Month: August 2013

WHERE ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE ARE

WHERE ALL THE GOOD PEOPLE ARE……

THOSE WHO REJECT GOD

“I strongly believe that there are people, not in the church who will make it to heaven.” I am sure you would have heard this phrase before from Christians. It comes in various forms and ways, the intent being that some people are so “good” that they just have to make it to heaven no matter what. This time I was sitting in a Christian meeting when a brother said this.

The immediate issue with the statement is, “What does it mean to be good?” what is the level of ‘goodness’ that is considered the criteria for going to heaven? I wonder what the measuring yard was for determining that certain people were good. Do they have to be better than Hitler, Idi Amin or match up to mother Theresa or Arch bishop Desmond Tutu or whoever it is that you have painted to be “good?” Everyone in a show of humility will be quick to admit I am not perfect, and yet we would consider ourselves much better than the next person.

In truth I am yet to meet a person who thinks that they are “bad.” They might admit that they have faults or even that they have done things they are not proud of, but in them somewhere they are convinced that they are very “good” people. And all the bad things they will admit to doing were not entirely their fault. In today’s postmodernist, world where everything is relative to the individual, in the eyes of everyone they are “good.” And if you can’t see their goodness, you are either narrow minded or to stuck up.

Have you ever heard of the description of churchy folks as goody goody people?  The television series that surround us, like to portray religious people as comically naive and hypocrites and bigots. The church is where really good people go to. All the “sinners” well are not invited. In fairness churches have contributed their quota to this perception. You hear guys say that after I have gotten myself together I will then go into a church a search for a “good girl” to marry. Often you will hear the same guys complain about how the people in the church are no better than those outside. They came to the place where the good people are and instead they found well ……..the people were far from being good.

I think this issue of good people comes from “Christian jargons” that we meet the moment we walk into a church. Not only does our vocabulary change, but by and large no explanation is given to what they mean. We meet all types of words that become everyday use and we just equate it to what we already know. One such word, is the ever famous or rather infamous word SIN.

GOD REVEALED AND REJECTED

The immediate translation of sin has always been bad deeds. In fact in a number of local dialects that I can understand, it is often translated “bad things”. The word sinner is then translated the one that commits evil or bad things. The opposite of sin is good. And so if I am good then I have no sin at all in me. If a do a list of good things, then I am a good person.

In Romans 1:18, we see that God’s wrath is upon humanity’s wickedness. I know that the word wicked immediately paints a picture of certain kinds of people in your mind (probably you are thinking mass murderers and armed robbers). But you see, what their wickedness is, is suppressing the truth. The truth is God has revealed himself. He has revealed himself in all of creation. Looking at pictures taken by the Hubble telescope one cannot just help, but marvel at the universe at large. Richard Dawkins a popular atheist, best known for his book the God delusion, in a debate with John Lennox, admits that looking at the universe at large one cannot help but marvel. Its ImageImagegrandness is totally encompassing. Even though he quickly adds, just because it is so majestic doesn’t immediately lead you to postulate an intelligent designer. But that is the point according to Romans as we look at creation we see the clockwork of the sun and the moon. We see how our biosphere is so well interconnected. We marvel at it, and that alone points to the existence of a God. The whole of cosmos blows our mind. We see the revelation of God but we ignore it. This so that no one has an excuse as to why we do not see God revealed.

Romans 1:18-23 talks about man’s rejection of God. Man has rejected God. Despite more than abundance evidence to show that he exists. That is what we are all guilty of, replacing God with his own creation.

The second part from verse 24 to 32 can be divided into three sections. Each section begins with the conjunctions:

Therefore;

Because;

Furthermore;

These are connecting words; they each connect the paragraphs they begin with Romans 1:18-23:

In the first paragraph, because of the rejection of God “therefore” they are lead into idolatry. The worship of idols;

In the second paragraph, “Because” we reject God, we are lead into sexual immorality;

In the third paragraph, “Furthermore” we refused to retain the knowledge of God, and are lead into all manner of unrighteousness. The depravity of our minds and so the rejection and suppression, and in some cases, the repression of the word of God

The cause of all what we usually refer to as sin, that is: wickedness, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, evil, deceit malice, gossips, slanderers, God haters, Insolent, arrogant, boastful, are in fact pointers to a much greater sin. The list given in any of the paragraphs are not exhaustible. They just point us in the way of our wayward ways; that is our wickedness in ignoring and suppressing the knowledge of God.

