“...that I may gain Christ and be found in him...”—Philippians 3:8-9, NIV1984

Monday, November 18, 2013

Is Thinking a Biblical Idea?

Paul preaching in Athens, by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
While reading through Acts in a chronological reading plan, I’ve been impressed by how many times it speaks of Christians using reason and critical thinking to explain what they believe or examine the truth of God. “Reason” is almost a bad word to some Christians, but it was not to the early church:
Acts 17:17 (NASB): So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be present. 
Acts 18:4 (NASB): And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
Acts 19:8 (NASB): And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
Acts 19:9 (NASB): But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
The word that is translated as “reasoning” in the NASB version of the Bible is used in the Bible to mean, according to Strong’s concordance on BlueLetterBible.org “to think different things with one’s self, mingle thought with thought, to ponder, revolve in mind, to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss.”

I believe there is a great need in the church today for followers of Jesus who can use sound reasoning to explain why they believe what they believe. Evil people in this world use unsound arguments to defeat the truth of the Bible, and they deceive many young Christians with their non-sense. Then these young Christians begin to develop the notion that there is no intelligence in the Bible and the Church, and then they become atheists because the secular world has convinced them that knowledge is God. Therefore, in their thinking, there is no accountability for their immoral behavior, and the downward spiral unfolds. This is time and again the story of atheists that I speak with on campus, if I can ever get them to admit it. Additionally, they often experience a void of love and much hypocrisy in the church which is another huge issue, but not one I will write about now.

As believers, it is critically important that we are able to articulate well our beliefs, in a loving way, so that the world will know it is the truth or at least not be able to revile us without shame. This is why Peter exhorted (1 Peter 3, NASB):
14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.
Did you notice the context? It is not necessarily evangelism (how it is often used), but responding to persecution. The world does not understand our beliefs. Often Christians will try to explain them and end up unnecessarily offending their accusers even further, because they don't do it with gentleness, reverence, and a clear conscience. They do it with emotion and opinion rather than sound reasoning.

There is nothing “un-spiritual” about thinking critically and being able to reason with unbelievers regarding this world and the things of eternity. If we can articulate the truth of the Bible, some of those who oppose us will come to see and understand the Light (like the result of Paul's preaching in Acts 17:22-34).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Christopher Columbus - For Gold or the Glory of God?

Happy Columbus Day! Why or Why not?

Recently I finished the Columbus “half” of a book entitled Columbus and Cortez, Conquerors for Christ by John Eidsmoe. The author’s goal was to provide a more well-rounded account of their voyages. While there was much injustice done through the colonization that resulted from Columbus’ voyages, there is a very significant side of the story that is never told.

A primary reason that Columbus wanted to find another route to the Indies was to spread the gospel. He communicated this frequently in his writings to the king and Queen of Spain, in his personal journal during his voyages, and in his compilation, Book of Prophecies, which was about the gospel spreading to distant lands. Thanks in part to Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible, Columbus’ understanding of God’s heart to bring His Good News to the ends of the earth exceeds that of many Christians today, even though we have more resources on the matter than Columbus could have ever dreamed of. For example, in his Book of Prophecies, Columbus cited Isaiah 60:9 (NASB), among other verses, as his motivation and justification for such a risky endeavor:
Surely the coastlands will wait for Me;
And the ships of Tarshish will come first,
To bring your sons from afar,
Their silver and their gold with them,
For the name of the Lord your God,
And for the Holy One of Israel because He has glorified you.
Columbus understood that God intended for distant lands to know Him, and he believed that he was one of God's instruments for this purpose.

Once Columbus discovered the isles of the Caribbean, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sent priests and clerics to aid in the conversion of the natives. Columbus recorded that the Arawak tribe were a peaceful people, but the Caribs were quite the opposite. According to journals of eyewitness accounts, the Caribs were a terror to the Caribbean. They captured other tribes, emasculating the boys to fatten them up for a future meal. They kept the women as concubines and sodomized and ate the men. They depopulated entire islands by this practice. Their beliefs required that they pray to their gods for discernment of whether to murder an ill father, and they, like some other indigenous people groups, sacrificed children in worship.

