Wednesday, December 14, 2016

God Stooped to the Lowest of Low



Christmas is a time for exchanging gifts, among other things. This usually results in a present-by-present mental challenge of matching the gift given with the gift to be received. We go to great lengths to make gifts appropriate, while not too extravagant or too petty. We mean well in doing this. But, is this really celebrating Christmas? Don’t worry, I am not about to propose over-giving to everyone, even thought there is nothing wrong with that. I am, however, challenging whether or not our ritual of exchanging gifts actually reflects what we are celebrating.

Have you ever wondered why it is that we give gifts at Christmas time? Do you even focus deeply on why we celebrate Christmas? Do you know why “Christ” is the first syllable in the word “Christmas”? We celebrate Christmas because Christ gave us the greatest gift ever given – Himself. John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the world that He gave...” This is why we are inspired to give. But, what kind of giving should result from such inspiration? What does our giving say about how inspired we are? Does our celebration of Christmas honor the Advent that we are meaning to celebrate? Are we mimicking the giving of Jesus or are we pleasing self?

Imagine for a moment that you are God, the all-powerful Creator of the entire universe. Then imagine that your pathetically weak creation rebels against you, damning themselves to corruption and death. Then, imagine that you desire to rescue them. How would you do it? Would you just wave your hand and reset everyone? Would you descend to Earth in visible glory to get their attention? Would you display for them magnificent power for all to see? We have all heard the Christmas story many times. But, even still, I doubt any of us would choose to reduce ourselves to the lowliest of low, take on their vulnerable flesh in the most vulnerable baby form, and be born in a filthy village among livestock in a stable only to be placed in an animal feeding trough as a newborn. Be honest – you would not choose this. So, why did God give Himself in this way?

God is not like us and His ways are not like ours. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We often forget that God is not like us. And, in many ways, He is the opposite of us in that before He adopts us, we are His enemies (Colossians 1:21). His image is the primary extent to which we are alike. And, that is too little to go on for comparisons to Him. 

The gift of Christ, God in babe, amid the stench of animal dung, we may never fully understand. And, this is proof that there is a God, and Jesus is He. In Christianity, we have the only God who came in such a way as to reach all manner of mankind. By this measure, all other gods are distant counterfeits, as all other professed gods interacted with man like we would - like a man or non-god would. That is proof positive that these gods were invented in the minds of man. Only the true God would love in such a radical extent and in such a radical way - defying all human mental calculations. He became the lowest among us in order to save the lowest among us. The historical fact of the lowly incarnation of Jesus proves His claim to be God.

You see, if we were God, we might have come in a way that only a certain class of people are rescued. That does not mean we are bigoted. It just means that we are selfish (like the counterfeit gods). How far would you go to rescue the homeless? How far would you go to rescue those who have only a stable to sleep in or less? How far would you go to bring food to those who would not hesitate to draw near to an animal feeding trough? How far would you go to rescue those in the most rural and poor villages that are so impoverished that we know not even about them? Would you arrive in a capital city in pomp? Well, that is Exhibit A that you are not God. God came to rescue the least of us as first among us. And, to do so, He stooped as low as He could possibly stoop (Philippians 2). And, He did so in such a gloriously honoring way.

Remember that Jesus did not come only to save us and then leave us. He came to save us and make us new by then living through us forever. His rising becomes our rising. His coming to take on flesh is merely a symbol of how today for every Christian he lives inside of us, making us new. He could have come, saved us and left. But, His mission, His gift was so much more. He gave Himself to make all things new, primarily us. And, not just the fairest among us, but for all of us, especially those that society sees as the least among us. This truly is the most amazing and miraculous gift that is beyond awe-inspiring.

Lastly, God gave Himself this way not only to rescue and renew us. He also did this to model how we are supposed to give. I must confess that as I type this, I am convicted. My gifts this Christmas are far less sacrificial than is worthy of celebrating God’s sacrificial gift to me. My gifts are far less radical in how far into the depths of humanity they seek to lovingly reach. My gifts are wrapped in fine paper and bows meant for the attention of family under a beautiful tree. But, God chose a far more humble wrapping destined for hanging on a far less lovely tree, where attention would hardly ever be sought.

