4 Things I’d like to See Stop!

I live in Texas. As a result, I am surrounded by cultural Christianity. To be clear: what I am calling cultural Christianity is not true Christianity. Though some “cultural Christians” may be true believers, most are people who have been raised within a set of morals and principles that follow basic Judeo-Christian values. They are often people who either claim membership in a church or at one time did so. Whether or not their faith is genuine, often cultural Christians do not connect that faith to a sincere relationship with Jesus.

Contrast that with my high school experience in Maryland. There, I was surrounded by a vast array of belief structures and moral understandings. While I was attending a relatively solid, Bible-believing church and had a great Christian community, the world around me was quite different than the gun-carrying, conservative-libertarian Mecca in which I now reside. Maryland is home to some of the most liberal people in the world! But they are uniquely liberal. They are independently liberal and ferociously ideologues.

In this way, they are not much different than the people I live around (Ron Paul served as our Congressman/local Superhero for years.) It is this independent thinking that I admire in my two communities. I love the reality that neither group of friends has formed their ideas in a vacuum. I love that both groups have their own sources of media and both are willing to question the veracity of their own groups. I love that they are all open to honest discussion… most of the time.

Now that you understand my context a bit. I want to address something. I’m not sure how to address these things, but I have to say something. Forewarning: I do not like to talk about politics… most of the time I’ll just nod at your outrage and mumble about living in a sinful world. That said, here we go:

In the past year, there has been outcry and outrage about a myriad of heinous issues. Sexual harassment, political scandals, moral failings, denial of human dignities, and political posturing have come to the forefront in every sphere of media regardless of political leaning. There are some things that have bothered me about the rhetoric though.

  1. Stop claiming moral high-ground. If you’re espousing a political point of view, you don’t have moral high-ground. Politicians have never been bastions of morality. Even the saints of each party are wicked. Personally, I have a difficult time believing that politicians are capable of basic morality, but that’s just me. I want to remind you, you do not have the moral high-ground! If you’re a Democrat, it wasn’t that long ago that one of your heroes was using executive power to cheat on his wife. If you’re Republican, it wasn’t that long ago that one of your heroes was advocating torture. Videotapes, flying death drones, embezzlement, and hidden secrets are the norm! You shouldn’t be surprised! People are sinful and they continue to be sinful! Romans 3:10-18 states it well when it explains that “no one is righteous, not one seeks God!” Stop claiming to be moral… we’re not. Our nation is made up of sinful people who need to repent and trust in Jesus Christ.
  2. Stop pretending that the sins of famous people are so grievous while you practice the same sins secretly. Stand up against sexual sin, but do so with integrity! Sure, you may not sexually harass women in public, but do you watch movies that have graphic sex and incredible amounts of foul language or gratuitous violence? You cannot claim to stand up against sexual deviance and fill yourself with the filth that trains our society to be sexually deviant. Further, if you indulge in pornography, you’re doing the same, if not worse, than those who are currently involved in these scandals. It’s worse because you’re supporting an industry that trains people to view other people as objects to fulfill selfish sinful desires of lust. You’re part of the problem, don’t pretend you’re better just because you haven’t been caught. Romans 2 articulates this well explaining that you are guilty of the very same things for which you condemn others. You who condemn liars, do you lie? You who condemn pornographers, are you indulging in it as well? “You who boast in the [being good] dishonor God by [being wicked while claiming to be good]” (Romans 2:23).
  3. Stop using social media as your political grandstand. I don’t have much to say here beyond stop. It’s annoying. I want to see pictures of your life and posts about what is going on with you. I don’t care about Donald Trump or the Democrats. I care about you. I never thought I’d long for the day when you were posting pictures of your dinner. But alas… sin has corrupted even our ability to enjoy a good, poorly filtered, photo of a desert.
  4. Finally, Stop believing your sources of media. I know it is fun to jump on bandwagons and join in clever turns of phrases to defeat political opponents. We love to hear a witty bit of rhetoric and parrot that until the next one comes along. But in reality, we show ourselves to be foolish and unoriginal when we insist that these people don’t have a bias they are reporting from. Ignore them. Turn off the feed for a while and enjoy a snack. If you live near me, come over and I’ll make you coffee and a snack.
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Brief Thoughts; Colossians 2:11-12