In an effort to control these natives, Columbus followed the common practice of Christianity of the day which allowed for the enslavement of enemies. To be very clear, I believe this is evil. Yet like many Christians today, we often participate in the sins of a wicked and perverse generation for lack of discernment and biblical understanding. For example, many Christians see nothing wrong with abortion, or at least aren’t willing to take the right to abort away from others. While this does not excuse or justify this tragedy, it helps us to understand that Christians could have legitimately been true Christians and still have participated in or contributed to such evil.

12 October 1492 – Christopher Columbus discovers The Americas for Spain, painting by John Vanderlyn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
I agree with Eidsmoe’s spirit towards the accusation that Columbus forced Christianity on the natives: “This is true—and millions of people are in heaven today as a result (p. 140).” The author and I understand that people can’t forcibly be converted. True conversion comes from the sinner’s willful change of heart and mind to faith in Jesus Christ. This happened as the natives were exposed to the truth of who Jesus is and what He accomplished through His death and resurrection. The entire Caribbean was transformed from barbarism to civilization because  Columbus and his men introduced Jesus to savage sinners, like we all would be, without Jesus.

While Columbus and his men were imperfect, and perhaps some even intended evil, I am thankful for Columbus’ heart for the Great Commission. I also view this as a lesson for Christianity on the importance of evaluating our own mission for Christ—whether we are implementing it with great care and faith, holding to the principles of the Bible, or are we being sloppy, largely influenced by the evil that the “Christian” culture inadvertently approves.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Seeing the Glory of God

Have you ever thought or said, “I am a sinful man?” It seems hard for anyone in our society today to even call anything sin. We live in a world where the idea that “what is right for you is not necessarily right for me,” has invaded even the minds of many church-going Christians. For example, they will say, “I don’t believe in doing that, but I don’t want to take that right away from someone else.” What we need is some real, biblical discernment to understand good and evil. I believe, in the Book of Luke, Chapter 5, we see the beginning of Peter’s transformation from a lowly, smelly fisherman to a god-fearing, discerning, sold out follower of Jesus, simply because he obeyed a seemingly futile request of Jesus (v. 4, NASB), “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Petri Fischzug Raffael
Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, in the Sea of Galilee, by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
How did Peter’s transformation happen? I believe it started when Peter replied  (v. 5, NASB), “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.”
When we are willing to obey God, we are willing to do things contrary to our sinful nature. We are willing to rationalize, “Even though I want to do this thing instead, God’s ways must be good.” We disobey our own desires and obey God. The more we do this, the more we become sensitive to the good things from God and the evil things in our world and in our own thoughts. We see the glory of God and the depravity of ourselves and our need for God to forgive us. Peter obeyed Jesus, and saw God’s glory and his own depravity and exclaimed (v. 8, NASB), “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Peter went on to become one of the most significant men in the redemption of the world. His faith and obedience played an immeasurable role in the radical transformation of the known world. If only we all had this kind of response!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is It Good for Christians to Assert Their Rights?

Is it more "spiritual" and good to be passive when unbelievers oppose your government-protected rights and your ability to assert them and accomplish your god-given work? Or is it better to assert your rights and what is good and potentially make enemies, as much as you should be loving and tactful and do you best to win over your enemies with love? I don't think Nehemiah (nor God for that matter) would answer "yes" to the former question. I think God would answer "yes" to the latter question, and I will explain my rationale.

Many in the Church have a view of our responsibility in our world as only being "spiritual" and only working in the shadows of society. They believe that God forbids us from asserting our rights or influencing civil laws.

There are times when it is wise not to assert our rights, especially when this would hinder a potentially long-lasting relationship with individuals whom we could win to Christ, like neighbors who insist on violating noise ordinances.

