Sunday, January 17, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims (and others) Worship the Same God?

It's popular to say that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Unless you say it to an observant Muslim. To such a statement they take great, great offence. Ask the Supreme Court of Muslim Malaysia (click here). Ask any Muslim who reads their Quran (click here). Ask most Muslims, period. This is not to say that just as there are nominal Christians who will say the politically correct thing there are not nominal Muslims who will do likewise). But Muslims insist that Judaism and Christianity have perverted the correct understanding of God.

There is some confusion over the use of the term god. Allah is Arabic for god. However, Allah is also the personal name for the Muslim god. So there are Arab Christians who use the term allah generically. But Muslims do not do so and often vigorously oppose such use (click here to see what we mean and here). A discerning person does well not to confuse the generic use of allah with the Muslim usage of Allah. In some countries it can cost you your property and even your life.

The usage of the word "God" in Christianity and Islam refers to very different gods with very different character whose prescribed practices radically differ from one another.

In the Quran we read in Sura 9:5 ( (9:5And when the forbidden months have passed, kill the idolaters (fyi 'idolators' are those who do not worship Allah) wherever you find them and take them prisoners, and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent and observe Prayer and pay the Zakat, then leave their way free. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

In the New Testament we read: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)."

Jesus says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? (Matthew 5:43-46)

I am teaching through the Gospel of John at this time, during Sunday Nights.  This is not a verse by verse series but a thematic one. However, we are moving sequentially through John's Gospel. John's Gospel is uniquely suited to answering the question: "Does Christianity and Isalm worship the same God?"

Prior to Christ's coming the Jewish people worshiped to One true God. The Old Testament, which they call the Tanakh points, to the coming of Christ. Isaiah 53 points to the One who would die for the sins of mankind. Psalm 22 points to His passion and crucifixion even before crucifixion was invented by the Phoenecians. After Christ came the many of the Jewish people and consequently Judaism rejected Him. Therefore, even Christianity and Judaism differ in their understanding of God.

As for Islam, Islam didn't exist until 622 AD. There was never a time where Islam got God right. In rejecting the deity of Christ, they worship a facsimile god of Muhammed's own creation or interpretation of god. The god of Islam is not Triune and requires mankind to save itself through works of righteousness that men do to curry favor with god. This is where Islam resembles Hinduism and other world religions (mankind has something to offer god). Furthermore, by failing to honor the Son, they fail to honor the Father. In rejecting the Son as God, they reject the Father as God. Oddly, Islam teaches that Jesus was miraculously virgin born. So who was His Father? Who performed this virgin birth miracle? If it was a miracle of God, then Jesus is the Son of God. However, in denying Christ's deity, they see Him as a mere man, prophet, and teacher. In so doing, they deny God. To fail to honor Christ is to fail to honor God.

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:22-23 ESV)

According to Jesus, Muslims reject the God of the Bible. There's no getting around this.

 "The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the One who rejects me rejects Him who sent me." (Luke 10:16)

By denying the deity of Christ. By denying He was ever crucified. They reject Jesus. Jesus was not merely a man. He was God in human form (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-8). He claimed to be the only way to heaven, the only means of approaching God (John 14:6). Islam denies this. The god of the Quran denies this. The god of Islam is not the God of the Bible.

Prior to the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Jews understood that salvation resulted from faith. Abraham believed God and God treated Abraham as if he were righteous (Genesis 15:6). The Prophet Habakkuk tells us that the righteous shall live because of his faith (Habakkuk 2:4). The god of the Quran insists that salvation, if found at all, could be earned through in going good deeds. This is antithetical to Christianity (i.e. works salvation). In Islam ndividuals must do things to make then righteous before god and can never be sure of their salvation unless they die during a pilgrimage to Mecca or die in Jihad. In Christianity, good deeds (i.e. works) result from saving faith---good deeds do not lead to salvation. Rightly motivated good deeds results from a saving relationship with God that is a gift from God.

The One True God saves by mercy those who trust in Him. The god of Islam requires works. One must observe and keep the five pillars of Islam. Jesus' message was salvation through faith. In Christianity, eternal life comes through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ:

 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1John 5:11-12)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. (John 5:24-26)

 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:11-12)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy (Titus 3:5)

All that Islam and Christianity have in common is that they are monotheistic. Monotheism is the belief in one god. While both worship a single god, each religion is incompatible with the other. Christianity and Islam worship different gods.

