I've written before on various religions in relation to Christianity (primarily here), but I want to focus today within the context of Christianity.
When I speak of the "R" word, I am referring actually to two separate words. The view one holds of these two words has the potential to dramatically effect their personal walk with Christ.
Admittedly, this will be another post focused towards my Christian (and even religiously Christian) brethren. Though, I'm sure those outside of the faith can get some insight as well. I want to discuss the current trend of using the world "religion" when speaking of someone adhering to the Christian faith. It occurs often in our daily conversations, and in truth, is not technically incorrect. But, I think the way we view this word, "Religion" has the potential to influence the way we share our faith, and also the way in which we are perceived by those outside the faith.
A quote that I still like, though may have become somewhat cliche as of late, goes something like:
"Religion is man seeking God, Christianity is God seeking man." -Unknown
Whenever I have a conversation with an unbelieving person, or even sometimes with the more liberal of my Christian brothers and sisters, I find the term "religion" tossed around a lot. I am not sure if it stems from a discomfort with the relational aspect of faith in Christ, or if it is is simply something picked up from the way our current culture tends to refer to Christianity, but either way, it is misleading.
Christianity has always been about the relationship. It is man's relationship to his Creator. It is the falling away of that relationship because of sin. And, it is the great love story of God (Creator) bringing man back unto fellowship by virtue of a perfect sacrifice (Christ) meant to bridge the gap created by man's sinful fall from grace.
Our relationship with Christ is the bridge that unites us back in fellowship with God. Without this bridge, we remain lost. Enter Religion.
There are likely thousands of various religions, and sects within those of which I could speak. We know the major ones, and in the past Christianity has been looped in with the big groups. We mention Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity more often than most, but there exist an abundance of others.
The three major mono-Theisitc (worship one god) religions are Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Each of these believes in one god. This is where the similarities begin to spread.
Likely due to the influence of the Catholic church in early church history, Christianity began to gradually be associated more with traditions and practices, than with the original relationship with Christ on which it was founded by His disciples. As man sought new ways of interacting with God, even still through Christ, new traditions formed, and much like Judaism pre-Christ, man-made practices began to take the place of the Gospel itself.
For example, during a particularly dark period in Christian history, the Catholic church and the Papacy began selling indulgences. These were basically like purchased 'Get out of Hell Free" cards, that would forgive the buyer of sin, and guarantee Heavenly status.
Obviously, it is not in any man's power (yes even the Pope) to grant forgiveness, as forgiveness is only by and through Christ. Still, practices likes these began to turn the relationship with Christ which formed Christianity, into a religion of man with Christ as its worship center. A small difference to be sure, but a significant one when we see some of the implications of this. Catholicism also has a somewhat unhealthy preoccupation with Mary and frequently elevates her to a level of equality with Christ, which is not Biblical. Someone once told me this was because people find it less difficult to pray to a motherly figure, as a Fatherly figure sometimes seems more condemning. I can see where they have a point, and that would explain why many people elevate Mary to status with God. It prevents the conviction of sin that we are under with God, and lets us as humans feel more in control. It is, however, not Biblical thinking.
In addition, if Christianity stands as just another religion, the exclusivity of Christ gets called into question. While many people (Christians included) would like the exclusivity to be questioned these days, it is certainly not the intention of the Gospel for there to be a means outside of Christ by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). Therefore, turning Christianity into a "religion" like those other world religions, loops it in with false gospels and misinformation regarding salvation and the problem of sin.
Without trying to pick on them too much, the reason I use Catholics in the previous example is because they are most often the Christians that I hear referring to the faith as a religion. It makes sense as we can note many "religious" aspects of the Catholic worship experience. For many who claim Catholicism it is less about Christ and more about the obligatory mass attendance once in awhile. This leads to another problem.
If Christianity was simply about butts in the church seats each Sunday, it would have died out long ago. It is an active faith, and its adherents, at their best, should be actively sharing that faith and seeking ways to spread the message of hope, love and salvation to a world that is lost in sin. Simply mentioning sin; however, becomes a stumbling block for the more "religious" Christians. Like the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus time, some Christians are so locked into tradition that they fail to see Christ right in front of them.
There is a danger of apathy, amongst other things, that can come from treating Christianity as just another religion. By doing so, one also misses the entire point- a relationship with Christ. It is not by accident that the Bible calls the church the "bride of Christ." It is meant as imagery to display the importance of the church to Christ. A church that is not actively seeking that closeness with its bridegroom, Christ, is like a bride simply telling people she is engaged, but never seeking to spend anytime with her betrothed. The groom becomes an afterthought. I notice that the most apathetic Christians are the ones most likely associated with a denomination or sect which focuses more on traditions and statements of faith, than actual relationships with Christ. Where is the hunger for His word? Where is the submission to His will? It often seems absent.
So in the great comparison of religion versus relationship, we should be approaching Christianity as a relationship. It's no secret many have fallen away from Christianity when it becomes too "religious" for them. Often these fallouts then become the very people calling it a religion. And, in their case it would be understandable. If a church becomes more about religion then genuine seekers may be put off and see Christianity as a whole in religious terms instead of relational terms.
This was the experience I had growing up in a mainline denominational church. I knew I needed to attend on Sundays. I knew what songs we would sing and what creeds we would recite. I knew that someone would dryly read from God's word-often calling to mind Ben Stein from "Ferris Bueller's Day off." There was no passion for the Word of God, it was recitation. Repeat after me was more important than learning meaning behind what we were repeating.
Now, I don't think it was totally the fault of the denomination, as I have since learned of other churches within this denomination that have a much more passionate worship experience. And, once a year at church camp, when the district came together, some of that passion would sneak into the camp worship. It was a taste of what Christianity could be, but once that week ended, it was back to the dry worship experience.
In youth group we occasionally reached these peaks of passion during devotional songs. Between those moments, and church camp, I began to feel inside a drawing towards a more active knowledge of my faith in which I had been raised. Had anyone asked me if I was a Christian growing up I would have said, " yes," but if they asked if I knew what that meant, I would have been clueless.
I don't want to blame the structure of denominationalism in America, but it's not surprising to me that so many are falling away from these traditions in favor of a non-denominational, Bible/Jesus-based worship experience.
I discovered this type of worship first on Tuesday nights in college during "Overflow." This was a once a week service of just songs, and the movement of the Spirit in that place was quite noticeable. It was something I hadn't felt during my regular Sunday services growing up. It was something I had glimpsed occasionally at camp, but never fully in a weekly capacity. From there, I began attending the non-denominational church that my friends were going to, and heard my first sermon on what it actually means to be a Christian. I learned more on salvation, sin and God's grace in one sermon than I had learned in 10+ years of my home church.
