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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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Radical Depravity – Conrad Mbewe (True Church Conference)

Unfortunately I was not able to make it to this conference, but my wife and several members of our church did and my lovely bride brought back the DVDs from the speakers at the conference.  The first one that I watched (and that I’ve seen three times now) was Conrad Mbewe’s teaching on the Radical Depravity of man.  I think this doctrine is one that offends many people, but to hear this gentle, gracious man speak about this thoroughly Biblical doctrine is moving… to say the least.  The topic of repentance gets passed by far too quickly in the church today, which is why today’s contemporary church differs little from contemporary society.  I lament the fact that in our culture of relative comfort, so many “Christians” pursue avenues of enjoyment and ease (that ultimately are fleeting) and pursue them with far more passion than they pursue the God who created us–the only one truly worthy of our worship.

Now, dear reader, I may not know you from Adam, but I do know that one thing you and I and Adam all have in common is that we’re sinners. So please understand that this is not directed at you, per se, but to all of us who too often place more importance on the “creature comforts” than we do the glory of God. I am no less guilty, so if you think I’m pointing the finger at you just know that I’m pointing three more back at me.

But here’s the thing. I do truly love my Savior, just as I hope that you do. I don’t just love Him on Sunday and on Wednesday nights. I want to love Him every glorious day He gives me. But I must confess… His love is PERFECT. Mine is not. I get distracted. There are lots of things that would call my attention away from Him. And they may not necessarily be evil, or working as a part of that unholy trinity: the world, the flesh, and the devil. But like that old hymn says all too well:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

When the eyes of my heart see clearly and are focused on the only object worthy of affection, I long so much for true revival. And I know both from the Biblical record, and from the history of the church that revival tarries when people’s hearts remain unbroken over sin. True revival only comes with true repentance. And though I am encouraged that men in our American churches are beginning to stand up and sound the bell, I see so few people who truly desire God. I know so many people who get more excited over their favorite weekly TV show, or favorite sports team, or their favorite band’s new CD, than they ever get over their time in prayer or study of God’s Word! And I am not talking about the unchurched or the unsaved here, I am talking about the people in our churches! I am not trying to be rude or judgmental. I love to see people get excited about the things of God! But we are so selfish and superficial, we often get more excited about the things of the world and the desires of our flesh than we ever do about the things that are pleasing to God.

It is a travesty how quickly we passover and divert our attention away from the subject of OUR sins, the ones we should be truly broken over. I recently read a response from an admirer of Rob Bell who (because Vodie Baucham used Rob Bell and the book “The Shack” as examples of taking sin too lightly in his sermon) that said, “From my personal perspective, I have never been more broken as a result of nor seen anyone more broken about systemic injustice and sin in the world than that of Rob Bell. Assuming the role of the convicting Holy Spirit is not something that we are called to do and those who do assume that role are really poor at actually causing any change inducing conviction within people mainly because they can see right through the agenda that should not be theirs in the first place. Conviction over sin should be something that someone internalizes and demonstrates, not preaches from a pulpit.”

That is the exact quote. It took me two or three readings to make sense of this. The basic ideas being expressed were 1) He had never been more broken or seen someone more broken than Rob Bell over other people’s sins; 2) Vodie Baucham was trying to play the role of the Holy Spirit by preaching on sin and brokenness; 3) preaching on sin from the pulpit for the purpose of conviction and repentance is wrong; and 4) conviction over sin is something that should be “internalized” not preached. I am not making this up. This is where too many people who say they are Christians find themselves today on the subject of sin and repentance. But clearly, the Biblical example of every prophet and apostle that God called forth in the Old and New Testaments preached to the people for the express purpose of conviction over sin and repentance to return a wicked people’s heart to God.  And it is not for the conviction of other people’s sins–sins that we have absolutely no control over– but for our OWN sins, for these are the ones for which WE need to repent.  Not that we should condone the sins of others, especially our sisters and brothers in Christ.  But at the same time, neither will be condemned by them, either.

