Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why:

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells Christians to not neglect gathering together, but to seek all the more how we can stir each other up to love and good works.
I just taught that passage last Sunday (audio of that message here), and in my preparation I discovered that the phrase “stir up” essentially means to pester or annoy someone, to not leave them alone. I’m thankful for people who do that in my life.

A friend of mine had been politely pestering me to read James K.A. Smith’s “Desiring the Kingdom” for about a year before I finally picked up a copy and started reading it earlier this month. I’m glad I did.

Smith’s basic premise is that all of us are constantly being shaped by “liturgies,” including (and primarily) “cultural liturgies.”

Liturgies, as he uses the term, are not confined or restricted to the order of service in a church worship service. Liturgies are, according to Smith’s use of the word, “rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity—they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us.” Liturgies, wherever they may be found, serve to shape us by forming affections within us.

Smith points out that such liturgies can be found throughout our culture, in places like malls, stadiums and universities, to name a few.

As Christians, it is important that we intentionally submit ourselves to the kinds of liturgies which will shape us into the kind of people we believe we ought to become, and which shape our affections in the right direction.

He points out that our nature as humans is such that we are not so much shaped by our worldviews as our worldviews are shaped by our practices, experiences and affections. Therefore, knowing this, it is important that we submit ourselves continually to the right kinds of “liturgies”.

Liturgies, he explains, “inculcate particular visions of ‘the good life’ through affective, precognitive means, and do so in a way that trumps other ritual formations. In short, they are the rituals that grab hold of our hearts and want nothing less than our love.”

Malls, stadiums and universities are filled with “rhythms, rituals, and spaces which are loaded with meaning; and more specifically, they are loaded with a particular vision, a unique ‘understanding’ of what it means to be a happy, fulfilled, and flourishing person; in short, implicit in these liturgies is an understanding of what it means to be really human.”

It is important therefore, that we recognize the “religious” nature of cultural practices and institutions, and understand that they are not neutral and that participation in them shapes us in very real ways. We should be aware of this fact, and also decide what “liturgies” we want to participate in, in order to shape our affections in the right directions.

He states that this makes it all the more important that Christians focus on creating and practicing our own uniquely Christian liturgies – formative practices which shape us and develop our affections in a particular direction. Christian liturgies include church attendance and participation, reading the Bible and listening to sermons in weekly church services, praying and singing with others, taking communion, being part of a community group, etc. His goal in this is to help us “see the importance and centrality of Christian worship in ways that we perhaps haven’t heretofore.”

I think this is a very important realization: that the reason to participate in church is not only to learn things, but to take part in practices which shape our minds and hearts towards God and His ways. This is why you need church even if you already know “everything” 🙂

There are other reasons as well:

Statistics show that church attendance has a radical impact on families and on the success and health of marriages.

Is Christianity Just Another Form of Self-Seeking?

I received this question from a reader recently:
What would you say to someone who claims that “all people watch out for themselves first, even Christians come to their faith in order to selfishly serve themselves and to secure a positive afterlife.”?
I would respond to this claim by pointing out that the Christian ethic is acutely opposed to selfishness. This is exemplified by our God who self-sacrificially gave himself for us; forfeiting glory in exchange for shame, dishonor, discomfort, and death in order to save us. We are then encouraged throughout the New Testament to follow that example in how we relate to others: to lay down our lives for the sake of God’s mission, which is to rescue people out of darkness and death. Christians are encouraged to not seek our own good first, but to sacrifice for the good of others.
A great scripture on this is Philippians 2:3-8:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
When it comes to salvation, it is too simplistic to claim that Christianity is only about obtaining a “get out of hell free card.” Jesus said in John 17:3 that the essence of eternal life is knowing God; this means that for Christians, salvation is more than just being saved in the afterlife, it is being saved in the here and now, essentially giving up your life here on Earth for God’s plans and purposes, and this life of salvation continues on beyond death – which is what humans were originally created for to begin with, but which was ruined by sin (and the curse of sin, which is death).
This person would not be wrong in saying that many people turn to Christianity for purely selfish reasons. This is nothing new. A lot of people look to God as useful to them, but when you understand the Gospel, that changes: you begin to no longer see God as useful, you begin to see Him as beautiful, and that becomes your motivation in worshiping and serving him.
Do you see God primarily as useful or as beautiful?
Just because some people “do it wrong” doesn’t mean that the flaw is with Christianity. In fact, Jesus himself criticized such people harshly – particularly the Pharisees, who sought to use religion for selfish gain rather than giving up their lives to serve God and serve others. Jesus said that anyone who tries to hold onto their life will lose it, but only the person who gives up their life for the sake of the gospel will find it. The gospel he is referring to is the mission of God to rescue people – thus what he’s describing is a life of sacrificial love and service to others, which helps work out God’s plan for their life (that they would know God and be rescued from sin and death both now and for eternity).
One last thing: this person seems to be making a common assumption: that selflessness is the highest virtue. Consider this quote from CS Lewis on this topic:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.  You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love.  The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.  If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.
– CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 
For more on this, check out this article from the CS Lewis foundation, which goes into more depth on the topic of ethics and virtues.

