How many times have you heard someone say that religion is the cause of wars and human problems? I have concluded that I agree with that statement. Everything good or bad in this world comes down to religion. Allow me to explain. The official definition of religion is:
1.The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods.
2. A particular system of faith or worship.
3. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
All three applications of the word “religion” are the basis by which each person decides what their world view and behavior will be. The pharisees asked Jesus by whose authority he taught and performed his acts. They were interested in the source of his confidence, power and teaching. They wanted to verify that he had the same god that they followed. Every person has a basis by which they make decisions and have confidence that they’re doing the right thing for themselves and others around them. From a practical standpoint every person is religious because each person has faith in a source of authority that emboldens them to act. It’s easy to see this manifested in the world’s religions. A belief in a supernatural god is the purest definition of religion.
What about the atheists, agnostics and those who proclaim to be non-religious? They also have a source of authority that they trust to give them a purpose in life. They trust the power and wisdom of mankind. They are secular when it comes to a supernatural god having authority over the affairs of this world, but they are humanists (trusting the power of man) when it comes to finding answers about life and behavior. I read a news account where a young man was asked if he had a religion. He responded that he was non-religious. When asked why, his answer was that religion was a way for past generations to explain what they couldn’t understand, but now science has answered so many questions about life. He also believed that modern man has more insight about life, death and successful living. This young man had reduced belief in the supernatural to nothing but myths. Have men found the answers to life’s purpose and truths through science and ideology? There is no substantive evidence that man has the answers to life’s greatest questions. It becomes apparent that trusting the power of man requires faith in a source of authority without proof that it is infallible truth. Religions based on the supernatural have always understood the issue of faith. Man’s efforts to bring stability and peace to the world has failed miserably. There have been more people killed and persecuted in the name of human ideology than those killed to satisfy the commands of a supernatural god.Historically, those who taught that human leadership and government could bring utopia and peace to the world have killed and persecuted millions in trying to bring these about. The communist revolutions in Russia, China and other countries were not in the name of a god but rather in the name of humans that promised utopia, but they brought death. We could talk of Hitler and other dictators who collectively killed and persecuted millions in the name of man’s leadership. The point is this; trusting the power of man’s intellect and commands is a religious act because it is the authority that those who trust in it, base their hopes and lives on.
Mankind has tried to bring peace by two things. The first is religion based on belief in a god that requires people work to earn salvation. This involves obeying commands that sometimes lead to the destruction of those who do not agree with them. Secondly, Man has tried to bring peace through human invention and power. The problem with both efforts is that neither accept the reality of sin’s consequences and that sin cannot be eradicated by false hope or man’s power. The evil that resides in mankind has not been solved by man’s power or ideology.
I am thankful for the gospel of Christ. Among the confusion and darkness there is teaching that does answer the desires of man’s heart. What if everyone were a christian? What if everyone believed that God manifested himself as the Messiah and loved mankind so much that He came as one of us to pay our sin debt so we could be forgiven. What if everyone believed in the penalty of sin and saw our willful act of rebellion God? What if they sought God? What if everyone accepted Christ and practiced His teachings? What if everyone turned the other cheek, returned good for evil and loved their neighbor as themselves? What if everyone sought the wisdom of God, obeyed Him and loved Him as He has loved us? The world would be a much different place. Time will soon reveal the truth of Christ. The Biblical prophesies have never failed.
I am convinced that everything good or bad comes down to religion. Of what religion are you?
Mar 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:
1Co 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
1Co 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
Eph 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
1Ti 3:9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
1Ti 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
The word mystery means something concealed or not revealed. The world is filled with mysteries. I would guess that the bulk of science is occupied with trying to solve mysteries. Tremendous resources have been committed to solving the mystery of life’s origins. Medical science is always trying to conquer the mystery of virus, infection and aging. Politically, world leaders have been trying to find the path to utopia and world peace. The willingness of mankind to die for causes like nationalism or loyalty to despot leaders has been a mystery to political scientists. We have more resources than ever before to study the earth, observe the heavens, and unearth the past, but few mysteries have been solved. If anything, the more knowledge man obtains, the more new mysteries appear.
