I am in the process of finishing up my second book which tackles the existence of suffering. But while in some conversations on the topic, I’ve encountered a challenging idea that I wanted to address here. Many people struggle with the perceived conflict of a good, loving God and the existence of evil and suffering. The explanation for how those two coexist encompasses the concept of man’s free will. We have the ability to make our own choices and thus at times we must face the consequences of those choices. Now, this reasoning doesn’t account for all types of suffering; there are many examples of suffering that is not due to our actions. But many times our suffering comes as the cost of making the choice to disobey God or the choice to sin. Not always, but sometimes. In those cases, our suffering may simply be the natural outflow of our actions. For example, if you choose to smoke your entire life, then the natural consequence may be that you develop certain types of cancers and diseases. That would be a natural consequence of your free-will decision to engage in that activity. Biblically, we could use Samson as an example of that. He chose to stay entangled with deceitful women and therefore eventually paid the price by being betrayed by one of those women.
Sometimes our suffering is a result of judgment for our free will choices. When your free-will choice is to violate the laws of the state, then you will face punishment for those crimes, which involves pain and suffering. Biblically, we know that God does judge against wickedness and sin. He passed severe judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah for their wicked ways. They freely chose to walk in disobedience, therefore, they faced suffering as a consequence of those choices. I see this constantly with my children. Out of their free will, they may choose to jump on the couch. They then face the natural consequence of falling and getting hurt, as well as the consequence of punishment when they get spanked for jumping on the furniture.
Why Free Will?
If God gave us free will to choose how we respond to Him yet knew we would suffer from our choices, then why did He give us free will in the first place? The short answer is that God wanted us to love. He didn’t make us to be robots only responding in obedience because we were forced to or obligated to. God desired loving fellowship from His creation. But to have love, it must be freely chosen and freely given. We can understand that in our earthly relationships as well. Love from another person is only real if the person has a choice to love or to not love. It is the same way with God. However, when we choose to not love God and to not walk in obedience then we suffer the consequences.
This line of reasoning can help us understand that God can exist even though there is suffering. However, recently I have encountered a new question in relation to this argument. What about when we die? As Christians, we share with people how in Heaven there are no more tears, no more pain. So is there free will in Heaven? If you answer yes, then why is there suffering here but not in Heaven? It says we are capable of having free will but not having suffering. But if you answer “no,” then apparently God does want robots programmed to obey Him. It says He would require people to love Him once they are in Heaven because He would have removed their free will.
On the surface it appears to be quite the conundrum. To answer this we must understand the doctrine of salvation. Even though there is a distinct moment of salvation for a believer that is not where it stops. Granted, the process of salvation may appear in some churches today to mean walking down to the front of the church and signing a membership card, but that is not it either. The process of salvation involves three phases: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification is a one-time work of God resulting in the believer’s salvation. The sinner confesses their sins before a just and holy God and receives the forgiveness offered through Jesus Christ. In that moment, they are declared innocent in God’s judgment over sin; they are justified through the payment made by Jesus on their behalf. Once the believer has been justified, then sanctification begins.
Sanctification is a process, beginning with justification and continuing throughout life. If justification is the starting point of the line that represents one’s Christian life, then sanctification is the line itself. At the point of justification, the believer becomes a “new creation” and the old things are to pass away (2 Cor. 5:17). What does that mean? It means we are no longer to live as slaves to sin but to live as God’s forgiven child. Paul describes this in Romans 6 as reckoning ourselves to be “dead indeed to sin, alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are not to let sin reign over us as though we are to obey its lusts. Instead we present ourselves as instruments of righteousness before God. However, we still live in a sinful and corrupt world. The threat of sin and temptation of the lusts of the flesh are all around us. Therefore we must daily die to ourselves, to put away those fleshly desires and to desire the righteousness which is from God. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” It is a continual thing where God is changing our hearts to no longer desire the sinful things of this world. He transforms us to desire the things of God.
What Does This Have to Do with Free Will?
What does this have to do with free will? Well, whether you have become a believer or not, you still have free will to choose disobedience or obedience to God. But once you have become a believer, your desires have changed to truly want to do the things of God. You now desire to please God instead of please yourself. According to Romans 8:5, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” Paul explains this again in Galatians 5:16-17, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” There is this battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit – and they are diametrically opposed. Once you have received justification in salvation then you are in the Spirit. The sanctification that follows is the process of growing the believer to desire the things of the Spirit. You can still freely choose disobedience but the desires of your heart are now to do the will of God instead of your own will.
But that is much easier said than done! The great apostle Paul even tells of this struggle. “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19-20) So Paul, having been justified, now desires to do the will of the Lord but because there is still sin here, he struggles and fails – as do the rest of us! It means I am not unique in my struggle of things of the flesh against things of the Spirit. He wants to do good, to obey God; and he wants to not do evil, to not disobey. Yet because of the presence of sin still in this world he finds himself doing the opposite. It is here where the believer longs for the final phase of our salvation: glorification.
Glorification: Our New Nature
Glorification is God's final removal of sin from the life of the believer in the eternal life. God’s glory will be realized in us; instead of being mortals burdened with sin nature, we will be changed into holy immortals with direct and unhindered access to God’s presence. It is the culmination of sanctification. We will no longer have that human nature that our spirits continually fight against. We will have a completely new nature.
We often think about it as one day receiving our glorified bodies that are free from disease, weakness, and frailty. But what makes those bodies free from disease, weakness, and frailty is existing in the absence of sin. And now we can start to see how we have free will in Heaven, yet no suffering there. Revisit the struggle that Paul describes. We desire to do good. We want to obey. But because of sin, we struggle. We are tempted, and we fail. What if those fleshly lusts and temptations were no longer around? What if you were free from the presence of sin? Then we can fully accomplish our true desire in our heart – which is to obey God and walk in His ways.
Look at the words from Hebrews 12:1-2 calling us to live our lives in godliness. The author says to, “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” So what if there were no weights anymore? What if there were no sin to easily ensnare us? Then we can live in that full godliness, in full obedience unto Christ. When we make those choices to walk with God, then there is no place for suffering. There is no suffering sin’s natural consequences if there is no sin. There is no suffering punishment for disobedience if no one disobeys. There is no need for trials to grow our faith and lead others to salvation if our faith is fully realized and all have salvation. There is no need for pain from discipline if we are all walking rightly with God. We will be unencumbered by the flesh to freely choose that which we truly desire, which is God. We will have free will and our will is to obey God. We will have no suffering because we will no longer stumble in our choice of obedience due to the presence of sin.
