Itching Ears


Public discourse during this American Presidential election year has highlighted the increasing isolation of Bible-believing Christians from mainstream society. Because U.S. President George W. Bush has openly professed his faith in Jesus Christ, he has become the lightning rod for attacks against Christianity in general. Honest debate about Bush's fulfillment of executive duties is often set aside for vitriolic personal attacks. Critics view Bush's public and conservative Christianity as leverage to raise questions about his fitness as President and, in so doing, stir public emotions against both. Another example: actor and filmmaker Mel Gibson became the target of collective malice once it became known he was directing "The Passion of the Christ," a film which was to be purportedly faithful to the Gospels (as opposed to out-and-out blasphemous). Yet, prior to "The Passion," Gibson was far from a controversial figure.

The phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" is all the more apropos in the Western World, where Christianity is both ingrained and derided. And in this climate of world unrest, the mainstream media's all-too-facile (and intellectually dishonest) comparisons of fundamental Christianity to fundamental Islam, with the implication that there is no difference between the two, deliberately exploit public fears.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy Chapter 4:

3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
Unbelievers and even some nominal Christians have allowed themselves to get swept up in the unabashed venom directed at Christianity, specifically Bible-based Christianity and born-again Christians. When pressed to define the source of their anger, they inevitably cite Christians (or those who claim to be Christians) who are either hypocrites or Philistines or both. The majority of their arguments do not involve Scriptural discourse.

Born-again believers understand they must be strong in Christ and put on the armor of God to navigate life's trials and tribulations. Unbelievers, however, are typically unaware of the spiritual realm. Without the Holy Spirit, individuals are far more vulnerable to spiritual deception. There exists a dark spiritual drumbeat which sends unwitting pawns, in lockstep, over the precipice. "The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) Demagoguery and group pressure are usually the physical representations of this spiritual drumbeat -- they scratch the itching ears. Fallen man is eager to hear justification of his sin.

Jesus said in John Chapter 15:
18 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
20 Remember the words I spoke to you: "No servant is greater than his master." If they persecuted me, they will persecute you, also.
In today's culture, the simple mention of Jesus riles unbelievers, and His name is open to mockery. The names "Buddha," "Muhammad," "Allah," or even "God" do not stir up this kind of response. If someone simply says they believe in God, they are subject to far less ridicule than if they were to profess faith specifically in Jesus Christ. At the spiritual level, there are forces that hate that name -- especially that name. Jesus, the son of God, defeated sin on the Cross and thus destroyed the devil's one weapon against mankind. Jesus' victory on the Cross was complete and total. As a result, the devil and his forces strive to devalue the name of Jesus and so stoke those rebellious impulses in sinful Man.

The so-called "tolerancy" of this age does not extend to Bible-believing Christians. They have been put on the defensive, made to feel ashamed of their beliefs, and ostracized. These are tumultuous times. But believers should take heart; God is calling His true Church and separating the wheat from the tares.

Isaiah Chapter 5
20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
The massive abortion rights march in Washington D.C. this past April was a startling example of man's rebellion, the extent of his arrogance, and his itching ears, which seek only to hear justification of his sinful actions. It is only the tip of the iceberg.

Be All You Can Be


We often hear parents and teachers these days tell children: "you can be anything you want to be" or "you can accomplish anything you set your mind to." On the surface, these phrases have a wonderful after-school special morality -- easily digestible and properly worshipful of Self-Esteem, the modern god. Unfortunately, today's prevailing Christian world view seems to have co-opted these kinds of banal sentiments. These shadows of truths gain prominence in the absence of Scripturally based Christian thinking.

Surely those two phrases above are meant only to encourage children and empower them with a sense of freedom. What's the harm in that? The harm is, their implications are deceitful. Children are expected to engineer happiness by their own devices, as in their mind and body. The spiritual element is deliberately omitted. As in the case of "God-fearing," the term "God willing" has completely disappeared from contemporary usage.

Does this sound like overstatement? Let us compare "you can be anything you want to be" to the following verse from Psalm 37 (KJV):

4 Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
The Biblical verse acknowledges the Self as subordinate to God. True identity cannot exist without existing in the Lord. Psalm 37:4 is one of the most powerful verses in all of the Bible because it summarizes the believer's purpose: to glorify God.

In stark contrast, "you can be anything you want to be" acknowledges only the Self: "to be" and 'to want" exist only in the Self. Yet even common sense refutes this. A basic example: man, try as he might, cannot be a woman, and woman, try as she might, cannot be a man. That person can alter their physiology and behavior, but anyone can tell you that there is more to gender than the superficial.

Fallen man's desires often run contrary to the will of God, which is precisely why the Biblical truth separates "to be" and "to want." An individual may want anything that pops into their head, but they cannot "be" (as in possess identity) without God. The most basic level of being, i.e. taking the breath of life, requires God. Even an unbeliever recognizes that life and death are completely out of their control. God can and does make the impossible happen (as plenty of Biblical evidence attests to), but He doesn't alter physical realities to indulge our selfish fancies, only to glorify Himself.

