Jesus Is Lord

wooden pews

Where human achievement is concerned there is a subjective and open ended discussion as to who is the greatest. Every car company wants you convinced that, in some quantifiable way, their vehicle is the best on the road. Who has been the greatest athlete to play basketball, Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Who has been the greatest quarterback to play in the NFL? Is it Tom Brady or is it Peyton Manning? In politics you find plenty of books and opinion pieces written on who has been the best US President and which statesmen were the greatest to serve.

All these statements are subjective in nature, reflecting the worldview and personal opinion of the one arguing.

Christians however, are not in such a category. When we say “Jesus is Lord” we are not making a subjective faith claim based upon our opinion and subjective interpretation of reality.

Jesus Is Lord is not a statement of faith. It’s a fact. Jesus is Lord over Heaven and Earth whether or not anyone ever recognizes or acknowledges Him as such.

There is no question from any serious historical scholars as to the reality of Jesus as a historical figure. That is to say, He actually lived and was a real person. Furthermore, we have more reliable textual and historical evidence for Jesus and His teachings than we do for most historical figures from the middle ages and before, certainly from the first century. We know what He claimed, what He did, and what those who knew Him best considered Him to be. To state the case simply, He was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was Lord. There is simply no rational reason to believe Jesus was anything less than exactly what He claimed to be.

Jesus is Lord over Heaven and Earth!

“He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell, and to reconcile all things to Himself by Him, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him, I say—whether they are things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:18-20, MEV)

It wasn’t a simple statement of faith to say Jesus is Lord in the Apostles day. They understood their confession to be a direct challenge to the ruling class of Rome. If Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not. When the first century Christians confessed and preached that “Jesus is Lord” they did so in direct detriment to their personal safety and prosperity. Many of them confessed Jesus is Lord to their own deaths.

We don’t have Caesars anymore but we still have idols. If Jesus is Lord of our life then all our idols are not. We serve Jesus and nothing else! If Jesus is in fact Lord over Heaven and Earth then it is incumbent upon us to serve Him and nothing else.

It is nothing short of a denial of reality, an abandonment of objective truth, to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is why our world is in the state it is today. When you lose the fundamental reality that sustains our world, namely that Jesus Christ is Lord, you lose the ability to claim any other objective truths and leave culture and the human condition open to chaos and the onslaught of irrational ideologies.

“He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of every creature. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they are thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17, MEV)

Jesus is Lord, the one who orders and sustains all material life. He holds everything together. Without His Lordship at the center of our understanding of what it means to be human life becomes irrational and given to the absurdity and chaos we’re witnessing around us. There is no truth to be found outside of the framework of this single ontological reality; Jesus is Lord. If we are to understand ourselves and our world we must first understand the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

“So concerning the eating of foods that are offered in sacrifice to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For there are those who are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, as there are many gods and many lords. But for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist. And there is one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1Corinthians 8:4-6, MEV)

He was before anything else was. There is nothing that exists that He didn’t create and nothing created that He doesn’t control. Therefore there is no created thing that He doesn’t have Lordship over. You and I can build houses but Jesus makes trees! The smith can shape steel but Jesus puts iron in the ground!

Jesus is Lord is not a statement of faith. It’s a fact! The only thing open for question is your acknowledgement and obedience to the reality of His Lordship! Will you bow your knee? Will you open your heart to His Lordship? Will you live in response to the radical truth of His Lordship?

“And being found in the form of a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11, MEV)

There was no life like His and no death like His. There is no other name like His and no other kingdom like His. Jesus is Lord! He went to the cross for us. Exampled love, sacrificial obedience, and humility. Because of that obedience to death His name has been exalted above every name. Considering all these things, the only appropriate answer is for us to bow our knee and serve Him as Lord. Our only rational response is to confess along with the first century believers that Jesus is Lord!

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On Repentance

yellow stripes road Repent. It is just one word, often spoken in scripture as a command, but it has great power, if obeyed, to change the course of history. An overstatement? I don’t think so.

Imagine if dictatorial world leaders were to kneel before God and repent. Imagine if corrupt politicians in Democratic Republics across the globe were to humble themselves at once and repent. Imagine if every criminal, every liar, every adulterer, every thief, every drunkard, and every addict in every city and every home in the world were to obey this one word, humble themselves before God, submit to His will and repent.

What a change! What a revival of righteousness our world would enjoy. 106 occurrences of the word repent or repentance in the Bible and each one is commanding us to change our mind and turn from sin.

It’s a word we’ve forgotten and have fallen out of habit in proclaiming. We need to repent.

