Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Prayer for the Persecuted

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani wife and mother of five, used these words to defend her faith against mocking co-workers who tried to make her convert to Islam: "Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins....Our Christ is alive.” She was later convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death, which she currently awaits in prison (as of May 27, 2014, her appeal has been postponed for the fifth time). Asia has given up everything for her faith: her family, her freedom, and her potentially her life. She has been in prison since 2009.

Once-in-a-while, when I lay in bed at nighthome and safe with my familyI think of her. I confess that, often, too much time passes by when I forget to think of her. Life gets busy, I get preoccupied. And then, all of a sudden, I remember her. And I'm struck by how much has happened in my life since the last time I thought of her. But she's still there, waiting on death row. So, then, with a heavy-heart, I pray for her. Sometimes, the prayers seem pointless. It has been so long since she was imprisoned and our prayers seem to be going unanswered. But this is to look at Asia's plight through earthly eyes.

Asia once shared this story with a Christian ministry worker who was able to visit her in prison:

"There is a beautiful thing that happens every day in my cell. Two days after they announced my death penalty, I was brought into [death row]. Every morning around 3:30 or 4, a brown bird with a long beak appears and sits on the boundary wall. This bird also comes every evening around 5. He sits there for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. Later on he became my friend. I talk to him and he also talks to me."

I pray that the bird still visits her. I pray that Asia is not in despair. I pray that seeing the bird reminds her of Jesus' words, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matt 6:26). Asia Bibi is so very precious to our great God. She has not been forgotten by the One who loves her, who created her, and gave His life for her. I pray that in the midst of her long-term suffering that she remains encouraged and that she's continually filled with peace that passes understanding and hope that's rooted in Christ.

The Muslim governor of Asia Bibi's home province who fought for her and her family, was brutally murdered by Islamists. Her family lives in fear for their lives and are in hiding. 

Sadly Asia's story is not uncommon. There currently are many Christians being ruthlessly persecuted all over the world. 

In Sudan, a Christian mother and practicing medical doctor, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim (age 27), was recently arbitrarily detained, charged with adultery and apostasy by a Sudanese Public Order Court. She has subsequently been sentenced to death. Because she was born in Sudan, she is considered a Muslim by default, making her marriage to her non-Muslim husband illegal in the eyes of Sudan's Public Order Criminal Code. Adultery and apostasy are each punishable by 100 lashes and death. UPDATE BELOW.

Meriam was heavily pregnant with her second child at the time of her arrest. She gave birth (in a prison clinic with her legs chained) to a baby girl named Maya on May 27, 2014. Her execution has been upheld by the court in Khartoum after she refused to recant her Christian faith, but it will not be carried out until Maya is two-years-old.

The trials of our faithful sisters Asia and Meriam should not be forgotten. Paul urges us to remember those who are in prison as if we ourselves are in prison (Heb 13:3). 

I pray for the release of Asia and Meriam. I pray that they and their families will not lose heart but will be encouraged and have hope. I pray that in their hearts and minds they would echo the words of the Apostle Paul: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." (2 Cor 4:8-10). I pray that they will hold on to the truth that "this light momentary affliction is preparing for [them] an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as [they] look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10). And He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20).

Sign the petition for Meriam's release here. UPDATE 5/31/14: Due to diplomatic pressure to halt her execution, Sudanese officials announced that they expect to release Meriam soon. Praise God and keep praying!
UPDATE 6/2/14: Now, Sudan is retracting that statement, saying instead that it will wait for a court to rule on her appeal. There is no doubt Sudan is trying to stop the growing wave of international pressure. As her attorneys in Sudan said, "It's a statement to silence the international media. This is what the government does."

