Why Thanksgiving Day


ThanksgivingFeastI love Thanksgiving. For a number of years I said it was my favorite holiday.

My church used to hold special Thanksgiving Day services—a kind of “come as you are” affair back in the days when everyone still dressed up for church. So there was a real casual feel.

I don’t remember what all we did. Sing, I’m sure. And pray. But this was the part I remember the most: in this church whose sanctuary held over 1000 people, they put up microphones in the side aisles and let whoever wanted to share come down and talk about why they were thankful.

No time limit. No slick presentation. We went for an hour and a half, give or take, and it was the best, hearing what God was doing in the lives of the people in our church. Often these were people saying how great God was although they’d experienced some pain or suffering or loss. Their witness was that God went through the trial with them. More than once I ended up in tears from hearing these experiences of God’s faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness. That’s really what Thanksgiving is about. Those early colonists who set aside a day to express their thanks and to feast with their Indian friends who had made their survival possible, were proclaiming God’s faithfulness, even in the midst of the trials they’d faced.

Danger, sickness, and death on the ocean. Dwindling provision, inadequate shelter, more sickness and death when they landed. But when they made it through the winter, when the Indians helped them plant, when harvest time came and they had provision for another winter, they gave God thanks.

When we slide past Thanksgiving on our way to Christmas instead of plugging into the rich heritage this nation has enjoyed, we miss out. Think about those early celebrations. No racial or ethnic or cultural prejudice. No one advertising or trying to get rich quick. Everyone sharing from what they had. And everyone acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts.

Today if everyone in America spent Thanksgiving by setting aside any prejudices, by taking a pause in all the get-ahead schemes, by sharing instead of trying to get, by thanking God for giving us what we need for this day, how different our nation would look.

Christians so often like to say we need to put Christ back into Christmas, but I think we need to put thanks back into Thanksgiving Day.

Scripture puts a great emphasis on thanking God. For example, note the times thanks is mentioned in this passage in Colossians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (3:15-17, emphasis added).

To our detriment, we Christians don’t make thanksgiving a big part of our worship service, or, I dare say, of our own personal prayers.

In describing the process of falling away from God, Romans 1 says, “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” (v 21, emphasis added).

Not giving thanks follows immediately after not honoring God. I don’t know if there’s anything that can keep us closer to God than thanking Him—not particularly for the stuff He gives but for God Himself.

I think it’s cool to take a passage of Scripture and identify what it shows us about God—either His work or plan or person—then use that to thank Him. But not just on Thanksgiving Day, though setting aside a day to feast and thank God and our family and friends is a cornerstone upon which we can build thankful hearts during the other 364 days.

In many ways, the more prosperous we are, the more we have to work at thankfulness. It’s so easy to start taking for granted the good things we have—and expect to have, day in and day out.

For example, I made a grocery store run this afternoon. I didn’t think until this minute to thank God for the grocery store. I’m not wondering if I’ll have access to a grocery store tomorrow. I expect to have it available to me whenever I need to buy more food.

It’s easy to move from that “take it for granted” position to an entitlement position, then a demanding one (see the people of Israel during the exodus). Giving thanks forestalls that downward spiral.

Thanksgiving feeds a relationship. Why wouldn’t it work the same way with God? In fact it does. The more we thank Him, the more we appreciate the many things about Him for which we can be thankful. As our awareness grows, our appreciation grows. As our appreciation grows, our thankfulness grows, and our thankfulness triggers a whole new awareness of God, starting the cycle over again.

So, no matter whether you live in the US or not, Happy Thanksgiving, all year long.

Why Atheists Think Christians Are Arrogant


Preaching God's wordMy post today is actually in response to a comment from an atheist on another site. We had a brief exchange of ideas, and in his last comment, he said I shouldn’t bother responding because he wouldn’t be reading on that thread any more. Then he repeated his charge that I, like other Christians, am arrogant.

This individual isn’t saying anything I haven’t heard before, but it’s not a charge I’m willing to accept in the context he’s delivering it.

