Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Arizona Needs to Guard Its Border Better

These two short, gripping video reports by WSBTV in Atlanta should sober you.  Your history lessons about the fall of the Roman empire may seem eerily appropriate.  (We could also make an application to the porous "border" of many US churches.)

Click here for part one.

And here's part two.

Thanks to loyal reader Gail Pate for forwarding this to me!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ray Comfort's Must-Read Book

God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your LifeI first heard Ray Comfort's powerful presentation of the gospel in 1991.  I greatly respected him for his message then, although sadly I did not become a Christian myself until 1996!  Since then, my understanding and appreciation of Ray's message has only increased.  No matter who you are or how long you have been a Christian this is one book you need to read.  Even if you are a non-Christian, this book will help you understand why so many people who say they're Christians don't act like Jesus.

Ray has summarized his most important teachings in a book that is available for free.  No gimmicks, it really is free!  Visit www.freewonderfulbook.com to download it immediately or have it mailed to you (postage is also free!).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Book Review: The Gospel for Muslims

I've read several books on how to share Jesus with Muslims.  This one has a few unique features that set it apart.  It helps that the author (Thabiti Anyabwile) used to be a Muslim, but there are other books by former Muslims.  The best part of this book is Anyabwile's conviction that what Christians need to reach Muslims is not better techniques, but greater confidence in the power of the gospel itself.  In other words, drop the bag of tricks and just clearly share the message of Jesus with Muslims.  After all, Romans 1:16 reminds us that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe!

Therefore, Thabiti spends the first (and in my opinion, best) part of his book simply encouraging believers to be bold and accurate in presenting the gospel.  He outlines what a complete gospel message must include.  In contrast to some other evangelists' philosophies, he encourages Christians not to dodge tough foundational issues like the Trinity and the deity of Jesus.

A helpful interview with Mr. Anyabwile about his book is posted here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Remedy for "Worship Wars"

This post will conclude my "mini-series" about music.  And I need to start it by asking if you will forgive me.  I sense the Lord showing me that I began this series with a cocky attitude.  It's most evident in the first paragraph of the first post, in which I sort of flippantly chuckled about needing to stir up some controversy to spice up my blog.  While I'm sure there are trivial topics in which humor and controversy can be legitimately mixed, worship music is not one of them.  For me to joke and strut about a controversy which has caused untold heartache to churches and church members on both sides was clearly sinful.  And this may have caused the rest of my posts to be framed in a combative mood.  I should have remembered that the first prerequisite for a "prophet" is not knowledge or even wisdom, but tears.

The last post ended by asking why sometimes evil people like good music and godly people like evil music.  If it's true that our view of God will shape our aesthetic expressions, why is it that sometimes real evil comes packaged in real beauty?

Jesus helps us understand the answer when He tells the Pharisees,
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."  (Matthew 23:25-28, NASB)
Observe the two methods of 'dishwashing' that Jesus contrasts here.  First, there is the Pharisee method: clean the outside.  After all, this is the part that people see.  We can't see the hearts of other people (we have enough trouble even judging our own hearts accurately!).  So it's natural to settle for comparing our observable actions with those of others.  And it's usually not hard to find someone whose "outside" is "dirtier" than ours!  
Jesus' dishwashing method starts from the inside, the part of our lives that only God and we see.  He says that when we do, the natural consequence is that the outside becomes clean too. ("...first clean the inside...so that the outside may become clean also.")  Notice that Jesus does not say that the external is unimportant.  He doesn't say that we can say and do bad things as long as we are sincere at heart.  Rather, the point of this passage is that our cleaning should begin and focus on the inside. 

It's a great analogy that Jesus uses.  Because we know that the gunk on the inside of a dish is normally greater in both quantity and harmfulness than what's on the outside.  The inside is where the food goes, so that is where most of the residue will be found.  And if I see a UFO ("unidentified floating object") in my water glass, I'm going to go dump it down the drain and rinse it out before refilling with good water.  But if I see even something as substantial as mud or grease on the outside of my glass, I won't make a special trip to the sink as long as what's inside isn't contaminated.  Why is it then that we spend so much time trying to clean up "external" sins (for example, smoking or profanity) and so little time pondering the cleanliness of our heart?

