Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Fallacy of Self-Esteem: Where do we find our Worth?

            There’s an epidemic in the world today, and it is affecting Christendom just as much as the rest of the world.
            Self-esteem. Self-worth.
            Society touts these terms, placing great emphasis on them. Hence, the masses of sheep that make it up buy into this trash.
            What’s wrong with valuing yourself?
            There is a distinct difference between considering one’s life worth something and considering oneself perfect the way they are. The former is a correct view. The latter is a dangerous one.
            When we are told to have high self-esteem and self-worth, we are fooling ourselves into a false worldview. God gives us all life, and we have been created in His image. That gives us all value. But we must not confuse this value as to have an excuse to be prideful and unchanging.
            “This is who I am, and no one is going to change me.” How prideful and how misled! We need to look at the biblical view of humanity. It’s pretty bleak. The Bible says that we have “all gone out of the way” and “together become unprofitable”. That “there is none that doeth good”, that “there is no fear of God before their eyes”. Read Romans 3. Read Romans 1 while you’re at it.
            Isaiah says our righteousness, the very best we have to offer God, is like filthy rags. Or to be more specific as to the meaning of that word, menstrual rags. This isn’t shock treatment. This is what the Bible says about us.
            The problem with self-esteem is that we create an elevated view of ourselves. We begin to think that we are lacking nothing- that we’re just fine the way we are. But that view, however harmless is seems, runs contrary to the truth of God’s Word. We’re not “just fine”. We’re not “perfect”. We’re not even “good”. We are evil to the core, because sin is evil to the core and we have a sin nature from beginning to end.
            It’s not a popular view, because it involves people realizing they need work. Humans are naturally prideful; don’t tell us we need to change.
            When our satisfaction is based on how we view ourselves, which we are told can change (otherwise there would be no need for a self-esteem movement; the entire thing is based on changing your view of yourself), people are left in some serious trouble. Whenever someone feels sad or worthless, their “self-esteem” goes down. Their worth is based on how they are feeling at the time.
            Please don’t misunderstand me. Depression in some cases is caused by physical imbalances. It makes it difficult for those affected to come out of it. But I believe sometimes an individual chooses to be sad. Yes, there are bad things that happen to them, as they do to everyone. But instead of trying to find joy, they allow themselves to fall into the trap of “depression”, where those who don’t want to feel happy are destined to end up.
            It is comparable to ADD or ADHD. There are some people that truly have more trouble concentrating than others. But there are other kids that simply are not disciplined by their parents, and could be snapped out of it and get taken off medication if only they got a good whipping every once in a while. So do not skew what I am saying. I am not referring to chemical imbalances, but to a choice that every person faces: whether they will be joyful regardless of circumstances or be miserable because things aren’t going their way.
            True, you can always choose to feel better, but we are often taught that we can’t control how we feel. I many times feel upset when things don’t go the way I wanted, but I get back up and choose to take joy in life. But depression, like ADHD, is so emphasized in our society, not to mention its profitability to pharmaceutical companies, some see it as an option. It’s a pity party of one, trying to gain steam and bring others in.
            Depression can further slip into a selfish action called “suicide”, where an individual decides to make a permanent “solution” to their temporary problems. There are some mental disorders, prescription drugs, and brain damage that can cause people to go this far. Yet other times, it is simply seeing no other option. This is awful that a person would come to such as conclusion, but it is also misled.
            This is what we have seen once again with someone who we would think had it pretty good. I liked Robin Williams just fine. But I have trouble celebrating someone who took their own life. What message does this send to others considering suicide? "Kill yourself, and society will weep for you and you'll get all sorts of attention." It's not at all that suicide isn't sad, but it's a selfish act. No consideration to friends and family. It's similar to giving murderers a lot of attention. People crave the spotlight, and many are willing to do ANYTHING to get there.
            Which is why I have a problem with memorializing someone who commits suicide. It is why I have a problem putting an empty chair in a graduation ceremony to honor someone who chose to kill himself. I’m sure many readers are considering me quite heartless right now. But suicide has personally affected me. I had a friend in high school who chose that route. Yes, it is sad, but it is foolish. It is a shame that people find that as the only route to end their hurt, and to get people to notice along the way.
            Why selfish? He didn’t care enough about his friends, teachers, and people that cared for him to know how they would feel. He didn’t care about what he could have contributed to society. He didn’t care enough about his own mother to think that he was the closest person to her in his life. He didn’t care that it was her that would find him with his head splattered over the wall.
            I believe God creates us all with different weaknesses. For some it might be depression and self-worth. For others, perhaps alcohol, drugs, or lust. Why would He do this? Because His “strength is made perfect in weakness”. Hence why Paul chose to “glory in mine infirmities”. Because we cannot defeat this issue on our own, we are forced to lean on God or fail. God is more than capable of overcoming these problems.
            Back to the original point. Self-esteem causes problems, but there is a worse problem. The Bible is clear that we cannot save ourselves, that we are not good enough. Yet there is a popular belief, even held among many Christians, that we are good enough. There is NOTHING that makes us good enough.
            Then how do we value ourselves? Our value comes not from our actions, but from our position. Christians should know better than to promote a self-love affair. What we should promote is a Savior who loves us despite our evil and loved us enough to take all that sin upon Himself and die for us. When we accept Christ’s gift and make Him our Savior, the Bible tells us that we are made joint-heirs with Him. We are made God’s children. Even though the only thing our undeserving selves should get is Hell, we are allowed not only to be spared of that but to be seated at God’s table. If you’re looking for self-worth, that is where you find it.