As it happens, I am arrogant—it’s a part of my sin nature which causes me to be deceived into thinking I’m better than I am, more truthful, more intelligent, more kind-hearted, more . . . you name it, and I’ve probably thought it if it puts me in a good light.

But that’s not the arrogance I, and other Christians, am being accused of. Rather, the idea is that because I believe there’s a right and true view of the world and am unwilling to say, “If it works for you, then it’s all good,” I’m arrogant.

By that definition, everyone is arrogant (which is actually right on the money) because clearly this commenter thinks I’m wrong, so words of tolerance (“as long as it works for you”) only mask a smug attitude (stupid Christians).

The truth is, not all worldviews can be right. Consequently, Christianity can’t “work for me” and Buddhism “work for you” because the two systems aren’t different flavors of ice cream. They’re not even languages. They are more like differing addition facts.

But in reality there is only one of those.

To say, in my system one plus one equals three, may be “true for you,” but it isn’t true. You may believe it, but in so doing you aren’t going to increase the number of apples if two people each give you an apple. Believing that one apple and one apple equals three apples still only leaves you with two apples.

So too when it comes to the philosophical understanding of the world. There aren’t multiple truths and each person gets to pick and choose the one that fits there personality best. The world doesn’t work one way for Christians and a different way for atheists. If God is real, then, like the sun, He shines on us all—the just and the unjust. Believing in Him does not increases His reality, and disbelieving in Him does not detract from His existence.

Anyone taking a “whatever works for you” view, simply doesn’t believe that there is Truth; consequently, according to this outlook, it really doesn’t matter what you believe in—as long as you don’t believe that there is an absolute Truth.

The fact is, believing that there is no Truth is the truth in which this person believes. The idea that anyone who says “whatever works for you” is not arrogant, but whoever says, only one thing works, is arrogant, simply demonstrates how deceived people are who take this “whatever works for you” position.

But atheists also believe Christians are arrogant because we “send people to hell.”

This, of course, is inaccurate. No human sends anyone to hell. I dare say, God Himself doesn’t send anyone to hell in the way the atheists mean it.

Jesus said clearly in John 3 that our rejection of God and His Son condemn us:

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It’s this “not believing” that sends people to hell.

The patrolman waving people away from a downed bridge is not thought of as responsible for sending someone who ignores him into the icy river. And generally speaking no one thinks he’s arrogant for doing his job.

Christians have more incentive than the patrolman does, in many instances, because we know the people we’re warning—or we’ve had some level of interaction with them. They are rarely anonymous faces whizzing past our “Bridge Down, Take Alternate Route” signs.

We aren’t shouting warnings because we want to rub it in the faces of others that we’re right and they’re wrong. We also aren’t sticking our tongues out and Naa-naa-naa-ing them because we’re in and they aren’t, or that they will never get in since we have the secret and aren’t telling them what it is.

Paul lined up with this position when he said, The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23). Those ultimate wages belong to each of us, and the free gift is offered to us all:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded (Rom. 3:23-27a, emphasis added)

In short, the charge of arrogance is true of all people, but doesn’t apply to Christians as a group. ;-)

We all have deceitfully wicked hearts, but Christians have been washed by the only cleansing agent that can deal with the stain on our souls. Jesus Himself took our guilt and shame and put it on His own shoulders, then went to the cross and died in our place. Here’s how Jesus Himself put it:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16, emphasis added)

It’s an open invitation, one that Christians feel compelled to pass along.

Is it arrogant to invite people to believe? On the contrary, I think it’s a humbling thing to stand exposed before the world, saying, I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner, we’re all sinners. It’s a lot more comfortable to think I’m good enough on my own. It’s a lot easier to say, “Whatever works for you.”

But the truth is, there’s a day of judgment awaiting and only one thing will work for you—faith in Jesus Christ. Any other notion is a lie.

It’s not arrogance that drives Christians to speak the truth. It’s obedience to God’s command and love for those who still need to hear.

Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

My Story


I'm the one in the front with the "what's going on" expression.

I’m the one in the front with the “what’s going on” expression.

I love hearing how other people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though our backgrounds are different and the events in our lives are miles apart, we still have a common experience when it comes to giving our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So it’s exciting to hear other people tell the details that brought them to that place.