Implications

There are a number of implications

1. First thing of note, is the fact that we are handed over to our sinful desires and cravings after we have rejected God. We are firstly guilty of denying the existence of God, even though he has revealed himself abundantly in his created universe. The true original sin is the rejection of God. Because we have rejected God we have been given over to these selfish desires and immorality. What we would usually call sin are in fact the symptoms of sin. This can be compared to a Doctor who instead of giving treatment to tackle the malaria parasite instead prefers to prescribe pain killers to tackle the headache and a sponge bath to tackle the high temperature. The actual parasite still continues to live and will ultimately kill the patient. We are called to repent from our unbelief and wickedness in trying to suppress the truth. To my good friend who was so convinced of the salvation of people because they are “good,” i wonder if he has considered whether they have repented from rejecting God. People see being sinful as a bunch of behaviors and things they have to get rid of. The Bible sees sin as the daily rejection and dethronement of God and the daily enthronement of us. The language also has undertones of judgment in it. We are judged for our sin by handing us over to our sins. In an era where we cry and complain that morality has fallen, could this be the father speaking to us through judgment and asking us to return to him?

2. It then follows that sin in all the form and ways it manifests itself, from the smallest white lie to the most reprehensible act are all committed against God first. Whether there is someone at the receiving end of our action or it is in “victimless crime.” There exist nothing like a victimless crime or wrong doing. Most Christians will know the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar’s wife proposes love to Joseph. What is interesting is Joseph’s response.

Genesis 39:8

“With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?

Notice he spells out all the reasons why his master has been good to him. but in the end he cannot commit the sin, not against his kind master, but against God. Joseph is aware that sin is primarily committed against God. The narrative could have easily read differently. He has been a wicked master both to you as a wife and to me as a slave so he deserves this. But even if he had been a wicked master the sin will still be committed against God. People do not determine how we act. We act in accordance to the grace of our Lord.

In following with that, if sin is committed against God then morality cannot be defined aside from God. This probably will strike a nerve with other religions, especially atheist. What do we say about people who knew instinctively that stealing, and killing was bad? They did not need a Bible or the law. A little further in chapter of Romans Paul writes:

Romans 2:14

 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

You see the very nature of human beings to decipher that there is indeed a right and a wrong, further points to the existence of the one true God. It is because of that that we can recognize that there is a right and wrong. And across the world, we largely agree on most of them. We recognize God when within ourselves we recognize our innate ability to tell when something is right is wrong.

3. I believe if you do not truly understand sin, then you probably do not understand grace. All the so called Christian jargons are so interlinked that, the misunderstanding of one just waters the other the down.  If sin is just a matter of bad deeds, and a good person can make it, then we don’t need grace. We need to understand that there is one big issue we need to resolve, recognizing, knowing and submitting to the one true God everyday of our life. For if we do not know him then we are lost. But the strength to know him is not from us, it is from God. We need God to reveal himself and stop every single one of us who are born rejecting him. We are so embroiled in our own sin that we cannot see. In Ephesians 2:1 the description is pretty gloom.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are described as dead in our own transgressions. Ephesians 2:4 is more exciting.

4 But[b]God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

We were saved when we were yet still sinners. We are passive in the saving. The God we rejected, the God who would have right had to reject us because we rejected him first. Instead, he comes down to love us first so that we can love him. Such show of grace is truly humbling, isn’t it?Image

3. This is very humbling as well for Christians because we walk in total humility in the gift that God has given us. You will not find “good” people in church, instead you will find sinners who have been redeemed. Church isn’t a place for the goody people, it is the place where those as sinful as I can run to. It is a place where those of us that are saved by grace, because we are saved by grace are empowered to continually be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Christians due to their new life fight sin every day because of their love for Christ. Humbly we do not search for the “good people” who deserve our honorable company, instead all we see are people who like how we used to be, have rejected God, and like us need him. Is that not humbling?

