Orthodoxy Against the World

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

– John 15:18-19

Few saints of the church were so misaligned in their lifetimes and yet has been so revered after their deaths more than Athanasius. An Alexandrian cleric from the 4th century, he came to the forefront as a staunch defender of the deity of Christ and a prominent critic of Arianism, which affirmed Christ as an exalted being but not divine. Although the Council of Nicaea in 325 affirmed Christian orthodoxy by defending the Trinity, Arianism remained widespread across the Christian world. Because of Athanasius’s prominence as a bishop, this inevitably resulted in conflict both with the Arians and the Roman emperors who were at the least sympathetic to them.

In the forty five years between his consecration as bishop of Alexandria and his death, he spent seventeen of those years in exile, sent away five times by four emperors. Pope Liberius, under intense pressure from the Arians, condemned him.  He was accused by his enemies of sorcery, stealing from the church, and even murder.  He was called a “contemptible puppet” by Julian the Apostate and may have even been referred to as a “black dwarf” by others (though this name has been disputed). Despite opposition in his own lifetime, he was praised in the years following his death, and his orthodoxy was further confirmed in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople where the Arian heresy began to die out. Today, he is revered by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike for his unwavering defense of Christological doctrine.

One moniker that has stuck with Athanasius throughout the years is the Latin phrase Athanasius Contra Mundum, or Athanasius Against the World. It is an apt phrase for a man whose theological stance among many was deeply unpopular and often cost him his reputation, his job and his livelihood. Indeed, while Athanasius may have not been a martyr, the message he carried cost the lives of many of his contemporaries as well as other Christians throughout the ages.

If you think about it, contra mundum can be applied to any faithful man or woman, can it not? After all, the Lord made very clear that following Him has a cost (Matt 16:24-25) and the history of the church proves this. Read it, and you will see that the elect have always been fighting something, whether that be a theological error within or pressure to conform from without.  Especially when the loves of the world stand in contrast to the righteousness of God (1 John 2:15), conflict is sure to arise. And as the quoted verse above makes clear, the world wants nothing to do with Christians and certainly wants nothing to do with God. The Gospel by its very nature is antagonistic to the world.

The modern day connection between us and our ancestors in the faith (i.e. Athanasius) is not only in the world’s hatred for us, but arises out of the church itself. Just as the Arians before us, there are those in congregations and in pulpits that propagate unorthodox and contradictory teaching. Also like the Arians, they have leverage in popular social and political support, no doubt a good way to get on the world’s good side. What is of upmost concern is that they proclaim to share the same message, believe in the same God, and read the same Bible, pointing to them to assert their arguments. In reality, what they preach is a false God, false doctrine and a false message. The Apostle Paul, in particular, had particularly strong words for those who preach a false gospel (Gal 1:8) and so do a good host of others.

Admittedly, talking about doctrine is not the most fun thing in the world. Talking doctrine, after all, has caused a good deal of stress in church history. This is not to say either that we should be trying to divide ourselves whenever we can. We are commanded to keep unity as much as we can (Ephesians 4:3). But it is also true that if we are to worship properly, preach properly, serve properly, and most importantly, love properly, we got to have our basics down first. If we don’t have those down, the rest becomes dysfunctional, and Jesus knew this (John 14:23).

Brothers and sisters, the church cannot and must not bend to what the world wants the body to believe, nor cave into heresies from among our midst. Rather, follow the apostle Peter and set the example of defending what is good and true and holy,

Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

– 1 Peter 3:15

This may make us contra mundum, but that’s okay. We’re in good company.

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The Heart of the Suicide Issue

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

– James 5:14

It’s been a few weeks now since the most recent in a growing line of notable names have taken their own lives. Just as quickly, the question of rising suicides across the country came to the fore, thrown into the national spotlight and becoming the talk of celebrities and politicians. Then just as quickly, the fury of commentary fades into the background, all in all not solving any of the problems. The vicious cycle will most likely, and sadly, become relevant again when the next high profile person commits self-murder, shedding the spotlight on one “important” man or woman while thousands die without their names spread across the New York Times or CNN.

The response to suicide is a mirror image of the response to the social ills affecting us today. When one is brought to the fore, many cry “We must do something!” or “Something must be done!” or “This must stop!” Moral outrage ensues, whether it be legitimate concern or self-righteous virtue signaling. Notice, however, that in most of these discussions, the problem is all we hear. Sure,  social media cries out the problems, but all the while never really proposing a solution to the problem. It’s especially clear in the rising epidemic of depression and suicides that is spreading very quickly across every demographic, even children. Sure, we come up with hashtags like #awareness or #suicideprevention, propose all sorts of quick fixes and at times possible long-term solutions. Despite that, none of it appears to be working, and all those propositions turn out to be merely like trying to spare a sinking ship with band-aids.

