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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Why I Love Easter

What’s that one holiday you love more than all the others? Is it Thanksgiving? Is it Christmas? Is it the 4th of July? For me, it’s Easter. Forget the furry bunnies, colored eggs, peeps, and jelly beans. I could care less about those. I love Easter for a completely different reason. I love it because its purpose is to celebrate the resurrection of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ve probably realized that I spend a lot of time talking about Jesus. I don’t talk about him because I get paid to talk about him or because I think I’m going to earn special standing with him. I’ve made a whopping total of $0 from writing these articles and I certainly don’t earn any type of prestige for it. Instead, I talk about Jesus because of how much I love him. I can’t help it. So what holiday could possibly be better than one which celebrates his work?

What Did Jesus Do That’s Worth Celebrating?

In a few of the articles I’ve written, I’ve shared about my belief that I have an evil heart condition. That doesn’t mean I run around purposely trying to hurt people, but it does mean that I’m, by nature, a sinner who lives in rebellion to God. The wages I’ve earned as a result of my rebellious nature is not only spiritual and physical death, but also having the cup of God’s wrath poured out on me. None of this is unjust; I deserve every bit of it. I don’t believe this to only be my condition, but I also believe it to be the intrinsic condition of every human who has ever walked the face of the earth, all that is except Jesus.

According to the Bible, when humans were first created, they were not enmeshed in sin. Instead, they were perfect beings who were spiritually alive and not deserving of death. But they betrayed their creator, God, and became enmeshed in sin. This sin continued to carry over into their offspring and was passed down from generation to generation with no hope of ever being able to do anything to set themselves free from this condition.

But God, being a loving Father, chose to rescue some of their offspring from this inherited condition. He chose to set them free from their captivity so that they could be raised to life spiritually and experience eternal life with him. However, it didn’t come without a price because the price still had to be paid for their sin. It wasn’t like God could just sweep it under the rug and act like it never happened. So God chose to offer someone else who wasn’t a sinner and wasn’t deserving of death to die in their place. And the person he chose to be the substitute was himself.

Two thousand years ago, God the Father sent God the Son to earth as a human being known as Jesus. He lived a life just like all of us, only without sin. He was turned over to the governing authorities by people who thought he was a heretic and was killed by being hung for hours on a cross. During that time, he not only experienced the physical pain of being flogged and hung on the cross, but he also experienced the Father’s divine wrath being poured out on him.

Jesus didn’t deserve any of these punishments. He had done nothing wrong. Instead, I’m the one who deserved those punishments. Moreover, all of us deserved those punishments. But God, being loving, gracious, and merciful, chose to suffer his own punishment, a punishment he didn’t deserve, in our place. Wow! Isn’t that amazing? But it wouldn’t have nearly the same significance if the story ended here.

Oh Death, Where Is Your Sting?

After having passed away on the cross, Jesus was buried in a tomb. This tomb wasn’t like what we think of when we think of a tomb. No one dug a hole and buried him in the ground. Instead, his tomb was cut into the side of a rock. And a large stone was rolled over the entrance for obvious reasons.

Three days later, a few of his followers went to the tomb. Upon arrival, they observed that the stone had been rolled away and his body was gone. At first, they thought someone had come and stolen the body. But then he appeared to them and showed them the marks on his body from where he had been crucified three days earlier. Jesus accomplished something no one else had ever done: he resurrected from the dead! After showing himself to about five hundred people over the course of forty days, he ascended to heaven where he is currently dwelling with the Father.

Does that mean Jesus’s work is done on earth? Not at all. He continues to do his work on this earth every single day. He’s intimately involved in every single detail of everything that takes place in order to draw all of his people to him and transform them into his image. And ultimately, his goal in accomplishing these two things is to unite all his people not only to one another, but also to him for all of eternity.

What Did I Do to Receive God’s Gift?

Nothing. I did absolutely nothing. I didn’t confess my sins, pray a prayer, or walk an aisle. God did all of this for me before I was even born. Once he opened my spiritual eyes to understand that this is what took place and gave me the faith to not only believe, but life in accordance with it, I chose to follow him. But my following of him was merely a byproduct of his work; it wasn’t the cause of his work. There’s a big difference between the two.

My hope and prayer for all of you reading this article is that God has and will continue to show you the same love, mercy, and grace he’s shown me. I hope to one day be united together with you and Jesus as we collectively and joyfully worship him for all of eternity.