International Christian Concern is a great resource to find out how to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Childlike Faith and the Stuff of Dreams

My two oldest girls fishing together
As a parent to young kids, I've often been struck by their ability to receive the simple purity of God's truth with humility. I believe it's often easier for children to accept the absolute truths of Scripture than it is for many adults. They more readily take God's truth at face-value. This is partially because children don't tend to over-intellectualize things. There is simplicity on the far-side of complexityand in their simple understanding of God's Word, children are able to by-pass a lot of the complexity, while adults are more apt to getting lost in the weeds

For example, when my oldest daughter was three years old, she had an amazingly lucid grasp of the Trinity and her description of it, childlike as it was, was just as profound as any theological explanation I've ever read! The concept of the Trinity made sense to her both cognitively and spiritually, and she accepted it without hesitationin other words, she accepted it with childlike faith.

Children are intrinsically humble and teachable. They aren't already puffed up with pride and worldly knowledge. They haven't yet been corrupted by the faithless cynicism and negativity of the world. For this reason, it's easier for them to walk humbly by faith and not by sight. Isn't humility what Jesus was actually talking about when He said that we must “become like children” to enter His Kingdom? He said, whoever “humbles himself” like a little child is the “greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:2-4). 

This is why I'm so thankful for those who dedicate their time to children's ministry. Children's ministry can sometimes be under-valued, or even treated as a baby-sitting service while the adults are ministered to. But little children represent a vital mission field. I have an inspiring friend who's passionate about her role as a nursery coordinator and has a vision for sowing the seeds of salvation in little hearts. She understands the powerfully life-changing impact of ministering to these little ones who are so often over-looked. 

Children's hearts haven't yet become hardened by life's trials and so their hearts are fertile for a faith in Jesus Christ to take root. There are so many encouraging stories of children putting their faith in Jesus early on. And I've heard story after story of people coming to accept Christ in adulthood because in a moment of tragedy, or during a challenging time, the distant but powerful memory of a lesson or song they learned as a little child in Sunday school resurfaced with power, leading them back to Jesus.

One of my kids' favorite conversation topics is about how big God is. They marvel at how He is bigger than the sky. They list off all the things they can think of that God is bigger than. It might seem like a childish and mundane conversation to the casual observer, but what they are really doing is rejoicing in who God is. They are fascinated by the fact that He is omnipresent...that He created everything...and that He forgives them when they are naughty and never, ever stops loving them. John Piper has said, "For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts. But childlike wonder and awe have died. The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator."[1] My kids inspire me to go back and ponder God's goodness and His greatness and cherish Scripture that testifies to who He is. They remind me of why I love the Psalms, especially my favorite one, Psalm 139, in which David paints a worshipfully vivid, awe-inspiring picture of God as ever-present, intimately loving, all-knowing.

And so, I cherish the moments when I can listen to my children talk about God. It's so refreshing to hear them profess their faith with such heartfelt conviction and simple clarity. The other day in the car, I listened to my seven-year-old explain to my five-year-old why God doesn't catch her when she jumps off a chair. It was certainly a better answer than I could've come up with on the spot!

And I love how each individual child displays his or her own, very personalized, response to God. My five-year-old daughter recently had an interesting dream about God that I thought was worth sharing here. Here is a paraphrased version—the details in the following account are all her own:

My big sister and I were walking along with God. My sister was holding one of His hands, and I was holding the other. We were walking through a hotel hallway. We came to a door. First, I tried to open it [she stretches her arms up], but it was too high. Then my sister tried to reach the handle [she stretches her arms up], but she couldn't reach it either. Then God reached down and opened the door for us [she motions pulling down the handle and opening the door]. 

In the doorway were three men. One was tall, one was medium, and one was short. The tall man saw God and he went: "gasp!" [in excitement] because he was happy to see God. The second man, went: "huh?" because he wasn't sure who God was. And the short man went: "hmmmmmm..." [she taps her finger on her chin while frowning cynically] because he thought God was too tall.

She concluded by repeating the three reactions to God: "It was like: 'gasp!' 'huh?' 'hmmmmmmm...'"