No, the real issue goes deeper than most suppose. In other words, we are failing to come up with solutions because of the growing secularization happening in the West. When human beings are stripped of a divine purpose, a supernatural meaning for their lives, of God as the source of all life and blessing (1 Cor 8:6), what do you have left to replace it? Human beings are creatures that pursue purpose, and an awfully massive vacuum is left where the Imago Dei is supposed to be when we discard believing that an Image of God exists. Ultimately, what we are reduced to is to find our identities in other things. For some, it is family and friends, for some sexual identity, for others money. Perhaps we may ground ourselves in our physicality or even find our confidence in brain power.

These things eventually show in one way or another to be sinking sand rather than solid rock. A man may lose his entire family in a car crash, leaving him alone and isolated. The transgendered person finds after their operation that the sex they finally have seemed to obtain did not change anything about them. Workers may be laid off and lose their entire livelihoods. An athlete may succumb to a life-altering injury that leaves them paralyzed. A degenerative brain disorder could break down a once brilliant mind into utter mush. Where is the meaning of life when we lose what we’ve staked our lives on?

This is not to neglect those with certain cognitive disabilities and mental disorders who may have a predisposition to suicidal thinking. We must also recognize, however, that suicide and mental illness are not mutually exclusive, and in scientific studies it has been shown that a vast majority of those diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder do not end their own lives. On the contrary, there are many examples of men and women who go on to live full, healthy lives, albeit not without some difficulty but at least are alive.

Where does our deepest illness lie then? It lies within ourselves, sprouting forth from our fallen nature and infecting the world like a plague. It is a inbred defect of the mind that has extraordinary capacities to distort and twist what is the truth about ourselves. And whether that is a pompous pride or a depressive pride it nevertheless drives us to things that we may never thought we could do and should not do, but inevitably costs us and all those around us big. Suicide is a fruit of such an illness, causing tremendous suffering and excruciating pain.

Where can we go from here? This is where I point to the verse cited at the beginning,

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

– James 5:14

It starts with humility. We must keep our eyes off of us. If we are suffering, it is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we have done or how bad we are. Dwelling on such things is no question a catalyst toward the downward spiral that starts with depression and, if not stopped, self-murder. That is why we must divert  away from the “I” and surrender our pains, sufferings, and toils in prayer. If we are brokenhearted, we are assured that
God is near (Psalm 34:18). In this act, we recognize that we cannot fix it ourselves, but also recognize that all is not lost. The one who seeks after God can have the assurance that those who come to Him in humble sorrow and repentance will never be turned away (John 6:37) and is promised hope as well as joy to those who trust in His grace (Rom 15:13).

Which leads to my next point. As I have also referenced in another article, a sure fire way to stave off depression is to develop a lifestyle of joy, a joy not grounded in ultimately fleeting things but in a hope that is eternal and lasting. As written in the Psalms,

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

– Psalm 16:11

If we place our hope in the hands of the Lord, we are given contentment and peace of mind (Rom 5:1). Not that we will never have troubles, nor that we will never stumble, nor that we will never again be tempted or become downtrodden and depressed. We may even still entertain suicidal thoughts. But at the very least, we need not fear and despair when these trials overcome us.

I’m aware that my message is not a popular one. It’s one you probably won’t hear on the news or in many other blogs you could be reading. It’s not easy to recognize that the social ills are not superficial, but runs very deep and cannot be fixed on our own. On the other hand, the fact that we cannot help ourselves is part of the good news. It drives us away from ourselves and to the God who loves and cares for us, the one totally able and capable of giving you a purpose and a meaning, a reason to live regardless of the other circumstances of life.

It is quite true that suicide is an eternal solution to a temporary problem. But so is living in light of the hope given to us. Live in hope!

School Shootings and the Evil of Man

It would be safe to say that among the most despicable crimes that can be committed are offenses against children. Vulnerable by nature, boys and girls alike are easy targets for the likes of abusive authority figures, pedophiles, and murderers. Because of such susceptibility, it often confounds us how someone can subject a child to such gross acts of violence.

But what may confound us even more is not necessarily when the old abuse the young, but when children beat, maim, or even kill other children.

Today, many of awoke to the news of yet another school shooting in the United States, this time taking place in Santa Fe, Texas. While the news at the time of this post is still coming to light, all indications point to a student of the school committing the murders. A child killing children. And yes, the term “child” does apply here. Regardless of whether or not the shooter or the victims are 7 months old or 17 years old, the victims and (most likely) the shooter are children.

