Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Monkey Selfies and Foolish Thinking

The biggest monkey trial since Scopes recently had a decision reached in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The monkey lost.

In a bizarre case that has been going on for nearly three years, a photographer who was in Indonesia had his camera swiped by a monkey and the monkey took a few photos.  One of those photos became extremely popular.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sued the photographer claiming that the copyright on the monkey selfie belonged to the monkey and not the human who owned the camera.  This silly case has reached pretty high in our court system... embarrassingly and humorously high.  But the court once again unanimously ruled that non-humans cannot own copyrights.

PETA took up this case to "expand legal rights for non-humans."  In the original settlement of this non-sequitur case the photographer named David John Slater donated a fourth of the revenue from the photo to a monkey charity.  I'm not making this up.  You can read about it here and elsewhere.

This whole story is funny at best and annoying at worst, right?  We all know that monkeys and other animals don't have the same rights as humans.  But why do we know this?  By what standard do we make this statement? 

Evolutionarily we are simply further developed or differently developed animals so what gives us the right to have rights other animals don't have?  Does might make right?  Just because I'm evolutionarily more advanced do I have power and prestige that a monkey doesn't?

Outside of the statements made by most religions including statements made in the Bible I see no objective reason that I can claim copyright privilege over a monkey.  Speciesism anyone? (Speciesism is a very real claim made by some extreme animal rights activist)

The Bible is very clear that humans are different from animals. 

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'

So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.

God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Genesis 1:26-28

God tells us objectively that there is a different majesty and authority given to humans that is not present in animals.  Animals are amazing and diverse and at times very intelligent but they are not humans.  Only humans were created in His likeness.  Men and women, boys and girls of all shapes, sizes, colors and personalities were created in God's image.  Every person on earth has the imago dei, the image of God, printed on them.

The Bible also speaks of treating animals well.

"The righteous man cares for the needs of his animal,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel." Proverbs 12:10

The Bible says the way we treat animals has a lot to say about our character, so we must treat them well.  But treating animals well and caring for them does not include equating them with humans.

What's the problem with equating animals with humans?  Won't animals be helped by this?

Animal rights may be elevated but human rights will be threatened.  Reasoning that goes outside of God's thinking in regards to humans and animals will nearly always tend toward blatant sin.  Equating people with animals hardly is about speciesism but rather racism that results in Japanese-Americans on trains to internment camps, Jews herded to concentration camps, Native Americans moved on trails of tears and Africans chained in sugar plantations.  If we don't recognize the imago dei that exists only in human beings and in all human beings we will error on counting certain colors of people as 3/5 of a person or judging what ability levels we want to treat as superior.

The monkey selfie trial is silly, but let's check our thinking with it.  If there is no objective truth that we use for our reasoning in this silly test we set our selves up for failure.  We must be able to answer the question, "why is it this way?" with an objective answer.  For the Christian the objective answer is, "because the Bible tells me so." 

All people are a unique and treasured creation.  Look for the imago dei in every human being you encounter today.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Not Cut Out to be Alone

I hope you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I hope you have time in your week to spend time alone with Jesus.  I pray that you do know that Jesus died for you personally.

However, too often in our individualistic culture forget that while Jesus died for us individually and personally He did so to bring us together as His Church.

"As you come to Him, the living Stone... rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:4-5

Peter calls Christians living stones that are being built into a spiritual house.  Stones are cut out from rocks and shaped into blocks for the express purpose of being used for building.  A stone, like you and I, must be molded and chiseled and smoothed out by the craftsman before it is of any good.  There is some truth to be gleaned from this imagery.  God will make us into what He needs us to be for His building project.

There is a lot in the metaphor Peter uses but what I want to focus on today is this:

We weren't cut out to be alone.

While we have a personal relationship with Jesus.  While Jesus is my Lord, He is not mine alone.  God sent Jesus to redeem His Church.  God the Father crushed His Son to purchase individuals that come together to collectively be this spiritual house, this body, this bride.  We are not meant to do this alone.  In fact, doing it alone is against the purposes of the Gospel.

So, how do we do this in the age of Youtube sermons from our favorite pastors in our living rooms, radio stations playing the top worship songs in our cars and podcasts of our most favorite teachers on our phones alone in our easy chairs?  In an age of individualism and isolation, an age of über-connection yet physical solitude, how do we live as living stones being built into a spiritual house?

