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Reality, Utopia, and Christ

Well, in my last post I mentioned an email that a friend of mine sent out to several people mentioning an article he came across on the movie “Avatar” actually resulting in depression for several viewers.  He asked some good questions: What strikes your mind as you read it? What does it say to you about Christianity (the religion) as we know it, the current level of Kingdom influence in our world, and about what we should be doing?

Well, I have given everyone who comes by to visit my site a few days to respond, and since neither of you did, I’ll go ahead and post my own response to these questions my friend asked…

I have not seen the movie, but I think it is a sad indictment that culturally we have moved so far away from the REALITY of God’s Word that a movie about a virtual world and the possibilities within *that* place, stir us to greater heights and depths of emotion than what is taking place not just here in the *real* world, but also in the heavenly realm which is our real home.  We were not made to be permanent residents of this world, but rather we are warned not to fall in love with this world, not to be dragged away by passions that can only be satisfied by it, and to live here as aliens… as *sojourners*.  This brings us into a conflict that affects all of us–believers and unbelievers alike.  We cannot find our satisfaction here.

I think it is important, though, to remember who we ARE as a result of the Fall.  In the book of Romans, Paul lays it out pretty clearly and we can see this image of man reflected back through everything we see on television and in the movies.  Collectively speaking, this is who we are:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)

It is little wonder that someone who is confronting this *reality* (whether it is a result of seeing a movie, reading their Bible, or dealing with the recognition of their own depravity) would become depressed.  It is depressing news.  Any time we begin to really see the impact of man’s fallen nature and the effects of our sin on God’s creation (whether it is our own personal corruption or the collective corruption of mankind), it is overwhelmingly depressing.

For the believer, though, we have a blessed hope.  We are the “called-out” ones.  But paradoxically, we are not called *out* of this world when we hear His voice.  We are called *into* it.  We are given a savage mission: to live IN this world as aliens and strangers, to *suffer*, and to work as unto the Lord.  And He has given us a task: to glorify Him, to be a witness for Him to the ends of the earth.  He has promised us joy in this, but He has also promised us suffering on His behalf.  We will toil, we will suffer, but we will not lose heart.  We have a blessed hope, a Rock, a Refuge, and an eternal home.

For the one without hope in Christ and who wants even a temporary escape, nothing provides like technology.  In fact, I think it is this desire to “escape reality” that has driven most of the major advances in technology over the last hundred or so years, and truth be told it isn’t just unbelievers who are guilty of falling victim to it.  It throws an appealing lure, and it is natural for us to take the bait.

“Real life” is hard.  It demands sacrifice and serving others.  “Real life” does not always work out the way we would like it to.  We are not in control of it.  It includes wayward children, strained marriages, death and disease, addictions and abuse.  It places demands on us we do not always want to meet, requires more from us than we often want to give, and also tends to grant us far less than we would like to have.  It can be painful, difficult, and full of trial.  No wonder, people want to check out and look for some way—ANY way—of escape.  If you look with eyes that can see, most of the way people use technology in their daily life is “escape”… a way of staying distracted (i.e. “entertained”) so that they can forget about “real life” for a while.

Some find their escape in sports, others in movies… or some other visual form of entertainment (TV, game systems, computer games, pornography, etc.). For some, it is cell phones, texting, Facebook, shopping, collecting, or whatever else brings some pleasure for a time.  But it is always and only for a time.  That’s because for the believer and unbeliever alike, there is no real and lasting satisfaction to be had in this world.  The grass withers, and the flower falls… moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.  We were not created to be satisfied in a fallen world tainted by the corruption of sin and death.  For the one who has no real, eternal hope in Christ, they find their “best life now”–finding some small joy in trinkets and distractions, though only for a little while.  BUT GOD

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Don’t run past that last sentence too quickly.  We are HIS workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (we are a NEW creation in Him) for good works.  We are not saved by good works, but for them.  Now, if this is true, then as I said earlier we are not saved OUT of this world, but INTO it.  We are called to be salt and light, and instruments for His glory.  We are not our own, but have been bought with a price and are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).

And we can find our encouragement and our greatest example in Christ, who did not look for any way of escape, and who would not be distracted from His eternal purpose, but for the JOY set before Him endured the suffering…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

BE OF GOOD COURAGE! Listen one more time to the words of the Apostle Paul.  Do not be depressed or discouraged—be it by a movie or by a man.  The Apostle who suffered countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and death itself for His love of Christ could experience all those things with JOY because His eyes were right.  He wrote to encourage the church in Corinth:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

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Pledge Allegiance?

I read another post on a blog site earlier this week that had to do with displaying the American flag in our churches, and it really got me to thinking about where we find our identity and where we place our allegiance. Granted this is a long rant, and will probably rub some people the wrong way. But for me it is a matter of conviction, and a question of where we place our values and find our identities.