            We can rely on money, but it has been seen that often the unhappiest people are the wealthiest people. We can look to others, but they shift like the sands of the desert. We can look inside ourselves, but all we’ll find is how worthless we are alone. The way to gain that worth, even that immortality, that humans crave, is to run to the God who considers us worthy. Society's view will lead you to vacillation and destruction. God's view is the key to living a life of purpose.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

American Church, Wake Up

            What I say isn’t always uplifting, but I’m just going to be frank here.
            American church, we need to wake up.
            I know, it’s all good here. We face our share of hardship- liberal legislation, angry humanists, etc. But most of us are clueless as to the extent of evil in our world.
            As I work in the pro-life movement, I see the amount of apathy by not just our nation in general, but by the church itself. Twenty-nine hundred babies, dismembered every day. Who knows that? Not enough. Who is aware of what an abortion “procedure” entails? Who has seen the victims, talked to regretful mothers?
            That isn’t even the main reason I’m writing, I just thought it needed added on.
            There is persecution in America. There is. It isn’t always easy. But look at the news lately. We don’t have it all that bad.
            Folks, we need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters. Pray for those you know, that they’ll have the strength to stand through adversity. Pray for those around the world that have it much worse.
            As I mull over the articles, the photos, the videos, of what’s been happening in the Middle East, my heart breaks for my fellow believers. Headlines of Christians being attacked and massacred are paired with visible evidence. Any believer Islamic terrorists can find, yea, even CHILDREN, are being beheaded for their beliefs that run contrary to Islam. And the Muslim jihadists have a book they follow that not only allows but commands they do it. The “Religion of Peace”.
            Whatever I do, the image of a young girl in a pink dress, decapitated by the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, refuses to leave my mind.
            Pray for the Christians there. Pray for those in Southeast Asia, in Africa, in Ukraine- anywhere where their very lives are risked just by calling upon the name of the true God, the God of the Bible. We must stand behind them.
            We must stand behind Israel. The liberal media makes this tiny nation out to be terrorists themselves. The facts show differently. Israel lies under near-constant barrage from Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Finally, enough is enough as the rocket attacks increase, and Israel went to war to defend themselves. Let’s cut the religious side of it for a second- what country does not have the right to defend itself. Apparently, when the Left hates you almost as much as Islam does, you forfeit that right.
            Hamas uses children as bait, as shields. Three Israeli Defense Force soldiers were killed when they took children who said they were injured to a hospital, which was booby trapped. Muslim children, by the way. Children are put in buildings in which Hamas stores their weapons, or they are stored in hospitals. And when Israel tries their best to keep the civilian toll as low as possible as they strike these military targets, they are called terrorists- not the pigs that put the children there in the first place. Children also make good shields for the jihadists as they fight their religious war.
            “Yes, it’s a religious war.” Started by a religion we agree scarcely little with. Begun out of a hatred for anyone different. Contrary to popular rumor, most wars are not due to religion- but the ones that have been lately always have hateful Islam at their roots.
            The Bible is clear on this one. God isn’t full of hatred for all other people like jihadists are. But God did and has made Hebrews His chosen people, because way back when He called Abraham and made him a promise. And it was through Abraham’s line that God brought His own Son into the world to be the sacrifice for all the world’s sins, Jew or Gentile. This theme saturates the Bible.
            What was the promise God made Abraham? It had several aspects. By Abraham, all the world would be blessed- Jesus Christ. God would make his descendants “like the stars in the heavens”- something the Bible reflects and is reflected today. And that God would bless all those who bless Israel and curse those who curse them.
            Now we see plainly the biblical view and what’s at stake. America has always been the strongest ally of Israel. And America has been blessed. That relationship isn’t as strong as it used to be. There’s a problem here, because God will curse those who curse them. The Middle East is an area in constant turmoil. Not just Muslims against Jews and Christians, but Muslims against Muslims. It’s crazy over there. Even more, there will be a much worse punishment that those who go against God’s people will face.
