How to (Really) Become a Saint

Well, she had finally done it. On September 4, 2016 Mother Teresa of Calcutta was now officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She was proclaimed a Saint by Pope Francis and the Catholic church, despite open criticism by many of the secular journalist.

You probably know Mother Teresa. The tiny Albanian nun who gave her life to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta India. After her death in 1997 the process of becoming a saint in the catholic church was started.

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Now, this process of declaring a saint is ancient and very traditional and often times mysterious. Evidence must be presented to persuade Church officials that the person in question in fact lived a virtuous life, had faith and had the support and help of god. The church must also look at miracles as evidence that God is working through that person.

Was Teresa’s up to the task? She was obviously a Servant of God, an official designation by the Catholic Church and would definitely be considered for sainthood. And she was considered to be venerable, which meant that she had lived a life of “heroic virtue”. That doesn’t mean they were sinless, of course, but it does mean she worked aggressively to improve herself spiritually and never gave up trying to be better and grow in holiness.

But then the beatification process began by which she would become Blessed. So, after Teresa’s death the Holy See began the process of beatification to make her a saint. The church submitted 76 documents totaling 35,000 pages, which were based on interview with 113 witness who were asked to answer 236 questions to prove that Teresa was indeed of heroic virtue.

But this step also included the need of a document miracle. In 2002 the Vatican recognized as a miracle the healing of a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman named Monica Besra. According to sources, a locket containing Teresa’s picture was applied to the woman’s abdomen and a beam of light emanated from the picture and her cancerous tumor was cured. Ironically, the woman’s husband gave credit to the doctors and the medicine she had been taking for a few months, but you couldn’t convince her of this. This was a divine intervention and that picture of Teresa had healed her.

A medical committed called the Consulta Medica ruled that this woman’s healing was indeed a miracle and was evidence of divine intercession. So, Teresa was beatified on October 19, 2003 and was known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Now, the big one. Sainthood. This would recognize Teresa’s entrance into Heaven, allowing her to skip purgatory and also be able to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in her name. A pretty big deal for a little nun from Macedonia.

But the Saint must have another documented miracle on their resume. What would this one be? Would this miracle be a miraculous healing? Or would be another unexplainable phenomena? Perhaps like St. Catherine of Siena who, according to the Catholic church, although she died in 1380, claims that her flesh has never decomposed. Or what about St. Januarius, who, according to the church, a vial of his dried blood liquefies every year on September 19, which happens to be his feast day. Or would it be like another Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila? According to the church her grave exuded a sweet fragrance eve up to nine months after her death.

Well, unfortunately for us, it was just another miraculous healing. This time a Brazilian man with multiple brain tumors. He met Teresa and she prayed for him, and then a few months later, the tumors were gone.

So then, on September 4, 2016, Pope Francis canonized Teresa in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City. Tens of thousands of people witnessed the ceremony that include 15 government delegations and 1,500 homeless people from across Italy as well as everyone who streamed it online or watched in live on the Vatican channel on TV.

So now, every good little Catholic girl and Catholic boy can pray to St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Now, let me go ahead and make a few comments. If you grew up Catholic, consider yourself to be Catholic or have friends and family members who are Catholic, I am in no way making fun of them or making light of their religion. However, I do want you to see that, as much as people want to say we do, Protestants, and I consider Baptists to be Protestant though I know the history of the Protestant Reformation (that’s for another time and day) we do not believe the same thing as the Catholic church. There is a huge divide.

Secondly, I am in no way, shape or form downplaying miraculous healings. But I will say this, God is the One who heals, not a person. God heals each and every day. And I believe God does his best healing in hospitals with trained doctors and nurses and the gift of medicine. So, I’m not saying that you or your loved one has never experienced a miraculous healing, because every time I speak on it someone always tells me about their grandma or their own healing where the doctors can’t figure out what happened. And I say Amen to that. But just give credit where credit is due. God healed you. Not a preacher. Not an evangelist. Not an angel. Not Mother Teresa. God.

Now, why did I tell you that story? The main point is this, we have a very different idea of what it means to be a saint than what the Bible says what it means to be a saint.

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For instance, you could almost pick just about any of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, and you will find the word saint. 40 times in the New Testament Paul uses the word saint, and guess who he’s talking about? He’s talking about Christians. Not super Christians. Not the super-spiritual, got their life together, don’t have any problems, never sin, don’t smoke, drink or chew and don’t go with girls who do. No, read some of his letters. Those churches are messed up! Their infighting and treating the rich better than the poor, some of the women are going house to house gossiping, standing up in service and correcting the pastor, getting drunk on the communion wine. But what does Paul call these people? Saints of God.

