Pastor's Blog

Don't Be Afraid

Don't Be Afraid. Do you know what the most frequent command in the Bible is? Maybe you’d guess one of the 10 Commandments. “Do not steal.” “Do not lie.” “Do not commit adultery.” Or maybe you think of, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” or “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Those are commands from God, but none of those is the most frequent command in the Bible. Here’s a clue: What did the angels say to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born? “Do not be afraid!” (Luke 2:10).

That’s right—the most frequent command in the Bible is “Do not be afraid!” Isn’t that comforting to hear? Fear of danger robs our peace. Fear of punishment fills us with guilt. Fear of rejection makes us timid. There are so many fears… So what does God say—over and over again? “Do not be afraid!” Jesus’ forgiveness covers every single one of our sins. God’s angels surround us every minute of every day. Even if our loved ones turn their backs on us, our God never will. Death isn’t the end for us. Heaven is waiting! “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10). May Jesus erase your fears today!

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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Hope for the Future

Hope for the Future: Stuck. Trapped. Hopeless. Is that how you feel? Life can suffocate us and deflate us and leave us feeling like there’s no hope. Here’s what makes it worse: When you know that it’s all your fault! How often don’t we feel stuck, trapped, and hopeless, with no one to blame but ourselves? That’s how God’s people felt 2,500 years ago. Their country had been destroyed. They had been taken as exiles to Babylon. Here was the worst part: They knew it was all their fault because of their sins against God. Stuck. Trapped. What hope did they have?

A lot! God wrote to those exiles through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). As much as they had sinned, as bad as their current situation seemed, they weren’t forgotten. They were loved. They were forgiven. In fact, God still had plans for them. Big plans! What were God’s promises meant to give them? Hope. Hope for the future. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how trapped and stuck you feel, you aren’t forgotten either. You are loved. You are forgiven. God still has plans for you. Big plans! May that give you hope. Hope for the future!

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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How Do I Forgive?

How Do I Forgive? Recently, a lady asked me, “How can I forgive?” What a great question! I could see in her eyes that she had very specific people in mind, people who had hurt her so much or so often that it seemed impossible to forgive them. I bet you can think of people like that too. How can I forgive? Could you answer her? I hope so! Like any good work, she can’t produce forgiveness on her own. She can’t look in her heart or try harder. You’ve tried that. It doesn’t work!

What does she need to be able to forgive? Jesus. More Jesus. The Bible encourages us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Forgiveness comes from Jesus. How can she forgive? She needs to hear Jesus says to her, “I forgive you” over and over again. She needs to hear that as far as the east is from the west, God has removed our sins from us. How can you forgive? You need more time with Jesus. I need more time with Jesus. We need to have Jesus and his cross preached to our hearts again and again and again, until our hearts our so full with Jesus’ grace that we can say to others what Jesus says to us: “I forgive you!”

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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Plastic Souls: The actual threat attached to Artificial Intelligence

Plastic Souls: The actual threat attached to Artificial Intelligence. If you ask inventor and famed futurist, Ray Kurzweil, the world will be run by artificial intelligence within 30 years (27 to be exact). The man has been called a “restless genius” by The Wallstreet Journal, “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes, “Edison’s rightful heir” by Inc. Magazine, and “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence” by none other than Bill Gates.

The Law of Accelerating Returns

In one of his best-sellers, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil proposes something called The Law of Accelerating Returns. In short, this is the idea that technology, throughout human history, hasn’t increased at a linear rate, but at an exponential one. So, for instance, if you transported someone in a time machine from 1750 to the present day, the technology would have advanced at such an incredible rate (e.g. cars, planes, moon landing, phones, TV, computers, internet) that the incomprehensible differences might actually drive the poor guy insane. But if you transported someone from 1500 to 1750, the same gap of years, while some aspects of life might still amaze them, the shock would be significantly less. And if you wanted to travel back even further for someone to be shocked by the technological advancement of 1500, you might have to go back an entire millennium. Again, technology is not advancing at a linear pace. It’s advancing at an exponential rate.

Artificial General Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil says that the world will achieve Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) by 2029. Without letting it get too tech-sounding, AGI essentially refers to the computational power of the human brain. We already have something called Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). This is the ability of a computer to perform one specific task at an extraordinary speed, faster than human.

So, you’ve perhaps played chess on your computer before. Today, the best chess players and best Jeopardy players in the world are now artificial intelligence.

Given a specific algorithm, a computer can routinely beat the brightest human mind in almost every specific task. Siri, the digital assistant on your iPhone, is another example of ANI. Siri has no self-awareness. But the program “Siri” can nonetheless access more information with more accuracy faster than any human.

Artificial Superintelligence

Kurzweil’s bet is that by 2029, Artificial Intelligence will be able to think through everything in life as comprehensively as any human. And by 2045, humans, now officially inferior, will essentially become subservient to Artificial Intelligence. This is called Artificial Superintelligence (ASI). In The Age of Spiritual Machines, the most fascinating, ominous quote of all actually comes from a somewhat crazed sounding guy that Kurzweil almost seems to admire – a Harvard mathematician named Theodore Kaczynski. That’s right, THE UNABOMBER. The line between genius and insanity is razor thin.

Kurzweil also, however, offers a less Doomsday, less Matrixy scenario than computers taking over the world. In this more optimistic case, humanity will graft the new advanced intelligence into our being, and become transhuman, which is seen as the next evolutionary step. The internet has already made all human knowledge accessible. But the next step is to have the brain’s neocortex seamlessly integrate this information from the cloud.