I want to give you 5 reasons for repentance:

1) The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand

Matthew 3:1-2 says, “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is one of the most often repeated reasons in scripture that we’re encouraged to repent. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It’s here, working, and available to you! Something greater than anything on this Earth is accessible to you if you’ll repent of your sin, change your mind about God, and turn from your will to His will.

2) That your sins would be blotted out

Acts 3:19 says, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…”

This forces us to face a few uncomfortable truths. We all have sin in our life that needs to be addressed and God is the judge who will one day address them.

You are a sinner and you need a savior. I am a sinner and I need a savior. If our sins aren’t dealt with and blotted out, they will be held against us when we are judged by God. The wages we earn from our sins will be death but the gift God gives us is eternal life. The only way to access that freedom from sin and it’s wages is through repentance!

3) God Loves You

Revelation 3:19 says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Repent because God loves you. The conviction that we feel when sin is addressed is a sign that His Spirit is drawing you to repentance. When clearly understood, and powerfully felt, His love is a strong motivation for repentance.

Luke 15:10 says, “…there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Heaven celebrates when we repent!

How could I continue to reject the self sacrificial and supernatural love that God has shown to me? You and I should repent of our sin, not only because God is our judge, but also because He is our advocate, our substitute, and our savior. We should repent because He loves us.

4) Because we should

Mark 6:12 says,”And they went out, and preached that men should repent.”

When Jesus sent His disciples out two by two to preach in the cities they went everywhere preaching that men should repent. Let’s face it, we need to change. That was the disciples sermon and it is still our sermon today.

We should repent. We should change our minds about God. We should completely turn from our sin. Our hearts are nasty and given to selfishness and evil. God is great, and worthy of our full devotion. Put simply, we should repent because we’re wrong and He’s right!

We need a change of mind. We need a change of heart. The way of the world just doesn’t work. It has consistently proven itself incapable of sufficiently dealing with the questions that consistently plague the soul of mankind. The disciples were right, men should repent.

5) To turn away God’s wrath

Luke 13:5, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Romans 2:5-6, “But because of your hardness and [unrepentant] heart, you are storing up treasures of wrath against yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God will be revealed, and He “will render to every man according to his deeds.”

God is love but He is also a judge. He will justly and fairly judge all those who continue practicing sin without repentance. That judgment will include exclusion from Heaven and the eternal death of the soul. We must repent in order to turn away from us the wrath of God.

On the day of Pentecost, when the listening crowd asked Peter what they should do in response to the message he had just preached to them about Jesus and His substitutionary death on the cross, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38).

If you want to be filled with the Spirit, if you know God loves you, if you want to turn away the wrath of God, if you want your sins to be blotted out, and you want to walk in the blessings and promises of the Kingdom of God then you need to repent!

The Problem of Evil

redchair Life on this planet has had, according to the Darwinist, millions of years, ages upon ages, to perfect itself and its functions. So, how is it possible that pain and suffering exist in our world in such pandemic? Life was supposed to be evolving into something increasingly better, more advanced, more fit. Yet somehow all the data, scientific and anecdotal, points to an increased debauchery and evil in our societies and cities.

We are becoming more violent toward one another instead of less. We are initiating more war between nations, not fewer. Our tastes and amusements have become more decadent and self indulgent instead of less. We’re valuing the life of others less instead of more. In short, we’re bringing more evil into the world every day instead of aiming to alleviate the suffering we’ve endured for ages, at our own hands and the hands of one another.

The scriptures foretell of our increasing trend toward moral decay. Paul warns the young pastor Timothy, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God…ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2Tim.3:1-7)

“Without natural affection”.

If any one trait defines Western societies current personality this would be it. From the unrelenting voice of those who want to abort their unborn children to the inordinately high divorce rates that plague almost every Westernized society we have evidence to support the claim that we have largely lost the ability to maintain even the most natural of affections. A friend of my wife had a child in the NICU of their local hospital. Another mother delivered a premature baby that was also placed in the NICU. After that mother was released, she left the hospital and never returned. The child was placed in the care of the state and if not for the paid staff at the hospital no one would have been there to love and care for that baby.

It seems the Bible rings truer to what we see in life than do the theories of the evolutionary atheist.

It is this evil and suffering in the world that has caused many to question if God exists. It is when we see the pain of a poverty stricken family or the suffering of those with terminal illnesses, to which modern medicine as of yet has no remedy, that the voice of reasoning speaks up and questions how we could ever believe there to be an omnipotent, omniscient God.

We rebel against the evil and suffering not realizing that our rebuke of evil has a correlating effect of positing a standard of rectitude we believe the world ought to adhere to.