Romans 1:7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.

I’ll stop there. I could keep going.

Now, let me ask you a question,  if Paul can call the people in the New Testament that were so messed up saints, can he call me and you saints? The answer is yes. We are indeed saints of God.

Now, again, don’t hear me wrong, and don’t let your preconceived idea of what being a saint means. It doesn’t mean you are perfect. It doesn’t mean you have a halo around your head. It certainly doesn’t mean you have performed at least two miracles in your life.

So, what does it mean? Well, in the most basic form, it means someone who is holy and set apart as special to God. And newsflash, Brother and Sister Christian, that would be you.

“Wait,” you may say. “I’m not holy. I’m a sinner. I’m a wretched sinner. I know my heart. I know my thoughts. I know my actions. And I would never consider myself to be holy.”

And that’s true. And that’s good that you realize that. Because you will never be good enough to be holy or righteous. But Jesus is. Jesus declares you holy and righteous, not because of what you have done, but because of what He did on the cross of Calvary.

The Bible says that we are a new creation in 2 Cor. 5:17. And then in 2 Cor. 5:21 Paul makes this amazing declaration: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

You have been declared righteous by the King of the Universe. You don’t need a special counsel from the Catholic Church. Jesus says your holy, therefore, you are holy. You are a saint.

But, you may be asking, why do I feel like such a sinner. Well, back in the 1500s a man named Martin Luther used a phrase to describe this predicament: He said Christians is simultaneously a saint and a sinner. We are both. Until Jesus comes to take us home or our life on this earth or over, we will still fight against our sinful nature. We will still live in a world that is darkened by sin. We will still have to face the consequences of our past sins and the sins of those around us.

So, we still feel our sin and the sin of those around us. But make no mistake, we are indeed saints, holy ones of God, called according to His purposes. Every Christian is a saint. The body of Christ is the sainthood of the church, not the super religious, impressive resumes who have authentic miracles. We are saints based on our connection to Christ. When we are in Christ, then we have our sins forgiven, we have no condemnation, we have a new position in harmony with Jesus, and we are set apart for the purpose of God.

Now, what does this mean practically for us? Well, when we are indeed saints, holy ones of God, then perhaps we should act like it. I’ve been around Christians my entire life and I’ve been in church my entire life. And I can say with confidence that there are a lot of Christians who do not believe that they are saints. They don’t believe they are special to God. They don’t believe that God forgives them and will never remember their sin. They live their life under the guilt and shame and condemnation. And they live in a defeatist mentality. That this is the best it can get. Many Christians, and as a result many churches, are in survival mode. They just want to get by. Let’s get through one more day or one more Sunday and then we’ll figure out what to do next week. But they have settled for mediocrity. They have settled for good enough. They have settled for less than best.

I believe that Jesus has a better plan than that. I believe that Jesus wants you to live in freedom. He wants you to live in the victory of the cross. In victory over sin. In victory over condemnation. In victory of the rightful wrath that you deserve. In the victory of death. In victory over Hell.

Notice, I did not say victory of sickness. I did not say victory over poverty. I did not say victory of persecution or suffering. The Bible makes no promises of the Christian life being all hopscotch and puppy dogs. The Christian life is about discipline, endurance and completely relying on the strength of the gospel each and every day.

But we must come to the point of our lives where we no longer settle for good enough. I don’t want to be a good enough Christian, because I don’t worship a good enough Savior. I worship a wonderful, indescribable Savior. And He has promised us His presence, His power and His purpose in our lives.

As you look around your local church, look around your home, and take an internal survey of your own life, you should be thankful for what God has done and is doing. But as I think of what God will be doing in my life in the future, I personally think we can do better. Because Jesus deserves our best. Jesus has a plan for your life and His church. Scripture says  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). And I am excited to see what God has in store for His people.

But we should be better. We will not be simply good enough. If good enough is our goal, then we are setting our bar to low. You are a saint. You are a holy one of God. You are set apart as special in the eyes of King Jesus. Remember that, dear brother and sister. Don’t forget His love. Don’t forget His forgiveness. Don’t forget how glorious He is and how worthy He is of our worship. And don’t forget that He has a plan and a purpose for your life and for this church.

