The Christian, The Government, and Living

“Most Christians salute the sovereignty of God but believe in the sovereignty of man.”
– R.C. Sproul

Have you read the comments on various news articles on Facebook? Doing this can reveal a lot about our attitudes toward government and where our government is going.

We see the 2020 election as a pivotal point in our American society. We hear words like “socialism” or “gun control,” and we take to our keyboards writing our opinions.

The pathway our government is going has become a headlining issue. We all have an opinion on this. You will hear one person decry socialism. Yet, another will try to show the benefits of it. There are debates, protests, and online fights over different government systems.

Our reactions expose a theme in our lives: the system of American government is important. However, is this a biblical priority for Christians? How should we biblically respond to governing systems in our country and around the world?

Christian and Government: The Biblical Data

What does the Bible directly say about government?

Thinking about the Christian and government, Romans 13:1-7 is the first passage that should come to mind. We see here there is an imperative in the Greek. We are to submit to the governing authority.

I Timothy 2:1-4 is another location where Paul writes about the Christian interaction with government. We are to pray for those in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life.

Peter, also, mentions the government. I Peter 2:13-14 states that we need to submit to the governing authorities over us.

From these classic passages, we are instructed to submit to and to pray for governing authorities in our lives. In American culture our authorities would be the president, senators, governors, representatives, mayors, judges, police, teachers, employers, etc. Every day we live our lives under multiple layers of governing authorities. According to Scripture, we are to submit and pray.

Christians and Government: The Source

Even though we know the command to submit, we forget there is a divine source and divine sovereignty to all government.

Romans 13:1 reveals God bringing to authority those who he wishes. All governments and their leaders are instituted by God. This God is our Creator (Genesis 1). This God loves each of us so much that our sin needed a Savior (John 3:16). This God cares about individual sparrows and cares for us. We do not have to worry (Luke 12:22-34).

God is sovereign. God knows what is happening. Nothing takes Him by surprise. He knows what is best for us, and He will never leave or forsake us.

Do you think God does not know what He is doing when it comes to our government?

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Past

Christians do worry about and voice their concerns of who is going to be in office. We cast our votes, we put signs on our yards, and we promote others to vote a certain way in order to keep one group (we deem evil) out of office.

In the early church, there was not much control of who was in office. The early Christians did not have a voice like we have today. Many of the emperors of Rome persecuted Christians. Religious freedom was not a denied right. Religious freedom for Christians did not exist until Constantine.

Christians were persecuted. Even in the book of Acts, Christians were hunted down as the most dangerous game. They were beaten, thrown in prison, crucified, beheaded, and ripped apart by wild animals.

While in prison for preaching the Gospel, Paul writes, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself (Philippians 4:11-12).” Paul used the circumstances he found as opportunities to give the Gospel and make disciples around him (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Democracy and religious freedom did not exist in Paul’s society. Yet, Paul was content. His goal was to bring Christ to others no matter who was the governing authority. The government was not the hope and foundation of his faith.

Christians and Government: A Lesson from the Present

I had the opportunity to listen to a pastor from a culture where it is illegal to speak about the Gospel openly. In his culture, Christians must meet in secret. Christians have concern for their safety. Christian families may be split apart and the father put in prison. There are consequences from the government like not being able to do banking or other business just for having a home church.

He was asked how he could have such a strong faith amidst such an oppressive government. His answer was quite thought provoking. The hope of his faith did not rest in the government. His hope was in his heavenly citizenship secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus sealed by the Holy Spirit. The citizenship in his culture came second to his citizenship in heaven.

This pastor is able to live out his faith with boldness, courage, and an open hand because his citizenship is sealed by the Holy Spirit. His government has regulations. Does the tightening down on these regulations concern him? No. His goal is to live for Christ. His faith does not rise and fall with whatever system of government is in power.

Christians and Government: The Challenge

Timothy Keller writes, “If the Christian faith gets too identified with a party, it reduces Christianity to a political position.”

2020 is coming. Republicans and democrats seem to be going at each other every time the news is broadcasted. We hear the words “socialism” and “impeachment,” and our emotions get going. We hear about people wanting to change the constitution and take away our rights. Our emotions start to bubble and our reactions come out. It seems like our faith is strengthened or weakened by what is happening in government.

Can we live as content Christians with the republicans in office? Can we live as content Christians with the democrats in office? Can we live for Christ whether the governing system is democracy or socialism?

We are commanded to submit, pray, and live. Can we be like Paul and this pastor living in a hostile culture and be content? Can we find opportunities to make disciples while living under a government system that is not our preference?

We tend to forget that God is sovereign when the ways of government do not go our way.

What is the hope of your faith? Putting faith in a political party makes a bad religion

We say God is sovereign, but we tend to live as if man is in charge.

“It is a most blessed thing to be subject to the sovereignty of God.”
– John Calvin

Cross-Fit Bodies: A Biblical Perspective on Male Body Image

“The most critical need of the church at this moment is men, bold men, free men. The church must seek, in prayer and much humility, the coming again of men made of the stuff of which prophets and martyrs are made.” – A.W. Tozer

Body Image. This is an issue that is becoming more and more visible for men. For me, it is a personal issue. Having a disability makes the issue of male body image hit close to the heart. Yet, I am not the only one. Men may not speak out about their struggle, but it is real. Even as I write this post, I am overhearing three different conversations where men are discussing body image in relation to working out.