What makes the tragedy all the sadder is that this is not an uncommon occurrence. This isn’t even the first of its kind this year. As you remember, another shooting took place in February at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Numerous other incidents have popped up across the country not only in public schools, but also notably at concerts (such as the Las Vegas shootings last October) and nightclubs (like the Pulse massacre in June of 2016). And while the incidents at these other places are horrifying also, there is something more insidious about a shooting when it takes place at a school or any other place where children congregate and are to be safe.

Many are rightly noting about the increasing frequency of such events. But what has divided the nation has been the question of why and what can be done about it. Like clockwork, a debate rages about restricting or loosening the gun laws of this country. These debates have become so heated that they tend to overshadow even the tragedies that ignited the discussion in the first place.

I am not writing to propose any gun legislation. To do so would be to overlook the deeper problem that exists in our society. No, the real problem arising is this: we are not recognizing evil. In all the news coverage, articles, and commentary that has been brought forth in these recent tragedies, rarely has the word “evil” been used. They may say “well, this person is mentally ill” or “this person is a psychopath” or “this person was never given empathy or love.” While these things may be true, we simply cannot ignore calling an abominable act for what it is: evil.

What is also lost in the discussion is that when you lose the notion of calling something evil, you will not believe that man is born sinful, let alone be evil. You have heard it often that people are “basically good”, and while there are many bad people out there such as Hitler, most of us are genuine.  I argue that this fallacious interpretation of man has no basis in reality.  The truth of the matter is that that human beings are by their very nature sinful and rebellious. And while I can quote Scripture up and down to justify man’s depravity, you do not necessarily have to look very far outside of the Word of God to see the universality of sin. Read a history book. Turn on the news. It’s everywhere and infects everything, sadly even the most innocent among us: children. It is a sorry reality indeed.

It should come as no surprise that a secularized world has a hard time calling something evil. After all, if there is no definitive frame of reference to call what is good, good and evil, evil, it becomes all the more difficult to justify condemning anything. On the contrary, if we try to justify anything, it is to try to justify a person’s actions as not evil, but misguided or merely flawed. This is in stark contrast to the Judeo-Christian view, where good and evil is clearly defined and revealed to man, and God has given us the divine moral laws, made manifest both in Scripture and in nature, to discern such things.

So what can be done about the recent epidemic of events? Well, the very first thing we should do is outright condemn these acts. Murder is evil, and when someone murders another en masse, particularly children, we must seek that justice is done in accordance with the laws of the land and of the divine prerogative to judge murderers. On the flip side, we must give comfort and support to the victims and their families. We are called to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15) and extend our compassion to those so unjustly wronged. Of these things there should be little if any debate.

What then is the way forward? What this nation needs more than gun laws (or less gun laws) is an attitude and spirit of repentance. The country is actively and increasingly living in a way that spits in the face of our Maker, and when we rebel against God, He does not strike us down with lightning like Zeus. Rather, God gives man over to His own sin and lets him revel in it, but also leaves him alone to face the consequences. The uptick of evil in this nation, coming to light in the form of violence against children, of racist acts, and of bitter and divisive hatred is almost surely a result of God’s lifting the hand of His grace.

I plead with you the reader and to the nation that if we do indeed turn away from our sins and return to loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, that He will indeed create in us clean hearts (Psalm 51). He will separate our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:2). He is our true hope and salvation (1 Peter 1:3), and the comfort for those who weep (2 Cor 1:3-5). Let us not be given over to sin but be renewed by the forgiveness of the Lord, who is willing and able to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Without repentance, I fear for what will come next for us. But with it, I will be ecstatic. Regardless, I will be hopeful.

Would We Kill Jesus If He Were Alive Today?

ecce_homo_by_antonio_ciseri_28129We are now two days away from Good Friday, a commemoration of a pivotal day in the history of man: the crucifixion of Jesus. Worldwide, Christians come together in humble and penitent remembrance of the events of that day. In Jerusalem, large crowds will gather for the procession on the Via Dolorosa, the traditional route of Jesus’s walk to the crucifixion. In Rome, the Pope will deliver a liturgy (but not a mass, as Good Friday is a day of mourning) in St. Peter’s Basilica. In the Philippines, some even volunteer to be crucified as acts of penance. Churches around the globe will hold Good Friday services, many with multiple sermons, as the faithful remember the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of man, and look forward to the culmination of His resurrection on Easter.

But just as Holy Week is the most important week on the Christian calendar, Easter is also the time of year where skepticism of the event’s surrounding Christ’s life is at its highest. Each year around either Easter or Christmas, new theories or old ideas long discarded are brought to public attention. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Has the church been suppressing the truth of who He really was? We can thank the Internet for resurrecting (pun intended) a bunch of bad and nonsensical hypotheses, but the doubt surrounding the official record of Jesus’s life is as old as Christianity itself and has influenced popular culture. Indeed, it is certainly no accident that a live television version of Jesus Christ Superstar, the musical that insinuates a sensual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, is airing on Easter this year.

