The Dust of Death

41sXdCyz+jL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Can one decade or generation have as much affect on a culture or nation as the 1960’s?

Os Guinness wrote his book, The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How it Changed America, just after living through the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960’s. Guinness charts with a socio-philosophical bent the journey of a generation, from the erosion of Christianity to the failure of the counterculture to provide an effective alternative to faith. The author calls for another “way” for the Western world, one of which combines conviction with compassion and deep spirituality.

Guinness himself writes an adequate description of his book in the Preface on the 1960’s,

“What we were witnessing … was the gradual disillusionment of a generation, even of a culture. Ideals had grown so distant they were barely distinguishable from illusions. Meaning had become a mirage. Eager minds, soaring beyond facts to a super-freedom of fantasy, had plunged earthwards. Even resolute action, which seemed to have rolled the stone almost to the top of the hill, paused for breath only to watch the stone roll backwards…. Beneath the efforts of a generation lay dust. Subsequent events and a closer inquiry, far from contradicting this suspicion, have served only to confirm it. The examination of this suspicion and the charting of an alternative is the burden of this book.”

Although the book was written about a decade that dates back almost 50 years now, the content is still current as we are continuing to live out the consequences of the sixties.

The book has several themes it unfolds such as: humanism, authority issues, violence, drugs, eastern religions and the occult. I would have liked if the book explored more on the themes of the sexual revolution, rise of postmodernism and the spirit of entitlement that also came out of the sixties.

REFLECTIONS

The influence of humanistic philosophy.

Humanism is just one facet of the Western culture,

“Western culture has been marked by a distinct slowing of momentum, or more accurately, by a decline in purposefulness and an increase in cultural introspection. The convergence of three cultural trends has created this vacuum in thought and effective action…the erosion of the Christian basis of Western culture…the failure of optimistic humanism…the failure of the sixties’ counterculture.” p.18

Humanism has it’s roots into a cultural change 500 years ago,

“The legacy of the Renaissance is humanism, then the contribution of the Enlightenment is paganism.” p.21

Humanism is an idea, but it fails in reality.

“Optimistic humanism appeals to the highest of human aspirations, but it ignores the full reality of human aberrations.” p.32

A utopian mindset.

The Western culture has moved to a utopian mindset that tries to adopt anything,

“When people cease to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything. Cheapness and confusion will be the religious climate of the next years…faddish faith can be as dangerous as false faith.” p.67

Authority Issues.

One can look at the sixties and say that is was a time of rebellion against authority. Yet it was a populous shifting the authoritative hat,

“A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the art whereby one part of the population imposes its will on the other part…without authoritarian means no revolution would be successful.” p.148

Violence breeds more violence.

The chapter on violence was the most disturbing, but also the most revealing chapter of the book. What was shocking was to embrace the fact that America had a violent beginning,

“A resort to violence as the American way of life. From the killing of the red people and the enslaving of the black people down to the assassinations, such violence is a reoccurring theme. The only time excepted was the fifty years after the Civil War.” pp.168-169

This has made violence one of our marks,

“When they begin by viewing violence as ‘normal’ they soon slide into viewing it a ‘necessary’ and then as ‘legitimate’.” p.158

As you look at the nonsensical violence that happens in American and the West it is plain to see how this mindset plays out. Violence is frighteningly accepted in media and movies. Look at the school shootings and massacres that happen. It is breed out of this acceptance of violence. As Guinness states how younger generations are taught,

“The school authority does not represent order so much as repression, as it is a system where the boys are taught to ‘fight’ in sports, army training, and the Chapel religion fight the good fight of faith. Thus the eventual violence in response is justified. It is not crisis but catharsis, an assertion and discovery of freedom from repression.” p.157

A statement from John McCain’s lasts statement to the nation,

“We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. We have acquired great wealth and power in the process. We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

Guinness sees no justification for violence,

“For the Christian, a single human being made in the image of God is unique. Therefore violence can never be justified. Its pragmatic usefulness cannot be calculated in terms of individual lives, whether by a murder or by scenario scientists plating strategies of future wars in terms of mega-deaths. Violence has a dark record. It corrupts the best of ends and brutalizes the bravest ideals.” p.178

However, Guinness does believe there is a justification for “force”,

“Provided that there is a legitimate basis for its use and a vigilant precaution against its overreaction in practice, a qualified use of force is not only necessary but justifiable. Within Christian framework there is the possibility of truth, justice, and authority that are not arbitrary, relativistic, or mystifying. Thus an important distinction between force and violence is possible. Force, on the one hand, is the controlling discipline of truth, justice and authority in action. Violence, on the other hand, can come from one of three directions—from the maintenance of authority without a legitimate basis, from the contravention of a legitimate authority, or from the injustice of a legitimate overreacting as it deals with opposition or violation. Overreaction in the name of truth too easily becomes the ugly horror of violence once again.” p.180

“Provided that there is no compliance with the violent and no condoning of the violence, a qualified understanding of violence is both necessary and justifiable. To a limited extent violence is effective in unmasking hypocrisy, liberating the oppressed, and judging the oppressor.” p.183

Experimentalism.

Experience often minimizes God,

“Meaning is no longer what God means about himself to human beings, but rather what human beings mean as they search for God and express themselves in human terms.” p.318

We live in a culture that maximizing experiences,

“If the intellect cannot handle God, who is known only in encounter or crisis, then truth—in other words, the grounds for trustworthiness—is totally subjective, outside the area of conceptual knowledge or words. The depth of trust depends on the depth of the experience…In a day of spiritual counterfeits and confusion, there is no way to know whether what we are experiencing is God, an “angel of light,” an acid trip or a theologian’s hoax.” pp.340-341

Our church culture has also watered down truth,

“The net effect of all these movements—liberalism, extreme fundamentalism, ecumenism, Pentecostalism—has been to devalue truth, blur the uniqueness of the Christian faith, and leave historic Christian faith shorn of its greatest strength—its claim to be true.” p.321

The need for falsification or testing our faith is necessary,

“For the Christian the validity of the principle of falsification is welcomed as a genuine test of the integrity of faith.” p.341

At the end of the day Christians believe the Book is from God,

“The Christian faith is not even true because the Bible says so, but rather because God who is the ultimate screen of truth has said so.” p.343

“The Christian view of the universe stresses two points of fundamental importance—its reality and its rationality, both stemming from who God is and the nature of his creative work.” p.346

“Serious attention to the Christian view shows its sensitive understanding of human aspirations—by virtue of their creation in the image of God—balanced by a realistic recognition of their alienation.” p.348

In conclusion, Guinness reflects on the failure of optimistic humanism and the counterculture,

“After the erosion of Christian culture, post-Christian people have turned from the truth of God. But they still twist uncomfortably, holding what they need of truth to be human beings while denying what they dislike of truth in favour of their own chosen premises. Some search for social justice but to their shame exchange the Galilean carpenter for the bourgeois scribbler in the British Museum. Some seek for escape from suffering but miss the Man of Sorrows and follow shadowy avatars to the Nirvanic no man’s land; others, looking for an exit from it all, miss the clarion call to freedom, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, and I am the Life” stumble along a road that leads nowhere, dusty with death. Often, the logic of modern premises is hellish. But then ultimately Hell is nothing less than the truth known too late.” p.358

“The sixties was supremely a generation of talkers an travelers. An epitaph for the counterculture might well read: When all is said and done, much more will have been said than done.” p.360

Another Way—the Third Way.

