Friday, May 30, 2014

Religion, Science, The Dallas Cowboys, and The Texas Rangers

What if I told you I wanted to watch the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Texas Rangers?

Huh? No, I'm not crazy. Those who know me well are probably impressed I even know names of sports teams. And guess what else; I also know they don't even play the same sport.

My ridiculous pairing of sports teams is an attempt at a humorous analogy of when people say "Religion vs. Science" or "The Bible vs. Science". The two things deal with different issues and use different means to do it.

Evolutionists and atheists repeat over and over again that "science" has proven The Theory of Evolution to be true right along with the universe being billions of years old, and if we don't accept that then we are denying science.

Not to confuse matters, but what do they mean by "science"? Go do an Internet search for "science definition" and see what comes up. In the ancient world science and philosophy were connected. People just tried to figure out the world, whether natural or metaphysical. It's been through the last 200 years maybe that we've come to understand "science" in terms of the scientific method of experimenting and observation, where data is collected and it all has to be documentable and testable.

Religion and experimental science have no conflict whatsoever because experimental science gives us observed data about the present condition of the world around us.

The more I've thought about this, the more I realize evolutionists commit a sort of bait-and-switch logical argument. Many may not even realize they do it. When they say that religion isn't "science", the "scientific method" is being implied: testable, repeatable, documentable, observable. Since faith can't be quantified or measured, it's not "science", by that definition.

Then the same people, with the big brains and white coats with all their fancy gadgets and alphabet-soup of degrees after their names, begin describing what happened in the distant past. Here's the rub. To do that, they have to take off their "scientific method" hat, and get back to the philosopher roots of scientists, because they're addressing things that cannot be tested and observed. However, they don't usually make the distinction, and whether intentional or not, the implication is that their philosophical ideas carry the same factual weight as their experimental data.

Let me explain when this became clear to me:

I was raised a Christian and taught the bible, so yes, perhaps I had a bias and willingness to give the idea of creation more weight. However, I never really gave it much thought. I loved school and learning, so I soaked up whatever my teachers taught me. Somewhere around 6th or 7th grade, I saw in my science textbook a contradiction. 

The first chapter said to me that "science" is the experimental aspect: observation, hypothesis, experiment, data, confirm/revise hypothesis, repeat. Things that can be demonstrated through physical, laboratory testing and observation.

Then, somewhere in the middle it mentioned that a nebula will condense over millions of years to become a star. That's when something clicked. I flipped back to the beginning, double-checked the definition, and then thought to myself, "who held the stopwatch in THAT experiment?"

They cannot know that a nebula becomes a star. I understand there is some information gathered from experimental science used in forming this idea, but ultimately that is an unprovable idea. Keep in mind, this idea was presented as known fact. There was no hint of subjectivity or possibility of some other understanding. The book simply stated it as true. 

But think about this, it is not possible for a person to actually know what will or what did take place over millions of years. All we can really know is what has been observed and recorded since mankind has been writing things down. Even then, that information is limited and potentially flawed.

This just threw open doors. What else do scientists make a truth claim about that they can't actually know? 

Automatically, anything that involves events prior to written history is in doubt. 

When we can't KNOW something, observe it and confirm it with our own senses, we have to either rely on others' testimony (which we may or may not accept) or we have to draw inferences from what we already know ... or believe. We make educated guesses.

Here is where the conflict comes in: 

Naturalists / Materialists, people who don't believe in anything supernatural or spiritual, use that belief to draw conclusions. This is where they leave modern science (experiment) and enter into philosophy, making claims about things they cannot actually know or prove. But, they still want us to accept their philosophy as equally as the "scientific" facts.

Religious folks have a different set of beliefs that give us different conclusions. However, since we admit ours is religious, or philosophical, there appears to be a conflict between "religion" and "science", when in fact, religion does not conflict at all with the experimental science, only the philosophy of the scientist.

When you ask, "where did we come from?" religion and experimental science cannot be at odds, because they have different rules by which they frame the answer to the question. (I would even say that science is incapable of addressing the question). Who is right: religion or science? You may as well ask, "Who would win: The Cowboys or The Rangers?"

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Evil is Real. Jesus is Bigger.