Yet, when it comes to rights, I see a difference between individuals and groups. For a group of good people to concede their god-given, government-protected rights to a group of evil people is to ultimately hate those people and our posterity by allowing evil people to shape public policy and redefine "justice." When this happens, who suffers the most? Is it not the poor, the orphans, and the widows who suffer the most? Is it not those who should receive the hope of the gospel, but now can't because, we have lost our freedoms of speech and religion? We must be wise leaders like Nehemiah and act responsibly and lovingly to influence our society for good and not for evil. We must try to win our enemies by radically loving them, but we must not concede to their evil.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Abortion - A Small Matter?

It’s easy to justify evils when nearly every voice says, “‘Peace, peace!’ when there is no peace,” and other voices say, “We can’t do anything about it.” If we are not careful, we will believe a lie simply because we have heard it so many times.

We also justify evil if we do not have the discernment to understand a lie when we hear one. For example, I’ve heard Christians say, “I don't believe in doing that, but I also don't think our government should take away someone else’s right to do that.” While no law stops evil people from doing evil, the primary purpose of government is to protect innocent civilians from evil-doers and to bring justice to law-breakers. This clear in the Ten Commandments.
No law can give me the right to do what is wrong. - Abraham Lincoln

Therefore, we have to discern and understand that taking away a person’s right to harm others is the right thing to do. Protecting innocent life is the highest calling of civil governments. This is why God specifically mentions this evil of child sacrifice many times when declaring his judgment on the nation of Israel. For example, Ezekiel 16:20 (NASB) says, “‘Moreover, you took your sons and daughters whom you had borne to Me and sacrificed them to idols to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter?’” And later, in verse 36 (NASB), “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Because your lewdness was poured out and your nakedness uncovered through your harlotries with your lovers and with all your detestable idols, and because of the blood of your sons which you gave to idols,’” God described the judgment He was about to bring on Israel.

Israel had become so depraved of mind in their idolatry, that they finally resorted to murdering their own children! Do we not allow the same evil to continue in America?

A civil government must outlaw murder. Is abortion not murder? Is taking the life of a baby while it is in the womb principally and morally any different than once it comes out? Let us have the discernment to understand that the right to live is the most precious right one can have, and biologically, we know that life begins at conception. Everything that this tiny life needs, except for energy and nutrients, is fully present at conception.

Yet, if we, “We the People,” who are our governments ultimate authority, simply speak up, if we simply vote for representatives who believe abortion is murder, and if we speak intelligently on the topic with our friends and neighbors, we can change people’s minds and protect the helpless.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Valley of Slaughtered Children

What does God think about a nation’s role in protecting innocent life?
1 Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. 2 Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; 6 therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter... 10 “Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired...—Jeremiah 19:1-6,10,11 (NASB)
In our nation, we practice and approve of similar evil, like the nation of Israel did in Jeremiah’s day. Do we not sacrifice the lives of innocent children (vv. 4-5) to the god of convenience and hedonism and call it “a woman’s right to choose?” What about the unborn baby’s right to live?

I can’t help but believe that God will similarly break our nation beyond repair (vv. 10-11). That will mean an end to such freedom and ability to spread our faith. It will mean an end to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Whatever dreams you have for yourself or your future, forget about.

This same valley was known in Jesus’ day as a perpetually-burning garbage dump (see http://bibleatlas.org/valley_of_hinnom.htm). Jesus used the Greek word for it, “Hell,” as a metaphor to help his hearers understand the eternal judgment they would face for their disobedience towards God and their stubborn, unbelieving hearts (see Matthew 23).

We can bring an end to the horrors of the abortion industry just like we did when we abolished slavery 150 years ago. How? We just simply need to get involved in our government like the Founding Fathers intended. Our government is us, “We the people.” Government officials answer to us. We get involved primarily by voting.

Can you imagine the impact we could have if we all believe that our vote matters? If I remember correctly, there were around seven million votes counted in the November, 2012 election. Certainly there are more than seven million people in this country who believe that our government should protect innocent life. Therefore, in the next election, vote for representatives and executive officials who value innocent life. This is the easiest thing to do.

If a candidate is a Democrat, he most likely believes that “a woman’s right to choose” supersedes the right of the innocent, unborn baby to live. Read it for yourself from the official Democratic Platform (http://www.democrats.org/democratic-national-platform):
Protecting A Woman's Right to Choose. The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.
Is this not the same ideology that plagued this country 150 years ago—“If you are more powerful than an African tribe, you can capture them and ship them to southern plantations to be sold as slaves.”