Imagine never having to read another book, learn another equation, or, for that matter, memorize another passage of the Bible.

What if you could simply download the Bible’s information and truly recall every detail of it as easily as you can recall details from your day? Kurzweil would suggest that we’re about 25 years out. The methodology of Catechism instruction is going to have to evolve. It’s hard to even comprehend the implications all of this might have for faith.

Okay, so if that seems nuts, first consider the fact that Kurzweil is credited as the inventor of the flat scanner, the electric piano, and almost everything related to speech recognition software.

There is not a single person in our country who hasn’t been affected by his inventions. So he has a proven track record of putting these wild ideas into practice successfully. Furthermore, the thing Kurzweil is most famous for is that back in the 1980s, he accurately predicted much of the most important technology of the 21st century – the utilization of computers in education, the rise of the internet, the ability to search the entire internet, the presence of a small, portable computer on every human (i.e. smartphone), and the idea of several mass data AI system companies existing as the most powerful entities in the world (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.)

The Predicted Benefits

Instead of fearing that Artificial Intelligence will take over the planet and destroy the human race, Kurzweil chooses to believe that the rise of Artificial Superintelligence will bring about benefits to humanity like

curing disease, ending poverty, and controlling weather patterns.

I’d be content with a robot that cleaned up after my dog on walks – it boggles my mind that in 2019 I’m still wrapping a plastic Target bag around my hand to remedy this problem. Point being, AI doesn’t all sound bad.

Biblically Speaking

If you trust what the Bible teaches about the future, there are elements of Kurzweil’s predictions that you must eliminate. For instance, the Bible suggests that humanity, when Jesus comes back, will have been continuing on with no awareness of an impending end (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Matthew 24:36-44). AI won’t end the human race. Similarly, the Bible repeatedly makes statements about God being the only one who can ultimately dictate weather (Psalm 148:8; Jonah 1:4; Psalm 42:7; Job 37:3; Genesis 6:5-9:19). Kurzweil is among those with the impression that humans can extend life infinitely with the right technology. Obviously we know this is not the case for sinful beings either (Romans 6:23).

The Real Danger

So while the future is going to look different, biblically speaking, it’s not going to be predominantly artificially intelligent. Contrary to what’s been depicted in virtually every sci-fi film of recent memory, while many humans have a fear of artificial intelligence taking over, I believe the real danger with expanding technology is that humans are becoming more artificial.

Put differently, how dehumanized can we become before we cease to function as humanity?

And what are we capable of once we lose our humanity?

The Effects on Gen Z

The global health service company Cigna released a report less than a year ago declaring an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. Half of Americans routinely feel severely lonely.

The most impacted generation, by far, is the young adults in Gen Z (ages 18-22). Notice the correlation between a generation that was the first raised as native to internet tech and feelings of isolation, depression, and loneliness.

The more dependent we’ve become upon machine, the less willing we are, and less required we are, to touch, to look someone in the eye, to share ourselves or to listen to others.

On social media, we feel like we can control the environment or control the perception of ourselves. But being in the presence of another human is a vulnerable experience.

We need it. But we’re increasingly terrified of it and inadequate at it. Actual respectful dialogue has been replaced by angry comment sections and hot takes.

And yes, technology allows us to FaceTime with a sister 1000 miles away, but is it possible that we might actually be more in need of a hug from a neighbor 20 feet away?

But that would require me to learn her name.

Hmmm.

Young adults today are suffering with unprecedented levels of loneliness, isolation, depression, and suicide precisely because we’ve culturally dehumanized their existence. Technology has allowed us that luxury.

They’ve been allowed to believe that “friendship” simply comes at the cost of liking someone’s photo.

They’ve been allowed to believe that everyone else’s visually filtered, cleverly captioned life is reality.

They’ve been hyper-sexualized with gratuitous imagery, but have no conception of the intimacy of committed relationships.

My theology tells me that computers will not supersede humanity, all human problems will not be be untangled by algorithms, and death won’t be cured by nanobots. That’s the red herring that sells better at the box office. The bigger issue for eager Christians is that rapidly advancing technology could destroy our humanity if we let it.

And I’m convinced the solution is in valuing and practicing the doctrine of incarnation. What is incarnation?

Incarnation

Christologically, the incarnation is God taking on human flesh, i.e. becoming fully human. The Apostle John famously writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) 

The Apostle Paul also says, “Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh.” (1 Timothy 3:16) and “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9, also 1:19) Every aspect of the goodness of God is indwelled in Christ Jesus. And just as amazing and mysterious, in this era of world history, in the Age of Pentecost, when the Spirit has been sent to us, the aspects of God now dwell within his body, the Church. Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV) 

The big idea is this: For God to fully communicate his grace to humanity, he had to place it inside humanity, and then embrace humanity. And if Jesus has now sent his Spirit with the purpose that, in a sense, he would do the exact same thing through you and me, his people, then anything that dehumanizes us is an enemy to the communication of God’s grace.

If we Christians don't incarnate a more beautiful truth - full of grace and truth - plastic souls are inevitable.

What We’ll Always Need

So we look to Christ, who made himself lower than what he could be (Philippians 2:7), not advanced technology, but humble humanity, i.e. God capable of being held in human arms.