11 In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

From the time of Abraham, God’s people were handed a profound, yet simple ritual that would serve as a physical picture of a deep spiritual truth. Circumcision, the removal of flesh from the body, shows what God would do in the heart of His people. On the 8th day, as a sign of continuing Sabbath rest with God, the people of God would circumcise every male. This simple sign would then mark them as permanently in covenant relationship with God. Circumcision was a symbol of a greater spiritual reality. As Paul explains in Romans 4, it is not those who simply bear the physical mark of circumcision that are part of God’s people, but those who are obedient to Him from a clean heart. Circumcision is first and foremost a matter of the heart.

Those who trust in Christ have been circumcised spiritually. The flesh (referred to in some translations as the sinful nature) has been removed in Christ’s death and replaced with a new nature that is clean before God. You see, every person is born with a “flesh nature.” This nature is bent towards sin and is mastered by sin. In Romans 7:1-6, Paul uses the illustration of a marriage to describe this mastery of the law of sin over the flesh. He explains that a marriage contract is not nullified until one party dies. So it is with the law. The flesh is bound to the law of sin and death until one party dies. It is not the law that dies, but the flesh. Those who have trusted in Christ, have been crucified with Christ, effectively killing the flesh and bringing the “body of sin to nothing” (Romans 6:6, c.f. Galatians 5:24).

The identity of a Christian is no longer wrapped up in the flesh. The flesh has been cut off and removed. It is difficult to grasp the nuances of this truth in most English translations. The English language can give the impression that this verse is indicating that “putting off the body of flesh” is something that Christians accomplish of their own will and effort. However, this is not the case. The only verb in verse 11 is the verb for circumcise. The phrases that follow are descriptors of what it means to be circumcised. The phrase, “by putting off the body of the flesh,” could better be translated, “in the putting off of the body of the flesh.” When Paul makes his statement about the flesh, he is clarifying what circumcision is. He is explaining that circumcision is the removal of the nature that has bound a man to sin. Before trusting in Christ, every person is bound to sin by a nature that is enslaved to it. In Christ’s death, that nature dies and is replaced by a new nature that is bound to righteousness through the gentle guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit (c.f. Romans 6).

Christians are no longer bound to sin and death but have been given new life. In Christ’s death, all true believers have died (that is, their flesh natures have died) and, in Christ’s resurrection, all true believers have been given a new nature. (Paul will visit this more in chapter 3:1-10). Like circumcision, baptism now serves as the symbol of this deeper spiritual truth. A believer has been buried with Christ in Baptism and raised to walk a new life (c.f. Romans 6:1-5). It is not the physical act of being dunked in water that changes the nature of the believer, but the removal of the flesh nature and the appeal to God for a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21). So when a Christian is Baptized, he is symbolically displaying the spiritual reality of what has happened in his soul.

Consider this truth for a moment – Christians no longer have a flesh (sinful nature) for it has been removed by Christ. His work on the cross freed you from that which once bound you to sin and death! When Christ died, the flesh died with Him. When He was raised, a new nature was raised with Him. Now you can walk in obedience! You are no longer tied down to sin and death. If you have trusted in Christ, you are free from the sinful nature and have been raised to walk in new life! A new life that is born out of trust in the sovereign God of all things. This is Christianity. You have been changed. You have been reborn. You are no longer bound by what you once were.

Dear Christian, how long will you go limping between two different opinions? – I Kings 18:21

In 1 Kings 18:17-41, Elijah levels the charge against the people of Israel and their king. He calls out the king and the people for worshiping the false fertility god Baal, demanding they choose between Baal and the LORD. The people must choose! Either submit to the will of the LORD and believe in Him, or follow your own passions and find your help in the worthless Baal.

