Monday, October 31, 2016

Here I Post- A Celebration of Reformation Day

In honor of the 499th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, I am posting a paper I wrote in Seminary on a biography of Martin Luther. Enjoy.

Part One

Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton. A review.
July of 1505, Martin Luther vowed to St. Anne to become a monk if he survived the lightening storm. In promise of his vow, he made the preparations to become a monk. His parent’s were unhappy with the decision, desiring him to go into law. Luther understood what he was going into, knowing it was a hard life. It became a struggle with his father Luther would deal with the rest of his life. (Chapter one)
Luther went through his first year, spending his days in prayer, meditation and song. When he performed his first mass, he was filled with dread and shook with fear. After the mass, his father rebuked him again for his decision to go against their wishes and enter the monastery. Luther spent many hours in attempts to make himself pure and holy, praying all night and working until he could no longer work. He would confess for hours, and as soon as he exited the confessional, he would become terrified because of sins he had neglected to confess. (Chapter two)
            During his trip to Rome, Luther saw things that disturbed him greatly. His trouble continued back in Wittenberg, where he transferred, he continued his rigid lifestyle, spending hours in the confessional, working himself in attempts to mortify his own flesh. Luther found himself hating God because of the view he had developed of God as cruel judge. Luther’s mentor, Staupitz decided to have Luther study the scripture and preach. He hoped this would help Luther find peace with God. Luther began to study and preach on Psalms, and later the book of Romans and Galatians. It was in this study that Luther’s theology and view was forever changed. Luther began to relate with the desperation of Christ on the cross, understanding that in that moment, Christ took the iniquity of all mankind. (Chapter two)
          Luther saw the wrath of God, but he also began to see the mercy of God on the cross of Christ. The verse “the just shall live by faith” began to take meaning for Luther. He emerged a change man, but did not seek to reform the church in the beginning. He did speak against the offenses made by many in the clergy, but his trust in the church remained. (Chapter three)
          It was the selling of indulgenced that started the fire that led to reform. Leo X needed funds to complete a rebuilding and restoration of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. To raise funds, he sold position, which the buyers borrowed money with the approval of selling indulgences to recoup the dept that was owed. The selling of indulgences was not in Saxony, because Fredrick the Wise did not what it to take away from his collection of relics, which was on display during All Saint’s Day. Many from Luther’s parish did make the journey and return with indulgences. Luther was outraged by this, along with the preaching of Tetzel, who claimed, “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” (p. 60) (Chapter four)
            Luther’s reaction is the 95 Thesis, which he wrote in response against this practice. Luther wrote against not only the selling of indulgences, but the papal power to grant indulgence and forgive sin, only God has this power. The church can only revoke punishment issued by the church, and not by God. (Chapter four)
             Luther was summoned and ordered to recant. Luther refused to recant and a papal bull was issued, and a diet was formed. It was moved several times until it finally took place in Worms. Before Worms, Luther continued his attack on the papacy, stating that a council and popes could error. Luther engaged in debate with the likes of John Eck and in the Leipzig debate. This debate with Eck only increased the rift with Luther and Rome. (Chapter five)
            As the bull reached Luther, he burned it in protect. His writings by this point were very extensive, including The Babylonian Captivity, which made the breach wider. Luther’s books were burned in the Piazza Naona. At the empiral diet, the Archbishop of Trier examined Luther. He was confronted with a pile of his books, and asked if he was the author. He was then asked if he would recant what is written in the books. Luther asked for one day to think the matter over, and it was granted to him. (Chapters 5-8)
            The next day, Luther was brought before the diet. He gave clarification that not all of his books were the same, and he could not recant them for various reasons. He was asked again if he would repudiate his books. His reply was “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscious in neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” (p 144). (Chapters 9 and 10)
            The Edict of Worms condemned Luther as a heretic. Upon leaving Worms, Luther was taken and hidden by Fredrick the Wise in Wartburg. It was here that Luther began his translation of the Bible into German. While Luther was in hiding, reform was happening in Wittenberg. Zwilling, an Augustinian monk led the charge. Many monks and nuns married and Luther approved. The Mass was reformed, having both elements given to laity. Such divisions occurred, mass was stopped all together until there was revolt. The violence continued and Carlstadt led the masses to rid the churches of all images and idols. The revolt was calmed, and Luther was returned from hiding. (Chapter 10 and 11)
             The impact of Luther’s work continued to make waves in Germany. Fredrick the Wise ordered his collection of relics to be given to the poor after having them booed. Much of the population, especially the peasants were experiencing civil unrest, led by men like Carlstadt, Muntzer and Zwigli. Peasant uneasiness led the revolt. Peasants plundered and demolished churches, cloisters and monasteries. Muntzer led the way, causing the violence to continue. Luther openly condemned the rebellion, saying it was out of God’s law and is full of murder and bloodshed, which makes widows, orphans and turns everything upside down. Luther called for the faithful to put down the rebellion, and the princes were ready to comply. Muntzer’s rebellion was put down, and he was tortured and beheaded. Luther tried to counteract the slaughter of peasants with another tract, but it was not noticed as the one, which read, “smite, slay and stab.” Catholic princes blamed Luther for the whole episode. (chapters 14-16)