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Monergistic Swimming in God’s Salvation

I’ve been thinking a lot about salvation and how God saves lately. I feel it is important for a pastor to be able to articulate how God goes about saving His children. The theological term for this is soteriology, the study of salvation. Some may wonder, why does this even matter? I know that God saved me. I know that God saves Christians, all those who call upon the name of the Lord, so why does this matter?

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I suppose in one sense, it doesn’t matter much. As long as we trust in Christ alone as our only hope for salvation and are committed to telling others this wonderful truth that Christ offers salvation to anyone who trusts in Him and turns from their sin, then perhaps the nitty-gritty facts of the specifics are not required. I am thankful that I was not required to take a test when I became a Christian. You don’t need to be able to explain justification or righteousness or sanctification when Jesus saved you. All you need to know is that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and His name is Jesus. That I could not save myself and my salvation is wholly from God.

And while I think that every Bible-believing Christian believes those things, there are so many Christians who like to argue over the specifics of what it means for a sinner to come to Christ. Most specifically, how can a person who is described in the Bible as spiritually dead, spiritually blind, spiritually deaf, hard-hearted who only thinks of wickedness in their heart able to turn from their sin that they enjoy so much and trust in Christ, whom they despise? I believe the answer that the Bible gives is that we won’t, not on our own accord. I love my sin. I reject Christ. My will desires wickedness and sinfulness. For my desires and will to be changed God must do something first. He must initiate in my life. God must change my stone-cold heart and replace it with a heart of flesh. He must remove the blinders from my eyes. He must unplug my ears. He must provide the gifts of faith and repentance through His extraordinary grace. Otherwise, I will remain in my sin because I love my sin above all else.

I believe with all my heart that the Bible presents salvation as wholly from God. From beginning all the way to eternity. He began the good work and He will finish the good work. He is not passive in the salvation process, He is completely and wholly engaged and working in and through us for His glory. If God chose to wait on me to choose Him, then I would die in my sins and go to hell.

Let me try this illustration on for size: This past Memorial Day weekend we spent time with my in-laws camping at a local state park. It was a wonderful experience enjoying God’s gift of nature. On the first day of our camping trip we went down to the Cumberland River to enjoy a swim.

See the source imageOur entire family was in the water for hours, splashing and swimming and exploring all the features of the water. Well, I’m a Florida boy. I’m not very experienced in swimming in rivers. Evidently, rivers have currents that can change in a moments notice. I say this because I was swimming in one part of the river with two of my kids and my brothers-in-law when I hear my wife shouting behind me to help Gracie, my six-year old daughter. Gracie had followed behind us in a part of the river that we were all just playing in, and she couldn’t reach the ground. She began to panic and began thrashing and kicking and screaming for help. I don’t know how far away I was, it felt like a football field, but I began to swim to her a fast as I could. With each stroke I felt like I was swimming in quicksand. I finally got to Gracie (I know it was only God who help her up that long), but when I arrived in the part of the river that I had previously walked through just a few minutes ago, now I could no longer touch the bottom. I thought I could easily pick Gracie up as I’ve done dozens of times at the beach or in a pool and simply move her to safety. I couldn’t do that this time. I began to tread water with Gracie wrapped around my waist. Now I began to panic. What do I do? I couldn’t touch. The current was strong. I looked back and saw Kristina right beside me and she could tell I didn’t know what to do. We both began screaming at the top of our lungs for someone to help. Who would help? I’m not sure. We were the only ones out there. In desperate attempt to save Gracie I threw her as far as I could toward the shore. But that didn’t work either. Kristina swam closer to her and she grabbed her. I’m not sure how I got to shallow ground, but I did and collapsed to my knees and began shouting for a long tree branch. Finally, Kristina’s motherly instinct took over and she told Gracie to roll over on her back. They had practiced this only a few hours earlier. Gracie obeyed and they both floated on their backs until we could grab them from the shallow part of the river and drag them to safety. The whole ordeal felt like hours, but it was probably only 2-3 minutes. But Gracie was safe and sound with relieved parents, grandparents, siblings and uncles.

Now, here is my illustration: when I heard Gracie screaming for help, I could have turned around and said, “Gracie, swim to me. I’m right here! Standing with arms wide open! All you have to do is swim to me and you’ll be safe! Just listen to me, do as I tell you and you’ll be fine!” If that had been my response, what would have happened? There is no doubt in my mind that we would have lost Gracie that day. She was trying for all that she was worth to keep her head above water. But she’s not a strong swimmer. She kicked and thrashed and paddled for as long as she possibly could to no avail. The water was too deep. The current was too strong. She was unable to save herself.