I was awe-struck by her account of the dream. There are so many things you could take from it! So many layers of meaning! She didn't seem to think that there was anything particularly meaningful about the dream herself, but she was excited to share it because it was about God. While she appreciated the dream in a childlike way, from an adult perspective, I could discern the profound nature of the dream. This brings up an important point.

As Os Guinness puts it, "Although a Christian should believe simply, he should not 'simply believe.'" When Jesus told us we need to become like children to receive Him, He didn't mean we should remain as infants in our faith. In fact, Paul clearly exhorts us not to be like infants because infants are blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Eph 4:14). Indeed, children may be easily fooled and led astray by false teaching. Their tendency to accept things unquestioningly can sadly be abused. Instead of remaining childlike, then, we are to mature in our faith, and “test everything” holding on to what is good (1 Thes 5:21). A childlike faith must mature into a discerning faith that is anchored in Christ and reflects a growing, deepening understanding of God's Word.

C.S. Lewis once said, "[Christ] wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim." As my children grow up, I pray that they will continue to grow and mature in their faith, without losing their tender-heartedness or their sense of childlike wonder. I love how Martin Luther King put it when he said, Christians need tender hearts and tough minds!

If you are looking for resources to help your children learn about God, William Lane Craig's book series, "What is God Like?" is one of the best we've read. His writing really resonates with my children and addresses many challenging questions about God with simple, clear, biblical answers. 

[1] Desiring God, 1996, p. 89

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Brief History of Bad Ideas

If you have ever studied philosophy, religion, or political thought, you will have noticed that the course of history is heavily impacted by ideas. At various points throughout history, either a revolutionary ideology, a political philosophy, a new religion, or a "spiritual awakening" has sprung up, each time claiming to hold the solution to the ever-pressing problem of the human condition. Ideas like these are powerful because they give people a sense of hope for a better future. They can shape culture and influence our collective consciousness, thus impacting society with great force. Such ideas can be expedient, bringing about societal change with short-term benefits. But tragically, many of them ultimately lead us away from God. For example, Gnosticism, the Religion of Reason, Marxism, Mormonism, secular humanism, selfism, and the New Age movementto name just a fewall hinge on the belief in human perfectibility/deification though human effort (whether it is through the realization of an inner divinity, through self-actualization, through societal progress, or through works-based salvation). In this way, they each distract fromor attempt to completely negatethe human need for a supernatural Savior. 

In actuality, each of these false religions and philosophies veil man's deep-seated desire for self-autonomy in rebellion against his Creator. The fact is, there is usually simplicity on the other side of complexity. While the elaborate religions and mind-bending philosophies of men are widely lauded as "genius," "revolutionary," "ground-breaking," "eye-opening," or "spiritually enlightening," they all start out as they eventually end up: as a power-grab in direct opposition to the authority of God. They can be deceptive, however, because they can generate mass-appeal on an intellectual or emotional level, and they may contain enough partial truths to be convincing. But, each one—whether it has grains of truth or notmerely represents yet another chapter in the perpetual story of man's rebellious grasp for self-empowerment that has repeated itself over and over in every generation throughout history.

It is an old, old story—far older than the self-adulation that's rampant in our culture today...far older than Marx's claim that man created God, not the other way around...far older than the Gnosticism and the destructive greed sects that first infiltrated the early church. It is a story that began in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve made that first, fatal grasp for godhood themselves at Satan's beckoning. And it's a story that was pre-echoed by Satan himself in the prideful power-grab that led to his downfall, and the fall of his legions, from Paradise even before the world's creation. As Scripture tells us, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov 16:18). And it is when we are puffed up with conceit that we can fall into the condemnation of the devil (1 Tim 3:6). What easier way for Satan to wreak havoc in the world than to tempt man with the promise of his own godhood?