Mark chapter five is packed with all sorts of goodies. Consider the idea that we experience and relate more to STORY than anything else. I've heard Mark's Gospel referred to as the "Action Gospel" because he doesn't include a lot of sermons or theological doctrine lectures from Jesus. It's mostly narrative. he's just telling us what happened. Telling us THE STORY.<br /><br />But in those stories are books worth of theological truth.<br /><br />In chapter 5 we have Jesus raising a dead girl and healing a woman who merely touches His cloak. But the part that jumped out to me is the showdown He has at the beginning with a possessed guy.<br /><br />Chapter 4 left off with Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea to what should have been a quiet area for some rest. They get out of the boats, however, and they are approached by a raving lunatic.<br /><br />While it's true Satan tends to work quietly and covertly (2 Cor 11:14), from time to time we do get to see up front what darkness does to a person. This man has a "legion" of demons in him. A legion is a military unit that can consist of up to 6,000 soldiers. Talk about being tormented. The sort of effect that kind of darkness has on a man.<br /><br />Stop a moment and imagine you're one of the disciples. You just got out and are tying down the boat then there he comes. You see a naked man (Luke 8) come running towards you from the graveyard (v3), crying out or screaming (v5), likely scarred and/or bleeding from self inflicted wounds (v5), and maybe even with broken chains still hanging from his limbs (v4). He comes toward you with a rage and fury that would be terrifying (Matthew 8 says people avoided the area because he was so violent).<br /><br />Hollywood has so dramatized possession and exorcisms that the idea has become so fantastic we find it hard to actually conceive of it. Peaceful, kinds angelic beings are popular, but the idea of an evil equivalent is considered ridiculous. But believe it. Evil is real. Spirits are real. And evil spirits are real. And here we see the extreme consequence of so much darkness corrupting one man.<br />But what do we see happen?<br /><br />The guy sees Jesus and falls on his face before Him. Yeah, this raving maniac that people avoid and who has supernatural strength enough to break chains is immediately brought to his knees is the presence of The Son of God (v6). He knows who Jesus is. he even says it: <em>"What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!"</em> (v7)<br /><br />We often think or hear the idea that there is a war or a battle going on between God and Satan. Yeah, that'd be like Chuck Norris "battling" with a toddler. There is no battle. The authority and power is not in question. During the last 4 chapters we've seen Jesus silencing demons. He says, "Don't speak," and they don't speak ... CAN'T speak.<br /><br />Here we have a LEGION of demons cowering in fear and begging for mercy. And all Jesus had to do was get out of a boat.<br /><br />God is sovereign. Demons HAVE to obey. And obey they do. As we see, Jesus casts them out into a herd of swine and the run into the sea.<br /><br />Now, I doubt any of us are dealing with a legion of demons. In fact, if you've received forgiveness from Christ, the Holy Spirit is in you, and the "no vacancy" sign is out. Some people even believe demon possession was just something during Jesus' time and things don't operate that way anymore. However, even without possession, the spiritual reality is that we are influenced by, tempted by,and manipulated by evil all the time. Whether directly by an evil spirit or just by our own sinful desires, we face darkness and corruption.<br /><br />And Jesus, <em>"Son of the Most High God,"</em> has complete and total authority over even evil. Before Him it MUST fall back. Before The Light of the World (John 1:4) evil shudders with fear (James 2:19).<br /><br />Daily we fight battles that HE has already won for us. We cower in fear or give in to manipulation to things we already have power over through Jesus Christ.<br /><br />1 Corinthians 10:13<br /><em>"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."</em>

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Fearful Deserter is Picked to Share the Gospel

The Youth Group at Tree Lake at one time went through the Gospel of Mark. I have to admit the choice was based more on the fact that it is the smallest Gospel than any specific theme or teaching contained within. But as I studied the author, God showed me an interesting lesson ... one that seems to be repeated throughout the book.

Who is Mark?

We first meet Mark in Acts 12. Harod is persecuting the church. He has killed James and saw it pleased the Jews. Emboldened, Harod arrests Peter. An angel shows up and miraculously frees Peter from prison. Once free, Peter goes to where some believers are gathered, praying for him. Verse 12 tells us that he goes to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is also called Mark.
That's it. Pretty boring introduction. His claim to fame at this point is that the church meets in his mom's house.

Later in Colossians 4 we learn that Mark is also the cousin of Barnabas. We know from Acts 4 that Barnabas is a Levite, the tribe of Israel who served the priests. If Barnabas is a Levite, it's likely Mark is as well.

So, Mark is at least hereditarily a Levite, and so would have been religiously educated, and a church meets at his mother's house. That background makes it no small surprise when we see in Acts 12 that Paul and Barnabas took him with them back to Antioch.

An interesting note: At the beginning of Acts 13 a list is given of the leaders of the church there. Mark's name is not mentioned. He is not considered an elder, Apostle, teacher or preacher. Perhaps a devoted layman. Mark is likely one of the often unsung heroes of the church. What today would be those driving the van, serving Wednesday meals, mowing the lawn or changing the light bulbs.

Whatever his specific role (we're not told), he was useful enough that Paul and Barnabas take him along with them on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5) as their "assistant".

Here's where things take a turn. In Acts 13:13, we see that John (Mark) leaves Paul and Barnabas and returns to Jerusalem. Not Antioch. He goes home (to mama?). We're not told why he left, but Paul's comments on the matter in Acts 15 make it clear his departure was viewed negatively and refers to his departure as "deserting".

In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas are getting ready to go on a second journey to revisit the churches they founded the first time around. Barnabas wants to take Mark and Paul says no. Verse 38 says, "But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work."

After being deserted once, it is clear Paul does not trust him to stay strong on this journey either. It is clear this was an ongoing argument for Paul and Barnabas. v38 says Paul "kept insisting". This is something Barnabas kept bringing up, trying to change Paul's mind.

Whether merely defending his cousin or seeing some change in Mark, Barnabas stands his ground, and this conflict causes Paul and Barnabas to part ways. v39"And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus."

The next we see Mark mention of is about 10 years later.

Paul is in prison in Rome and writing a letter to the Colossians. In chapter 4, verse 10, Paul is relaying some greetings from those with him. "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas’s cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him)"

In Philemon, a letter also written from prison in Rome about the same time as Colossians, Paul says, "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers."

Wait ... what's Mark doing with Paul in Rome? I thought Paul didn't trust him.

2 Timothy is believed to be the last letter Paul wrote while awaiting execution in Rome. Among a list of those who have deserted him, Paul asks Timothy to come see him soon along with some other instructions, "Make every effort to come to me soon ... Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service."
"Useful to me for service"? What happened?

The Deserter was Restored!

Remember, Mark went to Jerusalem when he deserted Paul and Barnabas, and who is in the church at Jerusalem? None other than Peter. We can easily assume Peter knew Mark. He was Barnabas' cousin and the church was meeting in his mom's house, after all.

