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Theological Reflections

Most to Be Pitied


Paul makes a very provocative statement in 1 Corinthians 15:19:

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”

There are many interpretations of this statement.  One of the ones that holds the most weight with maturing Christians is that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are most to be pitied because all of our sufferings for His sake have been in vain.  This is the tack that John Piper takes in his famous “Live to Die” address from the 2001 Shepherds Conference.  It is also reflected in the message of the book, Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand.

We are promised in 2 Timothy 3:12 that if we desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus we will be persecuted.  Therefore - the thinking goes - since real Christians should all face persecution in some way, shape, or form, we would then have the most pitiable lives of all if it turns out that Jesus was never the real deal, because we have suffered so badly, even when it was completely unnecessary.

This creates a bit of problem, though, for some believers who don’t really suffer so badly under persecution.  We are promised that persecution will come, and even in a nation like the United States of America - which was founded by Christians on Christian principles, and which provides some of the most robust religious freedom in the world - we do in fact face some persecution.  But the persecution most of us face falls mainly into the category of “social” persecution.

My job was once threatened by my allegedly Christian (and Baptist to boot!) boss at one job if I didn’t quit talking about religious topics (I didn’t stop, by the way, and I never lost my job over it).  At another job, the person sitting next to me got so mad that I disliked the Avengers: Endgame movie due to the homosexual grief counseling scene that she started yelling at me, claiming that she had friends who were gay, and that I had no right to be mad about such things.

But if this kind of persecution is the worst that I am to face in this life, can I really be said to be of all people most to be pitied if Christ is not who He claimed to be?  Well, not really, because I have a very joyful life, with a quiver (and van) full of beautiful children.  I know the difference between things that matter and things that don’t.  The commands of God - even if He didn’t really exist - are pretty wise anyway, and cause you to live a long a fruitful life.  All that’s a pretty good trade for just a few angry people who don’t like to hear me talking about my faith.

That’s why I don’t really believe that the reason why we would be most pitiable can be fully summed up in the fact that we suffer persecution for nothing.  To be sure, it’s a factor in why we would be pitied - and for some people, it is really huge (just go read that Tortured for Christ book if you haven’t already!).

Instead, I believe that the reason we should be most pitied if for this life only we have faith in Christ is because we would have so much to lose.  And no, I am not talking about “heaven” here - or not directly anyway, as in some pie-in-the-sky place where all of your wildest wishes come true.  I am talking about Jesus Christ Himself: our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Lord, and King.

We Christians have the absolute most perfect, wonderful, and delightful God that can be imagined.  No, seriously, actually try to imagine a God greater than the One Who has been revealed to us in the Scriptures - the One Who has been revealed to us by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-3).  If you can think of any way that He can be better than how He has been revealed to us, then you have either just missed some part of the Bible that actually describes Him the way you have imagined, or you are trying to weaken Him in some way in an attempt to excuse some pet sin in your life.

And so, because the God of the Bible is so absolutely magnificent - so far above any and all other gods or rival philosophies - we actually have the most to lose if it all just ended up being a human fiction.  The God-hating evolutionist homosexuals will end up being tormented in hellfire forever if they are wrong and we Christians are right, but at least they will finally know that this amazing God exists.  Whereas, if we Christians die in this world and wake up to the pleasures of the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology, we will still be most pitiable, because the gods of the Greeks are infinitely pathetic in comparison to the awesome God of the Christian Scriptures.  We will weep forever in any version of heaven crafted by pagans if our Jesus has not been raised from the dead by the power of His own indestructible Life!

Don’t you dare try to protect yourself from this pity!  Your confidence in Christ (we call that “faith”) should be strong enough that you are willing to suffer whatever the world throws at you for believing such “foolishness” (in their eyes).  Never be afraid of what kind of persecution speaking the Truth in love will bring.

Likewise, you should be returning to the Fountain of the Word often enough to get a glimpse of this amazing God of ours high and lifted up, so that your understanding of Him - and your delight in Him - would make you most pitiable if you ended up being wrong.  That’s not a foolish thing to do; that’s one of the most wise things that anyone can aspire to do.