I can't say I was a strict adherent to my newly discovered faith in my college days, but the seed was planted, and it continues to grow even now within.
My point is simply that if being raised in the church was the only requirement to be called a Christian, I would have been considered one without a doubt. But, looking back, I was not really following Christ in those days. I know some do follow Christ in that church to this day, but I know others have fallen into simply attending out of a sort of misplaced religious duty. This "duty" is what I'd like to avoid by the clarification present in this post.
We cannot believe that by calling ourselves Methodist, Catholic or Baptist, that we automatically have a relationship with Jesus. It simply isn't true. It takes a submission of self to God's will, an acceptance of Christ's sacrifice for our sins, and an attitude of repentance. Simply going to church once in awhile, sitting through a service, and then actively forgetting Christ throughout the week is not Christianity. It is a form of false religion, and it is so close to the real thing, that it is often one of the saddest spots in which someone can be. The truth is practically bashing them in the face, and yet it continues to be ignored.
I'm not trying to say that by calling oneself "Methodist" or "Baptist" or "Catholic" that we are not Christians. There are Methodists, Baptists and Catholics aplenty that are true followers of Christ. I've seen it first hand, even in the Catholic church, which until college I thought worshipped Mary more than Jesus. That's a blog for another day, but I do understand now there are saved Christians within all denominations.
So, the heart of my post here is, "do we really know Jesus?" Have we confused religion for relationship? Are we attending church out of obligation instead of opportunity for fellowship with our Savior? A butt in the seat does not a Christian make.
Let's reassess our standing with Christ. Let's call ourselves Christians because we trusted Christ for our salvation, not because we are a Sunday regular. Church attendance is important for fellowship and growth, but knowing Christ is relational first. Whenever and wherever we find ourselves, we can make that jump into relationship with our Savior. We can step out of religion, and into a relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
*For more on the differences between the Catholic tradition and Protestant views, this great tract was recently passed along to me, and sums things up quite well. I would definitely encourage my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ to read it, as it can help call back from the danger of falling into tradition over true faith in Christ.
Roman Catholic and Protestantism Gospel Tract
Saturday, January 25, 2014
There was an article on the website for Fox News recently by Todd Starnes in the opinion section that I found particularly amusing. The article was titled simply, "Bibles removed from University of Wisconsin lodge." Starnes did a better job conveying the absurdity of the situation than what I will likely do here, but it did bring up some interesting thoughts of my own which I will venture to share.
The article regarded the Freedom from Religion Foundation's discovering of Gideon's Bibles in their hotel room. I'm having trouble keeping a straight face even as I write this because of the absurdity of the lengths to which this group will go for publicity and to fight against religion.
My (fictional) impression of the phone call to the front desk is something like this:
Front Desk: Front desk, may I help you?
FFRF: BIBLES! BIBLES! IN OUR HOTEL ROOM!
Front Desk: Sir, are you saying there is an issue with a Bible in your hotel room?
FFRF: YES! I paid good money to sleep in this room and I don't need to be bombarded with religion while doing so!
Front Desk: Well, sir, I do understand, but those Bibles are a free donation from the Gideon Foundation, and we do place them in drawers so as not to be a bother to guests who do not wish to read them.
FFRF: DON'T YOU SEE?!?! I don't care if it's in a drawer! Why is religious propaganda in my room?
Front Desk (probably chuckling to self): Ok sir, I'll have someone remove the offending item immediately.
FFRF: You better! This country was founded on freedom from religion, and I'll be darned if I'm going to be exposed to this...this....agh just get someone up here NOW!
A quote from the article posted probably sums it up best, and definitely made me laugh out loud:
"It's quite astonishing that a group of educated individuals are so frightened by the Good Book. There's really nothing to be afraid of. There have been no confirmed reports of conversion through osmosis. It's not like the atheists and agnostics are going to spontaneously combust upon reading the Gospel of John."
This battle from groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union remind me often of two children on a playground, throwing tantrums because they cannot have their way, or because another student is being treated better than them.
I think this ongoing debate between Atheist Free thinkers and Christians is a serious issue, but in the context of these petty games of removing every reference to God or religion in any and all locations frequented by themselves, I feel they reach a new level of absurdity.
|This can't be too far off...|
A quote within the article by an FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said,
"We atheists and agnostics do not appreciate paying high prices for lodging, only to find Gideon Bibles in our hotel rooms, sometimes prominently displayed, knowing they contain instructions, for instance, to kill 'infidels' and blasphemers,' among other primitive and dangerous teachings."
This brings back the age-old non-Christian argument that the Bible is full of human rights violations sanctioned by God. And, while it is true by the standards of our current government and society, that some of God's commands seemed harsh at times, a diligent reading of the Bible in context will tell us the reasoning behind these things. We cannot always justify every portion in the context of our own culture, but God doesn't ask us to do so. We are to read it within the context of the culture for whom it was originally intended first. In the case of most of these objections, it involves Israel during the period following exile out of Egypt, and there were very good reasons for whatever God sanctioned for them. If the FFRF are that prone to killing infidels after browsing through a Bible, there are probably more problems within the group membership that need to be addressed.
The FFRF claims that non-Christian guests are alienated by the presence of religious items in these locations. Though, I'm sure none have ever refused hospital service during an illness simply because a crucifix is prominent in many hospital rooms.
And, by the logic of how these groups go about complaining about their rights, we could go on all day about the idea of "tolerance" except when it involves some Christian beliefs. If there is any group whose rights are violated, it is Bible-believing Christians. It may often be subtle, but the fact that I can't post certain views or ideas which I may hold without danger of public ridicule seems somewhat limiting in a society that promotes tolerance and good times for all.
So, to those in the atheist/agnostic/humanist/free-thinking camp I would just say that there are probably way better things to be worried about than a Gideon's Bible in a hotel room.
|A murderous, revenge seeking raccoon seems to get along just fine with Gideon's Bible in his room...|
I do have to say the idea of conversion through osmosis, as mentioned in the quote above, would make evangelizing easier, and does seem appealing in a silly way. Of course then we would need signs indicating that coming within 10 feet of a Bible may cause spontaneous conversion to Christ. Lord knows how the FFRF and others would handle that type of "rights violation."
The hotel has removed the Bibles from the room, but is simply keeping them behind the front desk now for guests who request them.
This "religious propaganda war" being pushed by these groups seems like a waste of time. They aren't planning to convert to Christ, and the Christians they harass aren't looking to drop God in favor of no God.