I love to celebrate Easter because I love to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would be like if he hadn’t risen from the dead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Responding to Fiery Trials

No one likes arrogant people.

You know the people I’m talking about. At some point during seemingly every conversation, they manage to find some way to toot their own horn. They think so highly of themselves that they believe it’s an honor for you to have the opportunity to know and spend time with them. Sometimes they try to hide their lofty opinion of themselves with modest comments, but you know they really don’t mean it. You can see right through their transparent façade.

My Struggle

I have a confession to make: I’m one of these people. I’ve struggled a lot with arrogance my entire life. I guess you could say that I was born with it. There are days when I wake up thinking I’m pretty awesome. Before I had a filter, I used to run around telling everyone how great I thought I was. Now that I’m a little older, I’ve adopted a filter and learned how to mask it pretty well, but deep down I still struggle with it a lot.

I don’t want to be arrogant. I don’t want to run around every day tooting my own horn. I don’t want to have this perception in my head that I’m better than everyone else and that when I show up, I’m gracing them with my presence.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, if you hate it so much, then do something about it brother.” Believe me, I’ve tried. Once I began to recognize that arrogance was not only culturally taboo but also sinful, I began taking steps to try to eliminate it from my life. I tried to tell myself that I wasn’t any better than anyone else. I tried to focus conversations away from talking about me. I tried to downplay peoples’ compliments to avoid sounding arrogant. But none of these strategic steps actually took away the problem; they did nothing more than mask it a little. It’s like any other sin: it’s not something I can wish away and then watch it magically disappear overnight. Nor can I pull up my bootstraps and “get ‘er done.” I’ve decided that it’s not something I nor anyone else has the power to fix.

My Fiery Trials

Four years ago, God decided it was time for him to begin chipping away at my arrogance. When I say chipping away, I mean chipping away. He didn’t take a shovel and scoop it all out at once; instead, he began chiseling away at it one small step at a time.

After the first year of chiseling, I began thinking I was in pretty good shape. I thought I was finally humble! But just when I got to thinking God was done, he picked up right where he left off and kept on chiseling away.

Another year went by and I once again noticed that more of my arrogance was gone. But I also once again made the mistake of thinking I had arrived, only to realize that God wasn’t done yet; he still had more work to do.

Three months ago, I found myself in a place where I recognized the need for him to continue chiseling away at my arrogance. So I did the worst thing, or the best thing depending on how you look at it, I could do. I prayed for him to humble me. Now you know what happens when you pray something like this, right? God’s going to challenge the biggest point of arrogance in your life. It was no different for me. The only difference was that I recognized what he was going to do before he did it; he was going to challenge the arrogance I exuded due to my hockey skills. I had just come off the best season of my life. I led the league in points for most of the season and my team, of which I was the captain, had just come away from having a near-perfect record. I certainly had something about which to be arrogant.

As it was becoming clear what was about to happen, I was tempted to tell God that hockey was off limits. But seeing as he’s on the throne of my heart, I quickly recognized that there’s no area off limits to him. And even if I tried to hold it back, it wasn’t going to do any good because he’s so good that he always gets his way. It was going to happen one way or another, so I could either jump on board or come kicking and screaming. As hard as I knew it was going to be, I chose to jump on board.

Over the last three months, God has been doing exactly what he said he was going to do: He challenged the objects of arrogance. First, our team lost our two best players, so we finished the season with a losing record. Second, I spent the first half of the season struggling to score. And third, I experienced a debilitating pinched sciatic nerve which prohibited me from skating to my full potential. To make matters worse, my nerve issues have caused me great pain in both my lower back and leg which make it extremely painful for me to function every day. (For those of you who may be concerned about my health, I have consulted with a doctor and have been following orders to get healed. It’s just taking way longer than I want it to take.)

I can’t even begin to explain how painful the past two months have been both physically and emotionally. Yet, I’m so excited about what the pain means for me! As one of the biblical writers once said:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.[1]
My goal in life isn’t to make it to the NHL or for that matter, play professional hockey in any capacity. But I do have a goal to be transformed into the image of Jesus. And since I see that the pain I’m experiencing is part of God’s work to make me more like Jesus, why would I be frustrated with the setbacks I’ve experienced in the last couple months? Instead, I rejoice in the setbacks because God has orchestrated them at exactly this time in order to further transform my heart to be like his heart and to grow my faith in him.