"Christian" Deism

Most people think of deism as a religious idea that was held by the founding fathers of the United States of America.  Guys like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are credited as believing that though the universe was in fact created by some deity, he has since moved on somewhere else and has left the world to continue on by itself.  Their god was the watchmaker that wound up his universe and then let it run on its own machinery. In their view, their god was not sovereign over his creation.  He was not the author of history, only the builder of the stage on which it plays out.  He was not intimately involved in what he created - very much the opposite.  He had left our universe behind and didn't really care about the people in it.  He didn't answer prayers or perform miracles.  It was just as if he really didn't exist, for all intents and purposes.

This view was popular during that time among the non-Christian thinkers because they had not yet invented a strong enough lie to cover over the truth that someone had created this universe.  Darwin and his notion that the variety of life on this planet can be explained through naturalistic processes rather than divine creation, coupled with James Hutton's ideas that the earth is much older than previously thought, didn't come on the scene until the middle of the 19th century - about 50 to 75 years too late for fellows like Franklin and Jefferson.

These days, though, there isn't much use for classical deism.  The God-haters have their fairy tale about nothing creating something and then that something becoming everything all on its own, so they don't need antiquated means of ignoring God anymore.  But that isn't to say that deism has keeled over and died.  In fact, it's still alive and well - and it comes to church nearly every Sunday!

The older deism eschewed organized religion as unnecessary, since the watchmaker had wandered off and wasn't listening.  The new deism inhabits organized religion like an epidemic, choking off authentic spiritual life and replacing it with a powerless social club mentality.  But though there are some key differences between the new and the old, when you get right down to the substance at the heart of both systems of thought, they are the same.

The primary motivation of the older deists was to remove God from the picture and focus on man and his activity.  And though it may seem counterintuitive to the idea of 'church' in general (after all, isn't that where people gather specifically for the purpose of a 'spiritual experience' or to commune with the divine?), we find practically the same trajectory in many churches in our day and age.

Tune into the sermons preached to some of even the largest congregations in our country on any given Sunday and you will find mostly entertainment and generic self-help.  Far from the focus being on Yahweh - the supreme Creator and Ruler of the universe - and on His infinite perfections and beauty, what you are much more likely to hear might be a list of steps to help you get out of debt.  Or maybe you'll hear someone telling you about the 'deep spiritual lessons' of the movie "Slumdog Millionaire".

The focus on man and his activity doesn't end with poor sermons, however.  Sadly, even the public prayers offered in most churches today are almost entirely man-focused.  Laypeople and preachers both spend far more time focusing on man's needs, or politics, or the success of the organization of the church than they do about the things of God - if He is ever even mentioned at all.  Contrast that with the way that Jesus taught His people how to pray:

  • Step 1: Acknowledgement that God is our Father and that His Name is holy (Matthew 6:9).
  • Step 2: Pray for the increase of God's kingdom (Matthew 6:10).
  • Step 3: Pray that God's instructions and laws would be followed precisely throughout the earth and that all of His good decrees would come to pass (Matthew 6:10).
  • Step 4: Ask Him to provide the very bread we need to get us through the day (Matthew 6:11).
  • Step 5: Ask Him for forgive us for our transgressions of His revealed will - admitting along the way that this is exactly how we must treat those who harm us in any way (Matthew 6:12).
  • Step 6: Ask Him to guide us away from temptations of our own hearts and the evil purposes of others that might seek to destroy us (Matthew 6:13).

When carefully examined, Jesus' instructions on how His disciples are to pray show a remarkably God-centered life and worldview!  Even our prayers should be chiefly concerned with how awesome our God is, and how important His kingdom, His rule, His Laws, and His decrees are for our own lives and for the lives of every living being in the cosmos.  We should be daily acknowledging that our every meal and breath comes from Him as a good gift.  In addition to all of this adoration, fealty, and thanksgiving, we are also to daily seek reconciliation for our sins and beg for His protection over us in this area.