The question I wish to address in this post, however, is none of those conspiracy theories. The question I have in mind is this: if Jesus were alive today, would we kill Him? I would say a lot of people would say a resounding no to the inquiry. In mainstream society, Jesus was a good man, a wise teacher on par with Buddha or other religious figures of the past. Some may even concede that he is a prophet as Islam does. He is seemingly beloved, at least on the surface level anyway. Besides, we are much more enlightened than we were in the first century, and would not dare to put to death a man of such integrity and character.

In response to such argumentation, I would counter that human beings totally underestimate the depraved state we are in, so much so that we are wholly capable of putting innocent men to death. The Scriptures make this clear,

“None is righteous, no, not one;
     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
     in their paths are ruin and misery,
     and the way of peace they have not known.”
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

– Romans 3:10-18

We are incurably evil. As Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (17:9). We don’t need the Scriptures alone to tell us this either. Throughout human history, countless men, women, and children have been brutalized and murdered for crimes they never committed and whose deaths were not at all warranted. Even today, we should not think that human nature has changed to reverse this. While knowledge and technology increase, the primal nature remains.

There is then the question of Jesus’s own statements and self-identity. For one, His claims to divinity would certainly put Him at risk in many countries where blasphemy is still a death sentence. Many more would see Him as a political danger and a potential catalyst for revolution with not only His divine identification but also with His claims to be a king and of inaugurating a kingdom on Earth. Such seditious implications are primary reasons why Christianity has so fiercely been persecuted against throughout the world.

But many more so will see Him in another destructive way: His exclusive claims. He held a high view of the “old-fashioned” and “bigoted” law of Moses and even went a step further in its interpretation (Matt 5:17-20). You simply cannot hold to such traditional views and expect to be popular in the West. He also said that He was the only way, the only truth, and the only life available (John 14:6), something that would not go over well in our post-modern and pluralistic society. He blasted the religious elite for their self-righteousness and their hypocritical way of life (Matt 23), which would not make those on the right very happy either. And especially in this political and socially volatile time in history where civil discourse has dissolved into bitter arguing, name-calling, and even threats, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if people today would call for Jesus to be pacified, perhaps arrested, or even worse.

Finally, the reason why Jesus would die today is simply this: He has to. Regardless of whether He was crucified in Jerusalem in the first century or if it happened somehow, somewhere in the world today, Jesus was born for the purpose of being the Lamb of God through whom the sins of men would be atoned for. It was the will of the Godhead from eternity past that the Son of God would come into the world to not only bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) but also that the truth bearer also bear the brunt of His Father’s wrath so that we do not have to. As the Apostle Paul writes,

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under [f]the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

– Galatians 4:4-5

Jesus was not coerced into accomplishing the redemption of man, but rather willingly laid down His life for it through His death and even the power to take it up again through His resurrection (John 10:17-18). And why did He do this so freely?

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8

And that, my friends and brothers and sisters in the Lord, is what makes Good Friday truly Good.

The Universal Billy Graham

Billy Graham died today at the age of 99. There’s a lot to unpack in that short statement. The man was, after all, easily the most influential and recognizable evangelist of the 20th century. He drew crowds in the thousands to his aptly-titled “crusades”, communicating the message of Christ to millions more through the advent of television. In the era of segregation, Graham advocated for the civil rights movement, taking down racial barriers both figuratively and literally, as is the case of crusades when he took down the ropes that separated the crowd by race. He drew close ties to fellow Christian leaders as well as politicians, most notably so with former president Richard Nixon. Polls have honored him as one of the most admired persons not just in America, but around the globe. Tributes in the hours and days to come are sure to follow the news of his passing.

This is not to say, however, that his ministerial work has been without controversy. One instance was in 2002, when a taped conversation between Nixon and Graham revealed Graham’s opinion that Jews had a “stranglehold” on the media. These anti-Semitic charges are not new; they had been rumored even during Nixon’s presidency, and Graham drew backlash for closely associating with Nixon even during Watergate. Critics has also derided him for his ecumenical leanings and in particular his view later in his ministry that suggested that one could attain salvation without the knowledge of Christ. For such beliefs, Graham has been called a universalist and an inclusivist.

I feel that the best to honor a man is to be honest with his life’s work, whether that be good or ill. And as with everyone else, Graham had his share of both. On the one hand, Graham was a powerful Christian voice. When he preached, he preached with passion. He affirmed the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and stressed the centrality of Jesus to the proclamation of the Gospel. Surely God used him to transform the lives of thousands, perhaps millions, through the work of his crusades and his ministries. And because of his desire to fulfill the Great Commission in making disciples of every nation and race, his appeal was nearly universal.