He stood before the people of Israel to display the Lord’s might, proposing a competition between the LORD and Baal. Which god would answer? The fertility god Baal or the LORD, God of all. Baal was a god that promised fertility and sexual satisfaction. Cultic prostitution and sexual deviance were normative parts of worship within the cult of Baal. As such, the LORD, God of the Hebrews, stands in total opposition to the worship of Baal. The Law of God condemned the very acts of religious fealty in Baal’s religious cultic worship. Two bulls were prepared and Baal could go first. Let your god light the fire.

The 450 men of Baal prepared their altar and pleaded with their god to answer their cries. They danced, begged, preformed rituals, and even cut themselves to bring from their god the desired outcome of fire from heaven. Yet, nothing came. The spectacle went on for hours as Elijah taunted them, fanning their furious attempts to call forth fire from the heavens. The prophets used knives cutting deep into their own flesh and the flesh of others in desperate pleas to secure the answer. Still… silence. All day they worked to call their God to appease their desires. Still… nothing… their god could not bring fire.

The prophets of Baal trusted in that which could not bring fire. They mutilated themselves and begged their god to answer and yet they received nothing. As you read this account in the Bible, you get the feeling that no one has ever challenged these prophets on this scale before. No one says anything save Elijah, who simply taunts them. The entire nation is gathered to watch and sits enraptured, waiting for Baal to answer. The prophets obviously expected their god to answer. Hours of desperation and embarrassment, yet the prophets persist.

This devotion to the false gods of sexual indulgence is not uncommon in our own culture. Promiscuity is the norm and deviant sexual behavior is lauded and even heralded as entertaining (e.g. the 50 shades series). Men and women will spend hours indulging in pornography hoping it will bring fire that will satisfy. They will cut themselves, ruin their relationships, and beg and plead for their false gods to bring fire. The more they beg and plead for their false god to answer, the deeper their despair grows and the more ruinous their scars become. The result of such false worship is a “limping” life. “How long will you go on limping…” (1 Kings 18:21). Elijah recognized the result of such wicked hypocrisy: a limping, unsuccessful life.

Like the prophets of Baal, sinful sexual indulgence works until it is challenged. The moment you confront this false god with an actual need for satisfaction, the god can’t answer. In private, as a prophet of the false god, you can pretend. But, once you need actual satisfaction, the horrific reality sets in and you begin to ruin yourself and everyone around you calling on the false god to answer your need for fire. Pornography and sexual deviance are destructive. These practices destroy intimacy, silence truth, emasculate men, and objectify women. Those who indulge in such activities cause irreparable harm to their own psyche and bring permanent damage to their own ability to relate to others. Further, pornography is fiction! It is an illusion that does not actually satisfy. Finally, these practices pervert the glorious picture of sexual intimacy that God created and thereby damage the person’s ability to engage in the worship of the One True God! Like the worship of Baal, our own modern sexual idolatry has left American Christianity limping and weak.

Now, someone will argue that it is not fair to call someone who indulges in private one of the prophets of Baal. However, remember the beginning of the story. Elijah says, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” [1] Elijah is calling the people of Israel to account. He is not attacking the worship leaders of Baal in his challenge. He is attacking the adherents to the religious activity. Indeed, he is challenging the nation of Israel asking them how long they will persist in worshiping Baal and Yahweh. So this display of mutilation and self-destruction in an attempt to get the false god’s attention is meant for those who would vacillate between two opinions. It is an example for those who would worship Christ and harbor within themselves a worship of false gods. It is for those who have split allegiance. It is intended for us.

Consider for a moment the fruit of seeking satisfaction in the false god of pornography.

  1. You will go on limping in life. You will not run so long as you are tethered to the false fertility god.
  2. You will seek satisfaction that will never bring true fire. While you may convince yourself that you have been satisfied in secret, you will forever stand beside a rotting corpse hoping for fire to fall.
  3. You will do damage to yourself. Just like the prophets cut themselves, so you will scar yourself and leave wounds on your soul that may never fully heal.
  4. You will be angry at the Saints when you are not satisfied and they are. You will feel mocked and scorned when your god does not answer.
  5. You will be ashamed. No need to elaborate on this one.
  6. You will die. If you are a believer, this particular half way worship of Jesus will kill your zeal for Christ. You cannot worship God and sex.

