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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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Necrophilia and Narcissism

Two terms that evoke strong reactions.  One speaks of the disgusting “love” of the dead.  The other speaks of the disgusting “love” of the self.

Necrophilia. . .

Cigarettes.  Alcohol.  Sugar.  Artificial sweeteners.  Coffee.  Soda.  Gossip.  Pornography.  Adultery.  Anger.  Sex.  Violence.  Television.

Why are we so drawn to death?  So much of what we really desire, what we are motivated to obtain and to “enjoy”–that is, what we feed on to satisfy whatever it is we must be hungering for since that is what we consume–is not only unhealthy (or perhaps our appetite for it is not), but our voracious consumption of it only works to bring about death.  Death.  How much time and money do we spend feeding our bodies, our minds, and our souls that which produces no life, but in fact quite the opposite?  Who wants to answer this question honestly?

How much of what we feed our bodies, our minds, and our souls produces and sustains life?  Do we long for healthy foods to feed our bodies, or pursue vigorous activities and exercise?  Or do we prefer junk food, candy, fast food, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs?  Instead of dumb bells or a pair of hiking boots, do we prefer a TV remote or a video game controller?

Do we feed our minds good books, Scripture, seek quiet time for meditating and reflecting on what we’re learning?  Do we seek opportunities to put what we know to use, to teach others, and to benefit those around us with what we have learned or been gifted with?  Or do we prefer to entertain ourselves with constant, mindless noise–whether it be music or television or video games?  Do we spend our time putting useful things into our mind, or do we just fill it with so much junk?

And do we spend time daily on our knees in prayer, bringing our needs before the Lord, seeking His provision in our life?  Do we read the Scriptures as if they are the very words of life, wrestling with them and begging God for understanding. . . or if understanding, begging for help with application?  Are we thanking God for all the things He is bringing about in our life, even the trials that strengthen our faith, and the afflictions that destroy our foolish pride?  Do we spend time helping others, ministering to them and meeting their needs?  And do we practice forgiveness when the Lord challenges us to live and to love as He did, sacrificially?  Or do we give ourselves to anger and a vengeful spirit?  Or to gossip, seeking the sin in others?  Or perhaps entertain lustful thoughts, hiding the adulterous hearts that beat within our breast?  Do we put unclean things before our eyes, and erect idols where only God should live?

And lest you think yourself somehow elevated because some of the most obvious entrees above are not a vice to you, then consider the second option. . .

Naricissism.

Maybe you think well of yourself because you have healthier appetites, and so you esteem yourself as being somehow better than those whose appetites seem to lead toward destruction.  Maybe in your own secret and subtle way, you pray quietly to yourself like that Pharisee, “Lord I thank you that you have not made me like these other men. . . even like this tax collector.”  Maybe you have deceived yourself, forgetting your unworthiness before the King.  Perhaps you have fallen asleep and forgotten that neither you nor your appetites are healthy, and that you are a sinner still in need of grace.  For our Lord said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Be careful you are not thanking Him that you are not like the Necrophiliac.

I don’t know if the old American Puritan Thomas Sheperd wrote these words or if Alexander Whyte penned them in his appreciation for Shepard, but I thought they reveal much of the human heart:

‘There is no difference. I am as you are, and you are as I am. Just try the thing yourselves. Just begin to love God with all your heart, and you will soon see that the more you try to do that the less will you feel satisfied that you succeed. And, in like manner, when you begin to love your neighbour as yourself you will begin to get a lesson with a vengeance in the spiritual life. Just try to rejoice in all your neighbour’s well-being as much as you rejoice in your own. Just try to relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of your neighbour as you relish and enjoy all other men’s praises of yourself. Just try to take delight in all your neighbour’s rewards, promotions, prosperities as you take delight in your own. And go on trying to do that toward all men around you, friend and foe, and you will get a lesson in the infinite and exquisite holiness and spirituality of God’s law of love, and at the same time a lesson in the abominable and unspeakable corruptions of your own heart that will make you wiser in all these matters than all your teachers.’

Necrophiliac.  Narcissist.  It is tempting to say that most of us are one or the other, but I do not think that is true.  I think there is a danger that most of us are both, although we may have certain tendencies to lean more toward one or the other.  Both are self-consuming.  And though means and motives may differ, both are self-absorbed and leave very little by way of fruit to offer others.

Christ was raised up from the dead.  He did not remain in the grave; He was raised up and is at the right hand of the Father.  If you are a Christian, you do not worship a dead man.  Therefore, if we love Him we must leave our Necrophilia.  At the same time, “By this we know love, that He laid His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”  We must not be so in love with our own lives that we hold on to them and value them more than we value the lives of others.  We must also come to Him understanding that our own lives are worthless, and that He is the true life.  Therefore, if we love Him, we must reject our Narcissism.  In Christ, we are called to love sacrificially, to give our lives for the sake of another without loving those things that bring about death.