It might very well be possible that artificial intelligence will largely end starvation, many diseases, and most poverty. And we should be supportive of and excited for that. But humans will never stop needing forgiveness, or compassion, or friendship, or a secured identity rooted in the Lord. Jesus Christ embodied God’s grace and was born into your life to freely give you all of that. And now he’s sending you into the future to do the same for others.

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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Our Hope is in Jesus!

Our Hope is in Jesus! While we pray for good leaders in our country and communities, we’ve also come to expect lots of grand talk that never materializes. Lots of broken promises. That’s nothing new. Here’s some advice from over 2,500 years ago: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing” (Psalm 146:3-4). What does the Bible say? Don’t trust in princes—in people. They and their plans will one day come to nothing.

So what hope do we have? A lot! Here’s how that Psalm continues: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:5-6). What a contrast, isn’t it? Mortal men vs. the Maker of heaven and earth. Princes who come to nothing vs. the Lord who remains faithful forever. Remind yourself of this again and again: My hope is in Jesus. He alone is faithful. My hope is in Jesus!

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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He Named the Stars

He Named the Stars: My sister got married recently. Some friends got her and her husband a great gift. They paid to have a star named for them. What a great idea! That’s more creative than I would have ever come up with. But there’s just one little problem: The stars already all have names. Did you know that? God has already given them names. The Lord “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4). As science advances, we discover more and more stars and more and more galaxies… God already knows them all. He’s got them all counted out. He calls them each by name.

Doesn’t that make you say, “Wow!” It made our fellow believer so long ago say, “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Psalm 147:5). Our God is an awesome God! But it gets even better: The God who named the stars knows your name too. Not just that—Jesus came and died for you so that one day you will rise higher than the stars to be with Jesus in heaven. When you look up at the stars on a clear summer night, marvel at our God. He named the stars! And he loves you too.

We thank Pastor Nathan Nass and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog. 



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What "The Lion King" Teaches Us about Future & Present Worship

What "The Lion King" Teaches Us about Future & Present Worship

The Lion King

Last Thursday my wife and I decided to go see the new live-action (technically “photorealistic computer animation”) The Lion King film. My wife has always been a huge fan of the Disney classics, watching each possibly hundreds of times. I saw them once when I was a kid and was content with that. But I’m always game for heading to the theater, so this is the movie we landed on.

The new film was really well done, receiving mostly positive reviews. The script stayed pretty true to the original, with some clever 2019 updates and embellishments. The music, of course, is undeniably spectacular, as most Disney music tends to be. Without question though, the most fascinating aspect of the experience for me was going back and watching, as an adult, a film that I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Processing a work of art as an adult after you did so as a child can be a startling venture. You see things. You pick up on subtleties, messages, and themes that you originally missed.

For instance, what struck me instantaneously was the classic opening scene. As the sun rises over the horizon, all the animals from across the Prideland come and gather around Pride Rock. Elephants, giraffes, hippos, monkeys, antelope, birds of all sorts, and critters that scurry across the ground – these are creatures that generally don’t get along. These are natural enemies. They rank on various tiers in the food chain hierarchy. And yet, when they hear that opening anthem, that call to gathering, they drop everything they’re doing, lift their heads and turn, and proceed to march together in unison. Some are traveling on one another’s backs. Some are hitching a ride on the elephants’ tusks. Creatures from all over the known world, who aren’t supposed to go together according to the world’s divisive categories, are gathering as one.

Why? Well, something special is clearly going in the world on this day. When we arrive on-site, we see that a wise old baboon, who serves as something of a high priest over the Serengeti, is hoisting a lion cub, the prince, the Son of the King. The king is named Mufasa, and this new king is named Simba. The high priest baboon, Rafiki, lifts Simba up into the air and all the creatures unite to praise him in perfect harmony. Not only that but after their initial vocal burst of celebration, they bend down before their King in reverence. This is worship.

Obviously, The Lion King isn’t a distinctly Christian movie. In fact, there are lots of non-biblical concepts taught throughout. But like all great film and literature, the Messianic allusions throughout the movie are hard to miss when you’ve become conditioned to looking for such things. So, for instance, the very first piece of advice that Mufasa (Father) gives to Simba (the Son) is that the people don’t need a typical king found in this world. They don’t need a king who takes, but a king who will give of himself. Clearly this is a story of a Sacrificial Savior as King.

Today, what I want you to see primarily is how this iconic opening scene is an overwhelmingly accurate picture of the worship that will take place at the end of time, and then reflect on what the ultimate picture of worship teaches us.

Worship at the End of Time – Revelation 5:5-6, 12, 14

See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne … In a loud voice they (i.e. the elders and all creatures from all nations, tribes, languages, and cultures) were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

    and honor and glory and praise!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

Application 1 – Public Worship is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

According to what John sees in Revelation, worship at the end of time will have all of its energy and all of its focus directed toward a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain for Us.

Now there are lots of interesting specific details about the worship that’s going on in this vision. There are lots of stringed instruments (Revelation 5:8). There are sweet smells (Revelation 5:8). There is diversity (Revelation 5:9). There are countless participants (Revelation 5:11). There is undeniable intensity and passion (Revelation 5:12). There is appropriate posture (Revelation 5:14). Etc.