          On the 13th of June in 1525, Martin Luther was publicly betrothed to Katherine Von Bora, the last of twelve nuns whom he had helped escape the convent and marry. Luther stated he had three reasons to get married, first because his father wished him to have a son to carry the family name. The second was to spite the Pope and the devil, and the last was to seal his witness before his martyrdom. Luther did not have the financial resources to support a wife and the children that were to come, but God provided for their finances through support and household prophet, such as selling meat and produce. Luther even had a lathe he installed for doing woodwork. (Chapter 17)
Martin and Katharine had six children, Hans, Elizabeth, Madgalena, Martin, Paul and Margaretha. Luther and his wife also took in borders and other children to live with them, as many as 20 boarders. Luther’s views of marriage never became that of the loving and adoring husband, but an institution that God created for procreation and family relationships, but he did learn to love and cherish Katie. Prior to his marriage, he viewed marriage as a remedy for lust, marriage as a purer state than sin. After his marriage, his emphasis shifted to a place to learn character. (Chapter 17)
            In the war of words, the most powerful weapon in Luther’s arsenal was the tract. Most of these tracts contained cartoons and illustrations, and were used in great quantity by both sides of the argument. Many tracts are shown with Luther as a hero or villain. Luther was shown either in war with the devil or in league with him, fighting for a cause or fighting against. Popes, kings and the Church of Rome were displayed in many tracts, as well as illustrations in the bible, such as the Harlot of Revelations wearing a papal tiara. These tracks helped to spread the message of the reformers far and wide. (Chapter 18)
            As these tracks were spread, the message of the reform was spread. This naturally led to problems, splits and differences of opinion. One of these differences was on the nature of communion. It was such a large issue, it was the reason a common confession failed between the differing denominations. During the hearing in Speyer, all protestant denominations presented a confession. Luther was tolerant of other denominations in so much he did not wish them to be condemned to death, he felt banishment was suitable. Luther held the position that eternal judgment would wait for those of an incorrect faith, and that was punishment enough. (Chapter 18, 19 and 21)
Luther’s work and labors are still celebrated, his bible for example is considered one of the greatest works of its time. Luther worked diligently to find suitable words for his translations, going to professionals to ask about items, such as a butcher to ask about sacrificial animal part names. Luther’s other works have also earned him notoriety as a great scholar, such as his catechisms, the small for children and the larger for adults. (Chapter 19)
          Luther’s impact on the church service as we know it has also had lasting impacts. We still sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in churches today, a hymn written by Luther. In 1524 Luther put together a hymnbook of 23 songs, putting songs in the hands of the people and singing in their churches. Luther elevated preaching as the center of the service, and his work in this area is quite extensive, preaching almost daily. (Chapter 20)
          With all the accomplishments and great things Martin Luther did, he was still a man. He fought with depression, turning often to manual labor to relieve his bitter moods. He loved his wife, and mourned the loss of a child. He felt fear and pain, he suffered diseases like chronic constipation. He was a great man, but like all great men, he met the end of his life. The world said goodbye to the man, but his work endures through the ages. (Chapter 21 and 22)
Part Two
Here I Stand. A reaction
            I think there is a little bit of Martin Luther in everyone. The same forces that drove Martin Luther to his knees do the same for us. His search for truth is the same search many of us find ourselves questing for. When I was younger, I found myself very confused by faith verses works. I felt like I was told in Sunday School that I needed to do good things, to listen to my parents and follow all the rules. I was confused, John 3:16 said if you believe, you will be saved. It was through a sermon that I found the truth and gave my heart and life to Jesus. My search was not as involved as Luther’s. I was not forced to enter a monastery, study for hours, struggle as intently, risk my life, hide in a castle and translate the scriptures. Most of us have an easier time with the search than Luther did, but on some level, we must all comes to the place we are open to the truth, and willing to dig into the word and truth to find what it has for us.
            Luther’s life convicts me of my own sin and depravity. Luther lived his life in mortification of his own sin. He struggled during his time in the monistary, trying to rid himself of all impurity. As a believer, I should be as dead to my sin. I don’t find myself hating my own sin as Luther did. It has made me realize that I have trivialized my salvation, and sin even though it should repulse me and lead me to heartfelt repentance on my face before the Throne of God.