Check out 1 Peter chapter 5. The church is under heavy persecution. Scholars date this letter to shortly before Nero burns Rome and blames the Christians. Peter is sending out a general letter for all churches as encouragement in the tough times. He sends them his greetings then says, "and so does my son, Mark." Obviously not his biological son, but his son in the faith. Peter had taken Mark under his wing and discipled him.

So, who was Mark?Apostle? Preacher? Teacher? Leader? NO.

Just a devoted helper who had been redeemed. A behind the scenes guy who folded when the going got tough. However, God took his situation and placed him at the side of the man who is considered one of, if not the, closest friend to Jesus while He walked the earth.

And it was to this "helper" of Apostles that God entrusted the role of author for one of His gospels. Matthew was an Apostle. So was John. Luke went step in step with Paul through much of his journeys and is a recognized leader in his own right. Likewise, the other books of the New Testament were written by people who were leaders and authorities in The Church.

But not Mark.

Our culture loves to hold up the celebrity, the popular, the smart, the powerful. Our praise and our thoughts tend automatically to the out front person, the "leader of the band".
We also tend to not bear with failure very well. We see a "recovering alcoholic" and focus more on the "alcoholic" than the "recovering". We hold on to lingering questions and doubts about someone who has, in the past, been less honorable than we are comfortable with ... even if they seem to be an example of integrity today.

But is that how God views us? Is that how God treats our "recovery"? While our minds want to leap to an emphatic, "NO!", our hearts hesitate. We see our own failures and faults and we think, "Well, I may be forgiven, maybe even a little better than I was ... but if people only knew."
Often we are our harshest critic. Our attitudes can go beyond humility into a negative self image. Our acknowledgement of sin can turn into guilt and shame.

We know the verses:
Psalm 103:12
"As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us."

1 John 1:9
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Romans 8:1
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

However, for some reason we continue to believe the Enemy's lies instead. Let Mark be our example. A man who came from obscurity. A man who fled the hard work of the Lord for the comforts of the familiar. A man who never held a position of leadership or authority or did anything of note that we are aware of.

Despite all of that, God redeemed him, and this seemingly timid nobody was selected by God to be His instrument for telling the Gospel. It was through this man, once cast aside by Paul, that millions of people were able to know of Jesus Christ and the freedom he bought for us on the cross.

The next time we feel shame, fear, and like a nobody, remember, God uses small, fearful nobodies, and even our most shameful actions can be redeemed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Give It Up!

I once related a story to the youth of a kid who wanted very badly to push the shopping cart when he went to the store with his mom. However, his mom never let him. She always says, "not this time, honey." or "when you're older."

Well, one day when they went to the store, he asked if he could push the cart. THIS TIME, to his joyful surprise, his mom said, "OK, sweety. You can push the cart."

He excitedly placed his hands on the handle, but his mood suddenly dropped. As he began to push the cart along the aisle, his mom (who was walking beside the cart) reached over and placed her hand on the edge of  the cart, controlling where it went.

Have you ever been there? I remember how annoyed I would get when my mom would do that to me. Or what other situations do we experience when people take back control?

"What do you want to eat?"
"I don't care. You choose."
"Ok, Chinese."
"No, I had Chinese yesterday."

"What movie do you want to see?"
"They all look good. You choose."
"Ok, let's see '_____'."
"I'm not in the mood for a comedy."

Often these scenarios are fodder for stand up comics and frustrated spouses. It can be exceedingly frustrating to be given control by someone, only to have it taken back again.

But have you ever stopped to consider that we do that to God? To The Lord.

Think of that name .... "LORD!" Ruler. King. Authority. A lord is a person who rules, who has control. They make the decisions, because they are in charge.

Part of putting your faith in Christ is realizing and accepting that He is Lord. Jesus is God (John 1:1). He created everything (John 1:3). That means you, the world, the universe, and whatever plan or purpose your life has, He knows about it. Whatever is best for you.... He knows it. All authority is His (Matthew 28:18).

We repent of our sins because we see the kindness He gives us in the cross of Christ (Romans 2:4). We realize that we have been in rebellion to the one who should be in control in the first place.

So then why do we, who have realized this, turn around and try to take that control back? We make exceptions. Jesus says to love our neighbors, and we do ... but that one guy is so rude. He doesn't deserve it. Recall that Jesus also said we should seek to serve others (Matthew 23:11), but that lady at work. The things she says about me to everyone else, why give her the satisfaction? Hate is the same as murder (1 John 3:15), yet we find excuses to hold on to that bitter grudge.

Quit trying to guide the cart. Give it up and give God control. It is not yours to control. Your old life of rebellion and selfish control was ended. Now the life you live is lived for Him.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Why You So Mad, Bro?

Ok, since I am doing an article on anger let's get the gratuitous Yoda quote out of the way: "Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering." Star Wars, it may have terrible theology, but there sure are some catchy one-liners.

The first thing I think we need to understand about anger is that it's natural. Anger is an emotion, a feeling. Like all our feelings, it just happens. Simply feeling the emotion of anger is not wrong, bad, or sinful. However, we have to be aware of what our emotions are. Simply put, they are indicators. Our emotions just let us know something about the situation we're in. While they can be powerful, they do not necessarily control us. They just are. They can be misleading, and they can be trained.

Anger is no different.