To say that something is evil is to identify its opposite effect as good. In short, to express outrage over evil and suffering is to acknowledge an objective system of morality whereby we measure good and evil. That something must represent reality, and not nonsense, and it must be greater in scope than whatever provincial ideologies we embrace. It must be a global morality, an omnipresent, omnipotent Goodness that is Supreme.

Our very outrage over evil demands there must be a God. We must reckon for the very idea of evil in our minds and our indignation at its presence.

The great thinker C.S. Lewis believed that the problem of pain was indicative of a God who desired through revelation and experience to commune and relate to His creation. C.S. Lewis makes the case that, “[Christianity] creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”

That one would believe suffering and evil are not as things ought to be indicate we have had a revelation concerning what life should be on the earth. When what we experience does not take that shape, rather than attributing it appropriately to the destructive nature of violating the designers plan, we childishly deny the designer altogether. Our protests speak volumes.

It indicates that we believe there is goodness and blessing available to us. From where do we gather the conceit to assert such a faith? Why would we ever believe, knowing what we know about nature and the world, that anything other than struggle and animal suffering is available to us on the Earth?

This planet is seemingly bent on havoc. There have been disasters for centuries on the Earth without any man made cause or intervention. From the Tunguska explosion to the 1958 Lituya Bay Megatsunami, the Earth has been a planet in turmoil.

Pompeii, an ancient city in western Italy, was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ad 79. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary excavations of the site began in 1748 and revealed well-preserved remains of buildings, mosaics, furniture, and the personal possessions of the city’s inhabitants. Despite any efforts they may have employed there is simply no fighting a volcano.

The destruction of the city of Pompeii was not at the hands of invading marauders but rather at the hand of the Earth itself.

The tsunami of southeastern Asia in 2004, the hurricanes in the United States and the earthquakes in China, Haiti, and Chile, the Japanese tsunami of 2011, all point to the truth that, as far as the natural world would indicate, the balance of natures offering is violence and chaos.

This theory could be further supported by watching a simple documentary on the wilderness of Africa or the jungles of South America. The persistent violence and bloodshed in the animal kingdom is a stark reminder of the ferocity with which nature meets itself.

Philosopher and Theologian William Lane Craig aptly states, “given an atheistic worldview, picking out human flourishing as morally special seems to be arbitrary.”

Most can hardly watch as the crocodile attacks the watering gazelle and thrashes it about in its final moments, drowning it before it enjoys its meal. We cringe as we see the injured zebra desperately evading the pursuit of a ravenous lion.

If we are nothing more than a highly evolved beast of the field then why would we ever assume anything better is available to us than what all other animals on Earth experience? From where do we gather the hubris to assume our experience should be any different?

C.S. Lewis weighs in again with the question, “If the universe is so bad, or even half as bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief.”

There is either a congenital madness that affects the whole of man-kind or else we have had truth revealed to us from the source of that goodness. C.S. Lewis offers, “It is either inexplicable illusion, or else revelation.”

The inescapable implication of the presence of moral certainty in the hearts of men is that it could not exist without the recognition of a supreme lawgiver. Morality would not exist and indeed is meaningless without God. As author Richard Taylor, an atheist and ethicist concedes, “To say that something is wrong because … it is forbidden by God, is … perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong … even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable….” “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.”

The word ‘evil’ came out of hiding on September 11th, 2001. We had long forgotten what evil was and what it looked like. Yet when faced with the atrocities before us that day we were able to clearly identify it once again.

We did not watch the footage of the tragedy in New York City and declare it to be illegal, though it was. It’s illegality was not what made it so horrific. It was the conspicuous presence of evil in the heart of men that caused September 11th, 2001 to be such an awful moment in the hearts of most Americans.

The anti-theist, incapable of positing meaning, purpose or an eternal soul in humanity, cannot ascribe the events of that now infamous day as evil. He can call it illegal, and indeed it was, but he has denied himself the capacity to call it evil, tragic, or even a shame.

Evil descends from understandings of morality, not legality. Morality has to do with accepted and unacceptable human behavior regardless of the laws that pertain in any given republic.

Laws spring from mens ingenuity. From where does morality spring if not from God? How do we account for some of the same acts (i.e. murder, theft, lies, adultery, infidelity) being considered immoral or unacceptable in nearly every civilization and culture in any place or era? There must reside within us a universal standard of morality that measures and defines the affairs of mankind.

The fact that the word evil exists and has definition indicates a faith residing in the soul of mankind that such things ought not and need not be. It indicates we believe there is goodness available to those who live on earth. We would not be repulsed by suffering and give tireless effort to diminish it’s influence if we did not believe goodness was possible.

This faith does not come from the empirical data we gather from the natural world, a world full of sorrow, inequity and death. A world full of volcanos and hurricanes, meteors and tsunamis, of hungry lions and slow zebras. It must come from somewhere and something else. The Hebrew word for this “something else” is “qadash”. In English we would say it was something ‘Holy’.