The God of Christianity and the god of Islam operate differently. They are two different gods. Salvation comes in radically different ways, through works in Islam and by grace and mercy through faith in Christianity.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
 (Ephesians 2:8-10)

What works Christians do result from their salvation? None, works do not result in salvation. Islam and Christianity are as different as night and day, darkness and light.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Reformed and Pelagian/Reformed and Arminian

Battling with 20 something and 30 something Calvinist males. Sometimes it seems to be my lot in life to seek to disciple people (or at least try to) who discover, as if for the first time in the history of the Church, the doctrines of grace, or the Reformed Faith. Truth be told, I am more than sympathetic to the doctrines of grace as I am a (for lack of better terminology) a 'five point' calvinist (little c). I am a borderline double predestinarian. What did it for me was the teachings of Jesus Christ in John 6:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV)

Jesus answered them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:43-44 ESV)

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (Joh 6:63 ESV)

And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:65 ESV)

So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:67-71 ESV)

It is unlikely that around 30 AD that Jesus was reading Calvin. It is also unlikely that the disciple whom Jesus loved was reading Calvin. More than likely, Calvin (Augustine and Luther, too) was reading Jesus  or John's Gospel---as well as Ephesians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter,Johannine Epistles Romans, Galatians, Ezekiel, etc. (you get the picture). I'm not here to fight about election and predestination. I'm here to make an entirely different point.

Amazing discoveries. Over the last few years, I've encountered newer believers who feel as if they alone have rediscovered (or discovered for the first time) election and predestination.  The profile is almost always the same. They are men in their 20's or 30's. They are newer to the faith. And they are aggressive, extremely self-confident (usually in an outwardly humble way), and they are Arminian or Pelagian in their practice. R. C. Sproul refers to them as 'Cage Fighting Calvinists.' Click here for R.C. Sproul's article.

They are almost Hyper-Calvinists. I used to believe Hyper-Calvinists were like 'Bigfoot.' People talk about Bigfoot but no one has really seen it, taken pictures of it, or caught one. Many people talk about the dreaded Hypercalvinists but can never seem to point me at one. However, I've since stumbled over a few and concluded they are not strawmen created by those who oppose 'Calvinism.' At the same time, I still don't believe in 'Bigfoot.' But I (again) digress.

These cage fighting Calvinists go tend to do odd things. First, despite their newness to the faith, they eschew discipleship---even by other Calvinists. They write about that which they barely know or understand. They insist that if you are not like them and understand election and predestination as they do then you are not 'saved.' This does not bode well for the likes of Charles Wesley or even the Calvinist Methodist preacher George Whitfield, or an itinerant evangelist John Calvin, prior to settling in Geneva. Another digression.

Their methods and approaches contradict what they say they believe. By word and deed they refute Calvinism. How? First, they act as if the salvation of others (in their case rescue from non-calvinist belief) is up to them rather than the care and wisdom of a sovereign God. They are strident evangelists for Calvinism to the point that they mess up relationships, confuse new believers who aren't ready for such an intermural discussion, and prematurely plant their own church after hijacking a Bible study. Their practice ends up being not unlike the dreaded 'Arminian.' Second, they emphasize the Word of God, which is a good thing, and decry things like reading devotions written by men. Then they point to different confessions (which are good things written by good men). Third, they often act as if they are superior to others because of what they have received (i.e. election). However, as Paul said, they should not regard themselves as superior because they only have what they have received so why do they act as if they earned their salvation rather than receiving it (1 Corinthians 4:7).

They live as if they earned their election--you know--like they say our Arminian brothers do. They act as if they do not sin (Pelagian-istic). The other thing that they tend to do is pick and choose what parts of the Bible they will or will not obey because as those who are elect, they are exempt from God's judgement (or discipline?). Consequently, they live very worldly lives in the name of being 'authentic.' Some like to be crass or cuss when they preach. The idea of spiritual growth or progressive sanctification seems lost on many.

These young and restless reformed guys could learn a lot from Arminians. They could learn a lot about discipleship and seeking to renew and transform their minds from their Arminian brothers who for fear of losing their salvation lead very godly lives.

They could also learn a lot from Solomon in Ecclesiastes. There is nothing new under the sun. What they have discovered is not new and they are not revolutionaries who are going to transform the church through human effort. Eventually, they will read their whole Bibles, they will age and get older (and hopefully wiser) and grow in grace and wisdom in the sight of the Lord and men.