Contrast this model prayer with what we so often hear in our churches.  Contrast this with the entire content of our worship: songs, prayers, sermon, and even fellowship.

The prevailing religion of the world around us is rightly called 'secular humanism': a focus on man apart from God.  Just as Paul described in Romans chapter 1, man has always tried to turn the world upside down and worship the creature rather than the Creator.  In older times, this came in the form of sun and moon worship, or gods who had the heads of goats, crocodiles, and eagles.  But in our day, the creature being worshipped by the pagan world around us is man himself, and I believe that the church has invited this thinking right inside the doors because the object of worship is just so wonderful and palatable: us!

And thus the church is effectively led back to the bankrupt heresy of deism.  God becomes increasingly distant in our worship, and man takes more and more of the center stage.  God may as well have wound up the universe and walked away for all of the attention He is ordinarily paid in our churches.  We need to recognize the trends, see the deadly pitfalls, and turn back to the God-centered worship that we see reflected in the pages of Scripture.

Let this serve as a warning:

What Exactly Is "Heaven"?

"Are you sure that you are going to go to heaven when you die?"  "Do you think that my dad is in heaven?"  "Do dogs go to heaven?" We sure hear questions like this a lot, but why aren't more people asking questions like, "What exactly is heaven, anyway?"  It's as if everyone has already made up their minds about what heaven is - about where it is and what they're going to find there - that they just make a huge assumption in the "what" department and focus instead on the "how".

Well, we know it's gold, right?  And that it's in space?  No, wait, there are supposed to be clouds, so it can't be in space.  And when we get there, we're going to have wings and, that's in the cartoons; it's probably nothing like that...right?

When I was younger, I had the brilliant notion that "heaven" is probably just whatever you want it to be.  And that seems to work out pretty well with most people's idea that you can get into heaven pretty much any way you want to.  You write the ticket and you design the destination!  For my part, I wanted my "heaven" to be an enormous castle filled with endless libraries of books.  I wanted all of my favorite authors to continue writing my favorite fiction series into eternity (ahem...NERD!).  The greatest eternal existence that I could imagine was that of a consumer of other people's work!  I don't think it's possible for me to be so glad about being so wrong!

So maybe it doesn't make much sense to imagine a place called "heaven" being exactly what I want it to be, and maybe it's not too smart to think that I can decide how and why I arrive at this place, but what should I think about "heaven"?  Is there some authoritative source of information somewhere on the subject?

Most people have some kind of idea that heaven has to do with God, but many never move beyond that aspect of the deal.  When we do something that our conscience tells us is wrong, we feel guilty - like God is not pleased - and we subsequently feel that these actions may jeopardize our chances of making it to heaven.  Alternately, when we do something that we feel good about - something that makes us proud of ourselves - we think that these actions may commend us in some way to God, and heaven looks a lot more like a sure bet.

Once again, the problem with all of these notions is that they all come from our own feelings.  And though most folks like to decide a great deal of things based on what just "feels right" to them, we also have this nagging doubt that says, "What if I'm wrong?"

So let's look beyond ourselves for a moment and ask what the Bible teaches about "heaven".  The Bible is a book that claims to come from God (2 Peter 1:21).  So if God has something to say about what "heaven" is and how a person goes about getting there, we'll probably find it in the Bible.

The first thing that we discover that might be kind of surprising is that the word "heaven" in the Bible literally just means "sky".  The Bible uses the Hebrew word 'shamayim' and the Greek word 'ouranos' exactly the same way that we use 'heavens' in the plural.  The Bible doesn't contain phrases like, "How can I get to heaven?" or "By doing these things, you can go to heaven."  In fact, it hardly ever talks about "heaven" as a place that people go at all (except for a couple of brief mentions of prophets who saw the earth from high above during some important visions, and one other example that I will cite below).