Yet here in our culture of “comfortable discontent”, it seems that most of us “Christians” would rather be entertained than to confront our sin and great need for repentance. Or if we do focus on those things, it is usually (as the person I quoted above demonstrates) with regard to other people’s sins, not our own. I thought what Conrad Mbewe had to say about the subject of radical depravity and the condition of our hearts at the True Church Conference was excellent, for if we fail to understand this issue of radical depravity, we cannot understand our great need for repentance.

This is not everything Mr. Mbewe had to say, but I will share a bit here.  May it speak to you as it did to me, and draw your eyes not to the sins of others or the depravity of our society as a whole, but to the sins and depravity that still exist in our own hearts. 

From Conrad Mbewe on Radical Depravity:

The subject of repentance cannot be exaggerated. Jesus himself said, “unless you repent you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3)”, nothing can be more clear than that. This is non-negotiable.

If you play hide and seek with this you will be doomed for all eternity. This needs to be repeated tonight. If you are here and you have not genuinely turned from sin, you will perish.

And when you see on the other hand that the Bible offers a free and eternal salvation, then why are not the people of the world falling all over themselves to accept this free offering of salvation?

This is the same question that the apostle Paul is asking in his conclusion and the answer is that all men and women are totally depraved.

Verse 9 says, “What shall we conclude then,” what is the summary of the many words I have spoken…the reason why the warning is not being headed, why men and women are not rushing to embrace the cross, is because all human beings are deprived and depraved, Jews and gentiles alike.

When we go into 21st century America with all the progress that has been made, with the number of churches that you see; you may perhaps begin to think that here are a people that will be more willing to gladly embrace the message of the cross. However, if you have attempted to do evangelism you have come home depressed. The message of this text is that there is no difference between those who live today in America and those who lived 3 centuries ago in Africa, we are all in the same boat.

What about those who have been brought up in a Christian home and have been taught the Bible from an early age. You would t
hink they simply need to be elbowed and they will fall over into the kingdom, but many have perished in their sin with this type of background. The charge has been made that all, even Jews brought up with an understanding of the Old Testament, are in radically depraved.

This is necessary for us to understand when it comes to repentance and our work of evangelism. No matter who we are dealing with, we are all in the same boat and are radically depraved.

There isn’t a people group somewhere that’s different, that is looking for the true God of the Bible in order to embrace him. The Bible is telling us that there is no one who has an advantage.

Why is that the case? What does Paul mean by the phrase that “all are under sin?”

What are we up against as we do evangelism, as we knock on doors, as we give out literature? What are we up against?

When Paul speaks about being under sin, he is referring to one of the major pillars of Christian theology; he is taking us back to Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned against the living God. At this point a drastic change took place in their beings, a moral change. Having been alive they became dead, spiritually.

Yes, there was a change that couldn’t be missed; they would now run away from God. Even when we hear that today there are those who are running to God, Adam and Eve ran away. They wanted nothing to do with him, because their hearts had become sinful.

Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Here the whole of the human race are being divided into two categories, those who are living according to the Holy Spirit and those who are hostile to God, enemies of God. They may be religious people and church goers, but all you need to do is open the God of the Bible before their eyes and before long they will be hissing at you and will run you out of the church. They are worshipping a God of their own making

They are worshipping a god who doesn’t mind their sin and pleasure seeking. A God who tickles them in the midst of the sinfulness, that god they will worship.

But once you declare a holy and righteous God who is jealous for his own honor and who says you are to live for me and sacrifice to me and I am to be your all in all; that God they do not want.

This is the God that they are hostile toward. They will not submit, they cannot submit, they are totally unable to do so.

And between the mind and the will we find the heart. The heart is desperately wicked and is beyond cure as Jeremiah teaches us. The power of sin is enslavement and therein lies the depravity. We are corrupted by a foul power.

It is not in our power to simply decide to want God. However moral, or religious, or educated; powerless is the state we are all in, without the Grace of God. Unless the power of God visits us we are in this enslavement.

–Conrad Mbewe, 2009 True Church Conference in Muscle Shoals, AL

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