On the other hand, Graham was not perfect. His remarks on Jews were inexcusable, remarks that Graham, to his credit, repented of and apologized for. But there is also the theology of Graham that may be called into question also. Graham’s views on salvation did have a universalist tone to them, as noted in an interview he had in 1997,

“I think everybody that that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they’re conscious of it or not, they’re members of the body of Christ. And that’s what God is doing today.  He’s calling people for ‘eh, out of the the world for his name whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world, or the non-believing world uh they are members of the body of Christ because they’ve been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but uh they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have and they turn to the only light that they have. And I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven”

One would like to think that Graham made these comments to express the universality of the Gospel as opposed to the universalist Gospel and his views were not expressed clearly enough, but the quote above clearly shows a belief that the other world religions can be paths to Christ outside of Christianity. Inclusivism is not orthodox, something that Graham should have been aware of, especially in light of his previous sermons where he emphasized knowing Christ as the only path.

In short, Billy Graham made an impact on evangelical Christianity that even today cannot be measured in its full scope. It may take a long time before we see the effects of his ministry brought to full fruition, positive or negative. Yet despite his shortcomings, we should thank God for the way God equipped him to bring untold numbers to Christ. May his soul rest in peace.

Joy in Christmas When the Holidays Depress

December. The month of holidays and celebrations. A time that people laud as a season of joy and thanksgiving, of good cheer and good will to men. I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas? The presents, the food, getting together with family and friends. The list goes on.

But for many of us, December is the most depressing time of the entire year. Some of us don’t have family and friends to celebrate the holidays with, a somber reminder of loneliness and isolation. It doesn’t help either that with the coming of winter, the time when the air gets colder and the days get shorter.

Finally, the end of the year reminds many that the past year’s expectations of a better life did not come to fruition. Your finances did not improve. You did not get that better job. You didn’t lose that weight. You still didn’t find “the One”. You feel like nothing was accomplished in the last twelve months, and it stings. Consequently, you view the next year as much of the same.

In short, the season which brings happiness to many is absolutely miserable to others. Bluntly, it can really suck. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Christmas commemorates the inauguration of a new age in the history of the world: the incarnation of the Son of God. In the midst of sorrow and suffering, God brings hope through His Son. Despite the sin of men, the Lord showed a way out, an act of profound love through becoming a man. The event, heralded by the angels, was “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). And for those who feel hopeless, a light shines forth to bring us out of the dark. The beauty of Christmas is its hope.

And we are not to mourn like those who have no hope. If we have hope, we have joy, for joy is the consequence of believing in hope. We are to have joy at all times, even in the face of trial (James 1:2). A crushed spirit kills the soul, but an uplifted spirit is medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Moaning and wallowing does our souls no good. Expressing happiness and contentment uplifts the spirit, even when things seem lonely and hopeless. When thoughts bring you down, shift your focus from yourself and to the source of joy!

And finally, or those of you who are struggling this season (or any season), there is a passage I would like to share with you. From the hand of the Apostle Peter,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

– 1 Peter 1: 3-9

I hope you all enjoy your Christmas, and celebrate not in the things of the world that will pass away, but glory in the things that are everlasting.

In Christ, you are never alone!

A Country is Only as Good as it’s God

Human beings are by their very nature worshipping creatures. It makes sense, then, that everyone has a god. It may be a religion (i.e. Christianity) or a spirituality (i.e. Buddhism). Even if someone does not worship God in the proper sense,  something else will fill the void. Even the staunchest atheist will have an idol to adore. We may laugh at the ancients who worshipped the god of war or sex or money, but those gods are still being worshipped today. Sure there are no formal temples to these gods, but we still praise them and give service to them in order that they may be pleased enough to bless us. Perhaps there is no bigger god that man has created than man itself, for man reveres these idols for the ultimate glory of man.

If the people worship God or a god or multiple gods, it logically follows that society itself has a spiritual character. Not only can society have a spiritual essence, but it is absolutely necessary that it does since the beliefs and standards of the nation are a fundamental undergirding to its cultural, social, and political life. The laws that are passed, the type of government that is established, and the norms and morality that society accepts as appropriate all go back to what humans believe about themselves and what they may (or may not) believe about the spiritual realm.

Societies throughout history have had a religious life. The concept of separating the spiritual from the worldly realm is a new one, and even now the secular world cannot escape from falling back towards ritualistic tendencies. Communist countries, who officially have no gods, have created cults of personality around their national heroes, glorifying their exploits but stopping barely short of proclaiming actual Godhood onto them. Decades after their deaths, you can go to China or Russia and view the bodies of Mao Zedong or Vladimir Lenin, the latter of which died in 1924! Even atheistic societies recognize that a nation lives or dies by its ideology, particularly who we worship.

