Saturday, December 20, 2008

Merry Christmas!!!

First of all, I'm sorry that it seems like I dropped off the face of the earth. I've been too busy with work, Christmas preparations, and homeschool co-op responsibilities, to even think about blogging. But, with Christmas fast approaching, I wanted to post a little something, to commemorate the birth of our Savior.

For Christmas, I thought I'd follow Larry's example and share a little story from my distant past. The little guy you see in the picture above is none other than yours truly. It was taken in our living room, in Bucharest Romania. Perhaps the most noticeable piece of furniture was the donut-shaped coffee table that you see in the lower-left corner of the picture. I seem to remember that it was made of a brass-like metal and had a sizable hole designed into its center. At Christmas time, that's where the tree went, right in the middle of that table.

Now, as an interesting sidebar, I should mention that in Romanian tradition, Santa (the Romanian name for him is pronounced "mosh-cruh-CHOON" and translates to "Old Man Christmas") brought the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. My parents would tell me to go take a nap, and then they would scramble to get the tree ready in time. I remember one time when we had a bunch of people over, and I was in my room, playing with my friends, when all the lights went out. We were pretty scared and ran towards the living room. When we got there, they came back on, and there was the tree, fully decorated, and all the presents underneath it! And since we didn't set up the tree until so close to Christmas, we kept it up way into January.

Anyway, back to my story. I was probably six or seven, and I was still on Christmas break. Mom was at work, and while Dad was technically home at the time, he had to step out for a few minutes. I guess I was bored, because I must have gone into the living room and noticed that the tree was a little crooked. Being the little perfectionist that I was (and still am!), I thought that just pulling on the tree would fix it. Yeah, right.

Well, needless to say, the tree was little too big, and the boy was a bit too small. There I was, barely able to keep the tree from falling any further, and Dad was nowhere in sight! I cannot say whether the tree was too unwieldy, or if I was just too panicked to think things through, but I felt utterly unable to do anything but just stand there holding it up, and hoping that Dad would be home soon, to rescue me.

Mankind, before Christ, was much the same way. During the time of Moses, God set up the Law, imperfect as it was, to show us the way. But Israel made a real mess of things and got itself in a position where God's intervention was necessary. Jesus came to save us from our sins. When we were burdened with the load of sin, He rushed in and took that tree upon His own shoulders. He took the blame for our mess and made a way for the Holy Spirit to come and make us righteous, as God intended from the beginning. This is why we celebrate Christmas. :)

In case you were curious how it all turned out, Dad came in pretty quickly and was puzzled and amuzed to see the predicament I had gotten myself into. He took that big tree off my hands and straightened it, as only he knew how. I was so relieved that he was there to help me. He got me out of plenty other rough spots, but those are stories for another time....

Nearly two decades later, Jesus came into my heart, took that load of sin upon Himself, and straightened me up, just like that crooked Christmas tree. I am so thankful to Him, for everything He has done (and continues to do) in my life!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough

We just recently watched Spiderman 3 for the first time, on ClearPlay (which mutes foul language and skips gore and other objectionable material), and I wanted to share what it teaches about temptation and the choices that we make.

First of all, a little background. Geeky science student Peter Parker was bitten by a mutated spider and gained its proportional strength and abilities. The plot of the third installment of the hugely popular movie trilogy revolves around a black, gooey, shape-shifting, alien symbiote, that attaches itself to Peter, not only giving him a more imposing, new, black suit, but amplifying his negative emotions. As things around him crumble (job, relationships, etc...), he finds it easier and easier to give in to his dark side and do things that he would not otherwise do. He eventually realizes the mysterious suit has contributed to his self-destructive actions and gets rid of it.

In my opinion, this movie is way too busy, takes too long to set up the central plot, and does not spend enough time exploring Peter's struggles with the symbiote. And even before the symbiote takes him over, he does some pretty stupid stuff, that even he should know better not to do. True to the previous two big-screen adventures, the action and special effects are top-notch (if not ground-breaking) and nicely complement the issues that the movie addresses. Spiderman swinging through New York is nothing less than jaw-dropping.

In the end, Peter states (paraphrased), "We always have a choice, and we can always choose to do what's right." This is certainly a true statement, if we add that we can only possess the power to choose to do good if the Holy Spirit lives within us.

It's easy to do what's right, when things are going well. But when times are tough (financially, emotionally, physically, etc...), the Tempter comes knocking. The situation may sometimes seem so hopeless, that we can rationalize doing almost anything. This theme is evidenced not only in the life of Spiderman, but in that of the Sandman. Before being molecularly rearranged to the consistency of sand, he embarked on a criminal career, in order to make enough money to save his young daughter's life. You can argue that he did it not out of selfishness, but out of love for his daughter. But can sin ever be justified? Isn't there always another way?

We must remember that Jesus is always there, to carry us through. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). That way is prayer and power through the perfect love of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Frequently Asked Friday

Kronk and his shoulder angels.

Ah, time for the long-awaited second part of this multi-part series. Thanks are due to the Great Googly Moogly, whose comments inspired this post. If you wish to read last week's post or the aforementioned comment thread, just click here.

By the way, if you want to reuse a picture you used in a previous post, you don't need to upload it again. All you need to do is copy the HTML code for that image from your other post into your new post.

Why Do Christians Sin?

For the sake of this discussion, I am limiting the scope of this question to professing Christians. While the answer applies to all people, regardless of their beliefs, to ask why a non-Christian sins is akin to asking why a person who has no food is hungry.