Again, William Lane Craig says, “if God does not exist, why think that we have any moral obligations to do anything? Who or what imposes these moral duties upon us? Where do they come from? It’s hard to see why they would be anything more than a subjective impression resulting from societal and parental conditioning.” In short, without a moral lawgiver, there is no obligation to honor a moral law.

The great tragedy of the skeptic’s denial of God is the loss of objective morality. For if there is no God to establish and maintain laws of what one ought, or ought not, to be or do, then it becomes thoroughly subjective, flights of fancy, to ascribe virtue or vice to any thought or act of man.

When shaking off the reality of God we lose more than the moral inhibitions that have restrained our hedonism. We lose the ability to define virtue when we cease to define vice.

In a world without absolutes nothing is ugly but nothing is beautiful. Nothing dies but then, nothing lives. Nothing is evil but nothing is good. We can never be told our actions are selfish, wrong or unjust but likewise we can never be told we have shown integrity, sacrifice or love.

We lose both vice and virtue in our attempt to free ourselves from the fetters of moral absolutes.

No longer can a preacher approach a congregation and declare adultery, murder or abuse to be a moral transgression. However, the eulogist also loses the ability to point to the courageous service of a fallen soldier and call him a hero.

We lose more than the shackles of a Puritan worldview and the liberty to appraise acts and ideologies as evil, we lose the ability to recognize and name goodness. Life becomes, what William Lane Craig describes simply as, “absurd”.

The skeptics objection is often presented as the apparent inequity between faith in an Omni-potent, omni-benevolent, omniscient God and the evil and suffering that we so regularly encounter in our world.

What the skeptic fails to consider is that, in the Christian worldview, God’s omni-benevolence, meaning His good will towards mankind, extends beyond time into eternity. God’s great desire is relationship with mankind and, as such, is not preempted by, but often served by, temporary sufferings on the earth and in time.

Paul asserted that if you were to place all the sufferings this world brings on one side of a scale and, on the other side of the scale place all the glory of knowing God here and the promise of spending eternity with Him there, that the suffering was no comparison to the hope we possess.

He said, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18).

In short, if God, in His omniscience, chooses to allow temporary suffering to bring me an eternal reward then He is, above all, being good to me!

We understand this dynamic when we take our children for stitches, or when we admit a loved one for open heart surgery, yet somehow we miss it when God is the loving parent and we are the child.

Any denial of His existence, predicated upon the existence of evil or suffering, is the byproduct of human reasoning misunderstanding the claims of faith regarding God and man on the Earth. What we are saying is, if we were God, we would not allow sufferings to exist. Since suffering does exist we declare there must be no God or else a God who is either impotent, uncaring or both.

All because He is not acting in His office as God in the way we believe we would if we were God. Nonsense.

We assume, with all the faculties of a finite mind, that we understand the cosmic complexities inherent to the work of an infinite God. Pure intellectual arrogance.

Our understanding of evil is testimony to the reality of every man’s “measure of faith” in a Holy God. We must realign our worldview with that of the revelation of God in the scriptures.

The real wonder is not that there is evil in the world, or that there is pleasure in the world, but that the world maintains pleasures even amidst the presence of evil.

What we have felt all these centuries is the echo of truth in our souls. Evil is a deviation from God’s plan. Suffering was not the original design and goodness is indeed available to mankind. The way things are is not the way things ought to be. This we know all too well. The good news is there is an answer to the question.

How could a loving God suffer all the evil and pain that is so capriciously rampant in the world? He can’t. That’s why He was manifested and walked among us. It’s why He refused to pick up the sword and establish a natural kingdom. It’s why He refused to become intoxicated on the cross. He felt every pain, every torture, every pang of hunger and every whip of abuse. He took all the evil and suffering of the world on Himself at Calvary. He made a way, through His own suffering and death, to eliminate the effect of evil on the earth. He became the answer to the question of evil and the problem of pain.

That seems to be a great reason to believe.

The Problem of Pleasure

pews stained glassIf there is one absolute truth it is that life isn’t fair. I was raised on the South side of Chicago and though I cannot recall a specific moment when it occurred to me that the world was not fair it was something of which I was acutely aware.

My older brother and I were raised by a single mother. She worked hard to give us everything we needed but sometimes it was still not enough. My father left our young family months before I was born. My brother is six years older than me and we have different fathers. Neither of us knew our own father though, ironically, he knew mine.

