Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Am An Extremist.

"Whoever says to me 'I know Him' but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him." -1 John 2:4 (ESV)

The other day I was reading this article (that will remain anonymous because I wouldn't recommend anyone to read it) about why this whole "finding yourself" thing that you see everywhere on the internet makes no sense. And for the majority of the article, I agreed (except for her occasional foul language, of course).

She talked about how traveling the world, quitting your job, and taking up a new hobby is not how you find yourself. You are not those things. You are not the track you run on or the job that you have. Going on a hike to the tops of Mount Everest is not going to help you solve your internal struggle of figuring out who you are as a person. And I agreed. Until I got to one part that sort of puzzled me.

In this article, the girl said that she used to be a believer in God. She was raised by religious parents, and as part of her "soul search" she decided to become an atheist, and at first, in her mind, anyone who believed in God was wrong and it was her goal to tell everyone about this. But then she said that as she grew as a person, she realized that not all Christians are "extremists" and that some "Christians" just wanted to go to church occasionally, and then go home and live life like everyone else.

That word, "extremists" struck me. We tend to use that word as a derogatory term for someone whose beliefs we think are crazy. But is religion crazy? Are true followers of God extremists? Am I an extremist? What does that even mean? And as I was asking myself these questions, I realized, once again, a very sad and unfortunate truth.

We are told by the world to be proud of what we believe in, but if we follow the Bible to the letter, we are insane. We are told to love one another, but if we put a Bible verse at the end of it, we're annoying religious people, forcing others to live their lives a certain way. We can act however we want, but if we choose not to drink for religious reasons, we're a stick in the mud. And I know that this is something that has been said many times, but I want to add to it.

It's okay. It's okay to be an extremist. It's okay to be an annoying religious person. It's okay to be a stick in the mud because being a Christian is extreme. Sometimes we have to give up our possessions (Matthew 19:21) Sometimes we have to swallow our pride and love those who hate us (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14; Luke 6:27-31). In order to even love properly, we have to be patient and kind, we cannot envy, we cannot boast, we cannot be arrogant or rude, we cannot insist on our own way, we cannot be irritable or resentful, we cannot rejoice when others do wrong, and the list goes on. 

There is no such thing as two types of Christians. There are no liberal Christians. There are no
unfaithful Christians. There are no conservative Christians. There are no extremist Christians. There are only those who follow God's Word to the letter, and those who do not. There are only those who keep His commandments, and those who do not (John 14:21; 1 John 2:4). There are only Christians and non-Christians.

We must all remember that we cannot take a step back from our faith. We cannot decide that we aren't going to follow some things just because they are inconvenient. There is no such thing as a Christian who only follows God on Sundays and then lives like the atheists during the week.

The reason that so many unbelievers have a hard time understanding Christians is because there are so many people who claim to be Christians but don't follow God's commands. As Gandhi put it: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." The reason for this mentality is because there are so many who claim to love Christ, but don't study enough to know how they are to live their lives, thus soiling the reputation of the true Christian.

They imitate men rather than God (1 Corinthians 11:1) They hate those who are different than them, rather than loving their enemies (Luke 6:27-31) and they may speak the truth, but they do so with hate rather than love (Ephesians 4:15). They only hear the Word without doing it (James 1:22-25) and they call upon Christ's name in a vain attempt to be righteous but fail because they do not follow His Word (Matthew 7:21). They allow the world to define what Christianity is rather than God, and that is where we stop trying to please God, but rather to please men (Galatians 1:10)

We must rise above this. We must show the world what a Christian truly is. We must follow Him, and Him alone. We must proclaim His Word, and we must do it, among all else, in love (1 Corinthians 16:14). We must show the world that being a Christian does not mean that we hate everyone else and that believing in God is not foolish. We cannot hate those who do not agree with us, or the Bible. We must remember to always remain patient, kind no matter how difficult.

I want to encourage you to not be afraid of being an extremist. Don't be afraid to do the unpopular thing of being a Christian. If you do these things, you will be the light of the World that we are told to be in Matthew 5:14. I want to encourage you to hold fast to your faith (Hebrews 10:19-23) and to never fail to let your light shine no matter how dark the world around you becomes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Are You the Tax Collector?