Now let’s consider Elijah’s response to Baal.

Baal’s prophets stand embarrassed after hours of labor. Exhausted and wasted, they watch as Elijah takes the crowd’s attention.

First Elijah rebuilds the altar of the Lord. He does not create a new altar, nor divine some fancy new method for defeating Baal. He rests on the strength of the worship that the Lord has commanded. He rebuilds and places his sacrifice on what God has already set in place. Oh Christian, if you are to claim victory over sin and feel the fire of God fall from the heavens to ignite your soul, you must rely on the altar He has already placed before you. You must rely on Christ’s word. Lay your hopes and sacrifices upon the altar of the Word of God… no other counsel will lead you to overcoming.

Second, Elijah finds his identity in the Lord’s calling of Israel. He rebuilt the altar with 12 stones signifying the 12 tribes of Israel. If we are to defeat sin, we must remember that we belong to Him and are called to Him by Him (c.f. John 6:35-40 and John 10:27). It is paramount that you remember that you do not belong to sin any longer. You are claimed as His own, one of His tribe. You are Christ’s now. If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, you are no longer slave to sin (c.f. Romans 6 and Ephesians 2:1-10).

Third, Elijah covered the sacrifice with water. We must expect greater things from the One True God. Our requests of Him are so superfluous that we should be ashamed. It is as if we have asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when offered any meal we desire prepared by the greatest chef in existence. Perhaps the reason you have not overcome your sin is because you simply have not asked. Or perhaps you do not trust that God can satisfy your needs. Do you really think that your sexual desires are beyond His ability to fulfill? Do you think it’s not within the Lord’s realm of provision? Ask the Lord to provide for you in this way. I have seen many marriages rekindled by such a request. Elijah set his sacrifice up with impossible odds stacked against God Almighty! Yet still… fire fell! He will answer you as well.

Fourth, Elijah prays a simple prayer, asking that the Lord would answer him. His request is that God would answer him so that others would see and that others would be drawn to repent. This is our purpose for life, that the Lord’s name would be made great in us. However, so long as we vacillate between two opinions, we will not rest in the provision of God.

Finally, Elijah kills the false prophets. Pornography must die. It’s that simple, Christian. You must make war on sin and kill the pornographic influences in your life. If you want a life that revels in the power and provision of God, you must be devoted to Christ. Otherwise, you will spend all your time being called to a singular devotion rather than living in it.

 

Colossians 2:9-10; Brief thoughts

9 For in him the fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Christians are to place their confidence and trust in Christ alone because Christ is God. Christ is the one in whom “all the fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v.9). Consider that for a moment. The fullness of God is manifest in bodily form in Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul calls you to place all your confidence in Christ because Jesus is God! By definition, Jesus holds the power for existence within Himself (c.f. John 1:1-4). He is the Lord over all things and King above every king. He is the creator of everything and the sustainer of all life. He is the life-giver and the source of all knowledge. What else is deserving of your fealty? Only the One True God can compel such a devotion. Jesus is the One True God. “In Him the fullness of deity dwells.” Fullness, meaning all or completeness. Every portion of God’s infinite nature and power, the entire source of knowledge and wisdom, dwells within Jesus. It is, therefore reasonable to surrender to Him. Indeed it is the sole logical source of action. Being God, He is the only one worthy of our allegiance.

Once a believer has surrendered to Christ and has found him or herself captive to Jesus, they are filled with the presence of Jesus through His Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells all true believers, empowering them to live a lifestyle of obedience to the faith (Eph. 1:19). Consider for a moment the implications that the Spirit of the Living God has filled you. You have been graced with the presence of God, indwelling your own spirit. If God has indwelt you, is there anything that could possibly overcome you? Can anything thwart His working in your soul with such an invasion? Though you may press against Him and balk against His patient yet divine guidance, the presence of the Living God who created all things and sustains all things has determined that you are His. Wow!

