Archive for the ‘church’ Category

December 20th was the night of the first lunar eclipse visible in the United States since the Salem Witch trials. That night I stayed up with my teens till 12:30AM waiting for the event. We cuddled in the den with only the lights from the Christmas tree illuminating the house and talked for hours. I love nights like that. We discussed everything from girlfriends to politics and everything in between. I especially appreciate their discussions about faith. It confirms for me that they are not blindly accepting everything they hear. They are analyzing beliefs for truth value.

Sometimes I am surprised by their questions, or some of their beliefs. Their mother is an apologist so explaining and defending the faith is part of our daily conversation. My twelve year old made a statement eluding that all religions basically worship the same God. While I remained calm, cool and collected on the outside, inside I was shocked! Haven’t we covered this before?

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. One conversation cannot outweigh the daily assault on the biblical worldview their parents are establishing for them. Everything they watch on television, many of their conversations with friends, most information they receive from news media or the internet screams relativism. And if a child is not a naturally critical thinker, they will not recognize the inconsistencies within this view and will blindly embrace all that goes along with it. So I am grateful for the opportunity to revisit this topic with my kids. If I don’t give them answers to their pressing questions about faith, I become one more reason for them not to believe.

Over the last 150 years or so relativism has gained most of the philosophical ground in our culture. Dogmatism or fundamentalism is viewed as intolerant. (Isn’t the relativist claiming relativism is true being dogmatic?) People are open to the idea that there is no such thing as absolute truth. What’s true for me is true for me; what’s true for you is true for you. (Isn’t that an absolute truth claim?) And since there is no such thing as absolute truth, then there cannot be one way to God; that is, if He even exists in the first place. So America embraces Universalism with open arms.

Universalism embodies the belief that everyone will be saved and go to heaven. There are two claims that must be true in order for Universalism to work. One, truth depends on choice. I can choose what is true. And since in this great country we are free to choose what to believe, the best choice would be the one that allows for all choices to be true. Anything less would be intolerant and intolerance is bad, very bad. Second, it must deny universal damnation. After all, a good God would not condemn people He loves to hell, right?

As with all relativistic beliefs, this one too is wrought with self-contradiction and self-defeat. Let’s deal with the claim that I can choose what is true. Another way to phrase this is “I can determine what is true.” If I believe it is true, then it is. If you believe the opposite is true, then it is. This subjective view of truth is fully dependent upon self rather than any objective standard. But does this belief correspond with reality? Can I live consistently with this belief? Let’s test it.

Jack and I are standing on top of the Eiffel Tower. I turn to Jack and claim, “I believe gravity does not exist.”

Jack looks at me and claims, “Well, I believe gravity does exist.” According to relativism, both claims are equally valid and equally true. We smile and nod accepting the validity of the other’s belief, proud of our liberal tolerance of opposing claims.

I decide to put my belief to the test and jump off the Eiffel Tower. Since Jack is a tolerant relativist as well, he quietly allows me to take the plunge. At some point during my descent I discover that both claims are not in fact true. Gravity does exist, there are consequences to our ideas as we live and die by our beliefs. I can neither create nor sustain my own existence. How arrogant of me to think that I can determine truth. At best as a fallible being with incomplete understanding I can discover truth. Wouldn’t it be in our best interest and the interest of others to discover what is absolutely true and live by that? Are you willing to die for a lie? Is it tolerant and loving to quietly stand by like Jack as the people around you live and die by a lie?

If all belief systems make contradictory truth claims about God, they cannot all lead to the same true God: one or none, but not all. So if we are seeking a true “religion” we can rule out anything that embraces contradictory claims as all true. This eliminates Universalism among others. But what about universal damnation, that doesn’t seem very loving . . . or is it?

How can a good God condemn people to hell? Let’s look at this from another perspective. If God saves everyone and allows them into heaven as Universalism claims, what exactly is God saving us from? A universal salvation requires universal damnation. If heaven is to be in the presence of God, then hell would be a state of eternal separation. The Bible is very clear that all of humanity is perishing in sin, condemned already (Rom. 3:23). Salvation comes by grace through faith alone in Christ (Rom. 3:24). The work of salvation is wholly God’s, we the condemned are the unworthy receivers of this grace. However, if I am offered a gift and reject it, I do not receive the gift. Regardless of the universal offering, the Bible is clear that the gift of grace is not universally received. God does not force anyone into His arms; it is only in agreement with our will that we are sanctified (Rom. 2:4). As with any gift, grace is freely given, freely received or freely rejected. So is God just in allowing us to live and die by the consequences of our beliefs?

“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

God is love, all Christians believe this including Universalist. But what is love? Love persuades, it does not coerce. Forced love is by definition, not love at all. To yield to the presence of the Almighty is not to embrace a loving and holy God, but to allow Him to embrace us; for we are the mere creation and by what power can we approach the Creator, but by His power alone. Unlike Jack, God does not stand silently on the sidelines allowing us to destroy ourselves. He pursues, He persuades and at times He wrestles us to the ground. (Gen. 32:28) God desires that no one perish, but it does not follow that no one will perish.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18

Mom and Dad, encourage your kids to evaluate their beliefs for truth value. Be prepared to give an answer for what you believe and why. Don’t become another reason for your child not to believe.
If you have questions, this site is a safe place to ask them. Together we can seek the truth in all things.