And yet, while there are actually many details, the style is nonetheless nebulous. Somehow the style is fitting for “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9) This should teach us that the culturally conditioned stylistic preferences that we use in our worship services probably make don’t matter too much. We have no idea what the style will be in heaven and therefore should never consecrate a human style. Objectively, the one detail that we can know for sure that will take place is that all of the concentration will be on a Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain to take away our sins.

Consequently, it stands to reason that in our own worship services, we would champion music that primarily directs us to the Lamb on a Throne Who was Slain.

Additionally, it also means that the primary thing someone like me, a pastor/worship leader, should ever be doing in worship is directing you repeatedly to a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for you. Hold your ministers accountable to this. I’ve told my congregation that if I’m ever primarily giving you life advice, teaching you personal empowerment and self-worth by any means necessary, or offering 5 Ways to Become More ________________, you need to get rid of me and get a different worship leader that WILL point you to the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain. I’m not suggesting that preaching would never contain practical life advice. The Bible is chock full of wise and godly life lessons and teasing out the implications is also part of preaching. But John’s Revelation tells us that true Christian worship is ultimately and fundamentally aimed at the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for us.

Application 2 – Worship in your daily life is directed toward a Lamb on a throne who was slain for you

You’ll notice in Revelation 5 that it doesn’t tell you what day of the week it is. We have zero indication that John is describing a scene unfolding at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning (assuming that were even possible in eternity).

This teaches us that every day of salvation will be directed towards the praise of a Lamb on a Throne Who Was Slain for our sins. Not just Sundays. Therefore, the more the other 167 hours of the week are directed the same way, the more heavenly-aimed and godly our days become.

What does this look like? Well, when your ego bleeds a little as you forgive someone who has wronged you, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When you resist temptation as an innocent lamb, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. When, despite the chaos of the circumstances surrounding your work, your health, your relationships, you remain calm because you know exactly who is sitting on the throne powerfully ruling all things on your behalf, you’re directing your day towards the Lamb on the Throne Who Was Slain for you. 

Eternal worship WILL BE incredible. But the worship here today can be otherworldly, heavenly too. Just point it in the right direction.

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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The Modern Trend of Guilt Without Guidance

The Modern Trend of Guilt Without Guidance: In hopes of gaining some energy, and in an attempt to fuel my body with foods that don’t look like they were just pulled out of a 6th-grade boy’s lunchbox, I recently did a Whole30 diet with my wife.

Unfortunately, I didn’t receive many of the intended health/mood/energy benefits that are sometimes achieved. But I did learn, for the first time, quite a bit about the guilt and desire that is sometimes attached to food. In fact, I was fascinated to see how much religious vocabulary is associated with dietary habits. 

For instance, one transition I did successfully make was from multiple cans of Diet Coke each day to the preferred alternative of many who are health conscious – La Croix. I was shocked to see this label at the bottom of a La Croix (tangerine flavored) can. If you can’t see it clearly in the picture, at the bottom of the can, it says, “0-Calorie, 0-Sweetener, 0-Sodium = INNOCENT!” 

No guilt here!

Innocent. The only reason the word “innocence” would be advantageous from a marketing perspective is if you had a constituent of consumers who were riddled with guilt concerning their eating habits. The word literally means to be free from legal or moral wrong; without sin; guiltless.

Moral language like “guilt-free,” “clean,” “pure,” and “junk” has long been a part of the dietary world. The continued use isn’t too surprising to me. But in the bigger picture, what actually does intrigue me is the fact that our culture has been thoroughly unsuccessful in an attempt to grow intentionally amoral. 

If you’re skeptical that our country is attempting to think less morally, read any of entries of revolutionary psychotherapist Albert Ellis in the journal of the American Psychological Association. I appreciate Ellis’ contributions to counseling. I frequently use his A-B-C model of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy in my own counseling. But he very obviously believes that devout faith, fear of punishment from a rigid God, limiting your happiness on the basis of guilt, etc., are all psychologically unhealthy. In 1961, Ellis publicly criticized religion, saying it was, “on almost every conceivable count, directly opposed to the goals of mental health.”

This spirit is still prominent today and actively being passed on to a new generation. Just last month, one of the most widely read articles in the NY Times Op-Ed section was “Raising My Children Without The Concept of Sin.” The author laments her fundamentalist upbringing and insists that her children can be forces for good in the world without ever experiencing the feelings of guilt she believes are linked to communities of faith and religious dogma. 

My point is that our society has become intentionally less aligned with biblical morals, but it has not actually become less moral. And this means that we have a young generation that has become highly moral about issues like treatment of animals, recycling, dietary habits, vaccination, and smoking, to name a few. 

By the way, I’m not at all intending to disparage young adults from caring about such issues. Each of the issues I just listed impact God’s creation and are therefore worthy of careful consideration. I’m merely suggesting that 50 years ago, no one would have considered “consuming aspartame” a moral issue. Even though there are obvious biblical encouragements about how we steward our bodies (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Rom. 12:1-2), the chemical contents of foods are really not on the radar of New Testament Scriptural directives. Issues like sexual immorality, greed, gossip, coveting, or disrespect of authorities, however, are overtly Scriptural, but register proportionately less on the average young adult’s moral compass than they likely would have 50 years ago. 

What we see then is that young adults are not inherently worse than prior generations. They have just as much of a conscience as prior generations. And they seemingly possess just as much willpower to fight what they perceive to be evil. The problem is that the cultural GPS has been recalibrated. In catechismal terms, you could say that young adults have just as much Natural Knowledge of God as they had before, but they lack a culturally robust awareness of the Revealed Knowledge of God. 

