I’m working on a graphic novel with my oldest daughter. It’s a story that I’ve had for some time and have been working on in parts over the past few years. It’s gone through some different versions … but something hit me as we were talking it through: Is the Gospel a story device for us to use? Or, putting it another way, is Christian Fiction safe? Or does it do harm?
Have you ever doubted God? Who hasn’t? It’s in our nature to question what all this means and evaluate how our lives will seem to be a random set of events that amount to nothing. We agree with Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity” and “striving after the wind.”
But do we realize what we’re doing when we entertain those doubts? Essentially, we’re listening to the flesh, which veers quickly to the words of Satan, “Did God really say?”
Worse, we begin listening to worldly wisdom that tells us we are the architects of our future, or we make our own luck.
Some Christians will say, “God doesn’t drive parked cars!”
Is this true? Does God need us to get moving before He can use us?
Others say we need to follow the rules of Karma, and that if we are one with the positive forces in the cosmos, then things will turn around to our favor.
Maybe you’re wondering, is God even real, or is it just “the Universe” like so many like to say.
There’s a movie out, The Case For Christ, following Lee Stroble’s research that convinces him of the ‘proof’ that Jesus was a real man, and thus, Christianity is true. The title suggests a trial of sorts, and it is a compelling story. It captivates us because we like trials and arguments. A large number of TV shows involve lawyers and trials. We enjoy parsing through the evidence to see what really happened.
This is also the topic of Isaiah chapter 40 and 41. God puts himself on trial against the idols. Actually, the idols, and the world corridors of power are on trial against God, just as Pilate was standing before the judgment bar of Christ, not the other way around.
In chapter 41, in particular, God challenges the people and their idols to tell the future, explain the events of the past … do good, do evil, show power.
Of course, the idols and the rulers cannot do any of this. Through Isaiah, God has already declared what will happen, despite people’s attempts to secure themselves against the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians. None of these great nations can do anything to God. They actually serve His purpose.
We often think that our lives are filled with meaningless suffering or unjust turns of events. Yet, God is sovereign in every aspect of what happens. When we doubt this, we’re actually being tempted to trust in our idols. Granted, we don’t have little statues made of wood and metal or shrunken heads of our ancestors, or bones plastered into the walls of our house (I’m assuming most of us don’t!) But, our idols are just as much “less than emptiness.”
We trust in the politics of today. Many trust that Donald Trump will protect Christian morality through Supreme Court nominations. Many trust in a job with the right company to provide for their needs.
It’s not immediately wrong to read the paper and make evaluations on a Presidential nomination, or seek to be gainfully employed. But, it is wrong if we start assigning God’s hand to things that we think are fitting into some plan or design of our own making. In other words, some people have determined that one way is God’s Will, and then begin constructing a path of likely scenarios that will accomplish it.
That’s worldly wisdom. That’s actually sooth-saying. We want to know the future, and we attempt to read the tea leaves or look into the crystal ball to declare the outcome. Some use the Bible to do this. They assign numbers to the letters and try to unlock secrets about the future (this is called Numerology).
God tells us not to do this. It’s witchcraft. It’s attempting to do what only God can do.
Only God directs events. Only God can tell the future. Only God can explain events that happened and what they mean.
Sometimes, God reveals the good reason for some tragedy to us in our personal lives. We come to realize the good that God was working. But other times, God simply asks us, as He did to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” God repeatedly says through His writers in Scripture, “Who counseled me with wisdom and taught me justice?”
The answer is obvious. No one did.
God may leave us waiting for an answer, showing us enough light for one step at a time. And we should respond in thanksgiving for that light, and that step.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Two phrases stand out as the most discouraging things Jesus said: “Have I been with you so long…” (John 14:9) and “how long am I to be with you…?” (Matt. 17:17, Mark 9:21, Luke 9:41–granted, all of those references refer to the same incident).
In each case, we might read the words with a tone of exasperation. After all, he was teaching the disciples, but they didn’t seem to get the overall theme. He multiplied the bread and fish, but in another instance, they didn’t look to him for food. He taught them that he was their teacher and they were all brothers. But they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. He taught that his kingdom was not like those of this world, but they continued to think he would overthrow Rome.
Anyone would be frustrated if their followers didn’t get the message. But Jesus wasn’t just anyone. He is fully God and fully man. He lived with every temptation common to each of us, yet without sin.