Us men, whether we realize it or not, are constantly barraged with images and ideas of what our bodies should be like. We live in the culture of super heroes and celebrity eye-candy. Images of fit men like Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, John Cena, and Michael Phelps are celebrated as the specimen of good male body image. The cultural phenomenon of the “dad bod” is another way for those who do not want to be in the “fitness camp” to relate to their bodies.

We might not say this is a real issue for Christians to talk about. However, look at culture. Men are more and more seen for their bodies. It might not have been obvious 50 years ago, but it was still there. Look at movies such as Grease. There is a body image for men even back then. When we think about the church, there are plenty of books and conferences for women on the issue of their bodies, yet why is it that nothing is said for men?

Amidst the flashes of models, fitness programs, and celebrities, Christian men need a biblical perspective on how to view their bodies. This post will not cover everything, but I pray this starts a conversation encouraging men to sharpen other men to live a biblical life dedicated to Christ.

Back to Genesis

When talking about men and our bodies, we need to go back to creation. However, we cannot start with God making man. In fact, we cannot start with creation. We need to start with our Creator.

In order to understand a biblical male body image, we need to truly come to an understanding that we have a personable, Creator God. Genesis 1 reveals that our Creator is the Almighty God who can breathe creation into existence. He is in a relationship with humans from the beginning. Even after the fall of man into sin, our Creator promises a destruction of sin as he reconciles our relationship with Him (Genesis 3:15).

God knows us, and not just facts about us. Due to being our Creator, God is able to know us on an intimate level (Psalm 139). We cannot begin talking about our body image unless we realize that our body comes from being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).

Created with a Cross-Fit Body

CrossFit. What comes to mind? Do you think of guys straining to flip tires? Men drinking protein shakes? Mirror selfies showing transformation?

What is the purpose of working out? We tend to only see fitness as an aesthetic quality that we must possess in order to be considered attractive. Or, we react against the fitness craze and not care about our looks. But, what is the purpose in that? These two trends boil down to the qualities of aesthetics.

What if our male bodies were created for more?

When we talk about our bodies, we tend to hear sermons on Psalm 139:14. But, have we taken the time to read Psalm 139:13-16? It is not enough to marvel at God creating our bodies, but it is even greater to marvel in the fact God formed our inward parts, fitted together each physical aspect of our bodies for a specific purpose (v. 16).

God creates each man’s body for a specific purpose. Adam was created to work the garden (Genesis 2:15). The prophet Jeremiah was created for the purpose of being a messenger to God’s people (Jeremiah 1:4-5). In fact, Abraham’s body was created to show the glory of God’s miracle to bring about the nation of Israel (Hebrews 11:12).

God designed each part of our body, even the parts we do not like, for a this purpose. Abraham’s infertility was used to bring God glory through a purpose designed from the beginning of the world.

When we claim the name of Christ and live for Him, we have a Cross-Fit body. Our bodies are to be used to for the purpose God called us to. Your body can be used for purposes of teaching, constructing, analyzing, diagnosing, mentoring, writing, speaking, running, socializing, and even sexual intimacy in the context of God’s creation of marriage. Your body is not just a machine. It is the vessel through which we fulfill the calling of God that He created for us in Christ (Ephesians 2:10).

Using our Cross-Fit Body

However, how are we to use our bodies? Where does fitness come in?

Hebrews 12:1 shows us God’s race that is set before us. Usually, we talk about being spiritual fit for God’s calling in our lives. But, does this apply to physical fitness?

In order to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, we need to be physically fit enough to do what he has called us to do. Our bodies are used as God’s Temple. Can we glorify God with our bodies if we are physically unable to do what God has called us to?

However, there is another side to this issue. We should workout and be fit. Yet, working out and looking fit does not help us use our bodies. When we focus on looking good it is hard to step away from the mirror and begin using our bodies. That is the point of physical fitness. If we are unable to physically spend time with our families, fulfill our vocational responsibilities, or interact with the church due to us neglecting our physical fitness, then we are not honoring God. But if we are only working out to perfect our looks in order promote ourselves, we are still not honoring God.

The reason we have a body is to use our bodies. How are we physically preparing for the purpose God has for us?

Cross-Fit Community

But, all of this will not stop the struggle with body image. Satan is always warring against us. We battle against our flesh. Body image will never go away as a struggle; even if we are silent about it.

Paul tells us the church is to a place where we encourage each other in the faith (Ephesians 4:12). We are also told in Ephesians 6 that our struggles are not isolated from each other. We struggle together. The church is where we need men to open with each other and struggle together over every issue. God created our bodies. Therefore, is it wrong for us to talk about our bodies?

In order to encourage each other, we need openness and we need each other. Why would God create the church if we were meant to face the Christian journey alone? Community helps us refocus our minds on God’s truth – even with issues regarding our bodies.

The church is desperately needing men who are bold enough to open up about our struggles. When we allow the light of God’s Word to shine on every aspect of our lives we can fully live for Christ.

The struggle of body image affects many people. But, with the church’s commitment to the using of God’s Word, we can see men sharpening each other to refocus their thinking biblically, and begin living out God’s Truth.

It starts with a conversation searching the Scriptures and sharpening each other to use our bodies for God’s glory.

Our male body image is found in being created in God’s image for His purpose in order to bring God glory.