A little thought experiment might help. Imagine driving down the interstate on a pleasant summer day. The possibility of an accident certainly exists. If you’re careless, or if someone driving near you is careless, an accident can ensue. However, if you’re driving on the exact same highway in January, as the roads get more slippery, the likelihood of an accident goes up. If the guardrails get taken off the highway, the chance for fatality rises again. 

Most Christians I’ve worked with experience some level of guilt. However, many of them also inappropriately feel guilt over a biblically neutral issue far more than what they experience over an obvious sin. 

The cars aren’t more poorly designed than they were years ago, but the overall conditions have worsened. And spiritual wreckage is more common.

So what do you do? If you can’t control the external conditions, the only reasonable solution would be to become more skilled in the operating of your own vehicle. Cars need to slow down. Better driving instruction needs to take place up front. Vehicles need to be tuned up more regularly.

So, for instance, it may not have been essential to teach the principles of Christian identity formation in 1950. There was so much cultural force pushing people toward God, churches, biblical ethics, etc. that there was actually some assistance from your community. But in 2019 – an intensely individualistic, relativistic, meritocracy of a society – I’m not sure if you can survive from childhood to adulthood as a Christian unless you’ve repented of “performance-based identity” for the sake of an identity rooted in the righteousness of Christ. The cultural elements have become more antagonistic, more hostile, to the Christian faith. 

Similarly, in 2019, you need Christian instruction on what to actually feel guilty about. Most Christians I’ve worked with experience some level of guilt. However, many of them also inappropriately feel guilt over a biblically neutral issue far more than what they experience over an obvious sin. I know lots of students who feel horrendous about getting a B+ instead of an A. I know many people, women and men, who hate themselves for weighing 5 more pounds than they believe they should, and are riddled with guilt if they indulge in the carbohydrates contained in a single sandwich. I’m stunned in having seen a young adult walk around a building for 20 minutes looking for a recycling bin because the normal garbage was unacceptable. This same individual was unconvinced that a sexual relationship with a young man she was not married to, so long as there was mutual consent, was a spiritual problem. 

What's happened in recent decades is that the spiritual guardrails have been taken off of society, individuals are driving more recklessly, and we're far more exposed to crazier elements.

A week ago, a college student asked me if it was ever wrong to go against your conscience? They had heard a minister once say that. I’ve heard similar sentiments. If I had to guess, I believe the minister was partially quoting from Martin Luther’s famous statement at the Diet of Worms (1521). When asked to recant of his obstinance to the Roman Catholic Church, he replied: 

Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I shall not recant. For my conscience is held captive by the Word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.

Luther, Diet of Worms (1521)

The important thing to notice is the first half of Luther’s statement. He says that his “conscience is held captive by the Word of God.” A conscience that is held captive by the Word of God would be wrong to contradict precisely because you’d be contradicting the Word of God. Searing a conscience that is accurately calibrated to the Bible is indeed sinful. 

But the Bible does not advocate bowing to a poorly calibrated conscience, which is where many young adults find themselves today. In fact, the Bible does tell us of an occasion where one of Jesus’ disciples was was being held captive by a conscience not calibrated to the gospel. And God demands that he recalibrate. In Acts 10, Peter receives a vision from God in which a sheet from heaven rolls out “unclean” meats. A voice from heaven then says: “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (Acts 10:13) Peter replied, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14) And then the voice scolds Peter, saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15) 

Peter needed some conscience recalibration, as he was being prepped by the Lord to embrace a Gentile convert, Cornelius (Acts 10:23-48), which undoubtedly would have made him feel dirty in years prior. Welcoming a fellow worshipper of Jesus as a spiritual brother was not wrong, though his conscience, at that point, may have led him to feel like it was. (NOTE: This was a recurring struggle for Peter, cf. Galatians 2:11-21, which proves that regular recalibration is necessary.) 

The obvious takeaway is that consciences, though tremendously valuable instruments, can be wrong, need to regularly be recalibrated, and at times need to be defied if they stand in opposition to the gospel. 

This doesn’t discount being sensitive to those with “weak” consciences, which the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans 14. But on a personal level, just because something seems wrong, or something causes me to feel guilty, shouldn’t dictate my action. The authority of the Word must constantly be reconstructing my conscience in a world that is hammering it. 

As it stands, I say enough foolish things, do enough stupid things, and think enough incorrect things that I simply don’t have the bandwidth to withstand additional guilty feelings for the neutral things of my life.

As a sinner, when I repent, Jesus tells me that “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God” (Luke 15:10).This is true whenever any sinner repents. So we eagerly repent and joyfully repent and become liberated in the confidence that all of our junk has been paid for by Jesus. 

But I don’t know what the angels do when I feel undeservedly guilty about stuff which I shouldn’t feel bad about. It can’t be rejoicing. Perhaps confusion. Maybe even sadness that I’m feeling bad unnecessarily. More than anything though, I’m guessing they’d wish I’d look more deeply into the thing that commands their attention – the gospel they endlessly long to look into (1 Peter 1:12). In it, we find truth, we find ourselves, and we find the real differences between right and wrong. 

Because of the forgiveness offered in the gospel, there is no reason to feel guilty about anything you’ve done wrong. 