Defend the Faith Ministry has now teamed up with Mama Bear Apologetics. The following blog is my first post with the Mama Bears. We have a common goal to help moms (and dads!) understand the importance of teaching their children how to defend their faith. The moment we begin to instruct them in Biblical knowledge is the same moment the world begins to scheme to take that knowledge way. Therefore, from the earliest stages of raising children, we must be ready to defend that knowledge against the skepticism from the world. I hope you'll follow along in this journey of equipping others to Defend the Faith and encouraging the Mama Bears to protect the faith of their children.
I graduated valedictorian from a nationally ranked International Baccalaureate high school. I finished summa cum laude with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering – all in five years while playing on a volleyball scholarship. Fresh out of college, I was a project lead on a new device for the PAC-3 missile system. Later I worked as a systems engineer for a new launch vehicle program at NASA. At that point, my husband and I were expecting our first child. And God rocked my world. Not just with motherhood, but by calling me to quit my job and stay home with our son. I never thought I would do that! My plans were to continue working my way up at NASA, but God’s plans were different. I went from reviewing the main propulsion system design on a rocket to keeping up with how often my son pooped each day. I went from assessing launch pad capabilities that support the launch vehicle system requirements to singing nursery rhymes and teaching shapes and colors. And it made my head hurt. It actually made my head hurt to change from my engineering career to my mommy career (let’s face it, it is simply an unpaid, no-vacation-allowed career). And now this little guy that rocked my world will be starting kindergarten this fall, and he has a little brother just 20 months behind him. Yikes. And that definitely still makes my head hurt!
Don’t get me wrong. I love what God has called me to. I was surprised as all get out, but God always knows what He’s doing. I’ll admit, some days it is still hard to remember why I left a place where my opinion was valued to go somewhere that I’m lucky if anyone acknowledges that I’ve spoken (ok, usually yelled) their name. I went from being trusted with decision making on NASA design implementations to being questioned if I know that “aten” is not a word.
While on this course of teaching these little guys their colors, how to read, and why those sounds shouldn’t be made at the table, I’m trying to instill in them the truth about God.
Read more here...
This weekend is a special time of remembrance for the Christian faith. It is the time where we reflect on the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In light of that it’s a good idea to remember what makes this particular trial and execution so significant – significant enough to alter the history of mankind. Although scoffers try to claim Jesus never existed and that this never happened, we know from other ancient documents outside of the Bible that Jesus did exist and was crucified. In the writings of Tacitus, a Roman historian writing from AD 56 to 117, he relates this about Jesus: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” The historical accounts from Tacitus and other ancient texts confirm that this Jesus was a real person who was crucified by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.
But if this Jesus who is called the Christ were just a man, what significance would there be in his execution? Why would this be noteworthy to Tacitus, or to history in general? It wasn’t just because he was an innocent man. If Jesus were just an innocent man, convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit, then his execution would be shameful and sad. But that would not really matter to the rest of the world. So one may say it was significant because of the reason behind his execution. Jesus was not convicted for something He did but for who He claimed to be. He claimed to be God which the High-Priest determined to be blasphemy punishable by death. (Although under Jewish law it would have been death by stoning. But since the Jews were under Roman authority at the time, the punishment was crucifixion).
However, in studying Acts 5, we see that even that was nothing of importance. Gamaliel, the well-respected Pharisee, said that many had claimed to be the Messiah and thus sealed their fate to be executed as a blasphemer. A man named Theudas made that claim and even had 400 followers. When he was executed, his disciples scattered; and it came to nothing. Then Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census with many followers. When he was executed, his many followers dispersed; and it came to nothing.
So why is it that we remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth? Because of what happened after His execution. See, when Theudas and Judas of Galilee were executed for claiming to be the Messiah, their followers scattered. Why? Because their leader, a mere mortal man, was now dead. But when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for claiming to be the Messiah, He died and was buried. But He did not stay that way. He resurrected. And his followers did not scatter and disperse; they became bolder. They traveled far and wide preaching in the name of this Jesus of Nazareth – and they did so in the face of intense persecution. As Gamaliel had predicted, this was the evidence that this incident with Jesus was not like the others. When the Jewish council was debating what to do with Peter and John who were still preaching the name of Jesus, Gamaliel advised, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
For Gamaliel, it was the after effects of the crucifixion that would prove whether this thing was from God or man. So it is the response to this claim of the resurrection that gives us the evidence of its truth. Consider the responses of those who loved and followed Jesus. The disciples’ response to the news of the empty tomb at first was skepticism – until they saw it for themselves. They were in hiding, mourning the loss of their beloved Messiah and fearing their own fate at the hands of the Pharisees. But once they witnessed the resurrection, their focus changed from their own security to the urgency of sharing the Gospel of salvation. The truth of what they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own hands made a drastic impact on their lives. And they devoted the remainder of their lives sharing that good news of the resurrection to others around the world.
But the news of the resurrection also impacted those who were not followers of Jesus. His ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection were all done publicly, out in the open for friend and foe to see. Peter reminds the Jewish people of that in his first sermon delivered at Pentecost. He said, ““Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Peter spoke on these things again after healing the lame man on the temple steps: “whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” As Paul would say later, those things were “not done in a corner.” All of those people had seen the work Jesus had done, His miracles, His power over sickness, nature, and demons. They had all witnessed, no, not just witnessed, but participated in his crucifixion. They had all cried out, “Give us Barabbas!” They had jeered and mocked Him at His death. And they had witnessed His resurrection.
The response to note here though is that of the Pharisees to Peter’s statements. Did they say to the crowds that Peter and John were just as crazy as Jesus? Did they go to the tomb and produce the body of Jesus to shut them up? No. It says they were astonished at Peter and John’s boldness and wisdom – until they recognized they had been with Jesus. The Pharisees were unable to refute that the lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus. And they were afraid of the spread of Jesus’ name. The response of the Pharisees shows us the veracity of the claims made by Peter and John. They could not refute the power done in the name of Jesus. And they could not refute the claims of the resurrection. They could only make futile attempts to stop the spread of these things.
The reaction of Paul to the resurrection gives evidence of its occurrence as well. Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus drastically changed his life. It changed him from persecuting those who claimed the name of Jesus to being persecuted for proclaiming the name of Jesus. He changed from speaking against Jesus to speaking for Jesus. He went from being feared by the other apostles to being accepted into their fellowship. He transformed from a Jewish Pharisee despising Gentiles to the apostle preaching salvation to the Gentiles. Paul himself credited such a complete transformation to the one event of meeting the resurrected Jesus. To change that much from one event tells us that event did occur.
There is also the reaction of James, the brother of Jesus, who was not a disciple or follower of Jesus. In fact, none of His brothers believed (John 7:5). They even tried to pull Jesus out of ministering to the crowds when the crowds became too great (Mark 3). Their unbelief is quite astonishing when you consider the testimony of their mother as to the conception of Jesus! Not much else is said about the family of Jesus throughout the Gospel accounts. However, the next time we see James he is presiding over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. James led the other apostles in determining the guidelines for new believing Gentiles. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21). Paul referred to James as an apostle in his letter to Galatia. And James was eventually martyred for his faith by the Jewish leaders there in Jerusalem.