My story always feels ordinary and unexciting, but I guess that’s part of the beauty of God’s amazing love. While He can pull out a last-minute rescue such as the one the thief who died next to Jesus experienced, and He can dramatically turn around a Christian-hater like Paul, He can also open His arms to the little children whose parents brought them to receive His blessing.

My story is like the ones those little children might have told years later.

I came to Jesus when I was three—as near as I can tell. I don’t actually remember the moment in time when I turned my life over to God. At least not that first time.

Yes, there were multiple times. I’ve written elsewhere (in “Believe in Jesus” and “My Deceitful Heart“) about my early doubts and the process of coming to realize I had, in fact, entered into a relationship with God despite my sins of action and attitude which continued to plague me. You see, I’d thought the evidence of my relationship with God would be a life of perfect obedience, and I just wasn’t seeing that.

Eventually I came to the point where I realized if I was to get off the roller-coaster of doubt, I had to trust that God meant what He said: if I confessed with my mouth (and I had) and believed in my heart that Jesus was who He said He was (and I did), I was saved.

The issue wasn’t what I had to do because I couldn’t do anything big enough or great enough to earn a right relationship with God. If I was to be saved, it was because of what Christ did for me, and I simply had to put my trust in Him.

Here’s the thing that I think is so cool about my story of coming to Christ—He saved me from myself.

I used to hear testimonies of people who came from hard lives—drugs and promiscuous lifestyles and gang involvement. Now they had a testimony, I thought. God saved them from stuff that was killing them.

Me? Well, I lied to my first grade teacher and didn’t come to the dinner table right away when my mother called.

See? As I was measuring stories, mine wasn’t so great. It was easy for me to believe in Jesus because I didn’t have all the garbage others had to wade through.

But, oh, how wrong that perspective is. I had my own pride and self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes from which God had to save me.

Which is harder, to save someone who is a drunk or a prostitute, or someone who thinks she might actually be good enough she doesn’t have to have the “sinner” label attached to her?

Well, as it turns out, neither is easier. Both require the exact same thing—the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. Not one kind of sin is more or less easy to forgive than another. Both are forgiven because of His work at the cross, period. I don’t bring a thing to the table and neither does the person who comes from a lifestyle mired in hard living.

My pride and self-righteousness was as great a barrier to reconciliation with God as drug addiction or having an abortion was for other people. Sin, in any and all its shapes, is what blocks our path to God, and sin is built into our DNA.

It’s even built into the DNA of “the good kid.” So my story is really the same as every other Christian’s—God rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. He pulled me up from the miry clay because I couldn’t pull myself up.

In the end, my story is really God’s story. He’s the hero, the rest of us, me included, are proof of His love, His power, His forgiveness, grace, and unrelenting faithfulness.

Talking To Atheists


"Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape."

“Black holes are cosmic objects that harbour a gravitational field so powerful that nothing, not even light or radiation can escape.”

Atheists and Christians look at life and the world from diametrically opposed views, so having a conversation between those who hold to those divergent opinions is not easy. On one hand, atheists, believing only in scientifically verifiable substance, are convinced that God does not exist. Some even question the historicity of Jesus. These fundamental positions lead them to dismiss the Bible as more myth than an accurate historical source.

In contrast, Christians know that God and an entire supernatural realm beyond the scope of science, exist. This fundamental position leads us to accept the Bible not only as accurate but authoritative since the words and thoughts are God’s, written by humans through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Most of that last paragraph would be nearly unintelligible to atheists. After all, from their perspective there is no God, therefore no Holy Spirit, no inspiration, leaving the Bible to be a book of made-up stories and rules.

Generally conversation between those holding the two opposing positions means one side creates a “convincing” argument dismantling the position of the other, only to have the reverse occur during rebuttal.

So does that mean there is no way the two can discuss the big issues of life? There certainly is a barrier. From my perspective as a Christian, I feel as if I’m trying to convince someone who is colorblind that the sky is blue. It’s an obvious fact to me, but he has no knowledge of blue and therefore considers everything I say to be nonsense.