Bad Christmas Songs

One of the ways you can tell it’s Christmastime is because of the music. However, not all Christmas music is created equal.

Every year around Christmas, my wife likes to put on Christmas music and decorate the house with the kids. A few years ago, she put on a children’s Christmas music album. It wasn’t long before my four year old daughter came into the kitchen with a concerned look on her face and asked, “Why was mommy kissing Santa Claus?”

She had heard the song on the kids album and was understandably concerned, because, as a child, she didn’t understand the basic premise of the song which makes it cute and fun: that “Santa” is actually the kid’s dad dressed up in a Santa outfit, and the kissing is therefore completely appropriate.

Without that piece of the puzzle, this song is quite confusing and disturbing! Think about it: it’s the story of a young child, excited about Christmas, who comes out of his room late at night to discover that his mom is making out with Santa! How incredibly traumatic! Not only is his mother being unfaithful to his father, but on Christmas?! And with Santa?! Talk about disillusionment! Where’s dad? And Mom is seriously doing this behind dad’s back, in his own house?! And Santa… he’s a monster who is ripping apart our family! You can keep the presents Santa; I just want my family back, and I want mom to stop doing things like this to dad!

Or how about Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer? It’s essentially the story of a reindeer who gets bullied by the other reindeer, and the only time they want him around is when they need him to do something for them. So basically, they treat him terribly and then use him when it’s convenient to them…

Furthermore, if Santa apparently “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “sees when you’re awake”, and “he knows if you’ve been bad or good” — and he keeps a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice… well then that means that Santa knew that Rudolf was getting bullied, but he didn’t do anything about it!

Rather than judging him by the content of his character, they were judging him by the color of his nose…

There are some really good Christmas songs out there though; songs written by people for whom the Christmas message completely changed their lives and transformed them at their very core, and there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from erupting in song as a result of it.

They say things like: Joy to the World, the Lord has Come! Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! No more will sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground: he comes to make his blessings flow – as far as the curse is found!

They sang rich theology and wonderful truths: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Born that man no more may die! — Born to raise the sons of Earth, Born to give us second birth!

That’s a song written by somebody who had something to sing about!

The very first Christmas carol was sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it is known as “The Magnificat” because it begins with the words: My soul magnifies the Lord.

The occasion for this song was the Annunciation: the announcement to Mary that she was going to have a baby, who would be the long-awaited Savior of the World. It was Mary’s response to the news that for a reason based only on God’s sovereign choice, God had chosen to place his favor on her and chose her to be the one to bear, to care for, to raise the Messiah… Jesus.

Here’s what she sang:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

In this song, Mary sings about God’s attributes, God’s purposes in history, and God’s incredible work of opposing the proud but exalting the humble.

May we humble ourselves before Him today, see what He has done for us, and receive His grace: the unmerited favor which He has shown us.

Then you’ll really have something to sing about this Christmas!

Take Joy in Being the People of God

Last night I went to an event where author Eric Metaxas was speaking about his new book, a biography of Martin Luther. It was held at a church in Greenwood Village, and after speaking for about an hour about Luther and the writing of the book, he answered questions and then signed books.

