Tag Archives: devil

3 reasons bad things happen [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s involvement in our lives. Part 2]

19 Mar

Does everything happen for a reason? Many people believe so, but as we discussed yesterday, sometimes things happen because of the kind of world we live. What do I mean by that? What kind of world do we live in? Our world demonstrates at least the following three tendencies that very much affect why things happen.

First, something scientists call the second law of thermodynamics – this is a principle of heat transfer that says things, generally, move from order to disorder.  The technical word for this is entropy.  Things rot, they rust, they wear out, they break.  It is the super-rare exception that a car, for example, would improve its working order.  Cars break down and need tune ups.  Our bodies heal, yes, but the normal tendency is that they age and break down.  This is what Paul is likely referring to in Romans 8:21 when he says that creation is in bondage to decay.

Second, Satan is in the world, tempting, lying, and as we read in Scripture devouring. And he is no joke.  We should be cautious in our view of Satan’s influence.  I so often hear that a person is going through a difficult situation because of Satan.  But we really don’t know that Satan is responsible, do we?  If your car is broken down, it’s almost certainly not because of Satan; it is because cars follow the second law of thermodynamics, and they break down.  It seems to me that we are generally too quick to blame Satan, and maybe we blame Satan when it was actually our own fault.  He is real, though, and powerful, and he does tempt and devour.

The third way to describe our world is talk about the broken and fallen nature of people.  People are in the world using their free will in ways that are selfish and harmful.  Sometimes we are dealing with pain of our own making.  Sometimes the pain is brought on us by others.  Sometimes it is both.  Because we have free will, and we don’t always use it in a way that is in keeping with God’s Kingdom, it leads to pain. 

But does that mean God is hand’s off?  Deism is a view of God that says this.  God created the universe, he set things in motion, but is now hand’s off.  Like a bowler releasing his bowing ball.  Is God like that?

Or is God in control?  That is the second phrase we’re fact-checking.  I’m bringing them together at this point because they are related.  “God is in control” is very much connected to the idea that “Everything happens for a reason.”  Usually we think of God like that.  He is in control, and therefore the pain we’re going through must have meaning or a purpose.  There is a reason. 

But does God control things like that?  If he does, then why is there so much pain and evil in the world?  Some people state, assuming that God is good and that God is all-powerful, that he would control the world so that there would not be pain or evil. Because the world is obviously filled with pain and evil, they conclude that either God is not good or God is not all-powerful.  As a result, some say, God doesn’t exist. 

These are deep questions, hard questions, scary to bring up.  But let’s face it head on.  What do we Christians do with this situation of evil and wickedness in the world?  Is God in control? 

We Christians respond to this in a number of ways.  And that is what we will investigate in our next post, so check back in!

How much land does a man need? and other temptations and discontentment

23 Jan

Is there a certain area of your life where you are constantly tempted?

I am listening to an audio book this week. It is called How Much Land Does a Man Need? by famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is famous for his mammoth works like Anna Karenina or War and Peace, as well as for his desire to live out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But How Much Land Does a Man Need is a very short story. James Joyce called it the greatest short story of all time.

how much land does a man needIn it Tolstoy tells the tale of a peasant, Pahom, who progressively desires and gets more and more land. Each time he is excited about the new land thinking it will give him the kind of life he yearns for. But as time goes by, even as he does well for himself, each time he gets more land he soon grows discontent with it. He wants more. He finds out about some well-landed people who are willing to sell land cheap. One ruble per acre! So he travels to them, bearing gifts to impress them.  They love the gifts, and he says he is interested in purchasing land.  They like him and are willing to sell at the very cheap price he heard about, but they offer to sell the land in a most unusual deal.

They give him the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land for a very low price, but the parcel size is based on how far he can walk in one day. It is very simple. He has from sunup to walk as far as he wants, stake out the land, but he has to return to his starting point by sundown. Sounds great, right?

There’s a catch. If he does not return to the spot of departure within a day’s time, he loses his money and the land.  Pahom is delighted!  So off he goes excited thinking he is going to get a steal. It should be very easy to get more land than he ever dreamed of.

I think about when I have run marathons around the city of Baltimore. I took me about four hours. You can cover a lot of ground in four hours.  You’re totally exhausted, but you’ve covered a lot of ground.  How broad an area do you think you could cover from sunup to sundown?  Ten square miles?  More? Less?

How do you think Pahom did? Think he went out too far didn’t make it back? Good guess, close, but you’re wrong. He actually made it back. In time. But that is not the end of the story.

But greed and discontent got in the way. Discontent fueled his heart, his desire. Greed was his temptation.  You will be surprised to hear the end of the story.

We are all tempted by many things. What is it about our inner desire that gives temptation its power?

Is temptation so powerful in and of itself? No. Temptation is powerful because of something inside us. Some psychologists call this the empty self. We have an emptiness within us, and we long to fill it. We are discontent. When we are discontent, it is very, very hard to defeat temptation.

Jesus was once at the place in his life where he had every reason to be discontent. Satan knew it. As he knows when we are discontent. In that moment he can strike with a temptation that is nearly impossible to defeat.

In Luke 4:1-15 we see this work out in Jesus’ life.  And we’ll hear what happens because of the discontent in Pahom’s life.  Join us at Faith Church on Sunday!

Multiple worship services ARE of the devil!

5 Nov

Yes, having multiple worship services are of the devil…if we let them be.

Let me explain.

It is very interesting how we go through life and end up changing our minds about things.