What would have caused such a difference? How did James grow up in the same house as Jesus, witnessing His ministry from the very beginning, and not believe, yet after Jesus’ crucifixion he became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, even dying for his belief? For that answer we go to 1 Corinthians 15:7. Paul reminded the Corinthians of the core doctrinal truths of Christianity that he had already taught them: that Christ died for our sins; that he was buried and raised again; and that many witnessed His resurrection. But look at the list of names that Paul provided who saw the resurrection. Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve disciples, more than 500 at once, James, the apostles, and Paul himself. Jesus specifically appeared to His unbelieving brother James. So the drastic change in the life of James is directly attributed to his witness of the resurrected Jesus.
The reactions of friend and foe is what gives us, far removed in time and place, the confidence that it did indeed occur. It is the reaction to any historical even that confirms its veracity. For example, even if we didn’t have a single document remaining from the Revolutionary War, we know what truly happened because we have evidence of the reaction to it – the United States is functioning as a separate nation from England. Likewise, the ongoing reactions of both friend and foe to the resurrection of Jesus give us the confirmation that it really occurred. And the importance of that fact cannot be stated enough. It is the resurrection of Jesus that affirms His deity. It is that resurrection that conquers sin and death for those who believe.
Without the resurrection, our faith is meaningless. But with the resurrection comes eternal hope and salvation for all mankind. This is how those living alongside Jesus reacted to the resurrection. What will your reaction be?
 Tacitus, Annals 15.44
All scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV)
A majority of the New Testament addresses false teachers within the church. Passages such as 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 2 Peter 2:1, and Romans 16:17-20 talk about false teachers, doctrines of demons, destructive heresies, and deceiving spirits. Hebrews 13:9 comes with the warning to “not be carried away with various and strange doctrines.” Jesus even warned against the false prophets in Matthew 7 saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
will be led away into destruction. Think of the imagery of the ravenous wolves. This is why we are also called throughout scripture to be discerning. We are to always judge what is taught to us against what is in the Scriptures, just like the Bereans did (which implies we must first know what the scriptures say). We are even told to test the spirits to see what is truly from God because not all “spiritual” things are from God.
But Satan, as the father of lies and the great deceiver, is much shrewder than we give him credit for being. He knows that even the least knowledgeable person of the scriptures could detect certain heresies as blatantly false. So he is trickier than that; he works like the old saying “stealing the sausage one slice at a time.” It is the slow deception of the truth that leads us down the bigger path towards the false , thus, the title of this post: the subterfuge of Satan. Subterfuge is defined as “deception in order to achieve one’s goal.” In order to see how Satan is going to deceive us, we have to think about what his goal is. What is Satan’s end game? To lead as many people away from God and out of God’s presence as he possibly can. That is his single mission. How does he achieve that? Deception. Satan even parades as an angel of light for the express purpose of deceiving us. Before we see what takes us out of God's presence and away from God, we must see what makes us in God's presence and with God. According to John 14:6, the only way to God is through Jesus. John reiterates that point in 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” And Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” So anything that is different from that truth will accomplish Satan’s goal. If he can get you to take one step away from that truth, then Satan wins. If he can pull you away from confessing Jesus is Lord, away from believing that God raised Him from the dead, and away from thinking that the only way to God is through Jesus, then Satan has deceived you with false doctrine unto your destruction. How does he deceive us into that?
How does Satan do that with us now? Well, we have a plethora of denominations that alter that core true doctrine of who Jesus is and what Jesus did. Some denominations say that Jesus wasn’t really God. If He wasn't God, then His sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. Many denominations say that you are saved by faith plus man’s traditions, man’s rituals, or man’s effort. They say if you do these steps or repeat these words then you can find forgiveness. They are just like the Judaizers adding to the work Jesus did on the cross as though it were insufficient, as though our effort has something to do with our salvation. But Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that it is only by grace through faith that we are saved, but it is not by our works, specifically so that we cannot boast in our salvation. It is only through the work Jesus did on the cross that we can boast, not in ourselves. Many denominations say that any path to God is valid. They don’t want to claim the exclusivity that Jesus claimed. When Jesus said that no one comes to the Father but through Him, Jesus was excluding all other religions as false and unacceptable to God. It doesn't matter how sincere or nice another religion is, it is equally abhorrent to God because it does not all on the name of Jesus for salvation. In each of these denominations, Satan has twisted scripture to lead people astray from true doctrine, which will lead to their destruction.
Some denominations even twist scripture to make it approve of sins in which they want to persist. They redefine the words clearly written in scripture so they can call “good evil and evil good.” They think since grace abounds we have no need for the law. But the law is useful, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 1, to show us our sin. He says the purpose of pointing out sin is to draw us to repentance. That is why in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul tells the church to call out one man’s sins so that “his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The reason for identifying his actions as sin was so that the man’s spirit may be saved. What if Paul had never called that sin? The man would have persisted in that sin to the glory of his flesh but to the destruction of his soul. That is exactly what Satan wants. Satan twists scripture, so that we redefine sin, so that we may satisfy our flesh, but destroy our souls.
Yes, we are commanded to love one another. I am certainly not saying that we are not to do those things to help “the least of these.” But we are also commissioned to go and spread the Gospel because telling others about Jesus is showing love. So if you are going into the communities of the least of these to give them physical aid but never speak about Jesus, then you are missing the point of why Jesus sent us out. In Matthew 28:19 He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Yes, showing love and meeting physical needs should be a part of that. But the whole point is to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey His words. Many churches reference Acts 1:8 for their model for mission. But that doesn’t tell us to pick a cool beach spot for our youth group to hand out bottled water. It tells us to be witnesses of Jesus to the world. Being a witness involves speaking. We are to tell people about Jesus first and foremost. Satan has won if he can convince us that we only have to be kind or show love and not speak the name of Jesus. Satan knows that we don’t have to teach false doctrine to prevent others from reaching God, we just have to neglect to tell them the true doctrine.
Imagine if in a war, our military was so focused on arguing over the color of their uniforms and which food was better to have in the field that they neglected to actually attack the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy was busy plundering and slaughtering the local village and kidnapping our own military’s families. That sounds insane but that’s exactly what the church does when it becomes preoccupied with things indifferent instead of focusing on the lost and dying world around us. When we do that, not only do people die without salvation, but the enemy slips in and steals the minds and hearts of our children because we were too busy boycotting something to teach our children the fundamentals of their faith. We were too busy entertaining our children at church to educate them in the basic logic of Christianity. We were too busy making Christianity fun and palatable for the masses to give believers any depth of scriptural knowledge.
