Quit Trying to Live Like A Super Christian

A short time ago, I, along with my family, watched the movie Avengers: Endgame. As we watched we all cheered the Avengers on hoping and waiting for the forces of good to overcome the forces of evil. For the evening at least, these superheroes captured our imaginations and our hearts. Then we went to bed.

Why are we so enamored with superheroes? At least our culture seems to be even if you as an individual aren’t. I think it’s because it’s in the superhero stories where we see good always winning over evil, where people are saved from horrible fates and bad guys always get punished.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness.

Superheroes give us hope in a world where we are bombarded by bad news and sadness. But also, the truth is that they are just so cool. Try wearing spandex and look good at the same time. For most of us that is utterly impossible, but these superheroes always look amazing and so downright cool.

But superheroes aren’t real. They’re a fantasy. That’s why when we see someone dressed up like Spiderman we know that he or she is either heading to a party or they’re half a puck short of a goal. And if they really thought they were Spiderman, well then, we’d know for sure that they are unbalanced in their minds. That’s because we know that superheroes don’t exist.

How come then, when it comes to the Christian life so many try to be super heroes in the Christian realm? I don’t mean the hero who saves people from death, Jesus did that on the cross already. Rather I’m talking about the self-acclaimed Super Christian who comes across as better than everyone else, as someone who is out to single handedly fight the evil they see in every corner.

Truth be told, no one wants to know a Super Christian. And just like the super heroes of Marvel & DC, they aren’t real. And we know this because too many of us have grown up in broken homes. Too many of us have been disoriented by tragedy in our lives. Too many of us have lost faith in cultural institutions, including the church. Too many of us have grown up wondering if anyone really cares about us.

There is no such thing as a ‘Super Christian’. They are fake, yet we have all been hurt by people wearing those labels. What we are all longing for is to enter into relationships with people who are not just shiny and pretty on the outside, wearing the correct clothes and cutting their hair just right, appearing to be ‘all that’. Instead we are looking for those who are real and authentic with the life that God has given them, as messy as it may be.

But here’s the thing. Too many of us, if not all of us at some point or another try to be that Super Christian. We do that in the way we’ve struggled to ‘prove’ our worthiness before God.

I’m not interested in showing you how to be a better person. Nor am I interested in showing you how to be a good or even great Christian. And I’m certainly not interested in helping someone become a Super Christian. What I am interested in is showing you how to give your life over to Jesus so that he can change you and live through you.

Because unless he does the changing and unless he does the living through us, we’ll never get this Christian life thing down and we’ll never be free to live the life we we’re created to live. Which is accepting the gospel as a part of our life. The gospel or the good news that we can live a life free from the penalty of sin, free from the power & hold of sin, and ultimately free from the presence of sin.

Paul said in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” – Galatians 5:1-5

To Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, understanding the true gospel is vital to living the Christian life because without understanding what it means to be a real Christian by embracing the true gospel, we end up living lives that are angst driven.

But when we understand and embrace true Christianity, and understand what the gospel is really about, it frees us up from the anxiety of religiosity, and the angst of trying to prove our worth before God, other people and ourselves, of trying to be a super Christian. It’s only when we understand the gospel for what it really is that we can be free from anxiety.

We can be free from anxiety

The surface issue, which threatened to divide the church, was circumcision. There were forces in the Jerusalem church who taught that circumcision was necessary to be in church fellowship. Paul described them as “false brothers,” who were brought in to bring them into “slavery.” What does he mean by slavery? He means that by making circumcision necessary for salvation, the false teachers were dragging the church back to adherence of a system of laws.

According to them we all needed to keep all of the Torah that contains 613 specific regulations & commandments. And you’d keep them if you really wanted to be a disciple of Jesus’ and really wanted to prove your worthiness to be saved and approved by God. How hard would that be? To keep track of them all – let alone do them all, you needed to be some sort of Super Christian. And we already know that there are no Super Christians because following all those rules and regulations are impossible for any human to do.

So, Paul’s argument was that we didn’t have to keep trying to fulfill the law anymore because God knew we couldn’t do it. Paul pointed out that God was doing a brand-new work that superseded all of the old rules and relationships. Most of us would agree with Paul, and we look back at these false teachers causing problems in the early church and we tsk tsk them.

I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? 

But I wonder how often we unconsciously add “extras” to the gospel message? Extras that make us think that we can earn God’s favour by affirming certain teachings, following prescribed rituals, dressing or acting a certain way, listening to and singing the right music, speaking the right lingo, or avoiding taboo behaviour  And sometimes we get to the point where we smugly believe that we are better Christians because we don’t do this or that thing.

It’s like we think that the motto to live by is; I don’t smoke & I don’t Chew & I don’t associate with them that do! But anyone who trades freedom in Christ for a set of rules or a list of does and don’ts so that they can be considered a better Christian or a “Super Christian” is in reality accepting the handcuffs of spiritual slavery.

It’s so important to get the gospel right. That’s because the true gospel provides freedom, not slavery. Before we were in Christ, before we became a follower and disciple of Jesus’, we were in slavery to sin; now we are free in Christ from being forced to observe what often amounts to incidentals. Those activities we hold onto will not save us, and in the end, it is like being chained to the law. If we base our salvation and standing before God in a list of do’s and don’ts, we will grow very tired very fast.

Tim Keller, in his book Galatians For You, refers to this as emotional freedom, and says that when we apply a list of rules and regulations to the gospel it can become an “endless treadmill of guilt and insecurity.”Paul’s concern for the Galatians was to get the gospel right so that they could live in freedom. This needs to be my concern daily. It needs to be the concern of every Christian man or woman.

Promoting a gospel with extras is no gospel at all, and in the end, it robs us of the joy and freedom in Christ that is ours through his sacrifice and by becoming a part of Christ, united to Jesus as a disciple of his. We only can become filled with increasing anxiety, when living the old way of trying to justify our existence by our own work.

Union with Christ tells us, “you have died to yourself”. Which means that you’ve died to the angst that comes from feeling like you’re not allowed to fail, or to the feelings of inadequacy that come from feeling like you have. To those questions “Am I significant? Have I done enough? Am I accepted?” the answer is “Your life is now hidden (united) with Christ in God” – Colossians 3:1

This is the beautiful, biblical truth of justification. You no longer have to justify your life. You don’t have to worry, like Jay Gatsby in the story the Great Gatsby, about others thinking you’re a nobody. Christ marries himself to you and in a wonderful exchange, you give him all your sins, and he gives you all of his righteousness. It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?” The good news is that Jesus offers his life for those who are willing to turn from their own imperfect life and embrace his perfect one.

It’s like he says to you and me “My life is perfect, right? Well yours isn’t. How would you like to trade?”

In Christ, you are significant – ‘he’ makes you so. In Christ, you are secure. In Christ, you are accepted. But that acceptance no longer has to be earned or maintained; it is granted by grace and guaranteed in Christ. This doesn’t mean you stop working, but it does mean you now work in a totally new way. You no longer work for approval; you work from approval.

 American Idol was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and for the contestants, one of the most nerve wracking. A single missed note could cost you the competition, but winning could change the course of your life. At the end of each season, when the contest was over and the winner had been crowned, she or he took up the microphone and sang one more time. But it was no longer singing to win; it was singing because they’d won.

It was no longer a contest. They had nothing more to prove or earn. Instead, the chosen and honoured performer could sing with all his or her heart, delighting in their gifts for the benefit of others. That’s the freedom from anxiety the gospel gives.