What can we do to help them? Don't fight with them. It's a waste of time. You and I can pray for them like it depends on us and sleep at night because it depends on God---who is, after all, sovereign. People grow up and they will, too. Hopefully sooner than later.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Missing the Larger Question: A Crisis at Wheaton

Sometimes theological controversy reveals more problems than originally meets the eye. There is a dust up at Wheaton College where the undergraduate program has had a tradition of distinction going back almost a century. Sadly, Wheaton took a left turn long ago and its drift has now reaped what it sowed. It essentially comes down to this. Wheaton is trying to fire a professor who wore a Hajib to class to show solidarity with Muslims because, as she believes, Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Her heresy is about to get her fired. Click here to access the article on the controversy at Wheaton. 

Wheaton has no one to blame but the institution itself for its troubles. One casual look at this professor's resume and affiliations and you don't have to be a prophet to realize that something like this would happen.

This dust up at Wheaton should not surprise us.  Wheaton's days as an evangelical powerhouse are long behind her. This controversy is a symptom of Wheaton's larger theological and leadership problems. Almost 10 years ago I dealt with a member of my congregation in the midwest who had sent their young adult to Wheaton only to have a professor undermine the young person's confidence in biblical truth and doctrinal orthodoxy. The young man came home angry because, as his professor implied, "you lied to me mom and dad." In the name of academic freedom people were being taught all kinds of things. Something like this was bound to happen, which brings us to Azusa Pacific University.

Wheaton's problems represent a theological review of an analogous event at Azusa Pacific U. At At Azusa Pacific University, the administration choose not to allow a professor who wanted a sex change to continue teaching theology. This resulted in student protests, news coverage, etc. Suprised?

Azusa Pacific had no one to blame but its trustees, its president, and its leadership in general. The professor claimed that having read the institution's values and their equivalent to a statement of religious faith and the documents were 'silent' on the matter of transgendered persons. Click here to read the article on Azusa Pacific University. As a professor of theology such a statement implies intellectual dishonesty regarding the theology of the Bible as it pertains to sexuality, humanity, and even marriage.

The controversy at Azusa and the student body reaction are telling. The student body vigorouly protested this professor's removal. These protests tell us something about the state of Azusa Pacific. First, a Christian university whose founding stems from the founders' commitments to biblical truth would never allow a transgendered person to teach theology. All faculty and students would not this. However, that the student body was clueless to Christianity and its values shows the failure of Azusa (and Wheaton) to teach and shepherd its students. Second, what are they teaching their students in chapel and in the classroom?

Azusa, like Wheaton, had warning signs. The transgendered professor divorced her husband a few years prior to the controversy. One wonders if this raised any eyebrows over the reason or rationale for the divorce. The Bible explicitly gives only two grounds for divorce: adultery and abandonment. Some extrapolate Paul's references to respecting the government in Romans 13 to cover divorce due to domestic violence. However, even expanding grounds for divorce to three reasons isn't sufficient to allow the professor to stay on after a divorce. That they professor changed her demeanor and manner of dress might have been a giveaway. That she describes herself as having transitioned from a mentally ill woman to a sane transgendered man also makes one wonder. Wasn't anyone looking out for this professor after she divorced her husband. What about her welfare? How did Azusa Pacific, how could they, let things go this far?

When institutions implicitly or explicitly abandon the Bible trouble soon follows. The effects are not always immediate. No, they are gradual (think Fuller Seminary). Wheaton and Azusa have sown the seeds of their eventual destruction or eventual departure from what some call Evangelical Christianity. That these controversies emerged at all speaks to the fact they took their eyes off the Bible to appear 'inclusive,' culturally relevant, and in touch with the times in our post-modern world.

The trouble is that Christianity is premodern, not modern or postmodern. The trouble is that Christian is always out of step with the surrounding culture---which made it attractive to the debauched, the wounded, and the pagan fed up with their own culture in Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, etc. That's what makes Christianity attractive in Communist China and in Russia during the height of persecution in the former USSR. Christianity is better represented by a 'fish' swimming against the currents almost alone than a school of 'fish' swimming with the currents of the culture. Jesus puts it this way:

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:13-17 ESV)\

These institutions, like so many others have been lured onto the broader path. I fear that their destruction is underway.  The fleeces are off and the wolves among them are being revealed. This may, in the end, be a good thing. Come to think of it---forget 'may' this is a good thing. If these institutions have lost their first love, may their candles be snuffed out. In the mean time, let's pray for them and the eventual repentance and return to the Bible and the God of the Bible rather than the many gods of the culture.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

News Flash: There Are Only Two Religions in the World!

I have something very shocking to share with you. Shocking or surprising for some; not so for others. News flash: there are only two religions in the world. Let me say it again. There are only two religions in this world.

What are these two religions? What are these two religions? There is the religion of human achievement. And there is the religions of divine achievement.