In our extended family we can find drug abuse, addictions, suicide, bankruptcy, disease, sudden deaths, poverty, homelessness, imprisonment, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Members of my family tree were drunkards, liars, drug abusers, whoremongers, thieves, murders and adulterers. A large percentage of the marriages in our extended family have been visited by divorce.

While my family tree may shock some the reality is that such an inventory is no longer uncommon. The world is an ugly place. It is full of heartbreak, pain and suffering. Life is simply not fair. To be clear, most of us do not mind an imbal- ance in the grand scheme of things as long as that imbalance weighs in our favor. It is when inequities appear that do not favor us that we begin to cry foul.

When we get a large sweet tea at the drive- thru window, though we only paid for a small, we don’t refuse it because it would be unfair, even though it is. We welcome it! If we get more that what we paid for we smile and enjoy our good fortune, but if we get less than what we paid for we demand immediate rectitude, even though both circumstances are, by definition, unfair. We’re not upset when life isn’t fair, as long as it’s not fair in our favor. It’s when life is unfair and it effects us negatively that we object.

So let us dispel with the idea that it is a cosmic imbalance in justice which disturbs us. That’s not it. It is not inequity that we are troubled with but rather inequities that bring us pain and suffering. What makes the suffering of such pain and evil in our lives so troubling is, not so much the pain itself but rather the indiscriminate manner in which it visits us. There is a maddening capriciousness to the pain and suffering that exist in the world. It seems that pain visits the good with the same random abandon that fortune visits the wicked.

We examine all of this while looking through the lens of our families and friends and conclude that life simply is not fair. The fates are not judicious in the dispensing of pain. We judge, in our finite knowledge, that our family and friends are made up of “good people” and they do not deserve this evil treatment from the cosmos. It’s simply not fair.

The problem of evil in the world has plagued thinkers for centuries. They’ve pointed to it as evidence that God must not exist, or at least not in the way many have believed Him to exist. The Epicurean philosophy is that either there is no God or He must be powerless or careless to deal with the evil that plagues what we believe to be His creation. He assuredly cannot be a good God, both of love and of power, else what keeps Him from stopping all the pain and suffering that plague the world?

Philip Yancey describes the problem of pain as “the question mark turned like a fish hook in the human heart.” Life is not fair, but if He indeed exists, it is ultimately God who is not fair and not good.

Yet I cannot help but consider that amidst all the pain and suffering that really does exist in the world there is also much pleasure in life. How else could we know pain, and furthermore learn to despise suffering, if we did not know great joys and pleasures? Could we fully appreciate the sweetness of sugar if we had not tasted the bitterness of the tea?

While I can recall sleepless nights in my childhood of fear and hunger, when we had no home, food or money, I am also able to recall days of great joy, safety and fullness. How can the two exist along side one another?

How does the skeptic, shouting about pain in the human condition, make equity of the fact that humans alone enjoy the great joys and pleasures of this natural world? Some species grow by merely absorbing what is in their environment. Many protozoans, certain algae, bacteria and amoeba all grow by simply assimilating proteins from their environment. How do we account for the fact that humankind gains pleasure from nourishment? Food tastes good! Many species of animals survive on other, smaller animals, dead carcass meat, plant life and water yet we enjoy the likes of Cherry Garcia, Cinnabon’s, and, if you’re lucky enough, an Italian Beef sandwich from Portillo’s in Chicago!

Most of the great beasts on land enjoy a steady diet of hay and grasses yet we, unique in nature, have created great monuments to food and the pleasure we derive from it. We enjoy a rainbow of color and zest in our diets, able to create and enjoy a myriad of pleasant and appetizing flavors and sensations while we are nourishing ourselves.

Our ability to enjoy food has reached such proportions that we will often place the enjoyment of the taste even above it’s ability to nourish us. This can be evidenced quite simply by the popularity of the Hostess and Little Debbie line of products. Mankind takes such pleasure in what we eat that we have become imbalanced in it on a scale represented in no other species.

What purpose is there that humankind should enjoy what nourishes him when we see this reflected nowhere else in nature? The question here is not one of pain but of pleasure.

Some species reproduce by simply splitting into two. Some creatures even kill or are killed following copulation. Other species copulate in a mere function and the two mating partners never engage with one another again in any kind of meaningful or responsible relationship. In the least, when we see fidelity in the act of reproduction in the animal kingdom it is without the profound meaning that human reproduction carries.

Yet, a man and a woman share arguably the greatest physical delight in the human experience in the act of reproduction. So much so that rarely is sex viewed by most moderns as a reproductive act. It is considered foremost to be an act of pleasure between a man and a woman and most would agree it to be the greatest of creational gifts mankind enjoys.

Once again, we enjoy the goodness of this pleasure to such a degree that we have become imbalanced in regard to sex. We have almost entirely divorced its purpose from the act and have pursued sex for the simple end of sex itself.