From his perspective I imagine he has what seems to be the most obvious, basic, clear, tangible standards by which reality can be determined, but Christians claim truth on the basis of those standards plus something intangible, unclear, obscure, and convoluted.

If I’m right, both sides shake their heads at the other and say, how can they be so ignorant?

In reality, I as a Christian would like to learn to talk to atheists, but to do that means bridging this worldview divide. Oh, sure, we can talk at each other—I can quote Scripture, which they don’t believe, and they can quote “Bible scholars” who don’t believe the Bible. I can throw out names of Christian scientists and they can list three times as many atheist scientists. I can present archeological data supportive of the Bible, and they can point to detail after detail in the Bible for which no historical evidence exists. I can discuss cosmology and the need for an intelligent designer to explain intelligent complexity, and they can discuss evolution and the natural development of all life.

The point is, we aren’t actually talking to one another. Rather, I’d like to find out, beyond theory, why atheists believe as they do.

Some, of course, believe they have come to the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible, but that presupposes that the human mind can know all that is or is not in the vast cosmos, including the multiverse and the possible different dimensions, should string theory prove to be true.

Ah, but there lies the problem. We humans don’t know if string theory is true. We don’t know if there are other dimensions. And if there are? Why would those dimensions have to be like ours? Might not there be a spiritual dimension filled with the supernatural?

Humankind is still looking for evidence of life in space though we don’t know for sure if it exists or if it will be intelligent should it exist. Despite that uncertainty, atheists are certain God is not there. Life maybe; God absolutely not.

All the above to point out that claims to “the only rational, intelligent conclusion possible” are hardly sufficient to answer the question why someone is an atheist.

On the other hand, if someone asks a Christian why they believe as they do, I think the answer might also be categorical—something along the lines of, I’m convinced Jesus is who He said He is: Son of God, Savior, Lord.

And where’s the evidence, atheists will answer.

Where indeed? Within the pages of the Bible the atheist doesn’t believe in; by the witness of the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, which the atheist doesn’t believe in; through the power of a changed life which the atheist has no way to measure or to ascribe cause.

It seems we’ve returned to the impasse. But I keep coming back to the question why the atheist can’t accept what he can’t see for himself—at least when it comes to God. He can’t see gravity, but believes in it; can’t see black holes, but (most) would agree they exist.

When it comes to God, however, inferring His existence from the effect He has on life (which is how we know about gravity and black holes) is insufficient evidence. So “a cosmic accident” is a better explanation for the existence of life than is an intelligent designer.

Why?

Maybe if I understood that, I’d understand atheists better and we could talk.

Loyalty To The King


President_Obama_at_MLK_Memorial_dedicationSome times a democracy can be harmful. I’m so happy the founders of the US established the kind of government they did, but the fact is, our right to vote has translated into a right to criticize. And criticism more often than not yields to grumbling and complaining, which in its turn can lead to slanderous invectives.

The US is in a unique period of our history. The nation is divided in a disturbing way—people on opposing sides have little respect for the individuals who hold a different view. The idea seems to be, only morons would not agree with my position, therefore you in the opposing camp are a moron, and I don’t have to listen to you. If fact, I’d rather if you simply did not speak.

Nothing could be more detrimental to a country that depends on compromise between legislators, between the two legislative houses, and between the legislature and the executive branch of government.

Compare where we are with David, youngest son of Jesse, who found himself in the opposite camp from the king of the land. Though he did not harbor rebellion in his heart and only fulfilled the king’s every wish, David became King Saul’s enemy.

We’re not talking about Saul hurling insults at David. He hurled spears. More than once. He ordered his men to pull him out of his house and kill him. He murdered seventy priests because one, thinking David, the King’s son-in-law to still be a loyal member of his court and on the King’s business, gave him food and a weapon.

Saul took an army of 3000 to hunt him down; he bribed and pleaded and cajoled and threatened to get people to disclose where David was hiding.

Sometimes his schemes seemed to work, and he closed in on David. Once when he was pursuing David in the desert, he took a break in a cave—a siesta, of sorts, in the middle of the day to get out of the heat. As it happened, David was hiding in the recesses of that cave, but Saul never knew it.