Furthermore, because of the clear truth offered in the gospel, there is no reason to feel guilty about anything that isn’t actually wrong.

Finally, the good news is that the only one who was truly INNOCENT! loved us enough to absorb the hellish effects of our sticky, high-fructose-corn-syrupy sins. It felt terrible for him. But nothing has ever been righter, purer, or more beautiful than his expression of love. And nothing will motivate a young generation to recalibrate like the taste of that grace. 

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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KonMari, Detaching from Stuff, and Traveling Light in this World

KonMari, Detaching from Stuff, and Traveling Light in this World: "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" has become a huge success for Netflix. The show was green-lighted as a result of the global success of Kondo’s best-seller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and features Kondo’s unique teaching, known as the "KonMari" method.

Kondo says that she derived her method from the Shinto religion. After an anxiety attack in her college years, she became convinced that the episode resulted from having become too obsessed with the wrong things, i.e. the clutter, in life. Consequently, the "KonMari" method has one evaluate an item’s worth by holding it in their hands, and keeping only that which “sparks joy.”

There’re obviously flaws to the “does-it-spark-joy?” system. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but if you’re holding a screaming, poopy-diapered baby in your arms, it’s unlikely that (and probably worrisome if) unmitigated joy is running through you. Nonetheless, you shouldn’t get rid of the child. Or, for instance, I’ve never had any pair of socks spark joy when holding them in my hands. Yet I still recognize their value. Or, on the other hand, for some, holding a bag of cocaine might actually spark tremendous joy inside, but by all means, you need to get rid of that thing.

That’s simplistic. But that’s my point. The method itself is logically too simplistic to be a significant life tool. Nonetheless, the method’s popularity is clearly tapping into a public sentiment – i.e. in a postmodern, subjective, “you do you” world, we don’t know how to reasonably assess value. The result has been that this generation is developing an unwitting, but significant, awareness of Jesus’ teaching that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

A sign of the times

Look no further than the tiny house phenomenon. The size of the average American house grew from 1780 square feet in 1978 to 2,662 square feet in 2013. The economic recession of 2008 coupled with a leaner Millennial mindset gave birth to a rising popularity of homes with approximately 500 square feet. There’s a non-committal mobility attached to such dwellings. It was a sudden and reactionary generational pendulum swing.

Similarly, Abercrombie & Fitch, a mainstay in young adult fashion in the 90s & early 2000s has been on life support the past several years. For some reason, college students carrying 100k of student loans seem to find nothing cool about overpaying for a logo on a hoodie anymore.

Growing up in a financial crunch does remarkable things for your perception about the value of stuff.

Some might be surprised to hear a Christian pastor say that we most certainly can find some good overlap with Christianity in other religions. But since the Bible indicates we all have a natural knowledge of God imprinted upon our hearts (Romans 2:14-15), it stands to reason that there are tenets of other non-Christian religions that nonetheless support certain Christian values. As Marie Kondo has stated, the Eastern religions, for a couple millennia, have encouraged practitioners to detach from the material things of this world. This idea is not only biblical, but it’s massively important for Western people to hear. 

Jesus tells the disciples he sends out in Matthew 10 to travel light in this life. Specifically, he says: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” Matthew 10:10-11.

There is a fascinating balance in what Jesus is teaching. He doesn’t say that his disciples don’t need material things at all. He says that they don’t need an excess of material things. They’re not allowed to take an “extra” shirt or sandals or staff. Unlike Eastern religions, God is not anti-material, but unlike traditional Western consumerism, he’s also not hyper-material.

Traveling Light

God wants his people to steward material things wisely. The end result for people who believe that this world in its present form is a temporary dwelling place until the real life, life eternal, is that we would travel light in our time spent here.

By the way, for those who think that Jesus’ directions here only apply to the Twelve that he’s sending out for the first time on a ministry journey, I would suggest the following. We know the “traveling light” principle is not only further established in the rest of Scripture, but when you look at the parallel Gospel account in Luke 10, you find that Jesus sends out 70 disciples. 

I believe that 70 disciples were actually sent out, but I also ask “Why 70?” Seventy, as a product of 7 (holiness/perfection) and 10 (completion) is a number in the Bible that signifies holy completion. In this case, it indicates ALL of Christ’s disciples. In other words, Jesus is establishing some prototypical, prescriptive patterns here that he wants his followers to practice throughout history. One of those practices is the “traveling light” as missionaries in this world principle.

There are some obvious spiritual reasons to travel light. For starters, excess requires less faith. If you have an abundance of money, housing, food, clothes, etc., it affords you the dangerous privilege of not having to trust in God’s providence.

Letting go is HARD but there is hope

Another spiritual benefit of traveling light in this world is that in the moments when following Jesus could mean risking everything for the sake of the Kingdom, the greater the “everything” is, the harder it is to let go. I’ve only watched clips of Marie Kondo’s show, but it’s fascinating to see how many people cry when letting go of sweaters that they haven’t worn in 8 years. The things of this world have a strong, secret pull that creates an obstacle to our life mission. So let them go and be careful not to pick up too many others.

I understand it’s not easy. It requires intention and courage. My wife, Adrian, is currently in a pretty pricey graduate program for another 2 1/2 years. We went from both working to one of us working and then paying for school. We’re still blessed beyond imagination. But we’re already proactively planning over 2 years out about what it will mean when she graduates and we return to multiple incomes. It cannot mean simply more stuff. It must amount to more impact on others in need. It must still require us to trust primarily in God. It must account for the temptation to become hyper-attached to this world.