Something can make us angry when really we have no reasonable ground to be upset. Ex: You are in a hurry and someone is going 55 mph in a 60 mph zone. Maybe their car can't go any faster. Maybe they didn't notice the last sign when the speed limit increased. Whatever the reason, 60 is the speed LIMIT. They don't have to go 60. They are not doing anything wrong. You are just frustrated because of your circumstances, not because of anything they are doing.

And we can train ourselves to not get upset at certain things or people. Ex: This is the definition of tolerance. You have a boss, a co-worker, a classmate or teacher who just ticks you off every day. Well, to have a more peaceful life you manage to ignore them, dismiss them or just accept that's how they are and not let it bother you.All of that to say, our anger does not control our actions.

Anger simply informs us about the situation, how we respond is our own choice. The bible makes that clear in Ephesians 4:26"Be angry, and do not sin."

There are a few stages that our anger will follow if we let it.

Stage One is where we just leave it alone and let it fester or sour. Like milk left out on the counter it just starts to go bad. A simple emotion informing us of mistreatment now becomes bitterness. Ephesians 4:31"Let ... bitterness ... be put away from you."

Stage Two is where our anger starts to show. It's soured, and we have become bitter. Everyone can see that something's upsetting us. Even when we try to pretend, it's obvious something wrong, and it comes out in what we say and do.

In Stage Three we're no longer aware of why we're angry in the first place. The sour, bitter mindset has just become part of who we are, and we no longer know why. We just know something wrong, and we're not happy about it.

This leads quite naturally to Stage Four: Our anger has turned into contempt and our foul attitude stinks up the place. Have you ever been around someone who's just upset and negative about everything? They're just not pleasant to be around. Their personality "stinks", and their bad attitude comes out in every part of their life. No one wants to be around that person; certainly no one wants to BE that person. But this is what happens when we ALLOW anger to control our lives and not deal with it.

OK, so what do we do?

Jesus says that if we're angry with our brother without cause we are guilty of murder. (Matthew 5:22) He even goes on to say that it is so important to not hold on to anger that we should drop everything and go resolve it. (vv. 23-24)

"But you don't understand; I'm REALLY angry. I try, but I can't help it." That's not what Jesus said. Jesus said you can help it.

OK, so we're talking about anger. I had a frustrating experience a few weeks ago that I'd like to relate.

Since we've been studying Intelligent Design in Sunday school, I've been perusing some ID books. I picked up one book on the reliability of the bible while at Mardel's. This book, claiming to defend the bible, has a chapter explaining how the bible is wrong. In explaining that the bible isn't a science textbook (which it technically is not) it claims that since the bible mentions unicorns and dragons, and since we KNOW those never existed, then the bible can't be trusted on THOSE issues. But it gets the more important spiritual matters right? How do you know what's true then?

The point is, you interpret science with the Bible, not the other way around, and when I see that being done backwards, it makes me angry. How do you defend the bible by putting yourself arrogantly above God's Word as if you know everything and need to set God straight? Grrr!

OK ... just breathe.

So what do I do with that anger? What should any of us do with our anger over something? (or any overpowering emotion or temptation?) Remember that we mentioned before that anger is an emotion. It happens. It informs us something is wrong. So what do we do? Can we even do something? Or are we hostage to our feelings?

If you know me, you know I absolutely believe that is NOT true. The bible clearly states, "Be angry but do not sin." In a book called "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" Stephen Covey explains that there is a gap between a given stimulus (angry feeling) and our response. In that gap is our decision making process.

Stimulus -- Decision -- Response

We might have ideas and responses already pre-programmed, but that just means we decide not to consider our action and just go off instinct. Not always a good idea.

What do you do? Well, let's have a look at some of the things people do with their anger (or other emotions as well), and how the bible addresses them.

1. Drown it: Some people use alcohol or drugs to cope, but Ephesians 5:18 says "do not get drunk with wine, ... but be filled with the Spirit." Ok, so we shouldn't drown it.

2. Burry It: Some people literally 'bury' their feelings in stuff. Some call it "retail therapy." Go shopping and feel better by buying a new [fill in the blank]. Have you ever seen the show “Hoarders”? No thanks. But what does the bible say? "Though shalt not covet." Seeking comfort in and desiring material gain is not a biblical teaching. At best it is mismanaging of God’s money that He has given you.

3. Ignore it: I know, let's just not think about it. Like a bad dream, just pretend it isn't real. Remember, however, that Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick." Recall the 4 stages we discussed earlier. Unresolved anger turns to bitterness. A bitter person has no hope. but we do have hope, in Christ. So, ignoring = bad.

4. Direct it / Display it: Let's just express it. "That sorry excuse for a human being! I'm gonna let him have it!" In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." Uh oh ... being angry is the same as murder? Yikes, I'm in trouble.

But then where does that leave us? What is the answer?

What we need is a change of perspective. Not just a rule for what we DO with anger, but we need a new way of looking at anger.

Many people claim to have a "temper problem". Possible? Sure some people have shorter fuses, but I think mainly we have a point of view problem. Romans 12:2 says, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Who we are is transformed? We get a new mind? Exactly.

The way the world deals with their anger (or other emotions) is not the way Christians should handle our anger. Allowing our anger some control is of "this world" or what the bible refers to as our "Flesh." Basically that just means the sinful nature, the desire to do bad, that we have in us. In Galatians 5 Paul explains that "the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like." Hatred. Contentions. Jealousies. Wrath. ... Anger.