The religion of human achievement. The religion of human achievement has the most denominations or off-shoots. However, the defining characteristic of this religion is that YOU have to do SOMETHING for its god (or gods) in order to earn your salvation, your place in heaven, or obtain advancement in the next life. Basically, you've got to earn your salvation. You've got to be good enough to get into heaven, advance up the ladder of reincarnation, or leap frog into Nirvana.

The religion of human achievement takes many forms. It is both monotheistic (worships one god) and polytheistic (has many gods), or henotheistic (having three or four key gods). The religion of human achievement has one single defining characteristic. Take Islam for example. Islam worships one god, Allah. To please Allah and get into 'heaven' you've got to do a bunch of stuff. You've got to observe the five pillars of Islam and faithfully carry them out.

That's the problem with man-made gods. Human beings are funny creatures. We like rituals and checklists. That's why the relgion of human achievement in its many forms is all about ritual and things we do for our custom made god. It makes us feel good. We can work from a list of things to do.

The religion of human, as I said has many denominations and they are outwardly different. But their common feature is human achievement. Consider the following examples. Islam is monotheistic. Hinduism is polytheistic. Hinduism is another religion of human achievement. In Hinduism, you start low on the ladder and as you do good and better things in life after life you work your way up the ladder to perfection. Essentially, you get unlimited chances. The bad news is, however, that you can also not get a passing grade and be held back or even demoted. A person could come back as a rat in the next life. The Hindu denomination believes in reincarnation. If you are good enough, then you move up the ladder in the next life. If not, you stay where you are or take steps backward. Mormonism is another denomination in the denomination in the religion of human achievement. You are 'saved' by works you do. And based upon how good you are you end up in different 'levels' of heaven. And you don't know which level of heaven you'll earn until you get there. There are other denominations going back centuries and millennia. Many indigenous religions (even the religions of ancient Greece and ancient Rome) depended upon pleasing unpredictable, unknowable gods by offering various types of sacrifices. Got to Machu Pichu in Peru and find the shafts where toddlers were sacrificed and tossed for good crops. How many toddlers were necessary? Who knew? The Aztecs were the same, although their sacrifices to their gods usually involved children and adults from surrounding tribes, rather than their own people.

The religion of human achievement also was (is) filled with uncertainty. The religion of human achievement is all about how 'good' you are are pleasing, not how good God is. You could anger the ancient Greek gods without meaning to or realizing you did until they punished you. You could anger an indigenous god because such gods were unpredictable and had no objective procedures or written traditions. Oral traditions were varied even among the shamans or medicine men of the same religion. Even in Islam no one knows how good you have to be---the same with Mormonism. How many good works are enough in proportion to infractions displeasing to god? Who knows?

Beyond uncertainty, the religion of human achievement also has one other telling feature. This is not universal but common nonetheless. Whether sacrificing to Molech, the Aztec or Peruvian gods, or Allah---this religion and its many denominations wants you to send your sons (or daughters) to die for god.

We now come to the religion of divine achievement. It has denominations, too---though not so many. We'll talk about those denominations in our next post. The religion of divine achievement is called Christianity. It's not about what you do for God. It's what God has done for you.

Let's talk about the religion of divine achievement. The religion of divine achievement is based on what God has achieved for us. The religion of divine achievement is based upon the reality that God sent His Son to rescue you. Peace with God comes through receiving a gift, not making a sacrifice, earning God's love, or buying it somehow. In Christianity, God offers forgiveness to all people, no matter who they are, what they've done, or what they once believed. It doesn't matter who your daddy was, or who your mamma was, or what color your skin is. It doesn't matter how much money you have or how educated you are.

We've all been 'bad.' No one had to teach us to be selfish, impatient, or downright nasty. In fact, sometimes we're still nasty to others, or impatient and selfish. That's why the Bible teaches "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)." That's why we read, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23)." All of us have committed murder in our hearts (You shall not murder). All of us have told lies (You shall not bear false witness). Some of downloaded music, copied software (You shall not steal). All of us have sinned. The fact is God made a perfect world and we broke it. We've made a mess of this world and our lives. No one has to teach us to lie---we come by it naturally. We fall short of God's standard of goodness.

Our wages are spiritual and eternal death. But it doesn't have to be that way because God sent His Son to pay for our sins and reconcile us to God. All we have to do is admit we can't be good enough on our own (admit we are sinners). We have to turn from trusting in ourselves and put our trust in Jesus and what He acheived for us that we could not do for ourselves. We are helpless to rescue ourselves from sin, death, and hell. So God through His Son's death, burial, and resurrection achieved for us what we could not achieve for ourselves and no one else would want to do:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 ESV)

Now we'd all like to think we can be good enough but we can't. That's the deception of the relgions of human achievement. How good is good enough? What's a passing grade. The truth is we fall short of God's standard of sinlessness. We have a better chance broad jumping across the Grand Canyon. Sure some of us will jump further than others. You'd probably jump further than me. But all will fall short of the 14 mile linear jump.