You, dear Christian, have already been chosen and crowned in Christ, so now you can do what you do with all your energy, delighting in whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of serving others. That is living life knowing you don’t need to be the hero, super or otherwise. That is living life without anxiety.

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

It’s that time of year once again, when the air gets crisper, the days get shorter, and for many young Canadians the excitement grows in anticipation of the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year – Halloween

I was raised in a home where it seemed that there was a lot of confusion about whether or not Christians should participate in Halloween. One year we were allowed to participate, the next my parents would feel convicted that we should burn all candy, the next we were allowed to participate as long as we only trick-or-treated at people’s homes we knew, the next we’d burn candy again.

I’m exaggerating somewhat of course, however the conversations, debates and questions kept being discussed and asked year after year in our home – “How should Christians respond to Halloween?” “Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick-or-treat?” “What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season – are they overreacting?”

The Pagan Origin of Halloween

The name “Halloween” comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” was eventually contracted to “Hallow-e’en,” which became “Halloween.”

As Christianity moved through Europe it collided with indigenous pagan cultures and confronted established customs. Pagan holidays and festivals were so entrenched that new converts found them to be a stumbling block to their faith.

To deal with the problem, the organized church would commonly move a distinctively Christian holiday to a spot on the calendar that would directly challenge a pagan holiday. The intent was to counter pagan influences and provide a Christian alternative. But most often the church only succeeded in “Christianizing” a pagan ritual – the ritual was still pagan, but mixed with Christian symbolism. That’s what happened to All Saints Day – it was the original Halloween alternative!

The Celtic people of Europe and Britain were pagan Druids whose major celebrations were marked by the seasons. At the end of the year in northern Europe, people made preparations in order to ensure winter survival by harvesting the crops and culling the herds. Life slowed down as winter brought shortened days and longer nights (darkness), fallow ground, and death. The imagery of death, symbolized by skeletons, skulls, and the colour black, remains prominent in today’s Halloween celebrations.

The pagan Samhain festival (pronounced “sow” “en”) celebrated the final harvest, death, and the onset of winter, for three days – October 31 to November 2. The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samhain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living – ghosts haunting the earth.

Some embraced the season of haunting by engaging in occult practices such as divination and communication with the dead. They sought “divine” spirits (demons) and the spirits of their ancestors regarding weather forecasts for the coming year, crop expectations, and even romantic prospects. Bobbing for apples was one practice the pagans used to divine the spiritual world’s “blessings” on a couple’s romance.

For others the focus on death, occultism, divination, and the thought of spirits returning to haunt the living, fueled ignorant superstitions and fears. They believed spirits were earthbound until they received a proper send-off with treats – possessions, wealth, food, and drink. Spirits who were not suitably “treated” would “trick” those who had neglected them. The fear of haunting only multiplied if that spirit had been offended during its natural lifetime.

Early Christian converts found family and cultural influence hard to withstand; they were tempted to rejoin the pagan festivals, especially Samhain. Pope Gregory IV reacted to the pagan challenge by moving the celebration of All Saints Day in the ninth century – he set the date at November 1, right in the middle of Samhain.

As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. On the one hand, pagan superstitions gave way to “Christianized” superstitions and provided more fodder for fear. People began to understand that the pagan ancestral spirits were demons and the diviners were practicing witchcraft and necromancy. On the other hand, the festival time provided greater opportunity for revelry. Trick-or-treat became a time when roving bands of young hooligans would go house-to-house gathering food and drink for their parties. Stingy householders ran the risk of a “trick” being played on their property from drunken young people.

Today Halloween is almost exclusively a secular holiday, and many who celebrate have no concept of its religious origins or pagan heritage. That’s not to say Halloween has become more wholesome. Children dress up in entertaining costumes, wander the neighborhood in search of candy, and tell each other scary ghost stories; but adults often engage in shameful acts of drunkenness and debauchery.

How should Christians respond?

First, Christians should not respond to Halloween like superstitious pagans. Pagans are superstitious; Christians are enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. Evil spirits are no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year; in fact, any day is a good day for Satan to prowl about seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). God has forever “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross of Christ and “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them through [Christ]” (Colossians 2:15).

Second, Christians should respond to Halloween with cautionary wisdom. Some people fear the activity of Satanists, but the actual incidents of satanic-associated crime are very low. The real threat on Halloween is from the social problems that attend sinful behavior – drunk driving, pranksters and vandals, and unsupervised children.

Like any other day of the year, Christians should exercise caution as wise stewards of their possessions and protectors of their families. Christian young people would be wise to stay away from most secular Halloween parties since many are breeding grounds for trouble (use discernment). Christian parents can protect their children by keeping them well-supervised and possibly restricting treat consumption to those goodies received from trusted sources.

Third, Christians should respond to Halloween with gospel compassion. The unbelieving, Christ-rejecting world lives in perpetual fear of death. It isn’t just the experience of death, but rather what the Bible calls “a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume [God’s] adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Witches, ghosts, and evil spirits are not terrifying; God’s wrath unleashed on the unforgiven sinner – now that is truly terrifying.

Christians should use Halloween and all that it brings to the imagination – death imagery, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry – as an opportunity to engage the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. God has given everyone a conscience that responds to His truth (Romans 2:14-16), and the conscience is the Christian’s ally in the evangelistic enterprise.

Christians should take time to inform the consciences of friends and family with biblical truth seasoned with salt (grace & love) regarding God, the Bible, sin, Christ, future judgment, and the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

How might Christians engage?

There are several different ways Christians might engage in Halloween. Some will adopt a “No Participation” policy. As Christian parents, they don’t want their kids participating in spiritually compromising activities- listening to ghost stories and colouring pictures of witches. They don’t want their kids to dress up in costumes for trick-or-treating or even attending Halloween alternatives. That response naturally raises eyebrows but can provide a good opportunity to share the gospel to those who ask (1 Peter 3:15).

Other Christians will opt for Halloween alternatives called “Harvest Festivals” or “Reformation Festivals” – the kids dress up as farmers, Bible characters, or Reformation heroes. Some churches leave the church building behind and take acts of mercy into their community, “treating” needy families with food baskets, gift cards, and the gospel message.

Finally, some Christians will opt for a limited, non-compromising participation in Halloween. The good news is that there is no burning candy here. After all there’s nothing inherently evil about candy, costumes, or trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood. In fact, all of that can provide a unique gospel opportunity with neighbours. Even handing out candy to neighbourhood children (please don’t be stingy) can improve your reputation among the kids. As long as the costumes are innocent and the behaviour does not dishonour Christ, trick-or-treating can be used to further gospel interests.

Ultimately, participation in Halloween is a matter of conscience before God. Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, you must honour God by keeping yourself separate from the world and by showing grace, mercy and love to the culture we live in. Halloween provides the Christian with the opportunity to accomplish those things in the gospel. What better time of the year is there to share such a message of hope than Halloween?

10 Reasons Racism Is Sin

JANUARY 21, 2019  |  Kevin DeYoung 
You can find other articles by Kevin DeYoung here: 
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/

Most people know that racism is wrong. It’s one of the few things almost everyone agrees on. And yet, I wonder if we (I?) have spent much time considering why it’s wrong.

We can easily make our “I hate racism” opinions known, but perhaps we are just looking for moral high ground, or for pats on the back, or to win friends and influence people, or to prove we’re not like those people, or maybe we are just saying what we’ve always heard everyone say.