            America needs to stand with Israel. It is both logical- seeing they fight out of self-defense- and biblical. The IDF doesn’t need much help, they can mobilize like no other army. But our support must be with them- no for their sakes, but ours. Those calling Israel terrorists will face their punishment with Islam. Don’t get mad at me, get mad at the Bible.
            American church, wake up. We sit and wait for God to move, we wonder why the world is the way it is. The answer is sin. And we have a duty to fight sin through the power of God. We may not face the persecution (yet) that others face, but we do have the freedom to share our support for them.
            Yet instead, when the going even seemingly gets tough, when it appears we might have to sacrifice something or make someone upset, the American church makes like an ostrich and buries her head in the sand. “What? Christians are being beheaded? Babies are being butchered? I don’t see anything.” But that doesn’t change the fact that it is happening.
            It is left up to no one but the church to fight injustice. We are held to the higher standard, and cannot expect non-believers to do so. Children are dismembered abroad in the name of Islam, children are dismembered here in the name of “choice” and “women’s rights”. When will we realize that God has not set us here to enjoy a Joel Oesteen-esque Christianity (“Christianity” being a loose term) where we expect that, because we are God’s children, we’re going to live an easy and blessed life? A life of surrender to Christ is blessed, but not in the way we often think.
            Let me try to put it in layman’s terms: If you are not facing persecution, you are not serving God. Wait, I hear excuses. Let me put it out there again: If you are not facing persecution, you are not serving God.
            This too is biblical, for Jesus said that the world will reject us and abuse us. You want the litmus test for a sold-out life? Who have you made angry simply by you speaking the truth in love?
            This sort of Christianity is not popular, but it is commanded. I am speaking to myself just as much. As I stand testifying of God’s love for the preborn, I often come across people who hurl expletives, give gross commentary, and gesture rudely. But rarely do things, at this point, get physical. We are blessed in America, but that’s not an excuse for a lackadaisical Christian life.
            Rise up. Take a stand. We think God, being a good parent, won’t allow us to suffer. But in reality, He tells us we can take JOY in suffering. I saw an article in Parade Magazine (I don’t recommend the magazine, but it occasionally has something good) that had an interview of the mother of a man martyred in the civil rights movement. He, like his mother, long stood up for the equality of all mankind. He found another opportunity in registering blacks to vote in Mississippi, and there was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and buried in an earthen dam. The mother didn’t want her son to die, of course, but wanted him nonetheless to fight for his fellow man- knowing full well the consequences that could ensue. The man, Michael Schwerner, had even brought along gauze for the expected physical assault. He didn’t expect to lay down his life, but he was ready nonetheless.
            Parents since the beginning of time have sacrificed their children (not themselves, that is another conversation) to movements of human equality and the message of the gospel- which go hand-in-hand, if you haven’t realized. Countless millions have been slaughtered standing for the Truth of God when those around them threatened their very lives. Many more have used themselves up furthering the Kingdom of God, rather than trying to live out an “American dream” or some other notion of “normality” in society.

            Find something to reach out with. Forget what the liberals, or the jihadists, or the sodomites or child-butchers or anyone else says or threatens. God’s Truth, the only way to be reconciled to Him, cannot be silenced by those who hate it. May we not be either.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Missed Message of the "Love Chapter"

I Corinthians 13 is widely known as the “love chapter”. And rightfully so. But there is a message that is often overlooked with I Corinthians 13. Though on the surface it seems unrelated to “charity” (a specific type of love- unconditional love), it actually tells us what is replaced by charity.

Early on in the chapter this message is hinted at:
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. –v. 2
The relation between these gifts, charity, and God’s Word is developed later after Paul relays what charity does:
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. –vv. 8-12
We are told outright that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge are finite. They would not be with Christ’s church forever. Before we get to when that is, let’s examine what these words mean.