From these verses we see that a dish (or a human) can be in one of four conditions:
  1. Dirty inside and outside (this would describe the people that the Pharisees compared themselves with)
  2. Dirty inside and clean outside (this would describe the Pharisees)
  3. Clean inside and dirty outside (a person whom God's Spirit is beginning to change, using the 'Jesus dishwashing method')
  4. Clean inside and clean outside (the natural outcome of cleaning the inside, the state we will reach imperfectly on earth and perfectly in heaven)
What does all this have to do with music?  Music, like all aesthetics, is part of "the outside of the dish".  It's  external and observable.  While we can say that a dirty inside can certainly result in a dirty outside, we cannot assume that because the outside is clean, the inside is also.  A person can, like the Pharisees, delight in external purity while clinging to internal filthiness.  So it's quite possible for a person to produce beautiful music while rebelling against Beauty Himself.

And of course the flip side is true.  When we spot external sins in others' lives, it does not necessarily mean they are not Christians.  Nor does the fact that their heart is being cleansed by the blood of Jesus mean that everything they do is pure.  A composer's great theology does not necessarily mean that all of his music will be great.

But what we can say definitively is that if we want to be clean, if we want all aspects of our lives including our aesthetics to be honoring to Jesus, the place to start is on the inside.  Aesthetics are purely external, but they flow out of our internal perception of beauty, which can be warped by our own idolatries, as I described in my previous post.

So how do we gain an accurate perception of beauty?  How can eyes that are clouded with cataracts be cleared?  How do idolaters become worshipers of the true and living (and beautiful!) God?  Only through the gospel.  We deserve to be tormented in hell forever for the ways in which we have rejected and rebelled against the beautiful God and worshiped the ugly pleasures of our own imaginations instead.  And yet that beautiful God became flesh and lived among us in an un-beautiful man's body (Isaiah 53:2).  He lived a sinless life, which only made us more conscious of the ugliness of our own hearts.  We became so uncomfortable that we beat Him bloody and nailed Him to a cross.  It was an execution that we deserved, but not Jesus.  God poured out the wrath that we deserve upon Him, and then raised Him from the dead on the third day.  God will raise us from the dead too (both literally and spiritually) if we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus alone as our Savior, Master, and Treasure.  Jesus took our sin and our punishment, so that we could receive His righteousness and resurrection.  He took the wrath for our perversity so that we could recognize and delight in His beauty.  Then Paul's words become true in our own lives:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory {try substituting 'beauty' for 'glory' in this verse} of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB)
In saying all this, I have of course assumed that my understanding of music is correct.  But let's assume the reverse for a minute.  What if God doesn't care about music or other forms of aesthetics?  What if I am unwittingly adding unnecessary rules to my life, perhaps lured by pride in "knowing more of God's will" than other Christians? 

Broadly speaking, I'm pretty sure there are still probably areas of my life in which I am overly particular.  I don't think that music is one of them, of course.  But the good news is that the cure for asceticism is the same as the cure for laxity: the gospel.  It's the gospel that cleanses us "from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:14).  It's the gospel that releases us to "serve in newness of the Spirit, and not in oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6).

We all tend to waver constantly between swallowing camels and straining at gnats, between complacency and severity, between license and legalism.  But no matter which ditch we find ourselves falling into, the cross of Jesus is abundantly able to deliver us from it.

Of course, this does not negate the need for practical instruction.  Paul's letters do include teaching about externals like modest dress, paying taxes, and pure speech.  But he never begins his letters with externals.  He always starts with the gospel, knowing that the internal change wrought by the gospel will produce and sustain external fruit.  (To read a "real life" example of how this worked in the ministry of David Brainerd, click here.)

So in the end, the primary cure for the "worship wars" is not greater knowledge of music, as helpful as that can be.  The primary cure is greater knowledge of God's beauty, man's depravity, and Jesus' mercy.  Though the aesthetics may not reflect truth immediately, they will follow eventually.  Clean the inside of the dish.  Amen.