C.S. Lewis asked the question, “suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?”

How is it that we can, not only enjoy our reproductive act but, enjoy it to such a degree that we can actually become imbalanced in it?

Our other senses, beyond our appetite for food and sex, are equally as unique among the earth’s creatures in their ability to absorb pleasure from their function.

We can view the spectrum of the rainbow and the hues of the color wheel while canines live in a monochrome world. We can stand at the base of the Rocky Mountains in the western United States, drink the heights of the Sierra Nevada’s, or camp at the foot of the Alps in France, and appreciate their beauty and greatness. Yet snakes, birds and scorpions scurry in, over and around Arizona’s Grand Canyon every day without a hint of understanding as to it’s size, significance, and wonder on the planet they share with humans beings.

Allow me to understate the case by saying we enjoy sounds. We are daily inundated with music, singing and instruments. We have radios in our car, our home, our work place and enjoy it as an outlet in our recreation and entertainment. While there are certain species of birds and whales that seem to sing for pleasure there are certainly none that enjoy a song to the degree and extent that we humans have created and enjoy. While the dolphins may enjoy their sonar song they have nothing that compares to Handel’s “Messiah”.

We’ve been able to drink in breathtaking photographs and views from space as well as the depths of the seas. We’ve explored our world and begun to explore worlds beyond and yet amidst all this pleasure, goodness and wonder we still find ourselves shaking our fist at the heavens and demanding, “What doest thou?”

For all of our pain and sufferings, all the injustices and challenges, for all that’s ugly and unwelcome, for all the things in life that we would petition for God to change, we have so very much more to be thankful for.

Like Adam and Eve in the garden we’ve listened to the tempters offer to focus on the one thing we don’t have rather than see all themany pleasures we have been granted access to. We are quite literally missing the forest for the trees.

We’ve found it within us to ignore all the wonderful pleasures we enjoy every day and focus on the things that bring us the most discomfort, calling it proof that an omnipotent God could not and indeed does not exist.

Is not our logic failing us in this regard? If pain and evil, according to Epicurius and his adherents, point to a random, meaningless universe, void of a designer, or at best a handicapped deity, then to what does pleasure point? Where does all this goodness and pleasure in the human condition come from?

How is it that mankind stands alone on this great planet as the sole recipients of its pleasures and joys? Why does mankind deserve to experience the myriad of pleasure that plant and animal will never know? Furthermore, how is it that Earth stands alone in our Solar System, perfectly positioned and chemically balanced to be inhabited with life in such a robust manner?

Stuart Clark, writer for New Scientist magazine, asks the very same question when he says,

“We know that [Earth’s] distance from the sun provides the right amount of heat and light to make the planet habitable, but that alone is not enough. Without the unique mix of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur that makes up living things, and without liquid water on the planet’s surface, life as we know it could not have evolved. Chemically speaking, Earth is simply better set up for life than its neighbors. So how come we got all the good stuff?”

In his view, all the planets in our solar system “formed from the same cloud of gas and dust that surrounded the sun more than 4.5 billion years ago” yet Earth alone is perfectly suited for plant, animal and human life. Are we simply the winners of a cosmic, even galactic lottery, or are we living on a planet, positioned and crafted by a designer for the purpose of life?

If the skeptic believes pain is evidence to God’s non-existence then, following the same logic, doesn’t pleasure and great privilege indicate the existence of a loving and benevolent giver of life?

At the very least the pleasures we enjoy, the gravy of life, the sweet tea, maintain an existential balance of the bitter mixed with the sweet. There is pain and suffering in the world. There is also joy, gladness and great pleasures.

Life is not fair. Sometimes that works in our favor and other times it does not. Neither are reasons to reject God. They are the balanced result of the human condition in a fallen world.

The pleasures in life that we are free to enjoy are one of the many reasons I continue to believe.

On Motives

wheat skyHere’s what David says in Psalm 24:1-5, ESV

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Clean hands AND a pure heart.

I don’t intend for this to sound judgmental but it might. To put it simply, I’m concerned that many Christians are operating under the assumption that what you do is more important than why you do it. That giving, prayer, fasting, sexual purity, and faithfulness in church attendance are all ends in themselves. They are not. They are things that should be present in the life of every believer but not as the ends themselves but rather as evidence of genuine heart change.

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t lower the bar when He came teaching in The Sermon on The Mount. He raised it.

You could keep your hands clean of your brother’s blood but if you have a heart full of hate Jesus declared you guilty (Matthew 5:21-26). You could keep your hands off the girl next door your entire life but if you fixate on her in your heart Jesus said you’re guilty (Matthew 5:27-30). If you love the people who love you and if you hate the people who hate you also He said you’re no different than unbelievers (Matthew 5:43-48), even they can do that.

