Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Five Reasons That You Need God

Earlier this afternoon, I went into the kitchen to eat lunch and was really perturbed for a moment that there was nothing in our fridge or pantry that I wanted to eat. I remember thinking to myself, "I shouldn't be reduced to eating something that I really don't want to eat!!!" And then it dawned on me how utterly snooty I was being. So I made myself a peanut butter sandwich and moved on with my life.

We live in a country where we can satisfy our every whim whenever and however we want. Our affluence and prosperity allow us to be snooty...and unbelievably fickle. When we get a little too hot, we just crank up the air conditioner. Too cold? Turn up the heat. Would you rather wear a red shirt and blue jeans today, or a black shirt and khakis? Are you craving Chinese food? Enchiladas? A Big Mac? Take your pick.

For most of us, it's not about what we need, but what we want.

And unfortunately, when it comes to religion, the same mindset applies.

You don't want to go to church? You don't want to be restricted in your moral behavior? You don't want to think about eternity right now? Okay. Then don't. Or find a religion or faith that gives you what you want. 

It's been my observation that more and more people - especially young people - are drifting away from God, not because they have been persuaded that He doesn't exist, but because they just don't want to serve Him right now. Or they don't think they need Him.

If this describes you, here are five reasons that you need God in your life...
1) God completes you!
According to Genesis 1:26-27, God made you in His image. What this means is that you're not just a physical being, like a dog or monkey. Like God (John 4:24), you actually have an eternal spirit! In 2 Corinthians 4:16, the apostle Paul calls the spirit our "inward man." Even while our physical body grows weak over time, our spirit can be nurtured; it can grow and develop. In fact, Paul goes on to say that our physical body is just a tent where our true spiritual self lives. God made us this way so that He could have fellowship with us. 

As spiritual beings, God has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In other words, we ponder life beyond the grave. We ask questions about our purpose here on earth and have an insatiable desire to analyze and understand the spiritual realm of existence. Don't you wonder about these things?

You need God because only He can answer these questions and fill that gaping void in your life. Sure, you can try to either fill that void or ignore the emptiness by watching movies, filling your life with pleasure, or by turning to alcohol or drugs, but until you turn to God, there will always be something missing!
2) Your life will be better with God in it.
I'm not saying that God will take away your problems, cure your ailments, or miraculously lead you down a path to guaranteed financial success. My only point here is that if you live by God's wisdom, you're going to make better decisions that will naturally lead to a better life.

For example, Proverbs is a book where God gives us advice on practically every aspect of the human experience. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes from his own experiences about the vanity of life, and how true purpose and value can only be found in religious service. The Bible is replete with examples of men and women who suffered and experienced the same things that we do; their stories preemptively warn us of the consequences of certain actions.

Moses observed that "the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always" (Deut. 6:24). Even Peter says that, "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good..." (1 Peter 3:10-11). You can try to live life your way, but Jeremiah 10:23 warns us that "it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps."

Christians aren't perfect. We make plenty of mistakes. Our lives aren't always blissful. But the more that we follow God's guide to life (i.e. the Bible), the more likely it is that we will have better relationships, better attitudes, and a better overall human experience. Even when we face hard times, we have "the peace of God which surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7) which comes from our security in Christ.
3) God gives us direction and purpose.

Do you ever wonder why you're here? Do you ever feel that you're just kind of going through the motions? Do you ever wonder if your life really matters in the grand scheme of things?

Nearly 3,000 years ago, the great King Solomon asked these questions...and do you know what he concluded? "What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever" (Eccl. 1:3-4). That's a rather bleak outlook, isn't it? But isn't it true, in a sense?

Even the apostle Paul observes that "when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness" (Romans 6:20). On one hand, it appears that there is more freedom and excitement in the world, and that a religious lifestyle will just sap your life of fun. But the apostle concludes in verse 21: "What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed?" You can ignore God now, but one day, you're going to regret it. A life without God has nothing to offer you long term.

Through Christ, however, you can have a purpose-driven life.