David’s men urged him to put an end to the persecution once and for all by killing Saul. But David refused for one reason and one reason alone—Saul was God’s anointed. In other words, God had put Saul in authority, and David was not about to supersede God’s decision.

Later he had a second opportunity to finish Saul when he made a foray into his camp at night. As it happens, God put a deep sleep upon everyone, and David slipped in, grabbed a couple things belonging to Saul to use as proof that he did not plan evil against the man who sought to kill him, then slipped out.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can stretch out his hand against the LORD’S anointed and be without guilt?” 10 David also said, “As the LORD lives, surely the LORD will strike him, or his day will come that he dies, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The LORD forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the LORD’S anointed; but now please take the spear that is at his head and the jug of water, and let us go.”

In all this David did not rail against Saul or paint him as a monster. He didn’t brag that he too was anointed by God, and he didn’t use his choice by God, carried out by the prophet Samuel, as a special reason for no longer honoring the King.

David lived out his loyalty to God by remaining loyal to His chosen King. He was willing to let God deal with Saul. This position is precisely the one the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter preached, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to Christians in the first century.

They happened to fall under great persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, but Peter says

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

By doing right we may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Not by calling them names. Not by signing petitions or starting impeachment campaigns or painting Hitler mustaches on the government leaders we don’t like.

David was right to let God deal with Saul. He had to wait, and he got tired of waiting which led him into a bad situation, but he remained firm about taking matters into his own hands. He would not move against Saul. He would let God take care of him.

His wait paid off.

When I see Christians treat our President with disrespect and accuse him unjustly, I am confused. God’s command in His word is clear: we are to honor our leaders:

Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men (Titus 3:1)

Even more clearly, Paul said to the Romans, who would have had a front row seat to all the abuses of the Caesars and their minions:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. (Romans 13:1-6)

Notice Paul does not qualify his statements. He’s not saying be subject to authorities with whom you agree or to ones who aren’t corrupt.

David’s example shows, however, that being subject to the King didn’t mean to stand still so he could skewer him with his spear. David ran and hid and ran some more so that Saul wouldn’t kill him. But he didn’t assassinate his character or take the man’s life.

Would that Christians today had as much confidence in God’s sovereignty and His omniscient plans as David did all those years before. He didn’t have Scripture to direct him in his decisions. We do, and still we speak with such disrespect about our rulers.

It’s democracy, I tell you. But that’s not an excuse.

Published in: on October 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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What To Do About False Teaching


False teaching has far reaching effects. Christians, like someone standing on the sidewalk when a car splashes through a muddy puddle, end up sprayed and splattered by false teachers and their followers.

Scripture spells out the harm that false teaching does, to those who buy into it and to the true Church:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3 – emphasis mine)

Seems to me, because of the destructive nature of false teaching and because God and His Truth are maligned as a result of it, Christians ought not stand idly by.

But if we take it upon ourselves to correct false teachers, what’s to prevent us from becoming like the hateful Westboro Baptist people who picket funerals with signs bearing offensive messages?

Not that there isn’t a place for rebuke. There is. 2 Peter goes on to say

forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. (2 Peter 2:15-16)

OK, in Balaam’s case, no one else was around to rebuke him, so God opened the mouth of his donkey. Rebuke would seem to be a vital part of handling false teaching.

But there appears to be a difference between rebuke and reviling. Peter and Jude both make a point of saying that even the angels don’t dare bring a reviling judgment on false teachers.

Jude actually gives a blueprint to the Christian for handling false teaching:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

The first admonition is for believers to focus on our own spiritual walk—our faith, our prayer life, our love of God, our expectant hope for eternal life.

In addition, there are some to whom we are to show mercy—those who are doubting. I suspect this may refer to those who have been subject to false teaching and consequently have doubts. How can we extend them mercy? Certainly not by picketing funerals. But we can pray. We can live lives of faith. We can testify to God’s goodness and the truth of His world. We can also be forgiving rather than easily offended.

