Monday, September 25, 2017

Popular Across Facebook

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that Facebook has a new feature.  Stories and videos pop up in my news feed with the title "Popular Across Facebook."  No doubt our internet overlords at Facebook have determined that these videos and stories are ones that I am likely to read or watch based on other links that I have clicked in my social media browsing history, so these stories and videos are supposedly tailored to my interests.

But rather than identifying with these stories and videos and their popularity "across Facebook," I find them repulsive.  I hate them.

The reason I hate them is that they are filled with messages designed to get me to believe in false gods.  They are videos of "pastors" and "preachers" of a false gospel that has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.  You see, based on my browsing history, I've been lumped into a culturally Christian sub-category, and internet codes have determined that the popular stories and videos that I will most likely watch and/or read are Christian ones.  And so Facebook has shown me videos that are popular amongst the Christian sub-category.  The only problem is that the Christianity peddled (and I use that word intentionally) and espoused by the majority of these preachers and their videos looks nothing like biblical Christianity.

Rather, they preach a gospel of prosperity.  They preach a gospel of healing - but only if your faith is good enough.  They preach a gospel of God as a life-enhancement program that will help you live up to your fullest potential so that you can get that promotion at work, get a new car and house, and finally have fulfillment in life.  They preach a gospel that makes God out to be a good luck charm, rather than the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In short, these videos that are so "popular across Facebook" are promoting false gospels and the worship of false gods.  Indeed, it is accurate to say that idolatry is popular across Facebook.

Ancient Israel was a people who struggled with idolatry.  They were surrounded by other nations and people-groups who had their own ethnic deities, and Israel began to regard those false gods of other nations as being on par with the one true God.  They had a low view of God.  They didn't regard him as the one true and living God of the universe who reigns and rules over all and to whom all submission is to be given.  Rather, they regarded him as a casual deity who could help them live their best life now.  And if he didn't help them live their best life now, then they didn't have to worry because there were a plethora of other gods waiting in the wings that they could look to for help.  To them, God was merely a good luck charm, or maybe a butler who they could rely on to help them and do nice things for them.

It's no wonder that they left him when they got a better offer from somewhere else.

This is why Israel fell into idolatry - not because there was some kind of better power in these false gods, but because they had a low view of the one true God.  They thought he was simply one god among many.  Sure, he could help you now and again, but next month you might get a better offer from a different god, and so you go where the winds of idol worship take you.

Don't be fooled into thinking that idolatry was an ancient Israelite problem.  It's just as prevalent today in our culture as ever it was, and it is even existent in the American church.  Many people who call themselves Christians treat God as their butler.  They're not going to submit to him, but instead they want God to submit himself to their desires.  Sure, they might call on him when they need him, but when things are going alright in their lives, then they're going to pursue their own desires.  They're not going to concern themselves with what he wants from them - at least not until they might need him to get out of a scrape.  And if God won't give them what they want, then they'll go and find someone or something who will.

That is idolatry.  And it is no different than the idolatry with which Israel struggled throughout the Old Testament, except maybe that our idolatry doesn't involve worshipping a statue made out of stone or metal.  I heard a pastor say once that the most idolatrous time of the week in this country is at 10:30 on Sunday mornings, because there are many people who go to church to worship a god of convenience, or a god who will be their good-luck charm, a god who serve them.

And the reason for 21st century American idolatry is the exact same as it was for Israel: we have a low view of God.  As evidenced by the videos that are popular across Facebook, so many people view Go as a life enhancement program, or as a good luck charm, or even as a butler who exists to serve their every need.  But that is a false god, not the God of the Bible.  And these false gods are peddled to the American Christian subculture, and people eat it up.

The reason that many people - even Christians - are prone to idolatry is that they have no knowledge of the God of the Bible because they have forsaken his word.  It's easy to see a slick, silver-tongued pastor on Facebook and fall in love with his message about how God wants you to be healthy and wealthy, because we are prideful creatures, and if we're honest, the idea of being healthy and wealthy is very attractive to us.  And such we have such a minuscule foundation of biblical truth in our heads and hearts we will quickly move our trust and devotion to whichever god can satisfy our selfish desires.  Put simply, because we do not know the true God according to his word, we will fall to any false god that we find attractive.

1 Peter 3.18 says that "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  God wants nothing more than for all people to come to repentance and faith so that he can save them.  But he will not save them if they come to him as a good luck charm.  He will not save them if they are only coming to him to live their best life now.  He will not save them if they come to him to find health, wealth, and prosperity.  He calls people to repent and believe and to worship him in spirit and in truth, according to his word.

God will not compete with the false idols that are popular across Facebook.  He calls us to know him in truth, and in order to know him we must turn to his word.  It is easy to spot a false idol when we know the real thing.  Regardless of how "popular across Facebook" these idols are, they need to be smashed.