So where did this notion of "heaven" as our eternal home come from anyway?  We can find in the Bible promises of eternal life to those who believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), but then we also see that people who believe in Jesus die just like everyone else.  So, did they get their eternal life in some other state somewhere else, or was that promise put on hold until a later date, or what?  Paul gives the best explanation in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God,who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

This is most likely where the common notion of "heaven" comes from.  If our body dies ("is destroyed"), then we have a house not made with hands "eternal in the heavens".  It is important to understand that this is not talking about a literal house that we are going to inherit in the sky, however.  It is referring to the fact that the true life of the believer is inChrist, and that during the time between when this physical body dies and when it is raised again incorruptible by Jesus, we will be "at home with the Lord".

According to the Bible, eternal life is not about a place (and certianly not a place of our own imagining!).  Rather, it is about a person: Jesus.  How many people do you think there are that either expect or desire to go to "heaven" who don't care the first thing about Jesus Christ?  And if a person doesn't really care much about Jesus - can't be bothered to come to a worship service, ignores the Bible, and spurns His commands - then what makes you think that person will actually wantthe eternal life that He offers?  After all, the Biblical notion of eternal life is full of exactly those things: worship (Revelation 22:3), learning more about God (1 Corinthians 13:12), and eternal sinless obedience (Romans 6:17-22)!

So rather than thinking of "heaven" or the "afterlife" as being whatever we want it to be, the Bible paints for us a much less "us-centered" picture.  Eternal life is not made-to-order.  Eternal life isJesus Christ!  He is "the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25) and "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6)!  Don't settle for a future hope filled with anything less than the God who created everything.  Castles full of stories cannot compare to the presence of the Author of all stories - and the Inventor of pleasure itself.  Set you faith on Him, and put your hope in Him, and trust Him to bring you home to where He is, and let that be what excites you most: Him.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

Tangled Not

There's a great scene at the beginning of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation where Clark Griswold hands his son a giant knotted ball of Christmas lights and says, "You work on that."  And that moment is so funny because one look at that ridiculous clot of lights is enough to tell anyone that there is no chance of ever getting that particular mess untangled. Our family used to pray for a woman whose life's story was very similar to that titanic knot.  The lady had so much going wrong for her that there we literally couldn't pray for her anything more specific than "God, please just fix that disaster!"  There was just nothing else that we could say!  In our limited minds, there seemed to be no way to unravel all of the difficulties that she had landed herself in.  If she was going to get out of all of that, God was just going to have to graciously step in and set it right.

That's also the way that many of us think about the country that we live in.  This place is a mess!  Not only do we have two completely terrible candidates running for the presidency at this moment in time, but the whole governmental system here in the United States is built whole-cloth out of man-centered and unbiblical ideas.  Human government exists to uphold and enforce God's Law, but in our land things that should be abominations are not even crimes.  In other cases, minor transgressions are punished far too harshly, and some major transgressions aren't given near enough penalty.  Instead of rewarding the right and punishing the evil (Romans 13:3-4), the state eschews its most important God-given role to instead to to be the savior of the people, providing care for widows and orphans, feeding the hungry with welfare, healing the sick with healthcare laws, and numerous other things that were never given to the state to take care of.  And because the state handles so many of these functions, the church - the entity that was given much of that responsibility - neglects them.

Like I said, it's a mess.  The knot is twisted up so bad, I don't even really know where to start praying.  How do you pull one strand without tightening the ball somewhere else?  In fact, it seems so bad that we may sometimes think that even God would have to do a lot of work to straighten it out!  And because we think this way, we pray really small prayers - like, "God, please let this conservative candidate win the election so that this one small area might possibly get a little bit better."

The reality is, though, that solving the problem is actually nothing to an infinite and all-powerful God!  Think about it like this: the solution to all of the world's problems - and by extension, our own nation's - is the Gospel.  What men really need is to know the Truth about who rules the universe and they need the salvation from their sin that the Gospel provides.  And for that Gospel to transform this world, what is really required is for God's people to be obedient to preach it to every creature under heaven (Mark 16:15).  So we need believers to do what they're supposed to do, but God is the One who gives the courage and the energy to do so (Philippians 2:13)!  In addition, as we plant the seed of the Word, God has to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).  It is the outpouring of His Spirit - which He controls - that removes hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

And since God is infinitely all-powerful, for Him to pour forth the kind of energy required to solve all of the world's problems with the Gospel would not be difficult in the slightest.  The sun doesn't have to work to shine like it does.  Instead, it takes work to hold back those glorious rays!  What that tells me is that God is not frustrated by the current state of our nation or even our individual lives - to bring it down to a more personal level.  He must have all of these things exactly where He wants them, because it would be a release to just let His glory transform the universe into His image.