Gracie did not need a passive voice shouting instructions for her salvation. She needed an active savior! She needed someone to take the initiative, to jump in after her, swim to her and save her life. She could not do it on her own. She needed someone to literally save her, not hypothetically offer salvation by giving commands.

Here is the difference that I see within the Christian tradition of how God saves His people: I believe that Jesus does not stand safely on the harbor of Heaven shouting commands of how to be saved and expecting us to understand Him and obey Him. Some do believe this. That Jesus is too much of a gentleman to impede on our free-will. That He has done all that He needs to do; He died on the cross and now the decision is ours to listen to His commands and “swim” to salvation. That somehow, someway, we will be able to fight the current of sin and navigate the waters of the world and cooperate with God’s grace in order to receive salvation.

Instead, I believe that Jesus reaches down with His strong hand and grabs us and rips us out of the river of sin and drags us to salvation. That He does indeed impede on our free-will because my will desires my sin. My will doesn’t know it’s drowning. My will does not acknowledge our need for God. So, God must change my will and must drag my dying corpse to salvation. That salvation is a one-way street. It is only from God and by God that we are saved. I contributed nothing to my salvation except the sin that made it necessary.

In fact, Ephesians 2 says before Christ we were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were not treading water thrashing and calling for help. We were in fact dead on the bottom of the river. And Jesus risks His own life, swims to the bottom, brings us to dry land and breathes the breath of new life into our lungs, resuscitates our new heart of flesh, and makes us alive in His Spirit. All the while tasting death for sins that He did not commit. Yet, as we all know, He rose again three days later, conquering death and defeating sin. The worst thing the world can do to us, Jesus has already defeated for us.

Our experience with Gracie in the Cumberland River was a reminder of God’s initiating of salvation for His people. I am so thankful that God allowed my wife’s quick-thinking to save our daughter. And I’m also thankful that Jesus saved me. And is still saving people. And He will continue to save people. Wholly. Completely. Thoroughly. And all by Himself. With no help or cooperation with us.

 

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It has happened again… again (again)

This is a blog I wrote in February 2018 as well as December 2012. I have left it almost entirely unchanged except updating the numbers and dates.

 “It has happened again.” Those are the words that I wrote more than five years ago during our Sunday Night worship service after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary located in Newtown, Connecticut.  And I wrote them again just this past February after another school shooting took place in Parkland, FL. There have been nine more school shootings since the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018.

Since December 2012 I counted 123 shootings on a school or college campus in the United States. [1] Those shootings have left 225 students dead. I didn’t count the njuries. Hundreds.

Well, it has happened again. Today. May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. Details are still coming in. The latest update I received there were at least eight students dead and more injured.

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This has become a too often occurrence. And it’s not just in schools and college campuses. It is a nation-wide epidemic. I counted by hand the number of shootings and deaths from a Wikipedia article. But there are people who keep track of this sort of thing. One group is the Gun Violence Archive. They have been tracking gun violence in the United States since 2013. According to their research, there have been 233 children ages 0-11 killed or injured by gun violence in 2018. There have been another 962 more teenagers (ages 12-17) killed or injured in 2018 by gun violence. If my math is correct, that is 1,195 children in our country who have been killed or injured by a gun in 20 weeks of 2018.

Why did this happen, again? Who is to blame? What should be our response as Christians? It is our human nature to want to blame someone for something so tragic. Some are ready to blame the NRA and ask if they are prepared to deal with the repercussions and mental well-being of the children involved. Others are calling for stricter gun regulations and tighter school security protocols. No doubt the issue of mental illness will be discussed with the perpetrator of this terrible deed. But will we ever agree on what constitutes a strict-enough law on guns? Or what is the best method of protecting our children in school? Or what doesn’t violate our constitutional right to bear arms?

Still others are blaming schools and parents. That if we taught our children about the sanctity of life and respect for people, then incidents like this wouldn’t happen anymore. And I do think that is true to an extent. We have removed prayer from schools. We have removed the 10 commandments from schools. We have taught Darwinian evolution in schools as fact; that we come from animals and there is no significant value in life since we are only here by random occurrences anyway.

But, I have to wonder, do other countries do a better job of teaching their children about the sanctity of life than we do? Do other countries pray every morning and have the 10 commandments displayed in their classrooms? I don’t think so. So why aren’t other countries having this problem?