The attorney for FFRF writes,
"As you may know, the mission of the Gideons is to 'win the lost for Christ.' The Gideon's [sic] efforts to proselytize have frequently brought about conflict with non-religious persons and persons from minority faiths."
Another comment by Starnes responds to this well enough:
"I checked Google, and to the best of their search engine [sic], there have been no religious wars fought in the name of Gideons International.
Looks like Gideons International isn't looking to fight a Holy War over their desire to convert the lost, and the FFRF should realize that passively being in the same room as a Bible is not going to cause them to melt like the wicked witch of the west. Though if that were the case, I suppose we could save internet space having to discuss these ridiculous situations, of which I'm sure we haven't heard the last.
The original article can be found here: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/01/24/bibles-removed-from-university-lodge/?intcmp=latestnews
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Life is full of choices. From the moment we wake up in the morning, until our last thought before passing into sleep, we are constantly making choices.
As I continue my reading of the fictional "Left Behind" series, I can't help but think about the Book of Revelation, and one choice in particular found within its pages. There are many views and interpretations of the book, and of end time prophesy in general. I adhere to one specifically. For the sake of this post; though, I mention this only to get to my primary point, and to have something from which to pull various examples.
There is one choice we can make in our lives that has the most significant of implications. We can dance around it all day, make excuses, or even outright ignore it, but at some point, we have to decide whether we are for Christ, or against Him.
Our world today likes to offer us a variety of choices in everything. And, in many cases, there is really no wrong choice. I could choose pizza one night, and have a hamburger the next night without the first night crying foul for choosing pizza over burgers. It works that way with entertainment too.
We deal with so many subjective truths on a daily basis in the small things, that it seems no great feat to apply it to our faith, or lack thereof, as well. But Christ makes it plain and simple that His choice is the right choice. The ample evidence presenting this case is laid out before mankind. We can try to explain it away, but in the 2000 years since Christ lived, died and lived again, man's pride still cannot seem to be rid of Him. There is a reason for that.
Perhaps no other state of mind is as dangerous as that of pride. Pride can justify us in everything we do, whether good, or bad. We can look to the person on our left or right, and pride allows us to believe we are somehow better than them. Or, that we couldn't possibly be as wicked as them. It is the great leveler of persons, but it is a false balance.
Pride is what causes some to choose life without God. Pride is what causes some of those who know God, to let themselves get in the way of God, effectively negating any actual belief in God. And, perhaps the irony of it is that we can choose pride. We may be prone to, or drawn to prideful thinking, but it is still a choice whether or not we act upon it.
Good Choice and Bad choice
Before I come around full circle here regarding the ultimate choice we all face, let's break it down once more. Pride can cause us to disregard our sinfulness. It was pride that resulted in Satan's fall from grace, and pride in which he captured mankind at the fall. Sin entered the world because we thought we could determine for ourselves what is right and wrong. And yet, the very concepts are so far above us, that no one could have really ever chosen correctly.
God's word brings about this point a number of times-in various contexts-emphasizing our folly in thinking we have it all figured out without God.
"For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks (non-Jews), are under sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Romans 3:10-12
This verse alone could be used to make the case that given our own volition, we would choose sin over God 100% of the time. It is only by the movement of God's Holy Spirit in our lives to begin with, that any would make the choice to turn to God. To a degree, God does sovereignly know who ultimately belongs to Him, but because of sin's hold, and God's allowing of free will to man, we can still choose rejection of God, over faith in Christ.
Something I have thought about often is the fact that those who have knowledge of God, will have less excuse, and more to answer for someday. Those who were within the church, or had faith, and fell away, are in worse shape, than those who have never heard God's truth. This could be especially true for someone who pretends to have faith for some reason, only to later deny or fall away from it.
Though all mankind is held accountable for sin, and all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory, there are degrees of accountability. I think about this because many people I know have taken this path, and it makes it that much more crucial that they make the right choice in the end. A particularly humbling verse in Hebrews relates to this:
"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." Hebrews 6:4-6
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But, they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." 1 John 2:3-6
This verse, in some ways, actually makes me hope that those I thought were among the faithful believers, had actually not yet made that choice, because at least then there is still hope of a future acceptance of Christ. It implies that the individual must not have ever had a true faith in Christ, and fell away due to a lack of actual conversion. This could have been for many reasons I'm sure. One particular reason that comes up quite often is a frustration with the state of the church, or "religion" as the scoffers like to refer to it. This is understandable to a degree because our churches are in such disarray these days, unable to agree on the Word, and blatantly proclaiming Gospels different than that of Christ's.
The other negative church trend is simply a lack of growth, probably causing those who fall away to have done so simply because Christ was not in that church, and it became more of a Sunday habit, than a belief in God. Without calling them out negatively, I do think that the group I have heard of this from the most in my daily life is former Catholics. Something about the hierarchal structure, and formality of it all, has caused many to fall away. I have also known some Christ-following, Bible believing Catholics, so I do not want to loop them all under one roof. But, denominations in particular lately have seen a lack of growth. Perhaps, it is due to a focus less on Christ, and more on tradition in some cases. It becomes about the religion instead of the relationship. Christianity is relationship-based, not a religion in the sense of other world faiths. This was my experience with the Methodist church. The statement of faith on the United Methodist website is Biblical and accurate, but I don't recall hearing many sermons on real conversion and salvation in Christ during my time there. If it was mentioned, it was buried under a number of easier ways to say it so they wouldn't sound like those "crazier" denominations. It wasn't until my first visit to a non-denominational church in college that I really heard a sermon on salvation, and the implications of the choice to truly accept or reject Christ.
Though the verse in Hebrews has many controversial implications, I see it to mean that if one somehow was able to fake conversion, then a falling away would make it impossible to return. But, if one actually had Christ, then a falling away would not be possible, as Christ says:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." John 10:27-29
Manifestation of Real Conversion
So, how do we actually know then that we have chosen Christ? How do we know we are heading in the right direction? There seem to be a number of verses that speak to this, but one in particular seems pertinent based on our previous discussion of letting our pride deceive us into thinking we are somehow "good" of our own accord.
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He (Christ) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word is not in us." 1 John 1:8-10
"We know that we have come to know him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, 'I know Him,' but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did." 1 John 2:3-6
Here are two clear examples of what it means to live in Christ. We must still obey God and His commands. Our Christian culture these days is divided. On one end, we have Christians willing to set aside God's commands for the sake of pleasing the world, and not seeming "intolerant" or "exclusivist." On the other end, we have Christians willing to take a stand for God's word, knowing that it is only when we lay aside our Pride in thinking we are "good" apart from Christ, that we can truly live as Christ calls us to live.