4. If that notion is adopted then we can recognize that, we are cannot be so bad that we are not accepted, neither can we be so good that we do not need good. Every single one of us are guilty of the same thing. Romans 3:23

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

5. If you are reading this then and you expect to be one of the good people the best condition you can ever be in to join up is to come as you are. To be made alive in Christ. Any Christian reading this that is breaking down under the burden of guilt should know that you are just as burdened as the rest of us. Learn to trust that the Holy Spirit can unburden you from rejecting God. Where the good people are, is in heaven. After we all have been made clean in the blood of Christ. This demands a whole new way of looking at life, not through our own life but rather through the blood of Christ and through his resurrection.

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Escape from Alcatraz: Why We Love to Cheer for the Bad Guys

Reposted from Reel thinking

Escape from Alcatraz: Why We Love toEscape From Alcatraz Poster Cheer for the Bad Guys.

It truly is a timeless film that follows the true story of Frank Morris [Clint Eastwood] and his attempted escape from the famous prison known as ‘The Rock’. It is amazing to see the level of creativity the prisoners displayed in this escape attempt. Wielding metal in a prion cell, making paper mache heads, and life jackets out of raincoats. Most of this would seem too unbelievable were it not a true story. Not to mention the fact that the television show, Mythbusters, recreated the escape and proved that all of this could be possible.

While there are many aspects of the film that are fascinating, one interesting aspect to me is how the movie portrays good and evil. The hero of the film is Frank Morris. This is the same Frank Morris who is a prisoner for breaking the law. And, the same Frank Morris who has already broken out of other prisons. He’s the hero…

Who are the villains of the film? The warden (who is never named, although he is portraying Warden Blackwell, but the film didn’t want to mention his name to avoid legal trouble) and the guards. That is, the villains are the law keepers. The villains are the men who are upholding the law and haven’t done anything deserving of imprisonment.

To me, this is somewhat strange. I found it strange that I was pulling for Morris and his friends to break out of prison! And I was pulling for them, because that is the way the movie is designed. The tense music is played when the guards are getting closer to foiling their scheme. The audience breathes a sigh of relief as the warden leaves Morris’ cell without discovering the hole he’s dug.

Why!? Why was I not hoping they would get busted? Why was I not upset that the guards didn’t catch the crooks? Well, it was partly due to the fact that the warden was a pretty despicable character. Just consider what he did to the character of Doc! Taking away his painting privileges?! How could he do that to the old man from Home Alone!!? And if that weren’t enough, he caused sweet ‘ol Litmus to have a heart attack.

You see, the filmmakers took a true story but told it from the standpoint of the villains being the heroes and visa versa. I wonder why they chose to do this? Why not paint the crooks in a negative light and the law-keepers in a positive light? There could be a few reasons.

First, maybe they thought if they told it from the standpoint of the criminals being the bad guys, the audience would feel disappointed with the ending. I mean, we can’t have the bad guys winning, right? Secondly, maybe they simply wanted to highlight some of the abuses that take place in prisons. Who knows, maybe the warden was an unlikable guy and maybe the guards did have a bad reputation. The prison was closed down a year after this escape, and maybe it was due in part to a flawed system. Lastly, maybe the filmmakers were telling the story from a perspective we could identify with. Let’s be honest, who is guilty and who is innocent? Yes there are those who do harsher crimes and end up in prison, but at the last day we are all guilty. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” [John 8:7].

Maybe we are all pulling for Frank Morris, because we are the villain. We are the ones who are criminals and we are the ones who should remain locked-up forever. However, there was One who did break us out of this eternal imprisonment and he did it, not by breaking the law, but by perfectly keeping it.