Observation of the daily workings of life causes us to ask the question “why”. Mankind has never been content to leave a mystery unsolved. Herein lies the problem mankind has when it comes to seeking God. If things observed are attributed to God, then the mystery of how they work and why they work will only be answered when God is ready to reveal them. This leaves man in a subservient and powerless position. Mankind wants to solve problems now and by his own devices. Waiting on God to give answers and having to make a passionate appeal to him won’t do. It was decided long ago in the garden that man would be equal to God and could go alone on ruling the world’s affairs. This reality has now evolved into mankind building the case that there is no God.
God created us with five senses to experience and function in this physical world. We cannot experience God or understand the spiritual realm by these five senses. He gave us a sixth sense to experience him and function in the spiritual realm. That extra sense is “faith”. Faith is the ability to believe in the unseen and the unction to seek it out. In Hebrews chapter eleven we are told that faith is the evidence and substance that proves there is more than meets the eye about life. The fact that we have the capability to believe is evidence that there is something to believe in. In Ephesians chapter two we learn that faith is a gift from God. He has enabled us to seek him and believe in him.
Mystery and faith are essential partners in believing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s answer for mankind’s salvation. Before you can believe that Jesus was God incarnate, who came to the world and so loved us that he died and suffered for our sins, you must accept the mystery surrounding God. He has never revealed his motives and mind to us. He has never explained how it all works on the earth and in the heavens. When we are told to walk by faith it means we are to trust that he is providing each day what we need. Faith is to trust that God is in control and that there is nothing mysterious to him. He created it all and knows all about it. Faith is to have peace and calm that there is nothing God cannot control or do.
Does faith require that we do not seek to eradicate disease, work for peace and seek more wisdom about life and its challenges? Of course not, faith in God will lead to a better understanding of how to fix the things that trouble us. The Bible is filled with philosophical and scientific answers. The Bible also has warned us that sinful man will not walk by faith but will seek out his own way. God’s perspective is that the purpose of life is to find him and repent of unbelief and sin. Man’s perspective is to rule the world by his own wisdom and receive the glory for doing so. There are many problems with this thinking but one of the greatest problems is that man cannot tolerate mystery. We cannot be saved and have the wisdom of God until we embrace the mystery of God and trust him with it.
As I enter into my thirty sixth year at the church I look back into the past and am amazed at what each decade has brought. So many people and events have played a crucial role in the church and it’s accomplishments. We have seen the protective hand of God navigate us through some troubled waters and also bless us with undeserved blessings. I could not have imagined when this all came about that today we would be a debt free church with three buildings and getting ready to build a much needed gymnasium. There have been thousands of souls saved directly and indirectly because of this ministry. Hundreds of families have been touched in a special way. The exciting part is that we are not finished. Various ministries are growing within the church and the future looks bright. We must give the Lord all of the praise, honor and glory!
May the Lord protect us from division and hardship, give grace when needed and bless all that we do. Please pray for us as we continue to serve the Master in 2017.
After being involved with sports competition for most of my life I decided to share some lessons I had learned from my involvement. I pray that the information will be a blessing to all who are interested in a deeper look at competition. You can purchase the book from Barnes and Noble book sellers, Amazon, Amazon eBooks and Tate Publishers. You can also get a copy from me directly at a reduced cost.
