“Life Is Sacred” Part 2

If you read last week’s article, you’ll remember we are dealing with the difficult topic of suicide. Suicide is becoming more and more prevalent, seemingly affecting more people. I contend that part of this influx is due to our modern ideology, or what has been termed the “culture of death.” In other words, we live in a culture that has no respect for the sacred gift of life and that sort of thinking flows into many areas.

Jumping Into A Volcano
Do you remember the 1990’s film “Joe Versus the Volcano”? It has since become something of a cult classic. An “average Joe” is stuck in a meaningless, boring life. Lost in a dead-end job, lacking of romantic fulfillment, his daily purposelessness is slowly eating away at him.

Eventually, Joe is told that he has an incurable disease. Which then leads him to meet a business man who an interesting proposition. The man needs to buy a rare mineral from a small tribe of Pacific Islanders, who will only sell if someone volunteers to be a human sacrifice by jumping into a volcano to appease the wrath of the “fire god.” The business man pays handsomely for Joe to enjoy the final days of his life, if he is willing to commit suicide in a few days. With nothing to lose, Joe takes the offer…

Truth In Comedy
“Joe Versus the Volcano” is not intended to be anything more than a light comedy. However, a message can be extrapolated that is important for us to see in our modern context within the “culture of death.”

It is becoming common in the world for people to ask a doctor to end their life. These people are suffering with a horrible disease and will most likely be dead soon anyways, right? Two problems arise here. First, life and death are the prerogative of God alone. (1 Samuel 2:6) Killing someone who is sick is still killing someone. Second, we are continuing to learn the trajectories of this type of thinking. For instance, what should be the criteria to opt for so-called “Right to die” or more commonly, Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS)? Terminally-ill, pain, unhappiness, no more money for medical treatment, or just bored with living, how far do we take this?

You might be thinking that I am making the “slippery slope” fallacy. The idea that the “Right to Die” laws could possibly lead to ludicrous outcomes. However, ideas that at one time seemed far out are now sad realities.

The basic argument is always: “Terminally ill people should have the right to die with dignity. They should be given the right to end their lives if they are in continual, painful suffering.” It was as if proponents of PAS were drawing a line stating, “This is as far as we are willing to go.” The problem is that if you don’t have a standard by which to judge your worldview, that “line” is liable to move.

As you look around the world, you will find that this line has moved further than PAS proponents ever said it would. For instance, The Netherlands began their journey in government sponsored suicide in 2001. Since then, the practice has moved from PAS for the terminally ill, to those who are dealing with “hopeless or unbearable” suffering, now which includes those with mental illness. That last one especially should catch your eye. Mental illness is now a reason to let a doctor end your own life in the Netherlands. (And how do doctors even define mental illness? What a wide range of extremes there are!) Not to mention that in 2010, a citizen’s initiative was put forth to legalize PAS for people over 70 who are simply done living their lives. Do you see what I mean, it truly is a slippery slope!

Thankful For Life
Instead of showing the world that life is only worth living if you are well off, healthy, and wealthy, what if we taught that life is a precious gift no matter the circumstances? Again, I am not trying to minimize anyone’s pain or suffering. I am trying to say that life is worth living. This is the message that we should be passing on throughout the culture and to our children. God created us, guides us, and calls us to Himself. Yes, we will struggle and deal with all sorts of junk in this world. However, that is why God sent Jesus Christ to save us. So let’s recognize that we are lost and powerless by ourself; yet let our answer be to turn to Christ and live instead of seeking to kill ourselves.

We must be thankful for the gift of life that God has so graciously bestowed on all his creatures. Let’s confront this “culture of death” that is pervading the thoughts and minds individuals throughout this world. Instead of teaching that life is cheap through death agendas like abortion, PAS, and culturally accepted romanticism of suicide, let us move forward with the gospel of Christ that brings meaning to life now and eternal life to come.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Life Is Sacred” Part 1

One of my favorite films is the Christmas classic, “A Christmas Story.” I love to watch Ralphie and his seemingly-impossible journey of trying to acquire a Red Ryder BB gun. However, one scene sticks out in my mind as I write this article.

As Ralphie and his family are driving home, they have a blowout and Dad gets out to change the tire. Ralphie tries to help by holding the lug nuts, which, after an accident, spill out on the road. Ralphie lets out an expletive (and it wasn’t “fudge”). And both parents are shocked at their young son. “Where did he learn this word?”