Scott Aniol's materials on Christian music helped shape the structure of my own posts.  While I disagree with him on some particulars, his writings are excellent in many respects.  One of his books, Sound Worship, is available as a free download from his web site.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Alligator Story

Last month while teaching the youth Sunday School class at my church, I used an illustration.  I adapted this story from variations I heard from Children's Bible Hour and Ray Comfort.  As far as I know this is not a true story, but I found it very helpful in showing the different ways that religions "solve" the core problem of mankind.

A preliminary caution.  One has to be careful in using analogies or parables to illustrate truth.  You can stretch analogies to teach error also.  For example, Jesus is called "the Lamb of God".  This is a wonderful illustration to teach how Jesus is our substitute, taking the penalty we deserve for our sins.  But you can't "stretch" this analogy and use it to teach, for example, that Jesus only wore woolen clothes.  Just because something fits an analogy doesn't mean it is true.  

That warning aside, here's the story!  (A better writer could really do a good job with this.)
A grandfather took his 10 year old grandson on a special fishing trip one June.  They went for a week to the Florida Everglades.  The grandpa had rented a cabin next to a beautiful lake.  They had the entire area to themselves.  And the fishing was great!

But the grandpa gave his grandson one rule: "Never go near the lake without me.  There are alligators around here.  On land you can outrun them, but in the water they are nearly invincible." 

For the first few days the grandson respected this rule.  But when four days had gone by and he had seen no alligators whatsoever, he began wondering if his grandpa might be a little paranoid.

The afternoon of the fifth day the grandpa took his customary nap.  Grandson had already run out of diversions in the cabin.  Then a great idea hit him: he could go catch a few fish and clean them all by himself, and surprise Grandpa with ready-to-cook food for their dinner!  He grabbed his pole and bait, carefully squeezed through the door (making sure not to let it bang behind him), and trotted down to the dock.

He had learned enough from grandpa in four days to know how to untie the canoe and paddle it to the center of the lake.  Sure enough, he was a good fisherman.  Within 10 minutes there were two beauties flopping in the bottom of the canoe, and he was casting his line to try for a third when--


He suddenly found himself upside down in the water and gasped and thrashed his way to the surface.  The canoe had overturned.  That scared him for two reasons.  The first was because he didn't know how to swim.  The second was because he suddenly guessed why the canoe had flipped: there was a pair of large green eyes staring at him from ten feet away.  The gator must have flipped the canoe over with his powerful tail!  Fortunately the paddle was nearby.  He grabbed it and began screaming and sloshing and trying to fend off the gator all at once.  It was a futile effort.  Despite the minimal help of the buoyancy of the paddle, he couldn't seem to figure out how to keep his head above water.  The gator was dodging his blows and closing in.

Suddenly he heard a distant bang from the shore.  Grandpa had burst through the cabin door and was now running down the dock toward the water.  There was a mighty splash as he dove in and began swimming toward his disobedient offspring.  The alligator heard the splash too, and it momentarily distracted him from attacking the grandson.

In what seemed like record time, grandpa reached him, grabbed the oar, and gave the alligator a few nasty bangs on the head.  The gator momentarily retreated.  Grandpa grabbed the collar of grandson's shirt.  "Drop your pole!" Grandpa yelled.  Grandson looked down and was surprised to see his fishing rod still firmly gripped in his left hand.  What a fool he'd been to ever pick that thing up!  He flung it from him and grandpa began swimming them both back to shore.  But the alligator hadn't given up yet.  It was a terrible fight for grandpa: swinging the paddle in one hand, holding the grandson's shirt with the other, and swimming with his legs.  All grandson could do was trust his grandpa and cry.