The first two have rather simple definitions. Prophecy is how God worked through mankind for much of history. The first prophecy was made directly by God in Genesis 3:15. Look through the Old Testament, and many of the books are written by or about prophets. They even continue into the New Testament, as Jesus and other people whom the Holy Spirit came upon in speech or writing told of things to come. All in all, there are about 2500 prophecies in the Bible. Two thousand have already been fulfilled and 500 will be.

Tongues were a gift given to some in the early church. Tongues is especially seen on the day of Pentecost. But there is an important distinction. Every time tongues are mentioned, it is a known language:
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance….Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. Acts 2:4, 6-11
Tongues is not some unknown language, or something that cannot be understood. It was a gift that enabled one who did not know a certain language to communicate with others of that language. This was very important as the gospel began to spread abroad.

“Knowledge” refers to special revelation. Before the Word of God was completed, God revealed Himself only to specific people for specific purposes. Paul himself received this in the wilderness after his conversion. Before Christ, this was often transferred through prophets and occasionally through angels coming to individuals. Sometimes, this revelation would be shared; sometimes it wouldn't. Later, visions seemed to become more common, as Peter, Paul, John, and others were visited through them.

So we know these would end at some point after Paul’s writing. But when would they end? What is “that which is perfect”? My first thought would be Jesus. But we know these gifts continued after He was gone. Others would claim this is at death or the coming of Christ; however, nowhere else in the Bible is the word “perfect” used in this manner. What “perfect” is used with is that Christians can be “perfect” (blameless) before God, and that God’s words and works are “perfect”.

So what is it? James mentions looking “into the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), which we know to be God’s Word, the Bible. When Paul writes, “when that which is perfect is come,” he speaks of the Bible. When it the last book was written just before the turn of the first century, these gifts ended.

God gave these gifts for a short time. When fishermen and tax collectors went out and preached around the world, they needed the ability to work miracles to show themselves legitimate. Jesus told his disciples this:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. –Mark 16:17-18
By all means, go drink something poisonous, and see if it hurts you.
How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? –Hebrews 2:3-4
God showed then that his disciples spoke the truth through the miracles the early church did. Today, His Word speaks for itself.

Why does this not speak of our bodies being perfected in Heaven (thereby meaning that prophecies, tongues, and “knowledge” continue today)? The Greek word translated “perfect” is “teleios.” It is used nineteen times in the New Testament. Of those, ten refer to men, or us Christians, being “perfect” (once it is translated “of full age”). We are not currently perfect like our bodies will be in Heaven. The word "teleios" is not a reference to perfect as God is perfect, but is a reference to having a completed work, or being matured.
But let patience have her perfect  work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. –James 1:4
Strong’s Concordance defines the word as “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness.” While this seems like it could refer to us in Heaven, we must remember that over half the uses of the word teleios refers to our ability to be perfect, or complete, while yet on Earth. This is Christ’s work in us, that we would be wanting nothing spiritually.

Falling in line, this is a perfect definition of the Word of God at that time. Since Paul’s writings are a part of the New Testament, obviously the Bible was not complete. So these works of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge continued, each of which can be seen over and again in Acts and other books. But Paul writes to say that the Bible will be completed- “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness”. And when it is complete, “the perfect (teleios) law of liberty”, there will be no need for such works anymore.

There is no need for us to prophecy any longer. There is no need to speak in tongues. There is no need for individual knowledge of the law. God’s Word has taken their place.

And for this we should be thankful. Recall the words of Peter:
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: –II Peter 1:19
The Word we have today is “trusty” and “stable,” better than what was had in the past. Peter also says in the next verse that “no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation.” This, as all other scripture, is not a matter of opinion. It’s not up for debate. It’s biblical fact.

This is not at all to say that God does not speak to mankind. He works as much as He did back then, if not more due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But we have God’s completed, infallible Word to tell us all we need to know.
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. –II Timothy 3:15-17
Contained in the Book God has given us is all we need. From the last revelation given by John and the completion of his writing on the Island of Patmos, these gifts ceased.

