When Good Religion Goes Bad (or: Why “Good” Folks Need the Gospel Too)

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Don’t throw away the cross, Supes! For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole (Daily) Planet and yet lose his life?

We Christians may tend to think that there are other “faith systems” out there, other than biblical Christianity, that, while they may miss out on the whole truth, they still contain a lot of good in them, and maybe God will sorta smile and wink at their adherents at the end of the day, because after all, they were just trying to live a good life, and honor God, and what’s so bad about that? Maybe you have friends who are, in general, upstanding and moral people. And maybe you might, sometimes, possibly be tempted with the idea that you don’t really need to tell them about the Gospel–Because after all, you think, They might not know the full truth about Jesus, but they’re such good people! I’m sure they’ll be fine. The Gospel is “good news” for really bad sinners, not good folks like these… right? 

Not according to Jesus. According to Jesus, manmade religion (or “faith systems,” or lifestyles, or worldviews) that purport to show God great honor, while denying the necessity of the cross and resurrection of Jesus–those aren’t some kind of lesser piety. They’re not “Christianity Lite.”

According to Jesus, such systems amount to nothing less than cold, hard, condemnable satanism.
The Devil is fine with us ascribing all kinds of honor to the Lord, as long as we miss the cross, burial and resurrection of Jesus–and our need for the Savior who did all that for us.
“Good” religion goes bad when it substitutes “goodness” for the Gospel. Even Christ-likeness is no substitute for the crucifixion.

The Gospel is the good news, that Jesus came to die for sinners like you and me–so that we could die to our old life (which was really death) and receive His life. Get the Gospel, and you get God’s life. Reject the Gospel, and whatever else you may have–however “good,” you’ll lose your life and miss out on God’s life.

This is serious business–which it would have to be, to make Jesus call one of His top three disciples “Satan.” So if Jesus takes it that seriously, maybe we ought to reconsider how we think about those other “faith systems” (really they should be called works systems, since they deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone). Trying to show God honor, while denying God’s plan (by which He was more incredibly honored than He could have ever been by any scheme moral man could have come up with!) is from Satan.

In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”
That’s what’s going on in Mark 8:31-38. It’s what Jesus has saved former moralists like me from, and it’s what we have to remember when we’re communicating the Gospel to our religious, well-intentioned, and moral friends. In so doing, we’re giving them the best “good news” we could give them.

Why Does God Allow Evil In The World?

This topic has come up a  couple times in recent days, so I wanted to just bang out a few thoughts on it.

What follows is not a full, scholarly treatment on Problem of Evil (in any of its various philosophical formulations). However, I hope it might be helpful to you, the next time someone poses this question to you.

I’m happy to get any feedback on this–and certainly let me know if you are able to use it in a spiritual conversation!

Why does the all-powerful, perfectly good God allow evil in the world? 

  1. God is good and the ultimate standard for what can be defined as good. Without God, there is no way of accounting for good.

    And evil is the opposite of good, so there is no way to account for evil if you don’t already know what good is.

    Therefore, unless you believe in God (as He has revealed Himself in the Bible) you can’t say anything meaningful about evil. So we have to start there.

  2. If God allows evil to happen in the world (and He does), then there must be a good reason behind it. The perfectly-good God of the universe is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).

    In this world or any other, evil can never ultimately “win.”

  3. God does allow evil–both natural “evil” and evil committed by evil beings (humans and evil spirits). We see this in Scripture and in life.
  4. There are biblical examples of God intending and even predestining evil people to freely commit evil actions, in order that God’s surpassing goodness might be worked out in the end. For examples, consider Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery (explained in Genesis 50:20) and the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus (explained in Acts 1:16-17; 4:27-28).

    God is not the author of evil–He is light, and there is no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). However, He is sovereign over everyone and everything, the righteous and the wicked, and He is free to use it all according to His good purposes. He uses good people to make good decisions and bring about in good outcomes (often far better than was even intended!); He also uses evil people to make sinful decisions and result in (ultimately) good outcomes. How incredibly frustrating that must be for the devil! All his evil schemes keep being turned around against him to bring about good in the end!

    Take, for example, the worst sin that was ever committed. The unjust torture and crucifixion of the only perfect man to ever live–God Himself in the flesh–turned out to be part of God’s plan to carry out the greatest rescue act in history.

    Every time the Lord does this, the good He brings about far surpasses the evil that was worked, which, while still being authentically wrong, pales in comparison to the glorious greatness of God’s goodness.