The Biblical Connection

The idea that the spiritual life of a nation is crucial to its thriving is a biblical one. Nowhere is this more made clear than in Deuteronomy 28. The context: Moses is giving his final instructions to the nation of Israel before they are to cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land that the Lord had promised to their ancestors. The Israelites have been exhorted to love God and obey His commandments. If they do so, they would be blessed, as Moses states,

Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.

– Deuteronomy 28:1-2

The Pentateuch laid out beforehand how the Lord had entered a covenant with Israel, codified in the giving of the law and the promise of God’s protection and blessing in return. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 is that promise to bless Israel for obedience to God and faithfulness to the covenant.

But after exhorting the people with the blessings of the covenant, a stern and lengthy (v. 15-68) warning is given for what will happen if they break from the covenant,

But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.

– Deuteronomy 28:15

Note the switch from blessings to curses. Disobedience does not merely mean a slap on the hand, but means something much worse. Instead of flourishing (v.4), there would be languishing (v.38-42). Instead of victory (v.7), there will be defeat (v.25). Instead of being in the land (v.3), the people would be exiled (v.64). Sure enough, God remained true to His covenant warnings when centuries later, the nations of Israel and Judah were cast out of the land for not holding up their end of the covenant.

We Need God to Thrive

What can this story of possibly mean for us today? After all, this was a very long time ago, in a far-off land who saw the world differently than we do. This was a particular covenant, a particular time and place that this covenant with Israel was effective, and no national covenants with any other nation had been made since then. Let’s not forget that this was back in the Old Testament, before Jesus was even born.

Well, Deuteronomy 28 tells us more than we realize. For one, it teaches us that society is most harmonious when it is in accordance with the divine law. Even if the ceremonial statutes of Moses are no longer in effect, the moral laws (do not murder, do not steal, etc.) still very much remain. When a nation upholds these laws, the nation provides the equitable justice that God demands for those who break the law, while also protecting the innocent and ensuring a more secure, orderly society.

The second, larger lesson here is that what we worship really does matter. As the creator of the universe, God is owed obedience, respect, and glory. As God, He is also the fountain of all good things, blessings, and joy. If a nation believes in God, the return for their faith is a share in that goodness. The results for society are happiness, peace, and flourishing.

On the other hand, those who disobey God, break His laws, and are overall wicked do not get away with it for long. Indeed, even in Scripture, the same instruments of punishment that were used against faithless Israel were themselves punished for their wickedness (Isa 10:1-19). Countless nations have come and gone in world history, and it is not coincidental that many of these evil, godless societies quickly and violently died. Those who commit injustice will themselves fall under judgment.

In short, a Godly, just, and good society will be blessed. An ungodly, corrupt, and evil nation will fall under a curse. May our nation, and all nations, return to the Lord and be blessed with His goodness.

A Musing on Suicide

Before proceeding, I need to give the reader a disclaimer before proceeding. The topic I am going to briefly write on is of a serious nature. It is of something that has deeply affected me and others around me. Because of that, I am going to be very candid about my feelings on the subject, which may offend some readers. I am not going to mince my words. I do hope that if you do read this, that it edifies and encourages you, as the wisdom of God and others has edified and encouraged me.

In 2014-2015, I was a mental health wreck. In that timeframe, I nearly took my own life twice and was hospitalized each time. The second time around, I was humiliated by the disgrace of being taken away in a police car handcuffed, being forced to strip and be examined at the hospital before being placed in the mental health ward. During this time, I was also prescribed multiple antidepressants, some more effective than others. Today, by God’s grace I am here, no longer relying on medication and more reliant on the hope that has been given to me. With that said, I do not wish the experience on anyone or anybody. But unfortunately many of us have had this, some sadly ending with their attempts being successful.

In the last several years, an alarming trend of suicide has risen to new disturbing heights in American society. It has touched countless lives, whether that be the homeless that no one knows, or the celebrities that everyone cares about. This epidemic has reached even into our churches. What is happening to us, and why has there been such a rise?

The Root

The root cause, I would argue, is that society has taken upon itself the task of defining who a person is, as opposed to obeying the divine prerogative of who we are. The human is ultimately no more than another animal, a result of the evolutionary process by which we were formed and fashioned. In the naturalistic sense, there is no room for the divine endowment of the imago dei, the image of God which logically would lead to the inherent worth of the human creature. 