Others we are to snatch out of the fire. James 5:19-20 comes to mind:

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

How do you turn someone back from the error of his way? I suspect only someone who has a relationship with a person straying from the truth can effect this change. In the parlance of the world, this might be an intervention. In Biblical terms, it would be “going to a brother” as described in Matthew 18.

With some we are to have “mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Strong language, but it seems to me these are pictures of running away, not fighting against.

Our act of mercy would be what? I’m not sure. I do know that extending mercy is not something hateful or oppressive. But doing so with fear and hating even the outward manifestation of sinfulness doesn’t sound like we’re having coffee with those caught up in false teaching.

In other words, it seems there’s a point when someone is pulled in so far that we are not to pursue them, or if we do, we should tread carefully, mindful of the quicksand we’re edging toward, mercifully willing to throw a line, but hating the grime so much we stay clear of it ourselves.

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This article, with some editorial changes, first appeared here in October 2011

Published in: on October 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm  Comments (2)  
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Contentment Vs. Contentment With The Status Quo


smokestack-1402448-mI recently read a book that has me a bit steamed. There are lots of reasons, but not the least is the subtitle: “Avoiding . . . dangers of overzealous faith.”

Certainly we are to avoid the things listed where I typed an ellipsis—pride and exclusivity—but why would those be associated with “overzealous faith”? Why would any “danger” be linked to overzealous faith? For that matter, is it possible to be overzealous in our faith?

If you think about it, God’s word tells us the first command, the one that’s most important, is to love God “WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” (Mark 12:30). If this is what God commands of His followers, I don’t see much room for over-the-top zeal. Already what God asks is . . . well, everything.

He wants us to take up our cross, to die to ourselves, to lay down our lives, to be living sacrifices. I don’t see how this clear teaching of Scripture that we as believers in Christ are to be all in, lends itself to zeal that outshines what’s expected.

Rather, I expect this “plea for balance,” as many of the positive reviews of the book labeled it, is looking for wiggle room for comfortable American Christians who want to stay comfortable and still be “good Christians.”

There has finally begun to be a counter thrust among evangelical pastors to the health-and-wealth message which distorts Scripture. But a look at the values which the Bible teaches in the areas of physical health and finances calls into question a lot of what Americans do and even preach as “best practices” or “good stewardship.”

Along comes this book, Accidental Pharisees, and most probably others like it, and we have an intentional reining in of concepts calling for a radical or crazy or counter-cultural approach to doing church.

The message I get from this book is, let’s be content with the status quo. After all, Paul said we should learn to live quiet lives, and that’s good, because then I can have my big house and my fancy cars and not feel like I’m a lesser Christian than brothers who have moved to the inner city or are giving away 90% of their income.

Honestly, the premise of this book makes me a little crazy. The idea is that Christians who “get out in front of the following-Jesus line” start to look around and compare where they’re at with where other Christians are at and then they start looking down on believers who aren’t up with them at the head of the line. So their overzealous faith has led them into pride.

I submit that anyone who is looking around and comparing his spiritual progress with others already has succumbed to pride.

I submit that someone afraid of crazy love or radical faith or sold-out evangelism or whatever else is the latest call for Christian devotion, is really afraid of the Bible. It’s more comfortable to be content with the status quo—the American Christianity that doesn’t demand too much, that lets us alone to do what we want, except for an hour or so on Sunday.

Scripture does call Christians to be content and to live quiet lives, but it’s in the context of sometimes going hungry or serving someone by going the extra mile or by thinking more highly of a fellow Christian than of myself.

The thing is, I understand it is possible to be overly zealous about all kinds of things, some dangerous, some merely silly. But faith? Genuine faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so.

Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is built on the Word of God. Consequently, a zealous Christian will know what Jesus thinks about looking down on others or about holding people to high standards for salvation (as if we set standards for salvation in the first place!) or any of the other “dangers” supposedly inherent in overzealous faith.

I suppose the best conclusion about this book is this: since Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites (7 or 8 times in Matt. 23), any “faith” of “Pharisees” isn’t real faith at all, so being overzealous for a hypocritical “see how spiritual I am” substitution for faith is definitely something to avoid.