As Christians we must think and feel deeply not just the what of the Bible but the why. If racism is so bad, why is it so bad?

Here are ten biblical reasons why racism is sin and offensive to God.

1. We are all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Most Christians know this and believe it, but the implications are more staggering than we might realize. The sign pictured above is not just mean, it is dehumanizing. It tried to rob Irish and blacks of their exalted status as divine image bearers. It tried to make them no different from animals. But of course, as a white man I am no more like God in my being, no more capable of worship, no more made with a divine purpose, no more possessing of worth and deserving of dignity than any other human of any other gender, color, or ethnicity. We are more alike than we are different.

2. We are all sinners corrupted by the fall (Rom. 3:10-205:12-21). Everyone made in the image of God has also had that image tainted and marred by original sin. Our anthropology is as identical as our ontology. Same image, same problem. We are more alike than we are different.

3. We are all, if believers in Jesus, one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). We see from the rest of the New Testament that justification by faith does not eradicate our gender, our vocation, or our ethnicity, but it does relativize all these things. Our first and most important identity is not male or female, American or Russian, black or white, Spanish speaker or French speaker, rich or poor, influential or obscure, but Christian. We are more alike than we are different.

4. Separating peoples was a curse from Babel (Gen. 11:7-9); bringing peoples together was a gift from Pentecost (Acts 2:5-11). The reality of Pentecost may not be possible in every community—after all, Jerusalem had all those people there because of the holy day—but if our inclination is to move in the direction of the punishment of Genesis 11 instead of the blessing of Acts 2 something is wrong.

5. Partiality is a sin (James 2:1). When we treat people unfairly, when we assume the worst about persons and peoples, when we favor one group over another, we do not reflect the God of justice, nor do we honor the Christ who came to save all men.

6. Real love loves as we hope to be loved (Matt. 22:39-40). No one can honestly say that racism treats our neighbor as we would like to be treated.

7. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 John 3:15). Sadly, we can hate without realizing we hate. Hatred does not always manifest itself as implacable rage, and it does not always—or, because of God’s restraining mercy, often—translate into physical murder. But hatred is murder of the heart, because hatred looks at someone else or some other group and thinks, I wish you weren’t around. You are what’s wrong with this world, and the world would be better without people like you. That’s hate, which sounds an awful lot like murder.

8. Love rejoices in what is true and looks for what is best (1 Cor. 13:4-7). You can’t believe all things and hope all things when you assume the worst about people and live your life fueled by prejudice, misguided convictions, and plain old animosity.

9. Christ came to tear down walls between peoples not build them up (Eph. 2:14). This is not a saccharine promise about everyone setting doctrine aside and getting along for Jesus’s sake. Ephesians 2 and 3 are about something much deeper, much more glorious, and much more cruciform. If we who have been made in the same image, born into the world with the same problem, find the same redemption through the same faith in the same Lord, how can we not draw near to each other as members of the same family?

10. Heaven has no room for racism (Rev. 5:9-107:9-1222:1-5). Woe to us if our vision of the good life here on earth will be completely undone by the reality of new heavens and new earth yet to come. Antagonism toward people of another color, language, or ethnic background is antagonism toward God himself and his design for eternity.

Christians ought to reject racism, and do what they can to expose it and bring the gospel to bear upon it, not because we love pats on the back for our moral outrage or are desperate for restored moral authority, but because we love God and submit ourselves to the authority of his Word.

Overcoming Porn Addiction

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you when I say that the porn industry generates about $13 billion each year in the United States. It’s a heartbreaking reality that 9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls have been exposed to pornography before the age of 18. In fact, the average age of first exposure is about 11 years old.

Studies show that terms relating to porn are by far the most commonly searched-for terms in the internet search engines. Every day, literally millions of people do searches related to the porn industry. The powerful imagery of internet pornography is highly addictive. Many men (and women) have been caught in the snare of internet porn and find themselves helplessly addicted to its visual stimulation. Most often pornography is viewed in isolation and so, the thinking goes, it’s not hurting anyone so why make it an issue?

Porn has an incredible way of appearing harmless. But researcher Patrick Fagan, Ph.D. completed a major study of pornography and called it a “quiet family killer.” His study found that fifty-six percent of divorces had one partner with an obsessive interest in porn.[1]

Why Pornography Should Be Avoided

Just a small bit of pornography can’t be all that bad, right? Wrong! Research has found that pornography is highly addictive. Scientists now know that when having sex or watching porn, dopamine is released into a region of the brain responsible for emotion and learning, giving the viewer a sense of sharp focus and a sense of craving: “I have got to have this thing; this is what I need right now.” It supplies a great sense of pleasure. The next time the viewer gets the “itch” for more sexual pleasure, small packets of dopamine are released in the brain telling the user: “Remember where you got your fix last time. Go there to get it.” Norepinephrine is also released, creating alertness and focus. It is the brain’s version of adrenaline. It tells the brain, “Something is about to happen, and we need to get ready for it.”

The body also releases endorphins, natural opiates that create a “high,” a wave of pleasure over the whole body. After sexual release serotonin levels also change, bringing a sense of calm and relaxation. Sex also triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones help to lay down the long-term memories for the cells. They “bind” a person’s memories to the object that gave him or her the sexual pleasure.

This system is intricately designed to work this way while having sex with your spouse. God designed it for intimacy and pleasure as together you and your spouse can bond emotionally, physically, spiritually along with experiencing a high, an alertness of sexual pleasure, and the deep calm afterwards (norepinephrine, endorphins, and serotonin).

With each sexual embrace you are emotionally bonding to this person. Over time a craving for sex is transformed into a desire for one another (dopamine). That is one of the reason’s (among others) that a person should stay celibate until their wedding night. On the wedding night when the spouses engage in sexual intimacy for the very first time, there is a deep physical and emotional “bonding” that takes place with no guilt.  But porn short-circuits the system because it is impersonal, short term, and completely selfish.

The problem only grows the more porn is used, in that the more exposure to it, the more the need for it to create arousal. This results in uncontrollable lust mixed in with frustration, along with an inability to experience true sexual intimacy in marriage, and often intense feelings of guilt and despair. The images that pornography provides create unrealistic expectations that will leave you empty and unfulfilled with your spouse. So, choosing to avoid pornography altogether is choosing a healthier, more satisfying marriage and sex life.

It’s become a sad reality that our world is obsessed with sex and pornography. But it’s not just a problem with those in the world but also those who consider themselves not of this world.

A survey taken at a Promise Keepers rally revealed that over fifty percent of the men in attendance were involved with pornography within one week of attending the event.

And that was 20 years ago…

Did you know that fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography? I didn’t know that. And did you know that the most popular day of the week for viewing porn is Sunday? Personally, I love hanging out with family and friends at church in the mornings, and then watch football (followed by Dr. Who), either alone or with friends and family Sunday afternoons – Go Seahawks! So, I won’t lie that the last stat really surprised me.

There Is Hope In Jesus

Porn is a problem, as I’m sure you can already tell, but I don’t think all hope is lost. There are two primary aspects in the battle to overcome an addiction to internet porn: spiritual and practical.

Spiritually, addiction to pornography is a sin that God desires you to overcome and therefore will enable you to do so. The first step is to make sure you have genuinely placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. If you are unsure, please visit our page here called Good News.