            Luther’s work and diligence is inspiring. He found time to do so much in his life, imagine what he could have accomplished if he lived to be 70 or 100. In his short life on this earth, he did some amazing works. Although I don’t completely agree with all of his theology, he did amazing things and took great and powerful leaps in thought and doctrine. He, as a single man, revolutionized the way we approach Christ and the way we worship. It has inspired me to see that one person can do great things for the kingdom by working toward what he believes is right. Luther never set out to change the world, but to follow what he knew in his heart was right. I am sure he never would have thought that in the year 2005, seminary students would be reading biographies about his life, and writing papers about how he has inspired and challenged them. It’s a goal we can set for ourselves, to be the kind of men that people will read about and be inspired by.
            The biography itself by Bainton is not the best biography I have read. It is complete, but was hard to follow in parts. I was disappointed that it did not cover the end of his life. The read itself was slow and dry, but the illustrations added to the book, and helped to see and understand the thoughts of the day in the pictures.
            Luther had a character that was stone like. He was very true to his word, from his vow to enter the monastery to his unwillingness to back down and recant to the strength of his convections with faced with differing views, like those on communion. Luther was a stubborn and hardheaded man, not backing down in hearings, diets, with friends or foes, with the rich or the poor or even his wife and children.
            The flip side of that coin is that Luther was committed to what he believed, and was willing to fight or die for it. His reasoning for not wanting a wife was “if he was to be burned at the stake within a year, he was hardly the person to start a family.” (p 224). He was ready to die at any time for his convictions, so much that Fredrick the Wise was forced to hide him after Worms. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus commanded his disciples to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Luther got part of it right at least.
            Luther’s theology can be described as reactionary. When we became a monk, he lived in reaction of his own sin, constantly in confession. When he found the truth in scripture, he lived in reaction to the fact that the righteous shall live by faith. When faced with indulgences, which was a contradiction to his new belief, he wrote the 95 Thesis. The papal reaction to this work was to recant. Luther’s reaction was to fight the papacy. Every action caused a reaction. Luther never set out to reform the church, but as he reacted, the church was reformed. He never set up a new belief, he simply modified the existing beliefs to come in harmony with scripture. Luther, for example, did not keep the belief of transubstantiation, but incorporated parts of it in the Lutheran Church by still believing Christ is physically present during communion.
            Many will argue that Luther did not take the reformation far enough. The Anabaptists would agree, moving much farther away from the Catholic church than did Luther. Luther never desired to leave the church, and always had a desire for unity, but never at the expense of his beliefs. He believed he had found the truth, and that truth took priority over everything else.
         The work of Luther is a combination of his brilliant mind and his tireless efforts. Luther spend his entire life as a man in the service of his belief. As a Catholic Monk, he was the best monk he could be. He worked hard, disciplined and punished his body, prayed and fasted with zeal and did all he could to rid himself of sin. His life during the reformation was no less zealous. He wrote a large number of tracks, many great works on top of his preaching and translation of the bible. It is no wonder he died at 50, his life works would take any other man 80 years to complete.
          Much of Luther’s work, however, was reactionary. He wrote and said things that would later come back to haunt him. During the peasants revolt, Luther wrote and issued a track with said: If the peasant is in open rebellion, then he is outside the law of God, for rebellion is not simply murder, but it is like a great fire which attacks and lays waste to a whole land. Thus, rebellion brings with it a land full of murders and bloodshed, makes widows and orphans, and turns everything upside down like a great disaster. Therefore, let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish that a rebel. (p.216-7).
            The reaction to this tract was the slaying of countless peasants. Muntzer, who led the rebellion was captured, tortured and beheaded and the countryside was cleansed. Luther tried to counteract his first tract with a second, but it was too late by this point, and he was blamed by many for the slaughter that took place.
            The contribution of Martin Luther cannot be measured. We read biographies, study him in schools, watch movies about him and read his works. There is still a major denomination that bears his name, and it’s influence is still prevalent in many communities. There is no way to lose the influence of Martin Luther on the church today.
         The first and most major impact Luther left is the place of preaching. The pulpit in Luther’s day was elevated above the alter, and given a place of prominence in the service. Luther preached almost daily, making preaching the focal point. Music was a large focal point for Martin Luther, writing hymns and putting together hymn books. I am convinced that if Martin Luther lived today, he would be working with Power Point and praise choruses. He set things in motion, and the music in the church has been in a constant state of flux. In this day and age, we find people fighting to keep the organ. In his day and age, people fought to keep it out. Music is always a sensitive issue in the church, but for Luther, it was an important one. Luther said that music is “a fair and lovely gift of God which has often wakened and moved me to the joy of preaching . . . I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God.” (p266).

