The Virgin Birth and the Pattern of Faith

The Christmas story is often minimized because of the virgin birth. Many have a hard time believing in Jesus because of this part of the Christian faith. But, the virgin birth is the linchpin for understanding the significance and purpose of Jesus coming into human history. 

Yes, the virgin birth is a miracle. Sex education class taught you how babies are made. It doesn’t happen through immaculate conception.

Some will argue the virgin birth is metaphor and analogy, not a true miracle. I won’t engage that lunacy here. But, will work with the assumption the virgin birth is a miracle, and that’s the point. So is our faith. 

No one comes to faith, no one’s born of God, and no one receives new life unless God intervenes. If no virgin birth, we just have birth, and salvation’s not available to anyone.

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Are We Thankful Enough?

Thanksgiving is upon us. I smell the green bean casserole, turkey, and purchased sweat pants to prepare for the festivities. But, the question of all questions. One I’m mulling over is… are we thankful… enough?

If anything, the Thanksgiving holiday forces most Americans to count their blessings, and find reasons to be thankful. But, is it enough? Are we thankful… or only thankful to a point?

In Thessalonians five Paul is writing to a church and says:

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
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Jesus, Superheroes, Fairy Tales, and Advent

Can I be honest? Vent a little? Why do Christians not read more fiction? 

If you do, why not something other than C.S. Lewis and Tolkien and Amish Romance (as great as these are)? We have an aversion to fiction and reading in general proclaiming that it’s escapism and a waste of time. 

What’s the deal? Is that true? Maybe what we think is escapism is nothing of the sort. 

But, that’s not what this post is about, kinda, sorta, maybe, not really, okay maybe. It’s about Christmas and Jesus and genealogies.  It’s about what fiction points us to, and how these stories are deeper, and reveal a longing heart for life, hope, salvation, justice, and newness of life. 

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Ernie Johnson on the Election

I appreciate the honesty and candidness of Ernie Johnson (TNT NBA reporter). There needs to me more men/women who have the humility and prayerfulness of this man. Regardless of your political persuasion or theology. 

Good job Ernie!

The Aftermath of the Election and Ultimate Callings

Everyone breathe. Yes, breathe, we’re going to be okay. Take a few of those gospel promises (from yesterday) and meditate on them today, it’ll be good for our souls.

Regardless, of who you voted for, how you’re feeling this morning, or what you’re walking in… things have not changed. 

What do you mean? 

A billionaire with no political experience just became 45th President of the United States. A man who can’t keep his hands off women. And, degrades people on a daily basis. 

Are you delusional? 

Oh yeah, that… A lot of things have changed…but nothing has changed for me.

My ultimate callings haven’t changed because of the President-elect or whomever my state voted into office last night. I have callings that don’t change with the shifting sands of pop culture, politics, economics, and national safety. 

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4 Gospel Promises for Election Day 2016

You’ve endured the debates for the Election of 2016. Maybe done research on candidates in your region of the country. Yet, you’re feeling anxious. Can’t believe these are the only candidates on the ballot this year. Not sure if your values align with the prospective next President, Senator, or Governor.

What to do?

Times like these we must preach the gospel to ourselves. We need reminders and truths of ultimate reality and rock solid promises. Remembering who sits on the throne of the universe. We fight fear, uncertainty, and doubts, with objective truth, strong enough to stand against the shifting sands of culture. Or, political races… 

Here are four gospel promises to bring into the Voting Booth:

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Sins Beneath the Sins and How to Unearth Source Idols?

Deep in the human heart is sin, yes. But, the sins beneath the sins, are what we call idols. It's easy to identify behavioral sins (surface idols), because they are obvious. It's a different ball game identifying what drives and motivates our sin (source idols). The sins beneath the sins.

Source idols are what you see in the chart below. When we think about sin we must also think about idols and idolatry. Idolatry being anything we place ultimate trust, adoration, and importance in above God. Or, how Romans describes idolatry as, "...they worshipped and served the creature instead of the Creator" (Rom. 1:24). 