Everything that seems purposeless apart from God gains purpose when you give your life to Him.
  • Your job is more than just a paycheck; it is the means by which you gain the ability to help and bless other people. The Lord tells us to work hard so that we might "have something to give him who has need" (Eph. 4:28).
  • Our possessions are no longer seen as the source of our happiness, but as blessings from God that He intends for us to enjoy as we make our journey to our eternal home (Eccl. 2:25; James 1:17). When our 'things' are understood in the proper context, we find greater joy in life.
  • We're called to reach lost souls for Christ (Matt. 9:37-38) and to live in such a way that others can see Christ living in us (Phil. 1:20; 2:15). Our relationships and our place in society take on a whole new light with this in mind.
  • From your families to your hobbies; from your view of politics to the effects of politics and world affairs in your life, everything takes on a new meaning when you are living for God.
But more specifically, God actually has a specific role for you in His church. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says that we're baptized into the body (church) of Christ where we become functioning, purpose-driven members of His body (vs. 12-19). "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:4-5). In other words, God is saying to you, "I want you in My church! I have a special place for you in My kingdom!"
4) Serving God adds depth to your character and imparts wisdom.
It's true, unfortunately, that there are a lot of so-called "Christians" out there who are as shallow as a puddle in the desert. They are Christians in name only. They may go to church and carry a Bible around, but the fact is, there's very little difference between them and everyone else.

But you have to understand that this isn't God's intention for His people.

"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control, perseverance, to perseverance brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." (2 Peter 1:5-7).

To put it another way, baptism doesn't mark the end of our spiritual journey, but the beginning.

While a college education can teach you a lot about calculus, chemistry and creative writing, God offers us a life of spiritual education and training that is worth far more! "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8).
5) God offers you salvation!
You may see yourself as a good person - and you are in a human sense - but the fact remains that you have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). You have lied. You have lusted. You have lost your temper. You have done things that God never intended for you to do. We all have.

And your sins have separated you from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). It's as if you've committed spiritual crimes against God; you've violated His law, and so when the day of your judgment comes, you will be pronounced guilty before God (2 Corinthians 5:10). And no amount of good deeds will make up for the crimes you've committed.

This is why God sent Jesus. Through His death on the cross, our sins can be forgiven and our slate can be wiped completely clean. Paul explains it in Romans 5:8-9 when he says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."

Apart from Christ, there is nothing that you can do to be saved (John 14:6). So if you want to have heaven as your eternal home, you have to accept God's offer of salvation. You must believe in and trust in Jesus, repent of your sins, and be baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-5; Galatians 3:27).

I know that you have a lot on your mind. I know that the world seems to have a lot to offer. You may be thinking that you'll start serving God one day, just not today. Maybe you're young and don't want to make such a commitment this early in your life. Or maybe you're waiting on God to show Himself to you.

I don't know what you're thinking. What I do know is that that God loves you and that He has more to offer you than you realize. Salvation. Hope. Purpose. Family. Heaven.

What do you say? Can I help you find God's purpose for your life?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Departing From God in College

According to a study published in 2007 by the Social Science Research Council, 64% of students currently enrolled in a four-year institution reported a decline in church (or other religious) attendance. 1 This doesn't mean that universities rob young people of their religious faith or spirituality, but in the very least, it does tell us that the college lifestyle poses a challenge to religious service...something I think we all knew already.

Church attendance may suffer among college students for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with deep philosophical challenges to their faith. It could be the business of their schedules or the fact that they don't have transportation from campus to church. Some students may take part in on-campus Bible study groups instead of going to church. Others may commit to going to church when they're able to return home on weekends.

But let's not kid ourselves. There are sometimes deeper reasons behind the decline in religious and spiritual habits of college students.

For many young people, college represents freedom and independence - from their parents and the traditions that have defined them for 18+ years. This is the opportunity for them to discover who they really want to be, or to finally do what they have wanted to do for years. Because our religious roots can often be traced back to our parents, and because religion is often a part of our family tradition, this thrilling sensation of independence often prompts students to either abandon or challenge their religious faith (or the outward display of it, at least).

This is an excerpt from an ABC News article from 2005 entitled, "Are Students Losing Their Religion on Campus?"
From the day she was born, Ashley Parrish was taught to put God first in her life. She attended a Christian school, did missionary work in Mexico, and gave youth sermons at her local church -- then she left home for her freshman year of college. 
"When I came to college I was so excited to get out of the bubble that I'd been in, in high school and in my family, and i just kind of went crazy," Parrish said. 2
It's not always a yearning for independence that drives students away from their religious service. In many cases, it's the college lifestyle - the drinking, partying, sexual promiscuity and perhaps even drug use. Even the Bible speaks of "youthful lusts" (2 Timothy 2:22). For young people whose conscience has been trained by their religious upbringing, the guilt and shame alone could keep them from showing up at church on Sunday morning. 

Or maybe they convince themselves that this is their time to "sow their wild oats." They'll get back to God in a few years once they've had their fun.