OK, in that light, it’s a good book. ;-)

Humankind’s Sin Nature: The 21st Century Stumbling Block


The_Holy_BibleDoes the Bible teach that Man has a sin nature? That question really needs to be the point Christians focus on when discussing sin. If the authoritative Word of God teaches it, even though we may not understand exactly how it works, then we need to embrace it as true.

The Bible introduces the concept of Man’s sin nature in Genesis. Chapter 5 states that Adam, created in God’s image, gave birth after the Fall to sons formed in his image (rather than in God’s).

Paul in Romans 5 explains this in some detail as he contrasted Adam and his act of disobedience with Jesus and His act of atonement. Here are the key portions focusing on sin:

12Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned

14Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come…

16aThe gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation

17aFor if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one …

18aSo then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men

19aFor as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,

Verse 12 makes the clear statement: all men die because all men sin. If, however, sin comes about as a result of the “blank slate” of our lives being corrupted by Satan and the world, Man is not at fault. Why then must he die?

Further, how would the “blank slate” be a fundamental shift from Adam, made in God’s likeness, to Adam’s descendants, fallen from grace? Adam had the freedom to obey God. So too, if the “blank slate” were true, his descendants would have the freedom to obey God. Where is the alteration of the human race that Romans 5 points to?

Was it only in the introduction of death as the consequence for sin? But verse 15 says all die because all sin. If all don’t sin, but all die, then God would appear to be meting out undue punishment.

If, on the other hand, the giving of free will was the cause of all Mankind sinning, then how was what God created deemed good?

No, something changed because Adam sinned. He who was good—according to the witness of Omniscience—and consequently able to be in God’s presence daily, chose against God, forever shutting the door on the possibility of Man entering God’s presence on his own. Sin barred the door.

Was this sin, a sin nature or merely sin acts committed by each person? A sin nature.

A cursory study of the original words in the Old Testament translated as “sin” or “iniquity” show that the meanings can refer to a one time act (or guilt) or to a condition.

When a word has more than one way it can be understood, it seems wisest to let Scripture interpret Scripture.

Hence the verses in Romans should guide our thinking about sin as a condition, as should the passages in Genesis. Add in what David wrote in Psalm 51 “5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,/And in sin my mother conceived me.”

A verse like Exodus 34:7 seems to be rather thorough in naming what God forgives: “who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Would all of those refer to specific acts and none to a condition? (And can someone remain guilty if his sin acts have been forgiven?)

The entire book of Job serves as a wonderful explanation of sin nature. Job was a righteous man. God declared it, Job insisted upon it, and yet in the end, he lay face down before God, repenting. Why? Because his righteousness wasn’t God’s righteousness. His, like mine or any person’s is but a filthy rag.

If sin wasn’t a condition, then it would not of necessity block us from God. The sacrifices God instituted for the nation Israel should have been sufficient to remove sin from God’s presence. But Isaiah tells the truth about sin:

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short/ That it cannot save;/ Nor is His ear so dull/ That it cannot hear./ But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,/ And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
– Isa 59:1-2

In other words, sin is the roadblock that keeps us from reconciliation with God.

What saved Abraham, then? God’s choice of him and his belief in God. It wasn’t righteous acts. Abraham actually went on to do some unrighteous acts after God declared him justified.

What saved Peter? Christ’s choice of him and his belief in Christ, though he too went on to do some unrighteous acts after God justified him.

Sin acts don’t condemn us and righteous acts don’t save us. Jesus said in John 3:18 we are already condemned if we don’t believe in Him.

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The problem that the Pharisees had was one of trying to live sinless lives. As Paul said, he had the credentials if anyone did. He had the blood lines, the education, the connections, and “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Phil. 3:6b).” But he went on to say, he counted it all as rubbish in order to “gain Christ.”

Reconciliation with God doesn’t come from good works, not because God doesn’t want us to do good works (He’s give us lots of admonition and instruction about how to live our lives) but because righteous acts fall short. They fail to deal with our sin nature. Sacrifice could deal with a sin act, but it can’t cleanse the heart. That takes the blood of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world.