Satan is called the deceiver and the father of lies. His whole business is convincing you that the truth is not true. And he will resort to any means necessary to accomplish that goal. Be mindful of your adversary! He prowls around like a roaring lion seeking those whom he can devour. Don’t let that be you or your children. Be alert and watchful. Guard your mind, taking every thought captive. Demolish every argument he uses. Use the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God, to attack the enemy. Take up your armor and go to battle for the kingdom of God. Be deceived no longer.
Several weeks ago I participated again in the sidewalk ministry outside of a local abortion clinic. I have been out there a few times before, but this one was a drastically different experience. The abortionist was there. And the parking lot was full. It was the most depressing and heart-wrenching experience to know what was happening inside that building for so many lives. And it bothered me even further to see the interference from the abortionists to prevent us from reaching out to those women and those babies. I think that is one of the most disturbing realities about the abortion industry (and yes, it’s an industry because they are only concerned with making money off the slaughter of innocent lives in the womb). These abortionists and abortion activists parade around calling themselves “pro-choice” but that is the last thing those people are interested in. You should think about that next time you vote and the next time you discuss this issue. I so often hear people say, “Well, no one wants people to abort, but it should be available.” But that is NOT the reality. These clinics and abortionists want very much for these women to abort, so much so that they hire people whose only job is to prevent women from changing their minds. They have quotas to meet and Cadillacs to buy. They want more people to abort. So you as an individual may hope that women don’t abort, but the ones you are empowering to do so don’t think that way.
The very goal of these clinics is not to give women a choice, but to convince them to abort. Ironically, the definition of the word choice is the act of choosing among a variety of options. So a choice can only be made when someone is given all of the information about all of the options. But these women are not presented with that. In fact, the abortionists and “pro-choicers” devote their lives to preventing that. They don’t want the woman to have a choice – they want them to abort. It is bad enough that society even allows for abortion to be an option, but it is even worse when you are told that is the only option.
The truth is that abortion should never be the option because there are a plethora of options that don’t involve murder. That is precisely what the sidewalk ministry is all about – actually giving those women the choice of life, not just for their babies but for them as well. When a woman chooses to end the life that is growing inside of her, she will have to deal with that physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually for the rest of her life. That is why the statistics are staggering about suicide attempts, depression, and substance abuse for post-abortive women. Stopping abortion not only protects the next generation but this generation, and the pro-life sidewalk ministry is devoted to protecting all life. So the pro-life ministry focuses on ways to help these women so they do not make the destructive devastating choice of abortion by showing them other choices. If it is finances that are the issue, they will pay for whatever the need is. If it is medical care that is the issue, they will find that and pay for it too. If it is an abusive relationship, they have helped get women to safe shelters and out of those situations. If it is the burden of raising a child, they will find someone for adoption (and many of them on the sidewalk are ready and willing to adopt). But consider what those choices provide. Life. For both. Love. For both. What do the abortionists provide? Death. Destruction. Despair. Depression. Why is that the only choice they want to give to those women? And they dare to say they are for women’s rights?!?
Why do I think they are not allowing this choice to be given to women? Because I have witnessed firsthand how they silence the one voice of hope and help that is being offered to them. They have escorts (who are more accurately described as deathscorts) who are paid by the clinic to usher the women in from the parking lot. They hide these women under an umbrella to shield them from our signs. They blast a stereo at these women to shield them from our voices. Ironically, they sing children’s songs to drown out our pleas for the life of those children. They yell in our faces with video cameras if our toes touch their grass, crying out about trespassing, while they are gleefully escorting babies to their death. They are MURDERING children inside that building but are more concerned about trespassing. I have never seen such hatred toward life, or towards myself, as what I witnessed that day. I have never been flipped off so many times in my life, flipped off for trying to offer to pay for someone’s medical expenses – and even for just offering those people a free doughnut.
I have never seen firsthand the powerful hold that Satan has on those people’s hearts. One of them told me that she didn’t care about those babies because she doesn’t believe in God. But you know, even atheists know murder is wrong. Even atheists think killing innocent people is wrong. You don’t have to believe in God to see that. With believers, I do always go back to the Biblical passages about how God knits us together in the womb and how He knows us and called us from the womb. However, even if you don’t believe that, you can see what we know from science. We see when this little life has a heartbeat and has a nervous system – at 5-8 weeks after conception! We can see when this life forms toothbuds and fingernails. We can watch this little life suck its thumb in utero. We can see when this life moves and kicks. We can watch this life respond to external stimuli. We encourage mothers and fathers to talk to the baby and play soothing music to the baby because it can recognize their voices and be calmed by the sound. And yet, here are these people, dancing and laughing as they escort women into a building where they will be told this is their only option. And then they take money from these women to invade the sanctity of this womb and literally tear apart this little life, limb from limb.
On this particular day, I invited a dear friend to come along and join me on the sidewalk. I asked him if I could share his thoughts from this experience because he summarized it so well:
People, this is going on EVERYWHERE. And in many places the hatred and vitriol against the pro-life people is even worse than here. How have we continued to allow this to go on in our society? How are we still silent about confronting evil? How are we still debating whether this is wrong or not? This is not a battle against political parties or opposing opinions. This is not an intellectual debate. This is a spiritual battleground for the hearts of people. Where are you in this battle?
Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
I’ve been working on what I hope will be my second book for strengthening and equipping people in their faith. The subject matter is one that is universal to everyone: the idea of suffering. Suffering is all around us so it is important to assess how your worldview not only explains it but gives you counsel in it. Many times people think the existence of suffering means that there can’t be a God. So I think it’s important that we are able to logically understand that suffering does not mean that God does not exist. We may sometimes wonder why evil and tragic things are happening, but that does not negate the existence of an almighty Creator. And there are multiple reasons for that. In reality, the fact that we can even identify evil exists proves that a good, loving God exists.
But I don’t want to go into the purely logical arguments for that right here (hopefully you’ll get to read that in my book soon!). I wanted to speak more to the heart of the idea of suffering. Because suffering is something that affects us all in a very real and personal way. In fact, it has hit me in a real and personal way again this week. What I wanted to discuss here is the uniqueness of the Christian God in the midst of suffering. You see, every worldview (whether atheistic or theistic or polytheistic) must explain the existence of suffering. It must to our heads about understanding a world that has suffering in it. But your worldview must also speak to our hearts. Your worldview must explain why we respond like we do to suffering. Our response to suffering tells us an awful lot about the human spirit and the God who created us. We respond to suffering with brokenness, sadness, and grief. We use words like “tragic” to convey that this thing just ought not be so. How does your worldview give you comfort and peace in the midst of suffering?
Some worldviews imply that your suffering is just an illusion, that you haven’t overcome your circumstances with your mind. But that implies that suffering is not real – yet we know suffering is very real. Most other worldviews imply that your suffering is from some fault of your own. It is your karma or bad decisions that have led to this suffering. Granted, many times suffering is a consequence of your bad decisions, but not all suffering can be explained that way.