What is need is a Third Race,

“What is needed is nothing short of reformation and revival in the church, a rediscovery of the truth of God by his people and a renewal of the life of God within his people.” p.362

“The Christian life is not just difficult; it is impossible. But it is exactly here than humanism leaves off and the Christian faith begins. That is also why only this uniquely ‘impossible’ faith—with a God who is, with an incarnation what is earthy and historical, with a salvation that is at cross-purposes with human nature, with a resurrection that blasts apart the finality of death—is able to provide an alternative to the sifting, settling dust of death and through a new birth open the way to new life.” p.367

There is an offer of a Third Way which “holds the promise of realism without despair, involvement without frustration, hope without romanticism.” p.19

 Guinness calls prophetically for “a third way”. The basis and the subsequent life-style outworking of the Christian position is wholly different than the other two groupings (optimistic humanism and counterculture). With humanism floundering on the rocks of its own faulty basis and the counterculture suffering with severe loss of idealism. Christians at this point in history have a unique opportunity to step into the gap.

“Such a Third Way will not be easy. It will be lonely. Sometimes Christians must have the courage to stand with the Establishment, speaking boldly to the radicals and pointing out the destructive and counterproductive nature of their violence. At other times they will stand with cobelligerents with the radicals in their outrage and just demands for redress.” p.189

“The Christian stands back and affirms the higher way.” p.188

The third way is a clear call to radical Christian discipleship and the need for Christians to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God. It calls for Christians to develop a biblical world-view and to act into society rather than react as so often has been the case.

“Deep and long-lasting change is not brought about by revolution but by reconciliation and reconstruction.” p.191

PERSONAL RESPONSE

Os Guinness is a thinker.  His book causes you to think. He was really taken an era, a culture, and boiled down it’s fallacies. It is helpful to take a step back and consider the forest as Guinness does rather than continuing to smell the flowers.

The book helps you to grasp the thinking or mindset of a culture, a people who have forsaken God. It is as if you step into their mind and process decisions with them. This is  the cultural mindset I grew up in.

As I read through the book I felt a bit of shame and anger at the decisions my parents and grandparents generation had made. I realize they aren’t entirely to blame. They were following the course of their parents and grandparents too. However, the book wasn’t simply a critic of went wrong, it offers a hope to get right. The Third Way. This is the way I want to live which is really against the grain of culture, but that can bring a culture away from its inevitable demise or destruction. There is hope for light, rather than doom and gloom.

Conclusion

The Dust of Death is a well-written and weighty. One should read it several times to soak it in. A quick peek is not recommended. Guinness packs a massive amount of cultural information and philosophical critique in this work. Those with limited background in philosophy, culture analysis, and theology might find it boring and abstruse. But those who can appreciate philosophy and social analysis will benefit. One who wants to understand the impact of 1960s culture on the modern world-view should read this work.

The Dust of Death is a must read for anyone who wishes to be aware of what is happening around him and gives a basis for the church (i.e. the people of God) to be in the world what God has called them to be.  This book has great impact on those who serve in today’s world such as pastors, teachers, professors, leaders, and missionaries. The book helps you to know how to reach people birthed out of the sixties, a decade that still has rippled affects on today’s world.

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unashamed I stand

Hutts wheat field

My first “real” job was at Schmidt Sporting Goods in the Wausau Center Mall. It was the perfect job for a teenager into sports. I was fifteen, a new Christian and a bit awkward socially. There were many times during a shift at work when the crowds would dwindle and stocking was slow and the employees would gravitate together to chat. You can imagine the variety of conversations that would unfold between young adults. This was the first testing ground of my faith. At first I was shy. I didn’t want to reveal my identity as a Christian. I was ashamed. I learned to camouflage to my colleagues. At church, I was outspoken and on fire, always attending youth group, serving where I could, even going on missions trips, but outside of church I hid my light under a bushel basket. I will share more about my time at Schmidt’s later.

Oddly enough, I am now on mission in North Africa. I’d like to say that I have changed. That I share my faith like a wild fire burning through the bush in a windstorm. However, that is not always the case. I often resort to hiding the light. Why am I so ashamed? Chiefly, I think much of what others think of me and think little of what God has done for me.

I know I am not alone when it comes to timidity of faith. The Bible is chalked full of examples of people reluctant to bear the name of God. Moses tried every excuse in the book not to go back to Pharaoh and represent God. Jonah ran opposite Nineveh to the sea. Peter denied Jesus multiple times before the rooster crowed. If you were to ask each of these men to write Romans 1:16 it might have read, “For I am ashamed of the gospel for is it the weakness of man unto slavery to everyone who disbelieves.”

You and I both know that isn’t how that verse reads. I have rehearsed that verse ever since I started attending Sunday School. Instead the verse reads, “For I am unashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” According to this verse the gospel does two things: 1) it brings out shaming behavior in those who will not believe it and 2) it gives freedom from shame to those who do believe it. In other words, the gospel that causes shame also frees us from shame.

It is difficult to keep quiet about my faith in North Africa. When people see me or my beard their first question is, “Are you Muslim?” because most Muslim teachers have beards. I sport my beard on purpose. First, my wife digs it. Second, it’s a great conversation starter. Of course, I respond, “No. I follow the way of Jesus.” So I had this same interaction with a group of Islamic teachers and they responded, “Ah, we follow Jesus too and God’s other prophet, Mohammad. Do you follow Mohammad?” When I responded “No” the teacher with the biggest and whitest beard preached at me for 10 minutes trying to convince me of my error and foolishness. The way I was being belittled made me think about the religious guys during Jesus’ day. I left the interaction gut-checked and scarred, but like Paul’s words (see: Colossians 1:24), I was able to understand a smidgen the sufferings of Christ.

It would be great if this was a one-time interaction, in fact, it happens a lot. A few months ago, I arrived at our neighborhood corner store. There was an older woman arguing with the boy managing the store how there isn’t any coins to make change in this town. It is a true exaggeration. We sometimes make it our ministry to tape up crust old bills that are falling apart and return them to circulation. I tried sympathizing with the woman, but she turned at me and said, “You are white. You probably have lots of money and change.” Now, in this culture, it is not appropriate to talk much with woman publicly, so I didn’t make much of it. I just smiled awkwardly and said, “I just brought enough change to buy bread.” She then asked, “Are you Muslim?” When she learned that I only followed the way of Jesus she yelled, “Why are you here, you unbeliever.” I stepped back, blessed her and turned to walk back home. As I walked off she cried out, “Become a Muslim.” I thought she was just having a bad day, but the next day she had a similar interaction with a female colleague. We were bearing the shame for the name of Jesus and ouch, it hurt.