  5. To keep from making this any longer, let’s summarize: God allows evil in the world, in order to demonstrate that He is so good that even evil cannot upset His good, pleasing and perfect will.
  6. When the redemption of Jesus becomes a reality in your life, He gives you a completely new perspective on the evil in the world and in your life. Jesus gives you the Holy Spirit to be with you and comfort you during your suffering.

    Even in your hour of death, He will be there to strengthen you and to welcome you into Christ’s kingdom, where evil is finally overcome and only goodness remains. Again, the worst thing becomes the best thing. That’s how incredibly good God is.

Trying to Do It Yourself?

The Bible says that God is the one who brings good out of evil and calamity in the world. However, if you are like me, you naturally like to be the one in control. You would rather shape and direct your own life, but you and I cannot possibly work everything out for good. That is a God-sized task, and we can only get that from Him. And the Bible says we can only get to Him through Jesus (John 14:6).

If you don’t yet know Jesus, you can meet Him right now! Repent–give up trying to bring about your own good in your life (how’s that been working for you anyway?), and trust in Him. Claim Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead (the ultimate good-out-of-evil story), and He will save you (Romans 10:9-11).

Want to know more? Looking for more resources to use in spiritual conversations? Got Bible questions? Drop me a line: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

How Did Jesus Argue?

Jesus was a master of apologetics (what John Frame calls “the theological discipline that defends the truth of the Christian message). Of course, He is the Master of everything, so it makes sense that He would defend truth in a masterful way. In the New Testament, there are many examples of Jesus engaging with His opponents in apologetical discussions. A brilliant example of this is found in Mark 3:22-30:

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul in Him!” and, “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons!”

So He summoned them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!

“On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins[b] and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

In this encounter with his perennial opponents, Jesus is engaging in presuppositional apologetics. He begins with a claim of theirs–it happens to be common ground they both agree with–that a demon has been cast out of someone.
Then Jesus hits them with a one-two punch. First He goes on offense: “Answer a fool according to his foolishness, or he’ll become wise in his own eyes” (Prov. 26:4). Then He plays defense: “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself” (Prov. 26:4).

(vv. 23-26) Offense

Jesus goes on the offense against their argument. Jesus steps into their worldview for the sake of argument and shows them that their reasoning is self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.
His argument:
  1. If I were possessed by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for Satan’s kingdom.
  2. If I am casting out demons, then I am working against Satan’s kingdom.
  3. If I am casting out demons by Beelzeboul, then I would be working for and against Satan’s kingdom.
That is logically incoherent and self-refuting. It is necessarily false. (Side note: this shows that the scribes could not actually believe this in any kind of rational way. Jesus is betraying their heart commitments. They couldn’t really believe that Jesus was working for Satan, but because they refused to believe in Him, they were forced to accept an obvious, irrational falsehood. This is what inevitably happens to all non-biblical world views.)
I suppose they could have argued back, “Well then Satan is obviously stupidly working against himself!” But this is refuted by considering that their whole argument was based on the craftiness of Satan’s strategy. So is Satan being crafty or stupid? Jesus implicitly says (as one commentator has pointed out), “Satan is evil, but he is not stupid.” This would have been accepted by all.

(v. 27) Defense

Jesus defends the truth. Jesus refuses to accept their presupposition (that He is not the divine Messiah), and demonstrates that the only possible correct view is that He is more powerful than Satan. The only one more powerful than Satan is God. The scribes believed this. Therefore Jesus is forcing them, by their own worldview, to admit that He is God. Of course, this entails that they owe Him their allegiance and faith. But the only way around that is to deny what they already claim to believe. Look at their options:
  1. They could argue that a demon was not really cast out–but the exorcism was so obvious that this would turn them into radically skeptic anti-supernaturalists–not even an option in that culture, and surely this would disqualify them from being scribes!
  2. They could argue that a mere man could possibly cast out demons without God’s approval and power–but this too would force them to abandon their pretense of a biblical worldview, disqualifying them from being scribes.
  3. They could admit that Jesus actually is the Messiah sent from God, operating in God’s power, and actually is God (because He’s claimed divine attributes and clearly has God’s approval for doing so), and is casting out demons by God’s power and authority.
What they cannot argue is that Jesus was casting out demons by the “ruler of the demons.” Jesus has brilliantly taken that option away from them and masterfully backed them into an inescapable corner.
It’s interesting that, after Jesus speaks, we don’t hear from the scribes again in this exchange. After all, what could they say? Their argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God has been destroyed, and their thoughts have been taken captive to obey Christ, the Master Apologist.