So here’s where I want to explain the Christian God because the God of Christianity is a God of compassion, a point that believers and unbelievers alike often miss. Many times when tragedy strikes we picture God up there with a frown on His face and a disapproving shake of the head, saying, “That’ll teach ‘em!” Or we imagine that He is sadistically laughing with delight when we stumble and fall on our faces, mumbling to Himself, “I told them so.” And while there are plenty of Biblical examples of God using suffering as a judgment on our sin, that is not always the case. We must also see this creation from God’s perspective to realize how much our pain and suffering must break His heart. Sickness, disease, and evil was not a part of this world in the beginning. When He created everything he declared it was “good.” His initial creation was with us living in peace and fellowship with Him; walking in His ways and in the beauty and perfection of the Garden of Eden, a phrase that now to us only symbolizes an idyllic place was once a real entity. He wanted that to be the life for His creation and for His children.
But our sin broke that. Our choice to reject His ways, to walk in disobedience, that Garden of Eden cannot be a reality for us. And it broke not only our fellowship with Him but it broke His heart. It broke His heart to see His very creation reject that goodness, that perfection, that beautiful place of peace. And now He knows that suffering is going to be an ever-present part of our existence. Evil decisions will have evil consequences. A nature no longer “good” will be rife with sickness, hurt, and pain. And God, knowing that was not how it could have been, is hurt by it too. So when we hear the word “cancer” for a loved one, it not only breaks our hearts, but it breaks the heart of God too – not out of surprise that it happened because He knows all things, but that cancer is even a part of this world. He sees this fallen creation and knows what it should have been like. He sees our hurt and our pain and it breaks His heart. It is just like a mother watching over her child, desiring the best for her child, but knowing because of the sinful world in which we live, this child will experience heartbreak and injury. This child, whom she wants to protect from all harm, must still navigate the pitfalls of life in order to grow, in order to learn. This child, whom she loves more than her own life, will make decisions to disobey the rules she laid down out of love. And this child, whom she wants to have peace and joy, will then find himself in suffering and pain.
And the Christian God has compassion on us. Mark 6:24 says, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things.” Jesus had compassion on them. We are so clueless and helpless and bumbling around that God felt compassion on us. We are completely lost without Him. So He Himself came down to teach us. We suffer and have pain and loss and hurt because of our sin. Out of His compassion, He came down so that we could have a better hope, a better future than what sin had for us. Jesus was so full of compassion that He asked God to forgive the very men who were crucifying Him on the cross. He saw that those men – and ourselves – are so lost that they didn’t even fully grasp what they were doing. So He said, “Father, forgive them.” He saw they needed His compassion. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” He has compassion on us for the burdens that we carry, for the labor that we struggle under, so He gives us rest. First Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” He has compassion for our anxiety and tells us to bring it to Him. Jesus said in Matthew 14:27, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” He wanted to give us peace. He had compassion on us for our troubles and our fears so He gives us peace.
So when we suffer, are anxious, and feel burdened, God has compassion. God offers us peace and rest. He has compassion on His children, just like we as earthly parents do. What do other gods of religions do in those times? Are they compassionate? Most of them tell you that it’s your own fault. It’s your karma from bad decisions. It’s your retribution for not showing enough devotion. Where’s the compassion? Where’s their god that says, “Come to me when you’re troubled. Cast your fears, your worries, your burdens on ME so that you may rest.” Where is that god in man-made religions? Jesus wept when Lazarus died – KNOWING He was about to raise Him from the dead. But He cried along with humanity for what sin has done to His perfect creation. He understands the sadness of loss and His response was to weep. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane the night of His arrest He said, ““My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He understands the fear of death and His response was to cry out to God – and then submit to His authority. “Not My will, but Thy will be done.” And in that moment, His compassion on us in our sins, His compassion while we reject His authority, was so great that He laid down His life for us. He loves us so much that He died to free us from the pain and suffering that our sins have brought us. His compassion was so great and His heart was so broken for us that He walked among us, that He suffered alongside us, that He suffered and died in our place, and that He defeated death for us so we do not have to walk this road of suffering alone.
I was asked in a recent interview what goals I would encourage others to have for the year 2017. Typically when we set goals for a new year we focus on some area of our life in which we want improvement. But that can sometimes be very personal. Does someone feel like they need to work on a healthier lifestyle? Then they set goals for healthier eating choices and maybe starting an exercise routine. Does someone feel like they are missing out on enjoying life? Then they set goals to work less and maybe take up a new hobby, maybe check off an item from their bucket list, maybe take a trip somewhere they’ve been wanting to visit for a while. Does someone want to learn more? Then they decide to read more books this year, maybe even read your Bible more. But typically as the year progresses, we find we just never have enough time so we let the gym membership expire, we quit that new hobby, we can’t find an open week for that vacation, and we never get around to reading anything new. And at the end of the year we find ourselves just as frustrated in December 2017 as we were in December 2016.
Our problem isn’t that we don’t desire to do more with our lives or to grow in our areas of weakness. Our problem is with insanity. We keep doing the same old things but expect different results. We think that we can add these great goals for personal growth without ever subtracting those things that don’t lead to growth. We want to learn more but we still watch more television than read a book. We want to enjoy life more but we still end up working more hours than spending time with our families. We want to lose weight but we still stuff ourselves with junk food and put off working out. We want to have a better faith, a faith like David or Daniel or Joseph, but we still never read our Bibles. We may add to our reading lists a bunch of books about the Bible, but still not the Bible itself. We may finally buy a devotion book, but only one that requires five minutes a day.
So now I’ll get to what my encouragement was to folks for their goals for 2017. Set aside an extra 30 minutes a day to actually study the Bible, not just a book about the Bible or something written by someone who believes the Bible. But go to the very source of God’s wisdom itself. The Bible is God’s Word to His people. Why are we neglecting to look at it? The next challenge though is to not just read it, but study it. The Bible is not just one book; it is a collection of books. It holds 66 books written by 40 different people from different backgrounds covering a span of 1,500 years. So each book contained in the Bible was written by a different author to a different audience in a different time and place. You have to look at all of the context around the individual books to understand what is meant by it, why the author wrote it, and what the audience would get out of it. You would do that with any other kind of book you would read or study in literature class. If you picked up a book by Chaucer, you would want to know when he lived and what kind of style he used. You would want to know why he was writing and to whom he was writing. So do the same thing with the Bible. Many of the books are letters. Think about if you received a letter from a friend of yours. Would you just read the first paragraph and say you knew what it was about? Would you just read the middle sentence from a three page note? Of course not. So we can’t do that with the books in the Bible either. They need to be read in their entirety so that we can understand the heart of what the author was writing and see the material in context. The Bible was not meant to be read in a 5-minute devotion with one verse selected from a random passage each day.