We are not to be overly dogmatic of course, and our love should still how for those outside of Christ, but we cannot continue to compromise on God's clear commands for us, for that would make us liars. In the midst of the two ends of the spectrum, we have those torn between wanting to please God, and wanting to please man. If I'm honest, there is probably at least one area in every Christian's life which still falls within the middle of the spectrum. There is that one thing we can't seem to will ourselves to sway over to God's side. That transition from middle ground to God's ground, does take movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and this means we must be actively seeking to do as God would command. We must be Christians of true conversion, not simply those of the casual, lukewarm nature.
"I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked." Revelation 3:15-17.
It is hard to miss Christ's words here, writing to the church in Laodicea. And it is easy to see how many of our churches today have become exactly like this church. There is no room for riding the fence, Christ calls us to make our choice.
The Call to a Choice
And so, we come full circle to what I realized on my reading of "Left Behind" and the Book of Revelation recently.
In Revelation, there is talk of a mark, given by the beast, which represents a final choice of rejection of God. Depending on one's interpretation of Revelation, this could take many forms, but for the sake of this, I want to simply look at the concept here.
I mentioned in my previous blog, "The Mark of the Believer," that the idea of a physical mark, signifying our final choice for God or against God, would be a helpful thing in this world of compromise and mixed belief. This post is somewhat of a continuation of that, in that I want us to be very clear about which two options we have.
Whatever the mark of the beast may take the form of at some future date, the concept of it is simply that, there will be a time, in every person's life, in which they will have to decide to accept, or reject Christ. Those who still ride the fence should not take this choice lightly. I don't really care how "preachy," or "intolerant" this next part may get labeled, because there is enough evidence to back up my thinking out there.
You are either a believer in Christ, or you are lost. And whether you believe in a real life after death, or real consequences for actions, you will come face-to-face with this choice at some juncture in life.
For the fictional characters in the Left Behind books, the time of history in which they found themselves lent itself much more to realizing the severity of this choice, whether for or against. The mark of the beast guaranteed ability to buy, sell and trade, but required worship of the god of this world, Satan. Accepting Christ and his mark meant almost certain martyrdom, and lack of resources for those who did survive.
We may not have reached this point yet in our world, but the stakes are still as high in the long run. We do not know when God may call for our lives, and it is truly too late after death. It doesn't matter that we see ourself as better than the criminal on the news, or even our annoying coworkers. How we see ourselves is only important, if we see ourselves as God sees us: separated.
Christ made it abundantly clear that He is, "the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him." That verse speaks it clearest to me, but there are hundreds of other examples suggesting the same thing. There is no mountaintop of God in which all paths eventually get to Him. Would we really want that anyway? If all roads led to God, and all were automatically saved, it would be just as bad as if God had created us all with no free will--robots for his pleasure.
Without choice, there can be no love or lack of love for God. God loves us, even in our sin, but calls us out of that sin, and into life more abundant in Him. The terms and conditions are laid out, and if we can lay our pride aside long enough to think it through, the fact that God has conditions at all is very fair and just. Often we cry "unfair," "not inclusive enough!" at God's terms for salvation, all the while forgetting that the mere fact there is an option at all is because of God's grace and love for us.
We screwed up. All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. But, because God so loved us, he came down from Heaven's throne, humbled Himself as a sinless and perfect man, lived a perfect life, and died the only death that could ever fully bridge the gap back between God and man after the fall. His resurrection and ascension confirm His divine nature, and relational status with God the Father. We do not enter into this lightly. Make no mistake, Christianity is not the easy path.
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Matthew 7:13-14
Many people forget that in the famous (even in secular culture) "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus utters some things which leave no room to guess as to where He expects us to take our stand. Most people get hung up on the "judge not" part of this chapter, and fail to see not only the context of that command, but also the entire rest of the chapter. It should be clear that belief in Christ is the only true option, and that it is not "judgmental" to say so.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (see also 1 John 2:3-6 above- emphasis mine). On that day, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you works of lawlessness.'" Matthew 7:21-23
"Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist-denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also." 1 John 2:22-23
We may not currently have a choice in front of us that offers a literal mark to identify our stance, but the choice for or against Christ is still being made daily. While my focus here has been simply laying out the two truthful possibilities for us all, I should not forget to mention that the whole point of calling us to accept Christ is a desire for fellowship with us. God offered Christ to become propitiation for our sins, so that we might regain eternal fellowship. It's hard to grasp in a world so steeped in individualism and survival of the fittest, but we were created by God for good works and for fellowship with Him. God meets us where we are. From the darkest alley, to the front church pews, God can find us in our unbelief and transform us. Are we willing to allow this? That's the choice.
God may be working on your heart today. If you feel conviction, or even anger at some of the things mentioned here, it is the work of God's spirit, trying to show the truth. In many ways, the truth hurts. It goes against the grain of society, and makes us spiritual outcasts. There is no possibility of one-world-faith in God's playbook. It is abundantly clear.
I am able to vouch for the fact that we are constantly growing in our faith. Paul tells us that he would like to feed us meat, but for some must still resort to milk. The maturing in our faith is all part of the growth process, but we cannot begin to grow in Christ, until He begins His work in us.
The Bible is clear that there will be a time, perhaps long in the future, perhaps sooner, that God's long-suffering will eventually reach a climax, and the option of faith in Christ will become impossible for those who rejected too long. Just like pharaoh hardened his own heart multiple times, God will eventually give us what we want if our rebellion is that important to us. Pride makes it hard to lay aside self, and so we must come to God in humility. We must confess with our mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and accept His sacrifice- the only thing- that can cover our sin. We can do good works until the cows come home, and be no closer to God than the criminal on television with whom we so like to compare ourselves.
Christ died with two men on either side of Him, both criminals and sinners. One realized his need for salvation from his life of sin, and Christ credited his faith as righteousness telling him that on that very day he would meet him in Paradise. The other died in rebellion, mocking and rejecting God until his final breath. Which criminal next to Jesus do we want to be? We are all criminals, but God so loved us, that he sent His son, that whoever would believe in Him could have eternal life.
The choice (to a certain degree) is ours. I pray the Holy spirit would convict and lead all my brothers and sisters, friends and relatives, strangers and people across the world to an understanding of our need for a savior, and to the truth that our Savior has come. Do we accept Him, or reject Him? There are no other choices.
Friday, January 3, 2014
I am nearly finished with my re-reading/listening of the "Left Behind series," and I had almost forgotten just how action-packed and exciting they were. I want to focus here briefly on one simple concept from the book series (and I believe the Bible as well) that I find particularly intriguing as a Christian.