I believe we do this best in the local church.  Until the Church universal can be in one place at one time (and I look forward to that day) we best follow the Bible's design for us in the local church.  Yes, we could kind of do this in informal gatherings with other believers, but we do it best in an organized local church.

I say organized local church because stones are meant to be assembled in an organized fashion.  Anyone constructing a building will have plans for how that building will be assembled.  Jesus is no different.  We were left with all sorts of plans for how we living stones are to assemble.  We are given a good hierarchy in the Scriptures that has plenty of wiggle room for various style preferences and cultures.  We are given the offices of elder and deacon.  We are given different giftings of people that will be present in the local church.

See, the organization of the local church: the deacons, elders, pastors, teachers, etc is a good thing.  Men and women assembled together in an organized fashion (i.e. church constitutions and mission statements) better reflect the glory of our God of Order (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Christians, we were not cut out to be alone.  We are chosen by God to be together rubbing shoulders as stones in a spiritual house.  So, join a local church.  Get involved in being part of something larger than yourself.  Live as a living stone being built into a spiritual house by the Master Craftsman today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

God Overpaid

This past Sunday I got to listen to one of my favorite preachers, my dad.  He preached on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 which is about sexual immorality.  There was much from the sermon that I took home with me but one line from the passage struck me in the gut.

"You are not your own, you were bought at a price." 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a

What landed on me when that passage was read was that God overpaid for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling God foolish, because He is the very definition of wisdom.  Many love the song "Reckless Love" and I guess I'm tapping into that sort of hyperbolic idea (though I hadn't ever heard the song until after this Sunday).  From my perspective and from what most of the Bible says it seems that God overpaid for me.

Sin is a serious offense and the wages of sin is death.  Someone had to die to fix the problem of sin.  God had to be just and therefore blood had to be shed to provide forgiveness for my sin.  When I say that God overpaid I'm not saying that remedying the mess of sin didn't require a perfect sacrifice.

God overpaid because there is no way that I'm worth that much.  There is no way on the trading block I'm worth being swapped with Jesus in a trade.  Even if you pair me and all of humanity there is no way all of us in exchange for the Son of God is a fair trade.

God overpaid for me.  I was bought at a price and if I were God I would not pay that price for me and I wouldn't pay it for you.

But God in His infinite love did pay that price!

In 2011 Mikeschair released a song called "Someone Worth Dying For".  I really, really appreciate what the song was trying to accomplish.  It was trying to give people who felt worthless and hopeless a message that said that Jesus loves them and that they have a reason to live.  However, I must disagree with the lyrics' theology.  I must disagree with the title and chorus.

God did not send Jesus to die for us because we were WORTH it.  No, His love for us is so much better than that.  He loves us so much that He overpaid.  He paid the highest price possible for us when we our market value wasn't near that price.  He paid a price that we simply weren't worth.

But don't sell your self short.  You are worth a lot in God's eyes.

Have you ever watched Antiques Roadshow or something like that?  Have you ever wondered why some of those items are worth so much?  Have you ever thought that the price estimated on those items was a joke?  Well, those items are only worth the estimated price because someone is willing to pay that price.  Someone really loves Victorian era tea cups and will pay a handsome price for one.  The worth of those items doesn't come from their usefulness but from the price someone is willing to pay for it.

You are worth a lot.  Your life is worth so much because you were bought at a price.  You were bought at an insanely high price.  Now live your life, in all areas, with the knowledge that you were bought at a high price.  You were bought at an extremely high price therefore honor God with your life today.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Resurrection Sunday- Victory in Jesus!

This is the culmination of Holy Week.  This is Resurrection Sunday!  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

The actual, physical, historical resurrection of the man Jesus is a beyond crucial piece of the Good News we share.

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, the He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then the Twelve.  After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time..." 1 Corinthians 15:3-6a

On this Resurrection Sunday we proclaim the essential truth that Jesus is risen.  That Jesus died and was buried and rose from the grave.  And now we die to sin because He died, and we will rise from the dead because He rose from the dead.

"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead.  But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." 1 corinthians 15:12-22

Resurrection Sunday is us proclaiming that Christ has indeed been raised and with Him we win!