The default setting of the fallen human heart is self-worship. The heart is deceitful above all things because it is plagued by pride, an inherent tendency to love and serve oneself in God's place, which stems from the chronic heart-condition of Original Sin. Satan prays on this desire, tempting us into sin, which eventually leads to our separation from God. In James, we read that "each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (Jam 1:14-15). And so, Man's lust for personal godhood perpetuates a ceaseless pattern of self-destructive human behavior, manifesting itself in many different forms...

...We devise elaborate philosophies that place the self at the center of all things. We pore over books that help the self and we seek out strategies to empower the self. We create religions that deify the self. We promote a culture that idolizes celebrities and worships humanity. And, perhaps worst of all, we try to squeeze God into a self-created box of our own cognitive construction. We tweak and remold the identity of Christ to fit neatly into our own self-generated worldview. We create counterfeit gods that are shaped by our cultural preferences, our preconceived religious convictions, our selfish needs and desires. There are countless examples of humanity's inexhaustible pursuit for self-autonomy—some of them are subtle, some more glaringly obvious—but the motive behind each is strikingly consistent. 

The Age of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth-century, for example, was revolutionary in that it emphasized reason over tradition and introduced the idea of human perfectibility in an era when great scientific advances and a new political order provided a compelling case for societal progress. Throwing off the long-held belief that society was in an unalterable process of decay, Enlightenment philosophers, like Voltaire, believed that this progress would inevitably lead humanity toward a perfected state, as articulated in 1795 by Condorcet in his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the need to seek salvation in a supernatural God was negated, if heaven was possible—indeed inevitable—here on earth. This marked a distinctive shift from the Christian belief system of the era, and an attempt to take back full control over human destiny from God. In essence, it represented a grasp for self-autonomy.

The Enlightenment, along with nineteenth-century "freethinking," gave root to secular humanism, which is highly influential in today's society, especially within academia, because it offers an intellectual, rational, and scientific approach to bettering society. As the Council on Secular Humanism puts it, "We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems."[1] While Christians also use the tools of science, rationality, and intelligence, they do so primarily for God's glory. Secular humanists, on the other hand, view these things as tools for purely human ends. Furthermore, secular humanists "deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation."[2]

In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx had already developed a materialist interpretation of history, holding that history is driven by economics and a man's identity is bound up in his labor. Marx envisioned an earthly utopia (while he vehemently denied that his ideas were utopian) in which people collectively own everything and all work together for the common good of mankind. But Marx’s theory necessitates a government that is free from corruption and elitism within its ranks. A brief look at history, however, will quickly reveal that our past is littered with examples of how power corrupts fallen mankind. A nation or government may kill the idea of God, but someone or something will take God’s place. That someone is most often an individual or group who begins to tyrannize over the population with coercion in an effort to maintain power at all costs. Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler are all twentieth-century examples of how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Scripture is clear that humans are not perfectible in our own strength because we are intrinsically sinful as a result of Adam's Original Sin against God. We are born sinners and we are sinners by nature (Psa 51:5). And all people who are not in Christ are "sons of disobedience." (Eph 2:2) But man-made theories that tout a human means to a higher state of existence are always predicated on a rejection of the doctrine of Original Sin. This is because Original Sin necessitates the atoning sacrifice of a Savior and our dependence on God, thus presenting an inconvenient obstacle in the pursuit for self-autonomy.

Take, for example, the false religion of Mormonism. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) openly rejects the doctrine of Original Sin in its statement of faith: "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." Mormonism, the fastest growing religion in 26 American states[3], is known for its emphasis on family values and morality. At first glance, it may seem like a virtuous religion, but the fact is, Mormonism veils that same insidious motive: the desire for self-deification. 