In conclusion, this Christmas, celebrate Christmas by giving the gift of Christmas. Give to those in deepest need from the excesses of your abundance. Give the gospel of the Christmas story to everyone who might listen. And, here is a hint: it is the most humble or least among us who are willing to listen. The harvest of the humble is plentiful, but the workers are few. Celebrate Christmas because of Jesus, and like Jesus, and for Jesus. In fact, when we are given the greatest gifts, our knee-jerk reaction is inspiration to give a gift back. Whenever we receive a gift, we desire to return the favor. That is a gift exchange. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that in Jesus Christ, we have been given the absolute greatest gift ever given – and this gift was given by Jesus Christ to us. So, how do we exchange a gift back to such a giver of such an amazing gift? How do we exchange gifts with Jesus? In Matthew 25:40, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” That was Jesus’ personal Christmas wish list. Therefore, just like Jesus came as a gift to the least first, as we today give of ourselves to what society sees as the least of us, we are giving back to Jesus Himself. May this inspire that your greatest gift this Christmas be the gift of your love to those most in need of it. After all, since the greatest gift God gave us was Himself, our gift to him should be a like exchange.


You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. Profits go to Camp Bahamas. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Homophobe!"



This past week, we witnessed two startling and contrasting responses to two separate religion-based expressions. Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Muslim, in the name of his religion, attacked a crowd of innocent students on the campus of Ohio State University by plowing his car into them. After stopping the car, he then attacked others with a large knife before the police faithfully killed him. The response from the left to the rest of us was yet another swift urging against "Islamophobia". In contrast, later in the same week, a BuzzFeed post revealed the obvious fact that the famous couple who are the stars of the hit HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” Chip and Joanna Gaines, attend a church that preaches that homosexual acts are sin (like the vast majority of churches). And, in this case, the left had an opposite urging. They did not urge us against Christianophobia. They called the pastor and the Gaines couple homophobes, who should be denied their jobs because they are dangerous. The agenda behind the contrast is obvious. But, the danger of this contrast speaks volumes. Which expression was actually dangerous? Why do I even need to ask that question? By the way, note to the left: Islam also teaches that homosexual acts are sin, except they believe it is punishable by death. I don’t see Christians acting violently against “homosexuals” while Muslim nations actually execute them. Are you paying attention?

In the west, the irrational assault on Christians and their convictions continues. It begins with name-calling, followed by judgment, followed by condemnation, climaxing in actual bullying. Yes, it is expressed against Christians in all of the ways of which Christians are actually accused. How dangerously ironic? And, it all begins with name-calling (by people who call themselves adults). For this purpose, homophobe is a derogatory name chosen for ill intent. So let’s examine the term. Homophobe is defined as “a person who fears or hates homosexuals.” It comes from the combination of the words “homosexual” and “phobia.” And, that leads us to examine the word, “phobia.” Psychiatry defines phobia as “an abnormal intense and irrational fear of a given situation, organism, or object.” Focus on the definition again – is it truly being hurled accurately? Yes, God in the Bible calls homosexual acts sin, just like heterosexual acts outside of marriage He also calls sin. By extension of the world's logic does that mean that subscribing to God’s word we are then also heterophobes? Are we then also thievophobes and covetophobes? I believe that a homosexual act is a sin just like I believe it is a sin every time I have a lustful thought about a woman other than my wife. That does not mean that I hate anyone or fear anyone. In fact, I hate nobody and I fear nobody. To illustrate, when I have a lustful thought about another woman, I see it as sin that I must run from. But, I don’t fear or hate myself. Are the name-callers truly listening to reason and rational thought? Should we be listening to them?

Anyone who lashes out at a group of people by foisting a label upon them with “phobe” or a derogatory “ist” on the end of the label, is actually a person who is acting hatefully, harmfully, and immaturely. On that last adverb (immaturely), to make my point, the last time name-calling was so popular was when we were all in grade school. This regression to child-like norms is not only contemptible, but also asinine (look up the definition before you react to using that word). Nobody should be dealing in derogatory name-calling, especially Christians.