How did Paul or Jesus handle the shame heaped on them? Hebrews 12:2 says about Jesus: “For the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus did not let shame gain the upper hand, rather he set his heart towards joy in His future place with His Father. Jesus saw His temporary pain as eternal gain. Paul echoed this when he said, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) It’s a win-win when you are in Christ.

In Acts 5:41 when the disciples were beaten and charged not to speak about the name of Jesus. It says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They ‘despised the shame’ trading it for joy because they suffered with Jesus because no amount of earthly shame can erase the joy we will have when we’re with God. Jesus erases all shame. “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16)

Coming back to Romans 1:16, Paul said he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is “the power of God unto salvation.” What makes the gospel so offensive is that it takes me, man, out of the salvation equation and it puts Jesus Christ front and center. I can do nothing to earn salvation. Jesus did everything. That offends people because people want some credit or merit points to put on my imaginary good deeds sash.

My friends and I have recently committed to memory Acts 4:12 into Arabic, which in English says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) When sharing this verse with my Muslim friends it causes a stir and bring upon me shame from those who do not believe, but for me, these words have freed me from shame.

Therefore, with Jesus and Paul, I say to you. Suffer, yes. Be misunderstood, you bet. Be shamed, absolutely. But do not be ashamed. You will be shamed, but you need not be ashamed. Because the message of God’s saving work in Christ is the only final triumphant message in the world. Temporary pain. Eternal gain.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” It wasn’t until after the Alca tribe slaughtered Jim Elliott, Nate Saint, and their three colleagues that they realized the men they killed had lived the words they had been taught to them about Jesus. They saw Jesus in the way they lived and died.

It was a slow shift at Schmidt Sporting Goods and I gathered near the cash register to chat with Nate and Brian who were working that night. The question came up, “Why don’t you like to work on Sundays or Wednesday night?” I told them that I went to church and met with my friends to learn about Jesus. In the minutes that followed they allowed me to share the gospel with them. Nate responded, “Justin, you really believe that nonsense? That God wrote a book? And that Jesus is really God?” He went on to shame me for my beliefs. To fast forward a few years, while in college, I got an email from Brian. He told me how that summer he had a life-altering boating accident in which he broke his neck. In his recovery God brought to mind our conversations years earlier and he began reading his Bible and attending an evangelical church. Soon after he gave his life to Christ. He thanked me for not being ashamed.

I praise God for His work in Brian, but usually I expect responses to the gospel like Nate. If the Bible says people will think of me as foolish it is what it is (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-31). In 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, Paul says that we are to expect afflictions and slander (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-26). Peter echoes Paul, in 1 Peter 3:13-18 when writing to group of believers under fire for their faith to expect suffering because Christ Himself suffered.

1 Peter 3:8-9 is a key verse in which Peter calls the you and I, the church, to stand under persecution, shame, ridicule, misunderstanding for the sake of the gospel. Would you make this verse a prayer for me? As I will make it a prayer for you and your church. “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (cf. Luke 6:28)

6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

6 suggestions when talking to skeptics or someone with doubts

If you care about people and risk talking to the doubting, the skeptical, the confused, and the angry, you will soon run into a person who says to your counsel: I’ve tried that. Whatever you say, they will minimize it and say it doesn’t work or is unbelievable. Do not be surprised at this response. This is what it means to be doubting, skeptical, confused, and angry. It means that whatever they hear sounds pointless. Here are six suggestions when dialoging with people like this:

1. Keep Calm.

Resist the temptation to be offended. Don’t pout or take your ball and go home. That’s what you may feel like. They wanted to talk; in many cases, they gave you a question airing their doubts or concerns. Don’t leave. Don’t give up. Not yet. “Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Be humble and teachable too. God might have something to teach you through their questions and doubts.

2. Listen.

Listen to their responses. This is the number one way to show you care about what they are saying. Part of your power is not only what you say, but how they feel about the way you listen. If your truth produces empathetic ears, it will feel more compelling. This listening will be a witness. In 2 Timothy 2:24–26, Paul describes the kind of engagement that may set people free from sin and error. One feature is “patiently enduring evil.”

3. Don’t Panic.

Sometimes we don’t have the answers, or easy answers. As Christians we think we should have all the answer because we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, but there are a lot of things the Bible does not explain fully or the Holy Spirit does not reveal. Some answers will have to be left undone. If there is an answer, but your just don’t know or remember be humble enough to say, “I don’t know, but I will get back to you on that.” Just make sure you do get back to them on that.

4. Let the gospel lead your answer.

It is tempting to try to win an argument, but that’s not winning them to Christ. In fact, you might be driving them away. Being defensive and saying the doubters doubts are stupid repels people away from your message. Let the gospel Christ’s amazing grace shine through your words and actions more than your polished answer to their question. When you have spoken all the counsel you can think of, and they seem to have no effect, don’t let them have the last word of despair. You leave the last word of hope.

You might consider saying some like, “I know that you don’t feel very helped by what I have said. I think I understand some of what that’s like. I don’t mean to be offering a quick fix, as though your questions or doubts can be turned around that easily. But I have more hope than you do that God’s truth is powerful and will have its good effect in due time. May I share one more thing before you go?

I simply want to make sure you hear the best news in the world. Jesus said He spoke so that we would have peace (John 16:33). And Paul said that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). You don’t feel this right now. But God says peace and faith come from hearing. I will pray that the obstacles to peace-filled faith in your mind will be overcome by these truths. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Meditate on these verses. May the Lord give you light.”

5. Pray.

Remember, it is not your savvy answers or smooth oratory that will convince the skeptic or contraction seeker of the truth. It is solely the Word of God by the Spirit of God that can change a heart and mind. It is difficult to understand truth if one does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Pray for the blinders to be lifted from their eyes and His light to come into their darkened understanding.

6. Pray and pray again.

thumb licks [4.26.12]

Is the internet ruining your brain?

How to deal with the loss of a spouse.

That’s not fair.

Sweet gadgets for the one percent who can afford them.

Do pets go to heaven?

10 of the most difficult theological issues Christians must face today.

How to lead a child to Christ?

The secret life of plankton. So small but so great.

More than just Christmas.

Lessons learned from God’s Creatorhood

What can we learn from the way God imagines and makes, and how must we change our ways of imagining and making because of what we observe in His ways?

1. What we call strange or abstract art may be closer to God’s way of creating.

When God created the first giraffe He did not have one to imitate or to copy. It came out of His imagination and, in the finest sense of the word, was abstract, because it did not look like anything else; it had no exterior reference point.

When people grouse about a painting that does not look like anything kindly refer them to God and what He did in starting up creation. Ask them to take a microscope and telescope and note the countless oddities, dazzlements, flashes and sublimities—abstractions all, nothing imitating anything else.