Application for us

When we face challenges in spiritual conversations we may (must!) follow the Lord’s example.
  1. Go on the offense. Demonstrate that our conversation partner “can’t get there from here.” Their worldview doesn’t lead them to where they want to go, and in fact it refutes itself.
  2. Defend the truth. Show that the biblical teaching is the only possible way to get there.
For example, a man who says God can’t exist because evil exists, has no way of accounting for a meaningful definition of evil according to his worldview. However, the Bible not only accounts for evil but also provides a solution for it in the Gospel, which they have an obligation to hear and obey (believe).
In this passage, Jesus teaches important truth about His identity as the God-Man Messiah, also on blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but He also gives us a template for handling challenges and objections in spiritual conversations.

New Men’s Group Forming

I spent a few hours this afternoon contacting some of the men of Park Church (Edgebrook). I did this because I was recently tasked with overseeing the men’s ministry of our local church, and I wanted to invite them to be a part of a new initiative we are soon starting.

The good thing is this: I will not need to start things from scratch. Park Edgebrook already has a solid men’s ministry, which has been meeting semi-sometimely for breakfasts, book and Bible studies, as well as other initiatives. The men of Park Edgebrook are committed and involved in various ministries at the church. This is a solid church, with a solid contingent of men. Some of these guys have been attending the church for decades–since back when it was Edgebrook Church. But just about every week, there are new faces and new families that join our ranks.

A New Tribe

So my mission, as I see it, is to build on the momentum  happening here and to help provide opportunities for men who are already involved, as well as those who are newer or still unsure about the church, “to learn from God’s word and to challenge each other to live as men of wisdom and purpose.”

To do this, we are starting a new men’s small group, a tribe of friends and brothers to meet every week in community and on mission. 

The Biblical Pattern

In his letter to the church in ancient Galatia, the Apostle Paul writes,

Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.  Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.

The Bible’s instructions for how we are supposed to live together involve all sorts of truly manly themes: restoring our fallen brothers, self-discipline, carrying one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of our King, pursuing humility, self-examination, working hard, and learning to carry out our own God-given responsibilities.

It all adds up to the makings of a solid men’s group, am I right?

The Church’s Vision

On the back wall of our church’s auditorium this statement is posted in words made of metal: “We exist to be a biblical community where the Gospel of Jesus Christ transforms lives, renews the city, and impacts the world.”

The new men’s group will be the laboratory where we will strive to put the Apostle’s instructions and our church’s vision into practice.

Monthly Schedule

Following the guidance of Kevin Howells (Pastor of Small Group) and Park’s S. G. Ministry team, we will meet according to the following format:

  • Week 1: Group Study and Discussion
    An authentic, open and challenging discussion of a passage of Scripture and/or a chapter of a book, with a heavy emphasis on skills-building and practical application. 
  • Week 2: Meal
    Food, conversation, prayer and camaraderie.
    (Mmm… wings….*)


  • Week 3: Group Study and Discussion
    Same as Week 1.

  • Week 4: Third Place
    Time to unwind and hang out at a natural, neutral space in the community. Think: bowling alley, pub, restaurant, cigar shop, or coffee shop. I wrote an article about “Third Places,” which you can read here

Along with these regular gatherings, we will be open to getting together casually at other times, to watch a game, grab a bite to eat, get the families together, check out a neighborhood fest, serve the community, etc.

Next Steps

This new group will be open to all men of the church, single, married or divorced. Guys who are already committed to small groups should talk to their group leaders and wives (if applicable) before joining–but you are welcome too. Let’s form a tribe and get to work.

Do you want more information? Ready to sign up? Shoot me an email: jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org.

*Or maybe you’re a vegetarian, in which case just imagine I said, “Mmm… carrot sticks….”

 

Revised Catechism Posted

Dear Parents and Toddlers*,

I was not really happy with the formatting of the New Covenant Catechism for Little Ones, so I went back and revised it. The revised and, I hope, easier to read and use Catechism is now posted in the Resources tab. Check it out and let me know what you think.
*If you are seriously a toddler reading this, I’m not even mad. I’m seriously impressed. Seriously–go get your mom and dad and show them what you can do!

Overcoming Objections: Christianity Is False Because It Has No Priestly System

The Egyptians did it.

The Jews definitely did it.

Babylonians? Yep. They did it too.

Same goes for the Greeks and Romans.

Even the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans did it.