It does not make any sense to support abortion. It is an evil practice that has continued because good people have allowed it to continue.

If a candidate is a Republican, he most likely believes in protecting the innocent, unborn life of the baby: (http://www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_we/#Item14):
Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage.
Whatever the candidate’s party, we can’t assume one way or the other which is why I always consult voter guides to help me know where a candidates stands on specific issues. You can find voter guides at http://www.christianvoterguide.com/.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

To Listen to the Voice of the People or Not

People often like to use poll data to decide if proposed legislation is good or not. People will say, “Polls indicate that most Americans support...” As believers we have to ultimately ask ourselves, “Regardless of what poll data says, what does God say? Does the Bible talk about this matter?” Whether directly or indirectly, through principle or precept, the Bible talks about all matters of life. In this passage, Samuel knew that Israel was wrong, but perhaps God told Samuel to give Israel what they demanded for the sake of disciplining their rebellious hearts.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5 and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 8 Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”—1 Samuel 8:4-9, NASB
Our congressmen should not always “listen to the voice of the people.” Rather, we must carefully elect men and women who will listen to the voice of God above all else.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

God Judges Individuals

Michelangelo Buonarroti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
10 “Now as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’—Ezekiel 34:10-11

In our culture, more and more people view God as distant and uncaring or as a blood-thirsty, angry God bent on revenge. This passage makes it clear that God is neither. He knows, loves, and cares deeply for each person as an individual. This is not to ignore the way the sins of others or the righteousness of others affects individuals, they do, but clearly God eternally judges each individual based on his own actions and thoughts (v. 20): ‘“20 Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”’

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Importance of Holidays

I used to be more cynical toward holidays, not because of the holidays in and of themselves, but because of the way our culture has perverted many of them. Then I realized, the best way to respond is to reclaim the holiday for the sake of glorifying God.

Photo of handmade Shmura Matzo used at Passover seder. Photo taken on April 122006 by Yoninah.
In western civilization, people established many, perhaps most, holidays to remember what they believed to have been something God did. If we forget what God has done, especially His faithfulness in rescuing His people, then we are bound to repeat the same errors and swallow the same deceptions and curses that have plagued mankind since the Beginning. But if we remember God's faithfulness, His provision, and His might, we're more likely to advance His Kingdom in faith-stretching, god-glorifying, and world-changing ways. We won't need to be rescued from some moral disaster we've gotten ourselves into, because we will have been too focused on doing good and believing God to come through. This is how, as men, we need to lead our families, and how as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to remind one another of His story.
3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt.—Exodus 13:3-9, NASB

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Valley of Murder

4 Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— 6 therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.—Jeremiah 19:4-6, ESV
We allow our citizens to do the same today in abortion clinics. The gods of this nation are different and their method is different, but statistically, 4,000 babies are slaughtered each day as an offering to the gods of this age. How much longer will God be patient with us? In my opinion, our nation can only expect severe judgment, and while God is faithful and true to His word for those who truly follow Him and fear Him, we will all be affected greatly when judgment comes. God will discipline His people for failing to stop this slaughter of more than 50 million babies. We the people fail to stop these atrocities simply by staying silent and electing leaders who are, at best, silently opposing abortion, and at worst, supporting the expansion of the this horrific crime. May we no longer tolerate abortion in this country just like our tolerance of the African slave trade came to an end.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Nation Planted or Plucked Up

Image from Microsoft Office.
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. 5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. 11 Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’—Jeremiah 18:1-11, ESV
I find it interesting that God declares this statement concerning “nations.” This is something true for any nation, not just Israel. I find that it is also interesting that God considers the nation as a whole. While God does deal with people individually, he does not judge or bless a nation based on the wickedness or righteousness of a few. He seems to consider the majority of the people. This makes sense of course, since the blessings of the righteous often affect the unrighteous, and the sins of the unrighteous often affect the righteous. This is why, the righteous have the great responsibility to influence their nation.