One study shows that between 2000-2014 the United States had 133 public mass shootings where multiple people were injured, excluding gang violence and terrorism. But, in that same time period, Germany, Canada, Finland, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, England and France had a combined total of 17. [2]

Are those countries really better at teaching and raising their children than we are? If so, then we have even a bigger problem on our hands.

I think, as Christians, we must understand that the overarching reason this happened is because of sin. Sin and sin alone is to blame. Yes, this young man pulled the trigger, but sin was the cause.

Ever since Genesis 3 man has been in a war with sin and the author of sin, the adversary, the devil. If we look closely at Genesis 3 we notice not only did the serpent tempt Adam and Eve into sinning, but we also see an ulterior motive, to annihilate the human race and any chance of redemption. But notice what God promises the serpent in chapter 3 verse 15: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. This promise of a deliverer thwarted the devils plans and he has been waging war against the seed of Adam ever since.

In Revelation 12 Jesus showed the picture of a woman giving birth to a child, with a dragon crouching before her to devour the baby (Rev. 12:4). When the woman and her child escaped, scripture says in Rev. 12:17 that the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The dragon has been doing exactly that ever since.

Ephesians 2:2 says that the course of this world is ruled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. It is clear that Satan hates children. That is why Pharaoh slaughtered scores of innocent Hebrew children in the time of Moses. It is also why the Israelites were in danger of turning to worship the false god Moloch, the blood-thirsty deity who demanded his followers to sacrifice the lives of their children as an act of worship. The valley of this atrocity was called Gehenna, the very place that Jesus pointed to when he described Hell.

It is also why Herod decreed the death of all infant boys in the days that Jesus was born. It is clear, Satan hates children and his Hell-bent on seeing every child of God dead. Jesus Himself says in John 8:44 that the devil is the author of all murders. It is true, we do not battle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.

But ultimately, here is my bigger problem: why do we keep giving sinful people, who we know are influenced by the sinful desires of their heart, such easy access to killing machines? How is it so easy to get a gun? Why does it keep happening over and over and over again?

When my kids abuse or misuse something, I take it away. Maybe not the first time. But certainly, after the second or third time. Most certainly after the hundred? The thousandth? Why do we keep turning a blind eye? Why do we keep offering thoughts and prayers instead of actually doing something?

I know I live in the part of the country that loves their guns. I am not anti-gun. I am anti-sin. And I am anti-children being killed. I love my kids and the children of this country more than I love guns.

What then shall we do? As Christians, we have the responsibility bear each other’s burdens and to mourn with the mourning. We also have the responsibility to pray.

What can we pray for? We can pray for protection for our children, our teachers and our schools. We can pray for the lost and dying world. That people will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and change the way they think and act. But ultimately, we only have one prayer, that is the one Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” That is the only remedy. That is the only cure. Until Christ comes back our world will be cursed with famine, disease, war and yes, school shootings. What we need is Jesus. This world needs Jesus. Our cry should be that like the last words in the New Testament, “Come Lord Jesus.”

In closing, I would like to share with you the words that Al Mohler wrote soon after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012.

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:15) Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

But this is not where Jeremiah leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah; in verses 16 and 17 of the same chapter it says this:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17)

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”[3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States#2010s

[2] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/22/barack-obama/barack-obama-correct-mass-killings-dont-happen-oth/

[3] https://albertmohler.com/2012/12/14/rachel-weeping-for-her-children-the-massacre-in-connecticut/

 

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It has happened again… again

“It has happened again.” Those are the words that I wrote more than five years ago during our Sunday Night worship service after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary located in Newtown, Connecticut. Since December 2012 I counted 114 shootings on a school or college campus in the United States. [1] Those shootings have left 210 students dead. I didn’t count the injuries. Hundreds.

Well, it has happened again. Yesterday, February 14, 2018. In Parkland, FL. Seventeen students dead. Dozens more injured.

This has become a too often occurrence. And it’s not just in schools and college campuses. It is a nation-wide epidemic. I counted by hand the number of shootings and deaths from a Wikipedia article. But there are people who keep track of this sort of thing. One group is the Gun Violence Archive. They have been tracking gun violence in the United States since 2013. According to their research, there have been 58,582 people killed by guns in America since 2014. That’s more than 14,000 people a year. That is about the size of the county I live in.