Every last one of the items on that list are based in selfishness, ego, and conceit. Is that who we are called to be as Christians? Is that what Jesus taught? Is that how God defines goodness and righteousness? Are we supposed to be selfish? ... A great big "NO!!" Remember what Jesus said, First will be Last, Last will be First. If you want to be great you have to be a servant to all. We're not selfish people, and acting on anger is a selfish thing.

But you are sometimes selfish. You do get angry.

Are you in Christ? 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." That anger and selfishness, the "flesh", the sinful nature ... that's the old you. Jesus died so we could be made new.

Galatians 5 says, "those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Those passions and desires, including anger, only have the hold on you that you let them. Think about it. Jesus died to rid of us of the guilt of sin. Because of that we no longer have to suffer what God's justice demands, namely Hell. But this ALSO says sin wasn't the only thing to die with Jesus. Our flesh, our sinful nature, and all those desires and passions died also.

Wrap your head around this one: we CHOOSE to return to those old habits and ways of thinking. Galatians 5 also says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." We have a choice. By hanging on to the old habits and ideas from our old life we are choosing to stay in our sinful, old, dead life.

Imagine falling into sewage. Then after getting cleaned up you find someone has laid out nice, new, clean and super comfy clothes ... but instead you put the old nasty clothes back on. That is exactly what we do. Let's put on the new life.

What does that life look like? Again, back to Galatians 5 (great chapter by the way, go read the whole thing) "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." Everything on this list is the exact opposite of Selfish. The old life before Christ was selfishness. The new life in Christ is humble.

Then why am I still selfish?

Think about it: are unsaved, non-born again people capable of acting in non-selfish ways? Can they show love and kindness? Absolutely. They can be good neighbors and faithful friends. However, the bible is clear that our hearts, before Christ, are at the core selfish, sinful, and in rebellion to God. A really polite rebel is still a rebel. But if those who are basically sinful can sometimes choose to do good, then why is it so hard to believe that those who have a new life and the Holy Spirit in them can sometimes choose to sin?

Part of the problem is that we haven't unlearned old habits, and we hold on to the familiar former life. It's familiar and comfortable. But simple behavior changes are not the answer.

REAL CHANGE comes from the Gospel. We're changing our perspective, remember? That new perspective is to see everything THROUGH The Cross. Through the fact that Jesus died for us and we are new creatures.

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells the parable of The Unforgiving Servant.
Basically, a king forgives a servant of a ton of debt. This guy owed the equivalent of millions of dollars. The servant begs mercy and the king gives it. Then the servant finds someone else who owes him a few days worth of income, and he has the guy thrown in jail. The king finds out and has the guy punished. We hear that and say, "well yeah, of course." Because of what had been done for him, he should have been willing to behave accordingly.

We are no different.

Because of the price Jesus paid for us, because of the great mercy and grace that was shown for us, we should also live our lives accordingly. Jesus showed the ultimate in selflessness and love. In light of THAT, we should also be selfless people.

We should always compare our situation to HIS FORGIVENESS instead of our own gain or our feelings. We have been forgiven much. In light of that LOVE … how can we honestly justify anger or bitterness?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our Common Circumstance Does not Override Our Individual Obligation

I have recently encountered several comments, questions, or news stories that seem to horribly misunderstand the human condition and God's transforming work in our lives.

A friend recently asked me (and I've heard this echoed other places) if I thought the book of Acts was a biblical basis for socialism or communism. A protester on Wall Street emphatically kept insisting that multi-million dollar bonuses were wrong because other people were starving. Many people have voiced the idea that if it weren't for government programs there'd be no charity, and poor people would be left to die.

Much of this way of thinking is usually followed by "Jesus commands us to love others. Shouldn't we do ..." fill in the issue at hand.

I don't want this to be a commentary on government policy, but I do want to consider the ideas that might shed light on some of the issues that surround current policies. Remember, as Christians, one of our goals should be shedding those things which seek to hold us and control us in this world when our focus needs to be on Christ and on the world to come.

A major issue that needs to be understood is that we are individuals. We are each uniquely created (Psalm 139:14), and we will each individually stand before God to answer for our life (Hebrews 9:27). There will be no appeal to family or society pressure. No excuse for bad education or a lousy lot in life. We can't claim any benefit from belonging to a particular group, society or church. In the end it is just you and God (Revelation 20:12).

If we will stand before God as an individual, responsible for our actions, that means we have both the blame and the power of choice in our lives. That brings us to the first big thing we need to understand:

1. God is more concerned with spiritual transformation than our worldly success or comfort.

The prosperity movement has done a lot of damage by trying to tell people that God wants them to be happy and rich. The truth is that over and over in scripture we see God taking people through tragedy and trial in order to teach them (James 1:2-4).

I'm sure no one would imagine Noah had an easy time before or after the flood. Joseph was sold into slavery and unjustly imprisoned. Daniel was thrown in a lions' den. The Israelites had to wonder in the desert for 40 years and were constantly at war with their neighbors once they got to the Promised Land. Samson had his eyes gouged out. Paul was arrested, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and eventually beheaded.

Take the example of slavery. All would agree it is a horrible practice. Christians led the way in abolishing slavery and fighting for civil rights. Clearly we can see that slavery is a practice that is contrary to traditional biblical values. However, we do not see the bible calling for christian action to end slavery.

What God does do is give us guidelines for behavior of both slaves and masters (Colossians 3:22-4:1, Ephesians 6:5-9). The focus is on the attitude and spiritual condition of the individual, not the social structure or legal system of the culture. Masters are not commanded to free the slaves but to treat them well. Slaves were not to seek freedom but to have a humble attitude of service. This is all a focus on the condition of the heart and the attitude of the individual.