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Welcome to another edition of, “Does the Bible really say THAT?”

Has this ever happened to you? I’ll be sitting in Sunday School or in Church service and the teacher or pastor refers to a passage of scripture to support his or her teaching and I’ll cringe a little. Not out of conviction from the Holy Spirit, but because I know that the passage does not teach the principle stated and that everyone within hearing is missing the truth.

Now any teacher, myself included, is guilty of making this mistake. It is often an innocent mistake motivated by pure intentions, but it can lead others astray nonetheless. It is often caused by careless preparation and mishandling of the text. And the errant teaching is often a regurgitation of popular Christian sayings or traditions. It is the sin of prooftexting.

I’ll give you an example.

You have heard it said, “Don’t go to bed angry.” It is a popular Christian principle to resolve conflict before you go to bed. While this may be a great principle to live by, it is not a principle taught by this passage. This is a prooftext of Ephesians 4:26-27 (NAS)

“BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”

What does the text say?

The NAS translation is very true to the original language except it adds “yet”.  The Greek says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Also the translators took liberty with the word translated “opportunity.” The word means “place” as in “foothold”, but the meaning of the phrase is a warning against giving the devil an opportunity to tempt a believer into unrighteous behavior. The phrase “do not let the sun go down on your anger” means “do not let your anger end.”  

What does the text mean?

The context of the passage is Paul’s call for the believers in Ephesus to live holy lives, remain righteous and to not grieve the Holy Spirit. Righteous anger toward sin is not permitted, it is commanded. “Be angry.” Because you and I are sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have a new relationship with sin. The sin we once loved, we now hate.  We are commanded to not relax that relationship, for if we do we will give the enemy a foothold. Paul contrasts righteous behavior with unrighteous behavior throughout this passage and the entirety of the letter. He warns us to no longer walk as we once did, depraved, callous and greedy. He calls this our former life. We have been taught in Christ to put on the likeness of God in holiness and truth. We are commanded to guard our hearts by remaining angry with sin and not let down our guard.

What is the application?

You have heard it said, “Don’t go to bed angry.” But I tell you, “Go to bed angry and do not sin.” Guarding our hearts and minds requires a diligent and tireless commitment to righteousness. Speaking truth is often not the most popular thing to do, but speaking the truth with gentleness and respect is always the right thing to do.

Jesus often taught the Israelites by quoting a popular Pharisaical teaching and correcting that teaching. It was necessary for him to do that because many of his hearers did not know the word of God and so they were ill-prepared to challenge the teaching of their leaders. Paul commended the Bereans because they did not just take his word when he gave them the gospel. They tested his words against the truth they were already given in the Hebrew Scriptures. Unfortunately, in a country where the Bible can be readily accessed with a touch of a button this is the most biblically illiterate generation since the founding of our country. We now gain our theology from popular Christian sound bites rather than engaging scripture for ourselves. When the church is content with being told what to believe without testing the spirits, we not only give Satan a foothold, we give him command of the house.

“Be perfect as I am perfect.”

Our Sunday school teacher said we need to be perfect as Jesus was perfect. But is that true? What does it mean to be perfect? Surely Jesus does not expect us to be as perfect as God? If so, then we have all been set up for failure. What did Jesus mean?

First of all, the teacher quoted scripture blending two passages:

Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Leviticus 19:2  “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

Secondly, the context of the passage in Matthew is a comparison of the righteous versus the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45), but it is not limited to behavior. He is correcting traditional pharisaical teachings throughout chapter 5. Verse 48 is the summarizing statement of Jesus’ discourse. To gain an accurate interpretation, we need to consider not only the context of Matthew, but also the context of the Leviticus passage. When a New Testament writer quotes from another source, he is not just invoking the semantic text, he is invoking the context of the passage as well. When we consider the context of Lev. 19 we see that the Lord is expressing His wholehearted covenantal devotion to His people. He loves us completely, never wavering, always steadfast. It is to this covenantal devotion that Jesus is calling his disciples to as they gathered around him listening to his teaching.

Finally, to love the Lord completely means that we must love our enemies, just as Christ loved those who spat on him, those who cursed him, and those who drove the nails into his hands. We must remember that we were once enemies of God, worthy of His wrath. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what of those who want to destroy us, those who hate us, and those who wish that we would just shut up and die? I don’t know about you, but the closer I draw to the Lord the more the world hates me. Members of my own family detest when I speak about God, what He is doing in my life, His Word, or pray for them accusing me of “advertising” my faith. What a compliment from someone who wishes I would just shut up!