2. With God, there is a difference between replication and continuation.

Our reasoning might go this way, “Yes, I can agree that God was the first abstract artist, but He acted this way only once, to start things up. After the first giraffe, there were billions of giraffes, and I know they are giraffes because they look like each other. So why should we not continue to the parade by drawing giraffes that look like giraffes?” There is a simple answer: even though God may repeat an action, He does not replicate the object of His action. The genius, if you will, of God’s repeated creational acts lies in the deeper fact that giraffes dramatically vary from each other in ways that go beyond their seeming similarities. And it is the variation that not only brings delight but also allows us to tell one from the other. All giraffes have spots.

3. God’s inside workmanship is as exquisite as His outside workmanship.

When God makes something, it is marked by structural integrity and impeccable craftsmanship through and through. There is no such thing as rough work and finished work with God.

4. God’s idea of quality is the same whether He makes something for quick or for long-lasting use.

When God makes something, He does not pay less attention to it or make it less carefully if He knows that it will be quickly used up.

5. God’s handiwork is not divided between great things for magnificent display and doing average things for ordinary circumstances.

Do we have a concept of creativity that is divided between museum mentality and a workplace mentality—great art for the ages and so-so art for the worship place? Look at a rose or look once at the lowly, eatable mango, and you will see inherent beauty at the same time you notice that each has work to do. God saw to it, in His ways of putting things together, that inherent worth, intrinsic beauty and usefulness quietly and humbly merge. Everything we imagine and make should be put to some work, and everything that is put to work should have inherent comeliness.

6. The Creator is not the creation, and the artist is not the art.

God is superior to what He makes, sovereign over it and separate from it. He is everywhere at once, at the bottom of the deepest sea and in the midst of a primrose. But He is none of these, nor can He be. He made the creation; He did not beget it. By the same token, we are not what we make. We are superior to it; we are sovereign over it and separate from it. A potter no more begets a piece of pottery than God begets a salamander.

7. God is not especially interested in straight lines, perfect circles and geometric tidiness; His work is more chaotic than symmetrical.

A statement like this flies in the face of our neatly packaged, superficial and often spiritualized ideas about order, symmetry, harmony and balance in creation. Walk into a meadow and see if you can locate a straight line of buttercups all exactly the same height, each with exactly replicated pedals. Or try to find a strictly triangular stand of perfectly symmetrical trees foregrounding a mountain range the left side of which is a mirror image of the right side. There is no landscape in which we can find any semblance of order, no storm, at sea in which the waves are the same shape, height, creaminess or momentum. Nothing repeats and nothing is predictable. But here’s an odd twist on it all: underlying the asymmetry and the randomness, there are governing laws that do not randomly fluctuate, even though the outward workings of the laws allow unpredictability and fluctuation. With God, “chaos theory” is nothing other than infinitely varied rightness.

8. God has the jump on anyone who thinks that cultural diversity is the greatest thing since the automobile.

For instance, I must be willing to die for the absolute truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, but I can live comfortably with the belief that Beethoven symphony is but one song among many songs, no one of which is the true song. The biblical defense for cultural diversity lies in the way God speaks, the way He creates and especially the way He clarifies the fundamental difference between His Word and what He creates. God is the most complete diversifier we know of. His handiwork is endlessly varied; all of it is good and each particle fits easily into its ordained place. While everything has its own worth, nothing exists independently of the other, for the entire creation is a community of substance and interchange.1

Adapted from Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives of Worship and the Arts. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 2003. 129-137

I don’t feel relevant

I was in a conversation with a middle-aged lay youth leader last week. He has been serving in his church with his wife for years. He has teenagers himself. He really cares for the teenagers and goes out of his way to love them and connect them with Christ, but he still appeared a bit discouraged that he himself was not connecting with them. Moments later he said, “I am too old to be a youth leader. I do not feel relevant.”

What is relevant?

Relevant is a word that is often overused and hard to define. It’s a buzz word. It is a word that gets tossed in the air but quickly evaporates into cultural jargon. Relevant supposedly has connotations towards how one generation relates to another, but is seemingly out of style or touch.

I like Webster’s definition of the word relevant, “closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand.” Could older Christians be more relevant according to this definition than they get credit? I want to encourage all the older people serving in churches among teens, children’s Sunday school classes, young adults, and the man I met this week struggling to be relevant to today’s generation.

Am I relevant?

You might be old, but your faith is still refreshingly youthful. I think it is great when parents of teens serve their own teens in their church. My favorite servants as a youth leader were the old ladies in the church that would pray for and write cards to the teenagers. They loved it and the teens loved getting real mail. Faith does not have a sell-by-date expiration. Nothing stirs the faith of a church more than multi-generational ministry.

Youth are the same today as they were when you were a youth. I would also add, youth are the same today as when Jesus was a youth. Teens are sinners. When you were a teen you were a sinner too. Each generation of young people have the same temptations just disguised in new clothing: pride, lust, and issues with authority. Even though a decade or generation may have passed since you were a teen, as a sinner you have something in common, and together you can help each other look to Christ to fight your temptations.

The struggle to be relevant is one of the great lie of our ministry-age. To think about the amount of ministry that has been missed or messed up because elder believers did not feel relevant enough to minister to younger believers. This is a tragedy. Satan’s strategy is to deceive and the church has bit into the fruit of the tree of relevance. Young and old need to stop believing the lie that they are not relevant enough.

The gospel message is always relevant. It has been for 2000 years and it will be for 2000 more. It never goes out of date. Sinners need a Savior. Stick to this truth. Stop trying to be so relevant. Teach about Jesus and seek to live like Jesus. What could be more appropriate or connected to the matter at hand than the good news of Jesus?

Now I might sound like an old codger myself, but I’m an advocate of being relevant and change for the sake of change. However, while being relevant I do not want to forsake the gospel or compromise biblical truth. I am encouraged that for more than two millennia Jesus and His message has been relevant enough to transform lives and communities. It will for two millennia more! In my opinion, working in youth ministry the past 8-years, being relevant has less to do with you and more to do with your message. I’ll stick with Jesus.

human trafficking: modern slavery

“Trafficking” is modern-day slavery and is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or taking of people by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception for the purpose of exploiting them.

The average age of entrance into sex trafficking is 13 years old. Members of every country and ethnic group perpetuate these crimes. It is hard to leave the trade when there are few places to put people who come out of trafficking. And few people are aware of this massive issue.

The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are trafficked annually and 27 million are in the trade right now. The U.S. State Department estimates an even higher number: about 12.3 million adults and children “in forced labor, bonded labor, and forced prostitution around the world.” It deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, is a global health risk, and fuels organized crime.

Victims of trafficking are forced or coerced into labor or sexual exploitation. Labor trafficking ranges from domestic servitude and small-scale labor setups to large-scale operations such as farms, sweatshops, and major multinational corporations. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves any form of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. As you stop at red lights this week, pray for the red light districts of the world to be shut down.

[HT]

Learn how you can be an advocate against human trafficking:

International Justice Mission

Not For Sale

Be An Informed Consumer

what is man?

I am sure the untimely and inconvenient news was a shock to the two unwed teenagers the summer of 1979. The news, “You’re pregnant!” Abortion might have been an option, but both their Catholic parents discouraged it and encouraged the baby to be born. I am grateful my two parents decided on the side of life.