Take note, you have been “filled IN [Christ].” Not by Christ, not through Christ, but IN Christ. It is in Christ that you are filled with Jesus! Paul is emphasizing that Jesus is not merely the object by which you are filled, He is the agent that fills you! There is no other means by which to be filled with the presence of God. He is the means of filling. There is no amount of work that you can do to be filled! There is no spiritual exercise by which the glory of God can be manifested in your life. The only way to restore the presence of God in your life is Jesus! The only way to find the peace of God that was prevalent in the garden of Eden is in Christ. The only way to restore that relationship that was razed by sin is to surrender your life to Christ and “in Him” you will be filled by His Spirit.

What greater power to be filled by than the one “is the head of all rule and authority” (v.10)”? He is the master of all things. No power is greater and no voice holds more weight. He is the head! In our modern cultural crisis, it is easy to fear that things are spiraling out of control. With the present cacophony of wickedness that we currently refer to as a government, fear can be overwhelming. Remember, Christ is the head over all rule and authority. There is no need to fear that He has lost control or is unaware. Indeed, there is no authority that can supersede or overrun His own glorious might! Rest in that comfort. Further, You have been filled with Him! Even your own failings and rejection of His guidance cannot overcome Him. He has come and He has conquered. You are His and cannot spurn His love enough to overrule Him. He is the head!

Further, what an amazing confidence this truth provides in a world filled with corruption. The perfect Law-giver has determined that He is going to redeem you, who have rebelled against His perfect law! He has the authority to save and the authority to claim whomever and whatever He so chooses. No corruption, be it external or internal can stave off His rule and authority. He overcomes ALL! Oh Christian, rest in this confidence: there is no authority above Christ! He is the master of all. Even when the world seems to be falling apart, He is still King. Even when we are kicking against His perfect love, He is still King! He is still King!

 

Re-Created. My first book!

ReCreated_4This is my first book! It is a walk through the gospel of John. Writing this work has been one of the greatest joys of my life and I hope it serves to advance the Gospel!

The Gospel of John has long been my favorite of the four gospels. Its unique perspective and complex rhythm have captured my heart and drawn me to a deeper understanding of Jesus. The theme of John’s gospel is that Jesus is God. He is God come to earth to re-create the hearts of the people He loves so dearly. I’ve been privileged to teach through the Gospel of John three times as a pastor. Each time, the Lord has been faithful to reveal more and more of His character through the text.

Nic2As I preached through John most recently I used some artistic aids to help explain and teach the text. I found that the gospel was illuminated in a unique and inspiring way through these efforts. Through art and poetry the story came alive to me. As I journeyed with Jesus through the narrative of John, I found art and poetry capturing and elucidating truth in a way that giving a speech or an exegesis could not. What resulted was this work.10 feet2.jpeg

It is my deepest desire that this work would serve to advance the teaching of the gospel. I long for people to see Jesus. I want them to know Jesus the way I know Jesus. I want people to see His love and grace, to feel His anger at injustice, to understand His kindness to those who hate Him, and to hear His voice calling them out of darkness. Our world has so many convoluted ideas and depictions of Jesus. It is my hope that this work will draw people to see Jesus more clearly through the Scripture.fruit2

I pray you are blessed as you read through this work. I was blessed in the writing.

If you’d like to see a sample of the poetry here is a free pdf of two poems from the book: pdfsample2poems

Re-Created is available for purchase here:

Amazon.com

Lulu.com

If you are interested in bulk orders, please contact me at novis_elkins@hotmail.com with the subject heading: Re-Created Bulk Order

Colossians 2:8; Brief Thoughts

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

When a citizen of one country travels to another, they are immersed in their host country’s culture and legal system. The laws may be the same universal laws as in every nation (e.g. do not murder, etc..), but the ideals and philosophies that surround the people may differ widely from nation to nation. As Christians, we live in a world that is not our home. We are resident aliens on this earth, operating by a moral system and ideology that is altogether separate from this world. Yet, before our allegiance shifted to the Kingdom of Jesus, we were at home in this world. The self-righteousness that is so evident on this earth was rooted deep within our core being. Indeed, every person born to man is slave to sin. Slave to that selfish motivation that claims the divine right of determining good and evil. Slave. Christians, however, are no longer slaves. We have been set free in Jesus Christ (C.f. Romans 6, Galatians 4, and John 8).