It can be misleading when Mormons call Jesus their Savior and worship Him. But while the Mormon Jesus may be divine, his is a derived form of divinity, which is neither unique to him nor inherent in him. Milton R. Hunter, who served as a member of the LDS church’s First Council of the Seventy from 1945 until his death in 1975, wrote, “Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws.”[4] In other words, Jesus achieved godhood through works, like the Heavenly Father had before him. And because divinity is earned, Mormonism holds that all men possess the potential for godhood. Indeed, the LDS tenet that men can become gods was famously coined in a couplet by fifth LDS President Lorenzo Snow who declared, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” In actuality, the ultimate goal of Mormonism is self-glory, not God's glory—whether this is openly admitted by the LDS Church or not. Mormonism goes even further than secular humanism in its goal to deify man; rather than denying God, it actually attempts to recreate Him in man's image.

Strikingly similar are the philosophies of the New Age, which have had far-reaching influence in today's society, having been promoted by heavy-hitting celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and a slew of NY Times bestselling authors. Like Mormonism, New Age philosophies incorporate the figure of Christ into their occultist beliefs, which can confuse undiscerning Christians. But a closer look quickly reveals that the New Age Jesus is presented as an imparter of wisdom rather than a savior from sins. Similar to the Mormon Jesus, the New Age Jesus is generally believed to be a mere man who achieved a high level of spiritual enlightenment, which afforded him godlike attributes. He is esteemed as one of the “Masters,” along with Buddha, Krishna, and others, all of whom illuminate the path for humanity to spiritual enlightenment. 

A widespread New Age belief is that Jesus is actually a separate being from a divine entity, which is often referred to as “the Christ.” Many New Agers perceive “the Christ” as being impersonal, cosmic, and abstract in nature—in essence, a “Christ-force.” New Agers claim that this Christ-force took possession of the body of the man, Jesus, in order to guide humanity towards a process of spiritual evolution. “The Christ” is said to lie dormant within each person, waiting to be fully realized so that humanity as a whole may experience spiritual awakening.[5] (The counterfeit christ of the New Age is apparently more Jedi than he is biblical!). As Andrew Harvey puts it in his virtual seminar, The Christ Path,  "By seeing Jesus’s life with fresh eyes, we take him off the pedestal as an untouchable Savior and begin to see him as a way-shower for all of us to embody more of our innate divinity as we co-create a more just and compassionate world."[6] 

The prevailing thrust of New Age thinking, then, culminates in shaping one's own destiny and finding one's inner truth as a means to achieving a spiritually enlightened state. But these theories are nothing new. The Christ-force concept finds its origins in the Gnostic movement that begun in the second century AD, as a heretical sect of early Christianity. Widely read New Age authors today, like Eckard Tolle, are heavily influenced by Gnosticism. Basic Gnostic beliefs hold that humans are emanated from a Supreme Being and are divine spirits trapped inside physical bodies. In Gnosticism, salvation of the soul from the material world is achieved through the realization of gnōsis [7]—esoteric or intuitive knowledge of the truth—rather than the atoning death of a Christ figure. In this sense, it is yet another self-autonomous religion. Some Gnostics identify Jesus as an embodiment of the Supreme Being who became incarnate in order to bring gnōsis to the earth. Others, like contemporary Gnostic Reverend Todd Ferrier, founder of The Order of the Cross, suggest that the word “Jesus” was merely a code-word assumed by a historical being. Most Gnostics believe that there has been more than one authentic Messiah, and that “The modern Christian claim that Jesus was the only Christ (or Messiah) is simply not tenable.”[8] And all this, of course, predictably paves the way toward self-deification. 

In keeping with the trend of human nature, today's popular culture is dominated by a narcissistic form of self-worship. From self-promoting humblebrags on Facebook to the endless stack of NY Times bestsellers that line our bookshelves each touting the same self-help ethos, our culture is all about Me. We are constantly told we need to "find ourselves" and look within ourselves for the answers. We are encouraged to embark on an exhausting pursuit of self-discovery in order to get in touch with our inner-truth and find our center. Teens are encouraged to "find out who they really are" and to explore their sexual orientation so that they can be “true to themselves.” To experience freedom, in this context, is to live an "authentic" life as the "real Me." This involves breaking free from the shackles of shame, self-loathing, and inhibition to embrace a new found pride in oneself. 