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During the Q&A time, Metaxas said a few things which I thought were particularly powerful. The question was one about how Christians should always be reforming the church. Eric responded by saying that: yes, the Reformation must always continue, but in his opinion, oftentimes the church is too critical of the church. That Christians spend a lot of time deriding Christians and bemoaning the church, when in fact we should find an immense amount of joy in being the people of God who are called to take the message of God’s grace and love into the world. This is something we should revel in!

He went on to say that he grew up in the secular culture, and that for him – he saw the church as a living connection to God. When you’re drowning and someone throws you a rope, he said, it may be an imperfect rope, but it is a rope nonetheless, and rather than focusing on its flaws, you are thankful for the rope!

Metaxas went on to point out that the cultural elites in our day all speak the same language of secular humanism, and they together have collectively agreed that Christianity is old fashioned, obsolete and passé – and too often, we as Christians bow down to that and say: ‘Yeah, you’re right,’ and we shrink back into the shadows or retreat into an insular Christian sub-culture. Instead, we should stand in confidence as the people of God, with the truth of God, and use all avenues available to us to bring God’s truth and the message of the gospel into our society.

Eric has done this very well with his radio program and his books, which are published by a mainstream publisher (Viking Books) and several of which have made the New York Times bestseller list. He has a unique perspective on the church, having become a Christian later in life, studying at Yale and living in New York City, none of which are generally considered particularly friendly towards Christianity. He has been a good steward of the gifts that God has given him and has become an important and influential voice in our society, heralding the gospel as he can.

 

Mission & Mental Health

I recently finished reading Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

It was recommended to me by someone at White Fields, who had read the book and found a surprising correlation between something I had taught at church and the main thesis of the book.

The sermon was one I had taught in our Church Matters series on the topic of “Mission.” (Audio of that message here: “So That They May Have Joy”). My text was John 17:13-19, where Jesus prays over his disciples at the end of the last supper. In that prayer, he says that he was given a mission by the father, and now – in order that his disciples might have his joy in fullness – Jesus is giving them his mission.

The point is: there is a correlation between mission and joy. Mission is a prerequisite for joy. If you want to experience joy, you need to have a mission. Without a mission, you can’t have joy.

This truth can be seen in the fact that children, when they think about what they want to be when they grow up, they think of their future vocation in terms of mission: they dream not of being office workers, they dream of being teachers, police officers, firefighters, missionaries, astronauts, doctors, veterinarians, etc. In other words: jobs full of adventure and serving other people. Why? Because they find joy in that.

And yet, our society encourages us to look out for ourselves, be practical, don’t bother trying to “save the world” – just worry about yourself. And here’s the irony of that: the more that you focus on yourself, the less significant your life is in the big picture, and the less joy you will have.

This same point is made by Sebastian Junger in Tribe. His big idea, which he backs up with evidence throughout the book, is that hardship, rather than being bad for us, is actually good for us – in fact, it’s one of the best things that can possibly happen to a person or a society.

And yet, the whole focus of our society has been to make life more and more comfortable and free of hardship; the result of which has been an incredible rise in mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and even violent crime. Times of crisis, such as terror attacks and natural disasters, indirectly have a positive affect on mental health in a society. The reason for this is that crisis causes people to band together and gives people a mission and a purpose to work towards and fight for, even sacrifice for. Without such a mission, people become unhealthy.

In other words: Junger is stating what the Bible has said for millennia: you need a mission. It’s a basic human requirement.

