Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Real or Fake?"

Just a few months back North Korea reconfirmed the discovery of an ancient unicorn lair. Of course, those of us outside of North Korea - and probably some of those inside - are highly skeptical of this claim. Unfortunately, I've never seen one of these majestic creatures - and I doubt I ever will - so I'm quick to side with the skeptics. But take your imagination for a spin and place yourself in the shoes of a North Korean citizen.

You've been born and raised within the strictly confined territory and have been raised to know nothing but loyalty to your beloved leaders; in this case, Kim Jong-un. All of your life you've had no contact with the outside world and only know of those outside of your home territory by the propaganda the government has fed to the public. Your family has relayed their love for the revered leader to you for as long as you can remember and they are absolutely ecstatic to hear news of another unworldly discovery attributed to the leader's family line. You remember them speaking of some of the previous leader's achievements - 11 hole in ones, a birth foretold by a swallow and heralded by a brilliant star - and you chalk this up on the list of accolades. You buy into every word.

Then you happen to cross paths with a journalist from outside of the country's district. You agree to an interview in which she reveals the truth about the surrounding world. How the neighboring countries aren't the villains they've been made out to be and she accuses the leaders of North Korea of manipulating their citizens into believing propaganda that isn't only false but completely preposterous to the outside world. She leaves you with a choice, believe her word and follow her out of the country - risking death - or continue to life the life which she claims to be filled with lies.

Imagine how outlandish it would be to hear an outside describe these things. How difficult would it be to believe her? What if this is also true of us?

Most of us, who are fortunate enough to live outside of North Korea, would think "of course the journalist is telling the truth," but that's because we've seen it from the outside. What about when Jesus came into the world? Did the angels find it preposterous to believe his claims when the rest of the world scoffed at him? I doubt it. But it was still too much for the world - separated from the realms of heaven - to believe. How foolish did they look to all of the heavenly hosts? What about to all of the demons who also know the truth (James 2:19)?

Jesus didn't only come into the world to tell us the truth himself, but he left writings and prophecies in his scriptures to help us discern what is real and what is fake. And not only that, but his death allowed for God to send The Helper - the Holy Spirit - in determining what he left for us to interpret. This means that the same God that told his prophets and scribes what to write is working inside of us now to interpret it. That's like having Shakespeare himself help you work through what a certain passage in (italics - Hamlet) means.

If this is true, then how essential is it to cling to the truth of his word? To make reference to one of my favorite pop book series, In Suzanne Collins (italics - The Hunger Games), Peeta and Katniss play a game that allows Katniss to remind Peeta of what was really true after his mind had been completely corrupted and turned against her by the Capitol. When he stumbled across something he wasn't quite sure about he would turn to Katniss and ask "real or fake?" (Citation). How often do you turn to the Spirit to ask the same question? What should I really believe? How often do you use your Bible to filter out the truth?

If the Bible's claims about Christ are true then it is nothing short of revolutionary. If God is God then serve Him, but if ______ is, then follow it. (1 Kings 18:21)! Take him up on this. Ask him yourself: "God, Jesus Christ. Real or fake?" The truth can uphold itself.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Celebrating Birth: An Eternal Truth

Two days ago I celebrated my twentieth birthday. According to my friends, that fateful day marked the day I became a man. This is the same remark they made to me on my 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays. I still haven't figured out exactly how that works. While I've been a part of this world for a little over 20 years now, I've only truly lived for a little over a year now. Proverbs 12:19, sheds some light on this idea:

Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

Bear with me while I try to explain this. Think for a moment about what truthful lips means. At first glance it is easy to conclude that this verse simply instructs us to tell the truth. While I believe that is a correct interpretation, it only scrapes the surface of this verse's meaning. Think about it; what truth could honestly last forever? 

I know you hear this everywhere but let me reiterate it once more - this world is full of lies. Lies about new breakthrough dieting pills, lies about sex and fulfillment, lies about self-image; the list just goes on and on. The sad reality is that most of us believe them. At least I did for the first 18 years of my life. 

I grew up in a Christian home, went to church regularly and attended a Christian high school from my sophomore year until graduation, all the while carrying the outward appearance of the good guy. I wanted to paint a picture with my life, one of success and happiness. I didn't drink, never had sex and stayed away from drugs. All of my life I was looking towards something to increase that guise of outward success. At first it was good grades, next it was attempting to entertain my friends. Perhaps one of my most daring endeavors was attempting to be the model boyfriend, which I can assure you is a hard act to pull off! Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't recreate my life the way it seemed to work out so perfectly in my head. 