Before my sister Samantha was born, my mother and step-dad were already aware she would be born with Spina Bifida. The doctors recommended an abortion thinking it would be laborious to bring a physically disabled child into the world. It is true, my family would have to adjust and Sam would not have the use of her legs, but no one would know the blessing of my beautiful, intelligent, and warm sister, now an incredible young woman.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I hate this day. I don’t hate it because I think it is unbiblical. I hate it because I have to say things in church that shouldn’t have to be said. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, or economic status. The very fact that these things must be said is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness.

I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that as preach there are babies warmly nestled in wombs that won’t be there tomorrow. I’m reminded that there are children—maybe even blocks from this church—who will be slapped, punched, and burned with cigarettes butts before this message is over. I’m reminded that there are elderly men and women whose lives are pronounced a waste and euthanasia is considered a viable option.

But I also love Sanctity of Human Life Sunday when I think about the fact that I am in a church with ex-orphans, adopted into loving families. I am in a church that supports local pregnancy centers for women in crisis. Like Proverbs 31:8-9 you, “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and the needy.” May the church continue to be a haven for men and women—who have aborted babies—find their sins forgiven and consciences cleansed by Christ.

Believe it or not the Bible is silent on the topic of abortion [as it is on the humanity of whites, blacks, Hispanics, etc]. Jesus never said, “thou shalt not abort,” even though it was practiced during His day too. Although the Bible does not condemn abortion does not mean it condones it. Likewise, just because culture or government condones it as legal doesn’t it mean it’s God-honoring. The Bible is clear: you are not to take innocent human life without justification.

Therefore, if a positive case can be made for the humanity of the unborn apart from the Bible you can logically conclude that Biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings whether they are red, yellow, black or white, young, old, skinny or fat, healthy or not. And to this point, science confirms theology. In other words, science gives the facts you need to arrive at a theologically sound conclusion. What the science of embryology makes clear is that from the earliest stages of development, human embryos and fetuses are human beings but just less developed than the adults they will soon become.

The question I pose this morning: at what point does the embryo begin to be made in the image of God? The answer to this question comes down to your view of God and human life in connection with God. The answer to this important theological question is packed into a little song that David wrote in Psalm 8.

1. GOD IS MAJESTIC IN ALL THE EARTH [Psalm 8:1, 9]

The psalm begins and ends with its main point: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” [8:1, 9]

The two words for lord (O LORD, our Lord) are not the same in Hebrew. The first LORD, with all caps, is a translation of the name YHWH. It’s His personal name. The name He gives Himself. It is built on the statement in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” It’s a name to remind us that He absolute exists. He simply is. He did not come into being, and does not go out of being. He never changes in His being, because He is absolutely exists in His being.

His name is majestic in all the earth. There is no place in all the earth where God is not YHWH—where He is not the absolute One. Everything everywhere depends absolutely on Him. He depends on nothing, but everything depends on Him. He has no viable competitors anywhere. He has no challengers to His throne. He is above all things everywhere. He sustains all things everywhere. He is the aim and goal of all things everywhere. He is greater and wiser and more beautiful and wonderful than everything everywhere. “O YHWH, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” That’s the main point of the psalm.

In response you and I are to stand in awe of His majesty and worship. The majesty of God is awe-inspiring. Those who have seen His majesty have never been the same. John fell on His face in the presence of God. Isaiah cried, “I’m unworthy,” when in the thundering presence of God. Do you have a majestic view of God? If you have a majestic view of God you will have a majestic view of life. If you have a low view of God you will have low view of life.

2. GOD’S MAJESTY IS SEEN IN HIS SUPREME CREATION [Psalm 8:3-8]

We are going to skip over verse 2 for a moment. I promise we will come back to it. In verses 3-4 David responds to His majestic Creator, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The point of these two verses is to see God’s bigness and my smallness. God is infinitely great, and man, by comparison, is nothing. God creates stars with His fingers and I am so small compared to Earth, the sun, and the billions of suns that form up our galaxy, and the millions of galaxies that are laid out in our universe.

Have you ever stood underneath the night sky and thought, “Wow, I am small and insignificant?” That’s the point. God created all that bigness so you’d have a sense of smallness. Some consider it a lot of wasted space, but space God’s natural billboard proclaiming His praise. Worship is not found in feeling big, but rather in feeling small.

An honest question arises in verse 4, “Why do You consider man when You are so majestic?” The answer comes in verses 5-8: “You [O God] have crowned him with glory and honor…You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…” Now that is absolutely astonishing! John Calvin summarized it by saying, “Whoever, therefore is not astonished and deeply affected at this miracle—God being mindful of man—is more than ungrateful and stupid.” Although man is nothing compared to God, He makes man His supreme creation.

God’s majesty is seen as He creates man in His image [Genesis 1:26-27]. One might ask when does the image of God begin in man? According to God, it begins even before one cell splits and multiplies in the womb. In the human embryo are found the marks of your Maker. No other creature in God’s creation is crowned with glory and honor like mankind.

God’s majesty is seen as He makes man dominioneers over all His creation [Genesis 1:28-31]. God gives you a job—care and protect life. However, when we read the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, their children, and observe history thereafter man does not do a good job caring for and protecting life. We don’t like our job. We want a new job. We’d rather redefine the job. Therefore we join a union and march with picket signs that say, “God, I have a rights!”

Do I have rights? Sure. In our society a woman has her rights. She can murder a child and get away with it. I am an advocate for civil and judicial rights, but not rights-gone-wild. The freedom and liberty to use our rights is not always right. Especially when it comes to shedding innocent blood. A human that demands, “I have rights!” Is saying what a sinner says when it rejects God’s moral rules. God determines what is right and wrong. He says we are to care for and protect life. Every man has the right to life.

You cannot starve an elderly human to death and worship the majesty of God. You cannot dismember an unborn human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot gas a Jewish human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot lynch a black human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot gossip, harbor bitterness, or curse a man to his face and worship the majesty of God. Jesus says to hate another human is commit abortion in your heart. You cannot worship the majesty of God while treating His supreme creation with dishonor.

3. GOD VALUES THE LIFE OF CHILDREN [Psalm 8:2]

You might be wondering what does this have to do with the sanctity of life or abortion? Let’s go back to verse 2. There is an incredible contrast between verse 1 and 2. Verse 1 says, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” And Verse 2: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” The contrast is strange. God is highest of all beings. None could be stronger, wiser, or greater. But babies are weak; they seem to have no wisdom or knowledge. They are utterly dependent on others. They are insignificant in the world’s eyes.

So why does the psalm mention babies? Why are they here? What are they doing? The verse says what they are doing: They are defeating the enemies of God. They are opening their mouths and saying or crying something. And whatever they are saying or crying is powerful enough “to still the enemy and the avenger.”

God has enemies. His foes are those who rebel against His majesty [8:1,9]. They do not see Him as majestic, nor do they want to worship Him. They get far more pleasure out of getting praise for themselves than giving praise to God. Our world has been ruined because of these enemies. And in order for the world to return to its proper purpose, these enemies will have to be dealt with. And what verse 2 tells us is that God, in His majesty and greatness makes babies the means of His triumph over His enemies. Let the strangeness of this sink in. God conquers his foes through the weaknesses of the weak—the worshipful coo’s of baby’s lips.