Recently there was a visitor to one of our services that felt I had made some comments during the service that would be offensive to people of color. I have learned to take criticism seriously and did quite a bit self-examination about the matter. My comments came as I talked of the youth that were willing to be violent and destructive in order to bring attention to their social concerns. The visitor was someone who was doing a very good work with inner city youth, mostly of color. They suggested that I didn’t know enough about white privilege to be speaking about the behavior of these minority young people. Having worked in the jail ministry for thirty four years where I had dealt with poor and disenfranchised youth who had turned to crime and addiction, I could understand the compassion and concern of my friend. I also had grown up poor and lived on more than one occasion in the poverty area of Louisville, Ky. I certainly was not offended by the challenge that they posed to me about what I really understood about people of color and their struggles. Our church is multi-racial. We have attendees of different color and I would not want them offended by a misplaced comment from me as the pastor. I have some thoughts to share about my own experience concerning the racial struggle that the church must deal within our current culture.
The issue of white privilege has surfaced as a rally cry for those who feel our nation is still flawed by prejudice and oppression of minorities. They look at the poverty and crime statistics and conclude that because people of color have a higher percentage of population living below the poverty level and make up a larger percentage of those convicted for crimes that the problem resides with the white population. I am not going to try and take a position on that issue. I may not have the life and professional experience to decide if there is white privilege or not, but I do have a lifetime of experience teaching Biblical principles. I know that all the debating, protests and fighting over what is to blame for the social stress we all feel has only served to create division, anger and retaliation. There was a time when it was easy to see the political and social reasons for discrimination and reasonable people agreed to fix those problems. Today there are so many conflicting and confusing elements concerning social justice issues. Those being blamed do not feel they have done anything to harm others of any color while those who feel disenfranchised keep telling them that they have.
I’m not sure anyone can pull American citizens back together or be able to discuss real issues without being condemned for political correctness by the current means being employed. I want to suggest that we consider privilege from another perspective. I want to introduce you to the term “American privilege”. What is American privilege? I grew up under the poverty level. My parents were hard working and loving people. They made some decisions based on their desire to help others that limited our household income. My parents never let the lack of money cause their children to believe that we couldn’t chase our dreams. I participated in any school functions that I desired. I attended the University of Kentucky and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. How was this possible? Because of American privilege. Through the years I have spoken with many foreign missionaries about the conditions that oppress people in other countries. They use the phrase often that “only in America” can a poor person of any color can rise to greatness. American privilege is the opportunity for all children to obtain a free public education. High school graduates below the poverty level can work for academic scholarships and obtain free grants to attend college or trade schools. Young people who are willing to work and lift themselves above bitterness and blame can still achieve success. Exceptional character is still noticed by others.
It breaks my heart to see people disrespect the flag during the national anthem. They do have the freedom to protest and exercise their right of free speech to bring attention to a social justice issues but do they realize what they are saying by their method to express themselves? They are saying that there is no American privilege. They are dishonoring the very people who died for their freedom. Those who feel oppressed or disenfranchised should celebrate the national anthem as a symbol of hope. They should celebrate free speech and freedom of assembly. They should celebrate a country where there are so many citizens that would stop and consider the conditions their neighbors live in. Instead of drawing positive attention and empathy to their social justice concerns, those who dishonor the flag alienate and discourage others who can’t understand what they have done wrong.
Is it possible that there is also such a thing as “majority privilege”? In any culture and nation there is going to be a racial, religious and economic majority. The majority of the population will have the greater influence on cultural standards, elections and other social factors. American leaders and social institutions have become increasingly consumed with asking the majority to sacrifice its values and interests to accommodate minority populations. The majority has historically been willing to do that for people of color but in recent years the majority has been labeled the bad guys. They have been mandated through political means and court rulings to forsake their traditional values to accommodate minorities that are identified by behavioral traits instead of unchangeable features like race. Most of the population in the majority believe in social justice for all and race has become less of a factor in their assessment of others.
There is one more category of people that must be discussed and that is those who have “Christian privilege”. Freedom of religion is a critical part of American Privilege. Christianity is the true religion of peace and love. It reconciles people to God and to each other. There is no color or any other social barrier between people of Christian faith. If every person believed in salvation through Jesus Christ and practiced the love, humility and compassion that is taught in the Bible, what kind of world would we have?