In the book of James we see that trials are ways that God used to teach us perseverance and to build character (James 1). Through all of this we see God working to change the heart of the individual not to improve their circumstances.

2. Giving is voluntary.

In the book of Acts we see what some people say is the church living communally (Acts 2:44-46). Believers freely share what they have as others have need. Historians have noted that non-Christians were often surprised to find Christians taking care of the poor and needy of the community, not just their own. Surely this example should be extended to modern times. And if we all pool our resources through government, there is more to spread around and we can do more, right?

Well, perhaps an argument can be made for the efficiency of such a thing, but that is an argument for another time. The question here is whether or not we should be obligated by law to give for the poor.

People often use the book of Acts to back up this idea, but we do not see forced giving taking place. Peter and the Apostles didn't command everyone give to help the widows, orphans, and poor (Acts 2:45). What we see taking place is that the natural outward expression of the changed heart is to give (Galatians 5:22). Because of the grace they had received, the early church was then willing to voluntarily turn around and show love and grace to others... as there was need.

Remember, the bible also says that God loves a cheerful giver: "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7) There are many people who are NOT very cheerful about their taxes going to pay for services others may or may not even need.

The focus here is not that we should give to the poor as a legalistic rule but rather that we should be the kind of people who WANT to give to those in need.

When you force people to give or when you remove the charitable act to that of a cold bureaucracy, you remove the spiritual impact it has on the giver ... which is just as valuable an impact as that for the one receiving.

3. The focus is on our relationship with God not on worldly situation of others.

Again, remember that all through the bible God is more focused on our internal attitude and spiritual condition than our external circumstances.We can't forget the human condition. We are fallen people in a corrupt world (Genesis 3). Our sin has separated us from God (Romans 6:23). It was necessary that Jesus Christ be a holy sacrifice to forgive our sins. The point of life is reconciliation to God. All else is secondary to that goal (Mark 8:36). Our wealth or our poverty or our giving or lack thereof should all assist in this reconciliation or else they mean nothing.

We see Abraham, Job, David, and certainly Solomon were all crazy rich. Nowhere do we see God tell Abraham he has too many sheep or Solomon he has too much gold and needs to give it to someone else. Were there poor who could have better used their wealth? Sure, perhaps. Material gain or loss is not the focus of the work of God in our lives. The focus is our obedience, faith and reconciliation.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 clearly states, "if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either." The church was having the problem of people taking advantage of charity. What's God's solution? Let him get hungry, he'll get motivated to work.

We easily fall into the trap of worrying about our material well being. In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus clearly says, "your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (vv32-33)

We should instead focus more on the spiritual and the condition of our heart. Mark 8:36 says, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" The condition of our soul and reconciling us back to Himself is clearly God's priority, and so should it be ours.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bullying, Faith, and a Right Perspective

[Reposted from a Previous Blog]

I recently read an article about a boy, Jamey Rodemeyer, age 14, who committed suicide because of bullying. This article focused on how the hate and bullying continued even after his death with things like ‘You’re better off dead!’ and ‘We’re glad you’re dead!’ being chanted at a homecoming dance.

The article then went on to completely disregard the issue at hand and therefore any useful solution. Unfortunately this whole tragic event, and others like it, is being categorized as a gay issue. Jamey Rodemeyer was a gay teenager, and the bullies saw him as easy prey and attacked. However, we do a grave disservice to this young man and what he endured when we allow this event to be hijacked by advocates of the homosexual lifestyle.

It is a fact of life that people who are in pain will cause pain to others.

Bullies are bullies because of the pain or anger or low self-esteem they suffer, not because of who they target. Whatever the root cause, by tearing down someone else, a bully makes themselves feel powerful and therefore better about their own situation, relieving their own pain, temporarily. Or, sometimes, they simply want to draw people's attention away from their failings by drawing attention to others. However, this 'fix' is like a drug, and it requires more pain inflicted on others to keep their own feelings at bay. As someone who was bullied fairly extensively throughout junior high and high school, I do have some experience with this issue.

This unfortunate individual may have been seen as a convenient target because he was gay and in their mind perceived to be weak, but he was bullied because the bullies were never taught to deal with their misguided pain and anger. The issue is not homosexuality, the issue is what causes bullies to become bullies.

I was targeted often because I was small, skinny, and often times socially awkward. These combined with a more passive nature screamed "easy target!" to any would-be bullies in the area. But there was not a hatred for skinny, awkward kids. The bullies themselves had friends who were comparatively skinny and awkward. I was just perceived as an easy target, an outlet for their own pain and anger at their own situation. I know this because when it became obvious that I would not cower and be intimidated and therefore was not as easy a target as they imagined, they usually moved on to easier prey.

I had non-christian acquaintances who would occasionally bash on Christians. When I would speak up they would say, "Oh, not you, you're cool." For whatever reason, they decided I was off the target list while others just like me were fair game to be picked on. The issue was not the religion. The issue was what relief they could get out of the act of tearing someone else down, and in their world, I wasn't a convenient target.

Bullies who target homosexuals are not a special breed of bully. Their act is no greater a misconduct because of who they chose to bully. The tragedy is that over the last decades we have been creating more and more of them and turning them loose on our kids.
I believe this increase is directly related to the fact that our culture is moving away from Christianity and the teachings of Jesus found in the bible. Think about it. What does Christianity teach about the individual?

We are all created in the likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26) A God fearing christian is less likely to lash out at those around him/her when they believe each person is uniquely created by God in His own likeness.