The Lost Mentality of the Christian

“There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.”
– Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Violence, raunchy movies, swearing, immodesty, drinking adds, liberal ideas, worldly messages, and worldly people. These are the things we run into on a daily basis. We see these things and our first response is to react, and then to hide. We stay in our churches and throw tracts at people in order for them to come in and be converted.

We see the fallen state and the continue depravity of man like a gathering storm. So we take shelters in our churches and with our Christian friends. We fear the storm. We fear the disaster it will cause on our lives. Self-protection of our spiritual lives and our moral lives become our number one priority when facing the World.

The ideas rage, the sin booms its thunder, and depravity rains down. Yet, we stay inside our shelter in the time of storm. Yet, we need to ask ourselves the question: is this biblical? Is this the way we should be acting towards the world around us?

The Heart of Interaction

When we look at interacting with the World, we must look at what the Scripture says.

John 1:14

Jesus, God himself, took a human body. He interacted with us. He interacted with your world, your sin, and your helpless state.

John 3:16

God loved you (and the world) so much that He came to interact with our world. He saw the storm from the beginning, and He needed to interact with it. He could not let you be damned for your sin. He could not allow you to die in your sin. He interacted with you.

The heart of interacting with the world is the Incarnation. Because God took on a body and kept it to interact with you at your level, He has freed us from the power of the World so you could interact with it. Without the Incarnation, we would have no faith. It is our faith in the Incarnate God which conquers the World (1 John 5:4).

The Forgotten Heart

But… Do we live like this? Do we find empowerment through the Incarnation to engage the World?

No. Instead, we try to save our own lives. We have made a Christ who sits in our churches and calls people to come. Yet, where was Christ found? He was accused of being the friend of sinners, because he ate with sinners. He was found at their tables. What does Jesus say in Mark 2:13-17? He did not come to call the righteous or who were healthy. Jesus wants the sinner and the sick.

This was the heart of Jesus. He came, took on a human body, died, and rose again for sinners. It is the sinner that needs this salvation. It is you that needs this salvation.

Why did we fall in love with Jesus? Was it because of the heart of Jesus? Yet, we have forgotten His heart. We have forgotten our first love: Jesus.

Do you remember when you saw your sin? It was like a storm that was going to kill you. You could not find shelter from the death sentence over your head. You could not find it in a church, or in a translation, or in following a list of obedience. You could only find it in the heart of Jesus who comes to sinners like you and shows you the way to salvation. Have you forgotten this? When we remember what Christ has done for us, we gain His heart and His mindset to engage the world (Philippians 2:1-18).

The Ignored Commission

Christ’s heart gives us a commission. Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).

When we first hear this passage we think of our missionaries across oceans living in weird places and learning languages to give the gospel. Do we ever consider this passage to mean our neighborhood? Our culture?

We tend to ignore this command when thinking about our current situation. We would rather hide in our churches throwing tracts at people and give them a moral standard as our fulfillment of the Great Commission. Sadly, this commission is the greatest omission of our Christian lives and in our churches.

Christ commands us to make disciples of all nations. You can’t make disciples when you are worried about your own life. Making disciples means you are worried about another person’s life. It does not have to be handing out tracts. Daily life evangelism is a better tool than handing out a tract. When the world sees you struggling and clinging to the hope of Christ, then they will be more open to hearing the gospel than off a piece of paper. Tracts can be effective, but only giving a “fire-insurance gospel.” The gospel transforms lives when it is engaged with lives. And, you have been given that gospel to make disciples of all nations. Are you going to continue to ignore Christ’s heartfelt command?

Engaging the World

Now, how do we actually work through the “storm of sin” we see in our culture? It is easy to run for shelter. However, there is a better route: Critical Thinking. It is not being critical and judgmental.

Critical Thinking is about evaluating the messages, ideas, and events around you. It is willing to listen to people you disagree with in order to understand them. Critical Thinking is interacting with what you are hearing, and then responding. A critical thinker does not react. Too often, we as Christians react to the world around us. We see sin dripping like slime off the wall and we decry it. Why are we surprised that sinners are acting like sinners? Did Christ react? Yes, he did. However, it was not just a reaction. It was a response. He knew how to respond to the people around him. Paul knew how to respond. For us, reacting never gives us an opportunity to give the gospel. Responding opens many doors.

Think through what is going on in our world. Seek to understand those around you. Engage in their lives. Be well read. Understand them in order to improve yourself as you seek to make disciples of all nations. Think critically how to respond before you react.

Acts 17:16-34 is an excellent example of critical thinking. Paul sees the culture around him in Athens. He does not go and smash idols. Instead, he looks for a way to respond that will open the minds of the people to hear the gospel. He even quotes one of their own poets. Paul did not react in protecting his moral life or imposing his moral standards on them. He responded. He showed them the heart of Christ.

Heading Out into the World

In the movie The Giver, the community is kept safe by the Elders. All memories are wiped away. All evil is put aside and taken outside the community. Everything is in black and white. Jonas, the main character, sees this as taking away from what makes us truly human. He then goes on a quest to bring back the memories and break the barrier. He is successful. The memories come back. However, they are not all good. It is the good and bad that makes us human. We experience bad and good. Yet, at the very end he comes to a house decorated for Christmas. He says he found the truth. He found where reality is. He finds what makes us real. Watch the clip below. As it comes to the end, identify the song being sung at the house.