Why did this happen, again? Who is to blame? What should be our response as Christians? It is our human nature to want to blame someone for something so tragic. I saw online one pastor who asked if the NRA was prepared to deal with the repercussions and mental well-being of the children involved. Others are calling for stricter gun regulations and tighter school security protocols. No doubt the issue of mental illness will be discussed with the perpetrator of this terrible deed. But will we ever agree on what constitutes a strict-enough law on guns? Or what is the best method of protecting our children in school? Or what doesn’t violate our constitutional right to bear arms?parkland-florida-school-shooting-07-gty-jc-180214_16x9_608

Still others are blaming schools and parents. That if we taught our children about the sanctity of life and respect for people, then incidents like this wouldn’t happen anymore. And I do think that is true to an extent. We have removed prayer from schools. We have removed the 10 commandments from schools. We have taught Darwinian evolution in schools as fact; that we come from animals and there is no significant value in life since we are only here by random occurrences anyway.

But, I have to wonder, do other countries do a better job of teaching their children about the sanctity of life than we do? Do other countries pray every morning and have the 10 commandments displayed in their classrooms? I don’t think so. So why aren’t other countries having this problem?

One study shows that between 2000-2014 the United States had 133 public mass shootings where multiple people were injured, excluding gang violence and terrorism. But, in that same time period, Germany, Canada, Finland, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, England and France had a combined total of 17. [2]

Are those countries really better at teaching and raising their children than we are? If so, then we have even a bigger problem on our hands.

I think, as Christians, we must understand that the overarching reason this happened is because of sin. Sin and sin alone is to blame. Yes, this young man pulled the trigger, but sin was the cause.

Ever since Genesis 3 man has been in a war with sin and the author of sin, the adversary, the devil. If we look closely at Genesis 3 we notice not only did the serpent tempt Adam and Eve into sinning, but we also see an ulterior motive, to annihilate the human race and any chance of redemption. But notice what God promises the serpent in chapter 3 verse 15: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. This promise of a deliverer thwarted the devils plans and he has been waging war against the seed of Adam ever since.

In Revelation 12 Jesus showed the picture of a woman giving birth to a child, with a dragon crouching before her to devour the baby (Rev. 12:4). When the woman and her child escaped, scripture says in Rev. 12:17 that the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. The dragon has been doing exactly that ever since.

Ephesians 2:2 says that the course of this world is ruled by the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. It is clear that Satan hates children. That is why Pharaoh slaughtered scores of innocent Hebrew children in the time of Moses. It is also why the Israelites were in danger of turning to worship the false god Moloch, the blood-thirsty deity who demanded his followers to sacrifice the lives of their children as an act of worship. The valley of this atrocity was called Gehenna, the very place that Jesus pointed to when he described Hell.

It is also why Herod decreed the death of all infant boys in the days that Jesus was born. It is clear, Satan hates children and his Hell-bent on seeing every child of God dead. Jesus Himself says in John 8:44 that the devil is the author of all murders. It is true, we do not battle against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.

But ultimately, here is my bigger problem: why do we keep giving sinful people, who we know are influenced by the sinful desires of their heart, such easy access to killing machines? How is it so easy to get a gun? Why does it keep happening over and over and over again?

When my kids abuse or misuse something, I take it away. Maybe not the first time. But certainly after the second or third time. Most certainly after the hundred? The thousandth? Why do we keep turning a blind eye? Why do we keep offering thoughts and prayers instead of actually doing something?

I know I live in the part of the country that loves their guns. I am not anti-gun. I am anti-sin. And I am anti-children being killed. I love my kids and the children of this country more than I love guns.

What then shall we do? As Christians, we have the responsibility bear each other’s burdens and to mourn with the mourning. We also have the responsibility to pray.

What can we pray for? We can pray for protection for our children, our teachers and our schools. We can pray for the lost and dying world. That people will come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and change the way they think and act. But ultimately, we only have one prayer, that is the one Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” That is the only remedy. That is the only cure. Until Christ comes back our world will be cursed with famine, disease, war and yes, school shootings. What we need is Jesus. This world needs Jesus. Our cry should be that like the last words in the New Testament, “Come Lord Jesus.”

In closing, I would like to share with you the words that Al Mohler wrote soon after the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012.

The prophet Jeremiah’s reference to Rachel and her lost children is heart-breaking. “Thus says the LORD: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:15) Like Rachel, many parents, grandparents, and loved ones are weeping inconsolably even now, refusing to be comforted for their children, because they are no more.

But this is not where Jeremiah leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.