"'Death has been swallowed up in victory.'
      'Where, O death, is your victory?
       Where, O death, is your sting?'

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57

We who are in Christ celebrate victory today.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday- Here But Not Yet

Today is Holy Saturday of Holy Week.  To review what we've done this week: Holy Monday we looked at the bad news that makes the Good News great, on Holy Tuesday we thought about being made in God's image rather than making Him in ours, on Spy Wednesday we looked at the dangers of disordered love, on Maundy Thursday we saw a prayer of courageous surrender, and on Good Friday we remembered how Christ died to replace us on the cross.  On this Holy Saturday we're going to look at the state of our Christian life between the cross and the empty tomb.

Holy Saturday is the day that most mirrors our everyday Christian life.  Holy Saturday represents the here but not yet reality of our current faith.  Good Friday is the day that Jesus purchased our redemption and our future home in Heaven and Resurrection Sunday is the day we think about death's reality being changed and all the hope of Christianity being fulfilled.  Holy Saturday is that wholly strange day in between.  It is the day when our hope in the promise is tested.

Below is a post I wrote six years ago that highlights the lesson of Holy Saturday.


Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter.  Today is Saturday.  "Duh, Matt."  But let's think about that a bit today.

On my Good Friday post I wrote about Jesus' victory cry of "It is finished!"  Tomorrow we will celebrate Easter which is the experience that the victory cry is truth.  Saturday we are left unsure.  If Jesus just dies for us He is just one of the most loving people in history, but He is not Savior.  Good Friday is great but it is only a neat story without Easter.  But what about Saturday?

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in Saturday.  What I mean is I know the victory is mine to claim with Christ, but I haven't seen its completion.

"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6  I know that He will completely perfect me, but it hasn't been completed yet.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4  I know this is true but I see cancer and heartache every day.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Romans 16:20  I know I will crush Satan's head but right now he's tormenting me.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

We live much of our life in Saturday.  The victory has been declared but we can't realize or see it fully yet.  That is why we must hold on to the promise of victory in faith.  Easter will come into its fulness in everything that was promised.  Until then believe the truth of Good Friday, "It is finished!"  Saturday will pass and the sun will come up tomorrow.  The Son will return and we will see that "It is finished!"

Hold fast to the promises of Christ because they will come to pass.  Look forward to tomorrow and in doing so endure today.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday- Propitiation

This is Good Friday of Holy Week.  On Holy Monday we looked at the bad news that makes the Good News great, on Holy Tuesday we thought about being made in God’s image and not making Jesus in ours, on Spy Wednesday we looked at the dangers of disordered love and on Maundy Thursday we looked at a prayer of courageous surrender.  Today let’s take a good look at Good Friday.

I recently heard a pastor say that Good Friday is about how God loved us so much.  God loved us so much that He died on the cross so He could relate to all of our human suffering, even death on an awful cross.  He said that Good Friday tells us that no matter what suffering we’re going through that God is with us in it and understands it. 

Much of what this pastor said is true.  We do have a high priest who can relate with all of our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).  Good Friday is a loud proclamation that God loves us so much.  But I disagree that this is the core of what Good Friday is about.

Jesus didn’t die to relate to us, He died to replace us.

Propitiation has become a dirty word for some Christian circles but this is what Good Friday is about at its core.  Good Friday does indeed announce that God loves us so much, but it also proclaims that we needed someone to die for us.  The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), so we needed someone to take what we earned.  Before Christ we were by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), so we needed someone to die to satisfy the just wrath of God.  In Adam all men die, but in Christ men live (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).  Adam’s life started the death-making curse of sin; Jesus’s death started the life-making power of grace. 

Propitiation is not a four-letter word.

Propitiation is what we needed.  Without the cross we aren’t in danger of having a God that couldn’t relate to us, no without the cross we are in danger of being crushed as an enemy of Almighty God.  Christ replaced us.  It was the Father’s will to crush His Son (Isaiah 53:10) and not Matthew Thomas Ray.

This Good Friday the love of God will be magnified before us because the wrath of God was satisfied by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Good Friday is at its core about justice and grace intersecting in the shape of a cross.