The Ending of The Giver

Reality is found in Jesus. The world is living in the shadow and echo of what is real. There is good and there is evil. But, aren’t you grateful for that Silent Night? The birth of the Incarnation gives us the freedom to critically think, enter into our world, and engage with it.

How does this quote strike you?
“The reason why the Christians in this day are at such a loss as to some things is that they are contented with what comes from man’s mouth without searching and kneeling before God to know of Him the truth of things.”

Does it feel like it was written for today? It was written by John Bunyan in the 1600’s. There is a lost mentality of engaging the world through critical thinking. It is not just about listening, it is about understanding, it is about learning, and it is about responding like Christ and making disciples of all nations.

The good and bad makes us human. The Incarnation sets us free from this fallen world in order to bring the gospel to this fallen world. We can engage our world, because Jesus engaged us.

The Shaming

May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sins.
– Martin Luther

Have you ever watched a movie with one actor and then watched another movie with the same actor and could not believe it was the same person? One name that comes to mind is Meryl Streep. You can watch Streep play a witch in Into the Woods, and then play a mother in Sophie’s Choice, and then play Julia Childs in Julie and Julia. She can put on one mask of a character and switch with ease.

Many times when we see a movie or a play we marvel at the acting skills. Books upon books have been written about how to portray characters with reality in performance. In fact, there are awards given for who can be the best character. It is not an award for being themselves. It is an award for being another person. Those who do not get nominated for an award tend to walk with shame as they have tried, but still cannot get it. In the film world, image is everything.

Have you ever felt like you were putting on another person in order to have an image? Is your image one of a successful Christian in order to hide what is really going on? Do our churches shame us into having an image?

Shaming in the Church

You have signed up for a small group. It is an exciting time to get together with your fellow believers to study the Word and help each other through struggles in your life. You are well aware of that one sin which keeps you down and stalks you in the shadows. The freedom you find in knowing a small group or a church that can help is celebratory… until the group starts.

You sit in a circle and begin sharing about your struggles in order to pray for each other. “Pray for me. I am struggling with staying in my Bible reading daily.” “I am struggling with pride.” Then all eyes watch you as it is your turn to share, “Pray for me. I am still struggling with (insert your sin here).” All of a sudden their eyes grow wide. Silence makes you feel claustrophobic. “Maybe I should have said pride or another less awkward struggle,” you think to yourself.

As the group dismisses, you receive warm encouragements of “I am praying for you.” Yet, as the week goes on, do you hear from them? The members of your small group begin to avoid you or just tolerate you. Then it seems like everyone in church knows. You feel shamed. Shamed to go to church. Shamed to speak out again. Shamed to even call yourself a follower of Christ.

The weight of your shame is back-breaking and you can’t take it anymore. So, you make an excuse. You say you have found victory. You slip on a mask of an image, and say, “I struggle with my prayer life.” In your mind, it is better to be a part of an image, rather than bear the shame of the church.

Have you ever felt like this? Do you know someone who has felt like this? Do you feel like you can be open about your sin struggles in the church? Or, do you feel like you have to keep them a secret and keep an image in order to not be shamed?

Shame is a powerful tool to use against people. In the church it can be used to keep an image of “perfect saints.” Sure, many will say their church is not perfect. But, when was the last time you heard someone open up and testify to God working in their hearts through a deep struggle? Does the church use sins like pride or lack of a prayer life to cover up what is really happening in people’s lives?

The Root of Shaming

Shaming in the church is real. It happens all the time. We hear people confess to not reading their Bibles enough or not praying enough. Yet, out of the blue they are renouncing their faith and joyfully embracing a life characterized by sin. Why did they not open up about this? Were they afraid of being shamed if they did? The fear of shame is powerful, and it causes many to not open up and let sin live in secret.

You do not shame someone unless you want them to change or adopt a set of practices. Shaming causes people to fall in line with an image presented. Many churches have an image of a nice building, people dressed to impress, and everything is right as rain. If someone comes in not properly dressed, or says something out of line there is an immediate reaction to nonverbally let that person know to fall in line. When that happens, the church is using shame to worship their image.

The root of shaming is image. When image becomes the most important, we make sure masks are provided to cover up things in our lives in order to be perceived as perfect.

The Real Image of the Church

So, what is the image of the church to be? Does the Bible say anything about this? Actually, it does.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 states what a church in the New Testament was perceived as. Paul states in graphic terms what sins the people in the church used to take part in: stealing, greed, homosexuality, drunkenness, and idolatry. Pride and lack of a prayer life is not mentioned. These are some pretty heavy sins that are mentioned. Yet, Paul does not glorify the sin. He glorifies the Savior who washed and cleansed them of their sins.

It is a story that is repeated throughout the New Testament. Ephesians 5:8 and 1 Peter 2:9 sing a similar song. The image of the Church is of individuals who were living in darkness and now called into the marvelous light of God. It is a group of people who recognize and remember where they were before Christ. They do not try to hide their past. They freely admit to it. Just like Paul does many times throughout his epistles. Paul clearly shares in detail where he was before Christ turned his life around. The image of the church is not one of perfection. It is one of a group of people being called out of darkness and into light, and the church elevates this story time and time again. The church’s motto is old made new (II Corinthians 5:17)

The Church That Struggles Together Shines Together

As we have seen from the New Testament the church is one that is being called out from darkness into light. Are we made perfect right away? No. Paul reveals in Romans 7:21-25 that he struggles with sin. He feels a war inside of him. Are we more perfect than Paul? No. But, should the church continue to sin that grace may abound? No.