Idolatry is taking good things and making them God things.

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What the Election Reveals and Why I'm Hopeful?

If anything, the election reveals an important truth. Augustine said, 

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

The great Christian teacher and theologian of the third century didn’t mean rest is only found in knowing Christ, which is true. He meant to find rest, and enjoy anything, all related to knowing God.

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6 Things Spiritual Renewal Brings

The church in America and everyday disciples of Jesus need constant spiritual renewal. Our church is walking through the book of Acts and asking the question: 

What does spiritual renewal look like? How does spiritual renewal happen? When it comes, will we know?

I know it’s not an exact science because we are dealing with God and Spirit and spiritual realities. But, if we look at the Bible, church history, and experience, we’ll find common themes for when spiritual renewal and awakening come. 

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Political Noise and the Significance of Jesus Standing

In a political climate where people in America are now divided over imperfect and inconsistent ideologies. We need someone to stand for us. 

I hear the plea often, “Who will stand for the little people? Who will take the side of the poor, immigrant, wealthy, middle class, homosexuals, minorities, etc.? Where can my voice be heard? Who will be on our side?”

Humans need people in their corners. That’s the way God wired things. 

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Church... Preachers Gotta Preach and Pray-ers Gotta Pray

What does a church do? How are pastors to spend their time?

These might be obvious questions, or obvious answers. Sadly, they often are not. Churches are increasingly becoming busy. They live under the adage, “Look busy… Jesus might be returning soon.” 

Maybe our busyness is predicated on pressure in society to become relevant and accessible. We must prove we care about every cause and ill of society. Our churches need to be casual, but not too casual, and speak “the language” of the day. The church must be active in the community and in the political arena unless we become irrelevant to neighbors. 

The church of course needs to evaluate its priorities and how they communicate The Faith to this generation. *No problem, unless we sell out the core tenets of the gospel

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Jesus for President

In the dark slimy pit of election year 2016 it's clear we need Jesus to be President. In a sense, Jesus is President as he rules from heaven, upholds the universe by his word, and moves history towards its ultimate climax "when every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus is Lord." And, when the world is set to rights, renewed, and restored (Phil. 2:11, Rev. 21-22). 

Of course, Jesus will not be President. But, we need a Jesus-kind-of-leadership in the Oval Office. "The" Donald and Hilary regardless of your political persuasion do no exude the Jesus-ethos of leadership. They are surrounded by controversy, cover-ups, lying, cheating, manipulation, and we could go on. 

I know the arguments: "Well, Ryan, people are not perfect you know. You need to be more gracious. We don't need a pastor in the White House. Yada, yada, yada."

I understand. We are electing a sinner to lead sinners. In a House full of sinners, with structures and laws tainted by sin. But, in the history of mankind people have led with integrity, humility, and grace. People have used language that built up and did not tear down. People have lived for 80 years with one wife, no scandals, and finished well. We act as if political office means you give up all integrity, humility, and morals for the sake of the party. 

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Attention White Folks: 4 Articles Worth Reading Related to Race

I am a white guy. Which means I have certain privileges merely because of the tone and tint of my skin color. It doesn't matter if I'm a good guy, jerk, or somewhere in between. My skin gives me privileges whether deserved or not. 

I didn't choose my family, ethnic heritage, or skin that easily burns in the Midwestern heat. But, I don't reject it. I don't feel guilt over it. I celebrate the God who designed me and ordained me to be an image-bearer who happens to be white (Ps. 139).

But, being white in America, makes me very aware of how others are not treated fairly in light of their "image-bearingness." I don't get strange stares when walking into a public space. I have never been harassed by a police officer. My father never gave me a talk about being black in America, and what it means for personal safety, and how others might treat me.

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Rediscovering the Art of Conversation and Other Nostalgic Musings

Today, I engaged in about five hours worth of conversation with living breathing humans. I know, right? Talk about old school and nostalgic. Come on, what are you like ninety? 

Anyone else feel the oddity that face-to-face conversation is being replaced by texting, Facebook, and other communication platforms lacking human touch?