We were far from God so God brought us near through His Son (Ephesians 2:13, 19). That divine achievement. Jesus Christ became sin's sacrifice for us that we might be made righteous in God's sight (2 Corinthians 5:21). That's divine achievement.

How to tap into the religion of Divine Achievement. Ask. As I said earlier, God offers forgiveness to everyone who will accept the gift (the free gift of God through Jesus Christ). But God only grantes that forgiveness to those who admit they need it. Admit you need it. Ask for forgiveness. Tell God you believe His promises made through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what Christ achieved for you. We are saved by faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Ask God to save you, stop trying to save yourself (the essence of pride), and ask God to make you His child through Jesus Christ. This is where it all starts. Then find a Bible teaching church and get to know and love this God who saved you even more.

Friday, January 1, 2016

A New Year's Resolution Worth Making and Keeping

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)

Have you made your "New Year's Resolution" for 2016? People make themselves all kinds of promises. This is a source of revenue for many healthy clubs and self-help authors. 

Where do we find fulfillment and contentment? How do we makes sense of our lives? How should we approach the coming year? 

King Solomon was perhaps the smartest, or most intelligent, man who ever lived. And yet with each coming new year, he struggled to find happiness, joy, and contentment. God had blessed him with incredible intellectual and material, let alone spiritual, gifts. But Solomon squandered his blessings during the bulk of his lifetime. By the end of his life, he re-connected with God. He shares his spiritual autobiography and some of the details of his journey in Ecclesiastes. He tells what happened to him and how he recovered. 

What happened to Solomon? He wanted to figure things out for himself, like adolescents and teens. He wanted to make his own mistakes, independent of God and God's Word. 

Solomon turned to human wisdom (Ecc. 1) and found it wanting. Human wisdom is insufficient to make sense of what goes on around us. Why? Our faculties are limited. Like fish in a fish bowl, we cannot see the larger picture. How did reading the sages and earthly philosophers help Solomon? In his own words:  "I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind (Ecc 1:17 ESV)."

Solomon turned to human achievement. Solomon turned to public works, building 'monuments' to himself (Ecc. 2). Solomon tried partying as the old Prince song goes 'like it was 1999' also in chapter 2. What happened Solomon concluded that God, not achievement or thrills, is the Source of Joy (Ecc. 2: 26). 

Solomon tried the science of induction and observation. But in the end he concluded understanding is not found here. Again, our observations are limited by our 5 senses. We are like goldfish in a fish bowl, fed and kept by the hand of Providence---a hand we cannot see. As Solomon looked around he realized that man cannot even uphold justice, laws, or a society by his own abilities. Man is so finite he is unable to prevent oppression (read chapter 3). It is necessary that we have the Divine perspective, not the human perspective to make sense of our existence (Ecc. 3:16-17, 22). 

Solomon saw that man is dependent not supreme. In chapter 4, Solomon observes that man is dependent both upon God and others. There is no making a go of this life for self and self only. Living life in this world in our own strength, relying upon our own intelligence and wisdom, in Solomon's wise eyes is futile: "Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV)."

Solomon warns us to use our common sense regarding the fragility of life and its temporalness (Ecc. 5). Common sense tells us that life without God is meaningless. All other wisdom is insufficient. He reminds us that life itself does not come from us but is a gift of God (Ecc. 5:19). 

Solomon warns that earthly positions will neither bring happiness or salvation in chapter 6. In Hebrews 9:27 lingo: all men die once and face God's judgment. Therefore, we do well to think eternally. 

We have no one to blame but ourselves. Solomon reminds his reader, and you and I by extension that we make our own miseries. Therefore, we should try to live with character and integrity. In sort of a Proverbs 3:5-6 and Romans 6:23 perspective we failed to trust God and brought ourselves under judgment. He writes: "See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes (Ecc 7:29 ESV)." This world is in a mess because we have sought to live free of God's wisdom, care, and accountability.

Justice comes from God. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 8 that God will judge. No one gets away with murder, or anything else. Therefore we do well to conduct ourselves to please Him, rather than others  (Eccl 8). 

Solomon contrasts the fool from the wise. In chapter 9, we learn, among other things, to show restraint and wisdom. We are to guard our hearts and hold our tongues. Life is not a beer commercial where we go for all the gusto. It is an act of worship, instead. The wise, even in poverty, live better than the fools. I'm reminded that the Scriptures say a fool has said in his heart there is no god and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of God is the source, or means, of understanding.  