However, we ,first, must acknowledge that all of us who are believers and inside the church are struggling with sin. If we say that we are not currently struggling with sin, 1 John 1:8 says that the truth is not in us. 1 John was not written to unbeliever. It is written to believer. The word “to have” in Greek is in the present tense. John is not saying if we do not acknowledge we have sinned in the past then the truth is not in us. That is not his focus John declares that if we deny we are currently sinning and struggling with sin, then the truth is not in us.

Everyone in the church is struggling with sin. And, we are not meant to struggle alone. In fact, we are commanded in Ephesians 6:10-18 to put on the amor of God and wage war. The commands “to take” are plural in Greek. The passage talks about our struggles. We are not alone in this. So stop pretending that you do not struggle with sin. Remove the mask that you have been shamed to put on. The church is meant to struggle together.

If the church was meant to be seen as perfect, people will be turned away. That is what is happening today. The church is to be a living, breathing, struggling demonstration of God’s glorious grace and redemption through the work of Jesus Christ and the transformation of the Holy Spirit. How much brighter would our testimony be when the world sees a church struggling together? What would the world say when they see the live transformation of people’s lives from salvation all the way till we meet Jesus?

Openness and transparency is difficult to cultivate. But, it is the way we see the working of the Holy Spirit. We can’t see God’s Working in the church when we shame people to hide their lives. When sin is kept in dark secrets, sin will only grow and destroy people. It must face the light of the Gospel. A church that shames people will only be concerned with an image and numbers. A church concerned with seeing lives changed and repentance will focus on openness and discipleship.

Jesus took the punishment for all our sins on the cross. We have been brought from darkness into light. Stop tell people this with only words, and start showing them how God is changing you. Put the mask down. We no longer have to pretend and be ashamed of the sin we are struggling with. Why? Because we are being sanctified by the washing of the Word and through the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. We all need repentance because we all have sin since the truth is in us and points out our sin. But, if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

Shame leads to hiding God’s work in your life. Take off the mask. Don’t accept the award for being the best Christian. Tell the story of how God, through the death of His Son, brought you from darkness to life. This is the true image we should be proud of.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul
It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Stop Talking About Pornography

“[God] has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”
– Screwtape

Have you ever been in a museum or a cathedral and the beauty of the artwork captures your breath? All around you beauty astounds and inspires. We have museums and we preserve works of art for this purpose. We learn from art, we grow from art, and we learn our humanity from art.

However, have you ever looked at a trash can in a museum? Studied the steel that covers it, and asked yourself, “What is the purpose of this waste receptacle?”

I have never seen anyone go to Notre Dame and stare at the trash cans. I have never seen anyone go to the Art Institute in Chicago and write papers and analyze the trash cans. It seems ridiculous that anyone would do that. With all the beauty of stained glass, architecture, paintings, and sculpture, why would anyone look and awe over the trash?

Yet, we do this in our churches. We do this in our teaching of our youth and ourselves. We do this in our Christian lives. We have exchanged the beauty that God created for the focus on the trash.

The Current Teaching of God’s Creation of Sex

I was sitting on the floor of our youth room carefully listening to my youth pastor. He was talking about sex and purity. The topic was almost taboo as it was secretive. He stressed that sex before marriage ruins the true intimacy of marriage. I heard the pitfalls and yuck to avoid: pornography, fornication, homosexuality, and any other sexual sin. The seriousness of his voice and the silence of the teens indicated the grave severity of these sins. There was something ominous in the air. I was warned, and I knew that transgressing that warning meant grave consequences.

Was your experience similar to mine? Is how we teach our children a biblical understanding of sex in this kind of mindset?

When the topic of sex comes up, our minds flash a word: Flee! We think of 1 Corinthians 6:18. The image of killing the flesh and its earthly desires play across our minds like a movie as Colossians 3:5 reads like subtitles. Then the hero of the movie appears 1 Corinthians 10:13. We see the charge to find that way of escape and avoid sexual sin.

Churches and Christian schools emphasize the flight from sexual sin. As they do, ourselves and our teens see sex as something to flee from. They may see a beautiful wedding, but the topic of sex and intimacy in marriage is filled with images of avoiding and fighting pornography and the host of sexual sins.

The Forgotten Artwork

When was the last time you heard a sermon on the subject of sex glorifying the beauty of marriage?

Marriage. It is a word that we might not hear that often in our churches. We hear it at weddings and the announcement of weddings. But, when was the last time we heard that word in a sermon, or in Bible teaching?

“God said, it is not good for the man to be alone.” When did God say these words? Was it before or after sin entered the world? Before. God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone. After calling all of His creation good, God saw something that was not good: man being alone.

After all the beauty that God personally spoke into existence, God wanted to create something even more beautiful. Genesis 2 spends eleven verses (2:15-25) painting the picture of His most beautiful creation: man and woman in married intimacy. God creates marriage. Their intimacy is described as being one flesh and having no shame. It is a special intimacy where a man leaves his family to join his wife in oneness through marriage.

Think about the most beautiful love story you have read or seen. There is always trouble, selfishness, and other problems that create road blocks for that couple. Yet, the marriage and intimacy of Adam and Eve had no problems. It is truer love than Cinderella. It was a more intimate love than Belle and the Beast. In our fairy tales, sin always creates obstacles for love. Yet, no obstacles in Genesis 2.