I believe his words were filled with patience and longing. Like when someone is trying to explain something wonderful, and eagerly anticipates the moment the listener discovers that ah-ha moment.
“Have I been with you so long…?” “Don’t you see?”
In Mark chapter 2 we see Jesus answering a common question from the religious leaders: Why are you and your disciples doing work on the Sabbath?
For the Jewish people, they had rituals and religious observations that they kept, well, religiously. The seventh day was a day of rest! No argument.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11).
Well, actually, there was plenty of argument. What did work mean? What if this? What if that? How about when it lands on Leap Year?
The real irony is that they actually made the day of rest into another “work” to keep them holy.
This makes me think of a period when I was a kid. We were told that we couldn’t change out of our church clothes or play outside on Sunday (because some Christians don’t get Jesus’ teaching, either, if you believe that! And that we changed the Sabbath to Sunday because Jesus was raised on the first day of the week). So, for a while, we’d sit around reading books and making sure we didn’t play too hard on Sunday. And we’d keep clear of clothes that might imply we were getting ready to play (or work).
Later, we decided that the best way to rest might be to change into clothes that allowed us more comfort.
As I grew up, I struggled with this. We are to obey God’s word. Not just the parts that are easy. The commandments include, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). Again, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11).
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).
There are 28 verses in the books of the Law talking about the Sabbath and the requirement that none among the people of Israel should do any work.
One of those passages was somewhat quoted by the ruler of the synagogue in Luke 13:14 when he tried to keep people from being healed by Jesus on the Sabbath!
This came up a lot. The pharisees didn’t like Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus healing on the Sabbath. They didn’t like Jesus, frankly. They saw him as a rival to their authority over the people. And the Sabbath violations were a perfect scandal headline for their endless indictments against the Lord.
Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone is healing incurable diseases, casting out demons, restoring people’s mobility … and these religious leaders say, “If you’re going to do something supernaturally wonderful, make sure it’s on Sunday through Friday, not on Saturday, buddy!”
I’d be tempted, and might just fail in responding with more than just exasperation. I’d throw in some sarcasm. But, God’s working on me with that flaw.
Jesus didn’t have that sin. He responded patiently. He sought to teach the leaders.
He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28).
What does this mean? Jesus is the lord of the Sabbath … does that mean he gets to decide who observes it and when? Is he above the Law? This was probably what the Pharisees thought he meant.
But there’s a deeper meaning. Think way back to Genesis and the first Sabbath. God had completed creation. He narrates this to Moses in six days, describing the work in terms we’d understand. When the word was complete, He rested.
This is a pattern for us. It is good to rest from our work. We shouldn’t work continuously or we’ll get sick!
And, like we all know, sometimes we need to be forced to take a vacation. For our own good, someone might tell us, “It’ll wait till Monday. Go home.”
That’s a pretty neat meaning. Take some rest. But what about the part in the Law that we are to remember it and keep it holy? And why the emphasis on the Sabbath day in such detail? Couldn’t God have just said, “take a break! Trust me!”
Granted, God didn’t need to rest after creating the cosmos, spacetime and the planets and all living creatures, microbes and atoms. He doesn’t grow tired.
But that’s not why God created the Law of the Sabbath. There was something that all parts of the Law pointed toward that He wanted us to remember. Something far more important than taking a little vay-cay.
What was this thing that God wanted us to remember and keep close to our hearts? Why does this commandment rest within the 5 commandments that relate to our relationship to God? What’s the meaning here?
The writer of Hebrews points this out: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whosoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10).
How do we enter God’s rest? It is through repentance and faith in Jesus as the completer of our redemption by His work on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Remember Jesus’ last words on the cross? “It is finished!”
Jesus completed the work of redemption for the world on the cross. Those who believe in Him as savior enter by faith into God’s rest, never to need to work the various requirements of the Law. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled by Jesus. He did it all for us.
He is the Lord of the Sabbath not because He selectively enforces the law, but because He completed His work and we all enter a perpetual rest with Him.
For the Christian, every day is the Sabbath day because we no longer have a list of requirements to please God. We no longer have sacrifices to bring, or washings and fastings to observe. If you don’t have your males circumcised on the 8th day after birth, you’re fine! No infant baptisms, either. And believer baptism is not a requirement of salvation, either (it’s an act of obedience to Jesus’ words). Communion, too, is not a “work” that we must do to receive the grace of God, as many teach from the pulpit (to their own judgment). The grape juice and crackers are not the body and blood of Christ. They are bread and juice. The fool who holds them and tells you they changed is a bald-faced liar.