The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah; in verses 16 and 17 of the same chapter it says this:

Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17)

God, not the murderer, has the last word. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”[3]

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States#2010s

[2] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/jun/22/barack-obama/barack-obama-correct-mass-killings-dont-happen-oth/

[3] https://albertmohler.com/2012/12/14/rachel-weeping-for-her-children-the-massacre-in-connecticut/

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Good riddance 2017! Really?! (A reprise)

This is a reprise of a blog postwrote this time last year. I literally just changed the date. But the argument is still valid one year later. 

I get it! 2017 has kind of sucked. Really. Tragedy after tragedy. Death after death. Casualty after casualty. Despair, destruction and depravity run amok. I cannot even begin to list all of the headline making news because I’m sure I would forget something. Too many people have died. Too many tragedies have occurred. Too much! Good bye 2017! Hello 2018!

2016

But, let me pause. Take a breath. Hang on a second. I agree that 2017 was hard. But here is the foundational truth that Bible-believing Christians should remember: God was indeed sovereign over 2017.  Jesus never left the throne in 2017. The Holy Spirit did not take a nap in 2017. All of that stuff happened on God’s watch. And not only did it happen while He was watching, He was actually actively involved in the day-to-day activities of 2017.

That is crazy to think about, I admit. But if you believe in the total sovereignty of God, then it must be true. If Romans 8:28 and Psalm 115:3 and Proverbs 16:9 and Genesis 50:20 and scores of other verses are true, then God’s absolute sovereignty over 2017 must be true as well.

Therefore, and read this carefully and know I say this with all the best intentions, when we complain about 2017, we are complaining against God. When we say good riddance to 2017 we are actually saying that we wish to rid the world of God’s plans for the past 12 months. And I don’t think we really intend on doing that, but when the sentiment is followed through to the final conclusion, that is ultimately what we are saying.

As Christians we must be armed with this truth when we are in answering our non-Christian friend’s and neighbor’s questions about the past year. We must have a robust understanding of God’s goodness as well as man’s depravity and the reality of the cloud of sin we currently live in. That God intends for harmony and peace and beauty and tranquility and a flourishing, productive, God-honoring society, and has actually promised one in the future. But right now, for the past however-many-thousand years, God’s plans are still the best plans. 2017 was literally “Your Best Life Now” because it was God’s year and He doesn’t get any better.

I do look back at 2017 and wonder, “Why this, God?” But then I remember that no plan of God will ever be thwarted (Job 42:2.) So I look forward to 2018, with all the ups and downs, ins and outs, peaks and valleys, and trust that God is still in control.

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A brief meditation for those who are anxious

1 Peter 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

What does it mean to cast something? You may think of fishing and casting your line into the water. Perhaps that is a fit analogy. We who are heavy burdened and full of anxiety, we may cast our burdens, our stress, our fears and our failures upon the Lord. Fling them to Him. Withdraw the anxiety from the account of your own heart and mind and deposit them to His. He is able. He strong enough.

And to what degree are we casting our anxieties to the Lord? We are casting all anxieties. All of them. Each and every one of them. Do not hold tight to your worries and your anxieties. They do you no good. What will worrying gain you? It will not add hours to your life. In fact, it may rob them from you. Cast all of them to the Lord. Your finances. Your family. Your career. Your home. Your future. Cast them to the Lord.

Whose anxieties? Your anxieties, dear friend. The burden that you bear is heavy enough. Like the tale of “Pilgrim’s Progress” in which the main character Christian, carrying with him the burden of his sin on his back until he comes to the holy sepulcher of the Lord and is released of his burdens, you too cast off all your burden and proclaim, “”He hath given me rest by his sorrow, And life by his death.”

And, dear friend, what do we cast to the Lord? All our anxieties. The burdens. The cares. The worry of this present world. I assure you, there is much to worry about. We see around us storms and fires and flooding and nuclear attacks and uncertainty. There is much to worry about. But the Scriptures say to cast the cares of this world to the Lord. He that is in you is stronger than anyone in this world. Our God is stronger than Harvey or Irma or Kim Jong-un.

To whom do we cast our anxieties? On Christ. On the living and loving Lord. The Savior. Maker of Heaven and earth. The one who is mightier than the thunder of great waters and mightier than the breakers of the sea. The Lord who is high and mighty. Who is enthroned over the flood. The King forever.

And why should we cast them upon our Lord? Because He cares for you, dear one. Consider this for a moment. He. Cares. For. You! The Maker of heaven and earth, the One who knows all things including your past sins, fears and failures, cares enough for you to take ALL of your anxiety.