We are somehow the most Biblically illiterate generation since the first century, yet we have more and easier ways to access the Scripture than ever before. Want it on your iPhone? There’s an app for that. Want it where you can take notes? There’s a Bible for that. Want it in a different language? There’s a translation for that. Need a commentary to help your understanding? There’s a book for that. Want it with pictures for your kids? There’s a version for that. We have so many ways to access and read the Scriptures at any moment of convenience, but do we? Do we, in this land of religious openness, free from persecution, ever actual read the Bible? No, instead, we find 5-minute devotions that cherry-pick just a few random, feel good verses out with a cute little life application story to go along with it. How then can we ever expect to grow in our faith? No wonder we don’t feel like we could ever be like Daniel, standing up for God in the face of the King and culture. No wonder we don’t have the boldness in witnessing like Paul. No wonder we don’t think we could withstand trial and tribulations like Job. Those men were able to do those things because they had a close relationship with God. They were able to face giants, persecution, troubled times, and doubt because they spent a significant amount of time with God. They could interpret dreams and boldly proclaim truth because they were steeped in God’s ways and soaked up God’s wisdom. Do you think they did that with a 5-minute devotion?
So if your goal is to study the Bible more in 2017, let’s put some actionable steps to being able to do that. First, select a single book of the Bible for you to study. If you’re not sure where to begin, pick a simple one to start with (in other words, don’t start with Leviticus or Revelation). Choose one of the Gospels. Matthew is written by one of Jesus’s disciples and John is written by Jesus’s closest friend. Mark is written from Peter’s account and Luke is written like the research from an investigative journalist to put down an orderly account of the ministry of Jesus. Or pick Acts, which gives the history of the founding of the church and the missionary journeys of Paul. You could go with some of the letters written by Paul, like Ephesians and Galatians which give instructions to the churches established in those cities for living a Godly life.
Second, find a commentary or two to go along with those books. Those will help give you the background information on the book and its author. It will help you understand more difficult passages and maybe even make connections to other areas of Scripture that discuss a similar theme to give further understanding of a passage. Third, either wake up earlier, go to bed later, or eliminate wasted time during the day to give yourself time to studying this book. If you continue with your same old routine, you will find that “you just don’t have enough time” to read the Bible. That is why your routine will need to change. It is the same way with anything new we want to try. If you want to start losing weight by going to the gym, you have to either wake up earlier, stay up later, or remove wasted activities from your day in order to make that a priority. And that’s what it is all about: your priorities. This should be the most important thing we can do during the day, studying God’s Word. It is how we get to know God and how we get to know how God wants us to live. It shouldn’t be about an obligation to check the box and say you did it for the day. It should come from deep within our heart out of love for what He has done for us. It should be from the same place where our attitude of worship comes. Because of God’s love and sacrifice for us, we want to know Him, praise Him, and obey Him. Not from a dutiful obligation, but from a heart full of love and gratitude.
Fourth, and last, you should be uncomfortable. I’m not saying you have to sit in an uncomfortable chair while you study, but learning more about God should make you uncomfortable. Studying God will not result in an affirmation of everything you do. Studying God will continue to show us where we need to change and where we need to grow. It will highlight things to stop doing and underscore things to start doing, again all out of love for God. We walk in obedience to God not so that we can be saved but because we are saved. In many of Paul’s letters, he calls on his readers to “walk worthy of the Gospel.” He knows our walk is not the mechanism for our salvation. But because God has loved us so much, we should walk worthy of that salvation that we have received. So studying His Word will make you uncomfortable in your sin to move you to repentance and obedience. Studying God’s Word will change your heart and your thoughts on things in your day-to-day and on things in the culture around you. And that is what it truly means to be walking as a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t just a label we wear because of what we do on Sunday mornings. It is to be a mind set on the things of God. God’s Word should be the foundation for every opinion we form on things. Through studying His Word, we are taught to die to our own thoughts and desires in order to submit to His.
Will you in 2017 be willing to change your routine so that you can be uncomfortable in order to walk worthy of your salvation?
Since the very beginning of time itself, the battle has not been between good and evil but between humility and pride. When we read in Isaiah 14 about the fall of Lucifer (aka Satan, the deceiver, the father of lies, and the ruler of darkness) we know that it all started with his pride. He said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.” It all started because he wanted to be more powerful and more exalted than God. It was pride. And that pride was therefore, his destruction. Lucifer was cast out and destroyed because, though he was full of wisdom and beauty, he was corrupted by his pride (Ezekiel 28).
Lucifer knew that the easiest way to draw people away from God was to tempt them in their pride. It was his method to attack the crowning jewel of God’s creation – mankind. He used the temptation of pride to draw Eve away from her direct fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. He started with making her question God’s commands. “Did God really say?” Satan made Eve consider whether God’s commands allowed for wiggle room. Did He really say that was forbidden? Maybe you misunderstood Him. Or maybe He said that but really meant something else (do we ever do that with God’s commands?). And Satan, as the father of lies, led the discussion with a lie about what God had actually commanded. Satan asked if God had forbidden them to eat of every tree, knowing it was just one particular tree. Then the lies continued. He wanted Eve to doubt God’s goodness. It was out of God’s goodness to protect Eve that He commanded them to not eat of that tree – so that she would not die. But Satan said that wasn't true. He called God the liar in order to make Eve question God’s purpose in His command. Then Satan added to his lie this little enticement for her pride. Satan said that instead of dying by eating the fruit, she would be like God. He wanted Eve to desire herself over God. He tempted her in her pride. Would she be willing to humbly submit to God's command or would she want to elevate herself? It’s exactly the concept that led to Lucifer’s fall and destruction; he wanted to be like God. It was that pride to be like God that, as Proverbs 16:18 says, led her to destruction. It was that pride that led to the destruction of all mankind.
Pride. It’s at the root of everything we do. We label movements and marches as taking "pride" in something; take pride in who you are; take pride in whatever it is that you are doing, whether it's good or bad. But pride is really the starting point of every sin we commit. Sometimes it's obvious but sometimes we don't even recognize it as pride. It is so subtle yet it is there even in the "good" things we do. We let it seep into our hearts without even knowing it. We tell ourselves that we are not overly prideful people; we don’t mind helping others and serving others. But as C.S. Lewis said, "If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." So think about the subtlety of pride in how we even read scripture. Consider how you read Romans 14. Paul is talking about not judging a “weaker” brother who is convicted about not eating certain things or the one who is convicted about honoring certain days over others. He starts by saying, “Receive one who is weak in the faith.” Do you ever consider yourself to be the one who is weak in faith? Of course not. We always think of someone else in that case. We tend to identify with the “strong” in faith, even if we’re not. We never associate ourselves as being the weaker brother but only as the stronger one. In our minds we always think of someone else to serve as the example of the “weaker” brother, never considering that maybe it is yourself who is weak. It’s the same concept in Ephesians 4:14-16. Paul says that we should grow in our faith, no longer being “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” But we always think of ourselves as mature and others as children. Because of pride. Someone might in that very moment be swayed and tossed about by false doctrine because of their immature faith, yet they will stand there and read that scripture pointing to others as “weak” or “children” of the faith and not themselves. Because of pride.
