) out of the temple, he took the time to braid a whip to beat them with. Where's your soft and fuzzy Jesus now? Listen to the way He spoke to some people:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)

“You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? (Matthew 12:34)

You can pretend that Jesus was anything you want, but in reality he was BOTH all loving and all righteous (He hungered and thirsted for righteousness – Matthew 5:6). And that brings us to the final point. We can "look at the world through the lens of love". That's a fine and dandy thing… for us. But let's remember, even at His birth, the Word of God had a date with Golgotha lying out in His future. Jesus, the Lens of Love, the Word of God, the Lamb of God got nailed to a rough wooden cross with rusty spikes and was left there to die. What do you think that was about?

Love is a fine thing. So is half a bridge. We diminish God when we only call upon Him to love us. God is Holy. In fact, He is "Holy, Holy, Holy". He is righteous – undiluted righteousness. He hates all unrighteousness. At the cross of Calvary, God did a swap – a cross-over.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

A prisoner exchanged happened on that bridge… We go free, Jesus goes to the cross. We experience the consequence God's love - forgiveness. Jesus experienced the consequence of God's righteousness – punishment. Jesus, the Gospel, the words/Word of God... none of it makes any sense unless God's absolute righteousness is taken into account. (See Romans 3:23 for example.)

Many Christians feel that because "God so loved they world" they should only love the world. But that's only half the bridge, isn't it? God also saw unrighteousness in the world and He did something about it. Christians should, too. In the WORD of God we are taught to "flee immorality" and to oppose it at every turn. Yes, this is the classic "hate the sin / love the sinner" conundrum. The problem is, "the lost" don't hate their own sin so they don't feel our love when we talk about sin – either ours or theirs.

Liberals have taken a sharp knife and paired the Gospel down to "love the sinner". Half a bridge. The Word of God (both on the printed page and walking around) speaks clearly that "hating the sin" is as much a part of our spiritual life as loving others.

The main thing I regret about the church service yesterday was that a couple hundred people heard the Bible – the WORD OF GOD – get mocked and diminished. There is nothing in Deuteronomy that scares me. There is nothing in Revelation that scares me. I like the truth and not just part of it. I want the whole truth. Jesus, the Word of God, is also the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

I don't want half the Truth.
I don't want to get half of the Way to Heaven.
I don't want half of the Life that Jesus has in store for me.

All or nothing.
I'll take ALL.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Perfect and Unchanging

A football field is perfect. It is balanced from end to end and side to side. And every American
football gridiron is exactly the same – 120 yards long (including endzones) and 53.33 yards wide. Whether oriented north or south, east or west, the gridiron is, well, cast in iron.

You know that already. So why the emphatic explanation?

In high school I was in marching band. I reckon I've marched in close to fifty half time shows and practiced another two hundred times on top of that. I loved the experience and my bandmates… except for that one girl who would melt-down every time we arrived at an away game and had to march on a field that was "backwards" (meaning the pressbox on the wrong side).

Somehow, this girl was convinced that the field was backwards because it differed from her personal point of reference.

You see where I'm going with this, right? Let's get a couple words from our Sponsor:

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

“For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6)

What we think about God determines what we think about ourselves. If God changes (His mind, His plans, His promises, etc) then we would never know where we stand with Him. Even worse than that is to decide what we think God is like and approach Him based on our thoughts not His.

I take God at His word, He does not change. So what?

One of the most common conversations I have with people is that God does seem to change. Many people, good-hearted people with sound judgment, look at the Old Testament and see a God who is cranky, if not outright angry. He's always smiting people. Thousands and hundreds of thousands die from God-made disasters and wars. Parents are told to stone unruly sons and fornicating daughters. Many people see a smear of blood across the pages of the Old Testament.

And then in the New Testament, God has finally waked up in a good mood. He's kind and loving. He sends Jesus to be born to a virgin at Christmas surrounded by fuzzy sheep and cheer-filled singing angels and such. Jesus walks around telling people to turn the other cheek and love one another. There's even that woman caught in the act of adultery and Jesus doesn't do anything about it.

It's almost like the 1960s. Across American hippies were spreading love and flower power, while in Southeast Asia, the authoritarian and autocratic American government was burning the forests (and people) with napalm. Which one truly was America? How do you reconcile those irreconcilable contradictions?

What we all know is that nations and any group of people are "heterogenous" – a chunky stew of differences. God is and must be "homogenous" – everything He is and does has to be the same across the great span of time and eternity in either direction beyond time. Has. To. Be. “For I, the LORD, do not change…" (Malachi 3:6). If God changes, then He lacks integrity by violating what He "used to be".

Let me clean up this marching band thing. It is only our perception that suggests something is "different". My bandmate couldn't get her head around the fact that all fields are the same because she had created a reference point "off the field". We do the same thing with God when we apply our values and morality to what God does.

Let's do this? What bugs you about God in the Old Testament? The Genesis flood? God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah? God sending those horrible plagues (including nation-wide death) on Egypt? The Ten "Thou Shalt Nots"? The book of Joshua where the freed-from-Egypt Israelites slaughter all the inhabitants of The Promised Land?

If you're really interested in this, email me and I'll be happy to dialogue with you about these events. I want you to see the New Testament-style love and grace that is readily found in each of these circumstances. But let me give you one example to illustrate my point. Two verses (Genesis 6:3 and 2 Peter 2:5) tell us that before God killed everyone on earth with a flood, Noah the boatbuilder was also a "preacher of righteousness" for 120 years. He was telling the world about the coming judgment, but offered anyone who would accept God's grace a place on the ark. That's the message of John 3:16. You can perish if you want, but if you accept God's offer of grace, you'll be saved from destruction.

So way back there in Genesis 6, we see the perfect, unchanging balance of God. He is righteous (hates sin) AND He is loving (not wanting to hurt His creation). Maybe one more word from our Sponsor will help:

"As I live!" declares the Lord GOD, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11… Old Testament!)

There you have it. The God that supposedly was so angry in the Old Testament era was actually sad and sorry that things turned out that way. I believe He offered grace to everyone in that era just as He does today.

CHS after a Homecoming parade...
The sixty or so years covered in the New Testament is just a snapshot in time compared to the 4000 years covered in the Old Testament. But make no mistake, God hates sin just as much now as then. Ask Herod in the book of Acts if the New Testament God is only happy and gentle. Ask a couple named Ananias and Sapphira what God thinks about something simple like lying. And what about that gentle, meek, and mild Jesus who only showed the sweet, happy side of God? Ask the loan sharks who were cheating people in the Temple what they thought when Jesus braided a whip and beat them.

Let's pull back out for the big picture. That football field, regardless of where you stand on it, is the same everywhere at all times. Whether you come in from the west endzone or the east endzone, there are 50 yards to mid-field. Likewise, while it is easy to suppose that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is wholly different from the God of the New Testament, that only happens when you look at God from your vantage point, possibly with flawed perceptions or assumptions. The more we truly consider what God has done from beginning to end, the better we perceive the fullness of God. And that's all I want… to know who God really is!

Clark H Smith