We who have been completed in Christ’s work, having claimed that work by our faith (which is also a gift of God) are filled with the new wine (the Holy Spirit) and no longer need the pots of water for ceremonial washing. Jesus launched His ministry at a wedding, performing His first miracle of changing the water to wine. And it was the most amazing wine anyone had ever tasted.
Jesus will conclude all things of this earth at a wedding. It will be the marriage of Him with His people, the spiritual Israel, His congregation, his bride!
We’ve been called out of the old system of rituals that pointed toward Him and we embrace Him alone. He is the sign and substance of our New Covenant. He has purchased us completely out of this world.
We are at rest. We no longer observe new moons, sabbaths or other festivals. They mean nothing.
God has impossible demands that no one can meet! God wants perfection, but that’s not me. I’m tired of all the judgment and the rules. I can’t do anything right, so I guess I’m just going to unplug and do my own thing!
That’s the response many have to Christianity. And it happens because they have not seen the beauty of the Gospel, which is filled with Grace from an incredibly loving God. Continue reading →
I’m reading In Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, written by Michael E. Wittmer. This is an old controversy … but it really isn’t new, either. They say a sucker is born every minute … well, so are heretic teachers. The problem is … I think the suckers are the ones responding to the heretics!
I’ll get to the book in a moment, but I want to preface it by another example. A while back I listened to a debate on baptism between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.
Hear the debate below:
The positions are well argued, generally. R.C. falls back on an argument of “deafening silence” regarding the practice of baptizing infants in the early church, and then attempts to string together the usual disconnected and out-of-context passages to build his defense of straight up idolatry.
MacArthur, while presenting the Biblical case for believer’s Baptism founded upon the actual teaching of Christ and the Scriptures, falls short in the end.
He succumbs to the same problem I’m seeing with Michael Wittmer in his response to Rob Bell’s heretical Universalims-tinged paganism.
Maybe you’ve heard a pastor give a warning before serving communion, advising against anyone taking part in an unworthy manner. It comes from the Bible:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. -1 Corinthians 11:27
If you have a sensitive soul, perhaps you’ve wondered, “am I doing this in a worthy manner?”
Then, when the pastor goes on:
That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. -1 Corinthians 11:30
Nobody wants that. In fact, my daughter asked me about this, genuinely concerned. And while most agree that it pertains to taking communion in a frivolous, carefree manner … it goes deeper.
When I wrote the last post, What’s Wrong With Infant Baptism I realize that there are those who misuse adult/believer baptism, too. In the interest of being fair and balanced, I wanted to address this topic, as well.
While infant baptism is not commanded by God, and is elevated to idolatry because it substitutes itself for Christ (in practice and belief, if not by open admission), there is a very real issue with many adult baptisms, too.
Take a gander at the video below, which came from Big Texas, or something… a reality TV show. Todd Friel’s Wretched posted it with his commentary. Enjoy.
The original video is no longer online. Prior to it being removed the Huffington Post actually skewered it! If even the world notices the gong of irreverence here, shouldn’t Christians be crying out against it, too?
But that’s the world commenting. And the Huffington Post would probably mock any form of religious behavior. So, before we delve deeper, I think it would be appropriate to see what the dictionary has to offer us in defining baptism:
(in the Christian Church) the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or of immersion in water, symbolizing purification or regeneration and admission to the Christian Church. In many denominations, baptism is performed on young children and is accompanied by name-giving.
synonyms: christening, naming“the baptism ceremony”
a ceremony or occasion at which baptism takes place.plural noun: baptisms
a person’s initiation into a particular activity or role, typically one perceived as difficult.
To the world, it is a ceremony linked to purification or regeneration. It’s also a ceremony for the admission to the Church. In the video, the woman notes how “purity” is a key part of baptism. She also links it to a celebration to “live a better life.”
Interestingly, the dictionary’s second bullet point about initiation into a role that is difficult is probably the most accurate!
As Todd Friel pointed out, the Russians get baptized in frozen lakes that they need to chop through and endure the elements (actual elements, not “holy water”). Does that ever happen in America? We have indoor facilities. We have heated pools. We have lavish backyards in Texas with doves in boxes!!