Many of us culturally have been trained in one way or another to shy away from the number 666. The Bible, in so many words, says this is the "mark of the beast," a symbol of Antichrist, and notable for the inability for someone to change their mind once accepting this mark.
In context of one of a number of interpretations of Revelation, there is also an idea of sealing Christian believers to spare them the judgments of God.
Now, Left Behind does take a pre-tribulational rapture-pre-millenial viewpoint of Revelation. For the sake of not confusing everyone, this is typically considered the view held by most Evangelical Christians, and indicates a rapture of Christ's church into Heaven, followed by a seven year period of Tribulation on Earth for those who were not believers at the time of the Rapture of Christ's church. During this time, there are ample opportunities to come to belief, but those becoming believers in Christ at this point are doing so in the most tumultuous time of Earth's history, so martyrdom and persecution are expectations.
With that quick background in mind, a concept that the Left Behind author's elaborated on a bit, but which I find particularly intriguing, is the idea that true believers are sealed by God visibly. In our own time, we have no visible mark after coming to Christ.
In the books, this seal takes the form of a cross on the forehead that can only be seen by another believer in Christ. People do not see their own marks, but fellow believers can see each other's. In the context of the books, this helps believers work together to survive during the Tribulation period.
A different mark, the Mark of the Beast, as interpreted by this particular viewpoint, is a mark taken by those who wish to buy and sell during the time period. It is a choice to show allegiance to the ruler of this world and Satan, instead of Christ. Revelation 13:16 mentions more about this; as well as Revelation 14:9.
"The second beast (False Prophet) was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast (Antichrist), so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast, for it is the number of man. That number is 666." Revelation 13:16-18
"A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: 'If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of His wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.' This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God, who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Revelation 14:9-12
The intriguing thing to me, is that Revelation also mentions the mark of believers who are sealed by God. In context of Revelation it does likely refer to a remnant of Jewish believers who come to Christ and evangelize for Him during this time period, but for the books, the authors allowed any believer in Christ to have this mark visible to other believers.
The verse mentioning this seal in Revelation is in chapter 7, and says:
"Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 'Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.'" Revelation 7:3
So, my thought is that it would be so great if Christians now could see immediately who fellow believers were by a mark of some sort. These days with the culture wars taking over the church, it is often difficult to discern who is a true believer in Christ. Within the church, many are deceiving with false doctrines, and teachings against Christ. Compromise is the flavor of the day, as Christians begin to develop a more "buffet" attitude of faith to appease a world who finds the exclusivism of Christianity to be intolerant.
If we had a means of not only knowing ourselves that we were fully assured believers, but also who among us was sealed with us, I think it could provide a power of evangelism not yet realized since the days of the first disciples. Think to the Day of Pentecost and the 3000 who believed after hearing Peter's sermon.
We could know who was truly a believer in Christ, and who was undecided, or even pretending, and adjust our witness accordingly.
As I mentioned before, this verse is likely referring in the immediate context to the 144,000 sealed Jewish evangelists, but the elaboration by the authors to allow it to include all believers was a concept I found enjoyable.
Perhaps part of it is that I have always seemed to struggle with assurance, and if my fellow believers could identify a mark on my forehead confirming my trust in Christ, it would give me that much more comfort. Then again, trusting on Christ's sacrifice, and having faith is a big part of it, and I'm guessing the need for this physical "seal" is simply due to the period of time during which it may occur.
For now, Christians are not persecuted to the extent that such a mark would be wholly necessary. But, if we are to trust God's promises, there will come a time in the future, when God's patience will begin to wear, and a period of history will occur in which God uses judgments as a final effort to reach those whom He loves. While it may seem harsh, we must remember just how much information is available now for making a decision to follow Christ. Even now there is not much excuse, other than living on a secluded island perhaps.
Especially in America, there is no real excuse for not believing except rebellion or pride in ourselves. The truth is in the Word, and the Word is readily available around the world. I pray God would use us even now, visibly sealed or not, to let our witness reach to the ends of the Earth: so that all may know that Jesus Christ is LORD.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Recently, upon discovering that I could have a library card as an adult, I began checking out audio books for download to my iPhone. There is a set of books, of which many have differing opinions, that still hold a special place for me in my life and in my faith. So, naturally, the first book I "borrowed" from the digital library was part of that series.
When I'm giving my testimony of what brought me fully into belief in Christ (not just the church attendance of my youth), I can't discuss it without a nod to the "Left Behind" book series. Even as I type that I realize many opinions (or judgments) are forming in my readers' minds regarding this. I should probably clarify, that young adult fiction is a category I've always enjoyed more than others. The fantasy element of much of this genre is appealing.
But, with the "Left Behind" series (which I will henceforth stop putting in quotation marks to save time), became more than just a fiction series to me. It was primarily their presentation of the Chrisitan faith in the midst of persecution that emotionally moved me to dig deeper into the faith which until that point I had simply professed as a church-goer, and not much more. Important to note here probably that simply attending church on Sundays does not make someone a Christan-contrary to popular belief. So, while helpful, it wasn't the end all be all, and it was the Left Behind series that helped spark my interest in studying the Bible more. This study, though years in the making, has formed my foundation of my faith as it stands today.
Seriously, by "Soul Harvest," and "Apollyon" it gets hard to put down
People will naturally assume that it's all the imagery of the book that drew my childhood imagination, and to be sure that was part of it. Also was my obsessive need for structure, and the fact that structurally it's fairly organized in its sequences of events (at least in the sense that much of it happens in sevens). Still, as a kid reading it, I really didn't grasp the whole concept. It wasn't until I read the Left Behind books that I began seeing it in a slightly more theological way.
Now, without calling them out too much, Methodist are not notorious for discussing/ preaching on this particular book of the Bible. My guess is they are afraid of stepping on people's toes (this may not just be a Methodist thing), or just confusing them. I believe there are times in which that risk is a necessary one, but I suppose I can't fault them too much as they are certainly not the only denomination to avoid it like the plague.
So, ironically perhaps, it was popular fiction that drew me into a deeper desire to study the Book of Revelation. From Revelation, I worked backwards to the Gospels. And, finally, for about the 50th time in college, I asked Christ into my life and understood what it meant. Perhaps 200 times later, I am currently much more solidified in my faith and trust that I am actually in Christ. That topic is for another blog though.
There are a few reasons that I can pin down as to why I enjoyed the Left Behind series so much. More than any other book series which I have read, it is the series that I could not put down. I remember one mission trip in particular where I breezed through about 5 of those books on the drive alone.