And of course, that is exactly what He tells us in His Word.  He says, "we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).  He also says that "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of Yahweh; He turns it wherever He will" (Proverbs 21:1).  "He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:21).

God allows this giant knot to exist for His glory, but He can unravel it just by letting go and letting His power pour forth!  So when we pray for the situations that we are in, and when we pray for the nation and the world that we live in, be sure to remember that God doesn't have to work through these petty human-centered structures that we have set up.  Pray like Jesus taught us to pray: say, "Your Kingdom come; Your will be done!"  Don't settle for praying for anything less than that!  If you can't see how He could possibly do it, then don't worry!  That's just because we are all pathetically limited creatures!  But put your trust in His ability to make all things right rather than in some man to possibly, maybe, perhaps be able to make a little bitty change in what might be the right direction.

What Is Forgiveness?

When I was a teenager, I can remember being forced to watch some video in church about a family who forgave a man for killing one of their children.  They went to him while he was in jail and simply said through the bars, "I forgive you."  The man did not ask for it, but the family gave it, and we were encouraged as teenagers to live out that kind of "Christian" forgiveness in our own lives. In a similar vein, a few years ago I sent a letter to a former pastor of the church that I was serving that had been wronged by the church.  I asked him if there was anything that the church could do that could show genuine repentance toward him and restore broken relationships.  He quickly blew off my idea by saying simply, "I forgave them a long time ago."  He forgave them, but they were not sorry.

The questions we need to ask ourselves are actually, "What does forgiveness truly mean?" and "Can there be forgiveness apart from repentance on the part of the one who needs the forgiveness?"

Forgiveness, at least in the way that the Bible speaks of it, is not a blanket covering stemming from the injured party to the injurer.  Rather, it is all about reconciling one party to another.  Forgiveness is not a declaration, but a restoration.  And there cannot be a true restoration until both parties are willing to move toward one another.  Thus, if there is no true repentance from the injurer, then no matter how willing the injured one might be to forgive, true forgiveness cannot take place, because the relationship cannot be restored.

This idea may sound foreign to some people.  As I said earlier, most of us have been taught through various means that our duty as Christians is to forgive those who hurt us, regardless of whether they seek it or not.  But what does the Bible say on the matter?  Jesus shows the process best when He says, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him" (Luke 17:3-4).

This is the true, Biblical process of forgiveness.  There are four parts to it: the hurt, the acknowledgement of the hurt (the rebuke), the repentance, and then the forgiveness.  Most "Christian" forgiveness tries to jump directly from the hurt to the forgiveness - completely bypassing the rebuke and the repentance.  As a result, there is no true forgiveness - no true restoration of the relationship to the joy and closeness of what it once was.  In fact, in many cases, so many hurts can be 'swept under the rug' like this until eventually the relationship cannot continue at all and ultimately fails.  And the sad part of all of that is that one or both of the parties in that failed relationship may not even really know why it failed, because wrongs were never truthfully discussed.

By the way, it should be pointed out that God's own forgiveness works this way.  When we disobey God, that is the very definition of 'sin' against Him.  As sinners, we are desperately in need of God's forgiveness, so that we will not have to face His righteous judgment.  But He does not extend this forgiveness as a blanket over every human being in His creation.  He calls men to repent - repeatedly, and in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Repentance on the part of the sinner is a necessary ingredient in forgiveness.  He says over and over again that He will not grant forgiveness unless there is repentance: "If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow" (Psalm 7:12), "Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (Matthew 11:20), "No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3), "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Revelation 2:5).