Nothing was ever enough to satisfy my desires. Weren't good friend supposed to last forever? What about all those times I promised to "love" someone forever? Those were all beginning to look a lot like little white lies now. Once I was in college I realized that I was doing something wrong. I didn't have my friends around me any more, my girlfriend had broken up with me and I certainly wasn't the smart guy any more. I always heard that God would take care of me, but why did my life seem to be falling apart now?

While at UNC, I met a body of believers who seemed drastically different than the Christians I had previously known. They had a genuine love that I never knew before. I began studying the scriptures towards the end of my first semester, praying that God would show me what this love was all about. At the start of my second semester my prayers were answered when one of my friends invited me to explore some scripture with him. I don't remember what scripture we looked at, but I do remember asking how he felt so assured of his own salvation. He explained in a clear yet precise manner everything that I thought I had known my entire lifeThat was the first time I actually understood the gospel. God had been calling out to me all of this time, my entire life pointed towards his plan for me unfolding. After attempting to act like one all of my life, I finally became a Christian that night. 

 He was telling me that I would never be able to paint the image I wanted to with my life. In fact, all of the good behaviors I had lived out in my life meant nothing before an almighty God (Isaiah 64:6). But here's the good news; he had already painted my life out for me and was willing to accredit His success to me. My hope is to share the truths that I learned that night with you today. 

Truth #1
  • We all deserve to be in hell. That is a fact. Romans 6:23 explains that through our sins we have earned ourselves death and a life apart from God. "For the wages of sin is death...." Don't think you're excluded from this truth because you've lived a selfless life or else you'll miss out on all of the grace. Romans 3:23 clearly states that we "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." It's an abundance of grace that allows us to wake up and experience life today. Don't mistake it for anything else. Fortunately for us, there's a solution to our problem in...
Truth #2
  • God has freely given us the opportunity to accept eternal life. The second half of Romans 6:23 states that the "free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Growing up in church, I heard the crucifixion story time after time. The difference in hearing it when I became a Christian was in understanding that I deserved the extreme punishment Jesus endured on the cross. Not just the pain of the nails in his hands and feet, but the separation from God he experienced while he hung on the tree. He went through hell so I wouldn't have to, and he did it willingly. That is true love. Knowing that Christ would give up His own life to allow me to have mine made my decision to give mine away seem easy. Don't miss the fact that while this is a free gift, it is one you have to accept. When you get a new TV for Christmas it won't do you any good until you turn it on and watch. That's the same way the gospel works. We have to be willing to cooperate to experience the benefits. The gift is the bridge that allows us to cross the gap between our sin and God, whether we decide to cross it or not is up to us.
Truth #3
  • Understanding what God has done for you is meant to lead you to repentance. I'm hesitant to label this as a truth because I want to make it clear that good works does not equal salvation, but you would have to be crazy to not want to listen to the man who saved you from eternal damnation. Jesus says in John 14:23 that those who keeps his word are the ones who love him, and the word that He speaks comes from the Father. I believe, wholeheartedly, that once you truly understand the gospel, your outward actions will change and you will begin to desire to live out His word. Again, I want to stress my hesitance in labeling this as a truth. Be assured that accepting Christ is ALL you need for salvation, but if you're not even attempting to listen to your savior's word, you might want to evaluate your own standing. Your eternal life is at stake.

I've been a Christian for a little over a year now, and experiencing the grace of God has been the biggest blessing I've ever encountered in my life. He hasn't failed me yet. I know some of my friends, old and new, might be in the same situation I was, and I pray that they'll take a moment to consider the reality of the gospel in their own lives along with anyone who might have stumbled onto this blog post. 

In John 17:17 Jesus prays to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. We're all sojourners in this world. When we die, we'll move along into an eternal life, either with the Father or apart from Him. His word, the Bible, is what we have now to guide us in this life. It is the sole truth that will endure forever, resounding out in a world that is full of misleading lies. Take a moment and evaluate where you stand. Are you still weighed down by your sin as guilty, or have you come into salvation through the grace of Christ?