1. Theology and Immediacy
Despite being fiction, it presents some important Theological points in an easy to understand manner.
Because much of the backdrop of the series takes place in the worst period of time in human history, the understood need of the Gospel is much more emphasized. When the world is at war, and persecution is rampant, characters are much more inclined to the message of hope. In reality, this has proven true in the past as well. Much of the early church growth came in the face of heavy persecution.
In addition, because the books take place in a period of time which represents the final chance for people to accept Christ, there is an immediate need to spread the Gospel. Too often in our day there is no noticeable immediate need and we get lazy about this...at least in America.
The characters in the book are living on borrowed time, and understand that there is a very real possibility that giving their lives to Christ, may actually mean dying for Christ. This willingness to believe, in spite of the danger of that belief, is another trait within the books which inspired me.
2. Faith in the Face of Persecution
We face few trials in modern American Christianity. At worst, I waste the time I could be sleeping before work needlessly debating another Christians on some theological point. Or, we find news media portraying Christianity in a negative light. But, within the context of these books, persecution, even for those in America, is a real possibility.
When the characters in the book convert to Christ, they truly are taking up their crosses and laying their lives on the line. This aspect of Christianity is technically a part of the faith in our day as well, but again, less noticeable as we are living in a fairly prosperous country at a prosperous time.
I've always struggled (at least until very recently) with assurance of my salvation in Christ. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but it has always been an issue. When I read the Left Behind books; however, I saw Christian characters who did not doubt. Their assurance, and the picture of that presented, was helpful in addressing my own lack of assurance. Their focus and determination for the Gospel was inspiring to me as a young Christian. These "Tribulation Saints" were a model example of Christianity. And so, as mentioned before, part of the reason my faith in Christ increased, is because of this book series.
Of course, many people within the faith community critically panned the books for various reasons. It never really bothered me, though it did always elicit strange looks when I told people how inspirational the series was to me.
At the end of the day, I think a big part of the problem was that people stopped reading after the first three books. In reality, the first three were mostly setup and character development, and most of the action and Biblical events didn't occur until later in the series.
In addition, the series' presentation of Heaven, while speculational, was a very hopeful view, that was not scripturally inaccurate (though scriptural accuracy on the nature of Heaven is admittedly limited).
The moment that the main character sees Christ returning in glory, and hears Christ speak to his heart, like the character in the book, brought me to tears. The overwhelming love of our savior, presented in a simple way, still effectively broke me down to the point that it was the first time I actually prayed for Christ to come to my heart. I wanted what these Christian characters had. Fiction or not, their relationship with Christ was admirable because they had come through so much to that point. There was trial and suffering and it forced growth within them and their faith to the point of overwhelming joy when Christ finally returned in the series.
The two final books in the series, "Glorious Appearing" and "Kingdom Come" may have been mainly speculative, but they were no less moving to me. And, for a generation of Christians that often forgets that our hope is in a future life beyond this earth, it presented the reality of it in a way that really spoke to me.
I don't have much purpose or call to action for this blog. I've just been enjoying my audio books of my favorite series. If anyone got stuck on the first few books and gave up, try starting fresh and pushing forward to the middle of the series and beyond. My guess is if you approach it from the perspectives that I've brought up above, it might hold a new level of appeal. They are easy reads (which is why some people ignored them) but I find that helpful. I don't get bogged down in intricate, confusing writing, but can focus on the directness of it. I have no problem with surface level books, but I do think it continues to mature as the series progresses. This happens with many book series. The first few books are the set up and growth period, and then they take off and become great.
The public libraries have these books in paperback or on audio (which is particularly compelling way to experience this series) so go pick one or two out and give it a shot. They may not move you so much that you go from unbeliever to believer, but they can certainly strengthen our theology regarding suffering and persecution for people of faith. And, in that sense, it's a book series we all could use at one time or another.
Be blessed friends.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
I typically use the time around my birthday to do what most people do around New Years; I think of goals and resolutions for the coming year.
To date, much like those with New Years resolutions, I have failed quite a few planned accomplishments. Before my 25th birthday I remember wanting to have an album recorded by that birthday. While I guess technically I do have songs, and could put them into a format considered an "album," the purpose was more to have one with sales.
Over the past couple years, I've realized it's really more important to set my goals/expectations in line with what God would have me to do. The best laid plans of man would amount to very little if God is not factored in. I have talents, and God can use those talents, but if I try to use them in a way that is not in line with His will, they may not come to fruition. Though it is true God sometimes will let us pursue our own will to learn reliance on Him, I'm beyond wanting to take that route.
I'd much prefer these days to just line myself up with the will of God and go. I had written a few blogs back about the peace in the silent time of my life. God is constantly growing me, in what I hope is preparation for service that uses His gifts He has given to me. Being able to lead worship at Amen Austin has been a good starting point for that. The learning how to lead, and how to implement and coordinate the worship music for maximum worship experience, is something new, but exciting. And, prayerfully, I am for now in God's will on that.
So God has been using my ability to play music and lead to serve Him. Is it possible there are still other avenues of service not yet explored? I would think so, yes.
I know in spring, if God wills it, I will be leading a team of people to Mexico on a week-long mission trip. Though our quick weekend planned trip for October fell through, it may have been to give more time to my training and growth within servitude of God. I am sure I could have led the October trip, but could I have led it in the way God intended? Of that I'm not sure.
All of these best laid plans, in many cases have not come to fruition through fault of my procrastination tendency. I am naturally good at putting things off until the last minute, and then executing as close to deadline as possible. It's a stressful way to do things, but managed to work through my college years.
Still, from a Christian perspective, I'm not sure procrastination is an expected virtue of which I should possess. Therefore, it is important as I grow in the faith, to examine this detrimental aspect of personality (or practice, as it may be). In doing so, I could be much more ready and prepared to go where God would lead.
In the past, I have fought this battle with procrastination by making lists of things to do. Whether just for one day, or for months at a time, list making has been my only means of accomplishing what needs to be done in a timely manner.
In this upcoming year, there are some events scheduled to happen; as well as, goals for myself I'd like to accomplish for which I need to start planning. So, the further purpose of this blog post, may be to simply lay out some things I would like to accomplish, whether for myself or others, in the upcoming year.
1. Spiritual Growth
There are many aspects of this for which I could keep learning and growing, but a primary area that I know needs work is my prayer life. In terms of sermon absorption/learning, I may be now in the realm of overkill (if that were possible), and my intellectual pursuit of the theological aspects of the faith, may at times overshadow the emotional connection that is so much of an important aspect. I need to reconnect with God outside of intellect, and on the level of communication, by prayer, daily Bible study, etc...