Look closely at 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Paul gives some commands to the believers there in Thessalonica. He says to warn the unruly, comfort the fainthearted, and uphold the weak. I’m sure you thought of several people you know that would classify as each of those. But where did you put yourself? We never consider that we might be the unruly, we may be the ones in fear and doubt, or that we may be the one of weak faith. Nope, our pride tells us that those adjectives all belong to someone else. In doing that, we get to point fingers at other people; how they need to mature; how they need to grow in faith; how they need to stop being unruly, or fearful, or weak. We never consider that as a description of our own faith calling us to grow and mature. Because of pride.
Pride is not only what prevents us from growing in the faith by blinding us to the reality of our own faith condition, but it is what prevents us from finding faith in the first place. It is out of pride that we think we are good enough to merit our salvation. It is from pride that we falsely believe we could ever be “good enough” to earn God’s favor. We have to come to an understanding that we are hopelessly, horribly lost in our sin – every single one of us. But our pride tells us “you’re not that bad” or “you’re a pretty good person.” But God’s standard is not being “pretty good” or “not that bad.” His standard is perfection. His standard is to have no sin at all. I heard it put so perfectly by Pastor James Roberson from the Bridge Church in Brooklyn, NY. How can we possibly think we adhere to God’s standard when we don’t even adhere to our own? None of us even act the way we think we should act, much less how God thinks we should act. We can’t even follow the advice we give others or heed the admonitions from our own earthly parents. What makes us think we can possibly pass the standard of perfect holiness as required from a perfect, holy, and just God? We constantly talk about our “rights” and what we “deserve.” Consider what we really deserve from the almighty God creator who will one day judge all of earth. For every lie you’ve told, every seed of anger, every fleeting moment of jealousy in your heart we deserve judgment. We deserve nothing. Actually we deserve worse than nothing. We deserve to be cast out from the presence of God forever. But He gives us mercy, withdrawing a judgment that we deserve. And He gives us grace, rewarding us with a blessing that we didn’t earn.
Yet we dare to stand in our pride and demand God accept us without any contrition of heart and, for some, without any acknowledgement of His existence at all. And again, the battle is between pride and humility. Will you humble yourself before God and acknowledge that you don’t deserve His mercy? Will you put aside your pride to see that you can’t merit salvation on your own good works to accept the undeserving gift of grace He has given? Jesus paints this very picture of the battle between pride and humility as He is facing the cross. And here in a different garden than Eve’s, we find a different outcome of this same struggle and temptation. In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He is praying for there to be another way, but He humbly submits to the will of God to go forward to His death on the cross. Even knowing death could not hold Him, He was still praying for there to be another way. But He prayed in humility to yield Himself up for God – and for you. Throughout that night there were moments that if given over to pride Jesus could have made a very different end to the story. After Peter had cut off the ear of the solider coming for Jesus’ arrest, Jesus said to him, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” Out of pride for Himself, Jesus could have done that, but He humbly allowed the soldiers to arrest Him. At any moment during His trial while the soldiers struck Him and mocked Him, Jesus out of pride could have called down those angels and demonstrated His full power and deity. He could have prophesied not just who struck Him but everything about those who struck Him. But He humbly stood silent, submitting to the will of God. As He hung on the cross, the soldiers and Pharisees mocked Him and dared Him to save Himself. Out of pride He could have saved Himself from the cross and destroyed those who mocked Him. But in His humility, He gave up His spirit into the Father’s hand.
Pride vs. humility. Jesus, the only one who has a right to be proud because He is the perfect Son of God, humbly submitted Himself to God’s authority. Yet man, who has no right to make demands because he is covered over in sin, stands in pride shaking his fist at God as though he deserves something more. But man has the opportunity in humility to acknowledge his sin and seek forgiveness to gain mercy that he doesn’t deserve and receive grace which he did not earn. Pride vs. humility. Which choice will you make?
How do you feel about the word doctrine? What about the word theology? Doctrine is defined as “a principle or position or the body of principles in a branch of knowledge or system of belief.” Theology is the study of God and His relation to the world. To folks today both of those sound pretty boring. Principles? Studying god? System of belief? Who cares as long as I feel something during worship? Why study about God when I sense His presence? Can’t we just be led by the Spirit without having to drag it down with doctrine, study, principles, and theology? The resounding answer to each of those questions is no. Absolutely not.
John 4:21-24 talks about how the true worshipers will worship God in spirit AND in truth. Why must it be both? Because if you are not worshiping in truth then you are worshiping a god of your own creation. You are worshiping what you want God to be and how you want God to relate to you. And that most likely is a false god. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I believe that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father.” The most important thing you can do is study God. If you are going to devote your life to Him and worship Him, then you ought to know whom it is you are worshiping!
There are many examples in the Bible where the people are indeed worshiping in their “spirit” but certainly not in truth. But one of the clearest illustrations of where that leads is found in Exodus 32. Most of you are familiar with the general description of the story; it is where the Israelites have decided to make for themselves a golden calf to worship while Moses is still on the mountain with God. The last thing the Israelites had done (in Exodus 24) was commit to following the Lord and being obedient to Him. They participated in a ceremony of sacrifices and offerings committing themselves to this covenant. Moses, his aids, and the elders then witnessed the very glory of the presence of God. God’s presence covered the mountain like a cloud and His glory was like a consuming fire. But the people got impatient. In only a month’s time, they decided to make a god for themselves who would lead them. So Aaron, the future first High-Priest of the Israelites, gathers their jewelry, melts it down, and forms with an engraving tool a golden calf. They declared that to be their god – as the one who had led them out of Egypt!
Aaron announced that they would have a feast and offerings unto the Lord. They built an altar, made a feast to the Lord, and “rose up to play.” This phrase includes drunken and sexually immoral activities that went along with pagan worship. Yet they were doing this "to the Lord"? The Israelites not only made a false idol but were mixing false idol worship with worship to the true God (also known as syncretism). What an insult to the true God! Even if Aaron thought they were simply adding this golden calf to their worship of God, he was still violating the commands of God to have no other gods besides Him. You can’t add something to God and think that is ok. This shows us how important it is to worship in spirit and in truth. We might think, well, hey they were still worshiping, right? But that was not worshiping in truth. And worshiping in something other than the truth is idol worship. It makes a mockery of God. And God's response, had Moses not pleaded for mercy, was to destroy them for their sin. His wrath burned hot against them, and He was going to consume them. It shows us how serious this sin was. Sometimes it seems impossible that so soon after receiving the commandments and revelation of God that the Israelites could sink so low to mold a golden idol for themselves. But the Christian experience today is oftentimes the same. It might reveal something of the superficial nature of one’s faith how quickly they turn away from the truth. How often do we think we can set aside truth, that boring thing called doctrine and theology, to just worship in spirit? But it is our doctrine and theology that makes our worship in the spirit either honoring or dishonoring to God.