Once this round of chiseling is over, will I have finally arrived at my destination of being completely humble? Not at all. I still won’t be as humble as Jesus. Actually, I’ve realized I won’t be fully transformed into the image of Jesus in this life.[2] But because of the work he’s been doing in me recently, I’m one step closer to it than I was three months ago. This is great news both for me and for the people who have to put up with me!

Your Fiery Trials

Are you in the midst of a fiery trial? I’ve observed that the fiery trials going on in my life give me a glimpse into the work God is doing in my heart and I’ll bet the same is true in your life. For example, much of my arrogance comes from me deriving a sense of security from my own abilities. God has been removing the things from which I derive a sense of security because he’s calling me to rely on him for my sense of security. In the same way, God has probably orchestrated the fiery trial in your life to remove the things in which you’re trusting so that you can trust him more.

The question is: How are you going to respond to your fiery trial? Are you going to view it as a nuisance? Or are you going to view it as being orchestrated by God for the transformation of your heart and the deepening of your faith in him?

[1] James 1:2-4.
[2] See Philippians 3:12.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Can a Homosexual Be a Christian?

Homosexuality, and really all forms of sexuality, seems to be one of, if not the most culturally sensitive topic at the present moment. Some people deem homosexuality acceptable while others deem it unacceptable. I know people on both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

This topic is also heavily debated within the Christian community. Entire church denominations are wrestling with the level of involvement of homosexuals in their congregations. I think the question at hand in the church is really this: Can a homosexual be a Christian?

Honestly, I’ve been very hesitant to write about this topic because no matter what I say, I’m sure I’ll offend almost everyone who reads this article; both Christians and non-Christians could be offended. Nonetheless, I’ve decided to write this article because I seem to have a different perspective on it than most people I know. As always, I’m going to be answering this question with the Bible. If you’re tempted to stop reading at this point thinking you already know what I’m going to say, I would encourage you to continue reading because you may actually be very surprised by my perspective.

First Things First

Rather than beat around the bush on the issue in order to be politically correct, I’m just going to go straight to the heart of the matter: God calls homosexuality a sin. If you disagree with this point, then feel free to take up the matter with God; he’s the one who said it. Here are three specific passages from the Bible which condemn the practice of homosexuality:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. – Leviticus 18:22
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. – Romans 1:26-27
Or 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. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Whether we like it or not, the Bible is clear that homosexuality is sin.

Some passages of scripture, such as Old Testament laws about sacrifices, were written for people at a certain time in history. Do these passages fall into that category or do they still apply to us today? It is true that these passages of scripture were written to certain groups of people. However, the truth contained in these passages remains just as applicable today as it did many years ago. Homosexuality is still just as much sin today as it was back then.

How Severe of a Sin Is Homosexuality?

Sometimes you may hear Christians attempt categorize sins with some being more or less severe than others. When considering homosexuality, many Christians I’ve interacted with categorize it as a severe sin. Therefore, it is assumed that homosexuals cannot be Christians. This thought process is backed up with the verses I quoted above from 1 Corinthians which state that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But when I read the Bible, I don’t see any mention, let alone the condoning, of categorizing sin. It’s just not there. The biblical writers viewed all sin and its consequences in the same way. According to one biblical writer, “The wages of sin is death…”[1] The “severity” of the offense is inconsequential. The first humans to walk the earth ate a piece of fruit they were forbidden to eat, and the consequence of their sin was death. In the second generation, one human killed another, and the consequence of his sin was death. According to the Bible, a sin is a sin is a sin is a sin. All sin is offensive to God and all of it is deserving of death.

If we take a closer look at the verses I quoted from 1 Corinthians, we’ll see this point confirmed. The writer of these verses listed a host of sinners who would not inherit the kingdom of God. He listed homosexuals, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Do you know anyone who solely worships God? I don’t. Everyone I know, including myself, is an idolater. Do you know anyone who hasn’t looked at another person lustfully? I don’t. Everyone I know, including myself, is an adulterer. Do you know anyone who hasn’t been greedy? I don’t. Everyone I know, including myself, is greedy to one degree or another. Every single one of us is deserving of death because we are all sinners.

Why Do Christians Believe They Will Inherit the Kingdom of God?