We are all sinners. (Romans 3:10) We are a screwed up, fallen, corrupt people. When you know the wicked desires and feelings inside you are not who you are meant to be, you are less likely to give in to them.

We are all loved. (John 3:16) If you genuinely believe that the creator of the universe loved someone else enough to sacrifice Jesus on a cross to pay for that person's sins, who are you to mistreat them? You realize that God loves them as much as He loves you. A person with that knowledge is less likely to purposely cause harm to a loved one of God.

Most importantly, when we know that our Heavenly Father loves us, and that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) the pain and anger that drives bullying eases. The faults we try to hide no longer matter as much. The anger we feel at ourselves or at others fades. We don't need to hurt others to "feel better about ourselves" when we have the Holy Spirit telling us that we are loved by God.

Every wicked and corrupt thing in the world comes from the sinful nature within us that we are all born with, and only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross could pay the price for that sin. Christ paid the price for our sin through His death and overcame it through His Resurrection. We share in that life. (Romans 6:5-6)

Through that new life we can leave behind all the corruption that urges us to hurtful acts, such as bullying. The true issue at hand in any tragedy is the need for forgiveness and righteousness that can only come through Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Repentance: Turn Around and Run!

I'm fairly prone to learning stuff just to know it. The practical applications don't always seem all that important. But what's the point of knowledge if it doesn't affect your life? But if I am honest, there are a lot of things I know that I do not always let move beyond knowledge into actions.

Repentance ... it's one of those words you typically only hear Christians use and maybe some other religious folks as well. When we use it, we use it in the sense of being sorry for what you did and not doing it any more. But it doesn't quite end there. The knowledge of what repentance is doesn't do me much good if I don't choose to implement it in my life.

The basic understanding of Christianity is easy ... we're sinners, we deserve a just punishment, we need God's grace, Jesus took our punishment for us, we can have that grace if we just have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God.

But Faith = Trust, and Trust requires action.
I was sinning. My sin deserved justice. I'm forgiven. I'm going to not sin and instead try to be more like Christ taught me to be. Our actions don't gain the forgiveness, but our faith in that forgiveness should manifest in deeds which demonstrate trust.

But it is more than just not doing bad things. The term repentance carries with it a purposed action. A motion or momentum. You were heading towards selfishness and corruption. Now you have turned.... not sitting still, but headed towards righteousness. Pursuing God's will and Christ's teachings.

You don't just stop, and you don't just turn around. Considering what we have been saved from and what we have been saved to .. we should turn around, away from the selfishness and greed of sin and run with everything we've got towards God's holiness and loving-kindness.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Was Jesus Against Tax Cuts for the Wealthy?

Here we are addressing another issue on which Christians are supposedly hypocritical. (see article here ). As dealt with in that article, this is a list of supposed inconsistencies in Christians' position on issues where Jesus is claimed to have held a different position or never addressed.
The extent of Jesus' teaching on taxes is found in Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20. These three chapters include an account of the Pharisee's trying to trap Jesus by asking if the Jews should pay taxes to their oppressors, Rome. If He said, "Yes," He would be discredited in the eyes of the Jewish crowd. If He said, "No," He would be guilty of rebellion and could be arrested by the Romans who were certainly present as well.
Jesus sidesteps the issue by pointing out that it's already Rome's money (it has Caesar's picture on it), and He then gives the now famous words, "Give to Caesar what is Casar's and give to God what is God's."
Now there have been volumes of very well written books by very smart people on what exactly this is saying. I want to look at what He is NOT saying. Nowhere in these passages will you find Jesus addressing tax rates for any members of society. Should it be a flat rate or a progressive system? Should there be deductions? Should someone have to pay more because they make more, or because they got their money dishonestly or because their motivation was greed? What about rich people who inherited their wealth? What about people who worked hard and earned it through their labors and smart investing? What if they made a bunch but also gave a bunch away?
What if ... ?
What about ...?
Yeah, but ...
The issue of government, wealth and taxes is so complex that it would be ridiculous to try and water it down to a simple issue of "yes/no" on tax cuts for a certain segment of society. It's possible that there may be a situation where it would be warranted and another where it would be a bad thing to do.
Repeatedly Jesus' teaching are focused on the individual and THEIR attitude and relationship to God. He is not instituting a societal or political stance on issues. The main point is whether our motives are pride-filled or humble.
Many of these issues, I am discovering, are oversimplifications and loaded with emotional language to rouse the reader, but they do little to actually address the issue.
Was Jesus for or against tax cuts for the wealthy? He never addressed it. And a good rule of thumb is to be silent where Scripture is silent. And Scripture is silent on on this issue. In that case, individuals are free to use other reason and principles to inform their views on this particular topic.
Christians tend to be more politically conservative, and that view tends to want government less involved in people's lives and in social engineering through redistribution of wealth. To claim tax-cuts for wealthy is anti-Christian is as asinine as claiming the reverse, that wanting government to take people's money makes you anti-Christian.
Jesus simply did not address economic, governmental, or tax policy. He taught that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). For some that may mean giving up wealth while for others it may mean giving up disdain for wealthy people. For one that might mean giving up looking to the government to solve problems. For another that might mean giving up the worldly freedoms that have become their idol.
We are as individual and unique as snowflakes. The issue we face is a pride-filled heart in rebellion against God. That pride will manifest differently for everyone. This issue, like many that divide us, can be reasonably held and argued on both sides by Christians who's faith and devotion to Christ are equally strong, with no inconsistency.

Was Christ Created?