So, for spiritual growth, I shall:
-Dedicate more time to prayer daily
-Read at least some part of the Bible each day, and ideally, begin to work through specific chapters in addition to a daily, regular reading
-Continue to serve in whatever capacity God allows regarding worship leading, missions, writing, etc...
I don't want to say Juliet told me so, but she told me so. I usually do well at just fluctuating physically with weight and eating right. I can go through nice phases in which I accomplish this to a high degree. But, it's not a permanent solution. Juliet is also trying to exercise more and eat better, but my lack of participation may be causing a lack of motivation in her unintentionally.
So, despite having healthy blood pressure, pulse and other essentials, I could certainly lose some weight and eat a bit better.
So, for physical growth, I shall:
-Try to run/excercise at least a few days a week to start, with intention to expand that into some form of daily movement
-Make healthier selections in terms of food and portion size (though, this process may be gradual, as many habits must be broken in their time)
Juliet and I have a relationship in which we both understand each other fairly well. Still, there are many things we can work on together to fully experience the marriage on the level God intended. There is an element of laziness in my life, that may often bleed over into the relational areas (though certainly it hits the spiritual and physical as well), which I can begin working on.
So, for relational growth, I shall:
-Commit more time to Juliet, or take most advantage of time available with her that isn't interfered with by work and other activities
-Try to implement some romantic (catch her off guard) gestures, at least once in awhile, and preferably as often as is financially possible.
-Learn to love and/or continue to love her in the manner Biblically prescribed for a husband and wife who keep Christ at the center of the marriage
-Begin to pray more with her, and for her, and fully take on role as spiritual leader of the household (this would be helped by the spiritual growth section regarding prayer in general)
Work is one thing with which I never seem to be fully satisfied. I love my current job in the sense of what it is, but the mere fact of having to leave home, Juliet, other activities, to make money and work, is a downer to me (as I imagine it is to most people). I would love to have some sort of full-time ministry job, though the part of me desiring that probably sees it as more fulfilling and less of a "job," when in fact, I imagine even those in ministry occasionally have "job" aspects of the call that remind them of the old 9 to 5 days. To that I mean, work in general, is never going to be perfect in this world (though we were created partly to be workers). So, I must always keep Colossians 3:23 in my mind and, "do everything I do as if working for the LORD..."
In this sense, I could understandably remain in current position, making decent money, and fulfill the financial obligations of life. But, continually seeking to grow, even in a job not directly associated with my interests of faith, can be considered beneficial.
So, for occupational growth, I Shall:
-Look for opportunities of promotion or growth within my current position
-Look to find a means for Juliet to have a less stressful work experience, within what means I May have
-Continue learning, growing and serving in ministries outside of work, to be better prepared, should God move for me to make a change at some point
-Follow Colossians 3:23, especially on the days when sleep seems so much better than work
-Shine my light at work, and be a Christian example to my best ability for those around me who may or may not be of the faith
-Implement a good budget and debt reduction plan, to place some ease on the financial burdens for which "Working" is necessary to begin with
What I would Like to Accomplish
Finally, the section over which I technically have the most potential control. Though, this is also the section most likely to be ignored or overshadowed by the others. It isn't that any one section is more important than the others (save for Spiritual growth perhaps). But, the fact that the upcoming list for this section is "technically" optional, but in another sense, necessary for fulfilling those things for which I was either created to do, or simply would like to do
So, for goals to accomplish, I shall:
-Put more work into my upcoming book (for which the outline is making progress), and dedicate some time each week to work on it
-Continue to hone my music skills, primarily for use as as service gifts, but also, on the chance that my Christian album could still be recorded at some point
-Continue to blog, whether in a teaching or reflective capacity, for the benefit of those who continue to, or choose even one to read, in the hope that something could be gained from it, for their edification
And with that, my thought process for birthday 2013 (28th year), is temporarily complete. I may add to this mentally or otherwise, but this is a good initial idea of what I hope to finally fulfill over the course of the next year.
You are all welcome to help keep me accountable, and certainly to assist in any way possible. In the end, I submit to God's will for what the year may hold. I would pray it is one of continued growth throughout the many areas of life, and one of drawing ever closer to Him. For, at the end of the day, that is really the goal for which we should all draw towards. Working out our faith. Sanctifying ourselves daily for the glory of God and the kingdom. I hope I may be of humble service in these upcoming years. I may have wasted a good amount of my first 28 years in this regard, but I understand now that my calling is sure, and my salvation will endure. I will continue to pursue God, above all else, and let that pursuit, guide my other endeavors. May it be a blessed year for all!
Friday, October 25, 2013
The Healing of the Paralytic
This story is one of the most commonly used illustrations of Jesus' ministry of which I can think. I have heard it more than many other stories during illustrations during messages. But, I think in the way I've always heard it presented, the focus is drawn toward the wrong portion of the passage. I think in reading about a miraculous healing, we miss a more important act by Christ regarding this paralytic.
17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.[a] 18 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. 20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. 26 And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
So, imagine you have traveled a 3 day journey to hear this "Jesus" person speak. Stories have traveled of his miracles and teachings, and as some of the most prominent religious leaders of the day, you need to get clued into what this guy is all about. Theologically, it is necessary to you. So, as a Pharisee of Christ's time you gather with others in a small house, and Jesus begins preaching.
Suddenly, through the ceiling, you see a paralyzed man being lowered down by his friends into the midst of the crowd. Being a house, this breaching of the roof certainly gains the attention of all those around and of Christ.
His friends, seeking to get as close as possible to Jesus, and likely to ask for healing, had gone above and beyond to accomplish their goal. Christ recognizes their faith in this odd, but hopeful act, and says to the man, "your sins are forgiven."
Let that sink in for a minute. This is the point in the story that we typically breeze past, because honestly if you are looking for healing from a physical ailment, our human minds would not immediately catch the significance of Christ's words here. And, as we probably would do in the same circumstance, the friends and the paralytic begin pondering this in their hearts.
Meanwhile, the teachers and Pharisees see the Theological error in Christ's statement (not realizing He is God incarnate) and begin to call "blasphemy" on him for forgiving the man's sins. Two perspectives happening at the simple proclamation of these words.
Let's address the perspective of the Pharisees first.
Up until Christ forgives the paralytic of his sin, they are getting along just dandy with Christ's teachings. His healing power is known, and his teachings seem to be in line with their belief. But, in a moment, the Pharisees and teachers are shaken. Blasphemy was a capital offense of the time, and it would have been a dramatic, dangerous moment for anyone but the Son of God. A false prophet in that time was to be killed, and initially, this seems to be what they are thinking of doing.