After what seemed an eternity but was actually only a minute or two, grandpa reached the dock.  But the dock was too high and grandson was too weak to pull himself up.  So the grandfather had to let go of oar and use both arms to pull his wailing grandchild from the water and flop him on the dock.  It took just a couple seconds.  But that in momentary gap when the oar was not in his hand and the grandfather was looking the other direction, the alligator saw his chance.  He grabbed grandpa's leg and bit down.  Hard.  He started pulling grandpa back out into deeper water, away from the dock and the oar.  Grandson, watching from the dock, was hysterical.

But grandpa wasn't.  He handled himself remarkably coolly for such a predicament.  Grandson was amazed to see the alligator let go of grandpa and start swimming away, rather clumsily at that!  (Afterward grandpa told him that it he had stuck his thumbs into the alligator's eyes and popped them out.)  Grandpa reached the dock and heaved himself up.  Grandson jumped for joy--until he saw grandpa's leg.  It looked like a mass of bloody spaghetti.  With that, grandson fainted.  The next thing he knew, grandpa and some men in blue shirts were looking down at him and pouring water in his face and there was an ambulance parked at the cabin and grandpa's leg was bandaged up.  Of course they both rode to the hospital and grandpa's leg was cleaned up and bandaged properly and that ended their fishing trip for that year.

But they made it a custom to go back to the same lake again every year to fish together for a week.  They had wonderful times together and caught a lot of fish.  But the grandson never went fishing by himself again.  Any time he was tempted to disobey, all he had to do was look at the scars on his grandpa's leg.
Now, what is the meaning of this allegory?  Those of you who have been saved by Jesus have probably already figured it out.  We are the disobedient grandson.  Jesus is the grandpa.  He took the punishment we deserve for our disobedience.  But Jesus didn't just get his leg bitten, he suffered a tortuous and shameful death on the cross. 

We can see just how wonderful this rescue is by considering how false religions would "tweak" this story.

If I were telling this story from an Islamic point of view, the grandpa would stay on the shore and shout "Swim to me!" to the grandson.  (Actually there are many religions like this, not just Islam!)

In Buddhism, the grandpa would say, "It is your karma to get eaten by the alligator.  Don't make this mistake again in your next life!"

In the philosophy of Christian Science (which is neither Christian nor science), the grandpa would call to the grandson, "Don't worry!  The alligator and the lake and the canoe only exist in your mind.  You can change reality by changing your thoughts!"

In Catholicism, the grandpa would jump in the water, swim out to the grandson, give him a magic pill which would suddenly make him know how to swim, and swim alongside him to the shore.  (They call this pill 'grace'.  But grace is really in being rescued, not in receiving the ability to rescue oneself!)

In Seventh-Day Adventism (and other cults that teach the 'moral influence' theory of the cross), the grandpa would swim out to the grandson, give him swimming lessons, and swim alongside him to the shore.

In non-Lordship theology (which is unfortunately taught explicitly in some evangelical churches, and implicitly in many more), the grandpa would tell the grandson, "You don't need to let go of your fishing pole now, you can decide to let go of it after we reach shore if you want to."

Time would fail me to describe all of the other variations that human minds have invented to distort the truth of the glorious way in which Jesus rescues.  But you will notice two common elements.  They all tend to minimize the seriousness of the grandson's predicament by making the alligator smaller or the grandson more capable.  And they all tend to minimize the greatness of the grandfather by giving the grandson some part in rescuing himself.

But there is a seemingly plausible reason for this one.  The argument goes like this: "If the grandson gets rescued without having to do anything, he will not value rescue.  If it doesn't cost him something to escape the alligator, he'll just go back to the lake the next time his grandfather turns turns his back."  This seems very logical but it is actually a deadly lie.  The truth is exactly the opposite.  If the grandson somehow could outswim or outfight the alligator, it is then that he would not value his escape.  If he knew that the next time he went to the lake by himself he could escape the gator again on his own, he would be quite likely to take the risk.  (Reminiscent of Samson, who did not fear the Philistines because he knew he could outfight them.  He played that game once too many times!)