No, Jesus didn’t lower the bar. He raised it. He raised it so high that no one could ever reach it without Him. And He established in Matthew 5 that He is equally as concerned with the condition of your heart as He is your hands.

As far as God is concerned, why you do something is equally as important as how you do it. It’s not enough to have clean hands, He wants your heart to be as pure as your actions.

If you give, but give grudgingly and suspiciously, you need to get your heart right. If you pray but it’s only to cross it off your to do list of righteous deeds then you need to be reintroduced to prayer as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you serve the church but do so out of rigor and obligation and not out of joy and seeing it as worship then you need to let your heart be renewed again.

Good deeds done from selfish motives become selfish deeds because they’re not done in pursuit of Christlikeness or a genuine love for others but out of a desire to gain for oneself. Our motives need to be pure too. Jesus doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does. And they need to be sourced, not out of a selfish pursuit of accolades or a righteous reputation but rather, out of a genuine heart of love.

Blessing and righteousness are found in, not just clean hands, but a pure heart as well.

When You Fast

Farm House Table.jpgFor all of our failings, if there’s one place Western culture succeeds it’s indulgence. We are, after all, the home of the cafeteria, the smorgasbord and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Where else, but in the USA, would a place like Ryan’s be a commercial success.

We, especially in The United States, have engendered one of the most self-indulgent, gluttonous and consumptive societies in history.

Our forefathers were hunter-gatherers, we’re just gatherers.

As Dave Ramsey says,

“We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

What’s worse is that we all see it yet we continue our self indulgence. We know we’re selfish, we know we’re gluttons, and we just can’t stop.

We’re not alone. Every culture that has ever enjoyed a level of prosperity has eventually been given over to decadence. It was the downfall of Rome, the decline of Greece and the blinders the British wore. We have everything, we need nothing and so we become numb to our ultimate and greatest needs.

Knowing this about humanity, Jesus steps into our story in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 6 He teaches,

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

He takes it for granted that His disciples will fast. He doesn’t say, IF you fast, but WHEN. Fasting is assumed as a basic Christian activity. Prayer and fasting are fundamental to a victorious life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 17 Jesus and His disciples had an encounter with a family that needed a spiritual victory,

“And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:14-21)

They were reminded that simple faith can accomplish great things. Jesus revealed to them that very small faith could move very large things, even mountains. Indeed, the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man “availeth much” (James 5:16). However, when it comes to winning spiritual victories against spiritual enemies you need the added strength of natural hunger. You need to add fasting to your prayer. Jesus said spiritual victories are won through prayer and fasting!

This was precisely what God was reminding Israel in Isaiah 58.

“Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord ? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 58:2-11 NLT)

God, through His prophet Isaiah, calls out Israel on their hypocrisy. He sees through their actions and highlights  their motive. They pray and fast, making themselves miserable, hoping to pry good gifts from the hands of God. They get it all wrong.

He says they “act pious” and they “pretend to be near me” but they’re only fasting to please themselves. They’re not really fasting to please God. They’re trying to use religious activity to cajole God to take their side and God rebuked them for it. That’s not how God works.

Fasting is not leveraging God for your interests. It is not divine arm twisting to get God to take your side. To the contrary, fasting doesn’t get God on your page, it gets you on His. It’s about you, humbling yourself, letting go of your self-interest and getting your will aligned with His. Fasting takes the most basic and vital physical need we have, food, and willfully denies the physical man in order to put the spiritual man back in control.

We often forget that we are physical and spiritual. We need to nourish and maintain the health of our entire nature. CS Lewis famously said,

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

The truth is, we are engaged everyday in the care and feeding of our body. Sleep, showers, breakfast, lunch, dinner, radio, music, books, sports, shopping, clothing, friends, vacation and on and on. We do most of what we do to respond to the needs and maintenance of our physical self, often to the detriment and neglect of our spiritual self.

We’re washing the car but we’re not changing the oil. We’re a house of squalor with a manicured lawn. We monitor the externals but we neglect the internals which are exponentially more important and, consequently eternal. The only thing that can treat the malaise of this natural world is both prayer and fasting.

John Piper powerfully writes in His book, A Hunger for God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

So, in Matthew 6, Jesus gives us instruction for, “When You Fast”.

The first thing He says is, When You Fast, don’t do it for men to see. If you fast only to procure a reputation as a pious and religious individual Jesus said you’re just a hypocrite and the praise of men will be your only reward. However, if you want to fast the way God intends for believers to fast, do it in private.