So throw away whatever unbiblical notions you may have had in the past of forgiveness without repentance, and embrace the Scriptural teaching - both as the one who injures and the one who has been injured.  Make sure that if you wrong someone, you immediately seek their forgiveness by repentance and heartfelt apology.  Don't just expect them to issue some blanket declaration of your forgiveness because of the context of the relationship that you are in.  Your sin has damaged that relationship, and it needs to be restored.

Likewise, if you have been wronged, don't just sweep that hurt under the rug.  You may think that doing so is the "Christian" thing to do, but that hidden hurt will end up destroying the relationship in the end - especially if other hurts are added to the pile.  Instead, be sure to go through the 'rebuke' part of the process.  The one who has hurt you needs to know that the hurt has been done.  And you should expect a genuine repentance before the forgiveness can be completed.  If the injurer refuses to repent after the sin has been made known, then it is easy to see why true forgiveness cannot be accomplished.

It is true that a Christian should be "willing" to forgive anyone - and I believe that it is this willingness that most Christians confuse with the forgiveness itself - but we must understand that in order for the Bible's kind of forgiveness to take place, the relationship must be reconciled through repentance followed by restoration.

Grace Tastes Like Blueberries

Right now I'm eating a Blueberry Pop-Tart and I'm considering the wonderful grace of God that is on display in that action. You see, I'm a sinner.  That means I've fallen short of God's perfect expectations.  I've broken His wonderful Law and I don't live up to any of the standards of holiness and love that He has set.  I sin every day.  I've sinned in several different ways this morning.  If I had been subjected only to perfect justice, I would have been dead long ago.  I certainly should be experiencing the pains of just retribution for my sins at this very moment.

But instead, this Pop-Tart tastes good!  I let it sit kind of too long after taking it out of the toaster, so it's a little cold, but it still pleases me to eat it.  I like what I am experiencing!  Not only that, but I'm sitting here reading God's Word as well, getting to know Him better.  This is not the punishment of a sinner, but the reward of a saint!

But, as I've already pointed out, I deserve the punishment of a devil, not the reward of a saint, so why am I allowed to eat this blueberry Pop-Tart and read the prophet Jeremiah?  We Christians know that it is only because of Christ.  It is His reward that I am experiencing.  He suffered for my sin and took my penalty, and I get His righteous reward through faith because of His sacrifice on the cross.

Sometimes, though, when I am feeling the guilt of my sin, it is easy for me to forget that Christ has truly taken all of God's wrath on my behalf.  It's easy to forget that God looks on me in love because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to me.  But then, He has built all kinds of reminders into the world that we live in.  Food tastes good, we can see the sunrise and sunset in beautiful colors, we enjoy the embrace of our spouse and children, and many other uncounted graces.  And when I bite into my breakfast, I am reminded that I am currently receiving a wonderful blessing - pleasure - that is the exact opposite of what I deserve: torment.  And if God has allowed me to continue in His grace this far into my sinful life, there is hope for the future because of the perfect and infinitely satisfactory sacrfice of Christ.

Praise be to our Lord for His amazing gift of salvation!

Leaving Comfort

I was looking through some of my old files this morning, and I came across this theological reflection that I wrote in stream-of-consciousness style about three years ago.  I found it very interesting to read it again.  This is spot-on.  Forgive the lack of paragraph division.  I wanted to leave it unedited.

