Friday, October 31, 2008

American Idol

So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.

-- Ephesians 6:13

The old saying goes that on the battlefield, you won’t find an atheist in any foxhole.

There’s probably a grain of truth in that observation. And maybe a whole lot more. After all, is there really such a thing as a full-fledged atheist – someone who doesn’t worship any god? We all worship something; at least in one way or another. God has even hard-coded this intense longing into our very DNA.

Christ-followers worship the true God revealed and proven through the Bible. Other religions around the world promote false gods, ancestor worship, and even the reverence of living things or nature (worshipping the creation rather than the Creator). And let’s not forget today’s popular false teachings such as New Age, Scientology and Kabbalah. It’s a very long list.

Even those who claim to be strict atheists are really active worshippers. True, they may not be regular churchgoers and proclaim Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. But they – like everyone – bow down to favorite idols. Some worship money, luxury and pleasure, and others intellect and higher learning. Still others kneel at the altar of more negative gods such as alcohol, drugs and illicit relationships.

So no – there are no atheists to be found on the battlefield. But there’s a different type of battle that rages each day within everyone: the God of the Bible struggling against the world’s gods and idols. Our hearts and souls are the prize of war.

Perhaps we don’t literally kneel and worship before some golden idol. But we all must recognize that we secretly (and maybe not-so-secretly) cherish our own personal gods. Think about the things you worry about or sacrifice your time and money for. What are the issues that make you angry? What brings you the most joy? And here’s a revealing question: Whose attention and applause do you most crave?

If the answer to each question doesn’t involve God, then you’re likely worshipping an idol. And idols can be difficult to recognize through the smoke and confusion of spiritual warfare because they’re experts at camouflage. Even apparently good things can evolve into “god things.” It’s then that they’re unmasked as personal idols.

It’s particularly important for Christ-followers to remember that the real God – the God of the Bible revealed in person through Jesus Christ – doesn’t want to share His glory with any false god or cheap idol. We therefore need to reflect on the God – and gods – in our lives. And then we must choose the only One to serve and live for.

Let’s be thankful that our God guards a jealous love for each one of us. In fact, He loves us so much that He let His own Son suffer the death penalty in our place so we could be His children and heirs. And as children of the King, an incredible inheritance awaits each if we’re willing to accept His gifts of forgiveness, love and grace.

This is what love is really about. And it’s a love that refuses to share.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You Be the Judge

This was before kings ruled Israel, so all the Israelites did whatever they thought was right.
-- Proverbs 14:12

Have you ever been accused of intolerance?

If you’re a Christ-follower who’s open about your faith, you probably have – or soon will be. Turn on the TV or surf the Internet a while. You don’t have to look hard to find articles or videos featuring Hollywood celebrities or “open-minded” journalists who point their fingers and use the dreaded “I-Word.”

But what exactly does tolerance mean? And depending on the situation, is intolerance always such a bad thing? Many see Christianity as very intolerant. For instance, Jesus declared Himself to be the exclusive path to God. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” He said. This bold proclamation defies today’s all-inclusive, politically correct atmosphere. But Jesus has no tolerance for false, second-rate gods and allegiances.

It’s helpful to understand that the meaning of tolerance has evolved over the last few years. Not too long ago, to be tolerant meant recognizing and respecting the beliefs and values of others – even if you would never accept them as your own. But that’s all changed. Today, tolerance means accepting and acknowledging the beliefs and behaviors of others as equal to your own. All faiths and religions are of neutral value. And everything – even the simple concept of right and wrong – is now relative. My truth is just as good as your truth.

This viewpoint sounds very enlightened and liberating. But it has a few fatal flaws. As with man’s grasp of knowledge, man’s concept of tolerance constantly changes. On the other hand, God’s right and wrong never changes. The Bible – God’s words of truth to us – is rock-steady and dependable. That can’t be said for the fickleness of popular culture.

Today’s definition of tolerance is also hypocritical. When someone attacks Christian values, that viewpoint – by its own definition – is intolerant. “All viewpoints are equal,” they reason. “But some viewpoints aren’t as equal as others.”

As Christ-followers, we have open access to God’s truth through the Bible, prayer and even wise counsel from fellow Believers. We should have less trouble than others with telling right from wrong. We look toward the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, as our Guide. But following Him in front of an unbelieving world is another matter. And it opens us up – and rightfully so – to charges of hypocrisy.

As the saying goes, when you point your finger at someone, your other four fingers point back at you. Christ-followers must therefore look in the mirror before accusing others. As Jesus put it, we need to remove the plank from our own eye before removing the speck from our neighbor’s eye. To do otherwise risks the charge of self-righteousness. We also need to consider the person in need of guidance. Is this person a fellow Christ-follower? Or is this someone who never signed up for Jesus’ walk of faith?

These two situations demand different responses. As Christ-followers, we must hold ourselves to much higher standards of behavior. And on the flipside, we must let God be the judge of others outside the faith. He knows the whole story; we’re hardly in the position to condemn anyone.

But in all cases and with all people, love must be our motivation. Regardless of what the world tells us, it’s love – not tolerance – that’s our core value.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Knowledge is Power

Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.
-- Psalm 119:65-67

Consider him the Albert Einstein of his day. Scottish physicist Lord Kelvin was the dominant figure in science in the second half of the 19th Century. He published more than 600 scientific papers and filed 70 patents. He was the president of the Royal Society from 1890 to 1895, and introduced the world to the term thermodynamics .

Kelvin was obviously brilliant by the world's standards. But as it turned out, his knowledge was limited to the information that was available at the time. For instance, he famously declared that "heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." The Wright Brothers proved him wrong just eight years later. And in 1900, Kelvin said, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." The renowned genius also asserted that "X-rays are a hoax."

So goes the power of knowledge.

It's ironic that so many otherwise intelligent people regard Christ-followers as weak or uninformed because they accept the Bible on simple faith. After all, they say, knowledge is the answer to freedom and a better world. If everyone would think like them, peace and prosperity would multiply!

The problem with this viewpoint is that worldly knowledge is constantly changing and correcting itself. On the other hand, the wisdom and knowledge that God gives us through the Bible is rock-steady. But that hasn't stopped people over the centuries from trying to discredit Jesus and the Bible. There are even organizations, books and movies that are dedicated to the pursuit. (Remember the Da Vinci Code ?) But their efforts always fail. In 2004, Biblical truth struck again when archeologists discovered the Pool of Siloam - a site of one of Jesus' miracles of healing. And to think there were some cynics who had up until then claimed the pool to be an imaginary place!

The lesson here is that for all its prowess, human knowledge is inherently untrustworthy and limited. God's Word - by contrast - is proven to be all-powerful, reliable and true. We can and should trust it. After all, the Bible is God's owner's manual for living a productive life and making a positive difference in our world. It's also a dependable roadmap for finding our eternal home through faith in God's own Son, Jesus Christ. There's a very good reason why the Bible is called The Good Book.

Don't misunderstand: education and human knowledge can be quite valuable. And learning new skills and earning college degrees are definite career-builders. But as Christ-followers, we must remember our Source of real knowledge and the words of true life. We're to trust Him with a simple, child-like faith. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me," invites our Teacher, "for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Can there be a more powerful lesson worth learning?