Consequently, if we are all just animals, the standard shifts from inherent worth to external works. The gospel of the modern society is a works based worldview. The measure of a man becomes what they contribute back to the society. In short, it is what we do that is of prime importance, not who we intrinsically are. If that person falls short of the culture’s expectations, their worth is diminished. If you do not contribute, you are not important. 

What I am trying mainly to aim at here is the secular gospel is destroying countless lives, which promises the world at the cost of the soul. That cost is being paid heavily among the youth, who have been raised to rely on the secular gospel for their self worth. We have become accustomed to staking our purpose and meaning on what we own, what we do, how much money we have, what love life we have, etc. If even one price is taken away, the confidence comes crashing down, like a Jenga tower collapsing after taking one block out. With their primary purpose for meaning gone, they resolve that it is better to die and no longer be a burden than live. 

Suicide: The Sin

With the rise of suicide has come the rise of awareness. While this in of itself is not a bad thing (in fact, it is a very good thing), we have also have run into a troubling problem: acceptance. Suicide is a very emotional topic, which can lead to the dismissal of negative attitudes and feelings of it. While that is expected, the view is also trending toward a glorification of suicide. In some ways, suicide has become something that is noble.

I am going to be straight here: there is nothing noble about suicide. It is the epitome of selfishness. It is a crime against the human body and against the God who made it. It spits in the face of not only the divine, but also the men and women who are left in its wake. Those who commit suicide act in rebellion against both the natural and supernatural laws, which have been made plain and clear. I cannot stress enough the prideful, sinful, shameful, and evil nature of such an act.

Those who commit suicide stand in rightful condemnation under God’s justice. We do not have the right to life. Life is a priveledge given as a gift of love and grace by God. To take this gift and throw it back at Him is a most ungrateful action and usurps the authority of taking life that only God has the right to delegate. 

I do not say these harsh words to bully you or talk down to you. Out of my love for you, I must warn you of the results of your actions. I do not wish to see anyone face the wrath of God, especially if there is an alternative. And there most certainly is.

Hope 

Firstly, you are not a mere animal. You are not cosmic dust or primordial slime or a cluster of cells. You are a being made in God’s image. Because of this, not only do you have a mind and a conscience, but you are also automatically given worth and purpose through that image. Whatever the world says you are or aren’t doesn’t change that fact. 

Now, if you are struggling, please take what I am saying seriously. I know you are probably hurting and have a strong temptation to throw in the towel and quit. You feel as if there is no hope left and there is nowhere else to go. 

But there is hope. This hope cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is not dependent on your accomplishments. It is not dependent on how good you are. It is not dependent on jobs or money or relationships. It is solely dependent on the grace of God. 

Live by grace, not by works. Abide in the love of God, not in the admiration of the world. Through this, you will live with far more fulfillment and joy than what the world can ever sell you. Do not buy the garbage in the world, but be captivated by the blessings of the Lord. You will see yourself and the universe much differently. 

Trust me.
 

Why We Need Church History

October 31st. When people hear this date, the first thing that comes to mind for most people is pumpkins, horror movies, and trick or treating. But for those familiar with world history, October 31st carries a different significance. On that date in 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, compiled a list of his criticisms against the church’s use of indulgences, which were nailed to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, Germany. This was not an uncommon occurrence, as church doors were often used for the posting of disputations. But this list, known now as the Ninety Five Theses, became the primary catalyst for the church-splintering and world-changing Protestant Reformation.

October 31st, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the posting of the disputation, thereby marking the traditional start of the Reformation. Consequently, 2017 has produced a renewed popular interest in the events surrounding this date and the effects that are still being felt half a millennium later. But what many people may not realize was that the Reformation did not begin in 1517, nor did it begin in a vacuum. Sure, Luther’s publication set off the rapid ascent of the Reformation in Europe, but the Reformation itself may go back centuries before. Some argue that it began with Peter Waldo, a critic of papal abuses and an advocate for the universal priesthood of believers from the 12th century, 350 years before Luther. Others state leaders such as John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries and others cite the influence of the Renaissance as a cause. Regardless, the foundational beliefs of the Reformation could be found earlier than Luther, and that Luther owed a great deal to them for planting the seeds that produced the movement. Many other people don’t know exactly why the Reformation even happened. To say that it was because Luther didn’t like the Catholic Church is far too simplistic and even wrong. This fact is lost in the popular imagination, and sadly so even in the church.