But if the grandfather rescues the grandson without any help from the grandson, won't the grandson just run back to the lake the next time he gets bored?  What will motivate him to stay away from the water if he doesn't play some part in the struggle to save his life?  Here we encounter what is perhaps the most beautiful truth of the gospel that this story illustrates.  What motivates the grandson to avoid the water is mainly the sight of his grandfather's leg and the memory of the blood that was spilled to rescue him from death. 

Friends, what motivates us to want rescue from Jesus is fear of the consequences of our disobedience, fear of hell.  But what empowers us to obey Jesus after He saves us, even more than fear of punishment, is the cross.  When our heart sees the scarred hands of Jesus, we too cry with Thomas, "My Lord and my God!"  (John 20:28)  When we find the pressure of the world tempting us to sin, the answer is not to "try harder" to do right.  Rather, we exclaim with Paul, "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  (Galatians 6:14)

Or as Isaac Watts said it:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Fasting" from Skype and Twitter

Hi friends,

You have probably heard the parable about the man who was so behind in his wood cutting that he wouldn't take time to sharpen his chainsaw.  I've been sensing some "dullness" lately in my own relationship with Jesus and so I'm experimenting to see if "fasting" from Skype and Twitter and blogs (both reading and writing) and the news will help.  When I try to listen to too many "voices" at once, the voice of God becomes harder to distinguish.  You won't notice any interruption in the flow of blog messages from me because over the last few months I have built up a fairly large "backlog" of interesting posts that are now scheduled to come out every few days during my absence.

I plan to be back "online" around July 19th.

You can still reach me by email or phone.

In Jesus' love,


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Good News for Homosexuals (and the rest of us!)

This is my attempt to write a presentation of the gospel for homosexuals in less than 300 words. My goal was to avoid getting caught up in the issue of homosexuality itself, which is just a symptom of a deeper problem, and to focus on the problem (and its Solution!). I welcome your suggestions for improvements!
Homosexuality is prohibited in the Bible. Otherwise there is nothing wrong with it. If God has not told us what is good and what is evil, we have no basis to declare anything wrong. For example, is it ever loving to kill? Violent criminals? Terri Schiavo? Saddam? Unborn babies? Cows? Trees? Roaches? How quickly this question becomes a matter of personal opinion when we don’t have an authoritative standard!

I oppose homosexuality because it is evil. But so are adultery, divorce, pornography, and sex before marriage. So, homosexuality isn’t the core problem. The problem is our rebellion against our Creator’s authority. Whether we manifest our rebellion sexually or through some “trivial” sin like lying, pirating music, speeding, or cheating on taxes, we do it because we don’t want God ruling us. When God erects a “fence”, we assume He wants to restrict us from pleasure rather than protect us from danger.

We deserve hell for the ways we refuse our good God’s restrictions on our “rights”. Yet today God is withholding his wrath and offering us mercy. Jesus, the Son of God, left the glories of heaven to become a man and experience the pains and temptations of earthly life just like us. Unlike us, he did not rebel against God’s plan for his life. That plan ultimately led him to an ugly and violent death on a cross. At the cross, God poured out the punishment that we deserve on His Son. The substitution was a success. God raised Jesus from the dead. When we turn from our sin and trust in Jesus as our only Savior and Lord who took our punishment and frees us from sin, God will declare us righteous and welcome us into his family.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Exchanging Beauty for Corruption

In my last article about music, I explained that one way our perception of music is changed is through external experiences.  The second way is through internal idolatry.  Have you ever looked at a graven image and wondered how people could worship such a hideous monster?   How could any one ever find images like these appealing?

We know that God Himself is the ultimate source and absolute standard of beauty.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.  (Psalm 27:4, NASB)
Why doesn't God always seem most beautiful to us?  Why does evil sometimes seem very appealing to us?  How do idols become more delightful in our eyes than God?  (Whether the idols are outright "bad" things like statues or good things like sex, money, comfort, food, work, or family.)  Why isn't our subjective perception of beauty always accurate?