"You can accomplish anything you set your mind to." Where is God in this statement? Here, the mind is the be-all, end-all. The human mind is certainly a powerful tool, but it consistently fails in the area of foreknowledge. Without precise foreknowledge, all anyone can honestly say is they're "hoping for the best." Now consider the following verse from Hebrews Chapter 11 (KJV):
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
The individual who trusts in God accomplishes their goals. God is omniscient; He is the Creator. Sometimes it rains on the day you planned a picnic. Life doesn't always agree with our plans. But God is the ultimate guide because He knows what's around the corner. The mind can only get you so far.

The U.S. Army slogan "be all you can be" is, among these secular axioms, closest to Biblical truth. Each one of us has a God-given potential, but we cannot be more than God made us to be. Lest that sound like some kind of binding limitation, we are often much, much less.

America the Beautiful? Part 2


The egregious abuse of Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors at the Abu Ghraib prison -- and the accompanying photographs -- have been the big news around the world the last couple of weeks. By using demagogic and sensationalist reporting, the world's mainstream media has thrown these events wildly out of proportion. As with war crimes in the past, it may take months, even years, to sort out all the facts. However, in this case, believers must look beyond socio-political concerns to observe the spiritual forces at work.

U.S. President George W. Bush declared that the abuse in Abu Ghraib "does not represent the America I know." Unfortunately, this statement reflects either a bit of wishful thinking or political spin control. On one hand, the prisoner abuses do involve just a tiny fraction of the American occupants in Iraq. (The cultural elite would like to believe the abuses are simply representative of the ever-widening class gulf in the U.S.) But on the other hand, America's moral decay is on exhibit for all the world to see. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Psalm 90:

8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
We cannot always expect to understand Divine Judgment, but we can expect Its imminency. The revelation of Iraqi prisoner abuse, especially in light of its attendant worldwide coverage (no matter the human motive), is God's way of holding up a mirror to America's pervasive sexual sin. Pornography clearly casts its long, dark shadow over these abuses, and it affects both the secular and Christian worlds. A recent Barna Group study reveals a moral apathy among Americans -- most alarmingly among those who claim to be born again Christians -- regarding certain key issues as pornography and sexual immorality.

As was noted in the earlier post "America the Beautiful?," the existence of sin is denied or, at the very least, its relevance is diminished in America today. This worldwide scandal of abuse is just one example of God's warnings to America that its shame can and will not stay hidden forever if it does not change its ways.

America has become a bit like the titular character of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray -- still vibrantly alive and beautiful on the outside while decaying and hideously grotesque on the inside. The comparison most apropos to today's United States is, of course, ancient Rome. Like her classical counterpart, America is a nonpareil superpower whose greatest enemy is herself.

A part of America wants to pretend that "family values" are still preeminent, in spite of a popular culture so completely corrosive to those values. The Christianity in America has become cultural, just as religions in other countries are cultural. People are born into it. True followers of Christ will find that their idealized America no longer exists and they are strangers in a strange land: "I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons." (Psalm 69:8)

America must humbly return to God as the nation of Judah did centuries ago, when King Jehoshaphat led his people in prayer and fasting before the Lord (2 Chronicles Chapter 20). God (and the world) know that America is not what it says it is; when will its citizens wake up and change?

The Two Fears


While the knowledge and luxuries of this day and age are leaps and bounds beyond what people in past centuries experienced, many and varied fears still beset even the most privileged among us. Fear of financial hardship, fear of loneliness, fear of crime, fear of failure, fear of world instability, fear of death, fear of men, fear of women, fear of the opinions of our peers, fear of getting lost in the shuffle, fear of being forgotten, fear of letting go -- the list goes on.

But these are all the same fear. It is the fear that exists in the absence of a deep commitment to and faith in Christ. It is the fear that comes from the enemy of the Truth. It is the fear rooted in exaltation of Self, of Man.

Proverbs Chapter 29:

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.
Ah, but what of fear of God? The Bible speaks of the fear of God in many passages. It would seem there are two fears that may guide this fragile creature known as man. In our contemporary culture, the fear of God has all but lost its preeminence. The once oft-heard phrase "God-fearing" has dropped out of the lexicon.

The fear of God has become the one fear that today's people do not have. A person will readily proclaim his fear of anything from germs to large crowds, but he will in the same breath dismiss the "old-fashioned" fear of God.

Proverbs Chapter 19:
23 The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
Franklin Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address in 1932: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." He could just as easily have added: "And God first and foremost." For the fear of God is not so much fear with a little "F" -- a worldly fear -- but Fear with a big "F" -- a holy Fear. To fear God is to love Him and to submit to His will: "The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever." (Psalms 19:9) The fear of God is empowering; the fear of man is a life filled with anxiety and uncertainty.

After His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were fishing by the Sea of Tiberias. All through the night up until Jesus' appearance, they caught no fish. Then Jesus instructed his disciples to cast their nets in an area where they had not tried. They obeyed, and "they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish." (John 21:6)

Many of us fear the path that God has created for us; we are afraid to cast our nets in untested waters. Yet one chooses to either fear the things of this world or fear the Creator of this world. One cannot do both.

David wrote in Psalm 23:
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.