Solomon advises us to be content with what we have. While it is no always possible to understand all the mysteries of God, learn to appreciate and treasure all that He provides, realizing that He will ask you to give an account one day: "Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment (Ecc 11:9 ESV)." This momentary life is short and eternity is long. Appreciate and enjoy what God has given you. Don't squander it. Don't wish you had more. Be thankful and be careful. 

In chapter 12 Solomon continues to share what he has learned by living life the hard way. He doesn't want his readers to make the same mistakes he did. So, he summarizes all this teaching in a few sentences: 

 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecc 12:13-14 ESV)

The thesis of Ecclesiastes is to fear and revere God and live for Him. People get hung up on the modern idea of fear. Fearing God entails respecting and honoring Him with your lips and lives. Keeping His commandments involves conforming your will to His written and known will, which is found in God's Word. These resolutions will keep you out of condemnation. The New Testament version of this is found in John's gospel. In John 3:36 we read this: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (Joh 3:36 ESV)." 

Fear and trusting in God involves living a life surrendered to doing His will. It involves putting one's confidence in Him, not in oneself or anyone other than God in Christ.  That is the essence of saving faith. Apathy towards God is the antithesis of saving faith, the polar opposite of trust or confidence or faith. Apathy toward God is characterized by disobedience. In fact the Greek word for not obeying the Son is the  root word for our English word apathy. Those who are apathetic, or who could care less, about God will face judgment. Therefore, fear God, respect God, and put your trust in Him. Otherwise the wrath of God remains on you and will be your punishment in the next life: 

"whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (Joh 3:36 ESV)." 

 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecc 12:13-14 ESV)

Here's a New Years Resolution worth keeping. Commit yourself to God by finding salvation in Christ. If you already belong to Christ, then follow (obey) Him. Anything less is futile and hopeless. Belonging to Him is the only way to begin to understand your existence. God's commandment is His Word, the Bible. And we do well to apply ourselves, as Christians to its study so that we can follow Him according to His will. Take it from Solomon, anything less is vanity and as futile as chasing the wind. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ministering to those Suffering Through Addiction, Part Three

I haven’t been able to post recently due to jury duties. Please accept my apologies. Below is my third posting on ministering to those who are suffering through addiction.

Do you want to get well? I’m reminded that in John 5 Jesus asked the man who had been disabled for 38 years, “Do you want to get well?” Such a question is seemingly a no-brainer. However, with those who have made drug abuse a habit the question is not so simple. Why is that?

The prophet Jeremiah provides us insight. Speaking in an entirely different context and to a different problem, Jeremiah nevertheless, provides us insight into the principle that underlies all addictive behaviors or bad habits:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. (Jeremiah 13:23 ESV)

 Addiction almost always involves a deliberate sin at some level. I say ‘almost always’ because ‘crack babies’ moms commit the sin that addicts them. Addiction begins in a sinful heart. Sin never really makes sense. It’s an act of futility that always ends badly. Who can understand why any right thinking human being would try drugs in the first place (or drink and drive)? It comes down to a heart problem. Change, lasting change, and real change cannot come apart from the power of Christ realized through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Change is supernaturally empowered.

Well-meaning 12 Step programs usually involve some god-talk. However, they rely solely on human effort and defining your god on your own terms---the “higher power” you choose to call ‘god.’ Real change begins inwardly rather with cleaning up the outside of the cup. It also involves accepting the reality that failure is not an option. Don’t introduce yourself as an alcoholic or a drug addict. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. They can change because God does not lie (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Really helping someone with a bad habit that involves the abuse or use of drugs requires conversion.  I can’t emphasize this enough.

Really helping someone suffering through addiction involves accountability. Accountability is useless part from true repentance. No repentance, no change. The problem addicts have with repentance is two-fold. First, they have to really and truly accept that they are the problem. Once again, there is no room for blame shifting, or whining about people not trusting you enough. To be trusted you must show yourself to be trustworthy. The fact that you chose to use and abuse drugs (and typically hide it from others) shows you to be an untrustworthy liar. Your resistance to becoming transparent confirms that you can’t be trusted. That’s where the accountability comes in. It’s a lot like adultery---if your wife can’t trust you no one should. If the addict/sinner resists accountability, then the matter of repentance should be doubted. Accountability requires repentance. Second, there must be true repentance.