The truth is, that without salvation through Jesus, there is no possibility of a true and lasting victory over pornography: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” – John 15:5

If you are a believer in Christ yet struggling with an addiction to internet porn, there is amazing hope and there is great help for you through the power of the Holy Spirit, “According to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” – Ephesians 3:16 The cleansing of God’s forgiveness is extended to you, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

The renewing capacity of God’s Word is at your disposal, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

As you begin your redemption journey remember to commit your mind and eyes to the Lord, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” – 1 John 2:16. Along the way ask God to strengthen you and help you to overcome pornography, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

As well, ask God to protect you from further exposure to porn, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13, and to fill your mind with things that are pleasing to him, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8

You may think that you are in an unwinnable battle, you may have tried before and failed, but you also need to know that you serve a Lord who hasn’t, nor will he, given up on you.

There Is Hope In Community

God has created us for community, and we fight best alongside others. Practically, to maintain sexual purity, we need a band of brothers & sisters with whom we can be open and honest with.

To be most successful, pray for and find two or three others who recognize that they themselves are real, hard-boiled messy sinners where the sinful, broken human condition is understood and the solution isn’t ‘trying harder’ but ‘deepening surrender’. They don’t need to be struggling with or have overcome porn addiction themselves, but they should be people who are honest about their own “stuff”.

Sexual sin runs deep – accountability should run deeper. If you find yourself in a situation where sexual sin has taken over or you’ve considered entertaining the idea, find someone to talk to. Be open and honest.

Also, become aware of the numerous tools at your disposal to help you combat an addiction to internet pornography. There are good programs available at Covenant Eyes or x3watch.com. Your temptation to view internet porn would be greatly reduced if you knew your youth pastor, parent, friend, pastor, or spouse would receive a detailed report about it.

Download PornAddiction.com & Nothing to Hide and start reading articles. Visit Doing Family Right’s Victory over Porn  page on their website. 

There are also quite a few good books on overcoming porn addiction: Every Man’s Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Purity One Victory at a Time by Stephen Arterburn and The Game Plan by Joe Dallas  are just two.

Don’t Do Nothing

I watched the movie ‘Christopher Robin’ with my family recently. It was a great movie filled with great quotable lines made by Winni the Poo. One line was, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” That line fit the context of the story perfectly, however in the case of porn addiction you must do the opposite. Don’t do nothing, because nothing always leads to something, and in the case of porn it is always the opposite of the very best for you.

Don’t despair! An addiction to internet porn is not an “unforgivable sin.” God can and will forgive you. As well, an addiction to internet porn is not an “unconquerable sin.” God can and will enable you to overcome it. Commit your mind and eyes to the Lord. Commit yourself to filling your mind with God’s Word, I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11

Seek his help daily in prayer; ask him to fill your mind with his truth and block unwanted thoughts and desires. Take the practical steps listed above to keep yourself accountable and block access to internet porn. “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” – Ephesians 3:20

[1]https://www.allprodad.com/the-effects-of-porn-on-marriage/

Why Saying ‘Love Is Love’ Cheapens Real Love

If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, you’ve probably seen a phrase being used which simply says ‘Love is Love’. The meaning behind the statement is that falling in love is not about the gender of the person, nor important if it’s monogamous or polyamorous. The sentiment is that you can be gay, bi or straight and pursue a monogamous or polyamorous relationship as long as you’re getting the love, affection and companionship that you need to be happy and fulfilled emotionally as well as satisfied sexually.

The understanding is that when someone makes the statement using the three words, ‘love is Love’, that should settle the matter. After all, how can you argue with someone else’s choice to love? For that matter, it might not even be a choice anyways if I have ‘fallen in love’ because that’s an uncontrolled physical and emotional response to chemistry between two people that just happens. Is it though?

There are a few issues that need to be addressed that come along with the blanket statement ‘Love is Love. For instance; where do we draw the line? Does it only include ‘love’ between two consenting adults or could it include love between an adult and a child or a human and an animal?

To most of us, including those who promote the current idea of the phrase ‘love is love’, those suggestions would be unthinkable. However, only a few short years ago the majority would have been aghast at the idea of the love is love ideology as it is promoted today. Yet there are movements afoot to normalize both pedophilia and bestiality as we speak, who’s to say that one day they wouldn’t be ‘normalized’? It’s happened before in past cultures – Rome & Greece are just two examples of many.

Who set’s the boundaries of this love is love ideology anyways? After all, ‘Love is love’ isn’t it? It comes down to the simple pursuit of happiness and that sense of being needed, wanted and cared for – isn’t that what we all want? If the answer to those questions are in the affirmative then I’d say ‘go for it!’.

But what if it is not an enlightened way to live but is instead a foolish lie? What if it leads to unhealthy places for one or both involved; emotionally, spiritually, and yes even physically?[1] If that’s the case then we need to be extremely careful in making a case for what we might think should be normal and accepted in our culture.

Before we go on, let’s look at this falling in love idea…

IS FALLING IN LOVE A REAL THING?

I’ve heard the statement used, “Well you can’t help who you ‘fall in love’ with”. Falling in love is an expression describing someone’s emotional state when those puppy dog, googly eyed, happy feelings of what’s assumed to be love, start to grip the soul and make you feel like you just can’t breathe another moment without that person being in the same room with you. But I think we need to ask whether or not ‘falling in love’ is even a real thing.

The idea of “falling in love” relies on warm emotions and (more than likely) surging hormones. However, the idea that love is all about feelings is more of a western cultural, 20th century invention than anything else. The biblical view of love is that love can exist apart from feelings. Think about it, no hormones are needed to obey the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” – James 2:8. In other words, we choose to love; that is, we commit ourselves to act in the best interests of another person.

Of course, nice emotions often accompany love, and we naturally have warm feelings toward someone we’re attracted to. And of course, it’s good and proper to have positive feelings and surging hormones when in the company of your spouse. But if that’s all there is to “falling in love,” then we’re in trouble. What happens when the feelings fall away? What about when the hormones stop surging? Have we fallen “out” of love?

Love should never be seen as dependent on feelings or expediency or romantic attraction. The “falling in love” concept places undue emphasis on the emotional condition of those involved. The wording of the phrase almost makes it sound as if love were an accident: “I can’t help falling in love with you” makes a nice song lyric, but, in real life, we are responsible to control our emotions. Many marriages have been ended (and many foolishly begun) because someone “fell in love” with the wrong person.

Love isn’t a state that we stumble into; it’s a commitment that we grow into. It’s probably more accurate to say that those who “fall in love” actually “fall in lust” or “fall into infatuation” or “fall into co-dependency.”

So my answer to that question, ‘is falling in love a real thing?’ can only be no, but rather an invention of the western world’s infatuation with a ‘fun’ emotional sensation.

LOVE IS LOVE STILL…ISN’T IT?

Even still, someone may not have experienced the emotional sensation of falling in love but have instead grown into a love commitment with someone other than their spouse, with more than one partner at a time or with someone of the same gender. If that’s the case then can we not say that for them at least, love is love? If loving is a choice that means I can still love someone of the same gender, or more than one person… after all love is love – right?

Ephesians 5:31 is a quotation of Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” Paul adds in verse 32: “This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church.”

The union of one man and one woman in marriage is a mystery because it presents a parable, a true story, a picture of Christ and the church. And hidden in this allegory of marriage is that God ordained a permanent union between his Son Jesus and the church. In other words, marriage Is not simply an ancient cultural definition that we haven’t ‘evolved’ away from yet, nor is it an accident that marriage between a man and woman provides the church with a language to explain Christ’s relation to the church.