           We can learn a lot of Martin Luther by looking at the example and the legacy he left us. Luther gave of some strong example of how to behave. He was strong in his faith, courageous in the Lord. He used his mind as well as his heart, and he did what he knew was right. He gave the scripture the place of authority it deserved and worked to make the church all it should be. There is also much we can learn from Luther of how not to live. He rebelled, caused arguments and divisions, reacted instead of thinking much of the time, neglected his health and drove himself in the ground. Martin Luther took his place in history, and did what the Lord desired for him. Like David, he served the Lord in his generation, and made a lasting impact.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reformation 2016; Let's Reform The Way we Talk about Salvation

We are a few days away from Reformation Day, remembering Oct 31st, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg Germany. The 95 Theses were the errors that Luther saw in the church that he wanted to address. He didn't mean to start the Protestant Reformation, but the wheels began turning and things began to change.

I am not wanting to debate if the Reformation was a good thing, if it went far enough or it's validity. What I want to discuss is the need for a new Reformation, or perhaps an on going reformation. One of Luther's main issues was that salvation was being purchased or achieved through works, through sacraments, through artifacts and icons. Salvation wasn't found in Christ alone. Today, we face an issue that salvation is talked about using very unbiblical language and based more on emotionalism that on faith. We push people to say a prayer and celebrate them making a good choice, and God has become auxiliary to many of the "experiences" that people have. The aspects of conviction and repentance have been replaced by feelings and decision.

When Peter preached at Pentecost, he told the people to repent. There was no talk of praying or coming forward to making a decision. The act of salvation was not laid out as a formula because Peter understood that salvation is a miraculous event that happens through the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter understood, as seen in his epistle of 2 Peter, that assurance of salvation doesn't happen until you have demonstrated growth in your Christian life over time.

In the modern church, we have tried to make salvation an act that is controlled by the will of man, when it fact it's a working of God in the Holy Spirit. We are simply told to command people to repent, to tell them truth and give them instruction. Those who the Spirit works, those who are saved will grow and mature in faith. They will begin to show fruit and will live out the Christian life. Those who are not saved will depart from the faith because they don't have they don't have the power of the Spirit.

We don't like the ability to not control and count those who are saved. We have rejected the Biblical teaching and instead focused on control and man's effort. We have made false converts by telling them they can control something that only God can do. Despite the popular Christian song, dead men cannot tell their hearts to beat again. The dead must be raised by God, and only God can do so.

Let's preach the truth of repentance, following and obeying. Let's tell people to make their salvation sure by following the teachings and commands of Christ. Let's toss out the unbiblical language and man made rhetoric that deceives people. There will be many individuals who believed themselves to be "saved" on judgement day who will hear "depart from me". They will be looking at the church, feeling betrayed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Token Political Piece, What This Election Has Taught Me

So everyone is writing stuff about the upcoming election. We have the selection before us of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or a variety of 3rd party options, none which as emerged as a real contender. The whole thing is a train wreck in my opinion. I don't believe that a man like Donald Trump has the temperament to be President, he just doesn't have the character to be in public office. On the flip side, I think Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt individual who has ever run for office. She is a criminal, everyone knows she has broken laws, lied and covered it up, and the system seems to be turning a blind eye like it doesn't matter. It's really a disgrace to the entire system.