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The Shack or the Outhouse – Take Two

If you read my previous post, The Shack or the Outhouse, you know I already had misgivings about this book. What little I knew about it when my received it as a gift in the mail was enough already to raise a flag on my discernment meter. As I began to look into a bit more, my concern only grew.

Well, the number of five star reviews for this book just continue to pour in for “The Shack”. There are now over 770 review posted on Amazon for this doctrinally deficient work of fiction. I finally broke down and posted a 1-star review on Amazon, which I realize may not be entirely fair since I have not read the book. I *have* flipped through it and read enough in it to know I’m really not interested in devoting the time it would take to read it all the way through when I have so many other books on my list right now that seem to honor and glorify the God of the Bible so much more. But I went ahead and posted this review, which is really less a review than a word of caution to anyone who might be reading through the reviews trying to decide whether it’s a book they want to order. So, here it is. As always, your comments are welcome, invited, but rarely forthcoming. ;~)

Amazon Review: The Shack or The Outhouse?

Several people seem to have really enjoyed this book. Personally, I prefer the God of the Bible. It is not surprising, though, that so many people will gladly accept someone else’s idea of a God that is all love and no wrath. It’s also not too surprising that most of the real defenders of the faith here have been attacked by the people who have fallen in love with this god of The Shack rather than the Lord of the Harvest.

Here’s a passage of scripture taken from Second Thessalonians. Take especial note of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12:

2Th 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
2Th 2:8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
2Th 2:9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
2Th 2:10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
2Th 2:11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,
2Th 2:12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
2Th 2:13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

Those who reject the true gospel of Jesus Christ–the gospel of sin, repentance, and salvation–will look for alternates wherever they can find them. For many who want the warm comfort of salvation (like a cup of hot cocoa) without the excruciating torment required of the sinner (that is *true* repentance), then something of this sort of Christianity-like-lite can be very appealing. But God’s word is very explicit that for those who would prefer delusion to the way of eternal life, God Himself will send them a delusion. It is similar to the way that God hardened Pharoah’s heart after Pharoah repeatedly insisted on hardening it himself against God’s word and His will initially as Moses pleaded for His people.

We live in a time (and perhaps it has always been this way, I don’t know) when people want a quick-fix, an easy solution, and above all something they can feel GOOD about. Whether it is prosperity gospel in its variety of forms, books like this, or any of the myriad man-centered spin-systems out there (Tolle/Winfrey for example), true gospel Christianity is just not real popular. That’s because it does not, will not, has not, and never will elevate man above anything other than utterly depraved and corrupt in sin, and badly (if not blindly) in need of a Savior. Anyone who professes Christ that ever forgets this should question both their sanity and their salvation.

I don’t care how many people claim that this is a life changing book, I *seriously* doubt that is true for any of them boasting this claim on some book’s behalf. I think it is much more likely that someone reading this book would NOT change because they would have the false assurance that God is just so wonderful and loving that they could continue on in whatever messed up manner they might be in when they arrived at The Shack. I doubt anyone has given up a lifelong addiction to drugs, or alcohol, pornography, or any other form of idol-worship or sin as a result of reading this book. I wonder how many people staking that claim actually changed anything at all about their lifestyle besides discussing the book in some conversations and sending free copies to other people they know.

In short, I would be very surprised if ANYONE has made the radical life changes that I have witnessed first-hand in the lives of someone who has experienced a true conversion to Christ. Why is that? Because that kind of change only occurs when a person truly repents of their sin and believes in Christ as their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit can bring about true and lasting change in a believer’s life, but He only operates in those who believe and accept the real gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I’m sure this will invite some anger among some who have read this book and believe it changed their lives just because it made them feel better about themselves or about their idea of God; that is, a warm and loving God. However, though God is indeed loving He is also just; and is as much a God of wrath as of love. Many are willing to love God for His love as long as they do not have to fear Him for His wrath. But to only accept the love of God as good, and reject the wrath of God–which is also good, actually even perfect–is to misunderstand Him and His plan for salvation altogether. You won’t get it.

If you want to know what God is really like, read the Bible. Not some work of fiction by an author that has put his words into God’s mouth, but the 66 books of Scripture written down by people whom God chose to put His words in theirs. There is a big difference.

May the Lord bless you, keep you, and guide you into all Truth. In Jesus Name, amen.

Simple Mann

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