I can’t speak with authority about such issues as white privilege but I know that violence, revenge, blame and vindictiveness can only cause a society to fail. American privilege is still alive for all people who will work and take advantage of the opportunities that are still there. It is true that it can be more difficult for those who start out in poverty or belong to a minority but American privilege still opens the door for all, just ask the professional athletes, who are protesting the flag, that came from poor and minority backgrounds to become millionaires and successful people. I fear that the current reaction to real and perceived social injustice will bring an end to American privilege and soon after there will be an end to religious liberty, free speech and other constitutional freedoms as government will have to become more totalitarian to control a society where anarchy rules.
May we all cherish American privilege and pray for the God in Heaven to bring healing to our land.
A Movie Review
Movies have become a large part of our culture. Movies are a major form of entertainment that the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians alike enjoy. This is challenging to us because there are a lot of movies that contain subject matter or behavior that we would rather not be a part of. At the same time we live in a time and place where the movie is a very main stream form of entertainment and we are a part of the culture we live in. In some ways, Christians can appreciate these stories more than most, because we see more clearly the human condition.
In recent years there have been several quality movies that have been produced with the idea of providing entertainment and furthering the cause of Christ. There is something about seeing a story play out visually that makes it more real. For centuries now, actors have played stories out on stage, but now we have the ability through high definition filming and special effects to see things play out that we could never see before. We can see what war really looks like. We can see the terror of being in a sinking ship. We can visualize what the deepest reaches of space look like.
There remains one type of movie that for me, always draws a deep emotional response. Movies or stage dramas about our Savior always affect me profoundly. I think seeing the story of Jesus play out visually allows one to really appreciate the humanity of the characters. Also, knowing that what you are seeing really happened adds a dimension that a fantasy can’t duplicate.
Recently, I watched a movie called Risen. This movie was released by Sony in February of this year. (There might be some spoilers in the rest of this, so if you want to watch the movie maybe you’ll want to read the rest of this later.) This movie portrays the resurrection from a Roman standpoint. A tribune is assigned to investigate the disappearance of the body of Christ. What he finds, shocks him to his core. The man that he saw hanging dead on a cross is now alive and fellowshipping with his disciples before his very eyes. The movie plays out with this tribune abandoning his duties and following the disciples. At first, at a distance, then Peter brings him into the fold as they await further instructions from Jesus. The tribune becomes a bystander as the story plays out until the finale of Christ returning to the right hand of the Father. This tribune is obviously fictional, but enables the story to be told from a totally different perspective. I enjoyed this movie because it communicates to the watcher just how big of a deal the resurrection was. We fail to realize what an extraordinary event this was. Think of any popular figure today. What if that figure was executed and three days later the body turned up missing, even though the US military was guarding the grave. Then hundreds of people were able to give time, date, and place where they saw the person alive. If the resurrection could have been reasonably refuted, it would have been. The Jewish and Roman authorities did not want belief in the resurrection to grow.
The movie also provides a glimpse into the lives of the apostles at that time. Their unadulterated joy at seeing Jesus alive and their uncertainty about the future are striking and real. You can’t help but ponder what it will be like to actually see Him face to face. What will He say? What will I say? What will he look like? How will He have time to see each of us? The questions are limitless, but time will be too.
Movies like this can inspire us and draw us closer to our Lord. I thank God that he has allowed humanity this technology. When used appropriately it can bring glory to our Savior and provide a powerful presentation of the Gospel.
A California Pastor has made headlines recently because of statements he made about the recent mass shooting in Orlando. Pastor Roger Jiminez of Verity Baptist Church has said among other things, “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” He has also expressed that he does not mourn the deaths of these individuals because they deserved to die.
Let me first make clear that the Scripture teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin. If one is a Christian seeking to view life through the lens of the Bible, then there really is not another reasonable position to take, but that is a topic for a different time.