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation" (Colossians 1:15).

Some say Colossians 1:15 means Jesus is not really God, but He is the first created thing. The way we address this issue with those who disagree with Christ being God, is the same way we conclude that He is God. We simply share our reasoning.

A useful rule is, “Never read a Bible verse.”1 Read at least a paragraph. You need the context. You should also use other parts of the Bible to understand verses with multiple possible interpretations. If a verse seems unclear, is there another place where Scripture is clear on that issue? The broader context of this passage in Colossians 1 is not about Christ's origin but His nature and role.

You don’t need to look beyond verse 18 to see the same word used to say Christ is the "firstborn from the dead." That’s the second birth He was speaking of in John 3 with Nicodemus. If “firstborn” is figurative in verse 18, then why not in verse 15?  Now we have two possible interpretations. What other verses may help us decide which interpretation is best?

In John 1 Jesus, referred to as “The Word,” is said to be God. In John 10:30 He states, “I and the father are one.” In Romans 9:5, Jesus is referred to as, “the eternally blessed God.” Taking these verses into consideration (and there are many others clearly stating similar things), it seems most likely that the “firstborn” in verse 15 is not an actual "birth order" describing Jesus as the first created thing. Jesus is plainly taught in other places of the Bible to be the eternally existent God. Therefore, He could not have been a creation of God.

Also, some claim the idea of deity was a later addition to Christianity. According to Dr. William Lane Craig this is not the case. “The New Testament writers appropriated the word for God’s name (Yahweh) in the Old Testament as it appears in Greek translation in the Septuagint (kyrios = Lord) and called Jesus Lord, applying to him Old Testament proof-texts concerning Yahweh (e.g., Rom. 10.9, 13). Indeed, the confession “Jesus is Lord” was the central confession of the early church (I Cor. 12.3).”2

From the very earliest accounts Jesus claimed to be God, and His disciples claimed He was God. While someone may not accept that claim as true, it is an error to claim that the Bible teaches something different.

  1. Gregory Koukl, Never Read a Bible Verse, Stand to Reason Blog, accessed May 11th, 2014.
  2. William Lane Craig, A Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Article Archive, accessed May 12, 2014.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Jesus Never Asked Lepers for a Co-Pay! (So Why Do We?)

That's an odd statement. It came from someone who seemed to be accusing Chrstians of not actually following Christ (see original article here). Apparently the one who who made the initial claim thinks that Christians who think people should pay something for the healthcare they receive are not very good Christians. That's what I can gather. It's a strange accusation that works because it is vague enough to not really mean anything but emotionally charged enough to incite passion.
Honestly I think it is a false comparison to measure Christian opinions of the medical system to Jesus doing miracles. The Creator of the universe who maintains everything simply by the power of His will (Colossians 1) can heal at will with ease. A human doctor requires application of skill, learning, and resources. All of this takes time and and is not without cost.
If the issue is whether or not a person should get free healthcare or because they already pay premiums they shouldn't need a co-pay, that is really a issue of practicality and economics. Sure, there are certainly some moral and principle issue that would relate to those questions, but I think we would find the major point Jesus might address would have more to do with the personal faith and attitude of the individuals involved (doctor, patient, and insuror) than with the technicalities of how the medical service is received and necessary costs are addressed.
I believe different Christians of equally devout faith could find various solutions to this particular problem, none of which would necessarily be sinful or "anti-Christian." But it is simply an error to claim there is some comparison between Jesus doing miracles and Christians holding a certain view on how the healthcare system should function. Those are two completely separate issues.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Was Jesus a Community-Organizer?

This is a very strange claim. Since the context was in a Facebook post that was a not too subtle attempt to point out hypocrisy of Christians holding positions that Jesus Himself didn't (read original post here), I am trying to figure out what anti-community organizer stance Christians have. To the best of my understanding, the role of a community organizer is to rally the community around a cause which may or may not actually be a current concern of the community.
While volumes could be said about the practices of community organizers, the question here is whether or not Jesus was one.
I really don't see the connection. While a loose parallel could possibly be drawn with the Church as a community, I'm not buying it. Jesus was not involved in, or interested during His ministry in, social or political activism. While He did a lot to help the poor and the sick and the outcast, He was not trying to create a social movement to solve those problems. If those things were of concern at all, He was teaching individuals how to care for one another in the face of those problems.
Primarily though, Jesus was proclaiming The Kingdom of Heaven and the need for sinners to repent. Any activism entailed would have been spiritual, not social. When asked about taxes, He basically blew it off as a non-issue (Matthew 22:15-22) and used it as a chance to turn people's minds toward God instead. When someone expressed dismay at an expensive perfume being poured on Jesus that could have been sold to help the poor, He claims that the woman's act of worship was a better thing (Mark 14:3-9). When asked by Pilate about His being a king, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36).
Jesus is not attempting to bring about social change by organizing movements and lobbying Rome. His cause is the changing of hearts and minds to reconcile sinful men to their righteous Creator.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

"Fear and Faith"

I was honored to share a message with the folks at The Church at Tree Lake's "First Friday Sing", a monthly jam session where local musicians just come together to hang out and play some good ol' gospel music. They are gracious enough to allow me the pleasure of bringing a message before they kick of the festivities. It is always a joy to gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ for a joyous celebration of the new life He has granted us through His grace.

This month I shared some insights from a recent conversation I got caught up in on social media where a gentleman was insisting that all religion, especially Christianity, is based on a fear of death or the threat of Hell. Nothing could be further from the truth.