What do all these ancient civilizations have in common? They all had their own religious systems. And those religious systems all involved sacrifices. And those sacrifices were offered by priests. This fact led to one of the early objections to Christianity as a fledgling religious system.

Every religious system in history, from the dawn of civilization until the dawn of Christianity, has always had some kind of priestly sacrificial system. While these cultures’ religions differed on who the divine was and how to best appease it, they all agreed that the Divine did need to be appeased. And the way to appease the divine was universally understood to be by blood sacrifice, performed by a priestly class, carried out in temples. The priest acted as the mediator between God and man.

Enter Christianity: no priests,  no temples, no blood sacrifices. To ancient minds, this made no sense. It was well known that the Divine wrath over human wickedness needed to be propitiated (satisfied). Without priests offering blood sacrifice, it would have been argued, there was no way to propitiate divine wrath. Therefore, any religious worshipers lacking in the priest department must also have been lacking in the brains department. Christianity didn’t satisfy the universal human need for sacrifice. Christianity wasn’t true, because it had no mediator between God and humanity. Every religion worth its salt has a priestly system. Hey Christians, where are all your priests?

To overcome this ancient objection, let’s turn to the Bible, to the book of Hebrews. This book is a sort of sermon-letter hybrid, written to second-generation Christians of ethnic Jewish descent. At this time, Christianity was in the process of breaking away from Judaism, but it was still seen as a Jewish sect.

The above argument seems to have been lodged against the Hebrew Christians in an attempt to discredit their fledgling faith and convince them to return to the more “sensible” Jewish religion. After all, they were ethnically Jewish, and the religion their parents left had sacrifices ordained by God Himself. Come on, Christians, get your acts together. Get back to the true religion–the one with the priests!

In fact, one commentator points out that Jews and Gentiles alike found it difficult to believe the Christian message, because of the lack of a visible priestly system.

So the author of Hebrews writes to address this objection and reassure his Christian audience. 

He writes in Hebrews 4:14, “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (ESV, emphasis added).

Their confession was their public declaration that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, send by God as the prophet, priest and king over heaven and earth. The author says that the Hebrew Christians should hold fast to this belief, because not only do they have a high priest, but they have a better high priest than the Jewish religion they left.

Christians have a great high priest, but you won’t see Him ascending the steps of a stone temple to offer daily sacrifices.

Christians do have a priest, but you don’t have to go to Jerusalem to meet with Him. In fact, you don’t even have to go to your local cathedral.

Christians do have a priest, but you don’t have to bring him sacrifices to offer, because He provided the sacrifice. And His Sacrifice was so sufficient, that one was all He needed.

What was the sacrifice offered by this high priest? He offered Himself.

Then, after Jesus died for sinners, He resurrected. Over the next forty days he appeared to over five hundred eyewitnesses, and then He ascended (the author says he “passed through the heavens” to God’s own throne room. Jesus did not go to a manmade temple, but to the place that all those temples were symbols of. There he sits at the Father’s right hand, where He always lives to mediate between God’s people and God Himself.

Jesus Christ is the perfect priest. Who better to mediate between humanity and divinity than the One who embodies both?

So the objection that Christianity has no mediator falls flat. We have a priest who satisfies God’s wrath over sin, because He paid it Himself. Now He is the “great high priest” whose work is finished.

Beware any religious teacher who tells you that you need a merely human priest to make you right with God. Think about that: if (merely) human priests could fully satisfy our debt, then why did they have to keep making all those sacrifices, year after year, for millennia?

All those priests who came before could not make an eternal effect; they were shadows of the real thing. Jesus is the real thing. He is the priest we need. You and I can trust Him to pay our debt of sin and reconcile us to God. His shed blood (grace alone) can wash away your sin, if you will turn your heart away from your sin (repent) and come to Him (by faith alone) as your priest.

How about you? Who are you trusting to make you right with God? Who is your priest? Don’t let it be anyone other than the one who “passed through the Heavens” for you.

Dear World

Dear World,

What is it about Jesus that makes his followers love Him so much? Followers of Christ today have so much joy and peace, even in the middle of life’s most intensely painful moments. Why is that? How is it possible that Christians are able to stand firm, even when the entire climate of the culture around them is quickly turning against them? There is more to Jesus than an ideology. There is more to Jesus than a legendary example.

What if what’s wrong with all of us really is sin? Not lack of education. Not economic disparity. Not our upbringings, but sin? And what if unending torment in hell is the very real consequence which our sin has earned for us?