Romans 1 gives us a clue about how this happens.
"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals and crawling creatures."  (vv.21-23, NASB)
Notice the progression:
  1. They knew God (verses 19 and 20 show that everyone receives a general revelation of God's character through observing His creation)
  2. They did not honor Him as God or give thanks
  3. They became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened
  4. Professing to be wise, they became fools
  5. They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible creatures
Friends, this is talking about each of us.  We are the "they".  We knew God is beautiful.  A quick glance at a rainbow or a starry sky or a rippling brook is enough evidence to damn us for ever thinking their Creator could be anything less than Most Beautiful.  But no, we didn't want God to get our worship.  We didn't want to acknowledge His authority over our lives.  So to escape from Him we threw up all kinds of clever philosophies (called "speculations" here) to blot out the convicting light of creation.  Whether through warped religion or through atheism, we became "wise".  And in doing this, we also perverted our own ability to perceive beauty.  The word "glory" here conveys the idea of splendor, majesty, or beauty.  We exchanged a greater Beauty for lesser ones.

If you study world cultures from an anthropological perspective, you will discover that the further a culture drifts from honoring and thanking the God of the Bible, the more ugly and debased their definition of beauty becomes.  This is expressed through all their forms of aesthetics, whether it is paintings, clothing, dancing, sculptures, drama, or music.  To say this a different way, there is a reason that Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus all have different styles of music associated with their religions.  These styles are not random choices, but the result of centuries of theology filtering down into aesthetics.

But one could argue, if it's true that theology shapes aesthetics, why have some very evil regimes used the same aesthetic styles as we do?  To go back to my Nazi song illustration: if I am correct in saying that a culture's theology will come out in its art forms, why did the Nazis not wear war paint and G-strings and beat tom-toms?  Why would their extreme depravity use art forms very similar to the rest of "Christian" Europe?  Or, to pick a different dictator, why does North Korea worship Kim Jung Il using militaristic tunes very similar to the rest of the world?  A man as evil as he should prefer to be worshiped to the "tune" of nails on chalkboard, right?  On the other hand, why do Christians, even theologically conservative ones, sometimes worship God with music more fitting to cultures of rebellion, confusion, and lust?  Doesn't this prove that aesthetics are amoral and completely disconnected from theology?  We will answer this argument in my next article about music.

Meanwhile, tell me what you think about what I've said so far!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Desert in Bloom

An unedited snapshot of a Yucca glauca taken this morning. God gives beauty in dry places!
For a few more shots of the same plant, click here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Touch of Grace

If you want to know what God's grace feels like, all you need to do is put your feet on the ground.  Feel the earth pushing up against your weight?  That's God's grace.

If you don't believe me, ask Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Their fateful story is in Numbers 16.  They didn't think they needed a mediator.  They thought they could approach God directly, without help from Moses and Aaron's family (who served as mediators at that time).  So they launched a movement to make all Israelites priests with direct access to the sacred tent in which God revealed Himself.
...they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Numbers 16:2-3, NASB)
But when we look at ourselves, haven't we felt the same way as Korah?  We think we're good enough to come into God's presence on our own.  Or if we've done something bad, we believe we can "atone" for it by asking forgiveness, not doing it again, and being generally nice to people.  We don't think we need a mediator.  But what did God think of Korah's idea? 
...the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. All Israel who were around them fled at their outcry, for they said, "The earth may swallow us up!" Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.  (vv 31-35, NASB)
Yes, we do need a mediator.  Our deeds of piety can never atone for past actions of rebellion against God any more than driving under the speed limit can atone for driving over the speed limit.  The penalty for our crimes against our Creator must be paid.  Being swallowed by the earth is a fitting symbol of the terror that we deserve in hell.  Here's what American pastor Jonathan Edwards said:
Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies. God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are the black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff on the summer threshing floor.
Yesterday's sinkhole in Guatemala City is a sobering reminder that we should not be surprised when we see a sinkhole.  We should be surprised that we do not see one beneath our feet.  When we feel the earth hold us up, it is God's mercy we feel. Yes, we need a mediator.  God has provided one.  And only one.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time. -- 1 Timothy 2:5-6, NIV
 Don't wait.  Turn to Jesus today in repentance and trust!