It seems that there are three sort of categories of living or behaving: holy, neutral (worldly), and wicked. It would be best to define the extremes by defining the center. The central category (neutral or worldly) can best be described as those actions or that lifestyle which is neither toward God nor toward evil. It is a lifestyle that is mainly concerned with and full of what most would call ‘good things’. Included in this would be reading non-dirty fiction novels or newspapers, watching family-friendly television (e.g. Everybody Loves Raymond), eating, sleeping, spending time with family, participating in sports or exercise, having sex with a spouse, watching PG-rated movies, and working on a hobby. The best word to describe this kind of life is ‘comfortable’. This is the kind of life the atheist wants to live. Avoiding much of the evil in the world can prolong life and maintain a steady sort of ‘happiness’ – better labeled ‘contentment’. With this definition in hand, we may then turn our attention to what it means to live in the wicked lifestyle, or – more likely – to spend a season there in terms of our behavior and thought life. The wicked lifestyle perverts all of the above and adds extra ‘wicked-specific’ actions as well. Eating in the wicked lifestyle can be perverted to eating a huge amount or eating sweets and vomiting them up or any other imaginable perversion. Sex can be greatly perverted in the wicked lifestyle, leading to adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc. All forms of entertainment can be perverted in the wicked lifestyle to glorify other perversions or depict and glory in the ‘wicked-specific’ actions. ‘Wicked-specific’ actions are those that are not comfortable. These involve such things as brutal killing or the enjoyment of the same, theft, violence toward people or property, uttering streams of profanity, vandalism, etc. Dwelling even for a little while in this realm of wickedness leads to one overarching feeling: misery. The miserable heart wants to bring more misery on itself and on others, so greater and greater wicked acts are attempted. Sometimes miserable people seek to escape the misery with drugs. I see these as more of an attempted escape from the feelings that their other evil acts bring rather than an intentional evil act in and of itself. Although, unfortunately for those in this lifestyle, the drugged state can often lead a person into more and worse acts of wickedness and thus further into misery. A vicious cycle to say the least. On the other end of this spectrum lies the holy lifestyle. Most Christians today believe that the holy lifestyle is simply living the comfortable neutral lifestyle (also known as worldly or carnal). The holy lifestyle, though, consecrates the actions of the neutral lifestyle, transforming them into holy actions, and also adds some ‘holy specific’ actions. The consecration of neutral actions usually comes in the form of participating in those actions in holy, biblical, and honorable ways and in acknowledging God as the source of all goodness and provision. Eating, then, becomes eating unto the Lord: taking care of your body for His service, thanking him for providing you with life and work and money to purchase the food you eat (which grows and satisfies because He wills it), and enjoying it in Him. Sex becomes a holy union of a man with his wife, picturing the union of Christ and the church. It also becomes something to thank God for and to use for His holy service: the begetting of children to raise to be His servants, the means for avoiding the temptation to sin, etc. ‘Holy specific’ actions include prayer, worship, reading the Bible, meditating on the word and on God, singing praise, suffering and dying for the cause of Christ, evangelizing the lost, etc. Many, if not all of these actions take a person far away from ‘comfort’. The best word to describe this lifestyle is ‘joyful’. Joy is not a comfortable happiness. It is an over-the-edge affection for God and for doing His will. As in wickedness neutral actions become less tasteful in the misery of existence, in holiness neutral actions become less tasteful in the joy of existence. In misery, a person may cease to eat because he wants to hurt his body or perhaps die. In joy, a person may cease to eat because he wants to more fully experience the ecstasy of communion with Christ. A wicked person may not want to watch Everybody Loves Raymond because it is pansy and does not contain enough of the wickedness his flesh craves. A holy person may not want to watch the same program because it is pansy and does not contain enough of the holiness that his spirit craves. The truthful promise that holiness makes to a person in comfort looks like a lie. The promise is that there is far more happiness to be had in the uncomfortable, disciplined life of total reliance on God and obsession with Him. To the comfortable, this is folly. To him, the only things that have ever brought happiness are worldly things. How could throwing care of them aside increase his happiness? On the other hand, the awful lie that wickedness tells to a person in comfort looks very much like the truth. The lie is that there is far more happiness to be had in fast and free excessive use of worldly things: more television, more food, more sex, more fantasy. Since none truly satisfies as the lie indicates, the person must move farther and farther from comfort to seek satisfaction. Sex becomes perverted to find the next thrill; entertainment becomes more edgy and wicked to provide new experiences; food must be more intensely sweet or eaten in larger and larger quantities to satisfy the cravings of the flesh. This ultimately leads to a hatred of many of the things that once brought comfort and happiness and so spirals into misery. Another fascinating function of wickedness is that – while in its midst – holiness seems completely impossible and comfort seems unlikely. Similarly, while in the midst of holiness, wickedness seems impossible and comfort is not desired.