The truth is, Ralphie had heard his father use that type of profanity many times. Yet, the blame is skirted to a friend. As we watch, we can’t help but ask the question, “Why are these parents so oblivious?” Don’t they understand that kids are sponges? Learning is not something that simply takes place in a classroom, but through every word we say and action we do in front of our children.

Over the last few weeks the topic of suicide has come to the forefront once again as we have received news of more celebrities taking their own lives. Let me make this very clear, suicide is always a tragedy and should never be taken lightly. It should break our hearts when this discussion comes up. At the same time, I can’t help but see the connection between our modern, cultural ideas of life and death and the rate at which suicide seems to be becoming more and more common, and not just among the rich and famous.

You see, our culture as a whole, has been teaching for many years now that life is not something that is sacred; rather life is cheap and expendable. How so? No one is teaching that outright. That is irrelevant. How did Ralphie learning to cuss? We’ve been teaching the desacralization of life through many means, including: 1) The killing of babies in the womb for purposes of convenience. 2) The legalization of so-called “Physician Assisted Suicide” 3) The romanticizing of suicide. (We will look at 2 and 3 in the coming weeks.)

Firstly, and I recognize this is a very contentious topic, the issue of abortion has done so much to cheapen the sanctity of life. Many studies have been done throughout the years to ascertain why abortions are sought (I’ll let you do your own googling) and the overwhelming response is for purposes of convenience. Either the parents feel they cannot afford a child, the pregnancy was an “accident”, or they are trying to hide their sexual exploits. In other words, millions of parents have been willing to sacrifice their own children on the altar of convenience. Usually, when you hear this topic in the political area it goes something like this: “What about when the mother’s life is in danger or in instances of rape?” The problem is, these reasons are less than a half of a percent. Meaning, the one who makes this type of argument is going for an emotional response not a thought-out position. We can answer those types of questions, but first we must agree that most people who desire to have their babies killed do so because they don’t want to be bothered by their children. Tell me, what kind of message do you think our young people are getting when this is being argued all the time in the public sphere? (How did Ralphie learn to cuss?)

You see, we’ve tried to make this topic of abortion not about a baby’s life or death but rather a topic about choice. So those who support abortion have garnered such banners as “Pro-choice” or “Pro-women’s health”. When the reality is, abortion is about the choice to take another human being’s life. “It’s our CHOICE.” So why should we act surprised or be sad when someone takes their own life? They simply made a choice. We’ve blasted out the message that life and death is only a choice that we get to make. Naturally, then, it follows that if we are fed up with life, we can choose death. If we can make this choice when someone is a baby, why not when we are older? Let’s be consistent. Right?

Obviously, when we turn on the news and hear of a celebrity who has taken their own life or we have a friend or family member who has commited suicide, we weep. As we should. We call suicide tragic and wish that the person would have reached out for help. Why do we respond in this way? Because whether or not you want to acknowledge it, you know that life is a precious gift from God. Life is to be cherished and fought for and loved and lived. Life is sacred and we must come to remember that as a culture. We must celebrate life and not try to find more and more ways to end it.

Life can be hard and can come with many struggles. I am not trying to belittle your experiences. However, there is true hope available. Ending your own life is not the answer. Hope and healing can and do come from Christ alone. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Talk with someone. Don’t listen to the “culture of death.” Reach out to a friend or local pastor. Open up the Bible and see what God has done for us so that you may have LIFE. Listen to the words of Jesus, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) (www.TheExitMovie.com)

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“I’m Not Who I Once Was”

When I meet people and they find out I am a pastor, I usually get a few different responses. One I hear most often is the assumption that, as a pastor, I primarily deal within the realm of morals and ethics. I recall a conversation I had about raising children and dealing with behavior issues. After relating several instances when my own children were misbehaving, the person responded, “Yeah, that must be tough for you when your job is to teach morals and good behavior.” The comment didn’t come across as judgmental or rude; the conversation was very light and friendly. However, this caught my attention because it reflects a view many people outside of the church hold, that of the duty of pastors. Many think our primary aim is to merely instill morals and ethics to our congregation, that our goal when dealing with rowdy children is simply behavior modification.

Is that right? Is that what we want in the church, a behavioral and moral change? Well, yes and no. This is what I mean–yes, as followers of Jesus Christ we do desire to see people change. We do desire to see people turn from sinful life patterns and turn to Christ. When it comes to our children, yes, we want them to behave in a way that reflects the truths found in the Bible. The difference, however, is that we don’t want that to be the end of the matter. Meaning, our primary aspiration is not behavior modification in and of itself. We long to see behavior changed as a reflection of what God is doing in an individual’s heart. In fact, biblically speaking we do not believe there can be true, lasting change in a person until there is first a heart change, and a heart change can only come through the grace of God.