I pretty much already stated in last Friday's post what I believe to be the fundamental reason people sin, but GGM had a different viewpoint, which has prompted me to further explore the issue. So, here are some reasons that I can think of, and the Biblical responses.

"We're the seed of Adam."

Sin entered human nature, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Prior to that unfortunate event, the earth's first two humans were shielded from sin by their own ignorance. But as the serpent predicted, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil made them to know good and evil, thereby opening their eyes to sin. Furthermore, those without the Holy Spirit dwelling within have no power to resist the temptation to sin. So when we come out of the womb, we have the seed of Adam in us and the inclination to sin. However...
  • "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23).
  • "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9).

There are many more scriptures like these, but these three are enough to illustrate my point. The NT tells us over and over than a required part of salvation is a rebirth. Our hearts and minds are reborn in the image of Christ. The seed of Adam is purged and replaced by the seed of God. So truly born-again Christians cannot use this as a reason. If Adam remains in you, you have not yet been born again.

"The Devil made me do it."

This one's been used so much, it's a cliché. But one of my favorite scriptures in the entire Bible promises that Satan cannot so much as touch you, if you are born of God: "We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not" (1 John 5:18).

Lack of belief in the Word of God

GGM made this excellent suggestion, and I think it's true, to a great extent. Way back in Genesis 2:17, God told Adam that he will die if he eats of the forbidden tree. Eve certainly knew this, but she decided to believe the serpent more, when he said in 3:4, "Ye shall not surely die."

Fast-forward many years later, and you see the Israelites, choosing to not believe God's warnings against idolatry and mingling with their heathen neighbors, over and over again. And true enough, the Bible confirms that unbelief will keep us from having a right relationship with God. Nowhere is it stated more clearly than in the Book of Hebrews:
  • "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (3:12).
  • "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (3:19).
  • "Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief" (4:6).
  • "Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief" (4:11).

Here are some others that affirm that unbelief is sin and that belief in God is righteousness:
  • "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
  • "...then ye rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God, and ye believed him not, nor hearkened to his voice" (Deuteronomy 9:23b).
  • "Believe in the LORD your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20b).
  • "So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God" (Daniel 6:23b).

But is lack of belief in God's Word the fundamental reason we sin? Can we not have complete belief in God, even unshakeable knowledge of God's Word, and still choose to disobey?

"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Here, James makes the case that belief alone is not enough to please God, that our belief must be reflected by our actions. While works alone cannot buy us salvation (else Christ died in vain), they should reflect our nature as children of God. James' extraordinary effort to bring this particular point home, implies (to me, at least) that it is entirely possible to have full belief in God and His Word, and yet fail to act on it, or worse, wilfully disobey it. I have certainly found this true at times, in my own life.

This brings me to my inevitable conclusion, that fundamentally, sin is the result of...

Inadequate or misdirected love

No one reading the NT can miss the importance that Godly love plays in a Christian's life. New Agers and hippies alike have even picked up on it (and twisted it to suit their purposes). But is it more fundamental than belief? The Apostle Paul seemed to think so:
  • "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 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. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
  • "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (v. 13).

In fact, love is so important, that Jesus said it is what the Law and prophets are founded upon.
  • "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
  • "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).

To be sure, belief in God's Holy Word is essential for salvation and holy living, but we cannot love God and sin at the same time. "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13).

Faith and belief in God and His Word can only carry us so far. In the end, we are still free to choose between right and wrong, and the choice we make ultimately depends on what/whom we love more. For example, as an engineer, I've learned lots of math, more than most people will ever know. I understand it to a much higher level than most and firmly believe in the truth and correctness of all the theorems and derivations that I've learned. But I don't do a lot of math in my everyday life, because I don't like it that much. I recognize that it's necessary for nearly all technology, including that which surrounds me at work, but I avoid doing it myself.

But if I truly love God, then I will obey Him, no matter how much of His Word I believe or understand. Conversely, I can believe and understand more of the Bible than most people (by getting a PhD in Theology, for example), but still not love God enough to cease from sinning.

Where am I going with this?

Sorry for the long post (if you love me, you'll have read it all!), but you'll see next week where I'm going with it, and why this week's topic is so crucial. Tune in again next week!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Finally Saw Fireproof

About a month ago, I did a post on the success of Fireproof, a movie from the creators of Facing the Giants, about applying Biblical principles to make marriage work. Two weeks ago, my wife and I saw it ourselves, in the theater. We don't go to movies very often, but we felt this one was worth seeing on the big screen. We dropped off our son at my wife's Grandmother's house and made our way to the theater. The mall parking lot was nearly abandoned, and when we went in, we were the only ones in the theater! It was like having our very own screening room!

We both laughed and cried together, along with the movie. The script was very well done, and I was so impressed that Jesus was front-and-center, throughout the film. Even though the lead characters were not saved starting out and both committed sins, Godly people in their lives are trying to steer them in the right direction.

The most moving scene for me is when the lead character (a young husband, whose marriage is on the rocks) is taking a walk with his dad, in the woods. They stop by an old Bible-campsite, which features a 10-foot wooden cross. He sits down and they talk about his efforts to do nice things for his wife, while she ignored and scoffed at him. He desperately asks his dad (paraphrased), "How can you love someone who constantly rejects your every effort to show them love?" His dad, a born-again Christian, leans against the wooden cross and replies, "That's a very good question," not-so-subtly referring to Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

I am very thankful that my wife and I have a very solid marriage, founded on the Lord. While some relationships may work without Jesus as the center, true marriage is one where the husband and wife love Jesus, first and foremost. His perfect love is the only thing that can guide them through the rough times.

For more information on this excellent movie, please visit the official website.