If all people are sinners and therefore deserving of death, then why do Christians believe they will inherit the kingdom of God? Be prepared: My answer to this question is going to challenge both Christians and non-Christians alike.

Simply calling ourselves Christians doesn’t change what we deserve; we still deserve death. Simply calling ourselves Christians doesn’t change our sin; we still live in sin every single day. And there’s nothing we can do to stop sinning because there’s nothing we can do to change our heart condition; our hearts are still evil at the core. We’re not spiritually sick; we’re spiritually dead.[2] Last time I checked, dead people couldn’t do anything, let alone raise themselves from the dead.

The hope Christians have in inheriting the kingdom of God doesn’t come from anything they do or don’t do; it comes from the work of their Savior, Jesus Christ. As one biblical writer put it, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[3] We were enemies of God because of our sin. But God’s love is so great for his people that although we were his enemies and although we wanted nothing to do with him and although we were still enmeshed in wickedness and sin, he came to earth as a human being and suffered the punishment we deserved. Jesus, God in human form, lived a sinless earthly life and suffered his own divine wrath in our place. Christians will inherit the kingdom of God only because of what Jesus did; they have absolutely nothing to do with it.

If Jesus died in the place of idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers while they were still sinners, then can’t we also conclude that he died in the place of homosexuals while they were still sinners? If Jesus was waiting around for all his people to fix themselves before saving them from eternal death, then no one would inherit the kingdom of God.

Doesn’t God Want Our Sinful Lifestyles to Change?

A common argument for why homosexuals can’t be Christians is because homosexuality is a lifestyle rather than something which randomly happens from time to time. The problem with this argument is that it disqualifies everyone, not just homosexuals, from being Christians.

Do you know a single Christian who doesn’t struggle with habitual sin? I don’t. All of us, including me, your family and friends, and even every church pastor, struggle with habitual sin every single day. The worst part is that we are only occasionally aware of it.

Here’s where it gets really challenging. When I read the biblical stories of people who I know belong to God (because it says so), I don’t see God revealing all their sin to them while they are alive. One obvious example of this is with King David, a guy who is labeled “a man after God’s own heart.” Yet, David had a harem of wives. Having multiple wives was just as much a sin 3,000 years ago as it is today. But there is no record in scripture of God revealing this sin to David. He lived a lifestyle of sin. Does that mean he wasn’t one of God’s people? Not at all. The Bible makes it very clear that David belonged to God.

As followers of Jesus whose hearts are being transformed to be like his heart, we will grow to detest sin, and specifically the sin inside of us. It’s not all going to happen at once; it’s something which seems to gradually take place over time. For example, I struggle with habitual arrogance. Did I recognize my sin when I first began following Jesus? Not at all. But over time, he has been revealing how deep my sin goes. I’m now at the point where I absolutely detest my arrogance. But that doesn’t mean my struggle has ended. I still struggle with it. I still find myself regularly being arrogant. The only way for my arrogance to change is for God to transform my heart, a process which takes lots of time. Will God fully remove my arrogance while I’m living on this planet? I don’t know. I hope so.

That’s just way that sin has invaded my life. I’m absolutely certain there are other areas where sin is present of which I’m completely unaware. Does that make it any less sin? Not at all. It’s just that God hasn’t point it out to me yet. And similar to King David’s struggle with adultery, he may never point it out.

In the same way, homosexuality is a sin which God may or may not decide to point out to people who struggle with it. If he does point it out, things probably aren’t going to change overnight; it may take a lifetime for them to change. In the meantime, it’s going to continue to be a struggle. Hopefully God is gracious enough, like he has been with me, to transform their hearts during this life.

Some Final Thoughts

As Christians, we need to remember that God is in charge and not us. Even if he has given us a participatory role to play in shepherding some of his people, he’s still the ultimate shepherd. It’s not our job to play God for people. Sometimes he may call us to participate in convicting people of their sin and other times he may not. It’s not up to us to decide when we want to participate and when we don’t.

Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves whether we trust God? Do we trust him to be gracious enough to convict people of their sin? Do we trust him to transform their hearts in his timing? Do we trust him to save sinners like you and me?

Can a homosexual be a Christian? Let me ask it this way. Can an idolater be a Christian? Can a gossiper be a Christian? Can a liar be a Christian? Can an adulterer be a Christian? Can a thief be a Christian? Can a murderer be a Christian? Apparently they can because some of the big names in the Bible struggled with one or more of these habitual sins. Yet God saved them. If God can save idolaters, gossipers, liars, adulterers, thefts, and murders, then certainly he can save homosexuals too.