Finally, it could very well be that college students who abandon their faith do so because they are philosophically challenged by their exposure to other religious and philosophical worldviews. As someone who ministers on the local university campus, I've talked to many young people who blame their departure from religion on the scientific evidence they hear for evolution, or the teachings of a philosophy or "religious studies" professor who reduces Christianity to an antiquated superstition that has outlived its purpose.

Again, I'm not saying that universities rob students of faith or spirituality. In fact, there are some studies which show that folks who go to college are more likely to retain their religious faith than those who don't go to college. Even still, there can be no doubt that college students face many challenges to their faith, with some even choosing to abandon faith altogether.

Hopefully, you can understand why this is a topic worth addressing. With so many college students questioning their need for God, or the role of God in their life, I'd like to emphasize five reasons that we need God. This will be the topic of my article on Monday.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Is God a Genocidal Maniac?

When the issue of morality is raised with atheists, they often respond by accusing the God of the Bible of being immoral. As an example, they point out that God slaughtered (or commanded the slaughter) of innocent people, women and children in the Old Testament (e.g. Deut. 7:1-2).

This is admittedly difficult, especially in light of our understanding of social justice here in 21st century America. There is no easy answer. And really, no answer will be satisfactory if one is determined to find fault with God. However, there are some things we can say here that will help us to address the challenge at hand.

The first problem is that we’re analyzing this from a human perspective. While it’s true that genocide and murder are immoral, they are only immoral because we do not have the right as mere humans to take the life of fellow humans. God, however, is the creator and originator of human life (Genesis 1:26-27), and because He has given life, He has the right to take it away (Job 1:21-22). He truly owes us no explanation (which infuriates atheists).

But contrary to the atheists’ charge, God has never arbitrarily or flippantly taken life. In Ezekiel 18:32, God says, “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies.” Peter adds that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). 

If God places such a high value on life, the logical question is, “What was God’s purpose for taking life in these instances?”

There are many instances in the Bible where God destroyed a nation (or people) because of its wickedness. The flood of Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are two examples. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the people had an opportunity to repent.

But when atheists accuse God of being a genocidal maniac, they usually have in mind the time when He commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the nations that inhabited the land of Canaan, not sparing women or even children (Deut. 7:1-2; Deut. 3:6; Josh. 6:21). What many fail to understand is that even this wasn’t without cause. 

When God promised Abraham that his descendants would one day inherit the land of Canaan, He told him that “the iniquity of Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen. 15:16). In other words, God couldn’t justly take the land of Canaan away from the Amorites (and other nations) so long as they were a just and moral people. God’s promise to Abraham was that his descendants (Israel) would conquer Canaan when the Amorites became so wicked that judgment against them was warranted. 

Along these same lines, Deuteronomy 9:5-6 says that Israel didn’t inherit the land of Canaan because of their righteousness, but “because of the wickedness of these nations.” Regarding the women, these were some of the same women who had caused the men of Israel to sin (Numbers 31:15-17).

These weren’t “innocent people” when you understand that immorality itself is a crime against the God of heaven. So God wasn’t arbitrarily wiping out nations of people. These were displays of divine justice against spiritual corruption.

This doesn’t quite explain the killing of the children, though, does it? This is the most challenging part of this issue, I admit. I don’t claim to have the perfect answer, but I do have an answer...

In the example of Israel’s conquering of Canaan, not only were they to utterly destroy the people, they were to tear down all the emblems of the idolatry that had plagued the land for so long (Deut. 7:5-6). This was about purging the land of its former identity so that the Israelites could have a fresh start in their mission of preserving the truth of God and bringing about the Messiah. Even though the children may have been innocent, God must have known that they would later revert to the pagan traditions of their forefathers.

And while this wasn't the reason that God commanded the slaughter of children, it is worth noting that young children would have gained immediate access to heaven.

Some will argue that the above explanation is nothing more than a vain attempt to defend the indefensible. I admit that I begin with the belief that God is holy, righteous and therefore innocent. But let’s not kid ourselves: the atheist often begins with the belief that God is unholy, unrighteous and therefore guilty. I have seen many an atheist eagerly charge God with sin without even knowing the details of what happened or the circumstances.

God’s love, mercy and patience are on display from Genesis to Revelation. In fact, the Bible is about God’s plan to save fallen man through Jesus. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). If God’s love and wisdom are so evident, and if He is sovereign, are we not going to give Him the benefit of the doubt when we struggle to understand His will?

Even when we don't understand how or why God does what He does, let us not forget that He is the Creator and we are the creation.