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This article is a re-post of one entitled “Sin, the Stumbling Block or the Roadblock” which appeared here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in September, 2010.

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Doing Good


tennis_shoesThe nightly news has taken to reporting YouTube videos that go viral. One they featured last night was of a store clerk who stooped to tie the shoes of a customer who would have had a hard time doing it himself.

According to their reports, the clerk has received an outpouring of positive feedback. The customer who filmed him bending and tying this stranger’s shoes supposedly teared up because it was so stunning to see someone do a random act of kindness like that.

I suspect it had such great impact because no one had told this store clerk he should do a random act of kindness. In other words, there was no campaign, no day set aside to look for someone to help. He acted because he saw a need and wanted to do what he could.

The story made me think—that’s the kind of self-forgetful love God intends His Church to display, first toward one another, then toward our neighbors, and even toward our enemies.

Imagine what an impact the Church could have. I mean, if one random act of kindness moved people so, what might a dozen do? Or a hundred? Multiply that by every city that has a hundred Christians.

It seems to me either people would notice or people would start taking random acts of kindness for granted. Of course, not every random act of kindness is going to end up on YouTube. In fact, if it does, there’s a possibility it isn’t so random.

I remember when America’s Funniest Home Videos were random instead of staged. I liked them a lot better. Something about the pre-planned spontaneous moment loses authenticity. I suspect the same would happen with pre-planned random acts of kindness.

My guess is, a lot of people would be willing to do a random act of kindness, but we’re too busy and too unaware. We rush past those in need without realizing we could help them. We don’t see the untied shoe or the stalled car or the dropped diaper bag. We could stoop to pick it up or pull out jumper cables or get on our knees to tie it. But we don’t pay enough attention to the strangers around us to realize we could help.

We’ve also become a suspicious lot. We think if someone is offering to do something nice, they must have an ulterior motive.

And we’ve become an independent culture—oddly, when the US was a rural society, neighbors relied on neighbors, but now that we live in close proximity in our cities, we operate on the self-serve principle. Consequently, we may not think to help others because it hasn’t dawned on us that they would want help. We would rather do it ourselves, so they probably would too.

And when we can’t do it ourselves, we pay to have it done. Reportedly, the gentleman who had his shoes tied, tried to pay the clerk for tying them. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, the clerk declined to take any money for doing a good deed.

The first step, I think, is to decide that yes, even little things like tying someone else’s shoes matter. After all, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet.

In that Jewish culture, the job of washing feet was a servant’s job and the recipients were the guests, particularly the guests of honor. Jesus, who truly was the Guest of Honor, took the role of servant, and He stated clearly that He was doing it as an example for His followers.

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:13-15)

When I was young, my parents belonged to a church that believed the foot washing command was literal. Hence foot washing became a ceremonial observance attached to communion.

I can tell you, it’s a humbling experience—not so much washing someone’s feet but having someone else wash yours. I get why Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.

But that’s a side issue. The point here is, I believe Jesus wasn’t limiting His command to foot washing. I believe He was saying we are to take the role of servant in our relationships with others.

Hence, we ought to be attentive to those around us. We ought to care more about their time worries than our own. We ought to be willing to go out of our way for others.

Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan did in the story Jesus told to illustrate who our neighbor is? Our neighbor—the person we are to love—is the individual who is in need right in front of us.

In this communication age, we often know of people in need who live half way around the world. Sometimes we think we have a responsibility to them, but we think we have no means for significantly providing them with help. However, we can always pray! That’s not a “cope out.” It’s the best thing we can do because we are involving omnipotent God who can make a difference in their circumstances.

But possibly being so aware of the great needs around the world can make us numb to the smaller needs across the street or down the block. If people aren’t running for their lives or haven’t been imprisoned or kidnapped, we somehow don’t think their needs merit our attention.

In reality, there are people who have the resources to help others in small ways, but they are blind to the very people God has put in their path. So our second step, after we decide little things matter, is to determine that the people God places in front of us matter.

Prayerfully we can make ourselves available to do the small acts of kindness that can make a difference to a watching world starved for love and good news–small acts like tying someone else’s shoes.

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