The disturbing thing about Jiminez’s statements is not that he describes this behavior as sin, but in his response to that sin. At the heart of the Christian faith is the belief that all people are sinners. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The prophet Isaiah described the righteousness of people as “filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians he talked about some of them being involved in homosexual behavior before their conversion to Christianity (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Jesus said that all manner of sin will be forgiven with the exception of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31).
So were those murdered in Orlando sinners? Yes, but so are all of us without Christ. Are many of them in hell today? Probably so, but not for the specific sin of homosexual behavior. If they are in hell, it is because they did not believe on the name of the only Son of God. Jesus said that those who do not believe are condemned already (John 3:18). Jesus has provided all people with the way to God if they will recognize that they are a sinner in need of saving and reach out to God for that salvation. Did they deserve to die? Yes, but we all do, because we have all sinned. Even one sin makes us guilty in the eyes of God and death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). But praise God, He has given us life through Jesus Christ. So can I mourn for these people? Yes I can. How can we not mourn for any lost soul that passes into eternity? Do we wish hell on even the worst of criminals? Peter wrote that God is not willing that any should pass into eternity lost, but that all would be saved (1 Peter 3:9). For the Christian, holding a sincere belief that homosexual behavior is sin and sincerely valuing the lives of those who participate in this behavior are not mutually exclusive. Is our heart so hard that we would wish hell on even our worst enemy? If so, may God help us to love people as He does.
Outside the Circle (One Christian’s Perspective on the Muhammad Ali Memorial Service)
Recently the city of Louisville lost one of its most beloved sons. Muhammad Ali passed into eternity last week and a memorial service was held in his honor at the KFC YUM! Center. I attended this service at the request of my boss. The experience was eye opening and to me, very sad.
As most people know, Ali was a famous boxer and later in life a famous humanitarian. By all accounts he was very generous and sought the betterment of his fellow man. One thing that was clear from the memorial service was that his name change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali was not a political stunt or done flippantly. Ali’s Muslim faith was central to his life. He also had a very ecumenical view of spiritually. This was obvious in his request to have an interfaith service at his memorial. Many faiths were represented on the stage ranging from a catholic priest to Native American Spiritual leaders.
During this three hour service, in which all of these various religious leaders spoke, I couldn’t help but realize how far outside the circle a Christian is who seeks to recognize only the Bible as authoritative for all spiritual matters. There was a heavy overtone of the belief that there are many paths to God. I must admit that I see the attraction in this theology. Looking at all of these different people in apparent harmony is very appealing and could easily draw one in. After all, these leaders are sincere in their beliefs and many of them seek to do good work.
But as Christians we have a problem. The problem is that Jesus said that He is the only way to God (John 14:6). He did not claim to be only a prophet or a great teacher. He claimed that He and God were One (John 10:30). The reality is that Christianity is not compatible with the other religions of the world. Christianity makes clear that there are not many paths to God, but only one path, and that path is Jesus. So as the crowd cheered and basked in the harmony of the moment, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and lonely. Lonely because I knew that I could never be in this circle. I realized that I will always be on the outside. Sad because this man that was being celebrated as now enjoying the benefits of the afterlife that Allah promises is burning in a sinner’s hell. The path to destruction truly is broad.
President Bill Clinton was the final speaker at this event and said something that I thought was remarkable. When talking about Ali refusing to enter the draft, he said that Ali was willing to live with the consequences of what he believed. There is wisdom in this statement. As Christians, we each have to consider this very question. Once we choose to believe that Jesus is who He says He is, are we willing to live with this choice? The consequence of this belief is that we will be outside the circle. It will mean that many will call us divisive. But it will also mean that some will be saved. The church does not exist to make peace with the religions of the world, but to divide truth from heresy. This was what Jesus was referring to when He said that He didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Since the tower of Babel men have sought to unify apart from God, but the only true unity is in Christ. The church has battled for two thousand years to maintain the supremacy of Christ and our battle remains the same today.