Jesus retells the story of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:1-6. He shows the beauty of marriage against an ugly question of divorce. The marriage and intimacy of Genesis 2 is shown in its beauty as what God designed before sin twisted everything in Genesis 3.

Studying the Trash

Marriage and the intimacy in marriage is like stain glass and art in a museum. God has on display His most beautiful creation. We cry at weddings and we awe at the beauty of the newly married couple.

Yet, in our Christian life we tend to study the trash. Our focus rarely is on the beauty of marriage. The pulpit resounds the pounding charge to avoid sexual sins and pornography. How many books are written to teens and singles on the dangers of sexual sin? How much does our teaching of sex and relationships revolve around the trash that sin created when it distorted God’s beauty?

God tells us in Philippians 4:8 to think on things that are beautiful and excellent. Yet, we pound out the sins of pornography. We aren’t thinking about what is beautiful. We have fallen into Satan’s trap. It is just like C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape (who is a representation of Satan) complains about the beauty God has given to man. However, in order to draw Christians away from that beauty, Satan must make them focus on the twistedness of sin. That is when the beauty is useful to Satan’s schemes.

We have exchanged studying the beauty of God’s creation in the form of marriage for the analysis of the trash of sin. We no longer see marriage valued in our churches. We would rather decry sexual sins, than elevate the beauty of marriage.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you heard a sermon on the beauty of marriage?

Refocusing on God’s Beauty

This is a clear problem. Our teens and our own minds are focused on the wrong thing. We spend so much time focusing on the trash, that we forget to look up and see the art that God personally gave us.

Couples, are you displaying the beauty of your marriage that God gave you? Is your marriage speaking louder than the warnings against pornography?

Pastors, are you promoting God’s beauty more than sin’s trash? If all we feed our people is the analysis of garbage, then that is all they will focus on. When was the last time you preached about the beauty of marriage?

Children, teens, and singles, what are you being taught about sex and love? Is it mainly about what to avoid? Or, is it seeing the beauty of marriage playing out before you?

It is good to give caution on what God’s Word gives caution to. However, God wants us to show the world His beauty. We do not need another analysis on the sexual depravity of man. We need demonstrations (obviously appropriate) of God’s creation of marriage.

Christian marriages should be the ones we see as the best love stories around us. Let us stop focusing on the trash, and start elevating the beauty God created in marriage.

The Hammer of Witches: Lessons from Church History

“A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar who has lived in many times is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age.”
– C.S. Lewis

The Hammer of Witches or Malleus Maleficarum is an infamous book written in the 15th Century. Its purpose was to expose the sin of witchcraft, describe these witches and servants of the devil, who was to judge them, and, ultimately, how to execute those in league with the devil.

The period of the witch trials of the 15th century leading into the end of the 17th century (the Salem Witch Trials) is a dark stain on the history of the church influenced by The Hammer of Witches. Many women, and sometimes men, were unjustly accused of witchcraft, abused and tortured till they confessed, and were executed by the hundreds at the hands of leaders in churches (both Catholic and Protestant). The cries and screams and pleas of innocence exhales out of silent monuments and graves while tourists take pictures of their quietus.

Malleus Maleficarum‘s words unveil the ideology of this time period. It opens a door into a room filled with skeletons. We may not think much about this time period, but it is an event that some will see the church (or religion) as a corrupt institution that is power hungry to control the masses.

However, there are some lessons we can learn from this document that has the guilt of so much blood written in its pages. What can we learn from such an event that can benefit us for today?

The Torture of Scripture

Reading the Malleus Maleficarum can be quite daunting. Despite it being a rather small work (compared to most biblical commentaries of today), this volume does not rely primarily on Scripture.

Two verses are heavily use throughout the book: Exodus 22:18 and Galatians 3:1. Exodus speaks about the need for punishing witches and not allowing their practices to continue. Paul writes in Galatians that he is astonished that the people were being “bewitched” by someone to leave the truth of the Gospel.

The writer and endorsors of Malificarum’s two biblical texts, use these verses as their foundation to build their gallows of their argument for the existence of witches, the presence of devils in the world, and the mass execution of these servants of the devil in order to free the world from their control.

This document primarily relies on the works of saints, church tradition, and commentators of Scripture to build their prosecution. Through this work, you will note how many times the writer references other people or traditions more often than Scripture. Also, instead of saying that a point is a Scriptural point, the author will validate a reason or a principle or an action if it has defense from a saint or approval from the Catholic Church.

Therefore, we see in Malleus Maleficarum the issue of torturing Scripture to bend it to justify one’s views or actions. There are many places where the author will site Aristotle or Plato or another secular work on witchcraft, and then pull a passage from Scripture to back up that work. Using the Bible second as a backing for one’s ideas and actions is not what God called us to do. Paul tells us in II Timothy 2:15 to be faithful handlers of God’s Word and use it properly. Paul also states in Romans 12:1-2 that our living for God is based on renewing our mind with His Word. We are not supposed to let the Bible justify our actions, our actions should proceed from a renewed mind that has been changed by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. To “cherry pick” Scripture is to make the Bible and Christian practice in our image.

Torturing Scripture in order to make it say what we want is an abuse of God’s Word. This is why we need to study it in order to identify the times others (including church leaders) are torturing Scripture.