Because Moses delayed in those 40 days on the mountain with God, the Israelites abandoned the God who had rescued them, provided for them, sheltered them, and protected them. How long does it take us in our pain or in the perceived silence of God for us to turn away from him? How quickly do we turn back to our old ways of sin or our own strength and desires when we get impatient with God? How we handle God’s ordained delays is a good measure of our spiritual maturity. If we allow those delays to make us simply to take our eyes off Him, then we drift into sin. But if we allow such times to deepen our faith and strengthen our walk with God, then those times are of good use.
Granted, we don’t typically melt down our jewelry in idol worship but we can turn our hearts away just as easily. How can we consider this at play in our own culture then? How often do “churches” do worship that is only in spirit and not in truth? This is why we must be discerning about what we are taught and in what spirit we are worshiping. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about the ability to discern false prophets and false teachings. He says, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Satan, false prophets, and false teachers will disguise themselves as light. Satan wants the bad to appear to be good so that we will be all the more tempted by it. We are to therefore judge the spirit to see from where it came. John states in 1 John 4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
We see this discernment in the people of Berea when Paul came and preached the Gospel to them. They are praised for searching out to know if what Paul had taught was true. But they didn’t just sit around and think about it and decide based on their own feelings. The Bereans didn’t say, “Well, this just feels right to me.” Or “I had this great moment of experience and elation when I heard Paul talking so I’m going to follow what he says.” Not at all! We must then ask the question, “Based on what are we discerning?” In other words, in order to judge whether a line is straight or not, you must know the characteristics of a straight line. We only know when something is crooked because we have a concept of what straight is. Likewise, you can only judge whether or not something is from God if you know what things from God would be. We can’t judge based on our own concepts or ideals, we must judge them against something accurate, against some standard, to know whether it is from truth or not. So how did the Bereans do it? In Acts 17 it says they searched the Scriptures daily. They examined the Word of God every day to check it against what Paul was teaching. Keep in mind, at this point in time, the “Word of God” was only the Old Testament. They were doing that "boring drudgery" of studying God’s Word, reading the Scriptures, checking their doctrine, and assessing their theology. And they were called noble for doing it. That is why it is so important for us to do the same – studying God’s word, reading the Scriptures, checking your doctrine, and assessing your theology.
They were doing that diligent work to make sure they didn’t just seize upon some new teaching because it sounded nice, or made them feel good about themselves, or didn’t make them feel too guilty about their sins. They checked the Scriptures. They judged the Spirit in which Paul taught against the Spirit of God. And for that reason, it says that many of them believed. And that belief, I feel sure, was a confident belief that would not be swayed by persecution or doubt because they had rightly judged those teachings against the truth. And they saw that it was the truth.
In our culture, though, the whole idea of discernment and judgment has such a bad connotation. For some reason, saying you have “judged” something will get you labeled something not so nice. It’s as though our culture as declared that judging and being judgmental are the same thing, but they’re not. Judgmental is defined as “tending to judge people too quickly and critically.” But judging is defined as “forming an opinion through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” Those are two entirely different concepts. We have to judge things, and honestly we wouldn’t want to live in a culture that did not judge things. We judge things by examining the evidence and considering the facts. We make judgments like that every day – is that car going to stop at the intersection? Is this meat safe to eat? Is what this person telling me the truth? But in those judgments, we must know by what standard we are judging, what evidence and facts we are considering. In spiritual matters, it means we must have sound doctrine, theology, and Biblical understanding so that we too can rightly judge things against the Spirit and Word of God. Judging by your own feelings and opinions will not get you to the Bereans, it will get you to the golden calf. But judging according to the Word of God will strengthen your faith and ensure you are continuing to walk in the true light of God.
As we embark on a new year, many people will take stock of where they are in life and what their goals for the new year are. Some may make plans to finally use that gym membership or read one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. Some may plan to quit a bad habit or to start a good habit. Some may decide to spend more time with family or make time to travel more. Whatever the goals for the new year may be, they are always in an effort to make an improvement, striving to better ourselves. So we ought to stop and ask ourselves: why? Why are we trying to better our lives? It goes straight to the heart of the meaning of life. We are trying to improve ourselves because we believe that life has meaning somehow. Otherwise, why bother trying to improve?
So where do we find this meaning in life that makes it worth improving? Trying to find that meaning of life and purpose for improvement can’t be done in the world defined by the atheist. Though the atheist may say they too can desire good things and strive to be a better person. But according to the atheist, we are just an accidental by-product of matter, chance, and time. There is no real reason or purpose in that. It says that we are only here because of pure blind luck so there's no real reason why should or should not exist. It says that all we have is this life now and nothing afterwards. All we face is death-nothing more. Is death truly all we have to live for? If there is no immortality there is no purpose. If there is no immortality, then live as you please in the moment; after all, what difference does it make? So yes, you can believe anything you want about eternity and still want to be a good persono and live a better life. The question is why would you bother if you didn't believe in eternity? Why would we still feel this innate compulsion to improve our lives, to live good and justly? It is because we are aware of an immortality whether we choose to believe in it or not. That immortality is necessary for life to be meaningful.
However, having immortality alone does not give us the significance that we seek. For an eternity of a useless and purposeless existence is torture. That explanation to our significance without the existence of God is terrifying and depressing. Mere duration of existence does not make that existence meaningful. If man could live forever but there were no God, man’s existence would still have no ultimate significance. So it’s not just immortality man needs for significance, he needs immortality and God. If there is no God, then life, even an eternal life, becomes meaningless.
See, modern man thought he was oh so clever to get rid of God because he thought he was finally free to do as he pleases. Man could live without being inhibited by God’s existence. But what he only succeeded in doing is creating a miserable and insignificant life for himself. Without God and without immortality, man’s life is absurd. William Lane Craig says, “One cannot live happily and consistently on an atheistic worldview. In order to be happy, one must believe in objective meaning, value, and purpose.” And you can’t have objective meaning, value, and purpose without the existence of God.
So while you are making your plans for a better life in 2017, remember what it is that gives that new and improved life purpose. And rejoice that we do have a God that gives our lives meaning and purpose as well as the opportunity to have an immortal life with Him, if we would only trust in His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.