What I have seen and learned this election cycle is there is a major flaw in America, and I think the center of the flaw is the public education system. The system as a whole is failing. I don't blame teachers, I know great and amazing teachers. I love teachers and I hope to once again be a professional educator. I don't blame administrations, they are doing the best they can with what they have. I don't think it's even an issue with common core or no child left behind. Sure, those things are broken and need fixed, but that doesn't seem to me to be the big problem.

The big issue, the main problem is we have forgotten the purpose of public education. We have forgotten about teaching our kids how to be good citizens. America is a Democratic Republic, and being such requires an education citizenship because we choose representatives and vote on laws. The purpose of the education system in this country is to allow each citizen the opportunity to learn and obtain the skills necessary to be part of the governing process. It begins to picking good leaders, having good laws and common sense in Washington. Education is beyond reading and writing, but how to think critically, how to be civic and community minded. How to look at the needs of the whole.

Instead, we have become so incredibly selfish that the entire system is a mess. Government caves to special interest, companies are allowed to fleece the people, industries like Pharmaceuticals are not kept in check, and programs like Obamacare are making things worse, not better. Special interest is tearing things apart and Washington is so broken it's lead to a man like Trump being the Republican candidate. Hillary should be in prison without a doubt, the debt should be cut and common sense needs to be in politics. It's not. Everything is bought and sold, including lives and freedoms. The corruption has gotten so out of hand for one reason. The people let it get there.

We stopped teaching people how to be in charge of the government, we lost the power of being the people. We now stand by and let politicians and companies gouge us. With the corruption going on and the DOJ and FBI allowing it to happen right in front of the American people, nothing will change. It won't change until there is base level reforms that teach the people how to be good citizens to be watch dogs and involved in the system. Once honest and integrate are focused on in Education, they will never be returned to our government.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Should We Trust Maslow?

I was listening to an education class the other day and heard the teacher talking about Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. I learned about Maslow in high school and college, in psych classes and in education classes. He created a pyramid that says that we have needs that must be met before we can move higher. First is food, water and shelter, then safety and up to self esteem and self actualization. In education, the idea is that students must have their basic needs met before they can perform well, so if a student is hungry, they can't learn math.  We make sure the kids are fed and feel safe so they can perform well. This is pretty accepted by most people.


Yes, I said it, Maslow is crap. The laboratory of real life demonstrates this is crap. Let's look as some examples. Exhibit A is found in any public school. Kids who have money and nice homes, are well provided for, even a little spoiled. They are cocky and think they are God's gift. According to Maslow, these kids should be superstars. Are they? The rich, spoiled, snooty kids, are they the best kids in the school? Are they the highest achievers?  According to Maslow, they should be, and the kids who live in shabby homes with two parents working and they struggle to make ends meet, they should never achieve well. We know that real life doesn't pan out.

Exhibit B, William Kamkwamba. He was born in poverty and was educated by visiting a school library. He learned about electronics and built a wind turbine to power some appliances in his home. He didn't have all the basics that Maslow says are required, yet he achieved great things.

The reality and our last exhibit, Exhibit C is human history. We achieved great things because we were in need of food, water and safety. Necessity is the mother of invention, and humans need motivation more that anything else. People learn, achieve, and succeed in the face of adversity, not in the absence of hardship. The main idea of Maslow is as we move upward in thinking and achieving as we take care of more basic needs. This is now what human kind has demonstrated. When societies have put his plan into effect (this is the basic of socialism and communism), people have not achieved. The socialist idea is that we provide for people, the government will take care of the basic needs and the people will begin to achieve and perform. Didn't work. It doesn't work. People achieve to fill needs, they don't achieve because needs are filled. We are not wired that way.

Sorry Maslow, you got it wrong.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why You Need Diversity in Friendships

One of the biggest blessings in my life are my believing friends. I have some great, very close friends who love Christ and His church. Some of them are in vocational ministry, many serve as volunteers. They have been great helps and supports for me. I made great friends in seminary, many in churches I have attended or served in and some out in the world as we have crossed paths. Having your closest friends be in like faith and spirit is very, very important. You need to have great Christian friends to encourage you, study with you, pray with you and fellowship. I am thankful for those who have been friends for years and some who I have just met. They are vital for my survival as a Christian. You need to be with and around other Christians, together you make up the body of Christ. You are a family, a team, a unit, a single functioning organism to do the ministry and work of Christ on earth. If you are a Christian without a church, a group of believing friends, then you are failing. Get to church, connect with some believing friends and be supported.