What is repentance? If you read your Bible, you understand that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of heart and life direction. Repentance precedes and accompanies salvation. That’s why Jesus taught that we must repent and believe the gospel in Mark 1:15). In fact, Jesus makes this point over and over:
3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish…5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3,5 ESV)

No conversion, no victory over your sin, including addiction. What is addiction? It’s a bad habit (see posts one and two) that if allowed to continue long enough will break your mind and body and mimic disease as well as lead to disease. Addiction is not a disease. Disease is a consequence of addiction.

Repentance, after salvation, is fueled by salvation. Without the power of God, you are unable to meaningfully and lastingly change.

All of this brings us back to accountability. Helping someone through addiction entails confronting them and give them tasks (like homework) to do in order to help them formulate new habits as they renew and transform their minds and their lives---empowered, aided, and abetted by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus provides us an outline. We return to Matthew 18:15-17:
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

Now I’ve seen all kinds of people, pastors, and churches avoid this practice. They give all kinds of excuses, just no biblical reasons. Here’s the shortlist of excuses. “You’ve got to be practical.” Being biblical is being practical. “Well, Jesus didn’t really mean the church because the church wasn’t invented yet.” Considering Matthew 18 follows after Matthew 16, I guess Jesus didn’t mean He’d build His church upon the rock of the foundation that He is the Christ, Son of the Living God, because the church wasn’t invented yet. The reality that these are commands. These commands were followed by Paul in his letters to the Thessalonians and the Corinthian letters as well.

What’s going on in Matthew 18:15-17? Jesus is giving us a process of confrontation, or intervention, and restoration. He’s providing a means to keep others from stumbling and to protect the flock from the sinner’s destructive behaviors, and to restore the sinner. The New Testament amplifies these principles and fills in the details (Galatians 6; 1 Corinthians 5; 1 & 2 Thessalonians for starter). The process begins with a private confrontation. If the sinner (or addict repents) you’ve won your brother. If they persist in their sin, then you bring others into the process. They confirm the facts, which involves accountability for the addict and the one who thinks that a person is an addict. These people can be people from your church (leadership, biblical counselors, etc.). If the sinner/addict can be encouraged to listen (and repent) then they will respond. How does one know if they repent and respond---accountability. They undergo a restoration process (cf Galatians 6:1ff). That may take so many different forms that I can’t describe them all. Some addicts surrender their wallet, charge cards, car keys, cell phone, email passwords, etc. for starters. They may have to surrender the names and contact information of their dealers so that these dealers can be contacted and ‘threatened in a sanctified way’ with the involvement of law enforcement.

Repentance also involves a process or inventory of people, places, and things to ‘detach and discard.’ Jesus teaches on this in the run up to Matthew 18:15-17:

8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:8-9 ESV)

Whatever and who ever causes the addict, or you, or me, to stumble must go. Some call this radical amputation. The addict must break contact with those who call him to stumble so that he doesn’t stumble and cause others to stumble. This could entail quitting a job, moving to a new location, or cutting off friends who drink or do drugs. He may have to cut off his own access to transportation and money until he proves over the course of months (a year most likely) that he can be trusted. Jesus uses extreme word pictures to drive home the radical changes that must be made and that must be accepted by the sinner-addict. Jesus drives home the point that the alternative to radical amputation is hell. Certainly hell in this life and for some, hell in the next life as their faith shows itself to be false.

The addict must accept the restoration plan for his own good. More importantly, he must accept such a plan for the glory of God and the good of others. In repenting, the addict must agree to have a plan more or less imposed on him for his own good. And he must embrace that plan without reservation. Of course this doesn’t mean sinless perfection. It does mean humble submission.

What happens if the addict refuses? What if the addict stalls? What if the addict engages in minimal half measures? As we spelled out in the last two posts, patience is the watchword. We want to show mercy and grace. Our goal is restoration, our motive is love. However, at some point you have the let the addict/sinner go his own way.

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

Sooner or later the family of God, like the addict’s family must be brought into the process. The intervention escalates from a private matter to a public one. No longer can you and I assume the addict understood the gospel in the first place. No longer can we take his salvation for granted. Until they hit rock bottom and truly repent, they have to be left to their own devices. They are asked to leave the church. The church family is asked to pray, weak, and groan for them and to call them to repentance. This is not a time to invite them to dinner or a church potluck. Paul calls this turning them over to Satan so that the flesh may be destroyed and so that the spirit may continue or live. This final step becomes a wake-up call. If they want to hang with other active addicts, let them. However, they need to live somewhere else. They need to have their bank accounts closed and credit cards canceled. The wife and children need to be tested for STD’s and other diseases like hepatitis. They need to be protected and supported (spiritually and financially) by the church. This radical last step prescribed by Jesus Christ is intended to jolt the sinner or addict to their senses. It can and often does. We see the result of this in 2 Corinthians 7. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul calls for this action. In 2 Corinthians 7 we see its results. Are the results always happy ones? No.