We struggle with this to varying degrees, and very few of us consider ourselves materialistic, yet most of us have still fallen victim to coveting the things of this world, refusing Jesus’ clear command: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20)

The good news is that Jesus, who owns the world, chose to not have a dollar to his name in his life on earth. He willfully detached, voluntarily became poor, so that we, through his poverty, would become eternally rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Never mind tiny house, the Son of Man literally had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). Why? Even when we were oblivious to the power that stuff had over us, he knew we struggled with greed, control, and the treasures of earth and wanted to die in our place to pay for all of that. When you see the beauty of his generosity, you start letting go of stuff and start grabbing more hold of him.

Let go of this life. Let go of perceived control. Let his generosity spark ultimate and eternal joy. You’ll be a lot less anxious.

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com for this week's blog.



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Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers

Truth Suppressors, Idol Makers, & World Breakers: Why there’s really no such thing as an atheist, and the explanation of all bad behaviors

1) Where did we come from?

2) Where are we going? 

3) What is the meaning of life? 

4) What constitutes good/evil within this life?

No matter if you consider yourself religious or not, all people have some answers to life’s four basic philosophical questions. Whatever your answers (or lack thereof) to those questions are, those responses are the beliefs that govern your life choices. Those conclusions point to what is your operative telos. Furthermore, none of us can empirically, in this moment, quantify our responses to those questions. This means we’re all operating out of faith.

So, for instance, I absolutely have assumptions about the origins of the universe. These assumptions are based on what I read in the Bible and what I perceive in the world. Another person might hold macro-evolutionary assumptions about the origins of the universe based on other factors – classes they took in college, a documentary they saw on TV, etc.

Neither of us can prove our assumptions.

Even if we can do an experiment that might prove something today, this proves nothing about what happened in the past. Our beliefs are expressions of faith.

The same is true with what’s on the other side of death. I hold faith assumptions. But so does everyone. Many I’ve talked to say that we die and are placed in the ground and that’s the end of us. Okay…I can prove that happens to my body, but what about my spirit? I assume one thing happens, but the materialist assumes another thing.

Neither one of us can prove anything in the moment.

Consequently, this is clearly not science vs. faith or reason vs. faith. It’s all faith assertions based on what we believe is the most compelling evidence.

(And by the way, not only are we all ultimately living by faith, but we operate accordingly on a daily basis because that’s actually the only way to do life.) For instance, let’s say you find a girl you think you might want to marry. But you’re not positive she’s the right one for you. You consider yourself a reasonable, scientific fellow and are therefore going to wait until all the necessary empirical data comes in before you pop the question. You know what’s going to happen, right? Two possible things: 1) You’ll die/She’ll die, or, and more likely, 2) She’ll find a better guy – one who is courageous enough to commit to her via a leap of faith.

In other words, you simply cannot prove that ten years from now, this individual will have been the “right” person for you to have married. You gather a reasonable amount of data, and then you make a leap of faith. It’s the only possible way to live.

And here’s my point: Irrespective of what you call yourself, functionally, none of us conducts our personal lives as scientists (or atheists). Practically speaking, all of us live by faith. 

Furthermore, inherently, all of us assumes our lives have meaning. And naturally, we all flinch in the face of death. Instinctively, we all know there is such a thing as right and wrong. Why does this all come intuitively? Because deep down we KNOW God exists! And the Apostle Paul says we all understand this intrinsically because God does such a sensational job of proclaiming his existence to us. 

Then why the disbelief?

Truth suppression should not be a foreign concept to anyone alive in the past century. It’s been one of the world’s recurring refrains. Everyone agrees that Communism, Fascism, Nazism worked largely because of propaganda and truth suppression – the government only shared certain select pieces of information with its population.

The tagline of one of my favorite shows as a kid, the X-Files, was “The Truth Is Out There.” The show was tapping into a general awareness that people in power sometimes withhold truth in order to control others. In recent years, “fake news” has become the most popular topic surrounding media. And regardless of which news you believe is the fake news, we all agree that it’s possible and prevalent. In other words, when people report information, depending on their motivation, they share select information in order to alter beliefs.

Now, if we realize it happens out there, all the time, why wouldn’t we realize that we’re constantly tempted to do it to ourselves as well?

I. Truth Suppressors

There’s something about the human condition that makes us lean towards denial in the face of difficult truth.

From my perspective, the biblical text that serves as the granddaddy of all human behavioral explanations is found in Romans 1:18-32. Here the Apostle Paul lays out a basic explanation for what all natural flesh attempts to do with the inconvenient truth of God.

God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

(Romans 1:18-21)

Paul’s general assessment then is that humans don’t disbelieve in the true God because they’re basically ignorant of God. Rather, they disbelieve in God because they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (vs. 18). They’ve talked themselves out of the truth that’s in front of them, despite the clear evidence, because the truth is inconvenient. 

Paul’s logic in these verses is NOT that God is angry with people for simply having too little knowledge and that this leads them to do bad things.

So far as I can tell, Romans 1:18-21 is the only spot in Scripture where all three of the historical philosophical arguments for God’s existence come up. The Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Moral Argument are all embedded.

Ignorance is not the primary issue.