The Bible Talks

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, 
for they received the message with great eagerness
and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” – Acts 17:11

A good thing about being a country that is predominantly christian is that everyone qoutes from the Bible.  Everyone. From the preacher to the ordinary man on the street.  From shop names like “With God all things are possible Hair Salon” to verses written on the back of taxis.  It seems everyone has at least one verse that they can add to spice up a conversation or at least make a piece of advice sound authentic.  On the surface, it gives a pretty good picture of how seriously people take the Bible and what it says until you start to pay attention to when and how the Bible is quoted.  Then the picture starts to become a little blurry.  Biblical texts are often times not only misquoted and misapplied but wielded as tool used to buttress one’s opinion.  Bible studies often become a case of different people saying different(and sometimes contradictory) meanings of a text and the one who wins is the person with the sharpest wit(or loudest voice) and largest number of quotations.  The case becomes even worse when the Bible study is around two verses with the rest of the chapter being totally ignored.  

I suspect this is partly because that is how we have seen the Bible being taught from the pulpit.  It is commonplace to see a preacher string up a bunch of verses to make up his point in a sermon.  Sometimes it is helpful and gives brilliant insights into a passage, sometimes the point being made is wise and good counsel but has nothing to do with the verses quoted except for perhaps a single word that links them, sometimes the point being made is just unhelpful and has nothing to do with the verses quoted.  Whatever the case may be, I sometimes get the feeling that sometimes the preacher decides and what to say and then goes in search of Bible verses to back up his point. I know lots of people in the congregation actually do just that. It will seem as if the meaning of a verse is dependent on the person quoting it.  When the Bible is used in this way, it becomes difficult to know whether it is the Bible that is speaking or it is the opinion of the person wielding it. 

Often when this happens, the preacher becomes the key to understanding what a passage means.  And sometimes there is such a disconnect between what the preacher says a verse means and what is actually there that it is impossible to understand a verse unless he gives his unique insight.  Again that is very good if the preacher is faithful to the passage but very harmful if the person is not.  It will be very naive to imagine that every preacher that stands on pulpit with a Bible is a faithful preacher of God’s word.  There are too many examples of people who have used the Bible for their own personal gain and we are even warned in God’s word that there will be false teachers who will twist God’s word for their own ends.  And I think this is when christians are called to be discerning about what they hear.
The Bereans in Acts are commended for not only receiving the gospel message as preached by Paul, but also examining to scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.  They checked to see if what Paul was saying was actually what the scriptures were saying.  When was the last time you examined the scriptures to check if what the preacher said was true.
Examining the scriptures means that we dig deeper into the passage and mine the riches that are to be found in God’s word.  It means we go beyond looking at verses in isolation and consider looking at the entire book to see how the verses fit together.  It means we search for the main point of a verse by searching for the main point of the chapter that contains the verse. This in turn means we search for the main point of the chapters by searching for the main point of the book that contains those chapters.  And searching for the main point of the book is searching for the author’s intent i.e. the reason why that book was written.  This is the foundation on which the chapters and the verses of the book is built on.  And that foundation is also built on Christ, the one that ALL of scripture centered on.

An important part of being faithful preacher of God’s word is proclaiming it as it was intended and not as we want it to be.  It is staying true to what scripture says and not bending it to our own interpretations.  Awhile ago during the elections in Ghana, a prominent preacher had some sermons he had done picked up by used in the political game.  He wasn’t too amused and made a statement that his words should not be taken out of context and used in a way that was never its intention.  It was quite the media hype.  My point for bringing that up is very simple. If we as human beings get offended and upset when we think people have taken what we have said out of context and are using it for their own ends, imagine what it means the take the very words of God and rip it out of context.  And I think in recent times where there are all sorts of people holding Bibles and claiming to be faithful preachers of the gospel, we as christians need to be discerning listeners of God’s word and adopt a Berean attitude when we listen to sermons.  It will benefit us a lot if we ask “Is that really what the scripture says?” instead of saying “This is what [insert name] said”.  

I will leave it hear with a very good qoute I came across… 

“When all your favorite preachers are gone, and all their books forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it. Master it.”  — John Piper