To understand verse 2 in it’s fullness you have to realize God comes to earth in the form of a cooing and crying baby. Jesus, the God-man, came into the world in childlike lowliness and human weakness. God takes on skin. He’s born of a virgin in a barn. He grows into a man, lives a sinless life, but certain men convict Him of a crime He did not commit. He dies on a cross and 3-day later He rises crushing His enemies under His feet [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27].

During His earth ministry He welcomed children when others wanted to shoo them away [Mark 10:13-16]. Jesus loves all the little children.  Moreover, He said the measure of our love for Him would be measured by our love for children [Mark 9:36-37]. He took the children in His arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor Me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.”

In Matthew 21, Jesus draws near to Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday. He enters the city riding on a donkey. The crowds see what this means and they cry out in verse 9, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna means “salvation.” They are shouting that God’s salvation is coming. They see Him as a prophet or perhaps the Messiah himself—The king of Israel who would defeat the enemies of God.

Now there are children in the crowd. They see what’s happening. They hear their parents shouting. So they take up the chant in verse 15, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” These children are calling Him the king of Israel. The chief priests and the scribes cannot endure the ruckus any longer. They think it’s outrageous for Jesus to hear this kind of praise and not stop or correct them. So they say to Jesus in verse 16, “Do you hear what these are saying?” What they meant was, “We know you can hear what these are saying, but we cannot imagine why you don’t stop them, since you are most certainly not the Messiah.”

Jesus’ answer is as clear as crystal, and its connection to Psalm 8 is frightening. He simply says, “Yes, I hear.” With those few words He says, “Yes. I didn’t miss a word. They are not mistaken. They are not blaspheming. They are not foolish. They just seem foolish. I approve what they are saying” Jesus receives worship from children. And Jesus goes on to say to the chief priests and scribes: “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” It’s a direct quote of Psalm 8:2.

Two things happen when Jesus quotes this Psalm. First, it comes true. His enemy is silenced. The chief priests and scribes are speechless. The praise of the children’s lips won the day. God is defeating His enemies through the weakness of children and man. Second, the meaning of psalm 8 is amplified. When these children cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David !” Their praise was directed to Jesus. Jesus knew it. The chief priests and scribes knew it. And Jesus accepts their worship being God—the absolute One–Himself. On that day, the majesty of God had a face of flesh and a name. His name is Jesus.

In closing I want to share with you a story about my best friend, Ben. In high school our friendship grew through helping each other live for Christ. When I went to college I had less contact with Ben. While I went to Bible College, Ben was going to parties and sleeping with girls. His life became a mess. He got a girl pregnant. To cover it up she aborted. Although Ben had abandoned God, God did not abandon Him. He was relentlessly pursuing Ben.

I remember coming home on college break and visited Ben’s apartment. It looked like a disaster, smelled like beer, and felt dark. I asked Ben, “So what’s God been doing in your life?” I am sure he wanted to kill me for asking a question with an obvious answer. What Ben needed I could not give. He needed his enemies of pride and guilt and thinking “I have rights” to be defeated. In Christ they already were. I kept in contact with Ben. He left for Florida where he thought he’d be anonymous. The majesty of God prevailed, He would not leave him alone, pursuing his heart, and Ben repented of his sin.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.” [Psalm 103:11-13]

Jesus forgives sinners who come to Him with child-like faith. God redeemed Ben’s life. God has given him a godly wife and blessed him with two (so to be three) beautiful children. Today Ben is serving God in the ministry. Ben is an advocate for life.

Jesus can forgive you too. No matter how bad your sin or how dirty your past. He will not only forgive you but welcome you as His child in His compassionate arms. Come. He awaits you with an embrace.

Why do I need psalm 8? It inflames my heart with wonder, awe, and love for God. Seeing the majesty of God is the first step towards looking at myself and other humans rightly. In His majesty we see the sanctity of life.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST OF THIS MESSAGE.

the sanctity of life

January 22nd is the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. As a result, today in the US, 1 unborn child is killed every 23 seconds.

When you stop to realize that the US only accounts for 3% of abortions worldwide, you realize that there is a relentless global slaughter underway. May God exercise both his mercy and judgment, and may Christ return quickly.

Here are some articles I would encourage you to read or watch to equip you and your church for the sanctity of life:

How sacred is human life?

One gospel, unabortable. Who are children?

Is there a connection between birth control and abortion?

What is the task of a pro-life pastor in the 21st Century?

Woman meets child born out of rape given up for adoption 77 year ago.

Does rape justify abortion?

What should I do after abortion?

Does the Bible’s silence justify abortion?

How can I defend life in a new generation?

5 bad ways to argue about abortion.

Jesus loves the little children.

10 reasons I am optimistically pro-life.

Exposing the Dark Work of Abortion. Free book.

RESOURCES FOR THE CHURCH:

Abort 73
Case for Life
Prolife Training

thumb licks [thanksgiving edition]

Building relationships before sharing Christ? Impossible!

Making most of turkey day: thanksgiving on missions.

Family Tensions and the holidays.

World population grows to 7-billion. Our world has changed since the pilgrims landed on the rock.

Samaritan’s Purse Gift Catalog. This Thanksgiving commit to give outside your family.

A PLAN for giving generously.

Big News: God reconciling the world to Himself.

Are you moderately or extravagantly grateful?

37 ways to love one another.

Tears of the Saints.

thumb licks [10.21.11]

What’s a good question? How to evoke curiosity the right way.

The gospel or Justice, which? Balancing the mission of the church.

In defense of Disney princesses. The benefits are more than just their beauty.

Three rules for polemics. Tim Keller weighs in on a debated issue.

The world is built on discipline.  An open letter to college freshmen.

10 reasons Christians should care about science. Can faith and science reconcile?

Little big world. See what an unordinary Nikon camera can do looking at God’s micro creation.

Victor-y. Overcoming cancer as a kid. Be inspired.

a concise theology of art

Art moves. Art has the innate ability to captivate your thoughts and stir your emotions. Art encompasses all of your life and the world in which you live. You cannot step outside your home or inside your home without taking in some kind of artistic expression. What is art? What is good art? What is the origin of art?

creativity and beauty is in the eye of the Beholder

Have you ever thought about art being a biblical concept? Have you thought about art origins being God—the first artist? And His Creation and created beings reflect His creativeness? God is an artistic God. He has created a wonder of colorful marvel. From the tiny microbe to the massive mountain ranges to the myriads of stars that glitter the night sky, God is a masterfully skilled artisan. Creativity and beauty reflects your Creator. Art in the Bible can be any creative medium to express God’s character: music, songs, poetry, prose, dance, fashion, sculpting, architecture, interior design, graphic design, drawing, carpentry, even teaching and preaching.

I would define art simple as creating beauty for God’s glory. Man has the ability to create and be creative because he mimics his Creator. The Creator has given His creation the ability to create. Creating for the glory of God is art at its chief and highest purpose.