Dorothy Day once wrote, “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” Who do you love the least? Commit today to love completely as Christ with wholehearted devotion, perfectly. I am so in awe that God loves such an imperfect mess such as me. I am so grateful He is not willing to leave me this way. For as long as God allows me to breathe, I pray I have the courage to advertise my faith in this broken vessel.

I am sometimes jealous of my Messianic Jewish friends. Many have been trained in the age’s old traditions of the Torah, Mishnah and Gemara which grants them eyes to see the gospel in a light I can only gain through hours of study. Jesus referenced these traditions in many illustrations and by gaining an understanding of the biblical history we can glean deeper insight to his message. One of the oft used traditions used in scripture is that of marriage.

Our Messiah describes the kingdom of heaven as a wedding feast (Mt. 22), the disciples referred to the church as the bride of Christ (Rev. 19:7), and the prophet Jeremiah compared Israel to a faithful bride (Jer. 2:2). The Israelites were a covenant people and, as such, their relationships were governed by legal contracts. One of those critical contracts was a marital contract called the Ketubah (meaning “her writing”).

The ketubah was much more than the marriage license we acquire today to authorize our legal unions. This contract was initiated by the groom obligating him to his bride. The legal document detailed the groom’s responsibilities to his wife including his promise to serve, support and sustain his bride and denying himself for her good. In a culture that predominately viewed women as property, the document accompanied a monetary obligation in the case of a divorce as well. The ketubah elevated the woman to a valued companion in life emphasizing the protection of the wife and her welfare in the Jewish community.

Today the contracts are still written in Aramaic and elaborately decorated on high quality parchment. The ketubah is signed by the groom and two witnesses and preserved by the bride. Tradition held that the bride remained in her father’s house for one year until the wedding, but they were considered man and wife at the signing of the contract. The bride had no conditions or obligations in the contract, but received and held her husband’s commitment as a gift. She only need remain pure until the designated marriage feast at which time the groom would arrive to gather his bride to himself.

There are many parallels we can draw from the ketubah to the gospel message. God’s salvation is granted to believers through no action of the receiver. It is a free gift of grace through faith for those who believe and are betrothed to the bridegroom. Our purity is evidence of our love for Christ. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the Day of the Lord when Christ gathers the church to himself as He promised. As one who is betrothed to Christ, the church is set apart for the bridegroom to work together to fulfill the law of Christ, the law of love.

The covenant of marriage is a beautiful model of God’s redemption for a depraved and lost world. Holy matrimony to this day sets apart a man and a woman to fulfill their purpose on earth together as one.  And now, we await eagerly for the return of the Bridegroom. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35)

“What is truth?” –Pontius Pilate (~33BC)

Ideas have consequences. It only takes a brief scan of the front page of your local paper or a 60 second sound bite on CNN to confirm this reality. What determines whether our beliefs have ultimately positive or negative consequences? Could it be whether or not our beliefs correspond with reality?

As my children grew older, their insatiable desire for answers grew with their stature. I recalled at 8 years old my own persistent questions drove my mother to schedule weekly sessions for me with the pastor so I could quiz him… and give her a break. The sad thing was that he was ill equipped to answer my simplest questions. “Who made God? How do we know God is real? Why does God send people to hell who never heard of Him?” What is even more tragic is that 30 years later as my children began to ask these same questions, I realized that the church was still grossly ill-equipped to grapple with these issues. So where is a mother to go to find the answers?

 My journey to find answers led me to a study of Christian apologetics and I in turn invested that knowledge into my children. But I am still grieved by the failure of the church to equip members to defend their faith and give a reason for the hope they have. I think things are changing with the emergence of wise men and women welcoming challenges to their faith on the public stage. Conferences are popping up all over the country to educate and equip the faithful, but do conferences effect real change especially for women?

I know that for me as an external student separated from the camaraderie of my peers, my motivation is challenged in the absence of community. Conferences are good for me in that I can mingle with like minded people who are as passionate about equipping the church as I am. But that connection soon fades as everyone goes about the business of building the Kingdom. We are each islands to ourselves, lacking unity and ultimately effecting little change. One challenge I hear repeated by those in the field of apologetics is that it is an uphill battle, not for the faint of heart. But what if we all banned together creating a unified network focused on meeting the challenge at the grass roots level?

 The effort to equip the church with the tools to defend the faith has up to now been largely a top to bottom effort. We offer conferences, write books, speak to large audiences to get the information in the hands of the church, but is real discipleship accomplished in mass or in person? If those involved in the Christian Apologetics movement are really serious about equipping mothers raising up the next generation, they needs to offer community and one-on-one (or one-on-few) discipleship. When the church successfully equips moms such that they know what they believe and why, then our children will have a faith built on rock.

 The latest studies are showing that children raised in Christian homes are not losing their faith in college as previously believed; they are losing their faith in 7th and 8th grade when they are still in our homes. Our children need to know that the Christian faith corresponds with reality so that, when they do leave our homes, they know what they believe and why. It is the mother who speaks truth into her children everyday who will one day see her children “rise up and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:28  When the women of the church are well prepared to answer the tough challenges to their faith, we can change the world.