"Only God can forgive!" they cry after hearing Jesus' words. Christ, having the omniscience of God, understands the thoughts of their hearts and addresses them directly. But, in doing so, he is also speaking to the murmurs happening in the heart of the paralytic and his friends.
Paralytic and Friends Perspective
So, your friends go through all the trouble of lowering you into the house, near the man whom is known two have power of physical healing. Your expectations as a paralyzed individual are that you can receive this physical healing. Were the paralytic praying in that moment, he would have been asking for a healing for his physical ailment. His mind had no focus on his iniquity before God, or other spiritual matters. He wanted to walk!
His friends, likewise, are interested in seeing the miraculous works of this mysterious Christ. So, the words leave Jesus' lips, "Your sins are forgiven," and I can almost picture the drop in the pit of his stomach as he realizes that maybe Jesus is not going to heal his physical ailment.
The Proper Perspective
Much like in our own lives, if we were to hear of a great healing going on, our human desire would be to see for ourselves if our physical maladies could in fact be healed. Hopefully a discerning Christian would be at least a bit wary initially, but we all have problems, and the curiosity would likely get the better of us. Our prayer life can be this way often as well. We ask God to do this and heal that, and generally focus at least a little on ourselves. We think of our human bodies, and their weaknesses and cry out to God to help us.
Now look back to the passage. Seeing what was going on in their hearts, Christ then asks a question. Is it easier to say, "your sins are forgiven," or "rise and walk?"
The Pharisees were probably thinking the correct answer was "Rise and walk," and it seems probable the paralytic and friends would have thought this as well. After all, they had heard eyewitness testimony that Jesus was capable of doing this very thing with those very words.
The next words from Christ are significant in explaining the whole point of his miraculous works, not just here, but in every instance throughout his ministry where healing is involved.
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”
We see the point right here. Christ had offered the man something far more valuable than physical healing, but the paralytic was not aware that it was something he needed. In addition, to give proof of his power to forgive sins (Something the Pharisees were no doubt waiting to see) he consents to heal the man. The point of the healing is to show His authority and power to bend the rules of the physical world (of which he created) and heal. This proves that he is God (or to them at the very least that God could have sent him).
And, most importantly, it is a demonstration that when Christ says, "you are forgiven," the man truly had his slate wiped clean before God. This man could have died right then, and had no separation between his Creator and himself.
So, when we address the real point of this passage, we see it isn't so much the fact that Christ made the paralyzed man walk, but that he forgave the man of his sins. In those days, before Christ's sacrifice on the cross, forgiveness of sin required slaughter of animals. It required blood, as it did in Christ's case as well, to satisfy the requirement of a Holy God. Christ, knowing he had that same power (being God himself) offers the man something he would not have otherwise obtained.
And yet, in our human minds, we focus on the physical healing more than the forgiveness. But, think of it like this. One hundred years from today, any of our current or future physical maladies will make no difference whatsoever. We will have passed from this life to the next. However, the question of whether or not we are justified to stand before God, our slates wiped clean, and enter into an eternal fellowship with Him, Will be of GREAT importance.
So in forgiving the man's sin, he gave him a gift 1000 times more precious than the healing. And this is the pattern for hearings in scripture. They are used by Christ to demonstrate His authority to forgive the sins of the people, and now, of us.
When we pray for health and happiness, we must also take into account that those are all temporal things. The prosperity preachers of today's false prosperity gospel would have us believe that God simply wants us to be healthy, wealthy and happy. But, the reality is, this life is not the focus of God's attention. Yes, he can heal. Yes, he may even bless us financially from time to time. But, our expectation, and in fact our celebration, should come from the fact that by His blood we can stand before God in perfect judgment, and have our sins remembered no more. That we can enter into eternal fellowship, instead of hearing those horrifying words from Matthew 7, "Depart from me, I never knew you."
And make no mistake, those words (though part of everyone's favorite 'Sermon on the Mount') are as true and convicting today as they were when spoken. We must all give an account before our creator someday, and when that day comes, will it really matter if in our 100 year life we suffered physical ailments? Or, will it be so much more important that we have the covering of salvation? That we have renewed fellowship.
When we pray to God, it is ok to make request. It is ok to desire in this life that we have some comfort. But, we should not be so immature in our faith as to think we will have it simply by being a Christian. Christ promised that to those who would really, truly follow him, there would be trial and hardship, even, unto death. This is odd to hear for our rather safe and prosperous American Christians, but makes sense across the globe as Christians are persecuted daily in less prosperous nations. His call to take up our crosses daily, means we must be so willing to follow Christ in this life, that even if it means our life is at stake, we do not waver.
This is a good way to discern where we really stand in our salvation. More than just a prayer and an altar call, we should be people of true conversion. Our hearts should desire God, forsaking all other relationships in favor of Him. The Church is Christ's bride, and like a marriage between earthly husband and wife, we are to put our spouse above all else. And so, in this great metaphor of God's most sacred bond, we understand that to really and truly follow Christ, means we must be willing to give up all else.
He may call us to rid ourselves of possessions like the rich young man. Or he may simply require us to use our talents to serve. But, we must never assume that it will be anything less than a commitment of life. This is the danger of Christianity. We do not enter lightly into it, and anyone preaching a lighter gospel than this, is feeding false assurance. Yes, God is love. And, for those in his saving grace, the love is abundant and unfailing. But, simply attending church services once a week, and leading the same sinful lives during the week is not evidence of true conversion. We may stumble and fall, but the truly converted will be of a contrite and repentant heart, and not seeking to ever fall into that same sin again, God-willing.
The paralytic in this story was blessed to have both sins forgiven and physical ailments healed. But, in keeping with God's sovereignty above all else, it is His will, not our own that will ultimately be done. How much better to be seeking that will, and to be fully within it than to be wandering lost outside?
Take a closer look at this story of the paralytic, and realize that the true point of the story, is that Christ has power to forgive sins. And, if we are of a repentant and believing heart; if we are truly willing to forsake sin, and fully commit to Christ; then, the moment we earnestly embrace that, we are saved. We may forget the day and the hour. When and where is not important. What is important is that it is true saving grace. Seek assurance, and work out your salvation daily. (Phil 2:12) Let us hope and pray for the forgiving grace of God far above any physical healing or comfort we may desire. And, God being gracious may still grant us comfort and healing. But, remembering that one hundred years from now, we will experience full and unrestricted fellowship in the bodies and place we were meant for, should give us plenty of comfort.
That, is a far more Biblical, and really a far better perspective.