Here are some quotes from the book:

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. (xvii)

According to a global survey by the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression at as much as 8 times the rate they do in poor countries, and people in countries with large income disparities– like the United States– run a much higher lifelong risk of developing severe mood disorders. (p. 20)

[Poorer people experience lower rates of depression.] The reason for this seems to be that poor people are forced to share their time and resources more than wealthy people are, and as a result they live in closer communities. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide. (p. 20 – 21)

Modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values (money, possessions, status) over intrinsic ones (sense of purpose, competence, moral/ethical/spiritual conviction), and as a result, mental health issues rise along with growing wealth. (p. 22)

Speaking of the extremely close bonds created by hardship in danger, “We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: our children, our spouse, maybe our parents is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that.” (p. 94)

The last time United States experienced a significant period of unity was briefly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. There were no rampage shootings for the next two years. The effect was particularly pronounced in New York City, where rates of violent crime, suicide, and psychiatric disturbances dropped immediately in many countries, antisocial behavior is known to decline during wartime. New York suicide rate dropped by about 20% in the six months following the attacks, the murder rate dropped by 40%, and pharmacist saw no increase in the number of first-time patients filling prescriptions for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication. (p. 115-116)

I agree with Junger’s thesis and much (not all) of his analysis, but – unsurprisingly – he does not give a solution. The only part of Junger’s analysis which I disagree with is that he chalks everything up to human evolution, whereas I, as a Christian, believe that the need for mission is part of God’s design in creating us. That aside, the main idea of the book is absolutely correct – and the Bible has been teaching these things for millennia, AND giving the solution!

In fact, there are so many verses in the Bible which relate to this subject, that I only have space here for a few:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. (1 Timothy 6:9-12)

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Furthermore, in Christ, we have been given a mission – THE mission – which really matters and is worth living for and dying for and sacrificing for, and all of us are called to play a role in it – no matter what our vocation. It is the only mission which ultimately matters; it is the only mission which will ultimately save the world, and we have full confidence that it will succeed, because we’ve already been told how the story ends…

In order to have joy, you need a mission. Embrace Jesus and get engaged in his mission.

And a final thought: How did Jesus design his mission to be accomplished? Through the church. That’s one of the reasons why church matters… to God, to you, and to the world.

When You Stand for Nothing…

My wife is a podcast addict. That’s also the name of the app she uses to listen to podcasts. There are certainly worse things a person could be addicted to, and she does listen to some pretty great podcasts as she is going about her day – stuff that makes this Longmont Pastor proud: D.A. Carson, the Gospel Coalition, Timothy Keller…

One podcast she listens to every day is The World and Everything In It by World News.

She played a recent episode for me which was reporting on the rapid decline of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the USA) as opposed to the growth of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these denominations, the PCUSA is the older of the two and the PCA split off from them in the 1970’s because of doctrinal differences – specifically that the PCUSA was moving steadily towards a much more liberal theology which no longer believed in divine inspiration of the Bible or in the unique saving work of Jesus.

These theological changes inevitably led to many changes in the PCUSA’s stance on moral issues, in which they succumbed to cultural pressure to affirm certain practices which the Bible asserts are sinful. When you no longer believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, divinely inspired by Him, but just a product of an ancient culture, then none of the biblical injunctions regarding morality or conduct are considered binding – and at that point, you no longer have a rudder to guide your ship and you will be subject to the wind and the waves of your own culture to take you where they will.

I have embedded the audio of that message below. (Those of you who subscribe by email will probably need to click on the post to view it on the web in order to listen to it.)

I think what surprised me the most, amongst all of the moves the PCUSA has made, is that in 2011 they removed the requirement of fidelity in marriage for their clergy. 

Sure, the PCUSA and other historic mainline denominations have made a lot of shocking moves, which in my opinion fall under the category of what Isaiah the Prophet says in Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,

but this one blows my mind. Essentially that means that a pastor could cheat on their spouse and continue being a pastor. Not even atheists or agnostics would say that is acceptable, but yet this “church” is trying so hard to be like the world, that they would even affirm something as destructive and hurtful as infidelity in marriage – an institution which has concrete roots in the gospel (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

For me, the decline of the PCUSA and other such denominations, along with the growth of theologically conservative Christian movements, bears witness to the fact that when you stand for nothing and you believe in nothing, then you no longer have any reason to exist.

Just like sea fish spend their entire lives in salt water without becoming salty, it is the calling and mission of Christians to be in the world, but not of the world.

We are to be salt and light – having an impact and influence upon the world for Christ, not isolating ourselves from the world.  But if salt loses its saltiness, then it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot… (Matthew 5:13)

Here’s that audio clip:

Why Ethics Depends on Origin

In my last post I mentioned how much I appreciated the intellectual integrity of Penn Jillette for saying that he respects Christians who share their faith and evangelize, because if you really believe the gospel, then the only appropriate response is to share it with others.