Don’t fast so that men compliment your piety or applaud you for religious activity. Fast so that your heart seeks the heart of God. Fast to submit your physical man to your spiritual man. Fast, not just to open the hands of God but rather, to hear the voice of God. Fast for joy, and men can’t give you joy.

He then, almost humorously, goes on to say, “wash your face”. When you fast clean yourself up, brush your teeth, do your hair, and use some product. Why? If you’ve ever fasted for several days you know, because you’ll need to!
Also, because you’ll be tempted not to. That will leave you open for questions as to why your appearance is the way it is.

Make no mistake, fasting is not easy on the physical body. You will likely be, if on an extended fast, (what my wife and I refer to as “hangry”) hungry, irritable and possibly a little weakened. It is, however, restorative. Many medical doctors even encourage fasting for it’s beneficial effects, a sabbath of sorts, for your digestive system. Fasting breaks down the physical man to ensure that the spiritual man remains in control of your life.

So, When You Fast, Jesus says let  your fasting have one focus, not the applause of men, not divine leverage, but aligning your will with your Father’s will that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

When You Pray

park bench.jpgThe most comprehensive collection of Jesus teaching is contained in The Sermon on the Mount. In what is regarded as some of the most beautiful and challenging teaching in scripture, Jesus addresses the issues of the human condition.

He teaches about envy, lust, anger, murder, adultery, divorce, prayer, fasting, finances, anxiety, hypocrisy, promises, enemies, the poor, war, peace and a myriad other topics.

In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three specific activities that should be present in the life of every committed disciple. He tackles When You Pray, When You Fast and When You Give.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:5-13, KJV)

Prayer is one of the most basic, fundamental activities of the faithful Christians life. Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray. Prayer is how we build a relationship with God. A relationship where there is no communication or worse, only communication when someone has a need or want is dysfunctional at best and essentially no relationship at all. When we only talk to God when we need something we rob ourselves of the depth available in relationship with God.

In Genesis 3 we learn that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. He walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. However, after they sin, God comes looking for them and they try to hide themselves from God (Gen. 3:8-9). Sin has a way of keeping us from the presence of God in prayer.

Thats what prayer is; walking and talking with God. It’s the primary manner by which we build a relationship with Jesus Christ. The amazing truth is that prayer is a shadow of the relationship that God’s redemptive plan aims to restore. What Adam and Eve lost in Eden God wants to restore with you!

So Jesus teaching says, When You Pray. Not IF you pray, WHEN. The implied message is that His disciples will engage themselves in prayer. Believers are praying people. It should be expected and normative that the healthy Christian is a praying Christian. It’s the health of your soul.

Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray!

Jesus goes on to say, in verse 5 of Matthew 6, that, when you pray, be sure to talk to God, not men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public places “to be seen of men”. He called that hypocrisy, it’s not genuine prayer. Prayer should be directed towards the ears of God, not the ears of your fellow man.

There is a very real temptation for Christians to only pray when we gather together. We have a strong sense of identity within the Christian community and it’s often important to look like a believer, to look pious and religious. Jesus steps into our hypocrisy and highlights our motive. We don’t really want God to hear us, we just want other people to know we pray.

Jesus said, when you pray, talk to God. Go somewhere private and pray to cultivate a relationship with God, not to procure a reputation with other men. I don’t know any serious Christians who believe the only Biblical location for prayer is in a closet. What Jesus meant was, go somewhere free from the distractions of the day and the ears of other men. Get alone with God and talk to Him.

Jesus then goes on to instruct His listeners to not only talk to God when they pray but to talk to God. Talk to God. Open your heart and mind and try to hear from His heart and mind.

Prayer does not have to be complicated, ritualized and performed in the King James English. The act of prayer itself is not redemptive. God is not interested in getting us to repeat cliches ad nauseam while on our knees. It’s less about the talking and more about what you’re saying. It’s about relationship with God.

The people who think prayer is about what you say and how you say it are missing the point. Jesus said they think they will be heard for their “much speaking” and “vain repetition”. They don’t understand that God’s interested in quality not quantity. Jesus said, “Don’t be like that.”

After all, prayer is not so much about what God needs to hear as it is what we need to say. The truth is, God knows what we have need of before we even ask (verse 8). So praying is not about keeping God up to speed or in the loop. We’re telling God all the things we’ve decided to turn over to His trust.

In the end, prayer is an act of faith. Faith that I can take everything in my life and trust it into His hands. Faith that even when I’m insufficient, He is more than enough. Faith that refuses to let natural evidences out weigh a supernatural promise. Prayer says, there are things that I believe about God that mean more to me than the things I see in my world. You build your relationship with your Heavenly Father and put your faith in Jesus Christ when you pray.