The Torture of Individuals

Hundreds, if not thousands, lost their lives when held to the standards of the Malleus Maleficarum. Inside its pages describe those who were most likely to be in league with the devil to accomplish his dark schemes. The book describes mainly women who are single, widowed, spoke their mind, had a deformity, were barren, or had a child with a disability. Women who fit into these categories were among the first to be accused. There are many instances where men were accused as well for similar reasons.

Once a person was suspected and accused, they were assumed guilty until proven innocent. The accused went through torture if they would not confess. Many did confess, despite being innocent, only to stop their brutal suffering.

What the Maleficarum lacks is a clear understand of John 9. Many were accused of being witches or servants of the devil because of some birth defect or having a child with a defect. Deformity was seen as a result of copulation with the devil according to Maleficarum. However, Jesus corrects any view that birth defects were because of the devil. Instead, Jesus points to the fact that the man born blind was formed that way on purpose: his body and situation was to show off the glory of God. Isn’t that what we see today with many stories? We see people with disabilities using their bodies and gifts as an instrument for God’s glory. Their disability gives them a voice to speak about the grace and goodness of God in their lives. Disability is not because of the devil or of sin. It is part of God’s plan to work through a fallen world to display His glory.

However, we have to deal with the fact that many women were unjustly accused of being witches and were exterminated. This is a difficult point. It does show the Church as being sexist towards women. These terrible trials show a low view of women. Scripture, however, has a high view of women that has sadly been overlooked in the past. The first people to see Jesus alive in Luke 24 were women. The first witness and testimony to the reality of the resurrection were women. Women are seen as vital members in the church as seen in Tabitha being raised from the dead in order for her to continue serving the many people her life touched (Acts 9:36-43). Yes, there are different roles for men and women to accomplish in the church and in the home. But, these roles do not make one inferior to the other. Instead, women, like all members of the body of Christ, are to be praised, encouraged, and helped in times of need. Women are not “creatures leading men astray” like is sometimes portrayed in the Malleus Maleficarum. It is the sinfulness of the heart that lead men astray. We need to stop blaming women, or other people, for our own lusts and sin. We need to blame ourselves.

The torture of individuals resulted in the many modern misconceptions that need correction of Scripture.

The Torture of Society

Exodus 22:18 states to not let a witch live among the people. Punishment for witchcraft was death. However, that verse has a context to it. The statement in Exodus is meant for the community of Israel. Inside Israel there was not to be someone practicing witchcraft. The context does not include people outside of Israel.

However, in order to control society, the leaders in the church (both Catholic and Protestant) used this verse to find anyone who practiced witchcraft or was accused of witchcraft and execute the accused. When we take passages out of context, we can do a lot of harm to society. When we look at the New Testament church, the judging of others in only kept inside the church. There is no judging of people outside the church for their sin. In fact, we are called to have a good testimony with those outside the church. Therefore, it is unbiblical to judge and execute someone who does not claim to be a Christian based on their lack of following the Scriptures. Sinners will behave like sinners. Christ knew that. He condemned Pharisees more than those who were called sinners. We know that one day God will judge all people. We know the end of the story. Why execute them when we can give them the Gospel?

Think about our society today. What sins do you see that disgust you that you want to see gone in society? How are you handling those people in that one sin? Are you judging them and trying to do away with them? Or are you trying to give them the Gospel and the hope to escape God’s wrath that is coming?

We need to be hardest on ourselves when it comes to how we are following God’s Word. Sinners do not care about following God’s Word. God will take care of that. But, we should not torture society when it is fallen. Instead, we need to bring the hope of the Gospel to a dark world and see Jesus change lives.

Pulling Back the Rug

Many don’t talk about this time period in church history. Some don’t know about it. Others don’t have answer for why people in church leadership did this. We can no longer sweep injustices of church history under the rug and just say, “power corrupts.” No. This was sinful action. We need to have the courage of Samuel Sewall. He was the only judge of the Salem Witch Trials to repent and say the Salem Witch Trials were wrong.

Instead of justifying the past, we need to see where the church went wrong, apologize, and correct. We need to take a biblical stance on the treatment of Scriptures, the individual, and society. We do not apologize where Scripture does not apologize, but we apologize when we have publicly smeared our testimony by departing from Scripture and following man’s words.

The witch trials of the 15th through the 17th centuries is not an easy topic to discuss. But, it is a necessary topic. We see how we need to get back to Scripture through the lessons we learn in church history. Yes, the past happened. Many were unjustly accused and executed. But, today we can cling to Scripture and follow God’s Word as we personally study it out so we do not fall prey to traps that others in the past fell into.

Today God’s mercies are new. Let us use these mercies to cling to His Word and show people how the Gospel can set them free from sin’s chains and Satan’s rule.

Qualifying His Called

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.” – Hudson Taylor

Have you ever been given a task that seemed impossible? Yet, when you planned it out and took it step by step, you made it. When we look back on those times we see the accomplishment and we cheer.

Those times are sweet to us. Yet, when it comes to what God calls us to, we see the word impossible and that is it.

How many of us has God told us what to do with our lives? Were you reading your Bible and praying over what to do with your life and then God revealed it to you?

What is the path God put you on? What task did He show you?

For many of us, we feel like we were with a map and asking God for directions. Instead, God told us to look up from the map and He pointed. His outstretched arm lead our gaze to a high mountain in the distance. “There,” He calmly whispers to us. “You want me to go there?” We quickly rebuttal due to our inexperience and other excuses we give.