You will undoubtedly have friends who have similar beliefs that you do but are not part of the same local church you attend. Some are closer and some are more distant. These people are also vital. We need to remember the kingdom is not an exclusive club. In matters of theology and practice, there may be disagreements. I have friends who are pedobaptists (baptize babies) but I'm a credobaptist (believers baptism by immersion). We disagree but it's ok. We can discuss and challenge each other. It's important to have those types of people to help you grow and learn and be challenged.They are great people to have discussion and learn new things from. Stay humble, stay teachable and stay friends.

There are people in your life that may not believe but will be supportive. These are great people, and you can talk to them about what is happening in your life and show your faith in life. They are the people that you will have a chance to share your faith with. Pray for these people that you may gain a believing friend. Share Jesus with them, invite them to church and speak truth to them. Be humble, be kind. These people will teach you about your faith as they ask questions, so stay in the word. Make lots of friends who are not believers but are supportive.

Lastly, you will have friends who disagree and are opposed to your faith. Yes, you can be friends with agnostics, atheists and members of different religious groups. I have friends who don't believe in the same things I believe in, and sometimes we talk and discuss. They stretch me, they push me and they really make me examine what and why I believe. I love my atheist friends, I love my agnostic friends and those who have beliefs outside of the Christian faith. They are valuable, they are people, made in the image of God and they are worth my time. It's important to be kind and gracious. Jesus loved those outside of the Jewish faith, the Apostles loved those who were part of pagan faiths. Some of those who were outside became believers, some didn't. That will be the same with us, some of our friends outside the faith may become believers, some won't. We love them anyway.

As you live in the world, there is more to being salt and light than just attending church and Bible study. We need to be salt and light everywhere at all times. We love people, we interact with people and we share with people. It's what the gospel is all about. Let's love on those around us and the world will be a little nicer for everyone.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Where Does Satan Live?

I want to teach you about a phenomenon that happens inside of religion, and happens in the Christian faith all too much. It's called syncratism and it has snuck in and done some horrible things. It's when something from inside a culture gets brought into the faith and the two merge to become one. This is what happened when the Israelites made the Golden Calf, they merged faith in God with false idols and said that this (golden calf) is Yahweh. They made mistakes through Isreal's history of bringing idols and false worship into the Temple.

We see this around the world, for example in Haiti, voodoo is commonly practiced along side of Christianity. Christian faith is mixed with pagan faith and it's a corruption.  There are lots of very real illustrations, in the American church we have done it a little more subtly. We haven't brought it golden cows or witch doctors, but some of our knowledge and teachings are very flawed. What I want to focus on is a teaching that makes me crazy, and people say it all the time. They talk about Satan being in hell.

Movies, books, tv shows and all sorts of things in popular culture depict Satan as the ruler of hell, residing in hell, chilling with other demons in hell. The culture depicts hell as the abode for Satan and his demons and they are really quite happy there. In a book called 23 Minutes in Hell, the author talks about being tortured by large demons while in hell. To all those tv shows, books, movies and stories, I say STOP IT.

The idea that Satan lives in hell comes from paganism. The ruler of the underworld was Hades/Pluto. He lived in the underworld, he ruled the underworld. The idea that God was in Heaven, the Devil is in hell comes from pagan culture. In many pagan religions, the evil force lives in the underworld. This is not the case with Biblical Christianity. Hell is not the throne room of the devil.

Hell is a place that God has control of, God created it and prepared it for Satan to spend eternity in torment. Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire with those who are found to be apart from Christ. Hell is the place that will torment Satan, it's not his luxury palace. Satan is not in hell right now, he's on the earth. Demons are on the earth, but hell is their final judgement. The idea of Satan ruling hell would be like building a prison and letting the worst criminal be in control. That's not what a prison is, not what it's for.

The heart of the issue is what we think about God vs Satan. We see this in movies, this idea of balance and the light and dark, good and evil. In most pagan religions, there is a balance and the scales can tip one way or the other. It makes for good movie plots that way. This is not the truth. The truth is, God is all powerful and in control. Satan roams the earth, completely with the permission of God. When time ends, God will then cast Satan out and he will be in the lake of fire forever. Satan doesn't get to rule hell, he doesn't get to torment the lost. He will be in the same position, he will be judged by a Holy God.