Know yourself.  Know the Bible.  Know God.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hurricanes and the Cross

Over the past few weeks parts of the country have been hit by two category four hurricanes: Texas, devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and Florida, which most recently felt the impact of Hurricane Irma.  Harvey has claimed at least 70 lives, and Irma more than 40, and untold hundreds of millions of dollars in property has been damaged or destroyed.  In the wake of these natural disasters, it has been a wonderful encouragement to see the world in general and the church in specific rising up to meet the needs of our fellow human beings.  Humanitarian efforts and the prayers of thousands have gone out to assist those whose lives have been so violently and drastically changed by these weather events.  When we help those in need we have the glorious opportunity to image our life-giving God who likewise provides for us in our time of need.  Let us show him to those who suffer as a result of these hurricanes by helping them in their time of need.

When natural disasters such as these occur, it can be tempting to try and discern the reason(s) for why they have happened, or why, in particular, God has either allowed or caused them to take place.  Unfortunately, some (usually high profile) Christian celebrities sometimes foolishly connect the occurrence of natural disasters to sinful behaviors or political ideologies.  But the Bible does not tell us how or why we should link specific natural disasters to other circumstances in the world.  In other words, we have no biblical justification for saying "Hurricane Harvey happened because _______________."  We simply have no basis for knowing specifically why a natural disaster has taken place.

That being said, the Bible does guide our thinking when it comes to the occurrence of natural disasters.  Although it does not give us specific reasons why a disaster occurs, it does give us at least four general principles that we should consider, especially in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

1. Natural disasters remind us that this world is not as it should be.  All of us intrinsically know that when people have been killed by a natural disaster, it is not right; it is not good; it is not the way the world was meant to operate.  God created the world perfectly, and in his perfect creation there were no natural disasters.  The entrance of sin into the world brought with it death and destruction.  The world became a dangerous place to live when mankind fell into sin.  Since then, the world has been "subjected to futility" and in "bondage to corruption," and has been waiting eagerly for the time when it will be remade once more into a perfect dwelling place where that corruption and futility will be no more. (Rom. 8.20-22)  When we hear about the death and destruction that has take place as a result of the recent hurricanes, it is a reminder to us that the world is a sinful, fallen place where bad things happen.

2. Natural disasters remind us that Jesus is coming back.  Over the past couple of weeks I have seen several social media posts about how the existence of these two very severe hurricanes so close in proximity to one another is a "sign of the times," or in other words, a fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Jesus' return is more eminent than it was prior to the hurricanes or had the hurricanes not occurred.  It is true that natural disasters such as these remind us that Jesus is coming back, but it is not accurate to say that his return is more eminent now that the hurricanes have taken place.  When the Bible speaks of "signs of the times" it does not do so in such a way as to give us clues about the exact date or hour of Jesus' return, but rather as a general reminder that he is coming to recreate the heavens and the earth into a glorious dwelling where life will flourish and death and destruction will be abolished.  Hurricanes and other natural disasters point us to his future return, and encourage us to long for his return and for things to be made right again.

3. Natural disasters remind us that we're all going to die.  We are all close to death, be it by a natural disaster or at the hands of a drunk driver, or simply an accident.  In Luke 13 Jesus comments on an accidental disaster that had taken place in Jerusalem: a tower had collapsed and killed 18 people.  Jesus says that it was not for any specific sin that these people were killed by the tower collapse.  They were not more evil than others.  The tower simply fell on them fell on them.  In the past year I personally have lost two acquaintances due to accidental circumstances: one by a drunk driver, and the other by an accidental drowning.  Both of those acquaintances were relatively healthy men in the prime of their lives who, on the day of their deaths, certainly did not plan on their lives ending.  But the reality is that death is close to each of us, every day.  When we think about natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it should remind us that we are all close to death, and that one day, much sooner than we think, it will be our time to die.

4. Natural disasters push us towards the cross.  Natural disasters not only remind us that we are all going to die some day, but they also encourage us to be ready to die.  Because we live in a world that has been disastrously affected by sin, and because death is close to each of us simply because we get out of bed in the morning, it behooves us to be ready to face it.  Again in Luke 13, as Jesus comments on the collapse of the tower that killed 18 Jerusalem citizens, Jesus says that the lesson to be learned from such a tragedy is to repent - to turn from our sin.  When we see suffering as a result of natural tragedy, we should realize that our time is coming, and that we need to be ready for it.  Each of us were born into a sinful state, separated from God.  In that natural, sinful state we are not able to live at peace with God.  But God has reconciled this - our most basic human need - by sending his Son into the world to live a perfect life and die a perfect death, and then rise from the dead.  By grace through faith in Jesus, we can be ready for when our time comes.  When we hear reports of death and destruction, we should be reminded of the folly of sin and our own need for redemption, and cling ever tighter to the cross and the redemption offered by and through the one who hung there.

In the wake of these recent disasters, the church has a wonderful opportunity to be Jesus to the world.  We can be his hands and feet as we meet the needs of those who have been touched by tragedy and loss, and we can be his witnesses to this world that is devastated by death and destruction of the life-giving, glorious truth of the gospel: death is coming for each of us, but it is not the end.  There is a Savior who will rescue us from its effects so that we need not fear when the rain comes and winds blow.