As our allegiance now resides with Jesus, we must be vigilant to ensure that we are not deceived or taken in by falsehood. Paul mentions three areas of life in which Christians must maintain an awareness: worldly wisdom, religion, and mysticism.

In modern society, education is sometimes elevated to an unhealthy prestige. A man who holds a doctoral degree in any subject is often called upon as an intelligent and knowledgeable source on various subjects, even if they do not pertain to his scholarly studies. Further, in many modern educational institutions, it is common to blindly accept the testimony and presupposition of professors simply because they maintain the rank of professor. In our modern climate, it is more necessary for Christians to learn discernment in the area of education than ever before. The adversary will strive to convince Christians that they are somehow not intellectually rigorous or honest. Yet, Christians are those who pursue Christ with a fierceness that is unparalleled. We seek the wisdom of God, not merely the observable realities so apparent to everyone, but that supernatural wisdom that contains all the mysteries of existence. A true believer does not avoid knowledge but pursues true knowledge with the aid of the inexhaustible fount of all wisdom. Oh Christian, do not allow the adversary to take you captive by empty deceit.

Where the adversary cannot succeed in the theft of the mind, he will attempt to confine you to ritual and practice. Much of the modern church in the west has fallen prey to the second category. We have forsaken the worship of God in favor of practices and rituals that appease our own sensibilities. We choose churches that meet our criterion of comfort and self-soothing. We rely on our practices to prove our own holiness rather than on a personal relationship with Christ. We insist we are right because we have always been this way and that is the way it is done. Christian, question these things. Just because you were taught them does not make them right. Likewise, just because you were taught them does not make them wrong either. Question the traditions you have been handed to ensure that you are obeying Christ.

The final category of awareness that Christians must cultivate is one of mysticism. It may seem foreign to our enlightened sensibilities, but mysticism still reigns in our culture. The mysticism of our modern culture is much more insidious than the open paganism so prevalent in the first century. The mysticism that many indulge in today is one of karmic understanding. That is, the idea that if we will take the right steps we can manipulate our circumstances, do enough good and our bad will be compensated for. Much like the mystics of old, this karmic understanding of God leads mankind into a type of bondage to their own sinful disposition. When a person believes they can manipulate their circumstances by behaving a certain way, they will inevitably run afoul of reality. Eventually, as the prophets of Baal discovered in 1 Kings 18, no amount of piety, self-mutilation, or license will bring about the desired result. This is simply because embracing mysticism as a rule for life is embracing a lie. Examine yourself. Question whether or not you really believe. Strive to ensure that you are embracing the truth of who Jesus is as your Lord and Master. Be diligent in self-examination, so that you can be certain that you are not falling prey to modern mysticism of the karmic understanding of faith.

Christians are captive to Christ. Rather than being held captive by these three categories of falsehood, a true believer has surrender completely to Christ. “See to it that no one takes you captive by…” Paul admonishes us to remain alert for falsehood and then provides an assumed opposition to the falsehood. Rather than simply avoiding being held captive by the false narratives of other philosophies, Paul assumes that we will be held captive to Christ. Indeed, to be captive to Christ is the very essence of Christianity. Nowhere else in Scripture is this more illuminated than in Romans 6, in which Paul discusses the former nature of slavery to sin as contrasted with the changed nature of slavery to righteousness. Believers are freed through their enslavement to Christ. Unlike the master of the Law of sin and death, Christ is the Master who leads His people into freedom and not bondage. He carries no whip and needs not force to coerce those whom He loves. Rather than punish, He raises up His own and imputes His righteousness upon them. Then, as a loving father would, He walks alongside His people teaching them how to live. This is the Lord to whom Christians are captive… willingly captive.