Do we even call people on the phone anymore? When my phone rings I begin to panic. It usually means someone died or my child choked on a Lego... again.

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A Prayer of Lament for Recent Shootings

Pastor and theologian John Calvin said the Psalms are the "anatomy of the soul." They give words, language, and expression to the deepest joys, sorrow, and wounds of the heart. In light of the shootings in Charlotte, Tulsa, Dallas, Louisiana, countless other cities/states, and terrorist attacks around the globe, we are not always sure how to respond. 

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Post Traumatic Alienation Disorder and Gospel Community

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder plagues 50% of soldiers coming home from war. Only 10% of the military actually see battle of any kind. What is the deal?

In a TED Talk, Journalist Sebastian Junger explains this phenomenon. While death tolls in war are becoming less and less (every year since Civil War), and hands on combat less and less, the problem lies when military personnel come home. 

Junger calls the experience Post Traumatic Alienation Disorder. It is not an official diagnosis. But, he believes we need better language to describe what is actually happening to our military. 

The problem is not the solider who has witnessed horrific things in battle. It is the community he/she comes home to. Military are plunged into a modern society that does not value community. The close knit band of brothers/sisters in the military is ripped away and they feel alone. 

The real trauma is one of alienation.  

I began to wonder how the church can be, and should be, a place of welcoming the dislodged, alienated, broken, and sinner among us (me included). Are we welcoming to those with battle wounds and scars deep in the soul? Do we forget what it was like to be alienated from God and others? Is the church just a group of spiritually minded individuals?

It should not be so. The Bible describes the church in these terms:

"12 ...remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord" (Eph. 2:12-21).

We were all alienated from God and one another. We were all lost and looking for hope in a hopeless world. Our alienation runs much deeper than the horizontal of human relationship. It begins with a fractured alienation from our Creator and Redeemer Jesus Christ. It is only in Christ do we find a home with God and one another.

I don't disagree with Junger on the need for the military to find a welcoming community. This is a real human need. Our modern society is sad, lonely, and isolated. But, if we take it a step further, we need to bridge a deeper alienation. An alienation with God.

Thanks be to God for the cross of Christ that makes this possible. It creates the community we need with God and one another. 

*Take a look at the video. Worth 13 minutes! 

Episode 022 - Jason Ladd on Christian Worldview

In this interview Ryan chats with author Jason B. Ladd. Jason is an Marine pilot who came to faith in Jesus and discusses his journey through a new book called One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot's Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview. Jason has a passion to see Christians equipped to winsomely explain the importance and life altering realties of the Christian worldview.

You can get the book, and other resources, on Christian worldview, apologetics, and hear what Jason is up to at: www.jasonbladd.com.

 

The Myth of Self-Esteem and a Cure

If you’re a product of the 80’s, find your age between 18-45, or live in America, you’ve probably been served a healthy dose of the self-esteem movement. The idea that our self worth, identity, and happiness is predicated on how I perceive my self love quotient. 

Or, to be more specific, let me quote Dr. Christina Hibbert, who complied a helpful definition from psychiatrists and the dictionary:

  1. Belief in oneself; self-respect; undue pride or conceit
  2. One’s overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth
  3. A judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self
  4. Encompasses beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and power of conviction about oneself
  5. “Self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it” (http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/5-reasons-self-esteem-is-a-myth/)

public domain

I Am a Winner

In the school system, youth athletics, homes, companies, and even in some churches, you are told people will not succeed if they have low self-esteem. Children will not be healthy contributors to society, will struggle in school, and probably be murderers, if their self-esteem is not nurtured and bolstered to some mythical level. 

If we use the working definition for self-esteem above we find an obvious problem. Who is the arbitrator and determining factor of self-esteem? Who determines a persons self worth, value, beliefs, and convictions about oneself? 

Answer: The Holy Trinity of… Me, Myself, and I.

"Prone to Wander Lord I Feel It..."