God has called us each to do something. He points our gaze to a mountain top and says, “This is where you are to go.” When we look at the journey it will entail, we are in awe of what God wants us to do, but we are shamed by our own inadequacies for the journey.

Yet, God is still pointing you to that destination. His calling stands. Yet, we let fear cloud our mind and we stand there. What am I to do? I can’t do that. Does God know my limitations?

Do you know your excuses?

I Am Not Like…

So often when God calls us to do something, we say I am not like the other person we know who is a “great Christian” in our minds doing that task. We look around and tell God, “You must have the wrong person. Choose him or her.”

We value ourselves before God based on the comparison we do of others. Moses did the same. Exodus 3-4:16 tells the account of Moses and the Burning Bush. He was the son of Pharaoh. He had murdered and fled. He knew the atrocities that were taking place. And, God called him. He pointed to a mountain top (literally) and said, “Go there.” Moses saw himself in comparison to everyone else. He knew who he was. Yet, God chose him.

Paul considered himself the chief of sinners – the worst of all sinners (I Timothy 1:12-15). Yet, God chose Paul from that life to a new life in Christ. Paul was not Peter or John or Andrew. He had persecuted and murdered Christians in order to stop them from preaching the Gospel. Yet, God chose him.

God chose you. He made you specifically for a purpose on this earth (Psalm 139:13-16). He knew you before you were born and He knows your past. Did your past stop God from redeeming you through His Son? Will your past stop God from using you? If you answered yes, then your salvation and purpose on earth is based on you and not found in the new life God bestowed on you through Christ.

Yes, you are not like that other person. But, that is why God wants to use you for His calling on your life.

I Am Not Equipped to…

“Thank you God for giving me this calling, but I can’t. I do not have the experience or the correct gifts for this.” You may not say it out loud, but we all think it. When God reveals where He wants us to go, we see how inadequately we are for the journey ahead. We see every flaw. We see every sin struggle.

Moses said the same to God. God called Moses to speak in front of Pharaoh to deliver the entire nation of Israel out of Egypt. “I have never been eloquent – either in the past or recently or since you have been speaking to your servant – because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish (Exodus 4:10).”

You may not have the looks, the smarts, the personality, the physical abilities, yet God called you. He designed you the way you are for this purpose.

How God responds to Moses is how He responds to us, “Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord (Exodus 4:11).”

He gave you the abilities you have. You may have to exercise those abilities and make them stronger. But, God still called you. Your lack of something is not an excuse God is buying for you not to follow Him.

But, This Means I Will Be Alone…

Whatever God calls us to the Bible promises will not be easy and there will be suffering. It means we will be alone. As humans, we crave interaction and hate the solitude that our decisions may create as people no longer want to socialize with us.

Isaiah had to come to terms with this. In Isaiah 6 he sees the Lord in all His holiness. Isaiah breaks down, confesses his sin, and is called to speak for the Lord. Yet, God tells Isaiah that he will turn away people. He will be alone. Yet, God called him.

He knows what is going to happen when you follow Him. He knows. Yet, He still called you.

Focus on the One Who Called You

These are examples of the excuses we give to God and keep giving to God as we see where He is leading us. Excuse after excuse after excuse is what we think, because we know we cannot do it.

GREAT! You cannot do it. That is why he called you. He called you because God knew you could not ever do it on your own.

When we try to do God’s calling in our way, we will fail. We try to play “politics” in churches, we try to strategize and plan, we try and try and try. Sure, it may get us somewhere and a title. But, is that God’s way? He called us because we could not do it own our own. Stop playing games and trying to kiss-up to people to get where you think God wants you. It is not God’s way. God will supply everything you need to follow Him. It will not be the easy path, but it is God’s path.

God has called you and He will get you where He wants you. Look at the end of the story of Moses and Isaiah. Moses lead the people out of Egypt, just how God told him to do. Isaiah followed God’s command to speak exactly how God commissioned him to do. Moses never entered the Promised Land. According to church tradition, Isaiah was sawn in half. Yet, God honors them for us to learn from them in His Word.

It is God who called you. He is your Creator, Savior, Justifier, Redeemer, and Sovereign Lord. Do you think He does not know what He is doing? Look at His works in the past, and in your life.

God does not call the qualified. God qualifies His called.

It is His journey for us. We need to take our eyes off the physical limits, the people, and excuses and walk by faith (II Corinthians 5:7).

The mountain top that God is pointing you to is far and high and the climb is steep and dangerous. But, He is the One who created that mountain. He knows the way.

Gladys Alyward lived in England in the 1930’s. She had a burden for China. She knew God called her to China. Yet, no mission agency would let her go. They saw her as unqualified. Aylward decided God’s calling was more important than man’s opinion of her. So, she took a job as a maid; saving every penny to buy a train ticket to China. Alone, she travelled across Europe and Asia to go where God called her. She said, “If God has called you to China or any other place and you are sure in your own heart, let nothing deter you. Remember, it is God who has called you and it is the same as when he called Moses or Samuel.”

Have you heard God’s calling on your life? What is the mountain top He is pointing to? What excuses have you been giving?

There can be no excuses when God is the one doing the work through us. It is not our job to qualify ourselves. God will qualify us. Our job is to follow Him.

Are you ready for the first step? No, you’re not. But, God is.