God had purposefully designed human marriage to be an earthly reflection of his celestial plan. Do you see that picture? God willed it that Christ and the church become one body, and then willed it for marriage to reflect that pattern. That is why we see the blessing and encouragement of a husband and wife becoming one flesh as stated in Genesis 2:24.

Paul paints the picture for us even further about this being the image for the church when he says, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 11:2

Now, understanding that – when people say that “love is Love” – we can’t help but see how it cheapens what true love is. It doesn’t allow for the full expression to be experienced as God intended, and we see it for what it is (or is not). It’s not an enlightened understanding of love at all, but is in truth a bad copy at best.

Of all the ways we might think about love being expressed, biblical love gives us the best definition. In fact, it’s described as “the most excellent way” – 1 Corinthians 12:31. Paul says that “Love is patient, love is kind” – 1 Corinthians 13:4. I don’t think that it should be lost on us that we don’t find too many people, if any at all, “falling into” patience or kindness, do we?

“Falling in love” or saying that “love is Love” are nice phrases and make for great soundbites to use in the moment or in songs on a soundtrack. They appeal to the emotions and give us nice fuzzies, the goosebumps, the enjoyable feelings of having entered the ideal romance. Please understand that I think that those feelings are fine, in and of themselves, and it’s possible that those who are “falling in love” have actually found a perfect match.

But we need always remember that love is more than emotional involvement based on physical attraction. It’s more than finding a person or persons to ‘enjoy’ experiences with. Truth is that those who are falling in love are sometimes blinded to the reality of their situation and can easily mistake the intensity of their emotions for genuine love.

But there’s some good news…

REDEMPTION BRINGS RECOVERY

God created marriage to be THE image of Jesus’ relationship to the church. But the problem has been that sin has so confused the image as to make it unrecognizable. If contemporary culture succeeds in redefining and reimaging the purpose of love relationships, the meaning of the image we are to reflect to the world of Christ & his bride, seen as love between a husband and wife will be obscured for many years to come.

That is why we, who are committed to God’s definition of marriage, must live out the true meaning of authentic, committed love relationships, with our spouses if we’re married, within the church in authentic ways, with our neighbours representing Jesus to them, and even more importantly with Jesus Christ himself, growing to know him intimately.

As we grow in these love relationships, we need to commit to living out our true love publicly and joyfully, so that the world sees it and begins to recognize the depth of love they are missing out on. We need to live it out in such a way that our love displays Christ in all his beauty. That’s the Gospel being put on display! And pray that those who see our love in action will be so attracted to Jesus that they soon become counted among the redeemed and recover the life they were created for – a love relationship with our Heavenly Father, through his son Jesus, accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

True story – It’s only as our lives are redeemed that true recovery back to reflecting the image of Jesus can be realized just as those ‘some’ were redeemed and recovered who Paul wrote to in the Corinthian church so long ago.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

[1]A telling statistic is that HPV infection is found in about 90% of people with anal cancer: https://www.medicaldaily.com/does-anal-sex-lead-anal-cancer-3-facts-and-myths-400561

How Do I Talk To My Kids About Homosexuality?

I only have one major point in this article, and it’s this: the best way to talk to your kids about homosexuality is to first talk about healthy sexuality.

In our ministry we’ve recently been preaching an entire book of the Bible in one sermon. I just preached on Judges. Since there are some pretty spicy topics in this book, I sent a PG-13 warning to parents pointing out the rape, murder, and mutilation of the concubine (Judges 19). One mom didn’t read the email. Afterward she confided in me that she hadn’t yet talked to her child about sex, let alone its worldly distortions. Her fears about raising her boys in this world came trembling out as she explained the complicated tight-rope she walks with her lesbian neighbors, their kids, and her own.

How do I talk to my kids about homosexuality?

As a 27-year-old father of a 3-year-old, it seems both unwise and presumptuous to tell godly, mature parents how to talk to their kids about this issue. Nevertheless, if I’m not talking about it, everyone else is. I have an obligation to give some kind of Christian response to secular wisdom, even if it’s tempered by my lack of parental experience.

Questions like the one above will only increase in frequency in today’s cultural climate. But this shouldn’t discourage us. Such questions provide unique platforms to talk about healthy marriage in general. Throw in the divorce rate in the church, and it becomes clear many of us are failing to teach our young people about marriage in any form.

Confused By Love 

I encourage you to watch this Jimmy Kimmel Live video from last summer before reading the rest of this article. It’s funny, fascinating, and demonstrates our world’s view of marriage.

Kimmel’s point is that kids are sophisticated enough to handle the throes of modern love. When asked why people get married, the kids answered, almost universally, “Because you love someone and have a connection to them.” Kimmel—and CNN—were proud to hold this up not only as the final definition of marriage, but also as an apologetic for the legalization and self-evident virtue of same-sex marriage.

After watching the video, it occurred to me that we can’t marry for love anymore. At least, I can’t tell my children that love is the ultimate reason I proposed to their mom. “Because I love her,” though true, is to give an answer the world has thoroughly co-opted. As expected as it seems, “Because I love her” might actually confuse them more than the biblical answer would.

According to Ephesians, Christian marriage isn’t finally about my love for my spouse; it’s about Christ’s love for his.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (5:31–32)

If the world believes our children are sophisticated enough to understand the realities of modern love, let’s one-up them. Let’s show them our kids are capable of understanding the truth of an ancient, eternal love—that marriage isn’t only our response to another’s love, but ultimately a response to our Savior’s sacrificial love. (Though one article can’t address this issue exhaustively, I should also add that Genesis 2 presents all marriage—including non-Christian marriage—as a divinely commissioned creational good. Marriage isn’t only a gospel mirror, then, but a blessing for all humanity, which God established in Eden when he united Adam and Eve.)

Five Ways Christ’s Love Recalibrates Our View of Marriage

1. It elevates marriage beyond something we initiate and sustain to something God initiates and sustains.

“What God has joined together,” Jesus declared concerning marriage, “let no man separate” (Mark 10:9). Marriage is God’s work, God’s idea, God’s plan. It’s not something we get to co-opt, redefine, or bail on. Marriage is a divine work woven through creation to display God’s creative glory and incredible love.

2. It makes marriage ultimately about the gospel.

If the gospel is such great news, our children need to see it work its way into all parts of our lives—including how we see and value our spouses. I desperately want my daughter to know Jesus loves her and died for sinners like her. And I want her to catch a glimpse of that kind of sacrifice in the way I love her mom, so that when she asks I can tell her, “How could I not love your mom this way in light of how Jesus has loved me?”

Additionally, viewing marriage through the lens of the gospel shows our kids marriage isn’t about feeling 100 percent in love 100 percent of the time. Scripture makes clear that marriage isn’t a life of warm fuzzies sustained by the loveliness of our spouse. Rather, it’s sustained by a love that continues even when we become unlovely, bitter, and aged. Gospel marriage is a recapitulation of our salvation—we are deeply sinful yet deeply loved by our Redeemer. Moreover, it relieves us of trying to be perfect husbands and wives by pointing us beyond ourselves to the perfect love of Jesus.

3. It helps us see marriage is a calling to love and serve, not an institution for self-expression and self-fulfillment.

Marriage today is seen as a universal right. In reality, though, it is a gospel-fueled sacrificial responsibility. Through sacrificial suffering for the sanctification of our spouse, marriage reflects Christ’s sacrificial suffering for the glory of the Father.