For example, how did I go from this to this?  If you don’t want to fully read those two blog posts, here’s a brief summary.  In the first post, written in February, I make the argument that it would be wrong for us to have multiple worship services because people need to give up their consumer mindset and be unified.  In the second post, written last week, I explain that in June we started a second worship!

All it took was the short time from February to June for my mind to change.  Actually it was a bit quicker than that because the decision to start an early traditional worship service was made in April or May. I remember during that time feeling a bit like a hypocrite.  I had written an impassioned blog post decrying consumeristic Christianity (which I still agree is a problem), and now I’m appearing to give in to consumerism.

I remember the series of meetings our church Council had about it. Things got very emotional.  People were making points to support their position, and we didn’t have any kind of consensus.  Between meetings I thought and prayed about it a lot.  I talked with people and sought out their wisdom.  At one point a different perspective struck me.  When God wanted to express his amazing love to us, he didn’t say “Jump through these hoops and get to me.”  Instead, he knew we were unable to reach him, and he gave up a whole heck of a lot to reach us.  Philippians 2:1-11 tells the story pretty well.

As I thought about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, I compared that to our worship situation.  For the previous six years we had asked people to sacrifice in order to worship together.  But this was the opposite of how God looked at us.  No doubt God calls for us to sacrifice for him, but he took the first massive step.  I pondered this and knew my heart and mind was changing.  When it came to worship, we, the leadership, first needed to sacrifice for our people before asking them to sacrifice.  We needed to give of ourselves as an act of love.  That act of love needed to be a new worship service specifically for people who prefer a traditional style.

The idea was born.

At the next meeting, I sat quietly while the Council debated numerous ideas.  After 30, 40, or 50 minutes, I don’t know, I decided to submit my proposal.  I explained the change in my heart and mind, and then I suggested that we start an 8am service in a traditional style.  No volunteers, just me in a suit and tie, and our worship leader playing hymns.  We would use the offering plates and the doxology.  Same order of worship every week.  An act of love.

And it passed.

I expected 5-10 people to show up, with 10 being a victory.  I was afraid it would be only 5.  For five months now, we’ve averaged 15.  It’s tiny, but that doesn’t matter.  It’s not about numbers, but instead about giving in love.  After a three month trial the attenders thought we would shut it down, but instead we removed the “trial period” label and made it a permanent service.  We’ve found at least one unexpected benefit: people who are serving in various ministries and would normally have to miss the 9:30 worship can now come to the early service.

Are there any downsides?  Sure.  Our worship leader has to wake up earlier and prepare a whole set of extra songs.  We used to have a Sunday AM worship practice prior to the 9:30 service, but that is now impossible, so she also has to have a new practice time on a weekday night.  She has graciously sacrificed more for this venture than anyone.  I have to get up earlier too.

What of the other downside I refer to in my previous post, the possibility that this additional worship service has led to disunity in the church?  Is Satan at work in this?  I think not.  Not if we respond to the concern in a healthy way.  Here’s how I finished my sermon this past week to address this:

Unity cannot be accomplished by sitting in the same room as other people during a worship service. To borrow an illustration that Billy Graham used about shots, such as flu shots: perhaps by having worship together, and thus having a small dose of fellowship each week, we’ve inoculated ourselves from the real thing.  Building a relationship that leads to unity takes a lot of time outside the walls of the church. Let’s envision fellowship in a whole new way. Miss people from the other service? Give them a call, a visit, take them out for lunch, coffee, and spend a good long time with them. Then do it again and again. Invite them to dinner. Pray together, serve together, etc.

Unity takes work.  Unity is not easy.  Unity can be messy. Unity requires sacrifices. 

So how are you going to pursue unity with the people at the other worship service?

Could starting an additional worship service be of the devil?

1 Nov

Well, could it?  People have wondered this.

We started an 8am worship service a few months ago, in addition to our 9:30am service.  We did not need to have another worship because lack of space necessitated it.  We have plenty of room in our sanctuary for our current attendance on Sundays.

People wondered if starting the early service was a bad idea.  Some even cautiously speculated that the devil might be at work in the process.  The reason they thought this is that adding the extra worship service can give the impression of disunity.  There are now two groups.  The 8am people and the 9:30am people.  It seems that this is not a good thing, especially when our sanctuary could fit them all at the same time.  Is this not division in the church?  A kind of church split?  We know the devil loves those.

This concern was part of the reason that we balked at the idea of two services as long as we did.  Since I’ve been at Faith Church, we have been discussing this at least as far back as 2007.  We want unity.  We have asked people to give up their worship style preferences so that we can have a visible expression of unity, worshiping together on Sunday mornings.  As a result, starting in 2007, we decided to hold one blended worship service, half traditional, half contemporary.  I don’t feel it went very well.  (And yet, look what I wrote here.  Interesting the change.)  You set out to please everyone a little bit, and you end up pleasing no one.  20-25 people left the church because they felt it was too contemporary.  Others visited and never came back because it was too traditional.  Unity?

I wish we would have started a second traditional service years ago.  The heart behind our decision to do so earlier this year was love.  Express love by ministering to people in their language.  For some in our congregation, that language is traditional worship.  We have 15-20 people that attend the early service.  Could it be the work of the devil that we are reaching out to them in love?

And what of unity?  Some people from both services have legitimately expressed concern that they miss seeing and talking to the people from the other service.  That is a great concern!  The issue is not how the new service broke unity, but instead how we will pursue unity in spite of the new service.  What do you think you could do to be unified with those who attend the other service?  Is there Scripture that might apply to this?  We’ll talk about this more on Sunday, but feel free to start discussing here now.