The Bible gives us a very clear picture of the human race and the truth is, it’s not a pretty picture. This can be a hard fact for us to swallow because we have the idea that mankind is really “not that bad”. However, the Bible uses other words to describe us. The Bible says that we are “dead in [our] sins” (Colossians 2:13), that we “cannot please God”(Romans 8:8), we are “without hope” (Ephesians 2:12), and that we are “God-haters” (Romans 1:30). Not the encouraging message that people generally expect to hear from the Bible; however, it is the truth of our fallen human nature. When we look at this picture, seeing who we actually are, it may seem bleak. It is. Yet it makes the glorious grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ shine brightly through the darkness.

You see, according to the Bible, behavior correction alone is a futile task. A pastor would be wasting his time if that were his sole desire. If we are dead, hopeless, God-haters, then what we truly need is God to do a miraculous work in us. Dead people can do nothing to make themselves look more alive. Putting makeup on a dead person may look good for a time, but eventually they will begin to rot. So what do they need? They need to be made alive, they need to be miraculously brought to life. It is the same for the broken sinner. We have no hope within ourselves, for an outward change of behavior is merely a white-washed tomb. We need God to bring us to life.

Jesus speaks about this amazing mystery in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus was a man who had spent his entire life trying to live up to religious and social expectations, trying to be a “good” person. The truth is, however, Nicodemus remained spiritually dead. No matter how much he tried to mask his sin and no matter how much good he tried to do to outweigh his sins, he was still broken and guilty before a holy God. Jesus knows Nicodemus’ heart and He knows that what he actually needs is a new birth.

This is what pastors are looking for in their congregations and parents in their children, a new birth. Good behavior and changing of sinful life patterns reflect that new birth. So the call from the church is not simply “stop doing that” but to come to Christ and live. It is only when we come to Jesus, confess our sin, and trust in His finished work upon the cross that we can have any hope of change. It is at this moment of faith that a person is born again by the Holy Spirit and is able, through His power, to live a life that glorifies God. As the Apostle Paul states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) It is then, because of the grace of God I can say I am not who I once was. God has made me new!

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“Why Do You Believe That?”

I love talking to people about spiritual things. In fact, I have had many conversations with complete strangers about the Bible, God, angels, salvation, I even had a guy that wanted to talk to me about unicorns once (that was an interesting talk!) Most conversations go well and are cordial, but some… not so much. Yet I still enjoy these types of conversations because I learn so much about how people think.

For instance, as I begin a conversation with someone about a spiritual topic, I generally will simply ask questions and let them tell me what they believe. After a while, I’ll then ask them why they believe that, not what but why. (This is where things usually get interesting.) Most people are very ready to tell you what they believe, but the moment you ask them to explain why they believe what they believe they are no longer so articulate. Often the answer is, “I just do.” Or “It seems right to me.” Once I asked, “But doesn’t it is seem like you just made that up?” Her answer, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” (She didn’t change her mind.) This is a significant problem in our modern time, as it was during the time of the Protestant Reformation. What is the issue? Authority, or the standard by which we know what is true.

Where does our authority come from? In Luther’s time, authority came primarily from the leadership of Rome, tradition, papal authority etc. If a teaching of the Roman Church was in conflict with the Bible, then the church had priority of authority. Likewise, in modern times we have issues with authority as well. People believe they can find authority in many different sources, such as personal feelings and experiences. Many believe they can be the standard of their own personal truth.

Where does authority actually come from? As disciples of Jesus Christ, we recognize that authority comes from God’s Word alone. During the Reformation, the Reformers recognized that some teachings were not in line with the Bible. Their goal then was to return to a true understanding and application of the Bible as God’s Word. The Latin phrase “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone” has become a rallying point for this idea. The Reformers believed, as faithful churches do today, that the Bible is the sole authority on all matters it addresses. Scripture alone is where we get our teaching from, and it is where we derive all of our knowledge of God.

Many people believe that experience is the best way through which to understand something and receive authoritative insight. However, in the Bible there are many instances where people have momentous, miraculous experiences; yet in the end they have not been changed by it. For instance, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples greet Jesus. They “worshiped Him but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) Jesus was dead, yet now He stands before them in His resurrected body. Although they can see Him with their eyes, there are still people in the group that doubt what they are seeing; they doubt their experience.