Francis Schaeffer, the apologist and cultural critic, says art is a reflection of God. He believed that Christian art had a minor theme–the abnormality of the revolting world—and a major theme—the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life. By this definition an artist doesn’t necessarily have to be a Christian in order to produce “Christian art.”

twisted creativity and beauty

“GOD was pleased to make man, and GOD made man with creative capacities. Apart from GOD, man would not be, nor would man have any artistic, creative ability. Therefore, to engage in any artistic expression of man as being apart from GOD, is to both dishonor GOD, the Author of man and artistic expression, and to deny ourselves the full pleasures that GOD has intended for our enjoyment in art; culminating in our enjoyment in Him, through JESUS CHRIST.” – Artist’s Creed

God defines artistic beauty and creativity, but man has perverted and distorted art through sinful intentions and expressions. Any art that does not adhere to biblical guidelines is not for the glory of God. Here are four examples of sinful art.

First, graffiti without permission is lawless. Law considers defacing public property with graffiti vandalism. Now I have seen a lot of graffiti that makes an ugly wall beautiful, but without adhering to the law it is still sinful. Get permission before you paint graffiti.

Second, pornography is not biblical art. There are numerous rationalizations for nakedness being a genuine art form. Yes, man once walked naked in the Garden of Eden, but since the fall of mankind nakedness was synonymous with shamefulness. God, as the first fashion designer, made man clothing to cover their nakedness and shame. What is beautiful about nakedness according to the Bible is sexual intimacy in the context of committed marriage. For more on this check out a great article called, “Art, Nakedness and Redemption”.

Third, blaspheming God in art is more than irreverent it’s unregenerate. Can artists go too far? Absolutely, creating blasphemous or ironic religious imagery crosses biblical standards. In the Law of God given to Moses it says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” [Exodus 20:4-5] Then Leviticus 26:1, goes on to say, ”You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am the Lord your God.” What is being forbidden is not the creation of all representational art, but what is forbidden is the worship and praise of graven images. When God commanding Moses to create the tabernacle and decorate it with imagery it included representations of “anything that is in heaven” [i.e. cherubim] and of that which is “in the earth beneath” [i.e. flowers and pomegranates). If God were prohibiting the creation of all representational art He would order Moses to disobey his command.

Fourth, artists do not create the rules. The underlying assumption in modern art is that artists are allowed to “create their own rules.” It is a common standard in Western culture that the artist, as an individual creative genius, stands apart from or outside of culture. In other words, the artist has taken the role once reserved for the prophet. However, according to the Scripture we are not autonomous individuals, but persons bound in community. God’s Word is not a private message given to us as individuals to interpret as we choose. It is a guiding text that is given to the church in order that we may live, work, and breathe as the beautiful Bride of Christ. The artist is in the same position as teachers and preachers, who are held to a higher standard because they are entrusted with communicating the truth.

Sin has a tendency of distorting really good things that God intends for His glory. All art must have a biblical standard and framework. This does not mean all art must have be pictures of Jesus or clouds with rainbows, but art must reflect the redemptive purpose of Christ and the creative glory of God [Romans 11:36]. All people should be encouraged to create art that is creative, beautiful, displaying truth. Just as all truth is God’s truth, all beauty is God’s beauty.

“The artist is called and gifted by God—who loves all kinds of art; who maintains high aesthetic standards for goodness, truth, and beauty; and whose glory is art’s highest goal. We accept these principles because they are biblical, and also because they are true to God’s character. What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who He is.” – Philip Ryken

creating beauty for the glory of God

Since, a child I have loved art. I learned a lot about art from watching my dad paint and carve wood. My favorite classes in school were art, not because it was an easy A. Even now, I enjoy drawing in my idea book, make a hobby out of writing, dabble in graphic design, and marvel at architecture and nature when I travel. I love to dance, and am moved when I hear my wife sing or play the guitar. Art moves me.

For all eternity, we will be awed by the creative genius’ God has displayed in His creation. I still think the best is yet to come. God will reveal to us the beauty and creativity of the heavens, which captivates our imaginations. God has wired us to enjoy creativity and beauty.

BOOKS ON ART FOR GOD’S GLORY:

ARTICLES ON ART FOR GOD’S GLORY:

SERMONS ON ART FOR GOD’S GLORY

the colossal compromise

A city family bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name.  “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying-W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the J-Q-W-Y Lazy Suzy Flying Bar Ranch.” Their friends asked, “But where are all your cattle?” In disbelief they responded, “None survived the branding.”

Compromise is a part of life. Everyday you are faced with decisions where you have to give up something good for another good. Do I study or do I play soccer? Do I visit this family member or do I visit this old friend? Do I go out to eat for pizza or a hamburger? Do we go on vacation to the beach or the mountains? Compromise is simply changing the question to fit the answer.[1] Sometimes you cannot have both and you must compromise. Sometimes compromising is not this simple. Sometimes compromises can have a great affect on you and others depending on which option you choose. Sometimes people compromise deep-rooted beliefs or sacrifice morals to get what they want.

Why do people compromise their faith? Why do people fall away from their faith? The answer: people give into the colossal compromise. What is the colossal compromise? It is choosing to worship creation or the created thing rather than the Creator [cf. Romans 1:19-23]. Or it’s choosing to worship a man-made god or made-over god in the place of the real God.

Giving God a Makeover [Isaiah 44:6-20]

How do you give God a makeover? As the French philosopher Voltaire said, “God made man in Hus image, and man returned the favor.” In other words, giving God a makeover is to create a god in your image—a god that looks a lot like you. Creating a user-friendly god is not something that is new, since the beginning of creation man has been trying to recreate God to look more like man. Since, God is infinite, man tries to make Him more finite. Man desires a designer deity custom-made to suit out individual needs.

Have you created a god that fits your liking? People tend to cut-and-paste Scripture piecing together a nice and comfy-cozy god that puts up with their messes [by passively overlooking offenses], minds his own business [unlike a pesky parent], approves of their choices [of premarital sex, rebellious friends, and additive tendencies], and gives into their desires [like a genie in a bottle]. Thomas Jefferson made up a god like this with his Bible. He could not believe that Jesus could do supernatural miracles, so he cut out those passages in the Bible and made a version of god to his own liking that fit his own belief. Now known as the Jefferson Bible.

The Bible warns about a time when good religious Christians will compromise their faith to teachers who will tickle their ears and tell them what they want to hear, rather than speaking the truth [1 Timothy 4:1-6]. These false teachers are master sculptures at creating false caricatures of God that morphs from crowd to crowd pleasing particular peoples fancies. Like a chameleon they adapt to your ever-changing desires, helping you give God a makeover. People will go to great length to get the god of their liking [i.e. Isaiah 44:12-17]. Instead of listening to compromisers or sinful-sympathizers, challenge teachers words with the truth of God’s Word in its context—look for yourself and see if it is true.