What happens next? We will discuss this in the next posting, installment 4.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Ministering to Those Suffering Through Addiction--more mindsets (Part Two)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)

How do these verses pertain to ministering to some caught up in sin with addictions? Verse one indicates that those who are spiritually sound (not imperfect) have an obligation to pursue restoration. What’s that mean? Pursuing restoration (seeking to restore him) involves action, which takes us back to our previous discussion of admonishing the unruly, encouraging the weak, and helping the fainthearted. All of these, also, involve action.

Seeking to restore involves intervening in the addict’s life. The goal is to shepherd him back towards Christ. As much as he or she won’t want to admit it, the addict will at some level resent this and resent this. Addiction numbs the conscience and skews not only the addict’s moral compass but their perception of reality. Consequently, while spiraling out of control, they will convince themselves that they would be in control if people would just back off and give them enough time. They will, in most cases, label those seeking to help them as finger pointers, as harsh, as unloving, and as judgmental. This will either miss, or mischaracterize the caregivers’ motives.

The motive and goal of seeking to restore the sinner (sin precedes addiction) is restoration. The desire to restore and help is fueled by love and concern for the addict. Restoration sometimes is painful, like taking your child to the emergency room to have a broken bone set. My dad took me to the emergency room once when I split my head open. I was six at the time. I was crushed that he would let the doctors hurt me by stitching up my head. Children and addicts sometimes act like wounded animals. They lash out in pain and fear. They react instead of respond because their faculties and perception of reality have been compromised by drug abuse. Children lack experience. Addicts lack undeluded perceptual abilities. Their minds and their thinking are impaired.

When I was a child I burned my hand playing with matches. I sought to conceal the injury from my family. I was guilty and ashamed and frightened. I needed help but sought to avoid receiving help from the only people who could really supply it, the only people who loved me---my family. I was a child. I didn’t know better. I could not reason through the circumstance in a sound, adult way. So it goes with those whose sin have led them to addiction.

My parents were gentle with me. But I couldn’t think it through. I’d burned my hand and wanted to avoid them. That’s the way it is with addicts sometimes. Those seeking to restore an addict are more often than not gentle. Why? They love the addict. They care about the addict. This love and care moves them to gentleness. Gentleness, however, does not preclude ‘tough love.’ The addict, their mind clouded by sin and the effects of drugs often cannot grasp or discern this tough love for what it is---love.

A word of warning to those seeking to restore. True gentleness not only stems from love but humility. You see this at the end of verse 1 in the warning, “restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” This warning is followed by another command: “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2).” Ministering to addicts is draining. As this verse indicates it is downright burdensome. But we do it out of reverence for Christ. His law is that His disciples ‘love one another.”

“Seeking to restore” requires action, diligence, patience and discernment. This brings us back to our earlier passage

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1Thessalonians 5:14-15 ESV)

The need for discernment is revealed in the different actions required depending on the addict’s attitude.  If he is unruly then you have to confront that. If he is fainthearted, or worn down, then you encourage. If he is feeble then you render assistance. Discerning which approach to take requires patience. Not returning evil for evil requires the gentleness spoke of in Galatians 6:1. Bearing their burdens (dealing with their burdensome behavior) intensifies the need for patience and humility. It takes patience to bear another’s burdens. It requires humility---because you don’t think more highly of yourself than you should. And when they act up, you respond in love. You seek their good (do good to one another). But action is required.

One last observation. “You who are spiritual (v. 1) speaks to believers ministering to other believers in the church. Notice it does not say, “you, who are secular.” This also tells us that the church’s business cannot be subcontracted to outside clinics which may treat the disease aspects of their sin but not the spiritual aspects (spiritual includes emotional). Secular clinics ultimately possess another worldview.

All parties must stay the course in the restoration process. And staying the course requires action, patience, love, and a commitment to restoration. It’s all about the glory of God and the good of the sinner rather than you or me. We cannot become exasperated by their dissembling, lying, blame shifting and deception. We have to seek their good and not repay evil for evil. Their sin is as much as our trial---a crucible where we develop greater endurance, patience, and humility as we deal with them, pray for them, and pursue them.

They may resist our loving pursuit but we must love and pursue them. They may push us away but we must draw near. They may lie to us but we must speak truth to them in love. How do we do this? We will discuss this in Part Three.