We needed Jesus to die for us.  Worship Him with awe, wonder, sorrow and thankfulness for replacing us today.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Maundy Thursday- A Prayer of Courageous Surrender

This is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week.  On Holy Monday you and I thought about the bad news that makes the Good News great, on Holy Tuesday we examined how we are not to make Jesus in our own image and on Spy Wednesday we looked at how disordered love can steal our faith and trust in Jesus.  Today on Maundy Thursday let's look at how we are called to give up control of our lives and follow God.

Many events occurred on Maundy Thursday including the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples' feet and the new commandment given to Jesus' followers.  But I want to look briefly at the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden before He was betrayed by Judas and arrested. 

"'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.'  An angel from Heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground." Luke 22:42-44

Jesus' prayer is a prayer filled with earnest pleading and beautiful, courageous surrender.  Jesus badly wanted to avoid all the pain and suffering of the cross.  He didn't get pleasure from being scourged and spit on and hit and nailed to a cross and suffocated to death naked in front of a crowd of mockers.  Yet He courageously surrendered to the plan of the Father.

"yet not my will, but yours be done."

Jesus is the perfect example of what we are called to.  Jesus trusted God the Father's plan enough to submit to it even to though it led to His death.  Jesus is and was and always will be co-equal to the Father and the Spirit and yet He submitted to the Father's will.  You and I are not and never will be anywhere near equal to the Father and it's not even close; yet we too often fail to submit to God's will.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane models what beautiful, courageous surrender looks like.  It is surrender even if suffering is caused by following God's will.  It is surrender that looks not to our own rights, but to the glory of the One to whom we surrender.

See this week we've remembered how we are all sinners in need of saving.  We've examined how we are all guilty of trying to bend God to our own desires rather than bending to His.  We've remembered how disordered our loves can be and how that causes sin and grief to ourselves and others.  This prayer of courageous surrender is a response to where we've already been this week.  We are sinners in need of saving.  Today and tomorrow we turn our remembrance from our need for saving and to the historical events that led to the purchase of our redemption.

Be like Jesus and pray a prayer of courageous surrender today.

Below is a post from two years ago on Maundy Thursday I think is worth a reread.

Maundy Thursday

Today in Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday.  This day we remember Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples before the crucifixion and His washing of their feet.  Maundy is a word derived from Middle English and Latin meaning mandate or command.  On this day we remember a command Jesus gave.  Let's look at that command found in the book of John.

"It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'

Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'

'No,' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.'

Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'

'Then Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and head as well!'

Jesus answered, 'A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.'  For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?'  He asked them.  'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."  John 13:1-17

So, what is the command or Maundy in this passage?

We must first examine what Jesus did.  Jesus, the greatest in the room by far, assumed the role of the least and washed the feet of the disciples.  In that culture the servant that washed the feet of people had a crummy job, the guest of honor would never do this job nor would the least honored guest if there was a servant around.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even though He was aware of His actual place amongst the other men in the room.

Jesus also washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who He knew would betray Him that same night.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even for His enemy.

So, what is the command?  The Maundy of Maundy Thursday is to do as Jesus did.  Christians must be the servant of all, both high and low.  There is no one too low for the Christian to serve.  If the Almighty can wash the feet of some lowly men from Israel, then you can and must serve anyone.

Christians must also not only tolerate our enemies but also serve them.  If Jesus can wash the feet of the man who would betray Him in a matter of hours then so we must follow suit.  You might not use the word 'enemy' but is there someone you'd be shocked to have to serve?  Is there someone you'd rather avoid than serve?  Maybe it's the Syrian man or woman needing refuge.  You may be scared because of what had happened recently, but Jesus commands us to serve them.  Maybe it's the person who votes differently than you.  Maybe it's the one whose sexuality differs from yours.  We aren't commanded to bend the truth in any way, He's not asking you to call right what is wrong; He's telling you to serve them anyway.

Here's what Jesus is not commanding:  "I served you, so you serve me."  This would be easy.  There are a billion reasons to serve Jesus.  Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."  Jesus commands us to serve one another, even when the one anothers in our life don't deserve it.  Remember in Matthew 25 Jesus said "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me."  We serve Jesus by serving others, especially those that society deems are below us or our enemies.

Remember Jesus' Maundy or mandate for us.  Be a servant like your Master Jesus today.