What is the problem with giving God a makeover? You are not God. Remember, God made you. You cannot make God. Making over God is making an idol of your own god. God does not need a makeover, you do. God is a jealous God and desires no rival god, in fact, He puts your gods up for an old Western-style dual, “I am the first and the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before Me…Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” [Isaiah 4:6-8]

The problem with making over your own god to fit your own image is that your god is nothing [Isaiah 44:9-11]. You become deaf, dumb and blind just like the gods you worship [44:18-20].[2] You become what you worship for ruin or restoration.[3] You always lose out when you try to compromise with sin. It will consume you in the end. Let’s observe this consuming compromise from an illustration within the Bible.

What is your golden calf of compromise? [Exodus 32:1-24]

Remember when the children of Israel were wandering in the desert and they created for themselves an idol of gold in the shape of cow? This was a colossal compromise. God commanded His people though Moses in Deuteronomy 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before me.” [cf. Exodus 20:3-4] Once Moses was out of range the people caved into to their created idols. Their idol was big and noticeable. Not all idols are so easy to spot. Here are some golden calves that might go undetected to the human eye:

Idol of people. People can become idols. Moses was idolized by the Israelites. When Moses went up to the mountain their man was gone, and Israel freaked [vs.1-20]. They looked for a loophole, “Moses is a good guy and all, but he’s gone, who knows if he’s coming back? We just can’t live up to his godly standard. He’s so spiritual. Let’s lower the bar a bit. Aaron’s a softy, surely he will cave in.” Thus people look for others who will sympathize with their sinfulness and help them to compromise. Like playing Jenga, stacking more bricks on an already unstable structure doesn’t offer a solution. Sooner or later the tower will crumble, and Christians look no different than their worldly counterparts. If your relationship with God depends upon another person, friend, or pastors that is not a good sign. People are great for growing spiritually, but your key relationship must be Jesus.

Idol of possession. Do you see stuff as an idol? Instead of owning your possessions, your possessions own you. This began in the Garden of Eden, when your first parents wanted to possess God’s wisdom. Believing a lie they had to eat the fruit to be like God. According to your world, possessing money is power. The world’s motto and mantra is, “gotta have it.”  1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Like the rich young ruler, money and material possessions can lead to an improper love and a distorted image of God [Mark 10:21; Matthew 6:24].

Idol of provision. Whether it is food, sex or additive tendencies mans desire for peace, comfort, and ease are all provisions that man idolizes [Philippians 3:18; Ecclesiastes 2:10-11]. Advertisers make millions off of products you are led to believe will make you feel better, run faster, climb higher, accomplish quicker, or make your life easier. What you find out moments after getting the thing doesn’t quite meet the hype, and its off to the next thing. Men and women are pleasure junkies, but we seek pleasure in lesser pleasures [1 Timothy 5:6; Galatians 6:7-8].

Idol of pride. Pride prizes you as the idol. In fact, all idolatry comes down to you. Idolatry of pride is Insidious—little by little, over a long period of time you become pompous and self-serving. Pride takes many shapes and comes in many sizes, most of which our culture promotes, “Love yourself. Believe in yourself. Be proud of yourself.” All balloon our heads to the size and shape of planets that we sit enthroned upon as the most-high-galactic-ruler.

Idol of piety. Being religious can be a ginormous idol. Even those who go to church regularly, read the Bible and pray everyday, and know the religious lingo to make great idolaters. Their religious habits become idols colored by stain glass windows. They say to God and others, “Look at me. Look how committed I am.” They are great actors that play the part of the second coming of the messiah. All the while under their mask they are rotten to the core riddled with pride and self-centered piety [cf. Isaiah 29:13].

God does not let idolatry go on unnoticed. He hates idols. What did God call these cattle-loving idol worshipers? [v.9] He said they were a stiff-necked people. Why would God call them stiff-necked? They had become like cow they worshiped. Have you ever noticed how stiff a cow’s neck is? Cows look like people who have seriously thrown their backs out. Worse yet, they were like stupid cows [vs.21-24; cf. Psalm 106:19-21]. They stray away from the herd like ornery calves too cool for corral. Moses asked Aaron, “What did this people do?” And Aaron responded, “You know these people, they are set on evil…I took their gold, threw into the fire, and out came this calf!” Doesn’t sin make us moooo-cho grande morons?

Can a god-compromiser be salvaged? [44:21-28]

A god-compromiser can be salvaged because God is a Redeemer,

“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you…Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself, who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish.” [Isaiah 44:21-28]

God uncovers our colossal flaws, but covers them up with His redemptive plan. Like a potter can fix a leaky or cracked pot, so can God reshape us into His image [cf. Isaiah 64:8]. He reverses us from reflecting our idols to reflecting His image. It begins with repentance and restoration. Flee idolatry. Idolatry is a matter of the heart. Compromise reveals the commitment of your heart. The antidote is Jesus. Jesus is an idol crusher or killer. If you love Jesus solely you will flee from idolatry [1 Corinthians 14:14-22].

Jesus does not settle for cheap imitations or substitutes of God, He wants you to imitate God whose image you created in [Genesis 1:26-28]. Why settle for a substitute, when you can have a relationship with the real God?


[1] Merrit Malloy, Things I Meant to Say to You When We Were Old

[2] cf. Isaiah 6:9-14, 29:9-16; 32:1-4.

[3] Note: G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship. IVP, Downers Grove, IL. 2008.

the uncool Jesus

Is it politically or even spritially correct to say that I don’t like Christian bookstores? Marketing the Christian faith is silly. Do you think Jesus could imagine His image of clothing, bobble-head doll, iTunes, a superstar Broadway show, and crucifix’s. Nothing fires me up more than a walk through a over-advertised faith-based bargain bonanza. I admit I am quite biased and bruising in my characterization of Christian bookstores, so please forgive me if you are offended. However, I did buy a worthwhile book at a Family Christian Bookstore last week.

Here is my point: Quit trying to make Jesus hip. He wasn’t cool back in His day. Many followed Him because of His miracles and teachings, and like He said, “Not all follow me because they are believers.” [John 20:24-29; Luke 14:25-33; Luke 9:23-27, 57-62] Today, a plethora of books by cool pastors or popped-collar authors are portraying Jesus as fashionable and palatable for the masses. The billboard of their message states, “Hey, check me out, if I am cool, Jesus is too.”

Jesus is uncool. He challenges your status-quot. He convict us of sin. He rocks the religious. He baffles those who bank an afterlife on their own merits. He infuriates those who demand rights. He belittle the sacred systems some establish. He was a revolutionary that didn’t do what the people demanded. His way was a paradigm shift. He was simple, common and if He were in today’s world would be a guy who would have hung drywall in new housing developments. He was friends with the losers, infected, handicap, psychotic loonies, IRS agents, and women of the red-light district. He probably had dirty feet, coarse hands and olive colored skin. He made people feel awkward, enraged and overwhelmed. Jesus was beaten up by bullying mockers. He was killed by people who thought they were cooler than Jesus and his claim to save them of their sins.

I am convinced Jesus is the sweetest, but I do understand to many He is the smell of stench [2 Corinthians 2:14-16].