Spurgeon said, “O child of suffering, be patient; God has not passed you over in His providence. He who is the feeder of sparrows will also furnish you with what you need. Do not sit in despair; hope on, hope ever. Take up the arms of faith against a sea of trouble, and your opposition shall yet end your distress. There in One who cares for you.”

Acknowledge the Lord’s boundless goodness and mercy. Seek Him in our every need, as children are accustomed to take refuge in the protection of their parents whenever they are troubled with anxiety, let us seek our Rock and Refuge of our saving Lord.

Say good bye to your anxiety and leave all your concerns in the hand of the gracious God.

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Who can observe communion?

I was recently told about a church service where, before communion was observed, a leader stood up and read from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and stated that “anyone, sinner or Christian, can take communion because Christ opened it up to all.” So the question was posed to me… is that true? Who can participate in communion? Is it for everyone, just Christians, just specific church members?

Here was my answer:

I have never heard of the practice of serving communion to non-Christians. That’s what I’m assuming you mean by serving to “anyone, sinner or Christian.”

What we typically see in most churches is either something called closed communion or a practice sometimes called open communion. However, closed and open communion usually have to do with church membership, not whether or not you are a Christian.

Open communion usually means any Christian in attendance can observe communion. Closed communion usually means only members of that particular church can observe communion. Each local church will go about this differently.

At my local church, we practice what I call a semi-closed communion. Before we observe the communion meal, I fence the table and explain that communion is only for Christians because it is a remembrance of what Christ did on the cross for us and an anticipation of His coming again for His church.  Communion gives Christians an opportunity to renew or profession of faith in Christ and our commitment to Christ and his people (our local church).  I like to think of communion as a family meal. We gather around the table as a family and we enjoy each other’s company, fellowship and love. If a non-family member joins in, then it is no longer a family meal. There is no commonality. There is no mutual love for God. It can still be pleasant, but it’s not quite as intimate as a family gathering.

As harsh at is may sound, non-Christians have nothing to remember or look forward to as far as Jesus’ death and future return. They aren’t in the family (yet!) We invite them to stay and watch/observe, but we invite only Christians in good-standing with an evangelical church participate in communion. I’ve only had one or two people get upset at me for that, but most understand.

That being said, we do not have communion police. After the observance has been explained, we let each person to either partake or allow the elements to pass them by. We simply pray that they take this communion meal seriously. The only time we may be intentional in withholding communion from someone is if the individual has been excommunicated from the church by a the voting membership during a membership meeting. We’ve only had to do that twice, and it has not been an issue yet.

Now, I would like to address the text at hand. I’m not sure where this brother from the church us getting the idea of  what can only be described as universal communion. It is certainly not this text in 1 Corinthians 11.

First of all, Paul is writing to the church. Throughout the entirety of the letter he makes distinctions between the church vs. non-Christians. He even says in verse 32: But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned ALONG WITH THE WORLD (emphasis mine.) So even in this passage he is making the distinction from Christians in the church and non-Christians outside the church.

However, the troubling warning from verses 27-32 is very serious, but for Christians; not so much non-Christians. The Corinthians were abusing the communion table. They were selfishly eating all the food (more than crackers, apparently.) They were not letting the poor and hungry get their portion. And they were getting drunk on the wine. What Paul is saying is that if Christians will not take communion with the necessary seriousness and with open sin in their hearts, then there will be consequences. He even goes as far as saying that some people are weak, ill and even have died from improper attitudes while taking communion.

So, in that respect, what most Christians (specifically Baptists) have always been taught is correct; a Christian should reserve some time of introspection, self-refection and confession of sin before observing communion. We take a time during the communion service for exactly that. It is quiet and awkward, but necessary.

In this instance, a robust statement of faith would be helpful. Many churches take a ambiguous approach to communion without making any firm theological distinctions. Our own Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is somewhat helpful. It says, “The Lord’s Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, throughout partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming.” So at least they said members of the church. Again, each church will have to decide whether that means an open communion to all Christians or only their own members.

The strongest Baptist language is found in the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, which is basically where most Baptist theology comes from. It says: “All ignorant and ungodly people are unfit to enjoy communion with Christ and are thus unworthy of the Lord’s Table. As long as they remain in this condition, they cannot partake of these holy mysteries or being admitted to the Lord’s Table without committing a great sin against Christ. All those who receive the supper unworthily are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating and drinking judgment on themselves.”

I hope this clears some things up. I have found this short little book from 9 Marks to be really helpful. It’s like 65 pages long and can be read in one sitting.

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