I am no great theologian, but I have thought for several years now that it is simply wrong to “pledge” my allegiance to any but God. Our government–like any government–is made up of people, and as a result, it is imperfect and fallible. It is not my God, should not be worshiped or put above God, although I deeply appreciate those who serve our nation under the guidance of our Lord, just as I am thankful for the people who give of themselves in service to the Church. I am also thankful to live in a country like the United States where we may freely worship. It is unfortunate, though, that here in America, a country where we have some of the greatest freedom in the world to worship God openly and without fear, we are so spiritually tepid and lethargic that most of us do not even do that well. There are many other places in the world today where people who love and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ do so under the threat of death, yet they worship fervently and appreciatively for what He has done. Here, we suffer little more than mild discomfort or criticism, yet most self-professing Christians shy away from publicly proclaiming Christ for fear of a little bit of ridicule. Yet, we will all put our hands over our heart and pledge our allegiance to a FLAG, and do so proudly whenever there is an opportunity so that we may show off our patriotic spirit. Why is this?

I would venture to say that your average homeless person appreciates a half-eaten hamburger from McDonalds, rescued from a garbage can, more than a millionaire who eats a $100 meal at his favorite five star restaurant. When conditions are hard and food is scarce, how much more are even meager scraps of food appreciated? We have every opportunity to serve and worship God here, yet most of us–perhaps because of the luxury we enjoy, fail to make the most of the opportunities God has afforded us. We squander them. Instead of loving God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind (and loving our neighbors as ourselves), we fill our lives with trivial things that distract us from our sole purpose in life, which is to glorify God. We have TVs, cell phones, computers, cameras, DVD players (many of us in our cars even), game systems, and countless other gadgets that all work to isolate us from others and even more so from God. And while verbally, we may pledge our allegiance to a flag, what we really pledge our allegiance to is a lifestyle… a lifestyle of flesh consumption and soul corruption, and then we announce to the world how proud we are to be so “blessed”. But blessed are the meek, Jesus said. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, and blessed are those who thirst and hunger for righteousness. James borrows from the Old Testament and tells us, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

To “pledge your allegiance” to a flag seems to me to directly violate the first two commandments so blatantly that I am almost amazed so few Christians take to task this daily ritual in our schools when it seems to stand in direct contradiction to the commandments of God’s word. It is interesting that an atheist will take his case all the way to the Supreme Court because the words “under God” happen to be in the rote script our kids rehearse daily, yet few Christians take offense that our children are basically taught to place the flag and their country OVER God (despite what the words might say). There is no question that the motive behind this “pledge” is a sense of “patriotism” (i.e. to honor and fellowship with the United States government) and not religion (to honor and fellowship with God). In fact, the “under God” portion of the pledge was not actually added until much later on after it was originally written.

And not only does this practice of reciting the pledge daily seem to violate the first two commandments that have everything to do with revering and honoring God, they also stand in direct contrast to Peter’s message to the early church and the first Christians. This is what the rock whom Christ used to found His early church had to say:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS,
AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS.
THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF,
BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.”

And this is the word which was preached to you.

(1 Peter 1:13-25)

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
(1 Peter 2:9-11)

God does not care where you live or where you have your citizenship. If He did, He would not have chosen Nazareth over Jerusalem when He came incarnate. The Lord is sovereign, and will put you wherever He wills, but your identity in Christ is not to be found in the world or the kingdoms of men, but in the Kingdom of God.

Now, I believe that pride is the first shade of selfishness, and selfishness is the root of all sin. In the verse “The love of money is the root of all evil”, it is selfishness that is at the root. All of the Ten Commandments were given to combat the innate selfishness that resides within us as a result of the Fall. The first four pertain to selfishness in our relationship with God; the last six pertain to different aspect of selfishness in our relationships with others. “Selfishness”, simply put, is elevating and esteeming our own self-nature above God, which was the path of descent for Lucifer mentioned by the prophet Isaiah. It seems to me that we, here in America, live in a culture that values and encourages this type of pride and selfishness above all else. A quick read through Galatians 5:19-21, where Paul discusses the deeds of the flesh, should serve as a painful reckoning as to the “state of the nation” and the real values held by our culture. Indeed, the things Paul underscores as the “deeds of the flesh” are actually marketed (in a more subversive manner) in all of the media and literature most of us are exposed to daily:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

“Proud to be an American”

How many evangelical Christians have sung along with this popular song… and sung along proudly. But Paul rightly said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Most of us who have sung that song so loudly and proudly have probably never stopped to wonder, “Why are we proud to be an American?” Am I better than someone who was born in Cuba, Nigeria, Portugal, or Peru? Should I feel a great sense of pride that I was born and live in one of the wealthiest and most self-glorifying and self-oriented nations in the world? Should I be proud that I am one of small percentage of the world’s population that can enjoy all of the “modern conveniences” the rest of the world’s population has to do without? Or that I can work “hard” in an air-conditioned building for eight to ten hours a day, drive my comfortable air-conditioned car home everyday, eat whatever I want with my wife and kids in our comfortable air-conditioned home, and never have to look at or concern myself with the sick or the poor? Should I be proud that I even have the time and resources to work on a website in my “spare time”, as if my vain thoughts are so important I should place them here where anyone can read them? Oh, foolish pride… dare I pledge my allegiance to thee? Or like Paul, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

I am curious as to what comments you might have, so please feel free to leave them.

Peace & Blessings.

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