There is also an amazing irony to those who lash out at faux phobias. What does it suggest when those who are accusing others of phobias are at the same time acting in ways that inspire fear in those they accuse? In other words, if being fearful of a certain type of people is a bad thing, then why are you bullying those you accuse of being fearful into actually having fear? Doesn’t bullying inspire fear? Aren’t you actually signaling that they should fear those certain people by threatening them if they don’t change their minds? Aren’t you inspiring phobia? That is like degrading someone as a robberphobe because fear grips them while a robber just placed a gun to their head. For example, targeting a Christian baker until they are out of business and bankrupt actually inspires fear – don’t you get it? Your actions to end phobias actually cause them. 

By the way, even if the name-callers are right, is it truly wrong to fear something or somebody as long as you don’t truly hurt them? Does fear truly equal hate? The true purpose of today’s brand of name-calling is to define people by a label, judge them, and condemn them until they submit. That sounds pretty horrific doesn’t it? Who is really behaving more like someone with a phobia? Are Christians afraid of homosexuals or are homosexuals afraid of Christians? Christians aren’t threatening homosexuals with life-threatening punishment. But, the same can’t be said of the inverse.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, we should not be defining people this way. We should not be accusing others with derogatory labels. The label “homophobe” belongs in the same bucket as “fagot.” We should destroy both labels. Labels seek to reduce the definition of others to a label. It is a form of dehumanization, which is an assault on the image-bearers of God. Every human being bears God’s image. There is no label that is being thrust around today like weapons that is truly defining, but rather demeaning. For example, if I tell a lie, am I a liar? Or, am I a generally honest person who just now chose to lie? Do you see the difference? Labeling people as is being done today is meant to actually hurt them. And, it is also not effective in improving society, but devolving it.

Before we get to scripture, one last point about labels is that the last label we should ever use is one that defines a person by their sexual deeds. I don’t walk up to people I don’t know and say, “Hi, I am a man who routinely engages in sexual acts with a woman.” That would be pretty inappropriate wouldn’t it? In fact, if I am alone, I don’t even mention that I am married. But, by the same token, today we have the label police encouraging homosexuals to both label others at the same time as they introduce themselves by their sexual label: “Hi, I am a man who routinely engages in sexual acts with a man.” That is ridiculous. Do you remember when the LGBT movement began? The rallying cry against the other side was "Stay out of our bedrooms!" Well, today that has devolved into wearing our bedrooms on our name tags. If you don’t want people in your bedroom, keep them out by the way you speak - keep your bedroom private. Don’t introduce others into your bedroom. And stop trying to force other people into accepting what you do in your bedroom. Frankly, I would rather stay out of your bedroom. It truly is none of my business. And, neither are my thoughts and free speech any of your business, frankly!

Christian, the Bible has a lot to say about name-calling and fear. Ironically, embedded in the famous love chapter is 1 Corinthians 13:11, which says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Name-calling is childish at best while also being hateful at most. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” That verse applies in so many ways to all sides of these discussions. And, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus said of fearing man, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Any questions?

In conclusion, one of the many beauties of God’s grace is that, if we commit our whole life to Him (Galatians 2:20), we are forever forgiven. That means that no label can ever stick, unless we choose unrepentance. When we choose to glorify flesh above God and not habitually repent, we are sadly choosing the label over His grace. We are choosing a sexual identity (flesh) over a Spiritual identity. Grace kills all derogatory labels. Which is why even though I am occasionally guilty of sexual sin (lustful thoughts), it does not label me as an adulterer, as I agree with God and repent of it. But, choosing sin over Spirit is voluntary choosing of the label. I have known several Christian men in my life who are tempted by homosexuality but resist the temptation on spiritual grounds. I don’t call them homosexuals. I call them brothers. And, I don’t fear anyone, especially a brother.


You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. Profits go to Camp Bahamas. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.