It's time we see Satan for who he really is. He is not torturing the lost, he is on earth waging war with believers. He is attempting to devour you and I. His ultimate goal is not to send you to hell, but for him to avoid hell. If God forgives a single sinner apart from Christ, then God must forgive all sinners apart from Christ. If God does this, then Satan will go unpunished for God's justice is perfect. God will send those who are covered in the blood of Christ to heaven and those apart from Christ will suffer eternity in hell with the devil and his demons.

That's it. No balance, to scales of good balancing evil. There is no gate to hell that opens and lets the demons come free. I would go as far to say that hell in itself is not evil. It is the place where evil is tormented, just like a prison is a crime, it's just a place to send criminals. No demons torturing people, no throne room of the devil. God created hell for eternal punishment. Trust me, you don't want to go there and neither does Satan.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Presumptive Narcissism: The Problem with the Selfie Culture

I'm creating a new term for you today. Presumptive Narcissism, the idea that people are interested in you, desire you and even stalking you because they pay any attention to you. Let me back up and start with what I have discovered to be a disturbing trend. When my dad was my age, he would often tell young ladies they were pretty and they would say "thank you". Now that my daughter is a teenager, I wouldn't dare tell one of her friends they look pretty. When older men that I knew in the church would complement young girls, they were often seen as creepy. Even in simple remarks that I have made about a hair cut looking nice or a complement on a jacket, it has been as "weird".

This phenomenon happens mostly to girls in their teens and 20s, the same ones who take and post pictures of themselves constantly. They bait for complements, and when they get it they freak out that it's creepy that someone noticed them. They proceed to tell their friends and the Facebook world that someone is a stalker and creeping them out.

This stems from a few things that come together to make this perfect storm. First is the existence of micro-celebrity-ism. With Youtube, Facebook, and Instragram used by so many they can count their followers, see their likes and the comments and feel a sense of being famous. Social media have given us an opportunity for good outlets, such as my opportunity to write a blog. This can someones go to far and make people become conceded, and even narcissistic. The ultimate sign of celebrity status is being stalked by people, feeling like you are elite in your beauty and charm.

As these young people get compliments and feel like they have celebrity status, they begin to feel that anyone saying anything nice to them is a form of stalking. A man saying "you look nice" is no longer a complement. It is, in their mind, at attempt to "get with" or seduce the girl. They feel as if there are no innocent intentions, they are desired and in constant danger.

Of course most of these girls are being presumptuous. Most men my age and older have little or no desire to be in a relationship with a 20 year old. There are very few who do, and most of them are not complementing friends of their children. In this day and age, we need to be careful and watch out for child trafficking, sexual predators and those who would take advantage, but the behavior has gone too far. It is possible to be aware of strangers and predators without gossiping about your friends dad who said you look like. We must be aware there is a difference between "you look pretty" and "you are so hot, come see me". Narcissism, however, fails to notice the difference.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Problem with the Free Church

I was serving at a church years ago that had a strategy that involved block parties. In the supplies for the block parties were signs that we placed along the road, and many of them involved the word "free". Everything at the block parties was given away, the hot dogs and chips and drinks and so forth. This isn't uncommon, I served at another church that did block parties and gave things to the people who came. This is a good idea and it's a great ministry. When doing so, I remember talking with my lead pastor about the signs. I wasn't a great fan of the wording that everything was a "free".

You see, at a church block party it's not free. The lead pastor and I went to Costco to buy the supplies, so I know they were not free. In that same church we did a coffee house church service, and we gave away coffee. Good coffee, and it was made on a very good espresso maker. The coffee wasn't free either, it just didn't cost the recipients anything. There was a cost, it cost someone.

Salvation is a gift of God that we do nothing to earn or merit or deserve, but it's not free. It cost Jesus everything to purchase our ransom. Discipleship also has a cost, in fact it should cost us everything. There should be nothing in our lives that we don't lay down before the cross. We should be willing to give our hearts, lives, money, time, and energy to serve Christ.

The problem with the church is often that there is no cost and people have begin to not give. There are two sides to this issue I want to unpack, first is those in the pews. People have come to expect that church will cost them nothing. They are there to spectate. I have heard people complain about the music, the preaching, the seating, the lighting, the sound and the temperature of the worship area. There is too much of an expectation to come and be taken care of. We have become consumers of church. This is bad, and it's not what Jesus had in mind. When He said "church" what He implied by the very word is that people would come together to contribute and unite and invest and be involved. It takes time, talent, money, effort, thought and investment. You and I should contribute to the church, not just partake. You don't go to church to be "fed" you go to invest.