The real Me in today's secular culture doesn't need an external God. The real Me is God. And so, we are encouraged to serve the real Me first and foremost. As a result, it's become commonplace, even hackneyed, to make self-centered statements like, “I need to do what’s good for me.” The concept of loving oneself and putting oneself first is lauded on day-time TV as the harrowed housewife’s solution to her woes. Our youths strut around unabashedly announcing they are going to "do me" (put themselves first). The sense of self-entitlement our younger generations are growing up with stems from this also. It's not just talk-show psycho babble that spouts these cliches. This form of self-worship is an insipid product of the widespread "selfism" in our culture that is becoming so deeply ingrained in our collective subconscious that we can barely recognize it anymore. 

Selfism or self-actualization theories were first popularized in the 1960s and 1970s and underlie much of today’s psychotherapy[9]  helping to form the ideological basis—and justification—for the increasing self-absorption of our culture. Self-actualization is a term used in various theories of psychology—most famously in the work of Abraham Maslow and his influential “hierarchy of needs” pyramid[10]—usually to describe the process by which we can reach our full personal potential, and transform our lives. As Maslow puts it, “What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It  refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”[11]

The idea that we should aspire to become more of what we are—in biblical terms: sinful; weak; lost—as opposed to being made new in Christ, represents a fundamental rejection of our need for God. This is the epitome of selfism, which is characterized by what Ray C. Stedman so accurately describes as, “godless chatter, profane babblings, talking endlessly about man, his abilities and his wisdom, but never recognizing God.”[12] The impact of such thinking has not been confined within an academic bubble or limited to prevailing theories of psychotherapy alone, but has laid the foundation for many social changes in our society (as ideas tend to do!)—including the growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality and the redefinition of the family structure.

It seems like the precursor to the destruction of our society. As Paul warned, in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves (2 Tim 3:2) and false teachers will worm their way into the homes of gullible women and gain control over them (2 Tim 3:6)—this verse reminds me of Oprah Winfrey appearing on gullible housewives' TVs across the country beckoning them to gain access to their self-truth! 

Billy Graham, in a 2012 open letter titled, “My Heart Aches for America" lamented the state of a nation in which “self-centered indulgence, pride and a lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle.” It is not surprising that in our increasingly self-centered culture, the word pride has taken on new meaning, often being construed as an admirable trait, and even being paraded with rainbows on banners in city streets. Yet as Christians we are taught to surrender to His sovereignty, to humble ourselves before Him, and to let go of our pride, acknowledging that we are lost without His grace. As Paul put it, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). 

Despite their differences, Marxism, Mormonism, Gnostism, self-actualization, the New Age movement, etc., are all based on the same power-hungry desire to elevate man above God. Founding LDS Prophet, Joseph Smith, may have claimed back in the 1800s to have received divine revelations enabling him to restore the truths lost to the corrupted Scriptures...New Age author Eckard Tolle may claim to have had a "spiritual awakening" brought on by a near-death experience enabling him to guide others toward path of spiritual enlightenment...And the Gnostics before them may have claimed to have found the path to salvation of the soul from the material world through the realization of gnōsis...But none of them really offer up anything new; these man-made ideologies and belief systems may appear in the individualistic form of self-worship or in the collectivistic form of humanity-worship, but they all amount to the same thing. They merely represent repetitive chapters in the same old story. 