When churches have long lines of people getting baptized in groups, what does it cost them? Or is it just a Christian rave, a group thing?
What about the Jews who converted to Christ in the first century? Let’s fast-forward to the Chinese citizens under the grip of Communism or the people in Muslim countries and ponder their cost for a moment.
Around the world it is “legal” to be a Christian. China has State authorized churches. But they prohibit gatherings of more than a certain number. And if people were actually being converted to Christianity, there’s a problem. Egypt will arrest people for document forgery because a Christian will no longer want to have a Muslim name. So, they’re not bein persecuted for being a Christian … directly. In Saudi Arabia, you can be a Christian, but you cannot tell anyone about it. People who convert are shunned by their family and hated (at best) or get their tongues cut out, stoned, or physically harassed.
Turning back to present-day America, let’s consider the frivolous attitude and confused theology of baptism that takes place.
Some believe that baptism is part of the regeneration that an adult must undergo in order to complete salvation. This is derived from 1 Peter 3:21.
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
The error here comes from the three ‘c’s: Context, Context, Context.
Peter is referring to the Flood being the baptism of the world that saved the few who believed from the wicked. It raised the Ark up, while destroying the unrighteous in the deluge. Similarly, true baptism (of the Spirit) marks the separation of faithful believers from the unregenerate world. Peter expands on this to clear up any misconception by saying it isn’t the “washing away of dirt,” as with the baptisms and washings of the Jewish rituals. Those only cleaned the outside.
Rather, baptism is a ceremony of obedience to identify with Christ (who was baptised by John in obedience to His Father in identification with us). The discerning reader will note that when Jesus was baptised by John, the Spirit descended on Him like a dove and God identified Him as His Son.
There are those, like Joel Osteen and his wife, who think that means Jesus “became” God’s Son at that point. No, that’s a very, very wrong heresy. Jesus was already the image of God in human form from the very start, from His miraculous inception!
The baptism of John marked the official announcement of what was already a reality.
In the same way, the believer–who is baptised by the Spirit at the moment of regenerating faith–announces his or her identification with Christ through obedience in the waters of adult baptism (the regeneration already having been completed by the work of Christ). Water baptism demonstrates the Christian’s obedience to Jesus, just like Jesus’ baptism demonstrated His obedience to the Father.
Menno Simons points out that it is a rather simple thing to obey. The harder things for Jesus to obey would come right after the baptism–the 40 days’ temptation in the wilderness, to be specific. Our obedience starts with water baptism, but we then go in to the wilderness of temptation in which we must–sometimes in hardship–deny ourselves and obey our Lord in all things, denying the desires of the flesh.
If someone doesn’t feel they need to obey Christ in water baptism it raises the question, will they have a similar disregard for obeying Him in more difficult matters of faith?
In short, the ceremony doesn’t save one’s soul, or complete Christ’s work of regeneration. If anyone believes that or teaches it, it is the same idolatry of which the infant baptizers are guilty. It injects a ceremony with regenerative power that only belongs to Christ.
We receive God’s Grace, we obey His Commands and celebrate His sovereignty, but we do not participate in regeneration or dispense His Grace.
The other error that exits is by the Dispensational theology camp. Note, there are many dispensational teachers who do NOT accept this, but it is mainline dispensationalism. They teach that water baptism was for the Jews, not for the Gentiles. They claim that Paul didn’t baptize and disavowed the practice in favor of the baptism of the Spirit at salvation.
The problem here is that they are actually cutting out whole passages in which Paul admits that he baptized believers–Crispus and Gaius (1 Corinthians 1:14), the believing members of Stephanas’ family (1 Corinthians 1:16) and the people of Ephesus who had previously been baptized by John (Acts 19:4).
These splinter theologians are serving the same spirit of disobedience as the pedo-baptists who seek to negate the word of Christ and ignore His command. In fact, they will discount all books of the Bible except for those written by Paul (except when Paul talks about believer baptism, apparently). For them, they take the phrase “rightly divide the word of God” a bit too literally and actually divide the word of God.
What’s Wrong with Adult Baptism? When it is done apart from obedience to Jesus Christ upon one’s salvation by God’s Grace through faith. If anyone does it because they think it will give them assurance of salvation, acceptance in a group or any other cause that serves our flesh and lack of faith, it’s actually the sin of idolatry.