[1] Romans 6:23.
[2] See Ephesians 2:1-3. For more reading on this topic, see my articles titled “Mental Disorder or Evil Heart Condition” and “Are There Evil People in the World.”
[3] Romans 5:8.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What Else Is Going On?

I was playing hockey earlier this week in a recreational no-checking league and witnessed a player on the other team tackle one of the players on my team and try to beat the snot out of him. Considering the player on my team was wearing a full cage and refs were quick to break it up, he was fairly unsuccessful in his attempts, but observing this situation got me thinking. Why did an opposing player tackle one of my friends?

To give you a little background on this situation, I play in a recreational hockey league and the team I was playing on is in the lowest skill-level league. None of the guys on the ice have formal hockey training. We don’t get paid to play; we actually pay a lot of money to play. And everyone has to get up the next day and go to work. There’s no explanation good enough to excuse this type of behavior.

But observing this situation got me wondering if there’s something else going on in his life of which I’m completely unaware. Could he have come into the game already on edge and then something happened during the game to push him over the edge?

How Do We Respond?

Have you ever experienced a situation like this? Maybe you were driving and some random person you’ve never met had intense road rage for no apparent reason. Maybe you walked into a meeting with your boss and got chewed out for an insignificant mistake. Maybe you came home from work one day and your spouse gave you an earful about something you said a month ago.

When we encounter these situations, we often respond by getting defensive and things erupt quickly. What if, instead, we acknowledge that these people are going through something really challenging in their lives, something which has absolutely nothing to do with us? Maybe their marriage is on the rocks. Maybe they’re on the brink of getting fired. Maybe they’re struggling to make their house payments. Maybe one of their children is constantly in the hospital and the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong. Maybe a close friend or family member is battling cancer. We just don’t know their situation.

How Did Jesus Respond?

As Jesus was going from town to town during his earthly ministry, crowds and crowds of people would travel to come see him. When Jesus looked at the crowds, he didn’t see a bunch of needy, self-centered sinners; he saw groups of people who were harassed and helpless[1] like sheep without a shepherd. He didn’t get upset with them; he had compassion on them.[2]

Is that the way we look at people? Do we look beyond their façades which portray that everything is great to see what’s really going on in their lives? That’s my challenge to you. The next time someone goes off on you, instead of responding by fighting back, consider the challenges that person is facing in his life. Strive to demonstrate the same type of compassion towards him as Jesus. You never know, he may open up to you about what’s going on and you may have the opportunity to walk alongside him as he works through it.

A Brief Clarification

As a clarification, I am not suggesting we excuse peoples’ behaviors simply because they have something going on in their lives. We all have something going on in our lives. As I’ve shared in previous articles, I believe the reason we lash out at other people is because of the condition of our hearts. I believe we have evil hearts which desperately need to be transformed into the image of Jesus. Jesus knew this when he saw all those people, yet he had compassion on them. But he also didn’t excuse them or withhold the consequences of their actions.

A Success Story

I play hockey with a guy who plays very aggressively. In a checking league, his aggression would be normal. But in a no-checking league, it’s over the top. My first few encounters with him were not very pleasant. One game, he cross-checked me in the chest and I went flying. In another game, he cross-checked me in the head and sent my GoPro flying. On another occasion, he checked me in the back and pinned me up against the boards. I didn’t like this guy at all.

After explaining my dislike for this guy to my dad, he encouraged me to get to know him. I wanted nothing to do with it. But one day, I was sitting next to him in the locker room and decided to strike up a conversation with him. I found out he grew up playing hockey, played minor league hockey for ten years, and is now a pastor. At that point, I started putting some of the pieces together. He’s aggressive because that’s the way he was trained to play in a checking league. But I can tell that he really does care about other people which is why he’s a pastor. He and I are now friends and he and I now play together on a team. He’s one of the most encouraging guys I’ve ever met, has an immense love for God, other people, and the game of hockey. And now he is rarely too aggressive with me when we’re on opposing teams.

[1] Another way of translating these words in the Bible is that the people were pinned down and molested. They were captive to the devil and that’s what he was doing to them.
[2] See Matthew 9:35-38.