"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." -Matthew 23:12 (ESV)

I am sure, for the most part, that the people reading this article are Christians. Most of the people reading this article are probably people who believe in the Bible, and believe that Christ is the son of God, who came to this earth to die for our sins. But there is a problem that I am seeing over and over again that is becoming worse and worse throughout time. An issue that seems to go ignored, and never seems to be brought to light. This is an issue that you may have, and even I struggle with from time to time.

We are told all throughout the Bible to go out into all the world and preach to everyone (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; James 5:19-20; Acts 14:47, etc.). We must always be striving to save the souls of those that are lost, and guide them to the narrow road. We must also encourage our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to keep the faith, and to grow in it (1 Thessalonians 5:14; Hebrews 10:24-25, etc.).

I want to address a very big issue that I have seen in many people. I am not speaking about any one individual, but rather this is just an issue that I have seen a lot of recently. And that is taking studies and posting them to social media as a way of saying, "Look how spiritual I am!" Or marking in your Bible more just so that when you flip through it during the sermon, people see how much you study. Getting tattoos with Bible verses or symbols to show people how devoted you are to God. Shouting out in the streets and shouting "I AM A GOOD CHRISTIAN!"

Before I continue, I am in no way saying that there is anything wrong with studying God's Word with whatever method you choose. There is nothing wrong with writing in the margins, there is nothing wrong with highlighting, color coding, Bible journaling, or any of that. I myself just bought a journaling Bible because I have learned that there is no such thing as too much margin space. In fact, I encourage you to find whatever study method works best for you, and do it! The more motivation you have to study, the more you will be eager to do it.

Having said that, Christianity, in no way, should be used to glorify ourselves. In Luke 18 we are given the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We often look to the tax collector here as an example, and we rarely even consider that we could ever be that Pharisee. However, I have seen many people in my time that are just like the Pharisee here. People who devote themselves to God. This Pharisee was very devoted! In verse 12 he says that he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all that he gets. This man was devoted. This man was putting his life in God's hands, and he was striving to be acceptable to Him. And yet even those that are incredibly faithful can get caught up in sin without realizing. Even those that have given up their lives for Christ can forget that they are serving Him, and not men (Galatians 1:10).

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own Christianity that we forget that we are imperfect. But we must never allow our glorification of God to blind us to our flaws. We must never allow ourselves to focus so much on the good, that we neglect to fix the bad. What I am talking about is not the method in which one studies. What I am saying is not about encouraging others to study God's word. What I am speaking about is intention. Where your heart is at. And whenever we only study God's Word to glorify ourselves, whenever we post onto whatever social media we can, pictures of verses over pretty backdrops, pretty sermon notes, and the most marked pages of your Bible, what is the intention? Where is the heart at? Who is truly being glorified?

I am not saying that these things are wrong. But whenever we do them simply to lift up ourselves, who are we really glorifying? Is it God? Or is it ourselves? Whenever we stand up and say "I AM GOD'S!" rather than allowing our actions prove that, who are we glorifying?

Again, I want to stress that I am not speaking about any specific individual. I am not saying that these by themselves are wrong. I think it's good when we encourage others to study and when we are not afraid to show others that we are faithful. Once again, what I am speaking about is intent. Is it your intention to glorify God? Is it your intention to inspire others? Or is it your intention to look good? Is it your intention to get more likes? Is it your intention to have others look at you and think "Wow! They're so spiritual!" Is this your intention?

God never wanted His Word to be used for us to look better. John 8:54 Jesus says, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say 'He is our God.'" Even Jesus Himself is saying that even He cannot obtain His own glory. Jesus, who aided in the creation of all things (1 John 1:3). Jesus, who came to save men from their sins (John 11:25). Jesus, who was perfect though he went through all kinds of temptations (Hebrews 4:15). Even He could not glorify Himself. How can we, then, glorify ourselves? (Matthew 23:12)

I do not want to discourage anyone from spreading the Word of God. I do not want to hinder anyone from being confident in their faith. However, sometimes it's important to take a step back and ask yourself what your intentions are. Ask yourself if you are the tax collector or the Pharisee. Ask yourself what it is that you are trying to do. Are you glorifying God in all things? Are you focusing on Him more than yourself? Are you the tax collector? Or are you the Pharisee?