Think about that. What if hell is real?

What if Jesus really has saved His followers from all of that? What if he can save you too?

What if Jesus really does make people “born again?” What if He really does give His followers the Holy Spirit–God Himself–as a gift to live inside them?

We Christians can’t change our beliefs to accommodate your changing beliefs, World. But we can still love you. And we can plead with you to be reconciled to God through Jesus.

When the “marriage equality” hangover sets in, and you realize that even that didn’t satisfy you like you thought it would, then we will still be here, still offering you the same Good News that brought us satisfaction and forgiveness–yes, even hypocritical sinners like us. We can’t change with you, but we can love you through this, and we can offer you what we have. And what we have is the truth. What we have is Jesus Christ.

And that is what you need, too.

Just like us.

With love,

Church

Hello friends & family!

What’s going on with my family lately: a post from my wife Aliza about our son.

prayforlukas

My name is Aliza Settecase and I am a mom to three beautiful children, Jakob (3.5 years old), AnnaSophia (2 years old) & Lukas (10 month old.)  I never saw myself as being a stay at home mom, but I was thrust into the role when I lost my job at 35 weeks pregnant with my second born, AnnaSophia.  At the time I was angry with my company for putting my family in this situation at such an inopportune time, as I was the SOLE bread winner for our family at the time, but God knew better.  I have absolutely LOVED staying at home with our kids and feel blessed by my new role.

That being said the road has not been an easy one for me and my family.  After losing my job, Joel, who was in seminary full time, was able to find a full time position at a…

View original post 1,174 more words

Jesus is With Who?

In the God News According to Matthew, chapter 28, verses 18-20, Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”

Then He says, get this: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus tells them to keep it in mind that He will always be with them. Always. Until the end of the age, which is another way of saying, “until the end of the world.”

So here’s the question: since those disciples are now dead and gone, passed on to their eternal home, to whom does Jesus’ promise to be “with you always, to the end of the age” apply?

The answer is earlier in the passage. When Jesus says, “Go… and make disciples… baptizing them… and… teaching them,” He is instructing His apostles on how to establish and continue the global movement known as the Church.

So when He says, “I am with you always,” that’s not just a promise for the apostles, but for the Church He has just commanded them to start.

Are you a Christian, a member of Christ’s Church? Well then, Christian, Jesus Christ is with you TODAY, and always, even until the end of the world. “Remember” that today.

The Upside Down-ness of the Christian Life

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes,

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be STEADFAST, IMMOVABLE, always EXCELLING in the work of the Lord, knowing that your TOIL is not empty in the Lord”  (AT).

The Christian lifestyle, fully realized, looks like this:

  • We are steadfast in our faith.
  • We are immovable in our hope.
  • We are always finding new ways to go above and beyond in loving God and other people (we do this at work, with our families, at church, with our friends, at school, in our personal lives–yes, even on social media).

No Christian that I’ve ever known (myself fully included) has ever perfectly lived this way. However, followers of Jesus who are growing in their faith make this their aim. They understand the upward call in Christ Jesus, and their eyes are fixed on the things that are above. It is the Christian’s heavenly perspective that colors his view of the world.

The Christian’s house is therefore upside down (by the world’s standards). The foundation of our building is above–in heaven. The rest of our house is built upon that foundation–our doctrines, our practices, with the rooms, where we live our lives, down here on earth. But the whole structure is firmly built not upon the shifting sands of culture, but upon the bedrock truth of God’s word, with Christ Himself as the cornerstone.

Sometimes, this “upside down-ness” of the Christian lifestyle puts us at odds with the society at large, whose house is very much built upon the changing values and norms of the reigning zeitgeist of the day. But we don’t hate unbelievers. Far from it! We love them–just as our King loved us while we were rebelling against Him; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Why do we live this way? Why toil and strive to further God’s kingdom–which is invisible–knowing that it may pit us against the very people we so urgently want to love and see reconciled to God?

We do this because we know that every bead of sweat spent serving King Jesus is never wasted. The Lord sees it all. He empowers us with the Holy Spirit. And He gives meaning and success to us when we labor for Him. God the Father is gathering a people for His Son, from every people group on earth. That includes our own people group. And so we labor and strive. We move forwardimmovable in our trust that God is real, God is good, and God is saving sinners like us.

Whom is God moving you toward today? Whom does He want you to serve? Who needs to hear the Gospel–the same Gospel that saved you? Move forward in God’s will today, and may our Lord make you immovable as you move.