4. It displays our union with Christ, the essence of our salvation.

Marriage involves two unlike beings—a man and a woman—joining together as one. This mirrors the way God and a sinner—two very unlike beings—become one through the saving grace of Christ.

5. It primes our children for inevitable conversations about the corruptions of godly marriage and sexuality.

It lets them know God has established a standard for marriage and sex, even as they interact with gay neighbors, a friend’s divorced parents, or a buddy having premarital sex. God has already set the standard for what our conversations and relationships should look like, no matter one’s sexual sin. (We are all sexual sinners, after all.) And the Lord’s standards are finally about love, not judgment; for our good, not our harm. As John Piper beautifully writes, “God does not forbid sexual sin because he’s a killjoy, but because he opposes what kills joy.”

When we respond to questions about same-sex marriage in this way, we cut through much political punditing and religious noise. We frontload youth with a view of marriage that is more robust, more profound, and more beautiful than any “because I love her” line. And we give them a biblical perspective that will strengthen and enhance their own marriages one day, if God calls them to it.


Editors’ note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared at RootedMinistry.com.

Why We Should Talk About Hell

A while back I read Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ and it caused me to re-think a lot about how I view hell, even causing me to have some concerns about what I had been taught all my life. That fallback position to go back to ‘what I’ve always been taught’ isn’t the best standard to judge the legitimacy of an idea, though, like comfort food, can be a good starting point. I will admit that I even had some doubt about what I believe. What is hell? What is its purpose? Is it a place? Is it forever? Should we fear it? Does it cause people to turn away from God? Does it make it hard if not impossible for us to share the love of Christ with someone else? Is it a problem for Christianity?

I think that the whole idea of hell is one of Christianity’s most offensive doctrines. Peter Kreeft writes: “Of all the doctrines in Christianity, Hell is probably the most difficult to defend, the most burdensome to believe and the first to be abandoned.”

 Many are repulsed, sickened and appalled by the idea of an eternal place of punishment, especially if someone suggests that includes themselves, friends & family. “Hitler maybe, but not my grandmother.”

Because of these angsts, many Christians will avoid the topic of Hell altogether. We don’t hear it talked about from the pulpit in may churches anymore and it isn’t usually a part of the conversation around a shared meal. We don’t want to rock the boat maybe or we think that Hell isn’t a required subject when sharing the gospel.

I propose however, that we need to talk about Hell more than we do. I believe that it is integral to the Gospel message and is doing the church a disservice when we hide it away as though it is the crazy uncle we’re embarrassed to talk about.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a spiritual and / or theological question. No, I didn’t ask Siri or head to the theological depths of Wikipedia, I went to God’s word… and even more specifically the Word made flesh. If we want to answer the question of hell, then we need to look at Jesus and what he had to say on the subject.

He’s a great place to start for a few reasons. The first is that people in the West think Jesus is a pretty good guy so if you want to help others understand a particular subject it helps if you can ‘name drop’ someone they like. Oprah likes him, at least the non-confrontational Jesus, and Deepak Chopra has even written books about Jesus as a great mystic and guru of Eastern religion.

In our culture we find that Jesus isn’t painted with the same brush as that angry, vengeful, cranky God of the Old Testament who hadn’t matured out of his confusing puberty years yet. But when God finally grew up and entered his college years in the New Testament, he reemerged as the party guy named Jesus. Good times! Parties in Cana, lots of talk about love and compassion and grace, and of course helpful spiritual sound bites. Selfies all round!

The problem with this view though is that it’s not true, which is another reason why I find it helpful to go to Jesus. We get most of our understanding of hell, not from the Old Testament, but from Jesus own words. When you start reading the Gospels, you find that Jesus speaks about hell more than anyone else. About 13% of his teachings and half of his parables are about hell, judgment, punishment, and the wrath of God.

Jesus talked about hell and it follows that we should too. First though, how do we reconcile a Jesus of grace & mercy & love with a Jesus’ of wrath, punishment & hell?

I think that number one, we need to see that interwoven with the love of God is his mercy that requires justice. If a judge pardons an unrepentant child abuser without any good reason, we wouldn’t applaud his mercy and see it as an act of love, particularly when we consider the rights of the victim (and the safety of potential future victims). Mercy without justice is reckless and dangerous. True justice requires adequate payment for the crime or crimes committed.

“When a person goes through rape or child abuse, she needs to know that there is a God of such holiness and beauty that his reign can tolerate no evil.” – Tim Keller

Even if someone got off because of a loophole in the justice system, we’d call it “Injustice!” Why? Because we have something within us that tells us that injustice is wrong. It’s a universal belief that we know it has to be paid for.

If God is truly just, then there is punishment for offenses committed.

Yet, many people will demand God show them mercy while still refusing to love that very same God. “I will not follow you and obey your commands –  but don’t send me to hell.” However, the facts are that God’s mercy & love are inseparable.

The other concern I needed to address after reading Rob Bell’s book was the idea that hell was symbolic as opposed to a real cavernous abode of fire and brimstone… so I went back to the Word of God to see what is revealed there.

Some people get confused and will deduce that hell can’t be a physical place because of how it is described. For example, when scripture describes hell, it speaks about “eternal fire” “unquenchable fire”. But it also says that hell is a place of utter darkness.

So, what is it?

It’s all the above. It is fire, darkness and a real place hung in real time. Yet, because of our culture, we often imagine the fire and darkness as literal flames and literal inky blackness. Instead we need to understand the language was used to help us understand the magnitude of the place.

For example, when the bible speaks about a God of unquenchable fire, we don’t imagine him being a big ball of literal fire. Rather we understand that it’s giving us a picture of his holiness.

Likewise, when we read that God has blinded the eyes of the unbeliever in John 12:10, we don’t expect to see a bunch of unsaved people on the roads driving around with dark glasses on because they’re literally blind all of a sudden. We know that it’s speaking of their spiritual condition.

At the same time, in Luke 16, Jesus speaks about heaven and hell as being real places with hell as a place of separation from the presence of God. Yet it wasn’t utter darkness in a physical sense since the Rich man could see Lazarus (albeit through sweaty eyes). However, think about the following; Since God is the source of all spiritual light, and all joy and all wisdom and all love or good thing of any sort, and since we were originally created for God’s immediate presence, it is then only before him will we thrive, flourish, and achieve our highest potential.

So, if we were to lose his presence totally, that’d be the deepest darkness of the soul. Without his light, we can only expect the loss of our capability for giving or receiving love or joy and finding any kind of satisfaction.

Add to that the picture of fire which speaks to its nature as a degenerater, something that deteriorates to ash everything it touches. Even in this life we can see the kind of soul deterioration that self-centeredness creates.

We know how selfishness and self-absorption leads to piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.

We see this process in a small way in addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. First there is the degeneration, because as time goes on you need more and more of the addictive substance to get an equal kick, which leads to less and less satisfaction.

And then add the bitter darkness that isolation brings we had talked about in the Rich man’s situation, as increasingly you blame others and the surrounding environment or circumstances in order to justify your behaviour.

With that in mind ask the question:

“What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends into eternity?”

With that picture in your mind’s eye you can see that Hell is the fire or the deterioration of a soul by living a self-absorbed, self-centred, angst driven, anxiety filled, blame shifting life – going on & on forever.

“Yeah, but I’m not all that bad. I haven’t murdered somebody, I’m not a drug addict, I don’t look at porn – often. I only get mad at ‘stupid’ drivers, God will be fair and let me into heaven.”