Today I’d like to address the opposite approach: a very common and yet completely contradictory set of beliefs about the meaning and value of life.

I recently came across this quote from well-known atheist Steven Pinker, author of the book, “How the Mind Works.”

“When it comes to ethics, ethical theory requires free rational agents whose behavior is uncaused. Now, ethical theory can be useful even though the world as seen by science does not really have uncaused events.” – Steven Pinker

Do you catch what he’s saying? He’s essentially saying that ethics are useful to society, but that they really have no basis in reality. In other words: ethics help society function, but in a view of the world in which there is no God who created you, ethics are completely baseless.

To put it simply: if there is no God who created you, there is absolutely no rational reason for saying that you are any more important than a stick. And you really have no original thoughts or creativity. Everything you do is programed, nothing is uncaused. You are just a hunk of matter, and therefore your life is utterly insignificant.

And yet, Pinker is saying that in spite of this, we should live as if human life is special and we as human beings are valuable, because it is helpful to the functioning of society, even if it isn’t true.

Here’s the point: an atheistic/humanistic worldview is incredibly conflicted.

On the one hand, modern Western society is obsessed with self-esteem. Our schools put a huge focus on telling kids that they are unique and valuable. We affirm that every life has innate value. And yet, at the same time we have a secular worldview which says that if there is no God, you still have to live as if human beings are significant, even though in reality they are not at all.

In other words, if your origin is insignificant and your destiny in insignificant, then the conclusion is that your life and everyone else’s life is insignificant. However, at the same time we are told to believe that we must pretend that it is.

That’s not intellectual integrity, that’s intellectual schizophrenia.

Atheism has an inherent problem with human rights: on the one hand our modern Western culture believes in individual human rights, and yet on the other hand, there is a push for an existential and eschatological narrative which undermines the very foundation for believing in equal individual human rights.

I have written more on this subject here: Atheism and Human Rights: An Inherent Problem.

Christianity, on the other hand, tells us that human beings were created by God, in His image, and therefore our lives have innate value and purpose – even if there is nothing that we can contribute to society, such as in the case of handicapped individuals.

Furthermore, the message of the gospel is that the lord of the universe left His heavenly throne and came to the Earth in order to save us by giving His life in order to redeem us — which means that you and your life have more value than you can even comprehend.

Modern Western culture has held onto the belief in individual value and human rights, something which has its basis in Christian doctrine and theology, while trying to eschew Christian doctrine and theology in the areas of origin, existence and destiny.

Ethics depend on origin. If you believe that human life has equal and inherent value, please remember where that idea comes from: the Word of God.

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Something to Pray Earnestly About

As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.

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“Otthon” – Rákóczi út, Budapest

I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.

Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.

Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.

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Conference Center in Irpin, just outside of Kyiv

The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.

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Teaching at the CCUA Pastors and Leaders Conference

On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”

“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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A statue shrouded in national colors outside the church in downtown Kyiv

At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.

Here is video of the message I shared at CC Kyiv:

3 Ways to Identify Idols in Your Life & What to Do About Them

Recently at White Fields Church, we have been studying through the Book of Exodus in a series called Be Set Free.

This past Sunday we began to study the 10 plagues, and we saw how each of the plagues was a direct confrontation of the various deities of Egypt. For example: the Egyptians worshiped 3 deities associated with the Nile river, so, the first plague, which defiled the water of the river, struck at the heart of the confidence the Egyptians had in these deities who protected the Nile.

The purpose of the plagues was to erode the confidence of the Egyptians in their false gods, and cause them to trust in the Lord God – and just in case you’re wondering: it worked! Exodus 12:38 tells us that when the Hebrews left Egypt in the Exodus, many of the Egyptians joined them.

Primitive vs. Sophisticated Religion

Modern people tend to look down on old pagan cultures as “primitive” because they worshiped many different gods. They had a god or goddess for nearly everything you can imagine: from wealth to beauty, success and money, sex and fertility, weather and security, etc.