In the same way, the Pharaoh of Egypt during the time of Moses had many miracles and signs performed before him and yet it still says the he “hardened his heart.” Experience is not something we can always trust to give us certainty. In 2 Peter, the Apostles tells us that what we have in God’s Word is a “more sure” witness to us. This is coming from one who walked and talked with Jesus and saw many miracles performed. Peter says that even the great experience on the Mount of Transfiguration is not comparable to having the sure word of God in the Bible.

It is stated nicely in the Cambridge Declaration, “The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.” We must rely on Scripture alone to give us the authority we must follow, rather than depend on the erratic and relative feelings derived from experiences. If we believe that God has spoken through His Word, that He is able to preserve and keep it guarded for His people, then we must listen to it and do what it says. We should not relegate our lives to following the teachings and philosophies of man if we truly have the Word of God.

Sola Scriptura means that we, as the church, derive all that we know about God from God. He has revealed to us His character and nature. He has revealed to us the character and nature of mankind. He has revealed to us the work of Jesus Christ. Consequently, if we believe something that is not taught in the Bible or that is contradicted by the Bible we must abandon it as false.

“Why do you believe that?” Next time you hear this question, I hope you can say, “Because the Bible teaches it.”

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

“You Are An Image Bearer of God”

I love seeing the creative hand of God. Whether it is gazing at the amazing rock formations as you travel down to the valley or standing in awe of the tall pines in the Pinals as they sway back and forth, dancing in the wind. However nothing beats seeing a newborn child. Holding a baby in your arms is a glorious reminder of the goodness of God, because this child is not simply like the other creatures that God has made; no, a child is an image bearer of God.

The creation of man and women is God’s crowning climax in His creative work. This is told first in Genesis 1:26. “Let us make man in our image after our likeness. And let them have dominion…” After God creates the universe, planets, the earth and everything in it, He created mankind in His image to be the ruler over it all. He then gives man a special mandate saying “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion…”(Genesis 1:28) Mankind is blessed with abundance and blessed with work.

Mankind is given something that no other part of creation is given; man is built with the image of God within him. When God created man, He created him out of two basic components; namely, the material and the immaterial (or spiritual). The Bible tells us that when God created Adam, he used the dust of the earth, breathing into the dust the breath of life, thus adding the spiritual matter to the physical substance. (Genesis 2:7) This is an amazing fact because no other creature is said to be made out of these two components of material and immaterial; man alone is created with these aspects. Therefore, man alone has the spirituality necessary to commune with God. We are created in this manner that we might have fellowship and a real relationship with God. We are made to worship God, made to have a connection with God. God has created us with this special capacity to know Him, which, although marred by sin, will be fully realized at the consummation of His Kingdom.

Now, because all people are created in the image of God, all people have inherent worth and dignity. All people matter because all people are made after the likeness of their Creator. This too, has been argued throughout history. Many times certain people groups have chosen to look down on other people groups because they were believed to be inferior in some way. This kind of thinking has led to horrible consequences, including slavery, murder, torture, and other unspeakable acts that have appeared upon the stage of history.

The disbelief of people being made in the image of God has also led many to consider that people have no more worth than any other animal in the world. However, to put animals on the same level of importance as people is to miss the many and varying differences between humans and animals which show that humans are made in the image of God. For instance, no animal has the need and desire to create works of art for mere pleasure. Humans, on the other hand, create paintings, poetry, and music for expression and enjoyment. God is the Creator, and so as humans are made in His image we have a need and desire to create.

Another way in which we recognize that man is made in the image of God is through man’s natural tendency to be a moral agent. By this we do not mean man is completely and fully moral in all his ways. However, mankind has, as a whole, a general moral outlook to life. Throughout history, various societies and people groups have created laws and regulations in order to govern its people. We must first recognize that this is because God has written His law on our hearts. Romans 2:15 tells us that men naturally “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” That is to say, all people then have an innate knowledge of God through His law because they are His image bearers.

Mankind also should recognize God through creation because of the image of God placed in him. As David writes in the 19th Psalm, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” As we gaze into the vast landscapes of space, pondering the beauty of the stars and planets, we must stop in that moment and glorify God. The Apostle Paul in the book of Romans tells us that the creative order of God “clearly” reveals to mankind the existence, power, and glory of God. (Romans 1:20)

You are an image bearer of God. You are not some creature that is only here by chance. You are not some cosmic mistake. You are God’s creation; remember that next time you look into a mirror.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