Jesus didn’t say the greatest commandment is to not murder, or to not commit adultery, though he did say that if you had anger in your heart you’ve committed murder, or if you’ve ever lusted after someone other than your spouse you’ve committed adultery.

But what Jesus did say was that the greatest commandment was, “to love God with all your heart soul and mind.” There is no greater evidence of the inability of man to obey God’s law than this one commandment. No human being with a fallen nature can possibly love God with all his heart, soul, and strength 24 hours a day. It’s humanly impossible.

Even without considering the sins we commit daily, we are all condemned by our inability to fulfill this one commandment. Further to that, the Bible declares that everyone sins, and that all sin is ultimately against God.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” – Psalm 51:4

Those verses are sobering enough, but then also understand that those who go to Hell aren’t going to be suddenly sinless and perfect. Those who go into eternity without Christ will be confirmed in their decision to not follow him while on earth.

Jesus said that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Hell. The gnashing of teeth isn’t a picture of someone who is in sorrow and repentance but rather a picture of a continued defiance toward God.

In Hell there will be no repentance.

So, unless you surrender your life to God in this lifetime, you will not only be living in disobedience to God for 70, 80, 90, or 100 years, you will be in disobedience before him for eternity – which requires an eternal penalty.

Why did Jesus speak about hell more than anyone else in the Bible? Because he wanted us to see what he was going to endure on the cross on our behalf so that we might choose heaven – so that we might choose God.

On the cross, Jesus’s sacrifice was scarcely describable: this bloodied, disfigured remnant of a man was given a cross that was perhaps recycled, likely covered in the blood, feces, and urine of other men who had used it previously. Hanging there in immense pain, he slowly suffocated to death. All the while knowing he could end the suffering, but choosing not to for our benefit.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the separation from the Father that Jesus felt, a separation that was like hell itself. “My God, my God,” he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

An eternity without God is hell.

Without the cleansing of sin that he provides, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in the hearts of the redeemed, loving God to any degree is impossible.

But, when we receive the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are cleansed from sin and receive the Spirit of holiness to do the impossible. That being, a transformation of our hearts and minds to love God as we have been commanded to do, and as a result heaven becomes our home. This is great news!

That is why we talk about hell, because it allows us to talk about Jesus and his sacrifice… it allows us to make Jesus known, it brings clarity to the Gospel message about why Jesus died, and it lets us brag up our Saviour in order to bring him all the glory he deserves.

What Is The True Spirit Of Christmas?

It doesn’t take very long to notice that Christmas is only one week away (unless you don’t own a radio, TV, have no friends and never step a foot outside your door). Everywhere you look you can’t help but see the lights, decorations, and store front signs declaring great deals to entice the dollars out of one’s pocket in order to ‘help’ celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

But what is the spirit of Christmas – really? Is it about turkey and stuffing? Is it about presents and family? Is it about time off from work and the start of the World Junior Hockey tournament? Go Canada! Or is it something more?

If you asked the average person on the street, you may hear answers such as the spirit being about generosity, giving, kindness, world peace, or that it’s a general feeling of emotional goodness to everyone at least once in the year.

I don’t know if I’d necessarily disagree with any of those sentiments but I would have to say that they have only given a glimpse into the true spirit of Christmas. That’s because I believe it’s all about a gift from God which includes parts of those other answers but is so much more as well.

I really think that because the nativity story has become so familiar to many of us it’s easy to forget how profound this gift from God really is. We receive Christmas cards that contain simple, yet startling phrases that should help us recapture the awe of this season yet often they don’t because we have become so used to them, so much so that they’ve lost their impact.

It can be so easy for us to throw around words without taking the time to explain or understand their importance. Words like Emmanuel which means “God with us.” Do we really understand what that means? We sing songs with that word in them, we read cards that use that word, but do we really understand the meaning? Emmanuel literally means, “God is with us”.

That name tells us something amazing about God. He is not some distant deity separated from our daily struggles; rather he uses that name to tell us a very special & deeply meaningful message. What is that message?

Well… if you were to ask me, “Steve, what is your favourite Christmas passage?” I would have to say that other than the Luke passage it’d have to be the chapter three passage that’s found in John’s Gospel, and more specifically the following verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but will instead have eternal life.” – John 3:16

John is saying that the creator of the cosmos is deeply interested in us, much like a father getting down on his knees to be with his kids on their level. That’s the picture we have in John 3:16 – God bending down and leaning into our lives as he offers the most incredible Christmas gift to us, his kids.

That’s the meaning behind the name Emmanuel. God is with us and keenly interested. He’s with us when we’re lonely or afraid or hurting or worried, even when we’re stuck in our sins. Emmanuel captures the essence of Christmas. In fact, the spirit of Christmas is really the infinite becoming an infant.

The back story to Christmas is that there had been a broken relationship. In the beginning of the human narrative, Adam & Eve broke the one relationship that meant anything, that all other relationships stemmed from – a relationship with God.

There obviously needed to be a reconciliation. Reconciliation entails the coming together of two parties in order to make right what went wrong in the relationship.

The truth of the matter is that our relationship with God was broken, but not because God said the wrong things, or did the wrong things. Rather, it was we who said and did the wrong things. And we’re still saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, failing to say and do the right things. And we’re all suffering for it. And it all stems from our selfish desires.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we live for self. You can call it selfishness, but I like Luther’s way of talking about it – in Latin. Not because I understand Latin, but because it just sounds cool! “Sin”, Luther says, “is INCURVATUS IN SE”, which means ‘to be curved in upon the self’.

The rupture in our relationship with God occurs when we decide that we are independent, autonomous individuals who are quite capable of living life on our own, thank you very much.

And because of that decision we work to make all of life curved in upon self, such that we are holding up our own little world like little Atlases of Greek myth fame. Problem is however that our personal globes are getting very heavy, because our little worlds are too much for us to bear.

If that is where you are at, finding that the weight of your world on your shoulders is much too heavy a burden to bear, then this Christmas I invite you to accept the message of the season.

The message that the baby Jesus came for all who recognize that they are tired of living INCURVATUS IN SE, and who realize that they can’t continue carrying the weight in their own strength and so are now ready to give up all that load they carry and give it to someone (Jesus) who can and will carry it for them if you give up everything for him.

The spirit of Christmas is a proclamation of good news of great joy from God that tells us that we don’t have to live for ourselves anymore and that we don’t need to carry that heavy weight any longer.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  – Isaiah 9:6

Here’s the amazing thing. You see, according to the word of God, we are all sinners which means that left on our own, we would never have sought God because we never would have understood him and would never have recognized him, so he had to come looking for us. That is the inescapable conclusion of the Christmas story.

The Christmas story is about God tracking us down, each and every one of us, to find us and reveal himself to us because he wanted us to know him. Christmas is God coming to us, entering our world, stepping into our time and space because we couldn’t get to him.

He wanted us to know the depth of his love for us, but because words weren’t enough, he came to be with us by taking the form of man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace. And as the Prince of Peace we can finally be reconciled with God the father and enjoy peace with him as we were originally created to enjoy.

Over the coming days, focus on and celebrate who Jesus is and all that his coming means. His miraculous birth was the start of something that history will never repeat. And as we are heading toward Christmas day at the end of this very week,  let us focus on the spirit of Christmas – which is only Jesus, which is always Jesus.

Does Christmas Have Pagan Roots And Should That Matter?