People have become lazy, and leaders have empowered the church. Those who are in control often don't want to give up control. They don't want things to look bad or get out of control. They don't share power, they don't include others in the decision making. They want to run the show, so they never open up enough to let others contribute. There is a controlling atmosphere that the leaders come together and shut and lock anyone else out from being involved. They can't contribute because they are not allowed to contribute anywhere. Many leaders take the "us four, no more, lock the door" attitude towards church ministry.

It's time to stop it. It's not free, church isn't free and neither are we. If you are alive, you are either a slave to sin or to Christ. Let those who are slaves to Christ serve Christ to ensure the slaves to sin can be set free. Let's contribute, let's invest and let's change the sign. Instead of saying "everything free" let's say "Christ paid the price for our salvation, so we would like to pay the price for your enjoyment today". It may be a little wordy, but it's the right message.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Can You Make a Difference?

This world is a messed up place. This country is a messed up place. We have crooked politicians, protests about who's lives matter, killer clowns, school shootings trafficked teens and a host of other problems. The issues are real, and they are big and daunting and it makes us think that one person can't make a difference. That is where you are wrong.

The Bible is full of stories of one person making a difference, to the Judges of Israel to Esther to Nehemiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul and on and on. Real people making a difference just by doing whatever they can, when and where they can. They followed where God led them an incredible things happened. Sometimes it changed entire nations, and sometimes it just changed one life.

Maybe God has you in a place to make a difference. Little acts can make big changes. Be kind to someone who needs some kindness. Go out of your way to be helpful or thoughtful. Do a little extra, tip a little more and hug often. Above all, pray often and for everyone. You never know when it will make a difference.

In our adult lives, my wife and I have had opportunities to be part of some amazing things. We have served in various places, interacted with all kinds of people and traveled to some great places. We have never been part of anything that will get roads named after us or get memorialized on a plaque, but we have seen God do some thing things. Maybe someone who we helped will help someone who will change the world. You never know what God is going to do with the gift you give.

You make a difference. With all the evil in the world, the good you do know is holding it at bay. The decline we are on is being slowed every day by those who would pull against it. Those who hold the line and say "I will love in the face of hate and I will do good in the tide of evil".  You make a difference and God sees what you do. Remember to pay it forward and pass it on, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Sin of Favorites

In the church today, I think we have a big problem that is being overlooked. I think it's huge, it's massive and it's killing our church and we ignore it. It's not pride of our pastors and leaders (although that's probably number two and needs it's own blog). It's not liberalism or legalism or bad doctrine. All those things are bad, but I really believe the slippery slope began with the sin of showing some individuals partiality. Let's look at some scripture.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James 2:1-10

There isn't a whole lot of exegesis to this passage necessary. It was clear that James is pointin out that when we give honor to the rich and dishonor the poor, we are sinning. James points out where it's blatant, like the best places to sit and honor. Often it's more subtle. How many wealthy people in our churches have title and position? How many poor people? It's not pleasant to think about, but often those who are professional and successful and fit the "American ideal" are those who are in control of the church. Those who are not doing so well, they are not as influential. It effects things in the church. Decisions are made to keep those who have in control and those who don't on the fringes. Those with power can influence and make decisions that are not Godly. How many men have been forced out of church by a few with power and influence.

What's the answer? First, we need to admit it and acknowledge its' a problem. We need to look around our churches for those who are fit to lead and serve but may not have the status. We need to repent and maybe even remove some leaders/deacons/elders who are not as qualified to lead but have degrees and status and money and power. We need to begin looking beyond what society looks at, admit and repent of the partiality.  We need to look at the status of our church, many things we do or don't do because of pressure of those who get special treatment. Many of the legalism or the liberalism began simply with trying to make the powerful  people happy.

We need to look at the decisions that we overlook. In a church, there was a young couple who were told they couldn't serve in ministry because they were not involved in a Sunday School class, yet a man and his wife who had influence and money were allowed to miss all small group experiences. This is sin, and if you find giving a pass to the rich or influential, it's time to repent. If you hold the poor, young or less impressive to a higher standard than the rich, you are showing partiality. This is in. If the doctrine, teachings or ministries of your church a directed by the needs, wants, or opinions of a few powerful people, that is sin.

It's time to put God in the middle of our ministries and church life. It's time to get rid of the politics and games that we too often play.  Let's look at people the way God looks at people, not at the bank account or social status, but at the heart.