Hence come the comparisons at the end of the chapter. These gifts are “childish things,” but when the Bible matured, those were put away. “When I was a child, I spake as a child (prophecies), I understood as a child (tongues), I thought as a child (knowledge): but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Before the Bible was completed, they looked into a dark mirror (v. 12). But after its completion, we can see “face to face” in the “perfect law of liberty”; our mirror and litmus test for our spiritual condition is available now as God’s Word. This allows us to know ourselves and examine ourselves. As opposed to the hazy knowledge that these gifts provided, the Bible is clear.

We may look longingly back at those days when such unique gifts were given. But which is better: for God to move through certain people, or through anyone who reads His Word? We have been given what we need for salvation, what we need to know God’s willwhat more do we need? God still gives gifts to accomplish His work, but not these gifts.

(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) II Corinthians 5:7
We are not to look for signs from God that we are to do something, or fill in the blank. We now live a life by faith, learning from the written Word God has given us. These gifts are the workings of God that are directly involved with man. They would cause one to believe because of what they have seen, rather than place faith in what they believe.

“But we can have revelations.” True, but not in the sense that you may think. I have revelations all the time, I’m sure any Christian desiring to follow God’s will does. But these revelations are of Biblical truth. We may be reading or reflecting on God’s Word or perhaps a message or song that is biblically based and gain a fresh perspective. But revelations today are based on truth that already exists. God does not give anything extra-Biblical to us. “God is no respecter of persons,” the Bible repeats. He does not tell one what He does not tell all- and that is what He’s told us in the Bible.

“But people speak in tongues today.” As stated before, tongues were always in a known language. Any “tongues” we hear today are not able to be understood. I believe that people truly believe they speak in tongues, but I think we can pretty well convince ourselves of anything. That's the danger in letting our experiences speak louder than the study of scripture. In Paul’s list of gifts in I Corinthians 12, the chapter before the “love chapter,” tongues is actually listed as the least of them all. He tells the Corinthians to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” “…Yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” Paul ends the chapter. That more excellent way is explained in the next chapter.

“I’ve had God-given dreams about what He wants me to do and what is going to happen.” It is like with ghosts: if you believe in them, you’ll probably see them. But that does not make ghosts real any more than the belief that a dream was God-given makes it given of God. God operates through faith now. We pray in faith asking for His guidance, and by faith we follow through the wisdom He gives. We must be careful to think that God is speaking to us in ways that are not Biblical. God doesn’t audibly speak to us anymore. We can certainly “hear” His still small voice through the pricking and leading of the Holy Spirit, but not through dreams. If you want to dream about something bad enough, you probably will. That’s you speaking to yourself though, not God. Dreams aren’t in a vacuum; they reflect what is going on in our lives or our sub-conscious mind (don’t read too deep into Sigmund Freud, please). But they aren’t used of God. With the completion of the Bible, there is no use for it. Or as my old pastor used to say, “Maybe you had some bad cabbage, but that’s not God telling you to do something.” I fully believe that the Holy Spirit will give us messages. Those may come in something He brings to mind, maybe a word or an image. That can be used to say, "You need to pray for this person," or, "Speak this over her life." The difference is that these things are not special revelation. They are not prophecies in the Old Testament sense. These are messages that we can already find in the Bible.

Please don’t think that I’m trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box. The working of this person of the trinity is often undermined in some churches. His work is prevalent, that’s why He lives within us. But the Holy Spirit reckons with us to remind us of God’s truth and that we are God’s children. He doesn’t show us things God hasn’t said. And do not mistake me for saying that God does not work anymore. I personally have seen Providence saturate my life, and many others can relate. He is intimately involved in the affairs of man. (I will have to write more later on the subject.) But God no longer works through these gifts.
We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. II Peter 1:19-21
Today’s “spiritual gifts” emphasize the one faking them instead of the One who gave them. The test of spirituality has been made how frequently one babbles inaudible words, or who can boast of their newest “revelation” from God. The Holy Spirit never came to give glory to Himself. The emphasis of Pentecost was Jesus Christ and the need for Him, not the Holy Spirit and certainly not those speaking in tongues. This was a necessary thing then, but these particular gifts are no longer needed and no longer exist.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. –II Timothy 3:16-17

It is the Bible that makes us perfect, not fits of emotion. For more specifically on tongues, read this article. And for special revelations, read this.

Our more sure word of prophecy are the words God has given to us and preserved through time- His Word that He places at such high emphasis (Psalm 138:2). Don’t be disappointed that God moves differently among us now. Our “more sure words” are a much firmer foundation (as the great old hymn says) than anything they received or we think we receive through these gifts.