A friend recently told me that she and her family don’t celebrate Christmas because it began as a pagan holiday. Is that ‘pagan root’ thing true and if it is, does that mean that we all shouldn’t celebrate Christmas? What is the truth of the matter?

Personally, I look forward to the season. I see it as a natural opportunity to share Christ with the world – especially given that for the most part there is an ‘openness’ to the gospel message during this time of the year like no other time on the calendar. But still, does my friend have a legitimate point? Was the event we now call Christmas originally a “pagan holiday”?

Does it mean then that the gifts we exchange are to be shunned because some Druid somewhere in time offered a gift to his goat as part of some pagan ritual? And does that mean the church should discard all of the Christmas season, along with its lights, tinsel, Christmas carol re-runs and increasing commercialism?

There is no doubt that some of what we now refer to as Christmas traditions can be traced back, in some form, to pagan cultures and celebrations. In fact, December 25, which Christians now herald as Jesus’ birthday, was actually the date on which the Romans celebrated the birth of the sun god.

After the Roman emperor Constantine ‘converted’ to Christianity at the Milvian Bridge in 312, he combined the worship of the sun god with worship of Christ. Many of the Christian leaders at that time accepted Constantine’s conversion in a positive light, irrespective of whether he was sincere or converted for political purposes, and seized on the opportunity to celebrate the “Christ-mass” as a vital part of the process of converting the pagan world.

But even long before Constantine, Christians found ways to redeem local cultures and salvage elements in those cultures that naturally pointed to Christ, whether Hebrew, Syrian, Greek, or Roman. They denounced inhumane pagan practices, but at the same time took over pagan temples and converted them to churches. They replaced the old gods in popular devotion with heroic martyrs of the persecutions. And they replaced the holy days of paganism with festivals of the Christian year.

An example could be the early pagan ritual of lighting candles to drive away the forces of cold and darkness. The Christians of the time adopted that tradition making it their own. Today, is it highly unlikely that our hearts are drawn to those early pagans as we light our candles, rather we rejoice in our Saviour, the Light of the World as John speaks to in his gospel.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” – John 1:4

As for the Druid offering a gift to his goat. I think it’s safe to say that instead of giving any credence to the history of idolatry, we instead remember, as we should, the gifts given to the Christ-child by the Magi. Jesus was the greatest gift ever given, and therefore his birth is worthy of celebration and gifts worthy to be shared as a symbol of God’s giving heart.

Facts are however, that the beginnings of many Christmas traditions are so obscure that reference books and internet sites contradict one another on the details. Some of our most popular and beloved Christmas symbols are in fact entirely Christian, and were never part of any pagan religion anywhere. At the same time, some Christmas traditions undoubtedly do have their origins in the pagan past.

So, what do we do – or not do? If you are like my friend and are fully convinced that you cannot, in good conscience, observe a particular Christmas tradition, then please, by all means do not observe it. If you are fully convinced that a particular tradition is too steeped in paganism to honour God in any way, by all means forsake that tradition. At the same time, if you are fully convinced that you can honour and worship God through a particular tradition, then please honour and worship God.

I believe that this is an example where the Romans 14 passage applies. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” – Romans 14:5

In the end, what is important is not the origins of traditions, but their significance to us today as believers in the Son of God. For Christians, we celebrate because of the significance seen in the birth of our Saviour, and the traditions remind us of that momentous event that changed the world forever.

But more importantly, the traditions we share help tell the Christmas story about God tracking us down to find us and reveal himself to a sin filled world because he wanted us to know him. Words weren’t enough and so he came to be with us because we could not get to him. He took the form of man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ and lived among us to show us a better way.

Image that, God came as a baby who grew to be a man and walked, talked and fellowshipped with humanity in the person of Jesus – the prince of peace. And as the Prince of Peace we can finally be reconciled with God the father and enjoy peace with him as we were originally created to enjoy.

One final thought. December 25 was not mentioned in the biblical narrative as the day Jesus was born, and, as such, we can’t be dogmatic about it one way or the other. But even if the date is completely wrong, there is still the opportunity for thousands of people who wouldn’t go to church any other time of the year to go on Christmas day and hear the gospel of Christ.

That should count for something I think. That being the case…

Let the celebration begin!

Five Ways to Respond to the Horrific Church Shooting in Texas

On November 5th 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelly burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed (at least) 26 people and shot approximately 20 more. The youngest victim was reportedly two and the oldest was in their 70s. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was also murdered. This little town near San Antonio is reeling in agony. For them, this tragedy is Apocalyptic in scale.

Families were decimated, an entire community for the rest of time will be remembered as the place where it happened. No doubt, this little hamlet of civilization has been flooded with news agencies from around the world, agents with the FBI and ATF, ambulance-chasing opportunists of the worst varieties, and well-meaning helping hands (who often get in the way). Whenever schools resume, they will need an army of people trained in crisis therapy. Life will not get back to “normal” in this town for a long, long time – if ever.

I don’t know if anyone is able to tell us the real motive behind the shootings yet. We don’t know with certainty if it was religiously motivated or not, but if it is an attack on Christianity,  is it to be expected?

Whatever the reasons, we do know one thing… It’s evil. How do we (Christians) respond in the face of evil? As disciple’s of Jesus we need to go to our master to find out. Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Tertullian, one of the 2nd century Church Fathers wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This implies that the church grows as others see the way Christians respond to death. The martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Could we see the beginnings of a regrowth of the church through the blood of martyrs?

Last year was the worst in the past 25 years for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries.

It was just two and a half years ago that nine people were murdered during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, S.C.  How did Christians in Charleston react in the face of evil? They said to the shooter, “I forgive you.” This is not natural. It is supernatural. But it’s what Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you…” – Matthew 5:44

Persecution doesn’t just come from a person bent on murder. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples. I’ve personally witnessed anti-Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment and in some cases the growing outright persecutions?

I am convinced that what we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians nearing the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, need to understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception.

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response to the horrific shootings in Texas? There are many more, but allow me to share five.

1) PRAY

No matter how frequently such persecutions occur and increase, our first response should always be the same: turn to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

“Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart. Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait. But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.”

2) GRIEVE

As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep. That was one of the identifying markers of Jesus. “Jesus wept.” – John 11:35. Yet in times of tragedy we just might be tempted instead to try to explain away and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. When a friend or co-worker is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

The truth is, we want to know. We want to bring comfort and we want to “fix it.” But in our attempts to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a project to be fixed – they are real people who at those moments just want and need love. Most often without words… more often only with your presence. A hug along with the words, “I’m so sorry” can be the most therapeutic and amazing words and actions that your friend needs at that moment.

3) LOVE

The death of anyone should lead to grieving, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. Loving is not easy especially if it for the ‘murderer – the offender. It’s a sacrifice, but we need to remember that Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

4) HOPE

I think that we Christians should certainly support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, however we should also be realistic about the root cause and the ultimate solution. We need to always be quick to recognize that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. The shooting of these folks is First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs TX, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. At its most fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die in this church is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Knowing this should cause us to look away from superficial hope during these times of tragedy.The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating sin & death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most-high God, who is Sovereign and good, able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

5) MEANWHILE…

Yes, we continue to live in a fallen world where evil flourishes. However, one day when the Lord returns, evil will be defeated forever. And that is the hope Christians have. Meanwhile, let us pray for those who are persecuting the church and for those who are controlled by evil. And let us live so that others may know Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion and gives us all a hope for a future where there will be no death or evil. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45