On the other hand, we tend to think of ourselves as being much more sophisticated, because we don’t worship a pantheon of deities like the ancients did.

But are we really as sophisticated as we like to think?   Were they really as primitive as we tend to assume? The answer to both questions is simply: NO.

Each of the pagan gods represented something. They worshiped things which they felt were good and desired to have: such as sex, prosperity, power, family, money, beauty and success.

Do we not worship the same things? Pick up a copy of People Magazine. Turn on E! Entertainment network. Browse the trending topics or the Moments section of Twitter. Listen to popular songs and music. If you’re honest, you have to admit that we idolize, i.e. worship, the same basic things that they did then. We’re not more sophisticated than they were – and they weren’t as primitive as we tend to paint them.

The only difference between us and them in this regard is that at least they had the self-awareness and the honesty to call a spade a spade, and admit that they worshiped those things! In that sense, they are actually perhaps more sophisticated than we are.

The Bible actually speaks of “idolatry of the heart” (cf. Ezekiel 14:1-3) – meaning that idols are just statues, but they are things that you worship. John Calvin famously said that “human nature is a perpetual factory of idols;” meaning that we have a propensity to worshiping things, and we will make an idol out of nearly anything.

However, one of the central themes of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is the devastating effects of idolatry on people’s lives. “Idols,” author Timothy Keller says, “are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil.”

Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil. – Timothy Keller

Here are 3 ways we can we identify or recognize the idols in our lives:

1. The feeling of: If I have ______, then my life is worth living. If I don’t have ______, then my life is not worth living.

When the meaning of your life is tied to a particular thing and it has become the central thing in your life, it is the thing which justifies your existence. You believe that as long as you have it, you will be “okay” – and to not have it would mean that your entire reason for being has been lost.

When this describes a relationship, we call it a co-dependant relationship. A better word for this is: idolatry. When something is the central focus of your life, the underlying motivation behind all of your decisions, the best word to describe that relationship is: worship.

2. You are willing to compromise your own long-held values for it

A litmus test of idolatry in your life is when you are willing to compromise your own long-held values for the sake of that thing.

What causes a person who sincerely believes that something is wrong – to do that exact thing?

Take the family man who cheats on his spouse, or the pastor who steals from his church. These are terrible things, and we rightly call this hypocrisy. But what causes a person who on any given day would have told you that it is wrong to cheat on your spouse, or a person who not only preaches, but sincerely believes that stealing is wrong – to do that exact thing?

The answer is: there is something that they want so much more in that given moment, that they are willing to compromise their own values, and hurt other people and themselves in order to get it.

We have sayings in our culture, like: “I would kill for that.” Of course it’s hyperbole, but the message is: there are certain things out there that I want so badly that I would be willing to break my own rules, compromise what I believe is right, and hurt people in order to get them. That is certainly not just hyperbole – that kind of thing happens all the time, and always with devastating consequences.

You may not be there yet, but if you’ve had thoughts about doing something that goes against the very principles that you yourself sincerely believe in – that is a major red flag, that that thing is an idol in your life.

3. You’re looking to it to give you things which only God can give you

Identity. Security. Love. Rest. Hope.

If I have this much money… then I would really be somebody. Then I would be secure. Then I could rest…
If my family looks like this… then I will be secure. Then I will be happy with who I am. Then I can rest. Then I will be loved.

If your looking to any relationship or material thing to give you what only God can give you, that thing is an idol in your life.

An idol is almost always a good thing, but it becomes an idol when you elevate it from a good thing to an ultimate thing.

Idols can be things that you have, but are afraid of losing – or perhaps even more often, they can be things which you’ve never had at all, but desperately want.

What Is the Solution?

The cure for idolatry is to get a vision of God as He truly is.

When you see God for the greatness of who He is, when you understand what He has done for you in Jesus Christ, you realize that everything you ultimately desire and need is found in and through Him.

To see God in this way is to see Him as more desirable and more satisfying than anything else in the world – and when that happens, you will no longer turn to idols, which will always disappoint and the pursuit of which have devastating consequences.