I have lived in my own skin for thirty seven years and can without hesitation tell you I am not a good assessor of myself. My “self” is weak, sinful, selfish, and most days, my feelings and desires, are a roller coaster of disordered loves, wants, and idolatry.  

How do I know when a healthy dose of self-esteem has kicked in? How do I know when I am loving myself enough? What does that even mean? How can I make accurate judgements about the perception of my self-esteem when I’m full of pride, blindspots, selfishness, sin, inconsistencies, false loves, and fractured desires? Aren’t these determinations of self-esteem subjective at best? 

The Myth of Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a myth because it is subjective and does not allow for an outside objective authority. You don’t need to spend much time with yourself to realize we are all full of inconsistencies, selfishness, and sin. You are not a good judge of what you really need and want. If you have children, you know this truth from Day 1. 

If I am left to my own determination of self worth, happiness, and love, I will believe anything, do anything, and tell myself anything, to get the self-esteem I perceive to need in the moment.  

So, if self-esteem is a myth, too subjective, and functionally, will not work in the curing of souls. What is the cure?

An Alternative to Self-Esteem and Self-Love

The danger of inordinate self-love is it can’t answer the deep heart, soul, and love needs of humans. In self-esteem, we are banking to find ultimate love from within. The problem is ultimate love does not come from within. It comes from without. 

Milton Vincent in A Gospel Primer said there are two dangers in self-love/self-esteem:

1. Fear. I do not believe that anyone can love me, the way I can love me, and if I don’t love me well, who will?
2. Superior love is only found in the self. The belief that there is not an object of love greater than myself. This only leads to more fear, arrogance, and pride, believing I am the only being in the universe worth loving (pp. 29-30).

What is the cure? How can we shift from self-esteem and the dead end of self-love as the highest pursuit in life? How can we be liberated from self-love to a different love?

Gospel-Love.

Vincent provides the cure and solutions to disordered self-love in the gospel itself:

#1 The gospel assures me that the love of God is infinitely superior to any love I could give myself. 

John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus lays his life down for sinners out of mercy, grace, and love. He didn’t do it because you are worthy, he did it because he is worthy, and make us worthy by faith in Him. 

The gospel is a superior love that is objective, rooted in truth and history, and experiential for the disciple of Jesus. It is not determined by my feelings in the moment, how much love is being shown by others, and if I am measuring up. Paul in Romans 5 makes claim that we can experience this love on a regular basis:

“3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” Romans 5:3-5.

Even in suffering, God is producing endurance, character, hope, and exploding love in the heart because of what Christ did for us. The Holy Spirit exists to remind us of superior, ultimate, and lasting love in Christ. 

#2 The gospel allures me away from inferior loves.

When God becomes breathtakingly glorious, beautiful, and soul satisfying, the allure of self love begins to diminish. The heart is enthralled with a greater, eternal, and more satisfying love in God, not self, a love which is objective and experiential.

King David gives an example of a heart enthralled with God:

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple (Psalm 27:4). 

David found a “beauty” he could “gaze upon” for his entire life that would satisfy his need for love. This is what happens when a person shifts from a subjective inward preoccupation searching for self-esteem, self-love, and self worth, and moves to an objective and satisfying pursuit in the gospel. 

Our children, neighbors, family, churches, and society, need an alternative to self-esteem and self-love. A love that is robust, lasting, objective, and impenetrable amidst the shifting sands of feelings, circumstances, and cultural pressure. 

We need a superior beauty to gaze on that is not staring back at us in a mirror. 

The gospel might be the cure we are all looking for.

 

 

 

Episode 21 - Jovan MacKenzy on Christians and the Arts

In this episode, I (Ryan) interview Christian rapper Jovan MacKenzy. We discuss an article he wrote focused on Christian Art. Why is Christian art often subpar? Why do we not see more Christians in mainstream creative fields? How can Christians make art that bridges the gap between the Christian community and larger world? These questions and many more were discussed in this helpful interview.

You can find Jovan on Facebook, Twitter, or read some of his writings at Rep the King.