Paul doesn’t describe pagans as people who were unfortunately withheld information and didn’t stand a chance, but as people who are sinning by choice against their better knowledge. They suppress the truth for themselves. For that matter, believers too possess a sinful flesh that is constantly trying to push the inconvenient, humbling truth down. 

II. Idol Makers

22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Romans 1:22-25

Here’s the interesting twist. Because the truth of God is inconvenient and humbling, the fallen flesh refuses to worship God.

However, we were created for the purpose of worshiping God.

We’re wired to worship God.

So if we reject worshiping the true God, this doesn’t lead us to STOP worshiping. Instead, we just redirect all of our praise, all of our energy, all of our resources, all of our sacrifices to something/someone else. That’s why Paul says they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (vs. 25). This is the biblical concept of idolatry.

Humans don’t just live; we all live FOR something.

All of us has something that ultimately captures our imagination, something that becomes the highest allegiance of our hearts. I’m inclined to believe that if you were born and raised in modern America, there are 3 common P-Idols: Professional Advancement, Physical Attractiveness, and Personal Comfort & Freedom.

You don’t have to consciously choose to idolize these things. You just have to inhale the polluted cultural ethos to absorb the lifestyle. If you happen to be raised in a good, Midwestern church-going family, I can safely add Moral Performance as an inevitable fourth to the list. These are the things, by default, we tend to live for. We’ve been trained to believe they give us meaning and value.

Paul says about the pagans: “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts” (vs. 24). The word for “sinful desires” is, in the Greek, epithymia, which literally means “hyper-desire.” In other words, the things (beauty, comfort, successful career, or morality) certainly aren’t wrong in and of themselves. The hyper-desire of these things – lusting for them as though they were God – that’s the thing that leads to all of our bad behaviors. 

III. World Breakers

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Romans 1:26-32

If you’re tracking Paul’s logic, he’s now said that God’s truth is obvious and unmistakable. But it has implications that humans, by nature, don’t like. Instead of worshiping God, humans selfishly and foolishly choose to value the blessings of God ahead of the Blesser. The hyper-desire for these good things, the efforts made to appease these idols, are the catalysts for all of the bad behaviors that exist on planet earth. Humans worship their false gods by breaking the true God’s commands.

ALL bad behavior is merely the outworking of idolatry. And this is what is ruining the planet.

Paul’s next verses give proof. He offers statements about the breakdown of human society due to idolatry. He talks about sexual disorder (vss. 26-27), economic disorder caused by greed (vs. 29) social disorder caused by deceit, malice, and murder (vs. 29), the breakdown of the family unit caused by disrespect (vs. 30), relational disorder caused by faithlessness and ruthlessness (vs. 31). And he even says anyone who complicity approves of all this is also liable (vs. 32).

It’s always just one short step from idolatry to immorality.

All immorality is simply idol worship. 

Any bad behavior you’ve ever struggled with points to a false god that contends for your heart.

This is why working merely on behavioral modification is like giving a lozenge to someone with lung cancer. You might even find success in periodically relieving symptoms, but the root cause will simply manifest itself in other destructive ways.

Further amazing…do you know how God punishes idolatry? Paul says, “Therefore God gave them over…” (vs. 24) God doesn’t fight for the hearts of mankind forever. And he doesn’t typically cast down lighting bolts. After repeated resistance and rejection, he eventually just gives people what their sinful hearts’ desire.

And this is the scariest possible outcome.

If you want to kill a drug addict, just give him enough drugs. If you want to kill an alcoholic, just give her enough alcohol. If you want to kill a sex addict, fulfill all their fantasies. If you want to kill a career-oriented workaholic, keep promoting them. Etc.

It’s worth thinking through our own possible hyper-desires at this point as well. If you’re addicted, idolatrous when it comes to the wellness of your family, or your moral performance, or your romantic pursuits, or your physical beauty, what should God give you if he truly loves you? What would kill you?

IV. World Saver

Humans don’t like God’s truth. Humans suppress God’s truth. Humans then start worshiping created things. This turns the world upside down and hurts people. It’s all here.

So what should God do about all this? I know what I would do if I were God. Thank God my finger’s not on the trigger.

Paul reveals the shocking good news of God’s grace repeatedly in Romans, but in this particular text, I think it’s even implicit in verse 18.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people” (vs. 18)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say “the wrath of God” will come down, though, in a sense, it will on Judgment Day. Also, in another sense, the wrath of God is revealed as God gives people over to their sins, and simply allows them the amount of rope their hearts desire to hang themselves. Without question, though, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven most obviously at the same approximate time that the Son of God was revealed from heaven.

The Son of God had no wickedness of his own. And the Father repeatedly mentions how pleased he was with Jesus (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5). But mankind, including us, attempted to suppress his truth in our lives.

Fortunately, Jesus can’t be suppressed. His stone gets rolled away and his truth and God’s grace gets revealed. The One who had no wickedness at all, in his great love for us, allowed himself to become suppressed for a time, so that those of us who have suppressed the knowledge of him in our lives would be forgiven, and have our stones rolled away too.

Through faith in him we not only find complete forgiveness, but are gifted a righteousness that defines us as eternal members of God’s perfect family. And our testimony to God’s grace, moving forward, our life mission, is time spent helping humanity let go of its idols and exchange the lies of this world for God’s truth. The other side of the gospel is the first step of all recovery.

We thank Pastor James Hein and https://www.breadforbeggars.com/ for this week's blog.



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Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. ~ LUKE 12:32