Why is this important? Because a sizeable portion of the church has a poor understanding of church history. Most will know who Luther and Calvin are, but bring up Waldo or Hus and many will be scratching their heads. You want to leave more Protestants dumbfounded? Try going back farther than Luther! Honestly, sometimes I’m led to believe that the church history timeline looks like this:

 

Jesus/Apostles———————————————————————————Luther/Calvin————————————Billy Graham

 

That’s a lot of missing time there. A lot of time when the church wasn’t necessarily at ease. Doctrines Christians take for granted such as the divinity of Christ were heavily contested in the early church, particularly in the third and fourth centuries. Many other beliefs developed over the course of centuries and weren’t always met with popular acclaim (i.e. indulgences). It should also be of note that the saints of the church haven’t always been saintly. At many times in the history of the church, we did most unChristlike things.

Church history is crucially important. It’s important to know where we came from and learn from our ancestors in the faith. It’s important to know why we believe what we believe. It’s important so that we can continue the Christian tradition of who came before us, as well as discontinue traditions that should not be part of the church. 

As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation comes upon us, I ask you to consider why there was a reformation to begin with, and why the church needs it as much today as it did in 1517 (maybe even more so). 

Soli Deo Gloria

Solus Christus

Sola Fide

Sola Gratia

Sola Scriptura

Joy in All Circumstances

Illness. Poverty. Loneliness. Sorrow. Depression. At one point or another in our lives, we endure at least one of these states. It could be the result of a loss of a job. Perhaps the death of a loved one. It could even be the consequence of a seemingly permanent state of isolation. Suffering is the inevitable result of the universal condition of man as a consequence of the fall, a condition the biblical writers were far from immune from.

Jeremiah has often been referred to as the “weeping prophet” who forsook the day of his birth (Jer 20:14). The book of Job (whose title character himself cursed his birth [3:1]) is a case study on the suffering of a righteous and upright man. The book of Lamentations is a book-length lament psalm following the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

Speaking of lament psalms, the book of Psalms convey many examples of laments, cries to God over the troubles they are facing.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

– Psalm 22: 1-2

Lord, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.

– Psalm 3:1-2

You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”

– Psalm 77: 4-9

The mental and emotional pain one feels should not be understated. But because we are finite beings, we measure how we feel against how things really are, and our fallen emotions can distort our perception of the reality. Case in point: the presence (or absence) of God. Looking back at the verses above, we see a common theme: the forsakenness of God. To the psalmist, the God they worship seems to be far off, distant, uncaring with regards to their well-being. If this was truly the case, God’s abandonment of His people would be a direct contradiction to the promises found in other parts of Scripture. But as explained above, reality triumphs over our frail feelings and the psalmists realized this. In fact, they have the utmost confidence in God’s saving power.

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

– Psalm 22: 22-24

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. 

– Psalm 3: 3-4

I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.
Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like our God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    you have made known your might among the peoples.
You with your arm redeemed your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph. 

-Psalm 77: 11-15

Also, other passages highlight the promise that God is never far away.

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

– Deuteronomy 31:6

… lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

– Matthew 28:20

“Am I a God who is near,” declares the LORD, “And not a God far off?”

– Jeremiah 23:23

 

This is not to discount the pain one suffers. Suffering is a reality in our world, one which even our Lord underwent during His time on Earth. But our pains are not purposeless. In fact, Christ’s suffering had the highest purpose: the salvation of our souls. Through His incarnation, Christ shares in our broken humanity, which including His own suffering, and foreshadows the eventual reconciliation of the elect.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

– Hebrews 2: 14-18

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

– 1 Peter 2:21

It is worthy of note that Christians who suffer carry a badge of honor. Likewise, we are called to remain faithful and endure. The reward for perseverance is eternal life, where suffering will be a thing of the past.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

– James 1:12

In short, because God is a being who can be trusted to deliver, one who loves us and cares for us and who suffered in the same manner as we have, the believer can be assured of the promises that God keeps, the ultimate promise being an everlasting reward. Consequently, the biblical writers react in the only proper response to such assurance: joy.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

– Psalm 16:11

Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

– Psalm 32:11

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

– Isaiah 55:12

And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.

– Luke 24: 52-53

Joy in our modern context often means a feeling of elation. But joy is not a mere emotion. Joy must be our state of being. And joy in the Scriptures is not optional. It is commanded. Joy is necessary and essential to our spiritual life.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

– Proverbs 17:22

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

– James 1:2

If we have truly be saved from sin and death and into life, we cannot walk through life sullen and miserable. While there are times to be sad and to mourn with others who mourn (Rom 12:15), this is not to be our permanent state. And praise be to God that it is not! We are given new life. Let us live like we have been!

In closing, I pray that in joy you praise God, no matter what the circumstance. It is okay to cry out to God, it is okay to cry for God’s help and assurance. But always remember His promises, never forgetting what He has done on your behalf. Lift your eyes to the Lord and his goodness. It is the time-tested, Scripturally-approved method of curing sorrow.

For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

– Psalm 30:5