And it's a story that is by no means exclusive to secular philosophies or false religions. Tragically, the tendency to wrestle with God for control is all too prevalent among His own people. The Old Testament is peppered with examples of God-anointed leaders who rebelled against Him. For example, Samson was a gifted leader of the Israelites for 20 years, but in the end he was arrogantly self-serving, letting himself be governed by his sexual desires rather than by God—a tragic story that culminated in his eventual suicide. Likewise, Saul, the first king of Israel, had great humility when first chosen by the prophet Samuel, but his pride later came into play and he disobeyed God's instructions, thinking he knew better. Eventually he also was driven to kill himself. Like them, King Solomon was a gifted leader, being profoundly wise, but he too faltered and disobeyed God's written Word; accumulating personal wealth, fame, and beautiful women became more important to him than building up his country. His desire for personal aggrandizement caused him to neglect God's will. Solomon's son suffered for it later, inheriting but a fragment of the Kingdom of Israel due to his father's failure. You would think Israel's great kings and leaders would have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors before them! But instead the pattern repeats itself.

Isn't this the same problem we often see in ourselves? How many times have we taken control back from God and rebelled against Him? How many times have we found ourselves going down a prideful path of self-destruction? How many times have we let self-ambition distract us from honoring God in the things we say and do? Sometimes, it seems like we will never learn. And history seems like it is doomed to repeat itself forever. 

But here's the actual truth: there is hope in Christ! Our lives don't have to conform to the patterns of this world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can break the cycle of sin! We no longer have to live in the flesh and be governed by its deceitful desires because we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. So the life we are free to live now, we can live by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20).

It is a daily process involving daily surrender. Jesus said, Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it." (Luke 9:23-24). It is when we deny ourselves, we are truly set free. The world will tell us that we are only free when we are "true to ourselves." The world will tell us living in obedience to God is to be enslaved. But the only true source of freedom is to be found in Christ, for "Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Gal 5:1). Let's be encouraged, then, as those made new in Christ, to stand firm in our freedom, and to put off the old self with all it's deceitful desires of the flesh (Eph 4:22-24). 

We learn from Adam and Eve's fateful grasp for self-empowerment that pride is our worst, most insidious enemy. It leads us into rebellion against God and to be deceived that we know better than He, that we deserve more than He has given us. Whenever we feel pride creeping in, then, we should remind ourselves how far we fall short of God's holy standard "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23). And God warns us, "I will break down your stubborn pride." (Lev 26:19). When we find ourselves humbled though suffering trials, or after we fall, we can take heart that it is for our own good, remembering Jesus' own words: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11). 

The fallible self is a shaky foundation on which to base one’s life-meaning and purpose, and many who do so ultimately find themselves sinking in a quick-sand of sin (Matt. 7:24-27). Man-made ideas will not stand the test of time. Indeed, the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight (1 Cor 3:19). And as it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Let's stand firm then in God's truth, "for Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles." (1 Cor 1:19-25). 

If we find ourselves coming up against the lofty intelligence of a scholar, we shouldn't balk. We can have confidence that God's wisdom trumps anything a tenured Ivy-league professor has to say. Unbelievers that the world may deem to be "genius thinkers" or "spiritually enlightened gurus" will be revealed as frauds one day. Every knee will bow.

So, instead of building our lives on the quick-sand surface of a relativistic world, let's be encouraged in our resolution to build our lives on the ever-enduring, solid rock of absolute truthThe Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).


[1] Council for Secular Humanism, "Affirmations of Secular Humanism," 
[2] Ibid
[4] Milton Hunter, G.T.A., p. 51, (emphasis added)
[5] Hanegraaff, Hank, “The New Age Christ: What is the New Age view of Jesus?” article published by the Christian Research Institute
[6] Harvey, Andrew, A New Life Virtual Training: "The Christ Path, A 7-Week Journey to Awaken and Embody Christ-Consciousness" March, 2013
[7] Gnosis is the common Greek noun for knowledge
[8] Institute for Gnostic Studies, online posting, June 2000.
[9] Vitz, Paul, Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship, (1977, 1994, William Eerdmans Publishing)
[10] Maslow, Abraham Harold, (1908—1970) was an American professor of psychology at Brandeis UniversityBrooklyn College, New School for Social Research and Columbia University who created Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
[11] Maslow, Abraham Harold, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” Psychological Review, (1943). p370-96.
[12] Ray C. Stedman, O MAN OF GOD! (